Archive for the Biographical Category

Abstract Whiteboard No. 2

Posted in Art, Biographical on January 18, 2019 by telescoper

Before going home for the weekend I thought I’d share this work (300cm × 120cm, marker on whiteboard) by a relatively unknown Anglo-Irish artist currently based in the Maynooth area who wishes to remain anonymous.

Despite the somewhat stochastic form of the composition and the unusual choice of medium I think this work speaks for itself, but I’d just like to comment* that, with regard to the issue of content, the disjunctive perturbation of the spatial relationships resonates within the distinctive formal juxtapositions. Moreover, the aura of the figurative-narrative line-space matrix threatens to penetrate a participation in the critical dialogue of the 90s. Note also that the iconicity of the purity of line brings within the realm of discourse the remarkable and unconventional handling of light. As a final remark I’ll point out that the presence of a bottle of whiteboard cleaner to the bottom right of the work symbolizes the ephemeral nature of art and in so doing causes the viewer to reflect on the transience of human existence.

*These notes may or may not have been generated with the help of an online Instant Art Critique Phrase Generator.

Advertisements

Self Assessments

Posted in Biographical, Education, Finance, Maynooth with tags , , on January 17, 2019 by telescoper

My first batch of examination marking having been completed satisfactorily and my next paper not taking place until the weekend (Saturday morning, to be precise), I naively hoped that I could devote myself to research for a few days this week as I am behind schedule in completing a couple of papers. Unfortunately this has not been as straightforward as I’d hoped. I’ve spent all of today doing various administrative things (expenses claims, examination reports, and a part of the Department’s Quality Review Self-Assessment document which is due in near the end of the month.

In case you are unfamiliar with such things, a Quality Review is an exercise that takes place from time to time for every Department or Administrative Unit in the University (and indeed for every university in Ireland). For the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University, the last one took place in 2009). The process begins with the aforementioned Self-Assessment document which basically lays out what the Department is trying to do, the processes by which it uses to do it, reflects on the effectiveness of those processes, and outlines ideas for how they can be improved. All the staff in the Department have been engaged in writing bits of this document, which is now gradually coming into shape.I’ve had a relatively light involvement in this because I haven’t been here for very long, but it has consumed quite a lot of staff effort.

When complete, the Self Assessment report is sent to a range of people both inside and outside the University and there is then a visitation during which the panel talks to staff and students and has a look around the Department. We’re expecting our `inspection’ to take place in March. After that the panel gives feedback to the Department in a report. The panel’s comments are made publicly available, as is appropriate for a publicly-funded body. The report emerging from the last Quality Review of the Department of Mathematical Physics (as it was then called ) can be found here (pdf). It’s all quite a lot of work – the latest Departmental meeting devoted to this yesterday lasted three and a half hours, and we’ve had several meetings like that! fortunately, it  will all be finished by next week. Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof.

 

Talking of Self Assessment, I realized last night with a panic that I hadn’t yet done my UK income tax return for 2017/18, also due in by the end of January. I spent this lunchtime getting all the bits of paper in order, and completed the task online fairly quickly as I’ve done it many times before. It turns out that yet again HMRC owes me a substantial refund. They haven’t handled my income tax properly since I left Sussex in 2016 as a matter of fact. Despite repeated attempts to get them to apply the rules correctly they have basically taxed all my income at source at the higher rate (40%) only to pay it back when I submitted my return. Fortunately, I am now domiciled in Ireland so won’t have to deal with HMRC much again.

Anyway, I should complete most of the outstanding administrative stuff this evening and if I do that I can clear a day for research, or at least writing up papers…

 

 

 

LGBT STEMinar Gallery

Posted in Biographical, LGBT, The Universe and Stuff on January 17, 2019 by telescoper

The official photographer at last week’s LGBT STEMinar took these pictures of me while I was delivering my keynote talk, and I thought you might find it amusing to see them. Actually quite a few of them could serve as subjects for a caption competition!

The Best Men Can Be Unshaven

Posted in Beards, Biographical, Television with tags , , on January 16, 2019 by telescoper

This advertisement by the Gillette company (purveyors of razors and other shaving products) has been causing a social media meltdown among the male snowflake fraternity:

It seems that the message conveyed in this short film – that men could do more to tackle bullying and harassment – is proving unpopular with certain men. I think it’s a reasonable inference that those men who feel the need to rant about this commercial actually think that they should be entitled by virtue of their gonads to engage in the kind of behaviour challenged therein and indeed threatened by any suggestion that they should not behave like prats. in my opinion the fact that there has been such a reaction demonstrates beyond any doubt how important the message is that toxic masculinity is a problem.

