Monday, February 7, 2011

What are some simple ways to maximize gas mileage?

Here are a few techniques I've used to maximize gas mileage:

- Shift into neutral while idling (maintaining your foot on the brake). Idling in D will use slightly more fuel than idling in neutral (you can see higher RPMs if you have a tachometer.) Shift back into D when you're ready to go. fyi, the Honda Civic Hybrid takes this step further, but shutting off the engine at stops. Honda calls this "idle-stop." Taking a page out of the Civic playbook, I will turn the car off if I stop where I would otherwise expect to idle for more than three or four minutes.

- Don't drive with a roof rack unless you absolutely need it. Even an empty roof rack will increase your drag and rob you of miles per gallon.

- If you have an overdrive button on your shifter, be sure you engage it. I imagine many people who have no idea what that button is for. It shifts the car into a higher cruising gear that allows the engine to operate at lower RPMs.

- If I'm driving downhill, I like to coast. This is called freewheeling. You can save fuel with freewheeling, but the technique has potential hazards. If you get going too fast you can lose control. Also, if you rely solely on the brakes to slow your car on a steep slope, you could overheat them until they fail. Also, if you don't reengage the transmission before you slow down, you'll spend your fuel savings accelerating back up to speed.

Many states make it illegal to coast. For trucks, freewheeling is a particular no-no. With their added mass, big rigs are exponentially harder to control on a downhill. That's why you smell burning brakes on highway downhill grades frequented by 18-wheelers. Big rigs need both the engine and the brakes to maintain control. It's not such a problem with my little Honda Fit. In fact, with lots of downhill road ahead of me, I tallied more than 45 mpg from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Flagstaff, Arizona. (I'll typically get 37 mpg on the highway, and about 25 around town.)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

When did the Great Recession officially begin and end?

It's now 2011. We've experienced a terrible financial collapse, resulting in an economic recession that's destroyed millions of jobs. When did this recession begin and end? The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) makes that call. Founded in 1920 and headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the private, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization tracks economic expansions and contractions (recessions), where contractions start at the peak of a business cycle and end at the trough.

NBER defines a recession as "a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales." NBER uses multiple indicators, rather than any single measurement of activity.

NBER's indicators tell us that this recession began in December of 2007 and ended in June 2009. At 18 months in duration, this recession was the longest in the post-war era.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Can I Resell Promotional CDs and Books I Received or Purchased Second-Hand?

If you've ever bought a CD that had a label "Promotional Copy, Not For Resale," now you can resell it legally. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed the rights of an eBay seller to resell promotional CDs under Copyright's "first sale" doctrine, which "prevents a copyright owner from restricting further sales or uses of a work once title has passed."

The announcement of this ruling caught my eye, because I've accumulated several promotional book titles that deserve to be enjoyed by new readers. The CD ruling would seem to apply equally to books. Joe Gratz, lead counsel for the defendant (who was sued by Universal Music Group (UMG), summarized the ruling, "Once a copyrighted work is freely given, the copyright holder isn't in charge anymore. The copyright owner can't stop you from selling it or lending it to a friend."