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The Consumerist

Pot Vending Machine Is Like That Awesome Idea You Had Once In College, Except It’s Real

Mon, 2014-04-14 21:00

(KUSA TV)

(KUSA TV)

It was around two in the morning one winter morning back in 1996 — or wait, was it three a.m. in 2001? You can’t remember. All you know is the brilliant idea you had that one time after watching Half Baked and smoking you know, “the reefer,” is now a reality. A new company has debuted its pot vending machine in the only place that can welcome it right now, Colorado.

I know, I know, you totally thought of this first (“So like, what if instead of chips? We could put in money? And get out weeeeed?”). I believe you, friend.

But time and tide wait for no man, and the tide has already come in for American Green’s new ZaZZZ, the first machine that verifies a person’s age before dispensing pot and pot products, reports KUSA-TV (link has video that autoplays).

“They would swipe their driver’s license at which point multiple cameras would allow us to use some advanced biometrics to make absolutely certain that the person who swiped the card is the owner of that card,” the owner of the company behind the new machine explains.

The machines won’t just be sitting out in the open for anyone to take advantage of and possibly try to plunder, but are instead designed to remain inside legal dispensaries. Sort of like an automated express kiosk at a grocery store.

The owner of the first store to host the machine will help make sure no products grow legs and walk out the door without being paid for, as each item will have a radio frequency identification chips on them.

“This takes a little pressure off of the people monitoring the medicine area so they don’t have to look over shoulders. You can fit a lot more choices in a small area,” he says. “There’s no theft issue, There’s no product disappearing.”

Until it gets back to your apartment and the five roommates you live with. Then it’s up to you to lock down your stuff. And hide your Cheetos, while you’re at it.

Company unveils first age-verifying, pot vending machine [KUSA TV]

Pizza Hut New Zealand Redeems Itself With Crusts Stuffed With Chili Dogs

Mon, 2014-04-14 20:44

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 2.12.27 PMPeople all over the world were horrified but also intrigued to learn that in New Zealand, Pizza Hut offers a crust stuffed with cheese (good) and Marmite, a yeast-based paste (ew). Fortunately, the chain’s Kiwi outposts have redeemed themselves with a new offering: the Chilli Dog Stuffed Crust Pizza. Better yet: those hot dogs are actually cheese dogs.

The crust stuffed with hot dogs is nothing new, having already hit the U.K. and Australia. Yes, inside the crust are hot dogs with flecks of cheese mixed in, then covered with chili sauce (spelled “chilli” there for some reason). No, not sriracha: the sauce is like the tomato-based broth of chili the stew. In a pizza crust. Yeah, we don’t know.

You can also add your own ketchup and mustard to the crust to go along with the hot dogs.

Around the World: Pizza Hut New Zealand – New Chili Dog Stuffed Crust Pizza [Brand Eating]

Intuit/TurboTax Using Non-Profits, Religious Leaders In Push Against Pre-Filled Tax Forms

Mon, 2014-04-14 20:22

ttaxWe can understand why some people might have concerns about receiving tax forms that are already filled in by the IRS. We could understand why some would voice those concerns in a public forum. But is a line crossed when the people telling you to voice your concerns are the very ones who stand to benefit financially from your opposition?

The folks at Intuit, best known as the makers of TurboTax, have been trying for the last several years to preempt any attempt by the IRS to launch a “return-free” system that would provide taxpayers with pre-filled tax forms that could then be more quickly and efficiently filed.

The 2002 law that created Free File — the ability to file the simplest of tax returns electronically without having to pay a fee — also established a 10-year period during which the IRS could not set up its own “free, online tax return preparation and filing services.”

That decade is now in the rearview mirror and Intuit is terribly afraid of what it could mean to the company’s bottom line. It has already pumped millions of dollars into lawmakers’ coffers, resulting in multiple (but stalled) bills that would crush return-free filing by permanently extending the ban against the IRS instituting its own free-filing system.

Since its legislative efforts have not yet succeeded, Intuit has been taking a new approach, attempting to spur a grassroots movement by convincing non-profits, along with community and religious leaders, that return-free filing is bad for the average taxpayer.

ProPublica’s Liz Day has looked into a recent spate of op-ed pieces written in opposition to return-free filings, many of which seem to echo the same misinformed messages, but which come from unexpected sources.

For instance, there’s this piece from a rabbi and professor who claims that pre-filled tax forms will hurt “those who need the most support,” because they will have to hire accountants and attorneys to revise these forms.

This op-ed piece omits the fact that the program would be voluntary and that any pre-filled information can be corrected or changed by the taxpayer. It also glosses over the reality that the lowest-income Americans currently either need to sort out their taxes on their own, use an accountant, or pay for services like TurboTax.

Of course, the rabbi’s source for his information might explain these omissions. He tells ProPublica that he wrote the op-ed piece at the behest of a former student, who wrote to him and asked him to present the issue to the Jewish community. What that student didn’t tell the rabbi is that she’s a PR flack for a firm that is tied to Intuit.

“I wish she would have told me that,” said the rabbi after learning this fact.

That same PR firm had recently listed Intuit as a client on its website, but delisted the company after being approached by ProPublica. However, the firm does represent the Computer & Communications Industry Association, of which Intuit is a member — and its only member company that is involved in tax-preparation.

The director of an Oregon non-profit tells ProPublica she was approached by a PR flack who provided her with a template letter for her to send to one of her state’s senators.

