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Apple's amusingly round reuse figures (jgc.org)
205 points by jgrahamc on Apr 17, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 91 comments

This reminds me of the elevation of Mt Everest as determined in 1856:

> Peak XV (measured in feet) was calculated to be exactly 29,000 ft (8,839.2 m) high, but was publicly declared to be 29,002 ft (8,839.8 m) in order to avoid the impression that an exact height of 29,000 feet (8,839.2 m) was nothing more than a rounded estimate

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Everest

> This reminds me of the elevation of Mt Everest as determined in 1856:

Or the joke about the museum guide telling visitors the dinosaur skeleton is 100,000,005 years old, because when he started there 5 years ago, an expert told him it was 100 million years old.

I have Creationists in my family. I don't poke the bear.

But I've always wanted to ask how the Earth is perpetually 6,000 years old.

Another question, if the assorted Creationists can't agree on the true age, then why do they get huffy about science's varying estimates?

Oh well.

I understood that (some) creationists thought that the world was created in 4004 BC [1]. Which would make it 6020 years old now. That's close enough to 6000 years to just say that.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ussher_chronology

I think the answer is pretty obvious: at the moment it's rounded to "6,000 years old". Presumably in several hundred years they'll round to 6,500, then 7,000 after that...

Of all things to question a Creationist about, the suspiciously round 6,000 doesn't seem like one to me...

The notion of therebeing Creationists around in the twenty-sixth century terrifies me!

What's another few thousand years? People haven't been taking Genesis literally since at least Origen's day (~200 AD).


For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? and that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east, and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? and again, that one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally.

Origen via Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 4, p. 365 http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf04/Page_365.html

I agree with you that nothing will convince creationists. But Origen's Genesis 1 was far from representative of his time. Sure, he's an early example of not taking Genesis 1 literally, but that's only because he was pushing a gnostic "the physical world is evil" agenda. People weren't that interested in his views of creation, and IMO they're only known because his other ideas were popular. In the places where gnosticism did catch on, it mostly dealt with what happened before the 7 days of creation (eg John 1), ignoring Genesis 1. In the next 200 years, the church declared gnosticism to be heretical, making Origen's non-literal Genesis 1 heretical implicitly without any fucks being given.

I've had sort of a different theory on that. When explaining something from my field to someone without the background and knowledge needed to understand the precise terms, I reduce the explanation to terms and context that they're capable of understanding but still get the general meaning across. I'm not religious by any means, but I've always understood that the Bible is the word of God as interpreted and written by the various disciples. Why couldn't the same apply there? Combined with various translation approximations and differences over the millennia [0], I don't feel it's that far of a reach.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yom

About yom...

I recently read a fun article speculating (decoding) the values given for years and ages were Sumerian (or Babylonian) in origin, had different units and symbology, so it's not appropriate to interpret those values as literal base 10 values, which is a much more modern system.

...I've always understood that the Bible is the word of God as interpreted and written by the various disciples.

Ya, I've heard that a lot, when I was in the church, and now from my fundie relatives.

Starts to break down when you start to trace and relate origin myths. Mithras, Horus for the New Testament. Zoroastrian origin of monotheism. A student of religions could likely go on and on. I'm just a casual reader.

Every big chief thru the ages has actively remythed their host culture, claimed divine providence, and presents his/herself as something entirely new.

trying to reason with a creationist is a lost cause. there is so much freely available information and proof available openly that anyone who is still creationist can't be thinking about it in a rational way

Archaeologists deal with this by defining the "present" in "before present" as 1st Jan 1950. It helps that that's before widespread nuclear testing messed up the radioisotope levels.

QI did this as a question, asking who was the first person to "put two feet on the top of Mt Everest".

So, in order to prevent people from assuming it was incorrect, they made it incorrect...

However, not as incorrect as people would have otherwise assumed it was.

They simply rounded the weights in pounds to the next hundred which resulted in the extra 644lbs.

