Thursday, 22 September 2011

Granular Dynamics and Asteroid Formation - Pt 1 - Lecture

Another fantastic public lecture at Nottingham University ! These really are wonderful FREE events that the local community can take advantage of.

This one was titled "Granular Dynamics : Patterns in the Sand" and was presented by James Clewett, a 3rd yr PhD student in the University of Nottingham Physics Department.

Granular Dynamics is the study of how systems containing large numbers of particles behave. For example :
* Dry Sand (and how it forms sand dunes)
* Wet Sand (and how it can be used to form sandcastles)
* Mixing of powders in foods and medicines (want to ensure even mixing)

An interesting property of granular systems is that they can behave as solids (e.g. damp sand), liquids (e.g. sand in an hour glass) or gases (e.g. sand in a dust storm)

Another aspect of the behaviour of granular systems, especially those that are being agitated in some way, is the "Brazil Nut Effect", so called after the phenomena shown by Brazil nuts rising to the top of a bag of mixed nuts.

James and his colleagues have been looking at asteroids and considering whether they may have a granular structure.

One piece of evidence that at least some asteroids may have a granular structure came with the discovery of the KW4 asteroid (see here), which comprises a main asteroid about 1.3km in diameter, which is orbited by a "moon" that is about 360m in diameter. By measuring the speed of the orbit of the moon, it became clear that KW4 had a low density and must therefore be quite porous.

Another piece of evidence was the finding that, whilst small asteroids have a variety of spin speeds, larger asteroids only spin slowly. This is important because it is consistent with a granular nature. Granular bodies are weak and tend to break up if subjected to larger stresses (i.e. being massive and fast spinning).

A third piece of evidence was found when the Japanese Hayabusa Space Probe visited the Itakawa asteroid (see here and especially here) with the aim of scooping up some of its surface and bringing it back to earth. The probe photographed the asteroid in great detail and it can be seen that it has a very rocky surface (at least in parts, some areas appear very smooth). This kind of surface is consistent with operation of the "Brazil Nut Effect", possibly on timescales of millions of years. James' group has written a paper on the possibility of another asteroid, Eros, also having a similar surface appearance (see here)

BFTF has found itself going back to the pictures of Itokawa and gazing at them wondrously and for some considerably time.

As an aside, BFTF found a really interesting paper titled "Asteroid Density, Porosity and Structure" (see here) on the Internet whilst preparing this post. About half way through there is a cracking chart showing the different structures of various asteroids, and a lot of other information besides. The suggestion is made that these low density asteroids are basically big piles of rocks and sand - essentially a pile of rubble!

The lecture covered a number of other aspects of granular dynamics. BFTF suspects that it would do a pretty poor job of explaining these so is going to respectfully point you, dear reader to the University of Nottingham Granular Dynamics Group Webpage (see here), where you can find out much, much more about the research that goes on there. There is also an interesting video on the behaviour of vibrating granular systems as part of the "60 symbols" series (see here)

Oh, and you can find out more about James, including his past as a World Champion Tetris player, at his website (see here)

Links (same as those embedded in text above)
KW4 asteroid

Itokawa asteoid

Asteroid Density, Porosity, and Structure

The Brazil Nut Effect on Eros

Summary of reports in "Science" of Hayabusa imagery

University of Nottingham Granular Dynamics Group :

Granular Dynamics at the 60 Symbols series

James Clewett's Website

Granular Dynamics and Asteroid Formation - Pt 2 - Modelling at Home

About half way through the lecture on Granular Systems at the University of Nottingham (see Part 1 here) the presenter began showing some short videos of how the particles in granular solids behaved when agitated. One of the effects shown was the "Brazil Nut Effect" and, on seeing this, Number One son leaned over and whispered "We could do this in Phun".

"Phun" is a free software program that allows you to create shapes and simple machines that can then be "run" in an environment that has gravity, air resistance and other characteristics of the real world. I could go on but, to be honest, the short demonstration video below says it all. Dear Reader, if you can watch this without a sense of "wow" and a wish to have a go yourself, then perhaps you need to check whether your heart has somehow turned to stone. . .

Awesome, isn't it! You can download the software, for free, here (scroll down to the section called "old verions" to get the free version).

Now, to get back to the lecture. BFTF had a go at modelling (more or less) the "Brazil Nut Effect" in Phun.