When she pressed the flack on who he was representing, he admitted that he was working for the CCIA and that Intuit was indeed a member of the organization.

She says the rep used “a lot of words that advocates would be sympathetic to, like ‘oh, it’ll hurt people with English as a second language.’” But after doing her own research on the topic, she opted to not send the letter and now says she supports return-free filing.

But there are others who didn’t do their research and fired off letters after being contacted by groups with an interest in putting an end to return-free filing before it starts.

The president of the NAACP Delaware State Conference says he sent a letter to lawmakers after being approached by a longtime acquaintance, who just happens to be a lobbyist with a firm that may not be tied directly to CCIA or Intuit, but which specializes in so-called grasstop campaigns, which use advocacy and community groups to spread the desired message.

After being approached by ProPublica, the letter-writer admitted, “We may have to retract so far based on my research.”

Another community leader, the executive director of the L.A.-based Asian Business Association, confesses that he didn’t really look into the information he was given by an unidentified lobbyist that resulted in an op-ed piece against return-free filing.

“There’s some homework needed,” he admitted to ProPublica.

TurboTax Maker Linked to ‘Grassroots’ Campaign Against Free, Simple Tax Filing [ProPublica]

Graduates Get Help Paying Student Loan Debt By Volunteering

Mon, 2014-04-14 20:02

(Phil Jones)

(Phil Jones)

Graduates facing thousands of dollars in student loan debt often feel there is no relief in sight. However, a number of organizations and programs are popping up and aiming to take some of the burden in repaying massive student debt loans off young professional’s plates.

Such is the case in Chicago where a new organization pairs college graduates with non-profits looking for volunteers with specific skills. In exchange for their work, the volunteers get money to put toward the repayment of their student loans, DNAinfo Chicago reports.

SponsorChange.org, which also operates in Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., assists busy young professionals in meeting their staggering monthly student loan bills, while also providing them with an opportunity to expand their job skills and networking.

“People are getting crushed with debt as higher education costs are skyrocketing,” Shawn Agyemen, chief marketing officer for SponsorChange, tells DNAinfo. “We just want people who have skills and are very interested in helping the overall community.”

Graduates who volunteer with SponsorChange often have full-time positions elsewhere, but still lack enough funds to pay off their student debts. Instead of working part-time to make ends meet, SponsorChange gives them another option.

The program averages about $20/hour for its skill-based volunteering. The funds come from sponsors, individuals and corporations that choose to donate to a specific cause, a specific postgrad volunteer, or to SponsorChange in general.

One SponsorChange volunteer, who is working to pay $35,000 she owes from earning her 2007 bachelor’s degree, is using her public relations skills to help a non-profit tech hub. By the time her SponsorChange project ends in June, she will have made $2,000 to pay toward her loans.

“SponsorChange has connections with all type of organizations that you might not be able to tap into,” she said. “My goal is to really get more tech-based experience that I need.”

SponsorChange is just one student loan forgiveness program available to graduates facing piles of student loan debt. Last year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported that about a quarter of the U.S. workforce could qualify under federal rules for favorable loan repayment options, but most don’t know such programs exist.

One option is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, in which, individuals who work in public service jobs can qualify for forgiveness of their federal student loans after meeting certain qualifications such as making a number of loan payments or working in a job for a number of years.

For private loan borrowers who don’t have time to volunteer there are other options. Some banks are now offering the graduates the ability to refinance. In January, Charter One announced its new Education Refinance Loan that provides borrowers with rates as low as 5.24%.

Student Loan Debt Relief Available in Exchange For Volunteer Work [DNAinfo Chicago]

Another Thing For Airbnb Renters To Worry About? Your Home Turning Into A Brothel

Mon, 2014-04-14 20:00

"She did what in my bed?!?" (poopoorama)

“She did what in my bed?!?” (poopoorama)

Much like the time your parents got an unexpected phone call that their car now resided upside down in the neighbor’s swimming pool, some Airbnb renters are none too pleased to find their homes have been used for ah, sexual recreation purposes that require police attention. In essence, beware the brothelization of your home.

When you think about it, what’s not to keep the sex trade from treating homes like hotels, well, besides the law and all that. There are beds, four walls and a door that locks.

All amenities that proved too tempting for one alleged prostitute in New York City, who the New York Post says rented a 29-year-old publicist’s apartment as her hourly love nest from March 21 to March 23.

“She told me that she was in the Army and needed a place to hang out before she got shipped out,” the woman said of her Airbnb renter. “She said she was being deployed that week. She was asking for places to go out with her friends.”

She was shocked to get a phone call from the police then, after the alleged prostitute was slashed by a client over the price of his “massage.” She says she returned home to find paraphernalia like baby wipes, the woman’s “calling card” and “at least 10 condoms.” Aaaaand cue shudder.

Airbnb put her up in a swanky hotel for two night with free room-service meals and paid to change her locks, clean the apartment and replace pillows and other belongings.

“The entire hospitality industry deals with issues like this, and we have zero tolerance for this activity,” Airbnb said of the incident.

It’s not just this one isolated incident — of course there was that sex party situation as well — one escort tells the NYP that her service will rent out apartments for an entire week for the sole purpose of hosting clients.

“It’s more discreet and much cheaper than The Waldorf,” said the sex worker adding that escort services and the like can save a few hundred bucks a night by not getting a hotel. “Hotels have doormen and cameras. They ask questions. Apartments are usually buzz-in.”

