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The Consumerist

Walmart CEO: 10% Of Mobile Online Orders Placed From Inside Our Stores

Thu, 2014-12-04 23:04

(Adam Fagen)

(Adam Fagen)

Have you placed an online order from a store while you were standing in one of their brick-and-mortar locations? In an interview with CNBC (Warning: auto-play video), Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said that the company’s analysis shows something interesting about how customers shop using their smartphones. 10% of orders placed on mobile phones are actually placed while customers are standing inside the store. Is it because the items they really want are out of stock? Are online prices lower? McMillon doesn’t say. [CNBC]

People Really Do Give Cars With Giant Red Bows On Top As Gifts

Thu, 2014-12-04 22:14

(Jeff Wilcox)

(Jeff Wilcox)

I spent the Thanksgiving holiday visiting family and watching network television in real time like it was 1983 or something, and that’s when it hit me. The barrage of holiday-themed car commercials where people give each other sedans, SUVs, and the occasional truck with a giant (inevitably red) bow on top. Does this ever happen in real life? It does.

Bloomberg Businessweek looked into this question, which really has two parts. First: do people give cars as gifts for the winter holidays and other special occasions? Second: do they buy giant red bows in real life? A representative from a company that sells giant bows for all purposes was able to answer both questions, reporting that they sell about 2,500 bows for cars every year. Sales increase around graduation time, Valentine’s Day, and of course Christmas. What’s interesting is that they only sell about half of those bows directly to consumers: it makes sense that dealerships buy the other half, and include them with home delivery of vehicles meant to be gifts.

Of course, the real reason for the barrage of car ads at the end of the year doesn’t have much to do with gift-giving at all: while Christmas and the end of the year give the ads a nice theme, manufacturers and dealers really just want to move the last of the previous model year of cars off their lots and into your driveway.

A Car for Christmas? It Really Happens, With a Bow on Top [Bloomberg Businessweek]

Would You Pay $1,000 For Couture Roadkill Fur?

Thu, 2014-12-04 22:00

(northwest dad)

(northwest dad)

Many shoppers shy away from products that contain animal fur, whether because of their personal beliefs where animals come into play, or because mink coats are known to be rather expensive. But what if the fur came from an animal that no one else really wanted, one that’s been left by the roadside as roadkill?

That’s the plan behind one woman’s roadkill fur company, Petite Mort: She’s taking some of the more than 1 million animals killed daily on the highways and byways of America and turning their pelts into bespoke couture fur accessories that go for some pretty high prices.

Modern Farmer takes a look at the company owner’s approach to “ethical fur,” an effort she started as an animal lover.

“It’s so much a part of everyday life to see these animals,” she says. “Who of us doesn’t look away? You don’t want to see it because when you fully soak in the meaning of what happened, it’s emotionally draining.”

To get started, she had to learn from a taxidermist how to skin and scrape an animal pelt before it could be sent to a tannery. Her first attempt was with a dead raccoon and some booze. If this were me, “some” would mean the bottle.

“We both had a shot of whiskey, I put some peppermint oil under my nose, and we found a branch in the woods to hang this thing from. It was super intense,” she says.

After that, the furs go to a tannery in Idaho that is willing to work with partial pelts. The bodies of the roadkill are given a burial in the woods, where she says a little prayer for them, “the giveaway prayer, a prayer of thanks. You’re thanking the animal spirit.”

When she has the fur pieces in hand, she waits for someone to commission a piece, from neck muffs to leg warmers. Her creations go for upwards of $1,000, except for hats, which range from $380 to $500 (Davy Crockett, anyone?).

Which makes us wonder, while gripped with a strong case of the ewwwwwwwws:

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One Woman Is Revolutionizing the Fur Industry. By Using Roadkill. [Modern Farmer]

EA Decides Maybe Buying Every Gaming Studio On Earth Isn’t Path To Success After All

Thu, 2014-12-04 21:39

(Jason Cook)

(Jason Cook)


Video game company EA got left in the dust on the road to this year’s not-so-coveted golden poo. In previous years, though, Consumerist readers decided they were the worst company in America not just once, but twice. Since then, new leadership has vowed to turn the company around. And one step in that process seems to be pressing pause on an old, not-very-effective strategy of buying every other studio under the sun.

