Sunday, December 31, 2006

Last post of the year

This year has been a bit of a change for my blog in that I've actually been writing fairly regular posts. It can be seen from the blog archive sidebar the difference compared to my output in 2004 and 2005, with a leap from a lowly 13 and 12 post to a massive 105 posts this year. I've also given a slight change in the look of the blog and upgraded to the new version of blogger. My resurgence in blogging came about due to having several more of my work colleagues starting their own blogs. This spurred me on to put some more of my ramblings down in electronic form resulting mainly in football based posts, but also several recipes, some travel stories, and even some science! Due the having more friends blogging I also seen a increase in my blog readership, so I thank all those that occasionally glance at what I've written.

Happy new year everyone!

Christmas lectures

One of the highlights of my Christmas time viewing (along with The Worlds Strongest Man and the World Darts Championship) are the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. This year the lectures were by Oxford University maths Professor Marcus du Sautoy on various areas in maths. Unfortunately this year five, who are now showing the lectures, decided to put it on in an evening prime time slot of 7.15 pm and start showing it on Christmas day. This was not good for me and meant I ended up only seeing half of one lecture. This was annoying as I generally really enjoy the lecture series. Its previous approximately midday slot when it was on BBC2 and, briefly, Channel 4 was far better for me. In fact one of the RI Christmas Lectures from 1993 partly spurred on my interest in physics. It was called the Cosmic Onion and was given by Prof. Frank Close and covered in a really well done way pretty much everything from subatomic particles to the entire universe. The RI Lectures are designed for kids, but I think they are pretty much the best pieces of science programming on each year for any age group. I still think that the Cosmic Onion lecture is the best physics lecture I've ever seen - I still remember parts of it quite vividly - and if there exists a copy of the lectures on video I'd recommend it be shown in every secondary school science class to inspire the children.

Viva Las Vegas

Last night a large group of us went to Vegas. It didn't involve any flying across the Atlantic as you might expect as this Vegas was not located in the USA. For me, however, there was some flying involved as I had to get back up to Glasgow from my Christmas holidays back in St Albans. The Vegas in question was a club night held on a ferry mored on the Clyde in the centre of Glasgow, with a 1950s Las Vegas theme. The reason for our visit was as a leaving do for my friend, colleague and band mate John, who will sadly be moving to Birmingham in the next few days.

This night out obviously required a bit of dressing up. My normal club attire is the same as my normal everyday wear: jeans or combats, t-shirt, hoodie. This didn't seem appropriate, so I decided to dust of my tux, which hasn't seen the light of day for about 5 years. I had a clip-on bow tie to go with the tux, but a clip-on doesn't allow for the cool untied-bow-tie-draped-around-the-neck look, so I bought a proper do-it-yourself version. This required a fair bit of practice, but I think it was worth it. I wasn't the only one to get dressed up and my friends put in a good showing with a variety of natty outfits - we all looked damn fine! In fact the majority of people at the club were also similarly dressed.

The night in all was a resounding success. I think everyone had a really good time and I know that I did. We danced vigorously to various 50s rock 'n' roll and swing type hits. We gambled our fake Elvis dollars on the roulette and black jack tables. We admired the Vegas showgirls in the fetching outfits (you can see them in some of the photos here). All great fun!

The night has inspired us to, I hope, venture beyond our normal Friday night pub outings. We'll definitely be heading back to Vegas again though.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

...and Watford lose again!

In this years Boxing Day fixture list Watford had the delightful Christmas present of hosting Arsenal. In another case of nice try, but not quite there yet we managed to lose 2-1 via a late Arsenal goal. When will we get those much needed points? I await some inspired purchase in the January transfer window, or at least a nice Cup run to lift my spirits.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

'Twas the day after Christmas...

First I'd just like to say that I hope everyone here in the blogosphere had a lovely Christmas. I'm at home with my family and have had the usual large amounts of food and a smattering of presents.

As is always my way I had a fairly frantic Christmas Eve. I'd managed to wrangle together a couple of presents before this, but still had the vast majority to buy and a dwindling amount of time. After last minute frantic scouring of the shops of St Albans I managed to get together a decent bunch of gifts, which were thankfully appreciated by their various recipients the following day.

I now have a few days of relaxing to do.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Ich bin ein Berliner

Yesterday afternoon a couple of us made a trip into Berlin from Potsdam. Setting out from our hotel armed with a map of Potsdam, and a tiny bit of knowledge from walking into town a couple of nights before, we assumed finding the train station would be easy! About 50 mins, and several false dawns, later we arrived at the station with our map reading skills, and trust of people in tourist information offices, rather diminished.

Anyway we still managed to make it into Berlin fairly early in the afternoon. It was a fairly grim day weatherwise, but we still opted for walking around as we had plenty of time and wanted to see stuff you might miss from the bus. We first walked passed the ubiquitous Christmas market in which at least every other stall was selling gluhwein. We then walked up into the main park in Berlin towards a large column with a golden lady on top - very impressive it was. We then made the far longer than you'd think walk up towards the Brandenberg Gate, but before we got there made the slight detour to the Reichstag. The Reichstag is an impressive building with a fairly new glass dome bit on top designed by Norman Foster. You can go in for free, so we went in to see a bit of German democracy in action. Unfortunately the parliament was not in session, so we didn't get to see Mrs Merkel et al, but the dome of the building was really nice to walk around and gave good views of the Berlin skyline (well as good as you can see on a rather grey and foggy day).

On leaving the Reichstag we went to the Brandenberg Gate and had a brief look round the square made so famous by the BBCs World Cup coverage earlier in the year - they didn't have the big football in the square though, it had been replaced by a Christmas tree. After getting directions from a hotel doorman we headed to Checkpoint Charlie to take in the heady Cold War atmosphere. There were no standoffs between us lovely democratic capitalists and the dirty Commie bastards, and it was generally rather underwhelming. To demonstrate our love of capitalism we then went for a drink in Starbucks. The rest was needed as we'd been on our feet for a very long time.

We then made a move towards Alexanderplatz. Along the way we took the really nice architecture of a lot of the buildings, mainly museums and galleries. In the square by Humbolt University I was tempted by an outdoor ice rink, and we also saw the site where in the 1930's a load of Nazi students had burnt a big pile of books - I felt no inclination to burn a book, although to be fair I didn't have a book on me. Further down the street there was a fun fair, with again, a large number of gluhwien stalls and half metre sausage stalls. We went on a ride (a spinning round on small seat on the end of long chains thing) and had some gluhwien.

After the fun of the fair we went for dinner, with some other people from our meeting, at a Turkish restaurant. This provided us with far more than our RDA of meat, but was very good. A couple of beers later we had to travel back to Potsdam. The highly efficient German rail system slightly let us down as the first couple of trains we tried to get got cancelled. Slightly later than we wanted, and well and truly knackered, we got back to our hotel in Potsdam.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Is it new?

One of the main things I've managed to do so far at GWDAW11, whilst supposedly listening to other peoples talks, is to start drafting a new paper! It's on something I, and some other Glasgow people, thought about a while back - I finally decided it might be worth following up. I did a bit of a literature search for similar things (thank you NASA ADS), and it's a close run thing, but the idea for the paper doesn't seem to have been done before. It should be quite easy to do the work for it in a short time. Get in!

Deutchland, deutchland

On Sunday evening I arrived in Germany for the eleventh annual gravitational wave data analysis workshop (GWDAW11). It was quite nice traveling on an afternoon rather than having to get up at some ludicrous hour in the morning. My journey started off with a taxi ride to Glasgow Airport. The taxi was being driven by an ardent Rangers fan and we were listening to an Old Firm game on the radio. It was quite disturbing when he decided to start violently thumping his fist against the roof of the car when Rangers equalised late on in the game. Other than that the first leg of the flight from Glasgow to Amsterdam airports went smoothly. A bit of running was required at Schipol due to being slightly late (well it takes a stupidly large amount of time to taxi from the runway to a gate at Schipol) and having a rather tight connection window. We also had to go through passport control which added on to the connection time threatening to make us miss our plane. There were a large number of people at passport control who seemed to think that it was only them in danger of missing their flight, so insisted on attempting to push into the queue - they didn't quite understand that a large fraction of the people there were in the same fucking boat! Anyway, we did just make the gate as the plane was boarding. We arrived in Berlin at about 10.15 pm and got a taxi to our hotel in Potsdam. After having a very tiny free beer in the bar I retired to my room and to my surprise found that Eurosport was showing the final of the UK snooker championship - the commentary was is German, but I got by.

