website utilities

People before Profit

Follow on:

The Consumerist

UPS Works To Avoid Another Holiday Backlog, Will Charge Retailers Extra If It Happens

Wed, 2014-11-19 00:42



Dear retailers: UPS has its eye you. In an interview with the wire service Reuters, the company’s CEO explained its efforts to avoid another disaster like the Christmas 2013 shipping delay that left many Americans sad and giftless. Namely, if retailers try any last-minute sale shenanigans while promising delivery by Christmas, it’s going to cost them. Money.

Last year, there were about two million packages that arrived late, which were largely the fault of retailers who promised express shipping by Christmas. Not everyone enjoys receiving gifts after the holiday, and for the last year, the entire retail industry has been thinking about how to prevent a similar delivery disaster next year. Shipping carriers like UPS, FedEx, and the U.S. Postal Service may actually appreciate Christmas Creep and Black Friday Creep, since if the sale cycle begins earlier, that gives them more time to deliver orders.

While CEO David Abney told Reuters that UPS has increased its capacity and its ability to spot massive package surges before they cause systemwide delays, they also won’t rule out charging retailers extra if they cause extra work. UPS reports that the number of packages that it processes at the peak of the holiday season is up 40% since 2009.

UPS CEO: Unplanned holiday surge could cost retailers [Reuters]

You Can Now Delegate Mailing Boxes Of Poop To Your Enemies

Tue, 2014-11-18 23:29

poopicWhile placing feces on the doorstep of someone who has offended you is a time-honored insult, it’s now possible, for about the cost of a pizza and wings, to have a steaming pile delievered to the address of your choice. Well, maybe not so much a “steaming pile,” and more of a “room-temperature sealed plastic container.” Is this service all it’s advertised to be? There’s nothing quite like a first-hand review when a new product or service hits the market.

We at Consumerist haven’t tested the service, because we prefer to find other ways to nauseate our colleagues. Instead, we will go by the review of Pando Daily, where they received poo in minimalist packaging from someone in Slovenia. Slovenia? What did they put on the customs form, I wonder?

Motherboard has a video review (Warning: auto-play video) that will make you thankful that technology to transmit smell over the Internet is not yet a thing. They found the merchandise satisfactorily smelly, but the container sent to Pando was stale. Quality and customer service are important: while Shit Express has the latter down, they might have some quality control issues. No one wants to spend good money sending stale, non-smelly feces to … whoever it is you send feces to.

I am not 100% satisfied with the box of shit I received in the mail [PandoDaily]

Authorities Arrest Owner, Six Employees Of Debt Collection Group That Scammed $4.1M From Consumers

Tue, 2014-11-18 22:56

(Alan Bruce)

(Alan Bruce)

We’re no stranger to the shady tactics that debt collection companies use to pry money from consumers. But the latest scam to be shut down by U.S. authorities might be one of the most egregious we’ve ever seen.

Reuters reports that criminal charges were filed against a Georgia collection agency, its owner and seven employees for their alleged part in running a scam that bilked $4.1 million from 6,000 consumers over a five-year period.

Williams Scott & Associates are accused of wrongly threatening people with arrest, using aliases and trying other tricks to collect million of dollars in fake payday loan debts from consumers, a federal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court states.

Employees with the company allegedly impersonated FBI agents, U.S. Marshals, sheriffs and Justice Department employees as a way to collect debts.

Callers used aliases such as “Mr. Cline” and “Investigator Ace Rogers,” telling victims that the “national check fraud center” had filed complaints against them and that they would face jail time if they didn’t pay up, the complaint states.

WSA also allegedly emailed bogus “government” documents purporting to show consumers owed money or were being sought on a warrant.

In order to sound convincing, Reuters reports, the company’s employees read from a script containing phrases such as “failure to respond will lead to criminal charges being pursued,” and “it’s a Class A felony pending against you for theft of property.”

During the five-year scheme, the company reportedly used 87 phone numbers, switching when a number received too many complaints.

The company’s owner, John Williams, along with six employees were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connections with the scheme.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara tells Reuters that the case is an example of “an absolute epidemic of abusive debt collection practices.”

Bharara says he has contacted federal agencies, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission, to bring about more cases as part of a broad crackdown of deceptive debt collection practices.

WSA previously agreed with the FTC to stop collecting allegedly fake payday loan debts.

UPDATE 1-U.S. says debt collector cheated 6,000 people in scheme [Reuters]

Firestone Made Deal With The Devil, Paid Millions To Help Fund Genocidal Warlord

Tue, 2014-11-18 22:29

Frontline and Pro Publica's "Firestone and the Warlord" investigates the secret relationship between the American tire company and the infamous Liberian warlord/president/mass-murderer Charles Taylor (pictured). [Photo Credit: © Patrick Robert/Sygma/Corbis]

Frontline and Pro Publica’s “Firestone and the Warlord” investigates the secret relationship between the American tire company and the infamous Liberian warlord/president/mass-murderer Charles Taylor (pictured). [Photo Credit: © Patrick Robert/Sygma/Corbis]

In the late 1980s, 40% of the latex used in the United States was supplied by a single plantation — a massive operation run by Firestone in the African nation of Liberia. The plantation had survived the 1980 coup that saw the country’s president slaughtered in his bed and cabinet members executed in public. But after an even bloodier uprising began in 1989, Firestone ultimately ended up in bed with one of history’s most evil figures.

“Firestone & The Warlord,” the latest from Frontline and Pro Publica, is an in-depth investigation into the tire company’s decision to fund and help legitimize Liberian mass-murderer Charles Taylor during his insurrection in the early ’90s. It debuts tonight on PBS, while the Pro Publica story can be read in its entirety now.

Following the 1980 military coup led by eventual president Samuel Doe, American-educated Taylor was put in charge of the government bureau responsible for procurement. When he was accused by Doe of embezzlement, Taylor fled to the U.S., where he was eventually jailed.

Mysteriously, Taylor managed to escape custody and make his way back to Liberia (via Libya), where he quickly began building an army, mainly consisting of heavily armed, unskilled boys, often from neighboring nations like Sierra Leone.

