November 2007

Statistics of all types are located here. 

 The first is a great site that has all types of data including a life span calculator. It can also calculate by the year, month, and day the world’s death rate, birth rate, number of accidents, and much more. 

The site is dramatic in its overwhelming amount of data including how the military debt is rising each day.

 Are you an average teacher?

Immigration statistics through history

 Labor statistics

Bureau of Labor statistics

 Environmental statistics by country

Global statistics

2008 Volvo XC70: Inoffensive Transportation

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Volvo’s redone XC70’s main trait is to blend in and avoid controversy. Even though there has been major work done, the old XC is nearly identical in appearance and performance to the new one. Thus if you can forgo the extra safety features and larger cargo capacity a good deal on a 2007 model would be in order. Remember that these aren’t big sellers, but they do have a wonderful reputation for utility and safety that should appeal to those customers who like a bit of character in what they drive as well as having a practical bent.

To make more room the new model is two inches longer in the wheelbase and four inches longer overall. This makes for a very commodious interior, but one that lacks any type of exotic or cushy features. It is as if Volvo decided that being political correct was the way to attract new customers. There aren’t any sharp edges, puffy leather surfaces, glaring chrome pieces, and no electronic doodads, just a large cavern on wheels. Of course, that cavern has a host of safety features that has become a tradition from this Swedish company.

Standard equipment includes traction control, a hill decent program that permits the car to edge slowly down steep grades at six mile per hour, air bags nearly everywhere, tire-pressure monitoring, and a unique adjustable child’s seat that is clearly novel and needed. Also available are a collision warning with brake support that warns the driver if it senses a collision may occur with the car in front and automatically brakes if the driver fails to respond. We didn’t check this system or even challenge it, but it is nice to know it is there. Also available is a blind spot information program. This lets you know if there is a vehicle in your side mirror’s blind spots. Well worth it, but after testing if we found that there needs to be a more distinct warning buzzer that can be turned up or off by the driver.

Under the hood is a transversely mounted 235-horsepower, 3.2-liter; inline-6 that offers 236 lb.-ft. of torque. The engine is adequate, but when the wagon is fully loaded and you are driving in the mountains you are going to want a more power. It takes a while for the six speed automatic transmission to react to and when it does the engine’s response is tepid. The standard all wheel drive system eats up a lot of the propulsion and the cars 4400-pound weight doesn’t help either.

Mom’s view: A trip back in time, that was my reaction to the Volvo XC70. It is the least expressive car I have driver in ages. It is smooth, quiet, slow, and gentle. There isn’t an aggressive bolt in its character. You can’t even provoke it by pushing on its petrol pedal. The ride is on the bouncy side due to the long travel of its off-roadable suspension and any quick input from the steering wheel is taken with a grain of salt. It reacts, but not dramatically. For those who like to drive get the V70 wagon and you have a winner. This is the best XC 70 ever, but it isn’t overwhelming in terms of driver participation. Overall this Volvo is a fine car for ski trips, travel in areas of inclement weather, and for those who want the room of a SUV with the safety and practicality of a station wagon. It is well worth the $36,000 price especially when compared to the competition from Subaru that offers less interior room and fewer features for a similar price.

Safety features abound. High -intensity-discharge headlights that turn in the direction of the steering wheel are optional and terrific. They could fry that deer caught it the headlights. You also have over eight inches of ground clearance to safely ride over highway residue as well as snowdrifts and high centered dirt roads. There are dual stage front airbags, side-impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain airbags that extend lower than on previous models, a stability system, and the Volvo anti-whiplash system that helps prevent serious injury in rear-end collision. The longitudinal layout of the engine provides a greater front crush area. Volvo also has daytime running lights and adaptive cruise control as well as an available Personal Car Communicator keyless starting system. I found this feature very useful as it was easy to place the keycard in the ignition located high on the dash and press the start button to get underway. It was much better than a key system. Volvo also had what they call a Ready Alert Brakes and Fading Brake Support that are supposed to improve braking response time. I found the brake pedal feel a little soft, but when you were serious the XC responded well.

