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Archive for December, 2013

The fifth and final Christmas song I thought I’d share with you is “Happy Christmas (War is Over)” by John Lennon, released in 1971 in the USA and 1972 in the DUK.



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This song was part of a long running anti-war campaign by John & Yoko which included the “bed-ins” for peace in Amsterdam and Toronto, the 1969 single Give Peace a Chance, and a billboard campaign which is shown in the video. Lennon said in a 1980 interview that he wanted to write a Christmas song so that there was an alternative to White Christmas. John & Yoko are joined in the song by the Harlem Community Choir.





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The fourth Christmas song I thought I’d share is “Stop the Cavalry” by Jona Lewie. It got to number 3 in December 1980.



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The third Christmas song I thought I would share with you is “Fairy tale of New York” by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl.



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This song was released in 1987 and reached number 2 in the DUK charts. It is one of my favourite Christmas songs, and has consistently been in the top 5 in various “all time greatest Christmas songs” lists.





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The second Christmas song I thought I’d share with you is “The Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth”, sung by Bing Crosby and David Bowie, probably the most unlikely pairing ever for a duet.



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This song was recorded in September of 1977 to appear on Bing Crosby’s Christmas TV Special. Crosby died the following month, but the show went out as planned on US and DUK televisions. The song was not officially released as a single until 1982.

There has been much speculation as to how and why such an unlikely pairing took place. Many suggest that Bing Crosby had no idea who David Bowie was, and he certainly does seem to look at him with what appears to be a mixture of amusement, contempt and confusion. As for Bowie, suggestions for his reasons for appearing on Bing Crosby’s show range from that his mum would like it to trying to make his career more “mainstream”.

Whatever the reasons, the unlikely pairing led to a pretty good version of this traditional song.





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I thought I would blog about five Christmas songs between now and Christmas. The first of the five Christmas songs I’ve chosen to share is “When a Child is Born”, sung by Johnny Mathis. This was a big hit for Mathis in 1976, reaching number 1 in the Disunited Kingdom, and it had the coveted number 1 spot for the Christmas of that year.



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It is not my favourite song by any stretch of the imagination, in fact I find it quite irritating. But I thought I would include it because I remember it being played for week after week on Top of the Pops when I was a child. It is still, to date, the only Johnny Mathis song I know.





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Electron configurations

In this blog, I discussed the “electron configuration” nomenclature which is so loved by chemists (strange people that they are….). Just to remind you, the noble gas neon, which is at number 10 in the periodic table, may be written as 1s^{2} \; 2s^{2} \; 2p^{6}. If you add together the superscripts you get 2+2+6=10, the number of electrons in neutral Helium. Titanium, which is at number 22 in the periodic table may be written as 1s^{2} \; 2s^{2} \; 2p^{6} \; 3s^{2} \; 3p^{6} \; 3d^{2} \; 4s^{2}. Again, if you add together the superscripts you get 2+2+6+2+6+2+2=22, the number of electrons in neutral Titanium. I explained in the blog that the letters s,p,d and f refer to “sharp, principal, diffuse” and “fine“, as this was how the spectral lines appeared in the 1870s when spectroscopists first started identifying them.

But, what I didn’t address in that blog on the electron configuration nomenclature is why do electrons occupy different shells in atoms? In hydrogen, the simplest atom, the 1 electron orbits the nucleus in the ground state, the n=1 energy level. If it is excited it will go into a higher energy level, n=2 or 3 etc. But, with a more complicated atom like neon, which has 10 electrons, the 10 do not all sit in the n=1 level. The n=1 level can only contain up to 2 electrons, and the n=2 level can only contain up to 8 electrons, the n=3 level can only contain up to 18 electrons, and so on. This leads to neon having a “filled” n=1 level (2 electrons), and a filled n=2 level (8 electrons), which means it does not seek additional electrons. This is why it is a noble gas.

Titanium on the other hand, with 22 electrons, has a filled n=1 level (2 electrons), a filled n=2 level (8 electrons), a partially filled n=3 level (8 electrons out of a possible 18), and a partially filled n=4 level (2 electrons out of a possible 32). Because it has partially filled n=3 and n=4 levels, and it wants them to be full, it will seek additional electrons by chemically combining with other elements.

What is the reason each energy level has a maximum number of allowed electrons?

It is all due to something called the Pauli exclusion principle.



Wolfgang Pauli, after whom the Pauli exclusion principle is named. In addition to this principle, he also came up with the idea of the neutrino.

Wolfgang Pauli, after whom the Pauli exclusion principle is named. He came up with the idea in 1925. In addition to this principle, he also came up with the idea of the neutrino.



