Saturday, June 30, 2007

Cell Phones Outpace Humans in 'Births' by 5 to 1

I recently suggested that flesh and blood planet dwellers (humans) may soon be competing for resources with electronic machines (computers). A recent report from CNN just drives it home; global mobile phone use will top 3.25 billion users in 2007, mostly due to demand from China, India, and Africa. That's about half the world's population with a cell phone.

The similarities between cell phones and babies are many. They both require you to keep them powered continuously. They both get born - cell phones at about 1000 phones a minute, based on subscriptions and babies at about 180 per minute, over five times slower. Strangely, cell phones are also like babies in that you can have more than one. In fact, over 30 countries already have a saturation rate of over 100 percent, meaning there are more cell phones than people in these countries. Finally, they both seem pretty indispensable; a recent British survey suggested that one third of those polled wouldn't give up their phone for a million pounds. Let's hope they say that about their kids.

Is it a crisis? Well, the average cell phone uses about 3 watts, and there is the power and associated with charging it, the cost of running the towers, and the costs to actually make the phone. The cost of the baby is a few hundred calories a day, plus the caloric manufacturing costs. These facts and figures constitute the typical environmental scenario - small increments that add up big - but unless you are a believer in unlimited energy, the smart bet is the one where we ultimately have to stop making electronics, or babies. : CNN

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Cheaper PC, the Smaller PC, and the Greener PC

The computer industry is constantly producing smaller and cheaper machines. On the face of it that seems great, but is it really? What are the benefits or smaller/cheaper PCs? Furthermore, are they eco?

Let's see what we got; for starters, cheaper computers will invariably mean more computers, maybe a billion more by 2015; some think that demand will explode when an $80 dollar price point is hit, which is rapidly approaching. In energy terms, an efficient laptop uses about 25 watts of power; a desktop uses much more (call it 100 watts), which is roughly the power a human being on a 2200 calorie diet requires. So, in energy terms, adding a billion desktop PC is like adding a billion humans to the planet; adding a billion laptops is like adding 200 million. Can the planet afford those kind of resources? Probably not, without getting into the sticky situation of machines competing with humans for resources. So, cheaper computing will place more burdens on our ecosystems, and us.

How about smaller computers? It is doubtful that these would drive demand, but they might use fewer resources to create. Take for example the Space Cube, which claims to be the world's smallest PC. It measures just 2 x 2 x 2.2 inches, which is enough volume for 64 MB of SDRAM and a CPU that can go as fast as 300 MHz. Eco-wise, there are a few benefits but not many; the processor uses generally the same amount of resources to create, although you would save a bit on power consumption. And the SDRAM may be a little more eco-friendly to produce than a hard drive. The other items - keyboard, mouse, monitor - fall out of the equation, so a nix must be given to the 'smaller=more eco' hypothesis.:: KrisTV :: SciFi Tech

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Scoring the Green Electronics Scorecarders

Rating electronic vendors on how well they are doing environmentally, their green-wise-ness as it were, is a popular phenom these days. Currently there have been three attempts of note; the EPA took a crack at it with the EPEAT standard, Greenpeace gave a go with their Green Electronics Guide, and now we have yet another, the Climate Counts scorecard which rates vendors (not just electronic vendors, but they are included) on their climate change efforts.

A quick site perusal reveals that the scales are not comparable; Samsung rates poorly on the Climate Counts page, yet does well on the EPEAT page, and is somewhere in the middle on the Greenpeace page. One (not just me) might wonder how to interpret the results; here is a short guide on inspecting the inspectors.First, is the rating system inclusive or exclusive? An inclusive system allows every potential vendor to be rated, an exclusive system concentrates on a select set of vendors. Inclusive systems (such as EPEAT) are better because every manufacturer can get rated; if someone starts making LCD monitors in their garage tomorrow they can run through the scorecard and see how they stack up. Exclusive systems (Greenpeace, Climate Counts) focus on just a few companies, usually from a list they create themselves. This brings into question why that particular subset of the industry was chosen, and it is also difficult to change the group as time goes on - what would be the rationale?

Second, is the system participatory, meaning did the reviewees get a chance to comment on, and help create the rating system? For example, the EPA spent three years working with all the major computer vendors to create the EPEAT point-based rating system; Climate Counts did some of this it seems, and Greenpeace might have had a few meetings as well. However, I'm pretty sure the latter two didn't spend three years, and countless meetings with dozens of stakeholders developing their scorecards. Participatory standards have greater incentives for the manufacturers to participate, are generally more realistic, and have greater accountability as well.

