1. Home
  2. News
  3. 2013
  4. December

News in December 2013

Browse by year

2013

Browse by month

Get trending consumer news and recalls

    By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

    Airlines had a very profitable 2013

    "Ancillary" fees from passengers a big reason why

    For an industry that appeared down and out a decade ago, the airline industry has enjoyed a strong comeback, capped with what's expected to be a highly profitable 2013 when the final accounting is done.

    For 2013 airlines around the world are expected to return a global net profit of $12.9 billion, rising to $19.7 billion in 2014, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). That stands in stark contrast to 2004, when six U.S. airlines filed for bankruptcy protection.

    Cutting costs

    Airlines have bounced back through consolidation, reducing available seats, lower fuel costs and, for course, a myriad of new fees for things passengers once took for granted. These “ancillary” revenues are a key driver of the industry's improved financial performance, according to the IATA report.

    Worldwide, these ancillary revenues have risen to an estimated $13 per passenger, the trade group says. IATA says airlines are underpinning their profitability with innovative products and services. Without these fees, IATA says, the industry would be making a loss from its core seat and cargo products.

    “Overall, the industry’s fortunes are moving in the right direction,” said Tony Tyler, IATA’s Director General and CEO. “Jet fuel prices remain high, but below their 2012 peak. Passenger demand is expanding in the five to six percent range, in line with the historical trend. Efficiencies gained through mergers and joint ventures are delivering value to both passengers and shareholders. And product innovations are growing ancillary revenues.”

    Since consumers' willingness to pay a fee to check a bag is boosting airlines' profits, what are consumers getting out of the deal? The improvement in system efficiencies that has helped the airlines save money has come at the expense of fewer flights and fuller planes. Direct flights, even between major cities, are fewer than in the past.

    Paying for perks

    However, consumers willing to pay extra for perks are finding commercial air travel a bit more tolerable. For example, airlines have added priority seating. Want to sit by a window? You can but there's a fee for that.

    American Airlines offers a package of boarding perks that allows you to board with the first group, priority stand-by status if you need to take a earlier or later flight and a $75 discount on any change fee. By boarding early you get the early dibs on overhead bin space, which is at a premium these days with so many passengers trying to avoid checked-bag fees. The cost of the package varies depending on the flight.

    Continental allows passengers to purchase extra legroom. The fee varies, depending on how long the flight takes and the market. For example, you would pay more for extra legroom on a flight from New York to Los Angeles than you would from St. Louis to Chicago.

    JetBlue charges extra for “roomier” seats and Southwest offers an early-bird check-in for $10, placing you in the”A” boarding group. All airlines seem to be moving to allow some of their passengers increased comfort and convenience, for a price.

    Lower fares

    While consumers may gripe, the published air fares have actually gone down in inflation-adjusted dollars. Today you can fly round trip on JetBlue between New York and Los Angeles for less than $325. If you could have matched that fare in 1977, when airlines were regulated, the airfare in today's inflation-adjusted dollars would have been $1,249. So airlines are selling tickets for less but making it up by charging for things that, in 1977, were free.

    Still, with all the fee-generated income, the airline industry said it could encounter new turbulence at any time.

    “It’s a tough environment in which to run an airline,” said Tyler. “Competition is intense and yields are deteriorating. Cargo volumes haven’t grown since 2010 and cargo revenues are back at 2007 levels. The passenger business is expanding more robustly. Some airlines will out-perform our estimates and others will under-perform. But, on average, airlines will only make a net profit of about $5.94 per passenger in 2014.”

    For an industry that appeared down and out a decade ago, the airline industry has enjoyed a strong comeback, capped with what's expected to be a highly pro...
    Read lessRead more

    New York vs. FedEx: new use for racketeering laws

    Shinnecock Nation shipments in dispute

    The RICO anti-racketeering laws originally intended to take down Mafiosi and other dangerous organized criminals are now being used against FedEx for shipping items from the Shinnecock [Indian] Nation – specifically, the cigarette-selling Shinnecock Smoke Shop – to New Yorkers.

    Courthouse News Service reports that New York City is outraged to learn that FedEx delivered Shinnecock cigarettes to New Yorkers, and claims that the city was therefore deprived of $15 tax on every such carton delivered, and is thus seeking $45 (thrice the damages) for every such carton.

    The Shinnecock Nation is not named in the complaint, likely because it remains perfectly legal for them to sell untaxed cigarettes, so New York is using RICO in an attempt to collect tax money anyway. We can all sleep easy knowing that the dangerous racketeers of FedEx will soon be forced to cease their reign of terror.

