Archive for March, 2018

Bird of Paradise – In Memoriam Charlie Parker

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on March 12, 2018 by telescoper

Today is the 63rd anniversary of the death, in 1955 aged just 34, of the great saxophonist and composer Charlie Parker, also known as `Bird’.  I know a lot of people don’t really `get’ Bird’s way of playing, but for me he created some of the most beautiful and exciting sounds not only in jazz, but in any musical genre. Here, to mark his memory, is a piece called Bird of Paradise (a thinly disguised version of the Jerome Kern standard All The Things You Are) recorded in 1947 for the Dial label with a quintet that included a young (21 year-old) Miles Davis on trumpet. Miles Davis was still finding his way musically at the time of the Dial sessions, but Bird had already established himself as a powerful creative force and his solo on this number is absolutely exquisite.

De Valera’s ‘Last Letter’, Kilmainham, May 1916

Posted in History with tags , , on March 11, 2018 by telescoper

I’ve just been reading Charles Townshend’s book ‘Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion’ and was searching for the photograph it includes of Eamon de Valera surrendering with his men at the end of the uprising. I found it at this excellent blog post, which includes a great deal of other interesting information, so I thought I’d reblog the whole thing!

The Cricket Bat that Died for Ireland

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An Image For Our Times

Posted in Art, Politics with tags , , on March 10, 2018 by telescoper

Picture Credit: Mark Harrison

I couldn’t resist posting this brilliant photograph (by Mark Harrison) of Jacob Rees-Mogg. I’ll refrain from commenting on the subject, but I think the picture is a work of art!

Anyone like to suggest a caption?

An Interview with Lauritz Melchior

Posted in Opera with tags on March 10, 2018 by telescoper

I’ve written more than once about the great tenor Lauritz Melchior, and the other day I came across this fascinating interview with him recorded when he was in his eighties and was living in America.

It’s full of interesting comments, but I have to say that above all I just love the way he speaks. English spoken with a Danish accent sounds so wonderful to my ears, especially with that tendency to inflect downward at the end of words. It sounds wonderfully lugubrious.

A Problem involving Simpson’s Rule

Posted in Cute Problems, mathematics with tags , on March 9, 2018 by telescoper

Since I’m teaching a course on Computational Physics here in Maynooth and have just been doing methods of numerical integration (i.e. quadrature) I thought I’d add this little item to the Cute Problems folder. You might answer it by writing a short bit of code, but it’s easy enough to do with a calculator and a piece of paper if you prefer.

Use the above expression, displayed using my high-tech mathematical visualization software, to obtain an approximate value for π/4 (= 0.78539816339…) by estimating the integral on the left hand side using Simpson’s Rule at ordinates x =0, 0.25, 0.5, 0.75 and 1.

Comment on the accuracy of your result. Solutions and comments through the box please.

HINT 1: Note that the calculation just involves two applications of the usual three-point Simpson’s Rule with weights (1/3, 4/3, 1/3). Alternatively you could do it in one go using weights (1/3, 4/3, 2/3, 4/3, 1/3).

HINT 2: If you’ve written a bit of code to do this, you could try increasing the number of ordinates and see how the result changes…

P.S. Incidentally I learn that, in Germany, Simpson’s Rule is sometimes called called Kepler’s rule, or Keplersche Fassregel after Johannes Kepler, who used something very similar about a century before Simpson…

Willow Weep For Me – Mary Lou Williams

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on March 8, 2018 by telescoper

Today is International Women’s Day, so I thought I’d post this lovely performance of the standard Willow Weep For Me, not just because it is played by the wonderfully talented pianist composer and arranger Mary Lou Williams, but because the song itself was written by Ann Ronell

Back to Maynooth

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Maynooth with tags , , , on March 7, 2018 by telescoper

So here I am back in Maynooth. The University re-opened on Monday after being closed from Wednesday last week owing to the extremely bad weather. I’m told the snow was several feet deep and the town was virtually cut off until the weekend. There is still some snow lying here and there, but the thaw has begun and you can see the effect of the meltwater on the river (the Lyreen) that flows through town, which is usually no more than a little stream:

Picture Credit: Coyne’s Family Butcher, Maynooth

It’s not quite a raging torrent, but getting there!

At the moment there’s no sign of a resolution to the industrial action that’s affecting Cardiff University (as well as others in the UK) so I decided to travel to Ireland yesterday rather than my usual Wednesday. The flight over was virtually empty and so was Dublin Airport, so I got on the bus well ahead of schedule and made it back to my flat (which was cold, but otherwise all in order) in time to buy some groceries and make dinner. The panic-buying of bread had caused a shortage, but all seems to be back to normal again.

I had arranged for someone else to do last week’s Thursday lecture and Lab session so I could attend the event the IOP event I posted about, but as the campus was closed they were cancelled anyway and I now have to find a way to catch up. Do not worry, though, I have a cunning plan.

