All posts by Derek Sheppard

The iPhone, Ferry Schedules and You.

(Another guest post from Derek.)

I don’t know how many times I’ve been out with friends in Seattle when I’ve been blindsided by this question. “What time do you need to catch your boat?”

Naturally, my jaw goes slack and the hamster upstairs starts running a little faster. Oh, and I pull out my iPod Touch. The rest of this post is also for you iPhone owners.

Those crumpled ferry schedules in your pockets are SO 2004. Now, when you need to find out when the next boat leaves, you reach for your smartphone. This doesn’t really apply to you hardened ferry commuters who can recite the schedule for your usual run backwards, frontwards, divided by three and in Swahili. But for occasional rider, or those of us who sometimes use other routes (I take Edmonds/Kingston to get to my Dad’s house, but use the Bremerton/Seattle ferry 90 percent of the time.) having access to schedules on your iPhone/iPod Touch are mighty handy.

Right now, there’s a $5 app, an app in development that says it’ll be free, and my slightly more homebrew solution that’s gloriously free.

First up: WSF Puget Sound Ferry Schedule app, $4.99
Here’s what you get:

  • Ferry times and service alerts for all the runs.
    A map of the routes.
    Access to the state’s terminal Web cams.
    The ability to search schedules for different dates.
  • My thoughts: I own this app, actually. It has a load of features (some of which require internet access that I don’t always have on my iPod, but what iPhone users would.) and is essentially a repackaged version of the Washington State Ferries’ Web site. You can access the full schedules without an internet connection.
    The next app, which is apparently in development, could be a problem for this developer. The reason? It appears to offer the same features, but will apparently be free. I like the convenience of a schedule in my pocket, along with alerts and cams, but $5 is kind of steep. (As a side note, I downloaded a much earlier version and don’t recall paying $5. I can’t remember for sure, but I think it was a couple bucks.)

    *NOTE: This app was created by a private developer, not the ferry system.*

    iFerry, a effort by a Bainbridge company that is “coming soon” to the app store, according to its Web site.

    It looks like it’ll have much the same functionality of the previous app, with a few nice additional touches. And it says it’ll be free.

    Let’s run down it’s planned features:

  • Current schedules for all the routes.
  • Real-time route alerts.
  • Terminal cameras.
  • Fare information, including those for bikes or larger vehicles or multi-passes. (A nice addition, IMHO)
  • Updated wait times for ferries.
  • My thoughts: Looks neat. Hope it stays free. Gonna put a dent in the other app’s sales if it is free. It will have ads. But the other app does, too. Keep an eye on both apps to see what happens when they compete. Will they both be free? Will they both decide to charge? Will they not have any real impact on the other?

    My super-cheap workaround.
    If you just CAN’T wait until the new app, and don’t want to spend money on the first one, have I got a slightly convoluted, but free solution for you. I’ll give you a couple, actually.

    First, for those of us with iPod Touches who don’t want to pay $8 (YIKES) for WSF’s Boingo wifi, you can simply head to the WSF site at home, and pull up the schedule or schedules to your most-used routes. On your iPod (Or iPhone) align the schedule so it fills the screen nicely, and hit the round button, and top on/off button at the same time. I’ll make a screen grab from your device, and save it in your Photos thingamajig. Every time you need to scan the schedule, just pull up the photo. Our Kitsap schedules stay pretty much the same. Naturally you won’t get automatic ferry updates, terminal cameras and other gee whiz geegaws, but it’s f-r-e-e. And you don’t have to worry about losing that paper schedule you crumpled in your pocket.

    For those of you fancy pants people with iPhones, here’s a free workaround to get the two most important features: The schedule and service alerts.

    First, you could just bookmark the schedule page. Or, you could add that page as an icon on your home page. Just pull up the schedule in your browser, click the + button, and select “Add to Home Screen”. Icon created! Magic!

    You want route alerts, do you? Well, you’ve got internets in your pocket, so head to the state’s Web site here, and sign up for ferry alerts to your routes of choice. Every time a service alert is sent, you’ll get an e-mail.

    There you have my thoughts on ferry planning for iPod Touch/iPhone owners. Those of you with Blackberries, Android or WinMo phones, share your tips in the comments, eh?

    And for those of you Luddites who still use paper schedules? Well, there’s nothing wrong with that, actually. And that, too, is gloriously free.

