Archive for the 'Cars' Category

Strange people by the side of the road

September 8th, 2008

Last night I saw two cases of cars stuck by the side of the road, and in both cases the drivers behaved very oddly. Well, the second behaved oddly, the first was just a stupid idiot.

Right at the top

Let’s start with the second case. It involved a single car standing on the road’s shoulder. When I came closer I saw something large on the car’s roof. When I came closer I saw that it was the driver, just standing on the car.

I may be mistaken. It was night, and I was going over at about 100km/h (~62mph).

But if I’m wrong then it just means that, instead of a person standing on the car’s roof, there was a dressed mannequin standing on the car’s roof. I hardly think it’s better. Or that someone who would place a mannequin on the roof of their car is somehow less odd than someone who would stand on the roof of their car themselves.

Playing chicken

The first case involved a group of three cars standing on the shoulder of the road. Two of them first, very close by, and one about 80-100 meters down the road. None of them seemed crashed, or banged, so there probably wasn’t an accident, and I’m not sure why they stopped.

Now, I’ll take a little aside, and get back to the story in a few paragraphs. A while ago[1] they passed a law here requiring people to carry light-reflecting vests in their cars, and to wear them whenever leaving the car[2].

Personally I thought the law was silly. After all, if you stop the car because of some problem (usually an accident, or a mechanical problem that you want to check) you’ll stay near the car. Meaning that we’re not talking about passing drivers missing a lone standing person, but are rather concerned about a passing driver missing an entire car at the side. That’s… difficult. A driver will only fail to notice a whole car if they’re sleeping, or drunk, and in none of these cases wearing a light-reflecting vest will help. Actually, there aren’t any cases[3] where a person in a light-reflecting vest, standing right next to a car, will be more visible than the car.

And a driver that sees a car on the side should, and would, expect people to be standing next to it, and so will pay attention, and keep a little distance.

There is, however, one case where wearing this vest isn’t just the law, but is also a good idea. The case where the person, on the side of a fast road, not only gets out of the car, but gets away from the car. Once a person is walking near the road by themselves, they’re hard to see.

Which takes us back to the story.

The guy driving the third car, 80-100 meters away, was walking slowly towards the two first cars.

And, despite the fact that the shoulder was wide enough to fit an entire car, he didn’t walk on the shoulder. He walked on the actual road, on the lane where cars were driving, near the edge of the shoulder.

And he did so without wearing the vest. At night.

I think quite a lot of people almost ran him over. And frankly, he would have deserved it. They, however, wouldn’t have, so it’s a good thing nothing happened (Probably. I did pass him while he was only half-way there, not all the way over)

  1. One year? Two? It wasn’t exciting enough for me to remember the exact date[back]
  2. When it’s not properly parked, but rather stopped on the roadside. Of course if you park your car normally, and go out on a sidewalk, you don’t need the vest.[back]
  3. I mean real-world cases. If someone intentionally tries to camouflage their car then it can be done.[back]

Gasoline of the beast

September 7th, 2008

It’s pretty much a nonsense post, but I found it amusing, so why not bother the rest of humanity with it, right?

Last night I passed by the gas station to fill out my car’s tank.

The price of gasoline here has climbed to exactly 6.66 ILS per liter, which is what the display at the pump showed[1].

I passed my credit card in the pump, and entered my ID number. (A few years ago most pumps started to ask for ID numbers when you operate them yourself with a credit card. I have a hard time imagining a crime wave of people stealing credit cards only to rush to fill the gas tanks of their cars, but apparently that was imminent, as I can’t figure out another reason for this).

After the ID number the pump asked for my car’s license plate number. This is more recent, less than a year I think. Not all pumps on all gas stations do it, but the number is growing. In this case I think it’s not for crime prevention (it doesn’t stop you from entering whatever number you want), but rather to save work for people who need receipts for tax deductions. Previously you had to go to a worker at the station, and ask for a manual receipt, even if you filled the tank on your own. Something which wastes time and is quite bothersome.

I don’t tax-deduct my gas, so I don’t need my car’s license plate number on the receipt. And I don’t see any reason to give any more personal information than I really have to. So as a rule I just press the number “6″ once, and go with it[2].

And something happened to the keypad. This is a pump in a station, near my house, which I use a lot. And the keypad is usually clunky and unresponsive. But this night, I just gently touched the key, and it fired multiple time. First time this happened, in years. The result license plate number? “666″.

  1. That’s 7 USD per gallon, with today’s exchange rate, just in case anyone is curious[back]
  2. I did mention that there’s no verification, right? “6″ is not a valid license plate number here, AFAIK[back]

No entry. Seriously.

September 11th, 2007

No entry sign, but there's no roadThe standard No Entry / Do Not Enter road sign is pretty, well, standard.

Almost all over the world, the same red circle with a white horizontal bar.

And it means pretty much the same thing, all over the world, including here. An indication that the road it is attached to is going the other way, and it’s forbidden to drive into it.

Where do you usually see those signs? At the exit of one-way streets, pointing the other way. Often at both edges of the road, to be visible from all directions.

Where do you usually don’t see those signs? On places which are not roads, and where no driver will try to turn to anyway.

Such as, say, at a side of a road where there’s no turning, no diverging road, and surrounding a large concrete and wood pillar standing ahead of several trees.

That’s the theory, anyway. In practice, as you can see, it sometimes works differently.

Not really hiding in plain sight

September 20th, 2006

I have nothing in general against traffic cops. Usually they do an important job. I have a friend who volunteers in the traffic police. And I had a few opportunities to talk to traffic cops, both on and off duty, who were fine people.

But sometimes…

Last night, driving back home, I saw a traffic police car near the lanes on the other direction. It was on a highway, with two lanes going in each direction, separated by a short fence.

The car was positioned in a way that made it look like an ambush position. There was a fence (some large standing metal fence, from construction work in the area) that reached to the roof of the car, hiding it from the road. From back on the lane you couldn’t see the car, nor from the side.

I could see it clearly, because I was driving from the other direction. Can’t have that one blocked, or the car won’t be able to rush forward into the road when they’ll catch someone doing something bad (which at these hours, on that road, would be pretty limited to driving too fast in an open and clear highway, but that’s beside the point).

