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The Consumerist

What Happens When One Mall Has Two Different Minimum Wages?

1 hour 18 min ago

(Kat N.L.M.)

(Kat N.L.M.)

Normally, it wouldn’t be a huge deal to have one mall that sits on the border between two cities. There might be some small differences in laws or sales tax, but at the Westfield Valley Fair Mall in California, there’s a huge difference. It sits on the border between the cities of San Jose and Santa Clara, and San Jose recently raised the citywide minimum wage by $2.

Yes, the minimum wage law does apply to the mall, and management knows exactly where the border between stores is. For example, it runs down the middle of the mall’s Gap store. One pretzel store with multiple locations in the mall rotates employees through its two stores, which are in different cities within the mall. As NPR’s Planet Money team learned, it gets complicated.

Managers find that the best candidates for jobs tend to accept positions on the San Jose side, where the minimum wage is $8 per hour. This problem isn’t very complicated. Store owners really have two choices: on the Santa Clara side, they could pay their employees more than the minimum wage to start. Maybe they could even match the $10 per hour minimum wage on the San Jose side. Instead of doing that, store owners simply keep starting pay to the local minimum and deal with the consequences.

“We get the bottom of the barrel here,” the manager of one shoe store told NPR, presumably confident that his employees aren’t big public radio listeners.

A Mall With Two Minimum Wages [NPR]
Episode 562: A Mall Divided [NPR]

Tractor-Trailer Tips Over, Spills Beer Across Freeway

Tue, 2014-09-02 23:20

beer_spillEarly this morning in Houston, an 18-wheeler and a sedan collided on a freeway. Both vehicles spun out, and the 18-wheeler tipped over, severely injuring the driver and spilling the trailer’s contents on the road. What was inside? Beer. Dozens and dozens of cases of beer. The beer spilled across the highway, and the driver remains in serious condition in the hospital. [KPRC]

Now Let’s All Address Stacks Of Thanksgiving Cards

Tue, 2014-09-02 22:49

Okay, Consumerists, did you get your Halloween cards addressed two weeks ago like marketers wanted you to? Good! Put those aside for the next seven weeks or so, because it’s time for your next occasion that requires cards: Thanksgiving.


“But Consumerist, Thanksgiving isn’t for another three months! I haven’t even bought all of my decorations!” you say. It’s not marketers’ problem that you’re behind. Get with the program, imaginary person.

Reader Randy spotted these cards at CVS, and the chain’s card section comes from Hallmark.

These cards do have a real purpose, other than forcing us to spend $2 for a piece of cardstock and some glitter. Sending a card might make you feel more connected to distant loved ones, especially if you’re living far away and want to feel closer to that person.

Nah, it’s probably just the thing where they want us to spend $2.

IRS Turning Its Baleful Gaze At Company Cafeterias That Churn Out Free Food

Tue, 2014-09-02 22:39

Google cafeteria forking over free food. (toonbobo)

Do you hear that noise? It’s thousands of forks clattering in the hands of Silicon Valley employees currently enjoying a free lunch. The Internal Revenue Service is taking a closer look at the trend of company cafeterias shoveling free food onto employees’ plates, saying that smorgasbord is a taxable fringe benefit.

Free food is a no-brainer for companies like Google, Yahoo!, Facebook and Twitter — if you don’t ever have to leave the office to eat, you can keep working longer hours.

But as the Wall Street Journal reports, the IRS is paying attention to these freebie fests, by way of routine audits at some companies, according to tax lawyers.

If an employer hasn’t withheld taxes for those meals, the IRS might try to collect back taxes, most likely from the company and not the worker, though in theory, it could do so.

It’s also listing “employer-provided meals” on its annual list with the U.S. Treasury Department top tax priorities for the fiscal year ending in June 2015, with “new guidance” for companies.

“I suspect this is going to be guidance on these free cafeterias, that the benefit has got to be included in income,” one employment-tax attorney tells the WSJ.

