Saturday, June 14, 2008

Self-Checkout Counters

It must have been the most bizarre and unusual thing I've ever seen, or maybe its just because I've been sitting in a well for too long: Shoppers checking themselves out.

A supermarket downtown has installed 6 self-checkout counters a few weeks ago. This is basically a barcode scanner, a scale, an LCD touchscreen, a coin slot, a banknote slot, a card reader (in case you want to pay by plastic), yet another electronic screen with stylus so you can sign your name when you pay by credit card, a speaker, a receipt printer, and a bagging area with some plastic bags, possibly with a scale or some other sort of sensor too to detect cheating. There would be one or two staff members there to assist customers, and probably to deter shoplifting too.

It was erm... a weird, sometimes frustrating, but overall good experience. The machine is especially temperamental when I try to use my backpack to bag my groceries, so I normally just leave the stuff in the bagging area and bag it AFTER I've paid.

It needs some getting used to, but the privilege to pack my bag my own way (for example, I won't want bread at the bottom of the bag) and being able to stuff the machine with as many coins as I like without offending anyone, is well worth it.

And I've got lots and lots of coins... about a hundred dollars' worth of it sitting right next to me, accumulating since last year. I kid you, not.

Well, not for long :D

Off topic:
After shopping yesterday, I made a spur-of-the-moment detour to the hospital on the way home, and gave my 7th blood donation. That would be my first trip to the blood centre since I arrived in Australia, since I usually use the bloodmobile instead. Damn! Wish I've known earlier that they serve meat pies and milkshake along with the usual juice, water, fruit cake, and biscuits at the centre.

I'm still feeling good. A bit short on breath maybe, but that could be because of the cold weather. I will probably never understand those who complain about this and that after donating. Oh well...

32km/h winds with 104km/h gusts. Brr... Glad I'm done with my errands before things got that bad.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

These legs are meant for walking, and that's what they'll do

Yesterday, I walked to the mall to do my grocery shopping, instead of walking to the grocers practically opposite my house, or cycling to town.

There is no reason for doing that other than doing it for the sake of doing it. Oh well, it was relatively good weather anyway, unlike today.

According to my maps, I've covered a total of 8.3km, not including when I was browsing the shelves for the juiciest watermelon (again).

That's weird, the walk felt like it was much longer. I used to cover the same distance in about an hour, that's about half and hour each way. Is that a sign of deteriorating level of physical fitness? Are these shoes no good? Are juicy watermelons that heavy? (at least it tasted very good. Eating it as if its a jar of cookie) I'll probably never find out, but at least I got good watermelons to munch on for tea, snack and dessert.

To those with a good pair of legs, yet can't even bear the thought of covering a quarter of that distance, I despise you.

Watermelons are not the only things I bought, but it is on top of the shopping list.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

My Take on the Fuel Hike

The Malaysian government has decided to increase fuel prices by RM0.70 a litre for unleaded petrol, and a little more than that for the others. The crowd goes wild~






Not wild with applause of course. In fact, they were on the verge of pelting rotten eggs.

There are many arguments. Some say that the government can sustain the fuel subsidies even longer. Some say we have enough oil for several decades, well beyond the often quoted 2014. Some say, we should have voted for PR last election. I say: Hurray!

No, I'm not insane. So as a sane person, let me put forward my arguments.

While I concede that a RM0.70 hike is too much and too fast, overall I like the news. Regardless whom are you talking to from doomsayers to even the most optimistic SUV driver, they all agree that we will run out of affordable oil. Sooner or later, it is inevitable. It is after all, a non-renewable resource.

Now now... I'm not saying that we will run out of oil outright. I emphasise again: AFFORDABLE oil. The folks saying that our oil is more expensive than other oil producing nations will do well to remember that they have on-shore oil wells. Ours was in Miri, but that's gone and we have since moved on to rely entirely on off-shore oil rigs, and they're more expensive. So here's the trend: As the cheap and easily available oil runs out, we have to use more expensive methods to get oil. How long do you think you can keep up driving that SUV? Can your bank account outlast every single drop of recoverable oil in Malaysia?

