The future of paper

Seth’s Blog: Do you own trees?

Many businesses act as if they have a stake in their suppliers and other vendors. Instead of scaling the part of their business that can move quickly and well, they defend the part they don’t even own.

Many in the music industry are figuring out that there are new ways to make money. As Techdirt says, every aspect of the music business is growing rapidly except the sale of plastic discs with music on them. And Godin says, “there are more people reading more news every day than ever before”. He doesn’t substantiate his claim, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. And then he talks about the book industry.

I worry about my esteemed friends in the book publishing industry as well. The amazing thing about the Times story today was the report that the mood at BEA was ‘unease’ about ebooks. The fastest-growing, lowest cost segment of the business, the one that offers the most promise, the best possible outcome and has the best results… is causing unease!

This is what hits closest to home for me. I like to maintain that I have a book or two in me somewhere that will come out eventually. But I look at the industry of selling pieces of paper with words on them and I think it’s in trouble. It hasn’t happened yet because no one has made the book equivalent of the iPod (No, you didn’t do it, Amazon. The Kindle is kind of cool, but not there yet), but ebooks WILL be better than books. It’s inevitable. We’ll all miss the feel of paper in our hands, but we’ll get over it because of all the things you’ll be able to do with electronic words that you couldn’t with paper ones. And since the marginal cost of producing an additional copy of an ebook is nothing, the price of ebooks must go to zero in an efficient market. Sure, the book industry can go down the same route as the music industry did and put artificial barriers in place to drive up prices. But that kind of an industry can’t last for long. It’s economically inefficient, and it’s insulting to the customer who just wants not to be treated like a criminal. So, how do we get authors to write more books? Sure, JK Rowling can make money without selling paper books. The top authors in the world, and some who hit small but dedicated niches, and some other authors in special situations will all make money. But what is the equivalent of concert tickets in the book industry? Speaking engagements? That might work for a few, but not for most. I don’t know the answer. I don’t know how we can replace the paper book industry with the ebook industry. I wish I did, because I’d be in good position to make a lot of money.

Best Buy electronics recycling comes to Columbia Heights!

Via Gizmodo, our new local Best Buy in Columbia Heights is part of the free electronics recycling test.

Starting June 1, 117 stores in the Baltimore, San Francisco, and Minnesota markets are inviting customers to bring in no more than two (2) units per day, per household, for recycling at no charge. Customers can bring items such as televisions and monitors up to 32”, computers, phones, cameras, and other electronics devices and peripherals in for recycling.

This is really great for DC residents, because while the dump does take electronics to be recycled, my one experience there ended with a never-ending line that I soon abandoned. And now the old and busted computer sitting in the trunk of my car can finally have a new home!

People aren’t dumb, just bad at judging actual cost

High gas prices driving small car sales

The trend proves again what we already knew – that people respond to events that hit their wallet, not their conscience.

High gas prices driving small car sales Shocker – with gas getting more and more expensive, people are buying more small cars. While I agree with the above-quoted statement, I think what it really gets at is that people are inherently rational. We just aren’t always good at judging value. It goes well beyond over-valuing brand new Lincoln Navigators with 22″ chrome wheels and heated massage chairs while under-valuing small, efficient, reliable cars. Now, I know that I tend to over-value that feeling of smug self-satisfaction when I walk to work or take the bus home, laughing at the schmucks who drive two hours into Nowhereville, VA. But I also know that a lot of them over-value the sixth bedroom and second acre their house is on as they give up twenty hours a week commuting. Anyway, I hope GM an Ford can figure things out before the European and Japanese and Korean car manufacturers swoop in and totally wipe out the American manufacturers, who seem to have mortgaged their future on the mistaken idea that people would continue to buy high-profit SUVs forever. I hope that GM and Ford can quickly change with the gas prices, and perhaps bring some of the cars they make for overseas markets to the States as the demand changes. But I have to say I’m not that optimistic.

