Archive for the Literature Category

Book Review: “Quantum Supremacy” by Michio Kaku (tl;dr DO NOT BUY)

Posted in Literature, The Universe and Stuff on May 30, 2023 by telescoper

I couldn’t resist sharing this book review. I recommend you read all of it, but if you can’t be bothered, here is a taster:

“So I can now state with confidence: beating out a crowded field, this is the worst book about quantum computing, for some definition of the word “about,” that I’ve ever encountered.”


Read the rest here:

When I was a teenager, I enjoyed reading Hyperspace, an early popularization of string theory by the theoretical physicist Michio Kaku. I’m sure I’d have plenty of criticisms if I reread it today, but at the time, I liked it a lot. In the decades since, Kaku has widened his ambit to, well, pretty much […]

Book Review: “Quantum Supremacy” by Michio Kaku (tl;dr DO NOT BUY)


Posted in Biographical, Education, Poetry with tags , , , on April 15, 2023 by telescoper

Not long ago I did a post about an anthology of Poems I studied at school many years ago. I bought that second-hand at the same time as I bought the three volumes shown above, Books 1-3 of Voices (edited by Geoffrey Summerfield). I seem to remember that we studied these at an earlier stage of 11+ education, probably in consecutive years before O-level. I remember the covers quite well, especially the rather spooky picture on Book 3.

They’re quite interesting books, each of which contains an eclectic collection of poems, including traditional rhymes and there is even some music at the back to accompany some of the verses that work as songs.

Anyone else remember these books?

Patterns of Earth – Hyam Plutzik

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on April 11, 2023 by telescoper

Now the new grass is vivid with dandelions,
As last night the ancient sky was constellated.

And the Scorpion, the Dog, Perseus and Hercules
Are less than the gold children of my field.

Whom I will name quickly for their time is flying:
The Butcher, the Baker, and the Candlestick maker.

They will be gone in a fortnight, full upon the wind
And the bullies of the sky will resume their mastery.

by Hyam Plutzik (1911-1962)

Nine Modern Poets

Posted in Biographical, Education, Literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2023 by telescoper

I recently acquired – at negligible expense – the above second-hand copy of the anthology Nine Modern Poets. I got a copy because this book was one we we studied when I was at school back in the 1970s. The First Edition was published way back in 1966, and it was reprinted until the mid-1980s but has long been superseded as a school poetry text by other anthologies. It has been out of print for many years so I had to find a second-hand copy via the internet. I bought some other second-hand anthologies too, which I may share in due course.

Anyway, the Nine Modern Poets are: W.B. Yeats, Wilfred Owen, T.S Eliot, John Betjeman, W.H. Auden, R.S. Thomas, Dylan Thomas, Philip Larkin, and Ted Hughes. Yes, they are all male.

Looking back it’s surprising to see John Betjeman in there, I’d have swapped him for Sylvia Plath (though her first collection, Colossus was only published in 1960 and the second, Ariel, in 1965 so these might have been too late), but the reason I look back on this book with some fondness, indeed nostalgia, is that it was this collection that introduced me to the poetry of R.S. Thomas, and I am very grateful to it for that.

A Poem for St David’s Day

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on March 1, 2023 by telescoper

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!

Today is St David’s Day, and it seems apt to celebrate it with a poem by Dylan Thomas. I’ve loved this particular one since I first heard it when I was a student many years ago. I say “heard it” rather than “read it” because it was through buying a tape of the man himself reading his poems that got me hooked. I have posted this on St David’s Day before but that was many years ago and I hope you will forgive the repetition.

Fern Hill reflects about the passage of time, the loss of childhood happiness and the inevitability of death but its mood is defiant rather than gloomy. It’s full of vibrant imagery, but it’s also written with a wonderful feeling for the natural rhythms and cadences language. You can listen to Dylan Thomas reading this exactly as if it were music.


 Fern Hill

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace.

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

Euclid in a Nutshell

Posted in Literature, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on February 21, 2023 by telescoper

O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count
myself a king of infinite space…

Hamlet, Act 2, Scene II.

It Hamlet rather than Euclid who said those words, but they came into my mind when I saw the latest nice video about the Euclid Mission from the European Space Agency, entitled Euclid in a Nutshell. It’s a quick one-minute summary of of what the mission is for and what it will do:

The text with the video reads:

ESA’s Euclid mission is designed to explore the composition and evolution of the dark Universe. The space telescope will create a great map of the large-scale structure of the Universe across space and time by observing billions of galaxies out to 10 billion light-years, across more than a third of the sky. Euclid will explore how the Universe has expanded and how structure has formed over cosmic history, revealing more about the role of gravity and the nature of dark energy and dark matter.

