Called All Access, the service is already up-and-running on the Google Play site, offering two tiers of service — a free “standard” tier that basically allows users to upload their own music (up to 20,000 songs) for listening online and on Android devices, and a the premium All Access tier that starts with a 30-day free trial then goes up to either $7.99 (for people who sign up before June 30, 2013) or $9.99 for those who join on July 1 or after.
Like a number of existing services, the All Access package gives users the ability to listen to a catalog of songs on-demand, create “radio stations” based on songs they like.
It’s all still rather new to judge. The success of All Access will likely center on the quality of its catalog and whether or not users think they are getting their money’s worth — and whether it’s worth jumping ship from any competing streaming service they might be listening to now.
We just took it for a spin, randomly picking Metallica as the artist to base our first station on. The results are mixed to say the least (no better — and certainly no worse than we’d get on Pandora), as you might be able to see from the above screengrab. Thankfully, the All Access account lets you skip as many songs on the radio as you’d like, because we’ve got out our cursor ready to hit “skip” on more than a few of these offerings.
ProPublica has a detailed story on the many ways in which lenders of high-interest, short-term loans are circumventing the Military Lending Act, which effectively forbids the offering of payday and auto-title loans to active-duty service members by capping interest rates on all affected loans at 36%, significantly less than the triple-digit APRs typically seen with these types of loans.
In spite of the law, which went into effect in 2006, the Consumer Federation of America says that payday lenders haven’t vanished from around military bases. The group says that in 2012 there were the same number of payday stores in the area of Fort Hood in Texas that there were when the Act kicked in six years earlier.
Rather than be scared off by the law, these lenders have just adapted.
For example, there’s the Marine staff sergeant in South Carolina who, in desperate need of cash, signed up for a $1,600 auto-title loan — in which the borrower hands over the title to their car and a copy of their keys as collateral — that required him to pay back more than $17,000 over the course of 32 months, an APR of around 400%.
So why didn’t the Military Lending Act stop him from taking out the loan? Because it only affects title loans with terms of up to six months. Curiously, while the official term of the loan was 32 months, the contract included an “Summer Fun Program Payoff” option that would have allowed the sergeant to pay it back within one month with an APR of only 110%.
Service members who go to TitleMax for a loan are referred to its sister company InstaLoan for an installment loan, which would typically not be covered by the Military Lending Act because the terms are longer than a standard payday loan and they don’t require handing over the title to one’s vehicle. However, installment loans are often bogged down with unnecessary insurance add-ons that can effectively double the APR on a loan.
Similar to the longer-than-usual auto-title loan, payday lending companies are getting around the Military Lending Act by stretching out their terms so they don’t fall within the standards set out by the law.
Payday loan terms are typically only a few weeks — though the typical payday borrower repeatedly takes out new loans to cover the previous ones — and the Military Lending Act regulates interest rates on loans with terms under three months. So what do payday lenders do? Extend their terms.
ProPublica gives the example of one lender — one of many with locations near military bases — that offers a five-month, $400 loan with an APR of 585%.
A lawsuit filed in 2011 alleges that one of the nation’s largest title lenders has been completely disregarding the law, citing three active-duty soldiers who took out 30-day loans with 150% APRs. All claim to have identified themselves as military personnel and shown their military ID when applying for the loans.
The lender tried, and failed, to argue that the loans weren’t covered by the Act, claiming the plaintiffs had actually sold their cars to the lender while retaining the option to buy the vehicles back at a higher price.
These work-arounds and alleged flouting of the Military Lending Act have finally begun to get the attention of lawmakers and regulators.
“We have to revisit this,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, who chairs the defense appropriations subcommittee. “If we’re serious about protecting military families from exploitation, this law has to be a lot tighter.”
A rep for the Department of Defense, which defines which loans the Military Lending Act covers, tells ProPublica it has begun reviewing the law.
