Archive for August, 2015

It was a good weekend for Welsh sport. In Wales’ penultimate Rugby World Cup warm-up  match, we beat the reigning 6 Nations champions in Dublin, no easy feat. I did not see the match, but from all accounts the 16-10 score line was flattering to Ireland, with most rugby writers in the newspapers I read saying that Wales were much the better team. It seems that Wales were particularly dominant in the breakdown. 

How useful these warm-up matches are for determining true form going into a World Cup is debatable. I’m sure they are very useful to the coaching team to test various combinations and tweak things at the set pieces, but personally I don’t think that they give much of an indicator of form. No coaching team is going to reveal any attacking tricks they may have up their sleeves, so I wouldn’t pay much attention to Wales’ lack of attacking potency. 

Wales are, of course, drawn in the “group of death” with England and Australia. England have looked fairly indifferent in their two warm-up matches against France, but next Saturday they host Ireland at Twickenham. I will be hoping for an Ireland victory; if Ireland were to win that match I think England’s confidence going into the World Cup would take a massive blow, which can only help Wales. We will play Italy in Cardiff on the same day, the last time we played them in March we thrashed them so how useful a game this will be seems debatable to me. 

Yesterday Wales’ only team in the English Premier League – Swansea – got a wonderful win at home against Manchester United. It puts Swansea into 4th place in the table, although of course one cannot read too much into the standings after just four games. My team Chelsea, however, are wallowing in 13th place after a home defeat to Crystal Palace on Saturday. With two losses, a win and a draw from their first four games, it is the worst start to a season that Chelsea have had in many years. Manchester City, on the other hand, have four wins from four and look very impressive. 


Read Full Post »

At number 45 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 greatest Beatles songs is “No Reply”, which appears on their fourth album Beatles for Sale, in fact it is the opening track of the first side. One of the things I like most about this song is the wonderful tone of John Lennon’s voice; it sounds slightly nasal and harmonises beautifully with Paul McCartney’s in the chorus. According to Wikipedia, Lennon, who mainly wrote the song although it has some input from McCartney, originally intended to sing the higher part of the harmony in the chorus, but his voice had deteriorated due to excessive use (probably too much touring and live performing), and so he and McCartney switched in the chorus with Lennon singing the lower part.

At number 45 in Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is "No Reply".

At number 45 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “No Reply”.

The song talks of an unfaithful girlfriend, the person in the song suspects his girlfriend is seeing someone else. It shows a different, more vulnerable and less confident side to Lennon, or at least in the character he is playing in his songs. If you haven’t listened to Beatles for Sale (or haven’t listened to it in a while) then I urge you to do so; it is a wonderful album with great songs and beautiful harmonising from Lennon, McCartney and George Harrison.

This happened once before
When I came to your door
No reply
They said it wasn’t you
But I saw you peep through your window

I saw the lie, I saw the lie

I know that you saw me
As I looked up to see your face
I tried to telephone
They said you were not home
That’s a lie
‘Cause I know where you’ve been

I saw you walk in your door
I nearly died, I nearly died
Cause’ you walked hand in hand
With another man in my place

If I were I’d realise that I
Love you more than any other guy
And I’ll forgive the lies that I
Heard before when you gave me no reply

I’ve tried to telephone
They said you were not home
That’s a lie
‘Cause I know where you’ve been
I saw you walk in your door
I nearly died, I nearly died

‘Cause you walked hand in hand
With another man in my place
No reply, no reply

Here is a video of this great song. The only working one I could find on YouTube is from The Beatles cartoon series, and so there is a bit of cartoon fun before the song 🙂 And, this video has not been up long, so it may stop working soon 😦 Enjoy!

Read Full Post »

Last night (Monday the 24th of August) I went to a public lecture about the Rosetta mission
at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. The lecture was given by Mark McCaughrean, who is senior science advisor at the European Space Agency (ESA) and, if I’m correct, also either heads up or is very senior in their public outreach efforts. It was one of the best public lectures I’ve ever attended, and in writing that statement I am trying to figure out how many public lectures I have actually attended. In addition to having given probably over 100 public lectures myself, I have probably attended some 150-200 public lectures given by others in the last 40-odd years.