    The RICO anti-racketeering laws originally intended to take down Mafiosi and other dangerous organized criminals are now being used against FedEx for shipp...
    Read lessRead more

    As in past years, the new year will start off with record high gas prices

    The year-round average for 2013, however, will wind up being slightly below 2012

    There may be lots to celebrate as 2013 winds down but there's at least one sour note: we'll be ringing in 2014 with the highest price on record for New Year’s Day. 

    In fact, this will be the fifth consecutive January 1 that Americans have paid more at the pump than the year prior and the fourth straight year with a new record to start the year, AAA reports. 

    The national average prices to begin 2011, 2012 and 2013 were $3.07, $3.28 and $3.29 respectively.  Despite the recent run of record high starts, gas prices for the entire 2013 year averaged less than 2012 and prices in 2014 should be slightly lower than this year, barring any unforeseen market moving news. 

    AAA expects lower prices to be facilitated by increased U.S. refining capacity and crude oil production.  These domestic factors help provide some insulation from the price impact of supply issues like refinery outages or international production concerns, however it’s possible that unexpected events or greater than forecast economic growth could result in higher prices for motorists in 2014.

    Today’s national average price at the pump is $3.31 per gallon. This is six cents more expensive than one week ago, four cents more than one month ago and two cents more than the same date last year.  After falling on 19 of 22 days, the national average has now increased for 11 straight days.

    The rising national average has been reflected across the country.  Motorists in every state are paying more at the pump than one week ago, and, while prices in four states have declined a penny or two per gallon over the last two weeks, motorists in four states have experienced more than 20-cent jumps during the same span.  

    There may be lots to celebrate as 2013 winds down but there's at least one sour note: we'll be ringing in 2014 with the highest price on record for New Yea...
    Read lessRead more

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

      By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

      Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

      So far, so good for housing prices

      It's been a good year through the first 10 months of 2013

      Housing prices in the first 10 months of 2013 have posted their best gains in nearly 8 years.

      According to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices -- a measure of U.S. home prices -- the 10-City and 20-City Composites posted year-over-year gains of 13.6%. That's the highest gain since February 2006 and the seventeenth consecutive month that both Composites increased on an annual basis.

      This past October, the two Composites inched up just 0.2%, with 18 cities posting lower monthly rates in October than in September. After 19 months of gains, San Francisco showed a slightly negative return, while Phoenix held onto its streak and posted its 25th consecutive increase.

      A fading boom

      “Home prices increased again in October,” said David M. Blitzer, Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “Both Composites’ annual returns have been in double-digit territory since March 2013 and increasing; now up 13.6% in the year ending in October. However, monthly numbers show we are living on borrowed time and the boom is fading.

      Thirteen cities and both Composites posted double-digit annual returns. Cities at the top of the range (Las Vegas, San Diego and San Francisco) saw smaller annual increases. On the other hand, cities that have been relatively underperforming (Cleveland, New York and Washington) saw their annual gains grow.

      Miami showed the most improvement, and Chicago recorded its highest annual rate (+10.9%) since December 1988. Charlotte and Dallas posted annual increases of 8.8% and 9.7%, respectively -- their highest since the inception of their indices in 1987 and 2000.

      The Fed factor

      “The key economic question facing housing is the Fed’s future course to scale back quantitative easing and how this will affect mortgage rates,” said Blitzer. “Other housing data paint a mixed picture suggesting that we may be close to the peak gains in prices. However, other economic data point to somewhat faster growth in the new year. Most forecasts for home prices point to single digit growth in 2014.”

      Ten cities posted positive monthly returns in October. Las Vegas showed the largest gain with an increase of 1.2%, followed by Miami with a 1.1% monthly gain. Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington were the nine cities that declined month-over-month; two of them -- Denver and Dallas -- are slightly off their peak set last month. New York remained flat. Only Charlotte and Miami accelerated on a monthly basis.

      All 20 cities posted growth from October 2012 to October 2013, with 13 showing year-over-year acceleration in October from the month before. Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco continued to post increases of over 20%. Las Vegas maintained the lead, but its return decreased two percentage points to 27.1%. Miami’s annual rate increased the most -- from 14.3% in September to 15.8% in October.

      Housing prices in the first 10 months of 2013 have posted their best gains in nearly 8 years. According to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices -- a me...
      Read lessRead more

      Amazon's Kindle Fire blazed new trails over the holidays

      Activations jumped 63% from the December average, far outpacing Apple

      If you fired up a new Kindle Fire over the holidays, you were in good company -- so did millions of others. A report by the analytics firm Flurry says Kindle Fire activations on Christmas Day were 24 times the average for the first three weeks of December.