We're on day two of the meeting now. So far it's been fine. The hotel we're staying at is nice and the food is pretty good. We went into the centre of Potsdam for a drink and some food, having a glass of obligatory gluhwine (aka mulled wine) in the Christmas market. This morning I gave a talk (the results I presented were those I described in my last post) and the talk should be posted here). I thought my talk went pretty well, but I didn't get any questions - probably people were still taking in the enormity of my results. Tonight we have the conference dinner, so people may be a bit worse for wear tomorrow morning.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Talking the talk

Last night I was guest speaker for the Renfrewshire Astronomical Society (the other RAS). They are an amateur astronomy group based in Paisley. The society were very pleasant and fed me well with a mix Chinese and Indian take-away. My talk was a general overview on the subject of gravitational wave astronomy. As I told my audience, it's a bit rich me putting astronomy in the talk title when we haven't actually detected the things yet, but hey! I covered the history of gravity and gravitational wave, then moved on to the types of detector we use, and then covered the various astrophysical sources we expect to produce gravitational waves. I like to finish these talks (I've given a couple before) with an optimistic outlook of where this field is going - and also to try and justify putting in that astronomy word. I can only hope that I didn't bore the group, as my talk went on for nearly 1 hr 45 mins - I can waffle quite a bit on occaision. I got quite a few questions, most of which I made a fair attempt at answering intelligibly. So in the past couple of years now I've done the Aidrie Astronomical Society, the Stirling Astronomical Society, and now the Renfrewshire group, who next?!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Beating spin-down

The results of one of the pieces of research that I've been spending the majority of my time working on were presented at the Texas Symposium on Monday by the head of the LIGO lab, Jay Marx - the slides of his presentation can be found here. What I've been working on is searching for gravitational waves from pulsars using data from the LIGO and GEO600 detectors. You can read more about pulsars in the wikipedia link I just gave, but here's a brief description: A pulsar is a neutron star, which is the ultra dense end state in the life of a massive star - one that have a mass of a few solar masses. Once it is has exhausted its fuel for fusion burning the star's gravity will collapse its core down to a ball of mainly neutrons, whilst the outer layers are blown off in a supernova explosion. This neutron ball will have a radius of only about 10 km, but will contain about one and a half solar masses of material! Due to conservation of magnetic field, the field of the massive progenitor star will be compressed down to the scale of the neutron star, leaving very tight field lines and a very strong magnetic field. Conservation of angular momentum will also mean that the neutron star will initially be very rapidly spinning. A pulsar is seen when radiation beamed out the poles of the neutron star's magnetic field intersects with the Earth. Providing the star's magnetic axis and rotation axis aren't aligned this beam will be seen as a pulse once per rotation - like a lighthouse. Most pulsars are seen by radio observations of these pulses, which allow the determination of the pulsar's position and rotation rate. The rotation rate of pulsars is seen to slow over time due to a loss of rotational kinetic energy. The main process thought to be dissipating this energy is magnetic dipole radiation caused by the motion of the magnetic field about the rotation axis. However, if the pulsar has some for of non-axisymmetry i.e. it has a bump on it distorting it from spherical symmetry, then as the star spins that bump will provide a non-spherical acceleration of mass - exactly what is needed to produce gravitational waves. So I've been trying to look for gravitational waves from exactly this mechanism, by targeting the precise frequency and position of a number of known pulsars using data collected by LIGO and GEO600 - see the ATNF online catalogue for a list of known pulsars. Using this data we've not managed to detect gravitational waves from any of these known potential sources, we've only been able to set upper limits on the amplitude of the radiation they could be emitting. Not seeing anything is however not a surprise to us. By looking at the rate at which the pulsar slows down you can infer how much energy it's losing. If you assume that all this energy were radiated away via gravitational waves (not a completely valid assumption as some will be lost via magnetic dipole radiation and particle acceleration, but...) then you can convert this energy into a amplitude of gravitational waves. For the vast majority of pulsars this spin-down upper limit, as we call it, on the amplitude is much, much lower than the upper limits we can set using our detectors. What makes the results presented on Monday more exciting is that for one particular pulsar, the Crab pulsar, we have produced an upper limit using our data, which for the first time beats the existing spin-down upper limit. This means that we're in the realm of doing meaningful astrophysics with our null results. I can't say how much we've beaten the upper limit by as we're leaving that for the publication we hope to have out in a few months time, but if you look on the plot in Jay's talk you can figure it out. I'll be presenting the result with a bit more explanation at GWDAW 11 next week.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

How'd that happen!

After a really good start to the second Ashes test England somehow conspired to claw a defeat out of the jaws of victory, or at the very least a draw. I'm taking about cricket by the way. We had a great first innings and declared on 551 for 6. Despite our fine batting and the magnificent partnership of Pieterson and Collingwood, we couldn't emulate it with our bowling and fielding - apparently the wicket wasn't great for bowlers. The Aussies managed to get a decent total in their first innings at bat, partly down to a great show by Ricky Ponting after he'd narrowly escaped being caught out by a dropped catch from Ashley Giles. After this England should have still managed to hold out for the draw, but no, we couldn't even do that. We racked up a dismal total in our second innings with our star batsmen failing and Shane Warne back on his top wicket taking form, leaving the Aussies a total of just 168 to win - which they bloody well did! Not good at all. We need to win two and draw one of the three remaining tests to even draw the series and retain the Ashes. Looks like far too big a task.

Nil - Nil

In a consecutive Watford post: Last night I watched my third Watford game of the season. We were playing away at Manchester City and, as the title suggests, we got a 0-0 draw, taking us to the grand total of 10 points. The game was nowhere near as bad as the last, although the level of football still wasn't particularly brilliant. The two teams decided that playing the ball along the ground was obviously not for them, so about 95% of the time the ball was hoisted into the air and headed about. Despite this the game was quite entertaining due to Watford actually trying to score and having a few decent chances (at least during the first half). The second half was a bit more subdued although we had to defend well. It got very nervy near the end when we looked blatantly like we'd given away a penalty by pulling down one of the City players in the area, luckily the referee didn't give it. Our top player was probably our keeper, Richard Lee, who made some fine saves. Ashley Young was also looking good, making several quick runs down the wings, although he generally had no other strikers he could pass the ball on to.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Reminder of the past

Tonight I watched my second live (via Sky Sports at a pub) Watford match of the season, and what a thorough disappointment it was. We lost 1-0 after a dull, and scrappy, scrappy game. In earlier games we'd been competitive, but generally missed out on results through misfortune or not putting away our best goal chances. Tonights game at home against Sheffield Utd showed that now our plucky but unfortunate guise doesn't seem to be the case - we're just shit. To be fair the whole game was shit, with barely a couple of minutes of what even the most generous of viewer could call football being played by either side. The majority of the match saw both sides mainly aimlessly hoofing the ball around the pitch. It wouldn't have been out of place from last season when both teams were in the Championship (in reality the standard was several divisions lower even than that). I hope that this match was a real anomaly, as from what I'd seen of us previously in this season I had some hope that we might make a decent hash of staying up. However we really must do a lot better, and home games against teams around us in the league table need to be won!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Crash, Bang, Hi-hat

It's taken a bit longer than expected, but I finally got the cymbals I ordered a while back. The set I got is the Sabian XS20 pack, which includes a hi-hat, 16" crash, 20" ride and a free (special Christmas offer no less!) 18" crash and cymbal bag. They apparently had to wing their way over from Canada, which is why they took a few weeks to arrive - I assume they had to shine them up with a veneer of Maple syrup. They do look very nice and I get my first go at trying them out this Friday at our next band practice.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

End of the season

Tonight I finished the first series of Battlestar Galactica. I've really enjoyed it so far and will be starting watching series two asap, mainly because I really need a resolution to the cliffhanger the first series has ended on.

Back with the penguins

A previous failed attempt at re-partitioning on my laptop left me with a small and unused Linux partition. The main reason it remained unused was that I didn't want to have to spend a long time getting my wireless card working under the distribution I was using. However in the last couple of days I decided it was time to give it a go again, so I downloaded the most recent version of kubuntu aka "Edgy". After installing this yesterday I have had to spend a bit more time than I'd hoped setting up the wireless network - which basically required installing ndiswrapper and copying across the Windows drivers for my network card. Now it's all up and running though and I'm very happy with it. I think I'll be using this Linux partition a whole lot more - in fact this post comes courtesy of kubuntu.

Friday, November 24, 2006

I don't like cricket...

...I occasionally-kinda-get-interested-in it. My last cricket post was during the last summer's Ashes tour in England. Now we're back down in Oz for this years tour and will hopefully retain that small urn (well in reality it stays in England at the MCC at Lords) after last years winning heroics from Freddie Flintoff and co. The first test started yesterday and the Aussie's went into bat. Unfortunately we were only able to take three wickets, whilst the Aussies got 340 odd runs. Maybe we'll have more luck taking some wickets during todays play. I'm just listening to a bit of the coverage via BBC Radio 5 Live's online broadcast, but will have to go to sleep soon - that's the problem with it being in Australia!