EA had a decidedly acquisitions-heavy strategy over the past years. Buying up fan-favorite studios, then folding those development teams into the EA corporate culture, didn’t win the publisher any points with players. But the time for that seems to be over, GamesIndustry reports.

The company’s CFO, Blake Jorgensen, spoke at a tech conference this week. He told the crowd that when it comes to buying businesses, “I think our history with acquisitions is somewhat marginal in performance.” He continued, “We have some that are spectacular, and some that didn’t do so well.”

The list of smaller studios that EA has acquired since the 1990s does indeed show a mixed track record of hits and misses. Some were completely integrated into the company. Others were shuttered, after their games were unpopular or mishandled. Some, like DICE, PopCap, and Maxis, still develop and manage successful franchises. The highest profile recent purchase, 2008 acquisition BioWare — developer of the mostly well-received Mass Effect and Dragon Age franchises — seems to have been a wise bet.

But apparently if you spend 20 years buying up smaller studios, you end up with an awful lot of development potential in-house, and don’t need to go spending hundreds of millions of dollars to buy even more ideas and employees. And that’s what EA has now decided.

Jorgensen told the crowd, “I’m also a huge believer–I think the team is a huge believer–that we’ve got great opportunities inside our organization. We’ve built a really strong bench of talent at all levels, and our view is just [to] find great ideas, either through our own development or through licensed IP,” which would include EA’s contract with Disney to make the next ten years’ worth of Star Wars games.

EA not looking for big acquisitions [GamesIndustry.biz]

L.A. Restaurant Adds Gratuity Line For Kitchen Staff To Every Check

Thu, 2014-12-04 21:14

(photographynatalia)

(photographynatalia)

While it’s surely the mark of a good consumer to reward a server for taking orders and ferrying food to and from the kitchen, what about the people on the front lines who are making that cuisine happen? Though many restaurants pool tips to ensure that line cooks and other kitchen staff get a piece of the pie, some workers feel they’re not getting their fair share of gratuities. That environment has prompted one L.A. restaurant to add a line to all checks to make up for any tipping gaps.

The chef-owner of Alimento tells LAMag.com that the idea came to him after two of his best line cooks jumped ship for jobs that paid more.

“They couldn’t make it work on their end, and I couldn’t make it work on mine—this is a small restaurant,” he explained. “But at the same time, the servers are walking away with a lot of money. That’s great, but it put an issue in the spotlight that I’ve been aware of for a while.”

The extra, separate line for kitchen staff will be split up among line cooks, dishwashers and prep cooks, he says, with sous chefs and himself the only staff out of that deal. He says his staff is pretty happy about the change.

“They are actually excited,” he says. “I’m guessing people will still default to giving service 15 to 20 percent, but even if they give only a few bucks to the guys in back, it will make a huge difference.”

Alimento Adds Line for Kitchen Gratuity to All Checks [LAMag.com]

Rite Aid Settles Whistleblower Lawsuit Claiming It Used Gift Cards To Lure Pharmacy Customers

Thu, 2014-12-04 20:37

(Pedestrian Photographer)

(Pedestrian Photographer)

The feds say they’ve settled a lawsuit against pharmacy chain Rite Aid filed by a whistleblower who claimed the company used gift cards to lure Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries to switch their prescriptoins in a bid to gain business.

Rite Aid will pay out almost $3 million to settle the allegations, reports the Associated Press, without admitting any wrongdoing in the matter.

The suit filed by a Florida pharmacist claims that between 2008 and 2010, Rite Aid was in violation of the False Claims Act by offering up the gift cards to lure new business to its pharmacies.

Rite Aid, based in Camp Hill, P.A., says it denies the allegations but is glad the matter is resolved without any further litigation.

Rite Aid settles whistleblower case for nearly $3M [Associated Press]

Pizza Hut Australia Now Offers Doritos-Coated Crust

Thu, 2014-12-04 19:58

crunchyPizza Hut may have introduced an amazing array of pizza variations recently, but their newest variation is one that you won’t be able to find in this country. While a Doritos-coated, cheese-stuffed pizza crust might seem like a quintessentially American treat, you can only get this pizza in Australia.

Sometimes the delicacies and monstrosities that fast-food chains offer abroad eventually make their way to the United States. Considering the success of Doritos Locos Tacos, this product seems like a good candidate for Pizza Hut to export back to its home country.

