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Please Stop Making Bomb Threats Against Southwest (Or Any Airline)

Tue, 2015-01-27 22:30

(David Transier)

(David Transier)

For the second time this week, a Southwest Airlines flight had to be investigated because someone thought it would be hilarious to waste everyone’s time by making bomb threats for flights between San Diego and Dallas.

The first incident occurred Monday, when threats against Southwest flights reportedly popped up on Twitter. At least one flight, en route to Southwest’s home at Love Field in Dallas, was in the air when the threats were spotted. The plane landed safely but authorities are now investigating the threat.

Then around 6 a.m. PT this morning, a threat was received for another flight headed from San Diego to Dallas. This plane had yet to leave the airport, so authorities were able to check it over and give it the all-clear before allowing it to take off.

And this is nothing new. In September, a Southwest passenger was detained because he had the really funny notion of giving clever names to his WiFi hotspot like “bomb on board,” or “the bomb is on this seat.”

Only a few months earlier, a Seattle-area man phoned in bomb threats to Southwest with the intention of ruining his ex-girlfriend’s vacation. He later tried to claim that he didn’t technically make a bomb threat, he merely lied when he said his ex was carrying a bomb.

What really annoys us about these repeated threats is what a massive waste of everyone’s time and money they are. Passengers have their flights delayed or canceled; police have to take time away from investigating other crimes; delays with moving flight crews around the country can have a ripple effect, causing later flights to be held up or canceled.

And while you may say “boo hoo” to a large national airline losing money, remember that these losses aren’t shrugged off. These costs result in higher airfares, more fees, staff cuts, and general corner-cutting, putting everyone at risk.

Pepsi’s Stevia-Sweetened Soda Will Hit Real-Life Stores In 3 Cities

Tue, 2015-01-27 22:18

pepsitruehiBack in October, we told you about Pepsi’s plans to follow Coke into the mid-calorie, partly-stevia-sweetened soft drink market. Pepsi Life first went on sale in 7.5-ounce mini-cans in October, available only through Amazon. That was meant as a test before Pepsi tried putting the beverage in grocery stores. The test was apparently a success, since the green-labeled soda will be available in real-life stores.

The catch is that it will only be available in three cities. The lucky stevia-lovers of Denver, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C. will be able to find Pepsi True in their grocery stores beginning this week. The tiny can experiment was successful. That serving size will remain on the market through Amazon, and 12-ounce glass bottles and 10-ounce cans will be available in retail stores.

As consumers try to cut back on or eliminate both high-fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners from their diets, Coke and Pepsi are testing these green cans to appeal to people who aren’t terrified of sugar, but who are looking to cut back a little. Stevia is considered a “natural” plant-based sweetener, but does have a bitter aftertaste that some people don’t care for.

Here are the new bottles, courtesy of the trade publication Beverage Digest:

ICYMI: Pepsi adding new packages for Pepsi True mid-cal sugar/stevia cola: 10-oz cans & 12-oz glass bottles. Image:

— Beverage-Digest (@BeverageDigest) January 26, 2015

PepsiCo Expands Distribution of Stevia-Sweetened Cola [Wall Street Journal]

Poll: Ride-Sharing Services Are Cutting Down On Drunk-Driving Incidents

Tue, 2015-01-27 22:03



Times used to be, if your friend was drunk and threatening to drive, you’d have to deal with the inconvenience of actually calling up a cab while hiding their keys. But now due to ride-sharing services that can summon vehicles with a swipe on an app, drunk-driving incidents are down. This, according to a poll by one of those services, Uber, along with Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

David Plouffe, formerly President Obama’s campaign manager and now working as Uber’s strategy chief, said such services are helping to reduce drunk-driving incidents, reports USA Today.

Almost four in five respondents of the poll said friends were less likely to drive themselves home after drinking because of ride-sharing apps. And 57% of transportation app users 21 and older said they’d “probably end up driving more after drinking at a bar or restaurant” if ride-sharing options didn’t exist.

The survey polled 807 adults in 19 cities where Uber operates.

“This study shows people are changing their behavior, particularly when they’re out having drinks,” Plouffe said.

While others might attribute the drop in incidents in places like California, where Uber points out that drunken-driving crashes have decreased by 6.5% among drivers under 30 since Uber began offering its UberX service in the state in 2012, to other factors besides just ride-sharing, Plouffe says the survey suggests the change can be linked to having ride-sharing in cities where public transit and cabs aren’t so easily available late at night.