The interior is plain, painfully plain, except for a very unusual gas gauge that sits horizontally near the bottom of the center cluster. It is easy to read and leaves room for a larger speedometer and tachometer. However, the font sizes could be increased for ease of reading at night. The interior lighting is only average. The rear hatch isn’t too high or heavy to lift and close, but if you are left handed, as I am, you are out of luck because the grab handle to shut the hatch is on the right hand side. Why not one on both sides? The rear seats have a 40/20/40, and the outboard ones have an optional heating feature do the front seats. This is a blessing on cold mornings as the seat heaters work quickly and evenly. The car heater and air conditioning are slower to react and the controls are a bit more complicated. Fortunately, Volvo has gotten rid of its awful radio station all in one knob. The stereo selection if now simpler to use, but the knobs for the climate control and radio are easy to mix-up at first.

I like the look of the XC70 and feel it is superior to SUVs and even minivans for straightforwardness of use and safety features. It has a high seating position, is easier to load an infant, and has much greater visibility in all directions to vans and SUVS. My only disappointment was the relaxed nature of the engine’s response and the 18-mpg we averaged on regular. Only at highway cruising speed were we able to break the 20-mpg barrier.

Dad’s view: A very solid vehicle that appears unflappable on most every type of road. The transmission can be shifted manually, but the lack of engine torque makes this frustrating at times as there is just so much the inline six can do when confronted with a high gear ratio and two tons of Swedish steel to tote around.

The cargo area has aluminum rails and a tie-down system to secure boxes and you can order a special unit that pops up to help hold grocery bags in place. When we owned a Volvo wagon we just put some small cardboard boxes back there, but this unit is clearly better, especially since it folds out of the way.

I felt relaxed driving the XC70, not because it felt sturdy and was loaded with safety features, but because you just can’t be in a hurry with this wagon. The 3.2-liter inline six-cylinder engine with its dual overhead cam design and variable intake system needs 6200 rpm to produce its work, even though the 236 lb-ft of torque is ready at still high 3200 rpm. This means that unless you are willing to work the Geartronic manual shift acceleration is going to be languid. Volvo says the XC70 will arrive at 60 mph in just over eight seconds. We found that with a family onboard it was over 10 seconds. I found that it was best just to let this Volvo do its work at its own pace and relax.

Suspension is fully independent with MacPherson struts in front and a multilink system in the rear. Shock damping is very good considering that the engineers had to design a car that was capable of going both off road and on paved highway without sacrificing safety or ride comfort. You can even get a 3000 plus pound towing capacity with the wagon. Driving curves is best left to the brave as there is considerable lean. However, this Volvo is far more capable than it feels as it stays well grounded and the front wheel power pulls you through corners well, but beware that the understeering means you must be schooled in how to drive all wheel vehicles to get the most out of them.

Working woman’s view: There is a lot of room here and seating for four adults is a snap. The back seats could use a bit more headroom and the rear center position has a driveline hump to deal with. Pricing on our test vehicle was $37,520, but the major options can drive that up dramatically with a navigation system adding over $2000 to that total and the twin-screen rear entertainment system nearly $1800 more. Other options include a premium package with leather upholstery, sunroof, wood trim, auto-dimming inside mirror, a garage-door opener, heated and power driver’s seat, a desirable power tailgate, and a parking-assist system. You can easily find yourself with a $45,000 Volvo if you aren’t judicious in your option selections.

I’m a sucker for a gimmick, which is why I love the Chrysler minivan Stow and Go option. Volvo has now entered my realm of interest with its adjustable kid’s seats. They are located in both second row outboard seats. To use them just raise the seat bottoms to either of the two available positions based on the height of the child. One setting is for children from 45 to 55 inches tall and the other for those 37 to 47 inches in height. Designed for children from about four to 10 years of age or so, they are simple to use and an industry first for Volvo. The seats also allow children to look out the windows if you don’t order the DVD option with screens mounted in the front headrests to transfix their attention.


