Friday, 23 August 2013

The collected wisdom of UK academia

Following-up to my previous post about EThOS, one can find some interesting titles of PhD theses written in the UK.  Of course, some wilful misinterpretation regarding the double meaning of some words helps.

That's probably enough for now, and enough of a reading list for my holiday next week.  Adios!

The British Museum is Falling Down

As many institutions now do, we at the University of Surrey have a repository for our research outputs - papers, mostly.  This means that all the research work that comes out of the Uni should be able to be found in one place.  More importantly, it means that anyone can download and read our work for free, even if the papers are also published in subscription-only journals.  If you want to see it, the web-site is here.  I'm not sure I'd particularly recommend it, though.  I think it is a bit of a mess in terms of design and functionality.  Searching for my surname, for example, brings up as first hit a paper entitled Footprints of air pollution and changing environment on the sustainability of built infrastructure.  That's not by me, though my surname can be found in the references at the end of the document.  Fortunately google has indexed the site, and available papers from our institutional repository appear when searching Google Scholar.

Anyway, I was looking there to see about making sure my most recent student's thesis got submitted so that it would forever be available.  I haven't quite figured out how to do this or whether there is already a default policy of publishing all theses, but I did follow a link to EThOS, the British Library database of all UK theses. It seems rather good, and has details of many theses - including my own.  Unsurprisingly, it doesn't have a digitised copy of mine, but one could be ordered.  In that case the British Library would get in touch with the University of Oxford, and arrange for them to take the paper copy of my thesis from the stacks deep in the bowels of the city, scan it in, and send it back to the British Library.  It would then forever be available via the EThOS service.  That first request would cost the requestor some money.

Seeing that they don't have an electronic copy, and I do - the original at that, and not a scanned-in copy - I thought I'd offer it to them.  Sadly, they had to decline, as they can only accept theses directly from the awarding institution.  I can understand why, but it's too bad.  I wouldn't recommend anyone read my thesis, particularly, but for now, it's only available from my own website.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Trouble in Egypt.

The news from Egypt has been frightening lately, and my sympathies go out to anyone suffering through the situation there.  Egypt has, perhaps indirectly, had a prominent role in worldwide nuclear issues, thanks to the tenure of Mohamed ElBaradei as Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  I don't know him, and he's not a nuclear physicist by training (he's a lawyer), but I was nevertheless a bit shocked to see that he will stand trial for resigning from the Egyptian government following the recent bloody crackdown on protesters.  It seems from the story that the charges are not really very serious, and are due to a kind of private prosecution, but still - to have to attend court as a result of resigning from a government can't be a good thing.  Some of our politicians won't even resign without that threat hanging over them.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Moving house

I think it's widely established, at least amongst first world problems that moving house ranks pretty poorly in the list of fun things to do.  So I found it yesterday, when I moved from a flat on the University campus, which I occupied as part of a second job to provide pastoral care to students in the evening, to a nearby house on campus, for the same reason.  With the accumulated possessions of a forty-year-old with a lot of books, and a partner who is quite sure there is always room to fit just one more bit of furniture in, we knew we wouldn't be in for a fun day.  

Thankfully, my partner, being much more organised than me, managed to arrange for a redoubtable crew of friends to come and help shift things.  The result is that all our things were moved yesterday and I got up early today, aching, to spend a couple of hours cleaning the old flat.  I handed the keys over, and am now at Heathrow, waiting to go to Glasgow for a meeting that I mentioned before.  I'll post more about that as and when it happens over the next couple of days.  For now, thanks to those who helped:  Annika, Julian, Chris, Emma, Ant, Rich, Paul and Linda (and this is where I fear I've forgotten someone).  The picture attached is part of the measly reward for these great friends for helping out.

Postscript: Here's an appropriate song to go with the post:

Monday, 12 August 2013

Victor Safronov

I haven't posted much music lately.  Here's a song whose link to physics I don't quite understand, except that it is about, or at least named after an astronomer called Victor Safranov.  It's by a band from Reading called Saloon.  In pre-apocalyptic times, Reading had a University with a physics department,

Friday, 2 August 2013

A holiday in Scotland

Ayr Beach
I've been on holiday for the last week, in Ayr in Scotland, staying with my cousin and her family.  We've been going there to stay every summer for the last few years, now, and it's always enjoyable, and relaxing, and nice for my daughter to have the company of a household full of kids.  Of course, there is not much to report about nuclear physics during such a time, but not quite literally nothing.  

One evening while in Ayr, we (me, my partner and my parents) met up with an old family friend - a guy a little older than me who is the son of an old friend of my Dad's from his schooldays.  He'd moved up to Ayr some time ago, but hails from the town my parents live in (Bishop's Stortford), and I lived in for the latter half of my childhood.  Aside from these links, we probably don't have too much in common, but that's not to stop us enjoying a chat and a couple of beers in a pub.  When it came to finding out what each other did for a living, his response to me being a nuclear physicist was on the extreme end of things.  He immediately responded with "F*** me!"  Perhaps it is just his usual turn of phrase.  I'm used this kind of response, but not quite at that extreme.  I can't actually remember how I phrased what I did by way of employment, or whether it was actually me (and not, say, my mum) who said it.  Usually I wouldn't come straight out with nuclear physicist, but something like "I teach at a University".  This is what I said to the guy in the sports shop in Silverburn shopping centre, where my partner was buying me some running shoes as a birthday present (and as an encouragement to go running more often).  He then asked what I taught, and I said physics to which he replied that he never did understand physics at school.  That's the other response I commonly get.  "Wow" or "I never understood / hated physics I school" cover probably 90% of responses.

On the train journey home from Scotland, we were not the only people with a youngish child wanting entertainment to pass the time.  Perhaps lamely I let my daughter watch a lot of TV programs on my laptop and play games on my phone.  Not so a woman travelling with her young son.  He seemed to be a bit obsessed with submarines, and had a book about them.  His mum answered his questions for a long time, patiently and actually rather diligently.  She talked about the workings of the nuclear reactors aboard nuclear submarines really very well.  

The other vaguely on-topic thing (not that everything here needs to be on-topic) was this story in the Independent that I read on the train journey home.  It relates a bit to the sampling error that I didn't elaborate very clearly in this post.  The very fact that a student can take two ostensibly identical exams (in the sense that they are examining the same material at the same level) and get two different scores is part of the measurement error that is routinely ignored.  It also highlights some of the unfortunate side-effects of use of league tables.