Why are military personnel falling for these predatory practices, especially when the military offers financial aid to soldiers in need, sometimes in the form of zero-interest loans? Some say it’s because a soldier can lose his or her security clearance if they are found to be in debt. So some choose to risk a loan with extremely high-interest rather than reveal to their superiors that they are facing a financial crisis.
Netflix is still working hard to make up for failing its customers in the somewhat recent past (Qwikster ring a bell, anyone?), resulting in the wonderful olive branch of original content like the upcoming return of Arrested Development. But there’s more to be done, the company’s financial chief said today, which is why Netflix won’t be selling ads for its streaming site.
Back during that whole hilarious attempt at rebranding in 2011, which involved hiking prices, the company said it would take about three years to regain customers’ trust.
Netflix executive David Wells spoke at the JP Morgan tech conference today to that end, reports CNET, noting that while there are improvements in things like customers’ “likelihood to recommend” responses, “we still feel like there’s more recover to be had.”
“We’re still mindful that any negative pricing things could set that fire off again,” Wells said.
And while everyone is assuming there’s a lot of money to be had in the Bluth family banana stand otherwise known as Arrested Development, as well as the well-received original miniseries House of Cards, even Wells isn’t sure how much that content will help boost subscribers, saying that the company expects it “will take multiple [original content] titles for there to be a real impact on net additions.”
One thing Netflix is willing to try is owning more pieces of a particular show, like the online rights and DVDs, instead of just one piece. For example, only Netflix can stream House of Cards, while Amazon is promoting the DVD for sale.
Netflix isn’t going to experiment with streaming live content like sports and concerts, however, and Wells has nixed the possibility of selling ads for the U.S. site. Whew.
“We did experiment with [ads] awhile ago in the past,” he said. “We felt like it was not conducive to the brand we have today.”
Right now around the country, if you’re in any of the 50 states and have a legal blood-alcohol content level of 0.08% or above, and you’re driving, you’re considered drunk and can be arrested and perhaps prosecuted for doing so. The National Transportation Safety Board thinks that threshold is too high, and has voted to recommend to states that they lower the BAC level to 0.05.
That level reflects the percentage of alcohol by volume in your blood, and the NTSB says at 0.05, drivers’ vision can be affected and they could possibly have problems with depth perception. At 0.07, cognitive abilities become impaired. And by 0.08, the NTSB says the risk of having an accident increases by more than 100%.
However, notes NBC News, the NTSB is just an investigative agency that works to promote safety issues, and can’t change laws or order any states to do so. That would be up to the individual states to act on the NTSB’s advice. The Department of Transportation would also have to get on board to suggest the change.
According to the NTSB, almost 10,000 people a year die in traffic accidents linked to alcohol, with a further 170,000 injured. And it seems there are more drunken drivers on the road who escape unscathed, without harming others — some studies say as many as 4 million per year admit to driving under the influence.
Already there are protests from restaurant trade groups who could see businesses suffer because of the NTSB’s recommendation.
“This recommendation is ludicrous,” Sarah Longwell, managing director of American Beverage Institute told NBC. “Moving from 0.08 to 0.05 would criminalize perfectly responsible behavior. Further restricting the moderate consumption of alcohol by responsible adults prior to driving does nothing to stop hardcore drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel.”
But advocates for lowering the BAC to 0.05 point out that there are only a few countries who have such a high limit — most European countries, a large part of South America and Australia all use a 0.05 level. Recently, Australia dropped from 0.08 to0 .05 and reported a 5-18% drop in traffic fatalities.
If all 50 states lower their standard to 0.05, the NTSB says 1,000 lives could be saved each year. It could take a while if states agree to do so, as the last time the level was moved — from 0.10 to .08 BAC — it took 21 years to implement.
The price-fixing allegations claim that Apple colluded with the nation’s largest book publishers to shift from an e-book pricing model that was similar to how physical books are sold — retailers pay a negotiated wholesale price then sell the title at whatever price they want — to a so-called “agency model,” in which the publisher sets the retail price and the seller gets a set percentage of that price.
