Archive for January, 2017

Working for the Yankee Dollar

Posted in Biographical, Music with tags , on January 27, 2017 by telescoper

While bracing myself to endure the nauseating spectacle of a British Prime Minister grovelling to the abominable Donald Trump in a desperate attempt to interest him in a trade deal, and sacrifice the National Health Service in the process, I suddenly had two flashbacks to the days of my youth (specifically 1979).

The first was to the TV series Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Near the end, Bill Haydon, who has been revealed as a Russian “mole” and traitor to his country laments his country’s abject willingness to prostitute itself on behalf of the United States of America and explains that he decided to become a Soviet agent when he realised that “Britain had become America’s streetwalker”.

Coincidentally (?), this record by Scottish punk band The Skids was was also released in 1979:

Given the recent antics of the UK government I feel more confident than ever that Scottish independence will be a reality very soon.


Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered

Posted in Music with tags , , on January 26, 2017 by telescoper

Given that I love the Opera so much, I often wonder why it is that I dislike musicals so much. I’ve heard people say that it’s snobbery of some sort. I don’t think that’s true at all. After all, I do love a lot of the songs that appear in musicals – especially those from the classic American composers, such as Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein and (in this particular case) Rodgers and Hart. I’d say some of these songs are among the cleverest, wittiest and most engaging musical pieces ever composed. I suppose it must be that I just don’t find the shows themselves as interesting as some of the songs in them.

Anyway, I’ve had this one at the back of my mind since I heard it on Private Passions recently. It is from the musical Pal Joey was picked by Alan Bennett who praised it for its brilliant lyrics, full of cheeky rhymes, such as:

Vexed again, perplexed again
Thank God, I can be oversexed again

And this great song is made greater still in this performance by the sublime vocal artistry of the late great Ella Fitzgerald.


Posted in Uncategorized on January 25, 2017 by telescoper

The writer of this post – known as “GavTheBrexit” on Twitter – invites readers to share it, so I’m doing so now.
Anyone with any knowledge of physics whatsoever (even pre-GCSE) is invited to comment on the “theory” presented in the post.

Is it now official UKIP policy to repeal the laws of gravity?

P.S. Note the widespread use of “FASHCAPS”…



Well science tells us GRAVITY is a magnetic force keeping us and all on the PLANET EARTH.

So let’s go with SCIENCE even though i have little respect for it in many cases as much of it are THEORIES , just as it is with GRAVITY ??,

We are told a man called ISAAC NEWTON gravity-is-a-liediscovered gravity and what its effects are after seeing an APPLE fall from a tree.Well i am here to say this is UTTER RUBBISH.

So let’s go with Newton’s THEORY and that’s all it is a theory ?? no PROOF whatsoever exists to this day to conclusively PROVE GRAVITY.But for the sake of this article we will go along with Newton’s theory.

Now Newton’s THEORY is basically we are stuck to earth due to a MAGNETIC force or an ATTRACTION of sorts ?.

Now this would make sense if we didn’t have MASS…

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Chance’s Beard to Darwin

Posted in Beards, History with tags , , , , on January 25, 2017 by telescoper

One of my global team of unpaid researchers emailed me to tell about this short video, one of a series called Curious Objects commissioned by Cambridge University, which tells the story of a rather hairy encounter between Charles Darwin and a man called Dr Frank Chance. Dr Chance attempted to counter Darwin’s claim in Descent of Man that beard hair is always lighter than hair on the head – and went as far as sharing some of his own trimmings with the great man himself (although he seems to have had plenty of his own).

Is it true that beard hair is always lighter than scalp hair? And what about other hair…..the downstairs kind even?

Sci-Comm: What is to be done?

Posted in Uncategorized on January 25, 2017 by telescoper

Very important post which articulates some serious issues around science communication, especially that “outreach” needs to be far more than a problem exercise or an element of a recruitment strategy, which is how it has come to be viewed in many universities.

Literacy of the Present

Science communication has failed

Rearranging the furniture in the White House are a President who said climate change was a hoax, and a Vice-President who does not accept the theory of evolution. The rest of Trump’s cabinet is an equally deplorable bunch when it comes to science (or, indeed, anything else when it comes to being decent and humane).

I’m not blaming science communication for the election of Trump. But Trump’s Presidency is evidence that science communication has failed.

You might say that this has little to do with science communication, that Trump won the election on other issues but this only shows that science-based issues were not seen as important enough – also a failure.

And Brits should not be so smug either, with their vote for Brexit and their “had enough of experts”.

