Archive for July, 2020

The Mystery of Meaning

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on July 31, 2020 by telescoper

Contrary to the expectation I expressed yesterday when posting an obscure article about the chord changes in Duke Jordan’s Jordu, I got the following alert from WordPress:

Usually I get a bit nervous when there’s a spike in my stats. I tend to imagine I’ve posted something controversial and the people checking it out are all lawyers. As it turns out the destination of most of the traffic was not the piece I had just posted but an old post about a poem, Meaning by Czeslaw Milosz. Here is the poem:

When I die, I will see the lining of the world.
The other side, beyond bird, mountain, sunset.
The true meaning, ready to be decoded.
What never added up will add Up,
What was incomprehensible will be comprehended.
– And if there is no lining to the world?
If a thrush on a branch is not a sign,
But just a thrush on the branch? If night and day
Make no sense following each other?
And on this earth there is nothing except this earth?
– Even if that is so, there will remain
A word wakened by lips that perish,
A tireless messenger who runs and runs
Through interstellar fields, through the revolving galaxies,
And calls out, protests, screams.

I have no idea why there was a sudden surge in interest yesterday – most of it from the USA – in this particular poem. I’d guess that it may have featured in a TV broadcast, as that sort of thing has in the past caused sudden increases in traffic to posts about music.

If anyone can solve the mystery of Meaning I’d be very grateful to hear through the comments box.

Update: Mystery solved. The poem was read by the Reverend James Lawson at the funeral of civil rights campaigner John Lewis. Many thanks to the commenter below for this information.


Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on July 30, 2020 by telescoper

Now for one of those jazz posts that people don’t seem to like and which will no doubt reduce today’s blog traffic even further. This is a very nice version of a tune called Jordu which was written by pianist Irving “Duke” Jordan in 1953 and which became part of the standard jazz repertoire after a wonderful version was recorded by Clifford Brown and Max Roach in 1954. It’s not hard to figure out where the title comes from. The version I’ve picked is much later, and features a trio with the great Ed Thigpen on drums and Mads Vinding.

Duke Jordan began his recording career with the brilliant Dial sessions with Charlie Parker in 1947 and he carried on making great music after he moved to Denmark in the 1970s until his death in 2006. The Steeplechase label on which this record was released is actually based in Copenhagen too. He is buried in Vestre Kirkegard in Copenhagen. He was in my opinion one of the most consistently underrated pianists of his era.

When I was younger I used to try to figure out by ear the chord changes in Jazz standards. Nowadays you can find cheat sheets all over the internet, which rather takes the fun out of it. This tune is a particularly interesting challenge to unravel as well as to perform  but if I ever got a band together we would definitely (try to) play it!

Jordu is in a standard AABA form. The A sections are constructed from dominant chords in a pattern based on the ii-V-I progression which is very common in jazz. The variation introduced here is to use a major II instead of a minor ii and add a dominant 7th to the basic triad, which makes a much richer sound. The eight bars of the A section are divided into four pairs, the first of which finds the theme played without backing chords or rhythm accompaniment, the second having the backing instruments accent beats 1, 3 and 4. The first sequence is a II/V/I in C minor, using a D7 instead of a minor ii chord. Then it’s a similar sequence in in Eb major (F7/Bb7/EbMaj7). After a repeat of the first II/V/I, the A sections ends with Ab7 – G7 (bVII7 – V7). Every chord but one in the entire section is a dominant 7th.

Since the A section ends in an unresolved way on the V chord (G7), a device used quite a lot in music stylistically based in the bebop era, Duke Jordan devised  a two-bar coda to be played at the end of a performance that resolves to the tonic (Cm), bringing everything gently back to Earth to finish.

The B section is based on the Circle of Fourths, another standard jazz device but still a challenging pattern to improvise on. If you want to learn to play jazz most tutors will have you practicing a lot on the Circle of Fifths (clockwise) and Circle of Fourths (anticlockwise) trips around this diagram showing all the major and minor keys:

Anyway, you don’t have to know anything about the harmonic structure of this piece to enjoy this lovely playing. Duke Jordan’s solo finds him completely at home in this tune, and why shouldn’t he? He wrote it!

