Wednesday, 28 January 2009

PV = nRT

I was complaining recently about someone who sits in my office and has the reproachable habit of venting. No, not spleen, heaven knows how much we all need to do that in the presence of a sympathetic audience, no, this person vents gas; from both ends. If they're not evacuating their colon and cloaking the surrounding environs in a thick miasma of impenetrable density, they are generally venting from atop. I'm treated to the periodic sound of hhhppp-fff, hhhpp-ffff as they suppress sonorous belches and hiss out the built-up pressure through their lips. I can tune-out of most noises when I'm concentrating hard, but this I find rather distracting and also annoying as I am constantly worrying that I might get a whiff of their breakfast.

I picture their insides gurgling and bubbling away, in the manner of an industrial fermentation tank, ready to blow spectacularly at any moment.

Someone not entirely averse to the concept of mindless violence suggested that I stick a red hot poker in their belly. I declined, naturally. Not just because of the legal ramifications, nor because this person doesn't inspire acts of unrestrained barbarity, they do, but because I have once before experienced the consequences of doing something like that.

I was maybe ten or eleven years old at the time. We were on our summer holiday in the Mediterranean and I, bored in our landlocked rural abode, went out into the midday sun to explore the parched countryside. Rummaging around with my spear amid the wild oats and dried grasses I chanced upon a dead dog. The fur was white, the stretched skin tightened by the expanding gases of decomposition. Flies were buzzing around the taut canine. I touched it with the tip of my shoe and was met with surprising pneumatic resistance.

Ten-year old boys, though inquisitive, aren't generally noted for their ability to foresee the consequences of their actions and in that respect I was no exception. I wondered what would happen if I stabbed the decomposing dog with my spear. Never the theoretical scientist I did not wait to ponder the answer, and without losing another moment I grabbed the stick with both hands, stood right above the dog, lifted my weapon high over my head, and with all my might thrust it into the dead dog.

Two things I was, excusably, ignorant of at that age were the Ideal Gas Law and the Venturi effect. Had I know about the effects of temperature on the pressure of a growing amount of gas in a confined space and the effects of releasing the pressure through a narrow orifice I would of course still have done the experiment (for one is born a geek) but I would have stood elsewhere.

The dog went pop, ejecting from its grotesquely distended abdomen the foul products of putrefaction. I was hit in the face by some dark fluid and was for the first time exposed to the unforgettable pong of the aptly named putrescine and cadaverine.

My recollection of the aftermath is still crystal clear. I did not scream. I stood there dripping silently and somewhat perplexed. All that I could hear was the delirious buzzing of the flies, my heavy breathing, the crickets in the midday sun and the mocking croak of a solitary crow.

Much as the burping and farting vexes me, I will not jab a red hot poker in this person's belly.

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