Friday, November 23, 2012

7 Ways Your Money Can Do Good

"I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this any more!" In the classic line from the movie Network, Howard Beale was raging against the gloom of the 70s; the economy, unemployment, bank failures, crime, pollution.

What would the cry of our time be? For me, there's not a lot to be mad as hell about. My life's pretty good. But there are one or two things I'm mad as heck about. For one, I'm mad as heck about Starbucks and other corporations paying zero tax. Their tax avoidance is primarily the fault of the people who make tax laws but as a consumer I can choose not to give my money to companies who are, let's face it, total dicks.

And so I'm boycotting Starbucks. I quite like their Chai Tea Lattes but their Chai Tea Lattes are fattening and just crazy expensive. That was okay until I realised the extent of Starbucks's dickishness. I haven't been in one since it was reported Starbucks UK paid 8 million pounds tax on a turnover of 3 billion. It made me mad as heck and I'm not going to drink it anymore.

So I have a bit more money in my pocket now, and want to use it in an ethical way. You know, to make the world a better place and that.

Here are 7 ways to make your money work for (mostly) good instead of (mostly) evil.

1. Microfinance Charities

When I sicken myself by doing something evil or selfish, which obviously isn't very often, I go to Kiva or Deki (a British version of Kiva) and make a loan to some hard-working entrepreneur. I blogged about that before. My Kiva team has made over seven thousand dollars in loans now.

The best bit is that when the loan gets repaid, I can relend it, and get a hit of smugness again.

2. Creating Employment

You've probably seen some of my comics. Basically I design them and send them off to an artist and they draw it for me and I pay them. It's a win-win-win situation: I win by getting a new blog post, the artist wins by getting some money for their labour and validation for their talent, and society wins by getting quality art.

If you think there's nothing similar you could do, you're probably wrong. Read The 4-Hour Workweek and see if it inspires you.

3. Owning Football Teams

Recently there was a campaign to save the Spanish team Real Oviedo. You could buy shares for 10 euros via paypal and lots of people did, some to say they owned part of a football team, some to help save an important part of the local community.

Then the club said that foreign shareholders would be able to get into games for free. I thought it would be a good excuse to spend a weekend in northern Spain and bought one, as did a few friends. We'll have a nice weekend in Oviedo and we helped save the team. 

Plus we can say that we're business partners with Carlos Slim, the world's richest man. He bought 2m euros of shares. I guess he really, really, doesn't like paying entrance fees.

My Business Partner

4. Funding Circle

Funding Circle is a website which raises finance for British businesses who are being stiffed by banks. A 50,000 pound loan (for example) is broken down into units of 20 pounds which are bought by thousands of people, spreading the risk.

I haven't been using that site for very long but so far I haven't lost any money and my current yield is 9.4%, which is really good. I've invested in 28 companies and as things stand two would have to go bust for me to lose money. 

Apart from making money, I like the concept of the site - supporting local businesses and giving people alternatives to banks.

(If you want to try the site write to me so I can refer you - we'll both get Amazon vouchers.)

5. Rega and Paraplegics

In Switzerland you can offset charity donations against tax. Fine, but I wasn't interested because I already did the microfinance stuff. But my students persuaded me to join two more charities: Rega and the Paraplegic Society. 

Rega is the Swiss air rescue service and costs just 30 francs a year. If you fall down a mountain they'll airlift you out. But the really cool thing is that if you're a member and have a serious accident on holiday, they'll send their amazing hospital plane and fly you back to Switzerland.

The Paraplegic 'deal' is similar (45 francs a year). If you get paralysed they'll give you 200,000 francs to buy wheelchairs and stuff, and give you all kinds of advice and help.

So - if you have an emergency you get taken care of, and if you don't have to use their service you're helping people who do. And you can offset the whole thing against your taxes. Sign me up!

6. Rolling Jubilee

This is the kind of thing I really like, which makes me wonder if I'm actually a communist. Rolling Jubilee is an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, but instead of just being against something, they actually have a concrete way to make things better.

Because financial markets resemble the mind of Lewis Carroll on LSD, it is possible to buy other people's debt for a dime on the dollar. If you owe someone a hundred dollars, I can pay that person twenty dollars and now you owe ME a hundred. The person who sold me the debt is happy because it doesn't matter how much money he loses - the government will bail him out.

So the Rolling Jubilee people buy debt. Having bought it, they simply abolish the debt. Voila! You are now debt free.

As of right now, they have canceled 8.2m dollars of debt from donations of 400k.

