Why fluctuating income is alright

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Be responsible, not naïve

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. April 7, 2015

Take a look at your finances: do they look the like the peaks and valleys of North Vancouver? Probably, right? Many of us dream of a consistent cash flow where we can buy what we need and still have extra money to get what we want. However, for most of us in college, university, or simply pursuing a volatile career, we cannot always bet that funds will be there when we need them. So does that mean we are destined for a life of uncertainty?

Now, I’m not going to guarantee your success. Living on a fluctuating income is anything but a guarantee, so I’m not going to sugarcoat it. There will be days where paycheques are bursting from your wallet and other days where you are certain bankruptcy is just around the corner. The highs will be high and the lows will be horrendous. The key for living with inconsistency is to even out the peaks and valleys so there is some certainty.

When you do have an influx of money, don’t spend it immediately on something frivolous. Pocket it. Prepare for those downhill moments when a few extra dollars can make a big difference. Break it down to what you must have and what you could have, the leftover bits can then be set aside for indulgences like a night out, a new piece of technology, or a trip somewhere exotic—the choice is yours.

Think of your income as a whole entity and then break it up into various parts performing different duties for you. Determine an amount for savings and investments. I’m not the biggest believer in savings, because I enjoy living for the moment. The thing is I don’t want to be hungry and living on the street. If work dries up or an accident happens, make sure you have a bit of a cushion. Tax-free savings tend to be a good option for students and post-graduates because of the low-risk money saving attributes. You won’t get rich, but it might save you from being broke. Then determine what you have for survival: rent, food, fuel, and social life.

Don’t be naïve. It’s true that in the end everything will probably be alright—after all, we live in a society where nobody starves. Alright might mean returning home to your parents. Alright might mean being in debt for a few decades more than expected. Alright might mean job-hunting for several more seasons. Alright can mean different things to different people. You don’t want to be alright, you want to be well-off. So with something like inconsistent income, it’s critical to be responsible and resist lifestyle inflation until you have established some balance. Peaks and valleys are great for a rollercoaster, but it’s sure exhausting on a daily basis.

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No extended invitation for selfie sticks

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Music festivals deem photography tool narcissistic and unsafe

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. April 7, 2015

To Coachella and Lollapalooza, well done. Way to take a stand against the selfie stick—an abomination. In a world where we are so self-centred, snapping images of our daily features, our meals, and our mundane everyday tasks, it’s about time we sever the need to turn all the attention on us.

Music events like Coachella and Lollapalooza are the settings for memories (at least, you should try to limit your alcohol consumption so you can remember it). They’re grand spectacles, but they’re also events you have to share with thousands of other people. The concerts are not just for you, even though you’ve paid to attend and participate.

Perhaps selfie sticks have gotten a bad rap for being self-indulgent and the people using them are often seen as being inconsiderate. However, I believe the main problem with selfie sticks is the cultural acceptance of them. Many of us have accepted the fact that if you want to take a good picture of yourself, an extending stick with a little grip at the end is the apt tool to do it. First of all, you don’t need a good picture of yourself at a music festival or anything else. What good does a picture of your face and a blurry background do?

If you want to take pictures, capture candid moments, not contrived compositions. If you want a group picture, invite someone to help you take it. Most people are eager to help you capture a genuine moment between friends. More often than not it turns out better too. If you want a true memory of the event, you shouldn’t be taking pictures of yourself, you should be focussing the camera the other way, capturing your surroundings and the people around you. Or better yet, put the camera away for a bit and just savour the moment.

Admit it, it’s already bad enough that so many people are holding cameras and smartphones above their heads to record concert performances. There is no way to stop that. We have already sunk too deep into that realm to reverse the habit. But there is still time to keep selfie sticks out of our cultural norm. We don’t have to be slaves to our own narcissism. It’s time we use forward-facing products to enhance our experiences, not the kind that fish for compliments and are designed for bragging rights.

Immigrating meals

Image via Minghong via flickr.com

I’m ready for an international food chain in Canada

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. April 7, 2015

The world is full of interesting fast-food restaurants, all with their little unique flares and flavours. And I’m ready to taste them all. However, when you are travelling abroad you might not want to sample fast-food. It’s not exactly the glitzy, adventurous choice. Nevertheless, making a detour to see what they have on the McDonald’s menu in some foreign country is always a must.

With the news that the famous Filipino burger joint Jollibee and the US chicken hotspot Chick-fil-A are joining the Canadian market, I am thrilled. New fast-food restaurant openings are my World Cup and Olympics; they don’t happen often, and it’s not really that big of a deal, but still it makes me happy. Let’s take a moment to remember how happy we were to see Carl’s Jr.

