R.I.P. Tony Coe (1934-2023)

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on March 18, 2023 by telescoper

It’s a very sad coincidence that just the day after I had reason to blog about the death of Wally Fawkes, I have to mention the death of another superb jazz musician also associated with the clarinet, Tony Coe, who has passed away at the age of 88. In a prolific career and leader and sideman, Tony Coe also played with Humphrey Lyttelton’s band (from 1957-61) but he is best known for his work in more modern forms of jazz. He was known for the virtuosity and originality of his style, not only on clarinet but on tenor, alto and soprano saxophone. I read yesterday that he was also the first music teacher of Tim Garland who, on his Facebook page, mentions that he found Coe’s tenor playing rather reminiscent of that of the great Paul Gonsalves, which I’d never thought of before but is true.

My first encounter with Tony Coe was on an album I bought round about 1981 called The Crompton Suite by the Stan Tracey Sextet. It’s a rare find on vinyl these days but I still have my copy:

I haven’t heard this for ages because I no longer have a turntable and as far as I’m aware it hasn’t been re-released on any digital format, but I remember it very well and would have picked a track from this album as a tribute if it were on YouTube but instead here’s a lovely recording he made just a couple of years ago with John Horler on piano, the title track of the very nice album Dancing in the Dark:

R.I.P. Tony Coe (1934-2023)

Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona daoibh go léir!

Posted in Beards, History, Maynooth with tags , on March 17, 2023 by telescoper

So it’s St Patrick’s Day, a bank holiday here in Ireland. I shall probably observe the festivities in Maynooth later on, though it is pouring down at the moment and very likely to rain on the parade, which starts at 11am. That would be disappointing, as it hardly ever rains in Ireland.

I came second in the Beard of Ireland poll, by the way. Thanks to everyone who voted for me and congratulations to the winner, Aodhan Connolly. A few people have asked for an up-to-date picture of me and my beard, so here goes:

Not many facts are known about the life of St Patrick, but it seems he was born in Britain, probably in the late 4th Century AD, probably somewhere around the Severn Estuary and probably in Wales and according to virtually all artistic depictions of him he had a fine beard. It also appears that he didn’t know any Latin. When a young man, it seems he was captured by Celtic marauders coming up the River Severn and taken as a slave to Ireland. He eventually escaped back to Britain, but returned to Ireland as a missionary and succeeded somehow in converting the Irish people to Christianity.

Ireland was the first country to be converted to Christianity that had never been part of the Roman Empire. That made a big difference to the form of the early Irish Church. The local Celtic culture was very loose and decentralized. There were no cities, large buildings, roads or other infrastructure. Life revolved around small settlements and farms. When wars were fought they were generally over livestock or grazing land. The early Irish Church that grew in this environment was quite different from that of continental Europe. It was not centralized, revolved around small churches and monasteries, and lacked the hierarchical structure of the Roman Church. Despite these differences, Ireland was quite well connected with the rest of the Christian world.

Irish monks – and the wonderful illuminated manuscripts they created – spread across the continent, starting with Scotland and Britain. Thanks to the attentions of the Vikings few of these works survive but the wonderful Lindisfarne Gospels, dating from somewhere in the 8th Century were almost certainly created by Irish monks. The Book of Kells was probably created in Scotland by Irish Monks.

Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated on March 17th, the reputed date of his death in 461 AD. Nobody really knows where St Patrick was born, though, so it would be surprising if the when were any better known.

In any case, it wasn’t until the 17th Century that Saint Patrick’s feast day was placed on the universal liturgical calendar in the Catholic Church. Indeed, St Patrick has never been formally canonized. In the thousand years that passed any memory of the actual date of his birth was probably lost, so the choice of date was probably influenced by other factors, specifically the proximity of the Spring Equinox (which is this year on Monday, March 20th).

The early Christian church in Ireland incorporated many pre-Christian traditions that survived until roughly the 12th century, including the ancient festival of Ēostre (or Ostara), the goddess of spring associated with the spring equinox after whom Easter is named. During this festival, eggs were used a symbol of rebirth and the beginning of new life and a hare or rabbit was the symbol of the goddess and fertility. In turn the Celtic people of Ireland probably adapted their own beliefs to absorb much older influences dating back to the stone age. St Patrick’s Day and Easter therefore probably both have their roots in prehistoric traditions around the Spring Equinox, although the direct connection has long been lost.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona daoibh go léir!

