Thursday, December 06, 2007

In The Globe

The Boston Globe put out a special section in mid-November for all things green; I was interviewed for green tech. Catch my words on telecommuting and 84 ways you can help the planet.

Multifunction Printers Bridge the Digital Divide

Didja ever wonder why the paperless office never happened? It's no secret; the proverbial 'we' introduced a second data stream into the equation, the digital stream. So now we need to convert paper faxes into emails, emails into text, scans into images... you get the picture (yes, it's a pun.). Read The Myth of the Paperless Office to put the skin on the bones.Recently, multifunction printers (MFP) have been made available to provide one stop shopping for all these woes. These amazing devices can print, scan, copy, fax, email, and save files to your network, and act as an information hub to bridge the gap between your paper data and your digital data. There are dozens available; which ones are green? Unlike the typical green printer, the choice is not so simple.

First, look for a machine that does everything you need; if you do a lot of faxing you will want to spring for the fax-to-email functionality that some of these devices have, even though it will cost you more; the same goes for color printing. Neaty green features include sleep mode (turns itself off), a black only print mode (much cheaper than color), using solid stick ink, skipping blank pages, and recycling of ink cartridges. The Xerox Phaser Line is a good choice for these reasons; it doesn't have all these features but it does have a lot of them. More high end, but with better graphics and speed, is the Epson AcuLaser line which is also a good bet. :: Article Friendly :: Macworld

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Put This on Your Resume: Dell's Green Computing Competition

Dell has issued a global challenge to help its engineers design the world’s most environmentally responsible computing technology. The competition, which is endorsed by the Industrial Designers Society of America, is designed to invigorate the academic and industry dialogue regarding designs for environmentally responsible computing.

The competition is open to all, with a focus on students of universities and colleges that offer design programs. Dell is looking for ideas that demonstrate fresh approaches and responsible solutions for green computing technology.Targeted at the ReGeneration - that's you and me - finalists receive 10 large ($10,000); the best idea via popular vote receives another 15 large. Finally, if you are a student at a university and you win the popular prize, your university gets another 15 large. The submission period spans from January through April 2008; jury-selected finalists will be announced in May 2008.

If you are a CS major, an entry to this event is just something you have to have on your resume;
try a novel approach to telecommuting, redesigning a chip fabrication plant, maybe work on the next gen of the solar wifi project. Like the lottery, you have to be in it to win it. Entry details are available via Dell; winners will appear on their site in April where the public vote will also be recorded.::Wired

Tiny PCs - A Break From The Past

Several PC 'facturers are creating ecological history by inventing "Good Enough" computers that are extremely efficient when used in the proper niche. Barring the standard marketing model (ahem, above), these models aren't the newest, fastest, or even latest tech. But, they are the best use of electrons for certain applications. And that's green, refreshing, and novel.Exhibit A is the Eee PC line of sub-notebook computers from Asus.

The basic model has a 2GB of solid-state Flash storage (which eliminates the spinning hard drive) and a wee 256MB of memory. More "advanced" models have simply more storage and memory, and maybe a camera and a bigger battery. The simple, brass tacks design is the green element here; this is simply what the on-the-go roadie needs to check email, surf the web, do a little Skype, check a few Wikipedia entries. They all come with Linux but will operate with Windows if you have to; the middle of the road model is around £219 including VAT.

Fit-PC is another offering from CompuLab, an Israeli company that manufactures low power systems. The CPU is a modest 500MHz AMD Geode LX800 and the entire system, including hard drive and 256MB of main memory, uses only 3-5W of total power. At those levels, you could use a foot treadle to run it. The Extreme Tech review is fair and balanced; this thing isn't going to leap tall mountains, and in fact some things one might take for granted - like viewing Flash-intensive web sites and having six windows open at once - noticeably slow the equipment. But form factor, power savings, and cost carry the day, particularly for applications that requires always-on usage and a light duty applications mix. It's $285. :: The Register :: Extreme Tech

ecoIT Roundup

Here's a herd of facts and figures to keep the ecology-minded number-fumbler up to speed.

Energy used in hosting one eBay auction : 30 Watthours

Equivalent driving distance in a Prius: 420 meters

CO2 emissions of a single blog post at Sun Microsystems: 850 grams

Equivalent number of marathons run by an athlete to produce the same CO2 : 0.5

Percent of Global CO2 emission produced by data centers, as compared to all IT-related emissions: 23

Percent of data centers that will be out of power and cooling capacity by 2008: 50

Percent of energy that the typical business uses to support their computer infrastructure, as compared to their total energy bill: 4 to 10

Ratio of the amount of bandwidth used by the typical American home, compared to an office park of a few years ago: 1 to 1

Number of downloads of the YouTube video "The Evolution of Dance" to date: 54 million

Bandwidth equivalent, in months, of Internet data traffic in the year 2000: 1

Percent of IT 'bigwigs' who were 'clueless' about the amount they had spent on software in the past year, according to a recent Micro Focus study: 30

Number who had ever tried to quantify the financial value of their firm's IT assets: 50

::Sun ::GreenBang:: Greener Computing

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Lazy Disks: Another "Good Enough" IT Solution

Practicality abounds in IT shops these days; first, we had the realization that 99.9 uptime was good enough for most business applications, preventing us from overspending on hardware. Now several vendors have taken this thinking into the data storage arena, and it's reducing costs and energy consumption dramatically.

That's good, because power consumption for data storage will exceed that of all other equipment by next year.The technology is called MAID (massive array of inactive disks), a rather oxymoronic name. But the technology is sound; it's based on the simple idea that the majority of data doesn't need to be accessed immediately. For example, data that experiences high activity (e.g. real time stock quotes) would require high performance storage, but data that does not experience high activity (e.g. the 1997 corporate report) can reside on lower performance and more power efficient storage. MAID takes advantage of this and turns disks off that are not in use, then powers them back on when an application needs access to dormant data. Think of it as a giant spare closet filled with stuff that you only use occasionally like winter clothes, suitcases, unicycle, etc.

