Archive for Twitter

Ten Years on Twitter

Posted in Biographical with tags , on October 17, 2019 by telescoper

This morning, a certain social media site pointed out to me that it is ten years to the day since I started using it.

My experiences of Twitter haven’t been anything like as bad as some people I know have reported. I think that’s probably because I’m quite liberal with the ‘block’ facility when it comes to bots and trolls and sundry other tediously offensive types. I have found that the positives have definitely outweighed the negatives over the last decade, and I count myself lucky to have encountered some very lovely people on Twitter, some of whom I have eventually met in the real world.

I don’t have a huge following on Twitter, but I’d like to take this opportunity to say that I do appreciate those who do read my tweets and hope that they find at least some of them interesting or amusing!

The Open Journal Tweets!

Posted in Open Access with tags , on October 19, 2018 by telescoper


I’ve got a busy day today with teaching and other things so I’m just taking a brief moment to let you know that the Open Journal of Astrophysics now has Twitter account which, if you are so minded, you can follow here

 

LGBT+ History Month and the Royal Society

Posted in Biographical, History, LGBT with tags , , , , , on February 23, 2018 by telescoper

You may or may not know that this month is LGBT+ History Month for 2018, and, to mark it, the Royal Society has been marking it on Twitter by celebrating LGBT+ scientists.

I am very proud to be included among those featured on Twitter, although slightly disappointed that no mention was made of my greatest achievement, namely the Beard of Winter 2018 award.

I can’t show all the people in the Twitter thread produced by the Royal Society because there are too many of us, but I will mention two people that I know personally.

The first is radio astronomer Rachael Padman from the University of Cambridge:

Among other things, Rachael recently won an award from Gay Times magazine. I worked quite a bit with Rachael when I was External Examiner for Natural Sciences (Physics), a job I did from 2014-2016, as she was heavily involved in the administration of the examinations process at Cambridge during this time.

The other person I’d like to mention is Tom Welton, who is Professor of Sustainable Chemistry and Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Imperial College in London.

I especially wanted to mention Tom because he and I were contemporaries at the University of Sussex way back in the 1980s when I was a research student. I hadn’t seen him since I moved from Sussex in 1990 until two years ago when we were both panellists at an `Out in STEM’ event run by the Royal Society.

I know some of you will be asking whether the Royal Society should be getting involved in LGBT History Month. Some people commenting on the Twitter thread certainly think it shouldn’t.  I think it should, in order to demonstrate that a person can be openly LGBT+ and have a successful career in STEM.  If being visible in this way helps just one career feel more comfortable in themselves and in their career it would be well worth it.

 

A Problem with Spitfires

Posted in Cute Problems, History, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on July 25, 2017 by telescoper

This problem stems from an interesting exchange on Twitter last night, prompted by a tweet from the Reverend Richard Coles:

I think his clerical vocation may be responsible for the spelling mistake. The answer to his question doesn’t require any physics beyond GCSE but it does require data that I didn’t have access to last night.

Here’s a version for you to try at home with all the necessary numbers (though not necessarily in the right units):

A model of a Mark VI Spitfire showing its two 20mm cannons.

A Supermarine  Mark VI (Type 350) Spitfire fighter aircraft weighing 6740 lb is initially travelling at its top speed of 354 mph. The aircraft is armed with two Hispano-Suiza HS.404 20mm cannons, one on each wing, each of which is fed by a drum magazine containing 60 rounds. Each projectile  fired from  the cannon weighs 130 grams, the rate fire of each cannon is 700 rounds per minute and the muzzle velocity of each shell is 860 m/s.

(a) Calculate the reduction in the aircraft’s speed if the pilot fires both cannon simultaneously until the magazines are empty, if the pilot does nothing to compensate for the recoil. Express your answer in kilometres per hour.

(b) Calculate the average deceleration of the aircraft while the cannons are being fired, and express your result as a fraction of g, the acceleration due to gravity at the Earth’s surface which you can take to be 9.8 ms-2.

(c) A Mark 24 Spitfire – which is somewhat heavier than the Mark VI, at 9,900 lb (4,490 kg) – is armed with 4×20mm cannons, two on each wing. The inboard cannon on each wing has a magazine containing 175 rounds; the outboard one has 150 rounds to fire. Repeat the above  analysis for these new parameters and comment on your  answer.

