wintry mix

posted by tom / December 05, 2005 /

It sounds like the winter storm currently bearing down on Washington (shotgun full of snow, etc.) isn't going to come through. Topper Shutt's Bread-O-Meter stands at a meager 4.5, and is likely to dip even lower. Normally I wouldn't put a lot of stock in a local weatherguy's opinion. But Topper has always been Catherine's and my favorite: he has the saddest eyes of any weatherman. The rough and tumble world of meteorological prognostication was never meant for a soul as gentle as he.

But maybe it's for the best that the storm is dissipating, seeing as our furnace has been broken since Friday morning. For a while it was just freezing cold every morning. I was prepared to chalk this up to my inability to comprehend our stupefyingly complex digital thermostat, but our landlord had an HVAC guy come by on Friday to have a look anyway. I don't know what he did, but I know it was a bad idea. Prior to his visit the furnace had been deeply troubled but high-functioning. Afterward — well, on the plus side there was now a red LED illuminated on the thermostat. On the minus side, the system no longer produced actual heat. Hmm.

Saturday morning brought a 52 degree wakeup — time to call the landlord, who came right over, accepted our mutual impotence in the face of a broken heat pump, and then went to buy us some space heaters. Charles and I can now be luxuriously toasty in up to one room at a time, provided we don't mind tripping the circuit breaker every time so much as the refrigerator light goes on.

Being cold sucks, but it's at least conceptually pleasing to my cheapskate nerd side. Every power adapter, light bulb, computer and appliance around me, although cherished, is horribly inefficient. Entropy's inevitability doesn't just mean that you and I will die and that our universe will someday collapse into a cold, empty cloud of lifeless elementary particles (although its more practical upshot is just that I'm usually too existentially distraught to bother picking up my room). It also means that nearly everything in your house that takes electricity turns more than half of the energy it consumes into heat rather than useful work.

But with the furnace broken, suddenly all of that waste heat is an asset. I'm glad of every wasted watt-second, every gently warm plug pack. Up yours, physics! I'm getting my money's worth at last, Pepco! It's true that the heat-pump's 100+% efficiency has a distinct perpetual-motion-machine allure, but for now I'm happy shooting heat out of every available appliance and into my frozen toes. Time to start Linux recompiling again for no particular reason.

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