It’s been alleged that Apple brought this idea to the publishers in the hope of leveling the playing field against e-book industry leader Amazon. Apple was about to launch the iPad, and if it was charging the exact same rate as Amazon and every other e-book seller, there would be no reason for iPad and iPhone users to buy elsewhere when they could easily get the title through the iTunes store.
Prior to agency pricing, Amazon had routinely been charging $9.99 for an e-book title, but when the publishers were able to set the prices, they often increased. In a number of cases, the e-book price on Amazon was more expensive than the comparable paperback. This pricing disparity was only compounded in books that were sold as a set. For example, the paperbacks of the first four books in George R.R. Martin’s wildly popular A Song of Ice and Fire series can be purchased from Amazon in a set for under $20, while the e-book price for the same books is $29.99. Before public outcry, it had been even higher — $39.96 — because Amazon was forced to charge the full e-book price for each title.
Both the publishers and Apple have denied any collusion, but a newly uncovered e-mail from late Apple co-founder and turtlenecked figurehead Steve Jobs to James Murdoch of News Corp (parent company of HarperCollins, one of the sued publishers and a former employer of yours truly) seems to indicate that its Jobs who came up with the pricing scheme.
“Throw in with Apple and see if we can all make a go of this to create a real mainstream e-books market at $12.99 and $14.99,” wrote Jobs.
Two days later, HarperCollins signed a deal with Apple that made agency pricing its standard model for all e-book sellers.
The DOJ also alleges that when Random House resisted the shift to the agency model, Jobs threatened to block the publisher’s e-book application from being distributed through the Apple app store. After Random House gave in, the Apple exec in charge of its e-books deals wrote to Jobs saying that part of the reason the publisher ultimately agreed was “the fact that I prevented an app from Random House from going live in the app store.”
Another document uncovered by the DOJ shows Random House’s top executive saying his company had been counseled by Apple to withhold e-books from Amazon in order to get the company to accept agency pricing.
A rep for Apple defends the company’s involvement in the e-book business.
“We helped transform the e-book market with the introduction of the iBookstore in 2010, bringing consumers an expanded selection of e-books and delivering innovative new features,” the rep tells the NY Times. “The market has been thriving and innovating since Apple’s entry, and we look forward to going to trial to defend ourselves and move forward.”
Here’s the thing with credit histories: it’s easy to fall behind on your bills when you don’t have a job. The reduced income (or total lack of income) really works against you. While half of all companies report that they check the credit reports of at least some prospective employees, there isn’t really any solid evidence that correlates bad credit with being a bad employee.
It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Intuitively, it feels like it should: someone who has paid their bills responsibly for the last decade or so would make a dependable, responsible employee, right? Not necessarily: they may have parents who bail them out, a partner who supports them, or have just had the good fortune to never get sick while uninsured.
Yes, lenders look at credit reports when deciding whether or not to lend you money. That makes sense. It’s a factor when you’re looking for rental housing and applying for various types of insurance. Why employment, though? “Someone loses their job, so they can’t pay their bills — and now they can’t get a job because they couldn’t pay their bills because they lost a job?” a staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center asked the New York Times rhetorically.
When you have to decide between a half-dozen equally qualified candidates, should you just go with the one who has missed the fewest payments on their bills? Researchers admit that the correlation isn’t really there. Credit reports are relatively cheap and easy to do as part of a background check, but it’s really a criminal background check that is more likely to flag potential thieves in the workplace.
DNAinfo.com went around to 35 different McDonald’s in lower Manhattan and found 15 that charged customers for each additional ketchup packet requested.
“We want to control condiment cost,” said the manager of an East Village McDonald’s, who explained that he began charging the fee — $.25 for a handful of extra packets — in 2011 after seeing unopened packets being tossed out by customers. “Why should I be wasting money on that?”
