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Comcast Bringing Super-Fast Fiber Network To Silicon Valley & Other California Markets

Sat, 2015-04-18 00:55



Two weeks after Comcast announced that Atlanta would be the first market to get its new Gigabit Pro fiber service — which promises speeds of up to twice that of Google Fiber — the company is now saying it will bring the high-speed broadband to several markets in California where it already offers service.

According to Comcast, starting in June it will begin a rollout of Gigabit Pro in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento, up north as far as Yuba City and Chico; then down to Modesto, Fresno, and the Visalia area. Nearer the coast, Salinas and Monterey will get access to the service, as will some areas of Santa Barbara County. Interestingly, Santa Cruz is specifically called out as one area that will not be part of the Gigabit Pro rollout.

Much like Comcast’s Atlanta announcement came after both AT&T and Google announced their intention to offer gigabit broadband in the area, this news comes hot on the heels of AT&T’s decision to launch its Gigapower service in the heart of Silicon Valley. AT&T is also actively looking to offer this high-speed service in San Francisco and Oakland.

Because both networks are new, we don’t know exactly what sort of overlap there will be between AT&T’s Gigapower service and Comcast’s Gigabit Pro. Comcast is the prominent cable/broadband provider in San Jose and Cupertino, but the company’s press release does not name specific Bay Area markets.

A media rep for the company tells Consumerist that it will encompass all existing services areas from San Jose up to Santa Rosa, with the exception of Santa Cruz and Scotts Valley. This means that AT&T and Comcast should be going head-to-head for high-speed customers in some areas.

We also don’t know what Comcast will charge for its highest-speed service. When AT&T announced its San Jose launch prices, it put a price tag of $110/month on it. In markets where AT&T and Google overlap, the company has offered a lower-cost option — so long as subscribers opt-in to having their browsing behavior tracked.

The good news for current Comcast customers in the affected markets is that their existing speeds may improve starting next month, without any additional cost.

The Xfinity “Performance” tier will go from from 50 Mbps downstream to 75 Mbps. The “Blast” tier jumps from from 105 Mbps to 150 Mbps. Customers will also have the option of upgrading to “Extreme 250,” which you’ve probably guessed is a 250 Mbps service tier.

Comcast is in a tenuous position with California right now. The company is trying to spend $45 billion to acquire Time Warner Cable and its millions of Los Angeles-area customers, but at least one prominent state regulator has publicly expressed his opinion that the state should not approve the transfer of TWC’s network to Comcast.

Meanwhile, here in Comcast’s home city of Philadelphia, the broadband penetration is one of the worst among major American cities, and the company is accusing Philly residents of lying about their customer service issues.

Is The RadioShack Brand Name Even Worth Anything?

Sat, 2015-04-18 00:53

Radio Shack Old Logo They took down the sign and the old logo was underneath. This was the 1974-1995 logo.

(Phillip Pessar)

All of RadioShack’s stores have been either shut down or sold and have now re-opened to sell only Sprint phones alongside batteries. Yet the owner of those stores, Standard General, didn’t negotiate to buy the RadioShack brand name along with the stores. It will be auctioned in May along with the rest of the company’s intellectual property, which includes the URL and their mailing lists. Standard General may bid on the brand name, but they obviously don’t think that it’s very important.

If the brand stayed dormant for a few decades until radios were a faint memory and it becomes difficult to remember the time before everyone walked around wearing face and wrist computers, it might become valuable. Right now, it’s not worth much at all. Over at AdAge, Kevin Singer points out that maybe owning the name doesn’t really matter in the long run: a slimmed-down RadioShack business model could focus on selling earbuds, chargers, and batteries for the electronics that we already own instead of pushing new and pricey gadgets. Some electronics purchases aren’t very glamorous, but are very time-sensitive.

Right now, brands with authenticity and history are trendy. Yes, that’s a bit of a paradox. For a really strange example, look at the clothing brand Madewell. A few generations ago, the company was a New England-based maker of workwear like overalls and lined denim jackets. Now it’s a brand of women’s clothing that’s a high-end sibling of J. Crew. The company didn’t spend $20 million on the company’s brand name, of course: a fashion designer paid $125,000 for the trademark back in 2003. The following year, he transferred it to Mickey Drexler, who is now the CEO of J. Crew. Originally, the idea was to revive the Madewell workwear aesthetic, but that plan didn’t work out. Instead of the planned reinterpretation of classic workwear, the company now sells pre-ripped jeans for more than $300. This would probably annoy the Russian immigrant who started the original Madewell during the Great Depression. The brand name and “heritage” of Madewell remains valuable, though, giving the brand a faux authenticity that has nothing whatsoever to do with the original Madewell brand.

