Because, Because…Soshalism, That’s Why!

Not much blogging to come (will anyone be able to tell the difference?–ed.) this week, as I’m writing this from Doha, Qatar, where the biennial World Conference of Science Journalists is about to begin.

But as my body adjusts to the eight hour time difference, I chanced across this piece in The New York Times, which captures in the story of one small household appliance why American Exceptionalism may kill us all yet:

One high-definition DVR and one high-definition cable box use an average of 446 kilowatt hours a year, about 10 percent more than a 21-cubic-foot energy-efficient refrigerator, a recent study found.

These set-top boxes are energy hogs mostly because their drives, tuners and other components are generally running full tilt, or nearly so, 24 hours a day, even when not in active use. The recent study, by the Natural Resources Defense Council, concluded that the boxes consumed $3 billion in electricity per year in the United States — and that 66 percent of that power is wasted when no one is watching and shows are not being recorded. That is more power than the state of Maryland uses over 12 months.

That set-up:  the HD box and recorder, can add ten bucks or more per month to a household electricity bill, but the drain isn’t obvious, because the damn things are always on.

__

It was said of Pythagoras that he was the only man who could hear the music of the spheres; the rest of us were so accustomed to it, having been cradled in such harmony from womb to grave…and so it is with that 60 cycle hum, or its metaphoric equivalent.  We can’t monitor that whose absence we’ve never known.

What’s truly galling, though, is that there is no technical reason either to spend that money, or to burn the fuel — much of it coal — to make the power required:

The perpetually “powered on” state is largely a function of design and programming choices made by electronics companies and cable and Internet providers, which are related to the way cable networks function in the United States. Fixes exist, but they are not currently being mandated or deployed in the United States, critics say.

Not our fault, says Big Cable:

“The issue of having more efficient equipment is of interest to us,” said Justin Venech, a spokesman for Time Warner Cable. But, he added, “when we purchase the equipment, functionality and cost are the primary considerations.”

Which is to say the old brush off.  You know, “You’ve got a problem, which means I’ve got a problem. You.”*

Except, you know, reality:

But energy efficiency experts say that technical fixes could eliminate or minimize the waiting time and inconvenience, some at little expense. Low-energy European systems reboot from deep sleep in one to two minutes.

Alan Meier, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said of the industry in the United States, “I don’t want to use the word ‘lazy,’ but they have had different priorities, and saving energy is not one of them.”

It’s hard to deny that charge, given this:

But as of Sept. 1, typical electricity consumption of Energy Star qualified products would drop to 97 kilowatt hours a year from an average of 138; and then by the middle of 2013, they must drop again to 29 kilowatt hours a year. Companies have fought the placement of the “Energy Star” seal on products and the new ambitious requirements, which may still be modified before enacted.

Mr. Wilson recalled that when he was on the California Energy Commission, he asked box makers why the hard drives were on all the time, using so much power. The answer: “Nobody asked us to use less.”

But of course, it isn’t just bad software and slothful, monopolist oligolopolist** greedoid big Cable that’s to blame.***  There is a pattern of trading energy efficiency — conservation — for other pleasures.  The internal combustion engine of 2011 is a vastly more efficient machine that that of the 1973 oil crisis — but the power numbers for just about every car have shot up relative to comparable categories of automobile from thirty and forty years ago, wiping out much of the efficiency gain.

Here, we like having zero time-lag when we wish to couch-potato.   While we enjoy the latest episode of whatever, we are heading for real trouble with our energy sector.  Global climate change is some ways — well, not the least of it — but the effect that we’ll notice second or third, well after we’re wondering why it costs so much to live like an American.

There is a response, of course.  We could try real conservation — actually building energy efficient structures and tools and transportation systems, which, if implemented — with tech that exists right now — would represent a meaningful step towards an energy demand that an alternative energy mix (that would for decades + still include stuff we burn) could plausibly meet.  It would indeed mean changes in habits and cultural practices — and those are very hard to achieve, I know.  But consider the alternative.

If we don’t, then when the rest of the world — and our kids — ask us what the hell  happened, we’ll have to tell them we were too anxious to start watching Survivor to stop and think.

*H/t science writer Jon Cohen, for reminding me of that old gem.

**There are, after all, now two or three-ish cable sources in my ‘hood, + satellite.  Pricing policies suggest oligopoly, not monopoly.  Not much difference from this consumer’s point of view, but still, worth correction.

***Meanwhile, this article, plus the pleasures of Netflix streaming, are leading me to think about copying some friends and simply dump cable in favor of an HD antenna for over-the-air broadcasts (NFL), and broadband internet for everything else.

Image:  Jan Breughel the Elder, Landscape with Windmills, 1607

117 replies
  1. 1
    Corner Stone says:

    Bout to be in Doha, Abu Dhabi, and a couple other places in mid-July.
    You probably won’t still be there.

  2. 2
    Barb (formerly Gex) says:

    And here is where I can’t help but think of the several SUVs in my neighborhood with bumper stickers that say “My SUV offsets your hybrid.” There are some that oppose energy efficiency because they hate liberals and wish to piss them off. Deeper thought on the issue is just elitist, overeducated nonsense.

  3. 3
    Tom Levenson says:

    @Corner Stone.

    Nope. Long gone. UK next, then a few weeks off, then on the road again.

  4. 4
    dmsilev says:

    Meanwhile, this article, plus the pleasures of Netflix streaming, are leading me to think about copying some friends and simply dump cable in favor of an HD antenna for over-the-air broadcasts (NFL), and broadband internet for everything else.

    I did this a few months back. Never mind the energy savings, the cost savings were far more than enough to justify the move. For about half of one month’s cable bill, I got a decent amplified antenna which can pick up all the local stations, and the Internet (which I would be paying for anyway…) provides everything else. It helps that I don’t care about live sports.

  5. 5
    BO_Bill says:

    Breaking news. College teacher takes airline to Middle East. Lectures us on energy use. Sigh.

  6. 6

    We let our cable lapse and have been living off of broadband for some time now. The transition was easier than I thought it would be.

  7. 7
    lacp says:

    If you’re relying on the USA or China or Russia or India to do doodly-squat about this, I’d suggest you eat a gun right now.

