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    When a car's price tag can be a red flag

    Study finds abnormally low-priced cars are often scams

    As consumers, we are always looking for the best deal. But when it comes to buying things, certain economic principles almost always prevail. People generally don't give things away, and when they do – watch out!

    This is especially true when it comes to buying a used car. When a car is priced very low, you can expect it's very old, needs some repairs, has a lot of wear and tear and might not be that fun to drive.

    But what if you find a car that isn't all that old, appears to be in good repair and and has an unbelievably low price? Chances are there are problems that aren't obvious and if the seller doesn't point them out to you, you could become the victim of a scam.

    Cut-off point

    To find out which used cars may be too good to be true, iSeeCars.com, an automotive website, looked at 50 million used cars for sale by dealers over the last two and a half years. Its study focused on used cars that were priced well below the average market value.

    It found that the lowest-priced vehicles had the best chance of being too good to be true. It also found that $12,000 seemed to be the cut-off point.

    If a used car were priced at $12,000 or above the chances of it being a potential fraud were only 0.3%.

    Cars priced under $5,000 were more than 7 times as likely to be a scam. Cars under $3,000 had the greatest chance of being a lemon.

    Even the small difference between $12,000 and $10,000 appears to be a factor. The study concludes that cars priced below $10,000 are 3.6 times more likely to be a scam than those over $12,000.

    Not as advertised

    How is the car a scam? Only if it is not as advertised. Defects should be disclosed.

    In some cases an abnormally-priced car might have been in a flood. It might have serious mechanical issues not readily apparent to the casual car buyer. It might have been totaled in an accident and, while repaired and drivable, has a “salvage” title that greatly reduces its value.

    In some cases the odometer has been tampered with – a crime. The car you are told has 74,000 miles in fact may have closer to 150,000.

    The iSeeCars.com study found these problems are much more likely to be found on the low end than the high end.

    “It may be that dealers think they are more likely to get away with cheating people who are looking for lower price vehicles,” said Phong Ly, co-founder and CEO of iSeeCars.com. “We found examples of cars being advertised for much less than their market value or what they’re worth. The dealer’s hope is to lure the potential buyer into the dealership in an attempt to sell them a different car or the same car but on an expensive financing plan. It may also be that the advertised car has some major undisclosed issue or it could be odometer fraud.”

    In fact, the car that caught your attention with the rock bottom price might not even exist. When you arrive at the lot the car looks like the one in the ad but the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is different.

    To counter that trick make sure you bring the ad with you when you visit the dealer to inspect the car. Compare the car's VIN to the one in the ad.

    Look into the dealer's reputation. Local consumer agencies may have records of any complaints. Online review sites like ConsumerAffairs often have local dealer reviews, particularly if there have been a number of issues.

    If you are interested in a particular make and model, do some research. Check automotive sources to see what the market value is. While you don't want to pay more than the fair market price, paying significantly less is also a bad idea.

    As consumers, we are always looking for the best deal. But when it comes to buying things, certain economic principals almost always prevail. People genera...
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    Facebook experiments with manipulating your emotions

    It was successful enough to publish the results

    Mark Zuckerberg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Editor's Note: This story contains language that may be offensive to some.

    Here's two bits of disturbing news which came out about Facebook late last week: not only does the company allow scientists to experiment with manipulating its users' emotional states, it openly brags about it in scientific journals.

    Facebook scientists published a paper called “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks” in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    The study's “significance,” as spelled out at the beginning of the paper, is this:

    We show, via a massive (N = 689,003) experiment on Facebook, that emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness. We provide experimental evidence that emotional contagion occurs without direct interaction between people (exposure to a friend expressing an emotion is sufficient), and in the complete absence of nonverbal cues.

    In other words, by deliberately skewing the results of the secret algorithms determining which posts and articles would appear on the “Feeds” of 689,003 randomly selected Facebook users, the researchers were indeed able to manipulate the users' emotional states: deleting positive content from feeds apparently made users' emotions more negative, judging by their later posts.

    Facebook has been doing damage control today, saying it did the study "because we care about the emotional impact of Facebook and the people that use our product." 

    Adam Kramer, Facebook data scientist and co-author of the study, noted that it affected only 0.04% of users over one week in 2012. However, at Facebook's scale that covers hundreds of thousands of people. Nevertheless, Kramer insists the company's intentions were good.

    "We felt that it was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out. At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends' negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook," Kramer said.

