Current Events in December 2011

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    Chevy Volt Keeps Top Safety Rating Despite Fire Reports

    Influential insurance group keeps five-star safety rating for the Volt

    Despite a federal investigation into possible fire risks in the Chevy Volt gas-electric hybird, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says it has no plans to strip the Volt of its five-star safety rating.

    IIHS tested the Volt last February and gave it a top rating. Last month, it said passengers in hybrids had less risk of injury in a crash because of the added mass provided by the heavy battery.

    The safety group also said it found no evidence of damage to the Volt's battery packs in its tests.

    "If we had found that the battery pack had been damaged or certainly if we had subsequent concerns about fire risk -- that would have raised red flags," IIHS spokesman Russ Rader said, according to a  Reuters report.

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened a formal safety defect investigation of the Volt last month.  That could result in recalls and design changes in future models.

    In May, a Volt that had been subjected to crash tests at a NHTSA test site burst into flames three weeks later while it was stored in a garage. Just a few days ago, a battery that had been damaged in another test two weeks earlier burst into flames.

    NHTSA says it knows of no highway accidents that caused Volts to catch fire.  

    Gas fires

    All cars, especially those powered by gasoline, pose a fire risk. Ford has fought a lengthy battle over charges that its Crown Victoria model, widely used in police and taxi fleets, is prone to explode into flames when rear-ended.  Millions of Ford F-150 and other model trucks were recalled because of the risk that they could burst into flames when parked and unattended.

    GM has offered free loaner cars to Volt owners worried about the vehicle's safety. GM said that as of last Thursday, 33 of about 5,000 Volt owners have taken the loaners.

    In a letter to owners and dealers, North American GM President Mark Reuss tried to reassure them by noting: "I am also a Volt owner, my daughter drives it every day and she will continue to do so."

    Most Volt owners are apparently pleased with the cars.  Last week, the Volt came up tops in customer satisfaction in a Consumer Reports survey.

    Despite a federal investigation into possible fire risks in the Chevy Volt gas-electric hybird, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says it h...

    What's the Best Paper Towel for Holiday Clean-Ups?

    Bounty plain, Bounty Extra Soft, and Target’s Up & Up score best

    We sometimes think life must be pretty exciting over at Consumer Reports.  They get to test all those neat, exotic products ... like, you know, paper towels.

    The venerable magazine put 23 towels through their paces, testing for absorption, scrubbing, and wet strength.  Some good news: consumers don’t have to pay big bucks for good paper towels.

    The top paper towel is plain Bounty, with a score of 90 (Don’t confuse it with its lower-scoring brand mate, Bounty Basic, which earned a 66 in CR’s tests). 

    In second place was Bounty Extra Soft with a score of 84. It lost a few points due to its performance on wet strength, which measures the force required to pull a section of paper towel apart when it’s wet.  In third place, Target’s Up & Up Eastern version. The Western version, from a different supplier, didn’t perform as well.

    Prices for paper towels range widely, says the report, available in the January issue of Consumer Reports and online at www.ConsumerReports.org.  Consumers can pay as little as $1.46 or as much as $5.12 per 100 square feet.  

    The report notes that Walmart’s Great Value paper towels cost $1.82 per 100 square feet and were very good. Costco’s Kirkland Signature paper towels also performed well and were the cheapest ones tested.

    Why pay more?

    A pricy paper towel isn’t necessarily going to be good at slurping up holiday messes.  Earth Friendly Products, one of the priciest paper towels, were the lowest rated of all, with a score of 26.

    Do green claims make a difference? The report points out that there are currently few or no governmental regulations for many of the “green” claims on paper towels.  But “recycled” claims do have some merit, so it’s a good idea to look for a high percentage of post-consumer recycled content. 


    We sometimes think life must be pretty exciting over at Consumer Reports.  They get to test all those neat, exotic products ... like, you know, paper ...

    Older Floridians Not Planning To Stop Driving

    Survey finds 13 percent say they will never give up the wheel

    It's said that old age creeps up suddenly, and if you haven't planned for it, life can get complicated in a hurry. For example, have you thought about what you will do when you are too old to drive?

    Apparently not many of us have. Florida, which has one of the highest percentages of 65-plus residents in the U.S., recently posed that question and found that 13 percent of survey respondents indicated they would not stop driving at all, with three percent expressing the opinion that they would die before they would stop driving.

    Not a comforting fact for everyone else on Florida's roads, perhaps. Researchers at Florida State University and the Florida Department of Transportation developed the survey to determine what states should be doing to help older drivers and assist them in the transition to their post-driving days. They're obtained a grant to set up to create a statewide Aging Road User Strategic Safety Plan.

    A national model for older drivers

    “The bottom-line measure of success for the grant from the DOT is that we reduce the number of fatalities, injuries and crashes that involve older adults in Florida,” said John Reynolds, a professor at Florida State. “However, in doing so we’ll be making the roads safer for all Floridians and hopefully serving as a national model for other states.”

