Archive for the Maynooth Category

On the Eighth Amendment Referendum

Posted in Maynooth, Politics with tags , , , , on April 6, 2018 by telescoper

When I was walking to lunch yesterday I saw that there was some sort of demonstration on the road (the R148) that divides the North and South Campuses at Maynooth University:

It was all a bit confusing as it seemed to be a protest and a counter-protest all in the same place. It turned out after asking a few people that the original demonstration was by a group calling itself the Irish Centre for Bioethical Reform (ICBR), which is  a fringe anti-abortion group that specialises in putting up gory images to make their point. They have been pulling a series of stunts in the area ahead of the forthcoming Referendum on the Repeal of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland, which will take place on 25th May 2018.

The Eighth Amendment introduced Article 40.3.3 into the constitution. This was subsequently amended twice (following referendums) and now reads:

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

This subsection shall not limit freedom to travel between the State and another state.

This subsection shall not limit freedom to obtain or make available, in the State, subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law, information relating to services lawfully available in another state.

The counter-demonstration (which seemed to involve more people) deployed the simple device of standing in front of the the ICBR demonstration so their lurid images were hard to see. This is why I couldn’t quite see what was going on as I walked past.

Anyway, for the record, I’ll state that I support the campaign to repeal the Eight Amendment, which effectively prohibits abortion in Ireland. I realise that abortion is an emotive ethical issue for many people, but it strikes me as a new arrival in Ireland that the fundamental thing is that Eight Amendment is basically a muddle, and that it really does not belong in the Constitution anyway. In my opinion it is regrettable that it was ever passed (which it was, after another referendum campaign, in 1983). If the repeal side wins the referendum then the existing Eight Amendment (which is Article 40.3.3) will be replaced with

Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy.

(Incidentally, that would be the 36th Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland. It is in the drafting and amending of any such provisions that emerge when the ethical issues should be debated. The matter for the referendum is (or should be) simpler than this: it’s just about whether the existing Article should be scrapped.

Incidentally, a number of people have asked me if UK citizens resident in Ireland can vote in this referendum, as Irish citizens resident in the UK could in the Brexit referendum in 2016. The answer to that question is `no’: British citizens in Ireland can vote in local elections, elections to the Dáil, and European Elections (although presumably that will change if the UK leaves the European Union); they cannot vote in any referendum or in the election of the President (which will take place later this year). Irish citizens can vote in every election and referendum.

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Spring comes to Maynooth

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Maynooth with tags , , on April 5, 2018 by telescoper

After a good night’s sleep last night I was up early this morning to give my usual Thursday 9am lecture on Computational Physics. It was a bright sunny morning, though there was overnight frost and a distinct chill in the air, as I made my way to Physics Hall. Once there, for the first time this year, I had to close the blinds because the Sun was shining too bright for the projector screen. It has hitherto always been too gloomy outside for this to happen. The picture above (of St Joseph’s Square, on the South Campus) was taken as I left St Patrick’s House after a very nice lunch of roast lamb in Pugin Hall. By this time of day it was pleasantly warm.

Here’s a nice picture of the Library circulated by the Maynooth social media folk earlier today.

library

Anyway, this mornings’s lecture was an introduction numerical solutions of ordinary differential equations, beginning with Euler’s method applied to initial value problems. Further studies of this topic – which is very important for bidding computational physics – will take up the rest of the lectures as we explore the delights of, e.g. Runge-Kutta codes and boundary value problems. This morning’s lecture was followed this afternoon by a two-hour lab session in which the students had to write their own ODE solver.

Among the advantages (for me) of teaching this module is that I’m actually becoming reasonably competent at Python. At any rate I’ve difficult improved my ability to spot bugs in codes written by other people. In fact, it is traditional for the exam in this module to include a question that involves finding 10 mistakes in a piece of Python code. That’s a fun challenge, the only real problem for me being to write a bit of code with only 10 mistakes in it in the first place…

Talking of exams, the timetables for my two current employers are now out. Computational Physics in Maynooth is on Friday 11th May while Physics of the Early Universe in Cardiff is almost a fortnight later, on Thursday 24th May. The Easter recess is shorter here in Maynooth than in Cardiff, where lectures do not resume until April 16th (assuming the UCU strike does not continue), which is why the exams in Maynooth are earlier. I’m grateful there isn’t a clash. I should have ample time to mark the Maynooth ones before the Cardiff ones are due. After the first week or so of May I won’t have to teach in both institutions, so my somewhat hectic schedule should become a little more relaxed from then onwards.

