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Friday, May 23, 2008

The Telectroscope, London's window on New York

It looks like something from the Victorian era, and its name sounds like a device from 1950s science fiction. The Telectroscope is an extraordinary new device that allows people in London to see across the Atlantic.


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The Telectroscope
GEOFF PUGH
The Telectroscope

Positioned at a spot near Tower Bridge, it allows people to watch their counterparts in New York, peering through an identical scope near the Brooklyn Bridge.

It is the invention of Paul St George, a 53-year-old artist in based in London who - using broadband internet cable to transmit video images between the two venues at high speed - gives the impression that the two cities are connected via a telescope under the Atlantic sea.

For £1 a go, people will be able to wave down a massive viewing pipe into the earth and see New Yorkers waving back.

It is the first time that spectators will be able to have a real-time, life-size view across the pond 24 hours a day.

Nicky Webb, the director of the Telectroscope production company, Artichoke, said: “You are not going to spend four hours looking down this Telectroscope, but there are all sorts of lovely possibilities, you could arrange to meet friends in New York or even propose marriage down it!

"Schools in Southwark and New York will be twinning up and using it. Its aim is to be something huge, impressive and magical.”

Original here


New TSA laptop bag policy won't improve anything

ATHENS, GREECE -- The Department of Homeland Security's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) plans to introduce new rules for laptop bags. Special, new X-ray friendly bags will allow you to leave your laptop in the bag. Unfortunately, this will only increase the pain of passing through airline security.

Removing a laptop from your bag seems like a small annoyance. But when you combine that with removing your shoes, belt, and watch, and emptying your pockets after waiting in line for 30 minutes -- multiplied times 50 trips a year -- well, it adds to the general pain and indignity of passing through U.S. airline security.

That's why the TSA's new rules sound like a small blessing. If only.

The TSA is working with bag makers like Targus and others to detail the specs of allowable bags. The new bags will have to be made of materials transparent to X-rays and -- importantly -- either provide no room for or separate adaptors, cables, straps and other stuff that obsures the view of X-ray readers. In other words, the cases will have to allow X-ray readers to see the laptop as clearly as if it weren't in any case at all.

I'm a pretty typical frequent flier type in that I carry a rolling laptop bag that also stores my Skype headset, charger, GPS gadget, as well as the mini Radio Shack of cables, peripherals and other stuff. I carry my Kindle everywhere, as well as sunglasses, camera and other junk.

Unfortunately, the new X-ray friendly bags wouldn't allow us to carry all this extra stuff or, in the case of some designs, they would allow only some of it. Most of us would have to carry a second bag -- one for the laptop and another for the other stuff we carry in our laptop bags.

The trouble with this is that most airlines have a two-bag maximum for carry on. So we'd have to check our garment bags. This is usually problematic because of the risk of the airline losing the luggage. Also: American Airlines announced this week that it plans to start charging $15 per bag for each bag checked. Other airlines will probably follow suit.

The worst thing about the new rules however, is that they'll create the general impression that you don't have to remove your laptop. It won't be at all clear which laptop bags are properly manufactured and packed. Bag compliance will only be confirmed after the bag passes through the X-ray machine. Those that don't will have to be removed and re-processed, further slowing the already glacial security lines.

It seems to me that the TSA's solution to every problem is more complexity, confusion and waiting.

Original here

4 Most Harmful Ingredients in Packaged Foods

Recipe for Disaster

Ninety percent of Americans' household food budget is spent on processed foods, the majority of which are filled with additives and stripped of nutrients. Discover which common ingredients in the foods you eat pose the greatest risk to your health.

Grab the broccoli with cheese sauce from the freezer, the box of instant rice pilaf from the pantry, or the hot dogs from your fridge and squint at the ingredient list's fine print. You'll likely find food additives in every one.

Is this healthy? Compared to the foods our bodies were built to eat, definitely not.

Processed, packaged foods have almost completely taken over the diet of Americans. In fact, nearly 90 percent of our household food budget is spent on processed foods, according to industry estimates.

Unfortunately, most processed foods are laden with sweeteners, salts, artificial flavors, factory-created fats, colorings, chemicals that alter texture, and preservatives. But the trouble is not just what's been added, but what's been taken away. Processed foods are often stripped of nutrients designed by nature to protect your heart, such as soluble fiber, antioxidants, and "good" fats. Combine that with additives, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Here are the big four ingredients in processed foods you should look out for:

TRANS FATS
Trans fats are in moist bakery muffins and crispy crackers, microwave popcorn and fast-food French fries, even the stick margarine you may rely on as a "heart-healthy" alternative to saturated-fat-laden butter.

