austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

And when the moon is out and it's finally cooling down

With the days getting marginally warmer than they were just two weeks ago it's worth saying about 697 words about air conditioning. Air conditioning is -- please hold your questions until the essay has come to a complete stop -- the process of conditioning the air so that it's less like actual air and more like conditioned air. This is probably the right time for questions.

The problem is that the air around you is often too hot, or too cold, and never at the right times. Heating air is pretty straightforward: all you have to do is gather a pile of lumber, and trying to get it into the fireplace will leave you plenty hot and sweaty, particularly when you've been around the house four times and determined that there just isn't a fireplace. You should leave the lumber in a neat pile where it can be used to build a cute little doghouse.

But cooling things down is the problem. Not too long after reaching the colder climes the Romans noticed that rooms could be perfectly chilly in winter and hot in summer, and they instituted a system wherein at least one room was sealed up in the middle of winter and kept that way until they reached the hot days in summer when it seemed like you would just melt, and only then did they open it up to enjoy the stored winter air. This never worked, but after going to all that trouble they couldn't bear to admit it to one another, and so they kept it up year after year insisting to themselves that they felt a great deal cooler and that they'd have to do this with two or three rooms next year even as they collapsed in big, sweaty piles of exhausted bodies.

In England the tradition proved so popular it survived all the way till 1855 and the closing of Bartholomew Fair. The thought of collapsing in big piles of sweaty bodies would be picked up by the earliest amusement parks, who quickly set it down again and went for more obvious thrills like carts that slid down inclined planes or floors that jerked side to side while you walked.

A real breakthrough came with the discovery of Charles's Law by Boyle, unless it was Boyle's Law by Charles (it was actually Dalton's Law, discovered by Charles Boyle), that if you spray a can of antiperspirant the spray will be cold and your hand will get cold. The application was obvious, and soon scientists all over Europe were attempting to invent an antiperspirant spray can.

While the antiperspirant and the spray-on parts were challenges, the cans were an almost immediate success, a century later, and would prove very popular ways to store food away. They became even more popular a century after that when the can opener was invented, although by that time all but the best-processed candied pears had spoiled.

Still, by the early 1920s these problems had been solved, and soon industrial-grade air conditioning was popping up all over, initially in larger factories and in public gathering points where it could be a selling point. So powerful was the draw of air conditioning that many theaters left it on year round, forcing wintertime attendees to dress in parkas and carry shovels to help the usher scoop out a trail from the snow formed by interior condensation. Many patrons would get lost in snowbanks in the under-lit settings and not be discovered for days or even weeks when they finally emerge in the concessions stand, and over one in five ushers didn't survive their first year of work. This is why it is considered poor form today to have ushers ush at the movies.

The other side effect of all the air-conditioner spraying of antiperspirant was that many animals living in the area of these conditioners were left completely unable to sweat. Sweat in nature provides an important ecological niche that we don't understand because it's somewhat gross. However, the need for comfort outweighs whatever the ecological impact is, and as a result you'll almost never see an animal in the wild sweating. 696, 697.

Trivia: The first, mockup, rollout of a Saturn V from the Vehicle Assembly Building was on 25 May 1966. Source: Deke!, Donald Slayton, Michael Cassutt.

Currently Reading: Clara Bow: Runnin' Wild, David Stenn. This is one of my library book sale books.

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