I've only made small donations to that. If there's ever a British one I might do more. But mostly I just like the concept and the ten francs I would have wasted in Starbucks gets the shit leveraged out of it. In a good way.

7. Kickstarter

I haven't supported a Kickstarter project yet, but I'm sure I will. It's a way to finance projects, such as a new video game. In return, you get varying levels of stuff depending on how much you've pledged. For example, for 25 dollars you might get the game (when it's finished) plus a poster, while for 100 dollars you get that plus the soundtrack plus they'll name a character after you.

I feel like a lot of the guys behind the project are people like me, and I can totally imagine doing a Kickstarter project one day. If I could get X thousand pounds I could take time off work and write Robots vs Vampires, thus instantly making society 5% better.

If corporations are going to be total dicks, then where possible I will not give them my money.
If there are people who need my money, and they make it easy for me to give it to them, and they are doing something ethical or creative or interesting, they can have it. Especially if I get something in return.

My comics website
My Kiva team
Swiss Paraplegic Foundation
Rolling Jubilee

Sunday, November 18, 2012

My Draw Something Skills

There is a smartphone game called Draw Something. I'm sure you know it and have played it. I'm also sure that you will soon be in awe of my Draw Something skills.

Here's a gallery of some of my drawings. Look upon my works and despair!

Early Work
I started by drawing simple things until my technique improved. Example: sheep; fart.

Artistic Maturity
Having mastered the touchscreen interface, I was able to produce stunning renditions of famous people and places.

Social Comment
Soon, making great art wasn't enough. I began to use the game as an opportunity to communicate with my audience.

The game told me to draw the word 'funeral' for Cecile to guess. So I drew her funeral.

Party time!

Cecile didn't like that and was mad at me for a whole weekend. Then she decided she wanted to be friends again and sent me a sickeningly sweet text message saying that she valued my friendship a lot and wanted to us both to work harder to stay friends.

Fortuitously, Draw Something gave me the word 'vomit' to send to Cecile, so I was able to reply visually.

beep - new message from Cecile "Let's be friends!"

A week later, she forgave me again.

Next I had the chance to subtly suggest to my friend Heidi that she ate like a pig and was gross. I had to draw the word 'fondue' for her, and sent her this:

Heidi getting fondue all over herself like she's trying to absorb cheese through pores in her skin
We haven't eaten together since, but I'm sure she was happy someone helped her correct her misbehaviour.

If I continue with my development as an artist, surely it won't be long before people are paying thousands of dollars to play Draw Something with me. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

I Bleed Assassin's Creed

How to Assassinate Your Friends

There is a small box in my flat which can turn a nerd into a ninja. The box contains a video game called Assassin's Creed.

A few months ago all I did was play and talk about Assassin's Creed and its sequels. The games involve a lot of sneaking around, hiding in crowds, and getting close enough to a target for an undetected kill.

Playing the game led to real-world changes in behaviour. After playing the first game, I stopped carrying coins in my pocket to minimise the noise I made walking. By the time I'd finished the second game every building in Zurich became architecturally fascinating - anything can be climbed.

With my skills, any building can be climbed

After completing Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, I realised I had become a stealth master. A ninja.

I arranged to meet Cecile. She was waiting outside the hotel near my flat. I used the pillars in front of the building to get closer to her, and when she was distracted by the noise of a passing child, I joined a pocket of people heading her way, snuck up behind her and freaked her out. 

Sneaking up behind my best friends and scaring them became my new hobby. I tried to photograph the results for your amusement.

Like this:

Anna preparing lesson

Shocked Anna
Now, while you can clearly see that she's startled, what you can't see is her patting her chest as though her heart's about to burst, and calling me a jerk and a moron and trying to hit me.

Instead of moving on to a different project, like a socially normal person, I decided to invest in one of these:

A head-mounted HD camera!
I put it on and waited for an opportunity to film an 'Anna-sination.'
Sadly the results were poor and I had wasted 35 francs. But then I got an iPhone and could launch sneak attacks anywhere, anytime.

Here are some videos displaying my ninja skills.

Video 1 
Synopsis: Anna is trying to talk to her boss in German. I scare her. She instantly switches to English to swear, and then calls me 'Stupid English'.

Video 2
Synopsis: Cecile thinks she is safe because she is at work. She isn't. "Where were you hiding?!" Upside down on the ceiling, like Batman. True story.

Video 3
Synopsis: My brother has come to Zurich and we're meeting Anna for lunch. I see them heading to the restaurant, and my Assassin's Creed training kicks in.

Assassin's Creed 3 has just been released. Let the ninja training recommence!
. .