The energy level n

Niels Bohr suggested in 1913 that electrons could only occupy certain orbits. I go into the details of his argument in this blog, but to summarise it briefly here, he suggested that something called the orbital angular momentum of the electron had to be divisible by \hbar \text{ where } \hbar = h/2\pi, \text{ } h being Planck’s constant. We now call these the energy levels of an atom, and we use the letter n to denote the energy level. So, an electron in the second energy level will have n=2, in the third energy level it will have n=3 etc.

As quantum mechanics developed over the next 15-20 years it was realised that an electron is fully described by a total of four (4) quantum numbers, not just its energy level. The energy level n came to be known as the princpical quantum number. The other three quantum numbers needed to fully describe the state of an electron are

  • its orbital angular momentum, l
  • its magnetic moment, m_{l} and
  • its spin, m_{s}

The orbital angular momentum l quantum number

As I mentioned above, spectroscopists noticed that atomic lines could be visually categorised into “sharp”, “principal”, “diffuse” and “fine“, or s,p,d \text{ and } f. It was found that the following correspondence existed between these visual classifications and the orbital angular momentum l. This is the second quantum number. l can only take on certain values from 0 \text{ to } (n-1). So, for example, if n=3, \; l \text{ can be } 0,1 \text{ or } 2.


spectroscopic name and orbital angular momentum
Spectroscopic Name letter orbital angular momentum l
sharp s l=0
principal p l=1
diffuse d l=2
fine f l=3



As this table shows, the reason a line appears as a “sharp” (s) line is because its orbital angular momentum l=0. If it appears as a “principal” (p) line then its orbital angular momentum must be l=1, etc.

The magnetic moment quantum number m_{l}

The third quantum number is the magnetic moment m_{l}, which can only take on certain values. The magnetic moment only shows up if the electron is in a magnetic field, and is what causes the Zeeman effect, which is the splitting of an atom’s spectral lines when an atom is in a magnetic field. The rule is that the magnetic moment quantum number can take on any value from -l \text{ to } +l, so e.g. when l=2, \text{ } m_{l} can take the values -2, -1, 0, 1 \text{ and } 2 (5 possible values in all). If l=3 \text{ then } m_{l} \text{ can be } -3, -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, 3 (7 possible values).

The spin quantum number m_{s}

The final quantum number is something called the spin. Although it is only an analogy (and not to be taken literally), one can think of this as the electron spinning on its axis as it orbits the nucleus, in the same way that the Earth spins on its axis as it orbits the Sun. The spin can, for an electron, take on two possible values, either +1/2 \text{ or } -1/2.

Putting all of this together

Let us first of all consider the n=1 energy level. The only allowed orbital angular momentum allowed in this level is l=0, which means the only allowed values of m_{l} is also 0 and the allowed values of the spin are +1/2 \text{ and } -1/2. So, in the n=1 level, the only allowed state is 1s, and this can have two configurations, with the electron spin up or down (+1/2 or -1/2), meaning the n=1 level is full when there are 2 electrons in it. That is why we see 1s^{2} for Helium and any element beyond it in the Periodic Table. But, what about the n=2, n=3 etc. levels?

The number of electrons in each electron shell
State Principal quantum number n Orbital quantum number l Magnetic quantum number m_{l} Spin quantum number m_{s} Maximum number of electrons
1s 1 0 0 +1/2, -1/2 2
n=1 level Total = 2
2s 2 0 0 +1/2, -1/2 2
2p 2 1 -1,0,1 +1/2, -1/2 6
n=2 level Total = 8
3s 3 0 0 +1/2, -1/2 2
3p 3 1 -1,0,1 +1/2, -1/2 6
3d 3 2 -2,-1,0,1,2 +1/2, -1/2 10
n=3 level Total = 18
4s 4 0 0 +1/2, -1/2 2
4p 4 1 -1,0,1 +1/2, -1/2 6
4d 4 2 -2,-1,0,1,2 +1/2, -1/2 10
4f 4 3 -3,-2,-1,0,1,2,3 +1/2, -1/2 14
n=4 level Total = 32
5s 5 0 0 +1/2, -1/2 2
etc.



The astute readers amongst you may have noticed that the electron configuration for Titanium, which was 1s^{2} \; 2s^{2} \; 2p^{6} \; 3s^{2} \; 3p^{6} \; 3d^{2} \; 4s^{2}, suggests that the n=4 level starts being occupied before the n=3 level is full. After all, the n=3 level can have up to 18 electrons in it, with up to 10 electrons in the n=3, l=2 (d) state. In the n=3 level the (s) and (p) states are full, but not the (d) state. With only 2 electrons in the n=3, l=2 (d) state, the 4s state starts being populated, and has 2 electrons in it. Why is this?

