Saturday, 29 March 2008

Earth Hour Observed

We did a small bit for the environment today by observing Earth Hour. We turned off all the lights in the house, shut down the computers, then the whole family took an hour-long walk between 2000 and 2100 tonight. Most houses on the street in our suburb were dark, but a surprising number had their lights on, so it would say Earth Hour wasn't a total success.

We'll know over the next couple of days whether there was a significant reduction in power consumption this year. I remember that last year was quite significant, and it sent a strong message to John Howard that the Australian population in general wasn't as skeptical about climate change as he was.

I wonder whether Earth Hour does anything real and lasting or whether it is mere tokenism. I know that it raises awareness of climate change and what we could be doing to fight it, and that is no bad thing. But does it do anything more?

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Some definitions

I've come across some interesting definitions of concepts over the past many years:

Identity: "The meaning you give to the situation in which you find yourself"

Intellectual honesty: "The ability to see the world as it is and not as you would like it to be"

Tactical and Strategic decisions:
Tactical - A decision you take when you have to take a decision.
Strategic - A decision you take when you don't have to take a decision (i.e., no urgency).

Assets and Liabilities:
An Asset is something that puts money in your pocket.
A Liability is something that takes money out of your pocket.

I first heard the definition of identity when I took a course called "Careers, Roles and Identity" at management school. It was Prof. Indira Parikh who taught me that. I thought it was humbug at first, but I have since grown to appreciate the truth of it.

I don't remember where I read the definition of intellectual honesty, but I must say it has rung true for me from the beginning. That's why I've never forgotten it.

A colleague at work mentioned the difference between tactical and strategic decisions, but didn't say where she had heard it.

The definitions of asset and liability are from Robert Kiyosaki, author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad. They're very different from the accounting definitions of the same terms, but probably more important from a wealth-building viewpoint. In accounting terms, a new car is an asset. From Kiyosaki's viewpoint, it's a liability. Kiyosaki's is the thinking one needs to adopt in order to make sound savings and investment decisions. [People have asked why I drive the same car that I bought nearly 10 years ago (second-hand, of course). It's partly because I'm influenced by Kiyosaki thinking. If I had an extra $20,000, I would rather use it to reduce my mortgage than to waste it on a new car. My current one does a perfectly acceptable job of getting me from A to B. I've made some horrific financial decisions in my time, of course, but my car purchase thankfully wasn't one of them.]

Monday, 10 March 2008

Chronicle of an Ethnic Minority Volunteer

Regular readers of this blog will remember my previous entry on volunteering, where I referenced a news item that claimed the level of volunteering was significantly lower in migrant suburbs, especially where the migrants were from non-English-speaking countries.

Well, I'm glad to report that I've tried to make a dent in that statistic. I volunteered to take part in a doorknock appeal on behalf of the Australian Red Cross. They contacted me because they had my details as a blood donor. I agreed to take part in the campaign which was to take place in the month of March 2008.

Promptly before the beginning of March, an envelope arrived at my house. It contained the following:

1. A paper identity badge on which I had to print my name and sign. I had to wear this whenever I was out collecting.
2. A receipt book with pre-printed receipts in denominations of $0.50, $1.00, $2.00 and $5.00, also some blank receipts in case of odd denominations.
3. Detailed instructions on the cover of the receipt book (including "If there's a dog on the premises that you're not sure about, do not enter", "Do not enter the house even if invited. Stand politely on the front doorstep", etc.)
4. Some envelopes marked "Sorry I missed you" and appealing to the recipient to mail their donation to the Red Cross, should no one be at home when I called
5. A plastic bag to hold the lot

I was allotted house numbers 1 to 17 on my street, with instructions not to be overzealous and go beyond this territory, as those houses may have been allotted to someone else.

On Monday the 3rd of March, I took the precaution of putting my own flyer in every mailbox in my allotted range, informing each resident that I would be paying them a visit the coming weekend (Sat 8th March or Sun 9th March). I also gave them the option to "opt out" if they didn't want me to call on them, by either leaving me a voicemail, e-mail or by return of flyer to my mailbox. To my pleasant surprise, no one had opted out by the time the weekend rolled around.

