Mobile phones as desktop and laptop replacements

It’s high time we were able to come home and place our mobile phones in a dock that’s connected to a display, keyboard and mouse, and have it turn into a full-fledged desktop and laptop replacement. Mobile phones have sufficient computing power for most of our needs, they have the apps most of us use on desktops as well, and there are incredible energy savings to be had. Hardware manufacturers need to start making sincere, concerted efforts toward this end.

You may also want to read through this post of mine, where I tried my best to use a tablet (an iPad) as my main computer, only to be frustrated to no end by the lack of common ammenities and functionalities we’ve come to expect on desktops and laptops, simple things such as the use of a mouse, drag-and-drop functionality between folders, a finder/file explorer and the ability to easily access drives and files on the network.

I realize that people who engage in heavy computing on a daily basis, such as 4K video editing, 3D graphics and 3D video rendering, large-scale CAD projects, serious coding that requires powerful compilers and other such tasks, will still need very powerful desktop computers and even small server farms in order to do their jobs and I am in no way suggesting that they start using mobile phones to do their work.

We simply have to acknowledge that the majority of the population that uses computers can do just fine with the computing power of a mobile phone. I’m talking about the people who mostly check their email, use social networking sites and apps for social networking sites, plus some online banking and take casual photos and videos. What if all those people were able to use their mobiles phones as replacement desktops or replacement laptops? Wouldn’t that be a significant cost savings to them?

Looking at the greater picture, if all those people, or at least a significant portion of them did this, wouldn’t that translate into significant energy savings for cities, counties, states and countries? Aren’t we always talking about reducing our carbon footprint? Well, instead of using a laptop that consumes about 60W when plugged in, or a desktop that eats up about 200W, give or take, why not use a mobile phone that consumes 3-5W when plugged in?

Power consumption in data centers and online cameras

Network video camera

There’s an interesting article linked below that talks about the internet of things and the potential for net negative power consumption after more and more devices go online. I’m not going to get into a discussion about the significant potential for hacking these devices and the need to constantly update their firmware, because that’s a great big subject. What I want to talk about is online cameras and power consumption. The quote that got me started is this:

Hölzle acknowledges that his prediction comes with a caveat: the proliferation of online cameras—which send so much data across the network—may cause a steep rise in power consumption across the world’s data centers. “Video is the one exception,” he said on Tuesday.

via Google Says the Internet of Things’ Smarts Will Save Energy | WIRED.

Of course online cameras eat up a lot of power across data centers, even though they shouldn’t. It’s because every one of the camera makers opts for the easy setup that involves the cloud and the possibility of extra revenues in the form of monthly fees instead of offering the possibility of a straightforward home setup, where the cameras are made accessible through the owner’s firewall.

When that happens, when you can access your home cameras directly through your firewall from your laptop, tablet or phone, you cut out the cloud and the extra power consumption. It’s a little more difficult to do but it’s the right thing to do if you want to reduce power usage, particularly when a lot of firewall/router makers (such as Dlink) also make network video cameras. Surely they can streamline the process of setting them up through their own firewalls and making them available to the owners. Dynamic DNS is the one part of the equation that’s still a bit difficult but I’m of the opinion that each firewall/router maker should run their own DDNS service, just like they already run their own time servers. (DDNS is important because your IP address changes often with some ISPs, making it fairly impossible to get at your firewall simply by bookmarking your external IP address.)

There is another aspect of this that’s worth mentioning. Cloud-based setup and administration of network video cameras becomes a worthwhile proposition when these companies offer subscription-based archival of the video footage. If the cost is reasonable, where you can archive say, eight video cameras for $20-30/month and then be able to search that footage for motion, vloss and audio markers, then it’s worth getting. When a knowledgeable thief breaks into your house, if he sees you’ve got video cameras, he’ll often rip out the DVR and take it with them (if they can find it). When the video is stored in the cloud, they can’t rip anything out, you’ll still have the proof, and that’s a very good thing.

Green IT Week: June 1-7, 2010

ComputersOFF.org is hosting a virtual Green IT Week from June 1-7. This is an issue that’s of particular importance to me. Having been an IT director, I know how much power the combined laptops, desktops and servers of an organization can consume, and how much pollution is generated by the disposal of computer hardware (see this post, and this one as well).