So far it sounds fair enough, and pretty standard. The car is hidden so people won’t slow down especially because the cops are there, and there was probably a speed meter somewhere up the road.

Except for one small detail. The fence reached, as I wrote, to the roof of the car. But the car, as police cars do, had a flashing siren installed on top of it’s roof. Flashing blue and red lights. Which was higher than the fence.

Nobody coming through that highway could have seen the car, but the lights were visible from far away. Very visible.

Which struck me as totally stupid. What’s the point of hiding if you don’t hide completely? What sort of an ambush is this? And they had to want to hide, or they could have stood in some other place not obscured by that fence. It only went for a few meters.

It’s like 4 years old kids, who think that if they can’t see you then you can’t see them. It’s not uncommon to find kindergarten kids simply covering their eyes with something, and then assuming that you can’t see them.

Maybe these specific traffic cops, or whoever put them there, were that smart.

And then I thought of another possibility. It could be on purpose, an ironic gesture that appealed to their sense of humour. I could recognize that humour, because I shared it once myself.

I was once on a trip, with a group of people, and the guide was someone who annoyed me. So when we had to clear some area, I decided to check what impression did I give the guide. How stupid did she think I personally was. So I stood behind a large lamppost, which hid my face and most of by body, but my hands were very visible from the sides. And I waited.

Soon enough I found out. She told me, explicitly, that “Just because you can’t see me, doesn’t mean I can’t see you. Don’t be silly.”

Which left me, for some reason, very amused.

So maybe this was like that, with these specific cops wondering if people will notice, and really think they’re too stupid to know.

You don’t see the humour, right? Doesn’t strike your ironic streak? Well, there’s a reason for it. A good reason. Related to some minor detailed I omitted from my story. The group were my mates in kindergarten, the guide was our kindergarten teacher, and I was about 4-5 years old, though an intelligent smartass 4-5 years old.

My sense of humour improved (OK, OK, let’s settle for changed) since. But it’s possible these specific traffic cops weren’t as stupid as a 4 years old, but rather had the sophisticated humour of an intelligent 4 years old. Could be.

Not much of an improvement, though.

Road repair

July 11th, 2006

There’s a strangely designed junction next to my office that confused drivers for quite some time now.

The way the junction design combined a few of the lanes is non-intuitive, and is different from the usual arrangement. This causes people driving from one of the directions to take the wrong lane for turning left, a lane which is not their turning lane but rather a lane going on the opposite directions.

An accident waiting to happen, as it is. It didn’t happen yet, as far as I know, only because most of the people driving in the area are “regulars”, and so know the junction. And because there are a lot of idiots parking where they shouldn’t by the side of the street, thereby forcing everyone to drive slower.

Several days ago I had a nice surprise, though. The city has repainted the road[1] again. The markings now go deeper into the junction than the remains of the previous ones, to remove any ambiguity for drivers. And they’re done in new clear white paint, instead of that hard to see orange/yellow the transportation authority seems so fond of these days.

Now there’s less chance of people killing themselves. And it has the added benefit of not getting me annoyed by seeing people overtake me to the left into the junction, when I’m in the single lane from which it should be possible to turn from.

  1. All the original road markings have been eroded off, and dusted over, many years ago[back]

Some people will do anything in a car

May 30th, 2006

It has become an all too common sight, a car driver using the travel time to finish the morning routine.

There are the ones who just do quick touches, not really risking themselves or anyone else. Quickly passing a comb through the hair, or applying lipstick.

And the ones completing their meal, taking occasional bites of a sandwich while driving.

Somewhat worse are the women doing a full make-up routine during the drive. This can go on for quite a while, covering a few long roads and several stops at traffic lights.

And there are those that totally amaze me, catching up on their morning newspapers while driving. Switching between looking at the road, and glancing at the pages of the paper spread in front of them over the driving wheel. Or, more likely, between glancing at the road and intently reading the paper.

This last group has recently been joined by a few people with an in-car TV, who watch the news, or maybe just movies, while driving.

After a while you get inured to these things. They still look stupid and dangerous, but there is no longer any surprise on seeing anyone doing this.

Today I got a surprise, though. People will never fail to amaze you, and that’s a fact. New lows are always there for someone to sink into.

I saw a guy shave. Yes, shave. While driving a car.

A dry shave. Maybe he was worried that water and shaving cream would spill in the car. And the logistics of doing it while driving are simpler, that’s true. Spreading lots of small hairs all over his clothes, and in the car, wasn’t a problem for him though.

And neither were holding a knife next to his throat and face while in a moving vehicle surrounded by other moving vehicles, or having to turn his rear-view mirror to show his face instead of the back of the road.

Will wonders never cease?

Unfree parking

November 19th, 2005

The Tel-Aviv municipality handles the administration of organized parking lots through a municipal company, Ahuzat Ha’hof (Roughly translated as “The Beach Mansion”). This company is in charge of the proper operation of the parking lots according to the city regulations, and to contracting out individual lots to subcontractors.

The regulations leave it up to them, and the contractors, to determine the operating hours of each individual lot. The condition is that on the hours where they don’t operate a lot (By putting a person there, to monitor entrance and charge for parking) they must leave it open for free public use.

A policy which actually makes sense. The lots will be free on the hours where there are not enough potential clients to make it worth for the contractor to pay workers, while the people who do look for parking will not have to go look elsewhere while there’s a whole empty parking lot nearby.

And this last is something which sadly does happen in many places where it’s less regulated. You can sometime see cars doing the rounds looking for parking, while there’s a large area that could have held them all, with a locked gate. Not entirely unreasonable from the lot operator’s perspective, though, since they do incur maintenance costs on the lot operation, even when it’s freely open. Even just the usual wear, and the potential for damage that people will cause the unattended lot, costs money on average.

One big problem that occurs with leaving parking lots open while not having well defined working hours, is that it’s not immediately obvious if the lot is open or not. When you go to park the car, and someone is standing at the entrance and charging, it’s not obvious if they’re official employees of the parking lot, or not. There are quite a lot of cases where other people take advantage, standing in front of those parking lots while they’re supposed to be free, and pretending to work there.

