Archive for the Uncategorized Category

Bird 100: Bird of Paradise

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on August 29, 2020 by telescoper

And so we come to the final post of the day in honour of the centenary of the birth of Charlie Parker, also known as `Bird’. I know a lot of people don’t really `get’ Bird’s way of playing, but for me he created some of the most beautiful and exciting sounds not only in jazz, but in any musical genre. Here is a piece called Bird of Paradise (a thinly disguised version of the Jerome Kern standard All The Things You Are) recorded in 1947 for the Dial label with a quintet that included a young (21 year-old) Miles Davis on trumpet. Miles Davis was still finding his way musically at the time of the Dial sessions, but Bird had already established himself as a powerful creative force and his solo on this number is absolutely exquisite.

Anyway, that’s it for Bird 100 from me. I hope you enjoyed the posts. Normal service will be resumed tomorrow!

Lá Saoire i mí Lúnasa

Posted in Uncategorized on August 3, 2020 by telescoper

Today being the first Monday in August it is a Bank Holiday in Ireland. This holiday was created by the Bank Holiday Act of 1871 when Ireland was under British rule. While the holiday was subsequently moved to the end of August in England and Wales it has remained at the start of August in Ireland.

I was leafing through my diary yesterday, looking at all the deadlines coming up and wondering whether I could actually take today off*, when I got to thinking more generally about matters calendrical.

In the Northern hemisphere, from an astronomical point of view, the solar year is defined by the two solstices (summer, around June 21st, and winter around December 21st) and the equinoxes (spring, around March 21st, and Autumn, around September 21st). These four events divide the year into four roughly equal parts each of about 13 weeks.

Now, if you divide each of these intervals in two you divide the year into eight pieces of six and a bit weeks each. The dates midway between the astronomical events mentioned above are (roughly) :

  • 1st February: Imbolc (Candlemas)
  • 1st May: Beltane (Mayday)
  • 1st August: Lughnasadh (Lammas)
  • 1st November: Samhain (All Saints Day)

The names I’ve added are taken from the Celtic/neo-Pagan (and Christian terms) for these cross-quarter days. These timings are rough because the dates of the equinoxes and solstices vary from year to year. Imbolc is often taken to be the 2nd of February (Groundhog Day) and Samhain is sometimes taken to be October 31st, Halloween. But hopefully you get the point.

Incidentally, the last three of these also coincide closely with Bank Holidays in Ireland, though these are always on Mondays so often happen a few days away.

Anyway, it is interesting (to me) that the academic year here in Ireland is defined by these dates.

Usually the first semester of the academic year starts on or around September 21st (Autumnal Equinox) and finishes on or Around December 21st (Winter Solstice). Half term (study week) thus includes the Halloween Bank Holiday.

After a break for Christmas and a three-week mid-year exam period Semester Two starts on or around 1st February (Imbolc). Half-term is then around March 21st (Vernal Equinox) and teaching ends around May 1st. More exams and end of year business take us to the Summer Solstice and the (hypothetical) vacation.

So we’re basically operating on a pagan calendar.

The exception is, of course, the date of Easter, which is fixed by a mixture of solar and lunar considerations: Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday following the full Moon that occurs on or just after the spring equinox. This date moves about between March and April, which is very messy and inconvenient and should, in my opinion, be reconsidered.

*I decided on “yes”.

New Publication at the Open Journal of Astrophysics!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on July 29, 2020 by telescoper

To celebrate yesterday’s news, I have great pleasure today in publishing another paper in The Open Journal of Astrophysics.

A reason to be especially pleased with this article is that this is our first publication in the Solar and Stellar Astrophysics category of astro-ph. It’s good to be spreading out beyond cosmology and extragalactic astrophysics which is where most of our papers appear.

The intriguing title of the latest paper is The one that got away: a unique eclipse in the young brown dwarf Roque 12. There’s also a blog post by one of the authors that tells the fascinating behind-the-scenes story of this paper.

The authors of the paper are Aleks Scholz (University of St Andrews, UK), Dirk Froebrich (University of Kent, Canterbury, UK); Koraljka Muzic (University of Lisbon, Portugal) and Jochen Eislöffel (TLS Tautenburg, Germany).

Here is a screen grab of the overlay:

You might notice that we now have the volume number appearing on the overlay, a change we requested recently from Scholastica.

You can find the arXiv version of the paper here.

God’s Little Cow

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on June 8, 2020 by telescoper

The other day I discovered that Ladybird in Irish is Bóín Dé which means, literally, “Little Cow of God”. I thought it a strange name for this critter, then a friend told me (via Facebook) that the Welsh is buwch goch gota which means “short red cow”. A little googling then told me that the Russian is Bozhya korovka which is in literal translation the same as the Irish, God’s Little Cow.

The more general connection with God seen in Irish and Russian is presumably to do with the Ladybird being either cute or beneficial (or both): if you’re a gardener you will certainly appreciate the help that Ladybirds offer in eliminating aphids and other garden pests. They may look cute but they are voracious predators.

I am told that the `cow’ part of the name probably comes from the spots on a Ladybird, which resemble the black patches on the hides of certain breeds of cow.

