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Thursday, May 15, 2008

More than 2 million U.S. teens depressed

WASHINGTON - More than 2 million U.S. teenagers have suffered a serious bout of depression in the past year, including nearly 13 percent of girls, according to a federal government survey released on Tuesday.

On average, 8.5 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 17 described having had a major depressive episode in the previous year, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported.

But there were "striking differences" by sex, with 12.7 percent of girls and 4.6 percent of boys affected.

Depression is the leading cause of suicide, which in turn is the third-leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds in the United States.

"Combined 2004 to 2006 data show that rates of past year major depressive episode among youths aged 12 to 17 generally increased with increasing age," the researchers wrote.

Researchers at SAMHSA and RTI International in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, prepared the report using data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

More than 67,700 youths aged 12 to 17 answered questions about mood and depression. They were also asked to rate how depression affected them using the Sheehan Disability Scale, which measures impact on family, friends, chores at home, work and school.

They defined a major depressive episode as two weeks or longer of depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure, and at least four other symptoms such as problems with sleep, energy, concentration or self-image.

Nearly half of the teenagers who had major depression said it severely impaired their ability to function in at least one of the areas on the disability scale.

The worst cases were unable to carry out normal activities for an average of 58 days in the past year.

"Fortunately, depression responds very well to early intervention and treatment," SAMHSA Administrator Terry Cline said in a statement.

"Parents concerned about their child's mental health should seek help with the same urgency as with any other medical condition. Appropriate mental health care can help their child recover and thrive."

Copyright 2008 Reuters. Click for restrictions.
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Memory: Forgetting Is the New Normal

Memory researcher Dr. Scott Small would like to reassure you that you're not losing your wits. Visit him in his lab at Columbia University's Medical Center, tell him how the last time you went to a party, you couldn't put names to faces, how telephone numbers slip your mind, and he'll walk to his blackboard, pick up a piece of chalk and draw two lines. One, he will tell you, represents age. The other is memory. "As age goes up, memory goes down," he says. "Memory decline occurs in everyone."

Anecdotally, that's no surprise. Approach middle age, and it's hard not to notice that your recall is flickering. This, we're reassured, is perfectly normal--all your friends are complaining about the same thing, aren't they?--and yet it doesn't feel normal. You don't just have your mind, after all; you are your mind, and nothing threatens your well-being so much as the feeling that it's at risk. What's more, while most memory loss is normal, at least some people must be part of the unlucky minority that develops Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia. Why not you?

Alzheimer's is expected to strike 34 million people globally by 2025 and 14 million in the U.S. alone over the next 40 years. Half of all people who reach age 85 will exhibit symptoms of the disease. That, however, means that the other half won't. And since average U.S. life expectancy currently tops out at 80.4 for women and only 75.2 for men, by the time your 85th birthday rolls around, you're not likely to be troubled by Alzheimer's disease--or anything else.

Still, that doesn't make it any easier when you forget to pick up the dry cleaning or fumble to recall familiar addresses. The good news is, science is as interested in what's going on as you are. With better scanning equipment and knowledge of brain structure and chemistry, investigators are steadily improving their understanding of how memory works, what makes it fail, how the problems can be fixed--and when they can't.

For most people, all this will mean reassurance as worrisome symptoms turn out to be nothing at all. "Normal is the new frontier," says Mony de Leon, director of the Center for Brain Health at New York University Tisch Hospital. And for those who do drift beyond that frontier, the same research may offer new hope for treatments and even cures.

Consider, for a moment, how memory is supposed to operate. Consider, that is, the hippocampus. A cashew-shaped node of tissue, the hippocampus sits deep in the temporal lobe of the brain, near the amygdala, which is the seat of emotions. If the brain has a gatekeeper of sensory information, the hippocampus is it. The aroma and sizzle of bacon frying, the smooth finish of polished granite, a phone number you need to call--all must pass through the hippocampus. Only if information gets in can it be moved along to the prefrontal cortex, where it will be held briefly in what is called working--or short-term--memory. When you look up the phone number, dial it and promptly forget it, that's your prefrontal cortex working in tandem with your hippocampus.

But let's say you hang on to the number 10 minutes or even 10 months later. Why? Because that bit of information has gone through a chemical process called long-term potentiation (LTP) that strengthens the synapses. You need LTP to form long-term memories. And LTP takes place in the hippocampus.

