Thursday, January 31, 2008

Plastic bags, no more

It is no secret that plastic bags to carry groceries have a good contribution to pollute the environment. People concerned about the environment have noticed this, and a few years back the first programs to reduce the use of such bags were implemented. For example, I remember that during my trip to France back in 1998, there was a convenience store chain named E. Leclerc, which had a very innovative system to reduce the use of plastic bags at the time: They would charge their customers 1 Franc (which at the time was equivalent to $0.16 US Dollars) for each new plastic bag they used. However, people were not charged whenever they brought used plastic bags to reuse them, over and over again. That was a good start to discourage people of using plastic bags indiscriminately, but there were more programs to come from other supermarket chains around the world in the following years.

Fast forward to 2008. The frenzy caused by the global warming phenomenon has made people and companies around the world to become more conscious about environment. In Canada, as well as in many other countries, some supermarket chains offer shoppers options to avoid the use of disposable plastic bags (and of course, to avoid the subsequent pollution arisen from the use of those bags). One of the more interesting and effective programs is the use of reusable bags made from 100% recycled materials. The customer pays a few cents to purchase the reusable bag, and it can be used ad infinitum. It is a very simple program that has had a limited success, as some shoppers are still reluctant to pay for their grocery bags and still prefer to use the traditional plastic bags and dispose of them afterwards.

The reluctance of people to turn to reusable bags has turned some activists in Vancouver, Canada, to ask the local government to impose bans on the use of plastic bags. If the proposal is successful, in the near future the use of plastic bags would be phased out in the city, and hopefully some other cities in the country would be following this example.

This kind of idea is not new in Canada, however. The town of Leaf Rapids, in Manitoba, got frustrated by the reluctance of shoppers to use reusable grocery bags, despite of their wide availability and proven durability. According to the town, the use of the disposable plastic bags not only has a bad impact in the community's environment, but it also gives it a bad aesthetics touch. This rationale drove the local government to impose a ban to the use of disposable plastic bags in 2007.

The idea to eliminate the use of plastic bags seems very interesting to me. It looks like a crucial step that communities will eventually have to take in order to really adopt a greener attitude, which will allow governments to better cope with pollution problems, and to avoid potential sour consequences in the short and long run.

With some information from CTV

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Looking for a good book to read?

Ah! This has been a busy week. Scheduling responsibilities is normally a challenge for many people, but for a few of us, scheduling spare time is sometimes more challenging. In this case, I think that I've done the right choice about how to spend my free times in the last few weeks: It is always worth to dedicate some time to high quality literature to have some fun and to learn new things.
It is precisely a high-quality novel what I have been reading lately, which I widely recommend to people who enjoy reading masterworks: Journey to the West is an anonymous Chinese novel (although some experts claim that it was written by Wu Cheng'en) from the 16th century. The story is inspired in the true story of Tang Sanzang, a monk who travelled from China to India during the 7th century to fetch some Buddhist scriptures. However, Journey to the West takes such story into a fantastic tale in which Tang Sanzang is escorted during his trip by his disciples Sun Wukong (Monkey), Zhu Bajie (Pig) and Sha Wujing (Friar Sand), who have to go through several challenges and life-threatening situations that may avoid them of reaching the West to fetch the scriptures.
The novel is more than just a fantastic story. It also contains philosophical teachings and lots of Buddhist and Taoist elements that sometimes makes it difficult for a non-Buddhist or Taoist (such as myself) to wholly understand the very substance of the events in the story, nonetheless it is a very informative tale that helps the reader understand more about Buddhist and Taoist cultures and ideologies.
Needless to say, I highly recommend to read this masterpiece of classic Chinese literature. After all, the best opinion of a book is the one that you get by yourself.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Singelringen

Are you single? Have you ever felt jealous of other people wearing wedding rings to show they're married or engaged? Do you feel unlucky not to wear your own ring?

Fear not. A guy in Sweden has just created a product for your needs! You won't feel socially shamed next time you show up in the streets without wearing a wedding ring: His name is Johan Wahlbäck, and his product is a ring that single people can wear to show that being single is nothing to be shamed of, moreover, it is a matter of pride and it's a way of life that more and more people are choosing to live in our times. The ring was named Singelringen (single's ring).

The Singelringen is not only intended to be a product to show the pride of single people, but it also has the purpose of creating a sort of community with which singles all around the world can identify themselves with. It is indeed a high quality product: it's made of silver and turquoise acrylic. Each ring is 'unique', as all of them have a serial number. The best part is that the Singelringen is for both men and women.

It's one of the most curious ideas that I've heard of recently. It promises to be one of those marketing products that set new trends in fashion, even though the idea behind them is very simple. It looks that some celebrities are wearing it already. I wonder whether I should buy mine right now too... or whether I should wait until the fake, cheaper Singelringen start to appear in the market.

