Archive for the Cardiff Category

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.

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A Boost for Data Science in Ireland

Posted in Cardiff, Maynooth with tags , , , , , on March 11, 2019 by telescoper

Regular readers of this blog (both of them) will know that before I moved to Maynooth University I worked (part-time) in the Data Innovation Research Institute at Cardiff University, during which time we were very happy to be awarded a Centre for Doctoral Training by the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC), shared across Cardiff, Swansea and Bristol, as part of a big investment in this area by the UK government.

Now Science Foundation Ireland has announced a similar programme in Ireland: on Tuesday 5th March, Minister for Business, Enterprise, and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, and Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan TD, announced investment of over €100 million in six new SFI Centres for Research Training in the fields of ICT and data analytics. I’m very pleased to hear that Maynooth University is involved in two of these; there’s a news item on the University web pages here.

One of the new SFI Centres for Research Training, in Foundations of Data Science, is a joint initiative of Maynooth University, University College Dublin and the University of Limerick, with the support of Skillnet Ireland underpinning its industry and enterprise engagement. This Centre was awarded a total of €21 million, including industry and university contributions to train 139 PhD students towards a world-class foundational understanding of Applied Mathematics, Statistics, and Machine Learning. This represents the largest ever investment in mathematical sciences research in Ireland. The Maynooth involvement is based around the famous Hamilton Institute.

I’m not involved in this initiative myself, at least part of the reason for which is that I didn’t even know about the scheme until the results were announced, but I do hope there will be opportunities for my future PhD students working in `Big Data’ problems in cosmology to benefit from some of the training opportunities it provides.

A much wider issue is that companies based in Ireland have reported difficulties in filling vacancies with candidates sufficiently well trained in data science so hopefully this will help close the skills gap here.

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.

The Morning After

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Rugby with tags , , on February 24, 2019 by telescoper

So it’s not even 8am and I’m already sitting in Cardiff Airport waiting for my flight back to Ireland.

On the way to the bus stop in the City Centre I had to pick my way through the mess created by yesterday’s rugby crowd: empty beer bottles, plastic glasses and fast food containers lay all around, the pavements were sticky with spilt booze and massed formations of seagulls wheeled and shrieked looking for leftovers to scavenge.

No doubt there will be an organised cleanup but it hadn’t started when I walked through town around 7am.

I didn’t see any of yesterday’s match, but when Wales pulled the score back from 10-3 to 10-9 I got restless listening to the radio and went outside for a walk.

The thing about having a huge stadium right in the city centre is that the sounds coming from it permeate all of Cardiff. Sometimes they are recognisably human: cheers, jeers, applause, singing and stadium public address announcements. Often though, they are indistinct primordial murmurings, as if Gandalf were giving battle to a Balrog in the bowels of the Earth somewhere under Westgate Street.

But there was no mistaking the din a couple of minutes before the end when Wales scored the try that killed off the game and sent the home supporters into ecstasy. No doubt there’ll be more than a few hangovers in Cardiff this morning!

Wales play Ireland at the Principality Stadium on 16th March, with a possible Grand Slam in the offing. If that comes about the celebrations will no doubt make last night seem like a vicarage tea party!

Anyway, hopefully I will be back in Maynooth in a few hours to get next week’s lectures ready.

In Cardiff on Match Day

Posted in Cardiff, Rugby with tags , , , , on February 23, 2019 by telescoper

I’m in Cardiff today and have just been for a walk into town and back. It’s a lovely sunny springlike day with a temperature of around 13 degrees. There’s an abundance of daffodils in Bute Park.

Today is of course the occasion for the Wales versus England match in this year’s Six Nations Rugby tournament. This excerpt from a piece by Tom Fordyce on the BBC website is spot on:

Although the match doesn’t start for several hours, all the main roads are already closed so you can stroll around the City without worrying about cars. There’s a lot of people crammed into town, but a very good atmosphere around the place. I haven’t got a ticket for the match and don’t feel like watching in a packed pub either so I’ll just follow it on the radio.

After two impressive performances so far this year, England are probably favourites but you never know! They have also won the last five Six Nations matches between these two teams. But with their home crowd behind them Wales might well bring England’s run to an end.

I’ll make only one prediction: it will be a very physical game.

