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The Consumerist

Reconsider Keeping A Second Refrigerator In Your Garage

Wed, 2014-11-26 23:51

(Chris Rief)

(Chris Rief)

There are times––say, a major food-oriented holiday––that it comes in handy to have a spare refrigerator to store a case of soda, a thawing turkey, or a half-dozen boxes of wine. Usually, though, that second fridge sits empty, not doing much. Do you know what it’s mostly doing? Wasting energy, and your money.

The second-fridge phenomenon might be unfamiliar to you, but in a Washington Post article denouncing the practice, we learned that in the Midwest, up to 30% of families keep a spare fridge. They tend to correlate with larger homes, which makes sense: plenty of extra space in the basement or garage means plenty of extra space for spare appliances. There was inexplicable increase in second fridges from 1997 to 2009.

There are two main problems with second-fridge energy usage. Usually, it’s your old refrigerator that gets demoted to second-fridge status. These are usually older, or at least old enough to be retired. Yet new rules for appliance energy consumption and general strides in refrigerator technology mean that the new refrigerator is probably much more efficient than its replacement.

The other problem is that second fridges usually end up in the garage, which isn’t climate-controlled as well as the kitchen. That works out in your favor in the winter, but not so much during the summer, or if you live in a temperate climate. Refrigerators and freezers keep things cold better when they’re packed full, and rarely opening that second fridge doesn’t balance out the amount of electricity that it uses when there’s only a box of wine inside.

You could keep the second fridge and simply unplug it during the off-season when you don’t have 25 relatives coming over for dinner.

Why it’s not okay to have a second refrigerator [Wonkblog/The Washington Post]

Maybe We Should All Just Stop Eating Sprouts

Wed, 2014-11-26 23:19

You can eat two out of three of these. (Amy Adoyzie)

You can eat two out of three of these. (Amy Adoyzie)

Sprouts are exactly what they sound like: the first sprouts from plants like beans or alfalfa, grown for a short time and then packaged for maximum deliciousness in a stir fry or on a salad. However, two pieces of sprout-related news from this week might make you pause before adding them to your salad.

First, we learned about an ongoing outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis that has made 68 people ill so far. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, authorities know that 33 of the people infected with this strain of Salmonella remember eating bean sprouts. These sprouts have been traced to sprouts from one company, Wonton Foods, Inc. 11 of the people infected have been hospitalized. Most of the reported cases have been in Massachusetts.

While the distributor, Wonton Foods, Inc., hasn’t announced a recall, the CDC recommends that consumers avoid bean sprouts from this company, and the company has agreed to stop producing and selling their sprouts. If you have eaten bean sprouts in the Northeast in the last few weeks, watch for fever, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea, and call your health care provider if you become ill 12 to 72 hours after eating sprouts.

Meanwhile, nobody had to get sick to discover a different foodborne pathogen, Listeria monocytogenes, in bean sprouts distributed by Henry’s Farm in Virginia and Maryland. The Department of Agriculture in Virginia discovered the bacteria as part of random sampling. Those sprouts were distributed mostly in Asian specialty stores and in 10-pound bags for restaurants.

Multistate Outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis Infections Linked to Bean Sprouts [CDC] (via Food Safety News)
Henry’s Farm Inc. Recalls Soybean Sprouts Due To Possible Health Risk [FDA]

Mobile Companies Leaping To Sell You A New Phone — With A New Contract — On Black Friday

Wed, 2014-11-26 22:10

(bryan bope)

(bryan bope)

Is your phone getting old? Has it met with the unfortunate confluence of liquids, young children, and boisterous pets lately? If you’re in the market for a replacement or upgrade, it looks like Black Friday might be your day… as long as you’re willing to sign a contract.

The big mobile companies are all gearing up to beat each other out for the ability to sell you the cheapest device at the end of this week,
FierceWireless reports.

Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon are all offering major deals on handsets and tablets to kick off the holiday shopping season.

Verizon, reportedly, will be offering $100 off of all new Android smart phones. Additionally, as long as you sign a new two-year contract you can get the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia Z3v for free (after a rebate, with the Samsung), or significant discounts on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. The mobile behemoth is also rumored to be offering free Verizon Ellipsis 8 or 7 tablets.