    Informed consent?

    The experiment was perfectly legal, and whichever users were unknowingly involved did technically consent to it, thanks to the terms of the Data Use Policy everyone agrees to before opening an account on Facebook: by joining Facebook, you agree to allow information about you to be used for various purposes, including “data analysis, testing, research.”

    It's probably no surprise that focusing on negative emotional content leads to negative emotional results, whether in Facebook users or in media outlets learning about it.

    The Onion's AV Club, for example, called the study “great news for Facebook data scientists hoping to prove a point about modern psychology,” but considerably “less great for the people having their emotions secretly manipulated.”

    Slate.com called it “Facebook's unethical experiment,” and on the other side of the Atlantic, the UK's Daily Mail focused on the negative when it headlined the story “Facebook made users depressed in secret research.”

    In light of this brouhaha, it might or might not be worth remembering that four years ago, in Sept. 2010, the New Yorker ran a profile on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and mentioned how, in the early days when Facebook was still a new thing limited to Harvard students, Zuckerberg boasted in an instant-message conversation about his access to the personal information of a large chunk of Harvard's student body, whom he called “dumb fucks” because they “trust me.”

    Here's two bits of disturbing news which came out about Facebook late last week: not only does the company allow scientists to experiment with manipulating...
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    Frugal, yes, miserly, no. Time to reclaim the "F-word"

    Thrift and frugality have a bad reputation they don't deserve, especially in today's uncertain economy

    It's time for polite society to reclaim the "F-word" and give it back the historic respectability it so undeservedly lost.

    I'm speaking, of course, about “frugal.” The word enjoyed a stellar reputation for most of recorded history; when Thomas Jefferson gave his first inaugural address to citizens of the fledgling United States, he discussed, among other things, the importance of “a wise and frugal government.”

    His contemporary Ben Franklin also spoke well of frugality. Franklin's credited with coining such phrases as “Waste not, want not” and “A penny saved is a penny earned,” both alluding to the F-word without actually saying it. He was more explicit when he said: “The way to wealth is as plain as the way to market. It depends chiefly on two words, industry and frugality: that is, waste neither time nor money, but make the best use of both.”

    Not that praise for frugality was limited to early Americans. As early as 2,600 years ago, the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said: “I have three precious things which I hold fast and prize. The first is gentleness; the second is frugality; the third is humility....”

    And if we had time, I could show you dozens if not hundreds more pro-frugality comments made by wise men and women from pretty much every culture, era and time period in history — except maybe now.

    Look up “frugal” in a modern dictionary. What do you find? Dictionary.com defines it as “economical in use or expenditure; prudently saving or sparing; not wasteful.”

    A cold character

    The online Oxford Dictionaries say “Sparing or economical with regard to money or food,” but when they offered certain “example sentences” demonstrating how to use the word, this one topped the list:

    “Schmidt is potentially a cold character, spartan with words and frugal with money.”

    A cold character. Not a flattering depiction at all. Nor are many of the synonyms the dictionaries offer for “frugal”: stingy, scanty, miserly, self-denying, close-fisted … the general implication is that you can be frugal, or you can have a reasonably comfortable life (plus friends), but it's an either-or option. Frugal, miser . . . same thing, right?

    Not even close. More like complete opposites, especially if you focus on the end results: misers practice self-denial just for denial's sake, whereas frugal people do so in pursuit of a given goal.

    Think about the standard (and often obvious) money-saving tips you find in any “How to cut expenses, pay down debt and build up your savings”-type article: if you make your own food at home, that's cheaper than buying frozen or precooked dinners, which in turn is cheaper than eating in a restaurant. If you stay home and take various day trips, that costs less than a faraway vacation. Shop secondhand to save massive amounts of money on everything from clothes and home furnishings to power tools and camping equipment. Et cetera.

    All valid advice, especially for those people currently worried about their high debt and low-to-non-existent savings. Yet somehow, in popular imagination, being “frugal” means: “It doesn't matter who you are or how much money you have; you should never eat in a restaurant, ever! Or visit parts of the country or world more than a day trip away. And you can never buy anything new, never have nice things, never have any fun at all if it costs money.... ” which is a pretty good summation of a typical miser's mentality, but isn't remotely the mindset of frugality.

    Thrifty habits

    So what is? I discovered it as a kid, when one of my mother's spring-cleaning friends offered me some old books she no longer wanted, inlcuding a battered copy of Everything But Money by Sam Levenson (a former Borscht Belt comedian who'd acquired a degree of national fame some decades before I was born).

