Five Easy Ways to Fix the World

The times, they are a-changin’.

Daylight Savings Time, that is, which officially came to an end last night with the annual “fall back” ritual. The ritual of changing (or often, forgetting to change) all the timepieces in your life back one hour, and getting to church way too early. (Of course, this is vastly preferable to the “Spring Forward” tradition of losing an hour of sleep and being way, way late to everything the next day.)

Even as a kid, I wondered why we bother with the time changes, and never understood how the one-hour shift “saves” daylight. The amount of daylight is still the same as it would have been; it just comes at a different time of day. Now that I am older and supposedly wiser, I can more fully fail to understand why we change times.

I know, I know, it is supposed to save electricity by giving an extra hour of evening sunlight during the summers, and hopefully causing us to use our light bulbs for one fewer hour each day. And, actually, that part does make sense to me. I am a fan of Daylight Savings Time.

It is the switch back to Standard Time that we need to get rid of.

Look at it this way: the only way we can “lose” daylight is if we are sleeping while the sun is up. Beyond that, it doesn’t really matter whether the daylight comes earlier in the morning or later in the evening; there will still be the same number of hours in which we can leave the lights off. Now, few people get up before 6 a.m., and probably even fewer go to bed before 9 p.m. The earliest that the sun comes up during the summer, at my current location of Dallas, TX, is 6:19 a.m. Daylight Savings Time. The sunset on those days is around 8:38 p.m. If we were still on Standard Time, the sun would be rising at 5:19 a.m. and setting at 7:38 p.m. Most everyone would be sleeping through some daylight in the morning, and be awake during an extra hour of darkness in the evening. So, using Daylight Savings Time does make sense.

However, with the shorter winter daylight hours, the choice of Standard or Savings time makes no real difference. Most people will wake up in the dark, and go to bed in the dark. Switching back to Standard Time simply means we turn the lights off one hour earlier in the morning, and turn them on one hour earlier in the evening. No daylight is saved or lost. However, the twice-annual clock change does cause lost time and productivity, because everyone has to adjust clocks, change our natural sleep cycles, and often simply show up at the wrong time for the first day or two. Why cause all that hassle? If we just made Daylight Savings Time standard, and kept it at that year-round, we would get all of the benefits without any of the disadvantages.

In honor of this established standard that really makes no logical sense, I’ve spent my extra hour today coming up with some other conventions that we’d be better off without. With the possible exception of Standard Time (which the government has been shrinking somewhat in recent years), I doubt any of these things will change, no matter how much sense they make or how easy they would be to change. Tradition is hard to break. But, we can hope, because then we wouldn’t have to mess with stuff like:

Months of Different Lengths

30 days hath September, April, June, and…no, wait, let me check my knuckles…

Tell me again why some months have 31 days, and some only have 30? Right, because a year (usually) consists of 365 days, which isn’t divisible by 12…still, how does that explain February? Couldn’t we at least shave a day off a couple of the longer months—say, January and August—and give them to February, so that at least every month is either 30 or 31 days long? Wouldn’t that make more sense?

Here’s something that makes more sense yet: let’s have a 13-month year. Why, you ask, does that make more sense? Because, with a 13-month year, every month can be exactly 28 days long, which means it is also exactly 4 weeks long, with exactly 4 weekends and 4 work weeks. And if the 1st of the month is, say, a Monday, then the 1st of every month will be a Monday, and every 2nd would be a Tuesday, and so on, and so forth.

13 months of 28 days each equals 364 days, leaving one day that doesn’t fit in a month—a holiday we can call “New Year’s Day”. Leap years would add a second extra day, and a second start-of-year holiday, called—gasp—“Leap Day”.

Other than making months and dates easier to remember, you may be wondering, what difference does it make? Is it really that big a deal to have months of equal length? Well, it’s not earth-shattering, but it is probably a bigger deal than you think. Pay attention to how many times you hear a monthly stat that is compared to the previous month, or to the same month a year ago. “Sales of x industry are down 2% compared to a year ago… “Company z reported a 10% rise in revenue last month…” Such comparisons are important to a whole lot of people, but can often mean squat (or require a lot of adjustment in order to mean squat) because the months themselves aren’t comparable. If you do more (or less) business on the weekends compared to the workweek, then the fact that there are 4 weekends one January and 5 weekends the next January can mean a big change in numbers without a change in performance (or vice versa). Plus, if you have something—say, a meeting, or a cleaning service—scheduled for the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month, what happens when there is a 5th Tuesday one month? It means you’ll have an additional week—50% more time—in-between meetings or cleanings.

