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The Consumerist

You Can Now Reserve A Hotel Room Through Yelp

Tue, 2014-10-21 22:15



In an effort to keep travelers who might be checking out the reviews for hotels on Yelp’s website or in its mobile apps instead of going elsewhere when it comes time to book lodging, Yelp announced today that it’s teamed up with travel site Hipmunk to offer hotel reservations directly to users.

The new service starts today, the companies announced in a press release, and allows customers to book hotels through Hipmunk while never leaving Yelp. The twosome says “tens of thousands of U.S. hotels” will be accessible to Yelpers.

The ideal plan for Yelp and Hipmunk here would be users surfing Yelp for hotel reviews, deciding on a spot and then choosing the new “Reserve a Room” option, and Hipmunk then confirms the reservation and sends customers a confirmation email.

For those wading through lists of hotel results without finding one that has the option to book through Yelp, there’s a new filter for Online Reservations that will pull up results. Pickings may be slim — I had 12 results when I filtered for online booking through Yelp in Manhattan, out 14,349 total hotel listings on Yelp.

“After launching Yelp Platform, we knew we wanted to expand to additional categories,” said Mike Ghaffary, VP Business and Corporate Development at Yelp. “Our goal is to make it easy to book appointments and other services directly through Yelp, and partnering with Hipmunk is a great win for Yelp consumers.”

Citibank Raises Fees For Accounts, But Plans To Offer Free Credit Reports To Some Customers

Tue, 2014-10-21 22:03

(Patrick Fagan)

(Patrick Fagan)

Citibank is poised to become the second financial institution to provide customers with free credit scores each month. But that’s only if customers stick with the company after its latest fee hike.

CNNMoney reports that starting in January Citibank will increase monthly fees on a variety of accounts.

The fees for the Citi rewards checking account will increase $5, bringing the monthly cost to $25, while the fees for the company’s basic accounts will rise from $10 to $12 per month.

Officials with Citi said in a statement that the company continually evaluates the pricing of its products and adjustments are made based on servicing cost and marketplace pricing.

But according to, the fee increases put Citi firmly in the category of priciest accounts.

The average basic interest-bearing account – similar to Citi’s reward account – has a price tag of $14.76 per month, while basic non-interest bearing accounts, like Citi’s basic account, go for about $5.26 per month, Bankrate reports.

In addition to increasing monthly fees, Citi has also made it more difficult for some customers to receive monthly fee waivers.

While the average monthly balance consumers are required to keep in their account in order to get a waiver will decrease, lines of credit, mortgages, credit cards and loan balances will no longer be counted toward that balance.

Perhaps as a way to divert eyes from its upcoming fee hike, Citi also announced that it would begin including customers’ FICO credit scores on monthly statements – with a few exceptions.

Officials with Citi tell the Plain Dealer that the new service came about as a way to “provide enhanced value to out card members.”

Still, the service won’t exactly be readily available to customers.

While Discover, which announced in February that it would provide customer’s their credit scores free of charge, posts the information on physical bills each month, Citi will only offer the service online.

Additionally, the scores will only be provided to the 23.5 million customers with Citi-branded credit cards. That means customers with Sears, Best Buy and Macy’s branded Citi cards will have to get their scores elsewhere, and likely for a fee.

The Plain Dealer reports that both Chase and Bank of America are considering offering customers free, monthly credit scores.

Citi hikes fees on checking customers [CNNMoney]
Citibank to start offering free credit scores to credit card customers; Chase and Bank of America considering the same [The Plain Dealer]

USPS Apologizes For Declaring Living, Breathing Man “Deceased”

Tue, 2014-10-21 21:47

deceasedEvery parent dreads the possibility of outliving their children. So imagine the shock when one mom found out via the U.S. Postal Service that her son had died. Now think about how the not-at-all-deceased felt when he learned that he’d been declared dead by the post office.

WCCO in Minnesota reports that a local man recently noticed that he was no longer receiving any important correspondence through the mail — just junk.

That’s because his mail was being returned to senders with the word “Deceased” printed on the envelope in red letters.

“It almost caused me to have a heart attack,” the man’s mom recalls. Apparently not wanting to believe what the USPS so boldly declared on the envelope, she called her son and left a message. “I said, ‘I just got two pieces of mail back that were supposed to come to your house, and you’re deceased. What is going on? Call me.’”

