jeudi 31 octobre 2013

Porn Troll Lawyers Hit With Legal Fees For Bullying Defendant

Back in 2012, John Steele of Prenda Law — a firm that specializes in threatening to sue alleged porn file-sharers in order to force a settlement — was publicly bragging about his success, referring to himself in an interview as “the original copyright troll.” Recently, things haven’t gone so well, due in no small part to a disastrous attempt to sue Comcast and AT&T for phony claims of “hacking” one of their client’s websites.

For years, Prenda had been filing lawsuits on behalf of porn companies, naming thousand of “John Doe” defendants to be named later, then using subpoenas to get Internet providers to match customer names with IP addresses of alleged file-sharers. When AT&T and Comcast wouldn’t hand over the names of 6,600 such Doe defendants, the Prenda client amended the complaint in Aug. 2012 to include AT&T, Comcast, and someone named Alex Smith, alleging they were aiding and abetting hackers who had breached the client’s computers.

The claim was questionable from the start, appearing to be nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to compel AT&T and Comcast to hand over the sought-after customer information during the discovery period.

In a way, this tactic was much like the thousands of legal letters Prenda and other porn copyright trolls have sent out to accused file-sharers, never intending to sue anyone but knowing that the threat of a lawsuit — especially one that outed the defendant as an alleged porn-downloader — was enough to make people fork over millions to make it go away.

But a few moderately clever copyright trolls stood no chance against the legal titans at AT&T and Comcast, and the plaintiff, Lightspeed Media, dropped the lawsuit in March.

While the two ISPs are probably not worried about their legal expenditures for making that case go away, Smith, the sole private citizen named in the case, wasn’t terribly thrilled with having to pay for lawyers in a case that should never have been filed, by lawyers that have made a practice of doing so.

So last spring he filed a motion with the court seeking the payment of excess legal fees by Steele and two of his cohorts.

In that motion [PDF], Smith says that when the process server handed him the summons in Aug. 2012, the process server also gave him a card bearing Steele’s info and told Smith that Steele was an important attorney from D.C. who had no interest in the case but could make it go away.

But it wasn’t true that Steele had no interest in the case as he appeared on that very day in court of behalf of the plaintiff.

The motion for legal fees alleges not only that Smith’s inclusion in the suit was baseless, fraudulent, and frivolous, but that the lawyers’ behavior met the “objectively unreasonable and vexatious” standard for meriting they pay the defendant’s excess legal fees.

“Steele, Hansmeier and Duffy have orchestrated a nationwide campaign through Prenda Law and other related entities that several courts have found extends beyond vexatious litigation into fraud on the court,” reads the defendant’s motion, which cites examples of Prenda using “straw defendants” who agree to have their names included on a lawsuit “as a springboard to subpoena the names of alleged co-conspirators,” and other cases where the firm is alleged to use “sham plaintiffs so it could skip the middleman, settling claims without any need to split the proceeds with a client.”

This week, the judge finally responded to that motion and sided with Smith, who will now have to provide itemized legal fees in order to determine what the lawyers must pay. Ars Technica estimates that it will be around $70,000, which isn’t a ton of money for a firm that has made millions off of merely threatening legal action, but may set a precedent that will discourage it from continuing its questionable practices.

“The litigation smacked of bullying pretense,” wrote the judge in his order [PDF].

The hope is that these are the final days of porn troll lawyers like Prenda — which was recently accused of using its own computers to upload clients’ porn files on file-sharing sites so it could then easily track those who downloaded the videos.

We believe in respecting copyright and don’t condone illegal sharing of copyrighted material, but strongarming consumers — any number of whom are innocent — into settling allegations out of fear is an unacceptable abuse of the legal system.

Prenda Law’s “hacking” suit against ISPs ends in total loss [ArsTechnica]

via Consumerist

Buying A Home Near A Cemetery Will Cost You More Because Everyone Likes Quiet Neighbors

While we know it might be a waste of time and money to buy a famous haunted house, how about a home that just so happens to be situated near an area traditional linked to haunting? Snapping up a quiet property near a cemetery actually costs more per square foot than purchasing a home near rowdier neighbors than folks gone by.

Notwithstanding any kind of scenario where the dead might walk among the living — in which case a cemetery would become quite a grumbling, mumbling and shuffling nuisance — Redfin (via Quartz) crunched the numbers and found that houses within 50 feet of a cemetery sell for 13% more per square foot than those not so conveniently situated.

The average price per square foot for a view of graves was $162, compared to $142 to $150 for the same measurement more than 100 yards away.

It’s not just about having no fear of ghosts — graveyards and cemeteries are often located in some of the oldest parts of a town. That “the older the better” quality can be desirable, depending on the city.

“The gravestones are a part of history. They’re pockmarked and windblown and eroded,” says a Redfin agent in Philadelphia, noting that some of her clients love living near the historic Old Pine Church Cemetery.

If the house comes with a coupon for Scooby Doo and the gang to come by and solve any spooky mysteries, I could probably be convinced. Also? Today is Halloween, did you guys know that? Just checking.

Homes near cemeteries sell for 13% more than ones near the living [Quartz]

via Consumerist

How A $36 Parking Ticket Cost A Driver More Than $800

You get a parking ticket and pay it a little late, so the fine goes up $33. That happens. You send off a money order and assume that must be the end of the transaction. Isn’t it? Not for one man whose ordeal with a parking ticket in San Jose, California began in December 2006 and didn’t end until this week.

