'Matter of Laugh or Death,' the award-winning humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
TECHNICAL EXPLANATION OF WINTER HEATING WOES
A few weeks ago I discussed my efforts to keep from wasting money while heating my house during the winter months. One technique is to monitor the front door. If family members are lackadaisical while entering or exiting the house, I immediately start screaming that they’re letting all the heat out. Then, since I work in the heating and ventilation industry, I launch into a scientific lecture and explain the physics of what happens when a door is opened in the winter.
Because everyone in my family besides myself was, is, or will be an English major, any discussion containing the phrase “coefficient of thermal conductivity” immediately sends them into a science-phobia panic. But I don’t mind if they’re not interested in acquiring valuable technical knowledge, as long as my lectures prompt them to slam the door shut before they sprint away from me, which keeps those very expensive BTUs from billowing out of the living room and into the front yard.
After that column appeared, a friend said to me, “Hey, I’m curious now. Please explain the physics of what actually happens when a door is opened in the winter.”
Before starting, I had to determine his level of scientific understanding. “What was your major in college?”
“Political science,” he replied. “Why?”
“So you didn’t do too well in math and science?” I asked.
“So-so,” he said. “They definitely weren’t my favorite subjects.”
“OK, fine,” I said, realizing that I had to give him the layman’s explanation rather than the detailed, math-intensive explanation—the explanation I plan to learn myself one of these days.
“You see,” I began, “the air molecules inside your house are excited. They can get excited in one of two ways: either by feeding them a lot of sugary junk food, or, the more traditional way, by burning oil in the furnace. The excited air molecules are, to use the technical term, ‘warm.’ The amount of warmth is measured in BTUs, which stands for British Thermal Unit, a phrase coined by those wacky English people who, because it’s always chilly in London, walk around saying, ‘Cheerio, old chap, I do wish we had a few thermal units around here today.’”
Surprisingly at this point, my friend was still listening. So I continued. “Now the problem is, those excited air molecules have the emotional maturity of 7-year-old boys. As soon as they notice there is snow on the ground outside, they go to their air molecule mommy and plead, ‘Can we go outside and play?! Oh please, oh please, oh please, can we?!!’
“The air molecule mommy, already frazzled from trying to do 12 loads of laundry with all those excited air molecule children running around the house, says, ‘OK, OK. But make sure you go to the bathroom first before putting on your snow pants.’
“The excited air molecules, with their nylon snow pants making loud swooshing noises with every step, run to the front door. The moment the door is opened just a crack, they all race outside to frolic in the snow. And this is why so much heat is lost whenever the front door is opened.
“Now, just like real 7-year-olds, after being outside for a few minutes, the air molecules are no longer excited and enthusiastic. They have become, to use the technical term, ‘cold.’ Even before the air molecule mommy has a chance to sit down and enjoy the peace and quiet, all the shivering little air molecules bang on the front door and yell, ‘We’re freezing! We wanna come in!’
“So she reluctantly opens the front door, and a swarm of chilly air molecules race into the house, making it even colder than before. And so,” I concluded, “that is the physics of what happens when a door is opened in the winter.”
My friend asked, “What was your major in college?”
“I got my B.S. in Business,” I replied.
“Yeah,” he said, “with an emphasis on the B.S.!”
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