Bud Powell: Over the Rainbow


In the Dark

There can  hardly be a tune ever written that some jazz musician somewhere hasn’t taken a fancy to and done their own original version, however unpromising the raw material. Louis Armstrong had a particularly amazing ability to turn base metal into solid gold, making glorious music out of tunes nobody else wanted to touch.

These thoughts came into my head when I was listening last night to this version of Over the Rainbow,  by the great Bud Powell, which I think is brilliant, despite the mawkish sentimentality of the original song. Bud Powell had serious mental illness to deal with – he suffered numerous breakdowns and was heavily medicated in an attempt treat his schizophrenia – and also had a long-term problem with narcotic abuse; the two issues were no doubt related.

Although he moved to Paris in 1959 to make a fresh start, his self-destructive tendencies caught up with him. The quality of his…

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Happy Birthday XMM Newton!


In the Dark

I just discovered this morning that it’s fifteen years to the day since the launch of the orbiting X-ray Observatory XMM Newton. Here’s a nice slide-show with audio accompaniment featuring Drs Darren Baskill and Kathy Romer, both colleagues of mine in the Department of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Sussex, which was recorded for the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the launch of XMM-Newton, back on 10th December 2009.

Here’s a nice video about the science of XMM-Newton.

Anyway, I hope the birthday celebrations go well. I know I can barely contain my excitement…

xmm_phallic XMM-Newton being prepared for launch…

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House on a Cliff


In the Dark

Indoors the tang of a tiny oil lamp. Outdoors
The winking signal on the waste of sea.
Indoors the sound of the wind. Outdoors the wind.
Indoors the locked heart and the lost key.

Outdoors the chill, the void, the siren. Indoors
The strong man pained to find his red blood cools,
While the blind clock grows louder, faster. Outdoors
The silent moon, the garrulous tides she rules.

Indoors ancestral curse-cum-blessing. Outdoors
The empty bowl of heaven, the empty deep.
Indoors a purposeful man who talks at cross
Purposes, to himself, in a broken sleep.

by Louis MacNeice (1907-1963).

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Beloved Dust


To Adam

In the Dark

And you as well must die, beloved dust,
And all your beauty stand you in no stead,
This flawless, vital hand, this perfect head,
This body of flame and steel, before the gust
Of Death, or under his autumnal frost,
Shall be as any leaf, be no less dead
Than the first leaf that fall, —this wonder fled.
Altered, estranged, disintegrated, lost.
Nor shall my love avail you in your hour.
In spite of all my love, you will arise
Upon that day and wander down the air
Obscurely as the unattended flower,
It mattering not how beautiful you were,
Or how beloved above all else that dies.

by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)

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Frequentism: the art of probably answering the wrong question


In my future blog this delightful piece would go to section “everyone must know this”, hence reblog!

In the Dark

Popped into the office for a spot of lunch in between induction events and discovered that Jon Butterworth has posted an item on his Grauniad blog about how particle physicists use statistics, and the ‘5σ rule’ that is usually employed as a criterion for the detection of, e.g. a new particle. I couldn’t resist bashing out a quick reply, because I believe that actually the fundamental issue is not whether you choose 3σ or 5σ or 27σ but what these statistics mean or don’t mean.

As was the case with a Nature piece I blogged about some time ago, Jon’s article focuses on the p-value, a frequentist concept that corresponds to the probability of obtaining a value at least as large as that obtained for a test statistic under a particular null hypothesis. To give an example, the null hypothesis might be that two variates are uncorrelated

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The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba


Wonderful piece. Have you noticed how deep the “similarity” is? Mr. Coles, t’s a clever choice of inspiration for a talk before the freshmen 😉

In the Dark

It’s been such a hectic week getting ready for our new arrivals at the University of Sussex that I’ve been largely limited to posting short items and recycled material. Today is no exception either, as I have been on campus again for another Freshers’ induction week event and now have to prepare a talk for new students in the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences for tomorrow morning. Anyway, all these busy preparations made me think today of the famous instrumental passage from Act III of Handel’s Oratorio Solomon which depict in wonderfully lively fashion  similar preparations preceding the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba. I know that’s a feeble pretext for posting a bit of music, but I thought I’d at least put a little twist on it by including a performance rather different from what you might be expecting.

This version of The Arrival of the Queen of…

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Supermoon Surgery


No comments, the story is perfect.

In the Dark

I have a busy day today (including my Annual Appraisal) to kick off a very busy week dominated by the release of this years A-level results and consequent admissions business, so I’ll just post a quickie though one which is at least fairly topical.

Last night (10th August) I took a (not very good) picture of the Moon with my phone:

supermoon

This is a so-called “supermoon“, a not particularly rare phenomenon which takes place when there is a Full Moon that coincides with the Moon being at the point of its orbit which is closest to the Earth, i.e. its perigee. A much better name is “Perigee Full Moon”, but that somehow doesn’t seem to have caught on in the popular media. The Moon orbits the Earth in an ellipse rather than a circle and at its closest approach it is about 14% closer than at its furthest…

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