This was done by making a box that had a load of small balls inside it, as well as one larger ball. The whole thing was then agitated by two triangular cams located below the box that were rotating at about 100rpm. Somewhat to BFTF's surprise, the model worked, with the larger ball rising to the surface each time. Three screenshots of a typical run are are shown below, one from the start, one from the middle and one at the end (i.e. when the larger ball had reached the surface)

In the example above, the larger ball is twice the diameter of the other balls. What do you think would happen if the larger ball was three, four or five times the diameter of the other balls? Would it rise to the top even faster? BFTF certainly thought so and tried it. The results are shown below (they are all the time to rise to the surface, the average of three runs and are corrected for the fact the larger balls don't have to rise so far before the get to the surface)

2 x diameter of standard ball : 125sec
3 x diameter of standard ball : 107sec
4 x diameter of standard ball : 131sec
5 x diameter of standard ball : 87sec

Not exactly the clearest of trends is it? The result for the 4xdiameter ball seems a little out of place, so BFTF ran that one a further three times to get more data, and found the average to go up to 143 seconds for his trouble.

That really does seem weird, and BFTF could not really understand why there was no trend. BFTF also noticed that, once it had reached the top, if the ball moved to the side it would often get "dragged down" towards the bottom of the container for a while before moving towards the centre and rising to the surface.

What was going on? BFTF had no idea. . . until it noticed this article that described how particles behaved like a fluid, with convection currents (like peas in a pan of boiling water).

This would imply that the standard balls would also rise to the surface, as they were just caught in the current, as it were. BFTF tried this in Phun, but found the marked ball to stay resolutely where it was and not move upwards particularly.

BFTF suspects that this is because the balls are all the same size and so pack together really well, thus limiting movement, so perhaps using two or three different shapes of particles would work better.

Out of idle curiosity (and, in case you are wondering, BFTF does have a day job that pays all the bills so is not actually idle), BFTF then took the "4xdiameter of standard ball". . .er . . .ball and progressively reduced its density down from 2.0g/cc (the same as all the small balls) to 0.5g/cc. Dear Reader, what do you think happened this time. . .?

Well, the results are shown in Chart below:

Presuambly, giving the larger ball a density much bigger than 2g/cc would result in it being too heavy to be "pushed" to the surface, but BFTF has not tried this.

So there you. "Phun" - it is brilliant, and you can do real physics on it.

If you haven't already, why not download it and have a go - you know you want to.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Nottingham Central Fire Station - Pt 1 - Tour Review

September 8-11 this year was "Heritage Open Days Weekend". This is an annual event which, according to the website,
"celebrates England’s fantastic architecture and culture by offering free access to properties that are usually closed to the public or normally charge for admission. Every year on four days in September, buildings of every age, style and function throw open their doors, ranging from castles to factories, town halls to tithe barns, parish churches to Buddhist temples. It is a once-a-year chance to discover hidden architectural treasures and enjoy a wide range of tours, events and activities which bring to life local history and culture."

Having only heard about the event a few days beforehand, BFTF had a quick look through the listings and found that there were oodles of events around Nottingham. Oooh, which one to go to, decisions, decisions. But when BFTF saw that tours of the Central Fire Station were being held on the Saturday, it was clear that search was over. . .

Saturday soon came around and BFTF plus kids found themselves at the entrance to the station, along with about 15 other members of the public. The tour was conducted by David Needham, a retired Fireman and was fascinating. So fascinating that it is probably best to break it down into parts.

The Building
The Fire Station was built in 1940, but you would not think it to look at the style of the interior, which is full of art deco touches from the 1920's. It felt a little bit like being in the skyscraper from King Kong, or as Dave Needham commented, being in a Hercule Poirot movie.

Two stone lions (again very much in art deco style) adorn the stair handrails on the first floor. One asleep and one awake they represent the two watches (shifts) of the station.

Gordon Bennet, that was a tough shift, time to turn in for the night

Grrrrr, just 5 more minutes sleep please

The bays where the Fire Engines live are full of little reminders from years gone by such as the floor covers that covered electrical leads previously used to keep the engines warm and ready to go, or the small named hooks on the doors for fire crew leaders long since departed. The brickwork surrounding this area has had numerous lumps knocked out of it, described by Dave as "the signatures of our less skilled drivers"

" the signatures of our less skilled drivers"

The Station has a number of levels below ground and one of these houses the social club. The walls here are decorated with all manner of fire fighting memorabilia, including pennants from fire crews around the world. On one side of the room is a large wooden wheel, perhaps 1.5m in diameter, with wooden spokes radiating from the central axle. It looks for all the world like something that belongs in the 19th century, along with Queen Victoria and flintlock rifles.

