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    It's not just phones that have all the smarts

    Companies are releasing smart instruments and smart headphones too

    Are we officially living in the smart era? Some might say yes, because a lot of products are being made that fall under the same category as smartphones.

    Like smart watches for example, that can send emails, update your social page and control your music. Or smart refrigerators that have LCD touch screens that tell you everything from the weather to how to prepare a meal.

    But today, it doesn't stop there, as more and more products are made to make things easier for the consumer and to anticipate what the user is trying to do. 

    Like The g Tar, made by the company Incident Technologies. 

    Not only does it allow you to attach your iPhone directly to the body of the guitar, the strings have built-in sensors to help you learn how to play.

    "It has a multi-touch fretboard that has an embedded LED display, along with an array of string sensors in the strings, so it can detect how you're playing and what you're trying to do," said Idan Beck, CEO of Incident Technologies, who demonstrated the g Tar at one of this year's Maker Faire events.

    Plus, the g Tar comes with an app that lets you choose the level of difficulty that you want to use. And it comes with a bunch of songs that you can pick from and learn how to play.

    "We have three different difficulty modes," said Beck. "In easy mode it doesn't actually care where you put your fingers, so I could be way off and as long as I hit the right strings, it'll play."

    But in medium mode, Beck says you'll have to hit the right notes to play a particular song, and if you don't, the strings won't play at all -- forcing you to play each note correctly.

    In addition, you can use the app to change the sound of your guitar. So if you select piano let's say, the strings will take on a piano sound, which is perfect for the band who may be an instrument or a musician short. 

    Plug it in

    And you can plug the g Tar into your computer too.

    "Its got a USB midi doc, so it plugs in to applications like Ableton, Logic, GarageBand and you can actually use this to trigger samples and DJ and do a lot of things a traditional guitar can't do necessarily," said Beck.

    The smart guitar comes in black and white and goes for $399 and as far as the reviews, they're pretty favorable. But at almost $400, you might be better off learning the guitar the traditional way. Unless you have the money to spare, plus an iPhone.

    Then you have the smart headphones made by the company Muzik, that allows you to post the songs you're listening to on your Facebook and Twitter page.

    Muzik is calling the device the first "socially connected smart headphones," and CEO Jason Hardi said making them made perfect sense. "While the music industry has seen its challenges, technological advances have also created a world of opportunity, which Muzik is seizing to create an entirely new category," said Hardi.

    "Headphones will never again just be for listening to music or talking on the phone. Our headphones will improve the way we socially discover, share, listen and experience music."

    Send a song

    Just like the g Tar, the smart headphones come with an app that's available for iPhones and Androids. And through the app, you can update everyone on what you're listening to. 

    Moreover, the company says the headphones allow you to "send a song anywhere in the world" and they even suggest songs for you to listen to. And Hardi says he's not stopping there, because in the near future, he plans to introduce other smart phone features for the headphones. 

    "In addition to music exploration, I look forward to working with the developer community to create amazing applications leveraging smart headphones space," he said. "So I began to design a headphone that would bring forth real connectivity and feature controls to the consumer."

    There's no release date for the smart headphones yet and for some reason the company is keeping the price under wraps.

    But I wouldn't expect them to be cheap, because once you hear the words "smart," "intelligent" or "intuitive" in the gadget world, you'd better believe you'll be paying a pretty hefty price.

    Are we officially living in the smart era? Some might say yes, because a lot of products are being made that fall under the same category as smartphones....
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    Emotions and social media: a dangerous mix

    A survey finds that folks are getting meaner and meaner online

    You've probably seen it before -- people arguing on social media.

    It usually starts small. An unwanted photo posted or some comment put up that's subtle but still very mean.

    And after that, they're off to the races -- hurling insults at each other, trying to outdo the other in a competition of meanness and trying to think of the harshest thing to say or post. And it's all played out in front of everyone on social media to see and comment on.

    Going public

    It happens with couples too.

    A small tiff starts at home before the couple heads off to work. On the way to work, at least one person thinks of a point or insult he or she should have used during the tiff.

    And by the time that person gets to work, the social media war is launched and the argument that started in the privacy of the bedroom is now on Facebook or Twitter for everyone to witness.

    It happens every day and according to VitalSmarts, a company that provides corporate training, 78% of folks say they've noticed an increase in online meanness and 76% say they've witnessed at least one argument on social media. Another 88% feel that people are meaner on social media than they are face-to-face.

    How come?

    And why is this?

    Some might say the anonymity of social media gives people a certain amount of courage they wouldn't normally have and what they wouldn't say in person, they'll say much easier on sites like Facebook and Twitter.

    Then of course you have folks who aren't able to count to 10 in order to cool off, and with their device being nearby it's very easy to post something in anger.

    Simply put, personal emotions and social media don't mix, so it's best not to post anything if you feel stressed, angry or sad, experts say.

