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The Consumerist

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

Fri, 2014-08-29 16:30

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

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

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

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

Google Also Plans To Hasten Robot Apocalypse With Delivery Drones

Fri, 2014-08-29 15:39

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thu, 2014-08-28 23:58

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

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

fullkiosk

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

150200

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

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

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

Thu, 2014-08-28 23:13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thu, 2014-08-28 22:55

(darrenleno)

(darrenleno)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hershey Joins Elite Club Of Companies With Poo-Like Logos

Thu, 2014-08-28 22:35

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

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

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

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

Santander-Logo-1024x250

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

Thu, 2014-08-28 22:20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Favorite Horror Icons — Now In IKEA Form

Thu, 2014-08-28 22:06

vorheesWhile it might seem like Jason Voorhees — the silent, masked killer from the Friday the 13th movies — has a knack for being everywhere at once, you can’t have a mass-produced Jason in every home in America at a reasonable price. Yet.

Since Hollywood can constantly “re-imagine” horror franchises for new audiences, Illustrator Ed Harrington has reworked a number of horror film icons, including the beloved Jason, into IKEA product… complete with faux-Swede names.

For example, to make your own Vörhees, you’ll need one drowned person, a machete, a hockey mask, and an allan wrench.

For the Cenöbite (Pinhead variety) from the Hellraiser films, you’ll need one human, a puzzle box, one hammer, one scalpel, 50 nails, and an allan wrench.
cenobyte

Then there’s the Brundlefly, which apparently already sounds vaguely IKEA-ish enough. For this, you’ll require one human, one fly, two teleportation pods, and — what else? — an allan wrench.
brundlefly

Both the Vörhees and the Brundlefly advise against involving any sexual activities with these terrifying IKEA products. With the Vörhees, it could be fatal; with the Brundlefly, it could lead to horrifying dreams and an unwatchably bad sequel.

Speaking of unwatchably bad, we have — we think wisely — omitted Harrington’s IKEA diagram for a Hümån Centipedë (hint: it also involves an allan wrench), but you can see it and others on Harrington’s Tumblr or Instagram pages.

[via AVclub]

Banquet Frozen Dinners Court The Old-Fogey Demographic

Thu, 2014-08-28 22:06

mealoffortuneFor most consumer items, you want to attract customers who are as young as possible in order to win their brand loyalty for life. In the frozen dinner business, that’s become a problem, because people under age 40 or so simply aren’t interested in frozen meals, no matter how fresh and healthy the packages proclaim them to be.

ConAgra, for one, is solving this problem for now by marketing their Healthy Choice and Banquet meal brands to older Americans. Specifically, they’re targeting the audience of the game show “Wheel of Fortune,” which skews heavily toward people who are your parents’ age.

Sure, seniors are old, but they aren’t dead, and many of them aren’t keen on cooking a full meal for only one or two people. That makes older Americans a perfect target market for frozen dinners, and that’s ConAgra’s strategy. Convincing the kale-munching millennial masses that frozen dinners are a valid food choice can come later.

The promotion is for their bargain-priced Banquet brand, which consists of classic American dishes that appeal to older diners. For the promotion, called Meal of Fortune, codes will come in Banquet frozen dinners. During the broadcast of “Wheel of Fortune,” the show will draw random codes to win fabulous cash and prizes without even spinning a wheel.

More people cooking meals at home, while it might warm the hearts of personal finance bloggers and lead to healthier eating, is bad for the frozen food industry as a whole: they just haven’t captured the attention and freezers of Americans between 20 and 40 yet.

How Do You Sell Frozen Meals to Older Folks? Spin the Wheel… [Wall Street Journal]

People Get Angry When Starbucks Questions Their Age, Deletes Their Gold Accounts

Thu, 2014-08-28 21:07

(Danny Ngan)

(Danny Ngan)

There are two things that I wouldn’t want to deal with in the morning: explaining that I am not a tween and having someone stand between me and that piping hot cup of joe. For thousands of Starbucks users my morning nightmare scenario came true earlier this week.

GeekWire reports that Starbucks canceled the Gold accounts and deactivated associated rewards cars of thousands of customers over issues with its compliance policy; namely the fact that the company didn’t have proof the account holders were over the age of 13.

