Archive for January, 2005

Linux Adoption Curve

Friday, January 14th, 2005

Relating to the article, and a little bit about what we were discussing in class, I thought it’d be interesting to consider the adoption curve for the Linux, or GNU/Linux operating system.

As we mentioned in class, Linux is a free (REALLY free) operating system (OS), which anyone can download, or get on a cd for only the price of the cd. For the non-huge-nerds among us, Linux shares much with an operating system called Unix, which is what the IBM/Airlines/Banks/etc (big companies) used to run their computers way back in the 1970’s and 80’s. Like Unix, Linux is a powerful, stable, customizable OS. It is also (to some people, most importantly), open source software. Open source means that the code (which is just special text) used to build the operating system is also released with the program. Open source software is its own huge topic, but suffice to say, most huge-nerds agree it’s an excellent selling point, and a very strong attribute of Linux. Some excellent programs that were mentioned in class that you might use already are also open source are Mozilla (an internet tools suite), and Mozilla Firefox (a lightweight web browser).

You can do nearly everything you do on Windows or a Mac, and in many cases considerably more, for no cost other than the time it takes to learn some of the quirks of a new operating system.

Anyways, enough with the evangelizing. It’s interesting to try to figure out where on the adoption curve Linux is. The early adopters of course, were generally programmers, and other enormous nerds. They installed Linux when it was an ugly command line mess, and they loved every minute of it. Beyond them, Linux also seems to have picked up people who either don’t like the inherent evilness of Microsoft, are tired of dealing with viruses (not that Linux is immune), or need to things other OS’s simply won’t allow. However Linux certainly hasn’t gained widespread adoption, although I believe it now has significantly more users than MacOS, the perennial #2 to Windows on the desktop.

So I would argue we’re at the bottom of the curve. In the CS department, I’d guess maybe 1/3rd to 1/2 of the students have Linux installed. I would say nearly all tech-savvy people are aware of Linux, and of the small minority who have actually attempted to use it (particularly lately, as the user interface has improved considerably) come off favorably impressed. The things I feel which are holding back its widespread diffusion, beyond just general ignorance, are its user interface: it is still not as consistent as the MacOS, lack of social support in most circles (if your Linux PC has a problem, the friendly nerd you rely on most of the time may not know what to do), and it suffers from the ‘competing solutions’ problem, similar to the scurvy ‘cure’ in the reading, in that there are many groups and companies which release versions of Linux called distributions, and to a newcomer, it is pretty overwhelming, so they’re often as likely to just forget about it and stick with Windows.

Even if you’re not feeling up to the switch, I feel like it’s certainly a trend to watch. There is no one company distributing Linux, so Microsoft can’t buy them out of business, and Linux is only getting better with time. So hop on to the S-curve while it’s still cool to do so!

The Death of Environmentalism

Friday, January 14th, 2005

The environmental movement is currently being shaken by a new report that asserts the Death of Environmentalism. Salon magazine has published an excellent review of the article and its reactions.

The report’s main complaint, according to the Salon article?

the environmental establishment’s current approach to fighting global warming is hopelessly wonky, mired in technical policy fixes, like raising CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) emission standards on cars or mandating cap-and-trade schemes on CO2-emitting power plants. The organizations suffer from pigheaded “policy literalism,” refusing to recognize that they’re in the middle of a culture war that won’t be won by “appealing to the rational consideration of our collective self-interest.”

What would save environmentalism? The report argues for a compelling inspiration vision to counteract the right and mobilize the vast numbers of people needed to enact national and global environmental change. This is quite ironic because my research is in the “technical policy fix” realm of geographic information systems and conservation, which has as its main selling point the “compelling” images and maps of environmental degradation. These images are supposed to assist in mobilizing people for change. My research can survive the critiques; after all, GIS will continue to be used for identifying endangered species and assigning protected areas for some time. However, it’s much more difficult for associations such as the Society for Conservation GIS to continue advocating for GIS and to obtain funding when its potential pots of money are hearing these arguments.

Of course less reliance on technocracy and policy wonkery could be rejuvinating to the movement. The US could do with someone like David Suzuki. On the other hand, these messianic types often come bundled with other agendas, like get rid of the foreigners, all technology is evil, etc.

