Current Events in February 2014

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    Tinder app security breach pinpoints users' locations

    Not the first such problem, merely the most recent

    If you've been using the popular dating app Tinder, which is supposed to help you find potential partners in your own neighborhood (rather than hundreds or thousands of miles away) be warned: a hacker with the most rudimentary of hacking skills can use the device to pinpoint your exact physical location to within 100 feet.

    Or could use the device for this — the security flaw has allegedly been fixed. But Tinder isn't offering any details about it, not even to say how long the security breach existed — outsider estimates suggest a range of anywhere from 40 to 165 days.

    This news didn't come out because Tinder warned its users about the security risk, but because a “white hat hacking” company called Include Security discovered the flaw.

    As BusinessWeekreported on Feb. 19, Include discovered the Tinder security flaw and told Tinder about it on Oct. 23, yet did not get a “meaningful response” from the company until Dec. 2, when a Tinder employee requested more time to fix the problem. The security flaw was (so far as anybody knows) fixed on or by Jan. 1 of this year — though, once again, Tinder never informed its users about it.

    The hundred-foot location hack is not the first Tinder security breach, nor the first time the company kept silent about it: last July, when Quartz.com discovered and asked Tinder about a similar security breach, Tinder claimed it only lasted for “a few hours” when in reality it lasted up to two weeks. In November, a Dutch web developer discovered yet another security loophole that exposed users' email addresses to strangers.

    As of presstime, we don't know of any currently existing flaws in Tinder security protections — but then again, history suggests that if any such flaws do exist, Tinder's not likely to admit it anyway.

    If you've been using the popular dating app Tinder, which is supposed to help you find potential partners in your own neighborhood (rather than hundreds or...

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      Ticks carry newly recognized human pathogen in San Francisco area

      Lyme disease isn't enough, now ticks carry a new pathogen as well

      Look out, San Francisco. As springtime approaches and Golden Gate Park beckons, scientists say the ticks that infest much of Northern California are carrying not only Lyme disease but also a new, previously unknown pathogen.

      A study to be published in the March issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Disease details how researchers including Dan Salkeld, a research associate at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, found the bacterium, Borrelia miyamotoi, as well as Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, in ticks they sampled throughout the area.

      The researchers were surprised to find ticks infected with one or both bacteria in nearly every park they examined. The findings raise the question of whether B. miyamotoi has gone undetected in California residents. They also represent "an important step toward dispelling the perception that you cannot acquire Lyme disease in California," said Ana Thompson, executive director of the Bay Area Lyme Foundation.

      Known for some time to infect ticks, the first known human case of B. miyamotoi infection in the U.S. was discovered in 2013. Beyond Lyme-like symptoms such as fever and headache, little is known about its potential health impacts. In the Bay Area, low awareness of tick-borne diseases such as Lyme could heighten the risk of infection with B. miyamotoi for users of the region's extensive natural areas and trails.

      "People who have difficulty getting diagnoses – maybe this is involved, " Salkeld said.

      Lyme disease

      Lyme disease, named for Lyme, Conn., where the illness was first identified in 1975, is transmitted to humans via the bite of a tick infected with B. burgdorferi. In California, the culprit is the Western black-legged tick and the primary carrier is the western gray squirrel. On the East Coast, it's the black-legged tick and the white-footed mouse is the main carrier.

      Lyme can be difficult to diagnose, but its early symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and sometimes a telltale rash that looks like a bull's-eye centered on the tick bite. If left untreated, the infection can cause a range of health problems from arthritis and joint pain to immune deficiencies and a persistent cognitive fog.

      Most people recover with antibiotic treatment, but, for unknown reasons, some patients who suffer from a variety of Lyme-like symptoms find no relief from the normally proscribed therapy.

      Although the majority of U.S. Lyme infections occur in the Northeast, incidence of the disease is growing across the country. Changes in climate and the movement of infected animals may be partly to blame. 

      When someone is infected, it can take weeks before blood tests detect antibodies. Adding to the diagnostic headache, tests have been known to return false positives and false negatives. Current testing capabilities also have a hard time determining whether the infection has been cured.

      An adult deer tick (Source: Wikipedia)Look out, San Francisco. As springtime approaches and Golden Gate Park beckons, scientists say the ticks that inf...

      Look out, Google: Case Western develops a new cyber-search method

      New search tool finds relevant results faster, researchers say

      It wasn't all that long ago that Alta Vista was the hands-down favorite search engine. Then something called Google came along. Now computer scientists at Case Western Reserve University think they may have something even better than Google, although they're still lacking a catchy name.

      Would you believe it's called the Conjunctive Exploratory Navigation Interface (CENI)? OK, but other than that, the researchers say their creation saves users time by more quickly identifying and retrieving the most relevant information on their computers and hand-held devices.

