Archive for May, 2018

Hullo Bolinas – Gary Burton

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on May 31, 2018 by telescoper

I don’t know why this track just came into my head but while it’s there I thought I’d share it. It’s from a rightly renowned album by Chick Corea and Gary Burton recorded at a live concert in Zurich in 1979, but this number just features Gary Burton on the vibes. I bought this album on vinyl when it first came out and was completely gobsmacked by the miraculous nature of Gary Burton’s four-mallet vibraphone playing, especially on this track. In a subsequent interview on the radio I heard Burton dismiss his extraordinary technical accomplishment, explaining that the mallets are really just like fingers and it is no harder than playing the piano. I think his modesty is misplaced, as fingers bend but mallets don’t. Or do they?

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Maynooth Matters

Posted in Biographical, Education, Maynooth on May 31, 2018 by telescoper

Well, it’s another lovely day here in Maynooth and it feels even nicer that now that I’ve finished the stack of examination and project marking I had to do relating to the Computational Physics module I’ve been teaching for the past term.

I was feeling a bit guilty that I only just got the marks ready before today’s deadline, but it turns out that mine is far from being the last set to go into the database.

Tomorrow we have an internal meeting to discuss all the examination results and then on Tuesday next week we have the full formal meeting of the Exam Board complete with visiting External Examiner. It’s always a busy period preparing for these meetings as not only does everything have to be marked, but also all the marks need to be checked and double-checked, and various statistics produced ready for the forthcoming meetings. We take all these things very seriously because they’re so important.

I’m not sure students appreciate how much goes on behind the scenes at this time of year, but in this period they are finished with their academic work and probably out and about enjoying the sunshine. They were cooped up indoors sitting their examinations just a few days ago while we staff were in a state of comparative relaxation, and now it’s our turn to suffer.

Anyway, it’s at busy times of the year that we rely heavily on the efforts not only of administrative staff, without whom the whole business of examinations would grind to a halt. We rely on them all round the year, in fact, but their contribution is particularly obvious during exam season.

As it happens the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University will soon be losing an invaluable member of administrative staff who is retiring in a month or so. We have an advertisement already out for a (full-time) Executive Assistant with a deadline of 17th June to provide us with a replacement as soon as possible.

Anyway, Monday 4th June is a Bank Holiday in Ireland. It’s the equivalent holiday to the Late Spring Holiday in the UK (which is always on the last Monday of May), but here in the Emerald Isle it is always the first Monday in June. This year it happens to be on my birthday! So after the ordeal of tomorrow’s pre-Board meeting I have a long weekend to relax before the official meeting on Tuesday. I’m not sure if the fine weather will last, but I intend to do a bit of sightseeing if it does.

Weird Life

Posted in Art with tags , , , on May 30, 2018 by telescoper

by Remedios Varo Uranga (1908-63), painted in 1945, 20 × 15.5cm, gouache on paper.

 

Peripheral Visions

Posted in Biographical, Mental Health with tags , , on May 29, 2018 by telescoper

A few days ago I came across the following video, and I thought I’d share it here for two reasons. The first reason is that you might find it surprising, possibly amusing and possibly also bit scary. Keep your eye on the cross in the centre of the screen and observe what happens to the faces either side:

Most people who I’ve shown this to report peculiar distortions of the (familiar) faces either side. This phenomenon is clearly related to the limitations of peripheral vision.

The second reason for posting this is much more personal and relates to my struggles over the years with a form of panic disorder (which I’ve blogged about before, e.g.,  here). The term `panic disorder’ has a very broad definition, so that different individuals experience different forms of panic attacks and they can also take very different forms for the same individual. For me, a “typical” panic episode begins with a  generalised feeling of apprehension or dread. Sometimes that’s as far as it goes. However, more often, there follows a period of increasingly heightened awareness of things moving  in my peripheral vision that I can’t keep track of,  accompanied by auditory and visual hallucinations.  I’ve tried to explain the latter in conversations with friends and colleagues and usually when I do so I describe how the faces of people around me become distorted in a grotesque and terrifying way. When that happens I usually run as fast as I can in whatever direction I can to get away.

On top of the effect of these attacks themselves, there is also the frustration, when they are over, of not really understanding what had happened. What is happening in my brain when a panic episode begins? What is going on with my peripheral vision when it goes awry like it does? Why do some particular places  or circumstances trigger an attack but other, apparently similar, ones don’t?