  8. 8
    Keith says:

    I am glad I am not the only one noticing how hot those boxes get (I turn mine off when I leave). Ideally, the next gen boxes would run a mainstream OS to take advantage of sleep modes (or *gasp* build it into the next boxes), but I am hoping that the next gen game consoles will take over all the settop functions.

  9. 9
    Violet says:

    Meanwhile, this article, plus the pleasures of Netflix streaming, are leading me to think about copying some friends and simply dump cable in favor of an HD antenna for over-the-air broadcasts (NFL), and broadband internet for everything else.

    Can someone walk me through what I’d need to do this? And I mean at a VERY basic level. What pieces of equipment do I need? Who do I need to sign up with to get connected, etc.?

    I’d also like to have the option to DVR shows from the HD antenna. Would that be possible? Or would I have to go back to watching them live and not being able to pause/rewind? (I use that feature far more often than I thought.)

  10. 10

    What’s the Netflix (or whatever) box’s energy usage?

  11. 11
    Luthe says:

    @Barb:
    Do said neighbors also whine about how much it costs to fill the tank of their SUVs?

    @BO_Bill:
    And Al Gore is fat and lives in a big house. Your point?

  12. 12

    If it wasn’t for sports, I don’t think there would be a need for television. Really, everything else you can just get online. Netflix Streaming & Hulu provide more than enough to watch.

  13. 13

    Violet: You need a Roku box or something similar to stream Netflix & other Internet stuff. Then you sign up w/ Netflix.

    You should also be able to buy a DVR that would allow you to pause/rewind from the HD antenna, but it may use as much energy as the cable box.

  14. 14
    PurpleGirl says:

    Question to people not using cable: How do you get your broadband internet?

  15. 15
    Maxwel says:

    Well, turn them off.

  16. 16
    dmsilev says:

    Violet:

    Can someone walk me through what I’d need to do this? And I mean at a VERY basic level. What pieces of equipment do I need? Who do I need to sign up with to get connected, etc.?

    At the very basic level (just watching stuff, no DVR or whatever), all you need besides your TV is an antenna and a DTV tuner. Virtually all recent (last several years) TVs have the tuner built in; older TVs will need a “DTV converter box” that can be had for a few tens of dollars at your local Best Buy/Radio Shack/whatever. Cable goes from antenna to tuner box (or to ‘RF input’ on the back of the TV), and then you tell the TV or the box to scan for stations. This will take a few minutes to scan through all the frequencies looking for signals, and then you’re done.

    In principle, you should be able to plug a Tivo or similar into the antenna and get DVR functionality, but I’ve never tried it so can’t comment on how well it works.

    For the Internet stuff, there are a bunch of boxes of various complexity which will do the job. Netflix in particular is built into many many things (a lot of Blu-Ray players, the Apple TV, many game consoles, etc.)

  17. 17
    Anne Laurie says:

    Never had cable, but Fios plus Netflix (yay streaming!) keeps me happy. Verizon would very, very much like us to add teevee to our monthly bill, but since almost all of what we watch on TV these days is local news, a $50 converter box atop our fiveten-year-old set is good enough for our standards. Service for Fios — including installation issues, some glitches caused by 50-year-old wiring, and replacement when our router failed after 18 months & multiple power outages — has been excellent, cross fingers (info added since we’re in the same general coverage area as you, Tom).

  18. 18
    Mike Kay (Democrat of the Century) says:

    Gay marriage in New York is a big deal, right.

    So who was on Meet the Prees today – Cuomo? No. Maybe Bloomberg? No. Maybe the senators who voted for it? No. Maybe some gays advocate groups? No.

    They had on beltway darling Chris Christie.

    This is what Dems have to deal with. They can kill Bin Laden and only republicans are invited. They can pass landmark legislation and only republicans are invited.

    The Dems opposition isn’t simply the republicans, but rather the republicans and their media patrons.

  19. 19
    BO_Bill says:

    In fairness to Al, he has lost a lot of weight and now appears to be in better shape than Michelle. People’s body mass is really their own business. However Luthe, when people distort the useful arts and sciences to serve their own interests, this becomes our collective business, and my point.

  20. 20
    dmsilev says:

    Question to people not using cable: How do you get your broadband internet?

    DSL. I’m in a building/area with old wiring, so 3 megabits is the best AT&T can do, but that’s good enough for Netflix streaming at reasonable quality.

  21. 21
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @ Barb (formerly gex):

    Don’t worry. Jesus will be back before the water in lower Manhattan is much above mid-calf. Genesis 1:28, baby! Subdue that earth.

    O.K. Thigh high. But, no higher than that, I promise.

  22. 22
    Violet says:

    M. Bouffant, dmsilev:

    Thanks for the info. The cable bill (to be fair, it also includes the internet) is ridiculously high and I’d like to leave it behind. The big problem is, my household requires Fox Soccer Plus channel to get rugby. I don’t think that’s available on Netflix, is it? The online streams to watch the rugby matches are generally subpar.

  23. 23
    Anne Laurie says:

    What’s the Netflix (or whatever) box’s energy usage?

    I acquired Netflix streaming by clicking the “download (Silverlight) plug-in” button on Netflix’s website and then re-booting my PC. The Spousal Unit was dubious about Silverlight, but it doesn’t seem to have destroyed/crufted anything vitual. Speed, picture quality & soundtracking have been “good enough” by my not-demanding standards, comparable to Hulu. So, in this household, the energy usage is ‘what the router & the PC suck’, and they’re pretty much on while I’m awake anyways…

  24. 24
    ruemara says:

    Wow. I’m sure Qatar is a hotbad of crazy excess right now. Scientists, making formula jokes, watching star trek, crazee! I kid because I’m jealous. I’ve never had a dvr but finding out about the energy drain, I just wonder. America, fuck, yeah.

  25. 25
    Mike Kay (Democrat of the Century) says:

    @ Anne Laurie : so do you watch netflix on your computer or do you hook up your computer to your tv?

  26. 26
    PurpleGirl says:

    dmsilev — ah. For me that would be Verizon.

