Greener electronics

Guide to greener electronics

I knew there was a reason that I liked Nokia and Lenovo so much: they’re greener than almost every other big-name electronics firms out there. But they still have a way to go.

I picked up this story back in April on the PC Pro website: Lenovo out in front in green race. It’s sat in my “to blog” folder ever since.

How green is your gadget?

It was referring to an electronics guide from Greenpeace where they assigned points (out of ten) to the major mobile and PC manufacturers based on their global policies and practices on eliminating harmful chemicals and on taking responsibility for their products once they are discarded by consumers.

In August 2006 Lenovo were sitting at the bottom of the league in a very sorry 14th place (of 14). Within seven months however, the Chinese company who bought out the PC-manufacturing arm of IBM, had managed to completely turn around their green credentials and were leading with 8/10.

From December 2006 to March 2007 the advertisers’ favourite Apple were bottom of the league on only 3/10. By June 2007 the situation was a little different: Apple had moved to a little over 5/10, making Sony the worst — having not moved at 4/10. While Lenovo had slid to about 7.5, with Nokia overtaking at 8/10.

Top 14

The standings as of June 2007 sit at:

  1. Nokia (8)
  2. Dell (7.3)
  3. Lenovo (7.3)
  4. Sony Ericsson (7)
  5. Samsung (6.7)
  6. Motorola (6.7)
  7. Toshiba (6)
  8. Fujitsu-Siemens (6)
  9. Acer (5.7)
  10. Apple (5.3)
  11. HP (5.3)
  12. Panasonic (5)
  13. LGE (4.3)
  14. Sony (4)

Something certainly to bear in mind when choosing a new PC, laptop, mobile phone or other shiny gadget.

You can read Greenpeace’s Guide to Green Electronics online.

My new conceptual model of FeedDemon

FeedDemon

Last night my conceptual model of how my favourite RSS reader, FeedDemon, works when synchronizing with NewsGator online changed.

Conceptual models

In Donald A. Norman’s book The Design of Everyday Things he writes about the importance of conceptual models:

A good conceptual model allows us to predict the effects of our actions. Without a good model we operate by rote, blindly; we do operations as we were told to do them; we can’t fully appreciate why, what effects to expect, or what to do it things go wrong.

As long as things work properly, we can manage. When things go wrong, however, or when we come upon a novel situation, then we need a deeper understanding, a good model.

(Donald A. Norman, The Design of Everyday Things, pp.13-14)

So a conceptual model is just the picture we have in our heads about how we think something works.

FeedDemon RSS reader

My RSS reader of choice for the last few years has been FeedDemon, now at version 2.5.

One of the newest features that FeedDemon offers is the ability to synchronize feeds with NewsGator, an online RSS application. This is really useful if you frequently work from more than one PC (e.g. home, work and laptop) as you can add/edit/delete your feeds in one place, and see the changes reflected in your other locations.

The problem I had

So last night I wrote a long blog post about Aunt Mary’s funeral. I published it to my server, and then checked it in FeedDemon. (I do that sometimes just to make sure that my RSS feed is behaving.)

Nothing. No new posts since Friday. Hmm … so I did a refresh. No new posts. So I went online and checked it on NewsGator itself. Again, nothing.

My good friend Solo Bass Steve was online, so he checked his RSS reader … it was fine: the latest post had published out. The problem I reckoned was then with my copy of FeedDemon.

So I tried the following (this is like a blog montage to save time!):

  1. Installed RSS Bandit and checked the feed there — it was fine
  2. Booted up my laptop and tried FeedDemon there — same problem: only old posts
  3. Deleted the RSS cache in FeedDemon, rebooted, resynchronized — didn’t fix things
  4. Uninstalled FeedDemon, resynchronized — no joy!
  5. Removed my blogs folder from synchronizing with NewsGator – refreshed the feeds: BINGO!
  6. At the same time I checked it on my laptop (which was still synchronized) and the new posts suddenly appeared. I checked the clock and it had just passed the hour.

