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City Bills Landowner $944 For Non-Existent Water Service For Vacant Lot

Fri, 2014-08-29 20:37

This luxurious 0 BR 0 BA home in the up-and-coming Sharswood area of Philadelphia apparently has been running up some expensive water bills.

This luxurious 0 BR 0 BA home in the up-and-coming Sharswood area of Philadelphia apparently has been running up some expensive water bills.

There are vacant lots all over the place here in Philadelphia, and a number of them are sold at auction by the city’s Housing Authority. When one area man purchased one such empty spot of land two years ago, the last thing he probably expected was to someday be hit with an unexplained and massive water bill for a property with nothing built on it.

The Philadelphia Daily News reports on the buyer of two auctioned properties — one vacant, one completely sealed-up — on the same street in the Sharswood section of the city.

The man purchased the buildings in 2012 as investments, but nothing has changed in the two years since taking ownership… that is, until he started receiving water bills for both.

In July, the city billed him for $760.60 on the vacant lot. The sealed property was even worse, somehow running up a $758 bill in spite of having no service.

When the bill didn’t get paid — because they were obvious mistakes, right? — the first one jumped to $944 in August, with the second increasing to $941.

He brought the presumably erroneous bills to the attention of the Water Revenue Board (why is that every municipal body sounds like something out of a Philip K. Dick story?) who promised to send out an investigator… within 30 days.

As we’ve seen many times before, bureaucracies don’t generally respond well to insane water bill disputes, so the property owner took his story to the Daily News in the hope of getting a resolution sooner.

A rep for the Bureau tried to explain the problem by saying that it didn’t find out that these properties had a new owner until April. Aside from the astonishing fact that it took one city agency two years to pass on a piece of basic information to another agency, this still doesn’t explain why the owner was being billed hundred of dollars on properties that have water service or meter.

All the rep for the Bureau would say is that the “bill has been adjusted and the new owner will receive a new bill in the mail.”

As both a Philadelphia resident and someone who covers consumer news, I have a hunch this isn’t the last we’ll hear of this story.

The Only Thing College-Like In These College Themed Hotels Is A Painting Of A Red Solo Cup

Fri, 2014-08-29 19:50

A new brand of hotels aims to bring consumers back to the days of college.

A new brand of hotels aims to bring consumers back to the days of college.

Have you ever wanted to go back to college – you know, to relive the glory days when you received your first taste of freedom? We’ve all through about it at least once, right? Well, a new hotel brand aims to take consumers back, but their approach seems to be lacking – a lot in our humble opinions.

Graduate Hotels, a venture between AJ Capital Partners of Chicago and Hong Kong-based Gaw Capital Partners, plans to open 20 boutique-like hotels over the next five years in communities near major college campuses, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Officials with AJ Capital Partners say the goal of the hotels, the first of which are set to open this fall in Tempe, AZ, home of Arizona State University and Athens, GA, home of the University of Georgia, is to appeal to consumers coming back to the area for sporting events, reunions and campus visits.

While the concept is interesting, the execution seems to be sorely lacking when it comes to actually evoking the college experience. So far the only college-like aspects include nods to school spirit, team colors and, as depicted in one promotional photo, a painting of a red solo cup.

This is what one of the rooms in the Athens, GA, Graduate Hotel will look like.

This is what one of the rooms in the Athens, GA, Graduate Hotel will look like.

Everyone’s college experience is different, but I for one picture nights of studying punctuated by others filled with bar visits and a never-ending supply of dirty laundry on the floor, not mismatched patterns and brightly colored walls.

Of course, no hotel that wants to actually make money would purposely stain the carpet with beer and pile textbooks on top of desks, but Graduate Hotels’ concept to include a bar and restaurant and locally inspired art collections just sounds like all the other hotels on the market.

The hotel in Athens will include rooms with vintage ceramic lamps in the shape of the University of Georgia’s mascot and album covers from local bands including REM (because it’s apparently 1990).

In Tempe, the Wall Street Journal describes a giant ant farm behind the front desk that is supposed to represent the school’s popular social insects program. While that may be representative of part of the university, it doesn’t make me think Sun Devils.

Future Graduate Hotels are planned for the University of Virginia’s Charlottesville, VA, the University of Indiana’s Bloomington, IN, and the University of Wisconsin’s Madison, WI.

