Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Energy efficiency in buildings

Posted by Danny Tarlow
I've spent a good part of my time in the last year working on how we understand energy consumption in buildings. Though my personal energy policy expert tells me not to expect to see anything passed too soon, it's exciting to see congress thinking about similar things: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/lburt/efficiency_in_waxmanmarkey_par.html I especially like how the motivation for Section 204 sounds:
The average person knows more about how efficient their refrigerator or car is than their home, but they will spend much more on the home than anything else they own. This lack of information is what allows building owners to keep wasting energy despite the best intentions and keeps other interested parties, like prospective owners, tenants, or financiers, from having any idea what kind of energy costs they are committing to.
This starts to acknowledge a major incentives problem, where the people who construct, own, and operate buildings are often two or three separate entities with conflicting goals. Add this to the fact that energy use is measured at such a coarse granularity (kilowatt hours per month) that people have no idea about the energy-consumption consequences of their operational choices, and you can quickly start see how buildings are far less energy efficient than they could be. h/t Andrew

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Offloading to the more powerful hardware

Posted by Danny Tarlow
MIT's Street-fighting Mathematics course has a section on Picture Proofs. I like the visual (no pun intended) of thinking of our minds as computers and offloading CPU calculations to the GPU. From the intro to the chapter:
Do you ever walk through a proof, understand each step, yet not believe the theorem, not say ‘Yes, of course it’s true’? The analytic, logical, sequential approach often does not convince one as well as does a carefully crafted picture. This difference is no coincidence. The analytic, sequential portions of our brain evolved with our capacity for language, which is perhaps 10^5 years old. Our pictorial, Gestalt hardware results from millions of years of evolution of the visual system and cortex. In comparison to our visual hardware, our symbolic, sequential hardware is an ill-developed latecomer. Advertisers know that words alone do not convince you to waste money on their clients’ junk, so they spend zillions on images. This principle, which has higher applications, is the theme of this chapter.