Archive for the Uncategorized Category

The Parable of the Public House

Posted in Uncategorized on November 22, 2022 by telescoper

Once upon a time, there was a public house called The Bird Cage.

As pubs go, it was very big and very popular. At times it was quite rowdy, and sometimes nasty people came in just to annoy the customers. The landlord, however, appreciated the regular customers and, from time to time, threw out the worst troublemakers and banned them. He also put bouncers on the door to stop them coming back. Some annoying people remained but the pub was big enough that nice people could ignore them.

Then it came to pass that a rich man, Mr Musk, having grown tired of trying to persuade his camels to go through the eye of a needle, decided to buy The Bird Cage. Why he decided to do this is not clear, as he had made all his money from selling exploding cars and kneweth not of the business of public houses, but many said he was lonely after splitting up with his young partner, Darren Grimes, and thought being a landlord would make him popular. Perhaps he even thought the customers might laugh at his jokes.

After buying the pub for a price that even he couldn’t really afford, Mr Musk the new Landlord put all the prices up and sacked all the bar staff to save money. He kept the bouncers but instructed them that from now on they should throw customers in rather than out. And all the people who had been banned by the previous Management were allowed back in to annoy the nice people.

There was much wailing and gnashing of tweets teeth.

One by one the nice people all left to go to smaller but nicer pubs such as The Beehive or The Elephant. Moreover the nasty people discovered they didn’t like annoying each other as much as annoying nice people so they left too. Soon there was nobody left in the pub except Mr Musk and his bots friends.

Eventually the The Bird Cage lost so much money that Mr Musk was forced to close it down. The nasty people were sore vexed but the nice people couldn’t give a toss.

Here Endeth The Lesson.

R.I.P. Tom Marsh (1961-2022)

Posted in Uncategorized on November 19, 2022 by telescoper

About two months ago I posted an urgent appeal for information about the whereabouts of Prof. Tom Marsh, who had gone missing while on an observing trip in La Silla, Chile. The longer the time he was missing the less likely it seemed that he would be found safe and well and sadly there wasn’t to be a happy ending.

Last week a body was found about 5km from the Observatory and has now been formally identified as that of Tom Marsh. This brings to an end an awful period of uncertainty, but it isn’t the kind of closure that anyone hoped for.

A fitting tribute to the life and astronomical achievements of Tom Marsh, who was 60 years old, has been posted by Warwick University I send my own condolences to his family, friends and colleagues at what must be a very difficult time.

Rest in peace, Tom Marsh (1961-2022).

R.I.P. Carolina Ödman-Govender

Posted in Uncategorized on November 15, 2022 by telescoper

Just got back from a lecture to hear the heartbreaking news that Carolina Ödman-Govender has passed away after a long battle with cancer. I first met Carolina when she was a PhD student at the University of Cambridge about 20 years ago. I think that was at a conference in Erice. She was a lovely human being who was held in the highest esteem by everyone who met her. It is devastating that such an inspirational figure is no longer with us. I send heartfelt condolences to husband Kevin, her family, friends and colleagues at this terrible time.

Five Million Views in the Dark

Posted in Uncategorized on September 25, 2022 by telescoper

I just finished writing my notes for next week’s lectures and checked the blog statistics to discover that there have now been over 5,000,000 visits to this website. It’s been just over 14 years since I started blogging so that is about 360,000 hits per year on average, or just under 1000 a day. The actual daily figure varies considerably of course. It’s also worth mentioning that the number of distinct visitors is somewhat lower (just under 2 million). That means on average visitors come here about 2.5 times. On the other hand the visitor statistic probably overcounts because people may use different devices to access this site. Such details may matter to people who want to sell advertising, etc, but not to me.

I’m sure there are many blogs that get much more traffic than this one but I’m glad so many people have found things of interest here over the years, so thank you all for coming!

Can you help find Tom Marsh?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 23, 2022 by telescoper

Yesterday I heard the worrying news that astronomer Professor Tom Marsh of Warwick University (UK) went missing on 16th September 2022 while on an observing trip at the European Southern Observatory facility in La Silla, Chile. Despite extensive searches over the last week he has not yet been found.

I know it’s a long shot but I’m posting this here in the hope that somebody somewhere might have information about his whereabouts.

There is also a statement from ESO here with further details

Marsh is described as white, about 192 cm in height, with balding grey hair and a beard. He is likely to be wearing a blue rain jacket, walking boots and a grey woollen hat. 

Please forward this as widely as possible!

UPDATE: 11/11/2022. Sadly, almost two months after being reported missing, the body of Tom Marsh has now been found. The cause of death has not yet been announced.

Conference Badge

Posted in Uncategorized on September 5, 2022 by telescoper

I thought I’d share a picture of my conference badge from INAM 2022, complete with pronouns, for the benefit of those who are triggered by such things.

If you are one of those people triggered by pronouns, just wait until you find out about adjectives!