The hippocampus begins to malfunction early in Alzheimer's disease. Imaging studies have shown that people with Alzheimer's typically have smaller than average hippocampi. Meanwhile, as the hippocampus is shrinking, the pathway between it and the prefrontal cortex also begins to degrade. Signals peter out and fade away, and questions take their place: Do I know you? Who am I? But it's not just with Alzheimer's: the hippocampus also goes at least somewhat awry in normal memory loss. "It's relatively stable in volume till about 60," Harvard neuroscientist Randy Buckner explains, "and then begins to change. People with Alzheimer's disease, though--they slide off the cliff."

Small and his colleagues have been trying to understand this difference. Small's hunch--now proven--was that a node of the hippocampus different from the one affected in Alzheimer's was breaking down in normal memory loss. "In humans, monkeys and rats," he says, "normal aging targets a node called the dentate gyrus, while a different node--the entorhinal cortex--is relatively spared. But in Alzheimer's disease, it's almost exactly reversed." Small has gone deeper, pinpointing a protein molecule known as RbAp48 that is lower in the brains of people suffering ordinary age-related memory loss. He and his colleagues are now testing the effect of that molecule in a knockout mouse--one engineered not to express RbAp48. They are also looking at interventions that might amplify the molecule and presumably boost memory.

But even if you, like the mouse, are low in RbAp48, don't pin all the blame for your memory loss on your hippocampus. As people get older, their attention starts to flicker, and that plays a role of its own. The prefrontal cortex, which controls planning, organization, abstraction and forethought, is the same region that allows us to concentrate, and it starts to diminish in size well before middle age. It also begins to use the brain's fuel, glucose, less efficiently and loses about half the neurotransmitter dopamine it once had. The result of all this, says Amy Arnsten, a neurobiologist at Yale Medical School, is that as we get older, we get "ADHD, but it's attention-deficit hypoactivity--not hyperactivity."

In her lab at Yale, Arnsten has roused idling monkey and rat brains with a medication called guanfacine, which appears to amplify the circuits of the prefrontal cortex. The drug has been tested on children with ADHD as well as on people with traumatic brain injury, posttraumatic stress and schizophrenia, and in each case it seems to revitalize working memory.

This could be a boon to middle-agers whose concentration is slipping, since studies show just how vital paying attention can be to forming memories. In one study, neuroscientist Dr. Adam Gazzaley of the University of California, San Francisco, recruited two groups of subjects--one ages 19 to 30 and the other 60 to 77--and scanned their brains while they were looking at pictures of human faces, then again when they were viewing landscapes. This allowed him to map out where in the brain they were taking in these images. Then he put the volunteers back in the scanner and told them that he was going to show them four pictures simultaneously--two of faces, two of scenery--and that he wanted them to focus only on the faces. When the younger volunteers did this, they showed increased activity in the part of the brain that deals with facial recognition and decreased activity in the part that processes landscapes. Not so the older participants; they couldn't shut out the scenery and focus on just one thing. Says Gazzaley: "They are overwhelmed by interference."

In a related study, psychologist Susan De Santi of NYU's Center for Brain Health studied subjects who had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition that can be transitory but one that also often segues to Alzheimer's. Two years later, some did develop the disease, but in others the symptoms faded. What De Santi found was that younger subjects who had no trouble paying attention saw their conditions improve.

"MCI is memory problems combined with problems in some other cognitive domain, like verbal fluency or spatial reasoning," De Santi says. "Seventy-one percent of those who had memory problems plus some other problem ended up getting sick with Alzheimer's, but only 8% of people who had only memory problems got sick."

Something else is going on as we get older that also impairs memory: our brains are making fewer neurons. Until a decade ago, the common assumption was that we were born with a fixed number of brain cells that die off as we age, making us, well, dimmer. That, however, is not the case. It is now known that the brain continues to produce neurons throughout the life cycle, but only in two places: the olfactory bulb and the hippocampus. And not just anywhere in the hippocampus but in the dentate gyrus, the very node that Small has identified as the site of impairment in normal memory loss. So why should memory fade at all? The answer may come from the gym.