Now I’m feeling pretty good about the fact that no one would ever pay to stay in my falling down, slanty-floored apartment, not even prostitutes. Silver linings, y’all. Silver linings.

Hookers turning Airbnb apartments into brothels
[New York Post]

Are You OK With A Restaurant Googling You If It Improves Customer Service?

Mon, 2014-04-14 19:05

(Michelle Rick)

(Michelle Rick)

If you apply for a job, you can rest assured that someone will Google your name or look you up on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and elsewhere before hiring you. If you meet someone via an online dating service, he or she has probably (and wisely) made repeated efforts to look you up on publicly available social media sources in order to make sure you’re not a suspected serial killer. But when you make a reservation at a restaurant, you probably don’t expect anyone there to do any research about you.

But the maitre d’ at Manhattan’s swanky Eleven Madison Park tells Grub Street he does his due diligence about every guest who makes a reservation. But he says this research isn’t about e-stalking or scoping out good-looking/wealthy customers. Instead, he claims he’s trying to learn about the guests in order to improve customer service.

For instance, if he sees that it’s a particular visitor’s birthday, he’ll greet them with a “Happy Birthday” when they arrive. The same goes for anniversaries.

He also will pair diners with servers and sommeliers who may have similar or shared interests and backgrounds.

“If I find out a guest is from Montana, and I know we have a server from there, we’ll put them together,” he explains.

At the same time, the maitre d’ says that if his research determines that the customer would rather keep a low profile while visiting the restaurant, he’ll respect that.

This is the kind of service that some may expect when visiting a restaurant like Eleven Madison Park, which has three Michelin stars, and where you could spend a good chunk of your annual salary over dinner. But it may be off-putting to some people.

That’s why we wanted to ask y’all your opinion:

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Yes, Tweeting “Jokes” To An Airline About “Doing Something Big” Can Get You Arrested

Mon, 2014-04-14 19:00

Although sometimes it can feel like engaging in social media is akin to shouting into a bottomless pit and no one is really listening, you better be sure that if you claim to be part of a terrorist group planning “something” big and tweet that to a major airline, well, someone’s going to hear you. And maybe put you in jail.

A Dutch teenager reportedly tweeted at American Airlines yesterday, saying her name was Ibrahim from Afghanistan, that she was a member of of Al Qaida and something “big” was going to go down June 1, reports Business Insider.

teentweettoam

American Airlines took notice right away of the 14-year-old’s tweet and replied that this was no laughing matter.

amtweettoteen

She soon realized the error of her tweeting ways, reportedly replying to the airline that she was just a teenager and was totally kidding. She also said she wasn’t going to tell her parents because then they’d take away her account and that would be “the end of my life.”

But Dutch police figured it’s better to be safe than sorry and have arrested her and have arrested her at her Rotterdam, Netherlands home. It’s safe to say her parents are now aware of what she’s been up to.

A police spokesman confirmed the arrest, telling Business Insider:

We’re not in a state that we can communicate any state of charges at this point. We just thought it was necessary to bring this out mostly because of the fact that it caused a great deal of interest on the Internet.

Will she most likely end up free soon enough, severely chastened and with a new respect for authority figures and the power of social media? Let’s hope so. Her account has since been deleted so she probably won’t be tweeting anytime soon, regardless.

Dutch Police Make Arrest In Teen Twitter Terror Threat [Business Insider]

Date Set For “E.T.” Atari Cartridges Landfill Dig: April 26

Mon, 2014-04-14 18:47

Do millions of game cartridges want to be found?

Do millions of game cartridges want to be found?

The world still doesn’t know for sure whether there really are millions of unsold copies of the game “E.T.” for the Atari 2500 buried in a landfill in New Mexico. Maybe that secret would have stayed buried if not for the team who thought that it might be fun and worthwhile to search for them and make a documentary film about the process.

In 1982, the company released a tie-in game for the mega-successful Spielberg flick. If it’s based on a popular enough movie, a game doesn’t have to make sense, right? The game was a hastily-done, confusing adventure game a few years before the technology to make a non-crappy adventure game really existed.

Here’s a walkthrough of the game filmed in 1982. Even for that era, it looks dull and unrewarding.

There is now more interest in the game’s legend than there ever was in the game itself, mostly because of its role in hurrying along the demise of Atari and leading to the early-’80s video game crash.

If you find yourself near Almogordo, New Mexico, on the 26th, you can even join the festivities. The filmmakers welcome members of the public, but haven’t specified whether they want observers to bring a shovel and join in the search. The game’s designer is among the luminaries who will join archaeologists and trash contractors at the landfill as the search begins.

Buried ’80s Atari ‘E.T.’ Games to Be Unearthed [ABC News Radio]

Burger King China’s PooPoo Smoothie Is Apparently Better Than Its Name Would Imply

Mon, 2014-04-14 18:01

(Eric Jou)

(Eric Jou)

Here’s another to add to the list of product names that don’t travel well: Burger King China’s PooPoo Smoothie, which may conjure up images of… well, I’d rather not say, but your inner grossed-out 8-year-old knows what I mean, but which has nothing to do with excrement and is apparently not awful.

Kotaku writer Eric Jou went to a BK in China to try out a PooPoo Smoothie for himself and declared it “delicious.”

