23 Apr 2012

Making Revision 'Fun' Part 1: Geography and the Drought

Okay, I've been debating whether or not to use my blog as a place to post stuff related to my GCSEs (provided I find it remotely interesting), and this Guardian article tipped me over the edge into "sure why not". Note that, since this is a revision post, the bolding is mostly for my benefit, and (aside from highlighting the note at the end) is just the keywords.

As you might have guessed by the URL at the very least, it's about how the recent bout of heavy rain and why, although it is capable of causing flash floods in some areas of the country, it isn't magically going to undo the drought we've been in for nearly 2 years now. I've decided to dedicate this post, then, to writing about the stuff I need to know about rain for my Geography course. Any misleadingness in this is all my fault though (this doesn't need saying, but I'm a GCSE student, not a meteorologist.).

First of all, theres 3 main 'types' of rain formation: convectional, relief and frontal (or, to use their Wikipedia Names, convection, orographic and stratiform).

Relief/orographic rainfall generally occurs on the side of mountains opposite to the prevailing wind (making a lot of the drought/ hit areas in the 'rain shadow' (where there's less rainfall)) and is relatively constant compared with the other types. Obviously, this is probable where there's mountains.

Convectional is the stuff which causes thunderstorms: when there's enough of a difference in temperature witha moist/unstable atmosphere for a whole ton of water to evaporate (well, several tons of water, in all likelyhood), form clouds, and fall to the ground as rain hard and fast (all that energy has to go somewhere, and warmer air can 'hold' more water). The Wikipedia's description is more accurate that the GCSE stuff obviously - for it we're mainly shown the model of it happening in tropical rainforests, but judging by the presence of hail in some of the rain we've had over here, it looks like we're getting a bit of convectional rainfall at least (won't go as far as to say how much or anything like that; not a meteorologist (I can't even spell "meteorologist" without the help of a spell checker)).

Finally, frontal/stratiform rainfall is the stuff we associate with the black lines that occassionally appear on the weather map - weather fronts - you can probably see an example here. There's an entire page on the Wikipedia dedicated to them, if you're interested. The lines with the blue triangles on are the cold fronts, the red semicircles the warm fronts and where there's a mix of both occluded fronts, or possibly stationary fronts according to the Wikipedia (a purple mix being an occluded front, although I'm fairly certain the BBC uses the first notation I mentioned).  Behind the cold front it's colder, behind the warm front it's warmer ("warm sector"), and the occluded front depends on whether it's caused by the warm overtaking the cold, or vice versa. The fronts themselves cause rain as the difference in temperature means the less dense (but possibly a bit damp) warmer air rises, the water vapour contained within condenses into clouds, and then there's rain. I'll be willing to bet there's a bit of frontal rainfall in the mix.

Types of rain and wanton weather speculation aside, the main issue is that the ground water stocks are being depleted and river levels will remain low once the run-off runs out. This is in part caused by urbanisation, but it's aggravated by the fact that the ground was dry from the drought (making it less absorbent). The reason that we can be in drought and have flood warnings is that there's a ton of run-off which results from this (plus the fact that the rain was pretty heavy and antecedent; it was falling where the ground was saturated, so it could only run-off into the rivers).

These issues are in part due to stuff in the water cycle. The idea is, water hits the ground (some being intercepted by trees), some runs off, but some infiltrates the soil. Eventually, the soil becomes saturated, and (if the rock below it is permeable (let's say limestone for now)) some of the water percolates through the rock, replenishing the groundwater flow and raising the water table (which is low ATM due to the lack of rain). At the same time, some may run through the soil (a process which I swear is slightly different to groundwater flow, but which I can't find the name for).

In addition to this, plants do 'suck up' (for want of a less inaccurate word) water and release it out/transpirate it (for evaporation) which also obviously reduces the amount of water in the soil but reduces surface run off (trees also help to stop the soil washing away and 'intercept' the water, making it reach the ground less quickly).

This does mean that, aside from the obvious issue of climate change, human action has had another (but obviously not total) hand in this present situation: urban areas (which pretty much have to be in a river's catchment area, and there's now also the issue of building in the flood plain) are paved, and necessitate the cutting down of trees. Deforestation obviously stops trees from doing the tree things (/Buffy speak) mentioned before, but the paving of areas in a drainage basin presents a two-fold problem aside from this: water can't intercept waterproof concrete, so it runs off into rivers at a faster rate, which helps to cause flooding (in combination with unusual amounts of rainfall within the drainage basin). In addition to this, it's impossible for water to percolate down and replenish the groundwater stocks. I'm guessing the main reason why this is only becoming a mega problem now is that groundwater flow is slow, it can take weeks, months, years (millenia in some cases) for it to reach the river, so whilst this means a steadier supply of water, the effects might only have become an issue more recently than the start of the drought.

