Something about getting a new neck earlier this spring made me start thinking about how to change my life to make America a better place. Here a few that you can try to make the country better over the Fourth of July weekend:
1.) Turn off your computer at night. I've always left my computers on until they need to be restarted. I found that by turning off my three desktop computers, I lowered my power bill by almost $30 a month. While I live in a hydro-electric power region, if you get your electricity from coal, this will also reduce the particulate pollution by pounds a day.
2.) Swear off your car. Not everyone can afford a Tesla electric car, but most of us can afford a scooter. Both my wife and I have abandoned our cars for the summer when making in-town trips. Instead, we ride scooters (we got our scooters here, if you are in the Seattle area). Vespas, the venerable Italian scooters, have always been interesting, but too expensive for me. There are a whole slew of Asian-made scooters that compete favorably on price while providing the quality of a Vespa. At 80 m.p.g. to 90 m.p.g., respectively, we're cutting down our gas bill by at least $100 each month. Get a four-stroke engine to reduce pollution.
3.) Dig up and give away every cell phone in the house. Give them to U.S. troops serving overseas. Visit Cell Phones for Soldiers to learn how to do it. The group, founded by a couple of kids from Massachussets, has delivers thousands of cell phones with pre-paid minutes to troops each month.
4.) Give away your old PC. I've given old PCs with new education software to a couple kids I know whose families couldn't afford them. There are organizations in every city that can use PC donations. Check here for a good primer from Microsoft on donating PCs. Or consider volunteering with GeekCorps, which provides information technology assistance in the developing world. If you don't want to go overseas, just follow this link to Amazon and shop—part of the sale goes to GeekCorps. Everything we do for the world redounds to the credit of our nation.
5.) Start tracking your Congressional representatives' votes. It's not that hard to do and can help the people representing you do a better job, because you'll find you pick up the phone or write about bills that interest you. GovTrack.us makes it easy. Visit the site, type in your representative's name and you'll get a complete report. Even better, you can get updates via RSS. Easy and a lot more interesting than you may think.
6.) Get your company to do something for the country. Too often, we leave our homes and drive through the world to an office, where we are insulated from what's going on outside most of the day, then drive home, maybe watch some TV or surf the Net, and sleep. So, see if you can get your company to do something for that world you drive through on the way to work. Perhaps your software company could give a percentage of its sales to a local charity or your Net/telecom company could join Internet for Everyone, which is campaigning for universal Internet access.
7.) Don't throw out your computer or mobile phone, recycle it. Americans trash 50 million computers and 130 cell phones every year. They contain a slew of heavy metals and, in some cases, toxins. Don't just toss this stuff in the trash. Hewlett-Packard will recycle their PCs and ink cartridges, as well as batteries and cell phones; Dell and Apple will take any PC, if you buy a new computer from them. Here's a list of computer recycling organizations.
These are small things we can do. Individually, they don't make a huge difference, but it all adds up to major changes when we pull together. Come on, America, remember pulling together?