lundi 21 août 2017

Verizon Suspends Customer’s Service On Her 84th Birthday

It might be hard to remember, but before Facebook existed, people would call each other on the phone to wish them a happy birthday. A woman who lives near Boston and was turning 84 waited for friends and family to call her, but the calls never came.

Verizon turned off the woman’s phone due to non-payment, reports the Boston Globe, despite rules that protect elderly people from having that happen.

The shutoff wasn’t due to a lack of funds on her part, or because she forgot to pay her bill. She was in the middle of a dispute with Verizon and refused to pay the bill until the telecom fixed problems with her line, like calls that went straight to voice mail and weird noises on the line.

On her birthday, she only learned that her phone was turned off and not just malfunctioning as usual because a relative came over and told her so.

The Elder Protection Form

Normally, people over 65 and living alone have special protection from having their phone service turned off. In Massachusetts, both sides submit their side of what happened to the Department of Telecommunications and Cable before the line is turned off.

This protection isn’t automatic. You have to sign up for it after turning 65, using a form that’s mailed along with phone bills once every year. (Again, the system may be different in your state: This is how it works in Massachusetts.) The 84-year-old whose line was cut off didn’t know this, and most other people probably don’t.

No one at Verizon knows how old you are

That became relevant because even when she mentioned her age and the importance of the LifeLine device that she carries and that uses her home phone line, this didn’t raise any flags to the phone company.

No matter how many complaint letters about the technical problems she began by mentioning her age and that she had been a customer of Verizon and its predecessor companies for more than 50 years, Verizon didn’t “know” that she was over 65 until she filed that form.

What she didn’t know is that she wasn’t completely stuck in an emergency. “The service was put into suspension, meaning the customer could still dial out to 911, or to Verizon to discuss the account,” Verizon said in a statement, taking issue with the Globe’s consumer affairs columnist saying that the service was disconnected.

In a happy ending for the 84-year-old woman near Boston, Verizon ultimately ultimately resolved the technical problem and granted her a bill credit once the line was turned back on.

You can still take home two useful lessons from this story: Don’t ignore shutoff notices even if you’re in a standoff with your phone company, and be sure that anyone you care about who is over 65 and lives alone files this form or a similar one.

Here’s the document [PDF] for Massachusetts residents who use Verizon that the Boston Globe distributed. For everyone else, contact your or your loved one’s phone carrier and request an “elder protection form.”



Feds Investigating Wells Fargo Sudden Account Closures

Last year, federal regulators fined Wells Fargo $185 million for its fake account fiasco in which employees were found to have opened more than two million accounts without customers’ authorization. Now, the bank says it’s under investigation for wrongly closing some accounts. 

Wells Fargo informed investors in an Aug. 4 Securities and Exchange Commission filing [PDF] that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has opened an investigation into whether the bank harmed consumers by freezing or closing accounts.

The company notes in the filing that it took action on the accounts after detecting suspected fraudulent activity by third parties or account holders.

“The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has commenced an investigation into whether customers were unduly harmed by the Company’s procedures regarding the freezing (and, in many cases, closing) of consumer deposit accounts after the Company detected suspected fraudulent activity (by third parties or account holders) that affected those accounts,” the filing reads.

A rep for Wells Fargo tells Reuters that the company continues to work with the regulator.

“As always, our goal is to protect our customers and the bank from fraud, and we want to do so in ways that minimize the risk and impact on our customers,” the rep said.

The Complaints

A review of the CFPB’s consumer complaint database shows several customers raising concerns about the way in which the bank closed their accounts.

In one case, a customer says that after 23 years banking with the company he recevied a letter advising him that after reviewing their relationship, the bank had decided to close the account.

“This unilateral and arbitrary decision has harmed me and turned my life upside down,” the man wrote. “I’ve had to stop automatic payments, deposits, etc.”

Another Wells Fargo customer tells the CFPB that the bank closed their account without warning or providing an explanation.

To make matters worse, the customer says that Wells Fargo did not return the $500 left in the count promptly. Instead, the funds were frozen for nearly two weeks.

In March, a Florida customer reported that Wells Fargo had closed his account — one that he was persuaded to open by a teller and never used — after someone had fraudulently used the account.

The customer said he only learned of the issue when he went to deposit a check in the account. A manager at the local branch said the account was closed because it had been overdrawn and that the man would receive a letter in the mail.

When the letter arrived, it showed that someone had cashed checks at the bank using a similar name to this customers, but instead of being from Florida, the check writer was from Alabama.

“Wells Fargo has completely stone-walled me, my name has been added to the fraud warning site, I can’t open any bank accounts, it has damaged my reputation and has caused me much grief,” the customer wrote.

 



Report: FBI Asks Private Sector Companies To Stop Using Kaspersky Products

Obviously, it’s best practice to use antivirus and malware protection on anything you have that can connect to a network — and that goes double for businesses. But a new report says that the FBI is now asking several companies in the private sector to phase out use of products from Kaspersky Labs over concerns about the founder’s Russian background and ties.

The Feds already stopped

The company, as we explained in July, has been offering its generally well-regarded antivirus and security products in the U.S. for nearly 20 years. But “Russian interference” is one of the big buzzwords of 2017, and the company’s founder and products have recently come under scrutiny as a result.

Since 2015, several reports have surfaced that founder Eugene Kaspersky has ties to Russian military intelligence. Any potential vulnerabilities stemming from those ties were by and large downplayed or ignored… until this year.

The Trump administration removed Kaspersky Lab from the list of approved vendors for government contracts back in July. Federal agencies, as well as state and local government agencies, considered if or how to phase out their own usage.

Is the private sector next?

Those concerns are now being pushed to the private sector, it seems.

CyberScoop reports that FBI officials have been meeting with private-sector companies to brief them on the potential threat of continuing to use Kaspersky Labs software.

Officials “familiar with the matter” tell CyberScoop that the FBI’s goal is to get U.S. companies to stop using Kaspersky tools as soon as possible, or at least to stop buying or using new ones in the future.

The FBI started with companies in the energy sector earlier this year, sources tell CyberScoop, and have moved on to “large U.S. tech companies” that have existing partnerships or business arrangements with Kaspersky.

Results have reportedly been mixed, with companies in the energy sector seeming more willing to act on the push than the “traditional tech giants.”

“If these briefings are actually occurring, it’s extremely disappointing that a government agency would take such actions against a law-abiding and ethical company like Kaspersky Lab,” a spokesperson for the company told CyberScoop. “The only conclusion seems to be that Kaspersky Lab, a private company, is caught in the middle of a geopolitical fight, and it’s being treated unfairly, even though the company has never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyber-espionage or offensive cyber efforts.”



Jury Awards Woman $417M In Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder Lawsuit

Three months after a Missouri jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay a record-setting $110.5 million to a Virginia woman who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer linked to the company’s talcum-based products, another jury in California has dwarfed that judgment, handing down a $417 million verdict in a similar suit.

Monday’s ruling is the first in California related to allegations that Johnson & Johnson ignored a possible link between cancer and its talcum-based products.

