Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Monday 13 May 2013

The Big Bang Theory... For Really Reals!

It has become my practice to devote Monday’s blog to something or other of interest, to me at least, from the Sunday papers, except, yesterday, I didn’t get to look at the Sundays, because I was doing something rather more interesting... I was having a fascinating, real life conversation about extraordinary stuff, over a very good English breakfast cooked by the husband.

I haven’t seen Jules for a grillionty-ten years... He’s happy enough with that number, and he began his adult life as a mathematician... He and the husband were best friends at grammar school, back in the seventies and eighties, and, because of social networking... yes it does have its upside... Because of social network, they  rediscovered one another, reignited their relationship, and, as it happens, so did Jules and I, since we were also well acquainted, and while passing through England between his home in the US and a trade show in Germany, he came for said breakfast. I’m very glad he did.

Jules is unashamed to call himself a geek. He was a geek when we met, when computers had BBC emblazoned on the front and took 5 five inch floppy discs, when Pong was the height of sophistication in game consoles, and long before the ZX Spectrum was on the market. He studied maths at Cambridge and played long, involved, but fiercely exciting games of Traveller, which the husband refereed. 

Jules is my latest reluctant hero.

From time to time, you will hear me banging on about carbon footprints and climate change, and how we all have a responsibility to moderate our habits, to consume less, to get the ball rolling on doing something to preserve the planet we all have to live on, for our kids and their kids.

Jules talked about this very usefully, by pointing out that there are four types of people on the planet: those who have nothing, those who have a light bulb, those who have a washing machine, and those who have everything. If you’re reading this, you have everything. In any given timeframe a percentage of the population jumps from one bracket to the next, and with that jump comes a vast increase in energy consumption... And I mean VAST!

We all sit smugly talking about how we buy locally grown produce and offset air miles and use greener detergents and drive more efficient cars. We all blame the Americans for their gas guzzlers and the Chinese for their industrial development... 

... And we all consume the internet as if it were powered by fairy dust.

All those clouds run off servers that consume electricity, and they are all housed in buildings that are cooled, because those servers produce vast amounts of heat, and the air-con consumes more electricity, and the hunger for the internet, for instant global communication and networking of this kind is never going to change, and the demand is always going to be more and it is never going to go away.

Jules is working on the most extraordinary technologies. He’s all about applications, so he more or less refuses to take any credit for any of this, but I’m going to talk about him, anyway.

Here’s what’s happening in Jules’s company:

Non-silicon based technologies are being developed to build much more efficient transistors, so electricity can be used more efficiently, and produce less heat as a bi-product.

If that isn’t good news, I have no idea what is!

I use energy efficient bulbs, and have done since they were available, and I turn off appliances instead of leaving them on standby. When I replace an appliance, I also replace it with the most energy efficient option. I never wash at a temperature higher than 30 degrees, and so on...

It had never crossed my mind to think about how the electricity got off the grid and into my house, and from there into individual appliances and so on down the line, but I’m very, very glad that there are very clever people who think about those things for us.

We’re not going to turn off our appliances unless or until we have to. We’re going to have to adapt better technologies in order to reduce our carbon footprints on those things, and this seems to me like a very intelligent way to tackle one issue.

I had only heard about this technology yesterday morning, over breakfast, but, some Sunday, soon, you’ll be reading about it in your Sunday papers, and, very soon after that we’ll all be using the technologies that prove most efficient and cost effective, without even knowing that we’re doing it, because they’ll all be integral to the services and appliances we buy... Maybe, in the fulness of time, we’ll even see reductions in our fuel bills as a result.

Sometimes... you know... progress really is a good thing.

Just for fun, Jules took out a tiny little box and very carefully uncovered some of his product. These things were so small I had to look at them through a magnifying glass, and, if it wasn't enough that they're little marvels of technology, they are, also, terribly pretty.

I know it's daft, and I know that some scientist somewhere will tell me that human's perceive as beautiful the most robust or adaptive bits of nature, rather than the other way around, but, somehow, all the best bits of science always do seem to be the most beautiful, don't they?


  1. The lawyer in me immediately harrumphed at the idea that any two groups were a complete correlation (what about people in squats, hence no washing machine, reading your blog on a computer in the library?). However, that does not detract from the article.

    As a fellow watcher of scientific wonders, it inspired me to write my own article on one way we can turn our computer use from energy drain into support for science.

    1. Thanks for that... I have passed it along, and hope it will encourage people to make changes. I'm certainly going to look into it.