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The Consumerist

FDA: Use Of Vital Human Antibiotics In Animals Increased 16% In 3 Years

Thu, 2014-10-02 21:06

 Sjogren's Syndrome Foundation)

(Photo: Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation)

Even as a growing number of people — from consumers to scientists to physicians — expressed concerns about the overuse of antibiotics in animal feed, a new FDA report shows that farmers continued adding more drugs to their animals’ diets, and that almost every one of those antibiotics was purchased and administered without a prescription.

Antibiotics given to farm animals already account for around 80% of all antibiotics sold in the U.S., and according to the FDA’s latest report [PDF, between 2009 and 2012, the total quantity of just those antibiotics deemed medically important to humans that were sold or distributed for use in food-producing animals increased by 16%.

More than two-thirds (67%) of the medically important drugs fed to animals in 2012 were tetracyclines, which are used in humans to treat everything from urinary tract infections to chlamydia to Lyme disease, but whose use has declined because of the prevalence of drug-resistant bacteria.

Various forms of penicillin accounted for 11% of these drugs, macrolides — used to treat strep, pneumonia, staph infections and other ailments in humans — made up 7% of the drugs fed to animals, while sulfonamides (6%), aminoglycosides (3%), lincosamides (2%), and cephalosporins (less than 1%) brought up the rear of the drug train.

The FDA gives no specific reason for the jump in sales of these important antibiotics. But even if, as the drug and livestock industry now claims, these antibiotics are being used judiciously and for disease prevention, only a tiny fraction of them are actually prescribed by veterinarians.

During the same three-year time period in which sales increased by 16%, the FDA says that the percentage of medically important antimicrobials sold over-the-counter to farmers effectively remained flat at around 97%.

And the FDA data seems to call shenanigans on this “disease prevention” mantra that the industries trot out to defend their use of antibiotics. In 2012, antibiotics with a proven use for growth-promotion outsold antibiotics with only a therapeutic use by a ratio of 2.2:1.

“Antibiotic use in U.S. livestock is huge and continues to escalate, even while many leading meat exporting countries have halved their livestock usage,” says David Wallinga, MD, from Keep Antibiotics Working. “If the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services are serious about addressing the threat to the American public from worsening resistance, it cannot adopt a ‘wait and see’ stance. It must push the U.S. livestock sector to lead, not follow in reducing use of precious antibiotics.”

What’s The Most-Ticketed Car In America?

Thu, 2014-10-02 20:57
(Alan Rappa)

(Alan Rappa)

It’s definitely your own fault you were cruising past a cop at 15 mph over the limit, and we get it that great at parking between the lines, but if you happen to drive a Subaru WRX, you might just be doomed (not really).

According to a new report on 526 models, more than one-in-three drivers of that vehicle have had a recent traffic violation of some kind. MarketWatch cites data culled by from 557,000 recent customers, which also points out that though the Subaru WRX gets the most of all the models, there are three Scion vehicles in the Top 20, making it the kingpin of violations.

And while there are your usual suspects — fast, sporty cars, the kind that seems to be just begging to be taken for a speedy spin — hybrid cars got their fare share of tickets as well. It might be more about the age of the drivers instead of the actual brands, Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book told MarketWatch.

“These cars all appeal to a younger demographic and many of them skew heavily male,” he says. “Of course, young male drivers typically take the most risks and garner the most tickets, or are involved in the most accidents.”

Of all the drivers polled, 20% reported traffic violations, which mostly included speeding. But there were also numerous offenses like failure to lead and drunken driving, in the last three years.

If you’re living in fear that your car will have a higher rate than others due to tickets, Des Toups, managing editor of, says you should worry more about claims involving those vehicles than the number of traffic violations.

“Tickets tend to drive up your rates alone,” he says, while an accident in one model will drive up the rate for everyone’s car of that same model. Accidents help drive up the rates of everyone who owns that car, he says. “Tickets tend to drive up your rates alone.”
Here are the Top 10, for more check out MarketWatch:
1. Subaru WRX            33.60%
2. Pontiac GTO           32.70%
3. Scion FR-S            32.60%
4. Toyota Supra          30.80%
5. Subaru Tribeca        29.70%
6. Volkswagen Rabbit     29.60%
7. Mercury Topaz         28.80%
8. Scion tC 28.80%
9. Toyota FJ Cruiser 28.40%
10. Mazda2 28.10%

The most ticketed car in America is… [MarketWatch]

Intruders Massacred 920 Foster Farms Chickens With A Golf Club, No One Knows Why

Thu, 2014-10-02 20:22



Two weeks ago, an act of vandalism and animal cruelty occurred in a shed housing chickens belonging to meat producer Foster Farms. Someone entered a farm through a hole in the fence and clubbed 920 chickens to death for no clear reason.

No one is pretending that the chickens were being raised for any purpose other than becoming meat, but modern methods of chicken slaughter are generally quicker and a lot more humane than clubbing the birds to death with a golf club and another unidentified blunt instrument.

This week, four suspects were arrested for the chicken clubbing, and they were charged with felony burglary and felony cruelty to animals. Three of the suspects are under 18.

