Monday, September 25, 2017

43 years of losing

Well, last weekend, my team, Amazingly Average, won the 2017 Knoxville Metro Soccer League Silver  tournament.

There I am, in the middle at the back, victoriously brandishing our champions T-shirt.

The last time I won a soccer championship was 43 years ago, when my high school team (Earlham) won the city cup of Norwich.
The 1974 City Schools team is below, with me, again in the middle,  of course,
holding the ball.

Since then I haven't won anything.

Played a lot, every year, but never won a cup. Not a sausage. Bugger all.

43 solid years of losing. Not sure I anticipated that in 1974.

Life, eh?

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Column of Nelson

Our hometown hero, he is (or, apparently, was).
Born in my county of birth, went to school in my city, then commanded the British Fleet that gave Napoleon a right good spanking at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 (where, romantically, he died).

You could always tell the difference between Napoleon and Nelson, because Napoleon held his only arm like this, whereas Nelson held his like that.(*).

Now, apparently, enlivened by the Confederate monument debate, people want to remove his statue from Trafalgar Square because he supported the slave trade. But in that case should we not also be pulling down statues of Mandela, who was a terrorist, and Gandhi, who was an anti-African racist, and Churchill, who said that 'Ghandhi-ism and everything it stands for will have to be crushed'  and Reagan, who supported genocidal dictators, and for that matter, shouldn't we be destroying everything Roman and the Great Wall of China (which killed millions, including a million workers  who were forced to build it)?

Go ahead if you want. I don't care. Pull down Nelson's column. I never thought much of worshipping politicians or the military and I'm not a great fan of statues.  But if so, pull everything  down, please (**). Just like ISIS did in Palmyra...

* quote from 1066 and All That
** I'm not being serious, of course.

Monday, July 31, 2017

2017 ORNL Futbol Game

Mentors versus Interns  it was. The Mentors always win, of course. We can't let those young punks get too cocky. So this time we were 3-2 down at half time and so we cancelled the second half due to rain. Now, in TN when you abandon a game before the second half it becomes invalid, meaning the result from last year (which we of course won) carries over and applies this year as well. So we won. And, anyway, as Budhu stated in the official FIFA match report, the rain 'prevented the greatest Mentor comeback in history'. So there.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Outrageous Theory

I arrived to start a PhD at the Institut Laue Langevin in Grenoble in September 1982 a day late (having missed the boat and been 'repatriated' back to England with just my passport and 2 pounds).   I soon found the ILL to be organized into 'Colleges' of which 'College 1' was Theory. It was lead by a brilliant chap called Philippe Nozieres and seemed to be full of theoretical physicists.

I didn't have much to do with them, but there were quite a few grumblings about the theory college over the years;  about them not talking much to experimentalists, being aloof, superfluous etc. ORNL doesn't have one.

But just before I was at ILL, from 1977-1981, Duncan Haldane was there for a postdoc. He did work on quantum-mechanical spin systems that was so outrageous that nobody believed it and it was impossible to publish in  a journal,  residing just as an  ILL preprint. This work was later found by neutron experiments to be correct, and was critical to Haldane winning the 2016 Physics Nobel Prize. If you want more details, Tim Ziman (who I had a wonderful hike in Alaska with) wrote about it here and the ILL wrote about it here.

I don't think the way the national labs, and science in general, are organized particularly fosters the kind of research Haldane did at ILL. But a  theory group could be a good idea, and perhaps DOE might like to consider setting one up at ORNL, after all?

Friday, June 16, 2017

Helmut Kohl

An alumnus of Heidelberg University who championed German reunification.  I never really understood why the West Germans were so keen on this, as it came at a high  economic cost.

The Tennessee Torpedo

Christian Coleman - 9.82s. The fourth fastest American ever, and he's only a Junior!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The 2018 Trump Administration Science Budget

Scientists don't do universal good.
Take Fritz Haber, for example. He invented the technique for synthesizing ammonia, which has been invaluable to agriculture. The food production for half the world's population depends on his method for producing nitrogen fertilizers.  But he was also the "Father of Chemical Warfare". Hmm...

But it is easy to show that science is what propels technological development and that government-funded science is essential for this, so it is baffling why the administration want to cut the science budget of NIH by 22%, DOE by 15% and NSF by 13%. Yes, I know they want to cut overhead grants, and a sensible discussion about that is always useful, but who would then build the buildings in which science is done?

Are they doing it just to save money? In fact I might consider myself more of a fiscal conservative than most Republican politicians.  Why? Because I would be in favor of keeping both the military and mandatory elements of the federal budget under control, whereas they wish to inflate the former (through blind ideology) and ignore the latter (through fear of losing votes).

Let's hope the Congress does its job and reverses this policy. As President Obama said in 2011, cutting investment in innovation is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engines. It may make you feel like you're flying high at first, but it won't be long before you feel the impact.