Archive for June, 2017

Workshop End

Posted in Uncategorized on June 30, 2017 by telescoper

Well, our little workshop has come to an end. I would like to thank all the participants for making it such a success and wish you all a safe journey home!

We will be posting the slides for all the talks in due course, but in the meantime here are some random shots..

And, er…

here’s the obligatory workshop photo!

Beard of Summer 2017 poll concluding in close shave

Posted in Beards on June 30, 2017 by telescoper

The excitement is mounting as we go into the last day of voting for `Beard of Summer’…

And to anyone who accuses me of a blatant attempt to influence the outcome of this very serious poll, I say: “VOTE FOR ME!”

Kmflett's Blog

Beard Liberation Front
Media release
30th June
Contact Keith Flett 07803 167266


The Beard Liberation Front, the informal network of beard wearers, has said the poll for the coveted Beard of Summer Award looks like concluding with a close shave at midnight on Friday June 30th.

On the final day of voting the poll had a Welsh flavour with the lead alternating between Cardiff based academic Peter Coles and Caerphilly Assembly Member Hefin David.

The result is revealed after votes have been checked as the conclusion to National Beard Week on Saturday July 1st

The poll is the third of four seasonal Awards that culminates in the Beard of the Year Award at the end of December.

The campaigners say that as ever it is not just the style of the beard but the impact it makes in public

BLF Organiser…

View original post 208 more words

Isotropic Random Fields in Astrophysics

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on June 29, 2017 by telescoper

So the little workshop  on `Isotropic Random Fields in Astrophysics’ I announced some time ago, sponsored via a “seedcorn” grant by the Data Innovation Research Institute, has finally arrived, and having spent most of the day at it I’m now catching up with some other stuff in the office before adjourning for the conference dinner.


This meeting is part of a series of activities aimed at bringing together world-leading experts in the analysis of big astrophysical data sets, specifically those arising from the (previous) Planck (shown above) and (future) Euclid space missions, with mathematical experts in the spectral theory of scalar vector or tensor valued isotropic random fields. Our aim is to promote collaboration between mathematicians interested in probability theory and statistical analysis and theoretical and observational astrophysicists both within Cardiff university and further afield.


It’s been a very interesting day of interleaving talks by cosmologists and mathematicians followed by an open-ended discussion session where we talked about unsolved problems and lines for future research. It’s clear that there are some language difficulties between the two communities but I hope this meeting helps to break down a few barriers and stimulate some new joint research projects.




Please look after this bear…

Posted in Literature, Television with tags , on June 28, 2017 by telescoper

R.I.P. Michael Bond (13 January 1926 to 27 June 2017)

The ‘Danish Paper’ and How Science Works

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , on June 27, 2017 by telescoper

I’m off work today but couldn’t resist posting a very quick update on the controversial claims of inconsistencies in the recent detection of gravitational waves by LIGO.

If you’re following the story you will know that it started with a paper on the arXiv by Cresswell et al.,  a group mainly based in Denmark, which is why the paper is now frequently referred to as ‘The Danish Paper’ although its authors actually come from all round the world.

Well the same group have now  written a rejoinder to the LIGO critique of their analysis. They’re clearly sticking to their guns, at least on their claim that the residuals left after removing the gravitational wave events from the two time series are correlated, which they should not be if they are simply noise.

Hopefully the public airing this controversy had received will lead to other independent groups downloading and analysing the data, which is all in the public domain, and we’ll eventually arrive at the truth.

Contrary to the opinion of one of my Cardiff colleagues I think this is how science works and, importantly, how it should be seen to work. Science  is a process of investigation, and it doesn’t come to an end when  results have been published in refereed journals. 

 The more the public see how science really works – warts and all – the better they will understand its strengths as well as its limitations.

Whatever the eventual outcome of this discussion I think we will find that the ‘Danish Paper’ has helped advance our understanding, and for that the authors deserve a great deal of credit.


Beard of Summer 2017 poll opens with Glastonbury focus

Posted in Uncategorized on June 26, 2017 by telescoper

Oh Blimey.

Owing (no doubt) to some form of administrative error I have been nominated for Beard of Summer 2017!

Please feel free to vote for me, or not, as your fancy takes you!

Kmflett's Blog

Beard Liberation Front

Media release

26th June

Contact Keith Flett 07803 167266


The Beard Liberation Front, the informal network of beard wearers, has said the poll for the coveted Beard of Summer Award is now open with the result revealed at the end of National Beard Week on Saturday July 1st

The poll is the third of four seasonal Awards that culminates in the Beard of the Year Award at the end of December.

The campaigners say that as ever it is not just the style of the beard but the impact it makes in public

BLF Organiser Keith Flett said, we’re looking for the summer beard that adds the most gravitas and the shortlist probably has the biggest range of beard styles ever

Beard of Summer shortlist

Bill Bailey, comedian

Peter Coles, cosmologist

Hefin David, politician

Michael Eavis, farmer

View original post 161 more words

A Day/Night County Match

Posted in Cricket on June 26, 2017 by telescoper

After two very busy weeks I decided to take a couple of days off to watch the County Championship match between Glamorgan and Derbyshire at the SSE Swalec Stadium here in Cardiff.

It turns out that this match is something of a landmark in that it’s the first ever Day/Night County match to be held in Wales.

The format of this match is like a regular 4-day County game except that each day’s play starts at 2pm rather than the usual 11am. This means that the “lunch” interval is taken at 4pm instead of 1pm, and “tea” is taken at 6.40. Play is scheduled to continue, with the aid of floodlights, until 9pm.

