I finished reading World Wide Waste by Gerry McGovern. I'd consider it essential reading for anyone working with computers!


It's well cited (though I still need to check those citations) & uses maths effectively to make it's point.

That computers + (surveillance) capitalism is actually worse for the environment than the predigital era. That we can and must move slow and fix things, and fund that vital work directly.

Don't get me wrong, computers can absolutely help us regain our environmental efficiency. They just *aren't*.

Not as long as we're:
* constantly syncing everything to the cloud,
* expecting same-hour delivery,
* funding our clickbait via surveillance advertising,
* buying a new phone every year,
* using AIs because they're cool rather than useful,
* running bloated software & webpages,
* buying into "big data"
* etc

Computing is environmentally cheap, but it rapidly adds up!


@alcinnz I do find it interesting that even as it has become cheaper and more efficient than ever to have local storage and computation, we're centralizing it more and more heavily.

But I think Rob Pike had a point when he said he wants no local storage anywhere near him except maybe caches. Managing redundancy and backups is *hard*. And any p2p storage system that a) I would trust and b) mere mortals could be comfortable with, may not be very efficient energy-wise.

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@freakazoid I think a lot but not all of this comes down to corporate propaganda.

But there's been a lot of promising developments recently in p2p. We just need to turn it into something useful, and stop focusing exclusively on blockchains!

@alcinnz Well datacenters are something I have a pretty deep understanding of, having worked IN a datacenter for several years and then having worked in SRE at Facebook and Google. I've also done a lot of research into performance-per-watt of CPUs. Efficient "bin-packing" really swamps all other considerations at the end of the day. Power is the vast majority of the cost of a datacenter, so the companies have a big incentive to use as little of it as possible.

@alcinnz Google especially were willing to spend a ton of engineering time to make even tiny improvements in efficiency, whereas at smaller companies the math usually went the other way because their engineer-per-CPU-hour ratio is much higher. "You mean I can spend more on AWS to avoid having to spend an engineer-month implementing this efficiency improvement? Sign me up!"

@alcinnz The other, possibly more important difference is that Google is no longer growing like gangbusters, so they can't just burn money to avoid spending time fixing things like smaller faster growing companies can.

@alcinnz Large datacenters are incredibly efficient, energy-wise, not just because the bigger processors are more efficient but because when you have that much to work with in terms of workload, you can engage in a lot of neat tricks like shutting off unused machines or running batch workloads in the unused capacity. And with the PCIe fabrics the datacenters are deploying now, you can even do the same tricks with individual cards.

@alcinnz I have yet to see anything about datacenter energy consumption that actually compares it to some actual alternative. They always compare it to some other activity, probably cherry-picked to be as shocking as possible.

I totally agree on instant gratification shipping thing, though even there it's not like they're achieving it with a lot more miles. A lot of that is being done with improvements in logistics using... computers!

@alcinnz I think that it would make a lot more sense to focus on the point of actual ecological damage rather than the consumer end of things. In particular, we desperately need a substantial carbon tax. Even if it's revenue neutral, we'd rapidly see what's really important to people.

@freakazoid The book I was citing there took the approach of performing the comparisons on a global rather than individual basis, and computing how many trees we'd need to plant.

The central point being that computing is environmentally cheap but rapidly adds up. That we can and must do better.

Shipping is an interesting case, showing how computers can help us be more efficient. But computing/instant-gratification can also encourage to be less.

@alcinnz I think that looking at specific things that could be improved is exactly the right approach. Otherwise you're in the land of unfalsifiable claims, because we don't actually know what would happen if we just shut off the Internet or any given service.

@freakazoid Absolutely. Efficient computing ultimately comes down to the fuzzy field of usecases.

That's *one* reason I want people to be funding quality work directly, rather than fund clickbait via surveillance advertising.

@freakazoid I'm all for taking every measure we can!

And I'm glad serverfarms are so efficient, but that won't stop me from discouraging their use. It will however encourage me to recommend Microsoft or Google (or my local Catalyst Cloud) clouds over Amazon's.

@alcinnz Well I don't know anything about AWS's efficiency. I only know anything about AWS from a user standpoint.

Don't get me wrong; the centralization makes me really uncomfortable, and I'm happy to spend energy/money/etc to move more control back into people's hands.

@freakazoid According to GreenPeace's analysis only MAGAF's datacenters are that green, and amongst them Amazon lags behind.

@alcinnz Ah, ok. I probably saw that. I remember being quite floored when Greenpeace started saying positive things about Google and Facebook. But it also gave me a lot more respect for them, since they were willing to actually say when a company had made substantial improvements.

There were certainly plenty of cynics at both Facebook and Google, but most of us really believed in actually making the datacenters green.

@alcinnz (The main things that made me not have respect for Greenpeace were their opposition to nuclear power, which in my view was necessary for going carbon-free though I have since changed my mind, but they were still wrong before the economics of solar really changed) and the dishonesty of their "Kleercut" campaign against Kimberly-Clark which talked about them clearcutting "in old-growth forests", when they were only cutting trees they'd planted themselves.

@alcinnz On the blockchain thing, my friends and I have been wishing for SOMETHING like that since at least '00, and not specifically for cryptocurrency (I could not conceive of anything other than Chaumian e-cash or something like Ripple, which is why I wrote Bitcoin's very first obituary back in 2010). At the time, Spread seemed the most interesting. Stellar's consensus protocol and Avalanche both seem pretty similar to Spread.


@alcinnz IPFS seems closest to reaching critical mass to me, and its implementation also seems the most principled. I can't imagine its association with FileCoin hasn't contributed significantly to the amount of attention it's getting. And FileCoin is an attempt to solve the biggest problem with p2p storage, which is that you have to waaay overreplicate when even large nodes can drop off at any time and there's no guarantee it's not the same organization operating 10k nodes.

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