Wasting Money On Poorly Timed Traffic Lights

The first electric traffic light was installed around 1920 in response to numerous accidents as the automobile picked up in popularity. Since then, there have been hundreds of thousands of traffic lights installed as well as a lot more intricate technology.
In the 1990’s, the county where I live began implementing a new type of traffic control system. At most major intersections, they began installing cameras or pavement sensors to detect traffic. The purpose is to adjust the timing on traffic lights based on traffic at the intersections. It is designed to adjust traffic during high volume times, as well as to avoid people sitting at intersections where there is no traffic, yet wasting gas because of a red light.
For the most part, the statistics show that these systems have helped relieve congestion versus a standard traffic light system that changes on fixed intervals. I can see the benefit at times, though there have been some frustrating areas.
One thing that drives me nuts is how the system deals with gaps in traffic. The system is designed to sense a gap in traffic, and change the light if there is traffic waiting to go the other way. In theory this makes sense, but I think it can be improved. Right now, the system detects gaps via cameras placed near the intersection, and it can sense the number of cars at or near. That’s great most of the time, but I wish that they would take it one step further and place sensors further away from the lights. This way, the system would know what’s coming.
I’ll illustrate why I think this could be an improvement. There have been times where a gap is created because of someone driving a little slow, or someone who pulls out of a side street or business, and hasn’t gotten up to full speed. The sensors see only the break and change the light, but as a result, a whole line of traffic gets stopped. I think that if the system had knowledge of what’s further back, it may be able to allow more traffic through at a time. The system could anticipate as well as react.
The other thing I wish they would do is consider reducing the number of lights in operation during non-rush hour times. Obviously, lights at major intersections need to run all the time, but it’s the other lights that drive me nuts. The lights around subdivisions or shopping centers are the two most common types.
I can understand having many of these lights operate during high traffic times, but how many times have you been stopped at a light that could easily be a blinking yellow for 16 hours per day? I know some might say I’m being impatient, but I see that it’s a waste of money if people have to spend time idling and burning gas unnecessarily.
Hopefully the technology for these ’smart’ traffic light system improves and saves time and money for drivers.

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The Most Economical Video Game Purchase I’ve Ever Made

I’ve always been a pretty big fan of video games, but not obsessive about it. I am not into the standard shoot-em-up games nor do I get big into sports games anymore. My favorite game is Mario Kart for my Nintendo Game Cube and I also like strategy games.
This leads me to the most economical video game purchase I’ve ever made.
Before I tell you what it is, let me tell you something that I’ve enjoyed a lot over the past few years. I’ve always enjoyed playing football or baseball games, but not so much the ‘live action’ games. The part I really enjoy is what’s called ‘Franchise‘ mode. You basically take a team and play it out over time.
Video game systems of yesteryear couldn’t accommodate a franchise mode for the simple fact that there was either no memory or very limited memory. Therefore, you could store a season of stats at time if you were lucky. Nowadays, with hard drives and/or flash memory built in, you can store saved information to your heart’s content. So, once this started happening, I started getting into the football games, but was more interested in playing general manager. I enjoyed signing and cutting players, running the draft, and other tasks that a general manager performs.
The game that’s given me the most enjoyment in this regard is ESPN NFL 2K5.
It was a cheap purchase. I had purchased earlier installments of the game and had enjoyed them. However, NFL 2K5 got great reviews, and was also one of the cheapest games when it was originally reduced for the type of game that you got. What happened is that the NFL stopped licensing their logo and player names to anybody but EA Sports (i.e. Madden) beginning in 2006. So, since ESPN (who made the 2K franchise) knew that 2005 would be the last year, they released the game for $19.99. The normal price for earlier editions and for Madden was around $50. So, right away it was a hot seller.
I bought my copy about a year after it came out. I got it used at one of the game stores at the mall. What did I pay for it?
That’s right. I got it for 10% of the original value.
And it’s been the most economical video game purchase because I’ve played the heck out of it. Every few months I get the itch to play my hand at general manager. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that the Detroit Lions are our local team, and Matt Millen (before finally getting fired) is regarded as possibly the worst general manager in professional sporting history. When he’d make another bonehead move, I always like saying ‘Anybody could do better than that’ and I play it.
(FYI, I’ve taken the Lions to the Super Bowl within three years on a couple of occasions)
So, while I’ve had games that I’ve played and played and played over the years, there has been no other game that I’ve gotten the value and ‘bang for the buck’ so to speak.

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Net Worth Update: January 2009

It actually was a good month for the update that I just completed. Probably not so much after the stock market took a dive yesterday, but I ran the numbers on Wednesday morning.
I actually run my net worth on the 7th of the month. I know that’s odd but I have done it that way since I started tracking. The reason I started doing it that way was simple: I pay many major bills on the 1st of the month. The mortgage and credit card payments are the biggies. I always waited a couple of days after the 1st for everything to clear, because otherwise the credit card would show paid and the bank account would still show the money. I think that the 6th was the latest I ever saw it take to balance, so I just started doing it then.
The numbers were actually good this month. Our net worth increased 9.8% from December. I think the stock market rally really helped. As a result, our assets went up about 2.5%.
On the debt side, we reduced 0.35% of our debt. Not the best number but about average. I know that number will be lower this month. I decided to hold a little bit extra back into savings this month with the baby coming, so I’ll be making only one extra student loan payment instead of two.
Overall, this was a good thing to see. It was the first significantly postive net worth report since May 2008. That’s a long time. While the gain of 9% plus was nice to see, it’s tempered by the fact that the overall net worth is still down 33% from one year ago report. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we’re on our way!

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An Important Non Personal Finance Post

I wanted to take a moment away from the personal finance theme to send a great big hug to a very special woman in my life.
My mom has been undergoing treatment for breast cancer for over a year, and she completed her last scheduled treatment yesterday! It was great and I’m so proud of her, as I know everybody else is. I know it’s been tough and she’s gone through it with strength and resolve that I can’t even imagine.
I’m hoping and praying that the treatments worked and that it proves that she is cancer free. I know it takes a while to know that’s the case, but since they caught it at a very early stage (discovered at a routine checkup), the odds are definitely in her favor.
She’s so excited to be a grandma later this year once Baby Beagle comes along, and it’s great to think that she can hopefully have the treatments and all that out of the way as she enjoys her grandchild.
So, if any women reading this haven’t had their regular mammogram, it’s definitely time!
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