Sunday, June 21, 2009

Effects of Technology on the Events in Iran

A very interesting question that many people are watching closely "How will the internet and modern technology change the course of what happens in Iran?" More and more videos of the street marches and the violence are appearing on YouTube. One of the most famous has become the video of a young girl named "Neda" dying on the street after being shot by a sniper. This generates anger in the population, not fear. Modern communication technology is so far being used more successfully to organize than to control.

As Radley Balko writes on his blog:

Government has been murdering its own citizens for as long as we’ve had government, particularly when the people begin to pose a threat to those in power. The difference is that now, the entire world is watching. Iran’s brutality is on display for everyone to see, archived for history, in a way that we didn’t have even in Tiananmen, and haven’t had for most of human history. That, at least, is progress.

Has the methodology of political movements around the world undergone a major change?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Rapid Change in the Auto Industry (of all places)

Change is accelerating. The automobile industry, which generally does not come to mind when you think about rapid change, is suddenly at the forefront of a revolution. In a short Newsweek article last month about the auto industry, it was predicted that “We are on the cusp of a period of technical innovation like the automobile industry has never seen... There will be more change in the next five to 10 years than there was in the last 100.” On the technical front, much of that discussion had to do with the change to an all electric drive chain, with a small gasoline engine just to recharge the battery. The fuel efficiency for such cars can approach 100 mpg. Interestingly, the Prius-style gas/electric hybrid, which is at the cutting edge of technology today, will be nothing more than a temporary phase soon to become obsolete according to this prediction.

This past Monday, another dramatic change rocked the auto world. I don't think most people fully appreciated how significant this event was, unless perhaps you live in the Detroit area. The 100+ year old General Motors company officially went bankrupt. The relatively new dotcom upstart Cisco replaces GM it in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Welcome to the 21st century.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The IBM / Syracuse / NY State Green Data Center, and the Interesting Trends it Illustrates

On May 29th, IBM Syracuse University, and New York State announced an agreement to build a new energy efficient computer center on the Syracuse University Campus. Through an interesting combination of techniques, this center will use about 50% less power than typical computer data centers, making it one of the most efficient computer centers in the world. Some of the key techniques used include:

  • On-site electrical co-generation system that will use natural gas-fueled microturbine engines to generate all electricity for the center and provide cooling for the computer servers.
  • IBM's latest energy-efficient computers
  • Use of chilled water coolers to directly remove heat from the computers much more efficiently than trying to chill the entire computer data center.
  • Using waste heat from the electrical generation system to provide heat and cooling for both the data center and nearby buildings.

Beyond the technical issues, there are some interesting observations about the future trends that this illustrates.

(1) It is yet another example of the significant improvements in efficiency that are possible in our systems. Typical of such examples, it requires a “systems approach” that focuses on efficiency from the very beginning of the design.

(2) It is yet another example of how innovation is often best produced by a hybrid combination of corporate / educational / government organizations working together. (The original development of the Internet itself is another example of such such an alliance.) Reliance on a complete “free market” approach to innovation is based more on promoting an ideology than examining the actual historical data about what works the best.

(3) This is an interesting result in terms of the benefits of distributed power generation. Power generation systems must be big enough to achieve reasonable economies of scale. Yet they should be local enough so that power distribution losses are minimized, and so that the “waste heat” produced can be utilized for other purposes in the community.

(4) Timing - the announcement was made in May 2009, and the data center is expected to be completed by the end of 2009. This is an interesting result in terms of “right sizing” projects. Very large power generation stations can take many years to complete and bring on line. Nuclear power plants can often take 10-12 years. The ability to bring new technology and techniques on line very quickly is a major reason why modest sized projects are likely to be a major trend. Since technology change is accelerating, the ability to exploit new technology quickly will become an increasingly important factor.