Harry Browne’s Permanent Portfolio with fee-free ETFs

UPDATE: Since most brokerages are now offering fee-free trades, this article is somewhat moot. The one change I suggest is moving from the S&P 500 index fund to the Russell 3000 total-market fund (IWV).

In reviewing the timing suggested for Harry Browne’s Permanent Portfolio re-balancing, I came across an article that back-tested monthly re-balancing. Harry’s original plan was to re-balance once a year. Monthly re-balancing results in a compounded growth rate of 9.6%, much better than the 6.2% achieved when re-balancing once a year.

The problem is that trading once a month costs money. For instance, a normal trading transaction may cost $6.95 per trade. Balancing once a month times four funds, times a buy and sell for each add up. That can cost $55.85 per month. However, some brokers offer quite a few commission-free funds for trade, so below are the alternatives I’ve picked.

Asset ClassHB ETFFee-free ETF
Stock MarketSPYSPTM

Of course some people are uncomfortable with most gold ETFs because they generally only represent gold futures, and the futures market is akin to a ponzi scheme with less physical gold than there are futures contracts. Therefore, a gold trust like PHYS might be your preference, even though trading in the fund incurs fees.

Logical Invest has a monthly Permanent Portfolio re-balancing algorithm that uses the back-test monthly method from the article above to suggest a re-balancing strategy.

As an aside, I had the pleasure of meeting Harry Browne in 2000. He was a towering man (intellectually and physically) and I miss his contributions to the libertarian movement.

Categorized as Finance

Monthly transit ridership gainers and losers added

I added monthly statistics to the National Transit Database web site which show the monthly year-over-year gainers and losers in ridership for each month. Some transit systems are rather small, so big swings will be seen for some of those smaller systems.

However, there are some larger systems that are seeing large gains and losses. For instance, Albuquerque, NM saw a 54% ridership increase in its bus service. Meanwhile, Tallahassee, FL saw a 33% drop in bus ridership in April.

Feel free to explore the site and email with suggested additions.

List of Abbreviations used on Twitter

These are the abbreviations used on my Jeff Steinport twitter.

Amer. American.   Luc. Lucan.
Apul. Apuleius.   Lucr., Lucret. Lucretius.
Arist. Aristotle.   M. Motto.
Aul. Cell. Aulus Gellius.   Macrob. Macrobius.
Bret. Breton.   Mart. Martial.
Cæs. Cæsar.   Mol. Molière.
Catull. Catullus.   Per. Persius.
Cic. Cicero.   Petron. Petronius.
Claud. Claudius, Claudian.   Phæd., Phædr. Phædrus.
Corn. Corneille.   Plaut. Plautus.
Curt. Curtius.   Port. Portuguese.
Dan. Danish.   Pr. Proverb.
Dut. Dutch.   Pub. Syr. Publius Syrus.
Ecclus. Ecclesiasticus.   Quinct. Quinclilian.
Eurip. Euripides.   Russ. Russian.
Fr. French.   Sall. Sallust.
Fris. Frisian.   Sc. Scotch.
Gael. Gaelic.   Schill. Schiller.
Ger. German.   Sen. Seneca.
Gr. Greek.   Sh. Shakespeare.
Heb. Hebrew.   Soph. Sophocles.
Hom. Homer.   Sp. Spanish.
Hor. Horace.   Stat. Statius.
It. Italian.   St. Aug. St. Augustine.
Jul. Julius.   Sueton. Suetonius.
Just. Justinian.   Swed. Swedish.
Juv. Juvenal.   Tac. Tacitus.
L. Law.   Ter. Terence.
Laber. Labertius.   Tert. Tertullian.
La Font. La Fontaine.   Tibull. Tibullus.
La Roche. La Rochefoucauld.   Turk. Turkish.
Lat. Latin.   Virg. Virgil.
Liv. Livy.    

Quick and simple HTML5 page skeleton template

<!doctype html>
<html lang="en">
 <meta charset="utf-8">
 <title>Site Title</title>
 <meta name="description" content="Site Description">
 <meta name="author" content="Jeff Steinport">
 <link rel="stylesheet" href="css/styles.css?v=1.0">
 <script src="js/scripts.js"></script>

Limit WordPress admin access by IP address in nginx

As soon as any server is set up on the net, it will immediately see attempts at loading the /wp-login.php page. If you actually have a WordPress site set up, you’ll quickly start receiving lots and lots of login attempts. You can stop this completely by limiting access to /wp-login.php and /wp-admin by IP address in nginx (and Debian/Ubuntu). It’s pretty simple. Here’s how:

In your site’s nginx server block, add an include for the wordpress IP address configuration (this separate config file is handy for multiple WordPress sites, if you have more than one WordPress site on your server).

server {
include /etc/nginx/snippets/wordpress.conf;

Create a file at /etc/nginx/snippets/wordpress.conf:

location = /wp-login.php {
include snippets/blockips.conf;
include snippets/fastcgi-php.conf;
fastcgi_pass unix:/run/php/php7.2-fpm.sock;
location = /wp-admin/ {
include snippets/blockips.conf;
include snippets/fastcgi-php.conf;
fastcgi_pass unix:/run/php/php7.2-fpm.sock;

Then create a file that will list the IP addresses that will be permitted to access your WordPress admin at /etc/nginx/snippets/blockips.conf:

allow; #description
allow; #description2
allow ffff:ffff:ffff; #description3
deny all;

This will allow the three IP addresses listed above (of course, replace with the IPs you’d like to allow) to access your WordPress admin page. Everything else will be denied. Add a little description to the end of each line in order to keep track of which IP addresses you’re adding.

