Whatever comes to mind, and then the interesting directions that thought will take you on the web.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hybrids in the Car Pool Lane

California offers buyers of Hybrid cars a special sticker that allows them to use the Car Pool Lane.

Why is this? Is it some kind of reward? From an optimization of resources point of view, it makes sense to keep the Hybrids in the more likely stop and go traffic outside of the car pool lane, where the Hybrid engine is most efficient.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Classes and Instances

I was driving my wife and kids to the airport.

It's very interesting the type of questions that you get asked. Santo, aged Four and a half, asked "Why do pirates don't brush their teeth?". I parsed the interesting sentence construction, and answered with "Because they didn't have toothbrushes back then"

Kate, nearly three, asked "Do Ariels brush their teeth?". For those not in the know, Ariel is the main character in The Little Mermaid.

It struck me as interesting that Kate had converted the name of an Instance - "Ariel" into the name of a Class - "Ariels"

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Convenience Fees

Jeff Nolan's post reminded me of a fight I had with San Mateo County Property Tax a few years ago.

I paid my property tax via an e-check mechanism. I was astounded to see that they added a $5 "convenience fee". Here's the back and forth emails:

> >>> 10/22/2004 1:18:41 PM >>>
> I unfortunately paid my property tax through the e-check process. I
> did not realise that there was a rip-off $5 fee charged "to offset
> associated costs charged by the banking industry". What about the
> probably greater costs for you to process a paper check?
> Could you please refund my payment fully, as I intend to pay with a
> paper check postmarked on 10-Dec??
> Thanks,

And the reply:

> TaxMaster TaxMaster <TaxMaster@co.sanmateo.ca.us> wrote:
> Normally payments are only refunded if they are posted incorrectly,
> such
> as paying on an incorrect wrong parcel. The convenience fee is clearly
> posted in three separate fields prior to filling in the bank
> information
> for the transaction. The payment has already been posted to your first
> installment.
> Laura Williams
> County of San Mateo
> Tax Collector's Office
> 555 County Center, 1st Floor
> Redwood City, CA 94063
I replied with:

> >>> 10/22/2004 4:21:33 PM >>>
> Why isn't the cost of processing a paper check passed on to those who
> use that payment mechanism?
> Thanks,
To which I got:
> The costs of processing paper checks re re-cooped through the investment
> pool of the county general fund. In essence you, as a taxpayer, are
> paying for that process but it is not as apparant as the convenience fee
> for the e-checks. The e-check fee was assessed based on a cost analysis
> done with Union Bank. This is a fairly new process for us but if the
> volume of e-checks increases we will be able to lower that fee.

Thankfully, they saw sense the next year, and stopped charging the "convenience fee". And by the way, contrary to the first reply from the County, it was not clear that they were going to charge this fee.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Assessment of Risk

My family was traveling to a wedding a few weeks ago. We were staying in a rental house that had a pool, jacuzzi and creek. In short, many water hazards.

My wife, Amy, was explaining to Santo and Kate (4 and nearly 3) that they had to have an adult with them whenever they were near any of these things.

"Because you know what might happen if you go near the water without an adult", Amy inquired.

To which Kate replied - "Sharks"

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

What is Good News?

I'm a lender on the Person to Person web site Prosper.com

Today I got an email from them:
Good news! One of your Prosper loans has been paid in full! The final payment will be credited to your account within 2-4 business days.
They're a lending site. Why do they want to claim that this is good news? It's not good news for me - I would prefer that this person continued paying 10.44%. It's not good news for them: less commission.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Difference between Women and Ladies

A friend forwarded me the pricing for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

I was intrigued that the legend had icons to denote Men and Women, and then a third category of Ladies.

Does anybody have any idea what the difference is between Ladies and Women? Please update the comments.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Power of Words

Search for the word "Jew" on google, and an undesirable link comes up second on the list.

Google seems embarrassed by this, and has its own advertising on the right hand side of the page called Offensive Search Results to explain how this happened.

This page then has a link to an excellent article at the Jewish World Review.

My explanation of why the word "Jew" is offensive is as follows:

I think that if you call somebody Jewish, you're describing one of their attributes. If you call them a Jew, you are implying that they are completely described by that one attribute, ignoring all others. It's like me being called a "Brit" rather than "British" - British is one of my attributes, but I'm also a Father, Husband, Computer Programmer, Photographer, Movie Goer, Cyclist, etc.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Oil Price

Oil Jumps Above $100 on Refinery Outage

I don't understand how a refinery outage causes the price of oil to jump. Doesn't a refinery outage mean that the demand for crude oil should decrease?

I can certainly see that a refinery outage would cause the output of the refinery to decrease - gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, etc.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


I took my 3 and a half year son to bed. He asked to read the book Big Truck and Little Truck.

He asked an interesting question: "Why do the trucks have eyes and mouthses(sic)?".

I replied that this was anthropomorphism.

The book had an effect on me. Big Truck has an engine failure, and is taken away. Little Truck missed Big Truck a lot. I was very worried that Big Truck would not come back - anthropomorphism indeed.