📰 Inspired Miscellany: A Random Collection of Things I Found of Interest

As I continue to review the collected links, here’s a random collection of articles that I found of interest:

  • Amazon’s streamlined plastic packaging is jamming up recycling centers. One area of interest to me is plastics, and the growing amount of plastics in our waste stream. They are hard to recycle, and even their presence makes things that are normally easy to recycle very difficult (think plastic tape on packaging). This article explores a recent change made by Amazon in their packaging. Amazon is an interesting case, for they require extra packaging as they ship everything. Over the last year, Amazon.com Inc. has reduced the portion of shipments it packs in its cardboard boxes in favor of lightweight plastic mailers, which enable the retailing giant to squeeze more packages into delivery trucks and planes. But environmental activists and waste experts say the new plastic sacks, which aren’t recyclable in curbside recycling bins, are having a negative effect. The problem with the plastic mailers is that they need to be recycled separately, and if they end up in the usual stream, they gum up recycling systems and prevent larger bundles of materials from being recycled.  It’s a really hard question. Cardboard is easier to recycle. But it is heavier, takes up more space, and requires more trucks, which have more environmental impact. Plastic takes less space and less trucks, but is harder to recycle and can contaminate the recycle stream.
  • Why your desk job is so damn exhausting. Think about it: Which is more exhausting: a job that requires physical manual labor, or a desk job behind a computer all day. You would think the former. This articleexplores one of the more hotly contested issues in psychology: What causes mental fatigue? Why is desk work so depleting? It presents the two main hypotheses for why we get so tired from work when we’re not physically active. Hypothesis 1: we get so tired because we deplete an internal store of energy. The problem is, increasingly, psychologists aren’t sure it’s real. Hypothesis 2: we get so tired because our motivation runs out. We become drawn to the things we want to do, rather than the things we have to do. And this tension possibly causes fatigue… and blog posts like this… did I type that with my public fingers?
  • How to Make Your Office More Ergonomically Correct. Here’s another thing that could be making you tired: Your office layout. At the end of last year, I moved offices — meaning a new desk and new monitor support, and it took me a while to make things comfortable. I’m still not 100% sure it is right. This article explores how to ensure that. Remember: About $1 billion a week is spent in the United States to deal with entirely preventable work-related musculoskeletal injuries, many of which are caused by small flaws in body positioning. You can do a surprising amount of damage to your body if you hold parts of it in strange positions for hours at a time, five days a week. But some research suggests that you can also prevent and even reverse damage by engineering your office work environment properly.
  • How to responsibly get rid of the stuff you’ve decluttered. Right now, society is on a decluttering trend. More and more stuff is being removed from closets and houses, and it has to go somewhere. You want it to go to the right place. Last thing you want to do is add it to the trash stream, especially for clothing. This article explores the best way to get rid of different classes of stuff you may be (shall we say) de-accessioning. For us, it will probably be participating in a multi-family estate sale in a few months.
  • Why so many financially independent adults are still on their parents’ phone plans. You would think, as you become financially independent and move out of your parent’s house, that you would financially separate from them. But that doesn’t always happen — and for good reasons. Kids stay on their parent’s health insurance until they are 26 because that’s often much cheaper (especially for insurance you get through work). Often Car Insurance is bundled if it makes financial sense. This article explores the reason that kids are on their parent’s phone plan — and it is often for the same reason: adding an extra line to your phone is much much cheaper than having a separate plan.
  • The periodic tables we almost had. Design is an area that fascinates me. This explores how we got the current design of the periodic table, exploring its evolution over time. It was surprisingly hit and miss, settling down as we began to learn more. But in many ways it is still imprecise, and not an accurate model. I tend to like the “Underground Map of the Elements” m’self.
  • The Aldi effect: how one discount supermarket transformed the way Britain shops. Yes, I know, I’m not in the UK. But this article — which looks at the evolution of Aldi as a market and its expansion into the British market — provides some fascinating insights into the US: especially the difference between Trader Joes (owned by Aldi North), and Aldi (owned by Aldi South). If you don’t know what I mean by Aldi North and Aldi South, you really need to read the article.
  • Community colleges can cost more than universities, leaving neediest students homeless. We’ve all been taught that it is cheaper for students to go to community college than a big university. But what if that is wrong? This article explores why it is wrong — and the answer is interesting. Community colleges do cost less tuition-wise. But because they have lower tuition, they also have lower financial aid — meaning that students get less support in paying for those units. There is also less to no housing aid, meaning students are on their own to find housing. This makes the total cost often higher than a mid-tier state university with aid.
  • Off the chart: the big comeback of paper maps. We often think mapping apps will be the death of paper maps, but that’s not the case. This article explores why. In a time when facts are to be treasured, perhaps paper maps have real significance, recording as they do a version of the truth less susceptible to tampering and fakery. The effects of the digital era on humans’ mental map abilities are becoming apparent. A recent study at the University of Montreal found that some video games that relied on non-spatial strategies could reduce growth in the hippocampus, an all-important region for mental mapping.