“We know from research how big an impact the crunch sound has on one’s appetite,” the company quotes Fatima Syed, for The Hut Down Under. “This is an all taste, no waste pizza.” We hope that Pizza Hut has more advanced snack chip pizza technology than competitor Papa John’s, which produced a Fritos pizza that our readers mostly found to be crunch-free and kind of gross.

The crust is available only for a limited time, but you can match it up with any regular Pizza Hut toppings. If you’re in Australia. And you dare to try a Doritos-encrusted pizza.

This is not a drill. This is a real pizza.

This is not a drill. This is a real pizza.

Pizza Hut and Doritos create the ultimate cruuunchy stuffed crust [Press Release] (via 7Deadly)

Cat Makes Everyone Happy By Surviving 30 Days In Moving Box On A Cross-Country Trip

Thu, 2014-12-04 19:26

Mee Moowe, you did it. (WAVY.com)

Mee Moowe, you did it. (WAVY.com)

There are many bad things in the world, things that make you sad and upset and tempt you to throw large, breakable things against the wall and rail against whatever it is that’s bringing you down. In those moments, grab hold of the fact that a cat’s owners say she survived 30 days trapped in a box that traveled cross-country, without food or water to sustain her.

Her owner says it all started in Suffolk, V.A. in September, when movers were packing up the family home as they prepared to move to Hawaii, reports WAVY.com. Mee Moowe the cat went missing at some point while the movers were there.

The family thought maybe she’d just run away, scared by the movers and all the noise they were making, and decided to delay the move for three more nights. They stayed in the empty house, hoping Mee Moowe would come back.

Finally, they were forced to leave, and abandon hope of finding the beloved cat.

“It made me sick. It was heartbreaking,” her owner said. “My girls were devastated trying to tell me that I couldn’t leave without Mee Moowe.”

It took 36 days for the family’s stuff to travel from Virginia to Hawaii, from packing day to unpacking time. Movers were unloading boxes at the new home when Mee Moowe’s owner says she heard a faint meow for help. Or at least, that’s how I’d translate it.

“The guy goes, ‘what was that sound?’ and my heart just kind of sunk for a minute and I thought, ‘no, no way.’ And then we heard it again. And the guy said, ‘was that a cat?’” she said.

It was Mee Mowe, weak, anemic and half her former size, with her eyes crusted shut, inside a box. She wasn’t in good shape, but her Hawaii vet says she’s going to make it, despite surviving without food or water for more than a month.

“I was in shock,” her owner said, adding that the cat went right up to her daughters and won’t let them leave her. “I couldn’t believe it. I think I was grateful that she was alive, but I was furious this happened to her.”

WAVY.com spoke with the veterinarian’s office that treated Mee Moowe in Hawaii. They said she exhibited classic symptoms of starvation, but somehow, she survived more than a month without food or water.

But there’s another snarl before she can curl up at home with her humans — Mee Moowe was supposed to stay in Virginia with a family member so she could get all the vaccinations she needed to move to Hawaii. Now she has to stay in quarantine at the vet in Hawaii for three months, at a cost to her family of $4,000.

The family is happy to be reunited, despite that, in light of the seemingly impossible trip their cat made to get back to them. Vets say it’s not likely a cat would survive such an ordeal, but a lot depends on the health of the feline before undergoing such a hellish trip.

“I’m just as shocked as they are,” her owner said. “I have no idea how she did it.”

Owner: Trapped cat survived 30-day trip in moving box [WAVY.com]

Authors Argue In Court That Google Books Scanning Project Is Bad For Book Sales

Thu, 2014-12-04 18:39

(Joel Zimmer)

(Joel Zimmer)

Is Google Books a useful tool for finding exactly the book that you need and driving sales, or a copyright infringement on a massive scale? That’s been the longtime argument (in court) between Google and some of the authors whose work appears in the search engine. At stake are billions of dollars that Google would owe the Authors Guild and individual authors who are parties to the suit.

Google Books is now a decade old. The project began with the scanning of university book collections. Google Books reproduces pages from these books and scanned them using optical character recognition, making every word of the text searchable. The collection also includes vintage magazines, something that we’re very fond of mining to mock advertising from the past.

