Thursday, 31 December 2015

Happy New Year

Hello!  It's the evening of 31st December 2015 here in Guildford, and already New Year in other parts of the world.  I don't plan on staying up until midnight, so I'll wish all my readers a Happy New Year now.  I hope 2016 is a good year for you all.  

I'm spending my evening listening to Radio 3, doing a bit of exam marking, and diverting myself by posting here.  I trust your evening is so enjoyable!

[Note added at 11pm -- and it looks like I might risk staying up until midnight -- have switched from Radio 3's Last Night of the Proms re-run, which was starting to get towards some tedious things, and now enjoying Jarvis Cocker's brilliant Wireless Nights on Radio 4]

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Books of 2006 / 2015

Back when I used to keep a livejournal (a blog, basically, before the term was used, though aimed more at a personal diary / journal audience than a expostulatory thing like what we now call blogging), I posted a list of books that I had read in the year 2006, mostly as a way of keeping track.  Here's the list again:

Louise Bagshawe - Tueday's Child
Emily Bronte - Wuthering Heights
Jackie Clune - Man of the Month Club
Andrew Crumey - Mobius Dick 
Robert Daley - Enemy of God 
Charles Dickens - Our Mutual Friend
Arthur Conan Doyle - The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Arthur Conan Doyle - The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes
Arthur Conan Doyle - The Hound of the Baskervilles
Arthur Conan Doyle - The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Arthur Conan Doyle - The Return of Sherlock Holmes
Arthur Conan Doyle - The Sign of Four
Arthur Conan Doyle - The Valley of Fear
Thomas H Cook - Red Leaves 
Thomas H Cook - The Murmur of Stones 
Ian Fleming - Dr No
Ian Fleming - From Russia, with Love
Thomas Hardy - Jude the Obscure
Alice Hoffman - The Ice Queen 
Boris Johnson - Seventy-Two Virgins
Henning Mankell - Depths
Rosa Mundi - Vocational Girl
Julie Myerson - Something Might Happen
David Nichols - Starter for Ten
Iain Pears - An Instance of the Fingerpost
Stef Penney - The Tenderness of Wolves
Thomas Pynchon - Gravity's Rainbow
Ian Rankin - Knots and Crosses
Jean Rhys - Wide Sargasso Sea
Philip Roth - The Plot Against America
JD Salinger - The Catcher in the Rye
Patrick Süskind - Perfume
Peter Temple - The Broken Shore
Edward Vallance - The Glorious Revolution
Peter Woit - Not Even Wrong

Who would have thought that I'd ever read one of Louise Mensch's books (written under her maiden name of Louise Bagshawe)?  Before coming across this list, I'd quite forgotten.  I don't remember much about it at all.  I also read Boris Johnson's novel that year.  I must have had a lot of time on my hands.  Indeed, that was the last year when I didn't have children to occupy my time.  On top of that, it wasn't too long after 2006 that my commuting to work reduced drastically, which cut back the time when I used to get most of my book reading done.  I haven't been very conscientious in finding a suitable time to fit reading back in.  I also made all those books link to a page on, which I haven't shopped at for a few years.  

This year has not been so bad (compared with some recent years).  I've tried to make a bit of effort to read more.  I haven't been keeping track of everything, but from memory, I have read:

It's a much shorter list than from 2006, though I omit the large quantity of books for toddlers that I've read this year.  Well done, JD Salinger, for making both lists.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Christmas 2015

It's a good few days into the Christmas break.  Though, contrary to popular opinion, Universities do not close over the long summer break when undergraduates are not present, they do close for an extended period over Christmas and New Year.  I've had a pretty hectic Christmas so far.  We hosted many family members over the Christmas period, with 12 of us sitting down for Christmas lunch.   I cooked a lot of food, which of course we are still working through.

