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Archive for June, 2012

It is one of the biggest upsets in Wimbledon history. Rafa Nadal, recently crowned as the seven times winner of the French Open (the most ever), lost in the 2nd round of Wimbledon last night. He lost to an unknown from the Czech Republic by the name of Lukas Rosol. I missed the 1st set, but saw the match from that point on. Rosol narrowly lost the 1st set on a tie-breaker, after apparently having 3 set points. But, he went on to win the 2nd and 3rd sets to take a 2-1 lead.

Rafa Nadal winning his 7th French Open title in June 2012

Nadal fought back to win the 4th set, so levelled the match 2-2. By this time it was closing in on 9pm, so the Wimbledon officials made the sensible decision to close the roof and allow play to continue into the early part of the night. Closing the roof and getting the humidity down with the air-conditioning system means a delay of about 30 minutes, which only added to the tension.

When the players came back on court, it was Rosol who came out of the blocks the quickest, continuing the high level of tennis he had played in all but the 4th set. It is not that Nadal played badly, but Rosol outplayed him, and thoroughly deserved his win.

Lukas Rosol beats Nadal in one of the biggest upsets in recent Wimbledon history.

This is probably the biggest upset at Wimbledon (at least in the men’s tournament) since 1996, the year Dutchman Richard Krajicek beat Pete Sampras in the quarter finals, the only defeat Sampras suffered at Wimbledon between 1993 and 2001, during which time he won 7 titles (the most ever at Wimbledon).

My own current favourite player, Roger Federer, hopes to equal Sampras’ record; he currently has won 6 Wimbledon titles in his 16 Major titles, and I am sure would dearly love to equal and then pass Sampras’ Wimbledon record so he can go down at the greatest Wimbledon champion in history.

Roger Federer showing his 16 Major titles (6 Wimbledon, 1 French Open, 5 US Open and 4 Australian Open)

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The other weekend I was rummaging through my record collection (over 300 of what my youngest daughter referred to once as my “big black CDs“), and I came across the Boomtown Rats album “The fine art of Surfacing“. I transferred it to MP3 format so I could listen to it on my iPhone, and yesterday morning when I was out for a run I listened to it.

This album has some great songs on it, but probably hte best known is the first song on side 2, “I don’t like Mondays“.

This was the Boomtown Rats’ 2nd number 1 hit, staying at the top of the charts for 4 weeks in the summer of 1979. The story behind the song is quite interesting, it is about a schoolgirl who decided (if one makes a decision about these sorts of things) to gun down her classmates one day.

From the Wikipedia page about the song:

According to Geldof, he wrote the song after reading a telex report at Georgia State University’s campus radio station, WRAS, on the shooting spree of 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer, who fired at children in a school playground at Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, California on 29 January 1979, killing two adults and injuring eight children and one police officer. Spencer showed no remorse for her crime and her full explanation for her actions was “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day”. The song was first performed less than a month later.

In addition to its powerful lyrics, the song showed a different side of this “punk” band, with a piano, haunting melody and quiet delivery, rather than the louder punk sound for which they had become known.

Some of the other great songs on this album are “Someone Looking At You” and “Diamond Smiles”.

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After the ecstasy of our Grand Slam win in March, the agony of losing by 1 point in Sydney. Wales lost the 3rd test of their summer tour of Australia 20-19, and thus endured a series whitewash 3-0. All 3 games were close, with the 1st Test in Brisbane being 27-19, the 2nd Test last week in Melbourne 25-23, and a single point seperating the two countries in the 3rd and final Test in Sydney.

The agony and the ecstasy – so close and yet so far

On such narrow margins games (and series) are won and lost. As Simon Thomas of the Western Mail wrote the following day:

It was a case of so near, yet so far for Wales once again as they went down to defeat by the narrowest of margins in yesterday’s final Test….

Graham Price, the loose head prop from the great Wales side of the 1970s said

Wales have done so much learning they should have a masters degree in lost opportunities

Welsh wing Alex Cuthbert – from the cover of Sunday’s “Wales on Sunday”

I did not see the 1st Test in which Wales lost 27-19, as I was still in Mongolia after my trip there to see the 2012 Transit of Venus. So I cannot comment too much on that game.

But, having seen the 2nd and 3rd tests I can concur with Graham Price, they were lost opportunities. In the 2nd Test, Wales were 1 point in the lead with only 90 seconds to go on the clock, and had possession of the ball. Why they did not just keep possessions, and pick and drive to run the clock down, is beyond me.

In this weekend’s 3rd Test Wales were leading 19-17 and had a lineout deep in Australian territory. They won the lineout, and had the opportunity to either go for a try or a dropped goal, but instead got penalised for coming around the side of the maul. It was from the ensuing penalty thatt Australia regained field position and scored their winning penalty.

