Archive for November, 2016

Yancey Special

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on November 30, 2016 by telescoper

Time for a bit of Boogie Woogie. This is by the great Jimmy Yancey who, despite having a strong claim to be regarded as the founding father of this style of piano playing, is nowhere near as well known as he should be. In fact he only began to make recordings relatively late in life and never earned enough money to give up his day job, which was as a groundsman for the Chicago White Sox baseball team. He was nevertheless a huge influence on people like Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons who made a great commercial success out of this  genre.

You may or may not know that Boogie Woogie encompasses quite a wide `library’ of left-hand bass patterns, many of which have their own names: the Rocks, the Trenches and the Fives to name but three. I’ve always felt that there was an interesting paper (or perhaps PhD thesis) to be written about the various permutations of notes involved in these figures, which mainly (but not exclusively)  involve the root, third, fifth and sixth notes of the relevant chord, which are usually themselves part of a standard 12-bar blues progression. Usually the little finger of the left hand picks out the root note and since the pattern played by the other fingers doesn’t change as the chords change remembering where your pinkie has to go more-or-less guarantees that the rest of the pattern ends up in the right place.

The simplest of all these Boogie Woogie figures to play is the Barrelhouse left-hand style that just involves a pair of two-note chords (root-fifth and root-sixth). Double up each of those chords and you get the left hand for Meade Lux Lewis’s classic Honky Tonk Train Blues, and so on. I mention that because if you follow the Youtube link you’ll see a photograph of Jimmy Yancey watching Meade Lux Lewis play.

Anyway, though most Boogie-Woogie left-hand bass figures have rather abstract names such as those listed above, this one – which you’ll recognize from a number of other tunes, such as Fats Domino’s Blueberry Hill –  is always called the Yancey Special left hand as a tribute to its inventor. Apart from that lovely rolling bass line, what else is great about this track is the way Jimmy Yancey generates such a sense of forward momentum at a relatively slow tempo, e.g. by using the very effective technique (called a “pick-up”) of starting a right-hand phrase just before the bar line indicate by the left hand.

Attempted Assassination of the Queen – by William McGonagall

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on November 30, 2016 by telescoper

God prosper long our noble Queen,
And long may she reign!
Maclean he tried to shoot her,
But it was all in vain.

For God He turned the ball aside
Maclean aimed at her head;
And he felt very angry
Because he didn’t shoot her dead.

There’s a divinity that hedges a king,
And so it does seem,
And my opinion is, it has hedged
Our most gracious Queen.

Maclean must be a madman,
Which is obvious to be seen,
Or else he wouldn’t have tried to shoot
Our most beloved Queen.

Victoria is a good Queen,
Which all her subjects know,
And for that God has protected her
From all her deadly foes.

She is noble and generous,
Her subjects must confess;
There hasn’t been her equal
Since the days of good Queen Bess.

Long may she be spared to roam
Among the bonnie Highland floral,
And spend many a happy day
In the palace of Balmoral.

Because she is very kind
To the old women there,
And allows them bread, tea, and sugar,
And each one get a share.

And when they know of her coming,
Their hearts feel overjoy’d,
Because, in general, she finds work
For men that’s unemploy’d.

And she also gives the gipsies money
While at Balmoral, I’ve been told,
And, mind ye, seldom silver,
But very often gold.

I hope God will protect her
By night and by day,
At home and abroad,
When she’s far away.

May He be as a hedge around her,
As he’s been all along,
And let her live and die in peace
Is the end of my song.

by William Topaz McGonagall (1825-1902)



Time for Elsexit?

Posted in Open Access on November 29, 2016 by telescoper

I, for one, agree very strongly that we should ditch Elsevier completely. Tim Gowers gives the lowdown on the scandalous situation.

Gowers's Weblog

This post is principally addressed to academics in the UK, though some of it may apply to people in other countries too. The current deal that the universities have with Elsevier expires at the end of this year, and a new one has been negotiated between Elsevier and Jisc Collections, the body tasked with representing the UK universities. If you want, you can read a thoroughly misleading statement about it on Elsevier’s website. On Jisc’s website is a brief news item with a link to further details that tells you almost nothing and then contains a further link entitled “Read the full description here”, which appears to be broken. On the page with that link can be found the statement

The ScienceDirect agreement provides access to around 1,850 full text scientific, technical and medical (STM) journals – managed by renowned editors, written by respected authors and read by researchers from…

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1st Annual Robert Grosseteste Lecture in Astrophysics/Cosmology

Posted in Biographical, Books, Talks and Reviews on November 29, 2016 by telescoper

A few years ago I blogged about the fact that the University of Lincoln was setting up a new School of Mathematics and Physics. Well, now they’re up and running and they’ve invited me to give the first in a new series of annual public lectures!