    During the course of my unemployment, Time Warner has been willing to let me stay two months behind in my payments; Verizon cut off my phone and will charge me a high restart fee. While Verizon charges for phone service are less, Time Warner has been better about working with me to keep the service active. And they do have people who will talk to you, not everything has to be done electronically.

    Also, Time Warner had broadband available to the area in which I live several years before Verizon made DSL available.

    ETA: No one solution works for everyone.

  27. 27
    dmsilev says:

    Violet:

    The big problem is, my household requires Fox Soccer Plus channel to get rugby. I don’t think that’s available on Netflix, is it? The online streams to watch the rugby matches are generally subpar.

    Netflix doesn’t do live anything. If sports are a requirement and there’s no suitable live stream, I’m afraid you’re stuck with cable/satellite.

  28. 28
    Violet says:

    dmsilev:

    Netflix doesn’t do live anything. If sports are a requirement and there’s no suitable live stream, I’m afraid you’re stuck with cable/satellite.

    The rugby is mostly played in other countries, so live isn’t usually a good option because it’s live at inconvenient times here. Except some weekend matches. But most of the rugby is not broadcast live anyway, so it doesn’t make that much difference. Bonus over here is, it’s pretty easy to avoid news of rugby scores, at lest easier than it is to avoid scores of other sports.

    But Netflix doesn’t really do sports at all, does it?

  29. 29
    slag says:

    Question to people not using cable: How do you get your broadband internet?

    We just started using Clear after unsuccessfully trying to restrict our internet usage to tethering to Droid phones (T-Mobile network is sketchy). It’s only been about a week since we’ve been using Clear, but so far, so good.

    Also, I’m still looking for monitor recommendations if anyone has them. No TV/cable usage, just Wii, dvd movies, and laptop (Mac). We were debating about Apple’s Cinema display but can’t justify the cost for what we use the product for. Suggestions? Anyone?

  30. 30
    Barb (formerly Gex) says:

    @11 Luthe – No idea. I just see the bumper stickers. I’m not really interested in talking to 40 year old petulant teenagers.

    I think the right captures many of the people who have oppositional defiance disorder.

  31. 31
    13th Generation says:

    @BO_Bill

    This bit of wisdom from the “about” section of the Brick Oven blog:

    “These thoughts are to be discounted as nothing other than delusional, drunken rants, collected for future use in a fictional novel.”

  32. 32
    nancydarling says:

    Tom, I loved that painting. We learned to harness the wind a long time ago, didn’t we? And even further back in time for sailing ships. Before rural electrification, many farm homes on the Great Plains used their wind mills to make electricity as well as pump their water. Imagine how different we would be if we had pursued that technology 70 or 80 years ago. My uncles in Oklahoma were still using wind mills to pump water for their stock tanks in the 40’s and 50’s. One uncle had a shower next to his wind mill. An over head tank was filled in the AM’s and heated by solar energy for evening showers. Alas, it was only for the grown ups. Children took their baths in a galvanized tub on the back porch with water heated on the stove. It was youngest to oldest in the tub and another kettle of hot water was added as needed. We put a lot of trust in the little ones not to pee in the water. If they did, we all seemed to survive.

  33. 33
    BlueDWarrior says:

    Well like some people here, not quite sure, but I am a live sports NUT.

    If there was some way I could assuredly get NBA, MLB, and most importantly the NFL over high quality live streaming then I’d drop cable in a hot second, I can just TV Guide and pira… I mean Netflix anything else I may need or want.

    Really I think the sticking point for most of us cost-concious media consumers who are also sports fans is that the NFL is ran by class-S assholes and I don’t know if they have a internet streaming package…

  34. 34
    Jess says:

    I would love to ditch my overpriced cable service; don’t watch tv, but I do watch a lot of netflix streaming and hulu. What kind of DSL service would still work well with that? Any advice? I’m in Massachusetts.

  35. 35
    JPL says:

    I have an antenna and Netflix and have been quite pleased. If you have a Roku, you can stream MLB for a price. The only 24/7 news site that I can get is Al Jazeera and everything else is taped delay. Works for me.
    BTW.. Thank you to those who recommended Brotherhood. I watched a few episodes the other day and now I discovered that it disappears from instant on July 1. I might skip a few episodes but I’m determined to get through as many as possible.

  36. 36
    Nylund says:

    Cable internet, an HD antenna, and a netflix ready device (in my case, a blu-ray player) are more than enough for me. Paying for cable seems entirely unnecessary to me.

  37. 37
    JPL says:

    Jess – Do you have a Roku box? That picks up your wireless connection. They are easy to install and start about $50.00. Try an antenna also, too.

  38. 38
    techno says:

    Three years ago in April, I went with my brother to the Solar Energy Center in Titusville FL because he wanted me to meet one of the staff (who turned out to be pretty busy.)

    During our short conversation staff went off on a pretty extended rant about how a DVR sucked more energy than a refrigerator–and a bunch of other stuff. He wanted my brother to buy this device that actually recorded where all your electricity went.

    So like a dummy, I thought this was common knowledge so in June of 2011 this nugget of information shows up as news on BJ.

    My question–how does something this important and so easily discovered and validated remain a “secret” for three YEARS?

  39. 39
    patrick II says:

    You can plug the cable directly into newer televisions. You will still get local broadcast channels in Hi-Def (20 or so in our area), and the basic tier of cable channels in analog. You will not get digital cable channels or premium channels with this setup.
    Currently I have two tv’s, one with a box and one with the cable plugged directly into the tv. I save $5 a month from not having a second cable box, plus whatever the electricity would cost.
    Depending on what you watch, analog cable isn’t too bad. I can watch news and other shows on analog and not feel I’m missing anything.

  40. 40
    JPL says:

    Techno, The average consumer has no idea and the industry is not going to notify them.

  41. 41
    13th Generation says:

    @BO_Bill

    Too bad you’re nothing more than a pimple on the ass of Jane Hamsher, or the sadlynaughts might actually have some fun with your laughable excuse for a blog.

    In that sense, I kind of hope you actually find your voice among the rest of the right wing droolers.

