Current Events in July 2012

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    Anger Grows Over Facebook Email Policy

    Users report friends' address book entries are being changed without their knowledge

    A survey of tech sites around the Internet shows many Facebook users are increasingly upset at Facebook's changes to users' email addresses.

    Last week it was revealed Facebook quietly switched many users' default email address from the one they had chosen to their Facebook email address. Over the weekend users began to report that the email changes are affecting address books.

    Missing messages

    One user reported that her contact entry in a colleague's address book had changed from her work email address to her Facebook email address. Work emails, she said, were suddenly going to her Facebook email account. Worse still, she said, when she checked the account there was no sign of the diverted messages.

    PC World reports the problem apparently stems from a feature for mobile devices, which syncs up their address books with their Facebook contacts.

    Graham Cluley, Senior Technology Consultant at Sophos Security Software, reports that in April Facebook quietly announced it would be giving users email addresses so that they matched their public username, used as the URL for users' profile pages.

    “However, the social network didn't make clear that it would also be making the email addresses the default address displayed to your online friends,” Cluley writes in his blog. “Clearly this all part of the site's plan to get more people using the email addresses, thus making the social network even harder to extricate yourself from.”

    Changing it back

    If you don't want to use your Facebook email address, it's up to you to change it back to your default. Here's how to do it:

    • Click on the "About" tab on your profile
    • Go to the section marked "Contact info" and choose "Edit"
    • Adjust the settings to choose which - if any - of your email addresses you would like to appear on your timeline, and who has the right to see it.
    • Press "Save"

    It might be a good idea to check your profile once a week for a few weeks to make sure the email doesn't somehow get changed back.

    A survey of tech sites around the Internet show many Facebook users are increasingly upset at Facebook's changes to users' email addresses.Last week it w...

    Feds Urge ATV Safety On the Trails

    Admonition comes amid increase in summer fatalities

    The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) wants to make this the summer that sees an end to the rise in ATV deaths and injuries. 

    On average for 2004 to 2006, deaths of children aged 16 and younger rose about 65 percent from March to April. Adult deaths rose 85 percent over the same period. If riders are not vigilant about safety, reports of ATV-related deaths are expected to continue to rise through the summer, peaking in July. 

    On average, each year from 2004 to 2010, there were nearly 700 ATV-related fatalities and about 136,000 emergency-department treated injuries, many of which were life-altering. 

    Deaths and injuries this year 

    Already this year, CPSC staff has received preliminary reports of 130 adults and 28 children under the age of 16 who died since January in ATV-related incidents around the country. 

    As of June 1, at least 14 adults and three children were reported to have died from incidents occurring during the Memorial Day holiday weekend, May 25 to May 28. 

    Many deaths and injuries occur when an inexperienced driver loses control of an ATV, is thrown from an ATV, overturns the vehicle or collides with a fixed object or a motor vehicle. ATV drivers with more than one year of experience have a much lower risk of injury than relatively new drivers. 

    Need for training 

    Training can bridge that gap by showing new drivers how to handle multiple off-road riding situations. Retailers and organizations around the country offer hands-on training to help riders gain experience and learn safe riding practices. 

    "Hands-on training adds a large dose of safety to riding and improves the chances that you or those you care about will avoid injury or death while enjoying this activity," said Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. "Ignoring safety measures increases the likelihood of you, or someone you love, being hurt or killed." 

    ATV guidelines 

    CPSC offers the following guidelines to help riders recognize hazards and make riding both fun and safe: 

    • All ATV drivers, adults and children, should take a hands-on ATV safety course from a certified instructor.
    • Always wear protective gear - especially a helmet - when riding ATVs.
    • Do not ride on a single-rider ATV as a passenger or carry a passenger if you drive one.
    • Never allow more people on any ATV than the vehicle was designed to carry.
    • Do not drive ATVs on paved roads. ATVs have solid rear axles, which make turning on paved surfaces difficult and dangerous and increase the risk of the ATV overturning or hitting another object, such as a tree or car.
    • Do not permit children younger than 16 years old to drive or ride adult ATVs. Children younger than 16 years old lack the developmental skills to safely drive adult ATVs, and more than 90 percent of all injuries to children involve this scenario. Likewise, children younger than 6 should never be on an ATV - either as a driver or passenger. 

