Archive for Twitter

The Week(s) Ahead

Posted in Biographical, Education, Irish Language with tags , , on November 6, 2022 by telescoper

So here we are then. The study break is over. Tomorrow we resume teaching. Six weeks of the semester gone. Another six to go. I didn’t do half the things I meant to do last week but at least I’m not behind with teaching things. I should be able to cover everything I need to cover in the second half without having to speed up too much. That’s the hope anyway.

Over the weekend I’ve been thinking a bit about my social media strategy, if you can call it that. It seems Elon Musk has realized that Twitter isn’t worth a fraction of what he paid for it, and is worth even less now that advertisers are fleeing, so has decided to recoup at least some of his losses by giving priority to anyone who wants to pay $8 a month so they can broadcast whatever they like withouyt moderation. The famous “blue tick” will no longer even mean a verified user, just someone willing to pay to shout at everyone else. Musk is also in the process of sacking about half his workforce.

I’m not going to pay anything to the Chief Twit and don’t like the way Twitter is going anyway so I’ve decided that I will indeed move to Mastodon, which I quite like, and where you can find me here. I don’t have a huge Twitter following so migrating to Mastodon is no big deal for me. I see many thousands I know on Twitter and many more I don’t are doing likewise.

Posts from this blog are automatically sent to Twitter and I won’t stop doing that, but I won’t be logging on there much except from time to time to block anyone I see who has a blue tick on their profile…

Anyway, in other news, the forthcoming week also sees me resume my feeble attempts to learn the Irish language, so it’s possible I may be boring you all with updates over the next few weeks and months. You have been warned.

On Mastodon…

Posted in Biographical with tags , , , on October 31, 2022 by telescoper

The recent takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk, and the likely removal of content moderation with all that implies for increased toxic behaviour, has led me to reconsider my use of social media. I know I’m not alone in this either. Over the weekend I noticed quite a few of my friends quitting Twitter for Mastodon so I thought I’d give it a go.

Mastodon is a microblogging service with a similar look and functionality to Twitter but there are some big differences. For a start Mastodon is not run from a single website. It is a distributed network of servers around the world running open-source software; each server is called an ‘instance’. This means that it is not owned by a single individual or company and the different instances can have different moderation policies. Any person or organization capable of operating a server running the software, and willing to take on the legal issues, can federate to the overall network.

For another thing it is community led, with each instance run by volunteers. It is free of charge, has no advertising , so none of those annoying ‘promoted tweets’, nor any creepy algorithms trying to influence your behaviour, and above all does not exist to serve the ego of a billionaire owner with sociopathic tendencies.

Then there is the moderation policy. I joined the original server `’ (where I am the usual @telescoper) which has the following rules:

Hopefully this will deter those who spend all their time on Twitter sending abuse from joining Mastodon. This server is based in Germany, hence number 5. Although I think it was included for other reasons, it reminds me that defamation is a criminal offence in Germany, punishable by a prison sentence. A certain individual who has a habit of posting defamatory messages about me on Twitter should bear this in mind…

Anyway, I’ve only just got onto the platform and am still finding my way around. I only have a handful of followers, compared to the 7000+ I have on Twitter. For the time being I’m still on Twitter, but if it goes well then I intend to leave that to the trolls and bigots. I’m sick of spending so much time blocking objectionable people and seeing decent people abused.

P.S. One thing I think would be handy would be an API that allows me to publish these blog posts automatically on Mastodon like I do on Twitter, but I haven’t seen one yet…

La Même Chose

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on August 19, 2022 by telescoper
What is she saying?

You can’t move on Twitter these days without seeing the above photograph which seems to have become the latest viral meme. The game as always is to tweet the picture with a suggestion of what the girl is saying. Here is my effort:

You can play the game yourself at home by suggesting your own version of what she’s saying. There are quite a lot of astronomy-related attempts circulating already. The Hubble Tension is an obvious example topic.