  42. 42
    Yutsano says:

    The extortion rate for cable plus Internet here in the Emerald City (they wanted me to get a phone package too to “bring the cost down” but my house doesn’t even have phone jacks) so I pirated off the hotel’s Wi-Fi next door for awhile until I started making online purchases. Then I went with Clear, and honestly I ain’t looking back. Only thing I’m not really getting is sports, but I can catch scores later.

    as I’m writing this from Doha, Qatar

    I forgot if either you or your wife cook. Even if not, go to the local bazaar, bring a translator, and get a couple hundred milligrams of za’atar. Wonderful stuff and the best of it comes from the Arabian Peninsula. And yes I haz a jelus.

  43. 43
    Woodrowfan says:

    Apparently B.O.B. thinks he should walk to the Middle East or something…

  44. 44
    RossInDetroit says:

    Well, turn them off.

    Not that simple. According to the article many cable providers assume that the box will be on 24 X 7 for downloading station guides & other nonsense. Some people report delays of over an hour to re-boot a cold set top box. This is just laziness on the part of the cable providers, but what do they care how much of your power they waste as long as they don’t have to spend money on something – making their processes more efficient – that doesn’t help their bottom lione?

  45. 45
    Arclite says:

    DVRs and cable boxes are dead men walking. Streaming is the new young buck, and will reduce electric consumption by letting people watch when they want to watch, instantly. No need to leave boxes on 24/7. Netflix and Hulu, as mentioned above.

    And even a lot of sports can be streamed live, and more are added each year. I watched the NCAA basketball playoffs a few months ago on my 42″ HD TV which is connected to my computer as a second monitor. My wife (not a fan) surfed the web and read blogs on the main monitor while the kids and I watched the game, letting the PC pull double duty further conserving electricity.

  46. 46
    RossInDetroit says:

    I’ve never had cable or sat & never will. DSL broadband is fine for Netflix. My one and only gripe with streamed movies is that the quality and resolution are often visibly degraded. I’m no videophile but when the pixelation and compression artifacts become distracting it’s an issue.

  47. 47
    techno says:

    Yeah JPL, that’s one explanation but does this cover consumer reporters, etc.? After all, we are talking about $120-150 a year to power something that could EASILY be powered for $5 a year.

  48. 48
    Ahasuerus says:

    Does anyone here have one of the new(ish) Tivo Premiere units? They’re supposed to be Energy Star certified, and since they use CableCard you can ditch the watt-sucking cable box. I’ve been thinking about getting one but I figured I’d do some research beforehand, so I’m asking the question. For the record, I have multiple ancient series 1 units, all gussied up with larger hard drives and ethernet, and I’ve been extremely happy with them, but they don’t handle HD and I’m thinking of taking the plunge.

  49. 49
    RossInDetroit says:

    DVRs and cable boxes are dead men walking. Streaming is the new young buck,

    Except a lot of people get their broadband through cable along with a mandatory minimum video package, so for many that box is staying whether they watch the cable programming or not.

  50. 50
    Arclite says:

    Violet:

    Keep watching for live streams or recorded sessions on the internet. The quality is improving, and it’s only a matter of time before everything is available to be streamed (usually free with commecials). Cable TV is a dying industry. Shortly, everything will be streamed online.

  51. 51
    Turbulence says:

    I am glad I am not the only one noticing how hot those boxes get (I turn mine off when I leave). Ideally, the next gen boxes would run a mainstream OS to take advantage of sleep modes (or gasp build it into the next boxes), but I am hoping that the next gen game consoles will take over all the settop functions.

    Many of these boxes are already running Linux, the same operating system used on Android phones. Cell phone software is extremely power efficient. The real problem with set-top boxes is that the power efficiency has literally been disabled either to reduce start up time or (more likely) to make life slightly easier for idiot cable system engineers.

    The start up time strikes me as a real red herring though. For starters, my TV is not instant on. And secondly, a set-top box could go into deep sleep while still offering very fast start up times by just tracking basic statistics on when people use the damn thing. After all, most people have fairly predictable schedules for watching TV. In the worst case, it’ll be on all the time, but in 99.99% of cases, the device can be in deep sleep for most of the time and still be pre-warmed and on when the users show up to use it.

  52. 52
    Maxwel says:

    The DVR doesn’t record when off – I didn’t mean unplugged.

  53. 53
    Litlebritdifrnt says:

    Nancy @ 31, I can remember that with great clarity. We had a coal fire, which by utilizing a pull down thingy behind the fire heated the water in our water tank for washing dishes etc. Once a week we would drag out the metal bathtub and have a bath (my sister also a Nancy! and I shared) in front of the fire. (There was no bathroom in the house, only an outside toilet). In our next house we had a real bathroom with a toilet, a sink and a bath in it LUXURY!, but the water heater was only turned on once a week for a bathtub full, me and sis would go first then Mum would be last to use the water. I know this sounds like it was in the dark ages but it was in the 60s and 70s.

    Lawd the temptation to go into the “Four Yorkshiremen sketch” from Monty Python is almost unbearable.

  54. 54
    slag says:

    After all, we are talking about $120-150 a year to power something that could EASILY be powered for $5 a year.

    I agree. With these products (and many like them), we’re just throwing away energy in this country. Personally, I think energy should be progressively costly. If you use over a certain amount (a regionalized minimum), you should have to pay a premium for each watt used. Not sure if some utilities already do that, but I know that mine doesn’t.

  55. 55
    Turbulence says:

    I should also add: just about every component inside a set-top/DVR box has low power modes of operation. The disk drives in DVRs are just standard PC drives, which means they support low power, auto-sleep modes up the whazoo. Unless you explicitly turn them off, which cable companies seem to do. The point is, the stuff comes from the factory already setup for low power use, but the cable companies explicitly break it so that it wastes energy.

  56. 56
    Violet says:

    Arclite:

    Keep watching for live streams or recorded sessions on the internet. The quality is improving, and it’s only a matter of time before everything is available to be streamed (usually free with commecials). Cable TV is a dying industry. Shortly, everything will be streamed online.

    The North America rights for rugby are such a pain. I could go into the long saga of who owned them and how the various companies went out of business, sold them, sold pub/bar-rights-only but not TV rights. Online rights are different. There are various fly-by-night outfits trying to sell you packages so you can watch the key matches online, but when you check into them, they all see to be fronts for some Russian thievery. It’s crazy.

