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The Consumerist

Walmart’s Description Of This Air Mattress Is A Little Off

Fri, 2014-04-18 20:55

mattressStandard mattress sizes are confusing and hard to remember. Do you know the size in inches of a queen-size bed off the top of your head? Adrienne doesn’t, but she did notice that this air mattress at Walmart is doll-sized, not human-sized.

Don’t get us wrong. Scale models of camping equipment like tents are super-useful in a retail environment. However, there’s no context other than “Barbie camping trip” in which this product makes sense as described.

mattress

Here are those dimensions, in case you’re reading this on a phone:

Length: 14.5″
Width: 11.8″
Height: 4.7″
Weight: 9.55 lbs.

Uh huh. “So, the bed is only slightly bigger than 1ft x 1ft,” Adrienne noted in her e-mail to Consumerist. “Even if they messed up the difference between feet and inches it still doesn’t make sense.” Nope. She compared it to Fuzzy Math, which we mostly spot at Target.

One reviewer on Walmart’s site notes that the size isn’t as described, but not in the way you’d think: it’s more like a full-size bed than a queen. At least a human fits on it, though?

Why Won’t Those Jerks At Sprint Unlock My iPhone? They Can’t

Fri, 2014-04-18 20:30

(Consumerist)

(Consumerist)

You might remember that late last year, American wireless carriers adopted some voluntary standards for the unlocking of devices so they can be used on other carriers. Yet Sprint and Virgin Mobile customers have complained to us that their carriers won’t unlock their devices, even when they’re off contract or the customer is moving abroad. What’s the deal here?

Here’s the thing: Sprint and other carriers that use the Sprint network use a different band, CDMA. Some of their devices are capable of being used on foreign GSM networks and even the domestic ones, AT&T and T-Mobile. However, a Sprint representative explained t us, older devices sold for use on the Sprint network didn’t work on GSM networks or have a slot to add a SIM, so it wasn’t possible to unlock them.

This leads to a lot of confusion. One reader wrote to us railing against Sprint for refusing to unlock his iPhone 4, even though the 4 lacks the physical capability to accept a SIM. “I contacted Sprint and the script of excuses and lies began,” he wrote to Consumerist. “I implore you to do what you can to get the story of Sprint’s lone holdout stance known.” Sprint can only unlock the iPhone 4 when they develop time travel. Maybe that will come with the CDMA version of the iPhone 6?

So what about that CTIA thing? While some devices are physically able to be unlocked, it’s not an option for every phone that Sprint and Virgin sell. The thing is, while carriers have finally agreed to some voluntary standards for unlocking devices, those standards don’t go into effect until February 2015. That means that the phone you bought a couple of years ago wasn’t designed or marketed with the capability for unlocking in mind. “We have to develop our new devices to comply with the commitment,” explained Crystal Davis, who works on policy issues for Sprint, explained to Consumerist.

Aereo CEO: Don’t Blame Us Because We Built A Better Antenna

Fri, 2014-04-18 20:24

aereoNext Tuesday, lawyers for the nation’s broadcast networks and streaming video startup Aereo will square off in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in a case where a victory by either side carries with it potentially huge implications for everything from over-the-air TV to all cloud-based technology. Since he won’t be the one talking to the Supremes, AEREO CEO Chet Kanojia has been making the interview rounds to make his case to the public.

For those still unfamiliar with Aereo, it’s a service that takes freely available over-the-air broadcast signals and sends them to paying subscribers over the Internet. The broadcasters say this is a violation of copyright, alleging that Aereo is retransmitting their content without permission and without paying the hefty retransmission fees that cable and satellite companies pay.

Aereo’s defense lies in the nature of its system, which uses arrays of very tiny antennae to pick up these broadcast feeds. Each antenna within an array is dedicated to one single end-user. So Aereo contends that this is nothing more than a new version of a rooftop antenna one might install to improve TV reception; it just happens to be connected over the Internet.

Executives at News Corp (owner of the FOX channels), CBS and others have outright accused Aereo of stealing. In an interview earlier this week with Katie Couric on Yahoo News, Kanojia says he understands why the broadcasters are aggravated, but says Aereo shouldn’t be blamed for the networks’ lack of foresight.

“I think [News Corp COO Chase Carey is] absolutely right they have a right to be fairly compensated,” says Kanojia. “If somebody’s come out with a smarter antenna, a clever, different antenna, and you don’t like that evolution is happening, that suddenly more people might use antennas, well I’m sorry about that…I just don’t find that rhetoric to have any credibility.”

Speaking to the AP, Kanojia spoke in more detail about this evolution and the impact that the Web is having on all forms of media.