Of course, just because a brand is available for cheap, that doesn’t mean it has any value. The name of Circuit City, a big-box electronics chain, sort of lived on in the form of an e-commerce site, but even they gave up, because no one has all that much affection for Circuit City.

RadioShack is different, but the RadioShack that people remember fondly no longer existed by the time the chain declared bankruptcy. People remember the store of the ’70s and ’80s that sold their first computer and maybe a few remote control cars. We can buy consumer electronics just about everywhere now, as long as there’s a mobile data signal.

The RadioShack Name: Worthless or Worthwhile? [AdAge]

Tobacco Company Credits Falling Gas Prices With Rising Sales

Fri, 2015-04-17 23:11

(Xavier J. Peg ☠)

(Xavier J. Peg ☠)

Gas prices have fallen signifiantly in the last year or so, which is great news for consumers, if not necessarily for gas stations. There’s another hidden winner in this situation: tobacco companies. Customers who are spending less on gas have more money to spend on cigarettes, and gas stations happen to be a convenient place to buy them.

Of course, no one’s going to say, “Hey, it only cost $40 to fill up my tank: time to take up smoking!” Yet having more spending money might lead people who already smoke to buy at a gas station instead of buying in bulk elsewhere. That analysis comes from an actual tobacco company: Reynolds American Inc. released its earnings report, and it showed the first increase in sales since 2004 for that company. (Reynolds makes Camel and Natural American Spirit brands of cigarettes, and Grizzly and Kodiak snuff brands.)

Company representatives don’t actually expect that increase to last, but they do credit falling gas prices with the slight boost in sales.

Think how much tobacco companies could boost their profits if they actually used the free mascot that satirical news program “Last Week Tonight” designed for them!

Smokers Spend Gasoline Savings on Tobacco, Fueling Surprise Gain [Bloomberg]

IKEA Releases Catalog Of Furniture That Will Charge Your Phone For You

Fri, 2015-04-17 22:29

USA_PR_Wireless_chargingLast month, IKEA announced it would soon be releasing furniture with built-in charging technology so yu could power-up your phones, tablets, and other devices. Now the Swedish home furnishing giant has released a catalog showing off the first of these products that will be available this spring.

The catalog [PDF] released to the press today shows products that fit into three general categories: wireless device charging pads intended to fit in with your home decor, furniture with built-in chargers, and a device that turns everyday furniture into a wireless charger. The retailer is also introducing its own line of wireless charging covers for iPhones and Samsung’s Galaxy phones.

If you’re looking to add a pop of color to your home, then you probably want to look elsewhere. The charging furniture and other products are almost exclusively solid white, with the occasional gray or piece of wood present.

In terms of furniture, IKEA is launching two new nightstands — the SELJE ($60) and the NORDLI ($110). Both have a built-in wireless charger in the top surface and a USB charging port.

Then there are three lamps. The VARV floor lamp ($119) is 67″ tall but has a small charging platform attached the pole about halfway up. There is also a much smaller VARV table lamp ($70) with the charging platform for a base. The same goes for the $80 RIGGAD work lamp. Like the nightstands, all the light fixtures have a place to plug in a USB charger.

The standalone charging pads range in price from $28 for a pad that can only charge a single device to $65 for a pad that can charge up to three. As you probably guessed, these each include USB port for charging purposes.

Finally, there’s the $30 JYSSEN charger, which slides into existing cord management slots on some IKEA furniture, but which — with the help of a drill that IKEA will also be selling — can be slotted into any piece of furniture (that you can cut a big enough hole into).

Could A JetBlue Hotel Be Part Of Your Future Travel Plans?

