Advantages of Electric Cars

 advantages of electric cars disadvantage opening image
Nearly six months ago I spent nearly half an hour on the loo. “Woah, hold it there Chris. I’m not sure I want to hear what you’re going to say next.”
Ok, let me alleviate your fears. I was actually on the loo in an apartment in Barcelona. My girlfriend and I were on a little weekend break. It’s safe to say that she was getting a little bit worried about what I was doing in there for so long. In fact I was reading this wait but why article. Little did I know that when I started reading the post, I would be reading a short novella. In the end I didn’t finish it one sitting (sorry, I couldn’t resist 😉 ), but it was an excellent read and clarified so many misconceptions I had about electric vehicles, the entire industry and naturally about the advantages of electric cars. I was hooked.
Fast forward 2 months and this time I was sat on a couch in wintery cape town on a family holiday. My uncle had brought a copy of Elon Musk’s biography with him which my cousin had given him.
I demolished it in a few days (in between sightseeing). I was convinced. Electric cars are the future. The future of medium distance trips (bicycles dominate the short distance trip, maybe that should be my next post?). In fact they’ve been the future since the invention of the automobile. Except it took one very clever Henry Ford to make sure the combustion engine became the dominant car engine of the 20th century and beyond.
So let me show you why I believe it’s crucial we need to change our ways and drive (sorry again) forward the electric propulsion system.

Geopolitics

This point is kind of self-explanatory, but I’ll mention it anyway as it’s very important. There are quite a few places in the world where humans are drilling for oil. By far most of our oil comes from the middle east. The countries of the middle east make up 33% of the top 20 oil producing countries. And we all know which self-proclaimed state is sitting on a vast treasure trove of crude oil. Guess how they finance themselves? Yup, via selling oil at below market prices. And guess who consumes that oil? It ends up in the tanks of people who are actually trying to fight the regime (Kurds, Jordanians, Iranians and Turkish poeple). This article shows how interconnected the whole region is in its trade and how ISIS is profiting from it. Moreover, bombing won’t help as if you bomb the refineries or oil sites that support the trade within the occupied territory, you’re at risk of cutting off money that is used to support the livelihoods of many thousands of civilians. Destroying the entire infrastructure may radicalise them.
What a conundrum that is. But the solution is easy:
Decrease the demand for oil and the regime will have to target something less lucrative to finance their fighters. Widespread use of electric vehicles will cut a huge dent into the demand of oil.

Climate Change

Oops, this point is also kind of self-explanatory. It’s been in and out of the media for decades now, so I’m sure you are well aware of the fact that the world has been growing warmer over the last century or so. Whether you think climate change is man-made or not is irrelevant. What matters is that less Co2 in the atmosphere will at the very least slow the pace of climate change. The transport sector is a large chunk of global emissions (14.3% according to these 2005 figures), so cutting the transport emissions by employing electric vehicles will cut the Co2 bill without a doubt.
Ok ok, I hear your thinking. “But Chris. The emissions will just be moved from being output by vehicles towards increased output from power plants. After all, this is where the EVs get their juice from.”
And I agree with you. This is actually a good thing. By focusing the emissions output to one type of source (power plants), we can a) get more accurate measurements, b) focus all of our energy towards making these outputs more sustainable and renewable in the long-term. Instead, the system we have now has inefficiencies at the power plant level as well as at the vehicle level. Combustion engines are notoriously inefficient compared to EVs when comparing the conversion of energy used into actual mileage travelled.
And as an aside, an EV world is actually promoting the individual vs large corporations. Many homeowners have already installed solar power panels on their roofs. Driving an EV car will make them more independent from the big corporations. They will be able to fill up their own tanks… ahem… batteries I mean. Horray!

Health

This is a small point, but as a frequent pedestrian and cyclist, I notice it a lot. The air in city centres is very dirty. Yes, you may argue that a lot of that bad air comes from planes flying overhead (especially in London), but you have to admit that a dirty combustion engine powered truck driving past also pollutes the air. EVs just don’t produce this type of exhaust in cities. In fact, they don’t produce any exhaust. An EV city will be healthier for everyone. And who knows we might see costs in healthcare plummet because fewer people are ill and need medical attention. Cost savings and happier people? I think we are on to a winner.

“Alrighty Chris. You make an interesting point. So what is holding us back? Why aren’t EV cars more widespread?” Great, I think there are three things holding us back:

Battery life / Reach of EV cars

Currently, the reach of EVs is not far enough to be able to beat the combustion engine. Battery technology is making gigantic leaps every couple of years, but currently the max range you can get on any commercially available EV is a mere 270miles per charge. You then need to recharge your battery for a few hours before you can continue on normal charging stations. Not really the most convenient for long trips. And let’s not go into the price tag for that car either.
Over the last few years, superchargers have come onto the market which enable faster charging times. Depending on the make of the car, you could have a fully charged car within 30 minutes using a supercharger. This undoubtedly increases the attractivity of EVs and I can see the charging time reducing further in the near to midterm.

