Wednesday, 28 October 2009

As it is...

I think it's about time I fessed up! I'm conscious that I'm blogging less, tweeting less and could well appear to be divesting myself of Zero-credit, which I am not. Unequivocally, I am not. You see, I believe that ConkerTU , the project that's taking up so much of my time at the moment, is one of the single most important things I can do to empower individuals to self sustain and live creditfree. 

It's some 18 months since I started my Zero-credit journey of cataloging and classifying creditfree savings and if there's one trend that's made itself abundantly clear, it's that the biggest savings are to be made from reducing our dependence on consumerism. That's why we're launching ConkerTU on International Buy Nothing Day .

Spending less isn't about downshifting to value brands or foregoing life's pleasures either – rest assured that if you're down, both of these so called spending tips will only serve to keep you under. Value foods are packed with cheap fats, carbohydrates, salt and additives (guaranteed to wreck your health), whilst denying yourself the small pleasures which make you feel like an individual will damage any inkling of the "can do" attitude you have.

However, the creativity which abounds when we start to think of what 's possible with the resources around us never ceases to amaze me. Undoubtedly the most inspiring date of late I've had was with Lammas, in Wales last weekend, when so many childhood memories of struggling on my parents' reduced means came flooding back. Everywhere I looked there were reminders that we used to do this or I could do that.

Another great find last week was just for the love of it  a superb skill sharing site which my ConkerTU partner, Phil Campbell, and I came across through the lovely people at Buy Nothing Day – have you heard of Mark Boyle who's been living without money for a year? Yes! It can be done - freecomonists prove it!

Now whilst news like this fills me with joy and I want as many links to it up on this site ASAP, there's only so much I can do. As well as running Zero-credit and launching ConkerTU, I'm a full time mum and I work three to four days a week as a secondary school teacher, because I need to pay my bills. I also love teaching and am finding myself a much better teacher for bringing inspiration like the above into class – that's what it's all about right, securing our future?

So, where does that leave us, by which I mean you and me? Well, if I'm quiet, don't give up on me – I'm probably blogging for Freshties or ConkerTU. For Zero-credit, I've plans afoot over the next couple of months to make my blogging, tweeting and general levels of engagement a whole lot easier - darn I need to get away from my paper ridden kitchen table and this beat up old laptop! You'd laugh if you saw this, honest! 

If you like what I've been saying for the last four months, then e-mail me at zerocredit.emma@googlemail.com to add your own voice to the sustainable and creditfree debate or just add your comment on one of these blogs. And rest assured, the debt mongers and poverty peddlars won't get rid of me that easily!

Posted @ 10:22:04 on 28 October 2009

Thursday, 22 October 2009

My Age of Stupid

What do you understand by digital inclusion? Do you harbour an ideal of the logistical barriers to public service being torn down by our ability to access information? I do – which is why I am so frustrated this morning. My motivation is at its lowest ebb for some time. Odd, you might say, given that I recently blogged: “Vertical learning curves are great” over at http://conkertu.tumblr.com .

Motivation is critical to me. In my prior life as a social researcher, I measured it to chart service satisfaction, with my current alter-ego as part-time teacher I use it to keep adolescents engaged. For nearly twenty years, my mantra has been “what is the carrot?” for interviewing, survey design, lesson planning, this site. There isn't much I haven't consumed to ensure that those watching, reading and listening stay focused and continue to do so. Content is king. 

But I am increasingly uncertain as to what content means nowadays. As CMS's diversify, there seem to be ever more tools to present material which is less about message than medium. I am reminded of ICT lessons in which kids spend hours experimenting with features instead of focusing on what's conveyed, for an outcome which looks great, but shows little other than a knowledge of how to shift from one slide to the next. 

I'm feeling stupid this morning because I'm at a loss with Google Wave. It's yet another tool I need to master in order to disseminate ideas and I don't have enough time to make a decent job of it, yet. Ideas come first. At times like this, I feel I'm constantly playing catchup and I wonder if anyone really has the time to digest anything at all before moving on to the next new medium or API.

Don't get me wrong, I'm exctied by the flexibility. There are some great ideas out there, but set in the context of the superb cider producer I met at a farmers' market last weekend - who doesn't have a website because he hasn't got the time - I for one start to wonder who does? My first reaction was, “well, how stupid is that?” - probably what yours is now, but hang on. You see, if our cider producer chose to have a site, he'd need to research how to create it, find a supplier to host it, then start worrying about traffic once it was live. And if that meant producing less cider, it would be a very great shame.

