Thoughts

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.

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Thoughts

Turning trash into usable products

Ann Wizer from XSProject Foundation (as in “excess”) is making custom-designed bags and other products from non-recyclable plastic waste found in Indonesia and the Philippines. She buys the raw materials from trash pickers, whom she pays at above-market rates, and, using trained artisans, creates beautiful products from trash that would be clogging landfills, streets and waterways in those countries.

Through its work, the Foundation is protecting the environment, reducing poverty, and teaching locals how to sustain themselves through the work of their own hands. The end results are beautiful, as you can from the photos and the embedded video below. The cause is noble, the work is noble, the means are innovative, sustainable and ennobling, and so I think Ms. Wizer and her XSProject Foundation deserve our applause for the wonderful work they’re doing.

Embedded video from CNN
Turning trash into usable products (CNN)

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* I would have linked to their online catalog of products, but at the time of writing this, it seems to be down.

Images used courtesy of XSProject Foundation.

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Thoughts

Concerned about swine flu? Know who to thank for it

To all those people who are worried about swine flu — you should thank the pig farming industry for it, and the rotten politicians who keep it going the way it is, even though it’s one of the worst polluters in the US. It’s no wonder new viruses are getting cooked up in those industrial pig farms, given the conditions in which they keep the pigs.

And perhaps you should also thank your local landscaping companies, who, about this time each year, dump tons of pig offal around your communities at outrageously high prices. Along with the smell, you’re also getting a dose of swine flu, trichinella and other intestinal parasite eggs, and who knows what other poisons, cooked up nicely in fermented pig manure.

sow-with-piglet

Enjoy all this, and keep in mind you’re the one financing the whole shebang when you buy pig meat and you hire landscaping companies based not on how sustainable and non-polluting their methods are, but on how tall they can make your pansies and grass grow…

Updated 5/3/09: Wired Science confirms my hunch that the pig farming industry is to blame for this virus in an article entitled “Swine Flu Ancestor Born on US Factory Farms.

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Thoughts

Signs of overpopulation

Signs of overpopulation are virtually everywhere — and can even be seen when it comes to the basics of life, like food and shelter. Besides the obvious signs, like crowded cities and roads, and rampant consumption of our natural resources, there are other signs that may or may not be readily apparent, depending on your outlook.

First, let’s have a look at the current world population. As I write this, the figure stands at well over 6.7 billion people. Given people’s reproduction habits, particularly in developing countries, and the fact that population growth goes virtually unchecked, thanks to our being the dominant species on earth, with no natural predators of any kind, how many more hungry mouths do you think our planet can support, particularly when most people’s diet consists of meats instead of vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains and other plants?

Housing

Have you thought about housing lately? Those of you who read my articles regularly know how worked up I am about the flimsy plywood boxes they build and call houses in the US these days, and for good reason. But, other than greed, why is it that houses nowadays are built with a 30-50 year span in mind? Even important buildings are built for only 100-year life spans. In the past, buildings were made to last several hundred years or even thousands of years, and certainly many of them still stand, centuries and millennia later. Some say it’s because tastes change with each generation, and there’s no reason to build something for a longer lifespan when it’s only going to get torn down. Perhaps. Then again, Roman and Greek architecture is still in fashion, entire millennia after it was laid out in stone.

Could it be that cost is being used to drive people toward cheaper and flimsier building methods? Have you checked to see what it costs to build your house out of stone or bricks, with nice ceramic roof tiles? And have you stopped to consider if there can be enough building materials out there to build everything, for everyone, out of thick, solid rock or brick? It’s not feasible or sustainable. We’d have to grind down a lot of mountains and dig up countless valleys, and we still wouldn’t have enough raw materials to satisfy demand. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt the pocketbooks of those who produce and distribute the building materials if the cost is higher…

Wood

How about timber? One statistic puts the rate of deforestation (for rainforests) at three football fields per second. That’s only the rainforests, mind you, not the temperate forests, which contain most of the hardwoods that are used for construction. The history of the eurasian temperate forests is a sob story onto its own. The thing is, trees regenerate at a much slower rate than current demands dictate. At the end of the day, there simply aren’t enough trees in the world.

I’ve seen what deforested land looks like, and it’s a sad sight. It’s full of stumps and clumps and roots and holes, and it looks like it’s been through war. I’ve seen entire mountainsides in Romania and elsewhere cleared of trees, mindlessly, putting the people in the valleys at risk for avalanches and mudslides and rock falls.