Making matters even more painful is the fact this was the second time that the man’s mom had bad news come to her doorstep. Twenty years earlier, the police came to tell her that her son had been in a terrible accident. Now she was being told that this same son was dead.

The perfectly not-dead (and apparently not undead) son called his mom to tell her that all was well, but that didn’t answer the question of why USPS had decided it was his time to shuffle off this mortal coil.

“I was very frustrated, I was scared, I was thinking, ‘I hope somebody’s not trying to pull a practical joke on me,’” says the man, speaking from the same plane of existence as the rest of us.

Eventually, they figured out that the problem started when a different family filed a request asking that the mail delivery for one of their actually dead relatives be stopped. Somewhere along the line, some wires got crossed and the USPS went all George RR Martin on the unsuspecting living, breathing man.

“It was our mistake,” admits a USPS rep, presumably through a bulletproof window. “In any event, this is a mistake that shouldn’t have happened. Postal policy is that mail for a deceased person should be returned only if it is known that the individual is deceased and the mail cannot properly be delivered to another person.”

The family is suggesting that USPS require some sort of proof, like a death certificate, before declaring a person deceased. Of course, even that can’t stop someone from making a clerical error that results in the wrong name or address being entered into a computer.

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Store Clerk Fends Off Would-Be Robber By Spraying Her With Insecticide

Tue, 2014-10-21 21:32



Necessity is the mother of invention, as someone famous and ancient once said, and Plato would be right in the case of a convenience store clerk faced with a would-be robber. She says she didn’t know if the woman demanding money from the register was armed, but darned if she wasn’t going to arm herself… with a can of bug killer.

With limited options, the Pennsylvania clerk says she chose Raid wasp and bee killer after a woman dressed all in black with a mask over her face walked into the store late Sunday night.

“That’s a heads up anyway,” she deadpanned to about the mask. “Then she throws this black bag on the counter and tells me, ‘Put the money in the bag,’ and I’m like, ‘What?’ So she says it again and I’m like, ‘Excuse me?'”

That’s when she grabbed the can of bug spray and waited, giving the woman a chance to leave, as seen in the surveillance footage. After she stayed put, PFFFFFFFT out comes a spray of insecticide, shooting the suspect right in the face.

“She just stood there and then started walking out the door and I kept spraying her as she was walking,” the clerk said.

Although authorities warn others in similar circumstances not to confront someone who could be armed, the clerk says that’s the very reason she reached for the only weapon she could find.

“When she pulled her hands back towards herself, I didn’t know if she had anything on her and I wasn’t letting her get to it first,” she explained. “I just got mad. I’ve got better thing to do with my night than that.”

She described the woman as having a deep voice, with long brown hair and thick eyebrows, and someone who will definitely be avoiding Raid for a while. ( function() { var func = function() { var iframe_form = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-form-b653a2f5233743510892ee4fd6d3c659-5446bfe81f1a6'); var iframe = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-b653a2f5233743510892ee4fd6d3c659-5446bfe81f1a6'); if ( iframe_form && iframe ) { iframe_form.submit(); iframe.onload = function() { iframe.contentWindow.postMessage( { 'msg_type': 'poll_size', 'frame_id': 'wpcom-iframe-b653a2f5233743510892ee4fd6d3c659-5446bfe81f1a6' }, window.location.protocol + '//' ); } } // Autosize iframe var funcSizeResponse = function( e ) { var origin = document.createElement( 'a' ); origin.href = e.origin; // Verify message origin if ( '' !== ) return; // Verify message is in a format we expect if ( 'object' !== typeof || undefined === ) return; switch ( ) { case 'poll_size:response': var iframe = document.getElementById( ); if ( iframe && '' === iframe.width ) iframe.width = '100%'; if ( iframe && '' === iframe.height ) iframe.height = parseInt( ); return; default: return; } } if ( 'function' === typeof window.addEventListener ) { window.addEventListener( 'message', funcSizeResponse, false ); } else if ( 'function' === typeof window.attachEvent ) { window.attachEvent( 'onmessage', funcSizeResponse ); } } if (document.readyState === 'complete') { func.apply(); /* compat for infinite scroll */ } else if ( document.addEventListener ) { document.addEventListener( 'DOMContentLoaded', func, false ); } else if ( document.attachEvent ) { document.attachEvent( 'onreadystatechange', func ); } } )();

Stinging surprise: Would-be robber thwarted with bug spray []

Old Navy Celebrating Birthday By Rendering Selfies In Balloons For Some Reason

Tue, 2014-10-21 21:10

selfiebrationTwenty years ago, I was impressed with technology that let me print a pixelated version of my own picture on a dot matrix printer in my middle school technology class. I also was impressed with a new Gap brand then in pilot phase, called “The Old Navy Clothing Company.” Now people photograph ourselves daily, and Old Navy is everywhere. The clothing brand is celebrating its 20th anniversary with…pixelated selfies.