“(Uber is launching) in small cities now, and these are places where (at night) maybe you either had a designated driver or you drove,” he says. “This study shows people are changing their behavior, particularly when they’re out having drinks.”

MADD’s president says it doesn’t matter how the word gets out about alternatives to driving drunk, just so long as it gets out.

“Safe rides are always within reach now,” says Colleen Sheehey-Church. “We’re aiming for a future with no more victims.”

Uber’s Plouffe pushes service as drunk driving solution [USA Today]

Of Course You Can Summon A Snow Plow With A Smartphone App

Tue, 2015-01-27 21:23

(Chris WIlson)

(Chris WIlson)

People and journalists often compare new products and services to an existing company that does something similar. “It’s a StitchFix for umbrellas,” you might say about a new venture. “It’s like GrubHub, but for freshly-prepared cat meals. It’s Netflix for woodworking tutorials.” A few startups have launched a new business model that could actually work: they’re like Uber, but for snow plows and lawn care.

You may have heard about a big storm headed toward the Northeastern United States, which is why these ventures are suddenly receiving some attention. One of the plow-summoning startups, Plowz, did something brilliant. The area around Plowz headquarters in Syracuse, NY, is expected to get a normal amount of snow this week by local standards. However, a few hours to the east, New England has some frosty blizzard action, and more snow than they know what to deal with. The startup’s solution: recruit some local plow drivers to spend the week in Boston, clearing driveways and parking lots.

It makes sense that someone would want to simplify and streamline the process of hiring a plow service. Simply using the same one your neighbors do doesn’t work when you only need one-time service while you’re out of town or temporarily injured, and that’s where Plowz comes in. (It also has a sibling app, Mowz, for lawn-care services.)

Plowz aims to make money from people who only need one-time service and order plowing when they need it. The app constructs efficient routes for independent plow companies or solo drivers, and those contractors snap a photo of their work for the homeowner or renter to view. For this, Plowz gets a 30% cut.

Competitor PlowMe looks at the business differently: they know that plow and lawn services depend on weekly customers, not on one-time bailouts when there’s a big storm. They construct efficient routes and make collecting payments easier, but the idea is to turn yard and driveway care into an automated process, not to summon a plow like an Uber vehicle.

There may be room for both models in the snowy driveways of America, and there’s definitely an appeal to being able to check an app and find out when the plow is coming to dig you out.

Uber for Snowplows: Startups Dig Out of the Blizzard [Bloomberg Businessweek]

Apple Pay Gets More Useful, Coming To 200,000 Vending Machines & Other Self-Serve Devices

Tue, 2015-01-27 21:16

(Robert Walker)

(Robert Walker)

Apple Pay is not (yet) available at some of the nation’s largest retailers as they prepare to introduce their own mobile payment system, meaning you can’t use it to buy a week’s worth of groceries at Walmart or a TV at Best Buy, or even pay for your prescriptions at CVS and Rite-Aid. But what about those transactions on the opposite end of the spectrum, the ones with dollar values so small that you may feel odd not paying in cash? One company says it will be bringing Apple Pay to hundreds of thousands of vending machines and other self-serve devices.

The company, USA Technologies, announced today that it’s beginning a nationwide rollout of self-serve payment points that will allow consumers to do things like buy snacks and sodas, add money to a parking meter, buy a hot cup of coffee, or do some laundry without fumbling for cash or pulling out their credit card.

Even if you don’t mind using your credit card for vending machines and similar purchases, these devices are the biggest targets for scammers who install card-skimming devices that steal your information as you swipe. A system like Apple Pay means that your card never gets swiped, making ID theft much more difficult. Additionally, frequent use of credit and debit cards for small purchases can send up red fraud alert flags with your bank. While it’s a good thing that your bank is trying to protect you from going bankrupt, it means you now have to talk to the bank to tell them that yes, you did pay $3.50 for a soda at the hotel vending machine.

As 9to5mac points out, this news comes on the heels of an announcement from Chevron that it plans to make Apple Pay an option at its gas stations.

What remains to be seen is how Apple Pay will fare after the launch of CurrentC, the competing system being developed by a Walmart-led coalition of some of the country’s biggest retailers. The stores waiting for CurrentC to launch say it will have an exclusivity period of “months, not years.”