It’s a tricky gray area — meals provided by your company that aren’t a lunch or dinner here and there are considered a taxable fringe benefit, like using the company car.

But meals don’t have to be taxed if workers get them for a “noncompensatory” reason for the “convenience of the employer.”

So your boss has to provide meals if you work say, in a desert outpost with no other options around, or if the nature of your job makes it impractical to leave the premises.

As such, many of those free-meal programs could fit under the convenience test, argue some lawyers, saying it saves time for workers, and can provide healthier options as well. Plus, one points out,”maybe you don’t want your employees running around in other eateries talking business.”

Those free meals aren’t going anywhere just yet, however, as experts believe the issue will be battled out in the courts.

Silicon Valley Cafeterias Whet Appetite of IRS [Wall Street Journal]

Apple: Stolen Celeb Nudes Were Result Of Good Guessing, Not Data Breach

Tue, 2014-09-02 22:30



In what amounts to a “don’t blame us” statement, Apple appears to be trying to shake off any culpability it might have in this weekend’s massive posting of hundreds of stolen photos of a female celebrities in various states of undress (Again — no, we’re not linking to them). The company is saying there was no data breach on iCloud or Find My iPhone… but only in the sense that not everyone’s photos were stolen.

In a statement released this afternoon, Apple explains (bolded for emphasis):

We wanted to provide an update to our investigation into the theft of photos of certain celebrities. When we learned of the theft, we were outraged and immediately mobilized Apple’s engineers to discover the source. Our customers’ privacy and security are of utmost importance to us. After more than 40 hours of investigation, we have discovered that certain celebrity accounts were compromised by a very targeted attack on user names, passwords and security questions, a practice that has become all too common on the Internet. None of the cases we have investigated has resulted from any breach in any of Apple’s systems including iCloud® or Find my iPhone. We are continuing to work with law enforcement to help identify the criminals involved.

The question is what, exactly, constitutes a data breach.

No, the hackers did not find some back door in iCloud or the Apple network to access these victims’ accounts.

So that should be some comfort for people who might have been worried that these stolen images were just part of a much larger data heist, or that there was some easily exploitable hole in iCloud.

But what the Apple statement does not address is the original claim made by hackers that they were able to unlock these victims’ accounts via brute force, by repeatedly trying passwords and/or security questions until they succeeded.

This should not be an option, and the fact that outsiders were able to eventually figure out these answers does still raise concerns about Apple’s safety protocols. So it’s not a data breach, but personal data has been stolen.

The only way in which Apple could be completely blameless is if these hackers had gained access to passwords and security questions through other means and were able to enter them into the account within the first few attempts.

[via 9to5mac]

Hospital Teams With Bank To Offer Interest-Free Loans So Patients Can Pay Their Bills

Tue, 2014-09-02 22:25



Health care, especially of the emergency kind, has been known to leave consumers with hefty bills and few options expect to go into debt. But now some health systems are finding ways to give their patients relief when it comes to credit-destroying medical bills.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that health care systems are ditching their in-house payment plans and teaming up with banks to offer patients interest-free loans to pay their medical bills – even if they have no way of repaying the loan.

Back in March, SSM Health Care, which operates in Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma and Wisconsin, partnered with Commerce Bank to offer interest-free loans with three- and five-year terms to make it easier for consumers to pay their ever-increasing deductibles.

The program, for which Commerce receives a fee for servicing the loans, doesn’t require a credit check and won’t deny loans even if the patient doesn’t have the ability to pay.

Consumers with a hospital bill of more than $300 are eligible for the program. But only patients with a balance of $7,000 or more for hospital services are eligible for a five-year term loan.

While there is no monthly minimum payment requirement, the first payment must be $300. If the consumer stops paying or defaults SSM would be responsible for collecting the debt.

So far, the program between SSM and Commerce has lent $6.5 million to about 4,000 patients.

“The need for something like this has always existed,” Paul Sahney, vice president of revenue management for SSM tells the Post-Dispatch. “Out-of-pocket costs, which is the deductible, co-pay, will continue to rise very significantly over the next five years.”