Python code:

    import math
    def roundup(x):
	return int(math.ceil(x / 100.0)) * 100

    materials_in_kgs =  [12750000,6090000,5420000,2050000,1340000,86000,18000,20000,59000,2000,3000,1000]
    materials_in_lbs = [i*2.204 for i in materials_in_kgs]

    materials_in_lbs_rounded = [roundup(i) for i in materials_in_lbs]

    print sum(materials_in_lbs_rounded)

Their marketing decision is really odd. I guess the engineer that came up with kg numbers decided to round it in 1000kg, which is reasonable to me. Whoever got the number don't like kg, and converted to lb. Someone else adding the number up actually counts in 100lb, and thinks it's better just to round up.

And yeah, the last two zero is fishy, I first tried to do a simple round, and wondered where's the extra 600. It's always fun to write it in a different language:

    100×+/⌈.01×2.204×12750000 6090000 5420000 2050000 1340000 86000 18000 20000 59000 2000 3000 1000

Exactly. Too bad two wrongs don't make a right.

What language is that?

That's APL

Thank you! It seems very interesting, terse and powerful.

Good work! Slight nitpick: the author gave you credit in an update but neglected to link to your comment. Thankfully it wasn't hard to find.

Winner! Plus style points for providing code.


I am the same person.


There's a difference between pointing out the existence of a similar comment on the post and stating that I have stolen the comment. Assumptions can make fools of us all.

How do you suggest that I make it clear? Keybase doesn't allow for G+ verification.


I find it very amusing that Apple is boasting about reducing the size of packaging, but they're still shipping accessories from their online store out in boxes about 15 times larger than required.


I've noticed this not only with their packaging for third party accessories, but also for first party ones like the new Magic Mouse 2

On the other hand, this way they get to make fewer kinds of boxes, which means keeping less empty packages around the factory. They're depending on you to recycle that box. :-)

I would assume this is to create greater logistical efficiencies in ways we don't see.

Side note, I'd be quite interested to see the details of their contracts with courier companies (e.g. TNT deliver all of their new products here in Australia, although AusPost send/receive product replacements)

Yeah, I always assumed it was to make other efficiencies elsewhere, but it's difficult to appreciate that when you get an order shipped in two massive boxes and an envelope when it would easily ship in one http://imgur.com/a/Yv9wD

> I'd be quite interested to see the details of their contracts with courier companies

This is always something that has interested me. Most of the time I get my orders from TNT, but sometimes they'll also come from Startrack. I once had a single order spread over both TNT and Startrack, and a friend ordered iPhone at the same time as me (during launch) and his came via Startrack and mine came via TNT. For what it's worth, Apple uses TNT to ship stuff internally to its retail stores.

In metric countries (like Australia) Apple does publish the numbers in kg: https://www.apple.com/au/environment/resources/ :)

But they've clearly been converted to pounds, then back to kilograms.

  Lead 19,994
  Tin 1,999
  Silver 2,999
  Gold 1,000

Interesting. For the UK they just say 1 tonne, 2 tonnes, etc - https://www.apple.com/uk/environment/resources/

So everyone’s trying to play this as some conspiracy of fictional numbers. All we’ve actually found is that Apple do localize their site, and possibly some weaknesses in how they do so.

Clearly this is evidence that their environmental report was created in their Irish subsidiary (of Double Irish fame), propagated to the U.S., and then modified for the rest of the world (here, Australia).

Megagrams would sound cooler though :)

Which is kinda interesting in itself.

Evidently so. This is the highest-rated comment I've ever written here.

As an American, I feel it's a little bit condescending for them to assume we can't consume the numbers in metric units. I also kind of wonder how much gold they actually recovered. Marketing logic says they rounded up, but what if they only recovered, say, ten bushels worth, do they still round up to a tonne?

It may be condescending, but I would be astounded if the majority of Americans could estimate the value of 1000kg in lbs within an order of magnitude.

"About the same as a normal ton" is well within an order of magnitude. Besides, we're not talking about average Americans, we're talking about the subset who would bother to read about how much zinc Apple recycled last year.

Again, I would be surprised if the majority of Americans would come up with "about the same as a normal ton" - I suspect the majority of Americans wouldn't know that there is such thing as a metric ton, much less how it relates to kilograms. It's really an alien way of thinking for anyone outside of mildly-technical professions/hobbies.

Based on your comment 'as an American', I was responding with my perspective on the entire class of people, not a subset.

Somebody clearly never learned about significant figures. This happens all the time even among people who really should know better, giving false precision to imprecise measurements.

