Category Archives: research

Thoughts on ENERGY 2013 conference


I just finished attending the ENERGY 2013 conference in Lisbon. The conference was a part of InfoSys 2013, which consists of several smaller conference all bundled together. Each day had one keynote and on panel discussion drawn from all the different conferences/tracks,  making for an interesting, and eclectic experience. There were perhaps 30 attendees for the ENERGY subconference, so I got to know several of the presenters.

I was presenting our paper on lessons learned from designing energy feedback visualizations for the Kukui Cup. Our three lessons about feedback visualizations is that they should be actionable, that domain knowledge must go hand in hand with energy feedback systems, and that this feedback must be “sticky” to lead to changes in behaviors and attitudes. While I was probably the only attendee focused on feedback visualizations and behavior, I got some interesting feedback from other energy attendees, such as finding additional ways to connect to undergraduates (e.g., beer :))

Below are my notes on some of the presentations I found noteworthy. So nice to be at a conference with open access to the proceedings so I can link to them directly!

Energy Aware Scheduling

Kanad Ghose presented on Dynamic Classification of Repetitive Jobs In Linux For Energy-Aware Scheduling: A Feasibility Study. 2.8% of electricity in the US is used by datacenters, and their research is on trying to find ways to reduce energy use in the datacenter environment. The basic idea is that some jobs are CPU-bound and others are I/O bound, so on a server with multiple CPUs, some CPUs can downshifted in voltage and frequency for I/O bound tasks (which spend most of their time waiting for I/O requests) with a consequent savings in energy. The other CPUs are kept at the highest performance level for the CPU-bound jobs. Each type of job (identified by the executable image) is classified, and jobs are scheduled by the kernel on the properly tuned CPU. Interesting work, and they are seeing about 5-10% reductions in energy use with small increases in latency. In the future they foresee servers in the data center communicating data about their loads (and predicted loads) to the HVAC system to further reduce energy use by preventing overcooling.

Voltage Sensors for Smart Grids

Chris Yakymyshyn from FieldMetrics presented on his work on Sensors for Smart Grids, which focused on the complexities of designing voltage and current sensors for the medium-voltage environment that are highly accurate. Utilities are typically required to provide electrical power within certain bounds of voltage and frequency. In the past, utilities had usually just targeted the center of the range for safety, but they have now realized that by reducing the provided voltage to the bottom of the regulated range they can save huge amounts of energy, avoiding the need to construct additional power plants! However, to skirt the edge of the regulated range, utilities need to actually measure the voltage they are providing so they can avoid fines for being outside the range.

One neat thing is that the sensors they have designed work optically,  taking advantage of the Pockels effect whereby an electric field changes the index of refraction of certain crystals. Their sensor produces polarized light, which is guided through multiple crystals, and a sensor at the other end measures the angle by which the polarization light has been rotated.

The results from their field trials with BC Hydro are equally interesting. One major application by BC Hydro is detecting energy theft. To detect theft, a power sensor is installed on the medium-voltage transmission line before a group of customers, and then after the group. Combined with smart meter data from the customers, the utility can determine how much power should have been drawn off the medium-voltage line compared to what the smart meters reported. In one neighborhood, approximately 27% of the delivered electricity was being stolen, and the majority of that was coming from (illegal) marijuana grow operations! This leads me to ponder how much energy we could save if growing marijuana was legal, which would allow for more outdoor growing, or at least energy audits of facilities. 🙂

Energy Storage & Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G)

Mark Apperley from the University of Waikato, New Zealand brought a wonderful discussion on energy storage and specifically vehicle-to-grid (V2G) storage. One of the conference panel discussions focused on energy storage. The discussion was quite wide-ranging, and I found the following points interesting

  • Mark pointed out that we all have a storage system in our homes for a different resource: toilets. Toilets store water, dispensing it at 140 l/m, but refill at 30 l/m. The water storage provides two benefits to water-providing utility: it smooths out the load generated when people flush, and it also provides an “infrastructure improvement” since the water pipe coming to homes is not sized to provide water at the rate needed to flush. Electricity storage would also provide these same two qualities. For example, as electric vehicles become more widely used, the distribution lines to neighborhoods may become overburdened as adding an electric vehicle roughly doubles the electricity use of a home. In a neighborhood with many EVs, some vehicles may discharge to provide their neighbors with power which the utility is not able to provide with the existing distribution lines.
  • In talking about the growth of renewable energy, Chris Yakymyshyn pointed out that fossil fuel power plants need to run a certain percentage of the time in order to make a profit. If they are only being used a small percentage of the time to support intermittent renewable energy sources, they will shut down and go bankrupt.
  • I shared point made by Mark Duda, a founder of residential-solar installing company RevoluSun in Hawaii. He pointed out that since electricity prices are very high in Hawaii, PV is quite cost-effective for many homeowners, some of whom also install a battery storage system so they can go completely off the grid. Hawaiian Electric (like all utilities) has large fixed costs (power plants are expensive!) that it has to pay regardless of how much electricity they actually generate. Thus as more people are able to switch to solar, Hawaiian Electric will have to spread the fixed costs over fewer customers, leading to higher rates. This makes solar cost effective for even more homeowners, who then disconnect from the grid, which could lead to a spiral when the utility can no longer afford to pay its fixed costs.

