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    ECRS recalls blue cheese chicken dip products

    The products contain anchovies, an allergen not declared on the label

    ECRS of Hollywood, Fla., is recalling 12,560 pounds of chicken dip products.

    The products contain anchovies, a known allergen which is not declared on the label. There have been no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

    The products subject to recall include:

    • 8-oz. containers with 16 pieces per case of “BUBBA’S Buffalo Blue Cheese Chicken Dip” bearing the establishment number “P-21299” inside the USDA mark of inspection. The products were produced and packaged on April 10, 2013.
    • 16-oz. containers with 8 pieces per case of “BUBBA’S Buffalo Blue Cheese Chicken Dip” bearing the establishment number “P-21299” inside the USDA mark of inspection with expiration dates from June 25, 2013, through Sept. 24, 2013. The products were produced and packaged from March 21, 2013, through June 21, 2013.

    The products were distributed to retail grocery stores and through Internet/catalog sales in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio.

    Consumers with questions about the recall should contact Charlie Gonzalez, manager, at (954) 965-2480.

    ECRS of Hollywood, Fla., is recalling 12,560 pounds of chicken dip products. The products contain anchovies, a known allergen which is not declared on th...

    FTC talks tough to Google about paid search results

    Failing to clearly distinguish paid from natural results could be deceptive, agency warns

    Google, not exactly known for its journalistic expertise, has lately been lecturing newspapers and other news outlets about its objections to paid content on their web pages but now Google and the other big search engines are getting some sterner advice from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

    This raises the question of which is scarier -- "advice" from a search engine that could put you out of business by dropping your site to the bottom of its search results or a stiff letter from a federal agency that could spend years investigating your operations.  

    Be that as it may, the FTC warns the search engines that they must "clearly and prominently" distinguish paid advertising from "natural" search results, referred to for some reason as "organic" results by the technorati, saying that it is getting harder and harder for consumers to tell the difference.

    Failing to do so "could be a deceptive practice," the consumer protection agency said. It called for "visual cues, labels, or other techniques to effectively distinguish advertisements, in order to avoid misleading consumers."

    Growing tendency

    The FTC said that over the last year or so, there has been a growing tendency for search engines to put paid listings above "natural" search results, causing users to think the ads are objective, unpaid search results.

    Last year, Google revised its Shopping search service so that it includes only paid listings, thereby making it possible that consumers will not be shown the very best deals on a given item. The only indication that this is the case is a bit of grey text that says "sponsored" at the top right.

    No doubt Google would be unhappy if news sites began writing only about politicians who paid to have stories written about them but it does not seem to feel any compunction about presenting only sponsored shopping information to consumers. 

    "Consumers ordinarily expect that natural search results are included and ranked based on relevance to a search query, not based on payment from a third party," the FTC said in its letter. "Including or ranking a search result in whole or in part based on payment is a form of advertising. To avoid the potential for deception, consumers should be able to easily distinguish a natural search result from advertising that a search engine delivers."

    Besides Google, the letter went to Yahoo, Bing, AOL, Blekko, DuckDuckGo and 17 specialized search engines. Google dominates search engine advertising with about 74% of the $17 billion spent annually on ads and paid search results.

    In January, the FTC wound up a two-year antitrust probe of Google, saying it found no basis for action.

    Google, not exactly known for its journalistic expertise, has lately been lecturing newspapers and other news outlets about its objections to paid content ...

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      Most Americans work on vacation, say researchers

      It's a combination of not being able to unplug and having pushy bosses

      Summer time is a wonderful season for many reasons, but the fact that it's associated with lighter workloads and taking vacations makes it extra special.

      But vacations just aren't what they used to be, in terms of rest and relaxation, many people say.

      According to a new study conducted by Harris Interactive and released by Ricoh Americas Corporation, 54% of U.S. workers say their boss expects them to work during their vacation.

      And that angers a lot of folks, as 51% of American employees said they'd rather get a root canal than work during a vacation.

      So what's changed? Why do some bosses expect you to work while you're away on a solo trip or when you're vacating with your family?

      Bad habits

      Russell Poldrack, who teaches neurobiology at the University of Texas, says working at any job can become habitual and many people have a hard time breaking their routine.

      "Habits of the mind aren't easy to break in a few days," he said in an interview with The New York Times. "Especially if you don't change your context."

      Changing your context will be extremely hard to do if you bring a laptop or tablet with you. Even your smartphone can suck you back into the workplace and throw you back into your daily responsibilities.

      Based on findings from a survey released by Neverfail, a company that provides business-related software, 79% of people said they take their work-related device with them on vacations. 

      Other statistics show that one-third of people hide from their family or friends when they're on vacation to check their work email. And nearly 50% of those surveyed said they traveled up to 10 miles on vacation to find a place to check emails.

      More compartmentalizing

      Michael Osterman, president of Osterman Research, said people have to do a much better job of compartmentalizing.

      "Mobile messaging has become crucial to businesses and employees alike, but constant access to email makes it difficult for some workers to unwind," he said.

      "Mobile access to email is certainly a critical aspect of how we do business now, but it is important to remember that there is a time and place for everything."

      But it's not just the fact that some find it hard to let go of their responsibilities. A lot of bosses expect people to work during their vacations. This was confirmed in a survey released by the company TeamViewer.

