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The Consumerist

Coca-Cola, Pepsi And Dr Pepper Create Unholy Alliance To Cut Consumers’ Sugary Drink Calories

Tue, 2014-09-23 21:57

(ffrankieleon)

(frankieleon)

The crusade to end – or at the very least reduce – consumers’ love affair with sugary soft drinks received a huge boost Tuesday from the very companies that make the libations. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and the Dr Pepper Snapple Group pledged today to substantially cut their contributions to the calories Americans consume.

The three largest soda companies each vowed to put measures in place that would help reduce the number of sugary drink calories consumed in the United States by one-fifth during the next decade, the New York Times reports.

The companies plan to use their marketing and distribution resources to reduce each American’s consumption of sugary drinks by at least 20% by 2025. The Times reports that soft drinks currently account for about 6% of the average consumer’s daily calories.

To achieve the new goal the soda companies will expand the presence of low- and no-calorie drinks and sell products in smaller portions.

Additionally, they will design promotions to educate and encourage consumers to reduce the calories they are drinking. One such tactic includes the use of signs at vending machines and soda fountains encouraging consumers to check the calories on the back of the drinks they are considering purchasing.

The new programs, which will begin in Little Rock, AR, and Los Angeles, will cover company-owned vending machines, coolers in convenience stores and fountain drink dispensers in movie theaters and restaurants.

A trip down the soda aisle at the grocery store will also look different to consumers, with significant changes to to end-of-aisle promotions and marketing materials expected.

“We’ll use the most critical levers we have at our disposal, and the focus really will be on transforming the beverage landscape in the U.S. over the next 10 years,” Susan Neely, chief executive of the American Beverage Association, the industry trade group, tells the Times.

Tuesday’s pledge announcement was made at the 10th annual Clinton Global Initiative where officials with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation detailed how the new commitment would be assessed.

Similar to the soda companies’ previous campaigns to reduce the number of sugary drinks sold on school campuses, the new strategy will be evaluated at interim levels by the amount of product shipped.

While the new initiative may be a step in the right direction, consumer health advocates say it doesn’t do enough to adequately protect the public’s health.

Officials with The Center for Science in the Public Interest say in a statement that the industry could accelerate the progress of reducing sugary drink calories by dropping its opposition to taxes and warning labels on drinks.

“Those taxes could further reduce calories in America’s beverage mix even more quickly, and would raise needed revenue for the prevention and treatment of soda-related diseases,” the statement reads.

In recent years, there has been an increased push by health groups such as CSPI, government officials and regulatory entities to reduce the amount of sugary calories consumed in soft drinks.

Back in 2013, CSPI called on the Food & Drug Administration to limit the amount of sugar in soft drinks and other sweetened beverages.

“As currently formulated, Coke, Pepsi, and other sugar-based drinks are unsafe for regular human consumption,” CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson said at the time. “Like a slow-acting but ruthlessly efficient bioweapon, sugar drinks cause obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. The FDA should require the beverage industry to re-engineer their sugary products over several years, making them safer for people to consume, and less conducive to disease.”

Other regulatory proposals included former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to limit the size of soda containers. That plan was met with fierce disapproval and required many court appeals before essentially being quashed this summer.

Across the country in California a bill that would require warning labels on sugary drinks stalled. But two cities – Berkley and San Francisco – recently announced initiatives to become the first cities in the U.S. to pass per-ounce taxes on the drinks.

Soda Makers Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Dr Pepper Join in Effort to Cut Americans’ Drink Calories [The New York Times]

Airport Parking Company Really Sorry About Tasteless E-mail About Parking Lot Death

Tue, 2014-09-23 21:33

(Neff Conner">Neff Conner)

(<a href="Neff Conner“>Neff Conner)

Earlier this month, a man in his fifties from the suburbs of Chicago was reported missing, then found dead in a parking lot at O’Hare International Airport. An autopsy was inconclusive, but authorities found no evidence that there was any foul play. AirportParkingReservations.com knows why he died, though. He died because finding a parking space at the airport totally sucks.

Of course, they don’t know this for sure. They were just making an adorable Spirit Airlines-style play to get the attention of people who are on their e-mail list. They sent out a message yesterday that discussed the man’s death and pitched a $5 off coupon for their offsite airport parking reservation service.

The message worked to get the attention of customers and spread the word about the company…but probably not in the way they intended.

“I have no idea if somebody actually died at O’Hare,” reader Chris wrote when forwarding this message to us, “but to use a death in a marketing campaign for your services is abhorrent.” There really was a death in the airport parking lot, which makes this message even more tasteless.

airportparking

Here’s the full text of the message, in case you’re on a tiny mobile screen or using a screen reader:

Can On-Airport Parking Kill?

Last week a 55 year old man was found dead at a Chicago O’Hare parking lot. He was found lying on the ground unresponsive at around 7:15 am. The Chicago police did not find any signs of a homicide and an autopsy is to follow.

There could be many reasons for the cause of this man’s death, but based on the story one possible reason could be stress. The process of arriving to the airport, getting through security, and boarding the plane can be very stressful.

Many airlines and travel industries have implemented technology to make traveling easier such as through buying airfare online, booking hotels and renting cars, and even reserving off-airport parking through an app.