I’ve written about this topic since 2004. Here are three of my articles that deal with saving energy in IT:

Green IT deals with two things:

  1. Electronic Waste: Minimizing the negative impact of information technology use on the environment, and
  2. Energy Efficiency: Using information technology to help solve environmental issues

They’ve put together a few facts that help to drive home their message, so I’m going to quote them below.

By turning off your computer each night or when not in use (i.e. lunch times, weekends, when in meetings at night) for a year you save as much energy as it takes:

  • to run a clock radio for 1,392 weeks
  • to make 9,280 bags of microwave popcorn
  • to wash 464 loads of washing
  • to use your blow dryer for 5,568 hours
  • to vacuum for 464 hours
  • to produce 3,480 plastic bags
  • to run your microwave 24 hours a day for a week
  • to boil your kettle for 24 hours a day for 268 days

By turning off your computer tonight when you leave work you will save as much energy as it takes:

  • to run a clock radio for over 3 weeks
  • to make over 20 bags of microwave popcorn
  • to wash over 1 load of washing
  • to blow dry your hair over 12 times
  • to vacuum for over 1 hour
  • to light a 100 watt light bulb for over 10 hours

For both companies and individuals, there are some really easy actions they can take to reduce their energy use, including:

  • Turning off computers, games consoles and TVs when they are not in use
  • Setting your computer to “sleep” after 15 minutes of inactivity (this reduces the power it uses because “sleep” mode is a lower-energy use mode for the computer to operate in)
  • Turning devices off at the power point (because even in standby mode your appliances are using electricity)
  • Buy green energy (to help push electricity suppliers to convert from coal based production – which creates greenhouse gases and requires mining – to sustainable technologies like wind power)
  • Buy and use a laptop instead of a desktop computer. Laptops only use 190kW (average) of electricity per year.

Want more of these neat factlets? They also have 100 Green IT Tips. They’ve put together a video as well, where various celebrities endorse the cause.

Make sure to check their website from June 1 to June 7 for more good info about Green IT.

Is the M3 is more economical than the Prius?

Which car would you rather drive: the BMW M3 or the Toyota Prius?

2009-bmw-m3

2010-toyota-prius

I’d take the M3. It’d be no competition for me.

As it turns out, Top Gear tested these two cars around the track. The M3 got better mileage than the Prius while both cars traveled at the same speeds for 10 laps. This was part of a show segment where the BBC had asked them to show which cars are more economical, given the high price of gasoline.

Supercars – The one gallon fuel crisis race – Top Gear – BBC

Top Gear also tested a bunch of supercars (Lamborghini, Ferrary, Aston Martin, McLaren and R8), and found the Audi R8 gets the best gas mileage — 5 mpg — during healthy track driving. The runner-up was the Lamborghini Murcielago at 4.1 mpg.

Jeremy Clarkson’s conclusion was this: it’s not the car, it’s how you drive it. You can get decent fuel economy from a sporty car that you love to drive, or you can get decent fuel economy from a boxy, under-performing hybrid. Take your pick.

This is why I love Top Gear. It’s always fun to watch.

Images used are public domain, obtained from the Wikimedia Commons.

A twist on telecommuting

Derek Thompson from The Atlantic picked up a post I wrote a couple of years ago, entitled “13 arguments for telecommuting“, in an article which proposes a twist on the idea: a 4-day workweek. The State of Utah switched to just such a program a year ago for its government employees, and the results are in: everyone loves it.

I wouldn’t have minded a 4-day workweek back when I did the 9 to 5 thing, but thankfully my boss let me shift my working hours. I’d come in at 11 am and leave at 7 pm, which meant I got to avoid most of the DC rush hour traffic.

Of course, it’s even better than all of this when you can telecommute entirely. That would truly save money for both employers and employees.

A simpler way to dispense water

Let me show you a simpler, less expensive, more sustainable way to dispense water at home or even at a business. I didn’t see this in the US, where the water cooler is practically ubiquitous. I saw this in Romania. You see, here it matters if a machine is plugged in and consumes electricity all the time. You feel it more in your wallet than you do in the US. Generally speaking, things are made smaller in Romania, and if possible, made to be operated manually instead of automatically. In many ways, that’s a better way to do things — better for the people, who burn more calories, and better for the environment, because the carbon footprint is smaller.

