Archive for Durham

Memories of 9/11

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , on September 11, 2021 by telescoper

Today is 11th September 2021 which means it is exactly twenty years since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon which led to the loss of almost three thousand civilian lives (and many more in the longer term). At the risk of contributing to the deluge of (mainly mawkish) reminiscences about the happenings on this day a decade ago, let me just give a brief account of my recollection. The events of 9/11 are, I suspect, etched on many a memory in much the same way as people remember what they were doing when President Kennedy was assassinated.

For what it’s worth, I was actually at a conference on that day. It was called A New Era in Cosmology, and was hosted in the fine city of Durham; in fact one of the organizers was a certain Tom Shanks, an occasional commenter on this blog. Above you will see part of the conference poster which I took from a recent Facebook post by him where I also found the text below. I was also reminded that 9/11 was the first day of that meeting and that I gave a talk on the first morning, the last before lunch. Such was the effect of the events that unfolded that day that I had completely forgotten about that.

What I do remember is sitting near the back of the lecture theatre after we returned from lunch, listening to one of the afternoon talks – I can’t remember who it was by – when a dear friend of mine, Manuela, came into the auditorium and walked down the aisle, stopped by me. She tugged my arm, mumbled something about the “Twin Towers” and then ran back up the stairs and out of the lecture theatre. Thinking it was something to do with Wembley Stadium, I followed her out and she explained what had happened. We found a TV set, around which a crowd had already formed. The coverage was, not surprisingly, shambolic and it was not until late afternoon that the scale of what had happened became clearer.

There were rumours of more planes likely to be involved in attacks and discussions about whether the military might have to shoot down civilian aircraft. Fortunately that wasn’t the case. I had a friend visiting New York at the time and was unable to contact her by mobile, so was worried, but I don’t think anyone was able to contact anyone in New York by mobile phone in those hours and it turns out she was fine.

Meanwhile the other participants were informed about the events on the other side of the Atlantic. It was an international conference with many US-based attendees who were understandably worried. The preface to the conference proceedings reveals that discussions were held about whether to cancel the meeting:

I think it was the correct decision to proceed with the conference, including the conference dinner and all that. As it happened all passengers flights were grounded for several days anyway, so nobody could get home who didn’t live in the UK.

The rest of the conference was pretty much business as usual as far as possible, although as the text above explains we did stand in silence in memory of the victims on the Thursday morning. When the meeting ended on the Friday quite a few people had to stay on in Durham or elsewhere before being able to fly home. It was this event that led to the heightened security measures at airports that we have been living with since then.

The loss of human life, though awful, turned out to be much less than had been feared and was subsequently dwarfed by the hundreds of thousands killed in the “War on Terror” set in motion by the events of that day. Will the recent withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan lead to further attacks of this sort?

Anyway, my point is not the politics but to invite a bit of audience participation. Would anyone else like to contribute their memories from that fateful day? If so, the comment box awaits your entry…

A Trophy for Glamorgan!

Posted in Cricket with tags , , , on August 19, 2021 by telescoper

Just a brief post but I thought I’d say something about Glamorgan’s cricketers, because it’s such a rare event and I might not get the chance to write a similar post for a while!

This evening Glamorgan actually won a trophy! They beat Durham by 58 runs in the final of the Royal London One-Day Cup (a 50 overs competition) which was held at Trent Bridge. That’s the first competition they have won since 2004.

Glamorgan batted first and managed to score 296 for 9 with skipper Kiran Carlson- who is only 23 – scoring 82 and the last pair, Carey and Hogan, putting on 33 runs. Durham were never ahead of the run rate but Sean Dickson kept them in with a chance until he ran out of partners and was sreanded in 84 not out, with the last four wickets falling for just 12 runs to leave them on 238 all out with one ball less than five overs remaining. The last wicket to fall was the hapless Chris Rushworth, out first ball caught by wicket-keeper Tom Cullen.

