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Why Do Airfares Keep Going Up While Airlines’ Fuel Costs Go Down?

Mon, 2014-11-17 19:15

(kevindean)

(kevindean)

The bad news: While the price of jet fuel is dropping, planes are still packed full of people and airfares are still on the rise. But is there a silver lining of good news for travelers, or are airline bosses just rolling around on beds made of money and laughing at us as we grumble about a ticket home for the holidays?

The good news is that no, airline executives aren’t making cash quilts to snuggle up under every night. So why aren’t those savings from jet fuel isn’t passed on to the customers in the form of lower fares? Instead, Scott Mayerowitz of the Associated Press explains, airlines are using that money in a way that could benefit consumers by way of newer, more fuel-efficient jets and to pay investors.

With airlines selling a record 85.1% of their domestic seats, they don’t really have any reason to lower fares when the money can be spent on things like an airline’s operating costs: There are salaries and benefits to pay, lease payments for airplanes, maintenance and fees for landing at airports, food and drinks, marketing, and the cost of a reservation system.

Airlines are not only buying newer planes, they’re updating and investing in airport terminals and computers, with U.S. carriers spending about $10.2 billion on capital improvements in the first nine months of this year, according to trade and lobby group Airlines for America. That’s the highest pace since the 9/11 attacks, adds Mayerowitz.

If you’re an investor, you’re likely happy the money isn’t going back to travelers, as carriers like American Airlines are finally paying out dividends. This year was the first time American had paid a dividend in the last 34, while Delta Air Lines brought back its payout last year. Southwest Airlines boosted its payout by 50% this spring, after paying a dividend every year for more than 37 years.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to grumble about the insane cost of a ticket to the Midwest in my little corner over here.

Why airfare keeps rising despite lower oil prices [Associated Press]

Hellmann’s Maker Revamps Website Amid Lawsuit, Calling Some Products “Mayonnaise Dressing,” Not Mayonnaise

Mon, 2014-11-17 18:44

(Rubey_Kay)

(Rubey_Kay)


Less than a week after it was first reported that Unilever, the parent company for Hellmann’s mayonnaise, filed a lawsuit against a California-based Hampton Creek for false advertising over the company’s use of the word “mayo” in its eggless sandwich spread’s name, the larger company is reportedly covering its tracks, making sure its own use of the term is above-board by tweaking its website.

The Associated Press reports that a lawyer discussing the pending case with the founder of Just Mayo discovered that Unilever changed its website to make clear that some of its own products are “mayonnaise dressing,” rather than actual mayonnaise.

Michele Simon, a public health lawyer, says the websites for Hellmann’s and Best Foods “were changing right before our eyes” on Friday afternoon.

She says the site for Best Foods had been changed so that “Canola Cholesterol Free Mayonnaise” is now “Canola Cholesterol Free Mayonnaise Dressing.” Customer reviews were also reportedly changed, adding the word “dressing” after mayonnaise.

Officials with Unilever did not immediately return the AP’s request for comment on the matter.

Josh Tetrick, founder of Hampton Creek, tells the AP that since the suit was filed on October 31, he has been in talks with the Food and Drug Administration over the situation and is confident the company won’t have to change the name of its product.

He says the FDA’s standard of identity is for “mayonnaise” and not “mayo,” which is why the company chose the name “Just Mayo” to begin with.

According to the lawsuit, Unilever claims that the name of the Just Mayo spread misleads consumers because regulators and dictionaries define mayonnaise as a spread that contains eggs.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified compensation and a change to the Just Mayo label, claims that the name of Hampton Creek’s egg-free product implies it is a mayonnaise and that the company is “stealing market share from Hellmann’s.”

“Consumers and cooks have an expectation that mayonnaise should both taste and perform like mayonnaise,” the complaint states. “Just Mayo does neither.”

At the time of the lawsuit’s filing, officials with Unilever say they support providing consumers with choices. However, its suit contends that Just Mayo’s “false name is part of a larger campaign and pattern of unfair competition by Hampton Creek to falsely promote Just Mayo spread as tasting better than, and being superior to, Best Foods and Hellmann’s mayonnaise.”

Hellmann’s Maker Tweaks Site in ‘Mayonnaise’ Spat [The Associated Press]

Widow Brings Husband’s Cremains To T-Mobile Store, Still Can’t Get Account Canceled

Mon, 2014-11-17 18:23

(Patrick)

(Patrick)

T-Mobile just doesn’t want to let its customers go. We’ve shared stories of customers whose survivors couldn’t get a line shut down after they died, and survivors asked to keep a phone line open so they could hear a loved one’s voice. This isn’t a problem unique to T-Mobile USA, apparently: a widow in Cardiff, Wales brought her late husband’s ashes to the store after they refused to close out her husband’s line.

She didn’t just bring the cremains, of course: that was just to prove a point. In addition, she brought bills for funeral expenses and his death certificate. Was this enough to convince T-Mobile to stop sending her collection notices? Of course not.

It’s not like the family waited around: the son of the deceased called T-Mobile the day after he died to get the process started. The company needed a death certificate: fine. Yet the collection notices started and didn’t stop, and the company wanted his widow to pay an early termination fee.

“We apologise to Mrs Raybould for any distress caused at this difficult time. We can confirm that the account has been closed and the balance cleared,” a T-Mobile spokesperson told the Telegraph. The company blames the letters and refusal to accept their customer’s death on an automated process that employees are apparently powerless to stop until the company is threatened with public shaming.