    To learn more about safe riding and the safety of your family on ATVs, visit

    ATV safety is being urged as we approach a time of rising injuries and fatalities...

    'Gluten-Free' On the Label Doesn't Mean 'Healthy'

    People have been eating gluten for thousands of years with no ill effects

    A growing food industry trend is products without gluten, which is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. It's used to give elasticity to dough, making products easier to manufacture.

    Kathryn Deschenes, a Kansas State University master's student in food science, has been on a gluten-free diet since she was diagnosed with celiac disease, which runs in her family. The disease is a digestive disorder made worse by eating gluten.

    "It can have funny symptoms like depression, acid reflux and it can stunt children's growth," Deschenes said.

    Helps with some conditions

    For the one percent of the population with celiac disease, giving up gluten products usually takes away those symptoms. Deschenes went gluten-free in high school and likes the recent gluten-free trend.

    "It's been beneficial for the market," she said, noting that it means more companies are producing gluten-free products and labeling their products as such.

    But are products labeled "gluten-free" healthier? Mark Haub, associate professor and interim head of Kansas State University's department of human nutrition, has a different take.

    "Just because a product says it's gluten-free doesn't mean it's healthy," he said.

    Gluten not harmful

    For one thing, the gluten-free product probably contains as many calories as gluten options, Haub said, because a gram of sorghum, corn or rice flour appears to be metabolically similar to a gram of wheat flour. And consuming gluten, Haub says, isn't bad for the average person.

    "People have been eating wheat, rye and barley for thousands of years, and there are people who live to be 100 who eat wheat products and don't seem to exhibit any types of health issues," he said.

    Popular with celebrities

    Gluten-free diets are now being adopted by people without celiac disease. Celebrities seem to favor it, crediting it with many qualities it may or may not have. Haub said as long as they do their research about the diet, he's fine with the trend.

    "I'm totally supportive of people selecting and choosing lifestyle habits that best suit their needs and preferences, and this would fit that category," he said.

    A gluten-free diet usually contains more fresh produce and that usually is a healthy improvement. If someone eats more varieties of vegetables and fruits and engages in portion control of other foods, then this type of gluten-free living may elicit health benefits, Haub said.

    Deschenes cautions, though, that gluten-free is not necessarily a weight-loss program and can be a bad diet if you aren't aware of the things it lacks, such as a sufficient amount of fiber.

    A growing food industry trend is products without gluten, which is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. It's used to give elasticity to do...

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      New Car Buyers Admit Driving While Distracted

      Survey shows they value safety technology over entertainment and comfort

      Now that consciousnesses have been significantly raised against the dangers of drinking and driving, there is a new danger on the highway getting a lot of attention. It's one most of us admit we do.

      In a survey of new car buyers by Harris Interactive, 84 percent admitted engaging in one or more cases of distracted driving in an average month. On average, they reported engaging in nearly 37 distracted driving habits in an average four week period.

      Most people think of texting or talking on cell phones as distracted driving but there are many other activities that can take drivers' eyes – and minds – off the road.

      Cell phones biggest distraction

      Topping the list of activities were sending or receiving a phone call (11 times), drinking a beverage (8 times), texting (5 times), or emailing (3 times). New car buyers between the ages of 18 to 34 engage in the most distracted driving habits. Yet, the same age group had a lower frequency of making or receiving phone calls compared to new car buyers ages 35 to 44.

      Breaking it down by gender, men engage in distracted driving habits the most, especially when making and receiving calls, compared to women.

