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Forget Listening To That Voicemail, Soon Siri Might Transcribe It For You

Mon, 2015-08-03 15:50
(Vincent Lee)

(Vincent Lee)

In an age of instant messaging and e-mail, some people still prefer to pick up a phone and leave a voicemail. But for the growing number of consumers who are voicemail-averse, Apple is testing out a new voice-text hybrid.

Business Insider reports that employees of the tech giant are already experimenting with iCloud Voicemail, which uses Siri to answer, transcribe and send users a text of voice messages.

The new system – which could be released next year if all things go well – aims not only to tap into consumers’ love of text messages, but also level the playing field for older consumers who continue to prefer voice messages.

The voicemail-to-text network works when someone using iCloud Voicemail is unable to take a call. At that point Siri will answer instead of letting the call go to a standard digital audio recorder, Business Insider reports.

iCould Voicemail then relays standard information – who you are, where you are, why you can’t answer – to the caller. Once the message has been left, Siri will transcribe the content into a text message for you to read.

If a lot of this sounds familiar, it’s because Google Voice has been trying to do voice-to-text transcription for years, but with little luck. Between callers’ accents, speech patterns and phone connections, it’s not always easy for a computer to figure out exactly what’s being said.

Apple is preparing to launch a voicemail service that will use Siri to transcribe your messages [Business Insider]

Walmart, Sears, Amazon & Other Retailers Agree Not To Sell Realistic-Looking Toy Guns In NY

Mon, 2015-08-03 15:40

A prohibited toy gun from Amazon, via the NY AG's office.

A prohibited toy gun from Amazon, via the NY AG’s office.

Almost eight months after New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sent cease-and-desist letters to several retailers including Amazon, Walmart, Sears and Kmart, those companies have agreed not to sell realistic-looking guns in the state.

The retailers have agreed to stick to New York City laws governing the sale of toy guns — they can’t be blue, black, silver or aluminum and must be brightly colored or translucent — as part of settlements with Schneiderman’s office to be announced on Monday. Federal law requires toy guns to have an orange stripe near the tip as well.

The A.G.’s office found that more than 6,400 toy guns violated New York laws from 2012 to 2014.

“Police officers can’t tell in a split second if it’s a real gun or toy gun,” Schneiderman told NBC News’ Today show (warning, link has video that autoplays) on Monday. “We’ve had 63 people shot in New York because law enforcement officers thought the toy gun was a real gun — that’s not acceptable.”

It’s also an issue elsewhere in the country: in November, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun when he was shot and killed by a police officer in Cleveland.

“There have been instances in states around the country in which police officers have mistaken toy guns for actual guns,” Schneiderman told the New York Times. “It’s an absolutely unnecessary risk, because toy guns, as New York law requires, can be easily distinguishable.”

Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, Nebraska and New York all introduced legislation to create or amend toy gun laws, while about a half dozen others already have laws on the books, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Walmart will be on the hook for the bulk of the civil penalties, because it was found to have violated terms of a 2003 agreement to keep the toy guns in question out of the state. None of its physical stores sold illegal toy guns, but Schneiderman’s office said consumers bought 149 of them through

“Once the New York attorney general expressed concern with certain items sold at we blocked the shipment of those items into the state,” a Walmart spokesman told the NYT, noting that Walmart beefed up its policies to keep the toys from being sold in the future. “We are pleased we were able to resolve this matter, along with several other retailers.”

Sears Holdings said through a spokesman that the company is “pleased” to resolve the AG’s concerns, while Amazon did not comment.

320K Dodge Chargers Recalled Because Airbags Shouldn’t Deploy When The Door Shuts

Mon, 2015-08-03 15:17
(Bill Binns)

(Bill Binns)

For the past year, car makers have been plagued with airbag issues of some kind. Over the weekend Fiat Chrysler announced it was the latest company to encounter problems with the safety devices: unintended deployment when shutting a vehicle’s doors. 

The latest recall for Fiat Chrysler, which has recently faced increased scrutiny and a $105 million fine from federal regulators regarding its recall practices, involves 322,000 model year 2011 to 2014 Dodge Chargers that may have airbags that can deploy unexpectedly when the door is slammed or kicked with excessive force.

According to a notice [PDF] from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the vehicles’ side impact sensor calibration may be overly sensitive, and as a result, the side airbag inflatable curtains and seat airbags may unexpectedly deploy and the seat belt pretension may activate.

If the airbags deploy without warning, it can increase the risk of crash or injury.

Owners of the affected vehicles will be notified by Fiat Chrysler and a local dealer will update the Occupant Restraint Control module calibration.