Widow takes dead husband’s ashes into mobile phone shop after firm refuses to cancel contract [Telegraph] (via our British spiritual siblings BitterWallet)

Find The Nearest Chair, Sit Down: Chocolate Makers Warn Of Impending Global Shortage

Mon, 2014-11-17 17:58

(poopoorama)

(poopoorama)

As I write this, I am clutching a bag of individually wrapped chocolate morsels and imagining the most satisfying rationing plan I can think of, as panic threatens to seize my heart and throw me into a fit of anxiety. Yes, people, there’s a global chocolate shortage on the horizon, and it’s coming for you.

Now that we’ve set the scene, let’s dial down the panic just a bit and get to the real story, which is yes, we’re chocolate gluttons and if we don’t stop shoving it in our gobs at the rate we’ve been shoving it, we could run out, eventually, reports the Washington Post.

Two of the world’s biggest chocolate makers, Mars, Inc. and Barry Callebaut, are behind the chocolate deficit message — a deficit occurs when farmers are producing less cocoa than the world is eating — saying we’re in the middle of what could be the longest streak of consecutive chocolate deficits in more than 50 years.

In 2013, the people of the world gobbled about 70,000 metric tons more cocoa than it produced, putting us on track to consume 1 million metric tons by 2020, the chocolate-makers say. And by 2030, the deficit could reach as high as 2 million metric tons.

So what’s causing the cocoa hold-up? Dry weather in West Africa where more than 70% of the world’s cocoa is produced has cut production there, while a fungal disease dubbed “frosty pod” has wiped out an estimated 30%-40% of global cocoa production.

And the more hits the cocoa crops take, the less attractive it becomes to farmers, who could end up switching to crops that are easier to grow and more profitable, like corn.

The recent affinity for dark chocolate is also cutting into the cocoa supply, as it contains more cocoa per bar than the average milk chocolate bar. Our predilections end up costing us more in the end, as cocoa prices have climbed more than 60% since 2012, the year we started eating more chocolate than could be produced. When the supplies cost more, the product costs consumers more, as chocolate-makers have had to increase the price of chocolate bars to adjust.

Do your part, stop eating chocolate. Just kidding, I can’t ask you to do something I can’t do myself. Start hoarding.

The world’s biggest chocolate-maker says we’re running out of chocolate [The Washington Post]

Ford Expands Ranger Recall By Nearly 10,000 Trucks Over Takata Airbag Defect

Mon, 2014-11-17 17:34
(pjpink)

(pjpink)

The number of vehicles affected by potentially defective Takata airbags continues to grow. This time it comes from Ford, with the manufacturer expanding its previous recall regarding the Ranger pickup truck, bringing the total number of affected trucks to 23,713.

Bloomberg reports the 9,792 vehicle expansion came after a fifth death was tied to Takata airbags in Malaysia last week.

While the vehicle linked to the latest death was a Honda model, the airbag used in the car is similar to, but not the same as the safety device used in model year 2004 to 2005 Ford Rangers.

According to a notice [PDF] from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Ford will now replace both the driver’s side and the passenger airbags of the affected vehicles.

Under the initial recall [PDF], Ford was only replacing the passenger side airbags in 13,921 Rangers that were originally sold or are currently registered in Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The trucks were recalled for the same reasons nearly 16 million other vehicles have been recalled since 2008: upon deployment of the driver side and/or passenger side frontal air bag, excessive internal pressure may cause the inflator to rupture sending shrapnel flying at passengers with enough force to result in injury or death.

Officials with Ford say the expanded recall was in part due to NHTSA’s request that manufactures participate in field service action to investigate Tataka airbags.

Defective Takata airbags have been the center of much scrutiny this year. So far five deaths and countless injuries have been linked to the safety devices.

Just last month, NHTSA urged owners of affected vehicles to have them fixed as soon as possible. However, many manufacturers say they don’t have the parts available.

The Japanese parts maker is currently under investigation by NHTSA regarding its reporting processes and its lack of action after reportedly knowing about the issue four years before the first recall was initiated.

Ford Expands Ranger Pickup Recall for Takata Air Bags [Bloomberg]

69% Of 2013 College Graduates Left With A Degree And An Average Student Loan Debt Of $28,400

Mon, 2014-11-17 16:38
(Donkey Hotey)

(Donkey Hotey)

By now we are well aware that college tuition continues to rise and consumers continue to take out hefty student loans to meet those growing costs. So it should come with relatively little surprise that the average debt graduates leave college with remains high; this year with an average of $28,400.

The latest Institute for College Access & Success’ Project on Student Debt report [PDF] on student debt found that 69% of 2013 graduates of four-year public and nonprofit colleges owed an average of $28,400, up 2% compared to $27,850 in 2012.

While it was previously reported that in 2012 71% of students graduated with an average debt of $29,400, that statistic included the debt of graduates from for-profit schools.

The latest study does not include debt rates for for-profit colleges because most choose not to report what their graduates owe. However, the most recent data covering for-profit institutions found that graduates owed 43% more than their counterparts graduating at public and nonprofit colleges.

In addition to the higher level of student loan debt, recent college graduates continue to face relatively high levels of unemployment or underemployment in 2013, with 16.8% of students claiming to be unemployed, working fewer hours than they wanted, or that they had given up looking for a job. Still, those students face an easier time finding employment than consumers who only have a high school diploma.

STATE TO STATE DEBT VARIATION IS WIDE
states
According to the TICAS report, the average student’s graduating debt varies drastically at the state level from $18,656 to $32,795.

In six states the average debt topped more than $30,000 and only one state had debt under $20,000.

Students graduating for colleges in New Hampshire had the highest average debt in 2013, at $32,795. Close behind is Delaware, which was the highest debt state in 2012, with an average debt of $32,571.