While there’s no legal issue with scanning and reproducing books that are long out of print and that are now in the public domain, authors do take issue with their books sitting in their fully-indexed entirety on Google’s servers. A federal judge dismissed the authors’ case at the end of 2013, and the parties are currently arguing the case in a federal appeals court. While the authors claim that scanning books and making them searchable is a potentially money-making infringement, Google contends that the database is really intended to make books easier to find and buy. Pages for each book do provide links to purchase the book that a surfer is looking at, or to locate it in a nearby public or university library.

Google should pay authors for scanned books, U.S. appeals court told [Reuters]

DirecTV’s HBO Contract Indicates It Could Sell Standalone HBO Go

Thu, 2014-12-04 18:37

(Ángel Raúl Ravelo Rodríguez)

(Ángel Raúl Ravelo Rodríguez)

There are several mysteries surrounding the impending 2015 launch of HBO’s standalone streaming video service: Will it be the same as HBO Go? What will it cost? Do I have to buy it through my cable company? HBO hasn’t given any answers to these questions, but recent news about the network’s contract with DirecTV appears to indicate that even the satellite services may be selling the service.

Buried in this Wall Street Journal story on a clause in HBO’s contract with DirecTV is a mention that “DirecTV would immediately get the right to offer HBO’s streaming product” if the premium cable network can sign up more than 450,000 online subscribers nationwide (or 300,000 in any one market).

As DirecTV doesn’t currently offer its own broadband service, that seems to indicate that the satellite company would use its customer service and billing departments as a storefront for HBO.

This meshes with a November statement by HBO CEO Richard Plepler, who brushed off concerns that a standalone HBO Go would cannibalize its cable customers.

“There is gold in the hills, lets go get it together,” explained Plepler, hinting that the cable companies who also provide most of the terrestrial broadband service in the U.S. would get a cut of the monthly fees for the streaming service.

But DirecTV poses a different issue, as there is no immediately apparent incentive for a customer to get a streaming service from a company that can’t currently carry that stream. That may all change if DirecTV’s merger with AT&T is successful, but even if that deal is approved it could be quite some time until DirecTV is able to offer any broadband service to many of its more than 20 million customers.

The Journal story that includes the detail about DirecTV being able to sell HBO’s streaming service primarily focuses on a clause that would allow the satellite company to scale back its marketing of HBO if that 450K subscriber number threshold is crossed.

While that does seem like a clause intended to penalize HBO for possibly siphoning off pay-TV customers, it doesn’t make much sense why DirecTV would want to stop marketing a product that it makes money from. And with the two other big players in premium cable — Showtime and Starz — also looking to launch standalone services, it’s not like DirecTV would benefit by shifting its marketing to either of these networks.

HBO’s contract with DirecTV ends next year, and the streaming issue will undoubtedly be a major part of the negotiations for a new deal.

Police Arrest Kohl’s Shopper Accused Of Wandering The Store While Masturbating

Thu, 2014-12-04 18:32

(JeepersMedia)

(JeepersMedia)

Shopping can already be a stressful experience in the holidays, what with people racing to grab the best deals, filling up parking lots and elbowing each other in the Frozen aisle. But police say one Kohl’s shopper upped the bad shopping experience ante when he wandered around the story earlier this week, private bits out and masturbating as he strolled.

Police in Illinois were called to the department store around 4:30 p.m. one afternoon, reports KSDK.com, after other shoppers reported seeing his exposed genitals as he pleasured himself on a walkabout around the store.

The suspect fled before police arrived and ran toward a Popeye’s nearby, but cops caught up with him when he tried to board a bus.

Officials arrested the 21-year-old and charged him with one count of public indecency/sexual conduct, noting that he was stopped for a similar incident inside a Marshall’s store in the area in October.

At least he didn’t involve any stuffed animals in his alleged acts of grossness.

Man accused of exposing self at Kohl’s [KSDK.com]

Verizon Expanding LTE Networks, Ever-So-Slowly Doing Away With 3G

Thu, 2014-12-04 17:54

(dooley)

(dooley)


It’s the end of an era! Or at least, the beginning of a process that will eventually lead to the end of an era. 3G was once the great new hotness that made everyone run out and buy an iPhone, but over the years it’s been left in the dust by faster 4G LTE service. Now Verizon, the country’s largest wireless carrier, has started down the road that will eventually kill off the venerable 3G once and for all.

The folks over at GigaOm have explained what’s going on. There’s a lot of technical information in their post, but the gist of it is pretty straightforward: Verizon’s slowly doing away with their 3G service in order to provide new levels of LTE.

