Thursday, May 31, 2007

Attack of The Radiating Routers

Wellington Grey has a funny pictorial on the truth about wireless devices and radiation. Unlike some postings where the writer has taken it on the chin, Mr. Grey is definitely not so tongue-in-cheek about his stance on the issue - there is no problem with WiFi radiation.

Now some disagree. For example, the president of Lakewood University did, when he banned WiFi on campus 'for the sake of the students'. And a recent BBC study, mainly directed at the impact on schools, found that radiation levels from WiFi could be up to three times the level of mobile phone mast radiation. This, though the readings were admittedly 600 times below the government's safety limits, was enough for the chairman of the Health Protection Agency to recommend that the 'beam of greatest intensity' should not fall on any part of the school grounds. See the pattern here? It's a modern day 'Save the Children' campaign, using circumstantial evidence to make policy/political decisions.

Again, Mr. Grey comes to our collective rescue with a flow diagram that outlines the Science vs. Faith argument. Very funny, but the experts from the BBC article agree; the intensity of WiFi radiation is 100,000 times less than that of a domestic microwave oven, and sitting in a WiFi hotspot for a year results in receiving the same dose of radio waves as making a 20-minute mobile phone call. Based on the evidence, let's worry about something we can actually measure. You know, for the children's sake. :: BBC News :: Wellington Grey

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

EIA Hatches Framework for eWaste Legislation

The Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA) has released a document that may pave the way for federal legislation on recycling television- and computer-related eWaste. In an effort to prevent 'scrambling' the two business models, the plan (pdf here) calls for a two-part financing approach where TVs will be handled differently from IT equipment, such as desktop computers, laptops and computer monitors.

TV collection and recycling would be conducted by a (to be named) third party organization and be supported by a consumer fee at the point of sale. Once a significant number of so-called "legacy" sets are recovered, the fee would expire. Producers of IT equipment would fall under a different shell; they would have to implement a program to collect and recycle their own products at no cost to the consumer. In fact many vendors, such as Dell, already do this.

Obviously, with seven states having already passed eWaste laws and 22 additional states (and New York City) considering their own regs, the EIA plan is an effort to streamline the collection and processing of this junk. Essentially, the idea is to create a Federal eWaste omelet from the existing State eggs. The inherent danger is that the State regs may be watered down - 29 laws are almost certainly more restrictive than just one - but since the proposal captures both the 'consumer pays' and 'corporate pays' models that are currently in use, it's probably a good idea. Break out the beaters! :: Broadcast Newsroom :: EIA

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Here's a little something that has been talked about for a long time but now has finally come to fruition - the leased PC.

The new Zonbu Computer is a crack at this. Zonbu offers a full takeback scheme, and the boxes all run Linux. In addition, Zonbu offers file storage and automatic backup to Amazon’s S3 online service (although there may be problems with this). Zonbu is sold on the plan system, starting from $249.00 all in, to $99.00 plus $12.95 a month service charge for 2 years. The charge includes all upgrades to the software and a same day replacement machine if it goes wrong. An interesting experiment.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Virtualize With Xen, Now

Virtualization software allows you to run many different servers on a single piece of hardware; it's all the rage with IT departments because it drastically reduces the number of servers you need. This translates into reduced energy consumption (fewer machines to draw juice), less maintenance (fewer machines to fix), and more dollars in your pocket (fewer machines to buy).

VMware, a commercial product with a good rep is the clear market leader. But now a worthy competitor - the Xen open source project - just got better. Xen just released a new version of its virtualization product this week, and apparently it boots gluteus maximus. From the article:

"For server workloads, Xen's core hypervisor functionality now meets or beats VMware ESX in pretty much all areas, both features and performance," said Ian Pratt, leader of the Xen project and founder of XenSource.

Hype? Probably not; the list of supporters (Intel, IBM, Novell, VA Linux (Japan), HP, Fujitsu, SGI, Red Hat, AMD, Sun, Unisys and the National Security Agency) is impressive. And the cost of the free software is zero; ironically, that always seems to be the hardest number for IT shops to swallow. But why buy? Put your saved cash into a green technology, say solar cells.

Xen says the next stop is laptops and desktops; no idea what that means but I'm sure it will be exciting:: ServerWatch

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Arm, Leg.