Mark also gave a keynote talk on his research into V2G in New Zealand. The concept of using electric vehicles as a storage system for the grid is not new, as it was first suggested by Kempton and Letendre in 1997. Two important issues for V2G are that the electric vehicles need to be plugged in to be a resource for the grid, and that the decision on whether to charge from the grid or discharge to the grid requires knowledge of the planned usage of the vehicle (e.g., when will the owner be driving home?).

The promise of V2G is that vehicles are only used a small portion of the time. In NZ, vehicles are estimated to be used only 4% of the time, providing a lot of potential time for grid backup. Mark has created a fine-grained simulation of electric vehicle use for grid storage in NZ, with a 1 minute time scale, individual vehicle simulation, and real utility load data (we can only dream of this level of data in Hawaii!). The simulation also takes into account the gradual adoption of electric vehicles.

Based on the simulation results, with 400,000 EVs, V2G reduced peak energy generation requirements, and flattens out the demand curve. Unfortunately, it did not actually reduce the height of the peak load: while EVs can be helpful for storage, they also increase demand for electricity for their use as transportation. As an amusing aside, Mark said that one of his student’s had computed that if all the laptops in NZ could be linked to the grid, they would be able to handle the national load for a few minutes 🙂

It would be great to see a simulation of how V2G would work (or not) for Hawaii, but it would require a lot of data that is not available outside of Hawaiian Electric.

Mahalo to all the participants and organizers of ENERGY 2013!

Meaningful Play 2012

For the past 4 days I have been attending the Meaningful Play 2012 conference. MP is an interesting mix of game design and game analysis, with a heavy focus on serious games, games for learning, games for impact, or whatever you want to call them. The 2012 proceedings are available online, but surprisingly not linked off the main page. I was there presenting our paper Beyond kWh: Myths and fixes for energy competition game design, which explains the counter-intuitive energy use from the 2011 UH Kukui Cup, and our investigation into the methodology of energy competitions in general. I also demoed the Kukui Cup at the MP game demo session, and there were a lot of good games there.

The following are some quick thoughts on the conference from my perspective, with special emphasis on things relevant to our work on the Kukui Cup and serious games for sustainability.

Donald Brinkman from from Microsoft Research gave the opening keynote. He’s one of the leaders of the Just Press Play project, which is a game experience for game design students at RIT intended to reduce student attrition and increase interaction between students. There are many parallels between Just Press Play and the Kukui Cup: players can earn achievements for certain actions, there are real world events that players can get credit for attending. They originally handed out 25 digit attendance codes on cards, but players were (understandably) not pleased about typing in long codes to get their achievements. Their latest iteration of the system gives a QR code to each player, and admins scan the codes using a smartphone app in order to award achievements. This is a nice solution to the problem, though I wonder how many students will forget or lose their QR code. I have a feeling that would be a problem at UHM, where many students seem to wander the area around the residence halls with just their ID card and keycard. I’m also curious to see how the heavy emphasis on badges, with no points or leaderboard will play out. Once you have many badges, I worry it will make badges somewhat meaningless (see Achievement Unlocked 2).

One aspect of the Kukui Cup that we have sometimes bemoaned is the fact that it is optional, and so only a portion of the 1000+ residents in Hale Aloha participate. However, something that came up many times during the conference is the idea that being optional is good. In fact, some presenters believe that mandatory play is not really play at all.

