Archive for Maynooth

Work in Progress

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , on July 3, 2019 by telescoper

It was less than a year ago that I posted this photograph of a sign I saw by the Kilcock Road on my way into work in the Science Building at Maynooth University.

It was a planning notice that started the process of constructing extra buildings to accommodate various new teaching and study spaces on campus.

By way of an update, here are a couple of pictures taken near that location this morning that show how things have progressed.

Although I had some experience of this kind of construction project from Sussex days I’m not really au fait with the technicalities. The main work being done so far seems to be preparatory: levelling the ground, laying drains and sewers, adding pipes for communications cables, changing the road layout and so on. They call this `readying work’. There’s no sign of actual buildings going up yet, but that is to be expected. Using modern building techniques construction of the actual edifice can be very rapid once the groundwork is done.

I’m in the building on the right of the photograph with the mechanical digger in it, so I was a bit worried that all this would lead to an intolerable amount of noise but it’s actually not too bad. The main inconvenience is for people with cars, since a road has been closed for this work, but I walk into campus so it doesn’t affect me directly.

When it’s all done the new building should look like this:

The University’s News item about this project can be read here.

I’ll post further updates when there’s more to report!

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Birds of Play

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , on June 23, 2019 by telescoper

As if it weren’t enough to have a celebrity cat, Maynooth University now also has a celebrity bird. Or birds. I’m not absolutely sure that it’s the same Jackdaw that is a frequent visitor to offices on the South Campus, as they are so many around, but here are a few pictures taken from Twitter which may or may not be the same critter:

I’ll assume for the purpose of this blog that it is the same bird, but I don’t know whether it’s male or female so I’ll just say call it `it’. As you can see, it is very trusting of humans.

Jackdaws are extremely characterful, intelligent and inquisitive birds. These traits are not unrelated. In fact this is true in general of the family Corvidae which includes the genus Corvus (crows, rooks, ravens, and jackdaws) as well as magpies, jays, nutcrackers and a number of other species: this family has about the same ratio of brain to body weight as the great apes and cetaceans.

One of the characteristics of this family is their propensity to indulge in various forms of play. I imagine most people know that magpies and other Corvidae like to steal and hoard shiny things, but they also engage in even stranger behaviour. I saw some crows sliding down a roof on campus during the winter snows, which is one of their favourite games. They also like to hang upside down from branches, washing lines and telephone wires. Another thing I’ve seen groups of campus jackdaws do is collect sticks and arrange them in patterns on the ground. I’m not at all sure of the rules of the game they were playing, but they seemed to be taking it very seriously, which made it all the funnier to watch.

I’ve heard various reports of what the Jackdaw above gets up to when visiting staff offices. Most of its activities cause considerable chaos. It seems to be fascinated by string, elastic bands and tissue paper which it pulls out of any container that it can and scatters about. It also has a particular interest in pencils, a fascination which may be related to the stick game I mentioned in the previous paragraph, and it delights in pulling them out of containers to play with.

I’m not aware of any jackdaws coming into offices on the North Campus (where my office is situated), which is a shame because they provide a great deal of amusement.I imagine it took quite a long time to build up a sufficient level of trust for this one to feel comfortable indoors because, outside, they seem rather wary of humans.

I can add one personal anecdote though. Some weeks ago I went for a walk along the canal and at one point sat down on a bench on the towpath. I wasn’t there long until a Jackdaw appeared on the ground and began tugging at the shoelaces on my left foot. I assumed it thought they were something edible such as worms or perhaps spaghetti so just watched in amusement as it tugged more and more frantically. It was only then that I realized that there another Jackdaw had appeared to my right hand side on the bench and was busy trying to get into my bag. This was clearly an attempted distraction theft, but I refrained from calling the Gardaí..

P.S. Here’s a hooded crow trying much the same trick.

Voting Matters in Ireland

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , on May 21, 2019 by telescoper

Arriving back in civilization last night I discovered that my polling card for Friday’s voting has arrived at last along with instructions on the Referendum to be held alongside the Local Council Elections and the European Parliament Elections, all held on 24th May.

I’m looking forward to casting my ballot. It is a new experience for me to vote here in Ireland. Both elections are held under Proportional Representation (Single Transferable Vote) which seems to me a very sensible system. One ranks the candidates in order of preference with votes progressively reallocated as the lowest-ranked candidates are eliminated. You can rank all the candidates or just some. In the system employed here one ranks the candidates in order of preference with votes progressively reallocated in various rounds until one ends up with the top n candidates to fill the n available seats. Surplus votes from the top candidates as well as those of eliminated candidates are reallocated to lower-preference candidates in this process.

The Local Elections involve filling 40 seats on Kildare County Council, with five councillors representing Maynooth. The nine candidates are listed here, in case you’re interested.

For the European Parliament Elections things are a bit more complicated. For the purposes of the EU elections Ireland is divided into three constituencies: Dublin, Ireland South and Midlands North West. I am in the latter, which elects four MEPs. There are 17 candidates for this constituency, listed here.