Then restart nginx:

service nginx restart

And you’re good to go.

The first time you log in, WP might complain about cookies. Just try to log in again.

That Michigan case dealing with speeding tickets issued by a moving police vehicle

133 Mich.App. 526
Court of Appeals of Michigan.
PEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Zolton Anton FERENCY, Defendant-Appellant.
Docket No. 73004.
Submitted Dec. 14, 1983.
Decided April 2, 1984.
Rehearing Denied May 21, 1984.
Released for Publication June 7, 1984.


Defendant appealed from an order of the Circuit Court, Gratiot County, Randy L. Tahvonen, J., affirming defendant’s conviction before the District Court, Robert M. Sheldon, J., of civil infraction of speeding. On remand from the Supreme Court for consideration as on leave granted, the Court of Appeals, J.H. Gillis, P.J., held that: (1) sworn traffic citation constituted sworn complaint for purposes of statute requiring sworn complaint to be filed when person denies responsibility for civil infraction; (2) defendant in civil infraction case could not refuse to give any testimony by asserting his privilege against self-incrimination; (3) due process did not require proof of each element of civil infraction by clear and convincing evidence; and (4) radar speedmeter evidence was inadmissible where patrol vehicle speedometer had not been calibrated independently of radar unit and where evidence indicated mathematical and physical impossibility of target vehicle being inside radar beam.


Attorneys and Law Firms
**226 *529 Frank J. Kelley, Atty. Gen., Louis J. Caruso, Sol. Gen., Mark A. Gates, Pros. Atty. and Jeffery K. Riemersma, Asst. Pros. Atty., for the people.
530 Zolton Ferency, in pro. per. Before J.H. GILLIS, P.J., and SHEPHERD and KELLEY, JJ.

J.H. GILLIS, Presiding Judge.

This is an electronic surveillance case. People v. Gilbert, 414 Mich. 191, 197, 324 N.W.2d 834 (1982).

Defendant appeals from a circuit court order affirming a district court judgment of responsibility for a civil infraction: namely, driving 65 miles per hour (m.p.h.) on a public highway with a speed limit of 55 m.p.h., M.C.L. § 257.629b; M.S.A. § 9.2329(2). The district court assessed a civil fine of $5.00, a judgment fee of $5.00 and $30.00 costs, for a total of $40.00.

Defendant was issued the citation by Officer Eugene Flore of the Michigan State Police in North Star Township in Gratiot County at approximately 2:50 p.m. on May 31, 1981. Defendant’s speed was determined by the use of a radar speed detection unit while the unit was operating in the moving mode. Defendant denied responsibility and requested a formal hearing. At the close of the hearing, a judgment of responsibility was entered by the district court and subsequently affirmed by the circuit court. This Court initially denied leave to appeal. The Supreme Court, however, remanded the case “for consideration as on leave granted”. 417 Mich. 1071 (1983).

On appeal, defendant raises four issues.

The first issue raised by defendant on appeal is whether a sworn traffic citation filed with the district court constitutes a sworn complaint for purposes of M.C.L. § 257.744; M.S.A. § 9.2444.

Officer Flore testified that he swore to the original citation later in the afternoon on the day it *531 was issued. This original citation was made part of the district court file.

Appearing pro se, defendant asked Officer Flore on cross-examination if he had filed any complaint other than the original citation. Upon a negative reply, defendant moved to dismiss the case, citing M.C.L. § 257.744; M.S.A. § 9.2444:
“If an officer issues a citation under section 742 for a civil infraction or if a citation is issued under section 742 for a parking or standing violation, the court may accept an admission with explanation or an admission or denial of responsibility upon the citation without the necessity of a sworn complaint. If the person denies responsibility for the civil infraction, further proceedings shall not be had until a sworn complaint is filed with the court. A warrant for arrest under section 321a for failure to appear on the civil infraction citation shall not issue until a sworn complaint relative to the civil infraction is filed with the court.” (Emphasis supplied.)

The district judge denied the motion, concluding that the sworn citation was itself a “sworn complaint” for purposes of the statute. The circuit court agreed.

**227 Defendant argues, however, that, where a defendant denies responsibility for a civil infraction, M.C.L. § 257.744; M.S.A. § 9.2444 requires, in addition to the filing of the sworn citation, the filing of a sworn complaint before further proceedings may be had. Defendant contends that the conclusion of the courts below blurs any distinction between “citation” and “sworn complaint” when the Legislature intended the sworn complaint to be in addition to the citation. Accordingly, defendant argues, since no formal complaint was filed in this matter, the district court lacked jurisdiction to *532 proceed and the trial court’s decision must be vacated and the cause dismissed with prejudice.

We disagree.

Section 727c of the Michigan Vehicle Code states that: “As used in this act, ‘citation’ means a complaint or notice upon which a police officer shall record an occurrence involving one or more vehicle law violations by the person cited.” (Emphasis supplied.) M.C.L. § 257.727c; M.S.A. § 9.2427(3). In this case, the police officer swore to the citation, which was thereafter placed in the district court file. Accordingly, a “sworn complaint [was] filed with the court”, M.C.L. § 257.744; M.S.A. § 9.2444, allowing the trial court to proceed with the formal hearing.

This conclusion is reinforced by DCR 2011.1(a)(2)(B), which provides that: “The citation serves as the complaint in a civil infraction action.”

