There are about fifty things on my desk right now. Most of them are pieces of paper...business cards, a couple dollars, some tax forms. But there are also some CDs, a phone, a computer monitor, a camera, a guitar tuner, a printer cartridge, a knife...y'know....THINGS!
And then when I widen my view beyond the desk...things start to look really desperate. I'm surrounded by stuff. Probably 50% of it is made of paper...most of that being books. But there's also a heavy dose plastic, metal and good ol' wood. A lot of my things, strangely enough, exist simply to carry other things...book shelves, filing cabinets, etc. Frankly, I'm getting tired of it.
And so, in the spirit of EcoGeekiness, I hereby pledge to actually do something about it. This stuff has to go! It's pretty easy to get rid of stuff nowadays...with EBay and Craigslist and Freecycle. But some of it might not be so easy to part with. So I am hereby beginning a series in which I will be replacing hardware either with multiple-use items (trading scissors for knives) or with software. And, hoorah! I will free myself of these earthly ties....and increase that beautiful spiritual connection I have with this machine before me.
The first item to ditch...my guitar tuner.
Guitar tuners, after all, are just a microphone and some very simple software. Most laptops have microphones built right in, so why waste money on a hunk of plastic when you're computer can do the job for you?
After a quick search, I found this $15 shareware program for my Mac, which not only is simple to use, but is significantly more accurate than my physical guitar tuner.
And for my PC we've got Audio Tuner 0.5, which works on everything from Windows 95 to Vista and, while it's not as pretty as, and a little clunkier than the Mac ap, it is absolutely free, and tuned me up in no time. But even better is the free GuiTools, which not only has a built in tuner, but also helps identify every single chord and scale you can play with a six-string.
So I hope Freecycle is ready for my guitar tuner. Maybe somebody out there needs it for its portability. But I'm happy to say...I just don't need it anymore.
It's no secret that we at Ecogeek are fans of the e-ink display technology. The low battery consumption and superior readability compared to laptops and other mobile devices, not to mention the thin form factor, all combine to bring us closer to a digital literary future. With Amazon's Kindle doing the rounds in the US and the Bookeen Cybook constantly running out of stock, e-ink toting devices are inching their way into the public's hearts.
I still think that e-books have a ways to go before I'd personally get one, mostly in terms of price and features, and I have had a few of my own ideas on what would make a good reader. However, the group of thinkers and designers over at The Greener Grass have gone and created a concept that I could wholeheartedly get behind. The Papyrus.
The Papyrus is a concept for an education-centred e-reader device that would focus on making participation in courses easier and more interactive. The concept calls for a colour e-ink touch screen and presumably a Wi-Fi connection to connect the devices of all the students together. Collaboratively, they can tag, highlight and annotate their reading material and remotely help eachother understand the text and find the important parts in it. As a first-year university student who hadn't read a single academic text since the turn of the millenium, I can say I would have greatly appreciated such a feature in my textbooks, not to mention saving all the space and weight of all those books as I cart them around.
As far as pricing goes, they're setting their sights on a hundred dollars. This seems unrealistic, but they are convinced it could be realised with the removal of unneeded hardware features (audio, for example) and the help of publishers. These publishers would subsidise the device and could sell their text books directly to the students through a subscription service.
The concept also makes a case for the interactivity of lectures. Many students are afraid to ask questions when there's something they don't understand. If they could just shoot the lecturer a quick private message rather than pipe up in front of a hundred other students, the idea is that the lecturer would be much more aware of whether or not s/he is getting through to the students.
I suspect that if this device is to actually be made, the price tag will go the way of the OLPC and the Eee PC and end up at least double the initial goal. Even so, it would be a fantastic device in an increasingly digital world. If the resolution of e-ink screens get a bump up, the prices a bump down and the features a polish, I welcome a transition into a fully digital student life. There's still something to be said for the feeling of opening a book and reading it on the couch or in bed, but at least e-ink is getting us one step closer to that feeling without killing trees every time there's a new book (or, more likely, a very slightly altered new edition) to be published.
The X-Prize foundation puts together some fantastic competitions. But it doesn't put up the money to pay the winners. That responsibility goes to some kind-hearted company. Like Google's $30M sponsorship of the Lunar X-Prize, or Archon's $10M prize for the fast and cheap genome sequncing X-Prize. And while we've known for a long time that there was going to be a 100mpg car X-Prize, we didn't know a lot of specifics.
Well, yesterday at the New York Auto Show, the X-Prize foundation finally released the details of the competition. Or should I say "The Progressive Automotive X-Prize." That's right, Progressive Insurance is footing the bill for this one. And we're happy to say "Thanks!" But that's not really whats important. Now, we finally have details on how the contest will be judged!
There will be two vehicle classes: Mainstream and Alternative. Mainstream vehicles will have to have four seats, four wheels and have a 200 mile range. Alternative vehicles have no limitation on the number of seats or wheels, and must have a 100 mile range.
The winner will be decided (awesomely enough) by a race. Of course, it'll be a somewhat lame race, with stoplights and speed limits, to simulate normal driving habits. But a race nonetheless. Whoever finishes the race first, while maintaining a 100 mpg (or equivalent) gas mileage, wins the purse. the Alternative fuel class gets $2.5M while the mainstream cars gets $7.5M.
The race will take place in 2009 or 2010, and I'm absolutely positive that it's going to be awesome.
Progressive X-Prize Website
Full Press Release
Full Draft Guidlines
The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy rocks. They have put numbers to what I have long expected to be true. Folks who complain about how much energy computers waste are crazy. Computers save tons of energy, while, themselves, using less energy than the lightbulb used to light the workstation. And now we know how much.
The study focused on a metric called "energy intensity." Basically, that's the amount of energy necessary to produce a dollar of economic output. The first major drop in energy intensity occured after the oil crisis in the 1970s. That was a cost-based drop, not generally the ideal.
Then, after OPEC lost its stranglehold, energy intensity stopped dropping because energy was once again cheap. But then, starting in the late 1990s, energy intensity began to drop significantly again. This drop was unrelated to energy costs and was, in fact, a technologically spurred change.
Computers were helping us become more efficient. First, by using their power to design more efficient practices. And second, and much more significantly, by allowing people and things to travel digitally, instead of physically.
Telecommuting a couple days per week, reading news online, emails, document downloads, and instant messages all allow people and things to travel while consuming much smaller amounts of energy. What's more, online shopping has reduced trips to retail stores, resulting in significant energy savings.
Energy intensity has continued to drop more than 2% every year since the Internet first appeared. Without the Internet, the paper's authors suggest that we would need one billion more barrels per oil per year! Indeed, ever kilowatt/hour we spend on the Internet looks to have saved about 10 kilowatt/hours of energy.
Not that I need another reason to spend time online...