      Government agencies and even corporations have stepped up efforts to combat distracted driving with series of videos and public service announcements, such as the one below.

      Perhaps because of the awareness campaigns, the survey found new car buyers more interested in safety.

      "While ideally these drivers should practice fewer of these distracted driving habits, it is also comforting to know that this distracted driving group is aware of the importance of safety features and is actively considering them for their next vehicle purchase," said Mike Chadsey, Vice President, Automotive Solutions Consultant, Harris Interactive.

      Safety technology

      Safety technologies like back-up cameras, blind spot warning systems, and pedestrian sensors gained the most consumer interest over the past year compared to technologies focused on entertainment and comfort such as satellite radio and voice-activated controls.

      Before exposure to a price, new car buyers prefer the option of smart phone docking over built-in applications, with 24 percent saying they would consider the option of docking their smart phone in their vehicle compared to just 14 percent who would consider having applications built-in.

      Once exposed to a price, consideration is just slightly less, at 20 percent, even though smart phone docking technology was priced $100 higher than built-in applications.

      "Consumers are indicating that they want their automotive technology to help improve safety while giving them more flexibility, even if it costs a little more," said Chadsey.  

      Now that consciousnesses have been significantly raised against the dangers of drinking and driving, there is a new danger on the highway getting a lot of ...

      Toyota Recalling Some 2011 Lexus Models

      Accelerator pedal problem poses an accident hazard

      Toyota Motor North America is recalling as many as 154,036 2010 Lexus RX350 and RX450h vehicles, manufactured from November 28, 2008, through September 1, 2010. 

      The accelerator pedal can get stuck in the wide-open position due to its being trapped by an unsecured or incompatible driver's floor mat, resulting in very high vehicle speeds that make it difficult to stop the vehicle, which could cause a crash, serious injury or death. 

       Lexus will notify owners of affected vehicles and dealers will modify or replace the accelerator pedal and replace any Lexus driver's floor mat not specified for the vehicle. Lexus will begin notifying owners in early august 2012. 

      Owners may contact Lexus at 1-800-255-3987 and may also contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's vehicle safety hotline at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153).

      Accelerator pedal problem prompts Lexus recall...

      Which Cars Really Get 40 MPG?

      Auto site puts claims to the test

      Car marketers know how to get your attention these days. Rather than show attractive models and glamor shots of sleek vehicles speeding around a curvy highway, they flash numbers on the screen - “EPA-Rated 40 MPG.”

      In an era of high gasoline prices, squeezing more miles out of each gallon of fuel has real appeal and more cars now claim to achieve that magic number of 40 miles to the gallon. But do they really?

      Putting claims to the test recently tested six cars that make the claim to see how the claim stands up under real world driving conditions. The site tested six vehicles – the Chevrolet Sonic, Hyundai Veloster, Kia Rio 5,Mazda 3i, Ford Focus and Volkswagen Passat TDI.

      Just three of the six – the Passat TDI, Mazda 3i and Ford Focus - cleared the EPA's 40 mpg rating in at least one of's testing routes. But even if high mileage is your most prized option on a new car, Edmunds says that doesn't mean you should disqualify the three cars that didn't achieve the advertised goal.

      The difference in yearly fuel costs between the top-performing Passat and lowest performing Kia was only $225, assuming 12,000 miles driven per year.

      "Whether a car achieves 35 mpg or that all-hallowed 40 mpg, the difference won't have as much impact on your wallet as you might expect," says Automobile Editor James Riswick. "The most important takeaway here is that any one of these vehicles would be a tremendous fuel efficiency upgrade if what you're trading in is a 20-mpg gas guzzler."


      Gas mileage claims have long been a source of contention between carmakers and consumers. A consumer in California took Honda to small claims court and won, contending that Honda misrepresented the gas mileage she would achieve on her Honda Civic hybrid.

