Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Back from Australia, part 1

We just returned from our trip! We went to Australia, partly for my spouse to attend a conference, and partly for vacation.

We spent our first few days at The Grange at Cleveland Winery, where the conference was held. Very posh, and I'm glad we weren't footing the bill. Cleveland Winery is in the Macedon Ranges, a rural area 45 minutes north of Melbourne. Sheep, highland cattle, and alpacas are raised in this area. Alpacas are the cutest!

Among the birds we sighted here were the bright blue male superb fairy-wren and the Australian magpie, which looks like a crow with white markings on its back and wings and has a haunting call.

It was chilly and wet in this part of the country, and we even had hail one evening.

The following weekend, we took a plane to Canberra and then drove up to Magellan Observatory, 1.5 hours northeast of the airport.

Magellan Observatory is like a camp for amateur astronomers. You can rent a cabin, and you can also rent telescopes and other equipment for stargazing. Here's a picture we took of the Keyhole Nebula using their astrophotography equipment:

Magellan Observatory is in a rural area surrounded by brown hills with low-lying scrub and eucalyptus trees, not unlike parts of California during the dry season. Around the observatory, we saw two kinds of parrots: pink-chested, gray-winged galahs, and crimson rosellas with bright red heads and blue markings on the wings. We also saw a herd of kangaroos, but they hopped away before we could get a picture! On the drive back to the Canberra airport, we saw sulphur-crested cockatoos.

Then we headed back to Melbourne for a couple of days, this time staying in the city itself. I really liked Melbourne. It's a diverse, cosmopolitan city, but without Sydney's level of hustle and bustle, so I'm told. It has a mix of modern and Victorian architecture (and some Art Deco thrown in). There are two universities and lots of museums, restaurants, historical sites, and other cultural venues. The city has pretty good transit and a walkable downtown.

Melbourne is something of a chowhound haven. Because of the extensive immigrant influence from nearby Asian countries as well as Europe and Africa, you see a lot of restaurants serving Indonesian, Japanese, Singaporean, Malaysian, Indian, Chinese, Italian, Greek, and South African food. One of my stranger restaurant choices was a fast-food joint called Lord of the Fries.

I had fries with garlic aioli (yum) and a mini-burger with the signature LOTF vegan patty, though the patty was so seasoned and spicy that I couldn't honestly tell you what it was made of. (Still yum.) By the way, Aussies are pretty serious about their fries, which are usually called "chips" (and ketchup is called "tomato sauce"). Servings of fries are huge, and at LOTF, they basically had two sizes: large fries, and a boxful of fries.

And Melburnians are serious about their coffee, more so than any American cities I've seen. I was passing through a shopping mall, and it seemed like each of the four levels had 10 cafés apiece. In the commercial districts, it seems like every third storefront is a café. They do have Starbucks here, but its presence pales beside the overwhelming number of independent cafés.

Coffee (and tea) seem to be pretty big in Australia in general. Every accomodation we stayed at, from the fancy winery to the dingy dorm room, had an electric kettle for making tea or coffee. I especially enjoyed the widespread custom of morning and afternoon tea, which are in addition to (not in place of) breakfast and lunch. It includes not only tea, but some pretty substantial snacks like scones, muffins, fruit, cookies, sandwiches...I'm getting carried away here :)

Another delightful food discovery in Melbourne was the chocolate. Koko Black is a chocolate salon where a hostess seats you and then you order from a menu that contains nothing but chocolate: desserts, hot chocolate, chocolate cocktails, and more. We had hot chocolates and a dessert sampler plate called the Belgian Spoil.

Max Brenner is a another chocolate shop and bar.

The signature item on their drink menu is the "Suckao", a concentrated shot of melted chocolate served in a special flame-warmed mug. Sadly, I didn't get to try it, but I did take home some boxed chocolates.

Haigh's Chocolates is yet another Melburnian chocolate outfit, but I didn't even get to stop in. So many chocolate shops, so little time!

To be continued...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Green job listings at the Ecology Center

This just landed in my inbox from the Ecology Center:
One of the functions of the Ecology Center is to gather and post select eco-related Bay Area job opportunities. If you are looking for jobs related to the environment, sustainability, and social justice, you can find listings in the jobs binder here at our Environmental Resource Center. We've been receiving lots of postings from many local employers, so please come by and check out this free service.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Informational interview questions for post-career-change activists

I've been gathering leads from friends of people who have shifted career directions or otherwise restructured their work life in a way that allows them to spend more time (paid or unpaid) on work in the activism/nonprofit/social change realm. I've started building a list of contacts, and I've also been compiling a list of questions to ask them that would help me learn from their experience and apply it to my own life. Career Changer and Informational Interview Tutorial at Quintessential Careers and Informational Interview Questions at About.com were all helpful during this process. Here's what I have so far:
  • What is your educational background and job history?

  • Do you have a day job separate from your activism? If so, what is it?

  • When you decided to incorporate activism into your life or career, what options did you consider for doing so? How did these options compare in terms of work/life balance and meeting your financial needs?

  • Did you pursue any options that turned out to be dead ends?

  • What jobs and experiences have led you to your present position?

  • If your previous jobs and training were not in your field of activism, how did you switch tracks and get your foot in the door for your activism position?

  • What are the pros and cons of your current work situation?

  • What are the pros and cons of the activism/non-profit field in general?

  • What are your day-to-day tasks and responsibilities in your activism role?

  • Do you have an alternative or unusual work arrangement? (e.g. job share, part-time, non-standard working hours) If so, how did you approach current/potential employers with your proposal for this arrangement? How did you persuade them to accept it?