Interestingly, just like ChorizoGate, the picture in question was first circulated a few years ago (in 2019) and was also apparently created in Spain. Perhaps there’s some kind of law that states that these things circulate on a 3-4 year cycle?

Talking of ChorizoGate, especially the French Dimension thereof, I wondered whether the French word for “Meme” is the same as it is in English. The French word however turns out to be “Mème”. So the English word “Meme” is not quite the same in French; the French word for Meme is “Mème” which is also not quite the same in French (“Même”). To put it another way, “Même” is the same in French but it’s not the same as either “Mème” or “Meme” neither of which are the same in French (nor in English).

I hope this clarifies the situation.

P.S. I chose the title from the well-known French saying “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”.

ChorizoGate: an Accidental Hoax

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on August 3, 2022 by telescoper

My Twitter account is usually a quiet backwater of social media, and that’s the way I like it, but there was an unexpected burst of activity and interest in it over the weekend. To amuse myself on Saturday morning I decided to post this on Twitter:

I thought a few people might find it funny, but it took off beyond my expectations. By my standards over 5000 likes counts as “going viral” (as you young people say). Most people saw the joke immediately – if you don’t get it, the image is of a slice of chorizo not an astronomical object – and some even joined in with puns and other jokes. Even funnier, some respondents earnestly shared their devastating insight that it was chorizo (or some variant thereof). I honestly didn’t think anyone would think that I was seriously trying to pass it off as a JWST picture; it was just meant to be silly. But there you go. That’s Twitter. I should also report that some people looked at the rainbow flags in my profile and proceeded to indulge in some casual homophobia. That’s Twitter too. Those people all got blocked.

Anyway, the day after I posted the image it seems a prominent French physicist called Etienne Klein who has many times more Twitter followers than I do, posted this embellished version. TRIGGER WARNING – it’s in FRENCH:

Notice the picture is exactly the same. What a coincidence! You might consider this plagiarism; I couldn’t possibly comment. I always regard anything I put on social media as being in the public domain so I’m not really bothered if other people “borrow” it. There’s quite a lot of plagiarism of stuff I’ve written on this blog out there, but life’s too short to get upset about it. Credit would be courteous, but one one learns that it isn’t generally to be expected.

As a matter of fact it’s not a new joke anyway. I didn’t make the picture and don’t remember where I got it from, though it was probably here.

Anyway, the funny thing is that this then got picked up by various other people:

and organisations:

There are others, e.g. here, here, here and here. Also here.

ChorizoGate all took off in a very surprising way. I’m not sure what the moral of this story is, other than if you make a joke no matter how obvious it is there will always be people who take it seriously…

Ten Years on Twitter

Posted in Biographical with tags , on October 17, 2019 by telescoper

This morning, a certain social media site pointed out to me that it is ten years to the day since I started using it.

My experiences of Twitter haven’t been anything like as bad as some people I know have reported. I think that’s probably because I’m quite liberal with the ‘block’ facility when it comes to bots and trolls and sundry other tediously offensive types. I have found that the positives have definitely outweighed the negatives over the last decade, and I count myself lucky to have encountered some very lovely people on Twitter, some of whom I have eventually met in the real world.

I don’t have a huge following on Twitter, but I’d like to take this opportunity to say that I do appreciate those who do read my tweets and hope that they find at least some of them interesting or amusing!

The Open Journal Tweets!

Posted in Open Access with tags , on October 19, 2018 by telescoper

I’ve got a busy day today with teaching and other things so I’m just taking a brief moment to let you know that the Open Journal of Astrophysics now has Twitter account which, if you are so minded, you can follow here


LGBT+ History Month and the Royal Society

Posted in Biographical, History, LGBT with tags , , , , , on February 23, 2018 by telescoper

You may or may not know that this month is LGBT+ History Month for 2018, and, to mark it, the Royal Society has been marking it on Twitter by celebrating LGBT+ scientists.