That was a nice moment.

Now let’s take a look at some fast-food joints that I look forward to having, or would love to have in Canada—Vancouver specifically.

Jollibee (Philippines): In 2011, I had the opportunity to visit the Philippines. One image that stuck in my mind during that trip was all the signs with a big-eyed, red-faced, cartoon character. It was essentially the McDonald’s golden arches. The fact that they served spaghetti could not be ignored; I had to try it. Although the experience in the Philippines was lacklustre to say the least, the novelty stayed with me. There was a lot of charm to Jollibee that was absent in some other fast-food restaurants. For a lack of a better word, it was cute—like going to a Build-A-Bear store. It’ll be a treat to visit one in Vancouver.

In-N-Out Burger (US): It’s unlikely that we’ll be ordering from an In-N-Out Burger in Canada anytime soon. Owners of this popular American fast-food chain don’t believe in franchising and have high-quality standards, meaning none of their products are ever frozen. They cannot expand effectively without lowering standards. The fact that everything is processed and delivered locally is really what makes it so awesome. I’ll just stick with Carl’s Jr. for now.

Voodoo Doughnut (US): If you’ve ever been to Portland, you’ve probably seen the long lineup for customizable doughnuts. Purely a tourist attraction, I’m still intrigued by how a doughnut with random toppings on it would taste. Still, I’m not going to waste my trip to Portland standing in line for doughnuts. It’s just not going to happen. Nevertheless, I feel like buying a bag of Skittles and going to Tim Hortons wouldn’t have the same effect.

Bob’s (Brazil): The fact that there is a restaurant with such a generic name—which also might have inspired the popular animated series—is charming enough. In Rio de Janeiro, Bob’s is almost everywhere. It might as well be McDonald’s number one competitors there. Aside from the name, there isn’t much differentiating them from any other fast-food restaurant. We don’t need another Americanized fast-food joint, but variety is as nice as an Ovaltine milkshake.

Shake Shack (US): Why do I want to go back to New York? Because the last time I went there, Shake Shack was closed when I walked by. The world-famous burger shack—strategically placed around the city and in various states—was well-praised for its burgers and hot dogs. You’d think I’d get sick of burgers, but with so many critically acclaimed burgers in the world, I must make sure that it is in fact better than the classic Big Mac.

Keep your head up

Photo of Chris Borland via http://www.onthebrain.com/

Are our passions worth dying for?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. April 7, 2015

When the San Francisco 49ers’ 24-year-old star linebacker, Chris Borland, walked away from the game as a precaution against life-crippling head injuries, many were left puzzled and rather frustrated. The puzzlement came from the fact that Borland was stepping away from more than a sport; he left a huge salary, an extravagant lifestyle, and a future of athletic achievements behind. Many would kill to get the opportunity that Borland had and it’s frustrating that the NFL has created an environment where playing a sport professionally has become akin to self-endangerment.

“From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk,” said Borland in an interview with ESPN. Then he added, “I just want to live a long, healthy life, and I don’t want to have any neurological diseases or die younger than I would otherwise.”

Nobody can argue against a statement like that. We live in a world where we are driven to excel. We work so hard that we are all certainly on the verge of our breaking point. I speak not only of football, but also of life in general. We push ourselves to the limit and we cannot always be certain that our human body and our state of mind can handle the strain.

In the critically acclaimed movie Whiplash—a story about a jazz student striving to be the best drummer possible—we learn what true passion mixed with unquenchable determination can do to someone, especially after an instructor puts them through physical and psychological hell. The movie made the point plain and simple: blood, sweat, and tears were merely the byproduct of success, in addition to the mental strain. In life we should all be so fortunate to have something that we are passionate about, that we can devote our whole life to, that we can one day be remembered for, and when it’s time and we are on our death bed, we can say that we did all we could and then pass away happy.

Borland will live a long life, but he will lose all those glorious moments. Forget the money. There are many ways for an able-bodied man like Borland to make money. What I want to focus on are the intangible moments of life. Life is not everlasting. It’s made up of moments of intensity and long periods of anticipation. Borland will never feel the thrill of standing in front of 60,000 people. He will never lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy in victory. He will only be remembered as a man who merely lived a healthy life. Admirable, but far from inspiring—at least that is how our overachieving society will consider him.