What started with one little parking ticket snowballed into the man having his tax refund and paycheck garnished.

The city of San Jose sent their account of the transactions to CBS Sacramento. It’s a little confusing, but still doesn’t explain how they could lose both payments.

Citation Issued on 12/07/06 on vehicle windshield

Courtesy Notification mailed 12/26/06 – $36 ($66 if paid after 1/09/07)

Final Notification mailed 1/18/07 – $66 ($69 if paid after 02/01/07)

$66 payment received on or before 6/25/08 – short $3

Notification mailed for $3 payment on 6/25/08

Received an additional $69 plus $3 money order on or before 7/25/08

Turbo mailed back the $3 money order on 7/25/08

Turbo mailed a $66 refund check on 8/28/08

Call Kurtis: How A $36 Parking Ticket Cost A Driver More Than $800 [CBS Sacramento]

via Consumerist

Safe Deposit Key Refund Zombifies Bank Of America Account

It’s the end of the day, so let’s all gather around the soft glow of our monitors and tell spooky stories. I’ll start. Not that long ago, an ordinary consumer had a terrifying experience. He laid his Bank of America account to rest last August, never imagining that it would rise from the dead to eat his brainswallet.

Ken had an account with Nations Bank, which Bank of America gobbled up during the ’90s. This account let him have a free safety deposit box, even though he had only a certificate of deposit. Then he decided to let the account go, since CD interest rates weren’t all that great. A few months later, the zombie uprising followed.

Ken writes for his site,

After about two months, I was surprised to receive in the mail a statement for that checking account. It was converted to the MyAccess Checking, and I had a $1 balance. That $1 was a credit from the safe deposit box key refund. One would think that the bank would have sent me a check in the mail instead of reopening the account. I didn’t immediately go to the branch to re-close the account, but when I received the next statement with a negative $11 balance, I knew I couldn’t wait any longer. I was hit with a $12 monthly service fee.

I went back to the same branch and after a lengthy wait, I was finally able to meet with another banker. When I first closed the account, I did receive an account closing summary which provided proof that I did infact close the account. I presented this account closing summary with the statement showing the safe deposit box refund credit. Fortunately, the banker agreed to provide a $12 credit to reimburse me for the fee. The banker also closed the account again and withdrew the $1 refund credit. The checking account should now be closed for good, but I’ll be following up this time to ensure it stays closed.

That’s right. Hold on to your account closing summaries, then bury that account in a lead coffin and a solid vault.

Zombie Accounts – Trying to Close a Bank of America Checking Account

via Consumerist

Internet Displeased With Hallmark For Switching Carol’s Lyrics From “Gay” To “Fun” On Ornament

This sweater is burning up the Internet.

This sweater is burning up the Internet.

In 1794, when “Deck the Halls” was written, if someone said they were having a “gay” time, it meant one thing: Happy. But just because the meaning of that word has changed in the intervening years, many Hallmark customers are not at all pleased that the greeting card company dropped the original “don we now our gay apparel” lyric in favor of “fun” for a new ugly holiday sweater Christmas ornament.

Facebook commentators took up arms against the company’s switch on Hallmark’s page, writing that Hallmark shouldn’t have changed the lyrics in the spirit of being politically correct — and besides, “gay” isn’t a dirty word, said others.

A sample of the outrage:

Don our fun apparel? That’ll be one product I’ll leave sitting on your shelf this year.

Shame on you Hallmark, better start figuring out what you’re going to do with all of those GAY sweaters when they don’t sell.

What’s the matter with Hallmark, changing the Christmas carol to “Don we now our FUN apparel”? Are you worried gays would flock in the thousands to buy your sweater so you’d run out of stock by, oh, November 2? You’re so silly.

“It’s OK to be GAY!! Fix your dumb ornament!”

Shame on you for the new Christmas ornament where you alter the words to ‘Deck the Halls”. It is not politically correct to do so, it is lunacy. Do we ban the word gay from the English language because today it has an additional meaning? Grow up people.

But Hallmark has defended itself by saying it just didn’t want anyone to be confused by which definition of the word “gay” it meant. Or something.

“Hallmark created this year’s Holiday Sweater ornament in the spirit of fun. When the lyrics to ‘Deck the Halls’ were translated from Gaelic and published in English back in the 1800s, the word ‘gay’ meant festive or merry,” Hallmark writes in its history lesson/statement.

“Today it has multiple meanings, which we thought could leave our intent open to misinterpretation. The trend of wearing festively decorated Christmas sweaters to parties is all about fun, and this ornament is intended to play into that, so the planning team decided to say what we meant: ‘fun.’ That’s the spirit we intended and the spirit in which we hope ornament buyers will take it.”

