Tag Archives: Amazon

Can you power the cloud with clean energy? Amazon says yes.

A Press Release from Amazon.

Amazon Web Services to Use Wind Farm Power to Supply its Datacenters with Approximately 500,000 MWh of Power Annually

SEATTLE–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Jan. 20, 2015– (NASDAQ:AMZN) — Amazon Web Services, Inc. (AWS), an Amazon.com company, today announced that it has teamed with Pattern Energy Group LP (Pattern Development) to support the construction and operation of a 150 megawatt (MW) wind farm in Benton County, Indiana, called the Amazon Web Services Wind Farm (Fowler Ridge). This new wind farm is expected to start generating approximately 500,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of wind power annually as early as January 2016 – or the equivalent of that used by approximately 46,000 US homes1 in a year. The energy generated by Amazon Web Services Wind Farm (Fowler Ridge) will be used to help power both current and future AWS Cloud datacenters. For more information go to http://aws.amazon.com/about-aws/sustainable-energy/.

In November 2014, AWS shared its long-term commitment to achieve 100 percent renewable energy usage for the global AWS infrastructure footprint. The Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) for AWS’s new Wind Farm is an important step toward that goal. AWS introduced its first carbon-neutral region – US West (Oregon) – in 2011. Today, AWS offers customers three AWS Regions that are carbon-neutral – US West (Oregon), EU (Frankfurt), and AWS GovCloud (US).

“Amazon Web Services Wind Farm (Fowler Ridge) will bring a new source of clean energy to the electric grid where we currently operate a large number of datacenters and have ongoing expansion plans to support our growing customer base,” said Jerry Hunter, Vice President of Infrastructure at Amazon Web Services. “This PPA helps to increase the renewable energy used to power our infrastructure in the US and is one of many sustainability activities and renewable energy projects for powering our datacenters that we currently have in the works.”

Pattern Development is a leader in developing renewable energy and transmission assets with a long history in wind energy. Pattern Development’s CEO, Mike Garland said, “We are excited to be working with Amazon Web Services and we commend the Company for its commitment to sustainability and its continued pioneering and leadership in cloud computing. We look forward to working with AWS as it progresses towards its goal of using 100 percent renewable energy.”

I, For One, Welcome Our New Amazon Drone Overlords

This makes total sense. Physics was unable to deliver us our flying cars or jet packs. But what were we going to do with them anyway? Well, go to the bookstore, of course! Alas, in the absence of advanced space age technology we are forced to drive, or even walk, to the bookstore.

But not any more, because Jeff Bezos at Amazon has promised us … promised … the new “Amazon Prime Air” service. This is where the books (and other stuff we order from Amazon.com) fly to us, encased in small brightly colored boxes that apparently we get to keep after the delivery. They fly attached to the underbelly of a robotic helicopter.

Here it is happening, for real:


There may be a few holes in this story though. For one thing, why are humans packing the brightly colored boxes? I would think that the first thing you’d do if you were creating a robotic delivery system is to replace those humans with much more efficient robots. For another thing, why is the flying robot, which Mr. Bezos has, in a brilliant moment of marketing genius called a “Drone,” dropping the object in the middle of the driveway? My driveway is also a thoroughfare for dozens of middle and high school students going to and from school. That would not work for me. Maybe we need to have tiny heliports on our roofs. For another thing, what about big things, or orders where multiple packages will be delivered at once? Do these flying robots scale up? Will they cooperate when flying in flocks? Also, having delivery of potentially essential items taken out of the hand of the post office for whom “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” with different rules, like airlines have, about flying … I am not sure that I am comfortable with this.

(Below is the 60 minutes segment on which the Drone was announced.)

