Thursday, February 19, 2009

There'll Always Be An England

SPORTS UPDATE: You will be relieved, no doubt, to learn that England has regained its cricket form and now beaten the West Indies team twice in a row after losing the opener of the series, which I wrote about here.

Or, as the AP has it, "Swann helped dismiss the home team for 285 in reply to the visitor's first innings of 566-9." Actually, the more I think about it, the more comprehensible that becomes. Quick! Must stop thinking!

No stunning yorkers or nudging to second slip in the AP report, but I was delighted to read that "the seamers did such a good job with the reverse swing ..." I imagine you're delighted, too.

Just thought you should know.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Physics update

A friend writes to say that St Croix must be "an entropical island."

Wish I'd thought of that.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Today's physics lesson and what it means

"As entropy increases, order decreases."

That's physics. Some rule or something. I heard it in college a gazillion years ago, although what I was doing in a class where someone was talking about physics I can't now recall. There must have been a reason.

But that little kernel of information remains with me, one of a small handful of facts that I have unaccountably retained over the years, stubbornly clinging to the inside of my head like a sodden Wheaties flake that dried on the table and now can't be scraped off. What it means, if I remember rightly and that's almost certainly not the case, is that entropy is a measure of order or organization, the lower the entropy the higher the organization. A heavy element, with it's cloud of electrons and it's massive nucleus has more order than a hydrogen atom. A molecule represents more order than an atom. A galaxy has more order than a diffuse cloud of gas. (I'm almost certain I'm getting this wrong, because I don’t think I understood it completely in college and that was a long time ago.)

And, in this universe we live in, the tendency is for entropy to increase. Order is always breaking down, big things slowly devolving into their constituent parts until someday (hopefully not soon but you never know) the entire universe (including all of us) will be one evenly spaced field of sub-atomic particles a tiny flicker of a degree above absolute zero.

Something like that.

And what in the world am I writing this for? Even if I'm right, and that seems highly unlikely, what could possibly be the point of wasting blog space on it?

Another way of stating that law - As entropy increases, order decreases – would be this simpler statement: Stuff breaks. A new law of physics! Call it Baur's Universal Constant.

That seems particularly apropos today. As I've noted, we had car trouble the last couple of months. We've had water problems. And those problems have redoubled this week. The water went out Wednesday, here it is Friday and we still don't have running water in the house. The plumber (nice guy, moved here four months ago from Texas) is here again and has tracked down three leaks in the supply line that feeds from the cistern to the pump. It doesn't mean water's leaking out, it means air is leaking in, the pump can't hold the prime and I can't take a shower. And I really need a shower by now. Three days without running water. I think I've told you the process I have to go through to flush the toilet, I won't belabor the point.

What's weird is (and here's where the physics lesson comes in,) nothing happened to suddenly cause these leaks. It's not like I ran over the pipe with the car, or a meteor hit or something. Tuesday everything worked fine. Wednesday, not. I can only think it has to do with a sudden, localized burst of entropy.

Bertha (our car) is similar. We bought her from a guy moving back to the states, so it's not like he was dumping a lemon. She's been a good rig for us. Until the ignition problem started in December. Then a brake problem in January. And a tiny leak in the cooling system the mechanic couldn't find, but he told us to keep an eye on the radiator level and carry a jug of coolant with us at all times. That's how it is with cars, they run great, but once a problem starts, there's a cascade effect.

Tori was driving to school yesterday morning with Max and Millie in the car. They had just turned off the highway (the island's only four-lane road) and were heading up East Airport Road when there was a tremendous crashing/grinding sound, as if they'd been hit. Tori pulled over and looked. No damage. She got back in and started driving - and immediately the car started shaking violently. It was barely controllable. She pulled into the gas station just up the road and looked underneath. The rear torsion bar had snapped like a twig. Had it happened 10 minutes earlier, when she was driving 60 on the highway, it's horrifying to think what might have happened.

As luck would have it, the gas station she pulled in at was not more than 200 yards from an auto repair place. She VERY slowly drove to it, then called school and got someone to come out and pick them up.

The guys at Unique Auto Repair were able to fix it at a fraction of what I thought it would cost. There was no replacement part on the island (that's often the case) but a torsion bar isn't a big, complicated thing - it's a bar that essentially holds the rear wheels in place while you drive. No big deal. They welded it back together, reinforced it, and charged us very little. When school was over she was able to get back out there, pick it up and drive home, rattled but otherwise safe and sound.

So that story has a happy ending. Considering how it could have ended, we'll take it.

