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The Consumerist

Music Industry Agrees To Release New Albums On The Same Day Worldwide In Anti-Piracy Effort

Thu, 2015-02-26 18:28

This is what us old folks know as a "vinyl record." (Great Beyond)

This is what us old folks know as a “vinyl record.” (Great Beyond)

Gone are the days of envying music fans in other countries who get their hands on new albums before the rest of the world: In an effort to cut down on piracy, representatives of the music industry say they’ve come to an agreement to release new albums on the same day worldwide, Friday, instead of different countries releasing music on different days of the week.

As it stands right now, albums are usually released on Monday in Britain in France, Tuesday in the United States, Wednesday in Japan and Friday in Australia and Germany, notes the AFP.

So if someone in Germany can’t wait until Friday to get their hands on music released in the U.S. on Tuesday, that person might seek it elsewhere on the Internet, increasing the chances for piracy.

Groups representing music retailers, record companies and artists said that after working on the issue for nine months, album releases would now be coordinated to go out everywhere each Friday at one minute past midnight local time. The new system is expected to go into effect by summer in the Northern Hemisphere.

“What is absolutely clear is that there is nearly unanimous agreement that a global release date is a good thing,” Frances Moore, chief executive officer of the the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry told the AFP.

The global release date will liven up the industry, Moore says, by cutting down on that three- or four-day gap that exists now.

“So now they won’t have to go looking on a pirate site — we are focusing them on the legitimate market,” she said, referencing those impatient consumers who might be tempted to go the illegal download route.

Retailers in the U.S. might not be so pleased with the Friday global release date, as Tuesdays are otherwise slow days and releasing albums that day gives the new music plenty of time to arrive over the weekend.

This also doesn’t prevent artists from suddenly releasing albums without warning whenever they want to, like artists Beyonce, Madonna and Drake have done recently to either avoid leaks or in response to them.

As such, anyone who doesn’t want to go with the Friday release date won’t face legal ramifications, Moore added.

“There could be an artist or individual producer who decides at some point they’re not going on that day… but there is a clear majority in favor of doing this, and I think eventually it will be aligned,” she said.

Music industry moves to Friday global album release [AFP]

Google Play Search Results Will Now Feature Sponsored Ads

Thu, 2015-02-26 17:29

googleplaygrabThe next time you visit the Google Play store to download an app, you’ll likely be greeted with an ad or two.

In an effort to increase consumers’ discovery of new apps and bolster developer payout, Google announced today that it would begin piloting sponsored search results on Google Play.

“We are always looking for new ways to help you get your apps in front of potential new users,” the company says in a blog post directed at app developers. “Search ads on Google Play will enable developers to drive more awareness of their apps and provide consumers new ways to discover apps that they otherwise might have missed.”

play
Under the pilot program, when one of the more than a billion Android users searches for an app topic in Google Play, the top result may be a sponsored post.

A similar practice is already used in the company’s web search results. A quick search of “pizza” on Google resulted in two ads at the top of the page.

Starting in the next several weeks, Google will begin to display the sponsored ads for a select group of Google Play users. The company plans to revisit the pilot after a few months to determine whether or not it should be expanded to all Android users.

A New Way to Promote Your App on Google Play [Google]
[H/T Business Insider]

FCC Votes To Allow Cities To Expand Broadband Networks

Thu, 2015-02-26 17:24

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler speaking at the FCC's Open Meeting on February 26, 2015.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler speaking at the FCC’s Open Meeting on February 26, 2015.


As expected, the FCC today has confirmed an order permitting two cities to expand their existing municipal fiber broadband networks despite state-level laws that block them from doing so.

After a brief weather delay caused by this never-ending winter, the commission voted 3-2 to allow the cities of Wilson, NC and Chattanooga, TN to expand their existing public networks. Chairman Tom Wheeler was joined by commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn in approving the measure, while commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly dissented.

Speakers at the meeting all referred several times to the FCC’s Congressional mandate to encourage the deployment of advanced telecommunications nationwide on a reasonable and timely basis — a mandate that, the FCC concluded earlier this year, is not currently being met. Several speakers also made references to chairman Wheeler’s stated goal to protect, encourage, create, and promote broadband expansion and competition.

Letting communities take on the task of creating and maintaining networks increases both access and competition, and therefore is a good thing, the majority argued. Commissioner Clyburn spoke first, remarking that, “For scores of Americans, the choice of one, let alone multiple, broadband networks, is a dream deferred, and the promise of universal access remains unkept.”

“Today’s vote,” she continued, “seeks to draw a line in the sand once and for all” by removing barriers for the expansion of broadband access.

Commissioner Rosenworcel also sang the praises of municipal networks, saying, “[Wilson, Chattanooga, and others] did something that was fundamentally American: when existing providers failed to meet their needs, they came together as a community and they built it themselves.”