“It would take a long time to do it,” one detective investigating the crime told the Los Angeles Times. “People should be alarmed at something like that.”

Authorities used tips from the public to find the suspects. It probably helped that Foster Farms and the Animal Legal Defense Fund had each offered $5,000 rewards for information leading to the arrest of the people responsible for this crime.

“It is the express policy of Foster Farms to treat its birds humanely and with compassion,” a company representative told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Any intentional act to the contrary is unacceptable.”

What we don’t know yet is why the suspects massacred chickens. It’s also a strange coincidence that 920 chickens were killed, and the crime occurred on September 20th.

Fresno teens arrested in 920 chicken deaths [San Francisco Chronicle]
Intruder uses golf club to kill nearly 1,000 Foster Farms chickens [LA Times]

More Price-Matching, Better Staffing And Other Black Friday Predictions

Thu, 2014-10-02 19:45

(Michael Holden)

(Michael Holden)

It’s October, and those falling leaves and brisk temperatures can only mean one thing — that no professional baseball is being played here in Philadelphia. It also means that the official start of the holiday shopping season is a mere eight weeks away.

So what will make this Black Friday (11/28, for those who haven’t marked their calendars yet) any different from ones that came before it? The folks at DealNews have some predictions, including:

1. More Price-Matching
It’s no longer enough for retailers to rely on those shoppers who line up early to take advantage of doorbuster deals. Many consumers who previously waited for the Black Friday hullaballoo to calm down before hitting the stores are now just shopping online and staying away from the melee altogether. So retailers will need to follow the lead of Walmart, Best Buy and others who price-match Amazon and its ilk.

“Expect to see many more price match announcements as Black Friday approaches,” writes DealNews’ Louis Ramirez. “And as always, make sure to read the store guidelines as not everyone will offer no-questions-asked price matching.”

2. More Discounted Shipping Offers (But Be Warned!)
There’s good news and bad news about a recent decision by the U.S. Postal Service to cut costs for certain businesses. On the one hand, you can expect more online retailers offering cheaper or free shipping. But then you also have to worry that USPS might become overloaded with parcels, leading to late deliveries and other messes. Additionally, the USPS parcel tracking system is all but useless for anyone actually trying to determine the status of an impending delivery.

Writes Ramirez, “Your best bet — shop early and keep an eye on those tracking numbers.”

3. Expect More Staffers At Stores
With retailers opening earlier and earlier — to the point where most major Black Friday participants are now opening on Thanksgiving — many employees and worker advocates have complained about employers’ ruining staffers’ holidays. But the complaints haven’t stopped shoppers and you can expect some stores to have more checkout lines open to deal with the Black Friday crowds.

In August, Walmart announced that it intends to have all of its registers staffed during the busiest days and hours of the holiday shopping season.

4. More “Guaranteed” Doorbusters
Every year, retailers advertise $25 computers and other effectively free “doorbuster” sale items, many of which are gone almost immediately (even though they’re sometimes outdated junk that the stores couldn’t give away during the rest of the year). And with stores opening around the same time as Uncle Paul is doing his annual job of insisting that he crudely carve the turkey, some shoppers have stayed away from Black Friday because they know those doorbusters will be long gone by the time they tuck the kids in bed and hope they don’t wake up in the middle of the night wondering where mommy and daddy went.

So DealNews predicts that more retailers will follow the lead of Toys R Us and offer “guaranteed” doorbuster deals, where shoppers eligible for the promotion receive wristbands or vouchers that guarantee they’ll eventually get the coveted item, even if supplies run out. You might not get the item on Black Friday, but at least you won’t pay more for it elsewhere. More importantly to the retailer, you’ll probably snap up a few other items while you’re in the store.

For more Black Friday predictions, including thoughts on 4K TVs, smartphones, and credit card safety, go to DealNews.

FAA Protecting Baby Walruses By Rerouting Planes Away From Giant Clump Of Marine Mammals

Thu, 2014-10-02 19:43

These guys have buddies who don't want to be stampeded. (USFWSAlaska)

These guys have buddies who don’t want to be stampeded. (USFWSAlaska)

Proving that a walrus emergency is an emergency for everyone, the Federal Aviation Administration is taking preventative measures to make sure no baby marine mammals get stampeded, rerouting flights around an Alaska beach where a big cluster of 35,000 walruses have gathered.

If an airplane flying overhead were to spook all those walruses — I really just want to call’em walri — the whole gang could up and start moving around in a panic, putting the wee baby bairn walruses in danger as well as the whole group, reports The Guardian.

The walruses ended up crowding on that beach in northwestern Alaska because of melting sea ice, prompting officials to warn not only gawkers away but also pilots flying nearby.

It’s the largest group of walruses to flee to land ever observed in the Arctic under US control, scientists say.

“You have all these animals that are normally distributed on a flat surface. When they lose their sea ice habitat and come ashore in places that are accessible – like flat, sandy beaches – they gather in large numbers, and it becomes like a giant pig pile,” Margaret Williams, managing director for the World Wildlife Fund’s Arctic program told The Guardian. “When they are disturbed it can cause stampedes in large numbers.”

