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Packing Algorithms May Save the Planet 195

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the that-might-be-an-overstatement dept.
An anonymous reader writes "New Scientist reports on how competitions to devise better packing algorithms could help cut the environmental impact of deliveries and shipping. A new record setter at packing differently-sized discs into the smallest space without overlapping them has potential to be applied to real world 3D problems, researchers claim." Ok the title might be a little ridiculous, but the ridiculous packaging used to ship a few tiny objects by some shippers is pretty shameful.
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Packing Algorithms May Save the Planet

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  • by Ferzerp (83619) on Monday March 09, 2009 @08:21AM (#27120233)

    Who needs padding anyway? We'll just make more when it is killed in shipping...

    • by macraig (621737)

      Tell that to the Samsonite Gorillas who shipped and handled my bag of tortilla chips before I got them home! If I had wanted tortilla BITS then I'd have looked for a product labelled as tortilla bits.

    • by larpon (974081) on Monday March 09, 2009 @10:45AM (#27122001)
      T        h        i        s
      c        o        m        m        e        n        t
      i        s
      n        o        t
      s        a        v        i        n        g
      t        h        e
      p        l        a        n        e        t
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Seriously I find that poor packing of expensive items occurs far more frequently than tiny items in massive boxes.

      Consider the $90 Limited Edition video game in the metal case that gets thrown in either a padded bag or a mostly empty box with a few sheet of advertising flash and a partially-inflated bag. By the time it reaches my hands it's a goddamn miracle if it doesn't have any dents or scratches.
  • by Fungii (153063) on Monday March 09, 2009 @08:25AM (#27120275)

    Something the summariser seems to have missed.. This kind of problem comes up in a lot of different places.

    One example would be brain tumor treatment using lasers.

    • by swahebrumaf (1452693) on Monday March 09, 2009 @08:52AM (#27120555)

      Something the summariser seems to have missed.. This kind of problem comes up in a lot of different places.

      Another thing that is forgotten... When a process can be optimized, it normally results in price-cuts which result in heavier use of the process. In the end more resources are used than before the optimization, opposite to the original intent.

      • Another thing that is forgotten... When a process can be optimized, it normally results in price-cuts which result in heavier use of the process.

        Not if we TAX it :)

        Okay, just kidding... But when optimizing a process and thus generating heavier resource usage, it'll also have a positive impact on the economy... Nevertheless, if we really want to cut CO2, you need to change your way of life... E.g. consume less, which could undoubtedly be achieved through higher energy taxes :)

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Brandybuck (704397)

          E.g. consume less, which could undoubtedly be achieved through higher energy taxes :)

          That just leads to more bureaucracy, filling up D.C. buildings with corpulent bureaucrats stuffing their faces with vending machine hot dogs and farting dangerous greenhouse gases. This will hasten the demise of the planet much faster than an extra UPS trip over other odd week.

          Seriously, his is why shipping methodologies need to be left to the market. Shipping companies want to make a profit, and fewer trips at using less

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        This idea has been around since the 80s. Had a prof who had these sorts of algs done and written (smart dude).

        What he found was YES you can geometrically pack everything perfectly to have the optimal load. There was a HEAVY cost and not in computing terms. The cost was getting people to pack it like that. Think crazy 3d jigsaw puzzle.

        Truck dudes do not want to spend 8 hours loading a truck. They want it done in minutes. To load a truck means you either have to have a loader whos job it is to do this.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tixxit (1107127)
      On top of this, they seem to miss the fact that there has been a great deal of research in this field, and there are several very good approximate algorithms. The problem is that packing a box is an NP-Complete problem. So, unless NP=P, we aren't going to find a fast, deterministic and exact, packing algorithm any time soon.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 09, 2009 @08:25AM (#27120277)
    I find the development of new algorithms interesting in itself, and I suspect that superior packing algorithms will have a number of interesting applications; but I wonder if they'll actually have much effect on shippers in the nearish term.

    A great deal of heterogenous object packing is done by humans, since the scale required to make packing assorted objects by machine is quite large(even places with automated warehouses often have a human do the packing at the end; because humans are really quite versatile object manipulators), and humans are actually pretty good at object packing. Not perfect; but quite good.

