Earth Hour 2009: Can I be excused?

It seems everyone is getting in on this thing called Earth Hour. It was a stunning participatory success when it was tried in 2008. But did it really hit home? Did it change people’s attitudes? I wonder… I got a lot of comments from people who asked me why I was not participating in it last year.

Well. Why? Because I already did my part last year. We cut our electricity usage from an average of NT$3650 per month to about NT$2650 in the space of 18 months. And we’re trying to figure out how we can reduce more without impacting our business.

We replaced several older computers with higher power requirements with lower power Asus Eee Boxes, and a newish PC and a notebook. We only have one remaining PC that is less energy friendly. All our monitors have been replaced with LCD types as well. It’s difficult to estimate how much wattage we cut: but it’s easily 50%.

We cut our wattage on spotlights alone from over 450 watts to just under 300 watts. I’m planning to switch totally to LEDs when the technology is ready. But spotlights like the LEDs tend to be very weak in light output. But this is a fast changing market… so it’s likely I’ll replace them all within 3 months. This is a huge saving on carbons since we use these lights almost 7 hours every day.

The one big kicker for our fuel bills was replacing two aging AC units, both of which were old, inefficient and difficult to repair. We opted for a more expensive variable motor type instead of the traditional on-off type unit and the energy savings have been substantial on these two units. The only downside with those units is that the external power units are larger than traditional ones making for space problems for us. We still run four traditional smaller units, but we’ve already decided when we purchase new ones what kind we’ll choose.

All of our school lighting has been replaced with fluorescent tubes or CFL quite a while ago (there were a few recalcitrant bulbs that managed to escape the first round of replacments).

For a minor inconvenience, a few complaints about lighting (which we rearranged), we’ve saved nearly 1/3rd of our energy bill over 2005. It’s difficult to predict the patterns for 2009 yet as some of the equipment is still new. But there could still be additional energy savings.

We will replace our spotlights in the next few months with LEDs to cut an additional 150 watts or more, we will replace one PC for sure, and we’re considering re-engineering the lighting for the classrooms. That alone will be the biggest challenge: each classroom has 16 to 24 strips of fluorescent tubes each burning 18w. We’re loathe to replace these with CFL because it will make the classrooms feel darker. Our main office area is lit with 8 CFLs at 22 watts and that is bright enough, so we could use that model for the classrooms. So there is room for improvement there.

One of the other big changes was turning off the water heater for the drinks unit: it had a lower power chiller for cold water, and a higher power (900 watts!) for hot water. We simply substituted a traditional kettle. And to think we used to leave that machine on all day and night.

So, why wait till Earth Hour to turn off your lights for one hour? You can save that energy every day by being smart. And your wallet will thank you, too.

January 09 Credit Card Bills: It’s all on the cards

This is my personal credit card report which highlights my spending for this month. In fact, I have two credit cards: One of which I use primarily for online transactions courtesy of Shanghai Bank, and one for general use courtesy of Taishin Bank.

Be CAREFUL with your Cards

With the second one, we had a bit of a fuss this month. I had just finished upgrading the server at school, when I decided to replace one of the staff computers, too. It was partly to save money on electricity that we switched to low power computers and to save carbon (specifically, the Asus Eee Ebox 202 series, which is a fine complement for teachers in our school).

So I ordered an extra computer from our local supplier. It came, and I took out my credit card to pay the bill. No success. Tried again. Turned out the credit card had been canceled and that it had been fraudulently used abroad somewhere towards the end of 2008. Since I hadn’t noticed any odd transactions, I can only assume that the anti-fraud measures banks use had been successful in preventing the abuse of the card.

I’m still surprised that it happened. The gentleman at Taihsin International Bank was surprisingly polite and efficient. I had my new cards within just a few days, and was able to use them again. But I still have no idea when or how my card details were skimmed. I have checked my PCs for viruses and bugs and other nasties. All of them are totally clean. My only guess is that someone skimmed the details when I was in the UK, perhaps with a small hand scanner, at one of the hotels or restaurants or stores I went to.

This month’s report. Anyway.

Personal Shopping Purchases

  1. For school, we bought several memory cards which were unbelievably cheap (2 cards at about NT$200 each for 2MB), a PC computer extension cord with lots of extra sockets, and a USB socket charger for the wife so she can charge her MP3 player without worrying about access to a PC. That cost NT$2477 in total.
  2. The mobile phone bill was for two months at NT$376. Google AdWords was NT$8. I pretty much stopped my campaigns for the time being as the clickthroughs were really bad for both my personal sites and my business sites. In fact, the visitors clicking through were just bad quality.
  3. We also paid our car insurance again this year for NT$3864: of course on the form that we received we noted that our car had devalued again! It’s quite surprising how F-A-S-T an NT$500K car becomes only NT$200K. And our regular payment of NT$2000 was also made as usual.
  4. The biggest shopping purchase damage in January was our trip to Mitsuokoshi at Taipei 101 right at the end of December. Christine bought ear-rings for herself and her sister at NT$4480, and two pairs of shoes that she really liked which cost NT$6552.