This is all well and good. Well, actually it is disturbing and evil. Anyway, I’m sticking with my original contention regarding Amazon: It has become, effectively, a public good (for better or worse) like roads and canals and such, but it is a public good owned by some guy. Those things, roads canals and such, were often originally created and maintained by private corporations licensed by the government, until society realized that that would not do. Proper free market competition and fair play (to the extent that those two things sometimes work together) can only happen if the infrastructure is a public good and that which uses the infrastructure mostly isn’t. Jeff Bezos has made clear, explicitly, that he wants Amazon to sell everything to everyone. And, they hold patents to do that sort of thing. And now they intend to take over the sky. Aren’t there rules about that?

Other links of interest:

<embed src=”http://www.cbsnews.com/common/video/cbsnews_player.swf” scale=”noscale” salign=”lt” type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” background=”#000000″ width=”425″ height=”279″ allowFullScreen=”true” allowScriptAccess=”always” FlashVars=”type=embed&si=254&pid=fY2cQBTRQRdg&url=http://www.cbsnews.com/test />

Major Computing Entities as Public Goods

What if you went to drive to work one day and the highway on ramp was closed, and a big sign across it said “Highway is closed. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

Well, you would find your way to a different highway entrance. But say that one was closed as well.Then, you check around and find out that all the highways in your state are closed because the state decided to close them. No more highways for you.

Or, one day you go to check the mail and there is a single post card, and nothing else, in your mail box. The post card reads “The United States Postal Service has permanently suspended operation. Sorry for the inconvenience. Have a nice day.”

Or one day you go to turn on the TV and … well, never mind, you get the point.

This morning I received an email from Socialite, a software application, telling me that the software app would not be developed further, could no longer be updated, and was no longer for sale. The main reason for Socialite’s demise is summarized in this text from their web site:

In 2012 Twitter announced API changes and made it clear that traditional Twitter clients, such as Socialite, should not be developed. Some of these new rules made developing Twitter support in Socialite 2 impossible, so after much deliberations we stopped the development of Socialite 2.
End-of-life of Google Reader in 2013 was the last nail in the coffin of Socialite, as without it Socialite loses much of its appeal.

Now, I don’t use Socialite, so this does not matter to me, but it is part of a larger problem that has been a difficulty for everyone. First, with respect to Twitter, it seems to me that Twitter does change its API now and then, which in and of itself causes havoc in the development community. Furthermore, it seems that these changes in Twitter API are not necessarily improvements, but rather, sometimes involve removal of functionality. One could even argue that Twitter has a policy of changing, and sometimes even “breaking,” it’s API in order that software projects that make use of it no longer work.

I remember a few years back when Twitter was still pretty new and there were all sorts of great ideas for using the Twitter environment to do things like citizen science. But it seems to be the case that any long term use of Twitter, especially if that use requires use of the API (but even if it does not), isn’t worth attempting because any investment one puts into the project could be obviated at any time by Twitters policy. That policy, it seems, is “Innovate with Twitter at your own risk.”

The second part of this is, of course, Google Reader being shut down by Google. This is a little different. I might be wrong, and do correct me if so, but Twitter seems to be somewhat arbitrary in its API changes, and seems to do very little to support and encourage development with its framework. Google, on the other hand, seems to encourage development of projects and activities based on its services. Nonetheless, a lot of people were surprised when the widely used Google Reader, which served as a key component of many development projects, was axed. Getting rid of a project few people use and that seems to not have really taken off is one thing (and Google has done that a number of times, which is an obviously likely outcome of diverse innovation which Google seems to do). But Twitter is not Google. Twitter is the kind of project that could easily have been one of many services offered by a company like Google. Twitter, when it changes itself in a way that destroys functionality, is not dropping support for one of many projects. It is making itself irrelevant and annoying as a tool for incorporation in other projects.

So, what is the difference between roads and mail service on one hand and Twitter and Google on the other? The former are public goods, funded publicly and regulated by the government. Similar projects exist in most countries around the world and they integrate across national boundaries. The latter are projects of private companies that have every right to change their services, restrict use, or even shut down entirely.

