Are you a Puget Sound Energy customer?  Thanks to a new incentive program, you can get a super-efficient heat pump water heater for next to nothing! Really!! Yeah, I know I’m an energy geek. But man I love me some heat pumps.

GAAAAH!!!!! of the day:  staggering growth in US student loans. GAAAAH!!!!!

Neutrinos traveling faster than light? You’re making Einstein very, very angry, CERN.

From the “people are just plain weird” files: lying to athletes about their performance makes them capable of achieving more. Wouldn’t it be nice if people were easier to figure out??

In Southern California, brilliant grafitti activism.

A compelling argument for the Oxford comma (this kind, not this kind).

Congrats to the two Cascadians who won MacArthur “genius” grants:  UW computer researcher Shwetak Patel, and UBC biology researcher Sarah Otto.

I love it when articles in the Sightline Daily news service (which you should subscribe to, if you don’t already) mention bits of actual math that yield surprising, counterintuitive results. Here’s one:

But [the EnerGuide Rating System for home energy efficiency] has its detractors. In a 2007 assessment, the Canadian Home Builders Association identified a “logarithmic bias” with the ERS scale that makes it difficult to compare performance between homes. For example, a home with an ERS score of 80 uses half the energy of one scoring 13 points lower at 67. But it uses twice as much as a home with an ERS score of 86, only six points higher.

This is the exact reverse of the miles-per-gallon problem, where each mile-per-gallon means less and less as you move up the scale.

This article on cul-de-sacs and car crashes mentions some interesting math-y research as well, showing that places with lots and lots of street intersections tend to have fewer fatal car crashes—which is the opposite of what transportation planners expected.


“DON’T take at face value the claims that Americans dislike government.” In fact, as Suzanne Mettler, a professor of government at Cornell, writes in a NYT op-ed, Americans just plain don’t know how government has played a positive role in their lives. You may have heard of this research before, but it’s worth mentioning again:

A 2008 poll of 1,400 Americans by the Cornell Survey Research Institute found that when people were asked whether they had “ever used a government social program,” 57 percent said they had not. Respondents were then asked whether they had availed themselves of any of 21 different federal policies, including Social Security, unemployment insurance, the home-mortgage-interest deduction and student loans. It turned out that 94 percent of those who had denied using programs had benefited from at least one; the average respondent had used four.

Mettler concludes, “The threat to democracy today is not the size of government but rather the hidden form that so much of its growth has taken. If those who assume government has never helped them could see how it has, it might help defuse our polarized political climate and reinvigorate informed citizenship.”

And this hits home for me. The cost of raising a child has gone up by 40 percent in the last decade! And that’s not including college. Ack. But, I wonder, how much of this can we blame on dirty, expensive fossil fuels? Organic food and thrift store toys aside, is my kid significantly cheaper because I live in a fairly dense neighborhood and right on a bus line?

And I love this: If children could design their own play environments, they would look nothing like today’s playgrounds.

Finally, Bill Clinton on the unique and backwards—yet oddly mainstream–American phenomenon of climate science denial: “We look like a joke.” Watch the video where he also says:  “If you’re an American, the best thing you could do is to make it politically unacceptable to engage in denial.”

Eric dP:

My favorite piece of the week was Megan McArdle’s take on the Netflix split-up. Not only does it do a nice job of explaining why all us average consumers would like to be treated as marginal consumers, but it includes this gem:

The whole thing reminds me of a quote I once heard from some foreign diplomat about the US.  “You Americans never made simple stupid decisions.  You only make complicated stupid moves that make the rest of us wonder if we aren’t missing something.”

I wish I’d coined that diplomat’s phrase for an almost uncountable number of issues lately.

I’m a big fan of Matt Taibbi’s prose. He’s at his best when he’s writing about bad writing, as in his smackdown of NYT columnist David Brooks. I couldn’t stop snickering.

Finally, don’t miss Floyd McKay’s magnum opus on Northwest coal exports.