Fri, 2015-04-17 22:14
(Adam Fagen)

(Adam Fagen)

Forget about the Marriott, Hilton or any other number of hotel chains scattered around U.S. airports, the next big name in lodging could be an airline. JetBlue Airways is reportedly in advanced negations to turn a landmark terminal at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport into a hotel.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the new venture – a partnership with hotel developer MCR Development LLC – would transform the historic TWA terminal, designed by renowned Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, into a modern hotel for traveling consumers.

Talks between the two companies and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey could still fall apart, but a source close to the deal tell the WSJ that JetBlue and MCR are currently the preferred bidders for the project.

Revamping the TWA terminal has been an ongoing project since the building closed in 2001. In 2008, the Port Authority invested $20 million to rid the area of asbestos and restore its interior.

Back in 2013, Hotelier Andre Balazs won the rights to develop a hotel in the terminal, but he eventually dropped out of the project, the WSJ reports.

That’s when the Port Authority relaunched the bidding process last year, and narrowed the potential developers to two groups.

Sources tell the WSJ that if JetBlue and MCR win development rights, their project would include 500 rooms and would be located across from JetBlue’s main terminal.

In a way, it makes sense for an airline to jump into the airport hotel business.

Analysts tell the WSJ that the lodgings have been p to generate stable business from travelers and airline personnel and have grown in popularity for many business travelers who prefer a quick turnaround, rather than traversing into city centers for meetings.

While many travelers might think of simple, no-frills hotels when they think of airport lodging, the newer developments have taken on a luxurious nature.

For example, a developer is set to break ground on a $100 million hotel at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. That property will include a spa, swimming pool and roof deck bar.

An airport hotel developed by Westin is slated to open in Denver later this year. That 519-room property is expected to host concerts, festivals and art shows.

The biggest hurdle that JetBlue and MCR face, besides the stiff competition for TWA’s terminal, is gaining the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration, which governs airport locations. The WSJ reports there are numerous restriction around security and dimensions for possible lodging projects.

JetBlue Wants to Turn Former TWA Terminal Into Hotel [The Wall Street Journal]

Creator Of The Cronut Says He Eats One Every Day Because Come On, Of Course He Does

Fri, 2015-04-17 21:39



Perhaps you’ve experienced that cycle familiar to many home cooks: You come up with a recipe, it turns out reeeally well and so you end up making it a lot… until eventually, you get sick of it and move on, dusting that favorite off now and again. But Dominique Ansel, the creator of the cronut, has to eat one of his pastries every single day as part of his job. Poor guy.

In a video interview with Bloomberg as parts of its “Eureka!” series, Ansel explains how he came up with the idea for the immensely popular pastry that launched a thousand other frankenpastries.

When he was starting his bakery in 2011, he said he wanted to do a doughnut because well, this is America and we love our doughnuts. But being French, he didn’t have his own recipe. So he just decided to combine his beloved croissant with the traditional fried dough.

“I really love croissant and I wanted to combine some similar techniques and textures,” he explains, adding that it took him about three months of playing around before he came up with the final recipe.

The cronut arrived in 2013 and was greeted almost immediately by lengthy lines at the bakery from customers trying to get their hands on the limited amount offered every day.

No customer can beat Ansel’s cronut-eating record however, as he says he still eats one every single day.

“I do have to eat a cronut every day for quality control,” he says with a grin. “I know it’s a good excuse.”

Some people have all the luck.

The Father of the Cronut on How He Created a Pastry Revolution [Bloomberg]

Amazon Shuts Down Service That Let Users Test Apps Before Buying Them Because No One Was Really Using It

Fri, 2015-04-17 21:02

(Screengrab via TechCrunch)

(Screengrab via TechCrunch)

If you haven’t used — much less heard of — Amazon’s TestDrive service, designed to let customers check out how an app works before buying it, you’re not alone. The company says it’s shutting the program down due to “a significant decline” in usage, among other factors.

Launched in 2011, TestDrive let customers in the Amazon Appstore try out new applications using a browser-based simulation of Android, letting users control an app and see what it would be like to use on their Android device. The feature was also included on Android phones later as well, TechCrunch reports.

Along with the fact that not enough people were using TestDrive, Amazon said the “free to play” business model also contributed to the feature’s shutdown — many popular apps are mobile games where publishers make their money through in-app purchases instead of relying on raking in cash through paid downloads.

There’s no risk in “purchasing” a free app and not liking how it works, because well, you didn’t pay anything for it, so there’s no need to test it out beforehand if you can just delete it later without losing your money.

