Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Where does the water come from?

This is the first of, inshallah, a series of posts that look at "paradigm shifts" in our understanding of the world around us.

Sometimes, it is easy to forget how much of the scientific understanding that we now have - and take for granted - was only discovered in the 300 hundred years (or even in the last 100 years).

This particular post was provoked by a comment on a BBC4 programme on the relationship of the British people to rain. The programme mentioned that, during the European Enlightenment, natural scientists were trying to understand where the water in rivers and clouds came from.

The French scientist Pierre Perrault provided the first piece of the puzzle by analysing the rainfall over an area and showing that it was sufficient to account for the water flowing in the river.

But where was the rainfall in the clouds coming from?

Edmund Halley (yes, the comet one) turns out to be something of a polymath and spent some time considering this issue. He performed an experiment in which he placed a 8" bowl of water on a set of scales and warmed it to the temperature of a hot summers day. After 2hrs, he found that the weight of water in the bowl had unsurprisingly, reduced by some 15grams. Critially, Halley then considered how much water evaporation this would equate to in a sea, such as the Mediterranean.

The answer is 5.3 billion tons every 12 hrs !


He then demonstrated that this was about three times the amount needed to provide the water for the largest rivers flowing into the Atlantic.

So suddenly, mans view of the natural world was changed, the scale of the evaporation from the oceans revealed and the broad outline of the water cycle revealed.

One can only imagine what was going through Halleys mind as he obtained the result and realised its implications. . .

"So let us compute the calculation. . . 3 add 9, so that's 2 carry over 1. . now the millions column.. . .and finally we have. . .. Gadzooks ! I am astounded at the enormity of the result, my flabber is truly gasted, my gob completely smacked and my dum is utterly founded. One can scarcely credit it, that such a volume of water can evaporate into the atmosphere, as though a thousand Niagras are silently and invisibly flowing up into the clouds every day. I think I need a sit down and a cup of tea. . . .

Incidentally, the breadth of Halleys achievements is incredible, why not check him out on Wikipedia?

Download an article on this topic here :

Monday, 18 April 2011


A fascinating article can be found at the Engineer magazine that looks at a potential source of power called Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) - a link to the story is here : http://www.theengineer.co.uk/in-depth/tropical-idea-ocean-thermal-energy-conversion/1008208.article

OTEC works by harnessing the difference in water temperature between the surface and the depths of the ocean to vaporise a liquid, which then powers a turbine. The article is generally very upbeat, suggesting that "more than 300 times the energy we consume is available from the solar energy in the tropical ocean's upper layers" and pointing out that the US Navy is funding development of the technology.

After reading the article, BFTF was pretty much sold on the idea and was thinking - all it needs is more money and it's job done, energy crisis solved!

But what about the other perspective. Maybe there are some issues with the technology? Perhaps it's worth spending a little time looking to see if there are other viewpoints on the technology.

Very much to BFTF's surprise, it turns out that there are a number of serious potential issues with this technology, ranging from the effects of biolfouling to the cost of making large diameter pipes that are perhaps a kilometre long. A good starting point can be found (as is often the case, by searching for OTEC in Wikipedia)

 You may be wondering what this rather fact-deficient post is doing on the blog - well, the reason is to just to give a reminder that we all need to check both sides of the story before taking a view on what the objective reality is - and perhaps it is worth taking the view that the more outlandish the story, the more checking we need to do.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

The mosque, the council and the email list

In summary:
It can be easy to try to make a change once, get a poor response and then give up.
In reality, making changes takes perseverance.
Posts tagged with Sabr (Patience) give examples of this.

In more detail:
"Sabr" is an arabic word that means patience. And as we all know, patience is a virtue.

Posts on this blog tagged with "Sabr" are aimed at giving examples of activities where Sabr has very definitely been required.

The reason for these posts is that is can be easy to take the attitude that "Well, I sent an email but nothing happened" or "I went on a protest march but the Government still went to war so it's all a waste of time", or "I offered to help but I got no response so I don't offer any more".

