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by Trent Hamm 10.14.2008
Posted In: Green living at 02:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Cost of Fuel Efficiency

Over the past few weeks, my wife and I have begun seriously shopping for a replacement for my truck. There are two big reasons for this: First, my truck has a long shopping list of repairs that need to be done to it in the next six to twelve months, bills totaling about $5,000 according to two estimates; and second, we’re concerned about seating capacity for our whole family since we’re hoping for a third child in the next year or two (and my truck is already very cramped just with the four of us - yes, it’s possible right now, but very uncomfortable).

This isn’t a burning need. I don’t commute, so on the occasions when I do need a vehicle, I still use the truck for short trips to the library or the grocery store. Other than that, we use our car for everything. In short, this situation is making it possible for us to research the exact car we want and wait patiently to find it at the right price - the most cost-effective way to car shop.

Our biggest factors for purchasing a vehicle are interior space so our whole family can sit comfortably (including a potential third child), high reliability numbers from the manufacturer, a strong safety rating, and fuel efficiency. We don’t care that much about the glossy touches - I don’t really need a GPS in the dash, thank you.

One of our big challenges has been determining how much each of these factors is worth to us. With the reliability, safety rating, and comfortable seating, it’s hard to put a specific number on these issues - they’re more of a basic requirement before we’d consider purchasing a vehicle. Fuel efficiency, however, is another matter entirely. You can actually do some raw number crunching and see how much fuel efficiency is worth for you. So let’s dig in. Let’s assume that we’re looking at two more or less identical vehicles in terms of safety, reliability, and comfortable seating - we’ll use the 2008 Toyota Highlander and Toyota Highlander Hybrid for this example. The reason for this is so that we can get some real-world numbers to work with instead of hypotheticals.

According to MPG-O-Matic, the normal 2008 Highlander gets 17 city and 23 highway, while the hybrid gets 27 city and 25 highway.

So let’s walk through some of the basic premises here. First, how much do we drive in the city versus on the open road? We drive about a 50/50 split. Most of our day to day driving would be considered mostly city driving, but we occasionally go on three or four hour trips to visit family and those are mostly highway. You may be in a different situation, of course, with a higher portion of city driving. For us, though, that gives us an average of 20 miles per gallon for the normal version and 26 miles per gallon for the hybrid version.

Second, how many miles do we expect to put on the car? This is a question you should ask yourself before any car purchase. We intend to buy a late model used car with as few miles as possible on it and drive it until it starts breaking down. So, we would estimate 130,000 miles - an average of about 13,000 miles a year for ten years. Again, you may have a different assumption here - I’m just walking through my own assumptions for my family.

Third, where will gas prices go in the future? I expect an average of $5 per gallon of gas over the next ten years. Right now, it’s lower than that, but I expect gas prices to go up over the next decade quite a bit. Over a shorter term, I would estimate a lower price - maybe $4.50.

So how much will I be spending on gas in each model? For the normal Highlander, I’ll drive it 130,000 miles at 20 miles per gallon, paying $5 per gallon of gas. I just divide the miles I’ll drive it (130,000 miles) by the miles per gallon (20) to get the number of gallons I’ll use over the life of the car (6,500). At $5 a gallon, I’ll be spending $32,500 on gas for this model over its lifetime. For the hybrid Highlander, I’ll do the same: 130,000 miles, but at 26 miles per gallon, and $5 per gallon per gas gives me a total cost of $25,000 for gas over the lifetime of the car. Thus, the improvement of fuel efficiency in the hybrid is worth about $7,500 over the lifetime. I wouldn’t quite value it that high, since dollars today are worth more than they will be later on, but it’s a good thumbnail to work with. But is that $7,500 enough?

Edmunds estimates the value of a 2008 Highlander Hybrid at $31,687 to $37,363. Meanwhile, a normal 2008 Highlander goes in a range of $22,726 to $28,290. The difference? Almost exactly $9,000. In this case, the extra fuel efficiency isn’t worth the higher price (unless you believe gas will completely skyrocket way past $5 per gallon soon). You can use almost the exact same calculation to compare any two similar cars.

Let’s say I wanted to compare that 2008 Toyota Highlander to a 2008 Honda Pilot, which Edmunds prices at $23,476 to $30,736. The difference in prices would be about $1,000 with the Pilot being more expensive, but MPG-O-Matic reports a 22/16 split - meaning it’s a mile per gallon worse than the Highlander. For our purposes, the Highlander would be a better buy than both the 2008 Honda Pilot and the 2008 Highlander Hybrid.

Remember, though, gas mileage is only one factor in your calculations. You should determine what factors are important to you before beginning your search and make sure you’re selecting a vehicle that meets those qualifications. At a minimum for everyone, I’d look for a minimum level of reliability and then focus on the best fuel efficiency you can get for the buck.

