Monday, 20 June 2011

And More...

When comparing today's 'A' Level Physics with that of 35 years ago, I should have added that in the Statics and Dynamics sections (ie those parts where Newton discovered quite a lot of the material), the coverage is pretty much exactly the same.

However, I do have one reservation about todays courses - the textbooks.  Bright, multicoloured, covering the topics in bite-sized chunks and occasionally containing unfunny 'jokes'.  Really, they seem a little patronising.  Quite unpleasant.  And this may be another reason why the unknowing feel the subjects have been dumbed down, or made easier.

I fear, however, that in general they may be quite effective at covering the material and explaining it...  which might help explain the improvement in grades (along with better teachers and more committed students).

And yet, and yet.  Every so often their explanation seems lacking or unclear (eg Kirchoff's rules in the OCR book) - and we turn to an updating of Nelkon and Parker,  the good old, big, fat, unforgiving but capacious textbook that I used. 

And it often helps...

Green Film

No, not Green Lantern - which I'm sure is a fine theatrical experience - but rather this trailer which eldest recently pointed out to me:

Play it before reading on.

Lovely, isn't it?

Given that Muppet Treasure Island was unquestionably the greatest English-language film of the 1990s (*), how could I not give a mention to the trailer for the new film?

(*) With the arguable exceptions of Toy Story, Saving Private Ryan and ... no, that's it.

A Small Comparison

If the inept Michael Gove knows bollocks-all about Physics, that isn't true of the rest of us. 

So I've been comparing the A-Level Physics that eldest is doing with the one I took in 1976.

The first thing to say is that the syllabus has changed quite a lot in the intervening 35 years (35 years - Gawd!).  A lot of more recent discoveries have been added, and there is good material on the Big Bang and stellar evolution, and on Nuclear Physics - including the quark composition of Hadrons, a brief smattering of Mesons, and a non-mathematical treatment of the Strong Nuclear Force.

Overall, tho', the course is still quite mathematical - and you still need to handle some simple calculus and understand exponentials and natral logarithms.

The treatment of simple harmonic motion is a little simplified, as are the gas laws and optics, but not to the point where it is significant.  On the other hand, I think the electronics section is developed, electromagnetism is virtually the same as I recall it and there is more on waves.

Overall, the syllabus is reasonably balanced, and challenging.  They have dropped on or two unecessary 18th & 19th Century items and added in stuff that is just as hard (particle bestiaries anyone?)  It hasn't been made easier, or dumbed down, from what I have seen.  I could imagine someone looking at just one part of the syllabus and saying something like 'they don't do those complicated lens formulae any more, it has got easier', but that would only look at one topic, not the balance overall. 

Overall, if anything, I would suggest it has got just a teensy bit harder.

But hey, who am I to comment, I just undertstand the subject a little....

Sunday, 19 June 2011

New Laws of Nature Discovered!

Michael Gove, our idiot Education Secretary, has pontificated thusly according to The Times - as cited in The Guardian:
Gove said there had been previous attempts to make science relevant, by linking it to contemporary concerns such as climate change or food scares. But he said: "What [students] need is a rooting in the basic scientific principles, Newton's laws of thermodynamics and Boyle's law."

Absolutely marvellous.  And typically incompetent (and there are too many examples of the man's incompetence to list here).

How come he didn't check?  Or get someone else too? 

Or maybe he knows more about what Newton discovered than anyone else?

Poem of the Week

Working Class Hero
John Lennon

As soon as your born they make you feel small,
By giving you no time instead of it all,
Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all,
A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.

They hurt you at home and they hit you at school,
They hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool,
Till you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules,
A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.

When they've tortured and scared you for twenty odd years,
Then they expect you to pick a career,
When you can't really function you're so full of fear,
A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.

Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV,
And you think you're so clever and classless and free,
But you're still fucking peasents as far as I can see,
A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.

There's room at the top they are telling you still,
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill,
If you want to be like the folks on the hill,
A working class hero is something to be.
A working class hero is something to be.

If you want to be a hero well just follow me,
If you want to be a hero well just follow me.

And Again

In revisiting Liverpool, I should have recalled the gathering after the death of John Lennon. 

He was murdered on December 8th, a Monday.  On Sunday the 14th, there was a huge vigil and memorial gathering in the centre of the city, at St George's Plateau. Wikipedia says there were 30,000 people there.