      Apple and Samsung devices both turned in low single-digit gains. Apple was also outpaced in laptop sales, with Google Chromebook sales quadrupling during the first 11 months of the year. 

      What do the Fire and the Chromebook have in common? That's right -- low price. The Kindle starts at $139 for the 7-inch model and you can pick up a Chromebook for $199.

      In both cases, the devices are basically gateways to the goods and services their manufacturers are selling. Amazon sells the books, movies, music and thousands of other products that you can buy and, in some cases, consume through the Fire.

      Ditto with the Chromebook. It exposes you to all things Google -- ads, a social network, books, movies, music ... well, you get that idea.

      Of course, Apple has iTunes but its mercantile activities pale beside its competitors and it shows in the price of Apple's products. A MacBook Pro will set you back $1,400 or so and an iPad fetches $400 or more, depending on size and configuration. 

      Amazon sells Kindle tablets at cost, putting them within the Christmas budgets of more people than some other devices. The reason Amazon sells tablets at cost is that they are a channel for promoting physical goods and promoting and delivering digital content,” stated a blog post today by Mary Ellen Gordon, Flurry’s head of research.

      Amazon is stingy with sales information but said last week that it sold “millions” of Kindle devices during the holiday season. The Cyber Monday shopping weekend was the best ever for Kindle Fire tablets and Kindle e-readers. While impressive, its 24-fold increase in Christmas activations was down from 40-fold and 35-fold gains in each of the prior two years.

      However, it should be noted that in the overall tablet market, Amazon doesn’t come close to challenging the share of Apple or Samsung, which had about 30% and 20%, respectively, of the market as of the third quarter, according to an IDC estimate. 

      The most likely interpretation of that statistic is that we're willing to cheap out when buying presents but when the gift is for ourselves, we stick with higher-end merchandise.

      If you fired up a new Kindle Fire over the holidays, you were in good company -- so did millions of others. A report by the analytics firm Flurry says Kind...
      Read lessRead more

      Source Eleven and Source Expert Disc bicycles recalled

      The set screws in the front hub of the recalled bicycles can loosen

      Specialized Bicycle Components of Morgan Hill, Calif., is recalling about 173 2012 Source Eleven and Source Expert Disc bicycles with Supernova Switchable Dynamo Front Hubs

      The set screws in the front hub of the recalled bicycles can loosen and stop the front wheel from turning, posing a fall hazard.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      The recalled products are 2012 model year Source Eleven and Source Expert Disc bicycles with Supernova Switchable Dynamo Front Hubs as part of the original equipment. The name “Specialized” is printed on the bicycle’s down tube and “Source Eleven” or “Source Expert” are printed on the top tube. The front hubs have “www.supernova-lights.com” and one of the following model numbers printed on them: 1207, 1208, 1226, 1227, 1228, 1241, 1254, 1263, 1284 and 1344.

      The bicycles, manufactureed in Taiwan, were sold at authorized Specialized Bicycle dealers in the United States from October 2011, to September 2013, from about $2,000 to 2,700.

      Customers should immediately stop riding the recalled bicycles and bring them to an authorized Specialized dealer for a free replacement front wheel and new Supernova front hub. A list of authorized dealers is available on the company's web site.

      Consumers may contact Specialized Bicycle Components toll-free at (877) 808-8154 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. PT Monday through Friday.

      Specialized Bicycle Components of Morgan Hill, Calif., is recalling about 173 2012 Source Eleven and Source Expert Disc bicycles with Supernova Switchable ...
      Read lessRead more

      Zoom car seat stroller adapter recalled

      Adapter clips can loosen on the stroller frame

      Joovy is recalling about 1,500 Zoom car seat adapters.

      Adapter clips can loosen on the stroller frame, posing a fall hazard.

      The firm has received nine reports of incidents involving loose adapters on stroller frames. There are no injuries reported.

      This recall involves all Joovy’s Zoom gray metal car seat stroller adapters. The adapters are gray with black plastic clips designed to attach infant car seats to stroller frames. The adapter frame’s dimensions are approximately 17” x 13” x 10”. Recalled car seat adapter models include 00945 for Graco, 00946 for Chicco and 00947 for Peg Perego frames. “Joovy” and the model numbers can be found on the label at the center of the end bar of the adapter.

      The car seat adapters, manufactured in China, were sold at independent specialty juvenile retailers and online at Joovy.com between May 2012, and August, 2013 for about $25.

      Consumers should stop using these adapters and contact Joovy for a free repair kit to help assure proper attachment to Zoom stroller frames.

      Consumers may contact Joovy toll-free at (855) 251-0759 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT Monday through Friday.

