The Greying of the World – Enough to make you go grey!

Not that it is supposed to be ironic, but below is a grey newspaper clipping with dark grey text, shaded columns and a light grey contour on a white background… Lots of nuances in those greys! Take a look at the graphic below, which is taken from the Herald Tribune of October 16, 2010 (source is the UN Population Division, assuming medium fertility in each of the countries).  It is perhaps a concept with which we are all familiar; but, a picture can tell a thousand words, literally. Continue reading

Coincidence or Purposeful Juxtaposition?

Sometimes, you do have to wonder if IT is on purpose.  I opened the Herald Tribune yesterday (Sept 15, 2010) and, as is my wont, turned to the world news section (page 4).  Below is the spread of the top of the page.

Take a look and see if you see what I saw!

International Herabld Tribune - International News

Continue reading

Of Standards, Convergence & Collaboration – Winning back consumer confidence

Modern life is, at best, complex Electronic Chargers and Rechargersand, at worst, horribly wasteful and confusing. I am galled by the number of chargers that I must pack with me when I travel with my various electronics. On any given holidays, I will leave with the iPod, the blackberry, the Bluetooth earpiece, the laptop, electric razor, and the camera… And my wife will bring her palm pilot and phone to add two more to the mix. Each requires a specific and, typically, different recharger (such as different voltage requirements and different attachment), taking up a sizeable portion of my suitcase. It’s a wonder my carry-on isn’t always opened at the x-ray machine.

Laptop Battery

On another level, I have observed the wildly confusing marketing claims for the duration of laptop batteries. And, going even further, of course, we have the outrageously confusing and mostly misleading eco “green” claims, all too frequently a version of greenwashing.

With a shake of the magic wand, would it not be more sensible for us to have a single charger with variable voltage, a battery life upon which one could rely and a confidence to say that the eco-savings into which one bought are true? In any event, a standardization and convergence on these elements of life in 2010 might go some way to improving my quality of life.

If we take the case of the longevity of laptop batteries, as an IHT article, “Warning: Stated battery life may have no relation to reality” (June 25, 2009), states, you can find wildly varying performances that systematically disappoint. Standardisation as to how long the battery lasts has been created for cameras and (increasingly) for cell phones. However, for laptops, the game remains confused and the consumer remains a frustrated, if not deceived, individual. The current MobileMark® 2007 tests are inadequate and unrealistic. Furthermore, the way to “optimize” the battery’s longevity seems to be fraught with grandma’s tales and urban myths (charge fully, then use the first time until it drains is all I know).

In terms of green claims, it strikes me that the various industry associations have been slow to react. Certain NGOs have attempted to identify green dilution and misleading communications. However, industry would be better off defining the rules of the game rather than letting the well-intentioned NGOs doing so; at the very least, industry and NGO should be collaborating together.

Convergence Image

The more I look at the panoply of brands, the breadth of products and the multiplicity of claims, I continue to see the need for a greater collaboration and “higher level” convergence between industrialists. Such collaboration should not hurt the consumer. Indeed, it should go beyond, even protecting the paying consumer (and such an objective would be honourable enough). If industrialists were able to find common grounds of collaboration – and I am not meaning collusion — this collaboration would be in the best interests of that industry, presumably, enabling it to help enlarge its pie – the sector’s market share.

So, while my inner liberal self might wish to rebel against rules and standards, might feel oppressed by communistic convergence, and certainly would be wary of secretive collusion, I am inclined to believe that the consumer and industry would benefit by figuring out some standard conventions. Of course, not everyone benefits and some would win more than others. The company around whose convention the rest rally will certainly have a first movers’ advantage. But, by clearing up the immense confusion and latent frustration, companies may again go some way to regaining the confidence and trust that consumers seem to have lost, at least in part, in corporate claims and, more broadly, in brands. And by having just one multi-unit charger and a reliable battery life for my laptop, I will certainly travel lighter and better. Of course, I still have to fret about the different electrical plugs. But, that’s another battle altogether.