Once hailed as a cheap, heart-friendly replacement for butter, lard, and coconut oil, trans fats have, in recent times, been denounced by one Harvard nutrition expert as "the biggest food-processing disaster in U.S. history." Why? Research now reveals trans fats are twice as dangerous for your heart as saturated fat, and cause an estimated 30,000 to 100,000 premature heart disease deaths each year.

Trans fats are worse for your heart than saturated fats because they boost your levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol and decrease "good" HDL cholesterol. That's double trouble for your arteries. And unlike saturated fats, trans fats also raise your levels of artery-clogging lipoprotein and triglycerides.

Trans fats will be listed on the "Nutrition Facts" panel on food beginning in 2006. Until then, check the ingredient list for any of these words: "partially hydrogenated," "fractionated," or "hydrogenated" (fully hydrogenated fats are not a heart threat, but some trans fats are mislabeled as "hydrogenated"). The higher up the phrase "partially hydrogenated oil" is on the list of ingredients, the more trans fat the product contains.

Replacing trans fats with good fats could cut your heart attack risk by a whopping 53 percent.

REFINED GRAINS
Choosing refined grains such as white bread, rolls, sugary low-fiber cereal, white rice, or white pasta over whole grains can boost your heart attack risk by up to 30 percent. You've got to be a savvy shopper. Don't be fooled by deceptive label claims such as "made with wheat flour" or "seven grain." Or by white-flour breads topped with a sprinkling of oats, or colored brown with molasses. Often, they're just the same old refined stuff that raises risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart attacks, insulin resistance, diabetes, and belly fat.

At least seven major studies show that women and men who eat more whole grains (including dark bread, whole-grain breakfast cereals, popcorn, cooked oatmeal, brown rice, bran, and other grains like bulgur or kasha) have 20 to 30 percent less heart disease. In contrast, those who opt for refined grains have more heart attacks, insulin resistance, and high blood pressure.

Read the ingredient list on packaged grain products. If the product is one of those that are best for you, the first ingredients should be whole wheat or another whole grain, such as oats. The fiber content should be at least 3 grams per serving.

Two More to Check Labels For

SALT
Three-quarters of the sodium in our diets isn't from the saltshaker. It's hidden in processed foods, such as canned vegetables and soups, condiments like soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce, fast-food burgers (and fries, of course), and cured or preserved meats like bacon, ham, and deli turkey.

Some sodium occurs naturally in unprocessed edibles, including milk, beets, celery, even some drinking water. And that's a good thing: Sodium is necessary for life. It helps regulate blood pressure, maintains the body's fluid balance, transmits nerve impulses, makes muscles -- including your heart -- contract, and keeps your senses of taste, smell, and touch working properly. You need a little every day to replace what's lost to sweat, tears, and other excretions.

But what happens when you eat more salt than your body needs? Your body retains fluid simply to dilute the extra sodium in your bloodstream. This raises blood volume, forcing your heart to work harder; at the same time, it makes veins and arteries constrict. The combination raises blood pressure.

Your limit should be 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day, about the amount in three-fourths of a teaspoon of salt. (Table salt, by the way, is 40 percent sodium, 60 percent chloride.) Older people should eat even less, to counteract the natural rise in blood pressure that comes with age. People over 50 should strive for 1,300 mg; those over 70 should aim for 1,200 mg.

Only the "Nutrition Facts" panel on a food package will give you the real sodium count. Don't believe claims on the package front such as "sodium-free" (foods can still have 5 mg per serving); "reduced sodium" (it only means 25 percent less than usual); or "light in sodium" (half the amount you'd normally find).

HIGH-FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP
Compared to traditional sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup costs less to make, is sweeter to the taste, and mixes more easily with other ingredients. Today, we consume nearly 63 pounds of it per person per year in drinks and sweets, as well as in other products. High-fructose corn syrup is in many frozen foods. It gives bread an inviting, brown color and soft texture, so it's also in whole-wheat bread, hamburger buns, and English muffins. It is in beer, bacon, spaghetti sauce, soft drinks, and even ketchup.

Research is beginning to suggest that this liquid sweetener may upset the human metabolism, raising the risk for heart disease and diabetes. Researchers say that high-fructose corn syrup's chemical structure encourages overeating. It also seems to force the liver to pump more heart-threatening triglycerides into the bloodstream. In addition, fructose may zap your body's reserves of chromium, a mineral important for healthy levels of cholesterol, insulin, and blood sugar.

To spot fructose on a food label, look for the words "corn sweetener," "corn syrup," or "corn syrup solids" as well as "high-fructose corn syrup."

Original here

Why Food Looks More Appealing When You're Hungry

Why does food look more appealing when you are hungry? Scientists are finding that the same chemical in your stomach that causes hunger also changes how your brain perceives food, as this ScienCentral News video explains.

[If you cannot see the youtube video below, you can click here for a hi-res mp4 video or here for a quicktime video.]


