Energy subsidies – online course

Energy subsidies are a complex and enormously important issue, having a major impact on climate change (and thus on the fate of our world, and how livable it remains), on health (via air pollution, especially in developing world cities), as well as distorting our economies. And the level of public debate around energy subsidies and taxes is very poor, with conflicting claims made by the fossil fuel industry, advocates of renewable energy, and advocates of nuclear.

Energy Subsidy Reform, a free, 2-week, online MOOC style course run by the IMF on edX, sounds like a much-needed corrective.

“Whether you are a civil servant working on economic issues for your country or simply interested in better understanding issues related to energy subsidies, this course will provide hands-on training on the design of successful reforms of energy subsidies.”

Advertising Explained

A scientist friend describes a supermarket trip at age seven, where he saw a packet that advertised Imitation raspberry flavour.
“That means it’s not raspberry, ” he said to  his mother. “Why do they say what it isn’t, instead of saying what it is?”
His mother replied, “They probably tried This is made from coal but we think you’ll like it, and nobody bought any.”
And that, says my friend, is the moment he first understood the nature of advertising.

How do you decide to trust someone?

How do you know when to trust someone? How do you decide? Here are my thoughts – please comment if you know something I don’t.

(Perhaps I should file this under the bleeding obvious but sometimes the obvious bears repeating. This is also a way of asking for your deeper insights.)

  • Watch how they treat those with less power, e.g. wait staff or shop assistants.
  • Take note if they enjoy putting others down. Not just frustration, not just poor social skills, but actively building themselves up by pulling others down – this could be immaturity or something more dangerous, but it’s not healthy. And if they seem to enjoy being nasty, even in the most witty and charming way, take it as a warning sign. (Actually, especially if they’re witty and charming about it.)
  • You don’t really know someone until you say no to them. (An unsourced bit of wisdom.)
  • Give them time. Toxic personalities can seem wonderful for a while (charm is one characteristic of a psychopath) but they usually wear thin in time. Full-blown narcissists take around 2.5 hours to lose their charm, on average* – others may keep their appeal for longer. If you’re in a close relationship with the person (e.g. romantic or family relationship) it’s hard to be objective, and so you may still fall for the facade, even after you’ve seen the disturbing truth behind it, and even when you’ve been warned.
  • Gut feeling. I wouldn’t rely on this alone and it depends how much opportunity you’ve had to train your unconscious mind through observing and experiencing people being trustworthy and untrustworthy. Personally, my intuition occasionally gives me a warning (and I’ve suffered for ignoring it). I take this as a warning not to put myself in a vulnerable position, rather than as a final judgment.

Final comments:

  • Someone may be honest but not trustworthy – e.g. careless, unreliable or lacking in empathy. They may make a good friend, but know their limits and be willing to say no (nicely but directly).
  • Completely untrustworthy people are rare. While being cautious, give plenty of space to let good people into your life.

*The 2.5 hours comes from an article I remember reading about a psychological study. My imperfect memory + most studies never being replicated => take this with a grain of salt.

An “Awww” moment from Malaysia

“I don’t want the whole world to know.”

Hey, here’s an idea – let’s put it on YouTube!

But seriously, even though it’s Malaysian government feel-good propaganda, glossing over the country’s institutionalized racism, it’s a sweet video.

(It won’t be obvious to some, but he’s ethnic Chinese, and she’s Malay. There’s a lot of historical and ongoing prejudice, but hopefully it’s on the way out.)

Focus First: Facebook and Email in Their Place

The distractions

I love social media, and I’m connected with lots of smart, interesting people. I enjoy the interactions and I like that they make me think (and feel). Some of these people I count as real friends – not just Facebook friends. But needless to say, Facebook is an enormous time suck – even looking at intelligent, insightful posts is no comparison to working on my goals, creating, and carrying through on my vision. 

I’m also somewhat addicted to email. Like a laboratory pigeon pecking at a lever hoping for a reward, like a gambler putting dollar in the machine, part of my brain is hoping for the reward: the news, interesting tidbit, opportunity or idea that occasionally comes in email form. But whether or not I act on it now it’s a distraction from anything else. Once I open an email in the morning, the ideas are in my head, pushing aside my work, my top priorities, the things most important to me, which become much more difficult to focus on. Perhaps you find the same thing. The solution? The single best thing I’ve done for my productivity in the 10 years: I ignore my email until afternoon, giving email its own focused time later in the day.