Supposing he outsourced? There's a host of “experts” who gladly part the unsuspecting from their cash and my guess is our cider producer would probably dodge the bulk of those. Most folk who’ve been in business for a while can spot a cowboy when they see one. Next up are the blind leading the blind, on a road paved with good intentions, those big fish in little ponds who won't admit defeat. I've been guilty of the same myself, for how else do we learn what interests us most? Last but not least, is the myriad of folk who are so with-it that it hurts, and amongst whom we feel stupid for asking what we don't yet understand. Small wonder I'll be phoning for my scrumpy stash!

I don't pretend to have answers. Digital media are with us and with us they shall stay. By no means do I see that as a bad thing, either, for there are a great many good folk out there, inspiring and sharing in all that they do. However, if I, as literate, computer literate and post-graduate educated can find the process a challenge, what of those with fewer skills at their disposal? Digital inclusion is so much more than connection or post. At some point, it has to include a commitment to dialogue and that, my friends, is a two way street. 
Posted @ 00:31:17 on 22 October 2009

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Zero-credit's future ??? you decide!

It's coming up to a year since I left my full time permanent job. I had my ovaries out just over a year ago as a precaution against the breast and ovarian cancer gene I inherited from my mother. At the time, I hated every minute of it. It was difficult to come to terms with lost energy - it still is - although perhaps now my lethargy has more to do with the sedentary hours spent writing and researching in one medium or another. I was very out of puff walking around Conkers with Phil Campbell yesterday.

I've woken this morning with the thought that I need to exercise more and then recalled that I had pencillled in going to a gym from October half term as I should have settled into my routine of part time teaching and Zero-crediting from then. It all sounds very organised, but Zero-credit keeps growing through increasingly unexpected avenues - hardly surprising given it started life as a book and I knew nothing of social media until last June. ConkerTU is the current diversification, a programme of eight annual tweet ups in the Heart of the National Forest to promote sustainable living: http://conkertu.tumblr.com/ 

If you've been following this blog, then you'll know that Zero-credit is about so much more than living on the cheap. Budget lines are often a false economy. Much as I teach kids that we want to work smart, not hard, Zero-credit demands that you source savvy to sustain a preferred lifestyle. My treat is invariably a good holiday, yours may be film, music or sport and we can only indulge in these things when we accept compromise elsewhere. Still, I do wonder if Zero-credit will ever self-sustain so that I may pursue writing new. 

It's hard. Living on just over half of my prior income is hard. I can maintain the status quo, as I should not have taken this route if I could not keep my family. However, it's the investments in the future which require some thought and I have no financial model for Zero-credit as yet, although I'm beginning to think that charitable status is the logical conclusion. It's getting there which confounds me - I want feedback, another opinion.

In the immediate term, Zero-credit needs a couple of grand. My laptop is on its last legs - fit for word processing and that's about it - and for mobility's sake, I'd like an i-phone, although the finances are a huge stretch. More than anything, I'm asking you to leave a comment today. Some have said I should use Adsense, although based on the ease with which I pasted the “debt standard” into this blog, I'm most wary of that. Others have suggested enabling donations to be made. 

I believe that Zero-credit needs to remain a free resource for anyone wanting or needing to access a credit free lifestyle. My logic is emotive - our failure to respond to articles such as that in The London Evening Standard on 2nd October about a mother who drowned her son and attempted to kill herself over unmanageable debt is barbaric. Indeed, until UK debt advice is free from irregularity, Zero-credit needs to exist. My question is, how would you like me to ensure that? 

Posted @ 07:01:04 on 15 October 2009 

Friday, 9 October 2009

Why we cannot accept bipartisan Britain

My brother just called. I was about to get an early night before the end of yet another busy week and now, I cannot. He's just told me about The Findhorn Community in Scotland, because it fits in with the amazing hyperlocal, sustainable project that Phil Campbell, Steve Hamilton at Conkers and I are working on – more very soon, I promise. However, you really ought to take a look at Findhorn:

Incredible isn't it? I mean from a group of people who had conversations with God in a public lavatory to a UN recognised charity with exemplar sustainable living over a period of 40 years, that's green shoots of recovery and then some! 

I believe that Findhorn demonstrates precisely the kind of creativity and innovation upon which all of our futures depend: call it blue sky thinking or thinking outside of the box, whichever. I say this because we've swung left, right and back again for 40 odd years and all we are being offered, even now, is more of the same – a clamp down on benefit scroungers, inefficiency cuts and electoral boundary changes to put the kybosh on meaningful opposition. I mean, do you really believe that the ten per cent reduction in MPs will be democratic? Come on – that's vote rigging.