[Update - It seems we didn't do any better in todays play. Australia decalared at 602 for 9, and when we went into bat we lost three wickets for 53! Not very good at all. Hopefully Pietersen can score highly for us tomorrow, but I think we can at best only manage a draw in this test.]

Monday, November 20, 2006


It's been confirmed today that the Physics department at Reading University is going to be closed by 2010. This is the latest high profile closure of a university science department. The main problems being lack of students, which means that you don't money. Hopefully this'll be the last time we hear of such closures. Tony Blair recently described how science is essential for the British economy, so hopefully the government will try to reverse this decline in science take up and lack of funding (£75 million has been promised) - not just at university, but at school. I think we who work at universities have some responsibility to try and enthuse young people to continue to study sciences after school, especially due to the lack of us wanting to be school teachers.

My Sci-fi life

The BBC are trying to get a compilation of everyones science fiction experiences (in all it's forms) at their website here. It's fairly new - I think - so there's a lot of stuff that needs to be added. I'll have to have a think about my seminal sci-fi experiences and see if I have anything to add. Hmmmm... I do like a whole lot of sci-fi so this could take some time. There are, however, some quite large gaps in my knowledge which many would consider scandalous - for example I've never seen an episode of Blakes 7 and most Gerry Anderson stuff slipped me by (I think puppets slightly disturbed me!) I'm registered on the site as cosmiczoo, so look out for any additions I might make.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Soup of the day

The other day I made a nice chicken broth, so I thought I'd jot down the recipe for future reference (although it's actually rather simple and doesn't take too much remembering).


  • 1 chicken breast
  • 1 parsnip
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 1 leek
  • 1 tomato
  • half an onion
  • a chicken stock cube
  • mixed herbs
  • salt and pepper

Chop up all the vegetables into fairly large chunks. Cut up the chicken into small pieces and lightly fry, in a large saucepan, until cooked through but not too brown. Add in the onion and leek and also lightly fry. Add in the tomato. Add in the water, chicken stock, herbs, seasoning and other veg. Bring to the boil, cover and then leave to simmer for about an hour. Eat! Other veg could be added, but the ones I went for this time work very well.

In brief diversion into football Watford were cruelly beaten by Portsmouth yesterday. A controversial late penalty gave Pompey the win, after Watford had previously been denied a couple of penalty decisions. Aidy Boothroyd was none to happy with the referee. Our next game is a week on Tuesday against Sheffield United, so hopefully we can get our second win against our fellow newly promoted team.

Via the medium of blog

Cosmic Variance's prolific writer (and theoretical cosmologist) Sean Carroll has just announced his engagement to fellow blogger Jennifer. I offer my heartiest congratulations to them both. It seems that they first met (in person) at the April APS meeting in Dallas, which I was at, although I don't remember any physics based love ins! It's very nice that love can blossom through the blogosphere. I hope that they have a great secular wedding.


A couple of days ago I did my first real academic style job - I set an exam question. I can't tell you what the question is just in case an actual student has a look at this here blog. It's a question for a general physics paper (something I never had to go through during my undergraduate days) which meant that there was a fairly large scope when thinking of it. I'm quite proud of my question and hope it makes it onto the exam paper. If it does make it onto the exam it could mean more marking for me though!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Food, glorious food

If you're a fan of really good food and live in or near the West End of Glasgow, then I highly recommend trying out Roastit Bubbly Jocks on Dumbarton Road. A few of us went there last night and were all treated to uniformly delicious meals. I started with a asparagus and wild mushroom risotto, followed by a venison casserole, finished off with a nice bit of sticky toffee pudding and ice cream. I am still pretty damn full this morning. The restaurant is fairly small and unassuming from the outside, but it has a nice friendly atmosphere on the inside and the staff were very nice. Go there if you can!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Expanding my memory

I decided today that I should have more storage space on my computer, so have bought a 250 Gb external hard disk from Amazon. On searching for one of these I almost had a Google based Freudian slip as I typed in "external hard dick", which I luckily caught before I hit enter for the search. Hopefully 250 Gb should see me well for a while and will definitely allow me to back up everything I currently have, with plenty of room to spare.

[Update - My hard disk arrived yesterday, and looks quite funky - it's shaped like a black hardback book. So far so good, with it working right from plugging it in, although I wouldn't have expected any problems from a brand new device. It has a lot of air vents to keep it cool, which is good as overheating seems to be a problem with some of these devices after extended use. It came with a FAT32 file system, which I will be keeping for when I want to use it with a Linux system, rather than re-formating as NTFS. It's currently housing some videos and some of my old presentations. Still has oddles of space to be filled though.]

Monday, November 13, 2006

The life of Brian

Via this post at Cosmic Variance I found out that Queen guitar legend Brian May has a blog/soapbox. It's a, well how can I say in a good way, interesting read! Now I know my own ramblings may not be the most eloquent things put on the web, but Brian should maybe stick to finishing his thesis, or selling out with his Queen legacy (think for example the Ben Elton musical We Will Rock You and letting 5ive do cover We Will Rock You). That said I think Brian should be applauded for his promotion of astronomy - I really do. I hope he keeps it up.

Goodbye Global Surveyor!?

It seems that Mars Global Surveyor has been out of communication for a week (also see here). MGS has been sending back bountiful information from its orbit around Mars for almost 10 years, so has had a very good run. Hopefully contact can be regained and it'll have another few years of dutiful service sending us piccies of Mars' surface. If not then I'll raise a glass to all it's achievements and say a fond farewell to a great spacefarer.

[Update - NASA have conceded that they are very unlikely to regain communication with MGS - I'll raise that glass when I next have a drink to hand.]

Bring back theocracy!?

Last week (yes I know that's a long time ago in this hyperfast day and age) a new religion backed think-tank called Theos published a report called Doing God: A Future for Faith in the Public Square. This called for links between religion (Christianity I assume) and state to be upheld (and strengthened) and has been backed by leading (Christian) figures. Following this the Archbishop of York has been condeming the erosion of Christianity from public life due to illiberal atheists undermining Britain's religious heritage. It's a position that secularists (me being one) would argue very strongly against, as religion should be a private affiar and should be totally separate from the state. There should be no government preference (perceived or otherwise) towards any religion, or non-religious group, with everyone treated equaly in the eye's of the state. Apparently there's only the UK and Iran where religious leaders sit on the state legislature - these being the bishops in the House of Lords. A response to this report can be found on the National Secular Society's website here.

In another note from the NSSs website there was a quote by our good reverand Tony Blair saying talk of Creationism in some schools (being some of the new part privately funded City academies sponsored by the evangelical Christain Peter Vardy) was "hugely exagerated". He goes on to say “I’ve visited one of the schools in question and as far as I’m aware they are teaching the curriculum in a normal way. If I notice creationism becoming the mainstream of the education system in this country then that’s the time to start worrying,”. Now I have some issue with what he says there. I don't think you should wait for Creationism to become mainstrean before you start worrying there Tony. I think if Creationism is being taught in even one school then you should be worried and stamping it out hard. You can't let these schools teach there own warped brand of knowledge just for fear of losing people ready to sponsor you City academies scheme. It's a very dangerous route to let any school go down.

[Update - In todays Guardian there was an article on an Intelligent Design information pack being sent out to UK school by the group Truth in Science (it was also on Newsnight tonight). You'd hope from a group called Truth in Science this would be an information pack on how to counter ID arguments, however in reality it's an ID propaganda exercise. From the article is scarily seems that there is some positive feedback and take up of this information pack from school head's of science!

"The teaching pack, which includes two DVDs and a manual, was sent to the head of science at all secondary schools in the country on September 18 by the group Truth in Science. The enclosed feedback postcard was returned by 89 schools. As well as 59 positive responses, 15 were negative or dismissive and 15 said the material was 'not suitable'"

The claim as ever by the distributors of the pack is that they are just trying to give the ID theory a voice in the science class and be critical of Darwinism. The reality is that they are trying to put across a religious viewpoint as if it has some basis in testable science. This should be kept well clear of the science classroom.

The government to it's credit has said "Neither intelligent design nor creationism are recognised scientific theories and they are not included in the science curriculum.", however the fact that there are some science teachers who are willing to use this material is still very worrying.

There are quite a lot of other places in the internet where you can read about people speaking out against ID, so I'm not going to say anything lengthy here, although read this for the ruling from a US case brought to court about teaching ID in schools.]

Space battles galore!