    I'd suspect that inefficient packing has less to do with packing being hard, and more to do with the desire to standardize on a limited number of box sizes, to ease inventory management, which is a quite different problem.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by skeeto (1138903)
      This sounds a lot like the knapsack problem [wikipedia.org], which is NP-hard. It's easy to find a good solution, but practically impossible to find the best solution.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by quanticle (843097)

        Its not "practically impossible" to find the best solution. It is quite possible. The issue is that finding the optimal solution takes O(2^n), where n is the number of objects to be packed. So, for any large value of n, the calculation will take a prohibitively long time, but it will terminate.

        This is in contrast to undecidable problems [wikipedia.org], which really are "practically impossible" to solve.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by brindleboar (1154019)
          I guess it all depends on your definition of "practically"; is something that takes "a prohibitively long time" really practical?
        • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Monday March 09, 2009 @09:39AM (#27121091)

          Its not "practically impossible" to find the best solution. It is quite possible. The issue is that finding the optimal solution takes O(2^n), where n is the number of objects to be packed. So, for any large value of n, the calculation will take a prohibitively long time, but it will terminate.

          So they're not practical to solve--in other words, practically impossible.

          This is in contrast to undecidable problems, which really are "practically impossible" to solve.

          That would be a case of *literally* impossible to solve. Which means that they're practically impossible as well, of course.

          • by quanticle (843097)

            The issue with "practically impossible" is that the definition of such changes every year, as computers grow more and more powerful.

            • by hazem (472289)

              The issue with "practically impossible" is that the definition of such changes every year, as computers grow more and more powerful.

              I think it has to do more with how a solution to a problem can be described then if that solution is actually doable within the constraints of time and space. If there is an algorithm that can describe a solution, then it's "solvable" (theoretically possible), but if it takes an infinite amount of time or an infinite amount of processing power, then it's not "practically possi

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by ultranova (717540)

                If there is an algorithm that can describe a solution, then it's "solvable" (theoretically possible), but if it takes an infinite amount of time or an infinite amount of processing power, then it's not "practically possible".

                If it takes an infinite amount of time or processing power (same thing, really) to solve a given problem instance by a given algorithm, then that problem instance is not solvable by said algorithm even in theory, since the algorithm will never return the solution (by definition of infi

          • by jopsen (885607)

            So they're not practical to solve--in other words, practically impossible.

            I agree... Though I'd prefer the term computationally infeasible.
            In order to call it practically impossible I'd say that you need consider size of the problem (e.g. the n from the big-O notation) and available computer power for computation...

          • by edittard (805475)

            The problem is that "literally" has changed its meaning such that "literally" literally means practically the same as "practically".

        • by skeeto (1138903)

          So, for any large value of n, the calculation will take a prohibitively long time

          That's exactly what I meant when I used the modifier "practically": for a large n, even if we used all the resources currently available to mankind, it would be impossible to find a solution within the amount of time that a solution would be useful.

          So, it wouldn't be practical. I.e. it can't be practiced. Practically impossible. QED. ;-)

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Tarwn (458323)

      Many companies are taking advantage of better packing (euither by changing their packaging, tweaking their loading method, etc) as a method to cut down on costs. The ability to cram two extra boxes on a truck can often mean selling two extra boxes that you originally couldn't or reducing the shipping costs per order by reducing the amount of leftover head space in a shipping container by stacking more efficiently.

  • Pack the rubbish too (Score:4, Interesting)

    by oldhack (1037484) on Monday March 09, 2009 @08:27AM (#27120299)
    Pack the rubbish in the garbage dumps to allow air to flow through them. It will expedite, no, actually allow, biodegradation (sp?) by allowing the bacteria to live and do its work - biodegradable materials will actually mean something then.

    This coffee tastes funny.

  • Obvious (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JPLemme (106723) on Monday March 09, 2009 @08:31AM (#27120333)

    Does HP really need an algorithm to tell them not to ship fifteen single sheets of paper in fifteen 9"x12"x2" cardboard boxes?

