Monday, June 8, 2009

50 - Answers

Q: Vanessa - Which is better? Living in the city/town you work, and driving at LEAST an hour to see any of your friends....OR living where your friends are and commuting to work?
A: This question generated a small debate on Jolinko after you asked it, with three answers standing out:

1. Brett: I would live in Rochester and commute to work in a heartbeat if I was allowed to.
2. Rob: it's an easy decision if you get rid of your friends
3. Eric: i would live in seneca castle and commute to rochester if i could

Of my friends I think that Brett is best qualified to answer this question. He currently lives and works in Seneca Castle and travels up to Rochester (a drive of at least 40 minutes) to see friends and participate in a wide variety of sports. When I asked him which he preferred he echoed his comments on Jolinko, adding that "I'd rather drive home sober than drunk." This is wise advice of the caliber I've come to expect from Brett.

The question of which is "better" depends on the person. If you are a very social person and have many friends then you will likely want to commute to work and live closer to your friends. Personally I would rather commute to work and live near friends. I am lucky enough that I can do both. I have a 20 minute commute to work and live within about a half-hour drive of most of my friends.

Q: Bill Jeffers - Buy a new car or used with an extended warranty?
A: I'm going to tackle this question from a number of different points of view. I'll give my verdict at the end of each section with a "NEW" "USED" or "UNDECIDED".

Economic (initial) - A new car looses a significant percentage of its value the moment it is purchased and driven off the lot. Therefore economically it makes more sense to purchase a used car that has an extended warranty attached to cover any major issues that might hit right away. (USED)

Economic (long-term) - This depends on the reliability of the used car that is purchased. Your caveat of an "extended warranty" (and by the way this is the second notice that the factory warranty on your car may have expired) will catch any major problems with your new used car, but as cars age they develop more problems. The total cost of ownership, in terms of repairs, service, etc. will be higher on average with a used car than with a new car over the same ownership period. (NEW)

Environmental - Old cars, on average, pollute more than new cars. Therefore if you'd like to pollute less you should buy the newest car that you can. (NEW)

Safety - Newer cars have the latest safety measures installed in them. Many of these safety measures are present in used cars as well, but on average newer cars are going to have more safety measures in them than used cars. Still, used cars can be safer than new cars due to increases in the miles-per-gallon requirements for all car manufacturers (better known as CAFE). To make cars that meet these new standards car companies are making lighter cars which are generally less safe than heavy cars. Still, I think that the newer safety features outweigh those detractions. (NEW)

Gas Mileage - Newer cars are going to get better fuel mileage than older cars. Period. (NEW)

Quality - I was initially going to say that you should buy a new car if you want one of the highest quality. But as I thought about it I realized that when you purchase a used car you have the benefit of historical knowledge about that car. Let's say you're interested in buying a used Subaru Legacy station wagon. You can go to sites like Consumer Reports, CarMax, or Kelley Blue Book and get a picture for how reliable that make and model of car will be for a particular year. You may discover that there is a string of years where the quality is above or below average and base your decision on that.

On the other hand, when you buy a used car you are buying someone else's problems. A used car has been, by definition, used by someone else. It probably has quirks to it that a new car will not have. Because of these variables I'll have to go with UNDECIDED.

So the final total is:
NEW: 4

I know that my list is by no means complete. You'll have to decide what weight to apply to each factor behind the purchase. Good luck with your decision.

Q: Jarsh Beckstein - Will "Cash for Clunkers" help GM at all, or just companies with decent hybrid technology(Honda, Ford, Toyota)?
A: The "Cash for Clunkers" program is basically a credit that the government will provide to a person who trades in an old car that gets 18MPG or less for a new, more environmentally friendly car that gets at least 4MPG better than their current car. The credit will go to the dealer who conducts the transaction, and will be between $3500 and $4500 depending on how much of an MPG improvement the new car is compared to the old one. A good FAQ on the program done by USA Today can be found here.

I think that the only way that the "Cash for Clunkers" program can help GM is if the government combines it with incentives to buy GM cars. Now that the government has a 60% ownership stake in GM they have a special incentive to sell GM cars. Combining a tax credit for the purchase of a GM car with the "Cash for Clunkers" trade-in program would be one way to increase sales.

Assuming that the government does not do such a thing I think that the car models that are best helped by this program will be Toyota, Ford, Chevy and Honda. Toyota produces the wildly popular Prius and has several other models that make use of hybrid technology. Ford currently has the Fusion and Escape hybrid cars. The benefit to Chevy will center around the Volt, which has a great deal of hype around it. Honda has been making hybrids for years, and has recently released the new Insight as direct competition with the Prius.

Allow me to take a bit of a detour into a pet peeve of mine. I dislike the idea of the government providing incentives or disincentives for people to do anything. For example, I am opposed to the federal tax rebate for people who buy hybrid and/or electric vehicles. Those vehicles should be allowed to succeed or fail without the government's meddling. Similarly I am opposed to the tax incentives provided for people who buy SUVs and trucks above a certain weight. This was originally designed to help small business people, but as SUVs got larger and larger more and more of them fell into the category. Again, these vehicles should be allowed to succeed or fail in the marketplace without the government choosing. I put the "Cash for Clunkers" idea in the same category as those tax incentives. Whether or not I agree with the sentiment behind the idea (getting old cars off the road in favor of new, greener cars) is not the point. I simply don't think the government should be in the business of engineering the behavior of the citizens.

In the end I don't think that "Cash for Clunkers" will help GM more than any other hybrid-producing car company unless the government provides further incentives for Americans to buy GM.

Q: Todd - So China wants all PC's sold in their country to include software that block porns (see How is that even technically feasible?
A: What China basically wants is for all computers sold in the country to have Internet filter software installed. This software blocks "objectionable" content on the Internet. Why do I put "objectionable" in quotes? For many years China has been controlling the flow of the Internet to its citizens. (A very detailed article on the subject can be found here.) Until now they've been using ISP-based filters that block access to websites to all citizens. In my opinion this new requirement is just another way for the Chinese government to exercise control over what its population sees on the Internet. The notion is to block pornography, but the same technology can be used to block access to any site that the government doesn't want people to see. I understand the desire for this kind of software, especially for people with young children. But there is a difference between a parent blocking websites for their children and a government blocking websites for its citizens.

To answer your larger question as to how this is possible, there are many different Internet filters available to the public. One site with good explanations is, and a basic description of how they work can be found here.

There are basically three kinds of Internet filters:
1. Blacklist - Websites that are on a "bad" list are blocked.
2. Keyword - Looks for certain keywords on a web site and blocks access to that site if the keywords are found. [Ed - Didn't this site fall victim to this kind of filter once? Yup, Sarah told me that her computer at work blocked me as "objectionable" after my answers to Barn's question about the legalization of marijuana.]
3. Whitelist - Websites that are not on an approved list are blocked.

For a review of a large collection of Internet filter software you can go here.