There was a presentation by Steven Dodds, Carrie Heeter, and Andy Simon about civic gaming in San Jose that really piqued my interest. The team presenting have run “budget games” where small groups sit at a table and have to make decisions about what city projects to fund, which to cut, and how to raise revenue. The results of the games have then been largely incorporated into the mayor’s budget request! The most fun workshop I attended was titled “Pervasive and Environmental Game Design” by Jeff Watson from USC. The topic was really about games for action: instead of simulating the world or telling players how to change it, make the game actually be about taking action. The audience was broken up into small teams, and given the objective of creating a working game prototype that addressed some issue regarding the MP conference itself. Our team designed a game intended to increase the networking at the conference, which we called Network Bingo, where each player has to collect business cards from other attendees, and try to fill up a bingo card with organizational roles across the top (student, professor, designer, etc) and application area going down (health, sustainability, etc). We didn’t quite get to the point where we had a playable prototype (only one team did), but the experience was awesome and opened me up to new possibilities in this space. I’d really like to create a analog game that lets the players explore Hawaii’s energy and sustainability issues using these techniques.

One thing that struck me after seeing all the awesome games and research going on at the conference is how much we could improve the learning potential of the Kukui Cup by making it more “procedural rhetoric” (Ian Bogost’s term). While we do have some activities like the Energy Scavenger Hunt where we teach players things implicitly as part of the game play, still too much content relies on watching a video and answering a question, which is only a game by from a very charitable viewpoint. This orientation was necessary to meet our requirements, since sustainability is a enormous topic and given our available resources making a game for each subtopic would have been completely infeasible. But as the Kukui Cup matures, we need to start making more and more of the experience gamelike and less like traditional teaching.

Meaningful Play was a blast (even if it rained a lot!) and I look forward to the next one in 2014!

Zuma Blitz and the Kukui Cup

I’ve been playing a fair amount of Zuma Blitz on Facebook. Zuma Blitz is a Flash game from Popcap, makers of many popular Flash games, including the original Zuma. While playing, I have been thinking (occasionally) about what we can learn from “normal” games like Zuma Blitz.

Zuma Blitz mechanics

Zuma Blitz involves a frog that you control in the center of a game board. You can rotate the frog in any direction, and clicking the left mouse button causes it to fire a ball of a particular color (chosen randomly). The game board has tracks on it, and balls of 4 colors are released onto the board at varying rates. The balls follow the tracks, and if the balls reach the end of each track, then the game is over. When the frog fires a ball at the balls on the tracks, if a match of 3 balls in a row of the same color is made, those balls are removed from the board. In addition to the normal balls, there are special balls such as multiplier balls, time balls, etc. Matching these balls affects game play in some positive way. This might sound very complicated, but after about 20 seconds of game play you will see how it works.

Each game lasts for 1 minute, so game play is highly frenetic. There is no time for strategy, balls must be fired very quickly for good scores. The game records 3 different values for each player: score, mojo, and experience points. Score is recorded for each game played, and the highest score for each player for each weekly tournament is displayed in-between games. A histogram of scores (in 50K increments) is recorded, with each bin associated with a different “spirit animal”, and as additional scores are accumulated in each bin, the player achieves different “levels” of spirit animal. This provides a little additional interest for the player, and also shows a historical record of the player’s scores.

Mojo and experience points (abbreviated XP) are accumulated at the end of each level, based on how many balls were matched (which is different but correlated with the score achieved on a game). Mojo can be used by the player to buy powers that can be used to make game play easier, but the cost is recurring for each game they are used in. Powers generally cost more mojo than the player can earn each game, so powers must be used sparingly.

As XP is earned the player reaches different levels. Upon reaching a level, something new is awarded to the player (a new power, a new spirit animal, etc. See this list of levels for more details). Since XP is awarded after each game, no matter how low the score, less skilled but persistent players can improve their scores by achieving higher levels. Zuma Blitz also has idols that are awarded for reaching an XP level, and the idols can be used to buy things in the store (extra lives, mojo, etc). For impatient players, idols can be purchased using Facebook credits (bought using real currency), this is presumably one revenue stream for Zuma Blitz.

When starting Zuma Blitz, the player is given 5 lives, and each 1 minute game takes one life. These lives regenerate based on real world time (starting at 8 minutes). This prevents the user from playing more than a certain number of games in a row, as the lives have to regenerate. Higher levels award the player more lives and reduce the length of the regeneration timer.


Zuma Blitz parallels and lessons

Surprisingly, Zuma Blitz (ZB from here on) has several parallels with the Kukui Cup (KC from here on). Among the ones I have noticed:

  • Players cannot play ZB continuously due to the lives and regen timer. This requires them to come back later to play. Many KC activities require a human administrator to verify that the activity was completed properly, requiring players to return later to see if they got their points. We have worried that this delayed gratification might be off-putting to KC participants, but ZB has deliberately picked this approach (though this is for continuation of the game, rather than the awarding of points).
  • ZB has 3 different metrics being collected (score, mojo, XP) that are interrelated but different. KC has both points and lounge energy usage, which are different and we hope are interrelated. We have been concerned about the complexity of having 2 metrics, but clearly popular games can be similarly complicated.
  • ZB is also based on weekly tournaments, the way KC has weekly rounds. The layout of the ZB game screen (where the tracks are, background image) changes each week.
  • ZB has a store and idols, which is similar in some ways to our raffle and raffle tickets that are earned through points.