    A new arena

    Joseph Grenny, co-author of the study, said social media has become the official place where people come to have difficult conversations, and those conversations can easily turn into nasty ones.

    "Social media platforms allow us to connect with others and strengthen relationships in ways that weren't possible before," said Grenny. "Sadly, they have also become the default forums for holding high-stakes conversations, blasting polarizing opinions and making statements with little regard for those within screen shot.

    "We struggle to speak candidly and respectfully in person, let alone through a forum that allows no immediate feedback or the opportunity to see how our words will affect each other," Grenny explained.

    VitalSmarts surveyed 2,698 people and 81% said they had interactions online that were either "difficult" or "emotionally-charged." In addition, 19% said they have less face-to-face contact with a friend or follower because that person said something mean to them online. 

    It's everywhere

    But it's not just social media pages where people post cruel and hurtful things.

    Have you ever read the comments on an online news story? No matter what the subject matter is, you're almost guaranteed to read something that's over-the-top-mean, insensitive, racist, homophobic -- or just plain unnecessary.

    When you go to places like YouTube and read some of the comments on a music video or performance, a lot of people go out of their way to say how much they hate the song or video.

    Take a deep breath

    Susan Avello, a blogger for HR Virtual Cafe, says when you find yourself being mean on social media or hating everything online, it might be time to take a break.

    "A good friend once told me 'You seem to be in a place of hating everything. Perhaps you should take a social media break.' I'll never forget that," Avello wrote. "If you find yourself hating everyone on social media and everything that's being put out there perhaps it's time for you to take a social media sabbatical. Go spend time with the family. Take a vacation and leave your devices at home.

    "There's no reason to lash out at others just because you're in a funk," writes Avello.

    Grenny agrees, and says you should ask yourself why you really use social media. Do you use it to have good communication, to get noticed or to get something off your chest that you would never say in person?

    Grenny says the use of  "hot words" should be avoided when communicating online, meaning if you disagree with somebody, don't call the person a jerk or stupid -- just say you disagree.

    Grenny notes that people who argue online often "agree on 80% of the topic but create a false sense of conflict when they spend all their time arguing over the other 20%."

    The best advice: Take the conflict off-line and don't try to settle it through social media because it's too easy for your emotions to take over and cause you to post something that you may regret for a long time.

    You've probably seen it before. Two people arguing on social media.It usually starts small. An unwanted photo posted or some comment put up that's subtle...
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      Are doctors too quick to diagnose cancer?

      Some physicians think so and say that many slow-growing tumors don't need treatment

      While scientists in the laboratory continue to search for a cure for cancer, doctors who treat it have made huge strides in raising cancer awareness. Screening programs now routinely catch the disease in its early stages.

      But have we gone overboard in treating cancer? A panel of scientists convened by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and chaired by a UC San Francisco (UCSF) breast cancer expert believes we have. The group is proposing a major update to the way the U.S. approaches diseases now classified as “cancer.”

      Writing this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the panel points out that, despite the advancements in cancer screening, we still haven't achieved the decline in serious disease and death that you might expect.

      The problem, it seems, is that these screening programs are not just identifying malignant tumors. They also detect what turn out to be slow-growing, low-risk lesions, and sweeping them into the same treatment process.

      Harmless cancer?

      As a result, patients are being diagnosed and treated for forms of cancer that might never do any harm. The phenomenon has been termed “overdiagnosis,” which translates to “too much medicine.”

      “By recognizing that cancer is not one disease, but a number of different diseases, we can individualize our treatment based on biology and avoid overtreatment,” said panel chair Dr. Laura J. Esserman, director of the Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center at UCSF. “The goal going forward is to personalize screening strategies, and focus screening policies on the conditions that are most likely to result in aggressive illness and death.”

      This may strike some patients – and perhaps even some physicians – as a somewhat controversial position. In the mind of the public cancer is a dreaded disease that is not to be taken lightly. The very word “cancer” uttered in a doctor's office is enough to terrify most patients.

      New classification

      For that reason, the panel is recommending that the word be used less often. For example, the authors think there should be a new classification for tumors that are called “indolent,” meaning they aren't likely to cause harm. Under their guidelines ductal carcinoma of the breast -- currently considered the earliest form of breast cancer -- would no longer be called cancer.

      This is not to suggest they think screening should be de-emphasized – just the opposite. Rather, screening strategies should be improved to avoid over-treating tumors that would not be lethal, or that would not even have come to medical attention.

      “Although our understanding of the biology of cancer has changed dramatically, perceptions on the part of the public, and among many physicians, have not yet changed,” Esserman said. “Cancer is still widely perceived as a diagnosis with lethal consequences if left untreated.”

      Other scientists have suggested in the past that some forms of prostate cancer don't always require treatment. Earlier this year UCSF researchers suggested men might need less treatment for prostate cancer unless they happen to harbor the gene for the most aggressive form of the disease.

