US Federal Legislation Page Updated on SEI Web Site

Photo of US Capitol BuildingThe US Federal Legislation page on the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) web site has been recently updated. Updates include:

Visit the SEI Law & Policy section for full details on these US Federal measures, as well as information for the US state and local level and international policies. To suggest additions or revisions to the Law & Policy pages, contact Joy Scrogum.

Your Browser and Your Battery, or, Are You Wasting Time AND Power on the Internet?

Chrome logoYou’ve purchased the latest model, EPEAT gold registered laptop from your favorite brand (after combing through its corporate sustainability report and liking what you saw), adjusted all the power management settings for maximum energy conservation, and are feeling like a sustainability hero. Surely you’ve thought of everything to ensure you’re using power wisely while watching cat videos on YouTube, right? Well, kudos for your efforts, friend, but I’m afraid there may be a few other factors to consider, especially if Microsoft Windows is your operating system and you’re watching those videos whilst unplugged. Earlier this week, Ian Morris published an interesting article for Forbes that illustrates what your mother taught you about little things meaning a lot.

A chink in Chrome’s finish

In his article, Google’s Chrome Web Browser Is Killing Your Laptop Battery, Morris discusses a phenomenon which, if you’re like me, you’ve never heard of, or considered previously. The “system clock tick rate” saves power by allowing the processor to sleep when nothing needs attention, and waking it at predefined intervals to check on things. Imagine a guard dog that takes naps to save its strength but wakes up every minute or so to check the perimeter–vigilant, but frugal with its energy. If your processor were our hypothetical guard dog, the “system clock tick rate” would be the alarm clock your Internet browser uses to regulate the dog’s naps, waking him regularly after a set amount of time. Windows itself has a default setting for this hypothetical alarm clock, but Internet browsers can adjust the setting while they’re in use, because sometimes your processor needs to be more active to perform more complex tasks online, like watching videos (watching cat videos on YouTube may seem mindless, but it’s a little more complex from the perspective of your processor).

According to Morris, the default system clock tick rate setting in Windows is 15.625ms. This translates to the processor waking 64 times per second to attend to tasks. When you use browsers like Internet Explorer or Firefox, that default setting stays in place, unless the content you’re browsing requires more processing “oomph,” at which time the browser adjusts the tick rate to wake the processor more frequently. Cue the cat video, decrease the tick rate to handle it. (Come to think of it, our hypothetical guard dog might be interested in those cat videos, purely for training purposes.) Sure, to a human, waking 64 times per second sounds horrific, and fits our perception of every morning on which we’ve slapped at the snooze button multiple times, avoiding the inevitable. But for a processor, it’s nothing taxing. The adjustment to a tick rate of 1.000ms, made to watch your video however, means the processor wakes up 1000 times per second, and if it were human, it would probably want to throw its alarm clock through the nearest window.

Enter the flaw in Chrome’s design, as explained by Morris. When you open Chrome, it immediately adjusts the system clock tick rate to 1.000ms–and keeps it there. Someone put Red Bull in our guard dog’s water dish. Morris notes that “Microsoft itself says that tick rates of 1.000ms might increase power consumption by ‘as much as 25 per cent.’ It’s also a problem because, by its very nature, the system tick rate is global, meaning that one application is able to spoil everything…”

As Morris makes clear, although having Chrome open makes a measurable difference in power consumption, if you’re using your desktop computer, it might not be a big problem (at least functionally). But if you’re on a laptop or other battery dependent device, the difference is important. Of course, if you’re not using Windows, you don’t have to worry, because Macs and Linux Machines, for example, use something called “tickless timers.” Yeah, I didn’t know what that meant either, so I looked it up. The question board at Stackoverflow.com addresses this; admittedly I’m still not sure I get it, but basically it seems like “tickless” systems don’t use predetermined intervals to wake the processor and are more dynamically connected to tasks that are running. (If you’re a programmer and can explain this more clearly for a non-technical audience, please feel free to do so in the comments section of this blog.) It’s also interesting to note that according to this site, Windows 8 may also be considered “tickless”–so it could also matter which version of an operating system you’re using.

Google is aware of the bug, according to Morris, but he still has encouraged readers to “star” the issue on Google’s online bug tracker to underscore consumer desire to have the issue fixed. From some of the comments on this online bug laptop batterytracker, it seems as if this problem does occur with Windows 8, but I wanted to keep the possibility on the table that versions of operating systems could also come into play.

