Archive for September, 2011

Failed Ideas

Posted: September 19, 2011 in Meta

Finding good subject material to write about for this blog can be difficult.  Indeed, even once I have a what seems like a good idea for an article, sometimes it doesn’t pan out.  While I keep looking for more ideas, I thought I’d share a few of the past ones that didn’t really work out, for one reason or another.

  • An analysis of President (then candidate) Obama’s 2008 comment about putting air in tires instead of drilling for oil.  Won’t do it, because many people already did.  See here for a good example of what I would hope to have done, if they hadn’t done it first.  Looking into this helped me realize that I needed to seek claims and questions that would be subject to more unusual or unorthodox analysis, not just number crunching.
  • An analysis of a claim on Conservapedia‘s page describing public schools.  The claim is “Given that public schools educate about 90% of Americans, it is astounding how few prominent Americans attended public school after the banning of school prayer in 1962. ”  I actually did a large amount of research on this one before this blog existed, and collected a fairly large list of prominent conservative Americans sorted by schooling (my compulsion to do that research was one of the reasons I started this blog in the first place), but it doesn’t make sense to put it up here, since the methodology is pretty sloppy, and picking apart bias from Conservapedia feels almost unfairly easy.
  • An attempt to quantify military success rates of countries that allow gays to serve openly vs. those that do not allow gays at all, also based in part on previous research.  The problem with this is that most wars are messy things without clear winners and with multiple parties on each side, and data on precisely when each country might have changed its policies on gays in the military is even harder to find than just what that policy is.   The short version is that Israel allows gays to serve in the military, and if there’s a country on this planet that needs every bit of military efficiency it can get, it’s Israel.
  • Some sort of data-based analysis of the media coverage of Hurricane Irene relative to its tangible effects.  I had just started to ponder how to approach this analysis when I saw that Nate Silver did it better than I could hope to.
  • An analysis of the “13 keys to victory” election prediction that was making the rounds on the Internet.  While I waited for the book to come via inter-library loan, Nate Silver ninja’d me again.  I’m working on a different kind of analysis that complements rather than retreading what Mr. Silver did, but it is slow going.

Lightbulb Energy Savings, part II

Posted: September 8, 2011 in analysis

In part I of this article, we discussed whether or not high efficiency lightbulbs would cause sufficiently higher heating bills to offset their energy savings, and determined that, for one case of a St. Paul, MN suburban homeowner, they would not.

There are some more areas to explore about this, however.

LED Lighting

But what if my friend is concerned about warmup time, light quality, or the dangerous substances in CFLs, and decided to light his house with LEDs instead? (more…)

Lightbulb Energy Savings, part I

Posted: September 1, 2011 in analysis

The United States is set to phase out the current generation of incandescent light bulbs and replace them with high-efficiency alternatives (mainly compact florescents).  Complaints about this over-regulation have come from many quarters and with many justifications.  According to the naysayers, CFLS give off poor quality light, take a long time to warm up to full brightness, are hazardous to dispose of or if they break, don’t really last longer than incandescents, and don’t save any money because the waste heat from incandescent light bulbs actually helps heat your house in the winter.

Wait, what?  I’m not so interested in analyzing the others (suffice it to say that I have an apartment lit solely by CFLs and have encountered none of those problems) but I find it hard to believe that the waste heat from incandescent light bulbs is actually cost effective.  Bloggers argue this point here and here, among other places, and a more traditional news source discusses it with respect to colder climates here.

I have a basic logic-thermodynamic argument that this can’t be true, but I’ll save it for the end of the article.  Let’s step through the energy expenditures and costs for heating a home in the winter (and not forget cooling it in the summer), and see what we get.  I’ll use my home climate of Saint Paul, Minnesota, which is the coldest major US metropolitan area.  Because I don’t live in a house, and therefore don’t pay my own heating bill, I will borrow the numbers from a home of a friend of mine, but understand, I’m not talking about doing actual experiments here to test different theories.  I’m just using these numbers to frame the mathematics of my argument. (more…)