      In May, a judge overturned the $10,000 damage award. The judge ruled that, even though the plaintiff didn't get close to the EPA's mileage estimate for her car, many other drivers did.

      Car marketers know how to get your attention these days. Rather than show attractive models and glamor shots of sleek vehicles speeding around a curvy high...

      Pool Safety Tips for the 4th

      The holiday is prime time for drowning and other accidents

      Few things are more fun than celebrating the Independence Day holiday around the pool. But nothing can spoil the fun faster than a poolside tragedy. 

      As the holiday b approaches, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is releasing some sobering statistics on the number of drownings during previous July 4th holidays. CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum is reminding parents and caregivers to pool safely during upcoming pool parties and celebrations with family and friends. 

      "Along with fireworks, spending time in the pool is a traditional July 4th activity for many families," Chairman Tenenbaum said. "Child drownings are a preventable tragedy, so we encourage all families who are planning to spend time in pools and spas over the Independence Day holiday and all summer to adopt as many safety steps as possible. You never know which safety step will save a life -- until it does." 

      Fourth of July tragedy 

      According to analysis of media reports by USA Swimming, the national governing body for the sport of swimming, there were 25 drowning incidents involving children younger than 15 reported last year over the week of the July 4 holiday (June 30 through July 6). 

      In 2010, 24 drowning incidents were reported during that same week. CPSC reports that annually there are about 390 pool or spa-related drownings for children younger than 15. Another 5,200 children of that age go to hospital emergency rooms for near-drowning injuries. An unknown number of children are seriously brain-damaged. 

      Pool Safely 

      CPSC's Pool Safely campaign ( is a national public education effort to reduce child drownings, near-drownings and entrapments in swimming pools and spas. The campaign's message is that Simple Steps Save Lives. Simple water steps that could help families avoid a tragedy this holiday include: 

      Staying Alert 

      • Never leave a child unattended in a pool or spa and always watch your children closely around all bodies of water
      • Teach children basic water safety tips
      • Keep children away from pool drains, pipes and other openings to avoid entrapments
      • Have a telephone close by when you or your family are using a pool or spa
      • If a child is missing, look for him or her in the pool or spa first
      • Share safety instructions with family, friends and neighbors 

      Water safety skills 

      • Learn how to swim and teach your child how to swim
      • Learn to perform CPR on children and adults, and update those skills regularly
      • Understand the basics of life-saving so that you can assist in a pool emergency 

      The right equipment 

      • Install a four-foot or taller fence around the pool and spa and use self-closing and self-latching gates; ask your neighbors to do the same at their pools
      • Install and use a lockable safety cover on your spa
      • If your house serves as a fourth side of a fence around a pool, install and use a door or pool alarm
      • Maintain pool and spa covers in good working order
      • Ensure any pool and spa you use has drain covers that comply with federal standards, and ask your pool service provider if you do not know
      • Have lifesaving equipment such as life rings, floats or a reaching pole available and easily accessible

      Following a few simple rules can prevent a July 4th tragedy...

      Storms Are a Fact of Life; The Trick is Surviving Them

      The real world makes short work of the cyberworld when it feels like it

      So there we were, peacefully watching Bill Maher get laughs with cheap shots at public figures when my smartphone beeped with an urgent text from Fairfax County (Va.) Emergency Services: a ferocious thunderstorm with winds up to 80 miles per hour was just a few miles away and closing fast.

      I stepped outside to take a look and, sure enough, in no time rain-driven wind was hitting me in the face. Horizontal rain is something you see in hurricanes but not very often in thunderstorms, so I knew this might be a Big One.

      As those who have over the years sent me dozens of pizzas, crates of ballet shoes and huge tubs of cheese know, I live in a place called Oakton, Va., so named (one assumes) because it is infested with towering oak trees.  Houses are slotted in-between. This normally works pretty well, except when the trees fall over, as they do quite often.