 

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📰 🔐 Complexity, Assurance, and Airplanes

Recent tweets from the President have brought the issue of complexity to the front of the news cycle. In response to the second crash of a Boeing 737 Max 8 Jet, the President tweeted:

Airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly. Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT. I see it all the time in many products. Always seeking to go one unnecessary step further, when often old and simpler is far better. Split second decisions are needed, and the complexity creates danger. All of this for great cost yet very little gain. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Albert Einstein to be my pilot. I want great flying professionals that are allowed to easily and quickly take control of a plane!

So is the President right or wrong. Before I answer that, let’s explore the question of complexity and the risk that it brings. Any cybersecurity security expert worth their salt can tell you the three characteristics of a reference monitor:

  1. Always Invoked / Non-Bypassable.
  2. Tamper-proof.
  3. Never eat at a place called “Moms” Small enough to be easily understood and evaluated.

Why is that last point there? Simply, because complexity is the enemy of assurance. We’ve all heard of “feeping creaturism” — the way that software vendors keep adding in features to sell a product while not fixing known problems and making the product more reliable. This is because adding features sells products, while adding assurance does not. But the more and more features and capabilities you put into the code, the less assurance you have in its correctness. Logically, this makes a lot of sense: each feature has multiple inputs and options, each creating a new path through the code, and very quickly it becomes impossible to test all code paths. Simpler code means fewer code paths, meaning more reliability. Complex code means code that wasn’t completely tested in every possible situation, and as Hoare pointed out, once you find the first bug, you have an infinite number.

We are adding more and more complexity to the software we use every day. Remember the Toyota unintended acceleration problem? That turned out to be a software bug (which they claimed was a carpet mat problem, but they updated the software at the same time) from a rare complex interaction. Cars today have even more complex software, what with all the sensors monitoring things for safety. Most of the time these work, but there have been cases where problems have been identified due to software errors. Subaru, in fact, just had a recall to fix the software on the head unit related to the rear camera.

Airplane software is equally complex. When the Airbus Jets first came out, they were revolutionary in that they were “fly-by-wire”. In other words, instead of multiple physical hydraulic lines to control the rudders and wing surfaces, there was an electrical signal that went to the other end of the plane. Many people didn’t trust fly-by-wire and only flew the Boeing. It took multiple flights to convince the public of the safety of the systems, and now all modern jets use fly-by-wire.

So, are airplanes too complex to fly? Airplanes are controlled by software, and that software is very complex. But statistically, airplanes are safer than they were in the days when there were only simple physical controls. Similarly, cars are more complex, but they are statistically safer than vehicles from the 1950s and 1960s.

But that doesn’t mean the complexity doesn’t cause problems. In fact, it looks like Boeing is already adjusting the systems in the Max series: instead of just using one sensor to control nose down, they are using multiple sensors.

