Current Events in December 2012

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    Consumers rate small banks higher than big ones

    Bank of America least popular of the big banks

    With the exception of JPMorgan Chase, big banks continue to fall out of favor with consumers. A report by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) finds customers satisfaction with banks rose 2.7 percent this year, due almost entirely to satisfaction with small community banks.

    Small banks -- stable at an ACSI score of 79 -- continue to outclass large banks and capture market share because of it.

    “As more customers move from large banks to smaller banks and credit unions, the overall customer satisfaction level for banks goes up as a matter of mathematics,” said Claes Fornell, ACSI founder. “As the smaller banks do a better job with customers and therefore attract more of them, customer satisfaction for banks on the whole gets a boost.”

    JPMorgan leads

    JPMorgan Chase leads among big banks. Its ACSI score rose six percent to 74, matching its pre-recession result from 2007. But other big banks have to deal with deteriorating customer satisfaction.

    Wells Fargo, for example, fell three percent to 71 and Citigroup retreats four percent to 70. Bank of America was the biggest loser, falling three percent to 66, reaching its lowest level of customer satisfaction in over a decade. Fees may be a big reason for that.

    “The total fees from overdraft charges alone in 2011 -- most of them from big banks -- amounted to more than $30 billion,” Fornell said. “Customers increasingly are rejecting the ever-mounting fees charged by large banks and taking their business to credit unions instead.”

    But customer service still rankles a few consumers, as evidenced by Nina, of Roseville, Calif., in her complaint to ConsumerAffairs.

    "I hate Bank of America, not least because of its completely incompetent customer service," Nina wrote in a recent post. "I always introduce the problem before launching into an explanation. But the person on the other end of the line has, without fail, waited until I finished before informing me they can't help me."

    Fornell says Bank of America, in particular, stands out as the only bank that is still below its pre-recession customer satisfaction level. He believes it is mostly because of fees.

    Challenge for credit unions

    Even though ACSI still rates credit unions at the top of the heap in financial services, Fornell says these institutions have been victims of their own rapid growth in the last year. As more consumers moved their accounts, customer service reps at credit unions have struggled to keep up.

    “The large influx of new customers for credit unions, many of whom left banks because of rising fees, poses new challenges for customer service,” Fornell said. “The question becomes, how to best serve a fast-growing customer franchise? The more customers you have, the more difficult it gets.”

    When it comes to insurance, ACSI found policyholders are less pleased with property and casualty insurance as higher-than-average rate increases took a toll on customer satisfaction.

    Overall, the property and casualty insurance industry tumbled six percent to an ACSI score of 78. Much of the weakness, it found, is opposite the banking industry. Consumers appear less satisfied with smaller insurance companies.

    With the exception of JPMorgan Chase, big banks continue to fall out of favor with consumers. A report by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) f...

    No takeoff hassles for domestic flights in August

    And, there was only one tarmac delay longer than four hours on international flights

    Airlines reported no tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights in August and only one delay of more than four hours on international flights, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Air Travel Consumer Report.

    The reported international delay involved an Aug. 15 flight by Caribbean Airlines from New York’s JFK Airport to Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago that was on the tarmac for four hours and 28 minutes prior to takeoff. It's under investigation by the DOT.

    The larger U.S. airlines have been required to file complete reports on their long tarmac delays for domestic flights since October 2008. Under a new rule that took effect Aug. 23, 2011, all U.S. and foreign airlines operating at least one aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats must report lengthy tarmac delays at U.S. airports.

    Also beginning Aug. 23, 2011, carriers operating international flights may not allow tarmac delays at U.S. airports to last longer than four hours without giving passengers an opportunity to deplane. There is a separate three-hour limit on tarmac delays involving domestic flights, which went into effect in April 2010.

    Exceptions to the time limits for both domestic and international flights are allowed only for safety, security, or air traffic control-related reasons. Severe weather could cause or exacerbate such situations.

    On-time performance

    • The reporting carriers posted an on-time arrival rate of 79.1 percent in August, compared with 79.3 percent the same month a year earlier, and 76.0 percent in July.


    • The reporting carriers canceled 1.3 percent of their scheduled domestic flights in August, versus the 2.5 percent cancellation rate posted in August 2011 and July 2012’s cancellation rate of 1.4 percent.

    Chronically delayed flights

    • At the end of August, there were 56 flights that were chronically delayed -- more than 30 minutes late more than 50 percent of the time -- for two consecutive months. There were no chronically delayed flights for three consecutive months or more.

    Causes of flight delays

    • In August, the carriers reported that 5.26 percent of their flights were delayed by aviation system delays, compared with 6.07 percent in July; 7.68 percent by late-arriving aircraft, versus 9.03 percent in July; 5.79 percent by factors within the airline’s control, such as maintenance or crew problems, compared with 6.32 percent in July; 0.53 percent by extreme weather, as opposed to 0.82 percent in July; and 0.04 percent for security reasons, the same as in July.
    • Weather is a factor in both the extreme-weather category and the aviation-system category. This includes delays due to the re-routing of flights by the Federal Aviation Administration in consultation with the carriers involved. Weather is also a factor in delays attributed to late-arriving aircraft, although airlines do not report specific causes in that category.
    • Data collected by BTS also shows the percentage of late flights delayed by weather, including those reported in either the category of extreme weather or included in National Aviation System delays. In August, 32.95 percent of late flights were delayed by weather, down 16.52 percent from August 2011, when 39.47 percent of late flights were delayed by weather, and down 19.06 percent from July when 40.71 percent of late flights were delayed by weather.

    Mishandled baggage

    • The U.S. carriers reporting posted a mishandled baggage rate of 3.38 reports per 1,000 passengers in August, falling from both August 2011’s rate of 3.45 and July 2012’s rate of 3.52.

    Incidents involving pets

    • In August, carriers reported five incidents involving the loss, death, or injury of pets while traveling by air, the same as August 2011. There were three reports filed in July 2012. August’s incidents involved three pet deaths and two pet injuries.

    Complaints about airline service

    • In August, DOT received 1,886 complaints about airline service from consumers, up 33.2 percent from the 1,416 complaints filed in August 2011, but down 23.5 percent from the 2,466 received in July 2012.

    Complaints about treatment of disabled passengers

    • The report also contains a tabulation of complaints filed with DOT in August against airlines regarding the treatment of passengers with disabilities. There was a total of 73 disability-related complaints in August, compared with 48 in August 2011, and 97 in July 2012.

    Complaints about discrimination

    • In August, there were nine complaints alleging discrimination by airlines due to factors other than disability -- such as race, religion, national origin or sex – versus 12 in August 2011 and 16 in July 2012.

    Consumers may file their complaints in writing with the Aviation Consumer Protection Division, U.S. Department of Transportation, C-75, W96-432, 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE, Washington, DC 20590; by voice mail at (202) 366-2220 or by TTY at (202) 366-0511; or on the Web.

    Airlines reported no tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights in August and only one delay of more than four hours on international flig...

    Do tobacco companies target gay consumers?

    Members of LGBT community are more likely to smoke than general population

    Since 1998 cigarette marketing has operated under tight control. Tobacco companies are not allowed to target underage consumers or minority groups.