In the past, SSM worked out payment plans with consumers, but Sahney says the hospitals were not equipped to effectively manage monthly payments and that turning to banks made more sense.

Additionally, officials say the new partnership won’t just help consumers. Saheny says the hope is that SSM will be able to drive down its own debt through the partnership with Commerce.

Hospitals look for new ways to collect unpaid medical bills [The St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

What The Numbers On Your Credit Card Indicate

Tue, 2014-09-02 21:50

(Alan Rappa)

(Alan Rappa)

Over the years, countless people have looked at 16-digit credit card numbers and said things like “Why do they need so many numbers? It’s not like there are 9.999 quadrillion bank accounts out there.” Well, that’s true. But the numbers on your card aren’t just about how many accounts or cardholders exist. They also indicate information about your card issuer, its network and tells processors whether or not the number is valid.

The first part is the easiest, and one that most people have either learned about or assumed — the initial digit in your credit card number indicates the card network.

You may have noticed on some e-commerce sites that the e-tailer recognizes immediately after you’ve typed in that first number what kind of card you’re using. A “4” is for Visa, “5” for MasterCard, “6” for Discover, and “3” covers American Express, Diner’s Club, and Carte Blanche.

What you may not know is that the next several digits indicate what type of card you’re using. points out that a Citi AAdvantage Executive MasterCard will begin with 546616.

This is why it’s often the last few digits of your card that banks and card companies use to refer to your account. However, a scammer could try to use this basic information to talk an ill-trained employee into revealing more information about a customer.

“I need to get a new card, but the right half got mangled by my teething puppy — I have the first six numbers though…”

Then there are the check digits inserted throughout the card to verify the validity of a number to any card processor.’s Jason Steele does his best to explain how, with a little math, you can tell if a card number is valid:

For 16-digit numbers, start with the first number on the left, and double each alternating number on the card. (For 15-digit numbers, start with the second number from the left.) Add any double-digit numbers so that they reduce to a single-digit number. (For example, if one of the numbers is 8, it doubles to 16, then you add 1 + 6 to get 7.) Next, add those together with the alternating numbers that you did not double. If the total you get is divisible by 10, the credit card number is likely valid.

The card issuer inserts check numbers to ensure that this math works out correctly so that the total of those added-up digits is divisible by ten.

None of this is intended to be a safeguard against identity theft. If anyone gets this information — like, say, by hacking a mammoth retail hardware chain — they could easily make fake cards that could be used for in-store purchases until the account is shut off.

Map Shows Which Foods Set Your State Apart From The Rest Of The Country

Tue, 2014-09-02 21:45

(See full map at FastCo Design)

(See full map at FastCo Design)

Look around you — are you surrounded by cheddar cheese? Ranch dressing? Or is every menu you see overflowing with hoagies? What’s on many of the menus in your state sets it apart, whether it’s chocolate, ahi tuna or cheesesteaks.

FastCoDesign worked up a map with a food industry analytics firm, combing 88,000 menus with 59 million food items to find out which ingredients and kinds of food make each state distinct.

The interactive map shows the top 5 food terms in each state, with each “score” coming from the difference between the percentage of menus that include that item and how often it appears on menus around the U.s.

So for example, while cheddar cheese is beloved in Wisconsin and is unsurprisingly included on 56% of menus in the Cheesehead state, it’s pretty popular elsewhere, showing up on 36% of menus countrywide. That gives it a only a 16% distinctiveness edge, if you want to call it that.

On the other hand, for example, the green chile is king in New Mexico, where it pops up on 52% of menus, but only appears on 2% of menus elsewhere.