It seems developers weren’t really jumping to be a part of TestDrive either, as Amazon’s site notes only 16,000 apps took advantage of the service — a number that stayed the same between 2012 and now. Which means many Amazon users could’ve just been bumping into a wall when the app they wanted to test drive wasn’t supported.

Farewell, TestDrive, we hardly knew ye. No, really — we didn’t even know you existed.

Amazon Shuts Down TestDrive, The Appstore Feature That Let You Try Apps Before Downloading [TechCrunch]

Dutch Prosecutors Open Criminal Investigation Into Uber Following Violations Of Banned Service

Fri, 2015-04-17 20:38

uberUber’s latest hurdle to provide service in Europe, where many cities and countries have banned the ride-sharing service, comes in the form of a criminal investigation by Dutch prosecutors.

Reuters reports that prosecutors launched the inquiry into the company after police in Amsterdam caught dozens of Uber drivers offering taxi services, a violation of a previous court order.

Back in December, a Dutch court banned the company’s low-cost UberPOP service from providing rides to customers on the grounds that it violated commercial driver’s licensing laws.

In all, police have fined 23 drivers 1,500 euros (about $1,618.50) each for operating taxi services without the proper licenses, Reuters reports.

At least four additional drivers were caught in a sting by inspectors from the Ministry of Environment & Infrastructure who pretended to be passengers before making arrests, Consumerist reported back in October.

As for the new criminal investigation, prosecutors – who raided Uber’s European offices in March – say they are treating the company as they would any other criminal suspect.

“This means a preliminary examination will be started to collect evidence that Uber is providing illegal transportation on a commercial basis,” the prosecutors’ office said in a statement.

Dutch launch criminal investigation into Uber [Reuters]

Report: Justice Dept. May Recommend Blocking Comcast, Time Warner Cable Merger

Fri, 2015-04-17 20:33

(Kevin Burkett)

(Kevin Burkett)

It’s been well over a year since Comcast announced its $45.2 billion plan to buy Time Warner Cable and regulators at the FCC and Justice Dept. have yet to indicate publicly whether they plan to approve the deal or sue to block it. However, a new report claims that antitrust lawyers at the DOJ are leaning toward putting the kibosh on this marriage of the nation’s two largest cable operators.

According to Bloomberg, the DOJ’s antitrust division may recommend within the coming weeks that the agency sue to block the merger.

It will be up to Renata Hesse, a deputy assistant attorney general for antitrust, and other members of the DOJ leadership to decide whether to follow that recommendation.

Bloomberg reports that the antitrust team has recently been contacting third parties with interests in the deal to gather the evidence the DOJ would need if it decided to sue to prevent the merger.

The FCC also has a say in the fate of this merger, but Bloomberg claims that the Commission has not been negotiating with Comcast about any conditions the government might put on the deal if it were approved.

Comcast maintains that “There is no basis for a lawsuit to block the transaction,” and still contends that the combining of the two companies “will result in significant consumer benefits — faster broadband speeds, access to a superior video experience, and more competition in business services resulting in billions of dollars of cost savings.”

Chinese Luxury Car Buyers Shop The Very Unglamorous Gray Market

Fri, 2015-04-17 20:26

(Eric Norris)

(Eric Norris)

Here at Consumerist, we’re fascinated with the global gray market: the system of parallel imports that gives us Omega watches from Paraguay at Costco and a pirate Trader Joe’s store in Canada. There are even bigger things that trade on the gray market, though: in Shanghai, there’s a place where luxury car buyers can save money by purchasing cars that haven’t been imported through official channels.

Shoppers looking for a great deal on a BMW or Mercedes can head to the Free Trade Zone in Shanghai, where they can find what can best be described as a “car store” that lacks any of the amenities that we normally associate with car dealerships, especially for luxury brands. The Wall Street Journal explains that the dealerships lack amenities like fancy seating and free snacks and beverages that you might expect in a high-end dealership. The advantage, which many buyers find too good to resist, is that they can save about 20% on the normal price of imported cars in China.

The two-month-old Waigaoqiao Automobile Exchange Market also lacks sales staff who know the merchandise as well as the employees of a normal dealership might. That makes sense, because they have to sell a wide variety of models, so they don’t have deep knowledge of any given brand. “Here we sell different brands and I must teach myself,” a salesman who used to work at a Volkswagen dealership explained.