    The researchers surveyed a large number of Floridians, divided into two groups, those aged 50 to 64 and those age 65 and up. They found that most drivers don’t plan for a future day when they may be unable to drive safely. Eighty-three percent of survey respondents ages 65 and older, and 92 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds, reported that they have no “transportation retirement plan.”

    No alternatives to driving

    Many aging road users see no alternatives to driving in their communities, the study found. "When asked about ways they get around besides driving a car, 40 percent of respondents ages 65 and older replied that they ride with family or friends, 26 percent said they walk, and 15 percent said there was no other way to get around other than driving.

    The survey found that while Florida's older drivers feel comfortable with their abilities behind the wheel, they're not so sure about everyone else on the road.

    “Though many aging drivers in Florida view our roads as very or somewhat safe, we found a lot of concern about the other drivers who are on them,” Reynolds said. “People responding to the survey voiced frustration, and sometimes anger, at other drivers who are talking on their phones, texting, or are otherwise being careless while they drive. This concern is being heard all around the country.”

    Residents ages 65 and older make up almost 18 percent of the Florida's population, and the Census Bureau projects that number to grow to 27 percent over the next two decades. In 2008, 447 older adults were killed in automobile crashes on Florida roads, making up about 15 percent of all crash fatalities in the state.

    A Florida survey questions older residents about driving...

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      What's On Your Mind? Emeril Cookware, Delta Airlines, Ol' Roy Dog Food

      Our daily look at consumer reviews

      Celebrity chefs do more than show you how to cook on the Food Network. Some, including, Emeril Lagasse, have their own line of consumer cookware.

      "My wife bought me a set of Emeril cookware for my birthday," Jim, of Loveland, Colo., told ConsumerAffairs.com.

      "Did everything as instructed but what a pain to cook with. "No matter the heat setting it is too hot. Everything sticks and is a pain to clean. Would like to buy something else but too much cash wrapped up in this set."

      People either seem to love these pots and pans or hate them. They are different from the cast iron and stainless steel many people are used to. If you use "gourmet" utensils, make sure you read the instructions carefully. Some have limits on the amount of heat they can withstand.

      Grounded

      Chris, of Atlanta, Ga., says he has been a long-time Delta Airlines customer, but no longer.

      "I was flying from West Palm Beach to Savannah with a connection in Atlanta," Chris said. When I landed in Savannah, my checked luggage bag came out opened with items hanging out of the side. No TSA search memo inside, just opened. My Touchpad had been stolen from the bag. I addressed the issue with Delta and they informed me that anything checked that is electronic is not reimburrsable. I have trusted Delta for over 20 years, and this is how they reward my business?"

      Not excusing the theft of Chris' computer, but a frequent flier these days should know not to place anything of value - particularly sensitive electronics, in checked luggage. Luggage is routinely opened and inspected now and, sad to say, many items go missing.

      In defense of Ol' Roy

      We've seen a number of complaints in recent weeks about Ol' Roy Dog Food, Walmart's house brand. Many pet owners have said their dogs got sick when they started feeding them Ol' Roy. That brought this response from Windy, of Tylertown, Miss.

      "There is absolutely nothing wrong with this dog food," Windy said. "In many of the complaints I have read against this food many of the people stated that it was the food that made their dog sick. I feed this food to all four of my dogs. They range in size from four to 140 pounds and I have never once had a single problem with this food. Any person who has had dogs knows that switching foods takes time that you can not just give a dog or any pet a different food over night and not expect a reaction, such as loose bowels or vomiting."

      Windy said she would be interested in hearing from the vets who cared for the dogs mentioned in the various Ol' Roy complaints.

      Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Emeril Cookware, Delta Airlines, Ol' Roy Dog Food, Grounded and In defense of Ol' Roy....

      Smartphone App Offers Quit-Smoking Help to Teens

      QuitSTART delivers cessation, mood management tips, tracks cravings

      A new effort to help teens quit smoking will use one of today’s teen's most constant companions — the smartphone. Developed by smoking cessation experts, SmokefreeTXT is a free text message cessation service that provides 24/7 encouragement, advice, and tips to teens trying to quit smoking.

      The initiative is led by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health.

      Once they sign up, teens receive text messages timed according to their selected quit date. Following their quit date, they will continue receiving texts for up to six weeks — a critical piece of the SmokefreeTXT service, as research shows that cessation support continues to be important beyond the first few weeks of quitting.

      Teens can sign up online at teen.smokefree.gov or text QUIT to iQUIT (47848).

      Nearly 20 percent of teens are current smokers, and most will continue smoking into adulthood unless efforts are made to help them quit now. Many teens want to quit, but few use evidence-based cessation resources to support their quit attempts.
      By connecting with teen smokers on their mobile phones, NCI hopes to more effectively engage young people in quitting with proven cessation tools and strategies.

      "With 75 percent of youths between the ages of 12 and 17 owning a cell phone, there is immense potential for mobile technologies to affect health awareness and behavior change among teens," said Erik Augustson, Ph.D., a behavioral scientist in NCI’s Tobacco Control Research Branch.

      A new effort to help teens quit smoking will use one of today’s teen's most constant companions — the smartphone. Developed by smoking cessatio...

