Copenhagen, Hopenhagen, Nopenhagen

Climate Change
Save a few trees

It saddens me to read in The Straits Times that at the end of the whole Copenhagen COP15 summit, the only statement issued was just a whimper, a short simple declaration that does not commit anything very much promising. The US$30b fund is an improvement that I found encouraging, but otherwise all the wrangling and politicking was disgusting and disappointing.

As an environmentalist, I guess I always had greater expectations about COP15 and what governments should be doing. But even as my expectations were lowered by the day as I tracked the summit through the newspapers, I am still disappointed that there will not be real leadership and guts to tackle climate change. Reading The Economist, in particular, seems to increase that pessimism. Local politics ultimately rules the day, and sadly local politics are heavily influenced by lobby groups like the oil industry, as well as naysayers who do not believe in the concept of climate change.

It does not help matters that recently there were <a href="leaked emails of data collected on climate science being ‘massaged’. It only proves the skeptics and naysayers that climate change is an agenda usurped by those against capitalism and the Western world, against development and industrialisation. It was already difficult to convince people, or to convince even ourselves, that the economy would not be affected by measures to fight climate change. This ‘Climategate’ might only sour perceptions about environmentalists, environmental scientists and those who support the climate change notion as rogues who are trying to stop the world from getting wealthier.

Very hard to feel very optimistic. I visited the Hopenhagen website, and on its index page it asks for input from visitors to its website for what hopes the visitors have for the environment / climate and what is it that keeps them optimistic. I could not think of anything positive to write about, knowing that the legal, political and economic hurdles were so huge. I closed the website window without typing anything.

So tell me, what keeps you optimistic about resolving climate change?

Sites & Wares

Macheist
Macheist rocks!

It’s been a while since ERPZ featured any Lifehack Tools and lately, I’ve found quite a lot of useful stuff so it would be great to share with readers and GTD enthusiasts.

Dropbox – File sharing/synchronization, online storage tool. Extremely useful for people with multiple computers and files to be shared between them.

Macheist – Mac Community that raise funds for charity and give you lots of great Mac Ware at amazing prices (sometimes free too).

Ninite.com – Multi-Apps installer; allows you to choose from a list of important “must-install” applications to be installed all at once on your computer. Especially useful when you just get a new computer or formatted your PC and want to have your favourite softwares installed fast.

Growl – Mac Notification tool, it’s basically an alert programme that seamlessly integrate with your mac and several other popular programmes.

Picnik – In case you haven’t realised, there’s are web-based image-editing tools and Picnik just happens to stand out particularly because it is speedy and extremely user friendly.

Quicksilver – It’s not easy to describe what Quicksilver does exactly but it’s basically a graphical shell that allows you to perform stuff on your Mac more quickly.

Weekend Reads

More medallions!
More medallions!

We begin this week’s reads with an interview with Paul Samuelson by John Cassidy from The New Yorker. John Cassidy recently published a new book, How Markets Fail, which I’ll read some time soon. It won’t be that soon though – I’m still reading Thinking Strategically and moving on to Art of Strategy after that.

Eric Morris shared something about the cab industry in New York, which eventually concluded with urging for less regulation (ie. raising the supply of cab licenses or “medallions” as they’re called). One of the comments revealed a really humourous story of how the cabbie’s industry in Ireland got deregulated overnight; I shall reproduce it here:

A similar sitution existed in Ireland up to a few years ago. Change was brought about when the government went to issue more wheel chair accessable taxi licenses. The Taxi driver / owners group foolishly sued the government. They claimed that the government didn’t have the right to issue new licenses. They won but the court ruled that the government didn’t have the power to issue any licenses. The taxi ma[r]ket was deregulated overnight.

The current complaint from taxi drivers is that there are too many taxis etc etc. There were clear winners, the consumer and those new taxi drivers who are now free to ply their trade in a vastly increased taxi market.

The fact that GPS navigation on-board cars/cabs are widely available means that the tacit barrier to entry for the cab business have been significantly lowered. Anyone who can drive and have a car with on-board GPS navigation (and perhaps a meter) can technically offer good taxi services. Knowledge of the city and the different landmarks have become less of an advantage or requirement.

As for talks that you might want to listen to, Magnus Larsson speaks about structuring sand in deserts to prevent further desertification. His proposal won the Holcim Awards.

Tech Highlights

Its colored!
It's colored!

Tech Quarterly is here again and here are some highlights.

