Archive for the Books, Talks and Reviews Category

Public Statement

Posted in Biographical, Books, Talks and Reviews on April 20, 2016 by telescoper

As a prominent public figure and in the interests of transparency and accountability I hereby publish my latest Royalty statement.


This is of course just a high-level summary. Subsequent pages give a more detailed breakdown.

I hope this clarifies the situation.

The Three-Card Puzzle

Posted in Books, Talks and Reviews, Cute Problems on February 29, 2016 by telescoper

As promised I did my turn at the Brighton Science Festival yesterday. The Sallis Benney Theatre wasn’t quite full but there was a decent crowd, which was mildly surprising because the event I was involved in hadn’t really been advertised very well. If you want to know how my talk went then you should ask someone who was in the audience because I wasn’t really paying attention. However, I was preceded by John Haigh (seen below in mid-talk) whose presentation included a nice puzzle for the “Cute Problems” file:wp-1456735427335.jpeg

Imagine you have three cards. One is blue on both sides. One is pink om both sides. One is pink on one side and blue on the other. Other than the colours the cards are identical. For the demonstration John glued playing cards together, but they don’t have to be playing cards. Anyway, you put the three cards into a bag (seen on the stage in the picture), pull out one card “at random” and look at the colour of one side but not the other. If the colour you see is blue, what is the probability that the other side is also blue?

Try to answer this without googling. I’ll post the solution when there have been enough responses to the poll:


OK. Over a hundred people responded so I have now closed the voting.

As always seems to be the case with this sort of problem, the majority went for the “obvious” answer, which turns out to be wrong!

SOLUTION: If the card is blue on one side then it must be either the blue-blue or blue-pink one. I think most people voted for 1/2 because there are two possible cards. But the relevant consideration is that there are three possible sides: side 1 of the blue-blue card; side 2 of the blue-blue card; and the blue side of the blue-pink card. Each of these is equally likely and two of them result in the other side being blue. The correct answer is therefore 2/3; it is twice as likely for the other side to be blue as it is to be pink.

Big Science Sunday in Brighton

Posted in Books, Talks and Reviews, Brighton, Uncategorized with tags , , on February 24, 2016 by telescoper

Just time for a spot of self-publicity. This Sunday, 28th February, is going to be Big Science Sunday at the Brighton Science Festival. This event is part of Big Science Weekend. The other part is called Big Science Saturday. On Big Science Saturday I’ll actually be working on campus at the University of Sussex for an Applicant Visit Day for prospective students, so the only part of Big Science Weekend I can participate in will be Big Science Sunday. I hope that clarifies the situation with respect to Big Science Saturday, Big Science Sunday and indeed Big Science Weekend as a whole… (Get On With It, Ed)

Anyway the reason for mentioning all this is that I will be taking part (on Big Science Sunday) in an event called Speaker’s Corner, which has been organized in collaboration with Oxford University Press, who no doubt hope that it will lead to some flogging of books. Here’s the blurb from the website:


(Actually it will start at 2pm, in the Sallis Benney Theatre on Grand Parade so make sure you get the time right if you want to be sure that you  miss my contribution).

The theme that unites the contributors to this strange event is that they have all written books in the OUP series of Very Short Introductions. I wrote Cosmology: A Very Short Introduction. I will be preceded by John Haigh who wrote Probability: A Very Short Introduction . John Gribbin wrote Galaxies: A Very Short Introduction, but I understand he can’t come on Sunday…

John and I settled the batting order in an appropriate fashion, via the tossing of a coin, and have agreed that we will both do our turns without any fancy graphics or computer malarky, in the manner of a couple of ageing buskers. I hope people attending this event will feel free to ask questions as we go along to make it as informal and interactive as possible.

So if you’re in the Brighton area on Big Science Sunday as opposed to Big Science Saturday do come along!

P.S. A new edition of Cosmology: A Very Short Introduction will be out later this year so we’ll be flogging off copies of the old edition at a heavily discounted price…


Adventures with the One-Point Distribution Function

Posted in Bad Statistics, Books, Talks and Reviews, Talks and Reviews, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on September 1, 2015 by telescoper

As I promised a few people, here are the slides I used for my talk earlier today at the meeting I am attending. Actually I was given only 30 minutes and used up a lot of that time on two things that haven’t got much to do with the title. One was a quiz to identify the six famous astronomers (or physicists) who had made important contributions to statistics (Slide 2) and the other was on some issues that arose during the discussion session yesterday evening. I didn’t in the end talk much about the topic given in the title, which was about how, despite learning a huge amount about certain aspects of galaxy clustering, we are still far from a good understanding of the one-point distribution of density fluctuations. I guess I’ll get the chance to talk more about that in the near future!

P.S. I think the six famous faces should be easy to identify, so there are no prizes but please feel free to guess through the comments box!

