Putting a dollar value on the efforts of Volunteers!

Recently a friend posted a link to a job opportunity for a Hiking Instructor at a local municipality that is offering between $21-25 per hour plus benefits. This posting had me thinking, how would we put a dollar figure on the amount of work our volunteer Scout leaders contribute on a annual basis at a comparable market rate.

Actual requirements in the job description are nothing too far off of what most Scout leaders already have, only differences are a class 4 (small bus) drivers license and an advanced wilderness first aid certification ( and with MedVents kicking into high gear, a LOT of our volunteers will have advanced first aid training soon’ish)  - otherwise the ability to purify water, navigate on trails, and generally lead group cohesion is something our volunteers are engaging youth with on a weekly basis!  Plus all of the admin aspect our Scouters need to do (registration, extensive program planning etc) which I may assume is not required in the job posting I read.

I took a look at my Scout Troop’s calendar, and come to think of it, we’re doing a lot of the same things that the job posting was for, we go and take our Scouts on hikes, we teach them to cook, we take them camping in a wide range of environments and we provide them with a lot of opportunities they won’t get anywhere else. I don’t know of too many other groups that go lightweight backpacking, kayaking and geocaching on a regular basis!

So, to quantify it – taking some fairly broad assumptions, I wouldn’t be surprised of the total time our volunteers put in is higher than the numbers I have worked out

  • An average of 2 hours a week in regular meetings, plus half an hour or so of prep for a weekly meeting. 80 hours a year
  • An average of 1 camp every 2 months (at a minimum) and 24 hours a weekend of “working” time minimum per camp. 144 hours per year
  • Other activities and prep, training etc, just to put a figure out there, 40 hours per year

Total: 264 hours per year. If we put a dollar figure at the rate the City is paying for a comparable position of $21 per hour, we are looking at $5500+ per year per volunteer.

Multiply that by 5 very active volunteers I have in my Troop section, we get over $27,000, the entire Scout group, $97,000, the entire country, it’s in the millions dollars of labour donated, each and every year.

Of course, volunteers do it every day, for the love of it, many pay plenty to volunteer.  Gear needed to safely deliver the program costs money, the personal gear you need to deliver program certainly costs a fair chunk of change.  Jamboree and camp fees ($400+ per week for volunteers) are also there.  Think about it, our volunteers are spending their most precious asset, their time, as well as a huge chunk of change, all to deliver program.

It just helps to put things into perspective, without volunteers none of this would happen.  If all the activities we led were covered by paid staff, the camp we cover expenses (food, campsite rental, white gas etc) at $75 for would be costing parents $150-200+ and many trips would be simply not viable for a huge portion of our youth.

The numbers are eye opening, and really goes to prove just how important our volunteers are!  There’s a reason there is a huge Thanks button on Scouts.ca at the moment – with what our volunteers do, it needs to be pressed frequently!

Bright Ideas: Verrus Pay by Phone logic

Recently I’ve had several friends get parking tickets for parking at a meter space and using the “Pay by Phone” feature offered by Verrus (ironically enough, a local Vancouver firm.)

The service works great, most of the time, you park at a meter, you call a phone, punch in the meter space and how long you want to park for and you’re done. It even sends you a reminder when your parking is set to expire so you can add more time remotely without going back to the meter.

One major problem, if you drive multiple cars and have them associated with your cell phone number, the system will default to your last chosen car – so if you’re driving your other car and in a rush and hit pay and go the system will indicate to the parking enforcement officer that you have not paid.

For a service that advertises itself as being about speed (dial one number and go) this doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

Nor does it make sense from a logic point of view. All they need to know is that parking space X has been paid for. You can only get 1 car in a parking spot, so it will be one of the license plates associated with the account. Get rid of the “specific license plate” selection when paying for parking and by default accept any license plate on the account in the spot and all is good.

It saves a tonne of angry customers who knew they paid for parking but got a ticket anyways and makes people want to use, not hate the service.