So, where do Wales go from here? Was the 2012 Grand Slam another false dawn, or are Wales a World class side on the verge of getting those elusive victories against the 3 Southern Hemisphere giants South Africa, Australia and New Zeland? I think, given the narrowness of Australia’s victories over Wales, that we can build on this painful lesson in how to win tight games. We can cut down on the unforced errors, and learn better game management. Wales clearly now have the fitness, strength and skills to compete with the best teams in the World, what we are lacking, it would seem, is the mental ruthlessness and discipline.

Wales get the opportunity for revenge against Australia on the 1st of December, when the Wallabies come to Cardiff. This will be at the end of Wales’ “autumn test series“, an annual series in November / early December. This year we play Argentina (10th of November), Samoa (16th of November), New Zealand (24th of November), and then finally Australia. Having suffered 5 defeats in a row to Australia in less than 12 months, it is high time Wales beat them, and December could be our time for such a victory. All Welsh rugby fans will be hoping so.

Robbie Deans wonders whether Wales can beat Australia and New Zealand in the Autumn

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The headline on Friday’s evening news (22nd June 2012) was that Queen Elizabeth II and Martin McGuinness would be meeting next week and, possibly, shaking hands.

For those of you who don’t know, Martin McGuinness was a leader of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (better known as the IRA), an organisation who waged a campaign against the British Government for many decades, in an attempt to persuade (force?) Britain to withdraw from Northern Ireland.

Martin McGuinness is now deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, but it is very significant that the Head of State of Great Britain, the country that Irish Republicans consider to be an occupying force in Northern Ireland, should be meeting a former leader of the IRA, a person whom many consider to be a former terrorist.

Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland

In addition, the IRA killed Lord Mountbatten, Prince Philip’s (the Queen’s husband) uncle in a bomb attack in 1979. So this meeting is significant at both a State and personal level. In 1998 the IRA agreed to put down its arms and sign up to the Good Friday Peace Agreement. Since then, former members of the IRA have committed to using the democratic political process to achieve their aims, rather than the armed methods of the past.

By coincidence, about a week ago I came across a 1982 record amongst my over 300 albums called “Nos du nos da” by Meic Stevens. On this record is a song “Bobby Sands”, about the IRA prisoner who, in 1981, starved himself to death in protest at the way he felt “political prisoners” were being treated by the British Government. It was a pretty controversial song when it was released…..

The lyrics of the song are:

Mae ‘na filoedd yn dy gefnogi chdi
Tithe yn y carchar.
Clyw sgrech Llywodraeth, ysbeiliwr ffôl.
Thyg, gwatwar.

Ond beth bynnag maen nhw’n dweud yn dy erbyn di.
Dioddefaint ac angau dewistaist ti.
I gael heddwch yn Iwerddon a chael fod yn rhydd.
Bobby Sands.

Darllenais am dy dristwch yn y “Western Mail”
Mewn erthygl golygyddol.
Bu farw Sands yn y Long Kesh jail.
Derbyniwch y ffaith fel rhybudd.
Yn ei farn nes ti farw dros ffyrnigrwydd gwyllt.
Terfysg, dychryn, y bom a’r dryll.
Lladrata a myrdro oedd dy ddull.
Bobby Sands.

Nid merthyr yw Sands medde llais y Sais,
Ond gwystl mewn dwylo gwydlon.
Esgus gwarthus i gael myrdro mwy.
Mae Sands yn ddigon fodlon
I farw dros y terfysg hwn.
Lladrata, myrdro, y bom a’r gwn.
Ond mi eith ei enw i lawr mi wn
Gyda Phadrig, Pearce a Connelly.

Ond beth bynnag maen nhw’n dweud yn dy erbyn di.
Dioddefaint ac angau dewistaist ti.
I gael heddwch yn Iwerddon a chael fod yn rhydd.
Bobby Sands.

Mae ‘na filoedd yn dy gefnogi chdi
Tithe yn y carchar.
Clyw sgrech Llywodraeth, ysbeiliwr ffôl.
Thyg, gwatwar.

Ond beth bynnag maen nhw’n dweud yn dy erbyn di.
Dioddefaint ac angau dewistaist ti.
I gael heddwch yn Iwerddon a chael fod yn rhydd.
Bobby Sands.
Ie, Bobby Sands.
Bobby Sands.
Ie, Bobby Sands.

Which translates (roughly) as

There are thousands who support you.
And you are in prison.
Hear the screech of Government, stupid spoiler.
Thug, mocker.

But whatever they say against you,
Suffering and death is what you chose.
To have peace in Ireland, and to be free.
Bobby Sands.

I read about your sadness in the “Western Mail”,
In an editorial article.
Sands died in the Long Kesh jail.
Take the fact as a warning.
In their opinion you died for crazy anger.
Violence, scaring, the bomb and the gun.
Stealing and murdering were your means.
Bobby Sands.