    – Derek Sheppard

    VIDEO: Not your commute

    Ed told me to raid his blog more often. I obliged.

    What, you ask, does this video of the new Ferrari 458 Italia have to do with your commute? Nothing. Again, sorry. Nothing. Well, it IS a car. And some of you commute by car. There, it all makes sense now.

    But we all need a Friday evening diversion, right? Yes, I did the whole enviro/wallet-friendly hypermiling exercise. But I really like cars. Fast cars. Non enviro/wallet-friendly cars. Someday I’ll still never have owned one of these. But hey, at least when you don’t own a Ferrari, you can afford the insurance.

    Happy weekend.

    – Derek Sheppard

    They don’t make ’em like they used to

    No, they sure don’t make cars like they used to. In a few respects, we can be thankful for that. What does this have to do with your commute? Hopefully, nothing. But I thought it was a cool video. I haven’t posted on this blog in ages (since the hypermiling thing, really.) but I thought this was too cool not to share. The IIHS showed posted this video that pretty clearly illustrates the difference between new cars and old cars. It’s a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air versus a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu.

    – Derek Sheppard

    HYPERMILING: Now, A Real Word! Mostly.

    "Hypermiling" was the New Oxford American Dictionary’s word of the year.

    It vindicates all that hard work . If one gets philosophical, one could ask, "If one is a hypermiler, is one really doing anything? Can one perform an action that has no dictionary-approved verb?" (One is also the philosopher’s preferred pronoun.)

    Now it’s official. You’re hypermiling. Sounds a lot better than "driving slow," anyway.

    HYPERMILING: A Frugal Journey Ends. Sort of.

    I was walking to my car after work recently when a maroon pickup roared past.

    Hard on the brakes, a quick look at the intersection, and the engine growled again as the truck accelerated – to another stop sign.

    All I could think of is, “Man, that guy’s wasting a lot of money for nothing.” I never would have thought that before.

    I’m not here to wag my finger with a holier-than-thou rant about drivers like that. I was “that guy” about two months ago.

    I didn’t know if hypermiling was going to work, but I decided to bring you guys along for the slow, slow ride. As far as the blog is concerned, I’m done.

    I’ve become a bit obsessed with, and transformed by, the experience. I’ve discovered the near limits of my car’s performance on the opposite end of the spectrum. I’m much more aware of the cost of driving. I even learned a lot about myself.

    Usually we write stories and never hear a word from the public. With these blog entires (especially when they ran in the paper.) I heard from more people than I ever have – especially the one about coasting in neutral. (BTW, I don’t do it much anymore. Sixth gear works fine. And a informative morsel – the nice folks at Kitsap County District Court did some sleuthing. Guess how many tickets they found for coasting in neutral? One.)

    In two months, I burned five tanks of dino juice and averaged 33.7 miles per gallon. (And that includes a couple tanks where my right foot got a little heavy.) Up from 28 before. I’m living proof that a lead-footed rat race commuter can save money without queuing up for a Prius.

    Did I mention I saved about $50?

    Some people hypermile as a political statement against American dependence on foreign oil. Some people do it to save the environment. Well and good.

    I just want to keep more money in the bank. Feel free to choose your own reasons. That’s the crux of hypermiling – it’s your choice. You don’t have to boost your mpgs, but the money’s there waiting to be saved.
    Do any combination of these things, and you’ll save at least a little.

    * Keep your tires properly inflated.
    * Change your oil.
    * Take all the junk out of your trunk.
    * Accelerate gently, and try to gently slow to a stop.
    * You know the speed limit? Obey it.
    * Imagine there’s an egg between your foot and the gas pedal.
    * Unless an emergency maneuver requires it, don’t drive over 60 on the highway. Use cruise control to prevent your lead foot from taking over.
    Pick out more of the legal hypermiling tips, and you’ll save even more.

    More importantly, the first step is to change the way you think about driving. You’ve got to convince yourself that rocketing around usually doesn’t get you there much faster – ESPECIALLY in urban driving. (That’s where my greatest gains were made.) On the highway, stay right and take a deep breath. It’s OK to let people pass you. If you’re late for work, is 2 minutes really a big deal? It can be, but at least consider it. If it’s Saturday and you’re just getting groceries, what’s the hurry?