There’s an interesting study about the contagious effects of loneliness. It sounds kind of paradoxical since the fact that it can be spread at all shows that the victims are already interacting with people and thus not ‘lonely’ technically speaking. In the area of medical research, there’s a glue designed for aiding bones to heal.

As for gadgets and machines, readers might be interested in an article on E-readers and potential future developments that these devices will move towards – especially having coloured displays. The discussion on ways of typing different language text on mobile phones helps you understand more about non-latin languages.

Finally, there’s something on mechanization of agriculture; the article reveals surprising labour shortage in this field of work. I thought the solution might be to move the unemployed people from the urban areas to these agricultural regions but well, they designed all sorts of machine to do the job so that means the unemployed will have to find something more complex to earn a living.

Design & Business

Blink, blink, bling!
Blink, blink, bling!

A while back, I was writing about LVMH because they were featured in a briefing on The Economist. One of the strategies that were highlighted in the article was Louis Vuitton’s effort in researching customer flows in malls:

In 2005, when Maurizio Borletti, owner of several prominent department stores in Italy and France, was preparing for the opening of a refurbished La Rinascente department store in Milan, he recalls, the Vuitton people built a scale model of the building in their offices to understand customer flows and get the best positioning. “In this they’re the most professional in the industry,” he says.

I didn’t think too highly of it then but recently I was forced to think about this issue when I wonder why a crowd in the mall refuse to go to the cafe I was at.

The design of Iluma is definitely pretty interesting; with all the glittery looking stuff on the building surface, some kind of balcony on the middle floors and fancy looking glass doors that looks as though they weigh a ton but opens automatically (at least some of them). The outside main entrance area, there are 2 escalators; one leading from and another leading to the second level of the building. The interior of the building is big, and the ground floor is capable of holding lots of people in the middle, perfect for events and normally used for cart-stalls giving it a bazaar feel.

There’s another pair of escalators there, leading to the fourth floor directly. Wait a minute, fourth floor? Yes, it leads you directly to the fourth floor, by-passing the second and the third, which totally explains why it’s hard to get crowds within the building to go to the shops on the second floor. The pair of escalators inside the building that leads to the second floor is absolutely hidden from the crowd standing in the middle of the interior of the building. Some pictures of the interior will help you see why. Even when it takes about 40 seconds or so to reach the end of that long escalator, it’s fun enough to attract people to hit that level where a bunch of other cafes awaits.

The Coffee Bean will largely have to rely on people entering from the escalators at the front main entrance for business (come on, who takes the lifts these days?). On 13 December when 8-Days Magazine was having their 1001 issue exhibition, people who are naturally drawn to the ground floor interior of the building will probably not take that escalator and so the crowd they anticipate at their cafe will probably not manifest. The only people who might patronize them are those who came over to Iluma via the newly built link bridge from Parcos Bugis Junction and unable to find the escalator that will lead them down to the center of activity at the ground floor…

The customer flows in malls are pretty important in this sense, the location of the escalators, the entrance/exits, the link bridges and the placements of your signboard. That will all be before your staff’s attitude. Studying these flows before you rent out a space in a mall is going to make a whole load of difference to the destiny of that shop/unit.

Popping Up?

Get off our docks!
Get off our docks!

With the Subprime Financial Crisis, the global economy tumbled, trade flows scaled down rapidly as economies started contracting. Initially, during the boom, trade was growing faster than global income, implying that the global growth, mainly concentrated in the already developed parts of the world economy was gained from increasing specialization and division of labour through trade and exchange. And for a slight contraction in the global economy, a lot of these supply chain will face problems in-between and go bust, resulting in a huge contraction in trade since the businesses relied on each other heavily for business. Daniel Gross discusses the decline of trade, and the implied slowdown/reverse of globalization on Slate.com. The situation is probably not as serious as Gross makes it sound.

The crisis is leading to a re-organization of globalization, towards greater degrees of cooperation and perhaps with less imbalances. With economists finding a better means of carry trade, and more reasons for Asia to get together, the world won’t be drifting apart that soon. In the latter article from Banyan column, The Economist highlights the strengths of a more integrated Asian economy and the challenges facing Asia.

The world seem to have accepted the global multilateral trade isn’t exactly going to be possible with all that decline in trade and rise of calls for protectionism and so regional multilateral trade and economic integration is the second best thing. Forming trade blocs or even common markets would do a great deal to help further globalization and put it on a path with more supranational bodies’ control. The idea is that having authorities in the process of globalization might help make it a better force in this world.

