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SeaWorld San Diego Pledges To Double The Size Of Orca Environment, Spend $10M On Research

Fri, 2014-08-15 17:05
(Bob Reck)

(Bob Reck)

What’s a company that makes its money off captive marine life to do when a documentary stirs up controversy? If you’re SeaWorld, you start coming up with ways to quell the critics: SeaWorld San Diego announced today that it’s going to double the size of its orca environment and spend $10 million in research on killer whales, as well as setting up an independent advisory committee with scientists to supervise its orca program.

The Blue World Project will basically double the current area where the orcas hang out, spanning 1.5 acres with 50-foot deep waters and stretching 350 feet in length, reports the Los Angeles Times. There will also be a viewing window down below for visitors to see the whales from underwater.

“Through up-close and personal encounters, the new environment will transform how visitors experience killer whales,” Jim Atchison, chief executive officer and president of SeaWorld Entertainment Inc., said in a statement. “Our guests will be able to walk alongside the whales as if they were at the shore, watch them interact at the depths found in the ocean, or a birds-eye view from above.”

The 10 whales in San Diego will have to wait until 2018 for the project to be finished, while other SeaWorld Parks in Orlando and San Antonio will also introduce similar improvements, officials said.

The advisory group will be put in place to maximize the “health and well-being” of the orcas, and includes an emeritus professor at the UC Davis veterinary school, a researcher at UC Santa Cruz, a physiologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, and more.

That hefty chunk of change SeaWorld is pledging toward research will go to projects sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to study how orcas hear, reproduce and eat in the wild.

But will that be enough for critics, who decry the very fact that such animals are kept in captivity in the first place? Probably not, if the response from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is any indication.

“This is a desperate drop-in-the-bucket move to try to turn back the hands of time when people understand the suffering of captive orcas, and it will not save the company,” said the group’s director of animal law, Jared Goodman. “A bigger prison is still a prison.”

Today’s announcement seems to be an effort to soothe worried investors on Wall Street, after SeaWorld’s economic fortunes took a turn for the worse after the documentary Blackfish. Shares of SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. dropped 33% this week, after the company’s earnings fell short of expectations.
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Amid ‘Blackfish’ backlash, SeaWorld to expand orca environments [Los Angeles Times]

Alaska Airlines Employee Volunteers To Return Lost Cat To Owner 2,300 Miles Away

Fri, 2014-08-15 16:51

14-year-old Itty Bitty was eventually reunited with his owner thanks to a helpful Alaska Airlines employee.

14-year-old Itty Bitty was eventually reunited with his owner thanks to a helpful Alaska Airlines employee.

Imagine losing your cat on the very day that you are planning to move thousands of miles away. And then, miraculously, someone finds your feline friend a few weeks later. But by that point, you’re so far away that you can’t afford to fly or drive back to bring him back.

This is exactly what happened to a woman from Seattle, whose cat ran away on July 4th weekend as she was packing the car for her move to Ohio.

The woman delayed her trip two weeks while searching in vain for Itty Bitty, her 14-year-old orange and white tabby pal. But eventually she had to leave.

Then a neighbor found the cat and called the folks at Seattle cat shelter Kitty Harbor, who wrote that Itty Bitty “was in poor shape, starving, a fresh deep gash in his neck and a bloody mouth with teeth missing.”

With the cat healing in the shelter, his relieved owner and Kitty Harbor went on Facebook trying to figure out a way for someone to help reunite her with Itty Bitty, who was still in too poor health to travel in the cargo section of a plane.

That’s how an employee for Alaska Airlines learned about the situation and figured she could work Itty Bitty’s return into her travel plans.

“We hadn’t seen Chicago yet, so I thought, why not,” she explains. “We can help out, and see the sights at the same time.”

But since Chicago is still many hours’ drive from Dayton, OH, where Itty Bitty’s owner had moved, the airline employee rented a car and drove out to Indiana to meet her halfway.

“We have two cats and I couldn’t imagine being without them,” said the employee. “They really are part of your family.”


Consumerist Friday Flickr Finds

Fri, 2014-08-15 16:30

Here are eight of the best photos that readers added to the Consumerist Flickr Pool in the last week, picked for usability in a Consumerist post or for just plain neatness.

(C x 2)

(C x 2)



(Mento ITA.)

(Mento ITA.)

(Joachim Rayos)

(Joachim Rayos)

(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)



(Derelict Compositions)

(Derelict Compositions)

(Joel Gillman)

(Joel Gillman)

Our Flickr Pool is the place where Consumerist readers upload photos for possible use in future Consumerist posts. Want to see your pictures on our site? Just be a registered Flickr user, go here, and click “Join Group?” up on the top right. Choose your best photos, then click “send to group” on the individual images you want to add to the pool.

Albertsons, Jewel-Osco, ACME, Shaw’s Supermarkets Hit By Credit Card Data Breach

Fri, 2014-08-15 16:09

(Adam Fagen)

(Adam Fagen)

Welcome to the weekend everyone! What better way to kick things off than with the news that one of the nation’s largest supermarket operators has had its card payment system compromised at chains like Albertsons, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s, and ACME.

According to AB Acquisition LLC, which operates these chains and others, the company “recently learned of an unlawful intrusion to obtain credit and debit card payment information in some of its stores.”