Savings are big - coupled with removing duplicate data (the typical organization may have between 10 and 30 copies of the same data) , a MAID can reduce data storage energy consumption by as much as 50 percent. That's good news for data centers, most of which are already at capacity, and
increasingly legislated.:: Greener Computing :: Green Data Project

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Tin Whiskers Out With The Claws, Bricking Satellites and Pacemakers

There's something sprouting in every electronic device that you own, and it's not in the oh-happy-garden let's-pick-the-fruit kind of way. In fact, this little something could very well end up bricking your device. They are called tin whiskers, and they pop up without warning from tin solder and finishes deep inside electronics.

While scientists debate their cause, they agree on one thing: small amounts of lead mixed with the tin prevent the whiskers from forming. Lead, however, is a serious health concern, and last year Europeans barred the toxic metal from most electronics. Similar measures are being considered or are already in place in other countries, including Japan, China, South Korea, Argentina, Australia and the United States. Some have likened the situation to a Y2K sort of scenario; since they take years to develop, you might just finishing paying off that HDTV before it goes belly-up.

Clearly, the whiskers are more than a nuisance. In the 1980s, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recalled some pacemakers because of a high failure rate caused by tin whiskers. The whiskers took out a satellite in 1999, causing 40 million pagers to stop working and halting ATMs nationwide. Seven nuclear power plants have been temporarily shut down after tin whiskers triggered false alarms and NASA, who has their own database of whisker-related failures, discovered millions of tin whiskers in an electronic box that controls the space shuttle Endeavour's engine.

Many types of electronics are exempt from the law (military, medical devices, etc.), and exemptions are also granted when alternatives to the hazardous materials don't exist yet. But it's getting harder to buy the leaded parts as manufacturers react to the environmental legislation. It's a tough measure; was the EU too hasty? :: Yahoo

Make Your Own Keyboard

File this one under the Keatsian department of "a thing of beauty is a joy forever." Much like these wondrous Russian computer cases, Hacoa is now soon-to-be-offering a do-it-yourself keyboard kit to the masses. The kit allows the purchaser to cut the keys from a plank of wood and assemble the pieces themselves; it's $300.

Till now,
Hacoa has typically crafted each keyboard by hand, churning out the sum total of one keyboard per day. But in an effort to lighten the company’s labor load, boost production, and probably increase profits, they are going to let the purchaser do some of the cutting and assembling at home. The kits come in maple or walnut, and include a USB keyboard base, a wooden plank with the beginnings of keys hard-carved into it, connectors for attaching the finished keys to the keyboard base, a saw, sandpaper and other tools.

Available online around October 18. Much like the bamboo mice and monitors, we are talking statement here; get it, build it, and pop it in your place of business, along with (of course) a framed plaque detailing the process: Pink Tentacle

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Ecoiron dropped under 2,000 on Technorati yesterday, two months after dropping under 3,000! Thanks guys, you're the best, I'll keep cranking it out.

Warning: 99.999% Uptime is a Myth, and a Planet Killer

Uptime is a measure of the time a particular computer system has been "up" and running. Not surprisingly, it's the opposite of downtime, when a system is not operational. In geek cant, uptime is sometimes measured in nines; "Three nines" gives you 99.9% reliability, about 8 hours and 46 minutes of downtime a year. The gold standard is "Five nines" - 99.999% reliability, which translates to a total downtime of no longer than five minutes per year.

At first glance, it would seem that you want to keep your site up as much as possible, lots of nines. Problem is that it turns out to be exponentially expensive to do so, both cost-wise and e-wise, because massive redundancy is required to support more reliant systems. Instead of one server, you need several... instead of one 9 to 5 support employee, you need around-the-clockers... instead of one power line, you need several, and going to different substations. All this leads to a Malthusian
eWaste accumulation, increased labor expenditure, and according to the Uptime Institute, unsustainable power consumption. And one more thing; it's impossible.

Fact is that five nines is simply impossible for a long period of time. Remember, 5 nines is 5 minutes of downtime a year. So, if your site is out for an hour, it must be up non-stop for the next 12 years to hit your number - wholly unlikely. Good news is that this is hardly a business killer; for example, according to Pingdom, even eBay is only good for three nines over a long period. Seems like they are doing fine.

The stark truth is that most companies don't need five nines. It sounds great in boardroom meetings ("If this saves one life, it's worth it!") and fills the pork barrel for those IT directors looking for a new project. But the numbers just don't make sense for most industries; studies show that three nine design is fine for most retailing applications. Yeah, if you are Walmart you need it for your transaction processing. Yeah, if you are LAX and a computer glitch leaves 17,000 passengers stranded, you need it. But for the vast majority of cases, there's not enough return on investment (ROI) to justify the cost to your business and the damage to the planet. Good enough is in fact good enough. :: Cnet

Green tech doesn't reduce computational demands?

Ted Sampson over at Infoworld writes a nice column on sustainable IT which is a good read. His latest deadpans a briefing about AMD's energy efficient quad-core processor, where a journalist asked if AMD would be hurting its own sales with the release of its newest energy-efficient chip, code name Barcelona. The reasoning is as follows: If AMD is selling a processor capable of doing twice as much work as its previous CPU, wouldn't that mean that organizations will end buying fewer products from the company? Plink.

Oh, absolutely not. As explained, the underlying, mistaken, assumption is that companies have essentially maxed out their processing and storage demands and have no need to grow any further. Apparently, after you the empty half your datacenter using green techniques like virtualization, and equipping servers with energy-sipping chips, the premise is that you will fill it right back up again with more servers. To, you know, accomodate for the growth of your company's IT needs.

