A few weeks ago, The Economist, via guest blogger Bryan Caplan, ran this item on its blog quoting economics author Robert Frank:-

Why are some gas tanks on the left side of the car, and others on the right? Here’s Frank’s super-clever answer:

  • In the United States and other countries in which motorists drive on the right hand side of the road, it is easier to turn right than to turn left across oncoming traffic. A majority of drivers will thus buy gas at stations they can enter by turning right. Suppose tanks were always on the driver’s side of the car. Drivers would then have to park on the right side of an open pump in order to fill their tanks. During crowded hours, all spots on the right sides of pumps would be filled even while most spots on the left sides of pumps remained empty.
  • Putting the fuel filler doors on different sides of different cars thus means that some cars can access pumps from the left. And this makes it less likely that drivers will have to wait in line for gas.

I’m convinced [says Caplan]. How about you?”

Well the above picture, taken last week, indicates that at least in Sainsbury’s petrol station in Bath they’ve done some thinking to cater for economists when they try and fill up, by telling them that (as they always have been) the hoses are long enough to reach both sides of your car. I believe the truth of filler-cap location is largely determined by nation of manufacture. So European and US cars have them on the right. Japanese- and UK-designed cars on the left.

The picture above is providing me with a quiet sense of vindication, after I left my snarky comment over there for all posterity. I may not have taken Economics 101, but it now seems that I’m a whizz on the petrol station forecourt. Of course, I suspect that Bryan Caplan might have been pulling our legs on this one, because they are a funny old lot over there at George Mason University and you never quite know when they are being serious ;-) .

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I’m going on a phone hunt.

I’m going to catch an iPhone.

It costs almost £1000!

I’m not scared.*

In truth, I am scared because I have never bought a Steve Jobs product directly, except things like the movie Toy Story. That doesn’t count because I think it is true to say that Pixar got successful when Jobs was looking the other way trying to recreate Apple at NeXT and only partly succeeding. iTunes is free, so that does not count either, and I would have bought the two album downloads and two individual tracks anyway.

My current MP3 player is in my Windows smartphone, so unfortunately I have to be geeky enough to figure out Media Player and its odd syncing protocol. I am, for now, an iPod-free zone.

For a long time I operated what you might call a “Best Nokia Heuristic”, i.e. just buying the best phone that Nokia makes. This was a business decision that started when I bought the earliest GSM phones to equip my team of reporters at Opec meetings (there goes another Opec reference, folks!).

It had been preceded by another heuristic — the “It Must Work in a Lift Heuristic”. Only Nokias did at that time. Eccentrically, I would also test them by descending into the basement area of the Espree Health Club behind Fleet Street. The staff at Charles Dunstone’s Carphone Warehouse, still in the early days of its emerging success story, was always very obliging with demo product. This particular rule of thumb derived from a most extraordinary moment Continue reading ‘i’m going on a phone hunt’

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stopping time


There is an expression in probability theory that I’m not qualified to explain with perfect accuracy: “stopping time”. It is used to describe the uncertain length of a gambler’s sojourn at the roulette table when he is determined to double his money; stopping time arrives when either the target is reached or the gambler runs out of money.

In a way, a blog’s lifespan might be defined by such a period. How long to devote to it? Is there a target audience or revenue to make it worthwhile before interest or ideas run out? Perhaps too, the offline period (as the Knackered Hack has just experienced) might be defined by stopping time… each day goes by… the reader checks… no new updates. When will it reappear?

I haven’t found many intermittent blogs, but I think the concept has merit. The problem is that they are bound to be less discoverable as they will be less aggressively part of the so-called “conversation”. We really should prize those who write only when they have something to say.

The reason for this blog’s absence is more deeply personal, and starting again was akin to that feeling in a marathon when Continue reading ‘stopping time’

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Tweet …that I nervously walked down a narrow street called Shoe Lane, in an improbably wide-shouldered Hugo Boss suit, between the Fleet Street offices of the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Express, past the loading bays with trucks depositing huge rolls of newsprint to their then-hungry print shops at the rear. I was headed for […]

Tweet Times columnist Simon Barnes has endorsed those of us who wear our hunter-gatherer-ness on our sleeves. In a short essay on this morning’s BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, Barnes spoke of the fans he has been accompanying on assignment while covering the Rugby World Cup in France:- The rest are here in pursuit of […]

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