Oh, and they’re using a rather lurid pink ball…

I can see why they are trying this out: to see if they can get more people coming after work or school than would come with the usual 6pm close. At the moment (3.45pm) the attendance is about average for a county game…

I don’t like this new format, however, got two reasons. One is that it wastes three hours of daylight. I like to watch my cricket sitting in the sunshine rather in the twilight. As it happens, it was a beautiful morning in Cardiff today. I had the day off and would have relished watching the morning session basking in the sun. I couldn’t because there wasn’t one.

The other reason I don’t like it is that it finishes too late to have dinner at a reasonable hour. The food and drink available at the Swalec – particularly the beer – is overpriced and not of high quality, so I shall probably leave at the start of the tea interval. Unless it gets very exciting..

At the moment, Derbyshire are 68 for 1 off 24 overs. Madsen and Godleman not looking entirely comfortable but digging in.

UPDATE: It’s 5pm, Derbyshire are 104 for 2, and the lights have come on:

Glamorgan were quite slow getting through their overs so the Tea interval wasn’t taken until 7.09pm, with the fall of the 7th Derbyshire wicket with the score on 157. A good bowling performance from Glamorgan, but I decided to go home and make some dinner rather than stay for the last session. Quite a few others  left at the same time.

Play finished at about 10pm. Derbyshire rallied to finish on 288 all out, and Glamorgan batted two overs for 5 without loss. Appropriately enough, Glamorgan sent in a Night Watchman (Tim van den Gugten) to open the innings.

Theresa May and the Holy Grail

Posted in Uncategorized on June 25, 2017 by telescoper

Mysteries of the Horizon

Posted in Art with tags , , , on June 24, 2017 by telescoper

by René Magritte (Oil on Canvas, 1955)

The Quantum Mechanics of Voting

Posted in Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on June 23, 2017 by telescoper

Now that I’ve finished a marathon session of report-writing I thought I’d take a few minutes out this Friday afternoon, have a cup of tea and pass on a rather silly thought I had the other day about the relationship between Quantum Mechanics (and specifically the behaviour of spin therein) and voting behaviour in elections and referendums.

Gratuitous picture of a Stern-Gerlach experiment

For a start here’s a brief summary of the usual quantum-mechanical context as it relates to, e.g., electrons (rather than elections). Being fermions, electrons possess half-integer spin. This attribute has the property that a measurement of its component in any direction has only two possible values, ±½ in units of Planck’s constant. In the Stern-Gerlach experiment illustrated above, which measures the spin in the vertical direction of silver atoms emerging from a source, the outcome is either “up” or “down”, not some spread of values in between. Silver has a single unpaired electron which is why its atoms behave in this respect in the same way as an individual electron.

The way this is often described in physics textbooks is to say that the operator corresponding to spin in the z-direction has only two eigenstates  (call these ↑ and ↓) ; the act of measurement has to select one of them, not some intermediate state. If the source is thermal then the spins of individual atoms have no preferred direction so 50% turn out to be ↑ and 50% to be ↓ as shown in the cartoon.

Once such measurement has been made, a given particle remains in the same eigenstate, which means that if it is passed through another similar measuring device it will always turn out to have spin pointing in the same direction. If you like, the particle has been `prepared’ in a given state by the act of measurement.

This applies as long as no attempt is made to make a measurement of the spin in a different direction, which is when the fun starts. If we start with a particle in the ↑ state and then pass it through an experiment that measures spin (say) with respect to the x-axis instead of the z-axis then the two allowed eigenstates are then not ↑ and ↓ but ← and →.  A particle that was definitely spin-up would then be forced to decide between spin-left and spin-right (each would have a  50% probability).

Suppose now we took our long-suffering particle that began with spin ↑ after a measurement in the z-direction, then turned out to be spin → when we measured it in the x-direction. What would happen if we repeated the z-measurement? The answer is that “preparing” the particle in the → state destroys the information about the fact that it was previously prepared in the ↑ state –  the outcome of this second z-measurement is that the particle that was previously definitely ↑ now has a 50% chance of being either ↑ or ↓.

So what does all this have to do with voting? It is clear than an election (or a referendum) is very far from a simple act of measurement. During the campaign the various sides of the debate make attempts to prepare a given voter in a given state. In the case of last year’s EU referendum the choice of eigenstates was `Leave’ or `Remain’;  no other possibilities were allowed. The referendum then `prepared’ each voter in one or other of these possibilities.

If voters behaved quantum mechanically each would stay in their chosen state until some other measurement were attempted. But that’s exactly what did happen. Earlier this month there was a General Election. More than two parties were represented, but let’s simplify and assume there were only two options, `Labour’ and `Conservative’.

Now it is true that the `Leave’ camp was dominated by the right wing of the Conservative party, and the majority of Labour voters voted `Remain’, but there were a significant number of Labour Leave voters and a significant number of Tories voted Remain. While these pairs of states are therefore not exactly orthogonal, they are clearly not measuring the same thing so the situation is somewhat analogous to the spin measurement problem.

So along came the General Election result which `prepared’ voters in a state of `Labour’ or `Conservative’, with a slight preference for the latter whereas the earlier referendum had prepared a them in a state of `Leave’ versus `Remain’ with a slight preference for the former. From a quantum mechanical perspective, however, you can further argue that the General Election prepared the voters in such a way that should have erased memories of their vote in the referendum so the previous BrExit vote is now invalid.

There’s only one way to test this quantum-mechanical interpretation of voting patterns, and that is by repeating the EU Referendum…