Friday, December 13, 2013

GST is not the problem

There has been quite a bit of talk this year about making a more even playing field for local retailers vs overseas retailers by changing GST laws. The latest article I read this morning in the New Zealand Herald.
The New Zealand Retail Association, who are quoted at the beginning of the article, are an excellent organisation but as a previous retailer and as a retail consumer - the excuse that customers buy from overseas retailers because of GST is just not right.

If local retailers and government want GST collected on overseas online purchasers - go for it. More tax to pay for education and health, (one can hope).

But I don't believe New Zealanders buy from overseas online retailers because of GST. Sure we might buy on price - but the price difference (with shipping), is significantly more than the GST put on items here.

I buy online from overseas places because:

  • I can not buy the product in NZ 
  • The variety is so much better - shoes!
  • It is substantially cheaper - we bought a scanner and printer for our point of sale system, for half the price from the USA rather than a NZ retailer, (who is a big brand Aussie company anyway). It was exactly the same product.

Ask a large chain retailer to order in a particular product from a brand they stock and the assistant looks at you blankly. What is on the shelf is what is deemed appropriate for you the consumer. The model that most fulfils your requirements is widely available worldwide but sorry they will not get it in for you. Then the bosses wonder why so many purchases are made online from overseas.

As retailers we also found the antiquainted NZ system of exclusive product distribution via several suppliers meant for some items there was a NZ exclusive distributor and then a South Island exclusive distributer from whom we had to purchase. Everyone in this chain was clipping the ticket. So by the time it was on our shelves the price was far higher than we wanted.

We came up with a variety of approaches to try and maintain a better price and quality of product for our customers than the big wholesalers. I know they have to pay customs clearance costs and freight but one wonders how greedy they are in the retail system.

On price can someone explain the book prices in NZ to me? I can understand freighting heavy books all the way to our shores could add a lot to the cost of a book. But I have also heard local printers printing locally written books say they can't compete with the price of books coming into NZ because our country is a dumping ground for books to save companies freighting them any further. This should mean books are cheaper but buying books in the USA is much cheaper. Even Amazon UK is often cheaper, with the difference in currency, than little ol' NZ.

So add GST if you want - I don't think it will help Hallenstein Glassons bottom line.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Explaining T-shirts to kids

I am an avid Planet Money podcast listener. I have also read Pietra Rivoli's excellent "The travels of a T-shirt in the global economy".
So I was excited when earlier this year, using Kickstarter, Planet Money finally worked out a way to make t-shirts and follow their travels in the global economy. I signed up for the Kickstarter project to support their effort, despite the quite sizable international shipping charge.
Knowing we are receiving the end result, the podcasts about the t-shirts have been fascinating. Then came the most recent talking to workers in Bangladesh - who made the men's shirt and in Colombia - who made the women's one.
The Colombian one, particularly affected me because the women working here were on better wages and working in better conditions. Admittedly they are not great but at least it is better than other places. But then the bomb shell - the women they had spoken to may not have jobs past February. Jockey are pulling out of using the factory because labour is cheaper elsewhere. 
Our t-shirts are due to arrive in the next week or so and I am not sure how I will feel putting on a top, knowing the women who sewed it may be out of work. The podcasts and the t-shirt purchase really connected me, the end user, with those making the product in way even reading the book did not. 
Life is a complicated thing but hearing the voices and a little bit of the lives, you couldn't help but take the women's side in the situation. Shareholders would get a little less, the Jockey guy might not get as big a bonus for saving money but these women would have at least some money to keep their families going.
Over breakfast explaining this to eight year old Lucy she was shocked. She was shocked workers in Bangladesh earned $3/day and even in the better conditions in Colombia the wages were $13/day.
She couldn't understand if the person, who was in charge of shifting the manufacturing away from Colombia to another poorer nation, was also sad about it - why they were doing it anyway?
She immediately checked all the labels on her clothes and wanted to start a charity for clothing workers. 
If it seems so wrong and crazy to an eight year old, why do we all shake our heads so often in defeat at where we have got to with the global economy?
I spend so much of my time explaining to the kids to share nicely and not to be greedy and yet the examples every day show them what hypocrites us adults are.
Meanwhile Tristan is just excited his underpants have days of the week on them.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Writing Competition Success

