Archive for Australia

The Ashes Regained!

Posted in Cricket, Poetry with tags , , , on August 8, 2015 by telescoper

Well, there you have it. England’s cricketers have won the Fourth Test of the Ashes series at Trent Bridge (in the Midlands) by an innings and 78 runs, to take an unassailable 3-1 lead with one game to play. When I settled down to watch the opening overs of the opening match in Cardiff I really did not think England had any chance of winning the series, and even after England won in Cardiff I felt that the Australians would come back strongly. That horrible defeat at Lord’s in the Second Test confirmed that opinion, but emphatic victories in the Third and Fourth Test have proved me wrong. The amazing first day at Trent Bridge, during which Australia were all out for a meagre total of 60 with Broad taking 8-15,  made an England victory and the Ashes virtually certain. It all just proves how little I know about cricket.

At one point it looked like the game would be wrapped up yesterday, inside two days, but Adam Voges and the remaining Australian tailenders clung on doggedly in the fading light of yesterday evening to end the day on 241-7 in response to England’s first innings total of 391-9 declared. The main question this morning was whether they could accumulate the 90 runs needed to make England bat again.

As it happened, neither Starc nor Hazlewood nor Lyon could cope with the swing of Wood and Stokes. Hazlewood in particular led a charmed life for 10 deliveries, during which he never really looked like putting bat to ball, before finally losing his middle stump to Wood. Moments later, Lyon fell in the same manner. In some ways it’s cruel sport when bowlers have to bat in a futile attempt to save a game that’s lost, but the end was mercifully swift.

Nevill battled well to end on 51 not out, but he might have tried a bit harder to protect his tailenders. No doubt he was hoping a not out score would improve his chances of continued selection.

Commiserations to Australian cricket fans. Their team just wasn’t as good as England, with bat or ball. They have a lot of rebuilding to do, and I think it won’t just be the Captain Michael Clarke who won’t be playing another Ashes series, but you can be sure they’ll be back challenging for the Ashes again before long.

And as for England, there are some interesting questions about the next Test at the Oval. Will Jimmy Anderson return, or should England rest him even if he is fit? Does Adam Lyth get another chance to establish hismelf with the pressure off, or do England try to blood another opener? And although Moeen Ali  is an excellent find as a batting all-rounder, he’s not the kind of bowler that’s likely to bowl a team out at Test level. Can we find a world-class spinner to balance the attack? Answers on a postcard, please.

It’s been an extraordinary series so far, consisting of four relatively one-sided matches (three to England and one to Australia). A far cry from the brilliant Ashes series of 2005 which had so many close games, so I guess it’s not been such a great series for the neutral. But then I’m not neutral, so I don’t mind at all..


Australia: Cyclones go up to Eleven!

Posted in Bad Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on October 14, 2013 by telescoper

I saw a story on the web this morning which points out that Australians can expect 11 cyclones this season.

It’s not a very good headline, because it’s a bit misleading about what the word “expected” means. In fact the number eleven is the average number of cyclones, which is not necessarily the number expected, despite the fact that “expected value” or “expectation value” . If you don’t understand this criticism, ask yourself how many legs you’d expect a randomly-chosen person to have. You’d probably settle on the answer “two”, but that is the most probable number, i.e. the mode, which in this case exceeds the average. If one person in a thousand has only one leg then a group of a thousand has 1999 legs between them, so the average (or arithmetic mean) is 1.999. Most people therefore have more than the average number of legs…

I’ve always found it quite annoying that physicists use the term “expectation value” to mean “average” because it implies that the average is the value you would expect. In the example given above you wouldn’t expect a person to have the average number of legs – if you assume that the actual number is an integer, it’s actually impossible to find a person with 1.999! In other words, the probability of finding someone in that group with the average number of legs in the group is exactly zero.

The same confusion happens when newspapers talk about the “average wage” which is considerably higher than the wage most people receive.

In any case the point is that there is undoubtedly a considerable uncertainty in the prediction of eleven cyclones per season, and one would like to have some idea how large an error bar is associated with that value.

Anyway, statistical pedantry notwithstanding, it is indeed impressive that the number of cyclones in a season goes all the way up to eleven..

Fire Escapes

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on January 13, 2013 by telescoper

When I checked into Twitter this morning I was perturbed to see a flurry of panicky messages from astronomers down under. No wonder. The bush fires that have been raging in New South Wales for some time yesterday threatened to engulf the world-famous Siding Spring Observatory – the largest optical observatory in Australia – where 12 important telescopes are located, not to mention the people that operate them.