On Saturday morning, I set out with my Red Cross badge prominently displayed as instructed. It was a bit late in the morning, so many people were away from home. But everyone who was home was pleasant and made a donation. I managed to collect from 9 houses that morning. On Saturday afternoon, I visited the houses I had missed in the morning. I managed to find 4 more people at home, and all of them without exception made a donation. On Sunday afternoon, I tried the last couple of houses again but no one was home. I left them the "Sorry I missed you" envelopes and returned home. Out of 17 houses, I had visited 15. That left my own house and a house whose number didn't seem to exist on the street.

I had spent less than an hour on Saturday morning, less than half an hour on Saturday afternoon and less than 10 minutes on Sunday afternoon. Total time spent collecting: less than 2 hours.

Total collection: $88.50. The smallest amount donated was $2.00 and the largest was $20.00. I topped up the amount to $100.00 with my own contribution and sent off the proceeds to the Red Cross.

I learnt a few diverse things on this exercise:

1. I think giving people advance notice of your visit helps. At least 3 people had the money ready, and all of them seemed unsurprised to see me, and they were all uniformly pleasant.
2. I met many people I had never even seen before, even though I had lived at my current address for over 4 years!
3. The first person I met on my rounds was a child, who donated $3.50, perhaps from her own pocket money. I made two mistakes with the receipt I gave her. I should have torn off three of the pre-printed receipts ($2.00, $1.00 and $0.50). I mistakenly thought I should write out a special receipt on a blank receipt slip because it was an odd figure. There I made my second mistake. I wrote on the topmost slip in the booklet instead of the bottommost. So when I tore off the receipt, the rest of the page came away. I cursed myself for my stupidity.

Anyway, I realised that volunteering doesn't hurt. Nobody bites you (not even their dogs).

So ethnic migrants don't volunteer, eh? Take that!

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Avoid this Mouthwash like the...

My mouthwash says it "kills germs that cause bad breath, plague and gingivitis."


On closer examination, that's plaque, not plague.

Oh, well.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Wrong Reasons to Vote for a Candidate

So today's a pretty important day in the US election campaign. The fate of Hillary Clinton may well be decided today if she loses both Texas and Ohio.

I read this news item a few days ago, which talks about the frustration many feminists feel when they see Hillary's chances slipping away. One of them says, "I am worried that if Hillary doesn't get elected, I am never going to see a woman president in my lifetime."

Excuse me, but I don't think that's what feminism should be about - getting a woman elected president. In today's world, feminism should be less strident. All right-thinking people should be fighting for a common principle - the elimination of discrimination based on gender, age, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. Feminists should apply that common principle specifically to fight discrimination based on gender.

Under that principle therefore, it would be wrong to vote against Clinton because she is a woman. But to my mind, it would be equally unjustified to vote for Clinton because she is a woman, which is how I interpret the statement made by the woman quoted in the article.

There's too much at stake in a US presidential election (indeed, any country's election) to vote based on narrow identity-based issues. It would be wrong to vote against Clinton, Obama or McCain based on their gender, race or age (unless it can be shown that it is relevant to their effectiveness in doing their jobs). I have already argued that Obama's race itself could be a positive factor for the US in international relations. Some may argue that McCain's age may similarly be a factor that potentially affects his ability to do an undoubtedly high-pressure job, but that apprehension needs a factual basis before it can become a legitimate reason to vote against him. I personally dislike Hillary Clinton because she appears too controlling. Barack Obama projects a cooler image of "relaxed control".

Some would point out that African-Americans are overwhelmingly for Obama because they identify with him. I would say that's just as wrong. They must vote for the person who is most likely to do a good job, not for the person who is most like them.

Long ago, in a college election, a candidate who normally spoke to me in English, accosted me and spoke to me in Tamil, because that's my nominal mother tongue. I voted against him. I don't approve of candidates who play identity politics.

Byline for Solar-Powered Car

I just thought of this:

"On a clear day, you can drive forever" :-)