Archive for August, 2018

Books Away!

Posted in Uncategorized on August 23, 2018 by telescoper

Well, the inestimable Eamon and Barry have been with their van and collected 34 boxes of books, including those shown below, files of notes, and sundry other items from my Cardiff residence.

It all went more smoothly than I’d anticipated, actually, because a parking space right outside my front door appeared about a minute before the van arrived. That saved quite a bit of to-ing and fro-ing loading the boxes.

Another part of my relocation to Maynooth is thus under way.

I hope to be reunited with these belongings in Maynooth at some point next week as they are currently making their way to Ireland (via Birkenhead, apparently).

WINNIE ILLE PU

Posted in Uncategorized on August 23, 2018 by telescoper

Not a lot of people know that a Latin translation of Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne, was published in 1960. Alexander Lenard, the translator, was also a physician, painter, musician, and poet, but he is most famous for Winnie Ille Pu.

The book is the only Latin book to become a New York Times best seller – it remained on the NY Times list for 20 weeks.

Here’s a sample page:

An Open Letter to Jacob Rees-Mogg MP

Posted in Uncategorized on August 22, 2018 by telescoper

Rt Hon Jacob Rees-Mogg MP
House of Commons,
London
SW1A 0AA

Dear Mr Farage,

I have now moved to Ireland, so if you would like to send all your clients’ money to me I promise to look after it.

Yours Sincerely,

Mrs Trellis

Glamorgan v Durham: Day 3

Posted in Biographical, Cricket with tags , , , , on August 21, 2018 by telescoper

I flew back this morning from Dublin to Cardiff and, since Sophia Gardens is on the way to my Pontcanna residence from the bus stop, I popped in to watch the last rites of the County Championship match between Glamorgan and Durham.

I got there just in time to see the start of play, with Glamorgan resuming on 79 for 7. Just over half an hour later they were all out for 111 and had list the match by an innings and 30 runs. That despite the fact that Durham only scored 295 in their first innings.

You can’t really blame the tailenders this morning. Glamorgan’s higher-order batsmen folded twice in the match. Their line-up looked weak on paper and so it proved.

Glamorgan have five remaining County Championship matches to play with no overseas batsmen (Marsh & Khawaja having returned to Australian duties). The loss of fast bowler Marchant De Lange for the whole season with a hamstring injury hasn’t helped either. To make matters worse, yesterday Aneurin Donald announced he was leaving the club for Hampshire with immediate effect.

Glamorgan are clearly going to finish bottom of Division 2 of the County Championship. The club having gambled all on success in the Twenty20 format, and lost, they’re now adrift, going nowhere, and with morale at a low ebb. I wouldn’t be surprised if other players joined Donald in seeking pastures new.

The only thing that can turn Glamorgan round is a complete overhaul of its strategy and coaching staff. I’m not sure however whether the club management will do the necessary though.

Anyway, I may get to see some more cricket at Sophia Gardens on my season ticket next month, but I won’t be renewing my membership. Living in Ireland would make it impossible to see enough to justify the expense, even if there were a decent team to watch.

Age, Memory and Learning

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , , , , , , on August 20, 2018 by telescoper

Today’s a big day for prospective students at Irish universities. It’s the day when the Central Applications Office (CAO, the equivalent of the UK’s UCAS) makes offers of places to students based the Leaving Certificate results that were announced last week. Thus begins the process by which universities find out how many students we will have for entry next month. Lectures here at Maynooth start on 24th September, with an induction week before that, so there promises to be quite a rush to get everything sorted out.

The first thing that struck me thinking ahead to this year’s new entry of students was that the majority of students starting this autumn either here in Ireland or in the UK were born in the year 2000. That means that I’ve been a Professor (at four different universities: Nottingham, Cardiff, Sussex and Maynooth) all the time they have been alive! Yikes I feel old!

The other thing that struck me among all the press coverage of the Leaving Certificate in Ireland is the significant amount of griping about how these examinations are basically just memory tests and the system encourages rote learning. This is something I’ve complained about before in the context of British A-levels and indeed the system of university examinations.