I will explain the reason in a future blog, but it has to do with the “shape” of the orbits of the different states. They are different for different values of orbital angular momentum l.

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What was the star of Bethlehem? It is a puzzle which has confounded theologians and astronomers for the best part of two millennia. Here is a talk that myself and Martin Griffiths gave in December 2004 on this subject at the University of Glamorgan. Enjoy!



Introductory slide. This talk was given by myself and Martin Griffiths at the University of Glamorgan in December 2004 as part of a series of public lectures on Astronomy.

Introductory slide. This talk was given by myself and Martin Griffiths at the University of Glamorgan in December 2004 as part of a series of public lectures on Astronomy.





Which theory do you like best?

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Sloppy Seconds – Watsky (song)

This song, “Sloppy Seconds”, was brought to my attention by Tania, a former student of mine. As anyone who reads (listens?) to my blog knows, I am pretty stuck in the 1960s/70s/80s when it comes to my musical tastes. I stopped listening to Radio 1 in 1992. For me, “rap” is something I eat, and begins with a “w” ­čśŤ

But, every so often I do bring myself into the present, and hear a song from post 1990 that I like. For the past several years, through a combination of my children and students, I am partially aware of some current music. It is easy for an old codger like me to not listen to any new music, after all my head and shelves are full of music that I have listened to over the years so is there any room for any new music?



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Yes there is. And, I am glad I listened to this song that Tania sent me, as I thought it was great. And I’m not just saying that to try and be young and down with the kids, because I’m too old to even try that. What I liked first and foremost about the song is its central message – that everyone has a history, we’ve all made mistakes and nobody’s perfect. It also has a great sound, which is a bonus for a song with a strong message to convey.

Here are the lyrics to the song.


Fuck you if you love a car for its paint job
Love you if you love a car for the road trips
Show me the miles and your arms and the pink scar
Where the doctor had to pull out all the bone chips
Cuz you were pressing on the gas just a bit hard
Right in the moment where the road curved a bit sharp
And when you woke up, somebody was unclipping your seat belt
and pulling you from the open window of your flipped car

Cold pizza
Tie-dye shirts
Broken hearts
Give’m here, give’m here
Hand me downs
Give me give me leftovers
Give me give me sloppy seconds
Give em here, give em here

I don’t care where you’ve been
How many miles, I still love you [x2]

Show me someone who says they got no baggage
I’ll show you somebody whose got no story
Nothing gory means no glory, but baby please don’t bore me
We won’t know until we get there
The who, or the what, or the when where
My favorite sweater was a present that I got a couple presidents ago
And I promised that I would rock it till it’s thread bare
Bet on it
Every single person got a couple skeletons
So pretty soon, in this room
It’ll just be me and you when we clear out all the elephants
Me and you and the elements

We all have our pitfalls
Beer’s flat, the cabs have been called
And everybody and their momma can hear the drama
that’s happening behind these thin walls

Cold pizza
Tie-dye shirts (tie-dye shirts)
Broken hearts
Give’m here, give’m here
Hand me downs (hand me downs)
Leftovers (leftovers)
Sloppy seconds
Give’m here, give’m here

I don’t care where you’ve been
How many miles, I still love you (2x)

I don’t care (cold pizza)
Where you’ve been (tie-dye shirts)
How many (broken hearts) miles, I still love you
I don’t care (hand me downs)
Where you’ve been (left overs)
How many (sloppy seconds) miles, I still love you

My pattern with women isn’t a flattering image
But I don’t want to run away because I said so
I don’t want to be the guy to hide all of my flaws
And I’ll be giving you the side of me that I don’t let show
Everything in fashion
That has ever happened
Always coming crashing down
Better let go
But in a couple years it will be retro
You rock Marc Ecko
My shirts have the gecko
Cuz in the past man, I was hopeless
But now’s when my little cousins look the dopest
(whoop whoop)
Fuck the fashion po-po
Have a stale doughnut, I don’t need no tips
Fuck a five second rule
That’s a plan I never understood
It’s September in my kitchen in a Christmas sweater
Sipping cold coffee on the phone with damaged goods

And there is not a single place that I would rather be
I’m fucked up just like you are, and you’re fucked up just like me

Cold pizza (cold pizza)
Tie-dye shirts (tie-dye shirts)
Broken hearts
Give’m here, Give’m here
Hand me downs (oh hand me downs)
Give me give me leftovers (leftovers)
Give me give me sloppy seconds
Give’m here give’m here

I don’t care where you’ve been
How many miles, I still love you [x2]

I don’t care (cold pizza)
Where you’ve been (tie-dye shirts)
How many (broken hearts) miles, I still love you
I don’t care (hand me downs)
Where you’ve been (left overs)
How many (sloppy seconds) miles, I still love you


Here is the song itself. Enjoy!