AT&T, meanwhile, is pushing hard on wearables. They’re offering the Samsung Galaxy Gear Fit, Samsung Galaxy Gear 2 Neo, Martian Notifier, LG G Watch, and Pebble Smart Watch for $99 each. AT&T is also offering discount deals for buying certain bundles or pairings of LG or HTC devices.

T-Mobile, unlike the other three big carriers, doesn’t subsidize handset purchases. However, they are offering substantial discounts: $150 off the Samsung Galaxy S5 and $100 off the Galaxy Note 3. T-Mobile is also offering discounts on the LG G3, the Sony Xperia Z3 and the HTC One M8.

Sprint’s deals are slightly different. Instead of big discounts up front, they’re offering different financing terms to customers who spread the cost of a phone out over a two-year installment-based leasing plan.

Best Buy is also offering deals on the Galaxy S5 through November 29 (Saturday).

For the full run-down of devices, data plans, and bundle details, hit up the links FierceWireless has compiled.

Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and more unleash device deals for Black Friday [FierceWireless]

1-In-5 Shoppers Has Done Something Awful To Obtain A Coveted Holiday Gift

Wed, 2014-11-26 22:09

(Smacks Well)

(Smacks Well)

Because there’s this widely held assumption that people should get the thing they desire most during the holidays, and because a lot of people desire the same things, some holiday shoppers will cross that line between naughty and nice to make sure they check certain items off their shopping lists.

According to researchers at 1010Data, 21% of shoppers have done something just downright awful to make sure their kid got the G.I. Joe with the kung fu grip, or the pair of Uggs they’ll ruin within a week by wearing them out in the slushy snow.

Among the most egregious examples, include taking an item out of another shopper’s cart, cutting in front of other shoppers in line, pushing or shoving a shopper out of the way, and even paying
another shopper to get what they want.

All for gifts that will likely disappoint, be broken, or be forgotten about shortly after being received.

But there’s a reason that 1-in-5 of us act like A-holes during the holiday shopping season, because more than half of us have seen what happens when you give a loved one something other than what they asked for, because heaven forbid someone have to buy something on their own.

According to 1010Data’s survey, 20% of respondents said they were given the silent treatment after giving an unasked-for gift. Nearly the same number (18%) learned that the gift’s recipient had gone and complained to friends or family, with 11% choosing to actually bring up the topic of the disappointing at a social gathering or party.

The good news is that only 1% of respondents said that a lackluster gift ended their relationship. And honestly, if a so-so Christmas gift is enough to cause a breakup, either the recipient is a horrible person you don’t need to be around, or that relationship wasn’t long for this world anyway.

Some Workers Step Up, Love Working On Thanksgiving

Wed, 2014-11-26 21:48

(SA_Steve)

(SA_Steve)

While many commentators (this site included) have complained about the ascent of Brown Thursday and how the shopping frenzy has gradually devoured the holiday once known as Thanksgiving, perhaps we’re being unfair. There are workers who enjoy spending Thanksgiving Day on the job, and who volunteer for duty.

Well, okay, CNN was only able to find and interview three, but there are plenty of others out there. They spoke to a couple who work at Target, then celebrate Thanksgiving as a family the following weekend. The crowd is friendly and fun, they explained, and being able to earn 1.5 times their normal pay for working a holiday is worth it.

One Kohl’s employee…isn’t actually a Kohl’s employee anymore. He used to work at the store, and volunteered to work because he has the day off at his new job, and would rather earn some extra money and get an employee discount. Some stores even offer extra discounts to employees who work on holidays, alongside their festive holiday food that is probably from Boston Market.

We love working on Thanksgiving! [CNN]

Senator Pressures Visa, MasterCard To Stop Serving File-Sharing Sites

Wed, 2014-11-26 20:57

(frankieleon)

(frankieleon)


File-sharing and copyright infringement have been a bugaboo among lawmakers since internet speeds got fast enough to swap music in the late 1990s. No tactic so far has actually yet stopped audiences from swapping music and movies among themselves, and while some sites and services have been shuttered, another two or three are always ready to pop up. So now a lawmaker is trying a new strategy: appealing to the middlemen who actually move the money.