Plus, things that happen “once in a blue moon” would never happen again.

Mowing Lawns

With concerns about global warming, air pollution, and gas prices on the rise, I’m surprised there hasn’t been more talk about one exceedingly simple and beneficial change: stop mowing your lawn.

It’s a win-win-win-win-win-win.

First benefit of now mowing your lawn: you no longer have to mow the lawn. Ever. That’s millions, or maybe even billions, of man-hours saved every year. Hours that could be spent doing—well, absolutely anything, other than the chore of mowing the lawn.

According to the EPA, lawnmowers account for 5% of the air pollution in the U.S. So, you instantly cut down on pollution by a significant amount.

Millions and millions of gallons of gasoline would be saved each year. Supposedly, 17 million gallons of gas are spilled each year in the process of filling mower tanks. So that’s 17 million gallons saved simply from the amount that never makes it into the tank. Imagine how much is actually burned by the mower engines each year. 100% of that would be saved.

Also, grass converts carbon dioxide into oxygen. Taller grass means less risk of global warming. Supposedly, one average lawn has the cooling effect of a 9-ton air conditioner.

Letting lawns go au natural also means you wouldn’t have to water the lawn, or at least not as much. Water supplies in many areas are getting tight, largely because of the mass amounts of water needed for perfectly manicured lawns.

Mowing is also dangerous: mowing-related accidents caused an estimated 77,000 ER trips in 2006, and 133 deaths.

I could go on. But, let’s face it—the only reason to mow most lawns is because people think grass looks better short. That’s ridiculously vain. If everyone stopped mowing, and natural-height grass became the norm, no one would worry about it.

QWERTY Keyboards

Why, oh why, must I type this on a keyboard specifically designed to slow me down?

The standard QWERTY keyboard layout, so named for the first 5 letters of the top letter row, was supposedly designed at least in part to slow typists down, because typing too fast on some old mechanical typewriters would lead to the keys getting jammed. (Apparently many disputethis historical claim; however, at the very least, there are still some obvious ways in which the design slows people down, whether intended or not.)

However, nobody uses mechanical typewriters any more. They don’t even use electronic typewriters. 99% of all typing, and likely 99% of all typing ever done in history, is done on electronic machines. They can keep up, no matter how fast you type.

Yet, we don’t use a fast keyboard design. There is a layout called the Dvorack keyboard that, if learned the way you learn a QWERTY keyboard, allows people to type faster and with possibly less typing-related injuries. Yet, everybody still uses QWERTY.

The thing is, with modern electronic keyboards, this is ridiculously easy to fix. Keyboards can be toggled to take input as either QWERTY or Dvorak, regardless of what letters are actually printed on the keys (and, on pretty much any keyboard, you can manually take the keys off and put them back on in a different order).

So, why don’t I just make that change? Basically, it is too late for me. A Dvorak system would not cause me to type faster, because I already have QWERTY memorized, and it would take too long to completely re-train my fingers. And, hence, you have the only real reason why keyboards are still QWERTY—because that is what people know. Keyboards are set up as QWERTY because people are trained with QWERTY, and people are trained on QWERTY because keyboards are set up that way. Which is stupid.

The solution? Start new typists (young kids, these days) on Dvorak keyboards, and have them learn that way. Eventually, as the old school dies off, Dvorak will become the standard. In the meantime, the ability to toggle keyboards eliminates the problem of needing to produce more than one keyboard design.

Please, think of the children.

Incompatible Weights and Measures

This one is kind of obvious, and actually, I am not a big fan of the metric system. However, it is silly that we use a different measuring system than pretty much everyone else in the world. The problem is duplication: everything that has a measurement has to be made or labeled in two different sizes. For instance, I have literally twice as many wrenches in my toolbox as would otherwise be necessary, because I have to have both metric and imperial bases covered. We should have just one international standard, and, let’s face it, metric is that standard.

Now, even if everything new is made in metric measurements, we’ll still have everything around that is already made or measured in inches and gallons and pounds. So, we’ll still need some of the old tools and old replacement parts. But, other countries have made this change, so it can be done, and there is a blueprint for how to do it.

So, what do you think? Any other ideas?

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