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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Donate to Tornado Victims

Humanist Crisis ResponseI'm sure everybody has heard of the tornado that hit Moore Oklahoma by now. But maybe you haven't done anything to help the victims, yet. If you haven't, here's a worthwhile way to donate to charities that will help out:

Monies donated at that link will go to Operation USA and the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.

Image made by combining sources from: Business Insider Australia and Foundation Beyond Belief.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

VW XL1 + E-mail Debunking - China's New "Little Car"

I got an e-mail the other day about a new car supposedly being made in China. The e-mail was partly true, and partly not true. But the truth is so cool that I can't resist blogging about it.

The e-mail claimed that a new car had been developed in China, with a bit of input from Volkswagen, and that the car got phenomenal gas mileage at an unbelievably low price. Well, the price point is unbelievable, and the car was developed by Volkswagen in Germany, not be a Chinese company with input from Volkswagen, but the gas mileage claim is real.

Here are some pictures from the e-mail. These are for the concept prototype, not a production version. The concept was known as the VW 1-Litre Concept Car. The 1-litre designation is because the goal of the car design was to be able to go 100 km on 1 liter of fuel. The car managed to meet that goal, needing just 0.99 liters for 100 km, or to put that in terms familiar to us U.S. readers, it achieved 238 mpg.

VW 1-Litre Concept Car

VW 1-Litre Concept Car

VW 1-Litre Concept Car

Image Credit: Unknown

Volkswagen had a second prototype similar to the original one but with several improvements, and then moved on to a production version. The production version is named the XL1. Here are a couple pictures of it.

VW XL-1

Image Credit: Wikipedia

VW XL-1

Image Credit: Car and Driver

According to Volkswagen, this production version only needs 0.9 liters to travel 100 km, or in other words, it gets 261 mpg. That's pretty amazing. And it sounds like VW is planning on putting the car into production. The catch? It's not cheap. According to a Car and Driver article, the anticipated price is around $50,000.

For those interested in reading more about the car, here are a few good articles on it. And for those interested in the original e-mail that prompted this entry, I'm including that below the fold.

More Info:

Continue reading "VW XL1 + E-mail Debunking - China's New "Little Car"" »

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Misleading Image of Bloggers

Just a short entry today, but it's something I've been thinking about for a little while now. It seems to me that if you only judged bloggers by what they blogged about, you would have a very biased image of that person. Take me, for example. I write an awful lot about religion and politics. And granted, I may think about religion more than most average people, and I'm always a little bit excited to talk about it if the topic comes up in conversation, but that's only if it actually comes up in conversation. If you came over to hang out with me at my house or grab a beer at the local bar, chances are pretty good that I'd never even mention religion or politics. I write about them here because partly because it's an outlet where I can express my opinions, but also because it's something I think people might actually be interested in reading. Nobody except my friends and family really cares what TV shows I've been watching, what I've been eating for supper every night, the chores I did around the house last weekend, the grades my daughter makes in school, how she did at her piano recital, or many of the other things I do or talk about on a daily basis. Like I wrote above, if you only judged a person based on what they wrote about in their blog, you would only be judging them based on a tiny fraction of their real life.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Happy Fastnacht Day, 2013

Fastnacht Day is once again upon us. My daughter and I will be busy making fastnachts tomorrow morning in celebration. Since I don't have anything new to say from previous years, I'll just rework last year's entry a bit.

Doughnut Picture from Wikimedia CommonsDepending on where you are in the world, you may call tomorrow something else, like Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day. But from where I'm from in Pennsylvania, it's called Fastnacht Day (here's a link to the not-so-thorough Wikipedia article). Traditionally, you make potato based donuts, called fastnachts, supposedly as a way to empty your larder of all the fatty, sugary foods in preparation for the Lenten fast. My elementary school even used to give out donuts with the lunches on this day. So, in celebration of Fastnacht Day, here's my family's recipe for making them:

You're supposed to wake up early to make the fastnachts on Tuesday morning (they're freshest that way), but a few times I've made them the night before, and they're still okay. They keep pretty well in a brown paper lunch bag. I also like to put a little bit of powdered sugar into a ziploc bag, and a mix of granulated sugar and cinnamon into another one, to coat the fastnachts just before eating them.

To see just how popular fastnachts are back up in Pennsylvania, go have a look at this article, Fastnacht reminder -- order yours before Tuesday, with a photo showing some of the 2800 fastnachts that a local church made, or this article, Frying fastnachts for pre-Lenten splurge, about a fire company that's making 42,000 of them for a rundraiser. Here's an article from a couple years ago, Pre-Lenten fastnachts a traditional treat, describing how bakeries in Hagerstown started baking on Sunday night to meet Tuesday's demand.

