The Vermont Novelty Toast Corp. has been making novelty toasters since 2010, tweaking the appliances to toast logos and letters. Things are getting more complicated now, with in-depth graphics and the human face.
The founder of the company says the idea hit him a few months ago while he was trying to engrave a plate with a photo of his son.
“It came out great,” Galen Dively tells ABC News. “He loved it! And then he ate it.”
Here’s how it works: Customers submit photos, which he then downloads and tinkers with to make sure the photos will work on toast — manipulating color and contrast, and taking out background elements. The computer then turns those images into files that a plasma cutter can read.
“We just press some buttons and [the selfie] is cut out of sheet metal,” he explains, and those are inserted into the toasters. The appliances sell for $75 a pop and ship for free.
And there are some best practices users should employ when attempting to toast their faces, he adds.
“You want to choose a bread that’s not very airy. White bread works really well, but I’ve used Ezekiel bread. It all depends on the design, too. If the design has more fine details, then you really want to get a fine-grain bread.”
I always saw myself as a fine-grained kind of gal anyway.
The FCC originally planned to stop taking comments about their net neutrality proposal on Tuesday. But after demand overwhelmed and crashed their antique IT system, they extended the deadline to 11:59 p.m. (EDT) tonight. As of yesterday, well over one million comments had been entered, and that number’s still going up. Clearly, the public cares — but what is the public saying?
There’s a clear recurring trend in comments from individuals: paid fast lanes are not a valid option. Some advocate for Title II regulation, some stand against it, and some don’t mention it at all, but millions have laid out their personal cases for why internet access is important to them and why big companies should not be able to interfere in consumers’ access.
Still, not all comments are created equal. Advocacy groups, companies, and trade and lobbying groups have now all had their say too, with “comments” over a hundred pages long. Here’s what they’re saying.ACLU
The ACLU goes straight to calling for classification of broadband services as a Title II common carrier. They see “concentration in communications markets” as a danger that can prevent citizens from accessing their first amendment rights.
Ideally, they point out, the market would regulate such restrictive service providers, as consumers would switch to an ISP that didn’t discriminate among its network traffic. In the real world, though, that’s impossible due to the extreme lack of competition and monopoly conditions in most markets.
The ACLU’s key argument, though, is that this FCC rule isn’t about 2014 or 2015 — it’s about future-proofing, and that’s why they need to get it right: “Reclassification is especially important in the light of the potential First Amendment risks posed by [Section 706] case-by-case enforcement. … We fear an overly aggressive future administration could conceivably and abusively cite Section 706 in regulating edge providers, and could potentially extend Section 706 to content regulation. In our view, any such application would be a gross abuse of the plain terms of the statute, but there is no assurance such a future administration would occur.”AT&T
Like other broadband companies, AT&T is in favor of as little regulation as possible. They stand to make money if paid prioritization goes through, and so although they claim to be against fast lanes they propose a giant loophole that would allow them to charge anyway.
AT&T also argues that Section 706 regulation is the way to go, because Title II classification will ruin everything forever. Separately, they submitted a 19-page PowerPoint presentation all about peering agreements. Unsurprisingly, they also advocate against applying net neutrality non-discrimination standards to mobile broadband.
The company sums up their 99-page opinion — that there is no problem and we should all move along — succinctly early on, saying: “Calls to use this proceeding to impose a host of additional regulatory controls on broadband Internet access providers should be firmly rejected, particularly because the record is devoid of evidence of any actual threat to Internet openness that could possibly warrant heavy-handed regulation.”Comcast
Comcast favors tighter regulation about as much as you’d think, which is not at all. They more or less say the Wheeler proposal is fine, except for the bit where they want to add some cases where some traffic and “specialized services” are exempt so Comcast can charge for delivering them.
Comcast spends the majority of their 74 pages arguing heavily against Title II classification, saying it would be counterproductive, ineffective, and unlawful. Plus, Comcast says, it wouldn’t do what everyone wants anyway because common carriers have the right to some “permissible discrimination.” They also feel that public wifi and mobile broadband should be subject to the same standard, whatever the rule ends up being.
Their basic argument: allowing Comcast to make more money will be an economic benefit to America — and not doing so will stifle innovation, and cost everyone. “Relying on [section 706] authority,” Comcast says, “the Commission should reaffirm the importance of its transparency framework, reinstate a ‘no blocking’ rule with a revised legal rationale, and establish a ‘commercial reasonableness’ standard to govern direct commercial relationships between broadband providers and edge providers relating to the transmission of Internet traffic over broadband Internet access service. Following this path will enable the Commission to build confidence across the Internet ecosystem and strengthen the ‘virtuous circle’ that has produced
abundant benefits for consumers, businesses, and the economy as a whole.”
Common Cause is the advocacy group where former FCC commissioner Michael Copps now holds a role. They argue that an open internet is essential for a functional democracy, allowing citizens both to be an informed electorate and to interact with their government at every level.
To this end, they write, paid prioritization needs to be banned altogether, and broadband service needs to be reclassified under Title II. Extreme industry consolidation has left no other real choice: “Limited competition in last mile connectivity means end-users are largely captive to ISP gatekeeping behaviors,” the comment says.
