A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Friday, September 29, 2006

A Hubcap Goes Home

It's bad enough that, once you realize you've become a collector of something-or-other, you have to fight the urge to acquire every piece you see. Whether it's stamps or seashells, found objects or pricey antiques, the passion is the same. Then, to make matters worse, people begin ringing your doorbell proudly bearing more whatevers. You know: "I saw this and I thought of you."

My hubcap collection is growing--I've got a baker's dozen in the kitchen alone, if you don't count what's in the pantry. So I was happily surprised this evening to be able to give somebody else a hubcap for a change. It was one of my favorites, but I knew it was going to a good home.

Faithful readers of this blog know that I had one hubcap in my collection which was given to me by a friend after it had fallen off his car. He wasn't bothering to put it back on, and presented it to me, so I thought, why not? And just last week he bought a spiffy new Prius hybrid anyway. The old Chrysler New Yorker was going to be traded in, and sent off to the auction, where nobody would care about details like a missing hubcap.

Enter Nataria, a lovely woman of my acquaintance. I knew she needed a car, and I knew the trade-in offer was insultingly low. (The Prius is a hot item these days, and the dealers don't have to woo their customers too hard.) So I did a little matchmaking, and within hours Nataria was the excited owner of a Chrysler New Yorker with plenty of miles left in her.

It occured to me that Nataria might not share the previous owner's nonchalant attitude about hubcap replacement. I could have brought her a get-well gift when I dropped in to see how she was feeling after some minor surgery. I could have brought her a housewarming gift, as I was seeing her new place for the first time. But instead I brought her a hubcap. She appeared delighted, propping it up against a small table and admiring it.

Her knee was too sore to carry it out to the garage herself. And maybe she was just being polite by telling me not to bother doing it for her. But the hubcap did look awfully fetching there in the parlor, with the light glinting off of it. I wonder if she's planning to put it back on the car? Or has it been permanently transformed into urban art?

Henry's Law

Henry's Law is a principle of physics formulated by the English chemist William Henry in 1801. It explains the behavior of gases under pressure: gases become more soluble as pressure increases.

Henry's Law states, specifically, that the concentration of a solute gas in a solution is directly proportional to the partial pressure of that gas above the solution. (p = k'cc where p is the partial pressure of the gas, c is its molar concentration, and k'c is the Henry's law constant on the molar concentration scale.)

Henry's Law explains what happens when divers surface too fast and get decompression sickness ("the bends"). Nitrogen is forced out of the blood as pressure returns to normal, forming bubbles which can cause blockages in blood vessels in the same manner that blood clots do.

Henry's Law also explains why bubbles form in a carbonated beverage when its container is opened. When the liquid is exposed to unpressurized air, the carbon dioxide in it becomes less soluble and is forced out. Shaking the container dissipates the air at the top, forming thousands of micro-sized bubbles. Each bubble offers a tiny surface where CO2 can rapidly come out of solution, creating the potential for explosive fizzing.

The remedy for decompression sickness is a "dive" in a hyperbaric oxygen tank. The increased pressure in the tank simulates a dive of 60-90 feet, at which pressure the nitrogen bubbles are reabsorbed by the body. Oxygen delivered to the cells helps repair damaged tissues. The pressure is very gradually decreased to one atmosphere ("normal" sea-level pressure), simulating the proper slow ascent to the surface. A hyperbaric oxgen tank is a very cool gadget.

Another cool gadget which relies on the principle of Henry's Law is the Cooper Cooler, a “Rapid Beverage Chilling Appliance” recently given a good review by Modern Drunkard Magazine. Warm cans or bottles of beer, wine, or soda can be chilled in this device within a minute or so. The Cooper Cooler works by rotating the container rapidly in an ice-filled chamber. When a beverage is rotated, as opposed to shaken, the air pocket basically stays intact. Decarbonation can therefore only take place at at the surface.

Medical researchers are finding new applications for hyperbaric oxgen chambers all the time. And modern drunkards are apparently working just as hard putting their knowledge of physics to work so they can stash beer in the closet, away from greedy roommates, and render it palatably chilled in 60 seconds flat. Isn't science wonderful?