Tagged: money

Billions and Trillions Confusion

Here’s a quote from a recent BBC news article:

Eurozone leaders have agreed on a comprehensive package designed to shore up banks, including making more than a 1,000bn euros ($1,366bn) available for interbank loans.

Notice anything strange about it? That’s right, 1,000bn euros and the dollar equivalent.

When I first saw that, I thought it was wrong, it had to be “one trillion”, so off I went try to confirm my suspicion.

What’s a billion?

There are two answers:

  • Short scale: 1,000,000,000 (one thousand million), and
  • Long scale: 1,000,000,000,000 (one million million)

The first is typically U.S. English, and the second British, but according to Wikipedia, “In 1974 the government of the UK abandoned the long scale, so that the UK now applies the short scale interpretation exclusively in mass media and official usage.”

What’s a trillion?

A trillion also has short and long scale versions, the latter of which is equivalent to a million million million! From this, we can assume that a trillion dollars in the monetary sense is “one thousand billion dollars”, or $1,000,000,000,000. So, if $1,000bn is $1 trillion, then the BBC should have written the value as $1.366 trillion. Either it’s an honest mistake or an attempt to make the value look less than it actually is.

Just how much is a trillion dollars?

I’ll finish with this great explanation from Pick Wayne’s Brain

Let’s imagine that you have a fantastic job that pays you one dollar for every second you work. There are 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour. If you were only getting paid for as 40-hour work week for all 52 weeks of the year, you would still be getting paid $7,488,000 in a year. And if you were getting your $1/sec rate for every second of the year, you would take in $31,536,000 for the entire year. At that rate, to earn a trillion dollars, you would have to work more than 31,709 years! And even if they magnanimously paid you $1,000/sec, it would still take you more than 31 years to earn that first $1 Trillion. They say the war in Iraq is costing taxpayers about $2 Billion dollars per week. There are 3,600 seconds in an hour, 24 hours in a day, and 7 days in a week for a total of 604,800 seconds per week. At $2 Billion per week, the Iraq War costs us over $3,000 every second! Can I borrow a couple of bucks for the rent this month?

Self-Service Supermarket Checkouts in Japan

England has always seemed to be quite advanced when it comes to supermarket technology. They had long, spacious, barcode-reading checkouts when I was 17 and worked in the frozen section of Waitrose. It wasn’t many years later before they introduced hand-held, customer-carried barcode readers so shoppers could check prices for themselves. People buying less then ten items have been able to go through an “express” checkout for years, and all that time, the checkout girls and boys have been allowed to sit down while they worked.

The typical Japanese supermarket checkout

Over here in Japan, things have been quite different. It’s still usual for the Japanese checkout to be short and narrow, with no space to pack your bags – you have to carry your basket of food to a seperate table and pack your things there. The staff usually stand up all day and bow at every customer who passes their cash register. It’s also very unlikely that you’ll find an “express” checkout (probably because most Japanese freezers won’t hold more than ten items anyway!).

Japanese self-service supermarket checkout

Self-service cash register in JapanIt was to our surprise then that when we went shopping at the AEON Jusco supermarket in Fuso, we found self-service cash registers for people with 10 items or less! I don’t know if the self-service checkout is already a common sight in the UK, but it’s new to me. Mami and I decided to give it a try.

Basically, you just hold each item in front of the barcode reader, just as the staff usually would, and you follow the instructions on the screen – all in Japanese I’m afraid. The computer keeps you informed visually and verbally of the cost of each item, and displays the total cost on the screen. When you’re done, you pack your bags right there and put your money in the machine. There seemed to be a few payment options, including cash and even credit card.

Security at the self-service checkout

Finally, when you’re done, you walk past a former checkout girl or boy, who thanks you and gives you a bow. Actually, they seem to be there to assist you if you need help, and also have a little command center where they can monitor the activity of all the self-service cash registers. When I asked how they’d find someone who chose not to declare some items to the almight barcode reader, they told me that such a thing hasn’t happened yet. I’ll assume that if it has happened, the sneaky shopper never got caught!