Hotel Chain Gives It the Old College Try [The Wall Street Journal]

TSA: Please Leave Your Ammo-Filled Bibles And Hot Sauce Grenades At Home

Fri, 2014-08-29 19:44

There are a lot of things you aren’t allowed to bring into the cabin of a plane: throwing stars, shoe knives, and toy guns belonging to sock monkeys. While a hollowed-out Bible might be a great hiding place for your bullets at home, the Transportation Safety Administration would like the public to know that you’ll need a different container when you travel by air.

ammo_bibles

Yes, you can bring firearms and ammunition on flights, but only in your checked baggage, and the gun can’t be loaded. Ammo has to be in a wooden or cardboard box that’s designed for carrying ammunition, which pretty much rules out hollowed-out books.

The TSA’s Instagram feed is a source of never-ending entertainment and edification. For example, who knew that hot sauce was available in handy containers shaped like grenades?

flashbang

While the case goes with the brand name “flash bang,” that doesn’t mean that putting it in your carry-on is such a hot idea.

These brass knuckles shaped like kitty heads have given me exciting new gift ideas for my Consumerist co-workers.

kitty_brass_knuckles

TSA [Instagram]

We Live In A World Where Your Insurer Doesn’t Care That It Charges Two Prices For One Drug

Fri, 2014-08-29 19:41

The Oxford Prescription Drug List says that asthma drug Montelukast is an inexpensive Tier 1 drug, but makes no mention that it's pulverized form is a Tier 2 drug at twice the cost. (Click to enlarge)

The Oxford Prescription Drug List says that asthma drug Montelukast is an inexpensive Tier 1 drug, but makes no mention that it’s pulverized form is a Tier 2 drug at twice the cost. (Click to enlarge)

In one month, the price of your generic prescription doubles. The first person at your insurance company says “Oops, that’s a mistake,” but a second person tells you that the mistake was actually made when you were charged the original, lower price. Meanwhile, the insurance company’s website tells you that the lower price is the correct one — and none of these people actually seem to give a damn.

This is the hellish bureaucratic merry-go-round that ProPublica’s Charles Ornstein found himself on while trying to sort out the seemingly simple question of how much he should be paying for his kid’s asthma medication.

His son takes Montelukast, a generic form of Singulair, and Ornstein had originally paid a $15 copay at his local CVS. Then a month later, that same CVS charged him $30 based on information from his insurance company, Oxford Health Plans, part of mega-insurer UnitedHealthcare — a company so big there’s no room for a space between words.

The first rep Ornstein spoke to said a mistake had been made and he’d be entitled to a $15 refund. The rep asked him to check back in a few days to confirm, but when he did, a second rep told him he should have actually been charged $30 the whole time because the prescription was for Montelukast granules instead of tablets, meaning the drug is in a higher copay tier.

But there was good news — Oxford wasn’t going to come after Ornstein for the additional $15 he should have paid. Amen!

Confusing matters even more, the most recent Prescription Drug List [PDF] for Ornstein’s plan lists Montelukast as a Tier 1 drug — the lowest-cost level — and makes no reference to their being a different charge for granulated vs. tablet form.

Ornstein contact the media rep for Oxford and identified himself as a journalist. The rep confirmed that, in spite of what Oxford’s own drug list implies, the granulated form of Montelukast is indeed a Tier 2 drug. A possible solution, suggested the company, was for Ornstein to purchase the cheaper tablets of the drug and pulverize them himself.

But that still doesn’t answer why the company lists the drug as Tier 1 but charges Tier 2 prices (sometimes).

“Our online prescription drug list (PDL) — while comprehensive — is not all encompassing for every drug and classification for all manufacturers,” explained a rep for the insurer. “It is published twice per year and includes the top 500 most commonly used drugs. It is a great first stop for our members who wish to know if a particular drug is included in our formulary.”

The problem is, this sort of confusion is not rare. When first faced with the increased price, the CVS pharmacist told him that this happens all the time.

And much of the confusion seems to come from the multiple pricing tiers introduced by insurance companies as prices for generics have increased. In 2000, nearly half of private insurance plans only had two pricing tiers for drugs — one for generics and another for name-brand. And nearly 1-in-4 insured workers in the U.S. paid one price for all drugs.

Now, more than 80% of insurance plans have at least three tiers of drug pricing. And even then, there might be pricing differences within each tier, depending on your insurer.

“It’s a maze, a complete maze trying to figure out which end is up,” Lorie Gardner, a registered nurse and the chief executive of Healthlink Advocates Inc., tells Ornstein. “There are errors everywhere, unfortunately.”

