Shared posts

21 Nov 23:04

Why You Should Rethink Buying Gift Cards This Year

by Laura Northrup

(Patrick Carlson)

Yeah, about that Borders gift card… (Patrick Carlson)

Giving people gift cards has many advantages: you can take a loved one out to dinner from hundreds or thousands of miles away, or you can buy someone new clothes or shoes without guessing at their size. However, gift cards and prepaid debit cards aren’t always the one-size-fits-all gift option that they seem to be, since they can have some serious drawbacks.

Our merry elf colleagues down the hall at Consumer Reports put together a list of reasons why you should reconsider giving gift cards this holiday season, and here we’ve combined their advice with some of our own.

People don’t want ‘em. In a poll, only 37% of Americans said that they really want to receive gift cards this year. Me, I like gift cards, but that’s because I feel obligated to spend cash gifts on useful things, and a gift card to Sephora is, by definition, permission to go buy something frivolous. Maybe it depends on the retailer: a card to your favorite local sandwich shop is more personal than a card to, say, Subway or Walmart.

The funds aren’t protected. If a company goes out of business, you’re left with a nice scraper to remove frost from the outside of your car, and that’s about it. Readers holding KB Toys gift cards, for example, failed to notice that the company was going out of business, and lost their money. Your Borders, Circuit City, and Sharper Image cards? Useless. Also, if a store employee fails to activate a card correctly, you could be stuck with the blame, or at least in for an embarrassing gift-giving experience and a fight with Walmart.

They’re limited. Even if a company is still in business, do your research and make sure that a store is actually available where the recipient lives. Drugstores where I live sell AMC gift cards even though there isn’t an AMC movie theater within 150 miles, because gift card selections are standardized.

There are fees. This applies to prepaid debit cards more than store gift cards, but beware of loading fees for prepaid gift cards, and dormancy fees on all types of cards.

No dispute protection. Credit cards and many debit cards offer you extra warranty protection and the right to dispute a charge within two months if something goes wrong with your purchase. Gift cards do not.

Why gift cards shouldn’t top your holiday shopping list [Consumer Reports]

21 Nov 21:42

Kitten Escapes New Mexico Home On Halloween, Shows Up 2,300 Miles Away In Maine

by Mary Beth Quirk

(Portland Press Herald)

(Portland Press Herald)

There is nothing more suited for a Friday afternoon than a heartwarming tale involving a lost kitten finding her way home against all odds, so I will go ahead and accept your thanks in advance. The starring cat of today’s story escaped her home in New Mexico during Halloween trick-or-treating, only to reappear in Maine a few weeks later.

Because cats can’t talk, it’ll likely forever remain a mystery how six-month-old Spice traversed the 2,300 miles between her home and Portland, ME, where he was found in a duffel bag outside a thrift shop, reports the Portland Press Herald.

He’s now safe at a Portland animal refuge after her three-week odyssey, after she was identified by her microchip. A passerby helping a man lift furniture he was dropping off at the thrift store noticed the duffel bag on the street. He brought it inside and set it down, and saw that the bag moved.

When he opened it, Spice popped out, as well as kitty litter and cans of food. He didn’t know what to do so he took him home on Nov. 5. Spice acted up, and her adoptive family brought him to a local shelter, where her microchip revealed her true home.

The shelter says the woman was confused when they called her to let her know Spice had been found in Maine.

“She said, ‘I don’t know anyone in Maine. I haven’t visited Maine,’ ” a shelter rep explained.

Spice is in fine health after whatever ordeals she may have gone through, but it’s unclear when she’ll go home, if at all — her owner wants her, but can’t afford to have her flown across the country. The shelter can’t afford to foot the bill, either, so Spice will stay put for now.

“We’re going to do everything we can to reunite her with her owner,” the shelter rep says.

Furry mystery pops out of duffel bag: A feline from (far) away [Portland Press Herald]

21 Nov 21:39

FCC Proposes Some Consumer Protections As They Inch Closer To Killing Off Copper Landlines

by Kate Cox

Phones are wireless, consumers are cutting back, and copper is expensive: all are reasons why the big phone companies want permission from the FCC to walk away from old-fashioned landline networks and to keep moving toward an internet-based future. The FCC tentatively agrees, and voted 3-2 today to take another baby step in the process that will end up making the nation’s century-old copper landline network obsolete.

Formally, the FCC adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that sets down the broad strokes of the commission’s requirements for the next steps in what’s known as the IP transition (where voice service moves from copper wires to internet protocol). The key areas the FCC’s proposal addresses are:

  • Protecting consumers’ ability to call 911 from their home phones in a power outage
  • Requiring transparency to consumers about the transition to new tech
  • Making sure new tech actually works before old tech is allowed to be discontinued
  • Preserving competition among services that use and rely on copper networks when those networks are shut down

The commission also clarified that carriers will need to seek approval to discontinue “legacy” service based on “the practical impact of its actions,” rather than based on existing regulatory fine print. The declaratory ruling “ensures that there will be a public process to evaluate a proposed discontinuance,” or, in English, guarantees that companies like Verizon and AT&T can’t just disappear landline phone service overnight all at once because they said so.

The specifics of the proposed rule put forward today address several areas of consumer concern. Verizon in particular has been accused in the past of permitting their copper-wire networks to degrade in order to push consumers into adopting VoIP services whether they want to or not.

The FCC and consumer advocates have also voiced concern about the ability to contact emergency services in a power outage. Copper-wire landline phones still work in most outages, but internet-based phones need to rely on a backup battery with a much shorter lifespan.

Today’s vote was the latest step in a long process that the FCC has been moving through for some time. In January of this year, the commission approve limited regional tests replacing old-fashioned landlines with new tech to see how they went. That process is still underway.

The NPRM adopted today doesn’t change anything yet. First, like every FCC rulemaking, it has a pleading and public comment period to go through. Then the commission gets to work crafting and voting on a final version of the rule.

Commissioner Ajit Pai, one of the two dissenting votes against the NPRM, said that “The commission has no business micromanaging each change a carrier makes to its network,” and argued that concerns about consumer harm are a “Chicken Little” baseless, unproven claim that the sky is falling.

However, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler disagreed, pointing to Verizon’s response to rebuilding — or rather, not rebuilding — damaged service in New York in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

“This is not a hypothetical issue,” said Wheeler. He added, “Technology transitions will be speeded up by technology neutral rules that promote, preserve and protect … the set of values that consumers have rightly come to expect from their networks.”

21 Nov 20:48

New DoD Protections Aim To Keep Shady Businesses From Taking Advantage of Military Members

by Ashlee Kieler

military

Members of the military — particularly younger members from lower-income backgrounds — are too often the target of shady, predatory businesses looking to take advantage of their youth and inexperience with finances. The Military Lending Act offers some protections, but these operators find ways to get around the law. On Friday, the U.S. Dept. of Defense took steps to eliminate some of those exploitations by creating reforms to the current military discretionary allotment system.