Defendant argues that the citation was inadequate notice of the state’s civil infraction claim and that the only attestation appearing thereon was of service upon defendant. To the contrary, our reading of the citation reveals that Officer Flore, “being duly sworn”, listed the allegations against defendant in a clear and concise manner. Defendant was informed of the nature of the violation (i.e., “speeding”) and that the violation was a civil infraction. The citation indicated that defendant was to appear in district court “on or before ten days” following issuance of the citation. Finally, the date, time, and location of the alleged infraction were set forth. In short, the citation contains the facts “as are necessary reasonably to inform the adverse party of the nature of the cause he is called upon to defend”. DCR 111.1(1).

Defendant’s next argument on appeal is that, in *533 a civil infraction case, a defendant may refuse to give any testimony by asserting his rights under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, U.S. Const., Am. V.

At the formal hearing, defendant objected to being called as a witness by the State, citing the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In effect, he asserted a right not to be called as a witness or to give any testimony whatsoever. The district judge ordered defendant to testify, finding the privilege inapplicable in civil proceedings.

The trial court erred in concluding that the right against self-incrimination does not exist in civil litigation. “The privilege can be claimed in any proceeding, be it criminal or civil, administrative or judicial, investigatory or adjudicatory.” In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 47, 87 S.Ct. 1428, 1454, 18 L.Ed.2d 527 (1967) quoting from Murphy v. Waterfront Comm of New York, 378 U.S. 52, 94, 84 S.Ct. 1594, 1611, 12 L.Ed.2d 678 (1964) (White, J., concurring) (Emphasis in Gault ). “[T]he right to remain silent is constant and exists at all times.” People v. Cade, 125 Mich.App. 196, 198, 335 N.W.2d 653 (1982).

Nevertheless, merely because witnesses in any proceeding have the Fifth Amendment right does not entitle them to refuse to testify at all. “A civil infraction action is a civil action.” M.C.L. § 257.741(1); M.S.A. § 9.2441(1). As a party to a civil action, defendant must be distinguished from an accused in a criminal proceeding who has the right not to take the stand. Defendant thus “has only the privilege of not giving an incriminating response to any inquiry put to him”. People v. Guy, 121 Mich.App. 592, 609, 329 N.W.2d 435 (1982). He “has no occasion to invoke the privilege against self-incrimination until testimony **228 sought to be elicited will in *534 fact tend to incriminate”. Brown v. United States, 356 U.S. 148, 155, 78 S.Ct. 622, 627, 2 L.Ed.2d 589 (1958); Meyer v. Walker Land Reclamation, Inc., 103 Mich.App. 526, 532, 302 N.W.2d 906 (1981).

Moreover, the duty of determining the legitimacy of a witness’s exercise of the constitutional privilege falls to the trial judge. Roberts v. United States, 445 U.S. 552, 560, fn. 7, 100 S.Ct. 1358, 1364, fn. 7, 63 L.Ed.2d 622 (1980). Of course, the judge must be certain that a witness’s answer to a question “cannot possibly” have an incriminating tendency before ordering the witness to respond. Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1, 12, 84 S.Ct. 1489, 1495, 12 L.Ed.2d 653 (1964). To allow a party/witness in a civil matter to successfully interpose a blanket assertion of the privilege would deprive the questioning party of a fair opportunity of cross-examination. “A witness may not employ the privilege to avoid giving testimony that he simply would prefer not to give.” Roberts, supra, 445 U.S. 560, fn. 7, 100 S.Ct. 1364, fn. 7. For example: “His dishonesty or fraud, when not criminal, may as properly be proved by him as by any other witness.” Jennings v. Prentice, 39 Mich. 421, 423 (1878). These principles have been codified in M.C.L. § 600.2154; M.S.A. § 27A.2154:
“Any competent witness in a cause shall not be excused from answering a question relevant to the matter in issue, on the ground merely that the answer to such question may establish, or tend to establish, that such a witness owes a debt, or is otherwise subject to a civil suit; but this provision shall not be construed to require a witness to give any answer which will have a tendency to accuse himself of any crime or misdemeanor, or to expose him to any penalty or forfeiture, nor in any respect to vary or alter any other rule respecting the examination of witnesses.”

In this case, the State did not seek to elicit any *535 criminally incriminating responses from defendant. The State’s attorney asked questions relating solely to defendant’s responsibility for the civil infraction. His rights under the Fifth Amendment were not infringed.

Defendant next argues that due process requires that the state prove each element of the offense by clear and convincing evidence and not, as in the instant case, by a preponderance of the evidence. Defendant contends that any other standard deprives citizens of the last shred of fundamental fairness and militates against the transfer of traffic offenses from criminal to civil proceedings: it is one thing to deny the citizen a trial by jury, but it is still another to denigrate the standard of proof from beyond a reasonable doubt to the level of mere balancing of speculation and conjecture.

We, again, disagree.

Under M.C.L. § 257.747(5); M.S.A. § 9.2447(5), “If the judge determines by a preponderance of the evidence that the person cited is responsible for a civil infraction, the judge shall enter an order against the person”. (Emphasis supplied.) Defendant cites no authority for the proposition that application of this standard of proof in a civil infraction case violates the due process clause.

The State may establish the burden of persuasion and burden of proof in civil actions unless “it offends some principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental”. Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197, 201-202, 97 S.Ct. 2319, 2322-2323, 53 L.Ed.2d 281 (1977), quoting Speiser v. Randall, 357 U.S. 513, 523, 78 S.Ct. 1332, 1340, 2 L.Ed.2d 1460 (1958). A standard of proof “serves to allocate the risk of error between the litigants and to indicate the relative importance attached to the ultimate decision”. Addington *536 v. Texas, 441 U.S. 418, 423, 99 S.Ct. 1804, 1808, 60 L.Ed.2d 323 (1979). The United States Supreme Court has weighed the extent of the individual’s interest against the state’s interest in a particular burden of proof in order to decide what standard is appropriate. **229 Addington, supra, 441 U.S. 425, 99 S.Ct. 1809. Only where a fundamental liberty interest was at stake has the Court held application of the “clear and convincing” standard constitutionally required. See: Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 102 S.Ct. 1388, 71 L.Ed.2d 599 (1982) (parental rights termination proceeding); Addington, supra (involuntary commitment of the mentally ill); Woodby v. Immigration & Naturalization Service, 385 U.S. 276, 285, 87 S.Ct. 483, 487, 17 L.Ed.2d 362 (1966) (deportation proceeding).