Over my lifetime the ratio of assessment to education has risen sharply, with the undeniable result that academic standards have fallen especially in my own discipline of physics. The modular system encourages students to think of modules as little bit-sized bits of education to be consumed and then forgotten. Instead of learning to rely on their brains to solve problems, students tend to approach learning by memorizing chunks of their notes and regurgitating them in the exam. I find it very sad when students ask me what derivations they should memorize to prepare for examinations because that seems to imply that they think their brain is no more than a memory device. It has become very clear to me over the years that school education in the UK does not do enough to encourage students to develop their all-round intellectual potential, which means that very few have confidence in their ability to do anything other than remember things. It seems the same malaise affects the Irish system too.

On the other hand, as a number of people have pointed out in opinion pieces (e.g. here) and letters (here and here), a good memory is undoubtedly an extremely important asset in its own right.

I went to a traditional Grammar school that I feel provided me with a very good education in which rote learning played a significant part. Learning vocabulary and grammar was an essential part of their approach to foreign languages, for example. How can one learn Latin without knowing the correct declensions for nouns and conjugations for verbs? But although these basic elements are necessary, however, they are not sufficient. You other aspects of your mental capacity to comprehend, translate or compose meaningful pieces of text.

The same considerations apply to STEM disciplines. It is important to have a basic knowledge of the essential elements of mathematics and physics as a grounding, but you also need to develop the skill to apply these in unusual settings. I also think it’s simplistic to think of memory and creative intelligence as entirely separate things. I seems to me that the latter feeds off the former in a very complex way. A good memory does give you rapid access to information, which means you can do many things more quickly than if you had to keep looking stuff up, but I think there’s a lot more to it than that. Our memories are an essential part of the overall functioning of our brain, which is not  compartmentalized in such a simple way.  For example, one aspect of problem-solving skill relies on the ability to see hidden connections; the brain’s own filing system plays a key role in this.

Recognizing the importance of memory is not to say that rote learning is necessarily the best way to develop the relevant skills. My own powers of recall are not great – and are certainly not improving with age – but I find I can remember things much better if I find them interesting and/or if I can see the point of remembering them. Remembering things because they’re memorably is far easier than remembering because you need to remember them to pass an examination!

The merger of two neutron stars, one year on: GW170817

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , on August 20, 2018 by telescoper

Can it really have been a year since GW170817, and the subsequent detection of electromagnetic radiation from its source? Read this very nice piece by my erstwhile Cardiff colleague Bernard Schutz, who gives an insider’s view of the story.

One of the things I remember about this was the fascinating way in which various `outsiders’ used a comments thread on this blog to piece together the clues to what going on!

The Rumbling Universe

Last Friday we celebrated the one-year anniversary of an event that those of us who were involved will never forget. The Virgo gravitational-wave detector had joined the two LIGO instruments on August 1, 2017, and the three detectors had since then been patiently listening out together for gravitational wave sounds coming from anywhere in the Universe. On August 17, the deep quiet was interrupted by a squeal, a chirp lasting much longer and going to a much higher pitch than the GW150914 chirp that had launched the field of gravitational wave observational astronomy two years earlier. We named it, prosaically, GW170817.

GW170817-rendition [Credit: NSF/LIGO/Sonoma State University/A. Simonnet] This one-minute-long squeal was followed by an incredible explosion that radiated intense gamma-rays, X-rays, light, radio waves — right across the whole electromagnetic spectrum. What came first was a burst of gamma-rays, just 2 seconds after the end of the squeal. Then…

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All-Ireland Hurling Finals Day

Posted in Sport with tags , , on August 19, 2018 by telescoper

Just a quick post to note that today is a huge day on the sporting calendar here in Ireland. It’s the final of the All-Ireland Hurling Championship, which will be between holders Galway and Limerick, in front of 80,000 at Croke Park in Dublin.

It will take some doing for this match to be as exciting as the Semi-Final I watched a few weeks ago in a pub in Maynooth, but you never know. That game ended in a draw, and Galway won the Replay. The other semifinal was also a cracker, with Limerick winning in extra time. Galway are favourites to win the game, but there seems to be more support around these parts for the green of Limerick than the maroon of Galway.

Anyway, if you’re bored this afternoon, and have access to cable or satellite TV, then I suggest having a look. If you’ve never seen hurling before then the first thing that strikes you is the phenomenal speed at which the game is played. The sliotar (ball) can travel from one end of the pitch to the other in a second and the players have to be extremely fit. Brave too. This is definitely not a game for faint hearts!