Which browser is best?

Intrigued by the connection between browser choice and battery life, I did a little poking around on the Internet to see what other information I could find (I use Firefox–no worries). On the 7Tutorials blog, Ciprian Adrian Rusen describes tests he ran on four different browsers (Internet Explorer 11, Firefox 26, Chrome 32 and Opera 18) on three different devices in a Windows 8.1 environment in his article Which Internet Browser Will Make Your Battery Last Longer? Rusen used an online browser assessment tool called Peacekeeper from Futuremark (go to http://peacekeeper.futuremark.com/ and scroll down to “run battery test”). Rusen found that IE 11 does the best job of extending battery life on a laptop or tablet. Keep in mind, we’re focusing on battery-dependent devices here, not desktops. “However, which version delivers the most savings depends on your device’s hardware configuration and how well Internet Explorer works with it,” he notes. I’d also argue that user behavior and the types of sites visited factors in as well. The Peacekeeper test seems to run your device through a wide variety of processing scenarios; I’d think that if one particular type of scenario were encountered more often than others, it might matter (e.g. are you watching cat videos non-stop, or only part of the time?). Also, some folks keep their browser open all the time for one reason or another–Morris notes that he does because he uses Gmail as his main email program. Others might only occasionally open their browser. So, I think it’s tough to give a sweeping recommendation, other than to say if you’re using a battery, consider using a browser other than Chrome, or at least, if you’re a huge Chrome fan, be aware of the issue and consider closing your browser regularly. If you really want to dive into this, you could run the Peacekeeper test on your device of choice, using different browsers, and see what happens.

To tab or not to tab

I’ve heard it suggested that each tab one has opened increases the amount of power you’re using, so if you’re leaving a bunch of tabs open all the time, you’re potentially wasting energy. Again, my inquiring mind wanted to know, so I poked around where else, but on the Internet. In Wired’s Dot Physics Blog, Rhett Allain analyses the effect of the number of open browser tabs on laptop battery life. His testing involved two laptops (he doesn’t specify make and model) on Safari, Chrome, and Firefox all in Mac OS X 10.8 (he also doesn’t specify the version f these browsers used). While more tabs does mean more power, according to Allain you would have to have a ridiculous number of tabs open–100 to be exact–to reduce your battery life by 1 hour. In order to reduce your battery life to 1 minute, you’d need a whopping 24,000 tabs open. You can’t properly pay attention to that many cat videos, so odds are, you needn’t worry about your tabs too much. Although again, I’d suggest that if you’re not using a tab, or not actively using your browser, close it down.

So what have we learned?

  • Saving energy when using electronics is not as straightforward as you might imagine. The type of device you’re using, your operating system, your browser, and the way you use it can all come into play.
  • While there are plenty of positive attributes of Chrome, if you use Windows you might want to consider using a different browser, or at least minimizing the amount of time you keep your browser open, when using a battery dependent device. At least until Google fixes the glitch.
  • The number of tabs you have open probably doesn’t matter when it comes to battery life. But closing inactive tabs and thereby saving a miniscule amount of power isn’t going to hurt anyone.
  • There are folks out there who know a lot more about things like battery life than you or me. Thank goodness for them, and for their attention to detail!
  • Futuremark offers a free tool which you can use to determine which browser performs best on your device. They also have a nifty tool for testing battery life with your browser. Check both out at http://peacekeeper.futuremark.com/.
  • Bonus info: If you want tips on extending the longevity of your laptop battery in general, check out How to Take Care of Your Laptop Battery the Right Way by David Nield.
  • Now that you’ve gone above and beyond to avoid wasting power while browsing the Internet, there are still ample ways to waste time. For example, did you know there’s a woman who has become a YouTube celebrity of sorts by filming her cat in a shark costume, riding a Roomba? Now you do–extra bonus info!

ENG/TE 498 Student Projects: NEO Extends Smartphone Life, Facilitates STEM Education

In a previous post, I described a special topics course (ENG/TE 498) offered in collaboration with the College of Engineering and the Technology Entrepreneur Center this past spring at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, developed and taught by IL Sustainable Technology Center/Sustainable Electronics Initiative staff members. Entitled Sustainable Technology: Environmental and Social Impacts of Innovations, the class introduced impacts associated with technology at each stage of the product life cycle (design, manufacture, consumption, and disposal/recovery). Electronic products were used as a case study and to provide the framework for discussion of complex legal, economic, social, and environmental considerations.