Interviewee: Alain Dagher,
Montreal Neurological Institute, Canada
Length: 1 min 12 sec
Produced by Sunita Reed and Jessica Tanenbaum
Edited by Sunita Reed and Chris Bergendorff
Copyright © ScienCentral, Inc., with extra footage courtesy
Alain Dagher and the Culinary Institute of America.

A Second in Your Eyes, a Lifetime on Your Thighs

Next time you don’t want more dessert, avert your eyes as the dessert cart rolls by. According to a new study from the journal Cell Metabolism, just seeing images of food makes us more likely to indulge, all thanks to our body’s natural hunger hormone—ghrelin.

Scientists know our guts secrete ghrelin, that ghrelin levels peak before meals and plummet afterwards, and an injection of extra ghrelin boosts peoples’ appetite. But they don’t know exactly how the hormone affects the human brain. Alain Dagher and colleagues from the Montreal Neurological Institute are working to find out.

By scanning the brains of people dosed with intravenous ghrelin, the researchers found out that ghrelin can activate pleasure centers and visual processing areas in the brain, “in effect making food appear more attractive,” says Dagher.

Brain On Ghrelin
People who received ghrelin and looked at food pictures showed enhanced activity in areas of the brain involved in reward processing.
image: Alain Dagher

The study suggests that if ghrelin is coursing through your veins as you walk past the neighborhood burrito vendor, “you would be more likely to be attracted to that, and you would be more likely to buy food and eat it,” he explains.

For their experiment, the scientists gave volunteers a shot of ghrelin and monitored brain activity using a functional MRI scanner. At first, reward-processing brain regions were unperturbed. Then, the volunteers looked at food pictures, and their anterior insula, amygdala, and other brain regions involved in reward processing, motivation, and appetite lit up. That means mere images of food can give us pleasure, as we anticipate the reward of actually eating.

What’s more, people who’d received ghrelin could better remember details of the food pictures they saw. Dagher explains, “Ghrelin increased brain activity in the visual areas of the brain, in other words, making the food pictures more easy to remember and more easy to perceive.”

Dagher says, “The most exciting part of the study is that we demonstrated that ghrelin acts on this reward processing network in the brain, I think this is quite novel.”

Two Kinds of Chow

Although everybody needs food to survive, most people also indulge in some “A cupcake? Don’t mind if I do!” eating too, even if we know better. To Dagher, the study suggests that these two kinds of eating—for survival and for pleasure—may be “controlled by the same parts of the brain,” he says.

Our guts release ghrelin when we’re low on calories and it’s time to eat, but Dagher says ghrelin is also involved when “you’re not particularly hungry but you see a piece of chocolate cake. It’s very appealing, and that will also trigger hunger.”

Does that mean people who overeat have too much ghrelin in their systems? Dagher says the jury’s still out, although injecting people with ghrelin does make them hungry. Even so, he says that “whether ghrelin is normal or abnormal in overweight people, it’s likely that ghrelin is a good target for treating obesity.”

Dagher says his study supports the idea that hunger is “an addiction to food,” since other addictions like smoking also activate the same reward centers in the brain. When smokers see videotapes of people smoking, and when people with high ghrelin levels see food pictures, he says, “more or less the same brain regions” respond. “This confirms the idea that areas of the brain that are important for eating are also the targets of addictive drugs,” he says.

When people get a shot of extra ghrelin they become extra ravenous. So if researchers found a drug that could block the body’s natural ghrelin, perhaps the drug could combat obesity. But Dagher says it might not that simple, and ghrelin-blockers potentially could cause problems like depression.

“We show that ghrelin acts on the brain reward centers, and these areas of the brain don’t just control hunger. They control our response to all kinds of emotional stimuli, so if you block ghrelin, you run the risk of causing side effects,” he says.

Researchers have only known about ghrelin since 1999, and Dagher says, “We still have much to learn about it.”

In the study, Dagher and colleagues conducted fMRI brain scans of twenty healthy volunteers as they looked at food pictures and as a control, at scenery. At the beginning, food pictures had little effect the brain’s reward circuitry because all the volunteers had low levels of ghrelin, since they’d just eaten. Then, halfway through the study, twelve people received ghrelin injections. The ghrelin group promptly proceeded to get the munchies. That meant the ghrelin was working.

Back in the brain scanners, the ghrelin group still showed no special response when staring at seascapes or other non-edible images. But when the ghrelin recipients saw pizza, the scientists found fireworks. The combination of ghrelin and food pictures activated the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.

Can merely seeing food or thinking about it trigger your body to produce more ghrelin, making us hungry when we don’t need actually need food? The answer is still unknown, but if you’re trying to shed a few pounds for bathing suit season, it’s probably best to flip right on past the food channel.