It all boils down to the science of wireless communications. Mobile data is transmitted through radio waves, part of the electromagnetic spectrum. In the U.S., each wireless company has a specific chunk of frequencies in the EM spectrum allotted for their use. (The FCC regulates who gets to use which chunks, mostly through spectrum auctions.)

The last couple of times Verizon expanded LTE (4G) service, GigaOm explains, they put it in “new” chunks of spectrum — sections they had recently purchased or traded for — that weren’t previously in use. But now, as a network analyzer has spotted, Verizon’s newest LTE connections are happening in bandwidth frequencies that they’ve had for a long time, and that they used to use for older tech. Basically, as GigaOm puts it, Verizon is “cannibalizing” old bits of their network in order to do upgrades and expansions.

Of course, what happens when you Frankenstein something new together is that the parts aren’t in the old system anymore. With the frequencies that once supported Verizon’s 3G network now taken up with its 4G network, the 3G network is shrinking.

Representatives for Verizon confirmed to GigaOm that they are testing changes, and that eventually — at some point in the undetermined future — they plan to convert all of their networks to LTE.

But that time is definitely not yet. 80% of Verizon’s mobile traffic does go through LTE, according to GigaOm… but Verizon is the nation’s largest mobile carrier by far, and those 20% of customers using 2G and 3G devices still add up to about 40 million people.

The evolution and dominance of mobile voice and data was quick, taking place over mostly the last 15 years, and as tech evolved rapidly networks became something of a hodgepodge amalgam of technologies. Verizon’s on the long, slow path to full standardization. But tech being what it is, we might well be two iterations past 4G LTE by the time they get there.

Verizon starts killing off 3G networks to make room for LTE [GigaOm]

CDC: This Year’s Batch Of Flu Shots Might Not Fight Current Flu Strain That Well

Thu, 2014-12-04 17:35

(Alec Tabak)

(Alec Tabak)

There you are, arm bared and teeth set, ready to endure the needle required to deliver a dose of flu vaccine, because you know that getting a flu shot will prepare you against the onslaught of illness. But it might not work out all that well, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, because this year’s batch of vaccine is proving a bit weak in the face of the current strain of flu going around for 2014-15.

The CDC has taken samples of flu cases this season and says that they suggest that the vaccine on hand right now is perhaps not the best match for the most common seasonal flu strain going around in the U.S., the agency said yesterday, according to Reuters.

As such, it’s issuing an advisory to doctors saying that flu virus samples taken between Oct. 1 and Nov. 22 showed that a little less than half were a good match for the current influenza A (H3N2) component in shots for the 2014 to 2015 season. That means that perhaps the virus has drifted from where it started.

While flu activity hasn’t been much to worry about so far, it’s going up, the CDC says, and the H3N2 strain of viruses appears to be the one on top in most cases.

That’s not good news, as flu seasons where this particular strain is dominant tend to have higher hospitalization rates and more flu-related deaths. This is especially true for older people and very young kids.

So is there a point to getting a flu shot if you haven’t already? The CDC says the current batch of vaccine could still shield you somewhat against drifted viruses and keep you from some of the more severe aspects of the flu, like hospitalization or death. And you’ll still be protected against strains that haven’t mutated that are contained in the vaccine, like influenza B viruses or H1N1.

CDC says flu shots may not be good match for 2014-15 virus [Reuters]

Ford And Chrysler Expand Recalls Of Vehicles With Takata Airbags

Thu, 2014-12-04 17:06

takataYesterday, airbag-maker Takata made a terrifying admission: the company has no idea exactly why its products have been spraying metal shards into motorists’ bodies when they deploy. The good news is that two more automakers have, with the encouragement of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, expanded their recall of vehicles containing Takata parts to those registered in more states.

The expanded airbag recall now includes model year 2004 and 2005 Ford Ranger and model year 2005 and 2006 Ford GT trucks, but still only recalls those sold in tropical areas with high humidity like Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Trucks sold in high-humidity regions of some other southern states are included, but this recall remains baffling to people with common sense: don’t people sometimes buy a truck, then move to a different state sometimes in the following decade? Aren’t vehicles sometimes sold to people living in different towns?