EV charging points

If you drive to work in an EV, drive to a shopping street/centre or meet a friend for lunch in town, a coin flip will give you better odds of finding a charging point for your EV. There just aren’t enough of these points. Pod point (a service company partnering with businesses to offer charging points) has got this handy map. In London, a city of 8.5mio people, there are only 198 charging stations. The company does highlight that 85% of charging is done at home. But it’s clear we’ll need a lot more charging points if people are going to be switching over from combustion engines. That’s only London, I shudder to think what rural areas look like.

Us

Yep, you guessed it. Probably the biggest obstacle is changing the way we think. The truth is every adult alive today has grown up with combustion engines and that’s what we know. EVs seem scary and new. We are not familiar with how they work. It’ll take a lot of effort for people to become comfortable with these flashy futuristic transportation vehicles. This may come with time, but I think it’ll be quicker to stick the benefits of using EVs right under people’s noses.

Hopefully this has given you something to think about. If you have the time, I would definitely recommend reading the Wait but why post. The Musk biography is good too (but I prefer the post, it’s free and very detailed 😉 ). Happy Friday!

Three Weeks Down!

Hey everyone! Three weeks down since I left the cushy office job before this leap into the unknown. Well semi-unknown. Some people who have taken the leap have done very well out of it. Anyway, here are some of my thoughts at this stage:

Have you ever had the following experience?
You walk into a book store because you need to buy a single book. As you walk through the store, all these books shout to you to grab them. After a little while, you come out with a neat stack instead of just the one book.

Three weeks down

Woohoo! Lots of reading to do.

The same thing can be applied to any of my supermarket visits: You just need to grab some eggs. But oh no, they tricked me again. You actually buy a little snack, a bar of chocolate and those juicy nectarines. Yum! Everyone deserves a healthy treat, right?

Turns out that the singular project I had set my eyes on can be added to that list of scenarios. It has now received siblings after three weeks. I just couldn’t resist adding a couple of other projects to my to-do list. Currently, I’ve got three or four separate (but related) projects. I’ll go into more detail a bit further down. First off,

What the hell have I been up to?

Good question! The last three weeks have been rather fuzzy. I’ve done a million and one things but sometimes it’s quite hard to identify them retrospectively. Life has been very similar to what it was like with a day job, except, well there’s no more day job to go to. This frees up a chunk of space in the day. I’ve mainly been filling it with trips to the library to milk the free WiFi and electricity (hehe, saving £ on my bills). Once there I’ve actually been pretty good at working/researching and getting stuff done. Amazing what not having a regular income can do to your productivity levels.

The research I’m currently doing is probably 90% related to the digital marketing industry. Naturally, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the projects I’m busy with currently fit into that space. But I’m also glancing sideways into the eCommerce space as I think there are some interesting opportunities flitting about there. Oh hello eCommerce, you fit pretty neatly into the digital marketing slot too? How nice of you!

As I set out on these projects, I initially expected the research to be done after two weeks. Of course, once you actually start the research, one realises how much there is that you don’t know. It seems that after every article I read, more questions pop up. I have read numerous resources about content marketing, email marketing, SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and eCommerce.
I also don’t think I’m anywhere near being finished which is slightly worrying.
But dot not fret. Instead of continuing my research I’m going to start practising and put some of this knowledge to use this week.

Classic! The library WiFi decided it was going to have a long weekend. Guess I’m going to have to write this in MS Word and upload it later.

What are some of the difficulties I’ve encountered?

Hmm… so one thing I’ve found difficult tonight is trying to un-Caps the above headers. WordPress has decided that it likes capitalising all my headers. That was a good hour that I spent trying to find a solution (it was fruitless I might add). EDIT: Well that’s weird. After I hit publish, the caps disappeared and were replaced by beatiful lower case characters…. I’m at a loss. At a happy loss 🙂
Generally speaking, working by myself seemed a bit daunting at first. I remember how hard it was to study by myself  at university when I didn’t have the pressure of a deadline in front of me. So these were some of the difficulties I encountered in the last three weeks:
The biggest issue I’ve had is knowing where to start. When you’re chopping and changing directions and doing so many things at once, it’s hard to keep a track of what is going on and what you need to prioritise.
One of my lifesavers (and time savers) has been a little trusty notepad that I take with me to my library sessions. At the beginning of the day, I keep a track of all the important tasks I need to get done (or at least started). It also serves me as a notepad for any interesting ideas that manage to float into my brain. As I mentioned in a previous post, there’s a really satisfying feeling when you can tick off an item from your list. It feels like you’re getting things done quicker!

Another thing that has been difficult is figuring out a regular routine. It would be easier if I had a regular desk space, but working from home involves too many distractions (my bed is probably one of the biggest culprits, calling for me frequently).
The library on the other hand is only open from 9.30am to 5.00pm. Ideally I’d like to be working from at least 7.30am onwards and finishing around 6.00pm (Yes, it’s a long day, but I actually enjoy it and it doesn’t feel like work). This means I have to break up my day and find somewhere to go to when the library is not open. Annoyingly, the length of these blocks is only 1-2hrs each, so not really worth finding a coffee shop or other hang out in between. So I usually just spend those sessions at home.
These 1 or 2 hour sessions are pretty productive though, as I find I get to start things with a fresh perspective in the morning or wrap some loose ends up at the end of the day. Still, I feel like I’m losing some valuable time with these annoying interruptions. A solution has yet to be found!