Taylor’s army quickly took over large swaths of Liberia, but was unable to take the capital of Monrovia, about 45 miles west of the Firestone plantation in the company town of Harbel.

“It really didn’t affect us much,” says the former Senior Accountant for the Firestone operation, “until we knew that they were getting closer to Monrovia, and therefore, obviously, closer to us. I was hoping the rebels would go around the plantation, not come onto the plantation, and we would be able to continue to operate.”

But the war did come to the plantation on June 5, 1990, when a small group of Taylor’s rebels burst into the plantation’s golf club and demanded vehicles, bags of rice, handheld radios and petty cash.

The rebels also began killing and torturing people in Harbel who belonged to the wrong tribe. Soon, more than 1,000 employees and family members showed up at the plantation manager’s estate looking for some sort of help or protection.

“They told us that he cannot take us in because we are the ones who will be protecting him,” recalls one former worker, “not he protecting us.”

Another former manager who is Liberian says that only the foreign Firestone workers — mostly American — were given shelter.

“He said, ‘It’s Liberians that are coming. You are gonna be safe among your own people. You don’t need to come in,’” says the manager. “So only the expats can come in.”

Those expats tell Frontline that they simply couldn’t protect anyone. And even the manager’s mansion was no longer safe after the ninth day of Taylor’s breach of the plantation. Rebels told the expats they had to leave the house or it would be destroyed with an RPG.

And so, the next day the expat management fled by plane and the plantation stopped operating. But the war continued.

The former head of the Coca-Cola bottling operation (also then run by Firestone) in Harbel says that around 17% of his more than 300 employees were killed by rebels.

“My driver, my secretary,” he recalls, “the story that bothered me the most was my driver because… First time he was beaten; second time they cut the soles off his feet. Third time they shot him.”

In spite of these atrocities, Firestone’s biggest concern was not for the workers at its abandoned plantation who were now subject to the whims of a madman and his army of young killers. Instead, Firestone (which had been purchased by Bridgestone in 1988) was more concerned about the lack of rubber and revenue coming out of Liberia.

“Firestone’s intent was to make money,” says the plantation’s former controller. “Why did we go back? Because we felt sorry for the people that were there? Probably not. We wanted to get the investment earning money again.”

And even though sources both inside and outside the U.S. government were discussing reports of acts of genocide by Taylor’s army, including atrocities in Sierra Leone, where Taylor was cashing in on the lucrative diamond business, the government never openly told Firestone that it would be a bad idea to deal with the rebels.

Making things even more complicated was the fact that the interim government set up in Monrovia was also not recognized as being legitimate. But they didn’t have control of the plantation — Taylor did — and the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) peacekeepers were doing more looting and photo-taking than keeping of the peace.

And so, in Oct. 1990, only months after being run off their own property by rebels, Firestone contacted Taylor to request a meeting, saying that the company “continues to incur major losses as a result of hostilities.”

In early 1991, Taylor invited Firestone officials back to Liberia to assess the plantation. By then, all but the manager’s mansion had been gutted and destroyed, chunks of land ruined, and the streets so strewn with dead bodies that the Coca-Cola manager says you couldn’t drive down the road without running over human bones.

At the time, Taylor admitted to officials that his forces would probably have no choice but to surrender if the U.S. military were to send in soldiers to quash the fighting, but with American soldiers already busy in the first Gulf War, Liberia’s bloody conflict took a backseat.

By the end of 1991, the board of Firestone agreed to work with Taylor, who demanded that the company recognize his government as the rightful ruling power in Liberia, even though he still didn’t control Monrovia.

As part of the terms of its agreement with Taylor, Firestone not only agreed to recognize him as the president of Liberia and use a shipping port controlled by Taylor, but that it would also pay more than $2.3 million in taxes to his government, which would also remain on the land alongside the plantation workers to provide “security.”

A former advisor to Taylor tells Frontline that getting the Firestone plantation reopened and allied with the rebels gave credibility to the insurrectionists.

“For every employee at Firestone… they have about a secondary and tertiary family of eight people,” he explains. ” So for 1,000 people you’re affecting the lives and providing sustenance for 8,000 people. We needed Firestone to keep people busy.”

A U.S.-based Liberian attorney for Firestone at the time says the company did what it had to do.

“For Firestone, it was either you don’t go back or you have to acquiesce and pay taxes to the government in control of that area,” he claims. “They did the right thing.”

But Amos Sawyer, the then-president of the interim government in Monrovia, tells Frontline he believes this is nonsense.

“They had a choice,” he claims. “I don’t understand this notion of not having choice over the corpses of Liberians. What is that supposed to mean? Choice to become a launch pad to rain war on Liberians? I don’t accept it.”

And Taylor was about to truly rain down war on his fellow Liberians, with the help of the Firestone money and using the Firestone plantation as a base for his prolonged attack on Monrovia.

That attack began in Oct. 1992, not even a year after Firestone returned to Liberia and invested millions in rebuilding the facility.

The company claims that it had no idea that Taylor was using the plantation as a staging ground or storing weapons on the property, but employees at the plantation believe there is no way that Firestone management did not know what was going on.

“The plantation had been turned into a major military installation,” claims Sawyer. “Firestone provided the backdrop for this. Provided the rear base, the rear guard base. Provided the ammunition depot from which ambushes could be set and all of this could happen.”

And it could have continued to go on like this, with Firestone harvesting sap and Taylor launching attacks on Monrovia, if ECOMOG had not decided on an aerial strike against the rebel camp in Harbel.

“There were guys on the football field playing,” remembers one worker of the bombing that killed around 40 people. “And then the next thing we saw, they started releasing bombs and people started running.”

This was too much for Firestone’s expats to take, so they pulled up stakes again and fled the plantation.

But not before sending an apology note — not to its workers — but to Taylor.

“I wish to personally thank you for your kind understanding,” wrote the plantation’s manager. “I look forward to being able to quickly return to restart our operations.”

