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Blacksburg/Richmond

It is starting to feel a little like a road trip now, and I suspect over the next two days that will become even more true. I spent Thursday and Friday in Blacksburg, VA visiting with family. I had hoped to get more pictures, but the rain pretty much put the kibosh on that.

I stayed with my Aunt Sue, as I always do when I'm in Blacksburg. As usual, she kick my butt in Hell (called "Nerts", "Pounce", "Racing Demon" by anyone outside our family). We watched a bunch of bad tv shows, and generally complained about the crappy weather; but I enjoyed my visit with her.

I also visited with my Aunt Betty and Uncle Larry. Betty and I spent an afternoon going through old family photographs, and I got a bunch of the old family photo's I'd scanned onto Flickr labeled with names.

For the record: Several people have informed me that driving from Blacksburg to Richmond is the exact opposite direction of the way I want to be going. I assure you that I am not directionally challenged, and indeed was aware of this. It turns out that schedule-wise this worked better. The people I was visiting in Blacksburg are all retired, and hence are free during the week; however ALL of the people I am visiting in Richmond have jobs, and hence are more available on weekends. See, there is a method to my madness.

I did manage to get a few pictures of the Hokie turkeys around town on Thursday before the rain started. I'm having issues getting pictures taken with my new Nikon D200 to display correctly in browsers. From my limited research, it appears that the only browsers that correctly display JPG's with embedded color profiles are Safari and Opera for Macintosh. I've read some tips on how to work around this problem, but I've yet to get the solutions to work for me.... so during the meantime, if you can't view the pictures with one of those browsers, then they will look under-saturated or "washed out".

Time flies, and Saturday was time for me to pull up stakes and head to Richmond. Along the way, I stopped in Roanoke to see my cousin Martha and her two daughters. I wish I'd allowed for more time for that visit. The girls are absolutely adorable. Mary Willa is starting to shake the shyness, and even went for a ride with me without Mom. Of course, with little sister Maggie, who is possibly the most extroverted child I've ever met, Mary Willa has to be less shy or she'd never get noticed! At a coffee shop, 3 1/2 year old Maggie went up to stranger's table and put her arm around him. She is good entertainment. I look forward to visiting with Martha and kids again soon.

I arrived in Richmond and had dinner with my cousin Richard, his wife Cindy, and son Stephen. Unfortunately no pictures of them, as my point and shoot battery was dead, and I wasn't going to haul around the D200 to dinner! It was nice catching up with them, since it has been quite a while since we've seen each other.

Today I had lunch with my cousin Diane and her eighteen month old daughter Lily. Dinner was at the incredibly smokey Buffalo Wild Wings with friends Shannon and Jenn. Tomorrow I head out for Raleigh, and on the way I'm going to stop by the rural house I lived in as a child between the ages of 6-8. The town isn't on any map that I've seen, so it is pretty remote (well, as remote as it gets on the east coast). I'm excited to see it, since I haven't seen it since we left in 1979.

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The Prologue

The first day really isn't much to write about. It reminds me of the prologue in the Tour de France. The first 273 miles have been covered, but considering it was to Blacksburg, a trip I often do several times a year, does it really qualify as first day of the trip? I don't know, but let's call it the Prologue.

Despite Lon assuring me on Monday night that I would not be leaving on Wednesday, I did in fact leave. I wanted to leave at 9 am, but thanks to my remarkable procrastination skills, I didn't manage to get out of town until 2:25 pm. I was on the road for about 10 minutes before I realized I was heading for Richmond instead of Blacksburg. Not the best start one could hope for.

I had planned on driving along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park to check out some of the fall foliage; but my late departure nixed that. So, no pictures for the Prologue. Oh, and for the record, my beginning odometer read 20,846.

I'll be here in Blacksburg until Saturday morning. VA Tech has put little turkey statues all over town (Hokies), so I hope to get some pictures of them today.

Miles Driven: 273

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First Half of Road Trip Schedule Posted

As most friends and family know, I am setting out on a two month road trip across the country and back. I'll be putting some serious miles on the Prius. I've managed to put off planning the trip about as long as I can. In fact, up until a week ago I was going to depart today! Planning such a trip is not a trivial task, as everybody I'm going to visit along the way would like to know when I'm arriving on their doorstep. So there is a fine line between leaving the trip flexible enough that you can spend extra time where you want to, and being a pain to all your friends and family by not letting them know when you are arriving.

I've posted my best guess on what the schedule might be like through the month of October. There is still ambiguity on what I'll be doing between Huntsville and Wichita Falls. If I can't think of anything better, I guess I'll be checking out Bill Clinton's old stomping ground.