      "Most people have an iPhone or laptop that stores a wide variety of information and, often, you can't find it when you need it, even though you know it's there," said GQ Zhang, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, division chief of Medical Informatics at Case Western Reserve and an author of the study.

      "Or, you go to a website where the content has been divided under different areas, and what you're looking for fits several. If you choose one area but whoever filed the data chose another area, you may not find that information," Zhang said.

      Crowdsourced testing

      Anonymous testers recruited through crowdsourcing preferred the new search tool nearly two-to-one over a keyword-based lookup interface and the most commonly available lookup search interface using Google, according to the study, published in the open-access Journal of Medical Internet Research.

      Side-by-side comparisons showed CENI, which combines two search modes and a more comprehensive way to organize and tag data, is more effective than looking up items by matched keywords alone.

      They describe CENI as an on-screen portal where users access data by browsing through menus of topics and typing in keywords and say it provides a more focused search and retrieves the most pertinent information.

      In one test, for example, a keyword search came up with 89 responses to a question: "What are the typical vision problems associated with diabetes?" CENI came up with the most applicable 13 by selecting appropriate menus.

      CENI overcomes this limitation by allowing data to be tagged into as many areas as relevant, and provides an interface and system that leverages multiple tags for each single data item.

      Prototype site

      Zhang and Licong Cui, a PhD student in Zhang's lab, have a working prototype designed specifically for the health resource website, NetWellness. This not-for-profit site allowed the public to ask health professionals at Case Western Reserve, Ohio State University and the University of Cincinnati health-related questions. More than 60,000 questions and answers are searchable using CENI. The interface is currently not available to the public.

      Health information is highly sought after. A Pew Foundation survey found that 80 percent of Internet users have searched for health information, and 60 percent used that information to help make health-care decisions.

      But a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that accessing health information using simple terms on such search engines as Google and Yahoo was inefficient. Less than a quarter of the searches led to relevant information, the study found.

      This kind of search, called "lookup," can overwhelm the user with a long list of document links the user must then sift through, Zhang said. "If results do not show up in the first couple of pages, they are lost because the user is not going to go through millions of links manually."

      CENI combines lookup and another search method, called "exploratory navigation." The exploratory mode enables users who lack a specific target or have trouble forming descriptive lookup terms to use menus of topics to navigate and explore information.

      AltaVista in 1999 (Source: Wikipedia)It wasn't all that long ago that Alta Vista was the hands-down favorite search engine. Then something called Googl...

      Housing hits the skids in January

      Both new home construction and building permit applications were down sharply

      New home construction plunged in January for the second time in as many months.

      Government figures show housing starts were down 16% last month -- to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 880,000 following a drop to 1.05 million in December. The decline was led by a drop of 15.9% -- to 573,000 in the construction of single-family homes.

      Many analysts believe the drop was due to the severe winter weather in much of the nation last month, with new home construction plunging 67.7% in the Midwest. Other analysts, however, disagree, noting that construction in the Northeast surged 61.9%

      Building permits

      The outlook for the near term isn't particularly encouraging. Applications for building permits, a gauge of builders' intentions over the next few months, were down 5.4%.

      The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      Mortgage applications

      Separately, data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey show applications were down 4.1% in the week ending February 14.

      At the same time, the Refinance Index decreased 3%, pushing the refinance share of mortgage activity down 1% -- to 61% of total applications. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity rose to 8% of total applications.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) rose 5 basis points -- to 4.50% from 4.45%, with points decreasing to 0.26 from 0.34 (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 FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) increased from 4.40% to 4.45%, with points decreasing to 0.11 from 0.14 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA inched up 3 basis points to 4.16%, with points increasing to 0.14 from 0.10 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs increased to 3.55% from 3.49%, with points increasing to 0.33 from 0.25 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs jumped 9 basis points -- to 3.20%, with points increasing to 0.38 from 0.31 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

      The survey covers over 75% of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications.   

      New home construction plunged in January for the second time in as many months. Government figures show housing starts were down 16% last month -- to a s...

      Former raw-milk advocates plead: don't feed raw milk to young children

      E. coli from raw milk destroyed a two-year-old's kidneys

      A dairy farmer and a former raw-milk aficionado have joined forces to remind parents: please, don't feed raw milk to young children.

      Oregon mother Jill Brown thought she was doing a good thing when she gave raw, unpasteurized milk to her then-23-month-old daughter Kylee. Unfortunately, that milk proved to be contaminated with a particularly virulent strain of E.coli — bad enough for healthy adults with mature immune systems, but for young children whose immune systems are still in development it can prove fatal.

      In Kylee's case, it led to complete kidney failure that would have killed her, had her mother not donated a kidney for transplant. Kylee Brown will still have to deal with painful and expensive kidney problems for the rest of her life.

      “There might be some benefits of raw milk, but there are huge risks,” Jill Brown, Kylee’s mother, told Food Safety News. “There needs to be more public awareness that this is a high-risk food. If I had known what I know now, I would never have fed it to my daughter.”