On occasions it can be obvious. Some of the parking lots have some sort of small shacks where the workers sit. So if someone is sitting outside, while the shack is locked and the lights are out, they’re cheating. Most people, however, are not very observant. Sad, but true. Plus, many of these places either don’t bother locking this shack properly, or simply don’t have one, so this cannot always be used as an indication.

The end result being that this sort of thing is far from rare. And they usually get away with it just fine, since nobody, or at least nobody official like the police, seems to care. People complain, on the few cases they realize they’ve been had, but it doesn’t get anything done.

Usually it doesn’t, anyway.

A few days ago there was a supposedly big sports game of some sort (As you can surmise, I’m not a big sport fan). And the parking lot, belonging to this same company, was officially out of the working hours and so open for free public use. Except that some entrepreneurial spirit saw the golden opportunity, and decided to sell parking tickets. Which worked well enough for most of the evening, until someone noticed something was fishy and raised hell.

Since there were a lot of people there, and sport events get noticed, this got noticed this time as well. The matter was, at long last, brought to official attention, be it the police or the municipality. They finally deigned to realize that the problem exists, and that something should be done.

Now, what I’d have thought a normal person would do, when confronted with a problem of thieves posing as official parking lot operators and swindling the public, is to try and figure out ways to catch the people who do these things, and discourage this from happening, so people won’t pay when it’s supposed to be free.

But that wasn’t the case, not in real life. Because, well, what bothered them wasn’t that people paid when they shouldn’t. No, it was that the people paid to the wrong party. So they made a new regulation to solve the problem. The decision is that when there are major events taking place near an official parking lot, the parking lot operator is bound to keep the lot working during the event, and charge for it themselves. Just like if it was during their normal working hours, and they’d have made a decision to keep the parking lot running at that time.

There, problems solved. Nobody will be in a position where they pay a thief when they could have parked for free.

Now they’ll pay an official contractor who otherwise wouldn’t even be interested in being there and charging there. No more chance of parking freely near such events, as was mostly possible so far.

Brilliant, just brilliant.

Some people should not have a driver’s license

November 15th, 2005

Some days I see a driver on the road doing something really stupid, or really illegal. Usually both at the same time.

But this morning a personal record was broken. All the way to work everything was fine, no problems at all. Then, on the last few small short streets, right before I reached my office, I had a sequence of three near collisions, one after the others.

The first one was on a two-way street, with one lane on each direction. The lane on the other direction wasn’t moving, since the first car was standing at a traffic light. At the same junction from which I just turned into the street. But a mini-bus driver further behind decided he doesn’t really wants to wait. The solution? Overtake everyone. So off he went, out of his lane, speeding up to overtake all the cars and squeeze in right before the traffic light.

Except, well, that overtaking lane of his wasn’t free. It was occupied. By me.

Luckily I had a right turn (which I wasn’t supposed to take) right at the point the mini-bus decided to frontally crash into my car. And luckily I was fast enough to quickly swerve to the side into the entrance to that side street, letting the insane mini-bus driver to go on. Because he wasn’t stopping. Heck, he wasn’t even slowing down.

Exclaiming, to myself, some choice expletives, I returned to my lane, and kept going. After the nearby turn was another similar street, one lane on each direction.

This street was a bit busier on both lanes, with traffic flowing. And shortly after entering it I reached a four-way intersection. And right in front of, on my lane, was a car driving in the opposite direction. And it wasn’t overtaking a blockage, or anything like that. The correct lane on the other direction was moving and flowing, no problems at all. But this genious of a driver decided both lanes are his way, and moved to the other one. He entered the intersection like that, from the wrong lane, nearly crashing into a car trying to turn right into the lane he was occupying.

And, of course, quite startling me in the process, since when entering the intersection I did not expect such a frontal assault. So everyone, on all the roads connected to the intersection, just froze. We stood there, waiting for the idiot to cross the intersection and join back into his correct lane. After which traffic flowed again.

Two very short turns later, and I entered the street on which my office is located. A one-way street, mind you. One lane, one way, the same way I, and a few cars in front of me, and behind me, were driving.

And then I noticed that the cars in front of me turned to the side and got on the sidewalk. Now, this is an area with parking problem, so sometimes people do crazy things like that, parking where they shouldn’t. But not in such a wholesale way.

So I looked ahead, and what do I see? A women driving a car on the opposite direction, against the direction of the road.

And as those cars cleared the road, which is barely wide enough for one car, she kept moving forward. Not having much choice (or more accurately, not being particularly early, so not wanting to waste the time of an extended argument), I moved to the sidewalk myself to let the idiot proceed and clear the street.

I did yell at her that it’s a one-way street. I think she heard me. I don’t think she cared.

Some morning drive.

Tentative apologies to an unknown driver

November 7th, 2005

On my way back home this evening, as I was standing at the traffic light in the junction into my city, the driver in the car next to me signed that she wanted to ask something. Usually that indicates someone asking for directions, as was indeed the case.

I turned off my radio, opened the window, and waited a few seconds (She didn’t open her own window beforehand, and it took her longer to do so than it took me). She asked how to get to a nearby city. From the junction we were at, the only two short ways run through my own city, so I quickly explained to her how to use the simplest route. She should have just taken left at the junction we were at (Going into the city, the other option being driving straight and joining back to the highway), then continued straight all the way until the road ended, then turned left again. And on that road there is a big crossroad taking her into the city she wanted to go.

It seemed simple enough, and it is. She thanked me, we both closed the car windows, and went on waiting for the traffic light to switch.

The traffic light switched, and with the way the cars were arranged she took the turn ahead of me. She also appeared in quite a hurray, while I was not, and was driving faster. All this to say, my care was somewhat behind her own car, and I couldn’t exactly follow what she was doing.

I kept driving on, and just as I passed (going straight ahead) the next turn, I noticed her car standing there at a traffic light, signalling to the left. Her left turn, the one she should have taken, the one I told her to take, was the one we were standing in, the one we both just already took. At this point she should have gone straight like I did, not turn left again. Turning left there was the connection back to the reverse direction on the highway we both came from.