In this case, defendant was held responsible for a civil infraction and ordered to pay a small fine and court costs. The deprivation suffered pales in comparison to the “particularly important individual interests” which the Supreme Court has deemed entitled to enhanced protection. Addington, supra, 441 U.S. 424, 99 S.Ct. 1808. Given the weight of the private and public interests involved, it cannot be said that the traditional “preponderance of the evidence” test is violative of due process.

Defendant’s final argument on appeal is that the issuing officer’s failure to adhere strictly to the “Interim Guidelines for the use of Radar Speed Measuring Devices” constitutes a violation of the due process guarantees contained in both the federal and state constitutions, U.S. Const., Am. V; Const.1963, art. 1, § 17. Defendant contends that less than strict compliance with these minimum guidelines is a violation of due process because use of the guidelines has been occasioned by the need to be fair and accurate in the application of radar. The need to have minimum standards has been *537 emphasized by courts in other jurisdictions. Defendant urges this Court to follow their lead and adopt the Interim Guidelines or a substantial equivalent.

Defendant argues that, in the instant case, the guidelines were clearly violated in several critical instances: the patrol vehicle speedometer was not tested independently of the radar unit, and defendant was in a cluster of traffic and, under the guidelines, the officer should take no enforcement action if there is any doubt as to target identification. In addition, defendant points out that the evidence indicates the mathematical and physical impossibility of defendant’s automobile’s being inside the radar beam at the time the speed reading was taken. Finally, defendant challenges the issuing officer’s competency to testify on the basis that the officer had no classroom training in the use of radar.

We agree with defendant that due process requires adherence to some standards before radar speed evidence can be admitted against a defendant at trial.
“For the average law abiding American citizen, minor traffic offenses constitute the only contact such a person will have with the law enforcement and judicial systems. Public confidence rests upon the fairness of such proceedings. Until a radar device is invented that is accurate under any conditions, fairness dictates that contested prosecutions are conducted according to meaningful standards which insure the instrument’s accuracy.” State v. Hanson, 85 Wis.2d 233, 246, 270 N.W.2d 212 (1978).
The formation of these standards, however, is a more difficult question which has not previously been addressed by the courts of this state.

*538 The Supreme Court has discussed radar speed detection in the context of a criminal prosecution for possession of a radar speed detection device.

In People v. Gilbert, 414 Mich. 191, 207-208, 324 N.W.2d 834 (1982), the Supreme Court discussed electronic surveillance of automobiles for purposes other than speed control:
“It appears that the technology may have already advanced to the point where a radio beam can be directed to hear conversations within an automobile. Or the police might surreptitiously install a radio device on an automobile to monitor conversations within the automobile. The police might install an electronic device at a gate or field to identify automobiles entering the area.
“Persons who wish, by installing electronic detection devices, to protect themselves **230 against such police intrusion and surveillance may not be violating any law but merely fearful that their activities, political and not criminal, have come to the attention of the authorities.
“Electronic surveillance by the police is serious business and an intrusion into the privacy of anyone who is subjected to it.
“While the constitution may protect against use in a criminal prosecution of evidence obtained by warrantless electronic surveillance, it is a matter of public policy to be decided in the first instance by the Legislature whether the police are authorized to conduct such operations. The police derive their authority from the Legislature, not the constitution. The police are not empowered to do whatever is not proscribed in the constitution. The Legislature alone can empower the police to engage in electronic surveillance. The Legislature did not, in 1929, address this issue of public policy in enacting the statute prohibiting the equipping of a vehicle with a radio receiving set.”

Because defendant does not challenge the actual use of the radar speedmeter but the manner in which it was used, we do not address this issue.

*539 We begin our discussion by limiting our topic to what standards should be applied in “moving radar” cases: that is, where the vehicle in which the radar speed detection unit (unit) is moving, i.e., being driven down the road as opposed to remaining in one spot (stationary mode).

Radar speedmeters operate on a principle known as the “Doppler effect”. This Doppler effect is defined by Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary as: “a change in the frequency with which waves (as of sound or light) from a given source reach an observer when the source and the observer are in rapid motion with respect to each other by which the frequency increases or decreases according to the speed at which the distance is decreasing or increasing.”1 Because the *540 Doppler effect is a scientifically recognized method for determining the speed of a moving vehicle, its reliability is not at issue here nor do we question it. The use of radar speedmeters has been criticized for other reasons, specifically:

  1. The units themselves have not been subject to any performance standards.
  2. The operators of the units have not been properly trained.2

**231 Criticism of radar inaccuracies peaked in Florida in 1979. After hearing the testimony and arguments of experts in the fields of mathematics, electrical engineering and the design, construction and testing of radar devices which ran to over two thousand pages of transcript and the receipt of 33 exhibits, the Dade County Court concluded that: “the reliability of the radar speed measuring devices as used in their present modes * * * has not been established beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt nor has it met the test of reasonable scientific certainty.” State v. Aquilera, 48 Fla.Supp. 207 (Dade County Ct., 1979). The court *541 then excluded or suppressed the radar speed measuring device evidence in each of the 80 speeding violation cases consolidated before it.3

