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The Consumerist

How Did Patti LaBelle End Up Selling Super-Popular Sweet Potato Pies At Walmart?

Fri, 2015-11-20 21:36

pie_walmartYou might expect people to be keen to purchase pie at this time of year, as our peak national pie-eating holiday approaches. Yet a pie fever is currently gripping the country: celebrity pie fever, as Walmart is suddenly unable to keep its new Patti LaBelle-branded sweet potato pie on the shelves.

Fortune magazine spoke to the Walmart executive responsible for the pie fever, Kinna Thomas, senior buyer for cakes and pies. Wanting to improve the chain’s desserts, she began the process of sending her family sweet potato pie recipe to its mass-baking suppliers to find the best pie.

It turns out that R&B star LaBelle is famous for her own sweet potato pie, and some of her flourishes were added to the Walmart version before it went into mass production.

The pie has been for sale nationwide since spring, but you probably haven’t noticed or heard about it. Then a combination of two things happened: fall began, Thanksgiving approached, and a much lesser-known singer than Patti LaBelle posted a video review on YouTube that became a viral sensation, turning the pie itself into a viral sensation.

Now the pies are mostly sold out, with people even flipping them on eBay.


The sweet potato pie project did exactly what it was supposed to for Walmart: got the word out that they have some high-quality bakery items. Maybe even high enough quality to draw middle- and upper-middle-class people who wouldn’t normally shop at Walmart into their stores.

How Patti LaBelle’s Sweet Potato Pie Craze Is Reinventing Walmart’s Bakery [Fortune]

Big Corn & Big Sugar Confidentially Settle 4-Year-Old False Advertising Lawsuit

Fri, 2015-11-20 21:21

ohcarrieA long-delayed four-year legal battle between Big Corn and Big Sugar has finally come to an end — not with a jury verdict, or with a judge throwing the case out, but with a confidential settlement that leaves a sour taste in everyone’s mouth.

Way back in 2011, in the midst of the corn industry’s failed attempt to rename “high fructose corn syrup” as simply “corn sugar,” some actual sugar refiners sued, alleging that the corn folks were engaging in false advertising by telling consumers that HFCS and sugar were equivalent.

“This suit is about false advertising, pure and simple,” the President and CEO of one plaintiff, the Western Sugar Cooperative, said at the time, claiming that the Corn Refiners Association was trying to “deceive people” and “distort scientific facts” about HFCS.

For fun, let’s take short break to revisit the folksy, corny goodness of those ads, like this one featuring a then-unknown actress Carrie Coon, now starring in HBO’s The Leftovers:

Anyway, this legal battle lingered on — much like an afternoon spent slowly strolling through the corn rows, pondering your fictional family’s health — even after the FDA decided in 2012 that no, HFCS could not be called “corn sugar,” mostly because that alternative name is already taken by good ol’ fashioned dextrose.

After being bombarded with, quite literally, hundreds of press releases and statements from both sides of this battle, we find out today that all this nasty public name-calling and conspiracy-alleging has been quietly settled, like many business matters, in a closed-door session with details that can’t be shared.

In a joint statement to the L.A. Times, both sides effectively admit that this was a pointless endeavor that should never have occurred:
“The Parties continue their commitments to practices that encourage safe and healthful use of their products, including moderation in the consumption of table sugar, high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners.”

Ain’t that sweet…

Emissions-Cheating “Defeat Devices” Found In Additional VW, Audi, Porsche Vehicles

Fri, 2015-11-20 20:41

The emission-scandal plot continues to thicken for Volkswagen and U.S. regulators. Nearly a month after the Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board accused the carmaker of including “defeat devices” in an additional 10,000 previously unreported vehicles, investigators for the agency say the number of cars is significantly higher. 

The EPA announced [PDF] Friday that during a meeting between the parties on Thursday, VW and Audi officials acknowledged that a November notice of violation extends to all 3.0-liter diesel engine vehicles from model years 2009 to 2016.

Regulators revealed on Nov. 2 that they had identified additional Clean Air Act violations in approximately 10,000 model year 2015-2016 VW Touareg, the 2014-2016 Porsche Cayenne, and the 2015-2016 Audi A6 Quattro, A7 Quattro, A8, A8L, and Q5.