After recommendations from several people (and due to my flatmate downloading it) I've started watching the re-make/re-interpretation of Battlestar Galactica (also see here). I've only watched the pilot mini-series so far, but that's been enough for me to catch the sci-fi show bug again. I think I'll be watching the rest in fairly quick succession over the next few weeks, until I've caught up with the middle of series three which is currently showing. What more could a sci-fi fan want than huge space battles, evil cybernetic robots, and attractive women - it's got them all. I now just have to get used to Starbuck being a woman rather than Dirk Benedict, although this shouldn't be too hard as she's far more attractive than I ever thought Dirk was.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Ministry of experiments

Today Lord Sainsbury announced he would be quitting his position as the government Science Minister. His reason for leaving has yet to be revealed although there are murmurings of possible links to the whole cash for honours/peerages scandal, although he received his peerage before his own large donations to the labour party (some of which he might not quite have disclosed fully) were made. Over his time in this position he has overseen a large rise in the government spending on science and as far as I can tell has actually taken a fairly large interest in his job (apparently it's never been a ministerial brief that anyone's really wanted before). There also appears to have been a fair amount of respect for him among the scientific community (according to this article at least). He's definitely been the most prominent and visible Science minister I can remember, in fact I have no idea who any of the previous science ministers have been. A lot of his prominence has been down to his donations to the Labour party, his closeness to Tony Blair, and his Sainsburys supermarkets based fortune, but I have actually also seen him championing science on a fair few occasions. I don't really know if he's had much direct impact on funding within Physics and Astronomy, but I assume some of the extra money that's been put into sciences (from £1.4 billion in 1998 to £3.4 billion next year) must have come our way. The new appointment for the post is going to be Malcolm Wicks MP, who has been holding the position of Minister for Energy. I don't know if he has any science background, but from his biography he seems to have spent a lot of time working on issues for the aged and for carers. My main hope is that he is actually interested in taking up his new post, rather than dismissing it, and will be active in fighting the corner of science in general.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Word of the day

Today my word of the day is gubernatorial. I'd never heard or seen this word before until reading reports of the US midterm elections, but I liked the sound of it. Apparently it comes from the Latin word for governor, which is gubernator. When applied to someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger it seems all the more appropriate.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Better late than never

We've finally done it! After 10 games of draws and defeats Watford have finally got their first win! We just beat Middlesbrough 2-0 at home. Don't know anything about the game yet, but who cares what it was like cos we won. I really hope I can be saying that a lot more this season.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Rock 'n' roll star

We've actually had band practice for the last three consecutive weeks after a hiatus of about a month and a half. I think we are improving, which is obviously the direction we were hoping to head. Last night we even managed to put together a short four song set list and run through them all the way through. There needs to be a fair bit of tightening up of those songs, but we've got a good base to build on. Other songs are still rather, errm, how should I say... ropey (our Spanish isn't quite up to one particular song yet!). Another band practice is set for next week. We've kind of also agreed on a preliminary band name.

After my purchase of an electric drum kit I've gone further down the road of aquiring things to hit by buying a set of cymbals. When we practice I've always had to hire a set, which costs extra money, and the set is generally of fairly shit, old, broken quality anyway. Having my own set will mean I can use shiny new, great sounding cymbals, although will have the downside of me having to lug them to and from practice. I've just got to wait two weeks for them to come in stock at Drum Central.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

My God, it's full of stars!

Today involved wrestling with a large inflatable dome in our Physics Department common room. Not just any dome mind you, but a dome containing the promise of revealing the wonders of the universe. For you see the dome, once suitably filled with air, became the basis of a portable planetarium. Also required was a quarter of a spherical mirror, a data projector, a laptop with the Stellarium software (which I thoroughly recommend people get by the way - don't worry it's free to download), and several people to stand around and go "Ooooohh! Aaahhhh!". The reason for assembling the planetarium was so that people who'd not seen it done before (i.e. me) would know how to do it when we are potentially sent to schools to show kids the wonders of space. We also wanted to know how quick we could inflate/set it up and deflate it for these events. The features of the software allowed a very good range of control over the sky when in the planetarium - from just show the motions of the celestial objects to projecting constellations or reference grids, captioning objects, or zooming in on particular objects. It all looked very nice and was impressive for what you consider was just a normal data projector in a blow-up sheet of material - apparently this was considerably more hi-tech than the previous portable planetarium, which used a can with pin holes in it to project objects! The whole excersize proved quite fun and entertaining, but now all us budding planetarium show volunteers need to get ourselves acquainted with the software and think up our own style of show. ellielabelle also expounds the wonders of the planetarium in her post here.

I may be rather crude, but I did see another opportunity for use of the planetarium. With it's shape and rather labia-like opening (I should really post a picture - of the planetarium, not a labia, I'm not that kind of website!) it seemed that it could be used in sex education classes (once we've taught the astronomy - no, not as part of the sex-ed). A womb like environment could be projected on the inside followed by a birthing experience as people emerge from the dome. I think there may have been a similar exhibit in the Body zone at the Millennium Dome.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Yanks in space

The US has just unclassified parts of its new space policy - see here for the pdf. I had a quick skim through the document (it's only 10 pages and is mainly bullet points) and the main gist of it seems to be this:

  • we don't want anyone telling us what we can and can't do in space, and if you try interfering then, well, we've warned you right!
  • space things that help US national security, foreign policy and further US aims = good
  • other people infringing on our unequivocable right to do any of the above (in space) = bad
  • we'll collaborate with other people (international partners and such), but only if it's directly in our interests and helps with the furthuring of our aims (to be fair any country/government would, and does, say this, as any electorate/populus would frown in their money being spent on something that wasn't within the national interest - Matt)
  • space shouldn't belong to anyone (sounds laudable and good so far - Matt), actual US subtext = so don't try to claim anything up there as we'll just ignore the claim and do what we want with what you claimed anyway, or more basically "it's ours, so fuck off!"
  • we're not saying that we are going to put weapons in space (although if we did it would be for perfectly good national security reasons you understand), but just you try and stop us and you'll be sorry

I hope that makes you all feel nice and warm that good ol' unkie Sam will be protecting us and our future freedoms when we get into space.

Thank God for that

Good news everbody, we are apparently "...highly unlikely to be vacuum fluctuations...". It's nice to know that I (and everything else) am probably not just some virtual me that popped out of the vacuum until Mr Heisenberg says that I've got to give my energy back.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

What I did today!

So I just submitted my diary of what I did today to history matters as I talked about in my last post. Here it is in all it's glory (or general dullness):

"I was woken up at 8am by the alarm on my mobile phone. I got out of bed and got dressed in a pair of jeans, a t-shirt and a zip-up hoodie. I made a cheese and Branston pickle roll for my lunch. I then had some Tesco's own brand Weetabix, with semi-skimmed milk, for my breakfast, whilst watching the BBC Breakfast news. I brushed my teeth. I packed my gym clothes and lunch, including my roll, two bananas, and a Mars bar, into my bag. I looked out the window and noticed that it was cloudy and had been raining, so put on my coat. I left my flat at about 8.40am and walked to the gym, whilst listening to a Suede album in my iPod.

It took about 25 mins to walk to the gym, where I changed into my gym clothes - shorts and sleeveless t-shirt. I spent about an hour in the gym, using weights, the exercise bike and the rowing machine. After this I had a shower and changed back into my jeans, t-shirt and hoodie. I left the gym at about 10.40am and walk to my office in the University of Glasgow Physics and Astronomy department.

On arriving in my office at 10.45am I switched on my computer monitor (turned off the previous night to conserve power) and then checked my e-mails. I also checked out the astronomy e-print archive for any new papers which had been posted.

At about 11.10am I went to the departmental common room for a coffee break. I bought a can of Diet Coke, for 50p, from the vending machine and sat and talked with my friends for half an hour. I then talked with a couple of colleagues about some results we wanted to present at a conference in December.

At 12noon, I went to an informal discussion group, which I'd organised, talking about an astrophysical paper on observations of a double pulsar system (PSR J0737-3039A/B). This discussion lasted about an hour.

At just after 1pm I went back to the common room to have lunch. I sat down with a group of my friends and ate my roll, bananas and then Mars bar. We talked about things including at what stage of ripeness bananas are best to eat. I like quite ripe bananas, with a few dark spots on, as they're sweeter than greener bananas.

After lunch I returned briefly to my office and then left for a meeting at 2.15pm. The meeting was to discuss how best to perform scientific outreach work to schools (or other groups) making use of the new planetarium we have. This meeting ended just before 4pm and I rushed back to my office to take part in a telephone conference.

The telephone conference is a weekly event with collaborators across the world. On the conference call I gave details of a paper I was writing that needed submitting for review and of plans for presenting results at the upcoming December conference.

After the conference at about 5pm I did some more work on the paper I was writing.

At 6pm I went up to the common room for another can of Diet Coke and a quick chat with some friends. Some of us then went to the Research Club (a bar for staff and post-graduate students at the University of Glasgow). I ordered a plate of Nachos and a pint of Stella Artois. There was an event on at the Research Club in which a local shop (Demijohn) was providing samples for tasting, so we went to that. The samples included various olive oils, vinegars, vodkas, liquors and whiskys, which we sampled in small measures.

