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Facebook’s Next Big Thing: Bringing Back That AOL Chatroom Feeling

Thu, 2014-10-23 19:48

facebook_rooms
A few weeks ago, we all heard that Facebook — the site where your real name and offline social connections are meant to rule supreme — was planning to launch an app that supported anonymous use. Today, Facebook announced their new product for real… and it sounds an awful lot like a phone-focused version of the chat rooms and message boards AOL brought into our living rooms 20 years ago.

The new app is called Rooms, and in a sense, it does exactly what it sounds like, GigaOm reports: users can create chatrooms on a theme and then invite others to participate.

Of course, it’s now 2014, not 1993, and times have changed. Plenty of other discussion forums have sprung up in that time, and Rooms, says GigaOm, takes cues from them, too. Room founders can determine their room’s look, feel, and rules and then invite others to join. And the streams of conversation can include images, sounds, and videos, because nobody wants to live in a world where you can’t answer a question with exactly the right *.gif.

Room links are shared by QR code, because long URLs are a pain in the butt on mobile devices. If someone shares the QR code more widely — say on Twitter or even on Facebook — then a room can attract a wide audience and become a major chattering hub. If the codes are kept private, then your book club can theoretically use the room without any random strangers jumping in.

If that sounds like a phone-focused AOL by way of Reddit, that’s apparently the right idea.

The app is also anonymous in the sense that nothing in it ties to your real (or at least Facebook-real) identity. When you join a room, you enter a username for that room, and that username is tied only to that room. If you want to be “John Smith” in a room with professional contacts, and “Lord Fartface” in a room about bad jokes, that’s up to you.

Anyone who has been on the internet for longer than about three minutes will no doubt guess that the service will rapidly and immediately develop a metric ton of rooms devoted to, shall we say, adult activity. Facebook says all rooms must abide by the Facebook community standards policy, which includes “a strict policy against the sharing of pornographic content.” Somehow, though, that seems like a standard that will be impossible for the company to enforce.

So are mobile chat rooms and message boards the social network that users have been clamoring for? That’s another question entirely. It’s true that there’s definitely a place in the world for discussions that don’t fit on Twitter — too public and too truncated — or on Facebook — where your coworkers and your grandma are. (At least, my coworkers and grandma are.) But whether an updated take on the original online talking tool is indeed the next big wave of the future remains to be seen.

Meet Rooms, Facebook’s semi-anonymous app and first real attempt to fix the broken problem of social [GigaOm]

Red Velvet Oreos Could Be Real, Or Maybe Not

Thu, 2014-10-23 19:36

red velvet oreoRed velvet, a type of cake flavored with chocolate and red food coloring, is very popular for some reason. With Oreo introducing novelty flavors for what seems like every holiday and season, the idea of red velvet cookies for Valentine’s Day isn’t completely unreasonable. Yet some college students confessed to creating the product as a marketing class assignment. Was that confession simply meant to throw dessert detectives off the trail?

The idea has been floating around since Nabisco started its current run of holiday novelty Oreos, and the Facebook page was born shortly before Valentine’s Day of 2014. It mostly consisted of pictures of Oreos tinted red using an image-editing program. Months later, the account owner came back and posted that the product was all a class assignment.

school projectEarlier this month, a photo of a realistic-looking Oreo package appeared on Twitter. Then it disappeared. The Verge evaluated the evidence, originally declaring that the package size doesn’t match that of previous novelty Oreo flavors, and that the flavor profile of red choco-wafer cookies and cream cheese-flavored filling doesn’t follow Nabisco’s normal M.O. of pairing a novelty filling with existing chocolate or vanilla-flavored cookies.

These arguments don’t work, though: readers pointed out that white cream cheese-flavored “creme” is plausible, and the only difference between chocolate cookie wafers and red velvet cookie wafers is some red dye. Also, it may help that The Verge obtained a photo of a great big pile of those 10-ounce sample packs.

EXCLUSIVE: We have obtained a new image of the Red Velvet Oreo that corroborates earlier pic http://t.co/FLs3yuvfCR pic.twitter.com/xfAbmKK8VZ

— spooky dan seifert (@dcseifert) October 23, 2014

Nabisco, true to form, isn’t saying anything either way. Therefore, we have to declare this flavor more likely than Fried Chicken Oreos, but we can’t make a definitive ruling about how real it could be until either more samples appear on the streets, or Nabisco makes an official announcement.