As a recent winner of Beard of the Year I feel it is important to point out that because I have a full beard, I never use Gillette (or any other shaving) products. My continuing not to use Gillette products should therefore not be interpreted as opposition to the message contained in this particular advertisement nor should my refusal to be upset by a commercial be interpreted as an endorsement of Gillette products. If, on the other hand, the Gillette company were to find it within their capacity to introduce a range of beard care products then, in return for receipt of an appropriately generous free supply of said products, I would be willing to advertise them on this site. Indeed, given the ever-increasing numbers of men preferring to be unshaven, it would seem to be a good idea from purely business grounds to diversify its range in order to cater for the hirsute market. I hope this clarifies the situation.

P.S. Another idea would be for Gillette to develop a range of toxic shaving products, specifically for those men who think toxic masculinity is just fine….

Meaningful Betting

Posted in Biographical, mathematics, Politics with tags , , , , on January 15, 2019 by telescoper

I’ve now finished my first batch of marking (Astrophysics & Cosmology) and I now have a few days to do other things until the next (larger) set of scripts arrives from Vector Calculus and Fourier Series which takes place on Saturday.

Before going home I turned my attention to the news of tonight’s “Meaningful Vote” in the House of Common’s about whether or not to accept the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated between PM Theresa May and the European Union. The Government is widely expected to lose the vote but it’s not clear by what margin. Interested to see what the betting markets think I had a look just now at the Betfair exchange and found this, on the basic question of whether the vote will pass or not:

(You might want to click on the image to make it clearer.) You can find the live odds here.

You will see that this is quite an active market – with over €700K being wagered. Odds of greater than 40 to 1 against a `yes’ vote but most of the action is on `no’. Note that quite a few punters are laying on this outcome, with odds of about 25-1 on. (The way odds are shown in the second row is that 1.04 means you with 4p for every £1 staked).

Clearly, therefore, the markets think the vote will fail. What is less clear is how many MPs will vote in favour of the Government. Here is the corresponding Betfair market:

The shortest odds are for the first option, i.e. for 199 or fewer voting with the Government, but there is activity across the whole range of possibilities. The press are talking about a defeat by 225 votes, but for what it’s worth I don’t think it will be such a large margin. I’m not going to bet on it, but I expect it to be defeated by less than 150 votes.

UPDATE: Not for the first time I was wrong. The vote was Ayes 202 Noes 432, a majority of 230 against. That means there were no abstentions.

Out and Back

Posted in Biographical, LGBT, Maynooth on January 13, 2019 by telescoper

So here I am, back home in Maynooth, after a very enjoyable day and a bit in London during which I learnt a huge amount and met so many lovely people. If only all science conferences were so much fun!

Incidentally, next year’s LGBT+ STEMinar will take place in Birmingham (2020), and the one after that in Oxford (2021). I’m told the first such event had about 40 participants but it’s now struggling to find big enough venues. The attendance at this year’s event was strictly limited by the capacity of the lecture room in the new IOP building. Hopefully the next will have a bigger theatre to enable even more people to come.

As well as being my first LGBT+ STEMinar this was also the first time I’ve ever flown on Aer Lingus. I was quite impressed, with flights in both directions being ahead of schedule. In fact I got back in such good time yesterday afternoon that I was able to get a much earlier bus than I had thought possible and found myself at home well before 7pm.

This trip gave me the chance for the first time to use the newer and swankier Terminal 2 in Dublin, which is a lot comfier than Terminal 1 (from which FlyBe and other budget airlines operate). It was Terminal 2 at Heathrow too, which is where I had awful problems with Eurowings earlier this year, but there were no problems this time. Both Dublin and Heathrow airports were very quiet. There is probably a post-Christmas lull in air travel at this time of year.

I did quite a lot of walking around London on Friday and Saturday, including walking to the Athenaeum from King’s Cross for the RAS Club. It’s hard to believe I lived in London for quite a long time (1990-98) as I am obviously a total stranger there now. I did however recognise the wonderfully cosmopolitan vibe as I walked through the West End towards Piccadilly. I was almost late for dinner as there were so many people about it was sometimes hard to make progress through the crowds. I’m also, of course, not as fast a walker as I used to be…

Anyway now that I’m back the main job for the next day or two is going to be marking examinations, no doubt preceded by numerous displacement activities..

