Sunday, August 30, 2009

Aim for the Stars

In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.

-HDT

One year is up. That’s right. It has been one year since I set out on my journey to study, work and travel in Asia. One year ago, it didn’t seem overly ambitious—I had traveled, studied, and worked before—what could go wrong? Ha!

Anyone remember the letter I wrote and sent to friends and family before leaving for Asia (if not you can read it on my blog: kevinjamesburns.blogspot.com. It is only post in August of 2008)? The letter describes my big plans for life in Asia over the next year. I clearly stated my plans to study, get an internship, and experience the rich cultures of the Asian Pacific. I wrote and sent the letter to friends and family because I was convinced (and still am) that sharing our adventures in life, exalting and humbling alike, is the best way for us to grow, propelling all of us to explore ourselves and the world around us. How else are we to start off on our own journeys unless that spark is lit for us?

However, it also did something else, something I know others, as well as myself, are scared of. Writing the letter took loosely defined goals, ones that I could mold and change as the world changed, as I changed, and set them in stone. I have always been a big fan of goals, but prior to this letter I had never put myself out on such a limb, so exposed to failure. Up until a couple days ago I thought this was all bad. But after a little contemplation, I realized the good that came out of it. I had given myself a target, something to aim for. Not only did this push me to go further than I would have otherwise, but it also gave me a point of reference, which has allowed me to compare what actually happened with what I had planned.

If I strictly compare my plan to what actually happened, I am a big, giant failure. After studying at HKBU I returned home instead of taking an internship. I also was never able to travel around Asia, and probably won’t be able to because of my current finances. But if I take into account all the crazy things that happened and everything I couldn't have planned for, I think I did pretty well.

After returning home to San Diego after four months of studying in Hong Kong at HKBU, I spent the a couple months fighting with Kaiser Doctors trying to figure out what was wrong with my chest. At the same time, my internship, which I was supposed to start again in February, was postponed, and then postponed again, because of work visa issues. I finally made it back to Hong Kong at the end of May and started my internship shortly after.

Everything has gone very well at my internship. In fact, so well that they offered me a contract position until the end of the year, which I accepted. If everything goes well, it could turn into a full time position. Regardless, I will gain much needed experience and have a chance to network a bit longer in Hong Kong.

Point is, though almost nothing went according to plan, I am still here. I am still throwing mud at the doorstep of China, trying to make something stick. Did I need to write that letter? Did I need to make those big plans? There is really no way of telling. But I do know this: we can’t hit what we don’t aim at. After writing that letter, I took aim at Asia and never looked back. Setback after setback and still I persisted.

So on the 1-year anniversary of my big trip, I wanted to thank all the people who I sent my letter to, all the people who have been following me on my Blog, my family and my friends. In more ways than one, you guys are the contributors and benefactors of my adventures. I look forward to sharing more adventures with you, and hearing more of your adventures, as time goes on. Thanks you for being a part of this epic time in my life.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Crowded

Global population numbers are on track to reach 7 billion in 2011, just 12 years after reaching 6 billion in 1999. Virtually all of the growth is in developing countries. And the growth of the world’s youth population (ages 15 to 24) is shifting into the poorest of those countries.


Not surprisingly, the great bulk of today’s 1.2 billion youth (nearly 90 percent) are in developing countries. Eight in 10 of those youth live in Africa and Asia and during the next few decades


-CSR Asia

We just added 1 billion people in 12 years. Wow this planet is getting crowded.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Will Americans Believe a Scientist?

The August 24th issue of TIME features a story on the USA’s new Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary, Steven Chu. The article, entitled “The Political Scientist”, profiles the Nobel-winning scientist and gives a thorough description of the uphill battle Mr. Chu has to look forward to concerning his plans to reduce energy consumption and decrease green house gas emissions in an effort to battle climate change.

In the past, the Secretary of Energy has been a “political loyalist”. Nothing makes this more evident than Ronald Reagan’s appointment of a Dentist to the post. Obama’s appointment of a Scientist to the position is a break from the typical political tradition and a sign that the current administration is serious about combating climate change.

But are the American people? Americans ranked global warming last in a national survey of 20 top priorities, in contrast to 94% of Chinese. Many republican leaders flat out deny global warming while on the other side of the aisle, many democrats from coal, oil and farm states are acting against robust energy change.

Steven Chu won his Nobel-prize for his ground breaking results in the laboratory working with super-cooled atoms. He then switched his focus to global warming when he discovered it would emerge as the world’s next great challenge. When asked about the “earth-is-cooling” argument, the DOE Secretary wiped out a chart of the top ten hottest years. All ten of which have been in the past twelve years. He points to the post-1998 blip as the “proof” which most skeptics use to claim the world must be cooling. “You Know, it’s totally irresponsible. You’re not supposed to make up facts!” He said.

