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25 Mar 16:30

Arlington Pet of the Week: Rudy

by wtopstaff

Rudy
Rudy
Rudy
Rudy
Rudy

This week’s Arlington Pet of the Week is Rudy, a labradoodle transplant from Portland who ditched the “hipster lifestyle” to move to, according to one metric, the seventh-most hipster city in America.

Here’s what owner Noah had to say:

This here is Rudy. He’s a labradoodle from outside of Portland who decided that the west-coast “hipster lifestyle” wasn’t exactly for him (although he has been know to curl up in a flannel to read Hemingway every so often).

Named in part for the classic 1993 motivational football movie, Rudy is a natural athlete. He can be found at the Clarendon Dog Park running laps, or swimming in Four Mile Run, or just chasing bunnies in the yard. After a long day, however, Rudy is always down for a cuddle (so long as he gets three-quarters of the bed).

In the case that any eligible bachelorette pups are reading this, Rudy can be easily wooed with empty water bottles and salmon jerky. And while he is a mama’s boy, he definitely knows how to let loose and have fun.

Want your pet to be considered for the Arlington Pet of the Week? Email office@arlnow.com with a 2-3 paragraph bio and at least 3-4 horizontally-oriented photos of your pet.

Each week’s winner receives a sample of dog or cat treats from our sponsor, Becky’s Pet Care, along with $100 in Becky’s Bucks. Becky’s Pet Care, the winner of three Angie’s List Super Service Awards and the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters’ 2013 Business of the Year, provides professional dog walking and pet sitting services in Arlington and Northern Virginia.

The post Arlington Pet of the Week: Rudy appeared first on WTOP.

25 Mar 21:54

Banks Aren’t Really Going To Replace Everyone’s Credit Cards This Year

by Laura Northrup

Hey, remember how the major credit card companies were going to replace all of our magnetic stripe credit cards sometime this year with computer chip cards sometime this year? You know, like what the rest of the world uses? That isn’t happening. We’ll get our computer-chip cards, sure, and some retailers might be able to read them. However, banks might take until 2017 or so to replace all of our cards.

Yes, 2017. It’s possible that your bank or credit union might be waiting to switch out your current credit and ATM card when it expires, which pushes the date to convert the entire country out to 2017. CNN reports that one estimate is that maybe a quarter of all cards in the U.S. will actually be replaced by the end of 2015. (Warning: auto-play video)

Bank of America told CNN that most of its cards will be chip-laden by the end of the year, but not all of them. Not that it matters all that much, anyway: while cards with chips are safer from being cloned, that doesn’t mean baddies can’t get hold of your card number and go on an online shopping spree.

However, merchants might be the losers in this scenario: they have to replace their card readers, which will cost at least a few hundred dollars per cash register, or be liable for any fraudulent purchases made in their stores.

You’re about to get a new credit card … and it’s an epic failure [CNN] (Warning: auto-play video)

20 Mar 12:45

Whatever Happened To GeoCities, Lycos, Netscape & Other Giants Of Web 1.0?

by Kate Cox
(Ben)

(Ben)

Long before Facebook and Twitter, well before even Friendster and MySpace, before the first dotcom bubble burst, in the eons before Google was a glint in anyone’s eye, there was the first web. In comparison to everything that’s come after it, you could call it Web 1.0 or perhaps even just “the dark ages.” But for anyone born before, say, 1990, this was the dawn of our now-ubiquitous digital world. But as the digital giants of yesteryear have been replaced by the now-ubiquitous Facebook and Google, how many are still in play now?

The last 20 years of web history are a fascinating look at today’s biggest companies and yesterday’s biggest has-beens. Some imploded. Others were sold or merged. Some faded quietly away, and others are still quietly chugging along, making money — not Apple money, but enough — for someone somewhere. Here’s a run-down of the fates of a dozen of the biggest names from twenty years ago.

AltaVista

As the web boomed in the mid-90s, so too did the need to search it. Search engines launched all over the place, and AltaVista quickly claimed to have one of the largest indexes and most advanced set of search tools out there. But the landscape was competitive, and its star quickly faded. The service was sold and resold a number of times until finally being shuttered in 2013.

Launched: December, 1995
Ended: July, 2013
Began as: A search engine
Ended as: A search engine that couldn’t keep up with Google
Then:

“Digital asserts that its new software is ‘an order of magnitude’ faster than current methods for finding information on the Web, which now consists of more than 30 million electronic pages of information stored on tens of thousands of different computers around the world, with thousands of new pages being added each day.” The New York Times, December 18, 1995.

Now:

“AltaVista was supposed to raise $300 million in December 1999 in an initial public offering, but canceled the I.P.O. after the technology stock market started to implode. In 1995, when AltaVista made its debut, the company said it was processing 2.5 million search requests a day. Today, Google, processes 5.1 billion searches each day. It’s a fascinating story from greatness to the end. If you want to learn more, you can always Google it.” The New York Times, July 1, 2013.

Angelfire

Before easy blogging platforms and sites like MySpace and Tumblr, anyone who wanted a say on the web had to go create their own page from scratch. Millions did. And for all those long-ago teenagers to post their thoughts for free (even a young Mark Zuckerberg), there were hosts like Angelfire.

Launched: 1996
Ended: Still in operation
Began as: Combination web hosting and medical transcription service
Currently: A web hosting service owned by Lycos
Then:

“Some services will post a site at no cost. Angelfire.com, for example, will do it free, but your domain name will appear as http://www.angelfire.com with two more names, or directories, after .com that you select from a pull-down menu. You choose the first directory based on your state or interest, like “NY” or “Pokemon,” then enter the text you want for the second directory. (You could, for example, end up with http://www.angelfire.com/pokemon/lover.) Although the result is a domain name that may not necessarily reflect your business or interests, your site is online free.” The New York Times, March 16, 2000.

Now:

“When we say something follows the ‘90s webpage aesthetic, we’re talking about the eyesores created using these three hosting services. Amazingly, they’re actually still around: Tripod and Angelfire were acquired by the search engine Lycos in 1998.” Bustle, December 29, 2014.

AOL

If one company defined the early and mid 1990s, it was America Online. With its friendly, easy graphics, it made all the decade’s worst clichés — getting onto the information superhighway and surfing the world wide web — simple and accessible to the new-to-computers masses. And when it went to a flat $20 per month pricing structure in 1996, it signaled the end of the limited pay-by-the-minute usage era and the baby steps toward an always-online future. By 1997, half of all US homes with internet access used AOL to get it.

Launched: 1991
Ended: Still in operation
Began as: America Online, a dial-up ISP
Currently: A dial-up ISP (remarkably) and digital media company, parent company of sites like Engadget and The Huffington Post
Then:

“A smaller competitor, America Online of Vienna, Va., which has about a million subscribers, also offers access to Usenet on the Internet and formed four new divisions earlier this month to explore new network services.” The New York Times, September 29, 1994.

Now:

“Wall Street was unhappy not only that earnings were below expectations but that AOL has had trouble showing consistent, reliable profits. Jan Dawson … said that while AOL’s strategy for advertising produced revenue, the profit margin was insufficient. ‘AOL’s story is that it is building this marvelous ad technology stack that will be profitable, but it provides precious little evidence quarter to quarter that this is actually happening.'” The New York Times, May 7, 2014.

Ask Jeeves

Search was not always an intuitive process. Not only were the sites that did it an awkward amalgamation of manually-created indexes and early web-crawlers, but also the way in which users had to look for terms was Boolean and very specific. That left room for Jeeves: your friendly digital butler, who could parse a natural-language search (a plain question, like “How much rain falls on the plain in Spain each year?”) and try to give you an answer and a useful set of links.

Launched: June, 1996
Ended: Still in operation
Began as: Ask Jeeves, a natural language search engine
Currently: Ask.com, a question-based general community/information site
Then:

“A good example is the search service “Ask Jeeves.” They’ve put personality together with functionality—adding some human beings into the process. [Ed. Note—The personality works so well Macy’s even had a Jeeves balloon in its Thanksgiving Day Parade.] Maybe it doesn’t net more results than Google, but it’s more fun and you feel like you’re part of the process. Basically we’re talking about the difference between talking to a librarian and just going directly to the card catalog. A good librarian is always worth talking to.” Line Zine, Winter 2001.

