Archive for the Uncategorized Category

Passport to Pimlico

Posted in Uncategorized on October 14, 2016 by telescoper

So, here I am one Friday night in Pimlico. This afternoon there has been the first Ordinary Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society of the new season, followed, this evening,  by  dinner with the RAS Club.

On the bill for the RAS meeting were talks about galaxy formation and extrasolar planets, followed by the headline attraction of this year’s Gerald Whitrow Lecture, by Neil Turok of the Perimeter Institute in Canada. The abstract of his talk reads

A spate of new observations are providing powerful clues about the laws of fundamental physics and the cosmos. The implications are revolutionary: the universe is astonishingly simple on the largest and the smallest observable scales, with great complexity in between. These findings contrast sharply with expectations from popular twentieth century paradigms including inflation, supersymmetry and string theory, which led many to take seriously the idea of a wild and unpredictable “multiverse” on large scales. Key “predictions” derived from that picture have been recently falsified, posing observational challenges to the paradigm which compound its many logical problems. In this talk I will discuss a new, and in my view more promising, approach to understanding the quantum nature and integrity of the universe.

There was a great deal of interesting and stimulating material in his talk, and I found myself in agreement with at least some  of the criticisms he made about the multiverse (of which idea I am myself no fan). I remain however unconvinced (as yet) that his “new approach” is more promising as he claims, probably because the last bit was a bit rushed. I look forward to being proved wrong!

Anyway, after that it was dinner at the Athenaeum with the club, but instead of making the long journey of returning to Cardiff (the Severn Tunnel remains closed) I decided to stay in London.

In fact tomorrow I shall be attending a lunch at Sussex University in honour of the 50th anniversary of the founding of Astronomy Centre, my first trip back there since I left at the end of July, so it makes sense to stay overnight in London, close enough to Victoria that I don’t have far to go to get the train to Brighton tomorrow…

Brexit – The downside of pulling up the drawbridge is that you’re trapped inside

Posted in Uncategorized on October 9, 2016 by telescoper

As it happens, I went to school with the author of this piece and have had no contact with him for over thirty years. I agree wholeheartedly with what Jerry Hogg says, and am glad at least that these dark times have renewed an old acquaintance!

Labour for Government

It’s not a secret that I’m depressed about the Referendum result, nor that I’ve argued with countless Brexiteers before and after the vote about all the lies that were told, all the misconceptions and the many economic factors which will, at least in my opinion, become clear over the coming months and years.

But the single biggest reason I’m sad is not much discussed, yet in my view will have the biggest long term impact on Britain and our position in the world.

Freedom of movement allows all of us to move to live and work anywhere in the EU. I don’t believe anyone has truly grasped the implications of giving that right away, nor that in historical terms it will come to be seen as the most retrograde political decision taken voluntarily by a people for many years.

Just imagine if the German people had decided to undo the…

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Announcing…’The Age of the Beard”

Posted in Uncategorized on October 5, 2016 by telescoper

Important beard history event…

Dr Alun Withey

I’m delighted to be able to announce the launch, in November 2016, of the exhibition linked to my Wellcome Trust project on the history of facial hair in Britain.

Between Mid November and March 2017, the Florence Nightingale Museum in London will host ‘The Age of the Beard’ – a photographic exhibition of some of the finest examples of Victorian facial hair, along with a range of other fantastic exhibits including Victorian razors and shaving paraphernalia, advertising and all sorts of other beard-related facts and figures.


(Henry Wellcome, to whom I owe my career! – copyright Wellcome Images)

Along with the exhibition will be a series of public events, including talks, family activities and even a production of the pantomime ‘Bluebeard’.

Full details are available from the museum’s website here

I hope that many of you can come and join us, and celebrate the golden age of the hirsute face…

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Autumn Dreams

Posted in Open Access, Poetry, Uncategorized with tags , , on October 2, 2016 by telescoper

I know the year is dying,
Soon the summer will be dead.
I can trace it in the flying
Of the black crows overhead;
I can hear it in the rustle
Of the dead leaves as I pass,
And the south wind’s plaintive sighing
Through the dry and withered grass.

Ah, ’tis then I love to wander,
Wander idly and alone,
Listening to the solemn music
Of sweet nature’s undertone;
Wrapt in thoughts I cannot utter,
Dreams my tongue cannot express,
Dreams that match the autumn’s sadness
In their longing tenderness.

by Mortimer Crane Brown (1857-1907)

The Penny Universities

Posted in Uncategorized on October 1, 2016 by telescoper

It’s International Coffee Day, which makes me even more annoyed that I just returned from a shopping trip having forgotten to buy any (despite having “coffee” right at the top of my list..