Sands is not a martyr, says the voice of the English
But a hostage in bloody hands.
An awful excuse to murder more.
Sands is content enough
To die for this violence,
Stealing, murdering, the bomb and the gun.
But his name will go down I know
With Patrick, Pearce and Connelly.

But whatever they say against you,
Suffering and death is what you chose.
To have peace in Ireland, and to be free.
Bobby Sands.

There are thousands who support you.
And you are in prison.
Hear the screech of Government, stupid spoiler.
Thug, mocker.

But whatever they say against you,
Suffering and death is what you chose.
To have peace in Ireland, and to be free.
Bobby Sands.
Yeah, Bobby Sands.
Bobby Sands.
Yeah, Bobby Sands.

Whether Martin McGuinness was a murderer I will leave for you to decide, as it is a matter of opinion. Whether people like Bobby Sands and other members of the IRA were terrorists or freedom fighters rather depends on your point of view. What is less contentious is that, since the Good Friday Peace Accord, life for most people in Northern Ireland is more peaceful than it has been for decades, and that can only be a good thing.

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I am covering (simple) two body collisions with my mechanics class today. I found this pretty good video of Newton’s cradle to show them some of the principles of conservation of momentum:

When I have more time over the next week I will go through the derivation of the velocities of objects 1 and 2 after a collision when object 2 is stationary before the collision. There are some interesting results which come from these equations, some of which may be a surprise to those who haven’t thought about them before.

The results can explain, amongst other things, how fast you can hit a golf ball for a given golf club head-speed, and why Rutherford and Geiger and Marsden knew the alpha particles they fired at a gold foil in famous 1909 experiment must be striking much more massive particles. This experiment led to the discovery of the atomic nucleus.

Striking a golf ball is a nice example of two body collisions

But that is for next week, this week just enjoy this entertaining video.

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I was rummaging through my record collection over the weekend, and came across the wonderful album Ancient Heart by Tanika Tikaram. This is one of the hits from the album, and probably the reason why I bought the album. Enjoy this live version of this great song.

Does anyone know what became of her?

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What an agonising way to lose a match and a series. Wales were leading 23-22, the clock was approaching 80 minutes, and Wales had possession of the ball. Wales kicked possession away, and conceded a penalty, which Australia kicked upfield to win a lineout. From the lineout Australia set up a rolling maul, and Wales were penalised for bringing it down. Australia were awarded another penalty, and they kicked it to win the game 25-23. On such fine margins, Test matches are won and lost.

Wales have not won a test match on tour in the Southern Hemisphere since 1969, and in this game we came so close. The post match post-mortem suggests Wales should have won the game. Unlike the 1st test of a week ago, when Wales had a poor first half, this Saturday Wales couldn’t have started better – we scored a converted try with only 4 minutes gone. Wales were still leading just before half time, but then Australia scored a try in the dying minutes of the 1st half, to go into half-time ahead by 13-7.

The 2nd half was dominated by alternating penalty kicks between Australia and Wales, but Wales did score a 2nd try to go 23-22 ahead. The possibility of levelling the 3-match series, and of winning in Australia for the first time since 1969, seemed very likely. But, as any sports fan knows, Australia never give up, and Wales should really have played a smarter game in the last few minutes. I am not sure how a side, which showed such maturity and composure during their Grand Slam campaign this past winter, could be so naive as to give away possession with a 1-point lead and hardly any time left on the clock. But, give it away we did, and the inevitable happened; Wales conceded a penalty and Australia broke Welsh hearts.

20120617-070333.jpg

How much Wales’ performances in these last 2 tests has been affected by not having our head coach, Warren Gatland, we will never know. I am sure Rob Howley makes a very able interim head coach, and Wales had better get used to Gatland’s absence – he has been chosen to coach the Lions tour of Australia next summer, so will be on extended leave from his position as head coach of Wales until that tour is over.

With the 3rd and final test next Saturday in Sydney, Wales still have a chance to get that elusive Southern Hemisphere victory. It will be interesting to see how Wales react to this heartbreaking defeat, and also whether Australia go for the 3-0 series victory, or rest players for the upcoming Tri-Nations competition. Can Wales at least avoid an embarrassing white-wash?

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On Saturday 2nd of June I am leaving for a trip to the Gobi desert. The reason I am heading off there is to observe the Transit of Venus. The June Transit on the 6th will be the last one until Decemeber 2117 – in fact transits of Venus are the rarest predictable astronomical event we know of.

During a transit, Venus appears to pass across the disk of the Sun. Venus passes the Earth in its orbit every 584 days, something we call an inferior conjunction. But, because the planes of orbit of the two planets around the Sun are inclined to each other at 3 degrees, Venus will only appear to pass across the disk of the Sun on the rare occasion when an inferior conjunction happens when the two planets are on the line of nodes – the line where the two planes cross.