Talking and Speaking

Posted in Biographical, Books, Talks and Reviews with tags , on August 28, 2015 by telescoper

Just back to Brighton after a pleasant couple of days in Cardiff, mainly dodging the rain but also making a small contribution to the annual STFC Summer School for new PhD students in Astronomy. Incidentally it’s almost exactly 30 years since I attended a similar event, as a new student myself, at the University of Durham.

Anyway, I gave a lecture yesterday morning on Statistics in Astronomy (I’ll post the slides on here in due course). I was back in action later in the day at a social barbecue held at Techniquest in Cardiff Bay.

Here’s the scene just before I started my turn:


It’s definitely an unusual venue to be giving a speech, but it was fun to do. Here’s a picture of me in action, taken by Ed Gomez:


I was asked to give a “motivational speech” to the assembled students but I figured that since they had all already  chosen to do a PhD they probably already had enough motivation. In any case I find it a bit patronising when oldies like me assume that they have to “inspire” the younger generation of scientists. In my experience, any inspiring is at least as likely to happen in the opposite direction! So in the event  I just told a few jokes and gave a bit of general advice, stressing for example the importance of ignoring your supervisor and of locating the departmental stationery cupboard as quickly as possible. 

It was very nice to see some old friends as well as all the new faces at the summer school. I’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone about to  embark on a PhD, whether in Astronomy or some other subject, all the very best. You’ll find it challenging but immensely rewarding, so enjoy the adventure!

Oh, and thanks to the organisers for inviting me to take part. I was only there for one day, but the whole event seemed to go off very well!

Found in Translation…

Posted in Biographical, Books, Books, Talks and Reviews with tags on March 30, 2015 by telescoper

A nice surprise was waiting for me when I arrived at work this morning in the form of a parcel from Oxford University Press containing six copies of the new Arabic edition of my book  Cosmology: A Very Short Introduction. I think I’ve put them the right way up. I was a bit confused because they open the opposite way to books in English, as arabic is read from right to left rather than from left to right.


Anyway, although I can’t read Arabic it’s nice to have these to put with the other foreign editions, including these. I still can’t remember whether the first one is Japanese or Korean…






…still, it’s interesting to see how they’ve chosen different covers for the different translations, and at least I know what my name looks like in Russian Bulgarian!

For the sake of a seminar..

Posted in Biographical, Books, Talks and Reviews, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on January 17, 2014 by telescoper

Just a quick post while I drink my morning coffee. Yesterday afternoon I gave a seminar here in the Kobayashi-Maskawa Institute at Nagoya University. It was actually at 5pm; I almost made a mistake when I saw it on the the high-tech digital display screen shown here (see top right) because I thought that 16 meant 1600 hours:


Although I’ve got used to the time difference pretty well, I am still struggling to work out what day it is. The 16 stands for 16th January of course…

Anyway, it seemed to go fairly well and was pretty well attended by the students and postdocs as well as faculty. The lecture theatre was extremely well equipped with AV equipment and I got distracted quite often playing with the various gadgets. Also there were two projector screens, side by side, so the audience got my slides in stereo, so to speak.

In case you’re interested, here are the slides from my talk – complete with artistic flourishes:

For the cosmologists among you, the main protagonists here are Naoshi Sugiyama, who has a joint appointment here and at the Kavli Institute in Tokyo, Takahiko Matsubara, and Chiaki Hikage. The latter was a postdoc working with me at Nottingham and Cardiff; he then worked in Princeton before returning to Japan; Chiaki has been my host during my stay here.

After my talk, and a question-and-answer session, the staff treated me to dinner. We had some discussion about where to go during which I mentioned that I’d seen a place called Hamakin, which claimed to be a Japanese-Italian restaurant:


I wasn’t convinced by the concept but it turned out that, although it was a new place, Takahiko had been there before and thought it was very good. We ended up there and, much to my surprise, it was excellent. It was a lot more Japanese than Italian, I have to say, but we did try an interesting take on pizza with cod roe as part of the topping. They had an English menu, with some curious choices of English words. I wasn’t really tempted by “Economic Steak”, and “Cod Ovum” suggested, by use of the Latin singular of “egg”, an extremely small portion. I still don’t know what “pastured chicken” is, either.

As a special treat some sake from a bamboo container was served for me in a bamboo cup; the bamboo is supposed to make it taste nicer but I wasn’t able to discern a difference between the special sake and normal sake. I clearly don’t have a sufficiently cultivated palate. Apologies for the pun in the title of the post too!

Today, Friday, is the last working day of my visit so I’d better get on and finish what I’m here to do because there’s another seminar this afternoon which I’d like to attend. Tomorrow, if I can get myself organized, I might take a trip on the bullet train for a day’s sightseeing in Kyoto, which I am told is a must-see city.



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