Man at self-service cash register

Mami buys our Christmas bubbly by herself

Money DOES grow on trees.

I didn’t come to Japan for the money. No, really! I’d love to say I came to experience the culture, learn the language and teach English, but if truth be told, I came for a girl… but that’s another story.

So, although I wasn’t here for the money at first, it has become a big reason for me to stay. Contrary to popular belief, I find the cost of living in Japan far cheaper than back in the U.K, and my teaching salary is enough to live on. Having enough to live on though isn’t much fun though, is it? For me, there’s always something new I want to splash cash on, whether it’s a plasma TV, a DVD camcorder or a new computer. I must admit that since I turned 30 and got married, I’ve been more concerned with saving for a house and having enough left over to pay exuberant health insurance fees.

Trying to earn some extra green has always been on my mind. When I was in secondary school (J.H), I would spend my lunch money on candy and snacks in the convenience store before school, then sell them for a profit from my locker. That was working great until a school bully broke into it and stole the lot. Among a plethora of part-time and temporary jobs while in college (H.S) and university, I tried selling double-glazed windows door-to-door. The commission was good but I only made two sales in two weeks!  

Then I came to Japan. The most obvious source of additional income as an ESL teacher is to teach students privately, cutting out the middle man and earning anything from 20 to 100 dollars an hour. The legality of teaching on the side while employed by a school is questionable though. An alternative which I tried and failed miserably at was network marketing, or perhaps more commonly known as multi-level, or pyramid, marketing. There are a lot of MLM companies trying to break into the Japanese market, and they tend to target foreigners because they speak English. Very few are then able to market the products to their Japanese friends because of both the language barrier and cultural differences.

Another common part-time job for foreigners is working in a bar, but that never really got my interest. Instead, I would look out for one off opportunities to make some extra money. The most memorable are: Clapping my hands and chanting “One potato, two potato” etc. as part of a musical experiment at a university to compare how westerners and Japanese clap; and the other being part of a blood-clotting medical experiment in which I had to give blood, urine and a stool sample! Don’t worry, it was all above board and I think I’ll save that story for another day. The first of those little jobs earned me about $100 for ten minutes clapping, while the second got me $800 for two trips to the clinic.

After a few years in Japan, the internet really took off, and the day I switched to a broadband connection was when I really started looking at making money on the web. I failed at selling Pokemon cards on eBay, and my attempt at recording a “101 Ways to Learn English” audio CD for sale on Yahoo auctions and from a website also bombed. I couldn’t earn anything with the Amazon affiliate program, and although I sold loads of “I am not American” t-shirts through Cafepress, I had to end that little adventure after receiving numerous complaints and eventually a ‘cease and desist’ order for breach of copyright!

I had a brief stint writing language-learning software to help with my Japanese studies, and even got one of my programs listed on a Monash University professor’s website, but nothing to earn me that extra income stream.

In 2005, I started on a program to rival StartWrite – a popular piece of shareware for teachers wanting to make handwriting worksheets for their students. To grab market share, I decided to offer it for free on the net. Getting my new website listed on Google was a long, slow process and I was becoming increasingly frustrated. I had worked really hard on it and nobody knew the website even existed! So, not really wanting to spend any money, I figured I’d advertise using Google Adwords, a cheap way to get seen at the top of Google’s search results. I probably only spent $20 in that first month, but it was enough to get some visitors to the site…. and then they kept coming, and I started getting emails thanking me for it. Then, I guess those teachers told their co-workers and they told their friends and it all started snowballing.

It’s funny when I think back because the frustration that led me to Google Adwords set me on a path of discovery. I learned about Google Adsense, affiliate programs, search engine optimization, and a whole host of technical tricks and marketing techniques.

One year on and I’m pulling in a very nice monthly bonus from Google. Okay, it hasn’t replaced my teaching salary, but it has continued to grow every month since I started. I probably spend less than two hours a week checking things are all running smoothly, but other than that I just leave it alone while it works it’s magic, and every morning I wake up to see how much money I made while I was sleeping!

They say money doesn’t grow on trees. I say it does. You just have to plant those trees yourself.