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?

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Power consumption in data centers and online cameras

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.