Recycling nostalgia

Consumers Distributing display casesI’m usually one to appreciate and advocate both recycling and heritage preservation, but I’m not so sure it’s a wise move in the case of these display cabinets still in use in a Port Hope store. I remember Consumers Distributing as an eminently frustrating place to shop. Cheaper than department stores, but impossible to tell whether anything was in stock or see any merchandise without filling out a little paper slip.  Couple that with waiting in line for somewhere between five and thirty minutes before being disappointed, and going to Consumers was always a bit of a crapshoot, a problem that only seemed to get worse as I got older. Still, the local Consumers at Main and Danforth was the primary supplier of AFX slot car sets and Timex watches to my youth.

The end of civilization as Sue-Ann Levy knows it

According to Sue-Ann Levy, the world is going to end tomorrow because she is going to have to pay $0.05 for every plastic bag she gets from a store. Her column earlier this week all but proclaimed it so, listing this gem among her complaints:

Nevertheless, I don’t know how we can possibly be expected to remember to cart some sort of plastic bag around with us everywhere to hold purchases we might make on impulse.

Speaking only for myself here, I remember to “cart some sort of […] bag” with me the same way I remember to cart my wallet around every day: I put it in my pocket before I leave the house.  In fact, there are lots of things that I remember to take with me every day: my wallet, watch, keys, and Leatherman chief among them. It’s really not rocket science. I assume that Sue-Ann carries a purse with her everywhere and will learn soon enough to keep a little reusable bag tucked away in there. I also expect that she will admit this to absolutely no one.

Wasteful packaging #2

Lots of boxes

Shortly after I posted last month about wasteful packaging, we received another shipment of technology. Inside a single fairly large box were six smaller and very sturdy boxes. I could easily have stood on each one, much like I did with the power cord boxes from the previous shipment. Except these ones probably would have been strong enough to use as step stools in the kitchen. Inside each of these smaller boxes were two large, dense pieces of foam. Sandwiched between each pair of foam pieces was a single hard drive. Approximate ratio of the total volume of the hard drives compared to the total volume of the large box they were shipped in: 1:50. Approximate ratio of the weight of the product to the weight of the packaging: 1:5.

Can Sun really find no efficiencies here? The company claims that “packaging engineers determine how rugged each product is, and tailor the optimum amount of packaging for the product without compromising protection during tough simulated transit testing.” I think the packaging engineers are building in a bit too much of a huge margin of safety, especially considering that comparable equipment from other manufacturers is not packaged quite so heavily.

I had been planning to salvage the foam for other purposes, but the office cleaning crew beat me to it. At least I got to make a nice foam tower before it was carted away.

World’s tallest freestanding foam tower

Ootes defies warning, taunts Happy Fun Bin

Case Ootes newsletter Spring 2008

Case Ootes, just barely Ward 29 councillor for another two and a half years, sends out these wonderful newsletters to his constituents every so often. Earlier this month, the lead story in his Spring 2008 newsletter was about the new garbage and recycling bins that are being rolled out across the city. In four passionless paragraphs, Ootes waxed bureaucratic about the recently-arrived blue bins and the process residents would use to select their new garbage bins. “By now,” it concluded with no hint of rancour, “you likely have had your new recycling container delivered to your home.” Indeed, we were among the last in the ward to get the new recycling bin, and we’d had it for close to six weeks before receiving the newsletter.

About two weeks after the Ward 29 Report bounced into our mailbox, we received a further Special Bulletin, in which Ootes went on the rampage against the very bins he’d just helpfully informed us about:

Last June, in a 26–18 vote, Mayor David Miller and like-minded Councillors voted in favour of the program. I foresaw many problems with the new garbage and recycling bins; that was one of the reasons I VOTED IN THE NEGATIVE. Also, homeowners should not have to pay an extra fee (between $39–$190 / year) on top of property taxes, for garbage collection. The city’s cost to purchase the recycling and garbage bins is a staggering $57 million! This is a shameful waste of taxpayers’ money. (All emphasis in original document.)

The bulletin goes on to level the usual FUD against X (where X is anything that’s different from what people have done or used in the past), claiming that because X isn’t appropriate for a small number of (usually vocal) people, the entire project must be scrapped so that we can do things the old way. It’s funny how this criticism didn’t make it into his newsletter, especially if Councillor Ootes has been as staunchly opposed to the bins for the last year as he claims to have been.

I think it’s completely fair to criticize the new bins over their real or perceived shortcomings, but I think it’s pretty lame for a councillor to pander to his constituents like this. For what it’s worth, I have no problem with the bins, but understand that they can cause problems for some people on some properties. As for whether the big blue bin is ugly, it’s certainly no worse than the lineup of small blue bins that we kept at the front of the house. And the lid is a welcome improvement.