More information about the Singelringen in

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Tata's Rs 1-lakh, unveiled!

It has been rumored for many months now. Back in August 2007, I even had the opportunity to write a note about Tata's Rs 1-lakh car, the cheapest car in the world, with the scarce information about it that was available at that time. And now, the car, under the name Nano (nothing to do with Apple) finally made its triumphal appearance in the Auto Expo 2008 in New Delhi, as Tata promised long time ago.

I have been very curious since I first heard about the cheapest car in the world to see how will it look like. A lot of speculation was made around it, but as I wrote in my first post regarding Tata's new model, "those who have seen the prototype say that this Tata model resembles the Daewoo Matiz". Ok then, as the car has finally been shown to the audience, the first pictures have started circulating in newspapers and other websites. With no further introduction, here are the pictures I've been able to collect from Tata's Nano, the cheapest car in the world:
That's the car. Does it really resemble a Daewoo Matiz? Is it an appealing model to your eyes? It looks ok to me, although its value proposition is more tied to its price rather than to its appearance. In any case, you be the judge.

Photos by AP

Monday, January 07, 2008

The coffee wars

The winter break is over. The time for people to go back to their everyday duties has come, and I dare to predict that for the next few days some people out there will be suffering what is scientifically known as the post-vacations syndrome, which is nothing more than the period of time that takes to the people's mind to switch from leisure mode to work mode. Going back to routine is a must, and it can't be stopped in any way, not even by playing bizarre tricks such as gluing one's hand to the bed to avoid going to school, just as some little rascal did somewhere in Mexico according to a local newspaper.

That's the bad news. The good news is for companies whose philosophy is to serve customers in times when they are stressed and seek a break in their busy lives. I would argue that one of those helping companies is Starbucks, which is really committed to providing the customer with a relaxing experience in each of their stores, by providing high quality beverages and a peaceful, comfortable atmosphere. That's why Starbucks has been successful in exporting its business model to several countries all around the globe.

But hey, why going to Starbucks if people can go to McDonald's too? It is no secret that McDonald's' coffee has been highly ranked among coffee drinkers for many years, equaling (and sometimes defeating) the quality of Starbucks' basic beverages, like americano or espresso. That's why McDonald's, with a lot of bravery and a lot of money, decided to launch their own line of gourmet drinks in the US, which will supposedly include capuccinos and lattes. The system will be more or less the same as Starbucks' model, where a barista will prepare the drinks in front of their customers, with a high degree of customization. This is the beginning of a face-to-face struggle against Starbucks to take over the gourmet coffee market.

McDonald's is confident to be a good competitor in Starbucks' territory, as their economies of scale and convenience will push people to buy coffee from McDonalds. What McDonald's is not considering is that Starbucks' business is not selling coffee. Their core business is providing customers with a relaxing experience, where people sit in a comfortable couch, relax, have a nice conversation, have a sip of their beverage, smell the slight coffee odor that invades the atmosphere, and have a nice time. Very different from a McDonald's restaurant, where the typical experience includes the smell of fries, hamburgers and ketchup, children yelling and running around the place with the toys they just got from their Happy Meals, metal chairs attached to the floor, and the sound of trays pushing the door of the trashcans. Can you picture yourself having a relaxing experience under those conditions?

There is no doubt that McDonald's will increase its revenue from their new line of products, but I hardly picture it as a threat to Starbucks. At the end of the day, customers will have their own reasons to chose one or the other... or none.

With some information from msnbc.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

China: New year, new restrictions

The year 2008 is just starting. The Chinese knew that this year will bring some changes to their country: The year of the rat will be starting early on February. The Olympic games will be held this year in Beijing, and will attract millions of people to travel to China and spend money there, which will create an important revenue stream for the country. The Chinese car industry will potentially have a kickoff in NAFTA, with the introduction of some models in the Mexican market and the construction of an assembly plant as a joint venture with Mexican investors.

There will be, however, some other 'unpleasant' changes that the Chinese citizens will go through, and that they most likely didn't foresee. One of them is a further restriction of their freedom of speech. More precisely, these changes will be related to the information that Chinese surfers post on the net and download from it.

A newspaper reported today that the Chinese authorities decided to impose new regulations on internet videos, such as those found in pages like Youtube. Certain types of videos will be banned, for example those that show pornography or give a negative impression of China, damages its reputation, or reveals secrets. As in many other industries in China, the government will have its own video broadcasting website, which will be the only legal site of such type to be accessed from China. This new regulations will take effect on January 31.

Here we have another sad installment on China's record of violations to the rights of people. What I find funniest in this case, is that the videos 'hurting the reputation' of China are normally produced elsewhere, and displayed elsewhere. No matter how hard the Chinese government tries to clean their name, this type of actions only hurt them more in the eyes of the rest of the world, and makes us wonder whether China will indeed impose a new world order in the future.

With some information from The Globe and Mail