I was watching the TV News in Birkenhead, and saw a report on the gathering.  And I remember seeing people I knew in the crowd, so I went out, crossed the Mersey, and somewhat amazingly found them again and joined them.  It all took about 45 minutes I guess.  It was one of those days when you wanted to be with people you knew.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Deja Views

I've been revisiting places from my past over the last few weeks.  Nothing planned, it just happened that way, but it has felt slightly strange.

So a little while ago I went back to Liverpool.  This was strictly a work trip, aimed at starting a conversation with a social enterprise (I hate that term) we might be able to work with. 

I ended up lugging a huge overweight laptop around, so I had less time than you might expect for sightseeing - the places I spotted or remembered were either significant or just a little random

Now for over two years, immediately after leaving University, I lived and worked on Merseyside.  That is, I lived on the Wirral and worked in centre of Liverpool.  There used to be an old Plessey factory and offices off of Dale St, on Cheapside (demolished now).

For the trip, all we did was walk along Lime St/Renshaw St and up Mount Pleasant to the Catholic cathedral, visited some offices, had a snack in the cathedral coffee shop and walk back the same way.  So we barely touched the surface of the city.  But it did strange things to my head, all the same.

Liverpool has been through a lot of development and change.  So the old Lewis's is closed (with the 'statue exceedingly bare' that people used to meet beneath), and looks rather sad, while cathedral seemed virtuall unchanged.  Similarly the Everyman theatre, where I saw The Warp, presided over by Ken Campbell in the early '80s.  Apparently the Everyman is about to undergo some significant refurbishment and will be closed for a couple of years.

A lot of the buildings, on Hope St (which joins the cathedrals of course, and used to have late night jazz club/drinking dens in some of the basements - sounds romantic perhaps in hindsight, but I just remember them being very sleazy and violent), and Mount Pleasant, seemed unchanged - spruced up even; they seemed oddly new/old.  When I was there origninally, it had been in the dark, sad days of Thatcher, and the heavy-handed policing that led to the Liverpool riots (in Liverpool 8, not Toxteth, please). 

From the top floor of the bright, managed offices we could see across the city, and of course the Liver Building dominated the view.  That seemed wholly unchanged from the distance.

The other place of significant note was the Great Court of the British Musuem - which I can recall when it was first opened, and the Duke of Edinburgh was such a repellent visitor for the first day.

We dashed through it quickly, on the way elsewhere, and it felt strangely alien.  The central commercial hub wrapping the Reading Room was always a little clinical, and on the day we were there the light - to me - seemed a little garish.  Either way, it felt unusual and odd, for somewhere I worked for many years.

And then this week, the Museum won the Art Fund prize for "The History of the World in 100 things" on BBC Radio.  About which we should be pleased.  But the photo they used in The Guardian was quite old, and went back to the Michelangelo Drawings exhibition mounted around five years ago.  When I worked there, and the Great Court was a place I was in almost every day.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Poem of the Week

William Blake

And did those feet in ancient time.
Walk upon England's mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land.

Other Honours

Other Honours I noticed included:

Professor Rosemary Jean Cramp
Emma Freud (For charitable services through Comic Relief)
Professor Mona Siddiqui
Sam Taylor-Wood
Gillian Wearing
Julia Donaldson
Stephen Taylor (for services to School Chess! How cool is that!)

Jolly Saturday Morn

I must say I found this Saturday morning's Radio 4 programmes most enjoyable.  I know that sounds awful - middle-class, Home Counties, etc.  Well, tough, is my considered reply - I still enjoyed it.

Firstly the new Honours list.  And in my view this is nothing about Brenda or any other member of the Royal family, nor about empire (despite the awful names for some of the Homours).  It is just about recognition.  So you can still be pleased when people you like or know get recognised.

Thus, I was happy that the morning News bothered to highlight the two Goodies (Garden and Brooke-Taylor).  Billoddie has one already (for Wildlife stuff) - but this was either for ISIHAC or The Goodies.  I'm pleased with either.  

Bruce Forsyth I can take or leave, and also Jenny Murray.  But a large Hurrah! for the Bernard Cribbins OBE (for services to Drama - presumably that can encompass everything, including The Wombles, Right Said Fred!, the Railway Children and Doctor Who).

Today and the News was followed by 'Your Desert Island Discs' - so I'm already cheered up there was no Saturday Live this week.  A top eight of discs chosen by listeners to DID: self-selecting and unrepresentative, of course. 

