Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “biking”

Too Much Homework?

The United States ranks 17th in the world for education, a legitimate and worrying metric to examine where our country will stand in the next few decades in terms of business, innovation, and the ability to live out our own values and encourage others to follow a similar path.

I realize that, for the sake of our children, I should be calling in more investment into education, a greater status and respect for teachers, and other ways to boost the performance of our children, their grades and general rounded education. I want to live in a smart society.

I should be calling for change because I truly believe that education is the key to advancement, because I believe that every child should be given the opportunity to reach their own potential, find and train for a meaningful career, and use as a stepping stone to rise up in society. I also believe that education helps makes people more satisfied and happy, and that this creates a better world to live in.

I’ll leave this to the experts:

 

But I don’t feel like writing this right now. Like my teenage son, I feel thoroughly burnt out and resentful. In order to pass on a full curriculum, designed by people far more professional and knowledgeable than me, our children are being forced to study, not only most of the day, but during the evenings and most of the weekends.

When he is not studying, he is so exhausted, that all he wants to do is vegetate in front of a screen, and frankly, I understand that.  My work has periods of intense and long hours. During these months, I only want to crash on the couch when I get home and stare at burly young men kicking the pigskin around. Often during these times, when my wife asks who is winning, I need to glance at the scoreboard first before answering.

I’m willing to go through these periods because I love and am inspired by my work, and because I believe that this is the sacrifice the main breadwinner of the family makes. One day, when my children are settled, I will have plenty of time to go fishing, bird watching, do Tai Chi, and sit in a coffee shop and read a newspaper (remember those? I am convinced they will become a status symbol of independence from the clock).

imagesBut there are things I want to do now – and I want to do them with my son. I want to take him biking, to the gym, to practice archery, and read a good book together by the sea or in a forest. I can make that time, get up early, go to bed late, do whatever it takes – train through the pain as one of my favorite t-shirts says (the one I wore playing basketball with a torn meniscus).

But my son can’t. He has math problems to solve, a project to write, an English essay to complete. Sure, he finds times to hang with his friends and some screen time, I don’t resent him this. It is part of growing up.

I remember being in school and looking forward desperately to the summer. I recall my mother being annoyed that I wanted to lie in bed late every morning and enjoy not having pressure or a schedule.

I want my son to succeed in school for all the reasons mentioned earlier and the profound fear that I will not be able to help him, that at some point he must stand on his own, as I did. But I also want to enjoy being together while we still can, while he still wants my company.

He gets a long summer break and deserves it. I will take a week and we will head north into the mountains. We will fish, bike, swim in a lake guarded by a snow-covered mountain. We’ll eat too much ice cream, fight over who gets the hammock, read together by the fire.

DSCN0951None of this will help my son or the USA become more successful in the decades to come, but sometimes life is more than statistics, and more than homework assignments and grades.

Somehow we need to find ways to measure quality of life, to value relationships, to create memories. Perhaps we will find that time is as valuable as making the grade.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  For more about the author, check out his website.

 

Summer’s Over – A Personal Post

It’s been a roller coaster of a summer and today, the last day of August, it seems a good time to catch up and look forward.

The high point was my family camping trip. My boys caught some tasty trout, completed their first serious bike ride (five hours) on bike paths around Lake Siskiyou and we enjoyed some wonderful quality family time that is invaluable in our stressful and packed world.

The low point, as I blogged last week, was the sad passing away of my dear friend Rebecca. Judaism has many beautiful rituals surrounding death. I participated in Shmirat Hagoof (guarding the body) whereby friends took turns to sit with the body for the time between passing and burial. I spent two hours sitting and talking with her, and it was very meaningful. The funeral and the shiva (visiting the mourners in their house) were both fitting tributes to a wonderful woman. Many, many family and friends bonded and shared inspiring memories and humorous stories. While mourning her death, we celebrated her life, as she wanted.

In my writing life, I completed the manuscript for the sequel to Unwanted Heroes (due 01/2012) and a sequel to my fantasy novel together with my oldest son, and Left Coast Voices was nominated as one of San Francisco’s Most Valuable Blogs.

Also, The Accidental Activist is now in The Berkeley Public Library system after the California Writer’s Club donated a number of their authors’ books.