The Green Revolution(s) – Gre(at)en Article by Thomas L Friedman

Green Revolution Iran

I particularly enjoyed Thomas Friedman’s editorial in the New York Times (or International Herald Tribune) of June 25, 2009, entitled “The Green Revolution(s)”. For those of you are still not inclined to believe in the need to reduce man-made pollution and join the ecological bandwagon, here is a well written exposé on why we should at least reduce our consumption of petrol in the Western World: reduce the demand of (and the dependence on) oil and prices will tumble. Friedman cites The First Law of Petro-Politics “…which stipulates that the price of oil and the pace of freedom in petrolist states – states totally dependent on oil exports to run their economies – operate in an inverse correlation.” So, regardless of any potential benefit for General Motors and Chrysler and their “Greener” cars, the geopolitics of the world would be a much better place if the “easy money” derived from oil exports was exposed for “bad money” and the auto-aggrandisement and self confidence == that comes from being financially secure — were deflated as speedily as oil prices decreased. Friedman cites Yegor Gaidar, a deputy prime minister in Russia in the early 1990s, as saying that “the collapse of the Soviet Union could be traced to Sept 13, 1985…” date on which Saudi Arabia officially changed its oil policy, unleashed its production and brought oil prices tumbling down and, consequently, the Soviet Union to its knees.

Friedman believes that by reducing the Western World’s dependence on oil, the Green Revolution (the reformers) in Iran will be able to take hold, allow greater freedom for its population and bring down the Islamic dictatorship. Along the way, perhaps the collateral benefits might also be applied to other oil-rich despotic regimes, such as in Nigeria, Venezuela and even the rigid Russia. As Friedman exhorts: “An American Green Revolution to end our oil addiction – to parallel Iran’s Green Revolution to end its theocracy – helps us, help them…”

So, this is just one more reason to take the greener roads, for surely the grass is greener on the other side of this hill.

Twitter: Global Village or Recessionista?

Twitter, it seems, is making mainstream headlines daily these days. Yesterday, the IHT featured on page 2, an article “A truth renewed online: It still takes a village,” which begins: “Twitter and Facebook are, OMG, so last millennium”. The article, written by Anand Giridharadas, actually suggests that today’s social media are a modern representation of the old-fashioned [Indian] village, providing “ambient love.” Giridharadas writes that social media “maintain not your 10 key relationships, but your hundred semi-key mini-relationships. They are not about understanding or soul-baring, but about being simply, ambiently present…”. It is a well expressed point of view. In today’s ice cold economic climate, the ambient warmth of a Twitter or Facebook poke or birthday wishes are a welcome reprieve.

And, on another level, speaking of the economy, I read yesterday how Mr. Martin Schmeldon, a Harvard professor, correlated the rise in twittering to the fall in the stock market and, in a case of brazen marketing, said that Twitter was at fault for the current economic crisis. Read here: http://www.gaebler.com/Economist-Blames-Twitter-for-Down-Economy.htm.

As the article goes on later to say, however, the validity of Schmeldon’s research is a little curious. Pat Sooshisif, an associate professor of public policy at the Yale School of Management is quoted as saying, “I think an informed reader of this research paper should be able to determine that Schmeldon wasn’t engaging in serious statistical analysis of this data.” [From March 2009 issue of The Journal of Economic Perspective and Analysis.]

If you listen to MSM (mainstream media not to be mixed up with MSN!), you might be excused for concluding that the global village — via Twitter’s 7 million unique visitors a month — is running, if not ruining the world.

I maintain that Twitter’s ascension is reflective of a society that is in search of itself: a community that is communicating, without having found a greater meaning or sense of purpose (akin to the general chatter one can hear in the Indian village). It is certainly not a society that is creating value. However, even if 65% of twittering is happening at the workplace, Schmeldon may yet find a better field of research in measuring the twitterers and the performance of the companies for which they work. He might potentially be surprised to find these companies doing rather well, for being more online, more open minded and, potentially more plugged in to social trends. That is a mere supposition, but likely more plausible than pointing to Twitter as the fallguy for the current recession.