Don’t be late and end up in a crate. Save stress and possibly anything worse by utilizing technology and reserving all your travel needs in advance.

Yes. They actually concluded the message by saying “Don’t be late and end up in a crate.” The man’s autopsy was inconclusive, and he had been reported missing a week before he was found in the parking lot, so we’re going to guess that the stress of finding a parking place was probably not his top complaint.

The company posted an apology earlier today, and they at least sound appropriately horrified. The same message went out to e-mail list subscribers who saw the original message.

On behalf of AirportParkingReservations.com and ParkSleepFly.com, we cannot emphasize how apologetic we are about the marketing email that went out on September 22, 2014. It was an extremely poor choice and a mistake that leaves us all in remorse.

There is no good explanation to how and why we made the decision to create such a tasteless marketing email. It was clearly a poor choice on our end and we never had the intention to hurt or disrespect anyone. From the bottom of our hearts, we sincerely apologize for all the anger and emotional distress we have caused to the family of the deceased, the public and our customers.

Of course, the company’s blog shows posts on other inflammatory topics, such as “Why Kids Shouldn’t Be Allowed On Planes,” but maybe they’ve learned their lesson now.

Indiana Woman Lived In A House For Eight Years Without Ever Having To Pay For It

Tue, 2014-09-23 21:17

(jenni waterloo)

(jenni waterloo)

The luxury of not having to pay rent or a mortgage payment every month might seem like some kind of fever dream, obtainable only by those scant few who make the rest of us uncomfortably jealous, but one woman in Indiana managed to pull it off not just for a few months or even a year — but for eight years.

And she didn’t really do anything wrong, it seems, because no one ever told her to move out, reports IndyStar.com.

She moved into the 1910 house with her boyfriend and children back in 2006 while working for a real estate company. That company told her to pick a home to move into, and said she could stay as long as she worked for the company.

But when the recession hit and the real estate market basically lay down and died, her employers laid her off and went out of a business a few months later. And still, no one told her to leave the house.

So she paid for the utilities with her name on it, and asked the city what she should do about property tax bills that came in the mail. She was told not to pay them if they didn’t have her name on it, so she didn’t.

A few times, the home went up at the city’s tax sale for unwanted tax-delinquent properties, but either no one bought it or the sale didn’t go through due to legal reasons, said the chief deputy of the county Treasurer’s office.

While she says she’s happy she was able to stay this long without paying for rent — and only spending a bit of money on needed repairs — it wasn’t always easy.

“I lived here on pins and needles. I never knew when I was going to have to go. It was stressful,” she said.

Her home has finally been bought by an investment company purchasing other low-priced homes in Indianapolis, and she says she’s a bit relieved. The company also says it’ll rent the house to her if she’d like, after spending at least $15,000 on much-needed repairs.

“If she wishes to be my tenant I am more than happy to accept her as my tenant after my renovation,” the group’s president says. “This saves us trouble of looking for a tenant.”

And while it won’t be free anymore, the woman says if she can afford it, she’d like to stay.

“I would love to stay here. I’d love to do another nine years, to tell you the truth.”

Wouldn’t we all. Wouldn’t we all. (We would, seriously.)

Indy woman lived rent free for years without really trying [IndyStar.com]

9% Of Americans Are Bad People, Think It’s OK To Use Phone At Movies

Tue, 2014-09-23 21:10

If you’re reading this in your office or on the train, take a second to look around you. About 1-in-10 of the people you see are horrible human beings who think it’s okay to use their phones during a movie. And if you’re reading this at the movie theater, there’s a good chance you’re one of these people.

This is according to a survey about appropriate cellphone use from The Street, which found that 9% of Americans are perfectly fine with texting, Tweeting, or gabbing away in a movie theater while the movie is playing.

You might argue that this is a small number of people, but let’s consider the math. Last weekend’s top box-office earner was The Maze Runner, which took in around $32 million. With the national average for movie tickets hovering near the $8 mark, that means approximately 4 million people paid to see just that one movie over the weekend.

And if 9% of these moviegoers were indeed okay with staring at their phone screens instead of the movie they paid to see, that means that around 360,000 Americans — around the entire population of Tampa — were either bothering the rest of us with their glowing telecommunication devices or would have been willing to do so if they needed to Snapchat with a pal.

Nearly three times that many people (26%) say it’s acceptable to continue using your phone at the theater while the previews are showing. They might have an arguable point, especially since most of us have already seen the trailers we want to see thanks to the Internet. But still, it’s a bit rude.

Only slight more (28%) said that using the phone while at dinner with others is acceptable. To us, whether or not this is a no-no probably depends on the casualness of the meal. If I’m at a nice restaurant, the phone stays in my pocket and I’d expect others to do the same, but if the Consumerist crew is chowing down on riblets at Applebee’s (do they even sell those anymore?), it doesn’t seem as rude for someone to occasionally check their messages.

