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The power in central Halifax died around two hours ago.  I had my iphone nearby, and used it to find my flashlight. Then I called a friend to talk about the value of spare batteries, and the nice dark section of the city. I then went for a walk, looking at the newly revealed stars, listening to a podcast, and looking for the light.

When I found it, at the nearest video store, I wandered around a little, then looked for the Hydro website/phone number. I found the first, which had the second. Luckily there was a mobile version of the web page, which I used to suss out the situation. I tried Twitter, which kept me up to date on the situation. I then continued to browse, and then checked again. The Hydro workers had fixed the main situation, so I walked home, but with fewer stars visible. I continued to listen to my podcast, and checked updates on Twitter on the way back. I also checked the local news and online radio through the phone.

On arrival , things looked back to normal, with one power bump, but otherwise fine for now.

I like my iPhone.

Star Trek writers

Star Trek: significant writers

This is a list of script writers for the original series that I personally consider to be recognised science fiction writers. I think that most of the scriptwriting since then has been by people who don’t write science fiction for a living, which may argue for the higher level of science fiction in their stories in the original three seasons, especially regarding social issues and cultural change as opposed to action and adventure.

Maybe the serious science fiction writers are concentrating more on movie deals?

  • Robert Bloch, who also wrote the story for psycho. He was a horror, fantasy and science fiction writer, as well as a crime writer. He won the Hugo Award (SF), the World Fantasy Award, and the Bram Stoker Award. He wrote the episodes What are Little Girls Made Of, Catspaw, and Wolf in the Fold. These were entertaining, with a nice flavour of horror mixed into the last two.
  • George Clayton Johnston, who co-wrote Logan’s Run, and a number of Twilight Zone episodes. We wrote The Man Trap. I would not call this a great episode.
  • Richard Matheson, who wrote I am Legend and a number of Twilight Zone episodes, including Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. He wrote The Enemy Within, one of the great episodes. This episode addresses the issue of how essential a person’s darker side has a role in her/his life.
  • Theodore Sturgeon, a highly influential write who won the Hugo and the Nebula Awards. We wrote Shore Leave and Amok Time, the latter of which is one of the great episodes.
  • Harlan Ellison, probably the pre-eminent science fiction short story writer of the twentieth century, and a highly prolific screen writer. He wrote my favourite episode, The City on the Edge of Forever. Although largely modified from the original story, it is a touching tale of duty versus love, on more than one level. According to Wikipedia, he has won 11 Hugos, 4 Nebulas, 6 Bram Stokers, and 18 Locus Awards.
  • Jerome Bixby, who wrote the classic short It’s a Good Life (used in the Twilight Zone and the Twilight Zone movie), co-wrote the story behind the Asimov movie Fanastic Voyage, and wrote the great Star Trek episodes Mirror, Mirror and Day of the Dove. He also did Requiem for Methuselah and By Any Other Name, both of which were good.
  • Norman Spinrad, a well respected writer and two-time president of the Science Fiction Writers Association. He wrote The Doomsday Machine. At the time, this was not a cliche issue.
  • Frederic Brown wrote a classic SF short story called Arena, which was the basis for the Star Trek episode of the same name. The tv episode was okay, but the short story was wonderful. He was a well respected writer from the Golden Age of Science Fiction.
  • Last but not least, David Gerrold, who wrote The Trouble with Tribbles. He also won the Hugo and Nebula Awards for the novelette The Martian Child. Finally, he wrote a wonderful comedic SF novel with Larry Niven called the Flying Sorcerers.

Bradbury again

Gatehouse moonlit

When you read his work, there is always some poetry and magic in his writing. And then you come across a passage that hits you in the heart and the head at the same time, evoking feelings and images as none other can.

From Banshee (1984)-

”She had a face of snow, cut from that same white cool marble that makes the finest Irish women; a long swan neck, a generous if quivering mouth, and eyes a soft and luminous green. So beautiful were those eyes and her profile against the blown tree branches, that something in me turned, agonized, and died. I felt that killing wrench men feel when beauty passes and will not pass again. You want to cry out: Stay, I love you. But you do not speak. And the summer walks away in her flesh, never to return”

“I tried to look through her eyes and thought: my God, has it always been this way, forever some man in that house, forty, eighty, a hundred years ago! Not the same man, no, but all dark twins, and this girl lost on the road, with snow in her arms for love, and frost in her heart for comfort, and nothing to do but whisper and croon and mourn and sob until the sound of her weeping stilled at sunrise but to start again with the rising of the moon.”

From The Toynbee Convector (1988)-

“Stiles touched another button and the machine lit up like a cavern of spider webs. It breathed in years and whispered forth remembrance. Ghosts were in its crystal veins. A great god spider had woven its tapestries in a single night. It was haunted and it was alive. Unseen tides came and went in its machinery. Suns burned and moons hid their seasons in it. Here, an autumn blew away in tatters; there, winters arrived in snows that drifted in spring blossoms to fall on summer fields.”