      Research shows that 30% of folks read their work email while on vacation, 23% take work-related phone calls, 19% pull work-related things off their home computer and 18% of people get text messages that have to do with work.

      Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn, who led a study that was published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, said Americans seem to equate success with constantly working, which is much different from people in other parts of the world.

      "Americans maximize their [joy] by working and Europeans maximize their [joy] through leisure," he said. 

      Is it that bad, really?

      But is working on vacation really that bad? Does achieving work/life balance mean you can't check an email or two? Especially if it'll make you feel better?

      A survey by Ricoh Americas Corporation shows that 64% of people say checking their work email on vacation makes returning to work a little easier, because they seem to be less behind.

      But Terrie Campbell, VP of Strategic Marketing at Ricoh, says working on vacation doesn't make much sense, for either the worker or the employer.

      "It seems employees are actually working harder when they're on vacation than when they're in the office," she said.

      "This means both employers and employees end up paying the price of working vacations, and it doesn't have to be this way. It shouldn't be this way. Either we manage our technology or it manages us."

      In addition, Campbell says if you're a boss or manager and you're making your employees work on vacation, it could backfire on you and the company.

      "Workers absolutely must have a chance to recharge for themselves, their families and their career," she said. "Employers ignore this need at their peril. Workers will choose desirable employers by whether they encourage you to disconnect on vacation or not."

      "In these situations where working on vacation is unavoidable, the most-sought-after employers will make mobile access easy," explained Campbell.

      Summer time is a wonderful season for many reasons, but the fact that it's associated with lighter workloads and taking vacations makes it extra special....

      Social media could be teen suicide prevention tool

      Young people are reaching out, researchers say, but someone needs to pay attention

      Teen suicide is the third-leading cause of death for people in the U.S. between the ages of 15 and 24. Only homicide and accidents claim more lives.

      The statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also show as many as 20% of teens consider suicide at some point during the year.

      But help may be available from an unexpected source.

      In many instances, young people appear too reliant on digital communication, sending hundreds of texts and spending hours posting on social media sites. Some say it's not healthy. Now, mental health officials say what looks like a negative might actually turn out to be beneficial if it can be harnessed to provide a teen suicide early warning system.

      After all, young people tend to be quite revealing when they send out a text or post something online. What if someone just paid closer attention?

      Analyzing posts

      A research team based at Ohio State University (OSU) began monitoring posts on MySpace. In one month they found 64 comments in which adolescents expressed a wish to die.

      The researchers then conducted a follow-up survey of young adults and found that young people were highly likely to use text messages when they felt very depressed, reaching out to family and friends. They were least likely, the researchers found, to call a suicide-prevention hotline, which is probably the most common prevention strategy among existing suicide-prevention initiatives.

      Obvious tool

      Together, the data from the two studies told the researchers that an obvious tool was right in front of them. They conclude that teen suicide-prevention efforts should employ social networking and other types of technology.

      “Obviously this is a place where adolescents are expressing their feelings,” said Scottye Cash, associate professor of social work at OSU and lead author of the studies. “It leads me to believe that we need to think about using social media as an intervention and as a way to connect with people.”

      The team focused on MySpace and not Facebook because most Facebook profiles are private and not accessible. The challenge was finding expressions that met the test of a real suicide threat, not an easy task considering the age group.

      “There’s a lot of drama and angst in teenagers so in a lot of cases, they might say something ‘will kill them’ but not really mean it. Teasing out that hyperbole was an intense process,” Cash said.

      Song lyrics often a clue

      Sometimes a post would reference a song lyric that was about suicide. According to Cash, the three most common phrases within the final sample were “kill myself,” referenced in 51.6 percent of the posts, “want to die,” mentioned 15.6 percent of the time, and “suicide,” mentioned 14.1 percent of the time.

      Cash and her colleagues determined that 42 percent of the posts referred to problems with family or other relationships – including 15.6 percent that were about break-ups – and 6.3 percent were attributable to mental health problems or substance abuse.

      A report by the National Institute of Mental Health, issued in 2004, determined that risk factors for suicide include depression and other mental disorders, and substance-abuse disorders. Sometimes these factors combined with other mental disorders. According to the report, more than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have these risk factors.

      On top of the risk factors, mental health experts point to additional stressors, such as disciplinary problems, interpersonal losses, family violence, sexual orientation confusion, physical and sexual abuse and being the victim of bullying.

      Teen suicide is the third-leading cause of death for people in the U.S. between the ages of 15 and 24. Only homicide and accidents claim more lives.The s...

      Barnes & Noble backing out of the Nook-making business

      BN says it will sell "co-branded" devices made by others

      Did it ever seem like a good idea for struggling book retailer Barnes & Noble to go head-to-head against Apple, Amazon, Google and other rich and powerful technology companies?

      Maybe it did to someone but, as Bill Clinton might say, a little arithmetic shows otherwise. So now, BN says it will stop making the color Nook e-reader and will sell co-branded devices made by others while continuing to make its own black-and-white Nook. 

      The company says the Nook losses have wiped out the profits the company managed to eke out of its book retailing business. Nooks have been losing ground all around, losing market share while the size of the overall e-reader market declines.

