Archive for December, 2016

Scientific Breakthrough of the Year 2016

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on December 31, 2016 by telescoper

The year 2016 is almost over and there are just few hours left  until a 2017 begins. Looking back over the scientific discoveries of the last 12 months, I expect you think I would choose the discovery of gravitational waves by the LIGO consortium as my “Scientific Breakthrough of the Year”.

Wonderful achievement though that was, I have, after due reflection, decided to award the accolade to something else which has even more profound implications for the human race and its place in the Universe.

So without further ado, I hereby announce that the In The Dark award for Scientific Breakthrough Of The Year 2016 goes to Donald Trump,  for providing us at last with a definitive resolution of the Fermi Paradox.


I hope this clarifies the Apocalypse.

My 2016 Review of the Year

Posted in Uncategorized on December 30, 2016 by telescoper

Butetown’s Baltic Missions

Posted in Uncategorized on December 29, 2016 by telescoper

More on Cardiff history, this time the Baltic connections..

A Nordic Beacon

Posted in Uncategorized on December 29, 2016 by telescoper

Cardiff’s Norwegian connection. The Norwegian Church in Cardiff Bay is still an important landmark.

The Eastern Cross

Posted in Uncategorized on December 29, 2016 by telescoper

Fascinating insight into Cardiff’s international heritage..

Cyfarchion yr Ŵyl

Posted in Uncategorized on December 23, 2016 by telescoper

Well, Cardiff University is about to close down for the Christmas break, and I’ll also be going offline for a while from this afternoon.

I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has taken the trouble to read, comment on, correct, and otherwise engage with this blog over the past year.

I can’t say it’s been a great year, but let’s cling to the hope that 2017 will be better than 2016 however unlikely that may seem at the moment.

Anyway, I hope you have a peaceful and enjoyable festive season!

Cyfarchion yr Ŵyl i chi gyd!

(That’s Welsh..)


The Young Charlie Parker plays Cherokee

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on December 22, 2016 by telescoper

I came across this rare treasure on Youtube and couldn’t resist sharing it here. It features a very young Charlie Parker, with the relatively unknown Efferge Ware on guitar and Little Phil Phillips on drums, playing the jazz standard Cherokee. This track was recorded in 1941 (when he was only 21 years old) in Bird’s home town of Kansas City. There is a gap in Charlie Parker’s discography between 1942 and 1944, which was when the American Musicians Union called a strike which led to a ban on all commercial recordings. When the ban game to an end Charlie Parker’s recordings with Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Bud Powell and others unleashed the new harmonic language of bebop on the general public from New York City where it had been incubating during the strike. Parker’s style had evolved greatly in the intervening two years which no doubt made his playing sound all the more revolutionary when the ban was lifted. Although this version of Cherokee is to some extent a pre-bebop recording, you can hear the originality and beauty of Bird’s improvisation (complete with cheeky quotation from the “Popeye” theme) and it’s clear where he was heading.

The sophisticated and complex chord sequence of Cherokee (with its trademark ii-7–V7–I progressions) made it a firm favourite with bop musicians who tended to play it even faster than this earlier version.
In 1945, during what was arguably the first ever bebop recording session, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie decided to play a variation of Cherokee using the same chords but a different head. During the first take the musicians absent-mindedly played the theme from Cherokee at which point there was a cry of anguish from the control room uttered by a producer, who obviously had hoped that if they stayed off the actual tune he wouldn’t have to pay composer’s royalties. They started again, made another take, called it Ko-Ko, and it became one of the classics.

The 1941 version is valuable from a historical perspective but you don’t have to be interested in that to enjoy the wonderful fluidity and invention of Bird’s playing. Happy Christmas!