Reuters reports that the verdict, reached after two days of deliberation, marks the largest against Johnson & Johnson.

The case involves a California woman who was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer in 2007. According to lawyers for the woman, she began using Johnson & Johnson’s talcum-powder products when she was 11.

The jury found that the company failed to warn the woman about the increased risk of ovarian cancer caused by talcum-based powders, Reuters reports.

A spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson confirmed the verdict to Reuters, noting that it plans to appeal the decision.

Other Cases

Johnson & Johnson has faced several lawsuits related to its talcum-based products and a possible link to cancer.

Back in May, a Missouri jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $110.5 million to a Virginia woman who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012. According to the lawsuit, the woman claimed her illness was caused by more than 40 years of using Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products, including baby powder.

The woman’s lawyers cited much of the same research used in previous cases, including a 2016 verdict that awarded $72 million to the family of a woman who died from ovarian cancer.

In those studies, women who used the products had a greater risk of being diagnosed with cancer than a control group that did not use the products.

Studies going back to 1971 have suggested this link exists. In fact, at least one lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson cites a 1982 study on the issue that found a 92% increased risk in ovarian cancer with women who used talc-based products around their genitals. The researcher behind that study directly advised a J&J doctor to place a warning label on their products.

Johnson & Johnson and other companies have continued to defend the use of talcum powder in feminine hygiene products; however, the condom industry halted the mineral’s use in the mid-1990s amid the growing concerns about its link to ovarian cancer risk.



British Airways Passenger Claims He Had To Sit In Urine-Soaked Seat For 11 Hours

There are uncomfortable flying situations, and then there’s sitting in a urine-soaked seat for 11 hours.

A British Airways passenger who paid more than $1,500 for a flight from London to Cape Town, South Africa tells The Daily Mirror that he spotted a wet patch on his seat upon boarding. Initially, he assumed it was an innocent water stain, but the smell was so distinct it could only have been urine,” he recalls.

He claims he told a flight attendant, who smelled the wet patch, agreed that “it was wee,” and apologized. After that, however, he said she brought him some wet wipes and told him to clean it up himself.

When he asked to be moved from his economy seat to business class he says the flight attendant told him she’d see what she could do — but he remained stuck in his seat.

“So I was left to sit in a urine-soaked seat for over 11 hours,” he said. “It was awful. By the end of the flight, I could feel it seeping into my jeans.”

He says that when he complained to the airline about the urine-soaked seat, they offered him 5,000 frequent flyer points, and eventually added a flight voucher worth about $700 giving him a flight voucher worth about $560, or a free upgrade on his next flight to Cape Town.

“I just do not think that is a good enough compensation for sitting in someone else’s wee for over 11 hours,” he noted.

In a statement, British Airways said it was “very concerned” over the incident, and that the company has been in touch with the passenger to apologize and “make amends.”

“The cleanliness of our aircraft is of the utmost importance to us and our planes are cleaned thoroughly after every flight,” the airline said. “We also perform frequent spot checks to make sure our cleaners are maintaining our high standards.”

More gross nightmares

Unfortunately, we’ve heard similarly gross tales in the past: In Feb. 2016, an American Airlines passenger said his first-class seat was soaked with urine.

And back in 2015, United Airlines had to apologize to a couple who found a full barf back in a seat-back pocket.



The NASA Channel App On Roku Doesn’t Work And It Isn’t From NASA

Your best bet to see today’s total eclipse if you live in an area where it isn’t visible is to stream NASA’s cross-country broadcast. It’s available from some cable providers and to stream on your computer, but what if you want it on your TV screen and you’re a cord-cutter? Roku users might download a NASA channel available in their channel store, but they’re in for a bad experience if they do.

There are two reasons for that.

The channel doesn’t work: Consumerist’s tests and reports on Twitter and elsewhere online indicate that the channel doesn’t actually work. It shows six advertisements, then it stalls after loading 13%. We’ve found Twitter posts indicating that this has been a problem at least since April 2017.

The channel doesn’t come from NASA: After all, the space agency probably would have made sure its official channel was working before an event like an eclipse, which it expects 1 billion people worldwide to watch on its stream.

The agency does make its video feed available as an app for various mobile platforms, as well as Amazon’s FireTV and the AppleTV. However, the Roku app is from an independent developer selling ads against NASA’s content. When it loads.

NASA confirmed that it is not behind the Roku channel:

If you’re a Roku user and desperate to watch today’s awesome sky event, download the channel Pluto TV, where NASA TV is available as one of many options.

We checked with Roku to find out why this app exists, and whether it’s okay with developers selling ads against public domain government content (or no content at all) and will update this post if we hear back.



Elon Musk, AI Experts From Around The World Call For Ban On Killer Robots

While there are many benefits to artificial intelligence and robots that can do just about anything humans can do, technology leaders from around the globe are urging the United Nations to ban lethal autonomous weapon systems, which “threaten to become the third revolution in warfare.”

The UN will start formal discussions on autonomous weapons like drones, tanks, and automated machine guns this November, that will establish a “Group of Governmental Experts,” or GGE from various countries.

Beware autonomous weapons

Before those talks, Tesla’s Elon Musk, Mustafa Suleyman of Alphabet’s DeepMind, and more than 100 other big names in the fields of artificial intelligence end robotics have written an open letter to the UN’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons asking that world leaders figure out how to keep killer robots from becoming a reality.

The group writes that once developed, robotic killing machines “will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend.”

For example, weapons of terror could be used against innocent people, or hacked to behave in “undesirable ways,” the group writes.

“We do not have long to act,” the letter urges. “Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close. We therefore implore the High Contracting Parties to find a way to protect us all from these dangers.”

The robots are coming

The idea of artificial intelligence threatening humans isn’t a new one. In recent years, Musk has weighed in on the idea of a possible robot revolution. In 2015, he announced he’d be giving $10 million to help fund non-profit research on artificial intelligence safety.

And more recently, Musk said he thinks we’ll probably need to merge with machines somehow if we want to stay relevant.



Volkswagen Resurrecting The Microbus With New Electric Version

Our love affair with things of the past has spurred the resurgence of several products in recent years — Crystal Pepsi, Zima, Clearly Canadian to name a few. Volkswagen is hoping to parlay this affection for the throwback into big sales by redesigning one of its most emblematic models, the microbus, with a modern twist. 

VW announced today that it would hop in a time machine, travel to the 1960s, and bring back the microbus in a new, electric version, dubbed the I.D. Buzz.

VW first unveiled the new van as a concept vehicle early this year, but it was unclear at the time if the company had its sights on reviving the model.

“After the presentations at the global motor shows in Detroit and Geneva, we received a large number of letters and emails from customers who said, ‘please build this car’,” Volkswagen CEO Dr Herbert Diess said in a statement.

The van — expected to be available in North America, Europe, and China starting in 2022 — is designed as a “perfect balance” between usability and the past, appealing to “Hippies and families in the Sixties or Surfer Dudes and Van Lifers today.”