Commissioner Pai, in his lengthy and wandering dissent, described a pile of case law leaning on the age-old argument of states’ rights. The FCC has no authority to interfere with state sovereignty, Pai argued, before delivering a first-grade level explanation of federalism to the audience. “A state doesn’t lose that absolute discretion [over its municipal jurisdictions] simply by giving a munitipality some authority, rather than all, to offer broadband service,” Pai explained. “Unfortunately for the commission, all the lipstick in the world can’t disguise this pig.”

Commissioner O’Rielly joined Pai in dissenting, but where Pai went for existing case law, O’Reilly went straight for the destruction of capitalism and the free world as we know it. “This highlights the unprecedented lengths the commission is willing to go in undermining the free market system, the federal statutes, the U.S. constitution, and common sense in order to dictate where, when, and how broadband is provided in this country,” he opened, before mentioning his, “profound opposition to the offering of broadband or any communications service by a government entity,” including municipalities.

Taking the step of letting publicly-owned entities compete in a market that currently exists as a monopoly, he implied, will transform the U.S. into “other countries like Cuba, China, Russia, and Venezuela.”

“If there’s a market need,” he continued, “an individual with a dream and a propensity for risk will enter to provide service, in direct opposition to all of reality.

As chairman, Wheeler spoke last. And he reminded his fellow commissioners what, exactly, the FCC is for.

“You know, there are a few irrefutable truths about broadband,” Wheeler began:
“One is, you can’t say that you’re for broadband and then turn around and endorse limits on who can offer it. Another is that you can’t say,’I want to follow the explicit instructions of congress to, quote, ‘remove barriers,’ the specific language Congress has told us to do — to remove barriers to infrastructure investment — but endorse barriers on infrastructure investment. I think, as they say in North Carolina, that dog don’t hunt. You can’t say you’re for competition but deny local elected officials the right to offer competitive choices.”

North Carolina and Tennessee are among the 19 states that have industry-sponsored laws on the books that prevent incumbent ISPs like AT&T from having to cope with any actual competition.

As we explained yesterday, the FCC’s ruling today has a narrow scope, even if it is likely to have a large impact as a piece of precedent. The broadband utilities in Wilson and Chattanooga are now permitted to act in defiance of a few particular North Carolina and Tennessee laws, respectively, but those laws remain on the books. Other cities in those states — as well as every other state with a similar law in place — will for now at least have to go through the same FCC petition process if they wish to expand or build their own networks.

Wheeler acknowledged the narrow scope of today’s vote, but added, “I do hope that this attention does shine some light on the fact that this is an ongoing effort to impose restrictions on what elected local officials can do at the request of their people, and that it calls out the activities of incumbents to block consumer choice and competition through legislation.”

The FCC commissioners will be holding a series of press conferences to issue additional statements regarding today’s meeting later this afternoon.

Facebook Adds New Tools For Suicide Prevention

Thu, 2015-02-26 17:23

(Facebook Safety)

(Facebook Safety)

In an effort to help those who may be expressing suicidal thoughts on Facebook, the social media site announced today that it’s worked with mental health experts to come up with new tools that will provide resources, advice and support those users, as well as friends and family members who might be worried about them when reading those posts.

As part of the company’s fifth Compassion Research Day, Facebook announced the tools it developed with mental health organizations as well as consulting with people who have been through tough times either in their own lives or with loved ones, in order to find the best way to offer assistance.

Noting how important connecting with people who care can help in those times of distress, Facebook says the new tools will allow users to report direct threats of suicide, first by contacting local emergency services, and then by telling Facebook about any troubling content.

“We have teams working around the world, 24/7, who review any report that comes in. They prioritize the most serious reports, like self-injury, and send help and resources to those in distress,” the post says.

It’s also expanding help for users after Facebook has reviewed a report of something they’ve posted, including content that might be flagged by a loved one. The next time that person logs in, they’ll be encouraged to connect with a mental health expert at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

It also gives those people the option of reaching out to a friend and tips and advice on how to work through troubling feelings.

“We’re also providing new resources and support to the person who flagged the troubling post, including options for them to call or message their distressed friend letting them know they care, or reaching out to another friend or a trained professional at a suicide hotline for support,” Facebook says.

The updates will be implemented for everyone who uses Facebook in the U.S. in the next couple of months, while the site is working on improving tools for those outside the U.S. as well, Facebook says.

Prank Or Honest Mistake? Jimmy John’s Renames Customer “Blumpkin”

Thu, 2015-02-26 16:58

 @jlump_PGA)

(Twitter: @jlump_PGA)

Anyone who has ever seen their name go from “Mark” to “Mork” on the side of a Starbucks cup, or “Morran” to “Moron” on restaurant reservations knows that names sometimes get lost in translation when scrawled by a foodservice worker in a hurry. So how can you tell when it’s an honest mistake or you’re the victim of a rude prank?

