Archive for December, 2019

Cosmology and Gravity Opportunities in the Czech Republic!

Posted in Uncategorized on December 31, 2019 by telescoper

I just received this message and thought I’d share it here as it might help some people with their New Year’s Resolutions…


CEICO welcomes applications for Postdoctoral Researcher positions in the fields of Cosmology and Gravity.

The positions are expected to start in September 2020 and are offered until 31 Oct 2022. An extension may be offered for an additional year subject to availability of funds. An earlier starting date is negotiable. The monthly gross salary is in the range 55 000 – 60 000 CZK from which tax, social and health insurance are deducted. We offer an annual 75 000 – 100 000 CZK (3000 – 4000EUR) travel budget. Candidates are expected to have completed a PhD degree in Physics, or a related field, before taking up the post.

Successful candidates will work in any of the following areas of research:

  • Late Universe cosmology (e.g. dark energy and modified gravity, dark matter, cosmological simulations).
  • Tests of the cosmological model, including statistical techniques, modeling of data and parameter estimation.
  • Theoretical aspects of gravity (e.g. gravity in quantum field theory, model consistency, screening mechanisms).
  • Strong-field gravity (e.g. tests of gravity with compact objects, physics of black holes, PPN formalism).
  • Early Universe cosmology (e.g. inflationary models, origin of the Big-Bang, inflationary model testing)

As part of CEICO, the researchers will have access to the team’s 1000 core computer cluster.

Please, see here for detailed information on the positions offered and the requirements, and to apply online.

The deadline for all application material (including reference letters) is 14 January 2020.

CEICO is a new research centre, established with funds from the Czech Academy of Sciences, the Czech Science Foundation, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports and the European Commission. The CEICO team is headed by Martin Schnabl and Costas Skordis and comprises staff members Michael Prouza, Ignacy Sawicki and Alex Vikman, senior scientists Ted Erler, Sergey Karpov, Joris Raeymaekers and Federico Urban and another nineteen postdoctoral researchers and graduate students. The team’s areas of research are: cosmology, gravity, string field theory, and instrumentation for cosmological observations. CEICO values diversity and is committed to equality of opportunity.

Further information about CEICO and its research programmes may be found at here.


Posted in Beards with tags , on December 30, 2019 by telescoper

I noticed that the BBC website has an item about has an item about Beard of the Year 2019. The piece contains the following:

I feel the second paragraph rather contradicts the first!

Anyway, congratulations to this year’s winner, Rylan Clark-Neal, who is actually famous.

So I’m told.

Experience, by Emily Dickinson

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on December 29, 2019 by telescoper

I stepped from plank to plank
So slow and cautiously;
The stars about my head I felt,
About my feet the sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch, —
This gave me that precarious gait
Some call experience.

by Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Christmas by Bus

Posted in Uncategorized on December 29, 2019 by telescoper

A National Express Coach at Sophia Gardens, Cardiff

I spent Christmas in Newcastle this year. It was very pleasant although, of course, there was an absence that was keenly felt.

I was late organising my trip and by the time I did get around to it all flights were booked. I then looked at the train only to discover that Cardiff to Newcastle was both hideously expensive and heavily disrupted by engineering work. I could have afforded the ticket but resent paying so much for a poor level of service. I’d probably have had to stand for much of the journey too.

In the end I decided instead to take the National Express Coach from Sophia Gardens. Though slower than the cost was less than a third of the train fare and as it turned out it was quite a painless experience. Modern coaches have seats which are actually more comfortable than seats on the train, which always give me a bad back.

On the way there and back I had to change at Birmingham. The first leg from Cardiff to Birmingham was non-stop and stayed on the Welsh side of the Severn as far as possible.

The bus from Birmingham to Newcastle stopped several times in the Midlands – Leeds (where there was a 45 minute break), York, Middlesbrough and Sunderland – before arriving, on time, in the North. The traffic was lighter than I expected for Christmas Eve.

Newcastle’s old Gallowgate bus station is no more. The new one is on St James’s Boulevard, a road that didn’t exist when I was living in Newcastle years ago. The current location is handy for the local gay bars though.

Returning on Friday morning after two days in Newcastle, there was a slight rearrangement of plan as there were too many passengers to Birmingham to accommodate on the one bus. Some of us therefore transferred onto a second coach going only to Birmingham while passengers going further than that stayed on the original coach, whose ultimate destination was Paignton. Standing is not permitted on these coaches.

There was much heavier traffic on the way South but we arrived in Birmingham on schedule. I had quite a long wait so I wandered off and found a place to have lunch. When I got back to Digbeth bus station there was a deal of chaos as many buses were caught in traffic and delayed. I assumed mine would be too, so settled down to read a book only to discover my bus to Cardiff was on schedule.

The last leg of the journey took a different route from the first, via Bristol and Newport, which made it an hour or so slower but again we arrived on time. It’s only a short walk to my Cardiff residence from Sophia Gardens.

Inexpensive, comfortable, efficient and reliable: the National Express Coach service is everything the UK train service is not.

A System of Dishonour

Posted in Politics with tags , , , on December 28, 2019 by telescoper

In the news this morning was the release of the New Year’s Honours List for 2020. The awards that made the headlines were various sports persons, musicians and other celebrities, as well as the odd ghastly politician.

