At the moment the petition at the No. 10 site stands at 6668 signatories (and is growing).
Friday, December 21, 2007
At the moment the petition at the No. 10 site stands at 6668 signatories (and is growing).
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
As part of the effort to combat the swingeing cuts that threaten fundamental physics research in the UK an online petition has been set up at
Please pass this information on to anyone who might care about Britain's place at the leading edge of scientific research and keeping it there.
This from the FAQ:
- What will happen to my petition once it is finished?
Once your petition has closed, usually provided there are 200 signatures or more, it will be passed to officials who work for the Prime Minister in Downing Street, or sent to the relevant Government department for a response.
Every person who signs such a petition will receive an email detailing the Government's response to the issues raised.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
This is welcome news:
INNOVATION, UNIVERSITIES & SKILLS
Select Committee Announcement
Science Budget Allocations
The Innovation, Universities and Skills Committee is holding a short inquiry into the Science Budget allocations. The first evidence session will be on Monday 21 January 2008 when evidence will be heard from:
Institute of Physics; and Royal Astronomical Society
Panel 2 (at 5.00pm)
Science and Technology Facilities Council; and Research Councils UK
The session will take place in Committee Room 6 at 4.15pm.
The session will be open to the public on a first come, first served basis.
Of course this does not mean anything in real terms of restoring funding but perhaps it might go some way to starting the process and addressing the major concerns that physicists have with STFC. I expect weasel words but hope the committee cuts through it.
For the interested you can watch it online at www.parliamentlive.tv
Monday, December 17, 2007
On a whim I went and had a look at the Wikipedia entry for the Haldane principle. The final sentence made me laugh:
There is currently a debate about the extent to which the principle is still applied in practice.Well I would say that that debate is pretty much over, wouldn't you?
The fast stream can be observed in data from the ACE satellite (I provide a snapshot since the on-line plots always update). See the high density (orange) that occurs at the same time that the magnetic field increases (white)? This is an example of a co-rotating interaction region, where the fast solar wind catches up with the slow wind compressing the interplanetary magnetic field. You can see the tail end of the last stream (yellow) that provided so much nice data for us last week (after the noise!).
So plenty of nice radar data tonight as those electrons and protons dive into the atmosphere, ionising as they go. No optics to look at unfortunately. It has been raining persistently for the past few days (wiping out much of the snow). Coupled with the time of year, we have been pretty much in the dark all day; that's generally how we feel when understanding decisions made by STFC come to think of it.
Anyway, STFC and the British government should love us; with the dark and the rain there has been absolutely no blues-skies research going on here for the past few days. Just how they seem to like it.
The news from Keith Mason and from Diamond itself is that overspend on the facilities is not to blame for the shortfall. So what is? This blog has updates on the problems.
I see that a number of rumours have started swirling about the rationale behind theses cuts.
[UPDATE] second link changed to the one I intended. This is what happens when you get distracted by menial things such as work when writing blog posts...
Sunday, December 16, 2007
So I thought it worth talking about what STP actually is. It is not really astronomy though it has long been grouped with it; it is not even space science in the sense of the words that STFC seems to use (which is more like space technology).
Solar Terrestrial Physics deals with the processes that drive the connection between the Sun and the Earth and the way in which the different regions of near-Earth space couple together. This makes it part meteorology (sort of) and part fundamental physics. The fundamentals arise in trying to understand the actual processes that underlie the sun-Earth interaction and the meteorology is our trying to understand what happens, when and where and the consequences for society.
On the fundamental level there are two big questions (I think):
- How does magnetic reconnection work?
- How are charged particles accelerated to relativistic energies?
Other questions include understanding how energy and momentum travel through the vertical atmosphere and ionosphere? what roles do turbulence play in space plasmas? does the magnetosphere exhibit emergent behaviour? etc.
Then we move into the meteorology aspects. We want to determine, exactly where and when electrons are accelerated. This is important both for protecting our technology in space, which is vulnerable to high energy charged particles and for applications on the ground. In particular in the polar regions where some communication systems can be wiped out by space weather effects. These could be vital safety-for-life applications!
We want to know where and how energy is deposited in our atmosphere and how it is transported. Why does reconnection occur at some points and times and not at others in the magnetosphere? This doesn't even cover the plasma experiments that can be performed in the ionosphere where boundaries are much less important than in plasma chambers.
Basically it comes down to expanding our knowledge of our near environment. Knowing how the world works and what effect that might have on us.
Where STP really differs from astronomy is the way in which we do it. Instead of relying on a couple of instruments (or even one) to study from afar. We use remote techniques as well as getting up close and personal, and we often use many instruments in conjunction to diagnose the plasma environment and put small scale observations into the larger context of the Earth's space environment. We use cameras with radars, magnetometers and riometers to look at the ionosphere and then link that with direct observations of the magnetospheric plasma from insitu satellite measurements. We use a large suite of instruments to do our science rather than single or a couple of measurements.
You may think that sounds expensive, but you can consider ground-based STP instruments as multiple instruments on a satellite with added advantages: they have a much longer lifetime, they are cheaper to build, they provide more than a snapshot in space. The soon-to-be closed ground-based facilities were UK led and gave us buy-in to other data sets around the world though collaborative agreements and membership (often leading) of international consortia. UK STP is world leading science. To make clear, this does not mean that satellites are unimportant, far from it, just that through combining the satellite measurements with the ground based observations we can build a clearer picture of what is happening and what we are seeing. Satellites alone can provide excellent science, but their worth is multiplied in conjunction with ground based facilities.
For considering costs let's take an example. The SAMNET magnetometer chain is run by Lancaster university to provide important information on the location and timing of large releases of energy into the ionosphere (amongst other things such as studies of high energy electron loss and mass loading of the inner magnetosphere). It is also the provider of data for AuroraWatch, an outreach programme that lets subscribers know when there is likely to be an auroral display that they can see. The cost of running SAMNET (with associated technicians) for one year is under £47,000. Whereas operations of a single satellite instrument can be over £450,000 per year.
However they are all going to go. Some of our facilities were cut a while back because "we did not make the case that our science was important". I wonder now whether it was less us not making the case and more an inability on other's part to comprehend the interdisciplinary and fundamentally different work that we do when compared to astronomy.
