Archive for July, 2012

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.

Wavy Gravy

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on July 31, 2012 by telescoper

I was looking through my collection of old CDs last night and saw a track on Kenny Burrell’s classic album Midnight Blue with the title Wavy Gravy. I hadn’t noticed the name before, but thought it might do as a theme tune for my Cardiff colleagues who work on gravy waves  gravitational waves

Anyway, the album was recorded at the Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on April 06-07, 1963, and originally released on Blue Note (4123). The complete personnel listing is: Kenny Burrell (guitar); Stanley Turrentine (tenor saxophone); Major Holley, Jr. (bass); Bill English (drums); Ray Barretto (congas).

The Origins of the Expanding Universe

Posted in Books, Talks and Reviews, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on July 30, 2012 by telescoper

Not having much time to write anything particularly original, I thought I’d use this blog to advertise a forthcoming centenary celebration which I hope to attend and speak at, if my recovery goes to plan.  The text below is taken from the conference website for a meeting due to take place at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona from September 13-15. I’m sure they won’t mind me borrowing it, as it helps promote the event.  Registration is open until 10th August…

On September 17, 1912, Vesto Slipher obtained the first radial velocity of a “spiral nebula” – the Andromeda Galaxy. Using the 24-inch telescope at Lowell Observatory, he followed up with more Doppler shifts, and wrote a series of papers establishing that large velocities, usually in recession, are a general property of the spiral nebulae. Those early redshifts were recognized as remarkable by Slipher, and were critical to the discovery of what came eventually to be called the expanding Universe. Surprisingly, Slipher’s role in the story remains almost unknown to much of the astronomical community.

The nature, and especially the distance, of spiral nebulae was fiercely argued – most famously in the 1920 Shapley-Curtis debate. Hubble’s 1923 discovery of Cepheids in Andromeda, along with Henrietta Leavitt’s period-luminosity relation for Cepheids, led to a distance scale for the nebulae, enabling Lemaitre (1927) to derive a linear relation between velocity and distance (including a “Hubble constant” and, by 1931, a Primeval Atom theory).

Meanwhile, a new concept of space and time was formulated by Einstein, providing a new language in which to understand the large-scale Universe. By 1932, all the major actors had arrived on stage, and Universal expansion – the most general property of the Universe yet found – acquired a solid basis in observation and in the (relativistic) concept of space. “Space expands”… or does it? How did Lemaitre and Hubble interpret this concept? How do we interpret it? It continues to evolve today, with cosmic inflation and dark energy presenting new challenges still not fully assimilated.

This conference is in honor of Vesto Melvin Slipher and is timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the first measured Doppler shift in a Galaxy (then known as a Spiral-Nebula) on September 17, 1912:Slipher 1913 Lowell Obs 2, 56

We are bringing together astronomers and historians of science to explore the beginnings and trajectories of the subject, at the place where it began. 

Against Entropy

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on July 30, 2012 by telescoper

The worm drives helically through the wood
And does not know the dust left in the bore
Once made the table integral and good;
And suddenly the crystal hits the floor.
Electrons find their paths in subtle ways,
A massless eddy in a trail of smoke;
The names of lovers, light of other days
Perhaps you will not miss them. That’s the joke.
The universe winds down. That’s how it’s made.
But memory is everything to lose;
Although some of the colors have to fade,
Do not believe you’ll get the chance to choose.
Regret, by definition, comes too late;
Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate.

by John M. Ford (1957-2006)

The Fog on the Tyne

Posted in Biographical with tags , , , , , , , on July 29, 2012 by telescoper

Recently I’ve been digging our boxes of old photographs, and boring all my Facebook friends by posting lots of scans I made from them. I seem to remember this particular batch came as a result of a stroll along the quayside of the River Tyne during one of the vacations when I was an undergraduate. I’m not very good at keeping records (or taking pictures for that matter) but at a guess I’d date them as 1984.

I’ve posted them partly because I think they’re quite atmospheric – there really was Fog on the Tyne that day – but also because the views they depict have long since vanished.

For example, there is now a new bridge – the beautiful Gateshead Millennium Bridge  – roughly at the position from which this first picture was taken. In the background (i.e. to the West) you can see the iconic Tyne Bridge and the Swing Bridge. Notice also that in those days the quayside to the right (on the Newcastle side) was virtually derelict; now it is buzzing with fancy cafés, bars and restaurants. In those days the Quayside was a rough and rather dangerous place, especially at night.

This one is of the Baltic Flour Mill, on the Gateshead side of the River Tyne, in the days when it was a disused flour mill. It’s now a famous art gallery and exhibition space, the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art.

Next one shows a couple of trawlers tugs (see comments below). In fact there is a famous Fish Quay at North Shields further along towards the mouth of the Tyne; it dates back to the 13th Century.

And finally this contraption, which I assume is long gone. I never worked out what it was for. Any suggestions?

Opening Remarks

Posted in Politics, Sport with tags , , on July 28, 2012 by telescoper

I wasn’t intending to watch last night’s Opening Ceremony for the 2012 Olympics, but in the end I did. I found it unexpectedly wonderful, in a wild and rather surreal way, especially when it made a point of celebrating one of the things I think we British can be truly proud of, our National Health Service.