Chrysler, for its part, has expanded its own recall to include Dodge Ram 1500, 2500 and 3500 trucks, only in model year 2003. It also includes only trucks sold in those high-humidity areas.

The NHTSA is not thrilled with the current state of this recall, which has been limited to the tropical states where “most” of the explosions have occurred.

Ford expands U.S. recall of Takata air bags [Reuters]
Air bag recall pressure builds; Takata remains defiant [Detroit News]

Customer Sues Domino’s Because Intestine-Piercing Wire Bristles Are Not A Pizza Topping

Thu, 2014-12-04 16:57

(Brandy Lee)

(Brandy Lee)

If you’ve ordered enough pizzas, you’ve probably come across a few with a stray topping that shouldn’t be there. In most cases, the worst that can happen is you eat some green pepper, sausage, or mushroom that you hadn’t intended on consuming. But one Washington state man claims he didn’t realize until it was too late — and he was having emergency surgery — that he’d eaten some Domino’s Pizza topped with wire bristles.

The Seattle Times has the story of a lawsuit filed by the Domino’s customer who says that wire bristles in his Canadian bacon and pineapple pizza ultimately pierced his intestine as they tried to work their way through his digestive tract.

The plaintiff says that he felt a “sharp tearing” in his throat after taking a bite of the pizza. Apparently not realizing what he’d eaten, he washed his meal down with juice and ate some bread. But the throat pain eventually became a “dull pain” in his abdomen.

The culprit was the pair of 1.5″ fine-gauge wire bristles that doctors removed during surgery. One of the wires had pierced the man’s small intestine, according to the man’s wife, who later took photos of what she alleges are additional bristles on top of the pizza.

The suit was filed against the local Domino’s franchise responsible for this pizza, seeking damages for injuries and loss of income.

According to the Times, a county Health Dept. review of this eatery found that employees were using wire brushes to clean the pizza ovens, and that some brushes showed signs of wear.

A rep for Domino’s corporate office said that while franchisees are independently owned, they are still required to follow local, state and federal health regulations.

The plaintiff and his family say they want to send a message about the use of wire brushes in kitchens.

“A company should be accountable to what they’re providing consumers,” said the customer, who has recovered from his surgery. “I’d like to see food organizations look for ways to implement better safety practices.”

“I’d like them to find a new way to clean their ovens,” said his wife to the Times.

The use of wire brushes in the kitchen — and subsequent complaints about bristles ending up in food –has been investigated by the Centers for Disease Control, which previously advised foodservice businesses to “examine whether their patrons are at risk for this injury” and suggests looking into alternate ways to clean cooking surfaces.

8 U.S. Postal Workers Accused Of Swiping Packages Filled With Pot

Thu, 2014-12-04 16:33

(Maulleigh)

(Maulleigh)

While the sight of hundreds of packages filled with mystery goods going past you day by day might eventually prove too strong of a temptation, the job of a U.S. Postal worker depends on not pilfering those boxes and bags destined for others. That’s why eight USPS workers at a Long Island mail processing center have been arrested for allegedly stealing packages crammed full with marijuana.

And yes, you’re right — it’s illegal to mail marijuana, from California where it’s legal medically, or from anywhere, so maybe they thought no one would go asking questions about it?

Investigators say the eight accused figured out that the illicit packages were likely filled with pot based on the fact that they originated in California and were oddly shaped, reports the New York Daily News.

It all started when three empty Priority Mail packages were discovered in the backyard of an abandoned house nearby. A drug-sniffing police dog confirmed suspicions that that wacky smell was indeed, marijuana.

As it turns out, the packages had been sorted and processed at the facility nearby, where surveillance footage showed one worker sneaking out a fire escape door carrying three large packages that looked an awful lot like the pot packages found in the backyard.

Officials reviewed months of the facility’s tape and found the worker and his accused co-conspirators had allegedly stolen a whopping 263 packages believed to contain drugs. They then would put new address labels on them so they could be delivered elsewhere for the drugs to be sold, authorities say.

“Abusing their positions of trust as postal employees, the defendants allegedly stole hundreds of packages to further their drug dealing efforts,” said Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch.

When feds executed some search warrants, they found 129 pounds of pot with a value of around $930,000 in a dozen re-labeled packages. Eight workers have since been charged with theft of mail and drug conspiracy. Because it’s still stealing the mail, even if what’s in the mail shouldn’t be there in the first place.

