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?

A look at what’s ahead in terms of resources and the economy

The TED channel published two interesting videos recently which present two points of view about the Earth, in terms of its resources and economy. The first is from Paul Gilding, entitled “The Earth is full“, and the second is from Peter Diamandis, entitled “Abundance is our future“.

I invite you to watch both points of view, which are at first in seeming opposition but after some consideration, are both saying pretty much the same thing, namely this:

Our current economic models, based on carbon forms of energy, will soon reach their lifespan, and we have some choices to make ahead as we transition to other economic models and other ways of generating our energy and making our stuff.

We can have a smooth transition or we can have a rocky one, with elements of anarchy and possible energy and water wars.

What’s clear on both sides is that we need to something about it and we need to start doing it now.

The wonderful thing is there are solutions to our energy and pollution problems emerging now and if they’re implemented correctly, we will not only avert any potential crises but we will come out ahead of the curve.

What are we waiting for? Let’s do it!

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.

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.

Green power

Someday perhaps we'll derive most of our energy from non-polluting sources such as the sun and the wind. Until then...
Someday perhaps we'll derive most of our energy from non-polluting sources such as the sun and the wind. Until then...

One of my most popular photos at Flickr. Taken at Cabin John Regional Park, in Potomac, MD.

Watch "The Energy Non-Crisis"

Please watch “The Energy Non-Crisis“. You can find it on Google Video, and probably on YouTube as well. Draw your own conclusions after you’ve seen it.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3340274697167011147

Regardless of who is really in control of oil, what’s clearly evident here is that our economy is suffering. If there really are such huge oil reserves in Alaska, we should start drawing upon them.

On a related note, I live near Washington, DC and have visited the World Bank. I’ve seen their headquarters, I know people who work for them, and I’m not so sure they’re the ones in control of oil prices, like he says. But that’s not as important as making sure our economy stays healthy, and right now, cheaper oil would help a lot.

Also, there’s the benefit (painful as it may be) of higher prices that can and will be seen in the future through more fuel-efficient cars and better housing. I’ve railed against the shoddy construction practices in the DC area (and seemingly throughout most of the US) for some time. Houses are built like matchboxes, with very little insulation or thought for long-term existence or impact on the environment. As utility prices rise and stay up, people will begin to see the advantage of solid, time-tested building techniques, with proper insulation and solar panels and the like. So I can’t say that higher oil prices are entirely bad.

Condensed knowledge for 2008-03-12

Ways in which companies waste money and energy

I want to focus in on a few specific ways in which companies waste money and energy. I see the following things happen daily in the workplace. They’re not specific to any company. Chances are that if you visit any American company, they’re probably doing at least one of these things.

Lights are left on regardless of time or day, and whether or not there are people present in the room

Many people will turn on their lights during the day, even if they have an office window that lets in plenty of light. That makes no sense. Want to know what else doesn’t make sense? Walk around at night in a big city. Look at how many businesses have left their lights on. Now look through the windows (it’s easy to do with skyscrapers) and see if you can see any people in there. Chances are you won’t. Those big offices are empty, and the lights are fully lit. What for? Don’t tell me it’s to discourage theft, because it doesn’t work. Having the lights turned off and making the thief use some sort of light to see his way around is a much better way to discourage theft.

Utility bills are doubled and tripled by leaving lights on at night, and yet that sort of expense is just shrugged off as a given. Well, it shouldn’t be that way. It’s wrong. And no, using CFLs doesn’t really count. They reduce electricity consumption dramatically, yes, but that doesn’t excuse you from turning lights off when you leave the office.

Computers are left on at night and when not being used

This one bothers me a lot. As a past IT director, I know computers consume a lot of electricity, and I also know that most people don’t need to leave their computers on when they leave their office. Short of server rooms, which need to stay on all the time, and selected desktops (used mostly in IT departments) that need to stay on because they’re being accessed remotely, most computers can be safely turned off or put into standby or hibernation at the end of the day. Do people do it? No.

