Archive for the Uncategorized Category

Farewell to Blackberry…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on November 24, 2014 by telescoper

I’m not really a great one for gadgets so I rarely post about technology. I just thought I’d do a quick post because the weekend saw the end of an era. I had been using a Blackberry smartphone for some time, the latest one being a Blackberry Curve, and even did a few posts on here using the WordPress App for Blackberry. I never found that particular bit of software very easy to use, however, so it was strictly for emergencies only (e.g. when stuck on a train). Other than that I got on pretty well with the old thing, except for the fact that there was no easy way to receive my work email from Sussex University on it. That has been a convenient excuse for me to ignore such communications while away from the internet, but recently it’s become clear that I need to be better connected to deal with pressing matters.

Anyway a few weeks ago I got a text message from Vodafone telling me I was due a free upgrade on my contract so I decided to bite the bullet, ditch the Blackberry and acquire an Android phone instead. I’m a bit allergic to those hideously overpriced Apple products, you see, which made an iPhone unthinkable.  On Saturday morning I paid a quick visit to the vodafone store in Cardiff and after a nice chat – mainly about Rugby (Wales were playing the All Blacks later that day) and the recent comet landing – I left with a new Sony Xperia Z2. I feel a bit sorry for turning my back on Blackberry; they really were innovators at one point, but they made some awful business decisions and have been left behind by the competition. Incidentally, the original company Research In Motion (RIM) was doing well enough 15 years ago to endow the PeRIMeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, which was one of the reasons for my loyalty to date. The company is now called Blackberry Limited and has recently gone through major restructuring in its struggle for survival.

The Xperia Z2 is a nice phone, with a nice big display, generally very easy to find your way around, and with a lot more apps available than for Blackberry. I’ve got my Sussex email working and got Twitter, Facebook and WordPress installed; the latter is far better on Android than on Blackberry. The only thing I don’t like is the autocorrect/autocomplete, which is wretched, and which  I haven’t yet figured out how to switch off. The other thing is that it’s completely waterproof, but I haven’t taken it into the shower yet.

I feel quite modern for a change – my old Blackberry did make me feel like an old fogey sometimes – but since I’ve now signed up for another two years of contract before my next upgrade, there’s plenty of time for technology to overtake me again.



The New Mariner

Posted in Poetry, The Universe and Stuff, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on November 16, 2014 by telescoper

In the silence
that is his chosen medium
of communication and telling
others about it
in words. Is there no way
not to be the sport
of reason? For me now
there is only the God-space
into which I send out
my probes. I had looked forward
to old age as a time
of quietness, a time to draw
my horizons about me,
to watch memories ripening
in the sunlight of a walled garden.
But there is the void
over my head and the distance
within that the tireless signals
come from. An astronaut
on impossible journeys
to the far side of the self
I return with the messages
I cannot decipher, garrulous
about them, worrying the ear
of the passer-by, hot on his way
to the marriage of plain fact with plain fact.

by Ronald Stuart Thomas (1913-2000)



Posted in Uncategorized on November 7, 2014 by telescoper

Circumstances have forced me to take a break from blogging for a while. Normal services will be resumed as soon as possible but, for the time being, there will now follow a short intermission.

MPS Halloween Fundraiser

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on October 31, 2014 by telescoper

As previous items on In The Dark have made clear I’m not really a big fan of Halloween. I’m glad to say that the office staff in the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex clearly agree with me and have decided not to dress up for the occasion or anything daft like that:


I will, however, point out to all of you in internet land who are charitably disposed that you may nevertheless decide to get into the spirit by making a donation to the MPS Halloween fundraiser, which is on behalf of Chestnut Tree House, the only children’s hospice in Sussex, which cares for 300 children and young adults from 0-19 years of age with progressive life-limiting conditions.

Update: 16.45. But I didn’t have the Salmon Mousse..


Physicists and astronomers followed by physicists and astronomers on Twitter

Posted in Uncategorized on October 15, 2014 by telescoper


For those of you interested in this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you will find interesting…

Originally posted on Lucretius, ver. 21c:

This page is a one-time snapshot based on data collected 2014-Oct-10.

The list below covers physicists and astronomers who have over 1,000 Twitter followers. For each user, it indicates (1) the number of list members who follow the user and (2) the total number of followers of the user.

See Physicists on Twitter and Astronomers on Twitter for the full-format and periodically updated lists of highly followed physicists and astronomers.

User Followers who are highly
followed physicists & astronomers
(listed here and here )
seanmcarroll 119 34053
BadAstronomer 115 327107
neiltyson 114 2492209
ProfBrianCox 106 1456963
AstroKatie 105 15106
elakdawalla 84 46224
plutokiller 82 18869
chrislintott 81 13909
sarahkendrew 80 3094
jonmbutterworth 78 10285
CatherineQ 74 13818
cosmicpinot 74 9694
astropixie 72 4619
starstryder 66 18523
lirarandall 65 12099
sc_k 65 5943
dalcantonJD 65 1807
astroengine 64 17253
skyponderer 63 4948
FrankWilczek 63 3773
NoisyAstronomer 62 8058
DrMRFrancis 62

View original 577 more words

More of L’Aquila

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on October 12, 2014 by telescoper

At the risk of boring you all with even more pictures of L’Aquila, here are a few more pictures I took with my phone while out and about over the past week.

First, here’s the Gran Sasso Science Institute (GSSI) where our workshop is being held:


The following sites can all be found within a few minutes’ walk of the GSSI (which is itself just a few minutes from my hotel). In particular there is the historically important Romanesque church of Santa Maria di Collemaggio which dates back to the 13th Century. The façade looks in good nick, although there is evidence of recent repair. However, the back of the church collapsed completely during the 2009 Earthquake and is currently being rebuilt. There is also cracking and significant bowing of the wall on the left hand side, hence the supporting structures.

Excursion to Sulmona

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on October 11, 2014 by telescoper

I’m here on my own over the weekend so I decided to make the most of the lovely weather (it was a sunny 28° C today) and take a small excursion by train. The railway station at L’Aquila is situated on a branch line so the options from here are limited: up or down. I decided to take the “up” line to the town of Sulmona, which is 61km away by train. The ticket cost a mere €4.80 and though the train was a bit old, it was right on time in both directions. The journey time of an hour each way might seem a bit long, but the journey is through rather mountainous terrain and the service is a slow Regionale stopping service so I didn’t expect it to be a quick journey. On arrival I discovered that the Stazione Centrale is in fact pretty far from central but it was a pleasant walk of about half an hour into the small city centre.

Sulmona is famous for two things. One is that it is the birthplace of the poet Ovid who is  remembered by a fine bronze statue in the Piazza XX Settembre. The other famous thing is the Confetti di Sulmona, sugar-coated almonds coloured in such a way to look like oversized Smarties and presented in various disguises, e.g. as flower petals.

The town itself was almost totally destroyed by an earthquake in 1706. That’s a bit of a theme around these parts. You might think people would get fed up living in a place where natural catastrophes happen so regularly, but apparently not. Anyway, quite aside from the fact that many of the buildings are clearly of late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, which is not the case in L’Aquila, the reconstruction of Sulmona has made it a much airier place: the squares are larger and more open, and the streets wider. While the topography around L’Aquila is complex – the town itself sits on a hill surrounded by numerous local maxima, minima and saddle-points –  Sulmona sits in a broad flat plain on which the first and second derivatives behave in a much more sensible fashion.  I have to say that I have found L’Aquila quite oppressive at times during this visit. I don’t believe in ghosts of course, but there is so much evidence of destruction all around that it definitely has something of a haunted atmosphere. It was good to get away to a town whose wounds have healed.


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