Project Tracking with Google Sites

I am not the most organized person in the world, so maintaining lots of nice, organized files is not really my thing.  I recently took a Cisco networking class and was exposed to a wonderful tool (at least in my opinion) called Google Sites.  I think this tool could be of use to the sorts of folks who may visit my site from time to time, so I wanted to present what I am up to.

Sites allows non-developers to create web pages quickly and easily.  It also permits uploads of files and documents, thereby offering cloud-based storage of helpful information…

…such as documentation pertaining to energy conservation projects, including project costs, savings, utility incentives (if applicable), project life and simple payback.  But of course, oodles of other uses are pretty obvious too.

I am going to show some screen grabs of this tool below, but let me first reference its utility.  A consultant friend of mine recently stopped by and was wondering about the effectiveness of some of my conservation initiatives.  Rather that search through files and spreadsheets and emails for various pieces of information about projects, we simply jumped on the web to examine critical information about projects in which he was interested.  It was a really great to have such a powerful, flexible and easy to use repository of information at my fingertips.

Here’s a grab of the opening screen.  Just click on the image below to increase it to readable size, and back arrow in your browser to get back.

Grab1

Looks pretty slick, no?

One clicks on the little arrows to the left of the categories on the left side of the screen to expand them.  Here you can see a list of recent projects I have worked on.  Again, if you click on the little image below it will show large enough to read.

Grab2

Clicking on one of the project titles then delivers you to a page where you can enter free form text and attach supporting documentation, including proposals, purchase orders, energy savings calculations, or whatever else might be relevant to your needs.  And yes, the typo is my fault…

Grab3

Here, for example, is a portion of a copy of a document regarding an energy conservation incentive from my friendly local utility company that I can access from the site:

Grab4

Navigating from one project to another is as simple as clicking on the desired project name.

The amazing thing about Sites is not just it’s capabilities and convenience.  It’s also its ease of use.  I learned how to use it, and had a web site up in running, in only a couple of hours.  And the production version I am now using only took a handful of hours to create, but has saved me hours of “tracking down” time that I no longer need to expend.

There are size limits to the web sites that Sites will let you create (100MB), but I am not aware of a limit to the number of individual sites you can create.  So one could, presumably, create a new site for each fiscal year, or for each facility being managed, or for whatever logical demarcation you might want to establish to manage the size limitation.

Anyway, I found this really handy and wanted to share.  To learn more about Sites, you can find it here:

http://learn.googleapps.com/sites

Thanks for stopping by, and have a Happy New Year!

The Costs of Fixing Climate Change

I has been my experience that colleagues who do not subscribe to climate change will frequently modify their position in conversation.  They may, in fact believe that the climate is changing, and they may also believe that man is a (if not the) driving force of this change.

But they will then acknowledge that the cost of cutting carbon emissions would be ruinous to the economy.  In other words, their objection to climate change is ultimately a financial objection, not a philosophical objection.  And indeed, common knowledge is that converting from fossil fuels to “renewable” energy sources will be extremely, perhaps unbearably, painful from a cost perspective.

So it was with some surprise that I ran across this article in today’s New York Times, discussing a report claiming that by some accountings that take into consideration the “externalities” associated with fossil fuel combustion – such as improved health outcomes due to reduced pollution, and reduced energy costs driven by reduced scarcity – the cost to covert to renewables might be surprisingly low.  Perhaps even zero.

I recommend that you read the column here:

http://tinyurl.com/k456d37

(My apologies if this is blocked by a pay wall.  Am not sure on Times’ content policy.)

The report being discussed was assembled by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.  Unfortunately I cannot link to their site right now,  but here is a description of the Commission, as well as a link to their site.

http://www.sei-international.org/projects?prid=2046

If nothing else, this is an unambiguously upbeat message, and it is important that it directly addresses some of the “common knowledge” that certain constituencies use to avoid grappling with the significant issues that may arise if we refuse to address our dumping of carbon dioxide into the air.

And as I have said elsewhere, even if one sincerely does not believe that carbon dioxide causes atmospheric climate change, there is unambiguous data demonstrating that it causes ocean acidification that is already affecting ocean life.  In other words, there is no logical reason to dismiss the need to examine our use of fossil fuels, and there are reasons to hope that the report discussed in this column is at least approximately correct in it’s optimistic outlook.