La Même Chose

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on August 19, 2022 by telescoper
What is she saying?

You can’t move on Twitter these days without seeing the above photograph which seems to have become the latest viral meme. The game as always is to tweet the picture with a suggestion of what the girl is saying. Here is my effort:

You can play the game yourself at home by suggesting your own version of what she’s saying. There are quite a lot of astronomy-related attempts circulating already. The Hubble Tension is an obvious example topic.

Interestingly, just like ChorizoGate, the picture in question was first circulated a few years ago (in 2019) and was also apparently created in Spain. Perhaps there’s some kind of law that states that these things circulate on a 3-4 year cycle?

Talking of ChorizoGate, especially the French Dimension thereof, I wondered whether the French word for “Meme” is the same as it is in English. The French word however turns out to be “Mème”. So the English word “Meme” is not quite the same in French; the French word for Meme is “Mème” which is also not quite the same in French (“Même”). To put it another way, “Même” is the same in French but it’s not the same as either “Mème” or “Meme” neither of which are the same in French (nor in English).

I hope this clarifies the situation.

P.S. I chose the title from the well-known French saying “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”.

A Second in Azed!

Posted in Biographical, Crosswords, Uncategorized with tags , on June 26, 2022 by telescoper

I was more than a little surprised this morning to find that I had won Second Prize in the latest Azed Crossword Competition in the Observer newspaper. This only the third time I’ve been among the medals (so to speak); I got a First Prize last year and a Third Prize exactly 11 years ago today.

As I’ve mentioned before, the monthly Azed Competition puzzle involves not only solving the Azed crossword but also supplying a cryptic clue for a word or phrase given only as a definition in the crossword. This competition is tough, partly because Azed is a stickler for syntactical soundness in submitted clues, and partly because many of the competitors are professional crossword setters. I’ve struggled recently to find the time and the energy to make a decent attempt at the Azed competition, but this competition puzzle was published on the last Bank Holiday Weekend so I had more time than usual to think about it. The target word was PEANUTS and my clue was

Source of allergic upset gripping one’s interior? Possibly!

Usually in a cryptic crossword clue one part of the clue provides a definition of the answer and the other a cryptic allusion to it; the solver has to identify each part. This clue is of a slightly different type called “&lit” which means that two different readings of the clue give you the definition and the cryptic allusion. The cryptic reading gives A (source of Allergic) in an anagram of UPSET containing N (oNe’s interior) indicated by the word “possibly”. UPSET is often used as a anagram indicator but not in this case. The surface reading of the clue also suggests PEANUTS.

P.S. I think the First Prize clue was very good indeed so congratulations to K. Bolton!


Royal Society SFI University Research Fellowships

Posted in Uncategorized on June 23, 2022 by telescoper

It is now time for a quick public information broadcast, to give advanced notice of an important scheme run jointly between the  Royal Society and Science Foundation Ireland that gives early career researchers in Ireland access to University Research Fellowships. I thought I’d mention it now before the summer vacations (which apparently some people have):

This scheme provides eight years of research funding (with the possibility of renewal) and has proved to be a stepping stone to their first permanent academic position for a great many scientists. Here are a couple of items about the eligibility and duration.

Eligibility:  The scheme is open to early career Post Doctoral Researchers with between 3-8 years of actual research experience since their PhD (date on which the degree was approved by board of graduate studies) by the closing date.  You cannot apply if you hold a permanent post in the university or have held (or currently hold) an equivalent fellowship that provides the opportunity to establish independence.

Funding and Duration:  In previous years this scheme provided funding of the research fellow’s salary and research expenses for an initial period of 5 years with the possibility to apply for a further 3 years.  This time, though, applicants are asked to provide a proposal for a project lasting eight years which is subject to a mid-term review.

Key Dates: The scheme opens on 12th July 2022 and applications need to be in by 6th September 2022 at 3pm UK time. Last year the application deadline for Irish institutions was a bit later than for the UK but I don’t know if that will be the case this year as the call has not yet opened.

For further details and further developments see here.

The scheme covers a wide range of disciplines. including physics and astronomy. Of course if you want to do cosmology, the best place  to do it in Ireland is here in Maynooth but we also do, e.g. condensed matter theory and particle physics.

The deadline is not far off,  so please get cracking!

P.S. Five years residency in Ireland qualifies you for Irish citizenship. Just saying…

Picture Joke

Posted in Uncategorized on June 19, 2022 by telescoper

I put this picture up on Twitter last week with the caption Geddit? and it got as close to going viral as anything I’ve ever tweeted. Since I’m too lazy to post anything substantial today I thought I’d put it up here.

In the words of Roy Walker: “Say what you see..” though you will probably have to be a physicist who’s studied general relativity.

Some of those who did get the joke asked me where they could buy such an item. In fact I just wrote the Greek letters on with a whiteboard marker…