Answers through the comments box please!

 

 

 

Yes, science produces too many PhDs

Posted in Science Politics with tags , , , , , on February 19, 2015 by telescoper

I came across a blog post this morning entitled Does Science Produce Too Many PhDs? I think the answer is an obvious “yes” but I’ll use the question as an excuse to rehash an argument I have presented before, which is that most analyses of the problems facing yearly career researchers in science are looking at the issue from the wrong end. I think the crisis is essentially caused by the overproduction of PhDs in this field. To understand the magnitude of the problem, consider the following.

Assume that the number of permanent academic positions in a given field (e.g. astronomy) remains constant over time. If that is the case, each retirement (or other form of departure) from a permanent position will be replaced by one, presumably junior, scientist.

This means that over an academic career, on average, each academic will produce just one PhD who will get a permanent job in academia. This of course doesn’t count students coming in from abroad, or those getting faculty positions abroad, but in the case of the UK these are probably relatively small corrections.

Under the present supply of PhD studentships an academic can expect to get a PhD student at least once every three years or so. At a minimum, therefore, over a 30 year career one can expect to have ten PhD students. A great many supervisors have more PhD students than this, but this just makes the odds worse. The expectation is that only one of these will get a permanent job in the UK. The others (nine out of ten, according to my conservative estimate) above must either leave the field or the country to find permanent employment.

The arithmetic of this situation is a simple fact of life, but I’m not sure how many prospective PhD students are aware of it. There is still a reasonable chance of getting a first postdoctoral position, but thereafter the odds are stacked against them.

The upshot of this is we have a field of understandably disgruntled young people with PhDs but no realistic prospect of ever earning a settled living working in the field they have prepared for. This problem has worsened considerably in recent  years as the number of postdoctoral positions has almost halved since 2006. New PhDs have to battle it out with existing postdoctoral researchers for the meagre supply of suitable jobs. It’s a terrible situation.

Now the powers that be – in this case the Science and Technology Facilities Council – have consistently argued that the excess PhDs go out into the wider world and contribute to the economy with the skills they have learned. That may be true in a few cases. However, my argument is that the PhD is not the right way to do this because it is ridiculously inefficient.

What we should have is a system wherein we produce more and better trained Masters level students  and fewer PhDs. This is the system that exists throughout most of Europe, in fact, and the UK is actually committed to adopt it through the Bologna process.  Not that this commitment seems to mean anything, as precisely nothing has been done to harmonize UK higher education with the 3+2+3 Bachelors+Masters+Doctorate system Bologna advocates.

The training provided in a proper two-year Masters programme will improve the skills pool for the world outside academia, and also better prepare the minority of students who go on to take a PhD. The quality of the  PhD will also improve, as only the very best and most highly motivated researchers will take that path. This used to be what happened, of course, but I don’t think it is any longer the case.

The main problem with this suggestion is that it requires big changes to the way both research and teaching are funded. The research councils turned away from funding Masters training many years ago, so I doubt if they can be persuaded to to a U-turn now. Moreover, the Research Excellence Framework provides a strong incentive for departments to produce as many PhDs as they possibly can, as these are included in an algorithmic way as part of the score for “Research Environment”. The more PhDs a department produces, the higher it will climb in the league tables. One of my targets in my current position is to double the number of PhDs produced by my School over the period 2013-18. What happens to the people concerned seems not to be a matter worthy of consideration. They’re only “outputs”…

Fox News Facts on Twitter

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , , , on January 12, 2015 by telescoper

The following clip comes from a broadcast on Fox News:

The fact that Steve Emerson’s statement was laughably exaggerated and based entirely on ignorance (in this case of the city of Birmingham) comes as no surprise. After all, this was Fox News – a channel whose drivel-mongering is often beyond parody. It did however provoke two things that were surprising, at least to me.

One was something that is a rare commodity these days: a full and unreserved apology:

apology

It’s better not to say stupid things in the first place, but credit to him at least for doing the right thing. I gather he has made a donation to a children’s hospital in Birmingham. So there’s that.

