The Opposing Forces of Consumerism

I listened to the audiobook of Adam Minter’s Junkyard Planet recently. It’s quite an eye-opening look into what happens to much of our waste, the stuff that gets recycled anyway. The phrase ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ stuck with me (although it’s not new).

To counter the growing amount of waste the world generates we should first reduce, i.e. buy fewer things; second reuse, either ourselves or hand off to someone else who can reuse the item for its original purpose; and only then recycle.

Anyone who has seen the huge amounts of toxic chemicals both required and produced in recycling much of our waste (especially e-waste) can obviously understand why, not to mention the growing pressures with dealing with our waste in general.

toxic waste in living color

The problem is that our economies are built on continual demand for new things. When consumer demand dropped after the financial crash it threw most of the world into chaos. It’s been a long haul back to where we were and we’re not there yet.

So how do you balance these two opposing forces? On the one hand we need to buy less, and on the other we must continue to buy or many businesses will cease to function (and their associated jobs will go). Continue reading

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Amazon ♥ Indies

Amazon (US) have opened a store for Mac and PC games from independent developers. The Indie Games storefront spotlights games from independent developers, as well as offering special deals and information on game development.

I’m not really a gamer, I’ve played a few in my time but I’d barely register as a casual gamer, and I always preferred my PC to a console. As such I don’t know what you’d class as an indie game, or if there was an issue with ‘discoverability’ before (a lot of indie developers seem to think there was).

Like most of us, I’ve seen the headline grabbing grand standing of the latest Halo launch and the cultural infiltration of Angry Birds. The fact that so many hits have come from Facebook, mobile platforms and the web suggested the little guys had finally found a way to market, or at least reduced the cost of development. The problem is, they’re typically for mobile platforms, which isn’t where hardcore gamers are.

So my guess is that Amazon’s play here is to follow its success in self-published ebooks, only with a bit more curation (looks like you have to qualify as an indie first). It’s obvious that there’s plenty of money to be made by independent games, and now Amazon wants to be the place to find them, again cutting out publishers/studios.

What’s interesting is it seems to be limited to Mac and PC games, though they already offer games for their Kindle tablets via the Amazon Appstore for Android. While mobile platforms seem to grab the headlines, the market for consoles is still vast, and with updates to the two big names due later this year, they’ll be around for a while to come yet. Continue reading

What Now for Hardware Vendors?

PC sales are down, way down, and falling. At least, typical PC sales (I tend to agree with the view that tablets can be classed as PCs) and, while I doubt we’ll ever see the end of desktop computing, that market is going to continue to shrink. For now, tablets may fill the void, but they’ll give way to smartphone all-in-one devices at some point.

This drop in sales isn’t news to most people, but I was surprised to find that it’s not just desktops and laptops, server sales are in decline as well. You’d think that with the rise of web and cloud services, along with the general return to client-server style architecture, they’d be on the up.

The problem is that, while everyone used to buy their own servers, one for each job/role, over-buying on the specs to ensure future-proofing, perhaps even buying a backup device, more and more people are opting for virtualisation (it’s estimated that by 2014 as much as 70% of new servers could be virtual). That means fewer boxes as the resources of one machine can be used to serve multiple tasks.

Added to this is the fact that the big boys (Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc) are building their own hardware, and allow people to buy those services as and when they need it, rather than having hardware sitting idle for most of its life.

It’s not just about better utilisation though, we’ve reached the point where we have more than enough computing power to do the majority of tasks. In fact, as far as desktop PCs are concerned, we probably reached that point several years ago. That’s part of the reason for the growth in tablets: the relatively little processing power they possess is more than capable. Continue reading

Wet Shave Economics

I don’t wet shave every day, not because I don’t need to shave every day, but because I alternate with an electric shaver, partly for speed and partly to give my skin a rest.  There’s no denying the wet shave is much better though.

I’m a fan of the Gillette Mach 3 (Turbo or otherwise, not really that bothered). Three blades is plenty to give a close shave and I rarely get any nicks or cuts. I’ve resisted the bombardment of advertising trying to get me to switch to the Fusion, who needs five blades?

As I don’t use it every day, I tend to keep blades for much longer than most guys. Gillette have stated that their ProGlide Fusion blades should last up to five weeks, but real-world experience seems to vary from a week on up. Mine typically go for a few months, though I’ve never actually kept track (and I probably should change them more frequently).

As such you’d think the price of a pack of blades would be less important to me, but I still begrudge paying it. A four-pack of Mach 3 ‘cartridges’ will run you over £6, while a pack of eight comes in at around £11. Blade cartridges can cost the equivalent of several pounds each, yet apparently cost about 10p to manufacture (no wonder Gillette can afford to advertise so much!).

The Subscription Model

To be fair, I could go with Amazon’s subscribe and save, which would give me slightly better pricing. There’s also a rising number of subscription services for razor blades. Continue reading

Increasing Your Functional Size

The BBC posted a great article about how Estonia has embraced technology to overcome its relatively small size, this extract about/from President Toomas Hendrik sums it up nicely:

There’s a story from his time in the US that he is fond of telling. He read a book whose “Luddite, neo-Marxist” thesis, he says, was that computerisation would be the death of work.

The book cited a Kentucky steel mill where several thousands of workers had been made redundant, because after automatisation, the new owners could produce the same amount of steel with only 100 employees.

“This may be bad if you are an American,” he says. “But from an Estonian point of view, where you have this existential angst about your small size – we were at that time only 1.4 million people – I said this is exactly what we need.

“We need to really computerise, in every possible way, to massively increase our functional size.”

I’ve been thinking along similar lines about the future of the UK. We’re much bigger than Estonia, but a relatively small global player, and due to get smaller as numerically larger countries become more developed. Continue reading

Steal this Idea: Mass-Produced Tailored Clothing

I was reading an article about how technology is creeping into the world of clothes shopping, or at least fitting rooms, when I hit a familiar wisdom: “But a size 10 in one shop can easily be a size 14 in another.”

We’ve been able to reduce the cost of clothes by producing them to a generic pattern in a range of sizes. That enables mass production and automation. The problem is that they’ll rarely fit the person who buys them perfectly.

What we could all do with is custom-made clothes, tailored to fit our bodies.

The sizes and shapes clothes are currently designed to are an average of a sample of body measurements. To make clothes fit each individual you would first need to get detailed measurements from each person. Continue reading

The XP Subscription Model

The venerable Windows XP operating system is due to be completely retired in April 2014. First introduced back in 2001, it has stood the test of time, with many people still happily using it and holding a significant market share.

Microsoft obviously wants to move on and doesn’t want to support code that’s now well over a decade old. For many consumers XP is good enough though. Some are so familiar with it that the massive changes in Windows 8 forces them up a significant learning curve (and it’s an OS that has been criticised for its lack of usability).

So why keep turning over new operating systems? Apple’s OS X has been around about as long as XP and has required very few changes to the interface in that time. My suspicion is that, as one of Microsoft’s big earners, they need to keep producing new versions so consumers and businesses will keep buying them.

So I’m proposing an alternative revenue model for Microsoft, so they can keep updating XP into the future: subscriptions. It seems to be the way they’re going anyway, so why not offer existing XP users a £12 a year (£1 a month) subscription to keep XP? I’d guess you’re looking at millions of existing users, so while that doesn’t sound like much, it should be plenty to support a team of developers to keep releasing patches and updates.