Unless there’s an announcement in the next couple of days that next week’s strike is off I plan to stay in Ireland over the weekend, which will give me the chance to explore Dublin a bit, something that my schedule has not so far allowed. Next week will be the fourth week of industrial action and the last of the current batch of strike days, this time a full week (having escalated from two, three and four days in the preceding weeks). If there is no resolution by then I don’t know what will happen, possibly an all-out indefinite strike. Nobody wants that, but there’s no doubt in my mind who is to blame for this dispute and it’s not the Universities and Colleges Union. However, there are some signs of movement, so let’s hope for a negotiated settlement. If not, I’m seriously thinking of trying to bring forward my full-time move to Maynooth. There’s little point continuing in my post in Cardiff if I’m going to be permanently on strike.

Anyway, I have a 9am lecture to give tomorrow so I think I’ll toddle off, get some tea and have an early night.

R.I.P. Trevor Baylis (1937-2018)

Posted in Biographical with tags , on March 6, 2018 by telescoper

I heard yesterday the sad news of the death of inventor Trevor Baylis, who was most famous for his wind-up radio device. This brought back memories of when we both appeared in a Tomorrow’s World Live event that took place 21 years ago. I didn’t get to know him very well, but seemed to me to be a nice man, and the very epitome of an old-school boffin complete with pipe and tweed jacket.

I was on the show to do an item on the Tomorrow’s World Live show – which was not broadcast but performed in front of an audience of a few hundred people in a temporary theatre. In fact there were four shows a day for the period of the event (19-23 March 1997). Each show was only about 30 minutes long, but it was quite hard work as there were many technical things to sort out in between performances.

My role was to do a little piece about the refurbished Hubble Space Telescope and then answer questions on astronomy and cosmology from the audience. I had no script for that bit, as it was impossible to know what would be asked. I answered with varying degrees of success.

Other items featured on the show, as well as Trevor’s clockwork radio, were an  electric sports car, and a device for scrambling an egg without breaking its shell. I couldn’t see the point of the last invention, as one would have to break the shell to eat the egg anyway.

The best bit about being involved in Tomorrow’s World Live was meeting so many of the presenters, all of them proper professionals (unlike me) who were very friendly and helpful although most of them seemed very nervous beforehand. I think they knew better than I did how many things might go wrong. Only two presenters were involved in each show,  and  each pair only did one or two shows, so over the five days I got to work with the whole set, including Craig Doyle, Philippa Forester, Howard Stableford, Vivienne Parry and Shahnaz Pakravan. I didn’t envy them as they had to work not only with amateurs like me, but also had to learn a detailed script and deal with the gadgets. I was relieved that I could basically just wing it.

My clearest memory of the whole event was the technical rehearsal early  in the morning before the very first show. Apart from the wind-up radio, nothing worked properly, and I was convinced that it was all going to be a complete disaster. Somehow, however, it all came together and there weren’t any major problems in any of the real shows.

Talent versus Luck

Posted in Biographical with tags , , on March 5, 2018 by telescoper

I’ve remarked quite a number of times on the blog that I think I’ve been exceptionally lucky in my scientific career, the latest example being the good fortune that the position at Maynooth University came up precisely when it did, enabling me to relocate to Ireland.

It struck me further the other day that the people who think that science is genuinely meritocratic, tend to be those who have done well in the system rather than those who haven’t. It’s rather like the way that very rich people tend to think that they have earned their wealth and that makes them better people than those who are less well off, even when that’s demonstrably not true.

Likewise, luck plays a definite role in winning grant funding. Having been on grants panels I’m away that many very good proposals are not funded. A scoring system is generally used that introduces some level of objectivity into the process, but the fact is that a lot of proposals come out with similar scores and the ranking of these is a bit arbitrary. A slightly different panel would produce slightly different scores, but perhaps a large difference in ranking would result.

Anyway, there’s a paper on the arXiv (by Pluchino et al) with the title Talent vs Luck: the role of randomness in success and failure that
discusses the role of good fortune in scientific careers. This is the abstract:

The largely dominant meritocratic paradigm of highly competitive Western cultures is rooted on the belief that success is due mainly, if not exclusively, to personal qualities such as talent, intelligence, skills, efforts or risk taking. Sometimes, we are willing to admit that a certain degree of luck could also play a role in achieving significant material success. But, as a matter of fact, it is rather common to underestimate the importance of external forces in individual successful stories. It is very well known that intelligence or talent exhibit a Gaussian distribution among the population, whereas the distribution of wealth – considered a proxy of success – follows typically a power law (Pareto law). Such a discrepancy between a Normal distribution of inputs, with a typical scale, and the scale invariant distribution of outputs, suggests that some hidden ingredient is at work behind the scenes. In this paper, with the help of a very simple agent-based model, we suggest that such an ingredient is just randomness. In particular, we show that, if it is true that some degree of talent is necessary to be successful in life, almost never the most talented people reach the highest peaks of success, being overtaken by mediocre but sensibly luckier individuals. As to our knowledge, this counterintuitive result – although implicitly suggested between the lines in a vast literature – is quantified here for the first time. It sheds new light on the effectiveness of assessing merit on the basis of the reached level of success and underlines the risks of distributing excessive honors or resources to people who, at the end of the day, could have been simply luckier than others. With the help of this model, several policy hypotheses are also addressed and compared to show the most efficient strategies for public funding of research in order to improve meritocracy, diversity and innovation.

Comments are, as always, welcome!

Tohguht for the Day

Posted in Uncategorized on March 4, 2018 by telescoper