    The book is mostly comic reminiscing about Levenson's experiences as one of eight American-born children of a Russian-Jewish immigrant couple, raised in the tenement slums of 1910s New York.

    But for all his funny stories about eight siblings' old-fashioned shenanigans (the book's very title stems from Levenson's oft-repeated joke that his was a childhood rich in “everything but money”), he'd occasionally sneak in some serious points about his immigrant parents' thrifty habits, including one that lodged itself in my childish memory and never left: Mama Levenson often said that sometimes, you have to do without today so you can have tomorrow with.

    That's what made her frugal rather than a miser. Misers always do without, long after they reach “tomorrow with,” and choose to live in deprivation no matter how much wealth they have, whereas the point of frugality is to avoid living in deprivation, at least when it counts. The frugal person understands that money is finite, so depriving yourself of small, temporary pleasures now helps you afford bigger, more lasting pleasures later. Setting money aside when times are good means you'll have it when times are bad.

    In my own case, although I remain pretty frugal by contemporary standards, my current lifestyle is ridiculously extravagant compared to how I lived during my “poor years” (college, grad school and some time thereafter, until I'd paid off my damnable debts and built up a decent savings cushion).

    Nowadays you'll see me eat in restaurants sometimes, or order out for pizza, and even vacation far enough from home that I must pay for places to sleep. Yet I almost never did these during my “poor years,” not from any masochistic miserly desire to avoid things I enjoy but because, like Mama Levenson, I desired other things even more: “Do without today and have a tomorrow with more money, and freedom from debt.”

    Granted: where tales of personal suffering and sacrifice are concerned, “I avoided restaurants, took my lunch to work, shopped in thrift stores and didn't travel much” is pretty weak. Which is fine; I was no miser hoping to win any misery awards, but a frugal hoping to avoid certain types of misery, specifically the not-enough-money kinds.

    And since I'm fortunate enough to live a full century after Sam Levenson's childhood, what I called “doing without” was still immense luxury compared to when the Levenson kids had to “do without” in the slums of the gaslight era.

    Besides, self-denial in pursuit of a goal is hardly the only part of frugality. Other common frugal tricks, like stockpiling non-perishables when they're on sale so you never have to pay full price for them, require no self-denial whatsoever, only a little planning ahead. Come to think of it, maybe that's the best way to distinguish between the miserly versus the frugal: A miser always hates to spend money, whereas a frugal person only hates to waste it.

    It's time for polite society to reclaim the F-word and give it back the historic respectability it so undeservedly lost....
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      Op-Ed: Organic purists condemn millions to death

      Fight to block GMO crops a dagger in the heart of Third World countries, pro-GMO activist argues

      So much for "live long and prosper"; India's intelligence agency is targeting organic activists as a threat to its economy. Meanwhile, official..

      Norwegian Air launches cut-rate trans-Atlantic service

      Established carriers try to block the flights, which threaten their most profitable routes

      A price war could be about to break out in trans-Atlantic airline fares. Cut-rate carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle plans to launch $255 flights to the U.S. from Europe this week -- less than half the lowest fares charged by established carriers, assuming major carriers aren't successful in their attempt to block the flights.

      The first flight is scheduled to leave London's Gatwick Airport and arrive in Los Angeles this Wednesday, with a Gatwick-New York flight on Thursday and Gatwick-Fort Lauderdale on Friday. 

      Entrenched carriers are none too pleased with the prospect and have been trying to block Norwegian's plans for months. Last week, former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the federal government should deny Norwegian a permit pending further studies.

      “We should not rush approval of the new business model until the consequences for international competition and the impact on airlines, their workers, and consumers are fully understood,” LaHood, who now represents corporate clients for the lobbying firm DLA Piper, said in an op-ed published by The Hill, a Washington news site.

      Sparring mouthpieces

      LaHood raised questions about Norwegian's decision to base itself in Ireland and use contract workers from a Singapore company. He suggested the tactics subvert the "level playing field" provisons of the Open Skies agreement that is intended to encourage competition.

      But former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State John Byerly, who is advising Norwegian, said "former Secretary LaHood's call for further examination and delay in DOT's consideration of Norwegian's application is surprising."

