Archive for March, 2020

The Goats of Llandudno

Posted in Covid-19 on March 31, 2020 by telescoper

If you’ve ever been to the seaside town of Llandudno in North Wales, you’ll know that there are mountain goats living on the nearby headland known as the Great Orme. Well, the streets of Llandudno are very quiet right now because of the Covid-19 measures and the goats have come down into the town to investigate!

(I got these pictures from Stuart Maher on Twitter.)

Flattening the Covid-19 Curve in Ireland

Posted in Covid-19, Maynooth with tags , , , on March 31, 2020 by telescoper

Last night a statement was issued by Ireland’s National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) , accompanied by a press conference part of which is shown below.

On the right is the Chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group (IEMAG), Professor Philip Nolan, who gives a very clear explanation of the situation, especially with respect to the uncertainties in data and modelling. Professor Philip Nolan is President of Maynooth University.

R.I.P. Phil Anderson (1923-2020)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on March 30, 2020 by telescoper

I heard this morning via a friend who knew him personally of the death, yesterday at the age of 96, of condensed matter physicist and Nobel Laureate Professor Philip Warren Anderson. He will perhaps be best remembered known for Anderson Localization but he worked on a huge range of topics in physics and his influence was felt across many branches of science (including astrophysics). It’s too early for obituaries to have been published yet but I will add links when they become available.

Update: here is the New York Times obituary.

R.I.P. Philip W Anderson (1923-2020).

The Open Journal of Astrophysics and the Free Journals Network

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 30, 2020 by telescoper


I am pleased to announce that The Open Journal of Astrophysics is now a member of the Free Journal Network.

We are in fact the 51st member of the network, which exists

…to promote scholarly journals run according to the Fair Open Access model (roughly, journals that are controlled by the scholarly community, and have no financial barriers to readers and authors.

A full list of the illustrious journals belonging to this network can be found here.



The Slouch Hat Question

Posted in History with tags , , , on March 29, 2020 by telescoper

Yesterday I was reading a book about Irish history – I’m reading quite a lot these days – and was intrigued by the headgear worn by members of the Citizens Army during the 1916 Easter Rising:

This type of broad-brimmed hat seems to have been quite thing among volunteers of the time:

Described as a ‘Boer Hat as worn by the American Army’ (?) this is usually called a ‘Slouch Hat’ and is also associated with the Australian Army and other Commonwealth forces.

I can understand the utility of the broad brim in hotter climes though not perhaps in Ireland…

The main question that struck me, though, is why it is so often worn with the brim folded up on one side?

See if you can guess. I reveal the answer below.

Continue reading

Coronavirus in Ireland – the Latest!

Posted in Covid-19, mathematics on March 28, 2020 by telescoper

Just a quick post to point out that I’ve set up a page on which I’m tracking the number of cases of Covid-19 in the Republic of Ireland.

I intend to keep the data on that page up to date as information is announced by the HSE and won’t do lots of updates as posts. I thought I’d show the latest figures here though.

The second (log-linear) plot is perhaps more informative. It shows some evidence of a flattening compared to an exponential curve. The plot in green is an exponential with a time constant of 3.5 days; it’s not a fit to the data, it’s just there to show what exponential growth would look like on such a plot (ie a straight line).

Health and Safety

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19 with tags , on March 28, 2020 by telescoper

Among the additional measures introduced last night to combat the spread of Coronavirus in Ireland was the cancellation of all non-essential medical appointments.

Looking at my diary I realise that I was due to have a checkup on my knees next Friday. That won’t be happening now I suppose.

It’s about three months since I had steroid injections in both knees to halt the arthritis therein. The jabs were quite painful but worked very well and I have been able to dispense with the use of a walking stick since I had them.

The effect of these injections only lasts a few months so I was due an inspection to see if I might further ones in the near future. I think I’m doing OK, however, and I’m sure the hospitals have more important things to be dealing with right now, so I don’t mind the deferral at all.

Although I haven’t really needed my walking stick recently I think I might start carrying it again on the rare occasions I go out during the ‘lockdown’ – so I can hit people with it if they get closer than 2m from me.

Everything is going to be all right

Posted in Covid-19, Poetry with tags , , on March 27, 2020 by telescoper

This evening the (acting) Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced further restrictions as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak in Ireland, meaning that most of us are now confined to our homes for at least the next 14 days.

Remarkably, the main news on RTÉ this evening responded to this announcement with a reading of this poem by Irish poet Derek Mahon.

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.

by Derek Mahon

Bad Statistics and COVID-19

Posted in Bad Statistics, Covid-19 with tags , , , on March 27, 2020 by telescoper

It’s been a while since I posted anything in the Bad Statistics folder. That’s not as if the present Covid-19 outbreak hasn’t provided plenty of examples, it’s that I’ve had my mind on other things. I couldn’t resist, however, sharing this cracker that I found on Twitter:

The paper concerned can be found here from which the key figure is this:

This plots the basic reproductive rate R against temperature for Coronavirus infections from 100 Chinese cities. The argument is that the trend means that higher temperatures correspond to weakened transmission of the virus (as happens with influenza). I don’t know if this paper has been peer-reviewed. I sincerely hope not!

I showed this plot to a colleague of mine the other day who remarked “well, at least all the points lie on a plane”. It looks to me that if if you removed just one point – the one with R>4.5 – then the trend would vanish completely.

The alleged correlation is deeply unimpressive on its own, quite apart from the assumption that any correlation present represents a causative effect due to temperature – there could be many confounding factors.


P.S. Among the many hilarious responses on Twitter was this:



Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on March 26, 2020 by telescoper

I think it’s time to share a bit more music, so here’s a track from an album I have on vinyl that features a quartet led by guitarist Hank Garland with Gary Burton on vibes, Joe Benjamin on bass and the great Joe Morello on drums. It was recorded in June 1960 which means that Gary Burton was only 17 years old at the time! You’d never know that by listening to his superb playing. The tune is a bebop standard called Move which was written by drummer Denzil Best and based on rhythm changes, though to my ears the bridge sounds a bit different.