Archive for May, 2015

Through My Vision

Posted in Education with tags , , , , on May 31, 2015 by telescoper

I just saw this video and thought I would post it here. It features Daniel Hajas, one of our second-year Theoretical Physics students in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Sussex. In this short documentary he talks about his life and the challenges he faces as a blind person studying physics. Some of it was filmed inside the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, so you might see some people you recognise…

Night Sky

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on May 30, 2015 by telescoper

What they are saying is
that there is life there, too:
that the universe is the size it is
to enable us to catch up.

They have gone on from the human:
that shining is a reflection
of their intelligence. Godhead
is the colonisation by mind

of untenanted space. It is its own
light, a statement beyond language
of conceptual truth. Every night
is a rinsing myself of the darkness

that is in my veins. I let the stars inject me
with fire, silent as it is far,
but certain in its cauterising
of my despair. I am a slow

traveller, but there is more than time
to arrive. Resting in the intervals
of my breathing, I pick up the signals
relayed to me from a periphery I comprehend.

by R.S. Thomas (1913-2000)

Health and Safety Notice

Posted in Uncategorized on May 29, 2015 by telescoper

No time for a proper post today so I’ll just show a photograph of some of the equipment in our technical workshop. As Head of School I am personally responsible for Health & Safety matters, hence the new signage…


Jazz and Quantum Entanglement

Posted in Jazz, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on May 28, 2015 by telescoper

As regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Bonkers) will know, among the various things I write about apart from The Universe and Stuff is my love of Jazz. I don’t often get the chance to combine music with physics in a post so I’m indebted to George Ellis for drawing my attention to this fascinating little video showing a visualisation of the effects of quantum entanglement:

The experiment shown involves pairs of entangled photons. Here is an excerpt from the blurb on Youtube:

The video shows images of single photon patterns, recorded with a triggered intensified CCD camera, where the influence of a measurement of one photon on its entangled partner photon is imaged in real time. In our experiment the immediate change of the monitored mode pattern is a result of the polarization measurement on the distant partner photon.

You can find out more by clicking through to the Youtube page.

While most of my colleagues were completely absorbed by the pictures, I was fascinated by the choice of musical accompaniment. It is in fact Blue Piano Stomp, a wonderful example of classic Jazz from the 1920s featuring the great Johnny Dodds on clarinet (who also wrote the tune) and the great Lil Armstrong (née Hardin) on piano, who just happened to be the first wife of a trumpet player by the name of Louis Armstrong.

So at last I’ve found an example of Jazz entangled with Physics!

P.S. We often bemoan the shortage of female physicists, but Jazz is another field in which women are under-represented and insufficiently celebrated. Lil Hardin was a great piano player and deserves to be much more widely appreciated for her contribution to Jazz history.


Still Not Significant

Posted in Bad Statistics with tags , on May 27, 2015 by telescoper

I just couldn’t resist reblogging this post because of the wonderful list of meaningless convoluted phrases people use when they don’t get a “statistically significant” result. I particularly like:

“a robust trend toward significance”.

It’s scary to think that these were all taken from peer-reviewed scientific journals…

Probable Error


What to do if your p-value is just over the arbitrary threshold for ‘significance’ of p=0.05?

You don’t need to play the significance testing game – there are better methods, like quoting the effect size with a confidence interval – but if you do, the rules are simple: the result is either significant or it isn’t.

So if your p-value remains stubbornly higher than 0.05, you should call it ‘non-significant’ and write it up as such. The problem for many authors is that this just isn’t the answer they were looking for: publishing so-called ‘negative results’ is harder than ‘positive results’.