The planes of orbits of Venus and the Earth. Transits will only occur if Venus passes the Earth (an inferior conjunction) when the two planets happen to both be on the lines of nodes

Kepler was the first person to predict a transit of Venus. In 1629, after he had worked out his 3 laws of planetary motion, he calculated that in December 1631 Venus would appear to pass across the disk of the Sun. He also calculated that Mercury would transit in November of the same year. The November Mercury transit was observed by Pierre Gassendi in Paris, and Jesuit Father Cycat in Innsbruck and Johannes Remus in Alsace. The only surviving sketch we have is from Gassendi.

Gassendi also tried to observe the December transit of Venus, but failed. We now know that the Transit of December 1631 was not visible from Paris. Kepler had predicted that the next Transit of Venus would be in 1761, but in fact he got his calculations wrong. In 1639 the young English astronomer and mathematician Jeremiah Horrocks calculated that Venus would transit across the disk of the Sun in December of that year, 8 years after the transit of 1631. He wrote letters to his friend Crabtree in Manchester, and the two of them became the first human beings we know of to observe a Transit ot Venus. In fact, Horrocks kept a detailed journal of the observations.

Horrocks observing the 1639 Transit of Venus

At this point transits of Venus were just a curiosity. But this all changed in 1715 when Edmund Halley presented at paper at the Royal Society where he showed that transit of Venus could be used to measure the distance from the Earth the Sun, a distance which had eluded all attempts to be measured up to this time.

Edmund Halley – and the cover of his paper to the Royal Society describing the Transit of Mercury across the disk of the Sun

The paper presented by Edmund Halley to the Royal Society describing how a Transit of Venus could be used to determine the Earth’s distance from the Sun

The method Halley proposed depended on the effect of parallax. If two observers were to observe and time the Transit of Venus from different locations on Earth, separated by latitude, then the difference in the path length of Venus across the disk of the Sun, if one knew the distance between the two observing stations, could determine the distance from Venus to the Sun and hence the distance of Earth from the Sun.

Using the parallax of seeing a transit from two different locations to determine the Earth-Sun distance

Halley also knew that he would not live to see the next pair of transits in 1761 and 1769, but his admonishment was remembered, and in 1761 an international effort was made to observe the Transit of Venus in order to finally determine the distance from the Earth to the Sun. As (bad) luck would have it, altough nearly all the scientists were based in Europe, the Transit could only be seen in its entirety in Asia, southern Africa, and the northern parts of the Northern Hemisphere.

The visibility of the 1761 Transit of Venus, the unshaded areas are where the transit was visible in its entirety

Data for the 1761 were obtained from 60 different observing stations in 8 countries, making it at the time the largest international science project ever undertaken. There were a number of problems in the timings of the 1761 transit times from the various locations. This was due to the so-called “black drop” effect, which no one expected. It led to errors in the contact times between Venus and the disk of the Sun, rendering much of the data gathered useless. This led to the 1769 Transit gaining importance, as astronomers knew it was their last chance until 1874 to observe a transit, and with fore-knowledge of the black-drop effect, they hoped their data would be less error prone.

The visibility of the 1769 Transit. The shaded areas are where the Transit is visible in its entirety.

The 1769 Transit led to Captain Cooke going to Tahiti, where he and his team set up an Observatory. They made crucial observations near the Halleyan point, the point on the Earth where the Transit would appear to be the longest.

Captain, and the ship “The xx* which took him to Tahiti to observe the 1769 Transit of Venus

Due to the astronomers for the 1769 Transit knowing about the black-drop effect, the timings were far more accurate. About 160 scientists made observations from over 70 different observing stations. In 1771 the the data were complied by Thomas Hornsby, Professor of Astronomy at Oxford University, to finally determine the distance from the Earth to the Sun, a calculation which astronomers had been trying to do for thousands of years. He determined the value to be 93,726,900 miles (this compares extremely well with the currently accepted value determined by RADAR which is 92,957,133 miles).

There was a pair of transits in 1874 and 1882, and 8 years ago, in 2004, Europe was lucky enough to be well placed to see the entire Transit. I led the organisation of a public observing event in South Wales, and from tables published by NASA I was able to see that it was the first Transit visible in its entirety from Wales since 1283, and the next one visible in its entirety from Wales will be in 2247. Unfortunately for Europeans, the 2012 Transit requires another trip. As the map below shows, one has to be in the Pacific Ocean area of the World to see the 2012 Transit in its entirety. That is why I am going to the Gobi, in the hope that the only desert in the Northern Hemisphere that is in the region to be able to see the entire Transit will give me clear skies. I don’t expect to be around for the next one in 2117!

The visibility of the 2012 Transit

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