Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On and Off the Grid

Spies Like Us - Well, They Like Me

As I started writing this post, my computer was flashing security alerts trying to get me to run a piece of software I didn't previously have in order to get rid of some virus it claimed was just about to bring about the end of the world as we know it. I'm pretty sure the alerts themselves were the result of a sneaky piece of spyware that wanted me to collude with its own evil conspiracy, but maybe I'm just paranoid.

At any rate, I'm getting ready to leave town soon and decided it was best to go ahead and take the computer into an actual shop to be exorcised. Other options for getting IT help at present are few. But this is a rather expensive choice and one I made reluctantly.

I might be persuaded that it is time to buy a new machine but hardware is not like something organic, is it, where susceptibility to illness might result from age? So, the spyware problem itself does not tell me it is time to go shopping. Though I know the time will not be too far off. It's a 2007 machine. Horrors!

I might buy a Mac, I know that's what you're going to say. They don't (generally) have these particular problems and they come with all kinds of cool abilities. But not ones I anticipate I would use. And the inconvenience (and this time, expense) of periodic problems with spyware is not, I think, offset by the inconvenience of becoming a Mac user in a PC world, and learning new systems (I =like= PC's better!) or the expense of the Apple machines themselves and the software I'd need for my work. So, that's what it comes down to for me. I would, however, like to be more certain that my next machine is as well protected as it can be, to really understanding what keeps it that way, and how to tell if it is in trouble, and what to do if it is. I'm too much of an idiot with this aspect of technology. This week I pay the price.

If you're curious, I'm writing from a computer at my neighborhood library. I'll stop by again tomorrow. And hope to have my laptop back sometime on Friday or Saturday. I paid in advance. They will give me most of my money back if they can't fix it.

America's Energy Grid

What I wanted to write may be related. National Geographic's latest issue included an article about the US energy grid. I like the science articles in NGM because they have good pictures (!) and are often fairly easy for the non-scientist (like me) to grasp. And unlike some of my readers I am more comfortable than put off by what folks call the liberal media. Not unquestioning, but comfortable.

Apparently America's power grid (or grids - there are actually three of them; Texas gets its own!) run on quite antiquated technology - not three years old (like my poor antique laptop) but five to ten decades old. They can't store power when it's not being used; can't tell if there's a problem until it's caused lots of other problems, and most troubling of all, are powered by dirty and nonrenewable energy sources. Yup, half of America's electricity comes from coal. Coal-powered generators produce nearly a third of our mercury emissions, a third of our smog, two thirds of our sulfur dioxide (OK, I don't really know what that is!) and nearly a third of our carbon dioxide emissions. Yet the way the system is set up, any other approach is going to bring about significant cost increases, making it a pretty tough sell to politicians, taxpayers, consumers. So, what's to be done?

Power outages cost Americans something like $80 billion a year and are likely to increase.

The article does make some good suggestions; check it out if you're interested in exploring the topic more.

You Think We Got Trouble?

I can't help but think of other places I've been that have far fewer resources and far less reliable utilities. I remember staying in a flat in Azerbaijan, back in 1995, which was lit by two dim lightbulbs, one hanging bare from the ceiling of each of the two rooms. You couldn't have both of them on at once. If you wanted to plug in anything else you had to turn off both lights. And this in a city known for its oil reserves and amazing resources of wind power (well, potential wind power. Wind anyway). Yet such issues ought to be put in perspective there as well. Weren't a million people displaced by the war with Armenia not too many years before? That created/reflected bigger problems than how to improve the energy grid.


Paul Merrill said...

Great perspective, Marti.

I'm also reminded of when we were on our training course in Africa, we slept in a house with no electricity or running water for 3 weeks. Then we went to a luxury hotel for a few nights. When things weren't exactly perfect there, we screamed - having quickly forgotten from whence we came.

Dean Smith said...

We started really using our solar roof on November 1, 2009. As of the end of May, 2010 we have generated a $235 credit with "the grid." the cost was about 10 percent of the value of the house.

As to the mac, have you tried an Apple iPad? I find I can do almost everything (except perhaps typing a novel) that I would do on a laptop, and a whole lot more. Add a bluetooth keyboard for the heavy typing and it's a pretty complete computer. Starts at $500, $650 for full 3G internet connectivity most anywhere. And it only weighs a pound and a half. 10 hour battery life. Watch movies, read books, listen to music while you work.

Marti said...

I love Jon H.'s story about when he and Lynda were in Central Asia and went to what had probably been in Intourist Hotel in Soviet days... and a bit weak on customer service. Their team sent them there as a bit of a treat, to celebrate their anniversary as I recall. Just after they arrived the power went out. They went down to the front desk to ask for a candle, and later - hope springs eternal - perhaps another candle, too? They brought the first one with them as a visual aid. Whoever was at the front desk took the candle, broke it in half and with a vicious gesture, handed it back. There, you demanding foreigner - two candles!