Friday, 2 August 2013

A holiday in Scotland

Ayr Beach
I've been on holiday for the last week, in Ayr in Scotland, staying with my cousin and her family.  We've been going there to stay every summer for the last few years, now, and it's always enjoyable, and relaxing, and nice for my daughter to have the company of a household full of kids.  Of course, there is not much to report about nuclear physics during such a time, but not quite literally nothing.  

One evening while in Ayr, we (me, my partner and my parents) met up with an old family friend - a guy a little older than me who is the son of an old friend of my Dad's from his schooldays.  He'd moved up to Ayr some time ago, but hails from the town my parents live in (Bishop's Stortford), and I lived in for the latter half of my childhood.  Aside from these links, we probably don't have too much in common, but that's not to stop us enjoying a chat and a couple of beers in a pub.  When it came to finding out what each other did for a living, his response to me being a nuclear physicist was on the extreme end of things.  He immediately responded with "F*** me!"  Perhaps it is just his usual turn of phrase.  I'm used this kind of response, but not quite at that extreme.  I can't actually remember how I phrased what I did by way of employment, or whether it was actually me (and not, say, my mum) who said it.  Usually I wouldn't come straight out with nuclear physicist, but something like "I teach at a University".  This is what I said to the guy in the sports shop in Silverburn shopping centre, where my partner was buying me some running shoes as a birthday present (and as an encouragement to go running more often).  He then asked what I taught, and I said physics to which he replied that he never did understand physics at school.  That's the other response I commonly get.  "Wow" or "I never understood / hated physics I school" cover probably 90% of responses.

On the train journey home from Scotland, we were not the only people with a youngish child wanting entertainment to pass the time.  Perhaps lamely I let my daughter watch a lot of TV programs on my laptop and play games on my phone.  Not so a woman travelling with her young son.  He seemed to be a bit obsessed with submarines, and had a book about them.  His mum answered his questions for a long time, patiently and actually rather diligently.  She talked about the workings of the nuclear reactors aboard nuclear submarines really very well.  

The other vaguely on-topic thing (not that everything here needs to be on-topic) was this story in the Independent that I read on the train journey home.  It relates a bit to the sampling error that I didn't elaborate very clearly in this post.  The very fact that a student can take two ostensibly identical exams (in the sense that they are examining the same material at the same level) and get two different scores is part of the measurement error that is routinely ignored.  It also highlights some of the unfortunate side-effects of use of league tables.