      They're using a new genomic test for prostate cancer that can help predict a man's genetic risk of the most severe form of the disease. They say some men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer may be able to avoid surgery, and most treatment altogether, if they have what is considered a manageable form of the disease.

      There are other forms of cancer that may also fit into this category. The authors of the NCI report say overdiagnosis is occurring across many medical conditions, but is especially common in breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate, thyroid cancer and melanoma.

      Exceptions

      On the other hand, they cite colon and cervical cancer as examples of “effective screening programs in which early detection and removal of precancerous lesions have reduced incidence as well as late-stage disease.”

      Obviously, any suspicion that a condition is cancerous must be taken seriously and be brought to your doctor's attention immediately. However, if the NCI panel is to be believed, not every cancer will require the lengthy, expensive and often grueling treatment cancer normally receives.

      “Although no physician has the intention to overtreat or overdiagnose cancer, screening and patient awareness have increased the chance of identifying a spectrum of cancers, some of which are not life threatening,” the authors wrote. “The ultimate goal is to preferentially detect consequential cancer while avoiding detection of inconsequential disease.”

      While scientists in the laboratory continue to search for a cure for cancer, doctors who treat it have made huge strides in raising cancer awareness. Scree...
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      Southwest fined for violating price advertising rule

      Feds say the airline failed to make enough seats available

      It sounded like a great deal, but there was only one problem: A lot of people couldn't take advantage of it.

      So said the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in levying a $200,000 fine against Southwest Airlines for violating the full-fare advertising rules. DOT also ordered the carrier to cease and desist from further violations.

      “Consumers should be able to trust that the price they see advertised is the price they’ll pay for a seat,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “DOT will continue to take enforcement action against carriers and ticket agents when our price advertising rules are violated.”

      Great fares – few seats

      According to DOT’s Aviation Enforcement Office, Southwest advertised one-way, nonstop fares “for $100 or less” for travel on Feb. 14, 2013, but failed to include a reasonable number of seats available in a significant number of city-pair markets in the fare sale.

      In addition, on Jan. 30, 2013, Southwest advertised $66 one-way fares from Dallas Love Field to Branson, Mo., between March 1, 2013, and March 21, 2013. However, there were no seats available at the sale fare on any day during the sale period.

      By advertising fares for which a reasonable number of seats were not available and advertising fares that were not available at all, DOT says Southwest violated the full fare advertising rule and engaged in prohibited unfair and deceptive practices.  

      It sounded like a great deal, but there was only one problem: A lot of people couldn't take advantage of it. So said the U.S. Department of Transportation...
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      Consumers should have a little privacy, New Jersey court holds

      State's high court says cell phone location data should be private

      The New Jersey Supreme Court has become the first in the country to recognize a constitutional right to privacy in cell phone location records.

      The court held earlier this month that that individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their cell phone location data under the New Jersey state constitution.

      In State v. Earls, the New Jersey high court found that "cell-phone location information, which users must provide to receive service, can reveal a great deal of personal information about an individual." 

      Consequently, law enforcement officers in New Jersey will be required to obtain a search warrant to track an individual's location.

      In order to communicate with the telephone network, a cell phone must be in constant contact with nearby cell towers. These connections create a “paper trail” of an individual's phone records. By examining the location of towers to which a phone is connected over a period of time, law enforcement can track a person's movements in great detail. 

      In urban areas where cell phone towers are densely packed, a person's  location can be pinpointed very precisely; tracking the phone is equivalent to tracking the person.

      The decision in State v. Earls is the first state supreme-court case upholding location privacy since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in US v. Jones, a GPS tracking case. The state of Montana has passed a similar statute requiring warrants to track cell phone location.

      The New Jersey Supreme Court has become the first in the country to recognize a constitutional right to privacy in cell phone location records.The court ...
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      Judge: Consumers entitled to more than $9.5 million in refunds

      Scammers were charged with debiting payday loan applicants’ bank accounts without their consent

      A federal judge has come down on the side of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in its case against an online operation that the commission charged illegally debited consumers’ bank accounts when they visited the defendants’ websites seeking payday loans. The FTC will now seek a court order requiring the defendants to return more than $9.5 million to consumers.

      In 2011, the FTC charged Direct Benefits Group LLC, Voice Net Global LLC, Solid Core Solutions Inc., WKMS Inc., Kyle Wood, and Mark Berry with illegally debiting consumers’ bank accounts and failing to disclose that they would use their bank account information to charge them for enrollment in unwanted programs and services. The court froze the defendants’ assets pending resolution of the case.

      In his decision, U.S. District Court Judge John Antoon II found that the FTC proved its case, that a permanent injunction to stop the illegal practices is warranted and that consumers are entitled to the return of more than $9.5 million.

      Unwittingly enrolled

      According to the FTC, the defendants’ websites asked for consumers’ personal and financial information, and -- near the end of the loan application form -- offered unrelated programs for food, travel and merchandise discounts, or for long distance calling and Internet access.