The company says that it has brought in the authorities and that it working with its IT services provider and third-party data forensics experts to investigate the cause and breadth of the breach.

It looks like the hack began on June 22 and ended by July 17.

As of this morning, AB Acquisition said it could not find evidence that any cardholder data was in fact stolen, or that any cardholder information had been misused.

In a statement, the company said it “believes that the intrusion has been contained and is confident that its customers can safely use their credit and debit cards in its stores.”

The hack affected the following stores:

Albertsons: stores in Southern California, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming and Southern Utah.
ACME: stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey.
Jewel-Osco: stores in Iowa, Illinois and Indiana.
Shaw’s and Star Markets: stores in Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

The company says it will be posting more information on,,, and within 24 hours.

Customers whose cards may have been affected are being offered 12 months of complimentary consumer identity protection services. Starting today at 4 p.m. ET, concerned customers from these stores can call AllClear ID at 1-855-865-4449 to learn about this offer.

Ford Recalls 83,000 Vehicles Because Losing Power Or Rolling Away Isn’t A Perk

Fri, 2014-08-15 15:59

(Don Buciak II)

(Don Buciak II)

Another day, another round of cars that might roll away even if they appear to be in the “park” position. This time Ford is recalling more than 83,000 vehicles because a faulty part could cause them to lose power to roll away.

The latest recall affects nearly 83,250 model year 2012 to 2014 Edges and Lincoln MKX, model year 2013-2014 Flex and Lincoln MKT, and model year 2013-2014 Taurus and Lincoln MKS.

According to a notice [PDF] from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the recall was initiated because an improperly installed clip in the axle – the halfshaft – can disengage from the linkshaft. If that occurs the power won’t be transmitted to the wheels, in turn, making the car stop and increasing the risk of a crash.

Additionally, if the parking brake isn’t engaged before exiting, the vehicle may roll away despite being placed in the “park” position.

Ford will notify owners and dealers of the issue starting at the end of the month. The vehicles will be inspected and if the issue is present, the linkshaft and halfshaft will be replaced.

Woman Burns Mouth On Sweet Tea Filled With Industrial Cleaning Chemicals At Restaurant

Fri, 2014-08-15 15:58


There’s nothing quite like taking a big sip of a nice cold drink when you’re thirsty — unless that beverage is filled with chemical cleaners used to degrease restaurant deep fryers. Officials say a 67-year-old woman burned her mouth when she drank from a cup of sweet tea at a restaurant that was laced with lye.

According to the Associated Press, the woman took one sip from her drink at a Utah restaurant, after getting it from a self-serve station, and spit it out.

“I think I just drank acid,” she told her husband.

She had, police say, as the drink contained a highly toxic cleaning solution, similar to what’s in drain cleaners and strong enough to clean a deep fryer. She ended up in the hospital’s burn unit in critical condition, and has been there since the incident on Sunday.

Her lawyer says she’s fighting for her life right now, and unable to talk.

The restaurant’s manager and investigators say that a worker accidentally poured in the chemical thinking it was sugar, dumping a large amount of it into the iced-tea dispenser. No one else drank the chemical tea, as a worker tossed the rest after the woman burned her mouth.

“It’s disturbing that this kind of toxic, poisonous material would be in the food-prep area and somehow find its way into the iced tea vat,” the woman’s lawyer said. “I don’t know how something like that can happen.”

Police are still investigating, but believe it was accidental, a police representative said. And the woman’s lawyer is waiting until that investigation is finished before deciding on any legal action.

The owner of the franchise location said he’s praying for the woman, and cooperating with officials.

Chemical-filled tea burns woman at Utah restaurant [Associated Press]

Why Ship Four Hockey Sticks In One Box When You Can Use Four?

Fri, 2014-08-15 15:30

Reader Leeny placed an order from Amazon: four hockey sticks, because Amazon really does sell everything. We have to admit that hockey sticks pose a packaging challenge, but Amazon was up to the task with tall and spacious boxes. What prompted Leeny to take some pictures and send them to Consumerist was that each of her sticks was mailed in a box that could have fit a few dozen more.

Did the four sticks come from different warehouses? We checked, and learned that they came from the same facility on the same day. There goes that theory.


“I put them in one box just to see if they’d fit,” Leeny wrote. “They did, with room to spare for about 30 more.” Of course, there’s a difference between just fitting in a box and shipping safely. Is it safer to let one stick jostle around in a box with some cushioning, or to send more than one to hit each other inside the box?


We don’t know, but apparently the experts at Amazon have this sorted, and “four boxes” is their solution.

Comcast Decides To Not Spend $110K On Party For FCC Commissioner

Fri, 2014-08-15 00:35



Comcast — no stranger to lining the pockets of those who can help the company get what it wants (or rewarding them afterward with high-paying jobs) — was befuddled earlier this week when it and Time Warner Cable were heavily criticized for plunking down a total of $132,000 to sponsor a dinner honoring FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn… who just happens to be in the process of reviewing the two companies’ pending merger. Realizing that maybe this might look like something just short of bribery, the cable giants have decided to pull their money — sort of.

Deadline reports that Comcast (responsible for $110K of the total donation) and TWC will no longer be sponsoring the upcoming Walter Kaitz Foundation dinner, where Clyburn is being honored.