      In a press release, Byerly said, "after hundreds of pages of legal filings in the DOT docket, formal discussions in the US-EU Open Skies Agreement Joint Committee, and the over four months that DOT has had to weigh the regulatory record, there simply are no 'unanswered questions.'" 

      Norwegian -- Europe's third-largest discount carrier -- has operated flights between Scandanavia and New York for the past year, carrying more than 200,000 passengers, the airline said.

      There was little notice of those flights but the discount flights between Gatwick and the gateway cities of New York, Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale are seen by established carriers as a threat to their most profitable routes.

      (c) David PeacockA price war could be about to break out in trans-Atlantic airline fares. Cut-rate carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle plans to launch $255 f...
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      A short cut through companies' terms of service agreements

      Website offers Cliff Notes version of these wordy documents

      Last week we reported on non-disparagement clauses many companies are now slipping into their wordy terms of service agreements. Our piece highlights the importance of reading these documents when making an online transaction.

      But who has the time to wade through all that legalese? And sometimes it might take a legal mind to even understand what it means.

      Fortunately, some brave soul has volunteered to do it for the rest of us. The website TOSDR.org – which stands for Terms of Service – Didn't Read – has reviewed terms of service agreements for social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, as well as a host of sites that sell products and services.

      Cutting to the chase, it reviews each of these sites' terms of service agreements and, in bullet point form, gives consumers a thumbs up or thumbs down review of the most important clauses.

      Rating the sites

      For example, Google's terms of service agreement gets an overall “C” rating. But among the important points, TOSDR.org gives all “thumbs down” ratings.

      It notes that Google keeps your searches and other identifiable user information for an indefinite period of time. That's changing in Europe, however, as Google has responded to a European Union edict by deleting search data under the EU's Right To Be Forgotten law.

      Other negative factors include Google's use of your content for all existing and future services, its tracking your movements on other websites and its sharing of your personal information with third parties.

      Oh yes, if a government agency asks Google for your data, it doesn't have to tell you.

      YouTube, owned by Google, earns a “D” rating. TOSDR.org lists five points it sees as negatives.

      The terms can change with no notice; YouTube may remove your content without telling you; the copyright license is overly broad; the legal period for cause of action has been reduced; and deleted videos aren't really deleted.

      Things earning a positive rating

      Earning a “B” rating, meanwhile, is SoundCloud. a streaming audio service. It wins a “thumbs up” for allowing you to stay in control of your copyright; collected personal data is only used for limited purposes; and when changes to the agreement are made, you have 6 weeks to review them.

      What about big retail sites? Amazon, for instance, hasn't been assigned a letter grade yet but does have five “thumbs down” notations. Terms can change with no notice; Amazon tracks you on other websites; it enables advertisers to target you by default; it won't promise to tell you if a government agency asks for your data; and provides no transparency on law enforcement requests.

      While these bullet points might prove helpful in assessing whether you want to do business on a particular website, it should be noted that they are simply opinions – what TOSDR.org has gleaned from reading these sites' terms of service agreements.

      Consumers, of course, should read the terms of service agreement for themselves. But TOSDR.org's Cliff Notes version is probably not a bad place to start.

      Last week we reported on non-disparagement clauses many companies are now slipping into their wordy terms of service agreements. Our piece highlights the i...
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      L'Oréal products target genes to fight aging? Not quite

      FTC charged L'Oréal's claims were false and deceptive

      L’Oréal has been making some pretty big claims for its Génifique and Youth Code skincare products, claims that the Federal Trade Commissionsays were false and deceptive.

      The cosmetics maker claimed that its Génifique products were “clinically proven” to “boost genes’ activity and stimulate the production of youth proteins" that would cause “visibly younger skin in just 7 days,” and would provide results to specific percentages of users

      “It would be nice if cosmetics could alter our genes and turn back time,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “But L’Oréal couldn’t support these claims.”

      The FTC said the company has agreed to settle the complaint and to stop making unsubstantiated claims for the products. But within minutes of the FTC's releasing news of the settlement, L’Oréal issued its own statement claiming that, among other things, "The safety, quality and effectiveness of the company's products were never in question."

      "The claims at issue in this agreement have not been used for some time now, as the company constantly refreshes its advertising," said L’Oréal's Kristina Schake. "Going forward, L'Oréal USA will continue to serve its customers through industry-leading research, scientific innovation and responsible advertising as it has for the last 60 years." 