Now, let’s go to the second part of Trump’s statement: do you need a computer scientist from MIT to fly a plane? Flying a jet — even an older one like a Boeing 707 — is very different than flying a private two-seater Cessna. The number of systems that must be monitored are immense, and you need a strong understanding of the physics of flight. You don’t need to be a computer scientist — after all, you’re not programming the systems — but you do need to be comfortable with technology and have a strong understanding of physics. Given the choice, you want a pilot with lots of experience (and no mental problems) flying the plane; not a rookie MIT computer scientist. However, you might want that scientist writing the software.

Lastly, there is one other assertion in Trump’s tweet we need to address: “old and simpler is far better.” No, it isn’t. Old and simpler — both in technology and people — cannot grasp the complexity of today’s split second world. You want someone nimble, who truly has a deep understanding of the system. You want someone with years of experience with that technology at the helm.

Yes, those last two sentences were an allusion. As was the point that you need a pilot with no mental problems.

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📰 🔐 Cybersecurity: News and Sausage to Chew Upon

I haven’t done a news chum posts in a while, and the articles of interest are accumulating. So here’s a collection of articles that caught my eye, all dealing with cybersecurity:

  • Password Managers. Recently, there was an article about vulnerabilities related to common password managers, the gist of which was: All password managers are vulnerable to attack. Many people took that as an excuse to trigger their risk aversion, and to run away from password managers. Bad thing to do. The attacks in question all required physical access to the machine in question. Vaults in the cloud were safe. Further, if you had physical access to the machine, then a complicated attack to look at a residual password in a buffer is the least of your worries. This is a clear example of people not understanding the risks. The upshot: Use password managers. They make it so that you have longer, more complex, passwords in use; they also encourage the use of one password, unpredictable, per site. They are much more secure than algorithmic generation by humans, or writing things down.
  • Choosing Good Passwords. Another password related article looked at the surprisingly common password “ji32k7au4a83”. This is a good example of why a password that looks strong might not be. In this case, the password turned out to be the ASCII representation of the characters you get when you type the Chinese for “My Password” on a specific Taiwanese keyboard. I could imagine similar problems for Hangul, or possibly other representations. This is yet another argument for using password generators (I recommend Lastpass, but other good tools are the XKpasswd generator and the nonsense word generator… and for good measure, the username generator from Lastpass, if you don’t want to have the same username everywhere).
  • I Am Not A Robot. Some of us remember the days when everyone used a CAPCHA that required you to recognize letters and enter them in order to prove that you were not a bot. But you don’t see those very much anymore. You may see tests that require you to recognize what is in images, but even those are getting fewer. That’s because it is getting harder and harder to prove you are not a robot, and CAPTCHAs are having trouble catching up. Somedays, it seems that the only thing computers can’t reliably recognize is porn (but then again, neither can humans, and imagine the CAPCHAs). What you do see is a simple checkbox that “I am Not a Robot”. But why does something simple work. There’s actually a great explanation, which involves all the information your browser collects, and all those cookies you don’t think about track, that a bot does not have. Who knew?
  • Forgetting the Past. Recently, Gene Spafford (a grey-beard I know well from the days of USENET) visited the RSA conference. His reaction was very interesting, and reflected the feeling that many of us grey-beards and CBGs and other professional old-codger terms have: the youth of the cyber industry have forgotten what was done in the past. I’ll note that luckily, the people behind the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference haven’t, and we are starting to plan the 2019 Conference (web pages should be updated soon) that will include both new research, and reach-back into the relevant history. We’ll be doing our 2nd year in San Juan PR in December; mark your calendars now.
  • Listening and Privacy. We often use our computers thinking we’re the only ones who see what we are typing, just as we talk out in public as if we are the only one listening. Both are pretty far from the truth. Hopefully, you know that most public wireless access is not secure, and the best way to secure it is through the use of a VPN. Virtual Private Networks make sure that communication between your computer and a trusted endpoint are secured, and claim to provide security from that endpoint to your ultimate destination on the web. How much can you trust them? It depends on the VPN you choose, as some are better for privacy than others. But what about the real world? When you discuss things on the bus or the subway, how secure are you? Not very. One instructor gave their students an interesting assignment: find out as much as you can about that stranger sitting next to you on the bus, using only public information. They found out quite a bit by listening to the public side of phone conversations, looking at visible screens, and noticing other aspects of the person. Sherlock Holmes in the wild. But that’s not the only risk. It turns out that your hard disk might be eavesdropping as well. Sound waves create movement in disk heads, which can be monitored by sensors in the disk. So when will those concerned about eavesdropping move to SSDs to get rid of that risk?
  • AntiVaxxers and Cybersecurity. A meme has been going around asking why we are willing to inoculate our computers against viruses and malware, but not our children? As memes go, it makes an interesting point — but misses some of the differences between computers and the human immune system. Vaccines are a great example of how we train our immune system to work for us by exposing it to the potential malware — in a neutered form — to train it to recognize the real thing. Traditionally, humans have been great at this: that’s why babies crawl around and put things into our mouths — the exposure makes our immune system stronger. In fact, our current antiseptic and germaphobic environment has both weakened our immune response, and trained it to overreact. So yes, pick your nose and eat it, but not in public where anyone can see you. But I digress. Think about this in terms of computers. We install an anti-virus or anti-malware program; this is the equivalent of installing an immune system in our computer. But the success of that system depends on the collection of malware signatures that it downloads regularly. These signatures are benign snippets of code DNA that allow for safe identification of dangerous code. Exposure to those benign snippets is vital if our computer immune systems are to work, and we don’t lose the system. Similarly, vaccines allow our natural anti-virus mechanisms to recognize the malware that try to invade us — and more importantly, they protect those systems that — due to specialized wetware — cannot install the anti-virus. In short: Vaccinate your kids and yourself to protect those around you, as well as yourself.