      After all, most people who want an e-reader already have one or more. More significantly, most folks are occasional readers who can do all the reading they can stand on their iPad or other tablet or smartphone.

      While there will no doubt be those who see this as bad news for the book business, we know of quite a few Nook owners who will not be sorry to learn of the devices' demise. 

      "The Nook keeps telling me to go to an area with WiFi when I try to download books in my library but is sufficiently connected to sell me a new book! Weird," said Alan of Crowborough, England in a ConsumerAffairs posting. "I have tried to de-register and reload but now it's completely locked. I am waiting for Nook customer service to suggest what to do. The Nook app on my iPad works fine. It's the Nook that is the problem. Really wish I'd gotten a Kindle instead."

      "My Nook Color will not charge past 19%," said Brandy of Charlotte, N.C. "I've replaced the charger twice in less than a year. I was told since it was over one year old, I had to pay $60 for a refurbished Nook or $85 for a new one. I've decided on a new reader from a different manufacturer. My sister had the same problem with her Nook Color. We're both shopping elsewhere."

      The Nook news was sort of tucked into Barnes & Noble's financial results, which showed that for the quarter, Nook revenues dropped by 34% to $108 million as device sales fell. And for fiscal 2013, Nook revenues declined by 16.8% to $776 million.

      The slow nook sales also dragged down sales of music, books and other digital content, which was down 8.9% for the quarter.

      Did it ever seem like a good idea for struggling book retailer Barnes & Noble to go head-to-head against Apple, Amazon, Google and other rich and ...

      Big house, big footprint

      21% of homes account for 50% of greenhouse gas emissions

      People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. And environmental activists who live in big houses shouldn't be too quick to condemn others for their greenhouse gas emissions, a study finds.

      A new study finds that energy conservation in a small number of households could go a long way to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Their study, which measured differences in energy demands at the household level, appears in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

      The researchers note that the energy people use to power their homes and to satisfy their mobility needs accounts for more than 70 percent of emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas involved in global climate change.

      Supply side

      Environmentalists and policy makers have focused largely on the supply side of the problem -- proposing new restrictions on power plants, heating systems and cars. Dominik Saner and colleagues decided to take a close look at the other end of the equation — how energy consumption for housing and land-based mobility at the household level impacts greenhouse gas emissions.

      They studied more than 3,000 households in a Swiss town and found that only 21 percent of the households accounted for almost 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

      The biggest factors contributing to a few families having a disproportionately large environmental footprint were large living spaces, which use energy for heating, lighting and cooling, and long commutes in private vehicles.

      “If their emissions could be halved, the total emissions of the community would be reduced by 25 percent,” the scientists concluded.

      It's something to think about the next time you feel like criticizing the guy who drives a gas-guzzling sports car on weekends or dares use an outside gas grill.

      Energy hogPeople who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. And environmental activists who live in big houses shouldn't be too quick to condemn ...

      Crabgrass' secret: It poisons nearby plants

      Gardeners have long thought the despised weed crowded out its neighbors; the truth is even worse

      Ask your average gardener why the despised weed crabgrass is successful and he'll say it's because it grows fast and crowds out neighboring plants.

      But the truth is even worse:  A new study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry has found that crabgrass actually produces its own herbicides that kill nearby plants.

      The weed is not only a headache for lawns and home gardens, but also a major cause of crop loss on farms, so there has long been interest in learning more about how it manages to be so aggressive.

      Scientists have long suspected that the weed thrived by allelopathy,  which occurs when one plant restricts the growth of another by releasing toxins.

      Chui-Hua Kong and colleagues set out to determine if crabgrass in fact has the ability to poison its neighbors. Kong’s team isolated three chemicals from crabgrass that affect the microbial communities in nearby soil and did indeed inhibit the growth of staple crops wheat, corn and soybeans.

      “The chemical-specific changes in [the] soil microbial community generated a negative feedback on crop growth,” the scientists said, noting that the chemicals also would have a direct toxic effect on other plants.

      Ask your average gardener why the despised weed crabgrass is successful and he'll say it's because it grows fast and crowds out neighboring plants. But t...

      Mortgage applications dip -- again

      Rising interest rates are likely responsible

      Fewer would-be homeowners applied for mortgages last week.

      Mortgage applications decreased 3.0%, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending June 21, 2013, following a nearly identical drop of 3.3% the previous week.

      “Interest rates moved up sharply following the Federal Reserve press conference last Wednesday where it was indicated that the Fed could begin tapering their asset purchases later this year,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s vice president of research and economics. “Mortgage rates increased by the most in a single week since 2011, and refinance application volume dropped to its lowest level in almost two years.”

      Other applications

      Last week, the MBA's Refinance Index was down 5% from the previous week -- to the lowest level since November 2011. The refinance share of mortgage activity decreased to 67% of total applications, the lowest level since July 2011, from 69% the previous week.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased to 7% of total application, the government share of purchase applications dropped to 28% -- the lowest level in the history of this series, and the HARP share of refinance applications fell from 31% the prior week to 30%.

      Interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRM) with loan balances of $417,500 or less increased to 4.46% -- the highest rate since August 2011 -- from 4.17%;
      • The average contract interest rate for a 30-year FRM with jumbo loan balances of more than $417,500 increased to 4.52%, the highest rate since March 2012, from 4.23%;
      • The average contract interest rate for a 30-year FRM backed by the FHA increased to 4.20% -- the highest rate since August 2011 -- from 3.8%;
      • The average contract interest rate for a 15-year FRM increased to 3.55%, the highest rate since November 2011, from 3.30%; and
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs increased to 3.06% -- the highest rate since October 2011 -- from 2.81%.

      Fewer would-be homeowners applied for mortgages last week. Mortgage applications decreased 3.0% from one week earlier, according to data from The Mortgag...

      IRS goes into CYA mode

      The tax agency says it wants to 'ensure accountability'

      In the wake of the continuing scandal surrounding its handling of reviews of tax-exempt applications, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) -- in the person of Principal Deputy Commissioner Danny Werfel -- has come out with a report that it says is designed to fix the problems.

      According to an agency release, the three-part report cites actions to “hold management accountable and identifies immediate steps to help put the process for approving tax-exempt applications back on track.” Also included are actions Werfel says are needed to protect and improve wider IRS operations, ranging from compliance areas to taxpayer service.

      “It is critical that the IRS takes steps to ensure accountability, address the problems uncovered in recent weeks and improve the operations of the IRS to continue to carry out our critical mission on behalf of the public,” Werfel said. “We have made a number of changes already, more are in the works and even more will develop as we move forward.”

      As might be expected from the agency that maintains the problem stems from a rogue group in the distant outpost of Cincinnati, Ohio, the initial review “shows no signs of intentional wrongdoing by IRS personnel or involvement by parties outside the IRS in the activities described in the recent Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) report.

      Still, the report notes that investigations are continuing, and that the IRS “is committed to a full fact-finding effort to provide the public answers to these and other important questions.”

      “The IRS is committed to correcting its mistakes, holding people accountable, and establishing control elements that will help us mitigate the risks we face,” Werfel said. “This report is a critical first step in the process of restoring trust in this critical institution. We have more work in front of us, but we believe we are on the right track to move forward.”

      Fixes

      The report, “Charting a Path Forward at the IRS: Initial Assessment and Plan of Action,” covers three primary areas:

      Accountability. This covers the “steps being taken to ensure accountability for the mismanagement” described in last month’s TIGTA report:

      • The report finds that “significant management and judgment failures” occurred, as outlined in the TIGTA report. These contributed to the “inappropriate treatment” of taxpayers applying for tax- exempt status.
      • To address this, new leadership has been installed across all five executive management levels in the chain of command connected to these matters. In addition, the IRS has empaneled an “Accountability Review Board” to provide recommendations within 60 days (and later as needed) on any additional personnel actions that should be taken.

      Fixing the Problems with the Review of Applications for Tax-Exempt Status. This part covers several process improvements underway to ensure that taxpayers are treated appropriately and effectively in the review of applications for tax-exempt status:

      • The report outlines a new voluntary process to help certain applicants gain fast-track approval to operate as a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt entity if they are being reviewed for advocacy questions and have been in the application backlog for more than 120 days. This self-certification process allows them “a streamlined path” to tax-exempt status if they certify they will operate within specified limits and thresholds of political and social welfare activities. In addition, the IRS has added new technical and program staff to assist with reviewing 501(c)(4) applications.
      • The IRS also suspended the use of any “be-on-the-lookout,” or BOLO lists in the application process for tax-exempt status. This lists had contained such read flag raisers as “liberty,” and “patriot.”

      Review of IRS Operations and Risks. The report identifies a series of actions to ensure taxpayers that selection criteria across the IRS are appropriate and that taxpayers are aware of how they can seek assistance if they have concerns about the IRS. The report further outlines steps underway that it says will ensure that critical program or operational risks within the IRS are identified early, raised to the right decision-makers and shared timely with key stakeholders:

      • The report calls for establishing what's termed an Enterprise Risk Management Program to provide a common framework for capturing, reporting and addressing risk areas across the IRS. This is expected to improve timeliness in bringing information to the attention of the IRS commissioner and other leaders as well as key stakeholders to help prevent future instances of inappropriate treatment or mismanagement.
      • Although the agency claims there is no current evidence that selection criteria in other IRS organizations is inappropriate, the nature of the problems identified in the tax-exempt application process warrants a review of certain process controls within the IRS. The IRS will initiate a comprehensive, agency-wide review of compliance selection criteria. Results will be shared with the Department of the Treasury, the IRS Oversight Board, and the Chairpersons of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.
      • The IRS will initiate additional internal and external education and outreach about the role of the National Taxpayer Advocate in assisting taxpayers in resolving problems they encounter with the IRS.

      In the wake of the continuing scandal surrounding its handling of reviews of tax-exempt applications, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) -- in the person o...

      Uh-oh. Economy is weaker than we were led to believe

      The government has revised its estimate of growth downward

      Things aren't perking along so well after all.

      Turns out real gross domestic product (GDP) -- the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States -- expanded at a 1.8% an annual rate in the first three months of the year.

      The government's release of its "third" estimate of economic growth is a downward revision from last month's “second “ estimate of a 2.4% growth rate. The difference is accounted for by a slower rate of consumer spending than first reported and a decline in imports and exports.