According to the Department of Defense, the policy changes [PDF] will prohibit servicemembers from using new allotments to purchase, lease or rent personal property, including vehicles, appliances and consumers electronics, effective January 1, 2015.

Currently, the military discretionary allotment system allows servicemembers to automatically direct a portion of their paycheck to financial institutions or people of their choosing. But often military personnel using the allotment system instead of other automatic payment options end up losing out on certain legal protections.

Existing allotments and those made for the purpose of savings, insurance premiums, mortgage or rent payments, support for dependents, or investments will not be affected. The changes do not apply to military retirees or Department of Defense civilian employees.

The new regulations are intended to eliminate the aspect of the allotment system most prone to abuse by unscrupulous lenders that prey on servicemembers.

Consumerist reported on one such company earlier this year, when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau took action to stop USA Discounters from taking advantage of underpaid soldiers by charging exorbitant fees, suing them when they feel behind on payments and skirting the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), which gives active duty servicemembers the right to defend themselves but does not specify where lawsuits must be filed.

The retailer, which has locations near 11 military bases, advertised its always-approved credit offers to members of the military with bad credit or no credit history as a way to entice them to purchase items such as computers and televisions.

Officials with the Department of Defense say the new rules will significantly improve protections for all servicemembers and their families, while not significantly reducing the flexibility to use allotments for a number of legitimate purposes.

The changes were directed by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel following an interagency review conducted in response to major enforcement by the CFPB, the Dept. of Defense says in a new release.

Officials with the CFPB called the reforms a “critical new protection” for military personnel.

“In recent years, the allotment system has been used by unscrupulous companies that prey on servicemembers as a quick and secure way to get paid. Many of them have even required payment by allotment,” explains Holly Petraeus, CFPB director for servicemember affairs. “Today’s announcement will help prevent future abuses by addressing the problem at its source.”

Since its creation after the recession, the CFPB has recovered more than $98 million for thousands of consumers through multiple enforcement actions against entities whose businesses were largely premised on receiving payments from servicemembers, often through the military allotment system.

Earlier this week, the CFPB issued a reminder to service veterans of their rights to have some of their student debt forgiven, but warned that if they pursue the option they must be vigilant in checking their credit reports for inaccurate information.

Under federal law, veterans can seek federal student loan forgiveness if they receive a 100-percent disability rating by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the CFPB reported.

“We are concerned that, in some circumstances, when veterans are able to discharge their student loans due to their disability, they may experience damage to their credit report if their student loan servicer provides incorrect information to the credit bureaus,” the blog post warned. “These mistakes, if uncorrected, can result in a negative entry on their credit report that makes it harder and more expensive for these disabled veterans to get credit, buy a car or take out a mortgage.”

21 Nov 19:05

93-Year-Old Woman Celebrates 75th Anniversary Working For The Same Company

by Mary Beth Quirk

She might be eight years younger than the 101-year-old man who’s worked for the same lighting company for 73 years, but at 93, an Alabama woman outstrips his number by two years, as today she celebrates 75 years working at a Birmingham jewelry store.

Frances started working at the family-owned Bromberg & Co. (one of the nation’s oldest family-owned retailers, the Associated Press notes) on Nov. 21, 1939, when she was hired to polish silver. She’s stayed ever since.

“Frances is a remarkable person,” said Bromberg’s President Rick Bromberg, saying she’s still a valued employee who contributes to the bottom line. “She is the longest-serving employee in the history of our company, including family.”

When she started working there she made $8 a week, and was later transferred to gift wrap. Cut to 1970, and Frances was in charge of the company’s multimillion-dollar jewelry inventory.

“Anything I wanted to do in the store I started going it,” she said. “I’d go move from one department to the other because I just like going around in the store and looking at the pretty things.”

The company held a celebratory breakfast for her this morning on her workiversary.

She says she’d like to keep working as long as she can.

“Last year I thought I was going to have to give up because of the fact I broke my hip several years ago, had knee surgery and all those things,” she said. “But I snapped back every time.”

93-year-old woman marks 75 years with same company [Associated Press]

21 Nov 17:10

Why Big Companies Spend So Much Money On Washington: It Works Even Better Than You Think

by Kate Cox

That money talks in Washington is conventional wisdom for a reason. Corporations, industries, and a handful of extraordinarily wealthy individuals spend big bucks on campaigns and on lobbying not for fun, but because they expect to get something back in return. And while adding up all those expenditures is comparatively straightforward, finding out who gets how much back has been harder… until now. A new study finds that billions of dollars might go into D.C., but trillions are coming back out.

The Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit, released a study this month they call Fixed Fortunes. In their research, the Foundation looked at six years of campaign and lobbying spending by the nation’s 200 largest corporate spenders (“the Fixed Fortune 200″), and compared it to the favorable returns those companies get.

The numbers are as depressing as they are large. In total, the 200 organizations spent a combined $5.8 billion on federal lobbying and campaign contributions. Corporations (or the people who run them) might be avaricious, but they’re not stupid: nobody spends that much without getting a solid return from their investment. And so they do: together, over the same six-year span, those corporations received $4.4 trillion in federal business and support.

In a rough sense, for every dollar they spend on Washington, the biggest companies in the U.S. are getting more than $750 back. With outcomes that good, it’s no wonder spending on politics keeps going up.

The returns from the feds take all kinds of forms. Sometimes lobbying results in policies and industries more favorable to a company’s long-term interests, but sometimes it also means actual cash in hand in the form of loans, grants, or lucrative contracts:

For example, the federal government issued contracts to purchase goods and services that totaled a little more that $3 trillion during the period; companies among the top 200 corporate political givers won $1 trillion of that, a third of the total. The Treasury Department managed $410 billion in loans and other assistance issued under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, created by Congress to cope with the 2008 financial crisis; of that amount, $298 million, about 73 percent, went to 16 firms among the Fixed Fortune 200. When the Federal Reserve took extraordinary measures in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, it funneled nearly $2.8 trillion through 29 Fixed Fortune firms. The companies that participated the most in politics got huge returns.

The companies come from all sectors, the Foundation reports. Finance takes about a quarter of the slots, with 48 businesses far and away making the largest number of campaign donations time and time again. Of the other three-quarters, 28 fall into communications and electronics, 21 in healthcare, 13 in defense and aerospace, 13 in agribusiness, 11 in “energy and natural resources” (mining, oil, etc), and 7 in transportation.

The “Fixed Fortune 200″ gave to roughly a quarter of all Congressional incumbents (approx. 144 members) in each election cycle, the Foundation found. The same group also accounted for roughly 1% of all lobbying clients (there are over 20,000), but for more than a quarter, 26%, of all lobbying spending.

