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This is a way nerdy analysis of the cost of shopping at drugstores vs. Wal-Mart vs. the gas required to get to them.
September 21, 2006 4:47 PM   Subscribe

Now this is what you call an alpha nerd. I remember this guy from his inspiringly, excruciatingly detailed analysis of various routes he took into work, collecting data over a year.
posted by Mr. Gunn (36 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Good on ya, mate...but I don't even balance my checkbook, so I'm on a different planet, cognitively speaking.
posted by kozad at 4:55 PM on September 21, 2006


I tried to follow this article, but then I started to notice all the math.... and as we all know, math is very much a part of the axis of evil. Can someone post another FPP about comic books or something?
posted by Bageena at 4:59 PM on September 21, 2006


Oh dear. I just spent an extra $2 on a six pack of beer so I wouldn't have to go 1/2 mile out of my way to go to the cheaper packie.
posted by WaterSprite at 5:01 PM on September 21, 2006


This is more obsessive and rigorous than nerdy. Nerdy is speaking Klingon or keeping tabs on the TRON sequel. Any news?
posted by brain_drain at 5:04 PM on September 21, 2006


Alpha nerd? Or OMNI NERD?
posted by QuarterlyProphet at 5:09 PM on September 21, 2006


At $1 a gallon, he's an alpha nerd. At these prices, he's Consumer Reports.
posted by VulcanMike at 5:10 PM on September 21, 2006


I'd file for divorce from this dude.
posted by bim at 5:11 PM on September 21, 2006


Alpha nerd? Neh.

Anal? Sure thing, citizen.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 5:20 PM on September 21, 2006


Wow, this guy is AWESOME. Seriously. Don't you ever wonder all the same stuff? This guy rocks.

I usually leave home at 8:00AM and work at 5:30PM, but a 30 minute delay of each looks like it would shave five minutes off the morning commute and about 2.5 minutes off the evening.... total savings of over 30 hours a year - the equivalent of about a 38% boost to my existing 80 hours of vacation.
posted by salvia at 5:30 PM on September 21, 2006


Reminds me of a prof I had. He -- just like this guy -- kept a notepad in his car. He noted how many traffic lights he went through were green and how many were red, and every fourth year, he noted the minutes and seconds he waited at the red lights.
posted by salvia at 5:32 PM on September 21, 2006


salvia writes "total savings of over 30 hours a year"

He better start saving because I guess he lost much more then 30 hours in his study
posted by elpapacito at 5:52 PM on September 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


This is the coolest fucking thing I have ever seen.
posted by Kwantsar at 6:07 PM on September 21, 2006


You don't need to do all this to figure out that the corner store is more expensive than a supermarket, and that there's more savings to be had from shopping at large big-box grocery stores. Hell, I was mentioning just last week to a friend that I could save cash by renting a car from Enterprise for a day and load up even as little as $150 in groceries at the Great Canadian Superstore way out in the northeast of Calgary vs. buying the same amount of stuff at Safeway just down the street.

This isn't impressive at all. From a scan of it, all he's done is basically come up with two multipliers (and duh, of course multipliers don't have units) and applied them to various products. Big deal. No advanced math here.

He's also comparing apples and oranges. Gasoline has a very inelastic demand curve, whereas the stuff he's listed as being highly variable (Diet Coke and such) has a highly elastic demand curve. Gas prices as a result are very regulated, as everyone knows, and vary quite little from location to location. Corner stores, however, are in the business of selling convenience rather than just products - selling a service. Gas stations basically just sell a product.

In short, he's preaching to the converted. It's not hard to figure this stuff out - all those po' uneducated people still seem to find Walmart just fine and I'm sure anyone anal enough to be concerned about this surely knows this already.
posted by jimmythefish at 6:07 PM on September 21, 2006


Very impressive indeed.

That being said, although it's interesting that he found a number of significant differences, the adjusted r-squared values he obtained we relatively small. In english, that means of all things that impact drive time, he's only managed to account for a small proportion of the variability (at best 5 to 10 percent).

