Rich queries and Particle Physicians

May 18, 2011

Roy W wants me to write about science at the IVOA meeting rather than tourism. Well, what we do is all in the service of science, but its not itself science, and the impact is slow and indirect, so its kinda hard. But there are some really promising things. Having finished Table Access Protocol (TAP), the first apps actually using it are now appearing, so instead of just doing simple-minded RA/Dec/radius conesearches, you can do rich SDSS/UKIDSS style queries. The new version of Topcat speaks TAP. People are going to love this. Also the ObsCore Data Model is done, so likewise when you are searching for data resources, you can do something a bit more structured than “give me a list of conesearch services containing the string XQBLARG”. In general, the Data Model world seems to be zooming ahead now, after taking so many years to get going !

Meanwhile, everybody seems happy with VOEvent 2.0, and like VO Event 1.x I am sure it is going to be used in the real world. But you can tell us all about that Roy.

If there is any problem with this IVOA meeting its that it all seems a bit smooth somehow. We need some kind of playful critical agent provocateur. Roy ! Why aren’t you here ??!!

In other news, I just followed a Twitter link from La Crowther to a transcript of the Parliamentary Liaison Committee’s session quizzing the Prime Minister. Questions 23-27 are about science. Its a bit depressing. Earlier on, Cameron’s answers often seem cogent and knowedgeable, whether you agree with him or not, but on Science he becomes rather vague and broad brush, and of course pleads the fifth hides behind the Haldane Principle as usual. When confronted with the claim that particle physics funding has fallen to half its 2004 value, he says “By complete chance, I met a particle physician last night…” But what is worrying is what he claims the “particle physician” told him :

He said that one of the challenges for highly specialised areas of science is that they have to make their applications and bids relevant. They cannot expect to get money just because what they propose is in an important area, they have to prove the worth of what they are doing. I think that is the case for all science funding.

There doesn’t seem to be any grey here. Prove your worth or you are out Jim.


I believe

May 15, 2011

The blog awakens. One interesting thing is that even when I haven’t written anything for weeks, there are still people reading it. Seems to be a random assortment of old posts.

I guess I should write something about the Parliamentary Select Committee report  but Peter already blogged it  and didn’t get any debate, so maybe it needs a bit more thought, aka come up with provocative line.

Instead I shall continue my occasional travelogue series. I know you love it. Here I am in Naples for the twice-yearly IVOA interop. Keywords for Napoli are : chaos; pizza; chaos; antiquity; noise; sfogliatella; chaos; religion; volcano; chaos; and chaos. I do like the chaos. But its exhausting.

There are churches and shrines everywhere, packed into streets so narrow that Google Maps can’t name them. The only one with more than about twelve feet of space in front of it is the Cattedrale San Gennaro. Twice each year a miracle occurs  at this location. A vial containing the dried blood of San Gennaro himself spontaneously liquefies. A few years back I was lucky enough to witness this miracle. Well. I say witness. Actually I was craning my neck to see over the heads of about eight million people, and could just about see some blokes in funny costumes waggling something.

So is this what I believe ? Do us a lemon, John. No. I believe in Hollywood. Bear with me.

Having a few hours spare I went to see the National Archaelogical Museum. This contains some marvelous frescoes and mosaics, some preserved in Pompeii. Here are two favourites : the famous portrait of Sappho, which actually probably isn’t; and a lovely mosaic of fishes.

There are also rooms and rooms of rather dull and pompous Roman statues. However I did rather enjoy the gallery of emperors, and spotted a lovely contrast. On the left is Marcus Aurelius, the Philosopher-Emperor. As we know from watching Gladiator, he was a wise and just ruler as well as a deep thinker. I have his “Meditations” and even read about half of it one day before I got hungry. And golly gosh his nobility just leaps out of the bust. One the right is his son Commodus, who as we also know from Gladiator, was a snivelling shit, a nasty piece of work, and a dastardly cheat. Gibbon dates the beginning of the Decline from his reign. And blow me, his bust looks just like Joaquin Phoenix in the movie. I definitely wouldn’t trust this man.

All temptation to point out resemblances to current personalities will be avoided.