The Foundation looked at a six-year span — 2007 through 2012 — specifically because they wanted to include spending both before and after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling. In that case, and again in 2014′s similar McCutcheon ruling, the Court held that when it comes to politics, money is protected speech and therefore spending can’t be limited. The ability to buy your way into a favorable political outcome, therefore, is protected.

The Court, in an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, also found that influence is only tantamount to corruption if it reaches cartoon-villain levels of obviousness. Since nobody is handing over giant burlap sacks with dollar signs printed on the side in exchange for mysterious briefcases, it’s all above-board and legal.

Spending, meanwhile, continues to increase. Candidates, their campaigns, the parties, and donors spent about $1.5 billion (with a B) on the 2014 midterms. That’s on top of the $3.24 billion spent on formal lobbying last year, and the $2.4 billion and counting spent this year.

In the six-year span covered by the Sunlight Foundation study, General Electric was the biggest overall spender, to the tune of over $151 million. GE, in turn, received $23.5 billion in federal business and $19.6 billion in federal support during that same time period.

However, GE was nowhere near the biggest recipient of federal business, which the Foundation defines as including government contracts and some other transactions. That honor goes to massive defense contractor Lockheed Martin, unsurprisingly, with $204.2 billion of business from the feds. Fellow defense and aerospace contractors Boeing ($187.9 billion) and Northrop Grumman ($88.6 billion) were right behind.

The biggest recipients of government support (“including loans, loan guarantees, grants, and money advanced to companies in the aftermath of the financial crisis”) were, again unsurprisingly, all banks. Citigroup received $503.4 billion of support, followed by JPMorgan Chase with $485.6 billion and Bank of America at $457.1 billion.

You can browse the full table, or download the data set to do your own analyses, by clicking here.

Fixed Fortunes: Biggest corporate political interests spend billions, get trillions [Sunlight Foundation]

21 Nov 16:09

Zappos Is Opening An Enormous Real-Life Holiday Pop-Up Store

by Laura Northrup

(OrderWithMe)

(OrderWithMe)

Zappos is famous for its attentive customer service, but how would that translate to real life? Customers will have the opportunity to find out from this weekend until December 31, as Zappos opens a 20,000 square foot holiday pop-up store in downtown Las Vegas. Since it’s Vegas, the store will be open 24/7 the whole time (except for Thanksgiving and Christmas) and offer an integrated retail and online shopping experience, especially to customers who download the app before they shop.

The app? The retail venture isn’t all Zappos: their partner is ShopWithMe, a company seeking to provide integrated online and in-store inventory services for small retailers. The idea for the pop-up store (and for retailers that sign on with the service later on) is that customers can fondle and try on merchandise, then use handy kiosks or their smartphones to order items that aren’t in stock.

While most people refer to this as a Zappos project because they’ve actually heard of Zappos, ShopWithMe is behind the endeavor. Selling Zappos products during the holiday season seems sort of incidental to the whole project. Their goal is to show off their services, using Zappos’ vast inventory of online items to show off their own services.

ShopWithMe is a venture of OrderWithMe, a company that in turn is also based in Las Vegas. One of its investors is Zappos founder Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Fund.

Preview the Zappos Pop-Up Shop in Downtown Las Vegas [Tech.co]
Zappos opens first freestanding store [Chain Store Age]
JOIN THE PARTY [ShopWithMe]

21 Nov 15:47

Lexus Recalls Nearly 423,000 Sedans Because Fuel Leaks Can Lead To Fires

by Ashlee Kieler

The only time most consumers want to see a car catch on fire is during a high-action movie. So it’s probably for the best that Toyota issued a recall of nearly 423,000 Lexus vehicles for a fuel leak issue that increases the risk of fire.

The Associated Press reports that the latest recall covers 422,509 model year 2006 to 2011 Lexus GS sedans, model year 2007 to 2010 LS sedans and the 2006 to 2011 IS sedan.

Officials with Toyota say the vehicles’ fuel lines, which have nickel phosphate plating to protect against corrosion, may have been built with particles coming into contact with a gasket.

If that’s the case, the sealing property can deteriorate and trigger a fuel leak where the fuel pressure sensor is attached to the fuel delivery pipe. If a spark were to occur a fire could start.

Toyota reports it is unaware of any fires or injuries related to the issue.

The AP reports that Toyota began looking into the matter in June 2010 after getting a report of a gasoline odor coming from an owner’s engine compartment.

During the investigation, the company received six reports from the field and 238 warranty claims about the issue. However they didn’t find the cause until last year.

Owners of affected vehicles will be notified of the issue starting next month, and dealers will repair the issue.

Toyota Recalls Over 420,000 Lexus Cars to Fix Fuel Leaks [The Associated Press]

20 Nov 19:06

Graco Recalls 4.7 Million Strollers To Prevent Amputations Of Tiny Fingertips

by Laura Northrup

Capri strollerLARGEGraco and Century strollers with a sliding fold-lock hinge have been on the market since 2000, but they are potentially dangerous. The Consumer Product Safety Commission knows of eleven cases where children have caught their tiny fingers in the hinge. In ten of those cases, their fingertips were amputated or partially amputated. Graco has announced a recall, and will send a repair kit to stroller owners.

fold_lock

Of course, in the meantime, parents and other caregivers would probably prefer not to chop their kids’ fingertips off. Graco has warned customers to “be certain that the hinges are firmly locked before placing a child in the stroller,” and to take the child out of the stroller before beginning to fold it up for carrying or storage.

The recalled model names, which more or less just mean different colors of similar strollers, are the Aspen, Breeze, Capri, Cirrus, Glider, Kite, LiteRider, Sierra, Solara, Sterling and TravelMate. Photos of each are available at the CPSC website, as well as the specific model numbers that you can check against your own stroller.

To get a repair kit, you can call Graco Children’s Products at (800) 345-4109 from 8 AM to 5 PM Eastern time on weekdays, or visit Graco’s stroller recall site for more information and to request a kit.

Graco Recalls 11 Models of Strollers Due to Fingertip Amputation Hazard [CPSC]

20 Nov 14:07

Meth lab at Red Roof Inn busted - WTOP


Meth lab at Red Roof Inn busted
WTOP
Police in Manassas, Virginia, say they've arrested three people suspected of operating a methamphetamine lab at the Red Roof Inn off of Interstate 66. Authorities say the drug was being made inside a motel room and being sold to others who were staying ...

20 Nov 16:07

Walmart Closes Now-Infamous Online Price-Matching Loophole

by Laura Northrup

It was fabulous news for bargain-hunters when Walmart announced a change to its price-matching policy, allowing shoppers to bring in listings from popular online retailers as long as the items are identical. When some shoppers formulated an evil-genius plan to use fake third-party seller Amazon listings to buy PlayStation 4s for less than 25% of the sticker price, the wording of the original policy technically allowed this to happen. Walmart has responded by changing their policy.
(Kotaku)

(Kotaku)

Anyone who read the original policy probably could have predicted that this change would need to be made, and it was a glorious few days while it lasted for the tricksters who managed to talk a Walmart store into accepting the fake listings. It probably wasn’t such a great idea for them to boast on social media about their new toys. In a statement to the media about the console-buying scheme, Walmart said that “we can’t tolerate fraud or attempts to trick our cashiers.”