Last used in the 1890s, 1930s or 1980s?

But no, it turns that this is one of two wheels that were attached to ladders used on "pump escape" vehicles (like this) up to as late as 1987.

The station also has an air raid shelter that was used during WWII by non-essential station staff and by local residents. Dave described how these shelters could only protect the people inside to a certain degree and that a large calibre bomb would typically penetrate the ground to the depth of the shelter and then detonate, with predictably devastating consequences. This actually happened to another shelter in the city and Dave described how the casualty list made very sad reading, with grandparents, mothers and children of a single family all being killed in that single explosion.

Working Conditions
By 1939, the firemen had managed to win some significant concessions from the station management. They now had a full 1/2 day off work a week !
But, no sooner was this achieved than the UK was at war, and conditions went back to the 128hr weeks that had been the norm before.

Working conditions were very different back then. Firemen tended to live in a terrace of houses owned by the Fire Brigade and located close to the Station. Living in this accomodation had it's down sides. For example, couples needed a pass from the Station Commander if they wanted to stay out late. But that intrusion into their personal lives pales into insignificance when one hears that if a fireman wanted to marry, both he and his prospective bride were interviewed to ensure that she was "suitable". Crikey.

Perhaps inevitably, Dave described how things were much harder in his day than is the case for firefighters today. For one thing, he was expected to get changed on the way to the fire, which meant that the engine could be out of the station within 30seconds. This occasionally led to Firemen injuring themselves as they were knocked about the drive to the fire. To prevent this happening, firefighters now don their protective gear before they set off, which means that it now takes a leisurely 90seconds for the engine to leave the station.

Technology has also made a big difference, in Dave's day hoses would rot if left in a wet condition, so needed to be dried after use. This was done by laboriously hauling them up the training tower so that the water could drain out. Modern hoses are rot-proof so this is no longer required, and in any case the tower now has powered hose hoists (what luxury! when I were a lad. . . .)

World War II
Dave was particularly knowledgeable about the work of the station during WWII and, of the many stories he recounted, two have stuck in the mind of BFTF.

The first relates to a fireman who was on night look-out duty, scanning the city for signs of fires. Located on the roof of the station, he had no wall or shelter to protect him. As he was looking over the city an air raid siren began to sound and then, a little while later, he began to hear the sound of metallic objects landing on the roof around him in the pitch darkness. Alarmingly, these were not spent shell casings or similar ariel detritus but rather were 1kg incendiary bombs landing around him. Forbidden from leaving his post, he took a compromise approach of staying where he was, but lying down to minimise the chance of being taken apart by shapnel from the exploding bombs !

The second story relates to the bombing of Coventry, Dave describes how the air defense network knew that there was going to be a big air-raid somewhere in the south of the country, but not exactly where. So fire engines across the north of England were gradually being moved southwards so that they would be closer to the target, wherever that was.

Soon enough, of course, it became clear that the Coventry was the target, and a look-out described how, even from Nottingham, he could see the glow on the horizon from the fires. He described the sight as "like peas boiling in a pan", which is a pretty evocative turn of phrase. Dave explained that the "boiling" was due to the shock and blast waves from the bombs as they landed.

Well, BFTF certainly found the tour to be very interesting, and hopes that you, dear reader have managed to find a few nuggets of useful information in this summary.

Thanks are due, of course to Dave Needham for taking the time to be involved in the Heritage Weekend.

And thanks are also due, very unexpectedly to Number One and Number 2 sons. When BFTF got home, these two were asked to jot down bullet points of all the things they could remember from the tour. To BFTF's utter surprise the resulting lists were very comprehensive and have been used as pointers and reminders whilst writing this post. Well Done!

Nottingham Central Fire Station - Pt 2 - Actions

Actions not yet fully defined from this post, but it is intended, inshallah, to send an email to local masjids suggesting that the Heritage Weekend is a great opportunity to find common cause with the wider society and learn about the history of this country.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Interview : NAT, HIMMAH and HOST

Nottingham Arimathea Trust (NAT) and Himmah will be a guest on the "Building for the Future" radio show on Radio Dawn 107.6FM on Wednesday 12th October at a little after 5pm.

The Interview will be about their forthcoming "HOST" project that wants to encouraging people to host destitute asylum seekers in their home.

The HOST initiative is coalition of organization who work in the homeless sector. Himmah is supporting the initiative and is trying to encourage as many people as possible from the muslim community to host. There is a comprehensive package of support given to people including training etc.