Original here

7 Strange and Different Restaurants

Opening a new restaurant is risky. 60% of new restaurants close or change ownership within three years. One way to make a restaurant stand out from the crowd is to have a theme, and the wackier the better. It may be as simple as putting costumes on the waiters and decorating the walls, or it may be an entirely new concept, but it probably won’t make the food any better. However, strange themes will get valuable publicity.

Dinner in the Sky

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Dinner in the Sky is a Brussels based restaurant that serves dinner for up to 22 people… 150 feet in the air! The specially-designed table and chairs are lifted by a crane. Dinner anywhere in Belgium will set you back almost 8 thousand euros; other locations are also available. Remember, you must wear your seat belt, and don’t drop your fork!

In the Toilet

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The food at Marton Theme Restaurant in Kaohsiung, Taiwan is in the toilet. Patrons sit on toilets while eating, there are more toilets on the walls, and the food is served in dishes shaped like both eastern and western toilets and urinals. And business couldn’t be better. See more pictures here.

Food for What Ails You

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D.S. Music Restaurant in Taipei, Taiwan is a medical-themed restaurant with crutches on the wall, waitresses dressed a nurses, and drinks served from an IV drip bottle! The owner came up with the idea to express his gratitude for care he received at a local hospital.

Pasta You Can’t Refuse

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A restaurant situated inside the top security prison Fortezza Medicea in Italy is so popular that officials have since opened more branches.

Serenaded by Bruno, a pianist doing life for murder, the clientele eat inside a deconsecrated chapel set behind the 60ft high walls, watch towers, searchlights and security cameras of the daunting 500-year-old Fortezza Medicea, at Volterra near Pisa.

Under the watchful eye of armed prison warders, a 20-strong team of chefs, kitchen hands and waiters prepares 120 covers for diners who have all undergone strict security checks. Tables are booked up weeks in advance.

I couldn’t find a menu, but I made one up for them.

Safe Sex with Dinner

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Cabbages and Condoms is a chain of restaurants in Thailand. There are condoms on the walls and pictures of condoms printed on the carpets. Instead of after-dinner mints, patrons are offered a bowl of condoms at the counter. Profits from the restaurants go to support the Population and Community Development Association (PDA).

Under the Sea

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Ithaa is the name of the underwater restaurant at the Hilton Maldives Resort & Spa. The walls and roof are a transparent acrylic arch. Its capacity is 14 people, who go down a spiral staircase to a depth of five meters. See more pictures here. (image credit: Alexey Potov)

Revolutionary Culture

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Shao Shan Chong Xiang Cai Guan in Nanning, China used the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976 as a theme. The wait staff dress like Red Guards. Although it’s not an era people recall fondly, the restaurant is doing well. The food must be good.

In the Dark

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At Dans le Noir? in Paris and in London, dinner is served in complete darkness to produce a sensory experience completely different from most restaurants. The concept is threefold: 1. you taste your food without visual cues as to what you should expect, 2. you relate to your dinner companion(s) differently when you can’t see them, and 3. the wait staff is blind.

A magic switch between sighted and blind people happens. For once, blind people actually become your eyes.
This reversal of roles implies a transfer of trust from the sighted person to the blind guide because without him we are just lost.

Tanya had dinner at Dans le Noir in Paris and wrote about the entire process.

Original here

Wakozi lets lazy New Yorkers get munchies and booze delivered

With services like Wakozi around, the movie Half Baked likely would have been about 15 minutes long. The home delivery service has been designed with people of leisure in mind, linking up New Yorkers with local eateries and convenience stores that get solid and liquid nutritional goodness to their doors within the hour.

Unlike online grocery stores of yore, Wakozi's not doing any of the stocking or infrastructure necessary to get products out on its own; instead it's just acting as the middle man to get hungry people (or those in need of the spare roll of toilet paper at the most inopportune times) the means to get items delivered fast, and with just a few clicks.

The system works by matching you up with businesses that deliver within a certain geographical threshold. After plugging in your address, you can view an entire listing of these businesses, as well as their menus, delivery charges, hours of business, and estimated time of food arrival. Many promise delivery within half an hour, although others simply list the nebulous "ASAP."

Since launching less than two months ago, creator Robert Rizzo says the site's user base has increased weekly by more than 100 percent. He also says that one of the things that makes his system so potentially powerful is that it tracks what items are selling for each retailer, so they can stock up on items that are popular with the home delivery crowd.

Also worth noting is that the company hasn't spent a dime on advertising, and doesn't plan to until it raises its first round of funding. In the meantime, it's expanding into other areas of New York, including Brooklyn and Queens, before launching in two more major cities later this year.