That ought to solve it. Because then you won't be able to work the clutch and shift at the same time. Then you will have to stop showing up for work. And then you can try telecommuting.

As someone who telecommutes nearly every day, I was a bit surprised when I went out into 5 PM traffic in Boston this evening. Maddening. And gas is hovering around $3.09 here, not the $1.72 in the sign. Call me crazy, but I bet boss man is probably just as eager as you to stop paying $3.09 a gallon. Just a thought. :: Chico Enterprise Record

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What the Other Guy is Doing

The continuing saga of what other folks are doing. Survey says, the best way to implement change in your organization is to point to what the competition is doing.

Mineral Oil Submerged Computing from Puget Computers.

Via now has ultra-low power laptops.

China goes with crush and zap to recycle circuit boards.

Walmart and Sam's club are now hosting eWaste recycling events.

And Apple's CFO says Microsoft's no threat.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Free Software from Microsoft to Track Carbon Emissions

If you have been reading ecoIron for a while, you would know that I have knocked MS for some time now. Like here. Or here. Or here. Wow, there's about 5 more articles too.

But today is different because there is some neat news to report; the William J Clinton Foundation and Microsoft have announced a partnership to develop new technology tools to help large cities create, track and share strategies to reduce carbon emissions. In particular, the software tools aim to create a standardised way for cities all around the world to measure their greenhouse gas emissions.

It sounds like the former president thought of the idea, as it is "part of a broader set of programs being introduced by the foundation". Still, my sense is that MS has a few guys around who can build this thing right (it's going to be web-based and collaborative) and fast (expect a first release before the end of 2007). I eagerly await the results.

I Am An American Harper's Reader

Harper's is turning out some great text recently on what it means to use technology. After reading I was a Chinese Internet Addict I ran out and bought a subscription.

The article provides a look under covers as to how others societies use the Internet. And in China, the 'net is all about obsessive release with dizzying consequences; four day jags on the computer, the guy whose back was fused into a 90 degree angle from sitting too long, the teenager that hunted down and murdered a kid who stole his virtual weapon. It is stuff like this that will scare the hell out of you.

There are smaller clues as well, like the fact that the teenage boys in the clinic (where the author is being treated) can't play team sports - no skills and no interest. I actually cut my 4 year old's time on the computer after reading this article. Follow this up with the June edition which has an Endgame analysis of the environmental situation and you will be hooked.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Solar Wifi Comes to St. Louis Park, Could Turn Ugly

The residents of St. Louis Park, Minnesota may be the first in the US (Green Wifi has been at this a while in the developing world) to receive solar-powered, wireless Internet service. The service, run by the city, will require about 400 poles with solar panels attached to operate the Wifi network. Of course, some folks are worried that these poles will have an ugly side effect: they might be placed in their lawn, or in line their with picture window. The city is working with residents to minimize these effects. The low tech solution - painting the silver poles brown - has already been approved. You know, to look like wood (hint, hint.)

The service is expected to start next fall; customers would pay monthly fees between $15 to $20 depending on the level of service. Will the project be an environmental success? Only if it is used; as Thoreau said, "We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing to communicate." With the city having already incurred $1.7 million in expenses, and more to come, let's hope the residents of St. Louis Park have something to say. ::
Star Tribune

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Virtualization Expensive, Brains Cheap

So now Gartner's saying that virtualization is too expensive to implement right now, that we will all have to "stick it out a few years" until the technology improves. One of the problems is there is not enough implementors, like Foedus. So, seems like you may end up shelling out just as much cash to virtualize right now than not doing anything at all.

Here's a better idea, one I got from my interview with Richard Stallman - how about using brains instead of technology? Richard pointed out that all systems are time sharing systems; maybe people have just got in the habit of running one application per server, instead of being able to run many applications on a server. Like 10 years ago, when you ran email, ftp, gopher, and served up office from a single server . Brains let you do that, skilled workers. And when it comes to environmentally friendly, brains have got to be the best thing going.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Money Thing

Sometimes you have to play catch up in this business. Take this one from IT Week (of all places, right?), where they postulate that green IT is really about the money. Quotes please:

'We heard two reasons why green matters: efficiency and corporate responsibility. Most IT decision-makers told us that a green purchase would only happen in the context of cost reduction.'

"We would do green because it makes business sense, not because it’s green. It would have to show cost savings."