Plus, me thinks that he should have dumped all the variables into a single model. He could have looked for interactions between the differentn variables (for example, fridays during the summer). Finally, he probabably is suffering from some alpha error 'buildup' from running multiple statistical test on the same data with using the appropriate post hoc corrections.

/stats nerd
posted by underdog at 6:10 PM on September 21, 2006


OK, here is a guy doing ANOVA analysis on the contents of his sock drawer and then producing this gem:

Why the disproportionate emphasis on gas prices in our culture, then?

Uh dude, I think it's probably because most of us are mapping gas prices across time rather than across town.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:38 PM on September 21, 2006


I like this, the second link at least. I've often thought of doing a similar drive-time analysis, except I don't commute by car any more (it's foot, bus, or bike for me, according to weather and inclination).

I wonder why it is that the earlier commutes seem to show much more variation than the later ones (for both the morning and the evening trip).
posted by hattifattener at 6:44 PM on September 21, 2006


Kwantsar: "This is the coolest fucking thing I have ever seen."

I gotta agree with ya, mate. I have wondered the same things, and even collected a small amount of data, but considering that the variation in my commute times is significantly shorter than his shortest time, it wasn't worth doing anything full blown. Don't miss his economic analysis of buying a hybrid. Here's another analysis of the MPG obtained driving at various speeds. Consumer fuckin' reports, indeed.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 6:52 PM on September 21, 2006


Selfspotting.
posted by facetious at 7:08 PM on September 21, 2006


Uh dude, I think it's probably because most of us are mapping gas prices across time rather than across town.

Bingo. This is what I tried to say not nearly so well above. Gas prices vary temporally but not geographically, but the prices of goods are the opposite. He's basically concluding that we should buy gas anywhere, and making it a habit of shopping at the cheapest grocery stores - stuff that most people do anyways. I don't know anyone who isn't aware of this. You can object to shopping at the bottom-line stores on social, QOL or aesthetic issues, but it still applies.

This type of realisation or affirmation (depending on one's level of enlightenment on this issue) would come in handy for reducing the OCD-related symptoms of the manic one-track-mind price-comparisons of the borderline autistic. If you suggested that he take the bus instead to really maximize the cost structure of his personal humaniod life mechanism partnership, you'd probably give him an aneruism. Is the scooter better? Bike?
posted by jimmythefish at 7:08 PM on September 21, 2006



Note: This is not a scientific poll. If you read, cite, interpret, or present it as one, you are a moron.
posted by wfc123 at 7:10 PM on September 21, 2006


He better start saving because I guess he lost much more then 30 hours in his study.

elpapacito, ha ha. Totally.

Sounds like this guy and croutonsupafreak should get together (professionally, I mean).
posted by salvia at 7:13 PM on September 21, 2006


I don't know, the price of a gallon of gas has dropped by about forty cents in the last month (funny, it couldn't be because of Prop 87 on the November ballot, could it? Nah, just a wacky coincidence) and I ride a motorcycle that gets an easy 40 miles per even when I roll at 80 miles an hour.

But yeah, the scope of his work is impressive in a loony kind of way.

Besides, he shops at Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart is evil.
posted by fenriq at 7:20 PM on September 21, 2006


and I ride a motorcycle that gets an easy 40 miles per

Isn't that a little low for a motorcycle? My car gets in the low 40's.
posted by odinsdream at 7:43 PM on September 21, 2006


"the price of a gallon of gas has dropped by about forty cents in the last month "

Not in my state. We're still stuck at around $2.75 a gallon.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:55 PM on September 21, 2006


Odinsdream: 40 to 50 mpg (US gallons) is quite common for motorcycles ridden briskly. Small (50cc - 250cc) street bikes do much better - but generally aren't quite as brisk.
posted by speug at 7:58 PM on September 21, 2006


Not in my state. We're still stuck at around $2.75 a gallon.

