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The Consumerist

Sears Says Reports Of Planned Store Closings Are Wrong, Won’t Elaborate

9 hours 29 min ago

Pete Kraynak

Pete Kraynak

Sears Holdings wants you to know that the rumors of planned store closings by the end of this year are wrong. After a report earlier today put together information from local media reports about which Sears, Sears Auto, and Kmart locations are currently scheduled to close, Sears representatives reached out to major outlets like USA Today and the Chicago Tribune to explain that the reports were incorrect.

What was incorrect about Seeking Alpha’s research? The list misidentified one of the stores in Indiana set to close, naming a store in Evansville instead of Indianapolis. What else was wrong on the list? Were there any other stores listed that weren’t closing, or stores left off the list? The Sears Holdings spokesperson wouldn’t say. Saying that a total of 107 outlets were going to close could be one inaccuracy from the chain’s point of view, but they tend to list those stores separately, so why shouldn’t the media count them separately?

Sears used to release nationwide lists to the press of stores that would be closing. If they don’t want to do that any longer, that’s fine with us, but here’s one from 2011 that was archived online, for example. Representatives of the company say that the company will simply release a revised store count along with its quarterly results.

Seeking Alpha, meanwhile, has added nine more stores to the list, bringing the total to 116 outlets closing, and more than 6,000 jobs lost.

Sears rejects report of layoffs, store closings [Chicago Tribune]

USPS Gets Go-Ahead To Expand Deliveries Of Groceries & Other Stuff

Thu, 2014-10-23 23:56



Last month, the cash-strapped street urchin that is the U.S. Postal Service pleaded “more gruel, sir” to the Postal Regulatory Commission, asking for permission to expand its test of delivering groceries and other non-postal items during those wee-morning hours when mail trucks mostly sit idle. Today, the PRC granted the USPS its wish.

USPS has already been running some very localized deliveries for Amazon’s Amazon Fresh grocery service, packing its trucks with customers’ orders and making deliveries, often in the pre-dawn hours.

The Postal Service hopes it can find a new life making these sorts of non-postal deliveries and asked the PRC for permission to expand the test in size and scope.

Today, the PRC [PDF] gave the Service the okay to do so, but under the condition that the experimental “Custom Delivery” service program must be “from the viewpoint of mail users, significantly different from all Postal Service products offered within the past two fiscal years.”

This is basically a way of saying, that is a test to see how the USPS does with delivering things other than letters or packages.

The USPS had also asked for an exemption from the $10 million revenue cap for the test, but the PRC has — for the moment — denied that exemption because it doesn’t have enough data to determine if it’s necessary. The Postal folks will be allowed to revisit the exemption discussion at a later date, after it has more information on whether or not Custom Delivery is actually making money.

No word yet on when USPS will start leaving backs from groceries on your doorstep at 4:30 a.m.

Here’s The Latest Bit Of Astroturfing From The Cable Industry About Broadband Speeds

Thu, 2014-10-23 23:30

A site called "The Connectivist" tries to argue that U.S. broadband isn't really as bad as it might look, but the site's motives are questionable, since it's a "partner" of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

A site called “The Connectivist” tries to argue that U.S. broadband isn’t really as bad as it might look, but the site’s motives are questionable, since it’s a “partner” of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

Once again, the latest survey of the current state of broadband around the globe [PDF] shows that, while improving, the U.S. still lags behind other developed countries, like South Korea, Japan, Switzerland, Latvia, and Romania in average broadband speeds and access to decent Internet. But leave it to the cable industry to try to convince America that everything is A-OK, and to try to do so without mentioning that this message is being brought to you by the cable industry.

This morning, I received a PR pitch for a site I’d never heard of, dubbed “The Connectivist.” More precisely, the pitch was to get me interested in the Connectivist’s infographic on just how darn good American broadband is, or rather, how much it’s improving.

The e-mail from the site’s shill admits (though the site itself leaves this out) that on a national level, the U.S. still comes up short of many other nations, but assures me that “if you compare relative geographical size to something more comparable, like individual states, then the story about how bad our internet speeds can be looks a bit different.”

Thus, the Connectivist tries to paint a rosy portrait of U.S. broadband by comparig America’s fastest states with the national rankings, presumably based on the misguided math that (1 U.S. State) = (1 Country Elsewhere in the World).

By that logic, the mysterious Connectivist — you’ll notice that no one actually takes a byline on this particular story — argues that if you broke out the highest-performing states and put them in the international list, they would occupy four of the top 10 spots, and 10 of the top 20.

But when you compare the 10 countries and 10 states (or rather, 9 states plus D.C.) to each other, it’s not an apples to apples comparison.

The populations of those nations range from around 2 million for Latvia all the way to more than 126 million for Japan. Taking out the two extremes, that still comes out to an average population of around 17.4 million.

But the U.S. locations injected into this list only have an average of around 4.3 million people, only a quarter of the number of people in the average for the 10 non-U.S. countries.