Now:

“Whenever you go to install Java on a Windows machine, you have to resist the urge to blindly click through the prompts to get the installation up and running. If you do, then you’re also going to install an annoying Ask toolbar on your system—and make Ask.com your default search provider in your browser. Yuck.” PC Mag, March 6, 2015.

Compuserve

By the mid-to-late 1990s AOL had clearly won the home ISP game, but in the early half of the decade, the market was robust and competitive. CompuServe was the first of the widespread home retail ISPs that people could dial into, and they were going strong until AOL’s marketing blitz, easy graphics, and flat fees finally did them in.

Launched: 1979 (to consumers)
Ended: June 30, 2009
Began as: Compu-Serv Network, in 1969. H&R Block acquired them in 1980.
Ended as: A division of AOL (acquired in 1998)
Then:

“That is not to say that Compuserve does not have location, location and location. Compuserve is the most international of the Big Three services, and it can be reached by a local phone call in more than 700 cities. If I had to choose just one commercial online service, I would choose Compuserve for the depth and breadth of its information base.” The New York Times, November 29, 1994.

Now:

“CompuServe’s text-centric interface and by-the-minute fees eventually made it an easy target for AOL, which offered a prettier face and unlimited, all-you-can-use service for a low monthly fee. … CompuServe struck back with flat-rate plans and mass mailings of its own, but it was too late. Both services were overtaken by the internet by the end of the 1990s.” Wired, September 24, 2009.

Excite

Excite was one of the many search engine/web indexing sites that sprang up in the early 1990s as the web grew exponentially. It morphed into what we would now consider a content portal and became one of the most frequently visited sites on the entire internet. In the heady bubble days at the end of the decade, it merged with a fledgling venture backed by all the cable ISPs — a $6.7 billion deal that would later become known as one of the most disastrous mergers in business history.

Launched: December, 1995
Ended: Technically still in operation, after being sold to Ask Jeeves in 2004. Currently operated by Mindspark.
Began as: A search engine and early personal web portal
Currently: A web portal with all of the latest and greatest features 2003 has to offer.
Then:

“The deal brought together Excite Inc., which has evolved from a simple search engine into the Internet’s sixth most heavily trafficked site, and the At Home Corporation, a high-speed Internet service aimed at cable television subscribers, in what the two companies described as a merger. … The deal valued Excite at $106.27 a share … In raising the stakes that high, At Home is hoping that it will be able to exploit Excite’s position as one of the leading Internet destinations to attract subscribers to its own service.” The New York Times, January 20, 1999.

Now:

“So why is Excite@Home in ruins? Blame it on a lethal combination of management missteps, clashing egos, and old-fashioned greed. In the end, the cable companies that backed Excite@Home and took more than $1 billion from investors to finance it decided to walk away, leaving public investors to pay the price. Cox Communications and Comcast, which had pledged to keep all of their broadband customers on Excite@Home’s network through June, 2002, negotiated early exits so they could provide their own service.” Bloomberg BuisnessWeek, December 16, 2001

GeoCities

When everyone needed to have a webpage, everyone went to GeoCities. It wasn’t sure how to handle the whole idea of internet community, at first dividing content up into “neighborhoods” where you and your neighbors should ideally have the same core interest (like science fiction or sports). Yahoo acquired the company for $3.5 billion in 1999, which seemed like a good idea at the time… until eventually, communities like MySpace would run away with the core idea and leave once-dominant GeoCities aging all but forgotten in the virtual nursing home of the internet.

Launched: December, 1995
Ended: October 26, 2009
Began as: A web hosting service
Ended as: A web hosting service owned by Yahoo
Then:

“The service provides on-line tools to set up a page and says that a newcomer can have a page up and running in 10 minutes. Each user receives two free megabytes of server space — the equivalent of 25 to 50 pages of text and graphics — and can get more for a fee. … Geocities says that it has 450,000 homesteaders and that it adds an average of 5,000 new members every day. David Bohnett, the chief executive of Geocities, which is based in Santa Monica, Calif., expects to have a million members by October.” The New York Times, March 17, 1997.

Now:

“GeoCities hit hard times after the merger. Eventually, the ‘home page’ fad was surpassed by blogs and social-networking sites—and the fact that you’d once set up a GeoCities page became an embarrassing confession rather than a sign of your early-adopter savvy. But that narrative sells GeoCities short. Sure, the site was ugly, and, of course, Yahoo paid too much for it … But GeoCities deserves much more credit than we give it, because it was the first big venture built on what is now hailed as the defining feature of the Web 2.0 boom — ‘user-generated content.'” Slate, October 27, 2009.

Lycos

Lycos, like AltaVista and Excite, was another of the search-engine-cum-web-portals that vied to be everyone’s homepage in the early 90s, when consumers first started pouring onto the web. However, unlike many of the others, it did the early on buying-up of smaller properties, rather than being bought, and is still — after several changes of hands — in business today.

Launched: 1995
Ended: Still in operation
Began as: Lycos, a search engine and web portal
Currently: Lycos, a search engine, web portal, and internet company based in India
Then:

“Lycos became the first Internet search engine to go public yesterday, ending the day with a market value of almost $300 million and demonstrating to investors that Internet stocks are still the hot ticket on Wall Street.” CNet, April 3, 1996.

Now:

“While the tech press likes to constantly move on to the next big thing, seemingly irrelevant names like Lycos keep quietly chugging along as apparently viable businesses. Under relatively new ownership, Lycos seems keen to make that push back to mainstream relevance in 2013, and we’ll be keeping an eye on its new search product to see how it fares.” The Next Web, December 27, 2012

Netscape

When the web suddenly became a thing anyone with a dial-up ISP could navigate to, Netscape Navigator was the browser of choice… because there wasn’t really a choice. They got there first, beating Microsoft to the punch. The company had products besides the browser, but it was always the best-known. But although the team behind Netscape Navigator introduced several crucial features to the modern web, upstarts like Mozilla (Firefox) and Microsoft (Internet Explorer) ended up winning that battle… for a while.

Launched: 1994
Ended: Acquired by AOL in 1999; browser supported until 2008
Began as: Mosaic Communications (browser: Mosaic Netscape)
Ended as/currently: Netscape is still a brand AOL plops on a few products/sites in its line
Then:

“Browsers are programs that allow computer users to view and navigate through electronic documents on the Internet’s World Wide Web, one of the most popular and fastest-growing segments of the global computer network. A few years ago there were only a handful of browsers, and all agreed to adhere to a set of standard rules for displaying information. Then came Netscape, and the rules changed. Netscape started adding features without waiting for approval from the standards committees. Netscape allowed Web developers to do fancier things with text, like showing boldface type, centering and blinking ext. Consumers loved it, developers loved it, and Netscape quickly left all its rivals in the dust.” The New York Times, January 30, 1996.

Now:

“While Netscape didn’t stand the test of time quite like its chief rival Internet Explorer has, its open-source transition into Mozilla did eventually birth Firefox — a browser success story in and of itself. But Netscape’s precipitous rise and fall in those early internet days wasn’t without lasting effects: Its brief stint at the top and tense rivalry with Microsoft laid much of the groundwork for innovation in the browsing space.” Engadget, May 10, 2014.

Prodigy

Prodigy, like CompuServe, was an early dial-up product that home users could use to access certain services. The company transitioned to a regular ISP in the 1994-1996 era, but — like CompuServe — ultimately lost out to the bigger, louder AOL.

Launched: 1988 (regionally), 1990 (nationally)
Ended: In slow motion between 2005 and 2011
Began as: Dial-up destination and later ISP that sold access to the internet writ large
Ended as: A segment of AT&T (although internationally, Prodigy still continues as an ISP)
Then:

“For commercial services like Prodigy, there are business opportunities in giving customers access to the Internet and in setting up sites or “nodes” on the Internet for use by businesses that want to offer product information, provide services and let customers shop electronically. Dozens of private companies have sprung up in recent months to set up such sites.” The New York Times, September 29, 1994.

Now:

“At the time it was finally shuttered, Prodigy was an absolute dinosaur technologically. Built from systems that were state-of-the art at the dawn of the 1980s, and existing on top of a complex and proprietary network infrastructure that was always separate from the Internet, Prodigy existed in spite of itself.” The Atlantic, July 12, 2014.