I mentioned the UCU strike above in passing. The UCU leadership has decided that there will be an online ballot on whether to accept the `offer’ recently made by the management organisation UUK. The ballot will be open until April 13th. If the vote goes against acceptance then Cardiff staff will be back on strike from 16th April, and there will be further industrial action over the examination period. I can’t predict what the result of the ballot will be. Although the UCU leadership is recommending acceptance I don’t know anyone personally who intends to vote for it, but there’s a probably a big selection effect there! There is a distinct possibility that examinations will be badly disrupted not only in Cardiff but all over the UK. It’s a very sad state of affairs but all those on strike (and the majority of students) consider the UUK side to be to blame…

A Time to Resign

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

After a weekend in which I did very little apart from sleeping, eating and doing crosswords, it was time today to get my finger out and start organising for the coming months.

Top of the agenda was writing a letter of resignation from my position at Cardiff University, which I have now done. I’ll hand it in tomorrow. I’ve already told my colleagues there that I was planning to leave this summer, but it’s now time to make it official. After my notice period expires, I will be relocating full-time to Ireland in July.

One of the complications of the resignation process is that I am obliged to use up all my annual leave entitlement before I go. I haven’t taken much this year so I have to sort out how to take it before I go while also ensuring I am still available to carry out my remaining duties and attending meetings that require my presence (eg examiners meetings). I’ll also have to sort out my pension, arrange removal of my office things to Ireland and, finally, return my keys.

When I leave it will only be two years since I went through a similar process at Sussex. I burst into tears on my last day there. I hope I don’t embarrass everyone at Cardiff in a similar way.

My contract at Cardiff was for a fixed term of three years, on a part-time basis. I’ll be leaving a year early, but I think the record will show that I’ve done virtually everything I was brought in to do. In particular the Data Innovation Research Institute has expanded dramatically over the past couple of years and looks set for a bright future, as does the School of Physics & Astronomy in which I am employed for the other half of my time.

When I returned to Cardiff two years ago I had it in my mind to retire when my contract was up but I’m now very excited about the move to Ireland, an opportunity which I hadn’t foreseen at all!

Anyway there’s lots to do in the next few weeks, including my remaining teaching duties in Cardiff and Maynooth, so I’d better get back to it!

P. S. Incidentally, I discovered that one of the readings at Stephen Hawking’s funeral was the beautiful fatalistic passage from Ecclesiastes that begins

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die..

That may have influenced the title of this post…

A Rambling Post

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , , , on March 15, 2018 by telescoper

Thursdays are busy days for me, starting with a 9am lecture on Computational Physics in Physics Hall, followed in the afternoon by a two-hour laboratory session on the same subject. Today we did exercises root-finding and numerical integration, but didn’t get through as many examples as I had hoped. In between I had a number of jobs to do, including a lunchtime meeting off campus with my landlord to pay the rent (which he collects in person). I was a bit late back for the lab and, after apologizing, complained that I was too old for all this running around. One of the students kindly said that `age is only a number’. I replied `I know, but unfortunately in my case it’s a rather large one..’

I now have a big of a break from teaching in Maynooth. There is no teaching next week as it is `Study Week’ and Monday 19th March is a public holiday (for St Patrick’s Day, 17th March, which this year falls on a Saturday). Study week is followed by a week’s holiday because of Easter. Teaching resumes here on Tuesday April 3rd. Somewhat surprisingly the Easter break here is shorter than in the UK.

The four-week batch of strikes in UK universities over pensions in which I have been participating ends tomorrow, which means that I will be lecturing in Cardiff again next Tuesday (20th March). This lecture will be Lecture 8 of 11, with lectures 5, 6 and 7 missing in action (industrial action, to be precise). Cardiff students are then on vacation for three weeks for the Easter break, with lectures resuming on 16th April. All of this means that for the next three weeks I won’t have to do the mid-week trip from Cardiff to Maynooth (which I am beginning to find rather tedious). I plan to stay all next week in Wales and return to Ireland the following week, as I have been invited to give a seminar then at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (which I have never visited before).

Anyway, all that rambling just serves to illustrate that it’s a complicated business being in a superposition of jobs. I’m looking forward to the summer, when my wavefunction will collapse onto Ireland (if I haven’t collapsed from exhaustion before that).

To end on a very sad note, I heard today that Emeritus Professor David Bailin passed away yesterday. I knew David from both times I was at Sussex (as a graduate student and postdoc in the 1980s, and as Head of School of Mathematical and Physics Sciences from 2013 to 2016). He was a very fine theoretical physicist and a very nice man who was held in a very high regard by all who worked with him. Condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.

Back to Maynooth

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Maynooth with tags , , , on March 7, 2018 by telescoper

So here I am back in Maynooth. The University re-opened on Monday after being closed from Wednesday last week owing to the extremely bad weather. I’m told the snow was several feet deep and the town was virtually cut off until the weekend. There is still some snow lying here and there, but the thaw has begun and you can see the effect of the meltwater on the river (the Lyreen) that flows through town, which is usually no more than a little stream:

Picture Credit: Coyne’s Family Butcher, Maynooth

It’s not quite a raging torrent, but getting there!

