Where Would We Be Without Willis?

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As we deal with another day of sweltering heat in the Midwest, let’s all acknowledge the huge debt we owe to Willis Carrier — the guy who invented air conditioning.  Where would we be without Willis and his life-changing invention?

Interestingly, Willis Carrier did not invent air conditioning to increase human comfort on scorching summer days.  Instead, he came up with his invention, in 1902, to try to deal with the problems heat and humidity were causing for a Brooklyn printing business.  It was so hot and humid during the summer months in the printing plant that the ink would not adhere to the paper, so Willis came up with the idea of moving air over cooled coils to lower the temperature and the humidity so the printers could function.  The decreased temperature in the no-doubt sweltering area near the printing presses was just a pleasant by-product of the invention.

Willis’ invention caught on and air conditioning was implemented in many businesses, but it would be decades before air conditioning became common in American homes.   The first two houses I remember living in didn’t have central air conditioning.  But now, 117 years after Willis Carrier was touched by a stroke of genius, central air conditioning is commonplace, and it’s really hard to imagine life without it.

Thank you, Willis Carrier!

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Dog Days Afternoon

Russell ‘s dog Betty is visiting for a few days. I took her for a walk this morning, and since then she hasn’t been straining at the leash to go outside into the dog days of summer. Staying inside on the cool floor with a bone is the preferred alternative.

Imagine being outside with a fur coat in this weather! Betty is one smart pooch.

Beat The Heat?

The Columbus area is bracing for absurd heat today.  The temperature is supposed to reach the mid-90s, and the “heat index” (which is kind of the opposite of the wind chill factor, and looks at temperature and dew point, to assess overall mugginess) is supposed to hit 105 degrees.  That’s hot enough that the National Weather Service has issued an extreme heat advisory, and some businesses, like my nephew’s pizza kitchen, are adjusting their schedules and practices to try to avoid exposing workers to dangerous heat levels.

1280x720_50116b00-xayzgIn short, we’ll be reaching the thermometer point at which, traditionally, your air conditioning goes on the fritz.

Is there a way to beat the heat in the beachless Midwest?  Not really.  The National Weather Service heat advisory recommends wearing lightweight and loose fitting clothing (no duh!), drinking plenty of water, spending more time in air conditioned or well-ventilated places, and avoiding doing much outside except in the early morning or late evening.  So you can stay inside, drinking cool beverages, crank up their air conditioning, and watch movies — but that’s really just avoiding the heat, not beating it.

Or you can follow the post-enlightenment advice of the Bill Murray character in Groundhog Day and go outside and embrace the heat.  Recognize that summers in the Midwest are often crushingly hot and that’s just part of the deal.  Walk around in air so scalding and moist that it feels like steam.  Note that the squirrels and birds aren’t exactly doing industrious things.  And sweat until even that lightweight and loose clothing that the National Weather Service recommended is soaked through, weighs a ton, and is clinging ferociously to every damp, broiling inch of your skin.

And then, when you realize that you are behaving like an idiot, come back inside, drink a cold glass of water, and hope for all that’s holy that your air conditioning doesn’t go on the fritz like it did last summer.

When The Fog Rolls In

We’re fog-bound this morning. The thick fog crept in like a living thing, blanketing the harbor, oozing up the hillside, and invading every nook and cranny to the point where even our neighbor’s house was rendered distant and indistinct through the foggy wisps.

I like the fog because it’s a tangible reminder that we’re in a seaside community. I also like the cool spritz on the skin that the fog brings. But I can understand why the lobstermen hate it. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be out on the water with this grey haze shrouding the normal landmarks, without knowing what rocky outcropping or boat might be lurking nearby. It’s one reason why lobstering is a dangerous, tough business.

Backyard Morning

It’s a beautiful morning in Columbus — crisp and clear, with powder blue skies and a few cotton candy wisps of clouds far above.

Our house faces due east, so in the morning the backyard is a place of deep shadow, save for a shaft of sunlight from the space between our house and the neighboring house to the north. The cool, shaded air feels good against the skin and is a perfect complement to the hot coffee. The birds are singing and the leaves of the trees are gently swaying in a mild breeze.

Sometimes the time, and the place, are perfectly matched, and when that happens you need to take full advantage of the happy confluence. This morning is made for the backyard.

High Water In A Shallow Lake

Lake Erie is the shallowest of the five Great Lakes.  This spring, however, the constant rains have raised the level of the Lake by almost three feet.  In some places, like Sandusky, the water levels are the highest that have ever been recorded.

nqgkc7isfve23fnjclhlsjjowmThe high water levels are doing some real damage, too.  Some docks and parts of shorelines have become submerged, and increased erosion caused by the high waters is eating away the Lake Erie coastline.  From the North Coast communities of Mentor to Vermilion to Sandusky, officials are dealing with the impact of high water taking down trees, rendering docks inaccessible, and leaving low-lying areas underwater, and homeowners along the lake also are dealing with flooding issues.   The water levels in Sandusky are so high that the normal outfalls from Sandusky Bay to Lake Erie have been reversed, and water from the lake is now raising the water levels in the bay — causing officials to take drastic actions to try to pump the excess water out.  And the impact of the rain and high water has been compounded by a persistent wind from the north that is pushing the Lake Erie waters against the Ohio coast of the lake, increasing the damage.

The conditions pose special peril for boaters, in ways you might not expect.  The high waters will affect bridge clearances over lagoons and access rivers and is submerging some break walls that would otherwise be visible.  And, with increased erosion and trees collapsing into the lake, there is increased risk of debris messing with motors and propellers — all of which means that boaters had better watch it when they are close to shore.  And any experienced Lake Erie boater will tell you that the lake is legendary for its sudden storms that can appear in the blink of an eye, whip the water into a frenzy, and, in some instances, put boaters at risk of losing their boat — and their life.  The high waters won’t help in that category, either.

One lesson that you learn from reading about the impact of high water levels — there’s not much human beings can do about it, short term.  What the communities around Lake Erie need right now is a break in the constant rains and a period of sunshine and warm temperatures to allow evaporation to play its intended role and reduce lake levels back to normal.  In short, we need Mother Nature to show us a little mercy.