Archive for May 26th, 2010

How to use and save electricity

| May 26, 2010 | 2 Replies
How to use and save electricity

Mr. Electricity has assembled a straight-forward website full of great ideas and useful links–everything you’ll need to understand, use and save electricity.

Here’s what the site covers, in the words of “Mr. Electricity”:

I explain exactly what a kilowatt hour is and how much you pay for one. And I show you how to calculate exactly how much electricity your household appliances use, so you know which items are guzzling the most juice (and which ones are the best targets for savings). You’ll also learn exactly how to read your electric meter, if you like. . . . And I not only give you meaningful tips for slashing your electricity consumption, I give you the tools to figure out exactly how much you’re saving as well. Finally, I’ve answered countless questions from readers about saving electricity. If you have a question, it’s probably answered here already.

The site offers dozens of illustrations. Oh, and one more time, this is a site geared toward saving electricity. For example, check out this page on “vampire power” demonstrating that many appliances burn more electricity to “run the clock” than to provide the function for which you bought them (e.g., VCRs and microwave ovens).

“Mr. Electricity’s” real name is Michael Bluejay.

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Deepwater horizon: an event horizon for the oil age?

| May 26, 2010 | 8 Replies
Deepwater horizon: an event horizon for the oil age?

In a speech given earlier this year, the Chief Economist for BP made his case that fears about peak oil were overblown.

“One factor is resources. They are limited, and a barrel can only be produced once. But ideas of peak oil supply are not true. Doomsayers have exaggerated the issue. The bell-shaped curve of production over time does not apply to the world’s oil resources,” he told the seminar in Alkhobar city.

“Those who believe in peak oil tend to believe that technology and economics don’t matter, and I think this is false.The application of technology, the innovation of new technology and economic forces especially mean that recoverable oil resources can increase. If there is a peak in oil, it will come from the demand side. There are always fears, but these remain overstated and exaggerated.”

A barrel can only be produced once, this is true. And technology has allowed us to tap into oil reservoirs that were unthinkable a few decades ago. Yet as the catastrophic ongoing oil geyser in the Gulf of Mexico shows us, technology is not the savior the oil majors would have us believe. Advanced technology may allow us to drill for oil a mile under water, but it obviously does not offer any easy solutions when things go horribly awry as they have on the Deepwater Horizon rig, which has been spewing hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for over a month.

[More . . . ]

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The problem with buffeting and choppy fans

| May 26, 2010 | 7 Replies
The problem with buffeting and choppy fans

Manufacturers and retailers are great at solving problems we didn’t know that we had. Sometimes, our “problem” is lack of social prestige.

Check out this high tech “Air Multiplier” I recently spotted at Target. Here’s what it offers. No blades. No “buffeting.” No “choppy air.” Silly me. I thought that fans were supposed to buffet the air and make it choppy. Now I know, however, that the fans I already own are defective and that I need to fix this problem by purchasing several of these $300 Dyson “Air Multipliers.”

Image by Erich Vieth

Why would someone buy such an expensive contraption when you can easily buy a decent fan for $15 and a great fan for $75? Geoffrey Miller explains this phenomenon in an incredibly well-written and well-researched book titled Spent: Sex, Evolution and Consumer Behavior. I could write 100 posts commenting on the various sections of Spent; Miller’s book is that good. I’m well on my way. See here, for example, and here.

Out of curiosity, I visited the Dyson website to see whether this “Air Multiplier” is more energy efficient that a traditional fan. Information about energy usage is conspicuous by its absence on Dyson’s site, however. I know enough about marketing that if the Air Multiplier were more energy efficient than traditional fans, this information would be prominently displayed on Dyson’s packaging. Along the same lines, note that the Dyson Air Multiplier is “safe,” even though all modern fans come with grill designed to keep fingers away from the blades. I they are going spin their product’s qualities wildly (no pun intended), they would certainly make sure that we were informed about the Air Multiplier’s ability to save energy–if only that were true.

[For comparison, I have inserted a few old-fashioned "fans" that you can buy at Target, a few feet down from the throne of the Air Multiplier. As you can see, these fans are considerably cheaper. In fact, for the price of one Air Multiplier, you could buy eighteen $16 fans. ]img_0006

Chapter 7 of Spent is titled “Conspicuous Waste, Precision, and Reputation. In this chapter, Miller convincingly argues that we don’t buy to merely have; rather, many of our purchases are for the purpose of displaying qualities to others. We are very much like peacocks, it turns out. We like to conspicuously waste resources (this is an expensive and thus reliable signal that we have enough resources to waste). We also engage in conspicuous precision, spending lots of money to display that we have not only resources, but also an appreciation of technology that goes far beyond the mental capabilities of those people are willing to settle for those damned buffeting fans.

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