Archive for the Cardiff Category

From Maynooth to Cardiff

Posted in Cardiff, Maynooth with tags , on May 21, 2018 by telescoper

So here I am in Dublin Airport, waiting for my flight back to Cardiff. It’s been a nice weekend in Ireland, with good weather and lots to do in and around Maynooth. In the course of my perambulations on Saturday I came across a group of people campaigning to Repeal the Eighth Amendment. I A referendum on that issue takes place on Friday this week (25th). I bought a badge from them, which I’m happy to wear in solidarity:

There are lots of posters around supporting supporting one or other side in the campaign. It’s very noticeable that the `Yes’ ones seem to be getting torn down quite regularly. It’s also noticeable that the `No’ ones are frequently rather crude and sometimes offensive. That’s a shame because there is a serious ethical issue at stake, and a grown-up debate is important. Still, past experience suggests that referendums and grown-up debates don’t necessarily go together.

I won’t be in Ireland for the vote, but I hope the ‘yes’ campaign succeeds in removing what I think is a daft piece of law. If it fails then it won’t stop Irish women having terminations, it will just mean that the continue to have to travel abroad (if they can afford to do so) or take terrible risks have an illegal abortion at home (if they can’t) . For me, a vote for `No’ is therefore just a vote for hypocrisy.

Incidentally, a letter arrived at my Cardiff residence a few days ago from the Human Resources Department at Cardiff University, acknowledging my resignation (which I handed in about 6 weeks ago). I noticed that the letter contains the sentence `We have sent this letter to the home address we have on record for you. If this address is incorrect please contact us..’. Hmmm. If the letter had gone to the wrong address how would I know?

Anyway, I’ll be back in Cardiff for the next week, with another set of exams to mark in a few days, then back to Maynooth. And now it’s time to go to the gate.

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Revisionist (Thermal) History of the Universe

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Education, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on May 10, 2018 by telescoper

Well, today saw my last teaching session on my Cardiff University module Physics of the Early Universe. It was actually an optional revision lecture, during which I went through questions on last year’s examination paper, some matters arising therefrom and some general tips on `examination technique’. The latter included advice that seems obvious – such as `read the question carefully’ and `check your numerical answers’ – but that surprisingly many students seem not to have heard before or, if they have, choose not to follow!

Anyway, I hope the students who came today found it useful and I hope that they (and indeed everyone else taking examinations over the next few weeks) do themselves proper justice and get the results they need for whatever comes next in their plans.

The Physics of the Early Universe paper is a couple of weeks ago so no doubt I’ll get a few more queries to deal with before then.

I thought I’d give an idea of the stuff I’ve been teaching here by including one of the questions from last year’s paper. I thought this was quite an easy one, actually, but the students seemed to find it tricky while they mostly coped well with the other questions, which I thought were harder. One of the challenges of teaching is that it’s often hard to see what other people find difficult! See what you think. You don’t really need to know much cosmology to do this:

Anyway, today was not only the last teaching session for this particular module – it’s also the last teaching session I’ll ever conduct in the UK university system. Best wishes to whoever it is that teaches this module next year when I’m in Ireland.

Ticket to Ride

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff on May 8, 2018 by telescoper

Although ostensibly based in Cardiff this week I was today required to attend a meeting in London.

This morning I travelled to London Paddington. Inevitably the train was late. The advertised 10 carriage train also turned out to have only 5 carriages and was crammed; there were no seat reservations.

The meeting I attended was quite productive, and I had a nice walk back to Paddington in the warm sunshine.

Now I’m on the return train which also has only five carriages. It seems like Late Western policy to run trains with a short formation in order to maximise the discomfort of passengers. I do not know yet know if we will arrive on time in Cardiff.

My ticket (a one-day ‘off peak’ travelcard) cost £109.10, roughly the cost of two return flights between Cardiff and Dublin.

As a bonus though I got this:

I’ve always wanted to go there, but I’m not sure I want to visit four times. (For those of you not familiar with British geography, ‘Void’ is a place in the Midlands..)

If anyone thinks the pricing of UK train tickets would be reasonable even if the trains ran on time please explain your reasons via the comments box.

My own view, for what it’s worth, is that the travelling public are being fleeced.

A Day of Sports in Cardiff

Posted in Cardiff, Cricket, Football with tags , , on May 6, 2018 by telescoper

Today I saw my first day of County Cricket this season at Sophia Gardens. It was actually the 3rd day of Glamorgan against Kent, which also turned out to be the last, as Kent won by six wickets.

Defeat for Glamorgan looked pretty inevitable after a horrendous first innings batting collapse from 57-0 to 94 all out. Although they dismissed Kent for 174 and scored 274 in their second innings, the lead of 194 never looked like being enough. On the other hand Yorkshire won their latest match against Essex despite being all out for 50 in their first innings!

