Monday, September 17, 2007

column 26 writing

So this will probably be the worst column of the week. One of them has to be, after all.

The thing about writing a column is that you start at the beginning. Most writers don't do that. Starting from the end, knowing the plot ahead of time, mapping, outlines, all that jazz. But I never do. The beginning of the column may be about the French aristocracy's cohesion during the French Revolution, and end talking about why the HAL 9000 is the best villain in film. They're not so different. The French are less villainous, though.

And since we're disclosing things today it seems, I would be lying to not say that there are some days that I don't care to write anything at all. But if excellence is persistence and practice then my commitment to write nearly every day sure is arrogant. Someone can write every day and still be lousy. Anyone can do anything every day and still be lousy. It's just easier to notice when the action is public. Ever had a boss who was a pain to work for every day? Case in point.

Luckily my boss is quite nice and great at her job, so I don't complain. I have time over to read, write, hang with friends and listen to music. Sometimes I have to do these things for my job. Trust me, I couldn't ask for a sweeter deal, except in terms of pay. However, seeing as I'm writing in the world's richest country, shouldn't really complain about that either. There was an article by the BBC on how the cost of a banana is now more than a house in Zimbabwe. When my mom sold her house in San Francisco it was the cheapest in the city, collecting only $500,000. How many bananas is that? Or more importantly, how many houses in Zimbabwe?

I think to some extent we just don't get conversions in this country. Do you know how much energy you use taking a shower? The amount of water that is used in a ten-minute shower, and the temperature, considering how many joules it takes to raise x amount of water y degrees, times the volume you got from the amount of time spent showering. You'll get some nice figure if you do this experiment at home. You only need a bucket, a thermometer, and the Internet. When you find that out then find out how much energy it takes to lift a rock a yard off the ground and put it back to the ground, in a three second cycle. The rock should weigh about ten pounds.

Try lifting something as light as ten pounds up and down every three seconds for ten minutes. Your arms will ache. You may want to never touch a rock again. I couldn't hard lift my arms for the rest of the day. Find out how much energy you just burned doing it, in joules. Then compare to the shower.

My results? For a ten-minute shower at 100 degrees the amount of energy consumed was the same as lifting that rock, non-stop, for 24 days. Or maybe it was 12 days. A long, long time. Of course you could see it another way: 12 of me lifting that rock non-stop for one day. Or double that for half a day. Or 1,536 people for ten minutes.

Yet the real force isn't coming from us. It's from rivers, coal, wind, the sun. Nuclear energy, perhaps. There's the lesson behind all this: As much as consume the energy we are harvesting it from others, not ourselves. Our energy comes from food and water and that comes from geologic forces and the plants and animals that have adapted to these forces. So, you see children, the choice of the rock is not arbitrary, as it represents our dependency on the wonderful world of geology for our very survival and our debt to this molten rock we call home...

And the sun. Musn't forget that glowing ball of gas that keeps most of us alive. Of course one day the sun will expand and engulf the rock. Maybe we'll be gone by then. Not that it really matters. Eventually the universe expands and entropy freezes energy and any remaining life, or it collapses back in on itself in a fiery ball, re-initiating the big bang chain.

And with that cheery thought I'll close this one out. Told you it was going to be a bad one today.

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