Some potential lessons from ZB:

  • The special balls that appear on the board disappear after a certain period of time. If you manage to match them a couple seconds after they have disappeared, you still receive the special value for the ball. In essence, there is a grace period. As a player, this kind of generosity is greatly appreciated, something frustrating (missing a special ball by 1 second) becomes enjoyable. KC already has this generosity in some ways, for example all lounge residents receive points when the lounge makes their energy goal, even if they did not participate in any way. We should continue to look for ways to make KC “generous”.
  • When you first play ZB, it shows all your Facebook friends that have also played the game, their highest score this round, and their stats. It would be good if KC could scan participants’ Facebook friends to see if there are any matches among the residents of the participating dorms. If there are matches, the participant could be given the chance to message them on Facebook to encourage them to participate. You could even get points for doing this, perhaps (or will that just encourage spamming?)
  • Unlike the plan in KC, ZB does not post things automatically to the player’s Facebook wall. Instead, for every interesting event (new high score, winning weekly tournament, new spirit animal), there is a button that says “Share” (or “Gloat” if you win the tournament), and that prompts for text to go along with a post to your wall. We had briefly considered and rejected this technique in KC (I believe I rejected it out of hand by saying something like “are we going to have a Share button in every dialog box??”), but if ZB is doing it then perhaps they know what they are doing. One difference is that ZB is runs in perpetuity, while KC is focused on a 3 week period. A compromise might be a single daily automatic post from KC, and then share buttons provided for noteworthy events.
  • ZB’s changing weekly game layout is another way that ZB encourages players to return frequently. Perhaps we could have a different color scheme or background image for each round. Perhaps the rounds could have names/themes?

That’s all I can think of so far. It might be interesting to look at other Facebook games to see how they make use of the functionality of Facebook, as well as their own game design.

Thoughts on HICSS 44 (2011)

I just got back from the Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, aka HICSS. This conference has been running for 44 years. General information about this year’s HICSS can be found here, and the proceedings will eventually be here.

This was my first HICSS, which is kinda strange seeing how long I have been in Hawai`i. It was held this year at the Grand Hyatt Kauai, which is pretty luxurious. I guess the idea is to hold it at resort that will be a draw for participants, and provide enough amenities that attendees don’t feel the need to wander off.

The first thing that struck me about HICSS is the incredible diversity of sessions going on. The conference is organized in as a bunch of tracks (high-level topics), which are then broken into about 60 minitracks. The minitracks can last a whole day (4 sessions) or be as short as a single session.

The result is a huge smorgasbord of papers. Each day, there are 15 parallel tracks, ranging all over the place: education, social networks, cyber security, location-based marketing, power systems, and many more. This can be good if you want to check out a diverse set of presentations, but to me it makes HICSS feel more like a conference of mini-conferences than a unified whole. This is quite different from a conference like Ubicomp, which is vociferously single-track so that every attendee can attend every session if they want to. Naturally, Ubicomp accepts far fewer papers than HICSS.

The minitrack I was attending (Information Systems and Decision Technologies for Sustainable Development) didn’t start until the second day, so on the first day I just went to sessions that looked interesting. Just deciding which sessions to attend is quite a task: 15 rooms * 4 sessions a day = 60 paper titles to look at!

I started with the Future Electric Power Systems (smart grid, more or less) minitrack. This minitrack was located in a standalone building at the Hyatt that is used as a nightclub. So the attendee chairs were set up in a sunken dance floor, and the presentation slides were shown on one large TV embedded in the wall, as well as 16 smaller TVs distributed around the ceiling (like one might find in a sports bar). This was kinda bizarre, but amusing.

The power systems minitrack has been running for 15 years, so the attendees seemed quite familiar with each other, and had their conference process down pat. The papers I saw were interesting, though more traditionally smart-grid-oriented compared to our Kukui Cup work. Unfortunately, the proceedings (which will be freely available) are not yet online, so I cannot link directly to papers.

