Turn off your devices

Posted by Craig Comstock
March 17, 2022

Saint Patrick’s Day makes us think of the color green. Spring is coming. Plants are starting to sprout amongst the dead grass and leaves from Fall/Winter:

Earth Day is just around the corner on April 22nd.

This reminds us of our commitment to the environment and ecosystems that surround us. As we at Northern.tech state in our corporate social responsibilities:

We have set an ambitious company-objective to “Become a net-zero carbon business by the end of 2022”.

CFEngineers concern themselves with the proper configuration of computers, but we can also consider how computers affect us as humans and the world as an ecosystem.

No pixels time

One of our core beliefs is “You don’t have to stare into pixels to work”.

Pay attention to being effective (doing the correct things), not only efficient (doing things correctly). There is probably no correlation between frequency of the number of key-presses or hours looking at a monitor and the amount of value produced. By working proactively, stepping “out” and contemplating improvements, or solving a concrete challenge, we can avoid double-doing, or worse wrong-doing. Humans should work smart, and should leave the speed thing to computers. We encourage coffee breaks and frequent walks or activities outside of office to think things over. Invest in that extra conversation with other stakeholders to ensure future alignment.

And so this is the human impact of computers: they can distract us from what is really important sometimes. Computers are of course a wonderful tool: for computation and especially communication which is vital to us humans.

Ecosystem impact

The impact of computers on the ecosystem is significant, from their use of electricity to the mining of precious metals to create the devices in the first place.

Where does your electricity come from?

Mine comes from a complicated and ever changing mix, both day-to-day based on trading and generation as well as over time.

Companies like Fairphone state “we care for people and planet”

From the earth to your pocket, a smartphone’s journey is filled with unfair practices. We believe a fairer electronics industry is possible. By making change from the inside, we’re giving a voice to people who care.

Power off

Our mission is to “secure the worlds connected devices” and to that end I have been considering lately that one of the best ways of securing a device is to turn it off! I know this might sound like a joke, but of course it is really true. If a connected device is turned off it certainly can’t be hacked via the network.

Also, when a device is in transit it is at risk of being physically taken and hacked. There are known risks in leaving a computer in sleep mode versus in hibernate or simply turned off. So turning off a computer both saves energy as well as improves its security in general and specifically in transit when it could be taken physically. Reducing wear and tear on devices is a way of extending the life of products which helps the environment.

Steps to take

There are some manual steps you can take:

  • Turn computers off when you won’t use them for a while, such as at night or when on vacation.
  • Use sleep-to-disk/hibernate along with inactivity timeouts to automate putting computers in a low-power and secure state
  • Try some no-pixels time: turn your computer off, go for a walk, figure out that complex problem you are working on away from a computer

As well as automated ones:

  • Use a tool like rtcwake on linux to automate when the computer will wake, make it on only when needed
  • Configure wake-on-lan to only have computers on when they are needed, such as for a personal media or git server

Our prolific policy writer, Nick Anderson, has written some experimental support for rtcwake on linux:


Maybe someone can take that as a start and make a pull request to convert it into a CFEngine Build module. For another time. And in the meantime, turn those devices off when you can.

Be well, and thanks for reading.

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