      Armchair Science

      Pasteurization, named after French scientist Louis Pasteur, is the process of heating milk to a temperature high enough to kill most (though not all) pathogens.

      Raw-milk advocates usually cite one of two reasons to oppose pasteurization: one, pasteurized milk and milk products don't taste the same as raw dairy; and two, some people believe that the heat of pasteurization destroys essential nutrients in addition to pathogens. However, many of the anti-pasteurization arguments are based on outdated or incorrect data.

      For example, the anti-pastuerization site Realmilk.com, in February 2014, still offers as evidence an article titled Raw Milk vs. Pasteurized Milk, originally published in the April 1938 issue of a British magazine called Armchair Science. Here are some of its anti-pasteurization criticisms:

      Pasteurization’s great claim to popularity is the widespread belief, fostered by its supporters, that tuberculosis in children is caused by the harmful germs found in raw milk.... Recent figures published regarding the spread of tuberculosis by milk show, among other facts, that over a period of five years, during which time 70 children belonging to a special organization received a pint of raw milk daily. One case only of the disease occurred. During a similar period when pasteurized milk had been given, 14 cases were reported.

      It's not specified where these “recent figures” came from or who the “special organization” was or any other verifiable details.

      However, regardless of what British medical science might have believed about tuberculosis in the pre-World War Two era, it's now known that tuberculosis is a bacterial infection of the lungs that is spread through the air, not by drinking milk. Arguing against pasteurization on the grounds that it offers no protection from tuberculosis is like arguing against it because it does nothing to reduce gunshot fatalities — true, but a complete non-sequitur.

      Some food aficionados say that, for example, cheeses made from raw milk taste richer and better than any pasteurized cheese product. This is certainly possible, but even so: Jill Brown the former raw-milk fan and Brad Salyers the former raw-milk dairyman remind all parents and childcare-givers not to give raw dairy products to kids — because even healthy young children generally have weak immune systems by adult standards.

      A dairy farmer and a former raw-milk aficionado have joined forces to remind parents: please, don't feed raw milk to young children....

      FAA fails to do its part to protect musicians' instruments

      Even when Congress manages to act, agencies often fail to follow orders

      It was just about a year ago that Delta Airlines destroyed musician Dave Schneider's antique Gibson guitar and then added insult to injury by refusing to pay for it. Fortunately, Gibson stepped up and gave Schneider a new one but the incident illustrates that all too often, the day the music dies is the day a musician entrusts his valuable instrument to an airline. 

      Congress tried to do something about the problem in 2012 but the Federal Aviation Administration has yet to do its part, striking a sour note with many lawmakers.

      More than 30 members of Congress have written to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx asking why the FAA hasn't yet put out a rule to protect musicians' instruments, as a 2012 law requires it to do.

      The answer? The FAA's parent agency -- the Department of Transportation -- says it doesn't have the money to implement the rule, which was supposed to have been finished by last week.

      Fairly typical

      This is fairly typical. In 2008, Congress passed the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act, requiring the department to implement a rule mandating backup cameras in cars. The measure, named after a child who was killed when a car backed over him, was signed into law by President George W. Bush and sent to the Transportation Department for action.

      There've been lawsuits, protests, denunciations by parents, members of Congress and safety advocates, all getting the same result: none. Musicians' instruments may be next on the no-action list.

      Leading the effort to build a fire under the bureaucracy is Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), who represents Nashville, a town that counts music as its primary export.

      "Countless stories have emerged over the years of musicians whose guitars, lutes, flutes and other musical instruments have been damaged because of a patchwork series of airline policies that put these fragile and valuable instruments in danger," Cooper and his collegues wrote. "Musicians arrive at their destination, only to learn their instruments were lost or find their instruments damaged with little if any time to replace them."

      The 2012 bill expressly permitted musicians to buy a ticket for their instrument, entitling it to a seat. This is something airlines now allow only on a sporadic basis. The bill made it clear that musicians should be permitted to store their instruments in overhead bins, something that is also allowed only on a sporadic basis at present.

      Why is it so hard to write a rule that permits this? 

      In a statement, the Transportation Department said it "has been working to find funding to support the regulatory evaluations required before we can issue this rulemaking, since money was not provided along with the requirement in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012." 

      This is a very familiar tune around Washington, where federal agencies routinely shrug off their legally required duties, claiming lack of funds. 

      Cooper and collegues are not amused.

      "We understand the budgetary pinch that many agencies have found themselves in," they wrote. "But the relatively modest cost of promulating this rule should not have hindered its completion."

      Will the FAA change its tune? Don't count on it.

      More than 30 members of Congress from both parties have written Secretary Foxx asking why the FAA hasn't put out a rule to protect musicians' instruments d...

