Wednesday, 29 December 2021

Books of 2021

Here are the list of books I've read in 2021:

I use the Goodreads website to keep track of what I've read, and set a somewhat arbitrary "reading challenge" each year in terms of number of books.  This year I met the target exactly, though I do include books I read my 8 year old, which perhaps I shouldn't, and don't include the much shorter books I read my younger children.  I'm not sure much would be gained by adding a selection of Mr Men books multiple times to my reading record.  I think I have missed a couple of the (excellent) How To Train Your Dragon books off the list.

From the list, I think I have cemented my view that I particularly enjoy biographies (auto, or otherwise), and found Lea Ypi's Free, Gyles Brandreth's Odd Boy Out and Tara Westover's Educated among my three favourite.  The first and last of those also appeal to my sub-genre of early-mid career academic types reflecting on their life so far (see also, The Lost Properties of Love by Sophie Ratcliffe and Red Threads by Charlotte Higgins).  I read relatively little fiction this year, except to my 8 year old, but I enjoyed each of the small selection in its own way, and it must be in Elizabeth Day's favour that I made my first foray into her work (The Party) and then wanted to follow it up with her new release this year, Magpie.

Probably the longest book, and one that I spent a lot of time immersed in and really enjoying was Orlando Figes' The Europeans.  A history of a period in Europe, roughly spanning the life of opera singer Pauline Viardot and concentrating on the cultural history, I found myself gripped, even if I am largely ignorant and not particularly intersted in opera.  

edit: I have realised thanks to a comment on Twitter that the Goodreads website will only let those logged in to see the list.  Here are screengrabs of the lot in reverse chronological order (so Educated is the last one I read):


Tuesday, 23 November 2021

No prize winners on UK visa scheme

 New Scientist published a story yesterday pointing out that no-one has applied to use a new visa scheme to come to the UK with a scientific prize from a long-ish list allowing one to bypass some of the visa application process.  

The UK Home Office has created a scheme called "Global Talent" as part of its desire to encourage the right sort of people to come to the UK.  The right sort include anyone who has won one from a list of prizes to come.  

Perhaps unsurprisingly, no science prize winners have wanted to apply for one of these visas, although it is always possible that the prize winners have come and not made use of the scheme.  The news story in the New Scientist has some choice quotes.  I like the one from Jess Wade who is reported to have said "Frankly, having precisely zero people apply for this elitist scheme doesn’t surprise me at all.  UK scientists’ access to European funding is uncertain, we’re not very attractive to European students as they have to pay international fees, our pensions are being cut and scientific positions in the UK are both rare and precarious."-- All of which I totally agree with, but it's the words from Christopher Jackson that resonate the most:

The idea of prioritising entry to the UK for science award winners is flawed, according to geoscientist Christopher Jackson at the University of Manchester, who in 2020 became the first black scientist to host the Royal Institution’s Christmas lectures. Jackson says these awards are inherently biased and an immigration system based on them will only replicate science’s lack of diversity.

“How we measure excellence is very nebulous,” says Jackson. “These awards favour certain people – those who are white, male, heterosexual, cis-gendered – and reward them based on their privilege.”

Of the over 600 Nobel science laureates from 1901, just 23 are women. No award has ever been given to a black laureate in a science subject. “Studies show that most scientific award winners are white men of European descent and often working at American universities,” Jackson says.

The prizes reward the people the prize givers want to reward, and the idea that it is or can be done in some way objectively for the "best" science,  and that that science can be attributed to the work of a single person is laughable - but it's a joke with a long tradition in the UK where the tradition of the established order annointing the next generation of leaders by a bit of hand- (or school-) selection is so commonplace as to rarely raise eyebrows.

Tuesday, 2 November 2021

Decomposing matrices

Over the summer I had an undergraduate project student working with me on a project to write a code which takes an arbitrary Hamiltonian written in matrix form and expresses it as a sum of tensor products of Pauli spin matrices.  Our underlying reason for wanting the code is to implement algorithms to find Hamiltonian eigenvalues on quantum computers.  Since it was a nice result, and could be potentially useful to others, we decided to write up the code into a short paper.  Today it appeared (or "landed" in 2021-speak) on the arXiv: arXiv:2111.00627.  The idea is to send it to the journal SciPost Physics Codebases, which is part of the excellent SciPost stable, as a community-led free-to-publish free-to-read online journal.  It's a new journal for them, designed to allow often unpublished codes to have a formal write-up and stable record in the research environment. 

I am not sure if the code will be considered too basic by the referees.  We shall see.  When I first thought of submitting the code to SciPost Physics Codebases there were no papers yet published in this new journal.  As of a few days ago the first accepted paper appeared there.  It's a much more ambitious code than ours, and the write-up is a little over 100 pages long.  I hope that hasn't set a precedent.  Ours is only a few pages long!

When I write a blog post about a new paper I usually take a figure from it as picture for the blog post.  There are no figures in this one, but here's a screengrab of an equation