It's probably an educational issue as well. In the place where I came from, the people who ended up writing promotional copy were mostly humanities students in high school and university, but significant figures is considered an "intermediate" science topic not taught to humanities students.

In the US, significant figures are included in standard high school science courses. That doesn't mean they aren't forgotten though.

In France, in science we had to answer with the same number of digit after the decimal point as given in the exercise. It didn't feel right to me when that was crunched through logs and sine, but I got nowhere when I brought it up to the teacher. And even now the whole premise is flawed to me, because it's about significant digits, not just the number of figures after the decimal point, if you compute a times ten you have to remove one digit after the decimal point.

Nice catch, I didn't notice that at all when I saw their numbers originally, though the fact that the Tin and Silver numbers are a multiple of the Gold numbers should be a big tip off.

One thing I'd like to know more about is how environmentally sensitive this processing actually is. My guess is that this takes place somewhere where they do a lot of other extraction from electronics components as well, probably China, and those processes are not necessarily too environmentally friendly. Extracting Gold, Tin, Copper, Silver, etc. often involves the use of strong acids, and the use of many other potentially hazardous chemicals. If care is taken it can be a relatively clean process, but if care is not taken it's pretty easy to damage the environment by just dumping the waste byproducts.

Example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_waste_in_Guiyu

My rant related to this:

How It's Made[1] often has lines like, "The worker places the assembly in a oven that heats the metal to 1,292 degrees Fahrenheit". Which is an oddly-specfic temperature before you realize they just converted it from 700°C. Since it's highly doubtful the oven maintains precisely 700°C—and since it's not important to the viewer what the exact temperature is anyway—it annoys me that they don't just say "1,300°F" instead.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_It%27s_Made

Fun fact: the reason the human body temperature is said to be 98.6 °F is because of rounding between units. It originally was said to be 100 °F, which when converted to Celsius is 37.77 °C. Round that down to 37 °C and convert back and you get the oddly specific 98.6 °F (despite the fact the human body temperature can fluctuate quite a few degrees [Fahrenheit] throughout the day).

I read this somewhere (credible), but I can't remember where, so sorry, but no source. It may be wrong, but the 98.6 °F is oddly specific and happens to line up perfectly with a round number when converted to °C.

I don't think that's true.

The Fahrenheit scale was originally defined to have 0° at the coldest measurable value at the lab bench (salt-water slurry), 32° at the freezing point of water, and 96° for human body temperature. Why use those numbers? It's really easy to make even gradations with with powers of two: just half the length each time. Pretty clever, but of course this has a problem in that there's no guarantee that the three points are co-linear. So it was eventually redefined to simply be defined based upon the freezing/boiling points of water — from 32-212, based upon approximate extrapolations of the scale at the time. They may have even aimed for an even 180 degree separation between the two points. And this leads to the exact 9/5ths conversion ratio (212-32 / 100) from Celsius.

I think the 37°C -> 98.6°F is just a coincidence.


When it comes to things like this, I just don't understand how you guys using the imperial system can do your mental arithmetic easily.

We can't! (or I can't)

A few comments.. When I measure my temperature I consistently get 98.6. However, my wife usually measures higher, often slightly above 99.

Back to my wife. She is a native Russian, and when I asked her what they check for in Russia, she said 36.6 celcius, so that would help support your theory.

The fact that it converts perfectly to a round °C number is all the evidence I need. Thanks.

When broadcast in Britain, the voiceover uses metric units. Presumably the Canadian version does too.

If I lived there, it would annoy me more that they don't say 700°C in the USA...

I think the same thing with length units. They're always saying, "The operator cuts the widget into four tenths of an inch increments" and I get unreasonably mad at the TV, shouting, "Ya mean a centimeter?!" If they were really using the imperial system, it would be 3/8", not 0.4.

But for temperature, I just can't relate to °C. I've been too indoctrinated in °F so long. But with higher values, like 700, it's not hard to double it in my head and get a reasonable approximation. So yeah, just give it to me in whatever unit the factory is actually using. Especially if there's a visible control panel in the shot.

Perhaps 0.4 inches is there intentionally, to annoy Americans. It's a Canadian programme... (although I recently gained a colleague from Quebec, who is far less familiar with metric than I expected, and uses US units for lots of things. Bottles of liqueur, oven temperatures, furniture, body weight and height etc).