      Smoketels: the booking website by and for smokers

      Want to rent a room that allows smoking? Here's help

      If you're among the 18.1 percent of American adults who smoke tobacco, you've likely noticed that finding hotels where you can smoke in your own rented rooms gets more difficult every year. But a new booking website promises to make things easier for you—Smoketels.com, whose listings are limited exclusively to smoking rooms, not just in American hotels but in international cities including Beijing, Tokyo, Moscow and others.

      Smoketels, which launched in November, is the brainchild of web developer Shaun Bradley, who spoke to the New York Times about his business on Feb. 18.  “We don’t offer nonsmoking rooms, so if you’re a nonsmoker, you’re not for us,” Bradley said of his clientele.

      Of course, if you are a nonsmoker, you don't need Bradley's services, since the majority of today's American hotel rooms are already smoke-free in accordance with your preferences.

      However, as Bradley and the Times point out, while hotels with no-smoking policies usually publicize this fact, those who allow smoking often do not; hence the need for Smoketels.

      When Bradley mentions “smoking,” he is generally talking about cigarettes. Cigar smokers, by contrast, occupy a slightly different marketing niche. Smoketels.com does not include listings for those (usually upscale) hotels offering “cigar lounges,” but Cigar Aficionado magazine will soon be producing an app for that.

      If you're among the 18.1 percent of American adults who smoke tobacco, you've noticed that finding hotels who allow smoking gets harder each year...

      Tinnitus is a ringing in your ears that never stops

      The good news is, there are treatments that may alleviate it

      Age-related hearing impairment, injury, foreign objects and even circulatory system problems can bring on a ringing in the ear – a condition known as tinnitus.

      Doctors say it isn't a dangerous condition, but it can be very annoying for people who suffer from it. People who have it may also complain of fatigue, stress, sleep problems, anxiety and difficulty concentrating.

      You may be at higher risk of developing tinnitus if you are over 65 and male. Also, people exposed to loud noises for extended periods of time and those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have higher rates of tinnitus.

      Link between loud noise and tinnitus

      In fact, a new study published this month in the medical journal Neuroscience focuses, in part, on loud noise and tinnitus. The researchers from the University of Leicester, in the UK, say their findings help to understand how damage to myelin – a protection sheet around cells - alters the transmission of auditory signals occurring during hearing loss.

      "Understanding cellular mechanisms behind hearing loss and tinnitus allows for developing strategies to prevent or alleviate the symptoms of deafness or tinnitus - for example by using specific drug therapies,” said Dr. Martine Hamann, a member of the research team.

      If you suffer from tinnitus there are steps you can take to alleviate it. The condition tends to improve with treatment, or treatment of the underlying condition, if it can be identified.

      For example, some blood vessel disorders can cause tinnitus. So can head and neck tumors, the build-up of cholesterol in the blood vessels and high blood pressure.

      Symptoms

      How do you know that ringing in your ears is tinnitus? The symptoms have been described as hearing sounds when no sound is present. The ringing may not actually be ringing at all, but more of a buzzing, hissing of squealing. They may be low or high frequency sounds and interfere with your ability to concentrate.

      If you think you are suffering from tinnitus you should tell your doctor. She may request a medical history, conduct an exam or run a series of tests. For starters, a doctor will likely check the ear itself, to make sure there isn't a build-up of wax or a foreign object lodged there.

      Tell your doctor whether the noise you hear is constant or comes and goes. Does its frequency change or does it rise and fall? If you suspect that you have age-related hearing loss, inform your doctor, since the two conditions are often related.

      The doctor may order an audiogram, which is a hearing test, or auditory brain stem response (ABR), or even an MRI. The purpose is not only to locate the cause but to rule out the presence of tumors.

      Treatment

      Treatment, of course, will depend on the cause. A physician may remove earwax, treat blood vessel conditions or changing medication. Unless an underlying cause can be identified, treatment options are limited.

      Drugs will not reverse the condition but tricyclic antidepressants, alprazolam, and acamprosate may make the symptoms more tolerable Your physician may also suggest white noise machines, hearing aids and masking devices.

      It's possible you are making the condition worse by the overuse of cotton swabs to clean your ears. Doctors say pushing ear wax against the ear drum is a significant cause of the condition.

      Another is long-term exposure to loud noise. Aging Baby Boomers who are rock concert veterans may suffer tinnitus, along with hearing loss. While it might be a bit late for them, younger generations may improve their chances of avoiding tinnitus by using ear plugs when exposed to loud noise.

      Age-related hearing impairment, injury, foreign objects and even circulatory system problems can bring on a ringing in the ear – a condition known as...

      Another arrest of a "revenge porn" kingpin

      Casey Meyering faces multiple felony extortion charges

      Looks like another alleged “revenge porn” kingpin is going down: last week, California's attorney general Kamala Harris announced that agents of the California Attorney General’s eCrime Unit, the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety and the Tulsa Police Department arrested Tulsa, Oklahoma resident Casey Meyering on five counts of felony extortion.