If you have a family this Volvo should be on your short list as if is so much user friendly than the gas hoggish SUVs and provide more ground clearance then minivans. I liked the looks, too, with its wide stance and easy to use interior and cargo areas. And I always like those full-height taillights that frame the rear hatch.

College going male’s view: The sound system needs to be improved and the option system is highly recommended for a car with such a large interior space. The Audio Package has a 650-watt amplifier, Dolby Pro-Logic II Surround Sound, 12 Dynaudio speakers, 6-CD changer, rear seat headphone jacks and Sirius Satellite Radio. Get it. The slim center stack area is clever, but not visually impressive. We didn’t get a car with the GPS, but if the salesperson can’t explain it to you in under a couple of minutes don’t order it. Handheld units are less expensive, easier to update, and are obviously portable. Volvo also has a Personal Car Communicator with Keyless Drive, two-way car communication and heartbeat sensor. We didn’t have this option, but it sounds very cool. Maybe it could monitor the heart rate of your date? Now that would be an option every guy would order.

The steering wheel is a little too thick and blocks the gauges after I found a comfortable seating position even though the steering column is adjustable. The sun visors don’t slide enough to provide good coverage and although there is an abundance of interior storage areas, the glove compartment light and map lights are barely adequate. Drop the key fob on the floor at night and you’ll see why.

This is one car that looks bigger on the outside than the inside. I love to camp and there is enough room to sleep in this Volvo, but the Volkswagen Passat wagon has more area and is much less expensive as is the Dodge Magnum, and it can also be order with all wheel drive, too. Both the Dodge and the Volkswagen also get better fuel mileage. In other words, the Volvo is for those who love the idea of the Volvo and need the reassurances that it represents. If I wanted a wagon I would wait for the new V70 from Volvo.

Family conference: We owned a Volvo wagon for nearly ten years. It was expensive to maintain, but we put over 400,000 miles on it without having a major problem. Even the turbocharger proved problem free. The 2008 Volvo XC70 is much improved and a fine family vehicle. It does everything expected of a station wagon and adds all wheel drive, built in boaster chairs, and a go anywhere ability. The only drawback was the fuel mileage and the power. Overall, this Volvo is easily one of the best vehicles for those who want the versatility and safety of a wagon with the utility of a SUV.

For a list of all vehicle websites go to

Things to do in the new year: Clean up your computer

By Alan Haskvitz

Everything from dust bunnies inside your computer to unwanted programs and other data that are slowing your processor can be cleaned easily. Here are some links and suggestions on how to do this quickly. However, remember that every computer has different applications and hardware so read the information carefully as I cannot take responsibility for these sites and procedures.

1. First update your virus detection or download one.

Free virus detection and clean-up sites

General technology links

Technology grants

Excellent computer links and lessons

Clear your browser cache to keep sites current.

2. Clear your inbox to zero messages and get it organized

3. Clean-up your desktop.

4. Creating a cleaner desk top

5. For windows users

For Mac users

General how to site

6. Clean-up your dock with Overflow or AppZapper. Get rid of applications you no longer need.

7. Review your contacts

Take a look through your email contacts. Get rid of those that are no longer valid or of no use. There are software programs that can enable you to put these in order by importance such as for Macs and

8. Take a moment for iTune culling

If you download music take the time to organize them by section such as jazz or best of the 1980’s and get rid of the songs you no longer want.

9. RSS improvement for blog users

Blogs take time and need to be kept current. Here is a how to site that will enable you to make the task easier.

10. Backup your data

On a dramatic note, the worst thing that can happen to you is data loss – so backup now! Buy yourself an external hard-drive and archive/backup all your documents, pictures, movies, and sites from the previous year using a tool such as SuperDuper! If you don’t want to fork out for a new HDD, connect your iPod to your computer and drag your most important data onto its icon; this will create a copy of it on your iPod to use as a backup.

Buy a large zip drive/external drive and download everything, including all applications, to it. Try using to help and to recover broken systems as well.

11. Rid your machine of unworthy programs.

Get rid of them carefully. Here is a program that is worth checking out that helps you remove them.

