Sunday, September 21, 2008

Green is a complex color

We talk about environmentally-friendly "green" design in my classes fairly often. One of my classmates is pursuing a thesis topic devoted to recycling. Another classmate literally yells at us almost every time a plastic bottle or soda can ends up in the trash instead of the recycling bin (we don't actually have a recycling bin in our new studio, so his desk has taken on that job now).

It's a topic of some conflict for designers. On the one hand, designers tend to hail from the artist crowd and are by and large idealists. On the other hand, it is their job to make new stuff and, in so doing, contribute to both consumerism and the waste that follows. It's hard to reconcile "green" with that kind of work. So we talk about it and argue about it and generally try to figure it out as we go.

This discussion is helped in part by an increasing consumer demand for "green" and the resulting increase in industry attempts to meet that demand. The problem is that it's a complex issue, and no one really likes complexity. They want a rubber stamp that tells them whether a product is good or not (the healthy food trend faces the same issues). It's the metrics problem all over again. People want an easy measure, but there isn't one. There are tradeoffs. There are always tradeoffs. An ability to deal with that truth is what separates "design" from "whimsy."

Also, there's profit to be made in "green" now and that muddies the waters a bit. Companies produce new products, slap a green label on them, and watch the other kind of green come rolling in, regardless of how environmentally friendly they really are. This kind of opportunism only adds to undercurrents of distrust that already exist. One of the trends my classmate has found in her thesis work is that people are often skeptical of the quality of "green" products. Her mother, for instance, won't buy cleaning products that are labeled "green" because she assumes they don't work (whether there is truth to this, I cannot say). Companies that use "green" as an excuse to overcharge aren't helping any.

Sarah and I do what we can. We recycle everything, even the stuff our apartment complex doesn't. We use our own bags for groceries and we try to avoid other areas of waste, no matter how small. For instance, if we're eating at a fast food place, we skip the straws and the plastic lids for our cups. The classmate that yells about recycling gave us this idea. It's not much, a little less plastic to throw away, but it's part of our overall attempt to think about our impact and to consistently reduce it wherever we can. It's the consistency that gets tricky. Recycling everything means we have to drive our stuff to the county recycling center some distance away, using a fair amount of gas in the process. It's a tradeoff, but we try to wait as long as possible and take care of other errands in that region at the same time to minimize the impact. We also try not to get complacent ("It's okay for me to just toss this TV set because I'm already environmentally conscious; I don't use straws.")

It's not easy and we probably goof up as much as we get right, but we''ll keep trying. I'll pay close attention to what emerges in my classmate's thesis.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I don't know why I bother...

Clearly my brother does not need me to promote him... he does just fine on his own.

This was last week. Next week he's going to a bikini pageant party. Seriously.

I can't tell you how happy I am that he's the one in charge of my bachelor party.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Shiny ... and not much else ... yet

Google has introduced their new web browser, Chrome. I spent some time playing with it recently and figured I'd pass on the results of my experiment. Nothing formal, or even all that prolonged, but I have at least started to poke around.

So here goes: It's not for me (yet), but it might be for you.

I say this because what they do, they do well, but they're not yet letting anyone else tinker under the hood. They've got tabs down. They paid attention to what everyone else was doing with tabs and learned from it. The search bar/address bar combination is brilliant and intuitive. Bookmarks are easy and they take full advantage of the tagging concept to really make them useful. All three of these things are positive iterations of what Firefox has been doing all along (and what Explorer has been attempting to copy). There are also upgrades to the download process, the url display, and numerous other tweaks and improvements

It's actually not a significant leap from what Firefox 3 does. It's tighter and cleaner in several places, but in general both Mozilla and Google seemed to have spotted the same opportunities for browser improvement. If I were just using Firefox 3, I'd make the switch because there are enough little improvements (from my perspective) that it would be worth the cost of transition (and absolutely make the switch if you're still using Internet Explorer).