Friday Cat Blogging: Mr. Evil goes for a tumble

Friday, January 14th, 2005

Mr Evil Goes for a Tumble

Machinizing Humans

Friday, January 14th, 2005

The last post was about humanizing machine, I thought that looking the other way around would be fun too. Using the power of machines to “upgrade” the human body. I remembered reading an article about that in Wired when I was U1 (in 1999). I could not find the same article, their archive does not go that far back, but I found a 1999 CNN article about the same experiment of Prof. Kevin Warwick of the cybernetic lab at University of Reading in the UK.
His first experiment (in 1998), Project Cyborg 1.0, was to get a microchip implant in his left arm, he was the first human to do so.
The microchip could interact with the intelligent building of the cybernetics department, automatically identifying him and opening doors, his computer would tell him how many new emails he got as he passed the door, etc…
This microchip was not linked in any way to his nervous system, but at this time he was already planning this experiment.

In 2002 he attempted a more ambitious experiment, project cyborg 2.0.
“On the 14th of March 2002 a one hundred electrode array was surgically implanted into the median nerve fibres of the left arm of Professor Kevin Warwick.”
He basically connected a microchip to his nervous system.

“A number of experiments have been carried out using the signals detected by the array, most notably Professor Warwick was able to control an electric wheelchair and an intelligent artificial hand, developed by Dr Peter Kyberd, using this neural interface. In addition to being able to measure the nerve signals transmitted down Professor Wariwck’s left arm, the implant was also able to create artificial sensation by stimluating individual electrodes within the array. This was demonstrated with the aid of Kevin’s wife Irena and a second, less complex implantconnecting to her nervous system. ”

The ability to link microchips to the human body nervous system would have obviously a lot of practical applications (medical and others… Here’s an example).
What do you think of upgrading the human body using microchips???

see: The project Cyborg 2.0
and Neural Interface

Humanizing machines

Wednesday, January 12th, 2005

I guess this relates to the discussion last class regarding the Turing test, and artificial intelligence. I have no doubt that eventually, the machine would be able to tell which is the woman and which is the man, based on deductive logic and process of elimination…but I don’t think machines or robots will ever have ethics. They will never be able to think whether they do something is good or bad, just or unjust. In the book by Hannah Arendt “On Violence”, she takes out the term violence on its own, separate from power, authority, force, and strength, and believes that violence requires implements, such as tools and also, violence has the ability to overwhelm the outcome, so that undesireable results occur. Violence does not make one powerful, but rather violence is an expression of power. Violence requires power, and in order to perpetrate violence, one needs a group. But computers overcome tihs, by allowing one person to perpetrate a large amount of violence on their own. “No government exclusively based on the means of violence has ever existed. Even the totalitarian ruler, whose chief instrument of rule is torture, needs a power basis – the secret police and its net of informers. Only the development of robot soldiers, which, as previously mentioned, would eliminate the human factor completely and, conceivably, permit one man with a push button to destroy whomever he pleased, could change this fundamental ascendancy of power over violence” (Arendt 50). Technology may be more of a liability than an asset, in some cases…what are your thoughts on this? Has anyone seen iRobot?

Canadian kyoto progress

Tuesday, January 11th, 2005

Here is an article from The Globe and Mail about Canada’s attempt to meet Kyoto targets.

Tougher Kyoto rules urged

According to the article, the current system of letting companies voluntarily meet targets doesn’t seem to be working. The government might have to consider an extra tax on companies that are not meeting emission targets as a way to force them. What do you guys think about this?

My Introduction

Tuesday, January 11th, 2005

Well, in keeping with the pattern, I’ll make my first post primarily an introduction.

My name is Liam, and I’m doing a BSc. in Computer Science, in my third year. I am U2, because I came from outside of Quebec, more specifically Calgary, Alberta.

I’ve really grown up with computers, my family got its first computer (a Mac 512ke, with an entire half megabyte of memory! Who could ever need more?) when I was 3, and my mom has always speculated that I learned to read so I could actually use the computer. Thus I’ve never lived somewhere where I have not had immediate access to a computer, and have always felt very comfortable using, playing, and tinkering with them.

As I mentioned in class, I think this class will be a welcome change of pace. I got to do a few arts courses in my first year, but this will be the first time writing something for class in 3 semesters, so I’m looking forward to it. I also have an interest in the effects of technology on our society, and have something of an interest in economic and environmental sustainability, particularly in the third world, so I think this class can only help my thinking in that regard.