Manifestos seem less defined by politics than simply not being the party in power and wanting to be so. Is your vote worth so little that you are prepared to compromise your beliefs in the quagmire of tactical voting which prolongs this suffocating stranglehold? 

Answer me this, too: if a group of unusual hippies in a remote part of Scotland can lead the world in sustainable living, how on earth can it not be possible that someone who has no experience of Government will do a half decent job?

Add to my reasoning a recent mailshot asking me whether I was going to vote “Conservative, Labour or Don't Know”, and the assumption that I have no choice seems malevolent to say the least. In fact, the only alternative cited with any regularity by the “main parties” appears to be the BNP – undoubtedly because they're considered so beyond the pale, that we shall willingly fall back into the ranks of the bipartisan voting masses.

Now, do not for one minute assume that I'll be voting BNP, for I can give them a fine lesson in Welsh Nationality and the reasons why none of them should be here. And do not expect me to have decided how I shall vote yet either, for I want to hear real discourse and debate, ideas and beliefs before I make my decision. All I do ask is that you too, have the courage of your convictions and vote this time for someone or something you truly believe in.

Posted @ 21:36:13 on 08 October 2009

Friday, 2 October 2009

Bangernomics Guest Blog Part 2, by James Ruppert

Bangernomics cars are not Bangers 
Basically bangers are a lot better than they used to be. Cars built in the last decade or so are tough, reliable and right now cheaper than ever. Automotive downshifting has never been less painful or more financially sensible. Used cars have never been cheaper. In the last few years the fall in new car prices, cheap finance and a culture of increasingly rapid automotive obsolescence has meant that cars past their fifth birthday now cost marginal amounts of money. 

The Perfect Banger
Defining a banger is getting harder, but ideally it should be any used car that you can afford to buy and run on your budget. No loans, you own it outright and live within your automotive means. The ideal Bangernomics vehicle will be simple, possibly a little dull, but never down and out. Go for popular makes like Ford, Vauxhall and Rover because parts will be easy to find and cheap. Even better find an old Nissan, Toyota or Mazda that won’t ever breakdown. Four door saloons are cheaper than more practical hatchbacks. Don't be fussy about colour, white, non-metallic greens or browns are always going to be less popular and therefore cheaper. Avoid too many luxuries that could go expensively wrong, but it is possible to still use a car if the heated seats no longer work. 

Bangernomics means buying wisely
There is no excuse for buying an unroadworthy heap. Used car values are on the floor and it is perfectly possible to acquire a sound vehicle with a full MOT for less than a £1000. Ideally the car should have few owners and some recent history such as service bills and receipts. An AA Data Check (http://www.theaa.com) will tell you whether the car has a hidden history, for instance, it could be an insurance write off, or stolen. Before committing yourself and if you have little mechanical knowledge then a professional AA Vehicle Inspection is recommended. At the very least the car should be freshly MOT'd to guarantee roadworthiness and discover whether anything needs fixing. If it does and the seller won't pay or compromise, then walk away. Always pay cash and never borrow money to finance the car, that way you will be spending what you can actually afford.

Bangers are cheap to run
Firstly you won't want to bother with expensive comprehensive insurance cover, the car would be worth repairing, so third party fire and theft will do. Older cars can be less complex ones. Servicing is relatively straightforward, and changing oil, plugs and filters is within all our capabilities with a 50p Haynes manual from the Oxfam Shop. Yet cars are so much more reliable because of the electronic ignitions and electronic control units fitted to most cars from the 1980s to the mid 1990s rarely fail, or are cheap to replace. Finding a good local mechanic rather than paying through the nose for a franchised dealer charging £60 plus an hour is the key if you don't fancy getting your hands dirty.
So the key to a happy Bangernomic motoring is to cultivate a good relationship with decent local garage that knows you don’t have limitless resources to keep a car on the road. However, replacing simple things like bulbs, or anything straightforward that fails (buying these bits second hand of course) is easy and satisfying. All of us can do periodic oil changes too, absolutely vital to keeping any car, including a banger in good health. 

Bangernomics makes you feel good about owning a car. You will have a warm greenish glow from recycling a used car and prolonging its life and hopefully a slightly larger bulge in your bank balance.

James Ruppert is writing the Bangernomics Bible which he will publish this year and you can visit his site http://www.bangernomics.com for more bangtastic tips.

Posted @ 12:34:27 on 02 October 2009

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