Luxury market on the decline in France — What deeper effects will occur?

A Return to Values

Recession brings luxury down to earth…but what of the more urgent changes needed?

The Herald Tribune ran a front page article entitled “A return to Values?” (15 Jan 2009) on the situation of the French luxury market.  What struck me about this article was the inherent contradiction about how France, the country that frowns heavily on the bling bling nature of the nouveaux riches, should also yet be the country of reference and, along with Italy, the leader in luxury wares.  Both the French and Italians have essentially got a wrap on the luxury market (at least in terms of reputation) through masterful craftsmanship, suave marketing and a culture of developing taste and sophistication.  The curiosity is that, in France (or in Italy), you really cannot be seen sporting too overtly any of the luxury items.  The socialistic veil would claim that all people should be made equal… But, beyond the impact on luxury consumption, the bigger question for me is whether this crisis will also have a deeper paradigmatic change in France in the way the economy is actually “engineered” for growth.

Decline PricesMajor luxury brands are talking of bringing prices down (some are even talking about discounting) and cutting back personnel.  End of November 2008, LVMH dropped prices by an average of 7% in Japan.  Many brands in India have announced major discounts (read here for the story from Business Standard India).  Chanel announced the cutting back of 200 temporary employees.  Champagne sales (with the proper appellation) were off 16.5% in the month of October 2008 versus the year before (having been -2.4% in the first nine months of 2008).  Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel’s designer, is quoted in the IHT article as saying “Bling is over.  Red-carpety-covered-with-rhinestones is out.  I call it ‘the new modesty.’”  Another IHT article in early December already traced the fall in luxury prices in the US.

The IHT article, written by Elaine Sciolino, writes that “only in hyper intellectual France could a sharp economic downturn be widely lauded for posing a crisis in values.”  The statement is inaccurate on two counts.  First, the hyper intellectual are a clique of people (a portion of which are often given the moniker “la gauche caviar”) which, by definition, is limited in number and therefore cannot also be “widely” praising such a crisis.  Secondly, the economic crisis that is hitting so many countries will also give rise to criticisms and rejection of the past “systems and values” that are at the root of the current situation.

For example, I believe that the USA, among other countries, is clearly reviewing its own value systems.  In coordination with the arrival of President-Elect Obama, there is a true opportunity for the US to revisit its values.  Hopefully, going well beyond the issues of financial liquidity, credit living and low savings rates, such a re-evaluation will look at the three biggest problems: (1) the lack of curiosity and poor general education levels, (2) the excessive consumerism and a reconsideration of the value of money, and (3) poor health levels, including poor eating habits combined with the terribly low medical coverage.

Great Depression: Jobless Men Keep GoingDuring the Great Depression, many people were no doubt forced to change their habits.  But, as the years went by, perhaps blurred by the impact of WWII, it seems that the Depression did not provoke any long-term change in values — at least not beyond the generation that was directly affected.  Will the countries hit by the current recession — assuming it gets deeper — truly change the paradigms on any long-term basis?  To talk of the need for a revolution is misguided in ambition; but, there will surely be enough people where the impact of this current recession will enter into their psyche.  As with the recession itself, you see that the psychological issues play a hard-to-overstate role in the duration and depth of the crisis.  But, what scar tissues will linger in the fabric of society?

In France and other mature countries, the removal of excesses [in the luxury market] and a return to values are seemingly upon us, at least for now.  Whether the crisis also cleanses the economies of its excessively inefficient components would appear to be the bigger question for France and its mature and less dynamic European partners (i.e. Italy, Belgium…).  The ability to restructure in down times–to help create a healthier base in the upcycle–will be critical for the future of France.  And, if there were such change brought to bear, then one could imagine that the luxury market will flourish with as great, if not greater fanfare in the next upturn.  If not, we might truly want to batten down the hatches.

What do you think are going to be lasting effects of this recession?

Losing Weight on Planes

Boy, you’re going to carry that weight...