You have here a water pump, hand operated, which works on the principle of building a small vacuum inside it to draw water from a large jug. It screws on top of these plastic jugs that you can buy at the store, and it’s operated by pressing down on the large button on top. As you press repeatedly on it, negative pressure builds up inside, pulling the water upwards and releasing it through the spout. It’s an old principle which has been in use for many years, but here it’s been packaged in a small, inexpensive little pump.

Isn’t this a better way to dispense water? Wouldn’t you rather use this than a large water cooler which will take up more space, make noise as it cools the water, and require you to lift those huge jugs and set them on top of it?

You can get a water pump like the one from the video at Amazon.

Pitch black darkness

Last night, the power went out everywhere. Completely. I happen to be staying in a village in the province of Dobrogea, Romania at the moment, and just as I stepped out of the house to walk to my car, all the lights blinked out of existence. It was, as they say, a dark and stormy night, with nary a star in the sky, not to speak of the moon, which had probably been stuffed in thick sackcloth and kidnapped.

Do you want to know what things look like when you’re in the middle of a wide open field and everything goes pitch black? It looks something like this.

Pitch Black Darkness

It’s an eerie feeling, one that throws you for a loop, even if only for a few moments. I looked around, but there was nothing to see. I reached about me, and wasn’t sure where to reach for a wall or something to hold on to. Everything was black. Even the dogs went quiet. Then, someone in a house nearby stumbled over something and mumbled some sort of swear, then called out for a light from his wife. Others, elsewhere, called out to each other. Things came back to life, but it was still pitch black outside.

I pulled out my little spotlight, the same one I reviewed recently, and found my way to the car. I unlocked it, and the interior lights came on. I climbed in, sat down and turned on the engine. The dashboard lights came on, reassuringly. Then I realized something which sounds obvious to someone who doesn’t have to deal with a power failure, but is a downright epiphany when you’re in pitch black darkness: cars have standalone electrical systems; they do not depend on the grid for power; they make their own power. When the grid goes down, your car can still run, thanks to its battery and to the fuel that makes its alternator turn and charge that same battery. It’s an amazing system when you think about it. I don’t know what we’d do without it.

Shouldn’t homes have similar standalone electrical systems, just in case grids go down? Sure, we’ve made inroads with solar panels and wind turbines, and some homes do have batteries that charge up from the sun or the wind, but the overwhelming majority of homes in this world don’t have any sort of backup power. If the electricity goes down, they’re down as well.

We should really invest more into making each of our homes more self-sufficient. Each home ought to be able to function, at least for a period of time — say 4-8 hours — without grid power, in and of itself, from power stored in batteries or capacitors or in some other container of energy, so that people can carry on with their lives and at least have enough time to prepare for a prolonged power outage once the grid power goes out.

American habits

Slow down. That’s a phrase not often heard in the US. At least not among the people I know. But it’s a notion that’s slowly starting to make more sense.

Americans love to think big and spend big. They want progress on every front, no matter what the cost. In the 20th century, that sort of thinking worked well. It carried us through to the 21st century, where, however reluctantly, I think we’ve got to change the way we operate.

There’s a newspaper article I’ve been saving since June of 2007. It’s about people who overextended themselves in order to keep up with the Joneses, and were paying the price. It’s called “Breaking free of suburbia’s stranglehold“. Even before the real estate bubble burst, sensible people were finding out they couldn’t sustain their lifestyle and stay sane, so they downsized. Each found their own impetus, but they were acting on it. That was smart. I wonder how many people had to downsize the hard way since last year…

How about a more pallatable reference, one for the ADD crowd? There’s a Daft Punk video called “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger“. The lesson to be drawn from it is found at the end of the video, but to get it, you have to watch it from the start. I’ll summarize it for you here. Don’t be fooled by glitter and glamour. There’s a price to pay for everything.

Paying for it isn’t a new notion. It’s been around for ages. Take “pay the piper“, for example. You look at almost any language, and the idea of everything having a price can be found embodied in certain evocative phrases.

