Archive for December, 2015

Happy New Year!

Posted in Uncategorized on December 31, 2015 by telescoper

Although midnight is hours away here in Cardiff I realise that it’s already 2016 in some parts of the world so I thought I’d get my New Year’s greeting in early!


I have to admit that 2015 hasn’t exactly been the best year of my life, either personally or professionally, but that’s all the more reason to think positively about the future.

To all the readers of this blog, wherever you may be, I wish you and your loved ones peace and good fortune for the year ahead.

2015 in review

Posted in Uncategorized on December 31, 2015 by telescoper

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 410,000 times in 2015. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 18 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Bridge Puzzlement

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on December 30, 2015 by telescoper


I don’t often have time to peruse the Bridge columns but this one by Maureen Hiron in today’s Independent caught my eye.

South ended up as declarer in 3 No Trumps, against which the standard lead by West would be the 8♥ (4th highest of longest suit). This turns out very badly for the defence, however, as it makes South’s Queen into a winner. Keeping the A♥ in place to prevent a heart attack (!), South can then easily win 12 tricks, losing only one (to the K♦).

In the game discussed in the column. West (Zia Manhood, actually) correctly surmised that South’s No Trump bid indicated that he had a defence against hearts and tried an unorthodox lead of a low club. South played the Ace from dummy to win then crossed back to his hand by playing a spade from dummy to the A♠.

So far so good, two tricks down. Seven to go…

However South now tried a diamond finesse (perhaps confused by West’s earlier bid of 2♦ which did not indicate a diamond holding but a weak hand with a long major suit, ie hearts). Anyway the finesse fails because East has the King. South then has to look on as the defence win four club tricks;.the contract fails by one.

There’s no doubt that the club lead is better than hearts here but what puzzled  me at first is why South went for the diamond finesse straight away, as it seemed very risky to me.

Looking at South’s hand and dummy only it is clear that there are 5 spade tricks to be taken unless the remainder split 5-0; South’s cross to hand at trick 2 shows this is not the case. Taking the opening trick plus five spade tricks leaves South only needing three more tricks to make the contract. There are however only two obvious winners remaining: A♦ in dummy and A♥ in hand.  South needs either the diamond finesse mentioned above or to somehow turn Q♥ into a winner. The finesse doesn’t work in that case either and West is highly unlikely to lead a heart into South’s tenace given that he didn’t lead one at the start!

It seems to me that East and West have four club tricks and one Diamond trick in the bag so South must go one off after that lead, unless of course East had been foolish enough to discard a club on one or more of South’s spade winners….

..  and only an idiot like me would do that!

PS. Standard advice would be for South to duck the first club trick, but it doesn’t help in this case.

Moeen, Man of the Match

Posted in Cricket with tags , , , on December 30, 2015 by telescoper

He may not have won this year’s Beard of the Year award but Moeen Ali did his best to compensate this morning by taking three quick wickets as England bowled out South Africa to win the First Test in Durban by the impressive margin of 241 runs.


With overall figures of 7 for 116 including the key wicket of AB De Villiers early on this morning, he thoroughly deserved his Man Of The Match award. Beard power strikes again!

South Africa had been set a total of  416 with a day and a half to play (140 overs). Some were arguing that Cook should have declared but I think he was right in batting on. I said so on Twitter and my comment made it onto the bbc Web feed


I felt an earlier declaration would have been reckless and unnecessary: There was plenty of time to bowl out South Africa on a turning wicket so why give them even a sniff of victory?

As it turned out there was no declaration anyway: England were all out for 326 in their second innings. South Africa batted well to start with, scoring steadily at five an over, but lost key wickets to close on 136-4 last night. Had they been able to bat all the last  day they would not only have saved the game but have had a chance if winning it, but once De Villiers was out, in Moeen’s first over, South Africa were doomed.

Well played Moeen and the rest of the England team!