Nearly all the highest debt states are in the Northeast and Midwest, with the lowest debt states in the West and South.

Students graduating in New Mexico have the lowest debt – the only state under $20,000 – with the average of $18,656.

“The importance of state policy and investment cannot be overstated when it comes to student debt levels,” Debbie Cochrane, research director at TICAS and coauthor of the report, says in a statement.

HIGH COST SCHOOL DOSEN’T HAVE TO MEAN MORE DEBT
A students’ choice in college also plays a significant part in their eventual debt loads. Debt from college to college varied from $2,500 to $71,000.

[Click to Enlarge]

[Click to Enlarge]

Colleges with higher costs tend to have higher average debt at graduation, but not all high-debt colleges are high-cost.

For example, Princeton University once again makes the list of low-debt schools because of the school’s pledge to meet the full of tuition with grants and/or a limited amount of work.

Despite a total annual cost of $54,780 to 2013 graduates, the average student loan debt held by the Ivy League school’s graduates was only $5,552. TICAS suggests that the school’s 24% of students taking out loans do so to help cover the expected family contribution or to reduce the need to work.

[Click to Enlarge]

[Click to Enlarge]

Additionally, 14 of the 40 high-debt colleges – four public and 10 nonprofit – have tuition and fees below the national average for their sector.

The composition of graduates’ debt also varied. Almost half of the 40 high-debt colleges and eight of the 20 low-debt colleges, and more than one-third of graduates’ debt came from private loans.

TICAS once again created a pretty awesome interactive map that not only shows info for each state, but more granular information about costs and student loan debt averages for all the schools that reported this information in 2013.

CHANGING THE BURDEN OF STUDENT DEBT
Based on the reports findings, officials with TICAS recommend that several options as a way to reduce the burden of student debt.

Reduce the need to borrow: at the federal level, we recommend making more need-based grant aid available and containing up-front costs to reduce how much low- and moderate-income students need to borrow. This could include increasing Pell Grants and preventing state disinvestments.

Help keep loan payments manageable: Simplifying and raising awareness of repayment plans will help borrowers make informed and affordable repayment choices before they default.

Help students and families make informed choices: Provide information and data that can assist families and students in making wise decisions about where to go to college and how to pay for it, students and families need clear, timely, accurate, and comparable information about costs, financial aid, and typical outcomes.

Strengthen college accountability: There should be more consequences for schools that fail to graduate large shares of students or consistently leave students with debts that cannot be repaid. To do so, regulators should end eligibility of federal aid or provide rewards depending on a school’s default risk and default rates.

Reduce risky private loan borrowing: Require school certification of private loans, creating a market for refinancing private loans, restoring fair bankruptcy treatment for private loan borrowers, and encouraging community colleges to participate in the federal loan program.

In addition to policy recommendations, TICAS called for better debt data from colleges. Because colleges are not required to report debt levels for their graduates, only some do. And even those that do provide the stat may underestimate graduates’ debt loads if they are unaware of private loans.

“Only with comprehensive, reliable data for every college will we see the full picture of student debt,” Matthew Reed, TICAS program director and coauthor of the report, says in a statement. “This is too important an issue for students, schools, and policymakers to rely on voluntary, self-reported data.”

Average Debt for 2013 Grads Tops $30k in 6 States; Only 1 Below $20k [The Institute For College Access & Success]

Report: Facebook Planning “At Work” Version For Networking On The Job

Mon, 2014-11-17 16:33

(goremirebob)

(goremirebob)

Stop whatever you’re doing at work — talking to Joanne in accounting about her weekend or crunching those numbers — and get on Facebook. Seriously, your boss might want you to do that in the future if the new reported “Facebook at Work” test becomes a workplace reality.

According to the Financial Times, the company is working on this secret project in order to worm its way into the office and get users connected on the social network in a new, professional way.

The test is designed along the lines of the original Facebook’s intent, which was to provide information for college students about their peers on campus. After the company saw how its own employees were using Facebook at work, the powers that be apparently decided to see how other businesses could use the site to discuss projects, collaborate over documents and other workplace activities.

Facebook at Work would allow users to keep their personal and work profiles totally separate as well, but will look a lot like regular Facebook, with newsfeeds and groups.

The company hasn’t commented on the report as yet, but the FT says the project started during the past year and is now being tested with some companies ahead of its launch.

I think Facework flows a lot better than Facebook at Work, even if it kind of sounds like you’ve had some plastic surgery done. Just sayin’.

Facebook seeks foothold in your office [Financial Times]

Christmas Candy Corn Is A Real Thing

Mon, 2014-11-17 16:31

candy corn caneThis spring, we shared the weird but not completely illogical news that candy marketers were pushing candy corn during unexpected new holidays. Brach’s markets red, white, and blue Independence Day candy corn, for example. Another company sells pastel candy corn for Easter with the theologically troubling name of Jesus Promise Seeds. Naturally, for Christmas, you can buy red, white, and green corn.

Jelly Belly makes a version that they market as “reindeer corn,” which does have a certain logic to it. You can only buy it directly in 10-pound quantities, probably because reindeer are very large animals that can eat huge amounts of candy in one sitting. Candy Blog reports that Reindeer Corn has existed since the ’90s, and the idea is only new at candy corn powerhouse Brach’s.

The Brach’s version is called Candy cane corn, which is flavored with peppermint oil and that Candy Blog’s Cybele compares favorably to the filling of a peppermint patty, or a nice after-dinner mint. If it’s peppermint-flavored, why does it have to be labeled candy cane corn when there are no candy canes anywhere to be found? That is one of the great mysteries of marketing, we suppose.

