Archive for Italy

The Morning After…

Posted in Biographical, Football with tags , , , , on July 12, 2021 by telescoper
Gareth Southgate consoles Bukayo Saka who missed the last penalty in the shootout against Italy

Well that’s that, last year’s European Championship is over. Italy beat England in the final last night on penalties. England lost in the semi-final of the, World Cup in 2018. Many people suggested they would go a step further this time, and they did: they lost in a final.

It wasn’t a great game. Finals seldom are – there’s too much at stake for the players to play with any freedom. But it was tense and dramatic and in the end, for England fans and players, heartbreaking. Italy have been the most consistently impressive team in the tournament, and had a far more difficult draw than England (who, in my opinion were very lucky to beat Denmark in the semi-final thanks to a very dodgy penalty) and didn’t have home advantage.

Overall I think Italy deserved to win the tournament and happy for them, though sad a bit for Gareth Southgate who has proved himself the most gentlemanly of managers. The manner of this loss – on penalties yet again – must hurt him, but he will be gracious in defeat. I wish the same could be said of some of the England supporters.

People have been critical of Southgate’s rather defensive tactics for last night’s match. For what it’s worth I think his cautious approach was dictated by his awareness of the weaknesses in his side. He had good attacking players but lacked strength in midfield. Italy were much more tenacious and comfortable in possession. For large parts of last night’s match England were just unable to get the ball; the official possession stats were 65:35 in Italy’s favour. A playmaker in the centre of the park would make a huge difference to England’s chances of landing a major trophy.

The great thing about this young England football team is how it has managed to provide so many positive role models, through its dignified response to racism and embrace of inclusivity, while at the same time respecting the time-honoured English tradition of losing on penalties. They will no doubt be feeling awful right now but they have a lot to build on for the World Cup next year if they can pick themselves up, though they might not get such a favourable draw.

I have enjoyed the tournament. I didn’t watch all the games because I was too busy, but I watched most of the 8pm matches and found them a welcome distraction. As an émigré I no longer feel any obligation to support England, but I don’t feel any need to despise them either so I was able just to enjoy the football. As I said above, I think Italy performed most consistently at a high level throughout the competition but I also enjoyed watching Spain (who would be world-beating if they had a decent striker) and Belgium, either of whom would have been worthy finalists had the draw. I feel a bit sorry for Denmark given what happened in their first match. They can be very proud of the way they rallied to reach the semi-finals without their star player Christian Eriksen.

Anyway, well played Italy! I have quite a few Italian friends and colleagues and I know they’re all delighted. Il Calcio sta tornando a casa…

Six Nations Super Saturday

Posted in Rugby with tags , , , , , , on March 21, 2021 by telescoper

Study week is over and next week we return for the second half of Spring Semester. At least we do for about a fortnight, after which there is the Easter break (Good Friday plus the following week). I’ve just about caught up with what I should have done before the Study break started so I spent a big chunk of yesterday watching the Six Nations Rugby. Super Saturday would normally be the last day, with three matches determining the Championship, but that’s not quite how it worked out as France’s game against Scotland was postponed for Covid-related reasons.

The day started off with a 52-10 victory for Scotland over hapless Italy at Murrayfield. The visitors started well enough but soon melted away as Scotland got into gear, eventually scoring eight tries. A lot of people are asking what is going to happen about Italy. Although they have won the odd game in the Six Nations over the years they have never really been contenders and this year they have been consistently woeful. Despite millions being poured into Italian rugby from the competition they have got worse, not better.

One possibility would be to have a second division of the tournament, with promotion and relegation. One problem is finding teams to make up the other places, the European Championship includes such teams as Russia, Portugal, Spain, Romania, Germany and Belgium. One could add Georgia into that mix too. The greater problem is whether there would be enough of an audience to make this financially viable.

Anyway, the second match of the day was Ireland versus England in Dublin. I have to say that I thought England were strong favourites to win that match but what the heck do I know? Ireland put in their best performance of the tournament and ran out relatively comfortable winners against a lacklustre England by 32 points to 18. England, whom many thought would win the tournament, finish in fifth place out of six.

The final stages of that game were marred by atrocious violent conduct by England prop Ellis Genge which was not spotted by the referee at the time but which will be reviewed and should lead to a lengthy ban.

And then the pièce de résistance, France versus Wales. Wales were looking for a victory that would give them a Grand Slam, an outcome that looked very unlikely at the start of the competition. The game started at a frenetic pace with two tries each in the first 20 minutes or so. If they had kept up that rate of scoring the match could have ended 56-56!, but at half-time the score was 17-17.