Can’t We Just Get Along? Yet Another Flight Diverted Because Passengers Argue Over Reclining Seat

Fri, 2014-08-29 18:02

(frankieleon)

(frankieleon)

There appears to be a new trend taking over the skies, and it’s one we certainly can not get behind. For the second time this week a U.S. operated flight was diverted because of a disruption over reclining seats.

The Boston Globe reports an American Airlines flight from Miami to Paris was diverted to Logan International Airport in Boston on Wednesday evening after a man became angry when the woman in front of him reclined her seat.

According to Massachusetts State Police, the 61-year-old man became enraged when the woman in front of him reclined her seat. A flight crew member’s attempt to calm the situation backfired, as the man allegedly followed the employee down the plane’s aisle and grabbed his arm.

An air marshal stepped in and handcuffed the man while the plane began its decent.

Upon arrival in Boston, the Parisian man was taken to a local hospital for observation and treatment of a pre-existing medical condition. According to police officials, the man was then arrested and now faces federal and state charges of interfering with the crew.

After the situation was resolved, the flight continued on to Paris.

Wednesday’s incident was decidedly more intense than a similar situation that occurred on a United Airlines flight earlier this week.

In that case, a man and woman were removed for the flight after scuffling. The man allegedly used a Knee Defender – a device that locks onto the tray table on the back of the seat, making it impossible for the person in front to recline.

When a flight attendant asked him to remove the device, he refused. The woman directly in front of him then allegedly stood up and threw a cup of water at him.

Reclining seats have been a point of spirited dispute for ages – resulting in previous rumbles in the aisles (especially during meal time) and even the intervention of F-16s after a reclining seat-induced slap fight. There’s even been discussion as to whether the whole reclining thing should be done away with, especially since some airlines have cut the amount of recline available to begin with.

Seat spat diverts Paris-bound flight to Logan Airport [The Boston Globe]

Sketchy Online Retailer With $250 Fee For Complainers Is “Down For Maintenance”

Fri, 2014-08-29 17:58

undergoingmaintenanceFor the last few days, we’ve been following the story of sketchy online retailer Accessory Outlet, which was recently sued over its bizarre policy of penalizing customers $250 for even threatening to publicly complain about a purchase or file a chargeback request with their credit card issuers. Then we revealed how the site was blatantly lying about its various customer service ratings, awards, and certifications. Now it looks like the site has been pulled down, if only temporarily.

Visitors to any of the multiple URLs that Accessory Outlet uses (including eaccessoryoutlet.com and accessoryoutletmall.com) are no longer greeted with a fake A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau or a stolen image of a Samsung store in Korea, or the dubious claim of being “the #1 Mobile Accessory wholesaler in the United States.”

Instead, people going to these sites now find the message “Site is undergoing maintenance. Please check back later.” Some of the company’s URLs, like TrueAccessory.com, merely come up blank with absolutely no message.

Whether this is merely the site crashing due to overwhelming response from people curious to check out the sketchiness, or if the site is actually being redesigned — possibly in response to the cease-and-desist order from the BBB — is a mystery.

What’s not a mystery are the many complaints that customers have posted about Accessory Outlet and its various iterations on public complaints boards.

We have attempted to contact this company for comment on the lawsuit and the $250 fee, but to no avail.

5 Little-Known Ways To Save Money On Amazon

Fri, 2014-08-29 17:39

(Stephen Woods)

(Stephen Woods)

Online shoppers often end up buying things on Amazon by default. They have the best price, and hey, I have a Prime membership anyway! What you may not realize is that there are ways to save money even after you’ve put that package of flea pills or protein powder or new keyboard in your cart.

Grayson Bell over at Debt Roundup rounded up five ways to save money at Amazon that you might not know about. Most of them aren’t even on a similar post on this subject that we published last year! If you did know about them, just sit back and feel smug.