So this idea that you can simply compare America’s fastest states with the world’s fastest countries is utter nonsense.

The only way to do a true apples to apples comparison would be to look at the data for areas with similar conditions, including population size and area, which the Connectivist doesn’t do.

The site simply glosses over the fact that while broadband in the U.S. is improving, it’s still not a world leader in deploying high-speed Internet access to its citizens.

Even though nearly three-quarters of the U.S. has access to what the FCC currently defines as “broadband,” meaning at least 4Mbps downstream, that’s still not a high enough percentage to get it into the top 10 globally. In fact, that percentage barely puts the U.S. in the 40 of all nations.

Likewise, only 39% of Americans have access to 10 Mbps service, which is what many people now consider the minimum acceptable standard for broadband. That ranks higher, putting the U.S. within the top 15 worldwide, but still pales in comparison to world leaders like Sweden (56%), the Netherlands (52%), and Romania (50%).

Why is all of this not-as-impressive information omitted from the infographic that the Connectivist was so eager to share?

Maybe it has something to do with an organization you won’t see mentioned on the Connectivist until you get to its “About” page, where it just happens to mention that “The Connectivist is an online magazine created in partnership with the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.”

For those unfamiliar with the NCTA, it’s an industry group, currently headed by former FCC Chair Michael “Yes, my dad was Colin” Powell, that hates you but wants you to keep paying your cable and phone bills. It’s also an organization that loves to inform the public through campaigns that it tries its best to keep its name out of.

For instance, it’s behind other groups like Broadband for America, which pretends to be a coalition of companies — including, inexplicably, an Ohio tile company, some defunct Belgian business, and a bed and breakfast — that care about broadband access but which is just a front for the NCTA, which provides most of the group’s funding, to push its anti-net neutrality agenda.

More recently, the NCTA was identified as the cash-addled brains behind a hipster-themed guerrilla marketing campaign for something called Onward Internet, to try get the youngsters in their corner in the NCTA’s fight to screw consumers.

Costume Shops Have To Guess What You’ll Rush In To Buy On October 30th

Thu, 2014-10-23 23:29

(Kelly Lynn)

(Kelly Lynn)

It’s October 23rd: do you know what you’re going to be for Halloween? How about your kids? If your answer is “no,” don’t worry. Most people don’t really plan ahead for this holiday, but do you know who does? Costume shop owners. They have to not only plan for Halloween, but try to figure out what people will be rushing to stores to buy at the last minute.

This year, the hottest costumes weren’t hard to predict, at least not if you have any contact with children under age ten or so. NPR interviewed a costume shop owner in New York City who has a six-year-old son, so he knew to stock up on costumes of characters from the Disney animated film “Frozen.” While those costumes are very specific (and licensed by Disney) he points out that you can’t go wrong with generic princesses, along with witches, wizards, vampires, and superheroes.

Last year, the nightmare scenario for costume shop owners happened: a hot costume struck at the last minute. The drama series “Breaking Bad” ended in September, and people still remembered it fondly and wanted to dress up as characters from that show a month later. The costume shop owner in New York City assembled his own costumes at the last minute with parts from different suppliers, but still sold out.

Pirates, Princesses, Witches And Vampires: Stocking Costumes Is Serious Business [NPR]

Swiss Company Apologizes For Printing Photos Of Hitler, Mussolini On Creamer Packages

Thu, 2014-10-23 23:07
Some 2,000 mini-creamer containers distributed in Switzerland mistakenly contained images of Hitler and Mussolini.

Some 2,000 mini-creamer containers distributed in Switzerland mistakenly contained images of Hitler and Mussolini.

Most consumers wouldn’t dream of coming face-to-printed face with Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini while preparing their coffee. For people in Switzerland that scenario is all too possible after a company behind mini-creamers printed photos of the former dictators on a number of containers.

The New York Times reports that Migros, a Swiss retailer, apologized for what it calls an “unforgivable incident” and withdrew nearly 2,000 containers of creamer from more than 100 cafes in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.

A spokesperson for the company tells the Times that they were horrified by the failure of international controls to detect the images.

The issue came to the company’s attention after a customer drinking coffee at a train station saw the label and sent a photo to a local newspaper.

Mini-cream containers have somewhat of a cult collectible following in Switzerland, with makers continually finding new ways to promote the products.

The spokesperson tells the Times that the mistake occurred when an outside company asked one of Migros’ subsidiaries to create a series of 55 coffee cream containers based on vintage cigar labels.

The outside company, which was not named by Migros, supplied the subsidiary with the designs, two of which featured Hitler and Mussolini.

“I can’t tell you how these labels got past our controls,” the spokesman for the company says. “Usually the labels have pleasant images like trains, landscapes and dogs — nothing polemic that can pose a problem.”

This isn’t the first time products with potentially offensive photos from Nazi-era Germany have made headlines this year.

Just last week, Sears apologized for allowing a third-party ventured to sell a men’s “Thai silver Swastika ring” on its marketplace.