Note I am not blaming the astronomers here, if anything it is a system that fails to allow adequate representation on major decisions for a distinct field of physics, and that has been the way for quite some time.
During the course of our ongoing inquiry into UK space policy, we received evidence suggesting that there could be tension within the STFC between funding for large facilities and funding for basic science within other programmes. Professor Keith Mason assured us that "there is no conflict": he averred "I am comfortable that we already have mechanisms in place that can handle this transparently and achieve an appropriate balance". Sir Keith O'Nions also assured us in January 2007 that "I think you will be quite impressed with sort of advisory structure that is being put together for STFC" and that "It is going to be a very distinctive and exciting council". He had previously described it as "a significant prize in innovation".
We will monitor the operations of the STFC once it has come into being and will look for an opportunity to discuss its progress, work and administration with Professor Mason once a reasonable period has elapsed.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
So I notice the "Big Science Questions" post and for the first time I really notice what the first question is:
• Why is there a Universe?
Let that sink in for a moment.
Read it again and note that it does not say 'How?', it says 'Why?'
Is this truly a questions for science to answer? To me it sounds more like a philosophical (or perhaps even religious) question. I understand the necessity of thinking big and not shying away from the big questions but we also have to work within the constraints of science. Big targets are wonderful but realism is neccessary as well. I am intrigued to know how we are expected to answer this question.
Now however plans are afoot for a more insidious attack right at the heart of the Iranian people:
Lady In Red star Chris De Burgh will be the first Western artist to play a concert in Iran since the country's 1979 revolution, according to reports.
How low can they sink? What evil really dwells within the hearts of men that something like this can even be conceived?
DISCLAIMER: I actually own some Chris de Burgh music. But not Lady in Red. that was bloody awful!
• Why is there a Universe?
• How did galaxies form?
• Was there ever life on Mars?
• How do planetary systems evolve?
• How are the chemical elements created?
• How does our climate work?
• How can we create new materials to store energy?
• How can we meet mankind’s need for abundant clean energy?
• How can we design smart materials?
• How do cells work?
• How do degenerative diseases develop?
• How can we design better treatments for cancer?
There is no obvious questions that include the Sun or STP, effectively pushing both solar and STP out into the cold. But perhaps even more importantly than that where did these questions come from?
This is a point raised by another colleague via email; the process seems to be opaque. He comments that in the past PPARC (STFC forerunner) had town meetings and hard effort by advisory panels, including the now defunct solar system advisory panel). I cannot recall heaing about the formulation of these questions and it seems I am not alone. Something to find out, I think.
Apparently one of my colleagues asked about STFC's interest in climate change. This was in direct response to the one of the new nine 'big science questions' described in the strategy delivery document: "How does our climate work?"
My colleague commented that studies of solar physics and the sun-earth connection are rather important here and made the point that ground-based STP is an important element of that.
Keith Mason's alleged response was to suggest that NERC ought to fund ground-based STP in that case.
Hold on a minute. STFC declares that they want to know how our climate works and yet thinks that NERC should fund instruments that can play a role in answering that question??? If I am interpreting his answer correctly Mason believes that climate change is in the purview of NERC, yet in his own strategy delivery document he has climate change as one of the fundamental questions STFC should answer. As this stands it makes absolutely no sense unless one concludes that Mason just thinks that ground-based STP should be eliminated.
What am I missing here? What sort of answer was that? Is the man not aware of his own research council's strategy?
Friday, December 14, 2007
Obviously due to my location I was not able to attend the meeting yesterday but some of my colleagues have passed on information on some of what was said.
Grant money will be reduced significantly. Grants currently under consideration will take a 25% cut with the figure to be reviewed each year. Existing grants may also be withdrawn in areas where STFC is withdrawing from facilities. This is massive. This amounts to a very large number of jobs going across physics (probably my own included). This issue must not be underestimated, this includes physicists and support staff across the country who will become unemployed.
Apparently, Keith Mason assured everyone that DIUS officials were fully aware of the impact the cuts would make. He declined to answer when questioned what ministers knew.
Regarding solar terrestrial physics, Keith said that the cuts in the field were due to the UK not being world-leading in that area. This is absolute nonsense and if Mason does not know this he is too ignorant to be in charge of any funding decisions at STFC. In 2005 there was an international review of physics conducted throughout the UK. To quote:
Emphasis mine. Now let us look at what the report said:
The Review was organised by a Steering Group comprising: Professor Sir John Enderby (Chair; President, the Institute of Physics), Professor John O'Reilly (Chief Executive, EPSRC), Professor Keith Mason (Chief Executive, PPARC) and Professor Kathryn Whaler (President, the Royal Astronomical Society).
The UK has a world-leading role in helioseismology, dynamo theory, coronal activity, magnetic reconnection, and shock physics, thus covering many of the important aspects of the Sun-Earth connection.This is just one of the many, many positive things said about STP in that report that Keith Mason seems blissfully unaware of. I recommend reading the report in full, in some places it is now quite funny to see the recommendations given by our esteemed international colleagues and how they have been ignored (through necessity of course) by STFC.
The cuts to STP only affect ground based science - according to Keith Mason. The problem is that the UK has excelled at ground-based for years and have a limited satellite programme through ESA. Cluster is the only truly magnetospheric mission currently being flown and that is now getting old. I will bet that Cluster will be revealed to be on the chopping block within the next month or so. I would be very surprised to learn that decisions regarding its fate have not already been taken.
It is worth emphasising this point, whereas astronomy and particle physics are going to be hit massively, and unfairly by these cuts, the affect on solar terrestrial physics is essentially (though it does not say so in the document) to wipe out a whole area of scientific expertise in which Britain has excelled since 1950s. It is particularly ironic that this should happen in the middle of IPY and IHY
More to come
Thursday, December 13, 2007
With regards to the running costs within operation, Diamond Light Source Ltd submitted the operational budget in the framework of the 5 years financial planning in 2003. Since the start of operations in January 2007, the company has been, and remains, committed to delivering within its negotiated budgets.
Add this to the mix of information.
The key reason was to address my ignorance over what ISIS and Diamond are actually for and to clarify that particle physics is not unscathed by this debacle. They are going to be hit just as badly in the research stakes as the rest of us and have lost the International Linear Collider.