Alternative means of transportation

As some of you may know, I drive out to Falls Church for work every day. As I go down 14th Street NW in the morning, I look fondly at the bike path, trying to ignore the frequently double-parked cars, right turners, and other obstacles, and imagine biking to work. How smug I would be, getting some exercise, some fresh air, shrinking my carbon footprint. I mean, in terms of yuppie street cred, commutes go something like this, in increasing order of smugness:

  1. Drive
  2. Carpool
  3. Metro
  4. Long bus ride
  5. Metro from a “sketchy” stop like Brookland or Navy Yard
  6. Telework
  7. Full time grad student (Only if you’re at least 4 years older than most of your classmates)
  8. Short bus ride
  9. Walk
  10. Bike
    I was thinking, though, how much longer it would take to bike than drive. And then I passed a guy on a bike. I passed him around P St, or maybe T. I thought to myself how it must take him forever to get to work. I wondered if I had that kind of dedication. And then, I got stuck at the light at N St. And he passed me. The light changed, and I nearly caught him, but then he was off as I waited at the light at the circle. I lost track of him after that.

I hate facts. And physics.

Forbes | Blues for Greens I was at the doctor’s yesterday for a routine checkup (Everything is fine, thanks – doctor says I’m healthy) and I saw this article in Forbes magazine. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything in a reputable publication that was so divorced from reality. Well, maybe Fox News. Which is reputable for some value of reputable.

Solving the energy problem is easy if you pay no attention to the laws of physics. That’s the wonder of the U.S. Congress. To pass is easy; to achieve is something else. This is where I break your green heart. Americans know that Congress passed a law ordering all cars and trucks to average 35 miles to the gallon by 2020. It won’t happen.

Writing snarky opinion articles for Forbes is easy if you pay no attention to facts.

But there’s just no way anyone subject to the laws of physics and automobile engineering can get a 5,000-pound pickup, or any mass-produced, reasonably priced sport utility near that weight, up to 35mpg.

Is anyone suggesting that should happen? Let us hop on over to the NHTSA and see what CAFE standards REALLY mean.

Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) is the sales weighted average fuel economy, expressed in miles per gallon (mpg), of a manufacturer’s fleet of passenger cars or light trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 8,500 lbs. or less, manufactured for sale in the United States, for any given model year.

So, that means that if I’m Car Company A, and I want to sell some gigantic SUVs that get 6 MPG and not pay CAFE fines, I can just sell a bunch of little fuel-efficient cars and balance out my fleet average. Wow! That was easy. By the way, I have no idea which particular laws of physics he’s referring to. I think perhaps it might be Archimedes’ Third Law of Big Honkin’ Trucks, which states: SUVs get bad mileage. It might also be something discovered by Georg Ohm, better known for his work with electricity and resitance and whatnot: As the size of the truck approaches 5,000 pounds, the fuel economy (in miles per gallon) approaches some arbitrary number that is most definitely less than 35. It’s probably, like, 12. Maybe 13. There might be other laws being violated, too, but I’m not a physicist, and can’t possibly be bothered to look anything up before I share my opinions with the world.

The best way to increase fuel economy (and reduce greenhouse gases, too) is to reduce the weight and engine size of the vehicles. Congress could pass a law ordering that no car weigh more than 1,750 pounds (a Toyota (nyse: TM – news – people ) Camry is in the 3,200-pound range), no truck weigh more than 2,500 pounds and no engine run more than 75 horsepower. Most Americans couldn’t fit in such cars, but they would average 35mpg.

Okay, I don’t honestly know what the best way to increase fuel economy is, but there is ABSOLUTELY NO WAY that this is it.

The U.S. could also lower the speed limit to 40 miles per hour nationally. That would do it, too, since engines would shrink, and air resistance is a lot lower at 40 than at 60.