Still, the company isn’t counting on just nostalgia to sell the vans, it’s also hoping technology will spur sells. The new van will incorporate multi-variable seating, interactive connectivity, and highly automated driving.

It is also designed to haul both people and freight. With batteries mounted in the vehicle floor, the I.D. Buzz comes with a spacious interior and great proportions, the company says.

Additionally, VW says it will offer a commercial version of the van, dubbed the I.D. Buzz Cargo, to complete zero-emission deliveries.

A Microbus History

VW first introduced the world to the van — known as the Type 2, Transporter, Kombi, or Microbus — in 1950.

Over the years, VW launched different versions of the van, many taking on drastically different looks than the traditional Type 2 that calls back to the 60s.

These vehicles were discontinued over time. Autocar reported in 2012 that the Type 2 series T2 ceased production in 2013. The decision came after changes to safety regulations in Brazil, the last place the car was manufactured. The T6, which has less of a resemblance to the original microbus, is still in production.



Uber Driver Accused Of Locking Passenger In Car, Demanding Sex

A Chicago Uber driver has been charged with unlawful restraint after he was accused of locking a passenger in his car and demanding that she have sex with him.

The incident happened on July 4 after the driver allegedly picked up a 19-year-old woman who’d booked a ride through the ride-sharing app, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Somehow her request was deleted, however, so she volunteered to pay cash for the trip. Instead, the man allegedly told her she’d have to have sex with him in payment.

She refused, and prosecutors say the driver then locked the car’s doors and wouldn’t let her out of the vehicle.

The passenger was able to jump out of the car when it slowed in traffic.

Police stopped the suspect’s car last week for a traffic violation, and connected his name to the July 4 incident. He has since been removed as a driver from the Uber app, the ride-sharing company said, calling the woman’s story “troubling.”



SCOTUS May Decide If “To Google” Is A Generic Term

Earlier this year, a federal court decided that while “googling” is a popular phrase that means “to search for something online,” that doesn’t mean the company should lose its trademark protection. Now the people behind that case have filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, hoping that the Supremes will agree that a verbed brand name is a generic term.

“Genericide” is when a word begins as a brand, but later becomes a generic term used to describe all brands of that thing. Think of trampolines, laundromats, aspirin, or escalators — all terms that started as brand names, but are now generic nouns.

Just AltaVista It

The Google genericide case began in 2012, when two enterprising men registered hundreds of domain names that combined brands or the names of prominent people with “Google” in the verb form. Examples of these domain names include “googledisney.com” and “googlebarackobama.net.”

Google was not pleased with this foresight, and sought to have the domain names, which use its trademark, turned over. The registrants argued that the domain names didn’t infringe on Google’s trademark, since using the word that way has become so common that it’s now a generic term.

Googling as a verb

The case worked its way from domain dispute resolution to the federal court system, with the U.S. Court of Appeals agreeing with a district court that “Google” is not yet a generic term, even in verb form.

Now attorneys for the two men have filed a petition [PDF] for the Supreme Court to hear the case, hoping to settle the genericization question. The issue that brings this case to the Supreme Court level is whether common usage of a word as a verb is enough to show that it’s been genericized.

While Google isn’t the only search engine on the internet, it is the most popular one, and the only one that has become a verb. Despite Microsoft’s best efforts, no one ever condescendingly tells you to go “bing” something. People don’t say, “give me a minute to duckduckgo that name.”

“I went to Bing and googled it”

In their petition, attorneys for the domain-registering plaintiffs observe that the lower courts ruled that “to google” remains a trademarked usage, in spite of “examples of actual references by members of the relevant public to googling on other search engines such as Yahoo or Bing.”

People do use “google” as a verb in this manner, but one difference is that at the time this case began, Google was the name of the entire company. Google is now one subsidiary of a holding company called Alphabet, and still isn’t just the name of a single product from a larger company.

If the Supreme Court takes up this case, it will decide whether common verbing of a trademarked noun means that it is in common usage as a generic term. If the court declines to hear the case, that means the lower court’s decision stands.

While no one will sue you every time you tell someone to go “google” something, it will be an issue for people who want to use the term on products, in their own brand names, or in domain names.



Walmart Imagines Floating Warehouses That Could Rain Down Delivery Drones

While Amazon has dreams of delivery drone beehives and parachuting packages, it’s not the only one looking upward: Walmart has plans for a floating warehouse capable of launching flying delivery vehicles so it can rain discount goods on you from the skies.

Walmart filed a patent for a “gas-filled aerial transport and launch system” that sounds a bit like a blimp: it would involve “a carrier compartment where the gas chamber induces a lifting force on the carrier compartment” and at least one propulsion system, as well as a “navigation control system” that controls where the aircraft goes.

There will also be several launching bays for unmanned aircraft systems that allow drones to be launched while the “the transport aircraft is in flight and while the UAS is carrying a package to be delivered.”

The machine could fly anywhere between 500 and 1,000 feet, and someone on the ground would be controlling it as well as piloting drones out of the launching bay as they head toward shoppers’ homes.

Amazon filed a patent for a similar system last year for floating “airborne fulfillment centers” that would hang out over high-population area or evens like festivals and sporting games. Those AFCs would be stocked with commonly purchased items, instead of acting as dispatch centers for specific orders.



Dutch Bros. Warns Customers Not To Use Eclipse Glasses Given Away At Stores, Offers Free Coffee Instead

Here’s Why Scientists Are Launching Bacteria-Laden Balloons During The Solar Eclipse

While people stand at the ready around the country today with special glasses and pinhole projectors to view the solar eclipse, a group of NASA scientists will be at work launching balloons in an effort to learn a bit more about life on another planet.

NASA is collaborating with students to send high-altitude balloons into the sky around the country today while the moon covers the sun, in order to not only to stream live aerial footage from the edge of space, but also to study how living things react to Mars’ atmosphere.

Yes, Mars. A research group at NASA’s Ames Research Center will send 34 balloons up during the eclipse in an effort to “simulate life’s ability to survive beyond Earth.”

The balloons will carry cards bearing a harmless yet environmentally resilient bacteria dried onto their surface. The cards that fly up with the balloons will be compared to their partners on the ground, allowing researchers to see the consequences of the exposure to Mars-like conditions, such as bacterial survival and any genetic changes.

See, Earth’s stratosphere is already very similar to Mars’, and during the eclipse — while temperatures drop and the moon blocks certain ultraviolet rays that are less abundant in the Martian atmosphere — it will be even more so.

“The August solar eclipse gives us a rare opportunity to study the stratosphere when it’s even more Mars-like than usual,” said Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “With student teams flying balloon payloads from dozens of points along the path of totality, we’ll study effects on microorganisms that are coming along for the ride.”

This will give NASA insight into environmental limits for other forms of terrestrial life, and help inform the search for life on other worlds as well.

“The solar eclipse on August 21st is enabling unprecedented exploration through citizen scientists and students,” said David J. Smith of Ames, principal investigator for the experiment and mentor for the Space Life Science Training Program, the intern group developing flight hardware and logistics for this study. “After this experiment flies, we will have about 10 times more samples to analyze than all previously flown stratosphere microbiology missions combined.”