      Very dense wood

      Oak is not called hardwood for nothing.  It is very dense and, therefore, heavy. When you have a lot of trees clustered together, as we do, they grow up but not out. What you wind up with is an awful lot of weight without a broad enough base to support it when the winds begin to blow.

      So anyway, Bill Maher immediately flipped to black, as did everything else electrical. A dark and stormy night ensued, and a very hot one too. As day dawned, the scene was the usual horror show -- trees down everywhere, power lines dangling and sparking and, perhaps worst of all, traffic signals not working.

      This is not intended as a political comment but here in the Washington, D.C., area we have a higher concentration of idiots than in most of the country. In years past, after hurricanes and huge storms, our friends and neighbors for some reason known only to them drove confidently, and quickly, through busy and complex intersections suddenly deprived of signals. The result was, of course, carnage. 

      If anyone has learned anything, it appears we have learned that dark intersections should be treated as four-way stops.

      Hard lessons

      What else have we learned?  Well, here are a few things from the latest episode:

      • Take cover. The basement or a room without windows is where you want to be in a raging storm. A second-floor bedroom is the worst place to be. Obvious, but ...
      • If the power is out, your phone  won't work if it's on your cable system or FiOS. It may not matter, since Fairfax County's 9-1-1 system failed for unknown reasons. We were advised to drive to the nearest fire or police station if we needed something. 
      • Your cell phone most likely won't work. The towers are run by, guess what, electricity. No electricity, no signal.
      • Your friends and family around the world will assume the worst. We heard later from friends in Peru that they had written us off. 
      • Mobile broadband won't work either. See above.
      • You could listen to your local all-news station for information, though when we tried this, it was wall-to-wall commercials, interrupted occasionally by sports scores and learned political commentary.
      Having learned from previous episodes, however, we were prepared. Or so we thought. We confidently took our dead cell phone out to the garage and plugged it into the mobile charger, only to learn that -- at least on our Samsung smartphone -- the battery has to reach a certain charge level before the phone will work. What? You thought you could just plug it in?
      We then plugged in the inverter we bought after Hurricane Whosis, hoping to get our laptop working.  We actually had to start the car to get enough juice, but quickly discovered that a.) without the Samsung smartphone we had no hotspot for the laptop to log onto; and b.) without electricity, we couldn't raise the garage door, leading to fears of imminent asphyxiation.
      (Actually, yes, we can raise the garage doors manually but every time we do so, a small bolt shears off in the gears, necessitating an expensive visit from the up-and-down guys.)

      All is not lost

      But wait. Despite the lack of landlines, wi-fi, 3g and 4g, all was not lost. Upon raising the garage door, thereby doing $78.90 worth of damage, we found that the information deficit we had been suffering was solved. There, in their usual positions, were The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Washington Post
      Yes, there amid the dead trees was news printed only a few hours before on, what else, dead trees. And wrapped in plastic bags suitable for collection and disposal of canine wastes to boot. What a deal! (The Times and Journal for 25 years have been placed in the dead, unbiased center of our driveway. The Post is always thrown far to the right (yes, the right, never the left) into the woods, the ditch or, when the carrier is exceptionally dedicated to making his or her point, into the drainage culvert that runs beneath the driveway. But that's another story).  
      Everything new had failed. Everything old had worked.
      We were able to loll around all morning, relaxing in the 100-degree heat and reading everything except what we wanted to read, namely directions to the closest operating Starbucks.  Trying to make coffee on a propane grill is possible but not my idea of fun.
      Other things that worked/didn't work:
      • LED flashlights. They're great. I had absent-mindedly bought a three-pack for a few bucks at The Home Depot. They generate a lot of light and last forever. Highly recommended. Much better than candles. Safer too.
      • Chain saws. They work and many neighbors were cheerfully using them, while clad in shorts, flip flops and baseball caps. Their three-year-olds played nearby. So damned dangerous. Like SUVs, chain saws should be sold only to those who have passed a stringent test demonstrating their knowledge of eye shields, steel-toed boots and protective gloves. 
      • Generators. Lots of people have these things now. Like snow-blowers, you only need them once in a while and, almost invariably, those are the times they don't work. The gas is too old, the spark plugs are fouled or the starter rope is shot. Want to go buy new gas? Yes, but the gas stations are closed. No power. When the power comes back on, you don't need the generator.