This is where we find out if y’all agree with us on the phones-at-the-movies thing:
Take Our Poll (function(d,c,j){if(!d.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src='http://s1.wp.com/wp-content/mu-plugins/shortcodes/js/polldaddy-shortcode.js';s=d.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);} else if(typeof jQuery !=='undefined')jQuery(d.body).trigger('pd-script-load');}(document,'script','pd-polldaddy-loader'));

Former Apple Exec Behind The iPod On Gadget Nostalgia: “Time Marches On”

Tue, 2014-09-23 20:22

(chrismar)

(chrismar)

Do you whisper goodnight to your iPod classic before tucking it into its bed each night? Are you the kind of person who still pines for the first Nintendo you ever had, eschewing all other gaming consoles ever since? Get over it, says the former Apple executive who oversaw the iPod until leaving the company in 2008. All technology is born to die, and be replaced.

Tony Fadell left Apple to join Google and eventually, work on Nest thermostats, but back in 2001, he and his team brought the world the iPod, basically a hard drive with a clickwheel screen. He spoke with Fast Company in a recent interview, saying that he’s definitely sad the iPod Classic is no more, but innovation is the way of the future.

“I’m sad to see it go,” he admits. “The iPod’s been a huge part of my life for the last decade. The team that worked on the iPod poured literally everything into making it what it was.”

But nothing gold can stay, he adds, saying they knew even in 2003 or 2004 something would come along to slay the iPod giant.

“And even back then, at Apple, we knew it was streaming. We called it the ‘celestial jukebox in the sky.’ And we have that now: music in the cloud.”

It’s not just the iPod that people need to learn not to mourn, but any outdated bit of technology that has had its time, and has now moved on to wherever retired gadgets go.

“I’ll miss the iPod. I loved it,” Fadell adds. “But you know, that’s just how it is. I also loved my Apple II, and also saw it come and go. You can’t get too nostalgic. I mean, there are people out there who still want the Commodore 64 or the Amiga to come back. That’s cute, but time marches on. It’s better to be excited for the future.”

iPod Mastermind Tony Fadell On The Death Of The iPod: “You Can’t Get Too Nostalgic” [Fast Company]

Feds Warn Advertisers Against Trying To Hide The Truth

Tue, 2014-09-23 20:12

(Simon Abrams)

(Simon Abrams)

Most of us accept the fact that advertisers have to massage the truth to put their products in the best possible light. You’re likely to sell more widgets saying “The fastest widget on the market!” and doing your best to hide the disclosure that you really mean it’s the fastest widget you can buy at one particular market in rural Alberta. But some advertisers have apparently been getting too fine with their fine print and have been put on notice by federal regulators to just stop it already.

The Federal Trade Commission announced today that it has sent warning letters to 60 national advertisers, including 20 of the 100 largest advertisers in the U.S., letting them know that their ads have failed to make adequate disclosures to the buying public.

FTC guidance on advertising has long held that disclosures in ads should not be hidden or buried in unrelated details. Even the so-called fine print should be presented in a font that is easy to read and in a color that stands out from the background. TV disclosures must appear on screen long enough for viewers to actually read them and shouldn’t be hidden or obstructed by other elements on the screen.

But the agency identified a number of “problematic” ads and asked the advertisers in question to review their marketing materials to make sure that disclosures are “clear and conspicuous.”

Alas, the FTC is not yet naming the advertisers or ads that it flagged as part of Operation Full Disclosure, but it does give general examples of problems it repeatedly spotted.

There were ads that quoted the price of a product or service, but didn’t adequately disclose the conditions for obtaining that price. Other advertisers claimed a product was unique or superior in a product category, but did not adequately disclose how narrowly the advertiser defined the category.

Similarly, the FTC took exception to ads that compared products but didn’t adequately adequately disclose the basis of their comparisons.

Other ads meriting a warning promoted “risk-free” or “worry free” trial periods but did not adequately disclose that consumers would need to pay for shipping and/or return shipping.

Then there were ads for weight-loss products that used extreme cases but failed to properly disclose that these were not results most people could expect to achieve.

While these warning letters targeted specific advertisers, the FTC clarifies to the advertising world that just because you didn’t receive a warning doesn’t mean your ads aren’t problematic.

That Amazing $70K Work-At-Home Job Probably Isn’t Real

Tue, 2014-09-23 20:08

(Paxton Holley)

(Paxton Holley)

If the following comes as a surprise to you, that’s okay. This is why Consumerist exists. Today, we’re here to remind you of the following: if someone e-mails you to offer a work-at-home job promising a nice middle-class income for only a few hours of work every week, it is probably a scam and you should run away.

Don’t snicker and say, “Everyone knows that,” because everyone quite clearly doesn’t know that. The experience of one Arizona woman shows why it’s probably a good idea to run a cursory Google search on a company before accepting a job with them.

Her mysterious new employer, Hybrid Logistic Systems, had found her resume on a job-hunting site and wanted to hire her for a position as a shipping agent, even though she had no job experience in the shipping industry or anything similar. “You’re going to be doing X, Y, and Z,’ and I thought, ‘I don’t have any of those skills listed on my resume’,” she recounted to local TV station KPHO. Still, this raised no flags, probably because the company said that they would train her for the work she’d be doing. Yay!