Buyers find the conditions sparse and the staff gruff at best and rude at worst. They’re still buying, though, since they can’t resist a good deal. Eliminate haggling, and this might be the ideal car-buying environment for most Americans.

At Chinese Gray-Market Car Dealers, the Price Is Right [Wall Street Journal]

Brewer Forges Unholy Alliance Of Bread & Booze With Beer Made From Leftover Loaves

Fri, 2015-04-17 20:21



Eat a sandwich? Drink a beer? WHICH DO I DO FIRST?!? One brewer in Belgium has removed that choice by taking stale, leftover bread that nobody else wants and turning it into beer by way of that magical brewing process otherwise known as using awesome science to combine two delicious things.

In an effort to cut down on the problem of food waste, a small Brussels-based brewery is throwing back to that long ago era (we’re talking, cradle of civilization times) when bread instead of barley was the main ingredient in beer, reports Reuters.

The brewer behind it says the idea came up when chatting with a friend about the food that’s wasted at the end of the day when supermarkets chuck day-old bread in favor of making fresh bread for customers the next day.

“Twelve percent of food waste in Brussels is bread — it’s quite astonishing,” one of the founders of microbrewery Brussels Beer Project, told Reuters.

He worked it out and found that around 30% of the barley in brewing could be replaced with a slice and a half of bread per bottle, using up to about 1,100 pounds of bread to brew 1,057 gallons of beer. He arranged to get unsold bread from local stores that then dried it and cut it into flakes for him to brew with.

Though ancient Mesopotamians used thick loaves for their beer, mixed with honey, this bread beer does still use hops and adds yeast as well.

The result has been dubbed “Babylone,” and is a 7% amber brew, “with a subtly salty taste from the bread and a hoppy finish,” Reuters notes. If you’re hoping to get your hands on it in the States though, you’re out of luck for now, as it’s only sold in local cafes and bars in Brussels.

“It’s fusion between maybe what they used to do with bread 1,000 years ago and contemporary brewing,” the brewer said. “It might not please everybody’s palate, but I think the ones who like this will really enjoy it.”

Brussels brewer uses leftover bread to make beer [Reuters]

Households Earning $75,000 Eat Out Too Much To Save Any Money

Fri, 2015-04-17 20:03

(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)

Earlier this week, the news broke that Americans are, as a whole spending more on dining out than on groceries. In a related piece of news, a study from bank SunTrust says that a surprisingly large portion of American households that earn $75,000 per year live paycheck to paycheck because they’re spending too much money on “lifestyle expenses” to put any money away.

Publishing these survey results was part of the bank’s push to get customers to save more money: in their SunTrust savings accounts, naturally. They also asked customers about their retirement savings, and why they aren’t saving money toward their goals. That led to the statistic making headlines: 1/3 of participants with incomes of $75,000 or more say that they aren’t reaching their savings goals. Out of those people, 68% said that they were spending too much on dining out. Not just lifestyle factors in general: specifically, they chose dining out as the reason why they aren’t saving enough money.

In an even sadder statistic, most customers between ages between ages 43 and 54 (63%) said that they don’t think they’re saving enough money for a comfortable retirement.

Don’t Be Shocked When Lowe’s Won’t Sell You A $2,999 Fridge Mistakenly Priced At $298

Fri, 2015-04-17 19:24

lowespricingerrorNo matter how many times we remind everyone that stores are generally under no legal obligation to honor a pricing mistake, some folks still seem to think that a retailer must make good — and lose hundreds, possibly thousands, of dollars — on something as obvious as a decimal error.

The latest story comes out of the Jacksonville, FL, area, where a couple spotted a fridge being sold at Lowe’s for 90% off its $2,999 original price.

“I was thinking this is crazy; this can’t be right,” the wife tells WJXT-TV. “We found a man working at Lowe’s on the floor and flagged him over and said we’re ready to purchase this, so we give them the tag and he immediately says, ‘Oh, no, we’re not going to sell it for this.'”

And even though they were told immediately that it was a pricing error and that the store couldn’t honor the $298 price on the tag, the couple insisted that they should only have to pay what it says on the tag.

