Archive for November, 2008

This is a response to John‘s post titled “We Need Radical Green Policies” in which he suggests that the way to make people live sustainably is to hit them in their wallets. This is a topic on which I have quite a lot to say!

I agree with John that the only way to persuade more than a minority of people to make material changes to the way they live is to make it expensive to be wasteful. At the moment sustainability for the common man is costly in both time (eg sorting your recycling) and money (eg taking public transport which usually takes longer and costs more than driving (except within London)). Given a choice between two options of equal cost where one is “greener”, I’m sure most people would choose sustainability. Unfortunately that isn’t a choice we are often able to make much at the moment in a world where the price we pay for many products does not reflect their true cost (I’m looking at you Primark) so we are used to paying prices that don’t factor in the long term environmental (or human) cost. In that environment, it is very hard for the sustainable option to be priced competitively.

Unfortunately, one big problem with making it expensive to pollute is that many of the ideas that are thrown about (such as increasing fuel duty) hit the poorest in society hardest (those that can already barely afford to heat their houses) while we, the middle class responsible for much of the problem, can afford to buy our way out of having to face up to the inconvenience of changing the way we live. Unlike John, the increasing price of petrol made no difference to the way I drove. Even at the peak of petrol prices, it was still a cheaper (and much quicker) way to get to London than taking the train and on a Friday night after work, I just want to get there as quickly as possible. As John says, his behaviour changed out of motivation to save money more than out of motivation to save the environment. For me the petrol price didn’t reach the point where my own personal cost/benefit analysis motivated me to change my behaviour to save either! I need to be incentivised just like everyone else.

As John implied, government policy on climate change all comes down to discount rates – how you balance the costs/benefits of action now with the costs/benefits of action later. For us, the benefits of convenient and cheap travel now will certainly result in costs down the line but, unlike in business, it’s very hard to estimate those costs and it will be someone else who pays the price anyway. For all the money parents spend on giving their children the best future they can through education, health care etc, we haven’t yet found a way not to steal from them by using up as many resources as we can from the pot that we share with them.

I’ll take this opportunity to recommend the New Economics Foundation. They’ve been talking for a while about a “triple crunch” – the financial crisis, climate change and increasing energy prices. Interestingly, at the moment the recession caused by the financial crisis has resulted in a reductions in energy prices but this will only be temporary. However, in the long run, as non-renewable fuel prices go up again (as they surely will being a finite supply in a market with demand growth that shows no signs of stopping any time soon) and as renewables technology is refined in efficiency and lowering cost of production, green electricity will eventually become competitive and then cheaper in real terms (ie excluding the green subsidies).

Hopefully this will be the case in other areas where we need to move towards sustainability too (manufacturing, transport, water supply, etc).

Through innovation in policy and technology we need to make saving the world not only possible but easy!

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When I started blogging again it was for a few reasons.

Firstly, I like to write. It helps me refine what I think about things and motivates me to do some research to nail down my understanding and my thoughts rather than allowing fleeting inclinations to remain nebulous*.

Secondly, I like to read things I have written in the past. It’s always interesting to see how my views have changed, adapted or stayed the same over time and be reminded of the person I’ve been and the person I’m becoming.

Thirdly, I have missed thinking about and discussing the “Big Issues” and generally engaging with that kind of challenge on an intellectual level. That’s not to say that my job or my life outside work aren’t engaging or stimulating (or in fact related to a global challenge) – just that sometimes in the doing we forget to think outside of the routine. The questions of how we are all to live together on this planet without destroying ourselves – poverty, water, energy, justice, economics – and what it means for us to do so are inspiring and, in our relatively rich position in the world, questions that we have the luxury and the responsibility to engage with.

In some of those respects I feel it has been, and will continue to be, a success.

One thing I did not start blogging for was to create a page that would work its way to the top of the rankings in a search on Google for “cheese footballs” and yet in that respect, this blog has been particularly successful – number one on Google.co.uk and number two on Google.com (see for yourself…) – so now people all over the world looking for information about cheese footballs will end up here.

I’m now tempted to see what other random phrase I can acquire a top ten Google ranking for. Feel free to make a suggestion in the comments.

* Yes, I could have said “ambiguous” but I like how the word “nebulous” has a suggestion of a cloud of ideas floating around somewhere in the back of my head but never being formed into a definite, solid, coherent and self-consistent thought.

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I’ve installed a firmware update on my Omnia this week which has significantly improved a number of areas of the phone (better finger interface support, better battery life, gprs/3g don’t try to override an established wireless connection – basic stuff).

One major annoyance I still have is that Windows Mobile won’t sync with the new built-in calendar and contacts of Windows Vista. How stupid is that? If Microsoft are serious about trying to get people to move over to Vista, don’t add software and then leave out features that would make it useful! I get the feeling that Microsoft have given up trying with Vista and are hoping try again with Windows 7. If I could have bought my laptop with XP, I would have, but now it feels like Microsoft have forced Vista on me and are going to leave me to put up with its problems.

Anyway, that’s for another time. I could sync my laptop contacts and calendar to my phone but only if I use Outlook (which I have a cd for but it’s at my parents’ and I’ve never needed it on my laptop before). I suppose until recently most Windows Mobile devices were used in the business world where everyone’s got an Exchange server or at least got Office on their desktop but if these new consumer WM phones are going to compete with the iPhone they’re going to have to start thinking about the needs of the average consumer.