  1. Amazon Warehouse Deals. What do you think happens when you return something to Amazon’s warehouse, and the box gets dinged a little bit during the journey? What happens when the customer opens a sealed box, then returns the item? Open-box deals, of course! Amazon’s open-box department is called Warehouse Deals, and you can browse it here. Also check out the very similar Amazon Outlet.
  2. Leave your cart and wander off. Doing this makes you a really big jerk while shopping at a store in real life, but is a time-honored method to save money when shopping online. The method is simple, and something that I do accidentally much of the time anyway. Just add some items to your virtual cart while signed in with your account for the site, and then wander off. Many sites will send you an e-mail to remind you about the items that you forgot, and Grayson reports that sometimes Amazon is one of them. “I have saved up to 20% one time when doing this method, but again, this is hit or miss,” he writes.
  3. PriceJump. Savings.com has developed a tool (also available as a browser extension) that takes the item you want at Amazon and checks other sites to see whether it’s available cheaper somewhere else. I didn’t have much luck with this: I tried it with a keyboard I have my eye on, and PriceJump said that Amazon wouldn’t let the site import information about the item. Sad.
  4. CamelCamelCamel. This site is a tool that lets you get price alerts, track item prices over time, and easily make comparisons. It also has a handy browser extension.
  5. Subscribe and Save. This is a tool that’s well-known to regular Amazon shoppers, but worth trying when there is something that you really do purchase at regular intervals. You commit to regular shipments, and Amazon knocks 15% off the price.

5 Little Known Ways to Save Money at Amazon.com [Debt Roundup]

Pedigree Recalls Dog Food Because Feeding Fido Metal Fragments Isn’t A Good Idea

Fri, 2014-08-29 17:26
Pedigree recalled a number of bags of its adult dog food because of possible metal fragments.

Pedigree recalled a number of bags of its adult dog food because of possible metal fragments.

If you live in the south and you’re getting ready to scoop out a heaping serving of Pedigree for your adult canine, you may want to double-check the package. The dog food maker is recalling certain bags of dry food that may contain not-so-tasty pieces of metal.

Pedigree announced that it voluntarily recalled 22 bags of Pedigree Adult Complete Nutrition dry dog food because the contents may include metal fragments. While the metal pieces are not embedded in the dog food itself, they can pose an injury risk if consumed.

The recall only affects the 15 pound bags sold at Dollar General Stores in Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana.

Consumers should check the back of their Pedigree dog food bags for this product number.

Consumers should check the back of their Pedigree dog food bags for this product number.

Each bag will have the lot code 432C1KKM03 printed on the bag near the UPC and a Best Before date of 8/5/15.

“At Mars Petcare, we take our responsibility to pets and their owners seriously. We sincerely apologize for this situation,” officials with the company say in a news release.

Consumers are encouraged to reach out to Pedigree at 1-800-305-5206 with questions.

Pedigree Recall Notice

Company Sends John Hodgman His Order In Box Covered With Photo Of John Hodgman

Fri, 2014-08-29 17:24

(via John Hodgman's Instagram)

(via John Hodgman’s Instagram)

It’s one thing if you’re a celebrity and you turn on the TV and see your face. That happens. But when ordering something online, even a world-famous uber-celebrity like hunky author, actor, comedian, raconteur, and undercover CIA spy John Hodgman probably expects to receive the same anonymous treatment that the rest of us do.

But, according to Hodgman’s Instagram account, he recently received an order that left him “3% creeped out and 97% THRILLED.”

The man that Angelina Jolie secretly wanted to marry says he had ordered a new remote control for his 22-year-old TV from a website called NewRemoteControl.com, only to receive the parcel that stared back at him through his own eyes.

If anyone wants to send me a package with my photo on it, here’s what I really look like.

Bank Of America Doesn’t Want To Pay $1.27B For Countrywide’s “Hustle” Mortgage Scam

Fri, 2014-08-29 17:10

(frankieleon)

(frankieleon)

Between settlements, fines, legal fees, and loan reductions, Bank of America’s tab for its part in the mortgage meltdown is well over $50 billion, including last week’s record-setting $16.65 billion deal. And yet BofA is still trying to fight a nearly year-old jury verdict involving a scam by Countrywide Financial that sold off oodles of worthless home loans before the housing bubble collapsed.

It was last October that a federal jury found BofA liable for the misdeeds of Countrywide’s High Speed Swim Lane (HSSL, aka “The Hustle”) program, which began in the final, doomed days of the housing bubble with the goal of approving as many loans as possible in order to quickly resell them to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac before they realized the mortgages weren’t worth the Post-It notes on which they’d been written.

In order to expedite loan approvals, the Hustle removed the typical underwriting safeguards that would usually prevent a lender from making a bad loan. Additionally, the government charged that Countrywide misrepresented the quality of these loans when reselling them.

Nearly half of the Hustle loans resold to Fannie or Freddie turned out toxic, resulting in massive losses.

