Posts: 12

The problem with preaching personal responsibility to save the environment

One of the things that bug me the most about the frankly amazing increase in environmental awareness and the pressure put on governments, is the focus on "personal responsibility", meaning the contribution each one of us can make to save our planet.

Granted, it makes sense for every single person to do everything they possibly can to put less strain on the environment, and personally I'm trying to do my part as well. For example by not using my car for grocery shopping anymore.
I also don't doubt the concept of social proof, to show others that living a comfortable life without being destructive is possible.

Still, I find it concerning that "personal responsibility" is what a lot of media organisations and governments present as the best possible way to reduce CO2 emissions and help the environment. These increasingly feel like attempts to place the blame for environmental deterioration on the shoulders of consumers, when the big polluters are a few large corporations. The following comic by Alex Norris encapsulates the issue brilliantly:

Comic by Alex Norris (@dorrismccomics on Twitter)

I recently saw a tweet that I sadly cannot find anymore which neatly juxtaposed two articles in the Guardian about helping the environment. Luckily I remembered the headlines:

19 Jan 2017, Chris Goodall:
How to reduce your carbon footprint

10 July 2017, Tess Riley:
Just 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions, study says

Climate change and the catastrophies it's going to bring with it is a given and we're feeling the effects already (although not as much as people in developing countries). Doing one's part to reduce carbon emissions, waste, and other factors of driving our planet over the cliff, is undeniably important and a good thing to do.
What mustn't happen, though, is big corporations directing focus towards personal responsibility when they practice none and continue destroying the planet. We have hold the polluters and the institutions enabling them accountable.

One of the things I enjoy about working remotely

One of the founders of the company I've been working for since late 2013 recently posted this article into our company chat:

10 years of remote working. This is what I have learned so far.
by Martín Pérez

For anyone considering working remotely or already doing so, it should be an interesting and potentially illuminating read. I've been thinking about this same topic a lot in recent months and I'm no stranger to the challenges of this kind of work style. The day after I read the article, however, I experienced once again one of the things that I love about working from home:

I had slept badly the night before, hardly getting any rest and felt mentally exhausted and slow. At some point, after realising that I had just looked up a word in a German–English dictionary that I had just written in an email moments before, I said to myself, "Fuck it!"  
So I closed down my computer (it was 14:00), put on some sports clothing, and did a 30-minute high intensity interval training. After that, properly physically exhausted, I took a shower, ate a light meal, prepared and drank a big mug of coffee, and had a coffee nap. This bit of self care then allowed me to continue work for the next four hours fully concentrated and focused.

The freedom to structure my work day how I need, taking into account my strengths, weaknesses, habits, and the simple fact that I'm human, is a massive advantage of working remotely in my book.

Reducing my utilization of Amazon products, step 3

After cancelling my Amazon Prime membership and making efforts not to shop on if at all possible, and having changed the way I handle Audible audiobooks, the last two pieces of the puzzle concerned my Kindle.

These two pieces for me are: 1. letting go of the Kindle and finding a different device/app to read ebooks and 2. finding a new source for ebooks in the future.

With the lessons I learned in dealing with Audible audiobooks and making them easier to use for me across all of my devices, getting Kindle ebooks into a state allowing me to untether from the Kindle itself was quite easy and a personal use backup of my entire library of Kindle ebooks was quickly set up.  

There are many good ways to read ebooks and my current choice is the Books app on iOS devices. I‘m happy with the reading experience and should I want an E Ink display again in the future, there are a good number of E Ink-based ePub format-compatible eReaders that are close enough in display resolution and hardware quality to the Kindle Paperwhite.

Obtaining ebooks is a different, less headache-inducing matter. Unlike audiobooks, where Amazon has a de facto monopoly with Audible, ebooks are regulated differently in Germany: we have a fixed book price that applies to (e)books, which mitigates competition based on price in the German market and prevents absolute market dominance from Amazon. With price differences not being a consideration, there's a wealth of places to buy ebooks from.  

There is a catch, though: outside of the Kindle store many publishers insist on ineffective and reader-hostile Adobe DRM. I'm going to try to favour those that either don‘t use DRM at all or simply add a watermark to ebooks. Still, Adobe DRM isn‘t more difficult to handle than Kindle DRM and not buying from Amazon is big enough of a benefit for me to tolerate Adobe DRM for a moment after purchase.

I‘ve already bought two ebooks in the online shop of my book retailer around the corner and getting them into Apples Books app was a breeze. I‘m going to sell my Kinde Paperwhite in the next few days.

Reducing my utilization of Amazon products, step 2

Back in January, I cancelled my Amazon Prime membership, beginning a process to reduce the number of Amazon services I use. About a month in, I have missed neither Prime Video nor the Prime shipping options. For shopping I've used both Google Shopping and to find online shops with good prices, fast shipping, and sensible return policies.