      As disappointing as the downward revision might be, the rate of growth is considerably better than the 0.4% posted in the fourth quarter of 2012. The “third” estimate came as a surprise to economists surveyed by Briefing.com, who had expected the rate to hold at 2.4%.

      The full report is available on the Bureau of Economic Analysis website  .

      Things aren't perking along so well after all. Turns out real gross domestic product (GDP) -- the output of goods and services produced by labor and prope...

      Buying your first home? Here are your tax breaks

      The tax code rewards homeowners, so take advantage of it

      First-time homeowners often are quickly confronted with the trials and travails of home ownership. When something goes wrong, there is no landlord to call. It's up to you to fix whatever is broken.

      But there are some financial benefits to owning a home that is your principal residence, thanks to the U.S. tax code. The key, though, is living in the house full time. Most of the tax breaks for houses don't apply to investment property or second homes.

      The first big tax break is the mortgage interest deduction. The tax law allows you to deduct the interest paid on a mortgage on your primary residence, and even a second home.

      Must be secured by the home

      Generally, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) considers home mortgage interest to be any interest you pay on a loan secured by your home. It may be a mortgage to buy your home, a second mortgage, a line of credit, or a home equity loan.

      You can deduct home mortgage interest if you file Form 1040 and itemize deductions on Schedule A and the mortgage is a debt, secured by the home.

      In most cases, you can deduct all of your home mortgage interest. According to the IRS, how much you can deduct depends on the date of the mortgage, the amount of the mortgage, and how you use the mortgage proceeds. You can even deduct mortgage interest on a second home, as long as you do not rent it out during the tax year. IRS Publication 936 explains it in detail. 

      In addition to the mortgage interest, your tax breaks may begin when you buy the home. If you pay points on the loan at closing, the points – or prepaid interest – are deductible. Even if the seller pays your points, you still get to deduct them.

      Taxes

      Owning a home means you will be paying property taxes. Under the tax law, taxes paid on personal property are deductible.

      Since property taxes are generally rolled into your monthly payment, along with principal, interest and insurance, a significant portion of your monthly house payment is deductible. Here's an example:

      Suppose your payment is $1,800 a month. After each payment the principal portion of the payment rises slightly, but in the early years you may be paying approximately $300 in principal, $1,000 in interest, $450 in taxes and $50 in insurance.

      Since you can deduct the interest and taxes, $1,450 of your monthly payment is deductible, resulting in a $17,400 annual write off. If you are in the 28% tax bracket, that puts $4,872 back in your pocket. Put another way, that $1,800 house payment is actually about $1,400.

      Tax-free capital gain

      The biggest tax break, however, comes when you sell your home, providing you have lived in it at least two years as your primary residence. Normally, when you buy an asset and later sell it, you pay a tax on the capital gain – the difference between what you paid and what you sold it for.

      Under current tax law, you are exempted from paying a capital gains tax if you have owned your primary residence two years or longer and the gain is $250,000 or less for an individual and $500,000 for a married couple.

      This amounts to a sizable windfall and is a major improvement over the previous law, that allowed you to escape the capital gains tax only if you purchased another, more expensive home within two years.

      Investment property

      Investment property can also provide some tax breaks, but not nearly as generous. If the home is treated as rental property, it can be depreciated on an annual basis. The taxes are deductible, as are the costs of any repairs.

      The tax advantages of any investment are largely dependent on the overall income of the property owner. How ownership of investment property will impact your bottom line is something you should discuss – and discuss carefully – with a financial advisor or tax professional.

      First-time homeowners often are quickly confronted with the trials and travails of home ownership. When something goes wrong, there is no landlord to call....

      Why certain songs go viral and others don't

      Is there a science to it? Is it luck? Or are some songs just that good?

      Have you ever wondered what makes a song go viral? Why do some songs get passed around the Internet and some don't, especially when so many songs seem to have the same level of quality?

      The online music distribution company Indigoboom.com answered this question.

      According to research the company conducted, there are several things that can make a song go viral, but it starts with the listener having an emotional response.

      "Music is most shareable when it provokes a strong emotional reaction," wrote the researchers. "The most commonly used emotional triggers are funny, sexy, random and shocking."

      In addition, researchers said if a song sounds similar to one that's already been released, or if an artist uses a similar approach, the chances of that song going viral will dramatically decrease. 

      Imaginative and creative

      The researchers said there's a strong correlation between capturing people's imagination with a song, and that song being heavily shared. And once a particular concept, idea or sound seems to borrow from another song, most folks will become far less interested in it.

      Fred Santarpia, co-founder of the video site Vevo, says if an independent musician wants his music to catch on, he'd better release a few videos and not just a bunch of songs.

      And he says forget about trying to get your video on cable outlets like MTV and BET. You're better off going the Internet route.

      "Distribution is going through a massive upheaval," he said in an interview with Mashable. "Cable TV is not the primary paradigm for the format. Rather, tens of millions of fans actively seek out and share their favorite music video online each month, and with the explosion of the video-enabled smartphone market, we at Vevo believe that music videos will go viral even faster than they do today, as more fans turn to the screen in their hand to discover new music."

      How do you do it?

      But how do you get your music video to go viral? Especially since there are practically just as many videos from independent artists as there are songs on the Internet.