I'm now at my parent's place in Bishop's Stortford, enjoying a couple of days off of cooking for everyone.  I got some nice gifts for Christmas.  I've started reading the copy of Candide that my sister-in-law got me.  I was particularly struck by the discussion of the treatment of refugees from the south of Europe coming to the north, dating back to the middle of the eighteenth century.   It seems an appropriate thing to quote, not only in light of the current festival that is being celebrated in ostensibly Christian countries, but also in light of the current behaviour of ostensibly Christian societies:

His provisions failed him when he arrived in Holland; but having heard that everybody was rich in that country, and that they were Christians, he did not doubt but he should meet with the same treatment from them as he had met with in the Baron's castle, before Miss Cunegonde's bright eyes were the cause of his expulsion thence.
He asked alms of several grave-looking people, who all answered him, that if he continued to follow this trade they would confine him to the house of correction, where he should be taught to get a living.

Merry Christmas, all

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Farewell to Magnox from IoP Nuclear Industry / History of Physics Groups

Notwithstanding my last-but-one post in which I questioned the worth of posting slides which accompany talks online stand-alone objects, I received today an email from the IoP Nuclear Industry Group telling me that the slides from the recent "Farewell to Magnox" half day meeting which they co-organised with the IoP History of Physics group are now online.  So if you fancy looking over the slides, then follow the link.  I'd have liked to attend the event but the date didn't work out, alas. 

The picture attached is of the first Magnox reactor, and the first ever civilian nuclear reactor that put electricity into a national grid -- the erstwhile Calder Hall (now called Sellafield).

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Coming and going

I see that we (by which I mean the Univeristy of Surrey) have appointed a new Vice Chancellor.  The lucky person is G. Q. Max Lu, currently provost of the University of Queensland.  Exciting times for us.  The email telling us about our new VC mentions that his background is in nanotechnology.  I guess that is good news for the physicists in the university, though it's debatable whether you really want a VC in your own field.

As Prof Lu arrives, so leaves the guy in the office next to me.  Alan Dalton, also a nanotechnology person, is off to the University of Sussex, which is near, but not within walking distance of, Brighton (so, really, Surrey is a better place to come and study since you can at least walk into town).  My wife was kind enough to order me a T-shirt online a few years ago which says "no, I don't know where Alan is" based on the number of students who knock on my door asking me if I know where Dr Dalton is.   I guess I will have to retire the T-shirt.  I should also mention that Alan claims that he has to answer a lot of students who knock on his door asking if they know where I am.  Touché

That's Alan in the picture.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Talks on the web

Sometimes, when one speaks at a conference, the conference organisers request that you write up a paper for the proceedings of the conference, which then get published somewhere.  It seems to be increasingly the case that many people don't like writing conference proceedings for a variety of reasons, with the main one being that they are considered low-prestige places to publish, and consequently there are various drivers not to bother wasting time in writing them, or wasting interesting results that could be published somewhere else.  There is even pressure from on high not to write conference proceedings, coming from the REF culture.  I tend to write conference proceedings for those conferences which ask for them.  For one thing, it's not hard to write about the work that one has been doing, and usually (at least in my case) I can show some calculations that are interesting enough examples, but something that doesn't make the cut for a paper destined elsewhere.  They can also be good practice for PhD students to be involved in writing the proceedings and getting some publications on their CVs.  Also, it's a sign of collegiality that if my friends and colleagues can be bothered to organise a conference (which I know from experience can be quite time consuming) then I can play my part in making it a success, and write the request proceeding article, sticking it on the arXiv, too, so that anyone can read it (indeed, one went up yesterday from me for a conference in Sofia in October)

Still -- I certainly don't mind when conferences decide not to include proceedings.  They are probably an idea that has had their day.  What seems to be replacing them, though, is that conference organisers want to put talks up on the web after the conference.  This seems to me to be a total waste of time, unless one writes the slides that accompany one's talks to be completely self-contained, which is really a contradiction, since then there would be nothing to say during the talk.  I tend to put things on slides that I can't say in words (pictures, graphs, movies etc) and say most of the words myself, rather than have people read them.  Since most of the talks get put up as pdf files, movies don't really work at all, but what's missing is the commentary and the context.  I really find it next to useless.  Attached to this post is a screen grab from one talk of mine that has been put on the web by a conference organiser.  The grab shows a snapshot from  an animation of a calculation of the collision of two uranium nuclei.  A snapshot of an animation is a poor proxy for the whole thing.