Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Putting our money where our mouth is

Often in this blog I talked about my latest purchase of a fancy gadget, say an Asus Eee PC to quote a recent phenomenon, or my cravings towards yet another fancy gadget, say a Nikon 18-200 VR lens or a Nikon D300 camera. But these are mostly fantastic escapades; in this real world that we live in, our latest purchase has been something completely different. Something my mother would have never believed I would ever buy: a food processor.
We've had this simple blender for a few years now and it did it's job: from juices to humus, it blended our stuff to one extent or another. However, we wanted more, and with recent developments in the field of Moshe cooking - namely, the introduction of home made Schug (recipe to be posted as soon as I get to photographing the end result), came extra craving for the food that goes well with schug - namely, humus. And for both dishes a simple blender is a bit of a pain to use, hence the seeking after a food processor.
Obviously, I'm of only minor priority in our casa lately. Dylan is the main event, and our little food processing machine demands lots of mashed fruits and vegetables while we prefer to give it the real thing rather than buy pre-mashed and pre-processed stuff. Hence the seeking after a food processor.
Jo also likes to do some cooking of her own. Hence even more seeking after a food processor.
Thus we found ourselves in Retravision of all places while walking Chapel Street last Saturday, and for a nice $130 we came out carrying a Braun food processor. Mind you, it was quite a surprising food processor: For a start, it wasn't made in China but rather made in Hungary; I didn't know they still make stuff anywhere other than China. Second, it's really silent. And third, it comes with more functionality than we've asked for, so we can do cheese grating, for example. You might scorn at that, but we like our pasta with grated Parmesan cheese; now, instead of buying the cheap pre-grated crap at stupendous prices off the supermarket, we can get a block of proper parma at the market and grate it ourselves. Which, as Kobi Nataf would say, is just grate!

Another item on our shopping list is a camera. No, not a new Nikon D300, even though I secretly hope my existing D70 would break so I'd have a good excuse to put my hands on what is probably the best not truly for professionals camera available today. What we are seeking is a cheap crap (if you don't mind me saying so) compact camera that does a good job with movie clips, is small enough for us to carry, and runs on AA batteries.
The reason for this quest is simple: the compact camera we're currently using for taking movies, our 2002 model Lumix camera, is a bit on the chunky side of things. This means that when we went to Tasmania we didn't carry it with us, which meant that we didn't take any films while it just kept rotting in our suitcase. There are other reasons for it going out of favor: it takes low resolution 320*200 or so films at only 10 frames per second, and it stores them in the Quicktime format which is more than a bit of a pain to process. Add a bulky charger to the equation and it's simply not a camera you'd rush to use. To be completely honest, a lot of my antagonism is to do with the feeling that carrying a compact camera when I have an SLR is like driving Travant when the Ferrari is waiting in my garage.
Anyway... I noticed that this Canon camera, A570IS, is selling for a cheap price. I've even seen it for $100, but it mostly sells for $160. Now, $160 is a good price to pay for being able to keep good copies of Dylan's escapades.
The camera is one of those "last year models" that has been replaced by the A580 and the A590IS ($300), but it's one of those cases where the older is probably better than the new because the IS feature is important (IS = Image Stabilization, where the lens or the CCD is on springs to compensate for a shaky hand) and the new models only "extra" is way too many mega pixels for their own good, resulting in a very noisy result.
By now, however, Canon seems to have managed to remove all stocks of the A570IS off the shops' shelves. Looks like I've missed my turn, at least until the next round of Canon camera lineups.

In parallel we've also started looking at flights to the UK / Israel during the upcoming winter. The prospects so far look pretty miserable: between the extra Dylan related costs and the stupidly high taxes, we are looking at something pretty close to a five digit expense on the flights alone - that's like a tenth of our net combined yearly income!
Given the grim news, I have lost all appetite of spending money on anything. Let us continue using the Lumix till well after it dies, and don't you even mention Nikon VR lenses in my vicinity.

One area where we are still hoping to be able to spend our money is solar power.
Sounds incredible, doesn't it? The reality is that solar power at home is a reality and it is available. We've had a guy come over to have a look at our roof, and it looks like we'd be able to install receptors that would provide up to 1.5 kilowatts of electricity on our roof. That said, because the government only rebates up to 1 kilowatt of capacity, we'd probably go with that lower option. But it's still something, and it would allow us to supply a significant portion of our total electricity consumption on our own while often contributing excesses back to the grid (since most sunlight happens when we're away at work).
The economics is interesting. After the government rebate of $8000 plus a bit more for being green and clean, our out of pocket costs would be between $2500 to $3000. The return on investment given current electricity prices would be pretty poor; it would take us more than 10 years to repay that investment, and that's without taking interest into account.
But money is not the thing here. Installing solar power on our roof is a matter of ideology, just like installing Linux on my computer is. It is something we would like to do in order to make a point, not something we would like to do to make money. Between you and me, while the investment is a losing one, it's not something that would shake us much; it's about a quarter of our flights to Europe, but it has much more of a lasting significance and it actually pays us something back.
I'll be blunt: Solar power is something I would like to get into so that I'd be able to make a difference to this world. I would like to tell all my friends about it and blog about it till my keyboard bleeds just for the remote chance I'd be able to make a difference on others and convince them to do what I consider to be the right thing.
While the solar power guy was at our place he demonstrated something interesting: He replaced one of our 50 watt downlights with a more efficient 20 watt downlight that is actually twice as bright and costs only $7 per bulb (light intensity was actually measured, not estimated). We looked everywhere for such a solution to our inefficient halogen lights but couldn't find anything similar in any of the major lighting shops; we were told that we would have to change our light fittings, which would cost us around $700 to sort and result in much more of a carbon footprint for this change itself than anything we would save by reducing our electricity consumption. However, this $7 option was always there; it's just ignorance that prevented us from accessing it.
Ignorance is indeed the general problem this world of ours is facing with global warming. People just don't realize that addressing global warming is quite easy if we put our minds to it. It doesn't even need to cost us much; if we put our minds to it, we can even make money out of it while making this planet of ours more hospitable. It's a win-win situation, really, and the failure of people to grasp that is what annoys me the most about global warming: most people just refuse to turn their minds on and instead act like a herd.
If we were to all install solar panels, if the government join in on a grander scale, just think of the possibilities! Think how it would enable us to truly enjoy the benefits of electric cars! Instead we live in a grim world where enough big companies can create enough of a distraction so that people wouldn't even know that the easy options are there for them to have. We are left in the dark so that the people who make their money through the current state of affairs could continue doing so for as long as they can.
Get out there and see whether you can install solar power on your roof, too.

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