Britain switched weather forecast units in the 1960s, so my grandma uses °C, and she's 85. But maybe she had more incentive, since she liked going on holiday elsewhere in Europe.

Well, most of the world uses metric system and this dashboard is more about providing magnitude of recycling to public than an accountant statement.

Why bother converting from SI units in the first place? The public will never get comfortable with metric if publishers keep doing extra work to maintain the status quo.

Even scientific educational programming (Nova, NASA TV, etc.) often uses US customary units; metrication is just ridiculously overdue at this point.

No luck finding the 644 missing pounds but I do note that the PDF version of the document (I assume the original) reports the steel figure as 23,101,000 instead of 28,101,000 . That however seems to be a typo that was fixed later.

I'm guesses the missing 644 pounds is platinum. Several articles on Liam talk about the metal but it is not included in the list, presumably for space reasons.


Journalism I guess. Apple recovered 2,204 lbs sounds better than about a tonne.

Since it's gold, they should have given the number of troy tonnes.

Does it? Mind you, I conceptualise weights in kilos then have to make an effort to translate to pounds so maybe that sounds worse automatically.

Probably just because of the larger number I'd say.

They should given the number in grammes.

They could simply round it to 2000 or 2200.

Lots of examples abound, of numbers that can be explained by unit conversion.

31.8 mm bicycle handlebar = 1-1/4 inches

68 degrees F (Jimmy Carter recommendation during energy crisis) = 20 C

It's also interesting that the US units of measure are defined in terms of metric. For instance there's no standard inch. The inch is defined as 25.4 mm.

I don't know if anyone here has ever loaded an articulated semi-trailer with a loader, but something to note is that these figures (by the ton) are generally what a company like Apple would receive from the company doing the logistics here. Having figures by the whole ton means you can easily calculate how many trucks, containers and ships are needed for the process.

Somewhere, there would be precise figures to the kilogram, but the logistics mob wouldn't usually pass that on as when you're dealing with this sort of level of material, it's easier to work in lots of a thousand kilos as opposed to individual kilograms.

I have a off topic question. How have you reused your old phone? I've seen some typical lists on the web - but nothing impressive given how powerful these small computers are.

I use it as a surveillance camera with a free Android app that streams the picture from the camera as an MJPEG using a built in HTTP server. It's pretty nice, I forwarded the ports on my modem and now I can see what's happening in my home from anywhere in the world :)

I do the same with an old iPhone running AirBeam. Very handy and much easier to deal with than some poorly secured IoT camera or DVR with broken security

The russian version have it in tonnes, which is funny looking:

Золото 1


"911 Metallurgist, which helps mines and recyclers extract precious metals from ore and, apparently, phones, has exhaustively checked the iPhones and other mobile devices. Each iPhone 5, for instance, contains $1.58 of gold, $.36 of silver, $.05 of platinum, and $.12 of copper."

I'd posit the missing 644 pounds (<1kg) is platinum.

644 pounds >> 1 kg. Actually slightly less than 300 kg


Please don't post unsubstantive dismissals. (Substantive dismissals would be more valuable.)

how is this a controversy ?

Who said it was? More like an amusing easter egg.

I thought the patent on round numbers got thrown out?

Why is this at the top of hn?

Because people voted it up and found it amusing?

But oh noes, with the most critical reading possible it could conceivably portray something negative about Apple!

I'm amused that the vast majority of the comments here are mad at you for finding something mildly interesting and writing an article about it. HN is a weird place at times.

Because it's a dumb mistake, easy point out if you're technically minded. Being easy to understand gives it wide reach.

Of course these are not exact numbers, did Apple ever say they are?! The point of this blog post eludes me.

What do you mean they are not exact numbers? 2204 does seem to imply 4 significant digits.

The author is saying the the numbers were rounded when based in another unit.

for instance 136,036 lbs reported from apple is converted from the rounded 59,000 kg.

The 59,000 kg comes off more as a rounded number than 136,036 lbs.

and my point was that those rounded numbers (in another unit) were just that rounded numbers, I didn't see anything amusing about it.

The correct conversion of 1 metric ton into pounds is 2000 pounds, not 2204 pounds. It's amusing because Apple did it wrong.

