October 1, 2003

Forever Peace

Just finished reading Joe Haldeman’s Forever Peace. Very good. Some years ago, I read his book Forever War, one of the standards in the science-fiction canon. This was not a sequel to that, rather a sideways look at some of the same issues in it.

The book starts off slowly with exposition. He’s set up an interesting near-future world for the reader to get acquainted with, and if that were the extent of the book, it wouldn’t be bad. But right in the middle of the book, when things are starting to slow down, he throws a crisis at us, which is merely the butterfly wing-flap that precipitates a boggling storm of events. Everything starts happening very quickly.

I’ve always said that a cynic is a disappointed optimist, and I think Haldeman is a cynic when it comes to human nature: he hasn’t given up hope, but he’s arched his eyebrow at his fellow man for so long that those muscles have just given out. The book was written in 1998 and the action takes place in 2043; I suspect that every day now he cradles his head in horrified amazement at his own premature prescience.

Chilly processor units

Anyone who has used a laptop atop a lap is intimately familiar with the heat that a modern CPU can generate. Every watt of that heat is wasted.

Talking with Dave earlier, he mentioned that he had converted one of his PCs to liquid cooling, silencing at least some of the fans that had made the thing sound like a damned airplane. He explained how the cooling system used an aquarium pump to circulate water; I hypothesized that the pump was probably redundant–the CPU itself probably put enough energy into the system for natural convection to circulate the water adequately, as long as there’s a one-way valve in the plumbing somewhere. He was skeptical.

Anyhow, if it hasn’t been done already, it would make a good project for a casemodder. But after thinking about it a bit, I realized this idea had a lot of potential. Take it a step further: rather than using energy to cool the system, actively scavenge the processor’s waste heat. I can imagine a couple ways to do this:

  1. Install a water turbine in the radiator. This could drive a generator to produce a little juice, or be mechanically coupled to a fan. This would be quite elegant: the computer would become a homeostatic system that cooled itself down as a natural consequence of heating up.
  2. Install a stirling engine in the case. Again, this could be coupled to a fan or a generator.

Imagine the steampunk/geek-cred you’d earn by having a functioning stirling engine installed in your case.