      U.S. Becoming an Exporter of Toyotas

      Kentucky-build Camry will be exported to South Korea

      The line between American cars and imports has been hazy for years, and the latest announcement from Toyota makes it even more so.

      Toyota today announced plans to export U.S.-assembled Camry sedans to South Korea. Initial forecasts are that about 6,000 Camrys will be exported annually.

      The Camrys will be produced at Toyota’s manufacturing plant in Georgetown, Ky.  The plant is Toyota’s largest manufacturing facility outside of Japan, employing nearly 7,000 workers directly and creating nearly 20,000 additional jobs with vendors and suppliers in Kentucky and other states.

      “We are pleased with the reaction that the redesigned Camry is receiving from our customers, and the sales success it is having in the U.S. and overseas,” said Yoshimi Inaba, president and COO of Toyota Motor North America, Inc.  “The export of thousands of Camry vehicles to South Korea is an important development that builds on the great work of our talented U.S. team members as well as our extensive investments across North America."

      The Toyota Camry has been the top-selling car in America for 13 of the past 14 years and a best-selling vehicle around the world. This is the first time the U.S.-assembled Camry will be exported outside of North America.  The vehicles are scheduled to arrive in South Korea beginning in January.

      Since 1988 

      Toyota began exporting U.S.-assembled vehicles in 1988. The  exports increased 30% in calendar year 2010 to approximately 100,000 units. Toyota now exports U.S.-assembled vehicles to 19 countries around the world.  The company began exporting Indiana-made Sienna minivans to South Korea last month.

      Other exports include the Kentucky-produced Avalon sedan, the Indiana-produced Sequoia SUV and the Texas-produced Tacoma and Tundra pick-up trucks.

      The Toyota Camry has been the best-selling car in America for nine years running and 13 of the last 14 years. Since it was introduced in 1983, more than 8.5 million vehicles have been sold in the U.S. and 15 million worldwide. For the past three years, the Camry has also been named the “Most American Car” in Cars.com’s annual American Made Index. 

      The line between American cars and imports has been hazy for years, and the latest announcement from Toyota makes it even more so.Toyota today announced ...

      Group Warns of Danger From Fake Fungal 'Chik'n'

      CSPI: Quorn line of meat substitutes should be banned or carry a prominent warning

      The vat-grown mold used to make the Quorn line of meat substitutes causes gastrointestinal distress and in some cases, life-threatening anaphylactic reactions, according to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest.

      The nutrition and food safety watchdog group has again urged the Food and Drug Administration to revoke its “Generally Recognized as Safe,” or GRAS, designation for the controversial fermented fungus. If the agency does intend to allow Quorn’s “mycoprotein” to remain on store shelves, it should at least require a prominent warning label, the group says.

      Quorn is a meat substitute that typically takes the shape of artificial chicken patties or nuggets, imitation ground beef, cylindrical “roasts,” as well as other meatless incarnations, such as “Cranberry & Goat Cheese Chik’n Cutlets.”

      The principal ingredient is a microscopic fungus, Fusarium venenatum, which the company feeds with oxygenated water, glucose, and other nutrients in giant fermentation tanks. Once harvested from the tanks, the material is heat-treated in order to remove its excess RNA, and then dewatered in a centrifuge.

      Combined with egg albumen and other ingredients, it is then “texturized” into various meat-like shapes.

      Adverse reactions

      CSPI first urged the Food and Drug Administration to take Quorn off the market in 2002, and has been collecting adverse reaction reports from consumers ever since at QuornComplaints.com. CSPI has collected about 500 such reports from Americans and 1,200 more from European and Australian consumers.

      The vast majority of those reactions involved vomiting and diarrhea; others reported fainting or blood appearing in stool, vomit, or eyes. A smaller percentage of complaints involved hives or potentially fatal anaphylactic reactions. About 17 percent of complainants required medical treatment, sometimes hospitalization.

      According to a telephone survey of consumers in the United Kingdom (where the product is marketed more widely than in the United States), nearly 5 percent of consumers reported being sensitive to Quorn.

      CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson relayed 10 consumers’ complaints in a recent letter to FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods Michael Taylor.

      One 20-year-old man from Waco, TX, told CSPI that two hours after eating Quorn Chik’n Nuggets, he began to feel nauseous, and, too far from a bathroom, tried to open a window in order to vomit. He blacked out and hit his head on a trash can.

      And, according to a report filed by her daughter, a 75-year-old woman from Towson, MD, vomited and passed out in the theater during a production of Les Miserables four hours after eating half of a Quorn Chik’n patty. She spent the night in the emergency room and required anti-nausea medicine to stop her vomiting.

      “There are plenty of nutritious, safe, and environmentally-friendly meat substitutes, made with soybeans, mushrooms, legumes, rice, and other real food ingredients,” said Jacobson. “It’s crazy to knowingly allow a potent new allergen into the food supply yet that’s exactly what the FDA has done.”

      The vat-grown mold used to make the Quorn line of meat substitutes causes gastrointestinal distress and in some cases, life-threatening anaphylactic reacti...