I have one more morning distraction: an idea pops into my head, I look it up online and start reading. I may tell myself it’ll be a 5 minute search, but I’m a compulsive reader and it’s always more. And though there’s always something valuable to read on the web, generally it won’t change my life or world the way that meeting my commitments and exercising my vision will do.

All of these distractions have value, but they mean making a passive choice to not do something else. The alternative that works powerfully for me is to make an active choice, to defer these things and give myself time now for what’s important. I hold myself to this commitment by making it publicly – on Facebook, here on this blog, and/or to those close to me in real life. This is the commitment:

The commitment

Between now and the end of February, 2014:

  • Email only between 3pm and 9pm each day, other than than the starred messages view, or searching for a work-related email. (I use an email filters to add stars to emails from colleagues and family – anything else can wait a few hours. A search shortcut in my browser lets me search directly, without seeing other emails that could distract me.)
  • Facebook only between 3pm and 9pm each day. (I also use this time for other things, so I might miss Facebook altogether most days, which is great. If I want to share something outside the 3-9pm window, I’ll use the share on Facebook bookmarklet or add it to my-do list for later. It goes without saying that I don’t have Facebook notifications or email notifications on my phone – I don’t even have the app installed.)
  • No Facebook stream or checking the Facebook notification icon from Monday to Thursday. That means I can only check my own page, private messages and events, and only during the allowed times. From Friday to Sunday I may check what I wish between 3pm and 9pm. 
  • No internet searches or reading web articles before 1pm, Monday to Friday, unless it’s related to something I’m working on.

At the end of February, I will reassess, either keeping these guidelines or adjusting them. I’ll report back in a later blog post.

I’m looking forward to getting awesome things done with this increased focus.

What works for you?

Let me know your focus secrets, by commenting here or where I’ve shared the link on social media.

The changing meanings of marriage

Traditional marriage is a diverse and wondrous thing – in terms of ceremonies, day-to-day arrangements, how decisions are made, even how many people are in the marriage. The “traditional marriage” as a norm is a relatively recent arrangement, and isn’t a clear norm in religious texts.

The idea that marriages must be registered with a government is also not universal or traditional – common law marriage being the obvious exception. An obvious answer to all the fuss is to say that the government has nothing to do with the word “marriage”. Leave these decisions to civil society. If a religious institution will only marry straight couples, then gay couples can go somewhere more inclusive and be married there. 

As for tradition and history, brutal traditions around the world have been banned, from slavery and genital mutilation to foot-binding. Blatant discrimination is less extreme but no more defensible. However, an open exploration of marriage and its changing meanings is good thinking fodder for current debates. Here’s a good exploration on Australian radio: Marriage, Australian style – Rear Vision – ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Audio and transcript available. Program summary:

Debate over same-sex marriage is nothing new. Just who can marry and the circumstances under which they can later divorce has been contested territory for as long as the institution of matrimony has been with us. 

The same

“If people in straight relationships feel that my song mirrors theirs, enough to play it at their wedding, then aren’t our experiences the same? Isn’t my experience of love as good and as valid as theirs? And, if so, then why can’t I get married too?… I’ve had the honour of singing at four of my friends’ weddings. I was flattered to be asked each time and humbled to be part of the celebration. I wrote a song years ago called Now I Love Someone which is a great wedding song. I was touched. I’m not sure if any of them knew I’d written it about a woman.”

So says singer Holly Throsby.

I’m about as conventional as it gets, in my personal orientation – and that is entirely irrelevant to my judgement of people like Holly Throsby. I have no vested interest in who she loves, other than to wish them happiness. Discriminatory laws against loving the “wrong” kind of person are absurd and offensive – and so last century.

Why is this even an issue? What regressive forces maintain fear and discrimination in this day and age? What will take before we no longer need to even say “GLBTI,” and can just say “people”?

Loomio – collaborative online decision-making

Loomio is a user-friendly tool for group decision-making.

Creating a world where it’s easy for anyone to participate in decisions that affect them.

Loomio.org appears to be an intelligently thought through approach to the thorny problem of online group democracy. It’s discussed in Can Social Software Change the World? Loomio Just Might – worth a read. Here’s a snippet:

“The key,” says Benjamin Knight, one of the members of the core team developing Loomio, “is building shared understanding before a decision is reached by the group.” He adds, “That means that when you get to the outcome, it’s not that everyone has to agree to the outcome, they just have to agree that its the best outcome the group can reach at that time.”