And Firestone would restart that relationship in 1996, when it returned to Liberia, which would eventually elect Taylor to the office of president in 1997.

While the tire company downplays its complicity in abetting Taylor’s actions, claiming the millions it provided to the rebels were insignificant in the big picture of a rebellion that lasted nearly a decade, Taylor’s own words paint a different picture of the company’s role in his rise.

More than a decade later, when tried for crimes against humanity at The Hague, Taylor explained the importance that Firestone in the early years of his insurrection.

“You had immediately a means that would provide the needed financial assistance that we needed for the revolution,” explained Taylor about being allied with the plantation, which “became at that particular time our most significant principal source of foreign exchange.”

For the full story, watch Frontline tonight (and check out the Frontline site for videos and huge amounts of supplementary material), and read the story on Pro Publica.

Dave & Buster’s Apologizes For Tweeting That All Guys Named Juan Like Tacos

Tue, 2014-11-18 22:03

(via AdAge)

(via AdAge)

In yet another chapter of the book all companies should read, How Not To Tweet So You Don’t Risk Offending Your Customers, Dave & Buster’s went and shoved the basketball into its own hoop with a misguided tweet timed to coincide with #TacoTuesdays that basically says anyone named Juan likes tacos.

According to various reports including one from AdAge, this morning D&B tweeted the joke”‘I hate tacos’ said no Juan ever #TacoTuesday #DaveandBusters”

The response from Twitter was immediate, with calls for D&B to delete their account, some calling the tweet racist, and others, simply responding: “what the [expletive.]“

“Why do so many companies hire people who are completely tone deaf to handle their social media?” wrote another user.

The swift backlash prompted D&B to reportedly delete the tweet within the hour, and later this afternoon, issue an apology on Twitter:

We sincerely apologize for the tweet that went out today our intention was never to offend anyone please accept our apology

— Dave & Buster's (@DaveandBusters) November 18, 2014

Pabst Blue Ribbon Remains American, Wasn’t Actually Purchased By Russian Brewing Company

Tue, 2014-11-18 21:30

(Ken Fager)

(Ken Fager)

Back in September it was widely reported that Pabst Blue Ribbon would become a little less American after its parent company was purchased by a Russian beverage company. Only that was never actually the case.

The New York Times DealBook reports that despite a press release announcing the deal, Russian brewer Oasis never had any part in buying Pabst Brewing Company, maker of PBR, Colt 45, Old Milwaukee and Schlitz.

In reality, Oasis was never even included in talks to acquire Pabst. Instead, it was the former chairman of Oasis who independently sought the purchase of the American brewing company.

Eugene Kashper, a U.S. citizen who was born in Russia, was working with San Francisco-based private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners to close the deal.

Kashper and TSG created a new company – Blue Ribbon Intermediate Holdings – that eventually purchased Pabst.

The confusion over who was purchasing the brewing company came after Kashper, who reportedly has a long history in the brewing business, had apparently discussed a distribution agreement with Oasis that would have introduced Pabst to the Russian and Eastern European markets.

However, DealBook reports that those discussions broke down because market conditions in Russia and Eastern Europe made it an inconvenient time to introduce the beer in the area.

It remains unclear why the press release sent to media outlets contained the overtly inaccurate information. Kashper and TSG declined the publication’s request for comment and Oasis was unable to be reached.

Hey Guys, the Russians Aren’t Buying Pabst After All [The New York Times DealBook]

Computer Engineer Barbie Needs Men To Write Code, Can’t Reboot Computer

Tue, 2014-11-18 21:22

barbieengineerIt’s taken the media at large many months to catch on, but Amazon reviewers have been up in arms over a book from Mattel’s “I Can Be” Barbie series, I Can Be A Computer Engineer (Mattel created a Computer Engineer Barbie in 2010 as well) for months now. Why? Because Barbie doesn’t seem to actually do anything a computer engineer does, only has the skills to design a game and needs the help of men to code it and heck, she can’t even reboot her computer right.

Let’s set the scene, as noted by yesterday and subsequently posted to Reddit: Barbie is working on her laptop one morning, eating yogurt as one does in front of computers, and Skipper asks what she’s up to. She’s busy computering, it seems.

“I’m designing a game that shows kids how computers work,” explains Barbie. “You can make a robot puppy do cute tricks by matching up colored blocks!”

Right on, girl power! Wait — designing adorable puppies is one thing, but they need to be coded.

“Your robot puppy is so sweet,” says Skipper. “Can I play your game?”

“I’m only creating the design ideas,” Barbie says, laughing. “I’ll need Steven and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game!”

Yes, really.


She then proceeds to give her computer a virus while failing to email her design ideas to the boys who must help her, and can’t figure out to reboot her computer. If that’s not bad enough, she also puts a virus on Skipper’s laptop, losing all her important homework files.

And yes, there’s more — a whole lot, including a scene where the boys tell Barbie she can fix things faster if they help, and the end where Barbie takes the credit for all the work she didn’t do and gets extra credit to boot: ” ‘I guess I can be a computer engineer!” says Barbie happily.’ “

Those are not the messages parents say they want their daughters to hear, as reviewers have been noting on the Amazon reviews of the book since January. It’s part of a two-pack offering along with I Can Be An Actress.

Of course there’s been an avalanche of negative reviews since yesterday, but the bad reviews stretch back 11 months.

January 31, 2014:

I found the sexist drivel that this book portays[sic] to be especially inflammatory, so much so that I’ve placed it near my fireplace for emergency use during a power outage. The demeaning words add extra fuel as they certainly come from the fire of hell itself.

Also wonderful for starting your backyard grill.

February 11, 2014:

I just read this book, and it’s incomprehensible how misogynistic it is. I wouldn’t be surprised if it got removed from the shelves soon.

Still on virtual shelves by February 13, 2014:

An appalling representation of how women act in the world of technology.
Lessons you learn from “I Can Be a Computer Engineer”:

A girl needs a boy to do anything of value.
Women are not able to fix their own computer problems.
Girls need boys to do their work for them but can simply take the credit and no one will worry about who really did the work since, duh! a girl couldn’t have done it by herself.