None of the 40 McDonald’s surveyed in New York City’s other boroughs charged a fee for extra ketchup.
“I don’t care how much ketchup they want,” says the manager of a Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, McD’s. “They could have as much as they want.”
DNAinfo reports that all of the NYC-area McDonald’s stores get their ketchup from the same supplier and all pay the same price — about $.015 per packet. McDonald’s HQ says franchisees can set their own policies regarding charging for condiments.
One customer who wanted more ketchup but didn’t feel like forking over the extra money summed up his situation pretty well.
“What could you do about it?” he asked. “It’s not like ketchup is a big enough thing where you can protest against McDonald’s.”Take Our Poll
According to Eric Nicholson at the Dallas Observer’s Unfair Park blog, the man said it took just a second for him to feel a burning sensation in his throat, esophagus and stomach. He had a feeling that wasn’t right, and headed to the hospital. There, he was treated for inflammation and ulceration of his esophagus and pharynx.
While the pain finally lessened, he says doctors told him he’ll likely have infections, acid reflux and difficulty swallowing to look forward to yet.
In a lawsuit filed last week in Dallas County, the man claims the burning he experienced was caused by a mouthful of potassium hydroxide, a lye-like cleaning agent. He says Red Lobster didn’t properly rinse out the Budweiser keg that morning after disinfecting it with the stuff.
According to the lawsuit, which is claiming Red Lobster was negligent in serving him the allegedly tainted beer, the man is also suing the supplier in charge of cleaning the kegs. He’s seeking damages of under 100,000 for mental and physical suffering, emotional distress and medical expenses.
Many of the American retailers and apparel companies that source products from Bangladesh have maintained that they already have their own inspection processes in place, but critics have voiced concern that these inspections are not done by independent parties and that the results are not transparent.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Walmart will use an outside auditing company to inspect 279 Bangladesh factories and will publish the results of those inspections on its website by June 1.
Unlike the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which has been signed by Euro biggies like H&M and Zara, and requires signatories to help fund repairs and upgrades, Walmart will not be paying for repairs. Rather, it will use its leverage as the world’s largest retailer, compelling facility owners to make upgrades or face losing Walmart’s business.
That being said, Walmart does expect that it will have to pay more for the goods it gets from the improved factories.
“We don’t want anyone to cut corners to put workers safety in jeopardy,” a company rep tells the Journal.
Yesterday, the company posted a list [PDF] of more than 200 factories in Bangladesh that it has already stopped working with, though the list does not go into details of why each facilities was red-flagged.
Walmart’s announcement comes at the same time as a New York Times report reveals documents showing that in 2012 a WalMart contractor from Canada had produced jeans in the now-collapsed Rana Plaza building outside of Dhaka.
However, the company says that nothing was being produced for Walmart at the time of the tragic collapse.
“Our investigation of the Rana Plaza building site after the collapse revealed no evidence of authorized or unauthorized production at the time of the tragedy,” a Walmart rep tells the Washington Post. “If we learn of any unauthorized production, we will take appropriate action based upon our zero-tolerance policy on unauthorized subcontracting.”
Some major U.S. retailers are still expressing interest in signing the union-backed accord, though they reportedly have concerns about the fact that it’s legally binding. As of now, PVH — the parent company of Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Izod, and other brands — is the only U.S. company to sign the accord.
Thus far in its life, the McRib has had a solitary existence, with nary another rib-shaped piece of meat out there to keep it company. So rejoice, McDonald’s! Your boneless hunk of rib-ish meat will have new friend soon, when Burger King unveils its summer 2013 menu, including its limited-time BK Rib Sandwich.
The sandwich is set to debut on Thursday, reports USA Today, and will be accompanied by other summer offerings like the returning Memphis Pulled Pork sandwiches, a line of Carolina BBQ sandwiches and sweet potato fries. Other new items include a BBQ Chicken Salad and line of Oreo-infused desserts.
