Efficency End To End

From The Economist:

ENGINES on airliners are highly efficient when they are in flight, but not when operating on the ground. When a plane is taxiing under its own power, the engines burn vast amounts of fuel. A Boeing 747 can consume a tonne of fuel and emit several tonnes of carbon dioxide during an average 17-minute taxi to take-off. And when the aircraft lands there is likely to be another long drive to the passenger gate. Which is why there are various methods being developed for aircraft to use other means of propulsion while moving around an airport.

If you think about it, this was an area ripe for innovation for a long time now. Obviously having a second engine for taxi purposes on board is ruled out for weight and space reasons. Something external is obvious since these negatives are shed when it’s detached. Since engines would only need to start shortly before takeoff it would also mean less noise at airports.

It’s interesting that in engineering you focus on the primary use case and make it efficient. Once you’re done you continue to refine and make it more efficient. The folly is when you forget about other low hanging fruit near the edge cases, in this case when the plane is on the ground. While not a huge savings, it can potentially add up.

Apple Data Centers To Be Green By 2013

Just the other day Microsoft announced it was going carbon neutral. Apple is now goaling for 100% renewable energy for it’s data centers by 2013. This is a very different goal than Microsoft, but still quite interesting.

Apple is a much more focused company than Microsoft. I could be wrong, but I doubt they are dogfooding their future product like Microsoft likely is. My guess is Tim Cook is looking at the financials today, and where Apple wants to be in 2013. He’s a supply chain guy. When it comes to IT operations (the cloud). Electricity is a huge part of that supply chain. Renewable energy has a high upfront cost, but it’s very predictable. The sun doesn’t increase in cost depending on politics or hurricanes, nor does wind. If Apple is going to become the cloud provider for it’s growing tablet and phone market, it’s going to need to scale it’s cloud even further. That means controlling prices from it’s suppliers. Energy included. Apple can afford the high upfront costs of renewable energy. It can benefit from the longer term predictability and eventual drop in costs to scale this.

That is why I think they are doing this.

How To Use A Paper Towel

Joe Smith One Paper Towel

This is a pretty interesting presentation. The content matter while slightly silly is actually pretty informative and eye opening. I bet we all waste more paper than we realize. What really stands out is Joe Smith has amazing presentation skills. This should be shown on the first day of any public speaking class. This is pretty much the best example of solid public speaking skills. Audience engagement, entertaining, great use of language, demonstration, repetition and humor. All in perfect balance.

Printable Stylesheets To Save The Environment

Printing is a really wasteful process. The obvious waste is paper, ink, and of course money. The less obvious waste is the carbon footprint of printers and making paper/ink.

The internet is a notorious waste of paper. One could argue there’s no need for printing online content since you could easily save it either as text, the entire page, or print to a PDF file (my personal preference). The main source of waste is due to the design of the page resulting in sometimes several useless pages and 1 page of useful content. The rest of them simply go in the recycling bin, or worse the trash. Some clever users preview first and only print the pages they want. Most just print.

There are a few software products out there that try and reduce the amount of wasted printing such as GreenPrint, though it requires installation, companies hate buying site licenses for this type of stuff, etc. Personally I think they are a pain and prefer to do it myself.

If every site were to include a printable stylesheet, the number of wasted pages would drop dramatically.

Without a printable stylesheet a short post on this blog would take 3 pages to print out, 2 of which were worthless navigational elements. The pages are also awkward to read. With a printable stylesheet the output not only looks nicer but is reduced to 1. That saves ink, paper and sanity.

Separate printable pages suck. They are so 1999. Nobody goes there anymore and they often drop content such as images which you may want to have.

When you look at some of GreenPrint’s statistics you can’t help but wonder how much would be saved if more sites had printable stylesheets that tried to reduce the amount of unnecessary printing is done. I’d guesstimate just getting rid of some useless design elements in printable output could likely reduce the amount of ink consumed by 30-50%.

For developers looking to get started A List Apart has a great tutorial on them. Most developers know how to do it, but printable stylesheets become an afterthought in the development process.

Making Products Easy To Repair

Lately consumer protection and financial laws seem to be a favorite of politicians who want to help the American people “keep their hard earned money”, er whatever slogan it is they go with these days. For a long time I’ve been of the feeling that they are overlooking the obvious. Making things easier to fix, hence longer lasting. Sames money, and helps the environment. How’s that for killer legislation?

Most household items are surprisingly simple to repair. Thanks to automation at the factory, everything has been pretty much broken down to LEGOs in complexity. Simple modules that are interconnected to form products. This technique also allows them to use the parts in multiple models hence lower cost of production. But every so often one part breaks rendering the product to be a giant paperweight. From home appliances to your computer, it really doesn’t matter what the product does.