One of these stories shows how a lie can be salvation itself.

The Jolly Google Giant

I just googled “google number of servers” and found out the following:

Wikipedia article

  • Google gets kind of vague when asked direct questions about its infrastructure. The reasons will become clearer soon.
  • Some people estimate that Google currently has about 450,000 servers, with major centres in California, Georgia, in Dublin, Ireland, in Oregon, and in Belgium, and minor centres all over the place.
  • they run x86 PCs with customised Linux OSs, on a 24/7 basis in each of the centres. The machines need to be powered, and generate waste heat. This heat then has to be dissipated, which requires huge (HUGE) air conditioners, which draw more power.
  • for an estimated 450,000 PCs, they quote about 20 megawatts. This would imply about 45Watts per machine. This makes me suspect that they are not counting the electrical cost for cooling, which is comparable to the power needed for the machines. So maybe 40 megawatts?
  • A new system, composed mainly of a supercomputer, is called Project 02, and is based in Oregon. It will cover about two football fields, and will have cooling towers four stories high.

Regardless, the power used is gigantic. People used to say in the 80’s that bigger is better was becoming old hat. We’ve become a lot bigger, but its more in a reproducing rabbit sense (or maybe Tribbles would be a better analogy). Not computers like Colossus, but more like bunnies and Australia.

Green Computers (?)

People have a blind spot concerning their computers, the internet, and modern communications. For a while now (since about 15 years ago) I’ve thought about the seeming inconsistency of people worrying over the internet about what is the greenest way to make a change in their lifestyle, and discussing it throughout the world wide web. The changes, while laudable, may have little impact. Meanwhile they are getting the latest PC/PDA/Cell Phone/iPod, etc every few years, leaving their machines on all the time so they stay in touch, using massive web resources to get their messages across, and happily paying the electrical bills for same. These items are often replaced every 2-4 years (half the average replacement period for a car), contain steel, non-biodegradable plastics, toxic rare earth elements, require a huge infrastructure to maintain, have probably the worst and most deliberate obsolescence factor of any class of products on the planet, and are probably expanding their markets as fast or faster than any other class of products. Bill Gates isn’t the richest man in the world for nothing. If you try and break it down into what factors may be ecologically or climatologically unsound, interesting questions arise, regarding:

  1. Construction of the devices
  2. Construction of the communications networks, including land-lines, fibre-optic cables, wireless LAN networks, satellites and their replacements
  3. The facilities and infrastructure related to the facilities used to store and retransmit data over the web, especially considering the amount of information that the general public puts online (Google has hundreds of facilities, each with lots of servers, for example)
  4. Energy needed to run them, and the “Vampire energy” they use even when “turned off”
  5. Heat production, and energy needed for the cooling systems required to dissipate the heat (air conditioners draw energy from the outside to cool things; it is not a closed cycle). There are potential local effects on the environment, for example heating streams and rivers used as cooling sources, etc.
  6. The carbon emissions for much of the above
  7. The ecological disruptions of putting in the physical internet (fibre-optic cables, older cables, launching satellites, the facilities at the hubs, and the ongoing energy costs and pollution produced in acquiring the energy).
  8. The ecological disruptions of mining and otherwise aquiring the raw materials for construction of the devices, and the pollution produced in processing the raw materials and in making the gadgets, then packaging them, then transporting them, then removing them, then getting rid of them…
  9. What happens to most of them when they become obsolete? And what does obsolete mean these days?

I could add things, but this is definitely enough to start with.

Carbon emissions due to Internet servers.

Regarding carbon emissions alone, on the CBC program Spark, Bill St. Arnaud from Global Action Plan claimed that “the worldwide ICT sector is responsible for around 2% of man made CO2 each year – a similar figure to the global airline industry.” There is also evidence that it is growing significantly faster with respect to emissions than the airline industry, at least in the United Kingdom. The magazine New Scientist published an article indication that using a server effectively produces the same carbon emissions as a 15 mile per gallon SUV. One estimate of the number of servers in the world is 160 million, half of them being Apache servers, followed by 50 million MS servers. The number of SUVs in the U.S. was estimated by the Census Bureau to be about 25 million in 2002, up 56% from five years before. So extrapolating, we’d estimate about 55 million in 2007, and then sales slumped due to oil prices and market uncertainty. So we’ll guess about 60 million now. If so, there are about 2.67 servers in the world per SUV in the United States, and they put out about 2.67 times the emissions of the entire American SUV fleet. And the carbon footprint from servers is just the cost of running the bloody things; it doesn’t count construction, maintenance, replacements, etc.

