Here's a grab bag of a few links that I wanted to write about, but didn't have motivation to wrap a whole post around. I know, I should be writing something about the election right now, but hey. Also, the stupid Electoral College basically makes my vote not count for anything.
Actually--relevant to that topic, in today's New York Times, there was an op-ed quantifying what a given vote is worth in different states, due to the Electoral College distortion
: In the Electoral College, the combined effect of these two distortions is a mockery of the principle of “one person, one vote.” While each of Florida’s 27 electoral delegates represents almost 480,000 eligible voters, each of the three delegates from Wyoming represents only 135,000 eligible voters. That makes a voter casting a presidential ballot in Wyoming three and a half times more influential than a voter in Florida.
A map showing the effect is shown below.
There were two recent episodes of This American Life
that covered the recent turmoil in the financial markets--I'm guessing many of you have already listened to them. But if not, they were shows on what actually caused the subprime mortgage crisis ("The Giant Pool of Money
"), and a show on the financial crisis itself ("Another Frightening Show About the Economy
")The Giant Pool of Money
was described as follows: This American Life producer Alex Blumberg teams up with NPR's Adam Davidson for the entire hour to tell the story—the surprisingly entertaining story—of how the U.S. got itself into a housing crisis. They talk to people who were actually working in the housing, banking, finance and mortgage industries, about what they thought during the boom times, and why the bust happened. And they explain that a lot of it has to do with the giant global pool of money.Another Frightening Show About the Economy
, included the best description I've heard of credit default swaps, and why they ended up being so dangerous. The show also described a possible scenario of the bailout as the taxpayers ending up as the "...proud owners of $700 billion of crap..."
Both of these shows were very worthwhile, and worth an hour of your time each.
Another totally random web link was from the Edmunds.com website: Confessions of a Car Salesman
:What really goes on in the back rooms of car dealerships across America?
What does the car salesman do when he leaves you sitting in a sales office and goes to talk with his boss?
What are the tricks salespeople use to increase their profit and how can consumers protect themselves from overpaying?
We hired Chandler Phillips, a veteran journalist, to go undercover by working at two new car dealerships in the Los Angeles area. First, he would work at a high-volume, high-pressure dealership selling Japanese cars. Then, he'd change over to a smaller car lot that sold domestic cars at "no haggle" prices.
It's a very long read, but I found it worthwhile and illuminating. My reaction after reading the story (besides unfettered disgust), is that I'm glad I'm not in the market for the car, and I hope that I won't be for a very long time. My sixteen-year old Subaru
is still working fine (knock on wood), and I'm hoping that with low annual mileage and good maintenance, I'll keep it rolling for a while yet. Yes, I know--"Bad consumer! Not helping the economy!" Actually, thinking about it, my entirely nuclear family has not bought a new car since 1986.
Hey--supposedly, Toyota will come out with a plug-in hybrid by 2010
... maybe I'll think about buying a few years after that. Incidentally, for those of you who aren't familiar with the energy balance--plug in hybrids actually make energy sense, even though generating electricity is a ~30% efficient process. This is because the internal combustion process is so bloody inefficient--around 15% or less, according to this web page
--that powering a car off the grid actually makes sense. Frightening, eh?
My final bit of linkiness is an article written by a colleague of mine in the energy efficiency field (Henry Gifford) who is incredibly intelligent, ornery, and outspoken
. He is a boiler mechanic/energy efficiency geek who is a stone-cold genius--he teaches calculus to high school students in his free time.
Anyway, the article he wrote is about LEED buildings--the acronym stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design; it is the de facto green building rating system out there for both commercial and residential (LEED-H) buildings. The folks who run the program (USGBC--US Green Building Council) put out a study in 2007 that showed that LEED buildings on average consume 25-30% less energy than standard buildings.
However, my colleague did back-calculations on USGBC's data--and showed that LEED buildings use 29% more
energy than a comparable sample--as described in his article (PDF download)
. This article has been causing all types of sturm and drang
in our community, so you can see USGBC's response, and my colleague's rebuttal, on the website.
Some of Henry's points: USGBC decided to compare to the median instead of the mean (to limit the effect of outliers); it compared against a sample of all buildings (instead of recent vintage buildings, which are more comparable to the LEED population). Also, the only sample of energy-use data they had to work from was from LEED buildings that volunteered their bills--which, as he puts it, "is a little like making generalizations about drivers’ blood alcohol levels from the results of people who volunteer for a roadside breathalyzer test."
I'm not too surprised that some of the LEED buildings have pathetic performance--for a case study, see this story about Seattle's new city hall from 2005 ("Seattle's new City Hall is an energy hog: Higher utility bills take the glow off its 'green' designation"
). The new LEED building is smaller, but uses more
energy than the old city hall. You take one look at a photo of the building--hey, duh, the new one is a great big glass box. Oy.
Here was another pet peeve "duh" that Henry pointed out (and I ranted about recently
)--putting expensive photovoltaic panels on the side
of a building--and then even worse, a bunch are blocked by mechanical equipment. As he puts it:The choice to not install the panels on angled brackets on the roof, where they would produce more electricity but would not be visible from the street, made the installation a colossal waste of perfectly good solar panels. Despite this, the building is held up as an example of an “environmental friendly” building. The owners made many other efforts to improve the building, but the solar panels get most of
the attention. Like any such building, the designers were under pressure to make the image of being “green” a priority over actual energy efficiency.
One of Henry's best ideas: when a building gets a LEED rating, the plaque needs to go on the building with removable screws. The first few years of energy bills need to be analyzed--if it's not meeting its targets, the rating comes down. It'll never fly, but it's a boatload more realistic on Actually Making a Difference.