Audible was going to be more challenging to let go of — and I suspected this beforehand. The search for alternatives yielded almost nothing viable for the following reasons:

  1. Audible have a de facto monopoly on audio book sales.
  2. Audible are the largest producer of audio books and they sell exclusively in their own shop.
  3. Prices for audio books outside of Audible are close to prohibitive.

While this means that I won't be able to let go of Amazon for obtaining audio books, there is a silver lining that lets me claim a partial victory:

Getting the media fully under my control is easy, almost trivially so.
Yes, Audible files have copy protection but in the end the AAX file type they're using is just a slightly modified M4B (MPEG-4 Audio Book) file, which in turn is just an AAC audio file with some extras like support for chapter markers.
With a tiny bit of work, I managed to get a personal use backup of the Audible files into Apple's Books app on my iPhone and even onto an old iPod (both using iTunes, of course). Now I won't have to worry about Audible's copy protection locking me out of the media I bought if their licensing servers go down or the company goes under.

Next step: Kindle eBooks…

Reducing my utilization of Amazon products, step 1

I just cancelled my Amazon Prime membership.

As for so many other people, using Amazon's consumer facing services has started to leave a bad taste in my mouth, seeing how atrociously they treat warehouse staff, the negative impact their business has on the delivery drivers of various logistics companies, and the myriad of other small or large bad things this company is doing or is complicit in because it makes them money.

A few weeks ago I received an email telling me that the credit card Amazon had on file for Prime membership payments was no longer valid and to update the payment settings lest I want to lose my Prime benefits by 12 January 2019.
The holidays gave me some time to think about how many of Amazon's services I use daily and consciously and I found that it was too many. Ignoring Amazon services I use by proxy, like AWS servers, here goes:

  • and Amazon Marketplace for shopping
  • Amazon Prime for fast shipping
  • Amazon Prime Video for streaming
  • Amazon Kindle for reading ebooks
  • Amazon's Audible for audio books.

With cancelling my Amazon Prime membership, I'm losing access to Prime shipping and Prime Video. Since I've started reducing the amount of things I buy on or through Amazon about a year ago, the former isn't too much of a loss for me. When streaming through Amazon Prime, my partner and I have used her Prime account anyway, so there's no loss for me there, either, until she makes a decision regarding her Amazon Prime account. This could happen sooner rather than later because we use Netflix much more than Prime Video.

It's going to be interesting to see how easy it'll be eschewing shopping on entirely and choosing different online shops but I'm not worried about this. The more difficult task will be finding proper replacements for getting ebooks comfortably and finding a good ereader for them. Finding a replacement for Audible will be similarly difficult. And with the latter two there's also the problem of DRM for the things I've already bought on the platforms.

Pilotless planes and the myth of passing on savings to consumers

The Verge has a short article up on pilotless planes, a study about consumer acceptance of pilotless planes, and the economic effects: Pilotless planes could save airlines billions, but passengers don’t want to fly in them yet

I thought about this a bit and I realised that I'd actually be willing and curious to be a passenger on a pilotless plane.

This passage, though:

UBS believes passengers could then see these savings passed down to them in the form of reduced fares, assuming there is no additional cost for flying pilotless and airlines don’t retain the benefits.

Really? Passing on savings to consumers. Really?

Let's ignore the development costs for this type of change that need to be recuperated; when was the last time you've seen publicly traded companies pass down savings to consumers?

There's nothing wrong with making a profit and once this technology is mature enough to confidently and securely transport people, by all means, make a profit. I just think that we all shouldn't lie to ourselves and think that there will be a financial benefit for anyone but these companies.

Which, ultimately, shows us that the core message of this article can be found in the first part of the title:
"Pilotless planes could save airlines billions"

Profile of accessory maker Anker on The Verge

The Verge published a profile of accessory maker Anker yesterday, written by Nick Statt.

I've been using their accessories—battery packs, Lightning cables, chargers—for a few years now and from the beginning I was very impressed by the quality Anker is able to deliver at less than half the price of Apple and established accessory manufacturers.

This article is a really interesting read about the origins and philosophy of the company.

How Anker is beating Apple and Samsung at their own game — The Verge

When a juicer isn't a juicer — a story of Silicon Valley hubris

The Verge has a really funny article up, about Juicero, the USD 700 USD 400 Wi-Fi-connected "juicer". The story behind and around this thing is utterly ridiculous and funny, especially once you realise that investors were convinced this is a good idea. Go ahead, read the article and watch the video; it's worth it for the laughs:

Turns out Juicero’s ludicrous Wi-Fi juicer is even more unnecessary than it sounds — by Jacob Kastrenakes @ The Verge

Calling this device a juicer stretches the term almost past its breaking point:

  • It merely squeezes pre-made juice packs into a glass.
  • It doesn't produce juice from fresh fruit or vegetables.
  • It's impractical because the small juice packs have to be replaced constantly and you have to put a glass beneath it by yourself.
  • It produces a huge amount of non-degradable waste, unlike, you know, an actual juicer.
  • It's not a stretch to assume a real juicer will give you fresher juice and store-bought organic juice is probably just as good.
  • It forces you to buy juice packs from the company behind the Juicero.
  • It's an Internet of Things device for no apparent reason other than to save you from having to push a button when you arrive in the kitchen (hoping that you remembered to put a glass beneath it beforehand).
  • It's probably easily compromised because I can't see a Silicon Valley startup caring about properly securing their IoT devices.
  • It, eventually, creates more problems than it solves and fails at being what it claims: a juicer.