In future, if you want to get a price match at Walmart, it will have to be on items sold by Amazon, not just items sold on Amazon.

Here’s the full statement from a Walmart spokesman.

We launched online price matching because it’s the right thing for our customers. It’s making a meaningful difference for people who want to feel confident they’re getting the best price, and we’re committed to matching online prices going forward.

At the same time, we can’t tolerate fraud or attempts to trick our cashiers. This kind of activity is unfair to the millions of customers who count on us every day for honest value. With this in mind, we’ve updated our policy to clarify that we will match prices from Walmart.com and 30 major online retailers, but we won’t honor prices from marketplace vendors, third-party sellers, auction sites or sites requiring memberships.

We will continue to listen to feedback from our customers and our cashiers to make sure our online price match policy is working. Customers with questions can read the updated policy by searching ‘online price match’ at Walmart.com.

20 Nov 15:51

British TGI Fridays Deploying “Mistletoe Drones” Because Romance Should Involve Mozzarella Sticks

by Mary Beth Quirk

mistledroneBecause drones ones are the cool new thing all the kids want to play with now at work — Amazon’s doing it, Google wants in, heck, even icefishers like’em — one TGI Friday’s in the UK is taking advantage of the drone craze to get diners in the mood over mozzarella sticks and potato skins this holiday season.

The pilot project will take off at a Manchester TGI Fridays this holiday season, reports the Manchester Evening News, before it hits the air at selected locations around England.

As for what makes these drones holidayish, no, they’re not buzzing customers with shots of eggnog or tooting out seasonal tunes — the drones will be carrying pieces of mistletoe and hovering over diners with a built-in kiss cam to capture all those romantic moments over appetizer combo platters and cheeseburgers. Delicious.

“Everyone loves a good Christmas party, but we all know things can be a bit awkward until someone breaks the ice,” a spokeswoman explains, adding that Fridays is all about celebrating, so why not amp up Christmas and get shy diners some lovin’.

“Our mistletoe drones are the perfect way to do this. Not only are they great fun for the entire restaurant, but they help people get a little closer at this time of the year,” she said, adding, “Who knows — maybe we’ll have had our first mistletoe drone wedding by this time next year.”

This sounds like the perfect set-up for a perfectly awful romantic comedy and I want in.

Here’s the promo footage with all the perfectly groomed people and servers giggling:

Love is in the air as Manchester restaurant launches Christmas mistletoe drones [Manchester Evening News]

20 Nov 15:41

Hotel To Refund $157 Fine To Couple Who Posted Negative Review

by Chris Morran

hotelgrabA couple visiting the English seaside town of Blackpool only paid about $57 for their one-night hotel stay, but when they slammed the place with a TripAdvisor review that called it a “rotten, stinking hovel,” the hotel hit back with a $157 fine.

The hotel guests tell the BBC that the £100 penalty popped up on their credit card account a couple days after posting the decidedly not-positive writeup.

The hotel claimed the couple had violated its non-disparagement policy, saying it “felt extremely upset by their actions and insulting comments towards our staff.”

The Blackpool hotel’s policy stated that, “For every bad review left on any website, the group organiser will be charged a maximum £100 per review.”

Management tells the BBC that it put the clause in place because “We have found that customers will threaten us with bad reviews simply to gain a discount.”

However, after being told by local authorities that it may be illegal, the hotel has ended the policy.

A number of businesses on both sides of the Atlantic have been trying to use these restrictive policies to prevent customers from complaining online and punish those that do.

California recently passed a law specifically outlawing non-disparagement clauses and there is similar pending legislation at the federal level.

19 Nov 22:32

Mattel Apologizes, Says Incompetent Engineer Barbie ‘Doesn’t Reflect The Brand’s Vision’

by Laura Northrup
networkedagent

Yes, there’s a typo. Technical Editor Barbie will remove that later. (Swift on Security)

Earlier today, we wondered why the communications people over at Mattel hadn’t answered any questions about a book starring Barbie as a computer engineer. Barbie’s “engineering” job consisted of designing puppies while having male colleagues code the game and reboot her computer. This isn’t just sexist, but an inaccurate representation of what computer engineers do. Good news: Steven and Brian managed to get the virus off PR Barbie’s computer, and the book’s author has spoken up as well. UPDATE: Amazon also appears to have pulled the e-book version of this title.

Susan Marenco has written lots of stories about established characters, especially for Disney. According to her personal website, she wrote the dialogue for all of the Barbie “I Can Be” books, including the problematic title about Computer Engineer Barbie. She told ABC News that the issue may have been a miscommunication between her and her editors: she claims that she was told to write a book about Barbie as a “designer,” and Barbie in the book does design a cute puppy game.

Yet Marenco admitted that she sees how this book is problematic. It’s not that she’s never worked with engineers: she is a technical editor, and spent twenty years working for Microsoft as an editor and usability designer.

“If I was on deadline, it’s possible stuff slipped out or I quietly abided by Mattel without questioning it,” she told ABC. “Maybe I should have pushed back, and I usually I do, but I didn’t this time.” Mattel hasn’t confirmed this account with ABC yet. She could have easily made one of the engineer characters in the book female.

That’s a problem not just in feminism, but in life in general: the need to get an assignment done so you can go to sleep or out to dinner or to your third job, balanced with the need to fight back against putting potentially harmful messages in a book for little girls. She may not even have realized how harmful the messages were, given that her assignment wasn’t to write a book about an “engineer.”

For its part, Mattel is sorry, too. They sent a statement to ABC News attributed to Lori Pantel, vice president of Barbie’s global brand marketing, explaining that the book was written in 2010. That’s not much of an excuse.

Since that time, we have reworked our Barbie books. The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the Brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for. We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologize that this book didn’t reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girls’ imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.

That’s not to say that a woman who enjoys games about pink puppies, or who needs help to remove a virus from her computer, isn’t empowered in other areas of her life. It’s just that to women who work with technology, this book read a little bit like a story about Barbie as a doctor who runs to a male colleague for help when she gets a paper cut.

Don’t sweat it, though, Mattel: Over at the site Feminist Hacker Barbie, a whole team of helpful volunteers are rewriting the book for you.

0RFjqEM

PREVIOUSLY:
We Guess Public Relations Barbie Can’t Use Email Any Better Than Computer Engineer Barbie
Computer Engineer Barbie Needs Men To Write Code, Can’t Reboot Computer

19 Nov 18:05

United Airlines, Orbitz Ask Court To Stop Site From Selling “Hidden City” Tickets

by Chris Morran

Recent Skiplagged listings for flights that don't end in Chicago, but go through Chicago.

