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1) Google’s PowerMeter is dead. Long live Google’s PowerMeter. Thoughts on why it didn’t take off here.

2) Choice overload at a young age. (See page 4 and markers)

3) Morningstar on “The Benefits of a Financial Nudge

4) FICO scores for medical adherence?

5) Early prognosis for tax receipt. It doesn’t much change how Americans feel about paying their taxes.

6) The Winner’s Curse in its most basic form: Spending $28 for a $25 gift card as part of an Ebay auction.

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Uriel Fogué, an architect, design lecturer at the European University of Madrid in Spain, and a Nudge blog reader sends along a great story of interactive learning from his classroom. The lesson relates wisdom of the crowds, feedback, gambling, and solar energy. Quite a combination.

I run a Workshop called Energy Bets at the Universidad Pontificia Javeriana de Bogotá (Colombia). The idea was to explore during two weeks the architectonic opportunities that the use of solar photovoltaic technology entails nowadays.

The students’ assignment was to design in full a building using integrated solar photovoltaic systems. In order to get ready, they had to acquire a basic knowledge of this technology, but instead of a conventional lecture, we chose to nudge them to learn it for themselves. We called the nudge we used “Quinielas energéticas” (Energy Bets) and it worked as follows.

We had installed a solar panel in our office’s balcony in Madrid. There was a webcam monitoring the panel and sending information in real time to Colombia, where it was projected on the classroom’s screen. The idea was to turn the classroom into a simulated energy stock-market. As a pre-requisite for the workshop, the students had to pay a betting fee of around 15$. This was their initial bet in our quiniela (pools). Every morning, at the beginning of the lecture, we made a question concerning the Madrid panel (such as ‘How much energy is it going to catch tomorrow at 12am?’ or ‘How many solar panels like the one we are working with would be necessary to give service to a full electric house with this and that requirements?’). At the end of the lecture, the students had to give an answer, in which they gambled 1$ at least. During each session the students were supposed to find out the information needed to give the correct answer, by whatever means they could use.

The first three days nobody got the right answer. But after the 4th session and for the remaining, there was more than one winner every day and the estimates became so accurate, that we had to consider decimal figures in the answers in order to choose the daily winner. The rules stated that the last, the day person who achieved the highest score of correct answers, would get all the collected money.

Through this nudge-gambling the students became photovoltaic experts in a record time, and were able to use the new knowledge in their architectural designs. On the other hand, this kind of active participation (instead of recieving information or obeying technological mandates, having to looking for it) turned the learning process into a playful, making the technological knowledge an enjoyable topic.

The experience was so successful that it left us thinking whether we could transform the learning of ecological principles into a sort of gambling vice, in which the participants would get hooked to getting the right answers.

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Over at How We Drive, Tom Vanderbilt posts an interesting new form of traffic feedback in Gainesville, Florida.

The (traffic) signs state “Gainesville drivers yielding to pedestrians” and list the percentage of drivers who yielded during the previous week and the record high percentage who yielded during the campaign. Last week’s 52-percent yield rate is the record, so far.

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1) Do Republicans respond differently than Democrats when their utility bills tell them how much energy they are using? Hat tip: Danny Vincent.

2) Remember the alarm clock that donates money to organizations you despise when you don’t get out of bed? How about a web site that donates money to those organizations when you procrastinate online. Hat tip: Gilad Buchman.

3) Do cities make signs about neighborhood parking confusing as a way to nudge people to park at meters and free up more space for neighborhood residents? Hat tip: Lou Wigdor.

4) Another web application for scoring your home’s energy efficiency. This one just raised $315,000.

5) PBS special Mind Over Money is available online (filmed, in part, at the University of Chicago).

6) The NCAA makes sickle cell testing the default option. Hat tip: Robert Barricelli.