This week, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont (chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee) sent letters to the heads of both Visa and Mastercard (PDF) asking them to pull service from a set of 30 “cyberlocker” cites. His list of targeted sites comes from a report (PDF) issued recently from NetNames and the Digital Citizens Alliance, a group that creates and publishes reports about the nature and volume of online crimes.

“Cyberlockers” are just cloud-storage file hosting services. But unlike workplace-friendly names like DropBox, they’re the ones with a less, shall we say, savory reputation.

“Unlike lawful cloud storage services,” Leahy writes, cyberlockers “exist to unlawfully store and disseminate infringing files around the world.” Basically, they’re where you get and store your shared music, movies, TV, and other media of a not-legally-purchased nature.

“The cyberlockers listed in the report bear clear red flags of having no legitimate purpose or activity,” Leahy continues. Although the report doesn’t find that all of the traffic to the sites it cites is illegal, it did find a very high amount to be. Roughly 80% of the files the survey looked at across the 30 named services infringed copyright in some way. (Including, the report mentions as an aside, the 13% of content that was pornographic.)

The 30 services that the NetNames report looked at all provide “premium” subscription-level service, and those services can be paid for with a credit card. This is where Visa and Mastercard come in. The theory goes like this: if file-hosting sites can’t process payments, they don’t make a profit and can’t keep the lights and servers on.

No profit, no motivation. And if they can’t keep the lights and servers on, then they stop being. And when they stop being, sharing of copyrighted material stops. Confetti ensues.

Visa and MasterCard do prohibit their cards being used for unlawful purposes. Leahy, in his letters, reminds executives of both companies that their predecessors testified to as much before the Senate in 2006.

Since the sites exist for unlawful activity, Leahy’s argument goes, and since Visa and MasterCard don’t support unlawful activity, Visa and Mastercard are both therefore strongly urged to “revisit their policies” and to “ensure that payment processing services offered by [Visa and Mastercard] to those sites, or any others dedicated to infringing activity, cease.”

Leahy has a long history of involvement with copyright protection issues. As TorrentFreak notes, he was the lead sponsor of PIPA — one of the two bills that generated an internet-wide protest — back in 2012.

Senator tells Visa and MasterCard to stop serving “cyberlockers” [Ars Technica]

Ubisoft Admits Assassin’s Creed Is Broken, Offers Free Stuff To Apologize

Wed, 2014-11-26 20:52

acunityglitchAs I argued a couple weeks back in the wake of the botched release of Assassin’s Creed Unity, video game publishers need to stop treating their biggest customers as guinea pigs on which to unleash broken games that will eventually be fixed via multiple patches weeks after release — or at the very least acknowledge this treatment and give these customers an incentive (lower price, free stuff, etc.) that doesn’t make them immediately regret spending $60 on a new game. And while it’s too late to undo all the damage done, Ubisoft is now attempting to make nice with these users by offering them free content as an apology.

In a blog post published earlier today, Yannis Mallat, CEO of Ubisoft Montreal and Toronto, admits that the anticipation and excitement for the newest title in the popular series was undercut because “the overall quality of the game was diminished by bugs and unexpected technical issues… These problems took away from your enjoyment of the game, and kept many of you from experiencing the game at its fullest potential.”

The publisher has released multiple patches since the initial launch, but many are still angered by the fact that they paid top dollar for an unfinished game. And the irritation is only made worse by Ubisoft’s decision to strong-arm reviewers into holding back reviews of the game until after pre-orders were released, meaning people had no advance warning that they were buying a glitch-filled mess.

So in order to try to make it right, Ubisoft is going to give everyone who bought the game access to the Dead Kings downloadable content for free. If you paid for a Season Pass, which gives you access to all DLC when it’s released, you’ll be able to pick a free game from a slate of other Ubisoft titles, including Far Cry 4, Watch Dogs, Rayman Legends, Just Dance 2015.

The company has posted more information about the offer here.

Mallat says that the feedback from users — who have not held back from filling in the company on every glitch they discover “has been both humbling and incredibly helpful,” and he says that Ubisoft is “hopeful that with these forthcoming updates, everyone will be able to truly enjoy their Assassin’s Creed Unity experience.”

Please let this be a lesson to the game publishers of the world — if you know in advance that you won’t be releasing a finished product, tell your customers as soon as possible.

Given that it takes months for disc-based games to be made, packaged, shipped and distributed to stores, Ubisoft knew for months that what it would release in November was not going to work properly.

