6 Ways Your Office is Literally Killing You

Prepared for the Worst Now for some Friday fun.

Jerry Seinfeld will love this. Since the 1970s, energy conservation strides led to sealed office windows, which has led to recycled air, which has resulted in polluted & germ-infested, yet energy-conservative office air. This is known as the Sick Building Syndrome. Delicious.

But wait, there’s more. Freelance writer Kathy Benjamin offers these six ways your office is killing you softly:

  1. Sick Building Syndrome
  2. Gadget Pollution
  3. Over-Illumination
  4. Forced Positive Thinking
  5. Boredom
  6. Sitting

Now that I’m done with this post, please excuse me while I open my windows, turn off my electronics, shut off the lights, and go for a run outside.

Photo by: Adam Witwer

Biz Idea: Electric Vehicle Battery Replacement Service

This month’s INC Magazine had an interesting article: “The Connected Car” by Bernard Avishai. The article discussed the potential of an “ecosystem of entrepreneurial businesses” that will arise to service electric vehicles. This new technology is going to need all kinds of new products and services to support it. That’s where the opportunities come in.

One such opportunity Avishai pointed out is battery recycling:

Lab tests show that, even after 10 years, Volt [Gen-1 battery] packs will still be capable of carrying 75 percent of their original charge — not enough for the vehicle, but more than enough for utilities to use as storage for bulk renewable energy. [Line director of the GM Volt Tony] Posawatz is excited: “It is easy to imagine warehouses full of used batteries sucking up wind energy and saving it for times the wind does not blow, or homeowners using the pack as backup,” he says. “For recycling entrepreneurs, this means a whole new way of doing business.”

Here’s how I would envision such a company:

Say you have an electric car whose battery is about to run out. You go to our company’s website or call our toll-free number. Then we send over a technician, perhaps behaving theatrically like the way Geek Squad’s (BBY) technicians do for their house calls. Our trained technician removes your battery, provides you with a new one, and leaves with a smile. Then the battery is resold to homeowners or other entreprises who want electric power. When one of those end users calls, our technicians will deliver the battery to them personally as well, though it could be mailed just as easily to save costs.

The benefit to customers? Convenience. They just contact us and we take care of the rest.

The benefit to homeowners or end users of recycled batteries? It’s cost-effective. They get an inexpensive, yet usable battery, plus the good feeling of knowing they’re helping society recycle.

And for doing all of this, we earn a nice profit. We charge a premium for our convenient service. Our batteries may cost extra, but we also handle the chore of recycling the batteries properly to a secondary market – earning even more revenue there.

Our operational costs would come from the website & toll-free number (and perhaps that number isn’t even necessary), the customer & product tracking software, the training classes for our technicians, the vehicles our technicians use (electric, of course!), and other basic business costs (legal, financial, marketing, etc).

Since our company is geographically-bound, we would have to market locally at first. As we streamlined our operations, we could consider a franchise model or company-owned branches throughout the country. We would aim to be a nationally-known service.

Perhaps a partnership could be struck with green vehicle service stations too, if & when those exist. Our services could be offered at such stations as a value-add service. The station can refuel, recharge, and replace your battery all in one location.

And you, as a franchise owner, get to make money with a green business! Everybody wins, especially (and hopefully) planet Earth.

Photo by: bpende

Feeling Positive About the Future

I’m feeling pretty pumped right now. Been watching lots of TED talks through their iPhone app lately. Damn good stuff.

I just watched Ray Kurzweil’s talk, “A university for the coming singularity“, where he discussed information technology’s growth being a series of S-curves that are exponential instead of linear. Moore’s Law, for example, is one such exponential trend that would fit into an S-curve. Once Moore’s Law ends (apparently around 2020, says Kurzweil), it will be replaced by another paradigm. Perhaps one governing green technology?

And speaking of green technology, this segment especially pumped me up:

…we’re all concerned about energy and the environment. Well, this is a logarithmic graph. This represents a smooth doubling, every two years, of the amount of solar energy we’re creating. Particularly as we’re now applying nanotechnology, a form of information technology, to solar panels. And we’re only eight doublings away from it meeting 100 percent of our energy needs. And there is 10 thousand times more sunlight than we need.