In order to preserve the ability for citizens to participate in the political process, they conclude, the FCC needs to prevent ISPs from doing that and they should do that using Title II. “Communications policy should empower consumers, not gatekeepers,” the organization writes. “Any proposal to allow blocking, discrimination, or paid prioritization would strengthen incumbent ISPs that possess both the technical ability and financial incentives to act as toll collectors, judges and juries of internet content and access.”Consumers Union
Consumers Union echoes sentiments of other advocacy groups and calls directly for Title II reclassification of broadband services as the best way to protect consumers.
CU (the advocacy arm of our parent company, Consumer Reports) writes that going with Title II would make things clearest for everyone, saying: “Reclassification would put in place clear rules of the road to protect consumers and would ensure that consumers – and not a handful of ISPs – have control over access to content online.” They, too, say that whatever rule the FCC puts in place needs to apply equally to mobile broadband and to traditional wired broadband.
The organization also points to the looming Comcast/TWC and AT&T/DirecTV merger plans, pointing out that consolidation leaves companies with big incentives and consumers with no options. “The market for last-mile internet access is already controlled by a handful of powerful companies and the largest ISPs are becoming increasingly vertically integrated with programmers,” CU writes. “Paid priority arrangements would give ISPs even greater power to determine which services reach consumers, putting them in a position to determine which services will thrive. With control over both the pipes and content, these providers have the leverage and incentive to favor their own content over the programming of their competitors, and to make market entry difficult for new entrants.”Information Technology Industry Council
This industry group represents many major tech companies, including Apple, Ebay, Facebook, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Yahoo, and a whole bunch of others.
The ITI argues that whatever rule the FCC puts into place needs to protect not only consumers, but also businesses large and small. To that end, they advocate against Title II classification — calling it a “heavily regulatory” framework that would make the FCC too hands-on — but instead want to see something very like the now-vacated 2010 rule.
The ITI largely supports the proposed rule, agreeing that ISPs should not be able to block or degrade any lawful activity, but that “the rule should not bar the potential for commercial arrangements that could benefit consumers.” They also support the FCC’s plan to take a case-by-case look at commercial arrangements to determine whether they meet an agreed-upon minimum acceptable level of service.
The organization “recognizes that without proper protections, commercial arrangements between online service providers and broadband ISPs have the potential to adversely impact competition and choice in the online marketplace,” they write, but that doesn’t preclude certain arrangements that would benefit the biggest, richest companies who they represent. “Consistent with the no-blocking rule, the Commission should permit opportunities for companies to experiment with commercial agreements that could benefit customers”.Internet Association
This trade group represents Air BnB, Amazon, Ebay, Etsy, Expedia, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Netflix, reddit, Twitter, Yahoo, Yelp, Uber, and a few dozen other internet companies you have almost certainly heard of. (And yes, Google, Yahoo, and others are members of both organizations.)
The open internet, they write, is essential to innovation and growth and the owners of the last mile should not be allowed to hamper it. The IA takes a slightly different tactic from the ITI, though, pointing out that ISPs do have both the means and the motivation to put policies in place that discriminate among internet traffic sources, and that they should not be allowed to do so. Instead, the FCC should require broadband providers to undertake “application agnostic” network management protocols. The organization also supports applying the same regulations to mobile broadband as to wirelines.
However, the IA stops short of addressing reclassification, instead simply hinting around the edges that they hope the FCC doesn’t go that far. Mainly, the IA focuses on what they want to see the FCC do, and disregards the how. “The current proposed rule proposes a difficult to enforce, multi-factor framework that is not focused on the goals of broadband deplotment and adoption … and that could lead to overreaching regulatory interventsion by the Commission,” the IA writes. “Consumers and the online ecosystem would be far better served by clearer and more straightforward prohibitions against blocking and paid prioritization.”Netflix
Netflix filed their own comment, separately from any of the trade groups that they’re a member of. They, more than any other content company, have been at the center of recent disputes over peering, prioritization, and bandwidth use and everyone bandies them around as a test case or case study.
Netflix, unlike many other tech companies but like most consumer advocate groups, comes down in favor of Title II reclassification. They also discuss at length the ways in which their streaming service degraded prior to their paid agreement with Comcast earlier this year, and explain that although peering and interconnection are being considered separately from the Open Internet rule, they are also a vital part of network neutrality.
This piecemeal approach under section 706 ultimately will not work, Netflix says. The clearest route to a policy that supports non-discrimination policies is reclassification. “Title II provides a solid basis to adopt prohibitions on blocking and unreasonable discrimination by ISPs. Opposition to Title II is largely political, not legal,” their comment says. They continue by pointing out that “the D.C. Circuit [court] in Verizon pointed to the Commission’s failure to reclassify broadband Internet access as a telecommunications service under Title II as the chief impediment to a solid jurisdictional basis for meaningful open Internet rules.” So reclassification, then, would prevent this all from ending up in court again in the near future.reddit
The “front page of the internet” did what they do best: crowdsourced part of the comment to their community, and told personal stories.