No that's a us ton converted to pounds. A metric tonne to pounds is 1:2.204.

They forgot to count the 2204# (1000kg) of self-congratulatory PR value extracted. Kind of ruins their bragging rights though, when you realize how much usable material they're recovering on the cheap. They're basically just doing the obvious, efficient and profitable thing. It has taken markets a long time to catch up with how obvious it is, though. As metal prices go up, it will become even more profitable, and they'll be glad they already have the infrastructure in place.

>They forgot to count the 2204# (1000kg) of self-congratulatory PR value extracted. Kind of ruins their bragging rights though

No it doesn't. At all. Doing the right thing should, at the least, be worth positive social recognition ("public relations") at any level, from the largest corporations right down to individuals who work to keep their local neighborhood clean. Ideally, doing the "right thing" should also be profitable so that the Free Market can efficiently optimize towards it. That's part of the point of enforcing the price inclusion of externalities.

There is nothing negative about doing something good simply because it's efficient and profitable. I very much dislike the self-flagellating attitude that somehow comes to the conclusion that in order to be worthy of praise doing good must be ultimately rare, unpleasant and costly. Sometimes that is the case, and extra praise and recognition is part of the feedback loop to try to make it more common, but in general society should work to make barriers to positive change as low as possible.

Even if something like this is efficient and profitable once it's up and running there is still significant capital expenditure (both material and human) involved in setting it up in the first place. As always, that capital could be invested elsewhere, in areas that might be equally or more profitable and involve less risk and variability as well. Merely looking outcomes with risk-weighting and considering opportunity costs is always a mistake. You wrote:

>It has taken markets a long time to catch up with how obvious it is

Sometimes you may know better then the entirety of the market (business opportunity!), but sometimes you should consider that perhaps the markets recognize something that you don't. Maybe the reason this hasn't been more common is that it only looks "obvious" on the surface and taking into account life time costs, capital requirements and so forth most places have found that it has not been worth it.

So when companies do forge ahead it is still worthy of recognition, particularly to the extent that it may encourage more to follow and ultimately make it more effective for everyone.

Where we agree:

"Ideally, doing the "right thing" should also be profitable so that the Free Market can efficiently optimize towards it." = "It has taken markets a long time to catch up with how obvious it is."

"There is nothing negative about doing something good simply because it's efficient and profitable" = the absence of anything negative said about it. I said it was obvious [good], efficient [good] and profitable [good, but mostly for Apple]. And that they're congratulating themselves to reap PR value (absolutely true).

"...taking into account life time costs, capital requirements and so forth most places have found that it has not been worth it." = "It has taken markets a long time to catch up with how obvious it is." And the reason they're catching up now is because of scarcity, and because costs of wholesale looting metals from the commons are beginning to climb to their true value, i.e. irreplaceability. Apple's costs for recycling include the gift card they give you for turning in your old device -- which is some quantity of their own goods & services at cost -- and shipping & processing costs, all of which are surely considerable but will soon be dwarfed by mining costs if they aren't already.

"Even if something like this is efficient and profitable once it's up and running there is still significant capital expenditure (both material and human) involved in setting it up in the first place." = "...they'll be glad they already have the infrastructure in place." Starting to think you didn't read more than 10-12 words. And also why are you trying to make the argument that it's difficult and costly for them, when this is the much-hated self-flagellation argument?

Where we disagree:

1) Free Market, not being a proper noun or deity, should not be capitalized, no pun intended.

2) There is no answer to "What is 'good'?" and there is no answer to "Is recycling 'good'?" "Good" and "bad" are overrated and overused concepts best suited to the cognitively impaired, religious folk, others who desire a simplistic mental model of the world, and those who want to play out emotional issues by getting all worked-up over good-bad absolutes instead of talking neutrally. Lots of people say "It is what it is" but few actually mean it.

3) There is no self-flagellation involved in noticing that when someone does something rare, unpleasant and costly, it's remarkable for those very reasons; whereas when they do something efficient, profitable and (from the standpoint of someone who already recognizes the irreplaceability of Earth) obvious, it's somewhat less remarkable. German and Dutch companies (for just one example that I've personally witnessed), have been quietly recycling for decades.

4) I'm not in love with Apple.

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