      AARP: Many Seniors Suffer Hearing Loss in Silence

      Many don't think their problem warrants treatment

      You may not always like what you hear but being able to hear is an important part of part of leading an active life.  Yet, a new survey of AARP members finds nearly half say their hearing is getting worse.

      The survey, conducted by AARP and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) released today, focuses on the state of hearing among Americans 50-plus.  It examines attitudes toward hearing, the needs and unmet needs that the 50-plus population has for treating hearing issues and knowledge of where to go for help.

      “Maintaining hearing health as one ages is a very important concern among our members,” said AARP Vice President Nicole Duritz.  “While the survey results indicate that older Americans recognize the impact hearing difficulties can have on relationships with family and friends, people are also going without treatment, which can negatively impact quality of life and lead to safety issues.”

      Key findings

      Key findings from the survey include:

      • 85 percent of members surveyed said that maintaining hearing health is of great importance to them personally.  And 70 percent of respondents who said their hearing is excellent also said that they feel younger than their actual age.
      • Over a five-year period, nearly half (46 percent) of members surveyed say their hearing is getting worse.  And the same percentage (47 percent) reported having untreated hearing health issues.
      • During that same period in time, the vast majority of members surveyed reported either having a vision test or blood pressure monitoring (88 and 85 percent, respectively).  In comparison, 43 percent of respondents reported having had a hearing test conducted.
      • More than half (61 percent) of member respondents indicate that hearing difficulties make it hard to follow conversations in noisy situations.  And members point to the impact hearing difficulties can have on relationships with friends and family (44 percent) or during family gatherings (43 percent).
      • A majority (57 percent) of member respondents with untreated hearing difficulties don’t believe their problems warrant treatment.
      • Nearly two-thirds of poll respondents (63 percent) cite health insurance coverage limitations, concerns about cost, and lack of health insurance as reasons for not getting treatment for hearing difficulties.

      Taken lightly 

      "Untreated hearing loss is not a condition to be taken lightly or ignored," according to Paul R. Rao, PhD, President of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. "It can lead to social isolation and even depression. And it works against the desire of more and more Americans to stay in the work force. We sincerely hope that one result of our polling with AARP will be that people seek treatment."

      The survey also found that more people will seek help for hearing issues if their issue is linked to their relationships.  Nearly 70 percent would seek treatment if they felt their hearing issues were affecting their relationships with family and friends.  Nearly as many would do so if someone they cared about asked them to seek treatment.

      You may not always like what you hear but being able to hear is an important part of part of leading an active life.  Yet, a new survey of AARP member...

      Carrier IQ Denies Spying On Cell Phone Users

      Company is at center of latest mobile privacy concern

      Mobile device software company Carrier IQ denies that its technology spies on cell phone users and says it is not collecting any data that would violate anyone's privacy.

      A firestorm appeared to build last week around a report by an independent researcher that Carrier IQ’s software has the ability to record actions that you take on your phone — numbers that you dial, letters that you press when texting or searching the Web, menu buttons that you push — and send it all back to the company’s headquarters.

      Carrier IQ issued a statement saying it wants to clarify what it calls misinformation on the functionality of its software.

      “While a few individuals have identified that there is a great deal of information available to the Carrier IQ software inside the handset, our software does not record, store or transmit the contents of SMS messages, email, photographs, audio or video,” the company said. “For example, we understand whether an SMS was sent accurately, but do not record or transmit the content of the SMS. We know which applications are draining your battery, but do not capture the screen.”

      Carrier IQ also released a statement from Rebecca Bace of Infidel, Inc., who it describes as a security expert.

      Cites expert opinion

      “Having examined the Carrier IQ implementation, it is my opinion that allegations of keystroke collection or other surveillance of mobile device user’s content are erroneous,” Bace said.

      An independent security researcher, Dan Rosenberg, also came to the company's defense, writing in his blog: “Since the beginning of the media frenzy over CarrierIQ, I have repeatedly stated that based on my knowledge of the software, claims that keystrokes, SMS bodies, email bodies, and other data of this nature are being collected are erroneous.”

      Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is calling for an investigation into the matter, calling last week's reports deeply troubling.

      “Consumers need to know that their safety and privacy are being protected by the companies they trust with their sensitive information,” Franken said. “The revelation that the locations and other sensitive data of millions of Americans are being secretly recorded and possibly transmitted is deeply troubling."

      But Carrier IQ says its software should not be a source of any concern, asserting that privacy is protected and that Carrier IQ operates exclusively within that framework and under the laws of the applicable jurisdiction.

      “Carrier IQ is aware of various commentators alleging Carrier IQ has violated wiretap laws and we vigorously disagree with these assertions,” the company said.  

      Carrier IQ said it is not invading anyone's privacy...

      Court Refuses Apple's Request To Block Samsung Tablet

      The decision clears the way for holiday sales of the Samsung Galaxy Tab

      A U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., has rejected Apple's motion to ban the sale of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet on the grounds it violates Apple's patent of the iPad 2.