In State v. Hanson, 85 Wis.2d 233, 270 N.W.2d 212 (1978), the Supreme Court of Wisconsin established the following guidelines for the prosecution of speeding citations issued on the basis of speed measurements made by a moving speed radar device. In Wisconsin, a prima facie presumption of accuracy sufficient to support a speeding conviction is accorded to moving radar upon testimony by a competent, operating officer that:
“1. The officer operating the device has adequate training and experience in its operation.
“2. That the radar device was in proper working condition at the time of the arrest. This will be established by proof that suggested methods of testing the proper functioning of the device were followed.
“3. That the device was used in an area where road conditions are such that there is a minimum possibility of distortion.
“4. That the input speed of the patrol car must be verified, this being especially important where there is a reasonable dispute that road conditions may have distorted the accuracy of the reading, (i.e., presence of large trucks, congested traffic and the roadside being heavily covered with trees and signs.)
“5. That the speed meter should be expertly tested within a reasonable proximity following the arrest and that such testing be done by means which do not rely on the radar device’s own internal calibrations.” Hanson, supra, 85 Wis.2d p. 245, 270 N.W.2d 212.

Although defendant had directed this Court’s attention to the standards set forth in Hanson, defendant urges this Court to recognize, as a minimum *542 standard, the Interim Guidelines for the Use of Radar Speed Measuring Devices promulgated by the Office of Highway Safety Planning of the Michigan Department of State Police.

These guidelines, first distributed throughout the criminal justice system in December, 1979, are the work of a task force which included members from the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, Michigan State Police, Michigan Law Enforcement Officers’ Training Council, Michigan State University, State Prosecuting Attorneys’ Coordinating Council, District Judges’ Association, and the Office of Highway Safety Planning. Although not mandatory on any law enforcement unit, the guidelines were distributed to enhance the use of radar in Michigan as a tool for law enforcement. We do not quote these guidelines here because we decline defendant’s invitation **232 to adopt them as the minimum standard. Instead, we have devised a hybrid set of standards based on those set out in Hanson and the Interim Guidelines.

Hereafter, in Michigan, in order to avoid any violation of the due process rights of a defendant in a speeding case involving “moving” radar, the following seven guidelines must be met in order to allow into evidence speed readings from a radar speedmeter:

  1. The officer operating the device has adequate training and experience in its operation.
  2. That the radar device was in proper working condition and properly installed in the patrol vehicle at the time of the issuance of the citation.
  3. That the device was used in an area where road conditions are such that there is a minimum possibility of distortion.4
  4. That the input speed of the patrol vehicle was *543 verified. This also means that the speedometer of the patrol vehicle was independently calibrated.5

*544 5. That the speedmeter be retested at the end of the shift in the same manner that it was tested prior to the shift and that the speedmeter be serviced by the manufacturer or other professional as recommended.

**233 6. That the radar operator be able to establish that the target vehicle was within the operational area of the beam at the time the reading was displayed.

  1. That the particular unit has been certified for use by an agency with some demonstrable expertise in the area.

These guidelines can be met by a showing that the issuing officer followed the recommendations contained in the Interim Guidelines and other recommendations issued by the Office of Highway Safety Planning. We recognize, also, that there may exist other agencies or organizations with a demonstrable expertise in this area which promulgate similar guidelines which may be used to show that the above guidelines have been met.

Addressing the substance of defendant’s challenges to his speeding citation, we hold that the radar speedmeter evidence was inadmissible for the following reasons:

  1. The patrol vehicle speedometer had not been *545 calibrated independently of the radar unit, in violation of guideline number 4.
  2. The evidence indicates the mathematical and physical impossibility of the target vehicle being inside the radar beam, in violation of guideline number 6. We feel this point requires further explanation.

At trial, Officer Flore testified that US 27 is a four-lane highway with a center median. The lanes are each 12 feet wide and the median is approximately 35 to 40 feet wide. Officer Flore was travelling in the northbound passing lane when he first observed defendant travelling in the southbound passing lane at what appeared to him, by visible observation, a speed in excess of the speed limit. Using the Decatur MV-715A unit installed in his patrol car, the officer determined that defendant was travelling at 67 m.p.h. and the patrol vehicle was travelling at 53 m.p.h. The officer’s initial observation of defendant was at a distance of 750 to 900 feet. The officer observed defendant’s vehicle for 4 or 5 seconds before operating the radar unit.

In his defense, defendant called Dr. Dennis Bryde, a law enforcement specialist with Michigan State University. The trial judge allowed Dr. Bryde to testify as an expert on the use of radar. Dr. Bryde testified that the width of the radar beam is approximately 18 degrees. Using the figures supplied by Officer Flore, Dr. Bryde computed the closing speed between the two vehicles to be 120 m.p.h. or 176 feet per second. After four seconds, the vehicles would have been 196 feet apart (900 feet less 704 feet); after five seconds, they would have been only 40 feet apart. At neither of these distances would defendant’s vehicle have fallen within the radar beam from Officer Flore’s unit.

*546 Defendant also contends that Officer Flore was not properly trained. With this we cannot agree. Although Officer Flore did not receive the type of training recommended by Dr. Bryde, Officer Flore consistently passed a certifying exam adapted from an examination prepared by Dr. Bryde.

The finding of responsibility against defendant is reversed.

Reversed. No costs, a public question being involved.

All Citations
133 Mich.App. 526, 351 N.W.2d 225


James J. Kelley, Jr., 38th Judicial Circuit Judge, sitting on Court of Appeals by assignment pursuant to Const.1963, Art. 6, Sec. 23, as amended 1968.

