Archive for the Cardiff Category

Weekend Weather and Travel Updates

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff with tags , , , on February 16, 2020 by telescoper

I got back from London to Dublin last night, rather later than planned courtesy of Storm Dennis. I made my way to Heathrow more in hope than expectation, as there seemed to be a significant probability that my flight would be cancelled (as several were), but in the end it was only delayed by about an hour. It was a bit wobbly coming in to land, but the weather in Dublin wasn’t all that bad last night so there wasn’t the level of drama I expected. I did miss the last Hopper bus, though, and had to take a taxi to Maynooth.

There was another bit of disruption earlier in the day when I discovered that there were no Piccadilly or District line trains between Hyde Park Corner and Acton Town (in either direction), which makes it impossible to get to Heathrow directly by Tube. That gave me an opportunity to explore the London Underground to find a way through. I had plenty of time so I thought it would be fun. In the end I chose the Central Line to Ealing Broadway then a quick couple of stops on the District Line to Acton Town where there were trains to Mornington Crescent Heathrow Airport.

Dublin is to leeward when bad weather comes in from the Atlantic, so doesn’t get the worst of it. This seems to have been the case for Storm Dennis. Wales hasn’t been so lucky and I’ve spent the morning following messages on social media from friends and former colleagues about flooding along the Rover Taff. At one point there were 85 active flood warnings in Wales:

When I bought my house in Pontcanna I signed up for Flood Alerts, and I got one of them too. Here are some pictures of the area taken this morning:

This grim scene is not far from my house, but it’s not as scary as it looks. The River Taff is flanked by steep embankments as it passes into Cardiff and these provide strong flood defences. There is also a tidal barrage across Cardiff Bay which prevents tidewater coming up the River Taff while floodwater is trying to come down it, which is the usual recipe for a flood. The whole system is designed so that before these are breached, water floods out further North over Pontcanna Fields (a wide flat area that is part of the natural flood plain of the Taff that doesn’t have houses on it). A huge amount of water can be `parked’ in this area until the spate subsides. This happened before when I lived in Cardiff in 2009 and it’s nothing to worry too much about. It’s not good for people wanting to play rugby on the playing fields though!

After the terrible floods of 1979 Cardiff built very strong flood defences, but the same is not true for smaller towns up in the Welsh valleys. It seems that Pontypridd has been particularly badly hit this time. There seems to be no political will to spend money protecting such places, which in my view would be far more worthwhile than building HS2.

This all reminds me of the time when I first moved in to my house in Pontcanna over a decade ago. Late one rainy evening the phone rang and it was an automated flood warning. I responded by doing everything the message told me not to do: I put on my coat and went to the river to see what was happening. It’s only a ten minute walk from my house to the embankment. When I got there, I found a crowd of about a dozen people watching. The river was only about a metre below the level of the embankment as it roared its way down to Cardiff Bay carrying along tree trunks, car tyres and various other items of rubbish. It was quite impressive, but I didn’t watch for long as it was very cold and wet.

I’m told that the worst part of the 1979 flood was not the surface water, but the fact that the drainage system couldn’t cope and sewage backed up into the houses and streets. That must have been horrible as well as causing a serious health hazard.

Update: I heard last night that the level of the Taff on Sunday was 80cm higher than it was during the 1979 floods.

Anyway, I was glad I did get back last night as today I am giving a talk at the Joint Congress of University Astronomical Societies. I’d better get on and write it!

Arrival of Storm Atiyah

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff with tags , , on December 8, 2019 by telescoper

I was a bit alarmed when I saw this weather forecast map on Friday. At first I thought it meant that Ireland was about to be swallowed by a black hole but when I realised it was Storm Atiyah I had the lesser but still significant concern that my flight home from Cardiff would be disrupted.

As it happened the flight was on time, though the blustery winds at Dublin Airport ahead of the storm made for a more than slightly bumpy landing.

