Sunday, March 28, 2010

harvesting the sun and putting it into the grid

Mobile phones are all the rage. Everyone compares to see who has what. People spend a lot of time blinging them out with cases and rhinestones. But as cool as they look, unless they have electricity and batteries powered. With the beautiful screens and always on radio half the time the phones are paperweights. Well a company called Neon Green (note the website is "Go Neon Green" but equally well is "Gone on Green") is releasing a line of backpacks that have built in solar panels to charge your devices. The idea of going off the grid or supplementing the green is a great idea.

I've always wanted solar on my car to charge batteries for my laptop or iPod. But better yet, wouldn't it be great to plug your car into the grid to charge the grid. Imaging every parking space have a plug where our cars would connect and pump electricity from the solar panels on the roof of every car going to power the grid during peak times. We have all this space, wouldn't it be great to make it productive. And most cars just sit outside taking up space while people are at work. Let's put it to use. We don't just need smart cars, we need smart parking lots.

Any takers for passive solar everywhere?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

If you can believe....

As a proud alum of Cornell, I am truly amazed by the run the boys have done in just advancing to the sweet sixteen in this years NCAA Basketball tournament. I can see the headline if the Big Red can advance against the Big Blue, the Ancient Eight meet the Elite Eight.

So the improbable can happen with hard work and discipline. The same can be said for living more green. Here's to the Big Red and here's to going green.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Generational Technology.

It's no secret that I live in Silicon Valley. It's the heart of technology where the latest and greatest is invented. We spend our long days and nights birthing the technologies that make this blog among other things possible. It's pretty amazing that we take sand from the beaches and eventually make websites like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Amazon, eBay and others. We live on internet time, and that's compared to dog years, where seven years equals one. It's exciting, it's amazing that the pace of change is so amazing.

But sometimes I think we lack ambition, we are always looking for the new new thing, but we forget about what happens to the new thing. And with this I struggle. Right now the hottest thing in the "Valley" is the iPad. 50,000 of this latest wave of technology were pre-ordered on Friday. In all the Facebook and Twitter updates, people are excited. Saint Steve is not likely to disappoint, he rarely does. But for some reason the excitement isn't there for me.

I am pretty much a pack rat, and recently I've been shuffling some of my stuff from one place to another. Been giving some of it away and repurposing other stuff. One of the things I uncovered were a few PDAs, an Palm Pilot Pro, a Palm Vx that I have in the original box (hey I said I'm a pack rat) and a Tungsten T3, and these sit collecting dust. Now these devices are functional, they serve great as calendars and address books. And in some cases they will even interface with the modern computers of the day. But they sit unused. A quick check on eBay shows that everyone listed has zero bids, so basically it's junk.

So this is what gives me pause about information technology, and I'm not talking about computers and IT equipment I'm talking about anything that can be reduced to data. You can buy a toaster from 20 years ago and it will still work. Granted, it only does one thing, but you can still use it. You can even use a toaster from 40 years ago. But for computers, from five years ago and it's a quaint museum piece ready for the Computer History Museum but in any real way it's not usable. Think of the 8-track, cassette tapes, MD players, all relegated to obsolescence. Even now, this funny trick called Blu-ray is likely to make is such that it will be the only available format and everyone will have to upgrade their DVD players to get a movie from their local video store. And where do those old technologies go?

To the dump most likely, or in my garage if I buy it. So that's why I hesitate to get an iPad since I know that there is something else around the corner, that's what we do. I'm right now reading Cradle to Cradle (book) where the last step of a product is not the dump, but to a place where it can be the next product. Silicon Valley has always been ambitious, but in this regard I don't think it's ambitious enough. If you can think of how the last product can be the next product then you're really innovating. Otherwise my garage is running out of space.

Passing the laugh test.

The New York Times has an article on the granting of green status to a 10,000 square foot new home being built in Berkeley, California. The designation was granted since the new home had received enough points based in features and materials used it it's construction and perceived ongoing maintenance. The beauty of such a system is that it is relatively objective and straightforward. The downside is that it's very easy to game a system where you get something ludicrous. Reading the article you can't help but chuckle. I can't even feign outrage because it so goes to the history of human nature.

Technologies as a solution for green and environmental issues are always touted because they are cast as market solutions, and markets foster innovation is the claim. And the wealthy always want the best which trickles down to the proletariat, um excuse me, the middle class. It really seems to be a new twist on the old idea of indulgences where you paid the pope to absolve you of your sins. Sort of like the Montana energy wasting fines.

it also boils down to the notion of outcome fixes vs value changes. The green technologies marketing reminds me a lot of the fat free food marketing. I can eat more of this "bad" stuff because we've taken the bad out. When in reality you just ate more of it and had as much bad as when you started. Or people substituting popcorn as a snack because it was low calorie but then eating more of it and still gaining weight. The real question is what is the total resource consumption per capita when evaluating greenness.