Had the company announced a week or two before launch, “Warning: The game is going to be glitchy at launch, but we’re going to give free DLC to everyone who pre-orders,” I’m betting they would have actually sold even more copies of the game, and people would not have been able to complain when the launch product wasn’t up to snuff.

Sorry Camel, Fewer People Than Ever Are Smoking Between Every Thanksgiving Course

Wed, 2014-11-26 20:16

cameladIt’s been 78 years since Camel rans its full-page Thanksgiving ad encouraging smokers to enjoy a cigarette after every course of their holiday meal to aid with “good digestion.” Since then, food has apparently gotten a lot easier to digest — and people aren’t so keen about dying of lung cancer, emphysema and heart disease — as a new CDC report finds that fewer Americans than ever are aiding their digestion with cigarettes.

According to the CDC’s latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report — which has to be our favorite name for all weekly reports and would make a good name for a hybrid prog rock/smooth jazz band — smoking in the U.S. in 2013 was down to only 42.1 million people, down three million from 2005. So even though the U.S. population grew during those years, the number of smokers dropped.

The rate of smoking in the country is at its lowest since 1965, when the CDC’s National Health Interview Survey first started asking that question, in between puffs of its Lucky Strikes of course.

But while cigarette smoking has decreased overall, the CDC says that it is still prevalent among certain demographic groups.

camelad2

For example, those with less education are more likely to be smokers. While the overall percentage of American adults who smoke is 17.8%, that rate soars to 41.4% for adults with a GED, and 33.2% for people whose education stopped between ninth and eleventh grade. And these numbers remain virtually unchanged between 2005 and 2013.

Income levels also showed a significant difference between prevalence of smoking. Americans living above the poverty line smoked less frequently than the national average at only 16.2%, while 29.2% of adults living in poverty are smokers. And just as in the education example, while the rate of smoking dropped between 2005 and 2013 among those above the poverty line, it remained constant for the lower-income demographic.

In terms of geographic differences, the CDC says that Americans in the West Census Region (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming) had the lowest rate at only 13.6%, in spite of the fact that Native Americans had the highest rate of any single ethnic group at 26.1%.

The region with the highest rate of smoking was the Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin), at 20.9%.

All four geographical regions saw declines in smoking between 2005 and 2013.

For the first time, the report looked at smoking prevalence in two other demographic areas — disability and sexual orientation — and found noteworthy differences in each category.

According to the CDC, nearly 1-in-4 of Americans who identified as having a disability were smokers in 2013, compared to only 17% for those who don’t claim to be disabled. An even bigger gab existed between straight adults (17.6% smokers) and the lesbian/gay/bisexual adults (26.6%).

Since these are new stats for the CDC to track, it’s impossible to say whether there has been an increase or decrease in smoking among these populations during the 8-year time period. Guess we’ll just have to wait until 2022.

The CDC is also taking the opportunity of this report to remind Americans not to fall for the “Well, I only smoke a few times a day” trap.

“Though smokers are smoking fewer cigarettes, cutting back by a few cigarettes a day rather than quitting completely does not produce significant health benefits,” said Brian King Ph.D., a senior scientific advisor with CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. “Smokers who quit before they’re 40 years old can get back almost all of the 10 years of life expectancy smoking takes away.”

camelad3

Warm Up For Black Friday: Here’s A Pop Quiz On The Best Deals

Wed, 2014-11-26 20:14

(Rich Renomeron)

(Rich Renomeron)

You can’t depend on retailers to tell you whether you’re really getting a good deal or not. Is $89 the cheapest that you can find an Apple TV for? Is a $199 Dyson vacuum cleaner too good to pass up? You can make sure that your deal-finding senses are finely tuned and ready for Black Friday with an interactive deal quiz over at CNN. Some deals are exceptional, and others compare unfavorably to other recent sales, sometimes at the same retailer. [CNN]

Where Do People Buy The Stuff They Used To Buy At Sears?

Wed, 2014-11-26 20:01

Pete Kraynak

Pete Kraynak

Many American consumers have sworn off shopping at Sears and Kmart, their local stores have closed, or they have just forgotten that the chains exist. Business that once went to Kmart now goes to discount store competitors Kmart and Walmart, logically enough, but where do Americans go for the things that they once bought at Sears?