Brach’s Candy Cane Candy Corn [Candy Blog]

GM Extends Claim Submission Deadline To January 31 For Ignition Switch Victims

Mon, 2014-11-17 16:01

(Louis Abate)

(Louis Abate)

With the deadline for submitting ignition switch related injuries and deaths for consideration under the General Motors’ Victim Compensation Plan a little more than a month away and thousands of consumers still waiting to be notified, officials with the car company have extended the deadline to January 31.

The Detroit News reports that General Motors announced the extension for submitting claims out of an “abundance of caution.”

The fund was established in late summer by GM to compensate those hurt or killed because of a defective ignition switch that can allow the key to turn off the car accidentally, disabling power steering and airbags.

The deadline extension comes after GM officials and Ken Feinberg, the independent administrator for the fund, faced increased pressure from lawmakers and safety advocates over possible issues with notifying owners of affected vehicles.

According to the Detroit News, one of the families of the 13 initial fatalities linked to the ignition switch defect didn’t learn they were among those linked by GM to the issue until earlier this month.

Feinberg says in a statement that additional notices are being mailed this week to approximately 850,000 newly registered owners and to those individuals for whom a change in registration, change of address or corrected address has been received.

“I believe that the many efforts to reach all possible GM automobile owners, former owners and others who might have been adversely impacted by a defective ignition switch have been both comprehensive and effective,” Feinberg says. “There will always be some individuals who do not receive formal notice and are generally unaware of available compensation. But such individuals appear to be very few in number.”

A spokesperson for the fund announced on Sunday that Feinberg, who has been given free rein to set eligibility for compensation, approved 33 death claims and 39 injury claims.

In all, the fund has now received 2,105 claims, including 217. Officials say that about 10% of the claims have been rejected, most because they involved ineligible vehicles.

So far, the fund has made 11 cash payments and 40 total offers, 28 of which have been accepted, the Detroit News reports.

Officials with GM previously said they expect to spend $400 million on claims, but that could rise as high as $600 million.

When the fund was launched over the summer, GM said there would be no cap to the claims, but that compensation would be tied to the level of injury and loss experienced. An approved death claim is expected to result in an offer of compensation for at least $1 million, plus payments of $300,000 to surviving family members.

Consumers who suffered life-altering injuries could receive even more when the cost of lifetime medical care, lost earnings power and other factors are considered.

The plan also addresses consumers who faced less-severe injuries. Those who were treated at a hospital or an outpatient medical facility within 48 hours of the accident are eligible for a claim.

The formula for that claim is $20,000 for one night in the hospital; $70,000 for two to seven overnights, $170,000 for eight to 15 overnights, with a maximum of $500,000 for 32 or more overnights. Those treated on an outpatient basis could receive a maximum of $20,000.

The claimants are not obligated to accept the compensation, but if they do take the money they give up their rights to pursue legal action against GM with regard to the ignition defect.

The compensation program covers approximately 1.6 million model-year 2003-2007 recalled vehicles manufactured with an ignition switch defect and approximately 1 million model year 2008-2011 recalled vehicles that may have been repaired with a recalled ignition switch.

GM extends ignition compensation deadline to Jan. 31 [The Detroit News]

Norovirus Strikes A Crown Princess Cruise For The Second Time This Year, Sickening 170

Mon, 2014-11-17 15:46

The Crown Princess (Princess Cruises)

The Crown Princess (Princess Cruises)

Some guests just refuse to leave, even when the party is over, it seems: For the second time in six months, Carnival’s Crown Princess, which sails the seas under the Princess Cruises brand, has hosted an outbreak of norovirus. The ship was met at the dock in Los Angeles yesterday by public health officials after more than 170 passengers and some crew fell ill on a 28-day cruise to destinations like Tahiti and Hawaii.

The stricken have been suffering from a gastrointestinal issue caused by norovirus, a Carnival spokeswoman said in a statement, via Reuters.

“Over the last few days, the ship began seeing an increased number of gastrointestinal illnesses, caused by norovirus,” said the company spokeswoman. “In response, we have enacted our stringent disinfecting protocols developed in conjunction” with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Crown Princess is no stranger to the sight of passengers worshipping at the porcelain throne: In April, the Crown Princess saw a norovirus outbreak sicken more than 100 people aboard. So whatever cleaning up was done after that journey, let’s hope Carnival doubled down — especially because the Crown Princess was scheduled to depart San Pedro last night for another cruise, this time to the Mexican Riviera.

About 170 people fall ill on Carnival cruise from California [Reuters]

Al Franken: Ted Cruz Has No Idea What Net Neutrality Is

Mon, 2014-11-17 12:12

Last week, Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas attempted to slam the notion of net neutrality, dubbing it “Obamacare for the Internet” and claiming that it would result in prices and services being set by the government. But over the weekend, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken called Cruz’s claim “baloney,” pointing out the fact that we’ve had net neutrality for years and cable companies have been doing just fine.

“He has it completely wrong,” said Franken on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley. “He just doesn’t understand what the issue is.”

The Senator clarifies that neutrality has existed throughout the Internet age. It’s the ISPs, led by Verizon, that successfully sued to gut the rules so that they can add fast lanes and charge more to companies that can afford to pay.

So the move to keep the Internet neutral is intended to maintain the status quo. It just requires new rules because the cable companies don’t want to abide by the old ones.

On the other hand, points out Franken, Obamacare is a program that created something new. Whatever your opinion of the Affordable Care Act, it’s in no way analogous to net neutrality.