“Keep in mind that this unfortunate name is only the English name of the beverage,” he writes. “In Chinese the beverage is called something along the lines of ‘mango ice smoothie with blow up pearls cold beverage.’”

The beverage also contains mysterious “pearls,” which are supposed to explode as you drink the smoothie.

“I’m not exactly sure what the pearls are made out of,” writes Jou. “It feels like eating a piece of pulp. The staff at hand in Burger King didn’t know. They also didn’t know that their newest smoothie’s name is related to poop.”

[via Time.com]

Is It Better To Accidentally Throw Away $1.25M In Lottery Tickets Or To Never Have Won At All?

Mon, 2014-04-14 18:00
(Lisa Brewster)

(Lisa Brewster)

Imagine you’ve been playing the exact same set of numbers for years on end, because you know, without a doubt, that these numbers are the numbers — the digits that are destined to bring you fame and fortune or at least, fortune. So would you rather learn you were right along but lost $1.25 million due to a twist of fate, or just never win at all?

This is a question that must be asked, after a Pennsylvania man who has been playing the same five numbers on Quinto every day realized he’d won $1.25 million, finally — but he’d accidentally thrown the 25 tickets in the trash after apparently misreading the announced winning numbers

He bought the tickets from his usual corner store back in March 2013, reports the York Daily Record, and they ended up being worth $50,000 each when his numbers hit. He had until March 13 this year to cash them in, a fact stressed in a press release from the Pennsylvania Lottery last month urging the winner to come forward.

“He was mad,” the corner store clerk said of her regular customer when he realized what he’d done. “He was so mad he played $400 that day.”

A lottery spokesman explained that unclaimed tickets are a bummer, and urged players to check and doublecheck their tickets before tossing them.

“We do what we can” to notify winners, she said. “But sometimes, it’s just not enough.”

The man replied by uncontrollably sobbing, I imagine.

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Man threw away $1.25 million worth of lottery tickets, York store says [York Daily Record]

T-Mobile Axes Overage Fees, Urges Fellow Wireless Providers To Follow Suit

Mon, 2014-04-14 17:31

(Ron Dauphin)

(Ron Dauphin)

In its newest attempt to take over, and make over, the look of wireless service, T-Mobile unveiled its latest ploy to attract customers: no more overage charges to consumer plans.

Starting in May the company is axing all overage fees, including domestic talk, text and data, for all consumer plans. The new policy will begin showing up with consumers’ June bills.

The new no-overage practice means that consumers won’t automatically be on the hook to pay for any usage they incur beyond their plans’ limits. Instead, consumers will have the option to pay for more access through day- or week-long data passes or no use their devices.

A similar format is being used in the newly launched Simple Start plan which offers consumers unlimited talk/text and 500 MB of data. When a customer reaches their limit they can purchase more data or simply not use their device until the beginning of the next billing cycle.

T-Mobile estimates that U.S. consumers pay more than $1 billion a year in “greedy, predatory” overage charges to wireless providers. That’s why officials with the company publicly called out fellow wireless providers to end the charges, even starting the “#AbolishOverages” hashtag.

“Today I’m laying down a challenge to AT&T, Verizon and Sprint to join T-Mobile in ending these outrageous overage penalties for all consumers – because it’s the right thing to do,” John Legere, president and CEO of T-Mobile, says in a news release. “Overage fees are flat out wrong. Agree with me? Join me in putting this challenge to all the major national carriers by signing my petition on Change.org. Right here. Take one minute to be a part of this consumer movement.”

The liberation from overage charges is the carrier’s latest attempt to separate itself from other national carriers. Last year, the company did away with annual service contracts and launched the early upgrade program JUMP.

“The worst thing about these overage fees is that they’re often inflicted on those who can least afford them,” added Legere.

The company’s customer friendly stance doesn’t seem to translate to their own employees. Earlier this month, the company ended its employee and college student discounts. However, following public outcry the carrier restored the discount to current customers, but new customers won’t be eligible.

T-Mobile Abolishes Consumer Overages, Challenges Other Wireless Providers to Follow Suit [T-Mobile]

Franken: Media Companies Are Afraid To Speak Out Against Comcast

Mon, 2014-04-14 17:07

Minnesota Senator Al Franken has made no effort to hide his opposition to the pending merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Now the actor/writer-turned-lawmaker is saying he wishes others would be more open about their feelings on the controversial deal.

Franken appeared on CNN’s Reliable Sources yesterday, where host Brian Stelter asked him why executives at large media companies aren’t more vocal in their opposition of the merger.

“That speaks volumes about how anti-competitive this is,” said Franken. “You know why they don’t speak out? They come to my office and say, ‘This is off the record.’ Then they talk about how it’s going to be anti-competitive, but… They’re afraid of retaliation. Doesn’t that tell you everything you need to know?”

Franken says these companies are dependent on Comcast to reach a customer base that is now around 20 million but could swell to more than 30 million if the TWC merger is approved. Additionally, Comcast will control the lion’s share of broadband-to-the-home, which more and more content providers rely on to reach consumers.

“You can encourage them” to speak out, explains the senator, “but they think they are committing business suicide… that they’ll be retaliated against.”

Man Named God Suing Equifax For Refusing To Believe He (And His Financial History) Exists

Mon, 2014-04-14 17:00

([RAWRZ!])

([RAWRZ!])

As if it’s not hard enough to go through life explaining why you share a name with a divine entity, a man called God is now suing credit-reporting agency Equifax claiming it refused to accept his name as a legitimate moniker. Basically, he’s trying to prove he exists. And along with that, of course, his credit history is also a real thing.