The Wall Street Journal explains that the main beneficiaries of Sears closing many stores and driving away existing customers has been Home Depot and Lowe’s. Both chains sell large appliances and tools, items that people once visited Sears for. One analyst determined that if Sears loses about half of its anticipated sales in those sectors in the next few years, just that former Sears business could boost each big box’s total sales in a given store by around 1%. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but there is a lot of money at stake.

Sears also once did plenty of business in consumer electronics, like televisions and computers. They’re trying to get out of that sector, which leaves the business wide open for…Best Buy, yet another big-box chain that is staging a successful comeback. Best Buy, incidentally, also sells the major appliances that people used to buy at Sears.

Sears’s Great Holiday Retail Giveaway [Wall Street Journal]

Is Today Actually The Busiest Air Travel Day Of The Year?

Wed, 2014-11-26 18:50

(Ryan Keene)

(Ryan Keene)

You hear it every year from people — Try to avoid traveling on the day before Thanksgiving because it’s the busiest day of the year. And that very well be true when you factor in all modes of transport. But in terms of air travel, Thanksgiving Eve appears to be nowhere near the most hectic day for flights in the U.S.

This the argument made by David Yanofsky over at QZ.com, where he uses FAA flight data to show that the busiest travel days are actually during the middle of the summer. In fact, of the 15 days in 2013 with the highest numbers of flights operating at U.S. airports, only one (Dec. 20) occurred outside of the summer months. December 19 was the 16th busiest day last year, while Nov. 27 was all the way down at #27 for the year.

Now this comparison only looks at the sheer number of flights and not the actual number of passengers on those flights. In a follow-up on Twitter, Yanofsky makes the case that FAA data for passenger emplanements shows that November is significantly lower than the summer months and December.

This news will be of little to no consolation or concern for the millions of Americans who are packed onto Amtrak trains this weekend (especially in the D.C.-Boston corridor) or stuck in traffic trying to drive to see in-laws they don’t particularly like. And the fact that most of these people will be making their return trips later this weekend doesn’t help.

Meanwhile, I’m currently under about eight feet of snow in upstate New York. If someone wants to hop on their SnoCat and rescue me, please bring some hot chocolate. Oh, and watch out for the hedge animals outside. I think they’re moving.

Uber’s Latest Privacy Problems: “Ghost Texting” Drivers’ Contacts, Collecting Android Users’ Data

Wed, 2014-11-26 18:35

ubergame
Controversial car service Uber, already under fire recently, has a new pair of privacy concerns this morning. One has to do with drivers’ accounts, and the other is for anyone who uses the Android version of the app.

Uber’s like hundreds of other companies in one particular way: they rely on recommendations from current employees to help them find new workers. One Uber driver’s girlfriend recently got a text from him, through Uber’s referral program, urging her to sign up so they could both get a bonus. The problem? He didn’t send that text or choose to refer anyone at all, in fact, let alone his girlfriend. And neither did other Uber drivers whose friends and family have received recruiting messages in their names.

Newsweek calls the problem “ghost texts.” They spoke with a driver, “George,” who showed them the message his girlfriend had received:

UberMSG: “Congratulations! Your friend [George] wants you to be an Uber partner! Both of you can make money when you APPLY HERE: [URL with referral code].

George told Newsweek that he neither gave Uber permission to contact his girlfriend, nor manually referred her. And the referral code in the text wasn’t his, either.

Of course, it’s sadly common for apps to require you to opt out of giving them access to your contacts, rather than requiring you to opt in. So George immediately went to go check his settings. Only… there wasn’t a choice. “Most apps have an option that says, ‘Do you want this app to see your contacts list?’,” George told Newsweek, but “Uber doesn’t have that option.”

Newsweek looked at the way Uber’s referral program is supposed to work, and it’s a very clear set of manual steps a driver needs to take and confirm along the way. Drivers using an Uber-owned company phone first have to select a “refer now” option and then manually enter a contact’s information. Drivers using their own devices have a similar process, but with an extra step.

The wording on the referral message is different depending on if the driver is using their own phone or a company phone. Although George uses his own device, his girlfriend received the “company phone” variant of the message.