Man, if this is where we are at right now, we are in deep trouble. It's not the sixties, no more yogurt bombs. Yes, it's about the money, it's about the survival of your business. I know that that means nothing to many businesses - your brother-in-law needs a job after all - but the sound of fingernails on chalkboard is too much for me.

The only saving grace is that they must be reading ecoIron:

'Technology marketers today will find increasingly receptive audiences for green evangelism,' he said 'Slowly, that receptivity will translate into action on the part of enterprise IT organisations.'

Green evangelism? Hey, I invented that term...

Monday, May 14, 2007

Telecommuting, A Must Have

I've mentioned before that you should probably stop showing up for work because it's just too darn expensive (time and money) to get there. There are some other motivators; a bill that encourages telecommuting, and the fact that the commute is downright debilitating. But the biggest incentive has just hit the fan - really expensive gas.

A survey conducted at FSU has just confirmed that sixty percent of employees say the price of gas has significantly reduced the amount of money they have to spend on other things, while 45 percent reported the need to pay off debts more slowly or not at all. Finally, 26 percent indicated that the cost of gas has necessitated going without basics such as heat or air conditioning, or even cutting back on food purchases, over the past few months.

Plus, there's the added niggling issue that these stresses spill over into the workplace, causing folks to not be as motivated, and never put in overtime. Bullhorn, bullhorn - you need a telecommuting program in your organization. And not one where the manager says 'ok, just this once' on a case by case basis, but one that coordinates with public transportation, allows career advancement (even to CEO), and takes advantage of co-working facilities.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

This Router is Not Gray

Didja ever wonder why there wasn't a bigger demand for used computer equipment? This stuff is solid state; the internal hamster doesn't die on the wheel, it's just power flowing through silicon.

Turns out there's more than meets the eye to this issue, particularly with Cisco and their routers. In 2004, they were actively reselling used gear at a 25 to 30 percent discount as compared to new equipment. The problem is that other second-hand dealers were undercutting them, by marking it down 50 to 75 percent. So, about 2005, Cisco begins to refer to these other vendors as the gray market. Now, usually gray market means "fell off the back of the truck", not "reselling used equipment". Others might refers to that tactic as a little FUD campaign. Did I call it that? No, but others did, like this guy you has seven ways to say used router.

It is clear that Cisco certainly has problems with gear being stolen out of the supply chain, and that there are numerous Cisco fakes around. But now Cisco is going after everyone - aftermarket sellers and the ripoff artists - with equal vengeance. This is is bit blatant; clearly they are afraid of that 7 percent aftermarket share increasing. The United Network Equipment Dealer Association (UNEDA) is trying to debate with them on the issue, particularly on the issue of the moon-high fees Cisco charges to inspect and re-register used gear. Let's hope some progress is made; while that is happening, try and sell it yourself.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Good, Better, Bad Ink

HP has devised a new scheme for vending printer cartridges. First, why are these schemes always using the primary colors; how about the purple, teal, and burnt umber scheme? Oh well, let's continue.

Instead of the one-size-fits-all model (which HP had for 25 years), the new model has three different cartridge types. I'll cut to the chase - “Standard” cartridges (in the blue) are going to be cheaper to buy, “Value” cartridges (in the green) will be cheaper per page, and “Specialty” cartridges (red) will be the expensive, high end ink.

On the face of it, the scheme seems ridiculous - you have to choose between low cartridge price or low cost per print? (Note: I'm just completely forgetting about the red ones.) Kodak agrees, who saw the announcement, and mentioned it was a great marketing campaign for them because it endorses their own strategy :

"Volume discounts aren't new," Kodak added. "Kodak believes consumers will be more delighted with its approach because they will get both a low cost-per-page AND an inexpensive cartridge - $9.99 for premium black ink and $14.99 for premium, five-ink color cartridges. This will generate real Kodak lab-quality prints for as low as 15 cents apiece. Unlike HP customers, Kodak printer owners won't have to search for special cartridges or pay in advance to get a great value."

Yeah, that's it. Product differentiation is usually a scheme to try and soak up residual value, and my neck is getting a little hot when I have to choose between two different forms of cheap. :: LetsGoDigital

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Boxmaker Dell Stops Making Boxes

A few weeks ago I posted an ecoGeek interview detailing Dell's environmental program. At that time, it seemed like Dell was in a holding pattern and there was little more to write until something new happened. Well, now there's a little more to write.