After the tasting event I had another pint of Stella Artios. I then left the Research Club, at about 11.15, with a couple of friends and walked home. It was raining hard when we left so after the 25 min walk home I was quite wet. At home I dried my hair and turned on the TV to see some highlights of the nights Champions League football matches."

I did my bit, you do yours. By the way the stuff I sampled from Demijohn was all really good - I recommend it.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Blogging into the history books

On the 17th October want you to record your day in blog form as part of a national historical record of of the daily lives of ordinary folk i.e. you and me.

"A mass blog-in, entitled ‘One Day In History’, will take place on 17 October as part of the History Matters campaign, supported by groups including the National Trust and the University of Sussex. The site will be archived by the British Library under the web archiving project.

We want to people to reflect how history impacted on them that day – by simply commuting through an historic environment, or how business history influenced their decision-making, or merely that they looked up some old sports statistics or listened to some pop music from the 1960s.

We want to record the ordinary lives of citizens. By doing so in vast numbers, everyone should feel that they are contributing something permanent and valuable to the historic record with material that could be used by historians and researchers for centuries to come.

The idea is inspired by similar experiments by Mass Observation, the social history resource founded in 1937 which still exists today at the University of Sussex.

If you'd like to join in with this event then go here and add you own experience, be it tedious and mundane or fun and exciting. This will be stored somewhere in the British Library archives apparently, for future historians to snoop through. I'll try to write something and also post it here.

Fishy recipe

This evening I decided to make a nice fish pie. I did my usual recipe search on the BBC food website and found many a recipe. I sort of created an amalgam of two of the recipes as described below:

A couple of fish fillets (I used cod, but I think you could use other things like Haddock)
1 carrot
Half an onion
Stick of celery
Fresh Parsley

Pre-heat your oven to 200 C. Peel your potatoes and boil them. Mash them and add some butter, seasoning, and a bit of grated nutmeg (!) - yes, nutmeg. Flake/cut up you fish fillets and spread into a greased baking dish (I just splashed a bit of oil on the bottom). Add you chopped up onion, peas, celery, and carrot into the baking dish and mix around a bit with some seasoning. Now to make a roux - melt some butter in a saucepan on a low heat, add your finely chopped parsley into this and stir for a bit. Next add some flour (I don't really use exact measurements, so just add enough until the consistency seems right), and stir vigorously until the roux thickens. Boil the milk in a separate saucepan. When it comes to a boil add it to the roux a bit at a time and mix vigorously to get rid of any lumps. When the white sauce reaches the right consistency pour it into the baking dish over the fish. Spread the mashed potato over the top of the fish mixture making sure to cover everything. Place in the over for 30-35 mins. If you want you can grate some cheese over the top. Eat!

Et viola, a lovely fish pie.

Sitting vs Standing

In most cases the there is an obvious winner in the sitting vs standing battle. Sitting will win hands (and arses) down! But in the world of gig attendance its often the other way around. If you're seated at a gig (a fairly rocking and lively gig at least) then you just don't really get the full experience - plus you can't dance. With this in mind I have to decide whether or not to get tickets for the DJ Shadow gig at the Carling Academy Glasgow in November, given that I've been slack in buying a ticket and there are now only seated ones available. The tickets cost £18.50, so they're not dirt cheap, but also aren't hyperexpensive either, which means I shouldn't really worry about the seating/standing issue if I'm that into the music. I'll probably go, because the last DJ Shadow gig I went to was really good, and his new album is also very good (despite several rather poor Amazon reviews I like it a lot - it has a far more standard hip-hop style, rather than his usual trip-hop style, and is therefore quite different from his previous stuff, but he pulls it off very well, and manages to mix in other styles as well).

Sunday, October 15, 2006

This is a test, I repeat this is a test

Just checking whether the script I just added, which should in theory allow Traceback works.

Update: Ok, that didn't seem to work! It could be that I've installed the script wrongly, or it may just not work under Blogger Beta yet, or it could be any multitude of other reasons. I'll try to find out which, but don't want to be spending too much time chasing down the problems

Update 2: I've tried installing the script again - this times after having actually followed some instructions and installing it via greasemonkey, rather than just inserting it into the pages html. Let's see if it works now!

Update 3: That didn't work, but having a look at the script I think it only currently works for the original blogger rather than Blogger Beta. I'll scout around for a new version.

Update 4: So there is a way to get traceback (or TrackBack as I've found it more regularly called) working for Blogger Beta. It requires you to post comments through Haloscan, which will also handle trackback and stuff. I did get a haloscan account, but as of the moment I think I'll wait and see whether this guy comes up with any script I can just install via greasemonkey.

Friday, October 13, 2006

One of them

Many of my friends have LiveJournal (LJ) accounts on which I occaisionally leave comments. To do this in a non-anonymous way, I got myself an OpenID which works as my online identity. LiveJournal is rather nice in that if you've got an OpenID then it lets you have your own profile as if you where an actual LJ user. This means I can now submit posts (including a little userpic, which I only just found out), be befriended, which lets people syndicate this here blog, and friend people, which lets me read people's blogs that are for friends only. This is all very nice of the good people at LJ I think. I'm going to stick to my blogger site for now though rather than switch over to the rather more user friendly (and generally nice looking) LJ, just because I'm too lazy to move (and am liking being slightly different than my mates with their LJs).


It looks like the long awaited Darkplace DVD will be dispatched tomorrow. Bring on the horror!

Also starting next Friday (20th October) on Channel 4 will be "Man to Man" with Dean Learner - the new show from the creaters of Darkplace, Matthew Holness and Richard Ayoade. A trailer for this can be found here.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


I am now an e-mentor. This means that I give advice via e-mail to a high school student on, well, anything they want really. It could be informative and interesting, it could also be pointless and time wasting (hopefully not), but in either case it'll be a learning experience. The school students taking part seem to be enthusiastic and amiable, which is a very good start.

Show me the money

The main thing I took from todays GEO meeting was that I should never, ever, attempt to extract money from any European funding body. These bodies are drowned in the most obtuse set of acronyms and beuraucracy immaginable, and they become unintelligable to anyone. European beuraucracy really can be that bad. As far as I can tell there are about 10ish (who actually knows!) bodies, which in some sense deal with dishing out cash to the Physical Sciences. However I (and no on else really) have no idea which body reports to which other and under what framework! It could well be that all these funding bodies form a circle in which money just gets passed around in a loop with no one responsible for anything. If you don't understand anything I've just said then don't worry, because I'm none the wiser either!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The little detector that can(?)

Today was the first day of one of our GEO collaboration's biannual meetings - the GEO meeting. This is a collaboration of mainly UK and German universities and scientists behind the design, construction, maintanance, and running of the GEO600 gravitational wave detector. It is also responsible for data analysis of current data within the larger LIGO Scientific Collaboration and R&D for future detectors, like Advanced LIGO and GEO HF.

I gave a talk this morning on the contribution GEO data can make in the search for gravitational waves from known pulsars during our current science data run (S5). Another two days of meeting to go now.

Bubble Bobble

After the first two Euro 2008 qualifying games Steve McClaren was doing okay in his new job as England manager. England had two wins although we'd not really played brilliantly. The next game (played last Saturday) was at home against Macedonia - a certain win surely. Not so as it happens, as we can only eek out a 0-0 draw. We just didn't play well at all and created very few chances. So we have 7 points out of what should really have been 9, but there's always going to be a few anomolies in the qualifying groups, so we'll take it as one of those mishaps. Today we played Croatia away from home, which admittedly should be a much tougher game. However you'd think we'd have picked ourselves up after Saturday's performance and tried to turn things around. Again it is not so, we didn't have a single shot on target until into the 90th minute! What's going on? It's just not right! Prior to our one and only challenge for the Croatian keeper we'd conceded two goals, and Paul Robinson had to be our best player because he was being tested so much and had to make some great saves. Robinson was the subject of a horrific bit of misfortune in the Croatian second goal, with a Neville passback bobbling right over Robinson's foot for the attempted clearance. No excuses though, we just didn't play well. McClaren, sort it out! And don't be changing the system from 4-4-2 (which we know and can play under) to 3-5-2 (new and strange)! Ok, that was an attempted excuse. Next up (competatively) is Israel next March. Let's hope the break does us good, as there are now 4 teams in our group on 7 points, and two have games in hand over us.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Working late...

...hurts my eyes. At least I can listen to loud music in my office as no other bugger's about at this time of night. Hopefully the presentation I've just produced (to be given tomorrow morning) is up to standard! Goodnight.

Monday, October 09, 2006


It seems that Google have just bought up YouTube! How long before they own the whole internet?

Sad snooker news

It's just been announced that the snooker player Paul Hunter has died aged 27. Paul had been battling with cancer for the last couple of years, and has played on in major championships despite this. He's always been a favourite on the circuit, and was regarded by some as the snooker equivalent of David Beckham, with his changing hair styles and appeal to the ladies. Commentators loved to refer to his famous "Plan B", when after trailing heavily in a match he went back to his dressing room with then girlfriend (and later wife) for some stress relief. I'm sure he'll be missed by everyone in snooker and by us the snooker watching public.