Basically this book enforces all the bad stereotypes about women/girls not being capable enough to compete with men/boys when it comes to careers in technology. Fantastic.

November 17, 2014, people are catching on even more:

To add insult to misogynist injury, the depiction of “computer engineer” has nothing to do with either engineering or computer science. As far as I can tell, this story seems to think “computer engineer” means being utterly ignorant of how computers work, and not actually using them to write software.

Do your daughter a favor, and just download the past year of @SwiftOnSecurity’s tweets, instead. She’ll learn far more about computer security, engineering, and girl power from a real fake girl than from this waste of tree carcasses.

Which brings us to today:

Wow, and here to think I’ve been foolish enough to do my own work all these years when I could have just found some boys to do it for me. Where were Steven and Brian when I had to write my dissertation?

Seriously, with all the hard work so many are putting in to make sure that girls know that computing can be a great career for them it’s absolutely appalling to see something like this out there to reinforce the gender stereotypes.

I wish I could say this is the first time we’ve seen a major company send a message like this, but of course there was “Math is hard” Barbie, followed by a slew of bad retailer decisions that, intentionally or not, tell girls they can’t do something boys can do, or should like only stereotypically girl things like shopping and the color pink.

We’ve reached out to Mattel for comment and will update this post if we get a response.

Terrible People Create Fake Amazon Pages, Convince Walmart To Price-Match Them

Tue, 2014-11-18 21:04

Seems legit.

Seems legit.

It seemed like a great victory for consumers when Walmart announced that it would price-match select online retailers, including However, because we’re not evil, we didn’t foresee how some people would misuse the price-matching privilege to scam Wally World into selling them video game consoles at cut-rate prices.

We learned from Kotaku about this evil scheme that will ruin price-matching for everyone earlier today. It appears to have started when Sears accidentally listed some Nintendo bundles featuring the handheld 3DS and the Wii U console for only $60.


Instead of ordering the $60 bundles online and waiting to find out whether Sears would cancel the orders, people simply went to stores with the console in stock and asked for a price match. This worked for some Reddit posters at retailers like Toys ‘R’ Us and Walmart. It didn’t work at the brick-and-mortar Sears store where one Kotaku reader works, since a manager refused to make the sale.

This bit of price-matching abuse turned evil as someone figured out that the meaning of “for sale on” can be very flexible, since anyone with a registered selling account can list an item for sale. Sure, Amazon will take the listing down if you try to list a PlayStation 4, which normally sells for $400, for less than a quarter of that amount. Yet just putting it online will create a 100% authentic-looking Amazon page, which you can then take a screen cap of or show to a store employee on your phone. Instant price-match…if the store employee is not very savvy.



Apparently, there are a lot of Walmart managers out there who are not Amazon-savvy, or Walmart didn’t figure out what was going on and stop this nonsense. That’s how some people managed to get $90 PS4s.

There’s taking advantage of deals, and there’s scamming. Using a false Amazon listing to get a price match under false pretenses is a scam, no matter how proudly you post to Twitter about it.

People Are Scamming Walmart With Bogus Cheap PS4 Listings [Kotaku]
Temporary Sears Glitch Let Some People Buy $60 3DS And Wii U Bundles [Kotaku]

One Year After Jeep Recall, Repairs Still Difficult To Obtain

Tue, 2014-11-18 20:58
(David Renteria)

(David Renteria)

Despite Chrysler’s promise earlier this year to ramp-up efforts to fix more than a million Jeeps recalled over a year ago, consumers continue to report issues with obtaining the needed repairs.

The Wall Street Journal reports that although Chrysler announced earlier this month that plenty of parts were on hand to fix the recalled Jeeps, consumers are often told the parts aren’t available or that other repairs – to be done at their own expense – are needed before the recall remedy can be installed.

Ever since the recall was first announced in the summer of 2013, it’s been at the center of much controversy and debate.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sought the recall over concerns that the vehicle’s gasoline tanks could split and catch fire in rear-end collisions.

According to the original recall notice [PDF] model year 1993-1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty vehicles have rear-mounted fuel tanks that sit too low and are at risk for rear-end explosions.

So far, NHTSA has linked 51 deaths to fiery rear-end collisions involving the vehicles.

It’s unclear if that figure includes a pregnant Michigan woman’s death last week. According to the WSJ, the 23-year-old woman died when her 2003 Jeep Liberty was struck from behind and caught fire. An attorney for her family says the vehicle had not yet been repaired.

From the beginning, Chrysler has maintained that the issue is not a safety defect. However, last summer, the car manufacturer and NHTSA agreed to a remedy for the issue that involved equipping vehicles with a trailer hitch that could reduce the risk of fires.

Officials with Chrysler have said dealers would inspect the recalled Jeeps to determine if there was a need to install the trailer hitch assemblies.

It was reported last week that only about 8.6% of the 1.56 million Jeeps involved in the recall have been fixed.

While NHTSA officials criticized Chrysler for the slow-moving repairs earlier this summer, the manufacturer has since said it has about 461,000 parts on hand to provide fixes.

Still, a majority of the recent complaints filed with NHTSA regarding the recall involve a lack of parts from dealers.

A complaint filed just last month highlights consumers’ continued struggle to have their vehicles repaired.

The owner of a 1998 Grand Cherokee reports that when the vehicle was brought to a dealer, he was told the parts were not available. The dealer didn’t give a specific date for when parts would be available. He then contacted Chrysler and was told they could not provide an estimated date for when the vehicle might receive the recall repairs.

Another owner tells NHTSA of the numerous issues they experienced when trying to remedy the recall.

“Here it is November 2014 and the recall was just completed, because when they issued the recall, it took them 18 months to finally get the parts and they still didn’t have the parts,” the complaint states. “We had to go back a second time, because when they ran out of parts, they forgot to let us know.”

A lack of parts isn’t the only issue consumers have faced when it comes to attempting to repair the recall issue. Some owners say they’ve been told their vehicles can’t be fitted for the hitch until they make other costly repairs.