Naturally, there’s now a Change.org petition pleading with Nabisco to make Red Velvet Oreos real.

Is the ‘Red Velvet’ Oreo real? [The Verge]

Still Looking For A Halloween Costume? Here’s One For Just $1.6M

Thu, 2014-10-23 19:35

This million dollar costume comes with head to toe diamonds.

This million dollar costume comes with head to toe diamonds.

Some people might rummage through their closet or head to the local Halloween pop-up store for a clever, or sultry costume to prowl the streets in. But apparently someone might just go a different route, shelling out more money for a costume than many consumers would pay for a house – or two, three, four, five, or more houses.

CNN Money reports that MorphCostumes created a $1.6 million morphsuit encrusted with 70,000 diamonds for anyone who wants to class things up this Halloween.

The suit, which is currently locked away in a vault in London, takes on morphsuit’s typical skin-tight spandex form that covers the entire body from head to toe.

Officials with MorphCostumes says the costume is a “bit heavy” and can be hard to see out of, you know because diamonds aren’t completely see-through.

“It’s probably not the most comfortable of our offerings, but if you roll the head part down, you can still be covered 90% in diamonds,” Gregor Lawson, co-founder of the company says.

The dripping in diamonds costume is just the latest in the company’s high-end “WTF” line, CNN Money reports.

If bling isn’t your thing, the company offers Overkill, the giant zombie-killing robot costar that promises to then the person underneath into “a living legend.” That over-the-top costume, which comes with laser effects and LED lighting, is a bit more affordable at $25,000.

If you’d rather spend money on candy than the costume you’ll wear for a few hours, MorphCostumes has more than 300 other costumes ranging from $30 to $45.

This Halloween costume costs $1.6 million [CNN Money]

Forget Everything You’ve Been Told: Buy Your Plane Tickets On Sunday

Thu, 2014-10-23 19:28

(John Kittelsrud)

(John Kittelsrud)

That sound you hear is yourself throwing every thought you had in your brain about buying plane tickets on a certain day out the window. As the window shatters, so can your mind break free from former apparent misconceptions regarding the best day to purchase air fares. It’s not the day you thought it was, it’s Sunday.

So say the tallies totted up by Airlines Reporting Corp, according to the Wall Street Journal, a group that processes tickets for traditional travel agencies and online booking (though not direct sales from airlines) and sees about half of all the tickets sold.

After taking a look at ticket sales over a 19-month period ending in July, 130 million domestic and international round-trip fares showed that the lowest average price of $432 was on Sunday. That’s lower than $439 for Saturday ticket sales and Tuesdays, with an average of $497.

What makes Sunday the magic day? It’s the day before airline executives come into work on Monday looking to make more money for their companies, a prime day to raise fares instead of discounting them to fill seats. And raising fares is a thing that can make more money — as reported earlier this week, many airlines pushed through a fare hike recently, despite the fact that fuel prices are down and some travelers may be worried about flying due to the Ebola scare rampaging through the news.

That being said, don’t dump your Tuesday hopes all together: As the WSJ points out, it’s still the day with the most frequent discounts, so you could still score a good deal if you’re paying attention.

The ARC study also showed that the cheapest time to buy a domestic trip is about 57 days before departure, or around two months, which is quite early for most people. On average, travelers book airline tickets about a month beforehand, when prices are already on the uptick.

In conclusion: two months before you go somewhere, check out prices on Sunday, your new best friend of a day.

The Best Day to Buy Airline Tickets [Wall Street Journal]

Feds Searching For Graffiti Artist Vandalizing National Parks And Leaving An Instagram Handle Behind

Thu, 2014-10-23 19:02

How could you tag something better than nature already has?

How could you tag something better than nature already has? (Raj Hanchanahal Photography)

The idea of leaving a place better than when you found it is a fine idea when it comes to things like tidying up a campground before you take off, but that does not mean painting graffiti all over our nation’s parks and wild places. But hey, leaving your Instagram handle on those paintings is a nice touch that should help out authorities when they come looking for you.

And looking for a serial paint vandal they are indeed, reports the San Francisco Gate. The “they” being federal law enforcement who are searching for a person who they believe has been spraying cartoony portraits in national parks across five states.

From a white and red face painting featuring a blue serpent slithering out of its mouth at California’s Yosemite National Park to graffiti left in places like Zion and Joshua Tree, the tagger’s alleged Instagram account @creepytings (which no longer exists) was reportedly full of her exploits.