    But one group, represented by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organizations, says it continues to be the target of tobacco marketing and -- as a result -- its members are more likely to smoke.

    A number of organizations have worked together to combat what they say is pervasive tobacco use within the LGBT community, focusing on the reasons. An edgy Delicious Lesbian Kisses (DLK) campaign draws attention to smoking among lesbians. The Network for LGBT Health Equity helps bridge the gap between LGBT organizations and tobacco control funding. The CRUSH campaign uses “cuties” to spread the message that being tobacco free is sexy.

    Why do LGBT people smoke so much?

    “It’s very likely that smoking is the single greatest health issue stealing years off the lives of LGBT people. Why do LGBT people smoke so much? We’ve been targeted by the tobacco industry, we’re extremely vulnerable for social acceptance as we come out, and the pressures of stigma can nudge anyone towards unhealthy behaviors,” said Scout, Ph.D., Director of the Network for LGBT Health Equity. “More LGBT civil rights leaders’ voices have been silenced by tobacco disparities than any other single thing. For me, tobacco is one of the biggest social justice issues.”

    An analysis published by the American Journal of Public Health found that LGBT people smoke cigarettes at rates that are nearly 70 percent higher than the general population. It is estimated that LGBT adults are 1.5 to 2.5 times more likely to smoke than heterosexual adults.

    Why? LGBT organizations say it is because since the 1990s, tobacco companies have heavily marketed toward gay and lesbian communities, especially among youth.

    Public health knowledge lacking

    An organization called Legacy says its analysis shows a number of reasons mainstream anti-smoking efforts are less effective in the LGBT community. For one, it says LGBT groups over-rely on tobacco company funding by LBGT organizations. It also finds a lack of knowledge among community members in recognizing the public health threat that tobacco poses.

    “For more than a decade, Legacy has worked hard with grassroots groups across the country to help combat the direct targeting that the industry has had on this community in an effort to reduce tobacco use and encourage cessation,” said Cheryl Healton, President and CEO of Legacy. “Through funding and research, it has been our charge to help the LGBT community fight back and educate others on the dangers of tobacco use and nicotine addiction.”

    Since 1998 cigarette marketing has operated under tight control. Tobacco companies are not allowed to target underage consumers or minority groups.But on...

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      Is smoking that can kill you 'moderate?'

      New research says such smoking is associated with sudden death risk in women

      Women who are even light-to-moderate cigarette smokers may be significantly more likely than nonsmokers to suffer sudden cardiac death, according to new research in Circulation: Arrhythmia & Electrophysiology.

      The findings indicate long-term smokers may be at even greater risk. But quitting smoking can reduce and eliminate the risk over time.

      "Cigarette smoking is a known risk factor for sudden cardiac death, but until now, we didn't know how the quantity and duration of smoking effected the risk among apparently healthy women, nor did we have long-term follow-up," said Roopinder K. Sandhu, M.D., M.P.H., the study's lead author and a cardiac electrophysiologist at the University of Alberta's Mazankowski Heart Institute in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

      Researchers examined the incidence of sudden cardiac death among more than 101,000 healthy women in the Nurses' Health Study, which has collected biannual health questionnaires from female nurses nationwide since 1976. They included records dating back to 1980 with 30 years of follow-up. Most of the participants were white, and all were between 30 to 55 years old at the study's start. On average, those who smoked reported that they started in their late teens.

      During the study, 351 participants died of sudden cardiac death.

      Study findings

      Other findings include:

      • Light-to-moderate smokers, defined in this study as those who smoked one to 14 cigarettes daily, had nearly twice the risk of sudden cardiac death as their nonsmoking counterparts.
      • Women with no history of heart disease, cancer or stroke who smoked had almost two and a half times the risk of sudden cardiac death compared with healthy women who never smoked.
      • For every five years of continued smoking, the risk climbed by eight percent.
      • Among women with heart disease, the risk of sudden cardiac death dropped to that of a nonsmoker within 15 to 20 years after smoking cessation. In the absence of heart disease, there was an immediate reduction in sudden cardiac death risk, occurring in fewer than five years.

      Sudden cardiac death results from the abrupt loss of heart function, usually within minutes after the heart stops. It's a primary cause of heart-related deaths, accounting for between 300,000-400,000 deaths in the United States each year.

      "Sudden cardiac death is often the first sign of heart disease among women, so lifestyle changes that reduce that risk are particularly important," said Sandhu, who is also a visiting scientist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Mass. "Our study shows that cigarette smoking is an important modifiable risk factor for sudden cardiac death among all women. Quitting smoking before heart disease develops is critical."

      Women who are even light-to-moderate cigarette smokers may be significantly more likely than nonsmokers to suffer sudden cardiac death, according to new re...

      FakeTV offered as low-cost security system

      Company says its product can fool burglars into thinking someone is home

      When you leave your home at night, leaving a TV set on can be a deterrent against a burglary. Burglars prefer an unoccupied house and seeing the flickering light in the window from the street might encourage them to look for another target.

      But leaving your TV set on wastes electricity and if you make a habit of it, will affect your utility bill. And with all the problems with flat screen TVs, it's not advisable to leave it on when no one is watching it.

      So a group of entrepreneurs at Hydreon Corporation came up with FakeTV, an LED light that mimics the flicker of a television screen. Because it's an LED light, it uses very little energy.

      Anybody in there?

      From outside the house, FakeTV makes it look like someone must be home watching TV. So, Fake TV acts as burglar repellent. And at $35, it's a fairly inexpensive one.

      This isn't the first low-cost product that has been offered to scare away would-be burglars. There was a barking dog recording that played every few seconds; not exactly something to endear you to the neighbors.

      So instead of sounds to suggest someone is occupying the dwelling, FakeTV uses light. The device itself is small, no larger than a motorcycle headlight.

      It simulates scene and color changes, fades and on-screen motion. It has a built-in light sensor and timer, so you can decide when you want it to come on.

      Though small in size, the light produces the equivalent to a 27 inch LCD HDTV. Electricity consumption, the company says, is equivalent to a night light.

      When you leave your home at night, leaving a TV set on can be a deterrent to a burglary. Burglars prefer an unoccupied house and seeing the flickering ligh...

      Have college degrees become obsolete?

      CreativeLive and think so and they've created some alternatives

      A lot of times, once a child starts going to elementary school, parents already start thinking about their college future.

      In previous generations, going to a college or university was something of a privilege, as oftentimes high school graduates needed to work and contribute to the household finances or they chose to start their own families and immediately joined the workforce.

      But today going to college is often a complete no-brainer, whether a child really wants to attend or not. Usually, there’s pressure from parents, teachers, high schools and society in general to attend. In these cases, a person goes to college with no real game plan or real desire to attend, often wasting tuition costs and doing poorly academically.

      Also, a lot of kids feel if they don’t go to college, they’ll have no future or won't become succesful, which is not necessarily true.

      But there's little debate that college isn’t for everybody, as college dropout rates make clear. It’s similar to a person who automatically gets married and has children just because they feel it’s the next logical phase after reaching a certain stage in life--only to find out later that marriage and raising a family isn’t want they really wanted.

      College alternatives

      Well, a couple of companies have recognized the need to offer services for the person who may not be interested in college but still wants to get an education, pursue their passion and eventually become successful. 