“This would keep things exactly the same as they’ve been,” says Franken of neutrality.

The reason that the FCC is even considering the idea of reclassifying broadband as telecommunications infrastructure — as opposed to its current designation as an information service — is because it’s the only way in which the government can effectively tell ISPs to not create fast lanes, and there are some who contend that even reclassification may fail a legal challenge.

“It’s because these ISPs, which have been getting bigger… they essentially have an oligopoly,” says Franken about the need for FCC-enforced neutrality. “They have been talking about a fast lane — they have been talking about charging big, deep-pocketed corporations extra money to go faster, meaning everyone else goes slower.”

As for the claim that reclassifying broadband would cripple innovation and investment, Franken says, “That’s baloney,” and that a truly neutral Internet won’t be the end of investment.

“All this stops them from doing is making a whole bunch of extra money,” says the Senaory. But this is not going to stop them from wiring the country.”

For an even better rebuttal of Cruz’s “Obamacare for the Internet” claim from someone without any sort of legislative agenda, check out this hilarious response from The Oatmeal.

[CNN.com]

Copies Of ‘E.T.’ From The Atari Graveyard Sold For Up To $1,500

Fri, 2014-11-14 23:36

(eBay)

(eBay)

Last week, we shared the exciting news that a local historical society would auction a bunch of trash on eBay. Well, okay, that “trash” was really some of the millions of unsold Atari cartridges that were crushed, covered with cement, and left in the desert for three decades. They were left in the desert because nobody wanted them in 1983, but cartridges sold for as much as $1,537 on eBay, with auctions concluding this week.

The group behind these auctions, the Tularosa Basin Historical Society, said that it will sell maybe 900 more cartridges from the dump site, but that’s all. Material from the legendary “Atari Graveyard” has also been sent to relevant museums all over the world.

Out of the 100 listings in this initial test batch, nine pre-mangled cartridges sold for more than a thousand dollars each. All were copies of “E.T.,” the game whose terribleness created the Atari Graveyard legend and was a large part of Atari’s demise.

In case you wondered whether these auctions were legit, as of right now they have one satisfied customer who has left feedback:

I paid a hojillion dollars for trash, just as described. A+, would buy again!

etcartridge

The buyer paid $1,400 for their cartridge.

tbhs575 [eBay]

PREVIOUSLY:
Atari Games Recovered From New Mexico Dump Now Available On eBay

Verizon Has Made It More Expensive To Get Out Of Your Wireless Plan Early

Fri, 2014-11-14 23:10

(dooley)

(dooley)

Verizon Wireless has updated its Customer Agreement to change how it handles early termination fees for people who cancel their service while still under contract. But rather than simply jacking up the total amount you would have to pay, Verizon now has an 8-month delay before the total begins to decrease.

Before today, VZW early termination fees started at $350 for people with smartphones who canceled service immediately after starting a new contract, and then decreased by $10/month over the course of your contract. This will remain unchanged for people whose current contracts started before Nov. 14.

Those contracts starting today and moving forward will still begin with ETFs of $350, but the $10/month decrease doesn’t start until the eighth month of service. Then in the 19th month that increases to $20/month off your ETF, until the final month, in which you get $60 off the fee.

So imagine two siblings, Jim and Jill. Jim started his VZW contract on Monday. Jill didn’t get around to it until today:
SMARTPHONEETF

Six months from now, when they both have to drop their service because they are being transferred to the Tuva Republic for work, Jim’s ETF will have dropped to $290, while Jill’s will still be $350.

But suppose that Tuvan transfer gets delayed for six months, meaning Jim and Jill don’t need to cancel their service until the 12th month. At this point, Jim would have to pay $230 to Verizon while Jill would owe $300.

Even after the monthly ETF drops increase for Jill, she will continue to owe more than her brother. When that transfer to Tuva is finally confirmed in the 22nd month, Jim’s ETF bill is $130 while Jill must pay $160.

It’s not until after that final $60 gets chiseled off that Jill’s ETF is cheaper than Jim’s, but by this point it might be cheaper to stick around the last few weeks than face an ETF of either $110 or $80.

The above numbers are for subscribers who also got their smartphone through Verizon. If you have a contract with Verizon for tablet or basic wireless phone service, the ETF starts at $175. Current subscribers immediately see that fee drop by $5/month. New subscribers must also wait until month 8 to see that fee decrease by $5. For months 19-23, it’s $10/month off the ETF until the final month, when they take off $30:

FEATUREPHONEETF

In both cases, it’s now always more expensive to cancel your Verizon service (unless you wait until month 24).

Employee’s Daughter Asks Kmart To Give Mom Some Time Off On Thanksgiving

Fri, 2014-11-14 22:56

(Nicholas Eckhart)

(Nicholas Eckhart)

Should stores be open on Thanksgiving Day? While some businesses, such as hotels, gas stations, airlines, and even restaurants must be open to keep civilization running and make sure other people can get to their destinations and enjoy their holidays. Yet many non-essential businesses are open. Like Kmart. The child of one Kmart employee is unhappy about this, and wants the store to consider maybe giving her mom, a 21-year employee, the day off.

It’s not that the store being open on Thanksgiving Day came as a surprise to anybody. As Kmart made a point of saying in its announcement of this year’s hours, opening early on Thanksgiving Day is a “tradition,” one that dates back to when large numbers of Americans still shopped at Kmart. What employees don’t know until the end of the previous week what their schedules will be. That means that they don’t find out what shift (or shifts, in the case of split shifts) they’re working on the holiday.

