Selling Surplus Food

community shop

This week I want to add a post to my food series and related posts from earlier this year.

One of the posts in the series was about wasted food.

The Scale of Waste

Just to give you an idea of the content I opened with the following: It is estimated that in the USA between 40 and 50% of all food produced is wasted. There are about 320 million people in the US, so we could safely say that this wasted food could feed at least 100 million people.

And the shocking thing is that nearly all of this wasted food is edible. It is close to its sell by date, the packaging is damaged or incorrectly labeled, Christmas pudding in January. Much of it never even gets to the shops, it fails a quality test because the label is not correctly attached or the packet printing is wrong, and it is discarded.

This week the first UK based Community Shop opened, and in this shop they only sell discarded food. Sounds like a great idea, they take food that is lost during the preparation stages, on its way to the supermarket, and food that is discarded once it has arrived or sat on the shelves for a while, and they re-sell it. Very cheap (70% less), you can make a profit and waste problem resolved I thought. Great!

But of course it is not that simple.

Supply and Demand

One problem is that if you sell this food at a fraction of the previous price, people will buy it and not the full price food. This means that for every tin of beans bought at the community shop, a supermarket sells one tin less. So they might not like that, and that is why in many cases they prefer to destroy the food than to pass it on.

This problem can be seen in this case on a local scale, but it also happens on a global scale. How do you think the farmer in South Africa feels when she sees thousands of tons of free US grown grain distributed for free in a neighboring country? She cannot compete and sell her food any more. Feeding a population without charging them directly destroys surrounding markets.

This is not just a food problem. When we donate our old clothes and they turn up worn by kids in Kenya (Manchester United shirts come to mind), that means that those kids did not buy their clothes, and the local clothes suppliers, and makers, and distributors, don’t work.

So the community shop have found an answer. You have to be a member to buy food there, and to be a member you have to be receiving benefit from the government and live within a local postcode area. Only 500 members at a time, and membership is not for life. The shop also offers free courses in food preparation, CV writing, and many other things that help to manage the household and improve quality of life. Sounds great, but we should remember that many people are working poor that do not receive benefits, or have fallen through the benefit net, what about them? What we need is more of these shops, so that the entry rules can be broader.

This is a great idea. Let’s use the stuff instead of throwing it out. And to be honest I have little sympathy for an industry that is so wasteful and non-sustainable.

If there were a community shop of this type on every corner we could all benefit, and I for one wish them well with their endeavour.

Simple ways to speed up your website

Having a fast website is very important. As I mentioned in my Black Friday post, nobody likes a slow website and if your site take more than a few seconds to load, the chances are you are loosing visitors because of that lag.

This article contains a few easy to implement tips which you can use to help you reduce the load time of your website.

Keep Your Code Tidy

Unless something goes wrong, or someone chooses to view your source code, most of the people who visit your website will never see any of the code that is stuffed away behind the scenes. That doesn’t mean it isn’t important however. After all, the code at the back-end is what creates the website at the front end.

Minify HTML

Minimising your HTML, CSS and JavaScript is a very easy way to reduce the size of your website. If there is less to load, then your website will load faster. If you use a CMS like WordPress, there are many plugins which can minify your code for you. If you self-code there are websites which will shrink your code for you, or you could go through it yourself, removing unnecessary spaces and tags etc.

Reduce Files Fetched

It is good practice to fetch as few files as possible when loading your website. For example, many sites use separate style sheets for different parts of the website – for example one for text, one for images and another for general layout. Every file that your page calls upon increases its overall load time. Fetching one big CSS document will usually be faster than fetching three smaller ones.

Also consider how many external resources you load – for example adding a Facebook like button will require the users browser to visit Facebook’s website to pull the code across, whilst loading your page. A link or a delayed load on things like social sharing buttons can give you a big speed boost.

Optimise Your Images

Images make your content more exciting, however if you don’t optimise them then they can often really slow your page load time down. There are various ways you can reduce the file size of your images without compromising on quality.

Resize Pictures

When you take a picture, it can often be much bigger than you really need it to be. By resizing photos before you upload them, you can massively reduce the file size of your images. If you leave the file big, but resize it using HTML or CSS – by setting a smaller height and width – then the end user still has to load the big image, and then their browser then has to squash it down to fit your new image dimensions.

Choose The Right File Type

The most commonly used image formats are .jpg, .gif and .png.  Different images lend themselves to different formats. Reducing the number of colours available to a GIF or a PNG-8 image will reduce the files size, whilst reducing the image quality will lower the size of a JPEG file.