12. Clean up your start-up section as well as dealing with cookies and registry issues. If your computer is slow to boot-up it might be because you have too many programs that are opening.

Here is a how to for start-up issues

This is a free program that helps with that.

and others

13. Work on bringing order to your documents

14. Every time you use your computer the files are stored for future use whether or not you use them again. These temporary Internet files enable anyone to follow what you have been doing on the computer forever unless they are automatically deleted. Here is how to easily do this:

15.Sometimes you forget what you have downloaded such as music or photos. The best way to avoid these and other duplications that you might have on your computer is with WinMerge, It is ease to run and you’re probably going to be surprised as the duplicates you have onboard.

16. Take the time to map your hard drive. It doesn’t take much time and it reveals where you are using your disc space.

17. Clean out what you thought you had cleaned out

You may not realize it but when you delete files from your hard drive, the data is still there. You need to run a program such as Eraser to permanently get rid of this information. Make absolutely sure you don’t delete what you need. And, make equally sure that when you donate or junk your old computer you wipe its hard drive clean with a program such as Eraser or formatting.

18. Five steps to clean your computer files

You need to register to enable this software to look for unneeded material in your hard drive. As usual with downloads, beware.

19. How to clean-up after someone has broken into your computer

20. How to clean-up a computer registry

Six ways to clean up your computer

21. Finally, get rid of the dust and hair with this the information from this site:

22. After you have done all this to into the systems tools section of your computer and defragment it. This is essential for a better running computer. Other systems features include a disc cleaner which you can use to find unneeded material on your computer, too.

General technology links

Acura RDX: Putting the Sport in SUV

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For many years we have scoffed at the acronym SUV as almost without exception such a designation has been given an overweight, underpowered, gas swilling insult to the environment and common sense. Indeed SUV was an oxymoron. How could a utility vehicle, one meant for hauling heavy loads, going off-road, and still be able to carry a family be sporty? They weren’t. Of course, there was the ultra expensive and troubled Porsche Cayenne and the BMW X5, which had little interior space that were fast and handled well. But for $50,000 and up who is really going to take these insurance agent’s dream comes true anywhere but the local mall.

Along comes the $34,000 Acura RDX and changes the equation in terms of sportiness, although still lacking in interior room. It is a corner clinger and can get to 60 mph in about seven seconds. It is a tidy ride with a lot more hot rod than luxury vehicle feel. The wide tires generate a lot of interior noise and the turbocharged 2.3 engine that divulges 240 horsepower has a raspy note, but all this is forgiven when the RDX is pushed. The 260 pound-feet of torque are ready to play most anywhere on the RPM dial and the five-speed automatic can be manipulated with steering wheel paddles to keep everything on boil. In other words, this is truly a sporty utility vehicle if you are willing to put up with a smaller cargo capacity and gas mileage in the 18-mpg range on premium.

Mom’s view: Good brakes, small and easy to maneuver in traffic and crowded parking lots, the Acura RDX is a nice combination for a small family with a husband who was forced to give up his sports car.  There are some expensive options that can push the price into the $38,000 range, but might be worth it if this is your only car. Otherwise you get a leather trimmed interior, heated seats, satellite radio, alloy wheels, xenon headlights, ABS, heated front seats, ABS, and stability control as standard. There are also six airbags. Not my favorite, but at least it is more fun to drive than the BMW SUVs and those from the Japanese competition. However, that Subaru Forester isn’t a slouch.

Dad’s view: It takes more courage than I have to get the most out of the RDX. It is capable of outstanding skidpad times, but the nature of all SUVs is one of being top heavy and it is difficult to rid your mind of this when entering any corner. After a while the competence of this Acura starts to win you over and you become less intimidated by the past and more inclined to stretch this SUVs sidewalls. I really liked the RDX in many regards such as build quality, braking, and of course handling. The engine needs to be kept busy to get the most out as, although small, the RDX weights 3900 pounds. The only element that gave me pause was the gas usage. The best I could manage was 20 mpg and the more powerful, but not nearly as fun six cylinder Toyota RAV4 got 25 on regular fuel.