The opening slide of Mark Mcxxx's public lecture about the Rosetta mission at the National Museum of Wales

The opening slide of Mark McCaughrean public lecture about the Rosetta mission at the National Museum of Wales

In addition to learning a lot about the Rosetta mission (I will blog about some of what I learnt next week), the lecture got me thinking about what makes a good public lecture. I have also been thinking about this the last few days because my book on the Cosmic Microwave Background has been reviewed by Physics World (the magazine of the Institute of Physics), and that review will apparently appear in their October magazine. But, the reviewer shared with me some of her observations about the book, and one point she raised is that she felt I was inconsistent in my level of explanations in the book. What she meant was that there are some things I explain so that complete novices can follow my arguments, but other things where more of a physics/astronomy background would be necessary to follow that I am saying.

This is a valid point, and it shows the quandary I was in when trying to decide at what level to pitch the book. My primary audience was that I hoped the book will be used by undergraduates in the Disunited Kingdom and graduate students in the United States as a background text to any course they may be doing on the early Universe. But, in the back of my mind, I also had the interested lay-reader in mind, which is why I explained some things at a level for them. What I probably ended up doing was falling between two stools, and that is not always good in communicating science to the public.

Last night’s lecture by Mark did a wonderful job, as it seemed to me that he was able to keep it at a level that (hopefully) everyone could understand, but at the same time there was some specialist information in there for professional astronomers to give them (and me) the impression that we too had learnt something. This is a difficult tightrope to walk, but Mark did it very well.

Audience participation time - the audience had to jump 4cm in the air to simulate the acceleration felt by Philae when landing on comet 67/P

Audience participation time – the audience had to jump 4cm in the air to simulate the acceleration felt by Philae when landing on comet 67/P

This is what I try to do in my own public lectures, but I doubt I do it as well as Mark did last night. Whether I’m talking to school groups, astronomical societies, on the radio or TV or lecturing on a cruise, I always try to make sure that I don’t lose any of my audience in the first three quarters or so of the lecture by keeping things as simple as possible. At the same time, I always try to make sure that there is some information in the lecture (maybe some 25% of it) which will be news to even a professional in the field, as even in a public lecture you may have professionals in the audience. This was the case, for example, in lectures I gave on the cruise I did in South America in March – one of my regular attendees had worked at NASA JPL and he and I would have long chats after each lecture where he would quiz me further, or impart some information that I did not know about.

Last night, Mark had a perfect mixture of videos, cartoons, animations, humour and exciting information, and it was all delivered in a relaxed and humorous way. As I say, one of the best public lectures I have ever attended.

Read Full Post »

It was the nightmare scenario – a twice banned drugs cheat beats the most popular athlete in the World. But, thankfully and remarkably, after an indifferent season blighted by injury, Usain Bolt beat Justin Gatlin and saved his sport. Bolt had a terrible semi-final, stumbling as he came out of the blocks and with some 20m to go he was about 5m down on the leaders. Only a runner of his ability could have qualified, and he did by winning. But, his time was poor and Gatlin set the fastest time in winning his semi-final. It did not look good for Bolt going into the final.

Apart from being supremely talented, Bolt is an athlete who can not only handle the presure, but seems to run better the greater the expectation. He got a fantastic start and was neck and neck with Gatlin with 20m to go. This was the first time Gatlin had been put under pressure in the last two years, and he crumbled. He started dipping for the line with about 10m to go, and in doing so lost his form, stopped driving and lost the race. The world of athletics breathed a collective sign of relief; a twice banned drugs cheat thankfully had not won the most prestigious race in the sport.

