Archive for September, 2011


Posted in Poetry with tags , on September 30, 2011 by telescoper

I’m a bit surprised with myself for not posting this before now. I suppose one reason is that I feared it might be so well known that it would be considered a bit of cliché. However, at the end of a stressful week it seems a good time to post  Desiderata by Max Ehrmann, which I think contains much wisdom and which I always find a calming influence in anxious times. I know some people think this piece is nothing but a collection of platitudes, but I think it’s more than that. In any case,  if nothing else, it provides  useful advice for anyone serving  on a grants panel or waiting to learn the outcome…

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

When is a Professor not a Professor?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 29, 2011 by telescoper

Now that I’m back from panel duty, I notice that Amazon have finally corrected the misleading information on the page advertising a book by Mark Brake. Until a couple of days ago this page stated that the “author” was a Professor at the University of Glamorgan, despite the fact that it’s over a year since he was dismissed from that position. I’m not sure why they have suddenly removed their misrepresentation but now it merely says that Brake is an “academic”. I think that’s misleading too, as to my knowledge he doesn’t have a job at any university; the OED’s definition of the noun academic is

A member of a college or university; a collegian. Now spec. a senior member of a university; a member of the academic staff of a university or college; also loosely, an academically-gifted person.

Does the loose definition apply?

Meanwhile, this is taken from the front page of Mark Brake’s personal website.

Which seems to demonstrate that although Amazon have corrected their error, Brake himself is content to continue passing himself off as a Professor. I wonder how long it will be until this turns into the version that’s advertised on Amazon?

Also, does anyone know what the “L” stands for in “Mark L Brake”?

Why go to University?

Posted in Education with tags , , on September 29, 2011 by telescoper

I’ve just got time this morning before the Astronomy Grants Panel reconvenes for another day of deliberations to put up a quick postette. I thought of this quote the other day when we were inducing inducting inductifying enrolling the new undergraduates. I think it encapsulates what I think a university actually is, specifically why it’s essential for a University education to be part of an environment that also encompasses research, and why even in the digital age (and beyond),  personal interaction between student and teacher will always be essential. Call me old-fashioned.

The general principles of any study you may learn by books at home; but the detail, the colour, the tone, the air, the life which makes it live in us, you must catch all these from those in whom it lives already.

From The Idea of a University, by Cardinal John H. Newman, Chapter 2.

The Autumn Collection

Posted in Biographical, Education on September 28, 2011 by telescoper

Up bright and early again this morning, ready for the return leg (and possible extra time/penalties) of the STFC Astronomy Grants Panel deliberations in Swindon. While I slurp my coffee and crunch my toast I thought I’d try to get my brain into gear by posting a brief something.

Yesterday was the first day of our induction period for new students. Lectures proper don’t start until next week but this week we have preliminary sessions with all the freshers to show them round the laboratories, tell them how the library learning resources unit works, sort out their access to computer facilities and so on. As I’ve blogged about before, this is a bumper year for us in terms of undergraduate intake so these sessions were busier than usual. Somewhat remarkably, however, at close of play we had managed to process nearly all the students we were expecting. Usually a few  turn up late, or don’t turn up at all, but this time there seems to be only one “no show”. That must be some kind of record.

At coffee time this morning, all staff were invited to a “meet and greet” session with the new students. I’m not really involved with the undergraduate induction process but went along anyway to show moral support (and help myself to free coffee). When I arrived at the session I immediately noticed the crowd of baffled and bewildered people struggling to figure out what was going on. But that was just the members of stafff;  the students  seemed fine with it all.

Over coffee I chatted with a few students who were very friendly and relaxed, raring to get started with their studies. Let’s see how long that lasts! One student asked me “What are physicists really like?”. All I could think of to say was “some of them resemble normal people”…

I doubt if any of the new students is a reader of this blog – especially during Fresher’s Week, in which there are many distractions on offer – but in any case I’d like to welcome them all to Cardiff. If any are reading this, I wish you well in your  studies, and hope you find your time here both fruitful and enjoyable!

Just as some students start on their course others are about to complete theirs. Such is the cycle of academic life. My main administrative role in the School of Physics & Astronomy actually concerns postgraduate students. The end of this week (September 30th) is the PhD thesis deadline for several of these, so there’s been a rush of paperwork relating to arrangements for examinations for me to deal with. I’m sure there’ll be more than a few people having a relaxing tipple on Friday evening after they’ve submitted their thesis.

All in all it was a very busy but actually quite pleasant day made all the more pleasant by an unexpected outbreak of nice sunshine. Now. To Swindon.

Wind turbines aren’t noisy!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on September 27, 2011 by telescoper

I read this morning that a petition to the Welsh Assembly Government has been raised demanding that wind farms be switched off from time to time to give local residents “some respite from the noise they make”.

In fact wind turbines, even big ones, make far less noise than people seem to think, and certainly less than motor vehicles. So if you’ve got an objection to wind farms, please make it an honest one.

Advanced Level Mathematics Examination, Vintage 1981

Posted in Education with tags , , , , , , on September 26, 2011 by telescoper

It’s been a while since I posted any of my old examination papers, but I wanted to put this one up before term starts in earnest. In the following you can find both papers (Paper I and Paper 2) of the Advanced Level Mathematics Examination that I sat in 1981.

Each paper is divided into two Sections: A covers pure mathematics while B encompasses applied mathematics (i.e. mechanics) and statistics. Students were generally taught only one of the two parts of Section B and in my case it was the mechanics bit that I answered in the examination. Paper I contains slightly shorter questions than Paper 2 and more of them..

Note that slide rules were allowed, but calculators had crept in by then. In fact I used my wonderful HP32-E, complete with Reverse Polish Notation. I loved it, not least because nobody ever asked to borrow it as they didn’t understand how it worked…

I also did Further Mathematics, and will post those papers in due course, but in the meantime I stress that this is just plain Mathematics.

If it looks a bit small you can use the viewer to zoom in.

I’ll be interested in comments from anyone who sat A-Level Mathematics more recently than 1981. Do you think these papers are harder than the ones you took? Is the subject matter significantly different?

Astronomy Look-alikes, No. 63

Posted in Astronomy Lookalikes with tags , on September 25, 2011 by telescoper

I’m struck by the remarkable similarity between “author and science communicator” Mr Mark Brake (alias “@ProfMBrake”  on Twitter) and Mr Mark  Brake the disgraced former University of Glamorgan employee who falsely claimed to have a PhD when applying for a grant in 2006 and whose professorship at Glamorgan was terminated in mysterious circumstances in 2010. Old habits clearly die very hard…

Professor Yes?

Dr No