In August, Zara pulled a shipment of blue and white striped pajama tops after consumers complained the clothing looked too much like the outfits Nazis forced Jewish concentration camp prisoners to wear during the Holocaust.

Walmart, Amazon, and Sears pulled a poster featuring a concentration camp sign from their online marketplaces in early July. The photo includes a gate with a phrase that translates to “work makes you free.”

For Swiss, a Distasteful Jolt With Coffee: Hitler Creamer [The New York Times]

Free Shipping Will Be More Expensive This Holiday Season

Thu, 2014-10-23 22:27



There’s no such thing as free shipping. What looks like free shipping from a shopper’s perspective is only subsidized shipping, and those subsidies come from shoppers. They could come in the form of higher prices, or higher spending thresholds to earn free shipping. This year, free shipping will cost you a little more.

The Wall Street Journal explains this brave new world, pointing out that the average retailer now requires you to spend $82 in order to get free shipping. At this time last year, the average among the same retailers was only $75.

Amazon, always at the forefront of free shipping, has raised the price of its all-you-can-shop Prime membership from $79 to $99 the next time most subscribers renew. Newegg has introduced its own subscription-based program since last holiday season.

Last year, Amazon raised its minimum for free “Super Saver” shipping to $35, and other companies are following that example. Best Buy raised their minimum to $35 from $25.

Clothing retailers have even higher limits: J. Crew, for example, sets theirs at $150, and Ann Taylor at $175. On the lower end, Kohl’s requires that you spend $75, and JCPenney set a minimum of $99.

Retailers once used free shipping to attract customers to shop online in the first place, and now use it to entice us to buy more, or to choose one retailer over another. Would you rather pay $5 for shipping, or spend $5 more to put you over the free shipping threshold? Online retailers have found that people are more likely to do the latter, which is why they’re raising limits.

Free Shipping Is Going to Cost You More [Wall Street Journal]

North Carolina Food Firm Shuts Down Two Weeks After Major Recall For Listeria Contamination

Thu, 2014-10-23 22:00

sunburstJust two weeks after recalling more than 150 food products for possible listeria contamination, a North Carolina-based food distributor is reportedly closing its doors.

WCTI-TV reports that SunBurst Foods, which distributed a plethora of pre-packaged foods, closed its doors this week leaving nearly 100 employees without a job.

A spokesperson for SunBurst didn’t explain why the company chose to shut its doors instead of fixing any issues that may have contributed to the possible contamination.

“We determined that it was just in the best interest to shut down,” the spokesperson told WCTI.

On October 13, the FDA issued a notice that food products under the names SunBurst, Fresh Bites and private labels sold in grocery stores and convenience stores in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia could contain traces of listeria.

Recalled items include a variety of cold sandwiches, salads, breakfast meals, packaged fruit, desserts and snacks. A full list of recalled products can be found online.

Private labels included in the recall include River Edge Farms, CFW, Southern Zest, CJ’s Vending, Binford Street Deli, Middle Georgia Vendors, Roanoke Foods, Select Foods, and Jesse Jones.

At the time of the initial recall, SunBurst said it was unaware of any illnesses related to the recalled products. Consumers who may have purchased the affected products are urged to destroy the items or return them to the place of purchase for a refund.

Products contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

Listeria outbreak closes ENC food distributor [WCTI-TV]

First Female UPS Driver Reaches 40 Accident-Free Years

Thu, 2014-10-23 21:12

(So Cal Metro)

(So Cal Metro)

UPS drivers who have been on the road for 25 years or more with zero accidents get a special arm patch and are named to the company’s “Circle of Honor.” One of the company’s minority of female drivers reached an even more impressive milestone, and was recently honored for driving more than four million miles over her forty years with the company. For most of that time, she has been a tractor-trailer driver. [WFTV]

Audi Recalls 850,000 Vehicles For Glitch That Could Prevent Airbag Deployment

Thu, 2014-10-23 21:00



Airbag woes continued for car manufacturers around the world today as Audi announced it would recall 850,000 vehicles with possibly defective airbags.

The Wall Street Journal reports that while the recall isn’t related to the ongoing issues with Takata-produced airbags, the problems in the Audi A4, Avant, and AllRoad versions can be equally as dangerous.

Affected vehicles, which were manufactured since 2012, contain a software glitch that can prevent the airbag from opening in a collision.

Officials with the company tell Bloomberg that they are examining a “low, single digit number” of accidents where the airbags probably didn’t inflate as planned. Investigators with the company are still working to determine if any injuries or crashes have resulted from the issue.

Owners of affected vehicles are urged to take their car to a local dealer for a software upgrade to remedy the issue.