Here’s your game plan. First, figure out what criteria are important to you. I encourage you to consider good reliability as a minimum requirement and also use fuel efficiency as another. Beyond that, make sure it fits your needs - and your family’s needs. If I were single, for instance, I’d probably just get a tiny, very reliable small car with strong fuel efficiency, as those are the only factors I would really care strongly about.

Second, filter through all cars based on those criteria. Identify as many models you can that meet your minimum needs. I would stick to brands that have a history of reliability (information you can easily find from auto magazines and Consumer Reports), but after that, it’s really a filter based on what you need. For us, we’re looking strongly at a van or SUV, simply because of the potential of three children.

Third, get prices and fuel efficiency numbers on those models. Sites like MPG-O-Matic and Edmunds are great sources for numeric data. You may also want to cruise a few local dealerships and get some idea of their asking prices (recognizing that they’re negotiable to an extent) and also get an idea of the value of your trade-in and of your down payment. Once you have that, start crunching numbers and find the vehicle that’s the best value for you. We’re still in this process, but as you’ve seen above, the Highlander is definitely in the running (though we’re looking more at 2006 and 2007 models, late model used). Good luck!

TRENT HAMM blogs regularly on personal finance issues at The Simple Dollar.

by Stephen Carter-Novotni 12.04.2008
Posted In: Wellness at 09:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

BBC: Antioxidants Won't Slow Aging

Researchers from University College London say that there's no clear link between antioxidants and slowing the aging process and that the 50-year-old theory that aging is a result of cell damage caused by free radicals is wrong.

From the BBC:
Dr Gems said: "The fact is that we don't understand much about the fundamental mechanisms of ageing - the free radical theory has filled a knowledge vacuum for over 50 years now, but it doesn't stand up to the evidence. "It is clear that if superoxide is involved, it plays only a small part in the story - oxidative damage is clearly not a universal, major driver of the ageing process."

He said a healthy, balanced diet was important for reducing the risk of many "old age" diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis, but there was no clear evidence that eating antioxidants could slow or prevent ageing, and even less evidence to support the claims made by antioxidant pills and creams.

I think this is something we could see coming for some time. There's no Fountain of Youth or miracle cure for aging and death. Even if geneticists arrive at DNA-based solution, it's not going to be perfect and it won't keep you young forever. A healthy lifestyle, moderate diet and happy disposition may be a harder road, but it's also the only road that leads anywhere.

[read more]

by 06.16.2010
Posted In: Pets at 04:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Pet Pantry Has Benefit

Humans and animals alike are invited to attend an event Saturday to benefit the Cincinnati Pet Food Pantry.

Kibble & Ritz 2010 will be held from 6-10 p.m. at the dog park located at the Red Dog Pet Resort and Spa in Oakley. The event will feature booths by various local businesses and offer items for purchase including wine, crepes and Belgian waffles. A raffle with more than 20 prizes, a “Crack the Safe” game and other activities also will be held.

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by 12.16.2010
Posted In: Parenting, Wellness, Money at 12:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Help Feed Kids through Public Radio

With the unemployment rate at near-record highs, about 70 percent of Cincinnati Public School students either receive free or reduced-cost lunches, indicating the dire need of local families. To help ensure as many children as possible have enough food to eat when not at school, Cincinnati Public Radio has partnered with two organizations to make donations go farther.

Every pledge made Friday to WVXU (91.7 FM) or WGUC (90.9 FM) will feed four Cincinnati children through Childhood Food Solutions and Green B.E.A.N. Delivery.

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by Bart Campolo 10.20.2009
Posted In: Spirituality at 10:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bart Campolo on Fear and Bitterness

It is Sunday night, and I am suddenly awake at the crack of too-close gunfire. I creep to the window without turning on the light, more curious than afraid until I remember I don’t know if my daughter and her friends are home from their movie. Looking out, I see three men spread out in the backyard we share with our neighbors, one moving slowly past the patio furniture where we had a child's birthday party that afternoon, the other two crouched by the trampoline my son and his football buddies slept out on last week. Strangers in our space, clearly visible in the moonlight, probably carrying guns.

My wife, Marty hands me a phone and the 911 operator keeps asking how many, what color, how old, how many shots, until I hiss at her to hurry up and send a car because they're still out there, calling back and forth to each other, pointing at the apartments on the other side of our back fence. They move into the side yard, where they regroup for a moment, and then they walk out our gate and down our front steps, cross the sidewalk past three women they seem to know, and get into a gray, late-model sedan parked behind our minivan, where my daughter was supposed to have parked. God, don't let her come home now, I think, as I keep narrating to the 911 lady, both of us knowing the information doesn't really matter. The police always come too late. Sure enough, the gray car slowly pulls away, coming to a maddeningly full and legal stop before turning the corner and blending back into the city night. The three women’s loud voices trail off in the other direction. It is quiet again. I am not afraid anymore. I am furious.