Tripod

Tripod new early what later companies like Facebook and Tumblr (now Yahoo) would make a killing on: target the young. It started as a service “by and for college students” that also offered personal website building services. Quickly, however, it became clear that college students do not actually pay for services, and that the business was all in the web hosting.

Launched: 1995
Ended: Still in operation
Began as: Tripod, a personal web host
Currently: Tripod, a personal web host owned by Lycos
Then:

“‘The AOL technology architecture is outdated,’ said Bo Peabody, chief executive of Tripod, which is based in Williamstown, Mass. ‘We are taking cues from their position as a pioneer, but we believe the open nature of the Web makes us more appealing down the road.'” The New York Times, March 17, 1997.

Now:

“Balazy says that Tripod is still ‘doing really well,’ with over 15 years’ worth of content and 10s of millions of pages indexed by Google. ‘It’s the little engine that keeps on chugging, in the sense that we keep signing up new users every day without making a push on the marketing side.'” The Next Web, December 27, 2012

Yahoo

Before “I dunno, Google it” became part of our everyday communal lexicon, everyone who was anyone (*at my high school) knew that Yahoo was the best way to find out what you needed to know. Yahoo, too, became carried along in the wake of Google’s massive, game-changing search tide as the century turned, but of all the names we remember from before we could literally party like it was 1999, Yahoo has remained the most sucessful. Yahoo has consistently been in the top three sites visited on the web every year since 1997, bolstered in recent years by its acquisitions of Flickr and Tumblr.

Launched: March, 1995
Ended: Still in operation
Began as: A search engine/web directory and early landing portal
Currently: A web portal and general internet media company, with its own news division as well as parent company of many other sites
Then:

“Whatever the future for portals, Yahoo! is currently in rude health – averaging 95 million page views a day in March and reporting a 200 per cent increase in revenues in April over the quarter of a year ago. Its statistics show it as continuing to have the largest audience of any web site or online service with more than 30 million unique users in March.” BBC News, June 5, 1998.

Now:

“Yahoo, which has long been considered one of the technology world’s biggest messes, burdened by years of mismanagement, has improved under the two-and-a-half-year tenure of Marissa Mayer as chief executive. What once was a mishmash of businesses has become, in some analysts’ eyes, a more focused company with a clearer vision of its future.” The New York Times, January 28, 2015.

13 Mar 13:49

Google Expands “Safe Browsing” App To Warn Users About Sites Riddled With Unwanted Software

by Mary Beth Quirk

googsafeFirst of all, we’d like to offer a belated Happy Birthday to the World Wide Web, which turned 26 yesterday. You’re closer to 30 than 20 now, so your hangovers will only get worse. Second, to honor that milestone, Google announced updates to its Safe Browsing technology, including a warning when users are about to visit a site chockfull of unwanted software.

The newest developments in its free Safe Browsing system has Google feeding security information into a broader browsing application that now works in Safari and Firefox browsers as well as Google’s own Chrome, reports the Associated Press (Microsoft’s Internet Explorer uses its own system called SmartScreen Filter).

When there’s a risk that a user is about to enter a site distributing unwanted software — the kind that can change your browser’s settings and set loose a slew of pop-up ads or redirect users to sites they didn’t want to visit — a big red warning will pop up letting users know what they could be getting into. The company has started to identify ads that target users with unwanted software as well.

Google says in a blog post that it’s adding information about sites with such unwanted software to its Safe Browsing API, “allowing developers to better protect their users as well.”

Google’s safe browsing system targets ‘unwanted software’ [Associated Press]

09 Mar 15:41

Credit Bureaus Agree To Revamp Practices For Handling Errors, Unpaid Medical Bills

by Ashlee Kieler

Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – the three largest companies to collect and disseminate credit information for millions of Americans – must undergo an overhaul of credit reporting practices as part of an agreement with the New York Attorney General’s Office.

The Wall Street Journal reports that over the next three years these credit reporting agencies (CRAs) must make nationwide policy changes regarding the ways they handle errors, resolve disputes and list unpaid medical bills.

The three CRAs will now be required to use trained employees to review documentation consumers submit when they believe there is an error in their credit files, even if a creditor says the information is correct.

To ensure information obtained on credit reports is correct, consumer advocates urge people to obtain their free annual reports from each of the bureaus. Credit reports and credit scores are often used by bankers, lenders, and others to determine a consumers’ creditworthiness and the rates they will pay for services.

In addition to revamping the CRAs’ dispute processes, the agreement addresses the troubling issue of medical debt.

Under the overhaul deal, the CRAs must now abide by a 180-day waiting period before adding any medical debt information to consumers’ reports.

While the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau previously announced a requirement that major consumer reporting agencies must provide regular accuracy reports to the Bureau on how disputes from consumers are being handled, the latest agreement with the attorney general’s office aims to resolve medical debt issues before they even hit consumers’ credit reports.

During the 180-day grace period, consumers will be able to clear up discrepancies and catch other unpaid bills. Once medical debts are paid by an insurance agency, the CRAs must immediately remove the debt from the credit report.

In recent years, medical debt and its placement on credit reports has come under scrutiny by federal regulators and consumer advocates.

Because medical debts are often the result of unpredictable and costly events such as accidents and sudden illnesses, regulators believe they should be weighed differently from non-medical debts. After all, people choose to go into debt buying stuff they can’t afford, but they rarely choose to get an appendicitis that will end up costing them more than a luxury sports car.

Back in December, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said it found that consumers often don’t even know they owe medical debt until they get a call from the collections agency or they discover it on their credit report.

This occurs because in many cases if a medical bill goes unpaid after a certain amount of time, the medical provider may hand over the account to a third-party debt collector. And the majority of those collections items that end up on consumers’ credit reports are furnished to the CRAs by third-party debt collectors.

The WSJ reports that the upcoming changes mark the largest overhaul the major CRAs have seen in more than a decade.

Attorney General Schneiderman tells the WSJ in an email statement that the agreement “is a good sign that the reporting agencies are finally willing to step up their game and respond to the needs of hardworking consumers and their families.”

The agreement between the three credit reporting companies and the attorney general’s office comes after a year of talks between the two groups.

Back in 2012, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office began investigating the practices of Experian, Equifax and TransUnion upon receiving complaints about errors on state residents’ credit reports and the drawn-out process used to fix the issues.

The CRAs have said in the past that they would take steps to promote accuracy. Back in 2013, the firms began allowing consumers to submit paperwork regarding disputes to lenders or other companies in order to address specific complaints, the WSJ reports.

Last year, a group of senators took action to ensure the agency’s voluntary dispute practices became permanent with the introduction of the Stop Errors in Credit Use and Reporting (SECURE) Act of 2014. The bill, which died in the Senate, would have required credit bureaus to follow tighter rules for ensuring credit reports are accurate and give consumers free access to reliable credit scores each year.

Credit-Reporting Giants Agree to Overhaul [The Wall Street Journal]

26 Mar 01:17

Osbourn robotics team to present project at Recyclefest in Manassas - PotomacLocal.com


PotomacLocal.com

Osbourn robotics team to present project at Recyclefest in Manassas
PotomacLocal.com
To celebrate the 45-year anniversary of Earth Day, the City of Manassas Public Works and Utilities Department is hosting a Recyclefest on April 4. The event runs from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Manassas Transfer Station on Quarry Road in Manassas.

25 Mar 18:39

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 »
25 Mar 18:09

Can’t Pay Your Student Loans? In Some States It Might Cost You Your License To Drive Or Work

by Ashlee Kieler

In addition to causing irreparable damage to their credit scores, student loan borrowers who default on their debts face a much more devastating and counter-intuitive danger: the lost of their driver’s or occupation licenses, including those used by nurses, doctors, teachers and emergency personnel

Bloomberg reports that 22 states currently have laws on the books giving authorities the power to revoke these privileges from consumers who are more than 270 days behind on paying their student loans.

While it might make sense to punish borrowers who don’t keep up with their obligations to repay debts, taking away their ability to get to work or to actually perform their job duties, seems to perpetuate an environment in which consumers already have few options to get out of debt.

With delinquencies and default rates on the rise, according to reports from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, more and more consumers face default and the real possibility of losing their licenses. Last year, reports found that nearly one in three borrowers are at least 90 days behind on their student loan payments.

