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Is it economical to install a solar power system (photovoltaic) for a new home?

Assume you will live in this home for the next 30 years, you're in California where the sunlight is plentiful, energy costs are high, and the government is offering rebates. You run the numbers, and as long as the cost of the system is wrapped into your mortgage, you are saving cash from day one. Ta-da! It's good economics, right?

Not so fast. Economists consider all alternatives, and one of the alternatives is to wait a few years and then add solar power to your home, when the systems are likely to be far more efficient and much less expensive. If you wait, you run the risk of losing any government rebates, and there's an economic penalty for not wrapping the cost into your original mortgage. But waiting still makes sense if the new system is twice as efficient.

If you add those considerations to the uncertainty of living in the same place for 30 years, the possibility of energy costs from the grid coming down (it could happen) and the weekly maintenance of the solar panels (you need to hose them down if it hasn't rained lately), it's hard to justify installing solar power.

My new home will have solar power. It was a city requirement. I plan to brag about it to people who are passionate about the environment and bad at math.
 
There's an interesting article in TIME that says exercise doesn't do much for weight loss.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/time/20090806/hl_time/08599191485700


I've been a member of the same health club for over 15 years, so I've observed lots of regulars and how their bodies change. One thing I rarely see is people losing weight, no matter how often they go to the gym. Personally, I've never heard of anyone losing significant weight by eating the same as they always did and exercising more. But I know plenty of people who have lost weight by eating less, regardless of how much they exercised.

Today's question: Did you already know that exercise is nearly useless for weight loss? And if not, what kept you from noticing the obvious?

(Note: Experts still agree that exercise is vital for good health, but not because of weight loss.)

 
Recently I had an idea that seemed patentable. I've been through the patent process a few times, once successfully, but it has been a number of years. So I wondered what it would cost to run my new idea through the system.

What do you think it costs to use attorneys to work through the patent system and obtain patents for the U.S., Europe, and let's say 16 more of the bigger countries?

Answer: Over $100K.

Sure, I could do the work myself, but who has that kind of time? And what are the chances that I could imitate the tortured language of a patent description well enough to make the patent office happy? Attempting that on my own seems like a big waste of time.

Worst of all, you have to wade into the process before knowing if anyone has already applied for the same patent. It takes about 3-4 years to get a patent, because the patent office is so backed up, and there is an 18-month opaque period in which you can't view any ideas that are in the pipeline ahead of you. I went through this entire process once and in the end the patent office decided that someone else's patent, that had no obvious correlation to my idea, was broad enough to include it.

So what would a small inventor with limited resources do in a situation like this? You could find an investor to go in with you, but I imagine the investor would take half, or more, of whatever the upside was. And where do you go to find such an investor anyway?

This made me wonder if some sort of investment market for patent ideas could be created. Suppose that after the inventor files a provisional application, which is the first part of the process, and not outrageously expensive, perhaps investors could have a chance to fund the rest of the patent process in return for some stake in the outcome.

As things stand, investors can't view provisional patent applications. I assume there is a good reason for that. My guess is that it prevents claim jumpers from leaping into the patent process with a slightly better or broader version of your idea that you hadn't described well enough in the provisional application. I'm not sure that's a good enough reason to keep things secret. Perhaps inventors could have an option of remaining secret and funding things themselves or going public and attracting investors from an early stage.

This would serve as sort of a pre-patent filter for ideas. If an idea is patentable, but investors see little economic value in it, that's good to know before you spend a bundle for a patent. And if investors see great potential, they would bid down the percent of equity they require in return for funding it. In other words, someone might be willing to fund a great patent idea for a 10% equity stake whereas a merely good idea might require 50%.

I'm sure there's a problem with this scheme, or it is already being done in some fashion. Let me know.
 
Let's say you have a goal in life, but you don't know what steps will be required to get there. The only step you are sure you can accomplish is the very first one. Maybe that first step involves quitting your job, or moving, or doing something else that is hard to reverse.