In one complaint the owner of a 2003 Jeep Liberty says that after receiving a recall notice from NHTSA he was informed that the dealer was unable to install the hitch due to corrosion on the vehicle’s frame.

Another consumer tells the WSJ that he was handed an estimate of more than $3,000 to fix corrosion issues on this SUV before it was capable of actually fixing the recall issue.

The WSJ reports that Chrysler defended dealers’ stance on the corrosion issue saying that “customers will be advised what, if any, repairs are needed before the installation can be performed.”

Additionally, NHTSA says that the manufacturer isn’t responsible for repairs to previous vehicle damage.

An official with Chrysler say these types of complaints are few and far between, that “the vast majority of vehicles presented to dealers have been serviced.”

Jeep Recall in Spotlight After Death in Michigan [The Wall Street Journal]

NYC Officials Decide It’s Finally Time To Shame People For Sitting With Their Legs Spread Apart On The Subway

Tue, 2014-11-18 19:53

No spread here; these folks are doing it right. High five! (litherland)

No spread here; these folks are doing it right. High five! (litherland)

The last time I checked, the average person is not six feet wide, and thus doesn’t need anywhere near that amount of room to sit on any given surface. And yet, there are those who have been ticking off their fellow riders since the dawn of time by having the audacity to spread their legs as far to the side as possible, thus either preventing others from sitting or making the people on either side uncomfortable at the level of touching. Finally, New York City’s authorities are spreading the message that enough is enough.

There should be room for everyone, says the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, as inconsiderate manspreaders and backpack wearers should be more aware of the people around them while in transit, an MTA spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

Part of the campaign will target those folks — yes, women do it too, probably — who fling their legs wide on the seat, despite the lack of a need to maintain stability and balance by way of making your body into a triangle shape.

(Idea drummed up by Boss Meg and Me for a potential PSA: [Photo of a bike seat]: “IF YOU CAN SIT ON THIS, YOU CAN SIT NORMALLY ON A BENCH FOR 25 MINUTES.” You’re welcome, MTA.)

Although leg spreading is “an issue,” the spokesperson said he hadn’t gotten any actual consumer complaints. That’s because we’re all just silently hating in our minds, you see.

Another target of the courtesy campaign will be people who don’t take off their backpacks on the train, which can often lead to unfortunate bumping, smacking and otherwise unwanted contact with fellow riders.

“I believe that you ought to get them off the back and onto the floor so they don’t hit people when you make an inadvertent movement or the train comes to a sudden stop,” MTA board member, Charles Moerdler told am New York.

“When you get to the hard-core violators and courtesy doesn’t work, then you have to take enforcement action,” he added.

The campaign will focus on other courtesy issues as well, with signage and perhaps train announcements. It’s replacing the current slogan, “courtesy is contagious,” because if there’s one thing New Yorkers love, it’s things that are contagious on the subway.

New York Subway Officials To Shame People Sitting With Their Legs Spread [Buzzfeed News]

If You Didn’t Change The Default Password On Your Security Camera, Someone’s Probably Watching It Stream

Tue, 2014-11-18 19:22

(Jullo Marquez)

(Jullo Marquez)

Remote access has been a boon to many industries. Home security cameras, for example: not only can you keep an eye on your property in case anything bad happens, but you can do it in real-time, instead of reviewing footage after the fact. But cameras protecting the security of your home may in fact need a serious security helper of your own. And running tens of thousands of searchable livestreams from unwitting camera owners who didn’t change default the access passwords on their devices is certainly one (unethical, intrusive) way to make the point.

One site does exactly that, as Vice reported recently. The site runs live streams of feeds from tens of thousands of IP cameras around the world.

Users buy the devices — think nanny cams, baby monitors, and home security — to keep an eye on their families, valuables, and property. But with poor security practices, anyone and everyone else can keep an eye on your goods, too.

Cameras designed to be accessed remotely, as these are, have passwords. And they ship with default passwords, that users are supposed to change during the set-up processes. Only, many users don’t. (Even when they do, admittedly, people are often objectively terrible at passwords.)

That makes it easy for someone with an idea for a website to come along and write a script that looks for cameras on the internet, then tries the default password on them and adds the feed to a public collection if that password works.

Despite running ads and generating revenue, security is the real point the site is making, its owner told Vice. “Most people still do not know about the problem,” they wrote in an e-mail, and so nobody has yet asked to have their camera removed from the collection. “Only [the website] can prove the scale of the problem,” the administrator added. “This problem was in darkness for many years.”

Vice then goes on to look at how ethical hackers — the so-called “white hat” set — expose software vulnerabilities and then share their information with the companies that made the vulnerable products. It’s a common pastime for network security experts and for security companies. (When done by the latter, it’s not entirely altruistic: if you can point out a security hole, you can point out the need for someone to buy your services to fix it.)

The person or group behind this particular website, Vice concludes, isn’t exactly one of the good guys; they’re doing something both illegal and unethical. But this particular camera-sharing website, though troubling, isn’t really the root problem. It’s just one symptom of a massive, much larger, much deeper issue.

As everything gets “smart,” mobile, remote-accessible, and connected, security becomes an ever-deeper challenge. Sophisticated hackers will probably always be able break their way into certain lucrative systems, just as criminals will always try to rob physical banks. But millions of cracks, hacks, and break-ins aren’t even the purview of sophisticated hacking operations: they’re just the result of plain bad security that end-users — we home consumers — didn’t even know needed fixing. It’s not about how to protect your bank vault from Bonnie and Clyde; it’s about knowing the cash should go in a vault in the first place, and not simply be left in piles on the lawn.

Commandeered cameras are incredibly intrusive, but as far as poor default security goes, they’re only the tip of the iceberg.

Every wifi router ships with a default password, and it’s super easy to look those up by make and model. Securing your router, on the other hand, takes more work.

Your remotely-accessible multifunction printer might use a weak default password or in fact not have a password at all, meaning anyone with know-how could get in. Like a wandering security expert who hacks it to run video games… or someone less ethical, installing something worse as a gateway to the whole network.