A fast lane, they explain, would have throttled reddit before it even got off the ground. Although the site has a huge number of subscribers and moves a tremendous amount of traffic, it doesn’t generate the same level of revenue as Google or Facebook and would likely not be able to handle paying an ISP for priority access to reasonable connection speeds.
In order to create any kind of valid regulation, reddit argues, the FCC has no choice but to first reclassify ISPs as common carriers. “TFCC cannot do a bright line rule against discrimination without Title II,” reddit writes. “Nor can it ban access fees and paid prioritization, as the court already ruled that such a ban leaves “no room at all” (not substantial room) for discrimination. Thus, in order to enact the rules it must, the FCC needs to classify broadband providers (which, as the FCC recognized in 2010, have terminating access monopolies over their users) as ‘telecommunications services’ under Title II of the Communications Act and apply rulings with appropriate forbearance.”Verizon
Verizon has a lot to say, in their whopping 184-page comment — as one might expect, since it was their lawsuit that led to the 2010 net neutrality rule being vacated in the first place.
Verizon says that the best environment is one that has as little regulation as possible. They have no incentive to throttle any service, they say, because consumers will dump them and flock to competitors if they do. (Ignoring the fact that while FiOS customers might have one other local option, Verizon DSL consumers almost never do.)
Verizon calls out “superficial news reports, sensationalistic interest-group fund-raising appeals, and even late-night comedy routines” for exaggerating the threat that ISPs may pose, but also sings the praises of the proposed “flexibility to offer new products and services,” including those which would rely on paid prioritization agreements. The real threats to equality of internet access, they say, come from Amazon, Netflix, and Google.
And as for Title II reclassification? Well, Verizon argues, that would basically send the internet back to the Stone Age. “The arcane regulatory framework embodied in Title II was crafted for 19th century railroad monopolies and the early 20th century one-wire telephone world. The price and service regulation inherent in Title II have no place in today’s fast-paced and competitive Internet marketplace, and the threats posed by this approach would not likely be confined to broadband providers but would spread inevitably to other Internet sectors.”You!
Millions have had their say, but there’s always room for one more. If you still haven’t gotten your comment in, here’s everything you need to know about submitting your opinion to the FCC. You’ve got until midnight tonight.
According to a KOMONews.com report, employees at Dick’s Drive-In were party to a rather odd encounter with a customer Wednesday.
Employees of the drive-in called police around 5:30 p.m. to report that a woman was harassing customers and refusing to leave the property.
The woman allegedly threw a condiment holder and donation box at employees. One of the items reportedly hit an employee in the arm, causing a scratch.
While that’s a weird encounter of its own, things only escalated from there.
Witnesses told officers that the woman then pulled down her pants and performed a lewd act in front of the restaurant.
Police arrested the woman for investigation of assault and harassment. Officers say she caused $75 worth of damage to the restaurant. Meanwhile, it’s unclear how much damage she caused to patrons who can never unsee what they saw.
California City Will Fine Couple $500 For Not Watering Brown Lawn, State Will Fine’em $500 If They Do
In the epitome of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation, Laura and Mark received notice from Glendora, Calif. that they’d get a $500 penalty for not watering their brown lawn… on the same day the state approved mandatory outdoor watering restrictions with the same fine for violating that attached, $500.
Why is the lawn brown? Because they’re conserving water. Why are they conserving water? Because California asked them to — the state water board chairman even called brown lawns in Cali a “badge of honor.”
But Mom and dad aren’t communicating effectively, it seems.
“Despite the water conservation efforts, we wish to remind you that limited watering is still required to keep landscaping looking healthy and green,” says the letter, according to the Associated Press, setting a 60-day deadline to get the brown green again.
They’re not alone in the confusion, Laura adds.
“My friends in Los Angeles got these letters warning they could be fined if they water, and I got a letter warning that I could be fined for not watering,” she explains. “I felt like I was in an alternate universe.”
While there’s nothing on the books that says local governments can’t fine citizens for brown lawns, Gov. Jerry Brown’s office isn’t a fan of those fees, either.
“These efforts to conserve should not be undermined by the short-sighted actions of a few local jurisdictions, who chose to ignore the statewide crisis we face, the farmers and farmworkers losing their livelihoods, the communities facing drinking water shortages and the state’s shrinking reservoirs,” said Amy Norris, a spokeswoman for the California Environmental Protection Agency, in a written statement.
But local officials say you shouldn’t have to choose between nice landscaping and being drought-conscious — just because there’s a dearth of water doesn’t mean you have the right to drive down property values, by way of drought-resistant landscaping or turf removal programs.
“During a drought or non-drought, residents have the right to maintain their landscaping the way they want to, so long as it’s aesthetically pleasing and it’s not blighted,” said Al Baker, president of the California Association of Code Enforcement Officers.
Another resident who received violation notices in Orange County says she spent $600 installing such drought-resistant landscaping, and still thinks the whole thing is nuts, especially when she sees signs urging residents to conserve water.