      Media consultant Eileen Winnick, told The New York Times that if you want your video to be heavily shared, it needs to convey to the viewer why he should be watching it. And if you can pull that off, you'll have a far better chance of your video and your song going viral.

      "Your only concern should be how it's going to benefit who is watching," she said. "When you do that, you take the focus off yourself and put it into what you want to get across, which changes the way you communicate."

      The folks at Indigoboom say music that's relatable to a particular memory or situation has a good chance to be highly shared. And even though a lot of music today is made in a cookie-cutter kind of way, quality is still of utter importance.

      In other words, if you want your music video to have a lot of YouTube hits, the video just can't be great; the song has to be made well too. So make sure it reaches a certain level of excellence before you decide to shoot your visuals.

      Know your audience

      In addition, industry experts say it's important to know who your audience is if you're looking to go viral -- that trying to create a song or video that appeals to every single taste out there just won't work. 

      It's important to determine who your audience is, what they may like or dislike and base your material on that, experts advise.

      Stephen Murphy,  founder of Get Busy Media, said making a song, video or any product that you want to go viral is all about sparking curiosity, nothing more.

      "Showcase your product in a surreal way by making a video that goes above and beyond your benefits," he said in a published interview. "The point of the video isn't to be realistic, but instead to create curiosity while highlighting your product or service."

      Lastly, Indigoboom says if you want your song to be an Internet sensation, it's important to first put in the work. And if you're looking to simply jump in front of a camera and perform something you've created on the fly, it probably won't get much attention.

      "Creative and unique ideas often require a great deal of effort to execute," the company wrote. "Do the work. Nothing good ever came from nothing."

      Have you ever wondered what makes a song go viral? Why do some songs get passed around the Internet and some don't, especially when so many songs seem to h...

      Chantix may be effective against alcohol addiction

      But will side effect issues hold up approval?

      Chantix is marketed in the U.S. as a drug to help you stop smoking. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health say it may also help alcoholics stop drinking.

      Researchers say the drug, which goes by the generic name varenicline, treats alcoholism in much the same way as it does nicotine addiction. It stimulates an area of the brain that provides the pleasure derived from both drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco. No pleasure, no urge to drink.

      "Drinking and smoking often co-occur, and given their genetic and neurochemical similarities, it is perhaps unsurprising that a smoking cessation treatment might serve to treat alcohol problems," said Dr. Raye Litten of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) . "Our study is the first multi-site clinical trial to test the effectiveness and safety of varenicline in a population of smokers and nonsmokers with alcohol dependence."

      Ziller and colleagues conducted a clinical trial with 200 adults with drinking problems. They say they found the drug reduced the urge to drink.

      18 million potential patients

      NIH estimates about 18 million people in the U.S. have problems controlling their alcohol consumption. The researchers, writing in the Journal of Addiction Medicines, suggest Chantix should be considered as a tool to combat alcoholism.

      Chantix, however, is known to have some side effects which can be severe. Problems reported with the drug have given some consumers pause.

      Chantix already carries a “black box” warning on its label. But researchers at Harvard, Johns Hopkins and other institutions, say it might not be enough.

      Writing about their study in the journal PloS One in 2011, they said the drug's poor safety profile makes it unsuitable for first-line use among those who want to quit smoking. According to the researchers, Chantix showed a substantially increased risk of reported depression or suicidal behavior compared to other smoking-cessation treatments.

      Physical side effects

      Justice, of Charlotte, N.C., reports physical side effects from Chantix.

      “I would much rather die a slow death from cigs than to die due to side effects of Chantix,” Justice wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “I have developed an agoraphobic reaction to all new and many older drugs that I may need for my health. I have an increased heart rate permanently now, too!”

      Another patient, Keith, of Boise, Idaho, blames his legal problems on Chantix.

      “After chewing for 26 years, I was recommended Chantix by my healthcare provider,” Keith writes. “I was taking Chantix for roughly three weeks when I experienced a blackout and severe memory loss. I woke in jail and was charged with two felonies. Here it is 180 days later, $20,000 plus in attorney fees and medical fees, and I still have no recollection of that night and events prior. Sadly because I didn't kill anyone, my case is not worth a suit against Pfizer according to the class action attorneys.”

      Before Chantix can be prescribed for alcohol addiction, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must give its approval. It may well consider side effects before expanding the drug's use.

      Adverse effects

      A 2008 study by the group Institute for Safe Medication Practices reviewed adverse event reports filed with the FDA. It found that Chantix generated 988 serious incidents in the fourth quarter of 2007, the most of any drug during that period.

      “Some people have had changes in behavior, hostility, agitation, depressed mood, and suicidal thoughts or actions while using Chantix to help them quit smoking,” Pfizer, the maker of the drug, said in printed material about Chantix. “Some people had these symptoms when they began taking Chantix, and others developed them after several weeks of treatment, or after stopping Chantix.”

      The pharmaceutical company also points out that when you try to quit smoking, with or without Chantix, you may have symptoms attributed to Chantix side effects that may actually be due to nicotine withdrawal.

      Chantix is marketed in the U.S. as a drug to help you stop smoking. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health says it may also help alcoholics stop...

      FDA issues its first rulings on new tobacco products

      Lorillard gets the OK for two new cigarettes but four other applications are denied

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was given the authority to regulate tobacco products back in 2009 and today, it issued its first decisions -- allowing Lorillard to market two new cigarette products and denying two other applications.

