Tag: Thermodynamics

Quote of the Day: Father Brown on Skepticism


‘It’s what I call common sense, properly understood,’ replied Father Brown. ’It really is more natural to believe a preternatural story, that deals with things we don’t understand, than a natural story that contradicts things we do understand. Tell me that the great Mr Gladstone, in his last hours, was haunted by the ghost of Parnell, and I will be agnostic about it. But tell me that Mr Gladstone, when first presented to Queen Victoria, wore his hat in her drawing-room and slapped her on the back and offered her a cigar, and I am not agnostic at all. That is not impossible; it’s only incredible. But I’m much more certain it didn’t happen than that Parnell’s ghost didn’t appear; because it violates the laws of the world I do understand.

Much as I enjoy reading G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries, perhaps they’re best taken one at a time. There’s a certain uniformity to them, and I don’t just mean that the murderer never turns out to be Catholic. There are always sound, practical, men of the world who are deceived by some sort of supernatural occurrence, and Father Brown solves the mystery by disbelieving in old curses or modern magicians. While allowing for the vagaries of fiction there are things well worth learning in those stories.

Member Post


Ah, nothing quite like a good Scotch whisky on the rocks… wait, I mean the other kind of Dewar’s flask. A Dewar, short for Dewar flask, is the laboratory-grade big brother of an old vacuum flask or Thermos. (James Dewar fought a long battle with the founder of the Thermos company over patent rights. He […]

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Group Writing: Supervillainry


Cold, when all is said and done, makes a disappointing superweapon.

I mean, the comic book movies are pretty convincing. The hot superhero shoots a lava jet at the cold supervillain, whose ice ray (not to be confused with a freeze ray) sets out an opposite jet, they meet in the middle and cancel each other out in a brilliant contest of CGI. You get Frozone making walls of ice out of thin air. Or you get the Terminator, freezing in liquid nitrogen and shattering like the hopes of a Hillary voter on election night.

M-3: Calm Before The Storm


Today was a day for introductions & preparation. Tomorrow and Saturday will be incredibly busy.

Introductions are in order, but not all the faces are new. Overall command and expertise lies with the Steel Rose, our fearless leader and lead florist. She has decades of experience to draw on. The number one rule around here is do what she says. Silence handles IT and communications with the various wire services like 1-800-FLOWERS, BloomNet, and FTD. Each uses a separate system and has random eccentricities, like repeatedly sending orders we cannot complete, sending orders with obscenely low prices where we can’t make a profit, and general errors / omissions. It requires an expert geek, and Silence is certainly qualified, having delivered flowers and managed the wire services for decades. Besides, it is appropriate that a military history major manages our logistics. Honeybee is our dedicated assistant florist; she has several years of experience and is very helpful.

Quote of the Day: TANSTAAFL


“There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch” — Robert Heinlein

I recall the first time I was exposed to this expression was during the science fiction binge reading period of my late teens. It was from reading a novel by Robert Heinlein, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. Mr. Heinlein was a Naval Academy graduate, and after experiencing health issues left the Navy and did some additional graduate work in physics, which I am sure in hindsight influenced his notion that the universe gives nothing for free, and wound it into his opines on the nature of men, and well … nature.

Why do I think exposure to college-level physics engenders a viewpoint of a curmudgeonly universe? Because after three semesters of physics, and then later grinding through, in greater computational depth, three more semesters of thermodynamics, it becomes clear that TANSTAAFL is in fact built into the operating system of the universe. Every exchange of one form of energy to another comes with a price. Every exchange of matter to energy, or energy back to matter (truly an exorbitant exchange) comes with a cost. This theory is enshrined in Laws of Thermodynamics and here are the rules as approximately coined by my introductory Physics class professor, who was riffing off Ginsberg’s parody theorem, which helps you get your mind around the “big picture.”

Learning the Basics and Things that Matter


shutterstock_209972047To the sadness of all, anonymous has decided to end his amazing Saturday Night Science series (though he’s still writing for Ricochet on similar topics). Out of a sense of both depression and a desire to turn that feeling into something constructive I have decided to write a primer on something which I have found to be important in my life. I want to start out with describing a small toolbox of ideas that is taught to engineers and scientists as a means of looking at the world.

Of course, there is a lot of confusion about what it is that engineers do. The truth of the matter is that there isn’t just one thing that engineers do; our professional lives are so varied and specialized that the term “Engineer” even with modifiers such as “Chemical,” “Civil,” “Mechanical,” or “Electrical” cannot capture the breadth of depth of what people do in the various disciplines. However, there are typically a few core courses which bind all of the branches of engineering together at the root of their undergraduate training. One of the most important courses which all well-trained engineers take is Thermodynamics.

Thermo gets a bad rap from the outside world. Its very name is scary, foreign, and oftentimes associated with the incomprehensible. So what is thermodynamics if it isn’t a totally baffling subject best left to boffins?