Monthly Archives: August 2014

Automotive Experts Analyze Which Hybrid Cars Are Worth the Price

ChicagoThe hybrid car industry is still fairly young, but that hasn’t kept it from becoming one of the fastest growing industries across the world, and from developing models which are able to compete seriously with well-established auto companies. Hybrid cars first drove into the American auto industry in 1999 when Honda introduced its revolutionary Insight Hybrid model, and since then, customers have flocked to hybrid car dealers in droves. But many customers are now wondering, with the energy-efficient features that many new cars have today, are hybrid cars really worth the price?

Research collected from MojoMotors explains why hybrid cars are so much more expensive than traditional cars — in fact, they can be as much as 20 percent more expensive in regards to upfront costs. This price tag is a result of the complex systems used in hybrid vehicles, the expensive batteries (which need to be replaced regularly), and the skilled engineering work that isn’t necessary in traditional cars. In their analysis of the total hybrid car cost, MojoMotors took into consideration the initial cost of the car, combined with maintenance fees and gas bills over time. So what did MojoMotors determine after their data was collected?

Unfortunately, analyzing savings of hybrid cars is just as confusing as the car system itself. Some hybrids save as little as six MPG when compared to their non-hybrid model, while others have up to a 17 MPG advantage over their non-hybrid counterpart. Some cars pay for themselves once you drive them home from the dealership, while others need to rack up over 200,000 miles before hitting the break-even point.

Ultimately, this research simply shows that not all hybrid cars are equal, and that each person’s driving habits should be taken into account when considering if a hybrid car is a good choice. Even if drivers find that a current hybrid model isn’t worth the price, it seems likely that the industry will only keep evolving and keep making more hybrid models available to fit anyone’s needs.

New App Makes Social Interactions Less Stressful

smartphone in hand with blank screenThere seems to be a mobile app for everything these days, but it seems as though the app industry has been geared toward the extroverts rather than the introverts — leaving a lot of people feeling more marginalized than before the mobile revolution even began. I have to post a picture of myself on Tinder and talk directly to people? Um, no thank you. Well, one Sacramento-based company saw this gap in target audiences, and has created a new app that might just make social interactions feasible for the more anxious ones.

The app, called Swiggler, allows users to buy drinks for others at local eateries, even if the recipient isn’t part of the Swiggler community. All the buyer needs is the email address, phone number, or Swiggler username of the intended recipient — and the buyer doesn’t even have to be present at the venue in order to send a drink over. For those who feel uncomfortable being recipients of free drinks (but feel even more uncomfortable turning them down directly), the recipient is able to re-gift the drink without the buyer knowing, and the drink can be redeemed at any time in the future.

A few eateries around the Sacramento area have already begun participating in the program, including LowBrau, Kupros Craft House, Kru Contemporary Japanese Cuisine, and Azul Mexican Food and Tequila Bar. The app is currently available on iPhone and Android mobile devices, and caters specifically to the Sacramento region.

Although the prevalence of mobile devices makes it easier for people to connect with each other, it’s worth noting that there are still many people who prefer to have some level of discretion and anonymity when it comes to social interactions. Swiggler isn’t just an app that takes advantage of so many local searches being performed on mobile devices — it also allows users to tactfully meet new people and make sure that they aren’t making others feel uncomfortable. And Swiggler’s support of local businesses can’t be ignored either; if this app is able to gain a strong following it Sacramento, it may just prove to be a selling point for independent neighborhood businesses that struggle to compete with chain eateries.

Google Now Considering Low Quality Guest Blogs to Be Spam

smartphone in hand with blank screenConsidering the fact that about 81% of U.S. businesses claim their company’s blog is a crucial asset, it’s easy to see why content is still considered king of online marketing. However, Google recently knocked the king down a peg with its latest update.

The most powerful search engine in the world recently updated its Webmaster Guidelines, quietly adding “low-quality guest blog posts” as an example to the “little or no original content” section.

This isn’t the first time Google has done something like this. In the past, they’ve taken action time and time again against guest blog link networks and other shady link building tactics.

In fact, Matt Cutts, head of Google’s web spam team, declared that guest blogging for search engine optimization purposes was dead back in January. Naturally, his statement then caused a panic in the SEO community, just as this new change is now.

More recently, Google went after guest blogging for those very reasons, but it seems that they’re now trying to make a statement by dubbing low-quality guest blog posts as spam.

The question many are asking now is if this subtle change means that sites will see penalties for guest blogging specifically around content spam, specific to links, or both.