The “sophisticated software algorithm” in the vehicles is programmed to detect when the car is undergoing official emissions testing, and to only turn on full emissions control systems – the temperature conditioning mode – during that testing.

The EPA and CARB said on Friday that they will “continue to investigate and will take all appropriate action.”

Shortly after the Nov. 2 violation order was announced, VW denied the allegations.

“It is a permissible software. What’s at issue here is clear: Does the U.S. want competition in the American market or not?” the spokesperson said at the time, noting the company would continue to sell the vehicles.

Days later, the company seemingly did a 180, issuing a stop-sale of new and certified pre-owned 3.0 liter, 6-cylinder models covered by the notice of violation.

The move marked the company’s second stop-sale since September when regulators accused VW of installing the so-called defeat devices on about 482,000 diesel vehicles since 2008.

Days later, the German carmaker admitted that nearly 11 million vehicles worldwide contained a “sophisticated software algorithm” programmed to detect when the car is undergoing official emissions testing, and to only turn on full emissions control systems – the temperature conditioning mode – during that testing.

Use AdBlock And Yahoo May Block You From Reading Your E-Mail

Fri, 2015-11-20 20:03

This screengrab, showing Yahoo was barring the user from accessing their e-mail account, was posted to the AdBlock Plus forum earlier this week. Yahoo subsequently confirmed that it is blocking some users from their Yahoo Mail accounts.If you still live in 2003 and have a Yahoo e-mail account but also use Ad Block to, ya know, block ads, then the folks at Yahoo might have a nasty surprise for you when you go to check your inbox.

Digiday, pointing to posts in the AdBlock Plus forums, reports that some Yahoo users have found they were unable to access their e-mail accounts because they were using ad-blocking plugins on their web browser.

This isn’t mere supposition or any sort of conspiracy theory. The on-screen message makes it clear in no uncertain terms that “We are unable to display Yahoo Mail. Please disable Ad Blocker to continue using Yahoo Mail.”

And the company confirmed to that it is indeed barring some users from seeing their e-mails.

“At Yahoo, we are continually developing and testing new product experiences,” a Yahoo rep explains. “This is a test we’re running for a small number of Yahoo Mail users in the U.S.”

While we understand that billions of dollars are lost each year to blocked ads, we’re not sure if holding someone’s e-mails hostage is the best route to go for Yahoo, especially since the company can’t even get all of its own employees to use Yahoo Mail.

This sort of tactic also runs counter to the online ad industry’s recent admission that it had gotten overzealous during the last decade, resulting in an environment full of annoying, invasive ads that drive consumers to install ad blockers.

American Airlines Loses Professional Dancer’s $250K Prosthetic Leg, Finds It In Another Country

Fri, 2015-11-20 19:44

If you thought the airline losing your suitcase of souvenirs was rough, imagine if they lost a bag with your prosthetic leg. That’s apparently what happened for a professional dancer and Boston Marathon bombing victim traveling with American Airlines this week. 

The woman shared her story late Thursday evening by Tweeting to the airline asking for help in locating the bag containing her $250,000 dance-specific prosthetic leg, CBS Boston reports.

Hi @AmericanAir u lost my luggage w over $250k of leg & dance parts. I have an entire team on u. Pls respond, been days can't dance #retweet

— AdrianneHD (@AdrianneHaslet) November 20, 2015

The airline replied shortly after saying they were on the case.

@AdrianneHaslet We'll see what we can find out for you. Please follow us and DM the bag file reference number.

— American Airlines (@AmericanAir) November 20, 2015

While the woman – who lost the lower part of her left leg in the April 2013 bombing – didn’t specifically say where she had been traveling, an update on Twitter showed that the bag was on quite a trip.

1/2 Great news! @AmericanAir had its best people on it and found it! A little jealous it got to travel somewhere pretty. Also, I'm

— AdrianneHD (@AdrianneHaslet) November 20, 2015

2/2 working on something huge after a great brainstorming sesh w @AmericanAir Thank you for listening & seeing a great need for amputees! Xo

— AdrianneHD (@AdrianneHaslet) November 20, 2015

A rep. for the airline tells CBS Boston that the situation had been resolved.

“We’re terribly sorry we lost this bag and we’re working directly with the customer to get it back to her just as soon as possible,” a rep for the airline said. “We’re sorry this happened. Her bag has been located and we will reunite her with it as soon as possible.”