Comcast asked the Kaitz Foundation that “there be no recognition of Comcast at the dinner,” explaining that “We do not want either the Commissioner or Kaitz to fall under a shadow as a result of our support for diversity in the cable industry….By the same token, we do not want to punish Kaitz or detract from its important work.”

The company maintains that implications of buying Clyburn’s support “are insulting and not supported by any evidence.”

No evidence? We’d like to point to former FCC Commissioner Meredith Atwell Baker, who helped champion Comcast’s merger with NBC and was then rewarded with a job as a D.C.-based lobbyist for Comcast.

Time Warner Cable also gave a statement about how it pulled its piddling $22,000 contribution. Good for them.

The companies are still giving their money to the Kaitz Foundation, but will be doing it through different channels, instead of by sponsoring a party to honor one of the few people who has the leverage to shut down its merger plans.

Chain Storefronts With Slight Makeovers Continue To Not Fool Anybody

Fri, 2014-08-15 00:26

Last year, we lamented the long hiatus of one of our favorite sites, Not Fooling Anybody, which featured makeovers of former chain storefronts that were, as the name states, not fooling anybody. What we didn’t know was that the site has been revived, in the form of a community on Reddit. Let the yellow-painted Pizza Huts roll!

We love tweaks to the American chainscape, so here are some of our favorite recent submissions to the subreddit.

This former Blockbuster Video can’t rent you any new releases, but they can help you achieve the latest hairstyles. Maybe.

(alexandrsalamandr -Reddit)

(alexandrsalamandr – Reddit)

This Subway that started out as an old-school KFC would look a lot better with a cupola. It could have a sandwich-shaped weathervane on top.

Subway 7th Street Location

(Daniel Westfall)

The windows make this a very recognizable former Taco Bell. Taco Bucks? Star Bell? It’s beautiful, anyway.

Taco Bucks


This former Burger King is actually quite lovely.

(KrispyKayak - Reddit)

(KrispyKayak – Reddit)

It even retained its square roadside sign with rounded corners.


(KrispyKayak – Reddit)

Happy Jack’s Biscuits and Gravy has lost its trapezoidal windows and signature roof hump, but everyone still knows that it used to be a Pizza Hut.

(KrispyKayak - Reddit)

(KrispyKayak – Reddit)

It’s hard to disguise a former Circuit City without extensive renovations.


(Reddit – iamactuallyalion)

Really, really hard. Even if you put up a nice sign.

(Reddit - ltcarter47)

(Reddit – ltcarter47)

This Five Guys in a former Pizza Hut is an American treasure. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

(Ben Schumin)

(Ben Schumin)

NotFoolingAnybody [Reddit]

Americans Are Gradually Eating Less Cereal For Some Reason

Thu, 2014-08-14 23:39



It was once as American as, well, blue jeans to start your day with a bowl of cereal and milk. Breakfast grains were once major sponsors behind kid-oriented television programming, or licensed beloved fictional characters to put on cereal boxes. Now sales at major cereal companies are down, and a variety of reasons are contributing to the decline.

Earnings at Kellogg are down 15%, but it’s not just the big, expensive brand names that are falling out of favor. Cereal sales overall are down about 6%…the same amount that denim sales have fallen. Oh, no, America, what’s happening?

It’s a combination of things. Many Americans have to adjust their diets for celiac disease, which eliminates many traditional grains from their diets. On a wider scale, parents have finally figured out that maybe sugar-encrusted bits of wheat and marshmallows are not the most nutritious thing that children could eat first thing in the morning. “With childhood obesity at historically high levels, health-conscious parents are aiming to cut down the volume of breakfast cereals consumed by their offspring,” pointed out one industry analyst in a report.

What are we eating instead? Cereal companies aim to get into the breakfast shake and cereal bar business, figuring that maybe we’ll eat those as we hurry out the door. We might still eat granola, but less of it, and sprinkled in a container of Greek yogurt.

Why Don’t Americans Like Breakfast Cereal Anymore? [AdWeek]

There’s Really No Way Twitter Can Stop Some Users From Being A-Holes

Thu, 2014-08-14 22:29

twitterfailAs you’ve probably heard, in the wake of actor Robin Williams’ death earlier this week, his daughter Zelda Williams was subjected to some particularly nasty messages on Twitter, causing her to close her account on the service rather than have to sort through hurtful, nasty statements from strangers. This is not good news for Twitter, which now has to answer to stockholders. And so the company is saying it’s looking into how to prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future, but there’s a bigger question — is that even possible?

“We will not tolerate abuse of this nature on Twitter,” said Del Harvey, Twitter’s vice president of trust and safety (yes, that’s a real job; one that probably pays better than yours or mine… combined). “We have suspended a number of accounts related to this issue for violating our rules and we are in the process of evaluating how we can further improve our policies to better handle tragic situations like this one.”

In terms of specifics, Harvey says, “This includes expanding our policies regarding self-harm and private information, and improving support for family members of deceased users.”

But what does any of that actually mean? And would any of it do anything to stop people from being horrible jerks on Twitter?

The answer to that second question, in my opinion, is a big “no.”

We live in a world where everyone old enough to hold onto an iPhone has the ability to anonymously indulge their most base instincts; to say things that would they would never say to someone’s face (or even in a forum where their real names were known); to hurt others for the sheer, possibly psychotic, joy of inflicting emotional pain.