With the recent scandal over the revelations that some one third of all medal winners in the last 10 years have been found to have anomalies in their blood samples, athletics is in danger of descending into the same kind of doping nightmare which engulfed professional cycling. Last week Sebastian Coe was made the new IAAF President, and I only hope that he will head up a major effort to clean up the sport. He can start by making sure that someone, like Gatlin, who is found guilty twice of doping, is not allowed to return to the sport after the second suspension – that second suspension should be a lifetime ban from the sport. As I have said before, Gatlin should not be allowed to compete, he should be banned from the sport; no ifs and no buts.

There were some other remarkable performances over the weekend, with Mo Farrah winning the 10,000m in style after a team effort from the Kenyans tried to break him by setting a fast pace from the start of the race; and Jessica Ennis-Hill winning the heptathlon, just a year or so after giving birth to her first child. But, it was Bolt’s remarkable victory over Gatlin which was the highlight of the weekend for me.

Read Full Post »

There is very little music sung by Nina Simone that I know, but this is one of the rare exceptions. I heard this on BBC Radio 5 the other night, and it reminded me of what a great song it is. “Feeling Good” was written by English songwriters Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse for the musical The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd. Nina Simone recorded it in 1965, and hers has become the definitive person. It appears on her 1965 album I Put a Spell on You.

"Feeling Good' appears on Nina Simone's 1965 album I Put a Spell on You.

“Feeling Good’ appears on Nina Simone’s 1965 album I Put a Spell on You

Birds flyin’ high, you know how I feel
Sun in the sky, you know how I feel
Breeze driftin’ on by, you know how I feel
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me.
Yeah, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me, ooooooooh…
And I’m feelin’ good.

Fish in the sea, you know how I feel
River runnin’ free, you know how I feel
Blossom on the tree, you know how I feel
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me,
And I’m feelin’ good

Dragonfly out in the sun, you know what I mean, don’t you know,
Butterflies all havin’ fun, you know what I mean.
Sleep in peace when day is done: that’s what I mean,
And this old world is a new world and a bold world for me…

Stars when you shine, you know how I feel
Scent of the pine, you know how I feel
Yeah, freedom is mine, and I know how I feel..
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me
And I’m feelin’… good.

Here is a video of this great song. Enjoy!

Which is your favourite Nina Simone song?

Read Full Post »

At number 46 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 greatest Beatles songs is “Don’t Let Me Down”, which is on their Let It Be album, and also is one of the songs in their famous January 1969 live concert on the top of the Apple building in London. As is true of much of Lennon’s work at this time, it is both about Yoko and is far more basic rock ‘n’ roll that the complex musical sounds with which he’d been experimenting for the previous several years.

“Don’t Let Me Down” was released as the B-side to “Get Back”, which was also performed during the roof-top concert. The released versions of these two songs were both recorded ‘as-live’ in the Apple recording studio in Saville Row (rather than at EMI’s Abbey Road studios), and by ‘as-live’ I mean with minimal to no overdubbing. It was part of an attempt during early 1969 by The Beatles to get back to basics, something which can be seen in the sprawling footage which would eventually become the Let It Be movie.


At number 46 in Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is "Don't Let Me Down".

At number 46 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “Don’t Let Me Down”.

On the face of it, the song’s message seems like a plea to Yoko; Lennon’s relationship with her was still in its early days and he was probably full of insecurities. However, Paul McCartney has put a different slant on the song, claiming that some of Lennon’s apparent paranoia in the song was due to his and Yoko’s increasing use of heroin around this time (the withdrawal from which Lennon sang about in one of his most harrowing solo records – “Cold Turkey”).

Don’t let me down, don’t let me down
Don’t let me down, don’t let me down

Nobody ever loved me like she does
Oh, she does, yeah, she does
And if somebody loved me like she do me
Oh, she do me, yes, she does

Don’t let me down, don’t let me down
Don’t let me down, don’t let me down

I’m in love for the first time
Don’t you know it’s gonna last
It’s a love that lasts forever
It’s a love that had no past (Seeking past)

Don’t let me down, don’t let me down
Don’t let me down, don’t let me down

And from the first time that she really done me
Oh, she done me, she done me good
I guess nobody ever really done me
Oh, she done me, she done me good

Don’t let me down, hey don’t let me down
Heeeee, don’t let me down
Don’t let me down
Don’t let me down, don’t let me let down

Can you dig it? Don’t let me down

Here are The Beatles performing “Don’t Let Me Down” in their roof-top concert. Enjoy!

