Archive for January, 2013

Slightly Famous?

Posted in Biographical, Television with tags , on January 25, 2013 by telescoper

slightly_famous

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Astronomy Look-alikes, No. 83

Posted in Astronomy Lookalikes with tags , , on January 24, 2013 by telescoper

Bad-boy Hollywood actor-director Alberto Vecchio bears a striking resemblance to Birmingham University’s gravitational wave physicist (and former Cardiff University postdoc) Sean Penn. I’ve long suspected that gravitational waves were pure Hollywood, but I’m still looking forward to Advanced LIGO, the movie,  in which our hero single-handedly discovers a stochastic background of tensor perturbations from the epoch of inflation.

Lookalikes

Winterreise – Im Dorfe

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on January 23, 2013 by telescoper

It’s quite difficult to catch the snow as it’s falling with a simple camera like the one on my Blackberry, but here’s an attempt taken yesterday…

As pure as the driven slush...

As pure as the driven slush…

 

Anyway, today it’s cold again and it’s started snowing again and I’m going to be working late again finishing this wretched report,  so I thought I’d take a quick break to post some suitably wintry music. This is from the wonderful recording of Winterreise by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, complete with sheet music so you can sing along. The piano accompaniments for Schubert’s songs are so simple only a genius could have written them…

I’m appalled

Posted in Biographical, Education with tags , , , , , on January 22, 2013 by telescoper

I was a research student at the University of Sussex from 1985 until 1988, as a result of which I can now put the letters DPhil after my name.  Now I’m gearing up to begin recruiting research students at Sussex when I move there at the end of this month; a list of available projects can be found here, if you’re interested.

However, in the course of this I learned that the University of Sussex has changed the abbreviated form of its postgraduate doctoral degree from DPhil to PhD. Future Susssex researchers will therefore be deprived of the ability to write the letters MADPhil after their name as I do.

The idea that anything in academia should ever actually change sets a dangerous precedent.  What were they thinking of? Everyone knows that PhD just stands for Doctor of Photocopying.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I’m appalled…

In defence of the Royal Institution

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 22, 2013 by telescoper

Just a quick reblog to draw attention to the campaign to save the Royal Institution from oblivion. Following catastrophic management by Susan Greenfield when she was Director of the RI, it is now virtually bankrupt and forced to contemplate the sale of the historic buildings in Mayfair it has occupied for over two hundred years. Please support the campaign.

Save the Ri

I am pleased to join forces with, and lend my support to, the Save21AlbemarleStreet campaign set-up last Friday by Mary R. Perkins.  The following statement reflects discussions we have been having. A new joint website will be appearing later, and in the meantime I encourage people to follow @Save21Albemarle on Twitter and, for those on Facebook, to join the group:

http://www.facebook.com/groups/Save21AlbemarleStreet

Thank you to the overwhelming level of support so far.  I apologise for not replying to each email individually – there are just too many!

Harry

Campaign to Save the Royal Institution

“We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.”  So wrote Winston Churchill, and there is no building anywhere in the world to which this profound observation applies more than the Royal Institution.  We can move all the books in the British Library to a new building, as has been done, and we can move all…

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University Admissions Turbulence

Posted in Education with tags , , , , on January 21, 2013 by telescoper

This morning I’ve been compiling various bits of statistical information for our Annual Programme Review and Evaluation. Yes, it really is as exciting as it sounds. In the course of this I remembered a news item in last week’s Times Higher concerning the latest University admissions figures from UCAS.

The story compares overall admissions figures (i.e. the total number of students entering each university) for 2011 and 2012, pointing out that there are huge changes in some institutions with winners and losers even within the Russell Group. The University of Bristol, for example, increased its intake by a whopping 28% whereas Sheffield was down by 13%.

Similar comments can be found here, in the Grauniad.

For your information you can find complete lists for 2011 and 2012 on the UCAS website.

What I usually do when statistics like this are released is look at the places I have worked in my own career, so here we are:

2011

2012

change

Cardiff

5130

5799

+13%

Nottingham

7187

7160

-0.4%

Queen Mary

3704

3484

-5.9%

Sussex

3203

3221

+0.6%

My current employer, Cardiff University, was well up in 2012 compared with 2011, whereas Queen Mary was significantly down. Nottingham was slightly down and Sussex slightly up, but both these variations are really within the level of √N noise.

Of course these are overall (institutional) figures, and I suspect they hide considerable variations at subject level. For example, although Physics has seen something of a resurgence in popularity lately, it’s difficult for Physics departments to over-recruit given constraints on laboratory space.

I’ve heard these changes described as “Darwinian”, but I’m not sure I agree. The big factor allowing Bristol to do so well has been the ability of institutions to recruit unlimited numbers of students with at least AAB at A-level. This completely changed the dynamics of the UCAS clearing system so it’s not at all surprising that it generated short-term chaotic variations. This year it is different again, with ABB now set to be unrestricted; similar turbulence is inevitable.

It’s difficult enough for universities to navigate safely through such unpredictable waters, and persistent tinkering with the controls is not helping in the slightest. Will the chaos decay naturally, or will it be constantly regenerated by badly thought-out interventions from those in charge?

Sonnet No. 6

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on January 21, 2013 by telescoper

Then let not winter’s ragged hand deface,
In thee thy summer, ere thou be distilled:
Make sweet some vial; treasure thou some place
With beauty’s treasure ere it be self-killed.
That use is not forbidden usury,
Which happies those that pay the willing loan;
That’s for thy self to breed another thee,
Or ten times happier, be it ten for one;
Ten times thy self were happier than thou art,
If ten of thine ten times refigured thee:
Then what could death do if thou shouldst depart,
Leaving thee living in posterity?
Be not self-willed, for thou art much too fair
To be death’s conquest and make worms thine heir.

Sonnet No. 6, by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)