      Joovy is recalling about 1,500 Zoom car seat adapters. Adapter clips can loosen on the stroller frame, posing a fall hazard. The firm has received nine r...
      Read lessRead more

      How to start the new year with a savings plan

      How you think about savings could be a key to your success

      A key building block in personal finance is a savings plan yet few of us seem to have one. Instead, we have rising credit card debt.

      To turn things around in 2014 it may be necessary to change how you think about saving money. Australian researchers have found that taking a cyclical approach to saving, instead of the typical linear, goal-oriented approach, may be more effective at encouraging short-term savings.

      “Americans seem to understand and believe in the importance of having an emergency fund, back-up savings, or simply ‘money in the bank’ — and yet, savings rates are still low,” said Leona Tam, psychological scientist at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia. “Our research suggests a new, alternative method to personal savings that we hope will help to bridge this gap.”

      Overly optimistic

      Setting abstract goals, says Tam, may not get you where you want to be. She says people who think about savings in linear terms may be overly optimistic, assuming they can always save more down the road.

      A cyclical mindset, on the other hand, focuses on the series of interconnected recurring experiences that crop up on a regular basis. A cyclical mindset, the researchers say, should make people less likely to put off saving money by encouraging them to make concrete plans and decreasing overly optimistic thinking about the future.

      The findings are based on a study using 145 subjects. One group was left to save money with the traditional, linear approach. The second group was instructed in the cyclical approach. The researchers said people in the cyclical mindset group were able to save more, at least in part, because they developed more concrete plans and were less optimistic about future money-making in comparison to their linear-thinking counterparts.

      Just do it

      Regardless of how you think about saving, the important thing is to start doing it, say personal finance experts. And no matter how you approach it, saving is not possible without either increasing your income or spending less than you are now. For many would-be savers, that's the problem.

      If a raise or second job isn't in your future you'll have to find ways to cut back on current expenses, and most people don't like that idea. However, it might not be as unpleasant as you think.

      Cameron Huddleston, a contributing editor at Kiplinger's, recently added up the savings from a few simple steps. Most people can save, she says, by reducing telecommunications charges.

      Going wireless

      “You need to evaluate whether you really need that landline,” Huddleston said. “Are you using it enough to justify the expense? You could be saving $30 to $40 a month if you can get by with just your cell phone.”

      There may also be ways to save on your cellphone plan. For example, how much of your monthly data allotment do you really use. By accessing your account records you can check you usage over the last few months. If you are paying for more data than you really need, you could drop down to a smaller monthly allotment.

      Another area where consumers can save is by reviewing their insurance coverage. Premiums are affected by the policy's deductible – the amount a driver or homeowner pays on a claim. By raising the deductible – and assuming more of the risk – the consumer pays a smaller premium.

      “I saved by doing this myself,” Huddleston said. “I shaved about $300 off my annual premium by boosting my deductible from $1,000 to $2,000. That's a savings of about $25 a month. You can also do the same thing with your auto insurance. It's also a good idea to do this, especially with homeowner's insurance, because you don't want to be tempted to file small claims, which will just lead to increased premiums.”

      Getting real about money

      Honestly assessing your financial performance can be another way to get a handle on savings. The first step is to track where the money is going. People sometime avoid doing this because they fear the reality of their spending will force them to make unpleasant changes. However, knowing where money is spent puts a person in control, allowing them to spend mindfully instead of mindlessly.

      Adding up your total debt is another unpleasant task, but one you need to do before you can launch an effective savings plan. Once all debt is totaled, review the interest rates for each obligation. Next, total the dollar amount of interest paid each month, and consider how that money could be used if it weren't going to service debt.

      As you begin to face reality you'll become more aware of seemingly innocent habits that are creating a money drain. Looking back at a month's spending through the lens of hindsight can add a new perspective to future.

      A key building block in personal finance is a savings plan yet few of us seem to have one. Instead, we have rising credit card debt.To turn things around...
      Read lessRead more

      Researchers suggest new way to kick the smoking habit

      And it doesn't include making a New Year's resolution

      It's the time of year for New Years resolutions and, if you are still a smoker, chances are kicking the habit is high on your list. And chances are it was last year as well.

      A study by researchers at a number of institutions, including the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, finds that smokers start off resolute in early January but often are back where they started by Groundhog Day. That may be a fitting reference since the researchers say smokers often go through the same thing actor Bill Murray did in the classic film “Groundhog Day,” reliving the same experience over and over.

      To try to learn why that happens the researchers say they monitored the search query logs from Google from 2008 to 2012, looking for searches related to quitting, such as "help quit smoking." Specifically, they were looking for weekly patterns in smoking cessation. They found them.