“I asked him, ‘Why did you post this if it isn’t the right price? Like why did you put this about the fridge if you’re not going to honor it?’… And he said they don’t look at the price, they only look at the item number and then they tag it where it needs to go.”

In an effort to reach a resolution with the shoppers, the store offered them the fridge at $1,700 plus a $100 gift card.

But the couple refused that offer and say they have contacted a lawyer to get the fridge at the advertised price.

“Getting it for the price that they advertised, and then they should remove it if it’s wrong,” the wife explains. “But they should definitely honor that situation.”

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Report: Sign-In Security Flaw Could Be Putting Millions Of User Passwords At Risk

Fri, 2015-04-17 19:14



Sure, love might be in the air — but that doesn’t mean tens of millions of users’ passwords should be floating around like so many bits of easily grabbed flotsam and jetsam. A new report says that due to an apparent security flaw in the dating site’s log-in process, millions of users are at risk for having their passwords stolen.

According to Ars Technica, a tip from an observant reader who noticed the issue in early March led to the find that passwords could be exposed whenever someone logs in, because doesn’t use HTTPS encryption to protect the page.

Simply using HTTP leaves the connection transmitting the data unprotected, giving anyone on the same public network as a user, for example, or other spies, the chance to snag those credentials, Ars points out.

On the other hand, employing an HTTPS connection makes the information unreadable to anyone but the end user and the server they’re connecting to.

Ars says its unclear how long the page has been unencrypted, and has asked for comment on the situation with no response thus far.’s HTTP-only login page puts millions of passwords at risk [Ars Technica]

Wells Fargo Breached 2010 Mortgage Settlement, Must Work To Provide Homeowner Assistance

Fri, 2015-04-17 18:44
(Mike Mozart)

(Mike Mozart)

Some homeowners who were wrongly denied mortgage assistance from Wells Fargo will soon receive the help they needed years ago after a federal judge ruled this week that the bank’s denial of modifications were in breach of a 2010 settlement involving adjustable-payment mortgages.

Reuters reports that the U.S. District Court judge’s finding that the bank was in breach of the settlement is just the last development in a long-running dispute over the 2010 deal regarding the “pick-a-payment” loans that Wells inherited as part of its 2008 acquisition of Wachovia.

The loans gave borrowers the choice of initially paying less than the interest due on the mortgage. However, the resulting payment escalation made most mortgages actually grow, and proved to be a contributing factor in the foreclosure crisis of the late 2000s.

Plaintiffs argued that the bank had not complied with the 2010 agreement to grant loan modifications to homeowners who had taken out the pick-a-payment loans.

Lawyers contended that thousands of borrowers were denied mortgage assistance because Wells Fargo was not using proper methods to determine whether homeowners were at imminent risk of default, an issue that would qualify them for the assistance, Reuters reports.

The judge found that Wells Fargo had indeed breached the settlement by using “evolving and perhaps ill-defined standards” to determine assistance needs.

As part of Wednesday’s ruling, the judge ordered Wells Fargo to find a way to remedy its violations and take steps to allow some homeowners to reapply for assistance. Both the bank and the plaintiffs must provide the court with proposals on correcting the breach in two weeks.

U.S. judge finds Wells Fargo breached 2010 mortgage settlement [Reuters]

“Batman v Superman” Trailer Leaks Online

Fri, 2015-04-17 18:01

Because of the Portuguese subtitles on the leaked trailer, it's believed the video was shot at a theater in Brazil.

Because of the Portuguese subtitles on the leaked trailer, it’s believed the video was shot at a theater in Brazil.

While the trailer for next year’s superhero showdown Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is supposed to be kept under wraps in the U.S. until after its IMAX premiere on Monday, a handheld video of the trailer has already made its way online.

According to Variety, copies of the video — which appears to have been shot in a theater in Brazil — have been pulled by YouTube, but other services, like vidme, are still hosting the shaky 2-minute clip that features Ben Affleck in his first go as Batman and Henry Cavill taking his sophomore shot at playing the Man of Steel.

The movie is scheduled to premiere in March 2016.

Studios and exhibitors love to use exclusive trailer premieres as a way to lure consumers into going to theaters, but it doesn’t always work. Last year, the trailer for Marvel’s first Avengers movie leaked in advance of its theatrical debut, leading the studio to just go ahead and release an official version of the trailer.