Something we can do without

Nov 2014
Disturbed to see a mosque putting out this message several times over the last year, as part of a list of dangers facing Muslims:

Sent the following to the mosque:

i) It simply isn't true, trust in science and technology is much lower now than it was 30-40 years ago, and I cannot recall any example of someone displaying a "blind faith in science and technology". On the contrary, it is scientific illiteracy and political dogma that is contributing to climate change, environmental degradation and many other social evils.

ii) I do not believe that this is one of the top reasons Muslims lose their faith

iii) I do not see this blind faith from any of the many scientists I interview or hear talks from. On the contrary they are invariably humble, aware of how much they do not know and conscious of the many barriers between making a discovery and having a technology that can be applied in the real world

iv) It is hypocritical to disparage science and technology whilst AT THE SAME TIME taking advantage of every medical and communications innovation that is made available

v) The statement makes it almost impossible for any Muslim to talk about current and future research in a scientific field to a Muslim audience - for fear that they will be labelled as having "blind faith in science and technology"

vi) The statement is a discouragment to youngsters to be interested in science and technology careers

vii) The statement sends out mixed messages to the comunity, especially youngsters. On the one hand our leaders talk about the Islamic heritage in scientific discovery, on the other hand the statement talks about the danger of a "blind faith" - a faith which, again, I see very little evidence of.

viii) You may think that the statement is subtle and does not imply any of the positions stated above. I believe that any such subtlety will be lost on the community, as it has been on me.

ix) The statement gives ammunition to the those sections of the community who are unable to see anything positive and delight in spreading conspiracy theories rather than acting to improve society.

x) I note that in the expanded note later in the article, you do not mention science and technology at all, but instead (quite reasonably) discuss financial irresponsibility in the banking sector. Perhaps your initial comment should be clearly directed in that direction too.

More generally, I note that khutbahs mention science and technology only in a "dammed with faint praise" way. For example, research may be mentioned that supports an Islamic viewpoint, but this will IMMEDIATELY be followed up with a comment about how scientists don't really know anything, or that they are arrogant. Again, I believe this is a strong discouragement to youngsters to enter science and technology fields.

Invariably, the problem lies not with the science, but with the politics or business case surrounding its application. I would suggest that this is what should be focussed on.

What I DO see a lot of in discourse by a significant number of Muslims is an inability to show critical thinking, which results in the spreading of conspiracy theories that do not stand up to the slightest investigation - and which have the effect of numbing the community into a view that they are unable to do anything to change society. I would urge you to speak out against this, with clear examples of false conspiracy theories (debunking the view that no one ever landed on the Moon might be a good place to start)

Yours, respectfully and in a spirit of being a critical friend

The Mosque bounced back with:

"This is a serious threat to the faith of young people it is another aspect of materialism and love of the world and being worldly. This is not condemning or maligning signs of technology as such, it is pointing out misunderstanding of the limitations and the powers of science by the general public.... [the] aim in writing this piece was to bring to the attention of young people the limitations of science, it is not a replacement religion nor other scientists new gods, this is increasing with the situation with majority of people in the world today, they think that science will ultimately solve our problems, it is this notion that is in Islamic terms both idolatrous and misleading."


Sep 2011
A little while ago, BFTF was passed a lecture on a CD and asked for an opinion on it (perhaps the office was empty that day, perhaps the person mistook BFTF for somebody else, who knows).

Having had a listen, BFTF felt it to be very negative and to have a perspective of Muslim victimhood - not, in short, something that was helpful. The feedback that BFTF gave to the provider of the CD pretty much says it all :

"I think this covers all the usual bases:

- Description of attacks on countries "because they are Muslim" - CHECK
- Description of Muslim as living as slaves in the West - CHECK
- Description of western society as being sex driven - CHECK
- Description of leading edge science as being "playing God" - CHECK
- Complete absence of any practical steps that can be taken to solve the
problems - CHECK

Each of the above points contains a kernel of truth, but is portrayed as a simple black and white issue where non-muslims have no redeeming factors and where there is no context.

