Heat generating appliances definitely suck. If you rely on them you'll probably need air conditioning sooner or later even when living in a moderate climate.
When I worked at a software company almost ten years ago they started off having their servers and photocopiers in a rather spacious room in the basement. Still, when summer came and there was a lot of photocopying to be done (my job at that time), the room became quite warm. Later, two thirds of their RAID died because of overheating within a few days and they lost almost a week's work. Soon after they got air conditioning for that room, which made my job more pleasant as well.
When buying computer equipment, I doubt that people properly account for the extra cost in additional energy consumption both for the machines and possibly air conditioning. I could imagine that there'd be (a) much more pressure on the manufacturers to supply energy efficient solutions and (b) for all but the most high-performance needs people might settle for buying slightly dated machines as they tend to be much more energy efficient.
Re: Houses: I don't know anything about building houses of course, but one reason for the increased 'need' for a/c seems to be the way houses are built quickly of steel and concrete these days. Looking at older buildings such as our department (built in the 1920s) or my parents' house (late 19th century), they seem to heat up much slower than current buildings, like the one I live in now (on the top floor).
Re: duct work That's a point I didn't think of the other day: As seen in computers, anything that moves air easily sucks as it tends to be noisy unless particularly well designed. My least favourite examples: When living in Claycroft on campus in Warwick. Nicely built halls but whenever you approached it, you'd hear was distinct buzz of the extraction fans from all the bathrooms. And of course the cooling system for the particle accelerator that's about 20 metres from my office window and forces me to keep my windows shut most of the time.
But besides all that, my basic dislike about air conditioning comes from the fact that once you stay in an air conditioned room, going back to the real world is horrible and will potentially cause a cold. Thus, having one room air conditioned frequently causes people to want to have air conditioning everywhere and make their lives a constant rush from one air conditioned room to the next, like a drug addict. That's not a very desirable way of living in my book.
Another thing about air conditioning is the way it is over-used. I have the impression that they're always set to a lower temperature than necessary, multiplying the effect described in the previous paragraph. (Although Erik's comment on room temperature suggests that there are regional differences.) Often, it'll be a lovely day, allowing you run around in a T-Shirt and going into an air-conditioned shopping mall or something will actually make you freeze. That's just absurd. A theory about this seems to be that the temperature is set for business people, so they don't feel uncomfortable wearing suits - apparently also the reason why first class coaches on trains are too cold to be comfortable.
Sorry, I can’t resist another comment. In New England, where central home air conditioning is uncommon, many folks will survive the worst days of summer with a window airconditioner or two. The buggers are incredibly noisy. When visiting a non-airconditioned community (typically a community of vacation “cottages”) which had been built-out at the start of the 20th century, the first thing one notices is how quiet things are. Why? No compressors.
this is a slight aside to the equipment overheating, but i’ve been wondering how the cases i see recording studio computers in dissipate the heat from the machine. my 3 year old powermac is getting quite noisy between the fan and the loads of hard drives in and out of it, so i thought about a sonic-case for it. any ideas on how to create something that will stay cool AND quiet?
Several friends of mine simply put their computer in a closet and do some clever wiring.
Or get a Powerbook ;)
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