It’s a fun interactive, even if just to see how widely adored and loved ranch dressing really is across the country. Mmm, with melted cheddar cheese, maybe…

The Weirdest Eating Patterns Of Each U.S. State [FastCoDesign]

People Really Think Miller Lite In Vintage-Style Cans Tastes Better

Tue, 2014-09-02 20:33

(Miller Lite)

(Miller Lite)

Logic tells us it’s impossible for the label on the outside of a container to affect how that product tastes. Human thought processes don’t always follow logic, though. That’s why sales of Miller Lite have increased after the company introduced 80’s-retro cans and bottles last year. They don’t just look cool: some consumers say that the old-school brews even taste better.

This makes no sense, but packaging is a big part of how our fallible brains perceive a product. Ryan Reis, the executive in charge of Miller’s brands, told Bloomberg Businessweek that people keep telling him that the beer tastes different. It doesn’t: it is exactly the same beer that you bought last year when it was in a blue can. The only difference is that the packaging itself is a throwback to the ’80s.

For many consumers, even those who weren’t of drinking age in the ’80s, the can itself brings back fond memories. (It reminds me of block parties during my childhood, when many of my neighbors worked for Miller until the nearby brewery closed, and got free cases as a job perk.) Consumers in the key beer-buying demographic, men ages 21 to 30 or so, may not remember this can design, but the aesthetic of the early ’80s is inexplicably cool again.

In fact, that’s how the redesign came about in the first place. Miller teamed up with the film “Anchorman 2,” and put Miller Lite in the old-school cans as part of a 10-week promotion. The film eventually went to DVD, but sales of Miller Lite increased, so the company stuck with the older design that worked, eventually building an ad campaign about how theirs was the first light beer on the market.


Now the company will expand the white-label branding to taps in bars and glass bottles of Miller Lite. That initial sales boost is now fading, but the company can now build their marketing around what was supposed to be a brief promo. “You’re welcome,” Ron Burgundy says.

Miller Lite Brings Back Its White Label, Possibly Also Its Mojo [Bloomberg Businessweek]

Starbucks Employee Asks Woman With Service Dog To Leave Because There’s “No Proof” He’s A Service Animal

Tue, 2014-09-02 20:25

starbucksStarbucks is once again making headlines for an employee’s reaction to a customer with a service dog. And once again the coffee shop seems to be in the wrong – and apologizing.

According to the Democrat & Chronicle, a 24-year-old New York woman was denied service at a local Starbucks on Sunday because her service dog was not wearing anything identifying him as a service animal.

The woman says she stopped at the coffee shop after taking a long walk with her dog, Zero, but was quickly met with resistance.

A YouTube video of the incident shows the woman asking the Starbucks employee if she was being refused access because of her service dog.

The employee can be heard replying, “No, I’m not. I’m telling you that you cannot come in with your service dog.”

When the woman once again asks if she’s being denied service because of her service dog, the employee says he sees “no proof that that’s a service dog.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not specify that a service animal wear any kind of identifiable collar or vest.

The woman says her service dog, Zero, helps her cope with memory issues stemming from a traumatic brain injury she suffered two years ago in a crash between a bus and the ambulance she was working on as an emergency responder.

On Monday, Starbucks officials said they were trying to reach out to the woman to apologize for the incident.

“It’s unfortunate that this happened,” the spokeswoman tells the Democrat & Chronicle. “[She] did have an experience that’s absolutely inconsistent with our values and our service animal policy.”

According to the spokeswoman, Starbucks trains employees at hiring to simply ask if an animal is a service animal and to welcome customers who say yes without further questions.

Starbucks to apologize to customer with service dog [Democrat & Chronicle]

World’s Worst Taco Bell Customer Grabs Employee’s Butt Through Drive-Thru Window

Tue, 2014-09-02 20:23

(Nicholas DiMaio)

(Nicholas DiMaio)

We understand that Taco Bell’s sole reason to exist is to sate customers’ gluttonous cravings. But while it’s okay to satisfy your lust for cheese and meat-like product with a burrito, it’s most definitely not okay to give into an idiotic desire to grab a Taco Bell employee’s rear-end.