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Changing behavior by simply telling people what others do is an important lesson of Nudge. A major new research project at Kingston University, the University of West England, and Swansea, is putting this lesson to more rigorous empirical tests involving cell phones and exercise, smart meters and home energy usage, and facebook and “sustainable” lifestyle choices. Participants will be given information about their exercise, energy usage, and lifestyle choices in comparison to others in the group. Says the BBC:

The research, called the Charm Project, builds on the work of academics Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein which implies that the way people are told about poor lifestyle choices influences how they react.

Instead of simply telling people to stop, it has been shown that it is more effective to reveal how one person’s behaviour ranks against their peers.

Adopting a less confrontational style can, claim Thaler and Sunstein, “nudge” people towards better choices.


Readers have been very interested in Peter Russo and Brendan Wypich’s SmartSwitch. There have been a number of requests for the guys to explain more about the tactile feedback piece of the technology. Straight from the source, here’s the technical explanation of how it works:

A low-power microprocessor embedded in the SmartSwitch receives and interprets data from the network. (The “network” may consist of sensors, other switches, a home energy-monitoring system, the central office of the power company, etc.) Based on that data, the microprocessor controls the position of a linear servomotor, which presses a brake pad down onto the sliding mechanism of the switch. The harder the brake presses, the more difficult it becomes to physically slide the switch.

Refinements to the mechanism will be made in the next version of the SmartSwitch. For example, while the linear servomotor — an off-the-shelf device typically used by remote-control model hobbyists — is great for prototyping, it’s likely too big, noisy, and expensive to be used in an actual product. We’re also exploring ways to alter the gesture — rather than the force — required to flip the switch.

The two also say that, depending on how SmartSwitch is configured, there are lots of potential applications.

-If configured to respond to a household-specific energy consumption goal (say, to use less than 200 kWh of electricity per month), the switch can become harder to turn on if it looks like the goal isn’t going to be met.

-If configured to respond to a neighborhood’s energy consumption, the switch can become harder to turn on if your household usage is above the neighborhood average.

-If connected to a light sensor, the switch can become harder to turn on if the ambient light level is already high.

-If configured to respond to grid-wide electricity demand, the switch can become harder to turn on during times of peak usage.

We plan to explore these (and other) applications when we roll the SmartSwitch out to users through a pilot study. We also imagine that point-of-use tactile feedback could be used in other controls — such as thermostats — that potentially offer even more substantial energy savings.

We’ll keep you updated on SmartSwitch’s progress.

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Peter Russo and Brendan Wypich have found a way to combine the Ambient Orb, the EcoPedal, and the competitive utility bill into one amazing nudge. As second year master’s students in the Stanford Design Program, the two have designed what they are calling a SmartSwitch, which lets people know how much energy they are using, not through colors, but through tactile feedback. It was recently named a semi-finalist in the Greener Gadgets Design Competition. We asked the two to describe their technology in a guest post for the Nudge blog. If you like the idea, you can vote for SmartSwitch here.


Continue reading the post here.

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The New York Times reports on a favorite nudge of ours from California: Giving people information about their energy consumption and how it compares with their neighbors’ in order to cut back on energy use – and printing smiley faces and frowning faces on customer’s bills to emphasize the message. By subtly shaming or applauding individuals, the nudge taps “into a time-honored American passion: keeping up with the neighbors,” the Times writes.

Interestingly (albeit perhaps not surprisingly), one positive development from this nudge is the encouragement of spontaneous, small-scale action by groups. As designed, the nudge is entirely focused on individuals or individual families. Each household receives a bill, providing information about its energy habits, plus the habits of the energy of an average household, or one especially green household. But by piquing curiosity about the behavior of others, groups are likely to spontaneously form to take advantage of the information they’ve been given.

Competition among homeowners is still rare, but is becoming more widespread. In Massachusetts, the BrainShift Foundation, a nonprofit that uses games to raise environmental awareness, recruited towns to compete in a reality series, called “Energy Smackdown,” which is shown on a local cable station.