The Internet is still in its adolescence, and a small but potent section of its users are behaving accordingly.

Unfortunately, this id-liberating freedom is something we all endure because the only way to restrict it is to restrict the things that also make the Internet function as a mass-communication tool.

The Anonymity Conundrum

The true double-edged sword of the Internet. For better and worse, it also allows you to write things that you might not have the freedom to write under your own name.

On the positive end of the spectrum, Internet anonymity offers an outlet for whistleblowers, dissidents, and victims to speak openly about the harm done to them or others without fear of retribution.

At the other end of that spectrum, anonymity is used as a shield from which cowards can hide while insulting, harassing, bullying, or outing people — often people they don’t know.

But is there any way to get rid of the latter while retaining and protecting the former?

You can’t require that all Twitter accounts use real names. It not only strips away the much-needed shield of anonymity from those who don’t abuse it, and it would have the effect of creating a privileged class among corporate or group accounts, where the actual human being Tweeting for Airline X or Cable Company Z remains anonymous but individuals must be named.

Twitter also couldn’t compromise and say “you can have a publicly anonymous user name, but we’ll need verifiable proof of ID.”

We live in a time when many people are — justifiably — already concerned about the large number of people who have their personal information. Being forced to go through a vetting process where you’re sharing that data with a company for no better reason than so you can blast out 140-character notes to the public, isn’t going to go over well.

Can A Better Reaction Be Proactive?

As things stand now, there is little that Twitter or its users can do to proactively avoid or block jerks. You can make your account private, limiting access to your feed to only approved members, but that doesn’t stop people from posting horrible things directed at you. At best, you can occasionally suss out a creep, troll, etc., early before it has become a nuisance and block, ignore or report that account.

But that’s the rub — it’s all reactive, just like most of the real world.

Much like we don’t arrest people for their potential to rob a bank, Twitter doesn’t suspend an account because it may someday unleash a gaggle of nastiness upon another user.

But in the real world, it’s awfully hard for a bank robber to rob a bank from jail, while a blocked Twitter user can just create a new account and get straight back to trolling, however nasty.

Twitter could — and maybe it is — tracking IP addresses of these repeat offenders, but it’s incredibly easy to fake this information and make an abusive user look like he or she is posting from somewhere they are not. If Twitter started blocking every IP address used by malicious accounts, it would inevitably end up blocking countless legitimate users whose IP addresses have been spoofed.

And with Twitter’s stock back to where it started when the company went public less than a year ago, it’s not going to be doing anything that would deflate its user base.

All Twitter can really do is respond to complaints in a more expedient manner and have a lower tolerance for nastiness. It will still be playing Whack-A-Mole with trolls, but one can always get better at playing Whack-A-Mole.

The Inevitability Of A-Holes

From the dawn of man, there have been insufferable, nasty people on this planet who take enjoy hurting others. The Internet has just given them a new tool for doing so.

So, just like a carpenter who really loves hammering nails, it’s inevitable that some Twitter users will continue hurling insults, Photoshopping people into obscene photos, and inexplicably thinking they are being clever.

Even if Twitter were to compel users to post their real names, or be personally accountable for violations, there are some people who just don’t care, who would be proud to be publicly called out for lacking a moral compass or any sense of empathy.

All we can do is learn how to minimize how much they bother us.

Did Apple Store Employee Use An Anti-Gay Slur Or Just Mash Fingers On A Keyboard?

Thu, 2014-08-14 22:04
(Facebook - click to enlarge)

(Facebook – click to enlarge)

A customer bought some headphones at an Apple Store in Portland. He later noticed something weird on the receipt: in the spot where a customer’s e-mail address would normally be was a fake address, “” Was the store employee out to insult the customer, who is a gay man, or just making up a fake e-mail address to get past a required field?

Apple isn’t saying. The Portland Oregonian has given this story quite a bit of coverage, and they keep checking back with Apple to find out whether the company is willing to further explain what happened. The company has confirmed that the receipt is genuine and this incident really did happen, but won’t provide any more information than that.

An Apple Store is one of the last places on earth we would expect to see someone aim silent anti-gay slurs at a customer, but maybe that’s just falling back on geographic and brand stereotypes.

“It’s really not okay, especially in a city where we like to believe we are progressive,” the customer told the Oregonian. He asked a store manager to refund the purchase price of his set of headphones, and the manager agreed. No refund has happened yet, though, and the purchase took place last Friday. He has also offered to help prevent similar incidents by giving store employees cultural competency training, but hasn’t heard back about that offer.

According to the Oregonian, Apple Store staff asked the man for his e-mail address, and he chose not to provide one. Some online commenters who claim to be former Apple Store workers say that this field is required, so it’s possible that someone just typed some nonsense that looks like an e-mail address in order to finish the transaction. It’s also possible that another employee typed in the false address during a different transaction that was then tied to this customer’s credit card, making the source of the offending faux address hard to figure out.

What really happened in that e-mail input box? The managers and employees of the store are the only ones who might know, and Apple corporate hasn’t clarified things one way or the other. If it was intentional, that’s unacceptable and insensitive. If it was accidental, well, let it serve as a lesson to be careful when mashing your fingers on the keyboard to create fake e-mail addresses.