Author JoAnn Smith Ainsworth makes the presentation on behalf of the California Writer's Club

Looking forward to the next few months and there are three exciting landmarks coming up.

1. A Gardener’s Tale will be released on kindle. It is being professionally edited at the moment.

2. Three Clover Press is sending me on a national 10-15 stop book tour in November – without me having to leave home. They have signed a deal with a company that specializes in this. I will keep you informed as I learn more.

3. Unwanted Heroes is planned for a January release. We will begin looking for a cover artist and the rest of the exciting process.

Finally, for a limited time, The Accidental Activist is available on Kindle at $2.99 – less than the last cappuccino I bought (though the book doesn’t come with chocolate powder).

Have a great September,

Alon

Please Vote Today. Click Here

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Greening The Office

I found this article, 8 Ways to Green Your Office, over at the very practical Earth911 site. It is written by Jourdan Rassás.

1. Check Out Soy-Based Ink

Ink made from soybeans is not only better for the environment but better for your company’s bottom line, as well. Soy-based ink benefits:

  1. Lower levels of volatile organic compounds than ink made from petroleum meaning less harmful toxins emitted
  2. Produces brighter and sharper colors because of the innate clearness of the soybean oil
  3. Makes paper easier to recycle because it’s easier to remove in the de-inking process
  4. Prices are comparable to those for petroleum-based ink, but less soy-based ink is needed per print job and it reduces paper waste, so you are actually saving money
  5. Soy-based ink supports American crops

Soy-based ink is currently only available for commercial printers, not your office printers or ballpoint pens.

Quick Stats

  • Soybeans only use about 0.5 percent of the total energy that is needed to create the ink.
  • About 90 percent of the country’s daily newspapers with circulations of more than 1500 use soy ink.
  • About one quarter of commercial printers in the United States operate using soy ink.
  • When soy ink reaches its full potential, it will consume 457 million pounds of soybean oil a year.

2. Eliminate Vending Machine Waste

Coffee-making vending machines may save you from caffeine-withdrawal headaches in the morning, but they don’t help out the environment. If your office vending machine dispenses its own cups, make sure they are recyclable or see if the machine allows you to use your own reusable mug instead of dispensing a plastic cup each time it makes a beverage.

Other options:

  1. Provide machines that allow employees to make their own beverages.
  2. Ask the machine provider to de-lamp the machine.
  3. Add an occupancy sensor on the machine that reduces the vending machine’s power requirements during periods of inactivity.

Quick Stats

  • A typical refrigerated vending machine consumes 400 Watts—at a rate of 6.39 cents per kWh, that’s an annual operating cost of $225.
  • De-lamping vending machines can save $100 every year.

3. Cut Down on Office Transportation

Carpools and public transportation benefit both the environment and your employees. Here’s some ideas:

  1. Offer carpool-matching services that allow employees to find co-workers that live near them.
  2. Encourage biking and walking to work by providing bike racks outside of the office.
  3. Provide parking incentives such as closer/shaded parking spots for carpoolers.
  4. Consider telecommuting to allow employees to work from home one day a week work.
  5. What about a workweek with four 10-hour days instead of five eight-hour days?

Quick Stats

  • Driving 10 percent less, by walking, cycling, carpooling, or taking public transit, can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 0.2 to 0.8 tonnes per year, depending on the vehicle.
  • According to AAA, the cost for owning and operating an average size car is 52.2 cents per mile, when driven 15,000 miles per year.
  • Carbon dioxide is the number one contributor to the greenhouse effect, and cars produce about 30 percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions.

4. Monitoring Lighting Usage

We obviously can’t work without lighting, but we can do our best to cut down on unnecessary use of lighting. Lighting reduction options:

  1. Light exit signs with lower energy bulbs like compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), light emitting diodes (LEDs), neon lighting or electroluminescent lighting technology.
  2. Replace old fluorescent lighting fixtures using T-12 lamps with T-8 fluorescent lamps for better color, less flickering and 20 percent less energy use.
  3. Check out occupancy sensors for areas of the office that aren’t used as much, such as the break or conference room.