A guy I worked with from Chicago mentioned a similar tradition up there - paczkis, from the Polish immigrants. But instead of a hole in the middle like my family's fastnachts (not all fastnachts have the hole), they have a filling, usually jelly or creme. I guess lots of groups have invented traditions to allow indulgence before a 40 day fast.

Doughnut Picture from Wikimedia Commons


Update 2013-03-12: I took a few pictures while we were making the fastnachts this morning. The first is my daughter rolling out the dough to cut more fastnachts, the second is the first batch frying up in the pan, and the third is the completed fastnachts. Note that we doubled the recipe, so that's twice as much as what you'd normally get. But we all three (my wife, daughter, and I) take them in with us to work/school to share them, so the double batch still goes quick.

Alex Rolling Out the Fastnacht Dough Frying the Fastnachts The Completed Fastnachts - Two Batches Worth

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Debunking an E-mail on Charities

CharityGiven the time of year and knowing that many people will be donating to charities around this time, I figured this was a good time to address this. A friend of mine got an e-mail supposedly listing charities that don't do a good job of spending donations, and other charities that make your dollars go farther. He knew I'd want to see it, so he forwarded it to me. He was right - the e-mail was one that I couldn't pass up.

This e-mail was actually already covered pretty well by Snopes:
Charitable Compensation

And of course, the Mickelson's covered the e-mail pretty well, but I still wanted to add a bit more.

Needless to say, most of the information in the e-mail was wrong or misleading. But what if it wasn't? Several of the supposed facts in this e-mail are about CEO salaries, not overall spending of these organizations. And while a part of us wants everybody involved in a charity to be charitable themselves, the real question is, what's best for the charity? Look at it this way. The Red Cross is a big organization with a big budget. They need someone at the top who knows what they're doing. Now maybe, they could get someone charitable enough to be CEO for a low salary, but what would be the qualifications of that person? Or, they could decide to spend some money and hire the best CEO they can get - maybe not a particularly charitable person, but well qualified. Which would be better for the organization, and which would help them be more efficient overall?

In my mind, the measure of efficiency of a charity should not be how much the top person gets paid, but how much of their money is going into actual charity, not overhead. Luckily, a few organizations have already done the hard work of researching the finances of several charities to come up with this information. The chart below summarizes a few charities - the top 10 by revenue, the other charities listed in the e-mail, and a few that I included just out of personal interest. All of the data for the table below came from Forbes magazine's The 200 Largest U.S. Charities. Clicking on any of the charity names will take you to the Forbes entry for that organization.

Organization Total Revenue, millions Total Expenses, millions Program / Charitable Expenses, millions % Spending on Charitable Expenses
 
Top 10 Charities by Revenue
Lutheran Services in America $18,310 $17,520 $15,050 85.9%
Mayo Clinic $7,970 $7,430 $7,110 95.7%
YMCA $5,920 $5,670 $4,790 84.5%
Catholic Charities USA $4,670 $4,220 $3,710 87.9%
United Way $4,230 $4,230 $3,600 85.1%
Goodwill Industries International $4,040 $3,820 $3,380 88.5%
Salvation Army $3,750 $3,240 $2,660 82.1%
The Arc of the United States $3,730 $3,610 $3,240 89.8%
Cleveland Clinic Foundation $3,730 $3,450 $3,110 90.1%
American National Red Cross $3,710 $3,350 $3,090 92.2%
 
Other Charities from E-mail
March of Dimes $218 $206 $155 75.2%
United States Fund for UNICEF $456 $447 $405 90.6%
The Veterans of Foreign Wars $87 $85 $54 63.5%
The Disabled American Veterans $125 $126 $87 69.0%
 
Select Other Charities
American Cancer Society $956 $951 $681 71.6%
American Heart Association $600 $580 $437 75.3%
Doctors Without Borders $275 $204 $181 88.7%
Susan G. Komen for the Cure $353 $337 $279 82.8%
 
Data Not Readily Available
The American Legion -- -- -- --
The Military Order of Purple Hearts -- -- -- --
The Vietnam Veterans Association -- -- -- --

Here's another way of looking at the data. I took the last column from the table above, % Spending on Charitable Expenses, and plotted it for the included charities, sorted from highest percentage to lowest.

Charity Spending on Charitable Expenses

I'll add that there are other considerations. For example, in a previous entry of mine, The Salvation Army - To Give, or Not to Give?, I discussed how the Salvation Army spends its money. As it turns out, they spend money on causes that I don't agree with, so I've decided to donate to other organizations that perform similar functions.

What to do with all this information is up to you. It depends on how much overhead you think is an acceptable amount, and whether or not there are any other organizations dedicated to performing the same mission as those charities.


More Info (including links already given):


For anyone interested, the e-mail that prompted this entry is available below the fold.

Image Source: ATR International

Continue reading "Debunking an E-mail on Charities" »

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