By “pixelated,” we mean “rendered in balloons.” The machine is kind of amazing, and we hope that someone figures out a use for it other than marketing.

Here it is in action, along with a demonstration of how it was constructed and the equipment that makes everything work. The machine will render two different images per minute, and will be available for live balloon-selfie-rendering in New York’s Times Square tomorrow, and at the Hollywood & Highland Center in Los Angeles on Saturday.

Wish Old Navy a Happy 20th Birthday, and It Will Make a Giant Balloon Portrait of Your Selfie [AdWeek]

Rogers Twitter Account Is Apparently Run By Wisecracking Sitcom Teen

Tue, 2014-10-21 20:46

tapatalk_1413895406960aWhen you haven’t had phone service for several days and all you want is for someone at the phone company to tell you when it will finally be fixed, it’s not a good idea for a customer service rep to try to A) try to tell you about the benefits of its pay-TV service; and B) be a smartass about it.

But that’s exactly what happened to Consumerist reader K. when he tried to contact Canadian telecom titan Rogers through the company’s @RogersHelps Twitter account.

K.’s phone service has been out since Friday — incoming calls disappear and won’t even go to voicemail; outgoing calls won’t complete — and he just wanted to find out when, if ever, his service would be restored.

As you can see from the screengrab above, not only was the RogersHelps account unable to provide him with anything other than a “it’s being investigated” response, it got glib when K. asked why he should stick with Rogers for his service.

“We do have Rogers GameCentre Live free for our customers until December 31, 2014,” Tweeted the company rep, referring to Rogers’ premium NHL TV package.

When K. pointed out that maybe it’s not a good idea to try to market its TV service to a ticked-off customer who has been without a phone for several days, the RogersHelps account replied that he had “asked why you should stay with Rogers. This was one reason.”

That sort of cute reply might work coming from a spunky adolescent in a sitcom, but it’s not exactly a way to win over customers.

Deadly Spider Hijacks Grocery Store Bananas, Gnaws Off Its Own Leg To Escape Capture

Tue, 2014-10-21 20:45

(kyle tsui)

(kyle tsui)

If you haven’t been eyeing those bunches of grocery store bananas suspiciously after past spider ambushes, this most recent incident might make you pay attention. Not only did a deadly, venomous Brazilian Wandering Spider jump out of a bunch of fruit delivered by a shopping service in the UK, but it was so dedicated to getting away from captors that it gnawed its own leg off.

It also left behind a sac filled with hundreds of spider eggs, reports the Daily Mail, eggs that would’ve eventually hatched and turned just as deadly as their apparent parent. Though who knows, the giant spider in the bananas might’ve just been the babysitter.

In any case, the family says it was “deeply traumatized” by the unexpected arachnid delivered to their South London home by a company called Waitrose.

The father managed to trap the spider at one point, pinning its leg in the fruit bowl, it just chewed that appendage off and escaped.

The family called supermarket and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but both said they weren’t equipped to deal with the spider, whose venom can kill within two hours. The police were no help either, but Waitrose eventually sent a pest control expert, who was able to corral the spider with a three-foot stick and lock it into three boxes, calling the thing “hardcore.”

He also found the sac of spider eggs, and stuck them in the freezer to kill them.

The dad managed to take pictures of it, though the family fled the house for the evening, unable to rest easy with the beast in the house.

“We were terrified. We got ourselves and our kids out of the house straight away,” he said.

“The safety of our customers is our absolute priority,” Waitrose said in a statement. “We did everything we could to look after our customer during what was a distressing incident and we’ve apologised personally. Although this is highly unusual, we’re taking it very seriously and will be working with our supplier to minimise the risk of this happening again.”

The chain offered the family £150 of shopping vouchers and a family day out to make up for the scary experience. I would probably demand a new brain so I could forget what had just happened.