    Plus, so far the streams are jerky or do dumb things like stop downloading partway through and then refuse to start where they stopped and you have to go back to the beginning to watch them. And no, you can’t FF through to get where you were, even if you’re a paying customer. It’s just bad.

    I’ve investigated trying to get a slingbox set up in the UK to send the stream over here, but that means finding someone and making sure they record it. Not impossible, but asking a lot of a friend or family.

    I really can’t wait until the matches are available here in high quality, DEPENDABLE streaming. There are customers who will pay for that if only the people in charge would figure it out.

  57. 57
    UncertaintyVicePrincipal says:

    If we don’t, then when the rest of the world—and our kids—ask us what the hell happened

    We’ll say “Al Gore was fat.” Surely they’ll understand that.

  58. 58
    nancydarling says:

    Litlebrit, I stayed at a B&B in Chipping Camden a few years back when I was hiking the Cotswolds. My hosts told me that indoor plumbing with a municipal sewage treatment system wasn’t installed until the 1960’s. Of course, this was just 15 years after the war; Europe was a long time climbing out of it. I remember when my grandparents got a bathroom installed in about 1949. This was in a small OK town. My step-grandfather had always shaved in an enamel basin. He continued to do so, setting it in the sink. When finished, he would carry the basin to the back door and toss the used water into the yard.

  59. 59
    RossInDetroit says:

    Cable companies (and ATT, with Uverse) waste your money because they can and they don’t give a damn. In many places there’s only one provider, so a company offering power-efficient hardware would have no competitive advantage.

  60. 60
    slag says:

    Cable companies (and ATT, with Uverse) waste your money because they can and they don’t give a damn. In many places there’s only one provider, so a company offering power-efficient hardware would have no competitive advantage.

    I keep wondering how long it’s going to take for this country to realize its telecommunications provision model is a complete failure.

  61. 61
    Elizabelle says:

    I was so glad to see this article in the NYTimes.

    Had no idea.

    But not surprising, in a country where our most recent vice president was quoted saying conservation was “a private virtue.”

    Watching if some cable company will step forward with a “keep green” energy reduction program to reset the boxes/devices and others will maybe follow suit.

  62. 62

    There are, no doubt, many ways in which Americans could reduce energy consumption without radical change to The American Way of Life. But to even speak of such things is regarded as effeminate treason, an affront to the nation.

    And so the great mass of Americans agree to wait for catastrophe. And such times always lead to great decisions.

  63. 63
    Judas Escargot says:

    FYI a Roku box uses only 6-7 watts: About as much as one of those old-style xmas tree (or night light) bulbs. As for DVRs, spinning-disk hard drives are on the way out long term… though how long will it take for all DVRs currently in use to be retired once SSDs become cheap enough? Ten years maybe?

    The irony of such a waste is that conservation becomes the low-hanging fruit. Change your damn light bulbs, and that’s 10-15% of your electricity usage right there. IMO the tech already exists to bring per-household usage down to 30-35% of current usage, which then brings our needs closer to the range of what renewables can provide.

    Collapse is optional.

    If we could just re-energize the mindset of “American Exceptionalism == Clever Adaptability” (one could argue that this was actually true for much of our history) we could probably manage a smooth transition to whatever new, inevitable energy landscape awaits us.

    But somehow, with this generation, we’re supposed to believe that anything invented after 1985 or so (outside of consumer electronics or weapons) is an evil liebrul plot to destroy the American way of life.

    More casually: This whole “standing athwart history” bullshit is seriously starting to piss me the fuck off. We’re about to get curb-stomped by History, you conservative chumps. And I’m tired, so tired of being held back by you ignorant MF’s.

    (deep, slow breath. feels better).

  64. 64
    UncertaintyVicePrincipal says:

    Litlebritdifrnt @52

    Lawd the temptation to go into the “Four Yorkshiremen sketch” from Monty Python is almost unbearable.

    I declared “UVP’s Law” the other day, which I can’t link to right now since TBogg is undergoing maintenance but it was something along the lines that as a tech post in a non-tech blog progresses, the degree of resemblance between the comments section and the Four Yorkshiremen sketch approaches 100%.

  65. 65
    Anne Laurie says:

    so do you watch netflix on your computer or do you hook up your computer to your tv?

    I watch onna desktop. By my standards, our year-old 20″ monitor is at least as good as our 10-year-old 30(?)” television, since I sit a lot further from the tv. Get a little pixilation/lag on occasion, is the worst that’s happened, knock wood. If there’s something that needs to be shared with the Spousal Unit, we order the disc & run it through the five-year-old DVR.

    Would probably be excrutiating if I were trying to keep up w/high-def-broadcast live sports, but let’s face it: Television episodes & old movies seldom require the visual clarity to track the actors’ facial pores…

  66. 66
    Percysowner says:

    Violet

    Netflix is a service that only streams movies and TV and doesn’t have the right to stream everything yet. The Roku is a device that receives the stream from Netflix and connects to your TV so that you can see things on the big screen. Roku is very busy trying to make deals with all sorts of streaming video companies so if you buy a Roku you can get other channels than just Netflix. Some are free, some run commercials, some require a subscription. In addition there are “private channels” on Roku. These are channels that individuals have put together for streaming on Roku, but are not licensed by Roku itself. There are several Roku licensed sports channels although Fox soccer is not yet one of them. In February of this year Fox soccer said they were investigating partnering with Roku, but as of now, they are not an official channel. One of the private channels does stream selected games from Fox soccer.

    You may want to check out the Roku page. It is a neat little box that gives you a lot of selection and some very interesting choices. Roku is trying to become THE platform for streaming so they are constantly trying to get content providers to partner with them. I bought a Roku and have been very pleased.

  67. 67
    Arclite says:

    Violet
    Have you tried the ESPN site? I know that they offer a whole bunch of stuff for paid streaming.

  68. 68
    catclub says:

    Did anyone else notice that $3B a year in electricity for those boxes and also an item that we are spending $20 Billion a year on air conditioning the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan?

    let me see. There are about 150K troops in both places now,
    so that works out to about $130k/year just for air conditioning for each soldier deployed.

