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The Applet of my Eye
David Hsu, 11 Jan 07
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In the spirit of New Year's Resolutions for 2007 -- here are six applets that I'd like to see developed that would help me change my environmental behavior in 2007. I will leave it to you readers to suggest a seventh.

Applets are defined as applications that use limited memory and are portable between operating systems. These little applications are proliferating on my desktop toolbar and as plug-ins in my browser, but they're useful for helping me to keep track of things that I would otherwise forget.

WorldChanging readers, I know that some of you have the ability to write these handy little apps, or else I hope that someone at Google is reading this. Finally, if it's not too much to ask, a Mac OS X version would also be great. Cheers!

1. Paper calculator: A nice little toolbar application that tells me how many pages I've printed today, this week, this month and this year. If someone could combine this with this useful web-based calculator from EPA and Environmental Defense, then I could get a running tally of the environmental impacts of my printing decisions, and perhaps I would think twice about how much I print.

2. Meat journal: How much meat do I eat? Even though I like meat in all of its forms -- I had some particularly nice lamb this weekend -- it would be nice to know how much I am consuming, because of the increased environmental impacts of meat production. Not only would the environment benefit, but perhaps my arteries would as well. This would be best as a portable Palm or iPod application: maybe I could use the clickwheel to put together "On-the-Go" dietary playlists! There must be plenty of similar dieting applications out there. (This may also give new meaning to the book title, My Year of Meats).

3. Food advisory: Again, it would be nice to know what the environmental impacts of my eating decisions are. In the same handy way that the Monterey Bay Aquarium has developed a nice pocket-sized guide to sustainable seafood, it would be nice to have this as a more extensive cell phone service in the same way that Google has made product pricing, weather, and movie information available as a free SMS service. This would, of course, require someone to keep a database of food's environmental impacts. Or, can someone tell me, does such a thing already exist?

4. A Long Bets ticker: Take a look at Long Bets, a spin-off of the Long Now Foundation. It would be great to get these bets in an RSS feed, and even better to have ongoing tracking of the key variables, much like many people get minute-by-minute updates on the stock market. Even though the point is to think at long and longer time scales, it is also interesting to track how people's confidence in particular predictions might wax and wane over time. Similarly, it would be good to have....

5. Environmental counters: Although I'd prefer to get feedback based on my individual decisions, so I can understand the impact of my behavior and change it at the source, some things are important to remain aware of. You can see continuous updates of the U.S. and world population here, and the U.S. national debt here. What environmental quantities do you want to be reminded of day in, day out, to give you a sense of urgency?

6. Fantasy environmental sports: The next logical step, then, would be to make this all personally competitive. The rise of the multi-billion dollar fantasy sports industry -- where people bet, or simply compete for bragging rights, by predicting and tracking statistics in everything from baseball and football, to supreme court decisions and Congressional voting -- demonstrates how eager people are to compete in their idle time. For example, here at the University of Washington, we have the Ride in the Rain competition, and many universities compete in RecycleMania: but even beyond direct participation, we can build awareness by supplying information about outcomes. And, since we've already developed all of the useful tools above, then why not allow close the loop by allowing people to send this to a website, so individuals and teams could compete?

7. Now, what simple computer tool would help you modify your environmental behavior?

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Great ideas, David. Probably best to call these "widgets", which is what you've described above. The term "applets" tends to be used Java code running inside an HTML page. A good resource for widgets is

Posted by: Hugo JUNOT on 11 Jan 07

I love the idea of a paper calculator. One minor suggestion for anyone who does happen to write such an applet/widget is to not allow a 'print to pdf' as part of the tally..

Posted by: Bond on 11 Jan 07

Great article, David, so please excuse my quibble. You're talking about compelling real-time feedback, and that's great. But some of your suggestions could be done with a Number 2 pencil and the back of a (used) envelope - or by just deciding to pay attention during the day. We don't always need a gadget, do we?

Posted by: David Foley on 12 Jan 07

Check out Natalie Jeremijenko's Stump

"A printer queue virus that counts the number of pages consumed by the printer. When the equivalent of a tree in pulp has been consumed the program automatically prints out a slice of tree."

Posted by: RR on 12 Jan 07

CO2 output from your daily commute and other business travel? You could input your miles for the day (and maybe the model of vehicle/airplane etc.). The app. could have an inbuilt database of vehicles (and their typical CO2 output) or it could access on online database which would easily be quite comprehensive.

Posted by: John Kazer on 12 Jan 07

More great examples of menubar items (at least for the Mac) can be seen at:

Posted by: David Hsu on 12 Jan 07

I'd like to see watt & gas meters with a big, easy to read digital readout. It would show my current & daily energy usage. I'm sure that would make me more sensitive.

Posted by: Jeffrey on 12 Jan 07

A calculator that will show how much extra pollution and funding for oil wars each jet flight costs as opposed to ground transportation. It should be straightforward based on btu consumed per passenger mile rather than several paragraphs crafted to justify continued personal consumption. Time factor doesn't count as proper planning and willingness to leave our comfort zones should solve that excuse.

Posted by: Tim Castleman on 13 Jan 07


You can already get such devices for electricity (but possibly not available in US?):

And smart meters are starting to be fitted by utilities for elec, gas and water in the UK:

but it's not straight forward in the UK...

Posted by: John Kazer on 15 Jan 07

One reader, Jannis Leidel, has already chipped in a Mac OS X widget that updates U.S. and world population:

Thanks, Jannis!

Posted by: David Hsu on 17 Jan 07



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