With the number of PCs in the world projected to more than double by 2015, reaching about 2 billion machines, the carbon footprint prediction above is more than plausible, especially considering that much of the increase will be in developing countries, and most of these countries don’t have the greenest energy sources. To compare growth rates and impacts, there are currently about 600 million cars in the world, and they are projected to double in number by 2030. If true, the growth rate of PCs is at least 22 times faster than cars, and there is no reason to suppose that this rate will get any smaller (unless we run out of materials…).

I think it would be safe to say that the computer/internet industry is a bigger threat in the long term than the automotive industry, and accounts for a significant percentage (defined as greater than 1%) of the human carbon impact on global climate change. They’ll definitely beat the airline industry in the short term, which is one of the more notorious polluters.

Aside: the airlines are taking a worse beating than shipping is from environmentalists, especially from the amateur enthusiasts, but shipping does far worse damage. The airlines are responsible for about 2% of emissions, while the shipping industry accounts for 5%. Part of the reason that shipping goes unnoticed is that airlines are more high profile and visible, and more sensitive to popular pressure on their bottom line. Very few people could tell you what the major shipping lines are, or how much pollution they produce. The ships just quietly pollute their way around the world, incidentally dropping a little bunker oil here and there near Newfoundland and Atlantic Canada…

Christmas Weather

As everyone in Atlantic Canada knows, this has been an unusual fall. It was fairly innocuous and pleasant until Post-tropical Storm Noel hit in November, immediately followed by a mix of rain and snow (I wish it had been a bit less post and a bit more tropical). Then winter hit a “little” early, with frequent flurries and temperatures that rarely made it above -5 C. Then we got this week’s weather. Things started warming up until today it broke plus 10 in places, a fair amount of rain fell, then it cleared up this afternoon and was amazingly sunny, with brisk (to a Newfoundlander) winds and temperatures staying above zero.

The nice thing for me was that the storm gave half decent waves along the Atlantic coast, so I rushed to Peggy’s Cove after work. Except for the wind blowing sea spray directly onto my lens when shooting straight at the waves, it was perfect. I finished around 4:40 pm, then drove back to town. Things had become strangely calm, with very little traffic, almost nothing open (except video stores and movie theatres, of course). The sense of calmness and serenity was wonderful.

I went home, downloaded some of the images from the Cove, and present them as one view of an Atlantic Canadian Christmas. Happy and peaceful holidays, and may your New Year’s resolutions be little ones.

Looking Out the Entrance

Looking Out the Entrance
The Gulls were really active, since the waves had stirred up the ocean.

In the Cove

In the Cove
Bad waves almost never make it into the Cove. Today there were 4-5 metre waves outside the cove and pounding on the entrance.

Crash

Crash
Tip: Don’t shoot directly into the wind, unless you like spray on your lens…I wanted this shot so much I tried it anyway.

Broken rock

Boroken rock
The large flat rock near the centre was broken off the ledge in the foreground. I estimate that it weighs on the order of 120 metric tonnes.

Boom

Boom

Smash

Smash
Best Viewed Large. Note the chunk gouged out of the rock in the foreground. This comes from Noel in November. There was a lot of damage in the Cove.

Sunset

Sunset
Along the Coast

Along the Coast
The entrance to the Cove is just beyond the little red shack. This coast is full of rock ledges and often has a lot of wave activity.

 The Evening Light

The Evening Light
I know it is cliche, but the light was very nice.

Again, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and Happy Quanza, Hannukah, and Chinese New Year (coming soon). Given the recent weather, I’m just as happy with a warm and dry Christmas.

a quickr pickr post

All the king’s horses,…

After work today I went to the doctor’s office. I was slightly proud of myself because I was early; on the other hand, even when I’m late I usually have to wait. It looked a little busy, so I had a seat, and went for a magazine. You might have noticed that the literary value of the reading material in a doctor’s waiting room leaves much to be desired, especially in the last few years.

However, the first thing I found was a copy of the June issue of Harper’s Magazine, and on the front cover was a picture of the little president with an eleven-gallon hat. The main topic was “Undoing Bush: how to repair eight years of sabotage, bungling, and neglect”. It was a forum of prominent columnists and experts discussing the problems and possible solutions to various aspects of the little guy’s administration. They included

The Constitution
by David Cole

The courts
by Dahlia Lithwick

Civil service
by Ken Silverstein

The environment
by Bill McKibben

Science
by Chris (Chris C.) Mooney

The economy
by Dean Baker

The marketplace of ideas
by Jack Hitt

Intelligence
by James Bamford

The military
by Edward Luttwak

Diplomacy
by Anne-Marie Slaughter

The national character
by Earl Shorris


I was 45 minutes in the waiting room, and it gave me time to finish the eleven essays, and it was time well wasted. There was little that was new to me, but it did give me a different perspective on all of the hammer blows that this administration has inflicted on the United States and the world. It’s well worth reading, especially the Marketplace of Ideas, Intelligence, the Military, the Constitution, and finally the National Character.

Only this long until the King’s Horses and Men can get started on the Great Fall.