I’ll direct you to Amanda Bauer’s blog piece for dramatic coverage of what was obviously a terrifying and exhausting night, as flames and smoke crept remorsely closer to the observatory buildings.


At about 3.30pm local time, the buildings were evacuated and soon afterwards the fire penetrated the perimeter of the Observatory itself and subsequently swept through the complex. Temperatures inside some of the domes went as high as 100 °C and a lot of the electrical equipment has clearly been damaged.

Scary stuff but, most importantly of all, at least nobody was hurt. It also seems that damage to the observatory buildings and equipment was relatively slight. That however is a preliminary assessment, and may well be revised when it’s safe to enter the area again. Wildfires of this sort are extremely frightening things, so this must have been a very difficult time for those involved but, fingers crossed, it seems not to have turned out as badly as some feared.

Coincidentally, I had a little fire drama at home myself last night, although I hasten to add it was not on the same scale as the goings-on in Siding Spring. The weather in Cardiff being rather inclement I decided to complete my Saturday afternoon shopping with the purchase of a sack of logs for the fire. I have central heating, so don’t actually need the open fire for warmth, but it does add an extra level of cosiness on a winter evening. It also provides something to look at which is more interesting than the television I no longer possess…

It’s not all that easy to get a fire started in my grate, but I managed at the first attempt yesterday. Wood has a tendency to spit and crackle while burning so I put the fireguard around..

(The flames weren’t actually that purple colour, more of a reddish orange; I think the flash on the camera is responsible for the change of hue.)

Anyway, I kept the fire going all through the evening which meant by the time I was ready for my nightcap I had no logs left. I then remembered a bit of wood (or, more accurately, MDF) that was left over when I had some shelves fitted. I found it in a cupboard and chucked it on the fire and left the room to make a drink.

A couple of minutes later my smoke alarm went off. Bemused, I ran back into the living room and found it filled with acrid smoke, produced by the veneer that coated the bit of surplus shelf, which was being produced in quantities too large for the chimney to cope with.

I hastily switched off the alarm and opened all the windows and doors on the ground floor, much to the amusement of the folk passing my house on the way home from the pub. Ironically my attempts to stay warm and cosy all through the evening had ended with arctic winds blowing through the house. The smoke cleared fairly soon, although the smell of it was still lingering this morning.

Still, nobody was hurt and there was no serious damage to buildings or equipment. And at least now I know my smoke alarm does actually work…

SKA Site Duel ends in Dual Site for SKA

Posted in Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on May 26, 2012 by telescoper

I wasn’t going to post about this but then I realised nobody seemed to have used the obvious headline so thought I might as well knock out a quickie.

Yesterday, after much to-ing and fro-ing an announcement was finally made  concerning the site of the Square Kilometre Array.  The two contenders for the honour of hosting this superb project were South Africa and Australasia (both Australia and New Zealand get a bit, actually).

So who won?

Well, formally the decision was to split the project between both. At first sight this looks like a political compromise, but wiser heads than me disagree and say that this an excellent outcome on science grounds. I’d be interested to hear  opinions on that, in fact.

In any case, a quick skim through the STFC announcement makes it clear that South Africa actually gets the lion’s share of the actual dishes, which will be operated alongside the  Meerkat facility, and will do what I think is the more exciting science.  Having been to Cape Town just recently I know how much the SKA project means for astronomy in South Africa so I’m delighted for them that the outcome is so positive.

It does, however, remain to be seen what the implications of this decision are for the overall cost and scientific value-for-money, but for the time being the thing I’m most pleased about is that a decision has been reached.  I think the SKA project is by far the most exciting ground-based astronomy project around, and it will be very exciting to watch it grow.

Ashes Victory

Posted in Cricket, Poetry with tags , , , , , on January 7, 2011 by telescoper

Well, there you have it. England’s cricketers finally won the final Test of the Ashes series in Sydney by an innings and 83 runs, to win the series outright. It has been a wonderful performance by the England team down under which has warmed the cold English (and Welsh) winter.

Commiserations to Australian cricket fans. Their team just wasn’t as good as England, with bat or ball. They have a lot of rebuilding to do, but you can be sure they’ll be back challenging for the Ashes again before long.