      Many consumers who clicked to “submit” an application were enrolled unwittingly into the programs, which initially charged their bank accounts up to $59.90 per month, and later charged up to $99.90 per year.

      According to the complaint, the defendants sent consumers’ bank account information to Landmark Clearing Inc.  and other payment processors to electronically generate remotely created payment orders that debited consumers’ bank accounts.

      A federal judge has come down on the side of the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) in its case against an online operation that the commission charged illeg...
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      Economy gathers momentum in second quarter

      Growth was stronger than in the first quarter and above analysts' projections

      The nation's economy was doing better in the second quarter than it was in the first three months of the year.

      Government figures show real gross domestic product (GDP) -- the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the U.S -- increased at an annual rate of 1.7% in the second quarter of 2013. During the first quarter, it grew at a revised rate of 1.1%. Economists surveyed by Briefing.com had been looking for a GDP growth rate of 1.1%.

      Keep in mind that this “advance” estimate of GDP growth is subject to further revision. The "second" estimate for the second quarter, based on more complete data, will be released on August 29.

      Consumers contribute

      The second quarter increase was due primarily to positive contributions from personal consumption expenditures (consumer spending), exports, nonresidential fixed investment, private inventory investment, and residential investment. Holding growth in check was a drop in federal government spending.

      As positive as the second quarter increase was, GDP growth has not exceeded 2.0% since the third quarter of 2012 or topped 3.0% since the first three months of last year.

      Analysts say these trends are not indicative of an economy that is on a solid and steady upward path.

      The full GDP report can be found on the Commerce Department website.

      The nation's economy was doing better in the second quarter than it was in the first three months of the year. Government figures show real gross domestic...
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      Another drop in mortgage applications

      Applications for refinancings are at a 2-year low

      Fewer would-be home buyers are applying for mortgages.

      According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey, applications for the week ending July 26 were down 3.7% from one week earlier. For the prior week, applications slipped 1.2%

      The Refinance Index fell 4% from the previous week, with the refinance share of mortgage activity unchanged at 63% of total applications from the previous week.

      Interest rates a factor

      “Mortgage rates were little changed last week, but remain roughly one percentage point higher than they were three months ago,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s vice president of research and economics. “Refinance application volume continues to decline, with the refinance index now more than 55% lower than its recent peak -- reaching the lowest level in over two years. Applications for home purchases dropped for the fourth time in five weeks, but purchase volume is running about 5% higher than last year at this time.”

      The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,500 or less) was unchanged at 4.58%, with points decreasing to 0.38 from 0.40 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

      The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRM with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,500) decreased to 4.64% from 4.66%, with points decreasing to 0.39 from 0.41 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.

      The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA increased to 4.30 percent from 4.28 percent, with points decreasing to 0.31 from 0.33 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

      The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs increased to 3.67% from 3.63%, with points increasing to 0.40 from 0.35 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

      The average contract interest rate for 5/1 Adjustable Rate Mortgages increased to 3.39 percent from 3.30 percent, with points increasing to 0.36 from 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

      Fewer would-be home buyers are applying for mortgages. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey, applicat...
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      Researcher: Smartphones creating digital zombies

      People's brains are being altered by constant exposure, she claims

      One of author Stephen King's horror novels is called “Cell,” the apocalyptic story of a mysterious pulse broadcast over a global cellular network that turns everyone who is talking on their phone at that instant into murderous zombies.

      King's point was the fact that almost everyone on earth had a cellphone and was thus vulnerable to zombiehood. Just keep in mind that King's cautionary tale appeared in 2006, a year before the first iPhone and the explosion of smartphones that quickly followed.

      Maybe King was onto something. Think of how many people you see walking down the street or in their car, talking – or more likely accessing data. Maybe it doesn't require a mysterious signal to turn us into zombies.

      South Korea sets the pace

      Devra Davis, Ph.D., president of Environmental Health Trust, a nonprofit research and policy organization, is worried that's what's happening – that smartphones are turning us into digital zombies. It's bad in the U.S., she says, but not nearly as bad as in South Korea – at least, not yet. 

      South Koreans have embraced technology with an enthusiasm perhaps unmatched elsewhere in the world. So much so that today, there is a recognized condition of “smartphone addiction” that Davis says is rising to epidemic proportion.

      In a recent report South Korean medical researchers are finding a rise in what they call “digital dementia” -- the tendency of the young to be so obsessed with smartphones that they can't recall phone numbers, write legibly or even look people in the eye. Neuroscientists say those are all signs of a type of brain damage.

      Davis cites data showing that in South Korea, 20% of 10- to 19 year-olds spend seven hours a day on smartphones and tablets, the highest exposure in the world. According to the Korean Ministry of Science, the country has more digital devices than people (as does the United States), with many children beginning to use devices almost before they can walk.