Comcast Still Screwing Up Discount For Elderly Customers In St. Paul

Mon, 2015-08-03 14:57

Broadband competition (or specifically, its absence) in the Twin Cities.

Broadband competition (or specifically, its absence) in the Twin Cities.

Weeks after we told you about Comcast’s apparent ignorance of its mandated discount for elderly residents in the Minnesota city of St. Paul, customers there say the company still has its head in the sand and is refusing to properly honor requests from eligible consumers.

A quick refresher for those not up-to-date on Minnesota cable news, for 15 years Comcast’s franchise agreement [PDF] with St. Paul has required that the cable company, which dominates the pay-TV and broadband market in the city, offer a discount of 10%/month on service for “Senior citizens, Persons with disabilities and Persons who are Economically disadvantaged.”

Approximately 24% of the St. Paul population lives in poverty and 9% of the population are senior citizens. Taking into account the overlap of these two groups, around 1-in-4 residents could be eligible for the discount.

But even though the savings were available for more than a decade, many St. Paul residents weren’t aware — and neither were a lot of Comcast reps. After the local media mentioned the discount, numerous consumers complained that Comcast told them they were misinformed or mistaken and that the program didn’t exist.

After the public humiliation of being called out for failing to know about its own agreement with the city, Comcast apologized and said it was “communicating with all customer care representatives to make certain they are aware of the discount and the qualification process for St. Paul customers.”

Alas, the latest report from the Pioneer Press indicates that Comcast continues to turn away customers or provide them with confusing or incorrect information.

One 66-year-old customer says she tried to get the discount but was told it only applied low-income seniors. Since she’s not considered low-income, she was told she was not eligible.

Paperwork mailed to the customer only backed up Comcast’s lack of understanding about its own discount program.

Instead of paperwork asking the customer to confirm her age, she instead received a form titled, “Low Income Discount Affidavit: Seniors or Disability,” which required her to prove her adjusted gross annual income totaled less than $17,500.

Additionally, the form compels the signer to agree that “I will not be eligible for the discount if I am receiving any promotional offer or my services are incorporated into a digital value package.”

And a rep for Comcast confirms that “Yes, customers who have bundled packages are ineligible for the discount because the bundled package already is offered at a discounted rate.”

However, there is nothing in the St. Paul franchise agreement that seems to give Comcast the ability to invalidate the discount if a customer bundles her cable/Internet/phone services. The Pioneer Press reports that the city is looking into this clause of the Comcast document.

This seems to be a problem hitting several elderly St. Paul residents.

One woman says she was told she couldn’t get the discount because she was already receiving one and “you have to have certain equipment in your home.”

A 69-year-old man likewise had no luck at the Comcast store. “I was told I wasn’t eligible because I already receive a discount for bundling cable, phone and Internet,” he told the Pioneer Press.

The most ridiculously Comcastic experience comes from a woman who was told she could only get the discount through her local Comcast — sorry, Xfinity — store. When she explained that she had no car and asked for the number of that store so she could call, “The rep told me ‘because of security reasons’ he could not give that number out. I politely thanked him and hung up.”

Package Of Spinach From Sam’s Club Comes With Free Frog

Mon, 2015-08-03 14:00

Froggy, noooo!(Jess)

Frogs: keep out. (Jess)

A woman in California was not pleased when she prepared a salad for dinner and saw a small, speckled frog nestled between the spinach leaves. Sure, people sometimes pay good money to have frog legs for dinner, but those frogs are usually, you know, purpose-raised. And cooked.

The factories that process salad greens put a lot of effort into ensuring that a minimum number of frogs end up in our salad bowls. The woman who found this frog (warning: giant dead frog picture at top of article) purchased the affected bag of salad at Sam’s Club, and the spinach came from Taylor Farms. (If that name sounds familiar, it was bags of Taylor Farms lettuce that PBS and NPR found piled up in a landfill in a recent story on food waste.)

“I’m just really disgusted. I don’t think I can ever eat a salad again,” the woman told a local newspaper. “How could they miss a dead frog?”

Someone at Taylor Farms explained in some detail how a frog could have ended up in the container of spinach: the company uses vibration tables and laser sorters to remove insects, animals, and any other debris that might have been harvested along with the greens.

It’s possible, they explained, that the little frog had been concealed behind a leaf when this batch was sorted, or and the laser was not working properly when this batch was processed. The company didn’t respond when a reporter from the San Gabriel Valley Tribune asked whether there have been other reports of frogs in other containers of spinach.

While the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t get involved unless there’s a widespread frogs-in-food trend, you should still consider giving the agency a call: it’s through reports from consumers that they’re able to spot trends.

Dead frog found in packaged spinach, Covina woman says [San Gabriel Valley Tribune]

Newly Married AT&T/DirecTV Unveil Underwhelming Combined Wireless/TV Plans

Mon, 2015-08-03 13:26

The AT&T/DirecTV combo platter saves money, but only for new customers, and after 12 months, it's really just a $10/month bill discount.

The AT&T/DirecTV combo platter saves money, but only for new customers, and after 12 months, it’s really just a $10/month bill discount.

Now that the merger of AT&T and DirecTV has cleared regulatory hurdles, the newlyweds are going public with their first combo platter offering that pairs of AT&T wireless phone service with DirecTV satellite TV. Unfortunately, the more than 20 million current DirecTV customers are going to be left out in the cold on this announcement.

Starting on Aug. 10, new DirecTV (and, where available, AT&T U-Verse) customers can bundle together pay-TV and AT&T wireless service for a promotional price of as little as $200/month. That’s for the entry-level DirecTV Select service and a 10GB/month AT&T wireless plan that can be shared across four different lines. It’s effectively a $10/month discount off of getting the two services separately.

For TV service with more channels, you’ll obviously be expected to pay more, with the DirecTV Premiere tier bringing the total promotional cost up to $275/month.

And, to repeat, all these prices are promotional. After a year, they will go up by around $35-40/month.

Current DirecTV or U-Verse customers who are thinking about changing their phone service to AT&T can get up to $300 in bill credit, but only if they buy a new phone through the AT&T Next installment plan and trade in their old phone.

Customers in areas served by U-Verse can get AT&T Internet service with promotional pricing starting at $30/month for up to 6Mbps, or $40/month for up to 24Mbps. But again, remember that these are promotional prices that will go up after a year. At this point, AT&T isn’t even saying what that price will be, other than saying that the “prevailing standard rate” will apply after the 12 months are up.

Today’s announcement is a bit underwhelming, as the deals boil down to little more than slight discounts for bundled services. But the combined companies pledge that more is to come.

“Today is the first of many planned moves to enable our customers to enjoy a premium entertainment experience almost anywhere,” said Brad Bentley, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, AT&T Entertainment and Internet Services. “We’re going to deliver more TV and entertainment choices to more screens – when and where our customers want it.”

As part of the merger process, AT&T promised that it could bring affordable wireless broadband service to rural Americans. A review of FTC documents in March turned up some details on that plan, like the fact that it’s not going to be satellite broadband, but instead what’s known as Wireless Local Loop (WLL) technology, which basically uses dedicated wireless spectrum to carry broadband back and forth between a box on the user’s home and one on a nearby cell tower.

No word yet on when AT&T will be prepared to provide more details on that service, but let’s hope it’s more inventive than just a $10/month discount.

YotaPhone 2 Cancels U.S. Version, Offers Limited Refunds Instead

Sat, 2015-08-01 00:29

It’s easy to understand why gadget fans were interested in the Yotaphone 2: it’s an Android smartphone with a regular touchscreen on the front and an e-ink display that can display widgets or function as a power-saving regular screen on the back. When the company behind the phone announced in May that a U.S. version compatible with our LTE networks here in the US would become available, lots of people stepped up to place orders, including reader Steve.

The company used Indiegogo for the pre-order process, and took in almost $300,000. The first 100 backers could reserve a phone for $500 each, and they cost $525 each after that. They would be unlocked GSM phones which would work with T-Mobile or AT&T or compatible MVNOs on their networks, such as Ting or StraightTalk. Most importantly, unlike the phone’s international versions, it would be compatible with LTE networks in the United States. The phones were supposed to ship next month…and then the company dropped the bad news.

It’s important to note here that even though this was a crowdfunded pre-order process, the campaign was no sketchy crowdscam. Yota Devices is a fully-grown company that sells actual devices in other countries, and the YotaPhone 2 has been on the market elsewhere since May of this year. There were rumors that the company would be selling their phone through T-Mobile.

They sent this update to backers:

The reason for our cancelled launch is due to unforeseen delays including both production and delivery of the North American variant of YotaPhone 2 from our manufacturer. This despite spending months finalizing and securing the deal to bring to life the North American variant of YotaPhone 2, and when we launched this campaign we were confident our supplier would be able to follow through with their commitment. This was a shock to everyone at Yota Devices, and our leadership team, including our CEO, met with the manufacturer last week in a last-ditch effort to find a solution but the logistics were insurmountable and the device would simply arrive too late. In turn, we believe that the likelihood of a severe delay in these shipments would have created a conflict with our international road map for 2016, leaving Indiegogo supporters behind when customers in other regions will be offered a newer, cheaper and better YotaPhone.

A later update to the IndieGoGo page gave users two options: to have the international phone shipped to them instead: it’s the same device, but not compatible with the LTE that we use in this country. While this is the most professionally-handled crowdfunding failure that we’ve ever seen, reader Steve, who let us know about this, pointed out one problem: they’re issuing refunds for customers who want them through Square Cash, a service that needs to be tied to a debit card to work. What if, like Steve, you don’t have a debit card?

Steve made his pre-order pledge more than two months ago, so disputing the charge on his credit card is out of the question. He’s asked the company whether customers who don’t want to use Square have an alternative option, and we’ve contacted them too. We’ll update this post if we hear anything.

YotaPhone 2 won’t be coming to the US [The Verge]

Mozilla Displeased That Windows 10 Changes Users’ Default Browser

Fri, 2015-07-31 22:03

windows_browserOver at Mozilla HQ, they make web browsers that run on various platforms, including Windows. Over at Microsoft, they have their own new browser that is part of Windows, and they’d really like everyone to use it. According to Mozilla, the new version of Windows steamrolls over a user’s preferred app settings and makes Microsoft’s Edge browser the default. Mozilla is not fond of this change.

In an open CEO-to-CEO letter, Mozilla CEO Chris Beard tells Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella that the Mozilla team was disappointed to learn that the the new version of Windows overrides current preferred apps by default, unless the user knows how to change this while installing Windows.

“We appreciate that it’s still technically possible to preserve people’s previous settings and defaults, but the design of the whole upgrade experience and the default settings APIs have been changed to make this less obvious and more difficult,” Beard explains. Most people might be able to figure this out, but they don’t know that they’ll need to do it. That’s the reason for Mozilla’s campaign.

The open letter is because Microsoft hasn’t responded to Mozilla’s queries about the situation or why Windows installation overrides the user’s current preferences.

Windows 10 is a free upgrade for current home users of Windows 7 or 8, which means that it’s sure to be a popular upgrade. Mozilla has put together its own education campaign for users to show them how to get Mozilla’s Firefox back as their default browser if they’ve already upgraded: it’s less than a minute long, but not everyone would be able to figure this out intuitively.

Safeguarding Choice and Control Online [Mozilla]
An Open Letter to Microsoft’s CEO: Don’t Roll Back the Clock on Choice and Control [Mozilla]

Sling TV Says Comcast-Owned NBC Stations Are Blocking Its Ads

Fri, 2015-07-31 21:50

(Sling TV)

(Sling TV)

There’s a rumble brewing in telecom town: Sling TV is accusing Comcast of keeping its ads off some NBC stations’ airwaves. Which is exactly what the big bad cable company in its recent marketing campaign would do, Dish Network-owned Sling says.

Sling threw down the gauntlet in a blog post on Thursday by CEO Roger Lynch.

“We recently learned that NBC blocked Sling TV’s new advertisements from airing on its owned and operated (O&O) stations. For anyone who needs a reminder, Comcast – the standard bearer for ‘Old TV’ in the U.S. – owns the NBC broadcast network, and by extension, its O&O stations across the country,” Lynch writes. “At this time, NBC’s O&O stations in San Diego, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. have rejected the ads.”

In contrast, Lynch notes that Sling’s ads are currently running on ABC, CBS and Fox O&O stations and affiliates, “as well as independently-owned NBC affiliates (emphasis on ‘independently-owned,’ or in other words, not owned by Comcast).”

The ad in question features pre-teen bullies employed by “Old TV” beating up on average customers: the meanies administer wedgies and wet willies, treat customers to scathing admonitions when they try to get out of contracts and literally beat down on folks who resist.

Though Comcast is not named in the ad, Sling thinks it’s no coincidence that the company has responded this way, as it reinforces the campaign’s truth that traditional pay-TV players “just don’t get it,” Lynch says.

“And what is it that they don’t get?” Lynch asks. “Innovation benefits customers.”

He goes on to point out that many customers are sick of long-term contracts, expensive programming bundles, high prices and poor customer service.

“Instead, we want TV on our terms. To come and go as we like. To watch great content, including sports, on the devices we own and use. And perhaps most importantly, we want rational pricing,” the post reads. “This is what our new commercials call out. This is what Comcast doesn’t want you to see.”

It’s worth noting that Comcast recently announced its intention to test its own version of live TV that streams through the Internet, aptly enough called “Stream.”

This would differ from Sling TV: Comcast says Stream would include stations like ABC, CBS, CW, FOX, NBC, PBS, Telemundo and Univision, that are freely available over the air for anyone with a decent antenna, as well as HBO.

Sling, meanwhile, peddles a “Best of Live TV” lineup for $20/month with a slew of channels like A&E, Adult Swim, AMC, Bloomberg, Cartoon Network, CNN, Disney Channel, ESPN, ESPN2, Food Network, Lifetime, TBS, TNT and others in its base package, as well as various add-ons like HBO, available for $15 per month.

In any case, Lynch sees Comcast’s move to ban Sling ads as a compliment.

“Hey, if they’re going to go through the trouble of banning our ads, we must be doing something right,” Lynch says. “I hope you take our commercials and share them with your friends.”


Regulators Settle Charges That Reynolds, Lorillard Merger Would Be Anticompetitive

Fri, 2015-07-31 21:22


A year after the No. 2 and No. 3 cigarette brands in the country first announced they were planning to go all-in on a $27.4 billion merger, regulators have approved an order settling charges that the deal would be anticompetitive for the U.S. cigarette market, paving the way for the merger to move forward.

The Federal Trade Commission announced today it had approved an order stipulating that betrothed tobacco companies R.J. Reynolds American Inc. – the maker of Camel and Pall Mall – and Lorillard – the maker of Newport cigarettes – divest four cigarette brands to a UK-based company.

The proposed combination of the two companies would create a formidable rival for current top cigarette company Altria Group, the maker of Marlboro. Altria currently accounts for 46% of the U.S. cigarette market, while Reynolds has about 25% and Lorillard about 12% of the market.

Back in May, the regulator proposed [PDF] that Imperial Tobacco Group will buy three brands (Salem, Kool and Winston) from Reynolds and Lorillard’s Maverick brand in order to preserve competition.

Imperial Tobacco Group currently has a competitive presence in about 70 countries, but a relatively small presence in the U.S. By taking over the four brands, the company will be a more substantial competitor for the merged companies and Altria, and become the third-largest cigarette maker in the U.S.

According to the FTC’s complaint [PDF], the merger raised significant competitive concerns as it had the potential to eliminate current and emergent competition for Reynolds and Lorillard in the U.S. market.

Additionally, the FTC determined that without divestiture there was a likelihood that the merger would unilaterally raise prices, and that coordinated interaction would occur between Reynolds and Altria.

In addition to divesting the four cigarette brands, Reynolds must divest to Imperial the Lorillard manufacturing facilities in North Carolina and provide Imperial the opportunity to hire most of the existing management, staff and salesforce.

The newly-merged companies must also provide Imperial with retail shelf space for a short period of time and provide other operational support during the transition.

FTC Approves Final Order Preserving Competition in U.S. Market for Cigarettes [The Federal Trade Commission]

Investors Sue American Express After Loss Of Costco Agreement

Fri, 2015-07-31 20:53


Five months after American Express and Costco announced they would go their separate ways and end their exclusive relationship – essentially allowing members of the warehouse club to use other cards – shareholders for the credit card company have filed a lawsuit claiming it blindsided investors with the loss of the contract.

The lawsuit [PDF], filed by Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 137 Pension Fund, accuses American Express of failing to reveal how significant the 16-year long contract with Costco had become to the business.

According to the lawsuit, which seeks class-action status on behalf of all shareholders who bought stock between Oct. 16, 2014 and Feb. 11, 2015, American Express had accelerated its talks with Costco regarding renewal of its exclusive deal that was set to expire in March 2016 without the knowledge of investors.

“Defendants never disclosed the financial impact of the U.S. Costco co-branding agreement on AmEx’s reported financial results,” the suit states.

The investors contend that the U.S. Costco co-branding contract was “highly material to AmEx’s business,” representing 8% of the company’s revenues in 2014; 20% of its outstanding loans and 10% of its cards issued worldwide.

“Because AmEx concealed throughout the class period just how material the U.S. Costco co-branding relationship was to AmEx’s business and financial prospects and thereby overstated the continuing revenue growth prospects of its all-important U.S. Card Services segment,” the lawsuit states.

In December 2014, the shareholders claim AmEx’s stock traded at artificially inflated prices – reaching a high of $95 per share. Then without notice in February 2015, the company announced it had lost the Costco contract and stocks plummeted to $77.53 per share.

The lawsuit, which asks for a jury trial, seeks unspecified damages.

[via Reuters]

Just Because You Find $150K Sitting Around Doesn’t Mean You Get To Keep It, Buy A New Car

Fri, 2015-07-31 20:42

(Tracy O)

(Tracy O)

One might think that the average adult would be aware that the playground rule of “finders, keepers” doesn’t apply to most situations in life that aren’t scavenger hunts. But one would be wrong, if the police investigating the theft of a bag filled with $150,000 in cash are correct.

Authorities say a man picked up the bag, which was left outside a New Jersey business by ATM workers on Monday, and took the money home, reports the Associated Press.

Not content to simply rest on a pile of cash, police say he took some of that money and bought an SUV with it a few hours after the find. His time with the new Chevrolet Tahoe was short-lived, as police arrested him on Wednesday as one of two suspects they believe made off with the bag of moolah.

Police said a white van caught on surveillance video pulling up to the loot had a passenger who hopped out to grab the cash. That same van was seen in another video where the suspects allegedly stole tires from an auto repair business.

The suspect was arrested after police found the van. He said he was driving it and admitted that an SUV — valued at about $46,000 and found nearby — had been bought soon after the grab. He was charged with theft of mislaid property, or what we will call violating the “anti-finders keepers law.”

Police issued a warrant for the arrest of the van’s passenger, who is also wanted for a probation violation.

Cops: Man buys car after taking $150,000 left by ATM workers [Associated Press]

United Airlines CEO: Checked Bag Fees Are Here To Stay, Just Part Of Doing Business

Fri, 2015-07-31 20:10
(Adam Fagen)

(Adam Fagen)

Despite Southwest Airlines’ recent admission that charging for bags would be a financially irresponsible policy change, it doesn’t appear that other airlines feel the same way.

Reuters reports that United Airlines, for one, has no plans to stop charging check bag fees, no matter what other airlines do.

The airline’s CEO Jeff Smisek defended the fees, noting that some passengers have “difficulty recognizing that we’re now a business.”

“They criticize us if we charge for more legroom. Let me tell you though: that’s what businesses do,” he said during an industry lunch on Thursday.

Smisek said that customers should expect checked bag fees to be based on a sliding scale, like extras offered by other businesses.

“If you want more data on your data plan so you can watch faster, better cat videos, you call AT&T, and they’re happy to increase your data plan,” he said. “And they charge you for it. That’s what businesses do.”

Airline checked bag fees, which range from $15 to more than $25, have become an important source of revenue for many carriers. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the first three months of 2015 saw airlines collecting more than $864 million in revenue from the fees.

Despite those proceeds, Southwest said earlier this week that it isn’t doing so bad without the added fees. The company’s net income increased nearly $143 million over the past year.

Of course, hefty fees for checked bags could soon be a thing of the past, as legislators recently introduced the Baggage Fee Fairness Act of 2015 that would limit checked-baggage charges to just $4.50/bag.

United Airlines CEO: Checked bag fees are here to stay [Reuters]

Converse Blows Up New Chuck Taylor Shoes To Show What’s Different

Fri, 2015-07-31 19:44

SneakersplosionMaybe you saw a photo of Converse’s new version of their classic Chuck Taylor All-Stars and wondered what the big deal is. “So they changed the eyelet color,” you say. “What’s the difference?” To appease people like you, Converse virtually exploded one of their new shoes so you can see what’s inside.

Since we routinely call out bad ads, here we’re calling out a good one for once. It would be interesting to see this YouTube spot aired as a TV commercial: for once, a shoe ad that isn’t about branding or lifestyle or the athlete it’s named after, but just what’s inside the shoe.

(via Adweek)

N.J. Police Officer Smashes Window To Save Child Trapped Inside Hot Minivan

Fri, 2015-07-31 19:02
(via NBC News)

(via NBC News)

If we’re going to hear stories of children being left in hot cars, we’re at least glad to report on those that end well. That includes the report of a New Jersey sheriff’s officer who bashed open a minivan window to free a child who was locked inside it as it sat parked at a Costco supermarket.

Witnesses said the crying two-year-old was drenched in sweat when a Bergen County police officer broke open one of the van’s windows, reports NBC News (warning: link has video that autoplays).

Passersby worried about the girl in the van parked in Costco’s parking lot had gathered on the scene, with at least two people attempting to push down a window that had been cracked open a few inches. In a video taped during the rescue, you can hear the child crying inside the car.

“I’m telling the girl, ‘Don’t cry, we’re gonna get you out,'” one of the men who tried to get into the van told NBC News. “She was drenched in sweat and crying constantly.”

Bystanders wondered if the parents were shopping, expressing disbelief that they would’ve left the toddler behind.

Moments after an officer carries the small girl in her arms away from the van, with her hair matted to her forehead with sweat, the toddler’s mother shows up with a shopping cart and another child.

“You left her in the car!” the officer holding the crying girl says. The mother apologizes, but the officer replies, “No ‘Sorry!’ She could have died!”

The child’s mother was arrested for child endangerment and released with a desk ticket. The little girl was taken to a local hospital and then turned over to her father, according to the sheriff’s office.

Though it’s unclear how long the girl was inside the van, temperatures can rise dangerously high in a matter of minutes. Remember: Leaving a child in a hot car for any length of time is unsafe, so please, please do not do it.

WATCH: Sweat-Soaked, Wailing Toddler Rescued from Hot Minivan in Costco Parking Lot [NBC News]

Two For-Profit Schools Must Pay Students $2.3M Over Unfair Practices

Fri, 2015-07-31 19:02


Hundreds of former students at Kaplan Career Institute and Lincoln Technical Institute in Massachusetts will receive redress from the for-profit colleges after the schools settled charges they engaged in unfair practices with the state’s Attorney General’s office.

The Boston Globe reports that Kaplan Higher Education LLC and Lincoln Educational Services Inc. have agreed to pay millions of dollars to students in order to resolve claims the companies used unfair recruiting tactics and inflated job placement numbers to lure students into enrolling at the colleges.

“We allege these for-profit schools lured hopeful students into enrolling in their vocational programs by promising certain careers, but only left them with substantial debt,” Attorney General Maura Healey said. “Students trying to better their lives through education are instead being left financially ruined. These settlements will provide the relief these students deserve and prevent deceptive practices that put taxpayer dollars at risk.”

The settlements are the result of an Attorney General’s Office investigation that looked at dozens of schools operated by the companies and found, among other things, that the schools falsely reported a 70% job placement rates for graduates.

According to the AG’s office, Kaplan Higher Education, which owned the now-shuttered Kaplan Career Institute schools in Massachusetts, used job listings that were publicly available resources and did not offer any independent services or programs for its students’ job searches.

The company will pay eligible graduates of its medical vocational programs a total of $1.375 million. The Globe reports that the office first opened its investigation into the Kenmore Square school four years ago.

A spokesperson for Kaplan tells the Globe that the school “emphatically maintains that its actions were compliant and in the best interests of students, who were well-served by the institution.”

The company says they agreed to the settlement because of litigation costs, and was not found to have engaged in any wrongdoing.

As for Lincoln Technical Institute, the school’s parent company will pay eligible graduates of its criminal justice program at its Somerville and Lowell campuses $850,000 and will forgive $165,00 worth of private student loans the students took out.

The AG’s office reports that its investigation into the program found that students were unable to find work in law enforcement or private security after graduation.

The school was also found to include unrelated jobs, such as general retail positions, in its placement data, the Globe reports.

According to the AG’s investigation, the school allegedly told recruiters to pressure prospective students to attend the school by establishing unhappiness, creating urgency and to “bring out the pain.” They were also allegedly told to contact students at least seven times within the first three days to convince them to enroll.

In a statement to the Globe, Lincoln Educational Services says the investigation into the school started in 2008, at a time when employment opportunities were limited for all students.

The company contends that for-profit schools are held to higher standards than other traditional universities, despite their differing student bodies.

“Full disclosure and transparency require a level playing field,” the statement said. “We look forward to the day that all post-secondary institutions … are held to the same standards.”

Two for-profit colleges settle lawsuit with attorney general for $2.3 million [The Boston Globe]

Why Gasoline With More Than 10% Ethanol Will Make Your Mower Sad

Fri, 2015-07-31 18:32

(Misfit Photographer)

(Misfit Photographer)

Modern cars are designed to get around just fine with gasoline containing ethanol in their tanks, but not all gasoline that you buy at the corner gas station is healthy for other items that you own that use gas. Think outdoor power equipment like push mowers, string trimmers, and chainsaws. Cars made in 2006 and afterwards can take fuel that’s up to 15% ethanol, but that mixture can be disastrous for small gas-powered appliances.

There’s a trade group for these items, the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, and they are not happy that higher-ethanol blends are becoming more common in gas stations, but lack consumer warnings at the pump that explain this clearly. Something like “Hey dude/dudette, don’t put this stuff in your chainsaw,” it might say, but most consumers say that they don’t notice the puny warnings that the EPA requires.

Why shouldn’t you use these cheaper blends in your outdoor power equipment? Since you probably don’t use your lawn mower as often as your car, all of that time sitting around idle means that the ethanol has time to draw water from the gasoline, making the fuel goopy and crusty, which hurts any plastic and rubber parts that it reaches as well as affecting carburetors. Worse, ethanol makes small engines run hotter, reducing their lifespan.

You can prevent this by checking what kind of fuel your small gas-powered equipment prefers: that information should be in the manual. Don’t automatically fill your gas can with the same stuff you put in your tank, especially if your car is much newer than average.

The cheapest gas can be trouble for outdoor gear [Consumer Reports]

The Last Full-Service Dunkin’ Donuts Prepares To Shut Its Doors

Fri, 2015-07-31 18:18

(Consumerist Dot Com)

(Consumerist Dot Com)

Though you might not even have been aware it existed, the last full-service Dunkin’ Donuts diner is preparing to close, and will be renovated to look like the rest.

That means no more wait staff serving fried fish and grits, something many customers will miss: while the Lake Park, FL restaurant serves doughnuts and coffee like other Dunkin’ Donuts locations, it also has a grill, serving up hot food and sandwiches. The Palm Beach Post spoke with a few of the diner’s customers who will miss the old days once the place is remodeled.

“I’m so sad,” one said, adding, “We can go anywhere to get the doughnuts but you can’t go everywhere and find food like this.”

It was the first Dunkin’ location to open in Florida, in 1962, and the last full-service spot left standing. For now — the restaurant’s last day of dining room service is Saturday, with the fast-food side closing Aug. 16. The place is expected to reopen with its new look on Aug. 31.

The owner says he made the decision to renovate because he can’t offer the menu items that other Dunkin’ locations have, including the 10 he owns across the county, because they don’t have the right equipment. The remodel will mean guests are served faster and more efficiently, he says.

There’s a bright spot, however, as customers will still be able to drink coffee from a ceramic mug at the counter, just as they do now.

“This particular Dunkin’ Donuts has a rich history and the new, remodeled location will include several elements that are a nod to its past,” the owner says. “Despite the changes, it’ll still be a unique neighborhood gathering place for the community to catch up with old friends, make new ones and enjoy great food.”

World’s last Dunkin’ Donuts diner to close [The Palm Beach Post]

Woman Sues Starbucks For $2 Million Over Drink Allegedly Tainted With Chemicals

Fri, 2015-07-31 17:47


A Utah woman has filed a $2 million lawsuit against Starbucks and several employees claiming she was given a drink that contained a cleaning solution.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the woman filed the suit after she suffered severe damage to her esophagus at a Utah Starbucks in July 2012.

According to the lawsuit, the woman experienced severe nerve damage and chronic burning mouth pain after ingesting Urnex, a speciality cleaning product for coffee and espresso equipment.

The suit, which names Starbucks and John Does one through five as defendants, alleges the company was negligent in more than one way and failed to adequately train workers.

As for the employees, the suit claims they created a dangerous situation and failed to remedy it, and knew or should have known of the dangerous condition but failed to take adequate steps to prevent injury to customers.

The woman, who is seeking $2 million in damages, contends that the incident has already cost her $186,000 in medical expenses, wage loss and household expenses.

A spokesperson for Starbucks tells the Tribune that the company takes the lawsuit very seriously.

“The safety of our customers is our highest priority,” Laurel Harper, a Starbucks spokeswoman, said Tuesday. “We take this obligation seriously and are investigating [the customer’s] claims.”

Utahn claims her Starbucks coffee was tainted with cleaning solution [The Salt Lake Tribune]

Police: Man Pretended He Was His Brother To Avoid $7,500 In Unpaid Tolls

Fri, 2015-07-31 17:20

(Alan Rappa)

(Alan Rappa)

It’s a classic caper: passing yourself off as your brother or sister to squirm out of trouble when you’re caught doing something you shouldn’t. But New Jersey police say one man didn’t quite pull off the sibling switcheroo when he was stopped for $7,500 in unpaid tolls.

Port Authority police in New Jersey say officers stopped a 44-year-old man after he drove through an EZ-Pass lane on the George Washington Bridge toll without paying, reports

A police spokesman said the man couldn’t provide any documentation for the motorcycle he was riding and the license plates didn’t match the bike. After a search, police said they found baggies of cocaine in his pocket, which he at first said was just candy.

While he was being taken into custody, officers say he gave them a government ID card that had his brother’s name and photo on it. Unaware that it wasn’t him, police issued the man a summons under his brother’s name and let him go.

When Port Authority police figured things out, they issued a warrant for his arrest. He was later arrested by State Police on unrelated traffic warrants and was turned over to Port Authority police Officer to face wrongful impersonation, theft, hindering apprehension and cocaine possession charges.

Man used brother’s name to dodge unpaid tolls, drug charge, police say []