Back to the topic:

The problem is, while our economy relies heavily on petroleum production (along with electronics and palm oil), nothing has been done to lessen our dependence of that one finite resource. Our fertilisers, pesticides, consumers products, and energy are products of oil. We are floating our high standard lifestyles (compared to our neighbours, minus Singapore I guess) on oil. That seems to me, like hanging onto a burning rope, and guess what, its Greek fire. You can't put it out.

So, there are a few things to do.

We could, hang on and wait for the rope to finally snap. Of course, we might fall to our death, or at least a broken bone.

We could, try and slow down the rate the rope is being burnt. But it will still burn and eventually we well still end up in ICU.

We could arrange for someone to put a giant haystack underneath to break our fall. With luck, we might even get a giant trampoline! Then we'll be bouncing with joy well into the post-peak oil world.

The third option seems to be the best. Unfortunately, alternative energy is still at its infancy with solar cells being most promising yet notoriously inefficient. The other stuff is still either a novelty, or still need some refinements in the lab before it becomes a viable alternative. Many alternative fuel candidates actually needs more energy and resources to make it, than the energy they actually provide. Business-minded people might better understand this as a "net loss".

What I'm thinking, is that the best course of action is to buy time, while developing alternative means to obtain energy and products. A combination of option 2 and 3.

Malaysia has neither the heating requirements of Norway, nor the cooling requirements of Egypt. Yet, according to the World Resource Institute, we have somehow managed to become the 4th largest emitter of greenhouse gas per capita. To me, I think this says something is terribly wrong. Something is absolutely wrong with our lifestyles.

I think, this is high time we have another look at the way we harvest/obtain, process, transport, sell, use, and dispose of our resources. The less we use, the less we spend. Oh, and here's a bonus: more oil available for export.

I don't mean to sound like a tree-hugger, but going green makes perfect sense. A central part of going green, is to use less, and more importantly, waste less. Surely we can survive if our supermarkets stop giving away "free" shopping bags, force us to bring our own reusable bags, and pass the savings to us! And that's for starters!

Heck, even China, often associated with lousy environmental practices and poor quality control, has banned businesses from giving away free plastic bags, effective 1st June 2008. Bangladesh, which we treat as little more than a source of cheap labour, did that 4 years ago. Now... where do we stand, as far as efficiency goes?

We're a wasteful society! Certainly we can do better if people would just stop driving a staggering 600m to buy newspaper at the local 7-11 shop (yes, it happened in Malaysia. Malaysia Boleh~).

Of course, changing our habits is not the only thing. I want bicycle/pedestrian lanes built, public transport improved, electric bicycles made street-legal, recycling made easy...ect... and while we're about half-way done, please double fuel prices.

So what's with me and fuel prices? As my friend Titus so humorously pointed out in the opening of his recent blog post, the typical Malaysian is an ignorant fellow. Possibly as ignorant as *certain* Americans who can't even name a country that starts with U, such as the United States of America.

How do we convince the average ignorant and definitely *NOT* environmentally conscious (might as well be in a coma) Malaysian to be more frugal with our abundant yet finite resources? We hit them where it hurts most of course. That should shake things up quite a bit :D.

No no no, I mean the wallet, not the groin.

Perhaps there are a few lessons that we can learn from Cuba.

Hey, at least we're lucky. Unlike Cuba, we won't have our plug suddenly pulled like Cuba experienced when the Soviet Union collapsed. All imports including oil, and virtually the entire export market, just *poof* vaporised.

We still have time and resources, I just hope we have the brains to use it well too, before we die like a slow-boiled frog.

In the meantime, I'm riding my bicycle (Bring back concessions! Boycott NSW buses!) to buy some groceries. I have a sudden craving for watermelons.

I posted more links than usual on this post, and I certainly hope you'll click it. However, those in Australia who want to click "learn" may want to consider their bandwidth quota. Its a link to about an hour and a half worth of documentary on YouTube.

A special treat for my readers after a rather grim post:

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