Friday, June 24, 2005

Personal use

Ctrl+c before you save (October 20, 2006)

I've been aware of Blogger's atrocious timeout/relog cycle for several months now, but in a rush yesterday morning I managed to get snared by it anyway. If you enter the dashboard and create or edit posts, after some period of time (two hours?) any attempt to save or publish will send you to a login screen requesting that you re-enter your name and password. Then it will send you back to the dashboard without saving/publishing what you have written! Trying to back out won't help you either--the stuff is simply lost. So before other users attempt to do the same after a particularly long session, ctrl+n to replicate or ctrl+c after highlighting your html text before rolling the dice on whether or not Blogger will send your afflatus into the netherworld.

After spending a couple hours messing around with some numbers for a post I'd been working on, I'd to leave for work and hit 'save' before doing either of the two suggested above. My ramblings were unrecoverable and in a fit of rage I damaged the card table chair that serves as the throne to my home workstation. Screeching in anger also caused voice strain for a day. Don't become a victim of Google's beta-syndrome like I did--copy and replicate the page before going to save or publish.

Tax-deferred variable annuity account a bad idea (October 14, 2006)

Catching the end of a mutual fund radio show this morning, I heard that there are a good number of people out there (reportedly some 70,000 with a single insurance company that escapes my name) with tax-deferred variable annuity retirement accounts.

Don't open one up. If you've a putatively trusted advisor or insurance agent who suggests you do so, boot him. His conduct is a dereliction of fiduciary duty and will earn him greater revenue through the extra cost but do you no good. If you have opened one, taking the 10% penalty now to pull it out is still likely the right move if the sum isn't enormous.

It makes absolutely no sense to open one, unless you've maxed out all your other tax-deferred options (like 401k, IRA, etc), and even then it's sub-optimal, because if life expectancies have been increased drastically by the time you retire (SENS breakthrough, for example), your monthly stipend will be infintesimal. You'll pay extra fees (in the general range of 1%-4%) on top of the mutual fund fees/commissions that the annuity provider will invest you in (or allow you to choose to invest yourself in). Then, at some point past the age of 59.5, you'll be able to begin collecting an annuity until death based on your life essentials at the time of election. So you'll pay extra to eventually enter into an annuity you would just as well enter by cashing out your 401k or other tax-deferred retirement account (without the extra fees) at the same age and sticking it into an annuity at that point.

Cutting gas consumption (July 6, 2006)

Since I've been in the process of buying a home, I've become increasingly parismonious in several areas of existence. Most of notable of those has been in the arena of driving. After looking up and coming up with ways to trim fuel usage while covering the same geographical distance, I decided to fully institute what I'd come up with to see how much I could do to stretch each drop of gasoline.

The results were quite satisfying. I've a '97 Ford Taurus with over 100,000 miles on it. On my last tank I went 372 miles on 11.73 gallons. That's 31.7 mpg. The EPA puts the car's average fuel economy at 23 mpg (I do slightly more highway, somewhere close to 60%). To bump up my efficiency 38%, I:

- Inflated all tires to 42 psi.
- Never topped 55 mph.
- Kept engine rpms under 2,000 at all times.
- Never used the AC.
- Cracked the driver's side window an inch, leaving all others up.
- Eased the accelerator slightly during accelerations to cause a premature gear shift (it's an automatic).
- Studied traffic signals assiduously as I approached from a distance, attempting to minimize the use of braking by speeding up or coasting depending on the point in the intersection's cycle.

Maybe undertaking all of that is absurd to get an extra 100 miles out of a tank, thereby saving me a whopping $12 per tank. So you're financially healthier than I am--rub it in why don't you! Particularly unacceptable to the average driver is the abstention from the AC or windows, especially in the thick of a Kansas summer (and the ride is a bit longer due to slower highway speeds, although that can be compensated for by timing traffic signals if you're zealous enough to do so).

Still, 40% of oil consumption in the US goes to passenger vehicles. Conceivably, if all drivers got a third more from each tank without driving any fewer miles, we'd be able to shave a couple million barrels of daily oil consumption--more than we import from either Mexico or Saudi Arabia.

For an astute buy? (June 9, 2006)

Is Toyota really worth fifteen times as much as Ford? Twelve times more than GM? In spite of yet another credit downgrading and a brutal session for the market, it climbed a little at the end of the week. Ford's market cap is less than $13 billion but it has $21 billion of cash and equivalents on hand. Something individual investors might want to consider. Two of the three indicators I use in my 'correlation meta-analysis' point to a recovery.

Efficient fuel usage (May 2, 2006)

American vehicles account for a tenth of the world's daily oil consumption. But even with a 17% year-over-year rise in the price of gasoline, consumption continues to grow:
In the first quarter, the real price of gasoline averaged about 17% more than a year earlier, and U.S. gasoline consumption was up just 0.3% -- fairly close to flat.
Historically, domestic gas consumption grows at about 1.5% annually. That consumption has only been reduced by 1.2% of the expected amount assuming only an inflationary price increase yields an elasticity of less than .1. Part of this stems from driving necessity. It also comes from the fact that, as psychologically painful as the gas price may be to the average consumer, it represents a small fraction of personal-consumption spending--only about 3%. On a micro level, gasoline costs are just a nuisance. But if prices rise to four or five bucks a gallon, and a couple more percentage points of discretionary income are diverted to fuel purchases, it will likely begin shaving off a couple of percentage points of GDP growth.

While enterprising entrepreneurs are taking big risks that we all stand to benefit enormously from, there are several things that can be done in the name of gasoline parsimony that require very minimal lifestyle changes:

-If able, keep your windows up and blast the vent. Failing that, drive with the windows down in the city and suburbs. Use air conditioning on the highway. The AC lowers fuel economy by about 10% irrespective of speed. Drag from downed windows decrases fuel economy by about 10% when you hit 45 mph. At 55 mph fuel economy plummets 20% or more.

-Watch the RPM. Keeping it under 2,000 when accelerating saves a substantial amount of fuel. Doing so nets me sixty miles more a tank (I drive a V-6 '97 Taurus). Yes, people will on occasion ride your tail as they honk and gesticulate wildly, but that makes the strategy all the more satisfying.

-If you drive an automatic, ease the accelerator a bit as you build speed. This will cause the auto transmission to upshift earlier than it would otherwise.

-Cruise the freeway as slowly as is affordable. Dropping from 65 mph from 75 mph reduces fuel costs 13%, and going from 65 mph to 55 mph saves another 12%.

-Keep your tires inflated to the upper limit of the recommended PSI range.

-Fill up in the early morning or at night and on cooler days during the week. It'll cut down on gas evaporation.

-City planners: Start with an understanding that every time the light changes at an intersection, deadweight loss is created, because there must be an interregnum in which the signals for all directions must be red. Minimize the number of signal changes. From this, realize that having a commuter wait five minutes at one light and then cruise through the rest of the intersections on his drive in is exponentially more fuel efficient than having him wait thirty seconds each at ten different lights. Create an almost perpetual green along main thoroughfares. Drivers will have to wait a few minutes to come from the rivulet onto the major road, but after that it's quasi-highway.

-Install countdown systems in all electronic crosswalk signal devices. This serves as an enduring yellow light that will increase traffic flow and save fuel.

-Drastically increase drunk driving punitions. I rode my bike twenty miles roundtrip to and from work for almost two years. Then a couple of years ago I was hit from behind by a car, driven by an inebriate with a blood alcohol level of .24, that knocked me within inches of my life. Now I burn a gallon of gas every weekday.


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