A common default password can get you into a cash-filled ATM, where you could presumably then commit actual bank robbery.

At least, though, we all have a vague association with “network” and “security” when it comes to our routers, even if we’re bad at implementing it, and we know that banks need strong network security to protect their customers and their transactions. But security applies to everything that uses an internet connection.

From heating to cooling, homes are getting ever more connected. When your whole house goes smart, Bradbury-style, that means your whole house is vulnerable. Last year, one Forbes contributor explained how she was able to access everything from televisions to light switches to hot tubs in complete strangers’ homes.

Home appliances — from TVs to refrigerators — have already been unwitting participants in spam-sending botnets. Spam e-mail is annoying but comparatively harmless. Future intrusions, though, might not be.

Any company making connected devices that can receive, transmit, or share data needs to be stepping up their security game. Anything and everything should clearly require passwords and should require on first use that owners change those passwords to something reasonably secure, for a start.

But until then, the burden remains on individuals. Any time you buy or install a device that in any way connects to the internet? Look up how to keep it secure. And use a good password when you do.

NTSB Rules That Model Aircraft Can Be Regulated By FAA

Tue, 2014-11-18 19:16



What’s the difference between a model aircraft you’d take out to the park and fly for your own amusement without having to worry about being fined or penalized by the Federal Aviation Administration, and operating a remote-controlled aircraft that does fall under the regulatory umbrella of the FAA? Earlier this year, a federal administrative law judge said it was pretty clear that model aircrafts of any sort are exempt from FAA oversight, but the National Transportation Safety Board today said the judge was mistaken.

This all involves the 2011 case of a man who was fined $10,000 for operating a remote-controlled model aircraft that had been fitted with a camera.

The man, who allegedly flew the plane as low as a few feet off the ground and as high as 1,500 feet, said he had been hired to take aerial photos of my beloved University of Virginia. He was accused of operating the craft recklessly, coming too close to pedestrians and operating too near to a helipad.

In March, the judge held that model aircraft are explicitly exempt from FAA regulation and so the the fine could not be levied against the man.

He ruled that accepting the FAA’s position that the man’s Ritewing Zephyr constituted an “aircraft” under federal law would “result in the risible argument that a flight in the air of… a paper aircraft, or a toy balsa wood glider,” could then be regulated by the FAA.

But the FAA appealed the judge’s decision to the full NTSB, which ruled [PDF] today that the Zephyr could indeed be considered an aircraft under federal law.

“An aircraft is ‘any’ ‘device’ that is ‘used for flight’,” reads the ruling. “We acknowledge the definitions are as broad as they are clear, but they are clear nonetheless.”

The pilot of the Zephyr maintains that FAA regulations only explicitly cover manned aircraft. And the Board concedes that when the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 was enacted,”‘drones’ were largely the currency of science fiction.” However, the Board says that the Act does not exclude unmanned aircraft.

“If the operator of an unmanned aircraft is not ‘using’ the aircraft for flight and some derivative purpose — be it aerial photography or purely recreational pleasure — there would be little point in buying such a device,” reads the ruling, which remanded the case back to the administrative law judge.

Additionally, the Board says that “Congress demonstrated prescience” when it left open the possibility for new types of aircraft “now known or hereafter invented, used, or designed for navigation of or flight in the air.”

As remote-controlled aircraft have developed into sturdier machines, they have expanded beyond mere hobbyists. In addition to the growing number of businesses using drones for aerial photography and surveying, several companies — most notably Amazon and UPS — are seeking to use the flying harbingers of man’s doom for delivering packages.

In June, the FAA began seeking public comment on rules for model aircraft. In its proposal, it allows that model aircraft may be used for hobby and recreational purposes, which could include aerial photography. However, as soon as any of that piloting is being done for commercial purposes, the use of the aircraft would fall under FAA regulations.

Bob Marley’s Family Is Starting A Line Of Branded Marijuana For Reasons No One Must Explain

Tue, 2014-11-18 19:02



In a branding combination that goes together like Bob Marley black light posters and college students, the late musician’s family says it’s starting a new line of Bob Marley marijuana. If you need someone to explain the relationship between Marley and Mary Jane, go ask your 19-year-old niece/nephew/son/daughter living in the basement.

The family has partnered up with a private equity firm that focuses on the cannabis industry called Privateer Holdings. The two have struck a 30-year licensing deal, reports Fast Company, to create Marley Natural (what, not Marleyjuana?!), a pot brand that will have a slew of products on the market at dispensaries around late 2015.

The line will come plastered with the new Marley Natural logo of a lion, which is an important symbol to Rastafarians, anchored with two leaves. Products include topical things hemp-derived lotions and the like, as well as six “heirloom” strains of marijuana that were personal favorites of Marley.

“We really want the products to be rooted in Bob’s life and in his message, and be authentic to his Jamaican roots,” Privateer CEO Brendan Kennedy told Fast Company. “We’re doing everything out of respect for Bob and out of respect for his vision.”

The deal had to be worked out in secret ahead of today’s announcement, seeing as the company’s headquarters is in New York City, where recreational pot is not legal.


Christopher & Banks, C.J. Banks Defy Mall Fines, Close On Thanksgiving Day

Tue, 2014-11-18 18:59

(Nicholas Eckhart)

(Nicholas Eckhart)

You may not have heard of the clothing store chain Christopher & Banks/C.J. Banks, but that’s probably because you’re not a woman of a certain age or a certain dress size. They’re a chain that sells clothing aimed at mature women. The important thing to know, other than that they sell some nice corduroys, is that the chain is defying the malls where it rents and staying closed on Thanksgiving Day this year.

We learned this not because the company is making a big deal of their stance, but because a memo sent out to all stores yesterday was leaked to the Facebook page Boycott Black Thursday. An employee snapped a picture of it and shared it, to overwhelmingly positive feedback.


In part, the memo, signed by the company CEO and the senior vice president for store operations, says:

[W]e have made the decision that all stores will be closed on Thanksgiving day, regardless of the mall requirements. Thanksgiving is a special time and the opportunity to share time and memories with your family and friends. We hope that you take some time to rest, relax and eat a bountiful meal (or two).

