Truly sustainable computing

Plenty could be written about this subject. I just want to call for change in two areas, because I believe they’d have the greatest impact here and now:

  1. Desktop computers should have a projected life span of 20 years.
  2. Laptops and mobile phones should have a projected life span of 10 years.

Why 10 years for laptops and mobile phones? Because they’re portable, they get banged up more and chances are they’re not going to look that good after 8-10 years, but they should be made to last that long nonetheless. Even if you won’t want to use them after a few years, you can sell them and someone else with a smaller budget will be happy to use them for as long as they last.

This means internal circuitry, which is most often the culprit in computing, should be made to last a looooong time. This is doable. There are cars and planes in use today with circuits made 15-20 years ago, which are still functioning properly. I think hardware meant for personal computing is purposely made to stop working after a few years, because computers are always upgraded and hardware manufacturers plan for obsolescence from the get-go.

There is a better way. Enclosures for all computing devices should be solidly made and finished. They should be stunningly beautiful and their design should stand the test of time. They should be easy to open and the innards serviced. And internal components should be made in such a way that they stand the rigors of heavy use through two decades, even if they become obsolete, market-wise. I think we’ve gotten to the point in computing where even if a computer is no longer desirable by someone who wants a fast machine, it’s still good enough for daily use by someone who does basic computing tasks.

I may live to eat the words in this paragraph, but surely USB 3.0, Thunderbolt, PCIe, 4K resolution and other goodies that are currently available should suffice for a while. I can’t imagine word processing applications or web applications requiring more than this, even 10 years from now. And if they do, a solid, serviceable enclosure and upgradeable hardware with backward compatibility for widely accepted standards and protocols should be enough to keep a computer going… and going… and going…

And once we pass that 20-year mark, why not make our next goal even bigger? Let’s plan for 100-year computers and let’s start doing it right now. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have machines made in 2015-2016 still in daily use in 2115-2116?

If you work in hardware, I’m sure you can think of plenty of reasons why this isn’t doable. It’s pretty easy to find reasons not to do something, and this applies to just about anything. But I want to challenge you to find ways to make this work, because it’s what we need to do in order to survive in the future. We can’t go on trashing the planet and taking from it indefinitely. We need to start conserving and giving back to it. We should focus on making it clean and beautiful.

I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of phones I have to throw away after 2-3 years because they turn into unusable crap. I’m sick and tired of computers and external hardware that start to break down after 3 years, some of them right after their warranty expires. And if would see what a mess we’ve made of this world, with destructive mining for rare earth minerals used in our electronics and with mountains of electronic trash polluting the ground and water tables in many places around the world, you’d be sick and tired of this as well.

There are much better ways of doing things. FairPhone is pointing the way for mobile phones. iFixit is helping too, with online service manuals and parts. But the bulk of the work still hasn’t been done. I still don’t see 20-year computers and 10-year laptops in stores. Where are they? Who’s making them? I’d like to buy one.

Video

An insightful video essay about Chuck Jones

I loved this video essay by Tony Zhou about Chuck Jones, the genius behind many of the Looney Tunes cartoons. I absolutely love the classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts. New ones are still being made but sadly, they fall quite short of the mark set by the original ones made in the 40s, 50s and 60s. This video will help you understand the disciplined artistry that took place behind the scenes in order to create those beautiful cartoons.

Thank you Chuck Jones!

Apple Wireless Keyboard

White keyboards and cleanliness

Back when Apple came out with white keyboards, I was annoyed. I appreciated the white aesthetic, the clean design, but they got dirty so quickly. Within a few weeks of normal use with clean hands, there was a visible layer of grime on the keys used most. It was like a heat map drawn with dirt. Yuck. I wash my hands every time I go to the bathroom, so that’s 7-8 times a day or more, and my keyboards still get dirty.

I found myself cleaning my keyboards often, and every time I did it, I asked myself two questions. I kept repeating them like a mantra, annoyed with the amount of time I was spending doing menial stuff:

  1. How could so much grime collect on my keyboards?
  2. Why didn’t they make black keyboards?

A black computer keyboard.

Of course, the answer was staring me in the face, every time I used my keyboard. See this and this. Keyboards and mice are breeding grounds for all kinds of nasty bacteria. And because most of them are black, we don’t see how dirty they are and we don’t clean them often, although we should. I bet that’s exactly why they went with white (beside the fact that their design kick at the time involved a lot of white and silver). They wanted to give us a simple visual reminder of the state of our keyboards and make us clean them, lest we look filthy to our families, friends and co-workers. It was a bit of a pill to swallow, but it was (and is) for our own good.

Apple Wireless Keyboard

In recent times, Apple has gone to black keyboards on their laptops. Rumor has it they’re also going to make black keyboards for their desktops. While I get the practicality of it, I can’t help thinking people are going to just let the filth accumulate on their keys now that the stark visual reminder is gone. Let’s face it, we’re all so damned busy these days (mostly with drivel) that we’re going to forget to clean our keyboards. We won’t do it until they’re sticky, and by that point… yuck.