At the start of this year’s season, 10 families from Cambridge, Medford and Arlington formed teams and competed against one another in conservation categories that included waste, heating fuel, electricity and food. Patty Nolan, 51, who lives in Cambridge with her husband and two children, agreed to participate because, she said, although family members thought of themselves as “environmentally conscious,” they knew they could be doing more.

Promoting friendly competition is fast becoming a recognized strategy for designing a nudge. Looking to the future, smart choice architects may be able to take this kind of individually delivered information, and use it to promote or strengthen broader social norms.

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Recently, we stumbled on Onzo, a company that has been turning the ideas in Nudge about feedback and energy use into slick, innovative, energy-saving products. As the designer of in-home energy displays and smart energy meters, the London-based start-up has earned the unofficial title “the iPod of Cleantech.”

Feedback displays are potentially just the beginning of high-tech domicile choice architecture. In a guest post, Onzo founder and CEO Joel Hagan discusses automated technology in houses, how smart meters bode well for the future, and why a truly “smart home” is still far, far away.

By Joel Hagan

There’s a lot of talk about automating homes these days. Programmable broadband and home networks that heat, cool, and light rooms without any switch-flipping; refrigerators that can detect when their contents are running low and re-order online. This kind of automated gadgetry, intended to make our lives easier and nudge us to live greener and eat better, can make home builders, environmentalists, and high-tech whizzes starry-eyed about the possibility of “smart homes” popping up in neighborhoods soon.

Not so fast.

Continue reading the post here.

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Residents of Queensland, Australia, have lived a decade of drought. Shriveled vegetables and brown lawns led to mandates restrictions on outdoor water usage, but water remained scare. The reservoirs serving Australia’s most populous cities dropped to just above 15 percent of normal. The country’s water authority needed to change its citizens’ behaviors. Water officials set a target of reducing daily per person consumption from 80 gallons to 37. And they met it, says Patrick Whyte. How? With lots and lots of nudges.

Officials developed a relatively cheap social marketing campaign, with the aim of getting people to think about individual water use. Ads promoted simple things, such as taking four-minute showers and turning off the tap while brushing your teeth. Crucially, the program set targets, and for the first time put gallon figures on the amount of water used in car washing, toilet flushing and other activities.

Before the drought and Target 140, as the program was called, my wife, two sons (ages 8 and 11) and I routinely wasted water. Our faucets dripped, our sprinklers ran, we washed our cars and hosed our driveway without a second thought.

Now the radio was awash with talk of water and how to conserve it. Reservoir levels became the subject of everyday conversation. Just two weeks into Target 140, average daily per-person use dropped from 80 to 32 gallons. The water saved was equivalent to bringing a desalination plant online — overnight.

In the United States, people use an average of between 100 to 150 gallons a day, depending on whose statistics you use, so you’d have a little more cutting to do. But it was surprisingly easy. At my house, water-saving fever caught on quickly. We made sure to only do full loads of dish and clothes washing, we bought a four-minute shower timer, and we used a $15 government-funded, one-off plumbing service to fix leaking faucets and install water-saving shower heads. We took advantage of generous government rebates to install rainwater tanks and gray-water systems.

It was discouraging to watch the garden die and our green lawn turn to dust. But then so did everybody else’s. In fact, healthy gardens raised eyebrows and suspicions. We tracked our progress in our water bill, which displayed household usage on a bar graph, along with our suburb’s average and the overall city average.

There were some isolated neighborhood tensions and even the odd case of tank theft, but collectively, residents saved about 148 billion gallons of water under Target 140, which ran through July. The typical household saved about 190,000 gallons.

Fifteen months into the program, we got unexpected rains that took the reservoirs to the required 40% level, and the target was adjusted up to 45 gallons a person a day, where it remains. But longer-term behavioral change seems to have occurred, and daily use has stabilized at 38 gallons a person.

Hat tip: Rory Sutherland

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