    They need an algorithm that prevents them from hiring dummies in their shipping department.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      HP is running on pure incompetence these days [slashdot.org]. It's like running a diesel on water - sure, it works for a little while, but it damages your rings and cylinders, and it removes the heat needed for combustion quite quickly. When HP sent me a little baggie of trackpoint covers, they sent it to me in a cardboard box big enough to send DIMMs or a small expansion card. I've had HP send me two boxes to ship back one laptop... HP's problem isn't needing computer software to pack more efficiently, it's hiring emplo

    • I've had similar troubles. We ordered a bunch of thumbdrives and had them come in two different boxes. About 2/3 in one and the other third in another. The problem was, they all could have easily fit in one box - with gobs of room to spare. Good job shippers!
  • Support Amazon (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 09, 2009 @08:31AM (#27120337)
    I know many of you despise Amazon due to the one-click fiasco (and with good reason). But packing/packaging are one area where they're trying to get things right. When possible, order items that are packed using "frustration-free" packaging. [amazon.com]
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Daravon (848487)

      Online retailers offering this service only makes sense. With items sitting in a warehouse and never being viewed by the customer prior to purchase, there isn't a need for fancy packaging that shows off the product and tries to prevent theft.

      I know when I bought gifts for people (or their kids), they found it a great relief that they didn't have to spend time chopping through a clamshell and cutting/unwinding wire ties in a dozen different places just to get the product out of the packaging.

      The fact that i

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Once there is a sufficient volume of "web/warehouse" packaging floating around, retailers might consider using the model adopted by most video rental places, with a limited number of display models, in retail packaging, and a large number of generically packaged products ready on demand.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by drinkypoo (153816)

        It is just unfortunate that this kind of idea is next to impossible to have done in physical stores. While the idea of a display item doing the advertising and the real product being sold in plain boxes sounds like it would work, it becomes very hard to embellish on your product without outside packing.

        I would almost never buy an unpacked product because I would be afraid it would interfere with my warranty, and because otherwise there is literally no way to tell who fucked up a product; the manufacturer, or the unpacker. If the Unpacker were already highly trusted and gave me some kind of fantastic warranty I might consider it for inexpensive items.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          I would almost never buy an unpacked product because I would be afraid it would interfere with my warranty, and because otherwise there is literally no way to tell who fucked up a product; the manufacturer, or the unpacker.

          The products come from the manufacturer in a less packed box--meaning less twistys, blister packing, plastic bags, etc. There is no unpacker involved anywhere in the scheme. The box is also optimized to be shipped individually more so than the standard box, and will actually provide bet

      • by HTH NE1 (675604)

        and cutting/unwinding wire ties in a dozen different places

        Well, one thing you can do with those plastic-coated wire-ties is bend them into an oversized paper-clip shape. Add a pair of small googly eyes and you have your very own Clippy Action Figure (whom you can then torture in so many ways).

      • While the idea of a display item doing the advertising and the real product being sold in plain boxes sounds like it would work, it becomes very hard to embellish on your product without outside packing.

        IKEA does just fine. You cruise through and figure out what you like and then pick up the plainly packed boxes at the end. Granted not all stores would want to go to this extreme, but you could easily have aisles with displays on top and cardboard boxes containing the item below. Similar to the way shoes are stored and displayed.

    • "they're trying to get things right."

      Yes. I'll believe they are "trying". But they have a LONG ways to go and need to try harder. Last week I ordered some sheet music. It was two thin 12x9 inch booklets. Less than 100 pages total. UPS delivered the package in a 24x12x18 inch cardboard box. The box contained the books and quite a bit of packing material. I was expecting a padded envelope.

      "try" is not enough. What Amazon should do is let the shippers keep 5% of what they save over a year ago average.

  • by D4C5CE (578304) on Monday March 09, 2009 @08:33AM (#27120349)
    Fortunately, few reach this level of "mastery": http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/07/18/hp_packaging/ [theregister.co.uk]
    • WOW. Utterly ridiculous.

      What especially ticks me off is using non-recyclable plastic or styrofoam in packaging.

      Is there really any need to use stuff that _has_ to go to the land fill?

      A product-specific comment: 'flash' memory cards have a crazy packaging to product ratio.

