Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Zeche Zollverein: Coal and the psychology of Behavior

In this silly little video T.H. and Sybille Culhane visit the former coal mine in Essen Germany, Sybille's home town, to talk to their Environmental Psychology students back in America about how the "Urban Household Energy Transition" to cleaner fuels has affected the neighborhood.

A couple of technical notes: The Sony DCR HC26 mini DV video camcorder we filmed this on can be found for a good price (around $250 if you look hard enough), and is nicely small enough to fit in a jacket pocket and in your palm, so is great for travel to remote areas, but has two serious disadvantages for the would be solar powered documentary film-maker.

The first is that it has no microphone input and the internal mic isn't good enough to pick up you up if you turn your head even slightly. The second is that Sony seems to believe oligopoly is a good thing and won't let its camera feed off of anybody else's batteries. To me, wearing my behavioral ecologist hat, this is a recipe for extinction. The Sony DCR HC26 is like a Koala or a Giant Panda that can only get its energy from one kind of plant. Take it out of its native habitat and it starves to death.

The whole reason I bought the Sony DCR HC26 was so that I could take video in the deserts of Egypt over the next few months and charge the batteries with our new "Juicebags" photovoltaic backpack. Since Sony doesn't sell a 12 volt charger (car charger) at Circuit City or Best Buy or any other retailer we know, the sales clerk sold us the Energizer ER-CH2 charger which fits the Energizer ER-C557 9 hour battery that fits the Sony by replacing the equipped NP-FP71 (which only lasts an hour and a half). But, to our chagrin, when we got to Germany to test the system on this little video outing to the coal mine, we found that we get the dreaded "Use info Lithium battery" error message. In other words, the Energizer ER-C557 works with the camera for a mere 10 seconds or so, at which point the camera shuts off, ostensibly telling us "use our overpriced Sony info lithium batteries only, or bugger off!". The work arounds suggested on some websites (keeping the camera on and pressing display info and switching the camera on again) doesn´t work. Rumour has it that Energizer will replace the battery with one that does work, but our calls to 1-800-887-2557 result in interminable waiting times. Since 800 numbers aren't toll free from overseas, we are kind of stuck. If we do get through, we'll let you know what we learn! For now, curse Sony for its oligopolistic greed and paranoia. They should know that companies that give us more feeding options have products with evolutionarily stable strategies and will survive the product extinction crisis. For those of us who are trying to reduce our carbon footprints and work with people in remote areas who will be adopting earth-friendly technologies, creating a product line that lets consumers work with available power supplies and renewable energy would be a great way to get free advertising and market share in the emerging green market. Shame on you, Sony, for being so proprietarily anally retentive about your batteries!

UPDATE: The incredibly helpful folks over at Technuity.com (the good people who make the Energizer batteries) came through in a big way, especially thanks to the kindness and supportive environment engendered by Andy Rayl, Technuity's technical genius. I called Technuity from Germany and explained the situation about the documentary we are making in Egypt on the Zabaleen recycling garbage people in areas without electricity, and Andy sent me several replacement ER-C557s (just in case any one of them doesn't work, because, as he explained, Sony is always changing the coding chips (that is what that little window on the back of the battery with the little metal holes behind it is for!) and they fight a game of catch up in a desperate evolutionary arms race). Not only that, but he was super kind enough to include 2 original Sony OEM's just in case the Energizers don't work! Now THAT is what I call service!! They even offered to look into ways of getting the batteries overseas, but we determined it would be best if they shipped them to a U.S. based friend (fellow Solar C.I.T.I.E.S. board director Andy Posner) who is coming out to Egypt to work on the documentary with us! I have to say I am impressed by the folks over at Technuity and will be a loyal customer of the Energizer line! Their technical support staff went way out of their way. They patiently listened to me while I explained my dilemma and then passed me on and up to someone in the know who could really help. I found them sympathetic and intelligent and dedicated to making their products the best. Thanks Andy Rayl and Technuity - you guys rock!!