Friday, June 29, 2007

Volume Discounts: Pizza Mathematics, Part II

When we did the math, I was surprised to learn how rapidly the area of a pizza grows. A 12" pizza is 44% larger than a 10" pizza, and a 14" pizza is twice the size of a 10" pizza. That got me thinking about menu prices. By dividing the cost of a pizza by its area, I can determine the cost per square inch. Of course, pricing varies significantly from place to place. For the first example, I will use prices for Giordano's stuffed pizza with two toppings because that is what we ordered:

Size (inches)Area (square inches)PriceCost per square inch
1078.5$14.9519.04 cents
12113.1$18.9516.76 cents
14153.9$21.2513.81 cents

As I always suspected, ordering a larger size is a much better deal. What about their thin crust pizza?

Size (inches)Area (square inches)PriceCost per square inch
1078.5$10.9513.95 cents
12113.1$13.6512.07 cents
14153.9$16.7510.88 cents
16201.1$19.859.87 cents

Here is a great example of what a deal larger sizes are. A square inch of 10" thin crust is more expensive than a square inch of 14" stuffed, even though the stuffed pizza is about three times as thick.

For another example I will use Manzo's, a local Italian restaurant, because they offer a wider range of thin crust sizes. Again, prices are for a pizza with two toppings:

Size (inches)Area (square inches)PriceCost per square inch
1078.5$9.0011.46 cents
12113.1$10.509.28 cents
14153.9$11.757.63 cents
16201.1$13.006.46 cents
18254.3$14.755.80 cents

As long as you have a way to store the leftovers, a bigger pizza is a much better deal than a smaller one. There are numerous reasons for this. While a 14" pizza requires twice the ingredients of a 10", it doesn't require twice the labor. And restaurants probably account for fixed costs (rent, utilities, etc.) on a per-pizza basis rather than adjusting for size. Of course, one could argue that if ordering a bigger pizza just makes you eat more (i.e., if you don't save the extra food for another meal), then you are paying for it in different ways.

What Difference Does Two Inches Make? Pizza Mathematics, Part I

A few nights ago, a friend and I went out for pizza. We deliberated over whether to order a 10" or 12" (stuffed, not thin crust). We chose the larger size but didn't finish it. Knowing that my friend is a top engineer for one of the nation's premiere steel fabricators, I figured he'd enjoy the mental exercise of determining whether we made the right choice.

First, we recalled the formula we learned long ago for the area of a circle: π * r2 or "pi times the radius squared"

My friend took out his PDA, and we used 3.1416 for π. For our calculations, the value of π to ten-thousandths would be plenty, especially considering that pizza dimensions are imprecise enough to introduce a significant margin of error. This table shows how pizza diameter translates into area:

Size (inches)Area (square inches)

We discovered that the 12" pizza we ordered had 34.6 more square inches of area than the 10" pizza. Since we ate 75% of the 12" pizza (84.8 square inches), the 10" pizza would not have been big enough, assuming we would notice the difference of six square inches. That's unlikely, but at least I got a second meal out of the leftovers!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Biking Illinois After Dark

Biking Illinois heads for the dark side in July with a couple of nocturnal events:
  • McDonald's L.A.T.E. Ride (L.A.T.E. stands for Long After Twilight Ends) put on by and for Friends of the Parks will feature up to 10,000 cyclists riding on the streets and paths of Chicago in the wee hours of Sunday, July 15. At 12:45 AM, just before the ride begins, cyclists will compete for Best Lit Bike and Best Decorated Helmet. The winners and runners-up will receive many great gifts, including an autographed copy of Biking Illinois! Check out their Web site under "Night-of-Event Schedule" for more info.
  • If you'd rather ride beneath the stars than beneath the streetlamps, check out the Chase The Moon Midnight Bike Ride, which kicks off at 12:01 AM on Sunday, July 29. This ride starts at Marmion Academy in Aurora and traverses most of the roads in Fermilab. It is presented by the Conservation Foundation, a group working to preserve open space and protect watersheds. The organization is celebrating their 35th anniversary, which means they've been around almost as long as I have (that also makes them three years older than Friends of the Parks). Two copies of Biking Illinois will be raffle prizes.

Both rides are around 25 miles and non-competitive, so you don't have to be a hardcore rider to finish them. So grab a helmet and a headlight*, sign up for one or both of the rides, and maybe you'll win a copy of Biking Illinois specially signed to commemorate each event. You'll also be supporting great organizations.

* Both rides require helmets. Headlights are mandatory for Chase The Moon and optional but recommended for the L.A.T.E. Ride.

I Don't Have Cable TV...

...But if I did, I think I'd watch Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC. She's the only person I've seen with the sort of news values I learned in journalism class:

A Hummer in the Living Room

George Kovacs, the man who introduced the halogen torchiere to America, died last Friday.

What Kovacs' obituary doesn't mention is that a halogen torchiere is like a Hummer in your living room. Much as the behemoth SUV guzzles fuel, a halogen torchiere uses a 300-watt bulb to replace a lamp using a 75- or 100-watt incandescent bulb (or nowadays a 20- to 29-watt compact fluorescent bulb). This wattage is necessary because the torchiere is inherently inefficient: it reflects light off the ceiling instead of directly illuminating the room. A wiser populace would have steered clear of these electricity hogs when Kovacs brought them to America, coincidentally around the time of the first oil crisis in the early 1970s. Alas, style often wins out over efficiency.