Could The Jeep Brand Cross The Ocean For A New Home In China?

Nearly 30 years after Chrysler bought the Jeep brand from American Motors Corporation, the seminal SUV brand could be switching hands and continents: Chinese carmaker Great Wall says it plans to acquire Jeep from Fiat Chrysler. 

A rep for Great Wall confirmed to The Wall Street Journal that the company plans to pursue Jeep, but couldn’t confirm if the company had put in an offer for the brand, or if it just was preparing to do so.

Meanwhile, FCA said Monday that it had not yet been approached by Great Wall related to a deal for Jeep or any of its other brands.

Just The Latest

Great Wall’s desire to purchase Jeep comes a week after the rumors began swirling that Chinese carmakers were eyeing FCA.

Reports surfaced last week that FCA had rejected an offer from a well-known, but unidentified, Chinese automaker, because it believed the financial terms of the deal weren’t enough.

While it’s unclear which Chinese company offered to merge with FCA, sources noted that several carmakers have shown interest in the company, including its current joint venture partner, Guangzhou.

Interested automakers have reportedly traveled to FCA’s Michigan headquarters, while FCA executives have traveled to China, where the government has pushed its manufacturers to expand into foreign markets.

On The Prowl

The possible Great Wall deal is a change of pace for FCA and CEO Sergio Marchionne after years of pursuing other carmakers, only to be rebuffed.

Back in 2015, Marchionne declared he wanted to hug rival carmaker General Motors so hard they just became one.

“There are varying degrees of hugs. I can hug you nicely, I can hug you tightly, I can hug you like a bear, I can really hug you. Everything starts with physical contact. Then it can degrade, but it starts with physical contact,” Marchionne said at the time, addressing the possibility that the carmaker would seek a hostile take over of GM.

After several attempts to woo GM were rebuffed, FCA set its sights on Volkswagen, which wasn’t exactly saying “No” to the idea at the time.

Despite the lovelorn attitude, Marchionne said in April he was ditching his marriage desires to concentrate on his company’s bottom line.



vendredi 18 août 2017

Here’s A Giant List Of Solar Eclipse Promotions

On Monday, Aug. 21, people from Oregon to South Carolina will get to experience a rare total solar eclipse, with folks outside this path still experiencing a partial eclipse. And because every notable event must be accompanied by a marketing bonanza, there is no shortage of companies offering everything from eclipse-themed appliance sales to one-day-only donuts.

We’ve rounded up some promotions and freebies that you might find interesting. If you know of other promotions that we missed, please let us know so we can update this post before the event!

Home Appliances

Frigidaire: A “blackout sale” on matte black stainless steel appliances will run from Aug. 17 to Aug. 23. The collection will be at least 30% off at participating retailers, including online.

Food

Krispy Kreme: The hot doughnut chain is celebrating the eclipse by putting a chocolate glaze on its original glazed doughnuts for the first time.

“The Chocolate Glazed Doughnut is a delicious way to experience the solar eclipse — no matter where you are — and we can’t wait for fans to try it,” the company’s chief marketing officer said in a statement, leaving people who live in places with neither Krispy Kreme shops nor a full view of the eclipse bereft.

Pilot/Flying J Travel Centers: Get a free Milky Way candy bar or pack of Eclipse gum (of course!) with any beverage purchase. (You may have to download the chain’s rewards app to get this deal; we’re waiting for clarification.)

Pizza Hut: They don’t have an eclipse special, but did make an instructional video showing how to make a pinhole eclipse viewer out of a pizza box.

Dairy Queen: From Aug. 21 to Sept. 3, you’ll be able to buy one Blizzard and get one for $0.99, which somehow involves the eclipse.

Eyewear

Warby Parker: While most places are out of the special viewing glasses you’ll need to protect your eyes during the eclipse, Warby Parker is giving them away for free at its physical stores. Or, follow these instructions to make your own pinhole projector.

Stamps

U.S. Postal Service: The USPS is selling super cool eclipse stamps. They’re the first postage stamp in this country that uses thermocromatic ink that changes the image when you touch the stamp. The moon covering the sun disappears.

Booze

José Cuervo Tequila: The brand sent along some eclipse-themed cocktail recipes, including the “Total Especial Eclipse.” Here’s how you make it, and you now have two days to locate charcoal lemonade:

2 oz Jose Cuervo Especial
2 oz orange juice
1 tsp grenadine
1/2 oz. charcoal lemonade

Shake tequila and orange juice and pour into a rocks glass over ice. Mix charcoal lemonade and grenadine and slowly pour into the cocktail.

Regional events & parties

The eclipse cuts a swath across the country from the Pacific Northwest to the coastal Southeast, so there’s no way we can include every big eclipse viewing event or post-eclipse party. But there are some handy lists out there.

Travel Oregon has put together this roundup things to do and see in the state on Monday.

• Here’s a massive map of the 100+ events going on in and around St. Louis on the day of the eclipse.

• This page at the Charleston Post & Courier site gathers together some of the best places to celebrate after the eclipse for people visiting the last city in the path of totality.

• And USA Today has its guide to events both in and outside the path of the total eclipse.

Watch in person

By air: Private plane operators and small airlines like Million Air have packages that will take you to a remote airport to view the eclipse for $10,000, according to Bloomberg News. Even private jet companies and commercial carriers like Southwest are giving away viewing glasses to passengers on flights that might get to see the eclipse from their windows.

On the ground: The American Astronomical Society has a handy tool for looking up local events taking place along the path of the eclipse, from astronomy club meetings to community festivals and live streams.

Watch from afar

NASA: If you don’t live somewhere where the moon will completely cover the sun and/or will be stuck at your desk, NASA has you covered: It will be streaming the eclipse from a weather-proof vantage point above the clouds. The space agency expects up to a billion people to watch.

The Weather Channel: Another option for watching the eclipse will be on The Weather Channel, which will be broadcasting live from seven locations across the country.

SolarEdge: If you’re wondering who is seeing the eclispe right now, solar energy systems company SolarEdge is also offering a stream that will show you the path of the eclipse and how it’s affecting solar energy systems.



Bring Your Own Cup To 7-Eleven This Weekend, Fill It With Slurpee For $1.50

Grab your dog’s huge water bowl or your favorite drinking boot: It’s time for Bring Your Own Cup day at 7-Eleven.

Today and tomorrow, anyone visiting a 7-Eleven between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. can fill a vessel of their own choosing with Slurpee and pay just $1.50.

Same as last year, there are a few ground rules that keep you from filling an inflatable pool or a giant trash bag:

• All cups must be able to fit upright through a 10-inch hole (stores have a cutout to measure this).

• The vessel must be food-safe and water tight.

• Limit is one cup per person.



Facebook Cracking Down On Video Clickbait In The Newsfeed

If you’ve ever clicked on what looks like an interesting video promising “17 Ways You’re Eating Cheese Wrong,” only to find yourself on a spammy website that has nothing to do with cheese, you know how frustrating such clickbait can be. Facebook is now introducing new updates aimed at keeping those deceptive posts out of your news feed.

