Archive for the ‘computers in workplace’ Category

Your intelligent city run by a mega-corp

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Will Doig in Salon writes a good piece on smart cities. His question is, once we give over our cities to increasing computerization and sensor integration, will we be unintentionally turning over our cities to big companies like IBM and Google? This isn’t an argument about the use of technology in cities–that’s an acceptable efficiency argument. Instead, it’s about turning over the management of key sectors of our cities to the consulting arms of these corporations.

the goal of these companies is not just to participate in the evolution of smart cities, but to connect and control virtually everything with massive operating systems that will run these cities in their entirety. “Everybody wants to be the architects of these systems because then you own them forever,” says Greg Lindsay, author of “Aerotropolis” and an urban-technology reporter for Fast Company. “You could say it’s sort of a land grab.”

What the article doesn’t mention, but should, is the data mining potential of gaining access to these city datasets. These companies are not looking to mine individual records–to know more about you personally. Rather, this access allows companies to refine their place-based inference engines and build incredibly detailed portraits about specific locations.

After reading Doig’s article, if you think there is no reason for embedding ethics into VGI, you need to look at this.

Under the Citypulse project in Paris, volunteer citizens were given the “Green Watch”, a special watch that contained two environmental sensors to detect ozone and noise levels. As these people went about doing their daily chores, the Green Watch recorded the noise and ozone in their surroundings and transferred this data via a mobile phone to an online platform to be used in various ways such as maps and models. The eventual aim of the project is to increasingly involve citizens in environmental measurements by disbursing several such environmental sensors and help build a sustainable city.

Okay, it can lead to cool stuff like this, but the public has to be able to know and control the chain of data usage.

The irony is in the phrase “If you’re not paying for the product then you are the product.” In this case, you’re both paying for the product and you are the product.

Please… Stop working and start conversing!

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

(A reply to An environmentally friendly world, made possible with GIS)

You and I work very hard and we often do not take the time to chill out and talk… Conversation is one of the most important social activities but because of time, we forget how important this social act is for us! We are social animals…

Anyway, on a usual Friday diner, my dad, little brother and I opened a nice bottle of wine (I must say that it was a real discovery. For those of you interested Don Pascual reserve Shiraz Tannat 2007 produced in Uruguay available at SAQ). We were discussing about the week main news as we like to do when we get together. We discussed about the US government’s possibility of helping the car industry with $25 billion (owners went to Washington D.C. with private planes), economic crash, Québec election, etc. Later on, when my mother joined us, we opened a second bottle of wine and we did not leave the table at that time.  Haha! We kept discussing and the point that I want to go is the importance of discussing because we can share our opinions but also share news that hit home everyone single one of us (I do not know if his sentence make sense, hope you got it).

I am not telling new thing here but pay attention to this… My dad mentioned that Google continues of getting crazy. After revolutionized the World Wide Wed search engine by adding search options like scholar, images, news, Google Earth, etc, Google can now helps out epidemiologist predicting pandemic. How? Well, I will ask you a question… When people get sick, what do you think they are typing in Google search tool bar? Hahaha! Exactly! I was almost shocked when I heard that from my dad… I just looked online to prove if this is true and was again really surprised to notice that this information is even published in the NATURE website! Wow! Is it surprising or scary? It becomes really powerful and Google possibilities are unlimited as GIS is also. But if I think on that a little bit… in fact, I am not really surprised of this discovery. I am more surprised of the persons that made the link between flu fluctuation and the amount of Google searches over time. See the graph taken from the Nature website.

GIS, Google, … what’s next? This world becomes really crazy! These technologies performed really well but it is our obligation to use them in the right direction.

paperless office

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

The Future of Things has written an excellent post on the future of the paperless office and the announcement by Xerox Research Centre of Canada of inkless printing. The printer also features reusable paper which can be printed and erased several times.

shrinking-vacation syndrome

Saturday, August 19th, 2006

Yet another reason why Americans are decreasing their visit to national parks: shrinking-vacation syndrome.

Even before toothpaste could clog an airport security line and a full tank of gas was considered an indulgence, Americans had begun to sour on the traditional summer vacation. But this summer, a number of surveys show that American workers, who already take fewer vacations than people in nearly all industrial nations, have pruned back their leisure days even more.

The heightened pace of American life, aided by ever-chattering electronic pocket companions, gets much of the blame for the inability of many people to take extended periods of forced sloth.

The use of the word–the sin–sloth suggests to me that the article’s author isn’t a big fan of vacations himself. I’d be curious to see how much vacation time he uses per year.

news about the news about the news

Sunday, January 1st, 2006

Need I say more?

Again, thanks a apologies to Mr. Eggers.

