Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Dream Sequence

Last night I had a dream. I don't usually remember my dreams, but this one I did. It went something like this:

[Setting: I was in a house organizing a knickknack drawer. I was very pleased to see two staplers and four rolls of Scotch tape in the drawer. As I was organizing, Barack Obama walks in with a set of tools and two window screens (no secret service). He begins installing a screen in one of the windows.]

ME: What are you doing?

BO: Installing energy-saving uv-protecting window screens which will lower your electrical bill saving you money.

ME: But I don't want to pay for them. I don't think the benefits outweigh the costs.

BO: Don't worry -- I'm paying for them.

ME: Okay. If it makes you happy...

[Barack begins installing the second screen.]

BO: You don't understand -- if enough people have them, others will see how much money they save and will buy them themselves without me paying for them. It's like Microsoft Windows, only green -- a tipping point will be reached.

ME: But there's an important difference: Users will not adopt some software unless enough other people use it because their utility depends on the number of other people using the software. Microsoft Windows has maintained so much market share not because alternatives are expensive, but because of network effects: it reached a tipping point, gained market share, and won't lose it because not enough people use the alternative. Window screens are not like that.

BO: Oh, I did not realize that.

[Barack thinks, then gathers his tools and leaves. I think that it's a little disappointing how much light the new screens seem to be blocking. Then I wake up.] 

Dreams are supposed to be crazy mash-ups of reality and things one is thinking about at the time you go to sleep ("what's on your mind"), but when light bulb bans* are reality, misplaced charity based on a mistaken parallel between types of windows seems positively sane.

* Evidently, the effective ban on traditional incandescent 100-watt bulbs is currently in place, but the enforcement of the law was de-funded by Congress at the last minute last year. I say effective ban because, as the NYT so gently put it last year, the law "simply requires that companies make some of their incandescent bulbs work a bit better, meeting a series of rolling deadlines between 2012 and 2014." That is, the law did not single out a certain product, but was phrased so that only the 100-watt incandescent qualifies. (The "work a little bit better" is referring to those more expensive (but cheaper than CFLs) blue incandescent bulbs you may see in the store that are 100-watt equivalents, but are not standard bulbs). Incidentally, by 2014, some lower wattage incandescent bulbs won't be legal, either.

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