Archive for the Uncategorized Category

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..

Wordsworth 250: Lines Written in Early Spring

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on April 7, 2020 by telescoper

The poet William Wordsworth was born on 7th April 1770, which means that today is the 250th anniversary of his birth.

I’ve posted a number of poems by and reflections on Wordsworth on this blog over the years, including one of the very first pieces I wrote on here. That was an article inspired by one of my oldest and most treasured possessions, little book of Wordsworth’s poems:

I’m very fond of this book and the poetry within it. Unfortunately it, along with most of the rest of my poetry collection, is not with me during this period of lockdown.

Anyway, it’s lovely Spring day in Maynooth so to celebrate that and Wordsworth’s 250th Birthday, here is an appropriate poem.

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:–
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?

by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

Responsible SciComm

Posted in Uncategorized on April 1, 2020 by telescoper

One of the things I’ve written about on this blog quite frequently is how important the treatment of uncertainty is in science, both in the application of the scientific method itself and in the communication of results to a wider audience. This blog post makes a similar point about the presentation of results from modelling the spread of Covid-19.

...and Then There's Physics

Yesterday, a group in Oxford released a paper that implied that a signifcant fraction of those in the UK may already have been infected. This was quickly picked up by numerous media outlets who highlighted that coronavirus could already have infected half the British population. James Annan has already discussed it in a couple of post, but I thought I would comment briefly myself.

To be clear, I certainly have no expertise in epidemiology, but I do have expertise in computational modelling. So, I coded up their model, which is described in Equations 1-4 in their paper. They were also doing a parameter estimation, while I’m simply going to run the model with their parameters.

The key parameter is $latex rho$, which is the proportion of the population that is at risk of severe disease, a fraction of whom will die (14%). They explicitly assume that only…

View original post 856 more words

R.I.P. Phil Anderson (1923-2020)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on March 30, 2020 by telescoper

I heard this morning via a friend who knew him personally of the death, yesterday at the age of 96, of condensed matter physicist and Nobel Laureate Professor Philip Warren Anderson. He will perhaps be best remembered known for Anderson Localization but he worked on a huge range of topics in physics and his influence was felt across many branches of science (including astrophysics). It’s too early for obituaries to have been published yet but I will add links when they become available.

Update: here is the New York Times obituary.

R.I.P. Philip W Anderson (1923-2020).