All entries for January 2005
January 27, 2005
Writing about web page http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2004/11/17/17417/455
Kuro5in has an interesting piece on our dislike for experiencing any form of discomfort.
"This attachment to comfort is an addiction, because the less often we experience discomfort, the less tolerance we have for it. In the end the comfort addict avoids even mild hunger by constant snacking and avoids physical exertion entirely with an endless list of labour saving devices. The life of the comfort addict is flat, never denied anything, and yet never truly satisfied. It is a life of avoidance, and those who live it end up avoiding life itself."
I'm definately guilty of being a 'comfort addict' at times. I admire those people who on top of lectures/assignments/exams seem to have a hand in 20 sports clubs and another 20 societies. I've no doubt that doing charitable work yields great satisfaction once the required effort has been exerted. Similarly, sports are a rewarding pursuit even though compulsary fitness sessions are a drag.
However sitting comfortably at my desk, browsing the web/reading a book, with a cup of coffee at hand, it takes a mammoth effort to leave the house for an 11am lecture never mind to walk down to campus for a society meeting after a long day. Future gains aren't sufficient to overcome comfort induced inertia. When things are considered a chore, they generally don't get done with any regularity or real enthusiasm.
This is a shame as non-academic activities are probably the things one will remember most vividly about university 10 years down the line, not to mention their capacity for developing a range of skills. Such memories are treasured because participation was optional and required a significant sustained investment in time and effort thus yielding great pleasure when activity objectives are achieved.
Should this be considered nobler than the activities of the comfort seeker? Isn't such a person just creating and overcoming arbitrary obstacles for his/her self? Perhaps. The best balance between pleasure seeking though the pursuit of objectives (plus the associated level of temporary discomfort) and simply ensuring perpetual comfort depends on the individual.
January 23, 2005
With the heightened popularity of digital cameras, camera phones, video cameras, scanners and digital audio, the amount of data we store on our computers is growing rapidly. A look though the media content of a hard drive is often sufficient to gain a good idea about one’s hobbies, friends and family.
This is great in a sense. Gone are the days of the ‘family photo album’. Why bother with something so cumbersome with minimal effort, a family history’s history can be viewed on a computer or television screen. Digital storage, when used effectively, minimises or eliminates the possibility media loss or degradation, and new technologies allow data from our external world to be captured with greater ease.
Photographs, video and audio can be distributed to a wide audience with much less effort and monetary cost due to e-mail, digital storage media (CDs, DVDs, flash drives), file sharing networks and lower bandwidth costs. Information about one’s self can be shared with friends and family regardless of their position on the globe.
Having said that, people generally feel more confident about being able to keep tangible CDs and photographs safe and free from unwanted access, while 1’s and 0’s on a drive seem to some extent out of one’s control.
As we store increasingly personal and valuable information on our machines, the priority we give to computer maintenance, security and backup procedures should rise. Passwords, firewalls, anti-virus programs, anti-spy ware programs, backup utilities and so on may appear pointless to some, but sadly their importance is usually realised only when something goes wrong. If we value our photographs, video files, and music, lets not blindly fill our drives hoping the data will look after itself indefinitely.
January 21, 2005
If consumers demand the absolute minimum price for an item, manufacturers will seek to cut corners to produce their budget model. This breaks down after a year, or 6 months, but hey, it's cheaper to throw it away and buy a new one than get the old one repaired.
Consumers aren’t ignorant; they demand value for money as opposed to rock bottom prices which bring no guarantee of quality or reliability. Neither are consumers homogeneous as regards the products demanded. Taste spans a large range and there will always be demand for relatively more expensive models with bring additional functionality and ‘status’. That’s why there exists a market for £600 DVD players when one can be purchased for £20 at Argos. That’s why people buy a jacket that costs £300 when Matalan stock items not too dissimilar for a tenth of that price.
Even if you could set up a multi-multi-million pound scheme to recycle all of the materials, you've still lost the resources consumed in producing the energy to manufacture the product in the first place.
Prices fall in the first place because the resources required to produce a given item have fallen. A firm uses units of a resource to produce an item, it pays the price commanded by those units and consumers pay a price which in turn compensates the firm. In such a situation, there is little problem given that prices adjust to reflect the scarcity of the resources used in the manufacturing process.
Household waste in the UK is growing faster than the economy; our recycling rates – around 12% of domestic waste – are about the lowest in Europe. Britain's landfill sites are literally filling up (some counties have very nearly no space left) and, as waste needs to be dumped further and further afield, more and more diesel is used in transporting it there.
How to dispose of waste is indeed an important issue and its increased proliferation will surely result in innovative means of handling the problem. It’s something I haven’t read much on, but as you say, price falls may not be sustainable as institutions force firms to bear some of the burden of disposal. If progress were to have been dismissed as wholly negative each time there was a potential threat to the environment, we wouldn’t be at the stage we are now. Waste can’t be ignored. Still it’s important to acknowledge the forces (e.g. technology and entrepreneurship) that have brought us this stage and have solved problems in the past, and to have some level of trust in their ability (with regulation & changing attitudes) to help resolve such issues effectively in the future.
January 20, 2005
Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/4174587.stm
This interesting article from the BBC documents the extent to which durable goods are getting progressively thanks to competition and better technology, whilst significant gains in productivity have yet to be seen in the service sector. I remember thinking about this issue over Christmas after seeing a decent looking, Nokia mobile phone, on offer from the Carphone Warehouse for the grand sum of: £20. At such low prices, it's often tempting to buy items for the sake of it!
it is not just clothes that have been falling in price: new cars are 1.5% cheaper than they were in 1996; household appliances are 24% cheaper; toys are 30% cheaper, and of course, in the audio-visual category, you'll find things are on average now 56% cheaper than they were nine years ago.