It is particularly galling now to recognise that STFC has overspent on facilities that seem to be primarily for research into materials science; a discipline that is not funded through STFC. Clearly those of us who were worried about the ability of a new council to balance funding facilities with funding research were prescient. If only we had been more vocal and strident in our concerns.
Author Terry Pratchett is suffering from a rare form of early Alzheimer's disease, it has been revealed.
He said: "I would have liked to keep this one quiet for a little while, but because of upcoming conventions and of course the need to keep my publishers informed, it seems to me unfair to withhold the news.
"I have been diagnosed with a very rare form of early onset Alzheimer's, which lay behind this year's 'phantom stroke'."
Perhaps unsurprisingly the great man himself is still upbeat:
PS I would just like to draw attention to everyone reading the above that this should be interpreted as 'I am not dead'. I will, of course, be dead at some future point, as will everybody else. For me, this maybe further off than you think - it's too soon to tell. I know it's a very human thing to say "Is there anything I can do", but in this case I would only entertain offers from very high-end experts in brain chemistry.
Posted by Kav at 04:48
I started the experiment this morning working on the assumption that the bad weather might get pushed off by a region of high pressure. So far not so good. So we can rule out optics for tonight. Yesterday I took some very nice data with the radar and the cloud was patchy such that we should have some usable optics results. This is very nice as it provides both context and a method for estimating electron energy flux to compare against the radar derived results.
Why all this effort? Well I am trying to quantify additional energy input to the atmosphere via electron precipitation modulated by ultra-low frequency hydromagnetic waves in the magnetosphere. This is not easily done with a satellite since they pass through a region relatively quickly and although Cluster can help distinguish spatial features from temporal effects it can't be in the right place all the time. By using the ionospheric radar in conjunction with a ground array of magnetometers and an instrument known as an imaging riometer I can get a good estimate of the power input during the wave cycles across a range of local times. Through application of a little theory we can extract the electron energy flux that is due solely to the influence of the ULF wave and there you go. Of course, STFC is not interested in ground based data and now isn't interested in how the Sun affects the Earth (which used to be one of their 'big questions') except in terms of 'How does our climate work?'
Yesterday's carting of equipment around was fairly successful. We managed to move most of the bulky items out of the basement and back to the crate at the radar site. The next challenge is the stuff that we want to store in the hut; there is limited space and we know that not everything will fit. Tough decisions will have to be made.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
And now after letting off steam I am going to go and do some more work.
Things to do, equipment to carry. Sleep to try and get...
Since my experiment depends on early local times I have shifted my day to start at 2LT. This means I am available during the day to help out with other tasks. The only problem at the moment is that I am yet to perfect the art of getting to sleep at 19 LT. Not helped yesterday after reading the new strategy document.
Posted by Kav at 10:18
Council also reaffirmed that a major restructuring of its activities is necessary to provide a sound foundation for the next decade and to create headroom for new opportunities, crucial to the continued vibrancy and competitiveness of its research community.
Headroom for new opportunities. Okay that sounds reasonable, we cannot become fixed in our ways and need to allow for potential future developments. Interesting though, I had not realised that the way we were working was stymieing opportunities. I thought that there were lots of new things such as Diamond (ooh, overspend!) and the LHC for example. New cutting edge astronomy telescopes like LoSKA. Exciting satellite missions like the recently launched STEREO and future plans like Bepi Colombo and Solar Orbiter. There are lots of new things in the pipeline, just as there have always been.
It is not clear to this scientist exactly how we have been failing up to now in our ability to develop new opportunities as the sentence above implies.
Given the settlement this process of restructuring will now be accelerated. Some tough decisions will have to be made and in some cases relatively quickly. The Council has asked the executive to come forward with detailed plans in consultation with its Science Board and the PALS and PPAN Committees.
Some tough decisions. Well actually some very easy decisions, if the chief executive does not like it then the plug will get pulled. If not this time around then definitely in the next 'programmatic review'. Remember boys and girls, 'peer review is a blunt tool'.
The Council has asked the executive to come forward with detailed plans. I am afraid that too many scientists have become jaded in the past couple of years. I bet that this sentence will be interpreted to mean that the chief executive will essentially pick whatever he fancies to be the future science direction though he will discuss it with some committees, the details of which may or may not be passed onto the wider community. Don't bet on any wider consultation though. I hope that my cynicism is unfounded.
Council recognises that the restructuring of our activities will impact on both our research community and our staff but believes it will put us on a stronger footing for the future. We will aim to reach decisions and remove uncertainty as soon as is possible.So many of you will lose your jobs, and those that don't won't have much say in what they can research anyway. But don't worry because we will be stronger for it. Well those of us who still have jobs will be.
Remove uncertainty. Good we don't like uncertainty. Much better to know for certain that it is time to bend over and get screwed. Essentially we will do as we are told because what we want does not matter; that is my interpretation based not just on the words but also the climate under which we have been operating for the past couple of years. Context is the key and if STFC disagrees with my assessment perhaps they should consider why I came to it and the environment of distrust they have fostered that has led us here.
Someone in comments has made the point that particle physics is hardly unscathed in this. This is very true, my emphasis on astronomy and especially STP came from the RAS response and my own 'bias'. In fact my post could be read as this being an astronomy vs. particle physics issue when it most certainly isn't. As STFC have said there will be cuts across the entire programme and that includes particle physics.
This seems to me to be more about science vs. facilities. This is the thing we worried about before the creation of STFC as I mentioned below. How do we keep the science grants protected from the vagaries of managing and maintaining large scale facilities and the associated costs? It seems we don't. Colleagues have commented to me that they think the new strategy strongly emphasizes the technology rather than the science. Be your own judge.
Well here I am sat way up in the north of Norway running an experiment on the ionospheric radars here. Anyway it is pleasant enough but with funding shortages it is a bit like a ghost town during the day as many of the staff have gone.
The government is to review its funding for physics after scientists warned of an £80m research shortfall.
Leading physicists criticised the threatened cutbacks which they said could"damage" physics research.
This is actually an update to the story as I read it yesterday morning. So what is this all about?
