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Jack Smith

The Laws of Science at Work in Home

June 22, 1989|Jack Smith

In one of my rare scientific studies a couple of years ago I tried to explain the word entropy , which can't be done short of a turgid doctorate.

According to Webster's, the meaning closest to the one I have in mind is "a measure of the degree of disorder in a substance or a system: entropy always increases and available energy diminishes in a closed system, as the universe."

Entropy is also used to describe the second law of thermodynamics, which is that "every time energy is transformed from one state to another 'a certain penalty is exacted.' That penalty is a loss in the amount of available energy to perform work of some kind in the future."

But we don't have to understand that. All we have to understand is that everything is running down and sooner or later everything will come to a stop. That is entropy on the grand scale.

On the smaller scale, it is happening to our house. We have lived in the same house 39 years and the inroads of entropy are obvious. For one thing the major source of energy, me, is slowing down. My wife is still going like a dynamo, but she can't do it all by herself.

There are small telltale events. For months the hanging lamp over my wife's bed was out. New light bulbs did not work. It was in the wiring. One day I took it down and removed the part you screw the bulb into. I have been carrying it around in my car ever since.

Meanwhile, my wife took down the lamp from the adjoining twin bed and hung it over hers. Temporarily, she has light, but the other bed is in darkness.

The wooden steps to our service porch have long since rotted out. One day a young plumber put the coup de grace to them when he was climbing them with a new water heater (the old one had blown out) and he crashed through them. Happily, he was not hurt.

Two large slabs of the swimming pool deck had been sinking on one side and tilting up on the other. The cracks were unsightly and dangerous. With some of my remaining energy, I recently hired a man to replace them, at a cost of $550.

At the same time he used concrete to replace the steps down from the dog yard, which had been made of redwood ties and brick, and were crumbling. That was $200. It taught me that one way to reverse entropy is to pay someone to combat it. While it lasts, energy can be hired.

But something other than energy is a factor here. It is will. One must bestir oneself to get something done, if it is only to hire help. I have yet to do anything serious about the roof leak. Ever since we had the bedroom wing widened by six feet, the roof over the bedrooms has leaked. I know it must be fixed, but we keep putting it off because my wife wants to add a second floor, and that would obviate it.

I have written before about the clutter. That is a different thing from entropy. Trying to set an example for my wife, I have recently taken several hundred books from my shelves and piled them up about the house to give to some needy library. I have yet to offer them; they remain in unstable piles by the front door, in the den, in the living room. In the sense that I haven't taken any final action, they are products of entropy.

Entropy is compounded by regression. My wife wants to add a laundry to our kitchen. For years we have been taking our wash out to a laundromat; now she wants to wash at home again. I regard this not only as a betrayal of the feminist code but a waste of money. Besides, I think we ought to conserve whatever energy she has left. If entropy is going to get us, it's certainly going to get me first.

Obviously we have come to a critical conflict. As entropy closes in, I want to lighten ship: condense, eliminate. She wants to expand, to widen our horizons, to create new arenas for the expenditure of our dwindling energies.

She wants to defy entropy, and she will.

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