Also, Dec. 31 comments about what news is on-target.

A New Diagnosis: Internet Addiction Disorder

Friday, December 2nd, 2005

Mental health professionals have identified a new addictive disorder in people they refer to as onlineaholics. According to the estimates of these professionals, “6 percent to 10 percent of the approximately 189 million Internet users in this country have a dependency that can be as destructive as alcoholism and drug addiction” (reported in the New York Times, 12/01/2005.) In response to critics calling this a “fad illness” professionals insist that many online addicts are furthering other addictions to pornography or gambling and have become much more dependent on such addictions due to the presence of the internet. Many people that become addicted to the internet already suffer from another disorder like depression or anxiety, however there are millions of healthy people that get lured in by “the Internet’s omnipresent offer of escape from reality, affordability, accessibility and opportunity for anonymity.” Symptoms of the disorder include cravings for the computer, lying about time spent online, withdrawl from hobbies and social activities, back pain, and weight gain. Withdrawl symptoms are similar to those that are experiences by alcoholics and drug addicts and include abnormal sweating, extreme anxiety and paranoia. Unfortunately, insurance companies do not recognize this as a psychiatric disorder, so people seeking treatment have to pay out of pocket.

Your printer is ratting you out

Wednesday, November 16th, 2005

It sounds like a conspiracy but it’s true. Your computer printer is conducting surveillance on you. Apparently some time ago, the US federal government convinced numerous manufacturers of colour laser printers to print nearly invisible markers on sheets of paper, which could be used to tie a printout to a specific printer. A series of faint yellow dots is printed on each sheet of paper that can be used akin to a serial number. It was originally designed to thwart conterfeiters using colour printers to print fake money or to forge documents.

Recently these dots have been drafted in the war on terror. In other words, mission creep has occurred. Technology designed for one purpose is being used for another purpose, in this case, in the expanded Patriot Act. So dots that once could catch conterfeiters now catches terrorists, or whatever activities governments determine to be terrorist. Considering that the FBI has already collected hundreds of documents on Greenpeace, the potential application of dots allows for ever better monitoring of non-violent environmental organizations. Since there are no laws preventing the use of dots and little oversight of the Patriot Act, these secret little dots are truly worrisome.

Check to see if you have one of these models of printers.

computers chock-full o’ evidence

Sunday, November 13th, 2005

In the best lead yet, American intelligence officials have dissected an Iranian laptop computer, which has divulged overwhelming ‘testimony’ as to Iran’s nuclear agenda. Nearly everything about the physical operations of the nuclear plants & facilities, weapons, and deployment are contained. Iran has a nuclear power program currently touting itself as a peaceful, energy-producing project.

The by-product, however, of such a program can be manipulated into weapons-grade warhead material, and the documents and specifications on the apprehended laptop seem to suggest Iranian nuclear weapons will go into production in the next few year. A whopping 5 pages from the NYTimes gives all the lurid details and all the big names involved.

McGill’s Online Community

Wednesday, July 6th, 2005

I noticed recently that in addition to the McGill staff directory, there is now a McGill students directory, where lucky students, such as myself, can be listed. It’s an opt-inable through minerva, and I’d imagine most people will miss noticing it completely. The fact that the directory is not able to be indexed by search engines will probably limit the usefulness of the directory. If someone knows my name, and knows that I am atttending McGill, there are considerably easier ways to find one of my email addresses. I suspect the number of students in it will pale before the directory juggernaut of facebook.

Which brings me to ponder: where is McGill’s online community? Here we have a large group of intellectual and generally technologically savvy people, who it seems would benefit from being able to confer in an informal manner across a wide range of subjects, and yet no academic discussion boards, no forums, no chat rooms (no, listservs don’t count). While it’s true that WebCT provides some basic features, I have yet to see them used in one of my classes(although I do once recall a roommate having an interesting chat with a physics professor in one of his classes), and they are generally confined in my experience to the course assignments and tests immediately at hand, not an environment for a lot of free flowing educational discussion.

Imagine for example, having a board devoted to modern linguistics topics, perhaps moderated by a few linguistics professors, perhaps a physicist with an interest in linguistics could wander by, maybe pose a question, or help with some physical or mathematical questions the linguists might have. One of the great problems with online communities, the generally poor behaviour which comes with apparent anonymity, could easily be eliminated by McGill, by giving access only to members of the McGill community (the minerva login system seems to be pretty flexible for example), and by forcing people to be readily identifiable.

Beyond initial setup troubles, this seems like it would be an easy and effective way for McGill to counter some of the very justified ‘impersonal’ and ‘bureaucratic’ slurs lodged its way. While I can forsee some rules that may have to be put in (perhaps restrictions on specifically course related discussions and some political issues which tend to become never ending topics), I think the potential in this case certainly outweighs some of the pitfalls.