I wanted to somehow sign to her that she should go on straight, but I was already past the traffic light at this point, with other cars driving behind me. Stopping would have been both illegal and highly dangerous. Not to mention turning back, which was even less of an option.

As far as I could see in my rear-view mirror, she turned left, back into the highway…

I can only hope she realized her mistake quickly enough. If she figured to drive on this road all the way until it ends, she was up for a very very long drive.

There are other ways to connect from there to where she wanted to go, but it’s a bit roundabout, and would have taken her more time. Assuming she’d gone off the highway at one of the first few exits, that is. Otherwise, she was in for quite a serious delay.

So lady, whoever you are, if it wasn’t a concious decision to turn back, but rather you misunderstood my instruction about the turn, my regrets for unintentionally sending you on the wrong direction…

Replacement car

September 1st, 2005

After the car accident my car was nicely smashed on both ends, and suffered from radiator damage. So doing anything with it beyond getting it to the garage (which I did) was certainly out of the question. Fixing all that damage took time, during which I was left without a car.

Getting stuck without a car isn’t much fun, let me tell you. I could, and did, borrow my mother’s car, but it’s not a perfect solution, since she does use her car occasionally. But this is why insurance policies have this great patent called a replacement car.

Or rather, this is why they claim to have it. The actual provision of the replacement car varies widely between insurers, and it pretty much never does what a sane person would expect it to mean. That is, it never does mean that you get a replacement car from when your car becomes unusable and up to the time you get your car working back again.

Instead there are all sorts of time limits, conditions, personal participation, and all sorts of fun stuff like that. Take for example my own policy, which isn’t at all bad compared to some of the stuff out there. First of all, it has this incomprehensible requirement for three days personal participation, meaning that at best I’d only receive the car for three days less than the time I’ll actually need it.

Second, the duration for getting it is determined by an estimation of an assessor of the time it would take to repair the damage. Any relation to the actual repair time is just optional. If the estimate is that it would take actual six days’ labour to do the repairs, it doesn’t matter if there are parts that need to be ordered and shipped, or if the garage actually have some other things to do beyond this one repair. The replacement car is only allotted for the estimate of the repair time (minus those three days, naturally) by a fully stocked and dedicated garage. Not very realistic, is it?

Not to mention that any duration before the car enters the garage doesn’t count, even though I’m without a car at the time. My accident was on Friday noon, meaning that the insurance company and the garage were already closed for the weekend. Sunday morning the insurance company was open, but I still couldn’t get the car to the garage before speaking with the insurance company, going over the details, and getting their approval for a repair. At which time it was impossible for me to get the car physically to the garage, since I wouldn’t have had a good way to actually get back home, or to work. So the car only entered the garage on Monday morning, and all this time I had to do without a replacement car.

All in all, for being two whole weeks without a car, I received just three days of replacement car. Hardly seems worth the trouble, is it?

But after considering we decided that releasing my mother’s car for even three days would be a good idea, so I went to pick the replacement up. The car was of course not delivered to me, I had to be pick up from a rental agency. Well, nothing to it, just have to go, sign a few papers, and get the car.

So I went there early on the morning, to be able to get the car and drive to work early. I was the first client there. Heck, I was there before the employees arrived, and had to wait a little. OK, I admit, that wasn’t just me wanting to be up and about, but the hour in which I could get a ride to the rental station…

Eventually some nice employees arrived to the desk, and I approached to start my quick rental process. No such luck. Oh, they were very willing to help, but the car wasn’t there. As a part of the procedure they take the cars to a wash. So the car was being washed, and I had to wait until it would get back. And it’s not as if I had an option. Like I said, I was there first, and the car really wasn’t there. They parked the cars someplace else, so it wasn’t possible to get them to give me the car unwashed, even if they would have agreed. Which they wouldn’t have, since they have procedures.

So I waited. At least the waiting time wasn’t entirely wasted (and not just because I’m always carrying an emergency book). The wait proved to be an educating experience, so I can’t really complain. They had a new worker, you see, and one of the older hands was showing him the ropes. Or more specifically, at that time he was showing him some of the computer systems. Computer systems which were password protected, both the computer itself, and some of their programs. Good to know they pay attention to security.

At least, the ones making procedures pay attention to security. The others are probably a little unclear on the concept. The guy giving the new employee initiation sure was. How do I know that? Because I heard all of the passwords except one, since the guy was explaining things out loud, including the exact strings needed to be typed at the password request screens.

“Ah,” you’d say, “but at least he didn’t say one of them out loud, did he? So it’s not all bad, right?” Wrong. The reason he didn’t say it was because he didn’t have to, it was written on a piece of paper that was stuck to the computer’s monitor. All he did was tell the new guy to type in what’s on the paper. Had I wanted to, I could have easily reached there and read the paper. And the paper stays there when they leave the office at night, or for the weekend.

Fast forward about 40-45 minutes, and the car finally arrived. With the car there, I could finally go on with the paperwork. I started to go over the details, and at some point the guy at the counter asked for my credit card number. I asked why, since everything had to be paid by the insurance company, and was told that it’s not for payment but as a collateral. They needed to reserve 2,500 ILS. That’s a nice sum, but I have the money, so I didn’t see any problem with it, and presented my credit card.

A little typing into the computer, and the guy had a concerned look on his face. He picked up the phone and called what sounded like a support centre for their credit card processing company, trying to get help about a problem he had in getting the card details through. Eventually he turned to me and told me that the card was not approved for making this deposit.

This was surprising, since like I said I have the money, and the card’s limit is much above that sum. I asked for a phone, and called the support line of my credit card’s company. I explained the problem, and was asked to provide my ID number to confirm my identity (Because anyone getting my credit card details would find it so very hard to get my ID number, oh, yes, for sure). Once this was done the person at the other end of the line did some checking, and informed me that the collateral deposit was not approved because the entered expiration date of the card was wrong. Turns out the guy at the rental agency had some trouble distinguishing between an 8 and a 6, and tried to type in the wrong year. Time to get new eyeglass, buddy.