The Smoking Gun has the story of a man in (you guessed it) Florida, who is accused of going the extra mile to cross all lines of decency during a trip to Taco Bell.

According to the police report, the customer pulled up to the Bell drive-thru in the wee hours of the morning on Aug. 30. And when he pulled up to the window to pick up his order, police say he “exited from his vehicle and reached inside of the window and grabbed the victim’s left butt cheek.”

The employee contacted the police, who arrested the man on simple battery. He was later released after posting $500 bond, but is scheduled to appear in court on Oct. 2.

TSG reports that the man has a pair of prior battery arrests on his record, along with arrests for drunk driving and possession of drug paraphernalia.

[via NY Daily News]

Media Companies Afraid To Leave Public Comments Privately Tell FCC Why The Comcast/TWC Merger Stinks

Tue, 2014-09-02 20:20



Plenty of big companies have left lengthy public comments explaining their opposition to Comcast buying Time Warner Cable. Still, though, not everyone who is afraid of the potential consequences of the merger is able to go air their grievances publicly. Media organizations that usually love announcing their opinions to anyone and everyone have been suspiciously silent on the matter, perhaps, as Sen. Al Franken suggested, due to fears of retaliation from their largest business partner. But just because those companies aren’t filing public comments doesn’t mean that they’re in love with the merger, and they may be telling a very different story behind closed doors.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, at the invitation of the FCC, some media companies are beginning privately to gripe about their deals with Comcast, and how those contracts put the content companies at a disadvantage.

Comcast is huge. If a cable network wants to survive, they can’t afford not to be carried to Comcast subscribers. So Comcast contracts can ask for “most-favored nation” clauses, which is to say guarantees of prices and terms that beat out any offered to the competition. The contracts not only let Comcast get cutthroat rates for content, but also can cover everything from which channels are bundled in tiers together to what can appear online, where, and when. And the bigger Comcast gets, the more leverage they can exert.

Content companies that don’t own nation-devouring cable and broadband organizations of their own are, predictably, concerned about the growth of these contracts. But, says the WSJ, they are afraid to file public comments to that effect in part because they do fear retribution from Comcast.

So the FCC is inviting those organizations to leave private comments, instead of public ones. The ever-popular “people familiar with the situation” told the WSJ that Discovery Communications (which runs 13 U.S. networks, including Discovery and TLC) is planning to meet with the FCC, as are executives from other media companies.

The media organizations that do meet privately with the FCC are expected to ask that a number of conditions be applied to any version of the merger the commission might approve, and high on that list are the most-favored nation clauses. One executive told the WSJ that “the entire landscape is booby-trapped” with the agreements.

The contract clauses do potentially raise significant concerns about competition and innovation. Media companies have complained that the agreements prevent or deter them from licensing programming to potential distribution competitors.

Voice of Comcast David L. Cohen of course expressed irritation with the FCC’s open door to media companies, telling the WSJ essentially that big media companies are playing crybaby to the FCC to force Comcast’s hand for better business terms. He said he didn’t see the logic behind the FCC’s permitting companies “companies who have significant market power and significant capacity to negotiate for themselves in the private market to be able to talk in secret to the FCC,” and he added, “a private process runs completely against the grain of the way in which the FCC conducts its transaction reviews.”

The FCC responded to the WSJ that providing confidential avenues, when appropriate, is “an established part of the FCC’s rules” as part of their pending merger proceedings.

Comcast Targeted by Entertainment Giants [Wall Street Journal]

Netflix Wants You To Tell All Your Facebook Friends What To Watch

Tue, 2014-09-02 20:19

Tell them all to watch what you watch or you can't be friends anymore.

Tell them all to watch what you watch or you can’t be friends anymore.

Everyone’s got one — the movie that makes you who you are, the one that turned on all the lights in your brain and opened your mind to a new reality, one that can only exist upon viewing that particular film. So when your best friend/boyfriend/wife/second cousin Thurman admits to have never seeing The One Movie Essential To Your Being, you insist they must watch it and be enlightened. And now Netflix wants you to put that pressure on your Facebook friends with a new social recommendation feature.