  • A case study on the expected impact of PHEV vehicles on electricity consumption, using a new community in South Korea (A Case Study on the Grid Impact of PHEVs to Sample Distribution Power System by Dong Joo Kang and Sunju Park)
  • An algorithm for detecting “load pockets”, which are areas on the grid that are constrained by transmission such that generation facilities could raise their prices and electricity users would have no option but to pay the higher prices (Clustering of Power System Data and its use in Load Pocket Identification by Katherine Rogers and Thomas Overbye).
  • An analysis of locational marginal carbon intensity of generation (how much additional carbon will be emitted by increasing demand by 1 kWh in a particular location at a particular time) on the eastern part of the US. The results are somewhat surprising, in that areas that are heavy coal users might actually have lower marginal carbon intensity because if they had additional demand they would import power from generation facilities with lower carbon intensity. The presenter related the marginal intensity to Renewable Portfolio Standards, which provide subsidies for production of renewable energy. Currently subsidies are independent of carbon intensity, but the authors argue that they should be higher (pay more for renewable energy) in places where the marginal carbon intensity is high, and lower where marginal intensity is low. This would encourage the buildout of renewable generation in places where it would reduce carbon emissions the most (Locational Carbon Footprint and Renewable Portfolio Policies: A Theory and its Implications for the Eastern Interconnection of the US by Aleksandr Rudkevich, Pablo A. Ruiz and Rebecca C. Carroll).
  • An investigation into what is really happening in loads, starting with hot water heaters. The presenter argued that there has been a lot of research into the dynamics of generation, but very little in the dynamics of loads, which will be critical for any type of demand response program. In the ensuing discussion, I learned a new term: demand subscription. This is the idea that rather than being metered for use, customers subscribe to a certain amount of electricity (not sure if it is measured as power, energy, or both) and then it is up to the customer to figure out how to live within that subscription. So the utility would only communicate with a smart meter, not reaching beyond the meter to smart appliances.

I also had time to attend some talks in the social networking track by members of LILT (my former research group): Dan Suthers, Kar-Hai Chu, and Devan Rosen. I was familiar with some of the outlines of the Traces work, but it was good to see it discussed in a public forum.

The minitrack I presented in was called Information Systems for Sustainable Development. I presented our paper describing the design of the Kukui Cup. It seemed well received, with most of the questions revolving around how to get students involved and how to keep them aware after the competition in order to sustain behavior changes. Eric Paulos suggested we should provide Kill-A-Watt meters to some residents in May 2012 before they move out of the first-year dorms, and then follow up with them on whether and how they used them in their next living situation.

Two other presentations in our track that I found interesting:

  • Hendrik Hilpert, a PhD student from Göttingen University presented work on computing products’ carbon footprints automatically using vehicle mass airflow data (obtained via OBD2) fused with GPS data. This combination allows one to compute how much carbon is being emitted, while the GPS data allows the carbon to be allocated to different products that might be on the same delivery vehicle as it makes a series of stops. They even cited my older literature review in their paper, würd! (Real-Time Data Collection for Product Carbon Footprints in Transportation Processes Based on OBD2 and Smartphones, by Hendrik Hilpert, Lars Thoroe and Matthias Schumann).
  • Eric Paulos, assistant professor at CMU presented work on Citizen Energy. Citizen Energy is the idea of changing people from just being energy consumers into more active participants in the generation and use of energy. They have made a bunch of cool devices, like a Seasonal Energy Lamp. The lamp is connected both to grid power and to solar and wind turbines, and it changes the color of the emitted light depending on the source (orange for solar, blue for wind, etc), making people more aware of where their energy is coming from. These design experiments seem really complementary to the Kukui Cup, possibly providing additional ways for participants to become more energy literate. (Citizen Energy: Towards Populist Interactive Micro-Energy Production by Eric Paulos and James Pierce).

Unfortunately, our minitrack had fairly low attendance (perhaps 8 attendees at peak, of whom half were presenting in the minitrack), so I don’t know how it will fare next year. All in all, it was a worthwhile experience, but was a bit of a comedown after BECC 2010.

Notes from SmartGridComm 2010

Last week I attended the first Smart Grid Communications conference. I was presenting our paper on WattDepot. The presentation went well and there were several questions afterward. One point that I got several questions about was our requirement to support rapid data collection (sub-minute), since that is much faster than most commercial meters support. In retrospect, I should have emphasized our application domain (the Kukui Cup) more in the presentation, which might have helped to explain that requirement.