There are two kinds of video clickbait Facebook is going after: Stories that feature either fake video play buttons embedded in their imagery, or videos that only play a static image.

“People want to see accurate information on Facebook, and so do we,” Facebook engineers Baraa Hamodi, Zahir Bokhari, and Yun Zhang note in a blog post.

To that end, the social media network will begin demoting stories that feature feature fake video play buttons and static images disguised as videos in news feeds.

“Authentic communication is one of our core News Feed values, and we know our community values it,” the company says.

And if you’ve got a page that relies on these “intentionally deceptive practices,” Facebook notes that you “should expect the distribution of those clickbait stories to markedly decrease.”



Atari Claims Nestlé Ripped Off Video Game With ‘Breakout’ Commercial

A 2016 ad for Nestlé’s Kit Kat bars includes a video game that looks an awful lot like Breakout, the classic Atari video game co-created by Apple’s Steve Wozniak. Problem is, Atari says Nestlé didn’t get permission to make this Kit Kat-themed Breakout clone.

In a lawsuit [PDF] filed in San Francisco on Thursday, Atari claims that ads Nestlé aired in the United Kingdom constitute a “blatant invasion and misappropriation of its intellectual property rights” related to the game, which was released more than 40 years ago.

Give me a Breakout

In an ad called “Kit-Kat: Breakout”, people of all ages, sexes, and races come together to play a video game that involves moving paddles back and forth to bounce balls against bricks made out of Kit Kat bites. It’s all set against a beeping, hooping video game soundtrack.

“Share your break, with new Kit Kat bites,” the voiceover says. “Whoever you are, however you break— have a break, have a Kit Kat.”

Atari’s lawsuit also notes a Nestlé ad campaign on Twitter and Facebook that invited people to “Get your game on Breakout Breakers.”

Atari is displeased

In 1975, Atari was looking to follow up on its “groundbreaking” hit game, Pong, Atari’s lawsuit explains. “The new simple, addictive game was also a hit, and helped propel Atari to its long-held spot on top of the video game industry.”

The original game spawned multiple sequels, like Super Breakout and Breakout 2000, and has been ported to just about every gaming console at some point. There are many knockoffs of the game available, but Atari attempts to keep the Breakout brand alive with a version that’s free to play online:

“Forty years later Nestlé decided that it would, without Atari’s authorization, leverage Breakout and the special place it holds among nostalgic Baby Boomers, Generation X, and even today’s Millennial and post-Millennial ‘gamers’ in order to maximize the reach of worldwide, multi-platform advertisements for Nestlé Kit Kat bars,” the complaint alleges.

Just using the term “Breakout” in an advertising context “is the plainest invasion and infringement of Atari’s trademark rights,” the lawsuit claims.

This alleged infringement could eliminate Atari’s licensing opportunity “across a wide range of products and sectors,” the complaint alleges, because “any potential Atari licensee will have to consider both Atari’s past and continuing involuntary association with Nestlé when determining whether to license Breakout, or hundreds of other Atari games.”

Atari claims that Nestlé’s conduct was “willful,” and “obviously designed to leverage the decades of goodwill Atari and Breakout have garnered across multiple generations.”

The ads were “specifically designed to piggyback on the scope of the public’s familiarity with Atari and Breakout, given that millions of consumers, from the youngest gamers to aging Baby Boomers, have been exposed to the game,” the complaint alleges. “The infringement was not hidden, fleeting, or innocuous – Breakout is the central player, and binding thread, across all of the infringing ads.”

Nestlé responds

In a statement, Nestlé notes that the campaign was a UK TV advertisement that ran in 2016.

“The ad no longer runs and we have no current plans to re-run it,” the company said. “We are aware of the lawsuit in the U.S. and will defend ourselves strongly against these allegations.”



Chuck E. Cheese’s Testing Restaurants With No Animatronics

Children today: They still love video games, pizza, and music, but they aren’t as into animatronic animal bands as generations past. That’s why some locations will experiment with taking the robots out and replacing them with humans in animal costumes. Don’t worry, though: Drunken brawls among adult guests are sure to continue.

Dancing with the Mouse

Chuck E. Cheese’s is introducing revamped restaurants that have TV screens, open kitchens, large-format video games, and dance floors, but no stage that features animatronic animals performing music. That’s been a fixture of the restaurant since the beginning, but they just don’t hold kids’ attention like they used to.

“The kids stopped looking at the animatronics years and years ago, and they would wait for the live Chuck E. to come out,” the company’s chief executive, Tom Leverton, told CBS.

Yes, someone dresses up in a mouse costume and dances with children, and kids raised on hyper-realistic animation and video games find that more appealing than the jerky movements of the aging animatronic figures.

The company plans to renovate four restaurants in the San Antonio, TX, area to the more modern look and format, then convert three others in the Kansas City, MO, area as well. Depending on how this test goes, other restaurants will be converted, too.

Leverton, the company’s Big Cheese, predicted in his interview with CBS that the new format will go over well with young children, and they’ll be removing the robo-critters from restaurants in the future. There are 500 restaurants nationwide.

Atari and Rick the Rat

Technically, this brings the chain and the Chuck E. Cheese character back to its roots. The Chuck character began as a costumed mascot for Atari. Yep, the video game company. Co-founder Nolan Bushnell claims that he ordered a coyote costume and received a mouse/rat costume instead, but went along with it.

The brand began as part of Atari, with the goal of making video games more mainstream and acceptable for families to play. Bushnell bought the pizza restaurant and its intellectual property from Warner, the company that purchased Atari, and developed it as a standalone company.

The animatronic shows were meant to entertain adults when the chain first started. They would watch the 8-minute show while waiting for pizza, and banter between characters edged into PG territory. Instead, the characters became entertainment for the whole family.

(via A.V. Club)



Lawmakers Seek Investigation Into Alleged Attack On FCC Commenting System

When the FCC’s new leadership officially began the process of dismantling net neutrality rules, it didn’t come as much of a surprise when an overwhelming amount of traffic crashed the Commission’s public commenting system. After all, it happened a few years ago when these rules were being written. What did surprise people was the FCC’s claim — made without providing any additional information — that the system failure was not the result of too many people trying to comment, but a malicious attack. The FCC has never fully explained how it reached that conclusion, and now some lawmakers want to know why.

The system is down

In May, the second net neutrality fight, much like the first back in 2014, got a swift kick in the pants from a segment on John Oliver’s show Last Week Tonight.

The FCC’s updated, but still somewhat fragile, online commenting system was overwhelmed with demand in the hours immediately following the first airing of Oliver’s story, and was temporarily inaccessible for millions. Most assumed that it was simply overloaded due to high demand and too many simultaneous requests. The Commission, however, said that the demand was not simply from millions wanting to have a say, but a deliberate attack designed to take the system down.

David Bray, the FCC’s Chief Information Officer at the time (he has since left), said in a statement that Sunday evening right after Oliver’s show, “the FCC was subject to multiple distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDoS).”