According to the Register, Dell recently revealed "project Multipack", a strategy to pack large numbers of systems in fewer boxes. Customers can now receive up to four 1U systems or 10 blades in a single box. As bonus, each box has a built-in corrugated pallet, which removes the need for a wooden one. And you only get one set of product manuals and CDs per box. All told, Dell thinks this plan will result in 2,000 tons of cardboard savings per year, plus a lot of other material savings.

The sardonic wit of the Register is well known; as they grind our forlorn, billion-dollar Dell to pieces, even they eventually acknowledge that "project Multipack" is a good idea. Albeit with a questionable name. But I'm going farther; streamlining product delivery systems is not an easy task, and Dell surely invested a lot a people-hours and dollars to make this happen. Can we please reward the people who are doing the work. :: The Register

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Parable of the Donkey and the Japanese eWaste

There's is a funny Mexican proverb that goes like this; if one person calls you an ass, take no notice. If two do, be worried. And if three, buy a saddle.

Let's see if we can apply this logic to Japan, who has been suspected of trying to dump their eWaste in other countries as part of self-started 'economic development programs'. For starters, in March Hong Kong sent 131 tons of eWaste back into Japan; they probably were getting some arm twisting to take it. Japan did take it back, but that's one.

Now Basel Action Network (BAN) is announcing that the Philippines is accusing the Japanese of trying to start 'waste colonies' in their countries under the auspice of overseas trade development. That's two. Finally, India is accusing Japan of doing the same thing - dumping eWaste - except there it is under of the pretext of offering 'expertise in recycling' services. That's three; where's the tack shop?:: BAN :: India eNews

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Ecoiron dropped under 5,000 on Technorati today, just a month and a half after dropping under 10,000. Thanks guys, you're the best. I'll keep cranking it out.

Plethora of Options for Green Web Hosting

The number of green web hosting options has expanded quite a bit in recent months. Which one should you choose?

Well, right now it appears that the primary discriminator is the method by which they power their operation. One group buys Renewable Energy Certificates; these insure that the power they use is generated in an ecofriendly manner. This is typically wind or solar, but it could also be biogas or geothermal as well. Dreamhost is in this category. The second group actually generates their own power directly from renewable energy; AISO, for example, is in this category; they are 100 percent powered by solar that they generate themselves.

A few offer other deal sweeteners such as carbon offsetting, discounts to non profits, letting their employees telecommute, etc. Some, such as Acorn and ecoSky tout only free software for their hosts. And Green web host combines a bunch of them; they will plant a tree on your behalf, have solar powered offices, and are also paperless. Finally, let's not forget about the money; prices for green hosting services vary widely.

So, which one? It's a simple answer - any one. Because any of these guys are better than any web hoster that hasn't announced a program. Select a price point and options, and make the switch.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Corporate Culture Can Lead to IT Waste

Ted Samson at Infoworld raises an interesting question - why do organizations continue to purchase more computers whenever there's a perceived need for more processing power? Furthermore, according to a report from Gartner (a well respected IT research and advisory company), why are these machines only used at 10% of their capability? Samson argues that this is because computers are inexpensive, and organizations, much like people, seem to be creatures of habits. And habits can be bad.

It's easy to relate this to the environmental movement as a whole; besides the obvious implication for IT shops, it's almost a given that it's easier to do the environmentally wrong thing out of habit
, then to do the right thing that might take a little work. Sampson correctly observes that this kind of short-sightedness is now forcing companies into a mad scramble for space in their increasingly cramped data centers, as well as coming up with more dough to pay for increasingly growing energy bills.

Unless companies are willing to tolerate this kind of costly wastefulness, the Gartner report is a real wake-up call. Someone at your company needs to take charge - maybe (as I have suggested) by hiring a chief sustainability officer. Business as usual just isn't an option.

One Hand Clapping for Steve Job's Apple

Steve Jobs has posted a response to the muffled whalesong that Apple doesn't have a green agenda. Frankly, I shrieked a little about it myself (it's showtime), but I'm glad Steve responded. And he responded as only Steve Jobs could.

