Wednesday, December 30, 2009

212 Degrees – Where inspirational vapor clashes with reality

212 Degrees: The Extra Degree
is an inspirational book by Samuel L. Parker and Mac Anderson. Of course there is a web site too (including an inspirational 3-minute video). An older video also is circulating.

Both videos have several comparisons showing that in sports there are very small differences between winning big and losing. Those comparisons are real, and perhaps relevant to the rest of us. If they had stopped there, then they would have been fine.

Unfortunately the book instead begins with the following:

“At 211 degrees water is hot. At 212 degrees it boils. And with boiling water comes steam. And steam can power a locomotive.”

“….Raising the temperature of water by one extra degree means the difference between something that is simply very hot and something that generates enough force to power a machine – a beautiful, uncomplicated metaphor that ideally should feed our every endeavor – consistently pushing us to make the extra effort in every task we undertake. 212 degrees serves as a forceful drill sergeant with its motivating and focused message while adhering to a scientific law – a natural law. It reminds us that seemingly small things can make tremendous differences. So simple is the analogy that you can stop reading right now, walk away with the opening thought firmly planted in your mind, and benefit from it the rest of your life.”

To many people that sounds very inspiring. Just a little more effort can bring huge results! The web site also has the catch-phrase: “One extra degree = exponential results.”

Don’t try telling the stuff about steam to engineers or scientists. At best they just will giggle. At worst they will scald you with their derision. For them it is a horribly bad analogy, an incomplete one that does not really add up. Instead it clashes with what they know about thermodynamics, and how water actually behaves.

That metaphor and “scientific law” confuses temperature and heat. How much added heat it does it really take to both bring a gram of water from 211 degrees to 212 degrees, and then to make it all boil away – to turn it from liquid to vapor?

Heating the liquid from 211 to 212 degrees takes only 2.342 Joules (the specific heat times the temperature difference). One degree F is 0.555 degree C, and the specific heat is 4.2159 Joules per gram degree C.

But, boiling it away takes adding another 2257 Joules (the heat of vaporization). You need to add another 964 times as much heat before you can turn it all into steam. Although it’s only one degree more, it takes adding much more heat to finish the job. And heat is equivalent to work. There really is no huge difference achieved with just a little more effort.

If instead you begin with the water at room temperature, 68 F, and heat it to 212 F, it only takes 335 Joules. Then you just need to add about another 6.74 times more heat to turn it all into steam. Tom Lambert pointed this out last year in a scalding blog post.

So the uncomplicated metaphor in the 212 degree book left out a huge part of the effort required to reach the goal. It is simply…wrong. The video says that: “…sometimes we need to sweat the small stuff.” Wrong! We always need to sweat the small stuff.

Boil some water, sit back, and have cup of nice hot tea. Consider the huge gap between an incomplete analogy and physical reality.

Mr. Parker since has written another motivational book called Smile & Move. If you do motivational speaking, then I strongly suggest you consider that one. You are now aware. Don’t steam people up by repeating a bad analogy!

Speaking of bad, there also is a much briefer (and only slightly obscene) parody video called 32 Degrees – the Extra Degree. Happy New Year!

1 comment:

Tom Lambert said...

Ha! Great! I'm glad to see someone else who remembers eighth grade science.

Great article

Tom Lambert