Each desktop system consumes anywhere from 200-500 Watts of power (or more) while turned on, not counting the displays, which vary from 50-200 Watts (or more). IT departments should institute group policies (it’s doable in Windows) that automatically put computers into standby or hibernation if they’re idle and not used. Just think of the energy savings that could be obtained! By the way, Macs come pre-programmed to do just that, so they will give you energy savings right out of the box.

No recycling program in place

Most businesses will have a document shredding services, but they’ll have no recycling containers on site for aluminum, glass or plastic products. They’ll trash them and pollute the landfills, when they could be easily recycled and re-used. What’s more, they miss an important opportunity to set a good example for their employees.

No equipment recycling policies

Related to the overall recycling program, companies usually do not have any arrangements in place to recycle their used computer equipment. When computers and other equipment reach the end of their usable lifespan, they most likely get trashed, not properly recycled through businesses that specialize in this sort of thing. Some companies donate their computers to non-profit organizations that re-use them, which is laudable, but those are few and far between.

Do we really want old circuit boards which contain toxic chemicals polluting landfills everywhere and seeping into our water supply?

Not enough telecommuters

It’s true that a lot of jobs can’t be done via telecommuting. But many of them can be done that way. Programming, web development and design, project management, accounting, etc. are only some of the jobs that can be done from home, if things are planned out correctly. There are many benefits to be reaped by both companies and employees when telecommuting policies are worked out. One of them is cost reductions, for both parties, and another is less pollution on the environment.

Read this article I wrote on telecommuting for the details. Here are just a few of the benefits that can be observed right away:

  • Reduced office space
  • Reduced utility costs
  • Less crowded roads
  • Less stress
  • Higher job satisfaction
  • Less expenses for employees
  • More family time

I’m sure there are more items for this list. If you know of any, please let me know in the comments.

Condensed knowledge for 2008-03-05

How houses get built in the DC area

I thought that when I lived in Florida, the construction there was shoddy. I was wrong. At least there they used concrete pillars and floors for the houses, and the building code was so strict everything was anchored properly, especially after Hurricane Andrew. When I moved to the DC area, I thought construction would be better here, since it’s a temperate climate and the houses should be built to last and hold up to the weather. I was wrong. Construction here is horribly shoddy.

I have never been so shocked at the cheap and flimsy “workmanship” I see every time I pass some house or building under construction. It never ceases to amaze me what passes code in these parts, and I’ve lived here since 2003. It’s downright thievery, I tell you. I’ll show you some photos below to help you see what I mean. I call it thievery because you’d think housing would be dirt cheap given the materials and level of effort that goes into the construction, but it isn’t. It’s terribly expensive, to the point that people making below what would be called upper middle class in other parts of the country can’t afford to live inside the Beltway, much less outside it. They have to go find housing either in bad neighborhoods, or way out in the boonies, in order to get anything affordable.

It’s not right. It makes my blood boil. Honestly, I can’t believe what goes on. It’s the same construction everywhere, from the (relatively) cheaper townhomes and single family homes right up to the McMansions that have sprung up on River Rd, Georgetown Pike and other richer places. The only thing that changes is the size and price of each monstrosity, but they’re all just as flimsy.

Do you want to see what I mean? Take a look at these photos. They’re from a house currently under construction in my area.

House under construction

Some unwitting soul is going to pay several hundred thousands of dollars for this piece of crap, and he won’t know what a lemon he’s getting. It’s all 2×4 construction. There’s nothing solid and concrete there except the foundation, and I’m not sure how thick that is, either. It’s all either cheap, soft wood or plywood, including the upper floor. Not only that, but the beams aren’t straight, and the joints aren’t secured properly.

House under construction

It’s basically a big plywood box. I’m not sure what its projected lifetime is, but I can’t imagine it’ll last more than 30 years. It’ll start needing serious repairs even before the mortgage is paid off. Isn’t that terrible?