The Winter Solstice and the Time of Sunrise and Sunset

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on December 21, 2016 by telescoper

You may have missed it, but the winter solstice happened today, Wednesday 21st December 2016, at 10.44am GMT (10.44 UTC). This marks the shortest day of the year: days will get longer from now until the Summer Solstice next June. As we were discussing in the pub last night, however, this does not mean that sunrise will happen earlier tomorrow than it did this morning. In fact, sunrise will carry on getting later until the new year. This is because there is a difference between mean solar time (measured by clocks) and apparent solar time (defined by the position of the Sun in the sky), so that a solar day does not always last exactly 24 hours. A description of apparent and mean time was given by Nevil Maskelyne in the Nautical Almanac for 1767:

Apparent Time is that deduced immediately from the Sun, whether from the Observation of his passing the Meridian, or from his observed Rising or Setting. This Time is different from that shewn by Clocks and Watches well regulated at Land, which is called equated or mean Time.

The discrepancy between mean time and apparent time arises because of the Earth’s axial tilt and the fact that it travels around the Sun in an elliptical orbit in which its orbital speed varies with time of year (being faster at perihelion than at aphelion).

In fact if you plot the position of the Sun in the sky at a fixed time each day from a fixed location on the Earth you get a thing called an analemma, which is a sort of figure-of-eight shape whose shape depends on the observer’s latitude. Here’s a photographic version taken in Edmonton, with photographs of the Sun’s position taken from the same position at the same time on different days over the course of a year:


The winter solstice is the lowermost point on this curve and the summer solstice is at the top. The north–south component of the analemma is the Sun’s declination, and the east–west component is the so-called equation of time which quantifies the difference between mean solar time and apparent solar time. This curve can be used to calculate the earliest and/or latest sunrise and/or sunset.

Using a more rapid calculational tool (Google), I found a table of the local mean times of sunrise and sunset for Cardiff (where I live) around the 2016 winter solstice. The table shows that today is indeed the shortest day (with a time between sunrise and sunset of 7 hours 49 minutes and 55 seconds). The duration of the shortest day this year is 8 hours and 48 minutes shorter than the longest day (the summer solstice). The table also shows that sunset already started occurring later in the day before the winter solstice (although the weather has been too overcast to notice this), and sunrise will continue to happen later for a few days after the solstice. In fact the earliest sunset this year in Cardiff was on 12th December, and the latest sunrise will be on 30th December.

I hope this clarifies the situation.

Sam Rivers – Zip!

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on December 20, 2016 by telescoper

And now for something completely different. About five years ago I wrote a post aftering reading of the death, at the age of 88, of the legendary jazz musician Sam Rivers who passed away on 26th December 2011. Sam Rivers was born in 1923 and started playing professionally during the bebop era of the early 1950s. Later he evolved a unique avant garde style that was nevertheless firmly based in the jazz traditions he had grown up with. He was probably best known as a tenor saxophonist, but could also play flute, clarinet, piano and viola.

I first heard Sam Rivers on Humphrey Lyttelton’s BBC Radio Show The Best of Jazz in 1979. Humph was clearly a great admirer of Sam Rivers, especially the superb trio he formed with the brilliant Thurman Barker (drums) and Dave Holland (bass). The energy and vitality of the track he played made a lasting impression on me. The album was called Contrasts, by the way, and the track in question called Zip. I bought the album straight away. At least almost straight away, because it wasn’t the sort of record you could buy in the shops; I had to send away for it.

Anyway, I’ve now discovered that someone has posted this track on Youtube, so here it is. Enjoy!

Straw Poll on Statistical Computing

Posted in Bad Statistics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on December 20, 2016 by telescoper

The abstract of my previous (reblogged) post claims that R is “the premier language of statistical computing”. That may be true for the wider world of statistics, and I like R very much, but in my experience astronomers and cosmologists are much more likely to do their coding in Python.  It’s certainly the case that astronomers and physicists are much more likely to be taught Python than R. There may well even be some oldies out there still using other languages like Fortran, or perhaps  relying on books of statistical tables!

Out of interest therefore I’ve decided to run the following totally biased and statistically meaningless poll of my immense readership:


If you choose “something else”, please let me know through the comments box what your alternative is. I can then add additional options.