Amazon is similar. Over time, Amazon has become one of the major, if not the major, supplier of two things one does not usually associate with a book store: Servers and cash registers. If you use a service that requires computer servers and/or storage of data, such as Netflix, you may well be using Amazon indirectly because they provide servers for a gazillion clients. When a bunch of Amazon servers go down, the Internet can choke majorly, though fortunately this happens rarely. Similarly, when you make an on line purchase at any on line company other than Amazon, there is a reasonable chance that you are using Amazon indirectly, as they provide the on line purchasing system to a lot of other vendors. And, now and then, you might even buy a book from Amazon.

When Amazon decides to change what it does or how it does it, which they can do arbitrarily within the range of existing contracts, a lot of things can, potentially, change. A minor example of this happened recently to those of us based in Minnesota, when Amazon, not by necessity but simply to make a point, shut down associates in the North Star State. That was part of my income stream (though a very small part, I quickly add) and Amazon simply sent me an email one day saying that this would no longer be a thing, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Twitter, Amazon, Google, and similar things are like the railroad, mining, and lumber companies of yore, run by a small number of highly influential individuals who happen to be in charge by a combination of luck and whatever else makes you one of those people. The thing is, these corporations effectively serve as public goods, just like our roads, our power grid, our water and sewage systems, our public mail service, our fire departments, etc. but they are not public entities.

At the moment, we who use the Internet, software, etc. are at risk of the arbitrary decisions of a handful of modern Robber-Barons who got into their present position for reasons other than being thoughtful, sensitive, public servants. All hale the free market.

Is there anything that can be done about this? Possibly. Here are a few ideas.

1) The US Senate can pass a resolution requiring Obama to bomb Twitter. That would not solve anything, and of course it can’t really happen, but the debate in the Senate would be high entertainment.

2) The government can take over Amazon, Google, Twitter and a few other companies, sort of like how it took over the companies that built roads and canals (and to a lesser extent, railroads) in days of yore.

3) A version of the government takeover in which the government doesn’t really take over but “authorities” are created, like the ones that handle ports, airports, etc. today (those entities were originally private, in many or most cases).

(These two options, 2 and 3, seem impossible, many will think they are bad ideas. And they will be bad ideas right up until the moment Google is about to go bankrupt or is embroiled in some sort of scandalous legal difficulties of some kind, and a “bailout” is needed. A thing like Google will never need a bail out of course. Like banks. And car manufacturing companies. They would never need a bail out either.)

4) Alternative services, like Amazon, Google, Twitter, etc. can be developed by non-profits using an OpenSource GPL-like model. Those services would probably not be big, or widely used. But they would be there. Then, one day, when the big players falter or become too annoying in one area or another, the OpenSource alternatives can grow a little here and there, and eventually, become the norm.

5) See below (this is where you put your ideas in the comments):

Noble Savages: Napoleon Chagnon’s Fierce Book

Napoleon Chagnon spent years living among the Yanomamo of Venezuela and wrote, among other things, a classic ethnography still used widely in anthropology classes. It came to pass that Chagnon and his ethnography came under scrutiny, actually a few waves of scrutiny, from practitioners of cultural anthropology in part because his monograph depicted the Yanomamo as “fierce people” and this characterization of them was used, misused really, against them by outside forces including the government to justify their “pacification.” The Yanomamo were indeed being abused by these outside forces, and it is probably true that Chagnon’s research became a tool of those elements. But this criticism of Chagnon’s work was an interesting twist on the ad hominem argument. Rather than asserting that someone’s scholarly findings were wrong because that individual is a bad person, the assertion was made that the findings were wrong because they had bad political implications. Over time, a number of accusations against Chagnon and others working in the Amazon were made, hyped, and disproved. In the end, many sociocultural anthropologists liked Chagnon even less than they did before, the fight never ended, and just a few weeks ago, Chagnon responded with his latest salvo, a book called “Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes – the Yanomamo and the Anthropologists”.