Do you see that cheap, flimsy Tyvek plastic? That’s the weatherproofing. No, I’m not kidding. That’s it. That’s also the insulation. I doubt they’ll put glass fiber or any other kind of insulation between the drywall and the beams. They might, but I seriously doubt it. I’ve seen the inside of many walls, and they’re usually empty.

House under construction

Can you say cheap? I can. It’s cheap construction! It’s a travesty. Look at that horrible plywood shell. That’s going to be a tower. It’s going to look so nice, clad in fake brick or plastic siding only 1-2 inches thick… It’s also going to be horribly inefficient when it comes to temperature preservation. And if water should happen to leak in through that cheap brick cladding and through that flimsy Tyvek sheet, the plywood will rot away quietly and the owner won’t even know it… Wonderful, isn’t it? Isn’t this piece of crap worth mortgaging your life away?

Should we be ill-fortunate enough to get a hurricane or some tornado in our area, the roof on this thing will probably get torn off, and the entire house might or might not be standing when nature’s done with it.

Look, don’t get me wrong. I understand that America has a long history of 2×4 construction. It’s how the West was won. It’s cheap, affordable, goes up quickly, etc. But this isn’t the West, and it’s not the 1800s. This is the supposedly refined East. We should know better by now. It’s our nation’s capital. And the prices of these plywood boxes aren’t cheap. No, they’re so high most people can’t afford them.

I also understand the builders have to make a profit and the cost of land in this area is expensive. But this is ridiculous! If you’re going to build something that someone will want to call their home, and will pay dearly for it, sinking most of their productive, working years into paying it off, then God help you if you don’t build something worthwhile, something that’ll last. You’ll get what’s coming to you, don’t you worry about that…

What I wonder about is how the people and companies that put up these things can live with themselves. That’s what I want to know. How can they sleep at night knowing someone’s going to pay a fortune for something that’ll start falling apart after the first several years, for something that’s so horribly inefficient when it comes to energy use that they’ll be paying through the nose to cool it in the summer and to heat it in the winter? Don’t tell me about efficient windows! You can get the most expensive windows out there — if the walls themselves can’t conserve the inside temperature, you’ll still be nowhere. There’s such a thing as global warming to worry about. Have you heard of it? Everyone needs to reduce their carbon footprint, and it starts in the home.

Whatever happened to the good, old masonry work? What happened to quality stone construction? Yes, it’s more expensive, but isn’t it worth it? Why can’t you builders put a little more pride in your work? Why can’t you make a concrete skeleton, and use thicker insulation and better materials for the cladding? Is it so hard to do? So you’ll make a little less money. You might have to mark up the price a little. You might have to educate the consumers that know nothing about quality construction. But isn’t it all worth it in the end? Won’t you feel better knowing the house you built will last a long time? Won’t you feel better knowing the people that will buy your house will thank you for your solid construction later? Isn’t it it worth it to build good will instead of ill will?

A weekend in Manhattan

Light up the nights

Ligia and I spent this past weekend in Manhattan, and got home around 1 am last night, completely exhausted. Was it fun? Yes. Was it worth it? Yes. Are we still tired? Yes.

The trip out on Friday morning wasn’t bad at all. The traffic was decent all the way through, including the Lincoln Tunnel. Even the Manhattan traffic was bearable, except for Times Square. We stayed at the Algonquin Hotel, which is about a half block up from 44th St and 5th Ave, and we loved it. It’s a small, cozy, quiet hotel with a rich history. It has also undergone recent and extensive remodeling, and it looks great, inside and out. I got a chance to compare it with the Waldorf-Astoria, where my parents stayed, and I’ll take the Algonquin any day. The Waldorf is huge — too big for me — and it’s crowded. Sure, it’s very nice, and it’s on ritzy Park Avenue as well, but still, I prefer smaller, quieter hotels like the Algonquin, where I can get to know the faces of the people who work there.