Eight doublings, where a doubling occurs ever two years. So in ten years, according to Kurzweil, solar harvesting technologies could be efficient enough to make all the energy we need.


On a side note, there was an article today on Techmeme that was also positively-pumping: “Could this be the end of electric power cords?” by David Colker from the LA Times. Colker writes about how the company WiTricity has been working on technology to send wireless electrical power to remote devices.

This technology is based on the work of MIT physicist Marin Soljacic, who spoke at a TEDGlobal conference in Oxford, UK. According to Colker, the technology “works on something called resonant magnetic coupling and is safe for humans. And on an environmental note, [WiTricity CEO Eric Giler] said it could not only eliminate power cords but also tons of batteries used yearly to power household devices.”

Great strides in green technology. Enough solar power to relinquish the need for fossil fuels. And all happening in the next decade or so. Oh man.

Good times are coming!

Props to Waterless Urinals

There comes a time in every blog that the topic of urinals must come up. Well, maybe not every blog. But certainly this one.

Today, I feel the need to give props to businesses who’ve been installing waterless urinals lately. There’s one in my local public library and I’ve seen a few more around town.

According to Wikipedia, waterless urinals save about 15,000 to 45,000 gallons of water per urinal per year. In a five-urinal restaurant, that would mean 75,000 to 225,000 gallons of water per year. Holy crap that’s a lot of water!

These urinals are also hygienic because they are touch-free. I don’t mean you could eat out of one of these things (God help you if you do), but you don’t have to push any handles to flush it. That puts it on parity with the water-flush touch-free urinals currently out there.

There’s no smell either, in case you’re wondering. How? At the bottom of the urinal is a trap that holds (or “traps”, duh) your urine. A liquid sealant then floats on top of the urine, isolating it from the outside air.

Every new technology is not without costs, however. The maintenance required is replacing the trap and sealant liquid. The traps – or cartridges, as they’re formally known – need to be replaced approximately every 6,000 to 7,000 uses. They cost anywhere from $5.00 to $40.00 each. Sealants cost $1.50 to $2.00 each. And the waterless urinals themselves can cost $400 to $600 each. Couple that with retrofit installation costs, and it can add up a bit.

But it still might be worth it. Annette Stumpf of the US Army Corps of Engineers did an evaluation of waterless urinals (PDF file) and includes some sample cost calculations in her paper. Also in her paper are links to two cost-savings worksheets, one from Waterless and another from Falcon, two manufacturers of waterless urinals.

Then there’s the intangible cost of conserving a natural resource. It’s difficult to put a dollar value to that, but it does count for a tremendous amount. Especially in areas and times of drought.

If you own a brick-and-mortar business (as us web geeks call it; you probably just call it a “store”), consider switching to waterless urinals. Not only could they be a good cost-savings investment, but they could also be good for your local environment and the future of your children’s children.

And with all this talk of urinals, how can I leave off without pointing out some important urinal rules:

One Web Day: Earth Day for the Internet

Happy One Web Day! Yup, that’s today, September 22nd. It’s a day to celebrate and internet and to focus our attention on a key internet value. This year, it’s online participation in democracy.

Started by University of Michigan Law Internet Law and Communications Law professor Susan Crawford in 2006, this year’s event features a number of prominent speakers in New York, including Stanford professor and author Larry Lessig, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow, and Pandora founder Tim Westergren. Quite a list of luminaries!

One of One Web Day’s collaborative features is their Stories submissions. It’s a way for you to share how the Internet has changed your life. So in the spirit of One Web Day (or is it OneWebDay, all one word?), here’s how the Internet has changed my life.

How the Internet Changed My Life

I was a lucky kid. My Dad introduced me to email and newsgroups at an early age. He even encouraged me to program in BASIC on a Tandy CoCo, a TRS-80 Color Computer. So I was online, learning about Usenet, netiquette, and emoticons before most people.

One day, while in college, my sophomore roommate pulled me over to his computer and said, “Check this out.” I stood there for a moment, waiting, while a bunch of text appeared on a gray background.

“Um, okay. So what?”

