The Czar Explains Thermodynamics
If you want to look all smart and knowy at your next vodka tasting, thermodynamics is a pretty solid way to go. First, it’s viewed as one of the hardest sciences there is, and second, in about ten seconds, you can have the entire room fooled into thinking you know a lot about it because your audience will only be able to follow you for about four seconds.
Thermodynamics is the easiest science to pretend to understand because unlike other areas of physics with their crazy rules and theories, thermodynamics has only a couple or so really simple laws.
This will come as a surprise to many experts in thermodynamics, who spent lifetimes trying to grasp the implications of these rules, but really they have wasted an awful lot of time doing so because (a) nobody at cocktail parties understands more than the basic laws anyway and (b) there is no (b), because (a) is so damn right.
All right, first things first: thermodynamics is all about heat. Heat is a form of energy; this means, when we talk about thermodynamics, we never talk about cold: cold is merely the lack of heat. Thermodynamics isn’t interested in that. This would be a good paragraph to memorize because it already sounds smart.So there are four laws in thermodynamics, numbered one through three. Yes, that’s how screwed up it is. See, someone came up with the First Law of Thermodynamics, and later somebody realized the had a much simpler law that should have been first in the list. So, Scrabble-heads, you finally have zeroth as a real word. At least, that’s how the Czar figures it; he would research it, but let’s face it: that would result in a much better essay.
Here are the
three four laws:
Zeroth: If you put objects together of different temperatures, they’ll eventually kind of meet in the middle. So if object A has a temperature equivalent to object B, and object B has the same temperature as object C, then A and C must also be at the same temperature. This is kind of obvious, and might even get you through seventh-grade algebra. Maybe not.
First: Energy can’t be created or destroyed, but it sure can change its form. So your car stores energy in the form of gas; when you burn the gas, it converts to power and exhaust. That power converts to torque, which is opposed by friction on the road surface. Which heats up when you drive on it. And so on. This is sort of a big deal in physics, and it can be interesting to try to map out all the ways energy changes its form as you go through a process. This law, by the way, is why you can’t have perpetual motion machines: you can’t create energy out of nothing; it has to come from some other form of energy.
Second: Entropy always results from any process. This means the house always wins in physics: you can’t create something that’s 100% efficient; you always have to pay a tax. No matter how many regulations the government puts on car manufacturers, there will always be inefficiencies in car engines. If you drive an electric car, you always create wasted energy recharging the batteries for it. Often, that wasted energy is in the form of heat. Know how your cell phone battery gets warm when you use it? That’s entropy. Know how it always takes longer to charge the battery than it takes to wear it down? That’s entropy.
Third: Entropy decreases with temperature. In other words, the colder something is, the less entropy it releases. Naturally, because the more heat you generate, the more entropy you generate. Note that you still lose out: if you try to prolong your battery life by putting your 9-volt batteries in the fridge, you waste more energy by running the fridge than you save in batteries.
One of the best summations of the three laws of thermodynamics ever: you can’t win, you can’t break even, and you can’t get out of the game.
Now you know more than most people about thermodynamics. Oh, there’s some other stuff about conjugate variables, absolute zero, and potential energy, but none of that is important today. Heck, scientists figured out all that stuff just from these laws, so it ought to be easy for you to do so as well.
At your next cocktail party, as you see that jerko Dan Hesbitt impressing some chick with his mindless chitchat about resonant frequencies, merely walk up and say “Danny, you know when you swirl your ice cubes in your drink, you’re imparting a lot of entropy into the drink and changing its thermodynamic content? Seems like a waste of good liquor.” And enjoy the rest of the evening with the lady to whom he was previously speaking.
Божію Поспѣшествующею Милостію Мы, Дима Грозный Императоръ и Самодержецъ Всероссiйскiй, цѣсарь Московскiй. The Czar was born in the steppes of Russia in 1267, and was cheated out of total control of all Russia upon the death of Boris Mikhailovich, who replaced Alexander Yaroslav Nevsky in 1263. However, in 1283, our Czar was passed over due to a clerical error and the rule of all Russia went to his second cousin Daniil (Даниил Александрович), whom Czar still resents. As a half-hearted apology, the Czar was awarded control over Muscovy, inconveniently located 5,000 miles away just outside Chicago. He now spends his time seething about this and writing about other stuff that bothers him.