      Meyering previously ran the revenge-porn website WinByState.

      “Revenge porn” refers to the practice of people — usually spiteful ex-lovers — humiliating their exes with online postings of nude or compromising photographs. The most notorious of the “revenge porn” distributors is arguably Hunter Moore, who was also arrested last month and charged with multiple counts of conspiracy, hacking and aggravated identity theft regarding his now-defunct revenge porn site, IsAnyoneUp?

      Here's the thing: website operators like Moore and Meyering originally claimed that their pornographic content came entirely from (usually anonymous) fans: “Hey, my girlfriend gave me a nude photo of herself; now that she's my ex-girlfriend, I've decided to post this photo plus her identifying information, solely to humiliate her.”  (Hence the "revenge" aspect of "revenge porn.")

      Stolen by hackers

      But if the various allegations against Moore and now Meyering are correct, a lot of so-called “revenge porn” is actually “stolen by hackers porn.” As news site KTVU noted about the allegations against Meyering: “The investigation into WinByState.com began when a Northern California hacking victim discovered nude photos of herself on this site that had been stolen from her computer, according to court documents.... Court documents also allege that WinbyState.com required victims to pay $250 via a Google Wallet account to remove posted photographs.”

      So if you're looking for reasons to increase your faith in the general goodness of humanity, these revenge-porn arrests actually provide one.

      After all: the idea that the revenge porn industry exists thanks to a relative handful of sleazy thieving computer hackers is arguably less depressing than the idea that the industry exists because so very, very many men become complete sociopaths the second they break up with their girlfriends.

      If you're looking for reasons to increase your faith in the general goodness of humanity, these revenge-porn arrests actually provide one...

      Builder confidence sags in February

      Wicked winter weather is cited as a big factor

      The unusually severe weather across much of the nation took a toll on builder confidence in the market for newly-built, single-family homes

      The weather, along with continued concerns over the cost and availability of labor and lots, produced a a 10-point drop -- to 46 -- on the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI).

      “Significant weather conditions across most of the country led to a decline in buyer traffic last month,” said NAHB Chairman Kevin Kelly, a home builder and developer from Wilmington, Del. “Builders also have additional concerns about meeting ongoing and future demand due to a shortage of lots and labor.”

      “Clearly, constraints on the supply chain for building materials, developed lots and skilled workers are making builders worry,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “The weather also hurt retail and auto sales and this had a contributing effect on demand for new homes.”

      Broad-based decline

      The NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, which is derived from a monthly survey, gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as “good,” “fair” or “poor.”

      The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.” Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

      All three of the major HMI components fell in February. The component gauging current sales conditions plunged 11 points to 51, the component gauging sales expectations in the next six months was off six points to 54 and the component measuring buyer traffic dropped nine points to 31.

      Looking at three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the West was unchanged at 63 while the Midwest fell one point to 57, the South posted a three-point decline to 53 and the Northeast suffered a four-point drop to 38.

      The unusually severe weather across much of the nation took a toll on builder confidence in the market for newly-built, single-family homes The weather, a...

      Cancer treatment doesn't have to be expensive

      Experts say costs can be cut without risk to patients

      The list of bad things about receiving a cancer diagnosis in nearly endless. Among them is the cost of treatment.

      But, in a review article published in The Lancet Oncology, experts at Johns Hopkins say there are three major sources of high cancer costs that doctors can likely reduce them without harm to patients. The proposals call for changes in routine clinical practice involved in end-of-life care, medical imaging and drug pricing.

      "We need to find the best ways to manage costs effectively while maintaining the same, if not better, quality of life among our patients," said Thomas Smith, M.D., The Harry J. Duffey Family Professor of Palliative Medicine and professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins.

      Cost inflation

      Smith and co-author Ronan Kelly, M.D., say rising numbers of new cancer cases among an aging population are inflating total cancer costs -- projected to increase by nearly 40% in 2020 -- and that changing practice patterns should be a priority among oncologists to achieve affordable costs.

      "Oncology professional societies, such as the American Society of Clinical Oncology, are beginning to guide oncologists on cost-saving opportunities, but change in routine clinical practice is happening slowly," says Kelly, an assistant professor of oncology at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

      In the article, Smith and Kelly say the biggest opportunities for safe and ethical cost-cutting solutions rest in caring for patients with metastatic cancer, not on new surgical or radiation treatments, clinical trials, curative care or pediatric care.

      Better decision-making

      For example, the authors suggest that improving end-of-life care with better decision-making and planning could reap large cost savings by reducing hospitalizations in the last month of life. They note that 25% of total Medicare costs are spent in the last year of life, and 40% of that is spent in the last month of life.

      "Most people prefer to spend their last days of life at home with family and friends rather than in a hospital, but we still see high rates of hospital utilization in the last month of life," says Smith. Medicare data show that 60% of poor-prognosis cancer patients are admitted to a hospital in the last month of life, and 30% die there.