As it turned out, in the warm sunshine and good batting conditions, Glamorgan’s bowlers tried hard but didn’t have much luck and never really looked like precipitating the sort of collapse that they needed to win the game.

Today’s play began with a farcical delay caused by a leak in the underground drainage system beneath the square which caused a wet patch. Play was delayed until 12.40 and the players had an early lunch while the sun did its work drying out the square. I’m not sure how this happened but it didn’t affect the game, which was always going to finish today given that there was no chance of the weather intervening. .

A very disappointing result for Glamorgan, but hopefully they can rebound in their next game.

Anyway, just before 2.30pm those of us inside Sophia Gardens (only abiut 250) could hear the sound of fireworks from the Cardiff City Stadium (which is about 20 minutes walk away). Despite only drawing today’s match against Reading, Cardiff City are promoted to the Premiership for next season in second place. They have Birmingham City to thank for that, who beat Fulham 3-1 to secure their Championship survival and prevent Fulham from finishing ahead of Cardiff. Miss Lemon will be pleased.

At the other end of the table, Barnsley, Burton Albion join already relegated Sunderland in League One. The three relegated clubs, once again, are all from the Midlands. It’s strange how often that happens..

Midweek Flight to Dublin

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Maynooth on May 2, 2018 by telescoper

I’ve just arrived in Dublin after the last regular mid-week flight I’ll have to make from Cardiff because of teaching commitments. Last lecture of term in Maynooth tomorrow, and after that I can be more flexible about the travel.

I’ve generally avoided evening flights since the introduction of the summer schedules. Budget airlines such as FlyBe work on very tight schedules and delays tend to accumulate throughout the day, meaning that incoming planes needed to make evening flights are frequently very late. Sometimes they get so late the plane can’t fly because of restrictions on night flights, in which case they are cancelled. This is much less likely with an earlier flight in my experience.

So I took a chance this evening but as it happened there were no delays I got safely on the bus to Maynooth and got to my flight at a reasonable hour. The plane, by the way, was only about a quarter full.

The picture was taken shortly after takeoff from Cardiff Airport, with South Wales underneath and Devon in the distance.

In Praise of Research Software Engineers

Posted in Cardiff with tags , , , on May 1, 2018 by telescoper

Yesterday in the Data Innovation Research Institute we held a special event, our first ever Conference for Research Software Engineers. Sadly I was too busy yesterday to attend in person, but I did turn up at the end for the drinks reception at the end.

In case you weren’t aware, the term Research Software Engineer (RSE) is applied to the growing number of people in universities and other research organisations who combine expertise in programming with an intricate understanding of research. Although this combination of skills is extremely valuable, these people lack a formal place in the academic system. Without a name, it is difficult for people to rally around a cause, hence the creation of the term Research Software Engineer and the Research Software Engineer Association.

We have quite a few RSEs associated with the Data Innovation Research Institute in Cardiff – as you can see here. These are quite different from system administrators or other computing support staff as they are involved directly in research, working in teams alongside academics and other specialists.

One of the biggest problems facing RSEs in the UK university system is there isn’t a well-established promotions route for them. For researchers in an academic environment, performance is usually judged through publications, PhD students supervised, grants awarded and so so. Although RSEs play a vital role, especially (but not exclusively) in large collaborations, they do not usually end up as lead authors on papers and generally do not apply for grants in their own name. That means that if they are judged by these criteria they struggle to get promotion and often leave academia to work for higher pay and better terms and conditions elsewhere.

In my opinion, one of the important things that must be done to improve the lot of Research Software Engineers is to construct a career structure in parallel with the academic route  and other grades (such as laboratory technician) but judged by more appropriate criteria tailored to the reality of the job. Writing the necessary grade profiles and getting them agreed by the relevant university committees will take some time, but I think it will pay dividends in terms of better retention and job satisfaction for these highly talented people.

I hope Cardiff can take some sort of a lead in defining the role of an RSE, but this is really a national need. There are pretty uniform grade descriptions for academic and research staff across the United Kingdom so I don’t see any reason why this can’t be the case for Research Software Engineers. They are vital to many research fields already, and their importance can only grow in the future.

 

Welcome Back To Sophia Gardens

Posted in Cardiff, Cricket with tags , , on April 30, 2018 by telescoper

As a member of Glamorgan County Cricket Club I today received some important news by email.

It seems that at the end of this month (ie today), the sponsorship deal with an electricity company that involved the cricket ground in Cardiff being called the SSE SWALEC Stadium lapses.

From tomorrow, the First of May, therefore, the ground will be known by the far more attractive name of Sophia Gardens Cardiff. That also happens to be the name by which it was known from 1967 to 2007…

I have to admit that I always struggled to bring myself to call it the SSE SWALEC Stadium, so I’m glad that I no longer have to try!

And while we’re on about gardens here is a picture of some flowers I saw in Cathays Park on my way to work this morning.