Anyhow, these issues are relatively minor compared to having run up a dead-end and finding that one cannot make money in the project one has set out to achieve. However, in that situation I could be having a holiday now… right?

Summary on Three Weeks Down

I’m really enjoying it thus far. It will take a bit longer to get even a tiny slice of income. But like with all good things, I just need to wait and be patient. Although truthfully I would have liked to have been a little bit further down the path of having something concrete in the pipeline. That being said, I’m still interested in worthwhile opportunities that pop up (i.e. working for or with someone on something different) as I feel like these activities can run on the side in my spare time.

Anyhow, that’s all from me right now. Hoping I’ll be able to post more progress going forward!

Happy Monday!

Book Review: The End of Jobs

I have written about how I had been contemplating taking an entrepreneurial route. One of the resources I used to justify this wish was Taylor Pearson’s book. I wanted to publish a book review of The End of Jobs by Taylor Pearson. Whilst reading the book, it accurately condensed and connected some of the trends I had vaguely noticed over the last few years. As the title suggests, the premise of the book is that we are in the middle of a paradigm shift where globalisation, technological change and the internet are shifting the landscape of the western workforce. The 20th century employee is being replaced by another person: the 21st century entrepreneur.

The End of Jobs - Taylor Pearson
Throughout the 20th century, an individual was presented with the following career path: You finish High School, maybe go to university/college, join a big company afterwards and work your way up from there. Taylor goes through a lot of detail arguing that this is no longer valid for us in the 21st century. Below are some of the book’s sections I enjoyed the most.

The End of Jobs: Cynefin

What the hell is Cynefin?! This is actually one of my favourite takeaways from the book. The Cynefin framework was developed by Dave Snowden. The framework essentially divides “work” into four separate fields.
The simple field is “the one where the relationship between cause and effect is obvious; anyone can apply a best practise to solve a simple problem”.
The complicated field is where cause and effect requires analysis and investigation. In this one “investigation and/or the application of expert knowledge” is often required (e.g. a tax accountant or a cook).
The complex field is where cause and effect need to be investigated and probed. This is perhaps a field where one is treading into new territory albeit in a controlled environment (e.g. research where things can be tried and tested in a scientific manner).
Lastly, the chaotic field is where something completely novel is experienced. I’m thinking of a crisis manager or problem solver. Taylor mentions the example of venture capitalist and former CEO Ben Horowitz having to take his company public in the wake of the tech bubble burst in 2001 (amidst company layoffs and plunging sales). Not the easiest task in the world to ask investors for money when stock markets are collapsing and your company’s prospects seem to be diminishing rapidly.

I find the Cynefin framework interesting as it helps to break down and place various types of work into these four categories. It also helps to identify which jobs current technology will be able to replace.

A look back through history

end of jobs 03

What type of jobs were available in Egypt in ancient times?

Taylor also looks at historical development of how society moved forward. What did one need to be the dominant player an era? What was the scarce resource that could leave you with the upper hand at the negotiation table?
In the Middle Ages/Early Renaissance the dominant players were the landowners. Aristocrats and nobility who had land could were in control. The main output in that era was agriculture from which most of the other major industries derived value.
Shortly before the industrial revolution, the capital owners were the dominant players (think bankers and other people with liquid capital). Taylor illustrates the Rothschild banking family as the prime example that exerted control over society. Trade became more important and the industrial revolution required large amounts of capital.
Finally we culminate in the era where corporations dominate the landscape. In this era, measurements and scientific reasoning became important. Knowledge was key and widespread qualifications for individuals arose. Credentials to testify that individuals understood certain subject matter and could follow set processes and navigate complicated jobs.
Today, Taylor argues that technology and software has become so good that many of the simple jobs can now be automated, eliminating a significant hurdle for setting up certain kinds of businesses. That means that certain kinds of simple jobs that were once prevalent have disappeared and have been replaced by software. Similarly, many of the complicated roles are now being outsourced and automated. Machines and technology have taken on the simpler aspects of these jobs. For the other aspects, hordes of skilled workers in low-income countries have been contracted to fill these jobs for a fraction of the cost.

Does this mean the end of all OUR jobs?

end of jobs review 02

Will the corporate office be a thing of the past?

Naturally, you could now say, well we’re screwed. Labour costs less in other countries so who will want to employ us. This is exactly the point that The End of Jobs highlights. And instead of despairing, Taylor notes that technology, whilst also having caused an exodus of jobs is also a positive for entrepreneurs. The technological automation delivered by software has helped many small companies proliferate and target niche markets that were previously uninteresting for larger corporations. This is where Taylor’s book really hits its message home.
As more and more jobs are automated via technology and outsourced to lower cost countries, more people discover the opening that can be filled by entrepreneurship. Starting and running a small business  fits into the Chaotic and Complicated moulds that the Cynefin framework highlights. It will take a while for technology to be able to tackle those areas.

