When Thermodynamics Goes Meta

While running a simulated annealing program, lowering the simulated temperature too slowly will make the CPU temperature rise too much. That’s thermodynamics.

Law of computer thermodynamics

The other lesson in here, particularly for systems engineers, is: “The system always kicks back”. (Paraphrased from John Gall’s satirical takedown of systems-thinking in his three Systemantics books, which are a little over the top but nevertheless recommended).

Sustainable Energy – without the hot air

I’m currently reading through Sustainable Energy – without the hot air by David J.C. MacKay, FRS, which I recommend to anyone interested in energy or energy policy. I’m particularly impressed by the graphs and diagrams in the book, both for the laboriously-collected data they represent and for their power to convey important points quickly and clearly. (Example).

The visual imagery evoked by the prose is powerful too: in a section discussing the merits (and lack thereof) of having a large number of people make a small saving each, here is what MacKay has to say:

The “if-everyone” multiplying machine is a bad thing because it deflects people‚Äôs attention towards 25 million minnows instead of 25 million sharks. The mantra “Little changes can make a big difference” is bunkum, when applied to climate change and power. [link]


Citation: David J.C. MacKay. Sustainable Energy – without the hot air. UIT Cambridge, 2008. ISBN 978-0-9544529-3-3. Available free online from www.withouthotair.com.

Steven Chu: “The Energy Problem and the Interplay between Basic and Applied Research”

US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu gave an interesting Compton Lecture at MIT on May 12, 2009, on how researchers can fit in with providing energy for a crowded world.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Wet Revolution

Over the past 18 months I have been reading up in my personal time on water, its availability, requirements, usage and distribution. I believe it to be a particularly important problem for systems engineers to examine, since it needs to combine aspects of purification technology with energy analysis, human practices, policy and politics, and one which I believe mainstream media does not report on as much as it perhaps should.

I was therefore happy to read a well-written BBC article by Richard Black that describes the problem and complexity of modeling water as a resource. If you’ve been trained in chemical engineering or systems engineering, the material is probably not new to you, but it’s presented very well.