Carrying the weight on airplanesWith the rising cost of fuel on the tips of all our tongues, the chase to reduce fuel costs is in full tilt. I am fascinated (if not confounded) by the work done by the airlines in this regard. It seems that every day there are new actions being taken to reduce fuel costs or pass them along to the passengers. In June, United and US Airways joined American in charging for the first suitcase (on leisure fares) — see here the Herald Tribune article from June 13, 2008.

A few interesting facts & figures:

– According to Northwest Airlines, every 25 pounds (c. 11 kilos) removed saves $440,000 annually.the weights on board

– Delta has reduced its seats to the “slimline” designs that are each 5 pounds lighter…and I dare say a little less comfortable. Air France is putting a lighter chair in service for the end of 2009 which will lighten the plane load by 650 kilograms.

– Water weighs 8 pounds a gallon. So, airlines are reducing the amount of water held in the lavatory reservoirs.

– American Airlines is lightening the load of its drinks cart, enabling a saving of 2 million gallons of fuel a year, and therefore 16 million pounds or 8,000 short –ie. US– tons [or 7,143 UK tons] less fuel to transport.

Delta has asked the pilot and co-pilot to share the famously heavy manuals (the manly Jeppesen manuals, for example).

And then the gas guzzling McDonnell Douglas DC9s and MD80s are being grounded in favour of the more fuel efficient planes—hence the commercial success of the Boeing 787 which consumes 2.6 litres per passenger for 100km or the Airbus 380 (2.9l/pax).*

Heavyweight BoxerAnd now, to my main point, Air France has started to count the number of females in its passenger list in order to estimate better the passenger haul – the premise being that women are known to weigh less than men. So, the question seems around the corner: will women get to pay less? Or will the heavier passengers be charged a pound-for-pound price? I imagine the boxing terminology coming to bare: welterweight woman, featherweight fare, heavyweight human, super heavyweight savings…

Robert Mann, an airline consultant came to the same conclusion on an ABC World News webcast (Jun 11 2008), “passengers will in effect pay by the pound.”

This would be where sustainable development and travel economics marry up perfectly: theSustainable Development thinner you are [excluding anorexia, etc], the healthier you generally are (the less food you consume, the less hospital resources are needed…) and the less energy you use in transport (whether it is planes or cars…). Would that airlines also provided healthier foods on board!

Of course, I truly believe that travel is a wonderful aspect of progress, helping different cultures to learn from each other and, perhaps, more emphatically, to learn to work together and not to be scared of each other. The case for warming global relations and making durable global development (in sharp contrast to global warming).

Losing weight, if not losing wait…ing time?

But, sustainable development (OECD definition) should also include the performance of its passengers. It is one thing to encourage its passengers to lose weight, but what of losing the waiting time for passengers? We are getting charged for extra weight, suitcases and more. Will passengers get to charge back for late arrivals, lost productivity and other hassles on our end? The problem here is that airlines can just point the finger at another organization (the airport authority) to discharge themselves from the airport heartaches. In the end, it will likely mean that we should all be buying shares in video conference technologies and companies!

The BandAnd, for nostalgia’s sake, here’s a couple of lines from an old song that could take on new meaning:

“Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free.

Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me”

(Quote from the song The Weight from The Band)

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* Source: Challenges No. 129 (19 June 2008).

Fasten your seatbelts

Fasten seatbeltsFasten your seatbelt up at 10,000 feet? Is it any better to buckle up at 35,000 feet?