Stars, by Emily Brontë

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on July 30, 2020 by telescoper

Ah! why, because the dazzling sun
Restored our Earth to joy,
Have you departed, every one,
And left a desert sky?

All through the night, your glorious eyes
Were gazing down in mine,
And, with a full heart’s thankful sighs,
I blessed that watch divine.

I was at peace, and drank your beams
As they were life to me;
And revelled in my changeful dreams,
Like petrel on the sea.

Thought followed thought, star followed star,
Through boundless regions, on;
While one sweet influence, near and far,
Thrilled through, and proved us one!

Why did the morning dawn to break
So great, so pure, a spell;
And scorch with fire the tranquil cheek,
Where your cool radiance fell?

Blood-red, he rose, and, arrow-straight,
His fierce beams struck my brow;
The soul of nature sprang, elate,
But mine sank sad and low!

My lids closed down, yet through their veil
I saw him, blazing, still,
And steep in gold the misty dale,
And flash upon the hill.

I turned me to the pillow, then,
To call back night, and see
Your worlds of solemn light, again,
Throb with my heart, and me!

It would not do—the pillow glowed,
And glowed both roof and floor;
And birds sang loudly in the wood,
And fresh winds shook the door;

The curtains waved, the wakened flies
Were murmuring round my room,
Imprisoned there, till I should rise,
And give them leave to roam.

Oh, stars, and dreams, and gentle night;
Oh, night and stars, return!
And hide me from the hostile light
That does not warm, but burn;

That drains the blood of suffering men;
Drinks tears, instead of dew;
Let me sleep through his blinding reign,
And only wake with you!

by Emily Brontë (1818-1848; she was born on 30th July)

On the Coronavirus and the Cricket

Posted in Covid-19, Cricket with tags , , on July 29, 2020 by telescoper

Yesterday the UK Government reported that there were 119 Covid-19 related deaths in the United Kingdom:


In other news, it was also announced yesterday that Stuart Broad and I have now taken 500 Test wickets between us…

New Publication at the Open Journal of Astrophysics!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on July 29, 2020 by telescoper

To celebrate yesterday’s news, I have great pleasure today in publishing another paper in The Open Journal of Astrophysics.

A reason to be especially pleased with this article is that this is our first publication in the Solar and Stellar Astrophysics category of astro-ph. It’s good to be spreading out beyond cosmology and extragalactic astrophysics which is where most of our papers appear.

The intriguing title of the latest paper is The one that got away: a unique eclipse in the young brown dwarf Roque 12. There’s also a blog post by one of the authors that tells the fascinating behind-the-scenes story of this paper.

The authors of the paper are Aleks Scholz (University of St Andrews, UK), Dirk Froebrich (University of Kent, Canterbury, UK); Koraljka Muzic (University of Lisbon, Portugal) and Jochen Eislöffel (TLS Tautenburg, Germany).

Here is a screen grab of the overlay:

You might notice that we now have the volume number appearing on the overlay, a change we requested recently from Scholastica.

You can find the arXiv version of the paper here.

The Open Journal of Astrophysics is now in the Directory of Open Access Journals!

Posted in Open Access with tags , , on July 28, 2020 by telescoper

One of the things I did during the recent Covid-19 campus closure was to complete an application for the Open Journal of Astrophysics to be indexed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOJA).

I did apply late last year but there was an issue with the registration of the ISSN (International Standard Serial Number) which had not been done correctly when it was issued by the National Library of Ireland. That was easily fixed but DOAJ requires unsuccessful applicants to wait six months before applying again.

Getting listed on DOAJ is by no means trivial. The criteria are rather strict and the application form rather lengthy. All of which means that I was delighted to learn today that my application was successful this time, and we’re now listed.

