Smoking Lectures

October 17, 2012

I am down in Sunny Sussex. My seafront hotel satisfies all the Brighton cliches. Expecting to meet Dickie Attenborough in the pub with Julian Clary any moment, after an invigorating windy spray-sodden walk following my greasy spoon breakfast.

Anyhoo. I was here last night for Seb Oliver’s inaugural public lecture, and a jolly fine occasion it was too. It was called “Smoke signals from the distant universe” and featured Herschel heavily as well as some fun demos involving TV remote controls, infra-red cameras, and smoke bombs. Rumour has it that the VC was pleased, which is what really matters of course. Chatter afterwards over the canapes was that he was heard to note that Scientists did these things better than Humanities types. Some of my fellow chatterers nodded, reminiscing about English and History inaugurals where the New Prof offered a dry reading-out of a written script, like a spoken essay, before a bemused public.

As a student, I can remember crashing the lectures of some arty friends and being a bit shocked – same thing… stand at lectern, read out essay, no eye contact. Is it still like that ? Any Humanities-type readers out there or is this purely a nerd-filled zone ?

It was suggested that lively public lectures is a scientific tradition because we all had childhood radio/TV role models – Fred Hoyle, Carl Sagan, Brainy Cox etc. But hang on, what about Kenneth Clarke, Bettany Hughes, Neil Oliver etc ? So perhaps the two provocative questions would be :

  • Why is TV History so wonderful when Academic History is so awful ?
  • When Historians do public lectures, they treat it as a version of academia; whereas when we do public lectures, our instinct is to treat it like TV … why ?


WISE is Go

December 15, 2009

Its the year of infra-red astronomy … UKIRT is still going strong (for now…), but now we have Herschel, VISTA, and … WISE.

WISE launched successfully yesterday from Vandenberg. The PV phase is expected to be very short – an amazing one month – followed by a seven month sky survey. My IPAC chums tell me they intend to get the data within a year, so you ain’t got to wait long.

Just thought I’d cheer you up before tomorrow’s doom and gloom.

Cardiff Secrets*

September 9, 2009

I am in Cardiff for a meeting of the Herschel ATLAS consortium. ATLAS is a big open time key project – hundreds of square degrees to S(500 micron)=53 mJy. Matt Griffin gave a general Herschel update. He showed us some pictures which he stressed very heavily could not be discussed elsewhere, or he would have to kill us. And apparently there are other things that he cannot show us at all, otherwise Goran Pilbratt will have to kill him. But rest assured folks its all looking pretty damn groovy and hitting the specs. Two things that aren’t exactly a secret. First, although PACS and SPIRE are working pretty to much to perfection, HIFI is temporarily switched off while they figure out whats wrong. (It will soon get switched to backup electronics). Second, deep images are confusion limited. So ATLAS took the right decision doing a wide shallow survey 🙂

Then at lunch someone-who-shall-be-nameless said how much s/he was enjoying the comments on my blog, especially the recent ELT / ESO funding revelations, and mentioned that the SKA team had discussed whether to pitch in with SKA PR, and took an explicit decision to stay clear. So. Obviously. Anonymous contributions welcome.

Tonight we are trooping off to Cardiff Bay for dinner. As far as I can tell, the restaurant is pretty much right on top of The Rift. So if this is my last post, you’ll know why…

* In case you thought this title meant Walter had told me where the skeletons are, tough. We did converse but no beans were spilled. Do skeletons have beans ? (Please stop now, Ed..)

Herschel-Planck countdown

May 13, 2009

I am going to miss a party at ROE. John Davies  sent round an email reminding everyone that Planck and Herschel are ready for launch. There will be nibbles while everyone gawks at the live webcast projected onto a screen in the canteen.  I am really sorry to miss this.

You can follow progress at the Planck-Herschel web site, and also at Andrew Jaffe’s blog. The lucky swine is actually there. There are mission-blogs and twitters and all that now-usual stuff. Andrew Jaffe gives the links.

If you want to set your watches, launch is expected 14:12 UK time (BST) on Thursday. Unfortunately this is six am California time…

If you are looking for quick sexy results, look for Herschel rather than Planck.  Planck takes three months to get to L2, then scans for 14 months, then analyses stuff for another year.. there will be not a peep until summer 2011. Herschel however is a regular observatory so stuff will get out much more quickly.