Portland Apple Store receipt: What if the characters a customer found insulting were a mistake? [Oregonian]

Sketchy Retailer Caught Scamming Servicemembers With Pointless Fees

Thu, 2014-08-14 21:06
USA Discounters

USA Discounters, which already came under scrutiny for its questionable lending practices, must pay $350,000 to servicemembers for an alleged fee scam.

A discount retailer that came under fire last month for its questionable lending and marketing practices received a slap on the wrist from federal regulators for allegedly tricking thousands of servicemembers into paying fees for legal protections they already had and for certain services that the company failed to provide.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced Thursday that USA Discounters, Ltd., which operates a chain of retail stores near 11 military bases, will provide $350,000 in refunds to servicemembers harmed by its fee scam and pay a $50,000 penalty for its actions.

According to the CFPB, the Virginia-based retailer created a fee scam designed to exploit unsuspecting servicemenbers by charging for services disguised as legal benefits.

Previously, the company made headlines for its high-cost financing plans in which servicemembers routinely paid more for items than they would have paid at other retailers. USA Discounters also has a history of suing customers who fall behind on finance payments for these overpriced items.

The company, which sells furniture, electronics, bedding, and appliances, allegedly mischaracterized the protections provided by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), which gives active duty servicemembers protections from debt collection in a number of scenarios.

The CFPB charges that USA Discounters had servicemembers agree in a contract to pay a $5 fee for a company called SCRA Specialist LLC to be their representatives with respect to their rights under SCRA, should they be sued for a debt.

USA Discounters portrayed SCRA Specialists Specialists as an independent business, when the company’s only source of revenue was from USA Discounters’ customers. The company gave nearly $4.50 of each $5 fee to SCRA Specialists, which has generated more than $350,000 since 2009.

Additionally, USA Discounters sold SCRA’s services as a benefit to servicemembers, when in actuality, they only served as tool for the company to more easily sue the servicemembers.

One function of SCRA Specialist was to verify the servicemember’s active military status so that the servicemember could receive certain protections; an aspect touted as a benefit for the consumer. However, USA Discounters used that information to report on the servicemember’s military status in order to obtain a default judgment against the servicemember.

Under the order, USA Discounters must provide $350,000 in restitution to servicemembers for the $5 SCRA Specialist fee and a $50,000 penalty to the CFPB’s Civil Penalty Fund.

Additionally, the company is required to no longer market contracts as a benefit to services members and can not pretend to that SCRA is an independent company.

For consumers who repaid their installment accounts, USA Discounters will mail a check for the full $5 plus interest. For those consumers whose account is in collection, their debt will be discharged the $5 fee plus interest.

CFPB Shuts Down USA Discounters’ Servicemember Fee Scam [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau]

You Can Now Buy Pre-Muddied Sneakers For Only $215

Thu, 2014-08-14 20:37
(End Clothing)

(End Clothing)

Because we all know the inconvenience of having too much money and not enough stuff to spend it on, you can now kill two birds with one stone: Never worry about getting your spanking white shoes dirty by buying pre-muddied kicks for the bargain price of $215. Saves you time and stress over the inevitable, and provides a way to dispose of that extra income.

Across the pond where they call sneakers “trainers,” notes the utter despair of dirtying up your own new shoes.

That brings us to a joint effort between designer Kazuki Kuraishi and conceptual artist Ryan Gander, along with Adidas Originals, to create these weird shoes/works of art (?) called the Adidas x KZK ZXZ 750 RG 84-Lab.

It’s not real mud that will end up all over your floors (I buy pre-muddied floors, anyway), as the brown stuff is just a clever paint job.

The pair retail for only £129, or about $215 here. But again, mud is free.

Founder Of One Laptop Per Child: Maybe Net Neutrality Isn’t Such A Good Idea After All

Thu, 2014-08-14 20:35

(Big Think)

(Big Think)

The FCC is still working through the public comments about their current net neutrality proposal, and it will be many months still before any final rule is made. But one industry veteran, with over four decades of experience in defining the digital world, suggests that maybe we want to slow down and rethink this a bit. What if, he suggests, true net neutrality isn’t actually everything we think it’s cracked up to be?

Nicholas Negroponte spoke with Big Think about the impossibility — and undesirability — of true neutrality in an entirely digital world.

Negroponte is not a new player in the world of high tech. His career in computer technology spans more than 40 years. He’s the chairman emeritus of the MIT media lab and founder of One Laptop Per Child. He also helped launch Wired, where he wrote a monthly column about the increasing transformation of everything into digital things. Negroponte’s 1996 book Being Digital discussed the eventual doom of physical media (like the then still relatively new CD-ROM) and shift into a world of, as he frequently says, bits, not atoms.

In other words, the man is an expert who’s been in the field for a long time, and who has no fear of the digital future (and the digital now). And yet, he says, net neutrality is not actually a good idea.

“The term net neutrality has a little bit of a pejorative ring,” says Negroponte. “How would you want something not to be neutral? … Neutrality seems to be a feature of good. And so yeah, you kind of want this to be net neutral,” he says.

But, there’s, well, a “but.”