New Yorkers can order all the essentials on Wakozi, a service that links people up to local shops that deliver at all hours of the day. (click to enlarge)

(Credit: CNET Networks)
Original here

Biting The Bullet: 5 Reasons Why Arguing With Unruly Clients Will Get You Nowhere

Unruly Clients Will Get Your NowhereWe’ve all been there; putting out your best work, adding extra hours in just to be nice, giving multiple revisions even though the scope only called for 2.

Then it happens; you realize your client couldn’t care less about anything you’ve been doing for them and is just a plain $@#*& every time you turn around. Natural human instinct is to pounce into action and fight right back; but is it the smart thing for freelancers? I want to cover 5 reasons why biting the bullet and not arguing with unruly clients will do you much more good then if you were to spend your days arguing right back.

Feel free to chime in after the article in the comments if you’ve had a client, or two (or 20) like this before.

Time Away From Your Other Clients

Arguing with an unruly client does one thing very well; it takes time away from your other clients who are great and deserve your attention. By doing this, its causing a rift between you and your great clients which causes a back up of their work which causes them to get upset. Why let this domino effect take place when it’s so easily avoidable?

Breaks Up Your Concentration And Creativity

If you’ve got someone who’s getting on your LAST nerve, odds are you’re at a point where you can’t focus on your current jobs correctly, and anything creative needing done will surely fall short of your rock-star quality.

I’ve tried designing a website while I was upset about a few things and it never worked out well and I’m sure all of you can attest to this as well; from freelance writers trying to create a 1,000 article on a topic you know very little about for a client who you love, while thinking about the @$$hole you just got done arguing with, to the freelance php coder who’s trying to decipher 1,000 lines of code into something useful while all you can think about is the conversation you just had with that same @$$hole as the writer.

Anger Spills Into Your Family Life

If you’ve had a horrible day at work and you’ve been on the phone, IM, skype or email with an unruly client all day arguing, odds are you’re going to go home (or into the other room for those of us who work from a home office) with a horrible attitude. This affects not only you, but your entire family which is not something you will be very proud of once you calm down and realize that you’ve been stomping around the house slamming doors for the past 2 hours.

It Won’t Make You Any More Money

Time is money and wasting your time arguing with some jack@$$ who couldn’t tell what quality work and customer service was if it smacked him or her in the face is pointless. If you spend 20 minutes a day arguing with that client, and it spills over the course of a full week, you’ve spent 140 minutes arguing! For those of us who charge $50/hr, you just had a $100+ argument and didn’t see a dime of it.


The Client Gets A Kick Out Of Making You Mad

If you’re dealing with a client like this, the odds of this person actually laughing and liking the idea of you being upset is very high. With an attitude and ego as big as the sky, they don’t see anything wrong in how they’re acting, and if they do, they just don’t care. Why waste your time dealing with someone like this and ruining your day over someone who has so little respect for you, your business and themselves? It’s just not worth it.

What do you think? :)

Mike Smith

Original here

Marketing Your Social Media Profile

There is a reason that social bookmarking sites and news aggregators do not have anonymous members. It’s true that many of those who submit content to these sites are doing so for the pure need to inform others and raise awareness of a certain topic regardless of how surreal or illogical it may be. For others however it is a whole different modus operandi. I’m talking of course of working to build one’s social media profile and the desire to market it.

I have an account registered at multiple different services all across the web. All of them use the same profile image and username. By now people are starting to recognize my consistencies across the web and that is becoming a very valuable thing. Each day I have a couple more random followers on Twitter and Pownce all due to properly marketing myself to the rest of the crowd. My routines consist of browsing through many different popular and unusual media aggregators. It may be a active webforum, some confusing Italian blog or a historic IRC channel but what I’m looking for is that diamond in the rough, that piece of social media that gets a reaction from everyone and with that more recognition for myself.

By now, having a submission promoted to the front page of Digg or getting 20 @replies on Twitter doesn’t give me the same sensation as it did six months ago, yet I still insist on it continuing. As your stories are promoted so is you profile. People start contacting you via instant message just to say thanks or hello. Some might ask for help with a blog post surrounding social media; essentially they are crowdsourcing on a private level. That is of course why we advertise all of our contact information in our profiles, to allow the conversation to continue wherever possible.

Last month was a groundbreaking social media experience for me. A blogger was asking in a public Skype (text) chat about any designers the few of us in the room could recommend. I immediately thought of someone who could work well with this blogger and I let the designer know of the bloggers interests. Soon the two met in the chat room and discussed a few details before taking the conversation completely private. In a matter of minutes I had brokered a deal that was worth a few hundred dollars. My designer comrade was very kind and eventually kicked back 50 bucks to me for recommending him.

These familiarities give acknowledgment to active users and keep the building blocks of communities secure. There is defiantly a social network out there for everyone but I find connecting in some way with them all can strengthen each individual profile I use.