Marathon Bombing Survivor’s Missing Prosthetic Leg Found [CBS Boston]

Is Your Thanksgiving Turkey On Drugs?

Fri, 2015-11-20 18:53

(iwantamonkey)We’ve written before about the overuse of antibiotics in turkeys and how it contributes to the development of drug-resistant bacteria, and some companies have pledged to cut down on the amount of unnecessary antibiotics they feed to their birds. But was the turkey you’re planning to carve up next Thursday raised using these and other potentially harmful drugs?

That’s the subject of a new report [PDF] from non-profit group Food Animal Concerns Trust, which looked at the nation’s largest turkey producers and their policies for antibiotics use and the feed additive ractopamine, which is allowed in the U.S. but banned in dozens of other countries around the world.

The FACT survey asked companies to provide information regarding three key issues. First, do they use medically important antibiotics for “disease prevention”? This is a common reason given by farmers to employ antibiotics, but many scientists believe that continual, low-dose prophylactic use of antibiotics only has the end result of further encouraging the development of drug-resistant pathogens.

The second question involves the use of antibiotics for growth-promotion. In 2013, the FDA asked drug companies to remove growth-promotion as an allowable use for their animal antibiotics. Of course, that doesn’t stop these drugs from continuing to work as growth-promoters; it just means the farmers have to change their reason for using the antibiotics to “disease prevention.”

Finally, there’s the issue of ractopamine, a lean-ness promoter used in the last stages of turkey farming that encourages muscle growth without additional fat. The drug can have possible ill effects on the wellness of the animals that receive it, and it has been banned in many other countries over concerns about the potential risk for heart problems in humans who eat meat from animals treated with ractopamine.

According to the report, only two of the large turkey companies — Tyson (Hillshire Farm), and Hain Pure Protein (Plainville Farms brand) — avoid the use of all antibiotics and ractopamine.

All of the others at least use antibiotics for disease prevention, though biggies like Cargill and Foster Farms claim to not use the drugs for growth-promotion.

When Cargill first announced its “no antibiotics for growth-promotion” policy in 2014 some industry watchers were skeptical that the company was merely paying lip service to the idea, as “disease prevention” use of antibiotics can be identical in terms of dose, duration, and prevalence to that of growth-promotion.

Similarly, Foster Farms — the poultry giant behind a massive outbreak of salmonella in 2013 — announced this past summer that it will eventually eliminate all medically important antibiotics from its birds, but was criticized for not providing a more specific timeline to reach that goal.

Probably the two most recognizable names in turkeys — Butterball and Perdue — use antibiotics for both preventing disease and to get bigger birds.

For the report, Perdue told FACT that around 1/5 of its turkeys are raised without any antibiotics at all and that the company is “committed to reducing antibiotic use in turkeys,” but that it’s “not as advanced in reducing antibiotic use in turkeys as we are in chickens.”

As for ractopamine, while only three producers are listed as using the drug to raise lean, large turkeys, that group includes the fourth-largest producer, Farbest, and household name Kraft.

Here is a chart summarizing the results of the survey:

McDonald’s Will Pay $355K To Settle Claims That It Discriminated Against Immigrant Workers

Fri, 2015-11-20 18:39

(Steve) McDonald’s has agreed to pay $355,000 in civil penalties as part of a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, to resolve claims that the company discriminated against legal immigrants in the workplace.

Along with the cash payment, McDonald’s crop will undergo 20 months of monitoring and train its employees. The case only involves actions by McDonald’s, and not its franchises, the DOJ said.

“The settlement agreement also requires McDonald’s to compensate lawful permanent resident employees of McDonald’s-owned restaurants who lost work or lost their jobs due to these documentary practices,” the department noted.

The investigation into McDonald’s was spurred by information provided on the department’s Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices worker hotline. The department found that McDonald’s was requiring lawful permanent residents to show a new permanent resident card — a “Green Card” — when their original document expired.

Some of the permanent residents who couldn’t provide a new card when it was requested weren’t allowed to work, or lost their jobs, the DOJ said.

Showing such documentation again is not required by law, and investigators found that the Golden Arches didn’t enforce a similar police for its U.S. citizen employees.