I told that to the rental guy (minus the eyeglasses remark, I decided to let him figure that out on his own), who made a second attempt, which was successful. Then he and another women working there said how absurd it is, and that they don’t understand why the credit card processing company didn’t tell them exactly what the problem was instead of merely saying it wasn’t approved.

I tried to explain, I really did. How this is meant to prevent crimes and false withdraws, so that someone who managed to get only partial card details will not be able to gain access to the money. So if not all of the details match, they can’t tell to the one making the attempt what is wrong, because that would be akin to telling thieves and fraudsters exactly what it is they need to fix.

But to no avail. Neither of them was able to understand the problem. The guy even told me that the centre knew he was from the rental company and legit, so had no reason to hide that from him. Ignoring the fact that an employee of a car rental company (I’m sure their employee screening is terrific, amazing, and no bad person could slip through the cracks ever. Maybe just slow ones.) can be involved on some crimes on his spare time, I asked how are they supposed to know he’s calling from the agency. Of course, listening to his previous conversation with them I had an idea at to what he was going to say, but wanted him to actually say it.

He did. He pointed to another paper stuck to his desk, right next to the phone of the processing centre, and told me that this is the rental agency’s client number, and that he tells it to the processing centre on each call. Which is true, he did tell it to them. And he expected me to agree that this indeed indicate that they should know he was legit. Boy, was he surprised. I told him that it’s very nice, that he’s completely right, and… that oh, BTW, I both saw this number, and heard him tell it to the processing centre on the phone, so now I could call them myself, give the number, and they could be certain I’m working for the rental company, right?

He didn’t have much to say to that, but still refused to understand it’s a good thing he wasn’t told the exact problem. If anything, maybe it was even too easy for me to find that out, since all I needed was a relatively easily obtained ID number. But every little thing counts, and it would block some people, so I guess overall that’s a good thing.

With that over, everything went smoothly, and we reached the car inspection part. This is the part when the renter, in this case me, goes with an employee of the rental company and generally inspect the car. Every obvious damage found is then written down on the rental agreement. This is because new damages at the return time are charged to the renter, and listing everything beforehand spares the arguments of whether the defects are new or old.

Of course, the car rental employees make a great show of looking everywhere, but are often a little shy of actually noticing all the details. A problem they don’t seem to be having when you return the car, when they notice right about everything. Several years ago I worked at a company who rented (well, leased, if you want to be a stickler for details) a few cars for employees. At the time when several people were let go, and the cars were returned, the agency wanted compensation for the damages of a few scratches on some of the cars. Scratches that were there from day one. When taking the cars nobody bothered writing that down since they were only small scratches. Eventually the company had to pay, though, since there were indeed scratches, and they really weren’t listed in the agreement.

We started the inspection by noticing some large scratches, which the women assigned to this duly noted. Then we kept going around the car, and noticed three more places with small scratches, and a place were a plastic pane was also slightly scratched. I told her to write it down. She replied that there’s no need because they are only small scratches. Being both experienced, and a great believer in the nature of men, I told her to write it down anyway. I insisted. And instead of listing all the exact defect, she was so taken aback that she instead wrote down something like “scratches all around the car”. Thereby essentially granting me a license to scratch the car as much as I like while being able to claim it’s prior damage. No complaints on my end. I did not, however, take advantage of the opportunity when using the car.

We then went on to inspect the inside of the car, where I again insisted on her listing a large stain on the back seat (No, I don’t know what it was, I didn’t want to know, and I had nothing to do with the back seat in general and that stain in particular), and a plastic pane that was somewhat loose. She looked quite annoyed over listing those needless details, so I told her the story. And mentioned that it might even have been with the same company (which it was). This mollified her, though in any case it’s not like she could have objected.

With that we finally signed all the papers, and I went out with my brand new used shiny scratched car. Which I happily drove for three days.

In this series (Chain reaction car accident):

  1. Chain reaction car accident
  2. Replacement car

Gasoline prices

August 29th, 2005

Gas prices have increased lately, pretty much all over the world. And everyone is complaining, although to be honest everyone always complain when prices of anything rises, so that’s not indicative of anything. The prices in the US have jumped rapidly lately, getting plenty of press over there for the recent prices of $3 per gallon, or so.

Which is amusing, since the US gasoline prices are still among the lowest on the world, at the consumer level. But that’s Americans for you. Well, that’s everyone actually, since being annoyed when things go worse for you is natural, even if you’re still better than everyone else. Not that everyone agrees they’re better, since those prices aren’t there in a vacuum, but it sure feel that way to a person going to fill the car with gasoline.

So, given the rates of increase in those tables, I wondered how do the prices in Israel compare. And went to check it out.

Here in Israel gas prices have increased in about 18.8% since the beginning of the year. Currently at the gas station the price for 95 octane unleaded gas was according to the data by the Ministry of National Infrastructures (in ILS per liter):

01/02/2005    4.67
02/01/2005    4.98
03/01/2005    4.96
04/01/2005    5.24
05/01/2005    5.37
06/01/2005    5.11
07/01/2005    5.52
08/01/2005    5.55

These values pretty much fit my recollection of prices I paid, so no need to assume the government is lying. Not in this case anyway.

95 unleaded gasoline is what the Americans would refer to as Premium unleaded gas. That’s actually the most common kind here, and you don’t really see anything with lower octane level at the gas stations. The range that you can find in the stations basically only include 95, 96, 98 octane, and diesel.

The price, converted to USD per gallon (with one gallon being 3.7854 liters and an exchange rate (Banking rate) of 0.2216 from ILS to USD on august
1st, and 0.2321 on January second (historical rates from ), was roughly $4.655 per gallon in August, and roughly $4.1 per gallon in January.

The difference in USD then comes to about 13.5%, less than the 18.8% difference in ILS which we felt here, but still a nice climb I think. Not nearly the rate of the climb in the US for the same period, though, which according to information on the tables I showed above stands closer to 50% increase.

These prices here do not include a fixed service commission (the difference between the price you pay when you self-service at the gas station, and the price you pay when you have a station’s employee filling the tank for you). I’m ignoring it for the rest of the post as well. It’s about 0.11 ILS per liter (officially, according to the site, but in most stations the listed difference is 0.15 ILS per liter) .