“She was not going to be able to spend any real time with our family,” the daughter told Thinkprogress. “To hear her on the verge of tears really infuriated me, to think why are they doing this to people? They need time to be with their families.”

She started an online petition on Coworker.org, a site “for engaging in workplace advocacy.” As of right now, 1,429 people have signed the petition, which asks Kmart to consider not staying open for 42 hours straight, closing earlier than planned, or at least giving employees more flexibility to choose their own holiday schedules.

In a statement to Thinkprogress, Kmart explained that the retailer does its “very best” to not drag employees in to work on the holiday when they don’t want to. That doesn’t mean that everyone working in the store is there because they don’t have any other plans and want the extra cash.

Our stores do their very best to staff with seasonal associates and those who volunteer to work holidays. All associates are compensated time and a half pay for the hours they work on Thanksgiving Day. We want to express deep appreciation in advance to all associates who will be working Thanksgiving evening and the day after Thanksgiving.

People who claim to be current or former Kmart employees say that this rosy picture isn’t quite how things really are under the big red K.

I used to work at KMart, and missed MANY holidays with my family. It is NOT volunteer work, it is required. They are ridiculous and should be ashamed at themselves for trying to make money on Thanksgiving! Let people be with their families!

I used to work at K-mart, actually, I worked there for FIVE years, working all of their ridiculous holiday hours. There are no volunteers, and some Boston Market dinner did not make up for the time I missed with my family.

I signed because way back when I worked for Sears who used to be the world’s largest retailer. We were scheduled 2 weeks in advance, closed on all the major holidays, and treated like people. But now with everyone trying to be Walmart the retail business doesn’t give a damn about its employees.

KMART: ALLOW EMPLOYEES TIME OFF ON THANKSGIVING DAY [Coworker.org]
Daughter Petitions Kmart Not To Make Her Mom Work On Thanksgiving [ThinkProgress]

Two-Time Krispy Kreme Challenge Winner Can Somehow Run 4 Miles & Eat 12 Doughnuts Without Barfing

Fri, 2014-11-14 22:56

(slolee)

(slolee)

While I could maybe probably run four miles and definitely eat a dozen doughnuts, I couldn’t accomplish both in the same day, much less the same hour. That’s why it’s somewhat amazing that a two-time Krispy Kreme Challenge winner has managed to run two miles to Krispy Kreme, stop and eat 12 doughnuts, then run two more miles in only an hour. And without losing the contents of his stomach, to boot. Or not to boot. You get it.

The Man With The Iron Stomach, as I have just named the 38-year-old Alabama man, has accomplished this win twice, both times without barfing, reports AL.com.

He’s got some practice for the running side of things, saying he competes in 40 races every year, though the doughnut race is the the most gluttonous. Being in good shape from all that running is an important part of his training for the Krispy Kreme race, he said in an interview. It’s held by United Cerebral Palsy, an organization he supports and the reason why he runs the race.

“It’s mostly being in general good shape. There’s two components — running and eating. You can do one or the other, but the skill is to do both.”

Again, I couldn’t do both of those in a single day, so kudos to you, MWTIS.

And speaking of his lucky stomach, he doesn’t have to see anyone else getting sick either, because he is always in front. Oh, snap.

“Fortunately, when you’re in the lead, there is no one in front of you so I’ve been lucky to not see anything,” he explained.

His final advice: “Enjoy the sugar rush, the impending sugar crash after, and try to avoid throwing up on your shoes.”

The 2-time Krispy Kreme Challenge champion explains how one prepares for 12 doughnuts and 4 miles in 1 hour [AL.com]

Report: Many Banks And Prepaid Companies Lack Clear Disclosures For Smartphone Deposit Services

Fri, 2014-11-14 22:43
(David Goehring)

(David Goehring)

Some days, driving to the bank or searching for the right ATM, seems like too much effort to deposit a single check. Over the past few years time-crunched consumers have found some relief in the form of banks offering the ability to remotely deposit checks with a smartphone. While the technology may be convenient, a new report found certain drawback to the program, including poorly disclosed terms and conditions.

The Pew Charitable Trusts report [PDF] on mobile remote deposit capture (mRDC) examined how financial institutions present the key feature of mobile banking to their prospective customers and found that many lacked vital information.

mRDC, which was first introduced in 2009, allows individuals to take smartphone or tablet photos of endorsed paper checks and deposit them through an app from their bank or prepaid card company. Since its inception the program has steadily grown in usage and popularity, according to the Federal Reserve.

Pew researchers analyzed 10 key elements of remote deposit services. [click to enlarge]

Pew researchers analyzed 10 key elements of remote deposit services. [click to enlarge]

Pew examined mRDC availability and policies at 50 banks and 51 prepaid card companies, identifying 10 key terms and conditions, including cost, time before deposited funds become available, and eligibility requirements, that prospective customers are likely to consider when deciding if the technology is for them.

The report found that banks are more likely than prepaid card companies to offer mRDC, although several large banks still do not offer the technology.

In all, 37 large banks offer mRDC, while 13 did not. Additionally, seven prepaid card companies offer the technology, while 14 offer it through third-party vendors and 30 do not offer the product.

Of the banks that offered mRDC services to consumers, 13 disclose terms online and in an app, while 22 provide disclosures online only.

Among prepaid card companies, only two offered terms online and in apps, and 19 offered the disclosures online only.

Only one of the large banks that offer mRDC provided details on all 10 of the terms Pew identified. And although the bank’s terms were transparent, Pew determined they were not idea.

“Per its disclosure, the bank does not notify account holders of the mRDC deposit’s status—whether it is approved or rejected, or whether a hold is placed on the deposited funds,” the report concluded.