I’m writing a piece that will be published elsewhere on the book, Chagnon, and the Yanomamo (I’ll insert a link HERE when it is available) but at this time I mainly wanted to tell you about the new book. Before doing that I just want to note the following: The fight between biological anthropology and cultural anthropology, represented in only one of its forms (or should I say fronts) by the fight over the Yanomamo is often viewed as a fight between those who seek explanations for the diversity of human behavior in genes vs. those who see human culture as constructed entirely from experience. In truth, very few anthropologists believe either of those models to be perfectly correct. Quite a few anthropologists in both fields recognize a more nuanced explanation for human behavior. The evolutionary history of our species has shaped us to have certain drives, tendencies, abilities, and limitations that are important factors in our development but culture and individual behavior are just as much products of history and lived experience guided, tempered, limited, and potentiated by drives shaped by natural selection.

Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes – the Yanomamo and the Anthropologists reviews many of Chagnon’s key findings about the Yanomamo and discusses the controversy over these findings. I’m not yet sure if the new book replaces the older ethnography for use in the classroom; that is going to depend on what a particular course is about. Chagnon reviews his theory of where Yanomamo “fierceness” comes from and all that, but his monograph and this new volume both remind us that there is much about Yanomamo lifeways beyond guys beating each other up with sticks. To me the most important lesson of Chagnon’s work, which is supported by parallel work by others in the region, is this: Human culture is capable of a wide range of variation including but not by any means limited to strong patriarchy with a violent edge. Women in Yanomamo society are often treated badly. This does not make the Yanomamo unique, as women are treated badly in most human societies. The difference is that the Yanomamo are a group of people living in a smaller scale society than our own, and especially, a society that is different from our own, so it may be easier to parse out some of the connections between context and cultural expression. The Yanomamo do not show us something that we could not see in ourselves, but the anthropological view of that group and any other group “elsewhere” in culture or even distant in time (i.e., pre-industrial) or that relies on a very different economy (swidden in the case of Yanomamo) reveals human nature by reflecting it in different kinds of mirrors. When it comes to understanding culture, all mirrors are like the ones in the fun-house, distorting and biasing. For this reason, we need to use a lot of different mirrors. Anthropology reminds us that our own culture does not provide us with the best possible mirror even if we tend to think it does, and that all mirrors are similarly untrustworthy.

In his research with the Yanomamo, Chagnon may have done some things wrong, or things that we would not do today as methods and understanding of ethics have changed. But the same could be said of other anthropologists who worked in the field back in the 1960s, but for some reason we don’t hear that criticism. Personally, I think that this is primarily due to Chagnon’s identification with biological anthropology. Hell, he even uses the word “sociobiology” which is a dog whistle for many indicating a tendency towards genetic determinism. In any event, it may be instructive to look at a parallel case of ethnography done in the bad old days, but by a different field researcher.

Today, Colin Turnbull’s book about the Mbuti Pygmies of the Congo, The Forest People, is often used in anthropology classes, and his ethnography of the Mbuti is generally accepted by many sociocultural anthropologists as valid and useful. The thing is, The Forest People is full of easily refutable facts, such as the “fact” that there is no seasonality in the rainforest and that the seasonal movement of Pygmies in pursuit of wild honey is a culturally constructed behavior unrelated to the ecology of the land. Turnbull, in this and other writings, openly denigrates the people (“Bantu farmers”) who live alongside the Mbuti, painting them as dim witted, mean spirited, violent slave owners (or, at least, poorly behaved masters over the Mbuti serfs). Turnbull also worked in Uganda with a different group, the Ik. If we turn to Turnbull’s work with the Ik of Uganda, popularized in his book The Mountain People, it gets worse. Every alternative ethnography or other source of information about that group dramatically conflicts with Turnbull’s ethnography in one way or another. Turnbull’s depiction of the Ik is horrific, with infanticide and other forms of violence widespread in Turnbull’s work but not so much in other depictions. Turnbull determined that the Ik, who had been pushed off their hunting lands and otherwise severely affected by outside forces, were a people not worth saving, and advocated dispersing the entire culture using very draconian means by the government in power in Uganda. In other words, Tunrbull’s anthropological work is highly questionable, and he quite literally collaborated with the government in an effort to wipe a group of people off the face of the earth, but many cultural anthropologists still use at least one of his books and he has not received the treatment Chagnon has received even though he seems to have actually carried out acts similar to those for which Chagnon is, apparently falsely, accused. But Turnbull was a member of the sociocultural anthropology family. Or, shall I say, the sociocultural anthropology “tribe” (a term I use reluctantly here, but that refers to Chagnon’s subtitle … by now you certainly understand the reference).