Our Ministry of National Infrastructure’s website also provides explanations as to how the gas prices are determined. Both the price at the refineries, and how the final price at the station is derived from it (Pages are in Hebrew).

To summarize and roughly translate, the price has four components:

  1. A tax, of 2.20 ILS per liter. In the listed above August exchange rate, that would be about $1.845 per gallon. This is currently estimated as 35.4% of the gasoline price.

    Notice that this place just the tax at nearly the entire price of gasoline in the US at 2004.

  2. VAT. 17% these days. In the recent years it ranged between 17%-18%, so that’s practically static. This is estimated as 14.5% of gas price at the station.

  3. Gasoline publicity/advertisement expenses. This is apparently determined by an outside consultant to the ministry of treasury and infrastructure, who determines the “desired profitability for for the national economy in the gasoline publicity segment”. And it is updated every half year based on the movement in the publicity margins of “four countries in Europe” up to some ceiling. This is estimated as 10.4% of the gasoline price.

    Personally I’m not sure why they need to publicize gasoline, but nobody asked me. A part of this probably also goes to compensate gas stations for installing the self-service pumps, the website is not entirely clear on that.

  4. Refinery prices. The purpose is to get a price which is similar to the European one. The calculation is done on a monthly basis. Raw data for prices is taken from the Platts system.

    The basis is the average price on the first five of the last seven business days of the previous month in Europe. They want five business days, and it takes two to do the calculation. And no, I’m not sure why it takes two days to calculate the price, but that’s what the site says. The price used is the price for a one (metric?) Ton of gasoline, in USD.

    The exchange rate is the one on the first of the two calculation days, based not on the banking rate but the “high checks rate” (I’m again not sure exactly what’s the markup on this one, but would make a wild guess at the 4-5% range) of one of the local banks (Bank Leumi, if anyone cares). The stated reason for the use of this rate is “the need to take into account the costs of purchasing currency to finance the purchase of crude oil and derivatives”.

    The price is then multiplied by a density factor to convert it from ILS per ton to ILS per liter, about 0.75, and by other variables needed to compensate for volume changes due to temperature differences.

    And this base refinery price, plus insurance, leakage, inventory, etc, is estimated to be just 35.4% of the total consumer cost at the gas station.

And that’s how the gas prices are determined here. Now you know. I Can’t say it’s all that fascinating, but that’s the way it is.

On the one hand I feel annoyed at paying all those extra taxes, making gasoline so much more expensive here than on the US. But on the other hand, the rates here are still cheaper than in other places in the world. So I guess I shouldn’t complain too much. Plus, the fixed taxes as a part of the price do mean that the price is less sensitive to changes in crude oil prices, so they are kept more stable. Not to mention one of the biggest advantages of higher gasoline prices, keeping less people on the already over-crowded streets.

This post was precipitated by both a recent thread on the Interesting People list, and a conversation I had with a friend about gasoline prices.

Chain reaction car accident

August 27th, 2005

This is now getting to be about two weeks old, but I figure better late than never. I just decided to wait a while before posting the story online, to make sure there aren’t any complications raised by the insurance company of the driver responsible for the accident. But as it seems they’ll pay the car damages, and there also aren’t any new interesting details, I can go ahead with the story.

When the accident occurred I (I, as in the car I was driving) was standing at a traffic light. There were about 5-8 cars in front of me, and already 2-3 (at least) standing behind me. Busy street. The light turned green, and cars started to move.

What usually happens is that the first car starts to move, and the other cars starts off sequentially. As one car moves, the car behind it releases the breaks and get ready to move, then starts to slowly move itself as the car behind it readies itself, and so on. Or actually, now that we have automatic cars, the drivers of a few cars behind the car moving are releasing the breaks, with the first one starting to slowly push the gas pedal to move. A simple dynamic of moving a long line of cars.

But in this case it happened a little differently. In this case while the driver in front of me eased on the brakes, as did I, the driver behind me decided, for whatever reason, to hit the gas and start moving. Never mind that my car was still standing, that the car in front of me was still standing, and that the car in front of it was just starting to move a bit. She hit the gas, and drove the car.

Front side of my car after the crash
And what is the result when one car moves forward, and the car standing in front of it doesn’t? That’s right. Bang. The first time I knew something was wrong was when I felt a strong bang from behind. The second was when I felt a strong bang from the front. You see, my feet was off the brake pedal, so when that car slammed into mine, it pushed mine forward. And in front of mine was standing another car.

The car in front of me, well, it was pushed forward as well. Into the car in front of it. But there the chain ended, since it only got a small bump (I think it was driving already at the time, though I’m not sure), and wasn’t pushed hard enough to hit the car in front of it as well. A nice little 4 car chain reaction accident.

The man driving the car in front of me started yelling straight away. Going over and over saying “what happened?” and “what have you done?”. The women from the car that crashed into me looked stunned and started crying. Somebody, I don’t remember who, made the sensible suggestion that we’ll go to the side, since we were blocking traffic. Since we were indeed blocking traffic, and as this was, as I said, a busy and crowded street, we entered our cars, and moved them (all were working, thankfully) to a parking position on the side.

After parking the car, I started looking for paper. I knew I needed to take all the insurance and personal details of the cars on both ends, so something to write the details on would be needed. Luckily I has some unneeded pages of notes with me, so those were co-opted for the effort. And since I always carry a pen, I was ready to go.

Just a couple of minutes to jot down everyone details, and I could go home, right? Well, wrong. It was a long long event.

First I tried to go to the driver of the car that crashed into me, since they were responsible, and their details were the ones it was most important that I’ll get. As I approached I noticed two women, one young, and one somewhat older. I went to the older one, assuming it was a mother and daughter pair, and told her I want to exchange insurance details. She said to go speak with the other one, since she’s just her friend, and wasn’t driving the car.

The other, younger, women was busy talking on her cellphone, and crying at the same time. I tried to get her attention, but to no avail. So I figured I’ll get the details of the car I got pushed into first, and then return to her.