However, if the purpose of a guest blog post is to generate unique, helpful, relevant content, and not to build another link with low-quality, spammy content, then there’s no reason to worry. All these changes mean is that Google will now be punishing marketers who want to take short cuts and cut corners.

So long as bloggers continue to do their thing with the right intentions, no penalties will be made against them.

States With Legalized Marijuana See Big Tax Profits and Little Competition

Since legal marijuana first began selling in Washington as of July 8, $1 million in related taxes have been collected. This number could easily increase over the next several months as more growers and retailers are granted their licenses.

The tax rate on marijuana is high in Washington — 25% is collected at each stage. Going from a producer to processor to retail to consumer can potentially add three stages of taxing. Because demand is so high and competition is so low — with only one other state, Colorado, currently allowing the sale of legal marijuana — the tax rate is doable.

Right now, much of Washington’s industry is held back simply by the lack of licenses. Many growers’ first crop has already sold out, which has helped keep prices above black-market rates. With time, the price will likely fall down to $20 per gram. Around the state, hundreds of businesses are still waiting for approval before opening their doors.

Colorado is expected to reel in Chicago Skylineeneral/2014/07/30/national-marijuana-legalization-how-much-tax-reven.aspx”>$30.6 million in marijuana-related taxes just this year. Additionally, because the states are the only two legal options so far, they benefit from increased levels of tourism, which means more revenue for residents, and more taxes for the state generated from restaurant visits, hotel stays, and more. Once Washington gets the ball rolling, it is expected to make $63 million annually in marijuana taxing.

So far, the greatest competition for these states is not each other, but the black market, which still offers lower prices in most areas. Studies have shown that 90% of buyers know when a cheaper competitor exists, and weigh that as part of their decision. However, many residents and visitors are eager to try a guaranteed legal product, and are willing to pay the difference in order to do so.

Oregon and Alaska are both voting on legalization later this year, and an estimated 54% of Americans overall now approve legalization. It is likely that several states will legalize marijuana within the next 10 years, but for now, Washington and Colorado reap the benefits of being the only real options.

New Estimate Places Greenhouse Contribution of Keystone XL Much Higher Than Before

According to a new study from researchers at the Stockholm Environmental Institute, the Chicagotulsaworld.com/ap/business/study-keystone-pipeline-carbon-pollution-more-than-figured/article_7c689406-72b0-5e6b-a281-306bd8a0ef8e.html”>Keystone XL pipeline, if it is laid out, will contribute four times more to global warming pollution than what was predicted earlier this year by the State Department. The U.S., says the study, failed to account for the drop in price that would result from the pipeline — a price drop that would inevitably increase consumption. The study estimates that oil prices would drop $3 per barrel once the pipeline is operational.

The State Department had estimated in February that greenhouse gas emissions owing to the pipeline would be between 1.3 million and 27.4 million tons. Researchers involved with the study, though, say that the pipeline would contribute as much as 121 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, creating a significant impact on world greenhouse gas emissions. The pipeline, if completed, would stretch from western Canada to the Texas Gulf coast.

The State Department has so far declined to comment on the institute’s research. In the past, President Barack Obama has said that the U.S. would only move forward with the pipeline “if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” The study basically suggests that the pipeline’s addition would wipe out multiple gains made by policies working to reduce pollution.

The reaction from other organizations has been mixed. University of Sussex economist Richard Tol said that the impact is negligible. Compared to the worldwide annual release of 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide, it’s only a drop in the bucket. The American Petroleum Institute believes the study is pointless, according to spokeswoman Sabrina Fang, since the tar sands will be developed and shipped in some way no matter what, even if they are not shipped by pipeline.

Already, the Keystone XL has been among the most heavily debated projects of Obama’s time as president. Although researchers and energy companies are exploring alternative sources of energy, oil and fossil fuels still remain the top sources for powering everything from homes to automobiles. There is hope, though. Already, solar installations power about 6,000 homes in the U.S., and are reducing CO2 emissions by 27,000 tons annually.

Officials Hope to Rebuild One of Chicago’s Most Dangerous Roads

According to insurance industry statistics, the average U.S. driver will inevitably get into at least one car accident every 17.9 years. However, just because the insurance industry says you’re bound to get into a car accident doesn’t mean you’re bound to cause a car accident.

Sometimes, a road can be so bad that at times it’s seemingly impossible to avoid an accident, as may be the case with the Gold Coast neighborhood.