Friday, October 06, 2006

In my face

The other day I joined the internet social networking revolution and got myself a Facebook account. I was invited to join by a friend from my undergraduate days back at UCL. From what I'd previously read Facebook was set up as a way for people at universities (initially the likes of the Ivy League US universities) to keep in contact, organise events, date, etc, and for those reasons I felt it should be hated. I even had a rather long rant about it once (not recorded anywhere). I've mellowed in my view of it now and it seems a lot more open to anyone now which makes it a bit nicer. I'm am on there as a UCL alumni, which was one of the first batch of UK universities to be on it (because UCL types can be rather arrogant and like to think of themselves as rather brilliant Ivy League types). I'm not sure how much I'll actually use it and have no real desire to go about trying to create a large social network on it, but I've set up an RSS feed from here so it may open up a wider readership to my blog. At the moment I only have a network of two people. If you would like to be in my facebook group/network/social circle then send me a message.

Beta blogger

I've just switched to the new β version of blogger. It seems to be linked to having a google account in some way - I may be terribly out of date but do google own blogger now? It has funky new features, so you may see some changes to this site in the new future. For a start I can add labels for my posts like those people on livejournal have. I don't know whether this new version supports TraceBack yet though, but we shall see. Update: it would appear that it doesn't have TraceBack, so I may have to use the workaround suggested here.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Swedish prize - part 2

(As I was saying yesterday...) this morning saw the announcement of the Nobel prize for Physics. It went to two guys (Smoot and Mather who were the PIs - Principal Investigators - on the COBE satellite) and is for an astrophysics based discovery (hooray!) - measuring the blackbody temperature and finding anisotropies in the cosmic microwave background (CMBR) using said COBE satellite. I'll leave it to Sean at Cosmic Variance to explain this in more detail in his post here. Quite a few other people have written about this to in a far more informed way than I can manage if you search about a bit. This is the second Nobel prize to go the the CMBR, the first being it's discovery by Penzias and Wilson in 1965. I predict that if there's another Nobel going to CMBR based discoveries in the not too distant future (and I'm sure it'll be trying for the hat-trick) it'll be for the discovery of a stochastic background of gravitational waves in the polarisation of the microwave background. That may just be my gravitational wave bias talking though.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The ecstacy and the agony

So today I watched my first Watford game of the season, playing Fulham at home. We were on 3 points after the first six games, with three draws and three loses. From what I'd heard we'd actually been playing quite well, with a fair amount of spirit, but had yet to be able to pull off a win. I was hoping today would be a different affair. With the added support of me watching the game we could hardly lose. The first half saw us pushing forward with lots of verve and passion, monopolising the possession and creating the best chances. All this forward play lead to one goal, involving a lovely chip from Ashley Young onto Marlon King, who after looking like he'd lost his balance managed to recover and put the ball in the net.

The Fulham manager Chris Coleman surely had some harsh words for his players at half time as they were out on the pitch a full five minutes before kick off. This didn't seem to have helped sure up the Fulham defense as after a mistake by Volz Watford got a great break on. This lead to a second Watford goal scored by Young from a fantastic cross by Bouazza. So 2-0 up only a minute into the second half. I am the lucky charm that I was hoping I'd be. This is surely going to be our first win of the season. Well how wrong could I be. Fulham decide to start to play, actually holding onto the ball for a bit, and our defense suddenly decide to go to pot. Fulham get a goal back and Watford become far too nervous and look quite shakey. Then Fulham get the equaliser - disaster! What are we doing. What happens next is even worse, we fail to clear the ball from our box about 4 times during a goal mouth scramble and then score an own goal. Nooooooooo! Going from 2-0 up and looking quite commanding, to losing three stupid, stupid goals.

That wasn't quite it though. In the last few minutes it got rather exciting with Young managing to pull back an equaliser for us. To be fair, Young did have a great game. I'm liking the look of the lad. So it ended 3-3. We had squandered our lead, but managed to salvage a point at least. Next up are we're away to Arsenal, maybe our first win there then!

The Swedish prize

Tomorrow see's the announcement of the Nobel prize for physics. I have no idea of who's in the running, but no doubt it'll be for something done about 20 years ago - something pretty damn good mind you. Today was the turn of medicine to get it's prize and it went to two guys (Fire and Mello) who did pioneering work on RNA interference, which has revolutionised a lot of modern genetics - allowing people to understand the role of gene expression far more widely and easily than before. The work was only done 8 years ago, which is a very short turn around for getting a Nobel. We then have prizes for Chemistry on Wednesday, Peace on Friday, Economic next Monday, and an undecided date for Literature.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Giant Ruddy Bangs

Last week I was down in the big smoke of London attending the grand surroundings of the Royal Society. There was a discussion meeting on γ-Ray bursts - GRBs - (intense flashes of γ-rays seen from space), which I was going to. The discussion there was very topical with a lot of talks being about recent results from the Swift satellite, which was specifically designed to spot these GRBs and then quickly slew onto their location and look at the afterglows from the original burst. Observing these afterglows is the key to working out the underlying process which causes the burst. Now I'd heard that bursts where catagorised into two types, short and long duration, depending on how long the initial flash lasted, with short ones lasting ~< a few seconds, and long ones lasting up to a few hundred seconds. I also thought that current knowledge suggested that the short bursts where from the inspirals/merger of a pair of compact objects e.g. neutron star binaries or black hole - neutron star binaries, and long bursts where collapsars e.g. a supernova in which the ejected material can't escape and falls back onto collapsed core in an accretion disk. Turns out that things are far more complicated than this two category system! There are all sorts of differences seen in and between bursts currently catagorised within one or other of the systems - with differences in the energies of the initial bursts, short bursts looking like long bursts, afterglows being mysteriously absent etc. Obviously there's still a lot more to find out about these events, but at the moment there's just a lot of stamp collecting and building up enough events to start making better catagorisations and working out what's really going on. Are these bursts all from the same kind of underlying event but just seen differently (i.e. a viewing angle effect) or are they completely different kinds of things, like white-dwarf mergers rather than collapsars?! There's enough going on in the field to keep the theorists and observationalists happy (or at least scratching their heads) for a while yet. Hopefully us gravitational wave types can detect something to help those guys out.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Carbon, carbon everywhere

Right, it's time to take action! Now normally I'm a bit apathetic or just plain cynical (or maybe just too lazy) when it comes to petition type things, but I decided I'm going to change my ways for one issue at least. That issue is going to be climate change and the capping of Carbon Dioxide emissions. In the past I have actually been quite dismissive of the whole climate change thing, or at least mankinds contribution to it - I didn't have any doubt that the world has been heating up over the past century. I mean the Earth's climate has fluctuated wildly over its lifetime and the reasons for it were probably solar, or volcanic in origin. But I've come round to the view that mankind is certainly contributing a majority of the current temperature increase, and this could cause us some rather large problems in the not too distant future. There've been many recent climate reports from all sorts of governments and NGOs, all of which give very stark warnings about what will happen, but still governments (which as I just said have commissioned some of these reports) have not put any substantial policy into action - and I don't care about the Kyoto agreement, because it was fairly wishy washy and insubtantial in the first place. After seeing yet another report on these issues on Newsnight tonight I thought I'd write to my MP on these issues i.e. getting a yearly commitment to specific, and tough, CO_2 reduction targets, having a dedicated minister responsible for dealing with these issues and getting all other departments to legislate with these targets as a top priority, and also the need for these issues to be a top priority on a world stage. Now it was mentioned on Newsnight that Friends of the Earth, unsuprisingly, are campaining on these very things, and actually have a letter draft already set up - saving me the bother of writing one myself. This letter will be emailed to your local MP to encourage them to sign a proposed bill addressing the first of my points above. I encourage you to follow the link and send the letter in, or write your own letter and send it to everyone you can think of i.e. Tony Blair, the Queen, etc. Also encourage all your friend to send it in, email and pester them about it, also get your non-British friends to send a similar letter to there government representatives. This is only a first start obviously, but if everyone does this for as a first thing and then keeps sending more emails/letters and the like then thing may get done!!