“These were deliberate attempts by external actors to bombard the FCC’s comment system with a high amount of traffic to our commercial cloud host,” Bray added. “These actors were not attempting to file comments themselves; rather they made it difficult for legitimate commenters to access and file with the FCC.”

But where’s the proof?

If the timing of the claim seems a little too “convenient” to you, you’re not the only one.

The day after the FCC cried foul, a pair of Senators, Ron Wyden (OR) and Brian Schatz (HI), sent a letter to FCC Chair Ajit Pai asking for more information about this DDOS attack.

If it really was an attack against a U.S. federal agency by external actors, Wyden and Schatz pointed out, then that constitutes a singificant threat.

So the Senators asked Pai a series of questions about the attack: Approximately how many devices were involved? Were people actually blocked from commenting? How many simultaneous visitors can the FCC’s comment portal actually handle? Who was behind it?

Pai was given until June 8 to respond. He made it by the deadline, but the response [PDF] was underwhelming.

The FCC said it classified the “disruption” as “a non-traditional DDoS attack.” Some cloud-based bot entity went specifically for the comment filing system, the Commission said, and as it was making more than 160 requests per second it overwhelmed the API.

But the Commission also said that after consulting with the FBI, the attack didn’t seem major enough to bother pursuing — and the rest of its answers weren’t exactly deeply detailed.

So Schatz, along with New Jersey Representative Frank Pallone, are asking the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the FCC’s claims [PDF].

“While the FCC and FBI have responded to Congressional inquiries into these attacks,” Pallone and Schatz write, “they have not released any records or documentation that would allow for confirmation that an attack occureed, that it was effectively dealt with, and that the FCC has begun to institute measures to thwart future attacks and ensure the security of its systems.”

The letter asks the GAO to find out how the FCC determined a cyberattack took place; what evidence the FCC used to make that determination; and what processes the Commission has in place to “prevent or mitigate” another attack just like the supposed May 8 event.

Not the first time

As we mentioned, this was the second time John Oliver got involved in the net neutrality fray. The first time, in 2014, his memorable segment (in which he called then-chair Tom Wheeler a dingo, among other things) also led to the comment system crashing in June of that year.

A few weeks later, as the comment deadline loomed, the system once again got overwhelmed with traffic, leading the Commission to extend the filing deadline by three days in order to accomodate everyone.

These both just seemed like high-traffic events at the time: A deadline is looming, and everyone suddenly wants to get their last word in at once. The proceeding received a then-record 4 million comments, an extremely high volume for the creaky old system to handle. Makes sense.

But as Gizmodo notes, Bray also claimed at the time that the FCC suffered a comment system outage due to a hack — even though no evidence of a malicious attack ever existed.

Multiple sources at the FCC told Gizmodo that no evidence ever existed that a cyberattack occured in 2014, even though they looked hard to find any.

Gizmodo, meanwhile, filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the FCC seeking any document that could possibly be related to a cyberattack in May, 2017.

The result was a total of 16 pages of mostly-redacted emails, and a statement from the Commission that it sreal-time observations of the disruption “did not result in written documentation.” The FCC declined to release a further 209 pages of documentation, Gizmodo reported.

In response to Gizmodo’s reporting, the FCC issued a press release blasting “inaccurate media reports;” Gizmodo, in turn, countered with a full rejoinder under the headline, “The FCC is full of s**t.”



Victoria’s Secret Is Over Bralette Trend, Sticking With Push-Ups

After trying to get into what the cool kids want these days, lingerie veteran Victoria’s Secret has decided to stop trying to be trendy, and just stick with what it knows best: Bras with padding, wiring, and the ability to push things upward.

Going up

Competitors are all about pushing bralettes these days. Some shoppers like these wireless bras — that usually don’t have padding — because they come in simple sizes like small, medium, large, and extra-large, instead of cup sizes, which can make it easier to predict how something will fit.

But despite its best efforts, Victoria’s Secret apparently hasn’t had much success with the trendy items, and will pull back on that front. Bralettes will now be less than 5% of its production mix, Victoria’s Secret Chief Executive Jan Singer said on an earnings call this week.

Instead, it’s back to pushing things upward.

“Bralettes trend up and down and we’ll have them,” Singer said. “But we make constructed bras best and anyone can make bralettes. We get paid for construction.”

Singer notes that the company has a “cornerstone in the business of the push-up bra,” and while they tried the bralette thing, they’re now finding “a lot of sexy in the middle,” noting that “fashion in constructed bras is the way to go for us going forward.”

“I think anybody can make a bralette and that was a moment that will come and go [and] it will come again,” Singer noted. “But for us, we make constructed bras best.”

Trying new things

Victoria’s Secret parent company L Brands has rolled out a bunch of changes in the last few years in an effort to increase sales and keep customers coming back.

Among those moves: Selling more sports bras, getting rid of the swimwear category altogether, and trying to become less reliant on its print catalog. Last fall, the company also announced it would be ditching those ever-present “free panty” coupons.

In the meantime, Victoria’s Secret is facing new rivals like Amazon, which is reportedly interested in expanding its in-house apparel brands to include women’s intimate apparel.

The brand is also feeling the pressure from a recent flood of lingerie startups, many of which offer a subscription-like model and promise to provide more accurate sizing.



Old Navy Is Still The Only Part Of Gap Inc. That’s Doing Well

As retailers continue to struggle to keep sales up and stores open, Gap Inc. has been able to stay profitable. It’s all thanks to one brand, Old Navy.

Propped up by the low-end brand

According to the company’s earnings statement released late yesterday, sales at comparable stores were up 1% across the whole company, but here’s the problem: All of that growth came from Old Navy. Gap stores’ sales actually fell by 1%, and Banana Republic stores’ sales fell by 5%. Old Navy, meanwhile, had a 5% sales increase in comparable stores.

Art Peck, the company’s president and CEO, says that Gap Inc. is planning for the long term, and working to be less slow to respond to trends when it faces competition from the H&Ms and Zaras of the world, brands that turn new products around faster and at lower prices.

“As we continue to focus on long-term growth, we are accelerating our strategies that put the customer at the center of everything we do – including a focus on product categories where we have clear differentiation, continued investment in our online and mobile offerings, and taking advantage of our operating scale to drive speed to market, responsiveness to customer demands and efficiency,” Peck said in a statement. Imagine that: A retailer planning to focus on what customers want to buy!

Clothes that people want to wear?

The company wasn’t supposed to still be depending so heavily on Old Navy. Two years ago, the Gap brand even promised to produce some clothes that customers would actually want to wear by the spring of 2016.

Instead, it turned out to be almost good news for the company when one of its warehouses caught fire in the fall of 2016, destroying inventory that customers didn’t want anyway.

Now Gap Inc. just needs to concentrate on making clothes that people can wear and want to wear across the rest of its brands. Old Navy is the company’s low-end brand, but notably is the only one of the company’s fashion brands that offers extended sizes, if only online.