As the article points out, it is often easier to replace broken items with newer, better specified models due to the growing chasm between the cost of replacement and the service costs associated with repair.
This is all great news for consumers and long may it continue.
January 18, 2005
That people are in the regions concerned are willing to work for the meagre market wage is an indication that is the best option available to them given the alternatives. That these wages may leave workers able to consume only the bear minimum for survival is a great shame. The movement towards ‘fair trade’ products, whilst improving conditions for some, necessarily leaves other workers in an even more precarious position, with demand for their produce reduced and the looming sceptre of unemployment. This is because the market size for the ‘fair trade’ commodities hasn’t changed and could in fact fall as some firms pass their higher costs of production onto the consumer.
For commodity goods such as coffee, the primary problem faced by producers is rapidly expanding supply, which necessitates a lower market place. More effective solutions would be the restriction of supply, the movement towards strains/new products which command higher prices and an increase in demand worldwide. These solutions are by no means easy to achieve, but they make more sense than introducing market distortions which history has shown to rarely have the desired effect.
January 17, 2005
Like many others, I took the opportunity as 2004 came to an end to compile my top 10 albums of the year. It appears however that one slipped though the net totally: Rogue Wave – Out of the Shadow. I first heard Rogue Wave mentioned on a review at Delusions of Adequacy. After grabbing the album, I queued it up in my media player, but it never got a proper listen.
Rogue Wave sound much like The Shins, with the singer sharing that distinctive high pitched meandering voice of James Mercer and the band as a whole manages to nail the playful indie pop vibe perfectly. That upbeat feeling runs throughout the album, albeit toned down slightly in more introspective but no less beautiful tracks like ‘Kicking The Heart Out’ and ‘Falcon Settles Me’. Rogue Wave’s Zakk Rogue has a voice which you won’t forget quickly and will run back to time and time again. Out of the Shadow is released on Sub Pop records and deserves your attention.
January 15, 2005
For anyone who missed it, here are the nominees for the 2005 Brit Awards can be seen here, courtesy of the BBC.
The list holds no real surprises, with Franz Ferdinand picking up 5 nominations, Muse picking up 4 and a handful of nominations for generic artists such as Keane and Natasha Bedingfield.
Hopefully, Morrissey (British male solo artist), Dizzee Rascal (British urban act) and PJ Harvey (British female solo artist) will come away with some recognition.
Official BRIT awards site: link
January 14, 2005
In my first post, I worte about job uncertainty in today's environment and made one suggestion for improving prospects.
Suggestion number two:
Increase breadth of knowledge
As well as being skilled in a one’s own field, it helps to have an idea of what’s happening in other areas, i.e. investments, businesses and markets that are currently struggling, or hold significant potential. It isn’t particularly productive to be on constant lookout for an exit strategy; that much is true. Still, consistent effort to acqnowledge ideas/events outside of one area leaves you open to valuable information and opportunities. Thus bypassing the mental filters that inevitably get put up when one has been in one place for a long time.
January 12, 2005
Writing about web page http://labnol.blogspot.com/2005/01/yahoo-desktop-search-is-now-available.html
Amit Agarwal has as a piece on the new desktop search tool from Yahoo. I’ve been using Copernic for the past few weeks, having sampled and subsequently ditched similar offerings from Google and Microsoft. The Yahoo interface isn’t as ‘pretty’ as that of Copernic, as regards functionality, it’s fine. The ability to preview media files from within its Preview Pane is a welcome addition.
Desktop search tools are a godsend for anyone who’s managed to amass vast amounts of data on the PC. Yahoo’s offering currently gets my vote, though that may soon change given the much welcome competition in the market. (It’s also free, for those who need an extra incentive to give it a go).
Globalisation has, and is destined to being great benefits to all parties involved. In recent times however, the increased prosperity of countries such as India and China has caused great concern amongst many groups fearing for the certainty of their jobs. The growth of such regions should be welcomed in my view.
It’s easy to accuse blue-collar critics of the global marketplace of being luddites, unwilling to make essential short term sacrifices. However, when stories of financial sector work being carried out abroad arise, my state of mind definitely changes. Surely attending a top class university and coming away with a marketable degree would provide guaranteed job security! It’s impossible to know what the future holds, but globalisation and technical progress will surely help eliminate the concept of a ‘job for life’, regardless of our field.
I’ll outline three things employees could keep in mind to help minimise the likelihood of being left in the lurch unexpectedly. Without having had much experience in the workplace, the extent to which the ideas are applicable to different sectors is up for question. Still, they’re things I’ll be bearing in mind when the world of work finally becomes inevitable.
1.Increase depth of knowledge
In a work environment it’s easy to carry out day to day tasks, utilising existing skills, whilst ignoring new developments in the field. Staying current with the state of your company’s market provides an idea of its current health and likely obstacles/opportunities in the future, thus minimising potential for unwelcome surprises. Staying current with new (or older, alternative) technologies and methodologies provides ideas on how additional value can be added to a business’ operations. Clinging to well established or obsolete methods of doing things, due to complacency or laziness, is a sure way to lose any advantage held over fellow employees.
For a salesman, this may involve taking courses on cold calling or persuasion. For someone in the IT sector, this may mean learning a new programming language. For a manager, this may mean consolidating knowledge of managerial styles and theories of employee motivation.
As an employer it makes sense to not only retain, but to reward employees who demonstrate valuable insight into customers/the market and who have skills which aren’t easily replaced.