As such, the FAA wants pilots to stay more than 2,000 feet in the air and half a mile away from the walrus pod. And helicopters have to stay up even higher at 3,000 feet and a mile away, as they’re louder.

US reroutes flights around Alaska beach in attempt to avoid walrus stampede [The Guardian]

Guy Who’s Been To 11,000 Starbucks Outlets Would Rather Get His Coffee Elsewhere

Thu, 2014-10-02 18:30



He’s been around the world in the last 17 years, visiting about 11,000 Starbucks locations in his (likely neverending) quest to visit them all. But when it comes to his own tastes, the man who drinks 10 cups a day says he would rather not drink the coffee at Starbucks.

It’s all about his list, see? And checking off the visits is more of this Texas man’s focus than actually drinking coffee, he tells The Telegraph, as he’d rather pick up cup from a local independent spot rather than Starburns. Oops, Starbucks.

“I respect Starbucks for its business sense, customer service and amenities including clean bathrooms and WiFi,” he told The Telegraph. “But unless I am checking a new store off my list, I would not go there for the coffee.”

So far he’s spent an estimated $100,000 dropping by 11,733 Starbucks on six continents, a quest he started just to do something different, at least at first. ANd of course, he came up with the idea while sitting in a Starbucks back in 1997 in Plano, Texas.

“However, since that time, I have discovered many joys in the traveling, the photography and the puzzle-like challenge of my mission,” he says on his website.

He takes a photograph of each visit, including a selfie, and averages 10 cups of java per day. He even spent $1,400 on a plane ticket just to get to a Starbucks in British Columbia before it closed.

This could be a Sisyphean effort, however — when he started his journey, there were only 1,400 stores in the world. Now there are more than 17,000 Starbucks locations around the world.

But heck, he’s got plenty of time.

“As you can imagine, Starbucks is not going anywhere. I can see myself visiting new stores as an old man,” he says, adding that he’s changed the rules to allow for only a sample of coffee at each spot, at minimum.

Ultimate coffee fan spends 17 years visiting every Starbucks in the world [The Telegraph]

Samsung Insists Galaxy Note 4 Gap Is A Feature, Not A Flaw

Thu, 2014-10-02 18:30

galaxygapA phablet is a super-sized mobile phone that is more like a tablet. This fall, Samsung has released the fourth version of their Galaxy Note phablet, a much-anticipated device all over the world. As the first devices hit stores, some people noticed something odd: the phone has a gap between its screen and frame just wide enough to fit a piece of cardstock.

Are you supposed to go cramming pieces of paper in your phone? Has Samsung introduced “business card holder” as a new feature for the Galaxy Note 4? Not really and no.

#gapgate really?

— blesio (@blesiek) October 2, 2014

At least I'll have somewhere to keep my business cards with the #Note4. Thanks @Samsungtweets! #GapGate #Imindthegap

— P a t r i c k (@dailyplotvomit) October 1, 2014

After the Internet spent a few days freaking out and minding the gap, Samsung pointed out to the world that the the gap causes no problems, and they actually point this out in the device’s user manual. What, they expect us to read the manual before complaining online now?

Samsung describes this gap as a “necessary manufacturing feature.” Either there’s quite an elaborate cover-up, or this wasn’t a manufacturing error after all.


Officially, the device is only available in South Korea and China so far, with the U.S. version becoming available in mid-October. Will the version sold here include the mini-gap? We can’t wait to find out!

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 Contends With ‘Gapgate’ [Wall Street Journal]

Oops: Cops Distributing Spyware To Families As “Internet Safety” Tool

Thu, 2014-10-02 17:55

(Mike Saechang)

(Mike Saechang)

Over the last couple of decades, internet safety has become as much if not more of a concern for many parents and families as physical safety. To help, many local police departments have given out free safety software to families as “the first step” to keeping their children safe online. Sounds great, right? Sure… except that “safety software” is really a keylogger that sends your family’s every word zipping unencrypted over the internet, ripe for anyone to steal. Oops.

The ComputerCOP software, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation reports in a detailed investigation, is usually handed out at “internet safety” events. Police, sheriffs, and district attorneys doing community outreach buy the software, then have it rebranded with their own agency name, logos, and imagery before handing it out to local families at schools and libraries.

However, as the EFF explains, “as official as it looks,” the contents of the disc are just spyware, purchased in bulk from a company in New York that exists solely market and distribute ComputerCOP to government agencies.

If it seems like a CD of supposed safety software is a relic of the era when you got “the internet” from an AOL 3.0 disc they handed out at Staples, you’re right. In the name of child safety, it has two major functions: a hard drive search and a keystroke logger. The idea is that parents can use the software to keep an eye on the images, text, and websites their children are encountering.

The search tool runs from the CD without installation, and checks out all the files on the hard drive for thousands of terms related to gangs, hate groups, drug use, and of course sex. The EFF tested the searches, however, and found them deeply unreliable. Results were routinely laden with false positives, including “items as innocuous as raw computer code.” Meanwhile, actual files that did have words like “drugs” in them were not found but still turned up on standard Mac or Windows searches.