    Now that I’m done blogging about this adventure, I will keep hypermiling. I’m hooked. (Maybe not on long road trips.) We can’t control how much we pay per gallon, but we can control how many gallons we use and how many miles we drive. I’m cutting back on how much I drive, too.

    And I’ve come to accept that slow and steady is OK.

    Don’t get complacent because gas prices are a little lower. We all know that over time it’s a graph that favors climbing the Y axis. Only four years ago gas topped $2.

    More often, we either grumble about what we payed at the last fill up, or wax nostalgic about when gas was only (insert small number here.). Consider the future, and whether you’ll change the way you drive.
    I’ve been number happy the last couple months with the blog, so I’ll toss one last equation your way. (Help calculating is HERE and HERE.)

    Imagine it’s 2012 and you have the same respectably-economical 24 mpg car, and you drive the same average of 15,000 miles a year. And get this, gas is $6 a gallon.

    Here’s an odd way to imagine how you’ll pay for your petrol.

    Drive over to the bank and ask the (now stunned) teller for a wheelbarrow packed with rolls of quarters. Sorry, you’re going to get terrible gas mileage on the drive home.

    Anyway, grab a couple rolls every time you get behind the wheel. For the next 365 days, every time your odometer ticks off another mile, toss a quarter out the window.

    I’ll let you do the math this time.

    HYPERMILING: Is That Trip Worth It?

    It took a pair of running shoes and a conversation with a coworker for me to realize something. Thinking in miles per gallon is (almost) pointless.

    It’s good to keep track of how many mpgs you cobble together each tank, with the goal of scrounging up more. But when you’re really trying to map out your finances, think in terms of cost per mile, which is an easy bit of math to the cost per trip.

    Reporter Steve Gardner brought that concept up over a conversation a while back, and it made sense when I thought about a recent trip I made to buy a pair of running shoes. I live in West Bremerton, and couldn’t think of anywhere in town to procure said sneakers. (That’s a WHOLE other issue by itself.)

    What if I drive the approximately 15 miles to the consumer megaplex in Silverdale? What’s that trip cost me? If gas is $4, I get 34 mpg, and drive 30 miles roundtrip, I’ve spent $3.60 on fermented dinosaur juice.

    What if your truck gets 15 mpg? The same trip costs you $8.10. Is it worth it?

    To make it easy to calculate your cost per mile, GO HERE.

    (If you really want do extract the numbers, including insurance, etc., go HERE.)

    A logical way to think about your next shopping trip might go like this: I need to drive 30 miles roundtrip for my Very Important Household Object. If my SUV’s gonna charge me $8.10 for the pleasure of driving, is that a trip I’m willing to make? Will it cost less to buy it online, including shipping? Can I take care of several errands at the same time, avoiding future trips and saving some dough?

    (If you really want to get fancy with the math and Google maps, figure out the costs of your ferry destination – Seattle or Edmonds – versus driving around.)

    Every time we step or drive onto a ferry (if it’s a discretionary trip) most of us instinctively do the “Is the cost worth it?” dance. When we drive, we don’t.

    If we take the cost-per-mile equation further, and calculate our yearly gasoline bill…well, the numbers can speak for themselves.

    The left column includes groups of two. A high and low number. The low is a theoretical current mpg. The high is an mpg increase of 20 percent, a figure that isn’t ridiculous to attain if you hypermile, or EcoDrive, or whatever you want to call it.

    The next column shows the cost per mile for the respective mpg ratings.

    Column three is your annual fuel bill, at $4, if you drive 15,000 miles (A figure that seems pretty commonly used as an average yearly clip.)

    The fourth shows your annual cost if you drive 12,000 miles.

    15    .27    $4050        $3240
    18    .22    $3300        $2640

    20    .20    $3000        $2400
    24    .17    $2550        $2040

    25    .16    $2400        $1920
    30    .13    $1950        $1560

    30    .13    $1950        $1560
    36    .11    $1650        $1320

    Just for giggles, let’s peer into our crystal ball for a moment. In 2004, gas was around $2. If it’s $6 by 2012, what’s your annual gasoline bill going to be?

    If you go by today’s average fuel economy in America (See it HERE. PDF) of 22.5 mpg, the average American will pay $4,050 per year if they drive 15,000 miles. If they still have a 15 mpg truck or sports car, it’s $6,000 (40 cents per mile).

