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Summer technology digest

By DAVE GUSSOW

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 4, 2001


A penny saved?

Energy conservation has been a hot topic this year, thanks to California's rolling blackouts and higher gas prices. But how much energy does your computer use? It's a question worth answering as more people leave their computers running all the time to stay connected to always-on Internet connections such as cable or digital subscriber lines. It's only pennies an hour in this area, depending on the power requirements of a particular computer and including the monitor. If the monitor has a sleep mode, more than half of that can be saved. For those interested in more details on such things, Florida Power passes along a Web site (www.fsec.ucf.edu/~bdac/pubs/PF303/PF303.html) that studied the issue. The U.S. Department of Energy's site (www.energystar.gov) is good for those interested in energy efficiency in general.

Blackouts test the Net

California's image as a surfer's haven could take a hit this summer. With many Web sites based in the Golden State, some wonder whether Web surfers elsewhere will have trouble accessing their favorite sites because of power cutoffs. "The rolling blackouts will separate the men from the boys when it comes to (Web) hosting centers," said Jeanne Schaaf, an analyst with Forrester Research, "because the really top-notch facilities won't have a rolling blackout take them down." The best centers have backup capabilities, including diesel fuel tanks to power generators, and test their systems regularly. In May, some of the services on Yahoo.com went down, including games, chat and instant messages, after Exodus Communications lost power. But that failure was blamed on a Pacific Gas & Electric equipment failure, not a rolling blackout. Exodus is investigating why its system didn't shift to on-site power as a backup.

On the home front

Florida's summer weather usually brings thunderstorms, which can cause power outages. People here can learn from problems encountered in California's blackouts. For example, about 25 percent of California computer users have lost data during blackouts, according to a survey by Iomega (which not so coincidentally makes Zip drives and disks that can be used to back up and store data). While Iomega spokesman Chris Romoser says the company hasn't seen a huge jump in business related to the blackouts, it is using the occasion to push its products. "Save it as you go. Save it once a month, once a week. Do it as you go," Romoser said. "You never know what's going to happen."

Be prepared

Most home-computer users aren't going to install backup generators to protect their data. Nor do they need to. But with Florida's unpredictable summer weather, it is important to take some precautions. An uninterruptible power supply will keep the computer running when the electricity fails, allowing a few minutes to save data and do a normal shutdown of the machine. They also can act as surge protectors. Prices start around $50, with more expensive models generally giving more time for the shutdown. If you don't want to pay that much, at least invest in a surge protector that covers not only the power but also your phone and cable connections. Prices can start around $10, but check the package to see what kind of guarantee the manufacturer offers.

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