I want to congratulate Borland for his courageous decision, but I won’t. It’s hard to celebrate a quitter. It’s hard to praise a ‘fraidy cat. It’s hard to look up to someone who is a coward. Many people get injured or die on the job, from McDonald’s employees to construction workers to professional athletes. Life is full of uncertainty—disease, accidents, strange twists of fate all happen to normal people—and to simply write yourself off because of a likelihood of injury, well that is pure defeat.

Injustice and other unfairness of life

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What is our relationship like with injustice?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 31, 2015

The world is full of injustice. It could be a driver taking your parking spot, a dickhead keying the side of your vehicle, or a tow truck pulling your car away. When we think of injustice we often think of those frustrating situations where our instinctual reaction is fight or flight. We get angry, we want to confront the person for cutting in line. We want to throw a punch at the clerk for overcharging us. We want to lash out because we treat injustice as a direct punishment for a crime we didn’t do. We are victims.

Life is full of these situations where we are left feeling helpless. There is no immediate solution; we simply have to rise above it. If our first thought when something bad happens is to make someone else’s life worse, then we are fuelling more injustice in the world. Your fury will not get you the parking spot you wanted, it won’t fix the side of your car, and it won’t carry you to the impound. We need to understand that there are people in the world who are pricks. They take their anger out on others and get satisfaction for it. We must stand up for ourselves, but we cannot become like them. We are the solution.

Mistreatment and unfortunate situations are a part of life. There is not a microscope on you catching you at your weakest and harming you when you least expect. We are all governed by the ebb and flow of fortune and sometimes we catch the bullshit in the face. Once we understand that everybody steps in a puddle or gets nudged in a crowded space, we can learn to operate with some self-preservation and human decency. We are the change.

We cannot control other people, we cannot control the malfunctioning mechanism of the universe, we cannot force an apology, but we can change our mindset. Our self-interest is a powerful force and it often clouds our perception. We must be well-adjusted people and handle injustice with grace and humility.

It’s unlikely that the man who cut in front of you to get the prime parking spot was rushing into the store to buy medicine for his wife, who had not left the bed in days—but it could be exactly what’s happening. He could have just come from work, where he is pressured to perform as cutbacks are being issued. He wants to get in and out as quickly as possible and return to his crappy life. He wants to relax, make dinner, and go to sleep early so that he can go back to work tomorrow ready to grind it out some more. Suddenly, your injustice seems like a childish tantrum. We are all victims.

Being an adult means being able to handle these injustices and transform them into knowledge, experiences, and wisdom. There is a reason for everything that happens, and perhaps the greatest injustice in the universe is when we don’t learn from the unfairness, so that we may prevent or at least mitigate it in the future.

Home is where your stuff is

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Why there is nothing wrong with staying home

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 31, 2015

There is often this bludgeoning urge to go out and seize the day. On a Friday night, it sure seems like everyone is eager to make something of it, but more often than not, it just means going to the same restaurant or bar, with the same people, and stumbling home to a well-deserved Saturday morning hangover. With such a great desire to make it to the weekend or holiday break, maybe we should take some time to relax and just stay home.

I love travelling. It’s the passion that drives my very existence. Knowing that I have some place to go in the near future excites me the same way a new superhero movie may excite other people. I love travelling, but commuting sucks. Being out of my natural environment, the little niche I created for myself, sucks. I dislike long bus rides, and I can barely speak English let alone any other languages, so communicating in a foreign place is always a lengthy game of charades. I love travelling, but I can’t imagine doing it all the time.

Staycation, the term coined for the act of staying at home during a long weekend or a holiday season, is a perfectly reasonable way to take a break. Regular day-to-day life is stressful to say the least, and travelling—especially with a group—whether it’s down to the pub or to the other side of the world, is no less exhausting.

It’s a good idea to get out of the house once in a while and experience something other than television shows and instant noodles. But if you find yourself dashing here and there on a daily basis, stop, take a moment, lie down in your bed, walk out into your garden, open your closet, look out your window, scan your bookshelf, survey your pantry, and experience the very place you live in.

The grass may always seem greener. You look at a picturesque image of a beach in Thailand, you look at the happy photos of friends drinking in a bar, and you feel tempted. Embrace that temptation should it happen. Don’t force yourself to stay at home, but don’t force yourself to go out either. The choice is yours. Nevertheless, if your choice is to stay home, know this: you are going to have the freedom to do whatever you want, wear whatever you want, and nobody will kick you out or charge you a $10 cover to enter. You can fall asleep without having to transit home. You can leave a mess and nobody will get angry. You can listen to your own music, watch the shows you like, read the books you want, and eat the food you cooked.