But just like the elusive McRib, which only appears fleetingly once a year, all of those items will only be around through the summer. So the McRib and the BK Rib Sandwich will never have to go head-to-head, at least not yet.
And besides, this young upstart is nothing to worry about, says McDonald’s.
“We know our customers love McRib and we won’t disappoint them,” says a spokeswoman. “It will be returning.” (Cue anguished screams of “But WHEN?!?!?”)
So why the rib sandwich? Simply because there are other things to eat out there besides beef, silly.
“Our guests have grown to look for a variety of options,” says Eric Hirschhorn, vice president of global innovation. “It’s not just about beef anymore, but other proteins like chicken and turkey and pork.”
McRib loyalists, what say you?Take Our Poll
Burger King rolls out McRib-buster [USA Today]
According to police, a Kentucky man held the best overnight grocery store campout ever in the wee hours of Monday morning. Employees knew that something was up when they found 57 cans of Reddi-Whip brand whipped cream in the store’s trash. The whipped cream cans use nitrous oxide as a propellant, see. Oh, but the festivities didn’t stop there.
Security camera footage showed that the 30-year-old entered the store before closing on Sunday night, then evaded employees until after they locked up for the night. Over the course of the evening, he allegedly depleted the whipped cream cans, then cooked six steaks and some shrimp while drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. Sounds like a great party, except for the part where it all happened inside a grocery store after hours, with stolen merchandise. Police say that he also relieved himself on… himself, and found some fresh clothes to change into.
The local news outlet that reported on this story didn’t share how he cooked the steaks and shrimp: was he operating a gas or charcoal grill indoors, or using something like a George Foreman grill?
Anyway, the party eventually came to an end when the man crawled into the rafters and fell asleep. Employees discovered him that morning. Well, they discovered the 57 cans of whipped cream, then found him.
After the firefighters retrieved him from the rafters, police arrested him and took him into custody. He’s been charged with burglary and criminal mischief.
Man Arrested In Grocery Store After Overnight Stay, Feast [Lexington 18]
Should our health insurers try to nudge us toward the healthiest habits possible, like eating fresh, healthy food and exercising regularly? Or should they just give up, accept Americans’ crappy habits and hope that we do less healthy versions of unhealthy things, like eating giant plates of whole-wheat pasta? Reader Scott wonders whether that’s what his health insurance company, Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield, is up to with a package of coupons that they sent recently.
We see where the confusion comes in: what would you expect to find in an envelope that says “Healthy Savings” on the outside?
“My insurance company just sent me coupons for… mayonnaise, ice cream, and pasta,” Scott wrote to us. “Howsabout a $5 voucher to use at my farmers market or produce section instead?”
That’s not foolproof, either. You can buy vegan marshmallows and chocolate-covered waffles at my local farmer’s market, and the vouchers that food stamp and debit card customers can buy at the entrance can also buy, say, cheese curds and heavy cream.
Are these items from large food companies like Best Foods, Blue Bunny, and Ronzoni “healthy?” Not really. Are they “healthier?” Yeah, they’re probably healthier than the regular mayonnaise, sugar-filled ice cream, and regular pasta that customers are eating now.
The problem with healthier versions of unhealthy but delicious foods is that they can instill a false sense of accomplishment: just because something is less terrible for you, that doesn’t meant that you should eat more of it. Use the coupons if you want to, but it’s okay to eat just about anything in moderation.
Most of our readers are familiar with Adblock Plus, the browser extension that does what the name describes: blocks ads. For some people, it’s the only thing that makes browsing the Internet tolerable; for others, it’s an evil entity strangling the media industry. What you may not know is that the open-source extension is allowing some advertisers access to your eyeballs…but only if users deem them acceptable. Oh, and some large sites have to pay.
(No, Consumerist doesn’t run ads on our site, and neither do the other print and online publications of our benevolent parent organization, Consumer Reports.)
