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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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.

Flower Pot Fail

It’s been beastly hot in Columbus over the past few weeks, with temperatures in the 90s and very little rain.  You might aptly describe the weather as broiling — but that’s July in Ohio for you.

We’ve been gone for a few days during this torrid period.  That’s been good for us, because we were enjoying much cooler weather, but for the plants in our front flower pots?  Not so much.  When I got home they were dried out and teetering on the edge of death.  I’ve been watering them in the morning and again at night in hopes of saving them and am seeing some hopeful green signs, but it’s obvious the hot weather combined with lack of watering knocked them for a severe loop.  The flowers and plants in our beds, on the other hand, seem to have survived the hot dry weather just fine.

It makes me question whether having flower pots during a midwestern summer makes any sense at all — unless you are going to be around on a daily basis to water them.  Since we’re on the road regularly, I’m thinking that next year we might forgo the cruelty to the poor potted plants and the guilt that comes from seeing desiccated brown leaves.

Fire And Ice

It’s been so cold for such a long spell lately that it’s got me thinking about cold and heat — and which is worse to endure for long periods.

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Extreme heat is bad for a lot of reasons.  It saps your energy, you’re a sweaty mess for most of the day, and — for me, at least — it’s impossible to get a good night’s sleep in a hot room.  And, when a heat wave hits, you read stories about heat stroke and even death for people left in rooms without air conditioning.  Extreme cold is bad for a lot of reasons, too.  It’s uncomfortable and wearing to constantly feel chilled and shivery, bundling up produces hat head and static electricity shocks, and the cold, dry air leaves your skin feeling desiccated and cracked.  And extreme cold can produce frostbite and death, as well as sad news stories about unfortunate dogs being found frozen solid on porches in Toledo.

Right now, in the midst of an arctic blast that has kept temperatures in the single digits and teens for more than a week, I’m sure I would gladly trade brutal cold for heat — and come the next August hot spell, I’m equally certain I would happily swap terrible heat for cold.  But I think Robert Frost had it right in one of his early poems:  both heat and cold have their own distinctive destructive powers.

Fire and Ice, by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

A Failing Grade In Sweaty White Guy 101

Today I wore a purple cotton golf shirt on our walk around Hyde Park. That was a mistake. In fact, Richard described it as failing to learn lessons I should have learned in Sweaty White Guy 101 — namely, wear an undershirt.

That’s20140628-152031-55231399.jpg probably true, but I’m not sure an undershirt would have made a significant difference under the circumstances. Today was one of those soupy, ultra-humid days where the air feels like electrically charged steam and thunderstorms roll through every hour or so. I could wear five t-shirts and I’d still be embarrassingly wilted and sweat-stained after walking only a few blocks.

At least Kish and Richard were able to do some Rorschach free-association analysis on the sweat patterns on my shirt.  And I would yargue that I didn’t completely flunk Sweaty White Guy 101 — I at least brought some extra shirts.

Our First Cold Morning In Months

This morning — only a day or so before the official start of autumn — we had our first cold morning in many months.

The last few weeks we’ve moved gradually from hot, sweaty, shorts and t-shirt mornings to cooler, pleasant, long pants and long-sleeved shirts mornings.  This morning, with the temperature hovering around a bracing 40 degrees, I had to break out my favorite hooded sweatshirt for the first time — and I needed it, too.

The night skies were clear and the stars blazed, and it was as if the warmth had been sucked from the world.  Water vapor billowed from the surfaces of the darkened ponds and creeks into the brisk air as we walked past, and we were just on the edge of frost on the ground and visible breath.  I felt the familiar sensation of numbing cold creep into the tip of my nose, my exposed ears, and my fingers.

As we neared the end of the walk, I looked forward with anticipation to a piping hot cup of black coffee.  We get accustomed to the heat, and then we get accustomed to the cold.  A steaming cup of coffee helps.

Spoiled Food, Cold Showers, And Hotel Hunters

The brutal thunderstorm that barreled through Columbus Friday night continues to have an impact.  Although our electricity was restored last night, I learned today that many people still don’t have electricity — and have been told they won’t have power until next Saturday, July 7.  An entire week without electricity, in modern America!

One of the people so affected is UJ.  Being of hardy stock, he plans on toughing it out.  He doesn’t keep much food in his refrigerator and he drank the milk that was there when the lights went out, so he hasn’t had anything spoil.  He’ll eat out, sleep with the windows open, grit his teeth through ice-cold morning showers, and hope that Mother Nature has pity on Columbus and allows for a few unseasonably cool days or some rain this week — so long as there are no storms that make things worse.

Other people don’t have that option.  If they are susceptible to the heat, they can’t take a chance on suffering heat stroke or dehydration in homes that have been heated to uncomfortable levels.  There’s been a run on generators, and I’m betting that there aren’t many available hotel rooms around.  And if you have a pet that you hope to keep cool, you’ll have even fewer hotel options.

Richard and I went to Kroger today to buy a few items, and the store was jammed.  People in our area lost just about everything that is perishable, and ice was at a premium.  When we were at the store the loudspeaker announced that the ice shipment had arrived, and shoppers made a beeline for the loaded pallet between aisles 11 and 12.  We also noticed that, on many of the refrigerated shelves, lots of the product was gone — presumably the result of shoppers who had lost their orange juice and milk and needed to replenish their supply.  Who knows how much food has spoiled because of the extended power outage?

I’m betting that people will be telling stories about the thunderstorm of June 29, 2012 and its aftermath for a long time.