      What counts

      What's most important in times like these is to think of those who may been in worse shape than we are. The elderly and those with chronic conditions, like asthma, cannot tolerate sweltering heat for days on end. They need to go somewhere cool. If there are people like that around, we should go check on them and help them get someplace that's safer. Later is the time to complain about how various agencies did or didn't function.
      Likewise, families with lots of kids and, perhaps, a father who is deployed overseas or off working somewhere, will be grateful for our concern and whatever help we can render.
      The Red Cross and other relief organizations probably need our time and treasure. It doesn't hurt to call and ask.  
      I don't expect you to find any of this particularly useful, or original. It's just that, having been in the news game for several decades, I have been present at all kinds of disasters and have come to the conclusion that all you can do is be patient, be careful, think twice and watch out for those around you. This isn't the time to assume someone else will take care of it.
      Good luck. 

      So there we were, peacefully watching Bill Maher get laughs with various cheap shots at public figures when my smartphone beeped with an urgent text from F...

      10 Ways To Avoid A Debt Trap

      Sound money management will almost always keep you out of trouble

      Most consumers who turn to a payday lender have found themselves in serious financial need. They are willing to pay a premium in order to get help quickly, without too many questions asked about their credit.

      Unfortunately, it rarely turns out well. Jacqueline, of Jersey City, N.J. says she took out a $300 loan from One Click Cash.

      “I fell behind a payment,” she wrote in a ConsumerAffairs review. “They drained my bank account. I paid them $200.00 toward the loan in January 2012 The bank had to closed my account in December 2011 because of excess fees. I had to make alternative payment arrangements to pay them back. Now they are charging me more money than my $300.00 loan I borrowed.”

      That's often how it works. The original loan is hardly ever the problem. If the consumer can pay it back within the allotted two weeks, along with the fee, then it was an expensive loan but not an ongoing problem. In reality, most people can't pay the loan back in two weeks and have to take out another, then another.

      The best way to avoid this situation is not to have to approach a payday lender in the first place. Right, easier said than done. But good money management is always your best defense. So here are ten steps to getting on a firmer financial footing.

      10 steps

      1. Evaluate finances and set a realistic budget. This means living below, not above your means, since you need money left over each month for savings.
      2. Start a savings account and increase the amount contributed with raises, bonuses and extra earned cash. In other words, when you receive extra money, save it, don't spend it.
      3. Be wary of phrases such as “rent to own,” “no money down,” “must act now” and “bad or no credit welcome.” Financing plans that target people with poor credit always carry high fees and onerous terms. Avoid them at all costs!
      4. Do not buy items if they cannot be paid for in cash, or unless you have a realistic plan for repaying the loan. If people followed this advice there would be much less debt problem.
      5. Recognize that there are no quick fixes for financial issues and focus on long-term goals.
      6. Never accrue new debt to pay off old debt. That just begins a debt spiral.
      7. Fully understand loan documents before signing and never sign an agreement with blank spaces.
      8. Consult an objective professional, such as an attorney, if advice is needed on a loan agreement.
      9. Make comparisons and shop lenders and fair terms before committing to an agreement.
      10. Take time to consider all the aspects of a loan. Resist pushy sales practices and remember that there is no obligation or commitment until the contract is signed.

      Of course, consumers who are already over their heads in debt have to deal with their present circumstances before they can start saving. But at least they can avoid making a mistake that makes their present situation worse – and that means avoiding predatory loans.

      Most consumers who turn to a payday lender have found themselves in serious financial need. They are willing to pay a premium in order to get help quickly,...