For example, regarding science "playing God", these exact same arguments were put forward in the UK a hundred years ago when blood transfusions were first attempted - but would be laughed out of court if made today. With regard to the current genetic research, while there are real concerns (e.g. Monsanto trying to buy up seed banks and using "terminator gene" technology) there are also real possibilities for tremendous advancement (e.g. Gene therapies, crops able to
tolerate harsh conditions of low rainfall, treatments for burns and other trauma)

This track basically makes people hate the West and portrays the West in a
uniformly negative light. It is, in essence, the reverse of a BNP tirade. "

Incidentally, the person who supplied the CD later listened to the lecture themselves and agreed with the above.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Recipe - The Easiest Dish in the World

Whilst the rest of this blog is, admittedly, a bit "do-gooder", the recipes section is here for a very different reason - BFTF appears to be utterly incapable of keeping track of the recipes that it has tried, especially the ones that seemed to work. So putting them here will hopefully ensure that BFTF can find them when required.

I suppose you could call it a "Floating Point Feast". . .

The Easiest Dish in the World

As Gordon Gecko might have said when he was in the kitchen "Easy, for lack of a better word, is good. Easy is right. Easy Works. . ."

BFTF is also a fan of easy, especially when cooking, and this, gentle reader, is as easy as it gets. . .

-1 fresh trout (BFTF gets the fishmonger to cut off the head and tail as the eyes always seem to be following you round the room)
-Some small potatoes (e.g. new potatoes, salad potatoes)
-Butter (or margerine or even just oil)
-Grated cheese (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200C and get a pan of water boiling on the hob

Wrap the trout in foil, put it on a tray and slap it in the oven

Bung the potatoes in the pan of water and bring back to the boil

Cook trout for 20mins, potatoes until fork goes into them easily (about 20mins)

Place the trout and the potatoes on the plate and sprinkle with a little salt, some melted butter and the grated cheese


The dish rates as "EASY" on the BFTF Washing Up Index

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Jean Genet at Nottingham Contemporary

The Nottingham Contemporary Gallery has had some interesting exhibitions over the last year or two, and a recent feature on Jean Genet (see here) was certainly one of these.

Jean was an artist and civil rights campaigner, the latter most notably for the Palestinians and for the Black Panthers (a Afro-American rights organisation that believed that the non-violent methods being used by Martin Luther King would not deliver results). The exhibition contained work by artists related to both these causes.

Art is a funny thing, as it were.

On the one hand, BFTF feels that any art that could easily be done by your average layperson probably isn't really art - but on the other hand Latifa Echakhch's piece provided food for thought, and this work simply comprised which comprised large two or three digit numbers that had been drawn on to the gallery walls in charcoal, each number being a UN resolution on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Installation by Latifa Echakhch

But back on the first hand, one of the exhibits by Mona Hatoum, which comprised a table of pottery hand-grenades did not really move BFTF at all. Surely a table of real (disarmed) grenades would have caused a greater reaction in the viewer, and made them really think about the devastation that these weapons cause, or a picture of the injuries that they can cause, or testimony from people who have used them, or a diagram showing how far their lethal fragments travel - all of these alternatives would seem to have the potential to do a better job of provoking a reaction in the viewer.

Given that sculpture of people and animals is frowned upon in the Islamic tradition, it was interesting to see the work of Abdul Hay Mossallam. His distinctive bas-relief work is clearly 3-dimensional, yet has been acclaimed in the Arab World, where he has had over 20 solo exhibitions. You can find out more about him and the conditions he has worked under here.

Exodus from Beirut to the Sea, Abdul Hay Mossallam, 1984, sawdust mixed with glue on wood.

The most interesting part of the exbihibition, for BFTF, was a selection of Black Panther newspapers from the 1960's. It was fascinating to read the soviet-style revolutionary language, the open support for armed action, and the clear grievences regarding Police brutality. In a great example of all that is good about the internet age, you can read them yourself online (see here).

A series of films and talks are also part of the exhibition. These are mostly being screened in September and October. These include:

Genet and the Palestinians
A talk by Leila Shahid, Delegate of Palestine at the EU
29 Sep, 3-6pm "The Space", FREE

Genet in Chatila
Film by Richard Dindo
29 Sep, 7pm "The Space", FREE

The Panthers and Genet
Talk by Emory Douglas (Panthers former minister of Culture) and others
30 Sep, 11am-4pm "The Space", FREE

Asked Nottingham Contemporary to thank the sponsors of this exhibition.
Intend, at some point in the future to discuss artists such as Abdul Hay Mossllam with an Imam on the Building For The Future Radio show.

Recognition of the Palestinian State at the UN

The Palestinian Leadership will be seeking recognition of Palestinian statehood at the UN in just a few days (sometime around the 20th September 2011).UK citizens can support this bid by telling their elected MP's and government that they expect the UK government to support the recognition of Palestinian Statehood at the UN.