Postal workers on Long Island busted for stealing pot packages [New York Daily News]

Barnes & Noble Will Buy Back Microsoft’s Share Of The Nook Business

Thu, 2014-12-04 15:56

(Orbmiser)

(Orbmiser)

At first upon hearing that Barnes & Noble will be buying back the stake Microsoft bought in its Nook business in 2012, one might have the idea that Barnes & Noble really believes in the Nook again. But no, it’s just bringing the e-reader business back into the fold so it can prepare to spin it off in a sale next year.

More than two years ago, Barnes & Noble sold off about a $300 million chunk to Microsoft in an effort to revive Nook with new blood.

But soon, Microsoft will be handed back around $62.4 million, reports Businessweek, along with around 2.7 million shares of Barnes & Noble for the 18% stake it bought in April 2012.

After the spinoff, which is expected to be wrapped up by August, Microsoft will get another payment.

Barnes & Noble has been struggling with the problem of what to do with Nook, which has been struggling for years as part of the company’s overall retail business. Investors have pushed B&N to release Nook into the wild on its own, as they believe it could be more profitable that way.

The stores aren’t doing too well either as it tries to compete with Amazon, as sales have slumped 2.7% in the second quarter.

Barnes & Noble to Buy Back Microsoft’s Stake in Nook Business [Businessweek]

GM Issues New SUV And Truck Keys For Ignition Problem: Not THAT Ignition Problem

Thu, 2014-12-04 00:00

(Allan)

(Allan)

While it’s not directly related to the now-infamous General Motors ignition defect that has been blamed for the deaths of 35 motorists, the company is replacing ignition keys for some model year 2014 and 2015 Chevrolet and GMC pickup trucks and SUVs. When the steering column is in the highest position, the shifter can make contact with the key and turn off the engine.

Theoretically, this defect poses no danger to drivers, at least according to what GM has told our safety-conscious colleagues down the highway at Consumer Reports. The shifter and ignition key only make contact with each other when the driver is shifting in and out of Park, and the shifter shouldn’t do that unless the driver has his or her foot on the brake. If the vehicle turns itself off while it’s parked, that’s incredibly annoying, but not dangerous.

Affected models that GM announced today include the 2014 and 2015 Chevrolet Silverado, 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe, 2015 Chevrolet Suburban, 2014 and 2015 GMC Sierra, and the 2015 GMC Yukon and Yukon XL.

This issue isn’t considered a formal recall, and is simply a service bulletin about a problem that will be covered as long as the vehicle is still under warranty. However, if you’re curious whether there are any outstanding recalls for your vehicle that you’ve missed, you can type in your Vehicle Identification Number and check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s database.

GM issues new ignition keys to eliminate shifter interference [Consumer Reports]

Amazon Wants You To Shop On The Toilet

Wed, 2014-12-03 23:43

(Mr. Jose Gonzalez)

(Mr. Jose Gonzalez)

Great news for hardcore multi-taskers: Amazon and Procter & Gamble are teaming up to deliver highly relevant ads to consumers while they sit on the toilet. They won’t just show advertisements to this captive audience, though: the placards will also have barcodes that people with Amazon’s smartphone app can scan as virtual coupons for Procter & Gamble products.

The coupons featured in the companies’ “Stall Mall” are the full range of Procter & Gamble products, ranging from batteries (for now) to teeth-whitening strips. Of course, there will be coupons for products that people currently sitting on a toilet will find relevant: toilet paper, paper towels, and we imagine also their Always and Tampax brands of feminine hygiene products.

The company did its research, of course. As part of the publicity for this project, the company’s Charmin brand released the results of a survey where one-third of respondents said that they use their smartphones in the bathroom, and a surprising number of those (13%) say that they’ve bought household goods on their phones while sitting on the toilet. Like we said: multi-tasking!

These ads will first show up next to the cosmopolitan crappers in cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. If the “Stall Mall,” as they’re calling it, catches on, maybe people out in the hinterlands will have the good fortune to scan coupons while on the can, too.

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Amazon: Shop while you’re in the toilet [CNN]

Debt Collectors Paying To Use Prosecutors’ Letterheads To Get People To Pay

Wed, 2014-12-03 23:13

This "late payment" notice appears to come from the office of the Calaveras County district attorney, but in fact was sent by a debt collection firm that manages the county's "Bad Check Restitution Program."

