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.

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.

Classic Solo Shoes

Classic Solo Handmade Shoes

Late last year, I ordered a pair of handmade shoes from Stefan Burdea, a shoemaker from Bucharest, Romania. I’d like to show them to you now. They’re the Classic Solo model, a beautiful and understated pair of shoes made from a single piece of leather.

Some of you may already know that it’s fairly difficult to make these shoes, as it requires much greater skill from the shoemaker to get it right from a single piece of leather than it is to make them from multiple pieces, which can be fitted much more easily around the boot tree.

I’d like to show these shoes to you now via a video I made (part of my Elegant Gentleman series). I’m happy with them, especially since they meet a very important criteria for me: they’re comfortable to wear for long periods of time. That’s the most important criteria for me when choosing shoes. They have to fit me very well. All other aspects: design, finish, materials, are secondary. Sure, I first pick up a pair of shoes based on how they look, but if they don’t fit me well, I’ll put them right back down on the shelf and move on.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had a pair of handmade shoes made for you, but you should if you get the chance. They’re much more comfortable than machine-made shoes. And because they’re handmade, there’s usually more attention to detail and a higher level of workmanship, as you’ll see from the photos. It’s rewarding to wear shoes that you know were made just for you. Try it sometime!

Fisker_234_1_1

The 2012 Fisker Karma

The Fisker Karma is an interesting and appealing car that’s fully electric, with its battery charged by a gasoline engine, so you’re never out of power.

The more I learn about it, the more I like it. Things such as its sexy, uncompromising design, the fact that it’s made out of renewable and recycled materials, the shapes, colors and textures of its interior, its solar roof, its low, muscular stance, its long wheel base with big wheels, all make it very special.

It’s made by Fisker Automotive, it is the vision of one man, it was first designed, then engineered, and I highly encourage you to find out more about it.

I’ve posted an image gallery and a few videos below. Enjoy!

One more thing: I’ve created a new page on Facebook called “The Elegant Gentleman“, where I talk about clothing, manners and the finer things in life. Head on over and give it a like to be kept up to date with my posts there. Thanks!

My 1899 Elgin Pocket Watch

I wonder how many of you know that I love old watches, not just new ones? I thought I’d put together a video and photo gallery for one of my pocket watches, my biggest one in terms of size and weight: an 1899 Elgin pocket watch.

Here’s the video:

This particular watch was bought in the United States at the turn of the 20th century by an Englishman who then returned to England, where the watch remained in the family until earlier this year, when the nephew of that gentleman, who has relocated to Romania to spend his retirement years here, sold it to me. The man is Laurie Webb, a fine fellow who now runs a pension house in the village of Roandola near Sighisoara, and whom I interviewed for an episode of “Romania Through Their Eyes“.

And here are the photos. Enjoy!

1899 Elgin Pocket Watch 1899 Elgin Pocket Watch 1899 Elgin Pocket Watch 1899 Elgin Pocket Watch 1899 Elgin Pocket Watch

A comparison of watch designs

Remember my video on watch bands? I intended to create a guide to watch designs and I got around to it last week. This video’s even longer than the last one; it’s almost 30 minutes! Get a cup of tea, sit down and get comfortable, because it’s going to take a bit of time to get through it!

Let me sum up my thoughts on watch design:

  • Elegant, classy
  • Simple, fulfilling its purpose as a watch, which is to tell the time and the date
  • Refined features that hint at the intricacies inside the case without flaunting them
  • Easy to use, easy to read: proper color contrast in the lettering and numbering
  • A joy to look at, makes you fall in love with it every time you see it
  • Sturdy, quality-built, lasts a long time (a lifetime even)

Watch the video for the rest of my thoughts and I hope you enjoy it and it’s of use to you!

The old Mercedes

Back in the States, we lived in a community called Grosvenor Park. Photos I’ve taken there are featured often on my website. It was a nice place, true to its name: it was a park with a brook, ponds, trees, all sorts of vegetation and even a little forest out back. In the parking lot next to our building, there was this old black Mercedes with a diesel engine. It always sat in the same spot and every time I saw it I wondered if I could have it. After all, its owner barely used it. There it sat, spring, summer, fall and winter, cobwebs under the wheel wells. You know what they say about cars and houses… if they’re not used, they go to pieces.