 

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📰 Oh, Look, A Package from Amazon

Let’s open another package from the news chum tree, shall we? How about this one from Amazon…

  • Fighting the Marketplace. Increasingly, Amazon is less a seller of goods than a network connecting a buyer and a seller, while pretending that Amazon is doing the selling. I’m sure that you’ve noticed this more and more. But the market isn’t quite so clean as you might think. For sellers, Amazon is a quasi-state. They rely on its infrastructure — its warehouses, shipping network, financial systems, and portal to millions of customers — and pay taxes in the form of fees. They also live in terror of its rules, which often change and are harshly enforced. A cryptic email from Amazon about a purported complaint can send a seller’s business into bankruptcy, with few avenues for appeal. Amazon’s judgment is swifter and less predictable, and now that the company controls nearly half of the online retail market in the US, its rulings can instantly determine the success or failure of your business. Amazon is the judge, the jury, and the executioner.
  • Counterfeits and Amazon. Another big problem at Amazon is counterfeits, which often benefit Amazon. Mixed in with Amazon’s inventory of authentic merchandise are crude copycats. Some look like the real thing but didn’t include a real vendor’s name. Others bear the name but aren’t made by the real company. Often, there is no way for even the savviest Amazon shopper to avoid the threat of counterfeits. The goods may look real online, but there is no guarantee of authenticity — whether sold by a brand, a third-party seller or Amazon’s direct-sales arm. And the reviews don’t help, because of review gaming.

Perhaps brick and mortar has a purpose after all?