      The ruling was supposed to remain sealed but was accidentally posted to the court's website over the weekend, and thus made public. The ruling means the Samsung 10.1 tablet, as well as Samsung's Infuse 4G, Galaxy S 4G, and Droid Charge smartphone can be sold in time for the holidays.

      Apple filed the suit claiming Samsung copied the iPad when it designed its new tablet computer. Once the ruling had been reported, Samsung issued a statement saying the ruling “raised substantial questions about the validity of the Apple patents. Samsung argued that it's design is more of a matter of function, not a copy of the iPad's technology.

      More than one way

      Apple countered that there is more than one way to design a tablet and that rather than come up with its own design, Samsung simply stole and implemented Apple concepts.

      Apple presented an expert witness – independent industrial designer and inventor Cooper Woodring – who testified that the iPad's black rectangular frame, which is replicated on the Galaxy Tab, is ornamental in nature and has no other function.

      Meanwhile, a court in Australia Friday refused to lift a ban on the sale of the Galaxy tablet until Apple had a chance to file an appeal. However, the court said it might rule on the request by December 9.

      A court has refused to block sales of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the U.S....

      Not Everyone's Spending Money For The Holidays

      Large group plans no holiday spending this year

      Despite the fact that U.S. retailers enjoyed a strong start to the holiday shopping season, there's evidence not all consumers are participating.

      A poll continued online in November by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) found that 40 percent of respondents do not intend to spend any money on holiday purchases, as they anticipate experiencing further financial distress in the future.

      The poll sends a strong signal that in spite of the increase in sales during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, a significant number of people lack enough confidence in their financial future to begin spending, even on traditional holiday expenses.

      Not a reflection of general public

      It should be noted that those taking part in the survey were generally consumers who were already struggling with finances, which is why they were on NFCC's website to start with. Still, the results are sobering.

      "Historically, consumers have put aside their financial concerns during the holidays, even if to their detriment, and spent at some level," said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC. "These figures provide a snapshot of the desperate situation in which consumers find themselves, and how seriously they are taking their situation."

      Of note is the statistically significant increase reflected in the year-over-year trend. The NFCC posed the identical set of poll questions in the same month one year ago.

      Between November 2010 and November 2011, there was a six percentage point increase in the number of consumers who indicated they will spend zero dollars during the holiday season, evidence of the depth of the financial despair in the country.

      Disturbing numbers

      Also disturbing, says Cunningham, is that slightly more than half of all poll respondents indicated they would cut back on holiday spending, as their financial situation is worse this year than last. Combining those who will cut back on spending with those who will not spend at all, a full 91 percent of consumers are clearly concerned enough about their financial circumstances that they will remain on the spending sidelines this holiday season.

      Looking at the two categories with the lowest responses, seven percent revealed that they will spend as they did in 2010, and a modest three percent will spend more than they did last year.

      "Consumers are doing themselves a disservice if they do not reach out to a legitimate credit counseling agency for help surviving these difficult economic times, as there may be solutions available that have not been considered," said Cunningham.

      NFCC is a 60 year old organization of credit counselors, many of whom are non-profit. They are very different from debt or credit “settlement” firms, that often make big promises but fail to deliver any relief.

      Poll shows many won't spend any more for holidays...

      What's On Your Mind? Thrifty Car Rental, Sony, LA Fitness

      Our daily look at consumer reviews

      Getting a firm price on a rental car is all well and good. But consumers also have to be sure they understand a rental car company's policies. Otherwise, it could lead to unexpected heartburn.

      “My husband and six year old son flew to San Francisco today,” Chris, of Huber Heights, Ohio, told ConsumerAffairs.com. “They arrived at the Thrifty counter with their rental agreement of $120 and change! What a deal! Well, he had cleared $285 dollars on his credit card to make sure he had plenty of money. He arrived at the counter, gave them his contract, and the lady asked for his driver's license and credit card. She ran the card and said it was declined. Hesaid it was impossible, there was clearly enough money available on the card to cover the $120 cost. She then told him, they need to hold $380 on the card. When he returned the car, he would only be charged the quoted amount.”

      Chris says even after adding money to the card, her husband had to wait 24 hours to resubmit it to Thrifty. Consumers should keep in mind that all rental cars place a deposit on your credit card, over and above the expected amount, in case of overages. It's standard operating procedure in the industry. Make sure the card you're using has enough credit to cover the rental plus the $350 deposit.

      DIY not advised

      Here's a cautionary tale about trying to repair your new computer yourself. If you aren't trained in repair, you can make the problem worse, voiding your warranty in the process.

      “I purchased Vaio laptop from Sony website on November 15,” said John, of Staten Island, N.Y. “After four days the optical tray was stuck closed and trying to open it, I broke it into two pieces. I called customer support and was told very straight and to the point that it is not covered under warranty and I would have to pay for the repair. I explained if the tray was not stuck I would not have pulled hard enough to break the tray.

      Maybe John thought a little persuasion would open the tray, but in hindsight he would have sent it off to Sony and have them open the tray. That repair would probably have been covered.