      Mondays are quitting day

      The study found that people look for information about quitting smoking more often early in the week, with the highest query volumes on Mondays. The pattern was consistent across six languages -- English, French, Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

      Why is that important? The researchers suggest a global predisposition to thinking about quitting smoking early in the week, particularly on Mondays. That, they say, suggests smokers are more receptive to anti-smoking messages on Mondays.

      “On New Year’s Day, interest in smoking cessation doubles,” said the study’s lead author, John Ayers of San Diego State University. “But New Years happens one day a year. Here we’re seeing a spike that happens once a week.”

      That means a New Years resolution to quit smoking is not that important. What happens, for example, if you make it for several days but then lapse back into the habit? Usually it means another uninterrupted year of smoking.

      Make it a weekly ritual

      A better approach to discouraging smoking, the study suggests, is a weekly campaign. That way if someone is successful for a short while but falls back into the habit, they get another opportunity right away for a “reset,” in effect starting their New Years resolution all over again.

      Previous research has found that it takes seven to 10 attempts to quit before someone finally gives up cigarettes. Reaching them once a week can compress the timeline of the quitting process.

      “People around the world are starting the week with intentions to quit smoking – if we can connect those people at school, work and communities we can make a regular ‘Monday Quit’ the cultural norm,” said Morgan Johnson, director of programs and research at the Monday Campaigns and another co-author of the Google paper.

      If you are a smoker who is trying to quit, there are several ways you can incorporate this philosophy into your efforts to stop smoking. For starters, seek some positive reinforcement.

      What to do

      Find people you know who have been able to stop smoking and, at the beginning of each week, seek encouragement from them. If you make it through a week without a cigarette, celebrate.

      Take a few minutes every Monday to reflect on the progress you made over the previous week and make a plan for the upcoming week. Write down any cravings you had and how you overcame them, and record any upcoming triggers you may face in the current week.

      Use Mondays as a time to recalibrate and recharge your commitment. Start each week reminding yourself of the reasons you decided to quit in the first place.

      Reward yourself. If you make it through a week without lighting up, use the money you may have saved on buying cigarettes to treat yourself to a movie, go out to dinner, or whatever reward you think will keep you motivated to stay quit for good.

      Finally, don't beat yourself up if you cave. Most smokers do before they finally stop. Remember that you can start the process all over each Monday.

      It's the time of year for New Years resolutions and, if you are still a smoker, chances are kicking the habit is high on your list. And chances are it was ...
      Read lessRead more

      Lawsuit: insider trading, ethics problems at Angie's List

      Pay for play, pump and dump activities alleged

      A federal class action lawsuit charges that executives of the popular consumer site Angie's List used false and misleading statements to inflate the company's stock price and engaged in ethically questionable business practices by allegedly forcing companies to pay for favorable ratings and "hot leads" from prospective customers, Courthouse News Service reported.

      Lead plaintiffs Eva and Harold Baron charge that Angie's List failed to disclose that it was issuing free subscriptions to inflate its subscriber list while, on the other side of its business, forcing companies to pay hefty fees in exchange for favorable ratings and customer referrals despite its advertising claim that "You can't pay to be on Angie's List."

      The suit charges that executives of the company inflated the company's stock price with misleading statements throughout 2013, then sold off much of their own stock for more than $13 million.

      "Angie's List believes the securities suit is without merit and will vigorously defend itself against this lawsuit," said spokeswoman Cheryl Reed.

      The suit names Angie's List Inc., CEO William S. Oesterle, Chief Marketing Officer Angela R. Hicks Bowman, Controller and Interim CFO Charles Hundt, CFO Robert R. Millard and Chief Technology Officer Thapar Manu.

      The suit alleges that Angie's List stock reached a high of more than $28 per share on July 18, the day on which "certain of the individual defendants cashed in" by selling portions of their holdings.

      "False and misleading"

      The Barons claim that the company's growth and revenue forecasts were false and misleading because they failed to disclose key facts, including: 

      • "that the legitimacy of the service provider side of Angie's List's business model was dubious, as service providers were forced to pay Angie's List thousands of dollars a year in order to be listed as highly rated service providers, and if they did not, they would not get customer referrals from Angie's List;
      • "that Angie's List did not vet the service providers listed and recommended on its website, either for qualifications or for safety, leading many consumers to question the value of its recommendations, causing them to be unwilling to pay outsized membership fees."

      On Sept. 30, defendant Manu was fired and the share price dropped by 10 percent in one day, falling to $20.30 on Oct. 1, the suit charges. By Oct. 24, the share price was down to $14.64, nearly half what it was when the company executives sold their shares.

