Blog

Short blog posts, journal entries, and random thoughts. Topics include a mix of personal and the world at large. 

PG&E is shutting it down

Starting today, PG&E is shutting off power to different areas of California, affecting some 800,000 households. According to the company, this is a necessary preventive measure to avoid a repeat of the devastating wildfires that have afflicted the state these past few years.

Imagine that, an electric company is unable to provide electricity.

Vast swaths of the Bay Area are effected by the scheduled blackout: the Caldecott Tunnel, one of the busiest thoroughfares in the region, will be shutdown due the lack of electricity to run the ventilation system; UC Berkeley and other colleges have cancelled classes for at least a day (must be nice); residents in affected areas are battening down the proverbial hatch: filling up the car and buying emergency supplies. It’s as if we’re preparing for a disaster event, but one that’s self-inflicted.

People are finding it entirely dubious (me included) that PG&E must resort to such tactics, endangering essential services and affecting the everyday lives of people in over half of California. It truly asks the question: why aren’t they instead spending resources towards overhauling the supposed old and frail electric infrastructure? Again, it really rings it home to say it again: an electric company is currently unable/unwilling to deliver power to its customers; I feel like we’re all made to suffer for PG&E’s own incompetence.

At least the company has setup “resource centers” to help people in a pinch when the power goes out, though according to the pictures, the accommodations look like it belongs at the Fyre Festival.

I have to be clear that I am definitely not advocating or showing nonchalance towards future wildfires: I think it’s important to be proactive in preventing the next big one. However, what PG&E is enacting the next few days just doesn’t seem like an appropriate solution, for the short and long term. No doubt bankruptcy proceedings is hampering the company from investing the huge amount of capital required to overhaul the grid, but either them or the state government will have to take on that challenge sooner or later.

Having to resort to rolling blackout, that we don’t even know for sure is preventing anything, is downright embarrassing.

Baby steps, baby steps.

I get to gripe about gas prices again

Gasoline prices have uniformly shot back up above the $4 dollar threshold here in San Francisco, and it feels weird for me to once again be able to grumble about high petrol costs. After nine months of not owning a car, I’ve now got a vehicle to feed, and a super thirsty one at that. The 15 miles-per-gallon average I’m getting with the GT3 almost makes me miss having my previous MX-5 Miata, a car that in its worst day still averaged 27 miles to the gallon.

The GT3 is loads more fun, though. Obviously.

Nevertheless, feeding a 15mpg habit gets expensive really quickly, especially so because the GT3 has a 23-gallon fuel tank. With the latest uptick in prices, a typical fill-up is well into the $80 dollars territory; now I know exactly the pain drivers of heavy SUVs feel every time they’re at the pump.

It’s well known California has the dubious honor of the highest gas prices in the nation, but the real indignation is for that privilege we don’t even get the best possible grade of gas. While rest of the States get to enjoy the sweet nectar of 93 octane, California is saddled with lowly 91 at the maximum. Worse, highly strung sports car engines absolutely demands as much octane you can give it: the GT3’s flat-six is tuned for 93, so being restricted to 91 is not an unsubstantial compromise.

There are gas stations in the area that sells 100 octane petrol, but we’re talking about nearly $10 dollars a gallon. No thanks.  

I wouldn’t mind paying the most for gas if we were able to get the highest grade of octane. Since that’s not the case, I’m going to protest along with the rest of the drivers whenever prices shoot up, as it has done this past week. Indeed, even though I commute using public transportation, on the weekends I put quite a bit of miles on the GT3, so I’m not all that different from the person who commutes via car.

Granted, no one ever said the car hobby was inexpensive.

I so wish I can get this California legacy plate and not the sort of ugly black and yellow one.

California is burning. Again.

Merely a year after the devastating Napa fires of the previous October, Northern California is once again engulfed in plums of dangerous smoke. Unseasonably dry and and windy conditions compounded the fiery conditions that started in the city of Paradise. By afternoon on the same day last Thursday, San Francisco - some 200 miles away from the epicenter - was already covered in a haze of orange.

The smokey calamity up north was joined by another blaze down south near the city of Malibu. Hundreds of thousands of residents from both Malibu and Paradis were forced to evacuate, and the structures lost amount into the many thousands. Deaths, too, in the tens and climbing; those unlucky few unable to escape in time.