Things were becoming a little clearer.

What I thought happened

My conceptual model of how FeedDemon works in synchronize-with-NewsGator mode was this: I thought that FeedDemon simply sent NewsGator a list of all the feeds that I’m subscribed to and then downloaded the various posts itself.

I regarded the online version as essentially a master list of all my subscribed RSS feeds, which I could access from the three PCs I regularly work from.

I thought that when I started FeedDemon it check its own list of feeds against those on the master list, update the list as appropriate and then allow FeedDemon to visit each of my 100+ subscribed-to websites and download the latest posts.

That’s what FeedDemon does in standalone mode: it downloads the feeds as-and-when, either on a predetermined schedule or manually when prompted.

As a diagram it might look something like this:

Diagram of PC connecting to various servers

My PC is in the middle, synchronizing the list of feeds with NewsGator on the left, and then on the right pulling in the feeds from my subscribed sites.

What I now think what happens

But based on my tinkerings last night it would appear that not only does FeedDemon simply synchronize the list with NewsGator it also pulls in the latest feeds from there too.

It would appear that NewsGator only updates its feeds at a predetermined interval (e.g. once each hour) — which is fair enough for a shared, online service — and it is based on that last automated check which posts FeedDemon actually pulls in, using NewsGator as a proxy.

So, for example, if NewsGator checks for new posts at 10:00 pm, and someone publishes a new blog post at 10:05 pm NewsGator will not pull that in until after 11:00 pm.

In diagram form it might look like this:

PC synchronizing with servers

My PC on the left connects to NewsGator’s server and pulls in the posts that it has already downloaded on its last scheduled check.

That would explain why updating the feed to my blog didn’t pull in the latest posts: all I was asking FeedDemon to do was to reconnect with NewsGator’s servers and check whether it had pulled in anything new. I wasn’t actually checking that feed itself.

Conclusion

For the most part, unless it’s a frequently-changing website (such as BBC News) I guess most folks won’t need an RSS feed reader that checks any more often than once every hour. So in that sense I can understand why the synchronization-mode has been setup like that

It also saves the NewsGator server having to work unnecessarily hard pulling in data that is only going to be accessed intermittently. That’s the compromise that has to be made, I guess, in offering an online synchronized service like this: you can have synchronized feeds but at the cost of them being at most 59 minutes out of date.

However, there seems to be no way to either manually update NewsGator’s list (by logging into your account and requesting a manual update) or change how often it checks for new posts.

I just wish that this had all been made clear: when you change from the standalone mode to synchronized mode you’re now accessing your feeds via the NewsGator proxy rather than the live feeds themselves.

(Diagrams produced in Microsoft Visio 2003.)

R2-D2 projector

R2-D2 projector

The folks at Nikko Home Electronics have a few geeky gadgets for the keen Star Wars fan (with too much money!), including this R2-D2 DVD projector.

It claims “a full 6.44 meters (254 inches) projection of any (digital) material”, can read DVDs and CDs, allows connection to external audio and video devices (although there is a built-in 20W stereo speakers), memory cards and will dock iPods. I’m not sure if it will work too well with your moisture evaporators, however.

Demo

I discovered this demo about it on the Engadget website a few months back: View video demo.

Here’s a snippet of the commentary:

“Can you imagine bringing your friends home and going to the bedroom and playing your video games on your ceiling while you’re laying on the bed?

Better yet, how about your sister? She gets to take it home with her girlfriends — shoot all kinds of pictures, go in the bedroom and once again let’s just see what we just did.”

Norman Goldburg from Nikko Home Electronics

You know, I understand what he’s trying to say … but what he actually said just sounds SO wrong!

Please, please, please: if you’re going to put out a video demonstration make sure you’ve watched it first!

The funeral – creating space

Celtic-style cross
Photo by gabriel77 at stock.xchng

Great Aunt Mary’s funeral went really well yesterday; thanks to those who prayed for me / us / it. Preparing for it was the really hard bit; standing at the lectern, in front of my family was the easy bit.