Overall, The End of Jobs is a well researched book which highlights some of the key developments of the last decades in the labour markets and technology. I would recommend anyone to have a read for themselves and at $5, it’s a steal!

Business Transparency

Today, I read this article on business transparency. The guys at Empire Flippers make a living, connecting buyers and sellers of web businesses and I love seeing what type of businesses end up on the site. I enjoy looking at some of the profits the businesses generate and how long they’ve been in business for. It’s also interesting to see how businesses are affected by cyclicality (e.g. a company selling kayaks is probably busier in the summer months). Moreover, it’s kind of refreshing seeing the many different ways that business operate and make money. There is no one method to running a successful online business. Anyhow, one of the other cool things about the Empire Flippers website, is that they occasionally have some great and insightful  . This time they talked about business transparency.

Empire Flippers have adopted a policy that aims to be open about their business, talking about their shortcomings and successes, problems they’ve had with their customers and what they’re doing to address them. It definitely makes for an interesting read when talk about how they became victims of Russian scammers. Or how they try to determine what an online business is worth.
However, the long story short is that they are big proponents of being open about what they do and how they do it. In an era of encroachment on individuals’ privacy and much more scrutiny on what companies are doing, these guys are taking a stand and are becoming more open about their business.

Business Transparency: the benefits

Empire Flippers clearly highlight the main benefit that comes with practising business transparency: Trust.
They have established a high level of trust between themselves and their customers. But in being open they are also gaining trust from other stakeholders such as suppliers and affiliates. As the people behind the company step into the limelight and speak openly about how they operate their business, what may have previously amounted to a faceless business now receives a human visage.
A great example of how Empire Flippers managed to gain trust is when the Founders spoke about how they were scammed out of $25,000. Not only did they discuss what they did to recover some of the money, but they also went step by step through they’re thought processes at the time. By opening up about this, they showed their human side and also demonstrated how they improved their processes after the event, hopefully stopping any similar scams of this type going forward.

Business Transparency: the downsides

I can’t think of many downsides to being this open about your business apart from there being extra work on a regular basis. I guess the main point is that it doesn’t work for every business sector. There are businesses that are so complex that transparency might only end up confusing things and could deter future customers. Other businesses require a certain amount of confidentiality. This may also apply for listed businesses which have to adhere to specific rules and regulations as to how they publish sensitive information. Although in the latter case the detailed transparency could be publicised well after the announcement has been made to investors. There are always instances where client confidentiality has to be guarded, and this may tricky if you are practising business transparency.

In  a way, operating as a transparent business is very clever and honest marketing. You’re opening up to your customers about your values and goals. And most importantly you are honest about it. And honesty breeds trust.

Happy Monday!

Humanity’s progress: where will it lead?

Last week, this blog touched on a topic that fascinated me and kicked off a myriad of other lingering thoughts that I’d like to put to paper(/screen). After having questioned which was/is the smartest generation to have lived on the planet, I’d like to think a bit further. If we’re not growing smarter, where are we, as humans, heading and what are our goals? Where is humanity’s progress heading?
This is actually a surprisingly simple question, yet incredibly difficult to answer. Consider the multitude of different perspectives. We are all influenced by dreams, experiences, dogmas and many other factors. Some people espouse to live an ideal life according to their beliefs. These beliefs can be based on and affected by morals, money, power and many other things. And with billions of differing opinions, it’s quite hard to find one congruous answer to this question. Instead I’ll try to find an answer that will show where humanity’s progress is leading us to. And perhaps more importantly where it is not currently leading us to.

Humanity's progress?

Photo from WSWS/Surviving Progress (https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2012/02/prog-f03.html)

There is no question that we are currently on a constant trajectory. You can read the newspaper daily and discover a new idea being championed that will supposedly revolutionise one part of our lives. There is progress happening, whether it’s positive though is a different question.

Leaning on to last week’s post, I don’t think we’ll ever have a society where everyone is ‘smart’. I see society more as a bell curve where a certain percentage is above average and others are below average. That doesn’t mean that below average people may be of no use to progress. In fact I think the exact opposite.

As we develop new technologies, ways of thinking etc, we also develop the skills that are required for these new advances. This UK-based charity argues that there is a huge skill gap missing in the UK’s current population that is needed to power the digital growth engine. Articles such as this one frustrate me. They argue that there are desirable and less desirable skills to have. In this case being digitally equipped is being painted as an advantage.
The skills that Britain desperately needs (according to the article) to prosper in this era are digital. In contrast, I believe there is value and benefit found in many different professions that may not be classified as ‘modern’. The article fails to highlight many other skills that society needs. Skill development in general needs to be encouraged.