Perhaps it might have been wiser to just assume that most people know that gay also used to mean merry, and choose a different way to market an ugly sweater ornament. Instead of a meeting where someone apparently chimed in: “Ooh! This Christmas carol has the word ‘apparel’ in it and we’re selling a sweater! Perfect!”

via Consumerist

News Flash: Adults Stealing Candy From Kids’ Halloween Hauls

Stop feeling guilty for that raid-and-binge operation you’ll inevitably embark upon tonight when your child is fast asleep: 81% of adults admit they steal treats from their hardworking children on Halloween. But it’s still not okay for parents to steal their kids’ costumes from last year and squeeze into them for the office’s All Hallows Eve party. [NPR]

via Consumerist

Time Warner Cable Loses 300,000 Customers Because Of Idiotic CBS Blackout

While we didn’t pick sides in the moronic month-long fight between Time Warner Cable and CBS (because they both hate you and are just using you for your money), it always seemed like TWC was fighting the more pointless battle, as it needs the network more than the network needs it and it will be the one that ultimately has to anger customers by increasing their monthly bills. The utter pointlessness of the blackout was made even more evident today when TWC blamed the loss of hundreds of thousands of subscribers on the prolonged spat.

TWC had already admitted that the blackout, which took CBS off the air for 3 million subscribers in major markets like New York City, L.A., and Dallas, and took away Showtime for all TWC subscribers nationwide (right in the middle of Dexter’s inexplicable descent into a Monthy Python skit!), had resulted in losses to its subscriber base, both from customers who fled who cut the cord or fled to satellite competitors and from people who would have signed up for service but were turned off by the standoff.

But the latest quarterly earnings put an actual number of the recent loss of subscribers — 306,000 cable customers, 24,000 Internet subscribers, and 128,000 voice customers. The 306,000 number is double what industry analysts had expected, reports Reuters, and the company had been expected to show a net gain in Internet customers, as opposed to the net loss announced today.

“Not surprisingly we saw come customer relationship disconnect,” Time Warner Cable Chief Operating Officer Rob Marcus admitted in a conference call about the latest earnings report.

The drop in customers and the imminent exit of TWC CEO Glenn “Two Ns, Two Ts” Britt have led to renewed speculation that the country’s second-largest cable provider could be the target of an acquisition attempt by Liberty Media and its billionaire Chairman John Malone. Liberty already owns a 27% stake in Charter Communications and 1% of TWC.

“This enhances Malone’s appeal to Time Warner Cable shareholders that they would be better off with another management team,” one analyst tells the L.A. Times, while another analyst says this bad news makes TWC less alluring as a merger partner.

The motivation for TWC to stick with the blackout long after it became clear that CBS wasn’t going to budge is still unclear. Some argue that Britt was trying to shine a spotlight on the FCC’s ridiculously outdated 1992 retransmission consent rules, but most consumers don’t care about the minutiae of FCC regulations when they just want to relax and watch TV. That is not a fight any cable company will win in the forum of public opinion, especially when the company waging that battle is one of the country’s most-reviled.

And the time to pick that fight is not when the most significant thing you’re blacking out is a ho-hum season of Big Brother and Big Bang Theory reruns. If you’re going to try to convince the TV-watching audience to pay attention to the retrans fee problem, you’ll have to do it when they are unable to watch shows they really want to watch.

Hopefully this huge loss in subscribers will convince other cable operators that forcing blackouts on customers is only going to backfire and result in fewer customers, which can then force the cable company to jack up subscription fees, resulting in further defections.

Stop placing customers in the crossfire and negotiate your retransmission and carriage fee deals in private like grownups.

Time Warner Cable loses subscribers, says open to deals

Time Warner Cable loses 306,000 subscribers, cites fight with CBS [L.A. Times]

via Consumerist

McDonald’s Has Pumpkin Pie. Don’t Eat It.

mcdonalds-Pumpkin-PieAs you may have noticed, the American food industry has an ongoing plan to put pumpkin or artificial pumpkin-like substances in every food item possible between August and November. However, just because you like pumpkin, that doesn’t mean you should try all of them. Here’s a new cautionary tale: McDonald’s now offers a pumpkin pie, but you shouldn’t eat it.

“If you’re getting one of these looking for a semi-competent pumpkin pie experience,” writes Charles Lam of the Orange County Register, “you’re going to be disappointed.” Yes, it’s just McDonald’s pie crust wrapped around some pumpkin-like mush. Lam, who actually likes McDonald’s apple pies, doesn’t think that the whole dessert holds up. The filling is a blandly sweet mush, and the whole thing tastes faintly of cinnamon. It’s like the disastrous pumpkin spice M&Ms. Only you don’t expect something with most of the components of an actual pie (flour, shortening, some actual pumpkin) to just taste vaguely sweet and cinnamony.

In one way, this pie is superior to the drink that began this mania, Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte. It contains some actual pumpkin. Not all that much, since in the list of ingredients it falls after vegetable shortening but before high fructose corn syrup.

We Eat It So You Don’t Have To: McDonald’s Pumpkin Pie [Orange County Register]

via Consumerist

Good Samaritan Buys Woman A New Bike After She Posts An Angry Letter To Thief

Perhaps it was the thought of all that hard work wasted, or maybe the threat of violence against whoever stole it, but a Chicago woman’s rant to the person who stole her bike resulted in a happy ending. A kindly fellow and his daughter took the 19-year-old out to buy a brand new bike to ease the pain of her stolen property.

CBS Chicago posted a photo of the letter a woman stuck on a light pole near the bike rack where her bike was boosted, located right outside the art supply store where she works. In the letter she railed against the loss of her single mode of transportation and eloquently lamented the effect its loss could have on her life, after she worked so hard to buy the $700 set of wheels.