According to Bloomberg, since 2007 Montana has suspended the driver’s licenses of 92 people, while Iowa suspended the licenses of more than 900 residents. The Iowa licenses were reinstated in 2012 after the state moved its student loan portfolio out of state.

As for occupational licenses, Bloomberg found that more than 1,500 professional licenses for nurses, teachers and others have been revoked in Tennessee because of student loan defaults.

Student loan debt collectors say the threat of taking away consumers’ ability to legally drive or work often propels them to deal with their debt.

“It’s more of a deterrent than something that goes all the way to license suspension,” says Cheryl Poelman-Allen, who works in default prevention at the Montana Guaranteed Student Loan Program, a guaranty agency that collects federal student loans in the state, tells Bloomberg.

In Iowa, officials with the Iowa College Student Aid Commission say the ultimatum has produced similar responses.

“Once we served a written notice that we were going to revoke a license, we generally got some action from a borrower,” an executive for the office tells Bloomberg.

Still, consumer advocates and legislators say the threats are unfair and don’t address the underlying reasons why consumers can’t afford student loan debts.

“It’s the most inappropriate consequence, because you are taking away their ability to eventually pay [their loans] back,” Moffie Funk, a Montana state representative who sponsored a bill to repeal the state’s law regarding license revocation, tells Bloomberg.

Several states have introduced legislation that would reverse the measures, although they’ve proven to be slow moving. The bill to repeal the consequence in Iowa stalled because of a procedural obstacle, while the Montana bill introduced by Funk is currently under consideration in the Senate.

These States Will Take Your License for Not Paying Student Loans [Bloomberg]

25 Mar 16:22

These Ads Use Infomercial Tropes To Sell Shelter Pets

by Laura Northrup

laptopcozyPet owners know that domestic animals have many uses around the home. Thousands of years ago, that’s why we welcomed them into our dwellings in the first place, and we’ve come to appreciate them for their other skills as well. Cats were originally welcomed inside to catch vermin, and now they are also alarm clocks and are fur-covered laptop cozies. Dogs now guard our houses and clean up crumbs on the floor.

concierge

These ads, produced for the Animal Foundation in Nevada, use the familiar tropes of infomercial spots by showing exaggerated everyday frustrations in black and white that are solved with some kind of gadget, like a Snuggie or an egg tube boiler. In this case, however, the gadget that solves all of your problems is a cat or a dog.

Act now: pets are a valuable investment. They can even increase the value of your home. Sort of. You won’t even have to pay onerous shipping and handling charges.

25 Mar 15:56

Feds Investigating Lumber Liquidators Over Formaldehyde Allegations

by Chris Morran

lumberliquIn the wake of a primetime news report alleging that some flooring sold by Lumber Liquidators contained excessive amounts of formaldehyde, federal regulators at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission have confirmed the agency is investigation the lumber company.

In a statement, CPSC Chair Elliot Kaye says the agency is “actively investigating laminate flooring products from Lumber Liquidators,” and that the company has thus far been cooperative.

Formaldehyde is commonly and safely used in the manufacture of laminated wood flooring, but it has to be used sparingly so that the chemical dissipates quickly. If an excess of formaldehyde is used, it can remain in the laminated wood and gradually be emitted over time. Prolonged, continued exposure to formaldehyde has been linked to numerous health problems ranging from nausea to increased cancer risk. Children are more susceptible than adults to the toxic effects of formaldehyde.

A recent report on CBS’ 60 Minutes claimed that the laminated wood Lumber Liquidated sourced from suppliers in China contained more formaldehyde than its domestically sourced laminates and similar products sold by competitor. One sample allegedly contained so much formaldehyde that the lab equipment could not measure it.

Kaye said that while this is an important investigation, a quick conclusion is not in the cards.

“Our work will take some time and often the science does not provide the clarity we all wish it would,” explained Kaye. “Our work will involve testing of samples as well as consideration of home-based exposure scenarios to consider risks.”

Lumber Liquidators continues to defend its products, saying that the testing process used in the CBS report is flawed.

“We have been in direct communication with CPSC staff over the past several weeks and expect them to review our products using sound science and test methods that evaluate finished flooring as used in consumers’ homes,” the company said in a statement. “It is our firm belief that finished product testing, rather than deconstruction, is the best approach to determine consumer safety.”

The company was recently sued by a family in California, alleging that the company misled consumers in that state with labels declaring that flooring complied with California’s strict formaldehyde emission standards. The plaintiffs in the case are seeking class action status to include other Californians who purchased Lumber Liquidators flooring.

25 Mar 15:21

Owner Finds His Rental Home Has Been Rigged To Explode At The Flip Of A Switch

by Mary Beth Quirk

Talk about nightmares: The owner of a house that he’d been renting out had a close call recently when an inspection revealed that the place had been rigged to blow up when a light switch was flipped. Because that kind of intricate wiring isn’t a mistake, police are now investigating.

Police in Massachusetts are now looking for the people who were renting the house, reports NBC News.

The homeowner was conducing a pre-sale inspection on the home with his attorney and an electrical inspector, when the electrician discovered the rigged light switch, Milton Police Chief Richard G. Wells Jr. said Tuesday.

The chief said the mechanism was an intricate set-up — it took police bomb specialists working for several hours in the house before it was declared disarmed and safe.

“It took some work to put it in there,” Wells said, noting that the explosive substance was “secreted inside the house” and connected to a particular light switch through an intricate network of wires snaking through several rooms.

“We believe the intention was that if someone had flipped the light switch on where it ended, the device would have exploded,” he said.

Police were called to the house last week on a vandalism complaint, while it was occupied by renters. At that time, officers found the house’s drains plugged with cement.

Both the Boston and Milton police are now looking for the renters as persons of interest in the investigation.

“I have never seen anything like this,” said Wells, adding that whoever rigged this wasn’t trying to provide a fun fireworks show for the enjoyment of all involved. Instead, those behind the bomb “definitely had malicious intent in what they did.”

Renters Sought After Massachusetts House Rigged to Explode [NBC News]

25 Mar 14:31

Elephants Help Rescue 18-Wheeler Truck Stuck In Louisiana

by Mary Beth Quirk

(Natchitoches Parish Sheriff's Office)

(Natchitoches Parish Sheriff’s Office)

Forget calling for a tow truck — there’s another road rescue team in place and they probably work for peanuts. But seriously, while it might sound like a joke to have a couple of elephants helping out a stuck semi-truck on the side of the road, it’s all too delightfully true.

A pair of pachyderms was put to work assisting the 18-wheeler trailer they were traveling in when it got stuck on the side of the highway in Nachitoches Parish, LA, reports WTVR.com. They’re seen in photos of the incident leaning against the truck, guided by their handler, as the vehicle appears to be on the verge of tipping over.

Sheriff’s deputies arriving on the scene were surprised to find animals heaving and ho-ing instead of say, a guy with a tow truck. Because again, elephants!

“When deputies arrived on scene, they were astounded to find two elephants keeping the 18-wheeler from overturning,” a sheriff’s department spokesman wrote. “The truck became stuck after the driver pulled off the edge of the soft shoulder. Recent rains caused the ground off of the shoulder to be soft.”

To take the weight off the animals, a local wrecker service was called in to help remove the truck, the sheriff’s office adds.

The truck now owes the elephants a solid, you know. And it better deliver, because these guys do not forget.

Sheriff’s deputies shocked to find elephants holding up tipped 18-wheeler [WTVR.com]

25 Mar 14:29

Feds to investigating safety of Lumber Liquidators flooring

by wtopstaff

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is investigating the safety of Lumber Liquidators laminate flooring made in China.

Chairman Elliot S. Kaye said Wednesday the agency is taking the issue seriously and is working to get answers for consumers.

The move comes after a report on CBS’ “60 Minutes” earlier this month that said that Lumber Liquidators’ Chinese-made laminate flooring contains high levels of formaldehyde, a carcinogen.

The Toano, Virginia-based discount hardwood flooring retailer has said it complies with applicable regulations for its products and has reassured consumers that its flooring is safe.

Two senators have since called for investigations following the broadcast.

Lumber Liquidators Holdings Inc. has more than 350 locations in North America.