A decade ago, when neuroscientist Fred Gage of the Salk Institute made the discovery that the adult brain continues to regenerate, the brains in question belonged to mice. Some of the mice had been sedentary, others had been exercising, and the ones that logged the most miles on their wheels produced many more new neurons than did the sedentary ones.

Now it turns out that the same appears to be true for humans. In a paper published last spring, a team led by Gage, Small and Richard Sloan, a psychologist at Columbia University, revealed that after pounding the treadmill four times a week for an hour for 12 weeks, a group of previously inactive men and women, ages 21 to 45, showed substantial increases in cerebral blood volume (CBV)--a proxy for neurogenesis because where there are more cells, there are more blood vessels.

Not only did the CBV profile of the human exercisers mirror that of the mice, but the people who exercised more did better on a slew of memory tests. Other evidence backs this up. In a study of "previously sedentary" older subjects by psychologist Arthur Kramer at the University of Illinois and others at Israel's Bar-Ilan University, investigators found that those who engaged in aerobic exercise did better cognitively than those who stretched and toned but never got their heart rates pumping. What's more, subsequent imaging showed that aerobic exercise "increased brain volume in regions associated with age-related decline in both structure and cognition."

Meanwhile, researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm who have been following over 1,500 people for more than 35 years found a significantly lower rate of dementia, including Alzheimer's, in those who exercised. Another study, this one of 2,000 elderly men living in Hawaii, showed that those who walked two miles or more a day were half as likely to develop dementia as those who walked a quarter-mile or less.

Cerebral blood volume is not the only thing responsible for this brain-boosting. Also at work is the fact that exercise increases what's known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that stimulates the birth of new brain cells and then helps them differentiate and connect. BDNF also enhances neural plasticity, the process by which the brain changes in response to learning. In diseases like Alzheimer's, depression, Parkinson's and dementia, BDNF levels are low. In people who exercise, BDNF levels rise.

But physical activity isn't all there is to improving your memory. There's also what you eat. Take blueberries. According to Jim Joseph, a neuroscientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Boston, blueberries seem to have nearly magical powers: they zap free radicals (highly reactive atoms that can damage tissue), reverse aging, enhance cognition and--and this is the kicker--cause new neurons to grow. If you're a rat.

In one of his animal studies, Joseph and his associates developed a series of motor-skills tests that they called the Rat Olympics. Rats had to walk balance beams and stay upright during a log-rolling task. Those raised on special blueberry rat chow did significantly better than those that were not, leading Joseph to conclude that "blueberries were actually able to reverse motor deficits in these aging animals." More remarkably, when mice that had been genetically altered to express Alzheimer's were put on the blueberry diet, they did not experience memory loss. Joseph's research has shown some similar benefits from walnuts, which contain alpha-linolenic acid, an essential omega-3 fatty acid.

No matter what you eat, if you want to keep your memory sharp, you should strive for a diet that keeps your belly fat down. A study of more than 6,500 people published in the March 26 edition of the journal Neurology showed that people who were overweight and had a large belly were 2.3 times as likely to develop dementia as those with normal weight and belly size, while those who were obese and had a large belly were 3.6 times as likely. As scientists have long known, as belly fat--which disrupts body chemistry more than less reactive fat elsewhere on the body--increases, blood glucose rises along with it. Some of Small's most recent animal studies show that rising glucose levels in turn disrupt the function of the dentate gyrus. That doesn't draw a straight and conclusive line between waistline and memory, but it does suggest one. "It's possible," Small says, "that blood glucose, which tends to drift upward as we get older, is one of the main contributors to age-related memory decline in all of us."

None of these insights, of course, make your sputtering memory less frustrating. When you've misplaced your keys for the third time this month, it does you little good to be reminded that it all may be just too much glucose and too few blueberries. And nothing entirely removes the specter of true dementia and the horrors it implies. Still, figuring out how memory works is the most important step in figuring out how it can be fixed. When you can make some of the fixes yourself, the news is even better. If you needed one more reason to get your exercise and watch your diet, the memory scientists are providing you with one--even if you have to write it down.

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Is American beer any good?

KEITH BEATY/TORONTO STAR

Buffalo's Premier Gourmet has become a magnet for Canadian beer lovers by stocking around 1,000 beers, half of them brewed in the U.S.

Ask most people where the best beer in the world comes from, and they'll probably say Germany or England. More worldly folks might mention Belgium.