Named after his grandfather, the Russian native is a businessman living in Brooklyn and claims Equifax won’t correct a glitch in the system after two years of dealing with the issue, reports the New York Post.

He’s suing the company in federal court claiming that the snag in his Equifax report that rejects his first name has kept him from buying a car last year, despite his credit scores of more than 720 at other agencies.

“It’s extremely frustrating,” he told the NYP. “I worked hard to get good credit to look good to lenders and this happens.”

The 26-year-old jewelry store owner said a customer service representative even suggested he change his name in order to make everything easier. That person’s name was likely Beelzebub or Lucifer.

In any case, you’re not alone, God. Bill Murray is with you.

Man with first name ‘God’ runs into credit-rating issues [New York Post]
You can follow MBQ on Twitter where there will be no claims of divinity either in name or otherwise: @marybethquirk

Domino’s Introduces Pizza Appetizers With Chicken For Crust

Mon, 2014-04-14 16:43

chicken

Do you know what most people really love? Meat. Add meat to a restaurant or fast food dish, especially if it replaces bread, and you’ll capture the public’s imagination and appetite. Look at the world’s (and this site’s) obsession with KFC’s Double Down sandwich, for example. Domino’s wants to capture some of that meat magic by slathering pizza toppings on chicken and declaring it an appetizer.

The product, called Specialty Chicken, could even be a meal on its own if that’s what you’re into. It’s not quite a pizza with chicken for crust, which is something that we expect to see in real life any minute now. Specialty Chicken will be launched next week with an ad campaign centered around Domino’s taking bold risks as a company, but there’s not much bold about this product at all: it’s chicken with tasty stuff on it. It’s the same chicken that Domino’s already serves up, topped with things that the chain already puts on its pizzas. The varieties available are Crispy Bacon & Tomato, Spicy Jalapeno-Pineapple, Classic Hot Buffalo, and Sweet BBQ Bacon.

If you don’t mind trading your personal info for free stuff, you can enter a sweepstakes to win Specialty Chicken of your very own.

The chain reports that they tried calling the new product “Pizza Chicken” initially, but customers didn’t understand what that was supposed to be.

Taxi Driver Paid $600 To Be Unwitting Accomplice In Bank Robbery

Mon, 2014-04-14 16:34

( function() { var func = function() { var iframe = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-form-6778e972f7f99800c0338539297ad8d4-534bf9eade161'); if ( iframe ) { iframe.submit(); } } if (document.readyState === 'complete') { func.apply(); /* compat for infinite scroll */ } else if ( document.addEventListener ) { document.addEventListener( 'DOMContentLoaded', func, false ); } else if ( document.attachEvent ) { document.attachEvent( 'onreadystatechange', func ); } } )(); We’ve written before about triple-digit taxi fares, but it’s usually a case of sketchy drivers taking advantage of naive customers or passengers who don’t realize there are less-expensive options. So here’s a story of how a cab driver in Kansas was paid $600 to help a bank robber make his escape.

The driver tells Kansas City’s WDAF-TV that he picked up a passenger in Lawrence, KS, who offered him $600 to drive him the 200 or so miles north to Omaha, NE.

But first, the passenger had to stop by a Truity Credit Union branch to cash a check.

“Something didn’t seem right about it, at least to me anyway,” says the driver, who waited for his passenger outside the bank. “At the time, I was a little worried, like if he was a drug dealer or in trouble. [I was thinking] this could be kind of not good.”

After the passenger was done robbing the credit union, he returned to the car and the two made their way up to Omaha. The driver dropped him off at a bus station, received his $600 and began the return trip to Lawrence.

He says he had no idea what was going on and didn’t learn of the bank robbery until after he’d dropped off the passenger.

“I’m glad I was told later because I probably would have freaked out,” said the driver, whose $600 fare was confiscated by authorities but who is not a suspect in the robbery.

Southwest Flight Makes Emergency Landing After Unruly Passenger Tries Opening The Door

Mon, 2014-04-14 16:21

(David Transier)

(David Transier)

It’s common knowledge that airplane doors aren’t meant to be open while in flight. But that didn’t stop an unruly Southwest Airlines passenger from trying.

The Chicago-to-Sacramento flight was diverted to Omaha, NE, after a passenger attempted to open a door mid-flight, KABC-TV in Los Angeles reports.

“Some gentleman just decided that he wanted us to visit the Lord today, and decided to open up the back hatch of Southwest Airlines flight while we were already up in the air,” one passenger, who captured the scene on her cellphone told the TV station.

According to the passenger the man had been acting strangely since the beginning of the flight. At one point he went to the restroom and returned to his seat soaking wet.

“He got up and went to the rear of the plane and tried to open up the hatch,” the woman says. “One of the airline stewardess just started screaming as well as passengers screaming help.”

That’s when a group of male passengers jumped into action by subduing the man until the plane could make an emergency landing.

One of the men who helped contain the unruly passenger at first though there was a medical emergency.

“He was going to do bad things to the plane, so it was pretty scary,” the man told KCRA 3. “We basically tackled — I don’t want to say ‘gentleman,’ – but the guy who was back there and then pinned him down. I got the sense he was probably on some sort of drugs or that he was psychotic.”