Just a bright idea…

Bright Ideas: BC Ferries Ticketing

Recently I traveled on BC Ferries from Vancouver to the Gulf Islands (a few kilometers from Victoria) and went via the Tsawassen Swartz Bay Ferry and then took another ferry to get to the island itself. All of this was fine, it was the only scheduling option which worked for me at the time (and direct ferries on this run are practically non existent)

I bought my ticket at the terminal received a boarding pass for the Vancouver-Victoria ferry but not for the second Victoria Gulf Islands ferry. When I asked about this I was told I needed to go thru the ticket lineup at the other end and get another boarding pass there (after waiting in a line)

I understand there is a need to have accurate passenger counts on board ferries, but why not issue one boarding pass / receipt (cut down on paper use) and then use a handheld barcode scanner computer similar to those used at sporting venues to validate someone as boarding the vessel? That way one ticket could work for multiple journeys or barring that, all of the boarding passes could be issued at the point of origination saving the need for a big lineup at the other end.

No idea what the costs would be, but this would enable people to make tight connections on ferries a lot easier rather than running like crazy and hoping you’ll still make the boat.

Things that don’t make sense: Convenience fees for park by phone

Vancouver, like many cities has a pay for parking by phone arrangement as well as at private lots.

It’s all fine and dandy, I call a number, enter the amount of time I wish to park for and volia, I don’t need to go and buy a ticket and put it on my dash. It’s easy and saves me a couple minutes as well as saves the environment a bit by saving paper.

Except, they charge me 35c every time I “buy” parking via the phone. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense, sure, it’s getting charged to a credit card which has fees, but the ticket machine takes credit cards too, so both have credit card fees. Every time the paper is saved, which has to add up to a couple cents as well as less wear and tear on the machine which doesn’t have to be refilled / emptied as often. In short, it’s cheaper to process and maintain a pay by phone payment schema than a physical paper ticket printing machine one.

So, why the extra fee for pay by phone?

If some killer features were enabled on the pay by phone I can see the fee for example..

I park, hit “I’m parked here, charge me until I sign out” – that way if I don’t know how long I’ll be at a lot for, I can rest easy knowing that I won’t get one of those insanely expensive “violation tickets” for not paying enough. The same applies for meter parking, if I can get billed for the exact time used, rather than a fixed block, that’s the advantage.

As is, the only advantage is 30s or so to place a paper ticket in the dash and the tax receipt on the website rather than having to use the credit card one. If pay by phone saves the parking companies money, why charge extra for no real added benefit?

Why online billing / bank statements will not take off

Recently my banks have been on a huge push to get me to subscribe to electronic statements (e-statements) for both my bank statements and credit card bills. The reasons for this are plenty, let alone the environmental aspects it’s costing them at least 52c in postage, likely 10c for an envelope and at least 5c per page to print it (including labour etc)

Factor that with 12 months a year and it’s $8.04 just to mail me a statement for just one account. When one factors in the millions of customers the banks and credit card companies have, it adds up to some serious cash.

Online statements are great in theory, the bill arrives instantly, no chance for it to get lost in the postal system (as too much of my mail has been lately) and lower chances of identity theft. So, why can’t I use it.

Our friends at the CRA (the tax department) require us to keep records for 7 years for anything related to tax purposes. As I (like most people) have some deductible expenses which are proven via bank transactions a statement proving it happened is necessary for 7 years. Some banks (and credit card companies) only store 180 days of online information, half a year and far less than what is actually necessary. Sure, I could print out the statements each month but I would have to remember to do it and I’m not saving anything – it just moves the printing costs directly to my shoulder.

The solution, Canada Post’s e-post an online mailbox for people with important information (bills, tax slips etc) to store your information for the 7 years necessary for legal purposes. I can already get my cell phone bill there (and it stores all of the call history too, so I could see who I talked to 7 years ago) but for some reason my MasterCard (from a large Canadian bank) only provides me with “Minimum Payment, New Balance” and “Due Date” – no transactional history in the e-post copy and their website version only stores a pathetic 3 months worth of data.

Storage is becoming dirt cheap, if you want me to switch to online banking give me the CRA required 7 years history with full transactional history and I’ll switch in a heartbeat.