If you look at most New Zealand writer biographies there is a competition win or a short listed story mentioned that leads to future success in publication.
Following this apparent approach to success, I have been entering literary competitions. At the same time as filling out the forms and diligently attempting to follow the layout rules, I have been keeping in mind the words a successful New Zealand writer once told me, "The chance of winning a competition is the same as finding a needle in a haystack."
A few weeks ago I received back an email from a competition I had entered. I hardened my soul for the rejection.
But no...
I had to read the email several times. My piece was short listed!
I didn't really believe it. I had to keep reading the email to double check I was right.
The next stage in the competition involves 40% of the judging being placed on public opinion. I told only a few people until this part was made public mostly because I still couldn't believe I was short listed.
I had felt the prick of that needle hidden in the hay.
So here it is the public survey for the 2013 Kobo/NZ Authors E-Publishing Prize.

I can add "short listed for the 2013 Kobo/NZ Authors E-Publishing Prize" to my biography. I am intrigued to see if this will make a difference to acceptance for publication of other work.
Now to await the results of the next stage of the competition when the winners are announced in November.

Writing Retreat Fun

The writers' retreat went very well.
The Friday afternoon was more earth shattering than expected with the Seddon 6.6 earthquake being felt here while I was preparing the base for our writers' soup. It reminded me of Feb 22 when I was preparing a cooking class that evening when the quake struck Christchurch. This time was the pantry began to rattle, I shouted, "Not again!"
But in Nelson most of the aftershocks were not felt and we went ahead with the retreat.
The atmosphere was so friendly and supportive. Becky Siame was a great speaker who shared with such honesty and humour. Her achievements by self publishing are impressive. She had many helpful ideas and was very encouraging to finish those manuscripts and get them to our readers.
I had not anticipated the sharing of helpful tips and resources between everyone - participants and speaker and workshop leaders. I made a resource list during the weekend to capture all the tips being shared before we forgot them all.
I unexpectedly also managed to get some writing done.
So we are looking at 2014 and planning on running another retreat. Talking with the participants more time was thought to be better.
Queen's Birthday weekend is the new date.
Again with a local writer speaker who has made it to publication success will share the insights from their journey to inspire the finishing of those writing projects.
We will  be providing more practical workshops next year. The creating characters workshop was fun and was a great way to learn from each other so we will include more of those.
Time to get on with the planning!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Sticking Your Neck Out vs Hiding Under the Couch

There are a number of things I pick up from fellow writers and tuck away with delight because what I think is a personal failing turns out to be a characteristic common to many writers.
One of these is to have a number of different writing projects in progress at one time. This year I am striving to finish two of the larger ones.
This past summer helping out in the family motels sometimes when I was in a unit alone, the quietness of the double glazing and the position back from the road, made me look at the table longingly to sit and write.
The idea revealed itself as a one liner on the bottom of a piece of paper. A writers' retreat. It is not to be a large, scary group of brash know-it- alls, outlining their recent publication successes. It is for people with great stories they started but because of life and confidence the projects have dropped further down the priority list than intended.
My friend Louise spotted my note and encouraged me to run with it. Together we hashed out ideas and put together a programme.
I contacted a local writer that had caught my attention, Becky Siame. We met over coffee and cake and her ideas, practical suggestions and enthusiasm for encouraging people to write their stories was energising. I was excited about this event.
I put the word out and now it is only a little over a month away on August 16-18th. I am terrified. I want it to be a success. I hope those that come get a lot of writing done as well as being inspired by hearing Becky and just what can be achieved these days by new authors.
I have been at this point in organising a new event before with our cooking classes. It is scary to put something out into the world and have to wait to see if people are keen to come. Many times I just want to hide under the couch and wish I had never thought of the idea. But there is no going back now, no matter what happens, it is going ahead.
Time for some deep breaths and holding of nerves...oh and if you do know of anyone who would be keen, do let them know. I would really appreciate it and I hope when they come, they will too.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Debunking the School Uniform Myth

I once heard, someone I respected for knowing about schools and education say while he preferred no uniforms, the research said otherwise. I believed him. At the time our children were at a school without uniforms so I wasn't really bothered, more intrigued.
This year they are at a school with a uniform. So I looked up the research - after I had forked out a substantial sum of money to buy the uniforms - it wasn't true.