We have much business to do over the Holiday Season, and we know you’re up to the challenge. Again, we thank you for all that you do.

We checked out this information, which the page has turned into an easily-shareable image meme. A different bit of retail information also became a Boycott Black Thursday meme, the allegation that property management company Simon Malls plans to charge its tenants fines of $1,150 per hour if they don’t open on Thanksgiving. Simon denies that it will fine stores that stay closed on Thanksgiving. One retailer at the Walden Galleria in Buffalo, NY went public and told the

Sources at the Christopher & Banks, meanwhile, confirmed that the memo is real, and that the chain doesn’t plan to open on Thanksgiving Day even if the malls where it has stores do open.

Feedback from random people on Facebook has been overwhelmingly positive, with people making supportive posts and comments on unrelated posts…even though they have not officially announced the planned pro-holiday stance on the company Facebook page. Will this show of support translate to pleased customers showing up in their stores on days that are definitely not Thanksgiving? The chain will find out later this year.

Target App Now Tells You If Items Are Available In-Store And Where To Find Them

Tue, 2014-11-18 18:56
Target's updated app allows customers to see if items are available at local stores and where to find them inside the store.

Target’s updated app allows customers to see if items are available at local stores and where to find them inside the store.

Have you ever made a shopping list, driven to the store and then realized they were out of certain items? Apparently, Target has an answer to that frustrating experience in the form of an app update that can tell consumers what’s in stock and where to find those items inside the store.

VentureBeat reports that Target’s new service, which was implemented by Washington-based tech company Point Inside, makes it possible to offer in-store functions for all 1,801 of its U.S. locations for the first time.

A customer's shopping list shows what aisle the item can be found in.  [Click to enlarge]

A customer’s shopping list shows what aisle the item can be found in. [Click to enlarge]

The company’s updated app allows a shopper to start their list using a type-ahead function that includes brand named items. The app will then notify the customer if the product is available at their chosen store location and what aisle they can find it in.

The new function uses Point Inside’s StoreMode platform which digitizes stores’ layouts for electronic use.

Once inside the store, the app uses the digitized model of the store to create a map showing the user the aisle location of each of the items on their shopping list. During Black Friday the app will reportedly alert consumers to the location of doorbuster items.

While the map can pinpoint the location of products, Target lacks the in-store beacons or similar communication capabilities that would enable Point Inside to provide shoppers with the exact route to those locations, VentureBeat reports.

Additionally, because GPS is lost inside the retail stores the new service can’t show shoppers where they are in relation to their desired items.

Josh Marti, CEO of Point Inside, tells VentureBeat that the service’s platform does not support personal information; meaning that if the system were to get hacked it would only produce an unnamed person’s shopping list.

Attention, shoppers: Now you can target anything inside a Target store [VentureBeat]

Study: Eating Trans Fat Could Be Bad For Your Memory

Tue, 2014-11-18 18:08



While you’re munching on sticks of margarine and snorfing down packaged snacks, is there a nagging feeling tugging at your brain? Like there’s something you have to remember but… It’s gone, and one group of researchers says it’s that consumption of trans fats that can do some damage to your memory.

The study was presented this week at the American Heart Association conference in Chicago, reports USA Today, and says that out of 690 middle-aged men tested, the ones who said they ate the most trans fat or partially hydrogenated oil, remembered 11 fewer words out of 104 than those who at the least.

Other studies have linked eating food with trans fats to obesity, aggression, heart disease and diabetes. The study’s researchers say trans fats are basically worthless things we’re shoving down our gullets..

“Trans fats increase the shelf life of the food but reduce the shelf life of the person,” said the study’s author, Dr. Beatrice Golomb, a professor at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. “They’re a metabolic poison and that’s not a good thing to be putting into your body,” she said. “They don’t provide anything the body needs.”

Another expert weighed in, saying that this study joins other research showing that what we eat is linked to how we think. As my Great Aunt Enid always said, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

“The supply of nutrients in blood to the brain can actually affect its function,” said Dr. Patrick T. O’Gara, president of the American College of Cardiology.

Why this happens hasn’t been proven, and it’s not clear exactly how trans fat would case memory loss, but other health experts say the findings make sense.

The good news is there are less trans fats out there in the food supply since 2006, which is when food manufacturers were required to list their presence on labels. Most margarine doesn’t have it anymore, and other companies have reconfigured their baked goods’ recipes to take out the hydrogenated vegetable oils.

It’s important to note that even if a food’s label says trans-fat free, that designation can be earned by anything containing less than half a gram of trans fat to be labeled as such. Look out for “partially hydrogenated” on the label instead, and check the ingredient list if you’re gung ho about going trans-fat free completely.

Eating trans fat may damage memory [USA Today]

The Who Remix Old Songs To Fit Into New Ads

Tue, 2014-11-18 18:04

thewhoselloutUsing hit songs to sell shoes, food, insurance, cars, and many other items is nothing new, but because those tunes don’t always fit precisely into the super-tight confines of a 30-second TV ad, the songs are often either butchered by editors or re-recorded specifically for the commercial. In an effort to make their music more easily shoehorned into ads and other media, The Who has remixed more than a dozen classic songs.

AdAge reports that the band’s guitarist and primary songwriter Pete Townshend recently told his music publisher that he still possessed the original multitrack tapes for many of the band’s hits from the ’60s and ’70s.

Thus, music production agency Mophonics was able to do Townshend-approved, ad- and movie-ready remixes of 15 classics, including “My Generation,” “Baba O’Riley” and “I’m Free.”

With the growth of online subscription services like Beats, Spotify, Google All Access, and others, actual sales of music have dropped in recent years, and will likely continue to decrease. Thus, artists need to keep making money through other means, and licensing for ads and entertainment is an incredibly lucrative business, earning $750 million a year for the American music industry.