Group Of Doctors Want Dr. Oz Removed From Columbia Medical Faculty For Promoting “Quack Treatments”

Fri, 2015-04-17 18:00

Dr. Oz testifying in June 2014 before a Senate consumer protection subcommittee.

Dr. Oz testifying in June 2014 before a Senate consumer protection subcommittee.

Citing what they call repeated “disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine,” a group of physicians has written a letter to Columbia University asking it to remove TV’s Dr. Mehmet Oz from his faculty position there.

Ten doctors signed the letter sent to Lee Goldman, dean of Columbia’s Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine, led by Dr. Henry Miller of California’s Stanford University, reports the Associated Press.

The group writes that Oz, who formerly practiced as a cardiothoracic surgeon before becoming a regular on the Oprah Winfrey show and starting his own brand of TV talk show medicine, “has manifested an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain.”

In repeatedly showing “disdain for evidence-based medicine” in pushing “miracle” weight-loss supplements that haven’t been scientifically proven, he has “misled and endangered” the public, the letter says.

Columbia told the AP in a statement only that it “is committed to the principle of academic freedom and to upholding faculty members’ freedom of expression for statements they make in public discussion.”

The AP couldn’t reach Oz for comment.

Last year, Dr. Oz was grilled by Missouri Senator Clair McCaskill, Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection during a hearing about the false and deceptive advertising of weight-loss products.

“When you feature a product on your show, it creates what has become known as ‘Oz Effect,’ dramatically boosting sales and driving scam artists to pop up overnight using false and deceptive ads to sell questionable products,” the Senator explained. “I’m concerned that you are melding medical advice, news and entertainment in a way that harms consumers.”

Dr. Oz admitted during that hearing that the weight-loss treatments he mentions on the show are frequently “crutches… You won’t get there without diet and exercise,” and that while he believes in the research he’s done, the research done on these treatments would probably not pass FDA muster.

Here’s the letter in full:

“We are surprised and dismayed that Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons would permit Dr. Mehmet Oz to occupy a faculty appointment, let alone a senior administrative position in the Department of Surgery.

As described here and here, as well as in other publications, Dr. Oz has repeatedly shown disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine, as well as baseless and relentless opposition to the genetic engineering of food crops. Worst of all, he has manifested an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain.

Thus, Dr. Oz is guilty of either outrageous conflicts of interest or flawed judgements about what constitutes appropriate medical treatments, or both. Whatever the nature of his pathology, members of the public are being misled and endangered, which makes Dr. Oz’s presence on the faculty of a prestigious medical institution unacceptable.”

Physicians want Dr. Oz gone from Columbia medical faculty [Associated Press]

McDonald’s All-Day Breakfast Test Will Not Include Full Breakfast Menu

Fri, 2015-04-17 17:17

(Morton Fox)

(Morton Fox)

McDonald’s recently confirmed it would soon begin testing an all-day breakfast menu in the San Diego area, but when that test kicks off next week, fans of certain McD’s breakfast items may find themselves still hungry, as not everything from the morning menu will survive past 10:30 a.m. reports that the San Diego McDonald’s co-op that will be participating in the test says only nine breakfast items (and McCafe drinks) are going to be offered alongside Big Macs and McNuggets. The various McMuffins (Egg, Sausage, Sausage with Egg) will obviously be included, as will the Sausage Burrito, Hash Browns, Hotcakes, Hotcakes and Sausage, Fruit & Maple Oatmeal and Fruit ‘N Yogurt Parfait.

The most prominent loss to the standard breakfast lineup (as far as we’re concerned) is the biscuit, which has been sacrificed, presumably because it wouldn’t be worth it to keep making biscuits all day and night in the hope that enough people buy them.

Likewise, McGriddles and the Steak, Egg & Cheese Bagel are off the afternoon menu, as are breakfast sweets like the mini Cinnamon Coffee Cake and Double Chocolate bundt cake.

As BurgerBusiness points out, the nine items that made the post-10:30 cut are basically the same as what you’ll find at 24-hour McDonald’s who offer the late-night “McDonald’s After Midnight” menu. These are items that the company knows can be made alongside lunch fare.