      The Barons seek class certification and damages for securities violations.

      A federal class action lawsuit charges that executives of the popular consumer site Angie's List used false and misleading statements to inflate the compan...
      Read lessRead more

      No, Johns Hopkins did not discover a dietary cure for cancer

      Groundbreaking medical advances are NOT introduced to the world via misspelled emails

      We feel equal parts sympathy and admiration for a certain unnamed staff member working for the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center attached to the Johns Hopkins Medical School — specifically, whichever staff member had to update the Johns Hopkins webpage to tell everybody: “Cancer Update Email — It’s a Hoax!”

      What follows is a long and detailed list of false claims and rebuttals—starting with the following explanation:

      Information falsely attributed to Johns Hopkins called, "CANCER UPDATE FROM JOHN HOPKINS" describes properties of cancer cells and suggests ways of preventing cancer.  Johns Hopkins did not publish the information, which often is an email attachment, nor do we endorse its contents.  The email also contains an incorrect spelling of our institution as "John" Hopkins; whereas, the correct spelling is "Johns" Hopkins. For more information about cancer, please read the information on our web site or visit the National Cancer Institute.  Please help combat the spread of this hoax by letting others know of this statement.

      Another hoax email that has been circulating since 2004 regarding plastic containers, bottles, wrap claiming that heat releases dioxins which cause cancer also was not published by Johns Hopkins.  More information from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

      …. Emails offering easy remedies for avoiding and curing cancer are the latest Web-influenced trend. To gain credibility, the anonymous authors falsely attribute their work to respected research institutions like Johns Hopkins. This is the case with the so-called “Cancer Update from Johns Hopkins.”

      The gist of this viral email is that cancer therapies of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy do not work against the disease and people should instead choose a variety of dietary strategies…. 

      We admire whoever wrote this because it introduces a plain, straightforward list of hoax claims followed by factual rebuttals, with nothing to indicate that the writer is incredibly annoyed and frustrated at having to waste valuable research time repeatedly publishing rebuttals to ridiculous claims.

      Here is a prediction: one of these days, possibly even in our own lifetimes, a brilliant medical genius is going to discover something wonderful -- possibly a cure for cancer, a vaccine for AIDS, maybe the secret to halting the aging process at 26 years old.

      And when this happens, said medical genius (or her university’s public-relations staff) will definitely announce this discovery to the world — and that announcement will initially appear in a peer-reviewed medical journal, not in the badly misspelled email Aunt Gertrude forwarded you after she got a copy from a buddy in her bridge club.

      We feel equal parts sympathy and admiration for a certain unnamed staff member working for the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center attached to the Jo...
      Read lessRead more

      Man claims pornography came pre-loaded on his new Nintendo device

      Always check new electronics before giving them to your kids

      Usually, when you buy a computer or video-game system, any pre-installed software is considered a nice bonus. But that’s assuming you both want and expect said software, and if you’re buying a video-game system for your kids, chances are you neither want nor expect it to come pre-loaded with pornography.

      So it’s a good thing you’re not Tom Mayhew of Hampton, Va., who told local news station WAVY that the Nintendo DS he bought from a local Walmart for his 8-year-old son turned out to have exactly such images on it. And of course, since Mayhew had family visiting for the holiday, it wasn’t only his son who discovered the images on his game system; pretty much all the younger members of the extended Mayhew clan made this discovery at once.

      Mayhew told WAVY that he bought the Nintendo game console on Dec. 23, but the obscene images on it were time-stamped in early December. Walmart has not responded to WAVY’s request for comment.

      Assuming Mayhew’s story is correct, the most likely explanation is that somebody bought the Nintendo and returned it to Walmart for whatever reason – whether an honest change of heart, or possibly some weird prankish desire to pre-load pornographic pictures onto a kids’ gaming device.

      Not the first time

      In fairness to both Walmart and Nintendo, this is hardly the first time somebody was surprised by the discovery of old porn on a supposedly new item.

      As early as 2003, the BBC reported the story of a British couple who’d bought a “new” digital camera at a respectable department store and found the memory stick pre-loaded with explicit imagery. And only two months ago, a man in New Zealand claimed his son found pre-loaded porn on a new phone.

      Though such stories are pretty easy to find online, they’re still very rare compared to the hundreds of millions of electronics sold every year. The chance that you personally will ever find such a surprise on your own newly bought devices is very small — but nonetheless, if you’re giving electronic items as a gift (especially to a minor), even if the items appear brand-new, direct from the manufacturer and still in their original wrapping, it’s a good idea to open and test these items before you give them to their intended recipient — partially to make sure all its features work as they’re supposed to, but also to check against any extra features you’d rather not have your kids exposed to.