Cafe Ironies

Kevin prefers a quiet one...
Kevin prefers a quiet one...

In an entry with the same title on my blog, I detailed my experience at The Coffee Bean recently that didn’t quite start nicely but ended off pretty intellectually. I’m quoting the gist here:

I approached the counter with a maths worksheet in my hand (I was planning to work out some problems there while I sipped on the tea since I had some spare time on my hand and needed to exercise my mind) and made my order. The young man serving me immediately asked if I intended to sit around to study.

I commented that I’ll probably be around for half an hour and asked if it’ll be a problem. He replied that there’s an event downstairs and they anticipate a crowd so they discourage people from studying at the cafe. I kept quiet and took my receipt. I thought that the Large Chai Latte should at least buy me 30 minutes of time at the cafe.

This post is a discussion seeks to answer the question: “If a cafe wants to maximize their profits from a crowd and yet is limited by their available seats, how do they discourage people from studying there besides using attitude (which I assume is something I experienced)?” So before answering that question, we list out the factors that would encourage one to study at the cafe and see if there’s anything we can do to manipulate them:

Things that encourage one to study at a cafe

  • Good lighting; makes reading comfortable
  • Extremely hot or cold drink; takes you longer to drink and the taste of the drink don’t change that rapidly over time which means more excuse to stay at the cafe longer
  • Quality drinks; makes for nice beverage while you study and you probably won’t mind ordering one more and staying longer
  • Comfortable seats; allows you to study comfortably and sit at the cafe for longer time without feeling discomfort physically.

Technically speaking, removing any of these would help to reduce the time people stay around the cafe and also discourage studying. On the other hand, attitude (on part of the service staff) won’t help to reduce the determination of people studying at the cafe. In fact, it turns off people who genuinely just want to chill at the cafe for a while without discouraging the studying students. When one plans to stay at the cafe for a long time to study and sip on drinks, service at the counter makes up only a small part of the experience, whereas for customers who are interested to get a good drink and sit for a while, the service at the counter makes up half of the experience. In other words, giving people attitude is the worst possible solution compared to removing any of the above.

I strongly recommend the dimming of lighting, which doesn’t harm people out to relax but makes studying tedious and difficult. But this is not always possible since The Coffee Bean that I went to utilizes the in-building lighting that they probably have no control over. It’s not wise to compromise the quality of the drinks since it sends out the wrong messages and is disastrously difficult to control. That leaves us with modifying the seats.

I got this idea when I was at Saizeriya Restaurant at Liang Court; they feature a drinks bar where you pay about $6 bucks or so and get to drink lots of different drinks and it’s free flow – literally a drinks buffet. At first, I wondered why the seats there were so narrow and small; the cushion were thin and not exactly comfortable with prolonged sitting. Later I rationalized it as a means to get people out of the restaurant as soon as they’re done with the food. Of course it’s not going to put off people determined to try all the drinks, but at least they’ll finish with their affair and get out fast.

So here’s some prescription for cafes who hopes to attract people there for a drink and to sit around for a while (after all, if the cafe was empty you might think the drinks suck) but discourage students from spending their entire day studying there, the best move would be to adjust lighting according to your needs to adjust demand. Where this is not possible, modify the seats to make prolonged sitting uncomfortable.

Tuition Services!

I’ve got loads of friends looking for tuition jobs and I thought I might as well advertise for them here. I’ve included their contacts and subjects to be taught under our services page (in case you didn’t know we have one). But here’s a reproduction for readers:

Other Tutor’s Services (former students of top JCs)

Wei Si is interested to give tuition for Economics, Chemistry and General Paper at JC Level. English, Chinese and Chemistry available for Secondary School student too! Interested students, please contact her via email: stardustt.14 [at] gmail [dot] com

Ruiyuan is hoping to give tuition for Economics and Geography at JC Level. Geography and Chemistry available for Secondary School student too! Interested students, please contact him via email: stainless.rui [at] gmail [dot] com

Jia Hao hopes to give tuition for Chemistry at JC Level. Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry available for Secondary School student too! Interested students, please contact him via email kel_ojh [at] hotmail [dot] com

Yan Min is providing tuition services for Chemistry at Secondary School level. Chinese (and Higher Chinese) and Mathematics for Primary school student too! Interested students, please contact him via email: dwellerz [at] hotmail [dot] com or call him at 97293953.