Upon arriving in Nebraska, police and TSA agents boarded the plane and escorted the man off. It’s unclear if the suspect faces any charges or if drugs or mental illness played a factor in the incident.

The plane landed safely in Sacramento about two hours behind schedule.

Unruly passenger secreted off CA bound plane [KABC-TV]
Passengers: Man tries to open door on Sac-bound flight [KCRA-TV]

Woman Suing Subway Because It’s Rude To Write “Big Mama” On Her Flatizza Box

Mon, 2014-04-14 16:05

subway-flatizzaA woman in California says she’s planning legal action against the Subway chain of sandwich shops because a Subway worker wrote the words “Big Mama” on her order and because was less-than-thrilled by the company’s response.

According to the NY Daily News, the incident happened on March 27, when the customer placed a to-go order for her and her family. When she got home and began sorting through the food, she noticed that the box for her Flatizza flatbread pizza thingy had the words “Big Mama” written on it.

She called the store right away, where the manager admitted that an employee had written those words.

“The owner said the employee didn’t know better, that he just didn’t get it,” the customer told the Daily News. “He begged me not to go to the media, so I tried to work with him, but then nobody was calling me back. It’s not right. This really hurt me.”

A call to Subway’s corporate office went unanswered, but a subsequent letter — in which she says she suggested better training for employees but made no monetary demands — sent to Subway HQ resulted in an offer of $5,000 if she agreed to sign a confidentiality agreement and waive her right to sue under California law.

“This isn’t about money,” she explained. “This breaks my heart. Here Subway promotes itself as a place for people who need help eating better, then this happens. What if the wrong person got a box like mine? What if they saw that and tried to commit suicide?”

She has rejected Subway’s offer and her lawyer tells the News that a lawsuit is imminent.

The Subway franchisee whose store is at the center of the story tells ABC10 news in San Diego:

“As a small business owner, I do not tolerate discrimination of any kind. When I learned of this incident I immediately investigated and disciplined the employee involved. I also made contact with the customer in an effort to resolve this matter.”

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KFC Peddling Drumstick Corsages Because High School Dances Aren’t Weird Enough Already

Mon, 2014-04-14 15:47

You smell like an original recipe kind of gal.

You smell like an original recipe kind of gal.

As if it’s not hard enough to be a teenager dressed to the nines in a formal outfit that probably cost too much and won’t change your life in the way you’ve always dreamed of, in a room filled with other teenagers awkwardly swaying/pawing at each other, why not strap fried chicken to your arm and just call it a night? To wit: KFC is peddling customizable chicken drumstick corsages for those discerning promgoers looking to go that extra weird mile.

If you’re sniffing the distinct scent of publicity stunt, we’re with you: There are only 100 available, and you’ll have to bring a coupon in to get your own chicken when the time is right.

Looking for a corsage that will make your date’s eyes light up and her mouth water?

This KFC drumstick corsage is the Secret Recipe to making sure this year’s dance will be one you both remember.

Don’t delay. Order today! Only a limited edition of 100 chicken corsages are available.

Just like the last piece of chicken in the bucket, when they’re gone, they’re gone.

The corsage kits come with a $5 KFC gift check that said date can present at his or her local eatery and choose which kind of chicken will satisfy your date’s appetite. It’ll rest on a town of fresh baby’s breath, while ” out-of-town corsages will have silk baby’s breath.”

If you happen to attend a prom that doesn’t come with dinner included in the price of the ticket, this is actually a pretty economical choice. You can gnosh while you wait for your mother to take the 19,003rd photo of you and some guy whose tuxedo was way too big and whose name you won’t remember 14 years later anyway so whatever, just hurry up.

Keep Your Herbs Moist, Your Spices Away From The Stove, And Other Food Storage Tips

Sat, 2014-04-12 17:00

(Allan)

(Allan)

You may not use things like cumin, honey, or sage in every meal, but these are the kinds of ingredients that many home cooks keep on hand so they can use them whenever they’re called for. But how do you keep that paprika from turning into colorful sawdust? And what’s the best way to store that fresh parsley so it won’t be dried up and useless a few days after you buy it?

In previous installments of Spoilage Wars, we gave you storage advice for sensitive supermarket purchases like dairy, eggs, and bread; followed by a look at the best ways to keep fresh fruits and vegetables… well, fresh.

Today, we once again turn to Julia Collin Davison — executive food editor for the book division of America’s Test Kitchen and on-screen test cook for America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country from America’s Test Kitchen — to get some advice on those ingredients that are essential to good cooking, but often go neglected.

FRESH HERBS:
Where to store them: In the refrigerator, preferably with some moisture.
Keep ‘em moist: You can keep fresh herbs in the fridge for up to a couple of weeks if treated right, says Davison. Snip off the ends of your fresh herbs stand them in a small glass with a little bit of water in the bottom. Right next to the milk carton will do just fine. Another option is to wrap them in damp paper towels and put the whole bundle in a plastic bag in the fridge.

SPICES:
Where to store them: At room temperature, but not near the oven, stove or other heat source.
Crazy from the heat: Sure, that really nice over-the-stove spice rack looks great and it’s really convenient when whipping up a goulash on a Tuesday night, but Davison says heat is the enemy of spices.

“It’s just a place that will ruin them,” Davison says, noting that a stale, tasteless spice won’t do you much good. Unless you’re trying to make stale and tasteless the next big thing in cuisine.

“The key is when you open the jar and you put your nose close the opening, and you can’t smell it? Those things are dead,” says Davison, “There’s no point putting it in your cooking.”