Very few timber companies obey the rules once they’re left to their own devices on the land. They’ll clear the trees out with no thought for tomorrow or for the life of the forest. They simply don’t care what happens after they’ve made their money. What they do is to provide a momentary abundance of wood and a long-term lack of supply, matched by increasing demand. Sadly, we’re currently in the long-term lack of supply part of history, while demand is still increasing.

Cost is once again being used to drive people to flimsier wood, if you can even call it wood. Most furniture you can buy nowadays is not made out of wood, but out of pressed wood pulp — basically, bits of all kinds of crappy wood stuck together with glue and pressed together into boards. You just try buying some furniture made out of real, solid wood — that is, if you can afford it.

On one hand, I’m disgusted by this, and on the other hand, it’s logical. In order to use trees economically, you have to use them in their entirety, even their bark. You can’t afford to only get a few good, solid planks out of a tree trunk. You have to grind it down with its bark and branches, turn it into pulp, then glue it together to get particle boards. That way you get a lot more “planks” out of a tree, and you can build more stuff out of it.

Unfortunately, companies are really cheapening out on particle boards. They’re using less glue, which means the boards will start to fall apart when put through normal use, and they’re churning out thinner boards that can’t carry any amount of significant weight. This means you can’t use your bookshelves to hold books or any sort of significant weight, and the doors on your new closet stand a pretty good chance of falling off after a few months, because the screws that hold the hinges and door handles in place can’t grip the fake wood and start slipping out. To add insult to injury, even if you manage to keep your “new” furniture in decent shape, you can’t move with it. Furniture these days will fall apart or get really wobbly if only moved around the house, much less moved around the state or the country. It’s just not made to last.

Food

What can I tell you here? It’s a mess. On the one hand, you have people who are doing the right things, like eating healthy, organic foods, and on the other hand, you have the majority of the population out there, who’s happy eating meats, drinking their sodas, and snacking on all sorts of crap food made with fillers and artificial substances and colorants and test-tube flavors. And why not, right? It’s cheaper to make that crap, cheaper to transport it and to distribute it to people, and there’s more profit in that than in healthy fruits and vegetables, which spoil. Artificial crap pumped full of preservatives doesn’t spoil. It can still be sold and turn a profit months down the road. You can’t do that with an organic apple. What’s good for the corporations in this case is also good for overpopulation. It’s much easier and more profitable to distribute crap food to lots and lots of people than it is to stock them with real food.

What’s also happening is that our food chain is being hijacked. There are several large corporations out there bent on producing genetically modified foods. The benefits quoted to the public sound good on the surface, but they’re not real. The only real benefit is to their bank accounts. You see, what they’re doing is destroying the seeds’ capability to generate life. Each new crop made from their seeds is unable to germinate. Farmers have to turn to those same corporations each year and buy the seeds, and the fertilizers and pesticides made for those seeds in order to get new crops. In essence, they have once again been enslaved, become serfs, not to medieval lords, but to corporate executives.

We, on the other hand, have become a large experiment for the long-term effects of genetically modified foods. What really gets my goose is this: how dumb do you have to be to realize that it’s not good to mess with seeds, and with their God-given right to germinate and yield new life? What sort of devilish greed runs through your veins and blinds you so much that you don’t realize that by destroying the life-giving properties of seeds, you have set yourself up for a major food supply disaster? When you’re a single point of failure in a big, global food chain, you’d better believe you’ll fail at some point, and everyone will suffer as a result of your stupidity.

I also don’t buy the recent food safety measures the White House is talking up. I think they’re really just double talk for pushing the small farmers out of the marketplace, through heaps and heaps of regulations and hoops they have to jump through. I think the goal is to make the process so onerous that only those with deep pockets will be able to afford to reach the marketplace, and once again, that will allow the large corporations that already control most of the food chain to gain more of a foothold just when things were looking brighter.

What about the famines in Africa? For decades, there have been famines in Africa. And there have been efforts to “eradicate” those famines for those very same decades, yet we still have famines. What’s really being done about it? Not much. I know this will sound cruel, but, hypothetically speaking, if you could somehow control the situation, why do something effective about those famines when you’ll only be contributing to an already out of control overpopulation?