A spokesperson for Starbucks says closing an account is “normal course of doing business” if it doesn’t comply with the company’s terms of use.

Starbucks employs a number of rules to protect itself from fraud and deceptive practices, and that apparently includes making sure Gold account users are over the age of 13.

Many reward members woke up with the following not-quite-welcome email on Wednesday:

“Recently, we have discovered that a number of account holders had their age listed as being under 13 years old. If this does not apply to you, please know that you can create a new registration account in compliance with our Terms of Use by registering your new card.”

Although there is no doubt that Starbucks asks for members’ birthday – how else do you get a free drink on your day of birth? – the reporter for GeekWire failed to find an area where the company actually asks for a specific year and not just the month and date.

While it is certainly a frustrating experience to have your account deleted, it’s another thing to possibly lose all those points and rewards you’ve racked up from daily coffee jaunts.

Customers reach Gold status by spending a certain amount at Starbucks every year, they then earn benefits such as discounts on drinks and food.

The Starbucks spokesperson tells GeekWire that customers whose accounts were deleted can reach out to customer service to have their premier status reinstated. Additionally, customers will have their account balance refunded in the form of an e-gift card.

Still, that didn’t do much to appease the those who had to deal with customer service before getting their coffee.

One affected customer told GeekWire that he spent nearly 45 minutes on hold with Starbucks customer service before the issue was fixed.

“Now that’s its all said and done I’m really annoyed,” he says. “The whole thing was handled poorly and their age excuse doesn’t add up since my birthday was on file. I don’t know what happened, but I don’t believe the story I was told.”

Starbucks cancels thousands of Gold accounts over issues with birthday information [GeekWire]

Food Industry Initiative Highlights How Little The FDA Knows About What’s In Our Food

Thu, 2014-08-28 20:54

(Jeanette E. Spaghetti)

(Jeanette E. Spaghetti)

For decades, the food industry has been able to use ingredients that are “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) without approval from the FDA. When first used in the ’50s, this was intended to apply to ingredients, like vegetable oils and vinegars, where an additive’s safety is common knowledge, but in 1997, a backlogged FDA allowed food companies to merely submit their GRAS findings instead of the supporting data, creating a loophole the food industry has exploited to include a vast number of chemical ingredients that manufacturers claim are safe but which don’t go through a rigorous approval process. Feeling pressure from the public to pull back the veil on the GRAS process and its ingredients, the food industry announced a transparency initiative yesterday that may be a step in the right direction, but highlights just how little the FDA seems to care about the “F” part of its name.

Yesterday, the Grocery Manufacturer Association, a trade group representing hundreds of the nation’s biggest food and beverage makers, announced a five-part initiative aimed at removing some of the mystery from the GRAS process and ingredients.

Among the key items in that plan is a new GMA-sponsored database that will list information on all GRAS assessments conducted by the food industry. So now, after 17 years of letting the food industry pretty much do what it wanted so long as it promised to be safe, the FDA will be able to see what these companies have been up to.

“FDA has become too reliant on the corporations’ own safety evaluations,” says Laura MacCleery, Chief Regulatory Affairs Attorney at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who adds that companies rarely follow existing FDA guidance on how to conduct studies to determine if an ingredient is safe. “A voluntary submission fails to fix the core problem, which is that there are no appropriately stringent scientific standards for companies’ private safety determinations on food additives, and insufficient review and oversight of those evaluations.”

Tom Neltner of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has also been critical of the GRAS process tells Politico that the GMA initiative, is “certainly a step forward,” but adds that the NRDC thinks the FDA should be responsible for reviewing or signing off on new food additives, rather than continuing to allow the industry to decide for itself.

“That this is seen as a step forward neatly illustrates the dysfunction built into the current system,” says MacCleery. “It is outrageous that FDA doesn’t already have the identity, much less the safety data, of all substances added to the nation’s food supply.”

What remains to be seen is how transparent this database will be to consumers, who should have the ability to judge the science for themselves. The GMA announcement said it will be made available to the FDA and to stakeholders, which implies that only certain parties will have easy access to the GRAS information.