Driving the RDX is a study in restraint. It is ever so tempting to crush the turbo boast gauge only to see what is left in the 18 gallon fuel tank quickly disappear. In heavy traffic too much accelerator input can fool the automatic transmission, but this really isn’t a car for daily crowded commutes. This is a car for those who love to drive and don’t mind a bit of turbo lag. A perfect skimobile, this Acura has a driving feel that is nearly identical to the TL sedan, albeit a bit less refined.

Young working woman’s view: The seats are comfortable, the interior easy to master, the GPS workable, but the rear cargo area was quite small and the second row of seats doesn’t have a lot of foot room. I cute SUV with plenty of character and very willing to please, this is one SUV that I wouldn’t mind owning if it got better gas mileage.

College going male’s view: Easily the sexist of the SUVs, the Acura RDX is capable of being whatever you want it to be. The 18-inch alloy rims look good and the grip is outstanding. You have Acura’s all wheel drive system that can send torque to the front or back or right or left side and clings to every type of surface better than any SUV I have ever tested. Very appealing, but the price is too dear for those of my ilk. If you need less sport and more room try the Acura MDX which supplies 300 horsepower, an optional third row of seats, and gets nearly the same fuel mileage.

Family conference: The only SUV that we have tested that is sporty. The downsides are its initial cost, poor fuel economy on premium, and interior cargo space. It is clearly capable of playing tag with the BMW and Porsche and is much easier to live with for a small family.

For a list of all vehicle websites go to



Alan Haskvitz

The study of explorers can be used to stimulate a lot of student interest and has a foundation for some excellent integrated lessons plans that involve science, technology, geography, culture, history, and language arts as well as art.

Exploration in the news makes it a good tool to use for teachable moments as well as cause and effect relationships.

Here are some of the best links I have found.

A list of sites that have free printable maps

Female Explorers

A short biography on a huge number of explorers from early to space exploration is covered. For elementary use.

A general link site to explorers with the emphasis on North America

The Conquest of North America

Spanish explorers

Canadian exploration

Slow loading, but worth the wait

This site has both a list of explorers and countries explored. Good links and activities.

A large link site

Explorers as an integrated theme.

For grades K-8

Mariner’s Museum

A good site with the emphasis on the ships. Don’t miss the activity section.

An encyclopedia approach

This has explorers listed in alphabetical order with links.

Explorers by period and location

Very complete site.

European Explorers

Lessons and printables

Solar system exploration

How to become an astronaut

Excellent site for advanced thinkers

Space exploration and the problems it represents.

The Unconventional Explorer

Interesting site that offers lesson ideas on a variety of lesser-known explorers as well as the usual.

Ocean exploration

Compare and Contrast Explorer traits

2008 Gas Versus Hybrid Toyota Highlander Shoot-Out

There is simply no comparison between the 2008 Toyota Highlander and the previous model. The new Highlander is bigger in every dimension from horsepower to interior space without any loss in fuel mileage. The good news is that Toyota infused this SUV with a larger engine, smoother ride and an available third row of seats that is more habitable. The bad news is that the new version is not as nimble and much more isolated from road feel. And, yes, more expensive with the hybrid starting around $34,000 and the gas version priced at $27, 300.

To better provide potential consumers a realistic comparison we drove a 2008 Highlander Hybrid that was a preproduction model. That means that it was close to the real version, but lacked all of the features such as a sophisticated stereo and leather seating. The other vehicle was a loaded Highlander with all wheel drive. Despite the similar exterior looks, the only real differences are the taillights and grill; the interior is identical save for some hybrid monitoring instrumentation.

What is most dramatic is the exterior appearance of the Highlander hybrid. No longer the dowdy, nearly invisible SUV, the new model is sharper looking with large slab sides.

The Highlander stands taller on 19-inch rims, has 7.3 inches of ground clearance, and is about 4 inches longer and 3 inches wider. Standard features on the hybrid include leather-trimmed seats, a power rear door, AM/FM/six-disc in-dash CD changer, 19-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps and a third-row bench seat. If you order the optional GPS you can get the highly recommended backup camera monitor with a 3.5-inch screen.