Wales gradually exerted their dominance and stretched their lead to 20-30. With Paul Willemse for sent off for France sticking his hand in an opponent’s eye with just 12 minutes to go the game looked over. The French disagreed and brought out some of their best attacking rugby against a tiring Welsh side who resorted to persistent infringement at the breakdown. A succession of penalties and two yellow cards ensued. France took full advantage, scoring a converted try to make it 27-30. Wales were still in front, and in possession of the ball in a good attacking position, with less than two minutes to go but then conceded a penalty. France kept the ball alive from the resulting lineout then used their extra player to score wide on the left wing with no time left to play. It finished 32-30.

The winning try, scored by Brice Dullin

Heartbreak for Wales, but a brilliant comeback by France. What a game of rugby!

Apart from everything else I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game of rugby with so many potential tries prevented by defensive players holding the ball up to prevent grounding in the in-goal area. I counted at least six, each of them just inches away from being a try.

At the risk of incurring the wrath of my Welsh friends I think France just deserved to win that game. Wales had the benefit of most of the marginal refereeing decisions and Wales should have had even more yellow cards near the end for persistent infringement. Above all, they deserved it for refusing to give up when all seemed lost. Magnifique!

The Six Nations is not yet over; there’s still France versus Scotland to come on Friday night (26th March). If France win that game heavily and get a bonus point they could still finish as Champions. France need to overturn a 20-point points difference though so they’ll have to win by 21 points or more and score four tries. I think that’s unlikely, but they’ll definitely go for it!

Memories of Italia 90

Posted in Biographical with tags , , , , , , , on July 5, 2020 by telescoper

Twitter reminded me that 30 years ago yesterday (4th July 1990) was the date of the semi final between England and Germany in the 1990 World Cup, an event remembered by most people for Gazza’s tears. Paul Gascoigne cried before England lost (on penalties) because he picked up a yellow card which meant he wouldn’t play in the final even if England got through. As it happened, England lost so none of the England players played in the World Cup Final.

My memories of Italia 90 have somewhat different focus. I travelled to Italy on 1st July 1990 to attend a cosmology conference/workshop in a place called Sesto Pusteria in the region known as Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol (South Tyrol). Sesto is a village, set in the Italian Dolomites, primarily a ski resort in the winter but used for conferences in the summer when there is no snow.

I think it was only my second trip to Italy and I had been learning some Italian on the flight. My plane was supposed to land in Venice whence a bus would take conference guests up to Sesto. Unfortunately my flight was diverted to land at Treviso. I missed the bus and decided to stay overnight in a hotel and travel under my own steam the next day.

I found a hotel in Treviso and that night I watched the quarter final between Cameroon and England on my own on the television in my room.

I got up early the next morning and with the aid of the railway timetable supplied by the hotel reception, I set out on a long journey by train. There might have been a quicker way by bus but I was more comfortable doing it by train and was actually looking forward to a bit of exploration.

The route involved four different trains: Treviso to Mestre, then Mestre to Verona, then Verona to Bolzano, then a local (very slow) train from Bolzano up into the mountains to San Candido. The last leg was a little bus from San Candido to Sesto Pusteria. It took me most of the day to get there but I made it without any real difficulty.

I did notice however that on the way there the style of buildings I could see changed from very Italian to very Austrian.

Anyway I arrived in Sesto Pusteria (which is a small place) and found the name of the hotel I was booked in which was Bellavista. I wandered about looking for it – there was no Google Maps in those days – but failed. I did however find the conference centre where the meeting was located. I went in and asked in broken Italian Prego, Dov’è l’hotel Bellavista?

The answer came back in perfect English with a hint of a German accent. It’s down the road on the right, about 50 metres. It’s easy to find because the outside is all white. I was puzzled because I must have walked right past it. Anyway I walked back to down the road and found a hotel with a white exterior. The sign said Hotel Schönblick…

It turned out that my meagre Italian was of no use at all because the locals all spoke German. The South Tyrol has historically been part of Austria. It was annexed by Italy at the end of the First World War and the present border is just a few km from Sesto Pusteria. Attempts to assign Italian names to things however have been only partly successful.

So I made it to the conference, a day late. There weren’t any mobile phones in those days so I’d been unable to contact the organisers so they were quite relieved when I eventually showed up.

And so I saw both semi finals of Italia 90 at the conference: Italy lost theirs against Argentina and England lost on penalties.