As a relative newcomer to Ireland I first sorted the candidates into three groups: (i) those that I would be happy to see elected, (ii) those that I don’t really like but could tolerate, and (iii) those that I wouldn’t like to see representing me under any circumstances. There are plenty in the latter category. There seems to be a law in Ireland that there has to be at least one deranged simpleton on every ballot paper, and there are several in this election. I will choose my lower-preference votes to ensure that none of these dickheads, especially racist gobshite Peter Casey, benefit from my vote in any way.

Although the STV system seems very sensible to me, it does lead to a rather lengthy counting process – especially if everyone does what I plan to do, i.e. rank all the candidates instead of just their favourites.

Back to Sunny Ireland

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Maynooth with tags , , , , , on April 22, 2019 by telescoper

Well here I am, back in Maynooth, after a week’s restful leave in Cardiff. The weather here is just as nice as it was in Wales when I left yesterday: sunny and about 20 degrees. I’m enjoying the warm weather very much indeed, as my arthritis seems to have eased off considerably.

I was planning to return to Ireland today (Monday) but the flights were far cheaper yesterday. The plane I took yesterday (Sunday) less than half full. Incidentally, after their recent rescue and restructuring FlyBe have announced that after this summer they will no longer operate jets from Cardiff. Flights to Dublin will therefore be by their smaller Bombardier turboprops rather than the Embraer aircraft that I took yesterday.

Today is a Bank holiday in Ireland, as it is in the UK, but after that the Easter break is over; I’m officially back to work tomorrow. This semester will have been divided into three pieces, firstly by the half-term study week (around St Patrick’s Day) and now by a one-week Easter break. Last year these two breaks were contiguous, but Easter is quite late this year so they are separate this time.

Anyway, we now have three weeks of teaching left followed by the May examination period and, of course, the inevitable Marking of the Scripts.

The three remaining weeks include two Bank Holiday Mondays including today, Easter Monday, and the May Day Holiday on 6th May). I have lectures on Mondays I will miss two sessions, leaving only seven lectures remaining for Engineering Mathematics. I’d better make sure that in the short time remaining I cover everything that is in the examination!

Anyway, although it’s a holiday I’ve got to get my lecture together for tomorrow morning so I’d better get to work. It’s a shame not to be out and about in the sunshine but there you go. That is the price you pay for having a week off. No doubt there is a ton of emails to reply to as well; I’ve tried not to look at my inbox while I’ve been off. I’ve made that a rule for holidays now: put the out of office message on and leave the email alone!

Quality Cat

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , , , , on March 6, 2019 by telescoper

Well, today is the first day of the Quality Review Panel visit to the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University. It has come up very quickly; I blogged about the preparations some weeks ago.

Anyway, what with the Quality Review and regular teaching and marking I’m going to be a bit preoccupied for the rest of today and tomorrow. I was in early this morning ahead of the first meeting, and noticed Maynooth University Library Cat was on sentry duty at his usual post:

More surprisingly I learn that said cat now has his own Twitter account, so please give him a follow!


The Tree of Liberty Stone

Posted in History, Maynooth with tags , , , , on February 10, 2019 by telescoper

I had to come into the office today to do a few things ahead of what will be another busy week, but when I stepped out I found the weather to be much more pleasant than it has been of late, so went for a short stroll around the town of Maynooth. I’m also house-hunting, so I took the opportunity to have a look at the locations of a few properties I’d seen on the market before deciding whether to check them out in more detail.

Anyway, at the opposite end of the Main Street from the Maynooth University campus, I found the above monument, the Tree of Liberty Stone, which commemorates the (failed) Irish Rebellion of 1798 which had sought to emulate the French Revolution (which began in 1789) in overthrowing British rule in Ireland. This rebellion was launched by the Society of United Irishmen.

Incidentally, one of the founders and leading lights of the Society of United Irishmen was a character from Belfast by the name of Henry Joy McCracken. That name will be familiar to many astronomers, and especially to people involved in the European Space Agency’s Euclid mission, as there is an astronomer with exactly the same name who did his PhD in Durham and who now works in Paris. Whether the present Henry Joy McCracken is directly related I don’t know.

The historical Henry Joy McCracken was executed by public hanging on 17th July 1798 after the failure of the 1798 rebellion. He was just 30 years old. Another thing worth mentioning is that he was a Protestant republican. There were more of those than people tend to think.

The Hooded Crow

Posted in Maynooth with tags , , on October 19, 2018 by telescoper

Although they’re less numerous in Maynooth than Rooks and Jackdaws, I have seen a few of these birds around the place but they’ve always been reluctant to stay still long enough to be photographed.

This is a Hooded Crow and it inhabits the same ecological niche as the Carrion Crow, which has all black feathers; a Hooded Crow looks a bit like a Magpie but instead of sharp black and white it is scruffy dark grey and off-white.

I’ve never seen a Hooded Crow in England or Wales but apparently they are prevalent in Scotland and Ireland. It used to be thought that Hooded Crows and Carrion Crows were just regional variations of the same species, but nowadays they are regarded as distinct.

Anyway, I wondered why this one was not as shy as the others I have seen until I looked down.

Realising that I was interrupting this one’s supper of fresh carrion in the form of a dead pigeon, I left him/her to it and carried on in my journey…