Rear side of my car after the crash
So I turned around, and saw someone looking at my car and copying the license plate number. I approached him and asked if he’s the driver of the car I crashed into, and he replied that he’s not, he’s the driver of the car that it got pushed into, the first in line. He wasn’t interested in getting any of my insurance details, and I wasn’t interested in his. Our cars didn’t touch, and none of our cars was the one starting the accident, so there was no point to it.

I went on, to the guy driving the car that my own was pushed into. He was there with his wife, and there were a couple of his friends with him standing to the side and inspecting the car. His wife was a little shocked over the accident, so he already called an ambulance to evacuate her, this despite no apparent physical injury at all, and no pain.

He was also quite hysterical himself, shouting at everyone around, going over and over asking what happened, what car started it, and who everyone is. He also yelled at the first in line a lot over the duration, asking how could he have possibly been hit, and what was he doing there. I had to tell him which car I drove about three times, since each time after asking the question he seemed to zone off and go yell at someone else without hearing the reply.

It went like that for the insurance details as well. I went over holding my car registration and insurance details, and told him we need to exchange details. So he shouted at me “Where are you? I want your insurance details! Give me your insurance details already!”. I said fine, and suggested we’ll go to the side to one of the cars, and copy the details. I showed him I was holding my papers, and asked him for his own, since he wasn’t holding them. Then, instead of following me, or leading me, or having anything else to do with me, he just turned around and started to yell in general, or at his friend, or the other driver.

This went like that for 4-5 times, actually. Interspaced by me deciding to leave him to check the crying girl again, in case she finished her phone call. A call to her boyfriend, to whom she was telling about the accident, and crying. Meanwhile the hysterical guy also managed to ask me, several times again, what car started it and who the driver was, each time breaking contact the moment I pointed them out to him, and going to do something else. It was quite outlandish.

Eventually I just went to the crying girl, stood in front of her, and stayed there. After a while she got the hint, and finished the call. Although I think it has more to do with the boyfriend leaving to come over, and less with me bothering her.

She had no idea what details she needed to take and copy from the papers. I pointed out the main highlights for her, and told her to just copy everything. Better to have details she doesn’t need, than not have details she does. First I copied the details from her own papers, though, since she went off again talking to her friend, or over the phone again.

When she returned to copy my details, it turned out she didn’t have a pen with her, so I lent her my own. As I mentioned before, I always carry a pen, having been through plenty of past situations where it would have been good to have one.

I then went on to the hysterical guy again. By this time the ambulance arrived, and they were taking the wife in. I asked one of the paramedics if everything was alright with her, but he didn’t provide any details. I also asked him if there’s a reason to get myself examined given that I feel fine, and if there are any quick tests to see if there was a damage due to the crash. To which he replied that he can’t say and that if I think I want to then I can go to a hospital to get myself examined. I guess they get crash courses on non-committal speaking, and not giving any sort of medical advice, for fear of later lawsuits by people who won’t take it as a rough opinion but as a final medical opinion.

I went to hysterical guy again. After again yelling at me to give him my insurance details and then promptly turning around and going to the ambulance, I decided enough is enough, and this time stayed after him. At long last I eventually managed to hold his attention for enough time, and he took out his car insurance papers. We went to one of the cars, and I started jotting down the numbers and details. I showed him my own papers, but he went off away again.

I tracked him down, returned his paper to him, and he again yelled at me to give him my details. His friend was nearby now, so luckily he just asked him to take the details for him, to which the friend obliged. The friend, by the way, was taking pictures of the cars with a cellphone camera. It seemed obvious that he had no experience with it, since he took multiple pictures, and seemed unable to recall them on the display again.

In any case, the friend proved quite capable of copying details, though again was unsure what details he needs to copy. During the time hysterical guy came over, twice, to tell me to give him his insurance paper back. Each time I reminded him that I already did, and he walked away.

Oh, he and his friend had neither paper nor pen. I agreed to lend my pen again, but could not offer them another paper (I had another page, but the other side was something I could not give to another person). They must have came up with one after rummaging a little in the car, however.

Eventually I had all the details I needed, and things seemed to settle down a little. We noticed that my car had water running under it, which is a worrying sign since it could indicate radiator damage, meaning that driving the car would be unwise. On the other hand, the air conditioner of that car also leaks a lot of water after usage, so I assumed that was the problem, and that I could try to move the car.

In the meantime, the boyfriend of the crying girl arrived. She already gave her details to everyone, so they decided they could drive away. Hysterical guy said that they can’t leave, because he called an ambulance and the police, and it’s an accident with casualties. Which sounds absurd given that everyone seemed physically fine, but once an ambulance has been called then officially there are casualties, and the police needs to come to take details and write a report (All of which I wasn’t sure of at the time, but called a friend more in the know to ask).

The boyfriend replied that he doesn’t know anything about that, that he doesn’t see any casualties, and that in any case they gave all the details so waiting around won’t help anyone. Instead of replying calmly, or giving the explanation I gave above regarding the procedure, hysterical guy just started yelling abuse at him. The phrases were the likes of “Who the heck are you?! Who do you think you are?! You can’t just come here and decide to go! You’re nobody! You’ll wait for the police!” and so on. This obviously did not achieve the desired effect of having everyone waiting. And since I arrived to see them wanting to go, and hear the abuse, I tried to calm things down a little by pointing out that they did leave details, and there really is nothing much to contribute by keeping them there.

In any case the boyfriend was having none of it, and just entered the car, and started to drive. Other than standing in front of the car there wasn’t much anyone could have done, and nobody did that.

After they left, hysterical guy kept switching between yelling that he’ll press charges with the police over a hit-and-run-accident, and yelling at me that I released them to go which is against the law and it’s all my fault. His friend managed to calm him down a bit, and both of us tried to explain that he can’t call it a hit-and-run when she’s obviously gave all her details, and only drove afterwards.

Seeing that they went, and that the police didn’t arrive yet, he decided to go away himself since staying would be futile. So they entered the car, and drove.

At which point I decided going away myself would be a good idea. I entered my car, started the engine, and then noticed a police squad arriving. Great timing. I turned the car off, and went to greet the policeman that got out of it.