Diversity is key

What good are hundreds of programmers if they can’t direct themselves or there’s no one left to direct them towards building something worthwhile. A society needs artists and writers as well as engineers and scientists.  Writers such as Jules Verne inspired generations of scientists and engineers by imagining a possible future for us. “The Earth to the Moon” was said to have been the inspiration for Astronomer Edwin Hubble (after whom the Hubble telescope was named).
Seeing value in creative professions and scientists is easily, but society also needs the likes of carers for example.  I read an article a while back (which I unfortunately cannot find anymore) arguing that people who have retired should be involved in the upbringing of the youngest generations. A lot can be gained from this proposal on both sides. Seniors will be able to rejuvenate rediscover themselves by being around kids and kids will be exposed to some of the wisdom and experience of the eldest generation. Both sides could gain a lot in this type of exchange. Carers could supervise the whole process and make sure that one side is not being overzealous.

The only professions or skills which I think are holding humanity back are the ones which are rent-seeking. There are rent-seekers in many business and government institutions which inhibit positive growth and progress for the sake of protecting entrenched interests (usually around power and profit). By definition, there is very little wealth creation for the broader society involved in these activities and they stand in the way of having an efficient society. This article (albeit long) highlights many rent-seeking behaviours. The one example that sticks out for me, is the fact that Southern Water (a utility company) does not want to release data concerning a river’s floodplain because it could impact house prices. House prices should be a means to determine a value of a house given various different factors. By withholding information that could potentially cause prices in the affected area to drop, they are encouraging further building as well as very likely endangering lives for when the next flood comes around.

What I mean by having an efficient society is that everyone provides a specific purpose in aiding progress. One can imagine it via a battle ship and its crew.  On such a vessel, everyone is serving a purpose. There is no dead weight. The cooks, cleaners, gunmen, engineers, officers etc all have one purpose in mind: To complete the mission and keep the vessel and its inhabitants unharmed. I would imagine global society along similar lines. The vessel being the planet and the ecosystem upon which we depend, while the mission is to take care of the planet and advance our standard of living whilst keeping the crew of the vessel happy.

Currently the vessel is on the verge of being wrecked and it’s pretty clear that it’s the crews’ fault. Humanity’s progress is bringing us very close to a very uncertain future because of groups of people working towards the different goals. In order to direct a course towards a better future, we need to tackle this problem at a foundational level.

Bringing it back to the article about the skills gap in the UK. Why is there this skills gap? And by whose notion is there a skills gap? Is there a skills gap because we need to progress in order to become happier and more sustainable? Or is it because we are measuring a country’s economy versus another country’s economy? Of course it’s the latter and this type of thinking is causing separate sections of the vessel to compete against each other.

Humanity’s progress is very much within our own hands. We can determine which direction we want to take. But we can only do this if we work together, take care of the vessel and make sure we take care of each other in the process. How this may be done is a topic for another blogpost.

Are we the smartest humans to have ever lived?

Until a few years ago I had been of the opinion that the current iteration of the human race is by far the smartest the world has ever seen. After all, look at all the marvelous engineering projects the smartest humans have built: Airplanes, submarines, spaceships! Within the last generation we have been to the moon! Incredible when you come to think about it. But this kind of thinking can gloss over the many achievements of our forebears. Astounding inventions such as the wheel, the compass, paper and the printing press (more about the latter two later).

Smartest Humans

Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (credit: Azothgallery – http://azothgallery.com)

Mozart, Pythagoras, Plato, Shakespeare, Napoleon, Sun Tzu, Da Vinci etc etc. I could probably go through every epoch and name plenty of great minds, strategists, thinkers that lived in each segment of humanity’s timeline. In today’s day and age you have people like Alan Touring or even more recently Stephen Hawking. The latter is arguably one of the smartest humans alive. However, I doubt that there truly has ever been a time period which didn’t have a great mind such as the above. I’m referring to times when there was written and oral communication.

If you want to compare humans of different epochs, how do you do that? How do you measure the average intelligence of humans at any given point in time? IQ tests were only developed approximately a hundred and fifty years ago and likely only capture certain aspect of a human’s intelligence. Do you measure intelligence via innovation? But then how do you keep track of the innovations that have occurred earlier in our history and that were then slowly forgotten about? One could also look at measuring increases in life expectancy. But measuring life expectancy of your average Joe in 200 B.C. accurately (something that would be expensive and would require a large dataset to be statistically relevant) is tricky. There’s also the added issue that intelligence does not always equate to increases in life expectancy. After all, we knew the Romans were a clever bunch, yet they used lead pipes. Any decent increase in life expectancy would likely have been negated by the adverse impacts of lead poisoning.
It seems we have to fall back to a rather crude method of analysing. At the same time is my favourite way of coming to conclusions: guestimating and discussing!