Original here

10 Quick Fuel Efficiency Tips to Beat the Gas Crunch

The summer season of highway hell has officially arrived—and $4/gallon prices at the pump certainly aren't making life on the road any easier. As the next generation of hypermilers develops new ways to hack your car's fuel economy, our guest MPG geek breaks down the vehicle mods, driving habits and common-sense fixes you need to know to max out your tank.
Three or four days after buying my first car, I came to a disturbing revelation: Paying for your own gasoline is expensive! You don't realize just how much of a pain in the butt it can be—and how much junk advice is out there on the Web—until the entire financial burden rests solely on your shoulders. So I decided to geek out, learning everything I could about how to squeeze more miles per gallon into every fill-up—and share it with the rest of the pump-fearing masses.
Over the past couple years, I've tried every gimmick—acetone, fuel-line magnets, intake air swirlers, you name it—to top out on gas mileage with my 1991 Honda CRX. Needless to say, these gimmicks didn't get me anywhere—as Popular Mechanics' own Mike Allen has proved so many times, and he's debunking them once again. So I jumped on the fuel-economy bandwagon with the next generation of Mike Allens. Some call us hypermilers, but at my MPG forum and blog, we go by ecomodder—someone who combines car tweaks, behind-the-wheel techniques and some basic skills to cut back on trips to the gas station.

My new lifestyle has taken me from an average (but very unsatisfying) 30 mpg to an efficient 55 mpg in the last year, and the 70 mpg mark is looming on the horizon. With gas prices hovering around $4/gallon and forecasts scouting even worse news, getting even more out of every gallon of go juice has become even more important to me—and you can get in on the action, too.

Being a bit of a tech- and gear-head, some of my mods (such as converting my automatic transmission to manual, with my lean burning Japanese-market Civic VX engine just arriving in the mail for a transplant) might seem a bit extreme. Still, while I've beaten the 27-mpg EPA rating on my CRX by over 30 percent with the best practices below, there's so reason you can't go out and cut at least 10 percent before a summer road-trip weekend. These simple tricks will definitely help you save fuel—without ripping your car apart.

1. Track Your Mileage in Real Time

Knowing what your consumption looks like from tank-to-tank is important, but that's really not enough. Knowing what mileage you're getting in real time—being able to compare it to what you got yesterday or even 10 minutes ago—is the new way to drive these days.

Luckily, ecomodding combines the love of saving money and adding gadgets to my car. People with cars made after 1995 have it relatively easy: All you need to do is throw some money at a fuel-economy computer like the Scangauge, and you're instantly instrumented. For older cars, you may need to get your knuckles dirty by installing a vacuum gauge, which measures how hard the engine is working, or explore the growing world of DIY fuel-economy electronics, like the arduino-based MPGuino. Either way, a conscious mind combined with instant feedback should get you that instant 10 percent.

2. Only Brake When You Have to

I recently found myself fighting against a 20-mile backup passing through Hartford, Conn. The traffic wasn't exactly stop-and-go, but the pack was constantly speeding up and abruptly slowing down. So I did something a little different.

When everyone started taking off, I gave myself a 10- or 15-second buffer before hitting the gas and accelerating. By accelerating slowly and leaving space ahead, I could see the brake lights ahead before I expended a significant amount of gas, coasting right back up to the car in front of me. If I timed it just right, my Honda would meet the car just as it started up again, without using the brakes at all. My gas mileage actually went up to over 70 mpg while sitting in traffic!

3. Always Stay Alert on the Road

To drive without brakes or coast toward stops effectively, you have to know what's going on around you and be able to anticipate how traffic will play out. That means paying attention to the lights on your daily commute—heck, memorizing them—and trying to anticipate whether they will, say, turn green by the time you get there. And, again, always look several cars ahead to see if the brake lights are starting to come on in anticipation of a coast.

4. Drive Like You're on a Bike

OK, don't necessarily go 20 mpg out there, but try to imagine biking over the same route that you're driving on: When you're headed uphill, it takes a lot more effort to maintain speed than it does going down, so give the car a break and let yourself lose a few mph on the way up. Relax, you'll easily get it back on the other side. Your car burns the most gas when it's forced into high-load situations, so try to remember what makes biking difficult (like going really fast, accelerating really hard and speeding up hills), and make those situations as painless as possible by laying off the gas.

5. Make Your Car Your Own

Every mainstream passenger car is a compromise built with many different drivers in mind. Because there are all too few vehicles built specifically with gas mileage as the primary design element, there's a lot of improvement to be had in modifying your existing ride. Some people will do little things to improve aerodynamics, like adding a grill block, smooth wheel covers or rear-wheel skirts. Others will remove alternators, swap engines or convert their car to run all-electric. Either way, optimizing the design of your car is one of the most effective ways to improve fuel economy. After all, it was my automatic-to-manual conversion that really boosted me from the high 30s and low 40s to that 55-mpg territory.