According to a recent report from the Chicago and Illinois departments of transportation and the Chicago Park District, the Oak Street tunnel leading, which is still used by about 22,000 people a day, should be considered “functionally obsolete.”

There are several problems with the road. Firstly, the maximum speed at which a car can drive safely there is 30 MPH, yet drivers have been clocked going as fast as 68 MPH. What’s more, the lanes are narrower than the average road’s, measuring only 10 feet wide.

Between 2007 and 2011, there were more than 750 accidents there, half of which were collisions with barrier walls.

There’s also Lake Shore Drive to worry about, which is so bad that there’s an average of three crashes per day there.

Now, the Illinois and Chicago departments of transportation led “Redefine the Drive” is trying to solve the long-standing issues of the Gold Coast area.

Currently, the project is in the first of its three phases that will identify the necessary changes to the stretch of road and ultimately select a plan. According to Jae Miller, a spokesperson with the initiative, this selection won’t be made until late 2016.

The cost of the whole project is still up in the air, though. Miller said that cost will definitely go into the hundreds of millions, though. Once funding for the project has been obtained, construction will begin in 2020.

“Anything to lessen [the number of crashes] I think would be a huge benefit to all of our resources, from the police to everybody who is dealing with an accident per day there,” said Gail Spreen, president of the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents.

In the meantime, motorists would be wise to drive as safely as possible. According to Edmunds.com, the best ways to avoid accidents include avoiding the fast lane, scanning the road ahead, and being wary of blind spots.

Eat and Drink Your Way to Good Oral Health

We all know the basics of good oral hygeine: brushing and flossing daily, and visiting your dentist for regular checkups. But did you know that the food you eat and drink also has a big impact on your oral health? You may see your dentist twice a year, brush twice and floss once a day, but if you are not eating the right foods, you could be damaging your teeth and gums. You may think that eating healthy and avoiding fatty junk foods and sugary sodas are all you need to do to keep yourself healthy. But it’s very important to keep your dental health in mind, as well. The same foods that are good for the rest of your body may not be very good for your teeth. We’ll list the do’s and don’t’s to keep your mouth healthy and happy. The Good Stuff Crunchy Vegetables and Fruits – Crunchy veggies and fruits, such as celery, carrots, and apples, require more chewing than softer foods. All this chewing causes your mouth to produce more saliva, which helps to reduce the bacteria that form plaque. This is why celery is sometimes called “nature’s toothbrush”! Milk – Milk, as we all know, does a body good. But it also does a mouth good, because the calcium and other minerals it contains build strong teeth and bones, including jaw bones. Tap Water – Bottled water may be all the rage, but the truth is that tap water is very beneficial to your dental health. Almost all tap water contains fluoride, which strengthens teeth. Fluoride is one of the things that bottled water companies work so hard to remove. Tea – A University of Illinois study found that drinking black tea reduces the amount, size, and stickiness of the plaque in your mouth. The Not-So-Good Stuff Dried Fruit – Your doctor may encourage you to add more fruit to your diet, but your dentist will probably discourage dried fruit. Dried apricots, prunes, figs, mangos, and pineapples are full of natural sugar, and the stickiness will become stuck between your teeth. Dark Foods – Red wine, tea, and coffee are indulgences for a lot of people, but those drinks, as well as foods like yellow curry and dark tomato sauce, can have an effect on the whiteness of your teeth over time. Citrus Fruits – Citrus fruits like lemons or limes can add great flavor to a variety of dishes, and some people even find sucking on a lemon to be refreshing. This is not a good move for your teeth, however, as the acids in these citrus fruits will slowly eat away the enamel of your teeth. Other acidic foods like tomatoes and vinegar have this same effect. Sports Drinks You may love the energy boost that energy drinks provide you with during the day, but a big reason for that energy boost is sugar. Energy drinks contain a lot of sugar, and are highly acidic, and drinking them without rinsing with water afterward puts you at risk for tooth decay. Starchy Foods Starchy foods are often the most crave-able snacks, but they can get trapped between your teeth. Starchy foods convert into sugar, which will be a delicious snack for the bacteria in your mouth, leading to tooth decay. Your oral health does not just affect your mouth, it can affect the health and well-being of your entire body. Studies suggest that oral bacteria, and periodontitis (severe gum disease,) might play a role in some diseases. Poor oral health can contribute to endocarditis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, and can make pregnant women deliver early, to babies with a low birth weight. It takes very little time and effort to practice good oral health, and the benefits of doing so make it well worthwhile. So in addition to your brushing and flossing, make sure you are mindful of the food and drinks you are putting into your mouth.