I tried to predict what would be in the list, but mis-read almost all of the winners, which were:

1 Ralph Vaughan Williams - The Lark Ascending
2 Sir Edward Elgar - Enigma Variations
3 Ludwig van Beethoven - Symphony No 9 in D minor 'Choral'
4 Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody
5 Pink Floyd - Comfortably Numb
6 Sir Edward Elgar - Cello Concerto in E Minor
7 George Frideric Handel - Messiah
8 Gustav Holst - The Planets

OK - I worked out Bo Rap, Ode to Joy and the Planets.  But The Lark Ascending? Comfortably Numb? (sounds like a write-in campaign), the Elgar Cello?

The Beatles weren't there because there were just too many choose from (it seemed they were easily the most popular artists but spread too thinly).  But as the list was slowly unveiled, and it became clear that there was a bias towards the English, and to what I would call 'Big Sounds', I guessed the number one would be Jerusalem.  Hopelessly wrong of course.  Probably over-influenced by my walk around Bunhill Fields earlier in the week.

But it was good fun, even if only two of the choices would have been in my top eight.  (Actually that is not a bad average - your personal choice is meant to be exactly that, personal, so it'd be surprising and rather sad if too many overlapped with the most popular, common denominator choices).

One complaint: I wish the BBC DID Website showed more detail - the top 100 say?
And finally, Lenny Henry explored Chaucer as part of his 'What's So Great About...' series.  I have to admit I was surprised. He normally chooses a topic with a little more general popular presence (if I can call it that).  Not that I was at all displeased, of course.

It was a fun listen, including an excerpt from Neville Coghill, Terry Jones being himself (discussing the colloquialism and the jokes), and many others.  And of course, in addition to Canterbury, it had to be set in South London, mostly on the site of the Tabard and then round the corner in (I think) The George. Absolutely fantastic.

And then I had to get up...

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Bunhill Fields

I've been on an IT course this week, just off the City Road on Tabernacle St. 

This is the City Road:-
(although surprisingly lacking in cars, it seems, when I took this photo).

It was a good course, and I took the opportunity on one of the days to have a look at Bunhill Fields - which is quietly amazing.

I can't claim to know the history well.  It is the former Dissenters' burial ground and contains the graves of many Nonconformists.  Here are just a few of the more famous:
John Bunyan (note Pilgrim),
Daniel Defoe (this monument was erected some time after his death as the base shows),
and William Blake.  The headstone commemorates him and his wife, but it isn't exactly where he is buried (and it says 'nearby' for misleading reasons). 

The "Friends of William Blake" give detailed instructions - if perhaps a little trainspotterish - on how to find his grave site.  If I've got it right, it is somewhere around here (roughly):-
Nowadays, Bunhill (once the 'Bone Hill', I gather, and the graves were very densely packed in), is a rare, quiet and tranquil, green place in the City, and lots of people were just sitting eating sandwiches and reading the paper. But I wandered around, exploring.
... and then I came across something rather surprising...
I didn't go looking for this headstone - nor was it fenced off like some parts of Bunhill Fields.  I just turned around and there it was. 

William Shrubsole - as it says - was known for writing a hymn called 'Miles Lane' and he was the organist at Spa Fields Chapel. (Note, he also had a well-known son of the same name - which can make some of the historical commentaries a little confusing).

The other people commemorated here are John Benjamin Tolkien and his wife Mary.  Wikipedia currently - and rather lazily - claims he is the grandfather of  JRR Tolkien, but the dates are all wrong.    

JRRT's grandfather was also a John Benjamin, but he was born, in 1807 - and he also took a wife called Mary (but she was born in 1834; she was his second wife) - and he is buried in Staffordshire.  The records seem to show JRRT's paternal great grandfather as Geroge William Tolkien. It is possible that the Tolkien who is buried here was related - possibly a father or uncle.

At the time I saw the stone, I didn't know all this of course, so I just sat and thought about the possibility of a relationship, and how "Miles Lane" sounded (I can't read music).  JRR Tolkien would have liked the trees that surround the graves.

Directly outside the entrance to Bunhill Fields is the Wesley Chapel and Museum (John Wesley is apparently buried around the back).

It is hardly surprising the course I had was in Tabernacle Street!

Finally, I noticed this building sitting incongrously beside the cemetery:
There seemed to be a few military personnel hanging around, and it claimed, believably to be the headquarters of the "Honourable Artillery Company". 

But by then I was in a very Dissenting frame of mind, and I found myself wondering if that really meant they didn't shell to kill - just artillery for sport....

