For the last year or so, I've been getting these two page energy assessment reports in the mail from Pacific Gas & Electric, our California utility company, comparing our household's energy use to those of the houses around us.
Here's the relevant excerpts from the latest report; click through for a full-page view of each page.
These poor results are particularly galling because I go far out of my way to Energy Star all the things, I use LED light bulbs just about everywhere, we set our thermostat appropriately, and we're still getting crushed. I have no particular reason to care about this stupid energy assessment report showing our household using 33% more energy than similar homes in our neighborhood. And yet… I must win this contest. I can't let it go.
- Installed a Nest 2.0 learning thermostat.
- I made sure every last bulb in our house that gets any significant use is LED. Fortunately there are some pretty decent $16 LED bulbs on Amazon now offering serviceable 60 watt equivalents at 9 watt, without too many early adopter LED quirks (color, dimming, size, weight, etc).
- I even put appliance LED bulbs in our refrigerator and freezer.
- Switched to a low-flow shower head.
- Upgraded to a high efficiency tankless water heater, the Noritz NCC1991-SV.
- Nearly killed myself trying to source LED candelabra bulbs for the fixture in our dining room which has 18 of the damn things, and is used quite a bit now with the twins in the house. Turns out, 18 times any number … is still kind of a large number. In cash.
(Most of this has not helped much on the report. The jury is still out on the Nest thermostat and the candelabra LED bulbs, as I haven't had them long enough to judge. I'm gonna defeat this thing, man!)
I'm ashamed to admit that it's only recently I realized that this technique – showing a set of metrics alongside your peers – is exactly the same thing we built at Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange. Notice any resemblance on the user profile page here?
You've tricked me into becoming obsessed with understanding and reducing my household energy consumption. Something that not only benefits me, but also benefits the greater community and, more broadly, benefits the entire world. You've beaten me at my own game. Well played, Pacific Gas & Electric. Well played.
This peer motivation stuff, call it gamification if you must, really works. That's why we do it. But these systems are like firearms: so powerful they're kind of dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. If you don't think deeply about what you're incentivizing, why you're incentivizing it, and the full ramifications of all emergent behaviors in your system, you may end up with … something darker. A lot darker.
The key lesson for me is that our members became very thoroughly obsessed with those numbers. Even though points on Consumating were redeemable for absolutely nothing, not even a gold star, our members had an unquenchable desire for them. What we saw as our membership scrabbled over valueless points was that there didn't actually need to be any sort of material reward other than the points themselves. We didn't need to allow them to trade the points in for benefits, virtual or otherwise. It was enough of a reward for most people just to see their points wobble upwards. If only we had been able to channel that obsession towards something with actual value!
Since I left Stack Exchange, I've had a difficult time explaining what exactly it is I do, if anything, to people. I finally settled on this: what I do, what I'm best at, what I love to do more than anything else in the world, is design massively multiplayer games for people who like to type paragraphs to each other. I channel their obsessions – and mine – into something positive, something that they can learn from, something that creates wonderful reusable artifacts for the whole world. And that's what I still hope to do, because I have an endless well of obsession left.
Just ask PG&E.
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The Evolution of Beatbox: DeWayne Taylor at TEDxLincoln
Taylor spoke about and demonstrated the evolution of beatboxing, how the art form is spreading like wildfire with just a few clicks of a mouse, and how he's used beatboxing to build bridges between people. Since he was a little boy growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, Taylor has been making sounds with his mouth. He went from annoying his mother with his "sounds" to beatboxing after his freshman year track season at Lincoln Southwest High School in 2009. What began as something to fill the time grew, through hours of practicing, to personal performances at many school functions and activities. In early 2012, after being crowned prom king, Taylor performed to an audience of over 400 people. Since then, he has realized that beatboxing is misunderstood and largely unheard within the community around him. Through competing in the American Beatbox Championships, D-Wayne (his stage name) has connected with other beatboxers, young and old, throughout the nation and around the world. He is constantly looking for ways to help people understand and appreciate this form of artistic expression. In thespirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general <b>...</b>
Hurricane Isaac sidestepped New Orleans on Wednesday, sending the worst of its howling wind and heavy rain into a cluster of rural fishing villages that had few defenses against the slow-moving storm that could bring days of unending rain. Isaac arrived exactly seven years after Hurricane Katrina and passed slightly to the west of New [...]
SmartAboutThings writes "A quite scary talk show with former NSA employees — now whistle blowers — Thomas Drake, Kirk Wiebe, and William Binney reveals that the NSA has algorithms that go through data gathered about us and they can basically 'see into our lives.' And this seems to be going on especially since the Patriot Act has removed the statutory requirement that the government prove a surveillance target under FISA is a non-U.S. citizen and agent of a foreign power." Binney's HOPE keynote has more detail on how the NSA watches people.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
Ben Pier is a photographer who captures moments of youth and portraits of the young at heart in his recently published collection TEENAGE TEETH. Shot over the past decade, Ben’s photographs are an honest ode to sloppy ink jobs, to being drunk and crushing, to bedrooms that feel like fish tanks and that weird girl you met by the lake, who you just can’t stop thinking about. The release of TEENAGE TEETH was accompanied by a launch party and exhibit at Ed. Varie, a gallery/bookshop in the East Village. I chatted with Ben at the event and after via email about teenagedom, the suburbs and losing your “teenage teeth.”
Angela Melamud: Your work screams: I’m an awesome juvenile delinquent! What were you like as a teenager? Stories?