From Halloween on, I only have a rough idea of where I'll be going and when. I'm considering skipping LA. I've been unable to get in touch with my friend in LA, and I'll have already shifted to National Park mode by then... But I may still spend Halloween in LA. There must be lots of strange things to see that night in LA! After that I'll be going to Sequoia and Yosemite national parks. I'll hit San Francisco and Tahoe. Eventually I plan on ending up in Seattle, and from there I'll likely pick the pace up and do some serious driving back. I'd like to make it to Mechanicsburg for Thanksgiving.

Stay tuned, as I plan to update the website from the road, so people can travel with me vicariously. Here is a handy xml feed.

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I Was Wrong

Last year, I wrote that we'd be paying around $5/gallon by now. Obviously I was wrong. In fact, gas is at $2.85/gal, about 25 cents a gallon less today than it was a year ago. That is a good sign for the economy. Oil is just about exactly where it was a year ago. I guess oil production didn't peak last year after all.

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Running My Own Numbers : The Myth of Inflation Adjusted Cost of Gasoline

Most of us fall into the habit of not checking facts that have gained a certain level of credibility. This is nothing to be ashamed of, as most of us lead fairly busy lives, and we don't have time to double check the accuracy of everything we hear and read. None-the-less, I decided a while back, that I'd do a better job of looking into the accuracy of common quoted facts, and sometimes I've done better than other.

At a recent family reunion, I got into a discussion with some of my relatives about oil. A few of my relatives are either in the oil business, or retired from it. I didn't press any of my issues too strongly, as it isn't good for harmony at a family reunion. I was however disappointed that I didn't hear anything very different from what I've read from official sources in the oil industry. I'm not implying that they lied to me, but I believe they honestly believe these things... such as, there is plenty of oil; new technology will provide decades of relatively cheap oil; oil is still cheaper than it was in 1981 when adjusted for inflation.

Ah, inflation. First let me stress that I am not an economics professional, nor do I play one on TV. I admit freely that I could be misinterpreting the data that I'm about to share with you; but I'd argue that common sense seems to be on my side. So what about inflation? It seems this is something that is very often "spun" by the press, industries, and governments. For the sake of this discussion, I'm really only concerned with the assertion that seems to be common held as fact that oil is cheaper today than it was in 1981 when adjusted for inflation. Take a look at price comparisons in the table below.

Description19812006% Change
1st Class Stamp $0.18$0.39116.7%
1 Gallon, Unleaded Regular $1.400$2.947110.5%
Barrel of Oil$37.$74.100%
Dozen Eggs, Grade A, large $0.836$1.20644.3%
1 lb. Chicken Breast, bone-in $1.447$2.05341.9%
1 lb. Coffee, 100% ground roast $2.538$3.34932.0%
1 lb. Long Grained White Rice $0.575$0.549-4.5%

Most of this data was obtained from the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, for the months of May 1981 and May 2006. I was unable to find a single source of information for Barrels of Oil for both those time periods so I used a rough estimate obtained from multiple sources.

I admit this is only a cursory analysis, but it illustrates a point. I could only find one item's cost that grew more than gasoline since May 1981. That was the cost of a 1st class stamp. I'd argue that the cost of fuel plays a huge role in the cost of a 1st class stamp, which could explain why it's increase exceeds the increase in gasoline. Of course, the price of gasoline affects the prices of nearly all our goods and services, so you'd have to attribute some of the increase in the other items listed above to the increase in fuel costs.

Unfortunately finding historical data for prices is not easy. I would have liked to have compared more items, such as the newsstand price of a major newspaper, the average cost of a certain class of automobile, the cost of admission to a feature film, the cost of an X-ray, a gallon of milk, etc.

I'll once again mention that I'm not an economics professional, but common sense would say that oil is indeed at its most expensive in 2006, even when adjusted for inflation. I don't understand the complexities of how the Department of Labor calculates annual inflation. And I recognize that it is quite possible the people who claim oil is cheaper today than it was in 1981 when adjusted for inflation are correct. It just doesn't appear so to me.

I suspect if I'm correct, then it has something to do with the fact that energy costs (specifically oil) must play a major role in determining the rate of inflation. If this is indeed true, that energy is weighted heavier than other items when determining what the rate of inflation is, then it "favors" energy. Imagine oil was the only item considered when determining the rate of inflation. You can't then turn around and say, "See, oil is the same price today was it was in 1981 when adjusted for inflation". That doesn't make any sense. I see it as being analogous to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle... you can't calculate an accurate view of inflation without heavily weighting the importance of oil, but by this action you skew the usefulness of using inflation data when comparing historical prices for oil.

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