If you’re in town, do try to eat at the Algonquin. We had breakfast in the Round Table Room. The food was delicious, and the service wonderful. We didn’t get a chance to attend one of the shows at the Oak Room Cabaret, but that’s on our list for the next visit to NYC.

We spent our weekend traipsing about Manhattan, visiting various spots like the Flatiron Building, Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, Statue of Liberty, Museum of Natural History and tons more. We crammed as much as we could into those short few days, and as a result, I have over 1,500 photos while we’ve both got very tired and aching feet (and legs, and hips, and shoulders, etc.). I can’t wait to go through and start winnowing and post-processing my gigabytes of photographic memories.

A few months ago, I read an article that said New Yorkers are the friendliest people in the States. The article had relied on informal methodology to gauge the friendliness of people in various big cities: strangers were stopped in the streets and asked for directions. I got a chance to test those findings during our trip, and I agree, for the most part. New Yorkers are friendly and helpful. NYC cops are also called “New York’s Finest”, and I agree with that as well. All of the cops we talked to were nice to us. They even smiled frequently, prompting Ligia to wonder what makes them so happy in a city so frenetic, where the pace of life and traffic can be so stressful. We don’t know, but they sure were friendly. Even random people on the street, although a little more stressed, helped us out when we needed directions. Not everyone was nice, though. MTA employees were definitely not friendly. I even had a woman employee at the 72nd St subway station yell at me when I complained that my just-purchased tickets would not open the gates for me. While I’m on that subject, the subway ticket machines need better maintenance. They locked up frequently when purchasing by credit card or ATM card. Many did not accept paper notes, only coins. We were left scrounging for loose cash with a line forming behind us…

Manhattan is a very interesting place. This was my first chance to stay there for more than one night, and as I walked around the town, I got the chance to think and compare. Needless to say, space there is at a premium. Everything is packed tightly, and the only way you can get more space is to build up or down. It’s mind-boggling to think how many tunnels of all sorts traverse the underground. Trains, subways and cars travel underground on multiple levels, while pipes and wires of all sorts and ages, all of them needing maintenance, fill out every nook and cranny of available underground space. It must be a logistical nightmare to keep up the infrastructure of a city so massive, on every scale.

There so little vegetation in the city! Most of the time, we were surrounded by concrete, glass or old, grungy brick and mortar. Parks of all shapes and sizes are a welcome sight. Even the planted bushes on penthouse terraces are a sight for sore eyes, though removed from those on the ground by tens of stories and layers of social and financial hierarchy. It didn’t matter though — I had my trusty 100mm lens, and the thing about tele lenses is that they have no social graces. They will cut through distance of any sort and bring the object down to the photographer. I took many photos of beautiful penthouse terraces — little oases of vegetation in grungy, musty concrete fields.

Here, I complain about urban sprawl and the lack of decent pedestrian accommodations. In Manhattan, I got to see the other side of the coin. There can be no urban sprawl. There are too many pedestrians, and you can’t drive your car. If I lived there, I wonder if I could even keep a car. At the prices they charge for parking, I’m not so sure. To get places, you have to either walk, or go underground and take the subway. When you walk into a building, you have to take the elevator. There are no one-story buildings, unless you count churches. Although it was exciting to walk around and look at the architecture, I felt fenced in. There were no wide open spaces, not even in Central Park. The only place I felt freer was on the boat to and from the Statue of Liberty. There, on the open air deck, with the wind blowing through my hair, looking out at the vast expanse of water, I could breathe easier once more. But to get there, I had to take the metro and walk for some time, not to mention stand in line with a ton of people.