“It’s almost crazy because one agency is telling you one thing and another is forcing you to do the opposite,” she said.
According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report [PDF] Kia recalled 51,641 model year 2014 Kia Soul hatchbacks because a plug issue could cause the steering system to fail, and you know, that could cause a crash.
The plug that secures the pinion gear to the steering gear assembly may loosen because of improper application of thread-locking adhesive. If that occurs, the gear can separate from the steering assembly causing a loss of steering.
Officials with Kia tell NHTSA that it will begin notifying consumers this month and dealers will replace the pinion plug.
There have been no reported crashed involving the steering failure issue.
The headline is a lie, first of all, because there are many more than two ice creams involved [list of cities here].
Menu items also vary by city, so it’s understandable that some offerings are better than others (hope you’re representing with frozen custard, Wisconsin) and it sounds like those getting soft serve are having a better time.
Consumerist heard from friends in Boston and New York City today, with Mary sending her $50 receipt for herself and coworkers reading, “Well, this just happened” and Liz saying she also “got cool shades” with her choice of vanilla or chocolate soft serve with sprinkles from a Mister Softee truck.
While those two had a good experience, others aren’t so lucky. Hence, the two kinds of tales, or whatever. Dickens!
Reader Karen wrote to us on Twitter, saying, “This is the Uber_BOS ‘ice cream’ that was delivered to me. It’s not even noon! This is liquid & sticks.”
On the one hand, this is way more convenient than having to stalk the ice cream man — you just choose ICE CREAM on the app instead of Uber or UberX and it shows up.
But my 7-year-old self is slightly sad at the thought of not feeling that immediate adrenaline kick as soon as the ice cream truck’s song tinkles through the air, and of having to chase it down the block screaming “MOOOOMMMMM!!! I NEED MONEY!!! MOOMMMMM!”
In our July Recall Roundup for food, the Great Chia Seed Recall of 2014 continues, ice cream has mismatched flavor labels, and there are mysterious substances in the ham. Oh, and Foster Farms finally recalled some of the chicken blamed for a recent salmonella outbreak.
Our monthly Recall Roundups have grown so expansive that we’ve had to separate them into two separate posts: one for consumer goods, and one for consumables.
If you have any of these listed items in your pantry, refrigerator, or freezer, first check the varieties and flavors against the ones listed on the recall site or press release, then check expiration date or lot numbers.
When there’s a match, don’t panic! If an item is listed as having undeclared walnuts and you’re not allergic to walnuts, for example, you don’t have to do anything at all. You can keep the item, eat it, not eat it, or return it to the store or the manufacturer for your own peace of mind.
Items that may be contaminated with pathogens or foreign objects are worrisome for everyone, and you should return them to the retail store where you bought them, or contact the company for a refund and further instructions.
DESSERTS AND SNACKS
Organic Traditions Ultimate Superfood Trail Mix – possible Salmonella contamination
Häagen-Dazs Chocolate Chocolate Chip Ice Cream – may contain delicious, dangerous peanuts
Oriya Organics Superfood Protein Medley – possible Salmonella contamination
Uncle Ben’s Garden Vegetable with Peas, Carrots & Corn pouches – may contain undeclared gluten (barley)
CONDIMENTS AND SPICES
Richard’s Too Good BBQ, Hot, and Teriyaki sauces – may be contaminated with Clostridium botulinum (botulism)
Organic Traditions Sprouted Chia Seed Powder – possible Salmonella contamination
Organic Traditions Sprouted Chia & Flax Seed Powder – possible Salmonella contamination
Organic Traditions Chia Seeds – possible Salmonella contamination
Foodmaxx, Foster Farms, Kroger, Safeway, Savemart, Sunland, and Valbest chicken products – possible Salmonella contamination – no longer on the market but may lurk in customers’ frezers (also read our posts about this delayed recall and why it may hurt Foster Farms financially)
Wegmans Food You Feel Good About Organic Ham – may be contaminated with “extraneous materials.”
It’s not everyday that a higher education institution shuts down or announces it might be sold. But for the thousands of students attending Corinthian College Inc. (CCI) schools — like Everest University, WyoTech, or Heald College –– that’s their new reality, and it’s one that leaves more questions than answers.A Quick Guide To Your Concerns
My School Is Closing For Good
Students at closed schools may be off the hook for paying back federal student loan debt. Borrowers with private students loans don’t have an automatic out, but shouldn’t count out the option either.
I’m Being Put In A Teach-Out Program
Students whose schools are being phased-out instead of sold or closed down may be stuck with their student loan debt. They may be able to withdraw and seek at least partial refunds.
My Teach-Out Program Is Being Done Through Another School
Students put into teach-out programs through other schools may be able to seek full discharge of federal student loans.
My School Is Being Sold
Students at schools that are put up for sale are stuck in a dangerous limbo that could leave them in debt and without their current program of study.
Look For Exceptional Circumstances
If you can prove the quality of your education deteriorated before you withdrew from a school, you might be able to discharge some student loan debt.