Though there is a female name on the account, authorities haven’t confirmed if they’ve been in contact with the suspect and it’s unclear whether she is really a she, despite the nice clue left behind.

One of the first to notice the graffiti spotted the white and red portrait on a granite rock near Yosemite’s Vernal Falls is a blogger who snapped a pic and wrote about the shocking discovery.

“Scrolling through her other images, it quickly became clear to me that this account was linked to a New Yorker on a long trip through the parks of the western U.S.,” she wrote. “Within a few minutes I saw she had also visited Bryce, Zion, Joshua Tree, and other public lands. She seemed proud of the ‘art,’ and appeared to take a lot of pride and happiness in the ‘work.’”

Federal investigators are currently in the process of tracking down this “artist” as well as any more of her recent “work” that could be out there.

Feds hunt clueless graffiti ‘artist’ in Yosemite, other parks [San Francisco Gate]

Restaurant Owner Defends Video Of Employee Climbing Out Of Ice Machine

Thu, 2014-10-23 18:52

Is this another example of an unthinking fast food worker caught on camera doing something stupid, or is it all a misunderstanding that looks much worse than it is?

In the above video, an employee of small Texas fast food chain Bush’s Chicken opens the kitchen’s ice maker and finds a female employee inside the machine.

But the company claims that it’s not as bad as it looks. The owner of the restaurant tells NewsWest 9 that the video is several months old and that these employees were actually in the process of cleaning out the ice machine at the time.

“What they’re doing is cleaning the ice machines. We do this twice a year,” says the owner, who points out that none of his eateries have ever been shut down for health code violations. “The only way to do it, and even by the manufacturers recommendation, is to get inside to clean the bottom of it and remove stale ice and anything that may have gotten past the filters.”

The owner says that everything is sanitized and disinfected before the machine is put back into use.

He claims the video is surfacing now due because a former employee is working out a grudge against the company.

“They were terminated and in retaliation they put the video up,” he says. “If they felt there was something wrong with it, they should have done it four months ago. They threatened me about wanting their job back and we don’t do that.”

The owner says that people are invited to come and check out his kitchens and judge for themselves if there are any problems.

“Day or night I will be more than happy to walk them through any location that I have at any time and show them anything that they want to see,” he tells NewsNet 9.

Sears And Kmart Will Close 76 Stores By End Of 2014

Thu, 2014-10-23 18:48

(Scott Miller)

(Scott Miller)

Sears Holdings, the parent company of Sears and Kmart, needs to lose less money. Their current plan includes closing underperforming stores, renting out vacant space, and borrowing money from its manifesto-writing CEO. These are all very sensible things to do, but will they be enough to save Sears?

The company no longer announces rounds of store closings, instead releasing that information to local news outlets. Investment research site Seeking Alpha instead combed through local news reports, contacting reporters and Sears and Kmart employees on the ground to figure out how many stores will close by the end of this calendar year.

Sears Holdings isn’t about to release a definitive list: “We disclose our store counts at the end of each quarter,” a spokesman told Seeking Alpha. That isn’t helpful when you’re trying to figure out which stores will close in the future, so the site made its own list. You don’t need to register to see it.

Depending on how you count, either 76 or 107 Sears outlets are going to close. The discrepancy is because 31 Sears Auto stores are also slated to close: the total depends on whether you consider these to be separate from a Sears store or not. Some locations are closing while the Sears they’re attached to remains open, but no Sears Auto locations that we know of are staying open while the associated Sears store closes.

Pennsylvania will lose seven Sears and Sears Auto locations and one Kmart, and Indiana reverses that pattern, losing seven Kmarts and one Sears and Sears Auto. In Michigan, there are two Sears and Sears Auto locations closing, but notably six Kmart stores. Michigan, specifically the Detroit area, was the ancestral home of the S.S. Kresge company, the variety-store empire that eventually became Kmart. The first Kmart in Garden City, Michigan remains open for now.

Seeking Alpha estimates that more than 5,000 people will lose their jobs once all of these stores have liquidated and closed.

Exclusive: Sears Laying Off 5,000, Closing Over 100 Outlets [Seeking Alpha]

Why Doesn’t Tesla Just Use Dealerships To Sell Its Cars?