An excerpt from a letter by the President of the Royal Astronomical Society on their website:
STFC has been grappling with a Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) settlement for 2008-11 which, while slightly above the rate of inflation, amounts to a 7% cut of their budget when Full Economic Costs and the running costs of new facilities like the Diamond Light Source are taken into account. This has left the STFC some £80m short of the funding it needs to maintain research at its current level.
The STFC (Science and Technology Facilities Council) is a relatively new research council that was formed through combining PPARC (Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council) with CCLRC (Central Laboratory of the Research Councils) and taking on responsibility for nuclear physics from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). It was formed on April 1st 2007; make of that what you will.
Not only do they fund particle and nuclear physics, astronomy and space science as well as various facilities but they also cover solar terrestrial physics. This is my field. STFC consider it a part of astronomy.
In the run up to the formation of STFC worries were raised over the way in which funding for large instruments would be balanced against actual research. I know this was a hot topic of conversation amongst scientists, I was one of them. I recall that assurances were given that the research would be safe. Though funnily enough I don't think we had anything written down. Hmm. our first mistake there.
Now lets look at what has now happened, from the BBC:
The STFC claims it was aware(sic) of higher than planned running costs of new prestige research facilities, such as the Diamond Synchrotron, near Oxford.One can only assume that should be 'unaware' otherwise this is hardly a defence for not budgeting correctly.
Come to think of it it is hardly a defence anyway. It is their job to be aware of the costs and to budget for them properly. Do you know what they would say to my boss if she told them that she had misbudgeted on the grant they gave her? They would tell her that it was tough. Thus one can understand the government might be less than pleased with this.
What it comes down to is that in one of their fundamental roles - assessing the needs of the community and then obtaining the necessary funding from the government the STFC has failed at the earliest opportunity. Perhaps they took their eye off the ball, that might explain such a failure at the most basic level. I know they were very concerned with creating a brand new master science strategy and that probably took up all the time they would normally spend on making sure they asked for the correct amount of money. More on that later.
Back to the BBC:
The council asked for additional funding to cover these costs but it is understood that officials within the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) were reluctant to make more funding available.The STFC was told no extra money would be forthcoming and that they would have to find savings within the agreed budget.Hah. No surprise there. At least they have now had the decency to say that they are reviewing the earlier decision. I doubt extra money will appear; remember this does not seem to be a government cock-up, appearances suggest that this is a cock-up by the STFC and something that the top-level of management should do well to consider.
I cannot blame local MPs for lobbying to keep the synchrotron at Daresbury open. They are looking after their local constituents. It is due to close next year anyway. I would be interested to know how much savings could have been made through early closure.
It initially suggested that the least worst option was to close the synchrotron radiation source in Daresbury, near Manchester, earlier than planned.
But this option was vetoed by ministers after representations from Labour MPs in north-west England.
This is the killer though:
As a result, there are likely to be cuts the across the council's entire research programme, including particle physics, astronomy and laser physics.So since in the past (and again more recently) it was decided that Astronomy and Particle Physics would be funded by the same body it now seems that due to overspends on behalf of the latter discipline (but as far as we can tell, not their fault) astronomy is going to be badly hit as well. If we are safeguarding Diamond and ISIS, I can hardly see them reducing our contribution to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. It is even more worrying:
It is also feared that several hundred highly qualified scientists could lose their jobs.
One researcher told BBC News he feared the UK could end up with some of the finest facilities in the world, but without enough scientists and funding to fully exploit them.
Professor Michael Rowan-Robinson, president of the Royal Astronomical Society, said astronomy faced its worst financial settlement for decades, with many research programmes facing the axe.
"I have it from a very reliable source that we are looking at a 25% cut in grants over the next three years," he said."Programme cuts could even result in some existing research grants being cancelled. Both of these are truly awful for universities."
That is huge. My selfish side has to wonder that since the overspend seem to have come as a result of building certain facilities, perhaps the disciplines associated with those facilities should bear the brunt. But then how sensible is it to have new facilities if they cannot afford to fund anyone to use them?
The burn has already started. The UK pulled out of the Gemini telescopes in mid-November which caused a massive stir amongst UK astronomers.
Now for a little secret, the heads of STFC have made it quite clear what they think of solar-terrestrial physics (they don't think we have made our case over the worth of our science - none of them are solar or solar terrestrial physicists) and so I know exactly who is going to be cut deepest. Most of our ground-based instrumentation was cleared out last year by PPARC (same top management as STFC) and a new strategy delivery document has appeared which says that we are going to disinvest from all UK STP ground-based facilities (including this big radar I am sitting by).
This affects me personally since the announcement of whether we are funded for the next five years is about to be made. I fully expect that my job is about to disappear.
But reading about what is going on and how STFC failed in their first duty I have to wonder whether the right person could be losing their job?
Friday, November 16, 2007
This is an issue where many are being vocal in their declarations of how awful it would be for the sport if the result goes against Ferrari. There is merit in this; no one wants the courts to decide who wins, we want wheel to wheel racing and this season provided it in spades. Bernie Ecclestone has said that he will consider retiring if the FIA finds for McLaren.
Personally I hope the decision stands as is, as it will put people off and give the usual suspects the opportunity to moan about how it all unfair for them (I'm looking at you Ferrari). However there is an important question to ask here; what would people have been saying if this had happened in the 3rd race of the season?
The rules have to be applied rigorously and fairly no matter when and no matter who. On this point McLaren are dead right. Why should it make a difference if it is the last race on which the championship hangs? Simple answer is that it should not. If the same potential infringement of the rules had happened in earlier races no one would have made such a fuss if points were docked and drivers were promoted and in the end it could still have affected the driver standings at the end of the season. People are perhaps too worried about the 'show' and not enough about the sport.
On the other hand perhaps McLaren should have found a way to broach this issue and at the same time disavow any interest in having the title, only in clarifying the rules as they stand.
*DISCLAIMER: I consider myself a McLaren fan and have little regard for Ferrari
Friday, October 19, 2007
Alan Coren, veteran journalist and humorist has died of cancer at the age of 69 - far too young.
I became a fan of his at a relatively young age when reading his columns in the Sunday Times; they were a highlight of the day. Later I took pleasure in watching his appearances in the revived Call My Bluff, a staple of my student days.
Considering my love of politically inspired humour it is surprising that I have only recently switched onto the News Quiz on BBC Radio 4. Coren was a regular panelist and had been since the show began; one of only a few journalists amongst a growing number of comedians. Not that he had any trouble holding his own in the comedy stakes.
