Duncan Wilcock


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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Taking a Guess at Worldwide Energy Savings from Apple's new Mac OS X - Mavericks

Apple's newest operating system increases battery life by 25% to 30% with a simple software update.   Rolled out to around 50 million Mac computers, this increase in energy efficiency is going to add up to a lot of reduced  energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.  I'm going to try to calculate just how much.

It was the above graphic from John Siracusa's excellent review of the newest Mac Operating System OS X Mavericks, that really grabbed my attention. To increase the battery life by between 25% to 30% as John measured, the system must use power more efficiently - 25% more battery life means 1/1.25 = 20% more efficient.

I'm going to walk through a few more back-of-the-envelope calculations and to take a guess at how much electricity and green-house gas emissions that will add up to in the next year.

According to Horace Dedieu of Asymco Apple had sold 122 million macs in all time in February of 2012.   Let's conservatively estimate that those sold in the last 5 years are still in use - this equates to about 50 million - a few more may have sold since then, but it's a nice round number, that I used in my opening paragraph, and as I said in the title - this whole article is a big guess.

Another big guess is the adoption rate of Mavericks.  This year the upgrade is free, and adoption is expected to be unprecedented for a desktop OS.  One source is currently quoting 17% in under a month from Maverick's release date.  I'm going to pick 20% as a nice round number for the first 2 months after it's release.

Moving on to GHGs

It's at this point, that I realize I don't have a good figure for average energy use for a laptop during it's lifetime.  I could assume 8 hours per day, 50 weeks per year, for a lifetime of five years, but I think usage of computers varies widely, and the people who probably know best how much an average person uses their Mac is probably Apple.

Then I remembered that Apple provides some first class sustainability and environmental impact reports on it's website.  There are impact statements for all it's products, as well as the environmental impact of the organization  - including the life-cycle of it's products including use.   They chalk-up 30% of their carbon-footprint as due to product use - and they even provide the figure of "9,306,000 metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions."

Digging a little deeper into those product impact statements.  I see the most popular Mac Laptops at 350kg of CO2e for each computer and between 17% to 33% of that due to customer use (electricity).   A recent iMac is put at 1000kg of CO2e - 50% for customer use, and an iPhone 4s at 55kg and 25% of that for customer use.

Apple sells an overwhelmingly large number of iPhones as compared to the number of Macs sold, but from the impact statements we can see that the Mac Laptops use 6 times as much energy as iPhones.

It's hard to be precise on this, so I'll make another guess that Mac Laptops are responsible for about 50% of Apple's product use GHG emissions, or 4,653,000 tonnes of GHGs.

Unfortunately for me, since I'm most interested in energy savings in kWh (saving energy is what I do for a living) I don't know the conversion factors and assumptions Apple made in determining these GHG totals.  Still, estimating how many GHGs will be saved is an equally interesting figure to me, so I will continue.

Putting the Guess Together

Going with my 20% adoption rate by the end of 2013, the computers that will now have Mavericks on them would have been responsible for 930,600 tonnes of GHGs.

In 2014, but using power more efficiently, these machines will only generate 744,480 tonnes of GHGs for a savings of about 186,120 tonnes.

There we did it - a back-of-the-envelope guess, but it could be in the ballpark.   With one software update, by providing better battery life and making it's operating system more responsive, Apple has also eliminated 186,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year.

Perspective on 186,000 tonnes

To put this in perspective, a person living in British Columbia, Canada generates on average 5 tonnes of GHG emissions each after all the driving, keeping our houses warm, and sending things to the landfill we do each year. So that's the carbon footprint of a small city of 37,000 people.

Here's another datapoint for comparison: the BC government tracks it's greenhouse gas emissions and offsets them for carbon neutrality.  In 2012 all the provincial government, schools, advanced educational institutions, and health-authorities reported using a total of 845,212 tonnes.

So one software update that saves 186,000 tonnes per year is as significant as it is impressive.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Amazing Tech in America's Cup

As a lover of amazing tech, I have been quite smitten by the America's Cup coverage.  There is of course lots of great new tech used in the boats like carbon-fibre hydrofoils and faster-than-the-wind speeds that I'll elaborate on in a future post,  but first I want to highlight the tech I've noticed in the video coverage, onboard the boats, and the interactive spectator apps.