Additionally one of the 37 banks offering the service didn’t supply any of the 10 pieces of information sought by Pew.

The two prepaid companies with both types of disclosures were found to have errors in their content.

For example, the app for one of these banks lists the cutoff time for processing a deposit as 6 p.m. and as 9 p.m. on its website. The second bank shows the check-retention requirement for consumers once funds have been deposited as two days on its app and as 14 days on its website. No inconsistencies appear in the mRDC disclosures provided by GPR prepaid card companies.

As for the cost of mRDC, 28 of the 37 large banks disclose that they offer the service free of charge to consumers. Three other banks charge $0.50 per check deposit, while two waive the fee under certain conditions.

Customers using prepaid companies’ mRDC will likely incur more costs for the service. Only two companies disclose their fee as free, while two have a cost of $4 per deposit, and 16 charge as much as 4% of the deposit in exchange for making funds available immediately. However, all but one of the companies offer free options that require longer waiting periods.

While it might be tempting to go on a mDRC deposit spree, Pew found that most banks limit the amount a consumer can deposit in one month with varying price points.

The minimum limit disclosed by banks was $2,500 per month, and the maximum was $750,000 per month.

However, 13 of these banks either do not disclose the existence of mRDC deposit limits or do disclose that they have these limits but do not provide details about them.

Limited deposits for prepaid card companies were significantly less, ranging from $1,500 to $10,000 per month. Additionally, the companies were more likely to disclose the limits, with 20 offering disclosures, while only one did not.

Perhaps one of the most important disclosures that consumers would look for in a mRDC service is the amount of time they must way before deposited funds become available for use.

Banks are required, under federal rules, to disclose funds-availability policies to consumers. However, Pew found that banks’ mRDC offerings cannot always obtain that information because of lack of clear disclosure.

Of the banks that offer mRDC, a whopping 18 do not provide disclosures on when funds would be available. One bank makes funds available immediately, one offers a variety of options, 13 disclose availability between one and two days after posting and four disclose availability of three and five days after posting.

Again the disclosures for prepaid card companies appeared to be more readily available than those of larger banks.

None of the companies lacked a disclosure on fund availability. Four state that funds from approved deposits will be fully available within minutes.

Another 15 offer almost immediate access to funds in exchange for a fee but also offer no-charge deposits for those willing to wait longer. Two card companies do not offer an option for immediate funds availability; customers’ deposited money is accessible in two and six days after posting.

Although Pew did not provide policy recommendations for banks and prepaid card companies offering mRDC services, researchers make it clear that better disclosures are needed.

Providing clearer disclosures would go a long way in producing better informed consumers.

“The better informed customers are about their companies’ policies, the better they will be at managing their account balances and avoiding unnecessary fees,” the report states. “Providing greater transparency could be a powerful tool for providers to help build confidence in mobile banking.”

Pew: Smartphone Deposits Differ by Where and How You Bank [Pew]

If Video Game Publishers Want To Release Broken Games, They Should Discount Pre-Orders

Fri, 2014-11-14 22:01

Um, Arno... who are those two guys who just walked in during the middle of this scene at started babbling in French?

Um, Arno… who are those two guys who just walked in during the middle of this scene at started babbling in French?

You wouldn’t go to Spring Training and expect to pay regular season prices to see a sluggish baseball team play a half-assed game. If you go to a preview of a new musical — where they might not be in full costume or have to stop and start a song halfway through — you don’t pay the same as someone going to the theater after opening night. And there’s a reason why the “dinged and discounted” section of the furniture store isn’t asking for the full sticker price. But when it comes to video games, consumers are increasingly paying a premium to be de facto beta testers for unfinished and broken games that aren’t ready for the market.

The latest instance of this is the double-shot of Assassin’s Creed games that Ubisoft dumped on the world this week. While both games are playable (unlike previous launches of games like Sim City and Battlefield 4), a quick check of any gaming forum or news site will turn up a slew of complaints from players about a slew of glitches, along with server overloads and a mobile companion app that is currently all but useless.

Ubisoft can not claim surprise in this case. These problems are not relegated to only a few players or even to a single platform.

These are errors that Ubisoft surely knew about — after all, it forced reviewers to wait until after the game was released to post their write-ups — but decided to put out to the pulic regardless, knowing it could always patch problems later.

But as I’ve written before, that we-can-fix-it-later attitude is causing game publishers to knowingly release unfinished and broken products.

And yet, even though Ubisoft and others are well aware that they are rushing out games that will need to be fixed from day one, the publishers continue to charge full price, unapologetically charging people at least $60 for the privilege of being guinea pigs.

EA’s launch of Sim City was so bad that it ultimately had to offer free games to upset customers in an effort to make up for the massive goof. And the publisher has been sued by players for allegedly unleashing Battlefield 4 on consumers knowing it was broken.

Meanwhile, the negative public response to the Assassin’s Creed games has hit the Ubisoft stock price, which dropped from $15 to below $13 in the two days after the games’ release.

Wouldn’t it be smarter if the publishers just knocked a few bucks off — or gave some incentive other than “look, here’s a free outfit!” — for pre-orders of games that are still going to need significant work?

Consumers would complain less when they get an unfinished game because they didn’t pay full price. It cuts down on negative word of mouth — think of all the people who are striking Assassin’s Creed: Unity from their holiday gift lists because of the poor public reception — and also give just the slightest indication to consumers that a publisher doesn’t just view gamers as flesh-covered wallets waiting to be drained.

