Monthly Archives: July 2008

paper, plastic, or burlap? on plastic bag bans

I’ve been collecting information about bans on plastic bags, with an eye towards the Ann Arbor City Council’s discussion of banning disposable plastic bags here in town.

Bob Lilienfeld from Use Less Stuff has a good and thorough paper vs. plastic lifecycle research analysis to understand some perspective on the levels of tradeoffs involved in the decision.

municipalities with bag ban laws, passed or not

Cities with bag bans:

San Francisco, CA – Plastics News coverage.

Encinitas, CA – proposed – North County Times report: “Now, if the Surfrider Foundation gets its way, the ubiquitous single-use plastic bags may be banned in Encinitas.”

Los Angeles, CA – Huffington Post report: ban starts 2010

Baltimore, MD – rejected – Progressive Grocer report: “Grocery stores opposed the bill on the grounds that paper bags cost more, and also create litter.”

Ann Arbor, MI – proposed Ann Arbor News story

States with bag bans:

California AB 2058 – proposed legislation (2008)

organizations advocating for bans on plastics bags

Heal the Bay, California non-profit – advocacy as part of their marine debris program to protect the Santa Monica Bay. Contact: Kirsten James, Water Quality Director.

retailers who have changed away from plastic bags

Whole Foods – press release – Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ: WFMI), the world’s leading natural and organic foods supermarket, announced today it will end the use of disposable plastic grocery bags at the checkouts in all of its 270 stores in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. with the goal to be plastic bag-free by Earth Day, April 22, 2008.

other discussions on the net

Where I Stand thread on “Should plastic grocery bags be banned”


management metrics: “queue depth days”

In the manage by numbers world…

One useful measure that people take on (or have forced upon them) is management of work in progress. At every step along the way in a multi-step effort, you have something not quite done, and a level of continuous improvement involves managing and monitoring that inventory of partly done work.

If, for instance, you were looking at an inbox, you’d measure the integral of the depth of the unanswered mail queue, so that productivity is in a sum of outstanding work measured over time. End the day with 100 unanswered messages 100 days in a row, and your queue-depth-day is 10000 (eek).

There are of course three ways to attack this problem (at least, but bear with me)

1. Reduce the size of the current queue, so that there’s less to deal with right now;
2. Reduce the influx into the queue, so that there’s less to deal with every day;
3. Increase the speed at which things are removed from the queue, so they don’t stay so long.

The inbox zero mantra pulls from all of these, but you really need to understand the impact of all three to attack this. One time heroic measures to empty the inbox are necessary, because you can’t create a bunch of lasting improvement if there’s a big overhang of undone work nagging at you. Slowing down flows inbound helps reduce the rate of queue depth growth, but doesn’t clear the queue. And working faster to acknowledge email just creates more email!

Classic solutions to this whole system is to move communications out of queued systems into either real time systems (IM, chat, voice) or into asynchronous multiplayer games (blogs, wikis). The hard core communications people completely shut down their email system and go entirely to the other extremes; the other hard core communications people treat their email inbox AS IF IT WERE IM and always answer and file everything instantly.

The queue depth could be anything, really; it could be outstanding phone calls to make, emails to answer, people standing in line in your retail operation, customers waiting impatiently for a call back to solve their time critical problem, or forms needing to be filled out. Just know that in any system where you can get stuff coming in faster than you can get rid of it queues will form, and at worst they back up to the point where other people can see that you’re not on top of everything.

What to do before you lose your wallet

“Be prepared.”

from ‘bill says this’:

But here’s some critical information to limit the damage in case this happens to you or someone you know. As everyone always advises, cancel your credit cards immediately, but the key is having the toll free numbers and your card numbers handy so you know whom to call. Keep those where you can find them easily. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where it was stolen, this proves to credit providers you were diligent, and is a first step toward an investigation (if there ever is one).

Photocopy your wallet – yes? (Consumerist)

We’ve all been there, that sickening feeling as you reach for your back pocket, only to find your wallet gone. A frantic search turns up nothing. You feel sad. But you wouldn’t feel that sad if you had photocopied the contents of your wallet. Then you would have a legal copy of your license to use until it got replaced, and all your account numbers and the phone numbers you need to call for replacements. So take a second this weekend to pop your wallet into the photocopy or scanner and keep the paper in a safe place. You might be very glad some day that you did.

Photocopy your wallet – no? (Ellen Craw, Ilium Software)

I really hate it when people suggest photocopying your wallet contents for extra safety. Call me crazy (many people do) and paranoid (there’s some truth to that as well), but a photocopier is nothing but a scanner plus a printer. There’s no guarantee that your info is cleared out as soon as the pages are printed. If it’s your own copier in your own home office, fine, but if you take your wallet to Kinkos or CopyMax or any commercial place, keep in mind that what you’re doing is using their scanner to scan all the numbers you’re carefully protecting other places.

Scan your wallet, and upload it to the interwebs? (“Random Walks in the Lowlands”)

1) Make a backup. Years ago, someone suggested that I put a scan of my critical documents up on the Internet where I could always access them from anywhere. So I scanned my passport, driver’s license, and birth certificate in a password-protected file that I mailed to a supplemental Yahoo account. It was easy to just download and print it to have all of the information and documentation that the embassy required.

If you lose a passport, you’ll have to fill out the form DS-64; a photocopy of your current passport is an excellent way to be able to fill out that form.