While she trained, she was told that she could do some early jobs and earn commissions. For example, they wanted her to link her personal checking account to the company’s business account. They would transfer over some money, which she would use to buy computers and ship them back to her employer. Of course, this is the entire scam, an advance fee fraud scheme. There was no job, and her task was to buy the computers before her bank figured out that the deposit was fraudulent.

Elaborate work-at-home schemes may be criminal enterprises [KPHO]

Krispy Kreme Makes Homer Simpson Jealous, Delivers Massive Box Of 2,400 Doughnuts

Tue, 2014-09-23 19:59

(@360Resourcing)

(@360Resourcing)

So you picked up a dozen tasty doughnuts for the office this morning; that probably made you feel like a pretty good co-worker, right? Well Krispy Kreme officially put your measly 12 toruses of delicious dough to shame, by delivering a single, gigantic box of 2,400 doughnuts to a public relations firm in the United Kingdom.

According to USA Today, the super-sized doughnut delivery required eight employees to cary and would cost an estimated $2,600 in the United States.

The colossal box was part of a Twitter competition meant to promote the company’s new “Krispy Kreme Occasions” division that customizes doughnuts for corporate events and even weddings.

After the delivery was complete – and some of the doughnuts were consumed – the folks at 360 Resourcing Solutions fittingly tweeted a photo of Homer Simpson’s go-to salivating pose.

Krispy Kreme officials say there are no plans to recreate the massive box in the U.S. or elsewhere in the U.K.

But for consumers in the U.K. thinking of inviting 1,000 of their closes friends to chow-down, Krispy Kreme will sell 100 of their Double-Dozen boxes of doughnuts for $2,600.

Krispy Kreme’s 2,400-doughnut box [USA Today]

Humane Society Accuses Kohl’s Of Passing Off Raccoon Dog Fur In Parka As “Faux” Online

Tue, 2014-09-23 19:47
(Kohls.com)

Click to enlarge. (Kohls.com)

The Humane Society once again has department store chain Kohl’s in its sights for allegedly advertising a product online that contains real raccoon dog fur and passing it off as “faux,” saying the company is in violation of FTC’s Fur Products Labeling Act and has deceived consumers.

The Humane Society purchased a men’s parka — that as of this writing, is still available online here — whose online product description says “features faux-fur trim on the hood.”

The group bought that parka back in June and says that testing shows that the faux fur trim is real raccoon dog fur.

The Human Society’s President and CEO Wayne Pacelle blogged about the parka in question, writing:

In general, selling animal fur as “faux fur” is a violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act, which prohibits “unfair or deceptive acts or practices” in commerce. And because the fur is on a piece of apparel, Kohl’s is also in violation of the FTC’s Fur Products Labeling Act because it failed to give the name of the animal killed, and in which country, in the online advertisement.

The investigation report (PDF) also includes a photo of the parka’s tag, which actually does list the trim as containing real fur, reading: “Real fur collar – raccoon — fur origin — China” — something an online shopper wouldn’t see until after the item arrived.

We reached out to Kohl’s for comment on the Humane Society’s allegations but have not heard back yet.

Comcast Keeps Claiming Competition Abounds, Despite Mountains Of Evidence From Planet Reality

Tue, 2014-09-23 19:32

Sterling Davis

(Sterling Davis)

In August, as part of the merger oversight process, the FCC asked Comcast and Time Warner Cable for more information about their operations and their plans. In answer, Comcast has submitted 735 pages of documentation. That’s a lot of information, but Comcast’s responses have one key theme: the Comcast/TWC merger will not harm competition, because broadband competition is plentiful… no matter what the rest of us, including the FCC, seem to think.

The chairman of the FCC has recently said several times that broadband competition is sparse, not plentiful, but Comcast seems to know better. In their response filing (258-page PDF), Comcast repeats their argument that the existing broadband market, as-is, will prevent them from behaving badly. Why? because they’ll hemorrhage subscribers if they do:
“Comcast has significant disincentives to harm edge providers for many reasons, foremost among them that blocking or degrading access to streaming video, applications, or other online content likely would cause significant numbers of customers to switch providers and thus compromise Comcast’s broadband business.”

But as we’ve seen in maps and in data from the FCC, most of us don’t really have any place to jump ship to. And yet Comcast seems to think all its deeply dissatisfied subscribers can flee at will to the same old scapegoats: DSL, mobile, satellite, and Google.

Here’s what Comcast’s saying, and why it’s misleading.

1.) “Telephone companies appear well-positioned to offer highly competitive broadband speeds well into the future.”

To hear Comcast tell it, the telco market — DSL, mainly, but also fiber — is in tip-top shape. With Verizon, AT&T, and CenturyLink all expanding, everything is coming up roses for consumers nationwide.

Those companies don’t want the FCC to require them to offer actual high-speed broadband connections, but it is true that they’re slowly expanding to offer more of them anyway. The key word there, though, is “slowly.”

While companies like AT&T and CenturyLink are gradually expanding into gigabit service, those services right now are very small-scale and reach only a comparative handful of consumers. AT&T offers “GigaPower” service in three cities, with 11 more scheduled, and CenturyLink has just started a rollout of gigabit fiber in 11 cities. Hopefully in five or ten years’ time the telecom carriers will indeed prove to be seriously competitive services, but in 2014 they’re still more like sideshow curiosities.