Netflix users in the U.S. and Canada can now send content recommendations to their Facebook friends, Cameron Johnson, director of product innovation at Netflix wrote in a blog post today.

“When you finish watching something you’ll be asked if you know anyone else who’d like that show, and prompted to find your friends by connecting to Facebook,” he explains.

But lest you’re worried that your newsfeed will betray the secret of how many times you’ve watched Adventures in Babysitting since you realized it was on Netflix [editor's note: approximately 17 times], sending suggestions won’t share those TV shows or movies to your timeline or your friends.

And if you haven’t linked your Facebook account to your Netflix account, recommendations will arrive as a Facebook message.

But seriously, you’ve never seen Ghostbusters? Does your soul hurt?

Home Depot Joins The Data Breach Party, Investigating Possible Hack

Tue, 2014-09-02 19:55

(Nicholas Eckhart)

(Nicholas Eckhart)

Did you shop at Home Depot recently? Then you will probably want to keep an eye on your bank and/or credit card account. The retailer has confirmed it is investigating the possibility of a data breach that may have resulted in customers’ information being stolen.

Brian Krebs (who else?) is reporting that he had heard from insiders at multiple banks that Home Depot could be the source for a batch of stolen card numbers that recently went on sale on the black market.

A rep for the retailer confirmed that Home Depot is “looking into some unusual activity” and “working with our banking partners and law enforcement to investigate.”

“[W]e are aggressively gathering facts at this point while working to protect customers,” said the rep. “If we confirm that a breach has a occurred, we will make sure customers are notified immediately. Right now, for security reasons it would be inappropriate for us to speculate further but we will provide further information as soon as possible.”

Krebs says the breach may have involved all 2,200 Home Depot stores in the U.S. He also reports that there are indicators that the people behind this breach are the same ones responsible for hacks at other businesses, including Target, Sally Beauty and P.F. Chang’s.

For what it’s worth — and this may be a complete coincidence — I shopped at Home Depot last week and then on Saturday morning someone tried to use the same card to charge $60 to a sketchy online shop selling some Dr. Oz-touted herbal cure. Luckily, my bank flagged this charge as fraudulent and I didn’t have to file a claim. Of course, I am now waiting for a replacement card…

More Fast Food Strikes Expected For Thursday

Tue, 2014-09-02 19:14



Getting a Big Mac, Whopper, Baconator, Double Down, or Chalupa might be a bit of an inconvenience on Thursday, as supporters of the movement for higher pay and union membership for fast food workers say employees will strike in 150 cities.

The full list of cities for Thursday’s protests is not yet known, but there are several that organizers have already announced — New York City, Los Angeles, Oakland, Chicago, Raleigh, Little Rock, Minneapolis, Memphis, and Nashville.

Given the recent unrest in Missouri, the organizers say they have asked that employees in the St. Louis area not protest there, but have encouraged those workers to join protests in other cities.

What remains to be seen is whether Thursday’s actions will be actual strikes, where employees walk off the job temporarily to protest what they believe are unfair working conditions, or if the demonstrations will be manned mostly by union organizers and fast food employees who are not scheduled to work during those hours.

Some have criticized the movement for higher wages as an attempt by labor unions to increase their numbers and take in more dues. They claim that most of the people demonstrating outside of the stores are not actual employees.

The unions counter that the only way fast food employees will be able to increase the general level of compensation is by negotiating en masse as part of a union, and that being a part of a union is no different than a fast food franchisee being part of a larger industry group that works to protect franchisees’ business interests. Additionally, some supporters have said that employees are still too afraid to strike or openly protest their employer for fear of retaliation, in spite of laws prohibiting employers from punishing these workers.

Seattle’s city council recently voted to gradually increase minimum wage in the city to $15/hour over the next few years. But franchisees in the city say they are being unfairly targeted — the law puts franchisees on the same fast-track scheduled as significantly larger companies, regardless of how many employees a particular franchisee might have — and are looking to the courts for resolution.