Use An Image Compressor

Image compressors are another way to shrink images. Technology Bloggers currently uses a WordPress plugin called WP Smush.it which uses the Yahoo! Smush.it tool to reduce image files.

Example

Here is a picture that I took several years ago whilst in South Africa.

Elephants in South Africa
The full sized image was 3.44 megabytes. Resizing it in Photoshop helped me reduce that to 1.61 megabytes. Because there are lots of colours and the image was quite big, choosing GIF and PNG-8 format made it look too pixelated, so it was between PNG-24 and JPEG. PNG-24 squashed the image down to 831 kilobytes, whilst JPEG compressed it to a tidy 450 kilobytes. Although that is a lot smaller than the original file, it would still take a long time to load on a slow connection so by taking a very small hit on the image quality, I managed to get the file size down to 164 kilobytes. Finally running the image through Smush.it took it down to 157 kilobytes. Some images see a big reduction, most (like this one) see a smaller reduction of just a few percent.

Use A Content Delivery Network

Content delivery networks, or CDNs, can help to improve a websites speed and make it more reliable. Put very simply, when someone tries to access your site, without a CDN they are directed to your hosting provider, who will then serve them your website and all its files from their server. This means that if your host goes down because of a fault, or a sudden surge in traffic you loose your site, and also if your host is not close to a user, it can take a long time for them to communicate.

With a CDN, users can fetch your site faster, because it is offered in multiple locations around the world. Additionally many CDNs can cache a copy of your site, so if your host goes offline, they can provide a static version of your site to users until it comes back up.

For example, Technology Bloggers is currently hosted in Gloucester in the UK. If you access us from Australia, CloudFlare (the CDN we use) will send you to its closest data centre, which could be in Australia, which will then deliver the files you need to see our site. It is faster because your requests don’t have to travel all the way to the UK and nor does the data being sent back to you either.

Control Your Cache

Server Side

If you use a CMS, then the chances are your content is dynamically delivered upon request. Basically, when the user requests a page, your site creates it and then sends it back. By using some form of caching you can create a static image of your site, so your site doesn’t have to create the content each time a user visits it. There are various plugins you can use to help with this, Technology Bloggers uses CloudFlare’s caching system, as I have found this seems to work better than other WordPress plugins I have tried. Also, using too many plugins, slows your site down, hence why I let the CDN manage it.

User Side

A users browser also saves files for later, in case they visit your site again. It is possible to determine what files are saved and for how long these files are saved for, by adding caching headers to your .htaccess file you can change these settings.

How To Test If Your Site Is Faster

Refreshing your page and timing it with a stopwatch is one way to gauge how quick your site loads. This probably isn’t the best way to do it though!

There are various websites which rate your sites speed performance. I tend to measure Technology Bloggers using four main speed analysis sites.

Google PageSpeed

Google are keen for the web to be faster and offer a very useful tool which gives your site a score for mobile load time and desktop load time. It also suggests what it believes is slowing your site down. Google’s tool also gives an image of your fully loaded site – all the content above the fold. Unfortunately, their test doesn’t actually state how fast your site loads, just how well optimised it is.

WebPageTest

Probably the most thorough site I use is WebPageTest, which presents loads of different information, including first view load time, repeat view load time (which should be quicker if you have user side caching), a waterfall view of all the files loading, a visual representation of how your site loads, suggestions as to where performance issues lie and loads more.

An analysis of TechnologyBloggers.org using the WebPageTest tool

Pingdom

Pingdom is another useful tool, it gives a handy speed score and also tells you how fast your site is compared to other sites it has tested. It also saves your speed results, so you can view historic test result speeds on a graph, and see how your sites speed has changed.

GTmetrix

GTmetrix is another useful site. It also gives lots of details, and helps you to see what is slowing your site down. GTmetrix also lets you compare one site to another, which I’m not really sure is that useful, but it is interesting to see how your competitors site compares to your own.

An analysis of TechnologyBloggers.org using the GTmetrix tool

Happy Browsing

Remember to enjoy your new, faster site! Hopefully your visitors will too. :-)

Drone Wars

Drones

Mauricio loves remote control aircraft. When I bought a model plane for my son he was the first round to see it, he told me how to strengthen the wings, and recounted tales of daredevil antics and crashes in the heart of South America.

Now he wants to get a license to pilot a drone, because now in Italy where he lives you need a license, which is not the case in the USA.