      Big bucks

      L’Oréal has sold Génifique nationwide for as much as $132 per container since February 2009 at Lancôme counters in department stores and at beauty specialty stores. The company has sold Youth Code, which costs up to $25 per container at major retail stores across the United States, since November 2010.

      For its Youth Code products, L’Oréal touted – in both English- and Spanish-language advertisements – the “new era of skincare: gene science,” and claimed that consumers could “crack the code to younger acting skin.”

      Under the proposed administrative settlement, L’Oréal is prohibited from claiming that any Lancôme brand or L’Oréal Paris brand facial skincare product targets or boosts the activity of genes to make skin look or act younger, or respond five times faster to aggressors like stress, fatigue, and aging, unless the company has competent and reliable scientific evidence substantiating such claims.

      The settlement also prohibits claims that certain Lancôme brand and L’Oréal Paris brand products affect genes unless the claims are supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence. Finally, L’Oréal is prohibited from making claims about these products that misrepresent the results of any test or study.

      L’Oréal has been making some pretty big claims for its Génifique and Youth Code skincare products, claims that the Federal Trade C...
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      Today's unit price check reminder: targeting Target

      Bigger is usually better, but not for these allergy pills

      Here's two pieces of savvy-shopper money-saving advice you hear all the time: “Check the unit prices” and “Bigger is usually better.”

      The first rule is most important, because it shows when the second rule doesn't apply.

      Case in point: I took these photos on June 29 while shopping for over-the-counter allergy meds at a Target store in northern Virginia.

      The generic/store-brand version of what I wanted came in two sizes: a 14-pill bottle for $5.19 plus tax, or 30 pills for $13.29 and tax.

      Confession: as a frugal shopper, I initially reached for the 30-count bottle because I know “Bigger is usually better,” but fortunately, I also remembered to “check the unit prices” and (with help from the calculator I always carry while shopping) quickly determined that 14 pills for $5.19 comes out to just over 37 cents per pill, whereas 30 pills at $13.29 costs 44.3 cents each.

      The bigger size usually offers the best price, but not this time. I bought two bottles of 14 and, despite having only 28 pills rather than 30, still saved money compared to what I'd've spent had I simply grabbed the largest-size generic offered for sale.

      Here's two pieces of savvy-shopper money-saving advice you hear all the time: “Check the unit prices” and “Bigger is usually better.&rdqu...
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      'Bad' video games may have good results

      Virtual violence may lead to increased moral sensitivity

      Coud violent video games make people nicer? It may not sound logical but a recent study found evidence that heinous behavior played out in a virtual environment can lead to players’ increased sensitivity toward the moral codes they violated.

      “Rather than leading players to become less moral, this research suggests that violent video-game play may actually lead to increased moral sensitivity," said Matthew Grizzard, PhD, assistant professor in the University at Buffalo Department of Communication. "This may, as it does in real life, provoke players to engage in voluntary behavior that benefits others.”

      Grizzard points out that several recent studies, including this one, have found that committing immoral behaviors in a video game elicits feelings of guilt in players who commit them.

      Other studies have established that in real life scenarios, guilt evoked by immoral behavior in the “real-world” elicits pro-social behaviors in most people.

      “We suggest that pro-social behavior also may result when guilt is provoked by virtual behavior,” Grizzard says.

      Study details

      Researchers induced guilt in participants by having them play a video game where they violated two of five moral domains: care/harm, fairness/reciprocity, in-group loyalty, respect for authority, and purity/sanctity.

      “We found that after a subject played a violent video game, they felt guilt and that guilt was associated with greater sensitivity toward the two particular domains they violated — those of care/harm and fairness/reciprocity,” Grizzard says. The first includes behaviors marked by cruelty, abuse and lack of compassion, and the second, by injustice or the denial of the rights of others.

      “Our findings suggest that emotional experiences evoked by media exposure can increase the intuitive foundations upon which human beings make moral judgments,” Grizzard says. “This is particularly relevant for video-game play, where habitual engagement with that media is the norm for a small, but considerably important group of users.”

      The study involved 185 subjects who were randomly assigned to either a guilt-inducing condition — in which they played a shooter game as a terrorist or were asked to recall real-life acts that induced guilt — or a control condition — shooter game play as a UN soldier and the recollection of real-life acts that did not induce guilt.

      After completing the video game or the memory recall, participants completed a three-item guilt scale and a 30-item moral foundations questionnaire designed to assess the importance to them of the five moral domains cited above.