      Better yet, he could have solved the problem with a plain old paper clip.  Nearly every DVD/CD drive has a small hole into which you can insert a straightened paper clip or something similar to open the tray when it's stuck.    

      Check your records

      David, of Tuscon, Ariz., says he prepaid a one year membership renewal in Bally Total Fitness in late October, about the time LA Fitness bought out and took over all the Ballys gyms in Arizona. Last week, when David went to his health center, now part of LA Fitness, he said he was told his membership had expired.

      “They would not allow me to talk to the manager since they said I was not a member of LA Fitness,” David told ConsumerAffairs.com. “I have filed complaints with five government agencies, as well as my credit card.”

      There should be a simple resolution to this issue. When David renewed his membership, he should have received some kind of receipt. At the very least his credit card statement should reflect the charge. If he wasn't charged for a pre-paid membership, the LA Fitness is correct in assuming his membership expired.

      Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Thrifty Car Rental, Sony, LA Fitness, DIY not advised and Check your records....

      Porsche Hopes to Double U.S. Sales by Adding New Models

      Smaller SUV and diesel options for popular models planned

      Think of Porsche and, chances are, you think of the 911, perhaps the most iconic sports car ever.  But as something of a purist's car, the 911 has always had a limited base.  

      Porsche has been steadily changing that, introducing the hulking Cayenne SUV a few years ago and, more recently, the Panamera, its first four-door sports sedan.

      Both have quickly become big sellers and Porsche is hoping to double its overall sales by adding a diesel Cayenne and a Panamera GTS while giving the 911 a facelift that will make it a bit more luxurious and a bit less like being inside a spinning clothes dryer. 

      The Cayenne turbodiesel will be Porsche's first diesel offering in the U.S. and although it may take Americans a little while to get used to the idea, turbodiesels are very popular in Europe and often outperform their gas counterparts while delivering markedly better fuel economy.

      Hot cars

      The Cayenne is now offered as a 380-hp hybrid with a top speed of 150. Oddly, the hybrid version delivers a fairly lame 24 mpg, only slightly better than the 22 mpg of the three gas versions.

      The Panamera GTS will be the most powerful non-turbo Panamera, developing 430 horsepower and boasting a top track speed of 178 mph.  If that's not fast enough for you, there's still the Turbo S -- 550 horsepower, top speed 190.

      The redesigned 911 is a little lower and a little wider than the current model and, in its base versions, more closely resembles a luxurious touring roadster than the scowling, heavy-breathing road warriors of yore.

      There are, of course, still Porsches for those of solid spine and well-padded rump who place performance above all else -- or, as Porsche puts it in describing the Cayman R, it "reflects the radical rejection of the pursuit of comfort."   

      Big bucks

      The author demonstrates his ability to drive fast in reverse

      While they may soon cover a broader range and be a little more accommodating to creature comforts, Porsches still won't be cheap. The mid-engine Cayenne and the Boxster roadster both start at $48,000 and accelerate quickly from there.  The 911 and Panamera hover around the $100,000 mark.  

      If you really want to pin the needle, the Panamera Turbo S and the 911 Turbo S Cabriolet will quickly spin up within sight of $200,000, not counting taxes, transportation and a steady supply of tires and brake jobs.

      Nevertheless, Porsche thinks it can double its annual U.S. sales within seven years.  It sold 25,000 cars in the U.S. last year, expects to come close to 30,000 this year and thinks its new models will take it to 50,000 by 2018, according to Automotive News Europe.

      This might sound unrealistic given the sorry state of the U.S. economy. But 50,000 isn't a very big bite out of total U.S. car sales of somewhere around 10 million.

      Just look around the parking lot the next time you're at your dermatologist's office or paying a visit to your dentist and chances are you'll see a Porsche or two.  Or you could just hang out on Wall Street or K Street, where you can watch the hedge fund managers and lobbyists roar past the Occupy crowd.

      Think of Porsche and, chances are, you think of the 911, perhaps the most iconic sports car ever.  But as something of a purist's car, the 911 has alw...

      Twilight Movie Draws Seizure Warning

      Graphic birth scene sent at least one viewer to the hospital

      Movies are rated for violence and adult content. The blockbuster Twilight Movie: Breaking Dawn, has drawn a warning about potential seizures.

      The warning comes from the Epilepsy Foundation, after receiving reports from some movie-goers after the film opened late last month.

      "A scene in the latest Twilight movie, Breaking Dawn: Part One, has reportedly caused seizures in at least two audience members," the foundation warned in a posting on its website. "The scene contains flashing lights, which can sometimes trigger seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy."

      So far there have been at least nine reports of movie-goers having seizures during a very graphic and intense birth scene that includes a multi-colored strobe light effect. The Epilepsy Foundation says its something people should be aware of before they buy a ticket.

      "If you have photosensitive seizures, please take this information into consideration when deciding whether to see this movie," the Foundation advises.

      Nearly three percent of the nearly three million Americans with epilepsy have photosensitive epilepsy, according to the Foundation.

      Twilight Movie Draws Seizure Warning...