What’s really needed is easier access to parts. Every manufacturer’s policies vary, but in many cases it’s extremely difficult to find parts. When you do your often paying hundreds of times what that tiny piece of plastic is really worth. Of course it’s still sometimes cheaper than replacing the product, but not by a huge margin.

This should really be law:

  • Standard Screws – Products should be assembled using standard screws. No more proprietary heads. In situations where a screwless design is used (iPod for example) explanation of how to open should be available.
  • Parts breakdown – Every product should either include on paper, or upon request from manufacturer a list of all parts in the product with part number.
  • Easy Access To Parts – Replacement parts should be available at cost + 10-15% + shipping & handling. Keep them affordable and easy to order. It should be either through the manufacturer directly or via an authorized agent, via phone or online. Parts should be available for a minimum 3 years after the last warranty expires for home electronics. Home appliances should be longer, I’d say 10 years. If the manufacturer provides repairs themselves or service parts to authorized technicians the parts should be available for as long as they are to service centers, whatever is longer.
  • Warranty Disclaimer – Should state what are “user serviceable parts” and can be replaced within warranty, and that anything else will void the warranty (it’s your problem not theirs).
  • Hazards Warning – Should warn of any obvious and non-obvious hazards within the device, such as capacitors that can contain high voltage even when unplugged (yes, newbie, it common, and I’m sure it hurts if you make that mistake), chemicals, or sharp objects. Ideally devices would color code such hazardous parts, and perhaps things that need to be disposed of specially such as batteries.

By making things easier to repair, this would ensure that people can conserve money by not replacing products because of one small problem. This would also be a major environmental win because people can conserve and avoid filling landfills with mostly working products. This is especially true for electronics.

LCD AssemblySo far the only one who seems to come close to meeting my guidelines is IBM/Lenovo. They make it very easy to order replacement parts (though it’s hard to find the page). They also have excellent diagrams of the whole product exploded so you know exactly how it goes together. This makes owning a IBM/Lenovo product a lot cheaper since you can just order the replacement part as needed. If your under warranty they seem to have no problem shipping replacement parts if your comfortable installing and don’t want to ship your laptop out for repairs (which sucks, trust me).

A close second is LG. I’ve ordered replacement cell phone parts a few times. No diagrams or assistance from them, but their parts # is very helpful in identifying the actual part every single time. Just give the model number and explain the part. Required overnight shipping which added significantly to the cost, but overall not a bad deal.

NordicTrack isn’t bad either. I was able to order a replacement controller and turn a seemingly dead-as-a-doornail treadmill into a perfectly working treadmill in a matter of minutes. Nice diagrams on paper, and online ordering process was pretty painless. That simple replacement saved significant cash and kept a heavy treadmill out of a landfill. Price of parts weren’t too bad either.

For those who suggest eBay, that’s really a last resort. Your essentially buying salvaged parts of unknown quality or origin. If you treat your stuff well, why put in some part that’s likely been tortured by a previous owner to the point where the product was sent to salvage? Low cost replacement parts are the way to go. Also prevents bogus counterfeits, buying damaged goods.

That would go a long way to helping people save some cash, give companies a new revenue model (10-15% above cost is a pretty nice margin), and help the environment all in one sweep. Some companies are already much closer to fully complying with this list than others. That just proves to me that this is a reasonable proposal. It’s insane to replace something because of one small piece.

Image From Lenovo

Google Goes Back

Google Earth Hour
To raise awareness for Earth Hour, Google took the bold step of making the page black. I can’t remember the last time they made a change this bold. They did the same thing for the Google Israel site the other day (who participated a day early to prevent conflicts with the Sabbath). According to Google:

Google users in the United States will notice today that we “turned the lights out” on the Google.com homepage as a gesture to raise awareness of a worldwide energy conservation effort called Earth Hour. As to why we don’t do this permanently – it saves no energy; modern displays use the same amount of power regardless of what they display. However, you can do something to reduce the energy consumption of your home PC by joining the Climate Savers Computing Initiative.

On Saturday, March 29, 2008, Earth Hour invites people around the world to turn off their lights for one hour – from 8:00pm to 9:00pm in their local time zone. On this day, cities around the world, including Copenhagen, Chicago, Melbourne, Dubai, and Tel Aviv, will hold events to acknowledge their commitment to energy conservation.

Given our company’s commitment to environmental awareness and energy efficiency, we strongly support the Earth Hour campaign, and have darkened our homepage today to help spread awareness of what we hope will be a highly successful global event.

Recycle Old Ink Cartridges

I noticed this yesterday when looking up what model ink cartridges I needed to order. HP will send postage-paid envelopes for ink cartridges to be recycled. I ordered several which should last a while and hopefully will get then in a few days.

They don’t advertise it too well, but it’s not a bad program. So if you have a HP printer send them back. Boxes are available for businesses who go through a lot of ink.