It boggles my mind that this thing was a) thought of as a good idea, b) developed beyond the basic conceptual stage, c) funded (!), and d) made into an actual product you can buy.

Just when I thought I was out, they drag me back in: The Converse Chuck Taylor All Star II

I like Chucks. I used to love them but over the past two years I got fed-up with the quality and pricing of these shoes.

To my knowledge I haven't changed anything about the way I wear them, I didn't gain weight, and I still rarely wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row; but whereas before I knew that a pair of Chucks would last me about 1.5 years, I've had pairs (low top and high top) that only held up a mere six months before they fell apart.
Add to that the fact that a pair of high top Chucks sells for a ridiculous € 75.– in German retail stores (I wrote about this in detail two years ago) while genuine high tops can be had for ~ € 16.– in Beijing (as I was able to see first-hand during a recent trip to China).

These experiences have changed my attitude towards the brand and the product for the worse and caused me to actively look for more durable, comfortable, stylish, and less overpriced alternatives (… to add to my evoked set). There are a couple of sneaker companies out there that make really nice, high-quality sneakers and shoes (Pointer, Boxfresh, Nike, etc.) and over the past two years, I've bought shoes from all of them.

About a week ago Converse/Nike introduced the first major update to this product line in nearly a century, resulting in the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star II. I'm not a sneaker fan, so the initial news/hype about the new version completely passed me by and I only got wind of it when I walked past a sneaker shop in Bonn.

A quick trip to the Converse website revealed the key features: a removable, well-cushioned Lunarlon sockliner (pretty comfortable Nike technology, if you ask me), a padded non-slip tongue that is held in place by two elastic bands, perforated micro suede lining, and Tencel® canvas on the outside, which, from experience, is more durable than cotton and regulates moisture more effectively.

I'm having trouble remembering if there was every time when where there wasn't at least one pair of Chucks in my shoe rack. I always liked that you can combine them with pretty much anything, that they don't look to extravagant and they're timeless shoes at this point. For this reason I decided to give the new version a chance.

My initial impressions after wearing them in a shop in Trier are that the Lunarlon sockliner has the potential to bea lot more comfortable than the footbed of the old version, the canvas feels nice, and the overall workmanship seems to have seen significant improvements, too.
While I'm not sold on the perforated suede and the padded tongue and ankles, the shoes felt so good on my feet that I found myself standing outside the shop 15 minutes later with a box containing these vivid blue high top Chucks in my hands:

Converse Chuck Taylor All Star II

Time and wear will tell whether the overall quality and durability have been improved enough during the redesign, so I'll have an easier time convincing myself that paying € 80.– for a pair of Chucks isn't completely bonkers. Maybe I will even start keeping more than one pair in my shoe rack once again.

Safari in iOS 9 will allow ad-blocking extensions

I just read about this on Apple is going to allow content-blocking extensions in mobile Safari. Android has had this for a while and I was wondering how long it would take Apple to add/allow this kind of technology in iOS. There are many interesting connections to be made here:

One is Apple making clear that iOS can be a viable work platform and Apple is allowing users to remove unwanted distractions. This isn't something only consumers will be interested in but also corporations that deploy iOS devices, when factoring in the potential bandwidth savings when using adblockers on mobile devices. I think it makes a lot of sense in light of Apple's recently established cooperation with IBM and it might convince even more companies to deploy iOS devices (especially because these content-blocking extensions don't have to be limited to ads).

I would also say that Apple sees the potential to improve users' browsing experience and privacy on iOS devices and it says something about Apple's regard, or lack thereof, for the state of advertisments on websites today.

With that in mind, Apple allowing ads in iOS 9's new News app sends a mixed message to content publishers. I'm sure more than one media and ad agency executive will interpret this as, "If you want your readers to see ads and make money off of them, you should really take a look at our News app." or depending on your mindset even, "That's a nice ad business you have there. It would be a shame if something were to happen to it."

From my perspective as a consumer, I don't have much against what Apple is doing here, especially given Apple's history of trying—with an emphasis on trying—to improve ads on mobile devices with their iAds product. The few times I saw iAds in apps and on sites, I found them a lot less annoying than everything else that is out there.
Of course, this will only hold true, if Apple not only mandates design standards for content in the upcoming News app but also for the way ads are presented to a reader.