At the moment there’s no sign of a resolution to the industrial action that’s affecting Cardiff University (as well as others in the UK) so I decided to travel to Ireland yesterday rather than my usual Wednesday. The flight over was virtually empty and so was Dublin Airport, so I got on the bus well ahead of schedule and made it back to my flat (which was cold, but otherwise all in order) in time to buy some groceries and make dinner. The panic-buying of bread had caused a shortage, but all seems to be back to normal again.

I had arranged for someone else to do last week’s Thursday lecture and Lab session so I could attend the event the IOP event I posted about, but as the campus was closed they were cancelled anyway and I now have to find a way to catch up. Do not worry, though, I have a cunning plan.

Unless there’s an announcement in the next couple of days that next week’s strike is off I plan to stay in Ireland over the weekend, which will give me the chance to explore Dublin a bit, something that my schedule has not so far allowed. Next week will be the fourth week of industrial action and the last of the current batch of strike days, this time a full week (having escalated from two, three and four days in the preceding weeks). If there is no resolution by then I don’t know what will happen, possibly an all-out indefinite strike. Nobody wants that, but there’s no doubt in my mind who is to blame for this dispute and it’s not the Universities and Colleges Union. However, there are some signs of movement, so let’s hope for a negotiated settlement. If not, I’m seriously thinking of trying to bring forward my full-time move to Maynooth. There’s little point continuing in my post in Cardiff if I’m going to be permanently on strike.

Anyway, I have a 9am lecture to give tomorrow so I think I’ll toddle off, get some tea and have an early night.

Maynooth in the Snow

Posted in Maynooth with tags , on February 28, 2018 by telescoper

There has been very little snow in Cardiff (so far) but there have been heavy falls in Maynooth. The above picture was tweeted by Maynooth University this morning, along with an announcement that the campus is closed today (and probably until Friday, as more snow is on the way).

Under normal circumstances I would be in Ireland from today until the weekend, but I have to be in London tomorrow (Thursday) so arranged cover for my teaching. Looks like teaching will be cancelled tomorrow anyway.

UPDATE: Maynooth University campus will be closed until Monday.

Whether I can make it to and from London, or whether the event I’m supposed to attend tomorrow will be cancelled, remains to be seen…

Learning Technology

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Education, Maynooth with tags , , , , , , , , on February 20, 2018 by telescoper

I’m just taking a tea break in the Data Innovation Research Institute. Today has been a very day as I have to finish off a lot of things by tomorrow, for reasons that I’ll make clear in my next post…

It struck me when I was putting on the brew how much more technology we use for teaching now than when I was a student. I think many of my colleagues make far more effective use of the available technology than I do, but I do my best to overcome my Luddite tendencies. Reflecting on today’s teaching makes me feel just a little less like a dinosaur.

This morning I gave a two-hour lecture on my Cardiff module Physics of the Early Universe which, as usual, I recorded using our Panopto system. Although there was a problem with some of the University’s central file storage this morning, which made me a bit nervous about whether the lecture recording would work, it did. Predictably I couldn’t access the network drives from the PC in the lecture theatre, but I had anticipated that and took everything I needed on a memory stick.

After a short break for lunch I checked the lecture recording and made it available for registered students via the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), known to its friends as Learning Central. I use this as a sort of repository of stuff connected with the module: notes, list of textbooks, problem sets, model answers, instructions and, of course, recorded lectures. The students also submit their coursework assignment (an essay) through this system, through the plagiarism detection software Turnitin.

This afternoon the students on my Computational Physics course in Maynooth University had a lab test, the first of four such tests, this one consisting of a short coding exercise. There are two lab sessions per week for this class, one on Thursdays (when I am normally in Maynooth to help supervise) and another on Tuesdays (when I am normally in Cardiff). I have a number of exercises, which are similar in scope but different in detail (to prevent copying) and the Tuesday lab has a completely different set of exercises from the Thursday one. In each exercise the students have to write a simple Python script to plot graphs of a function and its derivative (computed numerically) using matplotlib. The students upload their script and pictures of the plot to the VLE used in Maynooth, which is called Moodle.

In the manner of a TV chef announcing `here’s one I did earlier’, this a sample output produced by my `model’ code:

I wonder if you can guess of what function this is the derivative? By the way in this context `model’ does not mean `a standard of excellence’ but `an imitation of something’ (me being an imitation of a computational physicist). Anyway, students will get marks for producing plots that look right, but also for presenting a nice (commented!) bit of code

This afternoon I’m on Cardiff time but I was able to keep an eye on the submissions coming in to Moodle in case something went wrong. It seemed to work out OK, but the main problem now is that I’ve got 20-odd bits of code to mark! That will have to wait until I’m properly on Maynooth time!

Now, back to the grind…