This week’s interesting reads:
- Futurist: Digital TV’s Mixed Signals (CQ) – Congressional Quarterly takes a look at the impact of government action/inaction on the development and adoption of technology. As we near the Feb. 2009 date when analog broadcasting in the United States will cease, CQ looks back at what happened when television first came in to being. Similar blame/credit could be assigned to the government for the division in the United States between two incompatible wireless technologies. via Mark Stencel
- Don’t Fear Starbucks (Slate) – What happens to mom and pop coffeehouses when Starbucks moves in to town? According to the piece from Slate, business increases. As Starbucks educates local audiences on the value of high-priced coffee, independent coffeehouses benefit. I prefer independents because, unlike Starbucks, many of them have free WiFi. via Robert Franklin
- Apple’s Piping Hot Innovation (Forbes) – In related coffee news, a recent Apple patent filing describes a “wireless system that would allow customers to place an order at a store using a wireless device such as a media player, a wireless personal digital assistant or a cellphone.” In theory, you’d be able to tap a button on your iPhone as you’re driving to Starbucks to place your order. If only it would tap into the nav system on your car to know that you’re headed to the Starbucks and save you that button click. Hmm… where’s my patent attorney?
- 10 Questions for Richard Branson (TIME) – One of my favorite billionaires talks about global warming, risk taking, the state of the music market and dyslexia. “Life is a helluva lot more fun if you say yes rather than no,” Branson says. The podcast of the interview is worth a listen.
FastCompany has an in-depth look at the economics of the bottled water industry. It looks at the distribution costs and environmental impact of shipping water 2/3s of the way around the world to places where you can just open the tap and get clean, safe water. (Kudos to the reporter for snagging a boondoggle to Fiji for the story!)
The market is huge, as is the environmental impact. From the FastCompany story:
- Americans spent $15 billion last year on bottled water
- 50 billion plastic water bottles were thrown away last year
- 1 billion bottles of water are moved around each week in the U.S. on ships, trains and trucks
Much of the bottled water we buy isn’t spring water – it’s purified tap water. Aquafina (from Pepsi) accounts for 13% of the market and Dasani (from Coke) is 11%. Both get their water from city water supplies and further purify it.
As much as we love to complain about the price of gasoline, most bottled water is more expensive per gallon.
The picture below (via Chris Sacca) illustrates the amount of oil it takes to transport the bottles to the Bay Area of California. The water comes from Calistoga, Ca., France and New Zealand.
Water does taste different around the world. I’m not a big fan of the taste of Arlington’s tap water. After visiting Iceland, I’ve been buying Iceland Spring water. But this picture is making me rethink that.
Update: The Twitter blog reports that Twitter is largely doing away with bottled water in its offices.
The Smart is coming to the United States. Smart, part of Mercedes, is a tiny car that you’ll often see in Europe. The car holds two people and two bags.
I rented two of these in Italy in 2002. When I called Avis to reserve a car, they didn’t even offer the Smart because they just assumed that Americans wouldn’t want something this tiny.
I loved it. It was great on the narrow roads and you can park it anywhere. It even made it up the hills in Tuscany.
It’ll be interesting to see how it does here. The Detroit News reports that 20,000 people have put down $99 deposits.
I can see it being really useful in cities like New York and San Francisco where parking is tight and environmental concern is higher. The car is expected to get 40 mpg. It’d be a great addition to the fleet of carsharing services like Zipcar and Flexcar.
The base version will go for about $12,000. A convertible version will also be available.
Fascinating story in The New York Times about Google’s support of electric cars. Google’s philanthropic arm, Google.org, will be giving $10 million to support better battery technologies, plug-in hybrids and technologies that allow the cars to sell power back to the power company.
The plug in hybrids can reach up to 75 miles per gallon.
The story quotes Stanford professor Stephen Schneider, who was a co-author of a recent U.N. report on climate change (pdf link):
“These guys have clout with hundreds of millions of young and middle-aged people,” he said, adding that what was necessary to jump-start a new type of car was a combination of reliability, affordability and “cool.”
Not only does Google influence consumers, it influences utilities. Google’s announcement was made in conjunction with PG&E, the electric company in the area.
Google provides its employees a $5,000 incentive to purchase high-efficiency hybrid cars. Google also runs biodiesel shuttles that transports 1,200 employees from around the Bay Area to work.
I recently watched Who Killed the Electric Car?, a documentary on how the car companies and politicians conspired to kill California’s zero-emission mandate. I highly recommend seeing it.
The video below explains more about Google’s electric car efforts, dubbed RechargeIt.org. More details in the Google.org hybrid FAQ.
Update: See the Google blog for more on Google’s environmental efforts, including plans to be carbon neutral by the end of this year.
Some assholes in California are stealing the HOV stickers off hybrid cars, according to the San Jose Mercury News. The stickers allow solo drivers to use the HOV lanes if they’re driving in a clean-fuel vehicle. The California DMV recently stopped giving out stickers with newer hybrids and is reporting two to three dozen requests a month for replacement stickers.
Someone put an offering on eBay in February seeking $10,000 for an extra set of carpool stickers sent mistakenly by the DMV (there were no takers and the ad was removed).
USA Today reported earlier that in the used car market, hybrids with the HOV stickers were selling for $4,000 more (based on a Kelley Blue Book sampling of 30 cars) than those without. The stickers are valid until 2011, making the cost of less stressful commuting $1,000 a year. (Or roughly 11 tickets for carpool lane violations.)
Virginia uses special clean fuel license plates. It’s a little bit more noticeable if you’re stealing someones plates. HOV lane benefits for clean fuel are being phased out here.
via Engadget and Fark
I came back from my travels facing a stack of bills in my mailbox. I’ve been paying bills online for years now; with most major billers, this means that there’s no paper flowing back the other way.
The major credit card companies and utilities now offer online bills. Some banks (especially online only banks) either don’t offer paper statements or charge $3-$5 per month for a paper statement. I’ve already signed up for online statements from a number of billers.
This Earth Day, I’m working to reduce that even further by switching as many bills as I can to electronic.
The execution of online bills varies dramatically from company to company.
- American Express has the best online account tools. Statements are available for the last six months. Older statements can be requested going back to 1994 and become online within a few days. The statements are available as PDFs and look pretty much like the paper bills.
- Bank of America offers a choice of PDF or text statements. Go with the PDF.
- Chase offers up to six years of statements online — if you turn off paper statements. Otherwise, you get up to six months. Statements are also in PDF format.
- Citi has the worst online statements. The online statements don’t include all of the information that paper bills have and aren’t in an easily savable format. I’m sticking with paper statements until they improve.
You can also choose to get reminders a few days before your bill is due.
The biggest problem with online statements is that they don’t come to you. Because email is an insecure medium, you only get an email that there is a statement available to review online. You then have to go to the Web site to review the statement. This is a significant obstacle and inconvenience for many people. This is made even harder with the increasing “security” measures used by bank sites. (More on that later.)
It amazes me that 15 years after I started using email, it’s less secure than paper mail. It should be possible to get secure, tamper-proof, phish-proof email that includes sensitive personal information. I should be able to get the PDF emailed to me.
As much concentration as there is in the email business, the big email providers can make this happen. They just need to decide to work together to hammer out a system that works and dramatically improves email for all instead of focusing their efforts on marginal improvements to their individual products.