I ended up finding quite a nifty solution – I uploaded my contacts (as a .csv) to Windows Live (the new name for hotmail/messenger etc) and then used the Windows Live app that came with the phone to download them to my contacts list. In the end this is quite a nice solution as my contacts are all now stored online and accessible from anywhere and will sync between the phone and internet automatically.

The downside is that although there is a very slick calendar web-app as part of Windows Live, there isn’t yet a way to sync that information with the calendar on my phone. I expect as Microsoft try to catch up with Apple (and Google) they will add support for this but for now I’m wondering how much a hosted Exchange solution might cost.

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Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, I’m an idiot.

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I went to Beijing recently for work. Having seen this site and this site, I’d hoped to find some dodgy English translations of my own. I was a little disappointed (but also relieved) to find that where English translations were provided, they generally made pretty good sense. I suspect this is mostly because I didn’t venture far from the tourist trail. Fortunately I didn’t leave completely empty-handed and I hit the jackpot in the park around the Temple of Heaven with this sign which contains a multitude of comical mis-translation (click to go bigger):

No leaking!

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This isn’t a particularly interesting post but I thought it might be useful to some random passer by who might be considering buying the Samsung Omnia but wanted to know the annoyances and niggles before buying. Actually most of the annoyances are down to Windows Mobile rather than the Omnia specifically but here’s the run down anyway…

Annoying Thing 1: Windows Mobile doesn’t like thumbs

Unlike the iPhone, the Samsung Omnia is only partly built to be used with fingers and thumbs. Samsung have had a pretty good stab at wrapping up the major phone parts (texting and calls) of Windows Mobile 6 into a finger friendly interface but as soon as you find yourself needing to access something a bit deeper, you’re into the standard Windows Mobile menus and they’re really too small to navigate with fingertips. It’s just about possible with a fingernail but you’ll keep pressing the wrong thing and having to go back a step. Fortunately, the Omnia comes with a stylus. Unfortunately that brings me to annoyance number 2…

Annoying Thing 2: There’s nowhere to put the stylus

In an HTC phone (and pretty much any smartphone or pocket PC that has a stylus since the 80s) there’s a little hole that you can slot the stylus into when you’re not using it. Not so with the Omnia. It comes with a stylus – quite a slick one – but there’s nowhere for it to slot into the phone when you’re not using it. Instead the stylus has a lid which has a cord that you’re supposed to attach to a little loop of metal on the side of the phone such that the stylus just dangles from the side of your phone. Fine if you wear your phone round your next like an uber-geek (also not such an issue if you’re a girl and only carry your phone in a handbag). Not fine if you keep your phone in your pocket like most guys.

This one is just dumb and means I never take the stylus with me and have to struggle with fingers or find a pointy twig!

Annoying Thing 3: It’s just a little too slow

It’s amazing that a phone can do so much in such a small package but the Omnia’s response is just slightly too slow to the point that it becomes annoying. You poke the start menu (with your too big finger) but nothing happens so you poke it again thinking you missed but then just as you go to poke it again, it appears. Maybe I’m asking too much, but when I poke a button I want a response before I’ve taken my finger away. Instead I have to poke, pause, poke, pause, poke, pause, etc.

Annoying Thing 4: Windows Mobile wants me to oversleep

Come on Microsoft – how hard is it to build a decent alarm clock into a phone. My old Nokia had one button for snooze, a different button for turning the alarm off. When you’ve just woken up after not enough sleep and your alarm’s shouting at you, you need that kind of simplicity. Instead you’ve got to go through (too small for fingers) menus trying to get it to snooze for 10 minutes not 20 minutes or 2 minutes. This is again an annoyance with Windows Mobile rather than the Omnia specifically but it’s still annoying.

Fortunately I’ve found a pretty good solution to this problem in the shape of some freeware alarm clock software called Klaxon which has a touch-friendly interface and niftily allows you to snooze the alarm by just flipping the phone over or turn the alarm off completely by shaking it!

Annoying Thing 5: No automatic key lock

You don’t want your phone calling people from your pocket if you forget to manually lock the keys. Fortunately phone manufacturers solved (mostly) this problem a few years ago by allowing you to tell your phone to lock the keypad automatically if you don’t press any buttons for some number of minutes. Unfortunately Microsoft decided Windows Mobile doesn’t need such a feature. It’s so basic that I feel I must be missing something but the only way, as far as I can tell, to get your keys to lock automatically is to install third-party software.

Does nobody use these phones before they sell them? I can’t be trusted to manually lock the keys every time I put my phone in my pocket!!

Annoying Thing 6: The proprietary connector

When will manufacturers learn that we don’t want to have to use a slightly different charging/USB cables for every device we own. Let’s just standardise to one of the mini-USB shapes and be done with it. The Omnia has its own special flat and wide connector that has the triple purposes of charging port, USB connector and headphone connector. That last one is the most annoying – there’s no standard 3.5mm headphone socket on the Omnia. Instead I have to plug in a little adapter cable, the other end of which I can then plug normal headphones into. Yes, it means I have a volume control on the cable but I don’t want that!

While we’re mentioning headphones, the ones that come with the Omnia are big, ugly and weird! I don’t mind that though because I have these.

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