Each year, tons and tons of corn and wheat are destroyed in the US because selling them would mess up the commodity markets. Those same tons of grains could go to Africa, or to other places where they’re needed, couldn’t they? Say they could get there through the benefit of some aid societies. Unfortunately, most of that aid still wouldn’t make it to the people. It would make it to the warehouses of the corrupt people in charge of those countries, where it would get re-distributed among those who prop up the same corrupt regimes.

Wars

While we have no more global wars — thank God for that — we do have little wars these days, and they manage to wipe out undisclosed numbers of people each time. Yet, somehow, with all our modern census methods and computers, we still can’t seem to figure out just how many people get killed in these wars.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t it the mission of the UN and NATO to stop wars? Let me quote you the primary reason for the existence of the UN, right from their charter:

“To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace”

And yet, with all of those heads of state gathered together, and with all of that clout and power, all that the UN really does is talk — nothing more but empty talk. It and NATO send peacekeeping forces to the regions where wars occur, but almost always, those forces are puny compared with what’s needed, and they have no teeth. They do nothing except stand by while the killing and raping occurs miles or even furloughs away. That’s incomprehensible.

Do you honestly think that wars cannot be stopped or dictators toppled? These things can happen very quickly through the use of spies and elite forces. You don’t need to take out entire armies, only their leaders and key points in their logistical structure. But if you did that, then certain corporations and governments couldn’t profit from all those weapons they get to sell to various governments, and that would be a disaster, wouldn’t it?

Medicine

We have all of these organizations dedicated to wiping out chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes and whatever else there is, and they’ve been at it for decades, yet no cure is in sight. Perhaps I’m more cynical than most, and maybe I have good reason to be that way, but maybe it’s not in the best interest of the world that these diseases get eradicated. They’re some of the only things keeping our population in check.

After all, we’re collectively living longer while more of us are being born each second. When you ask someone older how they feel about death, most will say they want to stay alive as long as possible. They won’t care how, they won’t care if they’ll be a bag of bones kept alive by drugs alone, they’ll want to keep living. To what end?

Better not wipe out the diseases, there should be something to make us kick the bucket. After all, who would believe you if you told people to stop eating crap and start eating raw foods, and then they wouldn’t suffer from any diseases and they’d live longer, too? Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Then we have stuff like all these kooky viruses that certain labs out there get to play with and mix around, sometimes with very deadly results. Oops, how did that happen? No matter, move along, nothing to see here. Does it matter there is now a virus that could literally start a plague and clean a billion people or so from the face of the earth? No, it’s not important, right? Who knows what other nasty stuff is being cooked up for us in some government-funded test tube somewhere…

In closing…

Doesn’t it all seem like a long-term passive-aggressive punishment from a greedy yet moronically short-sighted bunch of overseers? Oh sure, on the surface, what’s important is the quality of our foods, cures for our diseases, eradication of wars, quality housing and the comforts of modern living, and yet… something’s still rotten in Denmark. It’s when you look a little deeper that you find greed is driving this freight train, not social responsibility, no matter what the short-term and long-term costs may be.

I’d like to know if we can sack the current “overseers” and get someone intelligent, kind, balanced and responsible to take care of things. This poor planet could use some better leadership.

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Thoughts

A simpler way to dispense water

Let me show you a simpler, less expensive, more sustainable way to dispense water at home or even at a business. I didn’t see this in the US, where the water cooler is practically ubiquitous. I saw this in Romania. You see, here it matters if a machine is plugged in and consumes electricity all the time. You feel it more in your wallet than you do in the US. Generally speaking, things are made smaller in Romania, and if possible, made to be operated manually instead of automatically. In many ways, that’s a better way to do things — better for the people, who burn more calories, and better for the environment, because the carbon footprint is smaller.

You have here a water pump, hand operated, which works on the principle of building a small vacuum inside it to draw water from a large jug. It screws on top of these plastic jugs that you can buy at the store, and it’s operated by pressing down on the large button on top. As you press repeatedly on it, negative pressure builds up inside, pulling the water upwards and releasing it through the spout. It’s an old principle which has been in use for many years, but here it’s been packaged in a small, inexpensive little pump.

Isn’t this a better way to dispense water? Wouldn’t you rather use this than a large water cooler which will take up more space, make noise as it cools the water, and require you to lift those huge jugs and set them on top of it?

You can get a water pump like the one from the video at Amazon.

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