To the letter!:

“To the piece of s*** that stole my bike from this bike rack. Do you know how hard I worked to buy that bike? Actually, you stole it WHILE I was at work,” she wrote. “I’m 19 and I payed (sic) for it completely out of my own pocket. I work 40 hours a week. I go to school part-time. And that bike was my only form of transportation, you [something redacted that must be naughty.]. I don’t even have a phone with a camera on it! So, I don’t care who you are or where your’e from but you just stole something from a person who dedicates her time to maker her life better rather than going around stealing s**t. So f*** you. And if I ever figure out who you are all 100 lab of me is going to kick your stupid ass.”

That rageful missive reached the eyes of a random passerby who happened to see it. He reached out to the woman, prompted perhaps by his own memories of having a beloved bike stolen from him.

“They were both super amazing people that sort of restored my hope in society,” the bereft bike owner said of the man and his daughter, who footed the bill for a new set of wheels.

She adds that she wasn’t looking for a free ride or to shame the thief — the letter was all about venting.

“I didn’t write the letter to get sympathy or anything, or for even someone to see the note and feel bad. That’s not why I wrote it. I just wrote it because I was really upset,” she said. “I felt like it was the only thing that I could really do, you know, just to get my anger out.”

As for her benevolent bike benefactor, however, she couldn’t be happier at how things turned out.

“I’m super-excited and stoked,” she said. “It’s pretty awesome. I’m just really happy, and excited. It’s been like an awesome, weird story.”

Angry Note To Thief Prompts Good Samaritan To Buy Woman A New Bike [CBS Chicago]

via Consumerist

Hot Food Lovers Rejoice! Sriracha Factory Avoids Shutdown For Now

Days after a lawsuit by a California city put the future of the much-loved but hard-to-pronounce Sriracha chili sauce in jeopardy, the judge in the case has denied the plaintiff’s request to shut the plant down until it deals with odor issues.

As we mentioned the other day, the city of Irwindale, CA, had sued Huy Fong, the makers of Sriracha, after residents complained about unpleasant odors and burning eyes and noses believed to be the result of factory exhaust.

The lawsuit requested a temporary restraining order that would have shut the plant down with still about two weeks to go before it finished processing peppers for next year’s orders of Sriracha.

But the Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled this morning that the last-minute request is asking too much too late.

“You’re asking for a very radical order on a 24-hour notice,” he explained. “You probably should have come in earlier.”

But the Huy Fong issue is far from resolved, as the judge set a hearing for Nov. 22 about a temporary shutdown.

The company claims that outside inspectors could not detect odor any farther than 20 feet from the factory, and that Huy Fong has twice placed filters on that exhaust system.

Sriracha factory can stay open for now, judge rules [L.A. Times]

via Consumerist

Carry This Price Code Cheat Sheet To Hunt Down Sales Everywhere

costcoWe’ve previously shared with you Costco’s price tag code, but they’re not the only store that encodes not-so-secret sale information in the last two digits of an item’s price. Other stores do it too, including Target, Home Depot, Gap/Old Navy, and Sears. Want to crack the code and know when things are on their very lowest markdown? Here are the secrets.

The deals site Rather Be Shopping recently rounded up some of these price codes, which can be useful when you wonder whether you should really nab sale items before they’re gone. They even produced a handy wallet-sized PDF with the codes they know of.

Here are a few useful ones:


  • Price ending in .99: Full price.

  • Price ending in .98: First markdown. Will be marked down again if the item doesn’t move.

  • Price ending in .04: The final markdown.

Home Depot

Price ending in .06 or a green tag: Final markdown.

Office Depot

This chain has an interesting, if rather indecisive, system.

  • Price ending in .00, .50, or .99: Full price.

  • Price ending in anything else: Markdown. Final markdown code, if there is one, not known.

Retailer’s Big Secret: Crack the Price Tag Code [Rather Be Shopping] (Thanks, Laurie!)

Price Secrets PDF [Rather Be Shopping]

Learn The Costco Price Tag Code To Save More Cash

via Consumerist

McDonald’s Will Sell Bags Of Its Coffee Soon (And Then If It’s Too Hot, It’s Your Fault)

While you still can’t buy McDonald’s french fries to cook up at home or a make-your-own Big Mac kit, fans of McDonald’s coffee will be able to bring home a bag of the stuff starting next year. And that way if you brew it too hot, well, that’s probably not going to bring on a lawsuit.

McDonald’s is spreading the news to media outlets far and wide, which includes the Associated Press, that it’s going to test selling a bunch of its packaged ground and whole-bean coffee varieties starting next year.

The bags will be sold at supermarkets and other retail outlets in 2014, which may or may not include actual McDonald’s restaurants. It’ll also test single-cup servings, likely something that would fit a Keurig or other solo serving brewers/

The company didn’t say exactly when or where the coffee will start showing up for how much, but last year it debuted 12-ounce bags of McCafe coffee in Canada which sell for around $7.

Keep yours eyes peeled in 2014, folks, and drop us a line if you start seeing Mickey D’s coffee popping up at stores.

McDonald’s Bagged Coffee Hitting Supermarket Aisles In 2014 [Associated Press]

via Consumerist

Costco Sends Us Bale Of Cardboard, Includes Free Furniture Pieces

cardboardsAmy was familiar with the work of the Stupid Shipping Gang, but didn’t expect to see them in her own office. No, not in the shipping department: at Costco, the vendor that sent them some soundproof panels for the office.