Audi Recalls 850,000 A4s for Air-Bag Fix [The Wall Street Journal]
Audi Recalls 850,000 A4 Models to Fix Air Bag Software [Bloomberg]

Some Furniture Warranties May Expire Before Items Are Even Sold

Thu, 2014-10-23 20:59

( function() { var func = function() { var iframe_form = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-form-20c03832b864361376ba3d39a250f031-544954f70df4d'); var iframe = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-20c03832b864361376ba3d39a250f031-544954f70df4d'); if ( iframe_form && iframe ) { iframe_form.submit(); iframe.onload = function() { iframe.contentWindow.postMessage( { 'msg_type': 'poll_size', 'frame_id': 'wpcom-iframe-20c03832b864361376ba3d39a250f031-544954f70df4d' }, window.location.protocol + '//' ); } } // Autosize iframe var funcSizeResponse = function( e ) { var origin = document.createElement( 'a' ); origin.href = e.origin; // Verify message origin if ( '' !== ) return; // Verify message is in a format we expect if ( 'object' !== typeof || undefined === ) return; switch ( ) { case 'poll_size:response': var iframe = document.getElementById( ); if ( iframe && '' === iframe.width ) iframe.width = '100%'; if ( iframe && '' === iframe.height ) iframe.height = parseInt( ); return; default: return; } } if ( 'function' === typeof window.addEventListener ) { window.addEventListener( 'message', funcSizeResponse, false ); } else if ( 'function' === typeof window.attachEvent ) { window.attachEvent( 'onmessage', funcSizeResponse ); } } if (document.readyState === 'complete') { func.apply(); /* compat for infinite scroll */ } else if ( document.addEventListener ) { document.addEventListener( 'DOMContentLoaded', func, false ); } else if ( document.attachEvent ) { document.attachEvent( 'onreadystatechange', func ); } } )(); In most cases, when a manufacturer advertises a 3-year warranty, it means three years from the time of purchase. But some consumers are finding out that the warranty clock may have started much earlier, and in some cases could have already expired by the time you purchase a piece of furniture.

CBS Sacramento’s Kurtis Ming has the story of a local family who purchased a pair of recliners that they believed came with a three-year manufacturer’s warranty.

In fact, they did come with that warranty, but what the buyers didn’t know is that this particular manufacturer starts its warranty clock from the date of manufacture.

So when the buyers of these recliners tried to get a noise problem fixed, they were told their warranties had already expired, even though it hadn’t been three years since they purchased the chairs.

When Ming checked with the California Furniture Manufacturers Association, it said that a small number of companies do start counting their warranty from the date of manufacture. So if a piece of furniture goes unsold for a long time, it’s possible that the buyer will end up with little or no warranty coverage by the time they take it home.

A rep for the Better Business Bureau tells Ming that he believes it’s misleading to start a warranty before the date of purchase.

“The customer most times does not know the date of manufacture,” he explains. “In effect, the warranty is never a three year warranty, so it’s misleading just at its face value.”

The actual manufacturer of these chairs says that the reason its warranties start so early is because it does a lot of custom work. But the recliners in this case were not custom-made.

When contacted by Ming, they offered to provide the replacement parts for free. And the store that sold the chairs agreed to do the repair without charging the customer, explaining that this warranty situation is “very unusual.”

Customs Agents Seize Hundreds Of Kansas City Royals Panties In Raid On Boutique

Thu, 2014-10-23 20:45

(Old Shoe Woman)

(Old Shoe Woman)

Show me someone who predicted federal agents would be engaged in a literal panty raid and I will show you a liar, because the idea is preposterous — at first. But in a scenario that’s actually par for the course for agents with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (which falls under the Department of Homeland Security’s auspices) put the kibosh on a lingerie boutique for selling unauthorized Kansas City Royals underwear.

The shop’s owner says she didn’t know she’d be running afoul of the law when she designed panties with the phrase “Take the Crown” with a capital “KC” for Kansas City on the rear, reports the Kansas City Star, she just wanted to spread the hometown love.

She realized something was amiss when Homeland Security agents dropped by and confiscated a few dozen pairs of the underoos, which were printed by a local company.

“They came in and there were two guys,” she told the paper. “I asked one of them what size he needed and he showed me a badge and took me outside. They told me they were from Homeland Security and we were violating copyright laws.”

Though her design was hand-drawn, the connected “K” and “C” made it an infringement on Major League Baseball’s copyright, the agents reportedly said.

The panties were placed in official government bags and whisked from the premises.

“We just thought it was something funny we could do,” the owner said. “But it was so scary.”

The crackdown isn’t panty-specific, however, as officials are busy busting counterfeit World Series goods all around town, from fake tickets to T-shirts, cellphone cases and baby clothes.

“Our primary goal is to stop the sale or production of these items,” said a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “Our agents are focused on protecting consumers. You don’t want somebody paying a lot of money for bogus tickets, and the quality of the merchandise often doesn’t meet federal standards.”

Panty raid: Homeland Security agents confiscate Birdies’ Royals underwear [Kansas City Star]

How Much Would You Pay For A Standalone HBO Go?

