November 9th, 2007

krazy koati

So very nice -- I'll hold your hands

With the anticipated arrival of a proper self-installing winter in the northern hemisphere sometime within the next month (delivery between 10 am and 1 pm, please have a person to sign) it is wise to review ways to keep one's hands warm. These need not be your hands, but working on another's hands without their approval can be awkward.

The least technologically challenging way of warming hands was discovered in 1798 by Portsmouth, New Hampshire farmer Benjamin Thompson. Thompson, who supported himself comfortably on his earnings from being unpleasant to his neighbors, discovered one day while trying to bore chunks of ice into cannon that if one briskly rubbed hands together, they would feel not so cold, unless you were holding the ice pick. Thompson soon became a Bavarian count, to the Bavarians' surprise. His only regret was that leaving North America forever brought joy to his old neighbors.

If one has taken a hot bath it's soon obvious that this keeps the hands warm. This would be a great solution to cold hands, and as a bonus it requires staying in the house all day, possibly catching up on one's shows. The only drawbacks are it is slightly antisocial and it makes using the computer more hazardous unless the computer is watertight.

Close study suggests the best way to warm up cold hands would be to place them snugly inside a cat. But it is inconvenient to get a hand to occupy the same place as the inside of the cat. To do it requires converting hand and cat into a Bose-Einstein condensate, a strange form of matter in atoms don't bother to be such separate things. This requires replacing one's hands with a gas of rubidium-87 and cooling them using lasers to fractions of a millionth of a degree above absolute zero, the coldest temperature possible. Ironically, if you fail to make a Bose-Einstein condensate of your hands, giving it a good try will make ambient temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit feel toasty for as long as four minutes. But have you priced rubidium lately?

Since taking on a new state of matter is beyond practicality for most people that would suggest the cat method is useless. Not so. The approach to use is simply to put the cat outside your hands, and then turn your hands inside-out, safely tucking the cat inside as it makes a questioning-purr. This does bind your hands together which may be inconvenient, so a common alternative is to use a distinct cat for each hand. This keeps them warm, although it will make your hands bulgy and wriggly unless the cats find their way up your arms and possibly get lost. In this case it's best to wait for them to crawl out on their own, as dangling a bit of cardboard on the end of a long string inside to draw them out would be silly. Those allergic to cats have reported some success substituting teams of trained field mice.

The definitive method to keep hands warm was developed in prototype form by the United States Army experimenting in the late 1950s with Project Orion Mittens. In this ambitious scheme a series of small nuclear devices would be set off in rapid succession with the concentrated heat of the blasts serving to keep one's hands toasty warm. To avoid the obvious problem of hands being pushed one direction or another the blasts would be carefully synchronized so as to not jolt one's hands around.

Although the basic premise was demonstrated with chemical bombs the project never had its operational nuclear test when the new administration placed Robert McNamara in charge of the Department of Defense and projects spending enormous amounts of money were suddenly required to have a cost proportional to the objective.

Nevertheless physicist Freeman Dyson noted that the project could be applied to propel a pair of hands to Saturn in as little as a week of slightly cool weather. We can only imagine if the project had continued what the people on Saturn would have done with a steady flow of nuclear-propelled warm hands. Applauded, perhaps.

Trivia: When the Pilgrims spotted land at daybreak on Thursday, 9 November, 1620, they had been at sea for 65 days. Source: Mayflower, Nathaniel Philbrick. (And they chose when to set out, demonstrating their nearly perfect lack of any molecules of common sense.)

Currently Reading: The Rithian Terror, Damon Knight.