Archive for April, 2011

Bach for Easter

Posted in Music with tags , on April 24, 2011 by telescoper

Well, it’s Easter Sunday and it seems entirely appropriate to post this to mark the occasion. It’s the Sinfonia from the wonderful Easter Oratio BWV 249 by Johann Sebastian Bach, first performed on Easter Day in 1725.


When to believe new physics results (via Occasional Musings of a Particle Physicist)

Posted in Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , on April 23, 2011 by telescoper

This seems like a good day for reblogging, so try this for size. It gives instructions on when to believe stories about discoveries of exciting new physics by large consortia…

It’s an interesting piece, however it does seem to me that it gives necessary conditions for believing a result, but not sufficient ones. It’s not unknown for refereed articles to be wrong…

Here's a brief summary giving my understanding of how physics results are determined in collaborations of hundreds or thousands of physicists such as the experiments at the LHC and when to believe a new physics effect has been seen.  Someone within the collaboration from an institute (university, lab, etc.) has an idea for an analysis. A few people within the institute do some preliminary studies on existing experimental and/or simulated data to … Read More

via Occasional Musings of a Particle Physicist

Is AV better than FPTP? (via Gowers’s Weblog)

Posted in Politics on April 23, 2011 by telescoper

Here’s an interesting discussion of the Alternative Vote versus First Past The Post voting systems. This is the issue to be decided at the Referendum on 5th May in case you didn’t know…

Is AV better than FPTP? On May 5th the UK will vote in a referendum for only the second time ever. (The first time was in 1975, when we voted on whether to remain in the EU, or the Common Market as it was then called.) Now we have a chance to decide whether to retain our current voting system, misleadingly known as First Past The Post, or whether to switch to the Alternative Vote. Let me come clean straight away. Although in this post I shall try to write dispassionatel … Read More

via Gowers's Weblog

I was vicar of large things

Posted in Poetry with tags , on April 22, 2011 by telescoper

It seems appropriate to post something today – Good Friday – from the great Welsh poet R.S. Thomas. An Anglican clergyman, Thomas was vicar at St Hywyn’s Church (which was built 1137) in Aberdaron at the western tip of the Llŷn Peninsula. In this, one of his most famous poems, he speaks eloquently and movingly of the frustrations of his calling. I also managed to find a recording of the poet himself reading it.

and here is the text

I was vicar of large things
in a small parish. Small-minded
I will not say, there were depths
in some of them I shrank back
from, wells that the word “God”
fell into and died away,
and for all I know is still
falling. Who goes for water
to such must prepare for a long
wait. Their eyes looked at me
and were the remains of flowers
on an old grave. I was there,
I felt, to blow on ashes
that were too long cold. Often,
when I thought they were about
to unbar to me, the draught
out of their empty places
came whistling so that I wrapped
myself in the heavier clothing
of my calling, speaking of light and love
in the thickening shadows of their kitchens


Astronomy Look-alikes, No. 56

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on April 21, 2011 by telescoper

It’s been mentioned by quite a few people that Professor Iwan Williams (formerly of Queen Mary, University of London, now retired) bears something of a resemblance to Chief Inspector Morse (formerly of Thames Valley C.I.D.)…

Inspector Morse

Iwan Williams


Community Matters

Posted in Education, Science Politics with tags , , on April 21, 2011 by telescoper

Well, here I am back in sunny Cardiff after a pleasant journey back from Llandudno and a very enjoyable and productive National Astronomy Meeting. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all those involved at the Royal Astronomical Society in putting the programme together and doing a huge amount of work behind the scenes. The staff at the Venue Cymru in Llandudno were very friendly as well as highly professional and well organised, and everything seems to run exceptionally smoothly.

Oh, and I shouldn’t forget the conference dinner on Tuesday night, which ended with a serenade from the magnificent Maelgwyn Male Voice Choir. It was fitting to have the chance to experience a fine Welsh tradition, and I thought they were wonderful to listen to.

Anyway, I might get a bit of time over the Easter break to comment on some things that struck me over the course of the past week but for today – because I’m quite tired after the journey (and several late nights at NAM) – I thought I’d just comment a bit further on the first session I attended, on Monday evening, attended by various representatives of STFC, at which John Womersley gave a presentation about the status of various projects in the existing astronomy programme and prospects for the future. It was clear from that presentation that there are many challenges ahead, but I was relieved that the atmosphere of the meeting wasn’t anything like as confrontational as on many previous occasions. This process of reconciliation will no doubt take futher steps forward when the new Chief Executive takes over next year.

Drinking in the bar much later in the evening with a number of senior figures from diverse branches of astronomy the issue arose of the now notorious petition that George Efstathiou blogged about in a guest post some time ago. Two things are now clear about this initiative. One is that it caused deep ructions within the astronomical community, with a number of senior figures vociferously both for and against it – even within the same department. When I revealed that I had signed it myself, a few of the assembled company expressed their views in forthright language about why I had been wrong, but I have to say without much coherence in the actual logic.

The other thing that emerged during the STFC session was an explicit acknowledgment that the petition had, in one particular respect, made a very big difference, namely that the criteria for the appointment of the next Chief Executive of STFC specifically took into account some of the comments made in it.

Anyway, the point of raising the dreaded petition is not to rake over this whole business but simply to try to put it to rest. We need to move on, and should be trying to heal any wounds that it may inadvertantly have caused. There are definitive signs that the STFC Executive is now really starting to listen, so now there’s a chance to really engage with them through the channels they are opening up rather than having to resort to extreme measures such as George’s petition.

Oh, and I’ll just remind anyone who is interested in the vacancy at the top of STFC that the deadline for applications is April 28th….


Astronomy Look-alikes, No. 55

Posted in Astronomy Lookalikes with tags , , , on April 20, 2011 by telescoper

One of the bonuses of being at the National Astronomy Meeting here in Llandudo – aside from being at the seaside at a time of gloriously sunny weather – is the chance to attend plenary lectures from other fields and learn a bit about what’s going on in the wider world of astronomy, space science and geophysics. More importantly, it also gives me new ideas for my look-alikes series. Take today, for example. I attended a nice plenary talk about the EISCAT facility by a speaker, Dr Esa Turunen, who may well be related to Norman Tebbit…

Norman Tebbit

Esa Turunen