There was heavy rain last night but it has passed over and it should be a good game. I’m sure the atmosphere will be brilliant in the stadium, but Ill be happy to watch in the pub (although it’s sure to be crowded).

UPDATE: Half-time Galway 0-9 Limerick 1-10, the underdogs ahead by 4 points. Frenetic and rather scrappy game with lots of wides. Exciting to watch though. I’m up by two pints of Guinness.

UPDATE: Full-time Galway 2-18 Limerick 3-16. Most of the second half was rather one-sided. When Limerick scored their third goal and went 8 points clear I thought it was all over, but suddenly Galway scored two goals and were right back in it. Nerves jangling, Limerick managef to survive eight minutes of stoppage time. Galway had a free at the end that could have tied the scores but it fell short. Exciting finish but Limerick worthy winners, if only by a single point!

Humphrey Lyttelton & Elkie Brooks – Trouble in Mind

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on August 18, 2018 by telescoper

Mention the name Elkie Brooks to people of my generation or older and most will think of her popular hits from the late 1970s, especially Pearl’s A Singer which made the UK Top Ten in 1977. Elkie Brooks has however had a long and very distinguished career as a Jazz and Blues singer, including regular performances over the years with trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton and his band. This particular track was recorded in 2002, when Humph was already in his eighties, but I think it’s a lovely performance so I thought I’d share it here.

Trouble in Mind is a very familiar tune that has been recorded countless times by jazz musicians. In fact an earlier manifestation of Humph’s Band made a very nice instrumental version way back in 1950 which I have on an old Parlophone 78. The tune is usually credited to Richard M. Jones, but it has its roots in much older spirituals and folk songs. There are a couple of things worth mentioning about it despite it being so well known.. Although Trouble in Mind is a blues, it is a slightly unusual one because it’s an eight-bar blues rather than the more usual twelve-bar variety. The other thing is that there’s something about this tune that suits a rhythm accompaniment in sixth notes, as exemplified by drummer Adrian Macintosh on this track when the vocal starts.

There’s also some fine trombone on this (by Pete Strange) and a nice bit of banter from Humph at the beginning. Enjoy!

Cosmology Big Brother

Posted in Television, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on August 17, 2018 by telescoper

I saw on Twitter today that the new series of Celebrity Big Brother has just started, though looking at the list of inmates housemates, I’m not sure whether the producers of this show understand the meaning of the word `celebrity’. At any rate, I’ve never heard of most of them.

I get the feeling that the Big Brother franchise may be getting a little tired, so I thought I’d pitch a new variant in order to boost the flagging ratings.

In Cosmology Big Brother a group of wannabe cosmologists live together in a specially-constructed house (with lots of whiteboards) isolated from the outside world (i.e. the arXiv). As the series progresses the furniture and rooms are gradually moved further apart, the temperature of the central heating is turned down, and the contents of the house become progressively more disordered.

Housemates are regularly voted out, at which point they have to enter the `real world’ (i.e. get a job in data science). Eventually only one person remains and whoever that is is awarded a research grant. They can then spend the rest of their life combining their study of cosmology with the usual activities of a Big Brother winner, e.g. opening supermarkets.

Being and Blogging

Posted in Biographical on August 16, 2018 by telescoper

I saw this cartoon in The Oldie (which I buy for the crossword) and it really struck home. I can think of quite a few occasions when I’ve met a complete stranger who, by being a reader this blog, seemed to know more about me than I do!

There have been a few times when I’ve posted personal things on here that I probably should have kept to myself. On the other hand, a lot of things have happened over the last ten years or do that I haven’t even mentioned on here. Believe me, you don’t want to know!

I know I’ve also written tactless items about things I would have been wiser to have left alone and have sometimes caused offence as a result. Everybody makes mistakes, of course, but if you make them on the internet they’re in the public domain forever. Part of the problem is that it’s do easy to forget that people actually read this stuff!

On the other hand, I do think at least some of the items I’ve posted have had a positive effect and that, in my mind at least, far outweighs the negatives.

Anyway, this rambling post is just a product of the process I go through from time to time, wondering how much longer I want to keep this blog going. I still don’t know the answer..