Archive for the Uncategorized Category

A Christmas Scene

Posted in Uncategorized on December 24, 2021 by telescoper

There were disturbing scenes in Maynooth today as concerned passers-by and farm animals gathered around a small child mysteriously injured by being hit on the head by a gold Frisbee.

Bird Life

Posted in Biographical, Uncategorized on December 23, 2021 by telescoper

This morning, while I was waiting for my extra special Christmas veggie box to arrive, I was watching the birds in the garden through my kitchen window. For the last several days I’ve been putting out several full feeders only to see them emptied within minutes by a sundry collection of starlings, sparrows, tits, finches, wood pigeons, a dove, and a couple of jackdaws. A rook which on several occasions tried to demolish one of the feeders (ti being too clumsy to get any food by conventional methods) seems now to have given up and merely watches angrily from a tree.

The dove (a collared dove to be precise) is a new arrival in my garden (though not at all a rare bird). It seems rather shy and quiet in behaviour, usually to be found sitting in a tree while all the smaller birds flutter and chatter around. It does seem to like the seed, but also eats the berries on the hedges. It’s a very interesting bird to look at, its grey feathers making it look rather ghostly. The wood pigeons (which are much bigger) are quite noisy but I haven’t heard the dove make any sound yet.

A number of robins also visit the garden. They’re not agile enough to use the feeders but instead patrol around at ground level collecting bits and pieces that have fallen down. One of them however has realized that my stash of food is in the shed and that my entering the shed is a prelude to good being available. The other day as soon as I went in, one particular robin followed me right inside and jumped onto the bench where I was spooning out the seed. I had spilled some, which he/she tucked into, and I gave him/her a bit more. Now the little critter is there every day waiting in the VIP lane. Whenever I open the back door to go into the garden all the other birds scatter in all directions, except the robin who doesn’t seem to be at all intimidated.

With the eventual arrival of my veggie box I have got just about everything I need for a self-indulgent holiday. The amount of food and wine I’ve laid up for myself is probably enough for a month and I thought that this afternoon’s trip to the fishmonger to collect six oysters for Christmas Eve would be my last trip to the shops before Christmas Day, but I think I’ll make one more trip to buy bird food. At the rate they’re scoffing it I’ll be out of supplies by Boxing* Day!

*”Boxing Day” isn’t really used in Ireland; the usual term is “St Stephen’s Day”


Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8, arranged for Wind Quintet

Posted in Biographical, Music, Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 7, 2021 by telescoper

One of the treasured items in my CD collection recently moved from Cardiff is a boxed set of the Shostakovich String Quartets by the Fitzwilliam String Quartet:

When I took it out of the packing case last night it suddenly reminded of the following video I saw a few weeks ago. I think the String Quartets contain some of Shostakovich’s finest music, and the 8th (Opus 110, in C Minor) – written in just three days after the composer saw the aftermath of the bombing of Dresden – is especially intense. I don’t usually like rearrangements of string quartets for other instruments – there’s something very special about the texture produced by string instruments which is difficult to improve upon – but this is really interesting. It’s arranged by David Walter for five wind instruments (clarinet, French horn, cor anglais, flute and bassoon) and played by the Aquillos Wind Quintet, an unusual combination that provides a very fresh take on this piece while maintaining its dark expressiveness and brooding atmosphere.

P.S. Regular readers of this blog might recognize the clarinet player…


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…

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