Now I just have to find a way to justify my flight from Glasgow to London today, rather than walking down and planting trees on my way.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A good day for the Brits

This evening many European national teams were playing the second of their qualification matches for the 2008 European Championship. The British teams playing today (Scotland, Northern Ireland and England) all won, which is very good. The England game, which is the only won I saw all of, was however a rather disappointing affair. This was the first England game I've watched in a Scottish pub since seeing us go out of the World Cup (and we all know my last experience), but admittedly there've only been two England games since then and for one of them I was in America. We just didn't play well at all, couldn't pass for anything and just kept losing the ball. Some of the players just didn't be seeming to bother trying to even look where they were passing. We won, which is the main thing, but I'd like the players to at least try a bit harder, as having a 1-0 lead makes it a bit more nervy than it really should be. Scotland did well beating Lithuania away from home (I only saw brief bits of the game, so can't really comment on the performance), so they're now on top of their table on goal difference ahead of France. This should hopefully give them confidence to go on and perform well when they have to play France and Italy. The best, and most shocking result, was Northern Ireland's 3-2 win against Spain. I saw the last 15 mins of this game, and it was far more exciting than the whole of the England game. A brilliant result for them after their disappointing result against Iceland at the weekend. So all in all a nice evening for the home coutries, lets hope it continues.

And the winner is...

...Jodrell Bank. The lovely Lovell radio telescope sitting in the Cheshire countryside has won the BBC unsung landmarks competition. I think it is a very deserved winner and more people should appreciate the beauty of astronomical instrumentation. There are some great telescopes around the world that look fantastic and are truely epic pieces of engineering. You've got things like the Gemini and Keck telescopes, with huge 8-10 m mirrors that had to be transported to altitudes of a few km at the top of mountains - in fact at the Gemini South site in the Chilean Andes they had to blow the top of a mountain to flatten it out! You've got the Arecibo radio telescope which is 305 m across and built in a huge sinkhole in Puerto Rica. These are amazing instruments doing cutting edge science. I suggest visiting their respective websites to check how good these thing look to. Older smaller telescopes also look pretty damn cool and beautiful too and are incredible demonstrations of precision engineering from 100s of years ago - check out the pictures of the Radcliffe and Joynson telescopes which I got to use as an undergraduate at the University of London Observatory.

Update: It's been pointed out to me that I missed our our own beloved GEO600 in my speil about wondorous astronomical instrumentation. This was an oversite on my part. I should also give a nod to our maybe slightly more impressive and larger (well it eats a bit too much ;) ) American cousin LIGO.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Roll with it

On Sunday I dusted off (and they really were quite dusty) my roller skates. I've had these since I was 14, so getting on 11-12ish years, when our school (well whole city really) went through a roller skating stage. Now back in the day (aka the mid-90s) many places got in with the new-fangled inline/roller blades style action, but St Albans wasn't like that - oh no, we were old school! We shunned the inline wheels and went for the two wheels side-by-side at the front and back, as nature intended. Everyone had them, from the old women with blue rinses, to the smallest newborn baby. Obviously I had to get with the program and buy a pair. At the time me and my friends would whizz around on our bewheeled feet, oblivious to the many dangers that we faced, i.e. cars on roads and general steep slopes, and we lived to tell the tail. We even went to the occasional roller disco, which aren't proper roller discos unless at least one person break and appendage, in my opinion. A lot of fun was had rolling around in general.

So basically after all these years (well with some uses and wheel/bearing upgrades) I decided to give skating another go. I went down to Kelvingrove Park, which has some flatish surfaces, but also rather too many hilly bits. The last time I'd put the skates on was about 3 years ago (also in Kelvingrove Park), so I was a bit nervous to start with. I can skate okay, but still when I pick up a bit of speed I rather worry about whether I can stop again. After I bit I gained more confidence, but refrained from trying to speed about too much. It has also been raining a bit, so the surfaces were quite slick, which means that you have to be a bit more careful - especially when encountering wet leaves on the ground. I didn't skate for that long as it started to piss it down, but I enjoyed it and will try to go out more regularly from now on. Maybe I'll get back to the stage where I can skate backwards (properly) and do jumps and stuff.

The day of no internet

Today was a long, hard and tedious day. I had to read things off flattened, dried wood pulp and write things using ink rolled from the tip of a thin tube onto said wood pulp. Why was I forced into such backwards, primitive, stoneage style, actions? Because, I'm afraid, my computer at work was slightly buggered. Well, my computer itself was fine, but the server which held our home directories had been upgraded, and unfortunately was having some teething problems, which in general meant I couldn't log into my account and use the thing. This meant I spent a day with no access to the lovely, lovely joys of the internet. Do you know how that feels!? If I'd chosen to take a day offline it wouldn't have been so bad. It would have been a self appointed abstination, which would have left me feeling good about myself. This unwanted internet break, however, left me feeling angry and out of touch with the ebb and flow of the world around me. How does one know what's going on without access to the BBC news I ask you!? Do you know what I was reduced to during this enforced web disconnect? I actually had to try and do some non-computery work! I read some papers which had been sitting on my desk for weeks. I went through some notes I'd been meaning to go over in detail. I tried to finally fathom out the whole covariance matrix/derivatives of the log likelihood thing! It was horrifying I tell you.

Anyway, things are back to normal now. Our sys admin has sorted things and I now have a home directory to call my own. Hoorah! Tomorrow I be able to do it, but today I even missed looking through the arxiv preprints this morning - how sad!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Where are all the Watford blogs?

I just cast a google net out for people who are blogging about Watford FC and found just the one site - good on this guy for trying though (he also is into trees). I know we're not that big a club, but I'd thought more people might want to write about us. I'll try and keep up some comments on them here, but I don't want to turn into an exclusively football fan based blog. I'm hoping the other guy will have some good posts now we're into the new season, which I can just link to.

I should say something about the other nights game (Watford 1 - West Ham 1) that I gleaned from the brief highlights on Match of the Day last night - we again played some good football and showed a lot of commitment, we had a lot of chances and a fair few goal scoring opportunities which could have clinched a win for us if only we'd had some better finishing. We're showing promise for the rest of the season and don't think we'll be heading back down again without putting up a good fight. These comments have been put together from the Big Book of Generic Footballing Phrases by Mr A. Pundit.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Point on the board

Yesterday the mighty Hornets (aka Watford FC) got their first point on the board in the new Premiership season - we drew 1-1 with West Ham at home. Let's hope there are many more of these precious points to come. Not sure how the game went, but hopefully they'll be some hightlights on Match of the Day in a few minutes time. I assume we played excellently of course, and where somehow robbed by an injustice of epic proportions ;)

Today I (and my three co-authors) had an abstract accepted for a poster at the Royal Society GRB discussion meeting in London next month. I'm hoping that there's a conference proceedings for this just because we'd get published in the Philisophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, which sounds cool!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Beg your pudding

Why oh why have Richard Ayoade and Matthew Holness forsaken us!? The DVD of Darkplace has been delayed yet again until January next year, arrghh! And we'd planned some sort of Darkplace viewing evening and everything.

On actual astrophysics news more compelling evidence (or even dare I say proof) for the existence of dark matter has been found (see the BBC article here, the actual paper here, or Sean Carroll's - he held the press conference for the news release - very good cosmicvariance post here). Also an interesting paper I read this morning is this, in which John Middleditch tries to overturn pretty much all of current supernova theory! He seems to be on a bit of a mission and have some bones with either certain people or just the general atitude of recent cosmological thinking. His paper is a bit of a rant, but raises some interesting, although maybe wildly inaccurate, questions - many of which could probably be answered sensibly by people more in the know than me (I'm glad I'm not going to have to be peer reviewing it for whichever journal it's been submitted to). However his ideas are intriguing if not only for that fact that from what I can make out they might provide a bounty of sources for gravitational wave types like me!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Britain, Britain, Britain...

I'm back in good ol' Blighty. It's so nice when you look out the plane window and see the green fields of the UK. They say the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence (or ocean), but I say that we have the best green grass around.

The were no hold ups or delays on our flights back and we were allowed hand baggage on board which relieved some of the boredom. The security checks (or lack of) were still rather farsical though. I mean the ban on liquids (new film - Lakes on a plane - terrorists hijack a plane using a terrifying combination of water from Windemere, Superior and Titikaka, anyone!), gels and lotions amounted to people being told not to bring them on board. Actual checks that this was being followed were rather random and pretty incomplete that they may as well have not bothered. I mean there were people carrying large suitcases on board, which surely would have contained toothpaste at least, an probably some hair product, or make-up, and security didn't seem to mind one bit.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Red stick

A brief description of where I've been in Baton Rouge (i.e. the place I've been at a meeting for the last week):-
It's rather hot and humid during August - luckily most places inside are air conditioned. It's a proper college town, in that everything relates to LSU (Louisiana State University). Their mascot is a Tiger, so there are many tigers in all the merchandise! We're staying near the main campus so are surrounded by frat and sorority houses - some of them look pretty damn nice, but by virtue of them being frat/sorority houses are most likely filled with twats (it being out of term time most of them are empty - hurray!). We've been staying in a hotel which is named after a guy called Lod (yes that's right Lod, short for Lodwrick) Cook, who was an LSU alumni and rich oil magnate - he's met pretty much every recent US president, many movie stars, has an honourary knighthood, and is basically properly in the know - he may however be dead, we're not sure! There are many turtles and herons on the lake near our conference hall. Nowhere has the Fox Soccer Network (even the supposedly "English" pub and grill called the Fox and Hound), so we couldn't watch the Englang versus Greece game - which we won 4-0 by the way. The pub/restaurant called The Chimes has a very good selection of beers on draught, and some nice Cajun style food. The bar called Slinky's has a very well decorated mens toilet! and is very nice for the general dive that it is. There are other things to, but I wont mention them now.