I sympathize with what AMD is trying to do, really, and I have made some
glowing remarks on their progress. And obviously no org is going to suggest at a press conference that they are going to put their chipmakers, datacenter architects, and hardware vendors buddies out of business by selling more energy-efficient wares. But this fart-in-a-spacesuit logic catches me between laughing and taking the matter seriously; are we really to believe that the rationale for implementing a green tech solution is to just buy more equipment to satisfy our insatiable build-out of IT? If you believe that one, got a nice bridge in lower Manhattan to sell you. :: Inforworld

CEPA Shutters the Nation's Leading Computer Recycler

The good people at the Alameda County Computer Recycling Center, a fantastic Berkeley, California-based non-profit group that recycles anything that plugs into the wall, is now under siege by the EPA. Its director, James Burgett, is a champion of the do-it-yourself culture, and has won many awards for his efforts to get used electronics back on the street. As the ACCRC slogan goes, "Obsolescence is just a lack of imagination."

Now though, the ACCRC is in trouble. The Department of Toxic Substance Control of the California Environmental Protection Agency has issued the ACCRC a violation that could make it very hard for the group to stay in business. The violations center around the fact that they computers are classified as universal waste, and must be inventoried and disposed of properly. What is ironic is that households are not subject to such rules - it is only because they are a collector of such materials that they are under the lens.

After reduction, reusing electronics is the best way to promote a sustainable computing practice; I have recommended
giving them away and in fact, the Federal EPA recommends this practice on their own eCycling site. Uh, just like you say, the three R's are a hierarchy.:: Boing Boing :: BAN

The Twin Peaks of PC Design

I appreciate good design using quality materials that get the job done. Apple, for example, was applauded mightily when their iPhone was released, suggesting it may be the last phone you will ever buy.

Drawing a page from Apple's rulebook, we are now seeing PCs that also focus on extreme parts and fine design; take the HP Blackbird, pictured. Retailing for around $5500 [sic] without the monitor, HP stuffs the all-aluminum case with overclocked processors, Voodoo video cards, a 1.1 Kilowatt power supply, and liquid cooling. It even has it's own little tool kit
built in. Oh, and a big aluminum foot that allows for 6-way cooling.

HP's design team is sounding the right note, but the pitch is off. After you cut through the flashy-flash home site and novelty of the high-end parts, what you have is... a PC. A square, black PC. With a probable three year lifespan. And a huge power supply. And a huge eco-footprint. For around $5500 [sic].

Here's another design, the Lenovo A61e desktop. Boing Boing ripped it up; the energy savings are overrated, and the parts are billed as 'reusable' and recyclable', not 'reused' and 'recycled'. But it is EPEAT certified, is Gigabit Ethernet capable, has a 85 percent efficient power supply, the processor uses 45 watts, and it only costs $400. Granted, the name stinks (A61e? C'mon!) , and it's not much to look at. Somehow though, it's just more appealing. :: PC World :: Boing Boing

Friday, September 14, 2007

Power Pigs Will Pay

Commercial buildings are responsible for about 20 percent of the United States's greenhouse gas emissions; encouraging landlords and tenants to cut power is a great way to fight global warming. Problem is, many states have regulations which allow only one meter per building, and charges are generally divvied up by square footage. So even if Tenant A takes measures to cut electricity consumption (installing CFLs for example) but happens to have the biggest suite in the building, it'll get stuck with the biggest utility bill. And though Tenant B might lease offices half the size of Tenant A's, they will pay far less even if they are an energy hog and use more power than its green neighbor. It's a classic tragedy of the commons.

But last week California regulators moved to remedy that conundrum by allowing utility PG&E and building owners to install meters for each tenant. The idea is that "submetering" will provide an incentive for tenants to conserve energy by making them pay only for the electricity they actually use. Presumably, the other two big California utilities, Southern California Edison (EIX) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SRE), will be able to implement submetering as well.

PG&E and the Building Owners and Managers Association - which manages 600 million square feet of office space - have already agreed to implement submetering; estimates are that this agreement alone will eliminate the construction of a 320-megawatt gas-fired power plant. Conservation begins with the wallet; thanks for adjusting the rulebook. :: Green Wombat

Nuclear, Tech and Solar Duke It Out for Rare Metals

Metal scarcity is pushing some of the world's biggest industries into a regular Battle Royale, as they struggle to obtain enough raw materials to continue operations. Metals are chemical elements, and prized for their unique properties; usually no synthetic replacement can be developed. New Scientist magazine reports that the world is running out of several rare metals used to form key components in high-tech devices, including cell phones and semiconductors. The article mentions that supplies of indium, used in liquid-crystal displays, and of hafnium, a critical element for next-generation semiconductors, could be exhausted by 2017.

That's a problem, but a bigger one is other green (solar) and maybe-not-so-green (nuclear) industries need these minerals as well. For example, manufacturers of solar panels require large amounts of copper, indium, gallium and selenide. And hafnium (currently $187 per kilogram) is used for control rods in nuclear plants. It's only going to get more pricey - if current predictions for hafnium supply and demand prove accurate, in a decade we could be out of it.

Good news is that estimates of the available reserves of these elements vary widely, and can change daily - a significant find of indium was recently reported in Bolivia for example. But with the current crunch, it could mean that some of the rarest and most precious building blocks of the information age could vanish far quicker than previously thought, and make it tough to transition into new energy-related technologies. Do you really need that new computer? :: Information Week

Eco-Groups and FSF Meld - Freedom and Greenery for All

Tree hit free this week; several environmental groups (the Green Party, New Internationalist, Friends of the Earth International, and People and Planet) signed a statement with the Free Software Foundation (FSF) to promote their common interests. You may not have heard of the FSF but you are almost certainly affected by them; their products compose most of GNU/Linux, a popular alternative operating system used to host web servers and the like.