True story.
posted by weston at 8:19 PM on September 21, 2006


Oh come on, people. The dude is sick. He's sick and he knows how to set up a web page.
posted by c13 at 8:27 PM on September 21, 2006


My favorite traffic solution
posted by muppetboy at 10:53 PM on September 21, 2006


He botches the math on the hybrid thing, unfortunately. I vaguely remember a link and a refutation here on the blue.
posted by jmhodges at 12:43 AM on September 22, 2006


Houston traffic will do this kind of thing too you.
posted by LoopSouth at 6:39 AM on September 22, 2006


Actually, gas prices vary both geographically and temporally within an urban setting. I live in the far south of the city and work in the far north of the city, and there is a $0.05/L price difference between the two ends of the city. And when the price starts to change, it tends to rise first in the north, so if I see a higher price near my office when I'm leaving, I know that I can buy gas at the morning's cheap price in the south on the way home.

Of course, a price difference of $0.05/L means that one should never go out of one's way to buy cheap gasoline. Assuming a 40L gas tank (your typical small sedan) that's almost empty, the total price difference is a mere $2.00. Personally, my time is worth more than that.
posted by djfiander at 7:08 AM on September 22, 2006


He does get points for being such an alpha nerd about it, but I wish he could somehow apply his nerdly talents to the true cost of food. I'll fess up to patronizing the cheapest store (grocery and gas) I can find, but lets recognize the problems we are supporting by doing that

Who is gonna pay for our cheap food?
Francis Moore Lappé, author of "Diet for a Small Planet" and "Hope's Edge" says, "We've actually let market prices lie to us. They don't register all the hidden costs of our 'factory farming' model, costs that undermine the very sustainability of nature's gifts." She continues, "Food prices don't count the fact that soil is eroding on prime farmland many times faster than nature rebuilds it, or the marine life we're losing because of nitrogen runoff from overusing fertilizers.
posted by bobobox at 7:29 AM on September 22, 2006


He's not as nerdy as this guy
posted by exogenous at 9:17 AM on September 22, 2006


How does driving a Prius change the equation? A slightly longer trip would actually be an advantage, since it doesn't warm up enough to get optimal gas mileage until you drive for about 5 minutes or so.
posted by mike3k at 10:31 AM on September 22, 2006


Of course, a price difference of $0.05/L means that one should never go out of one's way to buy cheap gasoline. Assuming a 40L gas tank (your typical small sedan) that's almost empty, the total price difference is a mere $2.00. - djfiander

Few people bother to do that math. There's no other product that North Americans are equally price conscious of. None. They will go miles out of their way, and wait in long lines (often with their engines running - idiots) in order to save 3-5 cents a litre. I was mystified by this behaviour that I was forced to observe over the 3 years that I ran a gas station. I think this it's ridiculous. Of course the metre-tall prices posted outside every gas station encourages this stupidity.
posted by raedyn at 2:58 PM on September 22, 2006


From the article:
Initially, some might not see the value of including this second factor, but I found it to be the best way to compare the effort required to bring about savings. To illustrate, imagine there are 100 stores selling ProductX within an area fitting the previously discussed conditions. 99 of them are selling it for $1.00 and one of them for $0.50, resulting in an SF of 0.5. If the distribution is changed, however, and 50 of the retailers price ProductX at $1.00 and 50 at $0.50, the SF would remain 0.5. It's true the potential savings in the area is the same in both instances, but the effort required to bring about those savings is much higher in the former case than in the latter. This fact, intuitive in this example, can be revealed in more complicated data sets by comparing the VFs. For the above cases, the former VF (0.0503) is much less than the latter VF (0.3350), confirming the obvious. Further confirmation of the method is obtained by considering a third case in which 99 prices are $0.50 and one is $1.00. This price distribution results in a VF of 0.0990, correctly indicating an increased degree of difficulty over the more evenly distributed case.
Short version:
former: 1 @ $0.50, 99 @ $1.00, VF 0.0503.
latter: 50 @ $0.50, 50 @ $1.00, VF 0.3350.
third: 99 @ $0.50, 1 @ $1.00, VF 0.0990.
OmniNerd asserts that the lower VF of the third case compared to the latter case correctly indicates a greater difficulty in finding a bargain. Clearly that is not the case. It's much easier to save money when 99% of sellers are selling at a low price compared to only 50% of sellers. Pretty sloppy, IMO.
posted by ryanrs at 1:38 AM on September 23, 2006


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