“But the truth is all bits are not created equal,” Negroponte continues, explaining just how much more data — how many more bits — some kinds of technology use than others. An entire book, digitized, is about a megabyte. One second of HD video, though, is more than a megabyte. And it’s not just about entertainment or communication. With the internet of things dawning, everything needs access to a connection.

Take medical devices, for example. “If you have a pacemaker that transmits — this is an imaginary pacemaker now that communicates and monitors your health by sending data up to the cloud,” Negroponte suggests. “Then a few bits of your heart data are, you know, a small fraction of a book. So you have bits that represent your heart, bits that represent books, and bits that represent video. And so,” he concludes, “to argue that they’re all equal is crazy.”

Using Negroponte’s example makes his conclusion ring true. Literal life and death, in that case, would hang on the ability for certain data to move unimpeded at all times. Losing a stream of Breaking Bad halfway through a season finale might be irritating, but it’s not anywhere near the same league as interfering with a lifesaving medical device.

What we need, then, is some kind of middle ground, Negroponte suggests — but he also doesn’t quite suggest where that might be. Instead, he likens available bandwidth to a limited natural physical resource. If it’s immoral to use up all of the air, or water, or oil on frivolous things, is it perhaps also immoral to use up the internet?

“Those of us who were there at the beginning of the Internet never imagined that Netflix would represent 40 percent of it on Sunday afternoons,” Negroponte explains. “It was just off the charts. We just didn’t think that. There is, to me, a certain morality in that, because why the hell are you streaming video? Maybe streaming should be illegal.”

“But,” he concludes, “the point being, that all bits aren’t created equal and whether that resolves itself into net neutrality or not net neutrality is a separate story.”

Negroponte has a point: all bits may not be equal! But the most important, vital bits of data moving around are sometimes not owned by the company with the most money to spend on moving them through.

If, as Negroponte implies, all data traffic doesn’t need to be treated equally, then the next discussion becomes the question of who gets to decide for everyone else what traffic gets priority, and what gets sideline into oblivion. And that discussion is both loaded and challenging. We can all agree that pacemakers are important, sure. But are cloud-connected cars? Refrigerators? Thermostats? Ceiling fans?

And what about all that streaming video? Netflix is huge but they’re not the only streaming game in town. As we’ve seen from around the country and around the world, live streams of major events, from everyday citizens and from media, are one of the best ways for audiences to learn about major news events. What person, group, company, or other entity then would determine whose information is most important for the world to be able to learn?

Negroponte, alas, doesn’t float a suggestion to the questions his assertion raises. But he is sure that digital technology, in whatever form, is still the future.

The (6-minute) video and full transcript are available on the Big Think.

The Police Can’t Order You To Stop Filming Them In Public, Or Force You To Delete Pics From Phone

Thu, 2014-08-14 20:25

An Al Jazeera TV crew being tear-gassed by authorities in Ferguson (via BoingBoing)

An Al Jazeera TV crew being tear-gassed by authorities in Ferguson (via BoingBoing)

A good deal of the footage coming out Ferguson, Missouri, this week has been provided by non-journalists, using their phones to record and photograph events. At the same time, reports claim that police are attempting to block both ordinary citizens and journalists from documenting the situation. What these officers either don’t know or aren’t saying is that you have the legal right to photograph the police, even when they tell you not to.

GigaOm’s Jeff John Roberts has a concise piece on the topic that anyone interested should read.

In 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled [PDF] in the case of Glik v. Cunniffe that private citizens have the right to record public officials, including police, in a public place.

The court held that the First Amendment’s proscription on laws “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press… encompasses a range of conduct related to the gathering and dissemination of information.”

The ruling cites an earlier Supreme Court pronouncement that people have the right to gather news “from any source by means within the law.”

“The filming of government officials engaged in their duties in a public place, including police officers performing their responsibilities, fits comfortably within these principles,” wrote the Appeals Court. “Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting ‘the free discussion of governmental affairs.'”

The Supremes had previously stated that “[f]reedom of expression has particular significance with respect to government because ‘[i]t is here that the state has a special incentive to repress opposition and often wields a more effective power of suppression.’”

And the First Circuit said this applies even more so to law enforcement officials, as they “are granted substantial discretion that may be misused to deprive individuals of their liberties.”

“Ensuring the public’s right to gather information about their officials not only aids in the uncovering of abuses but also may have a salutary effect on the functioning of government more generally,” wrote the court.

The Glik ruling also acknowledged limitations to citizens’ rights to record public officials.

“It may be subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions,” the First Circuit explained. And though it did not specifically prescribe what those limitations might be, the court noted that “peaceful recording of an arrest in a public space that does not interfere with the police officers’ performance of their duties is not reasonably subject to limitation.”

The court explained that, much like police are expected to withstand verbal challenges from citizens without threatening arrest, this “same restraint demanded of law enforcement officers in the face of ‘provocative and challenging’ speech must be expected when they are merely the subject of videotaping that memorializes, without impairing, their work in public spaces.”

Regarding the question of whether or not police can tell you to delete photos from your phone, the recent Supreme Court rulings in Riley v. California and U.S. v. Wurie make it rather clear that they can not force you to do so.

In those cases, SCOTUS held that a warrant is needed to search a citizen’s phone, even if that citizen has been arrested. And since there is no way to tell if a photo has been taken — or what the content of a photo might be, or if it’s been deleted — without searching that phone, this tells us that an officer barking at you to “delete those photos!” can ask all that he or she wants, but it’s up to you whether or not you want to erase the images.