And image searches, meanwhile, can’t differentiate between downloaded or cached content and all the images that exist on a computer as part of the software installed on it — that’s everything from Office clipart to the preview images some graphics card driver updaters use — and so returns so many tens of thousands of hits as to be useless.

ComputerCOP also claims that it will let you view a history of your child’s web visits, but as might be expected for a relic of an earlier age it’s extremely browser-limited and only works on Internet Explorer or Safari.

The keylogging program, however, does work — and that’s a problem. Once installed, the EFF writes, “if the user isn’t careful, it will collect keystrokes from all users of the computer, not just children.” On a Windows computer, ComputerCOP stores the full keystroke logs completely unencrypted on the hard drive. (On a Mac, the log is encrypted but can be decrypted with the ComputerCOP default password.)

Parents can set up the software to e-mail them an alert whenever a certain word, like “marijuana” or “sex,” is typed in. But to generate those e-mail alerts, the software sends the unencrypted key logs to a third-party server that then sends the e-mail.

So the police have been cheerfully handing out free keyloggers to anybody who wants one for over a decade, and it’s easy as pie to use them illegally on people who aren’t your kids. Which is a problem. But even aside from that, the unencrypted data itself is an enormous vulnerability. As the EFF explains:
Security experts universally agree that a user should never store passwords and banking details or other sensitive details unprotected on one’s hard drive, but that’s exactly what ComputerCOP does by placing everything someone types in a folder. The email alert system further weakens protections by logging into a third-party commercial server. When a child with ComputerCOP installed on their laptop connects to public Wi-Fi, any sexual predator, identity thief, or bully with freely available packet-sniffing software can grab those key logs right out of the air.

The EFF contacted ComputerCOP by e-mail about these issues. Their head of operations, Stephen DelGiorno, responded, “ComputerCOP software doesn’t give sexual predator or identity thieves more access to children’s computers, as our .key logger works with the existing email and Internet access services that computer user has already engaged,” which is a completely useless non-answer that has nothing to do with the problems at hand.

ComputerCOP’s history, as unearthed by the EFF, is also not encouraging. DelGiorno also told the EFF that the keylogging feature was a recent addition to the software, but the EFF found references to it going back as far as 2001.

ComputerCOP also claims in its marketing materials to law enforcement agencies that it has received endorsements from the ACLU and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The NCMEC did enter a one-year agreement allowing ComputerCOP to use their name in 1998. However, as a spokesperson told the EFF, the agreement was not renewed and the two organizations have had no contact with each other in the past 15 years. When the NCMEC found out, via the EFF’s queries, that ComputerCOP was still using their name, an attorney for the organization said that they would tell ComputerCOP to stop immediately.

But at least an agreement did once exist, back when the parents of today’s web-using children were themselves still kids in school. The ACLU, however, never endorsed it at all. The closest they came was a 2005 story in the Detroit Free Press where the head of the ACLU’s Michigan office “[endorsed] the idea that parents should take responsibility for monitoring their children as opposed to relying on the government to act as a babysitter,” the EFF reports.

The deputy director of the Michgan ACLU confirmed to the EFF, “I can say unequivocally that it was not an endorsement of the product. Our position as an organization is not to endorse technology like this.”

Being super-shady, however, has not stopped ComputerCOP from becoming widespread. The list of participating agencies that distribute copies is definitely not small, and agencies at every level — city, county, state, and federal — are among them. The EFF’s full listing includes over 245 agencies in 35 states, as well as the U.S. Marshals. And it’s not cheap: cash-strapped agencies are spending tens of thousands of of tax or grant dollars on every set of discs they order.

Adding up the purchased batches, the EFF estimates that anywhere from several hundred thousand to well over a million copies of ComputerCOP have been purchased by law enforcement. It’s impossible to say how many of those actually wound up being given to families, and then to guess how many of those families installed and regularly use the software. Still, if the number is greater than zero, it’s clearly too many.

Should you happen to use a computer that has this hot mess installed on it, the EFF also provides detailed instructions for removal.

ComputerCOP: The Dubious ‘Internet Safety Software’ That Hundreds of Police Agencies Have Distributed to Families [Electronic Frontier Foundation]

4 Things We Learned About The Psychology Of Costco’s Free Samples

Thu, 2014-10-02 17:44



Anyone familiar with Costco knows about the wide variety of free food samples that shoppers can score when pushing their oversized carts around one of the wholesale clubs. But as you’ve probably guessed, these samples aren’t just about providing free piecemeal lunches to customers.

The Atlantic’s Joe Pinsker recently took a look at the psychological underpinnings of free samples at Costco. Of course, since the company is so tight-lipped about a lot of the things it does, he had to rely on research and observations of others.

Here are some of the highlights from the Atlantic piece…

1. The samples may engender a sense of obligation in consumers
When you snack on that free sample of summer sausage, or wash it down with some free coconut water, there’s a chance you might feel like you should buy something.

“Reciprocity is a very, very strong instinct,” explains Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke University. “If somebody does something for you… you really feel a rather surprisingly strong obligation to do something back for them.”

2. The samples might lead you to buy something similar
Maybe that coconut water didn’t knock your socks off, but it might have caused you think about another beverage that you do want, but that you hadn’t planned on buying.

