Saturday, October 27, 2007

Global Warming: An issue or just politics?

Background: Virginia Tech has come up with a campaign where each Virginia Tech member, faculty, staff and alumni will promise 10 hours of community service as a tribute to the victims of April 16, 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech.  Different people have promised community work in several organizations in and around Blacksburg and elsewhere.  I also promised 10 hours of community work. To utilize these 10 hours, I wanted to set up a stall in a grocery shop talking to people about buying reusable grocery bags and stop using petroleum based plastic grocery bags. I also wanted to use that occasion to talk to people one to one about several environmental issues as well.

Now what happened: I chose Kroger grocery store for this place as they have started selling reusable bags recently and it generally has crowds of lots of young students.  I went to talk to the Kroger Manager today and he outrightly rejected the proposal. He did not like the fact that I was being supported by Sierra Club. He said the organization was too political.  He added on to that I will be talking about environmental issue specifically "Global Warming" which is a political issue.  He said this might (or definitely will) annoy some of their customers and he didn't want his customers to complain.

"Global warming, a political issue?"  I was really surprised to hear that.  I have always considered that to be an environmental issue.  As per as normal IQ goes global warming is a phenomena by which the greenhouses gases absorb heat which makes this planet inhabitable.  The balance of greenhouses is delicately maintained by several natural processes.  However, several human activities increase these greenhouses gases in atmosphere and are causing the increase in global temperature.  There are several serious repercussions of this increase in temperature and I have discussed some of them in my previous posts related to environment.

I have followed several discussions and read several articles but I am not convinced that global warming is a political issue and it should not be taken that way. It's an issue of screwing up the mother nature which inhabits us.

On a positive note, a grocery store at Blacksburg agreed to my proposal instantly.  They will get reusable grocery bags so that I will use this occasion and convince people to use them. The grocery bags will be sold at cost price as well. The store manager also gave me several ideas to organize that stall.  At the end of the day I was able to convince one store of my idea.  I will let you know how that goes.

Let me know what do you think,


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

When technology pulls us backward

Couple of years back wireless Internet became ubiquitous and it became available on airports, hotels, restaurants, cafes everywhere. With the widespread availability of Internet, businesses took it as opportunity and started to sell the usage of Internet at these public places.

Now, to get access to wireless Internet at most of these public places, you need to sign up for some monthly service or pay exorbitant amount of money through credit card. So, you have to pay upwards of $7 if you want to check your mail real quick on an airport or even Starbucks. In the hotels also, the Internet is getting extremely costly. We went to a conference in Minneapolis, MN in summers and the rate of Internet was as high as $15.00 per day. Although we are in highly advanced world most of the people were not using Internet until they really really had to. On a sidenote, however, there are still couple of places with free Internet without any registration and sanity. One of them is Denny's restaurants. You can find them on almost all the highways in US.

At Virginia Tech, we can buy licenses for many software to work. I wanted to buy the server edition of MATLAB but its annual license expires in couple of months. So whether I buy the software in Jan or Dec, I pay the same amount and need to renew it in January. How is that for technology? Now many a software are server edition, that means they will work only if I have Internet. So, if I get stuck in an airport or I am staying in a hotel with costly Internet and I want to work on my laptop, I have to pay for that costly internet just for my software to work.

To me technology means efficiency. If something is not efficient, its not advanced, whether its a car or a computer system. We have recently experienced many popular software like MS Windows, ESRI (ArcGIS), are getting bloated and inefficient.

Anyway, I went to a Starbucks few days back. Besides the fact that they did not have Internet at all, that place was supercold. I asked if they could do anything about it, they told me that the temperature was controlled by a central unit and they cannot do anything about it. Besides the fact that temperature outside was in upwards of 80, workers in that place were wearing warmer clothes, and I was not able to sit there for long because of that cold temperature. This technology of air conditioning is supposed to make us feel comfortable, or uncomfortable and blatantly waste huge amounts of energy. I have felt this central AC crap many a times before as well. I know in some offices people keep heaters to counter the cold AC. The most stupid way to waste energy.

In Virginia Tech library last week, the temperature inside was too high in the evening as it became a little colder outside. And since it was controlled automatically, people had no option than to feel hot. In my department there is a classroom with special air conditioning unit. And the AC switches on as soon as somebody enters in it. It also makes it colder than that starbucks. The whole time in that class you wait for it to get over, get out and feel better. How is that for technology?