Who Gives Better Retirement Advice: A Palm Reader Or An Investment Adviser?

Thu, 2014-08-14 20:19



Scott Adams, creator of the comic strip “Dilbert,” wrote a blog post earlier this month where he compared investment advisors to palm readers. If there is no real science to stock-picking, he reasons, then telling people what to invest in should be for entertainment purposes only. Like palm readers. That raises an interesting question: what kind of investment advice can you get from a palm reader?

Adams has devised his own 150-word basic financial plan for most people, which includes sensible advice like “buy a house if you want to live in a house and can afford one” and “keep six months of expenses in a money-market fund.” In his post about investment advice, he says that it’s fine to consult an investment advisor, as long as you don’t take their advice seriously.

The reason it is legal to open a palm reading shop is that the public understands it to be entertainment and not prediction. Investment advice should be the same situation: You can buy investment advice if you want it, but not until you sign a document acknowledging that science says no one has magical stock-picking skills.

You can argue the merits of what Adams says, and his readers do in the post’s comments, but Marketwatch decided on a different tactic. Reporter Priya Anand consulted both a palm reader and an investment adviser, asking the same questions and providing them with the same information. (Well, the investment adviser didn’t check the lines on her palm, but he could have.)

The market’s future: The palm reader psychically sensed that the stock market in general is not about to crash, so that’s good. The adviser said that market “corrections” are inevitable, but since the reporter is young, she shouldn’t care what will happen in the stock market in the short term anyway.

How to invest: The adviser recommended index funds rather than picking individual stocks. The palm reader told Anand that her palm lines indicate that she isn’t good at taking advice, so she should pick her own stocks.

Both professionals counseled Anand to save about 15% to 20% of her money, but the palm reader went for a lower amount because she could tell from her palm that her client was going to have children in the future who would take care of her. Now, that’s a service that an investment adviser can’t provide.

We asked a palm reader and a financial adviser how to handle our money
How to Make More Money in Stocks [Dilbert]

There Are So Many Things Wrong With This Everest University Job Posting That We Might Cry

Thu, 2014-08-14 19:38

cci jobsEarlier this summer Corinthian Colleges proved to be in it for the long haul when, despite striking a deal with the Dept. of Education to either sell off or close most of its schools, it continued to pepper television airways with ads and badger attendees at college fairs in order to entice students to enroll. Now the company is showing that those questionable marketing skills aren’t just for students, but also to hook potential educators and support staff.

If you’re “looking for an exciting opportunity with a robust company committed to changing students’ lives,” then you probably shouldn’t apply to work at Corinthian. Actually, you should run away as fast as you possibly can. You know, because the company’s schools likely won’t be around by year’s end. Oh, and because the job listing contains some not-exactly-honest information about the company.

Although it’s entirely possible Everest, Wyotech and Heald may need instructors to complete any forthcoming teach-out programs — in which schools remain open for existing students but are phased out as no new students are enrolled — a recently posted medial assisting instructor position is chock-full of beguiling information about the company and its mission.

“As one of the largest post-secondary education companies in North America, we are on the cutting edge of the industry and forging ahead into a new era of leadership, growth, and innovation.”

We’re not exactly sure in what way CCI believes they are “forging ahead into a new era,” considering it appears to be dismantling before our very eyes. Also, the company just announced it could be party to a new criminal investigation, and that likely won’t provide much promise for a new era.

“We currently operate more than 100 campuses through Everest College, WyoTech, and Heald College and are dedicated to delivering on the promise to our students.”

The thinly-veiled boast that the company “currently operates more than 100 campuses..and delivering on the promise to our students,” just might be the most laughable and depressing thing we’ve read in a while.

First of all, CCI already announced it would be closing or selling off its Everest University and Heald College campuses – meaning that while the company may technically operate more than 100 campuses today, it won’t be for much longer.

As far as “delivering on promises” goes, the only promise we’re aware the company keeps is taking billions of dollars in federal student loan aid from taxpayers and then leaving its students with the burden of repaying it all.

Any promise of successful careers after graduation have been permanently marred by allegations that the schools inflate job placement statistics in order to stay in the government’s good graces – or rather its pocketbook.

“At CCI you’ll work with impassioned employees and have the support you need to make great things possible.”

For this one we’ll turn to our friends who used to work for CCI: “We work for the biggest scam company in the world.”

Now that doesn’t sound like a very impassioned employee, does it?

“Become a valued member of our Faculty at Everest College and discover a more rewarding way to leverage your professional expertise.”

Sure crafting the minds of the next generation could indeed be a rewarding experience, but if you’re teaching at a CCI school that most likely won’t be the case. Not that the students are the issue, rather it’s the mandates from above.

Most former teachers who spoke with Consumerist recall the company’s priority was on students receiving passing grades — regardless of effort in the classroom.

“We are forced to keep revising courses to make them so easy it’s almost impossible to fail,” an insider currently working at a CCI campus told Consumerist. “Some assignments require a student to write one paragraph and they get points for a full paper; an elementary school would require more. Yet many of the recruited students can’t even write well enough to submit this paper.”