      • by Tanktalus (794810)

        As an interesting oddity, our local blue-bag recycle programme takes styrofoam for recycling. I have no idea what they do with it, but it's on the list of things to recycle, so we throw all of our packing styrofoam that we get from online orders and what have you in there. We were shocked to find out it was recyclable...

  • by joelsherrill (132624) on Monday March 09, 2009 @08:35AM (#27120377) Homepage
    UPS has gotten itself a lot of press over the years about how it has saved fuel, time, and money with its routing algorithms. There was recently an article in Information Week about some of their technology. It is amazing how even a small improvement can save big money AND positively impact the environment. Routing improvements save time and money. Better vehicle maintenance plans. Less idling. This is the printable article. It has a session Id so I don't know if it will survive. http://www.informationweek.com/shared [informationweek.com] /printableArticle.jhtml;jsessionid=34SPUBGP0QJA2QSNDLRSKHSCJUNN2JVN?articleID=212900815 This is the link with ads. http://www.informationweek.com/story/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=212900815 [informationweek.com]
  • by Firethorn (177587) on Monday March 09, 2009 @08:37AM (#27120393) Homepage Journal

    Then again, some (un)common sense in their shipping divisions of various companies would help.
    Dell Batteries [consumerist.com]
    HP [consumerist.com]
    Newegg [consumerist.com]

    Still, the disc thing is probably more for packing shipping containers from China - the extra control and distance being shipped makes packing efficienty easier and more economical than discovering a way to pack random UPS trucks better.

  • by R2.0 (532027) on Monday March 09, 2009 @08:42AM (#27120439)

    When I worked for UPS in school, they used manual labor to load the trailers they used to send packages to the next facility. Loaders used their eyes, brains, and some basic tips to pack the trailer as tight as possible while using totally random sized packages. If you did well, you were rewarded; if you didn't, you were...not.

    These guys would be well advised to watch how those trailers are loaded to figure out what algorithm the loader is using internally - we could get those trailers packed pretty damned tight.

    • Real life tetris? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Firethorn (177587) on Monday March 09, 2009 @09:00AM (#27120657) Homepage Journal

      If you did well, you were rewarded; if you didn't, you were...not.

      Sounds almost like a real-life game of tetris. In 3d. ;)

    • by ledow (319597) on Monday March 09, 2009 @09:23AM (#27120889) Homepage

      You'll find that this is relatively easy and, technically speaking, still quite inefficient.

      Packing problems are inherently complex because there's very little you can do but try every arrangement in clever ways. However, basic human packing is nothing more than throwing the stuff in the truck in the order it arrives. A "good" human can fit more because they do things like "biggest objects first", which in comparison is orders of magnitude more efficient. An skilled human packer goes even better and plans for odd-shapes, uses the flexibility/squashiness of various items in order to pack even better (e.g. put your socks in your luggage last because you can pretty much jam them in anywhere, into all the unusual, difficult-to-fill gaps - or put them inside your shoes and wrap your delicate watch in them first!).

      However, the skilled human, although MUCH better than the basic human, is nowhere near the most efficient. They're pretty damn good, however, and for 99.999% of cases, I see no reason to spend the extra to work out the "perfect" arrangement, especially given the inaccuracies and other factors involved (is the parcel squishy, where does the algorithm want me to put it, damn I left something out, now I have to repack the computer's way, etc.). You can give any packing solution as a percentage - "there is only 5% wasted space," etc. with the "optimum" settings usually being a percentage too (i.e. the BEST way to do it is with only 2% space given these parcels). You'll never really fill anything *perfectly*, i.e. 0% wastage, without thousands of years waiting around for a parcel of *just* the right shape.

      It took us until very recently to prove that the best way to pack 3D spherical objects into a 3D square container is to use a hexagonal configuration - ever looked at the boxes that fruit are packed in? We've been using it for years, and mathematics *knew* it was the right answer but we've only just *proven* it's the best possible solution. In fact, most animal shells and millions of biological, botanical and other natural processes provide similar answers to the packing problems which were developed by trial-and-error and getting close enough to an answer to be useful.