I was in one of these:

It’s a Bombardier Dash-8 Q400 operated by FlyBe. I had a window seat on the right hand side so had a good view as we bobbled around on the way in to land. The wings being above the level of the cabin and my seat being next to the starboard engine I could see the right undercarriage come down as we approached. We weren’t quite level when we reached the runway though and I felt and heard the left set of wheels touch down while the ones on the right I could see were still in the air. I could also see weren’t moving exactly parallel to the runway but slightly crosswise. We travelled for quite a few seconds on one set of wheels before we had both feet on the ground, so to speak. During that time I thought we might go off the side of the runway. When the right set of wheels did touch down, however, causing a big splash of water, only a slight correction was needed to point us in the right direction and all was well.

Pilots are if course trained to cope with windy conditions and I’m sure everything was always under control but I bet pilots do have to concentrate hard on such occasions.

Postal Voting Par Avion

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Politics on December 7, 2019 by telescoper

After giving the matter much thought, some weeks ago I decided to apply for a postal vote so I could vote in the general election in the constituency of Cardiff West where I still (for the time being) have a house. I couldn’t vote in person owing to work commitments in Ireland on Thursday 12th December. Teaching term doesn’t end in Maynooth until 20th.

The postal ballot paper was sent to my address in Cardiff because I wasn’t confident in the post between the UK and Ireland. (It takes over a month for my copy of Physics World to reach Ireland. Last night I flew from Dublin to complete it and this morning I put it in the mail, so it should arrive in time to be counted.

In case you’re interested, I voted for Kevin Brennan (Welsh Labour).

I fear this will turn out to be a futile gesture, and that this election will put liar and charlatan Boris Johnson in Downing Street with a significant majority. The prospect of a government headed by this creature appals me, as does the thought that so many people don’t care that he’s so demonstrably dishonest and untrustworthy. As far as I see it, anyone who votes for the modern Conservative Party must be either a simpleton or a sociopath. Or possibly both.

Update: relevant advice from today’s Financial Times:

(It’s actually about dealing with cold callers, but is in my opinion more widely applicable..)

Cardiff Pride!

Posted in Cardiff, LGBT with tags , on August 24, 2019 by telescoper

I got up early this morning to fly back to Cardiff in time for Cardiff Pride, this being the twentieth such event in Cardiff. I was a bit worried I wouldn’t make here before the start of the Parade but I did, with time to spare. St Mary’s Street was quite a sight with all the rainbow flags.

The parade gathered on North Road this year before it got moving and it extended all the way from the castle to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama:

This is the reflection in one of the windows of the RWCMD building..

Not being in the parade myself, when it got going I moved to St Mary Street to watch it go by. It took so long for the front to arrive I started to worry something had happened, but eventually it appeared..

I watched a while enjoying the colourful sights and fun sounds before walking to Pontcanna for lunch.

It’s a lovely warm and sunny day for the carnival and concerts that take place this afternoon and evening so I’m sure everyone there will have a great time!

Me? I’m obviously too old for that sort of thing and will celebrate the occasion with appropriate indoor activities (if you know what I mean) but the least I can do is wish Cardiff Pride a very happy 20th birthday!

Moving On..

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff with tags , , , , on August 22, 2019 by telescoper

After attending my second Repeat Examination Board of the week (this one in the Department of Engineering) it’s now time to begin the task of moving the contents of my office into the new one I’ll be in as Head of Department. Roughly simultaneously, the current Head of Department, Jonivar Skullerud, will be moving his clobber from the Head of Department’s office into my current office. Some coordination may be necessary to avoid collisions and/or other confusion, but I’m confident of a successful outcome…

While I’m on the subject of moving to a new job, though in my case remaining at the same institution, this very afternoon my wonderful former colleague from the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex, Dorothy Lamb, is having a leaving do. She will soon be moving to a position at the University of Birmingham (in the Midlands). I’m very sad that I couldn’t be there for her farewell party, but the least I can do is wish Dorothy (aka Miss Lemon) all the best in her new job, and hope that her move from Brighton to Birmingham, after (I think) 25 years, goes as smoothly and as free from stress as possible.

UPDATE: You can read Dorothy’s farewell edition of the MPS Newslettter here.