Like so many things - it's best to start with a picture:

The lines on the water aren't there in the real world of course, but in the video feed they are overlaid & updated live.   This makes watching so much more interactive - for instance the speed of each boat is shown, and if you look closely there is a faint track that shows where the Italian boat has just been.

The significant lines for the course are shown to make it easy to understand where the course is - details like the circles around the marks/buoys, the distance lines, and faintly to the right of the screen is a wide line that indicates the course boundary.  Obtaining all this information in real time and then plotting it on the screen in a way that is unobtrusive, informative, and tasteful is amazing to see so well done.

Dirty Wind

The green lines are implemented with GPS transponders on the boats that relay the exact position, boat speed, and many other parameters back to the central race-control and television computers.

An example of an additional parameter the race-control & television computers have at their disposal is the wind speed and direction.  Combined with computer models of how the wind flows around the sails results in the amazing visualization of 'dirty-wind' shown below.  Dirty wind is air flow that is disturbed by the upwind sail and as a result will transfer less power to a boat downwind of the disturbances.   Here is how it looks in the video coverage with the blue enhancements from the Italian boat that are close to disturbing the Swedish boat.

Live On-board Cameras

Not content to watch from the many helicopters that are circling the boats, there are several onboard cameras (with windshield wipers) to give great shots of the action up close.  Audio from the crew communication systems (essential at the 80km/h speeds they are travelling) is patched in to the coverage, which brings us even closer to the action. Here is a great shot of the Italian team flying on their foils on a downwind leg:

Companion iPad App

I mentioned spectator apps.  As you might expect from San Francisco & the Silicon Valley Tech Titan - Larry Ellison - who deserves credit for the vision and funding of so much of this year's America's Cup, there are companion iPhone & iPad apps for spectators.  They are useful as aggregators of news, video footage, schedules, and results.

Not content with just those functions, the telemetry of each race is used to create a video-game like representation of the actual race that you can follow along with live, or once the races have been uploaded to youtube.  They call it 'Virtual Eye', and you can see how much it looks like exactly like the overlays in the television coverage.  The side bar at left allows you to add additional information that they don't normally complicate the television coverage with.

It's amazing, a real, usable example of interactive, second-screen television that adds to the experience of watching the event.

If you haven't seen one of the races yet - download the iPad app & follow along, or watch this recent race between Italy & Sweden I'm not regularly a sports-fan, but I've sure been enjoying the America's Cup this year.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My First Ride in a Tesla Model S

Had my first ride in a Tesla a few days ago, and as you might expect - I was pretty thrilled.  So much so that I thought I would capture a few of the aspects that impressed me most.

Amazing Screens & Software

You might expect from my post about the cons of dashboard screens in cars that this wouldn't be at the top of my list.  I maintain that these screens will be obsolete before the car has served it's useful life of 10 years or so, but I was definitely marvelled by these beauties.

The centre screen is a 17" glass covered touch screen that looks, feels, and responds iPad like (in my brief experience)  The resolution is excellent, and the software finely crafted.    The most quintessential wow moment?  Opening the sunroof by swiping a picture of it in the desired opening direction, and having it animate along with the physical roof.   Intuitive, effective, and well executed.

Swappable Batteries

This is my favourite new fact about the Model S.  Announced last week, the battery can be swapped out by an automated system in 90 seconds - faster than it takes to fill a gas tank.    The video below shows it in action.

I think this is exciting because without swappable batteries, electric cars will only be suitable as a second car for around town for the foreseeable future.

Gasoline is very energy dense, much more so than batteries. For example:

Smallish Gas Tank = 50 Litres of gasoline = 1.7 GigaJoules = 472 kWh
This is about how much your clothes dryer uses in a year.

For comparison - a small Tesla S battery = 60 kWh.

To charge the small Tesla S battery in 1 hour would take 100 Amps at 600 Volts.  This is quite a draw - a significant industrial machine with big throw switches uses this sort of power.

To charge it in 5 minutes would require:
100 Amps at 7200 Volts = 720 kW
This is the kind of wallop you get when a lightning strike hits, or is drawn daily by a pretty large office building.

There are plenty of chemical reasons why current battery technologies don't charge that fast, but you can imagine it will be quite a while before the electrical grid is able to deliver this type of capacity.