“Employers cannot hold lawful permanent residents to a higher standard by placing additional documentary burdens upon them during the employment eligibility verification process,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division. “Requiring unnecessary documentation of individuals based on their citizenship or immigration status is discriminatory, and the Department of Justice will not hesitate to enforce the law and protect the rights of work-authorized immigrants. We commend McDonald’s for its cooperation throughout this investigation and for committing to compensate its current and former employees who lost wages due to these practices.”

McDonald’s addressed the settlement in a statement, saying it values “diversity of thought, background and culture”: “We deny any wrongdoing in this matter, but in order to avoid further expense, and … to cooperate with the Office of Special Counsel, we reached a settlement.”

Starwood Hotels Reports Payment Systems At 54 Locations Infected With Malware

Fri, 2015-11-20 18:30
(Adam Fagen)

Just days after Starwood Hotels and Resorts made headlines for combining with Marriott to make the world’s largest hotelier, the company is back in the news for a decidedly less exciting issue: it’s the latest victim of a hack attack. 

Starwood –the operator of brands like Sheraton, St. Regis, W and Westin – notified customers Friday that payment systems at 54 of its North American hotels were infected with malware designed to collect payment card data from restaurants, gift shops and other retail areas of the buildings.

A third-party investigation found that, while no customer data was compromised, the malware was put in place for varying periods of time between Nov. 2014 and Oct. 2015.

Starwood says that the malware “no longer presents a threat,” and the company has implemented additional security measures to prevent future hack attacks.

“Protecting our customers’ information is critically important to Starwood and we take this issue extremely seriously,” Sergio Rivera, Starwood President, said in a statement. “We have been working closely with law enforcement authorities and have been coordinating our efforts with the payment card organizations. We want to assure our customers that we have implemented additional security measures to help prevent this type of crime from reoccurring.”

The list [PDF] of affected hotels include the Sheraton New York Times Square hotel, the Westin New York Grand Central New York and The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort in Florida.

[via Reuters]

Tesla Recalling All Its Model S Sedans Over Seatbelt Issue

Fri, 2015-11-20 18:28

(catheroo (cat edens))
Tesla is known for their cutting-edge 21st-centry all-electric cars, but today the company is recalling all 90,000 of them over an issue with a much older tech: the seat belts.

Reuters reports that the carmaker is recalling all its Model S sedans, from all years, over a potential issue with the seat belt assemblies in the front seat.

The issue was discovered earlier this month when a customer in Europe reported the seatbelt assembly in the front passenger seat breaking when the passenger turned around to talk to others riding in the back seat.

A problem where your seatbelt can break suddenly is very bad, but here’s the good news: the fix is cheap, easy, and quick. A Tesla spokesman told Reuters that the fix takes about six minutes and that the cost to the company will be “immaterial.”

There have been no accidents or injuries related to the seat belt flaw reported so far, Tesla’s spokesman told Reuters.

Tesla recalling 90,000 Model S sedans to check seat belts [Reuters]

People And Businesses Named ‘Isis’ Really Don’t Want To Change Their Names

Fri, 2015-11-20 18:27

(Paul Jones)What irritating problem do a fictional Labrador retriever, a pharmaceutical company, a spiritual bookstore in Denver, my old Honda Accord, and women and girls all over the world have in common? They’re all named Isis. After a terrorist group best known by that name claimed credit for the bombing of a Russian airliner and a shooting spree in the city of Paris, the group’s name has been in the news constantly. This isn’t working out so well for companies and people called Isis.

You might remember one early victim, the Isis Mobile Wallet, which changed its name last year to Softcard to avoid any confusion with the group.

Where it gets confusing is that not everyone refers to the group as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria)––governments, media outlets, and law enforcement agencies writing for English speakers variously call them ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, which the White House prefers) Daesh (the group’s acronym in Arabic) or just Islamic State. We’re going to guess that the group, with a strict interpretation of Islam, did not name themselves after a winged Egyptian goddess.

However, some poorly-informed people have decided to harass and vandalize a Denver bookstore named after the goddess. The store’s owner has spent much of this week making the case to the public that it is not a terrorist-owned establishment. A company called Isis Pharmaceuticals has been in business for almost 25 years under that name, but it has become enough of a burden that they’re considering changing it.

When You’re Named Isis for the Goddess, Not the Terror Group [New York Times]

Apple Offers Temporary Fix For iPad Pros That Suddenly Go Dark: Turn It Off, Then Turn It On Again

Fri, 2015-11-20 17:52

(jonasflanken)If there’s one piece of advice we all turn to in the face of a malfunctioning piece of electronics, it’s “try turning it off, and then back on again.” That basic approach is proving to be the go-to for Apple right now, as it advises iPad Pro owners on how to revive their devices after the screen goes unexpectedly dark.

Apple is offering up the forced restart as a temporary solution for Pro owners who have been reporting on Apple’s support forum, MacRumors and Reddit (h/t Mashable), among other places, that their devices suddenly sport a black screen, often after the iPad has been charging.

Often, users have plugged their iPads in overnight, only to find them unresponsive in the morning.

“Learn what to do if your iPad Pro doesn’t respond when you press buttons or tap on the screen, and the screen is black,” a message on Apple’s support site reads. “To get back to using your iPad Pro, force restart it by pressing and holding both the Sleep/Wake and Home buttons for at least ten seconds, until you see the Apple logo.”

Apple adds that it’s aware of the issue and will continue investigating, so here’s to hoping the company comes up with a solution other than the one everyone else in the world will offer you as help for any issue with electronics.

Hyundai Recalls 305K Sedans For Brake Light Issues

Fri, 2015-11-20 17:48
(Van Swearington)

Following someone who constantly “rides the brake,” as they say, can be a frustrating experience. But if that car ahead of you is a Hyundai, it might not be the driver’s fault: the carmaker recently recalled nearly 305,000 Sonatas because the brake lights might stay on, even when the driver isn’t pressing the pedal. 

Hyundai announced this week that it would recall 304,900 model year 2011 and 2012 Sonata sedans because continuously running break lights can increase the risk of crash.

According to a notice [PDF] posted with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an ongoing investigation by Hyundai found that brake pedal stopper pad material in the affected vehicles can deteriorate allowing the stop lamp switch plunger to remain extended when the brake pedal is released.

The company says the deteriorated pad can result in the stop lamps illuminating continuously and activation of the engine management system’s brake pedal override feature, among other things.

Hyundai says it is unaware of any accidents or injuries related to the issue.

Owners of affected vehicles will be notified by the carmaker in January and dealers will replace the brake pedal stopper pad with a new part.

FCC Chair: Video Streaming That Doesn’t Count Against Your Data Caps Is “Innovative” And “Highly Competitive”

Fri, 2015-11-20 17:27

The FCC’s Open Internet Rule — net neutrality — has been in effect for months now, but that doesn’t mean every question about the ins and outs of who can do what with their network is settled. Far from it, in fact. Some questions, like zero rating, have been hanging out there unresolved all this time. Except now they’re a bit more resolved, and it seems to be totally okay for the time being.

As data caps have proliferated in both the mobile and home broadband spaces, more and more providers exempt some set of services from those data caps. Those services then, of course, are more likely to become cost-conscious consumers’ go-to apps, perhaps to the exclusion of newer competitors that can’t yet afford or negotiate some kind of exemption contract. That’s zero-rating in a nutshell. And according to remarks by FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, it’s a pretty good idea.

Whether or not zero-rating is kosher under the open internet rule has been a big fat question mark during the entire net neutrality process, but that hasn’t stopped companies from increasing the offerings. T-Mobile, for example, just launched its Binge On plan, offering subscribers “optimized” versions of more than 20 streaming services that won’t count against their data plans. And Comcast just confirmed that their pilot streaming-only program, Stream, will also be exempt from their data caps.

The commission has opened its process to consider whether they should consider data caps when they report on Americans’ broadband access in the future, but that decision and any future reports that result from it are months if not years away. However, when Wheeler was asked directly about it in a press conference after this month’s regular FCC open meeting, he said he saw a lot of good in it.

“It is clear in the Open Internet order that we are pro-competition and pro-innovation,” said Wheeler, “and clearly, this meets both of those criteria. It is highly innovative and highly competitive.”

Wheeler also added that although he sees no conflict between Binge On and the rule against paid prioritization, that the commission will still be keeping an eye on the situation. Providers “should not unreasonably interfere with the access to someone who is trying to get to an edge provider and an edge provider who is trying to get to a consumer,” Wheeler said. “So, what we are going to be doing is watching Binge On, keeping and eye on it, and measure it against the general conduct rule.”

Opponents of net neutrality — including FCC commissioner Ajit Pai — pointed to Wheeler’s statement as one reason the rule is too vague and unsettled to be good for business… despite the fact that businesses like T-Mobile, at least, seem to be doing just fine with offering products and services they believe consumers want.

The fight over net neutrality will get louder again after Thanksgiving, as the legal fight between ISPs and the FCC will have its day in court on December 4.

Wheeler: Binge On Is Pro-Competitive, Pro-Innovation [Multichannel News]

This Is The Original Taco Bell Building Being Relocated On The Back Of A Truck

Fri, 2015-11-20 17:11

(We Are The Next)It’s been nearly a year since we first told you about the possible demolition of a somewhat anonymous little building in Downey, CA, that nonetheless was the fountainhead from which an empire of gorditas, chalupas, and Dorito-shelled tacos burst forth. As we reported earlier this week, the original home of Taco Bell was to be relocated to the company’s headquarters in the middle of the night. Thankfully, folks came out to capture the move for posterity.

The Orange County Register reports that the 45-mile trip from Downey to Taco Bell HQ was supposed to last around five hours — a truck can only move so fast with an entire bricks and mortar restaurant on its back, even with an escort from six police cars — but the trip was completed in a little more than three hours.

Chris Nichols from Los Angeles Magazine was one of several people on hand to capture the move in short, social media-friendly video:

Taco Bell Numero Uno rolled out of its original location in Downey tonight. #savetacobell

— Chris Nichols (@ChrisNicholsLA) November 20, 2015

So were the folks from We Are The Next, the non-profit that helped to spur interest in saving the 53-year-old building where Glenn “Taco” Bell opened his first Taco Bell, but his second taco restaurant. He’d already had a minor hit in the area with his four-location Taco Tia stores.

Instagram Photo

We Are The Next were also on hand at Taco Bell’s headquarters/lair when the truck arrived around 1:30 a.m. PT last night:

Instagram Photo

Pack Your Car Emergency Kit For Holiday Travel

Fri, 2015-11-20 16:57

(hpaich)I didn’t really take the idea of car emergency kits seriously until I bought a neighbor’s old car, and discovered the wealth of supplies for various emergencies that he had left in the trunk and console. Gloves for changing the tire? Check. Can of Fix-A-Flat for Urgent tire emergencies? Check. Disposable camera in case of an accident? Check. (This was before camera phones were popular.) What else should emergency kits for the discerning and slightly paranoid motorist contain?

Our safety-minded colleagues down the hall at Consumer Reports have some ideas about what you should keep on your car. Even if you only drive in well-populated areas, some of these items could still be very handy.

A first-aid kit: Carry treatments for a few basic injuries and illnesses, and make sure you know how to use everything inside.

A fire extinguisher: Also make sure you know how this works before an actual emergency happens.

Tire-changing or fixing equipment: If your car doesn’t have a spare tire, as many newer vehicles don’t, learn how to use the equipment you have.

What about winter-specific items if you live in an area that’s cold or snowy? Consumer Reports suggests stashing extra warm-weather gear like a blanket and extra hat in your trunk, as well as a hardcore ice scraper, bag of kitty litter for extra traction, and tire chains if you know how to use them.

What to Pack in a Car Emergency Kit for Your Holiday Road Trips [Consumer Reports]

Woman Who Hasn’t Visited Bay Area In 15 Years Forced To Fight 55 Toll Tickets For Bridges She Didn’t Drive Over

Fri, 2015-11-20 16:54

(kenfagerdotcom)It’s annoying when you receive a ticket for something you never did, but you know what’s even more annoying? Getting 55 tickets in a year for that thing you never did. A California woman who says she hasn’t driven the five hours to the Bay Area in more than 15 years had quite the headache trying to deal with an avalanche of tickets she received from the local authority for not paying bridge tolls on bridges she never drove over.

The 74-year-old woman lives in northeast California, and says she started getting notices from the Bay Area Toll Authority — which is in charge of seven state bridges — accusing her of driving across those bridges without paying the toll.

She’s now received 55 violations, each one for a separate illegal bridge crossing, demanding she pay $30 on each in fees and evasion penalties, reports the Sacramento Bee. Only thing is, she hasn’t crossed those bridges in 15 years.

She noticed when she looked at the notices that the photo of the license plate on the car is similar to hers, but it has the letter “U” where her car has a “1”. Plus, she drives a pickup and the photo is of a white sedan.

It took her more than 10 conversations with the BATA over the last year, she says, with several FasTrak customer service reps agreeing that the vehicle in the photos didn’t belong to her. Though those reps promised to annul the citation and flag her license in their system, the tickets kept coming. As of two weeks ago, she’d received yet another.

She even procured a letter from toll officials to take to the Department of Motor Vehicles so she could get a lien removed from her pickup, in order to re-register it.

The flood of tickets may be stemmed now, after she called the office of state Sen. Ted Gaines for help. His office fired off a letter to the toll authority.

“I am deeply concerned that FasTrak continues to incorrectly issue tickets to my constituent, who happens to be a senior citizen, and a cancer survivor, and someone who does not need to be harried by an automated system,” Gaines wrote.

Since then, BATA and a FasTrak spokesman have apologized. The spokesman said that that sometimes the automated system makes a mistake, but that this long-running debacle may have been the dispute that stretched out the longest. According to FasTrak, the system failed her twice: its optical license plate recognition system misread two license plates as hers, and customer service workers just failed to flag her license plate.

He offered an apology, adding, “There is no excuse. This went on far, far too long. We simply did not follow our own procedures.”

The driver received a “toll dismissal” letter from FasTrak this week, saying that the “inefficient handling of your toll dispute” is not typical.

Still, she’s a bit disgruntled: the letter didn’t explain what happened, or state that all tickets had been dismissed, and it didn’t outline what steps the agency will take to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

“There isn’t even a (signature) on the letter,” she noted. In any case, it’s not like she’ll be heading back to the Bay Area any time soon.

“I love San Francisco. But if I never go back, I don’t care anymore,” she told the Bee. “Nuh uh. It’s not worth the hassle.”

California woman erroneously cited 55 times for Bay Area toll violations [Sacramento Bee]

Empty Shelves Explained: Walmart’s Expansion Greatly Outpaced Its Hiring

Fri, 2015-11-20 16:35

walmartempty5Last year, Walmart finally acknowledged what dozens of Walmart workers had already told us — that maybe the retailer had a slight problem with keeping shelves stocked at some stores. But a new look at store growth and hiring data over the last decade shows that this is not merely a matter of not having a few extra people to work the overnight shift.

According to a Reuters analysis of Walmart data, the retailer has spent the last decade growing its number of stores — resulting in increased sales — but has barely increased its total workforce to deal with that growth.

The approximately 1,500 new stores opened during this time equate to a 45% bump in Walmart’s overall retail footprint. Yet the company’s U.S. workforce only grew by around 8%. Reuters calculates that the amount of retail space per employee thus increased by 34%. However, it’s difficult to get an exact figure on Walmart workers since the company only provides approximate headcount info to the public.

By the company’s own metrics, a vast majority of its stores (83%) were failing at being able to provide quality service to customers by Feb. 2015.

Speaking to Reuters, Walmart’s head of U.S. operations Greg Foran admits that the company could probably have hired more people, and that the retailer has been overly concerned about quick-fix placating of shareholders.

“The reality is over the last probably four years it hasn’t been enough,” he explains. “The customer lost because the price gap narrowed…And the shareholder won short-term.”

A rep for Walmart downplays the disparity between rapid store growth and relatively flat headcount, explaining that advances in automation and technology — self-checkout, shelf-ready packaging — are the reason the retailer hasn’t had to hire so many new people.

And yet, the company has been on a bit of a hiring spree, hiring 8,000 new department managers this year. While that might seem like a lot of people, it’s fewer than two per store.

Walmart, which has been accused of slashing hours in recent years, claims to have begun adding more labor hours. Foran says it’s a matter of getting “the right labor in the right area at the right time doing the right jobs.”

The retailer says that these tweaks are having a positive effect, with around 70% of stores now receiving a passing grade on internal metrics.

Of course, shoppers only care what internal survey scores say if those improvements reflect the reality of their Walmart experience. This holiday season will be the first since the retailer admitted that it might have a headcount problem; we’ll know shortly if the retailer is really ready to keep shelves stocked.

LG Stops Selling New Smartwatch After Six Days Because Of Hardware Issue

Fri, 2015-11-20 16:14
(Mike Mozart)

If you were planning to run out and buy LG’s new smartwatch, it’s time to come up with a contingency plan: the company has canceled sales of the Watch Urbane 2nd Edition LTE just six days after it hit the market.

LG initiated the full-on cancellation of the watch after finding an unspecified hardware issue, Android Police reports.

The company says in a statement that the issue was found “late in the quality assurance process,” and that the problem “affects the day-to-day functionality of the device.”

“After further investigation, the decision was made to cancel the rollout of the Urbane 2nd Edition LTE due to the complicated nature of the issue,” LG says.

Ars Technica confirmed that the problem with the watch posed no danger to the user and that there was “no safety issues or concerns with the product.”

It’s unclear if the LG Urbane 2nd Edition, which was the company’s first smartwatch with mobile data connectivity, will be available for purchase in the future.

“For now, our top priority is to ensure that only products that meet our very specific quality standards are available for purchase,” LG says in a statement.

LG Cancels The Watch Urbane 2nd Edition LTE Indefinitely Because Of Unspecified, Complex “Hardware Issue” [Android Police]
LG cancels smartwatch after just six days on the market [Ars Technica]

Officials: Spirit Airlines Flight Returned To Airport After Takeoff Due To Bomb Threat Onboard

Fri, 2015-11-20 15:37

(afagen)A Spirit Airlines flight headed from Fort Lauderdale to Minneapolis turned around last night after authorities said a passenger made a bomb threat while the plane was in the air.

The Airbus A320 was carrying 92 passengers, and took off around 10:09 p.m., reports the Orlando Sun Sentinel. Shortly after takeoff, a passenger was reportedly overheard saying something about a bomb.

Spirit Airlines said in a statement that the plane returned to the gate about 15 minutes after takeoff “because of a security issue on board.”

Passengers stayed on the plane while bomb squad units arrived and sniffer dogs checked out luggage, which was then matched to each passenger. No immediate threat was detected, a Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue spokesman said.

Two passengers involved were slated for an interview with the Sheriff’s office and the FBI, officials said. The flight to Minnesota took off at 3:45 a.m. and landed at 6:10 a.m. this morning.

Spirit Airlines flight returns to Fort Lauderdale after bomb threat [Orlando Sun Sentinel]

Host Of ’90s Oddity “Supermarket Sweep” Reveals Game Show’s Secrets

Fri, 2015-11-20 15:36

Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 9.18.49 AMConfession: I was once a little bit obsessed with Supermarket Sweep, the game show that involved little more than running around a store picking up the priciest groceries. When I was a youngster, shopping with my family, I’d practice the route I’d take when I eventually got my chance at the Sweep, imagining my cart first overflowing with hams and turkeys. Little did I know that not everything I’d seen on the show was as it appeared.

Great Big Story published a fun video of former Supermarket Sweep host, David Ruprecht, reliving the glorious days of the ’90s game show and giving pointers those who may still hold out hope that the show will one day return to afternoon TV.

So what did we learn?

1. The meat was fake. Contestants easily tossing huge hams into their carts didn’t have superhuman strength, instead the ham, turkey and other meat wasn’t real. Which makes sense when you consider that the other food…

2. …was spoiled. Ruprecht recalls that staff for the show would go shopping once before the beginning of the season. Then the show was taped for five to six months each year, and the same food was used over and over again. That means you probably didn’t want to dip into that peanut butter.

In one instance Ruprecht recalls the spoiled hotdogs would ferment in their cases, swelling up the packaging.

3. If you didn’t win, you got to keep those super cool sweatshirts. But that was only if you were a loser: the winner didn’t get to keep their shirt, for reasons that were unspecified.


Don't you want one of these sweatshirts?

While they might not have a pastel colored sweatshirt as a souvenir, the winners did get $5,000.

4. And finally, for the bit of information we’ve all been waiting for, the surefire strategy to win:

Grab your cart, head to the meat aisle, pile in five hams and five turkeys. Then aim for the beauty aisle for five hair color boxes and five other expensive items like moisturizer.

Rupercht says a contestant who followed this plan was nearly always the winner.

[H/T The AV Club]