CurrentC or some other subsequent competitor could ultimately steal Apple Pay’s fire if it can include all retailers and be available on both Android and iOS.

Your Pork Prayers Have Been Answered: Bacon Prices Are Falling

Tue, 2015-01-27 20:33



The choice between money in your wallet and savory, melt-in-your-mouth bacon has just gotten a lot easier, my bacon-loving friends: The pork industry is coming through a recent porcine diarrhea epidemic that slowed down business for awhile, meaning your next bacon fix won’t be quite as costly.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (PDF), via the Huffington Post, prices of pork products are dipping now that hog herds are finally rebounding from the viral epidemic that killed millions of piglets in the last year and caused prices to go up.

“Pork prices are getting cheaper,” Terry Roggensack, co-founder of commodities research firm the Hightower Report, told HuffPo’s Alexander C. Kaufman. “It’s a positive.”

He adds that it’s not just the relief from the diarrhea virus that’s making things less expensive, but we’re not exporting as much to Russia, while the amount of hogs slaughtered rose 4.6% last week from the same period last year. And when you’ve got to move most of that pork sooner rather than later, cutting prices helps make it move.

“For the most part, you’ve got to use it within a month or so of when it’s produced,” Roggensack said. “The domestic market needs to absorb an even bigger supply than it normally would.”

Our mission is clear. Go forth and consume bacon. Someone has to do it.

Bacon Prices Are Falling [Huffington Post]

Words Of Neil Gaiman, Jeffrey Eugenides To Appear On Chipotle Cups You Will Discard Without Reading

Tue, 2015-01-27 20:22

Cultivating Thought - Neil Gaiman CupNeil Gaiman is a bestselling author whose work spans multiple genres and formats, from children’s books to literary fiction to graphic novels to screenplays. Now he can add fast food packaging to that list, as he joins other notable writers like Jeffrey Eugenides, Amy Tan, Barbara Kingsolver, Paulo Coelho, and comedian Aziz Ansari in slapping their work on Chipotle cups and bags.

These big names, along with Augusten Burroughs, Julia Alvarez, Carlos Ruiz Zafron, and Walter Issacson as the latest slate of writers to take part in Chipotle’s Cultivating Thought program.

This group was put together by author Jonathan Safran Foer, who was among the first slate of writers willing to cross that line between literature and burrito packaging.

For the project, the authors didn’t just copy/paste excerpts from their latest books or scripts. Gaiman, for example, used his cup design to provide Chipotle customers with a quick read on the plight of refugees.

Eugenides investigates a more personal moment, describing the break-up of a relationship (at a Chipotle, of course), while Isaacson attempts to explain Einstein’s theory of special relativity on the back of a soda cup.

For those who don’t want to patronize a Chipotle just to get their authorial fix, all the writings are available on the Cultivating Thought site.

FTC Requires Safeway, Albertsons To Sell 168 Stores Before Completing $9.2B Merger

Tue, 2015-01-27 20:11


Last March Albertsons supermarket owners Cerberus Capital Management and AB Acquisition LLC announced that they would acquire the Safeway chain of stores in a merger valued at more than $9 billion, but as with most deals of such magnitude, the new coupling between the second- and fifth-largest grocers in the United States had to pass regulatory muster before they could proceed down the aisle. Today, the chains announced they would sell 168 stores in eight states in order to make their matrimonial dreams a reality.

The Federal Trade Commission announced the supermarket chains agreed to sell 168 stores to settle charges that their proposed $9.2 billion merger would likely be anticompetitive in Arizona, California, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming.

According to the FTC proposal [PDF], the proposed deal between Albertsons and Safeway would lessen supermarket competition, and hurt consumers choices in 130 local markets unless the companies agreed to divest certain locations.

Officials with the FTC say that had the merger continued as is, customers would have likely seen higher prices and lower quality supermarkets.

When the merger was first announced in March 2014, fifth-largest grocer Albertsons operated 630 supermarkets under the Albertsons name in 15 states and 445 stores under the Jewel-Osco, ACME, Shaw’s and Star Market names in the eastern United States.

The nation’s second-largest grocer, Safeway, operated 1,332 stores under the Safeway, Tom Thumb, Randall’s, Pak ‘n Save, The Market, Vons, Pavillions, and Genuardi’s names throughout the country.