      The Hopkins team says studies show that hospice care improves symptoms, helps caregivers and costs less, with equal or better survival for patients, yet only half of cancer patients use hospice in their last month of life.

      They recommend that patients with poor prognoses have better and earlier discussions with their oncologists about chemotherapy use at the end of life, as well as transitions to hospice. Decision aids spanning these topics have been developed by Smith and colleagues and are endorsed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

      Unnecessary procedures

      Unneeded and expensive imaging poses another opportunity to limit costs of care, Smith and Kelly say. PET and other scans, for example, are often used to detect cancer recurrence in patients after initial treatments, but studies show that cure rates are just as good when recurrences are found through other examinations.

      "The oncology community needs to have a greater responsibility in evaluating expensive tests, and limit their use to situations where there is strong evidence for benefit," says Kelly.

      Drug costs

      Finally, the authors suggest that reducing prices of new cancer drugs could help contain cancer costs.

      "There are drugs that cost tens of thousands of dollars with an unbalanced relationship between cost and benefit," says Smith. "We need to determine appropriate prices for drugs and inform patients about their costs of care."

      One approach, they say, could be to price drugs according to how well they prolong life.

      "We need to include patients, pharmaceutical companies and legislators in our efforts to contain cancer care costs, so that we can afford to provide innovative, quality care to future generations," says Smith.

      The list of bad things about receiving a cancer diagnosis in nearly endless. Among them is the cost of treatment. But, in a review article published in Th...

      "Free $1,000 Gift Card" scammers ordered to pay $2.5 million

      There was no gift card and consumers wound up signing up for things they didn't want

      They didn't give away any "free $1,000 gift cards" but 12 defendants will soon be coughing up $2.5 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they enticed consumers with bogus gift card offers.

      The FTC alleged that the South Carolina- and California-based corporate defendants hired affiliate marketers to send millions of spam text messages to consumers around the country. With links to the defendants’ sites, the messages included text such as, “Dear Walmart shopper, your purchase last month won a $1000 Walmart Gift Card, go to [website address] within 24 hours to claim.”

      “This case halts a nationwide operation that took in millions of dollars by promising consumers free gift cards that it never delivered,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We’re pleased to stop these unwanted messages and protect consumers’ personal information.”

      When consumers clicked on the links in the spam text messages, they were taken to landing pages operated by one group of defendants that asked them to “register” for the free prizes they had been offered. The registration process, the complaint alleges, was actually a method by which the defendants collected information about the consumers that was then sold to third parties.

      Once consumers provided this information, they were taken to sites owned by another group of defendants. On these sites, consumers were told that to win the prize they had been offered, they were required to complete a number of “offers,” many of which involved either paid subscriptions to services, or applying for credit. The complaint alleges that the defendants were paid by the companies that advertised these offers.

      Under the FTC settlements all the defendants will be banned from being involved in the distribution of unwanted spam text messages, as well as from misrepresenting whether a good or service is “free,” or whether a consumer has won a contest or prize. They are also banned from misleading consumers about why they are collecting consumers’ personal information, whether the information will be sold, or the extent to which they will protect consumers’ privacy. 

      They didn't give away many "free $1,000 gift cards" but 12 defendants will soon be coughing up $2.5 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that...

      Transportation deaths rose in 2012

      Highway deaths accounted for 94% of the total

      Travel isn't getting any safer, especially when it's by car. Figures released by the National Transportation Safety Board show transportation fatalities increased to 35,331 in 2012, up three percent from the year before.

      Except for the few unlucky souls who were hit by trains, drowned or killed in airplane crashes, the deaths occurred on the highways, which accounted for nearly 94 percent of all transportation fatalities. 

      "We have a serious public health and safety epidemic on our highways," said NTSB Chairman Deborah A. P. Hersman. "With our Most Wanted List, the NTSB highlights common-sense solutions to these safety issues that can improve safety and reduce the loss of life on our roads, rails, and waterways and in our skies."

      The 2012 statistics show:

      • Deaths on U.S. roadways increased from 32,479 in 2011 to 33,561 in 2012. Highway fatalities increased in all categories except buses, which are down from 55 fatalities in 2011 to 39 in 2012.
      • Railroad deaths increased six percent from 757 to 803. The vast majority of these fatalities were persons struck by trains.
      • Aviation deaths decreased from 498 to 449. Nearly 96 percent of aviation fatalities occurred in general aviation accidents (432), but they still represented a decrease from the previous year (448). In 2012, air taxi fatalities dropped from 41 in 2011 to 15.
      • Marine deaths also dropped in 2012, from 803 to 706. The vast majority of the fatalities, (651), occurred in recreational boating

      Aviation statistics are tracked and compiled by the NTSB. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security provides marine statistics, and the U.S. Department of Transportation provides statistics for all other modes.