This is a very defeatist attitude to take - and nothing worthwhile has ever been achieved by taking this approach.

Imagine if Nelson Mandela had said, at the start of his activism against Apartheid, that the government wasn't responding to his letters and protests so he was going to give up.

Or if Madam Curie had decided that she could't be bothered with taking the three years it took to distill 0.1g of radium from a tonne of pitchblend.

Or if the political movements that were demanding independance from colonial rule in the first half of the 20th century had decided that they had had a go, the colonial powers hadn't listened so the whole thing was a waste of time and they weren't going to bother doing anything further. . .

So, to the example at hand.

BFTF runs an email newsletter, which aims to provide information to local Muslim organisations and mosques. This has been running since about 2006, but ensuring that it reaches all the relevant organisations has been a struggle as many organisations do not have a formal email address. So when BFTF realised (in late 2009) that a local mosque had generated a directory or local mosques, and that there was an official in the local council whose job it was to help the Muslim community, BFTF lost no time in sending them both emails to obtain further information.

Both responded, but did not provide the information I was asking for.

Rather than giving up, BFTF emailed them again, and again. . . and again.

Finally, in Feb 2011, the local mosque provided a link to the information on their website, and the local council official informed me that their email contact list wasn't very good and provided a contact at another organisation (wich was quite useful, alhough it was a shame that it took over a year for the council to provide this simple piece of information). The information provided has, inshallah, helped to improve the reach of the newsletter.

Dear Reader, this post is here to provide evidence that the motto "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again" really does work and that tenacity will often yield results.

Although, in the interests of balance, BFTF really needs to point out that there is also some truth and value in W G Graces maxim that "If at first you don`t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There`s no point in being a damn fool about it."

MCB and the HMD (2007)

In Summary
In 2006, the MCB opposed attending the Holocaust Memorial Day Event.
A survey of Muslims at a local mosque showed over 85% wanting the MCB to attend HMD
Emails sent to MCB by local mosque to point out views of ordinary Muslims
Request made for local mosque to pass information on to congregation at Friday Prayers
This post is an example of being a “critical friend” – someone who provides help and constructive criticism to an organisation.

In More Detail:
Back in the years around 2006, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) was refusing to participate in the Holocaust Memorial Day(HMD) on the grounds that it was too exclusive an event and that it should, instead, focus on all genocides.

The, entirely predictable, result of this was that the MCB (and by implication British Muslims) were annually accused of being anti-semitic.

In addition, the position of the MCB made life very difficult for Muslims working in Inter-Faith activities and were involved in local HMD events.

In an effort to shed some light on what the Muslims thought about the issue (as opposed to what Muslim organisations said Muslims thought about the issue) BFTF, with the permission of a local mosque, conducted a survey of people attending Friday prayers one week in May 2007.

Some 70 people were asked whether the MCB should, or should not, attend the HMD (this was perhaps the first time in Nottingham that a congregation had been asked for it’s opinion on an issue!).

The results showed over 85% stating that they wanted the MCB to attend the HMD

This suggested a big disconnect between the position of the MCB and the views of the Muslim community.

A letter was drawn up and sent to the MCB by the mosque. One key point mentioned in the letter was that with the opinion of the MCB being pretty much diametrically opposite to that of ordinary Muslims, was it any surprise that these ordinary Muslims felt that the MCB did not represents them?

After some prompting, M. Rafi of the MCB responded by saying :

“…I would like to assure you that we take yours and our other affiliates views very seriously. As a result of such concerns we have had a number of internal discussions on this matter over the last few months. We have decided to carry out a fuller survey of our affiliates and a sample survey of the Muslim Community in the coming months, results of which we will be able to disseminate in Autumn 2007. . . “

Lastly, the most important group in this issue is the Muslim community, so BFTF asked the local mosque to tell the congregation about the results of the survey (and the response from the MCB).

After prompting a few times, the local mosque said that they would do this.

Dear Reader, perhaps there is an issue that is close to your heart where you could constructively help the debate by engaging with a local, or national, organisation.. . . .Go on, you know you want to. . .