Archive for Maynooth

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…

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The Autumnal Equinox

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , , on September 23, 2018 by telescoper

So here we are then. The Autumnal Equinox (in the Northern hemisphere) took place in the early hours of this morning, at 01.54 UT (which is 02.54 Irish Time) on Sunday 23rd September. I was, of course, sound asleep during this momentous event.

People sometimes ask me how one can define the `equinox’ so precisely when surely it just refers to a day on which day and night are of equal length implying that it’s a day not a specific time? The answer is that the equinox is defined by a specific event, the event in question being when the plane defined by Earth’s equator passes through the centre of the Sun’s disk (or, if you prefer, when the centre of the Sun passes through the plane defined by Earth’s equator passes through the centre of the Sun’s disk). Day and night are not necessarily exactly equal on the equinox, but they’re the closest they get. From now on days in the Northern hemisphere will be shorter than nights and they’ll get shorter until the Winter Solstice.

For many people the autumnal equinox is taken to be the end of summer, though there is a saying around tyhese parts that `Summer is Summer to Michaelmas Day’ (which does not happen until September 29th). It has actually been a nice morning in Maynooth, though the winds are roughly Northerly and it is consequently a tad on the blustery side. Looking back over the posts I’ve written at this time of year since I started blogging in 2008, it’s noticeable how many times we’ve had a window of good weather around the autumnal equinox, although this year there have been storms and heavy rainfall over the last few days. Here’s am excerpt from the post I wrote in 2008 on this:

The weather is unsettling. It’s warm, but somehow the warmth doesn’t quite fill the air; somewhere inside it there’s a chill that reminds you that autumn is not far away.

I find this kind of weather a bit spooky because it always takes me back to the time when I left home to go to University, as thousands of fledgling students are about to do this year in their turn.

Indeed tomorrow, Monday 24th September, is the first day of lectures for the new term in Maynooth. The new students have been going through various induction and orientation processes for a week or so already, but their first encounter with actual teaching will be to morrow. I don’t actually take the stage until Tuesday, on which day both my new modules start. The second years will get Vector Calculus and Fourier Series while the fourth years get Astrology and Cosmetics Astrophysics and Cosmology. That is assuming that I take the right notes to the right lectures.

Looking back to the corresponding equinoctial piece I posted last year brought it home to me just what a strange year has passed. On 22nd September 2017 I visited the Office of the Consulate of India in Cardiff to lodge an application for a visa for a trip to attend a conference in Pune, watched a bit of cricket, then some work preparing for the launch event of the Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Data-Intensive Science that was about to take place. I was only working part-time in Cardiff then.

Although I no longer work at Cardiff University, I still hold it in great affection and wish it all the best. I heard on the grapevine that it has been a good year for undergraduate recruitment in the School of Physics & Astronomy, which is excellent news, and the Data Innovation Research Institute also seems to be thriving. No doubt I’ll bump into various members of staff on occasional visits to Cardiff, at least until such time as I sell my house in Pontcanna.

At the time of last year’s autumnal equinox I hadn’t even been interviewed for the job I now hold in Maynooth, and had no inkling that within a year I would have relocated to Ireland. I actually took an hour out of the CDT event to be interviewed via Skype over a crappy Hotel internet connection. I thought it went terribly badly – I hate Skype! – but I ended up being offered the job. I was able to put in a quick visit to Maynooth to confirm the details before going to India as planned. I’ve been so busy flitting back and forth betweeing Ireland and Wales during the last 12 months that I haven’t really had time to reflect properly on how extraordinary life is that it can change so much as a result of lucky coincidences!

Anyway, I think that’s enough rambling for now. I’ve got a couple of problem sets to put together. Let me end by wishing the new and returning students at Maynooth and at Cardiff all the best for the new academic year. Work hard, and enjoy your studies, but don’t forget to enjoy life on the way!

Seven Years From Swindon

Posted in Biographical with tags , on September 20, 2018 by telescoper

I took the above snap this morning walking back to the Science Building. It shows the view from the other side of St Joseph’s Square compared to the picture I posted on Tuesday, i.e. towards St Patrick’s House rather than away from it. The weather has taken a turn for the worse since Tuesday, and it’s decidedly autumnal today but it’s still not a bad view to be greeted with on the way to the office.

