Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Reverse Weimar

Price inflation now seems to be built into the economy: since WWII, there's been a relentless 2-4% upward trend. (And occasionally more: sometimes much more.)

Computers and electronics have been running against this trend, being insanely deflationary. (Just wait a year or two, and the device you lust after will be half its current price. Or more capable. Or both.)

What's new and unprecedented in my experience is the sudden collapse of energy prices. (Last spring, the price of fuel oil was still heading upward even after the heating season was over; gasoline peaked in July, and, in a few short months, has dropped by fully 50%.

We all grew up on the horror stories of runaway Weimar-style inflation - all the stories of people rushing to spend their pay before the afternoon round of price increases....

But here's the reverse, an effect I never anticipated seeing:

albanygasprices.com 11/25/08:

Lowest observed 197.9 Sunoco Rotterdam
Average Albany prices:
Today 2.145 So, down 1.6¢ from yesterday
Yesterday 2.161 down 13.6¢ from a week before
One Week Ago 2.281 down 69.1¢ from a month before
One Month Ago 2.836 down 93.3¢ from a year ago
(One Year Ago 3.078) (The peak price was in July)

That's down 69.1¢ in 31 days; that's a decline of >2.2¢/day
(Hell, I paid 419.9 on July 22 (so, down ~$2.22/gal in about 156 days)

So all this month - all this season - it's been worth it to wait as long as possible before buying gas.

Which means this price deflation hass had a perverse effect:
the price of gas is dropping so fast that it's encouraging me to use the bus.
Because the longer I can delay filling up, the cheaper the tank of gas will be.

Normally, a tank lasts me about two weeks of commuting.
I last filled the Miata on Nov 2nd, $23.00 at 249.9
I would have been due for another tankful about Nov 14th, when I filled the MPV at 217.9

But if I take the bus to work for a week, I can save a few bucks on a fill-up.

Today - 11 days after 11/14 - there are several local stations at 199.9 or below:
50 cents less than I last paid for the Miata, 18 cents less than I last paid in the MPV, 13.6 cents lower than just seven days ago.

So I'd be saving $5 from fill-up to fill-up, but saving $1.50 of that just by delaying the extra week. A day of commuting by bus is only $1.90. A full 5-day week is only $9.50. Just delaying the next gasoline purchase offsets 15-20% the cost of riding the bus. That's astounding.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

A sign of the times

Remarkably, there are still people who think that "Which party wins" makes no difference in people's lives.

I was crossing the Plaza at lunchtime, and saw an Office of General Services crew putting up the official State xmas tree. Because, you know, we now have a Democratic governor.

Which is a sign of the times: under the previous Republican administration, they used to use prisoners to put up the official tree.

Because, you know, nothing says "The true spirit of Christmas" like having the community's holiday decorating done by slave labor. It really warms the heart.

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Monday, November 03, 2008

The Decline of The Red Menace

The Miata now seems to be entering the territory of Oliver Wendell Holmes' "One-Horse Shay". No trouble to speak of for essentially forever, except that the day finally comes when entire vehicle just . . . disintegrates.

Year one: No problems
Year two: Convertible top fails, replaced under warranty
Year three: No problems
Year four: Valve cover gasket leaks. A $50 problem.
Year five: No problems
Year six: No problems
Year seven: Top fails again
Year eight: No problems
Year nine: No problems
Year ten: Center brakelight wire fails
(A zero $ problem: I just spliced in a few inches of used lampcord)
Year eleven: No problems
Year twelve: No problems
Year thirteen: No problems
Year fourteen: No problems
Year fifteen: No problems
Year sixteen: No problems
Year seventeen: No problems
Year eighteen: Cooling system fails (April '07.)
(First the radiator goes, then - when the pressure is increased - all the little fussy hoses at the top of the block fail, one after the other.)
Year nineteen: Transmission explodes (July '08. The Miata finally strands me. Then the alternator dies (Halloween '08))

Now that the transmission replacement is fully amortized (three-and- a-half months), the "Battery!" idiot light came on. I was able to drive to work and back on Friday apparently on just the battery. (Being careful to use no lights, no radio.)

So replacement was this weekend's project: an hour to get the old alternator out, forty-five minutes to go get it tested and trade it for a new one, then a half-hour to put the new one in. (The alternator apparently did not like being sprayed with coolant last season when all the little hoses let go in last year's cooling-system failure. The alternator did continue to work for another ~10,000 miles or so before failing, though.

Here's the trick: to physically get the alternator out of a Miata engine bay, the air intake pipe across the front of the block needs to be disconnected and moved out of the way.

And here's the moral of today's story:

Had I disposed of the Miata after SEVENTEEN YEARS of service (and 140,000 miles), it would have been essentially trouble-free. Now the elderly-car problems are starting, and I should start to think about replacing it. (It's long overdue for an exhaust system, for instance - that'll be next....)

Fun fact: the stock alternator was a Mitsubishi part, the new ($130) rebuild is a Bosch.
My 14mm box wrench was nowhere to be found, so a 9/16" served until I could buy a new one.

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