Do you take the first step and hope you can figure out the rest later? Or do you try to figure out all of the steps, at least in a general way, before you take the first step?

Every situation is different, so generalizing is risky. I'm a big proponent of keeping your day job while you try to get something else going on the side. But when the risk of taking the first step is relatively small, I say take it and then figure out how to do the next step later.

In my experience, you rarely see the second step clearly until you take the first. Taking the first step causes knowledge to come to you. For example, prior to launching Dilbert I didn't know how to be a professional cartoonist, but I did know how to submit my samples for syndication, having read a book that described that process. It was as simple as sending copies of my comics to a half-dozen addresses. Once United Media became interested in my work, they essentially taught me the rest of the steps required. The rest of my job I learned by trial and error and observation.

How about you? Do you take the first step if you don't know where the second will be?
 
I wonder if the words you use to speak about yourself actually cause you to become a different person. Research shows that the language you speak can change your abilities in some ways.

http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/boroditsky09/boroditsky09_index.html


This might be a partial explanation for why affirmations appear to work for some people. Perhaps using language to tell yourself that you are a different person (happier, more successful, etc.) causes you to become more like the words.

We know that the brain is bidirectional. If it's happy, it can make you smile. But if you force yourself to smile when you are not happy, it can make you happier.

http://web.psych.ualberta.ca/~varn/bc/Kleinke.htm

When I was in college, which was my first social experience outside the tiny town where I grew up, I noticed that a lot of people were asking me the same question: How are you? So I decided that my answer to that question, regardless of the truth, would be always be something along the lines of great, spectacular, excellent or sensational. It's the one situation in which there is no social penalty for saying out loud that you are incredible.

How are you?

I'm fantastic.

My reasoning was that over time I might program myself through repetition to become better than I was. I have no idea if it works, but I know I enjoy telling people I'm fabulous.

It would be easy to test this sort of thing. Just take a random group of kids and teach them to say good things to themselves, or even aloud, about their intelligence, on a regular basis. Then compare their test scores with a control group.


If this method improved test scores, do you think schools would be allowed to teach it? I'm guessing no, because it would seem like witchcraft to the fundamentalists.

 
Describe the idiot, excluding yourself, who is preventing you from accomplishing your biggest goal. Describe the goal in one sentence, but spend as much time as you like describing the idiot.
 
Themes
Jul 31, 2009 | General Nonsense | Permalink
As regular readers know, I believe that the most likely explanation for our existence is that we're holographic computer simulations created by humans who came before us. And we don't appear to be randomized. It seems as if there are clear themes to every life, as if we are programmed that way.

For example, one of my themes is that most of my technology is defective. Here's a sample just from today:


Fax machine receives but doesn't send

DVD drive on computer doesn't recognize discs

DVD player puts white spots on movies

DVR freezes and locks on every recording

Movie editing software I just purchased is too slow to use

Fedex website is unfathomable

TV has a bad color wheel

Postal meter needs a battery

Computer backup (new) slows my system to a crawl all day

Wireless router doesn't work

Computer keeps locking up

Can't get rid of an ad that keeps popping up on new laptop

Old laptop stopped working months ago

Blackberry won't sync with my Outlook address book

Car has a warning light on the dashboard that the dealer can't turn off
This blog software doesn't let me do numbered lists

It has always been this way for me. It's a theme. And speaking of themes, check out the Dilbert themes for igoogle

http://www.google.com/help/ig/comicsthemes/#dilbert


Look how I cleverly worked that in. Anyway, my point today is that you can often predict the future from themes. If you had done a poll two months ago and asked people to predict how Michael Jackson would die, I think many of you would have nailed it.

If a young Kennedy someday runs for president again, I think we all know how that will end too. The only mystery is whether it will happen by gunfire or in some sort of flying, floating, or roadway mishap. And I will go out on a limb and predict there would be rumors of infidelity.

