“Tea, Earl Gray, Hot”

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Sometimes the best things in life are the simplest ones.    Perhaps my favorite holiday gift ever was an electric kettle, a device whose only purpose in life is to boil water — but boil it efficiently, in a fraction of the time it would take for a kettle on the stove, and for a fraction of the energy, too.  It’s simplicity itself — it has a coil which a current runs through.  The coil gets hot, heats water in a chamber sitting above it, and voila!  Boiling water.  By my estimates, the electricity costs are about a tenth to a fifth of a  cent for every cup of tea I brew.

The 23rd-century designers of the USS Enterprise seem to have lost this technology.  To get a cup of tea, Captain Jean-Luc Picard stands next to a little box in his room, says “Tea, Earl Gray, hot”, and a cup of tea is beamed in.  It seems to be an offshoot of transporter technology: you’re either beaming a cup made before from somewhere else, or assembling it whole from “pure energy” (whatever that means.)  Either way, it seems to be a damn-fool way to make a cuppa.

E=mc squared, right?  Each kilogram of matter takes 90,000 trillion joules of energy to create.  The water in a cup of tea has a mass of about one-third of a kilo, so this is 30,000 trillion joules.  But no technology is perfect: if the replicator is only 99.9% efficient, we are wasting 30 trillion joules into heat – enough to heat 100 million kilograms of water  for tea…  Just why are we doing it this way, again?

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