Recent Skiplagged listings for flights that don’t end in Chicago, but go through Chicago.

I live in Philadelphia and if I want to visit a friend in Chicago for a weekend, it will cost me several hundred dollars for a round-trip ticket on U.S. Airways. For significantly less money, I could book what’s known as a “hidden city” ticket from Philadelphia to Orlando via Chicago, and then just get off the plane when it stops in Chicago. Most airlines ban the practice, but there’s not much they can do to stop it. They can, however, sue to stop a website from promoting and booking these verboten fares.

Skiplagged.com is a site that lists and is supposed to allow you to book hidden city fares (though all of our attempts to reserve tickets failed), and is now the subject of a lawsuit [PDF] filed in federal court by both United Airlines and travel-booking service Orbitz.

The plaintiffs accuse Skiplagged and its owner of “intentionally and maliciously” interfering with withe their business by “promoting prohibited forms of travel” and inducing “breach of Orbitz Worldwide’s travel agency contracts with commercial airlines and of United’s customer contractual relationships.”

Most airlines forbid passengers from booking travel to somewhere other than their intended destination. Additionally, the deals that travel agents and booking services make with airlines generally include a ban on knowingly allowing a customer to purchase a hidden city fare.

The plaintiffs claim that Skiplagged and its owner are aware of this prohibition and still not only advertised the fares but also then directed users to the United and Orbitz websites to purchase the tickets.

The airline and the travel site claim that this direct-linking to their online booking portals falsely gave the impression that the plaintiffs were affiliated with Skiplagged.

“To the average internet user of Skiplagged, the transition from the Skiplagged site to Orbitz’s website is seamless and strongly suggests an affiliation or identity between Skiplagged and Orbitz that does not exist,” reads the complaint. “By creating a website that operates in much the same manner as an online travel agency, and by linking that site to Orbitz’s site, [the defendant] is attempting to confuse and mislead the public into believing that his website, and the “hidden city” ticketing it employs, is done with the approval (if not the outright authorization and sponsorship) of Orbitz and the airlines.”

Orbitz claims that the Skiplagged owner “expressly agreed not to engage in this conduct when he entered into an affiliate agreement with Orbitz, LLC in early 2013.” That agreement has subsequently been terminated. Additionally, the complaint claims that the defendant “has taken steps to try to hide from Orbitz and United his continued bad conduct and breach of his promises to stop.”

United says that when it demanded that all of its trademarks and content be deleted from the site, Skiplagged initially responded that it would do so. But instead, according to the complaint, Skiplagged replaced United’s name with a “Flight Censored” label, and a note reading “Sorry for the inconvenience, but United Airlines says we can’t show you this information.”

Additionally, United claims that Skiplagged continued to list the airline’s flights, but with slightly altered departure times so that the content was not identical to that published on the United site.

Among the violations alleged by the plaintiffs are violation of the Lanham Act’s prohibition against false affiliation, tortious interference, breach of contract, and misappropriation. The plaintiffs are seeking damages and asking the court to issue an injunction blocking Skiplagged from listing and offering hidden city fares.

19 Nov 16:42

We Guess Public Relations Barbie Can’t Use Email Any Better Than Computer Engineer Barbie

by Mary Beth Quirk

Barbie is stymied by this email thing.

Barbie is stymied by this email thing.

Yesterday we found out that Computer Engineer Barbie has no idea what computer engineering is, and can’t write code for a game she’s designing without men to do it for her, much less email or reboot her computer successfully. We reached out to Mattel’s media relations team to comment on the book all about Barbie’s brush with a computer virus and subsequent saving by her guy friends, but it would seem the PR team also has trouble using email. Better ask Steven and Brian for help.

Thus far Mattel has remained silent on the recent outrage over I Can Be A Computer Engineer, a book that people have been complaining about in the Amazon reviews for the title since January. Consumerist has yet to get a reply to our inquiry yesterday, and it doesn’t appear that Mattel has issued a public statement or comment on the controversy.

This, despite a renewed and steady flow of complaints in the reviews on Amazon. There are currently 97 one-star reviews, eight five-star reviews (at least one of which appears to be sarcastic) and only a few other ratings in between:

Content communicates the opposite of what the title promises
This review is for Barbie I can be a computer engineer; How did Mattel fail so badly at creating this book? Clearly parents who have a genuine interest in getting their daughters involved in STEM would purchase a book with this title. Problem is, it communicates the exact opposite of what the title promises to little girls. Mattel- if you wanted to contribute positively to the women in STEM movement you should have at least done your research. A BASIC test group perhaps? Speak to a woman software engineer perhaps?

Small girls can code!
My daughter who is 9 can program with Scratch (the puppy and blocks that are mentioned in the book), and finish her video game with no male help. This book is awful, please do not buy it for girls (or boys).

I am very glad this book was NOT available when I was younger, just imagine where I’d be then.
As an awesome computer engineering female, I find this book insulting and rediculously terrible. There is no way the content actually came from anyone who knew anything about computer engineering – and literally any woman who was actually a computer engineer could have come up with an inspiring message or at least a decent storyline. This probably does more harm than good – I can’t believe someone released this.

Sexist rant tells girls they CANNOT be Computer Engineers
I can’t believe anyone would think this is appropriate for children. This is nothing but a tasteless way for the author to discourage girls from learning how to be self sufficient people and rely on boys instead.

Barbie is supposed to be a computer engineer and yet she seems to know less about computers than my mom (no offense, Mom). She wants to design a game, but doesn’t seem to understand really basic things, like virus protection.

Don’t waste your money or your time on this POS

the computer engineer book is not just bad – it is harmful
if you show the so-called computer engineer book to your daughter, or son, be sure to point out that it is ridiculous. one of the first things she does is say she needs some boys to do her coding – that she can NOT be a computer engineer. it doesn’t improve. she is not portrayed as a competent computer user much less a computer engineer. i recommend you NOT buy it at all but if you are in a bookshop, and see it, tell the manager that all copies should be taken from the shelves and sent back to the publisher.

Great gift idea for the holidays
Great gift idea for the holidays! Little girls now know to think only of cute puppies, colored blocks, and asking for help from the boys. And little boys will churn out the next WoW and buy up San Francisco. Thanks so much, Amazon, for carrying such strong products!

Fanfic? Please?
Please.. please tell me this is an unlicensed and the author is about to get a knock on their door from Mattel’s lawyers to have a little word with the person about copyright infringement and harming their brand.

Poison for the soul
This book is pure poison for the mind of any child. Barbie herself would be enraged that her corporate overseers have misrepresented her capabilities and motivations. Mattel should be ashamed to have betrayed their own ward.