In fact, in their public comment on the merger, CenturyLink expressed strong concerns that letting Comcast merge with TWC would harm their own business and reduce competition even further:.”CenturyLink’s ability to offer competitive video choices to new customers and in new markets – and to offer a viable product to consumers in its existing markets – depends fundamentally on the existence of a fair (if not level) competitive playing field,” they wrote. “This transaction threatens to tilt the playing field decisively against small providers such as CenturyLink in a number of significant ways, and thus to limit or prevent competitive facilities-based entry, much to the detriment of consumers.”

So that’s DSL. What about everyone else?

2.) “Cable overbuilders, new entrants like Google fiber, municipal providers, fixed wireless providers, and satellite broadband providers also are competing vigorously. And well-capitalized and aggressive nationwide mobile broadband providers now offer services that provide speeds comparable to many of the fixed broadband services that consumers purchase.”

Let’s tackle these one at a time.

Those cable overbuilders, like small company RCN, are already being heavily squeezed out of the market by pressure from Comcast. They, like CenturyLink, deeply fear for their ability to keep competing even in a small way against Comcast as it grows. RCN wrote in their anti-merger comment to the FCC that, “With its monopsony power in programming acquisition unchecked, the combined company would have a natural incentive to … engage in predatory conduct.” They added that letting Comcast and TWC merge would have a deleterious effect on small overbuilders like them, and that, “if other small providers are driven out of the market, others cannot and will not enter to replace them.”

Of course, one new major company is trying to enter to replace them, which brings us to Google. Google Fiber seems to be doing very well so far, but the product only exists in three cities currently (or two-and-a-half, really; customers in Austin cannot yet register for service). There are nine more metro areas in the running eventually to become the fourth Google Fiber city, but no plans have yet been made. Even if Google undertook an extremely aggressive plan for expansion, it would be many, many years — if not decades — before Google Fiber became a national provider.

Municipal providers, on the other hand, are indeed desperately trying to expand. But it’s a challenge for them exactly because of Comcast and other incumbent companies, which together have spent a lot of time and money making muni broadband illegal in as many states as possible.

The FCC may yet override those state-level blocks, but the outcome of that proceeding is still very much up in the air. And even if the FCC did manage to overrule all those state laws tomorrow, it would, again, take years if not decades for municipal broadband to become a factor in the majority of cities or counties out there — and state-level governments are not suddenly going to become responsive to spending on new projects just because there are no longer laws blocking them.

What of fixed wireless? That’s the technology that AT&T is promising to bring to rural customers if their mega-merger with DirecTV gets approved. There’s some exciting potential there, especially for folks far-flung from cities, but it’s not widely available just yet.

That, then, leaves mobile broadband and satellite as the last two likely competitors to Comcast. But as we’ve already covered at length, no matter how much Comcast wants to sing the praises of those technologies, for most consumers they are realistically no competition at all. High prices and low data caps make them simply not feasible for most home use.

Cost of watching Breaking Bad across all data plan types. Click to enlarge.

Saying a thing a whole bunch of times doesn’t make it true.

Comcast keeps trying to have it both ways: they say they need to buy Time Warner Cable to remain competitive against all these other really rough players in the room. But meanwhile every other company, even some very big ones, is desperately trying to claw back any space to compete in a world where Comcast is the clear heavyweight.

Starting a new company, or even expanding an existing smaller one, is a prohibitively costly and complex undertaking. Barring some unforeseen corporate and regulatory miracle, the players we have in the field now are the only ones we’re going to have for quite some time. And those players keep buying each other out, leaving us with fewer than ever before.

In ten or twenty years, we probably will have a much more robust fiber network, and faster, more reliable, cheaper mobile data, available to individual consumers. But Comcast wants to buy Time Warner Cable now, not in some rose-colored best-case 2025. And in the here and now, most consumers’ choice is still limited to “slim” or “none.”

[via Ars Technica]

Man Proves You Can Just Slap Together Every Taco Bell Ingredient And Still Please People

Tue, 2014-09-23 19:10

tacobellpinataWe’ve joked in the past that Taco Bell will eventually just wrap every every ingredient in its kitchen and serve that meat/cheese/lettuce/sauce beast as its own menu item. They recently let someone try just that, and apparently the results were not awful.

In the video below, Fast Company’s Mark Wilson pays a visit to Taco Bell HQ, where he got to create and test — then later sell — a Bell beast of his own making.

As one would be tempted to do when in the test kitchen of a fast food chain notorious for stuffing and wrapping just about anything it can get its hands on, Wilson begins to create what he initially dubs, El Todos, because it has every ingredient he can include: multiple taco shells, beef, chicken, cheese, bacon, lettuce, all manner of sauces and everything else he can sandwich between two large flour tortillas.

The Bell employees on hand to witness this kitchen-sink approach to fast food suggested renaming Wilson’s creation “The Piñata” because it will explode when cracked open and you don’t know what you’re going to get.

And so he took his Piñata to the Taco Bell sensory labs, where employee taste-testers sampled and judged his addition to the Bell canon.

“Seems like a fun idea that a group of kids or family would want to share,” wrote one tester. “Definitely something you would want to customize even more.”