      CreativeLive is one of those companies, as it allows people to join college courses through streaming in any part of the world.  Many classes are free, while there is a modest fee of a few hundred dollars or less for others.

      Users can stream a class and have the ability to participate in classroom discussions and communicate with professors, or for a fee, they can download past courses. Some of the more popular lecturers also offer occasional in-person courses at CreativeLive's Seattle headquarters.

      CreativeLive also gives users the option to view a company calendar and decide which courses they want to join and at which university. One can also choose a class that’s happening live and immediately join in.

      There are no degrees involved with CreativeLive, as the company focuses more on a person receiving training and feedback from experts rather than a receiving a certificate or a degree.

      Going it alone

      CreativeLive and other companies like it have recognized that some individuals are  capable of becoming successes without a college degree, and by focusing on a particular passion and developing a skill, one could find a job that’s pretty lucrative. These kinds of possibilities have grown right along with the growth of the Internet in recent years.

      For example, if you have an interest in software development and are highly skilled, a company may be willing to hire you based on your talent and experience instead of your level of formal education.

      Or if you have an Internet company that you want to get off the ground, and you can sell the idea to investors, they're more likely to look at how good your idea and business plan is, instead of checking your GPA and what type of degree you have.

      CreativeLive offers a variety of courses you can take like film and video, business courses, photography, design classes and software development, and so far the company has over 1 million students who have already joined.

      Resource hub is another company that provides an alternative route for those who want to pursue an education on their own.

      The company pretty much serves as an education and resource hub, as it links users with workshops, forums, experts in a particular field and class information from various institutions.

      Again, there’s no degree at UnCollege and students don’t receive a grade, as the site’s emphasis is strengthening a particular skill, so those interested in entrepreneurship or turning their art into a business will have access to mentors, useful information and other class enrollees to bounce ideas off of.

      The founder of UnCollege, Dale Stephens, says most colleges haven’t updated their methods and they simply follow traditional teaching styles, which often don't relate to today’s competitive world and the new type of job opportunities that are out there.

      “I think it’s unfortunate that the classical education model was designed during the Industrial Revolution, basically to train individuals to be factory workers,” said Stephens in a published interview. He might get some arguments on that, but it's his opinion.

      “There was not an emphasis on creativity, independent thought or analytical thinking or any of those skills that today are required for success in a globalized environment,” Stephens asserted.

      Users of will, we're told, be able to join classes from several universities like, Stanford, Penn and Princeton free of charge from their computer or mobile device, and more educational websites are bound to pop up that choose to focus more on training rather than giving out degrees.

      Whether students of UnCollege and CreativeLive will be able to financially and professionally prosper with no degree remains to be seen, but in today’s fast-paced world where the Internet is at the base of many great business ideas, its more possible these days than ever before.

      Education is ongoing

      While it's currently fashionable for people like Dale Stephens to declare traditional colleges obsolete, it misstates the case to say that colleges developed as training mills for factory workers.

      The original academies existed to pursue education as a pure pursuit--one that is its own reward, sort of like "pure" science instead of technology. There are still many out there, including some of the most successful people on earth today, who would argue that picking up a few undergraduate and graduate degrees is something any reasonably intelligent person should do, not just to have a credential but to develop the analytical thinking skills and well-rounded knowledge base that enable them to pursue careers, ventures and pursuits in a number of fields.

      Stephens and others like him would do well to examine their most loyal students, those who return to take course after course after course. They might find that those avid learners already have a couple of degrees and are basically on a lifelong quest for learning or simply working hard to keep up with changes in their profession.

      Much of the smart money today is betting on what we used to call "distance learning" to be a big growth area. But it's not necessarily going to be at the expense of Stanford and UCLA. Most expect that the easy availability of online learning will make it possible for individuals who are already knock-outs in one field to achieve breakthroughs in new fields that strike their fancy.

      Hey Google, doesn't that sound a lot more promising than developing another Facebook knock-off?

      A lot of times, once a child starts going to elementary school, parents already start thinking about their college future.In previous generations go...

      Netflix rates the ISPs

      Google Fiber, Verizon FiOS trounce the competition

      No one has more at stake in the performance of Internet service providers (ISPs) than Netflix. The movie streaming service is the country's biggest user of Internet bandwidth by most measures -- its customers rate its performance based largely on how well their local ISP delivers.

      The movie was choppy and pixellated? Subscribers are likely to curse Netflix, when in fact the local ISP is often to blame. So, Netflix keeps a careful eye on local ISPs' performance, using its own testing protocols and surveying customers to ask how their streaming experience was.

      Today, Netflix released the first of what it says will be a monthly report of ISP performance. Not surprisingly, the top spots were taken by Google Fiber and Verizon FiOS -- the only major ISPs using "pure" fiber-to-the-home delivery.

      Consumers rate Verizon Fios

      Google Fiber, which currently operates only in a portion of Kansas City, scored an average of 2.55 Mbps in November, with FiOS closed behind at 2.19 Mbps. Unsurprisingly, DSL services came in behind all the major cable/fiber services, with the best performer averaging just 1.42 Mbps in November.

      "Our 30 million members view over 1 billion hours of Netflix per month, so we have very reliable data for consumers to compare ISPs in terms of real world performance," said Ken Florance, Vice President of Content Delivery at Netflix, in a blog posting.

      "AT&T U-verse, which is a hybrid fiber-DSL service, shows quite poorly compared to Verizon Fios, which is pure fiber.  Charter moved down two positions since October.  Verizon mobile has 40% higher performance than AT&T mobile," Florance said. 

      Here is a Netflix chart showing the November results:

      No one has more at stake in the performance of Internet service providers (ISPs) than Netflix. The movie streaming service is the country's biggest user of...

      Wantful: Could it be the perfect site for holiday gift-giving?

      You create a personalized shopping catalogue so a person can choose their own gift

      Most of us like giving presents to people, especially during this time of year when you’re pretty much expected to pass along a gift to a friend, co-worker or family member. But sometimes finding just the right gift can be nothing but a big colossal, temple-piercing headache.

      It’s safe to say that no one wants to play Scrooge during Christmas, but sometimes the sheer craziness of the holidays is enough to take away some of that good feeling you get when you hunt down, buy and handover the perfect gift.

      But what is the perfect gift? I mean, does such a thing really exist?

      Some would say the perfect gift has a lot to do with timing. Meaning, if you buy something for someone at a time when they don’t have it, they want it, or they planned to get it—it's the perfect gift.

      But others may say the perfect gift is about buying something that seamlessly matches a person’s taste and is also hard to find.

      Most challenging

      Buying those hard to find gifts is arguably one of the most challenging aspects of holiday shopping, and finding items that are unique to a person’s specific style can be even a bigger challenge.

      That’s where the gift-giving site Wantful comes in, as the bicoastal company has created a service that allows consumers to create an entire catalog of items that are tailored around someone's taste and style. Then the person chooses out of the 12 items in the catalog that were either selected by the site or by you.

      And once you create the printed catalog, it’s mailed to the person’s address and they decide which items to buy or reject.

      Wantful says creating a catalog for someone based on a series of questions is a better way to go than giving someone a gift card or guessing what they may or may not use.