There are lots of resources regarding this issue, many of which can be found at the foot of this post.

It does not take a lot of words to make a point. BFTF simply sent the message that it "expects the government to support recognition of the Palestinian State at the UN". BFTF has been working with a number of mosques in Nottingham to make a difference by getting their congregations to sign petitions and submitting them to their local MP's. BFTF has helped the masjids by scanning the petitions for them and providing them with draft email text so that almost all they need to do it hit the "forward" button to send the messages to their MPs. Of course, it may be that other masjids have, unbeknown to BFTF, also been active on this issue.

The results of all this are shown below, broken down by institution.

UPDATE 15 SEP 2011 : Received a response from the "Near East Group" at the Foreign Office. It said that, during President Obama's visit to the UK in May, David Cameron:
"agreed with the President that a Palestinian state was a legitimate goal, but the best way of achieving this was through a comprehensive agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. . . our focus remains on continuing to push hard for a return to negotiations on the basis agreed by the Prime Minister and President Obama. That is borders based on 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps; security for Israel; and the right for Palestinians to govern themselves in a sovereign and contiguous state. We are working hard with our international partners for a return to negotiations on this basis.. . We have reserved our position on the question of recognition, while we continue to urge all parties back to talks. If needed, we will take a decision nearer to the time, in consultation with EU and other partners. "
UPDATE 15 NOV 2011 : Received a response from local (Labour) MP that contained a copy of a letter that the Shadow Foreign Secretary had written to William Hague. The letter commented that :
"We (Labour) have always been clear that we fully support two states living side by side in peace and recognised by all of their neighbours. We want to see an immediate return to meaningful negotiations between the parties. . . It has never been the case that recognition [at the UN] can only follow the conclusions of the negotiations. . .The case made by the Palestinians for recognition as a state is strong. This week, at the UN, the Biritsh Government should be willing to support the recognition of Palestinian statehood. . ."
Also received a response from Alistair Burt, a Minister at the Foreign Office. This letter stated that the governments position was that:
"the best way for a Palestinian State to come about was following a comprehensive agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. . . No vote is imminent in the Security Council, while the membership committee considers its recommendations. So far, we have not been presented with a detailed proposal on which to take a position. Whether the committee returns the issue to the Security Council, or whether President Abbas decides to turn to the General Assembly, the UK will use its vote in a way which increases the likelihood of a return to meaningful negotiations."

MASJID B (Big Masjid)
UPDATE 24 OCT 2011 : This masjid sent emails (and petitions) to two local MP's and to the MCB a few weeks ago. BFTF sent an email asking if the congregation had been informed of the responses that the masjid had(or had not) received.
UPDATE 15 NOV 2011 : The masjid recently received a reply from Nottingham South MP Lilian Greenwood saying that Lilian had made representations to the Foreign Secretary on the Masjids behalf and would respond as soon as she had received a response. She also appended a letter that the Shadow Foreign Secretary had written to William Hague (as described in the BFTF section).
UPDATE 17 DEC 2011 : A couple of weeks ago, BFTF talked to the Imam at the Masjid who (so far as BFTF can recall) agreed to feedback to the community (via a Friday Khutbah(sermon) or similarly well attended prayer what had been done in their name
UPDATE 02 JAN 2012 : BFTF sent an email to the Imam of the Masjid asking if the congregation had been informed on what had been done in their name yet
UPDATE 15 FEB 2012 : BFTF called the Imam to ask if they could feedback to the congregation what had been done in their name. Imam said he would do it this Friday.
UPDATE 20 FEB 2012 : The Imam did make a short announcement at the end of Friday Prayers. This final, critical action feeds back to the congregation what was done in their name. From BFTF's perspective, the masjid has, at last, done all that was requested of it.

MASJID S (Small Masjid)
UPDATE 24 OCT 2011 :This masjid had not (as of about a week ago) sent off any emails, so BFTF sent them a reminder.
UPDATE 11 DEC 2011 : Talked to the Imam of the Masjid who said that they had not been able to send the emails to the MPs yet. To nudge them along, BFTF sent another email reminder.
UPDATE 02 JAN 2012 : Last week, talked to the Imam from this Masjid about the petition signed by the congregation at that masjid. This Masjid has not yet sent off any communication to local MP's. BFTF pointed out to the Imam that the congregation signed the petition in good faith and are expecting that it has been sent off, if the Masjid doesn't want to do that then they need to tell the congregation so that they are not working under a misapprehension. The Imam said that they should have decided on a way forward by the end of the Christmas Holidays.
UPDATE 20 FEB 2012 : Had a chat with the Imam over the weekend and was told, somewhat to BFTF's surprise that they have talked about the issue with the office of the local (Labour) MP and also with a representative of the local Conservative Party. The Imam said that he would be very happy to feedback this information to the congregation. BFTF will touch base in a few weeks to see if this last part of the circle has been closed out.