The post Feds to investigating safety of Lumber Liquidators flooring appeared first on WTOP.

25 Mar 13:58

Organic Spinach From Meijer, Target, Wild Harvest, And Cadia Recalled For Possible Listeria

by Laura Northrup

ucm439760It’s not always fun when our predictions come true, especially when that prediction is about how contaminated food from a single vendor is about to trigger recalls in a variety of places across the food supply. On Monday, we predicted more organic spinach recalls to come, and we were right. Packages of frozen organic spinach from four additional brands have now been recalled due to possible contamination with Listeria bacteria.

What should you look for in your freezer? Here are the potentially-listeria-contaminated products that have been recalled:

Simply Balanced Organic Chopped Spinach (sold at Target): These are a 10-ounce steam-in-bag package. Bring them back to the store where they were purchased, and call 866-672-0811 with any questions.

Cadia Organic Cut Spinach (Only in California): 16-ounce frozen spinach package.

Meijer Organics Chopped Spinach: 16-ounce frozen spinach package; distributed to warehouses in Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Check your spinach against the UPC in the recall notice.

Wild Harvest Organic Cut Leaf Spinach: 16-ounce frozen spinach packages. Check sell by dates by state on the recall notice.

For all of the brands except Simply Organic sold at Target, call (804) 385-3772 with any questions.

According to this latest recall notice, the original source of the spinach was Green Vegetable Company in Oxnard, California.

25 Mar 13:29

HJ Heinz Buying Kraft In Deal That Will Create One Huge Food Giant

by Mary Beth Quirk

Usually when two parties walk down that aisle and say “I do” in front of everyone, there are a few whispers from those assembled wondering when the twosome will settle down and start making children. In the case of Heinz and Kraft, everyone already knows what their union will produce — a giant food company baby.

If you’ve been putting ketchup on your macaroni and cheese (without shards of metal, let’s hope), you probably saw this merger coming a long way off: H.J. Heinz Co. is buying Kraft Foods Group, which will create what the companies say is going to be the third-largest food and beverage company in North America, reports the Chicago Tribune, with annual revenue of about $28 million.

It’ll be a split living arrangement, with Kraft Heinz keeping headquarters in both Pittsburgh, where Heinz hails from, and also in the Chicago area, home to Kraft, notes the Associated Press.

The two companies have become household names in the more than 100 years that both have existed, with brands like Oscar Mayer, Ore-Ida, Jell-O and of course Kraft and Heinz included in the roster of familiar names that will now all be part of the same family.

Kraft shareholders will get stock in the new company and a special cash dividend of about $10 billion, or about $16.50. Each share of Kraft will turn into one share of Kraft Heinz.

Heinz shareholders will own 51% of the new company, with Kraft shareholders hanging onto the other 49% stake.

“This is my kind of transaction,” said Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway, one of the engineers of the union (his company and investment firm 3G capital bought Heinz two years ago). “Uniting two world-class organizations and delivering shareholder value. I’m excited by the opportunities for what this new combined organization will achieve.”

The union still needs a final blessing from federal regulators as well as shareholders of Kraft Foods Group, but both companies’ boards have already given the go-ahead unanimously.

HJ Heinz buying Kraft in deal to create food giant [Chicago Tribune]
Heinz buying Northfield-based Kraft and building a $28 billion food giant [Associated Press]

25 Mar 08:51

That cold you’re treating could be allergies

by Megan Cloherty

WASHINGTON – Blame it on the snow, or the cold temperatures. While it may feel like a cold, the long winter has patients misdiagnosing their allergies, doctors say.

“For both colds and allergies, people are going to be complaning of runny nose, congestion,” says allergist Dr. Gian Yoon.

While doctors are used to seeing patients complaining of cold-like symptoms during this time of year, patients can easily be taking cold medicine for an elm tree allergy.

“If you look inside the nose, you can tell the difference between cold and allergy. But it’s not always easy for the person feeling those symptoms to tell the difference,” says Dr. Martha White, with the Institute For Asthma and Allergy in Wheaton, Maryland.

She says the worst is yet to come. The pollen levels are where they should be for this time of year, according to White, who adds that April and May are when people should really expect to feel the brunt of allergy symptoms.

“I think we’re all aware we’ve watered the plants extraordinarily well over the last month or so with all the snow seeping into the ground. So I would expect we’re going to have a fairly high pollen season this year,” White says.

She urges those who rely on epi pens for protection from bee sting allergies to refill their prescriptions now, as bees are already taking flight.

The post That cold you’re treating could be allergies appeared first on WTOP.

24 Mar 19:36

New computer system trips up D.C. Fire & EMS, calls to help desk jump 800 percent

by Andrew Mollenbeck

WASHINGTON — The roll out of a new software system added confusion to the already-embattled D.C. fire department, new figures suggest.

Last fall, new computer hardware and new software were installed in every fire apparatus and ambulance unit within D.C. Fire and EMS. But technical problems with the rollout and a lack of training have added to the problems facing the department, which has faced questions whether it has the equipment and staffing to respond to daily emergencies in the city.

“This created an unusually large amount of confusion and technical issues when this was installed in October and November,” says Kevin Donahue, the deputy city administrator.

The number of Fire & EMS calls to the help desk spiked 800 percent in the wake of the installation. Calls reached 400 in one month — up from about 50 per month before the computer upgrades.

Donahue says the surge indicates training and technical testing of the system weren’t sufficient before implementation.

He says it’s not clear whether confusion from the new system contributed to a recent mishandled response.

Earlier this month, responders to a choking toddler came from a fire station more than a mile from the home, even though a paramedic was available at a station just three blocks away.

The toddler died less than a week later.

While a review into the child’s death is still ongoing, one possible reason for the more-distant dispatch involves a typographical error using the new system.

Fire department staff are going through additional training on the system, which along with technical fixes, should bring down the number of calls to the help desk, Donahue says. Calls to the help desk from the fire department have dipped to about 200 per month.

But Donahue says one number that has remained consistent is the time it takes first responders to get to a scene when someone is in need.

Before and after the new system was installed, the average response time has stayed under five minutes.

The post New computer system trips up D.C. Fire & EMS, calls to help desk jump 800 percent appeared first on WTOP.

23 Mar 13:43

Pet of the Week: Miguel

by Rachel Nania

WASHINGTON — Meet Miguel, a cute little Chihuahua mix currently residing at the Washington Animal Rescue League.

We don’t know much about this little guy’s early life — just that he somehow found himself at one of our overcrowded partner shelters. Since arriving at WARL in mid-January, Miguel has been waiting patiently for someone to realize what a wonderful canine companion he’d be.

He’s cheerful, friendly and likes both people and other dogs. And at 7 years old, he’s got the wisdom that comes with maturity but is still playful and energetic.

He also qualified for our Boomers’ Buddies program, which means his adoption fee will be waived for anyone 50 years or older.

About WARL: Founded in 1914, the Washington Animal Rescue League is the oldest animal shelter in Washington D.C. Its mission includes rescuing, rehabilitating and finding homes for animals who have no where else to go. The League also supports animals through affordable veterinary care, community outreach and education. Learn more about the Washington Animal Rescue League at www.warl.org.

If you are thinking of adding a furry friend to your family, check out these other great shelters in the area:

Maryland

Humane Society of Charles County
(301) 645-8181
71 Industrial Park Dr. PO Box 1015 Waldorf, Md. 20604

Humane Society of Charles County offers a low cost spay/neuter program to the public. Please call or visit our website for more information. The shelter is also looking for more foster parents to help its animals.

Prince George’s County Humane Society
(301) 262-5625
P.O. Box 925 Bowie, Md. 20718
Prince George’s County Humane Society is also looking for foster parents. For more information, contact the organization.

PAW – Partnership for Animal Welfare
(301) 572-4729
P.O. Box 1074 Greenbelt, Md. 20768

Paws Animal Kingdom
(301) 920-2318
P.O. Box 11531 Takoma Park, Md. 20912

Montgomery County Humane Society
(240) 773-5960
14645 Rothgeb Dr. Rockville, Md. 20850

The Animal Welfare League of Montgomery County
(301) 740-2511
12 Park Ave. Gaithersburg, Md. 20877

D.C.