New MacBooks

Just in case you’re wondering how I clean my keyboards, I typically use Q-tips dipped in rubbing alcohol, they work great. In the past, I also came up with more inventive ways to clean them, such as putting the keys in the dishwasher. That method doesn’t work so well with the newer Bluetooth keyboards, it’ll cook the circuitry, because there’s no way to remove the keys unless you pry the case open.

Network video camera

Power consumption in data centers and online cameras

There’s an interesting article linked below that talks about the internet of things and the potential for net negative power consumption after more and more devices go online. I’m not going to get into a discussion about the significant potential for hacking these devices and the need to constantly update their firmware, because that’s a great big subject. What I want to talk about is online cameras and power consumption. The quote that got me started is this:

Hölzle acknowledges that his prediction comes with a caveat: the proliferation of online cameras—which send so much data across the network—may cause a steep rise in power consumption across the world’s data centers. “Video is the one exception,” he said on Tuesday.

via Google Says the Internet of Things’ Smarts Will Save Energy | WIRED.

Of course online cameras eat up a lot of power across data centers, even though they shouldn’t. It’s because every one of the camera makers opts for the easy setup that involves the cloud and the possibility of extra revenues in the form of monthly fees instead of offering the possibility of a straightforward home setup, where the cameras are made accessible through the owner’s firewall.

When that happens, when you can access your home cameras directly through your firewall from your laptop, tablet or phone, you cut out the cloud and the extra power consumption. It’s a little more difficult to do but it’s the right thing to do if you want to reduce power usage, particularly when a lot of firewall/router makers (such as Dlink) also make network video cameras. Surely they can streamline the process of setting them up through their own firewalls and making them available to the owners. Dynamic DNS is the one part of the equation that’s still a bit difficult but I’m of the opinion that each firewall/router maker should run their own DDNS service, just like they already run their own time servers. (DDNS is important because your IP address changes often with some ISPs, making it fairly impossible to get at your firewall simply by bookmarking your external IP address.)

There is another aspect of this that’s worth mentioning. Cloud-based setup and administration of network video cameras becomes a worthwhile proposition when these companies offer subscription-based archival of the video footage. If the cost is reasonable, where you can archive say, eight video cameras for $20-30/month and then be able to search that footage for motion, vloss and audio markers, then it’s worth getting. When a knowledgeable thief breaks into your house, if he sees you’ve got video cameras, he’ll often rip out the DVR and take it with them (if they can find it). When the video is stored in the cloud, they can’t rip anything out, you’ll still have the proof, and that’s a very good thing.

Gallery

A February snowfall

It’s been snowing today. I woke up to little snowflakes dancing in a light wind in our courtyard. It’s been like that all day. Every time I looked out the window, it put a smile on my face.

There’s something so beautiful about a February snowfall. It’s one of winter’s last few efforts before it gives way to spring. This sort of snow doesn’t ice up the roads. The weather isn’t so cold that it’s unbearable. It’s not like the frosts of early January that put icicles in your marrow should you stay outside too long. This is soft, warm snow that blankets the gardens and the patches of grass, sits every so gingerly on the branches of the trees and nestles inbetween the needles of the evergreens.

It’s like winter’s saying, “It’s been fun this season, I really enjoyed your company. Here’s a parting gift to remember me during the warm seasons.” I love this sort of snow. I love winter. I love a crackling fire in the fireplace, a warm cup of coffee or tea in my hand and the dance of snowflakes outside my window. These sorts of experiences are the high points in our busy lives, and we should enjoy them more.

Well, a blond little girl named Sophie is tugging at my sleeve, I guess it’s time to go.

Body image, public perception and the media

Just wanted to publish here a post I wrote on Facebook this morning about body image and the recent controversy surrounding its representation in the media:

Something I don’t get: people are making such a big deal in recent times about being thin and how the fashion magazines are promoting it. They’re making it into a huge issue, as if the plump girls are being persecuted and they’re putting it as if this has been going on forever.

Truth is, this is only a recent thing. Until the 60s, it was a plump girl’s world. Yes, all the way from antiquity to the 1960s or so, people liked bigger women. The thin ones were the outcasts. Nobody wanted them because they were too skinny. They were told to put on weight. There were ads in magazines everywhere for fattening creams and lotions and vitamins and lard and all kinds of stuff to help girls put on weight fast and become “attractive”.

So here’s what I think: all this bulls**t be damned, if you want to be plump, be plump, if you want to be thin, be thin, but do yourself a favor and stop blaming others for your body type. If you’re plump and you’d rather be thin, stop complaining about fashion magazines and learn to love yourself. If you’re thin and would rather be fat, well then, you’re in luck because there are a ton of processed foods out there to help you achieve your goal.

And if you like yourself just the way you are, congratulations! You’re one of the lucky few who get what it’s like to enjoy life. Go on enjoying it, we typically only get 70-80 years of it and we shouldn’t waste it complaining! :-)