Read the article here. It is one of the better articles I have read in the past couple of days. But remember, more important than agreeing on the “why” (whether it be climate change, resource depletion, stimulating the economy), we need to agree on what we plan to do about. The impacts of climate change, a world running out of resources, a rainforest under attack, and an economy in need of a brand-new (green) industry all require the same thing: ACTION.

Further reading at McKinsey & Company

Monday, August 10, 2009

Other Than You, What Goes Into Your Shoes?

Ever wonder what it actually takes to make that T-shirt you’re wearing? Or how about the energy that goes into those shiny new sneakers you just picked up? Probably a lot more than you think! Have you every given thought to how you, as a consumer, or you, as a professional, can reduce the amount of energy required for making these products? Remember, not only does unnecessary energy usage cost you money, but it also sucks for the environment.

The guys over at Pentland (those crazy Brits responsible for brands like Speedo, Red or Dead and Lacoste) gave these questions some considerable thought and came up with a 40 some page brief on the true energy costs of some of our most common apparel purchases. Furthermore, they looked at some of the ways that both manufactures and consumers can reduce the energy usage over the lifetime of the product. Here’s a quick glance at what they came up with.

A product’s energy usage occurs over its entire lifetime. By breaking the products life up into four different stages, Raw Materials, Production, Use and End of Life, we are able to identify where big improvement in energy savings can be made.

Take a disposable camera for example. Not much energy is needed during the production and usage stage. Also, because of the camera’s limited size, the end of life impact (when it gets thrown away) is limited. However, because of the incredibly short life span of the camera, its raw material usage is sky high! An automobile on the other hand will have moderate production and end of life costs, very low resource costs, but giant usage costs because of the fuel needed to keep it running over the car’s lifetime.



Therefore, the easiest and most effective ways to save energy are going to be in the areas where energy usage is the highest. Disposable cameras are going to need to cut back on raw materials and autos are going to have to find ways to cut back at the pump.

When we consider that T-shirt of yours, what stage do you think requires the most energy? Shockingly, it is the use stage. All that washing and drying adds up you know. Your sneakers use a tone of raw materials, require a heavy amounts of energy for production, and because the life span of our shoes is not that long, the end of life cost is quite large. So what to do about it?

Pentland offers energy conservation recommendations for T-shirts, shoes, fleece jackets, flip-flops and swim wear, and not just for the usage stage, but for the entire product life cycle.

Manufacturers of materials for T-shirts are urged to explore alternative materials such as hemp, bamboo or organic cotton (cotton without the use of chemicals or toxins). Consumers of T-shirts are advised to lower the temperature of the wash, avoid using biological powders and hang dry clothing if possible.

To take a look at the whole brief, have a look at the pdf file, which can be downloaded here. If you have any friends that are involved in the manufacturing or production of products, have them take a look at it. Many of the recommended changes are easy and not difficult to implement.

And remember guys; education and knowledge are the catalysts of positive change. If we don’t know something is wrong, or that something can be done a better way, we are in a bad place to fix it. Become informed, become the change you wish to see in the world.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Velcro

Over the past couple of years, my strategy for maximizing great life experiences has been based around frugality. The less money I spend the more places I can go and the less time I have to spend working to get there. It seems to have worked well. I have traveled extensively, studied abroad and enjoyed a great deal of time at home with friends and family, without worrying about how I’m going to pay the bills.

However, I can’t help but contemplate whether or not I have been focusing on the wrong factor. Time, not finances, after all, is the resource we are unlikely to find more of. Frugality is a positive in most situations, but I can think of more than one case when I let it get the best of me. In South America, I missed the Galapagos Islands because I didn’t want to take on a couple hundred dollars of credit card debt. I feel like I need my own Mastercard commercial: missing a once in a lifetime chance to visit the Galapagos Islands because you don't want debt = Retarded.

Mark Goldenson, an Entrepreneur from Silicon Valley, included in his 10 Lessons From a Failed Startup, excessive bargain hunting as one of his big no nos.

4. Set a dollar value on your time. I agree with Paul Graham that good entrepreneurs are relentlessly resourceful, but I have a bad habit of bargain-hunting for sport. I spent three hours negotiating our wireless bill down $100, which was a poor use of time given our funding. The mantra to pinch pennies ignores the value of time.
Time is arguably more valuable than money because you can’t raise more time. Dev suggested pricing our hours. You can divide your available work hours by salary, remaining funding, or total company costs. Ours was around $50/hour. If I was going to spend 5 hours negotiating, I’d have to save at least $250. This value should increase as you gain funding and traction. For anything greater than $500 at any stage, I’d still strive for NPR: Never Pay Retail.


I don’t know if I’ll ever pay retail, but I plan to tone down my frugality. The diminishing return of life on a shoestring is getting pretty small.