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Not so green computing: Is Windows an energy hog?

Robert L. Mitchell, ComputerWorld
Many data centers are looking for energy efficient hardware. Mallory Forbes thinks they should be looking at the software too – and Windows in particular.

“Quite often you see applications that require a heck of a lot of horsepower to get them to run well. To get the response times… you end up buying a fairly significant number of devices or very large devices to make them run,” says Forbes, senior vice president and manager of mainframe technology at Regions Financial Corp. in Birmingham, AL. Much of the time, those inefficient applications are running on top of Windows, he claims.

As the performance of hardware continues to go up and prices continue to drop, there’s been little pressure on software vendors to write efficient code, he says. If anything, that code has been getting bigger and more bloated over time. Now that spiking power requirements and heat density issues have IT’s attention, he thinks it’s time to revisit the issue of software efficiency.

Case in point: The Windows operating system and the applications designed to run on it. “On the whole, Windows platforms are less efficient” than applications running on Unix, he says.
(1 October 2007)

A commodity no more: indium tin oxide for LCDs

Andrea Chipman, Nature
The headlong rush to flat-screen technology has been warmly welcomed by couch potatoes and office drones alike. But it puts materials scientists on the spot. Can they replace indium tin oxide (ITO) – the material that coats these screens – if overwhelming demand drives its price through the roof?

Demand for indium has skyrocketed in recent years, mainly because of its use in liquid crystal displays (LCDs) and plasma screens. The electrical conductivity and transparency of ITO has turned it into a crucial industrial component, which can be readily etched and patterned to create a thin film of transparent circuits on both sides of the glass screen.

…The quandary that this presents is a good example of how high demand for commodities in the booming world economy is forcing materials scientists and engineers to revisit their options. Indium is mined almost entirely as a by-product of zinc – a much more widely used commodity – so little can be done to step up global production in line with demand.
(13 September 2007)
Original is behind a paywall.

Contributor SP writes:
So maybe those dystopian visions of the future with vacuum tube TVs will be correct after all…?

I think the lesson here is that “high tech solutions” often use rare elements with unique properties that are limited in supply. This also applies to nuclear (and fusion)… there might (might) be “enough” uranium but is there enough zirconium (or lithium) etc.

Borrowing from nature

The Economist
Clean technology: Architects believe that biologically inspired designs can help to reduce the environmental impact of buildings

ARCHITECTS have long taken inspiration from nature. In ancient Egypt columns were modelled on palm trees and lotus plants, and building designers have borrowed the shapes and proportions of natural forms ever since as they strived to achieve aesthetic perfection.

Some architects now believe that such biomimicry has more to offer than simply making buildings look good. They are copying functional systems found in nature to provide cooling, generate energy and even to desalinate water. And they insist that doing these things using biomimetic designs is not just a gimmick, but makes financial sense. “It’s often the case that green technology is considered to be commercially unattractive,” says Michael Pawlyn, an architect at Grimshaw, the firm behind the Eden Project, a highly acclaimed biome structure in England. That perception, he says, is wrong-and he has the designs to prove it.

So far, the use of biomimetic features in buildings has been driven as much by aesthetics as by function, and has been limited to relatively simple, passive systems. The Arab World Institute in Paris, for example, has an array of mechanical, eye-like irises on its south-facing façade. These open and close to control the amount of light entering the building, thereby regulating the internal temperature.

Similarly there are now several buildings that have ventilation systems based on those found in termite mounds.
(6 September 2007)