Thu, 2014-10-23 19:52

MV5BNTIyOTQ3ODA3N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDg2MjQzMTE@._V1__SX1219_SY650_Last week, HBO confirmed plans to launch a standalone online service that doesn’t require you to have a separate basic pay-TV package. Beyond that, the company has provided few details, leaving both consumers and cable companies wondering what the service will actually be — and how much it will cost.

As I’ve pointed out previously, one huge impediment to a standalone HBO service is that it would require the premium cable company to dive into the business of customer service and billing, two things that it has historically left in the hands of the cable and satellite companies.

In theory, the company could avoid this by offering the standalone service through pay-TV providers, since most of them are also the primary broadband servicers to residential customers.

So HBO could make deals with Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, etc., where customers aren’t paying for a premium TV add-on, but for an online service. This way, the cable companies still get their cut and HBO doesn’t have to be burdened with the headaches and costs of actually dealing with human beings.

Now the question is whether or not cable companies will go for that. Sure, they would still be getting a piece of the HBO pie, but they would inevitably see a number of customers drop the basic pay-TV packages that they had maintained just so they could keep watching Game of Thrones without having to find a pirated copy.

And if the cable companies were going to be part of this plan, that seems to be news to them.

This morning, NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke was talking about the quarterly earnings of parent company Comcast and he said the company was “surprised” by the HBO announcement. So if HBO has been making closed-door deals with cable companies to handle the billing for its upcoming service, it either hasn’t been talking to the country’s largest pay-TV provider, or Comcast has a good poker face.

But making a deal where the cable companies still handle all the billing for HBO would leave the network with a problem that BusinessWeek eloquently describes thusly: “HBO is a premium product that people love, delivered to them by companies they hate.”

HBO-loving cord-cutters might be able to rid themselves of the basic cable nonsense they don’t watch, but they’d still be paying money to a business they likely revile.

Another possibility would be for HBO to partner with another online service for billing and all that mess. For example, why couldn’t it make a deal to stream even more HBO content through Amazon?

Earlier this year, Amazon Prime became the first non-HBO service to stream the network’s shows on a subscription basis. However, that selection is very limited compared to the full back catalogs available on HBO Go. But it’s possible that Amazon, or Apple, or Google could eventually offer a streaming package that contains either the full archive, or at least something more substantial than the current Amazon Prime offerings.

One problem with this route involves the pending arguments over net neutrality and paid-peering.

On the neutrality front, if Internet service providers are allowed to create so-called “fast lanes” for content companies to pay more for better access to end-users, then you can bet they will do everything they can to squeeze money from anyone who takes away their precious HBO dollars.

And even if the FCC decides against allowing fast lanes, ISPs can still do what many of them have done to Netflix in the last two years — passive-aggressively allow the traffic to bottleneck until HBO pays for a better connection to the ISPs’ networks.

In the end, most people won’t care how they get the service, they just want to know how much it’s going to cost.

Take Our Poll (function(d,c,j){if(!d.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;;pd.src='';s=d.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);} else if(typeof jQuery !=='undefined')jQuery(d.body).trigger('pd-script-load');}(document,'script','pd-polldaddy-loader'));

The number that gets bounced around most frequently is $15/month, which is what many people currently pay to their cable providers for the HBO package.

But will people be okay with that fee when it’s for an online-only service?

It’s significantly more money than the monthly fee Netflix (or the monthly cost of an annual subscription to Amazon Prime). Netflix offers a much larger library of movies — but not the HBO shows — and Amazon Prime includes various other benefits for the site’s shoppers, along with the smattering of HBO content.

The $15/month one pays now for HBO usually includes multiple HBO channels, along with multiple Cinemax channels and access to HBO Go and the lesser-discussed Max Go. If the network is going to take away the option of watching live programming, it would seemingly have to go with a lower price in order to win over enough viewers.

The other route would be to offer additional content that isn’t available to TV viewers; setting up a direct competitor to Netflix with the HBO content as the primary draw.

Another thing that HBO would need to do to justify charging $15 for its streaming service is to iron out the kinks that it’s had when HBO Go has been faced with high demand. It seems like every major season finale or season premiere results in stories about the service crashing from high demand.

So far, it’s been able to weather that storm by pointing out that the content people were looking for was readily available via their TVs and that HBO Go is a free bonus to subscribers (the tacit implication being that all the freeloaders using their friends’ HBO Go passwords can just shut up about it).

But when people are paying a premium price, they will demand a premium level of service. Blocky image quality and sound problems will not be tolerated, especially when anyone who knows how to navigate the Pirate Bay can find the latest HBO shows (illegally) for free.

NBC’s Burke, who obviously has a vested interest in promoting skepticism of the service, predicts that “it’s going to be a challenge for [HBO] to not cannibalize what is already a really, really good business.”

Facebook’s Next Big Thing: Bringing Back That AOL Chatroom Feeling

Thu, 2014-10-23 19:48

A few weeks ago, we all heard that Facebook — the site where your real name and offline social connections are meant to rule supreme — was planning to launch an app that supported anonymous use. Today, Facebook announced their new product for real… and it sounds an awful lot like a phone-focused version of the chat rooms and message boards AOL brought into our living rooms 20 years ago.