“Radar speed-measuring devices operate on the well-known Doppler principle, which relates the frequency shifts in reflected radiation to the relative velocity between the reflecting object and the observer. Existing radar devices transmit a continuous signal at either 10.525 GHz in the X band or 24.15 GHz in the K band, and they analyze the reflected signal for frequency shifts that indicate the speed of vehicles in the path of the beam. Each mile per hour of target speed produces a frequency shift of 31.4 Hz with the X-band frequency or 72.0 Hz with the K-band frequency.
“The radar device mixes the incoming signal with a portion of the unshifted signal to obtain the frequency shift as a beat frequency, or a series of frequencies if a number of targets are within the beam. A processor then selects a target from among the various return signals. How this is done varies somewhat from device to device but, most typically, the processor will select either the strongest or the fastest return signal, depending on the relative strengths of the two. A phase-locked loop then ‘locks onto’ this target and feeds its frequency shift into a digital display that is calibrated in miles per hour. Simultaneously, the amplified frequency shift of the signal, or a synthesized signal of the same frequency, is fed into a speaker. The shifts are in the audio range-for example, 1884 Hz for a 60-mi/h-vehicle when the X band is used.

“If the radar device is operated in the moving mode-that is when the police car is itself moving-an additional circuit function acts to determine and subtract out the speed of the police vehicle. The device takes the strong ground-return signal bouncing off objects close to the highway as a measure of the Doppler shift created by the police vehicle’s own motion, subtracts the resulting velocity from that of the target vehicle, and feeds the result into the digital display as target velocity. Typically, in the moving mode, the officer is searching for violators in the opposite lanes. Those in his own direction can be just as easily detected by pacing them.” Fisher, Shortcomings of Radar Speed Measuring Devices, IEEE Spectrum, Dec 1980, p 29 [hereinafter Fisher].

“The accuracy of radar devices as they have been used to enforce speed laws on roads in the United States is being questioned. Well-publicized court rulings-such as last year’s State of Florida v. Ana Aguilera [sic] ruling-have found radar speed readings inadmissible as legal evidence, because the radars were operated in such a way as to cast doubt on the accuracy of the readings.
“Yet existing devices are, in fact, quite accurate if used within their limitations by trained operators. The current problems can be overcome through better training and tighter equipment standards, while some relatively simple technical improvements in the radars can significantly reduce present limitations.” Fisher, supra, p 29. See also Trichter & Patterson, Police Radar 1980: Has the Black Box Lost its Magic? 11 St. Mary’s LJ 829, 831 (1980) [hereinafter Trichter] and the sources cited therein.

See Comment, Radar Speed Detection: Homing in on New Evidentiary Problems, 48 Fordham L Rev 1138 (1980).

As explained in Section IV of the Interim Guidelines, radar readings can be affected by a number of factors. The following list is not meant to be exclusive.
a. Cosine Error:
“The lateral or horizontal alignment of the antenna is critical. A deviation of 8 degrees or more will result in what is referred to as a cosine error (angle error). This factor will cause a deviation in the target vehicle’s true speed. On stationary mode, the deviation will result in a reduced display reading of the target vehicle’s true speed. In the stationary mode, the angle error will always be in favor of the target vehicle and is not a valid defense. In the moving mode, a deviation of 8 degrees or more from the patrol vehicle’s direction of travel may result in a false increase in the target vehicle’s true speed. A deviation of 7 degrees or less laterally is required to negate this factor.”
b. Batching Error:
“This is the result, in some units, of the computer’s inability to maintain a current patrol car tracking speed when subjected to sudden extreme changes in velocity. The batching error may result in a speed displayed higher or lower than the actual target vehicle speed. The radar operator should avoid any sudden changes in patrol vehicle speed to eliminate this effect.”
c. Shadow Error:
“This may result when the radar, in moving mode, fixes onto a large moving object in front of it rather than on to the stationary terrain. This will result in the difference between the patrol vehicle speed and the large moving object’s speed being erroneously perceived by the computer as the patrol vehicle’s speed. The remainder of the patrol vehicle’s actual speed will be added to the target vehicle’s speed, causing a spurious reading. The operator must be conscious that his patrol vehicle radar verification reading correlates with the speedometer reading at the time of a target display. In most cases, the target reading displayed will be so exaggerated that it will be ignored by the experienced operator.”
d. Ghost Readings:
“Ghost readings are readings displayed by the computer module when no vehicle is in the operational beam area. These readings may be caused by electric fan interference, radio transmissions, neon lights, and other extraneous factors both inside and outside the patrol vehicle. The radar unit, however, is designed so that these readings will be eliminated when a target vehicle comes into the operational beam area. As none of the criteria necessary for a valid traffic citation are present when these readings may be displayed, the experienced radar operator shall ignore them.”

Verification by means of the radar unit is not sufficient. Conversely, the verification of the radar unit using a speedometer not independently calibrated is also not sufficient. Both amount to “bootstrapping” the accuracy of the unit. The Interim Guidelines require independent calibration.
“In testing a moving radar unit the patrol car’s speedometer is measured against the digital display of the ‘low radar.’ When this low radar reading and the patrol vehicle’s speedometer are the same, the radar is said to be operating accurately.
“Criticism: Automobile speedometers are not inherently error free. Authorities estimate the margin of error at about seven percent. When a vehicle’s tires have been changed to either a smaller or a larger size the speedometer must be recalibrated, otherwise the vehicle speedometer fails to measure the true speed of the vehicle. When the speedometer of the pace vehicle is malfunctioning or there has been a tire size change without subsequent recalibration, an error in the radar unit may go undetected if the radar’s error is identical to the speedometer error.” [Footnotes omitted.] Trichter & Patterson, supra, pp. 845-846.