      The study, “Being Bad in a Video Game Can Make Us More Morally Sensitive,” was published online ahead of print on June 20 in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

      New evidence suggests heinous behavior played out in a virtual environment can lead to players’ increased sensitivity toward the moral codes they vio...
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      Here's another good reason to cut back on TV-viewing

      Researchers say too much tube time may increase risk of early death

      How much TV do you watch? Three hours or more each day? Uh-oh.

      New research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association says adults who watch the tube that much may double their risk of premature death compared with those who watch less.

      "Television viewing is a major sedentary behavior and there is an increasing trend toward all types of sedentary behaviors," said Miguel Martinez-Gonzalez, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., the study's lead author and professor and chair of the Department of Public Health at the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain. "Our findings are consistent with a range of previous studies where time spent watching television was linked to mortality."

      Assessing the risk

      Researchers assessed 13,284 young and healthy Spanish university graduates (average age 37, 60 percent women) to determine the association between three types of sedentary behaviors and risk of death from all causes: TV viewing time, computer time and driving time. The participants were followed for a median 8.2 years. Researchers reported 97 deaths -- with 19 deaths from cardiovascular causes, 46 from cancer and 32 from other causes.

      The risk of death was twofold higher for those who said they watched 3 or more hours of TV a day versus those watching an hour or less. This higher risk was also apparent after accounting for a wide array of other variables related to a higher risk of death.

      More study needed

      Researchers found no significant association between the time spent using a computer or driving and higher risk of premature death from all causes. They said further studies are needed to confirm what effects may exist between computer use and driving on death rates, and to determine the biological mechanisms explaining these associations.

      "As the population ages, sedentary behaviors will become more prevalent, especially watching television, and this poses an additional burden on the increased health problems related to aging," Martinez-Gonzalez said. "Our findings suggest adults may consider increasing their physical activity, avoid long sedentary periods, and reduce television watching to no longer than one to two hours each day."

      The study cited previous research that suggests that half of U.S. adults are leading sedentary lives.

      The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week.

      You should also do moderate- to high-intensity muscle strengthening at least two days a week.

      How much TV do you watch? Three hours or more each day? Uh-oh. New research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association says adults who wat...
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      Dogs & cats can be friends. Then again ...

      Having a pleasant get-acquainted period is key to a good long-term relationship

      Can't we all just get along? Well, not necessarily, especially if you have a dog and a cat. It can work, though, in some instances.

      More people are home around summertime so it seems like a great time to add a new family member. Dogs and cats who have lived in a dog and cat situation in the past most likely won't find it's an issue. But dogs and cats that have lived in a pure dog or cat world may need some time to adjust.

      In fact, it might take years for a trusting, mutually agreeable relationship to develop between a cat and dog who live together. The younger, more energetic and more tolerant your cat is and the smaller, calmer and more obedient your new dog is, the more likely it is that your cat will accept living with a canine companion.

      Introduce them slowly. Cats are both territorial and not fond of change, so a supervised, gradual awareness of another pet is the best method for keeping the peace. It is important to be patient as the process can take a few days... or a few weeks.

      You might want to keep a leash on your dog during the introduction phase so if your dog becomes aggressive you can correct the behavior immediately.
      You can also try a baby gate to keep them in separate rooms (although cats can easily jump over most gates if they really want to).

      Practice, practice

      To prepare for this first meeting, start by taking your dog outside and running him around to help him work off a bit of energy. Bring delicious treats that your new dog will love. Practice "sit," "down" and "stay" after he’s run around for a while and seems to be getting tired. Then bring him inside and put him in his side of the room, behind the baby gate or however you have decided to keep them a safe distance apart.

      Next, fill your pockets with your cat’s favorite treats. If your new dog is rambunctious, put his leash on him and have someone on his side of the gate to handle the leash.

      Sit in front of the door and call your cat. Have your dog lie down or sit to keep him from behaving threateningly as she approaches.

      When your cat comes, toss her a treat. Praise and treat your dog as well if he behaves calmly in her presence. Do this several times each day for a couple of days. This way, your cat will associate your dog with delicious treats and vice versa.

      You also might want to trim your cat's claws as that's their form of protection and they can slice right through a dog's nose or any body part for that matter. (Don't have the cat de-clawed, just keep the claws trimmed during the get-acquainted period).

