Archive for the Uncategorized Category


Posted in Uncategorized on July 13, 2021 by telescoper

I’m now taking a short break so I can travel to a strange and distant land for a week or so.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible, but in the meantime there will be a short intermission.

Codes of Conduct to Counter Bullying and Harassment – A Petition

Posted in Uncategorized on June 30, 2021 by telescoper

A week or so ago news broke of yet another case of bullying in an astronomy department, this time in the University of Lund. This and a number of older examples of harassment and bullying have led to the circulation of a letter calling for Codes of Conduct to be introduced in scientific collaborations. I received this letter (from Dr. Clémence Fontanive) through the Euclid Collaboration together with an encouragement to circulate it as widely as possible, which I am now doing. I have signed the petition and hope you will do likewise.

Dear Colleagues,

In light of recent events within the astronomy community, it has become
increasingly apparent that many official collaborations in astronomy
lack Codes of Social Conduct, with policies in place to deal with cases
of behavioural misconduct. We believe Codes of Conduct to be important
tools to make academia a safe, respectful and inclusive environment, and
have therefore written an Open Letter to the Community soliciting their
introduction in all collaborations, with the hope to encourage and
normalise their implementation.

You can read and sign the Letter at the following links:

View Petition

Sign Petition

Please consider adding your name to ours in support. We would also be
very grateful if you could help circulate this as widely as possible to
your colleagues and institutions.

Thank you very much for your support.

Best wishes,
Clémence, on behalf of all co-authors


On Valerian

Posted in Uncategorized on June 12, 2021 by telescoper

Pottering about in the garden this morning I remember that on my little birthday trip last week I noticed a huge amount of the above plant growing on various railway embankments between Maynooth and Dublin.

It’s red valerian (aka spur valerian, kiss-me-quick, fox’s brush, devil’s beard & Jupiter’s beard among other names). I’d like to have some on my garden, actually. It’s very attractive and is probably sufficiently hardy to survive my lack of gardening skills.

Incidentally, is is not the same species as the true valerian shown above (also known as all-heal and setwall) which is also very nice, but has lighter flowers, a very pale pink or white. You will sometimes find this interspersed with red valerian when growing wild. It grows to quite a height and is not particularly fragrant so is probably not one for the garden but is a common wild flower.

Incidentally, in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express the victim is sedated prior to his murder using valerian, which can be taken as a tonic in the form of a dilute infusion (hence the name “all-heal”), but a powerful hypnotic in concentrated doses. It’s one of many common wild flowers that has medicinal properties but can be toxic if taken excessively.

It’s perhaps also worth mentioning that cats adore valerian in the same way they do catnip.

Round Britain Quiz

Posted in Uncategorized on June 6, 2021 by telescoper

As it is Bank Holiday Weekend I thought I’d set a little quiz, which you must answer without using a search engine. Which of the following is not a genuine UK place name?

Thornton le Beans
Shatton Moor
Jingling Pot
Shitlington Common
Shingay cum Wendy
Pity Me
Sally’s Bottom
Lickar Moor
Nether Wallop
Great Bottom Flash
Hen Poo

Answers through the comments box please!

Emails to be wary of..

Posted in Uncategorized on May 20, 2021 by telescoper

Although it’s been an issue ever since I started writing a blog over a decade ago I’ve noticed a recent increase in phony comments, some of them using domains like that above to generate plausible email addresses. I’ve blocked all comments from people using such email addresses, including those from above. I had a lot of trouble a few years ago from someone sending nasty anonymous emails which has left me ill-disposed towards people using addresses like these.

Anyway, I thought I’d remind potential commenters of what it says on the front page of this blog:

 Feel free to comment on any of the posts on this blog but comments may be moderated; anonymous comments and any considered by me to be abusive will not be accepted. 

I don’t block comments that disagree with my opinions, but I write the posts and I’m not anonymous so I don’t see why commenters should be allowed to be.

For you information, since I started this blog in 2008, a total of 37,062 comments have been published (including those by me). A total of 2,730,621 have been blocked.

To Hell with rolling out and ramping up!

Posted in Uncategorized on May 9, 2021 by telescoper

The above headline appeared on the RTÉ website the other day. It made me realize the extent to which I’ve come to hate anything that “rolls out” or “ramps up”, especially if it does both at the same time. So upset was I to see these two phrases together in the same text that I was even distracted from the bizarrely meaningless “point of strong momentum”. Nor did I spot the missing space in “rollout”, the noun form of the verbal phrase “to roll out”.  I think that short headline might have been specifically designed to drive me mad.