Earlier this summer, the judge in the case finally decided that BofA should have to pay $1.27 billion in damages, and Rebecca Mairone, the Countrywide exec who oversaw the program, is on the hook for $1 million.

Even after the verdict and penalty had been decided, BofA maintained that it shouldn’t be held responsible because the program ended before BofA acquired a failing Countrywide.

And in its appeal, the bank further argues that there was no actual evidence of fraud.

“The trial evidence, even viewed in the light most favorable to the government, did not prove fraud under this standard,” the bank’s lawyers wrote in a motion filed with the court this week, according to Reuters.

Federal prosecutors are expected to file a response on Sept. 18.

Shopping Healthier & Without Lists, Millennials Are Changing The Supermarket Game

Fri, 2014-08-29 16:54

(Ben Schumin)

(Ben Schumin)

Grocery shopping used to be a rather easy experience: you’d look in the cupboard, make a list and drive to the store to collect your goods. Simple right? Well, times they are a changin’ and it’s millennials who are pushing the supermarket industry in new directions..

A new report from the Food Marketing Institute, a nonprofit representing the interests of food retailers and wholesalers, details the ways in which consumers have changed their shopping habits from generation to generation, the Washington Post reports.

The report points to a vast difference between the ways previous generations and millennials deal with shopping. For example, millennials are far more likely to build their shopping trips around a particular recipe, instead of simply stocking up on the same staples every week.

Additionally, millennials tend to take a last-minute, rushed approach to grocery shopping with nearly 37% of survey respondents saying they only make a list right before going to the store. And of the items on that list, FMI found that more than 25% of meals purchased by that age group tend to be eaten on the same day.

As for older generations, including Boomers and Generation Xers, they are more likely to actually check their pantry to add items to the list throughout the week. These groups also place an emphasis on special discounts offered at their local stores when considering what items to purchase.

Creating a list is the first challenge for shoppers. The plethora of options facing consumers from the shelves can be overwhelming, but for millennials there are certain qualities in a product that rate above all others.

The latest trends in shopping include looking for healthier options.

The latest trends in shopping include looking for healthier options.

According to FMI, millennials are leading the way when it comes to adopting healthier lifestyles. This generation is more likely than any other to seek out food and beverage options that are minimally processed, contain only a short list of recognizable ingredients and locally grown or produced.

To meet this preference, many grocers are moving to incorporate organic and farmer grown products. Earlier this year Walmart announced it would begin rolling out its own low-cost organic line.

With a number of retail options available, from super centers to health food stores, younger shoppers are no longer loyal to just one local supermarket, according to FMI.

While a study earlier this year showed that consumers are increasingly turning to big box stores like Walmart and Target to meet their grocery needs, FMI found that traditional grocery stores still reign supreme.

Nearly 85% of shoppers say they shop at traditional grocery stores fairly often, while 46% of respondents shop at a supercenter with the same frequency.

However, FMI found that what was once a traditional once-a-week major shopping trip has evolved into one trip every two weeks with “fill-up” stops at drug stores and convenience stores in between.

No matter how much the shopping experience evolves, consumers should make sure they go prepared with a list and the latest tips and tricks to a better shopping experience, from how to pick the best produce to choosing a shopping cart wisely.

How we shop for food is changing, in three charts [The Washington Post]

Coffee Companies May Have Already Cracked DRM On Keurig 2.0

Fri, 2014-08-29 16:50

Ryan

(Ryan)

When we say that someone has cracked the DRM on something, usually it means a pirated song, game, book, or movie is about to make its way through the less-than-legal back channels of the internet. But this time, one company is announcing that they’ve cracked the DRM on another company’s coffee tech.

Keurig single-serving coffee machines have probably reduced workplace acrimony more than any other invention since the advent of noise-cancelling headphones. They’re pretty much everywhere these days, and everyone who sells coffee wants in on the game.

Months ago, parent company Green Mountain Coffee announced that in order to keep making large piles of money, their next version of the machine would, basically, be DRM-locked. They claimed that doing so would allow them to bring innovative benefits to Keurig-owning coffee drinkers, but realistically adding the DRM would mostly require anyone who wanted single-serve drinkers to brew their java to pay Keurig for licensing.

One K-cup-making company, Treehouse Foods, filed a lawsuit against Green Mountain Coffee back in March. In the suit, they alleged that Keurig was unfairly monopolizing the market and locking out competitors unfairly.