P. S. On my way home I passed two clearly inebriated England fans trying to find a way into the empty cricket ground at Sophia Gardens. It took quite some time to explain to them that it was not the rugby ground, despite the fact that the Principality Stadium was in clear view about half a mile away…

UPDATE: I was certainly right about it being a physical game! But a strong second-half comeback against a tiring England gave Wales victory by 21 to 13. Diolch, Cymru!

Cardiff Blues: Sustainability and UK Universities

Posted in Cardiff, Education with tags , , , on February 20, 2019 by telescoper

Just before I left on my travels last week I saw a rather depressing news item about Cardiff University. It seems that, after posting a deficit of £22.8 M last year, the University is planning to cut about 380 staff positions. According to the news item:

“The university plans to reduce current staff levels by 7%, or 380 full-time equivalent over five years,” said vice chancellor Colin Riordan in an email to staff.

Since I left Cardiff University in the summer I didn’t get the email from which this is quoted and I don’t know the wider picture. (If anyone would like to forward the V-C’s email to me I’d be very interested.)

The news item also says

Its aim is to get back into surplus by 2019-20 and it wants to cut staffing costs from 59.6% of total income to no more than 56% of income by 2022-23.

Between you and me I was quite surprised that a University can be spending less than 60% of its income on staff, since staff are by far its most valuable resource. Bear in mind also that academic staff will be responsible for only a fraction of this expenditure. In some universities this fraction is only about half. Cutting this still further seems a very retrograde step to me, as it means that student-staff ratios will inevitably rise, making the institution less attractive to prospective students, as well as increasing the workload on existing staff to intolerable levels.

I sincerely hope none of my former colleagues in the School of Physics & Astronomy is affected by the deterioration of the University’s finances. At least the news item I referred to does mention new investments in Data Science, so that is presumably a positive development for the Data Innovation Research Institute with which I was formerly associated.

Incidentally, best wishes to anyone at Cardiff who is reading this, and good luck against England in the Six Nations on Saturday!

I’ve mentioned Cardiff here just because I noticed a specific news item (and I used to work there) but it seems a number of other universities are suffering financial problems. There are cold winds blowing through the sector. Many institutions (including Cardiff) have committed to ambitious building programs funded by a combination of borrowing and on optimistic assumptions about growth in student numbers and consequent increases in fee income. Although I no longer work in the UK Higher Education system, I do worry greatly about its sustainability. Even from across the Irish Sea the situation looks extremely precarious: the recent boom could easily end in some institutions going bust. I don’t think that will include Cardiff, by the way. I don’t think the Welsh Government would ever allow that to happen. But I think the English Government wouldn’t act if an English university went bankrupt.

On Barry John

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Rugby with tags , , on January 30, 2019 by telescoper

I was browsing a few rugby sites yesterday evening, ahead of this year’s Six Nations competition (which starts on Saturday) when I stumbled across this little clip featuring legendary Welsh standoff Barry John.

The opening part of this clip really caught my attention because it was filmed near the bus stop just outside The Halfway, a pub on Cathedral Road just a few yards from my house in Cardiff; in the background you can see Llandaff Fields.

I’ve often wondered what became of Barry John. He’s 74 now and no longer the slim young prodigy who was quite simply the best rugby player I ever saw. Since he played in a great Welsh side that included Gareth Edwards, J.P.R. Williams, Gerald Davies et al, that really says something. As a sort of rugby equivalent of George Best, he was incredibly famous during his career. Budding rugby players – even those not born in Wales – all wanted to play like Barry John. But suddenly, at the age of just 27, after playing just 25 internationals, he turned his back on all the publicity and adulation and retired from rugby. He found the pressure of being such a star in the amateur era too difficult to cope with.

Anyway, was Barry John really that good? Absolutely yes, he was. Slight of build but with superb balance, he had an extraordinary, almost magical, ability to find his way through a crowd of potential tacklers as if they weren’t there at all. In the memorable words of that great commentator Bill McLaren “he flits like a little phantom”. But you don’t need to take my word for it. Just look at him – and some other giants of the time – in these highlights of the classic Scotland-Wales tie in the Five Nations of 1971. Watch about 30 seconds in, where he wrong-foots half the Scottish three-quarter line before ghosting through three more before releasing the ball to his forwards. Will there ever be another Barry John? I doubt it..

I doubt if Barry John will ever get to read this, but I’m sure there are many of us who remember the excitement of watching him play and feel enriched by what he gave us.