Nationwide transit usage dropped 2.0% in 2018

The December transit stats were finally posted this week from the Federal Transit Administration, so I updated the National Transit Database site and updated the code for annual ridership stats.

2018 Transit Ridership Continued its Decline

Nationwide, there were 9.85 billion transit rides in 2018, compared to 9.78 billion in 2017. This represents a 2.01% decline year-over-year. Peak ridership, according to National Transit Database data, was in 2014 at 10.48 billion rides. This means that ridership has dropped 8.4% since 2014. Ridership is basically where it was in 2005.

How to understand and negotiate car lease terms

You’re looking to lease a car and you stop by your local dealership to test drive the one you want, but then it comes to the negotiation part and you’re a bit lost. Most likely the salesperson will present to you a paper with four boxes in it with numbers that don’t exactly make much sense, but he tells you that he can put you in the car for $x per month.
You look at this paper and the numbers aren’t really connected in any way and you’re not sure what you’re negotiating, except maybe the final monthly lease price.

You really only need to ask the salesperson for three things:

  • Sale price
  • Money factor
  • Residual value

I recently helped a friend out with a lease negotiation and it got frustrating because every time I asked the salesperson for those three things, he would disappear for 10 minutes and come back with a lower monthly payment amount. I would then remind him that he said he would go and get the numbers I asked for, and so he would go back and leave us sitting there for 10 minutes and come back with another price.

Finally it took some getting agitated before he came back with the numbers I asked for.

Here’s what those numbers mean:

  • Sale price: This is the “purchase” price of the vehicle. This is extremely important because it will probably be the most negotiable number. You looked at the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) in the car’s window, right? Chances are they are trying to lease the car to you at this price, which no one ever pays (unless you’re not asking for this number).
  • Money factor: This is essentially the interest rate you’re paying. Normally the car manufacturer owns its own financing company, which is actually the entity that is purchasing the car from the dealer when you lease. You then lease the car from the financing company. The money factor is the amount the financing company is charging you to essentially borrow the money to purchase the car, which they then lease to you. The money factor is probably semi-negotiable, and this is where the dealer likely gets most of their kickbacks. Just asking for the money factor in the example above is all it took for the dealer to reduce the money factor during my negotiation. The money factor is usually presented as a very small decimal, such as .00350.
  • Residual value: This number is important, but probably not negotiable. This is basically the value of the car that the financing company is guaranteeing at the end of the lease. For example, if you’re leasing a car that costs $25,000, and the residual value at the end of three years is $15,000, you are basically paying the difference in the value for your lease, so in this example $10,000 (plus the money factor).

Now that you’ve insisted on these thee numbers from the salesperson, you can figure out how much you’re paying for the lease (and also understand if they’re trying to take advantage of you).

First, the sale price of the car. For example, you found a car that shows an MSRP of $25,000 in the window. Of course you shouldn’t pay this amount. In my experience, it’s not too hard to get a final sales price of 10% (or more) below that number. So in this example, we negotiate a price of $22,500.

You’ve also got the residual value, which is set by the financing company. In our example, let’s say the residual value is $15,000.

A lease means that you’re paying for the difference between the sale price and the residual value, because the residual value is how much the car is worth at the end of the lease. In this case, you’re paying $7,500 over three years (or however long the lease is). $7,500 divided by 36 months is about $208 per month to lease this car. (As a side note, it’s usually a bad idea to get a lease longer than 36 months).

But wait, this is where the money factor comes into play. What does that weird small decimal mean? For example, .00350. How do you put that into an easier-to-understand form? Multiply it by 2400. Therefore, a money factor of .00350 is the equivalent of an 8.4% interest rate. Wow, that’s high! Particularly with car purchase deals these days of 0%. This is why you need to understand the money factor and push back when it’s too high.

In the example above, when I was helping my friend with a car lease, the initial money factor we were quoted was .00275. That sounds low, right? Well that works out to an interest rate of 6.6%. That still high. Just by questioning that number we were able to get the dealership to reduce it to .001375, or the equivalent of 3.3%.

Now we’re talking. How does this relate to the lease monthly payment? Keep in mind that you’re going to apply the interest rate to the entire value of the vehicle, not just the amount you’re paying to lease it.

For a rough way of figuring the interest portion of your lease payment, do the following:

  • Take the difference between the purchase price and the residual value (in this case, $7,500) and divide it by two ($7,500 / 2 = $3,750). Now take $3,750 and multiply it by your interest rate. In our original offer from the dealer, that was 6.6%. Therefore, 3750 x .066 = $247.50. That’s one year of interest, so we divide that by 12. 247.50 / 12 = 20.63. Therefore, we add that to our monthly lease payment above: $208 + 20.63 = $228.63.
  • We’re not done. Now you need to figure the interest portion of the residual value. This one is easier. Just take the residual value, multiply that by the interest rate, and then divide that by 12. In our original example: 15,000 (residual value) x .066 (6.6% interest rate) / 12 = 82.50. So we add that to our payment above: 228.63 + 82.50 = $311.13.

That’s our lease payment! $311.13.

But what if we negotiate down the money factor? Let’s try the money factor that I was recently able to get for my friend:

  • 7,500 / 2 x .033 / 12 = $10.31
  • 15,000 x .033 / 12 = $41.25
  • Add those to our base lease payment: 208 + 10.31 + 41.25 = $259.56

Just by negotiating down our money factor we reduced our payment by $51.57. You can see how much of a difference that makes.

So, next time you want to lease a car, insist on knowing the sale price, money factor, and residual value. You now know how to do the math and understand exactly what the dealership is selling you. Good luck with your next car lease!

