Tag: going green

  • Clone Wars Watchlist


    First, Happy 39th Earth Day! I assume we’ll hear big things next year for the 40th, since we love our decimalist celebrations so. I think 3×13 is a nice number myself, but I guess we like those nice round multiples of ten. Hopefully most people do something environmentally conscious every day, as opposed to just once a year, but progress is progress, and I hope the annual holiday continues to improve awareness.

    If you know me, you know that I’m pretty big on “Going Green”, and have been since before it was cheap or popular. I think this was in part due to an excellent green civic education obtained through programs that existed in Minnesota in the early ’90s when I was growing up. There were a number of animated mascots teaching important lessons like turning off the lights, buying used, recyling your waste, and so on.

    By no means is this intended to be me tooting my own horn; I’m hoping you’ll find some interesting tips and/or data in this post. For one thing, I don’t always succeed, in part because I’m not ready to go “off-grid” and live 100% sustainably. I like my technology a bit too much for that :oP. Last I checked my lifestyle would still require about 3.5 earths if everyone lived as I do; that’s mostly because I eat from the industrial food system and travel cross-country and internationally by jet. One place in particular where I’ve made some progress but hit a wall, the topic of this post, is trying to reduce my paper waste; for the most part this is because other people/organizations with whom I interact still insist on a paper record of our interaction.

    I focus in particular on mail that I’ve received (note: this is not a post on the future of the USPS, although that is in and of itself an interesting topic to me), although there’s certainly plenty of other paper I’m forced to waste, such as forms filled out at work and school, receipts received from points of sale, and so on. I finish up with a quick overview of several services out there that can help you reduce the amount of unsolicited paper waste you generate just by existing in modern society.


    Since early January, I’ve been using Daytum to track a few trivialities of my day-to-day life. This includes miles traveled (and by what means), beers I’ve drank, what I eat, where I get my caffeine, and relevant to this post, what I’ve received in the mail. You can see my entire data feed; Daytum is a pretty nifty service, and for a monthly subscription you can have additional data sets and display panels. Even free users like myself get CSV export of their data sets, which is what I’ve used in this analysis.

    This pie chart shows the percentage breakdown of postal mail received by me January-April 2009
    This pie chart shows the percentage breakdown of postal mail received January-April 2009

    Here’s how I filtered the categories:

    • Charity – any charitable or non-profit organization with whom I have a preexisting supporting relationship.
    • Scam – a special case of Junk, I occasionally get notices about free cars. I think these are linked to my DNS registration.
    • Package – Orders from Amazon and other sites.
    • Financial – Statements, prospecta, and other communication from my banking institutions.
    • Personal – Cards and letters from friends and family.
    • Junk – A catch-all for other unsolicited paper mail.
    • Magazine – Either a subscription, or something from an organization with which I am associated.
    • Customer Service – Non-financial communications from utilities and other companies with whom I have a client relationship.
    • Netflix – Little red envelopes full of DVDs.


    A few caveats about this data: first, this is already after enabling a number of paperless billing options from all of my utilities and banks. By my count, that reduces my monthly statement mailings by 8. Second, this data reflects tax season – many charities and financial institutions are legally required to send me paper copies of documents, even when they’re available online. This material spikes at the beginning of the year, in the months leading up to April 15th.

    I find it kind of depressing how much money charities I support spend soliciting me for more money by mail. It’s even more annoying to see when a charity I do support has apparently sold my name to related charities, and I get junk from them when I’m not interested.

    Netflix, magazines, and packages are all items I have a choice in. Magazines are definitely a luxury; I enjoy reading them, and their longer-term informativeness beats out my usual internet addiction to news and the like. Many magazines are becoming available as a digital subscription, although we’re not quite there yet. Netflix is an example where Big Content wins; there’s no technical reason all of these movies can’t be available via streaming, but I’m sure there’s all kinds of crazy licensing involved.

    Another thing to note is that because I am in a multi-unit home with shared entrance but without a central mail room or mailbox unit, my mailbox is apparently in some legal class where I can receive junk like local restaurant menus and other hand-dropped notices; those are included in junk, as a side-effect of having a physical address.

    My overall opinion is that the only things I should receive at my address are packages and personal correspondence. I want everything else to be digital, both because it’s easier to use and organize the information that way in the first place, and because that way I don’t have to recycle large amounts of paper or waste fuel having that paper shipped to me.


    So, how do we get down to this point, and how do we reduce it further?

    1. Enable paperless options

    This is time consuming, but generally a one-time operation. Most major financial institutions and utilities have a pretty straightforward option on their website to disable most (but not all; again, legal requirements) paper notices. You’ll have to do this separately for each institution, unfortunately.

    Most institutions will say on the web form that it could take “several billing periods” for paperless billing to be enabled… does anyone have an idea why it would take so long? Are they just covering their bases so as not to promise an instant fix? It seems to me it should just be a bit associated with my account that gets checked whenever something would be printed, and have it e-mailed to me instead.

    2. Reduce junk mail

    The junk mail reduction service I used in 2007 was GreenDimes, although it’s been renamed Tonic MailStopper. I guess they got bought; however, filling out the cards they sent me definitely reduced unsolicited junk mail. I did this for both me and my sister at my current address (she briefly had mail forwarded here).

    3. Recycle

    With what junk you do receive, make sure you recycle it through either your municipal curbside pickup or drop-off at your nearest recycling center. Just because they waste paper on you doesn’t mean it all has to end up in a landfill.