Another theme is financial bubbles. While there are no obvious bubble candidates on the horizon, I predict there will be another one soon. That's simply a theme.

You can try this at home. Pick a theme and make a prediction of the future. I will add another prediction that some of you will complain about the crass commercialism in this post.

 
My previous post got one of the lowest rankings ever. It was a perfect storm of crappiness. Some people objected to the validity of the study I mentioned, others bristled at the suggestion of any kind of control on what they eat. Some folks pointed out that if vegans had demonstrably lower health risks, there would already be special low-cost insurance for that group.

This got me wondering if vegetarians actually have fewer chronic diseases. So I put the question to you. Do you personally know anyone who has been a vegetarian for over twenty years and then got diabetes or heart disease or cancer?

For this purpose I will lump vegetarians (who eat some dairy) with vegans who don't. And remember to include only people you know personally; no celebrities and friends of friends.

Let me acknowledge that this will prove nothing. Personally, I don't know any vegetarian who has ever died, but that probably doesn't prove they are immortal. I just wonder if you collectively know plenty of vegetarians who are dropping dead from diabetes, heart disease, or cancer. Obviously you know plenty of non-vegetarians with all of those problems.
 
I now present two pieces of information that are supported by the data, as far as I know. Provide a link if you know otherwise.

First, 80% of healthcare costs go toward chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

Second, a huge study on diet and its correlation to disease, called The China Study, found that chronic diseases, particularly the ones I just mentioned, only get triggered if you eat a plant based diet, for the most part, regardless of your genetic propensity.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_China_Study

The author's thesis, backed by a mountain of data, is that the only safe level of animal based food is zero. No milk or cheese either. Moderation simply doesn't work when it comes to eating meat. That's the data talking, not me, according to this expert. I haven't seen any data that contradicts that notion. Provide a link if you have.

As a practical matter, it would be impossible to ban meat from the diets of average Americans. But when you are talking about insurance of any sort, whether it is health or auto or hurricane, we accept the principle that risk factors can be considered in pricing. So all we need to do is charge meat eaters four times as much as vegetarians for health insurance. Over time it will create more vegetarians, for economic reasons alone, and healthcare costs will plummet.

You might say it is unfair for the insurance company to charge a higher premium for earthquake insurance to people who actually live on a fault line. But I say that's just good business.

Insurance companies shouldn't charge more to people who have preexisting or genetic problems of course, as these are things which can't be controlled. But people can certainly control their diets if they want to save money. As it stands now, vegetarians are subsidizing your cheeseburgers by paying more for health insurance than they should. (Insert counterpoint involving the non-existence of free will here.)

I want to stress that I'm not the sort of vegetarian who cares if you live or die, so long as you're enjoying yourself along the way. You can eat rusty tin cans and medical needles for all I care, so long as I don't have to subsidize it.

 
Our laws recognize a number of legal ages for various activities. You need to be 16-years old to get a driver's license, 18-years old to enlist in the armed forces, and 21-years old to drink. One can argue that the various legal ages should be adjusted up or down, but everyone generally agrees that there needs to be minimum legal ages for some types of activities.

I think we need to extend that concept. Once you reach the age of 80, a new set of legal rights should kick in. Specifically, you should be able to imbibe any drug you want, and you should have the right to doctor-assisted euthanasia.

A typical 80-year old might need a little chemical boost to make life tolerable. There isn't much chance an 80-year old will join a street gang or shorten his lifespan by much. Perhaps the law could require a full-time nurse or family caretaker to be around if the oldster wants to drop acid. I could see some restrictions on the activity, but it seems cruel to force grandpa to have a crappy last few years when science provides options.

Likewise, euthanasia should be legal after the age of 80. The cost of keeping people alive in the last months of their lives is a huge part of overall healthcare costs, and a big deal to the economy. I say if you're 80-years old, and you want to spare yourself, and society, from a painful and expensive last act, that should be your legal right.
 
 
 
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