Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sometimes I forget...

how much thought went into certain aspects of this house. From the light covered 'cool roof' that reflects a majority of the solar gain and keeps the house cool:
The drought resistant plants and ground cover that keeps the ground cool:
and forgoing rain gutters to allow for run off to water the landscaping during the winter.

In addition to the Low E, reflective windows:

the interior has stained concrete flooring that keeps the house cool, high ceilings to allow for heat to rise and clerestory windows that open to let the heat out at night:
These design features keep the house comparatively cool during the summer. On average the house stays 25F-30F degrees cooler than the outside temp in the summer. When it was 109F+ this weekend, the house stayed 79 degrees.

7/18: Outside 105/Inside 83
7/19: Outside 109/Inside 79
7/20: Outside 112/Inside 80

Overall, the design of the house is meeting or exceeding the expected summer performance.

Let's talk about winter performance in 12/09.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Weather or Not, El Nino is coming....

They say that California does not have seasons. As a Californian I offer that we have two seasons. Drought and El Nino. Here is a description of El Nino from NOAA:

  • El NiƱo is an oscillation of the ocean-atmosphere system in the tropical Pacific having important consequences for weather around the globe. Among these consequences are increased rainfall across the southern tier of the US and in Peru, which has caused destructive flooding, and drought in the West Pacific, sometimes associated with devastating brush fires in Australia
  • El Nino's usually bring heavy rain to the west coast of California with frequent flooding and mudslides. Mostly in the first 3 months of the calendar year.
Why this is of interest to me is because it usually means rain in biblical amounts. At least for California. The average rainfall in the Paso Robles area is between 12-14 inches per year. The past 5 El Nino events produced yearly rainfall as follows
  • 1978 23.38 inches
  • 1983 26.46 inches
  • 1993 23.01 inches
  • 1995 27.95 inches
  • 1998 20.65 inches
This may not look significant but in 4 of those years over 14 inches of rain fell in January and February alone. This causes the ground to become saturated and mudslides occur like this one in La Conchita, south of Santa Barbara:

The recent work on the road here:

should mitigate the erosion and mudslide that blocked the road that in 2005 after 14 inches of rain Jan-Mar.

I sincerely hope this is my only post on El Nino.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Getting Your Fair Advantage

A former co-worker of mine has moved to India for a year. He is finding it to be the adventure of a lifetime and is learning what it means to be a foreigner in a very foreign land. I mention this because he and his spouse recently experienced something that seems to be one of the few behaviors that does not discriminate, is multicultural, and leaves the people experiencing the wrong end of it feeling guilty of who and what they are, what they have accomplished. Not to mention a rather large dose of anger as well.

In short, they were taken advantage of by someone they trusted. While it happens to most people at one time or another it still elicits a range of emotions, most of them negative.

What is amazing to me is that this seems to be a human phenomenon, not a cultural one. A trait of being homo-sapiens. The anthropological/cultural reasons for this to exist and be so similar across cultures and geographies is fascinating to me.

Could it be as simple as risk vs. reward. In high order primates, taking advantage in small ways is not punished severely if at all. It is theorized that keeping the social fabric together is more important for survival than ostracizing only the most egregious transgressions. While this is an oversimplification I think it plays out in how people learn to take their 'fair advantage'.

I have come to the conclusion that understanding how people assess risk vs. reward is key to long term working partnerships. If there is very little risk in someone getting their fair advantage, rest assured they will take it. The book Freakonomics has a great chapter describing the risk vs. reward aspect of taking advantage"

"Levitt, the author of Freakonomics, caught teachers cheating by analyzing all the individual answers of every student in the Chicago public school system. What he found was that after students had turned in their tests, teachers were going through and changing their answers. Not every answer, mind you, but enough to boost scores. In his example, he shows how in a class of 22 students, at least 15 students had the same string of six correct answers. At first glance, this seems a little suspicious, especially since the string comes towards the end of the test, where the harder questions tend to be. Not only that, but several of the students who got these answers correct left at least four of the questions in the same section blank, showing they probably could not have answered the earlier questions correctly. To add to it, these were poor performing students who did not have strings of six answers correct anywhere else on the test. The students made huge leaps during this year, however, the next year they sank back down to their low level. Obviously something was amiss."

The motivation was obvious. Teachers, who are notoriously poorly paid anyway, needed the money and were willing to engage in unethical behavior to acquire those bonuses. The teachers did not do this solely because they are unethical, they did it because they realized there was little risk involved because no one was minding the store. A system was set up with no checks and balances.

The community at large is one way to mitigate this. Find out their standing in the community and use your intuition. If you feel like you are helping someone out, perhaps they need help because of how they conduct themselves. If they are going out of their way to help you out, ask yourself what reward are they looking for and what are they risking by helping you.