I recall learning about his fight against a flesh-eating bug last year. I read this in his own column in the Times following his recovery and felt quite unnerved. It was not unusal for the man to take normally dis-heartening or tragic events in his own life and find the meat of a humorous column within.
Today I found the news of his passing both shocking and distressing. Although I never knew the man on a personal level I feel that I have lost a little piece of my enjoyment of life with his death.
My thoughts go out to his family and friends.
Posted by Kav at 15:44
Thursday, September 13, 2007
*disclaimer for the humour impaired, I do know what it means really, I just think their headline wording sucks.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
So Brian May passed his viva voce and is now Dr. Brian May.
Congratulations to one of the best axe men of the current times.
We in the field of solar-terrestrial physics have been told that we need to appeal to the astronomers (who hold the purse-strings of our funding) . Clearly we need to attract a big name so as to stay relevant in their eyes.
That being the case I welcome suggestions for other rock stars that we in the STP community can entice to do a Ph.D
So far the best suggestions have been Keith Richards and Alice Cooper.
Posted by Kav at 00:29
Friday, August 24, 2007
This one was me getting peeved at what i consider to be stupid sayings that have little or no true meaning besides establishing some sort of moral superiority:
Respecting the Office - first posted to Cabal on 10/6/2004
In recent years I have heard people utter words akin to the following:
"I disagree with 'X' but we must respect the office!"
often followed by much nodding of heads and hearty agreement. The office in question has often been, but not exclusively so, that of the American President.
Well I don't understand it. To me respect is something that must be earned, not some quality to be thrust upon some idealized concept of a person or institution. It is an important thing. How exactly does one 'respect the office' if you have little or no respect for the incumbent? I suppose that you can pay lip service, ensure that you always use the title "Mr. President", "Prime Minister", etc. Not expressing your views in the overly direct way that you might like to is perhaps another way of 'respecting the office', but is this true respect? Surely this is courtesy and I would agree that in our dealings with our leaders courtesy should be shown, just as it would be wonderful if everyone showed courtesy in their dealings with the rest of the world.
When a new "insert title here" is elected they then embody the office. It is their responsibility to live up to our expectations as laid out in their election pledges, promises and manifestos that encouraged us to vote for them in the first place. It is up to them to earn our respect by carrying through or at least by offering sound reasoning for taking steps that we may disagree with; respect can be offered even if you disagree with the stance adopted by the other person.
It is not our responsibility to offer respect to someone just because they have reached a much vaunted position, especially when that position is one of service to the people. Particularly in this day and age when so much in election politics depends on how much money one can raise. Respect is our gift to be offered at our discretion, not something that can be demanded just because of where a person works, no matter how influential a position. If you believe it should then perhaps you might feel more comfortable living in an earlier age where you can at least have a ruling monarch to respect. Respect should not be an automatic requirement, especially in a free democracy where we can question our leaders and system, supposedly without fear of reproach.So if you feel aggrieved by the incumbent, the next time someone says that you should respect the office I encourage you to say:
"No. I think that the office is an important institution and I am proud that it exists. However I will only respect the incumbent if and when s/he does something worthy of that respect, and stops making, what I view as, a complete tits-up of the job!"
In an effort to save some of my older posts from Cabal that seem to have disappeared from the available archive I am going to post them here.
This post is a reflection on my annoyance with sound-bites in the media; for context it should be remembered that I was living in the States at the time:
Soundbites -are we or the media idiots? - first posted to Cabal on 12/5/2004
JD's recent entry "Only Mildly Coherent Ramblings" got me to thinking. Specifically when the comments that followed started discussing the use of the term 'unilateral' in reference to the US-led coalition's war in Iraq. The Democrats use this word to describe the fact that the US has the vast majority of forces in place and that the war was initiated in defiance of the UN. True enough but the use of 'unilateral' is just plain wrong - other countries supported the US and sent both troops and logistical support making it far from a unilateral action. Are the Dems trying to make us forget that other countries supported the US? Possibly, I suppose, but I think it is a strategy that is doomed to failure unless they believe that the vast majority of the population of the US has the intelligence of a deranged squirrel. Perhaps in my naiveté I think that they use this term as a shorthand to get their message across, but its still wrong.
So why use it? I think the answer is simple: the politicians and media in America (and also in other parts of the world) think that people will only respond to sound bites. They have to keep their ramblings as short as possible for the thought to stay in the average American's head. It has become a pervasive part of our culture with politicians making statements with only a tenuous link to the truth not just because they are politicians and they lie anyway, but because they feel they have to reduce their argument into as small a phrase as possible. And if it bends the truth, or has to be qualified in some way later, then it is all to the greater good.
Perhaps the reliance on sound bites is an indicator of how the media and politicians really think of us. Perhaps they really do believe that on the whole we are stupid and cannot hold a complex thought in our heads. That can be the only explanation for the rise of sound bites and the accompanying, intrinsic spin. So where does the fault lie? Which came first the chicken or the egg? Did we all become so dumb that we cannot handle the truth except in bite-sized, easily digestible packages? Or has something else spurred this cultural development? Is it the politicians knowing that if we understood the whole argument then many of us would never vote again and would instead find that deserted island we keep dreaming about? Is it the media? Have they created a climate where a politician is scared to speak his/her mind fully in case it is cherry picked to create 'news'?
Or is it something else? Perhaps there is something else in our culture that truly has reduced our attention span and made it so that we need the media to help us think rather than hearing the facts and then making our own minds up. Maybe we are all deranged squirrels, but what could have caused it? Maybe the incessant interruptions of our news feeds (and entertainment) with adverts that have conditioned us to get a message in 30 seconds or less. Maybe now we (and our children) have the attention spans of fruit flies. Perhaps the politicians are scared to speak for too long in case the advert break interrupts them and have adjusted accordingly. Maybe it all goes back further than I think, but is there a way to reverse this trend? Also, could it be that we are in a feedback loop? The politicians think we can only handle a simple thought and so use sound bites. They look at the fact that they are forced to use sound bites and figure that the people must be dumb. Consequently their opinion of us also decreases and they think they can really say anything they want without being called on it too vigorously - and this appears to be true, they claim that they are being misunderstood, or that they misspoke. How are we supposed to be able to tell whether this is true or not? We have to take it at face value and so the politicians keep doing it until they tell such a whopper that they can no longer defend it, but by then how much damage might be done?