“Isn’t this cool? This information is coming from another computer across the world!” Apparently, I was looking at the Mosaic web browser render an early web page.

This was way back before the Web was commercialized and open to the general public. Before ecommerce and blogs and social networks. Heck, it was before CSS, back when HTML tables and images were still an innovative feature. I didn’t quite realize the immensity of the moment just then, but I filed it away for later use.

A year later, I built my first web site. It took me a while to figure it out, since I didn’t have a computer and had to use my university’s computer lab. Fortunately, I was taking a graphic design class, so I had access to their fancy multimedia lab. I remember being the only person using Mosaic, and later Netscape Navigator in that lab. I often had to download Navigator too, since most of the computers there didn’t have it.

I still remember the day I heard the news – that the Web was going to be opened to commercial use. The academic community seemed torn. Some supported it, saying this was going to open a whole new world of innovations and opportunities. Some were against it, saying this would bastardize the honorable intentions behind the Web and cheapen it. I felt apprehensive but excited.

I also remember telling myself, as I sat there at a computer staring at my web site, “This is going to be huge. I’m going to make a career out of this.” (I meant the commercialization of the Web, not my web site.)

To start building my professional experience, I found and bluffed my way into an Internet internship. I told them I knew HTML during the interview, then rushed home to look up all the free HTML resources I could. To be fair, I already knew basic HTML, but hadn’t yet tackled HTML tables, which the interviewer wanted.

On my first day of work, I partnered up with their main (and only) technical guy, who also claimed to know HTML. We sat there, trying to wrap our heads around <table>, <tr>, and <td> tags. When our effort finally paid off, we high-fived each other and went on to build more pages.

We completed the site in a few weeks. When I FTP’ed those files onto their web server and saw our pages live on the Web, I felt a rush. Our code was live for the world to see! Awesome.

After college, I followed through with my dream. I made a career on the Internet. And that’s how the Internet changed my life.

How did the Internet change your life?

Stop Junk Mail

I hate junk mail. I’m sure you do too.

And so does the environment, according to the daily green:

A report by the group ForestEthics estimates that destroying forests to make paper for junk mail releases as much greenhouse gas pollution as 9 million cars.

Another way to look at it: Junk mail produces as much pollution as seven U.S. states combined, or as much as heating 13 million homes each winter.

Holy crap!

Fortunately, there are solutions:

Do Not Mail
Operated by the non-profit organization Forest Ethics, this is an online petition to stop junk mail.
DMA’s Mail Preference Service
Just like email subscription preferences, this is the Direct Marketing Association’s snail mail preferences. For a one-time $1 fee, they’ll reduce most of your most junk mail.
Created by the socially-conscious Tonic Generation, this for-profit business will remove you from junk mail lists for a one-time fee of $20, or $36 for an extra bundle that includes two CFL light bulbs, a re-usable shopping bag, a t-shirt, and a children’s book. Or you can opt for a do-it-yourself guide that they’ll send you – plus a $1 payment. Not bad!

If you hate junk mail as much as I do, maybe one of these solutions can help. Good luck!

Marketing with Gas Saving Tips

Fricken hell. I just paid over $50 to fill up my gas tank. Way over $50. What I wouldn’t give for a hybrid right now (and a hybrid & electric vehicle refueling station!).

With that said, everyone and their Mommas have been trying to cut their gas bills. The smart folks at ModBargains.com saw an opportunity in this and recently sent out an email newsletter full of gas saving tips, along with a gentle reminder to check out their products too.

ModBargains.com is an ecommerce shop that specializes in aftermarket car parts and accessories. The CEO, Mike Brown, started this site in 2005 with a buddy to sell parts for modifying BMWs. They started this while still in attending undergraduate classes at Chapman University. A year later, at the young age of 21, Brown was named the Global Student Entrepreneur of 2006 by the Entrepreneurs’ Organization from among 10 finalists from the United States, Canada and Sweden. Smart guy!