But ask a beer aficionado these days, and odds are you'll get an answer that might surprise you – the good old U.S.A.

Just as wines from Napa Valley, Sonoma County and Oregon are giving bordeaux, burgundy and barolo a run for their money, breweries from California to New York are proving they can make some of the best suds in the world. And they're not just copies of the old European originals. While American craft brewers have proven themselves no slouches at styles such as pilsners, pale ales and stouts, they've also created some of their own, often bold styles.

"U.S. craft beer is probably the most diverse and interesting brewing scene in the world," beer aficionado Cass Enright said at a recent dinner in Toronto at the Academy of Spherical Arts to celebrate the Ontario launch of Southern Tier Brewing's India Pale Ale.

Over the past few decades, the U.S. beer scene has exploded. In 1978, there were just 42 breweries across the U.S. In 2007, there were 1,449.

"You can find just about anything being made. They've taken the best of every kind of style and put their own twist on it,'' says Enright, founder of bartowel.com, a site for local beer connoisseurs.

At Bar Volo the next night, Southern Tier founder Phin De Mink and his brewer, Paul Cain, were mobbed by local beer fans.

"We were shocked," says De Mink, whose five-year-old brewery is about an hour's drive south of Buffalo.

"When we started shipping our beer up here, it was just for small private orders. We didn't really think that many people even knew what Southern Tier was."

At both Toronto events, De Mink was peppered with questions about when more products – including the highly respected Choklat imperial stout – will be available north of the border. (Answer: Choklat will be sold through private import agent Roland and Russell, rolandandrussell.com, in November.)

It's not just beer enthusiasts who are falling in love with American brews. Toronto-area restaurants and bars are stocking an increasing number of beers from south of the 49th parallel. At Volo, owner Ralph Morana has 29. Beerbistro, which recently increased its cellar space, offers about 50 American beers.

Among the U.S. beers available at Beerbistro are the so-called double IPAs or imperial India pale ales. They're a bolder, hoppier American take on a classic English beer designed to withstand the long boat voyages to the subcontinent. Dogfish Head, whose 60-Minute IPA is coming to the LCBO later this summer, has two hoppier versions called 90-Minute and 120-Minute. Both are selling well at Beerbistro.

But the super-hoppy beer trend has its detractors, even among some American brewers. "Can you imagine a chef saying, `This is the saltiest stew you've ever tried, and you're not a real man if you don't like it?' That's what some of these breweries are doing," says Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery in New York.

Oliver, whose flagship Brooklyn Lager has been available at the LCBO since last year, makes an IPA more in keeping with the original English style. He also brews a bottle-conditioned Belgian ale, which will be on sale at the LCBO some time in the next year. Brooklyn's Black Chocolate Stout, a rich, strong imperial stout, will be part of the LCBO's seasonal program this winter.

While the bolder beers are some of the more popular American brews on offer at Beerbistro, they're not the only ones people ask for.

"The Americans are hop-heads, but there's a lot more variety than just IPAs," says Morin, pointing to Dogfish Head's Chateau Jiahu, a delicate brew that includes rice, honey and hawthorn berries.

Even the LCBO is starting to surf the American wave. It recently added four beers – Southern Tier IPA, Dogfish Head 60-Minute IPA, Rogue Dead Guy Ale and Anchor Steam Beer – to the general list. Several more have been added on a seasonal basis.

"Our overall plan is to continue to focus on ultra-premium products, and craft beer – from Ontario and elsewhere – definitely falls in that category," says Leanne Rhee, the LCBO's category manager for beer.

Still, craft beer fans shouldn't expect to see beer from smaller but highly touted U.S. brewers, such as Wisconsin's New Glarus, or Indiana brewery Three Floyds, renowned for its Dark Lord imperial stout. Many are still building a following in their home markets, says Rhee.

Another obstacle for some breweries is the LCBO's regulations, including specific requirements for labels, packaging and rigorous testing at the LCBO's lab.

Smaller breweries, such as Buffalo's Flying Bison, don't have the technical or financial ability to change their packaging.

"It really doesn't make any sense for me to do it. It's not worth it,'' says Flying Bison brewer Tim Herzog.

Despite the new additions, Rhee admits the LCBO's stock doesn't go far enough. "We'd definitely like to have more American beer. Our customers are asking for it."