Air resistance? AIR RESISTANCE? Is this man honestly telling me that he thinks that air resistance is the primary cause of bad fuel economy? Maybe we should ban air. He says some more stupid things about biofuels that I’m not going to get into. I actually agree with him that mandating more production of corn-based ethanol is a bad idea. However, I’m pretty sure this agreement is just coincidence – I don’t want to mandate more corn-based ethanol because we’re already starting to see problems stemming from this practice, and because corn is a stupid thing to make ethanol from. He doesn’t want to mandate it because OMG PHYSICS!!!! What makes this article even more ridiculous is that there are arguments to be made against setting CAFE standards. One could argue that these regulations hurt the automobile industry by interfering with the natural supply and demand. One could argue that it’s not the responsibility of the auto industry to force people into smaller, more efficient cars. One could argue that this unfairly targets American auto manufacturers, who focus more on the big, heavy, inefficient vehicles, and therefore helps the Japanese and Korean manufacturers, who tend to make smaller cars. One could argue many more things, and I would say, “Yes, you have a point”. Then I would proceed to talk to you about changing habits (Driving less, living closer to work, promoting walking and public transportation). I would talk to you about changes in technology (Do you really have such little regard for American ingenuity that you can’t imagine a breakthrough technology?). But this guy didn’t make any of these points. He just made up some “facts” and then complained about the big bad government pandering to the whining of California hippies.

Battery standardization – probably not going to happen

Green Cell Eco-Concept: One Battery For All

Green Cell is a concept with a single simple idea: use safe, standardized rechargeable batteries in all portable gadgets.

I’ve argued this before – it’s ridiculous that every single portable device uses it’s own battery and charger. Even within the same company they often aren’t compatible. Nokia used to do it with their 5000 series cell phones, but I think they’ve gotten away from it. Anyway, this would be really cool if it happened. I don’t think it will, but it would be cool.

And my next car will be . . .

Volkswagen to Introduce 70 mpg Diesel-Electric Hybrid Golf

Channel 4 writes: “The technology will be used in a number of Volkswagen Group models, including the Jetta saloon [sedan] – which sells in greater numbers in the US than the ‘Rabbit’ – and the Audi A3.”

Okay, I don’t care about the Jetta and the Rabbit, but a 70 MPG Audi A3 is really, really hot. I’ve loved the A3 ever since I first saw one, walking from the train station in London to the house where my sister-in-law and her family were living. We passed an Audi dealer, and every time we went by, there were a couple of A3s sitting out front (Sexy right-hand-drive models, of course). I was thrilled when they decided to bring them over to the States, and now am even more thrilled at the prospect of 70 MPG. Especially if we can get some nice biodiesel stations in the area (I know, fat chance, but I’m dreaming here). Now I just have to convince the wife that 1) We need a new car 2) We can afford an Audi and 3) We can’t afford NOT to get a biodiesel hybrid Audi. Any suggestions?

Still nothing all that cool in alternative energy for transportation

The Reality of Greener Transportation « Earth2Tech

Chanaron writes that the growth in hybrids across US car manufacturers, “is based more on customer perception triggered by very clever marketing and communication campaigns than on pure rationale scientific arguments.”

One of my problems with all the new more efficient cars and trucks on the road now is that we haven’t had anything truly revolutionary. The Prius deserves some credit for being the first real success in the industry, but the thing still gets under 50 mpg. If I’m going to drive an automatic-only vehicle that looks as ridiculous as the Prius, it better be getting some really ground-breaking mileage.

That’s a big reason why my technique of using less gas is to walk and take public transportation. Our Mazda 3 gets 23-28 mpg on average, depending on what kind of driving we’re doing.  And it’s still fun to drive.  We try and make up for the difference in fuel efficiency by only using it when we really have to.  My first choice is almost always to take the Metro or bus.  And I expect it to stay that way until there’s a real solution to personal transportation, which doesn’t sound like it’s imminent.

BP may be getting less green

BP’s Profits Lag Behind its Oil Peers « Earth2Tech

And while BP has made suggestions that it’s been moving away from the company’s renewable energy division, weaker profits could mean an even paler shade of green for BP.

Well, that sucks. I go to BP whenever possible because of their reputation on environmental issues. Pretty disappointing to see that their competitors, who seem to care very little about the environment, are making record profits again.

Note: I changed the title of this post from “BP maybe . . .” to “BP may be”. I’m not sure that the first choice was actually incorrect, but I do think that this way is better. Your views may differ, and feel free to correct me if you want. I may or may not listen to you.