Louisiana Parish Warns Residents After Brain-Eating Amoeba Found In The Water Supply

Thu, 2014-08-28 20:25
(Jaubele1)

(Jaubele1)

For the second time in less than a year, a brain-eating amoeba has shown up in the water supply of another Louisiana parish. Last September health officials warned of the deadly bacteria in one area’s drinking water, and now systems in another parish have tested positive for the Naegleria fowleri amoeba.

The state’s Department of Health and Hospitals said the amoeba was found in samples taken from St. John the Baptist Parish’s Water District No. 1, which serves 12,577 people, reports the The Times-Picayune.

Thus far no one has reported an illness linked to the amoeba, but officials are nonetheless warning residents with advice on how to prevent getting water up their noses. Your nasal passages are basically a highway straight to your brain.

“Families can take simple steps to protect themselves from exposure to this amoeba, the most important being to avoid allowing water to go up your nose while bathing or swimming in a pool,” a state health officer said. “It is important to remember that the water is safe to drink; the amoeba cannot infect an individual through the stomach.”

The public school system is being extra careful, however, and turning off all water fountains at the schools and taping them up.

The parish now has 60 days to perform a free chlorine burn on the water system to disinfect it.

“The parish Utilities Department is taking immediate actions to fully chlorinate the water system and eliminate the threat,” the parish president said. “As more information becomes available, it will be released to the public.”

Parish water system, state health agency reports [The Times-Picayune]

What Happens When You Try To Create The Ultimate Oreo?

Thu, 2014-08-28 20:14

oreochartWhile Nabisco itself has been working hard to create strange permutations of the brand, outside researchers are also pushing the boundaries of Oreo Science. First came the high school students who calculated that Double Stuf Oreos only contain 1.86 times as much Stuf as regular Oreos. Now the frosting scientists at the Onion’s A.V. Club have conducted their own experiment, wondering: what happens if you try to multiply the filling in one cookie times ten?

What if you do it with a Double Stuf Oreo? Mega Stuf? Oreo Mini? The team of frosting scientists carefully excised the filling from ten of each Oreo variety, which is more difficult than it sounds. They stacked them up, measured them for no particular reason, and then forced each other into a taste test.

Their ultimate conclusion from their experiment was that it tasted terrible, and you really shouldn’t try to stack ten Oreo fillings inside a single cookie. The net effect is that of taking a huge bite of cake frosting, without the crunchy chocolate wafers that mitigate the sugar glob of even a Mega Stuf Oreo.

frosting

This is probably why the stuff-your-own-Oreo kits weren’t a hit, even if the concept sounded fun. There is a reason why there’s a certain proportion of frosting to cookie wafer. If you want frosting globs, well, go buy some frosting in a can.

Like A Bad Date, Dollar General Just Won’t Give Up Its Dream Of Happily Ever After With Family Dollar

Thu, 2014-08-28 19:45

(frankieleon)

(frankieleon)

If at first you don’t succeed try, try again. That’s the stance Dollar General appears to be taking as it continues to court a deal to acquire Family Dollar after being spurned by the smaller dollar store chain last week.

Like a bad Match.com date, Dollar General executives say they aren’t backing down in their attempt to persuade Family Dollar to love them and accept a $9.7 billion acquisition deal, The Charlotte Observer reports.

“In regards to our proposal to acquire Family Dollar, we remain firmly committed to the acquisition,” Dollar General CEO Rick Dreiling says in a statement.

That commitment was tested last week when North Carolina-based Family Dollar chose to stick with its earlier $8.5 billion merger deal with Dollar Tree.

Like most companies that feel the sting of rejection, Dreiling goes on to boast about how good Family Dollar could have it if only the company would ditch Dollar Tree and move-in with Dollar General.

“The financial benefits of our offer to Family Dollar shareholders are indisputable, and the proposed combination would unlock tremendous value for Dollar General shareholders,” he says.

That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t settle Family Dollar’s concerns that any kind of marriage between the two companies would be marred by antitrust issues.

Ah, but Dollar General is willing to give up 700 of the combined company’s 20,000 stores to win over antitrust regulators.

“We continue to believe the potential antitrust issues are manageable and that our transaction as proposed is both superior and achievable,” Dreiling said.