If fact, it seemed like any “professional expertise” offered by instructors was largely put on the back burner and replaced with allowing students to pass course without learning, just so they could stay enrolled and the school could continue to collect federal dollars.

“Part coach, part counselor, part entertainer, and 100% advocate for your students, you will provide a dynamic training environment where everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential.”

Essentially, this sentence translates to: “it doesn’t matter what you teach, everyone has the opportunity to get a passing grade because that’s the only way for Everest to keep getting loan money and as a teacher you’re expected to go along or get out.”

While many for-profit educators are truly advocates for their students, those at CCI were rarely given the chance to help their charges. Instead, they were allegedly forced to let students skirt by on the bare minimum by manipulating grades and readjusting attendance records.

“At Everest College and Corinthian Colleges, Inc., we’re in the business of changing students’ lives. As a member of our faculty, you’re in the position to make it happen.”

If you’re in the position to change students’ lives it’s probably worth the time to look into other avenues of education because the only business Everest and CCI appear to be a part of is making money by enrolling unprepared, often low-income students to receive a sub-par education, eventually leaving them with worthless degrees and piles of debt.

We don’t know what life was like before, but that doesn’t exactly sound like happily ever after.

Of course we understand that the job market is tough and the availability of good paying careers isn’t what it used to be, but there has to be something better than taking a job at a company known to do the bare minimum for students and employees while making billions of dollars each year.

If You’ve Got Two Land Masses That Need Connecting, Oregon Has A Bridge To Sell You

Thu, 2014-08-14 19:32


Isn’t it annoying when you’re on one side of a body of water and you can see the opposite bank, and you really want to get over there but alas, there’s no stretch of metal and concrete to bear you to the other side? Well, have I got the bridge for you. Or rather, Oregon has one and it needs to sell it.

Multnomah county officials are looking for someone to save the historic 1,000 foot-long Sellwood Bridge from its doom. It’ll be demolished unless someone can buy it — and also move it elsewhere.

The 90-year old steel truss bridge is touted as “very used,” and in need of a new home after functioning as the busiest two-lane bridge in the state. It sees about 30,000 cars a day, a county spokesman told CNNMoney, but it just can’t keep up anymore.

There’s no price listed for the bridge, so bring your best offer.

“We’d even consider a plan to buy half of it, especially if somebody was going to make it available for public use,” a spokesman told Reuters.

Before you go throwing your money at a bridge, potential buyers should know that moving the bridge and keeping its lead paint from leaking into the environment will likely cost a pretty penny. When the bridge was moved last, by 60 feet, it cost $1 million to do so.

It also doesn’t come with any of the support beams that currently keep it aloft above the Willamette River, just paved roads, sidewalks and railings.

Bids will be considered based on things like where you want to put the bridge, what you’d use it for (a bunch of hammocks and a garden, maybe a cheese stand), and whether or not this is actually something you can afford.

Bids are due Sept. 12, after an open house on Aug. 26 where prospective buyers can debate the tile in the bathroom and the awful wood paneling in the study.

The county is required to try to sell the bridge before tearing it down, per the federal National Historic Preservation Act, but if no one ponies up the cash, it’ll likely destroy it and recycle many of the parts.

Portland bridge for sale, if you have somewhere to put it [Reuters]
Oregon has a bridge to sell you. Seriously [CNNMoney]

Some Lands’ End Customers Unhappy About Receiving “Gift” Of GQ Mag With Racy Cover

Thu, 2014-08-14 19:23

A recent Lands' End catalog on the left. The GQ that caused the uproar on the right.

A recent Lands’ End catalog on the left. The GQ that caused the uproar on the right.

We’re not quite sure why the people at Lands’ End — a catalog that sometimes makes LL Bean look like Victoria’s Secret — would ever think that its customers would want free copies of GQ magazine. The two brands don’t exactly scream synergy. This was made all the more evident this week when Lands’ End customers opened their mailboxes to find a copy of GQ featuring an oiled-up and undressed Emily Ratajkowski, topless but for a strategically placed lei, on the cover.

The NY Times has a round-up of some of the things that angry customers have been writing on the Lands’ End Facebook page.

One mom writes that her 14-year-old son was “quite disturbed & fascinated” by the magazine, which she described as having “an absolutely OBSCENE cover!!!”

Another customer who apparently likes to pile on her end punctuation asked, “I ordered Christian private school children’s uniforms from your company and you sold my home address to a magazine company that peddles in soft porn for men???”

Of course, there are numerous comments on the Facebook page defending the cover — or at least making the case that it’s not, as many others described it, pornographic.

“I hope national geographic never goes to their house!” writes one woman. “I mean JEEZ, you know the half naked people in that MIGHT just MIGHT Arouse someone.”

“Your 14 year old has seen a woman without a top on,” adds another commenter, who also cites National Geographic (am I the only one who doesn’t instantly think of Nat Geo being a flesh fest?)

Regardless of whether or not a teenage boy has seen bared breasts, Lands’ End CEO Edgar Huber issued a “my bad” to customers who were offended.

“I would like to start by extending my most sincere apologies,” he wrote, explaining that GQ was included in a partnership deal with Condé Nast to bring free issues of the publishing giant’s various magazines to customers’ attention, because “we did not want to exclude our male customers.”

But, he adds, “There are simply no excuses; this was a mistake.”