Categorized as Finance

National Transit Database site updated with February 2018 data

Detroit People Mover 2016 Financial Data

The National Transit Database site has been updated with February 2018 data. In looking at most cities in Michigan, transit ridership continued to decline. For instance, February ridership in Grand Rapids, Detroit, and Kalamazoo all declined by over 8%. Ann Arbor saw a decline of about 2%, and Lansing saw an increase of just over 1%.

The Detroit Free Press also ran a story today, using my NTD site, and pointed out that the Detroit People Mover costs over $25 million to operate (and consequently loses nearly $10 per rider).

The Mackinac Center has been running a series of stories, using my site and its data.

Oh, and the Detroit People Mover’s ridership declined about 40% in February. Interestingly, the Detroit People Mover’s average trip length is 1.4 miles. The average cost to taxpayers of each trip is $9.95. How much is a 1.4 mile uber ride?

New Project: National Transit Database Visualization

I created a new site that helps visualize data from the National Transit Database, which historically has made its data very difficult to parse.

For a little background: all transit agencies which receive federal funding must report a certain amount of data to the Federal Transit Administration’s National Transit Database. The FTA publishes two series of data: first, a spreadsheet of monthly ridership data, which usually lags by about two months. This spreadsheet has limited financial, ridership, and vehicle data for the each agency’s fiscal year, usually about one-and-a-half to two years prior to the present date. Second, the full NTD, which reports a high level of data about each agency, spread out across about 20 excel spreadsheets. The full NTD for each year (2016 is the latest available) contains financial (operating and capital), ridership, fuel/energy usage, and vehicle data.

In the past, when comparing different modes of transit and their financial costs, it has taken a lot of time and effort to just parse the spreadsheets and find the data you need.

My own National Transit Database site, which went live this week, is a start in parsing that data and making it more available. It’s meant to be user-friendly and visually informative.

For instance, take a look at the page for the Interurban Transit Partnership (The Rapid), in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I created a chart that shows overall ridership across all modes of transit provided by The Rapid, as well as breakdowns for each mode.

Ridership on The Rapid

For each individual mode of transit (for instance, bus, bus rapid transit, demand-response, etc) there is a tab with financial data. This tab pulls from both the monthly ridership spreadsheet and the full NTD data for the latest fiscal year (in this instance, 2016). Included is ridership, the number of passenger miles, average trip length, total operating spending, total fares received, total depreciation, and a breakdown of the cost of providing each ride and the total amount of subsidy required to provide that ride.

For the depreciation number, I had to estimate the amount of depreciation attributed to each transit mode because for some reason the NTD spreadsheets don’t break down the depreciation amount on a per-mode basis. Oddly, that’s one of the few bits of data in the NTD that isn’t broken down by mode. You can review the depreciation data in the Operating Expense Reconciliation spreadsheet. Therefore, I estimated each mode’s share of depreciation by allocating the depreciation amount based on the number of trips each mode represents as a portion of the total number of trips provided by that transit agency. Adding depreciation gives a much more accurate picture of the cost of providing a service because that includes a fair cost of the capital portion of each mode’s cost. Simply referring to the operating cost per ride (as many transit agencies do, including the NTD) paints an inaccurate picture.

One important thing to note, when reviewing the data, is that overall public transit ridership seems to have begun a decline in 2014 for many, if not most, transit agencies. Randal O’Toole has been reporting on this trend over at his Antiplanner blog.

The final item I’d like to point out is the monthly ridership change data. Simply presenting raw monthly ridership numbers would be very noisy and not very helpful or informative. Instead, it’s helpful to see how ridership is changing over time, even though it has a lag of a couple of months.

I plan to add more features, such as combined UZA ridership numbers, much more financial data, energy usage data, capacity usage data, and more. Feel free to contact me if you have suggestions.


Federal judge releases DNA software source code that was used by New York City’s crime lab

A federal judge unsealed the source code for a software program that was used to compare DNA samples in New York City’s crime lab.

In July 2016, Judge Valerie Caproni of the Southern District of New York determined in U.S. v. Johnson that the source code of the Forensic Statistical Tool, a genotyping software, “is ‘relevant … [and] admissible’” at least during a Daubert hearing—a pretrial hearing where the admissibility of expert testimony is challenged. Caproni provided a protective order at that time.

This week, Caproni lifted that order after the investigative journalism organization ProPublica filed a motion arguing that there was a public interest in the code. ProPublica has since posted the code to the website GitHub.

Read the full story . . .

U.S. Senate panel puts self-driving cars in fast lane

A U.S. Senate panel on Wednesday unanimously gave the green light to a bill aimed at speeding the use of self-driving cars without human controls, a measure that also bars states from imposing regulatory road blocks.

The bill still must clear a Senate vote, but it appears on track to passage. This should rev up profits for automakers, technology companies and ride service providers, hastening the day when their robot cars can carry passengers on the same U.S. roads as cars driven by people.

Read the full story . . .

Zoning regulations are problematic for tiny-house buyers

Tiny-house buyers have to cope not only with the challenges of living in a smaller space. There are also zoning regulations that make it difficult to find a spot for the homes.

In densely populated areas and most other areas, zoning regulations typically don’t allow full-time living in temporary structures such as RVs or movable tiny houses, the New York Times reports. The zoning laws also may specify a minimum lot size that it too expensive for a tiny-house buyer.

Some municipalities—including Fresno, California, and Nantucket, Massachusetts—have changed their zoning laws to accommodate homes that share land with existing homes. In another nod to the tiny house movement, the International Code Council has adopted a model code for such structures.

Read the full story . . .