Monthly Archives: June 2008

Um, I told you so

But it seems my timing was off on predicting GM’s demise. I guess you have to expect those things, since time has passed since then. After all, it’s been six whole days.

What am I talking about, you ask. Oh. Goldman Sachs, the big investment firm, is recommending to its clients that the sell GM. The price of GM stock is now lower than it was when the CEO, Rick Waggoner, was born. Woah, that’s down. Goldman Sachs thinks GM is dying. They must have read the same tea leaves I did.

<gasp!> Unless they’re just stealing from my posts, that is.  [heh. I crack me up.]

Signs of the times

From NPR.org, signs of the downturn in the economy:

  • Revenue at Nevada brothels is down by 20% with high gas prices keeping truckers away
  • Charity may begin at home, but it’s staying there. Donations have risen only 1%
  • Schools are using mapping software to reduce buss trip miles, cutting back on idling, and pushing out the boundaries for walking to school
  • Bicycle sales are up as are repairs to older ones.
  • Scooter sales are up 24% and small motorbikes up 7.5%
  • Home sales in city neighborhoods with access to bike paths and public transit are seeing a growth in interest
  • 935 trucking companies operating 5 or more trucks have gone under, compared with 385 last year
  • Movie ticket sales and box office revenue are up (a common “the economy sucks” indicator – it’s relatively cheap entertainment)

Muffin deprived

Well, after the last post on muffins, even after making a second batch on request, eventually we had to run out of muffins. However, I’ve also got this other recipe that is my favorite. The original recipe was a freebie at a paper show and was intended for no other purpose than show off the paper the recipe was printed on. Leave it to me to pervert it’s intended use. However, it needed tweaking. With the addition of fresh peaches or nectarines, a few less pecans, and substituting almond extract for vanilla, it became perfect. And I would have had some for breakfast today if we’d had any peach preserves.

Peach Muffins

1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup peach preserves
1 egg
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup toasted pecans
1 (or so) peach, diced or a nectarine

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease and dust with flour a 12 muffin pan or line the pan with muffin cups. Sift dry ingredients into bowl and then mix in pecans. Beat egg, then add other ingredients until they are combined together. With a wooden spoon, add the preserves mix into the dry ingredients and combine. Don’t over mix. Bake for 20 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes.

Bought gas recently?

Of course you have, unless you’re biking (or scootering) to work. I burn not quite two gallons going to and from work. (It’s 27 miles each way for me.) And at almost $4 a gallon, it’s painful. It will be a lot worse if the economists’ projections are right. (Note: I am an economist, although I don’t get paid to do that or play one on TV.) Several of them have projected oil to hit $225 a barrel and gas to get to $7 or $8 a gallon by 2012. Some have projected worse. I know you all can add and subtract, but that is only four years away.

So what does that mean for the economy? Several things, and when you think about it and make logical projections, it’s all too realistic. These are also just my opinions and worth every cent you’re paying for them, which is nothing.

  • People will commute a whole lot less because commuting will cost a whole lot more. (seems like a duh, right?) But that means that companies where the work people do can still be done if the telecommute will go for telecommuting in a bigger way. That’s not most people, though. You can’t run a manufacturing line or a cash register or cook food over a phone line. You gotta be there to do that. So,
  • people will live closer to work. That makes sense, since commuting costs like a sumbitch, right? Well,
  • Houses in more distant suburbs will drop in value because they’re too far away from work. (Crap, that’s me.) Since most people have most of their wealth tied up in their homes,
  • some people will delay their retirement. Selling their homes and moving to a smaller home closer to groceries and church and town and such won’t be as easy to do. Those smaller houses will also be closer to work locations and their prices will go up.
  • Hootervilles will suffer like you wouldn’t believe. They’re too far from work and groceries and everything.
  • Inflation will be a huge issue. Right now, economists look at the “core rate of inflation.” That means they ignore food and energy costs in looking at inflation because they’re unstable – they fluctuate hugely. As Gomer Pyle used to say, Surprise, Surprise! They aren’t fluctuating like they used to, they”re just going up. Core inflation may only be 2%, but if you can’t drive or eat, who cares?
  • We’ll buy less foreign stuff. Right now it costs about $8,000 to ship a big container from Asia to the U.S. Once it costs $16,000 a container, foreign companies will ship less here. That means
  • industrial jobs may come back to the U.S. (and Mexico, since it’s closer than China) though probably at lower wages than when they were here.
  • Home building will suffer – nobody will buy homes in places like Mt. Juliet or Smyrna unless there are jobs there and the homes they buy will need to be super energy-efficient. Nobody will build McMansions any more. You won’t be able to give away poorly insulated homes – no one wil lbe able to afford them.
  • Fewer people will drive cars. People who make less than $50,000 or so won’t be able to afford to fill their tanks that much.
  • The auto industry will continue to die from it’s lack of foresight. I would not be surprised to see GM and Ford both gone by 2025.
  • Buses and other mass transit (along with bikes and scooters) will have to expand monumentally.
  • Governments will spend increasingly more on infrastructure. They’ve put things like this off for years because they cost like crazy but there won’t be much choice.
  • More and more will begin to be shipped by rail rather than trucked across country. Trains use less fuel.