But it's just another warning to be on the lookout for entropy in your life. I've got a birthday coming up, and ever since I turned 50 I've felt my personal entropy rising exponentially. Here on St. Croix, it's even more so. This is a high-entropy part of the universe. So perhaps for my birthday I'm going to see if anybody sells an entropy meter. Probably Radio Shack. Or Kmart. Or Mr. Dollar - one of our favorite stores on the island. He sells everything, and like the sign out front says, "If we don't have it, you don't need it." Since I need a personal entropy meter, it stands to reason that he must have it. Although I recall vaguely from another college class (Logic) that "universal affirmatives can be only partly converted" - whatever that means - so I should probably call ahead first and ask.

But that'd be a really useful tool to have. It wouldn't stop entropy from increasing, but at least it'd give me a warning. That's all I ask. Although, given local entropic conditions, the meter would be the next thing to break.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Waiting for the Plumber

Here's the thing about water on St. Croix and most Caribbean islands - There isn't any.

Oh sure, we're surrounded by water - we're on an island, after all, and from almost any vantage point we get views of some of the most spectacularly blue waters on Earth. But it's like in the Coleridge poem:

Water, water everywhere,
and all the boards did shrink.
Water, water everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.

(Yes, I know most people think it's "but not a drop to drink." Tell them to look it up.)

But all that water is, of course, salt water. You can't drink it. St. Croix doesn't have any huge freshwater aquifer to drill for, no rolling rivers or reservoirs to draw from. We've got -

The rain. Virtually all the drinking water on St,. Croix falls from the sky, runs down your roof and is funneled into a cistern below the house. Then it's pumped up by your water pump and that's your water supply. So rain from time to time is a very good thing. (And by the way, rainwater doesn't have any minerals in it, so residents are advised to take a vitamin supplement with minerals. Just thought that was interesting.)

So fresh water is a pretty valuable commodity, and a Crucian takes pride and/or comfort in a large, brimming reservoir the way friends of mine back in Oregon take comfort and pride in a huge wood pile for the stove or fireplace.

This all comes to mind because there's something wrong with our pump today. We actually have two cisterns - one under the front porch and another under the kitchen, with pipes and valves to switch from one to the other. Between them we can probably store around 10,000 to 12,000 gallons of water. But the back one is empty, and the front one is kinda low. But more to the point, the pump is not drawing water out of the cistern (yes, I've checked, the valves are set for the front cistern, but thanks for the suggestion.)

To flush the toilets while waiting for the plumber (due in about another hour) I have to open the cistern (the concrete lid of the thing is heavy, maybe 80 pounds or more,) drop a bucket down on a rope to pull up a couple of gallons to pour into the tanks. Same for washing dishes last night.

It doesn't pay to look too closely into the reservoir. A big concrete space, and when they're empty a kind of creepy nothing. They are not particularly clean. The water is clear, but there's "stuff" in there. That's why we have a filter on the kitchen tap, and buy bottled water for drinking. Showers are short - Navy showers, where you get wet, turn off the water, soap up, turn on the water and rinse off. And you don't flush for just anything. In fact, there are actually restaurants down here with this little jingle posted on the walls:

In this land of fun and sun
We never flush for Number One.

Just to keep the poetic theme going.

I also suspect our gutters may be plugged, which would explain why the cisterns don't seem to charge the way I'd expect despite the fact that we've had a couple of good rainfalls. But that's a different problem for a different day and a different blog post.

Right now I'm just waiting for the plumber, because I tried everything I know and there's still no water running in the house.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Very Wide World of Sports

Out here in the Caribbean, surprisingly (to me) cricket is pretty popular. It's not like you see kids playing it on the streets, but the papers cover it all the time. Most of the words seems normal, and the sentences seem to be saying something, but then all of a sudden the writer just starts making stuff up!

The British national side is touring the region, and here's some excerpts from the lead story on the St. Croix Avis sports section, of the match in Jamaica.

KINGSTON, Jamaica - West Indies bowled England for 51 to sweep to an incredible win by an inning and 23 runs just before tea on the fourth day Saturday of the opening cricket test.
Taylor continued his destruction after the break as he bowled champion batsman Kevin Pietersen with a stunning outswinging yorker for 1.
Benn broke the stand when Sidebottom was leg before wicket on 6.
Cook snicked to second slip where Devon Smith held a juggled catch while Bell chased a wide one and edged to wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin.
Benn reduced England to 26-7 when Broad nudged to short leg for a duck in the next over.

I think the "stunning outswinging yorker" and "snicked to second slip" were my two favorites. Or perhaps I should say favourites.

And "leg before wicket?" It sounds as if it means something, but there you go. It almost sounds like the start of some mnenomic or something - Leg before wicket except after tea, when snick leaves a duck in the Caribbean Sea.


I have been remiss, I know, not posting in a month. My bad - we've been very busy. Besides more car woes and some plumbing problems and work and things, we've also been involved in a play at the local theater. We'll write about all those in the next two weeks, I promise.