That’s the question before Jimmy John’s customer John Lumpkin, who wasn’t terribly thrilled to see that his last name had transformed into “Blumpkin” when written on his sandwich wrapper.

Thing is, “Blumpkin” isn’t only a misspelling of Lumpkin. It’s also a slang term so profane that we can’t even begin to describe it here. Anyone unfamiliar with the term is free to look it up, but you probably shouldn’t.

When John brought it to the attention of Jimmy John’s he eventually got a response from the company claiming it was an honest mistake and that the manager of the store had been spoken with.

However, he tells Consumerist he’s having a hard time believing that someone accidentally added a B to his name.

According to John, this wasn’t a case of him walking into a Jimmy John’s and saying his last name to an employee who might have misunderstood it.

Instead, he claims his sandwich was part of a group order that was placed online with his name spelled correctly. So it couldn’t be an issue of mis-hearing. Someone would have had to look at the list, then get confused in the few seconds it took to write his last name on the wrapper.

We’ve written to Jimmy John’s for more information, but they have yet to respond to our request. So for now we’ll leave it in the hands of Consumerist readers to decide whether this is a mistake or a prank:

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Taco Bell Is Heading To Japan

Thu, 2015-02-26 16:38

(Jeepers Media)

(Jeepers Media)

Will tacos, burritos and all the combinations in between work in a place where raw fish is the nation’s popular cuisine? One restaurant group in Japan seems to think so, with the announcement that it signed a franchise agreement with Yum Brands to open Taco Bell restaurants in the country.

Though Asrapport Dining Co. didn’t say when, where or how many restaurants it’d be opening in Japan, it did say the move would help expand its brand portfolio and usher in a new category of fast food in a place hungry for such fare, reports the Wall Street Journal. The company currently operates grilled meat restaurants called yakiniku in the country.

Currently the only Taco Bells in Japan are on U.S. military bases, which means the general public doesn’t have access to chalupas.

Asrapport isn’t alone in trying to lure in Japanese customers with fast food fare — though Burger King and Wendy’s both left the country a few years ago, they’ve both come back for another try. New York’s Shake Shack also recently said it would be opening several locations in Japan.

Please, please please — can we all just hope and pray that there will be no sushi burrito mash-ups on the horizon? Unless of course, you’re into that kind of thing, in which case, more power to you.

Taco Bell Makes a Run for Japan’s Border [Wall Street Journal]

Next In The Exotic Oreo Flavor Pipeline: Cotton Candy

Thu, 2015-02-26 16:36

On Instagram, there is a mysterious user named “cookie0man”, who posts advance versions of Nabisco products and nothing else. This shadowy figure posted pictures of red velvet Oreos before those hit shelves, and S’mores Oreos, which we still haven’t confirmed the existence of, but which sound appealing. Today, this person posted a photo of a new flavor: cotton candy Oreos.

cotton_candy_oreo_cases

cotton_candy_oreo

Wait…is cotton candy even a flavor? Doesn’t it just taste like sugar and childhood dreams? If we had to guess, these will be intensely sweet like the Birthday Cake flavor, and they just happen to be colored pink and blue. Now, Oreo-flavored cotton candy, that would be advancing the science of junk food to amazing levels.

cookie0man [Instagram]

RELATED:
One Person Tests 18 Different Oreo Flavors, Somehow Survives

Morgan Stanley To Pay $2.6B To Settle Charges Of Selling Troubled Mortgages Leading Up To The Financial Crisis

Thu, 2015-02-26 16:30

(sparkle-motion)

(sparkle-motion)

The Department of Justice has struck a multi-billion dollar deal with Morgan Stanley in what is expected to be one of the last major steps in resolving investigations related to banks’ roles in the subprime mortgage crisis.

The New York Times DealBook reports that Morgan Stanley will pay $2.6 billion to settle a Justice Dept. investigation into the bank’s sale of securities backed by troubled mortgages.

Morgan Stanley’s deal comes after other large banks made similar settlements last year. Bank of America agreed to pay a record $16.7 billion, while Citi Group agreed to pay $7 billion. Back in 2013, JPMorgan Chase struck a deal for $13 billion.

According to DealBook, Morgan Stanley was responsible for a smaller volume of securities backed by troubled mortgages.

The settlement with Morgan Stanley centers on the bank’s purchase of mortgages from New Century and other subprime mortgage originators. Morgan Stanley then packaged those mortgages into securities that it sold to investors.

A 2012 lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union provided emails and documents that showed Morgan Stanley executives knew about the low quality of loans when it purchased them.

Unlike settlements with Bank of America, Citi and JPMorgan, the deal with Morgan Stanley does not provide homeowner relieve, DealBook reports.

With Morgan Stanley’s settlement now in the books, there is only one big bank holding out on reaching a settlement with the Dept. of Justice. Goldman Sachs, which is rumored to be in preliminary talks with regulators, has yet to reach an agreement to resolve its sale of troubled mortgages.

