"Honey, it would take a Bradley Fighting Vehicle to move me to mad from my current level of furious, so turn off the fucking light, go to sleep, and we'll try this again tomorrow..."

Couples never kiss in Aaron Sorkin television dramas.

The argue.

They argue epically, eloquently, passionately.

In Aaron Sorkin’s made-up world, argument is the currency of love.

Lt. Daniel Kaffee argues with Lt. Cdr. JoAnne Galloway. President Andrew Shepherd argues with Sydney Ellen Wade. CJ Cregg argues with Danny Concannon. Danny Tripp argues with Jordan McDeere. Will McAvoy argues with MacKenzie McHale.

And, in this week’s episode of Sorkin’s The Newroom, Jim Harper (John Gallagher, Jr.) argues with Hallie Shea (Grace Gummer). The entire scene runs just over four minutes; here’s the last 38 seconds:

Surely this must rank as one of the most compelling couple-arguments in modern television.

What's using electricity in our empty house?

As part of my Social Consumption Project, I’ve had an electricity meter reader logging our household usage to a database since late September.

The week of October 5 our house was empty – I was in the west coast and Catherine and Oliver were in Ontario – and so this gave us a great chance to find out what the base electric load of our house is when there’s nobody living in it. Here’s what we found (number are kWh per day from October 5 to October 11, 2014):

Electricity Usage, in kWh, at 100 Prince Street in October, 2014

Other than lights, we took no steps to turn things off during our absence – poor planning – and so the bulk of the consumption that week were things like the refrigerator, the “instant-on” appliances, like our TV set, and our iMac computer, which we left on (and which was used a couple of times a day by our friend G. who was checking the house for us).

Maritime Electric’s charge for electricity is 12.78 cents per kWh, so our electricity was costing us between 64 cents and and 77 cents a day. So we weren’t going broke. But that’s that’s still $5.00 that we didn’t, in theory, need to spend that week.

By comparison, here’s our electricity usage for this week, when the house was fully occupied:

We used 117 kWh this week, which is 79 kWh more than an empty house, which you could say is our “discretionary” electricity – the stuff we do deliberately by turning something on.

Which made me curious: that 38 kWh our house used the week we were away, the electricity the house uses when we don’t deliberately turn something on, what’s using that?

And so I borrowed an electronic energy meter from the Confederation Centre Public Library (almost every public library on Prince Edward Island has one, so this is easy for anyone to do, and it’s free) and this weekend Oliver and I measured the electricity consumption of everything in the house that plugs in.  Here’s a chart showing the “stuff that’s always on that uses electricity”:

Appliance Load
Refrigerator 30 watts
Mouse Repeller 3 watts
Television 4 watts
Nintendo Wii 8 watts
Stereo 11 watts
Eastlink Router 9 watts
Apple Airport Extreme 7 watts
VOIP Telephone Box 5 watts
iMac Computer 94 watts
TOTAL 171 watts

There are some other things that aren’t counted in that total – the furnace coming on, a light that’s always on in the upstairs bathroom – but that total covers almost everything.

And so our “idle” household uses almost as much electricity as a 200 watt light bulb left on all the time.

And, indeed, 171 watts per hour is 0.171 kWh and 0.171 kWh for 24 hours is 4.1 kWh, which is within 1 kWh to what my electricity meter readings showed (the difference was likely those things we didn’t count, plus some lights that G. would have used).

There are some things we can do to lower this base load, some of which I’ve already done:

  • I’ve moved the television, stereo and Wii to a power bar that I can shut completely off when we’re not using them: that will save us 23 watts of load, or about half a kWh per day if we never turned them on.
  • We could have the iMac go to sleep (rather than just “idling” with the display off); this could save about 2.25 kWh per day if we never turned the iMac on.

Of course if nobody at all was going to be using the house, we could also turn off the Internet gear and the phone and we’d save even more.

The other step we’ve taken is to start to replace incandescent and compact florescent light bulbs with LED bulbs, starting in the living room. So far I’ve replace 221 watts of load with 59 watts but replacing the bulbs in the three lamps we use most often.

It may seem absurd to be taking these seemingly minor steps that will save us a few dollars a month on our electricity bill at most. But these small things mean a lot on a province-wide level.

There are about 40,000 households in Prince Edward Island. If each of those households has a computer on all the time that consumes about 100 watts of electricity, that’s 4 millions watts of electricity being used to power all those computers; that’s 4 megawatts, or about 2% of the Island’s electricity load (193 MW) as I type this sentence. That’s a lot of electricity, and it’s electricity that we weren’t using a generation or two ago. It’s also electricity that we could save a lot of if we put our computers to sleep (or turned them off) when we’re not using them.

Ethan Gets a Hair Cut

We generally keep Ethan’s hair clipped short: he’s a working dog, not an ornamental poodle, after all.

But we’ve been busy over the last month, and let his hair get a little on the long side, to the point where it was looking like he might have difficulty seeing through the shag soon.

So we made an appointment at Petsmart for this morning and dropped him off looking like this:

Ethan Gets a Hair Cut

When we picked him up four hours later, he look like this:

Ethan Gets a Hair Cut

It’s hard to believe that’s the same dog.

It will grow back soon.