Family’s terror as they find world’s deadliest spider trapped in Waitrose home delivery… and it gnaws its own leg off to escape [The Daily Mail]

Hating Lines Isn’t A Good Enough Excuse To Shoplift $300 In Liquor, Other Goods From Walmart

Tue, 2014-10-21 20:28

(Ben Schumin)

(Ben Schumin)

Long lines are a pain, but they’re part of the deal when you shop at major retail stores. If you don’t like to wait you can always fulfill your grocery list during off-hours, but you can’t just walk out the door without paying.

Fox6 News reports that a Wisconsin man allegedly stole $300 worth of liquor and other items from a local Walmart store because he simply didn’t want to wait in line to pay for the good.

According to police, the 74-year-old man hid a liquor bottle under his bag and walked out a side door of the store.

The man allegedly told police that he does it all the time and it had never been a problem before.

Police charged the man with shoplifting and obstructing an office because he provided a fake name.

If the man had only been able to hold off on shopping until the holiday season, Walmart is promising to have cashiers at every one of its registers during peak business hours.

Walmart shoplifter says he “doesn’t like to wait in lines” [Fox6 News]

Want A Dinner Reservation At A Popular Restaurant? Pay Up

Tue, 2014-10-21 20:11

(Cpt. Brick)

(Cpt. Brick)

Earlier this month, we shared with you the news that a delivery-only restaurant in San Francisco added dynamic pricing to its business model: that is, instead of shutting down orders when there is high demand, they simply charge customers more. Similar models are becoming an extra revenue stream for restaurants, removing the risk from reservations and earning them more money when their products are more in demand.

Sure, maybe restauranteurs have always wanted to charge extra for the privilege of a 7:30 reservation. The difference is that now, customers in markets where ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft roam the streets are kind of used to the idea of reserving things they want immediately using an app, and, more importantly, they’re used to the idea of sometimes having to pay extra to get those things when demand is high.

This is the same principle as surge pricing on the ride-sharing app Uber, where customers pay extra at busy times. The New York Times reports that restaurants are now charging customers for reservations, either as an extra income stream or just to make people more likely to show up.

That’s because 5 to 10% of customers who make reservations never show up. One system that charges customers a relatively small fee–five or ten bucks for a table, which is then credited to the bill if the party actually shows up–brought that number down to only 2%.

Can You Uber a Burger? [New York Times]

Diner Arrested After Her “Husband,” Jesus Christ, Fails To Show Up With Promised Cash To Pay The Bill

Tue, 2014-10-21 19:57



It doesn’t matter if you believe in Jesus (either as the son of God and/or as historical figure) or not: The issue of a hefty unpaid restaurant tab for food and booze hinges on the fact that Jesus Christ failed to show up and pay the bill of a woman claiming he’s her husband in the eyes of the law, a husband that she allegedly promised would walk in any minute to settle her tab with cold, hard cash.

Police say the Oklahoma woman ordered food and a bunch of alcoholic beverages at a restaurant in Lawton, reports Fox 25, but when it came time to settle bill, she admitted she couldn’t pay for what she’d just had.

Instead, she allegedly said her husband would be by shortly to settle the bill, and that her hubby just so happened to be Jesus. As in The Jesus Christ In The Bible, not someone who’s named after him.

But despite her claim that she and Jesus were legally married, she didn’t have the marriage license to prove it. Even so, she told cops he’d be walking in soon to pay in cash, adds

When that didn’t happen and she had no other way to pay her tab, police arrested her on a complaint of fraud.

Police: Lawton woman claims Jesus Christ would pick up her restaurant tab [Fox 25]
Woman arrested claiming Jesus Christ will pay her restaurant tab []

Frontier Customers Sue, Alleging They Don’t Get Advertised Internet Speeds

Tue, 2014-10-21 19:27

(Brad Clinesmith)

(Brad Clinesmith)

In a recently filed class-action suit, Frontier Communications customers in West Virginia allege the cable/Internet company advertised high-speed broadband packages but then failed to deliver, only providing a fraction of what customers were promised.

The Charleston Gazette reports on the lawsuit, in which the three named plaintiffs claim that Frontier violated the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act by advertising its “High-speed Internet Max” service and promising speeds of up to 12 Mbps, only to deliver significantly slower speeds, particularly in rural areas. Some customers say their speeds were only around 1 Mpbs even though they paid for the high-speed service.

A rep for Frontier tells the Gazette that the plaintiffs’ lines were each put to the test and that “in all cases the service met or exceeded the ‘up to’ broadband speeds to which they subscribed.”