      The way it works is the gift-giver logs onto the Wantful website and fills in some needed information that will determine what gifts are chosen for the catalog. You also design what the cover of the booklet will look like, address it, and select from a variety of artsy backgrounds.

      Each gift on the site is made by artists and designers that work with Wantful and you can pick from an array of product categories like jewelry, accessories, art and décor, beauty items and outdoor products. You can even choose to donate to one of the charities on the site in the person's name.

      Personalized catalog

      After you answer a few questions about a person’s interests and style, Wantful selects 12 gifts that will appear in the personalized catalog. You can also browse the different items yourself and choose the 12 items on your own if you wish.

      Each catalog always contains a dozen gifts that a person can choose from, and you determine how much the spending limit is by prepaying an amount that’s between $30 and $500.

      From there, the company says it prints up the shopping booklet in one to three business days and mails it to the person’s house.

      Wantful also says after the custom catalog is printed, it's wrapped in Japanese rice paper and delivered in a sleek black envelope, so it won’t look like the flimsy wrinkled shopping catalog that you get as junk mail every day.  You can also choose to have the booklet emailed if you prefer to give an electronic version.

      Wantful isn’t really a brand new company, as it launched about a year ago and released an iPad app just a couple of months back. The app also shows the uniquely designed products in bright photos like the catalog,  but includes more in-depth product descriptions as well as short stories behind the designs.

      Both the site and the app are a great way to give a gift this holiday season, because it gives the person receiving the gift a chance to select from a wide range of choices, as opposed to getting a gift that you hope they like or already have.

      Also, there’s something nice about someone receiving a personal catalog with their name on it that has a bunch of items they would probably buy themselves.

      A holiday gift like a personal shopping catalog says two things: One, that you took time and thought to pinpoint the perfect gift selections and two: You know and paid attention to that person's particular style.

      You can also use Wantful to buy something for yourself if you see an item that strikes your fancy.

      Wantful says it has a desire to change the entire way gifts have been traditionally given, and wants to remove the guess work that’s involved in selecting the perfect holiday or birthday gift.

      “We’ve partnered with hundreds of the best designers and producers in the world to bring you products you won’t find anywhere else, says the company. “We’ve built some smart and playful tools to help you discover them, and we’ve created a head-turning gift experience that adds style surprise, personalization and choice to the gift you’re giving.”

      Most of us like giving presents to people, especially during this time of year when you’re pretty much expected to pass along a gift to a friend, co-...

      Diabetes blamed for increase in visual impairment

      As diabetes cases increase, so do common vision problems

      The incident of visual impairment is increasing in the United States and diabetes is one of the major factors, according to a new study in the December 12 issue of JAMA.

      The researchers found that prevalence of nonrefractive visual impairment--meaning something other than simple nearsightedness or farsightedness--increased 21 percent, from 1.4 percent in 1999-2002 to 1.7 percent in 2005-2008. It increased 40 percent among non-Hispanic whites 20-39 years of age, from 0.5 percent to 0.7 percent. 

      “We report a previously unrecognized increase of visual impairment among U.S. adults," the authors write. “If the current finding becomes a persisting trend, it could result in increasing rates of disability in the U.S. population, including greater numbers of patients with end-organ diabetic damage who would require ophthalmic care."

      The study identifies yet another risk associated with the rising tide of obesity among younger Americans, said an editorial that accompanied the study.

      “[T]his report should send an important message to pediatricians, family practitioners, internists, and ophthalmologists who already are seeing an increase of type 2 diabetes among their younger patients, and should alert public health planners, who need to prepare for the effects on the health care system," said David C. Musch, Ph.D., M.P.H., and Thomas W. Gardner, M.D., M.S., of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. "The findings ... should also stimulate funding for new and ongoing efforts to prevent the underlying causes that lead to diabetes and its complications such as obesity-prevention programs aimed at children and adolescents."

      It is estimated that more than 14 million individuals in the United States aged 12 years and older are visually impaired, meaning their uncorrected vision is less than 20/40. Of those 14 million, 11 million are due to simple refractive error that can be corrected with eyeglasses.

      Increasing caseload

      "In the United States, the most common causes of nonrefractive visual impairment are age-related macular degeneration, cataract, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and other retinal disorders,” according to background information in the article. Previous studies have shown that visual impairment is common in persons with diabetes.

      The study notes that the prevalence of diagnosed diabetes has increased among adults in recent years, rising from 4.9 percent in 1990 to 6.5 percent in 1998, 7.9 percent in 2001, 10.7 percent in 2007, and 11.3 percent in 2010.

      Fang Ko, M.D., of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and colleagues conducted a study to assess the prevalence of nonrefractive visual impairment and factors associated with risk of visual impairment.They found that prevalence of nonrefractive visual impairment increased 21 percent, from 1.4 percent in 1999-2002 to 1.7 percent in 2005-2008; and increased 40 percent among non-Hispanic whites 20-39 years of age, from 0.5 percent to 0.7 percent. 

      In analysis among all participants, factors associated with nonrefractive visual impairment included older age, poverty, lower education level, and diabetes diagnosed 10 or more years ago. Among these risk factors, only the latter has increased in prevalence between the two time periods considered. 

      Prevalence of diabetes with 10 or more years since diagnosis increased 22 percent overall from 2.8 percent to 3.6 percent; and 133 percent among non-Hispanic whites 20-39 years of age, from 0.3 percent to 0.7 percent.

      The incident of visual impairment is increasing in the United States and diabetes is one of the major factors, according to a new study in the December 12 ...

      Homeowners sue Wells Fargo over mortgage settlement

      The bank's "greed seems to have no bounds," suit charges

      Claiming that Wells Fargo's "greed seems to have no bounds," a class action lawsit charges the bank approved fewer than three percent of loan modifications after it acquired troubled mortgages from Wachovia and others.

      Despite agreeing in an earlier settlement to help troubled homeowners, Wells Fargo did next to nothing, according to the suit, filed in federal court in San Francisco.

      "Defendants have not followed through on their promises to provide substantial relief to homeowners," the 81-page complaint states, according to Courthouse New Service.  The suit charges that from April 1, 2011 to Sept. 30, 2012, there were 52,252 loan modification requests made by consumers covered by the earlier settlement but only 1,055 modifications, about two percent.


      Consumers rate Wells Fargo Mortgage

      The case grows out of Wells Fargo's purchase of Wachovia and its "Pick-a-Payment" loan portfolio, for $15.1 billion, in 2008. 

      "While Wachovia had substantial liabilities, and Wells Fargo knew that it would need to substantially write down Wachovia's Pick-a-Payment portfolio, the key to the deal for Wells Fargo was that it could use Wachovia's substantial losses to avoid paying taxes on its own profits, which could potentially save it $40 billion in taxes," the complaint states.

      As the merger progressed, a class action suit against Wachovia charged that the Pick-a-Payment program had left "hundreds of thousands of homeowners ... suffering the effects of undisclosed negative amortization." In 2011, a federal judge in San Jose approved a settlement that created a new loan modifiation program, which required Wells Fargo to reduce borrowers' principal, thereby reversing their negative amortization.

      But in the current suit, Jennifer Murphy and 30 other named plaintiffs charge that Wells Fargo, Wachovia, World Savings Bank and Golden West Financial failed to live up to the terms of the settlement.

