Sunday, 9 August 2009

Fun new eco-products

CIN sampled some new products recently.

Eco Umbrella Mini Flat 5 Section - Eco Garden (70488)
Eco Umbrella Mini Flat 5 Section - Mobius Loop (70477)
From the Natural Collection. £18 each

Umbrellas nowadays don't seem to last long. A few good gusts of wind and they are wrecked. Therefore it is best to only buy umbrellas that can be recycled, or are made from recycled goods. These are now starting to become more widely available.

These Totes umbrellas are the same make, just different designs. They are made from 80% recycled materials. They have been used a few times now, and work as expected with no flaws, so can be recommended. The one minor irritation is that each one comes in a pointless pouch, which is unnecessary packaging - it is almost impossible to get the umbrella back into it, and a folded umbrella doesn't need to be stored in a pouch anyway. Next time, use even less materials, Totes!

CIN's Glow Brick at night

Glow Brick Green (79391)
From the Natural Collection. £19.99 (also available in blue)

The photoluminescent Glow Brick is a glow-in-the-dark light bulb, encased in a solid acrylic brick. It recharges from natural light during the day, then glows at night.

It appealed because it provides light without any electricity. However it is only a faint glow. A few of these, strategically placed could provide enough light to navigate round the house; but they are not bright enough for reading. Roughtly the equivalent in light-terms of a small candle. Functional and attractive, and can make a great night-light for kids.

New Balance trainers, still in the (recyclable) box

New Balance 681 Men's Training Shoes
From Ethical Wares - cruelty-free footwear. £44.95

These were on special offer. New Balance are a great company - their trainers are made in the UK (so by wearing them you aren't exploiting people in sweatshops, and they haven't been transported around the world twice); they are also free of animal products, so are suitable for anyone.

They look great, feel comfortable, and give you the spring in your step to run greater distances - CIN will definitely be using New Balance in future! Human energy is the best form of energy for transport.

We will hopefully add more detail later after extended use.

And finally, to balance it out, one of the bad boys:

HP Keyboards
Keyboards are heavy duty items. They should last indefinitely. As such they will need a good clean from time to time. Therefore any responsible manufacturer would make it easy to open and clean a keyboard, so that crumbs and sticky bits can be removed from under the keys - ideally the whole keyboard (minus the electronics) could be washed before simple re-assembly.

Unfortunately, when CIN tried to do this with a HP keyboard recently, we found that the keyboard was sealed so that owners cannot easily open it to clean it or repair loose connections. This gives it a finite lifespan, which is not environmentally responsible.

Images showing one of the interior plastic bits that had to be snapped - with great difficulty - to open the HP keyboard for routine cleaning

Undeterred, CIN struggled and eventually forced it open - this involved snapping some interior plastic fasteners whose only function was to prevent owners from opening their keyboard. Worse, the plastic fasteners made it dangerous to open (the interior parts snapped back many times, trapping fingers more than once). Naughty HP! CIN cleaned it and screwed it back together.

However the point remains - decent companies should make their products simple to clean, long-lasting, and simple to open in order to replace parts or fix loose connections. Companies which choose the opposite are wasteful, leading to products with shorter lifespans.

PS Unlike the other companies here, HP make it difficult for customers to contact them, as CIN found out when we tried. Starting at HP UK, we selected Contact HP / Customer Service which is the only option that fitted out wish to comment on HP business practices. From the next screen we selected Other questions/feedback - but none of the options there seemed relevant to this query, apart from Send a message to the CEO - Mark Hurd. So we clicked that, and it says that to send a comment, if you wish to send an e-mail about particular HP products and services, please go to the Contact HP page. When we followed that link it took us right back to the start - but this time for US customers, not UK! This is known as a corporate runaround, when large companies send you from page to page until you forget what you wanted to tell them about in the first place. Hardly confidence-inspiring. A decent company would print a simple email address on a contact page, and let a customer use the - SHOCK HORROR! - subject field of an email to say what their query is about, rather than the company wasting time trying to guess every possible option.

Update 12 August 09: HP Support replied today, to say:
Unfortunately we could not locate enough details in your email to allow us to route your query to the correct HP representative. In order to ensure you receive a satisfactory answer to your query, we would like to kindly ask you for more information.

Could you please specify:
The message error.
How can we help you.
The nature of the problem.
The HP/Compaq product, including product and serial number.
The complete URL where the issue occurred.
The referral URL that you used in order to get to the page specified in the previous email.
Which action were you trying to perform when the issue occurred.
Craziness! What possible 'message error' would there be from an open keyboard? How could it have a URL? As stated above, companies such as HP can't seem deal with any communication that doesn't fall into the narrow categories they allow or imagine.

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