Web devices ease crisis of gas prices
How much gas is in your tank right now? In a perfect world you wouldn't know, but in this $4-plus-per-gallon one you might be surprised how the answer just pops right up.
If you'd asked me that question a year ago, I'd have drawn a blank, as I prefer to save room in my limited long-term memory for more intimate concerns, from my brother's birthday to the expiration date on my buy-one-get-one-sundae-free coupon from Cold Stone Creamery.
But now, as cable news outlets cover a price change on an Exxon sign with all the chopper-cam fervor of an O.J. hot pursuit, you can bet I know exactly where the needle sits (just north of half a tank, where it will stay until tomorrow, when the Cold Stone deadline forces my hand).
And I'm hardly the only one in a gas-transfusion transition. Across the country, rising transportation costs are forcing widespread change at levels we haven't seen since the Donny and Marie Osmond-inspired Toothpaste Shortage of 1977.
Though many argue over the cause and ramifications of higher gas prices, it's hard to avoid the price surge's effects.
It's got gas pumps literally on tilt in Wisconsin. It's got fraud-wary credit cards initiating auto-destruct sequences in Pennsylvania. It's allegedly downgraded a drive-by shooting to a "bike-by" in Milwaukee. And, in Jacksonville, Fla., it's left strippers stuck in a kind of disposable-income dust bowl (forgive the stereotype, but generally, those who take the bus to gentlemen's clubs are not part of a big-tip demographic).
These are all true stories, as far as I can Google. Due to budget constraints, I can't independently track them all down until someone converts my 2001 Beetle to run on Taco Bell wrappers and sarcasm.
Still, as many Digital Slobs prepare the family for a summer "staycation" by crossing their fingers and duct-taping the rips and tears on their old Slip 'N Slides, it might bring some comfort to know that the Digital Age offers some gas-relief tools:
Video chat: It used to be nearly impossible to get lifelike images of your relatives over the Internet in real time, but services like Stickam.com and Ustream.tv now more than meet us halfway. Just register, plug a Web cam into a computer and tell your long-distance loved ones to do the same. Amazingly, after about 15 minutes you'll find your two-dimensional kin just as annoying as the real thing, minus that "why did I spend $925 on airfare, plus almost half that on a cab just to sleep on a sofa bed?" feeling.
TV movie downloads: Lately, the commute to the Cineplex seems almost as much of a rip-off as the $6 bag of M&M's. Many options, from AppleTV to TiVo to your cable company's video-on-demand services, have been around awhile. But the newest kid on the block is the Roku player from Netflix (www.roku.com, $99). Once you buy the box and subscribe to its monthly service, your TV will have access to the entire streaming catalog of Netflix.
Cheap gas locator: If you simply must hit the road (say, for an ice cream emergency), save gas by looking for it online at gasbuddy.com, a site that shows the cheapest gas available within your ZIP code.