Smooth & Quiet

I'm sure it has been written more eloquently elsewhere just how smooth and quiet the ride is in the Tesla S, but it's one of those experience-it-to-understand it things.  No gears to switch through, no electric whine, just a smooth, solid ride.

Trunk and Bonnet Space Galore

The electric motor is compactly positioned in the rear of the car.  That leaves all the space the engine used to take up under the hood and plenty of space in the rear as well.  You might have imagined this would be the case, but it really is amazing to see.

The engine, the radiator & cooling system, exhaust system, and especially the transmission take up a lot of room in a combustion-engined car.  With these systems gone, there is all the room in the front of the car for storage, and inside the car where the hump from the transmission is usually - is eerily, but pleasantly empty.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Apple's Social Network

Ping - Apple's first Music focused social network -  didn't work out so well, but slides and features of iOS7 announced at WWDC 2013 are demonstrating that Apple is stealthily building it's own social network - one that perhaps does everything most people want, and a lot less that many don't want.

300 Million Accounts

A slide Tim Cook splashed up on screen at WWDC - and the bold statement he made - faster than Facebook to reach it.

iMessage & Game Centre

Tim Cook talked about these two things that Apple does "that are social" at All Things D a couple of weeks prior to WWDC. He may have said that he never felt Apple needed a social network, but I think Apple is hedging it's bets by building one anyway.

Find my Friends

A super useful app that let's you see where your friends with iDevices are on a temporary or permanent basis.  This location sharing is a great application, and something that Google, Facebook, Foursquare & others have been trying to crack for a few years.  I know I haven't been able to get my friends interested in the services of the other guys, but I have been able to get groups of 5 to 10 to sign on to use Find my Friends.   This is an example of an Ad-hoc Social Network - an interesting, and useable evolution of the social networking phenomenon.

Shared Photostreams

Sharing photos is a major application of social networking.  One of the main things people do on Facebook, and one key reason Facebook bought Instagram. Photostreams are much more private though - which a lot of users will find more appealing- certainly members of my own social circle that decidedly don't use Facebook are enjoying posting and commenting on Photostream photos.  Shared Photostreams - where multiple users will be able to add photos to the same album in iOS7 is a new & better experience than single person albums. Using Photostreams with my friends the past year many asked this same question - "Oh - can we just add them all do the same Album?"  - It's an obvious &  desirable use case.   Even better, it makes it easy to then save full resolution copies of the photos direct to your iPad or iPhoto on your Mac.

No Wall, Intrusive Games, Facebook Apps, or Advertising

I like Facebook for the most part, but frankly - it's a bit noisy. In fact taking over the photosharing will make the chatter stand out that much more. Social networking may segregate into chatty places & quieter - more private places. Places for photosharing, for location sharing, and for less intrusive gaming.   It's already a little narcissistic when we post our photos on Facebook, it may begin to appear even more so in future.

iTunes Radio

Photos are a big social sharing application, and music is too as were seeing lately with Songza, Pandora, Rdio, and Twitter Music.  Ping didn't work out so well, and I haven't had my hands on iTunes Radio yet to see for myself, but I'll bet that there will be social features baked into iRadio that continue to expand Apple's social relevance.

Hiding in Plain Sight

Put all this together and I see that like so many times before, Apple is rolling - quietly working away on something very big - almost unnoticed in plain sight.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Great Tech at Vancouver Nighthawks First Game

The Nighthawks - Vancouver's new professional ultimate frisbee team - had their first game this past Saturday at UBC's Thunderbird Stadium.   It was a great night - beer in the stands, an energetic crowd of a thousand or so, good friends, and of course an exciting game to watch.  I am looking forward to going again soon!

What was also fun was the great tech the Nighthawks and the Major League Ultimate organization have employed to put on the show.   I thought I would itemize some of the tech I noticed:

Slick ticketing from TicketLeap 

This is the first time I've seen or heard of Ticketleap and it worked really well for me.  Online ticket purchase, with a discount code an hour prior to the game.  The tickets were really one-time use QRCodes - one of them is at right.   I took a screen-shot on my iPad, and sent it to my iPhone for easier use later.   Their digital nature came in very handy when our party was split up enroute - I was able to just email the other people their tickets.  The future has finally arrived!