Home is not a prison; it’s where your stuff is, and you’ve worked hard for all your stuff.

Too epic for words

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How I feel about the ‘Game of Thrones’ television series surpassing the novel saga

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 31, 2015

As season five of Game of Thrones commences, show runner David Benioff and D.B. Weiss revealed that the adaptation will indeed surpass the books.

The anticipated sixth part of Song of Ice and Fire saga by George R. R. Martin, Winds of Winter, has been one of the most anticipated novels of our generation. The reason is because many who enjoyed the books two decades ago were able to relive the journey of war, love, and betrayal through the HBO series. Many more discovered the books through the show and have spent off-seasons catching up on their reading, comparing it with the on-screen version. However, it appears as though the television show will have its finale before the last novel is published. This is ultimately going to leave many book lovers like me forlorn.

I’m a big believer in reading the books first and then watching the adapted version. There is an intimacy to reading that cannot be translated on screen. True, many movies and television shows have done terrific jobs giving life to words. Game of Thrones is definitely one of them and I have little doubt that the ending will surely be epic. Needless to say, I wanted to read the grand conclusion first, soak it in, indulge in the details, and feel the pages transfer from my right hand to the left as characters perish. Of course, I can stop watching the show, hold off, and wait patiently for the books. But knowing Martin’s process, I could wait a lifetime.

As a viewer, I have always separated the novels from the show. Many of the details get lost in the recollection, but the framework is what matters. When the show concludes and all those who are reading the novels see the winners of the game of thrones, will they return to the books and finish it? Will the ending be significantly different? I believe those are now the questions for viewers going into the next season. For a while, those who had caught up on the novels have been keeping their lips shut, limiting their chances of spoiling the story; but now, every viewer will be on the same page. For a story of such magnitude, I think that is fitting.

I like the idea of a series of books having a longer lifespan than a television show. To me it proves how challenging it is to write, edit, and publish a novel. Martin’s tale of Westeros is a feat that will go down in storytelling history. There will come a day when the show ends and the last novel in the seven-part series, A Dream of Spring, is available in stores. On that day, all the true fanatics will relive the experience again through the written words. When the show ends, the story will continue.

Cash and burn

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Welcoming a world without cold hard cash

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 23, 2015

With the ubiquity of credit cards and mobile payment, fewer and fewer people are carrying cash with them on a daily basis. I barely ever carry cash around, just a couple of bills in case of an emergency—like if a hot dog stand doesn’t accept debit. Aside from that, I rely mostly on my cards and mobile device to pay for my purchases. If suddenly cash ceased to exist, I don’t believe it would affect me much.

In a way, I believe cash will inevitably become obsolete, the same way gold coins at a market can only get you odd looks. Cash, after all, costs money to make, which is a paradox worth some time pondering. In a 2014 poll conducted by Leger Marketing, 56 per cent of Canadians reported that they would be happy to never touch money again and only use digital wallets. If you are currently relying predominantly on cash, it’s a probably a good time to start implementing a more modern way of payment. After all, the new way is more organized, it’s more accessible, and it’s even cleaner.

Relying on another form of payment aside from cash is a reliable way of keeping track of funds. Payment and banking innovations have changed the way people handle money. Instead of having a roll of fat cash in your pocket or a stack of bills in your wallet, you’ll just have a number. No more miscounting or miscalculations. There will come a day when we will never have to fumble with change to tip our server or board the bus. It’ll simply be taken off your credit, tab, or account.

Security is a still a prime concern for those engaging in digital payment. In a cashless world, frauds, privacy infringements, and identity theft will be ever-present crimes. There is no reason to be afraid of such an incident as long as we are responsible. Muggings and robbery have been happening for ages, in every form of currency from coins to chickens. Crime is a natural part of the system, and the security infrastructure currently in place is as dependable as any infrastructure to protect a person’s valuables.

We are approaching the world without cash. Maybe it won’t happen this decade, but if trends are to continue we will be relying on the dollar bills less and less. We will be buying stuff with cards, tokens, codes, and whatever else our smartphone utilizes. Our money will always be in our control, but how we interact with it is changing. Social media is a now a payment transaction vehicle. I’m ready for it. It’s going to make spending easier, and for those who hate shopping, like me, I’m eager to get what I want without thumbing through my hard-earned money.