Biodegradable material and computer chips

Friday, July 1st, 2005

Packaging is a significant contributor to overall computer waste. One such component is the packaging used to ship computer chips from place to place. To ship its chips, Fujitsu uses reels. These resemble the old 0.5 inch tape drive reels that you used to see in movies whenever a scene required a large computer.

Fujitsu to Use Biodegradable Plant-based Materials for All of Its Embossed Carrier Tape Used in Packing for Reel-based Shipment of LSIs

Fujitsu Limited … announced that it will shift completely to the use of biodegradable plant-based materials for the manufacture of embossed carrier tape, used for packing large-scale integrated circuit chips (LSIs) when shipping them on reels. Embossed carrier tape is a packing material that protects semiconductors from shock and static electricity. Fujitsu expects an 11% reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2 ) emissions by employing biodegradable plant-based materials to produce embossed carrier tape, in place of polystyrene, a material which was conventionally used in the industry.

Now if we could only introduce biodegradable materials into the chips themselves.

Japan is a large emitter of greenhouse gases and it is demanding reductions in GHGs in all sectors of the economy.

Wooden computers

Saturday, June 25th, 2005

Swedx has been building computer peripherals since 1995. Now it sells tvs, monitors, computer speakers, keyboards and mice encased in timber obtained from Chinese and other forests.

The company markets to people who wants something different from the normal plastic housings and are concerned about the environmental degradation caused by computer waste.

Swedx’s monitors range in size from 17 inches to 19 inches. Keyboards go for around $80CN. Optical, USB and wireless mice, made from a single block of wood, retail for about $50CN. A 17 inch monitor-TV with keyboard-mouse combo retails for about $1,500. A 26 inch LCD-TV is about $2,500CN. In North America, you can buy them from plasmaearth and webopolis.

While you’re at it, check out another type of wooden computer.

Also check out Sustainable Style magazine and website, whose motto is look fabulous, live well, do good.

Get out of my cafe and take your computer with you!

Tuesday, June 14th, 2005

Apparently some cafe owners, in places like Seattle, are pulling the free wi-fi out of their cafes, at least some times of the week. Why? Because the wi-fi users are staying too long and buying only one drink or none at all, taking up tables meant for four people, and not talking at all (a problem in cafes that owners mean to be social hubs). Many are belligerent when asked to leave or order another drink. After all, it’s a right to have wi-fi, isn’t it?

Happy Birthday, Post-it Notes

Sunday, May 8th, 2005

A delightful story of the diffusion of innovations and the happy accident of unanticipated consequences. A perfect remedy to the lack of control people felt was induced by the computer and information overload.

via Slashdot.

Dirty laundry–the scientist edition

Monday, May 2nd, 2005

A number of scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory have become highly critical of their boss. In an effort to express their opinions and oust the laboratory’s director, they’ve started a blog. But Los Alamos is no ordinary laboratory. It is the home of the famous and highly secretive Manhattan Project, the project that built the bomb. And it is still the place where some of the best physicists go to engage in weapons research, although Los Alamos additionally has become a major center of basic research in physics.

As the NYTimes reports, this is no ordinary blog.

Los Alamos National Laboratory, isolated in the mountains of New Mexico, has a long history of maintaining the highest level of federal secrecy. The laboratory’s very existence was once classified. Today, barbed wire rings many of its buildings, federal agents monitor its communications, and its employees are constantly reminded that loose lips sink ships.

I have mixed feelings about blogging for this kind of change. On the one hand, all possible traditional forums for change should be exhausted first. On the other hand, sometimes that’s fruitless. It also opens up the criticizer to vindictive job action. Blogs offer anonymity–in the Los Alamos case, only a fraction of the posts are signed–so they can protect the criticizer. They also can let loose a torrent of uncivil and indeed unprofessional behaviour. And, in the more general case of scientist blogs, they expose the institution’s dirty laundry when the public is already leery of funding science.

Environmentally friendly broadband

Wednesday, April 27th, 2005

Take a look at the company Sanswire, which is prototyping airships to deliver broadband as well as high definition tv. The goal is:

to build the nation’s first National Wireless Broadband Network utilizing high-altitude airships called “Stratellites” that will allow subscribers to access the Internet wirelessly from anywhere in the United States and parts of Canada and Mexico. Not only will our subscribers have access, but any person with a wireless device that operates in the 802.11 protocol will be able to access the Internet at high-speed. The Stratellites will be positioned in the stratosphere, 65,000 feet (approx. 13 miles) high and provide a clear line-of-site platform for reaching an entire metropolitan area.