I think that it is time that politicians of all stripes put aside the sound bites and spin and started telling us the whole truth. Let us have honest debate rather than 'gotcha's'. Instead of pandering to a perceived notion of what America can understand and deal with, let us raise the bar and treat the people with some respect for a change. Don't get me wrong, I am a firm believer that people can be a lot dumber than we give them credit for but that is no excuse to treat them as such, else how will standards rise?
Oh and by the way, I think the Whitehouse should sack Scott McClellan. I haven't seen a press secretary who looked so dishonest when speaking. I have the impression that whenever he opens his mouth he is lying. That may not be the case but boy it sure looks that way.Disclaimer: I reserve the right to be completely inconsistent in my views depending on controlling factors such as: amount of work, caffeine, alcohol or even the weather :)
First of all, I enjoyed it very much. It was a beautiful evening and we get terrific views of our little corner of Lancashire from the course. I enjoyed the company and being out in the fresh air.
Look in a game of 9 holes (well 10 but the last one did not count) I won only one hole, and that was only by dint of sheer luck, mostly bad luck on my friends' part. I hit a 110. I'll let that sink in for a moment.
That's right I was that bad. I kept topping the ball and when I did manage to lift the ball a few feet into the air it would head straight into the rough. I was pitching onto the green on the 8th hole and managed to catch the ball such that it moved 6 inches to the right into a patch of rough.
I need to work on my swing, my long game and my short game. That about says it all. On the plus side I actually hit 4 (out of 110) that I can honestly say I was pleased with (at least at first). The first two were on the second hole. After a rocky start I managed a decent shot with my 5 iron down the fairway, over a stream and laying up nicely for the green. The next shot with my 9 iron tipped just short of the green but still in a good position. It's nice when you can string a couple of decent shots together on a hole. After that and a little later on, I had my career best shot with a 9 iron. Sadly, as my friend Jim said it was a fantastic shot when I was hoping for mediocre. I overshot the green and ran down a small hill at the back. Thankfully I was still on fairway but with a large patch of rough (uphill) between me and the green I soon put pay to that good fortune. Plus I lost the damn ball! In a patch of rough about 3 metres square!
My last good shot of the day was a drive from the 10th (which did not count). It sat nicely on the fairway only a short chip from the green. Said chip could have been better but was not as bad as previous efforts. Of course that hole did not count.
Now, even with all that bad luck (lack of skill?) I can't wait to play again (in fact today is another fine day...). All because of 4 shots which show that I can play better than I did. That's the thing about golf it is the feeling of wanting to play better than before. I console myself in the knowledge that at this stage I am playing with people and not against them, I am only playing against myself.
Oh and by the way, if you were being kind and thinking 110 was not too bad (in which case you are very wrong) if we had been counting attempts to hit the ball instead of just those times when the ball was hit, well, let's just forget about it.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
I approach this with a mix of anticipation and trepidation. I have been to the driving range with said colleagues and one is a natural who drove the ball far beyond the back fence of the range and has played on and off for years. The other is a relative newcomer to the game but has approached it with gusto and far too much enthusiasm for my liking; he has been taking lessons! In fact he was not keen to play a game until he had a few lessons and plenty of practice at the driving range.
As for myself, I first started playing when I was 16 (14 years ago for those keeping count) and played quite regularly until I started University. I then did not touch a club again until last year - even though I always intended to get lessons it has never happened. When I did play my friends and I sort of just lunged forward at the game with the most basic of advice from our PE teacher at school ("hit the ball, get it in the little hole").
Basically I am very shit (those of you aware of my lack of hand-eye coordination could have surmised this) and as much as I enjoy playing I feel that this afternoon could be full of ripe humiliation. My only recourse may be to supply copious amounts of alcohol and hope the greens keeper does not catch us.
[update] where the smeg has all this bloody cloud come from?????
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Our other recent trip was work related, a big international conference in Perugia, Italy. We were kept pretty busy and didn't get to do much exploring but we were pretty impressed with the city. It's an old (very old!) walled city on a hill with the added bonus of a three dimensional layout which makes map-reading somewhat tricky!! The buildings are beautiful and eating out is a pleasure.
Towards the end of our visit the large, international jazz festival was just getting into it's stride. We got to taste a little of the fabulous music on our last night in town.
There's one particularly nice bar we frequented on the walls of the city near the Rocca Paulina which has the most amazing view (and does very nice Margheritas!). Here's a panoramic shot from there...
It's been a busy couple of months for travelling, first off we went on a cruise of the Norweigen Fjords with Kav's Dad (Vik, Bergen, Eidfjord and a couple of other places). We all had a really good time (even though I felt pretty seasick on the way home across the North Sea!). None of us had been cruising before so the whole experience was a bit different and the one thing I can certainly say is you'll never go hungry!! They feed you umpteen times a day! This is a photo of the boat we were on, the Princess Danae.
There was an amazing contrast in the landscape of the fjords at this time of year (early May). Right next to the fjord the land is lush and green and fruit trees are just starting to bloom. They grow things you might not associate with Norway like strawberries and raspberries, but the land around the fjords is very fertile and the summers are warm. Then just a few miles away (and up a couple of thousand feet or so) there is still thick snow.
Bergen is a beautiful city and we saw it in it's most common state - in the rain - this doesn't make it any less beautiful! However, I think our favourite place was Eidfjord where the scenery is stunning and they have a very nice visitor centre (lots of fishtanks with trout in). They show a panoramic movie of lots of different parts of Norway which is well worth the trip.
I'm also happy to report that despite the 3 of us being in one cabin for the duration there were no casualties!!
Posted by Em at 11:14
Friday, May 04, 2007
Anyway, just wanted to let you know not to expect the regular updates here for a week or so (heh!)
Posted by Kav at 18:03
Thursday, February 22, 2007
The latest thing in ethical consumerism in the UK seems to be the concept of "food miles", how far your meat and veg etc has to travel to get to the supermarket shelves. A couple of articles have made me stop and think about this a bit more than just superficially and I have come up against what is surely going to be one of many dilemmas in the effort to live a "greener" life.
