Friday, September 30, 2005

Econocar punditry

My buddy Joe wrote this:

To think, when I bought my Prius last year, people told me I'd never make up the added price of the hybryd system in gas savings. I wonder if they would say the same thing today.

(Permalink seems to point to a wrong entry, so scroll down a tad.)

Well, let's take out the slide rule, and let's be very generous. Suppose that I drive 20,000 miles a year (an exaggeration - actually about 18K, depending). How much would I pay in different cars?

I drive a 1997 Neon, which costs almost nothing, with KBB price of $1200 for private transactions. But suppose that I bought a 2004 Neon for $18000 (an overpriced econobox - $15435 MSRP loaded). The 2004 Prius had MSRP of $24K. I know that people pay way more for the privilege, but we'll let it slide in Joe's favour. This comes to about $6K difference.

I burn about 34mpg. It is a real number. If it was all highway, I would be pushing 40mpg. Joe's prius does, say, 50mpg (the real number from Dan York's blog is 46). So, to drive my 20K miles, I need 588 gallons of gasoline in a Neon, and I would need 400 gallons in Prius. This comes to 188 gallons, or $564 @$3/gal, per year.

To break even, I'd need to drive Prius for 10 years. It's not out of the realm of possible. My Neon is about 8 year old with 166K miles, and runs like new. But still, it's not as if Prius saves you a fortune.

The reason why this happens is twofold. First, Prius only delivers its incredible economy in city cycle. When I lived in Fremont and commuted by city streets, I received about 24mpg. The engine barely had time to warm up (and become economical), when my commute ended. Prius, by contrast, delivers better economy in the city than on the highway. On the highway, it's all in the aerodinamics and other friction. Prius has marginally better aerodynamic shape and its tires are narrower, so it comes ahead, by a small amount. Second, gas at $3 is still incredibly cheap. If it becomes $6, I'd need only 5 years to break even with Prius.

Unfortunately for Prius, regular cars are getting better and cheaper. For the same money as Neon, you can buy Toyota Corolla, which is a way better car, with a better fuel economy, than Neon. Or you can buy Scion xB, which has somewhat worse economy, but much better design than Neon (Scion is a Toyota brand, too).

Notice that if I lived in a truly dense city, like downtown Chicago, it would be different. On one hand, Prius shines in a city. But on the other hand, I would be driving much less, so the bigger advantage per mile may end with smaller advantage in dollars, which is what matters.

Anyway, as far as Tracy, California, is concerned, I do not see a compelling reason to buy a hybrid car. Even when gas is $6 for gallon.

Update: Joe has a post with numbers, too. I missed it the first time around, sorry.

Sprinkler diaphragm

Just replaced a diaphragm in a sprinkler valve. The valve was leaking from under the jug top, at a pretty healthy rate, too. The old diaphragm looked pretty good, maybe deformed just a little bit in the bottom part. Well, at least it works now.

I am quite happy that Home carries diaphragms. I appreciate that they are cheaper ($5.68) than whole valve assemblies ($16.99), but more importantly, there is no easy way to replace the valve if it breaks. It's quite insane. These valves have female threaded connectors. So, installers do this. They screw short threaded pieces of thick pipe into those connectors, then glue the whole thing on the PVC pipe. Done! Now, the only way to replace the valve is to cut both pipes and redo the operation. Naturally, this shortens the pipes... Dunno what kind of evil genius came up with this idea.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Tree on the needle

Had a visit from Clark Pest Control tech a few days ago. He left a colorful newsletter behind, which featured a picture of a tree with half-closed eyes and mouth making "Uuuuuuh" sound, presumably because someone was injecting it with a syringe. I wonder if the next newsletter going to have a little notice about the tree not having a special meaning...

Sunday, September 25, 2005

TRASH @West: Garden Waste

Rotating post. A Garden Waste week on the West side.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Pig ears in Save Mart

My wife went to Save Mart to buy monthly BART tickets (it's the only place in town which sells them), and reported that the store has nice pig ears for sale. Since this is America, they are pre-cleaned and pre-burned (e.g. the brush is removed). She didn't get them because we had a tongue in the fridge already. The tongue is being cooked right this moment.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Floods in Tracy, California

Tracy Today talked about flood and levees in the county today. Regarding that, it may be instructive to look at Tracy at the Most of the town is between 10 and 20 meter horizontals, which run approximately West-East, with the ground raising slowly towards the south. The Civic Center is at 48ft, or 16m. Unfortunately, my house is even below 10. Not good.

I consider two souces of flooding: a levee break in the delta and a breakout in a canal. The Lower and Upper Main are very small dikes with stopping devices. They do not look too dangerous. But the Delta Mendota break would suck a lot. A break in the delta would be bad as well, but not as bad, depending on the elevation of it. If it happens below 8m, I'm golden.