The other surprising thing was what happened on Twitter. Some genius had the idea of setting up a hashtag called #FoxNewsFacts. The consequences were hilarious, as hundreds of people contributed tweets lampooning Fox News for its ignorance of the United Kingdom and of Islam. You can find some of the funniest ones here.

I even contributed a few myself. This one proved a particular hit:

There was also this:

and this

But my favourite was this:

I thought it was wonderful how Twitter users responded in such an imaginative, light-heartedly humorous, and sometimes downright surreal, way to something which could instead have produced pure bile. Twitter isn’t always like that, but yesterday it was a delight on a dark and stormy evening and a welcome change of mood after the depressing events of the last week. And I’m glad to say #FoxNewsFacts is still trending…so it’s not too late to have a go yourself!

The faces of highly followed astronomers on Twitter

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , on February 28, 2014 by telescoper

On Twitter? Looking for an astronomer or astrophysicist to follow? Here’s a Rogues Gallery…

 

 

The Joy of Pepys

Posted in Biographical, History with tags , , , , on May 3, 2013 by telescoper

Twitter is much maligned by those who don’t use it, and I’d be the first to admit that it has several million downsides, but every now and again you come across something truly wonderful which makes it worthwhile putting up with the dross. Here’s an example. Some time ago, a nameless genius came up with the idea of tweeting excerpts from the Diaries of Samuel Pepys.  Those of you on Twitter can follow Samuel Pepys by clicking here:

For those of you not familiar with Twitter, its main characteristic is that messages posted on it (“tweets”) are limited to 140 characters. To outsiders this seems to imply that all tweets are banal and pointless, but this is far from the case. The strict length limit forces a form of creativity that is both rare and wonderful. The stroke of genius in this case was to realize that the Pepys Diaries could be tweeted in chunks of the right size, in a manner that almost suggests they were designed for the purpose!

Pepys was a high-ranking naval administrator and Member of Parliament so he had detailed knowledge of the momentous political events of his period. He’s currently tweeting from May 1660 (near the start of the diaries), giving a vivid insight into the background to the Restoration of the Monarchy. Parliament should be recalled in a few days time, on May 8th…

Here is a selection of recent examples:
peps

But it’s not just the fascinating political context that makes these tweets so interesting. They also give glimpses of everyday life in the 17th Century. Pepys was in poor health for much of his life, for example, and there are frequent references to various physicians and their quack remedies. He also manages to conjure up in just a few words the extraordinary atmosphere and energy of the London of the period, along with some of its excesses (especially drinking and fornication).

Following Pepys’ Twitter feed opens a window into 17th Century England, and what comes through it is both refreshing and illuminating. The reason I find this particularly delightful is something that I’ve blogged about before, so won’t repeat at length. I was a very late developer from an education point of view until I was helped with my reading and arithmetic by a wonderful old lady who lived next door. She encouraged me to read and, after a big struggle, I eventually got the hang of it. After a time I had caught up with the rest of the class in School and eventually managed to read just about every book the School had to offer, including the Diaries of Samuel Pepys which were for some reason on the shelves in Class 2 and which I was allowed to borrow. I don’t think anyone had read them before so nobody, including the teachers, knew how rude they were in places. The Restoration period was generally rather bawdy, and Pepys’ Diaries reflect that.

I had no idea at that time, of course, that less than ten years later I would be studying at Magdalene College, Cambridge, site of the Pepys Library where the orignal diaries are kept as well as the rest of Pepys’ own collection of rare books and music.

To Hype or Not to Hype?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on November 18, 2012 by telescoper

Like many bloggers on this site, I have set up my WordPress account to send a tweet every time I publish a new post. I did have it set up to post to Facebook too, but that mechanism seems no longer to work so I usually post my offerings there by hand. I joined Google+ some time ago, and did likewise, but found it to be a complete waste of time so haven’t logged on for months. Sometimes if a topic comes up that I’ve covered in an old post, I’ll tweet it again, but that’s the extent to which I “pimp” my blog.