    I am not sure the little DVR boxes are the right point of focus.

  69. 69
    Svensker says:

    Do you need a cable/satellite connection for the Roku? Dont laugh at me, I’m old.

    In Canada they have bandwidth caps, like they’re trying to do in the U.S. Netflix is not allowed on some internet providers!

  70. 70
    WereBear says:

    Some people report delays of over an hour to re-boot a cold set top box.

    Ours, from Time Warner, takes at least 20 minutes. Or I’d put it on a power strip like our recharging station. Like when I plug in my recharging cord for my iPod touch; it’s ON, and sucking electricity, even though it’s just sitting there.

  71. 71
    Mary G says:

    I used to unplug the DVR when it wasn’t in use, but it did take a lot of time to restart, so I got rid of it and don’t miss it.

  72. 72
    tofubo says:

    watch it fail

    http://nickdrakes.blogspot.com.....an_22.html

    scroll down a bit

    tons of pics, movies, music, art, some SFW, some not

    lotsa david jones

  73. 73
    RossInDetroit says:

    Like when I plug in my recharging cord for my iPod touch; it’s ON, and sucking electricity, even though it’s just sitting there.

    Well, kinda. The charger’s power consumption is strongly correlated to the power that it puts out. If the charger is plugged into the ‘wall’ but not into a device it draws a small amount of power idling – a fraction of what it draws when putting out charging current. When I get my bench reassembled after the basement flood I plan to run power tests on some chargers to get baseline numbers. It’s not much. Way under a watt of consumption.

  74. 74
    burnspbesq says:

    @BlueDWarrion:

    I get a good chunk of my live sports fix these days via two iPad apps: MLB AtBat and WatchESPN. Not cheap (around $100/yr for MLB, and the ESPN app only works if ESPN is part of your cable package), but a huge increase in convenience.

  75. 75
    kdaug says:

    Judas Escargot @ 63

    SSD’s cheap enough is one thing. Retiring existing hardware is another.

  76. 76

    If anyone read Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom” there’s a great rant about this ….

  77. 77
    Chris T. says:

    But energy efficiency experts say that technical fixes could eliminate or minimize the waiting time and inconvenience, some at little expense. Low-energy European systems reboot from deep sleep in one to two minutes.

    In fact, we (by which I mean “not me” :-) ) have had to make systems that boot in seconds (I believe the time limit was about 4 seconds) from a low-power sleep mode. This is for an automotive “infotainment system” application, where power is limited when the car is turned off.

    There are some seriously ugly hacks here, including saving a lot of stuff in low-power CMOS RAM, so some special hardware is necessary. Add in some special software for spinning up spun-down disk drives, and your DVR can wake 1 minute and (about) 8 seconds before the show-to-be-recorded starts, and still be recording it 1 minute before it starts.

    Or, since we already want a wakeup “before show starts”, we can simply schedule the wakeup to occur about 5 minutes before start-time, and then we need no special hardware and no special software. Any ordinary PC-board with any ordinary “green”-style disk drive will do the trick.

  78. 78
    Comrade Kevin says:

    @patrick II:

    You can plug the cable directly into newer televisions. You will still get local broadcast channels in Hi-Def (20 or so in our area), and the basic tier of cable channels in analog. You will not get digital cable channels or premium channels with this setup.

    Cable companies are systematically disabling this. It is impossible to see *any* channels on my system (AT&T in the Bay Area) without some sort of box.

  79. 79
    Mark S. says:

    On a related note, the US military spends $20 billion a year on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan. How much is that?

    That’s more than NASA’s budget. It’s more than BP has paid so far for damage during the Gulf oil spill. It’s what the G-8 has pledged to help foster new democracies in Egypt and Tunisia.

  80. 80
    bryanD says:

    “Image: Jan Breughel the Elder, Landscape with Windmills, 1607”

    SLANDER!

  81. 81
    Yutsano says:

    SLANDER!

    Okay…

  82. 82
    Violet says:

    Arclite
    ESPN doesn’t have the license for rugby. NBC Universal has some licenses. Fox Soccer Plus has some others. BBC America has shown the Six Nations for the last two years. It’s a patchwork because there are various leagues and championships and they license separately.

    Percysowner :

    Thanks for the info on Roku. Fox Soccer Channel is a separate channel, and in many cases in a separate tier, from Fox Soccer Plus Channel. Yes, I know. It’s crazy. But I’ll keep an eye on Roku. If they start showing rugby, then we’ll make a change.

    Right now I’m trying to decide when to move to Comcast because they’re the only provider in my area that has the NBC Universal channels that will show the Rugby World Cup in September. My current provider doesn’t, but my current provider has Fox Soccer Plus, which Comcast doesn’t, so we may have to overlap with TWO cable providers for a short while. Nightmare.

  83. 83
    Nellcote says:

    The local public access channel on Comcast shows city council, county supervisor, school board, townhall etc. meetings that just aren’t available anywhere else. As well as local videos/music. It’s a real sticking point when I think about using another teevee service. Over the air broadcasting is not available either.

  84. 84
    JGabriel says:

    RossInDetroit:

    Cable companies (and ATT, with Uverse) waste your money because they can and they don’t give a damn. In many places there’s only one provider, so a company offering power-efficient hardware would have no competitive advantage.

    More specifically, Cable Companies waste your money because it doesn’t cost them anything. Pass a law/regulation that requires cable companies to provide and pay for the power of their settop boxes, and you’ll see energy usage plummet.

    Edited To Add: Of course, the companies would add a charge to your bill for the power. And then, as they figured out how to keep the energy usage low, they would keep the extra profit for themselves. So that’s not a perfect solution either.

    .

  85. 85
    Valdivia says:

    In our household we are big on roku and netflix streaming. To the point that our netflix movies linger for months since we watch the streaming stuff pretty much every night. If you subscribe to Hulu Plus ($7 a month) or want to rent movies from Amazon on Demand you can use the Roku as well for these.

  86. 86
    RossInDetroit says:

    If anyone read Jonathan Franzen’s

    Wow. Another one to get. In the last 3 days I’ve read Gun, With Occasional Music, Men and Cartoons and This Shape We’re In. Franzen’s pretty dark but in a good way and I think I’ll keep getting his books.