Gross.
This book is bad primarily because it is inexcusably sexist (it is extremely clear that the sexism was purposefully written in, not overlooked by accident).

As if that weren’t bad enough, it’s also laughably technically inaccurate.

We’ll let you know if PR Barbie figures out how to use email.

19 Nov 16:01

Starburst Introduces Christmas-Themed Jellybeans For Some Reason

by Laura Northrup

Here at Consumerist, we’re fascinated with holiday mashups: items that we associate with one holiday re-purposed for another, usually for marketing reasons. Items like pumpkin spice egg nog and Independence Day candy corn exist because the makers of candy corn and egg nog want to expand these festive treats out to other holidays. Now let’s welcome Christmas jelly beans to the holiday mashup fold.

starburst

Christmas jelly beans? Yes, Christmas jelly beans. Starburst brand jelly beans are very tasty, we admit, but we have some trepidation about expanding jelly beans to non-Easter holidays. When the Easter candy is out on display before Christmas in some stores, why are we even bothering to have special foods for different holidays at all? Let’s have Halloween baskets and go around to our neighbors’ houses demanding candy on Valentine’s Day, too.

Spotted On Shelves – 11/19/2014 [The Impulsive Buy]

19 Nov 15:32

NHTSA Pushes For National Recall Of Takata Airbags

by Ashlee Kieler

In the past year, nearly 10 million vehicles have been recalled in areas of high humidity – generally the southern United States – related to defective Takata-produced airbags. That number could increase significantly now that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has urged the Japanese auto parts maker and car manufacturers to expand the recall to cover the entire United States.

On Tuesday, NHTSA called for a national recall of vehicles with certain driver’s side frontal airbags made by Takata.

Officials with the agency say the decision to call for an expanded recall was based on NHTSA’s evaluation of a recent driver’s side airbag failure in a vehicle outside the current regional recall area.

Reuters reports the incident involved a 2007 Ford Mustang in North Carolina. Investigators with NHTSA say that all other incidents of Takata airbag ruptures have occurred in areas of the regional recall.

Regulators believe that issues with the airbags have been caused by the presence of moisture, which led automakers to initiate recalls in areas of high humidity such as southern Florida, along the Gulf Coast, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Saipan and American Samoa.

Based on the new information, unless Takata and the ten manufacturers that use its airbags quickly agree to the national recall, NHTSA officials say they will use the full extent of the agency’s statutory powers to ensure vehicles that use the same or similar airbags inflators are recalled.

As part of NHTSA ongoing investigation into the defective airbags, the agency issued a General Order to Takata and all 10 vehicle manufacturers – BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota – requiring them to file, under oath, a detailed report and produce all related documents about completed, ongoing or planned testing of Takata inflators outside the current regional recall area.

“The agency is demanding this information to compel Takata and the affected industry to be frank with not only NHTSA, but the American public, as to what testing and additional steps they have done and plan to do to control and mitigate the risk associated with Takata’s defective inflators,” a statement from NHTSA reads.

Reuters reports that officials with Honda, Ford, Mazda, and Chrysler have said they would continue to cooperate with NHTSA and plan to evaluate their call for a national recall.

However, each company stopped short os saying they would expand bend the current set of cars they are fixing. Reuters reports that BMW’s initial recall was already of national scope.

A spokesperson for Takata tells Reuters that the company will cooperate with regulators and automakers if a national recall is required, but that of the “almost 1,000 passenger and driver inflators from outside the high humidity areas that have been evaluated to date, none have ruptured.”

“Takata is concerned that a national recall could potentially divert replacement air bags from where they’re needed, putting lives at risk,” the company said in a statement.

In addition to the request for documents and an expanded recall, NHTSA issued a Special Order to Takata – the second regarding the defective airbags – asking the company to provide documents and detailed information related to the propellant used in the inflators.

It was previously reported that Takata uses an unusual chemical explosive – ammonium nitrate – for the chemical’s ability to make airbags inflate in a matter of milliseconds. Since then the company notified NHTSA of a change in its chemical compound.

Officials with NHTSA say they want to analyze the information received from Takata regarding the chemical to determine if its composition may be the cause or a contributing factor to the airbag inflator ruptures.

Legislators who previously criticized NHTSA for their allowance of regional recalls and called for a criminal investigation into Takata say the new push is welcomed, but may not be large enough in scope.

Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Ed Markey of Massachusetts tell Reuters that NHTSA’s call should also include replacement of passenger side airbags, as well as the driver’s side airbags.

Earlier this month the lawmakers called on the Department of Justice to open a criminal investigation into Takata after news revealed the company secretly tested airbags four years before the first recall was announced.

“Reports that Takata concealed and destroyed test results revealing fatal air bag defects, along with other evidence that the company was aware of these deadly problems, clearly require a criminal investigation by the Department of Justice,” Blumenthal and Markey say in a news release. “If the reports are true, the company must be held accountable for the horrific deaths and injuries that its wrongdoing caused. These allegations are credible and shocking — plainly warranting a prompt and aggressive criminal probe.”

Legislators will have their chance to grill Takata executives and officials from several car manufacturers during a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing tomorrow afternoon.

USDOT Calls for National Recall of Defective Takata Driver Side Air Bags [NHTSA]
U.S. auto regulator seeks nationwide recall of Takata air bags [Reuters]

19 Nov 14:57

Police Searching For Lane Bryant Shopper Accused Of Letting Her Dog Urinate On Store’s Clothes

by Mary Beth Quirk

There are bad consumers, and then there are shoppers who allow their dogs to do their bathroom business inside the store. And we’re not talking a little “oops” of a light sprinkle, but New Jersey police say one Lane Bryant shopper let her little pet pee on $2,000 worth of store merchandise.

Police are looking for a 35-year-old suspect who’s accused of allegedly allowing her pooch to tinkle on 14 dresses and 11 pairs of pants at a Lane Bryant store, reports the Smoking Gun.

Investigators say the woman and her dog entered the store on Monday afternoon, whereupon the canine went about urinating on the clothing, which totaled about $2,000 in soiled products.

That wasn’t cool with store personnel, who reportedly asked the woman to leave the store. She “became belligerent and refused,” the police report says, so workers called 9-1-1.

But before officers could nab the suspect, she drove off, running several red lights while police followed her. Cops called off the chase upon encountering a wet roadway, concerned that the chase could turn out dangerous for others.

The suspect was identified through her license plate and a physical description, and is now wanted on counts of eluding police and obstruction.