Neither George nor any of the other Uber drivers Newsweek spoke with went through that manual referral process. When George contacted Uber to ask about it, he received a reply saying they’d follow up with him… which they still haven’t done.

Uber told Newsweek, “We are looking into how these messages may have been sent. Uber does not ask for or have access to drivers’ contacts stored on their personal phones. To refer friends, drivers have to manually and locally send from their phone. For any drivers whose friends sign up as a result of these messages, we will ensure that they receive the proper referral bonus.”

At least one driver, meanwhile, told Newsweek he’d stick with paying the fee for the Uber-owned phone instead. No contacts, no spam.

Android device owners who use Uber, meanwhile, might need to worry about a whole lot more than spam to their contacts. The app, as it turns out, not only has access to every piece of data about your phone, but also reports that information back to Uber.

Users at Hacker News reverse-engineered the Uber Android app, as BGR reports, and looked at all of the data it collects and systems it has access to.

It’s not a surprise to any Uber user that the app needs the ability to send and receive texts and calls and to access your GPS. Those are foundational to the service: it can’t send a car to your location, and text you updates, if it doesn’t know where you are or how to reach your phone.

However, Uber also accesses a whole bunch of other information about your Android phone. Some of that info includes: what other, non-Uber apps are installed and what and when they’re running; how much data your phone is sending everywhere; what cell towers you’re connected to; what wifi networks you’re connected to; what wifi networks in the area are available that you’re not connected to; whether or not your phone has been rooted; and how much charge is left in your battery, or whether your phone is plugged in.

Uber also checks if your phone has any malware on it, and if your phone is vulnerable to the heartbleed bug. Among other things.

As one Hacker News user points out, most of the things Uber asks are just part of making it work, though not all of them are. Plenty of those settings are just left in, basically, by default.

That doesn’t mean Uber is doing anything nefarious with the data or in fact collecting it at all. But they could be, either now or in the future. And perhaps more importantly: every app that has access to private phone data is yet another app that could be leaving users vulnerable to having their information stolen, hacked, or otherwise used against them.

That’s a lot of risk for basically calling a cab.

Ghost Texts: Uber’s Invasive Practices in Driver Recruitment [Newsweek]
Uber’s Android app is reportedly collecting a huge amount of data without your knowledge [BGR]

How Do You Ship A Turducken?

Wed, 2014-11-26 18:15

(Mighty June)

(Mighty June)

When 31-year-old Danny Catullo took over the butcher shop started by his grandfather, he had the same thought that many digitally savvy young adults do when taking charge of a family business: how can I take this online and really rake in sales?

Bloomberg Businessweek explains that the company found its niche in selling things that you can’t find in every local supermarket: regional specialties like the turducken. Yes, the turducken, the holiday dish of meat-stuffed meat that everyone jokes about but that you probably haven’t tried. At this butcher, it consists of a deboned chicken and duck stuffed inside a turkey, which has its breastbone removed in order to make space for the other animals.

Once you’ve managed to sell a turducken to someone across the country, how do you get it to them? A 15-pound stuffed turducken sells for about $80, and ships packed in about 8 pounds of dry ice. Sales took off a few years later, after Pepto-Bismol aired a turducken-related commercial.

The butcher shop used a $5,000 prize from a contest held by FedEx to work on shipping solutions for sending meat all over the country, including to Alaska and Hawaii.

Sleep Inn Manager Accused Of Redirecting $873K In Credit Card Payments To Personal Account

Wed, 2014-11-26 18:14

sleepinnA former manager at a Sleep Inn hotel in Michigan is accused of taking advantage of the chain’s credit card payment system to issue nearly $900,000 in bogus refunds to her credit card accounts.

It worked like this, according to Mlive.com — As general manager at the hotel, the suspect oversaw the processing of credit card payments. Hotels often don’t charge cards until after a guest’s stay is completed, but an authorization for the estimated amount of the payment is sought, putting the funds in limbo for a short period of time.

So what the manager did was go into the third-party system that tracks these authorizations and manually enter her credit card information under actual guests’ names. Then she would issue “refunds” to those customers, but the money would actually go to her account.

In all, authorities say she managed to get away with $872,929.23 in fraudulent refunds over the course of seven years.

She now faces 15 counts of wire fraud and one count of money laundering.

Sleep Inn is part of the Choice Hotels network of hotels, which includes Comfort Inn, Quality Inn, EconoLodge, and Clarion.