The plaintiffs believe that Frontier is enriching itself by deliberately throttling speeds to certain customers while charging for full service.

“Frontier’s practice of overcharging and failing to provide the high-speed, broadband-level of service it advertises has created high profits for Frontier but left Internet users in the digital Dark Age,” reads the complaint.

According to the suit, while Frontier — which dominates the broadband market in West Virginia and has virtually no competition in most areas it serves — received $42 million from the federal government to build out a fiberoptic network, only 12% of Frontier subscribers in the state have access to speeds that even qualify for the FCC’s outdated definition of broadband (4 Mpbs downstream).

The plaintiffs allege that Frontier lacked the infrastructure to actually deliver the speeds it promised to many customers, and so it throttled back data speeds to certain subscribers in order to provide adequate service to others.

One plaintiff says that when he complained to a Frontier manager about the slow speeds he received, she responded that “If as you suggest, we ‘opened up the throttle’ for every served customer, it could create congestion problems resulting in degradation of speed for all customers.”

In the FCC’s most recent Measuring Broadband America report, Frontier didn’t exactly set the speed meter ablaze.

The company’s DSL service was one of the worst performers in the survey, only delivering about 85% of the advertised sustained download speeds. Even the Frontier fiber service failed to consistently meet advertised speeds.


The lawsuit faces one huge roadblock that could prevent it from ever reaching a courtroom. According to the Frontier Terms & Conditions [PDF], residential service subscribers are not only forbidden from joining together in a class action, but must each individually resolve any legal dispute with the company through mandatory binding arbitration — a process that is heavily unbalanced in favor of the business.

But the plaintiffs believe they are not bound by this clause, as the only way to access the terms of service is via the Frontier website, and the company never obtains “informed written consent” from customers.


There’s Now A Thing Called Artisanal Ice, It Melts Slower But Costs You More

Tue, 2014-10-21 19:18

(Karen Chappell)

(Karen Chappell)

Depending on where you live, you may be hard-pressed to find a cocktail under $10 nowadays. Drink prices have increased over the past several years thanks in part to more creatively crafted drinks and…ice? Yes, you read that right, artisanal ice is real and apparently expensive.

NPR reports that the super-special artisanal ice, which is crystal clear and melts at a slower pace, is freezing the competition when it comes to regular old ice, and contributing to consumers’ higher bar tabs.

Joe Ambrose, the owner of Favourite Ice, a company that hand-chisels 200- to 300-pound blocks of ice to be sold to local Washington, D.C., watering holes, tells NPR there’s a reason the artisanal ice is doing so well. It’s just better.

But how is that possible? Last time I checked the recipe for ice only had one ingredient: water.

Ambrose says the secret is in the way you make the ice. His company filters the water to rid it of cloudy substances like calcium, then pours it into a huge machine used to make ice for ice sculptures.

After the gigantic blocks of ice have solidified, Ambrose and his partner cut it into more manageable 25-pound slabs to be sold to bars and restaurants.

And there’s been no shortage of business for Favourite Ice, Ambrose tells NPR.

In fact, he says many bars have begun to use the superior ice to justify their already high-priced cocktails. After all, no one wants their $20 finger of whiskey to not taste like whiskey.

“The problem with lots of small ice cubes is that in 10 to 15 minutes, your drink tastes like watered-down booze — it doesn’t taste how its supposed to taste anymore,” he says.

While most bars either eat the cost of ice or build it into their drink prices, Washington City Paper reported this week on a new establishment that actually lists an ice surcharge on its menu.

For the $1 surcharge patrons can have their whiskey or crafted cocktails served on a “rock,” or rather a spherical iceberg-like chunk of ice.

Although the surcharge is a bit outside the norm, the restaurant’s manager says it doesn’t even come close to covering the actual cost of artisanal ice.

“It’s worth it,” the manager says. “When it goes into a cocktail, it’s crystal clear. It’s purified water, so there’s no minerally taste.”

Can Hand-Cut, Artisanal Ice Make Your Cocktail That Much Better? [NPR]
Second State Will Charge $1 Extra for Artisanal Ice [Washington City Paper]

Feds: Don’t Say Your Plastic Shopping Bags Are Biodegradable If You Can’t Prove It

Tue, 2014-10-21 18:32

(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)

While cities and states around the country crack down on the overuse of plastic shopping bags, the Federal Trade Commission is warning manufacturers of these bags to refrain from making eco-friendly claims about their products unless those claims can be proven in the real world.