      Travel isn't getting any safer, especially when it's by car. Figures released by the National Transportation Safety Board show transportation fataliti...

      Dairy Rich Chocolate Ice Cream recalled

      The product may contain peanuts, an allergen not listed on the label

      Ice Cream Specialties of Merrillville, Ind., is recalling Dairy Rich Chocolate Ice Cream because it may contain peanut butter, which contains a peanut allergen.

      There have been no illnesses reported to date in connection with this product.

      Dairy Rich Chocolate Ice Cream was distributed in Northwest Indiana, Northeast Illinois and Deer Park, N.Y., and reached consumers through grocery stores and other retail food outlets.

      The affected product is packaged in 56-ounce paper cartons with the Dairy Rich graphic logo and a picture of a chocolate ice cream scoop on the front and back panels. The recall is limited to packages of Dairy Rich Chocolate Ice Cream bearing the following UPC and Best Used by Date. The Best Used by Date can be located on the left-hand end panel (the side panel) of the carton. No other Dairy Rich Ice Cream products are affected.

      • UPC: 0-71580-08103-1
      • Best used by: June 14, 2015

      Consumers who have purchased Dairy Rich Chocolate Ice Cream are urged to return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (219) 980-0800, Monday – Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. CST.

      Ice Cream Specialties of Merrillville, Ind., is recalling Dairy Rich Chocolate Ice Cream because it may contain peanut butter, which contains a peanut alle...

      Nutriom recalls dried egg products

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Nutriom LLC of Lacey, Wash., is recalling approximately 226,710 pounds of processed egg products that may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      There have been no reports of illnesses due to consumption of these products.

      The following products were shipped to co-packers for incorporation into consumer-size packages:

      • 1,383-lb. super sack of “OvaEasy Boil-in-Bag Egg Mix, Butter Flavor” with the lot code “C0513-A”
      • 2,540-lb. super sack of “OvaEasy Plain Whole Egg” with the lot code “B1913-A”
      • 2,409-lb. super sack of “OvaEasy Plain Whole Egg” with the lot code “B1913-B”
      • 4,712-lb. super sack of “OvaEasy Plain Whole Egg” with the lot code “E0713-A,B”
      • 1,265-lb. super sack of “OvaEasy Boil-in-Bag, Heat and Serve” with the lot code “F1813-A”
      • 4,155-lb. super sack of “OvaEasy Plain Whole Egg” with the lot code “I1113-A”
      • 6,132-lb. super sack of “OvaEasy Plain Whole Egg, Cage Free” with the lot code “J2913-A”
      • 9,345-lb. super sack of “OvaEasy Plain Whole Egg, Cage Free” with the lot code “A1414-A”

      The following products were packaged in consumer-sized packages:

      • 3.06-lb. bags of “OvaEasy Boil-in-Bag Egg Mix, Butter Flavor” with the Julian dates “3074” and “3075”
      • 2.34-lb. bags of “OvaEasy Boil-in-Bag, Reduced Cholesterol” with the Julian dates “3122,” “3123,” “3124,” “3127,” “3128” and “3129”
      • 4.5-oz. cans of “OvaEasy Plain Whole Egg” with the Julian date “2903,” “1343” and “2893”
      • 4-oz. bags of “OvaEasy Plain Whole Egg” with the Julian dates “0853” and “0863”
      • 4.5-oz. bags of “OvaEasy Plain Whole Egg” with the Julian dates “0853,” “0863” and “0873”
      • 1.75-lb. packs of “OvaEasy Plain Whole Egg” with the Julian dates “0813,” “1083,” “1093,” “1433,” “1443,” “1573,” “1723,” “2063,” “2163,” “2173,” “2183” “2243,” “2253,” “2183,” “2533,” “2543,” “2553,” “2563,” “2673,” “2683,” “2693” and “2703”
      • 3.2-oz. bags of “Wise Company, Wise Blend” with the Julian dates “0953” and “0993”
      • 2-oz. packs of “OvaEasy Plain Whole Egg” with the Julian dates “2073,” “2063,” “2163,” “2603,” “2613” “2903,” “2913,” “2953,” “2963,” “3173” and “3183”
      • 3.2-oz. packs of “Wise Company, Wise Blend” with the Julian dates “1133,” “1143,” “1153,” “1163” and “1353”
      • 1.17-lb. bags of “OvaEasy UGRA Boil-in-Bag, Reduced Cholesterol” with the Julian dates “3129,” “3130” and “3137”
      • 1.75-lb. packs of “OvaEasy” with the Julian dates “2163,” “2173,” “2183” and “2243”
      • 4.5-oz. packs of “OvaEasy Plain Whole Egg” with the Julian dates “2563,” “2623” and “2633”
      • 1.1-lb. packs of “OvaEasy UGR H&S” with the Julian dates “3173,” “3174,” “3175,” “3177,” “3178,” “3179,” “3180,” “3181,” “3182,” “3183,” “3194,” “3195,” “3196,” “3197,” “3198” and “3199”
      • 1.1-lb. packs of “G0213-A UGR H&S” with the Julian dates “3186,” “3187,” “3189,” “3190” and “3191”
      • 128-gram packs of “Egg Crystal, Sea Salt and Pepper” with the Julian date “3033”
      • 128-gram packs of “Egg Crystal, Sausage and Herb” with the Julian date “3043”
      • 1.17-lb. packs of “OvaEasy UGR-A Reduced Cholesterol” with the Julian dates “3141,” “3142,” “3148,” “3149” and “3150”
      • 3-oz. packs of “eFoods Plain Whole Egg” with the Julian dates of “3173” and “3183”