The Renaissance Mathematicus

The Hungarian mathematician Alfréd Rényi famously quipped about his colleague Paul Erdös that, “a mathematician is a machine for turning coffee into theorems”. However this theorem producing process didn’t start with Erdös in the twentieth century but became an established routine as soon the coffee house made its appearance in Restoration England in the second half of the seventeenth century.

The first coffee house in England, The Angel, opened in Oxford in 1650 closely followed by The Queen’s Lane Coffee House in 1654, which is still in existence. London’s first coffee house, owned by Pasqua Rosée opened in 1652. The Temple Bar, London’s second coffee house opened in 1656.

Coffee House Circa 1740, A London coffee house. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

From the very beginning English coffee houses became the favourite haunts of the virtuosi, the new generation of natural philosophers pushing the evolution of science forward in England in the…

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Book Review : HMS Ulysses

Posted in Uncategorized on September 30, 2016 by telescoper

Following on from yesterday’s post about the Arctic Convoys, here is a review of HMS Ulysses by Alistair Maclean which I found on another wordpress site.

loony radio

Most war or action novels have a few things in common : A handsome hero who can shoot you between the eyes with his left hand while he lights a cigar with his right, a funny sidekick who never ever tries to steal the limelight, a pretty girl who is in serious and frequent need of rescuing, and plenty of ugly, stupid bad guys. My favorite one of all time (and I assure you, I’ve read a lot), however, involves a single warship at sea. The handsome hero is missing, so are sidekicks and pretty girls. The bad guys are not ugly or stupid at all. They are menacing, ruthless and brilliant; and they manage to outfox the good guys at almost every turn.

Welcome to HMS Ulysses (1955), the first novel by the Scottish author Alistair Maclean.  Maclean, incidentally, also happens to be one of my favorite authors…

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Happy 70th Birthday to the “Third Programme”!

Posted in Jazz, Music, Opera, Uncategorized with tags , on September 29, 2016 by telescoper

I’ve just got time for a quick post-prandial post to mark the fact that 70 years ago today, on September 29th 1946, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) made its first radio broadcast on what was then called The BBC Third Programme. The channel changed its name in 1970 to BBC Radio 3, but I’m just about old enough to remember a time when it was called the Third Programme; I was only 6 when it changed.


It was a bold idea to launch a channel devoted to the arts in the depths of post-War austerity and it was perceived by some at the time as being “elitist”. I think some people probably think that of the current Radio 3 too. I don’t see it that way at all. Culture enriches us all, regardless of our background or education, if only we are given access to it. You don’t have to like classical music or opera or jazz, but you can only make your mind up if you have the chance to listen to it and decide for yourself.

My own relationship with Radio 3 started by accident at some point during the 1990s while I was living in London. I was used to listening to the Today programme on Radio 4 when I woke up, but one morning when my alarm switched on it was playing classical music. It turned out that there was a strike of BBC news staff so they couldn’t broadcast Today and had instead put Radio 3 on the Radio 4 frequency. I very much enjoyed it to the extent that when the strike was over and Radio 4 reappeared, I re-tuned my receiver to Radio 3. I’ve stayed with it ever since. I can’t bear the Today programme at all, in fact; almost everyone on it makes me angry, which is no way to start the day.

Over the years there have been some changes to Radio 3 that I don’t care for very much – I think there’s a bit too much chatter and too many gimmicks these days (and they should leave that to Classic FM) – but I listen most days, not only in the morning but also in the evening,  especially to the live concert performances every night during the week. Many of these concerts feature standard classical repertoire, but I particularly appreciate the number of performances of new music or otherwise unfamiliar pieces.

I also enjoy Words and Music, which is on Sunday afternoons and Opera on 3, which includes some fantastic performances Live from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and which is usually on Saturday evenings. And of course the various Jazz on 3 programmes: Jazz Record Requests, Jazz Line-up, Geoffrey Smith’s Jazz, etc.

It’s not the just the music, though. I think BBC Radio 3 has a very special group of presenters who are not only friendly and pleasant to listen to, but also very knowledgeable about the music. They also have some wonderful names: Petroc Trelawny, Clemency Burton-Hill, and Sara Mohr-Pietsch, to name but a few. There’s also a newsreader whose name I thought, when I first heard it, was Porn Savage.

I feel I’ve found out about so many things through listening to Radio 3, but there’s much more to my love-affair with this channel than that. Some years ago I was quite ill, and among other things suffering very badly from insomnia. Through the Night brought me relief in the form a continuous stream of wonderful music during many long sleepless nights.

I wish everyone at BBC Radio 3 a very happy 70th birthday. Long may you broadcast!