Dunkin’ Dylan Shocker

October 14, 2007

Google “Newport 1965” and you know what you will get. The infamous, the mythic, the revolutionary moment in time when Dylan went electric. I did this very thing, just after watching the Murray Lerner movie on TV and coming over all nostalgic. This is odd, as not only was I not there, I was only eleven at the time. Still, four years later, listening to the Incredible String Band and buying my first Pink Floyd album, people were still talking about it. (Try this and this)
Next, instead of searching for “Newport 1965” I just looked for “Newport Festival” and woohooo its still going… but there was a bit of a shock. Now, as the story goes, the folkies were distressed because their politically perfect festival had been sullied by commercialism… So how fitting that, as you will see at this web page, it is now the Dunkin’ Donuts Newport Folk Festival.

This is not a physical spaceship…

September 7, 2007

Music is very strange. How does it work ? Why does it work ? Right after those evolutionary psychologists finish explaining the religious impulse, I want this music thing explained.

I had a fractured kind of day – sitting on a committee, trying to follow library politics; worrying about the Research Assessment Exercise; picking up my lost USB stick from those nice folks at the Music Kitchen; filling out a Leave of Absence form for a colleague only to find it was the wrong form; getting leaned on by the Head of College to reply to the crank who had complained I hadn’t replied to his three letters about why all of modern physics is wrong; trying to figure out why my printer just stopped speaking to me…

The world seems like a Cubist painting and my head is full of jagged thoughts. Then I put a record on. Actual vinyl. My daughter’s boyfriend is fascinated. He has never seen a turntable before. Then the teenagers leave for a party; everybody else is somewhere else in the house; I put on Motivation Radio and sit back. Its a corny but quite brilliant album. Perfect in its way. Gradually the world recombines, closes in, and makes sense; the music is the whole world, and I am on an effortless journey.

As the man says, this is not a physical spaceship; just a set of organised vibrations – known – as – music.

Acid flashback

July 22, 2007

The Daily Galaxy has an item about a white dwarf with a crystallised carbon core – the largest known diamond. They called it Lucy, after the Beatle’s song, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds . This LSD reminder gave me flashback to my days at QMW in London. Glenn White, who is a molecular cloud freak, got fed up with us extragalactic types getting in the papers all the time just because we had measured the mean density of the cosmos, or found the most luminous object in the universe and so on. So he came back from Hawaii having made even more CO measurements of some cloud or other, and put out a press release announcing that he had found enough carbon to make all the world’s pencils. Err yeah right. Worked though .. Daily Mail lapped it up.

Almost meeting famous people

July 16, 2007

Sitting listening to Brian May reheat his thirty year old PhD project at Michael Rowan-Robinson’s birthday conference, it occurred to me that my life has been gently brushed by greatness. You may think I am an ordinary sort of chap, but I will have you know that when a small boy I used to live across the road from Norman Wisdom‘s Aunty. I realise that at this point all the non-UK readers are staring blankly, but my Brit chums are certainly impressed. A few years after this, my best friend had an older brother whose boots were stolen by Donovan on Margate beach. I went to the same school as Ted Heath, but of course he was there some years before me. When I went on my first observing run to CTIO, there was an anti-Pinochet riot in Santiago just before I got there, and another one just after I left, but when I was there it all seemed pretty normal.

And so it goes on through life. Most of the time History is something that is happening on TV, but every so often it gets within a few feet of your nose, just for a while, and when it does you are too polite to point. My son Kit joined a local kids drama group, along with one Jessica Rowling. At the next show, J.K. was there with all the other proud parents of the spotty young luvvies. It was really sad though. There was a kind of bubble of empty seats round her, as nobody wanted to be obvious. Our friend Alethea, one of those pushy confident upper middle class mums, instructed her husband Baljean to go and talk to Jo. I have never seen anyone look so miserable. (Baljean, not Jo). At the next show, she had friends with her, so Baljean was spared. By this time I was of course plotting marriage between Kit and Jessica. Unfortunately Kit decided this drama stuff was bore-ring, and he returned to more normal teenage boy pursuits like playing Grand Theft Auto and having his BB gun confiscated by teachers and so forth. So thats that.

Of course when I was a lad I daydreamed of being Fred Hoyle, as well as Jimi Hendrix. One day somewhere into my second postdoc I realised that there are more rock musicians in the world than astronomers. Hey, this is cool and one dream is enough. So many years later there I am, at a conference specially to celebrate the 65th bithday of my long time collaborator and friend, Michael Rowan-Robinson. Much sentimental talk of the good old IRAS galaxy redshift survey days, and how we discovered the most luminous object in the Universe. I was slated to review the subject of the Unification of Active Galaxies. What a clever chap. My talk is loaded up here. It was I hope a good talk. (Fellow blogger Andrew Jaffe‘s certainly was).

But suddenly up pops fame again. Not only did Brian May give a cogent talk on Zodiacal Dust, he added a movie he made of the dust being made in solar system collisions, complete with grandiose guitar sound track. And two days later Richard Ellis started his talk accompanied by a BBC film crew, Caltech having issued a press release about the six faint smudges that MIGHT be redshift ten galaxies. I got back to my room and thought well I can blog about that. But of course Chris Lintott, who was also there, had already done it.

Oh well.

Moondance in Muenchen

March 12, 2007

Six a.m. in a German hotel room and I am rescued by Van the Man. I have woken up annoyingly early, worries about e-science politics and the talk I have to give this morning buzzing in my head. I put on my earphones and listen to “Moondance” by Van Morrison, hoping to fall back asleep. Music can switch your head into a different mode. This works but I haven’t fallen asleep : instead as I listen to “It Stoned Me” I am awake and happy. It stoned me too. And I didn’t even need to get wet. (Check it out). Thank you Van.

This is a strange but cool hotel. The rooms don’t have numbers. They are all named after famous artists. I am in “Max Ernst” and my colleague Kona Andrews is in “Joan Miro”. It reminds me of the opening chapter of “Gravitation” by Misner, Thorne, and Wheeler. (How pretentious is that ?) This is about how you don’t have to be chained to co-ordinate systems, and instead think in terms of geometric objects. They explain that in Japanese towns streets don’t have names, and houses within blocks are numbered not in order of position, , but in the order they were built. (You can find an explanation here.) Yet somehow the postman has no trouble delivering letters.

This always seemed simultaneously deep but irritating. Does it really work in practice – the Japanese postman in a big town, or real GR calculations ? There are about three floors and twenty-ish rooms here so nobody gets lost I guess. But if Best Western tried the same thing, this would be impossible … wouldn’t it ?

Anyhoo. Nice hotel, in a good spot in central Munich, so here is a plug. Its Hotel Occam, in Occamstrasse, near the Englischer Garten. It has no wireless internet, so I will put up this post later, when I get to ESO.