To prove it here is our entry:

Apart from the intrinsic usefulness of being indexed, being listed on DOAJ is one of the criteria for being an acceptable Open Access publisher for some funding agencies, including those who have signed up for Plan S.

I also imagine that our being on DOAJ might convince new authors to submit to us!

All I have to do now is figure out how to add our papers and metadata to the DOAJ and find the time to do it.

P. S. The Directory of Open Access Journals also has a WordPress blog which you can find here!

More Lockdown Perspectives on the Hubble Tension and thoughts on the future of scientific publications

Posted in Open Access, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on July 28, 2020 by telescoper

This is interesting. Remember last week when I posted about a paper by George Efstathiou on the Hubble Constant controversy. This is the abstract.

Well, a new version of the paper has just appeared on the arXiv that includes some comments in response from the SH0ES team.

It is of course interesting in itself to see the cut and thrust of scientific debate on a live topic such as this, but in my mind at least it raises interesting questions about the nature of scientific publication. To repeat something I wrote a a while ago, it seems  to me that the scientific paper published in an academic journal is an anachronism. Digital technology enables us to communicate ideas far more rapidly than in the past and allows much greater levels of interaction between researchers. I agree with Daniel Shanahan that the future for many fields will be defined not in terms of “papers” which purport to represent “final” research outcomes, but by living documents continuously updated in response to open scrutiny by the research community.

The Open Journal of Astrophysics is innovative in some ways but remains wedded to the paper as its fundamental object, and the platform is not able to facilitate interaction with readers. Of course one of the worries is that the comment facilities on many websites tend to get clogged up with mindless abuse, but I think that is manageable. I have some ideas on this, but for the time being I’m afraid all my energies are taken up with other things so this is for the future.

I’ve long argued that the modern academic publishing industry is not facilitating but hindering the communication of research. The arXiv has already made academic journals virtually redundant in many of branches of  physics and astronomy; other disciplines will inevitably follow. The age of the academic journal is drawing to a close, and it is consequently time to rethink the concept of a paper.

Time, Money and Guidance in Higher Education

Posted in Covid-19, Education, Maynooth with tags , , , , on July 27, 2020 by telescoper

There was a welcome announcement last week of a package of supports for further and higher education institutions and students in Ireland to cover costs incurred by third level institutions during the Covid-19 pandemic and enable further and higher education students to return to college this September.

There wasn’t much sign of any help at all coming under the previous Government, so this is perhaps a sign that the new Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science might be a force to be reckoned with in the new administration.

If this funding is to achieve its aim, however, it will have to reach its targets very quickly. The new academic year is to commence at the end of September, which is just two months away. The slice that is intended to go directly to students to help them buy laptops or tablets can probably be spent quite quickly, but the money intended for colleges and universities to buy equipment will take much longer to filter through.

Speaking for myself, as Head of a Department of Theoretical Physics I’d say we desperately need better video equipment for both live and recorded material. At present we have no lecture capture facilities at all in any lecture theatres. We also need graphics tablets to help lecturers show mathematical working via remote means. There is likely to be a big rush for this sort of thing between now and September, and no guarantee we will have it in time for the start of lectures.

You might well ask `why don’t you buy this stuff now?’. The answer is simple: I haven’t got the money!

Things are even tougher for schools. Here there is another big support package on the way, this time of €350 million to allow them to open at the end of August. Getting kids back to school is obviously important not only for their education but also to allow their parents to return to work. However, the time available to prepare all the things necessary is just a month, even shorter than it is at third level.

Among the funds being made available is €75 million for `building works’. I’m sure that investment is very welcome, but can it do anything between now and the end of August? It’s actually rather difficult to spend money that quickly if due process is followed. Just look at how the UK government has squandered tens of millions on phony contracts, such as the £12 million it blew on a Covid-19 tracing app that never worked.

On top of that 1000 new schoolteachers are going to be provided. Will they be recruited in time?