Saturday, 11 June 2011


So, it is the 90th birthday of Phil the Greek, or "Bonehead" as the Queen calls him in the Steve Bell cartoons...
There has been a huge amount of sycophantic rubbish written about the man, who is admittedly carrying himself well for a 90 year old, but who is also crass, offensive and unpleasant as a person.  As far as I can tell anyway, that appears to be true from the TV interviews I've seen.  Also from the one time I was relatively nearby when he met a colleague.   He was rude and objectionable about a project she had been working on for over two years, and left her in tears. 

About the only person I could see who refused to submit to the general kowtowing was the MP Paul Flynn, who said - regarding the proposed 'humble address' (a message of support and celebration from the Commons):
Why on earth is this a ’humble address’ in this age?
Are the royal family superior beings to the rest of us? Are we inferior beings to them? This was the feeling of the House seven centuries ago when we accepted rule under which we speak now.

We live in an egalitarian time where we recognise the universality of the human condition, in which royals and commoners share the same strengths and frailties.

He said the “humble address demeaned the honour of MPs’ elected office”, and continued:
If these occasions are to be greatly valued, it should be possible for members to utter the odd syllable that might be critical.
The sycophancy described by the Prime Minister... is something that must sicken the royal family when they have an excess of praise of this type.”
Well done that man!

Monday, 6 June 2011

The Ball of the Century?

And of course yesterday's Poem of the Week, in addition to being a paean of praise to Evan Davis, was also a farewell to Shane Warne, whose first test ball, to Mike Gatting, is memorised in the verse.  This is what it looked like..

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Poem of the Week

Jiggery Pokery
Neil Hanlon and Thomas Walsh (aka the Duckworth-Lewis Method)

Twas the first test of the Ashes series 1993
Australia had only managed 289 and we
felt all was going to plan
that first innings at Old Trafford.
Then Merv Hughes and his handlebar moustache
dismissed poor Athers.

I took the crease to great applause,
and focussed on me dinner.
I knew that I had little cause
to fear their young leg spinner.
He loosened up his shoulder
and with no run up at all,
he rolled his right arm over
and he let go of the ball.

It was jiggery pokery, trickery, jokery.
How did he open me up?
Robbery, muggery, Aussie Skullduggery.
Out for a buggering duck.
What a delivery,
I might as well have been,
holding a contra bassoon.
Jiggery pokery who was this nobody,
making me look a buffoon?
Like a blithering old buffoon.

At first the ball looked straight enough,
I had it in me sights,
but such was its rotation
that it swerved out to the right.
I thought "Well, that's a leg break,
that's easily defended."
So I stuck my left leg out
and jammed my bat against it.

But the ball it span obscenely
and out of the rough it jumped,
veered across my bat and pad,
clipping my off stump.
It took a while to hit me,
I momentarily lingered,
but then I saw old Dickie Bird
slowly raise his finger.

It was jiggery pokery, trickery, jokery.
How did he open me up?
Robbery, muggery, Aussie Skullduggery.
Out for a buggering duck.
What a delivery,
I might as well have been,
holding a child's balloon.
Jiggery pokery who was this nobody,
making me look a buffoon?
Like an accident prone baboon.

How such a ball could be bowled
I don't know, but if you asked me
if it had been a cheese roll,
it would never have got past me.

It was jiggery pokery, trickery, jokery.
How did he open me up?
Robbery, muggery, Aussie Skullduggery.
What in the buggery
was his delivery?
I might as well have been
holding a cob of corn.
Jiggery pokery, who was this nobody
making me look so forlorn?

I hate Shane Warne!!!!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Not Just a Hole in Evan Davis's Knowledge...

On the BBC Today programme this morning, in the middle of a discussion about methematics and sport, the uber economics journalist and mathematical whizz Evan Davis revealed that he had never heard of the Duckworth-Lewis Method.

Gasps.  He quickly corrected his ignorance during the programme and by the end of the show he had apologised with some chagrin for not knowing of it.  He even cited the band named after the formula.

But it got me wondering...

So I wen to Wolfram Alpha and tried an enquiry there.  They (/it?) have never heard of it either.

This is all very poor...

Thursday, 2 June 2011

School for S Argues Back

I note Deborah Warner in the Guardian today has mounted a spirited response to the critics of her production of School for Scandal. And La Billington has replied.
I'm not that impressed by either piece to be honest - neither address the question of whether the production is any good (thought-provoking, enjoyable, challenging, whatever).  They instead focus on the how and why.  Rather tiresome.