Meanwhile, earlier this summer the National Labor Relations Board Office of the General Counsel ruled that McDonald’s and its franchisees could be treated as “joint employers” in labor disputes, meaning McDonald’s corporate office can no longer distance itself from any bad behavior by a rogue franchisee. McDonald’s says it will fight that decision.

London Water Officials Battle Massive Fatberg The Length Of A 747 Blocking The Sewer

Tue, 2014-09-02 19:06

(Thames Water)

(Thames Water)

If you aren’t a believer in the power of the fatberg, perhaps this recent find will strike fear into your toilet’s heart: London water officials had to fight a fatberg made from wet wipes, fatty masses and other debris the length of a Boeing 747 that plugged up the sewer system recently, threatening to flood area homes and businesses.

Getting that clean feeling down below and improperly tossing cooking fats has led to this new behemoth, a fatty, congealed garbage berg that formed under a 262-foot stretch of sewer under a Londom road, officials with Thames Water say.

That meant workers had to get down there and break up the congealed blockage of disgustingness using high powered jets of water, in order to prevent the sewer from overflowing peoples’ toilets.

“We have 108,000km of sewers, and that’s a lot of pipe to keep clear. We spend £12 million a year tackling blockages, most of them formed because people have tipped cooking fats down the drain and wet wipes down the loo,” says Dave Dennis, Thames Water sewer operations manager.

“The sewers serve an important purpose – they are not an abyss for household rubbish. Fat goes down the drain easily enough, but when it hits the cold sewers, it hardens into disgusting ‘fatbergs’ that block pipes.”

Wet wipes love fat, and the two stick together as often as they can, snowballing into fatberg form, grabbing tennis balls and bits of wood, whatever it can subsume, and backing everything up.

It’s not just our neighbors across the pond who aren’t into the whole wet wipes + fat combo — city sewer workers in the United States are also trying to spread the word about what can and can’t go down the drain.

Fatberg strikes Shepherd’s Bush [Thames Water]

General Motors Reportedly Launching Cars That Detect Distracted Driving

Tue, 2014-09-02 18:39



For years, laws have been put into place to discourage distracted driving: no texting while driving, no talking on the phone while driving, the list goes on. General Motors is taking things a step further by commissioning a vehicle that detects and alerts drivers to their distracted behavior.

The Financial Times reports that General Motors is preparing to launch the first mass-produced vehicles with eye- and head-tracking technology to detect distracted behaviors in drivers.

Officials close to the matter tell the Financial Times that an agreement to supply GM with 500,000 tracking devices over the next three to five years has been signed between device maker, Seeing Machines, and safety-goods maker Takata.

The devices from Seeing Machines can identify features of a drivers’ face, such as the rotation of the head and the frequency of blinks and imposes the data on a three-dimensional map of the car’s interior to see what the driver is looking at. The device can then alert drivers if they are not spending enough time looking at certain areas.

Seeing Machines’ CEO Ken Kroeger tells the Financial Times that the device isn’t just to detect distracted driving but could also prevent it. Eventually the technology could allow drivers to activate apps by simply looking at a certain point in the car and touching a button on the steering wheel.

Additionally, it could be used to detect a driver’s identity as a guard against theft.

Officials with GM declined to provide comment on the product plans to CNBC.

While the new technology could potentially increase driver safety, two companies party to the deal have faced scrutiny this year for vehicle safety issues.

General Motors has been under fire since the first of the year when it was revealed the company knew of a deadly ignition switch defect for more than a decade before recalling vehicles. So far, the company has acknowledged 13 deaths related to the issue and recalled more than 2 million vehicles.

Several months later, Takata found itself in the center of controversy related to millions of potentially defective airbags it supplied to car manufacturers including Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Mazda and Chrysler. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports, the airbags could possibly deploy abnormally in a crash.