Both vehicles use the new a V6 with a 3.3 liter in the hybrid and a 3.5 liter in the gas only version. Coinsidentially, both SUVs have the same listed horsepower at 270. The hybrid has a continuously variable transmission and the gas powered version a five speed automatic. The hybrid has an EV mode that allows it to travel at slow speeds for about five miles on just the battery. We had a pre-production model that didn’t appear to want to go any distance without the engine running. Indeed, our mileage for this early model was far less than the Hybrid Synergy Drive system’s 31 mpg in the city and 27 mpg government findings. After a few hundred miles of mixed driving the hybrid got about ten percent healthier fuel mileage. You can probably get 24 mpg with the hybrid.

The extra power from the hybrid’s battery pack makes it much faster and quicker reacting thanks to the electric motors that provide instant torque. On the highway the hybrid Highlander accelerators quicker than a V8 and with a very linear flow of power thanks to the transmission. It would take a Porsche SUV to keep pace, but that wouldn’t be for long as these German heavyweights suck gas nearly twice as fast the Toyota, and premium is highly recommended.

In real life use we seldom got over 23 mpg highway driving at a constant speed in Toyota’s gas version and our best with they hybrid was 25 in city driving. With the 17.2 gallon tank this makes a 350 mile range a possibility.  This is a heavy SUV registering over 4000 pounds for the two wheel model and 600 pounds more for the deluxe hybrid.. The maximum cargo capacity has increased from about 81 cubic feet to over 94 in the 2008 model. There are also a host of features and options from the power lift gate, to Bluetooth, to an auxiliary MP3 input port, to a backup camera, to a key recognition fob and a 5000-pound towing capacity package available.

Mom’s view:  I must be getting conservative in my old age, but I like the feel of the old Highlander better. It had a handiness that I liked, was very unfussy to park, and was easier to get in and out of. On the other hand, this review is a comparison of the new Highlander hybrid and the non-electric assist model. 

My first impression about the hybrid was that it rides quieter and has more features. The hybrid is quiet and the steering feel is weighted well. Side winds do affect both models as there are large flat sides on both models that are defenseless against parking lot dings or wind blasts. The brakes have a supple feel and the ride is plush, not unlike other SUVs in this market segment. The Ford Edge has a crisper feel, the General Motors Acacia a more responsive feel, and the Dodge Durango just feels old. Honda’s Pilot is still a player in this field. Outside of the Highlander none of the competition offers a hybrid, except the smaller Ford/Mercury Escape.

Safety wise the Highlander offers antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, there are also side-impact airbags for the front seats, a knee airbag for the driver, active head restraints and an electronic stability system. A hill-start assist that keeps a vehicle from rolling back on a steep hill and a downhill assist feature that controls the downhill speeds on slick roads are also part of the Highlander’s safety array. Overall, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Highlander its highest ratings, but the passenger side crash rating was not as high.

Since there is an optional third seat side curtain airbags are provided for all three rows of seats. Of vital interest to all SUV buyers is an improved vehicle stability control unit as all SUVs are top heavy and much more likely to roll over. That is why we always recommend a minivan as it is safer, gets better fuel mileage, and is easier to handle. Toyota has done its best to make this a safe vehicle including active headrests for the driver and front passenger with active whiplash protection.

Another valuable feature that I have found difficult to live without was the Smart Start and Entry keyless access. All you need is to have the key fob with you. The car instantly recognizes the fob, unlocks the door at a touch, and makes starting as simple as pushing the ignition button near your right knee. It’s no longer necessary to search for the key in your purse or pocket.

An advocated option is for the rearview camera because visibility to the rear is very limited. The new side view mirrors are quite good, but the best view is over the sharply descending hood where you can easily judge where the Highlander’s front bumper ends. This is very valuable in parking lots that simply have a white line to delineate the end of one parking space and the start of the next. If you want a quick test on who can drive a vehicle and those who simply aim their ride just check a parking lot and notice how many SUVs have their noses stuck into the parking space belonging to the vehicle in front of them. Most bad drivers park their vehicles based on where the other car is parking. The good forward visibility in the Highlander makes good parking easier, but the high ridge on the hood does limit the view somewhat.