Note on the definition of "drought": There are about a number of different definitions used to define drought in the UK, even just sticking with meteorological droughts. The first, within the shortest term and the one I was taught, is at least 15 consecutive days with less than 0.2mm of rain (in total), whereas longer term definitions are 3 months with a "50% deficit" in rainfall or 2 years with a 15% shortfall.[1] This drought is in one of the latter categories, probably (due to the reference in the Graun article to the rainfall over next winter determining if we stay in drought) the last one.

There's also hydrological drought and agricultural drought.

[1] Phillip Eden: Water Shortage Coming?-Weather UK (2007, link retrieved April 2012).

14 Apr 2012

Paul Littlepole and the painfully obvious political analogy

So, Pottermore launched today (14/04/2012). In order to celebrate I've decided to, er, write a (probably crappy) fanfic. Okay then...

Paul Littlepole, star of the writing staff of The Daily Prophet, slid into his chair with a sigh. Things were, he mused, different than they were. He didn't, as he would loudly state at every opportunity, want a return to the bad old days when He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named reigned, but he also didn't like the blood-equality legislation that was at present being passed through by a recently appointed high-up in the Department for Magical Law Enforcement - Hermione Granger. This was, of course, on top of her earlier work in the Department of Magical  that left him forever in fear that his House Elf, Flippy, would demand pay. He could afford it, being the top-paid collumnist in Wizarding Britain, but a part of him resented the implication that the species were destined to be anything other than slaves to wizards (although obviously not in those words).

He had no doubt why Granger would act that way - it was almost certain that, as a mudblo-muggle born witch, she would want to force Muggle values on Wizarding Britain. He wasn't a blood-supremacist (or at least that's what he told himself), but it was plain to him that, although they had powers, muggle-born wizards weren't really wizards. Not for at least a couple of generations of wizarding children.

The same would go even if the Statute of Secrecy were to be abolished, something distinctly unlikely anyway - even if, going off reports from Muggle newspapers (which Littlepole would glimpse on his rare excursions into the Muggle world) of something called "Elf n safety", Muggles had discovered House Elves (something which also confirmed his suspicions concerning Granger's motives).

This train of thought led him straight to the topic of today's article. Those same excursions had introduced him to the Muggle concept of 'Political Correctness', and he was determined to expose it, and the influence it wielded over certain ministers, to his wizarding compatriots.

Carefully setting his (enchanted, of course, to prevent hand cramps) quill to the paper, Paul Littlepole begain to write furiously.

"Political correctness: an A-Z guide to the Muggle fad that's ruining wizarding Britain..."

Obvious disclaimer: I don't own the Harry Potter series, universe or any of the characters here except arguably Paul Littlepole. The stuff about Hermione's future is based off stuff Rowling has said, which will be linked to as soon as Accio Quote gets back up (at the minute it's also on the Harry Potter Wiki).

13 Apr 2012

Why I'm deleting my Facebook account (Soon)

UPDATE: Facebook has released a statement on why it supports CISPA. I still disagree with its support, and I'm still probably going to go ahead with this.

Facebook supports CISPA. In conjunction with the title of this post, it could probably be my shortest one yet, but I suppose I should explain why it's bad.

CISPA, or the Cyber-Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, to give it its full name, is the latest in a long line of acts - such as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (PROTECT IP, also known as PIPA) - which, if passed, will basically screw over internet users in the US and, due to the US-centric nature of a lot of websites, internationally as well. The sponsor claims that it's nothing like SOPA, but there are definite parallels, and it doesn't change the fact that CISPA is bad news for a second.

Whilst that link goes in to more detail, in short, CISPA is bad because it's so vaguely worded it can cause exactly the same stuff that SOPA could have, and enables greater corporate complicity in handing over our information, should they choose. This circumvents other protections, from what I can gather.

This is, of course, in addition to all the privacy dodginess Facebook has already.

To this end, I've set up a page on, er, Facebook for a 'delete your account day' in protest (not sure on the date though: any ideas? (I'm thinking maybe the 28th or just over a fortnight from now)). I've also created a blogspot for this (mainly so there was a website for the facebook page which wasn't totally self-promoting).

See also:
Techdirt: CISPA Is A Really Bad Bill, And Here's Why
CNET News: Say 'hello' to CISPA, it will remind you of SOPA
Digital trends: CISPA supporters list: 800+ companies that could help Uncle Sam snag your data
And, for some semblance of balance:
It's imperfect, but CISPA isn't the devil in disguise.

This was written before CISPA, but it still has a few interesting points re: reasons to delete your Facebook account:
Mandrake's Blog: Eleven Reasons Why I Want To Quit Facebook (And One Reason Why I Can't)

You'll notice the link to my anti-CISPA blog isn't stopcispa.blogspot.com. That's because there's already one.