Summertime, summertime, sum sum summertime

I love summer. I like hot weather mostly because I hate being cold, I guess. But I also like what happens in summer. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries start summer off for me. We grew blueberries, strawberries and raspberries at the old house, but haven’t gotten them all in this year so I’m deprived. So I came home Thursday from work to find fresh blueberries and raspberries. My wife had gone to Castilian Springs to pick them at a farm there. You pick is always a better cost deal than buying ones someone else picked, but sweating and work are involved. If they aren’t at a local farmer’s market near you, go to picktnproducts.org to find a farm near you.

So I’m making blueberry muffins before the berries get turned into jams like the raspberries were. This recipe is from Andrew MacLauchlan, who is the executive pastry chef at Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe. [Edit: This recipe is from the Flavored Breads cookbook by Andrew & Mark Miller. These rock like crazy. Best blueberry muffins ever! Adding the ginger and lemon was pure inspiration or genius.]

Blueberry Muffins

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp ginger

2 cups blueberries
1 cup butter
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp grated lemon zest
3 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine dry ingredients and sift into bowl, then stir in berries. In another bowl, whisk the other ingredients. With a wooden spoon, stir the wet into the dry. Don’t over mix, some flour should still be visible. Grease and dust the muffin pan with flour. [edit: use the paper cups. These suckers stick.] Spoon the mix in, filling the cups. Bake 25 to 30 minutes (or until the toothpick tester comes out clean). Let cool for 5 minutes then remove from pan. Best warm, like life.

Enjoy!

Musings

It’s interesting how we can get so used to things and take them for granted, especially technology. Last night I took the iBook in to the Apple Store for repairs. The screen had gone a little bonkers and it’s hardware-related, not software, so sending it off or buying a new one were the options. Since the choice between spending $300 and spending a grand was easy, it’s gone for a while.

But now my wife is having to depend on printouts of the calendar and all its appointments and the phone numbers we’ve put into her phone for everything. Everything we had in the Palm software on the iBook is unavailable and it’s slightly traumatic. Such is life. Our conveniences bind us to objects.

How to save a little on gas

And since it’s Friday the 13th, here are 13 tips: (Aren’t I just the cleverest thing?)