      Verizon Stakes Claim to Huge Spectrum Slice

      Deals a cruel blow to AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint

      Verizon Wireless is shelling out $3.6 billion for a huge swath of wireless spectrum space that covers about 259 million potential customers.

      Dan Mead, President and CEO of Verizon Wireless, said the additional spectrum "will enable us to bring even better 4G LTE products and services to our customers."

      In a world where spectrum space is to wireless operators as oil reserves are to energy companies, the deal gives Verizon a huge leg up on its competitors, most notably AT&T, stymied in its attempt to make off with T-Mobile's spectrum.

      It not only assures Verizon of continued network dominace but takes a big stack of resources off the table and out of the reach of its competitors.

      Verizon is buying the space from SpectrumCo, a consortium made up of major cable companies Comcast and Time Warner as well as Bright House Networks.

      Spectrum drought

      With consumers increasingly wedded to their smartphones, tablets and laptops, spectrum space is getting to be like water in the desert -- there's just not enough of it to go around and nearly every little bit and byte is already spoken for.

      The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would like to open up more spectrums pace but the only way to do that is to take it away from existing licensees, including broadcasters and other well-organized groups who tend to circle their wagons and aggressively fight off intruders.

      There was a time when the cable operators thought they might get into the cell phone business and they bought up as many spectrum licenses as they could.  Today's deal marks the end of that era but it doesn't mean you won't be seeing Comcast and Time Warner competing in the wireless world.

      "These agreements, together with our Wi-Fi plans, enable us to execute a comprehensive, long-term wireless strategy and expand our focus on providing mobility to our Xfinity services," said Neil Smit, President of Comcast Cable. 

      Resale plans

      That's because, in addition to the spectrum sale, the companies have entered into several agreements, providing for the sale of various products and services.  Through these agreements, the cable companies, on the one hand, and Verizon Wireless, on the other, will become agents to sell one another's products and, over time, the cable companies will have the option of selling Verizon Wireless' service on a wholesale basis. 

      In other words, Verizon Wireless will be able to sell Comcast and Time Warner cable services in areas where Verizon doesn't offer its FiOS service and, presumably, Comcast and Time Warner will be selling rebranded wireless service from Verizon.  This is an additional blow to AT&T, which currently offers broadband in areas not served by FiOS and, therefore, likely to be targeted by Verizon.

      Or as Time Warner Cable PresidentRob Marcus said, "We're excited to be able to offer the nation's best wireless services to our customers and to have Verizon Wireless as a sales channel for our superb wireline services."

      Additionally, the cable companies and Verizon Wireless say they have formed an innovation technology joint venture for the development of technology to better integrate wireline and wireless products and services.

      The deal requires regulatory approval from the FCC and other agencies.

      Verizon Wireless is shelling out $3.6 billion for a huge swath of wireless spectrum space that covers about 259 million potential customers.Dan Mead, Pre...

      House Bills Could Harm Consumer Protections

      Consumers Union says measures would "devastate" critical programs

      Three bills expected to be voted on by the House of Representatives beginning this week would have a devastating impact on critical consumer protections, Consumers Union wrote in a letter sent to members of the House.

      The organization strongly urged lawmakers to oppose the regulatory reform bills, arguing they would waste federal resources and damage health, safety and other critical consumer protections.

      “These three bills would hamstring federal agencies from ensuring that American families are protected from problems such as tainted food, dirty air and water, unsafe drugs, invasions of privacy, and predatory financial schemes,” said Ellen Bloom, Senior Director of Federal Policy and CU’s Washington Office.

      “The proposals being considered would delay and even block the implementation of critical protections by requiring unnecessary and wasteful analyses. Congressional gridlock could wind up wasting important agency resources used in developing critical rules to protect public health and safety," Bloom said. "Instead of streamlining the regulatory process, these so-called ‘reforms’ waste time and resources while putting consumers at risk.”

      Beginning today (Friday), the House will vote on three bills that would undermine the ability of federal agencies to implement new policies. H.R. 3010 (the Regulatory Accountability Act) mandates that agencies adopt the least costly rule, regardless of the impact on the public.

      It would also require agencies to undertake numerous additional analyses and other procedural actions within the rulemaking process for every major rule, which could grind proposed necessary public health and consumer protections to a halt.

      H.R. 527 (the Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act) would cover virtually any agency action that might conceivably have an indirect impact on small businesses, subjecting it to a lengthy regulatory process and making it impossible for federal agencies to quickly respond to emerging hazards.

      Finally, H.R. 10 (the REINS Act) requires that any rule with an effect of $100 million or more on the economy would need the approval of both the House and Senate within 70 legislative days. With few exceptions, if Congress failed to act, the rule could not be brought up again until the next Congress. 

      “Each of these bills would do irreparable damage to a wide array of consumer protections and we call on policymakers to stand with consumers and reject them,” said Bloom.

      Three bills expected to be voted on by the House of Representatives beginning this week would have a devastating impact on critical consumer protections, C...

      Is Your Cell Phone Spying On You?