6. Pump Up Your Tires—Really

One of the biggest areas in which manufacturers compromise fuel economy for comfort is in tire pressure. That 32-psi rating is mainly there to make the ride smooth as silk, even as you run over potholes and pedestrians. It can be controversial, but believe it: To get the best mileage out of your car, up the pressure to the maximum listed on the sidewall. The ride will get a bit rougher, but your rolling resistance will be reduced and you'll get better gas mileage. But don't just do it once and forget about it! Make sure to check your tire pressure every other time you fill up, or you could be leaking air and losing MPGs.

7. Use the Right Ride for the Job

It may seem like a no-brainer, but it may be the ultimate fuel-saver: Why take a gas-guzzling SUV to work when a smaller, more efficient fuel-sipper will do? And if public transportation or carpooling is an option, you'll not only save on gas, but also wear-and-tear on your vehicle.

8. Multi-Task With Your Daily Routine

Are you going out to run weekly errands, or are you just dropping one letter off at the post office and coming right home? You will essentially cut distance traveled and fuel usage in half by making all your stops at once, instead of taking lots of short roundtrips.

9. Plan Your Route Ahead of Time

Take the path of least resistance. That's one with fewer stoplights, not as much traffic and, yes, lower speed limits. Even if you save 0.1 gallons of gas each day, you'll save more than $130 per year.

10. Avoid Rush Hour at All Costs

These days, many offices are offering flexible hours, so errands can be run at any time. Try to avoid being stuck in traffic if all you have to do is leave 30 minutes earlier or come in 30 minutes later. And, yeah, set those alarms and take off for the beach early this summer. With those prices at the pump, you deserve it.

Benjamin Jones is the co-founder of Ecomodder.com.


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With Gas Prices Rising and the Planet Warming, Is It Time To Drive 55 Again?


Congress adopted a nationwide 55 mph speed limit law during the oil embargo of the 1970s and threatened to withhold highway funding for any state that didn't comply. It repealed the law 13 years ago, when oil was cheap and gas plentiful. But with prices going through the roof and everyone worried about global warming, there are increasing calls for Congress to bring back the double-nickel speed limit.

Advocacy groups like drive55.org say rolling the speed limit back to 55 will save fuel, reduce pollution and save lives. It seems logical, but not everyone is convinced slower speeds bring any real benefit, and the debate is heating up.

"Sheer physics tell you lower speeds equal better fuel economy, fewer injuries and lower emissions," said Justin McNaull, director of state relations for AAA. "But what happens when you change the speed limit is a little less clear."

It depends upon who you want to believe.

Connecticut adopted the nation's first vehicular speed limit 107 years ago today - setting the maximum speed at 12 in the city and 15 in the country - and people have been ignoring them ever since. Congress set the limit at 55 mph under the National Maximum Speed Law of 1974. The law was repealed 19 years later and the states allowed to set their own limits. Most of them bumped it up to 65 mph, although some went to 75 mph and there are stretches of highway in west Texas where you can cruise at 80.

The U.S. Department of Energy says gas mileage plummets above 60 mph and says every 5 mph above that speed is akin to paying an additional $0.20 per gallon for gas. But the American Heritage Foundation claims 12 years of 55 mph speed limits cut fuel consumption by just 1 percent. After Congress repealed the National Maximum Speed Law and 33 states raised their speed limits, the Cato Institute said traffic deaths dropped to a record low.

More than fuel economy and traffic deaths are at stake now. "Emissions increase pretty appreciably above 55," McNaull says. drive55.org claims Washington state would cut CO2 emissions by 10 percent if it cut its 70 mph speed limit by 15 mph. But even here, the evidence is debated. The Automobile Association in England claims reducing the speed limit from 30 mph to 20 on residential roads would increase CO2 emission by more than 10%.

drive55.org also says the average speed people travel on the highway has been rising for 20 years. McNaull notes that advances in vehicle deign, such as better windows and sound proofing have changed peoples' sense of how fast they're going, which is one reason people regularly exceed the posted speed limit. "Doing 60 mph in a 2008 vehicle feels a lot different than in the vehicles our grandparents drove."

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Real vs. Fake

Morpheus once asked Neo, “What is real? If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” So when it comes to breasts, can your brain interpret which electrical signals are emanating from the real deal and which are from the fakes? How was Kramer able to spot a fake Cuban cigar in just one puff? How can a woman tell if her husband spent two days’ salary on her wedding ring as opposed to the standard two months? When you’re busy popping that forehead pimple in the mirror, how can you be sure there’s not a team of sweaty detectives on the other side, watching your every move in a cloud of cigarette smoke? Here are some tips on how to discern between what’s real and what’s not.