I am very proud to be included among those featured on Twitter, although slightly disappointed that no mention was made of my greatest achievement, namely the Beard of Winter 2018 award.

I can’t show all the people in the Twitter thread produced by the Royal Society because there are too many of us, but I will mention two people that I know personally.

The first is radio astronomer Rachael Padman from the University of Cambridge:

Among other things, Rachael recently won an award from Gay Times magazine. I worked quite a bit with Rachael when I was External Examiner for Natural Sciences (Physics), a job I did from 2014-2016, as she was heavily involved in the administration of the examinations process at Cambridge during this time.

The other person I’d like to mention is Tom Welton, who is Professor of Sustainable Chemistry and Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Imperial College in London.

I especially wanted to mention Tom because he and I were contemporaries at the University of Sussex way back in the 1980s when I was a research student. I hadn’t seen him since I moved from Sussex in 1990 until two years ago when we were both panellists at an `Out in STEM’ event run by the Royal Society.

I know some of you will be asking whether the Royal Society should be getting involved in LGBT History Month. Some people commenting on the Twitter thread certainly think it shouldn’t.  I think it should, in order to demonstrate that a person can be openly LGBT+ and have a successful career in STEM.  If being visible in this way helps just one career feel more comfortable in themselves and in their career it would be well worth it.


A Problem with Spitfires

Posted in Cute Problems, History, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on July 25, 2017 by telescoper

This problem stems from an interesting exchange on Twitter last night, prompted by a tweet from the Reverend Richard Coles:

I think his clerical vocation may be responsible for the spelling mistake. The answer to his question doesn’t require any physics beyond GCSE but it does require data that I didn’t have access to last night.

Here’s a version for you to try at home with all the necessary numbers (though not necessarily in the right units):

A model of a Mark VI Spitfire showing its two 20mm cannons.

A Supermarine  Mark VI (Type 350) Spitfire fighter aircraft weighing 6740 lb is initially travelling at its top speed of 354 mph. The aircraft is armed with two Hispano-Suiza HS.404 20mm cannons, one on each wing, each of which is fed by a drum magazine containing 60 rounds. Each projectile  fired from  the cannon weighs 130 grams, the rate fire of each cannon is 700 rounds per minute and the muzzle velocity of each shell is 860 m/s.

(a) Calculate the reduction in the aircraft’s speed if the pilot fires both cannon simultaneously until the magazines are empty, if the pilot does nothing to compensate for the recoil. Express your answer in kilometres per hour.

(b) Calculate the average deceleration of the aircraft while the cannons are being fired, and express your result as a fraction of g, the acceleration due to gravity at the Earth’s surface which you can take to be 9.8 ms-2.

(c) A Mark 24 Spitfire – which is somewhat heavier than the Mark VI, at 9,900 lb (4,490 kg) – is armed with 4×20mm cannons, two on each wing. The inboard cannon on each wing has a magazine containing 175 rounds; the outboard one has 150 rounds to fire. Repeat the above  analysis for these new parameters and comment on your  answer.

Answers through the comments box please!




Yes, science produces too many PhDs

Posted in Science Politics with tags , , , , , on February 19, 2015 by telescoper

I came across a blog post this morning entitled Does Science Produce Too Many PhDs? I think the answer is an obvious “yes” but I’ll use the question as an excuse to rehash an argument I have presented before, which is that most analyses of the problems facing yearly career researchers in science are looking at the issue from the wrong end. I think the crisis is essentially caused by the overproduction of PhDs in this field. To understand the magnitude of the problem, consider the following.

Assume that the number of permanent academic positions in a given field (e.g. astronomy) remains constant over time. If that is the case, each retirement (or other form of departure) from a permanent position will be replaced by one, presumably junior, scientist.

This means that over an academic career, on average, each academic will produce just one PhD who will get a permanent job in academia. This of course doesn’t count students coming in from abroad, or those getting faculty positions abroad, but in the case of the UK these are probably relatively small corrections.