The first one took me a bit by surprise - the idea that flowers grown in Africa and then flown to the UK actually produce fewer carbon emissions than those grown in say the Netherlands (BBC article). The reason behind this being that you have to heat greenhouses in Holland but not in Africa and that takes a lot of energy to do to produce flowers for Valentine's Day.
Having read that article, the following BBC news story didn't surprise me all that much; farmers in Kenya are worried about the reaction of supermarkets in the UK to consumers who want to reduce food miles. Their livelihoods are at whim of a fickle public it would seem.
So the dilemma is "do I buy local food or not care how far it's flown?". Assume for the moment that I want to reduce my carbon footprint, then there's no point simply putting the number of miles on the packet of beans. That could in fact give you the wrong idea entirely and increase your carbon output! If it's going to be labelled it will have to be the entire amount of carbon produced in growing and transporting the beans (and making the packaging).
Then assume that I am also a person who is concerned for the well-being of the farmers growing the food. Should I be more concerned about the farmers in one country at the expense of those in another? Farming is not an easy business wherever you are, I suppose the argument is that farmers in the UK (for example) have alternative job opportunities whereas farmers in Africa might not be so fortunate (but then if there were no farmers at all in the UK that probably wouldn't be good either - makes me think of the Golgafrinchams in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy who shipped out all the middlemen in their society, including the telephone sanitisers, only to be wiped out by a virulent disease spread on unsanitised telephones. Admittedly the farmers would probably have been deemed of true value and got to stay on Golgafrincham, but I can't help thinking a country which doesn't produce any of its own food is asking for trouble).
So I have come to the conclusion that I will not worry so much about whether the food I buy comes from far-flung locations nor will I worry that I am taking someone's livelihood away if the vegetables I'll be planting in the garden this year actually grow big enough for me and Kav to eat. Hopefully that should keep everybody happy!
Posted by Em at 12:34
Friday, February 16, 2007
Yes, this is me.....A BBC article on how germ ridden your keyboard can get.....
"Lead researcher Professor Charles Gerba found that 75% of female employees kept food in their work area. He said: "I thought for sure men would be 'germier'. I was really surprised how much food there was in a woman's desk.
If there's ever a famine, that's the first place I'll look for food.""
The last bit has to be the quote of the day!! :-)Have a good weekend everyone!
Posted by Em at 17:35
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Hey David, are you hosting your blog in China as well as living there?
Posted by Kav at 10:47
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
I have got to stop reading political blogs. Especially those that touch upon climate change. My problem is that I get easily irritated when I see that someone is either misrepresenting something or has misunderstood something and i want to correct it. This invariably leads to further discussion on the topic with different opinions offered and alternative views of the facts.
This is no bad thing, but one thing I have learned from debating climate change online is that if you are talking to a doubter (for want of a better word) it is impossible to persuade them otherwise. For many it is a political issue, right versus left, and it is impossible to see outside of the dogmatic and partisan field of view. For others it is the conspiracy theory angle (see Michael Crichton) where those who believe that man is at least partly responsible for the changes in climate we witness today are part of a giant hoax.
I have yet to be let in on what the aim of the conspiracy/hoax is all about. I am not sure what power the climate scientists intend to pull to themselves. is it more funding? Surely if they are all systematically fabricating research in order to generate funding it would have been blown wide open by now. Also if the 'world' decides that there really is a consensus on the science surely that is reason to cut funding - most of the work has been done and 'proved'. Perhaps they are all being played by someone else, politicians who want to grab power for themselves or environmentalists who desperately want us all to live in mud huts again.
I just don't know. I'm obviously not on the mailing list.
Either way online debate is pretty much pointless, especially when the media and politicians undermine the science by reducing important findings to soundbites that overstress and overreach the originating science. A simple example is Global Warming - this phrase has been beaten to death because people have simplistic expectations: if the planet gets warmer on average then it must get hotter here in my home town! Now if someone like me tries to use the less loaded phrase 'climate change' it gets mocked for trying to have it both ways.
It is a dead end.
Monday, February 05, 2007
In a desperate quest for chocolate at the weekend I dug into one of my Christmas presents for something good to make. I went to the fantastic looking quadruple chocolate cake in Nigella Lawson's "Feast" book. The recipe went fine and then we tasted it. OH MY GOD!!!! I could barely take more than a bite because it's so intensely sweet (and that was before I put the required chocolate syrup on top)!!! To be fair I can't handle very sweet things, my body's got the hang of saying "wait a minute that's no good for you" before I get too far these days, but even Kav agreed. So if you love sweet things this is the one for you!! It's back to my grandma's recipe for chocolate cake next time for me!
Posted by Em at 14:59
Friday, February 02, 2007
I am talking about complaints about last Sunday's edition of TopGear. They showed Richard Hammond's crash and I said that I bet some people will complain even though he survived and was sitting there commentating on it. That has now turned out to be the case:
The handling of Richard Hammond's return to Top Gear
has been branded "insensitive" and "insulting" by a charity for people
with brain injury.
Headway said it had been inundated with complaints particularly over comments made by presenter Jeremy Clarkson.
At the start of Sunday's show, Mr Clarkson asked Mr Hammond if he was mental, while James May offered him a tissue in case he started dribbling.
The BBC said the show was not intended to cause any offence.
Now I actually do have some sympathy here; I can understand how the comments made by May and Clarkson could easily be construed as insulting to those living with the effects of serious head injuries, though it was clearly humerous banter.
However, my sympathies began to severly wane when I saw this from headway chief executive Peter McCabe:
"It gives the impression people can make a fully (sic) recovery fromhead injuries". Hmmm. Sorry to burst your bubble Mr McCabe but people can and do make a full recovery. Mr Hammond was living and commentating proof of that as the crash was shown.
"I think the whole way the show handled the issue was wrong. They should not have shown the crash.
"It just glamorised fast driving and gives the impression people can make a fully(sic) recovery from head injuries.
"That is not always the case."