      Under the law -- the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 -- manufacturers have to establish that a new product is "substantially equivalent to a valid predicate product already on the market."

      New products are not supposed to present any more harm to public health than the "predicate" -- or previously existing -- product. Acting on that standard, the agency approved two new Lorillard Tobacco Company products -- Newport Non-Menthol Gold Box 100s and Newport Non-Menthol Gold Box. 

      The four products that were not approved fell into the trap called "not substantially equivalent" (NSE). The FDA found that there was a lack of evidence to support the claim that the new product was essentially the same as an existing one.

      Not "FDA-approved"

      The FDA goes out of its way to note that approving a product as being substantially equivalent does not mean it is safe or less harmful than existing products. In addition the law makes clear that companies cannot say their products are FDA approved.

      The tobacco industry, which heavily lobbied the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009, has been holding its breath to see what the FDA would do with its new, though severely restricted, authority.

      Smokeless tobacco, pipes and cigars could all find themselves facing new regulations, although the hottest issue at the moment is electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs. They're not tobacco products but the FDA has been scrutinizing them and is thought to be rolling up some new regulations.

      Britain recently decided to regulate electronic cigarettes, treating them as non-prescription medicine. That means the popular e-cigs will still be widely sold in convenience stores and elsewhere but the government will enforce quality and purity regulations, just as it does with aspirin, sinus remedies and other widely sold products.

      “Today’s historic announcement marks an important step toward the FDA’s goal of reducing preventable disease and death caused by tobacco,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. “The FDA has unprecedented responsibility to protect public health by not allowing new tobacco products under FDA’s authority to come to market without FDA review.”

      “Today’s decisions are just the first of many forthcoming product review actions to be issued,” said Mitch Zeller, J.D., director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products. “The FDA is committed to making science-based decisions on all product applications and providing the agency’s scientific rationale behind its actions to ensure the most transparent and efficient process possible for all involved parties, according to the law.”

       The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was given the authority to regulate tobacco products back in 2009 and today, it issued its first decisions -- ...

      Delta's CEO does a good deed

      He gives up his seat to a traveler trying to get home to Atlanta

      Anyone who's flown Delta in the last few years has seen the welcoming video from CEO Richard Anderson. A few may also have noticed the flight attendants in the galley pantomiming Anderson's speech and imitating his Southern accent.

      But one person who didn't recognize Anderson, or make fun of his accent, was Jessie Frank, an Atlanta woman who had been trying to get home from New York last week to pick up her daughter at Camp Kudzu, a summer camp for children with diabetes.

      As usual during the summer, thunderstorms along the East Coast had backed up air traffic and snarled schedules. Through various diversions, Ms. Frank wound up at Washington's Reagan National Airport where she was having trouble finding a seat on the next flight to Atlanta.

      Things weren't looking good. The flight was filling up and she was number eight on the standby list. She had spoken to a few other travelers and expressed her concern but no one had any ideas. Then, Ms. Frank was told a seat had mysteriously opened up for her and a man wearing a suit helped her with her bag and led her to her seat.

      Special guest

      The man then disappeared into the cockpit and Ms. Frank assumed he was an off-duty pilot. Writing on her Facebook page, Ms. Frank told what happened as the flight neared its end.

      "As the plane descended into Atlanta, the flight attendant announced that there was a special guest on board," she wrote. "He was riding in a jump seat [in the cockpit], because he had given up his place to allow one more person on that flight."

      The "special guest" was Anderson. 

      "Suddenly I realized that 'familiar face' was not an off-duty pilot,' Ms. Frank wrote in an open letter to Anderson on her Facebook page. "It was you, the CEO of Delta, vaguely familiar from the safety video. It was you, Richard Anderson, who gave up your seat for me. It was you, the Delta CEO, who helped me with my bag. It was you, acting just like an ordinary Mr. Anderson, who showed me to my seat."

      A few days feeling normal

      Making it to Atlanta on time meant a lot to Ms. Frank and her daughter, who has type 1 diabetes, she said. 

      "Camp Kudzu gives my daughter five days a year when she feels 'normal,'" Frank wrote. "Pick-up day gives me a glimpse into that special world where she's just like everyone else, and she's a little bit of a different person for the rest of the day."

      "By the next day, it's back to the harsh realities of managing a difficult, deadly, incurable disease that kills one in 20 before the age of 18." 

      Delta confirmed the story, which has been shared more than 1,700 times on Facebook. 

      Delta CEO Richard AndersonAnyone who's flown Delta in the last few years has seen the welcoming video from CEO Richard Anderson. A few may also have no...

      What about all the white fruits and vegetables?

      Researchers say consumers are ignoring them, and missing out on nutrients as a result

      Sometimes going to the produce aisle of a supermarket is like going to an art exhibit.

      Whenever searching for your favorite vegetable or fruit, you'll usually see an array of reds next to greens and yellows next to purples in a wonderful and edible display of brightly colored produce.

      For some, the mere appearance of fruits and vegetables will open up thier eyes and appetites, not to mention their wallets -- so they'll fill their carts with all kinds of pretty-looking plums, carrots, tangerines and broccoli, on a weekly basis.