Breasts
Less than 10 years ago you could spot a fake pair from a mile away, and like a tractor beam they could pull you in for the entire mile. Implants used to make women look like they had whoopee-cushions surgically installed in their chests. But with all the advancements in breast augmentation techniques and technology, the difference isn’t as ap-pair-ent. Pun intended.

Look
Most real breasts are not gravity-defying, perfectly round spheres looking like they’re ready to burst through any amount of clothing in their way. They usually have a natural sliding curve like a ski slope, and one is almost always slightly larger than the other (this difference is hard to tell while the bra is still on; further investigation may be required).

Depending on the skill of the surgeon, the nipple placement can also be an indicator to the breast’s authenticity. They could be too high, too low, or pointing in different directions.

Real breasts move and shape-shift according to the woman’s movement. For instance, if she bends over they should hang, if she lays on her back they should flatten. Fake breasts maintain their shape and are often motionless. One method to discover the truth is the self-explanatory “Trampoline Test”. Another method is the popular “Can I rest my beer on them test”.

Feel
Breasts consist of mostly fat and are therefore soft and squishable to the touch. Fake breasts are so firm you can bounce a quarter off them.

Cuban Cigars

Feel
One surefire way to tell the real Cuban from a “Dominican in a Cuban wrapper” is to roll the cigar between your fingers. Contrary to the world of breasts, a real Cuban will have a consistent firm feel to it, whereas a fake will have squishy spots.
The leaves are also an important indicator. Real Cubans are rolled with supple, soft whole leaves. Fakes are rolled with the brittle, shredded scraps of leaves which break and crumble easily to the touch. If the cigar passes the roll test, clip off an end and notice the tobacco. If it falls out, it’s definitely a fake made from factory floor tobacco shavings.

Look
A box of real Cubans will contain cigars of uniform chocolate color and equal length. Fakes, again due to the leaves, will have both light and dark colors, and are often varying in length.

On the box you should look for a seal from the Cuban government and a “Habanos” sticker on the cover with the black silhouette of a tobacco leaf. You should also check the bottom of the box for three burnt markings: Hababo S.A. is the mark of the official Cuban cigar export agency; hecho en Cuba, which means “Made in Cuba”; and totalmente a mano, which means “totally by hand”.

For a thorough comparison between real vs fake Cuban cigar boxes, please visit http://havanajournal.com/cigars/cohibas.

Diamonds

The closest thing to a real diamond is the cubic zirconia and the best way to figure out the difference is to bring it to a professional. If the $50-$75 appraisal fee is beyond your budget, you should read a book on better money management. But here are some simple tests you can perform at home.

Weight
A fake weighs approximately 50% more than a real diamond of the same size and shape. Nice to know, but unless you happen to have a diamond to reference, slightly complicated to demonstrate.

Transparency Test
Place the stone upside down on a newspaper. If the writing is legible through the stone then you’ve got yourself a fake.

Fog Test
Clean the surface of the stone then breathe on it. If the stone remains foggy for a few seconds, it’s a fake. A real diamond will clear up instantly. If the stone melts under your breath, the garlic you ate was very real.

U.V. Test
Place the stone under an ultra violet black light. If it shows a medium to strong blue fluorescence, it’s a real diamond. The only problem with this test is that a lack of blue fluorescence not only indicates a fake, but it could also indicate a diamond of very high quality.

Mirror

There was an email which circulated offering paranoid people everywhere a failsafe way to determine whether or not the mirror they were undressing in front of was in fact a mirror and not a looking glass for peeping perverts. You were to place your fingernail against the surface: if there is a gap between the image and the nail, the mirror is genuine; if they touch, you’re being ogled. This test is what’s really fake here, however, as it only determines whether the reflective part of the mirror is on the surface, or behind a sheet of glass. Two-way, or transparent mirrors are laminated windows which have been treated with Mirropane, a product which is reflective on one side while allowing light to pass through both sides. For the fake mirror to work the spy-ee needs to be in a brightly lit room, while the spy-ers need to be in the dark.

two_way_mirror.jpg

Two way mirrors usually act as windows and are therefore set into the wall itself. Real mirrors tend to hang and are not flush with the wall.

The real fingernail test is to tap the mirror with your fingernail. If it makes a hollow sound there’s a good chance it’s a fake mirror with an open space behind it.

Turn off the lights. If there is a hidden camera or a team of sweaty detectives you’ll be able to spot them through the glass. A flashlight will help to illuminate and expose the room on the other side.

two_way_mirror2.jpg

If you’re in a changing room and you don’t have access to the lights, simply go in for a closer look, cupping your hands around your eyes and getting your face as close as possible to the glass. If it’s a fake mirror you’ll be able to see right through it.

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