Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tank 283 - 30 June 2K11 - Gas is Cheaper, Commute Takes Longer

This morning I refueled again at the Fas Mart near my home, "home of the world's slowest gas pumps," but it's convenient. And since they stopped the annoying speaker that turns on with commercials when you start pumping gas, it's almost tolerable. Except for the silliness of hitting enter after putting in the 5-digit ZIP code, as I referred to earlier.

So anyway, I had gone 429.7 miles on this tank, and added 11.668 gallons of gas, at $3.329 per gallon, making for a fuel economy of 36.83 miles per gallon. It's pretty poor, but my five-tank average remains over 38 mpg, so at least I have that going for me.

I have noted in the past that when gasoline price creeps over $3.50 a gallon, my trip home takes less time on average. The last few weeks have provided data that reinforce this conclusion. Twice this week it's taken me more than 70 minutes to get home, where my average for the year is 59.77 minutes to get home. On Tuesday, at least two crashes delayed my trip. One of the wrecks shut down I-95 so I (and everybody else) had to take route 1 home, which is not a good alternative.

My conclusion is that the cheapening gas price had given the general population of aggressive drivers the green light to speed and swerve around again, and these crashes were evidence that they were out of practice.

Indeed, my conclusion was supported more this morning as I drove to work- a snake of vehicles, including a BMW 3-series (obviously!), an Hyundai (the working man's BMW 3-series), and a crotch-rocket motorcycle all sped through the rest of us speed-limit-following drivers at ludicrous speed, darting across the three lanes of the Interstate from the fast lane to the slow lane and back over the course of about a tenth of a mile (or about 4 or 5 seconds at the speed they were going), only to slam on their brakes as they encountered what obviously was some grandmother rolling roadblock who was only going 70 in the fast lane with her vanpool.

Happily, when I get home this afternoon, I will be on a four-day holiday break, so perhaps I will not need to even sit in a car during this time.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Steak 'N Shake is Just Okay...

We went to Steak 'N Shake for the third time a couple days ago, and the experience was the same as the first two. As a result, we'll probably not go back there for a while, if ever. It's a little sad, because I really want to like it. I really want to say it's a favorite restaurant.

Steak 'N Shake is like a hybrid fast food/sit-down restaurant. There's a drive through window, but a hostess who seats you inside and waiters and waitresses and real plates and silverware inside.

Each time we have gone there, we were greeted with enthusiasm by the hostess and seated without much delay. But this enthusiasm decreased the longer we stayed there. Our waiter happily took our order, was a little sluggish getting us our drinks, and then gone for an unusually long time before our food was delivered.

One of the features of Stake 'N Shake is its open kitchen in the middle of the store. You can watch your hamburger turn from a ball of ground steak to a done burger in ninety seconds, the advertised length of time it takes to cook their steakburgers. The cook moves around with ease and skill, expertly managing the assembly line of burgers and hot dogs, and I suppose chicken every now and then.

The odd thing about all this showmanship is that each time we have eaten there, our food had become merely warm by the time it made it to our table. I am sure that at one point the burgers were hot and juicy and the fries were hot and crispy, but when they were presented to us, they had cooled considerably and the experience was like that of a church picnic or family buffet - barely warm enough to keep us from complaining.

On the positive side, if we didn't order a $3 shake or $1.50 soda, our family of five could eat at a sit down restaurant for about $25, and that includes tax and tip. It's tough to escape McDonald's and Chick Fil-A for such a low cost, and at those restaurants you must bus your own dishes.

Still, the overall disappointment of three lukewarm meals will probably keep me from going back to Steak 'N Shake.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tank 282 - 23 June 2K11 - 78 Degrees before dawn and a 5 digit ZIP code complaint!

Refueled at the Fas Mart ("home of the world's slowest gas pumps!") near my home on my way to work this morning. Yes, they are slow, but it's conveniently located.

As usual, I paid with my credit card. Since I have been tracking my fuel economy, gas pumps have started asking if my card is credit or debit. That's fine, I guess, although I thought these types of cards were different and not able to exist on the same piece of plastic.

So I pick "credit," because that's how I roll, and then it asks me to ENTER 5-DIGIT ZIP CODE AND THEN ENTER.

Why do I need to press enter, if it's expecting 5 digits? My ATM machine knows it's waiting for four PIN numbers (Yes, I know that's technically like typing "personal identification number numbers," but such is the dumbing down of America that I, too, have slid down the IQ scale. IRREGARDLESS...) and then moves on after I press my 4 digits. Why does the gas pump force me to press enter after the last digit of my zip code?

It's silly and a waste of my time. Plus the enter key is in different places so I am looking for the dumb enter key each time I refuel, since I fill up with gasoline at various places. This waste of time could add up to minutes (MINUTES, I TELL YOU!) over the course of a year.

But such is the burden we all must bear in order to enjoy such modern conveniences of life.

So as I dwelled on this stupidity in the pre-dawn glow, 10.606 gallons of 10% ethanol-infused unleaded gasoline dropped into my tank. I had gone 419.1 miles, so my mileage was an impressive 39.52 miles per gallon. I am pleased with this, as I was carrying my new bike on a trunk-mounted bike rack a few times on this tank and was concerned about fuel economy implications.

However, seeing on how last tank registered 37.13 mpg, it's just as probable that the pump last time just put in more gas than today's pump replaced, skewing my current numbers.