Restaurant Sorry It Offended People With “Roofie Colada” Drink

Wed, 2014-11-26 17:44

There was no flunitrazepam in the Roofie Colada, but some customers were less than thrilled about the reference to the date rape drug.

There was no flunitrazepam in the Roofie Colada, but some customers were less than thrilled about the reference to the date rape drug.

Here’s a suggestion for anyone running a business: When naming a product, you might want to think about not cracking a date-rape joke, as — amazingly — not everyone is amused by references to non-consensual forced intercourse.

This is a lesson that is begrudgingly being learned by a gastropub in Staten Island, which recently came under fire for a drink called a “Roofie Colada.”

While the cocktail obviously does not include the powerful sedative Rohypnol (or its generic form, flunitrazepam) that has long been associated with predators who use it to spike victims’ drinks for illicit, illegal purposes, not everyone thought the name was amusing and let the restaurant know about it.

And when someone did complain about it on Facebook, the restaurant’s response wasn’t exactly one of empathy or apology. Instead, the eatery told the customer that the name was a reference to a bit from an episode of Family Guy, and then chastised the person for daring to register their complaint in a public forum.

“You could have said something to management or even sent us a private message about how you felt, wrote the restaurant, according to DNAinfo.com, “which we would have respectfully considered and maybe even changed.”

The restaurant eventually did pull the cocktail — some ridiculously sweet concoction involving coffee ice cream, doughnuts, Kahlua, vanilla vodka, caramel, chocolate syrup and whipped cream — and wrote an apology on Facebook.

“We treat our guests with the utmost respect and we are always open to feedback to make our restaurant a welcoming and comfortable place with a touch of humor and quirkiness,” reads the note. “We certainly did not intend to create an impression of reckless or negligent behavior by presenting the desert [sic] at question to our guests nor did we mean to make anyone feel uncomfortable or insulted. This desert [sic] name was simply a homage to an adult cartoon and there was no malice. We obviously do not support date rape or any sort of violence for that matter. We humbly apologize if we have offended anyone and we appreciate the community around us and its awareness toward the cause. Please be advised that the dessert is currently off the menu until it is appropriately renamed.”

The Staten Island eatery is just the latest to think it could crack a joke about sexual assault. Earlier this year, there was the Montreal restaurant with an outdoor sign that read (originally in French) “Pick-up line of the day: does this tissue smell like chloroform?”

In that case, the owners also pointed to Family Guy as their inspiration.

Just a few weeks earlier, a bar in Washington state used Urban Dictionary as its defense of a drink dubbed “Date Grape Kool-Aid,” which not only drew criticism from people who don’t find date rape all that hilarious and from Kraft, the maker of Kool-Aid, which was “appalled” at the drink and its unauthorized association with the family friendly beverage brand.

Payday Lenders Now Outnumber McDonald’s (But Still Not As Many As Subway)

Wed, 2014-11-26 17:14

(DCvision2006)

(DCvision2006)

There are more than 14,000 McDonald’s locations in the U.S., meaning you’re rarely more than a few miles away from a Big Mac. But even though payday loans are illegal in more than a dozen states, these short-term predatory lending operations outnumber Golden Arches eateries by nearly 1.5 to 1, though they still have some catching up to do with the vast number of Subway stores.

This is according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, which reports that there are now around 20,000 payday lending operations in America, or about 6.3 lenders serving every 100,000 people.

This is in spite of the fact that the high-interest, short-term loans are only available in 36 states and some of the states that ban them are among the most populous, including New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Virginia. Which means the concentration of payday operations is even higher than the 20,000 stat would initially indicate.

But if payday lenders want to truly outpace the fast food industry, they have a while to go before catching up with Subway, which currently has more than 26,000 locations in the U.S. and has plans to add another 7,000 to 8,000 in the coming decade.

[via NBC News]

Totino’s Disturbs Us All By Using Terrible Stock Photos

Wed, 2014-11-26 16:51

Stock photos are images that photographers produce in case an advertiser or publication might need them one day and pay for the photograph. Nobody can predict every kind of image that every designer might possibly need, which means that there are a lot of weird stock photos. Really weird. Totino’s decided to use some of these photos to promote their frozen pizza rolls, and the result is even more disturbing than the original pictures.