Let’s look at a few more concrete examples:

  • You want a bigger house? There will be a cost for that, as seen above.
  • You want the house of your choice AND the job of your choice? You might have to do some really nasty commuting, and now that gas costs a lot more, you’ll not only pay with your time, but with your wallet as well.
  • You persist in wanting to drive an SUV? There’s a price to pay for that too, and it’s not just in gas.
  • You want a house that looks like a mansion, but you don’t want to think about how things get built? That’s okay, you’ll get a plywood box with fake brick cladding that will look like a mansion and will only last you 20-30 years at most (not to mention that your HVAC bills will go through the roof, literally).
  • You want your meat, particularly your pork? There’s a big cost for that, and it’s measured in incredible amounts of environmental damage and in chronic and deadly health problems for the people who work on the pig farms.
  • You want to keep your computers and lights on all the time at work? You want to keep the temperature at 65 degrees Fahrenheit all the time? Do you want to keep all of your employees on site instead of letting them work from home? As a company, you’ll see increased costs because of your wasteful habits.

These are all hard lessons to learn. It seems the only way to get people and companies to learn to act responsibly is to increase costs. When your actions have a direct and immediate impact on your bottom line, you tend to change your ways in order to stop the bleeding.

It’s a shame it has to be that way, and perhaps at some point in the future, the new way of thinking will be more ingrained in people’s minds, and they’ll think about slowing down, conservation, sustainability and efficiency on a daily basis. Perhaps they’ll realize having a more meaningful life is more important than having a busy life filled with material nothingness.

I’m grateful that at least some are already seeing things the right way. I myself have already started to cut out unnecessary expenses and time commitments, and will continue to do so. I have several more important changes still planned.

If you’d like to do the same, one place to start is a book entitled “Take Back Your Time: Fighting Overwork and Time Poverty in America“. It’ll get you thinking along the right lines, but it’ll be up to you afterwards to make the needed changes in your life.

Condensed knowledge for 2008-03-17

13 arguments for telecommuting

I thought I’d put together this list of arguments you could use to make the case for telecommuting at your workplace. No, there’s nothing special about the number 13. That’s how many reasons I came up with. If you know of more, please let me know and I’ll be glad to publish them here.

First, I should say I’m all for telecommuting, and I think it’s unfair to make people come into work when most jobs — in particular tech jobs — can be readily converted (with little or no effort) to allow employees to work from their homes.

Reduced office space

Leased office space can be less (significantly less) when employees are allowed to telecommute, since most people won’t need dedicated offices at company headquarters. All that’s needed are offices for the employees that need to be there: phone operators, receptionists, facilities, help desk, and meeting rooms. You’ll need the latter because employees will probably need to come in for meetings or other tasks that need to be performed on-site once a week or every two weeks. In addition, sales folks may need to come in to meet with clients, etc. An unexpected benefit will be that you’ll actually be using the conference rooms a lot more than before. Management will be happy, since the space they’re paying for will be well utilized.

Reduced business utilities

Utilities and other bills, like communications, will be much, much less. With most of the workforce staying at home, and much less office space, electricity usage will be slashed. None of those things that really rack up the bills, like A/C, computers and lights will be anywhere near their previous figures. People will use IM and video conferencing tools (like Skype) to communicate with each other, and will use home phones when needed. You’ll be able to ditch expensive phone system, or scale them down significantly.

Less crowding during rush hour

Businesses that allow their employees to telecommute are doing a greater good. They’re directly contributing to solving today’s serious traffic problems. When employees don’t need to come into work, they stay home and their cars stay in the garage, not on the streets, clogging up avenues and highways, causing traffic delays and accidents. Let’s not also forget the added benefits of burning up less fossil fuels.

Less pollution

When cars stay in the garage, there’s less pollution. I’m not just talking about greenhouse gases, I’m talking about traffic noise as well. Those of you who live near busy streets know this.

Contribute to national security efforts

Businesses that allow employees to telecommute are indirectly contributing to the safety of our country, by reducing our dependence on foreign oil. The less gas employees burn driving to work, the less gas that we’ll need to purchase from countries that finance terrorism. That’s always a good thing. And police and fire trucks will have an easier time driving on our streets during rush hour with less cars on the roads.

Less stress for everyone

I don’t know about you but traffic is very stressful. Sitting in traffic, knowing you can’t go anywhere and you’re stuck there, sandwiched in between other cars, puts one in a very helpless mood. Don’t even get me started on how much time is wasted on commutes, because that’s completely ridiculous and unnecessary. And let’s not forget the people who are actually trying to go shopping or must make it to an event during rush hour. They’re stuck in there too, and they’re not going to work.