Ben Pier: I have stories. Buy me a drink, and I’ll tell you a couple. I think I was a pretty OK kid. I wanted to be a badass, but all the total burnouts scared the shit out of me—but I liked that. Those kids don’t last long, and it’s really fun being next to them while they’re around. As a teenager, I was went through the awkward comic-book-nerd stage, then into a metal-head phase, then I got really into punk, then I started a band, skated, skipped class and ate acid. But that didn’t seem too crazy. I was also on the hockey team and dated cheerleaders.
Angela: Although you live in New York City, most of your photographs seem to be set in the suburbs. Do they reflect your own childhood in Missouri?
Ben: I’m drawn to suburban/domestic life because it’s so foreign to me now, and it’s fun to explore what’s foreign, right? I love NYC, but I don’t totally love shooting personal work here. I like to get out of my surroundings to make my work. I like to go on the road and search people and places out, like a hunt. My eyeballs go crazy as soon as I leave the city. It’s great.
Angela: [The term] “teenage teeth” is evocative of baby teeth. What do you think is the transition for when we loose our teenage teeth?
Ben: Some people hold onto them forever. Others slowly lose them, while some people never have them. You know that quote from The Breakfast Club when the basket-case girl says, “When you get older, your heart dies?” It’s kind of true. The things you feel deep inside you when you’re a certain age—those things, they tend to fade away. But when you’re young or when you feel young and you’re totally immersed in everything you believe in, you can somehow exist inside that world you create—before the actual world comes and takes a dump all over your face.
Angela: Is the collection inherently optimistic because it captures the joy of youth? Or is it pessimistic because that joy has to pass, like teenagers have to become adults?
Ben: It’s both—you can’t have one without the other. Total yin and yang, dude.
To purchase TEENAGE TEETH email the Ed.Varie gallery at email@example.com.
Above and below photos from Teenage Teeth
In 1953, George Tames went to the heartland on assignment for The New York Times to photograph the effects of an overabundant harvest, finding a combination of vastness as well as isolation.
For this week’s issue, we combed countless archives in search of the perfect photograph to accompany a history of the American Dream, the subject of the cover story by Jon Meacham. In the end, we turned to photographer Mike Sinclair, who’s been rigorously documenting America’s heartland near his home in Kansas City, Mo. When asked about his photos, he modestly says, “I never really set out to photograph the American Dream or western culture. These are not projects. The edits come out of thinking about themes. I like going through my work and then figuring it out.”
For more than 30 years, Sinclair has documented places where people gather, like state fairs, sporting events and parks. “I grew up in the heyday of LIFE and photojournalism. I realized early on that I was better at visual things,” he tells TIME.
Sinclair decided to pursue journalism at the University of Missouri, but after one year, he realized that it wasn’t a great fit. “I came under the spell of Winogrand and Friedlander and found them more interesting as a budding photojournalist. I eventually went to Southern Illinois University, where they had an undergraduate program in fine art photography. Once I got there, I was in heaven—it combined my interest in the fine arts and photography.”
“I just like everything about taking photos and going to these events. It’s a great counterpoint to photographing modern architecture,” says Sinclair, who does the job professionally to make a living between his documentary projects. All of his images reflect the rigor of an architectural photographer with the straightforward style of masters like Walker Evans, Joel Sternfeld and Stephen Shore.
“I switched to architecture because I thought after 30 or 40 years I’d have some kind of record of this time and what happened,” he explains.
Sinclair’s understated and introverted approach to documenting an event feels easygoing, placing viewers in the shoes of a local rather than an outsider. He photographs on trips he plans and usually goes with his family. “I kind of plant the camera in front of people and spend time with them,” he says. In all his images, he almost feels invisible.
Sinclair has no real plans for his work except to keep making it. In the beginning, he says, “I first shared the work to the owner of the Dolphin Gallery in Kansas City and was encouraged by him to show it [elsewhere]. Eventually, through them, my work found its way into collections around the country.” These collections include The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, also in Kansas City.
Sinclair disagrees when people label him as a certain type of photographer. “I don’t think of myself as a Midwestern photographer. I think the same sort of things happen everywhere I’ve been.” His image of the Fourth of July (featured above) speaks to his claim—it feels like it could represent almost anywhere in America.
“Part of what I’m interested in is this idea of public space and the preciousness of it. It’s something that we all need,” he says.
Mario Tama, a Getty Images staff photographer since 2001 and based in New York, has covered conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan - as well as numerous humanitarian crises and natural disasters in the US and around the world, including most recently the earthquake in Haiti and the tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri. He's also spent extensive time documenting Hurricane Katrina and it's aftermath. Mario will be working on several feature stories in Brazil, ahead of the Rio +20 UN Conference on Sustainable Energy, his first work featured in this post. The summit aims to overcome years of deadlock over environmental concerns and marks the 20th anniversary of the landmark Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. Brazil is now the world's sixth largest economy and is set to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Mario’s' editor on the project describes him as passionate and enthusiastic about showing us pieces of a country in which he has traveled before, drawn by the people, the culture and the economics/development of the region. -- Paula Nelson (48 photos total)
Federal highway BR-222, June 9, 2012 in Para state, Brazil. Highway construction through Amazonian rainforest has led to accelerated rates of deforestation. Although deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is down 80 percent since 2004, environmentalists fear recent changes to the Forest Code will lead to further destruction. Around 20 percent of the rainforest has already been destroyed. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
International pressure mounted on the Assad regime in Syria following a massacre of 108 people, nearly half of them children, in the Houla region. Olympic hopefuls trained for the London Games in far flung locations and Joplin, Missouri, marked one year since tornadoes ripped through the area.