Luckily, I believe the aggregate averages will tend to be fairly representative of actual gas mileage. Knowing that, I am happy to report that with today's tank, my average gas mileage for 2011 is 37.88 miles per gallon. This is the highest "yearly" average mpg ever, topping the old recordhoder of 2007 by 0.01 miles per gallon!
Of course, now I have the pressure of keeping this up for more than six more months, so there's a chance I won't be able to maintain this effort. Only time will tell.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

THE GREAT ODOMETER SCANDAL! (Tank 281 - 14 June 2K11)

I sneaked out of work this morning to refuel at the BJ's near my office. Gas was $3.639 per gallon, which was about a nickel cheaper than neighboring gas stations, but probably about 20 cents more per gallon than gas in Fredericksburg. The car had gone 423.4 miles, so my fuel economy was 37.13 miles per gallon, which is nothing to write home about.

Mostly, I am growing more and more disturbed about an issue that bugs me, and that is how annoyed I am that the combined total of all my trip distances does not match up to the total mileage that the odometer indicates.

ODOMETER READING AT GAS STATION: 110,659
TOTAL OF 281 TANKS OF GAS: 110.601.2

One would think that the total of all 281 tanks would equal total miles traveled. But no, this is certainly not the case. There's about a 57 or 58 mile difference between the two.

I can't see how a rounding error would apply here, as the odometer that reports whole numbers only ought to just continue up at the same point it left off. The trip meter measures in tenths of miles.

"But Kenny, perhaps each and every tank you drove just far enough for the trip meter to round DOWN to the nearest tenth and not up to the next tenth?"

Well, the 57 or 58 mile difference, divided by 281 tanks, is more than 0.2 miles difference per tank, so you can take that pitiful argument back home with you and put it in the trash where it belongs.

I mentioned this horrific quality control failure in the Toyota system to my coworker the other day, and she thinks this may be exactly the sort of data that Toyota may want to have in order to improve its vehicles.

I mean, this could conceivably mess up my resale value here. My odometer will read 200,000 miles at some point, but when that happens, I will know in my heart of hearts that I have only driven 199,942 miles.

And I can prove it!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Bike Ride Report!

Yesterday morning I went out on a bike ride on my new birthday bike. It was my first ride by myself on it for any long distance- 27 miles. The day before, I went on a ride with my daughters and a friend and his son, planning on going to a local battlefield, but my part was cut short as one daughter became overwhelmed with fear of passing traffic so we turned around and went home. Still, that effort was 20 miles, so I applauded the childrens' efforts.

So yesterday's trip would be a good time to see if the new bike, 38 years younger than the yellow one, would be any different or better. After one trip, it is certainly more comfortable, quieter, easier to shift, and smoother rolling over the road. I averaged a speed of 17.3 miles per hour, which is among the faster average speeds for the general route I took, but not the fastest. As I ride more, I'll get more data to help determine if newer=faster or if newer just equals more comfortable and convenient.

My proudest moment of the ride was at my halfway point, as I was finishing up my first water bottle and fruit snacks, another cyclist came into the parking lot to turn around. This guy was in a full cycling costume, too, and was riding a fancy-expensive Bianchi road bike. He said hi and I smiled back. I started my return trip as he apparently was negotiating the turnaround in the parking lot.

After about a minute he passed by at a fair clip faster than me. I laughed the laugh of a defeated man. As he got about 100 feet ahead, I decided I would not give up and see if I could stay with him, as he clearly was more of a cyclist than me, with his expensive bike and matching bike costume.

He stood up and pedaled hard up the first (and only little) hill on our way, and I increased my effort to stay with him. As he crowned the hill, I could hear him shifting his gears, and was shocked (SHOCKED!) that his fancy expensive bike was skipping and not swiftly and precisely snapping into his chosen gear. On my first big ride on my $400 "internet special," even I was able to shift my entry-level gears easily without any clacking or grinding.

As we continued on in our cat-and-mouse chase, I could see him looking back to see if I was still there. I was, and was closing in. He did not drop me, and I did not get too tired.

After about two and half miles, our road intersected with another at a stop sign. He indicated to turn left, and I knew I was going straight. He slowed, and was starting to turn left as I caught up, and we crossed the road together, he turning left and I going straight ahead. I huffed and puffed a little harder than I needed to, so he could feel happy about at least tiring me out if he couldn't drop me, and I rang my bike bell and waved goodbye to him. He waved and I enjoyed the rest of my ride.

So it's not the cost of your bike, it's the engine that makes more of the difference. I think I am developing into a good engine.

It was quite fun to roll over the roads, down the hills, and have extra easy gears so I could get up hills with more ease. And I brought th ebike to work today so I can "exercise" on it this afternoon!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Tank 280 - 4 June 2K11

So I refuelled at the Sheetz near my house on Saturday. Put in 11.041 gallons after gently driving 439.9 miles, ended up with 39.84 miles per gallon. This was a nice result, and was due to a number of positive influences, including favorable driving conditions with relatively few instances of gridlocky traffic jams on my way home.

However, gas was a dramatically cheap $3.499 per gallon. My records appear to indicate that $3.50 per gallon is a threshold where, above that price, people start to drive more sanely and a little more slowly to save on gas, so a result is my trips home are quicker and less eventful.

Now that gas seems to be dropping below this psychologically important price, I fear traffic will increase and my home commute will suffer.

But it's going to be okay. Rumors are that my office will be moving closer to my home, perhaps as early as this time next year, and that will help my commute time, gasoline usage, and also permit me to ride my bike to and from work at times, as I have heard as well that the new office may have showers there for employees to use.

But that is for another day.

Another interesting observation is that as of this tank, my average fuel economy for all 280 tanks of gas in the Mighty Corolla is now 37.00 miles per gallon, which is higher than the advertised highway mileage on the sticker. For the year, I'm at 37.83 mpg.