I actually don’t believe that today’s humans are more intelligent than people who previously graced the earth. Apart from us having the bias of knowing and living in the present day (thereby thinking we are superior), there are too many examples of great innovations having occurred in the past. There are too many great people who composed, wrote and theorised about many aspects of the world for us to be able to bat them off as anomalies.
My hypothesis is that we have, broadly speaking, been equally clever throughout the ages. What may be happening nowadays is that the pace of innovation is accelerating. And this is largely due to a few key points and has little to do with our intelligence increasing:

The written word
Humans have been talking to each other for thousands of years. It is probably safe to say that they have also been writing and recording for thousands of years. Be it hacking words into stone or using ink and parchment/paper. I think there have been two innovations which have helped humanity kick off several important innovations since:

The first is the printing press which enabled knowledge to be mass reproduced and be read by many more people than previously had been possible. This way knowledge was distilled throughout the populace that could read or write and copies of important books were not left locked up in monasteries or libraries (in Europe that is). But perhaps even more importantly the mass production of paper (which took over 1,000 years to travel from China to Europe) enabled Gutenberg to invent the press. The mass production of paper enabled people to ditch brittle and expensive parchment and allowed for innovations such as the printing press to take hold and spread knowledge.
Long story short, humanity has since benefitted massively from having knowledge recorded, stored and be accessible for many generations to come, allowing humanity to build upon previous knowledge rather than let it be forgotten.

Stability
Arguably, there’s been a lot more stability in the past 50 years than there has been over similar periods of time. What happens when young men and woman are not drafted into the military? They get to partake in the pursuit of knowledge by joining an academic institution, advance and innovate at a business level etc. It helps society if humans aren’t blowing each other to smithereens.

Demographics
Over the last 250 years, humanity has seen a growth in population that has been gigantic. With a larger population you get a higher amount of brain capacity to advance humanity and innovate. Of course, if you think of a bell curve, you also have a higher absolute quantity of people in the top percentile of intelligent humans. We are only now approaching an inflection point in the next 50 years or so (bar a catastrophe of course) where this mega trend in population growth is expected to stop. Will our rate of innovation decrease as well? I believe so. Less people in the world means less people that will be there to innovate and create awesome things.

So all in all, I think humanity is (and has been) seeing an unprecendented rate of innovation that will probably last a few more decades before demographics take an inevitable turn. But we are not the smartest humans to have lived on the planet at any point in time. I think the geniuses nowadays are just as capable and brilliant as the geniuses of a couple of hundred and thousand years ago.

Happy Monday!

SEO Series: Part 1 – An SEO overview

I think I’ve spent enough time trying to familiarise myself with SEO to be able to give you a brief SEO overview. I have been trying to put this off for a couple of weeks now in order to be able to give you a better guide. However, I think I’ll just start posting separate SEO posts over the next few weeks highlighting key aspects of this very important topics.

The first thing to note is that Search Engine Optimisation (in short SEO) is a topic that has many components. I could probably spend hours going on about them  (if I knew them all that is, haha). But it’s also a field that is constantly evolving as the internet, search machines and the technology surrounding the web evolves.

In short, good SEO should enable your website to occupy higher spots in searching rankings.

A few (of many more) points that have to do with SEO:

1.) What type of website are you running (is it a blog? an eCommerce store?)?
2.) Do you have great content? Will users who land on your page find it useful?
3.) How is your web page constructed (e.g. code used)?
4.) What hosting provider are you using?
5.) Whether you have a sitemap and how detailed it is.
6.) Whether you have ‘registered’ with Google and other search engines.
7.) The aesthetics of your site (hint: this site has got pretty simple aesthetics and therefore doesn’t rank highly on this metric alone).

Those are some of the positive differentiators that if done well can get your site rank higher than normally. The things to remember with SEO is that people actually have to find your site useful. If your visitors arrive on one of your pages, hang around for a long time and come back regularly, search engines will recognize this and will move your site up in the rankings for specific keywords. You have to remember that search engines have customers to: US! They want to be used over and over again and have to satisfy what the user wants. If visitors like your site and you attract decent swaths of people to your site, search engines will help you get towards the top of the ladder.

But you can also have plenty of negatives that will drag you lower. Doing things like repeating keywords over and over again in a non-sensical fashion in the hope of search engine algorithms ranking you higher. Or setting up loads of websites that all link to your main webpage in order to increase its ‘validation’. These things can easily be spotted by humans even if the algorithms can be fooled. Whilst these methods may have worked five years ago, they definitely don’t work in this day and age and will cause your site to get negative ratings and thereby lower places.

I’ll leave you with this great ‘periodic table’ which I found on searchengineland.com which highlights a lot of the key areas to focus on when aiming for that higher rank:

Periodic table giving an SEO overview

Periodic SEO Table (Source: SearchEngineLand.com)

As I mentioned this is just an SEO overview and I will go into more detail in future posts and highlight some of the areas that I think are important. This topic really is inexhaustible and I keep on discovering new things every time I discover helpful articles or online resources.

Happy Monday!

Productivity Boost – A few ways to get things done!

So it’s been a little while since my last post. I’ve been stuck between trying to sort out a multitude of things, working the current job and applying for new roles. Something that struck me shortly after the last post, was that one way to get something done effectively or accomplish goals (however small they may be) is to condense life and make it simpler. But I’m not saying that you should cut down on activities, friends or other things (though in some cases this may help). There are actually two awesome little tricks that can give you the productivity boost you need in order to get things done:

Productivity Boost #1: Complete all your chores at the same time.