Somebody  posted on Twitter Danny Boyle’s introduction to the show from the programme. I can’t put it better than he did.

The irony, of course, is that the Olympic games aren’t really for everyone; they’re mainly for the benefit of the few multinational companies who’ve purchased the rights to sell their merchandise, including junk food,  at the events and to have large parts  of London closed down so they can ply their wares. And for the legions of corporate guests and other hangers-on who’ll fill their bellies over the next few weeks. Not far from the ceremony, Police used draconian tactics to stamp out a protest by a group of people who had the nerve to cycle in the Olympic lanes; 200 were arrested. The right to demonstrate is an essential part of a democracy, but it too has been sacrificed on the altar of commercialisation.

But I think the irony was deliberate. A Tory MP, Aidan Burley, moaned on twitter that the ceremony was full of “leftie multi-cultural crap”. People like him symbolize everything that is wrong with modern Britain. I think Danny Boyle conjured up something special last night, the image of a Britain that most of us, and especially our politicians, seem to have forgotten. Not one about greed, warmongering and xenophobia, but one of creativity, freedom, and generosity of spirit. It must have made members of our government very uncomfortable, especially because they paid for it.

And I should also add another thing I liked about it. It was very British. Not in an arrogant or pompous way. There was, after all, plenty of self-deprecating humour on display, especially Mr Bean’s appearance with the London Symphony Orchestra. In amongst the MacDonalds and Coca Cola logos, I find that very refreshing. I  do wonder how much of it was understood by foreign viewers, but that’s not the point. The world is more than a dreary retail park in which every shop sells the same tat. You don’t have to eat pork scratchings or drink warm beer if you don’t want to, but some of us over here rather like them.

I don’t care much about the actual games, and probably won’t watch much on TV, but I do hope the message of the opening ceremony isn’t forgotten.

The Olympic Torch reaches its Final Destination

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on July 27, 2012 by telescoper

Lonesome Waterloo Sunset Blues

Posted in Jazz, Music with tags , , , , on July 27, 2012 by telescoper

Just saw the song Waterloo Sunset by the popular beat combo The Kinks in a list of the ten best songs about London in this week’s New Statesman. I wonder if anyone else has noticed the remarkable resemblance between that tune and the classic Lonesome Blues recorded by Louis Armstrong and the Hot Five in 1926, with the main theme played by legendary clarinettist Johnny Dodds:

I wonder if, by any chance, they might be related?

There’s a shoulder where death comes to cry

Posted in Music, Poetry with tags , , , on July 26, 2012 by telescoper

I heard this song Take this Waltz by Leonard Cohen a long time ago, and found it very mysterious as I didn’t know what it was about. Lately I found this youtube clip with a preface by Mr Cohen himself that explains that it is a tribute to the Spanish Poet Federico Garcia Lorca. I can’t say I know much about Lorca’s poetry, even in English translation, but I wish I did.

Lorca was born in 1898, and was murdered in 1936 by fascists during the Spanish Civil War. His body was never found.

Thanks, and Sorry

Posted in Biographical on July 25, 2012 by telescoper

I know from the emails and other messages that I’ve received over the past few weeks that friends and readers of this blog have been a bit concerned about me. I owe you all an explanation and an apology. I have actually written a very long post detailing everything that has happened, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to post it at this time. Or perhaps ever. Maybe I’ll keep it for when I write my memoirs. Or not.

The short version, which will have to do for now, is that not long ago something happened that caused something I’ve lived with for a very long time to flare up worse than I’ve ever experienced before. Certain other factors, which I won’t go into either, exacerbated the situation still further. Anyway, all this hit me so hard I had to seek medical help and have been declared “unfit for work” for the last three weeks. Most of this time has been spent trying – and, until recently, failing – to find appropriate treatment to allow me to get back to “normal”.

I know that in this period I have let down a number of colleagues and students who had every right to expect better of me. I know also that I’ve ignored many offers of help from friends who have expressed concern about my well-being. I haven’t done this out of rudeness, but because I knew I that I had to solve these problems on my own. I was greatly moved by the kindness shown by so many people, but at the end of the day a problem shared is a problem doubled.

I know that at times, during especially low periods, usually in the early hours, I’ve abused the social media by posting horribly self-indulgent and self-pitying items, usually poems. I can only apologise, but it’s been an indescribably lonely journey and I’ve only had social media for company. Insomnia is a bastard.

Fortunately, I think I’ve now turned the corner. I will be off work until the end of the month, but at least I’m no longer dreading going back. My GP and the University Counselling Service have done a brilliant job in working so hard to sort out a programme to help me recover. I now think I know what to do to get myself out of the hole I’ve been in. It won’t be easy actually doing it, but at now have something to aim at I am much more confident.

I am so very sorry to those people who I’ve upset or alarmed with the way I’ve behaved over the last few weeks. I wish I could explain more, but it’s such a long and convoluted story that (a) you’ll all find it extremely boring and (b) I don’t think you’ll understand anyway. All I can do is apologise if I’ve upset anyone. That wasn’t the plan at all. It’s my problem, not yours. I just haven’t been strong enough to keep it entirely to myself, as I should have done.

Now all I have to do is to think of a way of persuading the University and, more importantly to me, my students that they should give me the chance to prove I can be what I am supposed to be.