Archive for the Biographical Category

I’ve no more … to give

Posted in Biographical, Music, Politics with tags , on March 26, 2019 by telescoper

And now here’s a vocal summation of my views on Brexit by Thomas Benjamin Wild Esq, a chap with a lovely beard…


A Very British March

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , , , on March 24, 2019 by telescoper

I’m back in Maynooth now after yesterday’s wonderful demonstration in London. Sources are claiming that about 1.4M people attended. I met filk from all round the country, many of whom had never been on a march before. It’s also worth saying according to the Metropolitan Police that there was not a single incident that they had to deal with.

I’m not very good in big crowds (to say the least) so I stood for a while a little distance from the main body of the demonstration as it assembled in Park Lane. I was astonished to see how many people were joining. It was certainly larger than the previous one, last year.

I eventually joined in when it started moving (very slowly). The people were very friendly and despite the numbers I didn’t get at all panicky. It struck me as being a quintessentially British demonstration, in that it was basically just some very nice polite people waiting politely in a very long queue..

The march was due to start at 12 noon but i didn’t get going until well after 2pm. I had to leave at 4pm, by which I had only got halfway along Piccadilly. Instead of going all the way to Parliament Square I headed back to my hotel, picked up the bag I had left there and took a packed tube to Heathrow. I made it just in time. The plane began boarding just as I ckeated the security checks.

I didn’t take many pictures of the march, but here are a few:

Hyde Park, the Statue of Achilles

Philosopher A. C. Grayling and I..

Beards against Brexit!

It was a wonderful experience to be in the company of so many extremely nice people and I was sad I couldn’t make it all the way to the end!

P. S. The petition on revoking Article 50 has reached almost reached 5 million signatures.

The Most Ancient Heavens

Posted in Art, Biographical, Poetry, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , on March 21, 2019 by telescoper

So here I am, in that London, getting ready for the start of a two-day conference at the Royal Astronomical Society on cosmology, large-scale structure, and weak gravitational lensing, to celebrate the work of Professor Alan Heavens, on (or near) the occasion of his 60th birthday. Yes, it is a great name for an astronomer.

I was honoured to be invited to give a talk at this meeting, though my immediate reaction when I was told about was `But he can’t be sixty! He’s only a few years older than me…oh.’ I gather I’m supposed to say something funny after the conference dinner tomorrow night too.

Courtesy of alphabetical order it looks like I’m top of the bill!

Anyway, I’ve known Alan since I was a research student, i.e. over thirty years, and we’re co-authors on 13 papers (all of them since 2011).

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the HeavensFest not only for the scientific programme (which looks excellent) but also for the purpose of celebrating an old friend and colleague.

Just to clear up a couple of artistic points.

First, the title of the meeting, The Most Ancient Heavens, is taken from Ode to Duty by William Wordsworth.

Second, the image on the conference programme shown above is a pastiche of The Creation of Alan Adam which is part of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, waswhich painted by Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, known to his friends as Michelangelo. Apparently he worked flat out painting this enormous fresco. It was agony but the ecstasy kept him going. I’ve often wondered (a) who did the floor of the Sistine Chapel and (b) how could Michelangelo create such great art when it was so clearly extremely cold? Anyway, I think that is a picture of Alan at high redshift on the far right, next to the man with beard who at least had the good sense to wear a nightie to spare his embarrassment.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I must be going. Time for a stroll down to Piccadilly.

Update: you can find a bunch of pictures of this conference here.

A Grand Slam Weekend

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Rugby with tags , , , on March 19, 2019 by telescoper

Well, here I am sitting in Cardiff Airport yet again waiting for a flight back to Dublin so I reckon it’s time to break my self-imposed blogging silence.

I had an enjoyable little break, the highlight of which was the rugby on Saturday between Wales and Ireland. I actually managed to get a ticket for the game, though I am not at liberty to divulge how I got it. I was a long way back from the pitch, practically in the rafters of the Principality Stadium, but the view wasn’t bad. Sadly, I forgot to charge my phone up overnight before the match and by the time I made it to my seat the battery had died, so I have no pictures of the event to share.

I had expected Wales to win, but hadn’t expected such a one-side match. After scoring after just over a minute, Wales controlled the game. Instead of the intense atmosphere I’d been anticipating, the mood in the crowd was more like that you might find at a cricket match while the home side is steadily accumulating runs against ineffective bowling. When the Ireland fightback hadn’t materialized by the fourth quarter of the game, the celebrations started and the singing grew louder in the steadily falling rain. At least Ireland got a consolation try at the end, but if truth be told they didn’t really turn up for the match.

I got absolutely drenched walking back to the Cardiff residence, but it was worth it for the privilege of seeing a Grand Slam unfold live. I only caught the second half of the final match of this year’s Six Nations, the Calcutta Cup match between Scotland and England, on the radio. This seems to have been the most exciting of the tournament, ending in a 38-38 draw after England had been 31-0 up! Greatest comeback since Lazarus!

But all credit again to Wales for their Grand Slam, a great achievement by any standards. It’s revenge what happened ten years ago, when I was in Cardiff (though not in the ground) for a Grand Slam decider between Wales and Ireland, a frantic and exciting match which Ireland won. Not so much excitement this time, but a far happier crowd of Welsh supporters!