      I would estimate, after years of looking into the mathematics of packing problems and similar years of packing rucksacks for Scout troops, Scout troops and equipment into Scout vans, moving house by myself several times in limited amounts of trips (I did a complete three bedroom house full of years of crap into another, smaller, three bedroom house with *more* crap via three ordinary (Mk5 Ford Transit) van loads and two car journeys of miscellaneous stuff like a cat), jamming two months worth of food into a freezer etc. that your "naive" human packer has anywhere between 10-15% wastage. The "good" human would probably bring that to 5-10% and the perfect human between 2-5%. The computer/algorithm running some of the most complex algorithms in the world, in a cut-down model (no squishy parcels!), in a perfect universe probably can get 1-4% depending on the load. Is it worth the extra hassle to get a solution that (potentially, in ideal situations) gets 1% more parcels into every van versus the amount of time it takes to FIND, COMMUNICATE and IMPLEMENT that solution? Almost certainly not. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised that, if Amazon did their own deliveries, they'd load the vans as quick as possible to send them out as quick as possible and get them back just as quick. The costs don't balance.

      Also, packing problems with real-world uses have a lot more problems - you might well want to pack the items in a certain order (because then you can get at the items you want without having to drive around town randomly according to what parcels you can get to!), the afore-mentioned "squishiness" issues, knowing what size the parcels are in the first place, awkward internal shapes to vans, getting humans to implement anything approaching a perfect solution ("Look, John, the computer say it goes in that hole and sho

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      When I worked for UPS in school, they used manual labor to load the trailers they used to send packages to the next facility. Loaders used their eyes, brains, and some basic tips to pack the trailer as tight as possible while using totally random sized packages. If you did well, you were rewarded; if you didn't, you were...not.

      When my friend Adam Croston (well, he was my friend until he stole some of my shit and moved away) worked for UPS they used to build a small wall of packages in the back of the truck, then throw boxes over it until the truck was full.

  • by JohnnyGTO (102952) on Monday March 09, 2009 @08:43AM (#27120453) Homepage
    Why don't we place our trash cans and mail boxes all on one side of the road rather then make the truck pickup on both side (2 trips). Of course there are roads this would not work on but really why do I need to hear the stupid trash truck twice, at 4:30 am and again at 4:53?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You assume everybody has the same type of garbage pickup as you do. In some places, an actual man hangs on the back of the truck and goes from one side of the street to the other collecting the garbage and tipping it into the scoop. One trip down the street. And then some places have letter carriers deliver mail ON FOOT going from one house to another. Yes, things are done differently than what you are familiar with.

    • Maybe they drive down one side on the way out; and on the other on the way back. Maybe it's quicker than idling their truck while people try to run across the street dragging cans with them.

      It's possible that the operators have already arrived at the most efficient method to service their route. Why don't you ask them one morning?

    • by entgod (998805)
      That's how the mailboxes in Finland are positioned. Would be cool if they did it for garbage too.
    • Why don't we place our trash cans and mail boxes all on one side of the road...

      That would be perfect, provided of course that they were all placed on *my* side of the road.

    • by j-beda (85386)
      Another optimization would be to have pairs of next door neighbours stack their trash together at the common border of their property, thus providing for a single place for the truck to stop. You could even implement this yourself - pick a neighbour and put your trash at that corner of the property and get them to do the same. Obviously this doesn't work well in some arrangements of properties.
  • by Mathinker (909784) on Monday March 09, 2009 @08:48AM (#27120515) Journal

    > Ok the title might be a little ridiculous, but the ridiculous packaging
    > used to ship a few tiny objects by some shippers is pretty shameful.

    In my experience, the smaller an item is that I carry around, the more likely it is for me to lose it. I think the same thing goes for the USPS. I don't think I'd feel all that great if Amazon tried to ship my new microSD card to me in a package the size of a postage stamp.

    • by westlake (615356)
      I don't think I'd feel all that great if Amazon tried to ship my new microSD card to me in a package the size of a postage stamp.

      You'd feel worse if it was a microscopic sample of the Ebola virus that went astray.

      A package can't be so small that it will - quite literally - slip through the cracks. It can't be smaller than the human and machine readable labels it must carry.

