Proposed EU measures to extend product lifetime

I am happy to let you know that things are underway within the EU to ensure that products will last longer and will be easier to repair in the future. These are proposed measures at the moment, they’re not law, but they soon could be. The idea, according to the EEB (European Environmental Bureau) is to:

  1. Extend the lifetime of products
  2. Extend the availability of repair services
  3. Improve consumer information and rights
  4. Make these measures binding, not voluntary

If you live within the EU, I encourage you to contact your representatives to the EU Parliament and to ask them to support these proposed measures.

Even if this isn’t law yet, I am happy to see my own feelings on the matter mirrored by those in a position to do something about it. You may recall that I wrote an article called “Truly sustainable computing” back in August of 2015, where I proposed that desktop computers have a projected lifespan of 20 years and laptops and mobiles phones have a projected lifespan of 10 years.

The proposed EU measures would apply to every category of products, not just to computing devices, so things like cars, electronics, appliances would all be covered by the new regulations, ensuring we would once again have quality products that last a long time.

I say “once again” because those of you who are younger than me may not recall we had this sort of thing before the 1970s. The idea of “planned obsolescence” was introduced in the 1960s by manufacturers and that’s when things started to go downhill for products in terms of durability, repairability and build quality. You could still get kitchen appliances made in the late 1960s that looked and worked perfectly even in the late 2000s. You can no longer do that with today’s appliances.

It’s irresponsible in so many ways for us to generate mountains of e-waste every year and it’s doubly irresponsible for manufacturers to make them, one because they’re using the Earth’s resources without any regard for the future and two, because they make them easily breakable and disposable, contributing to the enormous amounts of waste that we generate as a race. It’s time we did something quantifiable and legally binding about this!

Group identity and commercialism

Here’s a short video log I recorded yesterday as I got to thinking about how we as humans tend to separate into groups and sub-groups and identify with them. We form separate cultures and sub-cultures and nowadays, we want to stand apart from what we see as the commercialism and consumerism of modern society. 

And yet, when we do that, we actually make it easier for advertisers to target us, because instead of making general ads for general products, they get to make very targeted ads for products specifically tailored to particular groups. So the effort to escape consumerism then becomes a moot point. 

People think this is a bad thing for some reason. But I say it’s a good thing. I don’t think there has ever been a time in the history of mankind when products tailored for specific uses could make it to market faster than nowadays. Sure, you have to sort through the crap, and there’s a lot of it, but there’s some really good stuff out there, made just for your needs. 

I also touch on the idea of money as currency and the inherent benefit of being able to convert skills or objects into such a portable currency that you can take pretty much anywhere and exchange it for what you need. Some people say we don’t need money, that we can trade directly, service to service, product for product, etc., but I sa that only goes so far. It’s so much more limited than money, particularly when you hold a very portable currency like the dollar, the pound or the euro. 

Yes, I’m still in bed, so please excuse my disheveled appearance. 

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.

White keyboards and cleanliness

Apple Wireless Keyboard

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 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!

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.

The day our MINI froze over

One winter day, as I finished work late in the evening, about eight o’clock, I went out to the parking lot and saw my MINI looking this:

I hadn’t expected that. It had rained earlier in the day, particularly during lunch and it had continued to drizzle through the afternoon. The evening had brought a freezing spell with it, and all that water had turned to ice, on the ground and in the sky.

What to do? I didn’t have an ice scraper with me, but I remembered someone had given me one of those mini-CDs and I’d put it in the car. After prying the door open, I grabbed it and started scraping off the ice from the windshield. Who knew that thing would do something useful someday? 🙂

It took about half an hour to get the windshield clean and another twenty minutes to warm up the car sufficiently so that it melted the rest of the ice from the windows. I loved every minute of it, in spite of the freezing cold. You know why? Because an unexpected adventure is a chance to experience something different, something extra-ordinary and it’s a welcome thing in my book.

What do you think I did after I got the car started? Did I take the highway and head home fast? No, I took the scenic route and enjoyed my MINI’s wonderful winter handling, with the aid of my winter tires, plodding through the freshly fallen snow and sliding over ice patches. I did a few donuts in the empty parking lot, slid the rear through corners, braked just so I could slide on the empty roads… I still smile when I think of that evening. Fun, fun, fun! 🙂

A look at lubrication inside an engine, in 1937

Nowadays, when we rarely pop open the hoods of our cars on our own, and the only things we usually worry about are putting in the gas and taking them to the dealer or the mechanic for their scheduled maintenance, we can hardly fathom what goes on inside those modern engines.

This wonderful video, made in 1937 by Chevrolet, shows how a typical engine was lubricated and is guaranteed to amaze you. I bet you had no idea that an engine we think of as primitive, given its almost 100 years of age, is so complex.

At the same time, the video will give you a new appreciation for what goes on inside your car’s engine. I bet it’s even more complex now.

Are you inclined to take your car for granted now? It is a marvel of modern engineering, isn’t it?

If you’d like to see more videos like these, subscribe to the US Auto Industry channel on YouTube.

I love Morgan Cars

Did I ever profess my love for Morgan Cars publicly? It’s time I did. I love them!

For years, I decried the ugly design of modern cars and I wondered where old design went. I looked at cars made in the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s and wondered when cars were going to get beautiful again. About a year ago, I found out there’s a car company that never abandoned the old design principles and has been making gorgeous cars by hand in their factory in Malvern, in the UK, since 1909.

Skilled craftsmen bend the sheet metal laboriously into its iconic shapes and carpenters carefully assemble the wood frame of the car by hand. (Yes, you read that right, the frame is wooden.)

Not only are the cars made by hand and bespoke, but they’re also affordable. Would you believe prices start at £32,000 for a car made to your desires? That’s awesome.

I just plain love the design. I can’t explain why. It simply appeals to me. It feels like it’s meant to be, it fits in with my soul and it fits in with the environment. It’s so seldom that a machine, an artificial construct, feels natural in the middle of nature, but in the case of a Morgan, it’s a match made in heaven.

I’m planning a trip to their factory. I plan to test drive a few models and see which one Ligia and I like best and then… we’ll see! 🙂

Photos used courtesy of Morgan Motor Company