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Thermodynamics was not something I expected to think much about after high school, but as I grasped my coffee cup with both hands while going up the stairs at work, I found myself thinking about thermodynamics and the transfer of heat, and about how wonderful it is that these concepts exist and have been explained.

It suddenly got very cold here around the middle of the week. On Wednesday when I left work, my watch told me that it was 18 degrees (Celsius) outside. I was surprised and thought it must be a mistake. But when I got outside, I felt like it was about 10 degrees, the air was so icy cold.

So on Thursday morning, I got a coffee from the cafe a few floors down from my workplace. They have a tendency of making the coffee quite hot (or a friend suggested I might just have a sensitive mouth that cannot handle high temperatures), but that morning I was grateful for the extra hot coffee, as I could allow the heat to warm my cold hands.

As I walked back up the stairs, I thought about the idea of heat energy, and of the movement of molecules caused by this energy. I thought most of all about how heat always goes from a warmer object to a cooler object, and about the concept of specific heat capacity, which explains why different materials absorb or lose heat at different rates.

And I thought about my high school chemistry/physics teacher, and about that semester of learning thermodynamics, and how most teenagers who don’t intend to pursue science or engineering careers probably think it’s all pointless. But how positively wonderful is it to be able to experience these phenomena — like the phenomena of heat transfer — and be able to know why and how it happens?

for those who count

My little townhouse is two storeys tall. It has a little staircase that spirals up on one side, and I go up and down these stairs many times a day.

When I catch the train to work, I have to go up a flight of stairs to reach the platform. And when I enter the building, I go up three flights of stairs to get to the floor my workplace is on.

If I drive to work, I try to park in one of the lower levels in the carpark so that I can go up more stairs to get to the walkway leading into the building (but also so that I drive less, as the carpark starts on ground level and goes upwards).  Continue reading

Kyoto – Kinkaku-ji & Chion-in Temples

So with my revised blogging schedule, I’ve decided to skip ahead a few days on my Japan trip recount. These, I think, I’ll most likely return to as Thursday Doors posts, or some other random post as I think of them. Today I’d like to share one of my most memorable days from the holiday: Tuesday February 14th, which KF and I spent in Kyoto.

Having travelled there by bullet train the day before, this would be our first full day in Kyoto. Prior to the trip, I did do a little bit of research about places to visit in and around the city, but on the day we arrived, we visited the tourist information centre (helpfully located near the main train station), and a very helpful guide/assistant (who also spoke really good English) gave us a few pointers about getting around town. We left with a map of the bus routes, bus passes, and a better idea of what we’d be doing the next day.  Continue reading

going up

I’m a big fan of incidental exercise, and I’ll often opt for stairs over elevators or even escalators. It might seem quite trivial, but it baffles me when I see able-bodied people (particularly school kids and teenagers) taking the elevator at the bus station when it’s always faster to take the stairs. I like to give benefit of the doubt, so I assume that maybe they’re just tired (but, really, it’s just 30 steps!)

At work, I always take the stairs – three flights every morning, unless I’m with someone who is opposed to stairs. Conversely, I’m positively delighted when the person I’m walking with (if I happen to be walking in to work with someone) unexpectedly suggests that we take the stairs (not many people do, and those that do don’t do so often enough).

Maybe I need to suggest stairs more often… The other day, I was showing our intern to a certain part of the hospital – six storeys up – and I asked if she wanted to take the stairs. To my surprise, she said yes. I actually had to ask a second time because I’d expected at least a bit of resistance, but she hadn’t even hesitated when she answered. “Respect plus”, as a friend of mine would say.

There generally aren’t too many other people taking the stairs in the medical centre (even though the lift is quite slow), and most of the other stair-goers are people who work in the building (and know that the lift is very slow). A few weeks ago, I came across an older gentleman taking the stairs up to the first or second floor (can’t quite remember which but I feel like it was the second floor). He had the slightest limp and was evidently not as fit as he used to be. But still he wanted to take the stairs.

He was quite cheerful too. I was also headed up the stairs, and he suggested that I could overtake him, since he’s not very fast. But I was in no hurry (I was about ten minutes early for work), and told him as such. He wasn’t going that slowly anyway, so I let him continue at his own pace, and I followed at a leisurely pace, making small talk about incidental exercise.

I don’t remember much else about that morning; I don’t remember what he looked like. But something about that incident has just stuck with me. I think it’s mostly because this gentleman, who had every excuse to take the elevator – his age, his physical ability, that he probably had an important appointment to go to – he still chose to take the stairs for apparently no other reason than because he can. He’s not going to not take the stairs because people expect him to take the elevator. Maybe it’s just me, but I find something truly admirable in that.