With the ‘Camp Fire’ barely contained through much of the weekend, the air quality in San Francisco made outside activity untenable. Grumble as we may about being stuck at home on what was to be a nice long Veterans Day weekend, just shift perspective to the families that have lost homes in the fire: everything you’ve ever known to be secure and solid, gone in a flash. Suddenly our situation isn’t so bad at all.

I don’t think there’s any way possible to be mentality prepared for that kind of misfortune. Home insurance will no doubt cover most of it, but the strength and energy required to rebuild absolutely everything is something I can’t fathom. What was once quaint and vibrant neighborhoods are rendered into apocalyptic ghost-towns; where would you even begin?

Those of us fortunate enough to not be materially harmed by the ongoing fires in California owe it to the karmic gods to assist our neighbors in their time of great need. I urge you to donate whatever you can to the various verified GoFundMe campaigns dedicated to the cause. I fear we’re going to need each others help frequently in the years ahead as climate change produces more and more extreme weather events.

God bless the brave firefighters and first-responders ceaselessly working onwards.

Smog-filled afternoon sky in San Francisco on the same day the fires started in Paradise.

Smog-filled afternoon sky in San Francisco on the same day the fires started in Paradise.

California: vote YES on prop 7

I’m convinced daylight savings time is one of the worst inventions of man. In the immortal words of John Oliver, how is this still a thing?

Indeed every time the clock switches to or from daylight savings, I automatically rant about it on this blog, and heck yeah I will keep doing so until the powers at be get rid of it entirely. In California there’s a ballot measure up for a vote tomorrow allowing the legislature to either enact DST year round, or return to standard time, all the time. I’m fully ready to end friendships if I find out people did not vote ‘YES’ on proposition 7.

It is said that “fall back” - turning the clock back to standard time during Autumn - is physically easier to deal with than "spring forward” in March. The extra hour gained can be used productively, contrast to an hour lost in Spring inducing the equivalent of jet lag. From the experiences of yesterday however I would say that is not totally accurate.

Due to daylight savings time ending, this past Sunday was the longest day of the year if you count by hours - 25 of them. While most people implements the one hour into additional sleep time on Sunday morning, I elected to keep schedule as if the clock hasn’t changed, figuring it would be an antidote to whatever weirdness that typically manifests. Sadly, it wasn’t all that effective.

Yesterday I woke up at 7am (8am DST equivalent as I usually do) to go running, and for the rest of the day time felt like it was going super slowly. I went about my schedule as usual but every time I glanced at the clock it was much earlier in the day than what my body sensed in should be. It was so confused with the time discrepancy that at around 2pm I hit a wall: I was tired even though I’ve been doing the exact same tasks as the Sunday prior.

Can people be more productive with that one extra hour? It’s certainly possible, but for a regimented person like me, that one hour does more to discombobulate than assist. Next time - assuming DST is still on the books - I think I shall acquiesce to the new clock immediately instead of fighting to stay on the old one for one more day.

Though it wasn’t completely bad: I got the bonus hour of sleep today because I went to bed last night still in accords with daylight savings time. Preserving that hour for the day you have to go to work is much sweeter than a Sunday morning where you can choose to sleep in anyways.

Like the brush-strokes of an artist.

Like the brush-strokes of an artist.

Why are used car sales taxed?

It’s occurred to me that California charges sales tax on used car sales, and it makes absolutely no sense. I understand if a dealership is selling the used car, but why must I pay tax even if its from a private party? Surely I don’t have to pay the State anything if I were to purchase a flat-screen television sold by some dude on Craigslist who’ve probably stole it. 

Maybe we are obligated to report and pay sales taxes on those sort of purchases and it's just that nobody does it and it isn't at all enforced. We are however forced to do so for cars because each motor vehicle is required to be properly registered with the localities, ergo the government knows everything. 

Well, that really sucks, because the State is essentially double (or triple) taxing a product. Hasn’t a merchandise done it’s duty to society already (in form of the sales tax) when it was first sold? I think it should be illegal for government to double-dip on this, and yes it’s mainly because I don’t want to pay. My next car will likely be used and priced into the six-figures so the tax bill - especially when registered in San Francisco - is going to be enormous. 

I understand the other side of the coin: by instituting sales tax on used cars, not only does California reap the revenue benefits but it also prevents auto dealerships from titling their inventor (thus converting new cars into used) thereby lowering the out-the-door price for customers. Imagine the adverts of “pay no sales tax” plastered in front of dealer lots next to the giant inflatable figures.