    • by dbcad7 (771464)
      The problem is determining an optimal number of box sizes that will handle the greatest number of your products. The work station where the item is packed has a limited space for box options. In some cases, larger boxes can be cut down for a better fit to a smaller object.. In your SD card example, I am sure that the card itself had some protective packaging so an envelope would probably have been a better choice.. Here it comes down to decision making. Perhaps there could be some software that will make th
  • by veganboyjosh (896761) on Monday March 09, 2009 @08:49AM (#27120523)
    I work for a company that produces paper products. A large part of what we do is die cut the sheets into different shapes. We charge our customers for these shapes according to how many we get out of a sheet.

    Sometimes the shapes are square/rectangular, which nest next to each other very well. Generally, they do not. Among other things, I am tasked with figuring out how many shapes we can get out of a sheet of paper. With the irregular shapes, the best method I've found is just to brute force the problem, trying various layouts to see if orienting the shapes one way will get us one or two more shapes out of a sheet. It's not a simple area problem, since some shapes nest very well, and some don't. I do have tricks I've learned to help speed the process, but I'd love to have something like this software, which would take the one-up shape, and tell me how many I can get out of a sheet of paper.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'm working with 2D stock cutter from astrokettle (http://www.astrokettle.com/pr2dlp.html) and they have some very impressive algo to get the best out of you piece of you sheet. Give it a try.

  • Can we now stack people more efficiently so they take up less space?
  • by RManning (544016) on Monday March 09, 2009 @09:00AM (#27120655) Homepage

    I got married last year and we registered for a lot of stuff from Crate & Barrel. Everything came packed in a ridiculous amount of packaging, but my favorite was the pillows. Each of the four pillows we got came double-wrapped in bubble paper! I guess they weren't broken when we got them, so it must have worked. ;)

  • by hey! (33014)

    There's lots of tricky optimization problems where better algorithms could make a huge difference. How much fuel do you load on an airplane given that (a) any fuel you have at the end of a flight leg above the margin of safety is useless cargo and (b) fuel has different costs at different airports? It's probably a safe bet that it's always more energy efficient to transport fuel by ground though.

    What about optimizing traffic flow through a city by coordinating traffic lights? If you could minimize the to

    • by PMuse (320639)

      . . . and (c) that landing delays, diversions, unexpected headwinds, and the occasional airport-sacking terrorist [wikipedia.org] suggest a certain safety reserve be maintained.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by exi1ed0ne (647852) *

      The idea that energy prices should be kept high, through a carbon tax, is intended to harness the market's ability to provide approximations of optimal solutions to resource distribution problems by internalizing the environmental costs of energy use.

      Bah, you don't need a tax for that. All that need to happen is to stop subsidizing security in the Middle East.

  • Applying elegant algorithms to super-densely pack articles does little to improve the total optimization situation when the articles being packed are themselves optimized for store shelf marketing.

  • I have noticed that some companies that ship a lot of product have decided to reduce the variety of boxes that they use for shipping, as that makes it easier to buy the boxes and packing material itself. Of course that means that in some cases small objects end up shipped in boxes far, far, larger than needed, but the savings realized by the company that sold the product offsets that cost (both in terms of what they pay for boxes as well as in what they pay people on the line for managing that number of bo
  • by geminidomino (614729) * on Monday March 09, 2009 @09:42AM (#27121123) Journal

    We're so self-important. So self-important. Everybody's going to save something now. "Save the trees, save the bees, save the whales, save those snails." And the greatest arrogance of all: save the planet. What? Are these fucking people kidding me? Save the planet, we don't even know how to take care of ourselves yet. We haven't learned how to care for one another, we're gonna save the fucking planet?

    I'm getting tired of that shit. Tired of that shit. I'm tired of fucking Earth Day, I'm tired of these self-righteous environmentalists, these white, bourgeois liberals who think the only thing wrong with this country is there aren't enough bicycle paths. People trying to make the world safe for their Volvos. Besides, environmentalists don't give a shit about the planet. They don't care about the planet. Not in the abstract they don't. Not in the abstract they don't. You know what they're interested in? A clean place to live. Their own habitat. They're worried that some day in the future, they might be personally inconvenienced. Narrow, unenlightened self-interest doesn't impress me.