The following are some of my notes from the conference:

  • There were 102 papers accepted at the conference (40% acceptance rate), and 441 registrations. The mix was roughly 44% academic, 31% industry, 20% R&D, and 5% government.
  • The conference was held at NIST, and throughout the building were NIST clocks that presumably were very accurate. 🙂
  • There is a Smart Grid Consumer Collective, which sounds like an organization we should keep an eye on.
  • There are apparently standard power network topologies that can be used for analysis and research, such as the IEEE 300 bus power flow test case.
  • Some power industry slang I was not aware of: “big wire” relating to electricity distribution, “little wire” relating to communication networks. As in “the Smart Grid is all about the little wire people working with the big wire people.”
  • Georgios Kalogridis presented work on “Privacy for Smart Meters: Towards Undetectable Appliance Load Signatures”. The basic idea being that if the utility has fine-grained data about energy usage, they can determine a lot about what the consumers are doing. Kalogridis et. al. propose a system where a rechargeable battery is located in the home, and can be used to mask the signatures of energy use by charging and discharging at appropriate times. They cite this interesting paper by Elias Quinn that lays out all the potential privacy issues related to fine-grained energy usage data.
  • Came across a reference to Stanford’s PowerNet project, which aims to measure the “energy consumption of enterprise-style computing infrastructures”. Looks cool, paper here.
  • Hironori Nakanishi from the Japanese government reported on the Japanese perspective on the smart grid. Apparently Japanese utilities were not that eager to pursue smart grid upgrades because on average a Japanese consumer has 16 min/year of power outage, compared to the US average of 162 min/year. However, the Japanese government set the target of 25% CO2 reduction by 2020, which will require 28 GW of new solar power.
  • I also had not heard about the Hawaii-Okinawa partnership on clean energy.
  • One of the reasons that demand-side management is being pursued is for “peak shaving” by shifting some appliance loads to off-peak periods. Unfortunately, if all the smart appliances decide to shift their loads to the start of the off-peak pricing period, then you get a rebound peak. This seems like a challenging problem, barring real-time pricing that takes the rebound peak into account.
  • Jay Taneja presented work from UCB on shifting appliance loads to make maximal use of fluctuating renewable energy.The idea is that certain thermostatically-controlled loads like a refrigerator store electrical energy as thermal energy, so they can be scheduled based on the availability of renewable energy (in their study, wind energy). So if there is excess wind energy available, the fridge compressor could run more frequently, and vice versa. Bringing data about grid renewable energy production is something we have been thinking about from the consumer human interface perspective (the carbon “traffic light” concept), but they are working on making actual appliances sensitive to renewable production. Very cool.
  • In total, I gave out 11 business cards, and 2 REIS brochures.

Next year the conference is in Brussels. Paper deadline is April 4, 2011.

The null ritual

Philip and I were discussing the design of my dissertation experiment, and he pointed me at an interesting book chapter titled “The Null Ritual: What You Always Wanted to Know About Significance Testing but Were Afraid to Ask“. It’s fascinating reading, as it walks through a lot of false beliefs about significance testing as used by psychologists in experiments. I found that my understanding of significance testing was definitely incorrect in the ways described in the chapter.

The “null ritual” from the title is described as:

  1. Set up a statistical null hypothesis of “no mean difference” or “zero correlation.” Don’t specify
    the predictions of your research hypothesis or of any alternative substantive hypotheses.
  2. Use 5% as a convention for rejecting the null. If significant, accept your research hypothesis.
  3. Always perform this procedure.

The problem is that the null hypothesis test is p(D|H0), or the probability of obtaining the observed data given that the null hypothesis is true. When doing an experiment, any real world scientist will have a hypothesis that they are testing and usually hope that they can prove that it is true using the data from the experiment. What we really want is p(H1|D), or the probability of our hypothesis being true given the observed data. However, we need Bayes’ rule to draw a conclusion about the hypothesis and that requires the prior probabilities of the hypotheses, which are often not available to us beforehand.

The chapter also brings out the controversies in statistics between different approaches and goals of particular techniques, which is usually glossed over in teaching of statistics.

I’m planning to follow the authors’ recommendation in my research: “In many (if not most) cases, descriptive statistics and exploratory data analysis are all one needs.”

Community-Based Social Marketing workshop

Today I attended an all day workshop on Community-Based Social Marketing by Dr. Doug McKenzie-Mohr. While it may have originally been intended as a workshop, I think the number of participants was doubled to over 100 people, so it ended up being mostly a long lecture with a lot of question-taking.

I was already somewhat familiar with the CBSM from reading a condensed version of the method on the web. CBSM is an attempt to modularize and standardize a process for “fostering sustainable behavior” across a range of domains. It’s based on a wide variety of social psychology research on how to get people to actually change their behavior. One major takeaway is that big mass-media campaigns to promote behavior change are not very effective for the money spent on them.