This “late payment” notice appears to come from the office of the Calaveras County district attorney, but in fact was sent by a debt collection firm that manages the county’s “Bad Check Restitution Program.”

It’s one thing to get a letter from a debt collector that erroneously claims you owe money and have to pay up; it’s another to receive that same notice from your local prosecutor. But what if that latter letter is actually coming from a debt collector who is paying the district attorney’s office for the right to contact certain consumers?

There are programs around the country through which for-profit debt collectors can be allowed to use prosecutors’ letterhead in correspondence with consumers about debts or allegations of writing bad checks.

For example, in California the state’s Bad Check Diversion Act allows local district attorneys to refer bad check-writers to “diversion programs,” that let them avoid prosecution by paying fully restitution (plus a limited fee). Prosecutors may use third-party collectors — who turn over a percentage of the collected fees in return — to manage such programs.

But people are only supposed to be referred to a diversion program if “there is probable cause to believe” that the person violated state laws regarding the passing of bad checks. The law also requires that a prosecutor — an actual lawyer, not just someone in the DA’s office — must review a slate of factors each time a case is referred to one of these diversion programs. These factors include the amount of the bad check, the writer’s prior criminal record, any history of passing bad checks, and any evidence that the check-writer was intending to defraud the recipient.

However, not all district attorneys’ offices are being vigilant about these requirements, allowing some debt collectors to use their letterhead for these diversion programs without anyone doing a proper legal review to make sure the claim is legitimate.

Just a few weeks ago, the American Bar Association’s committee on ethics issued an opinion [PDF] condemning the practice and said that allowing debt collectors to use prosecutors’ letterhead without mandated legal review violates the Bar Association’s rules against misconduct and unauthorized practice of law.

Then on Monday, a debt collection company called CorrectiveSolutions was sued in a U.S. District Court in San Francisco, alleging violations of the federal Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, which forbids debt collectors from misrepresenting themselves and making false threats of criminal prosecution.

The complaint [PDF] contends that even though CorrectiveSolutions uses letterheads from various California prosecutors’ offices, “no prosecutor has reviewed the evidence, made a probable cause determination, or charged the check writer before he or she is offered ‘diversion.'”

And though many of these notices claim that the “diversion” program is a way to avoid prosecution, the plaintiffs maintain that “it is unlikely that a check writer that ignores the diversion offer will be charged with a crime.”

The L.A. Times’ David Lazarus recently spoke with the lead plaintiff in the case, who ended up in CorrectiveSolutions’ files after she stopped payment on a $75 check to a car insurance company.

She subsequently received a notice on the letterhead of Orange County, CA, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. It said she’d been accused of writing a bad check but could avoid prosecution (and to a year in prison) by paying the $75 plus another $210 in fees.

The letters continued, all on the prosectors’ letterhead, and each reminding her that she’d allegedly violated the law and could be prosecuted, even though she’d written the check in Sacramento County, several hundred miles away from Orange County.

Additionally, she’d done nothing wrong by stopping payment on the check; the state’s diversion programs are only for people accused of deliberately writing a check with an intent to defraud. Oh, and the fee demand of $210 is three times the state’s maximum of $65 in fees.

“I’m angriest with the D.A.’s office,” the plaintiff told Lazarus. “I don’t think they should be prostituting themselves in this way.”

A rep for Orange County DA Rackauckas says that the notion underlying the county’s diversion program is “to keep these cases out of a very crowded court system.”

The program allows businesses who believes they have been passed a bad check to file a grievance with the county. Problem is, that the grievance doesn’t go to the DA’s office, but to a mailbox run by CorrectiveSolutions. And the senior assistant district attorney overseeing the county’s restitution program admitted to Lazarus that no one in the DA’s office other than a paralegal is vetting these complaints.

So any business in Orange County could file a complaint about an alleged bad check-writer and the only person reviewing these claims was a paralegal. Not only does this lead to situations like the one described by the plaintiff — where she’s being told she could be prosecuted for a debt she doesn’t owe — but it could also result in people entering a diversion program when they don’t have to, just to avoid the threat of prosecution.

After being contacted by the Times and being made aware of the Bar Association’s ruling, the DA’s office says a lawyer will now be reviewing bad check complaints. Orange County is also seeking guidance from state-level officials.

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