Archive for October, 2014

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..


Ice Watch

Posted in Art, Politics with tags , , , , , , on October 30, 2014 by telescoper

I thought I’d share this video about an installation called Ice Watch, which involves one hundred tonnes of inland ice from Greenland meltinging on the Radhusplads, Copenhagen’s City Hall Square. With Ice Watch, Olafur Eliasson and Minik Rosing direct attention to the publication of the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report on the Earth’s Climate. The ice now melted, which happened faster than expected owing to the unusually warm weather for this time of year…




Three Minutes of Cosmology

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on October 29, 2014 by telescoper

Not much time today to do anything except help one of my former PhD students become a Youtube sensation by sharing this video of Ian Harrison. Ian did his doctorate with me in Cardiff but now works in the Midlands, at the University of Manchester. Here he is talking about part of his PhD work for just three minutes without repetition, hesitation, deviation, or repetition:



STFC Consolidated Grants Review

Posted in Finance, Science Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2014 by telescoper

It’s been quite a while since I last put my community service hat on while writing a blog post, but here’s an opportunity. Last week the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) published a Review of the Implementation of Consolidated Grants, which can be found in its entirety here (PDF). I encourage all concerned to read it.

Once upon a time I served on the Astronomy Grants Panel whose job it was to make recommendations on funding for Astronomy through the Consolidated Grant Scheme, though this review covers the implementation across the entire STFC remit, including Nuclear Physics, Particle Physics (Theory), Particle Physics (Experiment) and Astronomy (which includes solar-terrestrial physics and space science). It’s quite interesting to see differences in how the scheme has been implemented across these various disciplines, but I’ll just include here a couple of comments on the Astronomy side of things.

First, here is a table showing the number of academic staff for whom support was requested over the three years for which the consolidated grant system has been in existence (2011, 2012 and 2013 for rounds 1, 2 and 3 respectively).  You can see that the overall success rate was slightly better in round 3, possibly due to applicants learning more about the process over the cycle, but otherwise the outcomes seem reasonably consistent:


The last three rows of this table  on the other hand show quite clearly the impact of the “flat cash” settlement for STFC science funding on Postdoctoral Research Assistant (PDRA) support:

Constant cash means ongoing cuts in real terms; there were 11.6% fewer Astronomy PDRAs supported in 2013 than in 2011. Job prospects for the next generation of astronomers continue to dwindle…

Any other comments, either on these tables or on the report as a whole, are welcome through the comments box.


Poets in October

Posted in Poetry with tags , on October 27, 2014 by telescoper

I’m sure few readers of this blog can have failed to notice that today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. I’ve posted quite a few of his poems over the years so it seems fitting to post this, Poem in October, as a birthday tribute.

It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
And the mussel pooled and the heron
Priested shore
The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the webbed wall
Myself to set foot
That second
In the still sleeping town and set forth.

My birthday began with the water-
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
Above the farms and the white horses
And I rose
In a rainy autumn
And walked abroad in shower of all my days
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
Over the border
And the gates
Of the town closed as the town awoke.

A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
Blackbirds and the sun of October
On the hill’s shoulder,
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
To the rain wringing
Wind blow cold
In the wood faraway under me.

Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
With its horns through mist and the castle
Brown as owls
But all the gardens
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
There could I marvel
My birthday
Away but the weather turned around.

It turned away from the blithe country
And down the other air and the blue altered sky
Streamed again a wonder of summer
With apples
Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
Through the parables
Of sunlight
And the legends of the green chapels

And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
These were the woods the river and the sea
Where a boy
In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
And the mystery
Sang alive
Still in the water and singing birds.

And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
Joy of the long dead child sang burning
In the sun.
It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
O may my heart’s truth
Still be sung
On this high hill in a year’s turning.


I admire greatly the poems of Dylan Thomas for their energy and colour and the truly original way he uses words. Nevertheless I do agree with a friend of mine who said earlier today that Dylan Thomas is the second-greatest Welsh poet of the twentieth century who wrote in English and had the surname “Thomas”. I mean no disrespect at all to DM but, although the two are very different, RS has to be the greater of the two Thomases.

This poem by R.S. Thomas is called Song at a Year’s Turning; the echo of the final phrase of Poem in October and the fact that it was published in 1955 make it very clear that it was written as a kind of elegy from one Thomas to the other:

Shelley dreamed it. Now the dream decays.
The props crumble; the familiar ways
Are stale with tears trodden underfoot.
The heart’s flower withers at the root.
Bury it then, in history’s sterile dust.
The slow years shall tame your tawny lust.

Love deceived him; what is there to say
The mind brought you by a better way
To this despair? Lost in the world’s wood
You cannot stanch the bright menstrual blood.
The earth sickens; under naked boughs
The frost comes to barb your broken vows.

Is there blessing? Light’s peculiar grace
In cold splendour robes this tortured place
For strange marriage. Voices in the wind
Weave a garland where a mortal sinned.
Winter rots you; who is there to blame?
The new grass shall purge you in its flame.

Thursday (and Friday and Saturday) Night Fever

Posted in Biographical on October 26, 2014 by telescoper

It’s been a very strange weekend. Some horrible bug hit me with a fever on Thursday evening, so I had to cancel my Friday appointments.

Then I remembered I was supposed to be in Cardiff this weekend so dragged myself out of bed and onto the train. Although I wasn’t at all comfortable, I slept for most of the journey. I hope I didn’t infect too many other passengers…

An early night on Friday and most of Saturday in bed seem to have helped, though I was clearly still delirious this afternoon when I dreamt that Newcastle managed to beat Spurs 2-1 at White Hart Lane. I also seem to have won another dictionary in the Sunday Independent Crossword competition.

Now the fever seems to have morphed into a fairly standard cold-type thing and I’ll have to face getting an early morning train back to Brighton tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll get back about lunchtime.

Thought for the Day

Posted in History, Literature with tags on October 25, 2014 by telescoper

A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past, or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men.

Bertrand Russell (1927)