“What samples do is they give you a particular desire for something,” says Ariely. “If I gave you a tiny bit of chocolate, all of a sudden it would remind you about the exact taste of chocolate and would increase your craving.”

Sure, the company that is sponsoring the samples might care that you buy something else, but for Costco, an impulse purchase is a definite win.

3. You’re more likely to buy when others are around
Pinsker cites a 2011 study from the UK on sampling that found that “Samplers with a heightened awareness of the presence of others at the sampling station may feel a level of social ‘pressure’ to make a post-sample purchase.”

So if a sample table just had free cookie bites sitting there without anyone to smile and hand them to you, shoppers wouldn’t feel as pressured to buy.

4. It’s ultimately about creating a distinct “Costco” atmosphere
Sure, other stores give out samples, but few are as linked to the notion of sampling as Costco. It’s something fun that brings shoppers back and makes the shopping experience more pleasant. Much like many Costco shoppers look forward to bargain (but reasonably tasty) hot dogs and pizza during their visit, they have come to associate the samples with a day at the ‘Co.

You should definitely check out Pinsker’s entire article for more insights on sampling and its role in Costco’s identity.

Air Canada Pilots Warned To Stop Sneaking Porn Into The Cockpit, Because Seriously?

Thu, 2014-10-02 17:30

(John Kittelsrud)

(John Kittelsrud)

Perhaps there’s something about the name that makes it a tempting locale to stash porn, but Air Canada pilots have been warned to stop sneaking porn into the cockpit, after several incidents where the airline found explicit content on planes. Because you know, there are other things to concentrate on when you’re flying a ginormous piece of metal through the sky, thousands of feet above the ground.

According to, the airline sent an internal email about the problem last year, but it was only recently obtained by CBC News. It’s the first we’ve heard about it, I’ll say that.

In the email titled “Inappropriate Material in the Embraer Flight Deck,” the chief pilot writes that this is an ongoing problem and it’s time to cut it out.

“I am disappointed to have to raise this issue once again but unfortunately we have some people that have yet to understand the message,” he wrote, adding that the airline was trying to find the people responsible.

“Once they are identified they will be subject to discipline to the full extent of the law and our corporate policies.”

That warning email — the second of two sent in about a year — didn’t stop all the smut smuggling, apparently, as porn was reportedly discovered on a jet as recently as February. Add all the way back six years ago, a female pilot claimed she saw pornographic images glued and tucked into parts of the cockpit, including some violent images.

At that time, Air Canada found “evidence of racial or ethnic prejudice as well as sexual materials in the workplace.”

It’s not a violation of safety rules, however, but Transport Canada’s aviation health and safety occupational officer says the agency did try to get Air Canada to take things more seriously. Because yes, it is hazardous to have that stuff around on the job, and not just because of distractions in the nether regions.

“Pilots are stuffing paper material inside compartments where electrical wiring is and that this is a hazard not to mention that this is a form of workplace violence,” she says.

Air Canada says it was just one plane recently, however, with a spokesman telling CBC News: “The material in question consisted almost entirely of inappropriate business cards and was confined mainly to one aircraft type and route, our Embraer E-90s operating to Las Vegas.”

Oh, well, if it was on the way to Las Vegas, that explains it. But not really.

Air Canada porn: pilots warned to stop sneaking material into the cockpit []

McDonald’s Japan Also Gets Into The Black Burger Game

Thu, 2014-10-02 16:59


(Twitter: @elitedaily)

Because there is nothing more appealing than a slab of dark gray meat on a dark gray bun, McDonald’s Japan has followed Burger King’s lead and introduced a burger that doesn’t look like anything you’d really want to eat.

McDonald’s “Halloween” burger is a limited-time offer that follows only weeks after BK Japan unveiled its black Kuro Burger to much Internet buzz.

The McD’s offering is slightly more colorful than the BK competitor, since it uses good ol’ yellow cheese instead of the eerie jet-black slices. Additionally, the sesame seeds on the bun add some variation to the grayscale breading.

The above photo, Tweeted by Elite Daily, doesn’t seem to show it, but this other photo of the McDonald’s ads for the burger indicate some sort of black sauce between the beef patties and the bottom bun:

たくろう (@takuro88) September 25, 2014

As the NY Daily News points out, while McDonald’s might be trailing behind BK on this particular promotion, the company has used squid ink to darken its burgers before. In 2013, its Hong Kong restaurants sold a Black Burger with two beef patties, mashed potatoes and truffle sauce on a squid ink bun.

Firefighters Rescue Unconscious Man, Finish Mowing The Lawn For Him

Thu, 2014-10-02 16:37

FIrefighter tidying up cut grass like a boss. A nice boss. (CBS Los Angeles)

FIrefighter tidying up cut grass like a boss. A nice boss. (CBS Los Angeles)

When something needs to get done, it needs to get done. And it’s awfully nice to hear that lately, local law enforcement have been stepping up to help finish jobs that can’t finish themselves. There were the cops who delivered a pizza after the delivery driver was in a car crash, and now some friendly firefighters have put themselves forward as lawn guys, mowing a man’s front yard after he lost consciousness.