Of course I don’t mean that you should clean the bathroom, do the laundry and vacuum the place at once, but grouping them together can actually save time. Why not make a list throughout the week of chores you have to complete? Then you designate a time when you will tackle them all at once, such as on a Monday evening or Saturday morning and try to complete them in that allotted period of time.

There is a reason why the likes of US Presidents try to minimize their decisions to an absolute minimum and filter out all the unnecessary decisions such as picking a suit, tie and shirt in the morning or deciding what to eat for breakfast. They do this because there is a certain amount of decision-making capacity in everyone’s day which can easily be exhausted. So by avoiding having to decide on the “small stuff”, they can focus on the bigger decisions. In this case on how to best run their country.

Although I’ve always been a proponent of ironing all of the coming week’s shirts, I’ve taken it to an extreme by ironing all of the coming two week’s shirts on a Sunday afternoon/evening. That way, each weekday morning when I wake up I can just hop straight into my prepared work outfit. I also feel happier with the fact that I have ironed all the shirts for the coming week and that one task is already completed. There is an awesome sense of satisfaction that appears when I complete a task and know that I don’t have to do it for another two weeks.
Additionally, I’ve also started doing my laundry and (try) to clear my room at the same time (though the latter task, I often don’t finish 🙂 .

Productivity Boost #2: Make a list

Although this could be a blogpost by itself, I should add that I’m a huge fan of making lists. I often tend to forget the things I need to accomplish and find it very annoying when I think I’m done, only to realise that there is a task outstanding. To avoid this, I make lists and cross each job off as I finish it. Ticking something off always makes me feel rather happy, and I start on the new task with uncommon elan. As such, I think it’s definitely a core part of boosting productivity to keep a list as you’re tackling your chores.

Having completed chores earlier frees up evenings and mornings to do more productive and worthwhile things.  At the same time I feel like I do not have to worry about having to do chores (or feel bad about putting them off).

Anyhow, next time you feel like you need a productivity boost as you have some chores piling up, why not make a list and tackle them all in one go? You may just feel happier after having ticked off the last task on your list 🙂

Happy Monday!

How to put an end to queues

Imagine you arrive at the airport and you are way too early for your flight. You check in, walk through security and find yourself to be the first person at the gate. There’s another 1hr to go before your flight leaves and you sit down near the counter that will guide you towards the plane in an hours time. You position yourself so that you will be the first in line to board. Just under an hour later, the announcement is made that the flight is ready to board and you leap up to take the number 1 spot. You feel really happy about yourself and can’t wait to be seated in your squishy airplane armchair.
But hang on. The ground crew walks right past you and up to the very last person in the queue and asks for their boarding pass. They tell them to follow them back to the counter and allow them to board the plane. You cannot believe what is happening… ‘I was first in line!’ you think to yourself. ‘How could they have not seen that?!’ You tell yourself that the passenger was probably a VIP or something. But then it happens again, and again and again. You are now furious and think that the airport staff have made a grave injustice to you.
Will you think twice about getting to the airport early next time? I bet you will, and these Danish researchers have had very positive results when testing the ‘last-come-first-serve’ method. It’s more efficient and will prevent bottle necks from being created. A huge improvement to the very common ‘first-come-first-serve’ method.

In a ‘first-come-first-serve’ scenario, there is a lot of incentive to arrive early and form a queue, as one will be the first person to enter whilst later arrivals will have to wait for their turn, thereby forming one or many queues. The researchers argue that on a ‘last-come-first-serve’ basis, there is no incentive to arrive early and start a queue, causing rational agents to want to arrive on-time or later (i.e. anything but arriving early). And it also makes complete sense on a common sense basis. Why would you rock up early if you’re going to be a lot better off arriving on time or later?
In an airport, passengers having checked in and passed through security would be able to take their time a bit more, maybe browse the shops, read books, generally could be a little bit less rushed about life pre-boarding. It is rather silly when I think about the times I have sat at the gate staring intently at the airport staff with an excruciatingly painful expression on my face, jumping up and racing to be at the front of the queue when the counter opens. Judging by my many competitors in this race, I’m not the only one who thinks like that.

Airports would love to trial the ‘last-come-first-serve’ method as this would mean people spending more time in money in shops, filling the airport operators coffers via increased rents for shops. The natural losers of this scenario would be the budget airline industry which loves to charge extra for speedy boarding. A whole way of earning extra revenue gone, because rational people would refuse to queue right?
Looking at life in general though, wouldn’t you feel like you had more time if you knew that arriving late would mean you would be let in straight away? If you knew that arriving late to the cinema or that really popular restaurant where everyone has to queue, would not be an issue because you’d be let in straight away (or would at least be first in the queue (for lack of a better word)). For one you wouldn’t have to rush (unless e.g. you’re actually close to missing the film) and could do something you enjoy for those extra 15-30min you would otherwise spend queueing.

In some cases in the real world, the ‘last-come-first-serve’ already exists. Think about last-minute travel where in certain situations you can nab flights for less than 50% of what they would have cost 3 months ago. Usually any kind of fire sale also follows that model, where the fire sale purchaser can often get prices far below what a normal shopper would get. These examples are inherently risky though, as for example you are not guaranteed to get a seat on a flight to your destination of choice.