The new app is called Rooms, and in a sense, it does exactly what it sounds like, GigaOm reports: users can create chatrooms on a theme and then invite others to participate.

Of course, it’s now 2014, not 1993, and times have changed. Plenty of other discussion forums have sprung up in that time, and Rooms, says GigaOm, takes cues from them, too. Room founders can determine their room’s look, feel, and rules and then invite others to join. And the streams of conversation can include images, sounds, and videos, because nobody wants to live in a world where you can’t answer a question with exactly the right *.gif.

Room links are shared by QR code, because long URLs are a pain in the butt on mobile devices. If someone shares the QR code more widely — say on Twitter or even on Facebook — then a room can attract a wide audience and become a major chattering hub. If the codes are kept private, then your book club can theoretically use the room without any random strangers jumping in.

If that sounds like a phone-focused AOL by way of Reddit, that’s apparently the right idea.

The app is also anonymous in the sense that nothing in it ties to your real (or at least Facebook-real) identity. When you join a room, you enter a username for that room, and that username is tied only to that room. If you want to be “John Smith” in a room with professional contacts, and “Lord Fartface” in a room about bad jokes, that’s up to you.

Anyone who has been on the internet for longer than about three minutes will no doubt guess that the service will rapidly and immediately develop a metric ton of rooms devoted to, shall we say, adult activity. Facebook says all rooms must abide by the Facebook community standards policy, which includes “a strict policy against the sharing of pornographic content.” Somehow, though, that seems like a standard that will be impossible for the company to enforce.

So are mobile chat rooms and message boards the social network that users have been clamoring for? That’s another question entirely. It’s true that there’s definitely a place in the world for discussions that don’t fit on Twitter — too public and too truncated — or on Facebook — where your coworkers and your grandma are. (At least, my coworkers and grandma are.) But whether an updated take on the original online talking tool is indeed the next big wave of the future remains to be seen.

Meet Rooms, Facebook’s semi-anonymous app and first real attempt to fix the broken problem of social [GigaOm]

Red Velvet Oreos Could Be Real, Or Maybe Not

Thu, 2014-10-23 19:36

red velvet oreoRed velvet, a type of cake flavored with chocolate and red food coloring, is very popular for some reason. With Oreo introducing novelty flavors for what seems like every holiday and season, the idea of red velvet cookies for Valentine’s Day isn’t completely unreasonable. Yet some college students confessed to creating the product as a marketing class assignment. Was that confession simply meant to throw dessert detectives off the trail?

The idea has been floating around since Nabisco started its current run of holiday novelty Oreos, and the Facebook page was born shortly before Valentine’s Day of 2014. It mostly consisted of pictures of Oreos tinted red using an image-editing program. Months later, the account owner came back and posted that the product was all a class assignment.

school projectEarlier this month, a photo of a realistic-looking Oreo package appeared on Twitter. Then it disappeared. The Verge evaluated the evidence, originally declaring that the package size doesn’t match that of previous novelty Oreo flavors, and that the flavor profile of red choco-wafer cookies and cream cheese-flavored filling doesn’t follow Nabisco’s normal M.O. of pairing a novelty filling with existing chocolate or vanilla-flavored cookies.

These arguments don’t work, though: readers pointed out that white cream cheese-flavored “creme” is plausible, and the only difference between chocolate cookie wafers and red velvet cookie wafers is some red dye. Also, it may help that The Verge obtained a photo of a great big pile of those 10-ounce sample packs.

EXCLUSIVE: We have obtained a new image of the Red Velvet Oreo that corroborates earlier pic

— spooky dan seifert (@dcseifert) October 23, 2014

Nabisco, true to form, isn’t saying anything either way. Therefore, we have to declare this flavor more likely than Fried Chicken Oreos, but we can’t make a definitive ruling about how real it could be until either more samples appear on the streets, or Nabisco makes an official announcement.

Naturally, there’s now a petition pleading with Nabisco to make Red Velvet Oreos real.

Is the ‘Red Velvet’ Oreo real? [The Verge]

Still Looking For A Halloween Costume? Here’s One For Just $1.6M

Thu, 2014-10-23 19:35

This million dollar costume comes with head to toe diamonds.

This million dollar costume comes with head to toe diamonds.

Some people might rummage through their closet or head to the local Halloween pop-up store for a clever, or sultry costume to prowl the streets in. But apparently someone might just go a different route, shelling out more money for a costume than many consumers would pay for a house – or two, three, four, five, or more houses.

CNN Money reports that MorphCostumes created a $1.6 million morphsuit encrusted with 70,000 diamonds for anyone who wants to class things up this Halloween.

The suit, which is currently locked away in a vault in London, takes on morphsuit’s typical skin-tight spandex form that covers the entire body from head to toe.