The panels themselves were adequately packaged, but the feet they sit on… oh, dear.

She writes:

My office ordered some divider panels from Costco for our sales team to help reduce the noise a little bit when they’re on the phone. The feet that hold the panels up arrived today, and the packaging is ridiculous. All four feet could have fit in one box with room to spare, but they were packaged individually. Such a waste!


via Consumerist

FDA: There Are Gross Things (Like Bug Parts) In 12% Of Imported Spices

It’s never going to be a fun read when a report from the Food and Drug Administration includes the words “pathogen,” “filth” and “insects.” Unless your idea of fun includes learning that 12% of the spices we import for food purposes are contaminated.

“Nearly all of the insects found in spice samples were stored product pests, indicating inadequate packing or storage conditions,” the agency wrote in a draft report yesterday. “The presence of rodent hair without the root in spices generally is generally indicative of contamination by rodent feces.”

In addition to that delightful almost a 7% of spices inspected over a three-year period were contaminated with salmonella, with testing that revealed more than 80 different types of the food-borne bacteria. That’s about twice the rate of contamination found in other foods the FDA regulates.

Even if you think, “I don’t cook with any spices, seasoning is for people with fun palates,” products you eat could contain tainted spices. For example, black and red pepper imported from India, Vietnam and China sickened hundreds in 2009 and 2010 when it was used in salami.

All of this yuckiness has led to 749 shipments of spice turned away at the doors to the country over three years due to salmonella contamination, while another 238 shipments weren’t let in because they were just gross — the aforementioned bits of insects, excrement, hair and other things that you do not want to sprinkle lightly over your food.

The report identifies 14 spice centric outbreaks from 1973 to 2010 that brought in reports of 2,000 people sickened. That number could be low however, since you don’t usually dump a pound of cinnamon or chili powder into whatever you’re making, and we often cook food after seasoning it, the FDA notes.

McCormick & Co., the U.S.’ biggest seller of flavor products, responded to the FDA’s warnings with a statement on its website to reassure consumers of the quality of its spices and herbs:

“Whether they’re grown in the United States or other parts of the world, McCormick exercises the same high level of quality control throughout our supply chain — including several million ingredient analyses each year and a natural steam pasteurization process,” company said on its website.

Anyone else wondering whether crushed up insect parts are the real secret ingredients in Grandma Bubbub’s chili?

Risk Profile: Pathogen and Filth in Spices []

via Consumerist

FAA Finally Loosens Restrictions On In-Flight Electronic Devices

After years of debate over whether or not it was safe to use certain electronic devices during all stages of flight, the FAA has finally decided to relax the restrictions that forced you to stop reading your Kindle or listening to music during takeoff and landing.

The FAA announced this morning that it is immediately providing guidance to the airlines on how to go through the process of demonstrating that their aircraft can safely handle radio interference from portable electronics. Once a carrier has done so, it can allow passengers to use certain devices in airplane mode in most in-flight situations.

However, airplane pilots will still have the authority to tell passengers to turn off these devices in cases like making a landing in reduced visibility. And passengers are still required to abide by the instructions of a flight’s crew members, so if they say “off with your tablet,” that tablet should go off.

Again, these new guidelines do not mean you can use your phone to make calls in mid-flight. Mobile phones will be allowed, but they must be turned to airplane mode, meaning you can’t use them to make calls at any point after you pull back from the gate. This is an FCC regulation that the FAA has no authority to change. If the plane offers in-flight WiFi service, you can turn on your device’s WiFi connection and go online that way.

The FAA is also requiring that all portable electronic devices are held by the passenger or temporarily placed in seat back pockets during takeoff and landing. Laptops are still expected to be stowed with your carry-on bags until after takeoff is complete, as they are still considered a potential safety risk — not because of signal interference, but because of their size. The FAA likens the laptop rule to its reason for requiring that tray tables be put away; they could inhibit exit from seats in case of an emergency.

The FAA provides no hard timeline for how long the implementation will last, but the agency expects that it will take several months for most airlines to complete the non-interference vetting process.

via Consumerist

New York City Council Votes To Raise Legal Smoking Age From 18 To 21

Any 17-year-olds in New York City ticking off the days until they come of legal age and can go out to buy cigarettes or other tobacco should probably know that the City Council just voted to move the legal age to buy tobacco products — and also e-cigarettes — from 18 to 21. Keep ticking those days off.

The change is an effort to keep younger people away from smoking, and would make NYC the first major U.S. city to increase the age to 21, reports Bloomberg.

And even if you are old enough to buy cigarettes, the council also voted to make sure the minimum price for a pack is at least $10.50 so your money will go quickly.

“This legislation will reduce smoking rates among New Yorkers — especially young New Yorkers — sparing them years of nicotine addiction and health problems,” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said in a statement.

The measure passed by a vote of 35 to 10, and it’s expected that Mayor Michael Bloomberg will sign it into law.

“By increasing the smoking age to 21 we will help prevent another generation from the ill health and shorter life expectancy that comes with smoking,” Bloomberg said in a statement following the vote. “It’s critical that we stop young people from smoking before they ever start.”