Higher job satisfaction

Wasted time makes productive people unhappy. Time and energy gets wasted in traffic. Hence, allowing employees to work from home makes them happy. It’s logical, isn’t it? Besides, I don’t need to analyze things to know that if I could sit at my computer in the morning, right after having breakfast, and get right to work, instead of having to find clothes, get in the car, waste my time on the road, get out of the car and settle in my office, I’d be a lot happier. Why go through all that when I’ve got everything I need right at home?

Less expenses for employees

What do we spend on gas every month? C’mon, add it up! I spend about $100, but I’m one of the luckier ones, because I only have a 25 mile round-trip commute. I’m sure other people spend more. And we’re not even counting the wear and tear on our cars. And how would we value the time we waste in traffic, time that could be spent working productively? I suppose we could calculate our hourly rate, then come up with a total for the time wasted on the road.

Less expenses per employee (business-wise)

Managers, count up the costs to get an employee in a chair at your place. Add in furniture, supplies and equipment (and make sure to include the computer as well). Well, now slash all those costs by about 70%. Happier? An employee that works from home won’t need an office, won’t need a phone, won’t need a desk or a chair or a bookcase or a filing cabinet or even a computer. Okay, there might be some leeway with the computer. You could let them sign out company equipment if you desire, or sponsor the whole or part of the cost of a computer, considering that they’ll use it for work now in addition to their home chores. And you might need to supply them with work-related software as well. But think about it, all of the other costs will go away. When employees come in, they can use terminals set up in the conference rooms, or bring their own laptops. And they’ll use common desks set up near conference rooms to do work that needs to be done at work, not dedicated offices.

Improved management practices

When employees telecommute, work becomes objective and goal-oriented for everyone. It has to, in order for telecommuting to work. Employees get treated as adults instead of babies that need to be micromanaged. Clear monthly and weekly objectives get set, and employees produce status reports or track their objectives online. When tracking is enabled, it’s easy to see who performs and who doesn’t perform. Non-performers can be let go. This is efficient management. Employees are enabled to do what they need to do, and the good ones will go out there and do it.

More family time

Those of you who are married or have significant others, let me ask you this: if you had two hours a day, extra, would you spend them in traffic, or would you spend them with the person you love? That’s an easy answer, right? So okay, you don’t have a spouse. Wouldn’t you rather pursue a hobby or read a book rather than waste your time in traffic?

Safety, safety, safety

People without time constraints are more laid back when they drive. When you work from home, you don’t need to rush into work. This means we’ll have less aggressive drivers on the streets, and our lifestyles will be more relaxed on the whole. Businesses who allow their employees to telecommute are indirectly decreasing the number of accidents and costly traffic tickets.

No more workplace annoyances

This may be more of a pet peeve of mine than anyone else’s, but I’d rather use the bathroom at home than the one at work. I don’t want to go to the bathroom and see (or smell) someone else in there. Why? Because people are disgusting. I want to be able to relax, at home, in my own bathroom, where I’m not in danger of contracting other people’s germs or be subjected to other people’s gross bathroom habits. I’m sure there are plenty of things that annoy you about your own workplace or co-workers, so we probably don’t need to get started down that path. Well, wouldn’t you be happier if you could see less of those annoying people, and only deal with them through email, from time to time? I thought so.

Hope this helps you make the case for telecommuting at your own workplace. Or, that it helps business managers realize the value of this wonderful practice, which is a fantastic way to attract motivated and valuable employees to one’s organization.

Make the switch to a compact fluorescent light bulb

Environmental Defense is running a campaign to get 1 million households to replace their incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents. They’re saying that if you swap out just one 100W incandescent bulb, you’ll reduce your household’s global warming pollution by more than 1,300 pounds. Alternately, “if every US household replaced three 60W incandescent bulbs in their home with CFLs, it would be like taking 3.5 million cars off the roads!” Food for thought, right! Meanwhile, here’s a link to the pledge.

New clothes washer uses steam and no detergent

Gizmag has the details on a new electric-powered clotheswasher that uses no detergent, only steam. The steam cycle can be used alone, or in combination with the normal hot/warm water cycles. It’s made by LG.