      But it seems that many of us aren't putting white-colored produce into our carts and as a result we're missing out on tons of nutrients.

      "Turns out, pale veggies can help make up nutrient shortfalls in our diets," said Phil Lempert, founder of Food Nutrition & Science. "This provides another merchandising opportunity for produce managers at grocery stores who can help customers understand the importance of all the vegetable colors."

      A recent report published in the June edition of Food Nutrition & Science stresses the importance of eating white produce, especially white potatoes.

      Missing nutrients

      And what are some of the other white vegetables that contain vital nutrients?

      Onions, parsnips, cauliflower, turnips, rutabagas and mushrooms, experts say, and some good white fruits to eat are bananas, brown pears, white nectarines, white peaches and dates, just to name a few.

      Dr. Connie Weaver, a nutrition science professor at Purdue University says white veggies; especially white potatoes contain nutrients that many of us are missing.

      "It's recommended that the variety of fruits and vegetables consumed daily should include dark green and orange vegetables, but no such recommendation exists for white vegetables, even though they are rich in fiber, potassium, vitamin C and magnesium," said Weaver.

      "Overall, Americans are not eating enough vegetables. Promoting white vegetables, some of which are common and affordable, may be a pathway to increasing vegetable consumption in general."

      White fruits and vegetables have other kinds of nutrients too.

      Experts say they have Secoisolariciresinol diglucoside (SDG) and Epigallocatechin gallate (ECG), which are both antioxidants. And they have beta-glucans and lignans, which can help strengthen the immune system.

      Stroke prevention 

      Additionally, researchers from Wageningen University in the Netherlands said eating produce that's white on the inside could help with stroke prevention.

      Researchers gathered 20,000 people ages 20 through 65, and for 10 years they monitored each participant's diet.

      Unfortunately, 233 of the participants suffered a stroke during the course of the study and researchers learned every time a person raised their intake of white produce by 25 grams, he or she decreased their risk of having a stroke by 9%.

      "The findings in this recent study serve to strengthen what is quickly becoming common knowledge to consumers, eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is good for overall health and reducing the risk of heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, some cancers and other chronic conditions, explained the President and CEO of Produce for Better Health Foundation," Elizabeth Pivonka.

      "While this particular study focused on white fruits and vegetables, eating a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables provides a natural variety of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber that allow you to be your best every day."

      "Consumers are recognizing that making half their plate fruits and vegetables is easy when they include 100% juice, fresh, frozen, canned and dried fruits and vegetables," said Pivonka.

      Linda M. Oude Griep, the chief study author of Wageningen University's research said getting more nutrients from white produce can be as simple as eating one apple.

      Apple a day 

      "To prevent stroke, it may be useful to consume considerable amounts of white fruits and vegetables," she said. "For example, eating one apple a day is an easy way to increase white fruits and vegetable intake."

      But consumers should be cautiously optimistic, said Dr. Heike Wersching, a researcher at the Institute of Epidemiology and Social Medicine at the University of Münster in Germany.

      He told living LivingScience.com the study failed to recognize the other possible reasons that some of the participants didn't suffer a stroke. 

      "The observed reduction in stroke risk might further be due to a generally healthier lifestyle of individuals consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables," he said.

      Wersching was not involved in the University of Münster study.

      Sometimes going to the produce aisle of a supermarket is like going to an art exhibit.Whenever searching for your favorite vegetable or fruit, you'll usu...

      Supreme Court overturns award to woman whose skin was burned off

      It's "tragic," the Court held, but a narrow majority overturned lower courts' decisions

      The Supreme Court has decided that Karen Bartlett won't get the $21 million lower courts awarded her. Bartlett's skin was burned off by a rare side effect of sulindac, a pain reliever her doctor prescribed for shoulder pain.

      The New Hampshire woman lost about 65 percent of the outler layer of her skin, spent 70 days in the hospital and lost most of her vision.

      A federal jury in New Hampshire ordered Mutual Pharmaceutical, which made the generic version of the drug to pay her $21 million, noting that her injuries were "truly horrific," Courthouse News Service reported.  

      But although Bartlett's doctor described her experience as "hell on earth" and although she is unable to eat normally, exercise, have sex or see properly, the Supreme Court reversed the decisions of the trial court and the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, saying that federal law pre-empts state law.

      Stronger warning

      New Hampshire law imposes a duty on manufacturers to ensure that the drugs they market are not unreasonably dangerous. Under state law, Mutual would have been required to change the labeling of sulindac to provide stronger warnings but federal law prohibits generic drug manufacturers from making changes to drug labels.   

      "Accordingly, state law imposed a duty on Mutual not to comply with federal law. Under the Supremacy Clause, state laws that require a private party to violate federal law are pre-empted and, thus, are 'without effect,'" wrote Justice Antonin Scalia for the five-justice majority.

      Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

      "The court laments her 'tragic' situa­tion, but responsibility for the fact that Karen Bartlett has been deprived of a remedy for her injuries rests with this court," Sotomayor wrote. "If our established pre-emption principles were properly applied in this case, and if New Hampshire law were correctly construed, then federal law would pose no barrier to Karen Bartlett's recovery."

      The Supreme Court has decided that Karen Bartlett won't get the $21 million lower courts awarded her. Bartlett's skin was burned off by a rare side effect ...