Another For-Profit School Wants Me As A Student
Other for-profit schools are likely to promote their program while students wait to hear the fate of their Corinthian schools. But these students could just end up in a similar situation.
Earlier this month CCI reached a deal with the Dept. of Education that included closing or selling nearly 100 campuses across the country over the next several months.
While we’re still waiting for all of the details to be hammered out, we do know that CCI plans to sell off its Heald College campuses in California, and close Everest University campus in 11 states.
For many of us that news has little impact, but for the 72,000 students who are currently working toward degrees degrees at CCI schools, it leaves their education and more than $1 billion in student loan debt hanging in the balance.
The operating agreement [PDF] between CCI and the Department includes a provision describing the options the schools have regarding current, and even some former, students.Closed School Discharge
If a student attends a school slated for closure, or if that student withdrew within 120 days of the school closing, they may be entitled to a closed school discharge.
This means that the student would have no further obligation to repay their Direct Loans, Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans (which include Stafford and PLUS loans), or Perkins Loans.
If a student used private student loans to finance their education and their school closes, they are generally responsible for repaying that debt.
However, Robyn Smith, Of Counsel for the National Consumer Law Center, says there may be options for those students.
“Students might have a right to full or partial discharge of private loans depending on the terms of the loans and state laws,” Smith says. “Some states issue recovery funds to repay private loans if the school closes.”Teach-Out Programs
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau describes “teach-out” as an arrangement in which students may be able to complete their program and receive their degree at their current school or at a comparable institution.
It’s still unclear which schools will be doing teach-out, but there is a high probability that at least some schools will go this route.
Each student will be required to meet with the director of education at their campus before it can be decided if the student is required to finish their program or entitled to a full refund of their direct costs such as tuition, fees and other education-related expenses paid directly to Corinthian.
Students who enrolled at a Corinthian campus after June 23 can choose between receiving a refund or participating in a teach-out.
But students who were enrolled before June 23 have few options as Corinthian will be making the decision for them.
“If that’s the case they can appeal the decision to Corinthian, but it doesn’t appear that the Department will be able to overrule that decision,” Smith says.
So, if Corinthian decides a student should be in teach-out are they stuck working toward a degree that may have little value or recognition in the future? Not necessarily.
In some instances students may be able to withdraw and apply for a refund. However, the amount would vary depending on how far along the student is in their program. If a student completed 60% or less of their term, they may be entitled to a refund for the potion of the federal loan that was not used.Both Teach-Outs and Closed School Discharges
In the case that Corinthian provides the teach-out itself, students are stuck.
But if another school provides the program students should have the right to opt out and seek a full discharge of their federal loans.
Students that opt to participate in a teach-out may withdraw for any reason before completing the program and still qualify for a full discharge of their federal student loans.
Students who decides to transfer credits and complete their education at another school will not qualify for a discharge, Smith says.If Corinthian Sells Your School
Students at Corinthian schools that are being put up for sale have very few options.
These students do not have a right for a refund or a closed school discharge under the operating agreement between CCI and the Department.
The same would be true if the new owner discontinues a program before a student can complete their degree.
However, if Corinthian can not sell the school and the campus closes, students may be eligible for a discharge. Additionally, students who withdrew from the school 120 days before the school closure will also qualify for a closed school discharge.“Exceptional Circumstances”
In some cases the Department can extend the 120 day period for “exceptional circumstances,” but students must be able to prove the quality of their education deteriorated before they withdrew.
In order to provide sufficient evidence that the education quality deteriorated at their campus, Smith recommends that current Corinthian students document every thing they witness on campus.
“Right now students should be documenting strange things like teachers not showing up, schools being closed for the day, or equipment not working,” Smith says.
In the documentation, students should include the names of Corinthian employees they interact with or witness engaging in odd behavior and the dates they witnessed these unusual events.
If a student decides to withdraw from the school before it closes, Smith recommends that the student covers his or her tracks with detailed documentation.
“Write that they are dropping out and take it to the school, remember the person they gave it to and keep good records of that,” she says.
Students should also network with their peers in order to provide accurate depictions of a school’s quality of education.
“Get each other’s phone numbers and addresses. Each of their individual stories and testimonies will corroborate stories,” she says. “It’s important to network with others to support these applications.”
Additionally, students need to share their experiences with state attorneys general and their legislative representatives.
“If they see things going on, like newly enrolled students trying to withdraw or cancel – some states have laws,” she says. “If they are lied to about their rights to a refund or being pressured to enroll, they should file a complaint. It’s the only way the attorney general or state agencies will know what’s going on at Corinthian.”Watch Out For Other Schools Trying To Pick Up The Pieces
After hearing the horror stories from many former Corinthian students, it would seem unlikely that they’re willing to jump into similar situations at other for-profit colleges, but there’s always that possibility.
Smith warns students to be leery of other for-profit colleges that may market their services.
“A lot of times when a school closes another for-profit will market heavily,” she says. “They’ll say we can help you, but be very careful about enrolling in another for-profit school.”
If a student does decide to attend another for-profit school, Smith suggests getting all of the terms in writing, especially if the school promised to allow credits to transfer.