Drone Use and the Law

Drone use is becoming ever more common, but there have been a few pieces in the press about people getting into trouble for drone use.

In October, a European football qualification match was abandoned after a drone carrying inflammatory language on a large tail was flown over the pitch. It’s appearance caused a scuffle between players that got so out of hand that the referee had to lead the players off and later abandon proceedings.

In what I might see as a copycat incident a week later, a man was arrested after a drone was seen flying over Manchester City’s stadium during a game. Read more about these events on the BBC.

This week reports abound of a near miss at Heathrow airport in London involving an unidentified drone. An Airbus carrying 180 people almost collided with the drone that is too small to appear on radar. Police are searching for the pilot. This article describes the event and goes on to explain flying rules in the UK for such machines. The owner of the drone will be in serious trouble when the police catch him, and could face fines of up to half a million pounds.

In a related incident police are investigating reports of drone flights over a nuclear power station. Once again in October but this time in France, police received reports of a series of drone flights over nuclear power stations. The flights were at night, and seem to have been coordinated, and this fact has set a few alarm bells ringing with the French authorities. Were they spies, terrorists, anti nuclear campaigners or just people having a laugh? Who knows? Read more here.

Drone use is becoming ever more common and the trend is bound to increase, but given the problems above this growth is certainly not unproblematic. In a previous post I wrote about privacy implications, and earlier this year Christopher wrote about Amazon’s possible drone delivery service. Find the links here.

On a scientific note NASA are developing a biodegradable drone. It is made from mushroom and cloned paper wasp spit, and the materials used are hailed as possibly offering a new substitute for plastic. If the machine crashes it simply biodegrades leaving no trace, so could be used in sensitive areas without fear of contamination.

Certainly one to look out for.

Sending People and Animals into Space

laika

I watched NASA TV all afternoon today. I wanted to see the launch of the new US Space Agency flagship Orion, but unfortunately technical issues led to it being postponed. They will (and I will) try again tomorrow.

Space Difficulties

This is an interesting launch for one major reason, it is the first test flight of a capsule that will carry people, possibly to Mars, but certainly into outer space. The test is going to send it way out beyond the orbiting space station (3600 miles), into an area that is much more inhospitable.

One issue that is different at that kind of distance is radiation. The radiation level is high, high enough to effect machines let alone humans, and so the test will measure how much the engineers have managed to insulate the capsule from this problem. Incidentally this problem is often cited as evidence that the US moon landings were faked, with critics saying that the astronauts would not have survived the radiation levels if they had actually gone there. But that is another post!

Another thing to be tested is its capacity to withstand the temperatures of re-entry in to the atmosphere. You might recall one of the Space Shuttle missions ending in disaster as it burnt up on re-entry due to faulty tiles on the underbelly.

Now I would like to see a rocket launch, but it is a completely different thing to see one with a capsule carrying people attached. I remember the golden days of space travel, when it was only animals that had the chance of orbit. (I don’t really remember them).

Animals or People?

It is after all a dangerous game going into space. This Wikipedia article lists all of the deaths involving space travel, both on the ground and in the air. 19 people have died during space flight, but another 11 have died in training, and if we think that only 533 people have been into space then the fatality rate is high.

So will they send animals in the capsule to test it out again? I doubt it, but alongside the 500 odd people in space we should not forget our animal friend heroes, some of whom gave their lives for this great mission.

Fruitflies, a pest sometimes and national heroes on other days. Fruitflies were after all the first animals sent into space, way back in 1947. In 1949 they sent a resus monkey up called Albert 2, although he died on re-entry. They did have some sensor data however so it ewas not all in vain. They are little remembered though, unlike Laika the dog. Laika was rescued from the streets of Moscow, trained, and sent on a one way mission into space. It is not known how long she lived, the capsule burned up on re-entry, and I am not sure why she was sent, but a heroic end to a flea ridden mut it was in November 1957. There she is in the photo above.

2 dogs did however make it back in one piece after a quick orbit. In 1960 Belka and Strelka made it back home, and I am sure received the welcome they deserved.

Then there was Ham, a chimpanzee. He was trained to interact with the vessel, pulling levers and feeding himself. He became a celebrity upon his return and there is even a documentary film available about his and his friends’ pioneering lives.

If you would like to know more about animals in space (I bet you can’t wait) check out this link.

I am looking forward to a launch tomorrow, with or without animal passengers.

On a final note follow this link to see a photo reportage about abandoned NASA facilities. The places that launched some of these great missions are now in ruins. Makes you think!