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I was on the S4C programme “Heno” talking about Comet ISON on the 26th of November, just two days before its perihelion (closest approach to the Sun). I was the studio guest, so I appeared on the programme right at the beginning, then at about 8 minutes into the programme, and finally at the end. Here is the entire programme with subtitles (if you can bear it).





Here is an edited version, with just the parts of the programme where I appear :





It would seem comet ISON did not survive its passage around the Sun. All the evidence suggests that ISON broke up as it came within about 1.5 million km of the Sun, probably due to the nucleus of the comet being broken up by a combination of the heat of the Sun and the extreme tidal forces due to the Sun’s gravity. Here is a link to images of ISON at the time of its perihelion taken by the NASA Stereo Probes’ (which are in space observing the Sun)

The latest efforts now concentrate on trying to find ISON’s remnants and to understand in more detail what happened to the comet. You can read more about this in this story.



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So, sadly, we did not get the spectacular cometary display in early December that many had been hoping for. But, that is the nature of comets, and part of their fascination. One never knows how they are going to turn out, they are very unpredictable and often surprise us. ISON proved ultimately to be a disappointment, but already there are other comets that astronomers have their sights on which may come and light up our skies over the next few months, such as Comet Lovejoy.

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At number 466 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 greatest albums is “A Rush of Blood to the Head” by Coldplay. The list from 470 to 461 is as follows:


  • 470 – “Radio” by LL Cool J (1985)
  • 469 – “The Score” by Fugees (1996)
  • 468 – “The Paul Butterfield Blues Band” by The Paul Butterfield Blues Band (1965)
  • 467 – “Tunnel of Love” by Bruce Springsteen (1987)
  • 466 – “A Rush of Blood to the Head” by Coldplay (2002)
  • 465 – “69 Love Songs” by The Magnetic Fields (1999)
  • 464 – “Hysteria” by Def Leppard (1987)
  • 463 – “Heaven Up Here” by Echo and the Bunnymen (1981)
  • 462 – “Document” by R.E.M. (1987)
  • 461 – “Metal Box” by Public Image Ltd. (1979)



I own three of these albums, “Tunnel of Love” by Bruce Springsteen, “A Rush of Blood to the Head” by Coldplay and “Document” by R.E.M. In addition, I have actually heard of LL Cool J, Fugees, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Def Leppard, Echo and the Bunnymen and Public Image Ltd. Things seem to be improving in my level of ignorance compared to the 480 to 471, 490 to 481 and 500 to 491 lists. The only artist I haven’t heard of in this list is The Magnetic Fields, although I don’t actually own anything by LL Cool J or Def Leppard either.

Of the three albums I own in this list, I’ve decided to blog about “A Rush of Blood to the Head”, although I may well come back and blog about some of the songs I like on the other albums listed here. Why have I chosen the Coldplay album? It was actually the first Coldplay album I heard. Their first album, “Parachutes” was released in 2000, and its release passed me by without my noticing it, probably because I was living in the USA at the time. But by the time “A Rush of Blood to the Head” was released I was paying attention, and I liked it the first time I heard it.



At number 466 in Rolling Stone Magazine's 500 greatest albums is "A Rush of Blood to the Head" by Coldplay

At number 466 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 greatest albums is “A Rush of Blood to the Head” by Coldplay



There are many songs on this album that I like, but possibly my favourite is the one I have included here, “The Scientist”. The song has a haunting quality to it, and to me speaks of a desire to turn back time in a relationship, to a time before things started going wrong.

Come up to meet you,
Tell you I’m sorry,
You don’t know how lovely you are.

I had to find you,
Tell you I need you,
Tell you I set you apart.

Tell me your secrets,
And ask me your questions,
Oh let’s go back to the start.

Runnin’ in circles,
Comin’ up tails,
Heads on a science apart.

Nobody said it was easy,
It’s such a shame for us to part.
Nobody said it was easy,
No one ever said it would be this hard.
Oh take me back to the start.

I was just guessin’,
At numbers and figures,
Pullin’ the puzzles apart.

Questions of science,
Science and progress,
Do not speak as loud as my heart.

Tell me you love me,
Come back and haunt me,
Oh, what a rush to the start.

Runnin’ in circles,
Chasin’ our tails,
Comin’ back as we are.

Nobody said it was easy,
Oh it’s such a shame for us to part.
Nobody said it was easy,
No one ever said it would be so hard.
I’m goin’ back to the start.

Oh ooh ooh ooh ooh ohh,
Ah ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh,
Oh ooh ooh ooh ooh ohh,
Oh ooh ooh ooh ooh ohh.



Enjoy!





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