Officials with Dollar General didn’t disclose how they plan to officially woo Family Dollar. Though, I would enjoy coverage of Dreiling standing outside Family Dollar HQ blasting “In Your Eyes” from a raised boombox, a la Say Anything.

Alas, analysts tell the Observer it’s more likely that the company could increase its offer or go straight to shareholders and solicit votes to block the current Dollar Tree deal.

The dollar store wars began back in July when Chesapeake, VA-based Dollar Tree announced it has struck a deal to purchase Family Dollar. Not one to feel left out, Dollar General entered the race with an unsolicited bid just a week later.

Dollar General: We’re not giving up on Family Dollar deal [The Charlotte Observer]

Russia’s Biggest Bank Offering Loaner Cats To Entice Mortgage Borrowers

Thu, 2014-08-28 19:38

Just some of the cats available for a 2-hour visit to qualified borrowers' new homes.

Just some of the cats available for a 2-hour visit to qualified borrowers’ new homes.

Because it’s apparently good luck in Russia to let a cat stroll through your new home before you move your stuff in, and because mortgage interest rates have skyrocketed in the country, some employees at the nation’s largest bank are offering to lend out their feline friends to a handful of mortgage borrowers in the coming months.

BusinessWeek reports that Sberbank, whose majority owner is the Central Bank of Russia, recently launched the offer, which will deliver 30 loaner cats to qualifying mortgage borrowers until mid-December.

A rep for the bank tells BusinessWeek that the cats — borrowers get to choose from an array of 10, including a hairless — are being lent out by individuals, including some Sberbank employees, “who agreed to let their pets participate in special projects.”

The new homeowner must take out a mortgage worth at least $116,000 during the promotion period and they only get to let the cat do its thing for two hours before it is returned to its owner.

Meanwhile, a mortgage from Sberbank will currently burden you with a 12.5% interest rate, so you might need all the lucky cats you can get your hands on.

Here’s Sberbank’s promo video for the offer:

Guy Saves Hundreds By Displaying Homemade “Ginger Discount” Card At Local Businesses

Thu, 2014-08-28 19:16
(girlpirate)

(girlpirate)

As if we need further proof that redheaded folks are smooth, savvy and otherwise generally awesome, one flame-haired fellow in Scotland is taking advantage of his coif’s color by flashing a homemade “Ginger Discount Card” to save on tabs at the bar, restaurants and anywhere he can buy stuff.

It all started when his body made the card for his 30th birthday as a joke, reports The Scotsman, laminating an orange piece of paper bearing his photo and the words “Ginger Discount Card.”

Figuring he might as well roll with the gag, he started trying to use it at local retailers, and was surprised to find many would slash his bill.

“People have always given me stick for my hair colour but now I’m going out three nights a week and saving a fortune. The joke’s on them,” the man said, estimating that he’s saved hundreds of pounds by using it.

“I ask if they do the ginger ­discount and when they look confused, I slide across my card.”

And a lot of the time, it works.

“The first time I saw the ginger discount card, I thought it was brilliant and gave him the same discount that we would for students just because it looked so real,” one local barman admitted.

Boom. It’s that easy to be that smooth, folks. If you’re a ginger with the right card, of course.

Scot cashes in with fake ‘ginger discount card’ [The Scotsman]

FCC Fines T-Mobile $819,000 For Selling Phones That Don’t Work With Hearing Aids

Thu, 2014-08-28 18:58

(las - initially) This woman could be a crazy ant target.

(las – initially)

Let’s point out something very, very obvious: within reason, everyone should have the right to communicate over the phone, even if they live with some form of hearing loss. For that reason, the Federal Communications Commission requires mobile phone carriers to sell a certain number of handsets that work with hearing aids. The agency says that T-Mobile failed to do this, and has fined them $819,000.

How short did T-Mobile fall? This fine concerns the period from 2009 to 2010, because governments act in glacial time. There are two different ratings a phone can have, M-ratings and T-ratings; some phones have satisfactory ratings on both scales, and the main difference is that T-ratings are for hearing aids with telecoils, a device that helps wearers receive sound input from various electronic sources. Like phones.

