Archive for the Maynooth Category

Maynooth University Library Cat Update

Posted in Maynooth with tags , , on April 3, 2020 by telescoper

Quite a few people have been asking me how the Maynooth University Library Cat is coping with the lockdown. I always visit him when I take the daily exercise (usually after lunch) allowed by the Covid-19 restrictions. I know that others are looking after him too so he’s doing well.

When I saw him yesterday he was asleep in his box. He emerged to climb onto his wall to eat the food I put out, paused for a photo-opportunity on his usual post, then descended to ground level for a quick wash, after which he went back into his box to resume his kip.

Incidentally, you will see in the middle picture that the metal gate near his spot is now locked so it’s not possible to get from the South Campus to the North Campus past the Library. Not for us hoomans, I mean. The cat can manage it!

The 2km Limit

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , on April 2, 2020 by telescoper

Under the Covid-19 restrictions currently in force in Ireland we’re not supposed to journey further than 2km from home.

The other day I went to the shops near me and decided to try out a helpful app that draws the 2km limit on a map.

Here’s what I got:

So it seems I can go anywhere in Maynooth without breaking the rules. Alarmingly, however, I see that if I’m not careful I could end up crossing the border from County Kildare into County Meath!

Towards the South is the famous Junction 7 on the M4 which in normal times features on the traffic news on the radio with alarming frequency because of one snarl up or another. I don’t suppose there will be much more of that for a while.

One of the pleasant side effects of the lockdown is a drastic reduction in vehicle traffic. That in turn means that I wake up to the sound of birdsong rather than car engines. That’s one part of this I’ll enjoy while it lasts.

Flattening the Covid-19 Curve in Ireland

Posted in Maynooth with tags , , , on March 31, 2020 by telescoper

Last night a statement was issued by Ireland’s National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) , accompanied by a press conference part of which is shown below.

On the right is the Chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group (IEMAG), Professor Philip Nolan, who gives a very clear explanation of the situation, especially with respect to the uncertainties in data and modelling. Professor Philip Nolan is President of Maynooth University.

The Appliance of Science

Posted in Biographical, Education, Maynooth with tags , on March 25, 2020 by telescoper

Well, today is another beautiful sunny and surprisingly warm day in Maynooth. It’s just a pity that owing to the additional measures announced yesterday people aren’t really able to get out and about to enjoy it.

I know some people are experiencing a lot of anxiety over this disruption to normal life. I have experienced severe anxiety and panic attacks in the past, but they have almost always been triggered by the presence of large crowds of people around me. There’s not much chance of that happening these days! I do wish I could sleep a bit better though. I don’t want to be dealing with insomnia again on top of everything else.

I did however have some anxiety yesterday. Rather irritatingly, the washing machine in my flat chose to conk out a few days ago. I didn’t fancy the idea of being able to do my laundry for the best part of a month so was thinking of getting a new one. I suddenly thought yesterday that the shops I might buy one might be closed so dashed around to a little store just around the corner from me. The guy in charge got a reasonably priced model for me ready last night and today came around and plumbed it in and took the old one away for recycling. Emergency over, almost before it started.

In any case it seems there in an exemption from the special measures for businesses deemed essential because they involve selling “products necessary to maintain the safety and sanitation of residences and businesses”. I presume a washing machine counts under that!

Anyway, apart from that little flurry of excitement, we’ve been busily trying to conduct online teaching sessions as best we can. It has become apparent that the mathematical work we do in the Department of Theoretical Physics really requires drawing tablets and pens so we’ve had to purchase a few of those for tutors who didn’t have them already. Apart from that it seems the staff at least are adapting to the new regime, and perhaps even enjoying the novelty of all this technology. They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and maybe when (if) this is all over we’ll carry on using some of the new gadgets and software in the future.

Now that we’re rolling with the teaching, though, we have to give some thought to how we’re going to do the end-of-term examinations. I have a cunning plan..

A Longer Haul

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , on March 24, 2020 by telescoper


To nobody’s great surprise today we received official confirmation that there will be no face-to-face teaching for the rest of the semester at Maynooth University; teaching had been go on until early May. This news also made it into the Irish Independent. The previous announcement was that classes would not resume until 29th March (this Friday), now they won’t resume until the next academic year begins, in September. There will also be no in situ examinations, with all assessments being switched either to homework or remote assessments. We were pretty sure this was coming, as there is no sign yet of a reduction in the spread* of Coronavirus in Ireland, so we are as prepared as we can be for this contingency, although we now know we’re in it for a longer haul than originally announced.

Today I’ve been setting up a laboratory session for my module on Computational Physics. Instead of working in our computer lab under supervision, the students will have to work through a set of Python coding problems on their own. They’re doing numerical integration this week, by the way: being a bit old-fashioned I like to call this quadrature. The demonstrator and I will however be available (via Microsoft Teams) to deal with queries. This isn’t ideal of course but the software does allow participants to share screens, as well as audio and video chat so, I’m quite optimistic that it will work out reasonably well. I’m planning to deliver a lecture to the students on this module on Thursday which, given that the group is reasonably small, should also work reasonably well.