The statement outlines a two point plan (1) reject Microsoft's Vista operating system, and (2) encourage the adoption and use of free software. From the E-standpoint, point one is obvious - the porcine hardware requirements of Microsoft Windows Vista are well known, with some surmising that a Vista upgrade layer will be visible in landfills in the year to come. Bad Vista? No question.

The second point - espousing the earthly delights of adopting free software - is more esoteric, implying that freedom is akin to eco-friendliness. There's a few good ideas here - prolonged dependence on exclusive tools and technologies is not sustainable, monopolies are antithetical to grassroots social change, globalization is not all bad - but it's a bit long-armed. When I interviewed Richard Stallman, the famed founder of the FSF, he agreed, suggesting that distinctions are useful between the the environmental and free software movements; the world is far too complex to be cast as a single issue.

It's a interesting point - it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking your issues, green or no, are as important for everybody. Placing them in a community framework helps to build strength, and is commonly seen with items such as fair trade and labor practices in association with the environmental movement. Great to have another ally. :: FSF :: New Statesman

Thursday, August 30, 2007

One Watt Wonder - The New CPU From VIA

VIA seems to be the rear to watch as they continue to lead the pack in cranking out energy-efficient computing parts. They have a decent clean computing initiative which has been in place for some time. Now, they have developed the unthinkable - a new fanless processor that chugs along at 500MHz, and only requires 1 watt of electricity to run. And that's when the chip is active; when it's idle, the processor will sip a mere tenth of a watt. Exclamation point.

Who's the market - it's mostly corp-to-corp, to firms that design and engineer embedded systems which require low power consumption and are looking for an eco-friendly design. Near future, VIA envisions producing 1GHz and 1.5GHz versions that consume 3.5 and 7.5 watts respectively. As always, penetration into the consumer market will require a little clock-watching, but for the leaders the future is here today. :: Ubergizmo

Friday, August 24, 2007

Internet Plumbing Clogged - Bandwidth is Maxed Out

Computing provides a smorgasbord of glutty abundance; the processors run faster than you can type, the hard drives spin at 10,000+ RPM, fast Internet connections allow the watching of three different YouTube videos at once. But as James Kunstler puts it, Peak Tech has arrived. Or, at least it has bought a ticket on the train.

Of particular interest is the saturation of the global bandwidth; this refers to the data rate that your internet connection supports and is usually measured in bits per second. A higher rate allows for more data to be pushed through the pipe; bottom line, this allows you to watch YouTube without fits and jerks. Bandwidth has exploded in the last few years, and there is now more capacity being used for monthly video transfers than the entire traffic of the Internet in 2000! File sharing is also a heavy user, estimated to be about one-third of all Internet traffic.

From the pic, you can see that some countries are more connected than others; many are struggling. Kazakhstan, a country with very limited networking infrastructure, charges $3355 a month for a DSL connection, which is about the same speed as a cable modem. China is trying to be competitive and only charging around $10, but that translates into 7.6 percent of their GDP. Connections in Africa are universally lousy; see Scott Hanselman's account of agile hoop-jumping in Rwanda to maintain surfing ability.

Simply, this can't last. Many colleges are already throttling connections and prioritizing traffic. Clark University, for example, gives one-third of its bandwidth to the faculty (pop. 745) and the other two-thirds to the students (pop. 3000). Buying more capacity is simply not an option, and at least one major provider, Comcast, is turning down the spigot at the source. The grim spectre of 'pay-as-you-go' may become reality; clamping down
on your web traffic now may prevent big bills later on. Another action item is to convert to thin clients; this eliminates networked file transfers. ::Telegeography :: ArsTechnica

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Profitable Precycling of 12V Batteries

I've noted there's been quite a rash of ripping off the public infrastructure and selling it to scrap metal dealers to make a few bucks. Sadly, even some of the most promising new technologies, such as windfarms, have been hit by the vandals. There's a word for this type of activity; it's called 'theft'. Check here to further explore the term.

But what about this; say you go into a store and buy an item, then take it home and immediately disassemble it. Next, you sell the innards for profit - it's not theft, because you bought the item. Many people are referring to this clever method of extracting value as precycling.

Case in point today is this nifty trick with 12V batteries; as the video shows, you simply split them open to reveal eight 1.5V button-cell batteries; these can cost up to $5 if purchased singly. The profit is handsome; a two pack of the 12 Volters cost $1.66, which will produce 16 new button batteries worth around $80. This guy confirmed the story for 9V cells, although it's not clear if it works for all brands; better stick with the one in the video. :: Wisebread :: xkcd

Africa, the World Leader in Sustainable Tech

From the eco-tech perspective, the most interesting continent is Africa. Ill-equipped for the profligate consumption of nearly every resource, Africa is a study in efficiency, where leadership and ingenuity seem to naturally spring forth; witness, et. al., the solar and pedal-powered phones for Uganda, the South African phase out of incandescent bulbs started over a year ago, the Design for Africa movement.

In a society where the work being done by every electron is compared carefully to the sweat-of-brow alternative, it's interesting to review what tech gadgetry is accepted. And, what is not. This is particularly so when one realizes that there are a billion Africans to support, with only 4 percent of the world's electricity supply. So, what is appropriate; cell phones seem to be, as nearly every African that wants one has one. And with the exception of South Africa, used computers seem to be accepted as well. This seems strange, as these are typically power guzzlers; could be just a good idea, but perhaps some basic human needs are involved.