Their heyday came in the 1980s when countless knockoffs appeared. Prices went into freefall as every store tried to offer the cheapest halogen torchiere to attract customers. I held out until a home improvement store (maybe Builder's Square or Handy Andy, both long gone chains) offered one for under $15. That was an amazing price considering that a halogen bulb alone cost $7-8. My torchiere was surprisingly well made and sturdy. It lasted about a decade before I became conscious of its energy consumption and threw it away.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Hand Me Down My Walkin' Cane

Two weeks ago I was in Florence on the Oregon coast. Then today I'm dogpiling myself (like googling oneself, but here), and I find this guy who paints walking sticks there. I suppose I'd have to choose a different design since my wife's cousin works for the Beavers (that's Oregon State -- the duck is painted with U. of Oregon colors).

Friday, June 22, 2007

Rand McNally Gets It Wrong

Maps from Rand McNally (RMcN) label some of the park roads in Crater Lake National Park as "closed in winter." The National Park Service (NPS) labels the roads "open summer only." Note the difference in meaning: according to RMcN, those roads should be open during spring and fall as well as summer.

On June 14, we learned firsthand at Crater Lake that the NPS is right and RMcN is wrong. The road looping around the east side of the lake was closed, and it wasn't expected to open for at least another week (many of the hiking trails were still closed, too -- I would advise Crater Lake visitors to wait until July).

Incidentally, RMcN and the NPS both say "closed in winter" for the Going-to-the-Sun Road at Glacier National Park. Neither map makes it clear that the road is not open all the way through until sometime in June (parts open earlier).

Vacation by Numbers

21 days
12 states
5 national parks/monuments

We traveled for three weeks through every state west of home and north of I-80 except Nevada, Utah, and South Dakota. Along the way, we visited Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, Mount Rainier N.P. in Washington, Redwood N.P. in California, Crater Lake N.P. in Oregon, and Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho.

$390 spent at Powell's Bookstore in Portland, OR
$209 spent at Cabela's World Headquarters in Sidney, NE

The first was no surprise, at least to me. My wife seemed shocked by the total, but I fully intended to walk out with multiple bags; we filled three. Powell's is just incredible. By the end of the day, I was very close to breaking my shopping basket as I leaned in the opposite direction to steady myself. I bought a T-shirt, too. On the other hand, I didn't expect to spend so much at Cabela's, but they had some great deals. We also bought lunch in their cafe (not included in the total).

79 new counties visited
2,575 total U.S. counties visited (out of 3,141)
1 new state finished (every county visited)
22 total states finished

Despite all the new counties, I still didn't move up on this list. I would have gained two spots had I followed my original plan to collect 12 more Wyoming and Nebraska counties on the way home by heading north from I-80. Instead I chose to make the drive easier by eliminating that lengthy detour. Alas, the time we spent shopping at Cabela's and the Sierra Trading Post Outlet in Cheyenne ate up all the time we "saved"... and set us back a few C-notes. At least I managed to "finish" one state (Oregon), which has become a goal for every road trip. My original route also would have finished Nebraska.

$5,600 estimated expenses

Coincidentally, that's about equal to the tax refund I deposited a week before we left. Obviously high gas prices contributed although our car was pretty fuel-efficient. Lodging prices were the biggest shock -- even Motel 6s were often over $50 (by the way, Tom Bodett claims their prices are the lowest of any national chain, but that's only valid for a single person; add $6 for a second adult and Motel 6 often costs as much or more than an Econo Lodge, Super 8, Travelodge, etc.). We used a few discount coupons from booklets collected at highway rest areas, but a couple of $80 nights canceled out those savings. Even some of the "mom & pop" motels cost as much as the chains. Meals were surprisingly expensive, too. We didn't find the bargains we used to find outside the city.

Our expenses look awfully high, but here are some reasons the total isn't so bad:
  • As we traveled, we were simultaneously saving money that we would have spent at home.

  • We bought things we needed "back in the real world," particularly at Cabela's and various drugstores (next time I will pack my wife's bags since she forgot at least half the stuff she needed to get through the day).

  • We bought lots of gifts for birthdays and Christmas, so that's money we would have spent later anyway.

  • We won't have to buy books for a long, long time!

$476 car rental
7,315 miles driven in rented Mazda 6

Anyone who questions our decision to rent cars for long trips instead of driving our own should consider that we only put about 10,000 miles on our car in an entire year. Why wear it out with nine months worth of miles in three weeks?

I am working on a travelogue, but I've only finished the first week so far. I'll put it online with photos someday.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Lyrics of the Day

During breakfast this morning in Pocatello, Idaho (I'd rather spell it Polkatello), "Share The Land" by the Guess Who was playing:
Maybe I'll be there to shake your hand
Maybe I'll be there to share the land
That they'll be giving away
When we all live together.
I said to my wife, "What a time that must have been in the late 60s and early 70s. Can you imagine people being so full of hope?"

She countered, "The good old days are never as good as you think they were."

But she was missing the point. "No one even sings about that stuff anymore, much less thinks there's any chance it could happen," I said. "People don't even dream that big anymore." It depressed the Hell out of me.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Living the "Freelance Lifestyle"

Beginning freelancers sometimes ask experienced writers, "When did you first know you were living the freelance lifestyle?" This week I finally had that "moment."

We were in Montana driving toward Lolo Pass when my business (cellular) phone rang. It was a longtime client who wanted me to rewrite a paragraph for a sales sheet (a page distributed to prospective retailers by a product manufacturer). I explained that I didn't have Internet access (I had my laptop but that night we were sleeping in the belly of a giant beagle in Idaho), but he said I could just dictate it to him since it was short. So that night I rewrote it, and the next morning I called him first thing with my changes. It took maybe 20 minutes, but I got to bill for a whole hour.

While some people might look at this as an invasion of private vacation time, I do not. The way I see it, our meals that day were paid by my client. Being 2,000 miles from home having fun and still making money is my idea of the freelance lifestyle. Ultimately, I would like to take extended vacations, funding them with freelance work along the way.