Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Francl Statement of the Second Law

"No cyclic process is possible whose sole result is a flow of heat from a single reservoir and the performance of equivalent work." Lord Kelvin

This is the Kelvin statement of the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Though Kelvin did not aim to describe a weekend in my life, it's not a bad start. I am the single reservoir, I'm pretty heated, the proceses are cyclical (I empty the laudry from the basket, wash it, put it back and it quite regularly appears in the basket again -- except for the underwear hanging on the hooks in the bedroom), and no matter how much heat I give the kids I can't seem to get an equivalent amount of work back.

Frankly, I prefer the statistical approach to the 2nd law. I never appreciated the nuances of entropy until I had kids. Today, between laundry loads I was trying to clean the upstairs study in preparation for painting it next weekend (having pulled the inside out of the closet last weekend, the paint job is very necessary!). I made great progress on getting things in order, only to come downstairs to find the kitchen in utter disarray and an entire division of little green army men deployed on the sunroom floor. Net progress toward order was clearly negative, as the 2nd law requires.

A sudden thought? If my life (or at least my house) should miraculously get ordered, does that mean that somewhere, some other poor soul's house has become even more disordered than mine ever was? I suppose the 2nd law actually requires that the disorder gets spread around, so that my orderliness leaves a little mess in everyone's house.

A colleague and friend suggests that there is, somewhere in my house, waiting to be discovered, my own personal reservoir of disorder. It's probably under the laundry.

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