Unlike more developed counties, where one finds justification for a new 3D operating system or shortened hardware/upgrade cycle under every rock, it's refreshing to explore a model where the rubber on road translates directly into real world solutions in short order. Watch for more bright lights from the dark continent. :: All Africa :: Economist

Saturday, August 18, 2007

New Wind Engines Beat the Heat

As computers grow increasingly powerful, computer chips are becoming more and more densely packed with transistors, the basic building blocks of microprocessors. As a result, a knotty problem is that these faster chips produce more heat. So, unless you are planning to get a water cooled rig, dissipating the heat is a concern.The classic solution is to use a simple fan to blow the heat away, so the CPU can keep doing its job. But this conventional cooling technique is limited because it suffers from air-flow problems; the molecules nearest the chip often get stuck and remain stationary, hindering the cooling effect. But now some US researchers from Purdue have developed a new "wind engine" that could take computing power to the next level.

The tiny wind engines are only a few millimeters wide, and produce an "ionic wind" that works by shifting charged particles from one end of the device to the other. As a voltage is applied to the ionic engine, positively charged particles (ions) are produced, which are then dragged towards a negatively charged wire (a cathode). When used in conjunction with a conventional fan, this dramatically increases air movement, up to 250% in certain cases. That increases the power to cooling ratio dramatically; maybe you won't have to run off to Iceland to host your servers after all.Next step is miniaturization; apparently the current size of a few millimeters is still too large, and it needs to be 100 times smaller. However, if miniaturization is successful, the device could be introduced into products within the next three years. ::BBC News

Friday, August 17, 2007

Five Myths and Mysteries About Black Web Surfing

You might have been following the recent debate about surfing a black web, even received a viral email or two on the topic. We have discussed some facts and figures around using a black Google, and other alternatives sites such as Blackle. In spite of all the recent press, mysteries and myths still abound, here are 5 of the most common.

1. Every monitor uses 74 watts to display a white background, and only 59 watts to display a black background.
Answer: Nope, and it's probably the biggest misconception. The original post that started this whole thing pulled these numbers from the US department of energy, but these numbers almost certainly refer to CRT monitors only.

2. Ok, well, every CRT monitor saves 15 watts then going from white to black.

Answer: The amount of energy saved here is depends on many factors, including the size, type, and manufacturer of the specific monitor. A study conducted in 2002, the infamous Roberson Study, found that different CRT monitors saved between 4 and 30 watts going from white to black, a big range. A new study by Techlogg on 4 CRT monitors found that they all did save energy, but the range was narrower and the savings was smaller (only between 7 and 11 watts). It is likely that CRT monitors are getting more efficient.

3. What about LCD monitors? I keep hearing that is makes no difference what color they display, or that they even use more energy displaying black over white.

Answer: Another big misconception. LCD monitors have a light behind the screen that is always on, so white is usually the most efficient color to produce; you just let the light shine through. Black on the hand requires the light to be completely blocked, and this takes energy. So, on the face of it, white would always be cheaper than black to create on LCD screens. Turns out this is mostly true, and on average, takes less than a watt of energy to do.

But there more, because some clever LCD manufacturers check how dark the screen is, and if it's very dark they dim the backlight; this saves energy. The Roberson study found this was true for every LCD monitor, Techlogg found it was primarily true for monitors over 24 inches wide. This doesn't save much energy, tops 4 watts, but it does save some. So, LCD technology has changed over time, and it is true that the differential between displaying white and black is much tighter than CRT monitors, a few watts at most.

4. Very interesting. So that solves it, since about 75 percent of the monitors in the world are LCD monitors, and since it doesn't really save a lot of of energy to display black over white (some even cost energy), the whole energy saving argument is a wash.

Answer: It is true that there are a large number of LCD monitors out there, and that for the majority of them it doesn't make a whole lot of difference energy wise to show black vs. white. Sites such as Techlogg and Infoworld used these numbers to demonstrate that the technique was ineffective.

In fact, this very argument proves that the technique works! The reason is that energy consumed by the LCD monitors is dwarfed by the massive savings from the other 25 percent of monitors, the power guzzling CRT monitors.

If you want, you can try this experiment to convince yourself of this fact.
Get three lcd monitors and plug them into a power strip. Then get one CRT monitor, and plug that into the same power strip. Plug the power strip into your testing equipment, then plug that into the wall outlet. Now turn on all the machines and get them all connected to the Internet; show an all white screen on all of them, and take a reading from your test equipment. Now show an all black screen on all of them. Read your testing equipment again. You have two readings now, the second should be lower than the first.

For another explanation, read Pablo Paster's posting on the topic.

5. Great, so it works! Does it work on any site?
Answer: Yes, the energy saving principle will work on any site. Google is often referenced (they get over 500 million hours of use each year) but other good candidates would be Yahoo, MySpace, and YouTube. :: TriplePundit ::Infoworld

Hackable Products Better For Planet

Several years ago, I bought a front loading washer; it was expensive, but the sales rep convinced me that it would save water and soap over the long run. What he didn't tell me is that there was a circuit board that controlled how the washer worked - a $300 circuit board, that sometimes breaks and needs to be replaced. It broke. Grrrrrrrr.

But it set the wheels in motion; wouldn't it be great if a programmer could alter the code that runs the washer? One could experiment, even improve on the factory settings to minimize the amount of water and soap used. The new program could be distributed via Internet, folks could upload it into their machines, and billions of gallons of water could be saved worldwide. Turns out, some products have already implemented the concept.

The Roomba is one. It has a fully documented Open Inferface that explains what is going on inside its, er, head. Developers can write code against this interface, and make their Roomba do all sorts of crazy things - respond to cell phone controls, sing Christmas Carols. The Roomba Community has dozens more; couldn't find the 'cleaner floor' code in a quick search, but it could be there.