A VPN (or virtual private network) is a way of extending a private network — a company’s intranet, for example — over a public network, like the Internet.
So say I have Verizon here in Philadelphia (I don’t, but let’s just say I do) for my home Internet access and that Verizon has a horrible history with streaming video company FlixNet. Now say my employer in New York uses an Internet provider that has no issues with FlixNet. If I access FlixNet through my employer’s VPN, the initial FlixNet signal will be going through that non-Verizon Internet provider. It will eventually come to me via Verizon, but Verizon will see it as traffic from my employer’s network and not from FlixNet.
This is one way in which some users of streaming services like baseball’s MLB.tv get around local blackouts. If I’m blacked out of watching a game online because MLB.tv knows I’m in the local TV market for that game, connecting to a VPN can be used to trick MLB.tv into thinking I’m in another city. However, the additional passing around of all this data can result in bad connections, so it’s a way of getting around location-based checks, but it’s not supposed to improve the speed of you connection.
In the below video, Colin Nederkoorn [via Ars Technica] demonstrates just how achingly bad his Netflix service is on FiOS. That “buffering” swirl in the middle of the screen for the first minute or so of the clip isn’t YouTube buffering, it’s his computer attempting to stream a Netflix test video that shows users what level of quality to expect from their connection.
When the video does eventually begin to stream, it’s only at .375Mbps, that’s 1/8 the 3Mpbs that Netflix recommends users have for accessing standard definition video.
More insulting to Colin, it’s only .5% of the 75Mbps downstream speed he’s supposed to be receiving from his high-tier FiOS service.
But then he connects to Netflix via a VPN service, figuring “What the heck?”
“My hypothesis here was that by connecting to a VPN, my traffic might end up getting routed through uncongested tubes,” he explains. “Basically, if Verizon is not upgrading the tubes that go to Netflix, maybe I can connect to a different location (via VPN) first where Verizon will have good performance and there will be no congestion between location 2 and Netflix.”
And his idea worked, with the VPN giving him an acceptable, if still relatively slow, 3Mbps stream.
“It seems absurd to me that adding another hop via a VPN actually improves streaming speed,” says Colin. “Clearly it’s not Netflix that doesn’t have the capacity. It seems that Verizon are deliberately dragging their feet and failing to provide service that people have paid for. Verizon, tonight you made an enemy, and doing my own tests have proven (at least to me) that you’re in the wrong here.”
And the exciting, email-worthy promotion that’s supposed to mirror the excitement (?) of lining up outside stores in the wee hours of a cold November morning to get your hands on a severely discounted big TV or a really sweet [fill in other electronics thing people like]? You have to spend $75 to trigger the promo and get free shipping, and it doesn’t even include dog or cat food, or lizard food if your lizards eat crickets.
“Can we please not make this a thing? It’s bad enough already around Thanksgiving,” writes reader Matthew, not realizing that it’s already too late. “Plus, this doesn’t seem quite so good – first, you have to spend $75 to get free shipping AND it ‘Excludes dog food, cat food, litter, and more.’ Apparently so much more that they couldn’t fit it all in the the footer of the email. Ugh.”
Other items you cannot buy online for your pet with this breathless promo: cat litter, dog litter, ice melter, wild bird food, live fish & rock, aquatic gravel and accents; crickets, live food and frozen food; out-of-stock items, Donations, Petco Gift Cards and eGift Cards. As well as really heavy things and certain delivery methods.
Kelso feels the same way about this whole thing, adding, “It’s Black Friday in July — again. And it’s only 30% (exclusions apply — I didn’t bother to look at what they are) [editor's note: now you do], which honestly isn’t all too much in terms of actual Black Friday deals, just saying’…”
Yes, you can still buy cat toys and dog collars and bird stands or whatever, so that’s great if you’ve got $75 to burn there. But let’s not get crazy and call something Black Friday just because you happen to have a minor discount on a Friday in July.
Caity Weaver of our estranged former parent site Gawker made a deal with her editor: if she could stay at TGI Friday’s from the start of the lunch hour until 1 A.M., munching on a single order of all-you-can-eat appetizers, she would get a week’s vacation. Apparently, eating mozzarella sticks is an endurance sport. At least at TGI Friday’s, where, Weaver reports, the sticks are bland and not good. At least you can get a lot of them?
Here we would normally summarize the post and quote highlights, but trust us: you need to go read the whole thing yourself.
We won’t even tell you whether she survived the ordeal (14 hours during which she wasn’t allowed to read a book, use the wi-fi, or anything else that would make 14 hours in a TGI Friday’s bearable) or finished all of the mozzarella sticks (she ordered 7 plates, and no one cut her off.)
Suddenly I’m very hungry, which I don’t think was supposed to be a reader’s reaction to this piece.
The key to being a stealthy follower is remaining undetected. So if the person you’re following around the convenience store is repeatedly able to catch you on camera behind him, pretending to do busy work, then you need to brush-up on your sneakiness skills.