DELICATE OILS (LIKE TRUFFLE OIL OR WALNUT):
Where to store them: Refrigerator
Anywhere in particular? In the door works; it’s got that rack and everything.

“Refrigeration preserves their more delicate flavors,” explains Davison about these products, while confirming that more robust oils like olive, corn, canola, and peanut are fine in the pantry.

HONEY:
Where to store it: In the pantry, room temperature. Honey is one of the most shelf-stable food items you can buy. Some people get a little freaked out when their honey crystalizes, but that doesn’t mean the stuff has gone bad.

Davison says there is no sure-fire way to prevent honey from crystalizing, but give the container a bath in warm water to get it liquid again. Don’t make the same mistake as my colleague Chris Morran, who has to heat up a large stock pot with hot water to warm up the mammoth jug o’ honey he bought at a store whose name rhymes with Costco.

CONDIMENTS:
While we’d love to tell you there are hard and fast rules about where to store all your various condiments, Davison says there are just too many variations and too many different ingredients that could decide whether something should go in the fridge or in the pantry. That’s why many commercially available condiments have storage instructions on the label. Davison says you can’t really screw up by following whatever the label says.

That’s it for now on Spoilage Wars. If you have a food storage question you’d like us to investigate, shoot us an e-mail with “SPOILAGE WARS” in the subject line at tips@consumerist.com and maybe it will be answered in a future post.

The Comcast Merger Isn’t About Lines On A Map; It’s About Controlling The Delivery Of Information

Sat, 2014-04-12 16:30

(knight725)

(knight725)

Comcast and proposed merger partner Time Warner Cable claim they don’t compete because their service areas don’t overlap, and that a combined company would happily divest itself of a few million customers to keeps its pay-TV market share below 30%, allowing other companies that don’t currently compete with Comcast to keep not competing with Comcast. This narrow, shortsighted view fails to take into account the full breadth of what’s involved in this merger — broadcast TV, cable TV, network technology, in-home technology, access to the Internet, and much more. In addition to asking whether or not regulators should permit Comcast to add 10-12 million customers, there is a more important question at the core of this deal: Should Comcast be allowed to control both what content you consume and how you get to consume it?

QUESTIONABLE COMPETITION
This week, Comcast and Time Warner Cable executives testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about why they think their merger is such a great idea.

In their joint testimony [PDF], the execs made a point of giving hearty shout-outs to anyone they perceive as a competitor, in order to claim that the merged company won’t be a monopoly. That list of competitors repeatedly named AT&T, Verizon, DirecTV, Dish, Amazon, Apple, Sony, Google, Netflix, and Facebook as chief concerns.

Some of those are easy to understand: the satellite companies directly compete with Comcast to get TV networks into peoples’ homes, for example, and the fiber companies do that plus broadband, too. But Apple and Sony? Amazon and Netflix? Facebook?

If Comcast is the company that plugs the broadband wire into your home, then why are they so concerned about whose devices and services you might use once you’ve got that connection?

Comcast is so concerned about all those other products explicitly because they aren’t just the company that plugs the broadband wire into your home. Comcast is already not only your carrier but also your content — and if they get their way they’ll become your gatekeeper to everyone else’s content, too.

WHAT COMCAST DOES
The post-2011, post-NBCU-merger Comcast is an absolute behemoth of a company. They’ve got reach into an enormous number of media, internet, film, and television-related businesses.

So Comcast is:

  • A “last mile” cable company, managing the physical infrastructure for television delivery
  • A “last mile” broadband company, managing the physical infrastructure for Internet delivery
  • A content delivery company, managing the software for broadcast/cable television (set-top boxes, the X1 platform and “TV anywhere”)
  • An ISP, managing software for Internet access (Comcast.net etc)
  • A broadcast TV network (NBC)
  • A cable content company (Bravo, SyFy, USA, etc.)
  • A movie studio (Universal, Focus Features)
  • A streaming content delivery company (Streampix, Hulu, Xfinity On Demand)

And that’s without getting into their landline phone service, their web properties, their physical properties, their sports ties, or the several large cities where they own major local TV stations.

Distilled, the core businesses from which Comcast makes its big money are as a cable TV distributor, as a broadband Internet access distributor, and as a content company. And the combination of those three elements gives it enormous power.

Owning so many elements all the way up and down the whole process chain is known as vertical integration. (Horizontal integration is spreading a business wider, as the Comcast/TWC merger would do.) So for example, Comcast could take a 30-minute sitcom from production, to broadcast, to syndicated cable rerun, to on-demand, to streaming service that goes right to your home on Comcast’s data network without a third party being any link in the chain.

When vertical integration is used to prevent competitors from doing their business, it can be an anti-trust concern. That most famously happened when the Supreme Court broke up the Hollywood studio system in 1948. In 2011 when Comcast wanted to buy NBCUniversal, the FCC and the Justice Department updated the metrics [PDF] they use to analyze vertical integration and imposed some restrictions on Comcast to prevent certain foreseeable abuses from happening.

THE COMCAST ECOSYSTEM
Pay TV — cable, fiber, and satellite — all work through a series of contract agreements with companies that own the networks. The company that owns the content gets a fee from the distributor, and these are generally arranged on a per-network, per-subscriber basis.