New York City Council Raises Legal Age for Tobacco to 21 [Bloomberg News]

via Consumerist

mercredi 30 octobre 2013

Facebook Wants To Track Where You Move Your Cursor While You Ignore Your Friends’ Posts

Because there is nothing that can’t be tracked, quantified, and turned into rad-looking chart/diagram/map, Facebook is now testing its ability to track where users move their cursors while browsing the site, presumably so it can visualize how frequently you click “hide” on all those game invites that never stop.

According to the Wall Street Journal’s CIO Journal blog, Facebook’s head of analytics believes there is value in knowing where users’ cursors go and in which parts of the screen they hover at any given moment.

Facebook wants to know things, like “did your cursor hover over that ad… and was the newsfeed in a viewable area,” explains Mr. Analytics, who used to work at Zynga, the company responsible for many of those obnoxious game requests you ignore.

The website is currently testing this cursor tracking, not to see if it’s possible, but to see if it yields any useful data.

“We probably will know in a couple of months,” says Analyticus Prime, admitting that there is such a thing useless information. “Instead of a warehouse of data, you can end up with a junkyard of data.”

via Consumerist

Why Do People Spend Unpaid Hours Reviewing Everything On Amazon?

Our lab-coated colleagues down the hall at Consumer Reports work hard to test and evaluate every consumer product from toilet paper to Tesla sports cars, and they get paid for their efforts. But there’s an army of product reviewers out there who volunteer their time and their only reward is peer recognition, “helpful” votes, and free stuff. They are the elite Amazon reviewers.

NPR’s Planet Money profiled Michael Erb, an upstate New York wedding DJ who has a lot of free time on weekdays to review things. He reviews them thoroughly, and site users find his work very useful. His 900 reviews have made him currently the #1 reviewer on Amazon. It also entitles him to be part of Amazon’s Vine program.

Amazon Vine is a program that identifies the site’s top reviewers and sends them new stuff to review. Vine members report receiving everything from e-book downloads to appliances worth thousands of dollars. They’re not supposed to sell these items, and have to give them back to Amazon if asked. (Amazon rarely, if ever, asks.)

The NPR team seems uncomfortable with the Vine concept, wondering whether receiving items for free might color reviewers’ opinions, even if they insist that they have no conscious bias at all. (Consumer Reports, which buys all items that it reviews in retail stores, would agree.) Amazon claims that the company’s own analysis shows that Vine reviews tend to have fewer stars than those belonging to people who purchased the item.

In a way, this makes sense: if you’ve received ten Bluetooth speakers, you can compare their features in a way that isn’t really possible when you’ve only experienced one type of speaker. Even if some of those speakers were free, you can still compare, contrast, and identify the crappy ones.

Episode 492: M. Erb’s Amazon Empire [NPR]

Top Reviewers On Amazon Get Tons Of Free Stuff [NPR]

via Consumerist

Faking Seizures To Get Out Of Paying The Tab Makes Man Unpopular At Local Restaurants

(Cpt. Brick)

This is not an artist’s rendering of the suspect. It’s just Batman and Princess Leia on a date. (Cpt. Brick)

First of all: I am not a medical professional and cannot say whether or not a Baltimore man is actually faking seizures. But local restaurants are irked at the fellow, saying he’s been pretending to have seizures and going limp so he doesn’t have to pay for his meals.

Police seem to agree with the eateries and arrested the man earlier this week after one restaurant’s owners said he refused to pay a $50 bill. The night before, he allegedly went limp (literally and figuratively) when it came time to pay a $90 tab at a swanky restaurant, reports The Baltimore Sun.

This is something he does on the regular, it appears: “The paramedics showed up and said, ‘Looks like our guy’s back,’” said a chef at one of the restaurants. “He would not wake up, and they were like, ‘Come on [guy], stop faking.’”

He’s had 90 arrests on his personal record in recent years, and police say this isn’t the first time he’s pulled this ploy.

“[The suspect's] seizure occurred when he was confronted about his unpaid bill as he exited the restaurant,” another officer wrote of a January incident, adding that he is “well known to local restaurants and members of the Baltimore Police Department.”

He was sentenced to a year in jail for that $160 tab, but was out by July, and reportedly continued his dining and dashing (or passing out, really) ways.

“He was just watching the football game, eating food, and when it came time to pay, he didn’t have any money,” said the manager of a restaurant where another incident occurred on Sunday night that didn’t end with medical personnel showing up. “It’s a horrible thing for someone to be doing, but for him it’s a pretty good situation — get a free meal, get locked up, get a free meal. Just a running circle.”

Man who fakes seizures to get out of dinner tab is at it again, police say [Baltimore Sun]

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Autopsy Shows Toddler Died From Consuming A Battery

A Las Vegas toddler died a few weeks ago, and the reason for his death wasn’t immediately clear. His illness began when he started coughing blood, and doctors couldn’t figure out what was making the child ill. The culprit wasn’t identifiable in an X-ray: a small coin-shaped battery.

We think of small batteries as watch or hearing aid batteries, but they’re found in a variety of small electronic devices now. Some of these inevitably find their way into kids’ mouths, because that’s what kids do.

They’re dangerous, though. Really, really dangerous. The single batteries react with saliva, burning the esophagus with an electrical charge. Burns bad enough to require surgical repair can happen in just a few hours after ingesting a battery.