I don't just use Firefox 3, however, I use Firefox 3 plus Add-ons. See Mozilla is open to improvements, they let users create content that improves or adds to the existing functionality of their browser (crowdsourcing is a fascinating topic for another time). I've mentioned several of the ones I use before. Chief amongst these is Delicious which introduced the whole bookmark-tagging idea that Chrome so effectively emulates (and which Firefox added to their arsenal in 3). The difference, as it applies to my browser use, is that I surf the web on at least three different computer systems (my home PC, my work laptop, and my classroom system). Delicious lets me keep the same set of bookmarks across all three systems and, as you'll see if you visit, I've built up quite a selection. Firefox lets me use those bookmarks directly in the browser thanks to the Delicious addon. Chrome does not yet support such cross-machine interaction (as far as I can tell). So to use Chrome, I'd have to start my bookmark setup all over again, without the benefit of importing things, and I'd have to do it for each computer that I use. That doesn't sound like much fun.

Additionally, I have an addon that blocks advertisements pretty effectively, an addon that automatically copies whatever text I highlight, and a more recent addon called Better Gmail 2 that improves the interface for my email. Some of the options are superfluous, but there are a few (like the one that lets me see what type of file is attached to an email before I read it) that are pretty handy.

If Google ever permits an addon structure with their browser, I'll revisit it. Were I to switch to Chrome at this point, however, I'd have to do without a great deal of the functionality I have come to depend upon in Firefox.

Also, Firefox's addon feature means I'm not missing much. There are already addons that imitate (or, in some cases, inspired) much of what Chrome does, right down to the look.

Final recommendation:
If you haven't added anything to your existing browser, check Chrome out.
If you're using addons, however, you should probably wait until Chrome let's you bring them over.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

On Frightening Things

Being a thoughtful man, I spend a lot of time, you know, thinking. Sometimes I think about school and homework. Sometimes I think about girls my fiancee. But I don't spend all my time thinking about pleasant things. I intend to live forever but I am aware that there are several forces that might impede my efforts to achieve this goal. So I also spend time thinking about my fears, partly because I cannot avoid it, but partly also because I know that in facing my fears I may better prepare myself for the day they are realized.

I share my fears with you now.

The undead are a pretty frightening bunch in general. It's sort of their purpose in (un)life. I have a special concern just for zombies, though. This is odd, considering that I enjoy zombie movies, zombie video games, and even zombie books. Perhaps that can be considered an attempt to face this fear, to learn as much about it, so that should a zombie situation arise I will not succumb to panic. And indeed, considering the various advice and tactics I have studied, I believe I will be able to handle myself in such an emergency. Yet still I worry, and I believe it to be justified. Zombies are trouble. We're talking about an enemy that never stops coming (even vampires sleep, and there's that three week window when a werewolf is just another hairy guy), that is completely immune to pain or fear, that cannot be reasoned with, and that can, with a single bite, not just destroy you, but convert you into one of their own (a two man swing for the enemy). If they weren't also slow and stupid we wouldn't stand a chance. As it is, our chances are pretty slim. So yeah, fear the zombies.

While zombies typify the unstoppable enemy, these guys are the consumate predator. They're fast, they're smart, and they cooperate - more than can be said for a lot of human enemies. They can run faster, leap farther, and track better than just about any other carnivore. Also, they have lots of sharp points they like to stick in their prey. They're vulnerable to things like electric fences and tranquilizer darts, but how many of you own anything like that?

I wasn't afraid of robots until I saw the commercial that explained how they like to kill old people for their medicine. It is my stated goal to live forever, which means I'll eventually be a really old person. So while they may not be much of a threat to me now, I figured it's prudent to prepare for the time when they are.

Some aliens are nice and use weird hand gestures to wish you wealth and a long life. Most, however, are not so friendly. Some like to hunt humans for sport. Some lay their eggs in us. Some just think we're a tasty treat. Even the ones that want to mate with us don't really mean us well (unless you're Kirk, that mating process rarely works out for the humans). Sure there's the occasional A.L.F. or Mork, but your odds of meeting that kind of alien are not good.

Fear Itself
The man who most publicly identified this particular fear even went so far as to claim that it is the only thing worth fearing. I, obviously, don't entirely agree (clearly he never met a zombie) but fear itself is definitely worthy of our respect. Considering that it can cause you to freeze in place when confronted by something trying to harm you, that it can induce various forms of stupidity and self-destruction, I'd say yes, fear itself is a thing worth fearing.

And finally, the worst of them all, the thing I fear most in this world:
Zombie Velociraptor Robot Aliens
I cannot even begin to describe the kind of terror these inspire. Forget fire and ice, THIS is the way the world ends. Gah, I don't even want to talk about it. I shouldn't have written this entry. I'm going to have nightmares for weeks now.