The honours system must appear extremely curious to people from outside the United Kingdom. It certainly seems so to me. On the one hand, I am glad that the government has a mechanism for recognising the exceptional contributions made to society by certain individuals. Musicians, writers, sportsmen and sportswomen, entertainers and the like generally receive handsome financial rewards, of course, but that’s no reason to begrudge a medal or two in recognition of the special place they occupy in our cultural life. It’s good to see scientists recognized too, although they tend not to get noticed so much by the press. I noticed for example, Ed Hawkins, who got his PhD at in Astronomy at Nottingham when I was there and is now Professor of Climate Science at the University of Reading, received an MBE.

On the other hand, there are several things about the hinours system that make me extremely uncomfortable. One is that the list of recipients of certain categories of award is overwhelmingly dominated by career civil servants, for whom an “honour” goes automatically with a given rank. If an honour is considered an entitlement in this way then it is no honour at all, and in fact devalues those awards that are given on merit to people outside the Civil Service. Civil servants get paid for doing their job, so they should have no more expectation of an additional reward than anyone else.

Honours have relatively little monetary value on their own, of course so this is not question of financial corruption. An honour does, however, confer status and prestige on the recipient so what we have is a much more subtle form of perversion.

Worse still is the dishing out of gongs to political cronies, washed-up ministers, and various sorts of government hangers-on. An example of the latter is the knighthood awarded to Iain Duncan Smith, a thoroughly loathsome person responsible for introducing the cruel system of Universal Credit designed to make the UK sick and poor even sicker and poorer and which has undoubtedly led to real hardship and even death.

Although the honours system has opened up a little bit over the last decade or so, to me it remains a sinister institution that attempts to legitimise the self-serving nature of its patronage by throwing the odd bone to individuals outside the establishment. I don’t intend any disrespect to the individuals who have earned their knighthoods, MBEs, OBEs, CBEs or whatnot. I just think they’re being rewarded with tainted currency.

And that’s even before you take into account the award of a knighthood to people like Iain Duncan Smith. Well, I mean. Does anyone really think it’s an honour to be in the same club as him? I find it deeply offensive that he could have been considered an appropriate person to be on the list.

There goes my knighthood.

Boxing Day on Cresswell Beach, Northumberland

Posted in Uncategorized on December 26, 2019 by telescoper

TLS Editor Stig Abell & TV’s Rylan Clark-Neal head to head in final battle for Beard of the Year votes

Posted in Uncategorized on December 23, 2019 by telescoper

As last year’s joint* winner I feel I should remain neutral. I will say however that the Times Literary Supplement has an excellent crossword.

*I enjoyed the joint enormously.

Kmflett's Blog

Beard Liberation Front

23rd December

contact Keith Flett 07803 167266

TLS Editor Stig Abell & TV’s Rylan Clark-Neal head to head in final battle for Beard of the Year votes

The Beard Liberation Front, the informal network of beard wearers, has said with the Beard of the Year 2019 vote closing at midnight on Christmas Eve it has become a battle of the beards between Times Literary Supplement Editor Stig Abell and Strictly It Takes Two and Supermarket Sweep host Rylan Clark-Neal

The winner is announced on December 28th following an Electoral College review of the poll leaders. This has become necessary in recent years because of bot activity on the poll.

The criteria for Beard of the Year is as follows:

The Award is NOT about people who grow beards in their bedrooms and post pictures of them on the internet

The Award IS about people with consistent…

View original post 98 more words

A Nocturnal upon St Lucy’s Day, Being the Shortest Day – John Donne

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on December 22, 2019 by telescoper

‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
The world’s whole sap is sunk;
The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed’s-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr’d; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness;
He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death—things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that’s good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have;
I, by Love’s limbec, am the grave
Of all, that’s nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown’d the whole world, us two; oft did we grow,
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death—which word wrongs her—
Of the first nothing the elixir grown;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means ; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love; all, all some properties invest.
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light, and body must be here.

But I am none; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all,
Since she enjoys her long night’s festival.
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year’s and the day’s deep midnight is.

by John Donne (1572-1631).

P. S. St Lucy’s Day (13th December) used to coincide with the shortest day of the year before adoption of the Gregorian Calendar. Donne’s poem was published posthumously in 1633, but is thought to have been written in 1627 the year in which both his patron Lucy Countess of Bedford and his fifth child, Lucy, then aged 18, died.

The Winter Solstice 2019

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on December 21, 2019 by telescoper

The winter solstice in the Northern hemisphere happens tomorrow, Sunday 22nd December 2019, at 04.19 Irish Time (04.19 UTC). Among other things, this means that tomorrow is the shortest day of the year in the Northern hemisphere. Days will get steadily longer from now until the Summer Solstice next June.  In fact, the interval between sunrise and sunset tomorrow will be a whole second longer tomorrow than it is today. Yippee!

This does not mean that sunrise will happen earlier tomorrow than it did this morning, however. Actually, 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 Dublin around the 2019 winter solstice. This shows that tomorrow is indeed the shortest day (with a time between sunrise and sunset of 7 hours 29 minutes and 58 seconds).  The table also shows that sunset already started occurring later in the day before the winter solstice, and sunrise will continue to happen later for a few days after the solstice, notwithstanding the fact that the interval between sunrise and sunset gets longer from today onwards.

I hope this clarifies the situation.

2019: A Summary of the Year

Posted in Politics on December 20, 2019 by telescoper