Alec Baldwin and My Sugarless Life

Two years ago next week I found myself trying to get to sleep in a Halifax hotel and so, as I often do, I listened to a podcast, the episode of Alec Baldwin’s Here’s the Thing where he interviewed Dr. Robert Lustig about the evils of sugar.

Toward the end of that interview Baldwin asked Lustig what public policy changes he recommended to lower sugar consumption; Lustig responded, in part (emphasis mine):

I would think very strongly about limiting access of sugar beverages to infants and children, like zero. There is no reason for it. And there’s something your listeners need to understand: there is not one biochemical reaction in your body, not one, that requires dietary fructose, not one that requires sugar. Dietary sugar is completely irrelevant to life. People say oh, you need sugar to live. Garbage.

(Here’s the audio of the clip).

For some reason, on that sleepless cold Halifax night in a strange hotel that simple statement hit me over the head like a hammer.

It seems silly to say, but it had never occurred to me that we don’t actually need sugar.

Sure, I knew that it was a good idea, for a host of reasons, to not have “too much” sugar – what kid who grew up in the carob-infused 1970s didn’t know that – but the notion that there wasn’t actually a need to have any sugar at all was something I’d never considered.

Over the years I’d had friends who would tell me “oh, I cut out sugar,” and I always heard that in the same spirit one might hear “oh, I cut out breathing”: it seemed like a foolhardy, impossible task.

But there, then, that night I decided to give it a try.

Partly as a personal challenge (it did indeed seem like a foolhardy, impossible task).

Partly as a way of figuring out how much sugar I actually was consuming.

And partly because, if Dr. Lustig was to be believed, I had a decent chance of improving my health if I did.

And so, when we got home to the Island a few days later, I just stopped.

It wasn’t a full-on puritanical “no sugar will ever touch these lips” kind of cold turkey, but it was as close as I could practically come while still allowing for the occasional piece of birthday cake.

And what did I find? I was eating a lot of sugar.

For example, a couple of times a week I’d have lunch at Tai Chi Gardens, a tea house around the corner from my office. In the summertime I’d always order a lemon iced tea with my lunch, reasoning that it was “handmade” by people I knew and therefore must be much better for me than if, say, I’d had a Coca-Cola at Subway.

But then I watched how much sugar goes into a lemon iced tea and I realized that sugar is sugar is sugar, and I started to order my lemon iced tea without sugar.

Among other things, I also stopped eating: ice cream, chocolate bars, dessert after lunch and supper, sugar in my coffee, sweets at bake sales, a cookie here or there, a handful of chocolate chips when they presented themselves; essentially I stopped eating all the “discretionary” sugar I’d been eating before, without obsessing about the hidden sugars in many prepared foods.

The effect was immediate and dramatic: I began to crave bread like never before. And when I say “crave” I mean “involuntarily bake bread at 10 o’clock at night because I really, really need to eat some bread.”

That lasted about a week.

And then… I lost my taste for sugar. Indeed the occasional lapse – a Mars bar at the movies, a piece of birthday cake at a family party – would not only no longer make me feel “better” as it used to but, in fact, would have the reverse effect, making me feel nervous and uncomfortable. It was a tremendous and convenient disincentive to sugar-eating.

And now two years have passed.

There’s no doubt that I confronted the amount of sugar in my diet, and came away surprised at how much I’d been consuming.

Health-wise, I have only a vague largely anecdotal feeling that my health has improved. Certainly I’ve lost some weight – about 20 pounds over two years. And I feel like my immune system is considerably improved (those winter colds that last days for others seem to pass through me in a few hours). But I’ve no idea whether I can chalk any of that up to sugar or not.

I still eat sugar, of course: it’s hard not to when it’s found in all manner of things including in salt (yes, one of the ingredients on our box of salt is “sugar,” albeit trace amounts). And I have a banana muffin most mornings for breakfast which I know contains more sugar than I can probably imagine (breakfast is a challenge for a non-egg-eating mostly-vegetarian). But I’d hazard a guess that I’ve been able to cut out about 95% the low-hanging obvious sugar in my diet.

Otherwise, I’ve been able to make some observations from this new vantage point.

The “sugar industrial complex” is everywhere and no more so than on television; by happy coincidence we cut off our cable television a few months before I cut off sugar, and with it I lost most exposure to Dairy Queen Peanut Buster Parfait commercials, Mr. Big chocolate bar commercials, Coca-Cola commercials, and the like. I’m certain that made early days easier.

There may be no nutritional need for dietary sugar, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a cultural need for it: there are holes in our day to day western life that we fill, generally, with sugary things. Coffee breaks. The time after supper. Birthday parties. Christmas parties. Hallowe’en. It’s not that these times are practically difficult to deal with – I’m not jonesing for sugar – but I do notice the holes nonetheless, and, in a strange way, I mourn the loss of my participation in them. The display case at my coffee shop is filled with intriguing-looking scratch-made desserts, and bypassing them and just ordering coffee leaves me feeling the same way that former smokers have described feeling when they go to bars after the quit… they miss having something to do with their hands, something to fill the time with. It’s weird.

It’s not powerful – more like background radiation – but it’s weird nonetheless.

All other things aside, perhaps the greatest lesson I take from this experiment-turned-lifestyle is that, when in the right frame of mind, I am capable of making substantial lifestyle changes. That’s a good thing to know, and makes we wonder what other things I could accomplish if I found the rationale and put my mind to it.