Others gave the Piñata positive grades in their feedback.

“It’s pretty much the best thing I’ve ever eaten out of a Taco Bell,” says another tester. “I had to eat the whole thing to taste every ingredient in it.”

A test kitchen employee tells Wilson that the response to his creation is “pretty good” compared to other items she’s seen come through the lab.

When Wilson went to a local Taco Bell to try his Piñata on an actual customer, the manager he worked with suggested adding taco shells to the mix, bringing the total up to five inside the already overstuffed monster.

The customer’s verdict?

“That is a veritable cornucopia of flavor,” he responded while still chewing. “It’s got a lot of different tastes, which makes it very interesting.”

However, the manager at this Bell said it’s unlikely that it could ever go on the menu, as one Piñata takes 4-5 minutes to make just one, and as we’ve seen, people don’t like waiting for Taco Bell orders.

Man Sues Costco For $670,000 After Receipt-Checking Incident Leaves Him With A Broken Leg

Tue, 2014-09-23 18:50

(Joel G Goodman)

(Joel G Goodman)

Over the years we’ve told you about all kinds of crazy situations – from pepper-sprayed employees to arrested customers – that arose when a consumer refused to show their receipt when leaving stores like Sam’s Club and Best Buy. Now a man in Oregon is suing Costco for $670,000, claiming that a receipt-checking dispute left him with a broken leg.

The Oregonian reports on the lawsuit involving a Jan. 2013 incident, in which the Portland man refused to stop and show his receipt after making purchases worth $102.66 at the wholesaler.

The man says he didn’t stop because he doesn’t believe the store’s employees had the right to detain him based on Costco’s receipt-checking policy.

While that’s all well and good, employees didn’t see it that way and one grabbed the man’s cart, preventing him from leaving.

When the employee wouldn’t let go of the cart the man allegedly grabbed him by the shirt collar and physically moved the employee away.

That’s when, according to the suit, another employee used a “martial arts type strike with his leg,” that led to the broken bones.

The man is seeking $150,000 for past and future medical expenses, $20,000 for lost wages and $500,000 for pain and suffering.

The lawyer representing Costco filed a motion regarding the incident stating that the man’s injuries were “the sole and direct result of his own conduct, fault and negligence” because he attacked the employees first.

A lawyer representing the man says instead of resorting to a detainment and possible physical confrontations when consumers don’t abide by receipt-checking policies, the store should simply cancel the customer’s membership.

A couple years ago, a former Costco employee told Consumerist that checking receipts is both a matter of loss-prevention and to make sure that customers were not overcharged.

Man won’t show Costco Wholesale staff receipt, suffers broken leg, sues for $670,000 [The Oregonian]

Seattle Prosecutor Dropping Seven Months Worth Of Tickets For Using Marijuana In Public

Tue, 2014-09-23 18:31

(sonyaseattle)

(sonyaseattle)

Remember that cop in Seattle accused of going rogue in light of Washington’s legalization of recreational marijuana? Officials in that city say he issued about 80% of all the tickets for using pot in public, and had urged ticketed residents to contest any and all marijuana tickets as a result. Now Seattle’s prosecutor is just wiping seven months of marijuana tickets from the board entirely.

It isn’t just the tickets from that particular police officer — who was reassigned and is now under investigation by the police department’s Office of Professional Accountability — but all 100 tickets issued between Jan. 1 and July 31, reports the Associated Press.

City Attorney Pete Holmes is moving to dismiss those and seek a refund for the 22 people who already forked over the $27 fine for the ticket.

While Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole had asked for the tickets from that one officer, who deemed the pot law “silly,” Holmes says issuing a blanket pardon is easier procedurally and make for cleaner data as Seattle keeps a handle on enforcement.

Besides, it’s not about the money, Holmes says, but educating people about what you can and cannot do (like smoking in public) under the new law.

The Seattle PD also announced this week that it’s advising cops to warn people out loud before issuing a ticket if they can, and not to take the pot when they do. And if you’re smoking on private property, you shouldn’t get a ticket, even if someone else can see you doing so.

“The goal all along has been not to issue tickets as much as to change behavior,” Holmes said.

Prosecutor to Drop All Seattle Marijuana Tickets [The Associated Press]

Olive Garden Brings Back Never-Ending Pasta Bowl

Tue, 2014-09-23 18:24

Also never-ending. For now. (Morton Fox)

Also never-ending. For now. (Morton Fox)

If you didn’t manage to get your paws on a Never Ending Pasta Pass to taunt us with, but still crave carbs, don’t fret. Instead, you can pay $10 and get a never-ending pasta bowl that ends after one day. You can choose between five pastas and six sauces, and add meaty toppings that start at three bucks each. Take-out is not an option. This is the 19th year of the NEPB, raising the terrifying question of what the chain plans to do next year to celebrate the 20th year of the promotion. [Olive Garden] (via Brand Eating)

Dept. Store Sorry For Selling Decidedly Unfunny Rape Joke Shirt

Tue, 2014-09-23 18:20

(via Facebook)

(via Facebook)

There are certain topics that don’t lend themselves to jokey T-shirts, and rape is pretty high on that list. Yet that didn’t stop one department store chain in the Philippines from selling a rape-joke shirt that even the most jaded person would find cringe-worthy.

