Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Sunday, September 23, 2012

More Heat than Light

And a quick observation on this NYTimes story about the amount of electricity used by internet data centers:  waste heat isn't really wasteful if it can be put to use.  If you have a data center in Minneapolis, then for at least 5 months a year the heat that is generated will not go to waste.  It will simply reduce the amount of energy that has to be used in furnaces.  (Obviously you have to design the data center properly to make full use of the heat it generates.)

In fact, you can imagine building data centers toward the poles in each hemisphere, and switching back and forth between them with the seasons.  I am not sure the southern hemisphere has much population in really cold areas—Buenos Aires isn't nearly as cold as Minneapolis, for example—but in principle you could run these things for very little net energy expenditure.

Although I guess it depends a little on how much energy it takes to send data thousands of miles.  But I doubt it is very much.

Another thought.  Even in warm areas, people need to heat water for daily use (showers, washing dishes).  In an urban area, I wonder if you could use tap water to cool the data center and then feed the warmed-up water into the water heaters in surrounding buildings.  Even if you only warm the water by 10 degrees, I bet that would save a fair amount of energy, and realistically maybe you could raise water temperature by 15 or 20 degrees.  (Tap water in my apartment is about 70 degrees right now, and I'm guessing you could raise it to over 100 degrees in a data center.)  This would only work if you had a lot of demand for hot water in a fairly small geographical space.

But come to think of it, there must be lots of industrial uses for hot water.  Breweries use hot water for a lot of applications, and I bet they are not unique.  I wonder if you could split the cost of the data center between the company using it (internet company) and the company using the heat (brewery).  If water entered your water heater at 110 degrees, I think you would save quite a bit on heating that water to however hot you need it to be.

Cui Bono? And Who is Boned?

Just a quick observation about Douthat's column today.  Douthat writes about the tendency of government spending to go to the politically powerful rather than to those who need it most.  Douthat writes:
In reality, our government isn’t running trillion-dollar deficits because we’re letting the working class get away with not paying its fair share. We’re running those deficits because too many powerful interest groups have a stake in making sure the party doesn’t stop.
There is plenty of truth to this, of course, but it is worth noting an unfortunate aspect of government subsidies: often when you remove them, you are taking them away from people who never really benefited from them. This is because the subsidies become "priced in" to the underlying asset. The party was long over by the time the current subsidy-recipients arrived on the scene.

So for instance, imagine that the government lavishes subsidies on corn-growers. Then corn-growing land will become more valuable, since it generates more income per acre. As farms changes hands over the years, the buyers are paying a higher price than they would have absent the subsidies. (And of course the sellers are receiving a higher price.)

Then if you remove the subsidies, land prices will fall. For a farmer who recently bought his land, this could amount to a major loss of wealth. And he may have never really benefited: even when he was receiving subsidized payments for his corn, he had already paid for those payments when he bought the land. Maybe prices don't perfectly reflect discounted future earnings, but his benefit from the subsidies shouldn't be much more than zero (unless the path of subsidies was different from the expected path at the time he purchased the land).

This isn't to say subsidies are a good idea. It's just that when you take them away, you are making a lot of people poorer who were never really benefiting from them in the first place. I'm not crying too hard for these guys: just as the subsidies were priced in, so was the risk that they would end. But you can see why these guys don't feel as though they are riding high on the hog just because they receive a lot of money from the government every year. The real beneficiaries were the owners of assets at the time the subsidies were announced, and they may be long gone by the time the government cuts off the tap. This is something that needs to be considered at the inception of the subsidy, because when it comes time to consider terminating it, there will be plenty of unfairness to go around.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Paradise Lost

It's really annoying when you like a song, and you know that liking it will get you credit for your taste, and then you find out a bunch of people like it because it was used as the soundtrack of some shitty TV show.  It totally ruins the status-enhancing signaling that you can do by liking the song.

So, apparently this song was used on Lost?  But I found it on my own, via Pandora, and so, you know . . .  status please?

But I fear there is no credit to be had and the song is simply tainted forever.