Time to look for a flood insurance.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Water is falling from the sky

Was it four months without a rain? Or five? But I am glad it's over. Switching off the lawn sprinklers now.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Gas price and PT Cruiser

I was to our Dodge dealership on Saturday to buy brake pads, and looked over the PT Cruisers. Apparently, they started to move reasonably inexpensive option sets. There was one unit with $15,800 total sticker. I remember when they just started to appear, the cheapest was $18,000. But still, with 26 mpg, no cigar.

I used to lament about not having a 2L engine option on PT. It's the same bottom end engine, same accessories. But now I understand that it would only help the city cycle rating, not highway cycle. To get the economy anywhere near 35 mpg, the car needs different gearbox, different tyres, and, perhaps, different aerodynamics (maybe just better bottom and a low spoiler in front). In that order. Tellingly, the version with the manual gearbox is rated to 29 mpg.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

TRASH @West: Recycling

Rotating post. West - Recycling, East - Garden Waste.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Gas price math

A "Tenchi Muyo (Signature Series)" DVD costs $17.98 at all reputable online outlets: Amazon, RightStuff, AnimeNation. The same DVD costs $14.99 at Fry's. The nearest Fry's is in Fremont. Driving 42 miles to Fremont and 42 miles back, my car would burn 2.4 gallons of petrol, to the cost of $7.00 (almost exactly). So, if I order from Amazon and get free shipping, it actually comes cheaper than driving to Fry's, which I was contemplating for tomorrow.

So I suppose it would be a good idea to create a set of rule of thumb entries for a "cost vs. distance" table. For example, if an item costs $20 or less, it must be bought in Tracy. A $40 item warrants a trip to Livermore or Byron. For a $80 item, we go to the East Bay. And for $100 item, we visit San Francisco (across the toll bridge). The distances would be shorter for SUV drivers. The values are approximate of course, and in this case I exaggerate the cost of a visit to Bay Area, to account for being lazy...

If things go as they do, we will be shopping for groceries at, and it's going to be cheaper than visiting the store. Remember, a car burns way more gas while it's cold on a short trip, and even more when driving in city traffic.


Changed front pads and rear shoes on my car today. 120 thousand miles were on this set of pads, according to the log. I find it difficult to believe, frankly. I must have forgotten to write down the pad change. The shoes had 160 thousand miles on them and looked as if they would carry another 100 thousand. I thought that the car was not likely to survive that long, and since I had the set, I changed them as well.

A fun experience, but on the whole I would not like to become a car mechanic by trade.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


Our local paper Tracy Press posted an article about traffic increases across the Altamont pass. It's quite curious, because they claim it to be the 2nd most congested stretch of a freeway, after the I-80 where it approaches the Bay Bridge. But if you wonder What In The World Are They Smoking, the always factual reporters explain: "The MTC/Caltrans study uses the amount of time a car travels slower than 35 mph as the measure of delay." Well, duh. The car (and truck) travelling at 35 up the Altamont is different from a car parked in gridlock at I-80.

However, the traffic does grow. No argument here. And eventually the road will turn into I-80, if nothing else happens (like an extension to the Route 130).

One funny quoite:

Kern said it’s not just commuters who are clogging the freeway, but also a growing logistics industry that has more big rigs moving between the valley and the bay.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

TRASH @West: Garden Waste

East side is the opposite.

By the way, the last collection was on time after the Labor Day. Mine is on Friday. They probably compress the whole schedule, so those on Monday get their a day late, but those in the middle may get it late or may not get it late.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


This is a reasonably new steakhouse at Grant Line, across the CHP. They aim to be a higher level steakhouse, but the kitchen does not quite make it. Basically, it's a Fabio's without the Fabio's history. And it's not Magellan by a long shot. The one good thing I noticed though, they are little known and are out of the way, so it was unusually quiet.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Toilet fixin

What I find very strange is how the Fluidmaster valve kit is cheaper ($7.99) than ACE valve kit ($12.99) in ACE. Aren't generics supposed to be cheaper than brands? The Fluidmaster seems like a better design, too. It uses a float, but it's compact. Its cut-off is very positive. The only thing remaining to learn is how it stands the test of time.

BTW, I've read in a DYI book that a hydrostatic membrane valve is illegal now, by a building code in most states. This government really does not know when to stop. Not that I liked that design much, because it requires adjustment as it gets older, and thus you have to stick your hand into the toilet tank about every two months. But cheesh, prohibited by code? Please! That alone is enough to make a man a follower of Barry Goldwater or something.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Street cleaning is one day later

Heard the vacuum passing right this moment behind my window. Normally it happens some time around 6 to 7 a.m. on Monday. Note, this is Tracy Streets which is an entirely different agency from Delta Disposal. So, this has little bearing on the question of the trash day. Just an observation for now.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Markings change at Corral Hollow and Grant Line

When travelling northbound to the mall at Corral Hollow, left lane fed into the three turning lanes and the two straight lanes. Now, the straight lanes are aligned, left into left and right into right. So, when going to the mall, it makes sense to stay in the right lane.

TRASH @West: Recycling

Usually after a holiday the trash pickup day moves one day later, but better not count on it.

If you live on the East side of Tracy Blvd, your trash day is the opposite of the one in the West. This week that would be Garden Waste.