Archive for September, 2014

The Origin of CERN

Posted in History, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on September 30, 2014 by telescoper

Since  CERN, the Geneva home of the Large Hadron Collider, is currently celebrating its 60th Anniversary, I thought I would use this organ to correct a widespread misapprehension concerning the the true historical origin of that organization. I have to say the general misunderstanding of the background to CERN is not helped by the information produced locally which insists that CERN is an acronym for Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire and that it came into being in 1954. This may be the date at which the Geneva operation commenced, but the organization has a far older origin than that.

CERN is in fact named after the Dorset village of Cerne Abbas, most famous for a prehistoric hill figure called the Cerne Abbas Giant. The following aerial photograph of this outstanding local landmark proves that the inhabitants of Dorset had the idea of erecting a large hardon facility hundreds of years ago…

Poetic Words: Dannie Abse

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on September 30, 2014 by telescoper

I don’t usually post about poetry two days running, but circumstances seem to justify reblog of the poem Three Street Musicians by wonderful Welsh poet Dannie Abse, who died on Sunday.

A Few Reasonable Words

Tipped by BBC Radio’s Words and Music on the legend of Orpheus, found this wonderful poem by
the Welsh poet Dannie Abse.

Three Street Musicians

Three street musicians in mourning overcoats
worn too long, shake money boxes this morning,
then, afterwards, play their suicide notes.

The violinist in chic, black spectacles, blind,
the stout tenor with a fake Napoleon stance,
and the looney flautist following behind,

they try to importune us, the busy living,
who hear melodic snatches of musichall
above unceasing waterfalls of traffic.

Yet if anything can summon back the dead
it is the old-time sound, old obstinate tunes,
such as they achingly render and suspend:

‘The Minstrel Boy’, ‘Roses of Picardy’.
No wonder cemeteries are full of silences
and stones keep down the dead that they defend.

Stones too light! Airs unresistible!
Even a dog listens, one paw raised, while the stout,
loud man amazes with…

View original post 48 more words

House on a Cliff

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on September 29, 2014 by telescoper

Indoors the tang of a tiny oil lamp. Outdoors
The winking signal on the waste of sea.
Indoors the sound of the wind. Outdoors the wind.
Indoors the locked heart and the lost key.

Outdoors the chill, the void, the siren. Indoors
The strong man pained to find his red blood cools,
While the blind clock grows louder, faster. Outdoors
The silent moon, the garrulous tides she rules.

Indoors ancestral curse-cum-blessing. Outdoors
The empty bowl of heaven, the empty deep.
Indoors a purposeful man who talks at cross
Purposes, to himself, in a broken sleep.

by Louis MacNeice (1907-1963).

Sunday Diversions

Posted in Biographical, Brighton with tags , , , on September 28, 2014 by telescoper

Remind me never again to travel on a Sunday. Needing to get back for some important meetings tomorrow I set out from Cardiff this lunchtime leaving plenty of time for the journey. Just as well.

For a start, First Great Western trains were disrupted by “planned engineering work”. Not very well planned, obviously. The train I got on was to be diverted via Bath Spa, adding about an hour to the usual journey time. But that wasn’t the main cause of vexation.

When it arrived at a crowded platform at Cardiff Central, the 12.53 consisted of just seven coaches, three of which were First Class. To add to the chaos and consternation, Coach B, in which several people standing beside me had reserved seats, did not exist.

Not having a reservation in a real or imaginary coach, rather than stand for 3 hours I went and sat in any empty First Class carriage and when the guard arrived I paid the £15 upgrade to Weekend First, congratulating First Great Western on a cleverly-worked scam. Deliberately running a short train on a busy route to increase revenue this way is cynical and exploitative but that’s what it means to run a train company these days.

Anyway, the weather being quite nice when I arrived in Paddington I walked through Kensington Gardens and along the Serpentine before heading down to Victoria.

Stage two of my journey via Southern Railways turned out to be no better. More “planned engineering works” meant all Victoria to Brighton trains were diverted through Littlehampton. A replacement bus from Three Bridges was offered as an alternative “possibly a little quicker” but having no confidence at all that a bus would actually materialise I stayed on the train as it trundled through rural Sussex.

I got to Brighton Station around 7pm, about 6 hours after leaving Cardiff Central, but at least I got a bus straight away.

I hope the rest of the week isn’t as exasperating as today, but something tells me that it might be..

Autumn Leaves In Cardiff

Posted in Biographical with tags , on September 27, 2014 by telescoper

Back in Cardiff for a couple of days to get some more writing done, I took a break to have a cup of tea in the garden. All the signs that summer is now over have now shown themselves: the start of undergraduate lectures (Monday); the Autumnal Equinox (Tuesday); the end of the County Championship on Friday; and so on.

Here in Cardiff the weather is still warm, but the leaves are turning brown and starting to fall. Conkers too. And, most spectacularly, the Virginia Creeper growing at the back of my house has turned blood red. It does look pretty, but I’m sure it’s not good for the gutters or the chimney stack above..

I told you once, I told you twice..

Posted in Jazz with tags , on September 26, 2014 by telescoper

I thought I’d wind things down for the weekend by posting a little bit of British jazz history. It’s perhaps not very well known that the great Sidney Bechet came to England in 1949 and did a concert and a recording session with Humphrey Lyttelton’s band while he was here. What’s also not very well known is how controversial this was, as in the immediate post-war years the Musician’s Union had persuaded the UK government to ban American artists from performing over here. Humph was having none of it, thank goodness, and here we have the legacy. Here is the unmistakeable Sidney Bechet on soprano sax, playing a traditional blues called I told you once, I told you twice with Humph on trumpet, Wally Fawkes on clarinet and, stealing the show, the absolutely superb Keith Christie on trombone. The only problem is that the youtube version cuts out a bit early…

After the concert they played together, Bechet summoned Humph in order to deliver a kind of end-of-term report on the band in which he pointed out little criticisms of their playing and so on. Bechet was a forceful character and often a harsh critic but when he got to Keith Christie he expressed nothing but unqualified admiration. There’s not much higher praise than that in the world of jazz.


Athena SWAN Bronze for Physics & Astronomy at Sussex

Posted in Education with tags , , , , , , on September 25, 2014 by telescoper

Athena Swan

Only  time for the quickest of quickies today, but I have some very good news to pass on so, without further ado, here we go. Today we learned that the Department of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Sussex has received a the Athena SWAN Bronze Award in recognition of our commitment to advancing women’s careers in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment in higher education and research. The Athena SWAN charter has been running since 2005, recognising the commitment of the higher education sector to address gender inequalities, tackle the unequal representation of women in science and to improve career progression for female academics.

This award has been the result of a huge effort led by Dr Kathy Romer but also involving many other members of staff in the Department and across entire  the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences generally. The Department scored at or above the national average in all key areas: student intake (UG, PGT, PGR), research staff, academic staff, REF submissions and so on. That said, the Athena SWAN process has highlighted several areas where improvements can be made, such as in the mentoring of female postdoctoral researchers, and enhanced levels of training in equality and diversity matters such as the influence of unconscious bias. We are very pleased to have received the bronze award, but there is still a very great deal to do. Many other institutions and departments have already progressed to the Silver or even Gold award, but our Bronze is at least a start!