Morgan Stanley in $2.6 Billion Mortgage Settlement [The New York Times DealBook]

The Best & Worst Store-Brand Deals At Lowe’s, Home Depot & Sears

Thu, 2015-02-26 16:23

(Belinda Hankins Miller)

(Belinda Hankins Miller)

Need to buy a snowblower, light bulbs, and some paint? You might figure, “Oh, I’ll just head to Home Depot (or Lowe’s, or Sears) and get it all done in the same trip.” But just because these stores all offer one-stop shopping for most home goods, price and quality of store-brand and private label products can vary greatly depending on the retailer.

The current issue of ShopSmart (our sensible-shopping Consumer Reports siblings) takes a detailed look at many of the best and worst deals on exclusive products sold at each of these huge retail chains.

LOWE’S

BEST
Valspar Signature paint:
At $34/gallon, this Lowe’s exclusive paint is rated highly by our colleagues at Consumer Reports, and is especially good for bathrooms as it stands up to scrubbing and is resistant to mildew. For an additional $10, ShopSmart points out that Valspar Reserve provides “top-notch coverage, so you’ll probably be able to get away with just one coat.”

Other good deals: Troy-Bilt generators and heavy-duty snow blowers.

WORST
Troy-Bilt Leaf Blowers:

While ShopSmart says that Troy-Bilt’s heavy-duty snow blowers are good deals, the same can’t be said of the private-label label leaf blowers made for Lowe’s. The story singles out the $85 Troy-Bilt TB125QS because it came in dead last out of 17 electric handheld blowers tested by CR, but notes that none of the six Troy-Bilt leaf blowers — both handheld and backpack styles — shined during testing.

Other bad deals: Troy-Bilt string trimmers

HOME DEPOT

BEST
EcoSmart Light Bulbs:

Both the EcoSmart 12-WATT (replacement for 60W bulbs) and 14-WATT (75W replacement) aced the CR lab tests “delivering bright, evenly diffused light.” And while they cost $20 and $35, respectively, they will last for years and use less electricity.

Other good deals: Toro snow blowers, Honda and Ego lawnmowers, Behr paints.

WORST
Glidden Interior Paint:

The Home Depot-exclusive Behr Premium Plus paint was labeled a good deal by ShopSmart, but the store’s less-expensive exclusive from Glidden isn’t worth the few bucks you’ll save per gallon, because it’s not
as stain-resistant and “tends to stay a bit tacky even after drying.”

Other bad deals: Home Legend flooring.

SEARS

BEST
Kenmore Washers & Dryers:

While sexier brands get all the press, Kenmore appliances have historically performed well in CR’s tests, and that holds true for the Kenmore Elite 41073 Washer, which “combines great washing
performance and efficiency,” and the Elite 61623 Dryer, which was lauded for its speeding drying times and quiet operation.

Other good deals: Kenmore Elite refrigerators and vacuums, Craftsman snow blowers.

WORST
Sears Interior Paints & Exterior Stains:

If you’re looking to spruce up your house inside and out, consider going elsewhere for paint and stain, says ShopSmart. The $31 Sears Easy Living Ultra Flat interior paint has a finish that “isn’t as smooth
as others,” while the Sears Weatherbeater Deck, Fence & Siding Solid stain ($32) doesn’t do as good a job of actually beating the weather as the competition.

Other bad deals: Craftsman cordless drills

“Private-label products at home centers may all look like a good deal, but not all of them are,” said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. “Like store-brand foods in the supermarket, some of them are cheap for a reason.”

It’s Official: Owning And Using Marijuana Is Now Legal In Washington D.C.

Thu, 2015-02-26 15:59

(Brett Levin Photography)

(Brett Levin Photography)

It’s been quite a green week in the country, as the last few days have seen the recreational use of marijuana become legal in Alaska and now the capital of the United States, Washington D.C. But curb those dreams of toking up at the Lincoln Memorial, folks, because there are some limits to the new law.

After 70% of city voters weighed in last November, pot became an officially legal intoxicant as of 12:01 a.m. today, despite a last-minute intervention by the chairman of the House committee that handles D.C. affairs, reports the Washington Post.

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser and D.C. Council members said yesterday that they wouldn’t back down from the will of the people.

“We will uphold the letter and the spirit of the initiative that was passed last year, and we will establish the Initiative 71 Task Force to coordinate our enforcement, awareness and engagement efforts and address policy questions as they arise,” Mayor Bowser said in a statement.

Her office will also “put forward emergency legislation to clarify that the law does not allow private clubs to provide marijuana to their patrons.”

D.C.’s legalization will be a lot more like Alaska’s recent shift into greener pastures, and less like Colorado and Washington, which both allow for pot shops and dispensaries that are open to the public.