Contrast this with a photograph I took precisely seven years ago today, on September 20th 2011, when I had just arrived in Swindon for a stint on the STFC Astronomy Grants Panel:

I’m no longer part of the UK research system so I guess I’ll never have to visit Swindon again…

Golf and other Hazards

Posted in History, Maynooth, Sport with tags , , , , , on August 27, 2018 by telescoper

Back in the office with a few minutes to go before a meeting starts I thought I’d give a little insight into life in the throbbing metropolis that is Maynooth, County Kildare. This week sees the start of the World Amateur Team Golf Championships, which is being held at Carton House (above) which is a short walk from downtown Maynooth. Some of the competitors will be staying on Maynooth University campus for the duration, which will no doubt provide welcome revenue.

Now the game of golf is obviously of no conceivable interest to anyone, but the venue – Carton House – is quite fascinating. The current house was built on the Carton Estate in the 18th Century to accommodate the Earl of Kildare, when their fortunes had slowly recovered after Thomas Fitzgerald (`Silken Thomas’) the 10th Earl of Kildare was executed, along with several others of the Fitzgerald family, by Henry VIII for plotting a rebellion against the English. If you have been paying attention you will know that it was the Fitzgeralds who built the stone castle in Maynooth that was destroyed in the 16th Century. Carton House is at the other end of town, and is approached by a very pleasant tree-lined avenue. The extensive grounds are also surrounded by a wall. The latter-day Fitzgeralds obviously wanted to keep the hoi polloi at arm’s length.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, Carton House fell into disrepair in the second half of the 20th Century and was eventually sold off and turned into a hotel and spa resort, with two golf courses.

In the meantime, among many other things, Carton House and it its grounds were used as one of the locations for Stanley Kubrick’s (1975) film Barry Lyndon. That was of course before the beautiful landscaped gardens were destroyed and turned into golf courses. I went for a pleasant walk in the grounds earlier this summer, during the heatwave, but the path runs alongside a small lake beside one of the fairways where a group of people were openly committing acts of golf. A not-very-competent member of this group sent several balls into the water before finally managing to hit dry land with a tee shot. For a while I wished I’d brought a tin hat with me.

The Rooks of Maynooth

Posted in Maynooth with tags , , , , on August 3, 2018 by telescoper

In a previous post I mentioned the proliferation of crows in Maynooth. It turns out that was a terminological inexactitude, in that the birds in question were actually rooks. It’s true that rooks are part of the crow family (genus Corvus, family Corvidae) which also includes ravens and jackdaws but they do have a distinctive look and character. See the above picture (taken in Maynooth but not by me; picture credit here).

The rooks have been prevalent in Maynooth for centuries. A quick google found this quote from 1802 from the poet W.M.Letts:

The men of Maynooth are like o’ the rooks,
With their solemn black coats an’ their serious looks.

This refers to the young men studying at the Roman Catholic seminary of St Patrick’s College, of whom there were 500 or so in those days. The seminarians are somewhat fewer in number now, but the rooks are still plentiful.

I wouldn’t say that rooks are the most visually attractive birds, and they do have a slightly sinister aspect, but they are very characterful creatures and I find them very amusing to watch. They’re very sociable and tend to go about their business in large groups, especially when scouring pieces of open land for insects and other things to eat. They also seem to tolerate the presence of their cousins the jackdaws (of which there are also quite a few in Maynooth, though not as many as the rooks). Jackdaws are a bit smaller, prettier, and neater in appearance than rooks (which often look very scruffy indeed). I imagine that the jackdaws look down on the rooks rather snootily, as one might one’s less sophisticated relatives. The collective noun for rooks is a `Parliament’, which also suggests that they are not held in very high regard.

Like jackdaws, rooks have two modes of locomotion along the ground: a sort of strutting walk and a two-legged hop, both of which are rather comical. Their walk makes them look like officious constables, whereas the hop is more like a child pretending to be a horse. The rooks are basically scavengers and they have a penchant for systematically emptying litter bins in their quest for scraps of food. At the rear of the apartment block in which I live there is a place for storing rubbish for collection in large dumpsters. Sometimes somebody forgets to close the lid with the inevitable result that a large group of rooks gets inside and strews garbage all over the place. When they’re not patrolling around or rooting through rubbish they tend just to sit there watching the world go by, waiting for another opportunity for mischief.