Students in the course ranged from undergraduates to PhD students, and represented a variety of disciplines, including industrial design, materials science, electrical and computer engineering, civil and environmental engineering, industrial and enterprise systems engineering, agricultural and biological engineering, and accountancy. We were fortunate to have some distinguished guest lecturers join us for some of our classes, including:

  • Craig Boswell, President, HOBI International, Inc.
  • Wayne Rifer, Director of Research and Solutions , EPEAT & Green Electronics Council
  • Kyle Wiens, CEO, iFixit & Dozuki
  • Emily Knox, UI professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (speaking on Makerspace Urbana)
  • Lynn Rubinstein, Executive Director, Northeast Recycling Council and Program Manager, State Electronics Challenge
  • Carol Baroudi, Global Sustainability and Compliance, Arrow Value Recovery
  • Jason Linnell, Executive Director, National Center for Electronics Recycling (NCER)
  • Sriraam Chandrasekaran, Visiting Research and Development Engineer, Illinois Sustainable Technology Center

In lieu of a final exam, students worked in teams on final projects, choosing one of two options. They could either prepare a concept as if they were entering the International Sustainable Electronics Competition (ISEC), which is administered by SEI, or they could work on a repair guide as part of iFixit’s Technical Writing Project.

This is the first post in a series highlighting student projects that were completed in the course. Biplab Deka (graduate student in Electrical and Computer Engineering), Kevin Lehtiniitty (undergraduate in Electrical and Computer Engineering), and Elizabeth Reuter (graduate in Industrial Design) worked together on the “ISEC project option” and came up with NEO, a concept for a computer powered by discarded smartphones, for teaching computer programming to kids. Their project abstract is as follows:

“NEO is a recycled computer powered by a discarded mobile phone that can be connected to a monitor, mouse, and keyboard in order to create a low cost desktop computer with an operating system designed to introduce computer programming to novices. We have decided to aim it toward children and teens, seeing as the age at which Americans start to use computers is getting younger. It comes in a durable and translucent case made out of recycled plastic, allowing kids to interact with NEO and see electronics reuse at work. It comes preloaded with a simple to use operating system that can have kids coding in just minutes as well as sample programs, games, and challenges that gradually become more difficult to guide them in the world of software engineering. In addition to the physical product, NEO also connects to our web based education center that can be accessed through any browser. The center provides additional tutorials, in depth explanations of software engineering, help forums, and user submitted content and competitions that gamify the entire experience.”

Check out their video below. (Note: If you’re receiving this post in your email inbox and don’t see an embedded video below, click on the permalink title of the post at the top of the email message to view the post on the SEI blog site.) It’s a pretty impressive idea, if I do say so (as their instructor, I’m admittedly a bit biased). The three plan to develop the concept, so hopefully NEO will be available sometime in the future for use in your community. If you’re interested in contacting these students to learn more, or to provide support for their product development, email me, and I will connect you with them. Or if you just like the idea, or have suggestions or questions, leave some comments for them on YouTube.

Recent Sustainable Electronics Headlines

Below are links to recent news articles related to sustainable electronics. To keep up on the latest sustainable electronics news, periodically check the Sustainable Electronics Initiative web site or follow SEI on Twitter or Facebook.

 

View the 2013 International Sustainable Electronics Competition Winning Videos

See the previous post for the press release announcing the winners of the 2013 International Sustainable Electronics Competition, including project descriptions. The winning videos are featured on the competition web site and the SEI YouTube Channel. For your convenience, see the embedded player below. Congratulations to the winners and to all this year’s participants. You are all winners for considering the environmental and social impacts of electronic devices and for considering possible solutions to green various aspects of their product life cycles. Keep monitoring the competition and SEI web sites for information on future competitions or similar educational initiatives.

 

Juror Spotlight – Bill Olson

We are grateful to Bill Olson, Director of Sustainability and Stewardship for Motorola Mobile Devices for his long-term commitment to the International Sustainable Electronics Competition. Bill has been with us since the beginning, serving as a juror four times since the competition began as a local event on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign back in 2009. He has been a juror more than any other individual, sitting out only for the 2010 competition (for more information on past competitions, see our online competition archives). Despite his busy schedule, he has provided valuable feedback on numerous competition entries over the years, and has presented at two past SEI symposia on his work at Motorola.