CBSM process has 5 steps

  • Selecting the behavior(s) that you wish people to adopt
  • Assess the barriers and benefits people face adopting the behaviors
  • Develop strategies to foster the behavior changes
  • Run a pilot project that tests your action plan
  • Implement your plan broadly and evaluate its effectiveness

The development section suggests the use of a variety of psychological “tools” that can help people change their behavior such as making public commitments, social diffusion, social norms, and prompts. The design of the Kukui Cup competition and the supporting website is already strongly influenced by these tools.

The target audience for the workshop and CBSM in general are government and NGOs that have a mission to foster some type of behavior change, which is somewhat different from our situation with the Kukui Cup. The Kukui Cup can be thought of as a sort of applied research into using these CBSM techniques but with a very narrow market segment (first-year college students) and making extensive use of a customized website. Rather than focus on encouraging a small number of behaviors in participants to achieve our goals of increased energy conservation and energy literacy, we are giving participants a smorgasbord of options via the website and trying to figure out which ones work the best based on what the participants do.

I was struck by how little the Internet and WWW were mentioned in the workshop. CBSM is clearly labor intensive compared to a traditional mass media campaign, but the claim is that CBSM delivers better results (i.e. more desired behavior) than informational campaigns. From a CBSM perspective, the Kukui Cup seeks to determine how much of that traditional CBSM labor can be embodied in the website, and whether the web-based CBSM retains the effectiveness of traditional CBSM. Does a web community provide the same benefits as real-world community? At least with the Kukui Cup the web community will mirror a series of small real world communities: floors of a dorm.

That said, there are some cautions from the workshop that are worrisome. There was a lot of emphasis on surveying the people the campaign is targeting, and running a pilot study. This makes a lot of sense, and from a certain perspective, the first Kukui Cup could be thought of as a pilot, though it will be a bigger pilot than most due to the infrastructure required to make it a competition. Obviously the risk is that the whole Kukui Cup could flop (nobody uses the website, general apathy towards the competition, no energy conservation, etc), which would pose significant problems for my graduation timeline. 🙂 Doug related a story of his own biggest failed campaign, which turned out to be his own dissertation project!! At great expense he created a media campaign across Canada that cost $100K to encourage people to participate in policy meetings in their communities. The ads included a 1-800 number, and his organization braced for tens of thousands of calls. Number of calls received: 8.

Future publication venues

Update March 5, 2010: now maintained as a wiki page rather than a blog post

Updated Feb 2, 2010: added IEEE upcoming journals and IEEE Sensors conference.

So I’ve been thinking lately about where I might publish my research on WattDepot, and later on the UH dorm energy challenge. Here’s what I have come up with so far.


  • IEEE Smart Grid Conference. The deadline for papers is May 1, with the conference happening Oct 4-6 in Maryland. Philip has suggested this might be a good place for a paper on WattDepot, and I agree. The maximum page length is 6 pages.
  • Behavior, Energy, Climate Change 2010. Philip attended BECC 2009 and it seems like an ideal conference for the dorm energy competition results. The call for abstracts (presentations & posters) goes out in March, with a mid-May deadline to submit abstracts. The conference is November 14-17 in Sacramento. There is no paper required for the presentation, just slides, so we could potentially present some actual results in the presentation (which wouldn’t be available in May when the abstract is submitted).
  • Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences 44. This is happening on Kauai January 4-7 2011. The deadline for papers is June 15. The Jennifer Mankoff’s group has had a series of papers about StepGreen and related work at HICSS so this seems like a good venue, and the travel will be much easier. 🙂
  • CHI 2011. Apparently this is happening May 7-12 in Vancouver (BC I assume?). There have been a variety of papers on supporting green/sustainable behavior in CHI before, and the CHI community is a large and vibrant one.
  • Ubicomp 2010. There was plenty of sustainability work at Ubicomp 2008 (including a workshop I attended), so this is a possible venue. However, the submission deadlines are rather soon (March for papers) so it’s probably more realistic for 2011.
  • Pervasive 2011. This is similar to Ubicomp, but happens in May in Europe. Submission deadline is mid-October.
  • IEEE Sensors 2010. May 4 is the abstract submission deadline, with the conferencing happening November 1-4 at the Hilton Waikaloa. Maximum paper length is 4 pages. This is perhaps less relevant than the IEEE Smart Grid conference, but still worthy of consideration.


  • International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education. This is where the Oberlin dorm energy contest paper was published, so it seems an obvious choice. Not the broadest appeal though.
  • Environment & Behavior.
  • IEEE Transactions on Smart Grid. Journal to be launched soon.
  • IEEE Transactions on Sustainable Energy. Another journal to be launched soon. The smart grid one looks more relevant, this looks to be focused on energy generation from renewables.