Those lousy ghetto bastards—my exact words at 2 a.m.—brought their ignorant violence into our yard on purpose. They weren't running away from anything. They had a plan. They brought an audience. I don't know their names, of course, but I know them just the same, because once they get that careless, they are all the same. Before I can stop myself, I hope aloud that they drive themselves off a bridge before they make any more babies. Across the room, Marty wonders aloud what happened to the kind and hopeful man who brought her to this place four years ago, in the name of Love. Finally, we turn on the light and call our daughter. Until she gets home, there is no use trying to sleep.

Hours later, everyone else is safe in bed, but I am in the bathroom, sitting, thinking, wishing I could pray. Beside the tub, Marty has left a book of poems. Reading them, I gradually forget who and where I am. And then I find this:

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn,
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
To buy me, and snaps the purse shut,
when death comes
like the measle-pox
When death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
And I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
And each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it is over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

And suddenly, just as suddenly as those gunshots awakened me, I too don’t want to end up simply having visited this world, or even this neighborhood. I don’t want to end up angry or bitter. No, I want to believe in my heart that each life, and each name, and each body is indeed something precious, both to God and to me. I want to remarry amazement.

I sit alone for a long time, silently thankful for Mary Oliver, the poet, and for Marty Campolo, my conscience in many ways, and for Grace herself, who gives us all our second chances, and then I go back to bed. Tomorrow is Monday, and we in the fellowship will be eating our supper together.

I wrote this up the day after it happened, early in the summer. Honestly, two days after that, life on Hemlock Street went back to normal, which is to say, life for us and our friends here went back to being pretty terrific. We might be more fearful if such thugs came that close again, or if they were aiming at us, but they haven’t, and they aren’t, so we’re not. If you really want to scare us these days, forget bullets and focus on that force of evil which truly threatens to destroy the good life we share here in Walnut Hills: Bedbugs. Think I’m kidding? Read next month’s letter.

BART CAMPOLO is a veteran urban minister and activist who speaks and writes about grace, faith, loving relationships and social justice. He's leader of The Walnut Hills Fellowship.
by Stephen Carter-Novotni 10.23.2008
Posted In: Wellness at 07:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Pneumonia Vaccine Recommended for Smokers

If you're a smoker, it's a probably a good idea for you to be vaccinated against pneumonia and meningitis.

The Cincinnati Enquirer has this AP story explaining why:
Studies have shown that smokers are about four times more likely than nonsmokers to suffer pneumococcal disease. Also, the more cigarettes someone smokes each day, the higher the odds they'll develop the illnesses.

Why smokers are more susceptible is not known for sure, but some scientists believe it has to do with smoking-caused damage that allows the bacteria to more easily attach to the lungs and windpipe, said Dr. Pekka Nuorti, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pneumococcal infections are considered the top killer among vaccine-preventable diseases. It's a common complication of influenza, especially in the elderly, and is considered responsible for many of the 36,000 annual deaths attributed to flu.

While we're on the subject of vaccinations, now's a good time to get your flu shot before flu season hits.

The American Lung Association has this handy guide to finding flu clinics. Just punch in your zip code and out comes a list.

by 04.09.2010
Posted In: Wellness at 12:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Free Cardiac Screenings Offered

With so many people laid off or fired these days, one of the worse consequences is some have lost their health insurance. As a result, they are foregoing routine medical care and testing they might otherwise receive to warn of potential problems.

When the Kentucky Coalition of Nurse Practitioners & Nurse Midwives holds its annual convention later this month in Covington, participants will offer free advanced cardiac risk assessment screenings to the public.

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by Bart Campolo 12.22.2008
Posted In: Spirituality at 02:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Make Goodness Recession-Proof

For as long as I have been writing Christmas letters, I have assumed the folks reading were better off and more stable than our neighbors here in Walnut Hills. This year, however, I am not so sure.

Oh, I know the economic crisis hasn’t brought you down to worried-about-your-next-meal status, but I also know that most of us don’t measure our well-being in absolute terms.

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by 03.11.2009
at 09:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Glaucoma and You

by Trent Hamm 11.11.2008
Posted In: Organization at 01:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Review: The Myth of Multitasking

This book attracted me from the title alone - The Myth of Multitasking is something I’ve observed over and over again in my own life. In fact, I’m observing it right now - I can write better and faster if I shut down all distractions: my email program, my web browser, my instant messaging programs, my phone, and my office door.

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