Friday, November 29, 2013

What Norway could teach Canada about avoiding the resource curse

Smoke 'em if you got 'em
is not a 
long game strategy.
Canada is falling victim to the resource curse. Recent back and forth comments about Alberta's natural resources between Ontario Premier McGuinty and Alberta Premier Redford make this clear.
McGuinty claims Ontario's manufacturing sector would benefit from a lower dollar, and oil exports make the dollar go up. A lower Canadian Dollar would make Canadian manufactured goods more competitive abroad. A Canadian dollar at 70¢ U.S. would feel like 30% off on Canadian manufactured goods.
Redford, of course, is the oil sands booster in chief, and points out equipment Ontario has been able to manufacture for the megaprojects.
Canada's oil exports drive up the value of our Dollar. There's lots of investment in those industries, and that focus and investment can stifle existing industries. In Canada's case, it's the eastern manufacturing that's feeling the pinch.
Norway, rich with oil, found a way to avoid the resource curse. It's a way that involves acting counter to human nature at every turn, but it works. It's left Norway in an enviable financial position.
Here's how they prevented the oil from destroying their other industries:

Go slow:

Norwegian industry wanted to go full speed ahead, but Norway strictly limited the drilling permits.

Save the money:

Instead of spending their riches, they put it in their oil fund (Statens pensjonsfond - Utland), now worth about $573 Billion (edit: Wikipedia reports: "As of September 30th 2013 its total value is... $783.3 billion"). They recognize that their oil wealth won't last forever, and are taking steps to make sure they can make it last, only spending the interest.

Don't talk about it:

Norwegian political parties agree to leave it off the table as an issue for elections. It's not a political football. It doesn't disrupt their economy, and they'll maintain their oil wealth for generations.
The bickering between Alberta and Ontario demonstrates the tension. We're flouting all of Norway's guidelines, and that could come back to haunt us.
The full speed ahead approach diverts investment money from other projects. Spending the money means it won't be there later on. The use of the resource revenue as a political football combined with the short term views of the electorate means election promises of spending rather than saving.

It's clear we don't have the self-discipline to adopt a Norwegian style strategy for managing our oil wealth.
When it's all gone and we have nothing to show for it at least now you'll know why.
(Originally published March 2012)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Government by the corporations, for the corporations

Seven score and ten years ago Lincoln gave a speech in Pennsylvania. On its sesquicentennial we still remember that 'score' means twenty. Thanks Abe.
The Gettysburg Address was also about continuing the struggle of Civil War soldiers by ensuring "that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."
If, as Joseph de Maistre opined in 1811, "Every nation gets the government it deserves" where does that leave us?
Rob Ford's 'popularity' aside, his discount government message is as seductive as any dollar store. Discount government comes without vision.
These days, the profit's in oil, thanks to low royalty rates and externalities like climate change, but mostly the oil.
When elected officials like Harper and Redford lobby Washington about a private pipeline it sparks questions about who really runs this petro-state.
Corporations allow for specialization of labour in the pursuit of a common goal, and create things individuals can't. There's no way you could develop and manufacture a smartphone for less than the $919 the 64GB iPhone 5s costs.
However, if corporations set the rules, they would favour their industry, squash disruptive innovations and maintain their profitable status quo.

Representatives of the people are elected to communicate your interests to the government. Decisions are made by the people selected that direct the course of the nation. Hopefully these people have taken to heart that they must act for the people. The corporations will get by.

Bonus material:
Texas refineries don't need Alberta crude anymore: Need for Keystone XL Erodes as U.S. Oil Floods Gulf Coast Refining Hub

Friday, November 22, 2013

How to avoid drowning in email: 4 rules

Like any good waterfall, email will just keep pouring at you unless you do something about it.
Email is relentless, and it will dominate your time and attention if you let it. If you don't use email you can skip this one.
Process your inbox to zero, every time. If you can handle any email or task in two minutes or less, do it immediately. Turn your email notification chime off. Schedule your email just like an appointment.
Inbox zero: In case you're too young to remember going to the post office, here's how it worked. They put your mail in your mailbox. You open your mailbox and take the mail home. Nobody opens their mail, reads it, then puts it back in their mailbox.
The reason your friends keep their email in their inboxes is because they don't decide what the email means to them when they read it. 
Treat your inbox like your mailbox at the post office. Clear it out when you check the mail. Decide what incoming emails mean to you. Difficult, but it will get easier with practice. Decide, then move it out of the inbox.
The two minute rule: If you can get something off your plate in less than two minutes do it immediately. It's more trouble to track it and remember to do it later than it is to do it now. If it's actionable, but will take longer put it somewhere else (like an 'action' folder - not your inbox) so you can do it later.
Turn off the email chime: Distractions can destroy your day. It takes longer than you think to get back to what you were doing before you were distracted. Every time you hear the chime, it steals your focus from the task at hand, and it takes a long time to get your focus back.
Keep it on a schedule: Scheduling your email firewalls your time so that you don't find yourself 'doing email' all day, and so that you have time to work on your priorities. Schedule short bursts, no more than 30 minutes of email at a time, during which time you process your email inbox to zero.
Process your email to zero in the time allotted. This protects the rest of your time from being taken over by email, and allows you to spend that time working on your priorities, no matter what those priorities are. Email is not a priority, it's a communications tool.