Update. I waited until it stopped raining before leaving the house, which meant that I missed the start of the Maynooth parade but there seemed to be a very good turnout. Here are some snaps of the bit I saw:

R.I.P. Wally Fawkes (1924-2023)

Posted in Art, Jazz with tags , , , , on March 16, 2023 by telescoper

I just heard today – via the latest Private Eye – of the passing of Wally Fawkes on 1st March at the age of 98. His name won’t be familiar to many of the readers of this blog, but it is a name that I grew up with in a jazz-loving family. Wally Fawkes played clarinet with Humphrey Lyttelton’s band in its heyday in the late 40s and early 50s and was the last surviving member of that group. That band may have had a rhythm section that always sounded like its members were wearing diving boots, but the front line of Humphrey Lyttelton (trumpet), Wally Fawkes (clarinet) and Keith Christie (trombone) was truly outstanding.

Wally Fawkes wasn’t just a musician, though. He was also the acclaimed cartoonist known by the pseudonym Trog, and contributed a variety of cartoons to a variety of magazines and newspapers, including the long-running comic strip Flook. He was also an occasional contributor to Private Eye. He had to give up drawing in 2005 because of failing eyesight, after 62 years in the business.

I’ve already drawn attention to Wally Fawke’s excellence as a clarinet soloist with the Lyttelton band on The Onions at the famous 1954 Festival Hall Concert so it seems apt to pay tribute to his skills as both a cartoonist and a musician by returning to that concert for him playing his own composition Trog’s Blues. Wally Fawkes was a huge admirer of Sidney Bechet, and this tune clearly pays homage to Bechet’s monumental Blue Horizon (which I think is the finest instrumental blues ever recorded) but while Bechet’s blues performances were hewn from granite, Wally’s were wrought from finest porcelain.

R.I.P. Wally Fawkes (1924-2023)

Beard of Ireland 2023.Four Face Off in Beard Off Final

Posted in Uncategorized on March 15, 2023 by telescoper

Well, I got through the first round by a whisker but I’m up against stiff competition in the final. Please consider giving me a vote if you can stand interacting with the Bird site!

Kmflett's Blog

Beard Liberation Front

15th March

Contact Keith Flett 07803 167266


The Beard Liberation Front, the informal network of beard wearers, has said that competition for the Irish Beard of the Year 2023 has reached the Beard Off Final.

William Crawley and Peter Coles won the first Trim Off round and Aodhan Connolly and Shane Lowry won the second Trim Off

The 2017 winner was politician Colum Eastwood who bearded broadcaster William Crawley for the annual Award.

In 2018 the DUP’s Lee Reynolds shaved writer Dominic O’Reilly for the honour with Colum Eastwood in a steady third place.

In 2019 Lee Reynolds retained the title

The 2020 winner was Maynooth academic Peter Coles

In 2021 Aodhan Connolly shaved opponents to win the coveted title and he retained it in 2022

The BLF says that while traditionally a land of predominantly…

View original post 176 more words

Cavete Quod Idibus Martiis

Posted in Film, History with tags , , on March 15, 2023 by telescoper

Today is the Ides of March so I thought I’d keep post this priceless bit of British cultural history relevant to such a fateful day.
This is from the First Folio Edition of Carry On Cleo, and stars the sublime Kenneth Williams as Julius Caesar delivering one of the funniest lines in the whole Carry On series. The joke may be nearly as old as me, but it’s still a cracker…

And if one old joke isn’t enough for you, here is a Caesar Salad:

Essays and (Computational) Physics

Posted in Biographical, Education, Maynooth with tags , , , , , on March 14, 2023 by telescoper

There have been more news stories about ChatGPT and assessment in universities going around. There’s one here from The Journal and another here from The Conversation to give just two examples.

I wrote about this myself a couple of months ago in a post that included this:

I have to admit that I’ve never really understood the obsession in some parts of academia with “the student Essay” as a form of assessment. I agree that writing skills are extremely important but they’re not the only skills it is important for students to acquire during the course of a degree. Of course I’m biased because I work in Theoretical Physics, an area in which student essays play a negligible role in assessment. Our students do have to write project reports, etc, but writing about something you yourself have done seems to me to be different from writing about what other people have done. While forms of assessment in science subjects have evolved considerably over the last 50 years, other domains still seem to concentrate almost exclusively on “The Essay”.