Dorothy isn’t the only former colleague to be moving on to pastures new. I heard this morning that Ian Harvey and Unai Lopez from the Data Innovation Research Institute at Cardiff University are leaving soon. Unai is taking up a Lectureship at the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao so Bon Voyage Unai!


Health and the Season

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Maynooth, Mental Health with tags , , on August 10, 2019 by telescoper

After I came out as having arthritis a few months ago, I’m sure all both my readers are agog to hear news about the state of my knees. There’s only good news to report, actually. The warmer weather seems to have brought considerable respite. I have not taken any anti-inflammatory medicine for a couple of months now, and have largely dispensed with the walking stick too (at least for the time being). I still get the odd twinge, but nothing compared to what things were like during the winter.

I ended my earlier post about this with this paragraph:

One other thing worth mentioning is that this condition does seem to be highly temperature-dependent. This last week the weather suddenly turned a lot colder and the arthritis definitely got worse. Perhaps in future I could learn to use the colour of my knees as some kind of forecasting method?

Talk to anyone who suffers from arthritis and they will tell you a similar story – it gets worse in cold and/or damp weather. Talk to any medical expert, however, and they will tell you that there’s very little hard evidence about this and what evidence there is suggests that the effect is very weak. See, for example, this paper, which has the following abstract:

It is a common observation that pain and stiffness in patients known to have arthritis get worse in cold and damp weather conditions. The objective of this article is to review the available literature on this subject and to put forward an explanation for this common clinical finding. Literature search revealed twelve relevant articles including laboratory experiments and prospective questionnaire-based human studies. Various investigators have tried to study the effect of cold weather on arthritic symptoms and have suggested different theories. The effect of temperature changes localized to the joints has shown to increase stiffness at lower temperatures and decrease stiffness at higher temperatures. The effect of these changes has been found more pronounced in elderly population with arthritis and patients with advanced disease. The evidence to support this common observation is weak; however some studies have reported a trend towards worsening of pain and stiffness with falling temperature and barometric pressure in arthritic patients.

Among the problems associated with studying such effects is the issue of how to measure `pain’ in a reliable way. It may be in the winter people are generally less upbeat about their health which may affect the way they self-report the state of their arthritis. And even if one could measure the level of pain objectively, there are obvious confounding factors: people are generally more active during the summer months, for example, which may help ease joint pain. And what aspect of the weather really matters: temperature, humidity or atmospheric pressure? These tend to be correlated in complicated ways.

All I can say is that the last couple of months have been far better for me. Whether that is because of some direct causative influence of the weather or not I can’t say.

While I am on about health and the time of year, I’ll comment on another personal matter. Seven years ago I was suffering some serious mental health problems, which resulted in me being for some time on an acute ward in a psychiatric institution. That happened in July 2012. I’ve dreaded the arrival of July every year since because it reminds me of that very bad period in my life and I worry that might bring on something similar again. This year, though, has been much better. I can’t attribute this entirely to my move here to Ireland, but the change of scene has undoubtedly contributed.

As a final comment I’ll just say that 31st July was the third anniversary of my leaving Sussex (in 2016) to return to Cardiff on a three-year part-time contract back. I was planning to take early retirement when that expired, but things seem to have turned out rather differently. Things have a habit of doing that. Then again, if life were predictable it would be very dull. Anyway, it was very nice to meet up with quite a few former colleagues from Cardiff during recent week off, including at their summer barbecue at Llandaff. It seems quite a few will be spending the next week or so marking repeat resit examinations, so let me take this opportunity to wish them all the very best!

The End of the Common Travel Area?

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Politics with tags , , on June 14, 2019 by telescoper

I’m back in Cardiff for a couple of days after flying from Dublin this morning.

When my flight arrived at Cardiff Airport there was yet again a full passport and immigration check on all passengers.

There is supposed to be a Common Travel Area including the UK and Ireland (as well as the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man), and passport checks are not supposed to be made routinely at borders within the CTA.

I have noticed passport checks happening at Cardiff Airport before (e.g. here and here) but I’ve previously imagined there was some specific reason for them. Passport checks have, however, been carried out every time I have arrived in Cardiff recently and it is now abundantly clear that there has been a material change of policy.