Storm Warnings

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on December 28, 2015 by telescoper

The glass has been falling all the afternoon, 
And knowing better than the instrument 
What winds are walking overhead, what zone 
Of grey unrest is moving across the land, 
I leave the book upon a pillowed chair 
And walk from window to closed window, watching 
Boughs strain against the sky

And think again, as often when the air 
Moves inward toward a silent core of waiting, 
How with a single purpose time has traveled 
By secret currents of the undiscerned 
Into this polar realm. Weather abroad 
And weather in the heart alike come on 
Regardless of prediction.

Between foreseeing and averting change 
Lies all the mastery of elements 
Which clocks and weatherglasses cannot alter. 
Time in the hand is not control of time, 
Nor shattered fragments of an instrument 
A proof against the wind; the wind will rise,
We can only close the shutters.

I draw the curtains as the sky goes black 
And set a match to candles sheathed in glass 
Against the keyhole draught, the insistent whine 
Of weather through the unsealed aperture. 
This is our sole defense against the season; 
These are the things we have learned to do 
Who live in troubled regions.

by Adrienne Rich (1929-2012)

Boxing Day on the Beach

Posted in Uncategorized on December 26, 2015 by telescoper

This afternoon’s traditional Boxing Day run out in the car took us to Tynemouth and Cullercoats where some hardy folk were attempting to surf in the North Sea despite the inclement weather. Here are some pictures..







Traditional Christmas Message

Posted in Uncategorized on December 25, 2015 by telescoper

I am here enjoying the Festive Season in my ancestral home of Newcastle upon Tyne which is not in the Midlands. As you can see we have spared no expense.


Anyway before we embark on an appropriately extravagant dinner I thought I would take the opportunity to wish you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, wherever you are in the world!

The Open Journal is Open for Submissions!

Posted in Open Access on December 22, 2015 by telescoper

It has taken a lot longer to get to this point than I thought it would when I first proposed the Open Journal of Astrophysics way back in 2012 but better late than never!

For a while now we have been testing the platform with submissions we have solicited quietly for a while now and are satisfied that it works so we can now open up to the general public. The journal itself will go live early in the New Year when we have completed the refereeing process for those papers currently in the pipeline. There will be quite a few further things to announce then too.

Before I give more instructions on how to submit let me briefly recap the philosophy of the Open Journal project.

We no longer need traditional academics journals to disseminate research in astrophysics and cosmology. We all post our research to the arXiv and read other papers there too. It’s been years since I last accessed a paper in a journal.  The only useful function that journals provide is peer review, and we in the research community do that (usually for free) anyway.  We only need journals for peer review, although we also like the prestige that is associated with them. But traditional journals have an unnecessarily slow and expensive editorial process, along with a nasty habit of placing the articles they publish behind a paywall.

The Open Journal does things differently, because we are not a publisher in the traditional sense. Instead, we are a peer-review platform, piggybacking on the arXiv for all the “publishing.” The Open Journal provides peer review for arXiv articles, making the process as fast and easy as we can. Once peer review for a particular article is successfully completed, we mark that article as accepted and send that information to the arXiv. Accepted articles will receive a DOI, and citations to them will get picked up through the CrossRef system just as they would in any other journal — but in a fraction of the time, and at a fraction of the cost. In fact, the service is provided free of charge both for authors and readers. There is no Article Processing Charge, no submission fee and no subscription is payable. The Open Journal is a service to the academic community, not a profit-making venture.

Moreover, articles published by the Open Journal are open, in that all articles  are released under a Creative Commons Attribution license. The infrastructure is open too – the code running the Open Journal is available under an MIT license. The reviewer comments can be made open too, with the agreement of both the authors and reviewer(s).  In the long run I hope  that the community will embrace the spirit of open reviewing so anonymous confidential reviews will become the exception rather than the rule, but we’ll see how that goes just for now.

Any paper that’s suitable for the astro-ph section of the arXiv can be subvmitted to the Open Journal of Astrophysics. We will consider any “traditional” papers as well as others which may find it difficult to get into other journals, such as papers on astrophysics education or outreach or technical papers relating to instrumentation, mission proposals, and other documents.

Now, to business. The best way to get an idea of how the Open Journal works is by watching the following video (which was made using a beta version of the site, but nothing much has changed except for a few layout issues being changed):

Note that the site is currently just called the Open Journal, which is so that it can be used with minimal modification to create similar journals in other fields.