Read Full Post »

Rolling Stone Magazine are very fond of lists, and so am I! So, one of their latest lists is The 100 best songwriters of all time, but when they say “all time”, they don’t mean going back to Schubert or Bach, they mean from the 20th Century onwards. Probably the earliest songwriter featured in this list is the blues singer Robert Johnson, but apart from that most are post rock ‘n’ roll revolution, so from the 1950s onwards. Here is the list from 100 to 31.


100 to 91

    100 – Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Anderson
    99 – Tom T. Hall
    98 – Otis Blackwell
    97 – Taylor Swift
    96 – Timbaland and Missy Elliott
    95 – The Bee Gees
    94 – John Prine
    93 – Billie Joe Armstrong
    92 – Paul Westerberg
    91 – Eminem

90 to 81

    90 – Babyface
    89 – Felice and Boudleaux Bryant
    88 – Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill
    87 – Kris Kristofferson
    86 – Sam Cooke
    85 – R.E.M.
    84 – Kanye West
    83 – Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson
    82 – Marvin Gaye
    81 – Björk

80 to 71

    80 – R. Kelly
    79 – Lucinda Williams
    78 – Curtis Mayfield
    77 – Allen Toussaint
    76 – Loretta Lynn
    75 – Isaac Hayes and David Porter
    74 – Patti Smith
    73 – Radiohead
    72 – Fats Domino and Dave Barthomolew
    71 – Walter Becker and Donald Fagen

70 to 61

    70 – Dan Penn
    69 – James Taylor
    68 – Jay Z
    67 – Morrissey and Marr
    66 – Kenny Gamble and Leon A. Huff
    65 – George Harrison
    64 – Bert Berns
    63 – Chrissie Hynde
    62 – Harry Nilsson
    61 – Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman

60 to 51

    60 – Willie Nelson
    59 – Tom Petty
    58 – George Clinton
    57 – Joe Strummer and Mick Jones
    56 – Madonna
    55 – Tom Waits
    54 – Kurt Cobain
    53 – Stevie Nicks
    52 – The Notorious B.I.G.
    51 – Willie Dixon

50 to 41

    50 – Billy Joel
    49 – Don Henley and Glenn Frey
    48 – Elton John and Bernie Taupin
    47 – Neil Diamond
    46 – Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong
    45 – Robbie Robertson
    44 – Jimmy Webb
    43 – Johnny Cash
    42 – Sly Stone
    41 – Max Martin

40 to 31

    40 – John Fogerty
    39 – David Bowie
    38 – Al Green
    37 – Jackson Browne
    36 – Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter
    35 – Bono and The Edge
    34 – Michael Jackson
    33 – Merle Haggard
    32 – Burt Bacharach and Hal David
    31 – Dolly Parton

Here is the top 30 – I will blog about each of these in a countdown from 30 down to 1, over the coming 30-odd weeks. It comes as no surprise to me that Bob Dylan is at number 1, and he would be my number 1 too. Along with Lennon and McCartney, Dylan’s songs revised the way that “popular music” was done. Whereas The Beatles pushed the boundaries in terms of melodies and song structure, Dylan showed that ‘pop music’ can be poetry set to contemporary music.

Do you think Lennon and McCartney should be listed separately, or together? Or as three entries, “Lennon and McCartney” (Beatles era songs), Lennon and McCartney? Should McCartney be above Lennon? Chuck Berry above Paul Simon? Brian Wilson not in the top 10? And, why on earth is Smokey Robinson even doing in the top 10???

Do you agree with any of this list?


