Everyone in Denver knows Al Lewis, the smart (and funny) business columnist for the Denver Post. If you’re a regular reader, you know that Al looks at things a little differently than most people do. Okay, he’ very funny. My phone rang yesterday and it was Al Lewis – “Hey Steve… any chance I could get you to isolate 9/10th of a cent of gasoline? Ever wonder why they charge us 9/10th of a cent? What could you do with 9/10 of a cent of gasoline?” Sounds like a math problem to me that could maybe turn into a reason to blow something up. I’m in.
So, how much gasoline does 9/10 of a cent get you? The math is pretty straight forward. Let’s say that the price of gasoline is $3.99 9/10 per gallon. Start by dividing 128 ounces (128 ounces = 1 gallon) by 399.9 cents to get the number of ounces per penny. That’s 0.32 ounces per penny. Multiply this by 0.9 to get the number of ounces 9/10th of a cent buy you and you get 0.29 ounces. If you’re a metrics kind of person, multiply 0.29 ounces by 29.6 milliliters (the number of milliliters in an ounce) and you get 8.6 milliliters.
We started playing with the idea of what we could do with 1 3/4 teaspoons of gasoline in the lab and every idea spelled disaster. So, we traded gasoline for ethanol and posed the same question. It didn’t take Jeff Brooks (my trusty right hand man) but three seconds to yell out, “Potato gun!” So, we loaded our “Ellen Show” potato gun with 1 3/4 teaspoons (that’s 8.3 mL) and it was not very impressive… just watch the video. After several attempts, the potato fired about 100 feet. But I didn’t want to disappoint Al Lewis, so we loaded the potato launcher with a little more ethanol and blasted it over 300 feet. Kids… don’t try this at home.
Let’s say that you’re driving a car that gets 28 MPG. How far could you drive on 1 3/4 teaspoons (0.29 ounces or 8.6 milliliters) of gas? The answer is roughly 335 feet, give or take a few inches.
Bottom line… knock off the 9/10th of a cent pricing convention because… well, because it’s just plain stupid. Instead of Congress arguing about this, maybe they could focus their minds on lessening our dependence on oil by supporting more renewable energy technologies. Wishful thinking.