Service as a service

After a small set of discussions today with people I won’t blog about, here’s some ideas from people I don’t know using a phrase I thought I might have made up: “service as a service”.

James Urquhart’s “The Wisdom of Clouds” on Service as a Service Market Explored:

Real quick, David Linthicum has a cool post on the move in the market from human-oriented SaaS (Software as a Service) to systems oriented SaaS–perhaps better named “Service as a Service”. The naming is a little nerdy, but David is right on about this being an ultimate goal of the SaaS market, as well as of cloud computing in general.

chase that reference to this Intelligent Enterprise article on When SaaS Means ‘Services as a Service’ :

StrikeIron is the one that comes to mind. StrikeIron is not a SaaS provider, but a SaaS provider with the first S being ‘Services’ vs. ‘Software.’ They offer a variety of services, such as SMS text messaging, tax rate calculations, address validation, etc. The objective being not to provide the holistic application, but simple components that can be abstracted into enterprise and SaaS applications, as needed, for a small monthly subscription fee. Thus, you don’t write it, you don’t test it, you don’t host it, you just leverage its functionality at a fraction of the cost if you developed the same service in-house.

hm, perhaps a little bit too “granular” (oh I love to hate that word; coarse, Demera, what are you talking, sugar?). Another try goes down the manufacturing route – envisioning cheap frictionless production of one-off quantities of things, in this case printed letters sent through the mail. The Postful blog on Manufacturing as a Service:

The modern service cloud ushers in a fundamental shift in our accounting of economic costs. The endemic overhead in even the most basic of deals and transactions is perhaps the key factor in determining the structure of our economic systems at all scales. The service cloud can reduce those transaction costs to negligible levels.

and finally perhaps this one from JR Says on the objectification of business processes:

I know the term “Service-as-a-service” sounds like an idiotic reference to nothing, but my point is that business services can finally be delivered in a way which is easily acquirable by customers, as true services, with:
– clear, non-obtrusive contracts (the business kind… you know, ToS you feel no obligation to read 😉
– clear communication contracts (the implementation kind… “you give us A , we give you B”)
– pay as you go – with clear pricing
– strong support (imagine that)

I went to Cuil (gaelic for “fail”) for the last word; it’s a good one. Via Cubic Compass, quoting Philip Lay:

“What is likely to no longer work is the conventional time and materials model of expensive “manual” services, now seen to be highly inefficient unless enabled by increasing use of automation. What must be made to work is to have virtually every service substantially automated and deliverable online once the service in question has been transformed from a custom, never-done-before, thing to a repeatable and relatively routine activity.”

2008 summer bug camp in the UP

I’ve typed some things about bug camp, but haven’t blogged about it.

The name of the place is not really bug camp; it’s the Page Center in Little Lake, MI:

Our peaceful, natural setting on Little Lake is the perfect place for your next retreat, reunion, wedding, reception or workshop. Located 3 miles East of M-35/553, approximately 24 miles south of Marquette.

It’s a nice spot, a former church camp, with a lovely main house, a dining hall and kitchen, and eight bunk cabins. We had 25 there for a family reunion and everything worked out well.

There are bugs there – quite a few dragon flies, one alder beetle that had a nickname (“Mango”), and a bunch of little non-biting flies that swarmed the night time lights. As bugs go very tame, no ticks, no black flies, no deer flies, no horse flies, no sand flies (I could go on and on with biting insects that weren’t there). The woods had blueberries (not yet ripe) and wintergreen.

Little Lake is just outside of Gwinn, and we were there for the 4th of July (amazing parade). I went into town with my older son one afternoon and we hung out at the Forsyth Township Public Library for a while and shopped at the Gwinn St. Vincent de Paul store (easily the biggest store in town).

I owe a certain special someone a night in a swanky hotel in exchange for all of the bugs – but it really was nice.

(There is another “bug camp” – the U of Michigan Bio Station in Pellston has the same nickname and some of the same bugs and general camp architecture.)

(Here’s the 2003 blueberry picking report with several locations near the Page Center mentioned.)

Complementary “Road to Gwinn” tabulature, get the real thing from Da Yoopers:

Where's the road to Gwinn
We just can't seem to find the road to Gwinn
This happens everytime I'm drinking with my friends
A                  B7               E
We just can't seem to find the road to Gwinn

Come, Follow Follow Follow Me (trad. arr.)

a round in three parts:

Part I:
Come, follow, follow, follow,
Follow, follow, follow me.

Part II:
Whither shall I follow, follow, follow,
Whither shall I follow, follow thee.

Part III:
To the greenwood, to the greenwood,
To the greenwood, greenwood tree.


KiDiddles song lyrics; includes a sound file, but not the same tune I’m used to.

transcribed by Cathy Russell; replaces “greenwood” with “redwood”.

Wendy James w/religious lyrics.

World War II recruiting chant for the Girls Training Corps, UK.

Come, Follow from the “Songs of Cesium”. “For non cesiophiles, cesium is the most electropositive and sublime element known, and as such merits praise, worship, its own newsgroup (alt.cesium), etc. etc.”

plus this opaque JSTOR reference to The Restoration Catch.

(reflecting on the variations of the “follow” command on various services like Twitter, Friendfeed, Plurk, Plaxo, LinkedIn, etc etc etc etc etc)