March 2011


I’ve highlighted before (part 1, part 2, and part 3) how the writer* of Job clearly had a keen eye for the workings of the natural world.  Here is another marvelous example  this time from the realm of meteorology.

Why, exalted is God, and we know not,                                                                                        the number of His years is unfathomed.

For He draws down drops of water,                                                                                               they are distilled in the rain of His wetness,                  as the skies drip moisture,                                                                                                                 shower on abounding humankind.

Can one grasp the spread of cloud,                                                                                               the roars from His pavilion?

Why, He spreads over it His lightning,                                                                                       and the roots of the sea it covers.

For with them He exacts justice from peoples,                                                                          gives food in great abundance.

Lightning covers His palms,                                                                                                           and He commands it to hit the mark.

His roaring tells about Him,                                                                                                           His zealous wrath over evil acts.

(Job 36:26-33, translation by Robert Alter)

This theme of God’s command of weather phenomena does not end here but continues into the next chapter – you can read on here (incidentally the NET Bible linked here is a fairly recent discovery for me – great translation and very upfront and open with its translating notes for each verse, a great resource).  I like the way this passage shows both how God uses His power over the natural world for judgement, but also for sustaining life.

* I say writer, but it is considered likely by scholars that the speech of Elihu  (chapters 32-37) is a work of another poet.  Reading through the book this indeed seems plausible, Elihu’s entrance is a surprise, there being no previous mention of this character, and there is a disjoint in the arguments and language used by Elihu compared with the rest of the book.

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The Moka pot with its iconic design has become a symbol of 21st century style, even displayed in the Science museum, London.

I dusted mine off yesterday for some experimentation.  Moka pots are not supposed to be cleaned, i.e. don’t put them in the dishwater, as they are supposed to stay “seasoned”; however, mine looked quite scutty so after reading some advice (here and here) I tried to clean it up using vinegar and bicarbonate soda.

Now with a cleaner pot, I got to the coffee making:

Step 1: Add freshly boiled water to the lower section.  Using already heated water, rather than cold water, makes the process faster.

Step 2: Fill the filter with finely ground coffee and level.  You are looking for a finer grind than that which is used for drip and press coffee but not too fine – really fine espresso grounds lead to over extraction; and no need to compact coffee in filter.

Step 3: Screw on the top and place pot on the element over a low/moderate heat.  Using a lower heat allows for a steam head to build up without scorching the coffee grinds.

Step 4: Leave the lid up and you can see the coffee come out through the pipe, remove from heat at or before you hear the gargling noise and pour into cup immediately.

Here’s a video I found helpful.

Following the Fukushima nuclear incident in the aftermath of massive earthquake and tsunami the debate has re-open regarding nuclear power generation.  This incident is garnering 24-hour news coverage, which is remarkable considering at least 10,000 people have just died as a result of the earthquake and tsunami whereas, at the time of writing, no-one has died from the nuclear incident itself.

My own view is that nuclear fission is a tried and tested technology for power generation without carbon emissions.  In light of humanities need to drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions this must be used instead of fossil fuel power plants particularly coal burning ones.

I also support the development and deployment of renewable energy generation (solar, wind, geothermal, etc) and this should be utilized wherever possible, for example, as hydro-electric generation is in British Columbia and geothermal energy is in Iceland.

The biggest danger, in my view, of widespread civil nuclear power generation would be the wider availability of enriched uranium and the increased potential of a rouge state to develop (and therefore potentially use) nuclear weapons.  Therefore, strict controls and monitoring by the worldwide community is essential.

Here are some recent thoughts of columnists who I largely agree with on the issue:

Mark Lynas for the New Statesman

George Monbiot for the Guardian (newer article here)

Julian Glover for the Guardian

Charles Ferguson for Nature

I caught two things in the media today that are germane to topics discussed in this blog so I shall share them:

Firstly, a short debate, between an Oxford chemistry Professor Peter Atkins and philosopher Mary Midgley.  Peter Atkins who has released a new book (On Being: A Scientist’s Exploration of the Great Questions of Existence), In my opinion, makes the most ridiculous claims, such as “Every real question, like, where did the universe come from, where is it going, and how is it getting there – there is nothing of that nature that science cannot illuminate,”.  Mary Midgley rightly questions such imperialistic attitudes as unintelligible.  Catch the audio recording and BBC news article from this link.

Secondly, an opinion piece from The Times Higher Education with a Scientist claiming true fulfilment is achievable only through the humanities.  Here’s an interesting quote:

“If Einstein had not written down E=mc2, another scientist would one day have done so, he claimed, but no one else could have written Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.”

Read the short article in full here.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day – Enjoy your Guinness.

Stout is my favourite type of beer.  One of the things that are fascinating about stouts, such as Guinness, are the bubbles.  Firstly, beers are carbonated by carbon dioxide, but stouts use a mixture of nitrogen and carbon dioxide – this makes a creamier as well as less acidic taste and for a longer lasting foam head.  Another thing is that the bubbles sink.  Here’s the science and mathematics of sinking bubbles in Guinness, with the academic paper here.

On tap the bubbles are created by forcing the beer at high pressure through tiny holes as it is dispensed, the turbulence does the rest.  This method obviously doesn’t work for canned beer and this is where the widget comes in.  Apparently recent research suggests that bubbles in stout can be nucleated without the widget by potentially coating part of the can’s interior with cellulose fibres.  Here’s the link to the research, with the submitted academic paper here.

Today I finished reading Owen Gingerich’s short book God’s Universe.  The book is laced with many wonderful historical anecdotes, one of which is this lovely prayer composed by Johannes Kepler as he ends his Harmonice mundi (The Harmony of the World) of 1619:

“If I have been enticed into brashness by the wonderful beauty of thy works, or if I have loved my own glory among men, while advancing in work destined for thy glory, gently and mercifully pardon me: and finally, deign graciously to cause that these demonstrations may lead to thy glory and to the salvation of souls, and nowhere be an obstacle to that.  Amen”

So it has now been one year since my first blog post.  I mostly started as a motivator to look into certain topics, as a way to improve and practice my writing, to explore and engage in the world of blogging, to document my thoughts, and as a reference archive.

Reflections: My aim was to write at the interface of Environmental Science and Bible, I think I have not done too badly at this although I think the tendency is perhaps toward Ecology/Nature and the Bible.  I have also significantly branched out from this theme, including, for example, a blog series on coffee brewing methods.

Time demands: I’ve tried to keep a fairly steady flow of posts (~weekly); however, it is quite difficult sometimes to find the time.  Even though the posts are quick thoughts, it can still take a little while to find links, pictures, references etc.  I always have ambition to look into a topic in more detail and do further research, but this never really happens.  I would like to give more opinion where I can, rather than just relay information.

My favourite post: I think my favourite has to be the honey and Bible posts.  This achieved the blogs aim in highlighting a new piece of scientific research (the discovery of ancient beehives) that led to advances in Biblical interpretation.

Future plans: I would like to continue much as I am, blogging will likely take a lull with the imminent arrival of our second child.  I still haven’t got around to posting much layperson introductions to my own research.

Housekeeping: I will now post photos and family stuff on a separate microblogging site (Pimentel Pics).  I have a new header (Reading) that will keep a record of all the books I’ve read since beginning of year 2011.  I have also updated/improved the About Me section and included a blogroll  (links) in the sidebar under various categories.

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