Update: I had a big problem uploading files to Microsoft Teams, which I couldn’t fix. I need to get that sorted out or it won’t be possible to share plots, graphs, etc. Hopefully it’s just a temporary glitch, but it’s very annoying.

My early experience with Microsoft Teams wasn’t marvellous, which led me to tweet:

I have to say though that it is perfectly functional (so far), once you get used to it. I still prefer Zoom, though.

My only other gripe is that working from home seems to have made some colleagues a little bit trigger-happy with the `ReplyAll’ button on their email.

Anyway, it seems that last night, on the wrong side of the Irish Sea, Boris Johnson finally got around to reading out the statement Emmanuel Macron dictated to him last week and the United Kingdom is finally having some form of discipline imposed. We await possible announcements of further strengthening of the restrictions already in place here in Ireland, but for the time being we carry on pretty much as before. There are few people around and about in Maynooth and many of the shops and all the pubs are closed, but it’s still possible to shop without experiencing a feeding frenzy.

On top of all that, it’s a lovely sunny day!

*I’ve put a page here tracking the daily increase in number of COVID-19 cases in Ireland.

Shopping Mad

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , , , on March 22, 2020 by telescoper

Empty shelves in Asda, Swansea

I don’t know how widespread scenes like that pictured above actually are, but there seems to be a lot of panic buying and/or stockpiling going on.

Worse still are scenes like this:

Social distancing doesn’t seem to be a priority among these people.

It all seems a bit ironic to see this demonstrable lack of public-spiritedness alongside the usual rhetoric about the “Dunkirk Spirit”. With the latter in mind I’ve updated Winston Churchill’s famous wartime peroration from 1940 in a manner more suitable for the 2020s:

We shall fight in Tesco, we shall fight in Aldi and Asda, we shall fight with growing panic and growing stupidity in the aisles, we shall defend our toilet rolls, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight for the pasta, we shall fight for the hand-wash…(continued, page 94)

Anyway for what it’s worth I still haven’t noticed any shortages of food or household goods where I’m living. It may be different elsewhere of course but Maynooth is doing fine in that regard.

This is not to say I haven’t changed my shopping habits at all. I’ve never been in the habit of doing big shopping trips. I live alone, don’t have a freezer and my fridge is quite small. I tend therefore to buy bits and pieces as I need them. I prefer fresh food and, usually eating lunch in the College when I’m at work, I don’t need a main meal in the evening.

Now I’m having lunch at home every day I need to buy a bit more, which is one change. Mindful that a stricter lock down might be coming soon, I have also begun buying a few things I wouldn’t normally buy. To my usual shopping I’ve added the odd item of tinned food but never more than a can or two at a time. I also bought some powdered milk in case fresh milk becomes unavailable.

I haven’t eaten any of the tinned goods I’ve bought yet: I am still eating fresh things as they seem to be readily available. Who knows when or if that will change.

I realise my personal situation makes coping with this social distancing malarkey rather easier than most but I think certain individuals are making it even more difficult for the others with their selfish behaviour. I suppose there will always be some.

Anyway, do feel free to share your own experiences of shortages or lack thereof through the comments box.

The Vernal Equinox 2020

Posted in History, Maynooth with tags , , , , on March 20, 2020 by telescoper

With everything else going on I quite forgot that the Vernal Equinox or Spring Equinox (in the Northern hemisphere) took place today (Friday 20th March) at 3.49am (Irish Time). This is in fact the earliest Spring Equinox for 124 years, the fact that 2020 is a leap year moving it a day earlier in our calendar. It’s a lovely day in Maynooth too!

People sometimes ask me how one can define the `equinox’ so precisely when surely it just refers to a day on which day and night are of equal length, implying that it’s a day not a specific time?

The answer is that the equinox is defined by a specific event, the event in question being when the plane defined by Earth’s equator passes through the centre of the Sun’s disk (or, if you prefer, when the centre of the Sun passes through the plane defined by Earth’s equator). Day and night are not necessarily exactly equal on the equinox, but they’re the closest they get. From now until the Autumnal Equinox days in the Northern hemisphere will be longer than nights, and they’ll get longer until the Summer Solstice before beginning to shorten again.

Loughcrew (County Meath), near Newgrange, an ancient burial site and a traditional place to observe the sunrise at the Equinox

Here in Ireland we celebrated
Saint Patrick’s day on March 17th, the reputed date of his death in 461 AD. Nobody really knows where St Patrick was born, though, so it would be surprising if the when were any better known.

In any case, it wasn’t until the 17th Century that Saint Patrick’s feast day was placed on the universal liturgical calendar in the Catholic Church. In the thousand years that passed any memory of the actual date was probably lost, so the Equinox was perhaps rebranded for the purpose.

The early Christian church in Ireland incorporated many pre-Christian traditions that survived until roughly the 12th century, including the ancient festival of Ēostre (or Ostara), the goddess of spring associated with the spring equinox after whom Easter is named.

During this festival, eggs were used a symbol of rebirth and the beginning of new life and a hare or rabbit was the symbol of the goddess and fertility.

In turn the Celtic people of Ireland probably adapted their own beliefs to absorb much older influences dating back to the stone age.

St Patrick’s Day and Easter therefore probably both have their roots in prehistoric traditions around the Spring Equinox, although the direct connection has long been lost.