Thu, 2014-10-23 18:27

(frankieleon)

(frankieleon)

Earlier this week, auto dealers in Michigan successfully manipulated the state’s lawmakers to clarify that the only way any car company can sell any vehicles in Michigan is through franchised auto dealers. A handful of other states have similar laws banning Tesla or any other car company from selling their products straight to consumers. So why doesn’t Tesla just give in and work with dealers?

The Washington Post’s Brian Fung investigated this very question and concluded that there are several reasons why Tesla wants to avoid the traditional middle man format.

Primarily, it’s about retaining control of the brand. This is particularly important to Tesla since the electric vehicle market is still relatively new. Why take the risk of handing your product over to a franchised dealership whose primary goal is making his/her own profit?

Tesla does operate a small number of storefront businesses where consumers can see and learn about the cars and their features, but the company’s VP of business development says these “stores are as much education venues as retail venues — in fact, probably more so… We don’t think that we would succeed using an intermediary model where we sell a product that someone else sells to the public.”

Then there is just the thrill of being an upstart company founded by a tech billionaire Elon Musk who seems to revel in the prospect of disrupting an established sales model.

After all, if Musk can succeed in reaching consumers through direct sales, he will have done what other, much bigger players have previously failed to do.

For example, Ford dipped its toes into the direct sales waters in the 1990s, only to be chased off the idea when Texas threatened the carmaker with fines of $10,000/day for allegedly violating the same state law that currently prevents Tesla from selling directly to Texas residents.

Car dealers and legislators who back these laws banning direct sales often claim that they benefit consumers by allowing for pricing competition. If you don’t like the price being offered by one Chevy dealer, you can go to another and see if you’ll do better there. Same goes for all the other major carmakers.

And it’s a valid point; reloading the Tesla website is probably not going to result in a lower price than when you put in your desired specs a few minutes earlier.

But Tesla is not trying to change the law to outlaw car dealerships. It is just trying to see if it can be successful without them. Additionally, if Ford, GM, Chrysler or others decided to give direct sales another try, that doesn’t mean they would eradicate all their existing franchise relationships.

Instead of asking why Tesla wants to avoid going the dealership route, a better question might be: If the dealerships truly love the spirit of competition, why are so many of them actively trying to use the law to minimize it?

Town’s Theft Of Hundreds Of Pumpkins Turns Out To Be Misunderstanding Over Pig Food

Thu, 2014-10-23 18:04

(aginghipster77)

(aginghipster77)

With all the corn snatching and onion stealing, not to mention previous pumpkin plunderings going on, it’s no wonder the organizers of a town festival who saw an entire pumpkin stash go missing thought something evil was afoot. This time, at least, it was all a misunderstanding.

After hundreds of pumpkins destined to be sold at a craft fair disappeared on Monday and were reported stolen, festival organizers worried over the fate of their pilfered gourds, reports Foster’s Daily Democrat.

The huge bins of pumpkins had been covered and stowed behind the high school, when a local pig farmer spotted them and figured they were unwanted.

The police captain said it was all a miscommunication — the farmer called the school and asked if he could take them because they didn’t appear to be in the best condition.

“He noticed the pallets of pumpkins and said some of them were moldy. He said he has a herd of hogs that would love to dine on them,” the police captain said. “The people at the school had no knowledge that any type of pumpkin was being stored and so the secretary said ‘Yeah, go ahead take them.’ So the farmer did.”

Cue pumpkin plundering scare.

It just goes to show you should communicate when you’re stowing large amounts of produce, the captain added.

“If the festival people had reached out and said ‘Here’s our plan. We’ve left a bunch of pumpkins here and we’re going to try to sell them at the craft fair — they’re out behind the pavilion,’ everybody would have known, but they didn’t do that so the only ones that are happy in this whole thing are the hogs.”

Hurray for the hogs!

Pilfered pumpkins went to plump pigs: Misunderstanding led to Pumpkin-fate [Foster's Daily Democrat]

Reduced-Price Meat Means You Pay 4 Cents Extra

Thu, 2014-10-23 16:47

When perishable items are close to their sell-by dates, retailers mark them down to get them off the shelves faster. When this happens, everyone wins: customers get cheaper meat, and the store still makes money from the product. That’s how this is supposed to work in theory, at least.

Allison found this very enthusiastic package of beef for sale at Cash Wise, a Midwestern grocery chain.

reduced_price

If it weren’t for all of those exclamation points, maybe it wouldn’t be so funny that the price isn’t reduced at all.

Survey: Overwhelming Majority Of U.S. Doctors Seeing Patients With Drug-Resistant Illnesses

Thu, 2014-10-23 16:35

(Emily)

(Emily)

While the pharmaceuticals industry and some livestock farmers and veterinarians still contend that there isn’t yet definitive proof that the overuse of antibiotics is leading to the development and spread of drug-resistant bacteria, a new survey of American doctors found that there is nearly universal concern among doctors about this issue, and that many physicians have treated patients with drug-resistant infections in just the last year.

The report [PDF] from our colleagues at Consumers Union, along with groups like the National Resource Defense Council, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, and the National Physicians Alliance, looks at the results of a survey of 500 internal medicine and family practice physicians in the U.S.

Some 97% of doctors surveyed are at least fairly concerned about the growing problem of antibiotic resistant infections, with 59% of all respondents saying they were “extremely” concerned.

And when you look at how many of these physicians have treated patients with drug-resistant infections, it’s no surprise why there is such widespread concern.

According to the survey, 85% of these doctors have treated at least one patient in the last year with a bacterial infection that was resistant to multiple antibiotics.

Of those physicians, 35% have had one of these patients die or suffer significant complications as a result of these drug-resistant bugs.

Many doctors say they are taking steps to reduce the overuse of antibiotics in their practices. This includes refusing to prescribe antibiotics that are not medically necessary, even when patients ask for the drugs.

81% of physicians surveyed say they are now doing this, but that doesn’t necessarily mesh with recently released numbers from the Centers for Disease Control, which found that — as recently as 2010 — some 70% of U.S. doctors were still prescribing antibiotics for acute bronchitis, even though it’s been clearly demonstrated that antibiotics are not effective in treating that illness.

Another way in which doctors say they are trying to combat drug resistance is by prescribing the least broad spectrum antibiotic available (72%); and prescribing antibiotics for the shortest duration needed (68%).

In all, 80% of the physicians surveyed claimed that their practice, group, or hospital is actively working to minimize inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics.

But doctors’ offices and hospitals are only a slice of the antibiotics pie. Around 70% of medically important — and around 80% of all — antibiotics sold in the U.S. go into animal feed for non-medical growth-promotion of livestock and poultry. 93% of the doctors in the survey expressed concern about this practice.

The survey concludes with several policy recommendations for lawmakers, regulators, and private businesses.

This includes asking the FDA to strengthen its current stance on antibiotics in animal feed, by using its authority to restrict the use of these drugs only to cases of animal sickness or direct disease exposure, and to require proper veterinary oversight when antibiotics are used on farms.

Currently, the only tracking done of antibiotics in animal feed is the gross volume sold to farmers. The tracking doesn’t account for how much is actually being given to the animals or for what reason. The report asks the U.S. to adopt a robust tracking system to document the sale, use, and impacts of antibiotic use in livestock production.

It also includes a plea to private businesses like grocery stores, restaurants, and hospitals, asking them to adopt a policy to procure and sell only meat that is produced on farms that restrict the use of antibiotics except for animals that are actually sick, for a limited period of time–just as antibiotics are used in humans.

Belgian Chocolate Company ISIS Decides It’s A Pretty Good Idea To Change Its Name Right About Now

Thu, 2014-10-23 16:34

(ISIS Chocolates)

(ISIS Chocolates)

It was only last year when a Belgian chocolate company called Italo Suisse decided to change its name. After all, 90 years after its founding, the business had no real connections to either Italy or Switzerland anymore. But yeah, if anyone at the company had realized there was another ISIS out there, that would definitely not have been the name it chose to switch too.

The company has decided to switch its name yet again, reports Reuters, as it turns out there is another organization associated with the name ISIS — it is the acronym for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a jihadist group that’s invaded parts of Iraq. That group is now known just as Islamic State, but ISIS has stuck around in the public mind.

As such, ISIS is out the door at the chocolate company.

“We chose ISIS as that was the brand name of our pralines and tablets,” marketing manager Desiree Libeert told Reuters. “Had we known there was a terrorist organization with the same name, we would have never chosen that.”

The company had problems moving its product, as the name was putting customers off.

“We had international customers saying that they could no longer stock our chocolate as consumers had only negative associations with the name,” she added.

The new name is one she likely is on board with — Libeert, which is the family name of the company’s owners, and as far as anyone knows, not a terrorist organization.

Belgium chocolate maker ISIS needs to change its name again [Reuters]

Cigarette Company Reynolds Finally Bans Indoor Smoking At The Workplace

Thu, 2014-10-23 15:53

(Eva_Deht)

(Eva_Deht)

Look around you. Is anyone you work with currently puffing away on a cigarette inside? Is smoke curling up from the cubicles nearby? Not likely, but while smoking inside at the workplace is a thing of the past for most companies today, there’s one business where it was still welcome, until now at least: Reynolds American, makers of Camel cigarettes, announced this week that its employees will no longer be allowed to smoke indoors as of Jan. 1, 2015.

While the founders of the tobacco company might never have foreseen a policy against smoking, Reynolds and its subsidiaries will enforce the no-smoking rule within its facilities, except in designated smoking areas, reports the Winston-Salem Journal.

Traditional cigarettes, cigarettes and pipes won’t be smoked at desks, in conference rooms, in elevators or hallways, a company spokesman told the paper, and the rules will stick for every employee. Electronic cigarettes, heat-not-burn cigarettes, moist snuff and snus will be permissible inside.

“We will restrict traditional smoking to the designated areas as they are put together in 2015 and 2016,” the spokesman said. “The bottom line is that we believe it is the right thing to do, updating our tobacco usage policies, at the right time to do it. The policy change will better accommodate nonsmokers and visitors to our facilities.”

And if you were wondering if the lateness of this policy coming about is because everyone at the company smokes, Reynold’s spokesman says that’s not true — employees are like everyone else in the country, with about 20% being smokers, despite the fact that they work at a cigarette company.

“The use of tobacco products or cigarettes by our employees is pretty close to in line with what you see out in the general public,” he said. “Recognizing that indoor smoking restrictions are the norm today, and most people expect a smokefree workplace environment, we believe we are better aligning our tobacco use policies with those we’re seeing in the general public.”

Camel maker Reynolds snuffs out workplace smoking [Winston-Salem Journal]

New Plan Expands Availability Of Some Federal Student Loans For Consumers With Tarnished Credit Histories

Thu, 2014-10-23 15:08

(Michael)

(Michael)

Families hoping to assist their child in paying for college may soon have greater access to federal student loans under a plan recently finalized by the Department of Education and Obama administration.

The new plan, which could be implemented as early as next spring, would loosen credit standards for families borrowing from the Department of Education’s Parent Plus program, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Parent Plus loans are designed to cover tuition and living expenses when undergraduates reach the limits of their federal Stafford loans.

Under the new plan, the Dept. of Education will now only review the past two years of a parent’s credit history for delinquencies or debts in collection that could be disqualifiers for the loans. The current program check borrower’s past five years of credit history.

Additionally, any delinquent debts below $2,085 will not be used to disqualify borrowers. Currently any amount of delinquencies are grounds to reject an application.

Families who apply for the Parent Plus loan program and currently have damaged credit will now have to undergo credit counseling before borrowing is approved.

Officials with the Dept. of Education tell the WSJ that the changes are designed to boost college enrollment, particularly among disadvantaged youths who may otherwise be unable to afford college.

“These are families who are unable to access credit in the private market” for education, Jeff Appel, the Education Department’s deputy undersecretary, says. “It’s all with the intent of providing wider access to postsecondary education.”

While the plan is designed to give families additional resources on their road to college, some consumer groups have voiced concern that the plan would saddle consumers with excessive debt that they can’t repay.

At the crux of their issues is the fact that the plan doesn’t have safeguards in place to determine a borrowers’ ability to repay.

Officials with the Dept. of Education say current student lending laws don’t allow the government to review an applicant’s ability to repay, that such a review would require an act of Congress.

Education Department to Expand Access to Student Loans [The Wall Street Journal]

People Buying Fewer Hot Pockets After Tastes Change, SNAP Cuts

Thu, 2014-10-23 00:39

(Mike Mozart)

(Mike Mozart)

It’s easy to make fun of Hot Pockets. Over the years, we’ve laughed at the dough-encased food-like objects when they’ve been recalled for containing plastic and meat considered “unfit for human consumption,” when Nestle tried to sell young foodies on the products, and even when they were declared a separate food group. Things are not well at Nestle, which is Hot Pocket HQ, right now.

Younger generations of Americans are turning against frozen and processed food in general, and even the pseudo-foodie makeover couldn’t rehabilitate the image of Hot Pockets. However, Bloomberg Businessweek points out another problem for low-cost frozen foods like Hot Pockets: at the end of last year, temporary increases to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), what were once called “food stamps,” began in 2009 and expired at the end of 2013. Hot Pocket sales fell when recipients’ SNAP allowances did.

“For our Hot Pockets brand, it was not surprising to understand the value our products offered to the SNAP consumer,” a Nestle spokeswoman told Businessweek, and a Nestle executive specifically mentioned SNAP recipients as a factor in Hot Pocket sales during a recent sales call.

Every Food Trend Goes Against Slumping Hot Pockets, Even Government Spending [Bloomberg Businessweek]

Will Pet Stores Stop Selling Puppies Entirely?

Thu, 2014-10-23 00:03

(Geoff Myers)

(Geoff Myers)

Where do you get puppies? The answer isn’t just about the mechanics of canine pregnancy. In the United States today, when your household wants to acquire a dog, where do you get it from? Most people would probably start at a pet store, but due to changes in stores’ own policies and government intervention, falling in love with a doggie in the window is becoming a thing of the past.

Yes, the idea of falling in love with a dog in a pet store is so ingrained in our national ideas about pets that there was even a popular song about it.

Adopting a pet on impulse is rarely a good idea, even if you’re not drunk. However, that’s not why the industry is moving away from selling dogs in stores. Years of campaigns by animal welfare organizations have turned many pet lovers against the large commercial dog-breeding facilities required to keep stores nationwide supplied with puppies. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture does inspect these facilities, that doesn’t mean that they’re where you picture the parents of your family’s beloved Maltese living.

“The regulation of breeders is so poor that all it really does is give consumers and the general public a false sense of security that their dogs are coming from a humane environment when they’re not,” Cori Menkin of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals explained to NPR.

That doesn’t mean buying puppies is out of fashion. NPR spoke to the owner of two Petland stores in Florida who has one store that sells nothing but puppies and supplies for new puppies, and another full-service pet store that still makes 85% of its revenue from puppy sales and puppy supplies. Yet some municipalities, including one of the towns where she has a store, have proposed bans on the sale of puppies. Some of these bans have passed.

Large national chains like Petsmart and Petco have moved to a model where they do not sell dogs or cats, though, instead opening up space in their stores to house animals from local rescue groups, and having rescue clinics on store grounds. These happen to drum up business for pet supplies, too: why not pick up some food for your new cat, since you’re already inside a pet store?

In More Cities, That Doggie In The Window Is Not For Sale [NPR]

Is Arby’s Shortchanging Customers On Their Sodas?

Wed, 2014-10-22 23:13

Consumerist reader Michael noticed that his "22 oz." Arby's cup only holds 21 ounces of liquid. A quick look at the underside of the cup (see below) confirms that this cup can't possibly hold the amount of liquid advertised.

Consumerist reader Michael noticed that his “22 oz.” Arby’s cup only holds 21 ounces of liquid. A quick look at the underside of the cup (see below) confirms that this cup can’t possibly hold the amount of liquid advertised.

There is no set-in-stone standard in the fast food industry for what constitutes a “small,” “medium,” or “large” drink, so sizes will inevitably vary from eatery to eatery. But if a company sells you a “22 ounce” soft drink, it best come in a container that can hold that amount of fluid. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case at Arby’s.

Consumerist reader Michael recently bought a small drink from an Arby’s in Ohio. And printed right on the Arby’s-branded paper cup it clearly states “22 oz.”

But then Michael noticed some text on the underside of that same cup that states “21 oz.”

arbysbotton

Since you can’t put 22 ounces of liquid into a 21 oz. cup, Michael busted out the old measuring cup to confirm that the cup does indeed hold the smaller volume of liquid.

Michael says he’s not terribly upset about the shortchanging — after all, 21 oz. is still quite a bit of drink for a small size — but it does bring up the question of how widespread this particular apparent mislabeling might be, and how long Arby’s has been selling drinks in these particular cups.

To see if this issue was relegated to just the franchise visited by Michael in Ohio, we sent a Consumerist reporter to buy a small soda at an Arby’s in Arlington, VA.

Lo and behold, these cups also stated 22 oz. on the outside of the cup and 21 oz. on the underside. And the measuring cup test confirmed that the Arby’s cup could only hold 21 ounces.

We also looked at other sizes of drinks available from Arby’s, but only the “22 oz.” cups were different from the size printed by the manufacturer on the underside.

When reached for comment on this issue, a rep for Arby’s would only tell Consumerist, “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We are looking into the matter.”

Fast food customers already get less than they pay for at the soda fountain thanks to the huge volume of ice used to water down most soft drinks; no company should be using mislabeled cups — which could be in violation of the law — to give customers even less value.

6,215 Pounds Of Serrano Chile Peppers Recalled For Extra-Spicy Salmonella

Wed, 2014-10-22 22:51

(Dyanna Hyde)

(Dyanna Hyde)

Serrano chile peppers add delicious spiciness to your meals, but do you know what is not a delicious fresh ingredient? Salmonella. Random testing turned up signs of the pathogen in a batch of peppers sold in Meijer stores in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio. Peppers in that batch may have also ended up at other retailers, including Publix, Walmart, and Harris Teeter.

Meijer has confirmed that it received peppers from the batch that may be contaminated, and there are other stores and distributors that may have. For now, the Food and Drug Administration says to maybe check with the retailer if you’ve bought any serrano chile peppers since October 2 and October 21.

Salmonella is not a fun illness. Sometimes people who are healthy show no symptoms when infected, but when they do, those symptoms can include fever, diarrhea, bloody diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Children, the elderly, and people who are immunocompromised can become even more ill, leading to hospitalization or death.

These peppers originated with Bailey Farms of North Carolina. If you have questions about the recall, you can contact them at 1-888-820-2545.

Bailey Farms Inc. Recalls Fresh Serrano Chile Peppers Because Of Possible Health Risk [FDA]

Company Touting Work-From-Home Opportunities Must Pay $25M To Consumers Who Made No Money

Wed, 2014-10-22 22:29

(Listener42)

(Listener42)

Here are a few clues that the employment “opportunity” you received in that email is a scam: 1) you’re required to pay your new employer hundreds of dollars for a starter kit or computer program; 2) once that program was purchased you’re encouraged to buy more programs for thousands of dollars; and 3) your new employer promises that you’ll be able to make thousands of dollars in a short period of time without ever leaving your couch. That’s about how it worked for a company the Federal Trade Commission recently ordered to repay consumers $25 million.

The FTC announced today that a federal district judge ordered business opportunity company, Zaken Corp. and its president to pay more than $25 million in refunds to consumer who fell victim to bogus claims that they could earn substantial income working from home.

According to the summary judgment, the court found that more than 99.8% of the 110,000 consumers affected by the alleged scheme didn’t make a penny.

Zaken Corp. and its president, Tiran Zaken, were found by the court to be in violation of the FTC Act and the FTC’s Business Opportunity Rule, which requires business opportunity sellers to provide specific information to help consumes evaluate a business opportunity.

The company allegedly claimed that, for a fee of $148 or more, their “QuickSell” program would help consumers find businesses with excess inventory to sell, and that they would find a buyer for the inventory and pay consumers half the sales price.

Consumers were promised they would earn at least $4,000 or more in the first 30 days and, on average, $4,280 per deal.

After consumers bought the program, they were inundated with ads to buy more business tools that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. According to the FTC, consumers were encouraged to spend an extra $2,300 if they were serious about making money. However, consumers who made the additional investment received only a directory of defunct companies’ telephone numbers.

The company and Zaken were previously banned from advertising or selling work-at-home or other business opportunities.

FTC Action Results in Court Order Requiring Work-At-Home Scammers to Pay More Than $25 Million for Consumer Refunds [FTC]

SkyMall: Because Every Child Dreams Of Owning A Jumping Hot Dog

Wed, 2014-10-22 22:22

(SkyMall)

(SkyMall)

“Do your children like jumping? Do they like hot dogs?” asks SkyMall. You’re in luck! For every child that likes the physical act of propelling oneself into the air as well as tubes filled with meat, there’s a Jumping Hot Dog for sale. Dreams really do come true!(?)

Touting bouncing toys as therapy tools used to develop balance and coordination skills, SkyMall points out that this way, “hot dogs can finally be healthy” (though who wants a healthy hot dog if you can’t even eat the darn thing?).

I’m also curious as to what makes this inflatable bouncing toy a hot dog — sure, it’s got a vague hot doggish color, but what kind of a hot dog has to label itself as HOT DOG”? And where’s the bun? Not to mention condiments. It might as well be a bouncing slug, for all that it’s got that very portly, un-hotdoglike shape and little nubbins on the top.

Consider my jumping hot dog dreams unfulfilled, until there’s a more realistic version, at least.

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