People will say that the Royal London Cup has been devalued by the absence of players on account of The Hundred, but that has affected all the teams and the competition has produced some really good games and I am delighted for the players to have won a trophy at last. Congratulations to them!

(It’s still not proper cricket mind….)

Hubble Tension in Perspective

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on May 18, 2020 by telescoper

In my office today for the first time in a couple of months I stumbled across a folder containing the notes from the summer school for new Astronomy PhD students I attended in Durham in 1985. Yes, that’s thirty five years ago..

Among the lectures was a set given by Richard Ellis on Observational Cosmology from which I’ve taken this little snippet about the Hubble Constant:

It’s not only a trip down memory lane but also up the cosmological distance ladder! You will see that there were two main estimates, one low and one high. Both turned out to be about three sigma away from the currently-favoured value of around 70.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

Does this change your mind about today’s tension between another pair of “low” (67) and “high” (73) values?

Glamorgan v Durham: Day 3

Posted in Biographical, Cricket with tags , , , , on August 21, 2018 by telescoper

I flew back this morning from Dublin to Cardiff and, since Sophia Gardens is on the way to my Pontcanna residence from the bus stop, I popped in to watch the last rites of the County Championship match between Glamorgan and Durham.

I got there just in time to see the start of play, with Glamorgan resuming on 79 for 7. Just over half an hour later they were all out for 111 and had list the match by an innings and 30 runs. That despite the fact that Durham only scored 295 in their first innings.

You can’t really blame the tailenders this morning. Glamorgan’s higher-order batsmen folded twice in the match. Their line-up looked weak on paper and so it proved.

Glamorgan have five remaining County Championship matches to play with no overseas batsmen (Marsh & Khawaja having returned to Australian duties). The loss of fast bowler Marchant De Lange for the whole season with a hamstring injury hasn’t helped either. To make matters worse, yesterday Aneurin Donald announced he was leaving the club for Hampshire with immediate effect.

Glamorgan are clearly going to finish bottom of Division 2 of the County Championship. The club having gambled all on success in the Twenty20 format, and lost, they’re now adrift, going nowhere, and with morale at a low ebb. I wouldn’t be surprised if other players joined Donald in seeking pastures new.

The only thing that can turn Glamorgan round is a complete overhaul of its strategy and coaching staff. I’m not sure however whether the club management will do the necessary though.

Anyway, I may get to see some more cricket at Sophia Gardens on my season ticket next month, but I won’t be renewing my membership. Living in Ireland would make it impossible to see enough to justify the expense, even if there were a decent team to watch.

No more ripples?

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on July 27, 2013 by telescoper

Well, that’s the Ripples in the Cosmos meeting in Durham over and done with, and I’m back in Newcastle for a few days before moving on to Edinburgh next week. I’m not sure I’ll be able to blog much over the next few days because my internet connectivity will be a bit limited.

Anyway, the meeting was very exciting, as you can tell from the picture showing me (with the beard) and Brian Schmidt (with the Nobel Prize):

IMG_20130725_144131

Yesterday it was my job to round off the meeting with some concluding remarks leading into a panel discussion. I have to admit that although the programme for the conference was clearly designed in order to generate provoke discussion, I was a little disappointed that so few people said anything controversial. I’ve long held that there are too many cosmologists willing to believe too much, and this was further evidence that the scepticism that is a necessary part of a healthy science has been replaced by widespread conformity, especially among the young; when I was a lad the students and postdocs were a lot more vocal at meetings than they are now. Perhaps this is characteristic of a change in culture of cosmology? To get a job nowadays it’s virtually essential to climb onto one of the big bandwagon projects, and to keep your place you have to toe the party line, refrain from rocking the boat, not speak out of turn, and avoid making ripples (That’s enough metaphors. Ed).