According to the FTC, a number of companies are marketing their plastic bags as biodegradable or “oxodegradable” — meaning they will eventually degrade in the presence of oxygen — but these claims may be deceptive.

The FTC says that since most shopping bags are landfill-bound, and many landfills lack sufficient oxygen to cause degradation, the claims on these products are misleading.

“Contrary to the marketing, therefore, these bags may be no more biodegradable than ordinary plastic waste bags,” reads a statement from the FTC.

In 2012, the FTC revised its Guides For the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (AKA, the “Green Guides”) to clarify that unqualified “degradable” or “biodegradable” claims for items generally destined for landfills, incinerators, and recycling facilities are deceptive because “these locations do not present conditions in which complete decomposition will occur within one year.”

The letters to 15 bag manufacturers explains that using terms like “oxodegradable” or “oxo biodegradable” is the same as using “biodegradable.” The companies were given a brief period of time to respond to the FTC and let the agency know if they have reliable scientific evidence to back up their claims, or if they plan to remove their oxodegradable claims from their marketing.

“If marketers don’t have reliable scientific evidence for their claims, they shouldn’t make them,” explains Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Claims that products are environmentally friendly influence buyers, so it’s important they be accurate.”

If Anyone Actually Liked Cappuccino Potato Chips, They’ll Be Bummed Wasabi Ginger Is Lay’s New Flavor

Tue, 2014-10-21 18:24

layschipvoteWhile it was noted during an unofficial, informal tasting of Lay’s trial of cappuccino-flavored potato chips by Consumerist’s Boss Meg a few months ago that the snack “tastes how the mall looks,” others out there might actually have liked the dusting of sweet, coffee-ish powder on chips. Those others, if you exist, are going to be quite bummed to learn that voters have instead chosen Wasabi Ginger as the newest Lay’s flavor.

Yours truly managed to eat multiple chips out of curiosity, after buying a bag in the wild just for the heck of it, but let’s just say it was merely my sense of adventure that led me to subject my mouth to that mall taste for an extended period of time.

And so it goes for oddly flavored snacks, as America has voted in Wasabi Ginger and said no to the coffee chip, Mango Salsa and Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese, reports the Associated Press.

According to PepsiCo, Frito-Lay’s parent company, around 1 million total votes were cast on line during the “Do Us A Flavor” promo. This was the second year in a row for the contest, which collected votes from July through the last weekend on Facebook and Twitter.

The lucky winner who came up with the flavor idea is a registered nurse from New Jersey, who will receive either $1 million or a year’s worth of sales, whichever amount is higher.

As for how cappuccino-flavored chips ever came to be, Ram Krishnan, Frito-Lay’s chief marketing officer defended the idea to the AP.

“The fact that it made it out of our selection process to make it to the final four is no small feat,” he said.

The fact that more than one of those chips made it into my mouth and didn’t exit immediately is also no small feat, Ram.

America says no to cappuccino potato chips [Associated Press]

At Hallmark, Get Halloween Ornaments For Your Halloween Tree

Tue, 2014-10-21 18:19

Here at Consumerist, we pretend to hate holiday mashups while secretly loving them. Still, we have to admit that we were a little confused when we saw that Hallmark now has Halloween ornaments. Yes, it’s a long-established fact that the gift chain puts its Christmas ornament collection out during the summer, but we thought they were just that. Christmas tree ornaments. Not so.

happy_halloweenHere’s the rather blurry photo that tipster Beth sent us of the display at her local Hallmark store. The ornament label is hard to read, but the one with the pumpkin is called “Happy Halloween.”

That raises many questions. “Is this a Halloween-themed ornament for Christmas, or a Christmas-style ornament for Halloween?” Beth asked. We were confused, too, so we took her question to Hallmark.

A Hallmark spokesperson explained that the ornaments are “intended for Halloween decorating.” Wait, Halloween trees are a thing other than at Hobby Lobby? Yes. Yes, they are. Hallmark sells Halloween ornaments, which make sense when you see them in context with the rest of the collection. Maybe not so much when they’re stuck in a display among Christmas ornaments.


Their spokesperson explained:

Halloween is second to Christmas in holiday decorating, so we hear a lot from our consumers that they want this type of product. Some people like to decorate with “Halloween trees.” There may be some consumers who carry the Halloween ornaments over to Christmas, but the intent is for celebrating Halloween. Of course, people can use the ornaments however they’d like, and people do tend to get creative!