The other very exciting product is the Zero X motorcycle from Zero Motorcycles. It comes equipped with a programmable ZBrain, a configurable on-board computer. According to ecoGeek, you can tweak the max speed, throttle response, max output current, etc. Similarly to the Roomba, the hacks don't need to be more geared towards efficiency, but they could! The bike connects directly to any Microsoft Windows computer via USB 2.0 cable. :: iRobot :: ecoGeek

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Lose the TV/Land Line, Save the Cell/Computer

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has developed this perky graphic to help American chart that on which their tech dollars are blown. Wired noticed that although high tech gear gets cheaper every year, the proportion of the typical US household budget reserved for tech spending has held steady for the past decade. On balance, it's more than what we pay for health insurance, more than prescription drugs, or more than clothing. There's some fun in these numbers.First, they use the term 'televisions', as if it's a given that we all need 4 or 5 of those around at any given time. In fact, this is not too far off; the average US household has about 2.1 per US household. This, coupled with the absurd annual $519 bill for cable TV leads to green tip #1; stop buying TVs and cable service, and invest in a cell phone with either a wind up or solar charger. Alternatively, get a computer and internet service; the access to free green information will serve you better than the canned stuff on TV. Literally, stop thinking about the box.

Second, almost half of the tech budget is used on phone service, the infamous cell phone/land line combo. I understand that people don't feel too good when their cell phone goes dead because the power goes out, but the problem here is that these phones operate on two different systems, and Verizon has already said they are only going to support one of them. An idea; lose the landline. You are going to have to anyway, and you can take that money and put it into green tech like beefy solar chargers and smart strips.:: Fat Knowledge ::Wired

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Full Story on Black Google, Blackle, etc.

Here's a Wiki-esque post that covers the full story on Black Google, I'm working on the Wikipedia entry but it's taking some time.


In January 2007, Mark Ontkush, the owner of the ecoIron blog, suggested that a large amount of energy could be saved if Google switched their home page from white to black. The initial savings was estimated to be 3000 Megawatt-hours a year; this was later rounded down to 750 Megawatt-hours, after an error in the calculations was found. At the time, ecoIron was receiving about 100 hits per day. The story was posted on Digg where it rapidly went to #1 on the main page, ultimately receiving over 4,000 Diggs. Tony Heap, the owner of HeapMedia, started the Blackle site shortly after these events.

Appearance and Functionality

The Blackle site uses the Google search engine and works in much the same way; users enter text into the box provided, and the query is sent to the Google search engine. The searches both use the same searching algorithm and are executed on the same hardware. However, it has been suggested that the result lists might differ. Blackle uses light grey text on a black background; this is in lieu of the customary Google layout of blue, black, and green text on a white background. Since it is not owned by Google Inc., the Blackle site lacks many of the features of conventional Google, including the 'Cached' and 'Similar Pages' options, and it does not have as many of the corresponding links that can be found on the Google homepage. These links include items such as preferences, advanced search, language tools, images, groups, news and scholar. None of the Blackle links have a visited option, where once a link is followed it turns a different color. The iGoogle feature is also lacking in Blackle.

Energy Savings

The principle is based on the the fact that different colors consume different amounts of energy on computer monitors. Depending on the manufacturing technology, and to a lesser degree the brand of the manufacturer, these colors and energy levels vary. An explanation is provided below.

Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) Monitors

A CRT monitor uses a cathode ray tube to display images. The back of the tube has a negatively charged cathode, and an electron gun shoots electrons down the tube and onto a charged screen. The screen is coated with a pattern of dots that glow when struck by the electron stream. Each cluster of three dots, one of each color, is one pixel. Certain colors, such as white, require all three dots to be charged, and are energy intensive to display. Other colors, such as black, requires no additional energy to produce and consume the least out of all the colors.

Therefore, power consumption for CRT monitors is primarily a function of the user's color settings and desktop graphics, and any given CRT monitor requires more power to display a light screen than a dark one. Other authors, such as Roberson et. al., have verified these results. The amount of energy saved from switching from white to black varies considerably on the size of the monitor. In a 2002 study, Roberson found that between 4 and 30W could be saved by switching from a white to a black screen. This translates into an 18 to 88% power savings per monitor. The US Department of Energy produced similar results, stating an average 15W savings per monitor. Several informal studies have also been done, with results ranging from a 7 to 23W reduction when using a black screen.

In the first quarter of 2006, Display Search, an industry reporting service, estimated that CRT monitors comprise 25.3% of all monitors in the world. There are substantial regional variations; for example, the report mentions that as of 2006, 45.3% of the monitors in China, and 62.8% in Latin America, were still CRTs.

Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) Monitors

A liquid crystal display (commonly abbreviated LCD) is a thin, flat display device. LCD monitor are suitable for many types of devices, including computer monitors and battery-powered electronic devices. Unlike CRT monitors, LCDs rely on a constant source of illumination, commonly known as a backlight. Backlights produce light in a manner similar to a CRT display, with the difference that the backlight is always on. Backlights can be any color; monochrome LCDs usually have yellow, green, blue or white backlights, while color displays use white backlights that cover most of the color spectrum.

A pixel in an LCD display typically consists of a layer of molecules aligned between two transparent electrodes. When a voltage is applied across the electrodes, a torque acts to align the liquid crystal molecules parallel to the electric field. This reduces the light shining through from the backlight, and the device appears gray. If the applied voltage is large enough, the liquid crystal molecules are completely untwisted; the results is that the backlight will then be completely blocked and the pixel will appear black. By controlling the voltage applied across the liquid crystal layer in each pixel, light can be allowed to pass through in varying amounts, correspondingly illuminating the pixel.

As such, LCD display technology is different from CRT technology, and the possibility exists that colors that are energy efficient to display on a CRT monitor (e.g. black) may not be as energy efficient to display on an LCD monitor. The Roberson study found that LCD monitors saved up to 3W by switching from a white to a black screen, and in no case did any of the LCD monitors use more energy displaying black than white. Recently, several informal studies have been done, with results ranging from a 2W reduction when displaying Blackle vs Google on an IBM Thinkvision LCD, to zero, up to a 1W increase.