Ticket Entry System: An App from Ticketleap

I wasn't totally sure how it was going to work out when we got there, but sure enough the admission system worked well.  They had an iPhone at the entry gate running the Ticketleap app.  The camera on the phone recognized the QR code and confirmed our tickets.  Smooth, efficient, and you have to admit - pretty cool.

Square - For Souvenir Purchases

True to the technology-on-parade spirit, when it came to buying a few souvenirs later, out came the iPhone as soon as I produced my credit card.   Square is a neat system from the founder of Twitter, that was released in Canada 6 months or so ago, but this is the first time I've actually bought something with it. Your credit card is scanned by a little attachment to the phone, you do your signature on the touchscreen, and voila - your money is spent.

Live Streaming

For the away games, Major League Ultimate is streaming games live - for laptops and iPads alike.  It has been a bit glitchy so far, but the promise is exciting. 

Quadricopter with HD Camera

By far the most fun piece of tech was the quadricopter flying around the field, working on getting some close-in  aerial footage of the game.   They were playing it fairly cautious for this first game, but you can see it in the top left of this photo: 

What's so cool about quadricopters?  Check out this video of two autonomous quadricopters juggling.

Those were the coolest pieces of tech I noticed, but feel free to mention others in the comments if you are so inclined.  Also a quick shout-out to star player #45 - Allan Cowan - who is the main reason I made it to the game.  He had some pivotal plays on Saturday night, and his wife & kids were a cheering up a storm!

Update 1-May-2013: It was a hexa-copter (6 propellers) not a quadricopter, and here is footage from it with #45 Allan Cowan hucking for the goal

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Cons of Dashboard Screens in Cars

The hot new feature I see in newer cars lately is a big, bright screen in the centre of the dashboard.

They look nice for the most part, and provide an improved visual presentation of stereo functions, car diagnostics, GPS navigation, etcetera.   Personally though, I think they are a bad idea and wouldn't want one in my car.  Naturally, since this is my blog, I'm going to tell you why.

You're doing it wrong

Basically I think an in-dash screen & computer system is the wrong way to solve the problem of needing a screen and navigation in the car.  A better solution would allow for the electronics to be upgraded easily, because cars last for 10 years and electronics are outdated in 3 years.

The car manufacturers are probably thinking that's a good thing, they may be hoping that outdated electronics will shorten the purchasing cycle of new cars so that car manufacturers can sell cars more often.  They may be right, but that doesn't make this car user happy.

I like the standard sized car-stereo slots that more cars used to have because you can then swap out the cars electronics easily and attractively - without making a big mess of the dashboard.

I also find that many built in screens are too bright - especially at night.  I'm sure this will improve with time, but I have definitely been in some cars where the brightness of the screen interfered with my ability to see out on a dark & rainy night.

I Do Like Reversing Cameras 

I do like the integrated reversing camera features I've seen, and can see the need for some integration in order to offer that feature - the Toyota Prius seems to offer a good implementation that turns on when the car is put in reverse, and offers an informative (and interesting) overview of what is happening with the engine, electric motor, and batteries.

Modular:  Standard Mounting Points

I don't think I have a complete solution, but I would like to point in the direction I would like to see things go - modular.    My current setup is a standard size car stereo deck from JVC that I have changed out a few times.  It now has a wired in microphone and bluetooth connectivity with my phone that can stay in pocket or double as a GPS display in one of those windshield suction cups.  I find suction cup mounts slightly distasteful in general, but I have found a good one that is solid and supports rotation.

A better mount than a windshield-suction-cup would be a modular set of mounting points built into the dashboard - say a couple of standard sized brass nuts like we have for camera tripods, or something even better.  Two or three mounting points ought to be enough, and they could have plastic cover-plugs that cover them up when not in use.

There you have it, some suggestions for you car dashboard designers out there.  Save us all some money and skip the fancy electronics.  Let me bring my own - just work on giving some good, standardized mounts in the right places.

Update:  7-Apr-2013:  A day after I wrote this, a really cool product was announced that is going in the right direction  - check it out:  www.automatic.com

Also - Marco Arment, Casey Liss, & John Siracusa talked about this very subject a few days after I posted this in their podcast - Neutral here is the episode - I enjoyed it, although I don't agree with Marco in this case.