September 19, 2006
Gasoline Prices
Posted by Gordon Smith

Are you obsessed with finding the cheapest gas prices? Relax. Or change your obsession to pharmacy items: "if I spend about $25 a month at a convenience store, I stand to save more money by switching to someplace like Walmart or Target than I would by switching to a cheaper (or even the cheapest) gas station."

So why are we so focused on gas prices? Is this the explanation?

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September 02, 2006
Greetings from Tucson!
Posted by Gordon Smith

I am sitting in my hotel room in Tucson, Arizona, having spent the last couple of days with Darian Ibrahim and his colleagues at the University of Arizona, who are creating a new law and entrepreneurship program. (Darian will be guest blogging here in October, and I hope he will share some of his plans for the program, as well as his research in the area.) They have a lot of good things going on down here. Even the weather has been mild.

Normally, I would have flown back to Wisconsin this morning, but tonight Tucson is hosting a nationally televised football game between my alma mater, BYU, and the University of Arizona. Both teams have been down recently, but both are counting on this to be a statement year for their young coaches. I am expecting a close game, even though I am hoping for a BYU blowout.

Darian and his wife, Jamie, have been kind enough to invite this hopeless Cougar fan to attend the game. No, I haven't painted my chest, but if BYU wins, you may see me storming the field.

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August 23, 2006
On the Road
Posted by Gordon Smith

I arrived in Utah today after spending the last two days on the road with my oldest daughter, who will be attending BYU this fall, and one of her younger brothers, who is eager to get to Yellowstone Park! I have driven all of the major interstate highways between Wisconsin and Utah many times, so there were no surprises. Though I have learned to love the openness of the plains, I most enjoy seeing the mountains again. Spectacular!

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August 21, 2006
Posted by Gordon Smith

Farecast, an airline fare forecasting service, is finally available nationwide in beta. Unfortunately, it includes only 55 airports, and Madison is not on the list, though I requested it with the "Add My City" button. Among other cool features on the site is the ability to track a trip through RSS feeds.

Check it out.

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August 17, 2006
Back from South Africa
Posted by Lisa Fairfax

I have just returned from a trip to South Africa and it was incredible. It took almost 20 hours to travel from the DC area to Johannesburg, but it was well worth it. The country is a breathtaking mix of old and new. In Cape Town we visited a mall that could have been in any American city, complete with many of your traditional stores and fast food restaurants. Corporate America definitely has a firm position in South Africa.

The landscape was amazing, from beautiful mountains to fantastic sunsets and beaches (many of which American companies use to film movies because it is cheaper—in fact we saw a movie being filmed as we passed a beach in Cape Town). We also got a glimpse of the gold and diamond minds for which South Africa is famous. We visited Cape Point, the southern tip of Africa where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. We also got a chance to go on safari. I saw the full range of African animals including elephants, giraffes, zebras, cheetahs, and lions. Our ranger told us that if a lion approaches you out in the open, you should stand your ground, because all of the lion’s food runs away from it—thus by running you indicate that you are his food. I am happy I did not have to test that notion.

And of course the country is rich in political history. We visited Robben Island—the political prison where Nelson Mandela and others were kept. The government imposed a system of apartheid even in the prison, such as giving prisoners different quantities of food based on their race. In Soweto we visited the house Mandela lived before and immediately after prison—he apparently had to move because he got daily visitors to his house beginning very early in the morning. We also visited the Hector Pieterson museum—dedicated to commemorate the student protest in Soweto (which resulted in over 500 children being killed) and named after one of the first children killed during the student march. Our guide showed us the Regina Mundi church, where students used to meet and that still had bullet holes in the ceilings and windows because police used to storm their meetings. Finally, we visited the Apartheid museum—which chronicles the history of apartheid and the struggle, both domestically and internationally, to overcome it. When you finish touring the museum, you feel a sense of awe as well as the power of the human spirit.

We had several guides and we asked them what they saw as the difference between their lives during apartheid and now. They all responded the same way—today they have the freedom to go wherever they want. During apartheid, black South Africans had to carry passes that restricted their movement, and a person could be immediately imprisoned if he failed to carry the pass. Our guide in Cape Town told us that although he grew up in Cape Town, there were parts of the city he had never seen, and thus he was almost learning it for the first time with us. Truly amazing. And now I have to try to shake off my jet lag!

