Vamping Us

The undead are popular this year. Moonlight, the CBS Friday night crime drama with a vampire as the lead detective, drew a 2.1 share last Friday. That may have been the episode in which our hero came back to life and then reverted to his nighttime habits, but the show is popular every week.

Vampire Power. David Pogue in the NYTimes calls it “the juice consumed by electronic gadgets even when they’re turned off (also called phantom loads, standby power or leaking electricity). They just sit there, plugged in, sucking electricity, at a cost to you and to the environment. According to the Energy Department, vampire gadgets account for about 25 percent of total residential electricity consumption in the U.S.”

Say what?

OK, I admit that we have a teevee or two, more than our share of VCRs that show the time rather than blinking, and a couple or seven electronic phones. We also have a refrigerator and two freezers along with a water pump to pump the water in and a sump pump to pump it out, an electric mattress pad, and an electric stove.

This household burns through 666 KW-Hrs per month or so. Vampire power measured in watts is 25% of that kilowatt load? So those blinking green lights would account for 167 KW-Hrs per month? 167 KW-Hrs??? I don’t think so.

This sounds more like the Far Green in action. I need proof. Like actual, measured data, instead of being vamped by hyperbole.

Congress is planning to announce a possible investigation into something. Whew. That ought to keep them out of trouble for the entire term.

Socialized Medicine in a Genuinely Socialized Country

Li Rifu and Chen Yanfe live in Shuang Miao, a rural village in east-central China’s Zhejiang Province. Last year, Mr. Li and his wife were both diagnosed with cancer.

The NYTimes reported that “Ms. Chen’s reproductive tract cancer has gone into remission after $7,000 in medical bills. But Mr. Li’s fist-size malignant prostate cancer tumor has resisted two operations and four rounds of chemotherapy.”

They have spent nearly $50,000.

Of their own money.

In China where care is nominally free.

“With payments from the local health insurance fund capped at $4,300 a person per year, Mr. Li has had to sell many of his possessions, and still he has had to go into debt.

“It is a common occurrence in this country, nominally communist, but with little or no safety net.”

Medical care is more expensive in the U.S. than in China. Health care costs are skyrocketing here and health insurance premiums have risen four times faster than wages since 2000 according to the Scranton Times Tribune .

About 46.6 million people in the United States were without health care insurance in 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau reported.

As an aside, our U.S. believers in socialized medicine would have us emulate Canada, not China. Milk in Canada costs about $8/gallon.

Our U.S. believers in socialized medicine all have plans for affordable coverage for everyone. Their plans offer to cover all essential medical services with affordable premiums, co-pays, and deductibles and guarantee eligibility. Those covered will have income sensitive federal subsidies to buy the mandated insurance. Medicaid and SCHIP will expand. The plan will require employers to contribute a percentage of payroll toward the cost of a national insurance plan.

Let’s see. Federal mandates. Federal subsidies. Federal bureaucracy. That’s a great prescription. Reduced patient care. Increased taxes. Increased wait times. And “Press 2 for English.” Yeah, that sounds like Canadian health care.

Back to China. China has an economy growing over 10% annually. China has cradle to (early) grave medical coverage. China caps health care benefits at $4,300 per person.

I wonder what cap our U.S. believers in socialized medicine will impose.

Porn Shortage: The Ethanol Scam


A local radio talk show reflected on that shortage recently. Turns out they really said “shortage of corn” and were talking about how dumb it is to make biofuels out of the food on our table.

It’s worse than that.

Using just 10% ethanol-based “gasoline” decreases real world fuel economy by about 7% compared with burning 100% gasoline. (Using 85% ethanol-based fuel decreases real world fuel economy by about 37% compared with burning 100% gasoline. Fuel injection systems in FFVs are built to inject about 40% more fuel.)

Ethanol corrodes the ferrous materials and aluminum it comes in contact with. It eats rubber hoses. It is particularly nasty on some fiberglass fuel tanks in boats.

I reckon that means you get leaks.

That thrills me. Dripping a $4/gallon liquid from my 1980 Keyscar next to a person smoking in a parking lot (because no one can smoke inside anymore) is going to get exciting.

Ethanol doesn’t work with the capacitance-based fuel gauge sensors many auto manufacturers now fit in gas tanks. It causes sparks and increases internal wear in the electric fuel pumps most modern auto manufacturers also fit in gas tanks.

As an aside, doesn’t it seem really really really stupid to put something that makes sparks inside a jar full of high explosives? And they do it on purpose?

Mileage is going down here in the Keys as the Homestead, Florida-based Dion’s Mobil gas station/quick stop chain is now switching to E10 across the board. I think they are the first in Florida to do so. All other fuel distributors in Florida will follow suit.

Dion Oil CEO Sue Banks said she knew of no problems for cars running E10, although there was no cost savings to be had for the switch. She did say the change would cost distribution companies and station owners. Ms. Banks also doesn’t know if the ethanol-based fuels will bump consumer prices.