Third, what is being measured and as a corollary, should you care? Treehugger's take on it is that Greenpeace rates environmental policy, Climate Counts rates greenhouse gas emissions, and EPEAT rates physical factors of particular products; choose the element(s) that are most important to you. Of course, some items such as revolutionary changes in design are missing from all the rating systems; Apple, for example, gets no credit for single-handedly creating the desktop publishing industry, saving billions of trees, or converting the entire music industry into digital format, saving billions of CD-ROMs. Again, if this is what you value you don't need a scorecard, you just follow the leader. :: Worldchanging :: Valleywag

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Printers Guzzle Ink, Tell Lies

It's no secret that ink printer manufacturers try and make most of their money off the consumables associated with printing. Unlike laser printers, they essentially give away the printer, but then charge a lot of money for the the inkjet cartridges and, to a lesser extent, the paper. Fine, but apparently there is a bit more to the story, as a new study found that more than half of the ink from inkjet cartridges is wasted when users toss them in the garbage. This is because most users huck them when their printers tells them they're out of ink. Turns out the infernal gadget is lying - they may still be over half full!

The findings come from a study, conducted by TÜV Rheinland and commissioned by Epson, that studied the efficiency of both single and multi-ink cartridges from various vendors. Surprise, surprise - Epson's own R360 posted the best numbers, with only 9 percent of the ink wasted. Kodak's, with its EasyShare 5300 came in as the straggler, wasting over 64 percent of its ink in tests. According to the study, some printers have hundreds of pages worth of ink left when they beep that they are 'dry'. And there's another wrinkle as well.

Readers that have followed the printing world for a while know that some printers use multi-ink cartridges (3 to 5 colors all in the same cartridge) and some use separate cartridges (one cartridge, one color.) Obviously, the multi-ink cartridge fare worse in these types of tests because they can be 'emptied' as soon as a single color runs low (like when printing out a Powerpoint presentation.) This unravels the story a little bit more, as Epson (who backed the study) uses primarily single-ink cartridges in their printers; this is almost guaranteed to be more efficient because there's only one color per cartridge, and thus only one cartridge to replace when that color runs out. These still waste ink - up to 20 percent - but generally were better than the multi-ink cartridge models.

The final wrinkle is that the study also did not calculate the total cost per page, which arguably is more important than efficiency. Epson refused to comment on this which suggests, well, you know. Lots of solutions to the problem; First, don't listen to your printer and use your cartridges until they run dry. Second, try an online service like Photobox, or use a continuous flow system. And third, if you are buying a printer, check out cost per page as well. :: arsTechnica

Friday, June 15, 2007

Add Thomas & Friends to the List of Toxic Chinese Products

RC2 Corp., which sells Thomas the Tank Engine toys, is recalling over 1.5 million Thomas & Friends wooden railway vehicles and accessories because their surface paint contains lead. This is a massive recall; it's about 4 percent of all the trains RC2 has sold in the United States. I can personally confirm this, my son had fourteen of the items on the list. Get the return form here.

The U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) report states that the toys were
manufactured in China. Now, I don't want to nip and prod but my kid, your kid, played with those trains. And, barring readers who just woke from a coma (congrats, by the way), it's not news that lead paint has been banned in the US for almost 30 years. Did that message not percolate across the Pacific? Guess not, because China was held accountable for 65 percent of all the recalled products in this US this year, with lead being named as a recurring cause among the recalls.

Some say that when a country has 800 million people employed in a manufacturing economy, it will just take some time to correct these issues. Cough, cough; in the case of lead, you have had 30 years. Truth is, these are simply bad faith manufacturing practices and the list is endless - the one million recalled Easy-Bake Ovens, the deadly vinyl lunch boxes, the melamine pet food, the Chinese cold medicine that killed 51 Panamanians, the toothpaste that contains anti-freeze, the soy sauce made out of hair. Here's one word for you - 近义词. :: ABC

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Clamping Down on Website Traffic

Unless you work in information technology, you probably don't think about how much money a web site costs to operate, but it can be expensive. First, you have to hire developers to set up and design the site. Then you need a few servers to host your web pages and extra files (movie clips, pdf files, articles, etc). Finally, you will need to front some cash just to send the content out to your audience; this last item is called bandwidth, and that is what we are interested in today.

There are lots of ways to save on bandwidth. For starters, you can cut down on the number of images your site displays, and keep the text down to a minimum. Berkshire Hathaway, owned by the billionnaire Warren Buffet, is a great example of this minimalist concept in action. But the really big money can be saved by using a technique known as web compression.