      A positive approach is crucial because you want your cat and dog to associate each other with pleasant experiences. You don’t want them to learn that everyone gets tense and angry and that bad things happen when the other pet is around. Dogs are more likely to engage in chase or prey behavior when they’re tense or aroused, and cats develop many undesirable behaviors — such as urine marking, excessive grooming, hiding and aggression — when they’re stressed or anxious.

      A dog is a wonderful loyal companion and the independence that a cat boasts also has its rewards, not to mention the cuddling. If you really take it slow and respect each's territory they can all get along, and you will all be able to live happily ever after.

      Can't we all just get along? Well not necessarily if you are a dog and a cat. It can work though in some instances. More people are home around summer time...
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      A June jump in pending home sales

      Affordability is still a concern, though

      Lower mortgage rates and increased inventory helped push pending home sales sharply high in May.

      According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) increased 6.1% to 103.9 last month -- the largest month-over-month gain since April 2010, when first-time home buyers rushed to sign purchase contracts before a popular tax credit program ended.

      Still, the forward-looking indicator -- based on contract signings -- remains 5.2% below May 2013.

      Concerns remain

      Analysts are expecting an improvement in home sales in the second half of the year.

      “Sales should exceed an annual pace of five million homes in some of the upcoming months behind favorable mortgage rates, more inventory and improved job creation,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “However, second-half sales growth won’t be enough to compensate for the sluggish first quarter and will likely fall below last year’s total.”  

      Despite the positive gains in signed contracts last month, Yun cautions that affordability and access to credit is still an area of concern for first-time home buyers, who accounted for only 27% of existing-home sales in May and typically carry student loan debt and lower credit scores.

      “The flourishing stock market the last few years has propelled sales in the higher price brackets, while sales for homes under $250,000 are 10% behind last year’s pace. Meanwhile, apartment rents are expected to rise 8% cumulatively over the next two years because of tight availability,” said Yun. “Solid income growth and a slight easing in underwriting standards are needed to encourage first-time buyer participation, especially as renting becomes less affordable.”

      A broad-based expansion

      All four regions of the country saw increases in pending sales.

      • The PHSI in the Northeast jumped 8.8% to 86.3 in May, and is now 0.2% above a year ago.
      • In the Midwest the index rose 6.3% to 105.4 in May, but is still 6.6% below May 2013.
      • Pending home sales in the South advanced 4.4% to an index of 117.0 in May, and is 2.9% below a year ago.
      • The index in the West rose 7.6% in May to 95.4, but remains 11.1% below May 2013.

      Looking ahead

      NAR expects existing-homes sales to be down 2.8% this year -- to 4.95 million, compared with 5.1 million sales of existing homes in 2013.

      The national median existing-home price is projected to grow between 5 and 6% this year and in the range of 4 to 5% in 2015.

      Lower mortgage rates and increased inventory helped push pending home sales sharply high in May. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), t...
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      Health Matters America expands recall of Chia products

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Health Matters America of Cheektowaga, New York is expanding its recall of Organic Traditions Sprouted Chia Seed Powder and Sprouted Chia& Flax Seed Powder.

      The products may be contaminated withSalmonella

      The recall, announced earlier this month, is being expanded to include more lot numbers and other products that contain Chia Seeds.

      The products have been distributed nationwide.

      The products and lot numbers included in this voluntary recall have been expanded to include:

      • ORGANIC TRADITIONS SPROUTED CHIA SEED POWDER Lot numbers: All codes starting with BIO13 and ending with 269 up to and including 365; All codes starting with BIO14 and ending with 001 up to and including 156; NET WT. 8 oz. UPC 854260006162, and NET WT. 16 oz. UPC 854260005462; and all bulk sizes;
      • ORGANIC TRADITIONS SPROUTED CHIA & FLAX SEED POWDER Lot numbers: All codes starting with BIO13 and ending with 269 up to and including 365; All codes starting with BIO14 and ending with 001 up to and including 156; NET WT. 8 oz. UPC 854260006216, and NET WT. 16 oz. UPC 854260005479; and all bulk sizes.
      • ORGANIC TRADITIONS CHIA SEEDS Lot numbers: All codes starting with ASCBO13; NET WT. 8oz. UPC 854260006131, and NET WT. 16oz. UPC 854260006148; and all bulk sizes.
      • ORGANIC TRADITIONS ULTIMATE SUPERFOOD TRAILMIX Lot numbers: ALL LOTS ending in 003-13 to 005-14; NET WT. 3.5oz. UPC 854260010701.