      Left brain – right brain

      "Young people who are heavy technology users are likely to have a properly developed left hemisphere of the brain while the right hemisphere will be unused and underdeveloped,” said Psychiatrist Dr. Byun Gi-Won, of the Balance Brain Center in Seoul.

      Davis says the evidence is all around for anyone looking up from their screen to observe; young parents glued to their phones while strolling with their toddlers – some of whom are also zoned into their own electronic devices. Families seated for a meal, each immersed in their own screen.

      “When we strip away from our lives all the electronified trappings and stuff with which we are so preoccupied; when we throw away all those things we now crave and believe we need, what is left is what essentially makes us human,” Davis said. “The rush to digitize toddlers and young children flies in the face of what developmental psychologists have long understood. Children learn best by direct human touch and eye contact — from real people, not machines.”

      Cancer link?

      And there is another issue. Davis is worried that the expansive growth of wireless communication is taking place without anyone thinking about the long-term impact it can have on developing brains, bodies and babies who are growing up surrounded by radiofrequency radiation – also known as microwave radiation. This, she says, is something very new in human history.

      Her advice to parents? Don't allow children to become fettered to a digital device. If digital devices must be used to distract a toddler on a long car trip, she says, put them on airplane mode and make sure they remain disconnected from Internet or Wi-Fi. Keep calls and connection times as short as possible.

      One of author Stephen King's horror novels is called “Cell,” the apocalyptic story of a mysterious pulse broadcast over a global cellular netwo...
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      Starbucks adds more wireless charging stations

      After Boston test, stations being installed in Silicon Valley

      After what was described as a successful test run in the Boston Area, Starbucks has announced it will begin installing wireless charging stations for smartphones at select California stores in Silicon Valley.

      The charging stations will use Duracell Powermat charging stations, which employ the Power Matters Alliance (PMA) standard. To charge a device, the user just places the phone on a charging pad.

      The process is wireless, in that there are no wires connecting the electric source to the phone. However, the phone must make contact with the pad in order for it to charge.

      "Duracell Powermat offers the cure for dead battery anxiety," said Stassi Anastassov, President of Duracell at Procter & Gamble. "Look around any Starbucks and you will see smartphones being placed on tables. Today these phones are losing power as they sit there -- but once a table is equipped with Powermat technology, simply placing a phone on the table will recharge it."

      For Starbucks, adding a way for customers to easily recharge their mobile devices makes sense. It wants to encourage consumers to spend a lot of time hanging out in its stores, hopefully drinking coffee and eating snacks.

      Home away from home

      "More and more customers are using Starbucks as their home base and they are looking to recharge in a number of ways," said Adam Brotman, chief digital officer at Starbucks. "We have seen positive customer response to wireless charging through our tests in Boston, and are pleased to now extend this experience for our customers in the Silicon Valley area."

      Wireless charging is a response to a need created by the introduction of smartphones. Ordinary cellphones, used only for voice communication, used very little power. A single charge might last several days.

      As soon as smartphones were introduced, however, consumers quickly learned that battery life was much less. That's mainly because downloading and uploading data requires much more energy. Daily recharges are now a routine matter, though it doesn't make them any more convenient.

      In addition to the PMA standard, there is also the Qi standard, also known as the inductive power standard. Established by the Wireless Power Consortium, it works in a similar manner. Some device manufacturers support Qi while some support PMA. A few support both.

      No need for power cords

      While the term “wireless” suggests your phone can charge while it is in your pocket or purse, that's not quite the case. However, both standards remove the need for a power cord with the right type of connector to fit your phone.

      The need for charging stations, whether wireless or like the solar-powered stations being installed in New York City, would be reduced if smartphone batteries simply held a charge for longer periods of time. That's been an active area of research for the last couple of years.

      Results, so far, have been fairly promising. Earlier this year researchers at the University of Illinois reported development of lithium ion microbatteries ten times more powerful than standard cellphone batteries.

      Prof. William King, who led the study, says the microbatteries are simply part of a technological trend. Computers have gotten smaller over the years and so have cellphones. He says it's time for the battery to follow suit.

      In their report, the researchers claim that you could jump-start a car with the power in your cellphone batteries. That's all well and good, but it might be a little scary walking around with that much power in your pocket.

      Meanwhile, researchers at other universities and laboratories are at work on the problem too. In 2011 researchers at the University of Michigan invented what they call a "subconscious mode" for smartphones and other Wi-Fi-enabled mobile devices that could extend battery life by as much as 54 percent for users on the busiest networks. Work is still underway.

      After what was described as a successful test run in the Boston Area, Starbucks has announced it will begin installing wireless charging stations for smart...
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      Feds asked to investigate privacy issues in rapper app

      Jay-Z's "Magna Carta Holy Grail" collects "massive amounts" of personal data

      You wouldn't think that a Jay-Z app would collect all kinds of personal data about you, but a consumer privacy group says that "Magna Carta Holy Grail" app does just that.

      The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against Samsung, the publisher of the app, which it says "collected massive amounts of personal information from users and required substantial user permissions."