Inbox zero. Two minute rule. Turn off the chime. Schedule your email. These four rules will keep you from drowning in the rising tide of email.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Your long term prosperity is at risk

Onward and upward...
Creating Jobs, Economic Growth, and Long Term Prosperity is the Conservative Canadian Government's top priority. It sure sounds great, and probably tested better than 'More Power'.

Let's unpack that priority.

Create Jobs: The private sector creates jobs, not the government. Governments employ people, but that's not what they mean. They want to take credit for private enterprise. 

Economic Growth: We take it for granted that growth is good. It's only good if you're a child. Children grow into adults, then they stop growing. Likewise, the economy will stop growing. How that happens is up to us.

Climb, but don't overshoot. - Cliff Hangers.
Long Term Prosperity: This is a great goal.
With long term prosperity we hope to share healthy, fulfilling lives in freedom and harmony. Close enough for government work?

Unfortunately, your long term prosperity is at risk.

Too much growth in our economies and population has placed us outside our planet's carrying capacity.

That house of cards won't go much higher. So much for long term prosperity. Take down the cards carefully or watch them fall.

Instead, how about we embrace reality. All of it.

Get real on climate. Quit shilling for oil and pipeline companies. End the growth mindset. A stable country isn't so bad.

Stop calling us consumers. Focus instead on the things that add value to our lives in that fundamental meaning-of-life sort of way. Less stock options, more hugs.

If political or economic activities don't support these fundamental objectives, do not pursue them.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Lifetime lightbulbs

Don't worry. It's not candles. We've come a long way.
The days of screwing in incandescent light bulbs are coming to a close. 
The federal government plans to phase out incandescent light bulbs starting in 2014.
There are two major options to replace the venerable incandescent: Compact Fluorescents (CFLs) and Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). The CFLs are the curly ones.
Both of these options provide such a major benefit over incandescent bulbs that you will do fine with either choice.
If you want to look a little deeper, LEDs tend to last longer, use less power, and cost more. They also avoid mercury, which can cause trouble if the CFL breaks.
LEDs tend to be more robust than than CFLs, which are really just tiny fluorescent tubes.
Both can be made dimmable with circuitry in the bulb, though those variants tend to cost more than the simpler, non-dimmable versions.
LEDs are newer on the market, and provide the possibility of a lifetime lightbulb, something you'd replace as often as you'd replace the furnace in your house. We could start to see lights as permeant equipment rather than the consumable commodity we treat it as today. Your grandchildren might never change light bulbs, because they'll last so long.
With a 20 year warranty, you can count on LEDs to last. LEDs also excel in directional applications, while CFLs tend to be more omnidirectional by nature.
If you've got the curly light bulbs, you already have CFLs, and if you have relatively new christmas lights they're probably LED.
The CFLs have one major thing going for them. They're about an order of magnitude cheaper than the LED bulbs. They don't last as long as the LEDs, but they will still last much longer than the incandescents we're used to. (ed. note: This was originally published in Feb 2012 - The price on the LEDs has come down a lot since then.)
Get off the incandescents as soon as you reasonably can. The power usage for those is very high compared to what you can get with CFLs or LEDs.
If you want to be ahead of the curve in adopting the best lighting tech out there, the LEDs are the way to go. If your wallet can't handle that kind of impact right now, the CFLs are a great second choice. You could switch over to the LEDs when it comes time to replace the CFLs. By then the cost on the LEDs will probably have come down.
By then, light bulbs that truly last a lifetime will be a lot closer to reality, and the jokes about how many columnists it takes to screw in a light bulb will be replaced by questions like "What do you mean by screw in a light bulb?"

Of course, for all this talk of light bulbs you can't beat the sun for affordability and endurance. Light tubes, light shelves, windows, and simply going outside all provide great ways to get light without any electricity use at all. Sometimes the simple solutions are the best ones.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Could your family get by for three months without income? 40% can't.

About 10% of Canadians are below the poverty line, but the low-income cutoff isn't a complete picture of poverty, because poverty isn't all about income: If you can't build savings and assets, income doesn't help much. If you spend all you make, $1 Million a year won't help you when you don't have that income anymore.

If you're asset poor, you're not alone. About 40% of Canadians couldn't live at the poverty line for 3 months without any income according to David Rothwell at the Able 2013 conference in Calgary.

That three month cushion is a conservative limit, demonstrating how at risk people are, and how it's difficult to build assets.

You need an liquid emergency fund because you don't want to get stuck having to sell your home, car, or business to make up for an income crunch. You need that stuff to get back on your feet.

How much? According to Stats Canada it depends on your community (bigger communities more) and your family size. The bigger the community you live in and the bigger your family size, the more you should have available.