This all began with a Buzzfeed article that simply presented 50 stock photos, which in turn came from a blog and from a subreddit devoted to terrible stock photos. Totino’s took these images and tried to find a use for them in the context of pizza rolls. The images make even less sense with pizzas and pizza rolls added to them. Or maybe this was the purpose that a picture of a man dressed as Santa and pinching his nipples had all along.

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Buzzfeed’s 50 Unusable Stock Photos: Used! [Totino’s Life]

Coke Charging Twice The Price Of Normal Milk For Fancy Milk: Claims It Tastes Better, Is More Nutritious

Tue, 2014-11-25 22:42

fairlifeadsplityMilk. It’s what you put in cereal and eat with cookies. But would you pay twice the price you shell out now for a regular pint of milk for a so-called “premium” dairy beverage? Coca-Cola is willing to bet shoppers will be wooed by its new Fairlife milk, saying its new product tastes better and is more nutritious than regular milk.

Coke’s foray into the milk market (as a major investor in Fairlife) features an advertising campaign apparently focused on sort-of naked ladies who really like drinking fancy milk.

The “premiumization” of milk, as one executive put it, translate to a high-protein, high-calcium, low-sugar drink, Businessweek reports.

“It’s basically the premiumization of milk… We’ll charge twice as much for it as the milk we’re used to buying in a jug,” Coca-Cola’s North American chief, Sandy Douglas, said, claiming that the milk “tastes better” than normal milk, and will be more nutritious with 50% more natural protein and calcium and less sugar than the usual stuff.

He adds that the product will come from 92 family-owned sustainable dairy farms with “high-care processes” and a “proprietary milk-filtering process.”

Fairlife says it will be “pursuing the highest standards of milk quality, agricultural sustainability and animal comfort.”

It’s slate to go on sale next month in the United States.

Coke milk? Coca-Cola to launch premium milk brand called Fairlife [Businessweek]

Mazda Recalls Nearly 100,000 Cars Because Adequate Tire Pressure Is Important

Tue, 2014-11-25 22:16

(frankieleon)

(frankieleon)

Car manufacturers must meet a number of safety regulations when selling vehicles. One such mandate that the vehicle’s a low-tire pressure warning system works. That apparently isn’t the case for nearly 100,000 of the newest Mazda vehicles.

According to a notice [PDF] on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website, 99,711 model year 2014 to 2015 Mazda 6 sedans were recalled because they may have non-working low-tire pressure warning systems.

Federal regulations require that tire pressure monitoring systems alert drivers by illuminating a warning light in the instrument cluster if one or more tires lose 25% of the recommended air pressure.

When the vehicles were tested according to NHTSA procedure, the system did not have the capability to detect a slow deflation occurring on all four tires simultaneously.

If the vehicles are operated without adequate tire pressure the driver may have a difficult time handling the vehicle. According to Car Talk, incorrect tire pressure can compromise cornering, braking and stability. And in the worst-case scenario, improper tire pressure can lead to tire failure — and an accident.

Owners of affected vehicles will be noticed about the issue and can take their car to a dealer for repair. Dealers will reprogram the software for the tire pressure system.

Dealership’s “White Friday” Deal: Buy A New Vehicle Now, Get A Refund If It Snows 6 Inches On Christmas

Tue, 2014-11-25 22:00

(Firehouse Designs)

(Firehouse Designs)

We’ve seen retailers make a big gamble for events like the Super Bowl (and lose millions in merchandise, in one case), but this might be the first time we’ve caught wind of a car dealership willing togive out free cars just to woo Black Friday shoppers.

In what one Chicago-area Buick dealership is calling a “White Friday” sale, customers who buy any brand new Buick or GMC vehicle on Nov. 28 and 29 will have the chance to get all that money back come Christmas, reports the Chicago Tribune.

The catch is, it has to snow six inches or more on Christmas Day, a measurement that must be recorded at the O’Hare International Airport weather station.

The chances of getting any amount of snowfall in Chicago on that day are between 40% to 50%, according to the Illinois Climatologist office, much less an entire six inches.

Even so, if the dealership is smart, it’s got some kind of insurance policy backing this deal up.

Dealership offers free cars if it snows on Christmas Day [Chicago Tribune]

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