  87. 87
    RossInDetroit says:

    In our household we are big on roku and netflix streaming.

    We were just investigating Roku. We’ve become big Netflix streaming users and I’ve gotten tired of watching films on a 21″ computer monitor. Being able to see them on the Sony TV would be a step up that we might actually pay money for.
    We watch some regular Hulu content but I gather you get no Hulu on Roku unless you opt to pay for Plus.

  88. 88
    Valdivia says:

    @87

    I would definitely recommend you invest on the Roku. Hulu Plus is good because you get to see whole seasons of a lot of shows plus they now have a big chunk of Critereon Collection of classic old and european moves available. I am sure though that in the future you will be able to see everything you see on tv via hulu on a roku. If you are just doing the nextflix streaming plus Hulu Plus you are under $20 for a whole lot of entertainment.

  89. 89
    Mogden says:

    Sounds like people don’t really care about wasting energy because it is cheap to do so and the benefits are worthwhile. I don’t see a problem.

  90. 90
    Comrade Kevin says:

    Above I said AT&T, when of course I meant Comcast.

  91. 91
    Kiril says:

    By the way, if you have a gaming console and you run an internet cable to it, you can stream netflix that way. I run mine through my xbox.

    And you can get cable broadband without any other services if you want, at least where I live.

  92. 92
    The Fat Kate Middleton says:

    I lOVES me my Roku – we quit cable five years ago, switched over to Netflix, and have never looked back. My son’s trying tp talk me into adding Hulu – I’ll probably do it for that great price, but I can’t keep up with what I already have.

  93. 93
    Yutsano says:

    I don’t see a problem.

    That is why you fail.

  94. 94
    Nutella says:

    The internal combustion engine of 2011 is a vastly more efficient machine that that of the 1973 oil crisis—but the power numbers for just about every car have shot up relative to comparable categories of automobile from thirty and forty years ago, wiping out much of the efficiency gain.

    What is “the power number” of a car? I don’t understand what this paragraph is saying.

  95. 95

    @ slag

    Personally, I think energy should be progressively costly. If you use over a certain amount (a regionalized minimum), you should have to pay a premium for each watt used. Not sure if some utilities already do that, but I know that mine doesn’t.

    Mine does. 3.55 cents/kwh for the first 500 kwhs and then 6.02 cents kwh after that in the winter and 7.82 cents/kwh in the summer. (Austin Energy, a city owned utility)

  96. 96
    shecky says:

    446 kiloWatt hours per year? That’s like a 50W lightbulb. OK, so it’s not stellar efficiency. But it’s not outrageous, either. Really, it ain’t such a big fucking deal.

  97. 97
    Steaming Pile says:

    @Nutella – The power number is horsepower. The typical car that ran (barely) on about 85 HP in the 1980s now runs on around 140 or so. The same car in the EU gets by on about 110.

    What kills me is that you go to a Toyota dealer (for example; they’re all the same) and you see a Corolla – 38 MPG highway. Next to it, you see a Yaris, which is a noticeably smaller car with a noticeably smaller and quite buzzy engine under the hood – also about 38 MPG. Maybe 40. Why would anyone sacrifice that much comfort and performance for a lousy one or two MPG? Heck, I bet a new Camry gets at least 35 nowadays.

    And you know the limit on MPG isn’t 38, because you used to know somebody with a Honda Civic HF or a Geo Metro that got 50-something MPG. You buy an economy car, you expect economy (not just cheapness), right? I think I would sacrifice some comfort and performance if I got something in return, you know, like an extra day or three before having to fill up with gas? I don’t think a 50 MPG Yaris-class subcompact is all that much to ask.

  98. 98
    Chris T. says:

    @Nutella:

    What is “the power number” of a car?

    Horsepower. My 1987 Golf GT, with the mid-range engine, was roughly 100 horsepower, which is more than you find in various small planes. The more recent versions of the same car are closer to 200 horses.

    In general, cars are born small with small engines, and over the years, they grow bigger and heavier and the engines get more and more powerful. :-)

    (By this I mean “each model year is fatter, with a correspondingly bigger engine.”)

  99. 99
    karen marie says:

    @Jess: I’m in Massachusetts, and I get my DSL through Galaxy Internet Service. I started with them back in the late ’90s (dialup) and switched to DSL when they offered it in, I think, 2004. DSL with VOIP is $34.99/month, just DSL is $24.99.

    It’s the same price as Verizon but the customer service is way better. It’s rare that you have to call but when you do it’s easy to get to a real person and they generally know what they’re talking about.

    I got rid of cable in 2004, TV altogether in 2008 when the government turned my 3-year-old TV set into landfill. I watch Daily Show and Colbert Report from their sites as well as Netflix.

    The only thing I miss is the Late Show with Craig Ferguson. He’s so damned cute.

  100. 100
    Jennifer says:

    And here is where I can’t help but think of the several SUVs in my neighborhood with bumper stickers that say “My SUV offsets your hybrid.”

    What you need is another bumpersticker you can paste over those, that says “Thanks to Dumb Motherfuckers Like Me, We’re ALL Paying More to Fill Up.”

  101. 101
    Felanius Kootea says:

    Anyone have any experience with Apple TV?

  102. 102
    Gene in Princeton says:

    @BO_Bill:

    Airplane carries “college teacher” to Middle East = work gets done while consuming energy. Point of NYT article (device consumes electricity while doing no work) = your comment is a non sequitur.

    Thanks for playing.

  103. 103
    AAA Bonds says:

    And of course there is one alternative that saves everyone all that energy: free downloadable television on demand.

    But we all know that doesn’t exist!

  104. 104

    What kills me is that you go to a Toyota dealer (for example; they’re all the same) and you see a Corolla – 38 MPG highway. Next to it, you see a Yaris, which is a noticeably smaller car with a noticeably smaller and quite buzzy engine under the hood – also about 38 MPG. Maybe 40. Why would anyone sacrifice that much comfort and performance for a lousy one or two MPG? Heck, I bet a new Camry gets at least 35 nowadays.

    The Camry costs at least $7,000 more than the Yaris.