All that said, if people continue to scramble for pre-orders of AAA titles after being burned so many times in the past, publishers won’t have any incentive to change or to take their customers seriously.

It’s like food at the airport — we all complain about paying $5 for a bottle of water and $10 for a cruddy pre-made sandwich, but enough people continue to fork over the cash so the prices just keep going up and the quality just keeps going down.

The only way to stop it is by not giving in to temptation.

So the next time you’re thinking about pre-ordering a game, just think of these two random French guys who like to interrupt cut scenes:

Of Course There’s An App For Getting Medical Marijuana Delivered To Your Doorstep In L.A.

Fri, 2014-11-14 21:57

As marijuana becomes legal in a growing list of states, whether recreationally or for medical reasons, it would make sense that consumers living in those areas would turn to technology to get the products they want. After all, who actually calls the delivery place on the phone to get dinner anymore? Calling a cab, how quaint! So to fill that technology need, a California company has set its app up to offer medical marijuana delivery.

The smartphone app comes from a company called NestDrop that started delivery alcohol via smartphones in California, reports USA Today, using in-app ordering and payment process, unlike other services that use mobile sites.

Lest any sneaky consumers think they can trick an innocent delivery person into bringing them drugs they shouldn’t legally have, the app will only work for Los Angeles-area customers who upload a photo of their ID, medical marijuana card or doctor’s recommendation.

The pot comes from the collective to which the patient belongs (so it’s like Seamless, if you were only allowed to order from one restaurant), and is driven to the customer’s house, where the driver checks the buyer’s ID and makes the handoff.

nestdrop

The company’s founders said they got into weed delivery because of the people with chronic pain or other issues that make it difficult for them to go get the medicine they need.

“After our initial success with alcohol deliveries, we decided to expand when we saw how this platform could be used to bring difficult-to-obtain products to people who really need them,” Nestdrop co-founder Michael Pycher said in a statement. “We began talking to patients and found a genuine need out there for improved access to this medicine.”

In Colorado and Washington states, where recreational marijuana is now legal, it’s against the law to have delivery services, as the states’ laws require in-person purchases from retailers.

Calif. company offering smartphone marijuana deliveries [USA Today]

Former Freelancer Sues Google For Overtime, Pay Violations

Fri, 2014-11-14 21:09

(Joshua Leners)

(Joshua Leners)

It’s not uncommon for employees and contractors to bring lawsuits against their employers for unpaid wages. One such suit was filed earlier this week by a former freelance worker claiming that Google didn’t pay overtime, improperly classified him as an independent contractor and terminated his contract after he asked for more hours.

Reuters reports the lawsuit [PDF], which was filed in a New York federal Court, claims that Google violated federal labor standards. The plaintiff is asking the court to designate the suit as a collective action on behalf of all Google employees.

“Despite its profitability, Google maintains policies and practices of misclassifying employees as independent contractors who are not covered by wage and hour laws, paying these employees through outside agencies, and not paying them for all hours worked,” the suit states.

According to the complaint, the plaintiff began work at the company’s New York offices in 2013 as a “site merchandiser for magazines” in the Google Play unit. The man, who made $35 per hour, was classified as a freelancer and paid through an outside agency.

Under the terms of the contract, the man was limited to billing 30 hours a week, but often worked more than that.

“Google limited the number of hours for which Plaintiff and others similarly situated could be paid,” the suit reads. “However, Google did not similarly limit the amount of work that it assigned to Plaintiff and others.”

He claims that Google declined to pay him for those extra hours or for any overtime he accumulated over 40 hours a week, despite the fact that he and others “similarly situated were often forced to work more than the maximum allowed hours in order to complete the tasks assigned to them by Google and keep their job.”

Google allegedly terminated his contract after he asked for more hours to be covered in the contract, the lawsuit states.

Officials with Google did not immediately return Reuters’ request for comment.

Lawsuits over the payment and treatment of contractors and freelance workers have increased in recent years.

Last month, Consumerist reported on a slew of class action lawsuits filed against FedEx Ground in which former workers were seeking compensation for unpaid overtime and paycheck deductions.

The company contends that the plaintiffs aren’t actual employees, but independent contractors that lack the same rights as verified employees.

Google contractor accuses company of pay, overtime violations in lawsuit [Reuters]

Suspected Serial Scammer Arrested After New Roommate Googles Her

Fri, 2014-11-14 21:05

(Earth2Kim)

(Earth2Kim)

We all do it — looking up someone you’ve just met on the Internet, whether it’s a first date or a job candidate — and in at least one case, Googling a new roommate helped one woman escape a potentially scammy relationship.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon says a woman accused of befriending people in a string of cities in Oregon and then stealing their cash or running up thousands of dollars on their credit cards was arrested in Los Angeles after her roommate checked her out online, reports the Statesman-Journal.

The tipster called police saying she’d met the suspect three weeks ago and become buddies quickly. The woman visited her apartment for a short stay that turned into a more permanent situation as the days went by.

That’s when the roommate noticed the woman’s stories about her background seemed off, and that she suddenly seemed “very manipulative and vindictive.”

This week while the suspect was out to dinner, her roommate decided to Google the suspect, and saw that she’d been in trouble with the law and police were looking for her. She called the cops, and LAPD arrested her when she came back to the apartment after dinner.

Authorities believe the 24-year-old has been scamming people for the last three years, including allegedly stealing a car from her sister. She was first reported in August to the county sheriff’s office, and was indicted by a grand jury in October on charges of first degree aggravated theft, first degree theft and three counts of identity theft.

Salem woman accused of statewide thefts arrested in L.A. [The Statesman-Journal]

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