Officials with MorphCostumes says the costume is a “bit heavy” and can be hard to see out of, you know because diamonds aren’t completely see-through.

“It’s probably not the most comfortable of our offerings, but if you roll the head part down, you can still be covered 90% in diamonds,” Gregor Lawson, co-founder of the company says.

The dripping in diamonds costume is just the latest in the company’s high-end “WTF” line, CNN Money reports.

If bling isn’t your thing, the company offers Overkill, the giant zombie-killing robot costar that promises to then the person underneath into “a living legend.” That over-the-top costume, which comes with laser effects and LED lighting, is a bit more affordable at $25,000.

If you’d rather spend money on candy than the costume you’ll wear for a few hours, MorphCostumes has more than 300 other costumes ranging from $30 to $45.

This Halloween costume costs $1.6 million [CNN Money]

Forget Everything You’ve Been Told: Buy Your Plane Tickets On Sunday

Thu, 2014-10-23 19:28

(John Kittelsrud)

(John Kittelsrud)

That sound you hear is yourself throwing every thought you had in your brain about buying plane tickets on a certain day out the window. As the window shatters, so can your mind break free from former apparent misconceptions regarding the best day to purchase air fares. It’s not the day you thought it was, it’s Sunday.

So say the tallies totted up by Airlines Reporting Corp, according to the Wall Street Journal, a group that processes tickets for traditional travel agencies and online booking (though not direct sales from airlines) and sees about half of all the tickets sold.

After taking a look at ticket sales over a 19-month period ending in July, 130 million domestic and international round-trip fares showed that the lowest average price of $432 was on Sunday. That’s lower than $439 for Saturday ticket sales and Tuesdays, with an average of $497.

What makes Sunday the magic day? It’s the day before airline executives come into work on Monday looking to make more money for their companies, a prime day to raise fares instead of discounting them to fill seats. And raising fares is a thing that can make more money — as reported earlier this week, many airlines pushed through a fare hike recently, despite the fact that fuel prices are down and some travelers may be worried about flying due to the Ebola scare rampaging through the news.

That being said, don’t dump your Tuesday hopes all together: As the WSJ points out, it’s still the day with the most frequent discounts, so you could still score a good deal if you’re paying attention.

The ARC study also showed that the cheapest time to buy a domestic trip is about 57 days before departure, or around two months, which is quite early for most people. On average, travelers book airline tickets about a month beforehand, when prices are already on the uptick.

In conclusion: two months before you go somewhere, check out prices on Sunday, your new best friend of a day.

The Best Day to Buy Airline Tickets [Wall Street Journal]

Feds Searching For Graffiti Artist Vandalizing National Parks And Leaving An Instagram Handle Behind

Thu, 2014-10-23 19:02

How could you tag something better than nature already has?

How could you tag something better than nature already has? (Raj Hanchanahal Photography)

The idea of leaving a place better than when you found it is a fine idea when it comes to things like tidying up a campground before you take off, but that does not mean painting graffiti all over our nation’s parks and wild places. But hey, leaving your Instagram handle on those paintings is a nice touch that should help out authorities when they come looking for you.

And looking for a serial paint vandal they are indeed, reports the San Francisco Gate. The “they” being federal law enforcement who are searching for a person who they believe has been spraying cartoony portraits in national parks across five states.

From a white and red face painting featuring a blue serpent slithering out of its mouth at California’s Yosemite National Park to graffiti left in places like Zion and Joshua Tree, the tagger’s alleged Instagram account @creepytings (which no longer exists) was reportedly full of her exploits.

Though there is a female name on the account, authorities haven’t confirmed if they’ve been in contact with the suspect and it’s unclear whether she is really a she, despite the nice clue left behind.

One of the first to notice the graffiti spotted the white and red portrait on a granite rock near Yosemite’s Vernal Falls is a blogger who snapped a pic and wrote about the shocking discovery.

“Scrolling through her other images, it quickly became clear to me that this account was linked to a New Yorker on a long trip through the parks of the western U.S.,” she wrote. “Within a few minutes I saw she had also visited Bryce, Zion, Joshua Tree, and other public lands. She seemed proud of the ‘art,’ and appeared to take a lot of pride and happiness in the ‘work.’”

Federal investigators are currently in the process of tracking down this “artist” as well as any more of her recent “work” that could be out there.

Feds hunt clueless graffiti ‘artist’ in Yosemite, other parks [San Francisco Gate]

Restaurant Owner Defends Video Of Employee Climbing Out Of Ice Machine

Thu, 2014-10-23 18:52

Is this another example of an unthinking fast food worker caught on camera doing something stupid, or is it all a misunderstanding that looks much worse than it is?

In the above video, an employee of small Texas fast food chain Bush’s Chicken opens the kitchen’s ice maker and finds a female employee inside the machine.

But the company claims that it’s not as bad as it looks. The owner of the restaurant tells NewsWest 9 that the video is several months old and that these employees were actually in the process of cleaning out the ice machine at the time.