Well, we can’t disagree with that. People are entitled to use ornaments however they like. The pumpkin ornament makes sense in this context, and is adorable either way. That doesn’t mean I’m putting up a Halloween tree, though.

NHTSA Urges Owners Of Vehicles With Defective Airbags To Get Them Fixed, Even Though No Parts Are Available

Tue, 2014-10-21 17:42


Federal safety regulators are asking millions of vehicle owners to immediately fix their defective airbags, but it may do little to actually remedy the problem. With more than 14 million cars equipped with faulty Takata airbags, car manufacturers say they don’t have enough replacement parts on hand, meaning consumers consumers will have to wait and decide for themselves whether they want to keep driving affected vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released an urgent consumer advisory Monday to the owners of certain Toyota, Honda, Mazda, BMW, Nissan, and General Motors vehicles to act immediately on recall notices to replace defective Takata airbags.

The advisory singled out owners of vehicles in high humidity regions including Florida, Puerto Rico, Guam, Saipan, American Samoa, Virgin Islands and Hawaii.

David J. Friedman, deputy administrator for NHTSA, tells the New York Times that the agency issued the unusual advisory to make sure everyone is engaged and getting their vehicles fixed to protect themselves and their families.

While the warning may serve that purpose, it also may prove confusing for some consumers who have found their vehicle’s manufacturer isn’t prepared to fix the issue.

The New York Times reports that many of the car manufacturers listed on the NHTSA notice don’t have parts available to service the vehicles.

Honda officials have said they did not have enough parts to fix the 2.8 million recalled cars immediately and that there was no firm idea of when the fixes would be completed.

Instead, the company is sending out recall notifications only as they become available, with priority being reserved for areas of high humidity, where the airbags are though to be more susceptible to exploding.

Of the 11 manufacturers with vehicles recalled because of the Takata issue, Honda has perhaps been the hardest hit.

At least three deaths have been linked to defective airbags in Honda vehicles and the company recently announcing it would begin an audit of potential inaccuracies in providing information about early warning issues to regulators.

A consumer safety group said last week that those possible inaccuracies have hampered regulators ability to spot safety defects, which in turn can leave potentially dangerous vehicles on the roadways.

Officials with Toyota, which expanded its recall of vehicles with Takata airbags yesterday, say the company would in some cases disable the air bags, leaving a note not to ride in the front passenger seat.

The company has urged owners of about 247,000 vehicles in high humidity areas to make special efforts to get their cars fixed.

Officials with NHTSA tell the Times they plan to continually update Monday’s consumer advisory to include additional manufacturers and vehicles equipped with the defective safety devices.

It Looked Like a Stabbing, but Takata Air Bag Was the Killer [The New York Times]

Company Has Created Actual Hoverboard, In Time For Marty McFly’s 2015 Visit

Tue, 2014-10-21 17:35

hendograbOne year from today, a young man named Marty McFly from Hill Valley will arrive from 30 years in the past in a time machine powered by garbage, and he will marvel at new technology like self-lacing shoes and those hoverboards that every kid rides around the town square on. That is, if the kid happens to have $10,000 in his piggy bank and uses it to back a Kickstarter campaign promising to deliver the floating device by this time next year.

A company called Arx Parx has launched a campaign to raise $250,000 for its Hendo hoverboard, which uses a magnetic field to do its hovering (and which also means you have to be floating over a conductive surface, like the copper-covered demo floor the company has been using to show off the Hendo to certain members of the press.

Right now, the Hendo is kind of a hulking monster, but the plan is to reduce its size in the coming year. The makers say the board supports up to 300 pounds and should soon be able to carry upwards of 500 pounds, meaning the hover technology has applications well beyond just ticking off the descendants of Biff Tannen.

That’s why the Arx Parx folks are also planning to release a developer’s kit that will hopefully inspire people to put the Hendo hover engine to practical use. Suddenly all those sci-fi movies and TV shows where warehouse workers of the future are pushing around floating pallets may be an everyday scene.

While the Hendo might be in the offing, it’s worth noting that it currently only hovers about 3/4″ off the ground. Increasing that to 1.5″ would require significantly more energy, say the inventors.

