An almost-blog post

A few months ago, Steve suggested I write a paper for a particular conference. He even gave me a topic. Brat that I am, I thought about for a few minutes and then flat out said no to that topic but thought of another one suitable for the conference. I decided to write on the ethics and legality of reCAPTCHA. While outside the scope of my academic oeuvre, I figured that even if my paper got rejected, it would still make for an interesting “Random musings” blog post. But it hasn’t come to that. Instead, you can look for it at PST 2012 in a couple of months. At seven pages (and possibly eight after further additions), this is longer than my typical blog post. You might want to get your favourite hot beverage ready before diving in.

In defence of climate change deniers

I’ve heard some people say they don’t understand how people can hold the view that climate change is not anthropogenic yet claim that climate change can be countered cheaply using geo-engineering, e.g., by injecting sulfur ((Why, IUPAC, why?)) into the atmosphere. The reason for their concern is that they think it’s logically inconsistent since the effects of geo-engineering techniques and anthropogenic climate change are predicted by the same computer models. However, (anthropogenic) climate change deniers are being perfectly reasonable as far as thinking about temperature goes. Let me explain.

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Populating Inflo with data

One can fairly simply write a module to dump data into Inflo.  The first thing I populated the database with was with some population data and then surface area data.  I’m currently thinking of adding GDP data.  Any ideas as to what other easily mineable data I ought to include?

Professor Mor Harchol-Balter talk & Consolidating load in data centres

Last week, Professor Mor Harchol-Balter visited us at the University of Toronto to deliver a talk as part of the Department of Computer Science’s Distinguished Lecture Series.  During her excellent talk, she showed how intuition often fails us when scaling systems to meet a given load, even with perfect information of load patterns, whereby the amount of computers is over-estimated (thereby increasing energy use due to over-provisioning) and presented some results that will be appearing in conferences soon with experimental results related to power saving policies in data centres.  One of the examples she gave of intuition breaking down is, given n computers serving r requests per unit time, load l, and a response time of t per request, how many computers are required to maintain response time t and load l if r increases by, say, a factor of one hundred?

During her talk, Professor Harchol-Balter mentioned that banks refuse to share computing power with anyone else.  This seemed like a missed opportunity for energy savings in the form of virtualization, although, in the short term economic analysis, millions of dollars of power saved is chump change for these institutions.  I later asked her about this and she conceded that they’d be willing to share their servers with other instances of their own software, given certain constraints.  Which brings us to a continuation of my previous depth paper excerpt blog post Energy-proportional computing.

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Identifying gaps in wireless network infrastructure

About a month ago, I switched cellular service providers from Rogers to WIND Mobile.  Aside from the abysmal quality of the phone or more precisely, the Android operating system, I purchased for use on the new network, the cellular network infrastructure requires some work.  Indeed, WIND Mobile is well aware of this problem and has a page called Network Builder to report coverage issues.  It might be better if this process could be automated.

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Let's scrap the long-form census!

The status quo for Canadian censuses is that one-fifth of households complete the “long form” of the census in its entirety and the remainder are given a much-abbreviated version of it.  The completion of the long-form census, until now, has been mandatory for those to whom it has been delivered under threat of fine and jail.  Census information is important to all Canadians; it is used by different levels of government, businesses, historians, scientists, and others for reasons as varied as planning infrastructure to creating employment opportunities.  The current governing party of Canada has decided, unilaterally, that punishing its citizens for failing to fill out some survey is unfair and that the penalty be abandoned.

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