Friday, 18 February 2011

There's life in the old pond yet

After a couple of months covered in ice, the pond sprang back into life last week. As well as some old familiars, the boatmen for example, the lack of larger bugs meant I was aware of some of the smaller (about 1mm) creatures on the surface of the pond. I think the photos here are copepods -- small crustaceans -- at the limit of what my camera can do.
The mustachioed animal on the right is probably Diaptomus castor, whilst the smaller fellow below may be Canthocampus staphylinus. If you think you know better let me know! Both are described as common in pools over the winter, and they move in a series of little jumps, which means that just as I focus the camera to take a picture they disappear from the view-finder.
 There ought to be a nice dimensional analysis argument to determine how light you have to be (and what size shoes you wear) before you can jump from the water surface. Too heavy and your foot would go through the surface. Presumably the surface is either solid or like a trampoline to these little fellas. Isn't surface tension wonderful!

Other denizens are more familiar. I think the bug on the right is a very young dragonfly larva, it was really small, about 2-3mm. Given the squat body and the dragonflies that laid eggs last autumn my guess would be that it is Libellula depressa, the broad bodied chaser, but that is only a guess.

The bug below is a lesser water boatman, Corixa; a very small specimen again but looking fine.

Note added later: I take back my first thought about the possible dragonfly larva -- no idea what it is!!

Friday, 11 February 2011

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each

I have been asked to give the after-dinner speech at this year's BAMC in Birmingham (11th - 13th April). I suspect that this is proof that (a) I am growing old; and (b) at least some people think I have retained a sense of humour. I've been thinking about what can be said that is amusing and topical and short. To paraphrase the Player in Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead:
GLENDINNING: ... well, I can do you maths and humour without the politics, and I can do you maths and politics without the humour, and I can do you all three concurrent or consecutive, but I can't do you humour and politics without the maths. Maths is compulsory, it's all maths.
BAMC: Is that what the people want?
GLENDINNING: It's what I do.
Does anyone know any good and topical jokes? Fiona says there's nothing funny about politics at the moment.

I could only think of one picture of after-dinner speaking, and since I've done TS Eliot and Tom Stoppard already in this very erudite blog, why not use Leonardo for divine inspiration? There is a connection between R&G and Prufrock -- easy to guess?!

Here's the full Stoppard quote (from the actors who will perform in front of Claudius and Gertrude, the head player explains what they can do):
PLAYER: They're hardly divisible, sir – well, I can do you blood and love without the rhetoric, and I can do you blood and rhetoric without the love, and I can do you all three concurrent or consecutive, but I can't do you love and rhetoric without the blood. Blood is compulsory – they're all blood, you see.
GUIL: Is that what the people want?
PLAYER: It's what we do. 

Friday, 4 February 2011

IRM, Town Hall Meeting, 28 January 2011

A draft of the International Review of Mathematics was made available last week, though I can't link to it until the final version is published. It contains many sound observations and suggestions, particularly
  • the state of mathematics in the UK is good, with excellence distributed over the whole country;
  • there is a danger that the increased concentration of funding to larger instiutions could damage excellence outside these centres;
  • communication between EPSRC and the grassroots mathematics community is poor; and
  • the representation of women in mathematics is lamentable, and needs to be addressed far more vigorously.
At the EPSRC Town Hall meeting at the Senate House in London on 28th January (shown in this wonderful drawing by Raymond Myerscough Walker), the chair of the international panel, Margaret Wright, presented the findings and answered questions. I was worried that having talked of the unity of mathematics, they then divided it by addressing Mathematical Science, Applications and Industrial Maths as though they were separate, and Margaret agreed to dispell that impression, particularly in the evidential trail. The lack of detailed assessments of landscape documents in some areas was also addressed; apparently this is due to lack of expertise within the panel, and at the very least this should be stated explicitly.

The mood turned a little less positive when David Delpy (Chief Exec of EPSRC) responded. He seemed to suggest that EPSRC was unlikely to pay any attention to the regional distribution of excellence and will continue to encourage centralization (since this is stated policy it is not a surprise, but his insistence that this was for academic reasons was a bit galling and I made a rather clumsy and irritated intervention and had to be helped out by Malcolm MacCallum of the Heilbronn Institute). He also made very dismissive comments about the mathematics learned societies -- emphasizing that they are plural!

Oh well, some of these things (representation of women for example) should be taken up by the community anyway, but I'm not holding my breath waiting for action on the support of excellence across the discipline and wherever it may be.

The implications for funding are still confused.