The solution is to apply the time-honoured tactic of circumlocution to disguise the non-significant result as something more interesting. The following list is culled from peer-reviewed journal articles in which (a) the authors set themselves the threshold of 0.05 for significance, (b) failed to achieve that threshold value for…

View original post 2,779 more words

League Table Positions

Posted in Education, Football with tags , , , , , , , on May 26, 2015 by telescoper

Among the things I didn’t have time to blog about over a very busy Bank Holiday Weekend was the finish of the English Premiership season. I haven’t posted much about my own team, Newcastle United, this season because I haven’t been able to think of anything particularly positive to say. Since Alan Pardew quit in January to join Crystal Palace, Newcastle slumped to such an alarming extent that they went into their last game of the season (against West Ham) just two points above the drop zone. Had they lost their game, which did not seem unlikely on the basis of their recent form, and had Hull won against Manchester United, which did not seem unlikely on the grounds that Man Utd wwould finish in 4th place whatever happened in that game, then Newcastle would be relegated to the Championship. In the event, however, Newcastle won 2-0 which made them safe while Hull could only draw 0-0 which meant that Newcastle would have survived even if they had lost against West Ham. Moreover, Sunderland also lost their last game, which meant that the final Premier League Table looked like this:


(courtesy of the BBC Website). The important places are 15 and 16, obviously. The natural order of things has been restored….

Another League Table came out over the Bank Holiday. This was the annual Guardian University Guide. I’m deeply sceptical of the value of these league tables, but there’s no question that they’re very important to potential students so we have to take them seriously. This year was pretty good for Sussex as far as the Guardian Table is concerned: the University of Sussex rose to 19th place overall and the two departments of the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences both improved: Physics & Astronomy is back in the top 10 (at number 9, up from 11th place last year) and Mathematics rose 22 places to take 21st place. Gratifyingly, both finished well above Sunderland.

While these results are good news in themselves, at least around my neck of the woods, as they will probably lead to increased applications to Sussex from students next year, it is important to look behind the simplistic narrative of “improvements”. Since last year there have been several substantial changes to the Guardian’s methodology. The weighting given to “spend-per-student” has been reduced from 15% to 10% of the overall score and the method of calculating “value added” has excluded specific predictions based on “non-tariff” students (i.e. those without UK entry qualifications, especially A-levels). What the Guardian consistently fails to do is explain the relative size of the effect of arbitrary methodological changes on its tables compared to actual changes in, e.g., cash spent per student.

Imagine the outrage there would be if football teams were not told until the end of a Premier League season how many points would be awarded for a win….

Laurie Anderson – All the Animals

Posted in Art, Music with tags , , on May 25, 2015 by telescoper

Taking a short break from the combination of marking examinations and listening to cricket which has been my Bank Holiday Monday so far, so I thought I’d post a brief report on the show I went to last night, which happened to be the last night of this year’s Brighton Festival.

All the Animals was a show put together especially for this year’s Brighton Festival by renowned performance artist Laurie Anderson. She is most famous (at least in the UK) for the amazing record O Superman which was a smash hit in 1981; I posted about that on this blog here. A large number of last night’s audience members were clearly devout Laurie Anderson fans but I’ve never seen one of her live shows so wasn’t sure what to expect.

It turned out to be very much a one-woman show, with Laurie Anderson alone on stage. The show consisted of her telling stories about various animals, including her own pet terrier, Lula Belle, who is now sadly deceased. In between the stories there were musical interludes, with herself performing on an electric violin with various digital effects thrown in, and sometimes she accompanied herself as she performed the stories. The show was shot through with a wry humour and Laurie Anderson herself came across as a very engaging personality.

I had been told that her performances were often dazzling multimedia events, but this turned out not to be like that at all. The big screen at the back of the stage was only used a couple of times, once to show excerpts from a list of extinct animal species and once to show a couple of Youtube clips of Lula Belle. There were no dramatic lighting or other effects either. It was all very low key really. Far from the multimedia extravaganza I had anticipated.

There was enthusiastic applause at the end of the show, but to be honest I felt a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed the show, and still think Laurie Anderson is a really interesting artist but I suppose I just built up in myself an expectation of something with a more exciting visual element.

So that’s the end of this year’s Brighton Festival. Still, yesterday I posted the following tweet:

I guess all three predictions proved false. England didn’t lose on Sunday and indeed are very much favourites to win the Test match as I write this. Newcastle United won their game against West Ham and avoided relegation to the Championship. And Laurie Anderson, though definitely interesting, didn’t quite qualify as “fabulous”…