The ball’s in your court banks and billers. Provide the information you provide in the paper copy to e-post, store it for 7 years and you’ll see people switch in meaningful numbers.

Security Issues: Hotel Room Keys

I have been reading The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security – it is an excellent book which focuses on the weakest link in electronic security – the humans who run the machines. As a result, it has made me see routine interactions in a different light.

As such, I was quite shocked when I checked into a downtown San Diego hotel (from a pretty major chain) and my keycard did not work the next morning when I returned to the room after breakfast.

I went down to the front desk, to an employee who I had not seen before I presented my (generic hotel brand) key and said my door didn’t work. They asked for my room number and proceeded to re-program the key to the room number I had just told them and hand it back to me. I was not asked for identification or any sort of proof that the room was mine or that I had given the correct room number.

Just how hard would it be to present a room key and gain access to any room in the hotel by going to the front desk and saying the key didn’t work. Hotel keycards are pretty common – with the major chains there are literally thousands of identical looking cards sitting around.

3 easy steps to correct the problem:

  1. Ask for identification (you need it to check in anyways)
  2. Verify the room number is the one you had registered
  3. Re-program the key and re-issue

Actual time involved to verify someone’s identity – 3 minutes at most. Knowing that your room is secure from a basic social hack, priceless.

Technology and politics

With both Canada and the United States in the middle of an election campaign it has been interesting to see where the major focus in terms of where the campaigning is happening.

Last time around (for both countries) blogging was somewhat new, Wikipedia wasn’t the top result on next to every Google search, Social networking was in its infancy – facebook had just been founded – and had maybe 10,000 users.

Flash forward to now and it seems that the main battleground is online. We have seen Barack Obama raise millions of dollars from individual donors using the internet as a donation platform. We have seen people write blogs on the on the barackobama.com site itself. We have seen people seek information rather than wait for it to be pushed to them thousands gave their cell phone numbers to receive a text message the second Obama announced his running mate.

This set of elections has brought the rise of wikis to the forefront. We have seen people edit Sarah Palin’s Wikipedia biography before McCain’s pick was released and wiki wars from the parties have become far more common. We have seen the Liberal Party of Canada launch Scandalpedia – a “wiki style” site of attack articles against the Conservative Party of Canada. Likewise in the US we have seen McCainpedia from the Democrats.

We have seen Michael Moore release his film Slacker Uprising for free on the internet for people to download and watch bringing tonnes of publicity to young people to vote a specific direction.

We have facebook groups galore devoted to political causes, the social networks are becoming heavily politicized and are another front on the political battleground. For example the opposition to the Canadian DMCA aka Bill C-61 was organized on facebook and resulted in real protests and a major outcry from Canadians looking for a balanced approach to copyright reform.

The traditional communication medium, television debates themselves have utilized technology to enhance their effectiveness. One network, CurrentTV, broadcasted twitter messages on screen allowing people to “debate the debate” in real time. We saw little clips of people’s reaction in real time.

In addition, technology is removing the “barrier” of moderation power that traditionally belonged to very few people. We are seeing tools like Google Moderator which enable the power of the crowd to ask questions without an intermediary moderating the questions – more direct democracy.

Technology is getting the younger generations to pay attention to politics because they are able to be directly involved.

Technology is changing politics for the better. How long will it be until we see an entire platform on a wiki style front and having that platform used to elect a government?

Time will tell how technology will impact the results in October and November. In the meantime, get involved and don’t forget to realize that all the technology in the world can make you an informed citizen but you still need to vote!

Celebration of Light 2008 – China

We have good things coming for the Olympics in a few days with this kind of show. A very Olympic theme and it clicked.

Celebration of Light 2008 – USA

The USA put on a serious contender too – less of a unified theme with respect to the music but well timed and synchronized

The light on the water really makes for a wonderful photo.

Godzilla over English Bay

Canada’s show this year took a totally different theme than we’ve seen from Canada in the past by using a “Godzilla” theme.

Weather conditions were pretty good – a slight wind to blow the smoke away and hence everyone got some pretty clear photos of the fireworks.

Next up is the USA on Saturday.