In the below, hilarious Vine video, user “rashid polo” records multiples instances where the same store employee just happens to be behind him wherever he goes. And when he does get a moment to himself to record some audio, well… look who pops into frame:
An Austrian atheist claiming his right to wear a pasta strainer as “religious headgear” in his official photos will be able to do so, after reading three years ago that you could only wear headgear in official pictures for confessional reasons and filing an application with the colander pics, reports the BBC.
When he applied back then, he said it was a requirement of his pastafarianism religion. It’s taken three years for his license to come through, but now that it has, a police spokesman explained that it wasn’t issued on religious grounds, but simply because he fulfilled the requirement of having his whole face visible.
“The photo was not approved on religious grounds. The only criterion for photos in driving licence applications is that the whole face must be visible,” said a Vienna police spokesman. He adds that it’s been ready since October 2009, but “it was not collected, that’s all there is to it”.
Authorities did require the man to get a doctor to sign off on his application, saying he’s “psychologically fit” to drive. Because the first thing someone might wonder when you insist on wearing a colander on your head is, well… never mind, who am I to judge?
“I didn’t know I was guilty of not collecting it,” the man explained of the delay. “That doesn’t alter the fact that it still took nearly a year [to be issued]“.
Here are ten of the best photos that readers added to the Consumerist Flickr Pool in the last week, picked for usability in a Consumerist post or for just plain neatness.
Our Flickr Pool is the place where Consumerist readers upload photos for possible use in future Consumerist posts. Want to see your pictures on our site? Just be a registered Flickr user, go here, and click “Join Group?” up on the top right. Choose your best photos, then click “send to group” on the individual images you want to add to the pool.
A rep for the cookie company broke the bad news to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“The flavor you are referring to is in fact not real,” said the rep, breaking the hearts of a few dozen people who actually believed this was a bona fide Oreo variety.
Oregon’s attorney general filed a lawsuit in Portland against Living Essentials LLC and Innovation Ventures LLC, claiming that 5-Hour Energy’s claims that consumers get extra energy and focus from a unique blend of ingredients is false, that the jolt just comes from a concentrated dose of caffeine, reports the Associated Press.
It also takes issue with 5-Hour Energy bragging that customers don’t experience a crash after the effects of the drink have worn off, and that it’s safe for adolescents.
Washington’s suit filed in Seattle is similar, and it likely won’t be the last state to do so, says a spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Justice. The state has been leading a 33-state investigation into the product’s claims.
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum says the drink violates the state’s Unlawful Trade Practices Act, and is seeking monetary penalties as well as refunds to anyone who bought the decaffeinated version of the product in Oregon.
The lawsuit says that drink has no extra energy or alertness, after Rosenblum’s office has fought to get unredacted information showing exactly how the drink’s formula achieves its purported effects.
“Plainly and simply, in Oregon you cannot promote a product as being effective if you don’t have sufficient evidence to back up your advertising claims,” Rosenblum said.
A spokeswoman for 5-Hour Energy says the drink won’t go down without a fight, calling the lawsuits civil intimidation.
“When companies are being bullied by someone in a position of power, these companies roll over, pay the ransom, and move on,” a spokeswoman said in a statement. “We’re not doing that.”
States sue 5-Hour Energy over ad claims [Associated Press]
After accidentally posting info about the service to its site earlier this week, Amazon has officially unveiled “Kindle Unlimited,” a $9.99/month subscription service that offers users access to a library of e-books.
The company claims that Unlimited is launching with more than 600,000 titles to select from. Additionally, a subscription includes three free months of Audible audiobook access to about 150,000 titles.
Like other e-book subscription services, including Oyster — and not unlike video services like Netflix or Amazon Prime — Kindle Unlimited is not currently the place to go to see newly released big titles.
There are a couple of marquee series involved in the service, like the Hunger Games books and the Harry Potter titles, both of which Amazon has previously used to promote its Kindle Lending Library offering.
The ideal customer for a service like Kindle Unlimited may be the reader who is just constantly looking for anything to read. In fact, the predominance of smaller publishers and lesser-known authors in the library may help introduce curious readers to titles they might not otherwise have read.
Amazon is offering a free 30-day trial of Kindle Unlimited, but note that the site will begin charging you the $9.99/month if you do not cancel at the end of that trial.
While you might be a streaming girl living in a streaming world (or a guy, but it doesn’t sound as nice), those customers who still received DVDs via snail mail will have to adjust their movie consumption.
Netflix quietly killed off its Saturday deliveries back in June, but it seems most of the country didn’t even notice, given the fact that it’s big news now.
Netflix still has about 8 million DVD subscribers, so some customers did notice the change recently, prompting a spokesman to confirm the change.
“Saturday DVD shipments have been tapering for over a year and ended in early June,” said a Netflix spokesman, via USA Today. “Saturdays have been low volume ship days for us.”
Netflix kills its Saturday mail delivery [USA Today]
Say you’ve got $400 in your checking account and your bank has a policy of charging $35 each time you overdraft your account. Then, losing track of your bank balance, you write four checks totaling $450 — the first for $75, the second for $50, a third for $25, and the final one for $300.