Here are a few more technology items of interest:

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📰 As If By Plan or Design

Look, there are still boxes under the news chum tree. Take this pretty one. So carefully wrapped, as if there was design aforethought to it:

  • Only the Best. When you think about interesting designed retail in the 1970s and early 1980s, one chain comes to mind: Best Products. I’ve noted a few articles on this subject worth sharing. The first looks at the abandoned architecture of the Best stores. The second explores the nature of the Best Product showroom architecture, incorporating environment into design. As the latter article notes: “The intentionally crumbling brick at that Houston store, known as “Indeterminate Façade,” and the eight other showrooms SITE designed, were simultaneously iconic and controversial, and most importantly for BEST, they brought in customers.”
  • Prime Numbers. Prime numbers are great for many because they are so unpredictable. But — surprise, surprise — researchers have discovered a pattern in prime numbers. Specifically, a team of researchers at Princeton University have recently discovered a strange pattern in the primes’ chaos. Their novel modelling techniques revealed a surprising similarity between primes and certain naturally occurring crystalline materials, a similarity that may carry significant implications for physics and materials science.
  • British Place Names. Ever need to decode British place names. Don’t worry, there’s a pattern there too.
  • ADHD Storytelling. Yes, there’s a pattern to that as well.
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📰 Ouch! I Got a Paper Cut! Time for Urgent Care!

So many boxes under the news chum tree! Which one should I open next? How about this one, with a lovely blue cross and a blue shield? I just hope I don’t get a paper cut opening the package — you know how insurance can be.

  • Why People Avoid The Doctor. The results of an interesting Medicare Advantage survey shows why people avoid the doctor: alas, their presentation is a slideshow, but reasons range from the cost, to not having the time, to thinking there is nothing wrong with them, to preferring natural remedies. Me? I figure that if I make my schedule so busy, my body won’t have time to fail. Alas, that’s not working.
  • Insurers Don’t Make It Easy. Dealing with Insurance is probably one reason people don’t go to the doctor. Take CPAP machines. Sleep apnea is a fast-growing health complaint among Americans, and that has triggered a set of deceptive and unethical measures by US health insurers to shift the cost of using CPAP machines (the forced air machines that sleep apnea patients rely on to stay healthy) to the people who use them, with the effect that it’s often much cheaper to pay cash for your machine and its consumables than it is to get them through insurance. NPR also had an exploration of the problem.
  • Doctors and Computers. Modern medicine. Computers were supposed to make it easier. But doctors hate their computer systems. A 2016 study found that physicians spent about two hours doing computer work for every hour spent face to face with a patient—whatever the brand of medical software. In the examination room, physicians devoted half of their patient time facing the screen to do electronic tasks. And these tasks were spilling over after hours. The University of Wisconsin found that the average workday for its family physicians had grown to eleven and a half hours. The result has been epidemic levels of burnout among clinicians. Forty per cent screen positive for depression, and seven per cent report suicidal thinking—almost double the rate of the general working population. Doctors are among the most technology-avid people in society; computerization has simplified tasks in many industries. Yet somehow we’ve reached a point where people in the medical profession actively, viscerally, volubly hate their computers.
  • Standing Desks Don’t Help. If you are like me, you’ve (reluctantly) been moved to a standing desk, because the old sitting computer desks with ergometric key trays are harder to find than unsalted fries at a McDonalds.  Research, however, suggests that warnings about sitting at work are overblown, and that standing desks are overrated as a way to improve health. Standing is not exercise, and it isn’t necessarily better for you.
  • And Sex is Overrated. Well, at least in the eyes of young people, who according to one article are having a lot less sex. The stock markets aren’t the only thing that is tanking, the Atlantic says we are in a sex recession. From 1991 to 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey finds, the percentage of high-school students who’d had intercourse dropped from 54 to 40 percent. In other words, in the space of a generation, sex has gone from something most high-school students have experienced to something most haven’t. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
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📰 Calzones Under The News Chum Tree

Oh, look, there’s much more under the news chum tree. What’s this? It looks like a lovely wrapped calzone…