The FCC requires carriers to sell a certain number of phones rated M3 or T3. (The scale goes up to M4 and T4.) During that period, T-Mobile was short 38 M3-rated devices and 14 T3-rated devices. In 2010, half of the phones a carrier offered or ten models (whichever is less) had to be rated M3, and the lesser of a third of phones offered or seven had to be rated T3.

The government and T-Mobile bickered over the amount, with T-Mobile arguing that the fine should be lessened for reasons ranging from problems getting compatible phones to market and their past as a “leader in the disabilities access arena.” The FCC ultimately denied their request, and imposed the fine yesterday.

Time Warner Cable Fined $1.1 Million For Failing To Report Outages

Thu, 2014-08-28 18:56

(jag9889)

(jag9889)

No, this isn’t about the huge nationwide outage that hit millions of Time Warner Cable customers earlier this week, but the timing couldn’t be more perfect. The FCC has announced that TWC must pay a $1.1 million penalty for failing to report a number of network outages to the Commission.

Earlier this week, the FCC revealed [PDF] that it was closing its investigation into TWC’s failure to meet its legal obligation to report outages of its VoIP phone service.

The rules require VoIP providers to report any outage that last at least 30 minutes if it potentially affects at least 900,000 user minutes of phone time and results in a complete loss of service; potentially affects any special offices and facilities (major military installations, key government facilities, nuclear power plants, and certain airports); or potentially affects a 911 special facility.

The company must also report these outages to the FCC within 24 hours of discovering one, followed by a Final Report within 30 days.

In September 2013, the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB) notified TWC that it had failed to file a required Final Report in connection with one particular VoIP network outage. Further investigation by PSHSB revealed that TWC had failed to file a “substantial number” of Initial or Final reports for reportable outages.

TWC subsequently filed those reports, but only after being told that PSHSB was investigating. The company has admitted its shortcoming in this matter and has agreed to pay the $1.1 million civil penalty, while implementing a three-year compliance plan.

[via DSLreports.com]

The Best Way For Students To Avoid High Fees With Campus Banking Products Is To Barely Use Them

Thu, 2014-08-28 18:53

All around the country, new and returning college students are being handed IDs they can use as debit cards or they’re being told they can have their aid disbursals deposited straight onto a school-branded card. It all seems incredibly convenient, especially for those who have limited experience handling their own finances, but these school-backed banking products are rarely the best available options for students, who could end up being nickel-and-dimed into debt.

A newly released study [PDF] by our colleagues at Consumer Reports examined the terms and average costs of campus banking products offered by nine different financial firms and once again found that these products full of high, varying fees that can quickly deplete financial aid funds.

How To Avoid Going Into Debt With Your Campus Banking Card annual fees

Using a campus banking card may seem convenient, but for students who use the cards everyday the fees quickly add up. (Click to enlarge.)

While we’ve come to associate high fees and little accessibility with campus banking products, it wasn’t all bad news in the CR report. In fact, the investigation found that some students might enjoy relatively low-cost fees; as long as they don’t actually use their cards much.

Consumer Reports determined that students can expect to incur low or no fees only if they use their cards minimally and are able to avoid costly out-of-network ATM fees, overdrafts and transaction fees.

But students who want to actually use their cards are at risk of incurring substantial fees. CR determined that most of the campus accounts would cost heavy users more than $250 per year in ATM charges, overdraft fees and point-of-sale PIN fees.

It’s All About The Fees

Overall, ATM fees for each of the nine banks varied considerably. Some banks offered several free out-of-network ATM visits per month, while others charged as much as $3 per out-of-network ATM visit.

Click to enlarge.

Nearly all of the cards examined by Consumer Reports included a range of high-cost fees. This chart examines monthly fees, ATM fees and the cost of using PIN-debit transactions. (Click to enlarge.)

Students who want to use their cards to make debit purchases should review their options carefully. Two of the accounts – Higher One: OneAccount and Citibank: Student Choices – both charge $0.50 per PIN-debit transaction.

Those smaller fees pale in comparison to the exceedingly high overdraft fees charged by most of the campus banking products examined by CR.

Of the 16 products offered by the nine banks, only two don’t charge overdraft fees – Higher One: OneAccount Edge and Citibank: Student Choice. The rest carry overdraft fees between $25 and $38 per incident.