      The plaintiffs are represented by Jeffrey Berns with Berns Weiss, of Woodland Hills.

      Other cases

      While the class action case applies only to former Pick-a-Payment customers who were covered by the earlier settlement, there is no shortage of homeowners who have tried and failed to modify their Wells Fargo mortgages.

      One is Ann Maree of Spring Grove, Ill., who said she and her husband applied for a modification five months ago. While the process dragged on, Ann Maree was hospitalized briefly and was on short-term disability while she recovered, she said in a ConsumerAffairs posting.

      "Because I was out, they said they wanted to check my employment again and when they found out I was on STD, they discriminated against me and my being ill," she said. "I went back to work next week but Wells Fargo, because the pay-off date is tomorrow, closed out the loan as I was not working.

      "If I am forced to foreclose on this loan, it will be their doing, not mine. I have had the loan with them for 15 years. All I wanted was a better rate as we are planning on retiring," she said.

      Claiming that Wells Fargo's "greed seems to have no bounds," a class action lawsit charges the bank approved fewer than three percent of loan modifications...

      Delta and Virgin Atlantic to join forces

      The new joint venture is expected to contain enhanced customer benefits

      Delta Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic Airways have agreed on a new joint venture that will create an expanded trans-Atlantic network and enhance competition between the U.K. and North America and -- according to both parties -- offer greater benefits for customers traveling on those routes.

      As part of the deal, Delta will invest $360 million in Virgin Atlantic -- acquiring a 49 percent stake currently held by Singapore Airlines. Virgin Group and Sir Richard Branson will retain the majority 51 percent stake and Virgin Atlantic Airways will retain its brand and operating certificate.

      Revenue and cost sharing

      Highlights of the agreement include:

      • A fully integrated joint venture that will operate on a "metal neutral" basis with both airlines sharing the costs and revenues from all joint venture flights.
      • A combined trans-Atlantic network between the United Kingdom and North America with 31 peak-day round-trip flights.
      • Enhanced benefits for customers including cooperation on services between New York and London, with a combined total of nine daily round-trip flights from London-Heathrow to John F. Kennedy International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport.
      • Reciprocal frequent flyer benefits.
      • Shared access to Delta Sky Club and Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse airport lounges for elite passengers.

      Jumping through hoops

      The airlines will file an application with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) for antitrust immunity, which will allow a closer relationship and coordination on schedules and operations. The transaction also will be reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the European Union's competition regulator and other relevant authorities. The share purchase and the joint venture are expected to be implemented by the end of 2013.

      "Our new partnership with Virgin Atlantic will strengthen both airlines and provide a more effective competitor between North America and the U.K., particularly on the New York-London route, which is the largest airline route between the U.S. and Europe," said Delta CEO Richard Anderson. "By combining the strengths of our two companies in a joint venture, we can provide customers with a seamless network between North America and the U.K., and continue building a better airline for our customers, employees and shareholders."

      Steve Ridgway, Virgin Atlantic Chief Executive, added: "Consumers will reap the rewards of this partnership between two great airline brands on services from the UK to the USA, Canada and Mexico through a shared ethos in the highest standards of customer service. This joint venture will deliver much more effective competition at Heathrow.

      Both airlines express are confidence that DOT will approved the deal by the end of 2013. T

      Customer benefits

      Delta and Virgin Atlantic say customers will be able to earn and redeem miles across Delta's SkyMiles and Virgin Atlantic's FlyingClub frequent flyer programs. Premium customers also will have reciprocal access to the Delta Sky Club and Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse airport lounges. Full details will be announced as services become available.

      The partnership allows both carriers to offer a greatly expanded network at Heathrow and to overcome slot constraints, which have limited the growth and competitive capability of both airlines. The two carriers will operate a total of 31 peak-day round-trip flights between the U.K. and North America, 23 of which operate at London-Heathrow. The enlarged network will benefit customers of both carriers by providing greater access to a broader network, improved connectivity and convenient booking options.

      In addition, corporate and travel agency customers of both airlines are expected to benefit from an aligned sales effort on both sides of the Atlantic.

      Delta Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic Airways have agreed on a new joint venture that will create an expanded trans-Atlantic network and enhance competition ...

      A month after voters legalized pot, Colorado and Washington light up

      But there are still limitations on the drug in both states

      Colorado has joined Washington in officially implementing the legalization of recreational marijuana use, approved by both states' voters last month.

      Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order that makes an "official declaration of the vote" related to Amendment 64. This declaration formalizes the amendment as part of the state Constitution and makes legal the personal use, possession and limited home-growing of marijuana under Colorado law for adults 21 years of age and older.

      "Voters were loud and clear on election day," Hickenlooper said in a prepared statement. "We will begin working immediately with the General Assembly and state agencies to implement Amendment 64."

      What it means

      From now on the state will not make arrests for possessing, using, displaying, purchasing or transporting one ounce or less of marijuana. It is legal to grow up to six marijuana plants and give up to one ounce of marijuana to someone who is at least 21 years of age.

      It is not legal to use marijuana in a public place or in any manner that endangers others, such as behind the wheel.

      Last week officials in Washington implemented similar changes to state law there. There was a celebratory “smoke-in” under Seattle's Space Needle over the weekend, even though public use -- just as in Colorado -- is still against the law.

      In Colorado the governor has announced formation of a 24-member task force to oversee the implementation of the law, which ultimately mandates for the commercial production and sale of cannabis by those licensed to do so. But for all the celebrating, the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) points out the two states have not decriminalized marijuana. They have just made its use and possession legal under certain circumstances.

      Marijuana is still contraband

      The state laws, in fact, continue to define cannabis as illegal contraband and subjects its consumers to civil penalties.

      “Today in Colorado, like in Washington, cannabis -- when possessed in private by an adult in specific quantities -- is a legal commodity. And it is likely that there is very little that the federal government can do to stop it,” NORML said in a statement.

      However federal laws against marijuana use and possession are still on the books and the Obama administration has yet to play its hand. But it seems clear that in Colorado and Washington, if the federal government intends to enforce its laws controlling marijuana, federal agents will have to do the enforcing.

      Colorado has joined Washington in officially implementing the legalization of recreational marijuana use, approved by both states' voters last month.Colo...

      Study: Hedge funds manipulate stock prices

      Ohio State researchers find evidence of 'portfolio pumping'

      Since the start of the Great Recession, many consumers, known as “retail” investors, have shunned the stock market. Many are suspicious that Wall Street is simply fixed against the small investor.

      A study by researchers at Ohio State's business school gives that theory some credibility. In particular, it found that some hedge funds manipulate stock prices at the end of the month to improve the returns that they report to their investors.

      In a study of 10 years of hedge fund data, researchers found evidence that some funds run up prices on specific stocks they hold on the last day of the month and quarter -- especially the last 20 minutes of trading -- before they report their returns for the period. But the prices usually fall back the next day, after the abnormally large returns have already been reported to investors.

      “Some hedge funds that do this are trying to make themselves look more successful than they really are,” said Itzhak Ben-David, an author of the study and assistant professor of finance at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. “What this means is that investors could be getting the wrong messages about the quality of the hedge fund. They’re not getting a clear picture of how the fund is doing.”