In his role at Motorola, Bill drives go-to-market strategy for green mobile device products and technologies, and has championed the adoption of ECOMOTO principles across several Motorola business units. ECOMOTO focuses on the realization of environmentally sound, seamless Motorola mobile products and seeks to deliver sustained business impact through green materials and innovative ecodesign practices as can be found in the world’s first carbon free phones built with post consumer recycled plastic: W233 RENEW and MOTOCUBO A45 ECO and the world’s first “green” android phones introduced in 2010 – CITRUS and SPICE.

Bill started the ECOMOTO initiative during his previous role in Motorola Corporate Research, where he headed labs dedicated to International and Environmental Research. Bill’s team in Europe conducted testing on hundreds of Motorola products to ensure they met environmental regulatory requirements of the EU (WEEE/RoHS), American and Asian markets. His lab in China worked closely with manufacturing, engineering and the supply chain to achieve improvements in factory productivity, yield and product reliability.

We value Bill’s input because he is directly involved with innovation everyday and understands what it takes to get a great concept to market in today’s world.  With 23 U.S. patents and more than 40 publications, Bill is a guru in his field. Thanks, Bill, for all of your support!

International Sustainable Electronics Competition: Sponsorship Opportunities

Donations are being accepted to support the International Sustainable Electronics Competition, part of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC). These donations are used for cash prizes in the competiiton and program administrative costs. There are five sponsorship levels: “Friend” is for donations up to $99; “Bronze” signifies gifts of $100 to $499; “Silver” donations are from $500 to $1499; “Gold” sponsors have provided $1500 to $4999 in support; and “Platinum” designates sponsors that have contributed $5000 or more. As a donor, you will be acknowledged on the competition web site unless you wish to remain anonymous. Corporations and organizations will have their logos and a link to their web site featured on the competition web site.

The competition began in 2009 as a local event on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and grew out of a class on e-waste issues taught by UIUC industrial design professor William Bullock. Participants focused on reuse of electronic scrap to make new products that first year. The event became international in 2010 with submission and judging occurring online. This continues currently, with entries including a brief YouTube video of the concept, among other requirements. The competition categories have evolved over time to include prevention as well as reuse, and for 2013, the categories have changed to “Product” and “Non-Product” to make the multidisciplinary nature and whole life-cycle focus of SEI more apparent. See our previous post, “International Sustainable Electronics Competition: New Name, New Categories, New Criteria” for further information on the changes for 2013 and the competition web site for complete rules, requirements, and videos for previous years’ winners. Also, check out the recently finalized list of expert jurors for 2013.

Each year, SEI staff members are amazed and inspired by the interesting and innovative ideas put forth by competition participants. It makes us proud to be part of this unique educational experience, which prompts college students and recent graduates throughout the world–society’s future leaders–to learn about and propose solutions for the environmental and social issues associated with our ubiquitous electronic devices. So consider even a modest $15 donation to show your support for inspiring students to conceive of new, more environmentally responsible ways to design, manufacture, use, and manage electronics. Contact Joy Scrogum (217-333-8948) for more information or see http://www.ewaste.illinois.edu/sponsors.cfm.

Jury Finalized for 2013 International Sustainable Electronics Competition

 The jurors for this year’s International Sustainable Electronics Competition (formerly known as the International E-Waste Design Competition) have been announced. Returning again this year are past participants Bill Olson, Director of the Office of Sustainability and Stewardship for Mobile Devices Business, Motorola, Inc., and Jason Linnell, Executive Director of the National Center for Electronics Recycling (NCER). They are joined this year by: UIUC alum and President of HOBI International, Inc., Craig Boswell; competition founder, UIUC Professor of Industrial Design in the School of Art + Design and ISTC Affiliated Faculty Scientist, William Bullock; Executive Director of the Northeast Recycling Council and Program Manager for the State Electronics Challenge, Lynn Rubinstein; and CEO of iFixit and Dozuki, Kyle Wiens. For complete juror bios, see http://www.ewaste.illinois.edu/judges.cfm.