And their gas tips are pretty smart too:

At the Gas Pump

  • Buy gas at the coolest times of the day usually early morning or late afternoon when the sun is not up. At these times, the gas is the most dense, meaning you pump more gas in early mornings or late afternoons than at noon when the sun is at its highest point and density of gas is less. The gas pump measures volume of gasoline pumped through, not density.
  • Avoid topping off the gas tank, overfilling causes the gasoline to slosh around inside and leak out of the gas tank

General Driving Habits

  • Traveling at fast speeds in low gears can consume up to 45% more fuel than is needed.
  • At highway speeds, use your a/c, and on city streets roll your windows down.
  • When possible use Cruise Control. On highways constant speed, in most cases, saves gas.
  • Drive at a steady speed. Constantly slowing down and speeding up consumes gas.
  • Avoid tailgating. Not only is tailgating unsafe but the driver in front of you is unpredictable and can slow down at any second.
  • When driving up to a hill, if you must accelerate, do it before you reach the hill, not on it.
  • Try to avoid driving on rough roads when possible. Dirt and gravel roads use up to 30% of gas mileage.
  • Stoplights are timed for motorists advantage. Staying at the speed limit increases the chance of having green lights all the way.
  • Remove excess weight from trunk or inside car – spare tires if you have roadside assistance, backseats, and unnecessary heavy parts. The more weight in your car the less gas mileage you get.
  • When traveling, use as much trunk space and cab space as possible to avoid using a roof rack that creates drag on the highways.
  • Carpool. All riders help you buy. Carpooling reduces the amount of cars in traffic.
  • During cold weather check car for ice frozen to the frame of your car. 100lbs can be quickly accumulated.


  • Avoid warming your car up for prolonged periods of time 30-40 seconds is enough time.
  • Idling your car for one minute consumes the same amount of gas when starting. Don’t stay in a drivethru go inside.
  • Avoid “revving” this wastes fuel needlessly and washes oil down from the inside cylinder walls resulting in loss of oil pressure.
  • Accelerate slowly from a complete stop.

Recommended Check-Ups

  • Get your car checked regularly to guarantee the best fuel economy for your vehicle. Keeping air filters clean maintains good fuel economy.
  • Use recommended grade of motor oil.
  • Inspect chassis and suspension parts for occasional misalignment. Bent wheels, axels, bad shocks, broken springs, etc. can create engine drag and are unsafe at high speeds.
  • During good weather season remove snow tires, traveling on deep tire tread decreases gas mileage.
  • Keep tires inflated to the maximum recommended limit. Get tires periodically spun, balanced, and checked for out-of-round. (check manufacturer’s specs for max tire pressures).

Air Intake Advantages

  • There is common misconception regarding intakes. Some people believe that it is only for making your car louder. Although this is true, an air intake system does more than that. Not only it make your car sound better, but it will also give you more horsepower and more miles per gallon. Since the engine is breathing easier, it doesn’t have to work as hard to produce its power.

    Therefore you use less fuel. If you wanted to take your performance and your miles per gallon even further, then I would recommend replacing your catalytic converters to Hi-flow catalytic converters and install a larger-diameter exhaust system. Both improve exiting airflow from the engine and increase horsepower along with increasing your miles per gallon. Since you are saving money at the pump, these modifications will soon pay for themselves.

    With 18 mph with your stock intake, we calculate that with an aftermarket intake you should save approximately $500 per year by using an aftermarket intake of good quality. This is based on 30 miles per day of driving at $5/gallon.

Traveling Tips

  • Before driving, plan your route. Determine your destination(s) and find the best way there–this includes the distance needed to travel to the destination, the amount of traffic involved during your commute, and the time of day you travel. Planning your destination ahead of time will help you save a significant amount of gas and time during your day.

    There are GPS devices today that include live traffic information features that will help you during your drive to your destination.

Low Price Gas Locator Websites

  • Gasbuddy.com – GasBuddy.com can help you find cheap gas prices in your city. It is a network of more than 181+ gas price information websites that help you find low gasoline prices. All web sites are operated by GasBuddy and has the most comprehensive listings of gas prices anywhere.
  • Mapquest.com – Mapquest Gas Prices finds the cheapest gas prices in your area. Helping you save money on your next gas purchase.
  • Fueleconomy.gov – Fueleconomy.gov provides you with Gas Prices, Gas Mileage Tips, Articles on Hybrid, Diesel, Alternative Fuel Vehicles, and more!

