Saturday, September 29, 2007

Cold(er) showers

In theory, water usage in the shower should be proportional to shower length times pressure. Energy usage is proportional to shower length times pressure times temperature. I'd like to decrease both.

Back when I was in Grassroots at University of Rochester, people were talking about taking colder showers. As someone who likes warm-to-hot showers, this seemed difficult-to-insane. Indeed, I still can't take a cold shower. However, what I have been trying over the last month or so is to take colder showers. This has the nice secondary effect of making me take shorter showers (since the colder water reminds me not to stay there forever), thus using less water and energy.

My trick has been to gradually decrease the temperature during the course of the shower. Over time, I've been able to lower the starting point. Note that the water is actually still somewhat warm, so if I start feeling cold, I can move out of the water and then back in.

We'll see if it changes my apartment's gas bill (though there are other factors, so it's hard to measure). We'll also see if I can maintain this through colder room temperatures.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Get supported, customers

Recently, I called Southwest's customer support and was surprisingly greeted within about 20 seconds by a real human. Even stranger, when we determined that Southwest couldn't fly where I wanted for a reasonable rate, the customer service rep actually referred me to other airlines which fly the same route. As far as I know, Southwest doesn't partner with any of them, so this appears to just be good customer-focused support.

However, most customer support systems are a nightmare (I'm looking at you Sprint and COX Communications!). Today, I found two tools which might make getting support suck slightly less.

Both tools help with the problem that many companies try to do everything over the Internet now and hide their customer support numbers. (This is especially amusing/frustrating when the company itself is an internet service provider, though I know that Netflix hid their CSR number at one point.)
  • GetHuman gives you numbers and instructions for how to talk to a human immediately. They also rate companies according to their standards.
  • Bringo takes it a step further. They claim to call these numbers for you and navigate the phone tree for you. Once they reach a human, they will call your phone and connect you.
P.S. While I'm talking about good/bad customer support, I should say that HP was very helpful when I was buying my laptop from them. I don't know if their technical support is as good as their sales as the laptop has been problem free so far.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Free games!

Davinci Games, makers of the great card game, Bang!, have released some free games which could be cool. All of the free games include printable manuals and game materials.

In related news, their website reveals that there's a 2nd edition of the Dodge City extension pack which weakens three of the characters. The three characters were found to be too powerful in tournaments (details here).

Friday, September 7, 2007

Some thoughts on objectivity and journalism

I skimmed an article describing Bush's recent report of our "progress" in Iraq. The article mentioned casually how this was Bush's 3rd time to Iraq since the war started. Now, I could be interpreting this incorrectly, but I'm pretty sure the journalist included this fact to emphasize the relative smallness of this number.

The reason I mention this is that it made me think about how even the act of including this fact imparts a political bias. Thus, even a seemingly basic task as fact selection is not objective. I'm sure this was obvious to many, but I hadn't thought about it before. I brought this up with my roommate, Allison, and we talked about how given space/time constraints, fact selection must take place. However, as more facts are included, the bias should be reduced. She made the point that 24-hour cable news channels have more time to fully investigate stories and include facts, making it all the much more sad when they don't.

For further information: The Daily Show rails on cable news at least weekly and Fox News has their own documentary, Outfoxed. The latter is interesting in that while it uses many of the techniques designed to influence the viewer (music and graphics to affect viewer's emotional state) and the documentary makers are obviously biased, they make a strong point by simply showing that Fox News is not "Fair and Balanced" as it claims to be.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Don't panic!

...or do: Five things that are worse than Global Warming is quite scary. Even if you don't believe in all five of the problems they describe, (not to say that I don't) if even one of them is real, we're probably in serious trouble. Some, like the water shortage, are getting significantly less attention and potentially much harder to solve.