“What they’re doing is cleaning the ice machines. We do this twice a year,” says the owner, who points out that none of his eateries have ever been shut down for health code violations. “The only way to do it, and even by the manufacturers recommendation, is to get inside to clean the bottom of it and remove stale ice and anything that may have gotten past the filters.”

The owner says that everything is sanitized and disinfected before the machine is put back into use.

He claims the video is surfacing now due because a former employee is working out a grudge against the company.

“They were terminated and in retaliation they put the video up,” he says. “If they felt there was something wrong with it, they should have done it four months ago. They threatened me about wanting their job back and we don’t do that.”

The owner says that people are invited to come and check out his kitchens and judge for themselves if there are any problems.

“Day or night I will be more than happy to walk them through any location that I have at any time and show them anything that they want to see,” he tells NewsNet 9.

Sears And Kmart Will Close 76 Stores By End Of 2014

Thu, 2014-10-23 18:48

(Scott Miller)

(Scott Miller)

Sears Holdings, the parent company of Sears and Kmart, needs to lose less money. Their current plan includes closing underperforming stores, renting out vacant space, and borrowing money from its manifesto-writing CEO. These are all very sensible things to do, but will they be enough to save Sears?

The company no longer announces rounds of store closings, instead releasing that information to local news outlets. Investment research site Seeking Alpha instead combed through local news reports, contacting reporters and Sears and Kmart employees on the ground to figure out how many stores will close by the end of this calendar year.

Sears Holdings isn’t about to release a definitive list: “We disclose our store counts at the end of each quarter,” a spokesman told Seeking Alpha. That isn’t helpful when you’re trying to figure out which stores will close in the future, so the site made its own list. You don’t need to register to see it.

Depending on how you count, either 76 or 107 Sears outlets are going to close. The discrepancy is because 31 Sears Auto stores are also slated to close: the total depends on whether you consider these to be separate from a Sears store or not. Some locations are closing while the Sears they’re attached to remains open, but no Sears Auto locations that we know of are staying open while the associated Sears store closes.

Pennsylvania will lose seven Sears and Sears Auto locations and one Kmart, and Indiana reverses that pattern, losing seven Kmarts and one Sears and Sears Auto. In Michigan, there are two Sears and Sears Auto locations closing, but notably six Kmart stores. Michigan, specifically the Detroit area, was the ancestral home of the S.S. Kresge company, the variety-store empire that eventually became Kmart. The first Kmart in Garden City, Michigan remains open for now.

Seeking Alpha estimates that more than 5,000 people will lose their jobs once all of these stores have liquidated and closed.

Exclusive: Sears Laying Off 5,000, Closing Over 100 Outlets [Seeking Alpha]

Why Doesn’t Tesla Just Use Dealerships To Sell Its Cars?

Thu, 2014-10-23 18:27



Earlier this week, auto dealers in Michigan successfully manipulated the state’s lawmakers to clarify that the only way any car company can sell any vehicles in Michigan is through franchised auto dealers. A handful of other states have similar laws banning Tesla or any other car company from selling their products straight to consumers. So why doesn’t Tesla just give in and work with dealers?

The Washington Post’s Brian Fung investigated this very question and concluded that there are several reasons why Tesla wants to avoid the traditional middle man format.

Primarily, it’s about retaining control of the brand. This is particularly important to Tesla since the electric vehicle market is still relatively new. Why take the risk of handing your product over to a franchised dealership whose primary goal is making his/her own profit?

Tesla does operate a small number of storefront businesses where consumers can see and learn about the cars and their features, but the company’s VP of business development says these “stores are as much education venues as retail venues — in fact, probably more so… We don’t think that we would succeed using an intermediary model where we sell a product that someone else sells to the public.”

Then there is just the thrill of being an upstart company founded by a tech billionaire Elon Musk who seems to revel in the prospect of disrupting an established sales model.

After all, if Musk can succeed in reaching consumers through direct sales, he will have done what other, much bigger players have previously failed to do.

For example, Ford dipped its toes into the direct sales waters in the 1990s, only to be chased off the idea when Texas threatened the carmaker with fines of $10,000/day for allegedly violating the same state law that currently prevents Tesla from selling directly to Texas residents.

Car dealers and legislators who back these laws banning direct sales often claim that they benefit consumers by allowing for pricing competition. If you don’t like the price being offered by one Chevy dealer, you can go to another and see if you’ll do better there. Same goes for all the other major carmakers.

And it’s a valid point; reloading the Tesla website is probably not going to result in a lower price than when you put in your desired specs a few minutes earlier.

But Tesla is not trying to change the law to outlaw car dealerships. It is just trying to see if it can be successful without them. Additionally, if Ford, GM, Chrysler or others decided to give direct sales another try, that doesn’t mean they would eradicate all their existing franchise relationships.

Instead of asking why Tesla wants to avoid going the dealership route, a better question might be: If the dealerships truly love the spirit of competition, why are so many of them actively trying to use the law to minimize it?