Myth One: Kids perform better in uniform

At best this is debatable, at worst it is completely untrue.
Read this study in the USA where the authors found; "Our failure to find a direct effect of uniforms on behavioral outcomes or academic achievement provide cause for a closer examination of the uniform debate.
There are many other interesting implications and discussion points at the conclusion of this study so it is worth a read.
Or this paper, part of the conclusion, if you can't be bothered reading the whole study, is below:
"Overall, we find that uniforms appear to have a moderately positive impact on students in middle and high school and little impact on elementary students. Students in middle and high school grades who are required to wear uniforms show improvements in scores on language exams of between 0.02 and 0.04 standard deviations and improvements in attendance rates of between 0.2 and 0.4 percentage points. These improvements appear to be strong for female students. For all other outcomes we cannot definitively bound the estimates away from zero using both gains and levels models. Nonetheless, we do see increases in disciplinary infractions in levels models that are concentrated in boys and some small drops in Hispanic reading scores. It is possible that the increase in disciplinary infractions are due to uniform violations or increased enforcement, although the lack of a similar increase for girls suggest that the latter is unlikely."

Or this report, is an interesting read as it appears very positive about uniforms, until you get to the cautions on reading the research. It is at the top of the second page but if you are short of time - it says:

 "There is some debate about the overall impact of school uniforms on students (King, 1998; Lumsden, 2001; Anderson, 2002; Schachter, 2005; Konheim-Kalkstein, 2006).
  •  Studies conducted by Brunsma & Rockquemore (1998, 2003) find no significant correlation between school uniforms and their impact on students’ self-esteem, behaviour, school safety or academic achievement.
  • One study suggested that a tightened dress code may be just as effective as having school uniforms (White, 2000).
  • Wade & Stafford, in their 2003 study, report that although uniforms contribute to positive school climate, they have no direct impact on substance use, behaviour issues, attendance, academic achievement, students’ self- perception and students’ perception of gang violence.
  • A few researchers express concern about the quality of research in the area of school uniforms impact on student behaviour and academic achievement and therefore, say that drawing generalized conclusions about study findings should be done cautiously (Wilson, 1999; Brunsma & Rockquemore, 2003)."
Myth Two: Uniform is cheaper
My children already had perfectly adequate clothes that they could have worn to school but because a uniform was required, I had to go out and buy extra clothes to fulfill the criteria. These are not cheaper because they may have the school logo on them (some items are of lesser quality than their regular clothes too), and I have to buy them from set places at full price not when I see something on sale that will work for them. Sure there are second hand sales but they are fairly erratic in having the item you might need. 
Then there is the problem of the kids losing items. Kids will do this and in the past, it was annoying but it didn't mean I had to necessarily buy a replacement. They usually already had another jersey or t-shirt and then I could buy a replacement as appropriate when something appeared on special - not another replacement at full price because it is an awkward time of year. Losing items is also less likely when every kid's clothing was different. When it is all the same - it can be mistakenly taken home by another kid or just lost in the great pile of lost property. Distinctive different clothes are more easily returned to the right kid.

Myth Three: Uniform makes everyone the same, no matter what background
This is just plain wrong. Those with money have all new uniforms, those without have scruffier items or items that are too small or too big. If anything uniforms make it harder because if money is tight, spending more on a uniform just adds to the stress.

Myth Four: No uniform leads to competition in fashion

Mufti days lead to competition in fashion. In a school with uniform, mufti days are rare. Kids wear their coolest clothes on mufti day and you can see them eyeing each other up. These days are a fashion competition. In a school without uniform, kids are so used to wearing their normal clothes everyday, the competitive element is less. Besides it is a good lesson for children to learn, choosing appropriate clothes to wear and dealing with any possible peer pressure about what to look like. Either way uniform makes this worse because rather than getting used to this everyday, mufti days build it up into something more important.

But by far my biggest problem with it at the moment is, the future of factory style/non thinking jobs are not the future for our kids - they have almost all gone off shore. Our kids need to be creative, individual, resourceful and thinking up new ideas for an app or whatever they will develop in the future. So we make them dress all the same, when it could be a small step to maintaining their creativity and individualism. 