Whatever you think about the intrinsic value of The Essay (or lack thereof) it is clear that if it is not done in isolation (and under supervision) it is extremely vulnerable to cheating.

A few people have retorted that communication skills are very important in higher education. I agree with that wholeheartedly, but it seems to me that (a) there are other ways of communicating than via formal essays and (b) there are, should be, more to academic study than  writing about things.

That said, I do think we could be doing more in some disciplines, including my own, to cultivate communication skills in general and writing skills in particular. In Theoretical Physics we certainly don’t do this as much as we should. I do have a project report in my 3rd Year computational physics module, but that is a relatively short document and the report itself counts only one-third of the marks (and the project is only 40% of the module mark).

These thoughts somehow reminded me of this. You can click on it to make it bigger if it’s difficult to read. It was the first paper (called colloquially Paper Zero) of my finals examination at the University of Cambridge way back in 1985, getting on for 40 years ago:


As you can probably infer from the little circle around number 4, I decided to write an Essay about topic 4. I’ve always been interested in detective stories so this was an easy choice for me, but I have absolutely no idea what I wrote about for three hours. Nor do I recall actually ever getting a mark for the essay, so I never really knew whether it really counted for anything. I do remember, however, that I had another 3-hour examination in the afternoon of the same day, two three-hour examinations the following day, and would have had two the day after that had I not elected to do a theory project which let me off one paper at the end and for which I got a good mark.

Anyway, to get back to the essay paper, we certainly don’t set essay examinations like that here in the the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University and I suspect they no longer do so in the Department of Physics at Cambridge either. At the time I didn’t really see the point of making students write such things under examination conditions but then we didn’t have ChatGPT way back then. No doubt it could generate a reasonable essay on any of the topics given.

I am skeptical about whether any of my 3rd year computational physicists would use ChatGPT to write their reports, but they might. But ChatGPT can write Python code too. Am I worried about that? Not greatly. I’ve asked it to write scripts for the various class exercises I’ve set so far and the code it has produced has usually failed. It will get better though….

Clarivate’s Web of Inconsistency

Posted in Open Access, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on March 13, 2023 by telescoper

I am involved in the (painfully slow) process of trying to get the Open Journal of Astrophysics listed by Clarivate, which some researchers – or rather, their funding agencies – feel to be important. One of the reasons for this seems to be that some researchers are only allowed to publish in journals with an official Journal Impact Factor (JIF) and Clarivate has set itself up as the gatekeeper for those, although they can easily be calculated using data in the public domain.

Leaving Clarivate aside for a moment, I was googling around this morning and found an independent listing of the Journal Impact Factor for the Open Journal of Astrophysics for 2021, namely 7.4, and found the following description.

Nice. Not bad, considering the Open Journal of Astrophysics is run on a shoestring.

Anyway, although I have grave reservations about the JIF, wanting to make the Open Journal available to as wide a range of authors as possible, I applied for listing by Clarivate in August 2022. I waited and waited. Then, a couple of weeks ago somebody asked me on social media about it and I tagged Clarivate in my reply. No doubt by sheer coincidence I received a reply from Clarivate last week, just a matter of days after mentioning them on social media. A similar thing has happened before. It seems that if you want to ask Clarivate something you have to ask them in public.

At least they replied eventually. We’re still not listed though. Not yet anyway. Among the feedback I received was this:

The volume of scholarly works published annually is expected to be within ranges appropriate to the subject area. However, we have noticed that the publication volume is not in line with similar journals covering this subject area.

When we first started up the Open Journal of Astrophysics I expected this would be an issue as we are new and have published many fewer papers than the big hitters in the field such as MNRAS and ApJ. However, after doing a bit of research among the astronomical journals actually listed on the Web of Science, I changed my mind and thought it wouldn’t be a problem. It seems I was wrong.

Take, for example, the Serbian Astronomical Journal which is listed by Clarivate. I’m mentioning this journal not because I have anything against it: it’s a free Open Access journal and that is very laudable. I just want to use it as an examplar to demonstrate an inconsistency in the above feedback.

According to its web page, the Serbian Astronomical Journal (SerAJ) has an official impact factor of 1.1. A search on NASA/ADS reveals that since 2019 it has published 46 papers which have garnered a total of 69 citations between them. This journal has been published under its current name since 1998.