When I got to the desk and handed over my passport I asked the Officer whether these checks were being imposed all the time now. She said yes: there are now full passport and immigration checks on all flights to Cardiff from Dublin.

This is from the UK Government’s website:

Well, if they check all passengers on all flights then that sounds like ‘routine’ to me. In other words the British authorities are violating the Common Travel Area agreement just weeks after undertaking to uphold it.

Did someone say ‘Perfidious Albion’?

Should students be (financially) compensated for strike action by lecturers?

Posted in Cardiff, Education, Politics with tags , , , , on May 22, 2019 by telescoper

Regular readers of this blog will know that last year I was still employed part of the time at Cardiff University and during that period I was participating in strike action called by the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) over pensions. As a result of that action students on my module on Physics of the Early Universe missed quite a lot of lectures (and I was docked a large fraction of my pay).

I refused to do extra lectures after the strike was over to make up for those lost, as it seemed to me that defeated the point of the strike action, but I did make notes available for the students (which I do anyway). Students were also given access to recordings of the previous year’s lectures on the same module. I know some lecturers also adjusted their examinations and/or other assessments to exclude material that had not been covered.

It seems practice for dealing with this (admittedly difficult) situation has varied from institution to institution, and some students who feel that they missed out as a result of the strike have apparently asked to be compensated by their University. Institutions could of course pay compensation to students out of the money saved by not paying lecturers, but that wouldn’t go very far because only a small part of the £9000+ students pay in fees goes to the salaries of teaching staff. Another issue is that I recall one or two students didn’t come to lectures even before the strike started. Should they be compensated too?

Anyway I thought this might be an interesting topic for a poll, so here goes:

As always views are welcome through the comments box too!

The Week Ahead

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Maynooth, Opera, The Universe and Stuff on May 20, 2019 by telescoper

Well, my little jaunt back to Wales is almost over and I’ll soon be heading back to Maynooth for a very busy rest of the week.

The two examinations I’ve set this term are tomorrow (Engineering Maths) and Wednesday (Computational Physics). I’ll try to make a start on the marking as soon as I get my hands on the scripts, but on Thursday and Friday there is the annual Irish Quantum Foundations meeting, which this year is being hosted by Trinity College Dublin. I gave a talk at the same event last year, but this time I’m just in the audience.

Some time on Friday I have to cast my vote in the elections to the Local Council and European Parliament being held in Ireland. There is also a referendum to do with changing the law on divorce.

And after all that, on Friday evening, I’ll be paying my first ever visit to the famous Gaiety Theatre in Dublin for my first ever experience of Irish National Opera.

Walter’s Leaving Do

Posted in Cardiff, Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on May 18, 2019 by telescoper

As I had little window of opportunity before the start of exam marking season and other goings-on in Maynooth I decided to make a quick trip back to Wales back in Cardiff for the weekend.

I flew back on Thursday evening. It had been a busy day and I’d only had a sandwich for lunch so I went into the bar in Dublin Airport to get a beer and a burger. Who did I bump into there but Professor Walter Gear…

Walter was Head of the School of Physics and Astronomy at Cardiff University when I joined it in 2007, so and was he persuaded me to leave Nottingham. He was a very good Head of School and, in particular, he helped a lot when I had mental health problems seven years ago.

Anyway after twenty years in Cardiff during which he built up the School and particularly the world-leading Astronomy Instrumentation Group there, Walter has left for a new position as Dean for Science and Engineering at NUI Galway, in Ireland.

He was in Dublin Airport because he was travelling back to his leaving do in Cardiff, which I turned up for on Friday. There were drinks and speeches and presents and it was nice to see some old friends there and in the Flute and Tankard afterwards. It was a good send-off.

I’m sure that Walter (who was born in Ireland) enjoy his new role in the Emerald Isle very much indeed. Galway is quite a distance from Maynooth (almost 200 km) but I hope we will be in regular contact.

Anyway I should mention that there are advertisements out for a Research Associate in Sub-mm Astronomy and and a Lecturer in Astronomy (with an emphasis on the same) in Galway. I’m sure these will prove very attractive to many applicants!