The only thing uniform does do is possibly make it quicker in the morning to get dressed - but only if the items are dry.

Coming Back to Old Work

I have a longer piece I want to lick into shape to submit for a competition. I have wondered if I should pay a professional editor to check it before I submit it to make it as best as it can be, but time might be an issue for this option.
I have had part of this work critiqued. This led to it languishing in a folder on my computer ignored out of embarrassment. Many of the flaws were as clear and sharp as a frosty afternoon once they had been pointed out in slashes of someone else's pen. 
The flaws flamed my cheeks with embarrassment because they were flaws I never let happen in my professional work. 
The experience was tough enough to completely shift my thinking back to where it should have been - what I already knew in my other professional written work also applied to my own personal work. I was very relieved recently to hear a writer, who was placed in a writing competition, say her feedback was usually pointing out things she realised she already knew - phew I wasn't alone!
I find working on longer pieces, I can get lost in so many words and details. I am going to try Sol Stein's triage method for revision. It is chapter thirty-two of my all time favourite book on writing - Sol Stein on Writing.
His triage approach is to take the main character first and think about how well you understand them, if they are distinct from you and if you would want them on holiday with you.
The next step is to revise the villain/antagonist.
Then to revise the conflict and check if it is credible.
After that take the scenes and work out if they are memorable by seeing which ones you can remember and then find the least memorable one, (probably from browsing the manuscript, since it has been forgotten). Rewrite it better by looking at the most memorable scenes and seeing what is great about them. If it can't be rewritten - dump it. Then work through the next least memorable scene. He has many more excellent suggestions to follow on from this, which is why I find his book so helpful. Time for me to get revising - Triage Stat!
But first there is a rant I need to get out of my head.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Writing The Future

Proof read and critique as you wish because this is a record of my attempt to be successful with my own writing projects. These projects are different from my paid freelance work but they are not all fiction. Sharing your own creativity is scary as I worry about if it is good enough or if I have anything worthy to say.
I have joined the New Zealand Authors' Society this year through my freelance published work. The most useful aspects so far are the weekly emails from the local and national branch that let me know about competitions and opportunities for my writing. These are great motivators to keep writing. The monthly branch meetings are also thoroughly worthwhile. Hearing the speakers talk about their writing journeys and their work has had many valuable lessons and provided much to think about. The other exciting aspect of these meetings is talking to other writers and hearing about their projects. I also like finding out how others go about fitting writing into their busy lives.
At the moment I am entering as many writing competitions as I can. The deadlines keep me writing and the competitive aspect makes me continue trying to improve my stories. So far I have had no luck but I keep in mind the words of New Zealand writer, Coral Atkinson who likened winning writing competitions to needles and locating them in dried grass.
I will keep trying alongside my other projects because almost every New Zealand writer profile I have read includes winning writing competitions which lead on to future success.
I have also set myself a deadline for two other of my writing projects of the end of the year. Both of these are non-fiction. One requires quite a lot of interviewing so making myself a deadline helps with ringing and getting those interview appointments booked in.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Young vs Old - The secret of self confidence

Self confidence is something I had decided was based on personality. Some people were just naturally more self confident.
I was thinking about this because my daughter had just auditioned for a musical. I expected her to walk of the audition nervous and worried, as I would have done. I could not have been more wrong. She walked out proclaiming her excellence.
When I once complemented her on a singing performance. She replied offhandedly, "Of course. I told you I could sing."
I wondered where she got this endless supply of self assuredness? It wasn't from my genes.
Then I remembered as a kid I had also auditioned to get a part in a school musical. I was also chosen. This was despite only a few weeks earlier auditioning and failing to get into the school choir. I cannot remember what made me think it would be a good idea to audition for a solo singing part after failing to get into a choir. Perhaps as a kid, it never occurred to me not to try.
If I Google self confidence I received 116 million results mostly on how to improve it. If I look up self  doubt there are 110 million results mostly on how to diminish it.
It is something many people wish to change about themselves.
So how has my daughter succeeded in developing it in only eight years of life?
My lectures about how the world works and that success is not always guaranteed, before she throws herself into something, continue to go unproven for her.
The quote in wikipedia on self confidence attributed to Professor Raj Persaud says that true self-confidence comes from an attitude where you: "Promise yourself, no matter how difficult the problem life throws at you, that you will try as hard as you can to help yourself. You acknowledge that sometimes your efforts to help yourself may not result in success, as often being properly rewarded is not in your control."
I don't think most people who look up the 116 million results for self confidence are looking for true self confidence, they just want to feel better about their abilities. I am not sure my daughter has true self confidence by that definition.
She knows how to celebrate her own success without comparing it with others. Three other children also were accepted at the same time as she auditioned. She was happy for them too but she didn't think their success made her any less skilled.
If life throws her something hard, she also doesn't necessarily try to fix it. She is a kid, for her that is what parents are for - to deal with the hard stuff. Usually her approach is I am not good at that - but look how good I am at this!
I think limited life experience also helps.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Who wants to lose?