Here’s my tip for preparing for a family-member’s funeral: cry beforehand. Find the space, if you can to cry while preparing the service, while writing the eulogy or the prayers, or collecting it all from the printer at the end of the desk. Get it out of your system beforehand. My word that really helped me yesterday. Phew!

Parking

I turned up at Warriston Crematorium about 45 minutes early. Bad idea. There was a huge funeral taking place, the car park was full, there was a queue even for the hearse for the next funeral to get in. So I slipped past them and found myself following a road to … well, goodness knows where. That’s an area of Edinburgh that I’m not familiar with.

Then Jane phoned. I didn’t have my hands-free kit on, so tried my best to stab at the “Speaker on” button on my Xda.

“Hello! Hello Jane …? Can you hear me?!”

She couldn’t. I pulled in at the side of the road and called her back.

“Where are you?” she asked.
“I’m in the car,” I replied, helpfully.

I found my Edinburgh A-Z and worked out where I was. I was on Logie Green Road. Serendipitously Jane was about two minutes away by car. She found me, we parked her car, paid for parking (no thanks to the broken pay-by-mobile-phone service mPark, which appeared to be down across Edinburgh that day) and headed to the crematorium in my car.

Typical! The crematorium car park was now empty.

Crematorium time

One thing that I don’t like about taking services at crematoria is that it feels like a conveyor belt:

  • Family in
  • Service done
  • Family out
  • Clear the entrance
  • Repeat

I understand that it has to be done like that, but it feels rushed and impersonal. At least with services in church buildings there is not the same sense of rush during the service, regardless of the cross-town dash (at < 20 mph) to the crematorium or graveside afterwards.

Sometimes, however, the conveyor belt slows down.

For the small chapel at Warriston you’re given 40 minutes, which includes getting in and getting out. We got in 10 minutes late because one of the previous funerals had over-run. I was asked if I could try to pick up some of the time. We were out in 25 minutes (which is right on target) and the next family was going in at 15:10, right on time. And it didn’t feel rushed. Well done me!

Part of the role of the minister conducting the service is not to pass on any of that urgency to the family or friends grieving. The minister is like a buffer between the crematorium (where I’m allowed to carry out my professional duties) and the family and friends of the deceased (who have entrusted me with the task of helping them manage this rite of passage). The family shouldn’t have to worry about the crematorium’s timetabling upset: they’re upset enough with more important matters.

Space … at the final frontier

In what I said and how I said it I tried to create space, space to just ‘be’. Space to reflect and give thanks and ask for God’s presence in this situation. Space for grief, space for hope; space to say goodbye and space to look ahead, to carry on our family’s journey one person fewer, but richer for having shared that space together.

Meanwhile, behind the lectern — in my interior space, if you will — I was aware of the clock straight ahead of me on the wall; aware of the attendant’s shadow dancing nervously behind the glass outside; wondering if there was anything that I could cut from the order of service to make up time (I didn’t); aware that the last hymn had four verses and a chorus, and wondering if we could sing it all in less than three minutes.

Which is why finding that space to cry earlier in the day was really important: there’s not the time to deal with your own emotions while trying to liturgically guide others’ during a service. And anyway, having the minister sobbing uncontrollably at the front of the service doesn’t leave people with the same sense of hope … funnily enough!

And relax

Twenty-five minutes later we were standing outside once again in the sunshine. I shook a few hands, heard a few compliments about how nice the service was, and then nipped back in to get unchanged (out of black cassock, white cotta and violet stole).

The organists were swapping over. They do it in shifts, did you know that? The new organist needed to see the list of funerals; my jumper was sitting on it. I chatted with ‘our’ organist about the final hymn, “How great thou art” and how in CH4 (the new Church of Scotland hymn book) it looks as though there are only three verses, when there are really four. That’s a little insight into crematorium ‘back-stage’ banter.

The rest of the day was spent with family, first at the Victoria Park Hotel and then back at my brother’s, where little Owen climbed all over me and ‘switched me off and on’ with the cordless telephone!