Toyota has taken a handy Highlander, listened to the input of buyers, and created what they wanted in the form of a larger, more feature laden SUV. The problem with this method is that it always produces a past tense vehicle. What a buyer wants when gas is $2 a gallon is different than when gas is $4. The Highlander is a better vehicle than its predecessor, but the gas mileage should be improved and a rethink about the door arm rests that make it difficult to reach the window switches is due.

I was not impressed with the largeness of the model. However, I really liked the responsiveness of the hybrid version. Here was a powerful and very fuel friendly full-sized SUV that is exhilarating to drive. I highly recommend you go down to your Toyota dealership and drive both versions and ponder these questions beforehand. First, does your driving necessitate the need for the back-up camera? Secondly, are you willing to pay the extra for all wheel drive? Next, do you drive enough to justify the extra cost of the hybrid version and its many extra features? Finally, do you require this large a vehicle? The Toyota RAV4 is a terrific SUV that gets excellent fuel mileage, has a good-sized cargo bay, and only the spare tire hanging off the rear hatch prevents it from making it the best of its breed.

Dad’s view:  Much more of a looker, the Highlander is notable for its performance and lack of intrusive noise. There is little doubt that this SUV has gone through a significant testing program designed to reduce vibration and din. Even the usual source of wind noise, the side view mirror, has been significantly redesigned to smooth out the passing air. These are ample sized mirrors, too. Unlike the horrible mirrors on the Hummer H2 these are both useful and classy.

A much more sophisticated interior greets the customer and it has a Lexus-like feel and look. The controls are easy to read, reach, and use. The seats are all comfortable, although those in the optional third row of seating are stiff. Interestingly, the second row of seats are captain’s chairs. This reduces comfortable seating capacity by one, but Toyota’s Center Stow seat can be used as a third seat.  The captain’s chairs even have a track so that they can be slid forward to allow third row occupants more foot room.

If you need the extra seating the third row provides on a consistent basis get the Toyota Sienna, which is being offered at handsome prices.  In the Highlander the flat, two-person bench is adequate, but mainly for children. It is easy to raise or lower using levers that are simple to use. In the Sienna it is much more comfortable and easier to access. Of note is the concave mirror mounted on the front ceiling of the Highlander so that the driver can quickly keep track of what is occurring in the rear seats.

Driving both the Highlander gas and hybrid versions of the Highlander one is struck by how familiar they feel. Here is truly the generic SUV. The ride is absorbent and the interior space more than generous. Even with 55 more horsepower than the previous model, the Highlander’s new 270 horsepower 3.5 liter V6 get similar fuel mileage. The electronically controlled five-speed transmission is the only one available whether or not you order the front-wheel drive or a full-time 4-wheel drive version on the gas version.

Young working woman’s view: The pricing on the Highlander is quite dramatic. The base model starts around $27,500 and the loaded Hybrid Limited all wheel drive model is priced over $40,000. In between there is a Sport Model and a Limited. These are all minor issues as the basics of the Highlander are essentially the same. It has a powerful engine, an abundance of room, and a need to order options to make it handy for a woman. Those options start with the power lift gate. Without it the tailgate is heavy to pull down and difficult to reach if you are less than 5’3”.  The back up camera is a must and you need the GPS option to see it as without this option you just have a tiny screen as a monitor. If you order the GPS you must also order the JBL audio upgrade. The 19-inch rims and tires offer superior riding and handling and are also options. In other words, the Highlander has crept into Lexus RX territory in terms of pricing if you want these civilizing extra features.  I have known the Lexus RX and the Highlander is no Lexus.