In D.C. it’s now legal for people 21 and older to possess two ounces or less of marijuana; share an ounce or less with another person of legal age as long as no one is exchanging money, goods or services for it; grow up to six marijuana plants but have no more than three mature plants in their main home and to use marijuana on private property.

Basically, home grow, home use, as D.C.’s city site says.

This means no large growing operations, no lighting joints on the National Mall or any other public place (including public housing, as those homes are government-owned) and no operating vehicles or boats under the influence.

With marijuana legalization, green rush is on in D.C. [Washington Post]

Cop Claims McDonald’s Served Him Toxic Tea

Thu, 2015-02-26 15:26

(Mike Mozart)

(Mike Mozart)

Most of us have had fast food that didn’t taste so great, but we don’t end up in the hospital because we unwittingly ingested a McDonald’s iced tea containing heavy-duty degreaser.

That’s the allegation being made by a police officer in Indianapolis who says a recent trip to McDonald’s landed him in a hospital bed overnight.

According to 6 ABC in Indianapolis, the officer stopped by the fast food chain on Saturday and used the self-serve drink dispenser to get some tea. After gulping down some of the beverage, he says his throat immediately began to burn.

The customer claims in a police report that he complained and was told by a manager that the tea dispenser was actually in the process of being cleaned and that an employee should have put a paper cup over the tap so that customers knew to not use it.

He spent the night in the hospital and was released Sunday, though he was still experiencing throat-related issues as recently as Wednesday.

“Serving my customers safe, high quality food and beverages is a top priority at our restaurants,” says the franchisee who owns the location with the allegedly tainted tea. “We take this claim very seriously and are looking into the matter.”

The officer says he is consulting an attorney about the incident.

NHTSA Increases Intensity Of Takata Airbag Investigation, Orders Company To Preserve Safety Devices

Thu, 2015-02-26 15:26

takata logoFederal regulators continue to put pressure on Takata Corporation to cooperate with a defective airbag investigation started last year. A week after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began fining the company $14,000 per day for failing to turn over documents and answer questions, the agency upgraded the investigation and ordered the company to preserve evidence.

The Wall Street Journal reports that NHTSA upgraded its probe into Takata’s potentially defective airbags – which have been found to spew pieces of shrapnel at passengers and drivers upon deployment – to an engineering analysis.

Regulators say the formal step intensifies the investigation and could help determine whether the company’s failure to quickly notify the agency of possible defects violated federal law or regulations.

NHTSA also issued an order requiring Takata to preserve airbag inflators for use as evidence in the agency’s probe and any subsequent outside lawsuits. By issuing the preservation order NHTSA attempts to ensure they have access to all data related to the safety device’s testing, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx tells the WSJ.

Intensifying the investigation into Takata seems like a natural step for regulator. Last week, NHTSA announced that it would fine Takata $14,000 per day until the company provided specific answers to the agency’s questions.

“We have concluded that Takata is neither being forthcoming with the information that is it legally obligated to supply, nor is it being cooperative in aiding NHTSA’s ongoing investigation of a potentially serious safety defect,” the agency said at the time.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into the defective airbags in June 2014 after five automakers – Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mazda and Chrysler – began recalling millions of vehicles.

In all, the defective Takata airbags have resulted in automakers recalling nearly 25 million vehicles. So far, six deaths and hundreds of injuries have been linked to the defect.

The Japanese parts maker is currently the center of a number of criminal investigations and lawsuits from families of victims.

Regulators Escalate Takata Probe, Issue Order to Preserve Inflaters [The Wall Street Journal]

It’s Very Gross And Very Dangerous When Dogs Eat Diapers

Thu, 2015-02-26 00:32

Ginger the dog died  after eating part of a baby's diaper.

Ginger the dog died after eating part of a baby’s diaper.

The very thing that makes disposable diapers so useful–their super-absorbency–can make them deadly to pets. While nobody goes around giving diapers to their dog as a chew toy, animals do have a gift for rifling through the trash, and one thing they can find there are diapers. KKTV in Colorado interviewed one family whose dog died after eating some of the absorbent material in a diaper.

The dog was kind of listless one evening, and they found her dead on the floor the following morning. What had happened? There was fluffy material around that looked like wall insulation, but there were no walls torn open where the dog could have eaten insulation. Finally, they discovered the answer: there was part of a diaper along with some dog vomit under a piece of furniture.

Material that absorbs liquid expands when it does so, since that’s how the laws of physics work. What seems to have happened here is that the dog shredded a diaper and ate some of the dry absorbent material inside. It came into contact with liquids in her digestive system and expanded, causing internal injuries.

“Don’t let dogs eat diapers” might seem like common sense, but pet owners that KKTV interviewed were surprised that there is no specific warning explaining the dangers of ingesting a diaper on the package. It’s not just diapers for babies, either: tampons, for example, are made out of different material but are also designed to expand when they come in contact with liquid, and can cause internal injuries.