If you are like me and the intimate masses who travel frequently, you will no doubt share a preconceived notion that wearing a seatbelt in an airplane is tantamount to putting a Band-Aid on a sawed off leg. I am a “put it on before you pull out” seat-belt fanatic when it comes to the car and, perhaps by extension or habit, I do the same in the airplane. That said, I was barely convinced on the reason why. George Bibel’s article, entitled “Flight Safety. Fasten your seatbelt. Yes, YOU” that appeared in the weekend’s IHT editorial pages, was great as it laid out for me the reasons why it is absolutely pertinent to listen to the words of the flight attendant and to buckle up.
Two main reasons:
  • The vast majority of plane accidents need not be, and indeed are not, fatal.
  • Large and sudden drops in altitude caused by turbulence can break an unbuckled passenger’s neck by bouncing off the ceiling.
So, in the interest in spreading the good word, buckle up on the plane! What about finding a viral way to spread the word and introduce on board peer pressure?
Message to flight attendants and airline companies, just because it’s the law and because you have to say it every flight, find ways to entertain us as you repeat the safety refrains. Virgin (film with character) and Southwest (good humour allowed here) set the example.
* For good humour, try this photo out on Kevin’s blog: fasten your seat belt while seated (not while standing)
** Meanwhile, how many of you know the difference between ‘direct’ and ‘nonstop’? Apparently, there is much room for misinterpretation per this IHT Q&A article.

The answer: ‘nonstop’ is the way to go. ‘Direct’ means you might stay on or use the same plane, but that there may yet be a stop over. Nonstop means just that, no stopping. Did you know the difference?

A Difference between Men and Women

Are Men and Women So Different?

Women waiting at the toiletAn advocate of diversity and a student of women’s studies at university, I keep an eagle eye on topics concerning equality. That said, there are also many ways to express and give value to the differences between men and women.

A few years ago, it was determined (by scientists) that there were just 78 differences in our genetic codings (between men and women). Read this BBC article for a quick recap on that point along with a fairly long but enjoyable compilation of people’s thoughts on the subject. Suffice it to say, there is a latent need to recognize the differences, and the following paragraph is a case in point. Equality sometimes takes accepting, even celebrating the differences.

Women Men DifferenceA fairly recent editorial article entitled “The woman in the Men’s” by Garrison Keillor in the Herald Tribune caught my attention. The issue at hand is the inequality of the public bathroom experience for women and men to the extent that, for example at intermission at theatres, women have long queues to deal with, while men hustle through in time for a drink at the bar. Keillor suggests, and I thoroughly agree, that architects should allow for toilets to allow equal through traffic. it seems ludicrously dogmatic to create toilets the same size considering the time it takes to consummate the act for each sex, as well as the space requirements of a urinal versus a stall. However, contrary to Keillor, perhaps for living in Europe most of my life, I see no offence to women “breeching the door marked MEN.” Hurray for the New York state of mind. Anyway, good pause for reflection for anyone in the throes of planning a public space. [If you are looking for an odd blog, here is one about toilets and, more specifically, about a portable toilet for cars from Japan.]

And, while I am on the topic of equality, here is an interesting article from the BBC on the benefits of women in the workforce: Why companies need female managers. Again, many complementary aptitudes and attitudes.

Updated: And, finally, a video excerpt (5m32) entitled “Tale of Two Brains” by Mark Gungor that plays out with a very balanced sense of humour — generalisations notwithstanding — the difference between how men and women think. It is likely to draw a smile. Note the good prop.

Favorite quote: “men’s brains are very unique!… we’ve got boxes everywhere and the rule is, the boxes don’t touch…” and “Women’s brains are a big ball of wire and everything is connected.” And, on this latter point, it is hard not for me to make a reference to the opportunity for connectedness on the ‘Net.

Thriller Dance at Cebu Prison on the Road?

Thriller Dance YouTube Cebu PrisonThe now celebrated Cebu Prison (Philippines) Thriller Dance video, first uploaded on YouTube just last July, has now been viewed nearly 11 million times. Wow. According to the this Jan 15 Herald Tribune article, the beat goes on (thanks for the heads up Peter)! Some eight other prisons in the Philippines have taken inspiration from the Cebu initiative. The IHT article talks about the architect (consultant Byron Garcia) behind the initiative and the attempts to have the show go on the road — but security concerns have remained an impediment. Certainly is out of the “box” thinking.

I registered my initial post on the topic in July… it’s been a long and strange trip ever since for the prisoners of Cebu.

Others blogging on this topic:
Maruja in the Philippines
Lazy Monkey
Right Celebrity
The Long Tough Blog