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August 10, 2006
Posted by Gordon Smith

Yesterday, I agreed to present a paper at Steve Bainbridge's UCLA Corporate Governance Colloquium. Steve is a great guy, and I look forward to spending some time with him -- not to mention going to SoCal from the depths of Wisconsin's winter -- but in all honesty, the first thought that came to mind when he called was, "Another plane trip? Could I combine this with something else I already have planned?"

News this morning of a foiled terrorist plot in Britain has upped the ante on security again, and the U.S. is now banning liquids from carry-ons. Ann wonders whether this might signal the "end of carry-on luggage -- even a purse?" I had the same thought. Carry-ons are history.

Driving was never a convenient option for long trips, but it had the virtue of being relatively cheap. With the price of gasoline headed for $4 a gallon, driving is no longer that.

Of course, there's always cycling. But for me, riding to work is close to the outer boundary of that technology.

Which brings me to my latest resolution: displace travel with technology. I always have found face-to-face meetings quite useful in forming and maintaining professional relationships, but we are entering an era in which such meetings will become increasingly precious. Fortunately, advances in technology are picking up some of the slack. Internet telephony has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent years, effectively eliminating the concept of "long distance telephone calls." Video conferencing, too, is now cheaper and more convenient than ever.

The times they are a-changin'.

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August 05, 2006
European Travel Poll
Posted by Gordon Smith

Let's say that you have a job that allows you to travel during the summer. You do most of your work online, so as long as you have an internet connection, you can be anywhere. And let's say that you  love all of Europe, but you prefer to focus on one country per summer, rather than hopping around.

Create polls and vote for free.

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July 14, 2006
Car Rentals: Who's #1?
Posted by Fred Tung

Not Hertz, which is what I would have thought, but Enterprise, according to Fortune magazine.  Some interesting factoids about the privately held firm.  It's annual revenues are about $9BB, compared to $7.5BB for Hertz.  And it's been the revenue leader since the late '90s.  Enterprise is also the largest car buyer in the world and the largest employer of college graduates.  The article does a nice job of outlining Enterprise's business model.

I generally rent from Hertz when I'm on business, even though it's probably the priciest of the major rental companies, even with my university discount.  The cars all seem fairly new, and it's relatively convenient for airport pickup.  But I'm open to switching:  I'm always surprised at the pricing gap compared to the other major rental companies.  Any thoughts?

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July 10, 2006
Foreign Puchase Fees by Credit Card Issuers
Posted by Gordon Smith

On a recent Citi MasterCard statement, I found the following entry:


Maybe I am the last international traveler on earth to discover this sort of charge, which relates to purchases that I made in Germany. Now that I am aware of it, I am seeing information about it all over the place (e.g., here). Like many credit card issuers, Citi adds a 1% surcharge for all purchases that require currency conversion. That's in addition to the 1% charge levied by MasterCard (or Visa, as the case may be), which actually handles the currency conversion.

Being one of the many people who never reads the fine print on my credit card agreements, I probably would have remained blissfully unaware of this charge, but Citi's customer service representative told me that a new regulation now requires separate disclosure of such fees. Knowledge is power. Digging a bit further, I discovered that Capital One not only does not charge a fee, but it also absorbs the fee charged by Visa and MasterCard. has a nice comparison chart.

Maybe I should check with credit card guru Ronald Mann first (are you reading today, Ronald?), but Capital One looks like a great credit card for a whole bunch of reasons. In any event, I am ready to bid Citi adieu.

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June 06, 2006
Hilton Head
Posted by Fred Tung

(If anyone missed me on the Glom,) I've just returned from a family vacation at Hilton Head Island in the lowlands of South Carolina.  It is a wonderful spot for families with young children--our group had 2 four-year-olds and 2 two-year-olds.  The beach is flat and wide; the waves are very mild, almost subtle.  And the slope of the shore is so gradual that even toddlers can comfortably wade twenty feet into the water.  There appeared to be a lot of vacant rentals over Memorial Day weekend, which means good availability at reasonable prices.  Many rental houses, including the one we rented, have a pool in the backyard.  So the two biggest decisions of the day are what/where to eat and whether to go to the pool or the beach!

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April 29, 2006
Gordon's Choice
Posted by Gordon Smith

Nwa Has anyone around here mentioned how much we despise air travel? Oh, yeah. And here and here. But see.

