Quarterly Civic Report – 2011 Q1

Jodi and I keep extensive fuel-related data on our 1998 Honda Civic EX (2-door sedan). We note the mileage, fuel volume, and fuel cost for each time we stop at a gas station. This allows us to compute miles-per-gallon and cost-per-gallon as a function of time. I’ve reported on related information from my parents’ car before [1].

Over the winter break, I heard news reports indicating that we might expect high fuel prices in 2011. The data I show below supports that, but only if you perform a naive and risky linear extrapolation of the data through 2011. This is, of course, not how fuel prices trend (in the same way that stock prices do NOT always trend upward at any moment in time, not do home values only trend upward). With that caveat in mind, here is the data on our Honda Civic and fuel costs (data is a mix of California, from 2008-2009, and Texas, from 2009-2011).

Fuel price (per gallon) vs. time

Fuel Cost (price per gallon) from 2008-2011
Fuel Cost (price per gallon) from 2008-2011

The above graphic shows our recorded fuel cost (per gallon, in raw dollars) as a function of time from August, 2008 to January, 2011. We see that the highest fuel prices in the last 3 years occurred in summer, 2008, which is when the data began. For prices prior to that date (using Connecticut data), see [1].  Some data points are “anomalous” in that they are higher than neighboring points; the causes are not clear, upon re-examination of the data. This could be due to stopping at a fueling station with higher prices, or due to mis-recording of the data (swapping of two digits in a number, for instance).

We observe that current fuel prices in the winter are as high as fuel prices were in the summer of 2009. Since fuel prices are typically higher in the summer than the winter, there is some reason to expect prices to continue to rise in 2011 and peak somewhere in the summer.

Fuel Economy of the 1998 Honda Civic EX

Fuel Economy (30-day averages) 2008-2011
Fuel Economy (30-day averages) 2008-2011

I show in the above graphic the fuel economy of the Honda Civic, averaging over independent 30-day periods to obtain the data points (this smooths out fluctuations on a per-fueling basis). We observe that fuel economy in the Civic is better in the Spring and Fall than in the summer (the time scale is “days since 8/26/2008, so spring occurs in multiples of about 250-300 days after the start date and fall occurs in multiples of 365 days, starting about 30 days after the beginning of the graph).

The current average fuel economy is about 33 MPG over the previous 30-day period.

[1] http://steve.cooleysekula.net/blog/2008/09/12/what-a-physicist-does-on-vacation/

A most improbable flight

Tonight, Jodi and I returned from Connecticut (and the last of our holiday travel). We experienced the most improbable flight ever.

  1. we arrived at the airport and had a lovely meal inside security.
  2. a promised snow storm didn’t hit until very shortly before our plane left the gate
  3. even with de-icing, the plane departed on time
  4. the flight was, at most, 2/3 full and the flight attendants tried to shuffle people to more comfortable seats
  5. after each having 1 rum and coke, we settled into the flight. It got a bit bumpy toward the middle, and Jodi’s stomach got a little upset. When she rang for a flight attendant, to ask for ginger ale, the flight attendants raced from each end of the plane to be the first to serve her. They each assumed we wanted another round of rum and coke. We had to disappoint them.
  6. We had a lovely chat with the flight attendants, who were in a bubbly and entertaining mood
  7. the flight landed AHEAD of schedule and had a short taxi to the gate
  8. we de-planed very quickly.
  9. our bags were WAITING for us on the conveyor, just minutes after we arrived at the gate
  10. the shuttle to long-term parking was waiting for us when we got to the curb
  11. we were the second drop-off in the parking lot and got out of the airport without a hitch

This is never likely to happen in my lifetime again. I was so young.

In 2011

In the past, I have posted a “best of 2010 software” or some other retrospective. This time around, let’s look forward and I’ll make some useless predictions about what I think will be a few hot topics in 2011. Consider these things you might not have thought about, but should add to the “pay attention” list.

  1. The Large Hadron Collider
    I am biased – sue me. I think that this year will truly be the year of the LHC. With the detectors being better characterized all the time, and more and more physicists on all experiments taking risks with the data, I think that this year will be the year when the LHC starts pummeling the journals with interesting physics searches. This should also be the year of experimental particle physics. Enough with all the speculating and wondering with math – let’s smash some particles and discover some shit. It’ll be cool.
  2. Freedom of Information on the Internet
    It goes by the vague name “net neutrality,” but really we’re talking about allowing for freedom of information (and thus innovation) on the internet. While this issue stewed in 2010, I think with the recent FCC ruling on the matter it will explode in 2011. Any attempt to turn the internet into a consumer-only world, creating new barriers to creators by promoting commercial traffic, should be met with civil resistance. We live in a delicate time for the internet – when content creators are also internet access providers, and thus have conflicts of interest regarding the free flow of information on the internet.
  3. Science and Education Funding
    The new Republican majorities in Congress will be looking for non-discretionary spending to cut. While the Democrat majorities were no boon to basic research funding, the concern now should be that we can’t even hold the line on education and science spending. The U.S. continues to cede leadership in nearly all major basic research frontiers. Innovation has continued to let the field survive, but innovation starved of basic investment cannot hold out for long. This will be a crucial year for the debate over how to spend the hard-earned dollars of the American people.