The airship is wing-shaped to be aerodynamic but also to create a very flat area on top so that it can be covered with paper-thin solar panels. The solar panels can power up to 800 pounds of communications hardware. Put aside the energy and chemical usage in producing the material, the airships sound like an environmentally friendly solution to our technologically hungry world.

Moore’s Law: 40 years old and still going strong

Friday, April 22nd, 2005

From Madhav Badami

The BBC reminds us that Moore’s Law marks its 40th anniversary. The law is named after Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Intel. Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors on a computer chip would double every 24 months. People thought that this rate of speed couldn’t be maintained but it has.

In the original 1965 article Moore also predicted home computers as one of the uses for these chips:

He had forgotten about it until a young engineer came to him with the idea to build a home computer, while he was chief at Intel.

“I said ‘gee that’s fine but what would you use it for?’.

“The only application he could think of for it was the housewife putting her recipes on it, and I didn’t think that was going to be a powerful enough application.”

The irony is rich. Our (masculine) global economy is fueled by a feminized technology.

More on Moore

Environmental IT Purchasing

Thursday, February 24th, 2005

An interesting link I ran across, it appears to be an environmental checklist by the chief technical officer for the city of Seattle. I find it reassuring that it even exists! It covers goes over how to make environmentally sensitive IT purchases, and has a sort of checklist for effective purchasing, including energy efficiency, toxic materials, percentage of recycled material, as well as how to deal with the computer waste.

Of course, this is a government agency (presumably) asking these questions, and one could argue whether a company driven purely by profit motive would have what seems to be a very reasonable set of criteria.

I can certainly imagine some change taking place if a few relatively large companies had this same set of criteria in their IT departments.

Link (Powerpoint… sorry!)

pins 1, 2, 3 and 6

Sunday, February 6th, 2005

Here is another obscure item but I think you’ll like it…

In practically every modern office building and indeed in many homes, you will find hundreds if not thousands of metres of network cabling. I’m referring to the cables, slightly thicker than telephone wires, that run through walls and ceilings, are stapled under carpets, and connect computers, printers and servers to hubs, switches, and routers. They are almost always blue although sometimes the shorter ones are grey. Look around McGill and you’ll spot them; the ceiling in the basement of Burnside is a good place to look.

These days most network cabling is ushielded twisted pair (UTP) – inside that blue or grey outer sheath are a series of small copper wires twisted together, each one wrapped in its own insulation. Well before the advent of computer networking, voice communication was already requiring huge quantities of UTP cable but the modern local area network (LAN) increased the demand for this kind of cabling exponentially. It would be difficult, maybe even impossible, to estimate the amount of UTP cabling in use today. Increasingly, organizations are switching to fibre optic cables for longer distances; these cables carry thousands of times more data than their copper counterparts. And the migration to voice-over-IP technology that essentially combines voice and data on one cable is also reducing the use of UTP cabling. But the resource use by cabling of all types cannot be ignored.

Imagine all the plastic and copper needed for all that cabling and imagine what will happen to it all when eventually fibre replaces all of it. But this post is not about the basic environmental consequences of network cabling, there’s a more interesting tidbit to share…

Those blue network cables are 4-pair, which means there are 4 pairs of wire, 8 conductors total, inside each cable. At the end of the cables are RJ-45 connectors, they sort of look like oversized phone connectors. But here’s something that most people don’t know: only half of the conductors in a 4-pair UTP cable are needed. Ethernet networks, even gigabit ethernet, only use 4 wires. According to official Ethernet cabling specifications, the other 4 wires are reserved for “future use.” Now imagine all that cabling all over the world, half of all the wires inside those cables are unused, completely wasted. You could create a perfectly functioning network cable with 2 pairs instead of 4. In fact, many of the cheaper cables you find at FutureShop or RadioShack are made this way.

Why did this happen, you might be thinking. Why would they come up with a standard that only uses half the capacity of the cable? Could it go faster if they used all the wires? All good questions and maybe ones I will answer in my paper…

Some links with cabling specs, you may have to scroll to find relevant info:
Cisco Documentation
Part of course outline at Del Mar College
Information from a cable vendor

Hi Tech is low impact on the environment, especially for its workers

Thursday, January 27th, 2005

For those of you new to the subject of environmental impacts of computers, I highly recommend a series of pieces by Jim Fisher of Salon Magazine. Although written in 2000 and 2001, I haven’t seen better reporting on the health effects of working in the semiconductor industry, particularly in the clean rooms, where chips and disks are made. He certainly bursts the notion that clean rooms have anything to do with worker safety. He also provides depth to the problem of linking chemical exposure, especially when it’s low level and chronic exposure, to cancer.

Poison Valley, parts 1 and 2

Poison PCs