ESPN famously commands the highest fee of any cable network. So parent company Disney gets a little bit of money — in the ballpark of $5 — for every cable, satellite, and fiber subscriber in the country that has ESPN in their package (pretty much all of them).

Smaller networks command much lower fees, because content companies are trying to get their little channels in front of more eyeballs to increase ad revenue. Bigger networks get much higher fees, because realistically if a cable company blacks out ESPN they’re going to lose an enormous number of subscribers. The money depends on who needs whom.

But of course, this is 2014, the age of the cord-cutter. With somewhere between 95 and 100 million subscribers, pay TV is still a big deal… for now. The under-40 crowd is starting to opt out of pay TV at a rate that the industry didn’t see coming even a few years ago. But just because someone doesn’t pay for cable anymore doesn’t mean they don’t want to see the programming.

DOUBLE-DIPPING AND THE MODERN MARKET
Happily for Comcast, those cord-cutting households aren’t unplugging; they’re just replacing their pay-TV service with streaming-only options. And successfully doing that means maintaining a reliable home broadband connection… which Comcast, conveniently, also provides.

Broadband competition is effectively nil in many areas, despite Comcast’s claims about 4G LTE mobile broadband. So buying TWC extends Comcast’s reach into that market, which they no doubt want to do.

But there’s more to it than just selling access to the Internet pipelines. What comes down those pipelines matters, too.

Under the recently-vacated net neutrality rule, an ISP like Comcast would be forbidden from working out a pay-for-carriage agreement with an Internet content company the same way they can with a cable network. But that rule was overturned early this year, and nothing yet has replaced it.

Comcast is obligated, under the terms of its NBCU purchase, to keep adhering to the now-absent rule until 2018. But that rule has plenty of loopholes that can still result in services needing to pay for decent access to Comcast’s network.

Of course, Comcast isn’t just sitting around finding ways to charge companies like Netflix for carriage; they’re out there competing directly in the same space. The trade and lobbying group for the big cable companies, the NCTA, has a chart on their website under “competition” where they list the biggest video subscription services. From largest to smallest, the list includes Netflix, Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, TWC, Hulu, FiOS, U-Verse, Cox, and Charter.

Eight of those are companies that provide pay TV service, and can easily be considered competitors with each other. The other two though, Hulu and Netflix, are internet-only content-only companies that don’t care who you get your broadband connection from, as long as you’re in front of a screen that can access their apps or websites — and Comcast already owns about a third of Hulu.

HOW COMCAST KEEPS YOU IN ITS SANDBOX
The joy of being a vertically integrated company is being able to exercise something called vertical leverage. Basically, the bigger Comcast gets, the more extraordinary financial power they wield. The terms they can negotiate upstream and downstream are more likely to be favorable to them, and not to anyone else.

A report [PDF] from the Consumer Federation of America calls these “bottleneck points.” And the bigger Comcast gets, the more of them they have — as in their recent peering dispute with Netflix.

Comcast also has ways of keeping paying consumers, not just other businesses, playing on their turf. In 2012, for example, Comcast declared that while time spent streaming video through YouTube or Netflix counted against a customer’s monthly data cap, data streamed from Comcast’s On-Demand service would not.

And what about that X1 platform that Comcast keeps touting in all if their testimony, filings, and self-congratulatory website posts? It’s the company’s next iteration on a cable box: a cloud-based, remotely accessible platform that integrates DVR, currently-airing TV listings, and Comcast’s on-demand video. It is convenient for Comcast subscribers… and it’s also a way to keep them from ever wanting to turn on another device and log in to Netflix instead.

Comcast even manages to find a way to use its extensive gatekeeping to prevent paying subscribers from accessing material they paid for. HBO subscribers who get their premium channel from Comcast can’t use the HBO Go app on certain platforms (Roku and PlayStation 3) even though HBO supports it — because Comcast’s authentication process doesn’t.

IS THIS REALLY SOMETHING TO WORRY ABOUT?
Right now, Comcast is limited by legal agreements not to behave in too shady a manner. They had to relinquish management control of Hulu, for example, and those net neutrality requirements remain in place. Getting the merger with Time Warner Cable through the approval process would likely require some sort of nod to broadband competition as a concession.

But Comcast has a really bad track record of actually obeying those orders. Once it gets the green light to go ahead with a business move, they generally just do what they want.

Consumer advocacy groups aren’t the only ones worried about Comcast’s continued expansion plans: lawmakers from both parties have their doubts. Those concerns aren’t just about who runs wires where, and what company a consumer pays to get service. They’re about what customers are allowed to consume.

Whether the reasons for locking a content provider out of distribution access are politically motivated or simply financial, the end result is the same: consumers have narrower access.

THE FUTURE OF NOT-AWESOME
And that’s the future that’s coming to pass. Comcast already controls the production, distribution, and exhibition pipeline for content — both in the traditional TV space and also in the streaming space. But Comcast’s reach, despite the dearth of true competition in most markets, isn’t yet universal. A few other companies are big enough that they can still provide tiny obstacles to Comcast’s vertical leverage.

In the end, making Comcast bigger only gives it more leverage — a company that would control the lion’s share of to-the-home information for this country. Until such a time when (and if) wireless and fiber providers begin offering a service that competes with cable Internet on speed, availability and cost, consumers are only going to see the walls around Comcast’s sandbox grow taller, while bottlenecked Internet businesses face higher and higher tolls for access to a huge portion of American homes and offices.

In this game, the only one who wins is Comcast.

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