If the bank processes those checks in the order they were written, then you only face a single $35 overdraft fee, as you don’t overdraft your account until that $300 check is processed. But if the bank reorders them from largest to smallest, then it can collect $70 in fees.
A lot of banks do this reordering, also known as “stacking.” They often contend that it’s a matter of making sure the largest, and likely most important, payments are given priority; it just has the happy result of maximizing overdraft fees.
Wells Fargo, which is currently appealing a $203 class action suit over stacking, had already stopped reordering debit card transactions and ATM withdrawals, but continued stacking checks.
But according to the Washington Post, WF will soon begin processing its customers’ checks in the order in which they are received.
“This change will simplify the communication of our posting order to customers since we will have a single process that is used in all of our banking states,” a rep for the bank explained.
Stacking was pushed into the spotlight in 2011 after Bank of America agreed to pay $410 million to settle claims related to the practice. The bank also gave up on reordering transactions altogether.
According to the indictment [PDF] the San Francisco-based grand jury charged the shipping giant with Conspiracy to Distribute Controlled Substances, Distribution of Controlled Substances, Conspiracy to Distribute Misbranded Drugs and Misbranding Drugs.
The DOJ alleges that, starting in 2004 (if not earlier), the Drug Enforcement Administration, FDA and others alerted FedEx to the fact that these illegal Internet pharmacies were using its shipping services to distribute controlled substances and prescription drugs in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and state laws.
And the pressure to be wary of online pharmacies wasn’t coming from just the feds. The indictment states that FedEx couriers in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia alerted management of their concerns that they may be making deliveries to drug dealers and addicts.
Among the examples given by drivers: FedEx trucks being stopped on the roads near delivery addresses for pharmacy customers; delivery addresses that were actually parking lots, schools, or vacant homes where car loads of people were waiting for the FedEx driver to arrive; customers jumping on FedEx trucks and demanding online pharmacy packages; drivers being threatened if they insisted on delivering packages to the addresses listed on the labels.
Rather than cease doing business with these pharmacies, the DOJ says that FedEx “adopted a procedure whereby Internet pharmacy packages from problematic shippers were held for pick up at specific stations, rather than delivered to the recipient’s address.”
The DOJ also alleges that FedEx knowingly made deliveries for at least two organizations — one which “operated a network of illegal Internet and fulfillment pharmacies” and one that was a “fulfillment pharmacy that filled drug orders” for other illegal operations.
Even after FedEx learned of the arrest of a principal of one of these organizations, it allegedly continued to distribute controlled substances and prescription drugs for the group.
The indictment accuses FedEx of not only knowing that the second organization, Superior Drugs, illegally distributed prescription drugs, but that it was fulfilling orders for other illegal pharmacies. When the DEA shut down a fulfillment operation in Maryland, members of the FedEx sales team discussed how Superior had picked up the fulfillment work for that business’s former clients.
About the time that federal agencies began warning FedEx against becoming involved with illegal pharmacies, the company adopted a policy requiring that its credit department vet all new online pharmacy accounts; not to make sure they were legitimate, claims the DOJ, but to make sure they had adequate finances to pay their bills.
“[I]t is becoming more apparent to us that many of these companies are fraudulent and doing business outside Federal regulations,” reads a 2004 e-mail, cited in the indictment, sent by FedEx’s Managing Director of Revenue Operations. The company’s Chief Financial Officer and its Senior VP of Sales later agreed to the credit check policy, which only applied to online pharmacy businesses.
And the policy did not cut down on the number of pharmacies with which FedEx did business. The DOJ says that between 2004 and 2010, FedEx’s in-house list of known pharmacies (not all illegal, mind you) had grown from 200 accounts to more than 600.
Additionally, when FedEx commission-based sales staff began complaining that they were losing commissions because online pharmacies were constantly picking up and relocating, possibly in order to avoid detection by the authorities, the company began assigning the sales category designation of “catchall” to online pharmacies, meaning they were not assigned to any specific account execs, and that they did not affect the yearly sales goals of account execs or their managers.
In arguing for slapping the “catchall” label on online pharmacies in 2006, a Managing Director at FedEx wrote to the VP of Field Sales for the Eastern Region to say, “I can assure you that these types of accounts will always result in a loss at some point. They have a very short lifespan and will eventually be shut down by the DEA.”
“The advent of Internet pharmacies allowed the cheap and easy distribution of massive amounts of illegal prescription drugs to every corner of the United States, while allowing perpetrators to conceal their identities through the anonymity the Internet provides,” said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag. “This indictment highlights the importance of holding corporations that knowingly enable illegal activity responsible for their role in aiding criminal behavior.”
FedEx has been summoned to appear in federal court in San Francisco on July 29.
Meanwhile, the company denies any wrongdoing.
“We will defend against this attack on the integrity and good name of FedEx and its employees,” said a company VP in a statement, adding that FedEx repeatedly asked the government for lists of allegedly illegal online pharmacies. “Whenever DEA provides us a list of pharmacies engaging in illegal activity, we will turn off shipping for those companies immediately… We are a transportation company — we are not law enforcement.”