Another announcement to appear last week contained guidance for further and higher education on returning to on-site activity in 2020. This guidance has been interpreted in the media in a rather unhelpful way, causing many of my colleagues to go into a panic. This, for example, from the Irish Times:

Physical distancing rules of two metres will apply on college campuses from September in a move which will severely limit the ability of universities to hold lectures and graduation ceremonies.

A strict requirement of 2 metre distancing at all times would indeed severely reduce the capacity of lecture theatres, but if you look at the guidance it is considerably more nuanced than this. The real problem with this guidance is that it is so vague. We can only hope we get something a bit more concrete soon so we can plan for September. Alternatively we could just wing it. All of it. At the moment this seems the only viable strategy.

No Azed celebration…

Posted in Biographical, Crosswords with tags , on July 26, 2020 by telescoper

I heard today that the special lunch that had been planned to celebrate the 2500th Azed crossword puzzle has been cancelled. It was first planned to take place in May (to coincide roughly with the publication of the 2500th puzzle), then postponed to September and now cancelled altogether. The venue, Wadham College Oxford, is not hosting any large events for the foreseeable future.

I wasn’t surprised by this news, but it is a shame. I was looking forward to using the event as an excuse for a break. I wouldn’t have gone just for the lunch, obviously, but would have stayed for some time either side.

On the other hand, travelling from Ireland to England and back in September would have been difficult, not least because I might have had to quarantine for 14 days in both ditections! Even without that it would have been a disruption to the preparations for the new academic year.

So I guess I’ll be staying here for the rest of the summer, though I might taje a short break somewhere in Ireland if I can.

Anyway, going back to the crosswords I got an HC (highly commended) in the latest Azed Competition (No. 2508). That was a first for me as it is the first entry I have sent in by email rather than in the post. At least I know it arrived safely. As usual I enjoyed solving the puzzle much more than composing a clue. I’m definitely a solver rather than a setter. Next Sunday will be another competition puzzle so I’ll see if I can do better in that.


Posted in Football with tags , , , , , on July 26, 2020 by telescoper

Today sees the last round of games in this year’s strange Premiership season. All ten games kick off at 4pm.

I last commented on the relegation situation when there were six games to play. Now, with one game left to play the bottom of the table looks like this:

Norwich City are already relegated and all the teams above these four, including Newcastle United, are safe; Brighton are in 16th place on 38 points.

It is possible for any two of Aston Villa, Watford and Bournemouth to go down though Bournemouth have to win and hope both Villa and Watford lose. Bournemouth are playing Everton away from home. I’d say the combination of them winning and other two relegation candidates both losing is rather improbable, but you never know.

One of either Watford or Aston Villa must get relegated. The team that gets the better result of the two will stay up.

If all three of these teams lose (which is by no means unlikely) whoever goes down with Bournemouth and Norwich will be determined by goal difference. Villa have a cushion of only one goal which means that if Villa and Watford both draw then Villa stay up. If they both win then the survivor will be determined by goal difference.

Aston Villa are away at West Ham and Watford are away at Arsenal. I’d say Watford has the tougher game so I’d say they were favourites to go down with Bournemouth.

The bookies seem to agree with me. Here are the best odds on teams to be relegated:

These are the odds on survival:

Bournemouth’s odds look a bit miserly to me, so the best price is Watford to stay up at 11/4 although even that isn’t enough to tempt me to have a flutter.

Of course these odds will change during the course of the games.

Half-time Update:

The key scores at half time are:

  • Arsenal 3 Watford 1
  • Everton 1 Bournemouth 2
  • West Ham 0 Aston Villa 0

As things stand, Villa stay up; Bournemouth and Watford go down. That will change if Villa concede a goal.

Full-time Update:

  • Arsenal 3 Watford 2
  • Everton 1 Bournemouth 3
  • West Ham 1 Aston Villa 1

Bournemouth did what they needed to do but despite their efforts that draw for Villa sends them down along with Watford.

Newcastle United unsurprisingly lost their final match against Liverpool and finished in 13th place, 10 points above the relegation zone.