      Portfolio pumping

      It's known as “portfolio pumping” and it's not uncommon, Ben-David said. The study found that stocks that have the most hedge fund ownership -- in the top 25 percent -- see on average an abnormal return of 0.30 percent on the last day of the quarter, most of which reverts back the very next day of trading.

      A hedge fund is an investment fund open only to certain large, mostly institutional investors. Because they invest massive amounts of money, they can easily move the market.

      Hedge funds didn't start this practice. In the past, some mutual funds did the same thing until the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) cracked down on the practice in 2001. But this research suggests that hedge funds are undeterred.

      “This is a legal gray area. I think if a hedge fund were to be seen doing this systematically, the SEC would be interested in investigating,” Ben-David said.

      Paper trail

      There was quite a paper trail for the researchers to follow. In looking at mandatory institutional quarterly portfolio holdings reports and information about hedge fund characteristics and performance from 2000 to 2010, Ben-David said he and his colleagues found evidence of very large stock orders on the last trading days of a month and quarter -- orders that were big enough to move the stock prices. Most, he said, took place in the last 20 minutes of trading.

      Seeing the sharp upward move, a small investor might be led to believe the stock was moving higher and be influenced to purchase shares. On the next day of trading, however, the share prices inevitably fell.

      While portfolio pumping hurts investors, by relying on misstated returns and risk, it can benefit the hedge fund managers whose compensation is tied to end-of-month performance. It can also help companies whose stock prices rise at the end of reporting periods, as some financial contracts may rely on end-of-month stock prices -- even if they fall right back the next day.

      Since the start of the great recession, many consumers, known as “retail” investors, have shunned the stock market. Many are suspicious that Wa...

      Another concern about violent video games

      Study shows extended playing time creates violent worldview

      It's true, researchers say. Playing violent video games for an extended period of time tends to color your worldview, causing you to see the world as a violent place best suited to aggressive solutions.

      The researchers say they found that people who played a violent video game for three consecutive days showed increases in aggressive behavior and hostile expectations each day they played. Meanwhile, those who played nonviolent games showed no meaningful changes in aggression or hostile expectations over that period.

      How is this different from previous studies about video game violence? They tended to focus on short-term aggression. This study, the authors say, is the first to show longer-term effects.

      Long-term effects

      “It’s important to know the long-term causal effects of violent video games, because so many young people regularly play these games,” said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University.

      Here's another way to look at it. Playing video games is like smoking. A single cigarette won’t cause lung cancer, but smoking over weeks or months or years greatly increases the risk. In the same way, repeated exposure to violent video games may have a cumulative effect on aggression.

      The study reached its conclusions by having participants play violent and non-violent games, then write the end to various stories involving stressful scenarios. The group that played the violent games tended to have characters display hostile or violent actions.

      A second part of the study had the groups ask each other a series of questions. If a respondent gave a wrong answer, the person asking the question responded by playing a loud, unpleasant sound through the other person's headphones.

      The world as a hostile place

      “People who have a steady diet of playing these violent games may come to see the world as a hostile and violent place,” Bushman said. “These results suggest there could be a cumulative effect.”

      This may help explain why players of the violent games also grew more aggressive day by day, agreeing to give their opponents longer and louder noise blasts through the headphones.

      “Hostile expectations are probably not the only reason that players of violent games are more aggressive, but our study suggests it is certainly one important factor,” Bushman said. “After playing a violent video game, we found that people expect others to behave aggressively. That expectation may make them more defensive and more likely to respond with aggression themselves, as we saw in this study and in other studies we have conducted.”

      Students who played the nonviolent games showed no changes in either their hostile expectations or their aggression, Bushman said.

      It's true, researchers say. Playing violent video games for an extended period of time tends to color your world view, causing you to see the world as a vi...

      November holiday hiring strongest on record

      Retail hiring last month was up nearly 20% from 2011

      We'll have to wait a while to see how busy the Christmas shopping season was this year. But if the number of people hired in the retail industry is any guide, it should be a good one

      Retailers added 465,500 seasonal workers in November -- the most ever added during what is typically the busiest hiring month of the holiday hiring season, according to an analysis of non-seasonally adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics  (BLS) by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

      The net gain in retail employment achieved last month barely surpassed the previous record set in 2007, when retail payrolls grew by 465,400 workers during the month of November.

      November job gains were up 21 percent from the 383,700 seasonal workers hired by retailers a year ago. Furthermore, October job gains in the retail sector were adjusted upward to 145,200 from an originally-reported figure of 130,100.

      Retail employment on the move

      Retail employment has grown by a total of 610,700 in October and November -- up 19 percent from 512,600 in the same two-month period a year ago. And it's just shy of the 660,200 seasonal workers added during the entire three-month holiday hiring period last year.

      “Despite all of the uncertainty, all the talk of fiscal cliffs, the widespread damage to retail epicenters on the east coast by Hurricane Sandy, and the continued growth of e-commerce, retailers are hiring holiday workers in record numbers,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

      “An early Thanksgiving and the fact that many retailers started the traditional Black Friday sales on Thursday may have contributed to strong early holiday sales and the need for additional workers. Of course, more people working this holiday season could result in further retail sales gains as more Americans have more spending money in their pockets for gifts,” he added.

      Last year, retail employment increased by 147,600 in December. Even if retailers simply match that level of hiring activity, seasonal hiring this year could reach nearly 760,000. If that occurs, it would the strongest retail holiday hiring season since 2000, when 788,100 seasonal workers were added to retail payrolls.    

      We'll have to wait a while to see how busy the Christmas shopping season was this year. But if the number of people hired in the retail industry is any gui...

      'Tis the season for seasonal affective disorder

      If you find the winter months change your mood, you may have SAD

      If you have noticed that you aren't quite yourself this time of year, it may not be the holidays that are getting you down.

      As winter begins, temperatures drop and hours of daylight fade, it’s not uncommon for people to begin feeling sluggish, moody or stuck in a funk. Those symptoms are typical of someone experiencing seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, a type of depression that typically occurs during the winter. As many as one in five Americans have SAD, and 75 percent are women, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

      Dr. Norman Rosenthal

      The disorder was first identified by psychiatrist and author Dr. Norman Rosenthal, author of the best-selling book Winter Blues, in which he described his own experience with SAD.

      Symptoms include sleeping too much, overeating, loss of energy, social withdrawal and difficulty concentrating. People in northern climates are more likely to experience SAD.

      While many people experience some elements of SAD, Mayo Clinic psychiatrist Mark Frye, M.D., says you should seek professional help if your symptoms begin to affect your ability to perform at work or take a toll on your personal relationships.

      Seeking help is particularly important if you begin to feel hopeless or have thoughts of self-harm, he says.

      Let the sun shine in

      According to Rosenthal, the best way of dealing with SAD is to expose yourself to more light during the day. Get outside as much as possible. If you work during the day, try to go for a walk during a break or lunch.

      Light therapy boxes can also help boost your mood when you’re unable to get outdoors. Exercise also helps. Try to exercise at least three times a week for at least 30 minutes.

      What causes SAD? Sunlight enters the brain through the eyes, stimulating the production of a neurotransmitter, serotonin, that supports nerve cell functioning, including mood. Less light results in lower serotonin levels.