He asked me if I’m from the accident reported there. I told him that I was, but that I wasn’t the one who called the police, and wasn’t the one who caused the accident. I gave him the highlights of the story, explaining that everyone else have left. I felt that giving him a detailed report, and have him file an official report, would be pretty pointless given that I’m the only one there, and asked him if he’s interested in the details. He conversed with his dispatch, and told me that he sees no point to it himself. So we said a nice goodbye, and they drove away.

At which point I entered my own car, and finally started to drive back. Fearing the possibility of engine damage, or radiator damage, I turned off everything, and drove without air conditioning.

Guess what? There was radiator damage, though probably not total. The car heated up over the way, and I had to stop down at the side of the road to let the engine cool. Still, it was a slow climb in temperature, and I stopped before the engine temperature gauge redlined, so once it cooled I started it again and repeated. It took just three stops like this, and I managed to get the car home.

Our insurance agency was already closed, it being late Friday noon (Weekend in Israel is Fri-Sat, not Sat-Sun), so there was nothing else to do that day.

[Update: I wrote carburattor instead of radiator. Me idiot. Fixed now.]

In this series (Chain reaction car accident):

  1. Chain reaction car accident
  2. Replacement car


August 10th, 2005

While driving yesterday I stopped at a red stoplight, and took a quick look at the cars around me.

The car directly to my right had four people. A driver who was a mature men, someone I didn’t quite see on the seat next to him, and an older women with a young girl in the back seat.

Both the driver and the young girl were wearing dark sunglasses. The older women didn’t wear a pair, and I’m not sure about the person next to the driver.

Which so far sounds pretty normal, doesn’t it? Why is that interesting? Well, there’s just one little detail I didn’t mention yet, a detail which makes all the difference. You see, this was on my way back home from work. At night. When it was dark outside.

Why would anyone wear sunglasses in those conditions, especially while driving, is beyond me. Two people, that’s even less likely, since it practically rules out the few remaining possibilities (Like maybe someone being after a medical check, by an ophthalmologist, which included pupil dilators. But even in that case, while the few lampposts may have a strong glare, it would still be incredibly hard for the driver to see the road when wearing sunglasses).

And if anyone wonders how I was able to see inside that car in the dark, that was because the intersection did have a few weak lampposts next to it, and the car was right next to mine.

Expressing personal views using company property

July 14th, 2005

Those who strongly oppose the latest disengagement plan have embraced the orange colour as a sign, and it is quite common to see cars carrying small orange ribbons tied to their antennas or mirrors.

And, while much more rare, some people who strongly support the disengagement, or who are just tired of seeing all those orange ribbons, have started tying blue ribbons to their cars.

In any case, if a person wants to express a political view, that’s fine. If they want to tie small ribbons to their cars, that’s perfectly fine as well.

When the cars aren’t theirs, however, I must take exception. Usually this is not a problem, and people driving company cars (at least in as so far as they are identifiable by having printed/painted company logos on them) avoid putting those ribbons on them. But not all, and not always.

A few days ago I saw one case which was very obvious, when two cars belonging to the same company were driving sompleace, and one of them carried an orange ribbon. Very obviously in this particular case, the orange ribbon was there to represent the opinion of the driver, not the company. But when there is just one visible car, this is less obvious.

The driver really should not have put the ribbon there. A car painted with company colours, and having a company logo, is not only an advertisement of the company, but also to an extent a representation of the company. If the car is involved in an accident, or just drives carelessly, for example, people watching it will associate the behaviour with the company.

A person tying something like that orange ribbon expresses an opinion. By doing it on a company car, this creates an association between the opinion and the company. This is not like in a written text, where a disclaimer can be added stating that the opinions are of the writer and not the company. When people see an orange ribbon on a car with company logo, they could regard the company, not the individual driver, as strongly opposing the disengagement. Or in a general case with other ideas which are expressed by anything attached to the car

That can hurt the company. In this particular case, the entire company is not in support, or both cars would have had the ribbons. So the driver, due to his own personal opinion, risks the company’s reputation, and hinder it with the appearance of political alignments. Very bad form, and extremely rude and inconsiderate. Even if the driver is certain it’s a good cause, he has no right to drag the company into it.

Regardless, one company is obviously greatly enjoying this whole thing. Orange Israel, one of the three large cellular network operators here. The company spent a lot of time and money trying to associate the colour orange with their brand, and their logo is not much more than a simple orange rectangle. While as a company they probably don’t have a political view about the disengagement, they’re probably overjoyed by the tons of free publicity. Their cars are also the only ones on which I suppose there won’t be much of a problem if someone will decide to hang an orange ribbon…

Road repairs

June 16th, 2005

Usually driving at night is relatively a pleasure, because there isn’t much traffic, and all the roads are free. In recent weeks, however, the night hours are being used for road repair and restructuring. The work itself is needed, and much welcomed, but it would have been nice had it been limited to the very low-traffic hours of, say, 3AM, instead of starting at 11PM when it creates traffic jams.

Normally, though, that doesn’t bother me too much, since like I said the end results justify the disturbance. Also, the road areas being blocked are usually small parts just around the locations where they work, so the traffic disturbances are usually short.

Yesterday night it wasn’t like that. It started regularly enough, with those orange-and-white stripped traffic cones blocking one lane of a two-lane highway. Traffic slowed, but I expected to see the work crews any minute, and that it will be over soon. I kept driving on the one available lane, on and on, and on. It went on for something like 15 kilometres (That’s a little more than 9 miles). A long stretch of road, and it took a long time.

Many people even crossed into the blocked lane, to drive in it. Doesn’t happen in most cases, but the situation here was practically begging for it, since there was no apparent reason for the lane being blocked, and the road there looked in just a good condition as the one we were driving on.

Eventually it was over, and at the end was a vehicle that seemed (it was hard to take a good look, since at that point the blockage, and the traffic jam, ended, and I had to speed up and clear the road) to be spraying new paint on the white dashed line between lanes. Which really wasn’t in order, the markings were perfectly clear, if slightly worn, while other stretches of road had their markings eroded to invisibility without anyone doing anything about it.

I can only assume that they carried a huge pile of traffic cones with them, and left them behind after each part of the road they painted over. And did not bother to set anyone with the task of picking up the unnecessary ones on the back, once everything dried. Very annoying.