    Besides, there is nothing wrong with the planet. Nothing wrong with the planet. The planet is fine. The PEOPLE are fucked. Difference. Difference. The planet is fine. Compared to the people, the planet is doing great. Been here four and a half billion years. Did you ever think about the arithmetic? The planet has been here four and a half billion years. We've been here, what, a hundred thousand? Maybe two hundred thousand? And we've only been engaged in heavy industry for a little over two hundred years. Two hundred years versus four and a half billion. And we have the CONCEIT to think that somehow we're a threat? That somehow we're gonna put in jeopardy this beautiful little blue-green ball that's just a-floatin' around the sun?

    The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through all kinds of things worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles...hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worlwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages...And we think some plastic bags, and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference? The planet...the planet...the planet isn't going anywhere. WE ARE!

    We're going away. Pack your shit, folks. We're going away. And we won't leave much of a trace, either. Thank God for that. Maybe a little styrofoam. Maybe. A little styrofoam. The planet'll be here and we'll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake. An evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet'll shake us off like a bad case of fleas. A surface nuisance. --George Carlin

  • Save the planet (Score:4, Insightful)

    by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Monday March 09, 2009 @09:45AM (#27121139)
    If you really want to help cut the costs of shipping, stop importing water from the other side of the planet when the stuff that comes out of your tap is perfectly drinkable.
  • by Vryl (31994) on Monday March 09, 2009 @09:49AM (#27121209) Journal

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox [wikipedia.org]

    "In economics, the Jevons Paradox (sometimes called the Jevons effect) is the proposition that technological progress that increases the efficiency with which a resource is used, tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource."

  • are not being used as it is.

    How often have I bought a component and had it shipped, and the packaging is about 20 times larger than necessary?

    It's not like I'm buying nitroglycerin, damn it.

    • are not being used as it is.

      How often have I bought a component and had it shipped, and the packaging is about 20 times larger than necessary?

      It's not like I'm buying nitroglycerin, damn it.

      Part of the problem is a company generally doesn't know what size boxes it would need in advance, so it's often cheaper to have a few standard sizes to handle all of the boxed shipping requirements. The can by a few sizes in bulk for a lot less than a lot of random sizes. In addition, it speeds the packing process because you don't have to decide what size box you need from a large set of sizes and repack if you run out of space. I'd guess, even if you had a variety of sizes some 80% of the shipments wou

  • when it comes to new ideas how to get grant money for allegedly saving humankind.
    I expect a whole new era of "stop the climate catastrophe" arguments in all areas of science. The possibilities are endless.

  • ... from what I can tell, the main problem with packing in general seems to be the marketing decision to ridiculously over package every item that ends up on a retail shelf. It's not like they don't already have other options.

  • Stacking-optimization is one of the reasons I will never trade in my first-generation Scion xB [gnuber.com]. It dwarfs the cargo capacity to engine size (or MPG) ratio of anything else you could buy. I usually go over the cargo weight capacity before I run out of room.

    I will keep rebuilding the engine on this thing until batteries become better, then I will put a 200kW motor the size of a grapefruit on it with a 100kWh battery or something. I love this car. Too bad they screwed it in 2008. The new Cube is ok, but t

  • It was my impression that packing algorithms are more interesting to chemists and metallurgists than longshoremen and stevedores.

  • Buy Nothing Day [buynothingday.co.uk]

  • They definitely did better than my attempt [sorn.net]. I guess I wasn't thinking outside the circle enough.

  • "Schneider and colleagues' algorithm allows for occasional reverse steps that can unlock better solutions" ... "The algorithm uses backward moves often at the start of a packing process but they become less frequent as it closes in on the final solution"

    That could describe just about every packing algorithm ever tried, ever. Can't we get a well-written article that actually says why it's different?

  • Of course I haven't RTFA but suspect this is a knapsack type problem which is NP-hard. That is a computer actually has to try all the permutations to find the solution whereas humans can usually arrive at a solution much more quickly by some kind of intuitive process that cannot be captured in software.

    I worked for a bus company which ran a number of charter like routes. My boss asked me to write a program to find the most efficient way of moving groups from A to B via C etc. I never achieved the same effi

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