Business Purchases

  1. With the most recent set of fusses at the Server, I started migrating my domain registrations from Dreamhost to NameCheap. It has cost quite a lot of additional money to do this as I had to pay additional registration fees for extending the registration period. Given that I now control over 20 domains, you can imagine. Fortunately, NameCheap has been running special offers for domain transfers (US$7.99 for the first year). I have to say that I have been solidly impressed with the quality of the help and service I have received from NameCheap. It has been absolutely outstanding as they have dealt with three queries of mine: billing, DNS issues and non-transferred domains. On each occasion, the issue was satisfied. Good service. Damage to my wallet: NT$3241. I know there is at least one other bill coming for about NT2500 as well in February.
  2. Dreamhost bills came up twice in December for December and November: total NT$1181 which included one domain renewal. There was another NT$101 for something that I can’t quite remember. I’m still checking what that was for. In fact, that was a payment to Scratchback. I had about US$15.00 in their system that had sat for months. I decided to stop using the widget on my blogs, so to get the money out, I bought a slot myself with one paypal address. And then I was able to withdraw the amount as it met the minimum required. It did cost me a little, but I figured it was better than letting the money sit in Jim Krukal’s Paypal account.
  3. A New Theme: I promised a new theme for InvestorBlogger for 2009. And indeed I purchased the theme for InvestorBlogger (to be revealed) at about the same that this server was attacked and it was useless. I implemented it on EeeBlogger for a while, and discovered that there were some issues with the premium theme I bought. I’m still hoping to use it on InvestorBlogger soon, but implementation is a real pain. NT$2385.
  4. Database and Scanner: Our business (a language school) decided to start categorizing and organizing the books we have for children to read. In other words, we felt we should have some facilities to start a small lending library. So we purchased software and a hand scanner to start cataloguing the books. We’re hoping to find out how many books we have, how much we spent on them, and have facilities to keep tabs on the books, too. Perhaps I’ll review the software one day. NT$2719.

Final Note: I use Paypal a lot for my online purchases, it’s pretty handy. But it’s difficult to keep tabs on what money goes out and how. So I’ve opted to use one account for money received, and one for purchases only. It hasn’t quite worked out like that yet. But it’s getting there.

Oh, and I earned a little cashback on one of the cards: NT$46.00. There were no penalties, no interest charges, or other surprises, and the total amount owed on each card WILL be paid in full. But I stupidly let over 4000 bonus points expire without using them. What a shame. I just noticed that they expired on the last day of January. Oh, well.

Christmas Shopping: Don’t just focus on the price, focus on the play value

With Christmas just around the corner, it’s getting tough in this economic environment to justify spending a lot of money on anything other than the essentials: rent, food, fuel and clothes. With Christmas just a short month of shopping days left, parents everywhere are scratching their heads wondering what gifts are affordable and desirable for their kids.

One Christmas my parents bought me a toy called FlightDeck. I wonder if anyone remembers that! The object was to land a plastic aircraft via a pulley system on the deck of an aircraft carrier. I loved it, and it was no doubt fairly expensive. But it suffered three main flaws: it was pricey, it was easily broken, and its play value was limited. In fact, I broke on Boxing Day, and couldn’t play with it after that! I was sorry, and never told my parents.

It’s not a mistake I would repeat on buying presents for any kids of mine! I’ll always try to find toys that have extended play value, such as Lego, Games, etc… One such toy that is perpetually popular: cars for the little boys. If I was able to play ‘secret santa’ to some little boys in our school, I’d be heading for the toy car section in the local department store looking for popular models or familiar models.

I was enchanted especially with the character cars from the movie created by Pixar. This set provides three vehicles for kids to play with as they recreate and relive the scene from the movie “Cars”. Of course, my own favorite has to be Lightning McQueen, but that’s a personal favorite.

tipping tractor

For the little girls, perhaps a disney figurine would be great, too. Either way, perhaps the easiest way to a kid’s heart this Christmas is to buy them a gift that helps them to rediscover their innate imagination and story telling skills (or yours!). Three simple cars, like this, can recreate hundreds of variations on the scenes in Cars. Who knows? Perhaps they’ll be able to play with them even when some of the parts have gone missing, or the toys are broken.

Whatever gifts you choose, especially from a store like Mega Brands Toys, you’ll find that the play value will far exceed the monetary value.