Gird your loins

August 10, 2010

Your correspondent finds himself this week in the Arizona desert, at the LSST All Hands Meeting. Of course, our brave effort last year to convince STFC to fund a UK participation came to nought. Close but no cigar. Well, actually, nowhere near a cigar, not even a quick drag on someone else’s ciggy. Strangely though the LSST folk are still chummy so some Brits get invited. As well as mineself, the awfully nice and quite tall Chris Lintott is here and gave a splendid plenary talk on the Zooniverse and why LSST needs it. He did use the word “synergy” in his talk, but immediately apologised.

On Friday morning at 0800 we will all assemble to watch a webcast from Washington DC, for yea, this will be the moment in time when the conclusions of Astro2010, aka the decadal survey, will be unveiled. The pdf file will be released at the same time. Apparently the agencies (NSF, NASA, DOE etc) have had the report since August 3rd. They are doing some quick sums, cos they know they are going to get asked questions, and want to be ready. There are one or two NSF types here but they are playing a very straight bat. Except they don’t know that’s what they are doing, because they don’t speak cricket. Anyway, back in the UK you too can watch the show : check it out here. Kickoff is at 1600 BST.

In discussing the funding prospects, Sidney Wolff quoted Riccardo Giacconi as saying that a successful big project needs to think about the science, the technology, and the politics – in that order. Miss one out and you fail. Get them in the wrong order and you fail. In the UK just now we are worrying about the political spin for our whole subject rather than just one project. The Big Question is “do we deliver for the economy ?”. A marvelous contribution to this debate, and a very well timed one, has just been delivered by the Royal Astronomical Society – a report called Big Science for the Big Society on how astronomy has an impact on society at large. It is a marvelous piece of work, and I urge you to read it and pass a copy to your local MP. Who knows if it will work, but its an honest and powerful piece of PR.

Masonic Rituals

January 15, 2010

At periodic intervals Keef appears before the assembled might of the Royal Astronomical Society for grilling – in April at the National Astronomy Meeting, and every so often at the Astronomy Forum, an RAS organised gathering of Astronomy Department Honchos.There is a meeting of the Forum today. I ain’t there, cos I amn’t as important as I’m yoosed to be, and anyway I am squirting astronomical knowledge into the brains of eighteen year olds this afternoon. Informal de-briefs welcome. Sorry I haven’t got a Twitter thingy, but look, I am fifty five, do you want me to do a demonstration of Disco Dad Dancing while I am at it ?

Minutes from previous Fora can be found here, and responses of the RAS so far to the recent prioritisation exercise can be found here and here.

His Keithness will I am certain stonewall impressively. Please keep comments to facts and policy. Rude remarks about individuals should be kept for the pub.

Likely interesting issues ? Who wants Aurora ? Is it really true the cash losses to PPAN were about the same as the cash gains to PALS ? Are there any warm bodies in the shiny new ESA centre yet ? What about this Drayson review of tension between exploitation, facilities, and subscriptions ? Anything happening ? Need any help ? Should we be lining up our VCs to submit stuff ? Should we just give up because Somebody Up There don’t like us ?

And of course, why hasn’t Peter Coles come up with a looky-likey for Andy Fabian yet ?

Wednesday Morning Trivia

September 3, 2008

Recently a couple of people have suggested posts for the blog. In a wee while I shall try out the Problem of the Black Hole that Destroyed the Earth …. but first a light hearted quiz, suggested by old chum Alan Penny. No I am not going to get you to guess who the Watcher is. Actually, its not really a quiz, more of a pub argument thing, started in St Andrews.

Which British Astronomer has made the most important single contribution since the discovery of pulsars in 1967 ?

Apparently up there in Golf-Land no clear consensus emerged, and for some strange reason Alan thought the readers of this blog might have interesting opinions. As a prompt list, below are all the RAS Gold Medallists since 1967 who were British Astronomers or who worked in Britain. (Note there is a fuzzy area between the Geophysicists and proper Astronomers…)  Those who have a candidate who is not on this list may wish to take note of the next RAS award nomination deadline.

House Rule. Only votes for please, no votes against. Most of the people below and other potential candidates are still working and might even have a PhD student who reads the blog …

The Gold Medallists.

71 Richard Woolley
75 Ernst Opik
76 Bill McCrea, John Ratclife
79 Charles Wynne
81 Bernard Lovell
82 Harrie Massey
83 Michael Seaton
84 Stanley Runcorn
85 Stephen Hawking
87 Martin Rees
89 Ken Pounds
90 Bernard Pagel
93 Donald Lynden-Bell
01 Hermann Bondi
02 Leon Mestel
05 Carole Jordan
07 Len Culhane, Nigel Weiss

Dinner at the Drones

May 10, 2008

On Friday afternoon I gave a talk to the Royal Astronomical Society on big astronomical surveys and the sociological changes they are driving.. It pluggged UKIRT/UKIDSS, WFAU and CASU, and AstroGrid. I am proud to report these are all STFC Band 4 projects !! Woo hee. Keep going guys. The talk involved a live demo of both the WFCAM Science Archive and AstroGrid and went really well. (Many thanks to Mike Read, Mark Holliman, and Nigel Hambly for last minute server kicking.)

During the day there was a specialist meeting on the 42m Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), with fine opening reviews by Jason Pyromaniac and Captain Hook. Of course this used to be the 100m Overwhelmingly Large Telescope (OWL). I look forward to the day (2009 ?) when it gets descoped to 25m and renamed the FBT (Fairly Big Telescope). Some of the science cases are starting to look rather groovy. My favourite is the proposed CODEX instrument, which would take high resolution spectra of distant quasars. All been done before, you say ? Ah yes but they claim that over a period of twenty years, we should be able to see the Lyman-alpha forest move … i.e. we will actually directly detect the expansion of the Universe. Corr.

After my talk I got invited to the RAS Dining Club. Many years ago when I was a student I assumed the Dining Club was a sort of Astronomical Freemason thing – a secret club within the club where all the decisions got taken. Maybe that was true then, but it sure ain’t now, as about two thirds of the membership is retired anyway. It was like finding myself in a PG Wodehouse story. Dinner was at the Athenaeum, where somebody had to find me a tie. Luckily the Club keeps an emergency tie in a special wooden box. Conversation was deafening and at the end every guest had to tell a funny story. I felt sure that at any moment we would all start throwing bread rolls at Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright.

I didn’t tell the gorilla joke.


February 18, 2008

On Thursday the RAS made a statement about the whole STFC thing so far. You canfind this here. Its mostly politely worded but is hard hitting in others, e.g.

STFC has failed miserably to communicate with the community


I think this might have been sent to all RAS Fellows, but err… ahh .. errr.. I somehow seem to have forgottn to pay my subscription so I have been chucked out. Oops. Sorry Michael.