What I’ve been thinking about lately has been the effects of (sub)Urban sprawl. I’ve always lived ‘downtown’, so I have long been exposed to the benefits of being able to walk everywhere I need to go. It always baffled me when I was in Junior High and High School how most kids would absolutely need to be driven everywhere, as the communities they lived in were simply not designed for people to be able to walk anywhere, except sometimes to the gas station. I’ve often wondered if perhaps the internet would allow people to work from home a little bit more, and thus allow some communities designed for local foot traffic to emerge. However, I can’t say I’ve seen that at all in Calgary, as the houses continue to push deeper into the country, and rarely is there anything reachable on foot from most of those houses.

My name is Jean-Sebastien and this is my first post

Tuesday, January 11th, 2005

First my name is jean-sebastien and not jean-sebastian as my user name suggests, it took me a few trials before figuring out which mistake the prof could have made in my name :).
I’m currently in my first year master degree in computer science. This class doesn’t really have anything to do with my master degree, but I’m taking it because I’m interested to have a broader view of the impacts on society and nature of what I (and my colleagues) do. We tend to forget about these.

My girlfriend is currently visiting canada for the first time, she is originally from malaysia but lives in australia at the moment (I lived in australia for the last two years). So last weekend we went to visit the canadian national capital, Ottawa. And I saw this interesting road sign that reminded me the class discussion of thursday. I thought it was really interesting to see that even a road sign giving the direction to a public building (Universtity of Ottawa) was using a URL and not the actual name of the institution. I guess if you can’t find the university following the signs… at least you can find it online.

Course still in Physics building

Tuesday, January 11th, 2005

The course will remain in the Physics building today, Jan. 11. Starting Thursday, we’ll move to the 1st floor conference room in the MSE building, 3534 University. For orientation purposes, the MSE building is almost behind the Physics building.

Escaping the Real World

Tuesday, January 11th, 2005

My first question is: What is the real world?
Second question: Why do people head to the country on the weekend or move to the suburbs or spend a week alone in the middle of the wilderness – all to “escape the real word”?

Personally, I think that computer technology plays a major role in constructing our idea of the “real world”. When people escape the real world they are, in many instances, going somewhere where they can communicate directly with other people – not through computers, be in an environment that is much more healthy and stimulating than staring at a computer for the majority of the day and somewhere with a much slower pace of life. When it comes to determing a pace of life – think about how much time it takes for an email response to come back as opposed to lettermail response! I would be interested to know if people “escaped” as often in the times before the computer boom!?

I did a quick google of “escaping the real world” and what I found was that not everyone “escapes” by going into nature; some people indulge in an extra piece of cake, or disappear into piece of music or spend time with family, but NO ONE (at least in the top google responses, lol) goes to their computer to escape the real world.

Although, I was just thinking: what about computer games, are they an “escape”? Liam, was it you that plays computer games? Do you have any insight on this?

Introducing Jennifer

Tuesday, January 11th, 2005

I’ll be honest, all weekend I’ve been trying to decide whether to take a course that is directly relevant to the career path I am planning or this class, which would broaden my perspective, generally, on the environment field. Well, I’ve chosen to go with the perspective broadening path. There, now you all know one at least thing about me: I think way too much about decisions that affect my personal life.

Any interest I have in computers stems entirely from a Pascale programming course I took in high school. I was at the top of the class of 24 boys and me, as you can imagine this caused a bit of power trip for me and for those few months I thought I was a computer genius. Well, my computer expertise hasn’t gone much farther than that, so I’ll be pretty out of the loop when we talk about “meatspace”, chip technology and cybernetics, along with everything else!

As I mentioned in class, my degree is in Environmental Science (maj) and Atmospheric and Oceanic Science (min) (i.e. a lot of science, not much social science). I went into the Environment program after a year of gruelling preparation for a BSc in Dietetics (not for me). I switched when I realized that there were things to study at university that I actually loved – like the outdoors. I’ve been a camper, canoer and hiker for as long as I can remember; it’s my favourite “escape from the real world”.

Well that’s a bit about me. I won’t go on with anymore details because I’m sure we will all get to know each other quite well as the semester goes on. See you this afternoon.

Taiwan and Kyoto

Sunday, January 9th, 2005

In an interesting article on Taiwan and the Kyoto Accord, the author lays out the reaction of Taiwan and especially Taiwan’s semiconductor industry to meeting greenhouse gas emission targets. Taiwan is often at the forefront of international agreements, even though it is not allowed to be part of the United Nations, because it wants to been seen as a global partner in these agreements. It also is a significant contributor to greenhouse gases.

