Treehugging: You’re Doing It Wrong

Solar Powered...Faucet?I saw this faucet in a local mall in Vancouver, and it took me a moment to realize it wasn’t a joke. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you: What you’re seeing is a solar-powered electronic faucet, complete with a handy informative plaque:

By installing this electronic faucet, this facility is demonstrating its commitment to water conservation and protecting/preserving our environment.

The mind boggles. Apparently, conserving water requires electricity and someone figured that adding a solar panel to the device would turn the conservation-cred of this faucet up to eleven.

It’s almost comical. For one thing, a solar-powered faucet can’t be solar-powered when it’s indoorssolar implies the light source is the sun, but in this case the light source is the fluorescent lights.

But really, focusing on the idiocy of an indoor solar-powered faucet overlooks the biggest problem: a faucet that requires electricity to run in the first place. The primary touted benefit of an electronic faucet is its ability to conserve water – something which was already achievable with spring-powered faucets. So, if it was already achievable without electricity, what’s the point of this thing?

The answer lies in the secondary benefit: touch-less operation. While I doubt there’s a high risk of contamination from a faucet in a bathroom, I suppose there can be a case made that it reduces costs to keep the faucet clean. There is, however, an alternative solution: a pedal-based faucet. We saw these in France, and I thought they were brilliant: no power, water-conserving, touch-less operation (I don’t think the bottom of your shoes are at any increased risk of contamination).

It the greenwashing by companies like Sloan, the manufacturer of this device, that fuel resistance to attempts to fight climate change and reduce our impact on the environment. Critics view these devices as a cynical attempt by companies to make a buck – surely the whole environmentalism thing is trick to make us buy different stuff!

Seriously Sloan, knock it off.

Ask Yourself: Should I Build This?

A couple of years ago, I heard Guy Kawasaki talk about how the thing that defined Silicon Valley was its “what the hell, let’s build it” attitude. It took me a while to get it, but I came round to understanding his point: get moving, build something, figure out who cares about what you’ve built, and then evolve the product. It’s good advice, to a point.

However, there comes a point where the market is so saturated that you start to do stupid things. I got a great example of one such thing in the email today:

Barbecue. On your iPhone. Yes, you heard me right.

It’s called, creatively, “Barbecue”. It’s from San Francisco-based Equinux. I’m pretty sure it’s one of the signs of the apocalypse.

Now, I’m sure there will be people that will purchase this application; it’s cute, gimmicky, and it will doubtlessly keep someone entertained for at least three minutes. But the breathless copy proclaiming this application’s unparalleled awesomeness is simply over the top:

Serve steaks to your friends on Facebook, share kebabs and ribs on Twitter or via Mail. Barbecue on the iPhone:

  • Photo realistic images that make your mouth water
  • Top notch graphics to get a real bbq experience
  • Real sound effects to bring the thrill to the grill

Seriously? We spent countless billions building silicon foundries, a revolutionary mobile operating system, and the associated expertise to simulate the experience of BBQ? I could do the real thing for a couple of bucks, with the obvious bonus that I’d actually get to eat the results. I know somewhere, a software developer is clucking their tongue and pontificating on those silly marketing people. But, last I checked, the marketing people didn’t build this application.

I worry that developers have lost some serious perspective in their bid for fame and fortune. Just because it makes money, doesn’t mean it’s useful. Now, I’m not suggesting that we toss out our enthusiasm for trying new, unproven things; however, I am suggesting that developers need to start considering whether or not their software offers any socially redeeming value.

Developers need to start not only asking themselves “can we build it?”, but also “should we build it?”