The “acceptable ads initiative” is an opt-out program, so if you don’t like it, you can turn it off yourself within the extension’s settings (see above). Most people aren’t against all ads, just really obtrusive, distracting, or disruptive ones. The program has been around since 2011, so maybe you’re familiar with it. Maybe you just un-ticked the “sure, show me non-obtrusive ads” box in the extension’s settings and didn’t think much of it.
The problem is how Adblock Plus is going about this. The company doesn’t deny that they’ve asked publishers and advertisers for money. Back in February, Digital Journal cited an anonymous source from a major publisher who claims that the developers offered to let their ads through…for a 1/3 share of the revenue that the now-unblocked ads generated. Is this a fair agreement that subsidizes a popular and beloved browser plugin, or a shakedown?
Publishers can’t just pay to play, of course. There’s an active forum dedicated to deciding which sites’ ads are or aren’t acceptable . Want to get your small site whitelisted? Make sure to have silent, non-disruptive, non-animated ads that are clearly marked as advertisements (among other requirements), submit a proposal, and wait.
They’re not actively seeking out sites and offering a protection racket, the people behind AdBlock Pro insist. “It’s not like we have a sales force that is pushing the companies to become our client. That is not how it works,” managing director Till Faida told the public radio program “On the Media.”
Unless they’re using the Google Play store, of course. Then they can’t buy ad-blocking apps at all.
Adblock Plus: The Internet’s Ad Gatekeeper? [On the Media]
Allowing acceptable ads in Adblock Plus [Adblock Plus]
Media mafiosos: Is Adblock Plus shaking down websites for cash to let ads through? [Digital Trends]
Feeling lighter in the wallet when you travel? It’s no wonder — in 2012, U.S. airlines raked in a record $6 billion in baggage and change fees from passengers. That’s higher than any other year since such fees became de rigueur five years ago. Oh, and it’s going to keep piling up, because airlines are having fun swimming around in the piles of money they’ve made off such fees.
Checked bag fees started in 2008 and it’s all been downhill (or uphill, depending on how you look at it) from there, with fees ranging from about $25 for the first to $35 for the second bag. If your bag is too heavy or too ginormous, that’s another fee.
Bag fees from the nation’s 15 largest carries brought in $3.5 billion total in 2012, an uptick of 3.8% from 2011, based on figures from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics cited by the Associated Press.
Fees for changing reservations saw the money come flowing in as well, for a total of $2.6 billion, a 7.3% increase over the previous year.
So who was the richest in fees of them all? Delta yet again this year, with $865.9 million just from baggage fees. It also had more passengers than any other airline, however, so it makes sense. That works out to about $7.44 per passenger, which is par for the course.
Fee fans and low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines charged the most per passenger last year at a rate of $19.99 on average.
All those averages are bound to go up , as a group of airlines including American, Delta and United all raised the fee for changing a flight reservation from $150 to $200 recently.
Airlines collected record baggage fees in 2012 [Associated Press]
Almost exactly one year after reaching a $40 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission regarding questionable health benefits attributed to Skechers’ Shape-Ups toning shoes, a U.S. District Court judge has finally signed off on the deal, allowing things to move on to the refund stage.
Skechers, which never admitted guilt in the case, was alleged to make false claims in its Shape-Ups ads, saying the sneakers would somehow aid in weight loss and that they targeted specific muscles. Making matters worse, one of the chiropractors quoted in Skechers ads just happened to be married to someone at the sneaker company.
The AP reports that about 520,000 people are expected to get refunds, ranging from $40 to $84 per pair of sneakers, depending on which particular kind was purchased. The lead plaintiffs in the case will each receive payments of $2,500. The attorneys for the plaintiffs will split $5 million, though that money is not supposed to come from the $40 million. Anything left over is slated to go into the FTC’s coffers.
According to the website set up for the settlement, refund checks will likely not go out until late summer. The deadline for claiming eligibility has passed, so if you didn’t file, it’s too late.