However, I have noticed that over the last few months my Twitter feed is increasingly clogged up with multiple copies of blog advertisements from people I follow, often with requests like “Please Retweet”.  I have to say I don’t like this at all. It seems very tacky to me to be constantly screaming for attention in this manner. If people want to retweet or link to my posts then I’m very chuffed, of course, but I don’t think I’d feel the same way if I touted for traffic. Anyone who blogs already runs the risk of being labelled an attention-seeker. That doesn’t bother me, as in my case it’s probably true. But there are limits…

These thoughts came into my head when I stumbled across a couple of posts about self-promotion (here  and here). The author of the first item says:

Whenever I write a blogpost, the extent of my self-promotion is this: tweet my blog-link about 3 or 4 times in the same day it’s published…

I think even that is excessive. I’m very unlikely to read a blog post that’s been rammed down my neck on Twitter four times in a single day, very unlikely to retweet said link,  and indeed very unlikely to read anything further from an author who indulges in such a practice. Call me old-fashioned, but I struggle to keep up with Twitter anyway and I only follow about 100 people. I can do without this unseemly conduct. It’s nearly as bad as the “promoted tweets” (i.e. SPAM) that also plague the Twittersphere. More importantly, people don’t seem to realise that there is such a thing as too much publicity.

The answer is simple. Write interesting stuff, put it out there and people will be interested in it. It’s the same with scientific papers, actually. Write good papers and people will find them and cite them. Simples.

I realise my attitude in this regard is quite unusual and shaped by my own experiences and circumstances. I don’t make any money from this blog – it’s really more of a hobby than anything else – and I don’t particular care how many people read the items I post. If I did I wouldn’t put up things about Jazz or Poetry or Opera, as these have very little popular appeal. I just enjoy writing about such things, and sharing things I come across. I’m not denying that I like it when posts prove popular and/or provoke discussion, of course. But I don’t get upset when others sink without trace, as many do.

Moreover, having more blog hits isn’t going to advance my career one jot. Possibly quite the opposite, actually. I know there are plenty of important and influential people out there who think having a blog is some sort of aberration and in order to keep it going I must be neglecting my duties as an academic (which, incidentally, I don’t), so if anything it probably has a negative overall effect.

I realise that, as an amateur blogger, my attitudes are probably very different from the majority of those who actually earn money from this activity. The Guardian science bloggers, for example, get paid according to the number of page hits they generate. Unfortunately the result is that the Guardian itself repeatedly tweets links to every new post, as does every individual author. The resulting deluge of tedious advertising no doubt generates traffic that helps increase revenue, but its effect on me is that I no longer read any of the posts there.

There. I’ve said it. No doubt there’ll be angry reactions from fellow bloggers. If this post has offended anyone then I’m sorry, but  please remember to retweet it, share on Facebook, Google+, etc.

Top Ten Dubious Science Facts

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , on August 22, 2012 by telescoper

Yesterday evening I joined in a bit of fun on Twitter posting dubious science facts which you can find by looking for the hashtag #dubioussciencefacts if you’re a person who tweets. The idea was to come up with amusing, misleading or just silly statements about science, with as thin a veneer of truth as possible.

The 140-character limit on Twitter makes this kind of game quite challenging, but also quite enjoyable to join in. Anyway, for those of you who don’t tweet, I thought I’d post ten examples of my own creation along with an invitation to contribute your own through the comments box by way of audience participation. Please try to keep your contributions shorter than 140 characters…

Here are my ten:

  1. Galileo is a much more famous scientist than his co-workers Figaro and Magnifico
  2. If the Earth were the size of a golf ball, Jupiter would be as big as Colin Montgomery
  3. It is possible for a spaceship to boldly go faster than light, but only if it uses a split infinitive drive
  4. Organic chemistry is a lot tastier than normal chemistry but also much more expensive
  5. Parity is an important concept in particle physics: PhD students get the same salaries as professors in that field
  6. Galaxies appear to have a flattened shape because they are usually observed using Cinemascopes
  7. Dyson spheres are sources of vacuum energy
  8. The Earth’s rotation means that it will soon have to leave the Solar System in order to throw up
  9. The Coriolis Effect is called the Siloiroc Effect in the Southern Hemisphere
  10. Physics used to be called “natural philosophy”, which means it is philosophy without any bits of fruit in it