      The dried egg products were produced between Feb. 28, 2013, and Feb. 8, 2014, and bear the establishment number “INSPECTED EGG PRODUCTS PLANT 21493G” inside the USDA Mark of Inspection.

      These products were shipped nationwide and to U.S. military installations in the U. S. and abroad, as well as to Canada.

      Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact Julie Cuffee, customer service representative, at (360) 413-7269, ext. 101.

      Nutriom LLC of Lacey, Wash., is recalling approximately 226,710 pounds of processed egg products that may be contaminated with Salmonella. There have bee...

      Expert warns 'financial stupidity' is part of growing older

      Aging Boomers at high risk of making "stupid" investments, author says

      Baby boomers saving for retirement are often confronted with a confusing array of financial choices to secure their future. That security can depend in part on making smart choices.

      If you haven't saved enough for your particular point in life you may feel added pressure to score higher returns. That's when it's easy to make mistakes, choosing a risky investment or, worse still, falling for a scam.

      Even under the best of circumstances aging Boomers are likely to make “stupid” mistakes with their nest eggs, according to Lewis Mandell, professor emeritus of finance and managerial economics in the University at Buffalo School of Management.

      When you “get stupid”

      Mandell's latest book, “What to Do When I Get Stupid: A Radically Safe Approach to a Difficult Financial Era,” serves as a warning to the Baby Boom generation. It lists many of the mistakes this aging generation makes and offers the reasons why.

      For the average person, says Mandell, financial reasoning usually peaks around age 53 and then declines sharply, especially after age 70. At that age people are more vulnerable to pitches for risky investment schemes and serious lapses of financial judgment.

      To make things even more dicey for seniors, as they age they become more confident in their own financial judgment, even though the reverse is true. It's bad enough that markets have been so volatile over the last decade, seniors must also guard against their own poor decisions, he says.

      "Radically" conservative

      Mandell argues for, by his own admission, a radically conservative approach when it comes to seniors investing their assets. One of the best places to put it, he says, is in a home that is owned free and clear, unincumbered by a mortgage.

      “A fully paid, age-in-place home may be the single best investment we can make,” Mandell said. “By staying at home, we can keep ourselves or our loved ones out of expensive nursing homes, which can quickly deplete our assets.”

      Mandell also stresses the importance of securing a lifelong income, well before financial reasoning declines. Investments in dividend-producing blue chip stocks and bond funds are not conservative enough for Mandell.

      Champion of annuities

      To make investments idiot-proof, he recommends a single-premium immediate fixed annuity, even though annuities have low returns and high fees. But the money gets locked up while producing a modest income stream and won't get lost investing in the latest pyramid scheme. A little income, he argues, is better than no income.

      In addition, the book re-evaluates common practices, such as retaining a financial advisor or moving to a continuing care retirement community, and casts doubt on the effectiveness of long-term care insurance. And for Boomers, the time to consider these issues is now.

      “It is therefore wise of us to take future financial decision-making out of our own hands while we still have the mental capacity to do so,” Mandell writes.

      A number of seniors and their financial advisors might question Mandell's emphatic and somewhat rigid advice to give in to inevitable financial incompetence. However, if his book serves only as a warning to approach late-in-life financial management with extreme care it may serve as a useful public service.

      Elder abuse

      A big part of the problem, of course, are the high-pressure sales pitches that are often directed at seniors. The damage these schemes and scams have done to older consumers has been well documented.

      For example, a 2009 survey by AARP found that 10% of Americans over age 55 had accepted an invitation to attend a free lunch or dinner at which there would be an investment seminar or presentation. These “free lunches” are notorious for pushing risky investments.

      Seniors are often victims of the so-called “affinity scam,” in which an individual in the victim's church or civic group offers a “can't miss” investment opportunity. Because the victim knows and trusts the offerer, they throw caution to the wind.

      A recent study by Investor Protection Trust found 20% of Americans 65 or older had “been taken advantage of” in the purchase of an investment, either through high fees or outright fraud. 

      Baby boomers saving for retirement are often confronted with a confusion array of financial choices to secure their future. That security can depend in par...