  • Did you downshift your salary and/or lifestyle in order to take on your activism work? If so, what financial adjustments did you have to make, and how did you handle them? How did you prepare financially before starting your activism work?

  • Is there anything you would have done differently?

  • Do you see yourself following your current path for the foreseeable future? If not, what future directions are you considering?

  • What advice would you give to someone in my situation and with my goals?

  • Do you know anyone else I could talk to?

  • Is it ok if I blog about our conversation? I promise not to use your name, unless you wish me to.
Special questions for ex-/current high-tech workers:
  • Do you have any experience with or opinions about these options I'm considering?

    1. A whole-hog switch to the non-profit career track

    2. Find a tech job within a non-profit

    3. Work for a non-profit that provides tech services to other non-profits

    4. Go into software contracting so I can spend part of the year working for money and part of the year working for causes I support

    5. Go into software contracting and specialize in working for non-profits as a contractor

    6. Look for a part-time software job so I can devote more hours per week to volunteerism/activism

    7. Create a job share arrangement to reduce work hours enough to devote more time to volunteerism/activism

Friday, July 6, 2007

Workshop on switching careers from profit to non-profit

P. tipped me off about this upcoming workshop on Tuesday, August 21 in SF, organized by CompassPoint:

Switching Sectors: Preparing Your Leap from Profit to Nonprofit

From the website: "Are you ready to apply your entrepreneurial or corporate experience to the world of nonprofits? Which of your skills are transferable? What do you need to learn about the culture and working parameters of this arena before you start your job search? Moving from a successful business career to a new career of public service can be both rewarding and challenging. This workshop will help you prepare for this move and avoid common missteps and “culture shock” while maintaining your enthusiasm to make a difference. We’ll review how to assess your readiness for nonprofit leadership and the similarities and differences in business terms, communications, and organizational culture."

Registration fee is $35.

They have another workshop on Wednesday, August 1 whose description intrigued me:

Sustaining a Life of Meaning and Joy: Leadership and Soul in the Workplace

Again, from the website: "Though many of us enter the nonprofit sector to pursue meaningful work, it’s easy to lose sight of our original vision when the working hours are long and the challenges great. In this session we will look at how you can be a more effective leader and take better care of yourself."

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Discussing non-profit career moves and green lifestyles over lunch

Yesterday I had lunch with P., a fellow conspirator in making the switch to non-profit careers that embody our values. Some topics we covered:

P. wants to bring the Green Team Project to the environmental interest group at her workplace, but has had difficult reaching the staff at the Green Team Project. I suggested the Northwest Earth Institute course materials as a possible alternative: their discussion courses include Global Warming, Choices for Sustainable Living, and Exploring Deep Ecology. Jane Rothstein runs the NWEI global warming class at Stanford; maybe she could be a resource.

P. also wants to reduce the waste stream at her workplace cafeteria by getting them to replace their disposable food service containers and utensils with biocompostables. The folks at World Centric in Palo Alto know a thing or two about compostables; I'll get in touch with them to ask about local commercial composting facilities and institutional efforts to switch to compostables. P. currently takes her personal compostables to Campbell and will take them to Whole Foods in the future if they introduce their composting program at their new Cupertino location.

We discussed these two events again: CompassPoint Nonprofit Day on Thursday, July 12 in San Francisco, and the Craigslist Foundation's Nonprofit Boot Camp on Saturday, August 18 in Berkeley. Registration has closed for the CompassPoint event, but P. is going to see if she can get in as a event volunteer. This seems like a generally sound strategy for attending a conference for free. If it works, she'll save $150. The Craigslist Foundation event looks like it's still open for signups, and the registration fee is $50 which is more accessible. Now, we need to figure out how to get to Berkeley in the most carbon-efficient but practical manner. Anybody out there in cyber-land want to come with us? We could all carpool to BART and ride BART over.

Kepler's Books in Menlo Park is launching GO-GREEN, a summer series of presentations on environmental topics. One of the presentations on Sunday, August 19 is "Don't Stop at Changing Your Light Bulbs, Green Your Career", which intrigued both of us. P. will attend, and I'm considering attending.

I mentioned Acterra's Be the Change environmental leadership training program. They are extending their application deadline until they fill all 30 slots. My friend A. completed this program; I'll contact her and see if she can talk with P. about Be the Change as well as the environmental initiatives she worked on at Stanford and elsewhere.

Note to self: I'd like to get in touch with my friend V. and see whether he would be willing to talk to P. and me about his switch from high-tech to an activist career.

The book How To Live Well Without Owning A Car came up in conversation. P. read it and gave it a thumbs-up. The table of contents and the first two chapters are available online as a free PDF download; I'd like to take a peek at these.

Speaking of cars and of commutes, my spouse and I would like to find an apartment closer to Palo Alto so he can commute by bike instead, but it's pricey up there. P. suggested looking at Menlo Park; rents may be more reasonable, and we might still be able to find a location with a good bike route to his office.

P. mentioned several things she is doing to reduce her energy usage and waste stream, like line-drying her laundry, bringing her own reusable take-out container to restaurants for leftovers, reusing bags/containers for buying bulk bin items at the grocery store, and keeping reusable bags handy for shopping trips (and forgoing such trips if she doesn't have a shopping bag with her). I was inspired by her actions and by her discipline. Regarding energy conservation, I thought I was hot stuff with my monthly electricity bill of $10-$15, but P.'s latest bill was $5!!! I bow to the PG&E energy conservation goddess!!!