MASJID C (Masjid towards Centre of Notts)
UPDATE 15 FEB 2012 : A letter had been left at this masjid by a friend back in December but BFTF did not have any direct contact number, and the Imam did not answer emails. Today talked to someone at the masjid who was very supportive and seemed keen on pursuing this issue.
UPDATE 12 MAR 2012 : Chased up and was told that this would be sorted by Friday
UPDATE 25 MAR 2012 : Chased up and was told that the letter had not been sent yet and that they would let me know as soon as it had been.
UPDATE 26 JUN 2012 : Chased up to see if letter had been sent.
UPDATE 10 SEP 2012 : Chased up again and was told that the person would chase this.
UPDATE 27 NOV 2012 : Received an email saying that this masjid had contacted their local MP and has received a response.

You can find out who your MP is, and how to get to their website, by visiting or the, much mor informative site

And you can make your feelings felt at the foreign office by using the "ministerial feedback form"

Further information can be found at the following links :
Q&A: Palestinian statehood bid at the UN (BBC)
US tries to stall Palestinian statehood bid: report (Reuters)
Palestinian Statehood bid ‘papers ready’ (Al Jazeera English)
Tony Blair to meet Palestinian and Israeli leaders in peace push (The Guardian)
U.S. Is Appealing to Palestinians to Stall U.N. Vote (New York Times)
Israel's diplomatic drive to block Palestinian UN bid (The Independent)

The campaigning organisation AVAAZ are supporting this issue, and have sent out an email with a bunch of very relevant and useful links, which are shown below:
Abbas vows to continue UN statehood bid
Arab League will call for Palestinian State at the UN
Palestinians and Israelis march for Palestinian statehood.
Israel campaign against UN vote
Palestinian call for statehood.
Palestinian statehood and bypassing Israel.
UN says Palestinians able to govern own state
List of countries recognizing the state of Palestine

Although, not mentioned earlier, BFTF also asked a third Masjid (let's call them Masjid C) to participate in this activity. A friend gave Masjid C a suggested letter but BFTF does not know whether the Masjid did anything or not. The same friend has kindly agreed to chase them up and ask what happened.

Now, whilst negotiations are all well and good, the likelihood of them being successfully are dramatically lowered when negotiators the more powerful party take the approach that "Negotiations are good, results are bad", as a senior Israeli negotiator said to Jonathan Freedland in a 2008 article in the Guardian.

Lastly, it is heartening to see that some MP's do speak out in support of achieving a real peace (as opposed to pretending to move towards peace), check out this speech by former Labour MP Martin Linton (see here)

If you are interested in getting a masjid to participate in this action, it might be worth mentioning to the masjid why this is important:
a) Show the Muslim community that lobbying the government and other organisations is part of being a British Muslim - and demonstrating this by example.
b) Showing the Muslim community HOW to lobby, and thus nudging them towards undertaking their own lobbying
c) Showing the Muslim community how their elected MP's do (or do not respond) to issues that are of importance to the Muslim community. They can then ask the relevant MP's some appropriately difficult questions come election time.
d) Perhaps most importantly, it will give the young adults in the community a practical direction to direct their energies. It is, in my opinion, really dangerous to tell our youth that Palestine is a very important issue and then NOT GIVE THEM ANY PRACTICAL WAY OF MAKING A DIFFERENCE.

UPDATE 29 NOV 2012: Vote held today, with a resounding yes to Palestinian Statehoood. This is covered more fully here.

Friday, 9 September 2011

The Red Spot by Number Three Son

In an effort to encourage Number Three Son (who is currently in Year 4) to improve his English Skills, BFTF told him that if he wrote a few sentences on a topic of his choice it could go on this blog. As a bit of a space buff, he decided to write about the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. Here is what he had to say. . .

"The Great Red Spot is very big and you could fit three Earths in it. There is gas in the Red Spot it reacts with sunlight and turns to phosphorous. The Red Spot has lasted three hundred years. If you want to take a photo of the Red Spot use a spacecraft because you will be closer."

I know, it's naked nepotism. So sue me.