“[T]he Internet is happening to everybody, whether you like it or not,” he explains. “It happened to books, news people, it happened to music people, it happened to Blockbuster. There is nothing in our Constitution that says there is a sacred set of companies that will never be affected by new technology.”

As for some broadcasters’ ultimatum that they will pull their signals from the air if Aereo succeeds and go cable-only, the CEO is skeptical.

“They can do whatever they want. I think the question becomes on an overall reach basis you’re giving up 60 million eyeballs,” says Kanojia. “That’s how many people use antenna in some way, shape or form, which kind of correlates to about 18 percent of the household basis.”

He expands further on this in an interview with GigaOm, saying, “I don’t think they can [pull their OTA signals and go cable-only]. Just to put it in context, ESPN has Monday night football, and the performance is a fraction of what the broadcasters get.”

If Aereo prevails before the Supremes, Kanojia says his company will expand to all 50 states, but is realistic about any immediate impact an Aereo victory might have on the industry.

“I don’t think anything is going to change anywhere because of Aereo,” he explains to the AP. “What is happening is the entire market base is changing with access to alternatives, whether it’s Netflix or iTunes or things like that. Aereo is simply providing a piece of the puzzle. After we win, it’s not that a sea change is going to happen overnight. It is just going to be that we will be allowed to continue to fit that missing piece in a consumer’s life as they’re evolving. These things take decades to play out.”

We think he might be underestimating the impact a ruling in favor of Aereo might have. It may not lead to a rush in dozens of millions of consumers cutting their cable cords and switching to Aereo, but it will almost certainly result in companies like DirecTV pushing forward with development of Aereo-like technology that would allow them to provide customers with local network channels without having to pay the billions in retrans fees that are a huge drain on cable and satellite companies’ coffers every year.

Regardless, while an Aereo victory could take a while to have a dramatic impact on the market, a ruling against Aereo would force the company to shut down or completely change its business model.

“We don’t have a Plan B” admits Kanojia, “To me, if we optimize for loss or a potential loss, we give up optimizing for a win. If you believe your position, the only thing you should do is play to win. We’ve never been dishonest with our investors. Everybody knows what the risks are.”

National Animal Cracker Day & 15 Other Food “Holidays” That Have No Need To Exist

Fri, 2014-04-18 19:32

(Eric Spiegel)

(Eric Spiegel)

I found out yesterday that today, April 18, is apparently National Animal Cracker Day. Those who follow we writers of Consumerist on Twitter may have already heard of my reaction upon discovering this news. At the time, I was convinced that we’d finally located the least-important food “holiday” of the year, but a bit of research now has me doubting that conviction.

Don’t get me wrong — I’ve nothing against animal crackers. I just haven’t eaten one since I was old enough to spell my name, and I’m not alone in having outgrown the novelty of biting off the heads of vaguely sweet, vaguely animal-shaped snack crackers.

In fact, the mammoth jug-o-animal-crackers we bought at Costco last summer to do this story on the warehouse store’s lack of childproofing on its detergent packaging has not even been opened, even though every visitor to the Consumerist Cave has been greeted with “Welcome… have some animal crackers, please.”

Animal crackers are a part of our history and yes, I guess they make a fine thing to shove in the mouth of a complaining, hungry kid, but giving them their own day — presumably at the behest of Big Animal Cracker and its allies at Big Milk — seems like giving out a “Not-Bad Attendance” award or a honoring a .215 hitter in baseball for simply being above the Mendoza line.

And yet, National Animal Cracker Day may not represent the nadir on the food holiday curve. As this calendar on Food.com shows, there are food-themed holidays basically every single darn day of the year, and the following are just some of the so-called holidays that have no need to exist:

January 10: Bittersweet Chocolate Day
On which we celebrate the chocolate you accidentally buy when not paying attention to the label.

January 22: Blonde Brownie Day
In honor of a dessert that would go well after a meal of jumbo shrimp and chicken cheesesteaks.

February 18: Crab-Stuffed Flounder Day
A celebration of a food that apparently some people somewhere eat.

March 6: Frozen Food Day
In remembrance of all the pizza rolls, frozen peas, and other foods that gave their lives to freezer burn.

April 24: Pigs In A Blanket Day
Because regular size hot dogs get all the glory…

May 6: Beverage Day
For those who have forgotten to consume liquids.

June: National Iced Tea Month
An entire month to ruminate on the wonders of taking a hot beverage and serving it cold.

July 1: Creative Ice Cream Flavor Day
Don’t you dare try to pass off a carton of neapolitan at this party; you’d just look like a fool.

July 15: Gummy Worm Day
An entire day just for one particular form of gelatin-based candies.

August: National Panini Month
Four weeks during which to celebrate every aspect and variation on sticking a sandwich between two hot pieces of metal.

August 31: Trail Mix Day
Here’s a day for that one jerk on your block who taints your Halloween loot with granola.

September 6: Coffee Ice Cream Day
Not so long ago, this might have been able to fall under the July 1 Creative Ice Cream Day celebration, but now coffee ice cream requires its own day apart from all others.

October 24: Bologna Day
This holiday has a first name; it’s “P-O-I-N-T.” This holiday has a second name; it’s “L-E-S-S.”

November 18: Vichyssoise Day
Gather the kids! It’s time to honor everyone’s favorite cold, potato-and-leek-based soup with a funny name.

December 30: Bicarbonate of Soda Day
If you can think of a better way to coast out the end of the year than spending an entire day celebrating baking soda, I’d say you’re delusional.

Detergent Pods Shouldn’t Be This Hard To Figure Out

Fri, 2014-04-18 19:17

tidepodsgrabLauren is upset with Procter & Gamble, the makers of Tide. While detergent pods are a boon to been laundromat customers and people who dislike measuring things. Some people have had trouble with the pods, though. Detergent isn’t supposed to stain your laundry. It’s supposed to do the exact opposite of that. Yet customers say that it’s discrepancies in the instructions that cause problems for pod people.

We know that some small children have been injured or killed after putting the pods in their mouths, which is scary and tragic. Parents, manufacturers, and even governments are working to put a stop to pod-eating. The pods are intended as laundry detergents, and are not intended as snacks, so what’s going wrong here?

Reader Lauren reports that the pods stained her clothing. ‘When I contacted tide I got a response back indicating entirely different usage directions then what is on their packaging,” she tells Consumerist. Here’s that response, alongside the instructions on the package of pods that stained her laundry:

1975208_10201212858277283_63458173_n

Procter & Gamble, for their part, insist that consumers are just using the pods wrong. Ignore the needlessly complex water temperature directions and just remember that no matter what, the pod always goes in the washer first.

In an e-mail to our freshly laundered colleagues at Consumer Reports a few months ago, a Procter & Gamble representative explained to them that some common mistakes cause the staining, not inconsistent or confusing directions. Nope, nope, nope.

The most common contributors to the development of a blue/purple stain on fabrics is not placing the pac into the washing machine drum BEFORE adding the clothes and/or overstuffing machine with laundry. This is important to ensure machine has enough space to provide the agitation needed for the best clean and to maximize contact with ‘free water’ in the machine.

Spirit Airlines CEO: Consumers Complain Because They Don’t Understand Us

Fri, 2014-04-18 18:50

(Adam Fagen)

(Adam Fagen)

They say you get what you pay for, so if you’re flying cheaply, should you expect a lower level of customer service? That’s the argument made by Spirit Airlines, which has the highest rate of customer complaints of all domestic airlines. And a new promotion and recent comments from Spirit’s CEO don’t give any indication that the carrier’s attitude will be changing.

Hot off the heels of a new U.S. Public Interest Research Group study that found the airline garnered the most consumer complaints – 8 complaints per 100,000 customers – filed with the Dept. of Transportation in 2013, Spirit appears to be on damage control. Although we’re not entirely sure how helpful their latest actions will prove.

First, CEO Ben Baldanza continues his ever entertaining claims that his company is the “most consumer-friendly” airline by simply saying customers just don’t understand Spirit’s business model.

“Offering our low fares requires doing some things that some people complain about—more seats on our planes with a little less legroom, no Wi-Fi or video screens, and no refunds without insurance; however, these reduce costs which gives our customers the lowest fares in the industry,” Baldanza wrote in a letter to Bloomberg Businessweek and other journalists. “Judging by the number of customers on our planes and repeat customer rate, most people like this tradeoff.”

Missing from Baldanza’s list of tradeoffs consumers should be okay making are the fees charged for carry-on baggage, fees charged to talk to a human being, charges for printing your boarding pass at the airport and a lack of free water during flights.

Friday’s explanation by Baldanza is the latest in a string of mind-boggling declarations over the years.

In 2010, he famously declared those baggage fees to be a “consumer benefit.” And let’s not forget the company’s stance in 2012 that posting full airfares is the government’s way of hiding higher taxes in fares.

The CEO consistently maintains that Spirit is the most consumer-friendly airline despite being the only U.S. carrier on a list of the world’s worst airlines.

Following Baldanza’s statement, the company announced a new campaign offering discounts to the 99.99% of customers it says don’t file complaints against the company.

Spirit Airlines is celebrating the 99.99 percent! That’s right, over 99.99 percent of our customers did not file a complaint with the Department of Transportation in 2013. To the 0.01 percent – that’s OK, we know we aren’t the airline for everyone (though we’d love for you to save by flying with us again!).  We are celebrating the 99.99 percent by running a $24 OFF* promotion. Book a flight for travel from September 3, 2014 through November 19, 2014 and you’ll save $24 off* of your trip.

While the promotion might seem like a valid attempt to squash consumer unease with the airline the $24 savings likely won’t cover your carry-on fee.

Spirit Airlines Celebrates the 99.99 Percent [Spirit Airlines]
Spirit Airlines Sees All Those Passenger Complaints as Mere Misunderstandings [Bloomberg Businessweek]

Barnes & Noble Might Have Smaller Stores, Still Won’t Price-Match Own Website

Fri, 2014-04-18 17:55

(bclinesmith)

(bclinesmith)

It’s pretty intuitive that you don’t need a lot of retail floor space to sell e-books. Even a display of e-reader gadgets doesn’t take up as much room as shelf after shelf of books. that’s why absolutely no one should be surprised that Barnes & Noble might be considering stores with a smaller footprint.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, company chair Leonard Riggio discussed the future of the media-selling business and the current format of Barnes & Noble stores. Oh, and also a frequent topic of complaint for Consumerist readers: the company’s refusal to price-match its own website, even when not doing so costs them sales.

It’s not that the company doesn’t want to price-match, explains Riggio: it’s that they can’t, and it’s all your fault for doing research on the item that you wanted to buy. The only solution that experts at Barnes & Noble have been able to figure out? Sell exclusive items that no one online carries, which isn’t possible for a bookstore. “There are a certain number of customers who say who has the best price? They’ll come into the retail store itself with their phones and hit the button…” he told the WSJ. “The more you sell products that are branded outside of the store, that aren’t exclusive to the store, the harder it is.”

As for littler stores, Riggio agrees that comparatively tiny stores, 15,000 square feet or less, could be in the chain’s future. “The level of digital convergence from books to digital has decelerated,” he pointed out in a hopeful manner.

Riggio displayed less optimism when, a few weeks after the paper conducted this interview, he sold off $64 million worth of his stock, about 10% of the company.

Smaller Barnes & Noble Stores? ‘Yes, It’s Possible,’ Says Leonard Riggio [Wall Street Journal]

NJ Driver Sues After State Rejects Her “8theist” License Plate

Fri, 2014-04-18 17:34

(Alan Rappa)

(Alan Rappa)

A woman in New Jersey claims the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission is biased in favor of Christians after rejecting her request for a vanity plate that reflected her atheist beliefs while allowing plates that express a driver’s Christian identity.

According to the South Jersey Times, the plaintiff attempted to use the MVC’s website to obtain a personalized plate that reads “8theist,” but her request was allegedly rejected for being objectionable.

However, claims the woman, when she tried “Baptist” on the MVC site, she says it was not flagged by the system.

“There is nothing offensive about being atheist,” she tells the Times. “I should be able to express my sincerely held beliefs with a license plate just like everyone else.”

The driver says her attempts to get an explanation from the MVC went without a response.

A rep for the MVC tells the Times that each plate request is reviewed on an individual basis. Without commenting on this specific plate, the rep says the MVC as an organization has “no objection and [we] continue to issue plates” that express an atheistic position.

However, just last year another NJ driver was initially unable to receive the “athe1st” plate he’d requested from the MVC after a clerk there deemed it offensive. Ultimately, after appealing to the commission, that driver was able to get the plate he wanted, but the plaintiff in the newer case sees this as evidence of a systemic problem at the MVC.

“The commission thus has a practice of denying personalized license plates that identify vehicle owners as atheists,” reads the complaint, “thereby discriminating against atheist viewpoints and expressing a preference for theism over non-theism.”

Uber To Tack On $1 “Safe Rides Fee”

Fri, 2014-04-18 17:02

ubergrabGetting a ride via UberX, a service that pairs up those in need of a lift with pre-screened drivers in the area willing to give them that lift, is getting slightly more expensive, as the company adds a one dollar Safe Rides Fee.

According to Uber, the additional cash “supports our continued efforts to ensure the safest possible platform for Uber riders and drivers,” claiming the money will go to fund background checks, regular motor vehicle checks, driver safety education,and insurance.

Uber and other similar services have been criticized by existing taxi services for allowing non-professional drivers to use their own cars to do the jobs of taxi and livery drivers.

This issue was put into the spotlight in recent months following the tragic death of a 6-year-old girl who was hit by an Uber driver in California. Not only did the incident raise questions about the safety and training of those behind the wheel for Uber, but it has also gotten bogged down in the debate over whether or not Uber is responsible for those times when one of its drivers is not actively engaged with a passenger.

In that incident, the driver was not driving or picking up an Uber passenger, but says he was using the Uber app to see if there were passengers in need of a ride. Uber maintains that since there was no passenger in the vehicle, it can not be held liable for the driver’s actions.

Last month, both Uber and its competitor Lyft announced they would expand their insurance policies to cover drivers while they are between jobs. It seems likely that the additional cost for this insurance is a big reason for the new tacked-on fee.

Craft Store Michaels Confirms Data Breach Affecting 2.6 Million Credit Cards

Fri, 2014-04-18 16:26

(Michael Ocampo)

(Michael Ocampo)

Three months after craft retailer Michaels announced it may have been the victim of a data breach, the company confirms the worst: nearly 2.6 million consumers’ credit cards are affected.

In January, Michaels, a large arts and crafts chain, warned customers that the company “may have experienced a data security attack.” On Friday, the company announced that sometime between May 8, 2013 and January 27, 2014 about 2.6 million or 7% of payment cards used at its stores were compromised.

Additionally, nearly 400,000 cards were affected at 54 Aaron Brothers stores, a subsidiary of the company, from June 26, 2013 to February 27, 2014.

While officials say the affected systems contained payment card numbers and expiration dates, there is no evidence that data such as customers’ names or personal identification numbers were at risk.

“After weeks of analysis, we have discovered evidence confirming that systems of Michaels stores in the United States and our subsidiary, Aaron Brothers, were attacked by criminals using highly sophisticated malware that had not been encountered previously by either of the security firms,” Michaels CEO Chuck Rubin says in a statement to customers on the company’s website. “We want you to know we have identified and fully contained the incident, and we can assure you the malware no longer presents a threat to customers while shopping at Michaels or Aaron Brothers.”

Michaels claims that there are only a limited number of fraud incidents have been reported, but the company is offering 12 months of free identity protection and credit monitoring services, as well as 12 months of free fraud assistance to affected customers in the United States.

Customers are encouraged to continue to monitor their payment activity and immediately contact their banks if any suspicious activity is found. The company continues to work with law enforcement authorities, banks and payment processors to investigate the breach.

“We are truly sorry and deeply regret any inconvenience this may cause,” Rubin says in the statement. “Our customers are always our number one priority and we are committed to retaining your trust and loyalty.”

The company first announced the possibility of an attack just weeks after the massive Target data breach that hit approximately 110 million consumers during the holiday season.

Following a string of data hacks, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau outlined a number of ways consumers can protect themselves and where to get help if they suspect their information has been compromised.

Shortly after the data breaches at Target, Neiman Marcus and Michaels were announced the conversation turned to what new technology could help prevent such attacks in the future. During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in February, senators discussed the possibility of “smart” chip cards.

The EMV (short for “Europay, Mastercard and Visa”) cards tiny chips embedded in them that encrypt the card’s information. Already in use in Europe, the chips cut back on card fraud because their existence makes cards significantly harder to clone: even if you get all of the information from a card’s magnetic strip, as through a skimmer, without the chip actually being present the card data is useless in a physical transaction.

Officials with Visa and MasterCard announced they hope to end traditional sign-and-swipe credit card transitions and switch to the chip-and-PIN system by 2015. In March, the companies formed an industry group to address payment security issues specifically the adoption of EMV technology.

Important Notice About Certain Customer Payment Card Information [Michaels]

Disney World Proposes Raising Starting Wages To $10/Hour

Fri, 2014-04-18 16:14

(Alan Rappa)

(Alan Rappa)

While lawmakers in D.C. argue over whether or not to raise the federal minimum wage, Walt Disney Co. has made an offer to the unions representing thousands of employees at its Disney World park in Florida that would raise employees’ starting pay from $8.03 to $10 over the course of the next two years.

Bloomberg reports that Disney made the offer earlier this week to the Service Trades Council, a consortium of six labor groups representing more than 30,000 Disney World workers.

New full-time hourly employees at the park currently earn a wage starting at $8.03/hour, about 75 cents more per hour than the federal minimum wage. The offer from Disney to the unions would gradually increase that amount to $10/hour by July 2016, which is just shy of the $10.10/hour being proposed by President Obama and some legislators.

At the same time, these new employees would no longer be offered a standard pension, but would instead receive a 3% company match in a 401 (k) retirement plan.

The Council says it is “very pleased” with the pay increase offer but plans to oppose the change to the pension policy for new workers.

Consumerist Friday Flickr Finds

Fri, 2014-04-18 16:05

Here are twelve of the best photos that readers added to the Consumerist Flickr Pool in the last week, picked for usability in a Consumerist post or for just plain neatness.

(Joel Zimmer)

(Joel Zimmer)

(François Quévillon)

(François Quévillon)

(Allan Ellerby)

(Allan Ellerby)

(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)

(George)

(George)

(Hammerin Man)

(Hammerin Man)

(Mijaeus)

(Mijaeus)

(Hogof)

(Hogof)

(Quinn Dombrowski)

(Quinn Dombrowski)

(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)

(Rich Renomeron)

(Rich Renomeron)

(Jeff Gates)

(Jeff Gates)

Our Flickr Pool is the place where Consumerist readers upload photos for possible use in future Consumerist posts. Want to see your pictures on our site? Just be a registered Flickr user, go here, and click “Join Group?” up on the top right. Choose your best photos, then click “send to group” on the individual images you want to add to the pool.

My Taxes Are Done. What Can I Throw Out Now?

Thu, 2014-04-17 23:13

(Pete)

(Pete)

Unless you filed for an extension, your tax return is now done and posted through the mail or beamed through the Interweb to the IRS and your state government, if required. That’s a relief. Now, what items in your files should you keep, and which can you throw out?

To protect yourself in case of an audit, you should keep our printed or digital tax returns for seven years. Keep these in locked cabinets or password-protected files. If the IRS suspects you of hiding income, you can be audited for up to six years, and you can be subject to random audits for three years. If you like to keep information about your income around, go ahead and keep them indefinitely.

Also keep supporting documents such as receipts, invoices, 1099 forms, sales records, charitable donation receipts, and any other documents that you would need to verify every penny that you claimed as income or deductions.

If you ended up taking the standard deduction, as many people with salaried jobs do, then you don’t need to prove your deductions. You can throw the receipts and such out, and just keep copies of any of the forms, digital or paper, that you would have mailed in with your return.

By “throw that out,” of course, we mean feed it into a cross-cut shredder at home or at a public shredding event, then recycle it.

How long should you keep your tax records? [Consumer Reports]

Volkswagen Recalls 26,000 New Vehicles Because Bursting Into Flames Is Not Cool

Thu, 2014-04-17 22:58

(Chauncer)

(Chauncer)

Brand new isn’t always better. That certainly seems to be the case with more than 26,000 new Volkswagen vehicles being recalled.

Volkswagen is recalling 26,452 vehicles because of an issue that could result in a fire, Detroit News reports.

The recall affects the model year 2014 Jetta, Beetle Convertible, and Passat with a 1.8T engine and torque converter automatic transmission.

The company tells the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in a notice [PDF] that O-ring seals between the oil cooler and the transmission my leak fluid, which could cause a fire when it comes into contact with a hot surface. Officials with Volkswagen say they are unaware of any crashes or fires related to the issue.

The issue was first observed in March at a Port facility during routine vehicle inspection. From there the company initiated an investigation and checks at dealerships. A stop-sale of affected vehicles was initiated on April 8.

Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealerships will replace the O-ring seals in the transmission oil cooler, free of charge, the company says.


VW recalls 26,000 ’14 cars for fire risks
[The Detroit News]

Make Your Own Peanut Butter Eggs At Home

Thu, 2014-04-17 22:31

peanut-butter-egg-3839The Reese’s seasonal peanut butter cup empire is now a year-round operation with hearts, pumpkins, and even footballs, but it all began with the humble peanut butter egg. What you might not know is that you can make this confection in your very own home, with ingredients that aren’t very hard to find.

Foodbeast has the recipe: the only ingredients you probably don’t have in your house right now are the chocolate coating and powdered peanut butter.

Thanks to the quirks of our food system, this project probably won’t be cheaper than buying a big bag of peanut butter eggs at the store, but it would be a fun project and you could use any fancy chocolate that interests you and might melt to the right consistency.

Plus, you can cake a page out of the Reese’s (cook)book and make them in any shape you want.

How to Make DIY Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs [Foodbeast]

Lawmakers Don’t Want You Wearing Google Glass Behind The Wheel Anytime Soon

Thu, 2014-04-17 22:00

glassdrivehorzWhile it’s true as some say that life is a highway, life shouldn’t be lived through Google Glass when you’re driving, say lawmakers in a smattering of states. Legislators are starting to mull over what will happen when Glass leaves its infancy and heads out into the wider world, and want to make sure no one’s cyborging on the road.

Glass is still only used by perhaps a few thousand people in the United States, with some of those newer users snagging the product during this week’s one-day only public release. But before it spreads to the mainstream, lawmakers in states like New York and New Jersey, among others, say the devices pose dangerous when used on the road, reports WNYC

California currently has a law on the books banning non-informational video screens, but that only works when police can prove the device was turned on while driving, at least, at this point.

Assemblyman Marcos Crespo introduced one of three bills currently ongoing in New York State, and his would go further than just prohibiting Glass or similar devices for drivers.

“These companies – the manufacturers, the sellers – they’re all making great profits off the sale of these items,” Crespo said. “And there should be some consciousness over the fact that the use of them improperly will lead to death.”

The bill would allow for car crash victims to sue Google or other companies if the driver at fault for the accident was wearing something like Glass.

Safety advocates are also concerned about the possible distraction a wearable computer could provide on the road.

“Just looking at this and using common sense, it would seem to be something someone should not be doing while they’re behind the wheel,” said Robert Sinclair, a spokesman for AAA in New York.

Google says Glass is safe to use behind the wheel and could even be a boon for navigation purposes — if the device can “see” the road, it could provide turn-by-turn directions. And users don’t have to look down like they might on a smartphone, only up and to the right as they would to check a mirror.

That being said, the laws of the land prevail, Google warns users.

“When you’re wearing Glass, we just ask you to be very aware of what’s going on around you, to use it wisely, the same way you would use any technology,” said a spokeswoman for Google.

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Google Glass Behind the Wheel? Lawmakers Say No [WNYC]

Verizon Brings Fake Grassroots Campaign To New Jersey To Claim Support For Not Bringing Real Broadband

Thu, 2014-04-17 21:43

(AJENT.MSG)

(AJENT.MSG)

New Jersey might not be that large a state, but its geography and its dense population make it easy to understand how running a broadband connection to 100% of residents could be a cumbersome and expensive project. So what’s a corporation stuck with a twenty-year-old public interest obligation to provide those broadband connections to do? Create a fake tidal wave of public support for their attempt to weasel out of it, of course!

Verizon’s been taking that last option, as Ars Technica reports. There’s a legal process underway between the state and Verizon, and Verizon has mobilized an army of largely imaginary concerned citizens on their behalf to support their case.

In order for this to make any sense, let’s take a quick trip to the department of backstory.

The original agreement, part of the “Opportunity New Jersey” plan, dates to 1993. At that very early time, telephone operator New Jersey Bell made an agreement with the state of New Jersey (PDF) that included a provision for getting broadband digital service to 100% of the state by the year 2010. The agreement defined broadband as:

[S]witching technologies matched with transmission capabilities support data rates up to 45,000,000 bits per second [45 Mbps] and higher, which enables services, for example, that will allow residential and business customers to receive high definition video and to send and receive interactive (i.e. two way) video signals

That agreement was extremely foresightful, considering that in 1993 the few households regularly getting online at all were using incredibly slow dial-up modems and mostly connecting to services like AOL, CompuServe, and Prodigy. (On our CRT screens! Uphill in a blizzard!) But what neither NJ Bell nor the state foresaw at the time was the re-consolidation of the phone companies, and many of the little Bells eventually joining back up and becoming Verizon.

Verizon did not meet that 100% coverage goal by 2010. Nor did they meet it in any of the four years since. It’s not surprising that they fell short, given that they are both trying to kill off their old copper land lines and slowing, or even halting, their FiOS expansion. That combination doesn’t leave a whole lot of room in the strategic plan for “run more wires through New Jersey.”

New Jersey is understandably not pleased with Verizon’s lack of follow-through, particularly as the company has received twenty years’ worth of concessions from the state in order to make it happen. If Verizon has only reached two million of New Jersey’s three million households in twenty years, then those tax breaks and increased customer rates aren’t getting NJ what they were supposed to.

NJ’s utilities board required Verizon to explain why they haven’t met the terms of the roll-out, which kicked off a legal process in which Verizon has said that they shouldn’t have to anymore because it’s complicated and expensive. Plus, they say, competition now exists and anyway they can totally make good on the remainder with wireless 4G service.

Now we’re back to the present day, where the legal back-and-forth between Verizon and New Jersey hit the public comment stage last month. In order to bolster their claims, Verizon went and found a whole lot of public to make comments in their favor. 418 identical pro-Verizon e-mails were sent to the utility board between March 22 and March 24, and 315 copies of a second form e-mail claiming to be from Verizon employees were sent on March 19 and 20.

In total, Ars reports, at least 792 form comments were submitted on Verizon’s behalf in the span of a couple weeks. And while that would be one thing if Verizon really did get happy customers or gung-ho employees to send the letters… it seems they didn’t.

Ars Technica picked some e-mail addresses from the list to spot-check against. Some were invalid and received bounce-backs. One was a Verizon customer who was shocked to find that “he” had sent the message at all:

“I am a customer only to Verizon and I was not contacted by them to submit anything,” the person told Ars. “If they did, I would’ve slammed them. They are gougers. If AT&T was where I lived, I would switch in a heart beat.”

When this customer was shown the e-mail he allegedly sent to state officials, he said, “That would mean someone did it on my behalf. I can assure you that I did not send that response.”

Broadband news site Stop The Cap also tried to contact the supposed Verizon supporters and found much the same problem. Of the 150 e-mail addresses they tried, 35 were invalid. So they contacted another 35, and a dozen of those were also invalid. Of the remainder, many were Verizon employees or retired Verizon employees. One was a lawyer who represents Verizon (and did not disclose it). Five had “no idea what we were talking about” and claimed they never sent any e-mails either for or against Verizon.

Ars’s report includes a good technical discussion of what’s at stake for New Jersey residents now. Whether or not Verizon will be obliged to run more wires through the Garden State is up in the air, but what isn’t is the fact that broadband access has gotten more important than ever. The digital divide is real, and even Comcast admits that expanding access is a necessity.

Creating a broadband plan in 1993 was remarkably ahead of its time. But faking grassroots support in order to pretend it’s not needed anymore? That’s a great way for Verizon to set the state back.

Verizon led massive astroturf campaign to end NJ broadband obligation [Ars Technica]
Verizon’s Curious Allies, Employees Urge N.J. Regulators to Forget About FiOS Fiber Expansion [Stop The Cap]

It’s Florida Customers’ Turn To Pay Sales Tax On Amazon Purchases

Thu, 2014-04-17 21:39

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There’s good news and bad news for Florida: yes, there is an Amazon distribution warehouse in their fine state now, which means faster delivery of the stuff they impulsively ordered at 3 A.M., and also gives some people jobs. The downside to this sprawling city of stuff is that it means Amazon now has a physical location in their state, and they’ll have to pay sales tax on their purchases.

About 190 million Americans now have to pay sales tax on their Amazon purchases because the mega-retailer has some kind of operation in their state. That’s 21 states, soon to be 22 later this year when another Amazon warehouse opens in Baltimore, Maryland.

The Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives killed off the Marketplace Fairness Act, a bill that passed the Senate last year and would have let states decide whether to impose sales tax on any online merchants, even those in other states with no outposts inside state borders at all. Amazon has seemingly given up on its War on Sales Tax, lobbying federal lawmakers on behalf of the bill.

Florida Residents Will Soon Pay Sales Tax on Amazon Goods [Wall Street Journal]

Facebook Ups The Creep-Factor By Allowing Users To Find ‘Nearby Friends’

Thu, 2014-04-17 21:17

facebookThe stalking capabilities associated with Facebook just increased. The social network has always allowed your friends to follow your every move – where you ate last night and who you’ve been photographed with last week. But with a new update, Facebook is taking friend stalking to an entirely new level.

Facebook’s Nearby Friends feature, which is currently being tested by the company’s employees, allows users to see which of their friends are close by, Mashable reports.

Much like the iPhone’s Find My Friends program, Nearby Friends uses geolocation technology in a users’ smartphone to determine which Facebook friends are close by to send notifications.

“The mission of Facebook is to connect people, to bring people together,” Andrea Vaccari, the product manager for the new feature, tells Mashable. “Nearby Friends sort of pushes that forward by making it a little easier to find new opportunities to meet your friends while you’re out and about.”

Using the new feature is fairly simple. Consumers can opt-in to the program, and then select a group of friends to share their location. The information will not be shared with the public or friends of friends on the network. Mobile users who choose to opt-out of the program will not have their locations shared.

The program will only share a friends’ general location such as “Bob is two miles away”. However, users can choose to share their exact location with a specific friend for an indefinite amount of time.

Users of the program can manually switch it off at any time and delete their data from the servers at anytime, officials with Facebook say.

Nearby Friends is the product of Facebook’s 2012 acquisition of Glancee, which was building similar technology.

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Facebook Launches ‘Nearby Friends’ Location Feature for Meet-Ups IRL [Mashable]

Chipotle Hiking Prices For First Time In Three Years Because It’s Just So Popular

Thu, 2014-04-17 20:51

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Chipotle knows you like it, there’s no need to be coy. And because its popularity is growing, the company seems pretty confident customers will still come back for tacos and burritos once it raises prices for the first time int three years. And you all helped it feel that way, so good job…?

The chain said today it’s hiking prices in the “mid-single digits” percentage, reports the Associated Press, so we’re going to guess they’re going up about 5%.

Menu boards displaying the new prices should be up in all restaurants in the early part of the first quarter, which means right around now, reports the Associated Press.

Chipotle’s co-CEO Steve Ells says customers don’t come to the restaurant because of its prices, anyway.

“Most of the value comes from the experience,” Ells said, adding that the company had earned “permission” from customers to raise prices because of that experience. And if it wanted to, Chipotle could keep raising those prices without pushing people away.

“We’ve still got room,” he said.

Food costs money, and with rising prices for beef, avocados and cheese, Chipotle is trying to make sure it’s still making a nice tasty profit.

Chipotle Hiking Prices as It Draws More Customers [Associated Press]

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