      EPIC says Samsung failed to disclose details of the privacy practices of the app, collected user data far beyond what was necessary and failed to give consumers any reasonable choice in the matter.

      Specifically, said EPIC, the Magna Carta app collects user personal information that includes:

      • Approximate user location using cell site locations and Wi-Fi networks;
      • Precise user location using the Global Positioning System (GPS), cell site locations, and Wi-Fi networks;
      • Mobile device identifiers, including the International Mobile Subscriber Identity and International Mobile Station Equipment Identity numbers, both of which are unique identifiers;
      • Time periods during which the phone is active;
      • Telephone numbers dialed; and
      • The identity of other applications installed on the device.

      According to EPIC's complaint, the app can run in the background whenusers switch to other apps on their mobile devices; can continue toconnect to the Internet while running; signs in as soon as users'phones are switched on, and has access to the phones' vibration and"sleep" functions.

      "The number of permissions requested" by the app, EPIC says, "verges on parody."

      EPIC's complaint further alleges that the "Magna Carta" app includes hidden spam techniques that force users to promote the album. The app requires users to log in to their Facebook or Twitter accounts in order to access any of the content:

      "In the run-up to the album's release," EPIC contends, "the Magna Carta App allowed users to view song lyrics, but only if the user posted a tweet or Facebook status update promoting the fact that they had unlocked each lyric."

      EPIC has asked the Commission to investigate Samsung and enjoin the company's unfair and "deceptive data collection practices for any future apps that it may offer." 

      You wouldn't think that a Jay-Z app would collect all kinds of personal data about you, but a consumer privacy group says that "Magna Carta Holy Grail" app...
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      Cyclosporiasis outbreak sickens 372 in 15 states

      The source of the outbreak has not yet been found

      Health officials are trying to pin down the source of an outbreak of Cyclosporiasis, a parasitic infection that causes long-lasting flu-like symptoms.

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it has been notified of 273 cases of the disease, including 21 hospitalizations, in 15 states. 

      The reports began on June 28, when two Iowa residents became ill. Since then, the CDC, Food and Drug Administration and state health departments have been trying to determine if the illnesses are related and whether there is a single source of infection.

      The count includes laboratory-confirmed infections in people who had no history of recent travel outside the United States and Canada. This CDC map shows the number and location of reported cases.

      Symptoms include sporadic episodes of diarrhea and low-grade fevers as well as weight loss, bloating, fatigue and occasional vomiting. Anyone whose mouth is unusually dry and who has little need to urinate and bouts of dizziness should seek medical attention.

      The infection is generally spread through the feces of infected people, generally via contaminated food or water. Direct person-to-person transmission is unlikely, because the oocysts shed in feces must mature in the environment (outside the host) to become infective to someone else, the CDC said.

      Cyclosporiasis appears to be most common in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Outbreaks in the United States and Canada have been linked to various types of imported fresh produce. People of all ages are at risk for infection, and travelers to developing countries can be at increased risk. 

      Health officials are trying to pin down the source of an outbreak of Cyclosporiasis, a parasitic infection that causes long-lasting flu-like symptoms.The...
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      Car thieves favor Mercedes-Benz

      Financial fraudsters lease luxury models and export them before the tires get dirty

      Criminals may have unorthodox work habits but nobody said they are lacking in taste, as demonstrated by the latest report from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

      The insurance agency found that the Mercedes-Benz, a long-recognized symbol of luxury and performance, remains a favorite among car thieves. Three Mercedes-Benz models — the C Class, E Class and S Class — landed in the top 10.

      Overall, 4,384 luxury class vehicles were stolen during the period covered by this report. 

      Within the three sub-classes, compact luxury models had the highest number of thefts at 2,150. They were followed by mid-sized luxury models with 1,734 thefts. Premium luxury thefts totaled 500 units.

      Geographically, California had the most luxury thefts, with 1,063. South Dakota and Wyoming had the fewest -- one each.

      The top 10 states alone accounted for 3,547 luxury vehicle thefts — 81 percent of the total.

      Breaking it down by metro areas, however, puts the New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island area on top, with 806 thefts. The Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana area came in second with 491 thefts while third place went to Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-Pompano Beach.

      Of the 4,384 luxury vehicles stolen, 713 remain unrecovered at the time of the report. That translates to a recovery rate of 83.7 percent. The Infiniti G Series had the highest number of unrecovered thefts at 83, followed by the Mercedes-Benz E Class with 80, and the Mercedes-Benz C Class with 78.

      Financial fraud

      Not all "hot" cars are boosted in the dead of night. Some are driven right off the showroom floor by people who appear to be legitimate buyers. Those thefts often involve financial fraud and don't wind up in the stolen car reports.

