A Day in the Life of Maxwell the Air Molecule – Part 118 min read

Aug 21, 2019 | Blog

Hey. Maxwell here. Maxwell Air, that is. But you can call me Max. Did you ever have one of those days? What kind of day, you might ask? Well, something like standing on a corner waiting for the light to change and then you go to step into the street and … poof … you step into a street car that turns into a roller coaster which eventually deposits you two seasons down the calendar. That was my yesterday.

The previous couple weeks had been rather uneventful and mostly pleasant. After spending some time circulating above a feed lot – not quite so pleasant – I caught a slight cold front and rode it down to a lavender farm. The front broke down in a light rain and a high pressure trough kept me basking in the sun and the lavender fragrance wafting up from the fields. Then it happened – something eventually always happens when you live on the weather – I was floating around feeling nice and toasty, basking in the late afternoon sun and rubbing shoulders with my buddies drifting up from the lavender when a refreshing light breeze came up and started moving us away from the fields and towards a large concrete block of a building as big as one of the lavender fields. I had heard this monstrous block was called a data center and had been curious about what that might be. As I drifted closer, a low hum steadily grew into a roar – I recall a twinge of PTSD from the day I drifted over the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and got sucked through a turbine.

My speed picked up and the roar got louder and the PTSD jumped from twinge to terror. Just a moment before I had been leisurely bumping into my little lavender buddies and suddenly we were all careening off each other as we hurtled into a tighter and tighter pattern toward that droning roar. I had heard from fellow travelers about getting sucked into a tornado and snippets and images from those conversations rattled in and out of my jumbled brain. And then it started to rain. The harder it rained and the faster we were propelled along the more it started to feel like we were swirling into the big flush and for half a second I thought longingly of that feed lot from a couple weeks ago. No time for nostalgia. I can’t count the number of times I have seen people run from a door to a car in the heavy rain, like they are going to outrun the rain drops or bob and weave their way through the rain drops—silly people. Well, being an air molecule and traveling at hurricane speed in excess of 100 miles per hour (I would guess somewhere around 10,000 feet per minute), I was still surprisingly dry … for a brief moment.

It had been pleasantly warm over the lavender field, but it got cooler and cooler as we picked up speed and the rain got heavier and heavier when suddenly I slammed into a warm, almost hot, swamp – egads! It was the big flush! But wait; there was none of the stench of the recent feed lot or any of the music festival portable outhouses I had blown through over the years. So where was I? I was suddenly hot. I was soaking wet. I was pin-balling through a twisted maze of what looked and felt like roots that were vibrating from the high velocity hits they were taking from me and my lavender buddies. And now the roar was deafening.

I was hot and getting hotter. I was wet but I think I had maxed out past getting any wetter. Then just as suddenly I came flying out of the root jungle and directly into the noise. I was looking in all directions simultaneously, which is to say I really wasn’t looking at anything, but as best as I could tell it looked like I was flying into a big propeller. At the time I was rather pre-occupied with screaming, but after-the-fact it occurred to me that I performed a pretty nifty quadruple loop-de-loop before tumbling back out into the sunshine. I did a quick inventory – yup: four parts nitrogen, one part oxygen and some argon and carbon dioxide highlights – everything was still more or less in place. Except I was already dry and feeling a little chilled. So I am thinking that wasn’t anywhere near as harrowing as the turbine experience and I’m watching some of my lavender buddies floating by above and it looks like they may be heading back to the field. I had come out of the propeller duct at the bottom, so some of my buddies had a bit of a head start on me and I liked where it looked like we were headed. An evening over the aromatic and sun-warmed lavender fields sounded pretty nice, especially after what we had just been through. Premature imagination.

Rather than following along behind my buddies from the lavender field, it seemed like I was falling farther behind them. Oh horror! I realized I was turned around and getting packed in with another group of air, hurtling toward that big roar again. And there we went again – packed together tighter and tighter and hurtling faster and faster with the roar getting louder and louder and the damp and the cool and then the sudden smash into the hot swamp of roots and the loop-de-loops around the giant propeller and bursting into freedom and dusk. (Sure didn’t see that coming.) Some fellow travelers came out toward the top of the propeller duct and some of us came out toward the bottom of the propeller duct. The lucky ones who came tumbling out toward the top of the propeller duct floated upwards and appeared to be drifting back toward the lavender field. Those of us (“us” as in me being one of the “us”!) who came out toward the bottom of the propeller duct never quite made it out of that vicious loop.  And that’s how I spent the rest of the night – high velocity bumper butts with a bunch of other air, deafening roar, fierce rain, chilled, hot swamp of tangled vibrating roots, weighed down with hot water, dizzying loop-de-loops, false promise of freedom and hit the repeat button. In the middle of this frenzy I had no time for such philosophical ruminations, but after the fact, I think I have a better understanding of why human discourse includes purgatory, Sisyphus and Dante’s seven story mountain. I truly believed this was going to be the plot line for the rest of my life and given the principle of mass conservation in such an apparently closed loop system, that could be a pretty depressingly long life.

Fortunately, every time I got swept up by the propeller, I had a 50-50 chance of coming out toward the upper part of the duct and escaping. After coming up tails more times than I can recall, the 50-50 finally fell in my favor and I escaped into the early dawn glow. However, rather than heading back to the lavender field, the morning breeze carried me back over the top of the data center structure where I could see two long rows of those big boxes with the roaring propellers, rain storms, and hot root swamps. As I drifted over the parking lot on the other side of the building I went into a dive and felt myself getting swept up into a little dust devil with cigarette butts, gum wrappers, and designer paper coffee cups. I didn’t think much of it – I’d been in many dust devils over the years – and was just riding it out when I spun out of the dust devil into an open car door and into a backpack just as it was being closed up. I was in the dark and my new environment was a slightly sickening stew of chocolate, sweat, pepperoni Hot Pockets, and strawberry Pop-Tarts. Time loses its reference points in such circumstances but I could tell the backpack was moving around and just as I was beginning to feel at one with the strawberry pepperoni mash-up, the bag opened and I was released into the light – the really bright, white light.

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Ian Seaton

Ian Seaton

Data Center Consultant

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  1. A Day in the Life of Maxwell the Air Molecule – Part 2 - […] Last week we left off with Maxwell just about to escape from the backpack: “Time loses its reference points…

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