What we have clearly seen in recent months is that facts are not enough no…

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Back to the (Early) Universe

Posted in Education, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on January 24, 2017 by telescoper

After what seems like ages away from the lecture theatre, today I resuming teaching duties with the first session of my module on The Physics of the Early Universe; the link there gives Enzo Pascale as being in charge of the module, but he has left BrExit Britain for his native Italy so I’ve taken his place. I actually wrote the syllabus for this module about five years ago when I worked in Cardiff previously, and was scheduled to deliver it in 2013, but I left for Sussex before it started and never actually lectured it. It’s nice to be able to teach this material at long last – at least it’s stuff that I should know something about.

This lectures are attended by students on the 4th year of the integrated Masters programme (MPhys) and also on stand-alone MSc courses in Physics or Astrophysics. I have about 25 students enrolled, which is not bad for a specialist module.

In fact Enzo recommended the book I wrote with Francesco Lucchin when he taught the module, and I’m happy to use it as the main text. I won’t cover all the material in the book – there isn’t time, and some of the book is out of date (written in 2002) – but at least almost everything I do in the lectures has a counterpart in the book.

Chapter 3 of Coles \& Lucchin has a chapter that may prove particularly popular in this era of ‘Alternative Facts’:


I did however resist the temptation to hire a group of people to sit at the front of my first lecture cheering and clapping wildly.

I’ve asked to have my lectures timetabled in two-hour chunks. That’s partly because I only work part-time and I wanted to be able to maximize the flexibility with which I can use the rest of the time by concentrating my teaching commitments. The other reason is that I like the extended format. I don’t talk continuously for the whole time, of course. That would be unbearable for me and for the students. We have a ten-minute break in the middle. However, the two-hour block allows a wider range of activities – lecturing, discussion and worked examples – which is harder to do in the usual (50-minute) slot without being excessively rushed. When I taught postgraduates at Queen Mary we used two-hour blocks, which worked out quite well. The only problem is that I’m now a lot older, and having finished my first double-lecture I think it’s fair to say I’m more than a little knackered.

Another innovation is the use of Cardiff’s new lecture-capture system (called Panopto), which allows the lecturer to record everything – powerpoint, data visualizer, whiteboard and live action – for posterity. I recorded this morning’s lecture in toto and at some point when I get a moment I’ll do a quick edit and put it on Learning Central for the students to view at their leisure. I’m not sure how useful my ramblings will prove to be, but it’s fun to try these things. It’s a significantly more sophisticated and flexible system than the one we used when I was at Sussex, and I’m also lucky to be in a nice, clean and recently refurbished lecture theatre…

Anyway, this gives me the excuse to refloat an old opinion poll about lecture capture. Such facilities are of course very beneficial for students with special learning requirements, but in the spirit of inclusive teaching I think it’s good that all students can access recorded lecture material. Some faculty are apparently a little nervous that having recordings of lectures available online would result in falling attendances at lectures, but in fact the available evidence indicates precisely the opposite effect. Students find the recorded version adds quite a lot of value to the “live” event by allowing them to clarify things they might not have not noted down clearly.

I like the idea of lecture capture a lot and am very happy to do it with my own lectures. It does seem to be the case however that some university staff are wary of this innovation, but opinion may be changing. Please let me know what you think via the poll:

If you don’t like the idea I’d welcome a comment explaining why. I’d also be interested in comments from colleagues in other institutions as to the extent to which lecture capture technology is used elsewhere..


How the Nonbaryonic Dark Matter Theory Grew [CEA]

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on January 24, 2017 by telescoper

Another arXiver post, this time from the great Jim Peebles. Always a skeptic about dark matter, especially cold dark matter, it is the hallmark of a great scientist that he weighs up the evidence as objectively as possible.

This is a long review, but well worth reading for its important insights and historical perspective. I agree that the case for non-baryonic dark matter is compelling, but it is also far from proved and it’s still possible that an alternative, equally or more compelling, theory will be found.


The evidence is that the mass of the universe is dominated by an exotic nonbaryonic form of matter largely draped around the galaxies. It approximates an initially low pressure gas of particles that interact only with gravity, but we know little more than that. Searches for detection thus must follow many difficult paths to a great discovery, what the universe is made of. The nonbaryonic picture grew out of a convergence of evidence and ideas in the early 1980s. Developments two decades later considerably improved the evidence, and advances since then have made the case for nonbaryonic dark matter compelling.

Read this paper on arXiv…

P. Peebles
Mon, 23 Jan 17

Comments: An essay to accompany articles on dark matter detection in Nature Astronomy

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