11 CFA Investigation: Diapers Can Be Deadly For Pets [KKTV]

Story Of The Returned $10,000 Walmart Debit Card May Be Hoax

Thu, 2015-02-26 00:23

Green Dot, the company that services Walmart MoneyCard accounts, says an investigation gives it reason to believe this may be a hoax.

Green Dot, the company that services Walmart MoneyCard accounts, says an investigation gives it reason to believe this may be a hoax.

Earlier today, we told you about the odd story of a man in Alabama who claimed to have found a Walmart prepaid debit card containing more than $10,000 on it, and who says he did the right thing by trying to return it to the store. However, the more we learn about this story the more questions come up.

Initially, there was some confusion involved with Walmart’s response to the story as a rep for the company claimed the card could not hold more than $1,000. As we noted in our original story, that appears to have been the result of some confusion because people kept referring to it as a “gift” card, which would be subject to $1,000 limit. However, this is a Walmart MoneyCard, and users of those accounts can add up to $2,999/day to their card.

But as we dig deeper, some issues come to light. The card in the image is indeed a Walmart MoneyCard, but it’s the “dummy” card that you first get when you start an account at the store. You can tell by the “Valued Customer” name.

Once a MoneyCard user has gone through a verification process to confirm their ID, they can get the personalized card and then add the larger amounts to their account. However, further inspection of the MoneyCard terms [PDF] show that the “The overall maximum amount of value that can reside on the Card is $7,500.”

Even if there are ways around that maximum, there’s the issue of the man claiming to have checked the balance on the card. Multiple sources have told us he should not be able to do this without a PIN for the card, which calls into question the authenticity of the receipt seen in the image above.

We reached out to Walmart to discuss these issues and ended up speaking to Green Dot, the company that is actually responsible for servicing the MoneyCard.

Citing privacy policies, Green Dot could not provide any specific information about this account but did say that their investigation currently gives them reason to believe that this is a hoax.

New Products: Girl Scout Cookie Ice Cream Bars, Taco Bell Sauce Packet Chips

Wed, 2015-02-25 23:40

This week, we learned about two exciting products from different food outlets. One is being test-marketed, and the other is in grocery and big-box stores across the land. What they have in common is taking a familiar and beloved product and translating it into a different but perfectly logical format. Those products? Girl Scout Thin Mints ice cream bars, and Taco Bell hot sauce tortilla chips.

taco-bell-taco-sauce-tortilla-chips

Doritos themselves were invented out of the waste products of a Mexican(ish) restaurant at Disneyland, so it’s not surprising that Taco Bell might try to sell its own chips. These are based on the three levels of hot sauce flavors available at Taco Bell, Mild, Medium, and Hot. The tipster who reported their existence to Brand Eating described them as “like Doritos covered in Taco Bell sauce.” I’m not sure what else anyone would have expected, but that sounds nice if you happen to like Taco Bell sauce. The 2-ounce bags are taller and narrower than a normal snack-size chip bag, shaped more like hot sauce packets.

girlscoutcream

When it’s time for dessert, take a trip over to Target or Shop-Rite, the two stores that we know for sure carry Good Humor’s Thin Mint bars. The idea makes delicious sense: chocolate and mint are perfect together, and other brands have made their own ice cream flavors containing shredded Girl Scout cookies.

A package will set you back less than a box of Girl Scout cookies will, too: a 6-pack costs $3.50 at Shop-Rite.

United Airlines Warns Pilots About Safety Concerns

Wed, 2015-02-25 23:11

(David Transier)

(David Transier)

Following four incidents that United Airlines dubs “safety events and near-misses,” the carrier has issued a warning to its pilots about “significant safety concerns,” and asking them to cut down on potentially disastrous mistakes.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the warning was sent by United’s Sr. VP of flight operations to pilots in early January and cites recent instances — like a plane that would have crashed if the pilots hadn’t executed an emergency maneuver and a plane that was flying with fuel levels below the mandatory reserve threshold — that could have had tragic consequences.

These events, in which “the common thread… is that they were preventable,” have “dictated that we communicate with all of you immediately,” reads the bluntly worded memo.

In addition to calling out the handful of problem cases, the notice reportedly discusses the safety issues involved with the changing makeup of United’s group of pilots. The airline is attempting to hire a total of 700 new pilots this year, which means there will be lots of new faces and some shifting around, with pilots possibly being put in the cockpits of types of planes they haven’t spent years flying around the world.

These changes introduce “significant risk to the operation,” reads the document.

The airline is reminding its aviators that “every pilot must be willing to speak up if safety is in question” and “must also accept the input of their fellow crew members.”

A rep for the airline says that United regularly alerts its pilots to safety concerns and may mention certain incidents in these memos, but some sources tell the Journal that the usual airline updates aren’t so harshly worded — the writers of the bulletin even acknowledge that it’s “brutally honest” — and that the safety events mentioned in such documents are usually much older and more minor than those detailed in the January bulletin.