Emergency personnel called to the scene in Corona, Calif., first provided lifesaving treatment to a man who had passed out while mowing the high grass on his lawn in the sun, reports CBS Los Angeles.

“I was cutting grass here, I feel dizzy a little bit, so I stand over by the car here,” the man remembers, noting that the grass was “so, so high.”

That’s when he fell face forward in the driveway, prompting someone to call for help.

After the ambulance pulled away to take the man to the hospital, the firefighters on the scene decided to stay at his house for a while.

“We all kind of looked at each other, kind of looked around at the lawn equipment and realized this family was going through a very traumatic event right now and they need some simple acts of kindness,” said a Fire Dept. Engineer.

So the five firefighters there finished mowing his lawn and cleaning up the grass, to the great appreciation of the man who says he fainted due to the heat and effort of mowing.

“I never had the experience like that before. I feel like safe,” he said.

It’s sort of like when I fall asleep eating cheese and wake to find that my cat has done me a solid and finished the job. But much, much better and kindhearted. Kudos, nice people of the world!

Corona Firefighters Save Man — And Then Finish Mowing His Lawn [CBS Los Angeles]

Sears To Sell Sears Canada Stake To Raise More Cash

Thu, 2014-10-02 16:30

(Jim and Tiffany Kelly)

(Jim and Tiffany Kelly)

Sears Holdings Corporation, the company that runs Sears and Kmart, needs to raise some cash to get through the rest of the year. When a person needs cash, they look around the house for things to sell. Sears did that, and what it saw was Sears Canada. The company announced today that it will sell part of its 51% stake in the company to current Sears Canada shareholders. You’ll never guess who’s buying!

Sears is selling its shares in a rights offering, which is when current shareholders have the opportunity to buy more shares at a special low price. For each share they currently own, shareholders can buy one share at the discounted price.

ESL Investments is one of the Sears Canada shareholders taking advantage of this deal, and will scoop up about half of the newly available shares. That name might sound familiar to you: ESL Investments is the hedge fund managed by Eddie Lampert, the manifesto-writing CEO of Sears Holdings. Yes, that would be the same ESL Investments that is lending Sears about $400 million, about one-tenth of what the company needs to maybe pull itself out of a retail death spiral.

The last month or so has been messy for Sears Canada: Sears Holdings tried to auction off its entire stake, but no one was interested. That’s what led to the $400 million loan, and then the CEO of Sears Canada announced last week that he will leave the company at the end of 2014 or when a new CEO is appointed, whichever happens first.

Sears expects to raise about $380 million from the sale of Sears Canada shares, $168 million of which will come from ESL Investments.

Sears to sell most of its Sears Canada stake through rights offering [Globe and Mail]
Sears to Sell Most of Stake in Canada Unit to Shore Up Liquidity [Wall Street Journal]

Comcast Charged For Unlisted Phone Numbers, Listed Them Anyway

Thu, 2014-10-02 16:08

Starting in July 2010, Comcast accidentally shared thousands of California customers' unlisted phone numbers, even though those subscribers paid to keep their info hidden from the public.

Starting in July 2010, Comcast accidentally shared thousands of California customers’ unlisted phone numbers, even though those subscribers paid to keep their info hidden from the public.

When you pay to have your phone number unlisted, you would expect that the company you pay would honor this request. You’d also expect that if that company screwed up and accidentally published half of its unlisted customers’ numbers in the state of California, it might notice. This week, the California Public Utilities Commission is holding a hearing to determine if Comcast violated the law when it screwed up and shared more than 74,000 phone numbers, names, and addresses that were supposed to be unlisted, including info for customers who were victims of domestic violence or hiding from criminals.

CBS13 in Sacramento first reported on Comcast’s inability to keep unlisted numbers unlisted back in 2012, when a viewer demonstrated on-camera that she could easily call up 411 and request the phone number she was paying Comcast a monthly fee to keep off these directories.

At the time, Comcast apologized and refunded her the fees, saying it was a rare occurrence. But then in early 2013, it revealed to the CPUC that, during a 27-month period starting in July 2010, it had goofed and allowed the 74,000 unlisted numbers to be shared with third-party phone directories.

According to CPUC documents [PDF], the problem arose after Comcast implemented a new process for producing and disseminating listing information for its residential phone customers. The new system pulled information from a Comcast billing data table so that it could be shared with third party publishers, directory assistance providers, and in Comcast’s online directory.

Problem is, this data table didn’t include whether subscribers’ numbers were unlisted or not, so the lists sent out by Comcast to third parties included the confidential information of subscribers who had paid Comcast for an unlisted telephone number.

While many people have their numbers unlisted just out of a desire for privacy, there are those with more dire concerns about keeping their information out of the public eye.

“I have paid for unpublishing my information for years as I testified in a murder trial,” reads the complaint of one California Comcast customer. “Now, my wife, children, and I are all in danger; and I have nowhere to turn.”

Another customer asks how she is supposed to protect herself from a man that has previously threatened to kill her.