Display Search estimated in Q12006 that LCD monitors have 74.7% penetration rate worldwide. Japan is the country with the highest rate; 99.3% of their monitors use LCD technology.

Plasma Displays

A plasma display panel (PDP) is a type of flat panel display commonly used for large TV displays, typically above 37" (940 mm). Many tiny cells located between two panels of glass hold an inert mixture of noble gases (neon, which are contained in hundreds of thousands of tiny cells positioned between two plates of glass. electrodes are sandwiched between the glass plates, in front of and behind the cells. Control circuitry charges the electrodes that cross paths at a cell, creating a voltage difference between front and back and causing the gas to ionize and form a plasma; as the gas ions rush to the electrodes and collide, photons are emitted. To erase a cell, all voltage is removed from a pair of electrodes.Every pixel is made up of three separate subpixel cells, each with different colored phosphors. One subpixel has a red light phosphor, one subpixel has a green light phosphor and one subpixel has a blue light phosphor. These colors blend together to create the overall color of the pixel. Plasma displays use the same phosphors as CRTs, and are bright, 1000 lux or higher being the norm.

Plasma displays use as much power per square meter as a CRT, and consumption varies greatly
depending on what is watched on it. Bright scenes (say a football game) will draw significantly more power than darker scenes (say a movie scene at night). Nominal measurements indicate 400 watts for a 50" screen.

Currently, plasma displays are not popular for computer monitors. However, since they operate similarly to CRT technology, the energy differentials are similar. A study conducted by G4TechTV using a Samsung 42" plasma display found a 191W differential for a white vs. black screen in normal mode, and a 138W differential in super energy savings mode. Plasma displays are particularly well suited for the large displays, outpacing other types of display technologies. However, recent improvements in LCD technology have contributed to falling prices, higher resolutions, and often lower electrical power consumption, making them very competitive against plasma displays.

As of late 2006, analysts note that LCDs are overtaking plasmas, particularly in the important 40" (1.0 m) and above segment where plasma had previously enjoyed strong dominance a couple of years before.


An organic light-emitting diode (OLED) is any light-emitting diode (LED) whose emissive electroluminescent layer comprises a film of organic compounds. The layer usually contains a polymerpixels can emit light of different colors. substance that allows suitable organic compounds to be deposited. They are deposited in rows and columns onto a flat carrier by a simple "printing" process. The resulting matrix of OLEDs are used in television screens and computer displays; a great benefitof OLED displays over traditional liquid crystal displays (LCDs) is that OLEDs do not require a backlight to function. Thus they draw far less power and, when powered from a battery, can operate longer on the same charge. No comprehensive studies have been conducted of a comparison a white vs. black screens, but due to the nature of their construction, it is probable that displaying white
consumes more energy than black on a OLED device.


The effectiveness of using the 'black web' technique to save energy is a subject of intense debate, much of which centers on the pros and cons of a specific implementation, and the scale at which the approach is implemented. Other discussions are focused on the amount of energy saved, both individually and collectively, and the trade-offs involved in implementing a solution of this type. A summary of the different approaches is provided below.

Governmental/Corporate Policy

One approach is to modify a color scheme of incoming web traffic at a high level, such as the corporate or country level. In this case, an entity with a large number of CRT monitors might intervene on their users' behalf to convert the color codes as they travel through the network, thereby producing a uniform color scheme for the entity as a whole. To date, there have been no reported implementations of this strategy. However, countries such as China or Brazil, who demonstrably have a large number of CRT monitors could save significant energy.

Single Site

This approach relies on a particular web site to change their primary color scheme; the net energy savings or loss can then be calculated by estimating four parameters:

  • The amount of traffic the site gets.
  • How long a visitor remains on that site.
  • Percentage split of CRT/LCD monitors in worldwide use.
  • The differential of how much energy is drawn by each monitor type in each color state.

Any site can be used; Google is often cited due to the sheer amount of traffic the site receives, but other sites such as Yahoo, MySpace, or YouTube could be analyzed as well. Ontkush took this approach in the original post, and used Google as an example. He used the following parameters:
  • 200 million queries/day.
  • 10 seconds/query.
  • Monitor split of 25% CRT, 75% LCD.
  • CRTs received a 15W differential from white to black,
    LCDs received no differential.

Using these parameters resulted in a net energy savings of 750 megawatt-hours per year.

Much of the controversy in using the this approach revolves around modifying one of more of the parameters, particularly the energy differentials and CRT/LCD ratio. However, even using generous, apocryphal numbers for these parameters still results in a net energy savings. For example, if one assumes a 10% CRT, 90% LCD ratio, and substitutes a 10W differential for CRTs and a -1W differential for LCDs, implementing the technique still saves energy; the large energy differential for CRTs overwhelms their market share. This, when multiplied by a tremendous amount of display time, produces the savings.

In July 2007, the Financial Times reported that, according to the Nielsen/NetRatings for May, users spent 2,557,000,000 minutes on Google websites; this translates into 511,400,000 hours of Google website use per year. The monthly figures for Yahoo (746M) , MySpace (7,535M), and YouTube
(2,117M) are comparable.

Using a Proxy Site

Another approach is to use a third party site to implement some functionality of an existing site, and then use an alternative color scheme. This is the approach used by Blackle and similar sites to mimic
the Google site. In this case, users must deliberately use the alternative site instead of Google's home page.