Foods That Make People Sick With E. Coli: Beef, Plants Grown In Rows

Wed, 2015-02-25 22:48

(Adam Fagen)

(Adam Fagen)

There are three different agencies in the federal government that handle different types of foodborne illnesses and separate aspects of those illnesses. While two outbreaks might be caused by the same pathogen, which agency handles them depends on whether the food contains meat or not. This is sort of inefficient.

The majority of E. coli illnessses, for example, come from two different sources: beef and vegetables grown in rows. Salmonella illnesses come from a variety of meat and plant sources. The three agencies that handle different parts of food safety are the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In his proposed budget for 2016, the President proposed combining government food safety responsibilities in a single agency, something that experts have proposed in the past for public safety reasons as well as saving taxpayer money by consolidating the same functions in one place. For example, now, if a batch of frozen burritos are contaminated, the vegetarian burritos and beef burritos would be investigated and recalled by different agencies: the FDA for the meatless version, and the USDA for the beefy one.

This report represents the first time that the various food-safety agencies have joined forces in this way to work together, finding answers with only one methodology.

U.S. government report outlines foods most prone to pathogens [Reuters]

Lawsuit Claims Thousands Of Dogs Became Ill Or Died After Eating Purina’s Beneful Kibble

Wed, 2015-02-25 22:25
A California lawsuit alleges that Beneful-brand dog food has led to illness and death in thousands of dogs.

A California lawsuit alleges that Beneful-brand dog food has led to illness and death in thousands of dogs.

A recently filed lawsuit claims that instead of containing nutrient-rich, high-quality ingredients, Nestle Purina PetCare Company’s most popular brand of dog food includes toxins that have led to serious illness or death for thousands of dogs.

The potential class action [PDF], filed in a federal court in California earlier this month, claims that Purina’s Beneful brand of dry dog food contains substances that are known to be toxic to animals and can lead to internal bleeding and other serious health issues for pets.

The California man who filed the lawsuit against Purina alleges that less than a month after beginning to exclusively feed his dogs Beneful dry kibble, all three became ill and his 8-year-old English Bulldog eventually died.

“Post-mortem veterinary examination revealed signs of internal bleeding in the dog’s stomach and lesions on his liver,” the lawsuit states. “[The man] is currently awaiting the results of post-mortem toxicology testing on Dozer.”

The man’s two remaining dogs are still ill and undergoing medical testing.

A lawyer for the plaintiff tells NBC News that because of home renovations the dogs were kept in separate areas, meaning the only constant condition was the Beneful food they consumed.

The lawsuit alleges that the illnesses experienced by thousands of dogs across the country were a result of toxins in Beneful such as, but not limited to Propylene glycol and Mycotoxins.

Propylene glycol, the lawsuit states, is an automotive antifreeze component that is a known animal toxin. However, the substance is also an FDA-approved food additive for humans.

As for Mycotoxins, the lawsuit states they are a group of toxins produced by fungus that occurs in grains.

Purina-produced dog food named in the lawsuit includes Purina Beneful Healthy Weight, Purina Beneful Original, Purina Beneful Incredibites, Purina Beneful Healthy Growth For Puppies, Purina Beneful Healthy Smile, Purina Beneful Healthy Fiesta, Purina Beneful Healthy Radiance, and Purina Beneful Playful Life.

Keith Schoop, an executive with Purina PetCare, tells the St. Louis Business Journal that the lawsuit is “without merit” and that the company plans to vigorously defend itself.

“Like other pet foods, Beneful is occasionally the subject of social media-driven misinformation,” Purina’s rep says. “The incredible power of the Internet is sometimes used to spread false information. On-line postings often contain false, unsupported and misleading allegations that cause undue concern and confusion for Beneful consumers.”

Still, the California man claims that his story is similar to more than 3,000 complaints filed by consumers over the past four years.

According to the lawsuit, consumers reported their pets displayed symptoms such as stomach and related internal bleeding, liver malfunction or failure, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, weight loss, seizures, bloating and kidney failure shortly after eating Beneful.

“After opening a new bag of Playful Life by Beneful my dog was horribly sick,” a complaint cited in the California lawsuit states. “He was vomiting, diarrhea, lethargic, wheezing and couldn’t walk or eat. We rushed him to the vet where he was put on steroids, IV to re-hydrate and antibiotics. He almost died. He was there for four days…This past Monday we started him back on Beneful (the same bag). He was worse than before in just hours. We got him to the hospital and the vet got him on an IV and flushed his system. He was sure it was this Lot of food.”

Other consumer complaints cited in the lawsuit detail the thousands of dollars pet owners have spent to determine what made their dogs sick.