LGBT+ STEMinar – Notes on my Keynote

Posted in Biographical, LGBT, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on January 12, 2019 by telescoper

I’m in a hotel near King’s Cross having had my Full English and with an hour or so before I have to check out and trek to Heathrow for my flight back to Dublin.

First things first. I promised a few people yesterday at the LGBT STEMinar that I would post the slides I used in my Keynote talk yesterday so here you go:

And here are a few pictures of me in action. I got all these from Twitter so apologize for not giving due credit to the photographers. My timeline was very crowded yesterday!

What I tried to do in the talk was to discuss the theme of progress over the last thirty years, both in my area of research (cosmology, specifically the large-scale structure of the Universe) and in the area of LGBT+ rights.

I started with my time as a graduate student at Sussex. One of the first things I did during `Freshers Week’ at when I started there was to join the GaySoc (as it was called) and I gradually became more involved in it as time went on. Over the five years I was at Sussex, `Gaysoc’ became `Lesbian and Gay Soc’ but a move to recognize bisexual people in the title was voted down, by quite a large margin. Inclusivity was (and still isn’t) a given even among marginalized groups. Biphobia and transphobia are still very much around.

Initially I kept my sexual orientation separate from my academic life and wasn’t really all that open in the Department in which I worked. My decision to change that was largely because of things going on in the outside world that convinced me that there was a need to stand up and be counted.

One of these was the AIDS `panic’ exacerbated by the Thatcher Government’s awful advertising campaign, an example of which you can see above. It was a very frightening time to be gay, not only because of the fear of contracting AIDS oneself but also because of the hostility that arose as a reaction to the `gay plague’. I’m convinced that this campaign led directly to a great deal of the violence that was inflicted on gay people during this time, including myself.

The second thing that made me want to come out was the Local Government Act (1988), which included the now infamous Section 28 (above). This was the subject of the first political demonstrations I ever attended. We failed to stop it becoming law, which was what we had wanted to do, but one positive that came out of this was that it did galvanize a lot of people into action, and the law was eventually repealed.

Anyway, I just got fed up of hearing people making ill-informed generalisations during this time. Rather than make a big public statement about being gay, I just resolved to not let such comments pass. I think it only took a few intercessions in the tea room or Falmer Bar for it to become widely known in the Department that I was gay. That was how I came out in astrophysics, and thereafter almost everyone just seemed to know.

So that was the eighties. If somebody had told me then that in thirty years the United Kingdom would have legalized same-sex marriage I would just have laughed. That wasn’t even really being discussed by the LGBT+ community then.

Anyway, back to the talk. What I then tried to do – actually for most of the presentation – was to outline the progress that has been made over the last thirty years in cosmology. When I started in 1985 there was hardly any data. There were some small redshift surveys of the order of a thousand galaxies, but my thesis was supposed to be about the pattern of fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background and there were no relevant measurements back then. I had to rely on simulations, as I mentioned here a few days ago.

Over the years there has been tremendous progress, especially with the accumulation of data enabled by improvements in observational technology. Theory has moved on to the extent that we now have a standard model of cosmology that accounts for most of this data (at least in a broad-brush sense) with just six free parameters. That’s a great success.

This rapid progress has led some to suggest that cosmology is now basically over in the sense that we have done virtually everything that we’ll ever do. I disagree with this entirely. The standard model contains a number of assumptions (general relativity, cold dark matter, a cosmological constant, and so on) all of which should be questioned. In science every answer leads to new questions and all progress to new challenges. If we ever rest on our laurels the field will stagnate and die. Success should never lead to complacency.

So then in the talk I returned to LGBT+ rights. Some (straight) people have said to me that now that we have equal marriage then it’s basically all done, isn’t it? There’s now no discrimination. You can stop talking about LGBT+ matters and `just be a scientist’.

That, I’m afraid, is bollocks. We have equal marriage but, though welcome, by no means represents some sort of utopia. Society is still basically a patriarchy, configured in a way that is profoundly unfair to many groups of people, so there are still many challenges to be fought. Unless we keep pushing for a truly inclusive society there is a real danger that the rights we have won could easily be rolled back. This is no more over than cosmology is over. In fact, you could really say that it’s really just the start.