The Perfect Guilt-Free Device for the (Green) Apple Freak in Your Life

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From your gadget-obsessed sister (who lives for her iPad) to your garden-obsessed uncle (who thinks apple is a fruit) A special report

Energy efficiency is about as sexy as a pile of granite. Put it this way, one easy way to save fuel is to drive slower. Not exactly live fast, die young territory.

However, in recent years, people in Silicon Valley have taken an interest in an area dominated by construction workers and mom-and-pop energy evangelists. And Apple being dominant these days, many are eager to preach from the gospel of Steve.

It's this confluence of trends that led to the creation of the Nest "learning thermostat." The thermostat is the brainchild of some ex-Apple employees including Tony Fadell who was senior VP of the iPod division. The pitch is simple: the Nest is a hot-looking gadget that should pay for itself in a few years by saving you money on your energy bills. Armed with six sensors, the Nest can tell if you're not home and turn down the heat. It's also got Wi-Fi built in, so it's connected to the Internet and you can change your settings via an iPhone app. And it plugs right into your existing thermostat controls. (The company says that if you install the device yourself, it should only take 20 minutes.)

Perhaps the most exciting thing about the Nest is that it's supposed to fix the problem of programmable thermostats, which is that no one ever programs them. Instead, you just turn it up or down and it figures out how you like your home climate to be conditioned. Every time you change the thermostat, that's a signal to the Nest's software that it needs to fix its algorithm. It learns.

There is only one problem with the Nest right now. The device is sold out through early next year. So, if you want to get this for the green Apple freak in your life, you'll have to give them an IOU and pick one up early next year.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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