After the workshop I travelled with a colleague by car to Trieste to work on a collaboration. During that I remember watching the 3rd/4th playoff (‘Piccolo Finale’) on a big screen from a bar in a public square in Trieste. Italy won that (deservedly). I think I watched the final too, but can remember little about it.

Arrivato a Bologna

Posted in Biographical with tags , , on May 15, 2017 by telescoper

After after a journey consisting of train+bus+plane+bus I’ve made it to my destination. I’m here in Bologna for a few days, giving a couple of talks and hopefully having some useful discussions. They’ve booked me into the Hotel Paradise shown above. The title may be a little overstated but it’s a nice friendly little place right in the centre of the city.

Tomorrow I shall be visiting the Osservatorio Astronomico di Bologna, which is part of the Istituto Nazionale de Astrofisica. I’ve been to Bologna before, but the astronomers have moved to a new building which is further out of town than the old one, so it will be a bit of an adventure trying to find it. No doubt I’ll demonstrate yet again my ability to get on the wrong bus…

Anyway, that’s all for now. It is necessary for me to eat a pizza. I hope to have the chance to take a few pictures while I’m here, but that can wait!

From here to Astragalo

Posted in Biographical, History with tags , , , , on September 5, 2015 by telescoper

Now that I’m back to the relatively autumnal setting of Brighton, I can’t help reflecting on last week’s meeting. On Monday evening I attended a cocktail party in a very pleasant bar in Castiglioncello overlooking the sea. Sunset views are something of a speciality from this location:

image

Anyway, the name of the place we were in was Astragalo. I checked and, as I suspected, this the Italian word for astragalus, which has an approximately tetrahedral shape. Astragalus is also a kind of plant, which is perhaps more likely to be associated with the name of a seaside bar, but that spoils the connection I wish to make with probability theory, a topic that came up regularly during the conference I was attending, so I’ll ignore it.

Nowadays gambling is generally looked down on as something shady and disreputable, not to be discussed in polite company, or even to be banned altogether. However, the formulation of the basic laws of probability was almost exclusively inspired by their potential application to games of chance. Once established, these laws found a much wide range of applications in scientific contexts, including my own field of astronomy. The astragalus provides a very early example.

Gambling in various forms has been around for millennia. Sumerian and Assyrian archaeological sites are littered with examples the astragalus (or talus bone). This is found just above the heel and its roughly tetrahedral shape (in sheep and deer at any rate) is such that when it is tossed in the air it can land in any one of four possible orientations; it’s fairly similar in fact to the four-sided dice used in some role-playing games. The astragalus can be used to generate “random” outcomes and is in many ways the forerunner of modern six-sided dice. The astragalus is known to have been used for gambling games as early as 3600 BC.

images

Unlike modern dice, which began to appear around 2000BC, the astragalus is not quite symmetrical, giving a different probability of it landing in each orientation. It is not thought that there was a mathematical understanding of how to calculate odds in games involving this object or its more symmetrical successors (right).

Planck 2014: The Results That Weren’t….

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on December 1, 2014 by telescoper

A big conference started today in Ferrara, Italy, which my duties here at the University of Sussex unfortunately did not allow me to attend. The purpose of the meeting was to announce the latest science results and data products from the Planck mission. There was quite a lot of excitement in advance of today’s session as there was supposed to be a press conference at which some exciting results would be announced. Although I’m in Sussex rather than Italy, I have been doing my best to keep up with some of the goings-on via Twitter.

From what I have gathered, it has so far been a bit of an anti-climax. For a start, it was announced some time ago that the full data sets would not be released during this meeting after all, with the effect the conference would just give a preview of the final Planck results. Here’s an explanation from the Planck website:

– The data products and scientific results will be presented at a public conference in Ferrara.

– It is planned to release full mission data products and scientific papers to the public before the end of 2014. A few of the derived products will need a little more time to be readied for release, but will be made public within the month of January 2015.

So the results were to be “presented”, but not “released”. Hmm..

The press conference scheduled for this morning didn’t actually happen either, so we had to wait for the science sessions for juicy information. Not being there in person I had to pick up what I could from Twitter, which included only a few images with accompanying text (only in French).

Here, for example are the main power-spectra for temperature (TT), E-mode polarization (EE) and the cross-spectrum between the two (TE), together with a picture of the temperature pattern across the sky:

france_120114.005

Lovely results of course – look how accurately the data fit the theoretical model curves – but notice that both the TE and EE spectra are cut off at low l. That’s because the polarization signal on large angular scales is so heavily affected by systematics that measurements for l<30 are unreliable. It’s not clear when, if ever, those systematic issues will be resolved. There’s no measurement of the primordial B-mode spectrum to compare with BICEP2, either, although there is a strong detection of a B-mode lensing signal obtained by cross-correlating Planck data with galaxy maps.