Read Full Post »

In the first part of this blog (here), I described how experimenters at the Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt (PTR) determined the true spectrum of blackbody radiation during the 1890s, By the year 1900, primarily by the work of Heinrich Rubens, Ferdinand Kurlkbaum, Ernst Pringsheim and Otto Lummer, the complete spectrum, from the ultraviolet through the visible and into the infrared, was known for the very first time. As the true shape of the blackbody spectrum started to emerge from this experimental work, theoreticians tried to find a theory to explain it.

The first to meet with any success was Wilhem Wien. As I mentioned in the first part of this blog, in 1893 he came up with his displacement law, which gave a very simple relationship between the wavelength of the peak of the spectrum and its temperature.

\lambda_{peak} = \frac{ 0.0029 }{ T }

where \lambda_{peak} is the wavelength of the peak in metres, and T is expressed in Kelvin.

By 1896 Wien had come up with a theory to explain the shape of the spectrum (even though the shape in the infrared was not fully known at that time). In what we now call ‘Wien’s distribution law’ or ‘Wien’s approximation’, he tried to explain the blackbody spectrum using thermodynamic arguments, and assuming that the gas molecules obeyed the Maxwell-Boltzmann speed distribution for molecules (or atoms) in a gas. I will not derive that explanation here, but if any readers wish me to derive it I can do so at a later date.

Wilhelm Wiens, who in 1893 came up with Wiens displacement law, and in 1896 with the Wien distribution.

Wilhelm Wiens, who in 1893 came up with Wiens displacement law, and in 1896 with the Wien distribution.

Wien’s distribution law (1896)

What Wien suggested was that the energy of a black body in the wavelength interval d \lambda was given by

E_{ \lambda } d \lambda = \frac{ A }{ \lambda ^{5} } f( \lambda T) d \lambda

Wien found, using the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution law for the speed of atoms (or molecules) in a gas, that the form of the function f( \lambda T) was

f( \lambda T ) = e^{ -a / \lambda T }

and so

\boxed{ E_{ \lambda } d \lambda = \frac{ A }{ \lambda ^{5} } e^{ -a / \lambda T }  d \lambda }

where A \text{ and } a were constants to be determined.

If we wish to express this in terms of frequency \nu instead of wavelength \lambda then we need to remember that, from the wave equation, c = \nu \lambda and so \lambda = c/\nu. But, we also need to rewrite d\lambda in terms of d\nu and to do this we write

\nu = \frac{ c }{ \lambda } \rightarrow d \lambda = \frac{ -c }{ \nu^{2} }\; d \nu

We can ignore the minus sign as it is just telling us that as the frequency increases the wavelength decreases, and so substituting for \lambda \text{ and } d\lambda we can write
that the energy in the frequency interval d \nu is given by

E_{\nu} d \nu = \frac { A \nu^{5} } { c^{5} } e^{ -a \nu / cT } \frac{ c }{ \nu^{2} } d \nu

\boxed{ E_{\nu} d \nu = A^{\prime} \nu^{3} e^{ -a^{\prime} \nu / T } d \nu }

where A^{\prime} \text{ and } a^{\prime} are also just constants to be determined.

Wien’s ‘law’ breaks down

As I will show next week, Wien’s distribution law gave good (but not perfect) agreement with the blackbody curve on the short-wavelength side of the peak (what we now call the ‘Wien-side’ of the peak). But, as experimental results on the long-wavelength side started to emerge from the PTR, it became clear that his ‘law’ did not work on that side; it broke down on the long-wavelength side and showed very poor agreement with the actual observed curve.

Next week, in part 3 of this blogpost, I will also describe how and why Planck got involved in the problem, and what the solution he concocted was; the law which would correctly describe the blackbody spectrum and usher in the quantum age.

Read Full Post »

Defending champions Chelsea continude their poor start to the season by going down 3-0 to a rampant Manchester City yesterday (Sunday the 16th).  Afterwards Jose Mourinho described it as a ‘fake result’. I have no idea what that means, except that he felt that Chelsea were the better team in the second half and so, somehow, the two late goals scored by City didn’t count. What a load of rubbish. Chelsea were thoroughly outplayed by a more hungry City, and were far from being the better team in either half.