Washington Humane Society
(202) 576-6664
1201 New York Ave. NE 20002

ASAP – Alliance for Stray Animals and People
(202) 331-1330
P.O. Box 65438 Washington, D.C. 20035-5438

Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue
(202) 575-2210
Approved applicants may attend monthly adoption meets that are usually held at the house of a volunteer in either Northern Virginia or Southern Maryland.

Lucky Dog Animal Rescue
(202) 741-5428
Lucky Dog is a foster home organization and does not run a dedicated housing facility.

Northern Virginia

A Forever Home
(703) 961-8690
A Forever-Home is a non-profit dog rescue group that operates in the Northern Virginia/Washington Metropolitan area.

Lab Rescue of L.R.C.P.
(301) 299-6756
Lab Rescue of the LRCP is a volunteer driven, non-profit organization that rescues, fosters and places homeless, abused, and/or abandoned Labrador Retrievers.

FOHA – Friends of Homeless Animals
(703) 385-0224
All visitors must speak to a Friends representative prior to receiving directions to their shelter location.

SPCA of Northern Virginia
P.O. Box 100220 Arlington, Va. 22210-3220
Animal Welfare League of Alexandria
(703) 746-4774
4101 Eisenhower Ave. Alexandria, Va. 22304

Animal Welfare League of Arlington
(703) 931-9241
2650 S. Arlington Mill Dr. Arlington, Va.

Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation
(703) 295-3647
P.O. Box 223953 Chantilly, Va. 20153

HART – Homeless Animal Rescue Team
(703) 691-HART
P.O. Box 7261 Fairfax Station, Va. 22039-7261

King Street Cats Rescue and Adoption
(703) 231-7199
25 Dove St. Alexandria, Va. 22314

The post Pet of the Week: Miguel appeared first on WTOP.

22 Mar 11:10

Want a nice plant? You’ll have to pay up

by Amy Hunter

WASHINGTON — When it comes to buying live plants, pinching pennies could cost you.

That’s what Washington Consumers’ Checkbook found when they analyzed more than 100 garden centers in the D.C. region.

“You generally have to pay more to get higher quality products,” says Kevin Brasler, executive editor of Washington Consumers’ Checkbook.

Large chain stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s tend to have lower prices. But Brasler says you can find a larger selection and more knowledgable staff at smaller, independent stores — if you’re ready to pay up.

“Some stores charge prices that are five, even six times higher than their lowest price competitors,” he says.

For the most part, customers are satisfied with the pricey plants.

But what if you get a dud?

“Even the big chains have pretty generous return policies for these things,” Brasler says.

Washington Consumers’ Checkbook is partnering with WTOP to offer their report on more than 100 local garden centers until the end of March. You can find it here.  Just enter your email address in the designated spot.

The post Want a nice plant? You’ll have to pay up appeared first on WTOP.

18 Mar 17:38

Ravens agree to 2-year deal with Canty after cutting him

by wtopstaff

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — The Baltimore Ravens and defensive end Chris Canty have reached agreement on a 2-year deal less than three weeks after parting ways.

The Ravens terminated Canty’s contract on Feb. 27. But now he’s back in the fold.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome says, “We talked weeks ago about the possibility of Chris coming back, and we are happy he is.”

Canty was inactive for five games last season and had three games without a tackle. He finished with 33 tackles and a half-sack in 11 starts. Financial terms of his 2-year deal were not released.

The 32-year-old Canty played the last two seasons with the Ravens. In 26 games, including 24 starts, he had 63 tackles and 2 1/2 sacks.

Canty played four years in Dallas and won a Super Bowl during a four-year run with the New York Giants.

___

AP NFL websites: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

The post Ravens agree to 2-year deal with Canty after cutting him appeared first on WTOP.

24 Mar 22:41

Remembering Reusable Grocery Bags Makes Us Buy More Junk Food

by Laura Northrup

Reusable shopping bags: they’re environmentally friendly, earn you a discount, and let you express your loyalty to your favorite grocery store when there isn’t a Wegmans available within a two-hour drive. Yet here’s an interesting question: do they have an effect on our behavior? Are there any major differences between shoppers who bring their own bags and those who don’t?

Most people would assume that reusable bag users buy healthier food than people who don’t bring their own bags. That is, as it turns out…not really true. An analysis of store loyalty card data showed that people who bring their own bags do buy more organic products, out of what is most likely a combination of health and environmental concerns. However, when compared to other shoppers, they’re buying a lot more junk food.

“They weren’t replacing other items with junk food, as they did with organic food,” researcher Uma Karmarkar explained to the Harvard Business Review. “They were just adding it to their carts.” Customers who bought, say, organic baby carrots would buy those instead of conventionally grown carrots. Yet the shoppers with reusable bags were buying a lot more cookies and ice cream overall, and those purchases weren’t replacing anything.

Here’s the best part: the researchers were even able to sort out shopping trips by the same household where they did or did not bring the bags along. The same people were more likely to buy junk food when they remembered to bring the bags. One exception: households who were also buying baby items. They didn’t buy extra treats when using reusable bags.

Why is this? The researchers believe that we’re all rewarding ourselves, unconsciously, for the virtuous behavior of remembering to bring along that reusable bag. It’s not a conscious decision, of course: maybe even reading this article will inoculate you from the behavior.

Reusable Bags Make People Buy Organic—and Junk [Harvard Business Review]

24 Mar 14:59

Taco Bell Shoving Aside Waffle Taco In Favor Of New Biscuit Taco

by Mary Beth Quirk

chickenbiscuittacoMake no mistake — when it comes to the fight to get into your belly, it is a veritable breakfast battleground out there right now among fast food chains. The latest to fall in battle is Taco Bell’s waffle taco, which was once the flag bearer of the chain’s breakfast efforts. The company is pushing the waffle taco off its morning throne and replacing it with a biscuit taco that it tested in the fall of 2014.

Because putting the word “taco” after a string of other ingredients apparently makes something a taco, Taco Bell is shucking aside its first try at the morning meal, a press rep confirms to Consumerist, and getting rid of the waffle taco in favor of a newcomer.

The new biscuit tacos are arriving at participating locations on Thursday, featuring various meant options on a biscuit: sausage, egg and cheese; bacon, egg and cheese; crispy chicken with country gravy and crispy chicken with a new jalapeno honey sauce.

This isn’t your average coup, either — it’s a “defection” from a certain fast food breakfast competitor that isn’t mentioned by name, but one might guess rhymes with “ShhMcMoonald’s.”

Taco Bell says the move is aimed at “encouraging people to escape the same round breakfast sandwich by defecting to the next generation of breakfast at Taco Bell.”

As such, the chain is also launching an anti-Egg McMuffin campaign calling the breakfast items out as boring and meant for uncool conformists. The posters for a place called “Routine Public” have things like a demonic clown holding a McMuffin-like item with the words, “Routine Rules.” Scary much?

In the same vein as its campaign using real Ronald McDonalds professing their love for Taco Bell (which was also timed to the launch of the new breakfast menu), new TV ads will have “defectors” saying things like, “I admit I used to be a McDonald’s fan.”

Could it be that the waffle taco simply wasn’t up to snuff, despite all the ballyhoo at its launch last year? Perhaps. According to the AP, shortly after it debuted, Taco Bell Chief Marketing Officer Chris Brandt noted that “some of the things on our menu might run out of gas.”

Why not just call it the bisco? That’s a lot easier to say than biscuit taco, if you ask me.

Taco Bell’s waffle taco is dead; biscuit taco to replace [Associated Press]

23 Mar 22:11

Va. man wanted for raping girlfriend's daughter - W*USA 9


W*USA 9

Va. man wanted for raping girlfriend's daughter
W*USA 9
MANASSAS, Va. (WUSA9) -- A Manassas man is wanted for sexually abusing his girlfriends daughter, he had been doing so for a period of time, say. Loading… Post to Facebook. Va. man wanted for raping girlfriend's daughter MANASSAS, Va. (WUSA9) -- A ...

and more »
23 Mar 12:30

How To Make Pizza At Home That Won’t Be Horrible

by Mary Beth Quirk

You’ve got all your favorite toppings assembled, the cheese is waiting to be melted and the dough is ready to go. But no matter what you do, making pizza at home can be disappointing when compared to the pies served up at restaurants. It seems so simple — so why do homemade efforts often fall so short of expectations?