So that’s the St Patrick’s Bank Holiday Weekend over with and I’m now heading back to Ireland. This week, or what’s left of it, is `Study Week’ which means there are no lectures. We have finished six weeks of teaching this term at Maynooth, and there are six more after Study Week but there is another week off looming for Easter. As it happens, I’m attending a small conference in London on Thursday and Friday (of which more soon) so I’m just back in the office tomorrow before flying off again for two days in the capital of Poundland.

Technical Problems

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff with tags , , , , on March 10, 2019 by telescoper

This morning I got up early to travel to Cardiff Airport to get a flight back to Dublin.

We boarded the plane on time, left the gate on time and arrived at the end of the runway, apparently about to take off. We then sat there for 20 minutes before the pilot explained that there was a problem with the instruments on the flight deck. The plane then taxied back to the terminal, and an engineer got on, but he was unable to fix the problem so we all got off the plane which is clearly going nowhere soon.

A FlyBe Embraer 175 actually flying.

I’m currently sitting in the departure lounge drinking a coffee and wondering when (if) I’ll get to Dublin.

We’re told a plane will arrive from Edinburgh in half an hour and that will take us to Dublin. I’m not convinced. I think there’s a significant probability that my flight will be cancelled, but you never know..

The service with FlyBe has deteriorated in recent weeks almost as quickly as its fares have gone up. The airline has only recently been rescued from collapse and I suspect a major reorganisation is coming up.

Anyway, I know it’s safety first and all that, but my main concern is that we got all the way to the runway before anyone noticed there was a problem. Don’t they check before leaving the gate?

Update: we arrived in Dublin on Plane Number Two at 12.30, two hours and twenty minutes late but all in one piece.

To Like and to Like not

Posted in Biographical, Poetry with tags , , , on March 8, 2019 by telescoper

Travelling today, I was reminded that exactly a week ago, WordPress sent me this notification:

I was a bit surprised, to be honest, as that I posted a St David’s Day poem and usually when I post poetry the traffic goes down. Last Friday however it seems all my St David’s Day poetry posts going back years attracted traffic (and ‘likes’), so I was quite pleased.

Some time ago a senior astronomer emailed me to say that he thought that, for a science blog, there was far to much other stuff for his liking. Other stuff presumably including poetry, music, sport and the rest.

Anyway my response was that this isn’t really a science blog. It’s just a personal blog written by someone who happens to be a scientist. I post about science fairly often but I wouldn’t enjoy blogging half as much if I only covered that.

Some people have asked me why I post poetry and music and the rest. The answer is simple: to share things I enjoy. If just one person were to discover a poem they like by reading it here then it makes it all worthwhile!

Sleep Hygiene

Posted in Biographical, Mental Health with tags , , on March 2, 2019 by telescoper

This afternoon I remembered a discussion I had with a few friends last week about insomnia and I thought I’d comment a bit on it here. This topic has come up before, e.g. here, but I’m very happy to say that sleeplessness is not a problem I’ve had recently (apart from once or twice when I’ve had a fever, but that’s different).

When I was struggling to come to terms with insomnia, much of the advice from NHS doctors and psychiatrists concerned sleep hygiene. This does not mean having a shower before you go to bed. It’s a collection of behavioural modifications designed to ensure you get a full night’s sleep every night. Here’s an example of the sort of things:

Received wisdom is that this actually works in most cases. I am, however, bound to say that it didn’t work at all for me. During the worst of my brushes with insomnia I was considered such an intractable case that I was passed around a collection of consultants who, despite their best intentions, didn’t really help either.

Then I had an appointment with a doctor who was refreshingly honest. She said that if insomnia is a result of anxiety or depression then making strict rules about how long you should sleep and what you should do to comply with them can easily make the anxiety worse and hence perpetuate the insomnia. She went on to explain that the practice of sleeping eight hours per night is a relatively recent one. In pre-industrial societies periods of wakefulness in the middle of the night were considered quite normal. Literature from the Victorian period in England, for example, describes how in some communities people would get up in the middle of the night – and even visit their neighbours for tea – before returning home and going back to bed for their `second sleep’. There’s an article in a recent edition of the Irish Times that describes this and cites studies that appear to show that two periods of 3-4 hours each is in some sense more natural than 6-8 hours in one chunk.

So the advice given to me when all else had failed was not to attempt to impose rules on myself but simply not to get stressed if I found I woke up at 3am and couldn’t immediately get back to sleep. Get up if you want to, she said. Relax. Listen to some music. Make a cup of tea. Iron a shirt for the morning. Then go back to bed, but only when you start to feel sleepy again. I’ve done that many many times over the last few years, without feeling anxious about it, although I have to say that nowadays I more often get a solid six to seven hours.

Since I only observe one or two of the list of ten steps to sleep hygiene given above I must be a dirty sleeper, but I much prefer that than being trapped into a cycle of insomnia and anxiety. My advice is sleep the way you can, and don’t worry if it’s not what others think should be the norm.

Come to think of it, that goes for many other things in life.

P.S. If they want us academics to obey rule number 2, why do seminars always go on for an hour?

P. P. S. Anxiety isn’t always the reason for lack of sleep. Sometimes it’s this: