website utilities

People before Profit

Follow on:

The Consumerist

Only 1 Out 12 Small Cars Gets “Good” Rating In New Crash Test Results

Thu, 2014-07-31 16:23

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (the place that crashes cars into walls for science) recently ran a dozen popular small cars, including the Chevy Volt, Ford C-Max Hybrid, Mini Cooper Countryman, and the Mazda 5, through its “small overlap” front crash test, where only the front corner of the vehicle is involved in a collision. While several of the tiny cars had okay results, only one earned an overall “good” rating from the IIHS.

The Mini Cooper Countryman was the only small car among the dozen tested to earn that overall “good” rating in the overlap test, which was introduced in 2012 to simulate collisions where a car strays across the median and hits an oncoming vehicle, or where cars smash into objects like trees or poles.

For years, car makers were building vehicles to pass the IIHS head-on frontal crash tests, in which the full front end of a vehicle collides with a solid object, but the small overlap test shows that not all car makers have been thinking about what happens when it’s just the corner of the vehicle.

“In the small overlap test, the main structures of the vehicle’s front-end crush zone are bypassed, making it hard for the vehicle to manage crash energy,” explains the IIHS. “The occupant compartment can collapse as a result.”

To earn a “good” rating in the overlap test, the car’s occupant compartment must resist intrusion, its safety belts must prevent the driver from pitching too far forward, and its side curtain airbags must provide enough forward coverage to cushion a head at risk of hitting the dashboard or window frame or things outside the vehicle.

“The Mini Cooper Countryman gave a solid performance,” says Joe Nolan, the Institute’s senior vice president for vehicle research. “The Countryman’s safety cage held up reasonably well. The safety belts and airbags worked together to control the test dummy’s movement, and injury measures indicate a low risk of any significant injuries in a real-world crash this severe.”

The IIHS points out that the small overlap rating for the Countryman — the 4-door version of the Mini Cooper — doesn’t apply to the two-door model, which hasn’t been tested.

Four other small cars — the Volt, the C-Max Hybrid, Mitsubishi Lancer, and the Scion xB — showed minimal damage to their respective crash test dummies, but fell short of an overall good rating for concerns about their structures or restraint systems. However, all but the Scion xB are still considered “Top Safety Picks” by the IIHS.

Of greater concern are the four cars earning “poor” overall ratings in the overlap test — the Fiat 500L, Mazda 5, Nissan Juke and Nissan Leaf.

IIHS’s Nolan says that “Collapse of the occupant compartment is the downfall” for these four vehicles. “A sturdy occupant compartment allows the restraint systems to do their job, absorbing energy and controlling occupant motion.”

Test showed that the structure of the Fiat 500L was being pushed into the driver’s survival space, “knocking the steering wheel back and to the right of the driver,” which puts the airbag out of position, meaning the dummy’s head slid off to the left side.

According to the IIHS, the Mazda 5 is among the worst-performing cars in the small overlap test, along the 2014 Kia Forte, and the 2012 Prius v.

“When we tested the Mazda 5 we saw a host of structural and restraint system problems. Parts of the occupant compartment essentially buckled, allowing way too much intrusion,” Nolan says.

The test dummy in the Mazda 5 showed high risk of injuries to the left thigh and left lower leg. The steering wheel moved to the right, meaning the dummy’s head barely contacted the front airbag before sliding off the left side.

Additionally, the safety belt failed to keep the dummy’s head and torso from moving too far forward. The dummy’s head made contact with the left side of the dashboard.

Even worse, the side curtain airbag didn’t deploy at all, says the IIHS and the driver door unlatched during the test, putting the driver at risk of being ejected.

If You’re Unhappy About Comcast Charge, Don’t Pull Gun On Service Tech

Thu, 2014-07-31 15:45



While we disagree with some who think that Comcast is an admirable company, we certainly don’t advocate using a gun to resolve your disputes with the cable company. Apparently our talk-it-out ways are not shared by a New Mexico woman who is accused of pulling a gun on a Comcast tech following a dispute over unexpected charges for a service call.

According to the criminal complaint [PDF], police in Albuquerque were dispatched on July 28 to a private home to check on a possible aggravated assault incident.

The homeowner told the officer that she’d had a Comcast tech out to do some requested work on her home and that she’d been led to believe that the work would be free of charge.

But when the tech arrived and she found out otherwise, the customer was not happy. She called Comcast customer service, where a rep confirmed there was a fee for the call. Then the tech told the homeowner that if she didn’t sign the document agreeing to the charges, he’d have to leave.

She refused and the tech began to leave.

This is where their stories differ…

Her Side of the Story

The homeowner says the tech left but then returned, claiming he’d left behind a tool bag on the outside of her home, but which she’d brought inside after he left.

The woman refused to let the tech come on her property and told him to leave. He said his supervisor would still need to come back and get the tools.

The homeowner told police that the man was standing in her driveway and refused to leave, so she went inside to get her handgun.

Pointing the gun in the air, she says she asked the tech, “Are you going to leave now?”

He responded by driving away without his tools.

The homeowner then called the police to complain about the Comcast tech. She admitted to officers that the tech was not attempting to enter the home; that he was only standing in the driveway and refusing to leave.

His Side

The tech claims that while he was packing his tools back into his truck, someone at the home grabbed a bag of tools — worth an estimated $400 — and took them inside the home.

He then knocked on the door and asked for his tools back, but a woman — not the homeowner — who answered the door allegedly refused to give them back.

While he was walking away from the front porch, he alleges that the homeowner exited the house and pointed the handgun at his torso, telling him “You need to get off my property now.”

The tech says he agreed to leave and then called 9-1-1.


Police searched the home and turned up a handgun and the tech’s tools. The homeowner was arrested and booked on charges of Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon. She was released after a few hours behind bars.

Comcast customer pulled gun on technician after objecting to bill, police say [Ars Technica]

Comcast customer jailed in gun case []

Bank Of America Finally Ordered To Pay $1.27B For Countrywide’s “Hustle”

Thu, 2014-07-31 15:01



It’s been about nine months since a federal jury found Bank of America liable for the “Hustle,” a pre-bubble Countrywide Financial program that removed safeguards to the mortgage underwriting process, resulting in a mountain of toxic, worthless loans. Yesterday, the judge in the case finally decided how much BofA — and the former Countrywide exec in charge of the program — should pay.

For those coming late to this story, in the years leading up to the crash-slam-splat of the housing market, Countrywide realized there was quick cash to be made in approving as many mortgages as possible and reselling them to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac before anyone realized the loans weren’t worth the sandwich bags on which they’d been written.

In order to increase the number of loans it could resell, Countrywide started the High Speed Swim Lane (aka HSSL, and most popularly the Hustle), which expedited the mortgage underwriting process by effectively doing away with it. A number of loans were approved with minimal review. In the end, about 43% of the Hustle loans resold to Fannie or Freddie were toxic.

BofA and former Countrywide Exec Rebecca Mairone were found liable of civil fraud in Oct. 2013, and federal prosecutors were originally asking the court to penalize the bank to the tune of around $868 million, based on the actual losses experienced by the bailed-out mortgage-backers at Fannie and Freddie.

But the judge suggested to prosecutors that they rethink their penalty not in terms of how much Fannie and Freddie lost, but in terms of the ill-gotten gains seen by Countrywide. So in Jan. 2014, the feds revised that request to more than $2 billion and also suggested a $1.1 million personal penalty against Mairone, who astoundingly found a job that didn’t involve digging ditches under the hot sun. No, she somehow managed to convince JPMorgan Chase to put her in charge of its foreclosure review team. She has since left that position.

The prosecutors later suggested upping Mairone’s penalty even further upon learning how well compensated she was, but yesterday the judge opted to go for a mere $1 million slap on the wrist against the former Countrywide exec.

The judge says Mairone may pay her penalty in quarterly installments equaling 20% of her gross income.

And yet her attorney says his client will appeal.

“We continue to maintain that Rebecca never intended to defraud anyone and never did defraud anyone,” Mairone’s legal eagle tells the Wall Street Journal. “Unfortunately, more powerful people chose her as a scapegoat because they thought she was an easy target.”

Bank of America got off with a penalty of $1.27 billion, higher than the original request but significantly lower than the revised amount.

The bank had tried to argue that it ultimately lost money on those toxic mortgages so it shouldn’t have to pay such a high penalty, if anything at all.

But that’s a ridiculous argument, as Countrywide’s longterm failure to profit off toxic mortgages doesn’t negate the fact that it committed fraud by selling those worthless loans to Fannie and Freddie.

Of course, BofA is looking to appeal the case.

“We believe that this figure simply bears no relation to a limited Countrywide program that lasted several months and ended before Bank of America’s acquisition of the company,” a rep for the bank said, presumably while simultaneously e-mailing colleagues at other banks looking for a new job.

College Students Trade In Textbooks, Stuck Waiting For Cash

Wed, 2014-07-30 23:33

(Ben Balter)

(Ben Balter)

For college students, it’s a wonderful thing to find a store willing to pay more than a pittance to buy back the textbooks you’ve been pretending to read all semester. People who discovered the Boston-based site Valore Books were happy with the estimates they got for the value of their books, but less happy when their checks failed to show up.

There are plenty of complaints online about every business, but Valore has an awful lot, including complaints to the Better Business Bureau. One student shared his saga with the station, explaining that he sent off his books in December, then spent weeks calling the company, asking about the whereabouts of his money. He even offered to stop by their nearby office and just pick up his books, but that was one of the last things the company wanted.

After a Better Business Bureau complaint and waiting for another whole semester, he finally received his money. Yay?

The BBB of Eastern Massachusetts told WBZ that Valore is “as one of the most complained about businesses in [their] territory.” As an online business, it receives complaints from across the country, but that’s no excuse.

What is their excuse? Sure, every textbook-related business experiences crunch times in approximately August, December, January, and May. That’s the nature of it. WBZ couldn’t get an interview with anyone at Valore, but did receive a statement from the company. Their excuse? Business was too good this past spring. The company explained:

Our competitive sellback prices created greater than expected demand this spring, which unfortunately led to some payment and customer service delays in our process. However, all customers have been made whole by either receiving payment or having their item returned to them. When we have been unable to return an item to a customer who has requested it, we have issued payment as a goodwill offer. To date in 2014, inquiries to the Better Business Bureau have represented fewer than .1% of all sellback orders on our site, and while a very small percentage, we treat every one of them very seriously and have resolved each in a timely manner.

While a startup that aims to get students more money for their books is an admirable business, the part where you actually get checks into customers’ hands is important. Remember that, aspiring entrepreneurs.

I-Team: College Students Say Local Textbook Company Is A ‘Scam’ [WBZ]

Gulf Coast Health Officials Warning Swimmers After Flesh-Eating Bacteria Kills 10, Hospitalizes 32

Wed, 2014-07-30 23:28


It’s not only brain-eating amoebas swimmers in warm waters have to worry about: Health officials in Florida are warning swimmers in the Gulf Coast about a flesh-eating bacteria in that ocean that so far has killed 10 people and hospitalized 32.

Vibrio vulnificus is related to the bacterium that causes Cholera and usually lives in warm saltwater, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is also found in warm water oysters (which is why you eat fried oysters in New Orleans and not the kind prepared raw, which are from colder waters). It’s called flesh-eating due to the blisters or lesions which can appear if an infected wound is left to fester.

Health officials are warning people not to go swimming or enter the water if they have open wounds or a weakened immune system. It can also make you sick if you eat undercooked or raw food, but it’s especially harmful and potentially lethal when it gets in the bloodstream.

“Since it is naturally found in warm marine waters, people with open wounds can be exposed to Vibrio vulnificus through direct contact with seawater,” the Florida Department of Health said in a statement, according to in Tampa Bay.

The Department says anyone who does jump into the ocean should also wash off before going home.

“It’s definitely something to take serious, but there are a number of other bacteria, that you could run into,” said Tim O’Connor, a spokesperson for the Department says, adding that the state is closing monitoring the Vibrio bacteria.

Last year 41 people were infected and 11 died in Florida, which is in addition to several cases reported by Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi, the Department reports.

Symptoms of Vibrio vulnificus can include gastrointestinal issues, fever, nausea and/or vomiting, chills or shock, while wounds infected with it may be painful, swollen, and red, according to health officials.

Anyone who has been swimming in warm saltwater or has consumed raw or undercooked shellfish should contact their physician immediately.

Dangerous bacteria: Vibro Vulnificus in Florida ocean hospitalizes 32, kills 10 []

Aggressive Recruiting At Military Bases Pays Off: For-Profit Schools Received $1.7B Of Post-9/11 GI Bill Funds

Wed, 2014-07-30 23:10
(Hammerin Man)

(Hammerin Man)

The Post 9/11 GI Bill aims to further the education of United States servicemembers and their immediate family members, but a new government report reveals that most of those funds are going to further increase the bottomline at for-profit colleges.

Iowa senator Tom Harkin released a report [PDF] Wednesday that found for-profit colleges enrolled a record number of veterans and collected $1.7 billion in Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits during the 2012-13 school year – representing nearly a quarter of all GI benefits received during that timeframe.

To illustrate just how much money the for-profit college industry receives from servicemembers and their families, one should consider that the entire GI Bill program cost four years ago was about $1.7 billion.

The report highlights the top 10 recipients of GI Bill funds, and (no surprise here) eight of those schools are from the for-profit sector, including the soon-to-be dismantled Corinthian Colleges Inc.

top 10

All together those eight companies have received $2.9 billion in taxpayer dollars by enrolling veterans in their schools in the past five years, including $975 million during the 2012-13 school year.

To make things even more infuriating, seven of those for-profit college companies are currently under state and/or federal investigation for bogus job-placement stats, grade manipulation, and misleading marketing practices.

“While the Post-9/11 GI Bill was designed to expand educational opportunities for our veterans and servicemembers, I am concerned that it is primarily expanding the coffers of the big corporations running these schools,” Harkin says in a news release about the report. “It is evident that more needs to be done to ensure that veterans and servicemembers, who have sacrificed so much for our nation, are receiving a quality education—and that taxpayer dollars aren’t wasted on shoddy programs.”

Of course it takes money to provide education for thousands of students, but in the case of many for-profit institutions few students actually receive a quality education, yet they pay nearly double what they would at a public university, according to the report.

For-profit institutions boast some of the lowest graduation rates in higher education.

Back in 2012 the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), of which Harkin is chair, filed a report [PDF] that detailed just how troubling the dropout rates at for-profit schools were: 54% of students who began at for-profit institutions during the 2008-2009 school year withdrew by the summer of 2010.

top 10  withdraw

In fact, nine of the schools investigated in the 2012 study had withdrawal rates of at least 60%; the highest rate clocked in at 84%.

And just how many of those companies also showed up in the top 10 recipients of GI Bill funds? Four.

• Corinthian Colleges – operator of Everest University, WyoTech and Heald College – received $63 million during the 2012-13 school year. Yet, the company’s schools had a withdrawal rate of 66.5% during the 2008-2009 term.

• Apollo Group – operator of the University of Phoenix, the College for Financial Planning and the Institute for Professional Development – received $271 million in GI funds during the last school year. During the 2008-2009 term the school recorded a withdrawal rate of 66.4%.

• Career Education Corporation (CEC)- the operators of Sanford Brown and CTU – raked in $78 million last year, but in 2008-2008 the schools had a withdrawal rate of 61.7%.

• Education Management Corporation (EDMC) – the operator of the Art Institute and Argosy – received $163 million in GI funds during the 2012-13 school year, but had a dropout rate of 63.7% during the 2008-2009 term.

While Bridgepoint – the operator of Ashford University and owner of an 84% withdrawal rate – didn’t crack the top 10 in received GI funds for the most recent school year, it did make the top 10 when the entire length of the Post 9/11 GI Bill is considered. From 2009 to 2013, the company received $101 million in Post 9/11 GI Bill funds.

One reason these schools continue to receive millions of dollars in GI Bill funds, while only partially educating veterans and their family members, is the lack of an over-arching rule to determine the quality of programs a school offers.

Such a performance marker has been proposed twice in the form of the “gainful employment” rule. The initial rule was struck down by a court in 2011, but a second attempt was announced earlier this year.

Among the new requirements set out in the proposed regulations, institutions would have to certify that all career-education programs meet applicable accreditation requirements, along with state and/or federal licensure standards.

Programs would be deemed failing if loan payments of typical graduates exceed 30% of discretionary income or 12% of total annual income. Programs would be given a warning if a student’s loan payments amount to 20 to 30% of discretionary income, or 8 to 12% of total annual income. Discretionary income is defined as above 150% of the poverty line and applies to what can be put towards non-necessities.

gainful employement

Although the rule is not finalized or in effect, the Harkin report puts the eight schools receiving the most GI funds to the test. And, once again, not surprisingly, the majority fail.

When measured against the proposed gainful employment standards between 35% and 57% of the programs at Corinthian, EDMC, CEC and ITT Technical Institute would fail to demonstrate that they prepare students for employment in a recognized profession, according to the report.

“Today’s report should be a wake-up call to the federal government. It’s a serious problem that Post-9/11 GI Bill dollars are often inflating these companies’ revenues instead of actually providing a meaningful education to the men and women who earned those benefits,” Connecticut senator Chris Murphy, a member of the HELP Committee, said in a news release.

So, just how does a school with a dropout rate of more than 50% that is currently under federal and state investigation receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds?


Easy: There’s a so-called “loophole” in the 90/10 rule that regulates just how much federal funding for-profit schools can receive.

See, the for-profit school industry is barred from receiving more than 90% of its revenue from the Department of Education federal student aid. The remaining 10% of revenue must come from other sources, such as private investors, wealthy corporations (like Goldman Sachs) and, apparently, the GI Bill.

According to the report, at least four companies – Apollo, EDMC, ITT and Strayer – receive close to or more than half of their reported non-federal financial aid revenue from the Post 9/11 GI Bill benefit funds.

While Harkin’s report is full of doom and gloom there may be one twinkle of hope when it comes to for-profit colleges: fewer consumers are enrolling than in previous years.

However, that glimmer of hope is fleeting, considering record numbers of veterans continue to enroll at the schools.


The report found that enrollment of veterans at for-profit schools increased from 23% in 2009 to 31% in 2012, despite the fact that overall enrollment at the institutions has fallen in recent years.

In fact, fewer veterans are enrolling in traditional public universities; enrollment in that sector dropped from 62% in 2009 to 50% in 2013.

That’s a shame, too, because attending a public university would save taxpayers millions of dollars each year. The average tuition at a public university is just $3,914 versus the $7,972 average tuition cost at for-profit schools.

It’s unclear exactly why more veterans are choosing for-profit colleges over more economically-priced and recognized public schools, but there’s a pretty good chance it has something to do with for-profit’s purported convenience and aggressive recruiting methods.

So, while the GI Bill was approved after D-Day as a way to educate the people who serve our country, the increased use of its benefits at for-profit colleges could be hurting veterans more than helping them.

Harkin concludes that to better ensure the future education of veterans and their families, it is crucial that the federal government establish rules to track how veterans fare in the higher education system and that provisions be made to strengthen the 90/10 rule.

“It is our responsibility as a country to serve those who serve us and to preserve the purpose of the GI Bill – to provide veterans with sound educational opportunities that lead to economic security and advancement,” he writes in the report. “Only then will the Post-9/11 GI Bill prove to be the success that the post-World War II GI Bill has been.”

Sex Manual Returned 54 Years Late After Failing To Save Library Patron’s Marriage

Wed, 2014-07-30 22:55
(via Biblio File)

(via Biblio File)

When you’re turning to a sex manual from the 1920s for help in your failing marriage, well, let’s just say you can’t blame a book if it can’t be revived. But at least the family of a library patron who failed to return a 1926 how-to guide all the way back in 1959 has managed to finally bring it back, albeit 54 years late.

Over at the the Mid-Manhattan Library’s Biblio File blog (h/t to Pix11 News), Managing Librarian Billy Parrott writes of an oddball return from 2013.

A family member who was going through the now deceased library patron’s stuff in Arizona found a library book he’d failed to return more than 50 years ago – Ideal Marriage by Th.H. Van de Velde, M.D., written around 1926, was supposed to be returned in 1959, Parrott explains.

And it seems the “very wordy and very scientific” manual regarding bedroom business didn’t do much to keep the man’s marriage thriving, “a shocked in-law” wrote in a note along with the returned tome.

“We found this book amongst my late brother-in-law’s things,” the note read. “Funny thing is the book didn’t support his efforts with his first (and only) marriage… it failed! No wonder he hid the book! So sorry!!”

Who knows how many other marriages could’ve been helped by that manual, if only it’d been returned after two weeks on time. This is why you should always return books on time, kids! You never know whose marriage you could be ruining.

Better Late Than Never [Biblio File]

Verizon’s Plan To Throttle Heavy LTE Users Is “Deeply Troubling” To FCC’s Wheeler

Wed, 2014-07-30 22:49



Last week, Verizon announced that it was extending its “Network Optimization” policy, which throttles speeds for the top 5% of data users, to include LTE data for the first time. This move didn’t sit well with the few remaining Verizon customers with “unlimited” data plans, nor did it thrill FCC Chair Tom Wheeler (who is apparently in a letter-writing mood this week).

“I am deeply troubled by your July 25, 2014 announcement that Verizon Wireless intends to slow down some customers’ data speeds on your 4G LTE network,” writes the Chair in his letter [PDF] to Verizon Wireless CEO Daniel “fetch me a flaggon of” Mead.

Unlike some data-throttling plans that automatically slow the speeds for those users who gobble up gigabytes because they love watching House of Cards on their phones a little too much, Verizon’s Network Optimization only throttles data when those heavy users are currently connected to a cell site experiencing high demand.

The nation’s largest wireless provider justifies the continued bending of the meaning of “unlimited” by saying that Optimization is needed for “network management.”

The FCC already has a definition of what defines reasonable network management practices, clarifying that they must be “appropriate and tailored to achieving a legitimate network management purpose, taking into account the particular network architecture and technology of the broadband Internet access service.”

In his letter to Mead, Wheeler reminds VZW that “‘Reasonable network management’ concerns the technical management of your network; it is not a loophole designed to enhance your revenue streams.”

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

He gives examples of legitimate network manager purposes, like “ensuring network security and integrity… by addressing traffic that is harmful to the network; addressing traffic that is unwanted by end users… and reducing or mitigating the effects of congestion on the network.”

But, writes Wheeler, “I know of no past Commission statement that would treat as ‘reasonable network management’ a decision to slow traffic to a user who has paid, after all, for ‘unlimited’ service.”

“What is your rationale for treating customers differently based on the type of data plan to which they subscribe, rather than network architecture or technological factors?” he asks Mead, adding that he wants the CEO to provide an explanation for Verizon’s statement that, “If you’re on an unlimited data plan and are concerned that you are in the top 5% of data users, you can switch to a usage-based data plan as customers on usage-based plans are not impacted.”

Verizon’s answers to these questions, and how the FCC responds, could have a huge impact on the wireless industry as Verizon is not the only carrier who throttles data on users with so-called “unlimited” plans.

Target: You Must Pick One Discount With Your Wii U. Only One

Wed, 2014-07-30 21:48

Silly Justin: he thought that because Target advertised two different promotions for the Wii U he bought, he would get to take advantage of both of them. Nope. He learned that he could have $25 off or $10 off, but not both.

This may seem like a minor point, but the advertised promotions were what prompted him to choose Target for his purchase, and to bother ordering the item for in-store pickup. Saving $10 extra was worth the trip. Wasn’t it? Nope. Here’s the item he bought, preserved in screenshot form for perpetuity:


Now, here are those deals that he wanted to take advantage of. Note that Target never says that customers have to choose one one or the other. That’s a common disclaimer for coupons and promotions, and perfectly fair.

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 3.00.28 PM

What happened when he went through with the purchase? He had to make a choice. “Apparently, in Target-speak, this means you get one or the other,” he wrote to Consumerist. We’ve said for years that Target exists in a reality vortex, so that sounds plausible. “So, when I opted to purchase this item and for in-store pickup, I sacrificed $25 for $10. How this makes any sense to anyone, I have absolutely no idea.”

Maybe the more time you spend dealing with Target, things like this start to make sense. That’s the only plausible explanation.

FCC Chair Asks Time Warner Cable Why It Treats Dodgers Fans So Badly

Wed, 2014-07-30 21:42

 Atwater Village Newbie)

For Dodgers fans in L.A. without Time Warner Cable, going to see a game live may the only way to catch a game. (photo: Atwater Village Newbie)

As we’ve discussed in an earlier post, some 70% of people in L.A. are currently unable to watch the L.A. Dodgers because SportsNet L.A., a station jointly owned by the first-place team and the bottom-the-barrel cable company, won’t let other pay-TV carriers air the channel without paying a premium. While the FCC has generally stayed out of such messes, FCC Chair Tom Wheeler has let TWC know that he’s not exactly happy with the current situation in Los Angeles.

“I am writing to express my strong concern about how your actions appear to have created the
inability of consumers in the Los Angeles area to watch televised games of the Los Angeles
Dodgers,” explains Wheeler in a letter [PDF] to TWC’s CEO-for-now Rob Marcus.

See, TWC wants other pay-TV carriers to a $4-5 month per customer to SportsNet L.A., and for the channel to be carried on the most popular tiers of service.

Some companies, like DirecTV have said they are willing to pay that fee — nearly as much as pay-TV operations ante up each month for cable’s most expensive network, ESPN — but that they would only do so if they could sell it as an add-on premium channel or as part of a sports package.

TWC recently said it is willing to enter into arbitration to settle these disputes, news that FCC Chair Wheeler finds encouraging.

But, writes Wheeler, “I am troubled by the negative impact that your apparent actions are having on consumers and the overall video marketplace.”

As such, he says the FCC will monitor the dispute. His office is also requesting that TWC provide it with an explanation of the proposed arbitration process, along with info on “how that process could bring relief to consumers expeditiously, and what other steps TWC will take to resolve this matter if arbitration is not successful.”

Since TWC isn’t currently making SportsNet L.A. available to satellite companies at an agreeable price, and since most consumers have only one choice for terrestrial cable TV service, the only option for Dodgers fans is to pay for an online package like MLB.TV, but even those games are blacked out during the live broadcast and only available for online viewing starting 90 minutes after each game’s conclusion.

(That is unless you use a DNS-spoofing service, high-speed proxy, or VPN to get around MLB.TV’s blackouts… just saying.)

Wheeler has requested that TWC turn over unredacted copies of certain documents within 10 days, including, “Any contract or agreement between TWC… and SportsNet LA…. providing TWC with rights to SportsNet LA;” “Any contract or agreement governing TWC’s… carriage of SportsNet LA, including any schedules or amendments to the contract or agreement, or any term sheet summarizing the terms and conditions under which TWC currently carries SportsNet LA;” and any documents showing which terms TWC has proposed to other carriers in the area, and what those carriers have proposed in return.

“I continue to have the hope that this dispute can be resolved in the marketplace,” concludes Wheeler. “Nevertheless, given the breadth and protracted nature of this dispute, it is appropriate that we begin to assemble the facts and build a record. Inaction is no longer acceptable.”

Leaving Your Child In A Hot Car: “If You Think It Cannot Happen To You, You’re Wrong”

Wed, 2014-07-30 21:37

hotcarCRBy this point in the summer, we’ve written more than a few times — unfortunately — about children who have died after being left in closed cars on hot days. While some cases point to parents deliberately leaving their children behind, the reason we keep writing about the dangers of doing so is because the reality is that it can happen to anyone.

We’re not alone — our esteemed colleagues at Consumer Reports are working hard to inform parents and raise awareness about the problem. With reporting that 17 children have died as a result of being left in hot cars this year already, as of mid-July, it’s an issue that can’t be highlighted enough.

Along with Consumers Union, the public policy arm of Consumer Reports, we believe that research is needed to come up with new ways to prevent hot car deaths, possibly through technology that could be used by car manufacturers and/or the makers of car seats. If there’s an annoying beep that won’t shut up when you don’t have your seat belt on, why not a shrill alarm to ensure you don’t leave your child to swelter?

If you want to make your voice heard, you can sign a White House petition by to stop child deaths in hot cars. The petition seeks action from the Obama administration to make such innovations possible, by authorizing the U.S. Department of Transportation to provide financing for research and development of technology to alert drivers.

In the meantime, if you think you’re the best parent that has ever existed and would never, ever be able to forget your child, or that only bad parents with bad intentions would do something like that, well, you’re wrong. Watch the video below, because if you don’t believe us, maybe you’ll believe some of the families who have had experienced the tragedy of forgetfulness themselves.

EA To Offer $5 Monthly All-You-Can-Play Old Game Buffet For Xbox One Owners

Wed, 2014-07-30 20:45
(Of Corgis & Cocktails)

(Of Corgis & Cocktails)

Disc-based video games aren’t doomed yet; there are many years left to go before their seemingly-inevitable demise finally comes. One big game publisher, though, is clearly already scrounging for the nails they eventually hope to put into the lid of that particular coffin. EA this week announced a new online subscription service giving players unlimited access to a whole “vault” of games for as long as they keep paying the monthly fee. Is it a great idea for consumers or a blatant cash-grab from EA? In reality, probably a little bit of both.

The program is called EA Access, and it’ll run players about $5 per month. For now, EA is starting small. The service is in limited beta and only has four games available: Battlefield 4, Madden NFL 25, FIFA 14, and Peggle 2. But the hook is that players who choose to subscribe not only get access to the vault games, but also get small discounts on and early access to new, big-budget, blockbuster games when they come out.

EA Access is also exclusive to Xbox One owners — but that’s not necessarily because of a specific preferential deal with Microsoft. Sony considered, but ultimately rejected, allowing EA Access on the PlayStation 4. A Sony representative told Game Informer that, “We don’t think asking our fans to pay an additional $5 a month for this EA-specific program represents good value to the PlayStation gamer,” who is of course ideally already paying annually for Sony’s not entirely dissimilar game-vault-access service, PlayStation Plus.

The idea of subscription access opening up a massive on-demand archive isn’t new, although it’s less well-explored in gaming than in other media. After all, an HBO subscription doesn’t just get you the newest season of Game of Thrones; it also gives you access to an extensive on-demand catalog of older shows like The Sopranos and The Wire, along with a whole bunch of movies they have the rights to. And that’s pretty similar to what EA is doing here.

So whether EA Access is a good deal or a bad deal depends on what you play and how often. It’s a bet, of sorts. Sometimes you win, and sometimes the house does.

For example, Peggle 2, one of the four pilot games being offered on the service, is $11.99 on Xbox Marketplace. After three months of paying $4.99 for EA Access, you’re losing the bet and EA is keeping your extra money. On the other hand, Battlefield 4 for Xbox One is still about $30, as is Madden 25, and FIFA 14 remains listed at its $60 launch price. If you did regularly play all four of those titles through EA Access, it would take over two years for the monthly subscription fee to exceed the price of buying the games outright. In that case, you win the bet.

The concept of EA Access is both like and unlike the models we’ve already adopted for other media. Take Netflix, for example. We all know that you can go buy a Blu-ray of a movie that’s also on Netflix. When you do, you’ve spent $20 on something you already had access to — but you get to keep it if you stop subscribing. On the other hand, imagine if Netflix delivered its original series independently of its streaming service. Then you could just buy Orange Is The New Black and House Of Cards for $60 per season as soon as they came out. Or, if you paid them your $8.99 monthly for access to Netflix’s entire back catalog of film and TV, then you could get season 3 of Orange Is The New Black added to your account for $50 instead.

But EA’s new plan is like its peers in other media in one key way: it’s rent-to-own content, without ever getting to the whole “own” part.

And games are far from alone. Once upon a time, consumers purchased a book or a tape or a CD or a video game cartridge, and then the consumer owned that thing to use as often as she wanted or to resell when she was done with it. Now, though, we’re transitioning into an era where we don’t own copies of our media but instead, mainly rent access to it. You own access to your Kindle books at Amazon’s whim, or to your iTunes library at Apple’s. If a PC gamer’s Steam (or EA Origin) account is cancelled, she can’t play any games she has registered through those services anymore. Likewise, if a player loses his XBox Live account, his access to most of his games is severely curtailed.

EA’s new plan isn’t just about one game publisher trying to keep getting a long-tail revenue stream out of older or less lucrative titles. It’s about an industry trying to find its footing in a rapidly changing world. We’re not there yet (and won’t be without some upgrades to our broadband infrastructure, for starters), but an all-download, all-streaming, disc-free future for video games is clearly not too far over the horizon.

EA Access in and of itself isn’t actually a bad deal for many consumers in the current landscape, but it is yet another step on the path to rental-only access to all media. That’s a big change for consumers, and one with the potential for a whole bunch of pitfalls.

Restaurant: Kids Can Eat Here If They Can Sit Quietly Without Special Seating Or A Stroller

Wed, 2014-07-30 20:44


Restaurants that have tried to tell parents in the past that children or babies aren’t welcome inside have faced backlash for coming out and saying so in the past, but one restaurant has instead decided to just make it really difficult for anyone with a small child or infant to eat there.

Basically, you can bring your kids to this Monterey, Calif. restaurant, but it won’t provide high chairs or booster seats or allow strollers, reports

Oh, and noisy, crying kids aren’t allowed in the dining room, per a sign posted at the eatery reading:


Children crying or making loud noises are a distraction to other diners, and as such are not allowed in the dining room.

So if you happen to have a young, perfectly-behaved, silent child who can sit on her own and doesn’t need a stroller to get where you’re going, you’re fine, and you should probably alert the media because your kid must be an alien. Or an adult.

Otherwise, it’s a no-go, says the owner. He adds that despite criticism from some offended parents, he’s keeping the rules as is. Don’t like it? Not his problem — there are plenty of other places to eat, he says.

“If a place has the rules, that’s what the rules are,” the owner told the news station. “You go in and abide by the rules or you find a place more suitable for you.”

And despite any angry parents, he says business is doing just fine without catering to kids.

“Well, let’s put it this way — I haven’t had a down year for over 20 years and our business continues to grow,” he explains.

Popular restaurant on Monterey wharf posts no loud kids sign []

Capital One Sends Customer A New Orange-Juiceless Keyboard So He Can Pay His Bill

Wed, 2014-07-30 19:53

(MaskedKoala on imgur)

(MaskedKoala on imgur)

We are living in a digital world, which means many things we used to do offline, like paying bills, are now handled online. But what’s a good customer to do when he can’t pay his credit card bill due to a keyboard infiltrated with orange juice? Speak up — and maybe get a free keyboard out of it.

One Capital One customer wrote on Reddit that after complaining to Capital One about not being able to pay a bill online, due to extenuating circumstances involving an unfortunate orange juice incident, a surprise came in the mail.

“I complained to Capital One that I couldn’t pay my bill because I couldn’t copy and paste a 2 into the account number, and my 2 key didn’t work because of an orange juice incident,” he wrote, “So they sent me a keyboard.”

Wait, what? Yes, a new keyboard, and a very nice card signed by two Capital One employees who seem to enjoy playing Santa.

And because we here at Consumerist always have our skepticism hats on when it comes to big companies doing anything nice, we reached out to Capital One to make sure this really happened.

“It’s legit,” a Capital One spokeswoman tells Consumerist.

“We encourage our agents to look for and act on opportunities to practice random acts of kindness for our customers,” she writes. “The program enables our agents to follow up on customer conversations in unexpected, personalized and creative ways.”

Virgin Mobile Debuts $12 Single-App Data Plans

Wed, 2014-07-30 19:15



Do you love having access to social media on your smartphone, but don’t bother to venture outside of Facebook? Sprint’s Virgin Mobile brand has introduced the perfect smartphone plan for both 74-year-olds and 14-year-olds: cheap mobile Internet access that limits you to a single service.

The new plan, Virgin Mobile Custom, will be available at Walmart beginning next Saturday, August 9. The plan lets each user control which services they have from their own phones, and also allows the person who is paying the bill control which services each phone can access from an app. The person controlling others’ services doesn’t have to be a Virgin Mobile customer.

Each line on the Custom plan starts at $7, which allows for 20 voice minutes and 20 text messages. From there, custom plans are available, all the way up to unlimited voice and text for $35.

It’s the data plan that caught our attention, though. Right now, customers have a choice of four apps, unlimited access to which will cost around $12 each. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest are the most popular social media services, according to Virgin Mobile USA parent company Sprint. The company may expand access to other apps if the custom plans take off.

If this catches on, it could only lead to more people commenting on Facebook headlines without bothering to click through to the original story. For that reason, we disapprove.

Virgin Mobile USA Launches Virgin Mobile Custom – Fully Customizable Cell Phone Plan with Rich Parental Controls [Press Release]

Police Arrest Man Who Left Hospital Untreated Because You Can’t Wander Around With Tuberculosis

Wed, 2014-07-30 18:43

( on Flickr)

While you might think that your health is your own gosh darn business — and it is, to some extent — when you’re wandering out there in the world with an infectious and potentially fatal disease, your health is everyone’s business. So when one man refused treatment and left the hospital, he ended up with police on his trail.

The man was wanted by Stockton, Calif. police for failing to comply with health officers to treat his tuberculosis, reports USA Today, after he was diagnosed in March at a hospital with the disease.

Authorities say the man, a transient, refused medical orders for treatment and left the hospital. Hospital staff reportedly told him to stay in a motel room nearby where a health worker could bring him medication and ensure he’d take it.

Instead, he skipped out, prompting a hunt by authorities who were worried about the health risk he posed to the public.

“If he doesn’t want the treatment, we can’t force the treatment but we can force that he’s not with other people to infect them,” the county public health director said at the time.

Police caught up with him this week and charged him with one misdemeanor count of refusing to comply with a tuberculosis order. He could face up to a year in prison as a result.

Police nab TB patient who skipped treatment, vanished [USA Today]

Uber Passenger Complains Of Spider Bite In “Filthy” Car

Wed, 2014-07-30 18:34

uberxdropOn Friday, the state of North Carolina received its first complaint against the app-based ride-sharing service Uber. The customer’s complaint? His driver arrived late in a “filthy” vehicle, and there were spiders inside the car. Which bit him. The spiders, that is, not the car. As far as we know.

Of course, when you’re riding in a vehicle belonging to a random civilian independent contractor and not a professional limo service, things can go awry. Uber has been known to drive around with kittens in its cars as a publicity stunt, but delivery of spiders to cuddle is not yet a service that they provide.

Uber was rather gracious in its response to the complaint, but took the opportunity to point out that this is why they collect ratings, and that it only takes a few complaints about the quality and cleanliness of a vehicle to shut a driver down.

“We take this feedback seriously – if we receive vehicle quality reports, we will deactivate the driver partner until they are able to prove that the issues have been rectified,” an Uber spokesperson told Triangle Business Journals.

Complaint: spider bit rider in ‘filthy’ N.C. Uber vehicle [Business Journals]

Flower Power: FTD Buys ProFlowers, Shari’s Berries And More For $430M

Wed, 2014-07-30 18:04

FTDMaybe someone should send FTD a bouquet of flowers to celebrate its recent expansion. Then again, the company probably has enough flowers now that it’s agreed to buy Provide Commerce, the company behind ProFlowers.

The proposed $430 million deal includes Provide Commerce’s e-commerce brands ProFlowers, Shari’s Berries and Personal Creations, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The combined company is expected to bring in an annual revenue of more than $1 billion, a stream that officials say will open the door for additional consumer offerings.

Officials with Illinois-based FTD say in a news release that the proposed merger allows the company to offer consumers “innovative and expansive” floral and gift products and “an enhanced shopping experience.”

No word on whether or not increased flower power of the company means arrangements will actually show up on customers’ doorsteps looking like they do in the company’s ads.

FTD To Buy Provide Commerce for $430 Million [The Wall Street Journal]

Airline: Sorry A Flight Attendant Told PassengersTo Flush Their Drugs Before The Plane Lands

Wed, 2014-07-30 16:56

(John Kittelsrud)

(John Kittelsrud)

Australian discount airline Jetstar is busy apologizing after a crew member got on the PA system and told passengers they might want to flush any drugs they had on them before the plane landed in Sydney. This, because many travelers had just been at a music festival, and you know how kids are these days at those music festivals (they do drugs sometimes).

Passengers on the flight out of the Gold Coast included people who’d attended the Splendour in the Grass music festival, reports the Sydney Morning Herald, prompting one flight attendant to issue a very special public service announcement.

The attendant reportedly got on the PA and told passengers that sniffer dogs and quarantine officials would be at the terminal when they arrived, so people should flush “anything you shouldn’t have” down the toilet.

And that made a whole bunch of people get up and bum rush the bathrooms, which is never fun on a crowded plane.

Jetstar is now apologizing, saying the crew member was complying with a policy that airlines make quarantine announcements, but that the words were “poorly chosen and plainly at odds with the professional standards we’d expect from our team.”

“We’re addressing the matter with the cabin crew member involved,” the airline added.

Meanwhile, some travelers think that was a pretty considerate thing to do, writing on Jetstar Australia’s Facebook with words of support.

“Thank you for caring for your Splendour passengers. Very thoughtful and kind thing to do,” one wrote. “Hope the staff member will be promoted.”

Maybe next time the announcement should be made at the beginning of the flight so there’s more time for people to do any necessary flushing. Or perhaps just don’t bring drugs on a plane.

Jetstar apologises after crew member advises passengers to flush their drugs [Sydney Morning Herald]

Radio Shack May Run Out Of Cash, Fail To Turn Itself Around

Wed, 2014-07-30 16:55

radioshackbghuff copy


Back in June, we learned that part of Radio Shack’s turnaround plan is to start in-store repair counters for mobile devices as a bid for relevance and an attempt to offer at least one thing that no other retailer does. However, the stock-rating company Moody’s doesn’t think that Radio Shack has enough cash to make it through 2015, let alone turn itself around by then.

The company has $62 million in cash on hand right now. That might seem like a lot, especially compared to the eight bucks in your wallet, but Moody’s also points out that the company had an $81 million operating loss in the second quarter of 2014.

Investors don’t have much hope, and the chain’s stock has reached such a low price that the New York Stock Exchange has threatened to kick it out of the exchange. The company has 6 months to turn its performance for investors around and get the stock price above $1, or it will be kicked off. Of course, the note from Moody’s didn’t help, and the stock is down to 68 cents as of this morning.

Moody’s doesn’t expect a sudden influx of customers to pour into the Shack anytime soon, and made its predictions based on the assumption that sales will keep falling, and the chain will need to use its cash reserves to keep going. How much have sales fallen? While the Shack has closed some stores, the key number is same-store sales. They were down 15% in May.

RadioShack May Not Have Time or Cash For a Turnaround, Moody’s Says [Wall Street Journal]
RadioShack is running out of cash: Moody’s [CNBC]