I find this type of research fascinating as it questions basic assumptions with fairly basic questions and causes us to at least contemplate different perspectives and ways of doing things. Ultimately, I doubt that we would ever adopt a ‘last-come-first-serve’ methodology in a widespread manner. Mankind has the potential to drop one of the most annoying aspects of every day life. We could put an end to the queue! However, the ‘first-come-first-serve’ way of operating is seen as fair despite being less efficient and arguably more stressful. Moreover, humans are probably so utterly conditioned to forming a queue that I could imagine people queueing anyway (in a ‘last-come-first-serve’ scenario) regardless of the fact that they would be at a disadvantage to late comers. After all, it is very apparent that humans are not rational agents as much as we may think we are. There are examples all over.

http://2nerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Stupid-people-do-stupid-things-550x442.jpg
Source: 2nerd.com

Happy Monday!

Credit Cards – Satan or Saviour?

Credit Cards! Some people liken them to Satan himself, whilst others see the plastic card as an indispensable item in their everyday lives. Naturally, this depends entirely on what type of person one is. Are you a spendthrift that can hardly keep your wallet in your pants? Or are you cautious saver, guarding your pennies like Scrooge McDuck?

The downsides of credit cards are scary. Debts can quickly spiral out of control as fees are stacked on top of existing debt and sky-high interest rates can cause everything to escalate rather quickly. With variable interest rates starting at 15% APR* on most cards and going into the high double digits, it can become very hard and expensive paying down the debt.

*APR stands for “annual percentage rate”. It essentially takes into account the cost of interest and any fees associated with this interest, so essentially gives you the all in rate that you need to pay upon taking out this involuntary credit. But bear in mind that the percentage advertised can fluctuate as it is a variable interest rate and will depend on what the market rate is at any one point in time.

The long story short with credit card debt is never to even get into debt in the first place. Always pay off your card on time! And if you accidentally miss a payment, pay the balance off as quickly as possible. There are many alternate ways of accessing credit if you require it (eg bank loans). Credit cards will almost always come with the highest cost involved.

So now that we’ve touched on the negative aspects of credit cards, let’s focus on the positives:

1. Cash flow – One of my favourite aspects of credit cards is that it helps your cashflow. The label on the tin says it all: credit cards give you credit. Whether you’re running a business and only get paid by your clients 30 days after delivery of your product or whether you do a massive shop on the first day of every month. Credit cards give you a bit of leeway in planning your expenditures and income that debit cards or cash transactions just cannot offer. My credit card cash flow came in really useful when I was booking flights to Asia earlier this year. I could offer to book for my friend and myself so that we had seats next to each other on the flight. And I didn’t have to pay the bill until 20 days, after my friend had paid me his share. Moreover, if you’re entertaining clients regularly in your day job, it also gives you more time to get those receipts together and manage all your expenses in one go without feeling rushed or stressed about the liquidity in your bank account.

2. Points –  Not every card has a membership reward scheme and so this paragraph doesn’t apply to all credit cards. But one other aspect as to why I like using my card is that for every purchase I get points from my card provider. These points can be accumulated and later be exchanged for goods (earphones, iPads etc) or can be exchanged for flights when transferred to any of the major airlines frequent flyer programmes. The most prolific points provider here in the UK is undoubtedly American Express.  The key here is to not overspend just because you’re getting points. A good rule  of thumb regarding AMEX points is that one membership point = 1p or 1/100 of a pound. When taking into account that most purchases equate to 1 point per pound spent, it’s not really worth overpaying just to get the extra points. But then, it’s also nothing to snuff at especially when considering the huge sign up bonuses. The Gold card for example does not have an annual fee in the first year (normally £140 per year) and comes with 20,000 points if one spends £2,000 in the first three months. Not shabby.

3. Extra perks – This section is about the various perks that come with a lot of credit cards. Whether they offer insurance on cancelled or delayed flights booked with the card, preferential Foreign Exchange rates on overseas purchases or free entry to a few of the many airline lounges available under an airlounge card, these offers can be quite valuable depending on how often you might use them.

4. (Re)building a credit rating –  Credit cards can aid in building a credit score. If you’re looking to purchase a home (though hopefully not as a first investment), these cards can help in showing lenders what a great little borrower you are because you’re repaying all your bills on time :).  As we discussed above, a credit card’s disastrous effects on a rating are well-known if repayments are late or are defaulted on. However, there are also a few cards which aid in rebuilding of an individual’s credit rating. They’re not cheap but serve a purpose in demonstrating “creditworthiness” after consistent use of the card and repayment of debts.

There are undoubtedly many benefits associated with credit cards, however, it depends to a large extent on your spending habits. Can you realise these benefits without dipping your foot into the dark pool of card debt service? The key is to keep spending ideally tighter (if you tend to binge) than when you are using cash or debit card.  And always pay off your bill on time!

Happy Tuesday!