The Open Journal of Astrophysics (OJAp) is not listed by Clarivate so does not have an official journal impact factor, but I have calculated one here and it is also mentioned above. Since 2019 the Open Journal of Astrophysics has published 69 papers (actually 70, but one has not yet appeared on NASA/ADS). These papers have so far received a total of 1365 citations.

So OJAp has published 50% more papers than SerAJ, with twenty times the citation impact, and a far higher JIF, yet OJAp is not listed by Clarivate but SerAJ is. Can anyone out there explain the reason to me, or shall I assume the obvious?

Maynooth University Library Cat Update

Posted in Maynooth with tags on March 12, 2023 by telescoper

I’m afraid that there has been an incident on Maynooth University Campus, as I discovered on Twitter:

It seems that somebody or something trashed Maynooth University Library Cat’s little box, which ended up beside the stream that runs under the bridge next to the library. The poor cat was wet and hungry because it was raining most of yesterday, but I am reliably informed that he is now OK, the box is back in place and fitted out with new blankets:

I think I’ll go over later to check everything is in order.

If there’s CCTV nearby we might be able to find out exactly what happened.

Beard of Ireland 2023 Poll sees competition bristling

Posted in Uncategorized on March 11, 2023 by telescoper

It seems the poll for Beard of Ireland 2023 has opened. If you remember that far back, I won this award in 2020 with an early manifestation of lockdown beard. The voting is on Twitter and quite a few people who might have been tempted to vote for me have left that platform because of a Musk allergy, so I probably won’t get many votes. Here goes anyway, though. If you feel like voting for me in the first qualifying round please follow the instructions here.

Kmflett's Blog

Beard Liberation Front

11th March

Contact Keith Flett 07803 167266


The Beard Liberation Front, the informal network of beard wearers, has said that competition for the Irish Beard of the Year 2023 is officially open

The 2017 winner was politician Colum Eastwood who bearded broadcaster William Crawley for the annual Award.

In 2018 the DUP’s Lee Reynolds shaved writer Dominic O’Reilly for the honour with Colum Eastwood in a steady third place.

In 2019 Lee Reynolds retained the title

The 2020 winner was Maynooth academic Peter Coles

In 2021 Aodhan Connolly shaved opponents to win the coveted title and he retained it in 2022

The BLF says that while traditionally a land of predominantly clean-shaven cultures, Ireland has in recent times become something of a centre for stylish and trendy beards.

Contenders for the title in 2023 include a diverse range of…

View original post 137 more words

Into the Study Break

Posted in Biographical, Education, Maynooth with tags , , , , on March 11, 2023 by telescoper

So here we are, then. We’ve arrived at the half-term Study Break at Maynooth University. Six weeks of Semester 2 down, six to go. There are no lectures, labs or tutorials next week. It’s not actually a holiday, but the lack of teaching duties will enable me to catch up quite a few things I’ve let slip during term. It will also give me the chance to regroup and prepare for final assault on the second half of term.

The spell of freezing weather we’ve had recently has morphed into something a little warmer and a lot wetter. The light dusting of snow we had yesterday has dissolved in the torrential rain stotting against the windows as I write this piece. I’m waiting for a lull in the downpour so I can make a quick dash to the shops before returning to the comfort of my house for the rest of the day. The weather is coming in from the West today, and I spy a little gap heading my way:

Next Friday, March 17th, is of course, St Patrick’s Day, a national holiday in Ireland. I certainly hope the weather is better for the traditional parades on that day!

I’m glad of the arrival of this break, as I’ve been running on empty for the last several days, the fatigue exacerbated by a flare-up of the arthritis in my knees. On Thursday I had to kneel down next to one of the machines in the computer lab to fix something and I had considerable difficulty getting up again. Doctors say that there’s no reliable evidence that arthritis pain correlates with the weather, but in my case it does seem to come on when the weather changes, especially when it suddenly becomes cold or damp. I’ll be due for another steroid shot soon, which should help, and hopefully the weather will improve over the next few weeks. Possibly.

Anyway, the second half of term should be a lot easier than the first. For one thing, we have another break coming up three weeks in. Good Friday is on April 7th, so that is a holiday, as is the following week. Moreover, I usually only give lectures in Computational Physics for 9 of the 12 teaching weeks in the Semester, after which the students will be working on the mini-projects which form part of the assessment for this module.

P.S. It was on 11th March 2020 that the World Health Organization officially announced the Covid-19 pandemic and it was just before the corresponding Study Break that year that the University was closed and we went into lockdown. Can that really have been three years ago?