    4. Digital signatures

    A lot of the “legally required” category above suffers because when I respond to an official e-mail, I have no way of affirming that it’s me, or that I’m making a binding decision. A friend of mine pointed out a service, DocuSign, that does electronic signatures and contract execution. I haven’t used their service yet, but as I understand it they’re very popular with realtors. I’m planning to buy a place in the next couple of years, and I would definitely pick a realtor that uses DocuSign over one who insists on paper forms. I also like reading about companies that “get” social media; they have an interesting blog and are on Twitter.

    My main hope is that Harvard (where I’m pursuing my part-time Masters) would adopt a system like this one; every semester I spend a lot of time going to campus just to run around and collect signatures from professors, advisors, administrators, registrars, and the like.

    5. Complain

    No, seriously. For companies that keep sending you crap, calling or writing might be able to get you off their lists. Look for a phone number on the back of catalogs or in the letterhead of the junk they’re sending you. I’ve had some luck getting rid of a couple of catalogs this way.

    If you have relationships with a non-profit, encourage them to rely less on paper mass mailings, especially ones sent to reliable givers who maybe don’t even need the wasteful reminder.

    6. Opt out

    If you’re signing up for something that requires your address, opt out of any mailings or catalogs. Again, a little extra one-time effort, but it can significantly reduce your incoming paper. Web sign-up forms are particularly bad about this, because sometimes they’ll hide the checkbox and have it default to checked.


    The best part about the above steps is that any one of them helps the environment a little bit. You don’t have to take all of them, or enable all of them with every company or organization, but every one you do work on gets rid of a few pieces of paper coming into your home, and prevents a lot of trees, water, and energy being wasted getting a stack of paper to your door that you won’t even read before throwing out.

    What do you do to reduce your paper usage?

  • Sunspot

    A small Yorkshire Terrier lies in a pet bed on a green upholstered chair in a sunny living room.

    I wish I could nap like Pike naps.

  • The Muppets Meet Murderbot

    For the last year and a half or so Andrle and I have been having a ton of fun as part of an online book club put together by my friend Tanya. Unlike most book clubs where you all read the same thing, we all just share things we love that we’ve been reading.

    One recommendation that kept coming up was The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, and I’m glad we finally ran with it and started reading them. We’ve been bingeing the last few weeks and they’re really, really great. Highly recommend (even though I’m only on Book 4.)

    Unsurprisingly another thing I’ve been reading about and thinking about a lot is the advent of Large Language Models, particularly as manifested by ChatGPT. My past work life as an NLP practitioner has me a mix of curious, envious, and highly suspicious of what these are and how they’re being used. In the short term I don’t mind using them as a toy that I can play with for the purpose of a joke, which is what this post is about.

    A recurring topic in this book club is how we might have the Muppets interpret a particular book, or how we might recast a movie with Muppets (but keep one human actor). This provides a lot of fun discussions, especially since I grew up regularly watching the classic Muppet movies on VHS recorded off of TV, and I really like musicals.

    That all brings me to some prompt iterating that I did to get ChatGPT to write the painfully cliché finale to a Muppet musical featuring Murderbot. (Apologies to both Henson and Wells.)

    Verse 1 (Murderbot):
    I used to be a killing machine,
    A rogue cyborg, feared and mean,
    But then I met the Muppets and Kermit,
    And learned what friendship truly meant.

    Verse 2 (Kermit):
    I'm just a simple frog, it's true,
    But I believe in friendship too,
    And when I met Murderbot, I knew,
    Together we could do something new.

    Chorus (All):
    We don't need to kill no more,
    Our friends are all we're fighting for,
    With Murderbot and Kermit side by side,
    We'll show the world what we stand for.

    Verse 3 (Murderbot):
    I never wanted to be a tool,
    But that's all humans see in me, it's cruel,
    I used to dream of breaking free,
    From their endless schemes and greed.

    Verse 4 (Kermit):
    It's true, I'm always happy-go-lucky,
    But I've been through some tough times that were quite yucky,
    But now with Murderbot and the gang,
    I know our friendship will never hang.

    Chorus (All):
    We don't need to kill no more,
    Our friends are all we're fighting for,
    With Murderbot and Kermit side by side,
    We'll show the world what we stand for.

    The past is gone, the future bright,
    With friends like these, we'll win the fight,
    Our love and trust will guide us through,
    Together we'll see this journey through.

    Chorus (All):
    We don't need to kill no more,
    Our friends are all we're fighting for,
    With Murderbot and Kermit side by side,
    We'll show the world what we stand for.

    So let's raise our voices high,
    And let the world hear our battle cry,
    With Muppets and Murderbot side by side,
    We'll change the world and turn the tide.
    OpenAI. (2023, Mar. 16) [Iterative prompt conversation starting with “This Muppet movie is about a rogue cyborg traveling to different space stations and learning the power of friendship from the Muppets” and “I need some lyrics for the big finals. The music is big broadway style number about how the rogue cyborg doesn’t need to kill bad guys anymore because it has friends.” and then encouraging more dialogue between Kermit and Murderbot] https://chat.openai.com/

    Yes, I looked up recommendations on how to properly cite ChatGPT output.

    Overall the result was mildly amusing. I couldn’t get it to capture Murderbot’s signature style, presumably because while information about the novellas are in its model training, not enough text from the novellas are in there.

    I’m still not sure what useful things I could do with this kind of tool, but in the meantime, I can make it make silly songs.

  • Fox Ferocity

    Pike playing with a toy almost as big as he is.

  • Groomed Pike

    Tiny freshly groomed Yorkie sits on a teal couch wearing a monstera bow tie

    I love this little gentleman.

  • The Kale Wanter

    A small black and brown Yorkie stands on a cream rug in front of a brown cupboard begging for the bunch of lacinato kale in hand in the foreground.