A small town family of four would need about $35000 in pre-tax annual income to be on the poverty line. That family, regardless of income would need $8750 in liquid assets to survive 3 months without income. Single? Save $5k to fund your emergency parachute. Minimum.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Perfectly miserable.

Don't try to be perfect. Focusing your attention on the tiny spots that are wrong rather than the broad swaths of good things will leave you miserable.
People aren't out there to judge you. Most people are far more concerned about what you think of them than to bother passing judgment on you. Even if they did, it doesn't matter unless you let it. But this was never really about others.
The issue is really about trying to meet your own ridiculous standards for excellence. If your standards are that high you'll be perpetually disappointed with yourself. Perfectionism has been described as a relentless pursuit of the worst within ourselves. 
For example, if you get your version of perfection from beauty magazines (which have an interest in making you feel bad about yourself, in order to move beauty and fashion products) you'll never measure up. You'll be ashamed of your body.
It's easy to forget that the models that grace those pages have extensive make-up, flattering lighting, and the most powerful image booster of all: Photoshop. Those digital enhancements and blemish removal are impossible for anyone to recreate as they walk around in the real world.

Dove's 'Real Beauty' campaign takes a stab at this with their 'evolution' video, and 'Fotoshop, by Adobé', a 2 minute commentary on society's unreal standards of beauty by Jesse Rosten. You can find both the videos on Youtube.
Fotoshop, by Adobé
Exercise. Eat right. Lose those pounds and you will feel better, but don't expect perfect.
John Ruskin, in his essay "The nature of gothic" (1854)found more life in the architecture of the earlier gothic cathedrals than the later ones. In the early ones each window was slightly different as the craftsmen developed their technique as they went along. In the later ones the windows were identical, perfect, and boring. The character and variety is more interesting than a lineup of identical 'perfect' windows.
Forget perfect. Instead, develop character. Do your best, then detach yourself from the outcome. If perfect is your standard, you'll be miserable.

Smile. You're great just the way you are.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

One player game

There aren't any other people here. It's just you. Alone in the simulator.
Everybody else is automatic. They're robots pretending to be people. The infinitely complex world is an elaborate experiment to see what YOU will do with it.
You can't control the actions of others, you can only control what you do. They respond based on what you do, how you treat them, and the ripple effects you have on the world.
Scores of outside observers are poring over every minute, assessing aspects of your personality, why you chose this and not that, how you treat other people, dissecting what you do and what you think.
If you neglect your player's health, the effects accumulate.
The objectives of this game have never really been made clear. That's part of it. You get to set and pursue your own win conditions, but you never really win, and the game is never really over.
Since you're the only player, and everyone is really interested in what you're doing at every moment, how does that change your play? How does it change your next actions now knowing that it is in fact all about you?
The only move available in this game is to decide what action to take next. No second chances, no take backs. The game is unforgiving that way, the rules are iron-clad.
How do you win? What do you want to accomplish? Forget about what other people think. Know that you're being closely observed - this entire universe or at least your conscience is focused on studying you. What will they find? They know everything about you. What will they think about your performance at this game?
[You are here]
What you see is around you. Exits are whatever you can think of. What do you do?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

What needs unclogging?

Toilets, roads, emergency rooms: These are things that you don't want clogged when you need them.
Trying to push too much through a system that can't take it means it will quit working properly for everybody. iPhone apps with emergency room wait times, traffic jams due to 'volume', or an appointment with the plunger are the inevitable result, and we’d rather avoid them.
Look for the problem in the system, not in the individual pieces.
For example, if the problem is traffic, you can solve it temporarily with more roads, or more permanently by tightening up the city and making them less relevant by enhancing pedestrian and cycling access. Remember, ultimately you want access to the amenities and transportation is only a means to an end.
Other clogs might not be so obvious.
Are you stuck on something? That sounds like a clog. Maybe there’s a way past it you’re not thinking of. Write it out in a journal or talk it out with someone you trust.
Are you tired or lacking energy? That’s a clog getting in the way of accomplishing what you need to accomplish. Take a close look at your diet and exercise and think about how that’s impacting your energy levels. Eat well and exercise. That will keep you moving and energetic.
Looking at the big picture, unclogging your dreams is at least as important. If you're on track for them that's great, but the flow of events, like long hair in the shower drain, is likely to slow and eventually stop you making progress on your dreams unless you take steps to keep it clear.
How do you clear that? Ask yourself “What’s holding me back?” Naming it can help you dismiss the blockage.
If you don't make the effort to unclog whatever's standing between you and your dreams you'll have a hard time remembering what they were and an impossible time achieving them. Moreover, achieving your dreams gives permission to others to achieve theirs.

Get out of your own way. Unclog whatever's holding you back from your dreams and watch what happens. Unclogging these sort of psychological blocks isn't fun, but unclogging toilets isn't fun either. When you get it done, then you can make the progress you need.
p.s. This seems like a great post to resume blog updates with.