I’m told that, in the old days, the rooks of Maynooth used to gather at the Old Mill, but since that was demolished to make way for a shopping centre they seem mostly to congregate on the playing fields on or near the Royal Canal. Anyway, I’ve got used to them in the short time I’ve been in Maynooth and I always look out for them when I’m walking around.

What prompted me to write this post is that on my way to the Department yesterday morning I came across a dead rook lying on the path. It looked like it had died only recently, as there was no sign of decay. It was well away from the road, so it seemed unlikely it had been hit by a car. I suppose it just died of natural causes.

The Maynooth Pound

Posted in History, Maynooth with tags , , on June 2, 2018 by telescoper

Taking a stroll around Maynooth this afternoon I came across a little bit of local history that I thought I would share. On the appropriately name Pound Lane, right next to the stream that used to run past an ancient mill where there is now a shopping centre, there is a small enclosure called the Maynooth Pound, marked with this sign:

If you can’t read the sign it explains that this is the only surviving example of a type of pound which used to be common all over Ireland. Stray animals were brought here to be fed and watered before being reunited with their owners (for a small fee).

The walls are of interesting dry stone construction and have survived the passage of time rather well; they were built in 1822, although the Pound itself is a bit older.

The interior of the Pound was virtually derelict until quite recently but has been tidied up and is now a pleasant place to sit down and perhaps feed the birds. The old mill was famous for its crows, of which there are still a great many in Maynooth although they tend now to congregate on the playing fields near the Royal Canal.

In the picture, the mill stream is to the right of the shot and you can see the roof of the Manor Mill shopping centre to the upper right.

End of Term Thoughts

Posted in Biographical, Finance with tags , , , on May 4, 2018 by telescoper

Today is the last day of teaching term at Maynooth University. My last lecture, a revision lecture, was yesterday morning and I spent most of the afternoon helping students put the finishing touches on their project work, which is due in on Tuesday next week. Next Monday is a bank holiday in Ireland (as it is in the UK), then there’s a short period of private study before the examinations start next Friday. As it happens, the theory paper for the module I’ve been teaching on Computational Physics is on the first day of the examination period.

It’s `Study Week’ in Cardiff next week too, and I have a revision lecture there. Owing to the Monday holiday we’ve juggled the schedule a bit to ensure all modules have a revision lecture so I’m doing my revision lecture on Thursday rather than the usual Tuesday. I have a meeting at the Institute of Physics in London on Tuesday and it’s the Annual General Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society (also in London) on Friday so I’ll be spending all of next week in the UK, in between Cardiff and London. Since teaching is over I’m not planning any more midweek travel (unless it’s absolutely necessary) and intend to spend one week in the UK and one week in Ireland, and so on, apart from conferences and the like, until I fully relocate in July.

I thought I’d mention another thing, which represents a fortuitous bit of timing. Twenty-five years ago, while I was living in London, I took out a savings policy of the sort that involves making a regular monthly payment into a mixture of investment funds. The term of this policy was 25 years, and the maturity date was 23rd April 2018. On a couple of occasions I have been tempted to cash it in early but decided to let it run until maturity. The performance of my chosen funds has fluctuated over the last two and a half decades, but when the price of units drops and you invest a fixed cash amount you end up buying more units than when they’re expensive so if they do recover in value you do well. This is called Pound Cost Averaging.

However, when a policy like this reaches the end of its term the amount you get back depends on the value of the units on the day that it matures. Although my policy wasn’t doing at all well a decade ago, it seems my portfolio (more by luck than judgement) has done well over the last ten years, but with the stock market being rather volatile in the early part of this year it’s been a bit of a white knuckle ride recently. Thankfully the last few weeks seem to have been more stable, and although the units are not at an all-time high in terms of value they were not far off that when they were cashed in. aturity value turned out to be about three times the total amount I’ve invested. I received the money on 30th April, and the proceeds will make a significant contribution to the cost of purchasing a house here in Ireland.

The downside of pound cost averaging is that the final sum is paid in pounds to a UK bank account, and with the pound languishing against the euro there’s now a decision to be made about when to transfer it to Ireland..