    That’ll really make you think, “Is this trip worth it?”

    HYPERMILING: Hey, that’s what I’ve been saying!

    You can call it hypermiling, or if you’re the Governator, EcoDriving. 

    It’s the same thing, really. Well, EcoDriving is like hypermiling-light. But the premise is very similar to why I started this whole blog adventure. My motivations are more closely tied to my pocketbook than CO2 emissions, but that’s a positive bonus. 

    You don’t have to buy a new car or hybrid to reduce your fuel bill. You do have to overhaul the WAY you drive. It’s not that hard.

    You can get some sound tips on EcoDriving HERE. 

    By the way, I filled up this morning and got less-than-stellar fuel economy – 32.2 mpg. But I have a confession. A couple days there I got acquainted with the gas pedal again. I just can’t help myself. Still, for the tank I managed 4 mpg better than my previous average.



    HYPERMILING: It’s All A Game To You, Isn’t It?

    Sometimes things just pop into focus.

    Today, I had one of those zen-like moments, just like I did when I learned how to beat those pesky Bullet Bills, or later, when I discovered that a carefully placed crouch in Super Mario Bros. 3 leads to a secret room.

    Anyway, I promise there’s a reason I’m writing about Super Mario Bros.

    People of my generation (At least the slightly geeky set who don’t mind prolonged couch surfing.) should be called “The Gaming Generation.” Not pinochle, but video games. Eight bit, then 16, 32, 64, 128, and now 98073497239084023.

    And video games might help your driving.

    Yes, that’s right motorists of my generation, Super Mario Bros. could help you use less gasoline.

    My watershed moment came today when I read a blog post on equating the blogger’s friend’s successful Weight Watchers experience with an RPG. (RPG = role-playing game. You know, like Zelda, or World of Warcraft if you’ve cultivated your dweeb quotient a little more.)

    It all came together. I’d seen isolated reference after isolated reference about hypermiling as a game. A game, of course! Duh!

    Right now I’m still playing pinochle in my Vibe. My games involve throttle actions, deft shifting and praying that the gas needle moves as slowly southward as possible. But this game could be SO 8-bit.

    I’m getting closer to buying a ScanGaugeII, a digital device that plugs into your car and gives you real-time fuel consumption data.

    “With the ScanGauge, the effect of driving style on fuel economy is instantly apparent. My mileage game just turned pro, and now I can have as much fun as those Prius and Civic hybrid aficionados with their fancy dashboard displays,” wrote

    Sounds like the Camry Hybrid is even better.

    A article about the Camry Hybrid tells of the virtuous mpg game that is “Excellent!”. When your trip is at least 35 mpg, “Excellent!” flashes on the dash. (I should lobby Toyota to include “All I have to say about that is, asphinctersayswhat.” when you’re below 35 mpg in the next Camry Hybrid.)

    Lots of newer cars already have similar (though more boring than the Camry) readouts. I’m all for them. After all, we’re hardwired to compete whenever there’s an LCD around.

    It’s no secret that auto manufacturers are doing whatever they can to spur a sale or two. What if the mpg gauge kept track of your mileage, as compared to the vehicle’s combined average calculated the EPA? By the time your next service rolls around, if you beat the EPA, you get a free oil change. Or an album from iTunes.

    It’s all the fun of Super Mario Bros. and you get paid. And your thumbs aren’t sore.

    Mario would think the idea is “Excellent!”

    HYPERMILING: Is Gas Still Expensive?

    When I pulled up to the gas pump today, I imagined the person before me doing a mental sprint over their bank balance. Eight dollars to spare. (Maybe they just filled up a gas can for the lawnmower, but you never know.)

    When I filled up, disappointment. I’d seen it coming. Only 32.6 mpg. Still better that the old days of 28. I think three things were at work here. 1.) More city driving brought the number down. (Don’t assume you’ll always get the same mpg. The mix of city/highway driving matters.) 2.) There was one day when I was in a hurry (Again, I know. You can scold me.) and I didn’t drive conservatively. 3.) I’m pretty sure my alignment is a tad off, I know my tires need to be rotated and I need an oil change. I’m hoping the oil change and tire rotation will help me out. (And that the tire rotation fixes the alignment issue so I don’t have to pay for a regular alignment.)

    Oh, and the question? Yes, gas has dropped in price, but it’s still plenty expensive.