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Catcalling: creepy or a compliment?

(LifeWire) -- When Holly Kearl was researching her master's thesis on street harassment last winter, she was pleasantly surprised that lewd remarks were few and far between. Then spring rolled around.

art.catcalls1.lw.gi.jpg

"Suddenly, it was April, and I was getting yelled at everywhere by men in cars," said Kearl, who has since completed a degree in women's studies and public policy from George Washington University.

As part of her research, Kearl conducted an anonymous, informal e-mail survey of 225 women on the subject. She found that 98 percent of respondents experienced some form of street harassment at least a few times, and about 30 percent reported being harassed on a regular basis.

"For me, anyone who interrupts my personal space to objectify me or make me feel uncomfortable or threatened is harassing me," she says.

Women take both sides

As the weather warms each spring, women -- especially in cities with active sidewalk traffic -- once again face catcalls from men. It's a situation some find unnerving and an invasion of their space, while others ignore it or are even flattered by it.

"I call it street abuse," said New York filmmaker Maggie Hadleigh-West, 49. "It's unwanted attention and invasion of space."

In her 1998 documentary "War Zone," Hadleigh-West confronted catcallers and filmed their responses. Many of the men literally ran away to avoid talking to her about why they whistled or made a provocative comment.

The Department of Defense has used the film since 2002 to train branches of the military about issues surrounding sexual harassment and sexism in general, she says.

"Being in a public space with a strange man who is being sexually aggressive is potentially dangerous," Hadleigh-West added.

On the other hand, some women appreciate the attention in certain cases, like Jessica, a 31-year-old health-care educator in Los Angeles who declined to use her last name to protect her privacy.

"Yeah, it's objectifying and all, but you know, if I walked down the street and didn't have men looking me up and down and catcalling, I'd think, 'Boy, I must really be getting old and dumpy,' " she said.

She's gotten catcalls just walking her parents' dog in baggy sweats. "I thought it was hysterical, like, 'Boy, doesn't take much to impress you, does it?' "

But Kimberly Fairchild, 29, an assistant professor of psychology at Manhattan College in New York, says catcalling can take a larger emotional toll than many women realize.

"There seems to be some evidence that it increases self-objectification," said Fairchild, who surveyed 550 women both online and at Rutgers University in 2006 and 2007. The women -- who ranged in age from 15 to 64 in the international online component and from 18 to 24 in the Rutgers survey of women from central New Jersey -- were asked about their experiences with street harassment.

Catcalling "encourages women to look at themselves as body parts instead of as full, whole, intelligent human beings" and can cause women to fear for their safety, Fairchild says.

"When a man catcalls you, you don't know if it will end at that point or if it could escalate to assault," she added.

Biting back via blog

Most women tend not to respond to the hoots and hollers, according to Kearl's research. A vocal minority, however, is fighting back online, especially when name-calling progresses to lewd behavior or even physical contact.

The site HollaBackNYC.blogspot.com encourages New Yorkers to snap pictures of street harassers and then post them.

Emily May, 27, and six of her friends were inspired to create the site in 2005 after a young New York woman used her camera phone to take a photo of a man who was looking at her while touching himself on the subway. The picture led to his arrest. (Such behavior is, according to New York state law, a misdemeanor offense). The blog has spawned similar sites in other major cities such as Chicago and San Francisco.

The site is a way to encourage dialogue, May says. "I think sites like ours can help women see that they're not alone, that it happens to women in all walks of life by men in all walks of life, and that it's not okay."

Some guys just don't know

According to existing studies and her own findings, Kearl says, some men are simply ignorant about how their behavior is perceived. Kearl, who completed her thesis, "Direct Action, Education, Consciousness-Raising, Activism and the Internet: Methods for Combating Street Harassment," last year, thinks posting on Web sites like HollaBackNYC is preferable to resorting to anger and violence.

"A lot of men have no idea that women don't like being talked to in this way," she said. "It never crosses their mind, and yelling doesn't educate them. If you yell, they often don't understand why you are upset and so they take it personally."

Often, Kearl says, an assertive, clear response can elicit a kinder reaction than one expects.