Chelsea’s poor start must be quite a worry to Mourinho. They lost the FA Charity Shield match against Arsenal, they had a draw at home against Swansea (as a Welshman, the only time I have divided loyalties is when Chelsea are playing a team from Wales); and then a thorough beating yesterday at The Etihad. Mourinho claims, rather bizarrely, that he has deliberately held off on the pre-season preparation for his team, so that they start the season fresh. Again, what a load of rubbish.

The fact that he replaced club captain John Terry (of whom I am no fan, the man was (is?) an abusive racist) at half time  to me suggests not all is well at Stamford Bridge. In addition, there has been a very public spat over one of the team doctors being from coming onto the pitch in the match against Swansea; Mourinho is usually very good at controlling such stories from leaking out to the wider world.

Of course it is still very early days, with only two matches into a 38 match season it is far too early to rule Chelsea out of defending their title. But, whereas Man City have come out and started with two 3-0 wins, Chelsea look to be lacking cohesion or hunger. Now it is up to Mourinho to show why many consider him to be the best manager in football, and get Chelsea’s season kick-started.

Read Full Post »

Today I thought I would share this amazing song – “Sympathy for the Devil”, by the Rolling Stones. This is probably my favourite Stones song, although there are many that I like a great deal. I’m therefore quite surprised that I have never blogged about this song before, but there we go. Good things are worth waiting for. It is listed as number 32 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 greatest songs of all time.

"Sympathy for the Devil" is possibly my favourite Rolling Stones song.

“Sympathy for the Devil” is possibly my favourite Rolling Stones song.

Like with Lennon and McCartney of The Beatles, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have their songs credited to both of them, irrespective of whether one or the other didn’t contribute to it. In the case of “Sympathy for the Devil”, it would seem that Jagger wrote the song, with little (or no?) input from Richards. The song recounts some of the atrocities committed throughout human history in the name of the devil, and is a nice history lesson for those who, like me, stopped studying the subject formally at 14!

Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man’s soul to waste

And I was ’round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game

I stuck around St. Petersburg
When I saw it was a time for a change
Killed the Tsar and his ministers
Anastasia screamed in vain

I rode a tank
Held a general’s rank
When the blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stank

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name, oh yeah
Ah, what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, oh yeah
(Woo woo, woo woo)

I watched with glee
While your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades
For the gods they made
(Woo woo, woo woo)

I shouted out,
Who killed the Kennedys?
When after all
It was you and me
(Who who, who who)

Let me please introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
And I laid traps for troubadours
Who get killed before they reached Bombay
(Woo woo, who who)

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah
(Who who)
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, oh yeah, get down, baby
(Who who, who who)

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah
But what’s confusing you
Is just the nature of my game
(Woo woo, who who)

Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
‘Cause I’m in need of some restraint
(Who who, who who)

So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
(Woo woo)
Use all your well-learned politnesse
Or I’ll lay your soul to waste, mm yeah
(Woo woo, woo woo)

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, mm yeah
(Who who)
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, mm mean it, get down
(Woo woo, woo woo)

Woo, who
Oh yeah, get on down
Oh yeah
Oh yeah!
(Woo woo)

Tell me baby, what’s my name
Tell me honey, can ya guess my name
Tell me baby, what’s my name
I tell you one time, you’re to blame

Oh, who
Woo, woo
Woo, who
Woo, woo
Woo, who, who
Woo, who, who
Oh, yeah

What’s my name
Tell me, baby, what’s my name
Tell me, sweetie, what’s my name

Woo, who, who
Woo, who, who rick
Woo, who, who
Woo, who, who
Woo, who, who
Woo, who, who
Oh, yeah
Woo woo
Woo woo

Here is a video of this amazing song. Enjoy!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »