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The Consumerist

Amazon UK Finds Use For Newspaper Distributors: Delivering Packages

Wed, 2014-10-15 21:30

(Adrian Scottow)

(Adrian Scottow)

Who visits every neighborhood on a daily basis? There’s the postal service, of course, but another group of drivers or distributors on foot come by early in the morning, making their deliveries while most people sleep. Most cities still have a daily newspaper, so why not take advantage of that to bring online orders to residential neighborhoods? That’s what Amazon wants to do in the United Kingdom.

Here in the United States, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos bought an entire newspaper, the Washington Post. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the company that Bezos founded is partnering with a newspaper distributor to deliver and pick up customer packages. These deliveries won’t be right to customer doorsteps just yet, but instead to small local retailers that also happen to receive bundles of newspapers. Amazon will pay the business owners a fee for every package that a customer picks up or drops off on site.

The CEO of Amazon’s newspaper distributor partner, Connect Group, pointed out that this isn’t an exclusive partnership, either: the company could also perform pickup and delivery duties for other retailers as well. These online store deliveries could be an important revenue stream as print newspaper sales decline. While there are other logistics issues (storage and security for packages in tiny corner shops, for example) Amazon seems to think that it’s a useful extension of their existing delivery network.

Amazon U.K. Taps Newspaper Distributor For Same-Day Deliveries [Wall Street Journal]

Florida Man Accused Of Humping A Stuffed Animal At Walmart, Putting It Back On The Shelf

Wed, 2014-10-15 21:29

(frankieleon)

(frankieleon)

In a move that will cause me to forever give the toy aisle the side-eye, a Florida man is accused of getting it on with a stuffed animal at Walmart and then putting it back on the shelf after he’d had his way with it.

SPOILER ALERT: Gross things ahead. Just wanted to warn ya.

The crime of passion allegedly went down at around 3 one afternoon, when the 19-year-old suspect “selected a brown, tan, and red stuffed horse from the clearance shelf in the garden department,” reports The Smoking Gun, citing the police report from a town north of Tampa.

After choosing his new paramour, the man allegedly headed to the comforter aisle in housewares, “proceeded to pull out his genitals,” and “proceeded to hump the stuffed horse utilizing short fast movements.”

Surveillance cameras caught the lewd act as it reached its inevitable conclusion, after which the suspect placed the “soiled stuffed horse on top of a bed in a bag (comforter set) contaminating that property also.”

[Excuse me, while I jump into a vat of scalding hot water so I can once more feel clean.]

The man fled before Walmart security could grab him, but was later arrested by police. He admitted in a written statement that he “did unmentionables to a stuffed animal,” and is “extremely sorry.”

He was charged with indecent exposure and criminal mischief and booked into counted jail.

Walmart removed the stuffed animal in question from sale BECAUSE OF COURSE AND THANK GOODNESS.

Floridian, 19, Arrested For Lewd Act With Stuffed Animal Inside Walmart Store [The Smoking Gun]

Taco Bell Testing Sriracha-Flavored Menu Items

Wed, 2014-10-15 20:58
Taco Bell is testing Sriracha-flavored menu items in Kansas City.

Taco Bell is testing Sriracha-flavored menu items in Kansas City.

If you’re searching for a meal that mixes Mexican and Asian flavors, heading to the Midwest probably doesn’t make much sense. But that’s where Taco Bell is reportedly testing new menu items that use much-loved hot sauce: Sriracha.

USA Today reports that the fast food restaurant is dipping its toes into the spicy flavoring at more than 70 Kansas City-area Taco Bells.

A spokesperson for the fast food restaurant says the new menu items were created as a way to cater to consumers’ love of spicy food.

Food items being tested at the locations include standard fare – breakfast included – with the popular hot sauce mixed in. So what’s Taco Bell cooking up to tempt customers?

Sriracha Beef Griller: A Loaded Griller with Sriracha ground beef, Sriracha Crema sauce, nacho cheese sauce and crispy red strips.

Sriracha Taco: A Crunchy Taco with Sriracha ground beef, Sriracha Crema sauce, cheddar cheese and lettuce.

Sriracha Taco: A Crunchy Taco with Sriracha ground beef, Sriracha Crema sauce, cheddar cheese and lettuce.

Sriracha Grande Scrambler: A Grande Scrambler with scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes, Sriracha Crema sauce, nacho cheese sauce, bacon, and topped with pico de gallo, sour cream and cheddar cheese; available with steak or sausage.

The Sriracha test is just the latest in a line of interesting food creations Taco Bell has rolled out this year, after experimenting with new breakfast items and adding variations on its Doritos Locos Taco.

Over the past year it’s become evident that Americans just can’t get enough of Sriracha, which is made with the paste of chili peppers.

The spicy sauce has shown up in a plethora of food items including Pringles, Lays potato chips, vodka, candy canes, and pretty much anything else you can imagine.

While Sriracha has enjoyed a fandom rivaled only by hipsters’ love of beards, there have been a few issues facing the hot sauce.

Back in 2013, a California city filed a lawsuit aimed at shutting down a Sriracha factory that residents had deemed too stinky. Shortly after the suit was filed a judge shut down part of the factory, but the lawsuit was ultimately dropped in May of this year.

Taco Bell tests Sriracha flavored items [The Washington Post]

Taco Bell testing Sriracha menu [USA Today]

Every Episode Of ‘Friends’ Will Be Available On Netflix In January 2015

Wed, 2014-10-15 20:23

(YouTube)

(YouTube)

As if you didn’t already spend enough time binge watching TV online, Netflix has announced that every episode of Friends will be available starting January 1, 2015. Because apparently countless rounds in syndication just isn’t enough.

In what is basically a music video of those two guys sing The Only Song Anyone Ever Asks Them To Play (otherwise known as “The Rembrandts” singing the Friends theme song, which if you don’t know it, I don’t know what rock you’ve been under and you can watch for yourself), Netflix announced the coming additions to its library with a shot of a Friends mug and an I Heart Netflix mug next to each other.

Meanwhile, even Gunther looks annoyed to be back at Central Perk doing the same thing he did day in and day out, episode after episode, all with that same song playing over and over in his ears [clapclapclapclap].

“THAT SONG! NOT THAT SONG AGAIN!” he shrieks, alone at night, with no one to listen to him but the ghostly specter of Rachel, haunting him with is failure to woo her successfully.

Anyway, all 10 seasons of Friends will only be available for U.S. and Canadian users.

Man Claims McDonald’s In Canada Served Him Mouse-Flavored Coffee

Wed, 2014-10-15 20:18

This cup is not mouse-infested. We think. (Adam Jefferson)

This cup is not mouse-infested. We think. (Adam Jefferson)

A man in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada ordered a cup of coffee at McDonald’s during his commute to work, finishing the cup at the office. That was when he found the surprise at the bottom of his cup. It was not the good kind of surprise: he told the CBC that he found a dead mouse and some mouse droppings at the bottom of his coffee.

Yes, there are photos on the CBC site. No, you should not click over to that site if the sight of a drowned, coffee-soaked mouse would bother you.

Coffee has many merits, but there’s one problem with the beverage: you can’t see to the bottom of a cup. Adding milk or cream doesn’t make the visibility any better: a few years ago, a family drank milk with a dead mouse marinating in the jug for three days.

The man’s co-workers say that they wouldn’t have believed him if they hadn’t watched him discover the mouse right there in the office. “Unless I had been there and seen Ron drink all that coffee down to the last drop, I would have been, like, ‘You’re lying,’” one colleague told the CBC.

The McDonald’s customer admitted that thinking about drinking a cup of mouse-flavored coffee made him a bit nauseated. So far, local health authorities have checked the restaurant for evidence of a mouse infestation: there was none. McDonald’s plans to investigate the incident, and they would also like to get hold of the mouse and test it.

In a statement to the media, McDonald’s said in part:

Until such time as we are able to collect all the necessary facts and laboratory results to conclude a full review, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further. Similarly, we would also caution against jumping to conclusions until more details are available.

How on earth could this happen? We can only hope that the McDonald’s investigation determines how the mouse ended up in the cup. There is no explanation for how this could have happened that isn’t profoundly disturbing, so we almost hope that it is a hoax or prank.

McDonald’s coffee cup contained dead mouse, Fredericton man says [CBC]

Mountain Dew Doesn’t Make DWI Go Away After Cops Turn Down Soda Bribe

Wed, 2014-10-15 19:53

(frankieleon)

(frankieleon)

When you’re in a tight spot, it’s natural to take a quick look around and assess the tools at your disposal. While MacGyver could change his fate with a piece of gum and a 1993 issue of TV Guide, one DIY wannabe thought he’d be able to disappear a DWI charge with Mountain Dew.

The alleged bribe happened after police in Albuquerque said they arrived on the scene of a single-car crash, where the vehicle had hit a light pole, reports KOAT 7.

He reportedly admitted to having had “six shots of Bacardi” before driving, and refused field sobriety and breath alcohol tests. Seems he had his own test, allegedly offering deputies Mountain Dew if they’d let him off the hook.

The officers turned that bribe down and instead arrested him, charging him with aggravated DWI, leaving the scene of an accident, damage to signs/equipment and bribing a public official.

It’s unclear how much Mountain Dew was on the line, and whether it had already been opened.

Police: Man tried to get out of DWI using Mountain Dew [KOAT 7]

Tired Of Saving Those American Express Rewards Points For A Trip? Spend Them At McDonald’s Instead

Wed, 2014-10-15 19:31

(kevin dean)

(kevin dean)

No one wants to wait months to accumulate enough American Express rewards points to purchase a blender when you can get instant gratification at McDonald’s. That’s right, the fast-food chain now accepts your hard-earned AmEx points in exchange for Big Mac, Quarter Pounders and other fare.

Bloomberg Businessweek reports that earlier this week McDonald’s locations in New York and Chicago began the pay-with-points service that exchanges 100 points for every $1 worth of food purchased.

To use points customers simply swipe their credit card and chose the “pay with reward points” options. The screen will then display how many points it would take to purchase the meal. If customers are okay with the cost, they approve the transaction.

Customers using the drive-thru don’t have the option of seeing the screen detailing the number of points used. Instead patrons will have to use the American Express app or go online to redeem points later, Businessweek reports.

Officials with American Express tell Businessweek they hope the new payment option at McDonald’s makes consumers “think about using their American Express card in places they haven’t thought about before.”

Leslie Berland, vice president for digital partnerships and development at American Express, goes on to say that customers should consider the pay-with-points system as a way to reward themselves every day with French fries, shakes, and burgers (because we should all really count fast food as a reward).

According to American Express’ Reward Program webpage, consumers receive two to 20 points for every $1.60 they spend, depending on their card of choice.

So that means while it likely won’t take as long to earn the 700 points to pay for a $7 McDonald’s lunch as it would to earn the 25,000 points it takes to be eligible for a GoPro camera, consumers will still have to spend a pretty penny for their fast food meals.

Still, Berland says she expected customers to visit McDonald’s restaurants more frequently and spend more money there as a result of the new payment arrangement.

The payment option is expected to begin in Phoenix and San Francisco next week and in McDonald’s across the country by December.

McDonald’s Now Takes Cash, Credit, and American Express Rewards Points [Bloomberg Businessweek]

9 Things You Need To Know From Frontline Investigation Of Antibiotics & Animals

Wed, 2014-10-15 19:28

Last night, PBS’ Frontline aired a report on the huge amount of antibiotics that farmers pump into animal feed and the effects that this practice has on the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs that kill thousands of Americans and make millions more sick every year.

You can watch the whole show here on the Frontline website, along with oodles of supporting segments and related reports, but we’ve boiled down the most important take-aways from the show.

1. THE FDA TRIED TO CURB THIS PRACTICE 37 YEARS AGO
The first major governmental report raising concerns about the over-use of antibiotics in animal feed actually came out of the U.K. in 1969, the so-called Swann Report, which raised a warning flag about the increase in drug-resistance among animals fed antibiotics solely for growth-promotion.

“This was a milestone report,” explains Gail Hansen, D.V.M., from the Pew Charitable Trusts. “They said antibiotics shouldn’t be used to get the animals to grow faster because one of the unintended consequences was antibiotic resistance. Yes, it was an economically short-term good, but in the long term, antibiotic resistance was a real problem.”

It was still almost another decade until any U.S. regulatory body tried to do anything.

In 1977, then-new FDA Commissioner Donald Kennedy proposed restrictions on two widely used antibiotics, penicillin and tetracycline, on farm animals.

“We’re creating resistant organisms that may ultimately transfer that resistance to organisms that cause human disease,” Kennedy said at the time.

“I thought we were doing exactly the right thing,” the former Commissioner laments in the present day. “The trouble is that you don’t always find that as easy as you had hoped.”

That hope was dashed by the drug and farming lobbies, who told Congress that the FDA was behaving in a “wholly illogical” manner that the proposed rules would result in an “arbitrary and capricious, thus illegal regulation.”

In Congress, opposition to the FDA proposal was embodied by Mississippi Congressman Jamie Whitten, whose authority earned him the nickname of “Permanent Secretary of Agriculture” and for whom the USDA office building in D.C. was renamed in 1995.

“We were at the mercy of Representative Whitten,” recalls one of Kennedy’s aides from his FDA years. “[Whitten] basically made it clear that unless we got much more scientific evidence, he was going to cut the heck out of the FDA budget.”

2. RESISTANCE IS ON THE RISE, REGARDLESS OF THE SOURCE

Elizabeth duPreez, Pharm.D., an infectious disease pharmacist in Flagstaff, AZ, says her hospital has taken in an increasing numbers of people with drug-resistant urinary tract infections in recent years.

“We’re seeing a lot more patients that were… normally healthy have to be admitted because they’ve gone through multiple outpatient courses of antibiotics and haven’t improved,” she tells Frontline. “At the point that they come in, that bacteria has gone into their bloodstream, and that requires immediate hospitalization.

“You don’t have normally healthy 30-year-old woman, who’s never been in a hospital, with a resistant urinary tract infection that’s moved into her blood,” she points out. “Where did she get that organism from?”

Tom Chiller, M.D., Associate Director of the Centers for Disease Control, explains, “We see resistance pretty much everywhere and in everything we test. So there is a certain amount of resistance in cattle, in pigs, in chickens, in humans, in the retail meat that we buy in stores. Anywhere you use antibiotics you’re going to have resistance and propagate resistance.”

3. WHY IS IT SO HARD TO CONVINCE THE MEAT AND DRUG INDUSTRIES OF A RESISTANCE ISSUE?

It’s that very omnipresence of resistance that makes it difficult to show definitive evidence linking cause and effect.

“It’s very challenging to link the use of a particular antibiotic in a particular herd of animals to a particular illness,” says Chiller. “So going from point A to B to C to D to E to F — tracing that bacteria all the way to person A with resistance A; that’s very challenging to do because there are lots of steps in between.”

And without that smoking gun evidence, neither the drug nor livestock industries are going to budge on their “show us the proof” stance.

“I’m not saying the use in animal agriculture doesn’t contribute to resistance at all,” says Christine Hoang, D.V.M., Asst. Dir. American Veterinary Medical Assn. “Of course, we see resistance in veterinary medicine from the use of antibiotics. But there’s a lot of unknowns as well. We really have not shown that direct pathway from ‘You gave this animal that drug and some person somewhere down the line ate meat from that animal and they now have a resistant infection because you gave that drug way back here.’”

4. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

After reading reports from Europe about drug-resistant MRSA infections being transferred from swine to those in the immediate environment, researchers here in the U.S. attempted to find out if that was happening stateside.

They looked at millions of medical records for hundreds of thousands of patients in a large swath of rural Pennsylvania that contains a lot of large swine-feeding operations. And according to their data, between 2001 and 2009, the number of MRSA incidents increased each year, sometimes by upwards of 34% year over year.

Additionally, when they overlaid the addresses for MRSA patients with locations for feeding operations, they believe they have detected a pattern:
The red dots represent the homes of MRSA patients in the region. The gray markers indicate the locations of large pig-feeding operations.

The red dots represent the homes of MRSA patients in the region. The gray markers indicate the locations of large pig-feeding operations.

“There’s some nice overlap you’ll see between where the MRSA cases are and where the swine farms are,” explains Joan Casey, Ph.D., one of the researchers behind the study. “You can see that there are some folks with these infections living very close to animal feeding operations.”

She and her colleague, environmental epidemiologist Dr. Brian Schwartz, believe that a possible reason for the spread of MRSA from farms to humans is through the use of animal manure for fertilization.

“When you have antibiotics in animal feeds, the manure is loaded with undigested antibiotics,” explains Schwartz. “It’s loaded with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and it’s loaded with the genes that the bacteria can transfer back and forth to each other that allow them to become resistant.”

So if you load a crop field with this manure and there is a torrential storm, it could all run off into nearby streets and yards. On the flip side, if you have a particularly dry period, the manure-covered soil could turn dusty and become airborne.

The drug industry is still not impressed with this study.

“I think the study was very interesting and it showed some association but I think the implication is that antibiotic use somehow caused the problem, and there’s no evidence that that is the case,” says Richard Carnevale, D.V.M., VP of drug industry group the Animal Health Institute. “They didn’t test any of the manure, so they have no data on what was actually in the manure.”

Schwartz contends that they couldn’t test the manure because they need to get permission to go onto private farmland and “getting access to the farm operations has not been easy.”

“We have not made any definitive links,” says Casey, whose research found that those living close to animal farms and crop fields sprayed with manure were 38% more likely to be infected with MRSA, “but I think there’s mounting evidence that there’s a problem.”

When asked if it’s possible that farms could become the same sort of breeding ground for drug-resistant germs that hospitals have become, CDC’s Chiller replied, “It’s not only possible, it’s happening.”

5. GENETICS MAY BE THE KEY

Researcher Lance Price and his team have spent two years trying to see if there is a direct genetic link between drug-resistant e. coli bacteria found in retail poultry purchased in the Flagstaff area and local cases of drug-resistant urinary tract infections.

“We started this study because we had this hypothesis, this theory, that food could serve as a source of e. coli,” he explains.

Researchers paid particular interest to strains of e. coli that could cause infections of the bladder or kidney, or any other infection that can get into the bloodstream.

Price’s team found that 20% of tested meat had these bad strains of e. coli and that one-third of those bacteria were resistant to multiple types of antibiotics.
You can see by the small or nonexistent reactions around the dots on the right that the e. coli in this petri dish is resistant to those  particular antibiotics.

You can see by the small or nonexistent reactions around the dots on the right that the e. coli in this petri dish is resistant to those particular antibiotics.

“That’s five different antibiotics that a physician can’t use,” says Price.

His research is still ongoing and has yet to be peer-reviewed, but the early purported results are promising if accurate.

Price claims to have genetically linked more than 100 urinary tract infections back to supermarket meat products, with about 25% of them being resistant to multiple antibiotics.

“When we see such genetic relatedness as this, the alternative explanations become… impossible,” he tells Frontline.

6. WHAT’S NOT IMPORTANT TO YOU MAY ACTUALLY BE INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT TO EVERYONE
Two Texas veterinary medicine researchers noticed that drugs in the cephalosporin class were losing their effectiveness among cattle. Not only did this make it harder to treat the cows, it raised concerns because these drugs are of critical importance to human beings.

“They’re so critically important because there are certain types of infections for which they are one of only a few choices available to treat these infections,” explains H. Morgan Scott, Ph.D., of Texas A&M.

Scott gives the example of clinical salmonellosis in children and many pregnant women. Cephalosporins might be the best, or possibly only choice to treat.

He and his colleague Guy Loneragan from Texas Tech had hoped they could decrease the use of cephalosporin and increase the use of tetracyclines in cattle as these latter drugs are older and no longer as critical to human health.

“Most of the world doesn’t care about tetracycline resistance,” says Scott. “They care a lot about cephalosporin resistance.”

Problem is, ramping up the level of tetracycline use made things worse.

“We actually saw that resistance went up, which is not what we hypothesized,” says Loneragan. “Our viewpoint historically has been that, sure tetracyclines aren’t that important for human health so why worry about them in animal agriculture? But they may be more important than we think, not because of their use in human medicine, but because they can expand resistance to critically important drugs.”

7. THE DRUGGED-UP VEIL OF SECRECY
Farmers know exactly what they’re giving to their animals and why, but that’s essentially where the sharing of information stops, as there are no requirements for farmers to report how many antibiotics go into their animals’ feed, which types are being used at any given time, or why they are using the antibiotics.

The CDC’s Chiller says that his organization and others that want to track resistance have made it very clear that they want data not just on the quantities of antibiotics being purchased, but on the actual usage.

“I think we’ve been clear for years… that we would like use-data,” says Chiller. “To be able to understand resistance and where it’s coming from, it’s gonna help a lot for us to have better use data so that we understand how these antibiotics are being used and whey they’re being used.”

Unfortunately, the CDC doesn’t have the authority to compel farmers — or even politely nudge them — to share this information. That lies with the Food and Drug Administration, which has only recently shown any renewed interest in drug-resistance.

When questioned by Frontline about why the FDA isn’t demanding more detailed usage data from farmers, Commissioner Margaret Hamburg explains, “I think it’s a question of us all working together to identify what are the critical data needs.”

Frontline’s Rick Young, who to this point in the show has maintained some level of impartiality, seems confounded by this statement.

“Don’t you know that now?” he asks Hamburg. “After 40 years, shouldn’t you have a better handle on that?”

To which the Commissioner non-responds, “You’re asking a very big question in terms of the overall picture. We are focused on certain aspects of this challenge.”

Gail Hansen of the Pew Charitable Trusts, believes that the FDA is still smarting from the beatdown it took from Congress nearly 40 years ago on this topic.

“I think FDA is taking some baby steps,” she says. “They could be much bolder.”

There have been legislative attempts to require more detailed reporting from farmers, but they have been quieted with the backing of industry lobbyists.

However, one particularly uncharismatic representative of the National Pork Producers Council denies having lobbied against these laws because they already lacked support in Congress (presumably thanks to preemptive lobbying, but that’s a drugged-up chicken/egg debate for another time).

What is very revealing is Big Pork’s explanation for why it wouldn’t want these very laws it claims it didn’t lobby against.

“People who are asking for that information are people whose motives were to restrict antibiotic use,” explains the rep.

When the industry doesn’t have a better spin than “It would result in the very thing our opponents want,” maybe there’s something to the demands for that information.

8. VOLUNTEERING ISN’T WORKING
FDA Commissioner Hamburg defended her heavily criticized decision to ask drug companies to voluntarily stop selling drugs to farmers solely for growth-promotion.

“We actually believe that by taking a voluntary approach, we are going to move towards our goal of getting these antibiotics out of use for growth-promotion in a more effective and speedier way than if we actually tried to go drug by drug to pull them from the marketplace,” she explains.

But Young points out to her that the drug industry itself claims that only 12% of animal antibiotics are used solely for growth-promotion, which means that 88% of all animal antibiotics will continue to be used as before.

“The action we’re taking is one step,” says Hamburg. “We clearly need a comprehensive strategy in terms of animal health and farm practices as well… we view what we’re doing as part of a broader process.”

Researcher Price says it’s all for nought without that usage data.

“If they’re not collecting the data to verify that people are changing the way they’re using antibiotics, that the program is working, what’s the use?” he asks. “How do we evaluate the success of this program without collecting data?”

9. FOCUSING ON THE WRONG QUESTION?
While so many researchers are hunting for that piece of definitive evidence proving that resistance and drug-resistant bacteria pass from animals to humans, maybe that’s missing out on the bigger picture.

“We live in a shared environment,” says Texas Tech’s Loneragan. “Bacteria that we can find in animals, we can find in people. And bacteria that we can find in people, we can find in animals. So the route by which they move between them may not be that important, but the fact that they move between populations is important.”

Taxi App Hailo Hits The Road, Leaves U.S. Due To Expense Of Competing

Wed, 2014-10-15 18:44

(photographynatalia)

(photographynatalia)

Apparently taxi-hailing app Hailo was beyond even The Rent Is Too Damn High Guy’s help: After four years as a smartphone app for taxi divers, Hailo says it’s taking its act out of North America because it’s too expensive to compete with services like Uber and Lyft.

The taxi-hailing app says that although it’s operational in more than 30 cities around the world and has carried more than 20 million passengers, it’s time to go.

“We’re particularly excited about the strength of our business in Europe and in Asia, and the set of new services built on our technology,” president and co-CEO Tom Barr said in a statement sent to CNET. “In the next phase of our growth, we have decided to put all of our energy and resources into these areas. We have therefore decided to end our operations in North America, where the astronomical marketing spend required to compete is making profitability for any one player almost impossible.”

He adds that while it was a “difficult decision to make,” the company will be focusing more on Europe and Asia now.

Meanwhile, Uber is in more than 200 cities in 45 countries, while Lyft does business in more than 60 U.S. cities, all while trying to beat each other to the lowest fares in cities where they cross.

Hailo jumps ship in US after facing cutthroat competition [CNET]

Layaway Customers At Closing Kmarts Must Pay Up By November 1

Wed, 2014-10-15 18:34

store_ClosingKmart started its Christmas-themed advertising back at the beginning of September, with an ad promoting its layaway program. Only after the holiday layaway season kicked off, Kmart announced a fresh round of store closings. This included two stores in Ohio, which have told customers that they have to pay off their layaway accounts by November 1st.

Discount stores have revived layaway in recent years, a service that helps customers spread out their holiday gift purchase payments over a few months, avoiding credit card use and keeping gifts stored away from sneaky family members. The system works for a lot of American families…except for when stores start new layaway plans, then decide to close before the holidays.

“It’s terribly wrong for them to not have anything in place to give us more time,” one customer with $1,000 worth of merchandise put on layaway for Christmas told TV station WDTN. “I asked them to transfer my layaway to another K-Mart. I would drive to another town.” Her payments for the items put on layaway will double thanks to the compressed timeline. Kmart has told her that if she can’t pay off the items, she’ll get a refund and Kmart will graciously not charge her a cancellation fee for the problem that they caused. She would have been happy to transfer her plan and her purchases to a different Kmart store, but no one at Kmart is able to make that happen.

WDTN contacted Kmart to ask whether they have any provisions in place for customers who have already started their holiday layaway plans at a store slated to close. The company hadn’t yet responded when they aired the story.

K-Mart closings mean upset layaway customers [WDTN]

Scientists Claim Man Became Addicted To Google Glass, Suffered Withdrawal

Wed, 2014-10-15 18:17
Scientists in California claim they treated the first person to become addicted to Google Glass. Is this a sign of the times, or a clever way to get out of work?

Scientists in California claim they treated the first person to become addicted to Google Glass. Is this a sign of the times, or a clever way to get out of work?

At one point or another you’ve probably joked with friends that you’ve become addicted to something on the internet: Cute kitten videos, absurd quizzes or a variety of other semi-entertaining online phenomena. While you probably weren’t actually dependent on any of those things, scientists in California claim they’ve treated the first person with internet addiction brought on by overuse of Google Glass.

The Guardian reports that the man used Google Glass for about 18 hours a day – only taking the device off to sleep and shower – before checking himself into the U.S. Navy’s Substance Abuse and Recovery Program (SARP) for alcohol abuse in September 2013.

As part of the treatment the 31-year-old man was required to steer clear of addictive behaviors and forfeit use of all electronic devices.

Doctors soon noticed the patient repeatedly tapped his right temple with his index finger. The man reported that the movement was an involuntary mimic of the motion he regularly made to switch on his Google Glass.

That was the first sign of the man’s alleged technological addiction.

In the past, internet addiction disorder, a controversial diagnosis among psychiatrist, has been linked to phones and computers, but is not officially recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Medical Disorders.

While it can’t definitively be proven that the man’s actions were actually involuntary, Dr. Andrew Doan, head of addictions and resilience research at SARP and co-author of a report detailing the man’s ordeal, says he believes man suffered a very real addiction to his device.

“He said the Google Glass withdrawal was greater than the alcohol withdrawal he was experiencing,” Doan says.

When the man checked into the program, he says he was suffering from involuntary movements, cravings, memory problems and dreaming as if he was wearing the glasses.

Additionally, the man would feel irritable and argumentative after going only a few hours without the device.

Doan says the withdrawal symptoms the man experienced could be a result of the neurological reward associated with the constant accessibility of the wearable device.

“There’s nothing inherently bad about Google Glass,” Doan said. “It’s just that there is very little time between these rushes. So for an individual who’s looking to escape, for an individual who has underlying mental dysregulation, for people with a predisposition for addiction, technology provides a very convenient way to access these rushes.”

Other addiction researchers say that while it may be possible the man actually suffered from Google Glass dependence, there needs to be much more research in the area of internet addiction before anyone should jump at the chance to open any internet addiction rehabilitation facilities.

Daria Kuss, a researcher of internet addiction at Nottingham Trent University tells The Guardian that the man’s reported addiction was likely the result of underlying mental problems, including depression, social anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.

As for the man, Doan says he’s on the road to recovery. After 35 days at SARP the man reports feeling less irritable, made fewer compulsive movements toward the non-existent device and his short-term memory had improved. It’s unclear what treatment the man received other than not having access to his device.

Google Glass user treated for internet addiction caused by the device [The Guardian]

Anyone Over The Age Of 99 Has To Lie About Their Age To Join Facebook

Wed, 2014-10-15 17:21

(KARE 11)

(KARE 11)

A woman in Minnesota who turns 114 years old today (Happy birthday!) had to lie about her age recently. No, not because she wanted to appear younger, and not because she doesn’t want to admit she was born before every home had a telephone and flying hunks of metal called airplanes got people from here to there. She was trying to sign up for Facebook, which only allows for users 99 and younger.

A supercentenarian named Anna has been in the news lately, after a story about how her 85-year-old son mentioned her while buying in iPhone resulted in her trying to get hip with the social media age on KARE 11 (link has video that autoplays).

The salesman who helped out her son was interested to hear that he had a 113-year-old mother, and he ended up befriending her, teaching her about iPads, FaceTime and Facebook.

But when she went to sign up on the social network, the age option only scrolls back to the year 1905, making her 1900 birth year just out of range. So she lied. She now as an account and 31 friends — there’s even some kind of odd “Public Figure” page listed for her that appears to be a fake.

In the meantime, her new friend helped her write a letter to send to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on a typewriter to see if something can be done about the age limits as they stand.

“I’m still here,” Anna dictated.

Last year when another supercentenarian complained of not being able to create a Facebook account at the age of 104, the company said in a statement (via NPR):

“We’ve recently discovered an issue whereby some Facebook users may be unable to enter a birthday before 1910. We are working on a fix for this and we apologize for the inconvenience.”

Keep rolling that back, guys. All the cool kids want to get online.

Days from 114th birthday, MN woman gets tech savvy [KARE 11]
At 113, Woman Lies About Her Age So She Can Join Facebook [NPR]

Walmart Launches Digital Video Service So Customers Who Still Buy Blu-rays, DVDs Will Redeem Digital Copies

Wed, 2014-10-15 17:03

(Patrick)

(Patrick)

Walmart appears to be going Hollywood. No, the company isn’t going to be the focus of a movie. Instead the mega-retailer and its digital entertainment service, VUDU, have launched a new service putting digital copies of movies at customers’ fingertips – or rather on their smartphones and tablets.

The new service called InstaWatch aims to make it simpler for consumers to redeem digital copies of the the physical movies they purchased in-store or online, USA Today reports.

Customers can access their digital copies by scanning their receipt with the Walmart Savings Catcher app. At that point a digital copy of the film will appear in the users connected VUDU account.

Users will receive an email that they can stream the video on their smartphone, tablet or computer.

InstaWatch will initially provide access to digital copies of 800 movies available at Walmart stores and 1,100 movies available on walmart.com.

Available films include those produced through major studios such as DreamWorks Home Entertainment, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Warner Home Video and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

Officials with Walmart tell USA Today that InstaWatch was created in part to solve the problem of customers not redeeming digital copies of movies they purchased.

“If you are not getting your digital copy, you are simply not getting the full value,” Gibu Thomas, Walmart senior vice president of digital and mobile says.

Walmart delivers movie digital copies to Vudu [USA Today]

HBO Launching Stand-Alone Service In 2015

Wed, 2014-10-15 17:01

HBO
HBO will be launching a stand-alone service in 2015, Time Warner executives announced in an investor presentation today.

HBO chairman and CEO Richard Plepler told the investors, “We will launch a stand-alone over the top service with the potential to produce hundreds of millions of dollars of additional revenue,” adding, “There is huge opportunity in front of us … we will use all means at our disposal” to grow and get content in front of viewers.

Time Warner said they would “work with current partners and explore models with new partners” for the new OTT, stand-alone HBO.

The company has not yet provided any other details, such as price, availability, or expected launch date.

Pizza Hut Singapore Apologizes For Receipt Calling Customer “Pink Fat Lady”

Wed, 2014-10-15 16:54

(Facebook)

(Facebook)

Pizza-makers have to keep track of which pizzas belong to which customers somehow, but generally it’s better for everyone when they do not use potentially offensive descriptors of their customers. For example: even if a customer is fat, and is wearing pink, you probably should not write “Pink Fat Lady” on the ticket for her pizzas.

Chain pizza outlets in the United States apparently got the message, though their offensive receipt notes tended more toward ethnic slurs. One Pizza Hut customer was called “BIGBLACK” on his receipt, and a Papa John’s customer was offended when hers identified her as “Lady Chinky Eyes.” The problem, as this similar case at CVS makes clear, is that employees put these funny and potentially offensive identifiers on receipts that they think the customer will never see. For all we know, all of our favorite restaurants have been noting our most prominent and potentially offensive characteristics for years, but usually we never know because the internal ticket never makes it into our hands.

pizzahut

The customer posted the original receipt on Facebook, and to their credit, Pizza Hut Singapore posted a nice apology that doesn’t even include the rote phrase “taking it very seriously.

Pizza Hut Singapore would like to apologize unreservedly to Ms Aili Si for a recent incident that took place on 12 Oct 2014 at 6.01pm. This incident goes against our corporate values and we do not condone behaviour or actions that offend people.

We are currently investigating this matter.

We deeply regret that such an incident has occurred and are attempting to contact Ms Si to personally express our sincere apologies.

We will take corrective measures to continuously improve our standards and consistency in our service and hospitality.

Sincerely,
The management and staff of Pizza Hut Singapore.

Pizza Hut apologises to ‘Pink Fat Lady’ over receipt [AFP]

Converse Suing 31 Companies For Allegedly Selling Knock-Off Chuck Taylor Sneakers

Wed, 2014-10-15 16:34

(yoshiffles)

(yoshiffles)

You’ve seen them on hipsters, your mom, that girl who lived down the hall from you freshman year, maybe you wear them — the point is, Converse’s Chuck Taylor All-Stars, or Chucks, as they’re known by fans, are worn by a whole lot of different kinds of people. Though once the shoe of choice for mainly greasers, nonconformists and athletes, nowadays the sneaker look is appealing to a wide range of people. It’s that popularity that has other companies churning out knock-offs, claims Nike’s Converse in a new lawsuit against 31 companies for allegedly copying the style.

Things like black stripes on the side of the white rubber sole, a rubber toe topper and other design elements have been ripped from Chucks by companies like Walmart, Kmart and Skechers, Converse claims, accusing those companies and others of trademark infringement in 22 separate lawsuits filed yesterday, reports the New York Times. Converse has been owned by Nike since 2003.

Converse wants money out of the lawsuit, but what it really seeks is to rid the shelves of any lookalikes. To achieve that, it’s filed a complaint with the International Trade Commission, which could then keep so-called counterfeit shoes from coming into the country.

“The goal really is to stop this action,” Jim Calhoun, the Converse chief executive told the NYT. “I think we’re quite fortunate here to be in the possession of what we would consider to be an American icon.”

Walmart, Kmart and Skechers didn’t comment to the NYT.

Converse Sues to Protect Its Chuck Taylor All Stars [New York Times]

Toyota Recalls 1.6M Cars Globally For Fuel And Brake Line Issues

Wed, 2014-10-15 16:13

(C x 2)

Here’s the thing about brakes, they’re supposed to actually stop a vehicle. And the thing about fuel delivery pipes is they generally make a car, you know, work. When either of those components don’t work properly big problems, such as crashes or fires, can occur. And that’s why Toyota is recalling more than 1.67 million vehicles globally.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the latest million-plus vehicle recall from Toyota involves concerns about defects with the braking system and fuel components of affected vehicles.

Approximately 802,000 Crown Majesta, Crown, Noah and Voxy models manufactured between June 2007 and June 2014 have been recalled to fix an issue in the master brake cylinder.