Now to be fair you probably meant to say that it gave the impression that people always make a full recovery (as suggested by your next sentence) which is clearly not the case. If that is so then I have to say that I have grave misgivings over whether you watched the show at all, because to my mind it did not give that impression and nor did it glamorise driving fast. It simply was. What is more comments made throughout indicated how lucky Hammond was. My wife and I watched not with glee and excitement but with something approaching shock that Hammond actually survived the incident. Mr McCabe must have been unaware of how much publicity surrounded the incident and Hammond's subsequent recovery since he thinks that viewers will not realise how close to death and serious brain damage Richard Hammond was.
Perhaps if you are worried about glamorising fast driving you would support a ban on all land-speed attempts in purpose built vehicles? how about a ban on all motor-sport which depends upon driving fast and in the case of Formula 1 is pushed as glamourous? perhaps that is too draconian, maybe you would just prefer that they were never shown on TV?
Top Gear is an easy target and has become the bete noir of certain folk who are far too interested in what you and I watch since we are incapable of understanding the context of what we are shown. In this case, we are clearly incapable of understanding the words that were uttered by the people involved.
As I said, I can sympathise with those offended at the humour used by the presenters and can fully understand why some would take offence but the posturing over the actual showing of the crash is quite frankly pathetic. If you did not want to watch it, there was an off-switch on
your TV. Try using it.
Posted by Kav at 14:16
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Okay, actually just as (contrary to media treatments) a spell of hot weather doesn't prove global warming, cold weather doesn't disprove it. But I think that the real cause of this cold snap in the L.A./Hollywood area is that Al Gore has been shortlisted for an Oscar. Al just can't catch a break.
Glenn next shows how it has even made the urban dictionary:
The well documented phenomenon that leads to very low, unseasonal temperatures, driving rain, hail, snow or all of the above whenever Al Gore visits an area to discuss global "warming". Hence the "Gore Effect."
You know it sickens me that these folk just can't stop pounding Al Gore. It's as if he is public enemy number 1 for them.
Look I'll make it simple for you fools, Al Gore has recognised that global warming is a serious, disastrous problem for the world and he is trying to do his bit to combat the threat. Instead of whining about it or pretending it isn't happening he is actively travelling around and using his supernatural abilities to lower the local temperatures enough to mitigate the effects of global warming. The guy is fighting against the odds though; an unwinable battle, combating a global phenomenon with his astonishing, though comparatively meagre, local weather-effecting powers.
Al Gore should be commended for his actions, but instead he is mocked by the usual suspects. If only more of us were to work on manifesting these powerful cooling abilities and get behind Al Gore then maybe we would have a chance of saving our way of life.
That is great. It's nice to have famous, respected scientists pointing to the very real danger of increased global temperatures and the changes that accompany it. What bugged me though takes some background explaining.
The field of study I am in has ties to the climate change field; we study the effect of the sun on the earth though we are supported by the same research council as astronomy (solar system science is packaged as a subset of astronomy). The real astronomers outnumber us significantly and recently it was decided that a lot of what we do was less important than other areas and consequently funding (which is low overall) was cut. This, of course, limits our ability to monitor and understand how the sun affects the Earth. Add to this that for years it has been difficult (impossible?) to get the research councils who support our activity to work hand-in-hand with the research council who support things like lower atmospheric science so that we can accomplish real joined-up thinking.
So it is a little galling that on this background we see the most famous theoretical astrophysicist/cosmologist talking about how important climate change is.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Barack Obama has initiated the process that will lead to him declaring his intention to run for the office of President of the United States in 2008:
Mr Obama, a Democrat, said on his website he had formed an exploratory committee, which would allow him to raise money and hire staff for the run.
Good luck to him, he'll need it if the US news companies continue to point out the similarities between 'Obama' and 'Osama' and to play up that his middle name is Hussein. Some of it has been a bit bizarre, some funny, but mostly quite unbelievable that so many mistakes can happen about one person.
No sign of Hilary yet but her little spat with Edwards might be a clear indication of her intentions.
Monday, January 15, 2007
Germany hopes to make Holocaust denial a crime across the EU as part of a package of laws it wants to introduce during its presidency of the bloc.This is not a good thing. See this post for a summary of my views.
Such moves may be seen as curtailing freedom of speech and could prove controversial in several member states. But the German justice minister says she is confident of winning support.It certainly is a curtailing of free speech and if the EU adopts it then it will be a regression rather than a step forward. See this earlier post from McQ for some reasons why.
My hope is that the UK will reject this on the basis that is does curtail free speech and provides a dangerous, underground breeding ground for the anti-semites in our midst as well as giving cover to the deniers themselves. We should be a free society as an example to others. My fear is that some will use this as another example of British anti-semitism rather than looking to the true motive behind any attempt to block it.
Scientists are looking at whether an appetite-suppressing chewing gum could be used to tackle obesity.The Imperial College London team are developing a drug based on a natural gut hormone that mimics the body's "feeling full" response.
This is all well and good, I just hope that the excess stomach acid generated by chewing gum does not lead to increases in heart-burn. Though of course this could be (and probably is) an urban-myth.
Anyway my main point is how the hell did they get that picture of my belly????
Of course being ugly doesn't mean that it won't be fast...
In other F1 related news it seems that Adrian Newey would prefer that the expectations be lower for the new RB3. Development of last year's car was put on hold inorder to maximise time devoted to this, the first Newey car for Red Bull Racing.
“Perhaps the brake pedal or something is the only common part.Newey is put up as a car-designing genius and there is a lot to back up that assertion. However I cannot blame him for wanting to keep expectations low:
"We are still a young team and that means that some of our infrastructure and resources aren't yet as good as some of the more established teams. How much that will hold us back? That sounds like an excuse – it's not meant to be, it's a fact."
Add to that fact that recent Newey cars have not performed as well as one might expect from the hype and the RB3 is in danger of being a craching disappointment even if it does a vastly superior job to last years design.
Friday, January 12, 2007
It's 6:30 on a Friday night and here I am sat at my desk trying to do some work. Whatever happened to the good old days of going to the pub at 5:30?
Nothing interesting to say.
I see Mr Blair has given a speech. That's nice.
I guess as far as military campaigns go it comes down to a few simple questions:
- Should the UK still be a leading world military power or are we struggling to hold onto something that has passed us by long ago?
- Do we even have the capability to pursue military engagements at the levels neccessary to sustain our current foreign policy?
- Should our armed forces be expanding or declining?