I have known for a while that the Lady in the English Ladybird refers not just to any lady but to the Virgin Mary, allegedly because the most common type of Ladybird has seven spots and the number 7 is associated with Mary, as is the colour red. The original English term was “Our Lady’s Bird” which turned into Ladybird (or Ladybug in the United States).

The connection with the Virgin Mary is more explicit in the Danish Mariehøne (Mary’s Hen). I assume the Hen is because the Ladybird would have to be a bird that can fly but not all that well. In German the word for Ladybird is Marienkäfer (Mary’s Beetle). In Spanish it is Mariquita, which I assume also has a connection with the Virgin Mary though there is another term: Vaca de San Antón , which brings us back to cows again (Vaca is Spanish for cow).

The Italian word for Ladybird is Coccinella (from the Latin Coccineus, scarlet) which is also the scientific name; the family is Coccinellidae. The standard French for a Ladybird is Coccinelle, but older terms found in dictionaries include vache à Dieu (Cow of God again) and bête à bon Dieu.

I know Ladybirds are very widespread and, to a lesser extent, so are my readers, so I’d be very interested to hear what a Ladybird is in other languages (alongside a literal translation).

If One Person Breaks The Rules..

Posted in Covid-19, Uncategorized on May 25, 2020 by telescoper

The above message was sent out by the UK Government on April 15. Obviously it’s not meant to apply to anyone by the name of Dominic Cummings..

The Offices of the University

Posted in Uncategorized on May 22, 2020 by telescoper

Although we’re still in the middle of this year’s examination period at Maynooth University many of us are having to give considerable thought to how we might manage the forthcoming return to work that is being phased in. The next stage is due to begin on June 8th.

One of the immediate issues to grapple with is how to maintain social distancing for staff and research students. Undergraduates will be an even bigger problem but they’re not due back until September.

Thinking about this I was reminded of an old post I wrote in 2011 about office space many years ago in response to the Higher Education Council for England (HEFCE) report entitled “Performance in Higher Education” which looked into university estates management. Among other things, this report stated that in English universities academics are assigned an average of 13.2 sq m of office space per person, Scottish institutions offer 14.5 sq m, and Welsh universities a “whopping” 15.7 sq m. By contrast the average office space per person across all sectors in the UK 10-12 sq m.

In the time since then I noticed that many universities put up many new buildings, many of them involving large open-plan spaces instead of individual offices. That’s because these are much cheaper to build.

I even came to work in an open-plan office myself for a couple of years in the Data Innovation Research Institute at Cardiff University. I had lovely considerate office mates there but even so it wasn’t always an environment in which it was easy to concentrate. It was of course impossible to conduct confidential discussions or hold tutorials there.

Anyway, you can read my other objections to open-plan offices there. I won’t repeat them here.

For the record I should say that I, and the other permanent teaching staff at Maynooth University all have an individual office. The return to work for us should therefore be relatively easy to manage.

My point on this occasion is that if we are to ensure 2m social distancing for staff that means a minimum of 12.56 square metres (based on a circle of radius 2m) or, more realistically, a square of side 4m, ie 16 square metres. This is assuming a person can move within the space allocated rather than being permanently rooted to the spot.

That level of distancing would mean reducing the capacity of open-plan office spaces considerably. Moreover, operating such spaces in shifts in order to achieve this will probably require deep cleaning between shifts. Shared spaces of any kind, including laboratories, are going to be hard to manage at this time.

Individual offices for the sole use of one staff member would not require any such measures.

All those shiny new University buildings with big open-plan spaces for dozens of staff aren’t looking so clever now are they?

Don’t Wash The Baby!

Posted in Uncategorized on May 5, 2020 by telescoper

I see that my (relatively) new washing machine has a setting for washing a Baby, which is a bit surprising because 60° would seem to be a bit warm for that..

Coronavirus Confusion

Posted in Covid-19, Uncategorized on April 26, 2020 by telescoper

I’ve been continuing my attempts to keep track of the daily Covid-19 statistics in Ireland over on the page here although it’s getting very confusing with various changes in testing practice, retrospective reclassifications and general complexity of the reporting process.

This cartoon from the latest Private Eye pretty much sums up the situation:

Nevertheless, here is the latest plot

This shows that the progress of the disease is fairly flat but there is no evidence from these data of a significant downward trend in the daily figures.

Here’s a different visualisation in which I plot the daily figures against the cumulative total. You might be interested in this variation in which I plot the daily numbers against the cumulative total. Since this is approximately a graph of the derivative of a function plotted against the function itself, exponential growth would look like a straight line in this figure.

Apart from the (substantial) statistical noise you can see only a slight indication of the curves starting to depart from linearity.

The current restrictions on movement and gatherings are in place until May 5th but on the basis of the figures available to the public I wouldn’t bet against them being extended.

Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University

Posted in Uncategorized on April 25, 2020 by telescoper

As part of our virtual Open Day I made a narrated PowerPoint presentation about Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University.

It’s actually on YouTube so I thought I’d share it here out of general interest.

You can find the Open Day web page for Theoretical Physics here. I think it will stay up for a week or so after the event.

Things to do during the Covid-19 lockdown, No. 563

Posted in Uncategorized on April 19, 2020 by telescoper

Another thing you might try if you’re attempting to avoid the onset of boredom during this lockdown is to switch on closed captions in English on YouTube when a person is speaking French..