New Jersey Cops Hunt Woman Who Let Her Dog Urinate On $2000 Worth Of Clothing In Lane Bryant Store [The Smoking Gun]

18 Nov 21:29

Firestone Made Deal With The Devil, Paid Millions To Help Fund Genocidal Warlord

by Chris Morran

Frontline and Pro Publica's "Firestone and the Warlord" investigates the secret relationship between the American tire company and the infamous Liberian warlord/president/mass-murderer Charles Taylor (pictured). [Photo Credit: © Patrick Robert/Sygma/Corbis]

Frontline and Pro Publica’s “Firestone and the Warlord” investigates the secret relationship between the American tire company and the infamous Liberian warlord/president/mass-murderer Charles Taylor (pictured). [Photo Credit: © Patrick Robert/Sygma/Corbis]

In the late 1980s, 40% of the latex used in the United States was supplied by a single plantation — a massive operation run by Firestone in the African nation of Liberia. The plantation had survived the 1980 coup that saw the country’s president slaughtered in his bed and cabinet members executed in public. But after an even bloodier uprising began in 1989, Firestone ultimately ended up in bed with one of history’s most evil figures.

“Firestone & The Warlord,” the latest from Frontline and Pro Publica, is an in-depth investigation into the tire company’s decision to fund and help legitimize Liberian mass-murderer Charles Taylor during his insurrection in the early ’90s. It debuts tonight on PBS, while the Pro Publica story can be read in its entirety now.

Following the 1980 military coup led by eventual president Samuel Doe, American-educated Taylor was put in charge of the government bureau responsible for procurement. When he was accused by Doe of embezzlement, Taylor fled to the U.S., where he was eventually jailed.

Mysteriously, Taylor managed to escape custody and make his way back to Liberia (via Libya), where he quickly began building an army, mainly consisting of heavily armed, unskilled boys, often from neighboring nations like Sierra Leone.

Taylor’s army quickly took over large swaths of Liberia, but was unable to take the capital of Monrovia, about 45 miles west of the Firestone plantation in the company town of Harbel.

“It really didn’t affect us much,” says the former Senior Accountant for the Firestone operation, “until we knew that they were getting closer to Monrovia, and therefore, obviously, closer to us. I was hoping the rebels would go around the plantation, not come onto the plantation, and we would be able to continue to operate.”

But the war did come to the plantation on June 5, 1990, when a small group of Taylor’s rebels burst into the plantation’s golf club and demanded vehicles, bags of rice, handheld radios and petty cash.

The rebels also began killing and torturing people in Harbel who belonged to the wrong tribe. Soon, more than 1,000 employees and family members showed up at the plantation manager’s estate looking for some sort of help or protection.

“They told us that he cannot take us in because we are the ones who will be protecting him,” recalls one former worker, “not he protecting us.”

Another former manager who is Liberian says that only the foreign Firestone workers — mostly American — were given shelter.

“He said, ‘It’s Liberians that are coming. You are gonna be safe among your own people. You don’t need to come in,’” says the manager. “So only the expats can come in.”

Those expats tell Frontline that they simply couldn’t protect anyone. And even the manager’s mansion was no longer safe after the ninth day of Taylor’s breach of the plantation. Rebels told the expats they had to leave the house or it would be destroyed with an RPG.

And so, the next day the expat management fled by plane and the plantation stopped operating. But the war continued.

The former head of the Coca-Cola bottling operation (also then run by Firestone) in Harbel says that around 17% of his more than 300 employees were killed by rebels.

“My driver, my secretary,” he recalls, “the story that bothered me the most was my driver because… First time he was beaten; second time they cut the soles off his feet. Third time they shot him.”

In spite of these atrocities, Firestone’s biggest concern was not for the workers at its abandoned plantation who were now subject to the whims of a madman and his army of young killers. Instead, Firestone (which had been purchased by Bridgestone in 1988) was more concerned about the lack of rubber and revenue coming out of Liberia.

“Firestone’s intent was to make money,” says the plantation’s former controller. “Why did we go back? Because we felt sorry for the people that were there? Probably not. We wanted to get the investment earning money again.”

And even though sources both inside and outside the U.S. government were discussing reports of acts of genocide by Taylor’s army, including atrocities in Sierra Leone, where Taylor was cashing in on the lucrative diamond business, the government never openly told Firestone that it would be a bad idea to deal with the rebels.

Making things even more complicated was the fact that the interim government set up in Monrovia was also not recognized as being legitimate. But they didn’t have control of the plantation — Taylor did — and the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) peacekeepers were doing more looting and photo-taking than keeping of the peace.

And so, in Oct. 1990, only months after being run off their own property by rebels, Firestone contacted Taylor to request a meeting, saying that the company “continues to incur major losses as a result of hostilities.”

In early 1991, Taylor invited Firestone officials back to Liberia to assess the plantation. By then, all but the manager’s mansion had been gutted and destroyed, chunks of land ruined, and the streets so strewn with dead bodies that the Coca-Cola manager says you couldn’t drive down the road without running over human bones.

At the time, Taylor admitted to officials that his forces would probably have no choice but to surrender if the U.S. military were to send in soldiers to quash the fighting, but with American soldiers already busy in the first Gulf War, Liberia’s bloody conflict took a backseat.

By the end of 1991, the board of Firestone agreed to work with Taylor, who demanded that the company recognize his government as the rightful ruling power in Liberia, even though he still didn’t control Monrovia.

As part of the terms of its agreement with Taylor, Firestone not only agreed to recognize him as the president of Liberia and use a shipping port controlled by Taylor, but that it would also pay more than $2.3 million in taxes to his government, which would also remain on the land alongside the plantation workers to provide “security.”

A former advisor to Taylor tells Frontline that getting the Firestone plantation reopened and allied with the rebels gave credibility to the insurrectionists.

“For every employee at Firestone… they have about a secondary and tertiary family of eight people,” he explains. ” So for 1,000 people you’re affecting the lives and providing sustenance for 8,000 people. We needed Firestone to keep people busy.”

A U.S.-based Liberian attorney for Firestone at the time says the company did what it had to do.

“For Firestone, it was either you don’t go back or you have to acquiesce and pay taxes to the government in control of that area,” he claims. “They did the right thing.”

But Amos Sawyer, the then-president of the interim government in Monrovia, tells Frontline he believes this is nonsense.

“They had a choice,” he claims. “I don’t understand this notion of not having choice over the corpses of Liberians. What is that supposed to mean? Choice to become a launch pad to rain war on Liberians? I don’t accept it.”

And Taylor was about to truly rain down war on his fellow Liberians, with the help of the Firestone money and using the Firestone plantation as a base for his prolonged attack on Monrovia.

That attack began in Oct. 1992, not even a year after Firestone returned to Liberia and invested millions in rebuilding the facility.

The company claims that it had no idea that Taylor was using the plantation as a staging ground or storing weapons on the property, but employees at the plantation believe there is no way that Firestone management did not know what was going on.

“The plantation had been turned into a major military installation,” claims Sawyer. “Firestone provided the backdrop for this. Provided the rear base, the rear guard base. Provided the ammunition depot from which ambushes could be set and all of this could happen.”