Registration is free and opens September 1, 2013. Participants are asked to explore solutions to remediate the existing e-waste problem, prevent e-waste generation in the future, and foster a more sustainable system for electronic device development, use, and management. Submissions include a project description, brief YouTube video, and bibliography. See the competition Rules for complete details on eligibility, categories, judging criteria, and submission requirements. Cash prizes will be awarded to the top three entries in each of two categories. For more information on participating, incorporating the competition into a class, or sponsoring the competition, contact Joy Scrogum via email or at 217-333-8948.

International Sustainable Electronics Competition: New Name, New Categories, New Criteria

The International E-Waste Design Competition has changed its name, categories, & judging criteria. The competition, now known as the International Sustainable Electronics Competition, is part of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC). It originated in 2009, when it emerged from a class on e-waste issues taught by industrial design Professor William Bullock, an affiliated faculty scientist at ISTC. The competition was focused entirely on reuse of electronic scrap during that first year. What began as a local UIUC event became an international competition in 2010, with submissions being made online by college students and recent graduates from around the world. The competition has evolved a bit each year, and grew to incorporate the entire life cycle of electronics, rather than focusing solely on reuse. Organizers noticed that recent entries seemed to incorporate both prevention of e-waste generation (through design modifications to extend the useful product life cycle of electronic devices) and reuse of electronic scrap, regardless of whether or not they were submitted for the “Prevention” or “Reuse” category. So for 2013, categories have been changed to “Product” and “Non-Product,” with the concepts of prevention and reuse integrated throughout the revised judging criteria. The new name and judging criteria are part of the continuing effort to better focus the competition on ideas for a sustainable system for the design, manufacturing, use, and end-of-life management for electronics. The competition has always been open to students in any discipline, but most entries were from engineering or industrial design students. The new categories will make the multidisciplinary nature of the competition more apparent, as “non-product” entries could more obviously be made by students from other fields.

To learn more about the competition and new categories, visit www.ewaste.illinois.edu. Entries include, among other elements, a brief project description paper and YouTube video summarizing the concept. Expert jurors award cash prizes to the top three projects in each category. Registration is free and will open on September 1, 2013. For more information, contact Joy Scrogum at jscrogum@illinois.edu or 217-333-8948.

Registration Now Open for the 2012 International E-Waste Design Competition

Registration is now open for the 2012 International E-Waste Design Competition. Participants in this competition are asked to explore solutions to both remediate the existing e-waste problem and prevent e-waste generation in the future. Registration is free and open to current college/university students from around the world and recent graduates. See the competition web site for complete details, and my previous post announcing the competition.

Submissions are being accepted in two categories: E-Waste Prevention (products or services that prevent e-waste generation through life-cycle considerations) and E-waste Reuse (ideas that incorporate e-waste components into a new and useful item). Note changes to the rules for this year, if you participated in previous years. The project description is now a minimum of 500 words, with a maximum of five pages, and a bibliography with a minimum of five references is required. An important component of the submission is a brief YouTube video highlighting the entry’s design, features, and special design concepts. See “Rules” on the competition web site for complete details and requirements.

SEI is grateful to Dell, Inc. for their corporate sponsorship of this year’s competition. The Jury will award one entry from each of the two categories a Platinum Award of 3,000 USD, a Gold Award of 2,000 USD, and a Silver Award of 1,000 USD, for a total of six monetary awards. The decisions of the jury are final. Honorable Mention awards may be given at the discretion of the judges, and will receive certificates and recognition on the competition web site and in press releases. No cash prizes will be given for Honorable Mentions.

The 2012 Jury is comprised of the following individuals:

  • Jason Linnell, Executive Director, National Center for Electronics Recycling (NCER)
  • Chris Newman, Materials Management Branch, U.S. EPA Region 5
  • Bill Olson, Director, Office of Sustainability and Stewardship, Mobile Devices Business, Motorola, Inc.
  • Steven Samuels, Brand & Design Manager of ReCellular, Inc.
  • Kerstin Nelson Strom, Ecodesign Section Chair, Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA)

If you are interested in supporting the competition, individuals may use the secure online link to the U of I Foundation available on the competition web site. Corporations may contact Joy Scrogum at 217-333-8948. Donations are used for cash prizes and program administration.

For more information, contact Joy Scrogum, SEI Education Coordinator, via email or at 217-333-8948.