Slowly, lovingly, Mr. Jobs dissects the frantic accusations being thrown at Apple's green computing program for months now into their constituent parts. His retort is measured, beautiful; you get the sense of a Zen master talking to a petulant schoolboy. And lo, after the lesson, you find that there is really nothing there. Like the fact that Apple stopped making CRT's in mid-2006, and eliminated all the associated lead problems that go with them. Or that Apple was RoHS compliant before the law went into effect. Or, by 2010, that Apple plans on recycling 28 percent of their eWaste by weight (almost three times more than current rates by other vendors), and they never ship it out of the US. Steve names names, but he doesn't do it often; he doesn't need to. And neither do I.

The beauty of Steve's writing (can I call you Steve?) is that you always get a chance to unite with whatever he's saying, and then go together into the void. You can see it with every author; Thomas Claburn from Information Week, Ken Barbalace from Environmental Chemistry, Zdnet, our avid Scuttlemonkey. Thank you Steve, for bringing up those results in my lackluster googling for this story; as you know, I used to work with one of those guys. Bless you. And fake Steve Jobs, eat your heart out; even though you are hilarious, you just don't exist.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Britons Waste £1.25billion on Annual Gadget Giving

Yeah, gadgets are cool, but I never said buy them. And I particularly never said buy them for people who won't use them. Preposterous, right? Who wouldn't want a digital camera? Or an iPod?

Well, the answer, according to a recent survey of 500 adults in Britain, is that a full 22 percent of electronic gadgets that are given as gifts are never used. The average price for each unused gadget in each unopened box is around £120. And this is not just chuckable stuff, like Coleco-like handheld games and obtuse computer games. Number one is the Apple iPod, followed by digital cameras, computer software, satellite navigation systems and mobile phones.

The survey states that the reason people don't use this stuff is that they are 'scared of technology', 'have no time', and/or 'can't read instruction book'. Okey-dokey; these would be three good questions to ask a giftee ahead of time. Occam's razor rules the day here - when you don't know what to give, give money, or gift cards. Gifts are fun, but (adults), please drop the pretense and reserve gift-giving for the kids, who have undoubtedly been screaming about getting some particular gadget since their last birthday.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Compressed Air Dusters Should Be Blown Away

The Sightline Institute has some revealing information on those handy computer air dusters. You might have used one of these things at some point in your life to clean your computer innards; more nefarious uses include making cool 'ice rods' in a sink of water by upending it, and making a compressed air gun. Oh, these things are versatile.

Turns out the contents are also horribly bad for the environment. Some of them use 100 percent
tetrafluoroethane, a known greenhouse gas that is roughly 3,300 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Nice. So, according to Eric De Place, a 10-ounce can of cleaner will have the same climate-changing effect over the next 20 years as burning at least 100 gallons of gasoline. That's one can. The other common gas in these things is difluoroethane, which has about 10% of the impact as other variety. Eric states that that is still about 330 times the impact of CO2.

Further irony is that gas dusters are often billed are safe for the environment, citing that they are 100% ozone safe, with no CFCs or HCFCs. These statements are in fact true, but skirt the issue of climate change. It's obvious that these dusters are yet another technology, like portable yogurt or plastic bags, that we can do without. The hunt for the perfect duster has begun, and Giotto's Rocket (pictured above) has received excellent reviews. If you are a big shop or need to blow a lot of air around on a regular basis, you probably should be using an air compressor.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Energy Tree

This just in from Yanko Design - the Energy Tree. Apparently in an effort to truly unite technology with the physical environment, designer Ben Arent has created a system that contains a real tree connected to a microprocessor. The device controls the watering and feeding of the tree depending on your energy usage, and also monitors your appliances, heating/cooling, and recycling habits. It uses this information to feed and water the tree, but only if you are efficient with your energy use. If you aren't, the Energy Tree will poison and malnourish the tree, eventually killing it.

The system will also be online, using something known as "the collector." The collector is there to encourage people to recycle; Once at the depot the collector will unit will be radioed indicating that you did your job. This system has the added benefit that someone can take your recycling to the facility, while you can still get the credit. You know, to keep your tree alive.

It's a visceral idea, and (natch) still on the drawing board. According to the article, "The EnergyTree will change the perception and view of how power is being used, implementing a complete system looking at device consumption, home consumption and long term sustainability." If you got this far, I think it just did that.