  • Tacos, Sandwiches, and the Cube Rule. Categorizing and classifying food is difficult. Is a hot dog a sandwich? Is a ravoli? A taco? Where do these things fit on the spectrum. Two articles I’ve seen attempt to address this. The Cube Rule is perhaps my favorite. It classifies using the number of sides of a cube. Just a bottom? Toast. Top and bottom? A sandwich. Bottom and sides? A taco. Top, bottom, and sides? Sushi. Everything but a top? Soup in a bread bowl. All sides? Calzone. No sides. Salad. Another approach uses a three axis decision path: soup / salad / sandwich. It claims to contain the full spectrum of human consumables by plotting them as (x, y, z) coordinates in (soup, salad, sandwich) space. However, none of these address the question of whether cereal is soup.
  • The Oil Economy When you go to the market, you’ll see lots of oils on the shelf: olive, avacado, walnut, grapeseed, soy, rapeseed (canola), peanut, and even vegetable oil, which they get from carrots. What you won’t see is cottonseed oil — at least in raw form — because cotton is poisonous to humans (as food). The problem is that the seeds, like the cotton plant’s leaves, contain little dark glands full of something called gossypol. Gossypol in and of itself is a toxin. It’s helpful for the cotton plant, because it helps fend off insect pests. But it makes the seed unhealthy for people to eat. It’s toxic to most animals, too. But cotton produces a lot of seeds — more seeds that fluff. Cows can digest it. You can get the oil and purify it. But one scientist got the idea to genetically modify the plant to not produce Gossypol, and the FDA has approved it, and now the seeds can be used as broader food.
  • Enjoy Your Christmas Watermelon. Vegan on Christmas. How about a baked watermelon instead of a ham? While we’re at it, here are some more interesting facts about watermelons.
  • Thai Restaurants and Cambodian Donut Shops. Have you ever wondered why there are so many Thai restaurants? Thank the government of Thailand, which intentionally bolstered the presence of Thai cuisine outside of Thailand to increase its export and tourism revenues, as well as its prominence on the cultural and diplomatic stages. In 2001, the Thai government established the Global Thai Restaurant Company, Ltd., in an effort to establish at least 3,000 Thai restaurants worldwide. As for those Cambodian Donut Shops, that’s all thanks to the Donut King. His story is told in two episodes of The Sporkful (part 1, part 2). Ted Ngoy arrived in southern California in 1975, as part of the first wave of refugees to flee Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge genocide in the late 1970s. They arrived in Orange County, near LA, with a few suitcases and no money.At first Ted worked as a janitor, but then he started working nights at a gas station to make ends meet. That’s where Ted saw his first donut shop. He made that a success, opened more. Soon Ted and his wife sponsored visas for refugees, set them up with donut shops, trained them in the business, and took a cut of their profits in return. By 1985, ten years after Ted arrived in California with nothing, he was making $100,000 a month.
  • All You Can Eat. Have you ever wondered why you see so many buffets at restaurants? Restaurants love them. The reason why is that they are a certified moneymaker. Variety and Volume make a killer combo. When you load up a buffet with lots of choices, customers get excited. And since the self-service model is much faster than the waiter-and-menu system, guests are in and out quicker. They are also major labor-saving devices, and therefore cost-saving devices. They are also specifically laid out to get you to fill your plate with the cheaper options first, so that you have no room for the more expensive items.  They provide a way to repurpose leftovers.
  • Fish and Cheese. It was a joke in Come From Away, which we saw Friday night. Yet Cod Au Grautin is a thing in Newfoundland, so much so that the Ahmanson Theatre tweeted a recipe for the dish. But why is there so little combination of fish and cheese? Where did the prohibition come from? It is ancient and strong, but localized. Although some think it is a universal rule, but there are dozens of centuries-old dishes combining seafood and cheese that are beloved outside the United States—in Greece, Mexico, France, and even in specific pockets of the U.S. itself. So who do we blame? The Italians. Italians are very religious about mixing cheese and fish or seafood, it just isn’t done.
  • What Has Man Wrought? While we’re sharing items from Gastro Obscura, here are two more that taken together say quite a bit about modern man and our relation to food. First, according to a recent study, the broiler chicken, now the most populous bird on the planet, will someday be a defining feature of the Anthropocene, a greasy marker of our epoch. This for a bird  that has an average life expectancy of six weeks, has been bred to live fat and die young, with a fragile skeletal structure, porous bones, and extremely massive bodies that render them totally incapable of surviving without human-created technology on modern farms. Second, Americans have planted so much corn it has changed weather patterns. Studying observed data, researchers found that between 1910-1949 and 1970-2009, average summer rainfall in the central U.S. increased by up to 35 percent. According to subsequent 30-year regional climate simulations, they determined that increased corn production appears to be boosting average summer rainfalls by five to 15 percent and decreasing average summer temperatures by about one degree Celsius.
  • The Burner Culture. If you are like most people, you have a four-burner cooktop. Two large. Two small. Have you ever thought about why that is, and what burner you should use for what task? Probably not, But there is rhyme and reason to burner placement. The largest burner is called a “power burner,” and it’s specifically designed for searing meats and boiling water quickly. The medium-sized burners are “all-purpose” or “standard” burners. And the smallest burner, which is known as a “simmer burner,” is designed for low-flame cooking (think delicate work like tempering chocolate).
  • And a treat at the end. Just for you. All of See’s Candies are gluten-free.
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📰 Plastics