Maths & Physics News


The Cosmic Web

a public lecture by

Professor Peter Coles

School of Physics and Astronomy, Cardiff University

Thursday 23 February 2017 at 6 pm

Stephen Langton Building (former EMMTEC) Lecture Theatre, Brayford Pool Campus, University of Lincoln

Eventbrite - Annual Robert Grosseteste Lecture in Astrophysics/Cosmology

coles_2The lecture will focus on the large-scale structure of the Universe and the ideas that physicists are weaving together to explain how it came to be the way it is. Over the last few decades, astronomers have revealed that our cosmos is not only vast in scale – at least 14 billion light years in radius – but also exceedingly complex, with galaxies and clusters of galaxies linked together in immense chains and sheets, surrounding giant voids of (apparently) empty space. Cosmologists have developed theoretical explanations for its origin that involve such exotic concepts as ‘dark matter’, ‘dark energy’ and ‘cosmic inflation’, producing a cosmic web of ideas that is, in some ways, as…

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Nailing Cosmological Jelly to the Wall

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on November 28, 2016 by telescoper

When asked to provide comments for a recent piece about cosmology in New Scientist, all I could come up with was the quote in the following excerpt:

But no measurement will rule out inflation entirely, because it doesn’t make specific predictions. “There is a huge space of possible inflationary theories, which makes testing the basic idea very difficult,” says Peter Coles at Cardiff University, UK. “It’s like nailing jelly to the wall.”

Certain of my colleagues have cast doubt on whether I am qualified to comment on the nailing of jelly to the wall, so I feel obliged to share the results of my highly successful research into this in the form of the following photograph:

I regret that I was unable to find any Dark Jelly, so had to settle for the more familiar baryonic type. Also, for the record, I should point out that what is shown is actually jelly concentrate. A similar experiment with the more normal diluted form of jelly was somewhat less successful.

I hope this clarifies the situation.

Changing Patterns of Work

Posted in Biographical, Mental Health with tags on November 28, 2016 by telescoper

I read an interesting piece in yesterday’s Observer about a number of people who have decided to switch careers, or at least change the pattern of their working life, relatively late in life. Unlike the cases described in the article, I haven’t had the nerve to try an entirely new kind of job – at least not yet! – but I did feel the article in question had some relevance to my own decision, made a few months ago, to resign from my previous post as Head of the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex and move back to Cardiff.

I’m not going to go into all the reasons for stepping down, but one of them is I wanted to establish a better work-life balance. Fortunately, I never sold my little house in Cardiff and had also paid off the mortgage on that property some years ago, so returning to live there full-time was relatively straightforward and meant reducing my outgoings considerably.  I was therefore more than happy to accept the offer of a position here on a 50% salary. In other words, I am officially a part-time member of staff. I’m planning to use the other 50% to pursue some other interests, such as writing a couple of books and running the Open Journal of Astrophysics, but generally just taking more time off the treadmill of academic life.

Another thing I ought to mention is that my current position is fixed-term, for three years only. The earliest I’ll be able to retire is when I am  55, which is still a couple of years away. Whether I do go then depends on a number of things, including how difficult the University funding environment becomes as a result of loss of EU income and the proposed large reduction in numbers of overseas students.  If things become really tight I think it’s important for people of my age to make way so that the younger generation have a better chance. Perhaps I won’t retire at that time anyway. Perhaps I’ll follow the example of the folk in the Observer piece and start a new career as something completely different!

Having said that I’m a part-time member of staff, I have to also admit that I’m finding it quite difficult actually working part-time. This is largely because the University’s calendar of business continues at a full-time rate. Some of the jobs I’ve been asked to do in my new role – specifically designing a couple of  new postgraduate courses – had to be completed quite soon after I arrived, something I had not realized when I accepted the position here! However, now that those deadlines have been met I can hopefully settle down to a regular pattern of work, involving a bit of teaching and research in the School of Physics & Astronomy and helping get the Data Innovation Research Institute off the ground. When things have settled into a steady state I think I’ll start filling in time sheets – not for anyone else’s use, but for my own records. I can manage comfortably on a part-time salary, but I draw the line at unpaid overtime.

On the other hand, it’s always difficult to draw the line when you’re an academic. We’re basically paid to think and most of us don’t stop doing that even during our time off..

Infinite LIGO Dreams

Posted in Art, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on November 28, 2016 by telescoper

There was a special event in the School of Physics & Astronomy here at Cardiff University on Friday afternoon – the unveiling of a new work of art in our coffee area. The work, a large oil painting, called Infinite LIGO Dreams by local artist Penelope Rose Cowley was inspired by the detection of gravitational waves earlier this year:



You can read more about this work, and the circumstances behind its creation, at the Cardiff University website and via the Physics World blog. If you like the piece you can order a poster-sized print from Penelope Cowleys’s own website here.

The unveiling of this artwork was preceded by a drinks reception, which probably accounts for the errors that crept into the blog post I wrote on Friday after the party!