Treehouse may not be planning to wait out the whole legal process, though. Back in June they said that the DRM tech would be easy to crack, and this month another company appears to have done it.

In a press release, Mother Parkers, a Canadian beverage business, announced that their product would be available on the new generation of Keurig brewers thanks to their “focus on innovation, quality, and freedom of choice” which “has led to new technology.”

As TechDirt points out, that sure sounds a lot like they developed a work-around in house instead of paying Keurig for licensing.

We’ve asked both Treehouse and Mother Parkers to clarify and will update if we hear back.

Keurig’s Coffee DRM Already Cracked By Competitors; Will There Be A Lawsuit? [TechDirt]

Consumerist Friday Flickr Finds

Fri, 2014-08-29 16:36

Here are eleven of the best photos that readers added to the Consumerist Flickr Pool in the last week, picked for usability in a Consumerist post or for just plain neatness.

(Freaktography)

(Freaktography)

(bclinesmith)

(bclinesmith)

at&t store

(Steve)

(Hammerin Man)

(Hammerin Man)

(Xavier J. Peg ☠)

(Xavier J. Peg ☠)

(Nicholas Eckhart)

(Nicholas Eckhart)

(George)

(George)

(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)

(Hammerin Man)

(Hammerin Man)

(Carbon Arc)

(Carbon Arc)

(George)

(George)

Our Flickr Pool is the place where Consumerist readers upload photos for possible use in future Consumerist posts. Want to see your pictures on our site? Just be a registered Flickr user, go here, and click “Join Group?” up on the top right. Choose your best photos, then click “send to group” on the individual images you want to add to the pool.

Would You Like To Be Able To Buy A Big Mac With Empty Soda & Beer Cans?

Fri, 2014-08-29 16:30

3034937-inline-i-1-big-mac-cansGot a hankering for a Big Mac but don’t want to spend the money? Your recycling bin may hold the key to sating your special sauce craving… or it would if you were living in Sweden.

Fast Company reports on a campaign by McDonald’s in Sweden that not only encourages customers to turn in empty cans for burgers, but also provides the bags in which to collect the cans.

Small billboards in Stockholm advertise the program — which gives customers the option of a free hamburger or cheeseburger for 10 cans, or a Big Mac for a whopping 40 cans — on large rolls of black plastic bags that can be taken and used to tote one’s can stash to the Golden Arches.

“Youngsters don’t always have so much cash, but sometimes they can get empty cans,” says a rep for ad agency DDB Stockholm that created the idea with McD’s. “So, accepting cans in return for burgers gets them to McDonald’s and the cans to the recycling depot. Everyone’s happy.”

Google Also Plans To Hasten Robot Apocalypse With Delivery Drones

Fri, 2014-08-29 15:39

Not content to sit idly by while the likes of Amazon, UPS, DHL, and others work to bring about the inevitable robot apocalypse, Google announced last night that it too is getting into the delivery-drones-of-doom game with its Project Wing flying machines.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Google has been working on the development of Project Wing, a 5-foot wide, 4-propeller drone since 2011.

As revealed in the above video, the company recently did some test deliveries with the machine — before whom we will eventually bow down in supplication — in Queensland, Australia, carrying a first aid kit, candy bars, dog treats, and water to some farmers.

“We’re only just beginning to develop the technology to make a safe delivery system possible, but we think that there’s tremendous potential to transport goods more quickly, safely and efficiently,” reads the statement on the video.

Google says Project Wing is still “years” from becoming an actual product but that the company believes this prototype is first step in the right direction… toward the destruction of humankind.

Redbox Is Running DVD And Blu-Ray Price Hike Tests Again

Thu, 2014-08-28 23:58

Movie and game rental kiosk company Redbox is considering another price change to its DVD and Blu-Ray rentals. They’re testing out new pricing schemes in different markets, presumably to figure out which pricing scheme consumers hate the least. In the market where reader Dave is, in Salt Lake City, Utah, they’re trying the price points of $1.50 for DVDs and $2 for Blu-Rays, a price hike of 30¢ and 50¢ respectively.