Using this approach, the savings in energy is directly related to the type of monitor that the individual is using at the time, and how often they frequent the site. As indicated, if one is using a CRT, Plasma, or OLED monitor, energy savings will certainly be accrued. However, for LCD monitors the results are not so clear; studies have shown that LCD monitors either save or use a small amount of energy displaying a black page as compared to a white one, so the energy savings would
be much smaller or, worse, the monitor could use more energy on the modified site.

Individual Efforts

A third approach is to use a script or browser option to alter the color scheme for some or all the pages one views. Again, this approach requires user intervention, and is subject to the type of monitor that the individual is using to view the pages. The advantage to this approach is that significant energy savings can be realized, as all incoming web traffic is converted to a low-energy format. There are several alternatives depending on the browser and/or operating system in use.

Users of the Firefox web browser can install a GreaseMonkey script called Google Dark which will automatically reverse their color scheme when visiting the authentic Google site. For a more generic approach, one can go to 'Tools > Options > Content > Fonts & Colours > Colours' in Firefox and change the default color background and text to any desired color; users who implement this option should uncheck the box that says "Allow pages to choose their own colors, instead of my selections above".

Internet Explorer

In Internet Explorer, go to 'Tools > Internet Options > General > Appearance > Colors' to alter your personal color scheme. You will also need to go to 'Tools > Internet Options > General > Appearance > Accessibility' to override the default color options on the pages that you visit.


There has been both praise and criticism for this initiative, with its supporters citing it as a great example of environmental thinking, and its detractors pointing out usability and aesthetic problems, as well as questions about the scientific validity of the claims. Some of the issues are listed below.

  • Since the technique is most effective on CRT monitors, some proxy sites have been criticized for not mentioning this fact. In particular, the Blackle site has been heavily criticized, as it is probable that they are generating an substantial Adsense revenue stream from implementing the concept.
  • CRT monitors are being phased out; about 75% of monitors in active use worldwide are LCDs. Additionally, countries with a high percentage of CRT are replacing them rapidly; for example, Display Search projects that only 18% of the monitors in China will be CRTs by the end of 2007. Therefore, although the technique would be effective for a limited period, it is questionable whether the disruption
    would be beneficial.
  • CRTs are generally darker than LCDs, and the text on many of the proxy sites is barely readable on monitors of this type. For example, Blackle uses a small grey font on an all black background. It is possible that these 'all black' proxy sites are only usable on LCD screens, and this would
    negate the energy savings.
  • Proxy sites cannot handle the heavy load that high volume sites are accustomed to. For example, on August 1st, 2007 and several prior occasions, the Blackle web server was producing intermittent error messages for extended periods of time.

Alternative sites

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Extreme Telecommuting - It's Not What Dad Did

Interesting one here about a chap named Anthony Page who classifies himself as an extreme telecommuter. Page travels the world and works remotely via laptop. Amazingly, he finds an Internet connection almost everywhere, even in the poorest nations.He got the idea when his job as a Web developer in London was outsourced to India; he took the hint and decided to work with clients long-distance over the Internet as well, while simultaneously taking a non-stop soujourn. Voice, e-mail, and video communication are no problem, and PayPal handles all the payment. Clients, while unsure at first, got used to the idea that they could trust him to deliver work on time. Here's the laundry list of the tools you need.

Anthony packs smart; he has a laptop (Macs are preferred since viruses and other malware don't get them), an unlocked world phone or PDA that can be switched across networks, and uses Skype. And he gets the comprehensive damage warranty on everything. Finally, a USB drive to back up vital files is essential, and an optional Wi-Fi hotspot locator comes in useful but adds weight.

Anthony admits (via blog) that he thinks his lifestyle is environmentally unfriendly. Not so fast! Telecommuting, of course, is hardly a new idea, and I repeatedly mentioned that you should stop showing up for work. In fact, there are even government incentives f
or telecommuting initiatives. So the next logical question is: Why stay at home? Page mentions he has personally saved a bundle of money with his lifestyle, and it's easy to see why; no house to heat, no refrigerator running non-stop, probably eating local foods, no car. Wealth is no indicator of your "eco-worthiness", but Page seems to have found an elegant solution the problem we all face - doing what you want, in a place you want to be, with someone you want to be with. Compared to the proverbial grind, it's hard to see this nomadic lifestyle as worldcrippling. Bravo. :: CNN Money

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Black Web; a Model for Climate Change

Of course, I have been following the black Google thing religiously the last few days. Some think it's great. Some still think it doesn't save any energy, even testing their monitor and proving the theory with an n of 1. And there are some pushbackers, as if mandating the viewing of black web pages is akin to sawing off their left arm. Good thing I didn't propose that China or Brazil, both countries with a lot of CRT monitors, mandate that all web traffic be black... oops!

A bright light is this post from Rory Spangler which confirmed my own thoughts - Blackle and its ilk are the Prius of search. Basically, it's great but it's just not cool. And there's no legroom. It reminded me of something Richard Stallman said about free software when I interviewed him; I quote:
Rms: So this shows how people take flimsy invalid excuses and stretch them to excuse doing what they want to be doing (because it's the usual way or whatever). It's a common practice when using non-free software, and that's our biggest obstacle: social inertia.

So how do we overcome social inertia?

Well the first step is to recognize it, and to show how is not valid. People want to give into social inertia because it's easy. But they don't want to say, "I want to do the wrong thing because it’s easier for me to do the wrong thing." So they exaggerate - they say doing the right thing is simply impossible. Impossible they say. Intolerable. It's always a matter of exaggeration, often several steps of exaggeration in series. So whenever I hear that, I start pointing out why it’s fallacious.

I'm not bashing Rory (or anyone else) here, I think what he said is spot. But it seems to be that solving the Internet energy problem by implementing the black web is very similar to trying to solve the bad gas, climate change problem; everyone knows what to do, they just don't want to do it. Solve the web energy problem, and we will be well on our way to solving the climate change problem.