Compression just means the the web host crunches the files down before they are sent, using an mathematical algorithm. Next, the web surfer receives the content; it gets re-inflated, then it pops up in your browser. It may sound complicated but in fact you are probably doing it right now; Treehugger crunches every page about 80 percent before sending it, and almost every browser these days supports compression.

You can save a bundle using this technique - up to 50 percent off your bandwidth bill, according to Serverwatch. And your pages will load faster to boot, which makes for happy viewers. Surprisingly, according to a recent study by Port80 Software, only about 17% of the Fortune 500 use web compression on their corporate sites. This wastes millions of dollars a year (good guys include eBay, Yahoo!, and Amazon, to name a few) Check your favorite sites here, and start firing off the emails. :: Serverwatch :: Port 80

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

It Has Come: Greenware

I have been waiting for this one for a while, but now it has finally taken fruit - the deluge of software to support all ths environmental business. Kick it off with Green Wombat (CNN's blog?) and Fat Spaniel's cool app to monitor solar power use for builidngs and the like. Way to go, bring your friends.

Monday, June 11, 2007

HP First to Hit Gold Computing Standard

HP just released the first PC on the market to achieve EPEAT (Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool) gold status. EPEAT-registered products are designated as "bronze," "silver," or "gold," depending on the number of environmental features they possess, such as reduced levels of hazardous materials, improved energy efficiency, and ease of upgrade and recycle. The EPEAT standard was developed over the course of 2 years with full involvement from all major computing equipment vendors, and was funded from the US EPA; it is the gold standard of all the environmental computing standards.

HP's rp5700 Business Desktop PC comes with a standard 80 percent efficient power supply; many PCs settle on 65 percent. That extra efficiency means lower electrical usage as well as less heat, all of which contributes to cost savings. Also, the systems have an (unheard of) five-year lifecycle. According to HP, the systems are built with 95 percent recyclable components, and the plastic components are made, on average, of at least 10 percent post-consumer recycled plastics. Additionally, the outer packaging contains at least 25 percent post-consumer recycled cardboard. But there's still more.

HP also has developed a solar renewable energy source as an alternative power choice for the computer. Called the Solar PowerPac II, when charged it can provide up to 600 watt-hours of power for small loads. The PowerPac is big and costly - it weighs 60 pounds and has a price tag of $1,325 - but is a innovative option. Like other PCs that have recently made it to the market, both from HP and Dell, only certain configurations of the rp5700 meet the Energy Star 4.0 standard, and it is questionable whether Microsoft Vista will run on such a system. But the rp5700 supports both Windows 2000 and XP as well. Great job HP on your victory! :: Infoworld :: HP

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A Phone In The Hand Beats Two In The Head

This just in from SimplySwitch; a recent study found that a little over a quarter of the 18 million cell phones purchased in the UK end up being lost or damaged every year. Topping the list is dropping the chatter into the crapper; that's right, a staggering 855,000 handsets are flushed down toilets every year. That translates into about £342 million in additional revenue for the cell phone sellers.

Phones in the throne aren't the only problem; other common catastrophes include leaving mobiles in the pub (810,000 handsets) in a taxi (315,000) or on a bus (225,000). Dogs ate another 58,500, and 116,000 went through a spin cycle with the dirty laundry. The finger of blame points at the young - a full 40 per cent of those under 34 admitted to losing or damaging their phone. Don't they know the value of a pound? Or maybe respect for material goods is the issue; try giving your phone a name. Remember, you can't green your electronics when they are in the sewer. :: SimplySwitch

Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Fix Is In

When does your electronic gear die? Usually when it's too expensive to fix, or is superseded by better, more efficient technology. Fact is, we probably throw electronics out too soon, especially when you have dudes like Lance Ulanoff giving tips on how to fix them. Read the article and laugh, because most of the time Lance is fixing these broken items in under 5 minutes.

Add to this a wonderful expose of the repair cultures that exist in various parts of the world to fix electronic goods (powerpoint slides here). There can be something very beautiful about repairing objects when it becomes a national phenom; witness the American cars from the 1950's that are in Cuba, all lovingly restored and still on the road, and the Indian locomotives still tooting away. Most peoples of the world fix at least some things when they break; it's only in America where you get a virus and the computer gets thrown out. Reminds me of the classic image of the King taking a bite out of a chicken leg and throwing it over his shoulder - is there really no market for fixed things? And are we paid so much that repairing items is just not worth our time? :: PCMag :: Future Perfect