"A lot of the time, I find guys will just say, 'Oh, OK, I didn't realize it made you feel that way. Thanks.' "
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How to graduate the School of Hard Knocks with a 4.0

The School of Hard Knocks has no physical location but it has millions of students and just as many teachers, but most aren’t even humans. There are no books and there are countless tests. It’s the toughest and best education you can get. Sometimes it costs you money, but other times it’s free.

People often find it difficult to graduate with a good grade, let alone a 4.0. However, in this article I will help you gain the best education and graduate the School of Hard Knocks with flying colors.

Recognize your teachers

First, you need to figure out who or what your teachers are. It can be a person, object, or event. They all can teach you valuable lessons that cannot be acquired anywhere else. Recognizing your teachers will help you stop and think so that you can get the most out of each lesson. Even the littlest of events can teach you the biggest lessons. The same goes for negative events. They may seem difficult to endure but there’s so much to be learned. Practice pausing and assessing a situation when it arises, then ask yourself these two questions: What is the reason for this? And what can I learn from it?

Study & do your homework

You also have to be your own teacher as well. Not all the information you need is going to present itself. You are going to have to seek it out, wherever it may lie. Sometimes it’s book, on the internet, or even within yourself. Do some extra studying and homework to get one step ahead of the rest.

Fail

In the school of hard knocks, it is good to fail. It is encouraged and necessary to achieve success. More often than not, failure provides you with new knowledge that success wouldn’t have provided. In the school of hard knocks you have to take chances, make mistakes, and fail, if you don’t you’ll be left behind.

Skip the parties and other time wasters

Don’t get caught up in negative things like drugs and alcohol. They don’t do anything for you but waste your time, energy, and money. There’s millions of other positive ways to have good time. Also don’t get caught up in “drama” that won’t even matter in 20 years, 2 years, or even in 2 weeks. Your time is precious.

Get a tutor

You are going to need help to graduate from the school of hard knocks. Create some contacts online with successful people, ask them questions and get advice. Even if you can’t actually contact the successful person you want, read as much about them as you can. Study their style and road to success, and replicate parts of it.

Keep notes

This is something you should literally do. Get a notebook to write down all your successes and failures so that you can better learn from them. In this notebook you can also jot down ideas and dreams. Getting things on paper is one step closer to manifesting them.

Make friends

Again, you’re going to need help to achieve success. Make some contacts with positive and successful people. It is quite easy to do so online. And also don’t be afraid to use your contacts to benefit you.

Always be ready for a pop quiz

Life is a tough teacher, it can give you a pop quiz when you least expect it. A lot of the times you’ll be tested before you have even learned anything. Always try to be ready for it. Stay sharp and don’t get complacent.

Work hard

You need to work hard to get yourself to a better place. The harder you work, the more satisfying the reward will be.

If you follow these rules, you’ll be graduating from the School of Hard Knocks at the top of your class.

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6 gas-saving myths

Sure you want to save gas, but there's a lot of bad advice on how to do it. Some of it makes no difference, and some of it can wind up costing you.


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- With gasoline prices hitting record levels, it seems everyone has a tip on how to save fuel. Much of the advice is well-intentioned, but in the end, much of it won't lower your gas bill.

Here's a look at a few misconceptions:

#1. Fill your tank in the morning

You may have heard that it's best to fill your gas tank in the early morning while the fuel is cold. The theory goes that fluids are more dense at lower temperatures, so a gallon of cold gas actually has more gas molecules than a gallon of warmer gas.

But the temperature of the gasoline as it comes out of the nozzle varies little during the course of the day, according to Consumer Reports, so there's little, if any, benefit, to getting up early to pump gas.

#2. Change your air filter

Maintaining your car is important, but a clean air filter isn't going to save you any gas. Modern engines have computer sensors that automatically adjust the fuel-air mixture as an increasingly clogged air filter chokes off the engine's air supply.

While engine power will decrease slightly as the air filter becomes clogged, a lack of performance or an increase in fuel consumption will be negligible, Consumer Reports says.

#3. Use premium fuel

With prices already over $4.00 a gallon, premium gasoline is a hard sell these days. But a lot of drivers think because their owners' manual recommends premium, they'll get better fuel economy if they stick with it. Really, they're paying more money for nothing.

Even cars for which premium is recommended won't suffer with regular fuel. Modern engine technology comes to the rescue again. When sensors detect regular instead of premium fuel, the system automatically adjusts spark plug timing. The result is a slight reduction in peak horsepower - really, you'll never notice - but no reduction in fuel economy.

