Archive for February, 2018

Today’s Earthquake in Wales

Posted in Uncategorized on February 17, 2018 by telescoper

Just after 2.30 this afternoon I felt a vibration of my house in Cardiff, initially like a heavy truck going outside but then a distinct ‘bump’. The whole house moved, but only for less than a second and no damage ensued.

I thought it was a minor tremor, and out of curiosity I looked on Twitter to see how widespread were the reports. The answer was very:

It seems it was an earthquake of Magnitude 4.7, centered near (or, presumably, under) Neath. That’s actually pretty big by UK standards.

Thankfully I don’t think anyone has been hurt.

Anyone else feel it?

P. S. I learned today that the Welsh word for ‘earthquake’ is daeargryn..


Flying back to Wales

Posted in Uncategorized on February 17, 2018 by telescoper

Today, as usual, I took the morning flight back from Dublin to Cardiff. This was the first time this year it’s been clear enough and light enough to see anything from the cabin so I took this snap our of the window as we reached the Welsh coast. You can see the curve of Cardigan Bay reasonably well.

The propeller was working, by the way…

Wild Man Blues

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on February 16, 2018 by telescoper

Time, I think, for some vintage jazz. This one doesn’t really need many words of introduction. It was recorded on May 7th 1927 in the Okeh Studios in Chicago by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven: Louis Armstrong (cornet), John Thomas (trombone), Johnny Dodds (clarinet), Lil Armstrong (piano), Johnny St. Cyr (banjo), Pete Briggs (tuba), and Warren `Baby’ Dodds (drums). Two things are worth saying, though. One is that this piece is very modern-sounding for its time, in that there’s very little of the ensemble work that one associates with New Orleans jazz, just two extended solos by Louis and Johnny Dodds, and that those solos are both very free. The other is that Armstrong’s solo is so good that there were only a few soloists who could have taken over from him without creating an anti-climax. Fortunately, one of those men (Johnny Dodds) was in the studio and did just that, matching Satchmo in power and invention. Enjoy!

Windows Horror

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on February 16, 2018 by telescoper

This week was going reasonably well, I thought. The class test for my Computational Physics students yesterday went reasonably well; they even managed to upload their code and output to Moodle at the end.

However, when I came into work this morning and started up my laptop, which belongs to Cardiff University, it announced that it was doing a BIOS update. I sighed and then went to make a cup of tea while it did the job. When I got back I found I was locked out by BitLocker, the Windows 10 disk encryption feature that Cardiff University insist is used on its laptops.

There isn’t/wasn’t any USB disk attached to the machine, by the way, and I did try restarting the machine but that didn’t help. I can only infer that BitLocker can’t cope with a change at the BIOS level which, if true, is really pathetic.

Not having the required `recovery key’ (which I have never been given) and being informed by the FAQ that I would need a system administrator to supply it, I got in panicky touch with Cardiff’s IT services, but three hours later I still can’t get in. I do have my desktop (which runs Unix) so am not completely stymied, but I don’t have the files on my laptop. I was planning to work on some things on there today, but it looks like I won’t be able to. It even looks possible that all the data on this laptop is lost for good.

The thing I can’t help thinking about is how terrible this would be if I had been just about to give a talk at a conference….

WINDOWS UPDATE: I’m back into my laptop and have not lost any data (as far as I can tell). The problem is indeed a known conflict between BIOS and BitLocker, which I think is atrocious.

The Greatest Scarpia

Posted in Opera with tags , , on February 15, 2018 by telescoper

Thursdays are always busy so today I’ll just put this here. It’s the great operatic baritone Tito Gobbi as Baron Scarpia in Tosca, a role he sang almost a thousand times in his career. This is the Te Deum scene, at the end of Act I, in which Scarpia after sending his men to follow Tosca to her lover Cavaradossi, he sings of his lustful desire as worshippers gather fora service at the Church in which the action takes place.

There have been many excellent interpreters of the role of Tosca (in which role I think Renata Tebaldi was every bit as good as Maria Callas) but Tito Gobbi (who sang the role with both Callas and Tebaldi) was the Scarpia of his age, and perhaps of any…

The de Valera connection

Posted in History, mathematics, Maynooth with tags , , on February 14, 2018 by telescoper

This morning I took the early flight to Dublin, which was on time, and thence via the Airport Hopper to Maynooth. There were only two passengers on the bus, both going to the terminus, so it made good time, travelling all the way along the motorway.

Walking into the Maynooth campus I remembered an interesting little historical fact that I stumbled across last week, concerning Éamon de Valera, founder of Fianna Fáil (one of the two largest political parties in Ireland) and architect of the Irish constitution. De Valera (nickname `Dev’) is an enigmatic figure, who was a Commandant in the Irish Republican Army during the 1916 Easter Rising, but despite being captured he somehow evaded execution by the British. He subsequently became Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and then President (Head of State) of the Irish Republic.

Eamon de Valera, photographed sometime during the 1920s.

The point of connection with Maynooth, however, is less about Dev’s political career than his educational background: he was a mathematics graduate, and for a short time (1912-13) he was Head of the Department of Mathematics and Mathematical Physics at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, which was then a recognised college of the National University of Ireland. The Department became incorporated in Maynooth University, when it was created in 1997. It is said that one of the spare gowns available to be borrowed by staff for graduation ceremonies belonged to de Valera. Mathematical Physics is no longer a part of the Mathematics Department at Maynooth, having become a Department in its own right and it recently changed its name to the Department of Theoretical Physics.

De Valera missed out on a Professorship in Mathematical Physics at University College Cork in 1913. He joined the the Irish Volunteers, when it was established the same year. And the rest is history. I wonder how differently things would have turned out had he got the job in Cork?

That’s one connection, but when I arrived in the office this morning I found another. An email had arrived announcing a conference later this year in honour of Erwin Schrödinger.  It was de Valera – a notable advocate for science – who in 1940 set up the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS); Schrödinger became the first Director of the School of Theoretical Physics, one of the three Schools in DIAS.

LGBT+ Physical Sciences Climate Survey

Posted in LGBT with tags , on February 13, 2018 by telescoper

Very busy day today so I only have time to post a quick notice about an event coming up in a couple of weeks (on 1st March 2018) at the Institute of Physics in London:

This event celebrates the launch of the LGBT+ physical sciences survey, the first UK and Ireland survey of the working, teaching and studying climate for LGBT+ physicists, astronomers and chemists and those in related sciences.

Speakers from the community will be sharing their perspectives on the successes and challenges of creating a climate that enables everyone to be fully themselves in the workplace and place of study. The event is also an opportunity to find out more about the survey and meet other members of the network at an informal reception with drinks and snacks.

I am greatly honoured to have been asked to give a talk to introduce the event and chair the session, which ends in a panel discussion.The event is open to all, but space is limited at the venue so you will have to sign up if you want to go. You can sign up here.

See you there!