Because pizza is a delicious concoction of unrivaled tastiness that sprung fully-formed from the forehead of Zeus, we wanted to get to the bottom of the difficulties facing home chefs trying to recreate restaurant pizza at home.

To do so, we went straight to the pizza pros, who say it all comes down to three basic elements of the process: Equipment, which gives restaurants a distinct advantage; the dough and ingredients both for the dough and the pizza’s toppings, which are things that everyday folks can do just as well as the pros.

THE EQUIPMENT
Ovens
Restaurants that make pizza have a big leg upon your everyday person in that they have big, expensive ovens that can get really, really hot. We’re talking temperatures reaching 500, 700 or even 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Chef Guido Magnaguagno and teaches the Italian Culinary Experience program for the International Culinary Center, wherein students spend 10 weeks.

“The higher the temperature, the better,” Magnaguagno explains to Consumerist.

The Pizza Czar (actual title) of the famed Roberta’s in Brooklyn, N.Y., Anthony Falco agrees — and he should know, as he not only makes pizza for a living, but teaches others to do it at home in classes he holds at the Brooklyn Kitchen.

At his restaurant, a 1,000-degree wood-burning oven can cook a pizza in 60 seconds. So your home pizza oven at 550 degrees, “that’s the bottom end of what’s acceptable.”

“High heat, as high as it’ll go. There’s no such thing as your home oven being too hot,” he explains.

Pizza stones and baking steels
But because we don’t all have pizza ovens at home, there are tools that can come in handy to the home cook: Pizza stones and baking steels are useful to own if you’re going to get into the habit of making pizza — not only because your average oven can’t get as hot as those in restaurants, but because they don’t maintain high temperatures like professional pizza ovens do.

Pizza stones/steels can get really hot and then hold onto that heat, resulting in a better pizza. Even better, pizza steels can be used for other things in the kitchen as well, Falco says.

“Those are great because what they’re going to do is cook the pizza from the bottom and the heat of your oven is going to cook it from the top,” Falco says, calling pizza stones basically a “thermal battery” in that way.

Without those tools, even the best pizza recipe will result in “a cooked bread, more like a focaccia type of thing and not really a pizza,” Magnaguagno explains.

Foccaccia, did you say? That doesn’t always have to be the worst thing — if you do it right, explains Falco, who said he started teaching people in his classes at the Brooklyn Kitchen to make pan pizza so they wouldn’t waste the dough they’d just learned how to make in class.

It’s simple, he says: Slap that dough into any kind of oiled up skillet that can go in the oven — cast iron or all steel — put your toppingso n and stick it in the oven. It’ll take longer, he notes, more like 15 to 20 minutes instead of three to four, but you’ll end up with something delicious.

THE DOUGH
“The first tip I have for people is if you know yourself and you know you’re never going to spend the time to actually get good at making dough from scratch at home, buy pizza dough from a pizzeria,” says Falco. “You can take it home and make pizza with that and it’ll get you started.”

But, he says he highly recommends getting serious about making dough from scratch. To that end, he helped write Roberta’s cookbook that’s specifically aimed at helping the at-home chef.

“It’s really pretty simple if you can take the mystery out of it,” he explains.

One of his best tips? Precision in measuring out the ingredients for your dough. He suggests using a scale to measure ingredients out by weight. Basically, pizza dough is a living thing — there’s the yeast cultures to consider, coaxing the growth of lactobacilli to make the dough more flavorful — and factors like air pressure, humidity and altitude can all change the outcome of the dough.

“To mitigate all those things that are going to be so different every time you do it, you’re going to be as precise as possible with your measuring out of your ingredients,” he explains.

Magnaguagno also recommends that you not just using your everyday baking flour to make pizza, explaining that a great flour for sale in the United States is what’s known as a “00” flour by Caputo. It’s a lower gluten flour, which makes it great for pizza dough.

It’s important to be patient when making pizza dough at home, both Magnaguagno and Falco agree. When combining your dough ingredients, it’s best to mix first the dry ingredients, and then the wet ones, before putting them all together, which is pretty common in baking. Being patient enough to let the dough rest in between each time you handle it will also result in a tastier crust.

“I’ve heard it described before as gluten being like a muscle,” Falco explains. “If you overwork it, it’s going tighten up and seize up on you. So you have to rest it in between the times that you work it.”

And while you can whip up a batch of dough and bake a pizza with it right away, the chefs stress the importance of allowing your finished dough to proof at least overnight in the refrigerator, if not for a two days. This allows for a more flavorful dough, Magnaguagno notes.

“You can do it in an hour — you can make a pizza dough in an hour, if you have a warm place, and it works, it makes a nice pizza,” he says. “But it doesn’t have the same flavor than if you let it proof for a whole night in the refrigerator.

That slow, cold fermentation serves another purpose than imparting delicious, doughy flavor, Falco explains — it actually makes the gluten more digestible, the longer it’s allowed to sit and break down in the dough.

“By allowing the microbes to do their work on the dough, it’s actually much more nutritious for you than just letting your dough blow up and baking it off right away,” he says. “Then you get the benefit of it being much more flavorful.”

So while sure, that might take a lot of planning and time, but once you’ve got the dough making out of the way, you can relax and order delivery for dinner that night.

“Then the next day, you can make pizza, or not,” Falco says. “Then the next day, you can make pizza or not. And then the third day, eh you should probably make pizza.”

Once it comes time to actually get your dough ready to bear delicious toppings, you might be worried that you just don’t have the skills to toss it around like they do in the movies. Don’t be — the chefs we spoke with say that it’s more important to stretch the dough — making sure there aren’t any holes — than to try any acrobatics.

“You want to avoid thin spots, you don’t want to make the middle too thin, and then you want to make sure you have a good crust,” Falco says. “Because the crust is not only going to rise up and give you something to hang onto when you eat, but it’s going to stop the sauce and the mozzarella from pouring over the edge.”

(For more on how Falco makes pizza at Roberta’s, check out this video the New York Times produced with the restaurant’s chefs on how to make great pizza dough.)

Magnaguagno says it’s even okay to use a rolling pin at first just to help get the dough from its ball form to a flatter shape, and then shape it on a floured surface.

“At that point, you’re gonna need to start pulling it, if you can’t throw it in the air and all that, you really need to pull it,” he explains.

Worried your dough doesn’t look like it does on TV? Don’t be.

“The key is don’t be afraid of funny looking shapes,” Falco says. “Create your crust, and then pass it back and forth from one hand to the other and let gravity do most of the work.”

If you need a timeout, go ahead and set the dough down and take a break, he adds.

THE TOPPINGS
By the time you’ve waited for your dough to proof and gotten it to the shape you want, it’s time to put the toppings on. Shopping for the best, most freshest ingredients — whether it’s mozzarella, fresh basil or whole, peeled tomatoes — is ideal.

But beyond just the various ingredients you decide you want to eat, when it comes to toppings it’s all about the layering, both Magnaguagno and Falco agree.

1. Build a delicious base: First, sprinkle a little salt on the dough with a drizzle of olive oil. Then come the tomatoes — and using store-bought sauce is not the way to go, say our pros.

“In America, most of the pizzas are done with a sauce base,” Magnaguagno says, which isn’t really authentic, “whereas in Italy, most of the pizza is done with a tomato base.”

To achieve a simple sauce, Falco recommends getting whole peeled tomatoes from California or Italy, draining them, pureeing with a bit of salt and olive oil to taste, and “that’s gonna be the best sauce you can ever get.”

To prevent things from burning that you don’t want to burn, include those ingredients before providing a cheese blanket to protect them from the oven: Things like garlic, basil oregano and other herbs should be added to the base of the pizza.

2. The cheese: Along with buying the freshest mozzarella you can find, using real parmagianno reggiano or grana padana versus a commercial parmesan is going to make a big difference, Falco notes.

“Really just use the best ingredients you can in moderation. It’s going to really go a long way.”

3. Put things on top that will benefit from heat: Things that you think will be good if they burn, like the edges of your pepperoni or maybe some onions, those go on last. And if you’re using fresh mushrooms, it’s best to roast them at high heat first, to avoid moisture leaking out all over your pizza and making a gross mess.

