For The Birds

Prius depreciation revisted

Almost two years ago, I posted about how our Prius had been holding its value exceedingly well. Based on the resale value at 16 months old, I projected the expected depreciation over three years to be no greater than 13.6% as compared to 45% for the average vehicle in the US.

With gas prices so high, demand for the Prius is astronomical -- much higher than Toyota can meet. This in turn has led to very high resale values of used Priuses. After a little over three years, our car has depreciated only 7.7% 7.2%. This value reflects a below average number of miles, so correcting for that (assuming the average person drives 15k miles/yr), it would have depreciated 11.4% instead.

A lot of folks like to say that it takes years to make up the hybrid premium in gas savings. It's not hard to see that Prius owners made out like bandits (whether out of "foresight" or just plain blind luck) in terms of reduced depreciation alone. Whether this astoundingly low rate of depreciation will hold up for the next several years remains to be seen, but either way I'm sure the price of gas will be a large determining factor.

EDIT: Jess points out that we only have around 17k miles on our car versus the 24k figure I used in my original post, so I updated the pricing chart below. Our depreciation is currently about 7.2% (or 2.4% annually!) instead of 7.7% from original price.

Our pricing report...Collapse )
For The Birds

GH: World Tour!

I can't wait to get the new Guitar Hero! The drum kit looks amazing, and the Music Studio sounds absolutely insane. There's basically a full-blown MIDI editor built into the game, but there are also tools you can use to help fake your way through writing a song.

I'm definitely interested in fooling around with it, though I doubt I'll write anything worth playing -- I'm more interested in downloading the songs other people come up with. I'm sure there will be some musical geniuses out there who come up with great stuff and share it with the rest of us.

Anyone want to form a band with me? We don't even have to be in the same place to play together (though it would be more fun that way).

More videos ...Collapse )
For The Birds

Where "self-excitation" is not as dirty as it sounds

For more than (most of) you'd ever want to know [pdf] about the physics behind the 1940 Tacoma Narrows bridge incident. My professor was wrong (and apparently so were a bunch of physics textbooks): the culprit was not wind-induced forced resonance, but in fact: flutter. Thanks Wikipedia!

From the abstract:
It is ... demonstrated that the ultimate failure of the bridge was in fact related to an aerodynamically induced condition of self-excitation or ``negative damping'' in a torsional degree of freedom. The aeroelastic phenomenon involved was an interactive one in which developed wind forces were strongly linked to structural motion. This paper emphasizes the fact that, physically as well as mathematically, forced resonance and self-excitation are fundamentally different phenomena.
For The Birds

Deval Patrick and Energy Policy

I went to see Gov. Deval Patrick speak at MIT on Tuesday. He made an inspirational speech, and from what I can tell his environmental policies are more progressive than most governors in the US. The primary regulatory tools he supports appear to be subsidies in the form of favorable utility rates for renewable power and economic incentives for green companies to operate in Massachusetts. These initiatives are definitely steps in the right direction, but at the same time, I can't help but wonder if we'd be better off with a strict carbon cap or tax.

I get it: "tax" is a dirty word in US politics. But the money for subsidies has to come from somewhere, and we end up increasing the burden on distortionary taxes like sales or income taxes. If we tax carbon emissions and other pollutants, we can both reduce the distortions caused by the pollution externality as well as use the revenue to offset distortionary taxes. Would such a policy increase energy prices? Yes, but since the policy is revenue neutral, those who conserve energy and make cleaner choices end up with more money than before the tax, while those who guzzle gas and leave the air conditioning on while out of the house will have more incentive to correct their inefficient behavior.
For The Birds


Anyone want to play Smash Brothers on the Wii with me?

Friend code: 2878-9355-4778

I need your code too, so either post in the comments or email me.
For The Birds

Democratizing our democracy

Here's a fascinating article on some of the major problems with our nation's primary voting process, along with some possible solutions. I'm a huge fan of Instant Runoff Voting and think it's a travesty that it isn't in use today.
Consider the Republican contest this year. John McCain earned his frontrunner status in January without ever winning more than 37% of the vote in a primary or caucus. The Republican's winner-take-all rules also aided him in gaining frontrunner status. Even on February 5th, where he essentially locked up the nomination, he only won a majority of the vote in three states. Whether Sen. McCain is the right nominee for the Republican Party is not the point; the reality is that he easily could have been a splinter candidate who didn't reflect the views of the majority of Republican voters.

On the Democratic side, even with proportional allocation rules mitigating the impact on distortions in allocating delegates due to plurality voting rules, the lack of instant runoff voting had a clear impact on the race. The media inevitably focuses on who wins the most votes, no matter how low that percentage might be - consider New Hampshire this year, where Sen. Clinton won a big boost despite securing less than 40% of the vote and potentially not being able to have defeated Barack Obama if supporters of the remaining candidates could have indicated a second choice between the frontrunners.
For The Birds

How we got into this mess

This PBS Frontline episode from last month sheds a lot of light on how we ended up in Iraq. From
Like Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence and Freud’s return of the repressed, the war in Iraq keeps on coming back to bite us in the pineal gland. We do our best to distract ourselves with the collapse of the American economy or the rehab of pop tarts, but then another suicide bomb explodes in Baghdad and we are made to wonder once again—$3 trillion for exactly what? Bush’s War can’t tell us exactly “what,” except for a fiasco, but this two-night, four-and-a-half-hour Frontline special is the best audiovisual history of who, why, when, and how available to date. Since Frontline has been tracking the metastasis from 9/11 through to the surge, producer Michael Kirk had access to more than 40 previous stories to bolster a fresh batch of interviews. Not only do most of the principals speak for themselves, but because they often had to revise, improve, or repudiate earlier sound bites, they speak against themselves, too.
As a result of watching it, I hate Dick Cheney even more now than I did before, and that's saying something. It's unbelievable how incompetent the Bush administration has been -- how damaging these two presidential terms have been to the world.

If you only have 10 minutes, watch segment twelve of part one.
For The Birds

Deadly adventure on the high seas published a suspenseful, fascinating, and very well written story in February on the salvage of an enormous ship carrying thousands of Mazdas that tipped over near Alaska.

A phone rings. Rich Habib opens his eyes and blinks in the darkness. He reaches for the phone, disturbing a pair of dogs cuddled around him. He was going to take them to the river for a swim today. Now the sound of his phone means that somewhere, somehow, a ship is going down, and he's going to have to get out of bed and go save it.

It always starts like this. Last Christmas Day, an 835-foot container vessel ran aground in Ensenada, Mexico. The phone rang, he hopped on a plane, and was soon on a Jet Ski pounding his way through the Baja surf. The ship had run aground on a beach while loaded with approximately 1,800 containers. He had to rustle up a Sikorsky Skycrane — one of the world's most powerful helicopters — to offload the cargo.

Ship captains spend their careers trying to avoid a collision or grounding like this. But for Habib, nearly every month brings a welcome disaster. While people are shouting "Abandon ship!" Habib is scrambling aboard. He's been at sea since he was 18, and now, at 51, his tanned face, square jaw, and don't-even-try-bullshitting-me stare convey a world-weary air of command. He holds an unlimited master's license, which means he's one of the select few who are qualified to pilot ships of any size, anywhere in the world. He spent his early years captaining hulking vessels that lifted other ships on board and hauled them across oceans. He helped the Navy transport a nuclear refueling facility from California to Hawaii. Now he's the senior salvage master — the guy who runs the show at sea — for Titan Salvage, a highly specialized outfit of men who race around the world saving ships.