Saturday, June 27, 2009

Neighbourhood Plant Swap

Get free plants, share stories, and build your gardening community with a Neighbourhood Plant Swap.

If you want this to happen, connect with your local green thumbs and explain the concept to them. They'll invite their friends, and might even help you organize it.

Find a spot: This could be a community center, park, garage, or school parking lot. Use your imagination. Keep it free. You might want to bring a few tables or some sidewalk chalk to help organize the plants.

Pick a day: Pick a Saturday unless you have a good reason not to. On weekdays you'll have a harder time getting people to show up.

Invite people: Word of mouth invitations are the most powerful way to recruit people. Newspaper ads reach many more people than you could hope to personally invite. Emails are easily forwarded to people you might not know. Facebook invitations could provide a useful base for inviting people to your event, and tweeting about it could remind people to show up. Try to get at least ten people. If you do there should be something for everybody.

Plants: Have a strategy for distributing the plants. Depending on how you want to organize it, it could be a free for all, where people bring and take as many plants as they like. You could run it like a christmas party, where everybody picks a number, then gets to pick a plant in that order. Pick a strategy that works for you. You may also want to encourage people to bring seeds to share.

Food: A potluck lunch is a good way to bring people out and encourage them to participate. Food works well as a community builder too, giving both green and purple thumbs a reason to show up. You might have to bring napkins or other things to facilitate the food.

Have some basic supplies like markers and labels on hand for people who forgot to label their plants.

Allow time for chit-chat, and get email addresses of participants, so you can let them know about the next one.

With help from and

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Money in a box

Let's start with a few assumptions: You live indoors, and you like saving money. Still here? Good. Today's lesson is inexpensive, easy to implement, and will pay dividends for a long time to come. It's a quick win.

Even better, this strategy is of the set it and forget it variety. Depending on your settings you will save 5% to 15% of your heating bill automatically.

You don't even have to call your stockbroker to get in on such a sure thing. You can obtain this 'money in a box' at your favorite hardware store, hook it up, and reap the rewards forevermore.

That's right, the message here is to buy and install a programmable thermostat. Set it to automatically lower the heat when you're not around and it's money in your pocket. So why haven't your friends installed one yet?

For one thing, the gas company doesn't really have an interest in you saving gas. They make money when you burn it.

Another reason is that it doesn't really look like savings. It's certainly not marketed by the gas company as a discount. There's no fluorescent orange sign that says 10% off. It's better than that.

This is exactly like going to the gas company and telling them flat out that you are going to give them less money from now on. It's automatic and it's permanent. It's just like printing money, but without the printing.

Next question: Why would this topic show up in June? Answer: This is when your heating bills are likely to be the lowest, so this is the part of the year when the ~$50 you're going to spend on a programmable thermostat are least likely to be missed.

You're ROI goes up even more if you find the thermostat on sale, but don't use that as an excuse to put this off. Hook it up, set it, and forget it. It will start leaving money in your pocket every time the heating bill shows up. 

Note: For those of you who've already implemented this at home, great work. You're in the advanced class. Your homework is to help a neighbour pick out and install theirs.

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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Crackdowns won't work. Decriminalize Drugs.

Drug users, like most normal people, would prefer not to go to prison. Cracking down on drugs or locking up petty offenders is expensive, and won't solve the problem.

Drug users need help, not jail time, but Laws that would punish them drive them away from the help that they need. If they ask for help, they have to admit they use drugs, which opens them up to the possibility of prosecution.

In order to provide drug users the help they need, a good first step would be to quit threatening to lock them up. That strategy keeps them both hidden and addicted.

Decriminalizing the drugs, which will remain illegal, eliminates the risk of jail time, which encourages people to seek help. Financially, the money that would have gone to incarcerate drug users goes instead to helping them clean themselves up.

This would all sound like a delightful fantasy, if we weren't being led by example: Portugal.

Portugal decriminalized consumption and possession for personal use of all types of drugs on July 1, 2001. Its strategy is based on "containing and reducing the negative effects of substance abuse"*. 

Instead of a jailor, people were sent to a panel consisting of a psychologist, a social worker, and a legal advisor who determine how they can best help the drug user with their problems. 

According to a Cato institute report, drug use and HIV infections from needles dropped while people seeking treatment doubled. Decriminalization does not appear to result in increased drug use.

What does this mean for Canadians? A hard line on this kind of crime would run counter to actually solving the problem. If you reduce drug use by decriminalization and counseling, it would follow that other crimes that accompany drug use would decline as well.

As a country, we will be much farther ahead if we help these people work through their problems rather than lock them up. It's time for a rethink on national drug policy.

*Rand Monograph Report: Guidelines for Implementing and Evaluating the Portuguese Drug Strategy

Time did a piece on this recently as well.