THE TAKEAWAY
So what have we learned from all this? Patience is a virtue, and no more so than when in making pizza. Yes, we all want to get to the eating part as quickly as possible, but taking a little bit of time to let that dough rest and do its thing will go a long way, and hopefully, result in a crust you can be proud of. Before you eat in about a minute flat, that is.

20 Mar 16:05

5 Food Prep Tips For Reducing Pesticide Risks

by Chris Morran

When you buy a sack of potatoes with dirt still clinging to the spuds, you know they’ll need a wash before going into your dinner. But those completely clean-looking apples, peaches, and strawberries may carry a less-visible danger in the form of pesticide residues.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims that that there are traces of 29 different pesticides in the average American’s body, so our colleagues at Consumer Reports recently published an extensive look at the pervasiveness of this problem and how consumers can best reduce their risk of chowing down on pesticides.

In the above video, CR gives the following food-prep tips for cutting down your risk of exposure to pesticides in produce.

1. Wash thoroughly.
Not just a spritz or a dust-off. You should wash fruits & vegetables under running water for at least 30 seconds to one minute.

2. Use a brush.
Help scrub off any residues by employing a clean brush for firm-skinned produce like apples and carrots. There are specialty brushes available for items like mushrooms and potatoes. Keep all your brushes clean by regularly washing with hot, soapy water, or by tossing them in the dishwasher.

3. Shed layers.
The outer layers of foods like lettuce and cabbage are where you’ll find most pesticide residues.

4. Go organic, especially if you’re using the whole item.
CR recommends that you buy organic produce whenever possible, as the use of synthetic pesticides on these items is limited. Organics are particularly important if you’re intending to use the outer skin of a fruit or vegetable, like a potato peel or lemon rind.

5. Organics still need to be washed.
Even though organic produce is grown using a limited range of pesticides, there’s no way to rule out cross-contamination from other crops. So it’s just as important to wash these foods as conventionally grown produce.

19 Mar 04:04

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey unveils 'Legends' at Verizon and Patriot ... - Fredericksburg.com


Fredericksburg.com

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey unveils 'Legends' at Verizon and Patriot ...
Fredericksburg.com
When and where: March 19–22, Verizon Center, 601 F St. NW, Washington, D.C.; April 8–19, Patriot Center, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax. Cost: $15 and up. Info: 202/628-3200, verizoncenter.com; 703/993-3000, patriotcenter.com. Posted: Thursday, March ...

and more »
18 Mar 19:46

Target Introduces Extended One-Year Return Policy

by Ashlee Kieler

While 90 days might seem like enough time to decide whether or not those sheets really match your bedroom decor, Target seems to think you might want to think on it a bit longer than that: The company announced today that it will offer customers a one-year return window for select items.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Target has extended its return policy from 90 days to 365 days, creating one of the most liberal return policies for a major retailer.

“Our enhanced return policy offers our guests convenience we think they’ll appreciate, while providing additional assurance of the quality of owned and exclusive brands found only at Target,” Kathee Tesija, chief merchandising and supply chain officer, said in a statement.

The new return policy covers all of Target’s 32 private label brands including Archer Farms, Liz Lange, Merona, Mossimo, Threshold and Circo. The only Target-affiliated brand not covered by the policy is the company’s frequent collaborations with well-known designers.

Also covered under the extended policy are unopened items purchased for wedding, baby and college gift registries. The one-year clock for those items begins on the date of the event.

A spokesperson from Target tells the Star Tribune that the policy is also good for returns made because of quality issues, such as clothing that fades in the wash or rips at the seams.

Much like the current Target return policy, items must be accompanied by an original receipt. However, if a customer doesn’t have a receipt, the purchase can be verified if it was bought with a credit or debit card, gift card or check.

The extended return policy comes just a month after Target reduced its free shipping requirement to $25, undercutting other retailers such as Walmart and Amazon.

According to the Associated Press, the company’s new one-year plan also differentiates Target from rival retailers.

At Walmart, items bought in the store can be returned within 90 days, while online purchases have 90 days from the date received.

Amazon, on the other hand, gives consumers 30 days from the receipt of the shipment to return items. However, some products sold from third-party vendors have different requirements.

Target extends its return policy to one year on select items [Minneapolis Star Tribune]
Target to offer a one-year return policy [The Associated Press]

18 Mar 20:56

Why Is LEGO Offering Beauty Tips To Little Girls?

by Laura Northrup

legosalonTwo years ago, a LEGO Friends salon playset took one of the top dishonors in the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood’s annual “worst products” list. The organization called the set “so jam-packed with condescending stereotypes it would even make Barbie blush.” That spirit lives on in a LEGO Friends magazine spread that made parents angry and–if we’re to believe company representatives–is making LEGO rethink their marketing of the Friends sets. Sort of.

While that specific playset is no longer sold, there’s a new salon playset that has a cream-colored floor instead of a pink one, but is still a hair salon for plastic figurines that have plastic molded hair that can’t be styled. That set is part of a storyline featured in a recent insert in LEGO Club magazine (not every club member receives that insert: more on this later) where a character offers advice to full-size human girls about the best hairstyles for their faces. Some parents were offended at the idea of beauty tips in magazines aimed at girls as young as 5.

“My little girl, the shape of her face, and whether her haircut is flattering are none of Lego’s concern,” Sharon Holbrook wrote in the New York Times’ parenting blog. “It wasn’t even her concern until a toy magazine told her to start worrying about it.” Here are the offending beauty tips:

tips

Maybe this page wouldn’t bother anyone if the mere existence of the LEGO Friends hadn’t been so controversial among some parents and observers since it launched. Most people were under the impression that LEGO was for everyone, and the company also used to emphasize this in its marketing materials. Why do girls need pre-written storylines and figurines shaped more like dolls for them to be interested in building things out of plastic bricks?

LEGO plans to take customer complaints into consideration when putting together future Friends inserts. In a statement sent to Mashable, a company representative said:

We appreciate the reader comments on the latest LEGO Club Magazine. Our Club team is always striving for new ways to engage with LEGO fans based on insights we gather from our Club audience. One particular thing that readers asked us to include was an ‘Advice Column.’ In the most recent magazine, we attempted to deliver against this request by elaborating on a current LEGO Friends story line. We sincerely regret any disappointment it may have caused. We value this feedback and have already shared with the LEGO Club team in order to positively impact future stories.

Maybe they could try an advice column about building stuff with LEGO bricks.

The company’s marketing when it comes to Friends content has actually improved in recent years: they used to offer standard and “for girls” versions of the club magazine, which later changed to occasional inserts with LEGO Friends content based on whether the child was identified as a boy or girl when they subscribed. After one parent with a son who likes pink bricks complained, parents can now choose whether to receive the Friends inserts or not, instead of lying about their kid’s gender to receive the insert.

18 Mar 13:28

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. No incidents were reported by the animal control section of the Fairfax City Police Department.

and more »
18 Mar 18:54

How To Verify Your Identity In Case The IRS Suspects Suspicious Tax Return Activity

by Mary Beth Quirk

(afagen)

(afagen)

In the aftermath of revelations that fraudsters exploited TurboTax and had possibly filed bogus returns in many states, the Internal Revenue Service is contacting people linked to suspiciously filed returns, and asking them to verify their identity to find out if the return is real or not.

First of all — unless you get a letter from the IRS instructing you do so, there’s no need to verify your identity with the agency, the IRS says.

The IRS says taxpayers might receive a letter when the IRS prevents a suspicious tax return from going through that are flagged as possible identity theft, but do include a real person’s name and/or Social Security Number.

Should you receive a request in the form of Letter 5071C from the IRS, the agency says there are two ways, and two ways only, to verify your identity: You can either go to idverify.irs.gov and answer a series of questions, or call a toll-free number on the upper corner page of the letter.

The taxpayer should have their prior year tax return and current year tax return on hand, as well as supporting documents like Forms W-2 and 1099 and Schedules A and C. They’ll then confirm that they either did or did not file the return in question, and the IRS will proceed accordingly to assist them in the next steps against identity theft, or process their refund.

The IRS clarifies that it will not email or call taxpayers in this process, so beware if someone purporting to be from the agency does so.

Taxpayers Receiving Identity Verification Letter Should Use IDVerify.irs.gov [IRS.gov]