#4. Pump up your tires

Proper tire inflation is important for a number of reasons. Under-inflated tires are bad for handling and can even cause a crash. Improper tire inflation also causes tires to wear out faster and to heat up more, which could trigger a dangerous high-speed blow-out.

According to on-the-road driving tests by both Consumer Reports and auto information site Edmunds.com, underinflated tires reduce fuel economy, so proper inflation is key.

But you should never over-inflate your tires. They'll get you slightly better fuel economy because there will be less tread touching the road, reducing friction. But that means less grip for braking and turning. The added risk of a crash isn't worth the extra mile a gallon you might gain.

#5. To A/C or not A/C

There's no question air-conditioning makes extra work for the engine, increasing fuel use. But car air conditioners are much more efficient today than they used to be. In around-town driving, using the A/C will drop fuel economy by about a mile a gallon.

Meanwhile, driving at higher speeds with the windows down greatly increases aerodynamic drag. As speed increases, drag becomes more of an issue, making A/C use the more efficient choice at high speeds.

At most speeds and in most vehicles, A/C use drains slightly more fuel than driving with the windows down, contends David Champion, head of auto testing for Consumer Reports. "My final take on is that it's very close," says Phil Reed, consumer advice editor for Edmunds.com. "It's hard to measure the difference and every vehicle is different."

The best choice - if temperature and humidity allow - is to keep the windows rolled up and to turn the A/C compressor off. You can keep the fans running to blow in air from the outside, but your car will be as aerodynamic as possible while still letting you breathe. You will save gas, but the fuel economy improvement will be slight.

#6. Bolt-ons and pour-ins

Before you buy a device that's supposed to make your car more fuel-efficient or pour in an allegedly gas-saving additive, ask yourself this: Don't you think oil and car companies aren't doing everything they can to beat their competitors?

If BP (BP) could add something to its gasoline that made cars go farther on a gallon, cars would be lining up at the company's pumps. Sure, people would burn their fuel-saving BP gas more slowly, but then they'd drive right past rivals' gas stations to come back to BP for more. BP stations could even charge more for their gas and still sell tons of the stuff.

So if there really was an additive that made gas burn up more slowly, it wouldn't be sold over the Internet one bottle at a time.

Likewise, car companies are already spending big bucks to increase fuel mileage. If General Motors could make its cars go significantly farther on a gallon simply by putting a device into the fuel line, don't think for a second it wouldn't be doing that. GM's car sales would go through the roof.

"There are a number of these gas-saving devices that are generally useless," says Champion.

But drivers who try them will swear they work. In reality, it's probably an automotive placebo effect, says Reed. Buy one of these devices or additives, and you're like to pay extreme attention to your fuel economy and how you drive.

Of course it can't hurt to keep a close eye on your driving habits -- and what kind of car you drive. In the end, that can make the most difference in saving gas.

Gas prices have climbed to record levels. Are you feeling the pinch? Tell us how gas prices are affecting you and what you're doing to cope. Send us your photos and videos, or email us to share your story.
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California Building 220 MPH High-Speed Train from San Francisco to LA


Imagine a high-speed rail line that could get you from San Francisco to LA in 2 hours and 40 minutes.

That dream appears to be coming true, thanks to work by the California High-Speed Rail Authority. After getting a green light by State environmental impact assessors, they’ve begun implementation of an 800-mile bullet-train system that will connect Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley, Los Angeles, the Inland Empire, Orange County and San Diego. Trains traveling at 220 mph on the systems are forecast to carry up to 100 million passengers per year by 2030.

While 2030 is a long way off, at least things are moving in the right direction. Having a high-speed rail system connecting (eventually) the length of the West coast is a good idea for a number of reasons, including greenhouse-gas emissions reductions, improving public transportation and reducing congestion, and creating half a million new jobs. While our aging standby Amtrak is still around (believe it or not) and bearable for short distances, it’s more expensive and takes twice as much time to travel the same distance when compared to driving (non-California example: 15 hours from Portland, OR to San Francisco).

The State will have a bond measure of $9.95 billion on the November 2008 ballot, which requires a simple majority vote for approval. The measure allocates $9 billion for the high-speed rail system and $950 million for improvements to other rail services that connect to the high-speed service.

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