GM to launch cars that detect distracted driving [The Financial Times]

Corvette Museum Decides To Fill In Popular Sinkhole Attraction

Tue, 2014-09-02 18:22

(Live from the National Corvette Museum)

(Live from the National Corvette Museum)

A sinkhole that swallowed eight classic cars at the National Corvette Museum in February has become an unexpected hit, drawing in tourists who seem to be as into the gaping pit as they are interested in vintage automobiles. Alas, gawkers must gawk their last soon, as the museum has finally decided to fill in the hole.

The entire hill will be filled in after the museum’s board of directors voted over the weekend, despite a surge in attendance at the Kentucky establishment, reports the Associated Press.

Officials had been toying with the idea of keeping the sinkhole open, complete with a smashed up sports car inside as a sort of memorial for the cars that fell in that day. Attendance shot up 66% and the money was pouring in. Heck there’s even a live webcam of the hole.

But keeping it open would cost quite a pretty penny in order to keep the attraction safe, so the board changed course.

“We really wanted to preserve a portion of the hole so that guests for years to come could see a little bit of what it was like, but after receiving more detailed pricing, the cost outweighs the benefit,” said museum Executive Director Wendell Strode. “It just wasn’t practical to do it.”

Visitors will be able to see the hole through a Plexiglas wall when repairs started in November, but that area will be sealed off otherwise. Guess they’ll have to find another hole to fill the hole left by that hole. Or something.

Corvette Museum to completely fill in sinkhole [Associated Press]

Germany Bans Uber’s Ride-Sharing Service, Threatens $328,225 Fine Per Ride

Tue, 2014-09-02 18:17

ubergrabaWhen your company’s goal is to disrupt the entire livery industry, current taxi and other car-for-hire operators and livery regulators are not going to like you very much. The idea of a car-sharing service that connects non-professional drivers with strangers in need of rides horrifies regulators and existing professional drivers, and now UberPop (similar to UberX elsewhere) has been banned in Germany under penalty of a €250,000 ($328,225) fine.

Why does the government want to impose the ultimate surge pricing fee? Last week, a court in Frankfurt ruled that the UberPop service is illegal. Previously, a court in the city of Hamburg had ruled that while the service was “likely illegal,” but allowed it to keep running anyway, because what the heck.

It’s actually worse than that: while Uber drivers themselves wouldn’t be charged with any crime, the head of Uber Germany could also face a 6-month prison sentence if his company dares to give anyone a lift.

The company’s Uberblack service, which allows anyone to summon a limousine with a few taps of a smartphone (and a credit card, of course) is still allowed to operate in Germany. However, the company knew that the more economical UberPop service would be popular in Germany, a nation that stereotypes and statistics tell us is filled with sensible and frugal people. It’s not just popular with competing taxi services, or with the government entities that regulate those services.

The service is also banned entirely in Belgium. This structure is similar to that of Uber in New York City, where the service is allowed to do business, but only with already-licensed livery drivers.

Germany Imposes Nationwide Ban on Uber’s Cab-Hailing Service

Dunkin’ Donuts Fulfills Prophecy, Opens Store In California

Tue, 2014-09-02 18:08

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Yes, Dunkin’ Donuts — a company whose near omnipresence everyone in the Mid-Atlantic and New England has long taken for granted — opened its first official SoCal store this morning in Santa Monica, where some claim that people waited more than a dozen hours for their morning Munchkins at 5 a.m. today.

Of course, there was a material reason for those first 100 folks to get in line — free swag. And the first person in line scored a year’s worth of free coffee from the double D.

That lucky fella tells KTLA that he’d actually been camping out since 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, meaning he put in around 30 hours of waiting outside for his prime spot.

“I’m originally from Connecticut, so I love Dunkin’ Donuts and I’m glad it’s in California now,” said the man, who apparently had nothing better to do this holiday.

Dunkin’ stores weren’t supposed to open in the area until 2015, but the company sped up the launch process earlier this year in the hopes of making up for lackluster sales during the winter.