In 2011, the FTC reached a similar $25 million settlement with Reebok. Checks for affected customers in that case began going out in the summer of 2012.
Do you know who deserves to skip lines at amusement parks? People with disabilities. Do you know who probably doesn’t deserve to skip lines at amusement parks? People who just can’t stand the thought of waiting with the rest of us peons but who don’t want to pay for VIP guides or fast passes. Unfortunately, one report says the latter has recruited the former so wealthy parents and their children can cut to the front of lines at Disney World.
The New York Post spoke to a social anthropologist who claims to have discovered a scheme that makes us feel icky inside: Wealthy Manhattan moms and dads who hire disabled people to act like family members, so they and their children can cut to the front of the line.
These so-called “black-market Disney guides” use the amusement park’s policy of allowing handicapped guests to bring up to six guests to a “more convenient entrance.” The price for such a service runs $130 an hour or $1,040 for an eight-hour day at the park. Compare that to Disney’s VIP guided tours, which go from $315 to $380 per hour.
It’s reportedly organized by a tour company out of Florida, and is apparently all the rage among the one percenters.
“My daughter waited one minute to get on ‘It’s a Small World’ — the other kids had to wait 2 1/2 hours,” one customer reportedly said. “You can’t go to Disney without a tour concierge. This is how the 1 percent does Disney.”
That woman claims she, her husband and two young children hired a guide to escort her through the park, using the guide’s motorized scooter with a “handicapped” sign on it. They say they went straight to the front at each and every attraction.
Not just anyone can get this service, as the company reportedly asks for a referral when you call. So if your name isn’t on the upper echelon’s roll call, forget it, you’re back in the line with us common folk. Heaven forbid.
Disney didn’t respond to the Post‘s requests for comment, and the man who runs the tour company denies that his girlfriend, named by the woman in the report as her family’s guide, uses her disability to bypass lines. Instead, he says she has an auto-immune disorder and acknowledged that she uses a scooter on the job.
“Instant?” typed user Jake when he sent us a picture of the kiosk screen after he sent some photos to the printer at Walmart. His “instant” photos were promised six and a half hours in the future. Why, that’s not very instant at all.
The printing is “instant” in the sense that it doesn’t take as long as ordering your prints online. Kiosk prints are usually available in an hour, but not all of the HP photo items are available in an hour: he might have ordered something that takes longer, like a giant photo poster. Still, wouldn’t you see the “instant” sign and complain about the lack of instantness? Some people would.
Our more stylish siblings at Shop Smart recently talked to customer service expert Jeanne Bliss, who provided a handful of tips on getting CSRs to listen to your problems.
Among those, is simply asking the rep “How’s your day?”
“Personally connecting with customer-service representatives warms them up to the conversation,” explains Bliss.
She says — and this is something we’ve heard before from CSRs in just about every industry — the phone reps often have small perks they can toss a customer’s way without even having to speak to a manager. This can mean discounts, return-date extensions, fee waivers, and more.
And even in the case where the CSR does need supervisor approval to offer these extras, you’re much more likely to get to that supervisor if you’re not demonstrating your grasp of obscure obscenities.
Of course, one can go too far when trying to create that personal connection with a CSR. It’s perfectly fine to ask someone how they are doing, it’s another to ask what color underwear the CSR is wearing.
Do you want a set of nice headphones? Do you want a set of headphones endorsed by Dr. Dre? If the answer to both of those questions is “yes,” then perhaps Beats headphones are for you. The question, as it is with many luxury brands, is whether you want to spend $300 for a pair of headphones, and why.
Our rocking colleagues down the hall at Consumer Reports just published their headphones tests, and we were surprised to learn that they think Beats sound pretty nice, at least for the larger, pricier, over-the-ear models. Beats by Dr. Dre Executive headphones topped their ratings for that headphone type, and Beats Studio headphones actually did better on tests than headphones that cost more.
