Just a coincidence

October 29, 2009

Stuart Lynn told some of us at lunchtime about a rather extra-odinary letter written recently by the California Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Its a letter to a Democratic Assemblyman written in oddly convoluted language. If you trace the initial letters of each line, you get the secret message : F – U – C – K – Y – O – U. Stuart gave us a web link.

You can read about this matter on the Huffington Post, where a spokesperson expresses surprise, because clearly it was a coincidence… There are about six million other postings on this story, but I see that this article at the SF weekly consults a Math Professor in order to quantify the unlikelihood. On the basis that the letters concerned are at the beginning of a word about 10% of the time, said Prof states that the probability of this combination of letters happening by chance is one in ten million. (Ten to the power seven).

So, members of the Statistics 101 class, discuss.


Google, Sex, and Me

October 26, 2009

Over the weekend I stumbled across a bijou factette. This morning I was about to make this the subject of a Monday Morning Quiz : who was King for twenty minutes ? But then I thought, whats the point of that ? Its just a test of who can fire up Google the fastest. Some days it feels like we have outsourced all our personal knowledge to the internet. I don’t even use bookmarks any more. I just re-Google. A while back I was hunting for a figure that I was sure I had seen somewhere… when I spotted it on Google Images I realised it was from a paper I had written myself several years ago. Jeez. Google knows more about me than I do.

Somewhere back in my youth I dimly remember reading a story by Roger Zelazny in which he said “Man is the sexual organ of the machine”. Curiously, Google has failed me here. I can’t find this quote. If Roger Zelazny didn’t say it, and I just dreamed it, then I hereby take credit. Anyhoo. The idea is that man is one machine’s way of making another machine. Sometimes I feel this is my relation to Google. Within the space of a few hours, I am reading web pages A and B, and writing new web page C. Ideas and knowledge I have picked up from A and B get processed through me and change what I deposit in C. I am just one of many millions of bees flitting around the vast meadow of the Web, picking up pollen as I go.


Explorers of South Kensington

October 19, 2009

If you nip along to the Royal Albert Hall (a tad tricky for my US readers I realise) you will find my mug adorning the walls, along with 43 other UK astronomers. We are all part of an exhibition called “Explorers of the Universe“, constructed by photographer Max Alexander. For a pleasant change, its not all the usual gaudy pictures and patronising astro-guff that we feed the Public, but instead a collection of rather quirky portraits of people who actually do this stuff. To those of us who are in it, it is clearly an enterprise of considerable taste and interest. Those of you who aren’t may of course feel free to point out what pompous twits we all now look.

If you don’t have the time to get to Kensington, you can see all the pictures at Max’s website. (Mine is in this section. Look for the skeleton hand. X-ray. Geddit ?). Some people look better than they do in real life, and some don’t. Steve Warren looks like he has just been shot by a 1967 vintage Dalek. Alan Watson did the lying-in-the-gutter thing and looks very cool, but probably needed to get his coat dry-cleaned. Carlos Frenk looks very mysterious, in a kind of 1970s album cover kind of way. Brian May looks like … Brian May.

Anyhoo. Now they know how many … oh do I have to finish that ?


Ground-based review : going, going ….

October 12, 2009

I guess you have all been poring over the draft report of the Ground Based Facilities Review, trying to decode its somewhat incomprehensible ranking scores, and either getting excited because your horse is in the lead, or fuming because they have obviously misunderstood why your favourite 4m telescope is crucial. You have until the 14th to get your feedback in … Its not perfect, but by and large they have done a pretty good job I think. In case you are too busy to read it, here is the short version :

  • Top priority : Carry on with VLT, ALMA and VISTA please. Thou shalt not touch.
  • ELT and SKA : fantabulous. Lets do …. both !!!!
  • eMERLIN and LOFAR. Well, if SKA is so good, we just have to.
  • Gemini : sorry, squire, down the toilet it is .
  • WHT : look, it doesn’t cost much. Oh, ok then. Gone.
  • UKIRT : maybe somebody else can pay ? Oh, ok then. Gone.
  • LSST : come to think of it, this would be rather nice. I know ! ESO can pay !
  • Liverpool Telescope : sorry, not your turn this time
  • WASP and MROI : well, they are kinda fun.

Sounds like a plan. Trouble is of course SKA is fantasy land for years yet, ESO is bust, and we can’t afford to increase the subscription. System in chaos. Mega-projects implausible. Hmm. All change ! Bring back WHT and UKIRT !

They certainly bought the product from the SKA propaganda machine. Respect. Apparently Jodrell Bank invented wifi shortly after CERN invented the Web. Or something like that. Fantastic. I am much more interested in SKA than I was a year ago, cos I have been working on very faint radio sources, which are v.fascinating. (See this paper if you can be bothered.) Trouble is, its also made me worried that SKA will be completely buggered by source confusion. Help.


Distant Vision

October 8, 2009

Courtesy of Richard Massey (who just sent this link round by email), here is President Obama holding an Astronomy Night at the White House. The man is always a hypnotic orator – but hearing him tell a crowd of schoolkids how Galileo changed the world is just magical. Love it.

He looks through a telescope at a double double star that is one hundred sixty light years from Earth. (Epsilon Lyrae I think). Definitely a far-sighted politician.

Mind you, Gordon Brown’s February Oxford speech was pretty damn good too. (Here is my post on that). Maybe I am a sucker for the purple words, and should concentrate on the money ?