What makes the Comcast case even more intriguing is that, while the CPUC says “there does not appear to be any essential difference” between the CBS13 case from 2012 and the 74,000 other names that were revealed, Comcast maintains that the CBS viewer’s issue is “not the same” as the one being investigated by CPUC, but apparently did not give an explanation how the two are different.

Which makes us wonder how frequently, and in how many different ways, Comcast has failed to keep customers’ information secret.

After all, the initial Comcast report to CPUC only indicated that around 50,000 unlisted numbers had been published. It wasn’t until later that the company realized that the problem went back even further than it thought, resulting in the total of 74,000 numbers being compromised.

This is the same company that thinks it can handle another 10 million subscribers?

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Police: Grocery Store Worker Walked Out With $1,200 Worth Of Meat Stuffed In His Pants

Thu, 2014-10-02 15:47

(Studio d'Xavier)

(Studio d’Xavier)

There are often questions involved in shoplifting incidents — why that particular product? Or what makes a store employee steal from his or her place of employment? And how come meat seems to be the most popular product one can shove down one’s pants (and again, though sometimes it’s puppies)? More mysteries remain to be solved, I’m afraid.

Police in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y. have pinned a meaty crime on a supermarket employee, saying the man walked out of work with $1,200 worth of meat stuffed in his pants, reports the Associated Press.

It’s unclear what kind of meat he’s accused of taking, but I am pretty sure at least seven people subsequently made the joke, “Is that $1,200 worth of meat down your pants or are you just happy to see me?” Because what else can you do?

Police have charged the man with fourth-degree grand larceny, after arresting him on Tuesday for the reported theft on Monday. A state police spokeswoman said she’s not sure if his meat excavation involved more than one trip out of the store, or if the jackpot was loaded out in one go.

He’s due back in court on Friday, where he could plead not meaty. Okay, that was a cheap pun, he’s entered no plea as of yet. But when there’s meat in the pants involved, the riffs have to happen. They just have to.

Hang on — forgot about this one, and then we have this meat theft and ah yes, don’t forget to bring home the bacon. In your pants.


NFL Sunday Ticket To Remain A DirecTV Exclusive

Thu, 2014-10-02 12:00

sundayticketMillions of football fans now have a reason to not ditch DirecTV. After months of negotiations, the satellite service has finally renewed its deal to be the exclusive carrier for NFL Sunday Ticket.

DirecTV has been the sole pay-TV source for Sunday Ticket, which shows all Sunday afternoon out-of-market football games… for the price of several hundred dollars a year per subscriber.

Neither the NFL nor DirecTV is saying exactly how much the new deal is worth, but ESPN’s Darren Rovell reports that it will cost the satellite company about $1.5/year for the next eight years.

If true, that’s more than DirecTV earns from the fees it charges to Sunday Ticket subscribers, but the company knows that many of these customers might consider switching switch to cable — or simply drop pay-TV service altogether — if it weren’t for being able to see their favorite teams play each week.

Additionally, the exclusivity deal allows DirecTV to continue selling online-only versions of Sunday Ticket to non-satellite customers. AT&T has already expressed interest in packaging a wireless version to its customers, though it’s unclear if that would conflict with the deal between NFL and Verizon Wireless that allows for live-streaming of in-market games.

This is why Sunday Ticket has been such a key piece of DirecTV’s pending merger with AT&T. If the negotiations had failed, AT&T would have been able to walk away from the acquisition.

After all, DirecTV customers who want high-speed broadband service generally get it a cable TV company. If a cable customer drops her pay-TV service, she’ll still be paying for Internet. If a satellite customer gets rid of his TV package, that’s the end of their financial relationship.

The goal of the AT&T merger is to ultimately bring some sort of broadband solution to DirecTV customers that doesn’t come from a third party. AT&T says it has the technology to deploy a relatively high-speed wireless broadband service to rural areas, but has yet to reveal details on price, availability or timing.

With the country’s most-watched sport locked in as an exclusive for the better part of a decade, DirecTV is likely to maintain a healthy number of subscribers, giving AT&T time to deploy a wireless broadband offering and to hopefully continue building out its new gigabit fiber service.

Army Of Consumers Get Paid To Snap Smartphone Pics In Stores

Thu, 2014-10-02 00:15

(Ben Schumin)

(Ben Schumin)

Sure, companies might pay retailers for favorable placement or fancy displays for their products, but how do they know whether those ads are working or the displays are set up as requested? Every day, there’s a flood of customers walking past those displays carrying tiny computers with good quality cameras on them. What do those two things have to do with each other?

One company, Quri, is combining sales data with photos, gamification, and small amounts of cash to create a swarm of smartphone-toting “field agents” to collect on-the-ground data in a hurry. Those field agents are people who receive alerts about jobs and perform them when they have some extra time.

On the business end, Quri promises clients quick and granular data about what their ads and displays look like in stores, current inventory levels of that product, and any other information they need that a random shopper can find out in a five-minute store visit.

Some companies have set up similar projects through mystery shopping companies, but integrating job searching, photos, and geographic location all on one app and one device makes the process easier for “field agents.”

If you want to work for the company, check out their EasyShift app, which right now is only available for iPhone. (If you’re looking for an app where you can get money for snapping photos of things, Gigwalk is a similar, well, gig for Android.)

