Stop Unsolicited Delivery of Phone Books

November 23, 2008

The other day, we received  — along with the rest of the neighborhood — another stack of phone books on our doorstep.  Oh joy.  We have not used printed phone books for years, relying instead on Google and other online directories.  Yet we continue to receive multiple stacks of phone books.

Normally I just dump the phone books in the recycle bin without a second thought, but this time I got to thinking: just how much waste does this create?  Turns out quite a bit.

Apparently there are over 7,000 different titles of Yellow Pages published in the U.S., including competing industry-specific, ethnic-targeted, and “underlay” or neighborhood-specific titles.  Over 540 million directories are distributed per year — that’s nearly two books for every person in the country!  This industry practice is called “saturation distribution.”  There are no rules, other than market demand, limiting the number of Yellow Pages titles printed in a single market.

To produce 500 million books requires:

  • 19 million trees
  • 1.6 billion pounds of paper
  • 7.2 million barrels of oil
  • 3.2 billion kilowatt hours of electricity

Only 40% of the paper used in phone books is recycled, and over 700 tons of phone books were dumped in landfills in 2007, consuming 268,000 cubic yards of landfill space.

This is just outrageous.  The yellow pages industry claims that nearly 90% of adults use print yellow pages each year, but I don’t know anyone who actually uses phone books anymore.  I’m sure there are those who continue to find value in printed phone books, but it seems to me there ought to be a way to opt out of delivery for those of us who no longer use phone books.

There are a couple of websites where consumers can sign up to be removed from delivery distribution lists — Paperless Petition and YellowPagesGoesGreen.  I don’t have personal experience as to whether this method is effective.

I launched a little website — Eco Yellow Pages — to add my voice to the opposition of yellow pages delivery practices, and to provide additional information and resources to consumers who want to stop delivery of phone books.  Check it out at www.ecoyp.com.

You can also fan EcoYP at Facebook 🙂

How To Clear an Obstruction in a Child’s Nose

March 10, 2008

I know, I know, this title sounds like a joke, but it’s not! We recently learned a neat trick, something that every parent should know. Our three-year-old daughter was playing with little beads and somehow got one stuck up her nose. It was lodged way up the nasal cavity, likely because she had been picking at it trying to get it out. We briefly tried getting it out ourselves, but quickly gave up out of fear that we were only pushing it further in.

We rushed her to the emergency room, and the nurse taught us a neat trick: simply plug the other nostril (the one without the obstruction) with your finger and blow into the child’s mouth. The important thing is to seal your mouth over the child’s (like you would for CPR) and to blow forcefully.

A couple of strong puffs later, the bead popped out. No big deal!

How to Embed Quicktime Videos on your Website

February 18, 2008

I spent the better part of today trying to figure out how to host and play video files on my website. This caused me endless hours of frustration, probably because I was trying to use Dreamhost’s QuickTime streaming service. It doesn’t work…or at least I wasn’t able to figure out how to make it work, and believe me I tried (grr). In the course of surfing around the web to find help (could Dreamhost’s support wiki be any more worthless??), I pieced together a solution. Here are the steps:

1. Prepare your video file with QuickTime.

  • Open the file with Quicktime
  • Export the file using “Movie to QuickTime Movie” setting (see below). Make sure you select the “Prepare for Internet Streaming” option and select “Fast Start”

quicktime export settings

2. Upload the file to your site. I created a new “media” folder (e.g., domain.com/media) for all my movie files.

3. Create a new html page and save as a regular html file (i.e., with .htm or .html extension). Here is the code to embed the video file:

<object classid="clsid:02BF25D5-8C17-4B23-BC80-D3488ABDDC6B"
width="640"
height="496"
codebase="http://www.apple.com/qtactivex/qtplugin.cab">
<embed src="/media/sample.mov" width="640" height="496" autoplay="false"></embed>
</object>

Note that you want to add 16px to the height value to show the controls on the bottom of the video player.

I have tested this in Firefox and Safari and it works fine, still need to get on a PC to test it in IE. I’m using QuickTime Pro Version 7.4.1 hosting with Dreamhost.

Here’s an example of the final product.

Dreamhost, PHP Scripts and cURL

February 16, 2008

In an effort to teach myself basic programming, I have been playing around with stuff on my personal site. One thing I wanted to do was take the RSS feed from my blog and put headlines on the homepage of my site. I briefly considered trying to figure out how to do this myself, but quickly decided I would be better off just looking for an existing script that I could modify. I found a great PHP script (RSS2HTML) that seemed to fit my purpose perfectly. So I downloaded the script, customized it in TextWrangler, uploaded it to my Dreamhost server, tried to run it and…got the following error:

URL file-access is disabled in the server configuration

Well, this meant nothing to me. After a lot of research and trial and error, I found an article on the Dreamhost support wiki that says:

DreamHost has disabled the PHP option allow_url_fopen. This would normally allow a programmer to open, include or otherwise use a remote file using a URL, rather than a local file path.

I took this to mean that the script as written would not work on Dreamhost. Apparently the problem was the use of an ‘include‘ command in the script.

Here is the snippet I was trying to use:

include("http://www.example.com/script.php");

The alternative, according to this article, is to use cURL. Well, long story short, this solved the problem and now it works great. Here is the new code:

$ch = curl_init();
curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_URL, "http://www.example.com/script.php");
curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_HEADER, 0);
curl_exec($ch);
curl_close($ch);

You can see the final product here. 🙂

How to Change the Host File on a Mac

February 16, 2008

Changing the host file on a Mac is very easy, but it’s certainly not intuitive. This little tutorial will show you how.

Launch Terminal

Type:

sudo su
vim /etc/hosts
shift-a

Scroll to your desired insertion point and enter the info in this format:

IP address [space] http://www.example.com [space] example.com

Then the following to save and close the file:

esc
:wq
enter
exit

Done!

This comes in handy when doing development on a new site — point your host file to the dev server and test the site before pushing it live.

Remember to delete the entry when you want to go back to the live site. You can also comment out the entry (if you think you may want to use it in the future) by prepending the entry with a # — example:

# IPaddress http://www.example.com example.com

Thanks Casey!

Bonus:  Disabling the Firefox DNS cache