At 6500 square foot of livable space for two people, and a per capita 3250 square foot per person, more than the average American household space for four people (and this is a current average including the mcMansions) does seem excessive. So sure the Kapors should be commended for supporting green technologies, but please don't say that makes you green.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Google provides Bike Directions

This is old news that has been sitting in my drafts folder and a few of my readers and others have mentioned it. Google has added bike directions to their maps product. Using algorithms to find bike friendly paths that get people from place A to place B.

Today I went to see a showing of No Impact Man: The Movie and it was interesting to see what this little experiment revealed. Most impressive was the giving up of electricity, that is something that I could not do myself. Though I have entertained buying one of these to mount in the rear seat of my car to charge extra laptop batteries during the day.

During the post discussion of the movie, someone mentioned the blog San Jose Hates Pedestrians and you can really see how streets are engineered impacts and incentivizes certain modes. Initiatives such as the Livable Streets movement really shows that governance matters and getting involved matters.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

How to get rich from your home, and it's not what you think.

In my last post, I talked about eBay hawking their green bona fides raving about the environmental and economic benefit of selling and buying used. It takes less energy and resources to reuse something that it does to make it new. The old mantra goes with reduce, REUSE, recycle for a reason. eBay is basically playing to our desire to get a little cash for our trash.

I am totally for this, except I tend to be a pack rat, but for different reasons. But I digress, this is a good thing. If you are a typical American living in the suburbs think about how much stuff you have. And think about how many things you can use at any one time. In most cases you might be able to use four items simultaneously and that normally happens when you are cooking. Most of the time most of your stuff just sits there not getting used. It's inert, it's not useful. And a lot of times, that stuff will never get used. It was bought on a hope and a prayer. So common sense suggests that you get rid of it. The easy way is to toss it, another way is to donate it and let Goodwill throw it away for you. (This does happen.)

Another way to give these inert goods some life is to freecycle(tm) it, which is basically good will via email to people who can use it. The theory is that some people will take free things because it is free is actually false since there are things that I have not been able to give away. One of my friends recently held a Freecycle(tm) party, what one member affectionately called a "shit swap" where people brought things they didn't care about to offer to others. It wasn't too bad, I did get rid of a lot of stuff, and I picked up somethings that in all honesty I will probably end up giving away later. But there is hope and a prayer all over again.

So going back to the theme of eBay, there is actually a lot of merit to decluttering your home and earning a little money. You can use this money toward your down payment, or if you want to be really green put it toward more efficient appliances. Whatever, but if you go through everything you own, I bet you there are a lot of things you can convert to cash. The question is how.

Garage Sale: nuff said, but that relies of buyers and sellers matching in time and place.

Craigslist: coordination is a pain but it works. I have bought stuff this way.

eBay; you have to rely not so much on place, but you have to auction something in the same time as your buyers.

So the winner for me is Amazon. It's really easy to list your items, and it's free. So you can list everything without any up front costs. This encourages you to put everything online for sale. Also since you can pull an item if it hasn't sold, you can change your mind in most cases.

If you have a lot of books, CDs and DVDs a great way of listing things is a piece of software called "Delicious Library 2" which will scan the barcodes of these items, look them up on Amazon and list them if you want. How cool is that.

So convert your stuff to cash, be green, be frugal and participate in the secondary economy. But, but, but....won't this kill the economy. Well no, you can spend it on services which are green and help local economies. And keeping it local, is kind of green.

QED. Well not really, but you get the idea.

Monday, March 08, 2010

ebay meets second life

Today the New York Times has this article on eBay highlighting the green options to buying used items are being environmentally conscious. Regular readers of this blog know how big I am on sourcing from garage sales and good will for that exact reason. Nice to see that they have caught up.

Decluttering one's life has a lot of other gains besides environmental ones. The big one is community. I'll cover that in a future post.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Frog in a pot...

There's the old parable of the frog who let's him or herself get boiled to death as long as it happens incrementally, sort of like global warming.

The California Academy of Sciences blog highlights an NPR story that indicates that fewer and fewer Americans believe that climate change is occurring and that humans are causing the effect. The NPR story goes into the cognitive reasons why people don't believe. Which basically boils down to people believe what they want to believe. No surprise if you've worked in a corporate context.

I've written before that when engaging in debate, one has to ask the opposing side under what conditions would you change your mind, and if they are not able to offer any such conditions you are just wasting your time. Their minds have been made.

But assuming that most people are reasonable, one of the difficulties with climate change is that the change is so imperceptible to the human mind and the human lifetime. People can understand accidents and cataclysms, but slow transformation is hard to comprehend. Even slow personal change.

People don't become overweight instantly, it happens a few ounces at a time. But over the long haul one suddenly becomes "fat" but the individual meals and snacks (our human actions) don't seem to matter at the time of consumption. The diligence to stay thin, is lost over a long period of time and that's why it's so easy to become fat.

Our climate issue is very similar to our obesity issue, there is not one action that causes it, but unlike climate change it's visible so we can make some changes.