  105. 105
    Jennifer says:

    I actually did a cost comparison which calculated in the price of the car and what my cost for fuel for each would be, at $4.00 per gallon, and looked at three different cars – the Prius, the Yaris, and the Mini. I figured a 10 year cycle, since that’s how long I drive my cars. At the 10-year mark, the Yaris was still the most economical; the Mini came in second and the Prius ranked last – though not that far behind the Mini.

  106. 106
    bago says:

    Get an Xbox (slim), and stream netflix and espn. It’s only going to draw 90 watts and you’ll remember to turn it off. Hell, you can hulu, facebook and twitter on it too.

    Did I mention it can play games?

  107. 107
    JGabriel says:

    RossInDetroit:

    In the last 3 days I’ve read Gun, With Occasional Music, Men and Cartoons and This Shape We’re In. Franzen’s pretty dark …

    Yeah … so is Jonathan Lethem, who wrote all those books.

    And you should probably check out Motherless Brooklyn too, if you haven’t already.

    .

  108. 108
    Anne Laurie says:

    SLANDER!
    __
    Okay…

    Yutsano: I believe the troll is trying to make a ‘devasting’ point suggesting that DFH lie-bruls don’t want unsightly windmills spoiling the view from their Cape Cod redoubts.

    If this poinard of hilarity has not slayed you, it proves that Ted Kennedy was fat, just like Michael Moore!

  109. 109
    Yutsano says:

    If this poinard of hilarity has not slayed you, it proves that Ted Kennedy was fat, just like Michael Moore!

    Ah, I got it. Another attempt at conservative humor.

  110. 110

    i am now, and for the forseeable future, the cableco’s bitch. on the plus side with reimbursement, and my cable co stock dividends it about evens out. as a sports fan i simply can’t see a more reliable, clearer alternative. i have used the sats, honestly they don’t do as well, or as reliably by a long shot.

    now as to cars, i have a small one that is energy efficient, its low miles, but old, anyone looking at it thinks i have rolled over the odometer, so there is no chance of selling it. i also have a pick up. this is where i am a bad liberal. there are times when i prefer the car, if city driving and parallel parking is involved, hellz yes. but i am too tall for it and my hip/thigh.buttocks are unforgiving, so i am driving from a way less than optimal position and its damned uncomfortable, and getting in and out takes some minor yoga stretching.

    do i want to do that all the time? hellz no. how safe am i with a head already on the ceiling? for comfort i take the truck. i like comfort, longer trips than 10 minutes,or when i just don’t feel like scrunching here, stretching there, and taking a bit of a running start out of the thing, i take the truck. so shoot me.

  111. 111
    Bill Murray says:

    pretty much everything with a remote uses a small amount of power to wait for the remote signal. A variety of new technologies are about to come out that will cut this by about a factor of 700, which will make a significant reduction in US energy usage

  112. 112
    rickstersherpa says:

    I conducted the experiment of cutting off the power to my DVR/TV/Etc this weekend. And yes, it took about an hour to reboot.

    I in a somewhat monopolistic cature situation with COMCAST as far as broadband availability since I live in the boonies, and definitely need broadband. I appreciated the ideas on this stream.

  113. 113
    Tuttle says:

    … but the power numbers for just about every car have shot up relative to comparable categories of automobile from thirty and forty years ago, wiping out much of the efficiency gain.

    No, weight has wiped out those gains. A Corvette is more efficient now than it was 25 years ago, and weighs the same. A Honda Insight is less efficient than a Honda CRX HF from 1986, and weighs half a ton more. Both cars have increased power by about 40% in the past 25 years. The ‘Vette outperforms it’s predecessor by a long margin in all categories. The Insight… has two more seats than the CRX.

    “Weight is the enemy of performance” – Colin Chapman

  114. 114
    BH in MA says:

    I have the exact set up they’re talking about – multi-room DVR in the living room and hi-def cable box in the den. When the cable box is off it is OFF. It’s barely doing more than running the clock. Maybe it’s talking to home base from time to time, but it’s quiet and cool – it’s definitely not doing much. The DVR is definitely a hog, however. I can HEAR the cooling fan in that thing running even if it’s 2am, nothing is being recorded and the TV isn’t even on. Any time, day or night, the box is warm/hot to the touch.

    It would probably be very easy to redesign the board and software so that it goes into a very low power state when it’s not doing anything and no recordings are scheduled. The problem is that it would cost money to redesign the box and built them that way going forward, but they wouldn’t be able to charge extra to recoup the investment.

    Another design improvement would be to use solid state drives (no moving parts) once they become cheap enough. No electricity required to spin a drive and less electricity required for cooling. But right now, on a per GB basis, solid state drives cost about 6x as much as a regular drive.

    I just bought a new fridge and I’m dying to see the effect on the electric bill is dramatic.

  115. 115
    qkslvrwolf says:

    I didn’t have time to read the whole thing, but there is another point to be made about this.

    If we did not enforce crazy and illegitimate monopolies on content, and had rational intellectual privilege laws, technology allows us to watch whatever we want, where-ever we want, however we want.

    The only reason people need these set top boxes is because the MPAA and the RIAA want to control how we access media. Take away that, and we won’t need more efficient set-top boxes, because we won’t need set-top boxes at all.

    Just sayin’.

  116. 116
    Tonal Crow says:

    Nice how we spend billions of dollars and tens of megatons of CO2 each year to subsidize set-top box makers and cable companies to make stupid engineering decisions.

    This is yet another reason to kill your TV.

  117. 117
    ROSSINDETROIT says:

    “In the last 3 days I’ve read Gun, With Occasional Music, Men and Cartoons and This Shape We’re In. Franzen’s pretty dark …

    Yeah … so is Jonathan Lethem, who wrote all those books.

    And you should probably check out Motherless Brooklyn too, if you haven’t already.”

    Apologies. Fatigued from yard work & scanning posts without my glasses so I messed up my authors. I read a great deal but I’m just getting familiar with the Jonathans. Motherless Brooklyn and that comic book thing Lethem did are on the way for the 7/4 long weekend. I’ll probably look for something lighter after making my way through Lethem. He’s great but quite a downer. Maybe more Carl Hiaasen for summer reading.

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