      Darkness stimulates the production of melatonin, which promotes sleep. It’s the combination of less serotonin and increased amounts of melatonin that causes SAD. Rosenthal discusses symptoms in the video clip below.

      If you have noticed that you aren't quite yourself this time of year, it may not be the holidays that are getting you down.You may suffer from a malady k...

      First-time buyers competing with investors in real estate market

      And investors appear to have the upper hand

      As the housing market has slowly recovered, two types of buyers have helped propel the market. At the same time, they have been locked in heavy competition with each other, according to First Team Real Estate, a large Orange County, Calif., real estate brokerage.

      The first of the two competitors is the first-time home buyer, historically a big driver of the residential real estate market. The second is the investor, who is having far greater impact than the historical norm.

      There is a good reason these two groups have emerged as major players. Buyers who want to purchase a home with a conventional mortgage must first accumulate a sizable down payment and then demonstrate to the lender that they are highly creditworthy.

      Big down payments

      For example, many conventional lenders are demanding at least 20 percent down payments and are not considering borrowers whose credit rating is less than 720. Since a typical down payment on a $250,000 home would be $50,000, that leaves many people out.

      Lenders have tightened their lending restriction in response to the housing market collapse. Until recently, home prices were still falling so lenders were fearful of lending more than 80 percent of the sale price. Also, since part of the problem was loans made to people who couldn't really afford them, lenders are erring on the side of caution.

      In this environment, first time home buyers have an advantage if they can qualify for an FHA loan. That means the government will guarantee their mortgage so the lender is more comfortable making the loan. And with an FHA loan the buyer only has to put down 3.5 percent.

      Advantage, investors

      But investors usually have an even larger advantage. They normally purchase the property using their own money and have no need to go through the mortgage process. Even though they normally drive a harder bargain than an FHA buyer, the seller might prefer the certainty of a cash sale.

      In this head to head battle, investors appear to be winning out.

      "All-cash purchases and absentee buyers are at nearly twice their historic 12 year averages," said Chris Pollinger, Senior Vice President of Sales for First Team Real Estate. "At the same time FHA loans have dropped for another month even though they are still high, which shows that these two different groups are increasingly competing for single family homes in the price range of $225,000 to $400,000."

      According to figures supplied by DataQuick, nearly one of every three property purchases went to investors, many who paid all cash for houses with a median price of $245,000. At the same time, first time homebuyers made up 25.5 percent of mortgage originations with FHA backed loans, down for the second time in as many months.

      Sometimes these two groups are competing for the same properties and sometimes not. For a home to be purchased with an FHA loan, for example, the house has to be in move-in condition. Sometimes investors want these properties but often they compete for distressed properties like foreclosures, which may need significant repairs. Since they are paying cash that gives them significant leverage and often they can purchase the houses as steep discounts.

      As these two groups compete for the mid-range of properties, they are increasingly using the Web to find the properties that suit them best. A recent national study from the WAV Group showed that the most up-to-date information came from local real estate Websites rather than national real estate sites.

      As the housing market has slowly recovered, two types of buyers have helped propel the market. At the same time, they have been locked in heavy competition...

      Under $50 gifts for the college student

      And these aren't just your run of the mill mini-fridges, these gifts are slightly out of the box

      We’re only a couple of weeks away from the big present-giving day, but fortunately there’s still a good amount of time to get those last few gifts for the people on your list.

      Once the toys for the kids are out of the way, and your spouse or mate has been taken care of, there may be a college kid in your life that needs some things to take back to school with them, so we compiled a few unique items that fall outside the usual college gifts like a mini-fridge or hotplate that they probably already have anyway.  

      And the best thing: All of these gifts are under $50.

      First, for all of those late nights and early mornings, because we all know there are tons of those in college, there’s the Minibru Coffee Mug by the company ThinkGeek. At only $24.99 on the company’s website, the Minibru allows you to brew a single cup of coffee inside the actual cup, instead of using a machine. And here’s how it works:

      You just plop in your ground coffee to the marked line at the bottom of the mug, pour hot water to the upper marked line at the top of the mug--wait a couple of minutes--then you lower a cylinder into the cup and you have a hot mug of Joe pretty much instantaneously. (Yes, it is basically a one-cup French press).

      The mug itself holds 12 ounces of coffee and is made of see-through glass while the heat cylinder is made of a plastic material.

      The Minibru is safe to run through the dishwasher and perfect for the coffee drinking student that needs to rush out first thing to class, but has limited time. Although the mug is dishwater safe, the cylinder has to be hand washed, but everything is very easy to clean, says the company.

      The Minibru is a great addition to any college dorm room, and will serve the student who likes to stay caffeinated while on the go.


      Another useful appliance for the dorm room is the WonderWash, made by the company The Laundry Alternative, and it’s a mini washing machine that’s small enough to fit on a countertop or bathtub and allows you to do 5-pounds of laundry per wash per cycle.

      Amazon sells the washer for only $42.95 and it’s extremely simple to use.

      All one has to do is open the lid on the washer, put in the dirty clothes, add about a quarter cap of detergent and turn the hand lever for about five minute, which activates the machine. Soon after, your clothes come out looking clean and spiffy.

      What’s also cool about the WonderWash is its huge time-saving ability, as one can quickly clean something they wish to wear, without trekking down to the campus Laundromat that’s often crowded and requires change or money to be deducted from a student  card.

      The table-top washer also works much faster than having to wait a full 45- minutes to wash something and it suits those interested in water conservation, as it only uses a very small amount.

      Also, instead of having to put only one or two garments into a regular sized washing machine and using unnecessary amounts of water, you can just throw them into the Wonder Washer and not waste water at all.

      Air-drying is the way to go for this miniature washer, but if you'd rather dry clothes quickly you can also pick up the Mini Countertop Spin Dryer also made by The Laundry Alternative.


      The MyBlend Blender, made by Oster, is only $30.00 and is part blender, part sports bottle for when students want to make a health drink or smoothie and bring it to the gym or to class.

      The tiny blender is quick and easy to use, since liquids are able to be blended with just a touch of a button and it comes in cool see through colors like purple neon green and hot pink that will certainly add a little pizazz to any dorm room.

      The miniature mixer is 250 watts, which is powerful enough to crush ice, and you can purchase it on the company’s website and take advantage of the free shipping offer. And since MyBlend is so small and lightweight it won’t take up large amounts of space on a dorm room desk or countertop and its quiet enough so roommates won’t be disturbed while it’s being used.

      It really seems that Oster designed the blender especially for dorm rooms or small living quarters where noise and small spaces are sometimes a challenge to deal with, especially when living with other people.

      Table Tennis

      And for those times when a student may not want to leave their dorm room but still wants to have some fun and entertainment, there’s the Anywhere Table Tennis Ping Pong Deluxe Set, which is only $10.00  and comes with two paddles, three Ping-Pong balls and a miniature net that can stretch out to five feet if need be.

      The net can also attach to any table or surface by its two grips and is light-weight and extremely portable if students want to have an intense game of Ping-Pong in or outside of their dorm room. The set also comes with a carrying bag to make transporting easy.