Quick Stats

  • Replacing tungsten bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps typically makes an immediate cost savings of between 50-80 percent, and CFLs last up to 10 times longer. When they do burn out, make sure you recycle CFLs using Earth 911.
  • Over its life span, a fluorescent tube will save 640 kWh of electricity compared with the equivalent 100-watt standard bulb. This reduces the production of carbon dioxide, a green house gas, by half a ton and sulphur dioxide, which causes acid rain, by 3 kg.
  • According to a US Department of Energy (DOE) end use study from 1995, lighting accounts for about 29 percent of the energy use in a typical office.

5. Make the Most of Office Equipment

According to the Department of Energy, office equipment accounts for 16 percent of an office’s energy use. The use of computers, printers, copiers and fax machines adds up, but simply turning your computer’s sleep mode on when you’re not using it can save energy (screen savers are energy wasters, not savers).

In addition to putting your computer to sleep when you are away:

  1. Turn the machine off when you leave the office for the night
  2. Activate sleep mode for printers, copiers and fax machines so they’ll sense inactive periods
  3. Consider consolidating these machines by purchasing a machine that performs multiple office functions.

If you’re looking to purchase new office equipment, look for ENERGY STAR qualified products to cut down energy use and pollution.

Quick Stats

  • A Lawrence Berkeley Lab study from 1999 estimated that one workstation (computer and monitor) left on after business hours is responsible for power plants emitting nearly one ton of CO2 per year.
  • If every U.S. computer and monitor were turned off at night, the nation could shut down eight large power stations and avoid emitting 7 million tons of CO2 every year.
  • IBM estimates it saved $17.8 million worldwide in 1991 alone by encouraging employees to turn off equipment and lights when not needed.

6. Monitor Paper Usage

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, each employee in a typical business office generates 1.5 pounds of waste paper per day. There are several ways to cut down on how much paper you use, including:

  1. Make hard copies only when necessary.
  2. View documents on your computer instead of printing them out.
  3. Use a stick-on label on the first page of a fax instead of a full cover sheet.
  4. Reuse paper that only has printed material on one side.
  5. Make sure all printers and copiers are set up to print on both sides of paper.

When buying paper:

  1. Buy recycled paper made from a high percentage of post-consumer recycled content.
  2. Look for paper that is processed chlorine free (PCF) instead of totally chlorine-free (TCF) because its produced without elemental chlorine or chlorine derivatives.
  3. Use unbleached and uncolored paper. If you need to use colored paper, use pastel colors.
  4. Buy products in bulk to minimize packaging.

Make sure employees have bins to recycle paper at their desk.

Quick Stats

  • A single-sided 10-page letter costs $0.55 to mail; that same letter, copied onto both sides of the paper, uses only five sheets and $0.34 in postage.
  • A ton of 100 percent recycled paper saves the equivalent of 4,100 kWh of energy, 7,000 gallons of water, 60 pounds of air emissions, and three cubic yards of landfill space.
  • In the U.S., over 40 percent of municipal solid waste is paper—about 71.8 million tons each year.

7. Keep Your Cool . . . and Warmth

According to a TIME magazine article, heating, cooling and powering office space are responsible for almost 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. and eat more than 70 percent of total electricity usage. You can save about 10 percent on your electricity bill by just adjusting that thermostat by one or two degrees. Other ideas:

  1. Use automatic setback thermostats to adjust the temperature for weekends and evenings.
  2. Consider outside air economizers that use outside air to cool down buildings when the air outside is cooler than the air inside.
  3. Think about solar shading to reduce the amount of heat from the sun that penetrates your office building.
  4. Keep the blinds closed to conserve heat in winter and keep it out during summer.

Quick Stats

  • Heating, cooling and ventilation accounts for 39 percent of the energy use in a typical office.
  • An adjustment of only a degree or two can cut heating or cooling bills by two to three percent. Extending that to three or four degrees can produce savings of 10 percent or more.

8. Put Someone in Charge

Hire an energy manager or transportation coordinator. It may be beneficial to have someone in the office whose sole job is to set up carpooling or keep track of office recycling and energy use. The money spent on paying somebody to hold this position will be well worth it when you get your utility bill and help save our planet.

There are lot of suggestions here, enough to freeze anyone from taking action. How about breaking it down, taking on one thing at a time, setting goals with staggered time lines? The longest journey begins with a single step. Take the step today.
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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

 

 

 

 


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