Under the proposed divestiture deal, Haggen Holdings LLC, which operates Haggen Food & Pharmacy stores, will acquire 146 Albertsons and Safeway stores in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

Supervalu Inc., the owner of brands such as Cub Foods and Shop ‘N Save,  will acquire two Albertsons stores in Texas. The company has a complicated history with Albertsons. In 2006, the supermarket brand was divided between Cerberus and Supervalu, with the latter controlling around 2/3 of the stores under the Albertsons marquee. Then in 2013, Supervalu sold its remaining Albertsons, along with its ACME Markets, Shaw’s, and Jewel-Osco stores to Cerberus, briefly reuniting all the Albertsons stores under one company.

Associated Wholesale Grocers, Inc. – which operates chains such as Price Chopper and Sun Fresh – will purchase 12 Albertsons and Safeway stores in Texas, while Associated Food Stores Inc. – which operates Ridley’s Family Market and Lee’s Marketplace among other brands – will acquire eight Albertsons and Safeway stores in Montana and Wyoming.

The agreement between Safeway and Albertsons to sell the 168 stores will be subject to public comment for 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

FTC Requires Albertsons and Safeway to Sell 168 Stores as a Condition of Merger [Federal Trade Commission]

N.J. Wegmans, Whole Foods Customers Sue Over Claims Of “Store-Baked” Goods

Tue, 2015-01-27 19:10



How fresh is fresh? That’s the question at hand in a lawsuit brought by a group of Wegmans customers in New Jersey who say that just because the store’s rolls are technically put in an oven on the premises, that doesn’t mean they’re “store-baked.” The same group is going after Whole Foods in the lawsuit for similar reasons.

The lawsuit alleges that Wegmans is misleading customers by advertising its bakery rolls as “store-baked” because the bread is prepared elsewhere, frozen, then reheated at the store, reports

That description, however, would make the average customer believe that the rolls are whipped up from scratch at the store and baked fresh there, the lawsuit claims.

The customers are seeking class-action status and want compensation for customers in New Jersey’s Camden and Burlington Counties, for anyone who bought the bread products between 2008 and now.

Whole Foods is also named in a similar lawsuit, reports, with customers alleging that the chain’s claims to making its own bagels, croissants, cookies, cakes, pies, muffins and rolls in-house is misleading.

“These individuals like to know what they’re buying. They shouldn’t mislead people that the baking is done on premises,” an attorney for the consumers told

Wegmans denies it’s leading customers astray.

“We haven’t deceived or misled our customers in any way,” said a Wegmans spokeswoman.

Both companies have requested the lawsuits be moved to federal court, as their headquarters are outside New Jersey, in Texas and New York, respectively.

Wegmans customers sue in New Jersey [Buffalo News]
Wegmans, Whole Foods accused of making half-baked claims about their bread []

Study Shows The Obvious: Amazon Prime Members Spend More On Amazon

Tue, 2015-01-27 19:09

(Stephen Woods)

(Stephen Woods)

It should be obvious to anyone with a basic understanding of how shopping works that customers who have a subscription to the company’s Prime service probably spend a lot more with Amazon than people who don’t. The temptation to order just about everything one needs without needing to accumulate a $35 order beckons to our inner very lazy or very efficient people.

The important question, though, is what the difference is between Amazon customers who have Prime and who don’t. In a survey of Amazon customers, Consumer Intelligence Research Partners found that Prime members spend about $875 less than non-members. Those non-members spend an average of $625, which also shows some customer loyalty.

That’s because Amazon has other ways to build loyalty to their brand. While a person who owns a Kindle e-reader or table, or a Fire media player probably also has Prime, that doesn’t mean that they necessarily do. The survey found that just under 40% of Amazon customers own the company’s devices, and that some don’t particularly care whether they’re connected to the Internet or not.

About 15% of customers have Amazon’s Visa-branded credit card, and they’re also very loyal to the retailer because of the rewards that they earn.

Let’s review: owning a product with its own media ecosystem, belonging to a free shipping program that you have to pay for in advance, or that having a store credit card that lets customers earn extra rewards by shopping at that store encourages them to shop at that store. Who knew? Everyone, but it’s good to have a survey quantify what we thought was true.

Amazon Prime Hits New Highs [CIRP] (via CNET)

Volkswagen, Audi Recall 80,000 Vehicles Because Leaking Fuel Can Lead To Fire

Tue, 2015-01-27 18:40
(Eric Arnold)

(Eric Arnold)

Even though fuel prices have precipitously dropped in recent months, no one wants to waste their gas because of a fuel leak. For that reason, and because a fuel leak could lead to a vehicle fire, Volkswagen is recalling nearly 26,000 sedans and SUVS in the U.S. and 80,000 worldwide.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports [PDF] that Volkswagen has issued a recall for 26,008 vehicles in the United States after receiving reports of small fuel leaks in a number of models.

Affected vehicles include the 2012 model year Audi A6 and Volkswagen Touareg hybrid, model year 2012 to 2013 Audi A7 and the model year 2011 to 2012 Audi Q7, S4 and S5.

According to a notice [PDF] from Volkswagen, which owns the Audi brand, vibration during driving, and production issues can cause small leaks in the vehicles’ fuel injection system.

Officials say that a leak – no matter how small – in the presence of an ignition source increases the risk of a vehicle fire.

While Volkswagen says it is unaware of any fires or injuries caused by the issue, reports received by NHTSA detail consumers’ concerns regarding the leaks.

In one report, the consumer claims fuel fumes appeared under the hood and through the air conditioner vents in their 2012 Audi A6. A local dealer determined the vehicle had a fuel leak.

Owners of affected vehicles will be notified in March and dealers will replace fuel rails and corresponding seals.

Verizon Fined $2 Million For Failing To Investigate Rural Calling Problems

Tue, 2015-01-27 18:34

(Brian Rome)

(Brian Rome)

Verizon and other operators of copper wire landline service have been accused in recent years of letting these old networks fall into disrepair in order to shift consumers over to wireless and fiberoptic services. It certainly doesn’t help Verizon’s case when the company spends months failing to investigate problems with rural phone service that its own data showed existed.

According to a consent decree [PDF] adopted yesterday by the FCC, Verizon collected eight months of evidence that “reflected potential problems with its delivery of calls to rural areas of the country,” but failed to actually investigate the issue, which affected 26 different rural communities.

The cost of being remiss in investigating the complaints, Verizon must pay $2 million in fines to the FCC, and spend $3 million over the next three years to improve call completion in rural areas.

This could have been avoided years ago. In June 2011, the FCC was given the heads-up about an apparent “nationwide and industry-wide epidemic” of calls to rural service areas that failed to complete or demonstrated low quality connections. A few months later the FCC created a Rural Call Completion Task Force “to investigate and address the growing problem of calls to rural customers that are being delayed or that fail to connect.”

In Feb. 2012, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau issued a ruling clarifying that phone service carriers who know of call completion problems and engage in “acts (or omissions) that allow or effectively allow these conditions to persist,” may be in violation of federal law, as could the use of routing practices that “result in lower quality service to rural or high-cost localities than like service to urban or lower cost localities.”

Even though the writing was on the wall that landline providers were going to be held liable for the quality of their rural service, Verizon apparently did not improve its service to these areas.

Then in Nov. 2013, the FCC began requiring providers to record, retain, and report to the Commission call answer rates for long-distance calls.

Verizon was already collecting this sort of data, but when the FCC reviewed the company’s reports for all of 2013, it noticed that there were persistently low call completion rates in 39 different rural areas. The Commission asked Verizon what it had done to address these problems, but Verizon admitted it had only initiated investigations or taken remedial action for 13 of the 39 areas, failing to do anything about 26 of them in spite of having evidence of a problem.

After being chastised for not investigating, Verizon finally took a look at these areas and claimed that its network and routing practices were not to blame.

In addition to the combined $5 million in fines and improvements, Verizon has agreed to a handful of other commitments, including the appointment of a “Rural Call Completion Ombudsman” at Verizon the development of a system to automatically identify customer complaints that may be related to rural call
completion issues; putting limits on Verizon’s use of intermediate providers that provide service between Verizon’s network and local providers’ networks.

“All Americans, no matter where they are located, have a right to make and receive phone calls,” said Travis LeBlanc, Chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau. “Phone companies are on notice that the FCC will hold them accountable for failures to investigate and ensure that calls go through to the rural heartland of the country.”


Allegedly Terrible Person Accused Of Drowning Puppy In Airport Bathroom In Order To Board A Flight

Tue, 2015-01-27 17:50

(Alan Rappa)

(Alan Rappa)

Are you having a good day so far? Then you might not want to ruin it by reading on, because holy crap, there are some really awful, terrible people in the world. Allegedly: Police in Nebraska say a woman drowned a three-week-old puppy in an airport bathroom after being told she couldn’t board her flight with the dog. Deep breaths. Must take deep breaths.

According to a police report cited by The Smoking Gun, a 56-year-old Florida woman was arrested last week at the Central Nebraska Regional Airport in Grand Island.

Cops say she first tried to board the plane last Thursday with three uncaged puppies and was turned away by airport workers. Her parents took two of the dogs and she returned on Friday with the remaining puppy, stowed in a carry-on bag.

She was denied boarding again, which is when she allegedly killed the Doberman puppy.

“On my arrival I learned a 3 week old puppy had been drowned in the toilet after a woman tried 3 times to get it on the plane,” the officer summoned to the scene reported.

The suspect was arrested after police spoke with her and “numerous witnesses” came forward, including the person who found the dog in the bathroom.

“The puppy was taken to the Humane Society and autopsied. It was found to have water in one of its lungs,” police said.

Please, people. Please, for the love of living things, don’t do this. Time for a cry break.

Cops: Woman Drowned Puppy In Airport Toilet After Not Being Allowed To Board Plane With Animal [The Smoking Gun]

Fifth Third Bank Has 100 Million Reasons To Want To Keep Offering Payday-Like Loans

Tue, 2015-01-27 17:38

fifthWhen the four banks still offering customers payday loan-like services announced they would discontinue their often under-fire products, they likely knew their bottom-line would take a hit. One of those institutions, First Third Bank announced this week that changes to its program resulted in the loss of millions of dollars in revenue, providing an example of why it can be difficult to persuade lenders to ditch the profit-making, but financially devastating programs.

The Cincinnati Business Journal reports that changes to Fifth Third Bank’s Early Advance program caused the bank’s revenue to drop by nearly $100 million last year.

The decline in revenue shows just how lucrative bank payday loans were and why a number of institutions were tempted to offer the business to begin with, Lauren Saunders, managing attorney for the National Consumer Law Center tells Consumerist.

Banks’ deposit advance services differed little from the typical storefront payday loan operation – both offered high-interest, short-term loans meant to get consumers out of emergency financial situations, but in reality have been found to trap them in an ongoing cycle of debt.

Fifth Third Bank, which was one of four left offering payday-like advance deposit services to customers last year, announced in January 2013 that it would leave the often financially devastating product behind.

However, the company backtracked on its vow just months later announcing that instead of ditching the product altogether, it would implement changes including closing the service to new customers and reducing the amount customers could borrow.

Fifth Third Bank CEO Tayfun Tuzun tells the Business Journal that by cutting the amount customers could borrow to no more than $1,000 at a time and limiting the number of consecutive number of months a customer can advance the maximum credit limit caused a sharp drop in the bank’s revenue.

While Tuzun has said the bank would wait for regulators’ guidance to determine whether or not they should move forward with their products, the million dollar decline in revenue for Fifth Third could make it difficult for them to close the door on the service.

“Fifth Third is still making money after cutting the price 70% in response to regulator concerns,” Saunders says. “Fifth Third is clearly trying to figure out a way to continue making money off of bank payday loans.”

Here’s how many millions Fifth Third lost because of payday loan change [Cincinnati Business Journal]

Google Expected To Announce Google Fiber Expansion To Atlanta, Nashville Today

Tue, 2015-01-27 17:20

(Rob Bruce)

(Rob Bruce)

Last week, it became pretty evident that Google is going to announce that the North Carolina markets of Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham would be the next to get Google Fiber high-speed broadband service. Now comes a report that two additional expansion cities — Atlanta and Nashville — are slated to be announced as early as today.

This is according to the Wall Street Journal, which reports that civic leaders in these two metro areas have received invites to Google-related events, much like what we described happening in North Carolina.

The events don’t mention the nature of the event, but given how all four of these metro areas were on Google’s list of possible expansion markets earlier this year, it’s either news of Google Fiber’s impending arrival or a setup for the biggest letdown since Snowmageddon 2015.

We’ll know soon enough, as the Nashville and Atlanta events are scheduled for today. Events in Charlotte and Raleigh are slated for Wednesday afternoon, followed by one more in Durham on Thursday.

However, a Charlotte Observer report from earlier today says that local media has been invited to a Google press conference at 1 p.m. this afternoon to “hear more about what’s in store for the people of Charlotte,” which seems to indicate that the announcement may come in advance of tomorrow’s events.

While the Google Fiber expansion plans currently appear to be limited to these four markets, other eligible cities are not giving up hope.

A rep for the city of San Jose tells the Journal that Google has given city officials the impression that just because a market isn’t immediately included in expansion plans doesn’t mean it’s not part of Google’s larger agenda.

“The message was that these announcements should not be considered the end of the road for the other areas,” said the rep.

9 Billion Burgers Served At U.S. Restaurants Last Year

Tue, 2015-01-27 17:19

(Lisa Eirene)

(Lisa Eirene)

Oof. Can you feel it? I’m talking about the feeling of nine billion burgers hitting American stomachs last year. Across the country, fast-food joints, casual dining restaurants and other eateries served up 3% more burgers in 2014 than in 2013. And while surely some of those never made it to their intestinal destinations, that’s still a lot of burger eating.

People aren’t going to restaurants more than they did in the year before, NPD Group reports (via, but burgers enjoyed a certain level of popularity that made a ding in the growth of your everyday sandwich.

Sandwich servings were down 2% in 2014, which comes down to a loss of about 201 million servings. Chicken sandwiches are the outcasts at the lunch table right now, dropping a whopping 9%/129 million servings.

Interestingly enough, one of the reasons behind the uptick in burgers is due to a shortage of beef. That means cheaper cuts and ground meat are going to grace more menus. And indeed, beef entree servings were down 8%.

“The success of burgers in 2014 was a combination of factors,” said Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst. “Quick service restaurant chains launched new burger item, casual-dining restaurants added more burger items to the menu to offset higher beef costs and Americans simply love their burgers.”

Why Are Gas Prices Falling, But Trash Collection Fuel Surcharges Staying The Same?

Tue, 2015-01-27 16:54

(Scott Lynch)

(Scott Lynch)

It makes sense for a business or a government service to impose a fuel surcharge During a time when fuel prices are rising out of proportion to the rest of the economy. What about when fuel prices are falling, though, as they are right now? A trash pickup customer in Modesto, California dared to ask that question, and got…a pretty reasonable answer, actually.

It’s nice to contact a company or government agency and receive a completely reasonable response. In this case, Kurtis Ming of CBS Sacramento contacted the city on one resident’s behalf, and learned that the fuel surcharge has been on the bill since 2006, and does change. It just doesn’t change as quickly as the diesel fuel prices at the local gas station does, the city’s solid waste manager explained, because the surcharge changes quarterly instead of weekly.

The city’s contractor had always imposed a fuel surcharge, but it wasn’t until 2006 that Modesto began breaking that charge out on residents’ bills. The first fuel surcharge was 86 cents; the highest came along with record fuel prices in 2009. Now it will fall again, since the surcharge is based on the price of diesel fuel over the past quarter.

Call Kurtis: Garbage Company Charges for Fuel Even With Low Gas Prices [CBS Sacramento]

Delta Apologizes For Making Nursing Mother Check Bag Containing Her Breast Pump

Tue, 2015-01-27 16:13



Perhaps you’ve been there before — you’ve got three bags and the airline tells you you’ve got to consolidate your carry-ons down to two, even if it means checking an item. But a nursing mother who says she was told she’d have to check her breast pump says Delta Air Lines should’ve allowed her to bring it onboard instead of making her check it.

The airline is now apologizing about a week after the woman’s flight, where she says she was forced to choose between her purse, a cooler bag carrying breast milk and a standard carry-on containing her breast pump, reports CNN.

She says gate agents wouldn’t allow her to board with the pump, which was in her carry-on suitcase, because she already had two other bags. But medical devices, strollers and some other equipment don’t count against the carry-on allowance, according to Delta’s own policy.

Despite that policy, an agent first told her to consolidate the luggage even after she said the suitcase had a medical device.

“She then said the computer just gave her a message stating that all passengers starting with me would need to check their bags,” the woman told CNN. “When I later entered the jet bridge, passengers lining up behind me had their suitcases.”

Another passenger who says she doesn’t know the woman said she saw and heard what happened. She says Delta staff wasn’t budging, even though there were “at least five available spots in the overhead bins” when she got onto the flight.

“She kept saying, ‘I have a medical device I need to bring with me on the plane,’ over and over, visibly upset,” the onlooker told CNN. “The ticket agent and her supervisor, who she eventually called over, were not helpful and not supportive.”

Delta has since apologized, saying it “supports the rights of women to breastfeed.”

“Breastfeeding and breast pumps are permitted aboard any Delta flight and in Delta ground facilities. We have apologized to the customer for her experience,” a spokeswoman said, echoing the official Delta policy.

That reads: “Delta fully supports a woman’s right to breast-feed on board Delta and Delta Connection aircraft and in Delta facilities. Breast pumps are allowed on board.”

The woman says now she hopes her situation will lead to an increased awareness about women’s rights to breastfeed and pump on planes. She’s started a campaign to encourage airlines to post their pro-breastfeeding and breast-pumping policies inside all aircraft, called Boobs on Board.

She’s pitched the idea to Delta CEO Richard Anderson’s executive assistant, who she says called to discuss the incident.

“I told her that on behalf of all nursing moms, I would be extremely grateful if this change happened,” she said.

Delta prohibits carry-on breast pump, apologizes later [CNN]

Facebook Says Hour-Long Global Outage Was Its Own Fault, Not The Work Of Hackers

Tue, 2015-01-27 15:45



After Facebook and Instagram went down around the world for about an hour earlier today, the social media giant announced that despite the claims of hackers on Twitter, it’s placing the blame squarely on itself, saying it was a self-inflicted outage.

Facebook users from Asia, the United States, Australia and Instagram users in the the U.K. reported not being able to access the sites for about an hour today, reports the Associated Press, and Facebook says its all Facebook’s fault.

“This was not the result of a third party attack but instead occurred after we introduced a change that affected our configuration systems,” its statement said, calling it a “major outage” on its developer site that lasted an hour.

An organization called Lizard Squad which claimed responsibility for a recent hack on Malaysia airlines claimed it was responsible for the outages, but security experts point to Facebook’s story as a more likely scenario.

A denial-of-service attacked would’ve made those sites unreachable rather than accessible but displaying an error message, one security consultant told the AP. Because of Facebook’s multiple data centers, an attack would’ve affected only one region, instead of the global reach of this outage.

Anyway, get back to Facebooking and Instagramming all that snow, people on the East Coast. The rest of you, get back to asking your friends about all that snow on social media.

Hourlong global outage at Facebook, Instagram blamed on internal glitch [Associated Press]

California DMV Retracts Notice Requiring Uber & Lyft To Obtain Commercial Licenses

Tue, 2015-01-27 15:44

(Jeff Archer)

(Jeff Archer)

Just a week after it was widely reported that the California Department of Motor Vehicles issued an advisory requesting all drivers of ride-sharing services to obtain commercial license plates, the agency has revoked the guidance.

KQED-News reports that the California DMV revoked the advisory that affected ride-share operators such as Uber and Lyft.

According to the retraction, the department says it jumped the gun and shouldn’t have issued the advisory earlier this month.

“Our responsibility is to notify the public of existing state law,” the statement reads. “In response to inquiries, the department issued an alert earlier this month that reflected the definition of a commercial vehicle under a 1935 law. However, there remains uncertainty about the interaction and effect of this law governing vehicle registration requirements with the more recent regulatory and statutory changes affecting ride share operators.”

DMV officials say that additional review and analysis must be done before issuing another advisory. The department will be meeting with regulators and industry to continue working through the issue.

The original advisory, which was released earlier this month, was seen by many as a major threat to ride-share apps such as Uber and Lyft.

“Any passenger vehicle used or maintained for the transportation of persons for hire, compensation or profit is a commercial vehicle,” the DMV wrote in the advisory. “Even occasional use of a vehicle in this manner requires the vehicle to be registered commercially.”

Officials said that drivers in violation of the law could be ticketed, however, they didn’t make it clear whether it would be up to the DMV, California Highway Patrol or local police to enforce the rules.

Ride-sharing companies were quick to denounce the DMV’s memo, saying that commercial registration costs more than personal registration and entails an array of paperwork and in-person DMV appointments.

“Requiring Lyft drivers, including those who drive just a few hours a week, to get commercial plates would essentially treat peer-to-peer transportation the same as a taxi, undermining the thoughtful work done by the CPUC [California Public Utilities Commission] to craft new rules for ride-sharing in California,” Lyft said in a statement.

Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and other services are regulated by the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

California DMV Retracts Notice That UberX, Lyft Drivers Need Commercial Plates [KQED-News]