If you don’t want to watch the whole thing here’s a quick summary of the steps you have to take to submit to the Open Journal.

  1.  If you don’t have one already, get an ORCID ID!
  2. Write your paper. There is latex style file you can use here, although it is not compulsory to use this and we will allow anything that produces a PDF that can be viewed easily using our mark-up tool. Single-column is strongly preferred.
  3. Submit your paper to the arXiv. You have to be registered in order to do this. Note also that you have to be prepared to submit your paper to the arXiv before it is reviewed. There is an enormous advantage in doing this, actually, as you may get more comments and suggestions than our refereeing system will generate.
  4. Log on to the Open Journal website
  5. Go to the submit tab on the left hand side of the screen.
  6. Type in the arXiv reference of your paper (you can do this in various ways)
  7. Our software will assign the paper to an editor, who will then select referee(s). Each referee makes comments by marking “issues” on the PDF, each of which needs a reply from the author. When all issues are resolved the paper is accepted. If revision is required a new version can be submitted to the arXiv which will be picked up by the software.
  8. When it us ready our software will automatically assign a DOI and write it to the appropriate field in the arXiv.
  9. That’s it! The paper is published and can be accessed either directly on the arXiv or through the Open Journal website.
  10. Go and have a beer.

One other thing is worth mentioning. Because this service is provided free we do not have the effort required to undertake extensive copy-editing or rewriting of papers that are very poorly written. If the editor or referee deems a paper to be unfit for review then we will refer the author to a professional writing and editing service who will charge a fee depending on the length and complexity of the task.

As well as submissions we are also looking for new editors. At the moment our Editorial Board is dominated by cosmologists but as word gets round we will probably need expertise in other areas of astrophysics. If you’d like to volunteer please send me an email or use the comment box below.

Well, that’s about it. I just remains for me to thank all the people without whom this project would never have got off the ground, chiefly Chris Lintott, Arfon Smith and Adam Becker, developers Stuart Lynn and Marc Rohloff, and of course the good folk of the wonderful arXiv!


Are we being shortchanged in our Celebrations tubs?

Posted in Uncategorized on December 21, 2015 by telescoper

Here’s a chance to provide some data for an important study. It probably helps if you like chocolate.

More Known Than Proven

20151220_132141-01.jpeg My final, new improved bar chart with a different tub of Celebrations. Note the purpose made graph paper

Yesterday I posted a tongue-in-cheek picture on Facebook of a bar chart (not the one above) that I made up of sweets in a Celebrations tub. It was a riposte to a pie chart that Simon Brew had done here. As someone who likes good data visualisation I find pie charts nearly always to be worse than a bar chart – if you want to know why read Edward Tufte or this or this.

Below, on the left is Simon’s pie chart, and on the right is the bar chart I did with my own tub of Celebrations. My bar chart shows I’m clearly being short changed on the Malteasers (which I love) and there are far too many Bounty bars (who likes Bounty bars?!?).

pie_chart Simon’s bar chart

12390885_10156263641790507_4443434368670656197_n My initial…

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A Grand Pas de Deux

Posted in Music with tags , , on December 20, 2015 by telescoper

The rain’s lashing down outside so instead of going out I thought I’d indulge myself with a bit of musical entertainment. This piece is the Grand Pas de Deux from a seasonal Christmas favourite, the ballet The Nutcracker, by Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Op. 71). It reminds of an occasion, almost twenty years ago, when I had the chance to go to a concert at the Berliner Philharmonie. This was such a long time ago that I’ve forgotten which visiting orchestra was playing, although I do remember that it was Russian and extremely good. The main programme consisted of Stravinsky (Petrushka Suite) and Shostakovich (Symphony No. 10) but at the end they did this as an encore. In performances of the ballet this piece is usually taken quite slowly to accommodate the dancers but, as is more often the case in concert performances, this time the orchestra took it at a brisk pace and with so much passion and colour it was like I was hearing it for the very first time. People can be snobbish about Tchaikovsky because he’s “too popular”. Well, this is a popular piece for one reason and one reason only: it’s beautiful.