      Many times luxury vehicles are leased or purchased on a payment plan and then the vehicles are quickly exported out of the country, as shown in this NCIB video:

      Stolen cars recovered at the Port of Long BeachCriminals may have unorthodox work habits but nobody said they are lacking in taste, as demonstrated by ...
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      A new tool helps patients stay healthier

      New system allows patients and doctors to share information more easily

      Once upon a time, it was pretty easy to hide things from your doctor. If you didn't tell where you were with your blood pressure, diet and overall health, you could probably keep these things to yourself, which pretty much prevented your doctor from knowing if or how how well you'd been following his instructions.

      You can still keep these kinds of things from your doctor if you want to, and that's why some of them are turning to patient home measuring devices to find out how their patients are doing.

      Do it yourself

      Partners Healthcare, a non-profit that owns several Massachusetts-based hospitals, has released a system that lets patients take readings at home and send the results to their doctor. 

      For now, Partners provides blood pressure cuffs that connect wirelessly to the organization's digital system, but glucometers still need to be attached to a computer for the information to be transferred.

      However, the system will become more advanced and be able to read other monitoring devices in the future, the creators say. 

      The system works by capturing results through short-range signals, explained Dr. Joseph Kvedar, one of the creators of the technology. "We're able to move them over the cellular network to our database in a secure manner," he said.

      Dr. John Halamka, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, wasn't involved in the new system, but he told The Boston Globe that doctors really want to see how well you're living in-between visits.

      "We want to watch how you're living in the home," he said. "We want to make interventions sooner rather than later and we want to keep you out of the hospital."

      Tailor-made care

      Kvedar says having the ability to send your readings digitally, helps doctors create the best care plan for you.

      "It turns out that your interaction with your doctor has two parts," said Kvedar in an interview with Mashable.

      "There's a technical component: Your doctor is gathering information about you to make a diagnoses and recommend a care plan. And then there's the emotional overlay," he said. "We're not taking your doctor's visit away. So much of what we do with patients is the algorithmic information; it's not that emotionally laden piece."

      In addition, Kvedar says that having access to patients' home readings, could motivate them to follow their doctor's advice much better. If patients know their doctor is eying their blood pressure readings, it might prompt them to lower their salt intake a bit. 

      The system works

      The new monitoring system worked that way for Susan Rice, a 61-year-old blood pressure patient, who said monitoring her pressure at home made her more responsible.

      "That little machine is my accountability," she said. "Seeing when it's high makes me want to bring it back to where it should be -- thinking, 'Oh, man, I must have screwed up some place.'"

      "It's clearly the future of where we need to go with healthcare," said Kvedar. '[Patients] will create their own program and move their health to a new level by just watching the numbers and improving them, like a batting average or an ERA."

      Once upon a time, it was pretty easy to hide things from your doctor. If you didn't tell where you were with your blood pressure, diet and overall health, ...
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      A dip in consumer confidence in July

      Economic and job expectations showed a little weakness

      Questions in consumers' minds about the outlook for jobs helped undercut their confidence in the economy in July.

      The Conference Board reports that after improving in June, its Confidence Consumer Index pulled back slightly and now stands at 80.3 -- down 1.8 from its June reading. While the Present Situation Index increased to 73.6 from 68.7, the Expectations Index fell to 84.7 from 91.1 last month.

      Job concerns

      “Consumer Confidence fell slightly in July, precipitated by a weakening in consumers’ economic and job expectations,” said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at The Conference Board. “However, confidence remains well above the levels of a year ago.”

      Consumers’ assessment of current conditions continues to gain ground, she added, “and expectations remain in expansionary territory despite the July retreat. Overall, indications are that the economy is strengthening and may even gain some momentum in the months ahead.”

      Consumers’ appraisal of current conditions continues to improve. Those who said business conditions are “good” increased to 20.9% from 19.4%, while those who think they are “bad” decreased to 24.5% from 24.9%. Consumers’ assessment of the job market was also more positive. Those claiming jobs are “plentiful” increased to 12.2% from 11.3%, while those who see jobs as “hard to get” declined to 35.5% from 37.1%.

      Short-term weakness

      Consumers’ expectations regarding the short-term outlook weakened in July. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months decreased to 19.1% from 21.4%. However, those looking for business conditions to worsen remained virtually unchanged at 11.2%.

      Consumers’ outlook for the labor market was less upbeat. Those forecasting more jobs in the months ahead declined to 16.5% from 19.7%, while those anticipating fewer jobs increased to 18.1% from 16.1%. The proportion of consumers who think their their incomes will increase dipped slightly to 15.3% from 15.9%; however those expecting a decrease fell to 13.8% from 14.2%.

      The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen, a provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was July 18.

      Questions in consumers' minds about the outlook for jobs helped undercut their confidence in the economy in July. The Conference Board reports that after ...
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      Home price surge continues in May

      Some post-meltdown highs were even posted

      Home prices in the U.S. continued to rise during May, with the best news coming for homeowners in Dallas and Denver.