      Congress, consumer groups express concern about spyware on phones

      Sen. Franken

      Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is calling for an investigation into spyware on cell phones. He's responding to recent reports that mobile software company Carrier IQ is working with phone manufacturers and cellphone carriers to install spying software on Androids and iPhones.

      “Consumers need to know that their safety and privacy are being protected by the companies they trust with their sensitive information,” Franken said. “The revelation that the locations and other sensitive data of millions of Americans are being secretly recorded and possibly transmitted is deeply troubling."

      Independent researcher Trevor Eckhart recently said he has documented that Carrier IQ’s software has the ability to record actions that you take on your phone — numbers that you dial, letters that you press when texting or searching the Web, menu buttons that you push — and send it all back to the company’s headquarters.

      The software may also be present on models made by BlackBerry, Nokia and other manufacturers.

      Carrier IQ bills itself as "the leading provider of Mobile Service Intelligence Solutions" and says it provides carriers and manufacturers "unprecedented insight into their customers' mobile experience."

      On its Web site, the company says that by using itself system, carriers can not only measure large-scale trends but can "drill down to specific instances, giving you the insight your specialists need to make a difference." It claims to have its system enabled on more than 141 million phones.

      AT&T, Sprint, HTC, and Samsung have all confirmed that that their mobile phones integrate the Carrier IQ software. 

      Both AT&T and Sprint insisted that the software is being used solely to improve wireless network performance while phone makers HTC and Samsung said they were integrating the software into their handsets only because their carrier customers were asking for it.

      T-Mobile said it uses Carrier IQ's software but described it as a diagnostic tool to troubleshoot device and network performance. Apple said that while it has used Carrier IQ’s network diagnostic software in the past, it recently stopped supporting it and plans to remove it from its mobile devices in a future software update. 

      Google said it had no ffiliation with Carrier IQ and said that its Android operating system "is an open source effort and we do not control how carriers or OEMs customize their devices.”

      Lot of questions

      "This news underscores the need for Congress to act swiftly to protect the location information and private, sensitive information of consumers. But right now, Carrier IQ has a lot of questions to answer,” Franken said.

      In a letter to Carrier IQ President and CEO Larry Lenhart, Franken asked Lenhart to explain exactly what information the software records, whether that information is transmitted to Carrier IQ or to other companies, and whether that information is shared with any third party, among other things.  He also asked if Carrier IQ would allow users to stop this tracking.

      Earlier this year, Franken introduced the Location Privacy Protection Act, which would require companies like Connect IQ to obtain the explicit permission of customers before tracking their location information or sharing that information with third parties. The legislation has already garnered significant support in the Senate and from prominent privacy and consumer protection advocates.

      Outrageous

      Free Press Internet Campaign Director Josh Levy called it "outrageous that an American company is monitoring the use of our phones with spying technologies that you'd expect to see in China, not the U.S."

      "Activists from Cairo to New York to Los Angeles are using their phones to broadcast images of cops wielding pepper spray, handcuffed journalists and squares full of protesters," Levy said. "Actions that breach the integrity of our mobile devices violate our freedom to communicate. We must ensure that the most important movements of our time aren’t compromised by gatekeepers with little regard for our free speech or privacy.

      "Congress and the Department of Justice must investigate these shady practices. We have a right to know what Carrier IQ is doing with our information, and we have a right to use our mobile phones without fear of data spies."

      Concern is growing about spyware on cell phones. Recent reports have charged that mobile software company Carrier IQ is working with phone manufacturers an...

      Our Man Truman Solves the USPS Problem in No Time

      Forget stamps, how about a hook-up with Google Adwords?

      The cash-starved U.S. Postal Service has been racking its collective brain trying to think of new money-making ideas. So after who knows how many hours of diligent brainstorming, what have they come up with?

      Ads on trucks.

      Yep, a century or so after ads first began appearing on buses, subway cars, trucks and other moveable surfaces, the USPS is experimenting with selling ad space on its trucks.

      As part of a pilot program, USPS and Denver-based Lighted Promotions -- which installs lighted outdoor ads on big rigs -- have sold advertising on the back of 17,000 USPS freight trucks in 11 states.

      It costs about $500 to $600 a month to advertise on one of the trucks.  So far, the ads have been for topics related to driving -- highway safety, seatbelt use, drunken driving.

      There aren't any ads for Starbucks or iPhones -- not even any of those ubiquitous Google ads. 

      Hey!  There's an idea.  What if USPS did a deal with Google.  They could put a camera -- you know a minicam, like on your laptop -- on the back of the mail trucks.  

      The camera could read your license plate and compare it to its stored profile of your known characterisitcs (nose size, eyewear, hairstyle, etc.) and then deliver ads that reflect your mood of the moment  -- ads for divorce lawyers, antacid tablets, mortgage rescue, high-paying jobs in sunny climes.

      Google already knows everything about you, right?  And the USPS knows next to ... well, never mind.  Let's just say they're complementary.

      Good ahead and laugh.  It beats selling stamps.  

      The cash-starved U.S. Postal Service has been racking its collective brain trying to think of new money-making ideas. So after who knows how many hours of ...