I thought I’d put up a poem to celebrate. This one is called The Game and was written by John Groves. It represents an idyllic view of what many English crickets fans surely regard as the match of any season – the Lord’s Test – which we can now look forward to with relish in the summer. However, I chose this poem for this occasion primarily because of the final couplet which takes us far beyond the boundaries of St John’s Wood.

A painter’s sky over Lord’s.
A gentle zephyr, blowing without brace,
The crowd engaged in all that joy affords
And England batting with admired grace.
The sun ablaze, an unforgiving pitch,
A bowler with a patriotic itch,
A ticking scoreboard and a close-run thing,
A resolute gull, high on a drowsy wing.

Though one team triumph, victory’s all the same:
The winner is the beauty of the game.


The Ashes Retained

Posted in Cricket, Poetry with tags , , , , , , on December 29, 2010 by telescoper

I couldn’t resist a short post to mark the success of England’s cricketers down under in successfully retaining The Ashes. After getting themselves comprehensively thrashed in the Third Test of the Ashes series in Perth, to tie the level the series 1-1 (with one match drawn), the pressure was on when the Fourth Test started on Boxing Day in Melbourne. However, it all seemed to get to the Australians more than the English: Australia were dismissed for a paltry 98 after being put into bat by England captain Andrew Strauss who won the toss. England finished the day on 157 without loss, with defeat for Australia already probable at stumps on the opening day. England batted all the second day and a bit of the third, amassing 513 all out, and then had Australia 169 for 6 at the end of Day Three. Although the last few Australian batsmen showed a bit of spirit on Day Four, they were eventually all out for 258, leaving England the victors by an innings and 157 runs, their second innings victory of the series.

Now they are 2-1 up in the series with one Test to play (at Sydney), which means they can’t lose the series and therefore keep the Ashes, which they won in England last year (2009). I hope England keep their focus and go on to win at Sydney too. I’d like to see them win the series outright. Incidentally, if I’ve done my sums right, Australia have now won 123 Ashes tests since the first in 1882, to England’s 99, so if England can win in Sydney it will be their 100th.

My Australian friends and colleagues will be wincing at this outcome, but although England have proved worthy winners this time I’m sure Australia will be back to winning ways before too long. As an English cricket fan, I’ve endured enough disappointments to make this victory especially sweet. I dare say when the Australians do reclaim the Ashes at some point in the future their supporters will feel the same. As it is in life, so it is in cricket – the good times make the bad times worth enduring.

I thought I’d mark this very special occasion with a poem called Brahma by Andrew Lang. It’s a clever parody of a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the reference to Hinduism seems to fit with the theme of a cyclic universe of sporting success and failure.

If the wild bowler thinks he bowls,
Or if the batsman thinks he’s bowled,
They know not, poor misguided souls,
They too shall perish unconsoled.

I am the batsman and the bat,
I am the bowler and the ball,
The umpire, the pavilion cat,
The roller, pitch, and stumps, and all.


A Martian Oz?

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on July 31, 2010 by telescoper

I noticed a news item last week about research which points out that the remarkable fact that parts of Mars look a bit like Australia. Take this image, for example, of the region called Nili Fossae in which the Sydney Opera House can be seen clearly in the upper left…

Apparently the rocks in this region “resemble” those in an area of Australia called the Pilbara. Scientists believe that microbes formed some distinctive features in the Pilbara rocks – features called “stromatolites” that can be seen and studied today. According to  Adrian Brown, who works for the SETI Institute,

“Life made these features. We can tell that by the fact that only life could make those shapes; no geological process could.”

Unfortunately however, all that has really been established is that the Martian rocks have a similar mineral composition to those found in Australia – there’s no evidence (yet) that the “features” made by living creatures are present. Nevertheless, the newspapers have got very excited about this and today’s Guardian even ran an editorial on this item, from which I quote

Sceptics may think the comparison tenuous. They may also note that yesterday’s news reports either framed the possibility as a question – could there be life? – or put it in inverted commas. There is no proof. There is quite likely no life either.


I always find it very interesting how everyone gets so worked up about the possibility of there being, or having been, life on Mars when we’re such careless custodians of the flora and fauna of our own planet. I suppose behind it all there’s a hope that there might be sentient beings out there in space who can tell us how to look after ourselves a bit better than we’re able to figure out for ourselves.

Unfortunately, the recent “discovery” provides very strong evidence against there being any form of intelligent life whatsoever on Mars. After all, it’s just like Australia.