Though a small country with just 23 million people, it is the world’s 14th-largest exporter, and some of its most successful exporting industries are major producers of greenhouse gases. And although Taiwan accounts for only about 1 percent of total world greenhouse gas emissions, its particular emissions have been rising exceptionally sharply—an estimated 70 percent in the 1990s, from 160 million to 272 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.


Taiwan’s main greenhouse culprits are the perfluorocarbon (PFC) compounds used in electronics manufacturing[, which] have a much stronger effect on climate than carbon dioxide, with warming potentials 5700 to 11 900 times as great. Accordingly, both the Taiwan Semiconductor Industry Association (TSIA) and the Taiwan TFT-LCD Association (TTLA) have set goals to voluntarily reduce PFC emissions in the near future. They also have been working toward a shared consensus with their global trade counterpart organizations, the World Semiconductor Council and the World LCD Industry Cooperation Committee, respectively. For example, Taiwan has pledged to go along with a commitment by the World Semiconductor Council that its members should voluntarily reduce PFC emissions to 10 percent below their 1995 levels by 2010, though from a different baseline.

Additionally, the author alerts us to the fact that it has adopted a position to the opposite of the US.

My name is Ira and I’m a technoholic

Saturday, January 8th, 2005

I’m 24 years old and in my final year of a B.A. at McGill in political science and geography. I was born in Halifax but moved to Montreal when I was very young and grew up here. Ever since I can remember I have had a passion for technology; always wanting to learn about the latest new technological fad and tinker with whatever electronics I could find. When I was 16 I started a company with some friends designing websites and fixing computers. I kept this business going until after CEGEP and that led me to a job offer from Adobe Systems. I worked in Adobe’s Canadian headquarters in Toronto for a year as the national PDF specialist, this was a really interesting experience as I traveled a lot and learned a lot not only about technology but also about the corporate world of computers. After one year of that, I came back to Montreal and started at McGill. My passion these days is politics, social justice, and urban geography. Although I am certain I do not want a career focused exclusively on computers, my interest in them has remained constant. I use computers and other kinds of technology in all my work and I love learning about these things from various perspectives.

Here’s an interesting news story about a computer recycling effort from various companies:

PC makers, critics join eBay recycle push

I guess only time will tell whether this effort pays off. Many companies seem to have well-meaning green policies and programs but I often wonder if they are working.

Arcosanti website (second try)

Friday, January 7th, 2005

Arcosanti Home Page

A Sustainable City?

Friday, January 7th, 2005

Hannah’s first blog. This may relate indirectly to the course material, but I thought you may find it interesting. I had the opportunity of visiting Arcosanti in Arizona over the holidays. It is a social housing project, developed by Paulo Soleri in the 70’s. His philosophy is to combine architecture and ecology in what he terms “arcology”, with a goal to lessen our destructive impact on the earth. You can become part of the project, and help to develop the sustainable city, by volunteering through construction, design, planning or ceramics, and in return food and accomodation is provided. They recycle old car parts and use them in their construction in creative ways. The types of technology that are implemented are simple yet effective. Also they grow their own food, and the economy is based primarily on the selling of wind bells. Paulo Soleri seemed to be ahead of his time, and this is perhaps one solution to urban sprawl, but why hasn’t it gained as much popularity as one might expect? Check out the website:

Destructing DVDs

Friday, January 7th, 2005

Wired Magazine has done some excellent reporting on Destructing Disposable DVDs. See
Hurry Up and Watch: DVDs Time Out
Disposable DVDs Go to the Dumps

Wired also links to a site where you can mail in your disks.

Cat blog with URL

Friday, January 7th, 2005

clam with cup
On the cup next to Clam the cat, you can barely see the first URL I remember seeing on a household item. The URL is for Sun Microsystems.

Our first class

Thursday, January 6th, 2005

I’m blogging in the middle of our first class. For many of the class, this is their first experience with blogging. Right now we’re discussing the mechanics of data entry. For example, if you want to add a URL (a link to a webpage) then you need to tag the text. To create, click here to read an interesting article from slashdot on Outsource: Competing in the Global Productivity Race, I typed in <a href=> then I type the text “Outsource: Competing in the Global Productivity Race” then I finished with </a>. What you now have is a beginning and an ending tag. I copied and pasted the URL from the top of my browser window.

The whole thing is: <a href=>Outsource: Competing in the Global Productivity Race</a>

Friday Cat Blogging

Saturday, January 1st, 2005

A tradition in blogs.
Mr Evil's Christmas