      According to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, a leading measure of U.S. home prices, the 10- and 20-City Composites were up 2.5% and 2.4%, respectively in May. Dallas and Denver reached record levels -- surpassing their pre-financial meltdown peaks set in June 2007 and August 2006, the first time any city has made a new all-time high.

      Even more impressive, the 10- and 20-City Composites posted annual increases of 11.8% and 12.2%, respectively -- the best year-over-year gains since March 2006.

      Strong showings

      “Home prices continue to strengthen,” says David M. Blitzer, Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “Two cities set new highs, surpassing their pre-crisis levels and five cities -- Atlanta, Chicago, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle -- posted monthly gains of over three percent, also a first time event.

      The Southwest and the West saw the strongest year-over-year gains as San Francisco home prices rose 24.5% followed by Las Vegas and Phoenix. New York, Cleveland and Washington, DC, were the weakest. Monthly numbers, before seasonal adjustment, showed all 20 cities experienced rising prices. San Francisco, Chicago and Atlanta were the leaders, while Cleveland and Minneapolis were down slightly after seasonal adjustment.

      “The overall report points to some shifts among various markets,” said Blitzer. “Washington,DC, is no longer the standout leader and the eastern Sunbelt cities -- Miami and Tampa -- are lagging behind their western counterparts.”

      Cities on the move

      All 20 cities showed positive monthly returns for May. Ten cities -- Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Las Vegas, Miami, New York, Phoenix, Portland, Seattle and Tampa -- showed acceleration.

      Chicago posted an impressive monthly rate of 3.7% in May;, up one percentage point over April. Miami and Seattle had their largest monthly gains since August 2005 and April 1990, respectively.

      On an annual basis, all cities showed gains ranging from 3.3% to 24.5%. Twelve Metropolitan Statistical Areas -- Atlanta, Detroit, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Tampa -- posted double-digit growth. Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix and San Francisco were the four cities to post annual increases of over 20%. Las Vegas and San Francisco accelerated as measured by their May versus April year-over-year returns.

      Although Atlanta and Phoenix continue to post impressive gains, their May annual rate decreased to just over 20% compared to April. Detroit showed the most deceleration with a three percentage point decline.  

      Home prices in the U.S. continued to rise during May, with the best news coming for homeowners in Dallas and Denver. According to the S&P/Case-Shiller Hom...
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      FDA: Watch out for Healthy Life Chemistry dietary supplement

      Lab tests indicate presence of anabolic steroids

      It's a good idea to stay away from Healthy Life Chemistry By Purity First B-50, marketed as a vitamin B dietary supplement.

      According to a preliminary Food and Drug Administration (FDA) laboratory analysis, the product contains two potentially harmful anabolic steroids -- methasterone, a controlled substance, and dimethazine. These ingredients are not listed in the label and, FDA says they should not be in a dietary supplement.

      “Products marketed as a vitamin but which contain undisclosed steroids pose a real danger to consumers and are illegal,” said Howard Sklamberg, director of the Office of Compliance in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “The FDA is committed to ensuring that products marketed as vitamins and dietary supplements do not pose harm to consumers.”

      Numerous incident reports

      The FDA has received reports of 29 adverse incidents associated with the use of Healthy Life Chemistry By Purity First B-50. These reports include fatigue, muscle cramping, and myalgia (muscle pain), as well as abnormal laboratory findings for liver and thyroid function, and cholesterol levels.

      Women who used this product reported unusual hair growth and missed menstruation, and men who used the product reported impotence and findings of low testosterone. Consumers using Healthy Life Chemistry By Purity First B-50 who experience any of these symptoms should consult a health care professional and report their experience to the FDA.

      Using anabolic steroid-containing products may cause acute liver injury. Some of the cases reported have resulted in hospitalization, but there were no reports of death or acute liver failure.

      In addition, anabolic steroids may cause other serious long-term consequences in women, men and children. These include adverse effects on blood lipid levels; increased risk of heart attack and stroke; masculinization of women; shrinkage of the testicles; breast enlargement; infertility in men; and short stature in children.

      Failure to act

      Healthy Life Chemistry By Purity First B-50 is manufactured by Mira Health Products Ltd. in Farmingdale, N.Y., and is sold on various websites and in retail stores. The company has declined to recall the product or warn consumers about the potential for injury. Failure to promptly correct violations of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act may result in legal action including -- without limitation -- seizure, injunction, and/or criminal prosecution.

      Health care professionals are advised to ask their patients about any dietary supplements they may be using, particularly in patients exhibiting warning signs that may be associated with the use of steroids or steroid-like substances.

      These warning signs include liver injury, kidney failure and stroke. They also include hormone-associated adverse effects such as blood clots, including pulmonary embolism (a sudden blockage in a lung artery), and deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot that forms in a vein deep in the body, often in the lower leg or thigh).

      It's a good idea to stay away from Healthy Life Chemistry By Purity First B-50, marketed as a vitamin B dietary supplement. According to a preliminary F...
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