For garbage, we elected to go with the smallest bin. We currently produce only about one shopping bag full of garbage every two weeks, and I only put a single can of garbage out once every four to six weeks. Having a small bin will encourage us to continue to reduce even that amount of garbage.

And now I’m going to go run both newsletter and bulletin through the shredder and line Fletcher‘s litter box with the result.

Wasteful packaging

That’s a lot of boxes for a little bit of computer

One of the things I love about my day job is getting to play with a lot of technology. One of the things I dislike is that a lot of the technology is packaged very wastefully. The picture above provides a good illustration. Yesterday’s shipment included a very large box that opened to reveal the 10 boxes shown here.

Power cord in a boxEach of those boxes then opened to reveal a very loosely packed component: five power cords (three of them individually boxed!), a keyboard & mouse, two sticks of RAM, two small internal expansion cards, and three slimline DVD-ROM drives. Everything removed from these boxes is in the little pile on the left in the top picture.

Now I understand why you’d want to put delicate optical drives in a nice sturdy box with foam padding, and why a company with a lot of inventory would value having a few standard-sized boxes instead of a bunch of loose components. I also understand why a company selling servers would want to ship each server and non-standard component separately and have me assemble them.

Man vs. BoxBut I’m at a loss to understand why each power cord required its own crush-proof box rated to hold 65 lb and with a burst strength of 200 PSI. When I repacked all this stuff after checking it against the packing slips, it all fit into just one of the pictured boxes with the exception of the keyboard. The rest of the boxes went straight out into the blue bin, having served basically no purpose but to consume space.

Why ship in ten sturdy boxes (plus yet another box to hold all of the boxes) when just two will do? Why does each individual power cord need to be shipped in a separate box that a fully-ballasted man can stand on without crushing it? I’m sure the answer is “efficiency,” but I’m not seeing it.

Do not taunt happy fun bin

Informative instructions on the new blue bin

We got our new supersized blue bin today. I’ve always been amused by the instructions and warnings on everyday objects, but this one takes the cake. Apparently, someone thought it necessary to explain to the unwashed masses the physics of moving the bin from place to place.

To move bin

  1. Grasp handle
  2. Tilt
  3. Push or pull

Gee, thanks Mr. Science. I never would have figured that out on my own. Now if only they had room enough on the lid to explain the difference between pulling, which is encouraged, and dragging, which is explicitly forbidden. Oh, City of Toronto, I’m so confused. Do I put my recycling in the bin, or on the bin? Your instructions are woefully incomplete.

Spring on the Spit: pointing the way

Moon & pylon, Leslie Street Spit

Today’s spring picture from the Leslie Street Spit shows us an artfully-placed traffic pylon pointing up at last week’s waxing gibbous moon, already high in the sky in the late afternoon.

As an aside, I always used to think this phase of the moon was called a waxing gibbon until I was old enough to realize that the term would more accurately describe an ape with a Brazilian.

Spring on the Spit

Brick Beach on the Leslie Street Spit

I usually start stretching my cycling legs around mid-March each year, getting ready for longer rides in the season ahead. Although I commuted and ran errands on my bike throughout this winter, I hadn’t been out for any pleasure rides of significant distance since November. But when that sun starts melting the snow and the days start getting longer, the call of the road becomes too strong to resist. I don’t care if it’s still cold and windy outside; my legs want to spin.

The Leslie Street Spit is my most frequent late winter/early spring destination. It’s one of the few car-free places in the city where you can ride at this time of year and not worry about dealing with snow and ice. It’s also among the most photogenic destinations with a wider variety of landscapes than you’d expect of a long finger of dirt in the lake.

This beach, for example, is made almost entirely of bricks. The constant action of the water has worn away most of the corners so they look like colourful bars of soap. A few feet in from the shore, most bricks still have rough edges. They get smaller and smoother as they get closer to the water. At the water’s edge, they look like colourful little pebbles. In a few years, this could look like just another sandy beach.

Old bricks on the beach, Leslie Street Spit

In the middle of this picture, you can see mortar still holding the remnants of two eroded bricks together.

I’ll have more pictures from the Spit in the days ahead.

Suzuki and a half

Suzuki and a half

Unfortunately, this was the best picture we got of this litte curiosity zipping along the westbound 401 this morning. It’s an old Suzuki (Swift, I believe) pulling the rear portion of a similar car that has been chopped in half and converted into a cargo trailer. The writing on the back of the trailer/half-car reads “Suzuki and a half.” Very impressive work.