Your device puts you in public

Photo illistration by Joel McCarthy (photos via Thinkstock

Is there such a thing as digital privacy

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. March 25, 2015

The more we know, the more frightened we become, but that shouldn’t be the case. Technology has pushed people to the fringes of paranoia. The devices in our bags and pockets know more about us today than our parents do. Every action we make, every item we purchase, and every person we correspond with is ultimately recorded to some hard drive library or in the ether. And that data is combined into a harmless stat for marketers, law enforcers, and other faceless benefactors.

While it seems like we are closer to an Orwellian present, we are far from danger. I don’t believe information will be used against us for evil—at least, not unless we’ve done something wrong. I think what people need to start understanding is that the device they hold in their hand as they fall asleep at night is as close to being in a public place as waiting for the bus on the side of the road. Whatever you are doing is not important, but someone will probably see you. They might just be passing by in a vehicle or strolling by minding their own business, but you are there.

There are witnesses for our actions. Behaving as if the world is watching should in fact be our way of thinking when we use our smartphone to log onto the Internet. We have grown too comfortable with our devices. We treat them as our closest ally, never to betray us. But in fact it’s not your friend, it’s inanimate, and it’s a window into the outside world. Living through your device is essentially living in a glass house for everyone to see.

The devices are not the scary things. There is nothing scary about tools and appliances. We should not worry about an oven, but we should worry that if we leave the oven on, we’ll probably burn down our house. We are only now beginning to understand the damage our negligence can do through our electronic devices. Maybe there will never be a day when people are arrested for being drunk on the Internet. But being belligerent and harmful online is by no means an un-punishable act.

We need to start using our devices with responsibility. We need to learn that what we do there is not private. Even if you have a passcode to your phone and a complicated password for your accounts, someone somewhere knows it. A device is not a home you can secure, it’s a vehicle that takes you to sites worth visiting, and you share these sites with billions of other people.

In and out of the net

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What has the Internet turned us into?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. March 23, 2015

When we think of the Internet we think about the free flowing traffic between us and endless information and connections. Without having to put on shoes or brush our teeth we can go shopping, hang out with our friends, attend a course, and watch a movie. That is the Internet we know of.

As our dependency on the World Wide Web increases and technology advances, the Internet becomes more than a research data base, social meet-up, and entertainment resource. Like a plant growing fast and wild, branches and roots stray off in directions away from our periphery. The Internet is also now a cliquey underground society fulfilling the needs of those who want smut, drugs, and other products not readily available at Wal-Mart.

The dawn of the Internet—sometime during the late ‘90s—changed the face and other body parts of the pornography industry and the way criminals corresponded, exchanging insight. Remember when free porn was like a hidden gem and “how to make a bomb” articles were the red flag keywords?

As the web progressed, leaked photographs, stolen identities, and bootlegging have become the norm. We are no longer fazed by these wrongdoings. We condemn them, sure, but the lawlessness of the Internet does not institute any repercussions. Click away, delete, or access a different hard drive and we’ll be safe. As the law tries to end torrent sharing sites such as Pirate Bay, it seems they may never stop the numerous illegal acts occurring on the Deep Web, an area of the Internet not indexed by standard search engines.

As of 2001, the Deep Web was believed to occupy a space 400 to 500 times larger than the Internet we normally access, our surface web. Here are some numbers that might give you a better idea: over 10 years ago, the size of the Deep Web was estimated to be about 92,000 terabytes, which is 92,000,000 gigabytes. But all the numbers are merely speculation, because there is no real way to measure it. What makes the Deep Web worrisome to some? Well, can you imagine a physical place where you can buy a quarter gram of Afghan heroin, various firearms, fake identification, and hire an assassin? No? Well, on the Internet, there are hundreds and thousands of places.

The way we make money has changed thanks to the Internet. The way I make money is through content creation. I write marketable copy for different companies from tech to arts. My job would not exist without the Internet. However, many are choosing different avenues online to make a living as well: e-commerce, SaaS, and monetized user generated content. The last one in the list is interesting, because people can literally sell a show from the comforts of their own home. It can be a video blog like the kind you watch on YouTube, it can be a video game commentary like the kind you see on Twitch, and it can be pornography like the kind you find on MyFreeCams. There is literally a platform for any kind of entertainment you want to produce, and you can make a living doing it. Just try to avoid using public library as your settings.

It’s horribly clear that today we can only truly know a person by understanding their search history. The fact that Google has more information about us than our friends and family says a lot. Our relationships, our knowledge, and the life we’ve created are now a few gigabytes on the Internet. And that is how significant we’ll continue to be as the web, like the universe, continues to expand.