We reported similar pricing tests in 2010 and 2009 before Redbox settled on its current pricing scheme in the fall of 2011.

fullkiosk

Dave, for one, is unhappy with the change, mostly because all of the other options for DVD rentals have left town. “I have always thought Redbox was inferior to a brick and mortar- they have no depth, no inventory, just the new, popular stuff,” he writes. “And now that they are the only game in town, they start raising prices. I mean, it’s not like they have increased costs- what, some machine wants a raise?” Well, someone has to stock those machines and repair them when something goes wrong, and they do have to buy new discs. We haven’t yet hit the Kiosk Uprising where the machines demand raises or tip jars, though.

150200

We hadn’t heard about it at the time, but Redbox quietly announced that they’re raising prices in some markets at the beginning of August. According to Investor’s Business Daily, the company plans to evaluate how the tests go and report back to investors on those tests in the last quarter of 2014.

Redbox tests DVD price increases, lowers kiosk count [Investor's Business Daily]

Dairy Queen Substitutes Cleaning Solution For Vanilla Syrup, Serves It To 7-Year-Old

Thu, 2014-08-28 23:13

dqPeople who enjoy beverages were horrified two weeks ago when we shared the story of a woman in Utah who drank sweet tea laced with degreaser when a restaurant employee mistook a lye-based cleaner for sugar. Now something similar has happened in Colorado, where an employee mistook cleaning solution for vanilla syrup and served up a cleaning chemical shake to a 7-year-old boy.

A mother and son stopped at the drive-thru at the Dairy Queen in Thornton, Colorado, and the boy said that his shake tasted funny, like his tongue was burning. His mom took a sip and discovered that the kid was right. He was right: it was definitely not vanilla-flavored. “I took a drink of it and tasted something very ‘chemically,’ and then my mouth and throat started burning,” she told the local Fox affiliate.

She returned to the store, where the manager refused to issue a refund for the contaminated shakes. That was just as well: the family’s next stop was the hospital. Later, a district manager contacted them and explained that someone mixed up a vanilla syrup bottle that was being cleaned with a full one, and that’s where the degreaser shakes came from.

It gets even worse: other customers contacted the TV station in Denver that originally covered this story, claiming that the same thing had happened to them. Maybe that’s why the Dairy Queen imposed their “no refunds for degreaser shakes” policy?

By the way, the woman in Utah who drank lye-laced iced tea has recovered, and was released from the hospital earlier this week.

We really hope that this doesn’t become the next accidental trend in food service, like when restaurants served booze-laced beverages to by accident children over and over in 2011 and 2012.

Dairy Queen management: Cleaning solution got into customers’ vanilla shakes [Fox31 Denver]

How ISPs “Compete” With Municipal Networks: Lobbying and Campaign Donations That Block Them

Thu, 2014-08-28 22:55

(darrenleno)

(darrenleno)

Say you’re mayor of a small city. Your city is small enough and far enough away from other cities that the big cable companies don’t want to spend what it would cost to run wires through your town, because the amount they will make in return isn’t worth it. That’s reasonable, from a business perspective. So you and the residents of your city get together and come up with a plan to make a public broadband utility instead. Makes sense, right? You’d happily pay someone else to do it for you, but since they don’t want to take your money you’ll do it yourself. Only — surprise! In come those self-same cable companies to block you from doing that, too, and they get your state’s legislature and governor to pass a law against you for good measure, so you can never try again.

That’s the story of municipal broadband in many parts of the country. Twenty states have some kind of law in place that either prohibits or restricts public broadband utilities from operating or expanding.

In a lengthy feature, the Center for Public Integrity reports on just how heavily involved companies like Comcast and AT&T are in stifling the expansion of municipal broadband. The telecom and cable companies wield outsized power in state-level governments, the report finds, and can make things very difficult for anyone who stands against them.

Incumbent ISPs don’t like publicly-owned broadband. They argue that it’s subsidized competition they just shouldn’t have to face. Earlier this year, an AT&T executive testified in a Senate hearing that, “we don’t believe that private companies should actually compete against public-subsidized, taxpayer cost to capital in that market.” At the same hearing, Comcast exec David L. Cohen agreed that Comcast advocates against municipal broadband whenever they can.

As the CPI report demonstrates, though, that “advocacy” is far from sign-waving and comment-filing. The article tells the story of Janice Bowling, a state senator in Tennessee who tried to expand an existing public network in the city of Tullahoma beyond the city limits. In February, she introduced a bill to do just that.

Over the coming months, Bowling and her caucus received repeated pressure from AT&T, Charter, and Comcast to drop the bill into a slow season where it would never be voted on. She continued to advocate for her bill, but ultimately found herself sitting at the table with an AT&T representative who “leaned toward her across the table in a conference room next to the House caucus leader’s office and said tersely, ‘Well, I’d hate for this to end up in litigation,'” according to CPI.

