CHAPTER 73 Comfort and Climate Change
I started this column after watching a breaking news report that a train had crashed into the station at the end of the line in Hoboken, NJ. The station is in shambles but, as of this time, the only fatality is a young woman on the platform hit by debris. Back in the 1950s, after attending a function in New York, my wife and I spent a night in that train station when we missed the last train home. Other disturbing news in our part of New Jersey made headlines recently when the guy who set off the bombs in New York City and in New Jersey was captured in Linden, a town in the same county where I reside. Back in the days when we spent time in Florida, I drove our car to Linden, where a company would ship the car while we rode the train or flew down. How lucky a lot of people are that the bomb-maker was not very good at making the explosives and that the police and citizens of NY and NJ did a superb job of bringing him to justice so quickly.
Last Sunday there were two departures that saddened me. We lost Arnold Palmer, whose home in Latrobe is in the same region of Pennsylvania that my wife comes from. I've been a member of Arnie's army on a few occasions when he was in golf tournaments at nearby Baltusrol Golf Club. But the first time I saw him was sometime in the 1960s while we were on vacation in Las Vegas. While there, I learned Vegas was hosting a golf tournament, the Tournament of Champions. It was my first time attending such an event and I followed Palmer, who was paired with Cary Middlecoff. I only remember two things about that experience. One was that on one hole Middlecoff was lining up his putt and someone in the crowd was talking. Arnie shouted out for the spectator to be quiet. My other recollection is that on another hole Palmer hit a drive that landed in the rough with a big bush obviously blocking any possible shot to the green. At least that's what I thought. However, Arnie walked up to the ball, said "That's not bad, is it?" and hit the ball over the bush onto the green. That's when I first realized how good these guys are.
The other departure last Sunday was more benign, but still left me sad. For decades, I've looked forward to weekends and two programs, "Prairie Home Companion" on the radio and "Sunday Morning" on TV. Last Sunday, the whole 90-minute Sunday Morning program was a fitting tribute to Charles Osgood on his last day as host of the show after taking over from Charles Kuralt more than 20 years ago. I will miss his soft spoken manner, his poetry and his occasional voice raised in song while accompanying himself on the piano. His personality fit perfectly with the typical content of uplifting segments on the show. I anticipate continuing to watch this program with Jane Pauley as host.
This month, Prairie Home Companion begins a new season without Garrison Keillor, who also chose to retire from a hosting job. Keillor was truly was the heart and soul of the show, not just a host. A wonderful story teller who sang, composed songs befitting the various locales visited by the show, reported the news from a fictional town, Lake Woebegone, and drew you into the adventures of a private eye, a cowboy and various other characters. I will truly miss Keillor and may not continue listening to the program without him.
Well, the big news this past week was the debate. I didn't watch the event; too much past my bedtime, and no debate is going to change my mind as to whom I, a registered Republican, will vote against. One of the multitude of reasons I won't be voting for him is his dismissal of climate change as an issue of utmost importance. I get so tired of members of the "I'm not a scientist but ...." crowd that then go on to talk about how in the past there have been many cycles of heating and cooling. True, but typically those cycles took place over thousands of years or were initiated by cataclysmic events such as major volcanic activity. Today's climate change is occurring over a century or, it seems to me, even decades.
Predictions that scientists have been making for many years are already coming true at a rate faster than predicted and, in my opinion, we've already passed the point of no return. While no single weather event can be reliably attributed to climate change, I'm seeing indications that researchers are beginning to look into the possibility of calculating the probability that climate change is a factor in such an event. All this by way of introduction to what I found to be a novel approach to dealing with global warming - "personal thermal management". I found this unusual work in a paper in the September 2, 2016 issue of Science titled "Radiative human body cooling by nanoporous polyethylene textile" by Po-Shun Hsu and 7 other authors from various entities of Stanford University. The article points out that space heating and cooling are the major factors contributing to energy consumption in residential and commercial buildings. They state that some 12 percent of the energy consumption in the United States is related to keeping us warm and cool. As I've noted previously, I have some experience in this field, having consulted for a smart window company. Smart windows lighten and darken to control the amount of sunlight, and hence the heating and cooling energy required to keep a building's inhabitants comfortable.
Let's consider what keeping one comfortable involves. My wife, for example, attends a spend-a-day program for senior citizens two times a week, allowing me to attend my Old Guard meetings, play a bit of golf and provide some relief from care-giving duties. The day care center she attends uses so much energy keeping the place cool that my wife actually wears her winter woolen coat to keep warm! I'm not sure why the temp is kept so low but it may have something to do with keeping bad bugs at bay. I notice medical facilities are often uncomfortably cold, at least for me at my advanced age of 88.
Enter the concept of "personal thermal management". If it's hot you do want to keep cool. One factor that keeps you warm is that your body generates heat, which gets trapped by your clothing. To be cool you normally lower the temperature in the room. But there's an alternative, or at least something you can do to be comfortable without lowering the temperature as much as you normally do. You could go nude, allowing the heat from your body to escape in the form of infrared radiation. Generally, this approach is frowned upon in venues other than the privacy of one's home. Even there, one's housemates may not find the nudity socially or esthetically acceptable. So, what's an alternative? If your clothing could be made such that it is transparent to infrared radiation, the heat generated by your body could pass through the clothing and you wouldn't have to set the thermostat as low in temperature to be comfortable.
This is just what the Stanford group has done with what to me is a surprising material, polyethylene. Polyethylene is a polymer material that I certainly would not think would be comfortable to wear. Polyethylene is also not like cotton, which tends to wick up water, which can evaporate if it reaches the outer surface. However, the Stanford researchers have come up with nanoporous polyethylene, nanoPE. If I understand correctly, they make this nanoPE by using some kind of punching device to generate a material full of very tiny interconnected pores ranging in from size from 50 to a thousand nanometers. That's very tiny. This nanoPE is indeed transparent to infrared and heat will escape from your body, leaving you feel cooler. The paper quotes a bare skin temperature as being 33.5 degrees Centigrade. With a cotton fabric, the temperature rises to 37 degrees, a sizeable increase. With nanoPE, only 34.3 degrees Centigrade, significantly cooler.
I'm assuming that wearing a non-wicking polyethylene garment wouldn't be all that comfortable, even if you're cooler. The researchers have modified the nanoPE by what seems to me a sensible compromise. By coating the nanoPE with a compound that does wick water and also incorporating a cotton mesh they have come up with a "processed" nanoPE. This processed nanoPE fabric is said to feel comfortable to the touch. The bottom line is that the skin temperature wearing this fabric is 35.0 degrees, still 2 degrees Centigrade cooler than for the cotton fabric. The nanoPE-based cloth is still opaque to visible light, a desirable feature unless you're Kim Kardashian, while allowing the escape of the infrared radiation. Obviously, a lot of work needs to be done before this type of fabric would make its way to the marketplace but it's good to see some serious effort being made to help cope with our much hotter future.
A final note. After I posted last month's column, which included a bit about acupuncture and doubts concerning its effectiveness, I was watching the evening news on TV and what should I see but a report saying that acupuncture is indeed effective in a significant number of cases. I tried tracking down the TV report and believe it referred to what is said to be an exhaustive study in a paper published in the Archives of Internal Medicine with the lead author Dr. Andrew Vickers of Memorial Sloan Kettering. A New York Times article cited a conclusion that 50 percent of patients responded positively to acupuncture, compared to only 30 percent improvement in pain among patients receiving sham acupuncture. Maybe the Chinese are right after all.
Next column, hopefully, on or about November 1.
Allen F. Bortrum