I quickly add that the comparison I make between treatment of Chagnon and treatment of Turnbull is only a loose one; there are many other factors to take into consideration including when the work was done, and the state in which the affected tribal groups were found by anthropology to begin with. Nonetheless, when I see cultural anthropologists lining up to score points taking down Chagnon, I often wonder what would have happened if Turnbull put forward an explicit biological explanation for his observations and was not a cultural constructivist.

One of the thing the Yanomamo are “used” for is to model past human societies. For a number of reasons I think this is misguided, but again, the Yanomamo do speak to the human condition more generally. In particular, Chagnon’s ethnography and other work, and criticisms of that work, speak to the problem we Westerners often have with the Hobbsian concept of “Warre.” A human society can be in a state of constant threat, constant struggle over women, resources, or some other thing with the threat of violence being ever present, but actual violence only rarely happening. It would be hard to argue that international politics of the 1960s, 1970s, and into the 1980s was not dominated by the constant threat of the end of humanity itself due to all out nuclear war between the USA and the USSR. This struggle was the primary organizing force in world politics. But none of those nuclear weapons were ever used. The highest level of threat of violence that ever existed on this planet … the most “fierceness” to ever be brought to bear in the arena of human interaction … had enormous effects on human society and culture but was never actually operationalized the way we feared. There are other examples of fierceness being a big part of a culture but actual violence being modest in extent or intensity.

My own personal theory of Yanomamo violence is two part. First, it is complex. There is no reason to exclude male biological ineptitude in the area of reproduction (men have never figured out how to have babies on their own) as a causal factor in male anxiety about, and possessiveness over, women. We see this across cultures, in high school lunch rooms, and in the halls of the United States Congress. Men have an interest in controlling women’s reproduction that in some contexts may be manifest as violence among men, violence by men against women, athletic competition, absurd and offensive legislation, and all manner of things. Continue reading Noble Savages: Napoleon Chagnon’s Fierce Book

Top Science Books of the Last Year

These are books that I’ve reviewed here, and would like to recommend that you seriously consider picking up if you are looking for a cool present for someone and you think they should read more science.

I’m including a couple of bird books in this list, but I also recently wrote up a summary of just bird books that you may want to check out.

These are in no particular order, and I’m not paying a lot of attention to publication dates. What matters is that I’ve I’ve put the book in this stack of books I’ve got here that I clean out every year about this time; Some are clearly older than one year but if you’ve not read them or know someone who has not, this simply must be corrected. I’m also not listing anything I’ve reviewed in the last few days because you just saw them. This is more a reminder of what you forgot to read last June or whenever!

And the books are:
Continue reading Top Science Books of the Last Year

Reading Human Nature

“Human nature” is an interesting topic. People will argue over the definition of human nature, but regardless of what people think or say, it is reasonable to assume that all humans share a psychological and developmental framework to the extent that any two people raised in the same background will ‘turn out’ similar with respect to several behavioral traits or tendencies. Also, a pair of twins separated at birth and raised up in very different cultures are likely to exhibit more differences than similarities owing to the different cultures but perhaps some set of seemingly uncanny similarities owing to their parentage.
Continue reading Reading Human Nature