Perhaps I'm in a truly small minority: people that care about taxes during car shopping. I bet the majority of consumers simply look at the sale price and regard taxes and license fees as something insignificantly tacked on afterwards. You can afford to do this in Oregon where there is no sales tax, but for me living in San Francisco the final tax bill when buying a car is nearly 10 percent of purchase price. 

10 percent of $100,000 is $10,000, and that’s all going to the State on a car they’ve already taxed at least once. I consider that to be thievery in the highest contemporary order. 

Follow the light. Climb! 

Follow the light. Climb! 

Nice and cool over here, but

Here in San Francisco we’ve been enjoying a nice cool spell (as per our summer usual) in recent weeks, with constant fog and temperatures in the high 50s and low 60s. It's really lovely indeed, and something we pay dearly for, isn’t it? This comfortable weather is partly why housing prices are still, sadly, through the proverbial roof. For those not fan of scorching climes like me, San Francisco weather is heaven. 

I do feel slightly guilty when I see record temperatures happening in other parts of California, especially so during fire season. While we are over here relishing a hot mug of coffee and snuggled underneath a blanket, our neighbors up north in Redding is battling against raging fires. It hasn’t even been a year since the Napa fires destroyed many neighborhoods and now we’ve got another one endangering homes and lives. 

Didn’t help at all that daytime temperatures in Redding over this past weekend was in the 110s. Hell is probably hotter but what’s happening there I imagine is quite close. Major credit to the brave firefighters having to endure those conditions. That’s an enormous amount of gear to be wearing under severe heat and triple-digit weather. Heroes; all of them. 

For sure San Francisco isn’t immune to maladies of mother nature: the next big earthquake is just a matter of when. I work in building basement so I hope this new library of ours is up to earthquake standards. It’s just what we’ve had a calm run for decades now, and it’s off-putting to see other towns get ravaged whilst we enjoy nature’s air conditioning. A few weeks ago it was absolutely beaming hot all over California, with many locales hitting record temps, but here in San Francisco it was chilly and fog as usual. 

I guess I’m worried about the karmic pendulum swing that will inevitably hit us back. I really should get that emergency kit for the house together... 

The divding line. 

The divding line. 

How to get me to buy more cars

As someone who isn't made of money nor does the living situation allow me to fit more than one car at a time, in order for me to sample around the varying types of automobiles out in the world, I've got to keep swapping them out i.e. sell and replace. Listen, no need to lecture me on depreciation curves because I simply take that as the cost of doing business when it comes to this car enthusiast hobby.

There is however one rub I do have a problem with: sales tax. It's the one expenditure I cannot recover when I sell a car, on top of which I have to pay taxes on the new car as well. Living in a high-tax county like San Francisco exacerbates the pain. Combining the last two cars I bought, I've paid over 7,000 dollars in taxes. While most people lumps taxes into the sale price of the car and treat it as a singular sum (less pain that way, I guess), I consider taxes separate because it doesn't pay for anything innate to the car.

I'm somewhat due car change now that I'm homing in on three years of owning the MX-5. However the thought of having to outlay yet another significant chunk towards taxes in purchasing the next car is giving me more pause that it would five years ago. I guess it's true that we turn Republican as we gradually grow older and attain more assets: we'd like the government to take less of our hard-earned stuff.  

In some States buyers can deduct the price of the trade-in in calculating the new car's tax. Tax-heavy California obviously isn't so bold to have such a program. The State's got tons of incentives for electric vehicles though sadly normal combustion-engined cars don't deserve such special treatment. 

I can't be the only person that wants to switch cars but the prospective tax bill is stopping the fun. Why doesn't automobile dealership associations lobby California for some sort of exemption? I for one would buy cars more often - brand new at that - if the tax burden wasn't so heavy. At the very least we should be able to deduct the sale price of the trade-in like other States. 

Some people no doubt would ask "why don't you lease?" because in doing so I'd only be paying taxes on the portion of the payments over the specific loan period. While true in theory, lease deals are horrendous on anything that isn't a basic German luxury car (BMW 3 Series) or mass-market grocery getter (Toyota Camry). The cars I'm into it makes better financial sense to purchase outright.

Besides, spending time to research the appropriate leasing terms and performing calculations isn't exactly my idea of a good afternoon. I'd rather negotiate the price of the car alone and be done with it. 

Auto manufacturers and dealerships: if you want people like me to buy more new cars, lobby the government to lessen our tax burden. We not of the 0.1% can't afford to form LLCs in the State of Montana.