Rather than allowing some anonymous editor slice and dice these classics or have some unknown band do a sound-alike knock-off of a song they think is titled “Teenage Wasteland,” Townshend says the approved remixes gives him some control and involvement in the final product.

“A lot of work [went] into these,” Townshend tells AdAge of the tweaked tunes, “especially because the respect shown by the remixes to the original songs and song shapes. I know that makes remixing harder, and less fun for them, but a lot of fun for me.”

Delta Air Lines Takes Page From Spirit & Frontier, Offers No-Frills Ticketing Option

Tue, 2014-11-18 17:42

(David Transier)

(David Transier)

Is Delta Air Lines gunning for a piece of the bare-bones ticket business other “low-cost” carriers like Frontier and Spirit offer? It sure looks that way after the airline unveiled plans to expand its stripped-down fare option.

The Star Tribune reports that starting February 1 Delta’s Basic Economy fare option – which comes with no reserved seat and no ability to change flight plans – will expand to more than a dozen destinations.

The Basic Economy fare, which was first tested from Detroit in 2012, gets consumers a confirmed seat on the flight but doesn’t allow them to pick a seat in advance, change travel plans, fly standby and puts them at the back of the boarding line.

Additionally, travelers who purchase the no-frills fare won’t be able to purchase or receive complimentary upgrades, Economy Comfort seats, or Preferred Seats.

Officials with Delta declined to give the Star Tribune an average price difference between Basic Economy and traditional Economy prices.

However, a quick search for February flights between Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale shows an average savings of just $20 between the ticket options.

Delta is just the latest airline to offer a value-fare option. Back in April, Frontier Airlines unveiled a new “Ultra-Low-Cost” fare structure.

Unlike Delta’s new fare, which won’t even allow consumer to pay fees for extras, Frontier’s plan includes the options to pay for just about everything including carry-on baggage and a reserved seat.

Delta expands bare-bones ticket option [Star Tribune]

Reminder: Beware Of Deferred Interest Credit Card Offers This Holiday Season

Tue, 2014-11-18 17:18

deferred-interest-study2Whether you shop online or at brick-and-mortar retailer this holiday season, you’ll undoubtedly be offered countless chances to save money with store-branded financing options offering “0% interest” for six, 12, 18 months. These can be incredibly tempting, but many people don’t realize they are often signing up for deferred interest accounts that can come back to bite you on the rear-end in a very nasty way.

As opposed to true 0% interest offers, where you are not accruing any interest during the introductory promotional period, a deferred interest card account is actually accruing that interest during those months and you’ll have to pay it all if you haven’t paid off the balance in full by the end of the intro period.

To illustrate the difference, use this example of an $800 computer. One card offers a true 0% interest offer for six months. A second card is a 0% deferred interest account for six months. Both have 20% APRs (which is about average for retailer-branded cards) after their intro periods.

If you pay off that $800 before the six months is up, you don’t have anything to worry about in either case. But if you need a seventh month, the difference is huge. That extra month will only hit you with around $2 in interest for the true “0% for six months” offer. But if you need a seventh month and you used a deferred interest card, you’ll be hit with all of the interest that has accrued during the six months, which is around $55.

The folks at have put together their annual report on deferred interest cards, and the good news is that several major retailers — including Target, Costco, Nordstrom, Gap, BJ’s, and Kohl’s — don’t even offer deferred interest cards. Not that you should rush out and get store-branded cards from these retailers, but at least you’ll know you won’t be hit with the deferred interest.

That said, many large retailers — including Walmart, Apple, Home Depot, Sears, Lowe’s, Macy’s, Amazon, Toys R Us, Staples, Best Buy, and Meijer — still offer these questionable cards, and the level of transparency varies wildly from store to store.

On the one end are stores like Walmart and Apple, which earned the highest possible transparency scores, meaning that they do not go out of their way to hide the fact that you will be hit with all the interest if you have an unpaid balance at the end of the promo period.

On the other end are Amazon and Pottery Barn, which earned shockingly low scores for the readability of the terms of their offers. RadioShack earned virtually zero points on the transparency test, placing it at the bottom of the list, but CardHub says that this may soon improve as the retailer transitions to a new website.

Not only can deferred interest cards hit you in the back of the head if you don’t pay off the balance in time, that interest is often bordering on usury.

Amazon’s deferred interest plan comes with an APR of 25.99%, Apple’s ranges from 22.99% to 26.99%. Other stores maxing out at 26.99% include Home Depot, JCPenney, Macy’s, Pottery Barn, and Toys R Us.

Cards from Staples and Best Buy are even harsher, starting at 25.24% and going as high as 27.99%, but that’s still not the highest. Office Max/Office Depot accounts are fixed at 27.99%, RadioShack hits you with 28.99% interest, and Dell takes the high-interest crown, charging a maximum APR of 29.99%.

Whatever card you choose, you should do everything you can to pay off your balance before that promotional APR expires. Credit card companies are banking that you won’t be responsible enough to do that, so prove them wrong.

If You’re Going To Ask A Cop For A Ride To Burger King, Don’t Have Pockets Packed With Pot

Tue, 2014-11-18 17:01

(Alan Rappa)

(Alan Rappa)

This isn’t one of those stories where an incapacitated person makes silly fast food demands of the police and ends up getting arrested. But alas, while it’s nice to know there are cops out there willing to drive your average hungry citizen to Burger King, bringing along your drugs for the ride is not going to go over well in your new carpool.

A 27-year-old man involved in an apparent argument with a cab driver early Sunday morning brought the cops out to look into things, reports the New Jersey Advance.

After things were smoothed over, the passenger asked the officer if he could give him a lift to Burger King on the other side of town, ostensibly because he was hungry.

The officer agreed, and all was well and good… until he informed his new passenger that in order to ride in the patrol car, he’d have to perform a pat-down. Makes sense — you can’t have someone with a weapon in the back of your ride for safety reasons.

That’s when the officer allegedly discovered that the man was packing pot, and had marijuana in his pockets. Needless to say, he did not get to Burger King that night. He was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Man who asked police for ride to Burger King busted for pot, Mount Olive cops say [NJ Advance]