Anyway, I think there are still a great many things in modern cosmology we don’t understand at all, and I think a few more of the older generation should show the way by questioning things in public. In fact only got asked to do the concluding remarks because Jim Peebles was unable to come to the meeting. Jim’s an immensely distinguished physicist who has probably done more than any other living person to develop the standard cosmology, but he’s also never been afraid to play devil’s advocate. We need more like him, willing to articulate the doubts that too many of us feel the need to suppress.

It’s amazing how much progress we have made in cosmology over the last few decades, but we shouldn’t use that as an excuse to get complacent. Cosmology is about the biggest questions in science. That alone makes it an exciting subject to work in. It’s an adventure. And the last thing you want on an adventure is for the journey to be too comfortable.

The Lindisfarne Gospels

Posted in Art, History with tags , , , , on July 25, 2013 by telescoper

450px-Lindisfarne_Gospels_folio_209vOne of the interesting things going on in Durham during the week of this conference is an exhibition relating to the Lindisfarne Gospels. This extraordinary book was written around 715AD, just after the death of St Cuthbert. For those of you not familiar with Lindisfarne, or “Holy Island” as it is often called, it’s a small island off the Northumbrian coast, connected to the mainland by a causeway which is covered by the tide twice a day.

Although the Lindisfarne Gospels are about 1300 years old, the colours remain extremely vivid. It’s a remarkable thing to look at the pages on view in the exhibition to see the marks made by a human hand all that time ago; it’s difficult not to wonder about the life of the person who devoted what must have been a huge amount of time compiling this exquisite work.

Incidentally, St Cuthbert’s remains now lie in a tomb inside Durham’s magnificent cathedral, of which we have a fine view from the balcony of the Calman Learning  Centre during the coffee breaks:

IMG-20130724-00154

Observational Tests of Inflation, Durham 1990.

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on July 31, 2012 by telescoper

I came across this old picture in my office today and couldn’t resist posting it for nostalgia’s sake. It was taken at a NATO Advanced Research Workshop called Observational Tests of Inflation, which took placed in Durham in December 1990. You’ll probably need to click on the image to be able to recognize faces, but I should at least point out Sir Fred Hoyle in the turquoise jacket in the front row; I am behind in the red and white T-shirt and black waistcoat. In those days I was considered quite trendy, among cosmologists.

You can also see George Smoot, Simon White and Alan Guth sitting next to each other in the front row.

Where were you on 9/11?

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , on September 11, 2011 by telescoper

I’m up unusually early, especially for a Sunday, because I have to finish a mountain of work for the impending meetings of the Astronomy Grants Panel. For the same reason I’ll keep this brief.

At the risk of contributing to the deluge of (mainly mawkish) reminiscences about the happenings on this day a decade ago, let me just give a brief account of my recollection. The events of 9/11 are, I suspect, etched on many a memory in much the same way as people remember what they were doing when President Kennedy was assassinated.

For what it’s worth, I was actually at a conference on that day. It was called A New Era in Cosmology, and was hosted in the fine city of Durham; in fact one of the organisers was a certain Tom Shanks, an occasional commenter on this blog. What I remember is sitting listening to one of the talks – I can’t remember who it was by, and might even have been asleep – when a dear friend of mine, Manuela, came running down the aisle, stopped by me, tugged my arm, mumbled something about the “Twin Towers” and then ran back up the stairs and out of the lecture theatre. Thinking it was something to do with Wembley Stadium, I followed her out and she explained what had happened. We found a TV set, around which a crowd had already formed. I remember watching it all over and over again, even late at night when I got back to my hotel, not knowing how to respond to something of such enormity.

The loss of human life turned out to be much less than expected and was subsequently dwarfed by the tens of thousands killed in Iraq  as the British and US governments used the events of that day as a pretext to carry out the invasion of a country that had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11. Thus the cycle of hatred spins ever more viciously. When will the next atrocity strike, and on which side?

Anyway, my point is not the politics but to invite a bit of audience participation. While I’m busy slaving over hot grant applications, would anyone like to contribute their memories from that fateful day? If so, the comment box awaits your entry…