Monday, November 30, 2009

Cars as toys, with sad results.

Cars are so common place that we forget how powerful they are. We often think of them as toys, we act as they are toys, the marketing of the cars reinforces this. While the world had a huge reminder this weekend with the Tiger Woods incident. Any how many celebrities have lost their lives to the power of cars? Princess Diana, Jackson Pollack, James Dean, Steve Prefontaine, the list goes on.

But what gets to me is how senseless something like what happened in Marin this past weekend when a family of four was killed by a teenager driving 100 mph ran a stop light and ran into them and died himself.

For some reason the thrill seems lost on me.

a greener holiday season...

Well we're almost out of the consumer weekend relatively unscathed. Masses went to the malls, but in general spent less. Right now we are in the midst of cyber-monday. So I thought I'd take a few minutes to jot down my sense of the pressure of the season.

The first thing to ask, is it ok not to give a gift? Given the current economic climate, I know we are suppose to spend and drive the economy. But I also know that this is tricky for some of my friends who may have lost jobs. However, there is something powerful for someone to give as a genuine act of kindness.

Redefine what a gift is. Cook meals for your friends, give a cooking lesson, offer baby sitting. Give some plants from your own garden to start another. Give something of yourself.

Second, if you are going to drive the economy think about the money chain. If you buy a gift from a local retailer or a mail order firm. Who are you helping? Will your dollars trickle down to your friends and neighbors? Or will it be centralized in the coffers of large companies. Sometimes it's unavoidable, only Apple makes iPods. But there are plenty of people who sell ipod wallets and holders. Consider buying a home made knitted iPod sock from a local artisan over one from a larger retailer manufactured far away. Alternatively, offer experiences. Consider dinners close to home or a round of mini golf.

Third, decide and share what gifts matter to you. Really think hard about what you WANT and why you want it. A habit I have is that when I want something I write it down on a list before I buy it. And everytime I think I want it. I look at the list again. If I keep wanting to add something to a list over a long time, I know I really want it and I'm not caught in a sudden urge.

Lastly, it's ok to enjoy life but enjoy it. A greener holiday season means thinking about how much you want, how you get what you want, and really wanting what you want.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Saving Private Router...

A few weeks ago I got back from a trip and I replugged in all my electrical power adapters. If I'm out for a few days traveling, I like to unplug all those pesky power vampires that live in the house. My mobile phone chargers, my coffee maker, my computer speakers, computer routers and DSL modems. You get the picture. It probably doesen't make a big difference, but it still helps.

Well when I got back,I plugged in everything and turned on my computer to find out that my internet was down! Horrors of horrors. What am I going to do, heat I can live without, I have a lot of sweaters and blankets. Internet, now that's serious. Managed to find out that my internet was working, but it was my router that went kaput. Crap. I liked my router, it was a deal of a gizmo that I bought a few years ago for an amazing deal. It also included a built in print server so it was did the work of a lot of devices.

I yanked it from the wall and tried to figure out why it died. In the meantime, I stopped by my local (redacted) and bought a replacement router for $40. But I didn't replace it right away. I really didn't like the idea of getting something that couldn't be repaired. Last thing I wanted to do was add to the e-waste that was out there so I got on to the internet and looked up reasons why electronics die. Since in most cases electronics should not go to heaven. They are built that strong. The things that go out are the power or chemical parts of the products.

Looking around, it turns out the reason that most home network routers die is because the power adapter goes. I plugged my router in and while there were no power lights on, listening carefully there was a buzz coming out of the router. So there was life. So I decided to go buy a replacement AC adapter.

You can buy "universal" replacement power bricks that will plug into most devices. Just make sure the Amperage and Wattage are about the same as your old one. Here is an example link with a picture. You use the switch to determine how much voltage and then you are off to the races.

So I went and bought a replacement power adapter, configured it and plugged it in. "It's Alive!" We saved private router. The new power adapter was only $10. So I returned the replacement router and saved $30. So in the end, less waste, less landfill, less out of pocket dollars. Being green can save you money.

So if you have electronics that have a power brick go kaput, don't assume the whole device is dead, it's most likely the power brick. $10 universal power adapter at home can save you.

The other reason electronics go kaput is either bad memory or bad batteries.

For bad memory, stick the device into a computer and see if you can reformat (only do this after all other efforts fail since you won't be able to get your data off of it after you format it.) I've resurrected an old iPod this way. Funny thing is you may have to use a different computer. My old iPod Nano died, I restored it on a Windows PC and it worked ok. Could not restore it using my Mac. Go figure.

If the battery has run it's course. Try using it plugged into it's charger. If that works you can have a home based unit. Surprisingly, there are more and more replacement batteries on the market for iPods and other electronics. Check out ebay or the net.

Give your electronics a second chance by trying some simple fixes.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

When driving is painful...and why cities matter.

It's been awhile since I've posted. Jobs will do that too you, and crazy hectic jobs in the suburbs will do that to you even more. The past few weeks I've been hanging out in New York State and New York City. During one of the presentations on an organization's green efforts they compared the average per persons carbon footprint to the national average and to the New York average. What was interesting is that even though this organization was in NYS, it was doing worse than the NYS average. A person asked about this, since this organization was proud of its efforts he explained. New York City, the per capita carbon footprint was so much less that it reduced the whole New York State average. In effect there were to NY carbon footprints, a country footprint and a city footprint. Sort of the country mouse vs. the city mouse all over again.

Later on that trip, I spent my time in NYC and realized that cars are just not realistic. If everyone had a car in that little space, the place would stop functioning. So they have great mass transit instead. Density changes how we behave with each other, you have to learn to be relatively civil. If you bump into someone, if it's a little bump and excuse me and you move on.

Contrast this to last night when I was driving up to San Francisco in order to see a performance (yes Mass Transit was theoretically an option, but being in the Marina not blanking likely). Traffic on the 101 slammed to a complete stop. Two cars had bumped into each other and had to exchange information. They should have pulled over at the next exit and been safer. When two cars bump into each other, everything gets blocked up and it costs a lot freaking money. A quick search on google didn't come up with anything easy, but I did find this nice blog post on how much Americans spend on transportation.

Part of this is that cars are expensive so when they get damaged we care a lot. Also, the slightest bump outside of bumpers leads to body work. In high density places, your car is going to get bumped a lot so it adds to the pain.

If we are going to change things, I am even more convinced that to go car free, we need to change out models of living. I know people love the suburbs, people love living in rural areas, but it just doesn't work. Cars are often thought of as status symbols, for cities apparently the subway is the new car according to Businessweek.