The family of the toddler in Las Vegas didn’t find out what killed him until after an autopsy was performed. The child died of internal bleeding with lacerations in his esophagus, gastric irritation, and a collapsed lung.

His family doesn’t know where the battery came from or how or when he ingested it. Authorities have ruled his death an accident, but local Family Services is involved in the case.

What’s the solution? Obviously, supervision is important. Don’t leave a small child playing with a remote control unattended. Some experts recommend taping the battery compartments of appliances with the tiny coin-shaped batteries.

Las Vegas toddler dies from swallowing small battery [Review-Journal]

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Court To Hear Arguments In Case That Could Allow Companies To Litigate In Secret

This is just one of many pages in the 2012 district court ruling that has more black bars than text on it.

This is just one of many pages in the 2012 district court ruling that has more black bars than text on it.

Companies don’t ever want the public to know they’re involved in lawsuits. This is one of the many reasons that a growing number of businesses now force consumers to agree to mandatory arbitration for resolving disputes; it keeps the fight out of the public eye and often doesn’t allow for multiple consumers to join their complaints. Tomorrow, a federal appeals court will hear arguments regarding a case that ultimately could give companies the ability to litigate cases under a veil of secrecy.

We first told you about this situation a year ago. It involves a challenge to the Congressionally mandated database maintained by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The database not only gathers product-related incident reports from various public sources around the country, but also gives consumers the ability to file safety concerns. Much like the long-running auto-related database operated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, manufacturers are then given the chance to respond and dispute the claims if they believe them to be untrue.

At some point in the last few years (it’s impossible to know since all the particulars about this case have been redacted), some company took issue with a report (and possibly multiple reports; again, it’s all redacted) filed on the database, claiming the statements posted to were “materially inaccurate.”

After some discussions with the CPSC about this issue, the agency redacted some of what had been posted to the database. That wasn’t enough to satisfy “Company Doe,” which then filed suit against the CPSC and its chair, Inez Tenenbaum.

But, at the request of this mysterious plaintiff, everything about the lawsuit is hidden from public view. That means no one knows the company’s name (or even what type of product it makes), the nature of the initial complaint(s), or the company’s issue with the complaints.

In 2012, Consumers Union, Public Citizen, and the Consumer Federation of America, filed a request to have the details of this case unsealed, believing that businesses should not be able to litigate safety-related complaints behind a shield of anonymity. A U.S. District Court judge shot down that request in a 73-page ruling [PDF] that is so blacked-out that it looks more like the world’s longest barcode than it does a legal document.

The advocacy groups subsequently appealed this ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, VA, arguing that the lawsuit “proceeded from filing to judgment with a secret plaintiff, secret arguments, and secret facts,” and the district court “The seal imposed in this case is incompatible with our law and national tradition of public access to court proceedings.”

That was last December. Tomorrow, the appeals panel will finally hear arguments from the advocates as to why it’s vital that this case be unsealed and that the public should be able to know all the relevant facts.

The results of this case, which may get all the way to the Supreme Court, could have a huge impact on public safety, as a ruling for “Company Doe” would allow any manufacturer, distributor, or even retailer of a consumer good to file a lawsuit about consumer complaints without ever having to go on the public record as having sued and permanently erasing the initial complaint that led to the suit.

“If companies can challenge reports in the database in secret, Congress’s goal of informing the public will be undermined by years’ worth of secret litigation during which the public will be oblivious to potential hazards,” writes Public Citizen in a statement about tomorrow’s hearing.

In the larger picture, this case is a test of the First Amendment right of access to court proceedings. People and businesses are defamed, slandered, and libeled all the time, and they frequently sue to have their names cleared. But they have not been able to file suits under fictitious names while also having all relevant facts hidden from public record. Even attempts to have something as minor as a whiny Yelp review removed before a trial or settlement has been held as a violation of the rule against prior restraints.

“If a corporate reputational interest justifies secret litigation or the use of a pseudonym, one can a imagine a lot of companies stepping forward to seek secrecy,” explains Public Citizen. “Companies sued for fraud, pollution, discrimination, and (of course) making dangerous products could all claim they ought to be allowed to litigate in secret under this view.”

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We Can’t Decide If These Halloween Candy Monster Portraits Make Us Hungry Or Scared

Candy and Halloween go together like, well, candy and Halloween. Whether you like getting the butternuts startled out of you at haunted houses or by watching scary movies when the moon is full and you can just imagine the delicious terror of seeing Frankstein’s monster lumber around the corner, you’re probably also just as excited for the candy avalanche that ensues every All Hallow’s Eve. Either way, artist Eric Millikin has got you covered.

The Detroit Free Press staffer is showing just how tasty monsters can be when they’re made entirely of candy, with popular characters like Frankenstein’s monster as seen below, and a host of others.

Millikin was kind enough to give Consumerist permission to share a few of his creepy/tasty creations as seen below, and you can check out his blog (where you can zoom in for close-ups of the candy used in each portrait) for more or to request your favorite monster’s sweet portrait.

“The monster demands a mate! I’d already created a Bride of Frankenstein portrait (see below), so here comes the groom,” writes Millikin. “Now that I think about it, the way I’ve built this series of monsters from a bunch of little parts shows that I’ve learned a lot of my artistic techniques from good ol’ Baron Victor Frankenstein.”