Swell. I get to pay more for something that corrodes my car, delivers lower mileage, and was promised to us as a way to save money. After all, corn is cheaper than dead dinosaurs.

Ms. Banks said the fuel switch is a mandate by the feds but darn it I can’t find anything to back that up.

For an oil company exec, Ms. Banks seems, um, underinformed.

Fortunately, there are _some_ other peeps noticing the drop in heating value:

All this in April, the time we know know as Financial Literacy Month.

Earlier this month, Germany cancelled that nation’s proposed 10% ethanol fuel mandates.

I wonder what Germany knows that we don’t?

EPA has revised its methods for estimating MPG to better represent current real-world driving conditions.

The 2008 C1500 Silverado FFV with a 5.3 liter V8 and automatic transmission is a case in point. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) produce the Fuel Economy Guide. According to the guide, that truck gets 11/15 mpg on E85 but 15/20 mpg on regular unleaded gasoline. Since E85 is supposed to cost less, EPA says that means a $2,768 annual fuel bill on E85 v. $2,849 on plain gas. Of course this is based on 15,000 miles driven on $1.71/gallon E85 or $2.80/gallon gasoline. The Chrysler Sebring Convertible with a 2.7 liter V6 and automatic transmission is rated 13/19 mpg on E85 but 18/26 on regular unleaded gasoline. EPA claims a $2,401 annual fuel bill on $1.71/gallon E85, $100 more than the $2,306 bill with $2.80/gallon gasoline.

Naturally, there is no such thing as $1.71/gallon E85, let alone $2.80/gallon gasoline despite a 54-cent per gallon federal ethanol subsidy. In fact, don’t forget that Ms. Banks might charge more for the ethanol blend than for straight gas.

The Business Week Ethanol: A Tragedy in 3 Acts is good additional reading.

Goose Egg

NAPA and Sears have about the most user unfriendly sites that I have visited this week.

I need a battery for my Keyscar. offers 80 or so choices at different prices but you have to drill down three levels to find out the battery group size. What’s a group size? Sears doesn’t tell you that because there is no “find your battery by car type” button. I can tell you that the $59.99 DieHard doesn’t come in Group 34, but I can tell you that only after 10 minutes of swearing at the screen. does have the button but I had to disable the firewall for their battery page to load; it never did show prices. It showed a column for prices and a column for “selection.” Both were blank.

I have a headache.

I think I shall go eat eggs.

Fact Checking

An email trumpeting that “Casa D’Ice is back!” has made the rounds again.

For anyone not in the know, Casa D’Ice is a restaurant in North Versailles, Pennsylvania, some 10 miles from Pittsburgh. The restaurant has a lighted message board sign out front, the kind that typically heralds the daily special or the Sunday sermon with black slide-in-the-groove lettering. Outspoken owner Bill Balsamico changes the sign every couple of weeks when he feels the need to make a political statement.

I don’t think Mr. Balsamico uses In fact (heh) I reckon that 90.31% of all online content is not fact checked.

Fact checking is a reporting term for verifying statements through several reliable, independent sources before publication. We expect the professional media to do it and we censure the professional media when they do not. The Dan Rather fiasco over his CBS News story about President Bush’s Air National Guard service is a case in point. His statement on the documents that he reported were written by President Bush’s National Guard commander lead the 272,000 hits returned when I Googled “Dan Rather” “CBS News.”

I did not fact check my 90% statistic. I made it up out of thin air but I’ll suggest that someone out there can correct me. I’ll further suggest that I’m within 20% of the correct answer. That may be seriously poor statistically but it still means there is a lot of misinformation online.

According to another email this week, a 1,200 pound Great White shark was caught in the Chesapeake over the weekend. That’s wrong, too.

This Casa D’Ice sign caught my eye first: “President Bush’s great fuel efficiency program on trucks & SUVs [will] save 30 gallons in 2008.” I couldn’t find anything to back that up. The current energy bill requires auto companies to achieve a 35-mpg CAFE by 2020. “Social security recipients get 3 dollar raise per month.” The actual Social Security Benefit COLA Increase for 2008 was 2.3 Percent.

I like Mr. Balsamico’s signs anyway. They are pithy–sometimes Deckish–and popular. His heart is in the right place even if he sometimes uses “Internet wisdom” for his source. I have singled him out not because he is doing a bad thing but because he could do his good thing so much better. More people see Mr. Balsamico’s signs than read this blog. Since the signs have gone viral, many many more people see photos of Mr. Balsamico’s thoughts than read this blog.

All that leads me to posit this theory: Internet Information Popularity is inversely proportional to Internet Information Accuracy.

That’s a rather sad commentary. describes its own goal as “[reducing] the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.” The Annenberg Public Policy Center project is run by the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. It is funded primarily by the Annenberg Foundation.