This morning, my flight from Boston to Detroit was delayed by about an hour for maintenance problems. This was a 6 am flight ... one of the first flights of the new day! Why is Northwest lining up defective planes for the first flights?!

Anyway, the delay caused me to miss my connection to Madison, which means that I am blogging this from the lovely Northwest terminal in Detroit.

En route to Detroit, I was reading David Hoffman's law review article, The "Duty" to be a Rational Investor, 90 Minn. L. Rev. 537 (2006), which rehearses the various cognitive biases that have become part of the standard account in behavioral law and economics. The message: investors are irrational.

Fresh on the heels of that, I was given this choice:

  • Leave Detroit at noon and arrive in Madison at 3:30 pm ... via O'Hare, or
  • Leave Detroit at 5:00 pm and arrive in Madison at 5:30 pm (direct flight).

Which would you take? I took the second option. When is the last time you went through O'Hare in the middle of the afternoon without some sort of catastrophe?

In the meantime, I am hoping to board a direct flight to Madison at noon. I am the first name on standby.

UPDATE: Well, my standby strategy failed. The flight was overbooked. Fifteen minutes prior to boarding, it looked like one seat would be open, and they called me to the counter. But alas, the passenger showed up about 10 minutes before the plane was scheduled to take off.

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February 23, 2006
To the North Woods!
Posted by Gordon Smith

I am spending the next couple of days in Eagle River, Wisconsin -- "Where Great Times Come With the Territory!" I am taking my children snowmobiling for the first time. We had hoped to do this over the holidays, but the warm weather thwarted us. Now, we are seizing the opportunity provided by the recent blizzard. I assume blogging over the next few days will be light ...


UPDATE: That photo above could have been taken on Saturday morning, as two of my sons and I returned the snowmobiles to the rental company. We departed our cabin in darkness at 6 am and rode for two hours, watching the sun rise over a tree-lined horizon. We were the first snowmobilers on the trail, which the groomer had just shaped into a smooth white ribbon through the woods. At one point, I noticed fresh deer tracks on the trail. I stopped my sled and looked to the right, where I saw a herd of about ten does staring back at me from 20 yards. Truth be told, I felt guilty at disrupting their morning with that noisy machine. Although I probably would have preferred to be hiking at that moment, it was pretty exciting to travel 60 mph across a frozen lake or open field.

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December 09, 2005
More Strange Activity in New Mexico
Posted by Christine Hurt

As if NM Governor Bill Richardson wasn't already going to have to answer hard questions about his so-called MLB career should he make a presidential run, now he seems to be proud of the fact that the state of New Mexico is going to sink $200 million into a commercial spaceport.  From living in West Texas and peering over the border, I would say that NM doesn't have a lot of million-dollar bills to be throwing around to build Richard Branson's launch pad.  Branson's Virgin Galactic plans to host commercial "sub orbital" space flights for paying customers, some of whom have already paid deposits. 

The governmental line is that the state seeks to profit from tourism spawned by the space flights.  (The state will not receive taxes from the flights.)  However, this spaceport is not being built near Santa Fe or even Ruidoso.  It is being built near Las Cruces.  Now, being from Lubbock, I can't knock anyone's city, but I'm not sure how many really rich people are going to want to hang out in Las Cruces.  (The flights cost $200,000 per person.)  If I were a NM taxpayer, I think I would just let Mr. Branson build his own spaceport.

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November 29, 2005
Bahama Pix
Posted by Christine Hurt


Note the high quality of the hair braiding.

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November 18, 2005
Embarking on the Disney Wonder
Posted by Christine Hurt

Sometime tomorrow our family will embark on our biggest vacation since Paul's and my honeymoon -- we're going to Disney World!  First, we're going on a 3-night Disney cruise, then we'll round out our week in Orlando at the Magic Kingdom theme park.    My feelings alternate between joy and elation on the one hand and icy fear on the other.  If you have Disney advice, be sure to share in the comments.  If your advice involves "Turn back!  Don't go!" then keep it to yourself because we've gone too far.  Yes, I understand the concept of sunk costs, but I also understand how much it would cost me to tell a certain 4-year-old boy that we were not having his birthday on the Disney cruise.

Here's hoping for no hurricanes and no pirates except for Captain Hook and that Johnny Depp guy.

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