Oh, look, there’s another pretty box under the news chum tree. It’s oddly hard. Let’s take off the wrapping. Hmm, it seems to be made of plastic:

  • All That Glitters. We’ve all seen glitter, but have you ever wondered how it is made? Here’s an in-depth exploration of the process of making glitter, or as it might be better known, aluminum metalized polyethylene terephthalate. What is it made of? Think mylar. Think very fine aluminum. Think a process similar to those potato chip bags you hate. There’s holographic glitter. Iridescent glitter, with over 230 layers, each as think as half the wavelength of light. Most significantly: all the modern plastic glitter that has ever been created is still right here with us. According to Dr. Victoria Miller, a materials science and engineering professor at North Carolina State University, the plastic film from which most glitter is made takes about 1,000 years to completely biodegrade on Earth. Snap, chuff, sparkle, sparkle indeed.
  • Plastic Sustainability. A major problem with clothing is the waste. Most of the clothing we wear, when it gets old, goes into a landfill. Most plastic goes into the same, never to biodegrade. It’s a big concern (listen to the Articles of Interest podcast on blue jeans, and you’ll be amazed at the waste). So it is interesting to read that Everlane’s new collection of puffer jackets, fleece pullovers, and streamlined parkas is made from recycled plastic bottles. Adidas has a goal of using recycled ocean plastic in all of its products by 2024, and Everlane’s “ReNew” collection of outerwear is the first step in a wider push to entirely eliminate virgin (or newly made) plastic from its operations by 2021. That will involve substituting all of its synthetic fibers with renewed alternatives, replacing the virgin plastic bags it ships products in with recycled bags, and getting rid of single-use plastic in its stores and offices.
  • Plastic Pens. Think about the humble Bic plastic ballpoint pen. Disposable. Yet it has had a significant effect, changing how we write about the world. Yes, the ballpoint pen killed cursive. The ballpoint’s universal success has changed how most people experience ink. Its thicker ink was less likely to leak than that of its predecessors. For most purposes, this was a win—no more ink-stained shirts, no need for those stereotypically geeky pocket protectors. However, thicker ink also changes the physical experience of writing, not necessarily all for the better. As for me, I’ll stick with my pocket protector — and my fountain pens!
  • Plastic Souvenirs. I think I posted this a while back, but it caught my eye again. Do you remember the “mold-a-rama”, the machines that would make plastic souvenirs out of plastic pellets. There are two companies that make the machines, which are still going strong.
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