Officials with Toyota say the issue stems from a rubber seal ring that could leak brake fluid. If a leak occurs the vehicle’s braking ability could be compromised.

The second recall involves 759,000 Toyota and Lexus vehicles – 423,000 of which are located in the United States – that may have faulty fuel delivery pipes. The fuel pipes in the vehicles could leak, raising the risk of fire.

Affected vehicles include the Toyota Crown, Crown Majesta and Mark X cars and Lexus IS, GS and LS sedans built from January 2005 to September 2010.

Officials with Toyota say the fuel line problem was first identified in a report back in 2010, but that the single report was not enough to prompt a recall at the time.

Toyota reports that it is unaware of any fires, crashes, injuries or fatalities related to the issues found in the recalled cars.

In all, Toyota has recalled more than 5.3 million vehicles in the U.S. this year.

Toyota Recalls 1.67 Million Vehicles [The Wall Street Journal]

Uber Customer Claims She Was Briefly Kidnapped During 2-Hour Ride, Company Calls It An “Inefficient Route”

Wed, 2014-10-15 15:58

uberlogookayThere’s disagreeing with your hired driver about which route to take, and then there’s driving around for two hours and stopping in an abandoned lot before finally getting home. One Uber customer in the Los Angeles area claims she was briefly kidnapped during an extended trip home that should’ve been relatively quick.

Instead, as she told Valleywag, her early morning ride after a party this weekend took two hours, during which time she says her driver ignored her directions and questions, and wound up stopping in an abandoned lot.

The route meanders about 20 miles out of her way, stopping in a dark parking lot in the middle of the night. She says she protested and tried to get out of the car, but that the driver locked her inside. When she started screaming, he finally brought her home, she says.

When she told Uber her store the next day, she says she only got an automated email reply, calling the whole thing an “inefficient route” and refunding part of her fare. A day later, the remainder of her fare was refunded. Nothing was said of her claim that she was briefly kidnapped.

Her route. (Valleywag)

Her route. (Valleywag)

Uber says in a statement to The Verge that the reporting of that night’s events has been “inaccurate,” claiming the passenger was drunk and the driver was the one who needed help.

“Early reports on this ride are inaccurate,” an Uber spokeswoman said. “Based on the information we have at this time, this driver called 911 to ask for assistance with an intoxicated rider who requested an extended trip. However, we have refunded the rider’s trip and reached out to the rider for additional information.”

The woman has reportedly involved the Los Angeles Police Department and is consulting an attorney.

Uber Calls Woman’s 20-Mile Nightmare Abduction an “Inefficient Route” [Valleywag]
Uber rider claims she was kidnapped, company says allegation is ‘inaccurate’ [The Verge]

U2 Sorry For Foisting Its New Album On Millions Of iPhone Users Without Asking

Wed, 2014-10-15 15:52

u2appleaOnly a few weeks ago, a group of middle-aged Irish guys with a band decided it would be a good idea to force-place their new album onto millions of iPhones without asking if those people wanted it, and without initially giving those iPhone users a way to remove the songs. After a bit of reflection, the members of that musical group have decided that maybe this wasn’t the brightest publicity move.

U2 answered questions from Facebook users on Tuesday, including one who asked that the band please never again compel millions of people to download any of their albums in the future.

Bono, apparently no relation to the late Congressman Sonny, replied that he was “sorry about that,” and that the band “might have got carried away with it ourselves.”

The sunglass-loving singer explained that, like many artists, U2 is prone to a “drop of megalomania, a touch of generosity, a dash of self-promotion and deep fear that these songs that we’d poured our life into over the last few years mightn’t be heard.”

He added, “There’s a lot of noise out there. I guess we got a little noisy ourselves to get through it.”

Apple eventually issued a fix to allow people to remove U2’s Songs of Innocence from their devices with the caveat that it would no longer be free after Oct. 13. That day has come and gone, so if you want to hear the new U2 songs on your iPhone you’ll have to do it the traditional way — by illegally copying them from your friends who got them off some pirated music sharing site… or pay for it. We recommend the latter, because we don’t want anyone getting in trouble with the law.

[via CNET]

Enormous Beach Vacation Home Built On Wrong Lot

Tue, 2014-10-14 23:53

(L. Bird)

(L. Bird)

How do you accidentally build a beach house in the wrong place? We wondered that back in June, when sharing the story of a $1.8 million home in Rhode Island that was accidentally built on public park land. Meanwhile, in Florida, a couple spent $680,000 building a custom beach house…on the lot next door to the one that they actually own.

The owners live in Missouri, and built the house as an investment, to be rented out to vacationers. They own a total of 18 lots in the same development, but the builder still somehow managed to put the house on one that they don’t own. “I have built about 600 homes in Flagler County and this has never happened to me before,” the builder told the Daytona Beach News-Journal. It does happen, but it’s rare.”

The owner and the builder agree about who is to blame: the initial survey, performed by a reputable local surveyor back in 2013 before the house was built, was incorrect. The area where the house was built consists of just empty and unmarked lots, so it’s easy to see how an error might be made. The lot where the house was built was purchased in 2003, but still had no construction on it. Well, until 2013.

The parties involved are working to resolve the situation, which probably won’t require the couple to tear down or move the house, unlike the house in Rhode Island. (That house was also built in the wrong spot due to a surveying mistake.)

In Ocean Hammock, dream house, ocean view, wrong lot [Daytona Beach News-Journal]

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