For now, let’s just watch the prototype in action. Warning: This video is incredibly loud and sounds like someone is doing something awful to a cat, so turn your speakers down:

Uber Driver Accused Of Pulling Passenger From Car, Smashing Her Phone After Fight Over Directions

Tue, 2014-10-21 17:26

(CBS San Francisco)

(CBS San Francisco)

In the latest report of Uber driver versus passenger, police in San Francisco have cited an UberX driver with three misdemeanors for allegedly pulling a passenger out of his car and smashing her smartphone while she tried to record the showdown.

Police tells CBS San Francisco that the driver is suspected of forcibly removing the woman after the two got into an argument about the address of her destination.

She told him the cross streets of where she was going, but didn’t provide an exact address, which apparently started things in motion.

“His exact words were, ‘I need address for GPS,’” she said in an interview. “I put my head down and was texting, and the next think I know we’re stopped and he’s running to my side of the car cussing, telling me to get the f out of his car. He grabs my arm, I take that hand and I hold it up with my phone to take a picture. He lets go, grabs the phone and throws it down the street,” she added.

She was able to retrieve her phone and keep the name and photo of the driver, and contacted Uber about the incident. But she claims it took someone from Uber 20 hours to call her.

Despite the wait, the company refunded her trip, is replacing her phone and suspended the driver, pending an investigation. He was cited with misdemeanors for battery, malicious mischief, and vandalism.

Thanks for the tip, J.V.!

Previously in Uber vs. Passenger news: Uber Customer Claims She Was Briefly Kidnapped During 2-Hour Ride, Company Calls It An “Inefficient Route”; Uber Driver Says Female Passenger Was Asking To Be Groped By Wearing A Tank Top; Should Uber Be Responsible If A Driver Attacks A Passenger?

San Francisco Uber Driver Accused Of Forcibly Pulling Rider From Car, Smashing Her Phone In Dispute Over Directions [CBS San Francisco]

Sears Inventory Clerk Accused Of Stealing $2.6 Million In Merchandise

Tue, 2014-10-21 16:40

Pete Kraynak

(Pete Kraynak)

If Sears wants to lose slightly less money in the last quarter of 2014, maybe the company needs to check its employees’ metaphorical pockets. For example, there was the employee in a New Jersey distribution center who was recently arrested and accused of stealing merchandise worth $2.3 million, with a retail value of $3.7 million, and selling or bartering the merchandise to people in multiple states.

How could someone have done this? Police say that the inventory clerk would create fake orders for pricey items with resale value, like electronics, high-end bedding, and appliances.

What isn’t clear is whether she created the phony orders and then Sears itself shipped them directly to the recipients, or the fake “orders” simply removed the items from warehouse inventory so she could slip them out of the building. That’s easy enough to do with a small item like a camera, but more difficult with, say, a dishwasher.

Police say that she distributed the items to her “network” all over the greater New York metropolitan area, and that she surely had accomplices in selling the merchandise. She’s currently at the county jail on $50,000 bail.

New Jersey woman steals $3.7 million in goods from Sears warehouse [NY Daily News]

Report: Despite Lower Fuel Costs And Ebola Fears, Many Airlines Just Raised Base Fares

Tue, 2014-10-21 16:36



The good news for airlines — fuel prices are down for once. But while that’s all well and great, that doesn’t mean consumers are going to have those savings passed down by way of cheaper air fares. Instead, many of the major airlines have recently raised their base fares by a few dollars across the board, according to a new report. Just in time for the holidays, of course.

Even as people stateside watch the Ebola outbreak unfold in West Africa and read the news about its effects here, it seems airlines aren’t worried that there will be fewer people booking travel: According to a report by the Associated Press, Delta Air Lines hiked its fares on many domestic routes by $4 per round trip last week, prompting others to match them.

Citing CEO Rick Seaney and JPMorgan analyst Jamie Baker, the AP says that a few airlines bumped things by $6 and $10, but most hovered around $4.

While Delta didn’t respond to the AP’s request for comment, and neither did American and Southwest — both which reportedly raised prices — United Airlines did confirm it matched Delta’s $4 bump.

The good news? Just because base fares are higher doesn’t always mean you’ll pay more, due to frequent sales airlines often run, and adjustments made depending on customer demand.

These upticks show that any fear of Ebola isn’t tamping the urge to fly, as well as that airlines aren’t passing on savings to customers from those decreased fuel prices, Seaney told the AP.

Holiday travel just got pricier as airlines raise fares on U.S. flights [Associated Press]