I've been to Baton Rouge a couple of times before and this description is based on my current trip only - plus I'm rather tired at the moment. My next post will probably come from back in the UK.


I sent the comic link from my last post to some of my friends and got the general response that a lot of the cartoons were a load of emo wank. It's true, a lot of them are emo wank (love hearts and all!), but their are a few cartoons which are hilarious (which was also acknowledged).

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Monkey see, monkey put on blog

So blatantly taking stuff from another blog here (found on the very good cosmicvariance which I keep plugging - read it for it is good), but I enjoyed it so I though I'd spread the joy. From this post there are some great cartoons/comic strips taken from this website - take a look at it and laugh. Here's a couple that were posted on cosmicvariance:

And here's a few I saw just looking at xkcd that I liked - there are some far more funny ones on the website though - I'm sitting at the back of my conference pissing myself whilst looking at them:

And for the truely geeky:

Definitely have a look.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

New York Cares we were in Newark airport with our vocuhers for free things. We take the free shuttle bus from the hotel to the airport. The driver of the bus decides that we don't really want to be staying at the hotel that the airline had planned for us, but instead we want to stay at a different hotel. He tells us that his hotel has alcohol (nod, wink) whereas the one we'd supposed to be going to didn't. We liked his thinking and went along with it. At the hotel we made use of the free dinner vouchers to get some ice cold bottles of Corona sent up to our room - they we're concerned that we didn't want any actual food, but we reassured them that that was just fine. It was now time to fight off the tiredness we were feeling and explore the Big Apple.

We got the shuttle bus back to the hotel, then the airport airtrain to the station. It was then a 25 minutes train ride into Penn Station in New York. Out of Chris, James and I, Chris was the only one who'd been to NY before, so he becames official guide. Apparentlty street numbers get larger from south to north, and avenue numbers get larger from west to east - all laid out in a big grid. We set out to go to 42nd Street - we went the wrong way, luckily we caught this error very quickly and turned around. It's a fairly busy city, well at least it is at about 6.30pm on a Friday. For a while we just wander about a bit along a couple of streets staring up at buildings and dodging all the people. All the buildings are rather high and you're constantly staring up at them. After a while we thought we should actually decide on a destination, so started to head towards Central Park. We walked up a road containing many exclusive looking shops like Luis Vuitton, De Beers and Tiffany's and also the most 80's sky scraper ever, Trump Tower, until we got to Central Park. Central Park contained many people roller blading and jogging as you might expect. It also had lots of horse and carriages, but we weren't tempted to take a ride.

Hunger started to strike, so food was in order. We happened across a restaurant called something like the Brooklyn Diner - we were sold. It definitely looked the part. On their menu they had (ringed by a large red box) the famous cheese burger - recommended by the New York Times (or some such newspaper) as being the best burger in New York. We saw some other people with it and it was large. Again, we were sold. The waitress almost didn't have to ask what we wanted, I said "Three..." and she finished with "...cheese burgers." The burgers were very good, although I can't vouch for them being the best in New York, as I only have the one sample. It seems that we weren't the only people who enjoyed this diner as the walls were covered in small plaques containing the names of famous people who'd eaten there (this is what we assumed anyway). We were in a booth containing Kevin Spacey and Vanessa Redgrave, to name but two - well the two names we actually recognised as being famous people!

Next we decided to go to the Empire State Building - well you've got to really haven't you. This required us to go on the Subway, or at least the fact that we were knackered and our feet hurt required us to be able to not have to walk. We made it to the Empire States Building after eventually finding the right Subway stop and passing the many examples of the classic image of steam coming out of drain covers. We looked up at it and it was tall. By this time it was gone 10pm and we were all feeling very tired. Did we want to go up the Empire State or just go back to the hotel. We were at a large risk of actually falling asleep there and then so we went for the return to the hotel option - sounds boring I know, but we really were incredibly knackered. I go up it next time I'm in New York and I think I'll definitely make an effort to go back. It's seems like it could be a really good city to get to know.

We got back to the hotel about 2 hours later after a series of delays, but finally got to bed for about 5 hours sleep before our journey recommenced. I may right about this later.

P.S. Anyone who gets the reference for this posts title gets bonus point.

Ping-pong with a difference

Chris and I have just invented a great new game. In the Louisiana State University Physics and Astronomy Department they have a common room containing a table tennis table. The room is also furnished with ping-pong balls - two orange and two classic ping-pong ball white. This is almost all you need to play table tennis, but unfortunately not quite enough. Yep, we were missing not just one bat, but two, thus making the game impossible, Well that's what you might think, but we are wiley, ingenious physics types. Improvising with our most bat-like appendage, our hands, we were able to play a reasonable game. This did have the problem of slightly hurting our knuckles, when playing a particularly vigorous shot. Casting our eyes around the room we hit upon some other bat-like implements - a fish slice and a tray. These served well and enabled and enjoyable game. We did get some strange looks from people walking passed the room though. Send me your ideas for other racket substitutes.

Coming to America

On Friday I had the lucky opportunity to try out the new heightened red-alert-critical-awwooooga-awooooga-level security at UK airports. People may have noticed that on Thursday our plucky security services, with the help of those good men (and women) in the Scotland Yard anti-terror unit, thwarted an evil attempt to blow up US bound planes from Britain. And how were these evil doers going to achieve this - well they were going to use that most innocent of phases of matter, something we all know and love in it's many incarnations - liquid (and/or its slightly more sinister cousins, the lotion or gel). This frightful plot led to clamp downs on pretty much any kind of hand baggage on flights out of the UK, especially those heading to the US.

So I (and some colleagues) was going to be heading out to my scientific collaboration meeting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the day after all this happened. After an hour and a half sleep on Thursday night (I was packing and trying to write the talk I was going to be giving at the meeting until late into the night) I got prepared to head to the airport early. Upon arriving at Glasgow airport we were given a leaflet showing the allowed items we could take on the plane, and were issued with our approved clear plastic bag (this weekends must have item!) into which we could place our allowed items. We complied and put our travel documents, wallets and keys into said bags and proceeded to check in our laptops, ipods, phones, books i.e. anything that might provide us with the slightest bit or entertainment on the flight. I didn't have to check any liquids as the only liquid I had were my own vital bodily fluids and I assumed there weren't going to require me to dessicate myself before boarding. Other than these extra restrictions on hand baggage the other security measures didn't seem any different from normal flights to the US - no extra questions, no extra-extra-friendly body searches. So fair enough we had to check all this stuff we'd normally take on the plane, but it's for our own safety and the rules apply to everyone right, we're all going to be equally bored on the plane. We'll actually this didn't quite seem to be the case. People still managed to get books (restricted), magazines (restricted), pens (restricted), packs of cards (restricted) onto the plane. At the extra security check we had before boarding they didn't seem at all bothered! So those of us who stuck by the rules weren't too happy.

The plane trip was as boring as you'd expect, with three rather shit films being shown. I can never sleep on a plane and this flight was no different. I ended up playing songs in my head, but there are only a few that I know all the lyrics to, so my playlist was quite restricted. Due to having had a band practice the night before we left, and one of the songs we're trying being White Wedding, I had the bass line to this on continuous loop in my brain.

By the time we landed (in Newark airport) it was quite obvious that we'd missed our connecting flight. As ever I breezed through immigration and customs - I never really had any problems getting into the US despite many peoples horror stories - the guy who cleared me through even seemed quite friendly and didn't have the usual angry, suspicious look on his face that I've come to expect. We then had to stand around for longer than usual waiting for our baggage as it was receiving some extra checks. We spent some of this time scowling at people who had restricted items blatantly showing in their clear plastic bags - the sheer cheek of it. When the luggage finally showed up on the conveyor belt there was a smattering of applause - well we were in America and they get quite excitable over there (some must have been itching to whoop or call out on some way). Surprisingly my laptop, phone and ipod were in their one respective pieces, without any dents or scratches, and having not actually been stolen by baggage handlers - hurrah! We proceeded to the flight connections desk to sort out some new flights onto our final destination. It was only 3pm in the afternoon, so we thought the possibility of getting connecting flights would be quite high, but apparently not. We were told that the next morning would be the only possibility. However, our airline (Continental) were going to put us up in a hotel for free. They also gave us vouchers to pay for dinner and breakfast. We resigned ourselves to having to spend an evening in Newark - it's just luck that Newark is only a short train ride from New York City! To be continued...