The apparent threat worked; Bowling’s bill lost support and vanished into obscurity without a vote.

Even ten years ago, CPI reports, getting that network built in Tullahoma was an uphill battle:
When Tullahoma began planning its fiber optic network in 2004, “it got unpleasant real fast,” said Steve Cope, who was mayor at the time. “When you get into broadband you begin stepping on the toes of some of the big boys, the AT&Ts and Charters of the world. They don’t want the competition, and they’ll do anything to keep it out.”

“Do anything” is basically synonymous with “spend a big mountain of money,” as it turns out. The CPI report goes on to detail the campaign giving, lobbying, and extensive advertising campaigns that entrenched companies have used to get state legislatures to move in their favor.

The CPI report also looks at the city of Fayetteville, North Carolina. Fayetteville has a fiber-optic network running beneath its streets for use by hospitals, police, and other specific public works agencies. Neither residents nor businesses, though, are allowed to access it — even though Time Warner Cable, the local supplier, refused to upgrade their network or even connect parts of the city.

One doctor told CPI that he pays Time Warner Cable $359 per month for internet service to his private practice, but that even so it’s slow and unreliable. He said that from a business perspective, he understands why TWC is hesitant to spend more in the area. “But,” he told CPI, “we still need a fast, affordable network. They have a monopoly, and they act that way. I just think a little competition from the city would go a long way in getting better service for everyone.”

Even though companies are unwilling to invest in their networks in certain areas, they are certainly willing to invest in politicians. In both Tennessee and North Carolina, AT&T has spent millions — $1.3m and $1.6m respectively — on campaign donations. Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and CenturyLink have also spent big on political donations in those states. State senators who have received tens of thousands of dollars from telecom companies aren’t likely to advance bills that hurt those companies’ interests.

The next best hope for cities that want to install their own fiber — or even to plug into dark fiber that’s already lying around unused — may come from the federal level. The FCC, at the request of two cities (Chattanooga, TN and Wilson, NC) that would like to expand their municipal fiber offerings, is considering a rule change that would allow them to pre-empt those state laws, giving municipalities the ability to carry on as they please.

That fight has rapidly become extremely politically polarized and also ugly very quickly. D.C. has slowed down in the August heat, but that battle is likely to start boiling again when September rolls around.

How big telecom smothers city-run broadband [Center for Public Integrity]

Hershey Joins Elite Club Of Companies With Poo-Like Logos

Thu, 2014-08-28 22:35

hershey_company_logo_detailHershey decision to redesign the company logo to look more chocolaty was probably well-intentioned. But as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions… and littered with poo from jerks who don’t pick up after their dogs.

The response to the designers’ use of an unwrapped Hershey Kiss — complete with a wafting paper ribbon — has been met with some less than kind reviews from the readers of UnderConsideration.com, where variations of the poetic phrase “steaming pile of turd” are repeated.

And as FastCoDesign’s Mark Wilson points out, the logo is just some blinking eyes away from being a poo emoji:
hersheymoji

The good news is that Hershey is in good company, joining Santander as one of the few companies with logos that literally look like crap.

Santander-Logo-1024x250

Abercrombie & Fitch Ditching Logo-Heavy Clothing Because That Is So Last Decade

Thu, 2014-08-28 22:20

afThe halls of middle schools everywhere will be changed with this bit of news: Abercrombie & Fitch is scaling back the number of clothing items adorned with its once popular logo.

Reuters reports that weakened sales and a change in clothing preferences led the company to change its steadfast practice of slapping a super sized logo on everything.

“In the spring season we are looking to take the North American logo business to practically nothing,” Chief Executive Mike Jeffries said on a sales call.

It appears the move is being made to better compete with trendier items from less expensive chains like Forever 21 and Zara.

Phasing out the logo-heavy merchandise “is a good strategy and consistent in where consumer interest lies but it is not going to be enough to entirely turn sales,” research analyst Liz Dunn tells Reuters.

This wouldn’t be the first major change for the retailer this year. The company expanded its merchandise offerings to include larger sizes after CEO Jeffries suggested Abercrombie’s clothes aren’t meant for the “not-so-cool kids,” which was his way of referring to people who aren’t skinny.

Abercrombie to shed logo-centric clothes in North America [Reuters]

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