Port Hills overlooking Lyttelton Harbour
We left Christchurch at the end of last year, over two years after the quakes first started. People still asked us if we left because of the quakes. The answer primarily was no, but there was a "but". We wouldn't have been in the same work situation, if it hadn't been for the quakes. We possibly wouldn't have made the same decision if we hadn't lived through such a perspective changing event. The ongoing fighting, frustrations and consequences of the quakes are tough to live with as a backdrop to your everyday life, if you have the option of leaving most of them behind.
What is to become of Christchurch? - This opinion piece by James Dann in the NZ Herald about the green frame and property prices, certainly received a lot of comments. I read the piece and many of the comments. The more I think about it the more I wonder about winning and losing.
Who decides who wins, or possibly more accurately who doesn't lose, out of the quakes?
The names James Dann mentions, are clearly people who have "won" before (a lot) in the property game of the city. Why did we expect anything different than for them to be the winners again? This is the system we have been running with for quite some time now.
The residential red zone has been frequently talked about as a situation of winners and losers. Yet again  it feels there is anger that the same people who always lose, have lost again. Why are we so surprised? Before the quakes when it wasn't quite so blatant, it rarely got a mention.
Is the anger because now it is out in the open rather than behind closed doors or because for once we all have to face the reality of what our society values and how it actually works?
What surprised me most when last year I had an opportunity to catch a glimpse into the power structures at work in the city, is how we are all so basically the same. We all want to win more than we lose or to not let the bad guys, (whomever they are in our perspective), win. 
As a parent I spend so much time - and it feels most other parents do too - trying to teach kindness, sharing nicely and treating others as you want to be treated. And yet as adults while we dress it up in different words or reasoning we don't do the very things we tell the newbies of our society, the kids, to do.
Some of the things I love about Christchurch's recovery are Gap Filler and Life in Vacant Spaces and their ability to subvert the system. They don't seem to be playing at winning and losing but at fostering community. 
From experience trying to build community is really hard. Christchurch did it brilliantly just after the quakes. I have not heard a single person say that part of the quake experience was a bad thing they wished hadn't happened. As humans we seem to like it more than the winning/losing thing. But Christchurch showed we can only do it en masse for a limited time and when other options are scarce.
We are just rubbish at it, possibly, because constantly we have to fight our urge either to be a winner or to take the winners down, rather than concentrating on building the community up whatever the cost to us. 
One other thing how come a 'win-win' seems something most people like, while the idea - everybody wins - is groan inducing?
If all the inspirational quotes frequently shared on facebook seem to say we can only change ourselves and not others - am even I prepared to not win? 
Let me just think about an answer to that question for a minute.....

5 Favourite Sights Seen

  • 1996 Watching tropical lightning turn night to day, outside a little wooden church in a small village in Sabah.
  • 2004 Flying down the Rainbow Valley at 8000ft in a cessna on a clear blue day.
  • 2003 Seeing and hearing Michael Schmacher rolling out of the pit garage in his Ferrari in Hungary.
  • 2009 Chancing upon 100 or more dolphins just off the Kaikoura Coast swimming around, jumping out of the water, doing somersaults and generally having fun.
  • 2006 Finding a pool at the bottom of a waterfall in the bush at Kaikoura that was full of playing baby seals.