The above shirt, which declares that, “It’s not rape… It’s a snuggle with a struggle,” didn’t amuse one woman, who found it in the boys’ section of The SM Store, a department store chain with around 30 locations in the Philippines.

After receiving more than a few angry messages about the shirt, SM issued an apology on its Facebook page.

“We have been informed via social media that we have a t-shirt in stock with a message that we too find unacceptable,” reads the message. “We do not tolerate such action. SM does not support such irresponsible and malicious acts that mock important and sensitive social issues. We have immediately pulled out all the t-shirts of the consignor that distributes them, and we are investigating why it was included in our delivery of assorted t-shirts.”

Kansas To Officially Declare October “Zombie Preparedness Month”

Tue, 2014-09-23 17:41

(Mike Rollerson Photography)

(Mike Rollerson Photography)

You might know to aim for the brain and that if one bites you, you’re a goner — but how else could you possibly prepare for the inevitable zombie apocalypse? Kansas wants its residents to be ready for that — or really, any kind of large scale disaster — and is declaring October “Zombie Preparedness Month” to spread the word.

Governor Sam Brownback is set to sign a proclamation declaring next month’s zombie designation on Sept. 26 in the Governor’s Ceremonial Office in the Kansas Statehouse, reports KSN.com.

The motto of the month? “If you’re prepared for zombies, you’re prepared for anything.”

Because while it’s unlikely (FOR NOW) that humans will be struck with an epidemic that turns us all into brain eaters, other really bad things could happen, so pay attention to those things for now, Kansas says.

“If you’re equipped to handle the zombie apocalypse then you’re prepared for tornadoes, severe storms, fire and any other natural disaster Kansas usually faces,” said a rep from the Kansas Division of Emergency Management. “This is a fun and low-stress way to get families involved, and past turnouts have proven it to be effective.”

The agency points to things like home emergency kits with survival supplies that last a few days, and working on an emergency plan with your friends and family in case anything happens as a way you might prepare for zombies OR a natural disaster.

You just can’t stab a tornado in the eye with a tire iron and expect it to stop, so keep that in mind.

October is zombie preparedness month in Kansas [KSN.com]

Court Shuts Down Bitcoin Mining Business For Failing To Deliver Paid-For Computers

Tue, 2014-09-23 17:27

The FTC says that Butterfly Labs took money for Bitcoin mining products like the Monarch, but failed to deliver in a timely fashion, if at all.

The FTC says that Butterfly Labs took money for Bitcoin mining products like the Monarch, but failed to deliver in a timely fashion, if at all.

A federal court has temporarily shut down a Missouri-based business that sold computers specifically designed for aiding users in the generation, or “mining,” of the virtual currency Bitcoin, saying the company took — and spent — customers’ money but waited more than a year to make good on orders for one device and has failed to deliver on another.

You can read more about Bitcoin mining in our Bitcoin 101 article, but it’s the method in which the currency is created. It basically involves computers doing a lot of computing and occasionally spitting out some new Bitcoin.

And given that a single Bitcoin is now worth close to $400 (though that’s down significantly from the recent high of more than $1,000), there’s money to be made in selling machines that can do the computing quickly.

Additionally, because there is a finite limit on the total number of Bitcoin that can ultimately be mined, there are diminishing returns for your efforts. What earned a miner 50 Bitcoin in 2008 now only brings in half of that.

In June 2012, Butterfly Labs began selling BitForce mining machines, ranging in price from $149 to $29,899, telling customers that the devices were “now in final state development” and that delivery was to be expected by Oct. 2012.

But according to a complaint [PDF] filed last week in a U.S. District Court in Missouri by the Federal Trade Commission, not only did Butterfly fail to make that Oct. 2012 delivery date, but also hadn’t delivered a single BitForce machine by April 2013.

And even by Sept. 2013, nearly a year after the originally promised delivery date, some 20,000 BitForce machine buyers — all of whom had paid in full, in advance — were still waiting.

The company claimed in Nov. 2013 that it had shipped all BitForce devices, but the FTC says that customers continued to complain that they had not received their order.

The complaint states there are numerous instances of people who eventually did get their BitForce, but found that it was “either defective, obsolete, or mining far less Bitcoins than it would have had it shipped on the promised shipment dates.”

Also in 2013, Butterfly Labs started selling its newer Monarch machines, ranging in price from $2,499 to $4,680. And just like the BitForce, customers had to pay the full amount in advance. Customers were originally told they would receive their Monarchs by the end of 2013. That then became promises of April 2014 delivery, but the FTC says that as of Aug. 2014 — a full year after taking customers’ money for the devices — Butterfly had yet to ship a single Monarch.

Customers who sought refunds tell the FTC they had trouble reaching the company, and according to the complaint, even if they did get through to Butterfly Labs, there was significant confusion about the actual refund policy.

“At times, Defendants have claimed that they would provide refunds; at other times, they have stated that they have a no-refund policy,” reads the complaint. “Regardless of which purported policy was in place at the time, Defendants have often failed to provide refunds to consumers, even though they have not provided consumers with promised products or services or consumers have not received products or services for many months.”

