Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thursday's Random Thoughts

Cultural Archiving and Thermal Limits.

We're keeping too much stuff online. With every photo you upload to Instagram, every blog post about global warming or every web-video appeal, a piece of glacier disappears.

That's the connection we need to make. Talking about cars or industry (the pollution we can 'see') allows us to project participation in 'the problem' on others.

Is it possible one's internet usage can use as much energy as owning an automobile? (has anyone done this math?)

Well, yes. From a recent NYT article:
Worldwide, the digital warehouses use about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants, according to estimates industry experts compiled for The Times. Data centers in the United States account for one-quarter to one-third of that load, the estimates show.
“It’s staggering for most people, even people in the industry, to understand the numbers, the sheer size of these systems,” said Peter Gross, who helped design hundreds of data centers. “A single data center can take more power than a medium-size town." 
Emphasis mine.

That's 30 nuke plants today. What of next year? Moore's law says we're going to keep storing even more data, so we're going to be pulling even more energy off the grid.

How do we stem the pace of global warming AND keep our blogs?

Short of denial (who's power I won't underestimate), something's got to be done.

Someone has to pay.

I don't know enough about carbon offsets to know if they'll address this because they seem (in my current understanding) targeted at energy producers and not energy consumers. Am I wrong about that?


Point-of-Sale Systems and Time Taxes

I call it "Prompt Creep." It's a spin on the concept of "Feature Creep" - the idea that systems will tend toward complexity. Practically every POS system I come across now prompts me for:
  • a "customer loyalty" or "club" or some other membership card or identification
  • whether I prefer a credit or debit transaction. My choice has some consequence, as it can be a net gain or loss for the vendor (who I may be wishing to support) depending on the relationship they have with their own bank.
  • I am prompted for a PIN or signature
  • I am asked if I want any cash back (every cash register is an ATM, too!)
  • Prompted for a donation (at many grocery stores)
  • Prompted for receipt options
    • Printed Reciept
    • Email 
    • Txt Message
      • If you select this option, you are prompted to sign up for a store membership and accept advertising (ahem, "PROMOTIONAL") messages sent to your mobile device
    • No Receipt (???)
  • Finally prompted to confirm the total (do I carry a calculator with me?)
This part of a commercial transaction is downright inhuman. As a customer, I have to focus my attention on a keypad and screen (I'm not acknowleging another human being) and the clerk has to focus on their screen. If there is a line, there is added pressure to make the transaction occur as hurriedly as possible.

So all of these prompts, the pressure of a building line, and the last (and arguably MOST stressful part of a POS experience) is the waiting for "APPROVAL". The actual system of ATM/Credit is voodoo to most people, but the neurological effects of shame and embarrassment when one's transaction reads "DECLINED" are very, very real. That few seconds of waiting... "Am I about to experience public shame and embarassment?" causes a momentary elevation of adrenalin.

(read Google Scholar articles on "effects of adrenaline neural memory")

Of the contributing factors to this stress is the combination of decision fatigue and a sense of frustration related to the sense you're time is not being respected. Instead, you and I are being both figuratively and literally, taxed.

So why not use cash?

I want to do more thinking on this, but I have a sense about a collision of a few forces: a cultural association between cash and criminal activity, an economy where many single items can exceed common denominations, that most cash dispensing systems use only $20 bills, when $5's are much more useful (creating a problem for vendors when they run out of smaller bills for change).

That's a dense set of elements.  And while it may seem trivial at an individual level, every time you prompt someone, you're adding as many as five seconds to the transaction. Scaled over just one local grocery operation (250k customers daily) that's a lot of people standing in line (lost productivity = regressive tax).


garret said...

First thought on first item: the industry's already moving to SSDs over HDDs ... lower power consumption.

And data centers are moving to solar power in a reasonably major way:

Producers vs. Consumers: Consumers can buy carbon tax credits, but I doubt they have any significant impact.

garret said...

ATMS and transactions. Here's what might work (I'm being an idiot here): Personal gift cards. My bank supplies me (through the ATM) personalized GPVree Gift Cards in $5, $10 and $25 denominations. Drop 'em at Whole Foods for a coffee, get pocket change back.

I'd prefer greenbacks. For all their ink, at least they're biodegradable.

You know, I neglected to add your blog to my RSS feed when you switched personas, I think. I'll rectify that.

Lastly, this Blogger commenting interface totally sucks. I mean, totally user unfriendly. Anything you can do about it?

Jeremiah said...

Nothing I can do about the commenting. Maybe I can change the template?

Mercy of Google...

Jeremiah said...

SSD vs HDD doesn't offset the current install base nor does it scale proportionally with the energy needs we aspire to. This is a huge thermal problem and I don't think the answer is scaling up lower-power devices. We really have to start thinking about saving what's important.

There's not enough solar power on the planet to consider any use "reasonably major."

How does the NSA pay its power bill(s)? (Hint: its secret!)