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The Joy of Thermodynamics

January 13, 2014

I enjoy winter thermodynamics. Not the relative experience wherein a breeze at 38 degrees feels chill while a still morning of 22 degrees feels fine, but rather the absolute effects of temperature.

A glance at the bedroom storm window in the morning gives a clue—the transition from clear to foggy to varying amounts of frost makes a reliable thermometer. It’s an old house with an obvious temperature gradient. Cold mornings can be felt in the firmness of the butter left on the kitchen counter.

The river is a thermometer, too, the ice growing and shrinking and even disappearing before returning. I wonder if we’ll see the ice fog that develops over the river around 20-below? I can’t say I welcome 20-below except for the ice show, and perhaps for insect control. But it also seems right that it should happen.

I marvel at how wild things survive. Deer on such mornings with thick frost along their backs, beaver slick in the river among floating ice, and of course, puffy bunnies in snow. Do they dream, like me, of solar homes?

A friend described a lovely image of a yellow tomcat on a cold morning sitting with his eyes closed against a green wall soaking up the morning sun. It came up that yellow cats are necessarily toms. Years with cats, and I didn’t know this. (In fact, only most are male, not all.)

I used to claim some cats were green, but I keep that to myself now. But it’s true. There’s a grayish-brownish dark color in some cats that shows a greenish tinge. I could quote Wallace Stevens for authority: “… and the little green cat is a bug in the grass.” But, no.

As for poetry, I recommend a book I’m reading now, “Bender: new and selected poems” by Dean Young. I think he’s something special, a unique energy and intelligence.

I thought a little of how I read this book and how it would be seen by some new ebook services. E-readers offer the possibility, and now actuality, of having your reading habits tracked. Amazon and Barnes & Noble do this but keep the information proprietary.

New subscription services, such as Scribd and Oyster, are analyzing data and providing it to others, such as authors. They see a big market for self-published authors.

Early insights include the fact that the longer a mystery novel, the more likely a reader jumps to the end to see what happens. Readers finish biographies more than business books and read romances faster than religious books (erotica fastest).

It should be this way. I’m reading a remarkable religious book right now, “Patience with God,” by the Czech priest Tomas Halik (as opposed to the same title by an American evangelist). It’s engaging but can’t be gobbled. Patience required. Mature faith is a tapestry of subtleties, and Halik takes exception with the certainties of fundamentalists and atheists both. He’s another writer with unique energy and intelligence.

I hope to find a copy for the library, but it’s out of print right now and absurdly expensive on the used book market. However, the ebook versions are modestly priced, if you’re interested (Kindle, Google Play, Sony, etc.)

At the Oyster service, a popular book is “What women want.” Everyone who starts it, finishes it, compared with Arthur Schlesinger’s “The Cycles of American History,” which finds less than one percent finishing it. Also, readers are more likely to finish a book if the chapters are short.

Now, I wonder if short chapters are sufficient to carry readers through a long book?

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