Millikin isn’t about pleasing this new generation of vampire/supernatural fans — in other words, someone else can do Edward Cullen.

“I knew I had to make a vampire portrait, but rather than go with the obvious big names (like Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula or Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen), I went with Max Schreck as Count Orlok from the classic 1922 German silent horror film ‘Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror.’ “

From upper left, clockwise: Jason Vorhees of Friday the 13th, the Bride of Frankenstein, Jigsaw’s puppet “Billy” from the Saw movies and Nosferatu.

Eric Millikin’s totally sweet Halloween candy monster portraits [Detroit Free Press]

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3 Things We Learned From The New List Of Richest People In Each State

Earlier today, Parade Magazine published a state-by-state breakdown of the wealthiest individuals in the U.S., and while there are a number of non-shockers (Bill Gates is rich? Shut the front door!), there were several fascinating takeaways from the list.

You can see the whole breakdown on if you want to know which house in your state to hit up when you go trick-or-treating tomorrow, but here are some things we learned while perusing the information…

1. You don’t have to be a billionaire to make the list

Yes, the list is dominated by billionaires, but there are several states where the wealthiest person is worth a paltry few hundred million.

In fact, there are nine states — Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming — in which the wealthiest person is not a billionaire. Some, like L.L. Bean chairman Leon Gorman of Maine, and hotel group operator Gary Tharaldson of North Dakota, are almost there, worth $800 million and $900 million, respectively.

2. Some insanely wealthy people don’t flock to the coasts

It’s not surprising that states like California, New York, Virginia, and Massachusetts not only have billionaires living there, but that the wealthiest individuals in each of those states would be a double-digit billionaire. But there are plenty of heartland states claiming insanely rich residents.

First and foremost is Warren Buffet, who earns a 1% royalty from every restaurant buffet in the world the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, who calls Nebraska home and who Parade estimates is worth $59.8 billion.

Then there’s David Koch, one half of the not-terribly-beloved Koch Brothers (their stand-up routine is pure hack work, though the Dueling Banjos bit is top-notch) and executive vice president of Koch Industries. Parade has D-Koch and his $41.5 billion located in Kansas, though Forbes previously listed him as the wealthiest person in New York. With that much money, you can call anywhere home.

And of course there’s James Walton, chairman and CEO of Arvest Bank. How does the head of a regional bank in Arkansas amass an estimated $31.7 billion? It helps that he’s the son of Sam Walton, founder of a small retail chain called Walmart.

3. There’s money in more than technology and finance

Many of the individuals on the Parade list are employed by or run financial and technology businesses, but there are several astoundingly wealthy people from industries you might not have expected.

Like Kenneth Dart, the chairman of Dart Container Corp. All those to-go trays, coffee cups, and bags have resulted in his being named the wealthiest person in Michigan, worth an estimated $6.6 billion.

People need tires, and they like to buy things at a discount. That combination has helped Arizona’s Bruce Halle Sr., chairman of Discount Tire Co., rack up $4.4 billion in personal wealth.

And while Starbucks makes most of the coffee headlines, Green Mountain Coffee founder Robert Stiller probably doesn’t mind that he’s now worth $1.1 billion, making him the greenest dude in Vermont.

via Consumerist

Why Are Poultry Processing Plants Boiling Millions Of Birds Alive?

Chicken-RunMost Americans eat meat, but that doesn’t mean that they want the animals destined for their plates to suffer a painful death. Yet U.S. Department of Agriculture records show that every year, almost a million birds are plunged into boiling water by accident because of small failures within the largely mechanized slaughter process.

(Warning: the rest of this post describes some of the slaughter processes and what happens when they fail. If that kind of thing normally bothers you, stop and find something else to read.)

Federal humane slaughter laws cover mammals, but not birds, or these problems with the slaughter process would lead to criminal charges. Suspending, say, a conscious pig upside down by its legs and boiling it to death is considered inhumane. Doing the same to a turkey isn’t, even though it’s objectively pretty inhumane.

A standard slaughter line works like this: workers pick up birds and place them upside down in leg shackles. To meet production requirements, they do so very quickly, and may not secure both legs properly. The birds’ necks then aren’t in the right place for the automated killing blade, and the plant’s backup killer (which is either the best or worst job title ever) may not make it in time to cut the necks of the birds that the machine misses.

Birds also may miss the knife if they’re not knocked unconscious properly. U.S. poultry plants use a lower voltage of electric current than is required in the European Union, and a conscious bird might thrash and avoid the knife, too. Since the bird’s blood is supposed to be drained before the boiling-water dunk, so carcasses boiled while the animal is still alive have to be thrown away. They’re easy to spot, since they’re bright red.

A USDA proposal to cut down on pathogens and ramp up line speeds could lead to more horrible poultry deaths, experts say. Yes, the changes would be to how many birds can go through a line per minute on the “evisceration” end after death, but in order to gut and cut apart more birds, you need to kill more birds in the first place.

“One of the greatest risks for inhumane treatment is line speed. You can’t always stop the abuse at these speeds,” one poultry-slaughter expert told the Washington Post. Without improving the killing process or adding more staff (maybe even both!) more chickens will have cruel, pointless deaths. Pointless because these improperly slaughtered birds can’t be eaten.

USDA plan to speed up poultry-processing lines could increase risk of bird abuse [Washington Post]

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