Euclid is a fully European mission, built and operated by ESA, with contributions from NASA. The Euclid Consortium – consisting of more than 2000 scientists from 300 institutes in 13 European countries, the US, Canada and Japan – provided the scientific instruments and scientific data analysis. ESA selected Thales Alenia Space as prime contractor for the construction of the satellite and its Service Module, with Airbus Defence and Space chosen to develop the Payload Module, including the telescope. NASA provided the near-infrared detectors of the NISP instrument.

A Backronym for Euclid?

Posted in The Universe and Stuff, Poetry, mathematics with tags , , , , on February 13, 2023 by telescoper
The Euclid Satellite

As a fully paid-up member of the Campaign for the Rejection of Acronymic Practices I was pleased to see the top brass in the Euclid Consortium issue instructions that encourage authors to limit their use of acronyms in official technical documents. Acronyms are widely used in the names of astronomical instruments and surveys. Take BOOMERanG (Balloon Observations Of Millimetric Extragalactic Radiation And Geophysics) and HIPPARCOS (HIgh Precision PARallax COllecting Satellite) to name just two. A much longer list can be found here.

I’m very pleased that the name of the European Space Agency’s Euclid mission is not an acronym. It is actually named after Euclid the Greek mathematician widely regarded as the father of geometry. Quite a few people who have asked me have been surprised that Euclid is not an acronym so I thought it might be fun to challenge my readers – both of them – to construct an appropriate backronym i.e. an acronym formed by expanding the name Euclid into the words of a phrase describing the Euclid mission. The best I’ve seen so far is:

Exploring the Universe with Cosmic Lensing to Identify Dark energy

But Euclid doesn’t just use Cosmic Lensing so I don’t think it’s entirely satisfactory. Anyway, your suggestions are welcome via the box below.

While you’re thinking, here is the best poetic description I have found (from Edna St Vincent Millay):

Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare. 
Let all who prate of Beauty hold their peace,
And lay them prone upon the earth and cease
To ponder on themselves, the while they stare
At nothing, intricately drawn nowhere
In shapes of shifting lineage...

Nollaig na mBan

Posted in Irish Language, Literature with tags , , , on January 6, 2023 by telescoper

Today is January 6th, which is Epiphany in the Church calendar, Twelfth Night, usually the day the Christmas decorations came down when I was a kid, and here in Ireland a day known as Nollaig na mBan (Women’s Christmas).  You can read more about the origin of this Irish tradition here.

This allows me an excuse to be a grammar bore yet again. The Irish word for “woman” is bean, which has the plural form Ban; na  is the corresponding definite article. However, in the phrase  Nollaig na mBan, “women” is in the genitive case (Christmas of the women) and the B therefore undergoes lenition to become m. This sort initial consonant mutation is very common in the Irish language. Instead of being pronunced “ban” the word for women is therefore spoken as “man”. Fortunately, the written language is kind in that it leaves the unmodified consonant in place, hence mBan.

I was also reminded today that 6th January (in 1914) was the date of the gathering described in James Joyce’s wonderful short story The Deadthe last, the longest, and the best of the collection Dubliners, which I thoroughly recommend if you haven’t read it yet. It’s an ideal gateway into Joyce’s writing:

Nollaig na mBan shona daoibh go léir!

At the Solstice, by Sean O’Brien

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on December 22, 2022 by telescoper

We say Next time we’ll go away.
But then the winter happens, like a secret

We’ve to keep yet never understand,
As daylight turns to cinema once more:

A lustrous darkness deep in ice-age cold,
And the print in need of restoration

Starting to consume itself
With snowfall where no snow is falling now.

Or could it be a cloud of sparrows, dancing
In the bare hedge that this gale of light

Is seeking to uproot? Let it be sparrows, then,
Still dancing in the blazing hedge,

Their tender fury and their fall,
Because it snows, because it burns.

by Sean O’Brien (born 1952)

Remembering Omar Khayyam

Posted in mathematics, Poetry, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on December 4, 2022 by telescoper

I was reminded today that 4th December is the anniversary of the death, in 1131, of the Persian astronomer, mathematician and poet Omar Khayyam. That in turn reminded me that just over year ago I received a gift of a sumptuously illustrated multi-lingual edition of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám:

Edward Fitzgerald‘s famous English translation of these verses is very familiar, but it seems there’s a more of Fitzgerald than Khayyam in many of the poems and the attribution of many of the original texts to Khayyam is dubious in any case.  Whatever you think about this collection, I think it’s a bit unfortunate that Khayyam is not more widely recognized for his scientific work, which you can read about in more detail here.

Anyway, as we approach the end of 2022 many of us will be remembering people we have lost during the year so here is a sequence of three quatrains (XXII-XXIV) with an appropriately elegiac theme:

For some we loved, the loveliest and the best
That from his Vintage rolling Time hath pressed,
    Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before,
And one by one crept silently to rest.

And we, that now make merry in the Room
They left, and Summer dresses in new bloom,
    Ourselves must we beneath the Couch of Earth
Descend–ourselves to make a Couch–for whom?

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
    Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and–sans End!