Energy Efficient Web Site Design

Last week I attended the annual Technology Management Symposium at Downing College, Cambridge University. One of the hot topics was energy efficiency and there was a lot of talk surrounding OLED displays.

One of the keynote speakers explained how OLED displays can be incredibly efficient because to display black pixels requires minimal power. However, those benefits are currently lost when using the displays to browse the Internet. Because the default colour scheme is black text on a white background. (This site being a case in point.)

Which image uses the least energy?

Will we one day see promotions encouraging the use of black backgrounds for web sites? (I may start an experiment…) And will it also mean the return of the green text? People really will start claiming the arrival of cloud computing marked the return of the mainframe 🙂


Group behaviour

Wandering through other peoples’ blogs again and I fell upon a neat collaboration experiment…

Discovery Channel has published an article ‘Cockroaches make group decisions‘ describing how scientists placed the bugs in a petri dish containing shelters and observed how they divided themselves up. Cockroaches are silent creatures. The results are fascinating:

After much “consultation,” through antenna probing, touching and more, the cockroaches divided themselves up perfectly within the shelters. For example, if 50 insects were placed in a dish with three shelters, each with a capacity for 40 bugs, 25 roaches huddled together in the first shelter, 25 gathered in the second shelter, and the third was left vacant.

When the researchers altered this setup so that it had three shelters with a capacity for more than 50 insects, all of the cockroaches moved into the first “house.”

I’m always fascinated when learning how different species co-ordinate and compete. Ants are the usual topic of conversation because their emergent behaviours have been successfully applied to robots and simulation programs.

But this simple experiment did get me thinking. How fascinating would it be to conduct the same experiment with a large petri dish (room, perhaps) and a group of people, such as a team or department, given one instruction ‘you have 5 minutes to get inside a shelter’. Observing that experiment could be fun – you’d sure learn a lot about the dynamics of the ‘team’…

Thanks to Clive Thomson who’s blog entry caused the stumble 🙂

[Update] …I wonder why the cockroaches decided to do an even split… it would be interesting to continue the experiment with additional shelters matching divisions (e.g. remove 2 cockroachs, reducing the group to 48, and provide 3 shelters capable of taking up to 30. Would they split into 2 groups of 24 again or 3 groups of 16…)

Disaster in the Making

Good editorial in The NewScientist (10th Sept 2005, print ed. online requires subscription), highlighting the dilemma with natural disasters:

…Terrorist attacks may or may not take place, but some natural disasters are inevitable. We don’t know when they will happen, but happen they will… There is a clear mismatch between forecasting natural disasters at some indeterminate time in the future and the short lifetime of local and national governments in modern democracies… The Asian tsunami and the disaster in New Orleans show clearly that the political processes for handling disaster prevention are failing badly.

One option is to measure the success of diaster prevention. How many times has the Netherlands’ system of dykes protected it from disastrous flooding? How many lives have they saved, and how much money? In November 2002, when a 7.9 earthquake struck Alaska close to the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, there was no leak and no environmental disaster because the pipeline was built to withstand quakes. What value should we put on such a design?

The article goes on to mention that the Thames flood barrier has been rasied 80 times in 23 years in part thanks to the estimate that a serious flood in London could cost taxpayers £30billion. So it is possible to measure success by what does not happen… but it’s not easy. Look at the Y2K issue – the fact that nothing happened led to people criticising the amount of money spent on it. Maybe too much money was spent, but the whole point of Y2K was to prevent anything from happening. Sometimes, we can be a difficult species to please.

That fear factor is a real challenge though, and one that leads to bad (or manipulative) decisions. Witnessing terrorist acts evokes more fear than being told climate change is estimated to cause the sea-level to rise by 0.8cm per year…