And it could have continued to go on like this, with Firestone harvesting sap and Taylor launching attacks on Monrovia, if ECOMOG had not decided on an aerial strike against the rebel camp in Harbel.

“There were guys on the football field playing,” remembers one worker of the bombing that killed around 40 people. “And then the next thing we saw, they started releasing bombs and people started running.”

This was too much for Firestone’s expats to take, so they pulled up stakes again and fled the plantation.

But not before sending an apology note — not to its workers — but to Taylor.

“I wish to personally thank you for your kind understanding,” wrote the plantation’s manager. “I look forward to being able to quickly return to restart our operations.”

And Firestone would restart that relationship in 1996, when it returned to Liberia, which would eventually elect Taylor to the office of president in 1997.

While the tire company downplays its complicity in abetting Taylor’s actions, claiming the millions it provided to the rebels were insignificant in the big picture of a rebellion that lasted nearly a decade, Taylor’s own words paint a different picture of the company’s role in his rise.

More than a decade later, when tried for crimes against humanity at The Hague, Taylor explained the importance that Firestone in the early years of his insurrection.

“You had immediately a means that would provide the needed financial assistance that we needed for the revolution,” explained Taylor about being allied with the plantation, which “became at that particular time our most significant principal source of foreign exchange.”

For the full story, watch Frontline tonight (and check out the Frontline site for videos and huge amounts of supplementary material), and read the story on Pro Publica.

18 Nov 20:04

Terrible People Create Fake Amazon Pages, Convince Walmart To Price-Match Them

by Laura Northrup

Seems legit.

Seems legit.

It seemed like a great victory for consumers when Walmart announced that it would price-match select online retailers, including Amazon.com. However, because we’re not evil, we didn’t foresee how some people would misuse the price-matching privilege to scam Wally World into selling them video game consoles at cut-rate prices.

We learned from Kotaku about this evil scheme that will ruin price-matching for everyone earlier today. It appears to have started when Sears accidentally listed some Nintendo bundles featuring the handheld 3DS and the Wii U console for only $60.

TTmVQCf

Instead of ordering the $60 bundles online and waiting to find out whether Sears would cancel the orders, people simply went to stores with the console in stock and asked for a price match. This worked for some Reddit posters at retailers like Toys ‘R’ Us and Walmart. It didn’t work at the brick-and-mortar Sears store where one Kotaku reader works, since a manager refused to make the sale.

This bit of price-matching abuse turned evil as someone figured out that the meaning of “for sale on Amazon.com” can be very flexible, since anyone with a registered selling account can list an item for sale. Sure, Amazon will take the listing down if you try to list a PlayStation 4, which normally sells for $400, for less than a quarter of that amount. Yet just putting it online will create a 100% authentic-looking Amazon page, which you can then take a screen cap of or show to a store employee on your phone. Instant price-match…if the store employee is not very savvy.

(Kotaku)

(Kotaku)

Apparently, there are a lot of Walmart managers out there who are not Amazon-savvy, or Walmart didn’t figure out what was going on and stop this nonsense. That’s how some people managed to get $90 PS4s.

There’s taking advantage of deals, and there’s scamming. Using a false Amazon listing to get a price match under false pretenses is a scam, no matter how proudly you post to Twitter about it.

People Are Scamming Walmart With Bogus Cheap PS4 Listings [Kotaku]
Temporary Sears Glitch Let Some People Buy $60 3DS And Wii U Bundles [Kotaku]

18 Nov 17:04

The Who Remix Old Songs To Fit Into New Ads

by Chris Morran

thewhoselloutUsing hit songs to sell shoes, food, insurance, cars, and many other items is nothing new, but because those tunes don’t always fit precisely into the super-tight confines of a 30-second TV ad, the songs are often either butchered by editors or re-recorded specifically for the commercial. In an effort to make their music more easily shoehorned into ads and other media, The Who has remixed more than a dozen classic songs.

AdAge reports that the band’s guitarist and primary songwriter Pete Townshend recently told his music publisher that he still possessed the original multitrack tapes for many of the band’s hits from the ’60s and ’70s.

Thus, music production agency Mophonics was able to do Townshend-approved, ad- and movie-ready remixes of 15 classics, including “My Generation,” “Baba O’Riley” and “I’m Free.”

With the growth of online subscription services like Beats, Spotify, Google All Access, and others, actual sales of music have dropped in recent years, and will likely continue to decrease. Thus, artists need to keep making money through other means, and licensing for ads and entertainment is an incredibly lucrative business, earning $750 million a year for the American music industry.

Rather than allowing some anonymous editor slice and dice these classics or have some unknown band do a sound-alike knock-off of a song they think is titled “Teenage Wasteland,” Townshend says the approved remixes gives him some control and involvement in the final product.

“A lot of work [went] into these,” Townshend tells AdAge of the tweaked tunes, “especially because the respect shown by the remixes to the original songs and song shapes. I know that makes remixing harder, and less fun for them, but a lot of fun for me.”

19 Nov 16:49

Fairfax County Animal Watch - Washington Post


Fairfax County Animal Watch
Washington Post
No incidents were reported by the Animal Control Division of the Fairfax County Police Department. For information, call 703-246-2253. FAIRFAX CITY. The following incidents were reported by the animal control section of the Fairfax City Police Department.

and more »
19 Nov 16:20

Keeper at British zoo seriously injured by rhino

A keeper at Britain's largest zoo has been seriously injured in an incident involving a rhino.
19 Nov 12:28

Paddington Bear film gets parental guidance rating

British film authorities have managed to find dangerous behavior and sexual innuendo in a film about Paddington Bear -- a development that the bear's 88-year-old creator says leaves him "totally amazed."
19 Nov 14:28

Give your pet something unexpected over holidays

Pet owners looking to launch the next Internet sensation or just longing for a new view of their dog's dashing and digging won't have to shop for long to find the perfect holiday gift. Wrap up a dog harness that holds GoPro's durable cameras and watch Frisbee fetch, lazy lap naps and every memory in between come alive.
19 Nov 13:02

Cat that attacked 3 in Chesapeake had rabies

The Chesapeake health department says a cat that recently attacked three people tested positive for rabies.
19 Nov 12:50

Whale stranded along bay in Va. euthanized

Rescuers euthanized a whale after it was found stranded along the Chesapeake Bay shore in Virginia Beach.
18 Nov 11:15

Coyotes increasingly common nationwide

Their distinctive howl is ubiquitous in old western movies, but the coyotes that once roamed the prairies are no longer limited to the west. Coyotes, members of the dog family, are now found throughout North America, including our area.
18 Nov 13:46

Fracking to be permitted in GW National Forest

Environmentalists and energy boosters alike welcomed a federal compromise announced Tuesday that will allow fracking in the largest national forest in the eastern United States, but make most of its woods off-limits to drilling.