And that’s another thing. People are something. We’re social beings, we need company, but we each have our own level of comfort when it comes to the number of other people we can bear. I, for example, can only take so much of being around a ton of people. After that, I need to be alone, or I start getting headaches and feeling nauseous. Times Square, for all its lively and colorful action, is chock-full of people, all the time. When you step into the place, you’re surrounded by buildings on each side. Strident, flashing colors assail you from all points of view. People rub against you. You step out into the street but cars almost run over you, honking endlessly. Camera flashes go off almost every second. Every breath of air feels charged with a suffocating mix of electricity, yet every cubic inch of air is stale. You draw in more, but to no avail. You’re still fenced in, unable to breathe, and the unstoppable urge to get out of that place grabs you by the head and turns you toward the nearest side street. And so you go, heady and reeling from the indescribable something you’ve just experienced, grateful for every breath of cold, fresh air you can pull down from the tall Manhattan sky.

We left on Sunday evening around 5 pm, and got home around 1 am. It was supposed to be a four-hour trip. But we spent more than 1 hour and a half trying to get out through the Lincoln Tunnel. There was an incredible traffic jam, possibly caused by the 5-borough bike race that had taken place that same day and closed various streets and bridges around the island. All we knew is that we were stuck in traffic in some rundown neighborhood, and it wasn’t fun. To make things worse, the NJ Turnpike was also under construction, and the Delaware Bridge was also under construction. We were finally able to reach constant highway speeds when we entered Maryland, and boy, were we grateful for that!

Last but not least, tolls will possibly cost you more than gas on a trip like this (depending on your car). As soon as we reached Delaware and NJ, we got hit with tolls up the wazoo. I think we paid more than $25 in tolls on our way in, and a little less on our way out. It seemed like there were toll booths every few miles. I couldn’t help comparing the Delaware and New Jersey roads to the Maryland roads. In the states where we paid the most money (NJ, DE), the roads were terrible — potholes, construction, lane closures, pavement not level — yet in MD, where we paid only a couple of dollars to cross through the Chesapeake Bay tunnel, the roads were smooth and very drivable. I’m glad I live in MD.

I’d like to visit NYC again. There were a ton of places I didn’t get the chance to see. And I’d also like to stop in Hoboken. It’s got some nice, tall hills with great vistas of the big city. And let me not forget about this energy plant whose name I forgot, alongside the highway in NJ. Lit up at night, with white smoke coming out of its tall, metallic towers set against the darkening sky, it looked like a strange alien spaceship. I’d love to photograph it.

There are so many beautiful places in the States, and throughout the world. If only I could see and photograph them all! 🙂

Happy 300 millionth, USA!

We turned 300 million today (people, that is) here in the grand old (or young, depending on your point of view) US of A. Yay!

Lots of us to go around, all of us immigrants (although some would think otherwise). We love big, open spaces, big cars, big houses, big meals and given our experiences when we go shopping, big clothes as well. (Is is so hard to make pants in a 30 waist?) We have it so well in this country, that we forget how badly others have it. As a matter of fact, we’re so busy doing so well (or trying to, anyway) that often we lose sight of what’s important (our loved ones, family, friends) in the pursuit of the American dream.

The opportunities in this country are amazing — like nothing else in the world — and that’s what’s caused us to get to 300 million. People are drawn to this country from all corners of the world, and after they get here, they multiply like rabbits — you know people, 2.2 children is the American way…

We’ve got some of the most polarized politics in the world. Everything is made into a political issue, and if possible, drawn to the national level, where Democrats fight against the Republicans over some minuscule thing while the important things, like our national debt, education, crimes of all sorts, infrastructure improvements, energy consumption, conservation of our environment, pollution prevention and serious medical research don’t get the attention they deserve.

The world wouldn’t be the same without the United States. Some say we meddle, and some say we help. I say we’ve lately been mostly meddling and sticking our noses in someone else’s pots — we’ve gotten into serious debt for it, too, not to mention we’ve made more enemies. Ah, but it wouldn’t be the US of A if they didn’t try to police the world, wouldn’t it? I guess you take the good with the bad if you live in this country, and you try to speak out against the bad.

So there you have it. A country like no other, and we’re 300 million strong! God bless America!