However, that late-night menu also doesn’t generally offer the full lunch/dinner menu and usually caters to smaller customer crowds than you’d see at a McDonald’s during the afternoon hours.

McDonald’s needs some sort of help to turn around sagging same-store sales and to get its franchisees reinvigorated. A recent survey of dozens of franchise owners showed that a number of them are disenchanted with McDonald’s dueling obsessions — gimmicky limited-time menu offerings (that cost the franchisee money and resources and may not result in sales) vs. bargain pricing (that cuts down on franchisees’ profits).

Instagram Updates Community Standards To Clarify Rules On Porn, Harassment

Fri, 2015-04-17 17:07
Instagram has clarified its community guidelines, adding details to already existing policies.

Instagram has clarified its community guidelines, adding details to already existing policies.

So far in 2015, some of the top social media and blogger platform companies have made changes to their content policies. While Facebook clarified its approach to complaints about supposedly offensive posts, Google went back-and-forth on its content policy regarding sexually explicit or graphic nudity on its Blogger platform. Now, Instagram is getting in on the action by adding details to rules governing user conduct and what is deemed appropriate content on the photo sharing site.

The Washington Post reports that Instagram updated its community standards this week, aiming to give users of the site more understanding of how it patrols content on the network.

Although Instagram isn’t actually changing any policies – only clarifying details of previous practices – users will see a more robust listing on the social network’s community guidelines page, the company’s director of public policy, Nicky Jackson Colaco, tells the Post.

The newly detailed guidelines – meant to represent a basic standard of behavior for users – somewhat mimics that of Instagram’s parent company, Facebook, which underwent its own policy clarification last month.

Previously, the guidelines were formatted in a sort of oversimplified do’s and don’ts lists, the Post reports.

Instagram’s community standards now provide specific information about what is and isn’t allowed on the site.

For example, while the policy previously states that users should be polite and respectful of others, the new clarified version specifies that threats of harm to public and personal safety aren’t allowed to be used.

“We want to foster a positive, diverse community,” the revamped guidelines state. “We remove content that contains credible threats or hate speech, content that targets private individuals to degrade or shame them, personal information meant to blackmail or harass someone, and repeated unwanted messages. We do generally allow stronger conversation around people who are featured in the news or have a large public audience due to their profession or chosen activities.”

As for the content of photos being shared on the site, the company has clarified that nudity in general, including pornography, is a no-no. However, the policy now clarifies that photos of post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding are okay to post. Additionally, pictures of paintings and sculptures that include nudity are allowed.

“We know that there are times when people might want to share nude images that are artistic or creative in nature, but for a variety of reasons, we don’t allow nudity on Instagram. This includes photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks,” the guidelines state.

Jackson Colaco says that the more detailed policies were necessitated in part because of the company’s going popularity.

“When we first created these guidelines, we were a small photo-sharing app,” she tells the Post, adding that the policies are an evolving piece of work for the company.

Instagram updates its rules to explain how it deals with nudity and abuse [The Washington Post]

The Description Of Starbucks’ New S’mores Frappuccino Makes My Teeth Hurt

Fri, 2015-04-17 16:36

sbuckssmoresWithout even having tasted Starbucks’ newest flavor promotion, the S’Mores Frappuccino that’s heading to stores for the summer, my teeth have already made up their mind about this thing, and boy, are they worried.

After the sugar rush that was the recently departed Birthday Cake flavor, customers jonesing for more of that sweet stuff can get the S’mores drink starting April 28 for a limited time, just in time to gear up for summer (H/T Huffington Post). The drink aims to remind people of the “nostalgic summer experience of roasting” the tasty treats, a spokesperson explained.

The frozen blended beverage comes with a slate of sugary ingredients designed to challenge/delight even the sweetest of sweet teeth: There’s a base of “marshmallow-infused whipped cream and milk chocolate sauce,” followed by a “creamy blend of graham, coffee, milk and ice,” more marshmallow whipped cream and then a “graham cracker crumble.”

For those who don’t feel like waiting around for the barista to assemble all the levels of this icy sugar blast, the S’mores flavor will also come in single-serving bottles at grocery stores and the like, for a limited time only.

On behalf of cold-and-sugar sensitive teeth everywhere, my set of chompers would like you all to know that they’re scared… really, really scared. They might need a bread hug just to calm down.