Chipotle May Discontinue Chorizo; Would You Care?

It hasn’t even been a year since Chipotle added chorizo sausage to its menu on a nationwide basis, but there’s the possibility it could be going away — but would that many people really miss it?

Earlier this summer, Chipotle began testing queso at a small number of test stores, and now Business Insider reports that queso-selling stores in Chipotle’s home state of Colorado are not selling chorizo, presumably to keep the total number of menu items the same.

If chorizo were to go away, it may not be sorely missed by most Chipotle customers. According to industry analyst Peter Saleh of BTIG, the sausage only accounts for about 3% of the chain’s protein sales, dwarfed by the much more popular beef, chicken, and pork. So if queso goes nationwide, that might be the end of Chipotle’s chorizo experiment.

At the same time, judging by some responses to the queso on social media, Chipotle might not want to go nationwide with that new menu item:



Nevada Court Lifts Block On Marijuana Wholesalers Because Stores Desperately Need More Pot

Good news for the recently legalized recreational marijuana industry in Nevada: To help meet overwhelming local demand, a state court judge has opened up the pool of applications for pot distribution licenses.

Nevada marijuana retailers have been running low on their marquee product in recent months because wholesale alcohol distributors in the state are currently the only companies allowed by law to distribute the drug. The exclusivity window will end in about 16 months, but retailers need a solution now.

There will likely be a bunch of new applications now that Carson City District Judge Russell lifted an order blocking regulators from handing out those distribution licenses to non-alcohol wholesalers, reports the Associated Press.

In the day after recreational pot sales officially started in Nevada, state regulators issued emergency rules to allow dispensaries to act as their own distributors in order to start business July 1.

Russell ruled that there is overwhelming evidence that alcohol wholesalers aren’t keeping up with needs of the state’s 50 or so licensed recreational pot dispensaries, reports the AP.

And to the alcohol distributors who sued over this issue, Russell said they can always appeal, but “it’s not up to this court to supersede the authority of a state agency.”

Officials with the state’s tax department had argued that widening the pool of distribution applicants is not only in the interest of Nevada’s coffers, but also necessary to keep residents from going back to the black market.

“Without the ability to license marijuana distributors to continue the flow of product to the retail store, a high likelihood exists that consumers will revert to the black market,” regulators said in July.



Consumerist Friday Flickr Finds

Here are seven of the best photos that readers added to the Consumerist Flickr Pool in the last week, picked for usability in a Consumerist post or for just plain neatness.

Want to see your pictures on our site? Our Flickr pool is the place where Consumerist readers upload photos for possible use in future Consumerist posts. Just be a registered Flickr user, go here, and click “Join Group?” up on the top right. Choose your best photos, then click “send to group” on the individual images you want to add to the pool.



jeudi 17 août 2017

$183M Settlement Means 41,000 Former Corinthian Students Will Get Private Loan Forgiven

Nearly 41,000 former students of now-defunct for-profit educator Corinthian Colleges will soon receive refunds for the private student loans they received to attend college, after a coalition of state attorneys general and federal agencies reached a $183.3 million settlement with Aequitas Capital Management, the issuer of these loans. 

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced today the settlement — reached by 13 state attorneys general and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — essentially canceling or writing down all outstanding balances for former students of Corinthian.

For instance, students who have fallen into default and whose campuses closed as a result of Corinthian’s bankruptcy will have their debts canceled. The remaining students will have 55% of their Aequitas loan discharged, including any past-due interest.

This, the AGs estimate, will result in each former student receiving between $6,000 and $7,000. The settlement must still be approved by the Oregon federal court overseeing the Aequitas receivership.

The Case

Prior to Corinthian College’s demise, the school relied heavily on federal student aid. However, the so-called 90/10 Rule, schools can only derive 90% of their revenue from federal funds. This means they must find a way to collect 10% of their revenue from other sources.

To do this, Corinthian entered into an agreement with lender Aequitas Capital Management. Under the deal, Aequitas provided private student loans to Corinthian students. Corinthian then agreed to buy back all loans that defaulted within a specified period, eliminating Aequitas’ risk of losses from defaults.

The AGs and CFPB alleged that Aequitas made the loans despite knowing that Corinthian students were unlikely to be able to repay the loans. The loans had a default rate of 50% to 70%.

“Aequitas Capital Management took advantage of their ambition and schemed with Corinthian to saddle these students with high-default loans at the now-bankrupt college,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. “This was nothing more than a sham that victimized unwitting students and deceived the government and taxpayers.”

Loan Forgiveness

In recent months, several states and the federal government have worked to refund borrowers hundreds of millions of dollars in student loans taken out by those attending now-defunct for-profit colleges.

However, a majority of these refunds are related to federal student loans, and the so-called Borrower Defense rule, which allows students at failed schools to appeal to get out of their federal loan obligations.

Related: You Can’t Discharge Your Student Loans In Bankruptcy Because Of Panicked 1970s Legislation

This rule, however, does not apply to private student loans.

Still, at least one college in the last year has forgiven private loans. In Sept. 2016, Bridgepoint Education, the operator of for-profit colleges Ashford University and the University of the Rockies, was ordered to forgive $23 million in student loans to resolve allegations it deceived students into taking out private student loans that cost more than advertised.



Watch Out For Great Deals From Brand-New Amazon Sellers

The most effective scams take advantage of our greed, so it’s always good to have a reminder that deals that seem too good to be true probably are. The problem is that even if you know that an amazing deal from a seller who just joined Amazon last week and has no feedback is a red flag, Amazon’s buy box doesn’t necessarily understand this.

Whack-A-Mouse

The problem isn’t necessarily Amazon’s fault, Buzzfeed reports. The e-commerce megastore bans bad sellers when they’re reported, asks new sellers for detailed information, and issues refunds to customers who are ripped off.

In a statement to Buzzfeed, Amazon explained its policy: “In the event that sellers do not comply with the terms and conditions they’ve agreed to, we work quickly to take action on behalf of customers.”

The problem is that scammers are very, very determined.

“As soon as Amazon sets up a way to identify these sellers, they have a way to get around it,” a consultant to Amazon sellers who used to work for the site told Buzzfeed. It’s variously compared to “cat and mouse” and “whack-a-mole,” but doesn’t seem like much of a game to customers who receive counterfeit goods or nothing at all.

The sellers

Buzzfeed looks at this from the point of view of sellers who have to compete with phantom prices. One seller of board games explained that Amazon asks sellers complaining about potentially fraudulent competitors to perform “test buys” from them and see what happens.

This spring, he made 33 test buys, and 27 of them were scams. The seller might claim that packages were delivered to the wrong address, or there was no evidence that they were shipped at all.

Fake Amazon

One customer shared a scam with Buzzfeed that we hadn’t heard of before: Sellers who ask for payment on an Amazon gift card on a site that looks like Amazon. One user reported that a vendor with a great deal on a camera she wanted requested that customers e-mail them before purchasing the item from the site.

She did so, and was instructed to buy an Amazon gift card and submit the number. The seller later asked her for another gift card for shipping and insurance, which she sent.

