Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Business Energy Efficiency (and lack thereof)

An article on The Register recently reported Intel as promoting energy efficiency in business IT departments. Purportedly, businesses are taking their environmental impact more seriously in the wake of the Stern report out of the UK. Yet empty office towers still light up the night sky.

I work the night shift in a call centre (doing tech support). There's only about ten people in the building at night, yet all the lights are left on: on the production floor, in the cafeteria, meeting rooms, hallways, and the washrooms. All the computers are left on as well (hundreds of desktop computers with nobody sitting at the desk for over 12 hours each day).

When I'm bored, I can wander through the building turning off computer monitors. Approximately 40% of the computers are not set up to power off their monitors after an inactivity period, so they run 24 hours a day (at ~100W consumption each for CRTs).

I'm certain that a much higher percentage (probably >95%) don't have their hard drives set to power down after inactivity, so that means the hard drives spin 24 hours a day too (~10W power consumption, plus hard drives die regularly).

If monitors and hard drives were set to power down after 1 hour of inactivity, they probably wouldn't inconvenience anyone by powering down at all during the work day. But those two simple settings would mean each computer would consume over 1200W less power in a day if the computer powered down for only 12 hours of the day.

Multiply by several hundred (or thousand) computers per business, multiply by the number of businesses fitting this profile, and we'd probably be able to shut down a few power plants, breathe cleaner air, meet Kyoto targets, and be seen internationally as environmental heroes. (And that's before we start turning off lights in empty buildings!)

It would be even better if workers also set their workstations to enter standby or hibernate mode after a period of time, but monitors and hard drives would be a good start. (You should do this with your home computer too.)

Just right-click on your desktop, choose Properties, go to the Screen Saver tab, and click the Power button by the EnergyStar logo. Then choose how long you want the computer to wait before it powers down when you're not using it.

Simple measures like this can really make a difference. We all need to engage our brains and act collectively for the greater good. If you need more incentive than lower taxes (power plants are extremely expensive to build and maintain), cleaner air (which reduces health care costs and saves lives), and helping to address global warming... then think of all the money you'll be saving on electricity bills.

Addendum: If you don't trust me, take it from the Google Blog.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Wikipedia, Credentialism, and Control

It seems that the latest trend by defenders of the status quo is to criticize Wikipedia. Here's one such article:

The core criticism and theme of this article is that Wikipedia is unverified (not blessed by people with expensive pieces of paper on their walls), and therefore is not credible. That's simply faulty logic, and certainly a misunderstanding of the word credible.

Whether something is credible or not is entirely dependent upon the reasoning faculties of the person interpreting the information.

Now, "unverified" may indeed result in lower quality of information; however, for probably 95% of Wikipedia users, the quality of information present is more than sufficient to meet their needs. Due to the constant review process that's inherent to its model, it's also not exactly accurate to say that Wikipedia is unverified information.

Of course, this entire debate arises from people who are stuck in the old paradigm: the privileged few controlling and disseminating information.

Wikipedia uses a new paradigm of distributed and shared expertise. Existing hierarchies are threatened by a system in which an individual's actual knowledge counts for more than the pieces of paper on their wall and the letters after their name. Credentials are used to silence people and restrict access, yet lose their power in Wikipedia's model.

Consider how most people go through university: reading as little as possible, doing all-nighters to finish assignments they didn't bother starting till they were nearly due, cramming for exams and then promptly forgetting everything they learned as soon as the exam is finished. Really, the exalted status we give to those holding credentials is quite laughable. Of course, credentialism has been on the rise due to a confluence in recent decades of businesses abdicating their responsibility to train their own people for jobs, and of post-secondary educational institutions becoming mere businesses.

Wikipedia scoffs at credentialism, which impedes the free flow of information by restricting it to privileged classes. That is the crux of the issue. Those with a vested interest in perpetuation of old-style control of information by the few, or who prefer hierarchical organizational structures, will continue to criticize Wikipedia. People who embrace the paradigm of shared information and equal access will recognize that Wikipedia represents the future.

In a sense, it all boils down to control. Those who value telling others what to do instinctively dislike Wikipedia. Those who value freedom instinctively love it.

Addendum: Nature (the science journal) conducted a blind peer-review investigation of the accuracy of Wikipedia articles versus Encyclopaedia Britannica articles. They found that the number of errors present in each was comparable; four errors per Wikipedia article compared to three errors per Britannica article. Of all the errors found, only eight were considered serious, and they were distributed equally: four for Wikipedia, and four for Britannica. Here's the Nature article.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Internet and PC Privacy Guide

I like to condense things down to their basics. That's why I like to make one-page guides to things. So here's a one-page guide to Internet and PC Privacy. I hope you find it useful.

Mark's One-Page Guide to Computer and Internet Privacy

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Computer Tune-Up Guide

Being a computer geek, I've often got people asking me to fix their home computers.

Now, I could be surly about it and start wearing a "No, I will not fix your computer." t-shirt, but I'm too nice.

Unfortunately, as any geek knows, working on someone's home computer is a dreadful time sink, and there's no way anyone can possibly pay you enough for your time (especially since professional rates quickly outstrip what any home user is willing to pay).

So, I've finally gotten around to writing a one-page computer tune-up guide. It's intentionally simple, but provides enough information to help people set up some basic things to keep their computers running smoothly.

Now I can claim my legitimate excuses of not enough time and energy, and still politely provide some assistance. I've also written a one-page intro to open source software.

Here they are:

Computer Tune-Up Guide

Introduction to Open Source Software

Monday, January 16, 2006

Canada poised to elect Conservative government

Uh oh. Here comes Mike Harris again.

The polls are indicating that Canada is poised to elect a Conservative government led by Stephen Harper.

For the rest of you who didn't experience the Harris years in Ontario, here's what you can expect:

  • Harper will keep his promises to cut taxes and do other things.
  • Harper will drastically downsize and privatize public services (since he will no longer have the tax revenues to pay for them, and because he believes the government should offer only a very narrow range of core services).
  • Harper will offload current federal services onto the provinces and municipalities, which will allow him to lower taxes federally. However, you'll pay even more at the provincial and municipal level.
  • Expect to pay user fees for just about everything.
  • Once the Conservatives are done their hack and slash, don't expect subsequent governments to be able to put the pieces back together too easily. It's much easier to tear something down than to build it.

That's how Conservative government worked out in Ontario, and Harper is cut from the same cloth as Harris.

If you're a disenfranchised Liberal, vote NDP.
If the NDP were a close second in your riding last time, vote NDP.
If you're considering voting Green, vote NDP.

The best hope we have is to get enough NDP MPs elected to force another minority government, but this time with the NDP holding a real balance of power.

Read the NDP platform. I think you'll find they're worth supporting.