      So the next time the campus game room is filled to capacity and you don’t feel like waiting in line to play a game of Ping-Pong, the Anywhere Table Tennis set is a fun gift to give college students this year or any year,

      In fact, all of these gifts are fun, and more than likely the person receiving these gifts will never see them coming.

      We’re only a couple of weeks away from the big present giving day, but fortunately, there’s still a good amount of time to get those ...

      Inactivity isn't just lack of exercise

      We really need to move around more, even if we don't run or lift weights

      The Newseum is a popular Washington D.C. tourist destination. It sort of memorializes sitting around and reading the newspaper, something that's being rapidly replaced by sitting around and reading boring postings on social media.

      So perhaps it was fitting that public health specialists gathered at the Newseum last week for a four-hour panel discussion imaginatively titled "Inactivity in America: A Looming Public Health Crisis." At the energetic urging of my editor, I went and sat through all four hours of it.

      Although it involved a lot of sitting, the discussion wasn’t only about our individual need to be more physically active; it mainly discussed how the country can adopt a mentality that says constant movement--as opposed to just doing exercises--is needed for a healthy lifestyle, not just for looking good or appearing to be fit on the surface.

      The question that lingered over the conference and that each panel member tried to answer was why it's so hard for a lot of us to stay physically active and truly realize that constant movement can add years to our lives.

      We’ve all heard of the reports, statistics and studies on the importance of being physically active, but inactivity in the United States and other developed countries is still not just a huge problem, it’s a full-on crisis. And based on the findings released in the conference, it’s time for health leaders and consumers to go into crisis mode.

      Low fitness  levels

      According to recent study findings, 41 percent of all U.S. adults are inactive or underactive, and 25 to 35 percent of Americans have low respiratory fitness due to sitting most of the day, whether at work, at home or in the car.

      When it comes to the adult population, the average person’s life just isn’t set up to include a lot of physical activity, since most towns in the U.S. are steeped in the car culture and many jobs force you to sit instead of walk, run or stand. 

      In addition, most people set up their homes to be as comfy as possible, to maximize down time and get plenty of relaxation and sit-down time.

      In short, inactivity is the nation’s biggest health problem, even among the other serious diseases and ailments the United States currently has.

      Not just looks

      What might be called "fitness porn" is to blame for some of Americans' antipathy towards fitness.

      Dr. S. Robert Licther, a professor and researcher at George Mason University, conducts studies on the societal effects of the entertainment and news media and he said that many publications, including fitness magazines, focus on body appearance and looking good, instead of urging people to stay active because of good health.

      This is particularly truth of men’s fitness magazines, Lichter said, as there is an excessive focus on exercise instead of promoting basic physical activity, which doesn’t have to be boring calisthenics or traditional work-out routines that people get bored with  quickly.

      “It’s all about looking good,” said Licther. “That’s the one area where women and men’s magazine look alike. There are reasons that looking good is a good thing [including] quite frankly, getting women. Not that I’m against propagating the race but being healthy while you do it is a good thing.”

      So just what will it take for adults and children to incorporate physical fitness in their everyday lives without force or reminder?

      The panelists, which included an ex-NFL player as well as scientists and researchers, agreed that schools, federally-funded programs and local initiatives have to get the message out that physical activity is different from exercise, and that just plain old continuous movement on an everyday basis will provide get the physical activity that you need in most cases.

      Way of life

      Dr. James Hill, the founding Executive Director of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, said the way people currently live doesn’t allow them to naturally get in the required amount of physical activity for good health.

      This differs from early generations, where in many cases people had to walk to work or worked in jobs that required a great deal of physical activity, but now technology allows people to move very little if they choose, which has contributed to the United States' serious obesity problem.

      Another panelist was Coy Wire, who played nine years in the NFL for both the Buffalo Bills and the Atlanta Falcons. He pointed to a Stanford University study that said much of America’s day is spent looking at a glowing rectangle.

      “If we don’t do something about this phenomenon that’s happening, we're soon going to have a generation of kids that have these gigantic thumbs. So we need to get these kids moving.”

      Worst time of the day

      Dr. Lisa Witherspoon, an assistant professor at the University of Florida’s School of Physical Education and Exercise Science, says in order to bring up a generation of children for whom physical activity is a normal part of life, schools have to first completely change the way physical education is being taught.

      “Physical Education isn’t recess. It’s not game time. It’s time to develop the essential and necessary skills that kids have to learn in order to feel comfortable moving their bodies,” Witherspoon said.

      “In terms of physical education, I agree some of you had terrible physical education experiences. I have many friends that think about physical education and they say ‘it was the worst time of the day'. ”

      She also said in order to get children to like physical education more,  school districts are starting to remove the competitive aspects of gym class and doing away with games like dodge-ball, since such games only allow the athletic kids in class to get the most out of the activity.

      Witherspoon said that gym class isn’t enough to ingrain an active lifestyle for children, and pointed to a recent study that suggests 65 percent of children are completely inactive when they’re at home, which happens to be the majority of the time.

      The Newseum is a popular Washington D.C. tourist destination. It sort of memorializes sitting around and reading the newspaper, something that's being rapi...

      Kids' apps still lax on privacy, disclosure, feds find

      FTC: little progress has been made in stemming "alarming" flow of data

      Kids' apps are siphoning an "alarming" amount of information from mobile devices, a Federal Trade Commission report finds. The agency studied the privacy disclosures and practices of apps offered for children in the Google Play and Apple App stores.

      "While we think most companies have the best intentions when it comes to protecting kids’ privacy, we haven’t seen any progress when it comes to making sure parents have the information they need to make informed choices about apps for their kids.  In fact, our study shows that kids' apps siphon an alarming amount of information from mobile devices without disclosing this fact to parents," said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. 

      "All of the companies in the mobile app space, especially the gatekeepers of the app stores, need to do a better job.  We'll do another survey in the future and we will expect to see improvement," Leibowitz said.

      It's the second such study the FTC has conducted, and the results are not much better than the first study in 2011, the agency said.

      The FTC staff said it found little progress toward giving parents the information they need to determine what data is being collected from their children, how it is being shared, or who will have access to it.  The report also finds that many of the apps surveyed included interactive features, such as connecting to social media, and sent information from the mobile device to ad networks, analytics companies, or other third parties, without disclosing these practices to parents.

      Hundreds of apps

      The researchers examined hundreds of apps for children and looked at disclosers and links on each app’s promotion page in the app store, on the app developer’s website, and within the app.

      According to the report, “most apps failed to provide any information about the data collected through the app, let alone the type of data collected, the purpose of the collection, and who would obtain access to the data.  

      Even more troubling, the results showed that many of the apps shared certain information with third parties – such as device ID, geolocation, or phone number – without disclosing that fact to parents.  Further, a number of apps contained interactive features – such as advertising, the ability to make in-app purchases, and links to social media – without disclosing these features to parents prior to download.”

      The report strongly urges all entities in the mobile app industry – including app stores, app developers, and third parties providing services within the apps – to accelerate efforts to ensure that parents have the key information they need to make decisions about the apps they download for their children. 

      The report also notes that the FTC is launching non-public investigations to determine whether certain entities in the mobile app marketplace are violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act or engaging in unfair or deceptive practices.

      Kids' apps are siphoning an "alarming" amount of information from mobile devices, a Federal Trade Commission report finds. The agency studied the privacy d...