When she contacted Amazon, they knew nothing about the transaction. She was able to obtain a refund eventually, but take this as a warning that when you’re shopping on Amazon, you shouldn’t carry out the transaction over email.



Court Throws Out AT&T’s Effort To Block Google Fiber In Louisville

Competition in broadband and cable is scarce at best. That’s in part because when a new player does try to build service somewhere, incumbents like AT&T will pull every legal maneuver they can to try and block it. But one court has now ruled on a contentious case in Louisville, KY, throwing out AT&T’s lawsuit and paving the way for competition to come to town.

The background

Running new wires, for a new broadband or TV service, is an expensive and complicated proposition. So when cities like Louisville want to pave the way for a new player to come to town, they pass rules making the process simpler.

One common regulation is called a One-Touch Make-Ready ordinance. Basically, they change the rules about city utility poles so that a new “attacher” can come string their wires up in one literal touch, without having to first get every existing incumbent to come move their own cable a few inches. The only caveats are that newbies have to give fair warning first, they can’t actually interfere with a cable or the service it provides. (You’re allowed to slightly shift existing cables, not cut them.)

With an ordinance like that in place, a company like Google Fiber can attach their own cable all the way down the street without first having to get the phone company, the cable company, the electric company, and anyone else who runs cables in an area to come each move their own wires ever so slightly first — a process that takes basically forever and costs a lot of money.

Louisville passed one such ordinance in early 2016, hoping to encourage Google Fiber to provide service in the area. But the incumbent telecom companies — AT&T Charter — both filed suit.

The lawsuit

AT&T filed its lawsuit against the Louisville government in Feb. 2016.

The company made several claims about why it thought the city’s rule was unlawful. In short, it argued that the city violated two state laws and one federal one. The FCC, however, formally sent a letter to the court (via the Justice Department) effectively saying that AT&T’s claim about the federal rule was bunk.

“There is no conflict between the federal pole-attachment regulations and the Louisville ordinance,” the FCC concluded after laying out the relevant laws.

District Court judge David Hale pretty much agreed with the FCC. Ruling in favor of the city, he dismissed AT&T’s claim [PDF].

Hale laid out all his legal reasoning in his opinion [PDF]. Neither AT&T’s federal nor local legal arguments hold any water, the judge determined, and so the court “concludes that the ordinance is valid and that Louisville Metro is entitled to summary judgment.”

What next?

AT&T can appeal the ruling if it chooses to. A spokesman for the company told local media, “We are currently reviewing the decision and our next steps.”

Google, meanwhile, said in a statement that it is “thrilled” with the decision, adding, “We have long said, and continue to believe, that local governments have the right to determine how to manage their rights of way and create processes that pave the way for broadband choice for their residents.”

Although Google Fiber ceased expanding earlier this year, the company has said that it will continue to serve any city that where it already has a presence or has a build-out in progress. That seems to include not only Louisville, but also Nashville, which is facing extremely similar lawsuits to its own one-touch ordinance from both Comcast and AT&T.



Science Says Whiskey Tastes Better With A Little Water — Here’s Why

For many whiskey connoisseurs, enjoying their favorite brown alcohol any other way than neat is bordering on sacrilegious. But according to science, a bit of water makes the libation taste even better.

While whiskey aficionados have long held that adding a few drops of water to your drink will allow the aroma and flavors to bloom even more, there hasn’t been much science to back it up.

Meanwhile, in Sweden…

That is until now. A team of Swedish chemists set out to find out why and how dilution enhances the taste of whiskey.

Writing in a study published in Scientific Reports, researchers said they performed computer simulations of how water and ethanol mixes with a molecule called guaiacol, which helps give Scotch its distinctive, smoky taste and smell.

They found that ethanol molecules and guaiacol molecules tend to stick together, and are both “hydrophobic” — which means that don’t mix uniformly with water.

The researchers’ simulations aimed to determine at what ethanol levels had the most impact on guaiacol, or rather, the taste and smell of whiskey.

When the whiskey with an ethanol concentration of 59%, the taste and smell was mixed throughout.

In a glass of whiskey, which typically exhibits alcohol concentrations of 45% or 27% if diluted, guaiacol will thus be found near the liquid surface, where it greatly contributes to both smell and taste of the spirit.

“This indicates that the taste of guaiacol in the whiskey would be enhanced upon dilution prior to bottling,” the researchers wrote.

It should be noted that the report does not mention if ice would provide the same effect as water, although, as we all known, the key ingredient in ice is, well, water.

So What’s This Mean?

In the end, the researchers believe that their simulations found that the higher the ethanol concentration at the time of bottling, the better the whiskey will be when it is poured and diluted.

“Dilution of cask-strength whiskey improves its taste by increasing the propensity of taste compounds at the liquid-air interface,” the report notes.

But don’t expect your next bottle of whiskey to come diluted. Adding water to the libation before bottling would add costs, and it might not fit everyone’s preference. Because, after all, you should just drink your whiskey how you like it.

 



Federal Appeals Court Is Okay With Uber Taking Away Customers’ Right To Sue

Like companies in just about every industry, the ride-hailing app Uber requires users to agree that they will take any disputes to an arbitrator rather than the legal system. And although you may never have noticed this clause, a federal appeals court has now ruled that customers receive “reasonably conspicuous” notice about the arbitration requirement.

“The choice the user makes”

In his opinion issued today [PDF], Judge Denny Chin of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals went ahead and blamed Uber users who don’t tap on the hyperlink and read the user agreement. (Never mind that 98% of users do the same.)

The plaintiff claimed that he had not done so, and the court accepted that he hadn’t read the terms and conditions before registering for an Uber passenger account. The question was: Was it his responsibility to know that by signing up for an account, he was agreeing to arbitration? The court concluded that yes, it was.

“As long as the hyperlinked text was itself reasonably conspicuous — and we conclude that it was — a reasonably prudent smartphone user would have constructive notice of the terms,” Chin wrote. “While it may be the case that many users will not bother reading the additional terms, that is the choice the user makes.”

Meyer v. Kalanick

Originally, the case was a price-fixing complaint [PDF] filed against then-CEO Travis Kalanick, accusing the company of conspiring with its drivers to price-gouge customers in need of transportation by using surge pricing, multiplying fares up to eight times the normal rate.

Uber argued that instead of an antitrust suit, the plaintiff and anyone else who believes that its pricing is unfair should individually take their cases to arbitration.

READ MORE: From Credit Cards To Mail-Order Steaks: 87 Companies That Are Taking Away Your Right To Sue

Arbitration, a stripped-down legal process where individuals are at a distinct disadvantage, arbitrators often work for the same companies, and there’s no way to appeal decisions.

Ironically, this opinion now means that the case heads back to a lower court, Reuters reports, where another judge must decide whether Uber waived its own arbitration agreement by fighting the original lawsuit in the regular court system.

A few months ago, a judge in California ruled the exact opposite: That Uber’s process is deficient, and customers don’t really agree to arbitration when signing up.