There's also, of course, an Avaaz petition.

EDIT: put the wrong ending on the other stop CISPA blogspot, now fixed. 

11 Apr 2012

Political Broadcasts in 'spin' shocker!

On the off chance you were watching ITV news yesterday (10.04.2012), you probably saw this Conservative Election Broadcast (rage warning; it's a Conservative election broadcast), which is the first of two I've decided to look at today because I'm a total masochist. Apparently, ALL the Labour councils are trying to get a ton of money, whereas no Tory council would ever do that. It's an election broadcast, so of course they're going to lie. And if Labour aren't crap in comparison to the Tories, then its because the Tories are truly exceptionally crap - and even then Labour suck. However I'm already narked at my own (Tory) council for probably cutting my school transport subsidy*. And they're also cutting the hours elderly and disabled people will be able to use their bus passes as well.

And, since Pickles and Cameron express such ire for council barons, I'd like to introduce you to David Parsons, the Tory leader of Leicestershire County Council who's spent £210,000 on the council car since April 2006, or, rounding it to 6 years, roughly £35,000 per year. His office in general cost more than £1 million in the past 5 years. Or £200,000 per year on average (peaking at £384,000). Admittedly, some of that is hiring people, but it's still ungood to say the least. His salary, admittedly, at 'only' £56,000 isn't obscene, but it's also thought he might have hired a personal PR guy back in 2010, you know, when they were deciding the cuts.  There's probably a reason he's facing a vote of no confidence.

That aside, the Telegraph has found that Chief Executive pay was functionally rising as of August 2011, despite the video claiming the exact inverse to be the case. In fact, the top paid chief executive is head of Essex and Brentwood councils, on £260,000 a year. They're both, to my knowledge, Conservative. In fact, Brentwood is none other than Eric Pickle's own constituency! Things are slightly better than the worst of 2007/8, but Pickles' claims are still laughable.  Especially considering that, her aside, the top five has a lot of Tory council Chief Execs. Hammersmith and Fulham Borough Council? Conservative. Buckinghamshire County Council? Conservative. Norfolk County Council? Probably Conservative.  Surrey Country Council? Guess what? Actually every single one of the top 5 council executives in terms of pay work for Tory councils, as did the chief executive of Kent county council (excepted from the Telegraph's top 5 due to special circumstances (explained in a note there)). So yeah. Unless there was a revision (which there could have been), the Tories are massive hypocrites.Which actually isn't a shock, come to think of it.

In addition to this stuff, the £186,877 Camden spent on 7 Trade Union activists? £186,877/7= roughly £26,700 per person, or roughly £500 above average salary in 2011 (Telegraph link). And just over 1/10th of the aforementioned head of Essex and Brentwood councils's pay.

Of course, egregious spin is a feature of Party Election broadcasts. Case in point, this post's other sporkee: last month's (March 2012's) "Delivering on our promises".  I'm not going into depth, but after 20 seconds of wooly stuff about what they've done, there's this real gem from Cameron: "the most important part of accountability is politicians being judged on whether they keep their promises". A few seconds later there's a shot of him signing a pledge to stop Labour's 'tax on jobs' (a boost in National Insurance). Which is of course, precisely what the Tories did. Or not (scroll down to the bottom). I could use now to pick on Nick Clegg, but it's just too easy an opportunity to do more than this.  The rest is just Cameron boasting about how he's going to force his values onto us, wrecking people's lives with the benefits cap, repeating Mail-rhetoric on immigration, and lying about the NHS. It's probably fairly standard fare.

There's this glurge as well, but that's enough for today and it's not as recent. Althought here is some definite irony in them declaring that Labour ruled during peak youth unemployment.

Of course, like I said before, if Labour doesn't look crap in comparison, it's because the Tories are ridiculously bad. The main reasons why my examples are all Tory is because it's their broadcasts I'm focussing on. And they did preside over the start of the recession, although I doubt they inherently caused it (like the broadcasts imply) and the post-war Labour government was in surplus from 1948-51 (contrary to Tory claims that every Labour government hasn't done that, it was also when the NHS was first set up, funnily enough). Plus, they're utterly ineffective as opposition. And we all know about the Lib Dems.

It's a good thing I can't vote, cause I'd have to pick revolution (which comes under 'spoiling the ballot', but whatever)**.

* Full disclosure: I'll be in 16+ if/when it comes into effect, and, whilst not having access to the school bus is merely inconvenient for me (I'm a twin, there's no way my family can afford £980 (£490 each)), I can't imagine it'd do much good for others' prospects at attending 16+.

**Well, maybe the Greens. I have little faith in the electoral process as it is though.