Ultimately, it comes down to what music you like, and your personal style. Do you listen to a lot of hip-hop or other bass-heavy music? Beats are ideal for that. Do you want to look cool, or specifically to be seen wearing Beats headphones? Then you know what to do. “In almost almost every category there are lower-priced models that offer the same, and sometimes better, sound quality,” note the electronics mavens. “So if sound quality is your only consideration, choose one of those models rather than a Beats set.”
If you aren’t so much into bass and what you’re looking for are earbuds or compact headphones, then Beats are probably not the choice for you. There are other headphones at those price points that will look almost as cool and cost a lot less.
Are Beats by Dr. Dre headphones worth the money? [Consumer Reports Electronics]
There’s nothing quite like a concession stand container of nachos: its cup of orange, oozing, hot nacho cheese nuzzled up against the very tortilla utensils we use to scoop it up and deposit it into our eagerly awaiting mouths. But like so many foods and snacks out there, perhaps we’ve been taking this gooey goodness for granted. Thank goodness not everyone has been so remiss.
Over at the Smithsonian Magazine‘s blog, inquiring minds recently made a foray into the evolution of nachos — the kind you order up at a baseball stadium or a concert arena — and how they came to embody the quintessential partner to beer, soda and other concession stand snacks.
The hunt for the dawning of the nachos era actually began back in 1988 when a researcher at the Oxford English Dictionary was charged with the task of tracing the etymology of the word “nachos.” She poked around and traced nachos through a paper trail of documents and newspaper articles, until she hit gold in the Hispanic Division of the Library of Congress:
“As I walked down the long corridor leading back to the library’s central core, I heard a voice softly calling my name. There was a young woman I recognized as a staff member of the Hispanic Division… she told me she had been born and raised in Mexico and there, nacho has only one common usage: it is the word used as a diminutive for a little boy who had been baptized Ignacio. His family and friends call him Nacho… Now I was convinced there was a real Nacho somewhere who had dreamed up a combination of tortilla pieces with melted cheese and jalapeño peppers.”
From there, she found a quote in a 1954 cookbook printed by a church in Eagle Pass, Texas, which featured a dish called “Nachos Especiales.”
It turns out that a group of hungry army wives in 1943 were likely the first to dine on nachos while visiting a restaurant with a maitre d’ named Ignacio, or “Nacho.” The chef wasn’t around, so instead Nacho tossed together whatever was in the kitchen — tortilla chips, cheese and jalepeno peppers (the cheese was reportedly Wisconsin cheddar, I must add, as a native of that state).
From then on, it seems the so-called Father of Nachos, Frank Liberto, popularized the dish with his recipe in Texas. He’s credited with bringing nachos to the concession stand in 1976 at a Texas Rangers baseball game in Arlington, Texas.
He had a new trick up his sleeve, however — a cheese that could be pumped out and easily deposited in snack containers. Most cheeses are now more of a cheese sauce, made of a blend of various ingredients. His ingredients didn’t need to go in the fridge, thus establishing them as an easy alternative for concession stands.
Back then, concession operators didn’t want nachos competing with things like popcorn, hotdogs and sodas, so Liberto says the family had to build their own carts.
“My dad has an old VHS tape where people were lined up 20 people deep behind these concession carts,” he says. “You’d hear the crack of the bat and you’d think that they’d want to see what play was going on, but they stayed in line to get their nachos.”
And the rest is history — people loved nachos, and the industry responded by selling nachos wherever sports, music or other get-togethers are staged.
As for that other burning question — how much cheese is in “cheese sauce” — Liberto is keeping mum on his recipe.
“I will not tell you that,” he explained. ”We’ve got lots of formulas and that is a a trade secret—you never want to give away how much cheese is in your product.”
*(H/T to Parker for the link!)
The History of Baseball Stadium Nachos [Smithsonian Magazine]