College going male’s view: Too big, too bland, and expensive are my feelings. The RAV4 is much more tidy, is more fun to drive, and is easier to use when cutting through  traffic. In other words, the Highlander continues to be a family oriented SUV for those who like to blend in and can’t accept the fact that the Sienna is superior for family purposes. On the plus side is that this is a much-improved Highlander. The dash is vastly improved, the cupholders very handy, and the instrument readouts clear and attractive. The seats are first rate and the turning radius short at 39 feet enough to make mall parking less of a challenge. As for hybrid versus gas, I would go with the hybrid. For the extra money you are going to get a very fast SUV that gets good fuel mileage for what it is, especially in commuting situations. I think you’ll get the extra money you have to pay for the hybrid back at resale, too.

Family conference: If you don’t need the extra room and don’t mind the bland styling get a deal on a 2007 model. However, there is a great deal of improvement in the 2008 models. As for ordering the more loaded hybrid version, it is worth it if you need those extra features. The small improvement in fuel mileage isn’t that great and you have to be aware of additional maintenance costs. Our recommendation is stay with the base version, and if you don’t need the third row of seats the RAV 4 is much more nimble, more fuel efficient, and quicker on its feet. The RAV 4 and the Subaru Forester are good vehicles in the smaller crossover category.

For a list of all vehicle websites go to

Real life gas mileage about various hybrids

By Alan Haskvitz

The following is from László Kozma, a grad-student at the Helsinki University of Technology. He has created a most entertaining site. It enables the viewer to see who is editing Wikipedia and from where. Here is the site he created:

The section below if from his Frequently Asked section.“WikipediaVision is a visualization of edits to the English Wikipedia, almost the same time as they happen. The idea came after seeing flickervision and twittervision, both created by David Troy. WikipediaVision, however, was designed and implemented by me alone.

For each wikipedia edit I display the title of the article, the summary of the edit (if the person who made it gave any summary), link to the changes that were made to the article, geographical location of the wikipedia user and the time the edit happened.

How do you know about who edits what?

There is a public page on wikipedia that is automatically updated and contains all the recent edits, as well as the user name or IP address of anyone who edits a page.

How do you find out the geographical locations?

There are open APIs for translating IP addresses to their corresponding geographical locations. I have used the Google Maps API, and GoNew’s IP to country service. A big thanks to all of them.

Are the locations always accurate?

No. They are just as accurate as the services above. Some of the locations can be mistaken, for some addresses only the country name is found, for others the location can not be found at all.

Are all the edits displayed?

No. First of all, edits on wikipedia happen at a faster rate, than what could be comfortably readable, so I have to skip some of them. Second, a good part of the edits are done by registered users. Their IP address is protected by wikipedia, therefore I could only display anonymous edits. Thirdly, those edits, where the IP address could not be located are skipped. Fourth, edits that are similar or identical to recent edits are often skipped. This still leaves more than enough to be visualized.

Is this at least a statistically representative sample of wikipedia edits (whatever that means)?

No. There are many biases introduced. We only see anonymous edits. We only see edits from IP addresses that could be located. If the location found is very generic (such as European Union), then it is not visualized at all. Hopefully WikipediaVision still captures a general sense of what people are thinking about all over the world.

You say that the visualization is almost real-time. So why do you show stuff several minutes old?

From a technical perspective it wouldn’t be too difficult to show data with only a few seconds delay. I have to pre-fetch a few edits at once, however, because I am constrained from several sides: my monthly bandwidth with my hosting provider is very low, so I try to avoid having too frequent page requests from users; I am using online geolocation and I have a limit on the number of IPs I can geolocate every hour; I don’t want to make requests to too often, not to put unnecessary burden on their servers and risk being banned from the site. In my opinion, introducing a few minutes delay doesn’t hurt the experience too much.

Can you do a similar visualization for my site?

Contact me and maybe we can work out some solution. If your site is comparable to Wikipedia in how important and interesting it is for the general public, I might consider doing it for fun. Otherwise, I might have to say no, unless you make an offer I cannot refuse. Perhaps in the future I’ll make an open API to let people visualize their own stuff or release the whole thing under an open source license. Considering the amount of free time I have, that could take some time.

Who are you, anyway?

László Kozma, I am a grad-student at the Helsinki University of Technology. If you want more info about me, my projects, or want to contact me, check out my page.”