Great tips, huh? An email newsletter with this much content is sure way to get forwarded to friends and friends of friends. The tip I most appreciated was buying gas at the coolest times of the day. I’ve heard most of the other tips before, but not this one.

A smart email marketing move if I’ve ever seen one, especially with today’s gas prices. Brown & ModBargains.com: everyone and their Mommas thanks you.

Green Homes

Highland Homes Like to invest in real estate? Like environmentally-friendly technologies and products? Here’s an interesting venture.

In last month’s issue of Entrepreneur Magazine, they ran an article featuring young (read: under 40) millionaire entrepreneurs. Along with an impressive cast, one of the duos profiled is Bob Shallenberger & John Cavanagh, founders of Highland Homes.

Bob , 37, and John, 38, are fraternity brothers from St. Louis University who both had real estate development experience before banding together in 2003 to create the St. Louis-based “homebuilder with innovative designs, green developments and urban lifestyle,” as they state on their website.

They use green housing methods such as “sustainably grown wood, rooftop decks, underground parking, lots of parklike green space and high-efficiency heating and cooling systems.” Such techniques offer them a competitive advantage as well.

Says Cavanagh about green building, “It’s difficult and it’s expensive to learn. It’s challenging, and there’s some risk in it. We see it as a big growth segment of the market.” Their next move? “Being recognized as the top green residential builder in the country is the goal for us,” he says.

That could possibly happen, if they play their cards right. I certainly agree that green buildings (both residential and commercial) will become a huge market in the future. With the way the environment is going, I don’t think we have much choice.

Highland Homes doesn’t just aim for environmentally-conscious customers though. They also cater to the luxury market. “Each new home comes with a plasma TV and the option of special packages like ‘Elvis Live,’ which includes a stereo, karaoke machine, CD player and iPod Nano.” Another one of their current options, the Super Bowl Shuffle, contains a 50″ plasma TV, Sony Surround Sound, 2 front & 2 rear speakers, center channel & subwoofer, DVD/CD player, a Sony Playstation 3, and Madden NFL 2007.

Not bad. And even better, especially for California Bay Area real estate investors, are some of the prices:

Kilmore Condominiums near St. Louis University (all 2bd, 2ba, 1500 sq ft):

  • 7011 Dartmouth Ave 1FL – $249,900
  • 7011 Dartmouth Ave 2FL – $259,900

6416 Cates Condominiums near St. Louis University (all 2bd, 2ba, 2000 sq ft):

  • 6416 Cates Ave. 1FL – $314,900
  • 6416 Cates Ave. 2FL – $339,900
  • 6416 Cates Ave. 3FL – $359,900
  • 6416 Cates Ave. 4FL – $379,900

Donegal Condominium near St. Louis University (3bd, 2ba, 2000 sq ft):

  • 6404 Cates Ave. 2E – $319,900

Highland Walk Townhomes at The Hill in St Louis (3bd, 2.5ba, 2050 sq ft):

  • 5717 Arsenal St. – $299,900
  • 5719 Arsenal St. – $299,900
  • 5723 Arsenal St. – $299,900

To be fair, I’m not a real estate investor. I just happened to read about these guys and thought it was an interesting opportunity for someone. The prices are lower than the $700k – $1.5M I see in the Bay Area, though I know that doesn’t mean Highland Homes’ prices are a bargain it in St. Louis.

(Also, I have no affiliation with these guys, nor am I getting any money for this. I just thought it was a cool idea. Plus, I like hearing about green businesses.)

There’d be lots of factors to consider if you wanted to buy or invest a green home with these guys. Are their methods sound? Will they actually stand the test of time? Presumably, they will, since the guys are living in homes they’ve built. How are the neighborhoods there? Being next to a university means lots of possible renters, but is the rental market healthy? How about the country-wide real estate downturn? Will the rising costs of housing materials hurt them? Could their prices drop as sub-prime fears depress the market?

Hmm. Lots to consider. And if you’re a serious real estate investor, I’m sure you have many more important questions. But hey, if this is a sound investment, and you want to invest in green AND real estate, here’s a chance to combine the two!