I’m sure more will come up as I read more, but this is a good starter list.

Building WattDepot REST API

After getting the simple ping server working with Restlet, last week I turned my attention to the WattDepot REST API, since the API drives the functionality that I will be implementing. Staring at the blank wiki page, I turned to the O’Reilly book RESTful Web Services (link to book content via Safari Books Online for UHM folks). The book is an excellent introduction into why REST makese sense for web services, and goes step by step through the process of designing web services using their Resource Oriented Architecture. So I spent a lot of time reading the book to see examples of how to turn requirements into a ROA API.

There is now a REST API wiki page for WattDepot, but it’s mostly requirements at this point. This week I plan to crank out a first draft of the API, so I can start implementing it ASAP.

There are now 4 weeks left before the semester starts. I’d like to have data persistence, a client that can retrieve Obvius meter data and send to WattDepot, and Google gadget visualization working by then, so my work is cut out for me.

Plans from last week:

  • Read through sensorbase REST API
    • done
  • Start work on WattDepot REST API
    • done
  • Read up on Google Visualization data source library
    • not done
  • Write down initial thoughts on research questions
    • not done

Other accomplishments from last week:

  • Read through first 6 chapters of RESTful Web Services
  • Attended the TechHui conference. There was a lot of good info about renewable energy development, and other tech goodness.
  • Found one more small bug in Hackystat build files, now they should really really be stable 🙂
  • Attended UH SecondLife gettogether, complete with live DJ and dancefloor. It was fun, but I still don’t see myself spending any significant time in SL.

Pointers to work products:

Plans for this week:

  • Finish first draft of WattDepot REST API
  • Follow up on some contacts from Tech Hui conference
  • Read up on Google Visualization data source library

Cool links:

  • Damon Hart-Davis (creator of the site I mentioned last week) has pointed out that Ecotricity (a UK utility) has similar carbon intensity data on their web page. This is precident for utilities sharing this kind of data.
  • Blue Mars is a new massively multi-player online virtual environment like Second Life, being developed in Honolulu. The graphics are far superior to SL, and the business model is interesting in that they are specifically designing it around making it easy for content developers to make a living creating content for Blue Mars. They are also hoping to attract indie game developers to rent out a city block of space where they can create their games with autonomy and make money from it. They are taking beta applications for the client now, but if you are a developer you can get the dev kit right now at their developer website.

Build file extravaganza

Didn’t get to spend as much time working last week as I had hoped. Most of my time ended up being spent getting fully up to speed on the Ivy-based build files for the hackystat-developer-example project. The good news is that we got all (most?) of the bugs worked out, so WattDepot is now using the improved build files. The changes needed to customize to WattDepot are also very localized (mostly in build.xml), so I should be able to easily incorporate any future changes.

I did glance through the Google Visualization data source API, and Google provides a Java library that does all of the heavy lifting. This definitely looks like the way to go for visualizing the data.

(Overly ambitious) plans from last week:

  • Finish getting WattDepot build environment working
    • done
  • Get WattDepot responding to ping API (ala Hackystat sensorbase)
    • done, even has a unit test
  • Read through sensorbase REST API
    • not done
  • Read Google Visualization data source API and libraries
    • only glanced at it, but looks like I can use the Java library and not the raw API
  • Start work on WattDepot REST API
    • not done
  • Write down initial thoughts on research questions
    • not done
  • Start porting over Derby code from sensorbase to WattDepot
    • not done or even thought about

Other accomplishments from last week:

  • Helped test and debug the latest version of the Hackystat build environment
  • Paid for my classes & fees. Hoping for a refund via tuition waiver 🙂
  • Attended the Hawaii Clean Energy Festival, didn’t win anything exciting. Mostly the same folks who had booths at Hawaii Clean Energy Day back in June.

Pointers to work products:

Plans for this week:

  • Read through sensorbase REST API
  • Start work on WattDepot REST API
  • Read up on Google Visualization data source library
  • Write down initial thoughts on research questions

Cool links:

  • This cool website displays the carbon-intensity of the UK electrical grid based on (near-real time?) data from UK utilities. The great thing about it is that it displays the carbon intensity like a traffic light, so you can use it to make decisions on the use of appliances like dishwashers. It would be great if we could get similar data from HECO.
  • Sensorpedia says that it is a Web 2.0 system for sharing all types of sensor data. It’s in an invitation-only beta, and the public information on the website is thin. Something to keep an eye on.