Al Gore and IPCC won the Nobel prize for peace, for their efforts in raising awareness about Global Warming. I take this space to congratulate IPCC and Al Gore both and I hope it will raise some more awareness.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Those five minutes of wait at the parking lot today...

I was waiting at the parking lot in front of my department today. There was a lady sitting in a Jeep Cherokee (which is already a gas guzzler) with engine on and was talking to somebody on phone. I was there for five minutes and I am sure that lady was there before I came and she must have been there for sometime after I left.

All those five minutes, I was about to go and ask her to switch her engine off, but I didn't do as she was talking on phone. I kept thinking, what would make people realize that we waste too much; "An inconvenient Truth?" information pamphlets? exorbitant price of energy (gas, electricity)? rationing? a morality class...

I was at a party at my friends place few days back. The party was a lot of fun no doubt, but one thing really disturbed me was that everybody was throwing the bottles and cans of beer in trash. I believe we could have had as much fun if there were boxes for recycling those cans and bottles. I realized that talking about something like this at that party would not have been welcomed, but should I have said something there? What do you think? Should I have said something to the women in incidence above? Would you have said something if you were there?

From what I believe; in this arrogance of money, power and youth, we must not forget our responsibility to our Mother Earth.

On a positive note, I started using Kroger Canvas Shopping Bags for shopping and I think I saved about 100 plastic bags in last couple of months. Also, in the Graduate Student meeting today in my Department I suggested students to bring their own cups for drinks to reduce wastage, and the suggestion was well received. I hope it will help :).


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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Email is an important tool - Use it wisely

I have been thinking to write on this topic for a long time because I realize that emailing habits and its use is changing rapidly which has its good and mostly bad effects. Emails have become so ubiquitous that some people have stopped realizing its importance. I believe there are several points regarding emails that people must know for a better experience with such a great tool.

1. Subject of Email - Always give a subject to your email. Long or short-but it should tell what a person should expect in the email. 'No Subject' emails can be more often considered as spam by spam filters. Never capitalize all the letter of email subject, it will increase the chances of your email be considered a spam.

2. Mail Forwarding - Avoid this temptation as much as you can. Do not forward the mails which say 'Forward this mail to so many people, else xyz will happen.' If the mail is interesting and you really want to forward it, remove this line and other stuff which adds because the mail comes through so many places. Add the addresses in BCC, so that it will be difficult for unscrupulous program to harvest email addresses form your mail. If you keep on forwarding emails regularly without cleaning as I mentioned earlier, you might be flagged as spammer by many servers. Even if servers do not flag as spammer, many recipients will. I know I would.

3. Emails are not instant messaging - The person might be reading your mail at the instant you wrote or may be few days later. Try to be a little explanatory in your emails. Make sure there are few (no) spelling mistakes and not many acronyms are used. Write the emails in a structured way unless they are a quick reply to a question. Especially when you are writing emails to a professional contact, you must maintain proper structure of the mail without spelling mistakes.

4. Proper mail structure - Proper mail structure means; clear subject of the mail and the mail should start with Dear/Respected, then subject matter and end with Sincerely or regards with proper contact information as signature. A mail with improper structure may be flagged as spam and that happens quite often.

5. Mail management - My suggestion is that if you do not know how to manage emails or cannot do that, do not use email. It is extremely frustrating when somebody says that they didn't receive emails (If I send email to you then you will receive it). In rare chance it might be considered a spam, and so it is important to check a list of your spam emails regularly and block unnecessary emails. Filter your mails to proper label or folder for proper viewing and management. Set up a fixed time to reply to mails.

6. Be careful what you write in email - Emails are pretty much a proof and do not destroy themselves. So, if you badmouth about someone on an email, be ready for that email to be used against yourself at the worst of times. This lesson is mostly learned the hard way, unfortunately.

7. Orkut/Facebook are different than email - People forget that quite often. Orkut/Facebook are for writing short messages and wishing at the right occasions, may be forming some group or collaboration. Scraps are not for writing long, detailed and/or personal messages for the world to see. Do not use very personalized words like abuses as well in scraps. Scrapbook is the worst place for that.

8. Maintaining multiple email accounts - Many people maintain multiple email accounts with one as a work email, one as contact email and one for signing up for subscriptions and spams. It is important then to give correct email address to people whose emails you want to read and reply. If you have somebody's work email, do not forward funny or viral mails to that account at all.

If the mails are managed properly and attended to regularly, you can accomplish several important tasks through the emails itself. In the following post, I would talk about managing emails in a little more detail.

Let me know if you find above tips useful.

My other posts related to computing.