Still, that doesn’t mean that there is no polarization data at all. There is for example, this rather beautiful visualization of the polarized emission at 353 GHz, together with the Galactic magnetic field, shown over a thirty-degree square region of the sky:

lic_3_page_7

The science results that I’ve been able to glean from social media largely amount to minor corrections to last year’s results, with only small changes (less than ~1σ)  to the cosmological parameters derived from them. Good science, of course, but nothing to get too worked up about. What with the “now you see it, now you don’t” press conference, the decision not to release the data, and the polarization data  still being in a mess, I can’t help feeling distinctly underwhelmed by the whole thing. This might be a bit harsh, but I think it’s been a bit of a farce…

Still, at least I’m no longer sad I couldn’t make the conference!

 

Arrival in L’Aquila

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , on October 7, 2014 by telescoper

If you were baffled by yesterday’s post then I hope today’s will explain. Yesterday, after an early morning meeting at the University of Sussex, I took the train to Gatwick Airport and thence a flight to Rome; hence volare. The British Airways Flight to Fiumicino Airport I was on arrived about 8 minutes ahead of schedule at 18.12, and I managed to get my luggage and clear passport control and all that in time to catch the 7pm coach to my present location, the city of L’Aquila, which is in the Abruzzo region, about 65 miles East of Rome. I’ve never made this trip before so I was a bit anxious about finding my way here and indeed it would have been a pain had I not caught the 7pm bus, because that would have meant either waiting for the next one (not until 9.30) or going by an alternative route involving a train and a different coach. As it happened, I needn’t have worried.

I’m here to attend a meeting entitled Multiple Messengers and Challenges in Astroparticle Physics, which is taking place at the Gran Sasso Science Institute. As well as the cosmology sessions, which are directly related to my own research, I’m hoping over the next ten days or so to take the opportunity to catch up on the  wider developments in astroparticle physics.

L’Aquila was badly damaged by an earthquake in 2009 and there was plenty of evidence of repair and reconstruction work still going on. I’ll take a few pictures here and there, but for the time being I’ll just share the view from my hotel window for the enjoyment of any readers back in rainy England…

IMG-20141007-00420

Via Beato Angelico

Posted in Biographical, Education with tags , , , , , on June 2, 2014 by telescoper

So here I am, then, in Milan(o). I’m just here for a short visit in order to participate in a PhD examination tomorrow at the Universita Degli Studi di Milano. I’m looking forward to it, actually, as I’ve never done such an examination in the Italian system before. It will also give me the chance to meet up with a couple of old friends I haven’t seen for a while before flying back to London tomorrow night.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before on this blog but I was a fairly long-term resident in Milan some years ago. In fact I’ve just checked the dates and it was in 1994, i.e. twenty years ago. Time flies indeed. All those years ago I was here as a Professore a Contratto, which means I gave some lectures and did a small research project. The invitation for this came via Silvio Bonometto. I didn’t get paid a huge amount for this visit, but as part of the deal I did get use of an apartment organized by the University. It was on the Via Beato Angelico and this photograph, which I have just ripped off from my own facebook page, shows the view from the balcony:

Via Beato Angelico

It was a nice enough flat and in a good location just around the corner from the University. The one thing I remember well is that one of the main tram lines ran along the street below; their sound has stuck with me through the years, as they often woke me up very early in the morning. I think there was an ice cream place over the road too.

During my stay here I was accompanied by a friend, Anna, whom I invited to come when they told me I was going to have use of an apartment. Anna wanted to try to find a job in Italy so it seemed a great chance to spend three months or so looking around while I worked. The place was easily big enough for two and I was grateful for the company in the evenings. We had a lot of fun doing the tourist things, visiting night clubs, and the rest. Most people thought we were an item, I suppose, but we weren’t. Her long red hair gave her the nickname Anna Dai Cappelli Rossi, after the cartoon character. Here is a picture of Anna I took on the roof of the Duomo:

Anna

Anyway, when it was time for me to return to England, Anna stayed in Milan because she had found a job (and a man). She did return to England though and now lives in the Midlands in a place called Liverpool.

I’m mentioning all this because the hotel I’m now staying in, the Hotel Dieci, is just a short walk from that old place. I’ll probably have enough time in the morning to take a walk past and see if I can find it. I wonder how much the area around here has changed in the last twenty years? I’ll have time to find out tomorrow but for tonight I had better read the thesis again!