Quri launches Impact to help advertisers measure if the billions spent on in-store ads are working [Pando]

AT&T: Half Of New Phone Buyers Are Choosing Next Plans

Wed, 2014-10-01 23:13

at&t store


When you see AT&T advertising the hottest new phones as being available for “$0 down,” that’s if you opt for the early upgrade/installment payments plan called AT&T Next. While stock analysts (and, we’re guessing, AT&T itself) expected the program to be a huge hit, the prospect of getting a $15/month discount and paying full sticker price for a smartphone just isn’t tempting to the average consumer.

Yesterday, in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, AT&T reported that there’s only a “take rate” of 50% for Next. When buying a new phone and presented with the choice of taking out a two-year contract or using Next to buy their new phone, customers are sticking with what they’re used to. They could also be doing the math, too, and would rather put more money down when they buy the phone and have a lower monthly bill going into the future. Depending on your rate plan, Next works out well for some people and doesn’t work for others: it requires doing some calculations, and not listening to AT&T’s salespeople when they sing the praises of spreading out the unsubsidized cost of your phone over 20 monthly installments.

AT&T expects customer usage of NEXT to reach 50 percent in third quarter [Reuters]

Watch Everyone Go Totally Freaking Nuts As Steve Jobs Demonstrates The Magic Of WiFi In 1999

Wed, 2014-10-01 23:09



Prepare yourself to feel old, jaded and immune to the everyday magical workings of technology, people. While these days we don’t bat an eye at carrying lightweight devices that let us basically do anything we want besides teleport, back in 1999 the world of technology was still new, exciting, and totally worth a standing ovation. To wit: Uproarious applause and a general cacophony of excitement when Steve Jobs showed off the iBook’s wireless powers back in 1999.

NAUSEA WARNING: The person who filmed the below video wasn’t too steady of hand, noting in the YouTube description, “my shaky Sony Hi8 HandyCam recording of the 1999 NYC MacWorld Public/ Keynote address” and as such, it feels a bit like watching Jobs present on a ship afloat on the roiling seas of appreciation.

It’s very simple — Jobs opens up the iBook’s web browser, goes on about dimming the lights, makes some noise about adjusting things and then BAM — he picks up the laptop and walks away without any cords attached… and the browser stays connected to the Internet!

The response is deafening — hooting, hollering, so much clapping and what looks like a standing ovation. These. People. Are. Pumped.

And Jobs knows it, grinning ear to ear while the applause crashes over him and everyone gathers for a group hug to celebrate the astounding innovations we have available in these modern times. That last part I made up, but I bet the audience would’ve gone for a big mass embrace at that point.

Behold. WiFi. And also a hula hoop gets involved (H/T to Slate for the video):

Verizon Realizes Throttling LTE Users Is A Stupid, Stupid Idea; Decides Not To

Wed, 2014-10-01 23:00



Back in July, Verizon Wireless ticked off its few remaining unlimited data subscribers and caught the unwanted attention of the FCC Chairman, when it announced that it would begin throttling data speeds for its users with the highest level of wireless broadband consumption under the guise of “network optimization.” That plan was supposed to kick in this morning, but Verizon has decided that maybe it’s not such a good idea.

“We’ve greatly valued the ongoing dialogue over the past several months concerning network optimization and we’ve decided not to move forward with the planned implementation of network optimization for 4G LTE customers on unlimited plans,” reads a statement from Verizon.

VZW has been using “network optimization” since 2011 for 3G data users, slowing down data speeds for the heaviest users when they are connected to cell sites experiencing high demand.

Until the July announcement, the company had never expanded this throttling program to 4G LTE users, even after killing off unlimited plans in 2012. The decision to include these users caught the attention of FCC Chair Tom Wheeler, who wrote to Verizon to explain that he was “deeply troubled” by Verizon’s plan.

Of particular concern to Wheeler was Verizon’s claim that the throttling was acceptable under current FCC guidelines for “reasonable network management practices.”

Wheeler explained that network management must be “appropriate and tailored to achieving a legitimate network management purpose, taking into account the particular network architecture and technology of the broadband Internet access service” and that it is “not a loophole designed to enhance your revenue streams.”

The Chair said it was “disturbing… that Verizon Wireless would base its ‘network management’ on distinctions among its customers’ data plans, rather than on network architecture or technology.”

Verizon responded by claiming that it wasn’t attempting to drive the remaining unlimited customers on to tiered data plans by throttling their data speeds when they actually tried to access the “unlimited” data promised by their plans.

The company explained that they weren’t targeting unlimited customers; those users just happen to be data hogs.

“Unlike subscribers on usage-based plans, they have no incentive not to do so during times of unusually high demand,” wrote Verizon. “Rather than an effort to ‘enhance [our] revenue streams,’ our practice is a measured and fair step to ensure that this small group of customers do not disadvantage all others in the sharing of network resources.”

Verizon also pointed out that other major carriers have similar policies, a response that failed to impress Wheeler.

“‘All the kids do it’ was never something that worked with me when I was growing up and didn’t work with my kids,” he said about Verizon’s excuse.