Click to enlarge.

Overdraft fees were found to be the mostly costly aspect of college banking products. The fees range from $25 to $38 for each incident. (Click to enlarge.)

Now Way Around

While avoiding those fees sounds great in theory, it’s much more difficult in practice. In the case of ATM fees, a Government Accountability Office report earlier this year found that most students lacked the convenient access to in-network ATMs required by the Department of Education.

Back in 2012, one of the nation’s largest providers of student debit cards, Higher One, came under fire because the company did not offer convenient access to in-network ATMs. In some instances students reported having to drive 30 to 40 minutes away from campus before finding an in-network ATM.

Additionally, students who want to actually use their cards are at risk of incurring substantial fees. CR determined that most of the campus accounts would cost heavy users more than $250 per year in ATM charges, overdraft fees and point-of-sale PIN fees.

Not In It For The Right Reasons

In recent years, the financial industry and higher education institutions have become increasingly comfortable bedfellows, but they are often careful not to flaunt that relationship when it comes to marketing their products to students.

That might be because the couple isn’t exactly looking out for students. CR found that the varying fee structure suggest that campus banking market lacks transparency and that schools may not be negotiating contracts that are in the best interest of students; a practice that often exposes students to aggressive marketing tactics and restricted choices for managing their money.

The Buck Stops Here

With at least 11% of U.S. colleges and universities, about 852 schools, party to agreements that provide debit or prepaid card services to students, consumer advocates warn that tighter regulations over the products are necessary.

“The last thing [students] need is unexpected gotcha fees that eat away at the money they are counting on to cover expenses while at school,” Suzanne Martindale, policy counsel for Consumers Union, says in a new release.

In conjunction with the CR report, officials with Consumers Union urged policymakers and regulators on Thursday to adopt a number of reforms to ensure consumer protections reach students.

• To ensure schools keep in mind the best interests of students while negotiating with financial institutions, Congress and the Department of Education should ban revenue-sharing agreements between schools and financial institutions, similar to the restrictions in place for private student loans.

• To prevent aggressive marketing practices, Congress and the Department of Education should require schools to present financial aid disbursement options in a clear and neutral manner, so students can easily set up an electronic fund transfer to an existing account to receive their funds.

• To better protect prepaid cards, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should adopt regulations that provide these accounts with the same consumer protections as traditional checking accounts.

• To ensure students can access their financial aid refunds in a timely manner and at no cost, the Department of Education should clarify what constitutes “convenient” access to free ATMs on or near campus, so that students have meaningful ways to access their financial aid without incurring extra charges.

• The Department of Education should consider developing its own financial aid refund disbursement card to help introduce competition into a highly concentrated market so that students can access their aid quickly and without cost.

• To bring much-needed transparency to the market for campus banking products, the Department of Education should require schools to submit their full campus banking contracts and the accompanying summaries to the Department for collection in a publicly-accessible central database.

• Congress should also require the CFPB to do an annual report analyzing the data on campus banking contracts collected by the Department.

Husband Hunts Down Special Coin For His Wife After She Uses It At Toll Booth

Thu, 2014-08-28 18:24
(KHOU-11)

(KHOU-11)

Finding one coin among all the others filling the coffers of toll booths is kind of like finding a needle in a haystack. Or really, it’s like finding one particular coin out of a bunch of others. But that’s just what one husband did after his wife had to use a coin with sentimental value to pay a toll.

The Texas woman was driving a rental car that day and thus, didn’t have the EZPass she was used to, reports KHOU-11 News. But when it came time to pay the toll, she was told the $10 she handed over was a counterfeit.

In her bag was the only coin she had — a Bicentennial dollar coin that she found in her late mother’s purse. It held a lot of sentimental value for her, but what was she going to do? So she used it to pay the toll.

Her husband then made a bunch of phone calls and got in touch with the manager of the toll plaza, who was able to track down the toll booth operator. That attendant remembered the coin and still had it, as it was the only Bicentennial dollar in the lot from the morning.

The husband explains that he also keeps a coin as a reminder of his deceased father.

“I keep it with me all the time, so I know how much it meant to her to get hers back,” he said.

Woman uses special coin at toll booth, gets it back [KHOU-11]

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