Under the present supply of PhD studentships an academic can expect to get a PhD student at least once every three years or so. At a minimum, therefore, over a 30 year career one can expect to have ten PhD students. A great many supervisors have more PhD students than this, but this just makes the odds worse. The expectation is that only one of these will get a permanent job in the UK. The others (nine out of ten, according to my conservative estimate) above must either leave the field or the country to find permanent employment.

The arithmetic of this situation is a simple fact of life, but I’m not sure how many prospective PhD students are aware of it. There is still a reasonable chance of getting a first postdoctoral position, but thereafter the odds are stacked against them.

The upshot of this is we have a field of understandably disgruntled young people with PhDs but no realistic prospect of ever earning a settled living working in the field they have prepared for. This problem has worsened considerably in recent  years as the number of postdoctoral positions has almost halved since 2006. New PhDs have to battle it out with existing postdoctoral researchers for the meagre supply of suitable jobs. It’s a terrible situation.

Now the powers that be – in this case the Science and Technology Facilities Council – have consistently argued that the excess PhDs go out into the wider world and contribute to the economy with the skills they have learned. That may be true in a few cases. However, my argument is that the PhD is not the right way to do this because it is ridiculously inefficient.

What we should have is a system wherein we produce more and better trained Masters level students  and fewer PhDs. This is the system that exists throughout most of Europe, in fact, and the UK is actually committed to adopt it through the Bologna process.  Not that this commitment seems to mean anything, as precisely nothing has been done to harmonize UK higher education with the 3+2+3 Bachelors+Masters+Doctorate system Bologna advocates.

The training provided in a proper two-year Masters programme will improve the skills pool for the world outside academia, and also better prepare the minority of students who go on to take a PhD. The quality of the  PhD will also improve, as only the very best and most highly motivated researchers will take that path. This used to be what happened, of course, but I don’t think it is any longer the case.

The main problem with this suggestion is that it requires big changes to the way both research and teaching are funded. The research councils turned away from funding Masters training many years ago, so I doubt if they can be persuaded to to a U-turn now. Moreover, the Research Excellence Framework provides a strong incentive for departments to produce as many PhDs as they possibly can, as these are included in an algorithmic way as part of the score for “Research Environment”. The more PhDs a department produces, the higher it will climb in the league tables. One of my targets in my current position is to double the number of PhDs produced by my School over the period 2013-18. What happens to the people concerned seems not to be a matter worthy of consideration. They’re only “outputs”…

Fox News Facts on Twitter

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , , , on January 12, 2015 by telescoper

The following clip comes from a broadcast on Fox News:

The fact that Steve Emerson’s statement was laughably exaggerated and based entirely on ignorance (in this case of the city of Birmingham) comes as no surprise. After all, this was Fox News – a channel whose drivel-mongering is often beyond parody. It did however provoke two things that were surprising, at least to me.

One was something that is a rare commodity these days: a full and unreserved apology:


It’s better not to say stupid things in the first place, but credit to him at least for doing the right thing. I gather he has made a donation to a children’s hospital in Birmingham. So there’s that.

The other surprising thing was what happened on Twitter. Some genius had the idea of setting up a hashtag called #FoxNewsFacts. The consequences were hilarious, as hundreds of people contributed tweets lampooning Fox News for its ignorance of the United Kingdom and of Islam. You can find some of the funniest ones here.

I even contributed a few myself. This one proved a particular hit:

There was also this:

and this

But my favourite was this:

I thought it was wonderful how Twitter users responded in such an imaginative, light-heartedly humorous, and sometimes downright surreal, way to something which could instead have produced pure bile. Twitter isn’t always like that, but yesterday it was a delight on a dark and stormy evening and a welcome change of mood after the depressing events of the last week. And I’m glad to say #FoxNewsFacts is still trending…so it’s not too late to have a go yourself!