It’s been a while since I took aim at another phrase that I hate with a passion – “going forward” – but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped caring about such things. In my brief time as a Head of School Sussex I collected quite a few new aversions: “robust” and “transparent” being the two front-runners. What’s most annoying about these is that I sometimes find myself using them before I can stop myself. The shame of it.

Another word I hate is “upcoming”. Forthcoming is the word you really want when you’re tempted to come up with upcoming.

The trouble with these hackneyed words and phrases is that lazy journalists and columnists trot them out so frequently that they get into your head and it’s hard to resist allowing them out when you have to write something yourself.

Anyway, back to rolling out and ramping out. These are being used to describe Covid-19 vaccination programmes but as well as being tired through overuse they are also inappropriate.  A “rollout” is  the first public appearance of a new product, especially a car or aircraft. The term does not apply to something that is well into production and distribution. The rollout of Covid-19 vaccines happened many months ago. It is not happening now.

And as for “ramping up”, what the heck is wrong with “increasing”?

If anyone would like to vent their spleen against other words or phrases please feel free to roll them out in the Comments Box below.

Pas de lieu Rhône que nous

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on March 23, 2021 by telescoper

À propos de rien here is a French language exercise from 1877:

Without using the internet, translate the title of this blog post (“Pas de lieu Rhône que nous“) into French. Answers via the comments box please.

If you’re struggling you may click below to see a hint…

Continue reading

LIGO: Live Reaction Blog

Posted in Uncategorized on February 11, 2021 by telescoper

I don’t usually reblog my own posts, but this is just to mark the fact that the first discovery of gravitational waves by Advanced LIGO was announced on this day in 2016.

Can that really have been 5 years ago?

In the Dark

So the eagerly awaited press conference happened this afternoon. It started in unequivocal fashion.

“We detected gravitational gravitational waves. We did it!”

As rumoured, the signal corresponds to the coalescence of two black holes, of masses 29 and 36 times the mass of the Sun.

The signal arrived in September 2015, very shortly after Advanced LIGO was switched on. There’s synchronicity for you! The LIGO collaboration have done wondrous things getting their sensitivity down to such a level that they can measure such a tiny effect, but there still has to be an event producing a signal to measure. Collisions of two such massive black holes are probably extremely rare so it’s a bit of good fortune that one happened just at the right time. Actually it was during an engineering test!

Here are the key results:


Excellent signal to noise! I’m convinced! Many congratulations to everyone involved…

View original post 243 more words

Armchair Critic

Posted in Uncategorized on January 29, 2021 by telescoper

Following the success of yesterday’s post, which has received several hits, I have decided to become an armchair critic.

Take this one for example:

I quite like the shape, but the upholstery is awful.

Stay tuned for further reviews.

The Song of the Dunnock

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on December 6, 2020 by telescoper

It’s very cold and foggy today and there was a hard frost overnight, all of which wintriness made me go out and replenish the bird feeders. No sooner had I refilled and replaced the one that holds peanuts when I had a visitation from starlings, blue tits and even a jackdaw. There was a blackbird too, but that remained at ground level pecking at the frozen earth.

I was hoping to see my favourite garden visitor, whom I last saw a few days ago. This is the Dunnock (sometimes called a hedge sparrow, though it’s not a member of the sparrow family).

The Dunnock is a fairly drab-looking bird easily mistaken at for a House Sparrow at a quick glance. A quick glance is all you’re likely to get, in fact, because, although they’re not at all uncommon in Ireland, they are very shy. The one – I think it’s the same one – that visits my garden darts out from a hedge from time to time, grabs something from the lawn (presumably a bug of some sort), then darts back again and vanishes. It probably pays to be wary when you’re a bird that feeds on the ground. I’ve never seen it on any of the bird feeders, which contain seeds and nuts.

Anyway, I do enjoy seeing this critter when it makes an appearance. Although I don’t it very often I know it’s around as I hear its song very often. For a small bird it’s very loud indeed, and very distinctive. Here’s a recording:

That rapid-fire jumble of notes is very different from the song of a House Sparrow which is much simpler, consisting of a series of single notes at the same pitch.

Wrens are even smaller but are also very loud. As far as I know I haven’t had one of those in my garden yet.