Vertical Thinking

Lateral Thinker
Lateral Thinker

I finally found a copy of Edward De Bono’s Lateral Thinking, published in 1970s. It collects his earlier insights about Lateral Thinking and reflects his more original ideas about the subject. The books he published much later are more or less repetition of these earlier ideas, presented in alternative means – some acting as encouraging creativity, others at simplicity of thought and some plainly about motivation and happiness.

I’m not exactly a fan of De Bono – I think he exploits his authority in the area of lateral thinking pretty well and have managed to set himself apart from the general ‘creative thinking’ bunch. I think his Six Thinking Hats programme made him quite a lot of money and his success in trying to frame his concepts into thinking in the business realm means more money. Still, he offers much valuable ideas that are untapped by the masses.

He highlights some problems with Vertical Thinking that we traditionally use to think about problems and perceive our world; these problems are intricately woven with the advantages of this system of thinking so the point is to be aware of these inadequacies and counteract them with Lateral Thinking. Here are some of the problems with our thinking system I would like to share and explain how they might impede us in our daily thinking:

1) Our thinking creates patterns that helps create an efficient system of memory that relies of amazingly few details to trigger the recollection of an entire experience. Unfortunately, they become established ever more rigidly since they control our attention; we’re constantly searching for patterns to fit into our experience to make sense of things. These patterns are also difficult to change once they become established.

This is the case of conspiracy theorists who see patterns in places people don’t and form elaborate theories of conspiracies even when they are just a series of coincidence. The pattern that these conspiracy theorists establish in their minds direct their attention to particular details that reinforce their beliefs in their theories. It’s difficult to convince them that their ideas are flawed.

2) Our system of thinking tends towards ‘centering’ (a term used by De Bono), which means that anything which has any resemblance to standard pattern will be perceived as the standard pattern. Because the information that is arranged as part of a pattern cannot be easily used as part of a completely different pattern, it is hard to change the way one perceive the same set of information to interpret them differently.

This is a case of stereotyping on steroids, best exemplified by the character Mr “Everything Comes From India” in the BBC Sketch Comedy, Goodness Gracious Me. Here’s an Youtube clip showing how he makes his arguments that frustrates his poor son.

3) There’s also marked tendency to ‘polarize’ in our system of thought, moving to either extreme instead of maintaining some balanced point between them. This implies that even when the choice between two competing patterns are very fine, one of them would be chosen with another being completely ignored.

Using the above example of Mr “Everything Comes From India”, we notice that his thinking is such that there’s only the two extremes of ‘Indian’ and ‘Not Indian’. He thinks little of the effects of globalization and the influence of culture on each other or the possibility of overlapping rituals between different cultures.

Finally, patterns that we accumulate can get bigger and bigger, resulting in declarations like, “There are only 2 kinds of people in this world…” People package a whole lot of individual patterns and lump them within a bigger pattern, that immediately trigger off other perceptions that are unreal or not observed. Of course, there are advantages to this system, with it’s roots in instinctive fight-or-flight responses when efficiency of generating a response is more important than producing a precise/correct response.

The idea is to know when we should make use of what sort of thinking. In pondering over important issues in life and generating ideas for a project and such, one should suspend our typical system of thought in favour of lateral thinking that has the advantage of proliferating more ideas even if they don’t appear to be quality on first impression.

Another Week

Another Week Mail
Another Week Mail

The weeks seems to be passing faster as the entries on ERPZ becomes more frequent. The one-entry-per-day rate now is not exactly very sustainable without additional support from guest writers and contributors so I’m once again calling out for interested parties to leave a comment with your emails so I might be able to contact you and get your contribution up.

This week’s reading delves into some less-read areas, namely consumer choice. Knowledge@Wharton recently ran an article about How Assortment Size Influences Healthy Consumer Choices. Earlier, they discussed how environmental cues influence consumer choice too.

The linked article mentioned about the ‘paradox of choice’, which is the topic of Barry Schwartz’s talk on TED.com. He explains the disadvantages of being offered too many choices and the problems associated with the implications of having too many choices in the first place on the psyche of the person after making the decision, citing Dan Gilbert’s presentation in the same TED conference.

Barry is another great speaker, mixing humour consistently throughout his talk with a steady flow of cartoons. The point he makes in our escalating expectations is very real and worth pondering over for anyone who wants to exert discipline on their thinking to keep their mind healthy. He claims he wrote the book, The Paradox of Choice to explain to himself why he felt worst when he got a better jeans than he previously did.