Who's Responsible for Outrageous Gas Prices?

Here in southern California, gas prices are dropping--down to a whopping $4.20 a gallon. [Wow, that's terrific! The cheapest I've seen it here in San Francisco is $4.35. --Editor]

Are the outrageous prices caused by oil speculators, the oil producing nations, or a hyper-conspiracy by--hold the phone--the government? I'm still not sure, but I do know that lots of people--pundits, the airlines, and average Joes--are all giving me compelling stories.

Speculator Greed

I generally disregard messages from corporations pitching me to write to the legislature. The one I got recently from United Airlines caught my eye.

United claims is that oil speculators are responsible for driving up fuel prices. You can read the letter below and go to the site that walks you through sending an e-mail to your congressperson.

So I dug around the Internet, as did my buddy Paul C., and we came up with three weighty pieces that say, essentially, no, we can't blame speculators.

Oil-Producing Nations

Some people point fingers at the Middle East countries that sell us oil.

For instance, Energy Investment Strategies says "Mideast oil producers increasingly consume their own oil to fuel their fast-growing economies, driving up oil prices," in Vicious Circle: Middle East Affluence Drive Up M.E. Oil Use and Price.

I don't know if these countries are to blame, but I found a half-dozen news stories showing how much money some of them have to throw around.

Abu Dhabi is one of seven states that make up the United Arab Emirates. Gulf News said one businessmen had enough bucks to spend--sit down now, this is going to hurt--$14.5 million on a personalized license plate. The plate read "1" and the price set a new Guinness world record. According to Motor Authority, the plate with "F1" was cheap at $880,000.

There's got to be plenty of money available in Dubai, another member of the UAE. Get a load of this shape-shifting skyscraper.

How about an indoor skiing facility, also in Dubai, a sky-high tennis court atop the Dubai's Burj Al Arab hotel, or plans for the Crescent Hydropolis, an underwater hotel 65 feet below the Persian Gulf.

Two reports about extravagant spending turned out to be hoaxes (thank goodness): the silver Audi and the diamond-studded Mercedes Benz.

It's a Conspiracy

Keep the supply low so the demand will be high, and oil company profits will skyrocket. That's the theory argued in Damning Evidence of 'Big Oil' Conspiracy to Limit Supply.

There are also people who think it's a government conspiracy to force us to pay more in taxes. Read the American Daily's So you think you know oil: maybe not.

Gas Prices: Potential Solutions and Outright Hoaxes

To get more bang for the gas buck, lots of people are looking to a bunch of oh-I-hope-it'll-work devices. I saw a $10 gadget that attaches magnets to your gas line and thought, what the heck maybe it'd help. But my colleague, Tom Spring, says, no way, no how, in his Gas Crisis Fuels Dubious Online Offers.

Some people are trying outlandish and extreme tricks in order to save gas. It's called hypermiling, and it involves coasting whenever possible, sliding through stop signs, and tailgating trucks. Edmunds.com has a good piece on hypermiling and Go Green Travel Green has a list of about 450 tricks that you may want to spend a week studying.

Considering that you're getting zero miles per gallon while you're idling, an appealing hypermiling trick is turning off the engine while you're waiting for the light to change at one of California's infamous four-way intersections. It may be worth it, provided the stop's longer than a minute or two. Stanford University School of Earth Science agrees as does the Daily Fuel Economy Tip site.

More interesting--and also apparently legitimate--is Valcent's Vertigro, a way to produce fuel oil from algae. The video explains how they can produce practically any sort of fuel--diesel, airline fuel, whatever--just by modifying some algae.

This Week's Roundup of Time Wasters

I don't know if you're an iPhone fanatic, flicking your fingers across the screen and trying to impress your friends. My guess, though, is you'll relate to How to Get Broke by Buying an iPhone.

Play Evito Ball and see if you can evade the laser rays. Bet I bet you'll get nailed on level four with the horizontal beam.

We all take Helvetica and Times Roman for granted, sure, but if you just get to know them, along with the others--Futura, Baskerville, and my favorite, Courier New--I'll bet you'd appreciate them more. The Font Conference is a clever, well-written video that gives you an insiders' view of many of the fonts you use every day. [Thanks, Doran and Douglas L.]

I'm a sucker for cute animals, and coyotes are an absolute fav. The Daily Coyote has some beauties. The author says: "Charlie came into my life when he was just ten days old, orphaned after both his parents were killed. He lives with me and a tomcat in Wyoming." The photography is exceptional--and the subject is delightful. Make sure to browse through some of the archives.

Steve Bass writes PC World's monthly "Hassle-Free PC" column and is the author of "PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer," available from Amazon.com. He also writes PC World's daily Tips & Tweaks blog. Sign up to have Steve's newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Comments or questions? Send Steve e-mail.

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