“My 1 1/2 year old dog has been suffering with vomiting, diarrhea, lethargic and no desire to eat for the last three weeks,” a complaint states. “We’ve been back and forth to the vet and vet hospital many times. I’ve spent over $6,000 on overnight stays and exploratory surgery…My dog had been home for four days and all he was eating was chicken cheerios, yogurt and pumpkin. Last night he ate Beneful and today we are back to square one…This food should not be on the market!!”

The class action suit seeks unspecified damages and restitution for dog owners who bought the dog food and “incurred any out-of-pocket costs due to illness, injury or death of their dog resulting from the ingestion of Beneful.”

Lawsuit Claims Purina’s Beneful Is Poisoning, Killing Dogs [NBC News]
Lawsuit alleges Purina’s Beneful can harm, kill dogs [St. Louis Business Journal]

Rent Your Own Hungarian Village For Just $750 A Day

Wed, 2015-02-25 22:06

(hildeaux)

(hildeaux)

Let’s face it — most of us are never going to be the mayor of our own village. But if you’ve got some cash to spare, you can buy your way into deputy mayordom by renting a Hungarian village for just $750 a day.

The village of Megyer, population 18, is offering itself up for rent to anyone who’s willing to pay, reports the Associated Press.

For the bargain basement price of 210,000 forints ($750) per day, renters will have the run of seven guesthouses that sleep 39 people, four streets, a bus stop, a barn, a chicken yard, six horses, two cows, three sheep and four hectares (10 acres) of farmland.

You’ll also get to be the temporary deputy mayor, with the chance to rename the village’s streets to whatever you want during your stay.

The village is trying to boost tourism to the area, which dates back to at least the 11th century, and offers peace and quiet as its foremost attraction.

“We offer all sorts of programs to our guests, but most are simply captivated by the surroundings and the quiet,” said Mayor Kristof Pajer. “Once they sit out in the meadow with a bottle of rose wine, nothing else matters.”

See y’all on Quirk Court. Unless you’d rather stay on Aaron Rodgers’ Starry-Eyed Lane. I bet it’s beautiful.

Hungarian village available for rent; comes with sheep, cows, temporary deputy mayor post [Associated Press]

Google Fiber, Other ISP Heads Agree: We’ll Keep Investing No Matter What The FCC Does About Net Neutrality

Wed, 2015-02-25 21:30

(Rob Bruce)

(Rob Bruce)

With only hours remaining in the countdown to tomorrow’s net neutrality vote, everyone from Silicon Valley to Capitol Hill is getting their last words in. At a tech policy event in Washington, DC yesterday, a panel of ISP executives spoke about the future of competition, innovation, and network deployment as the regulations and the marketplace change around them. And when the moderator directly asked the speakers if Title II regulation would diminish investment in their networks, the answer was the same all around: nope.

There were four participants on the panel: Milo Medin, the Google VP who heads up Google Fiber; Dave Schaeffer, the CEO of Cogent; Kurt Van Wagenen, the president and CEO of FirstLight Fiber, a regional provider in the northeast; and Michael Weidman, the president and CEO of LSN, formerly known as LightSpeed Networks, a regional provider in Oregon and Washington.

All four of the executives agreed that they are already busily planning for and investing in the future of their companies, and that reclassification won’t change that. However, the three retail ISP executives (Cogent works a little differently) did explain that the future isn’t all necessarily sunshine and roses.

Medin pointed to the difficulties that already exist for rolling out Google Fiber in more markets. “I think cities don’t understand the amount of power they have, to make things either easier or harder,” he explained. Title II regulation, which Google has not officially made a statement in favor of (or against), would allow Google different kinds of access to utility poles and related infrastructure, which could make their future Fiber deployments a little easier.

Weidman was the least enthusiastic about the FCC’s planned move. He expressed concern that “300 pages of regulation” could include harmful or overly restrictive measures that would make it harder for small companies like LSN to continue growing in the rural areas they serve.

Wagenen, however, is the one who extrapolated the most on the theme. “The internet is the first platform that’s application agnostic,” he explained. The development of the technology did what regulation didn’t and couldn’t do: created more competition in many arenas.

But to distribute that access evenly, and not just where you can make a bundle of money on it, he mused, that takes a different kind of regulation: something that mandates expansion where it’s not cost-effective, and offsets those costs somehow. Describing the ideal situation, Wagenen concluded, “At the end of the day, what I’ve described is a regulated utility,” not unlike the expansion of the electric grid. And while it’s politically impossible to make that happen, he added, “if you want private capital to be deployed to build a ubiquitous fiber network … that’s what it takes.”

Google, Cogent, LSN, and FirstLight all join Sprint, T-Mobile, and Cablevision in intentionally saying that Title II reclassification won’t hurt their businesses. Other companies have also grudgingly or accidentally admitted the same, even while threatening legal action against the FCC.

The FCC will finally make a decision on the matter tomorrow morning.

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