30 day challenge: Accessorizing the sun

A few years ago I watched the Ted Talks by Matt Cutts called “Try something new for 30 days”. It is a short light hearted talk worth viewing that that more or less states, if there is something you want to do or change, commit to doing it for 30 days. More recently, a relative kept his online status updated with his “30 days of biking” and that rekindled the idea for me.

For the month of June I have decided that the core gadgets I use on a daily basis can only be charged via solar power. Thanks to my lovely wife and kids, I already had everything I needed to undertake this effort, I just had not put it into practice consistently. My gadgets are my phone, my Microsoft band, and my Bluetooth speaker. My solution is an Anker portable fold up solar panel and an Anker battery power bank. After about 22 hours of direct sun, the battery will fully charge from the solar panel. Based on past use, I know that the Anker battery can charge my phone nine times before needing more power. Presumably adding in my other devices will increase the frequency of how often I need to charge the battery brick but I still only anticipate it being once a week or so. For charging the battery bank from solar, I have found that leaving the panel spread out on the dashboard of the car with the battery in the glove box works well while parked in a sunny location at work.

You might be questioning my logic as the ROI on a $100 worth of solar panel and battery bank that was gifted to me will take a long time to recognize, but for me it is not about that. For me, it is a small iterative step I can take that is positive. I am hopeful that after a successful 30 days, I can sustain this practice and add in another new 30 day challenge. Transitioning to this model also forces me to be more proactive and plan out my devices energy consumption and re-charging. As I hope our family will be transitioning to an electric vehicle in the coming year or two, having this type of planning mindset for energy consumption and charging will be very useful.

I also feel compelled to mention that I used charge my mobile phone every night and then about 6 months ago I changed a few key settings which dramatically increased the battery life of my phone. The single biggest change I made was reducing the frequency of which I sync my e-mail accounts. I used to have them sync ‘as items arrive’ and I changed this to ‘once per hour’. The majority of the time the content constantly syncing, re-organizing, and deleting on my phone was unnecessary as I was managing that content from my laptop while working anyway. As time passed, I also realized that my nose was not in my phone as often which I think is a good thing. I can always manually sync when I want to check e-mail, otherwise once per hour is plenty. I also no longer allow non-essential applications to run in the background. For example, if I look at Facebook on my phone I log out and close it when I am done. This is another thing that offers the healthy by-product of looking at my phone less. When I want to consume content on my phone I do, but now I avoid toast notifications and others various things that used to nudge me for their attention.  I have also found that hooking up to my home wireless uses much less battery than cellular.

While solar powering accessories might not be for everyone and might not reduce emissions to a significant degree, I am excited to do it and already starting to brainstorm on my July plans. To you, I will quote Matt Cutts and say “Why not think about something you have always wanted to try and give it a shot for the next thirty days”.

See something, Say something

The “If You See Something, Say Something” mantra became commonplace after 9/11 and there is still an active campaign by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which they licensed from the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The campaign includes signs stating this near airport entrances, public service announcements, partnerships with various agencies, and more. At the core of the DHS initiative is the idea that “It takes a community to protect a community. Informed, alert communities play a critical role in keeping our nation safe.” After watching a Frontline episode last night (American Terrorist) which outlined the story of David Headley and the failures of intelligence analysis to prevent the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the need for everyday citizens to speak up when something seems wrong is critical. Despite their best efforts, security agencies cannot effectively review the 3 million e-mails sent every minute and the countless other online communications to keep nations safe from terrorism. They require the help of everyday citizens to speak up.

At the start of today, I found myself very frustrated. It is Earth Day and the amount of fanfare and conversations about it seem very limited. Many folks I have encountered seem to have no knowledge of it and give it no more thought than National Candy Corn Day, Peculiar People Day, or Talk like Shakespeare Day. Yes, those are all real “days”. On the one hand it is sad that we need an Earth Day and that every day is not spent helping to better promote caring for the one planet we have. On the other hand, we will see an increase in some media coverage today regarding the importance of mitigating our use of fossil fuels which might spark some healthy dialogue. Unfortunately much of the media attention today thus far has been focused on the differing opinions and giving equal airtime to those opposed to action despite the overwhelming evidence that the time to act has been in hand for a long time. One example is president Obama giving an address on the importance of taking action while in the Florida Everglades today. The leading media outlets are busy talking about how the fossil fuel funded presidential nominees are responding and the uncertainty they feel there is on man’s impact to the warming planet. The story should be as simple as 13 of the 14 hottest years on record have occurred this century, the last global cold temperature record was in 1911, the greenhouse effect has been well understood for nearly 200 years, and more than 97% of peer reviewed papers on the subject agree that global warming is real and being caused by human activity. Global warming is not something to believe in or not believe in, it is a scientific explanation for the facts.

Part of my frustration stems from a lack of meaningful action being taken by society as a whole, or I should clarify, the frustration stems mostly from a lack of meaningful action being taken by the U.S. Working towards handing future generations a planet thriving and sustainable should be a core priority to be taking the lead on. Instead, we (the U.S.) consistently see profit margins and the economy taking priority over the environment. One recent example is the desire by some in Congress to turn over the federal public lands and national parks to states to manage. This includes a provision allowing the states to privatize the land for mining, drilling, and to sell portions to real estate companies in the name of economic progress. Sure, selling some of the northern Minnesota forests to a paper mill might create some jobs and additional tax revenue, but what if every state acted selfishly like this and did not consider the broader impacts? If we want economic benefits and a healthier planet, the answer is a carbon fee and dividend program which will help gradually shift us away from fossil fuels while not punishing taxpayers.

So on this Earth Day, let’s not lose sight of our moral, spiritual, and personal responsibility to care for this pale blue dot. We as a collective society need to do more of See something, Say something. There is a fine between bringing a concern forward and getting traction versus appearing like a crazy person. I have had various successes and failures in this area and have no doubt a few people I have engaged view me as radical, in part because my approach was not as respectful and articulate as it should have been. Implementing an environmental See something Say something campaign could be trying to get your local sports facility to recycle, getting your kids school to stop using polystyrene, or trying to get your company to investigate the ROI on installing solar panels where the typical ROI is now 7-10 years. Regardless of your passions, establishing a constructive dialog is usually the first step in making improvements so on this Earth Day and every day that follows; let’s not be afraid to use our voice.