      Usually, when you buy a computer or video-game system, any pre-installed software is considered a nice bonus. But that’s assuming you both want and expect ...
      Read lessRead more

      Pending home sales inch higher in November

      Strong growth this year may level off in 2014

      Monthly increases in the South and West offset declines in the Northeast and Midwest, pushing pending home sales slightly higher in November.

      The National Association of Realtors (NAR) says its Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) edged up 0.2% to 101.7 last month from a downwardly revised 101.5 in October. That puts it 1.6% below November 2012 when it was 103.3. The data reflect contracts but not closings.

      The market is showing signs of flattening. “We may have reached a cyclical low because the positive fundamentals of job creation and household formation are likely to foster a fairly stable level of contract activity in 2014,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “Although the final months of 2013 are finishing on a soft note, the year as a whole will end with the best sales total in seven years.”

      He notes that the market still favors buyers in most of the country, but says higher mortgage interest rates in combination with strong price gains mean a more modest growth in values is expected in 2014.

      The regional tally

      The PHSI, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, declined 2.7% to 82.6 in the Northeast, but is 1.9% above a year ago;

      in the Midwest the index fell 3.1% to 100.6, but is 0.4% higher than November 2012;

      pending home sales in the South jumped 2.3% to a reading of 116.1, and is up 0.1% from a year ago; and

      the index in the West rose 1.8% to 95.0, but is 8.7% below the same time last year, due partly to inventory constraints.

      The forecast

      Total existing-home sales this year are expected to reach 5.1 million -- a gain of almost 10% over 2012, and then stay at that level in 2014, before rising to 5.3 million the following year.

      The national median existing-home price for all of this year will be close to $197,300 -- a gain of nearly 12% from last year, but is projected to rise at a more moderate pace of 5 to 5.5% in 2014, and grow another 4% in 2015.

      Monthly increases in the South and West offset declines in the Northeast and Midwest, pushing pending home sales slightly higher in November. The National...
      Read lessRead more

      New site predicts how much bandwidth an app will use

      It's intended to help consumers keep control of their wireless usage ... and bills

      You want to find the car that gives you the best mileage and the refrigerator that won't inflate your electricity bill to the size of the national debt, right?

      So it stands to reason you'll want to know how much expensive bandwidth that new app you -- or you offspring -- are thinking of loading onto your smartphone. That's the thinking behind a new website put together by CTIA-The Wireless Association, the oddly-named trade association of the cell phone industry.

      There are already tools that will tally up data usage after the fact but CTIA says KnowMyApp.org is the first one to give you a heads-up before you hit the download button.

      Visitors to KnowMyApp.org may search by name, operating systems or categories. After locating and clicking the desired app, users will find the following information:

      • How the app was tested;
      • How much data is used when downloaded, at initialization (both first and subsequent start-ups to analyze caching), during active run time and during background time;
      • How the app impacts data plans (i.e., 300 MB, 1 GB, 2 GB and 4 GB); and
      • How users can conserve data usage.

      Currently, KnowMyApp.org includes test results for the 50 top paid and free apps from Apple and Google stores with more being tested and added each month.

      For example, here's what the site has to say about the Netflix app for Android:

      To put it plainly, watch a few video shorts each day and watch your monthly bandwidth allotment disappear.

      CTIA is also providing tips and best practices guides to app develpers to help them develop apps that don't consumer gigantic amounts of broadband.

      You want to find the car that gives you the best mileage and the refrigerator that won't inflate your electricity bill to the size of the national debt, ri...
      Read lessRead more

      Google Chromebooks sales sizzling, at Apple's expense

      Microsoft making progress with its tablets if nothing else

      Google's Chromebooks are humble little machines, with tiny hard drives, modest processors and low-resolution screens. They will only run apps through the Chrome browser. If the Macbook Pro is a BMW, the Chromebook is a Ford Fiesta.

      But guess what? They sell for as little as $199 and they do just about everything most people need -- which is turning out to be bad news for Apple and Microsoft.

      Though supported only by a minimal advertising campaign, the Chromebooks and their cousins, Android-powered tablets, have turned in sizzling sales through November 2013, selling 1.76 million units compared to just 400,000 in 2012, according to the marketing research firm NPD.

      Chromebooks accounted for 21 percent of all notebook sales, up from a negligible share in the prior year, and 8 percent of all computer and tablet sales through November, up from one tenth of a percent in 2012 – the largest share increase across the various product segments.