While one might argue that it’s sometimes difficult to deliver new technology as quickly as promised, the FTC alleges that Butterfly Labs was taking customers’ money and doing lots of things with it other than spending it on manufacturing.

“Records indicate that once consumer funds enter into Defendants’ bank accounts, they are quickly dissipated,” reads a statement from an FTC attorney. “In recent months, despite receiving large sums of money each time consumers place orders, Defendants generally leave no more than approximately $2.5 million in the operating bank account. Instead, funds are depleted shortly after they enter into the bank accounts after consumers place their orders.”

The FTC says there is “substantial evidence” that corporate funds are being used for personal purposes, like shopping at department stores, day care, massages, and home improvement.

“Defendants’ corporate credit cards also reflects numerous non-business expenses, including department stores (including Nordstroms, Bed Bath and Beyond, Restoration Hardware, and Hobby Lobby), auto maintenance, gun stores and hunting stores,” reads the statement.

The FTC alleges that Butterfly Labs violated Section 5(a) of the FTC Act, which prohibits “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce.”

“We often see that when a new and little-understood opportunity like Bitcoin presents itself, scammers will find ways to capitalize on the public’s excitement and interest,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

Artist Claims Someone Stole Her Painting From Etsy And Is Now Selling It Through Walmart

Tue, 2014-09-23 17:13

A Pittsburgh artist claims Walmart is selling one of her paintings without permission. The bunny on the left was produced by the artist, while the one on the left is being sold by a third-party on Walmart’s marketplace site.

For millions of artists Etsy.com offers a personalized marketplace to sell hand-crafted, unique items without the hassle of mass production or working with national retailers. Only that’s not how it’s working for one artist who claims her painting is being sold through Walmart’s website without her permission.

According to KDKA-TV, a Pittsburgh woman believes that a third-party seller grabbed her bunny painting from Etsy, repurposed it and began selling it through Walmart’s marketplace website.

The woman says she received a message from an Etsy user in Australia alerting her to the possible issue.

“I went to the Walmart website and sure enough,” the artist says. “I could have ordered my little bunny for a $104. They stole my bunny, so I was like oh my gosh, then my blood started boiling.”

Although the original painting contains the artist’s signature, the one being sold on Walmart’s marketplace does not.

The woman doesn’t believe Walmart intentionally sold the alleged stolen painting. Instead, she thinks the painting, which is being sold by Wayfair on Walmart’s website, was snatched by someone else from Etsy and then made its way to the national retailer’s site.

This wouldn’t be the first time Walmart came under fire for offering questionable artwork from a third-party seller.

Back in July, the retailer apologized for allowing a poster that featured a signed from Nazi Germany’s Dachau concentration camp to be sold by a third-party on its marketplace site.

A spokesperson for Walmart told KDKA that they would immediately begin looking into the issue of the bunny painting.

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Local Artist Says Walmart Selling Her Painting Without Permission [KDKA-TV]

FTC May Block Planned Sysco And U.S. Foods Merger

Tue, 2014-09-23 16:53

(Don Buciak II)

(Don Buciak II)

Last December, we shared the news that commercial food suppliers U.S. Foods and Sysco were planning a merger, which would put about a quarter of the country’s entire foodservice-supply business in the hands of one company. The merger hasn’t yet gone through, and the Federal Trade Commission is considering a federal antitrust lawsuit to stop it.

How would this be a monopoly when the combined company would have thousands of competitors? The problem, according to the Wall Street Journal, is that those competitors are mostly very tiny and local vendors. If the two companies joined to form a foodservice Voltron, the next-biggest competitor would be maybe one-fifth the size of the hypothetical USyscoFoods.

Of course, the FTC and U.S. Department of Justice can, at least require the companies to make pre-merger changes if the deal is to be approved. For example, they could require both companies to sell off their business in certain sectors. For example, if those companies currently compete for all of the food biz in a certain city, one of them could be forced to sell that business to a competitor.

FTC Considers Challenge to Food Merger [Wall Street Journal]

Police Officers Finish Delivering Order After Pizza Hut Driver Is Injured In Car Crash

Tue, 2014-09-23 16:49

(KOIN)

(KOIN)

It’s the joke that must be made — Portland Police not only protect, but they serve… pizza. Because after a Pizza Hut delivery driver was injured in a car crash, the cops made a special effort to ensure that his customers didn’t go hungry, and delivered up the pizza in his stead.

The driver was involved in a collision on Sept. 1 and was hurt (but is now doing better) reports KOIN, so two officers at the scene picked up the torch and went with it.

The customers say they were a bit taken aback to open the door to two cops, especially since they’d already gotten a replacement pizza after contacting Pizza Hut and hearing about the accident. The officers arrived just as they were sitting down to eat their second, half-price pizza.

“They turn around to leave, and I said, ‘whoa, whoa, whoa, – I got to get a picture of this,” the customer said. No one is going to believe Portland police delivering a pizza.’ So that’s the picture everyone saw.”

He said he wants to recognize the efforts of the two police for going out of their way to bring dinner home.

“I wanted these officers to get a little recognition because these officers went above and beyond,” he explained.

Portland police protect and serve pizza after crash [KOIN]

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