When I first saw the above video it struck me immediately that it might contain a big clue about these episodes, as the facial distortions that appear there are very similar to what I experience.  Perhaps what goes wrong is that peripheral vision takes over from central vision, i.e. a kind of opposite of tunnel vision,  as a result of some malfunction in the way my brain deals with peripheral data.

Most of the time we just discard data from outside our line-of-sight unless it’s something extremely dramatic and disturbing (whether good or bad); presumably we can’t process everything across our entire field of view so we usually filter out observations coming from the edges. What seems to happen with me is that something interferes with this filtering process so that almost everything gets flagged with a danger signal. My response to these is to look about manically trying to establish whether the threat is real before, usually, just getting out of there as quickly as I can when it becomes overwhelming.

Obviously, this isn’t a complete  answer to any of the many questions I’ve asked myself about this but somehow seeing the effect in the video makes me feel more comfortable with what happens because at least I can see that others can experience a similar phenomenon, even if in very different circumstances.

P.S.  I should say that although about two years ago I quit the medication I was taking to control them, I haven’t had any of these psychotic episodes since then. Reducing stress by leaving my job at Sussex was almost certainly a contributing factor.

 

 

 

 

Irish Quantum Foundations

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on May 28, 2018 by telescoper

I flew back from Cardiff to Dublin this morning in order to attend a conference called Irish Quantum Foundations which is taking place today and tomorrow on the All Hallow’s Campus of Dublin City University, in Drumcondra (Dublin). I usually take the Hopper bus directly to Maynooth from Dublin Airport but today involved a different journey, via the ordinary No. 16 Dublin Bus.Anyway, I got here on time.

I’m speaking just after lunch so I’m not sure how much time I will have to blog about the meeting, but I couldn’t resist posting this little video related to a talk by Emmanuel Fort which demonstrates a purely classical form of wave-particle duality:

I’ll post further comments about talks if and when I get the time!

Evening update: two public talks, the first being by renowned physicist and blogger, Sabine Hossenfelder:

The talk ended with a plug for Sabine’s book, which is out soon.

After a short break we had a second public lecture by Nobel Physics Laureate (2016), Duncan Haldane.

The Lord’s Day

Posted in Cricket on May 27, 2018 by telescoper

Yesterday I travelled to London (on a very slow train, diverted because of engineering work) in order to watch the third day’s play of the First Test between England and Pakistan at Lord’s.

The above picture was taken from my seat on the top level of the recently refurbished Warner Stand, looking towards the Mound Stand.

Pakistan were well on top going into the third day, having dismissed England for just 184 in their first innings. They started Day 3 on 350 for 8 and added just 13 to their overnight score before Mohammad Abbas was out, at which point the innings closed; Babar Azam had retired hurt the previous day, struck on the arm, and was unable to resume.

England came out to vat, and their performance mirrored the first innings – wickets fell to a mixture of good deliveries and poor shots. Bairstow, for example, was bowled by a beautiful delivery from Amir that nipped back off the seam and Stoneman got one from the legspinner Shadab Khan that turned and kept low. Stokes on the other hand played a weak shot to a nothing ball and was caught at short midwicket.

When Root was out for 68, with the score on 110 for 6, an innings defeat looked inevitable but there then followed a fine century partnership between Jos Buttler and Debutant spinner Dom Bess. I don’t rate Buttler as a Test player and his selection (as a batsman to play at No. 7) was an admission that the higher order was likely to fail, which of course it did. However to give credit where it is due he and Bess played very well, taking England to 235 for 6, adding 125 between them, avoiding an innings defeat and giving England a lead of 56.

It was a good performance from the 7th wicket pair, but England would need at least another 100 runs to have any chance of winning.

England’s batting frailties and later recovery notwithstanding, it was a fine performance in the field from Pakistan who I thought were very impressive.

On Day 4 the England batting collapsed as it had in the first innings: the last four wickets fell for just 7 runs, leaving Pakistan a target 64 to win, which they duly rattled off on less than an hour for the loss of just one wicket.

Well played Pakistan, and congratulations on a thoroughly well deserved victory!

England’s poor performance against this Pakistan team certainly puts that of Ireland a couple of weeks ago into perspective!

Yes!

Posted in Uncategorized on May 26, 2018 by telescoper

It’s a yes in the referendum to repeal the 8th amendment – by a landslide!

Congratulations to everyone who campaigned so hard for a ‘yes’ vote!

The margin of the result (about 2:1 in favour of Repeal) confounds the opinion polls which suggested a much closer result. It seems to me that what happened was that most of the ‘Don’t Knows’ in those poll actually went with ‘Yes’.