  1. Plan your trips. If you’re going to several places, try to hit them as you come to them and avoid circling back. (Note: This doesn’t work for ice cream and other refrigerated stuff. You have to buy these last so figure out the best way to do it you can.)
  2. Go ahead and take the closest empty parking space you initially see at the mall or grocery and walk to the door. You’ll burn less gas and the exercise won’t kill you. Really, it won’t. Besides, I’m the only person who regularly finds a spot by the door and not even I can do it at Wal-Mart.
  3. Check the pressure in your tires and do it when the tires are cold (after it’s been sitting for two hours.) Go to Sears or an auto parts store to get a tire gauge and a pump and teach yourself how to do this. If some pimply teenager working at the oil change place during the summer can do it, you will be even better. It’s not rocket science. They have stickers on the door frame that tell you how much air should be in the tires, both front and back. If you simply cannot get into the 21st century and think women can’t do that sort of stuff, improvise. Cleavage will get men to do things for you for free.
  4. Oil change places pay no attention to how much pressure your car manufacturer recommends be in your tires. They put 32 psi in there, period. That may be right and it may be wrong. You need to know which. Plus they put air in there while your tires are hot. Being heated causes air to expand and the pressure to go up. Your tires will read about 4 psi higher when hot than when cold. After you have your oil changed, recheck your tires once they cool down. Yes, that is a pain. Get over it.
  5. If you’re going off on a road trip, buy gas the day before you leave home – you already know which stations on your daily route have the cheapest gas. Go ahead, stop there and fill up. It may be the cheapest you see. (Note: you checked http://www.nashvillegasprices.com/index.aspx first, right?)
  6. You might take an even better look at http://www.nashvillegasprices.com/index.aspx. At the top, it tells you it’s associated with http://gasbuddy.com. Guess what they have? Yep. They do this state by state all over North America, including Canada, Hawaii and Alaska.
  7. While you’re on that road trip, it makes sense to get off at an exit where there’s competition for gas sales, and thus maybe even price competition you can take advantage of. So, which one do you choose when there’s four of them ranging from .3 miles thisaway to .2 miles or .4 miles or 1.2 miles thataway? The one that’s farthest away. First, it gets less interstate traffic because it’s farther away and people like the comfort of being close to the interstate. Second, you’ll pass some closer stations and can check their prices to compare with the one farthest away. Third, since it’s farther away, it’s not really in a position to gouge touristas like you, unlike the gas station conveniently located in the high rent district right next to the off ramp. (Note: some states have official rest areas in the middle of the highway. Because they have a state franchise, and a pretty nicely guaranteed flow of customers, they tend to charge less too.)
  8. Cruise control saves you money because your speed stays consistent (as long as you don’t set it for 93 mph).
  9. Slow down, leadfoot. As much as it feels granny-like to drive slower, there’s no race and your name is probably not Petty or Waltrip. Even if it is, you’re still not racing.
  10. If your car doesn’t require premium, don’t put it in there. You’d think this would be a no brainer,but… there you are. (I regret to say this may involve reading the car manual thingy that you may have lost.)
  11. Actually open up that trunk and take out all the things you’ve been storing back there. They actually make storage places that sit still these days so there’s no sense freighting stuff around unless you’re really a trucker and make a living from it. Those Girl Scout materials and the stuff you’ve been meaning to drop by Trish’s house cost you money to haul around.
  12. If you are out of town and have rented a car, never, ever fill up with gas at the station closest to the rental agency. Can you say captive suckers late for their plane? Look at gas stations like 10 miles away and fill up there.
  13. While we’re talking rental cars, unless you’re filthy rich (if you are, please send money, thanks. I promise to only spend it for good.), don’t rent big-assed cars. Rent compacts or subcompacts or hybrids because ending your vacation by dropping $200 on gas for that Suburban they gave you will bum you right out. If they tell you they’re all out of small cars, ask them if their competitor is. It’s your money they’re trying to burn up and if you let them, it’s your fault.

Don’t leave home with it

Well, they have to make up the added cost of fuel somewhere, right? So I guess it makes sense to someone at United Airlines to start charging you a fee if you check a bag. I imagine this practice will grow.

Check your bag, sir? That’s $15.

Oh, your wife has a bag, too? That will be another $25.

Now, do you want them to go to the same airport you do? The surcharge for that is $10, per bag, naturally.

If you want the bags to go to Denver, it will save you $12. Unless, of course, that’s where you’re also going.

Now, do you expect to use the toilet? Pre-purchasing those saves you money. Good. Do you also want paper with that?

Edit:  Heard on the radio this morning that one airline has upped the charge for drinks to $7 and they’re going to charge for soft drinks and coffee now.

Wow, the vision and daring they exhibit…

According to Forbes, Chrysler is quickly taking the lead in being the most progressive and forward-thinking of the big three. They are floating heavy-duty rumors that they will build a small economy car, based on the Dodge Hornet concept vehicle, because they expect gas prices to be high. Oh my God! High Gas Prices!!! Who thinks that these kinds of horrible things could happen? Yes, Chrysler. They are there for us little people when we need tham.

And their management is positively headed at breakneck speed to deliver us from the future via the Hornet. Because it’s a lean running machine, Chrysler has been able to ram through a decision to consider proceeding with producing the Hornet and maybe even (Gasp! Will the wonders never cease?) put actual cars on the streets (or in the showrooms) by 2010, barely two years into the future.

Thomas Hausch, the VP for international purchasing, said, “But I cannot rule out that there may be a Chrysler that is smaller than our economy model, the 2-liter Sebring.” I’m sure the entire automotive community is rapidly changing it’s strategy over the expectation that Chrysler may be right about gas prices. Their existing economy model, the Sebring, gets 15 city and 35 highway MPG if it only has a four-cylinder engine, according to Consumer Reports. Sadly, due to some obvious error in judgement, possibly caused by actually owning one of these cars, CR also calls it the least competitive sedan made.