 

Living with our Changing Climate

There is a column in today’s New York Times that is absolutely loaded with fantastic links pertaining to climate science. It’s written by Andrew Revkin, so the column itself is also packed with interesting and useful information as one would expect. Highly recommended and worth investigating.

http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/09/10/can-humans-get-used-to-having-a-two-way-relationship-with-earths-climate/?rref=science&module=Ribbon&version=origin&region=Header&action=click&contentCollection=Science&pgtype=article

I didn’t see this coming…

Fascinating. A deep sea creature that “def[ies] all existing classifications of life” according to the New York Times, has been discovered off the coast of Australia. The Times coverage is scant, but there is more detail to be had here:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/mushroom-shaped-deep-sea-animal-dendrogramma-baffles-scientists-1.2755448

I always find it very reassuring when we find something utterly unexpected. So many mysteries on the earth, and doubtless in the universe, that we have yet to investigate. Our intellectual curiosity will probably never be satisfied as long as we continue to look around and explore.

Thinking Machines

There is an interesting article on the Atlantic Monthly site about Artificial Intelligence (AI) investigator Douglass Hofstadter.  The article itself is located here and is well worth a read:

http://tinyurl.com/pcfejwf

This column is relevant here for a couple of reasons.

To me, one major takeaway of the column is that Hofstadter’s research is not only qualitatively distinct from what I will call “industrial AI” conceptually, it is intellectually superior.  By which I particularly mean, it is (or will be) vastly more relevant in helping humankind understand ourselves and our world – even though it is quantitatively less productive than industrial AI – if his research is successful and understood.

However, industrial AI (let’s abbreviate it IAI) is more effective at delivering results that can be monetized than anything Hofstadter has done.  And thus, a brute force computing monster like Google can do amazing things, and make lots of money, without really addressing deep questions about learning and thinking that Hofstadter focuses on.

I think that this column indirectly says something in general about questions that are relevant to energy and energy conservation, though I may be making a stretch.  But let me take a shot.

Hofstadter is ultimately interested in figuring out how human beings think (hint, he thinks we are absolutely amazingly evolved analogy machines) whereas IAI is principally concerned with delivering accurate and reliable results.  Which, I would add, is a non-trivial and intellectually interesting field of research.  Nonetheless, Hofstadter is pursuing something more akin to fundamental natural philosophy that could lead to astounding discoveries about how and why we think.  The results-oriented application of his findings would then be layered on top of that conceptual foundation.

Let’s get a little more specific.

I can input an English sentence into Google Translate and it will convert that sentence into serviceable Spanish or French or Chinese or any of a number of foreign languages.  But Google Translate does not know what it is translating, nor does it even know that it is translating.  It is a dumb system that provides pretty smart results.

Hofstadter is looking for something different.  An AI system that would, somehow, “understand” that it was translating, and that would rely upon associations instead of brute force to come up with a workable solution.

Just so.   But the relation to energy?

As I think I have written elsewhere, there seems to be a growing trend to treat energy conservation – via energy policy – sort of like IAI.  Namely, if you throw enough resources and regulations and credentialed “experts” at it, you will get the results that you desire.

And thus, the policy maker might (and probably would) conclude that if $100,000 on energy conservation saves one million kilowatt-hours, then $200,000 will save you two million.

Alas, this is not automatically true.  But why it is not true requires a Hofstadterian investigation into where energy is actually being used, why it is being used, and whether it can be judiciously reduced.  After that, maybe you can or maybe you can’t deliver two million kilowatt-hours of electrical energy savings.  But most essentially, you will know why you can or why you cannot.  It is a deeper and intellectually more profound understanding of the situation.

This is, of course, partially an argument for more control of the framing of technical issues by competent experts, which I have broached elsewhere.

I think, though, that we can broaden this.  The sidelining of Hofstadter (he is not in the mainstream of current AI research) parallels the sidelining of deep competence in many fields of endeavor in the United States today.  Respect for deep competence has been supplanted with respect for, or deference to, gaudy credentials and smartly packaged deliverables.  And so we have semi-competent consultants and policy makers issuing poorly informed advice that is acted upon to the detriment of the enterprise.

This is not a good trend, and it is a difficult one to reverse.  Hofstadter at least shows that the qualitatively superior path can be taken.  This path will not necessarily deliver great immediate profit, but the potential long-term benefits could be enormous.  A smart enterprise, then, should treat consultants with a wary eye, as one option that does not preclude other approaches or ideas.