Number Three Son got his information from this book

And you can find some spiffing images of Jupiter here and, in more detail, here at NASA.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Drug Delivery, targeted therapeutics and the future of medicine

BFTF went to a fascinating public lecture at the University of Nottingham today. Part of the “New Science Sessions” series, the talk was titled “Drug Delivery, targeted therapeutics and the future of medicine” and presented by two PhD students - Eleanor Grimes and Jennie Lord.

Slightly scary title, it has to be said, but the inclusion of “and the future of medicine” certainly gives them a lot of scope. It’s a bit like a politician giving a talk called “Housing Benefit, targeted welfare and what might happen in Europe over the next hundred years”.

But anyway.

Jennie Lord began the presentation and explained that there are many ways that drugs can be administered (injection, absorption through the skin, orally etc) and that, of these, oral administration is preferred for its obvious attractions of ease, convenience and relatively low cost. A show of hands in the audience indicated that there were far fewer people who would be happy about taking a weekly injection than there were people who would be happy with a weekly tablet.

The example of Ibuprofen was given. This is a drug that blocks hormones that cause pain, welling and inflammation. When given via a tablet, it takes approximately two hours before the peak effect is achieved. Now, the pain relief would come a lot sooner if Ibuprofen were given via injection, but that would be more expensive, more painful (oh, the irony) and would probably require a trip to the doctors.

Having said that, oral administration of medicine does have its problems, particularly in relation to the potential attack by acidic gastric juices and enzymes.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was using some kind of material from nature, that we know is very safe, to deliver drugs. Touchingly, Jennie wondered “Can I help the lives of people out there?”

The talk went on to describe the fascinating structure of the outer cell membranes and how they are built with molecules that have one end that is attracted to water and one end that is repelled by water. These align themselves to form a membrane that is two molecules thick, with the water repelling parts of the molecules buried within the wall (see here for nice description). Critically, the cell wall has a number of proteins embedded in its surface. They perform a number of functions, including allowing some molecules to enter the cell.

Jennie went on to describe the “nano-particles” that her research was looking at. These particles are so tiny that, if scaled up to the size of a football, a football would be the size of the earth! Jennie hopes to be able to use these nanoparticles to encase drugs that would not ordinarily be able to survive a trip into the digestive system and allow them to be absorbed by the transporter molecules into the cells and thence into the bloodstream.

A beautiful microscope image was shown of a cell wrapping itself around a nanoparticle, much like ivy wrapping around rock to envelope the particle.

Incidentally, there is a whole area of “Nano Medicine” (see here) and also journals devoted to this topic (e.g. see here)

At this point the reins passed to Eleanor who described the research she was involved in that was looking at targeted therapeutics and also ways of imaging cancerous areas of the body.

When tumours grow rapidly, their blood supply sometimes can’t keep up. This results in the centre of the tumour being starved of oxygen, a state known as hypoxia. Unfortunately, a lack of oxygen significantly degrades the effectiveness of the two main cancer therapies (chemotherapy and radiotherapy).

Work that Eleanor is involved with has resulted in a drug that specifically targets these regions of “hypoxia”

In addition, her research has looked at a technique to finding these areas of hypoxia in the body by MRI (which is relatively common) as opposed to the current technique, PET (which is only available in Manchester and London). Whilst the details of her research remain under wraps until publication of her thesis, it is known that Glucose tagged with radioactive Fluorine18 is taken up by cells but (becaues of the Fluorine) cannot be metabloised and remains trapped in the cell. As cancerous areas take up a lot of glucose, they also take up a lot of the radioactive Fluorine18. Cancerous cells (due to their high rate of cell division) are vulnerable to radiation and are killed by the positron particle released when the radioactive Fluorine decays. You can read more about some work performed on this technique back in 2003 here

Eleanor mentioned, as an aside, that an element called Gadolinium is used as a contrast dye to show up blood vessels during MRI scanning (they are otherwise difficult to see by this technique). BFTF, having never heard of Gadolinium before, was convinced that this was a wind up and wondered whether the presenters would try and push their luck by suggesting that the element lay between Gandalfinium and Obiwonkenobium in the Periodic Table.

Upon checking the Internet later, however, it seems that Gandolium is a pukka material (see here) - which just goes to show.

Other than the usual thanks to the lecturers, only one action resulting from this lecture, and that was to suggest to a local masjid (mosque) that, if they are wish to encourage people to take an interest in the fields of science and technology they may wish to recommend that their congregations attend the odd public lecture or two and that this was another area where the Muslim community could find common cause with the wider society