      “The market for personal computing devices in commercial markets continues to shift and change,” said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis, NPD.  “New products like Chromebooks, and reimagined items like Windows tablets, are now supplementing the revitalization that iPads started in personal computing devices.”

      In other words, Apple pioneered the tablet market and others are now capitalizing on it.

      No reason to buy anything else

      If you look at it objectively, and if your computing needs are relatively normal, there is really no reason to buy anything other than a Chromebook. It does just about everything -- word processing, email, chat, spreadsheets, graphics and photo manipulation -- via the Internet without your having to buy any expensive software. It is also relatively impervious to viruses and it updates itself effortlessly and quickly with a single click.

      Windows 8, on the other hand, seems to delight in making you drum your fingers while it goes through its update routine. The other day, I fired up the Windows 8 machine I keep in the office for testing purposes (a/k/a grins and giggles) and sat through 18 minutes of updates, requiring five -- count them, five -- restarts.

      OK, I hadn't used the machine for a few weeks and I don't leave it running when it's not in use because it is more virus-infested than a tick-ridden dog, but really -- 18 minutes to update? My Chromebook Pixel does it with a simple restart, which takes about 10 seconds.

      Despite that, Windows has been making impressive gains. Windows desktops  increased by nearly 10 percent and Apple sales for notebooks and desktops combined fell by 7 percent during the first 11 months of 2013.

      And despite what you may have read, the market for computers of all kinds has been anything but dead this year, NPD reports. Year to date through November 2013, 14.4 million desktops, notebooks, and tablets were sold through U.S. commercial channels, leading to a 25.4 percent increase over 2012. That stellar performance follows the 3.1 percent sales increase experienced in 2012.

      Having said all that, we must add that anyone looking for the most economical, robust, flexible and powerful operating system needs to look at Linux. There is nothing better than Linux Mint for those who want the advantages of the Chromebook without being attached quite so securely to Google.  

      Google's Chromebooks are humble little machines, with tiny hard drives, modest processors and low-resolution screens. They will only run apps through the C...
      Read lessRead more

      FOSFOREL herring fillet in oil recalled

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria

      Zip International Group of Edison, N.J.,, is recalling herring fillet in oil (FOSFOREL, ATLANTIKA) 200 grams in plastic packaging due to Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

      No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem.

      The recalled product, which is imported from Russia, includes best by dates 18/01/2014 (UPC: 4607106577526). The best by date is located on the round side of the packaging and was sold to retail grocery stores in New York State beginning on 11/07/2013 and ending on 12/12/2013.

      Similar recalls were issued earlier this month and in late July.

      Consumers who have purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but should return it to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 732-225-3600, from 9:00 AM-5:00 PM EST, Monday through Friday.

      Zip International Group of Edison, N.J.,, is recalling herring fillet in oil (FOSFOREL, ATLANTIKA) 200 grams in plastic packaging due to Listeria monocytog...
      Read lessRead more

      Giant Eagle recalls Candy Place chocolate Santas

      The candies contain peanuts, an allergen not listed on the label

      Giant Eagle is recalling 11-oz. packages of Candy Place chocolate Santas due to an undeclared peanut allergen.

      While the individual peanut butter filled candies reference “peanut butter,” peanuts are not listed as an ingredient on the primary package label. The product is safe for consumption by those who do not have a peanut allergy.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The affected product was sold in 11-ounce packages with the UPC code 3003407341, and included chocolate, caramel and peanut butter varieties of chocolate candy.

      Approximately 1,100 customers have purchased the product in Giant Eagle supermarkets in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland since October 1, 2013.

      Consumers may return affected product to any Giant Eagle supermarket location for a full refund.

      Questions may be directed to George J. Howe Company, the manufacturer, at 1-800-367-4693 between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. EST Monday through Friday.    

      Giant Eagle is recalling 11-oz. packages of Candy Place chocolate Santas due to an undeclared peanut allergen. While the individual peanut butter filled...
      Read lessRead more

      Ford recalls Lincoln MKZ Hybrids

      The transmission range sensor may not function properly

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 7,153 model year 2013-2014 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid vehicles manufactured April 26, 2012, through September 24, 2013.

      Due to a manufacturing error, the transmission range sensor may not function properly allowing the affected vehicles to be shifted out of the Park position without first applying the brake pedal. Without requiring the brake to be pressed, the vehicle may be unintentionally shifted out of Park, allowing it to roll which may result in a crash.

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will update the Powertrain Control Module (PCM) with new software, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in January 2014.

      Customers may contact Ford at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 13C09.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 7,153 model year 2013-2014 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid vehicles manufactured April 26, 2012, through September 24, 2013. Due to a ...
      Read lessRead more