      No other Organic Traditions products are affected by this recall.

      Consumers who have purchased any of these products with the above stated lot numbers should not consume the product, and discard it or return it to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-888-343-3278, ext. 730, Monday – Friday, 9am –5pm ET.

      Health Matters America of Cheektowaga, New York is expanding its recall of Organic Traditions Sprouted Chia Seed Powder and Sprouted Chia& Flax Seed Powder...
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      Nissan recalls 2014 Nissan LEAFs

      The inverter may fail, causing the vehicle shut down

      Nissan North America is recalling 196 model year 2014 Nissan LEAF vehicles manufactured April 15, 2014, through April 24, 2014.

      Due to a problem with the motor control circuit board, the inverter may fail, causing the vehicle shut down. An unexpected vehicle shut down increases the risk of a crash.

      Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will replace the inverter, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on July 7, 2014.

      Owners may contact Nissan customer service at 1-800-647-7261.

      Nissan North America is recalling 196 model year 2014 Nissan LEAF vehicles manufactured April 15, 2014, through April 24, 2014. Due to a problem with the ...
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      BMW recalls C 600 Sport, and C 650 GT motorcycles

      The camshaft chain tensioner may not function properly

      BMW of North America is recalling 1360 model year 2012-2014 C 600 Sport, and C 650 GT motorcycles manufactured August 2, 2012, through February 18, 2014.

      The camshaft chain tensioner in the affected vehicles may not function properly, resulting in an engine stall. An engine stall may increase the risk of a crash.

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will replace the camshaft chain tensioner, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in July 2014.

      Owners may contact BMW Customer Relations at 1-800-525-7417.

      BMW of North America is recalling 1360 model year 2012-2014 C 600 Sport, and C 650 GT motorcycles manufactured August 2, 2012, through February 18, 2014. ...
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      App-based liquor delivery services take a page from Uber's playbook

      But regulators are proving hostile to the idea of unlicensed liquor sales

      First it was Airbnb, putting rooms and travelers together. Then Uber, putting riders and drivers together. Now it's companies with names like Ultra and BeerRightNow.com trying to put drinkers and liquor together.

      If the reaction from local regulators to Airbnb and Uber was chilly, the reaction to the app-driven liquor delivery services is downright hostile.

      In Washington, D.C., the Alcohol Beverage Control Board has ordered Ultra to shut down, after finding that the company was soliciting customers and accepting payments, both actions that require a liquor license.

      Ultra, which also operates in New York and Chicago and has plans to expand to Los Angeles and Boston, suspended its service in D.C. and said it would try to find a way to work with the ABC board.

      Ultra owner Aniket Shah said D.C. "is an important market for us," the Washington Post reported. Shah said he doesn't plan to use the confrontational tactics that Uber has used in its tussles with local authorities. "We understand we are in a more controlled environment."

      BeerRightNow.com operates in New York and an unspecified list of other cities and features not only an extensive list of mass-market and craft beers but also such essentials as wine, cheese, crackers and tobacco. 

      Also opening recently in D.C. was Klink, promising beer and wine delivery within 40 minutes. 

       “The way it works is we have a network of retail partners throughout D.C. and what we do is we use our intelligent routing system that we’ve developed,” said Klink CEO Jeffrey Nadel in an interview with Vox, a Georgetown University blog. “So customers’ orders are routed based on a variety of factors and what it does is it makes sure you’re getting your order at the cheapest price, in the most affordable way possible, and the quickest way possible.”

      Nadel, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, is planning to spend his summer opening up new markets, he told Vox. It already serves thirsty scholars in the college areas of Ann Arbor, Mich., and Orlando, Fla.

      Nothing new really

      There's nothing really new about this, of course. For as long as there's been booze, there've been ways to have it delivered to thirsty boozers. Wineries routinely ship their products to oenophiles around the world and many neighborhood liquor stores are only too happy to lug over a keg or two of beer. 

      But the notion of picking up your smartphone and ordering a fifth of vodka just the way you'd order a ride home from UberX strikes a note of caution in some quarters.

      Most delivery services sort of skirt around the issue of when too much is really too much although Los Angeles-based Pink Dot comes right out with it: 

      "Have you ever been at a party or thrown a party when all of a sudden you realize you have ran out of alcohol but are too drunk to go out and buy some more? Well with Pink Dot that no longer is a problem. Pink Dot has alcohol delivery that comes straight to your doorstep, saving you from having to risk your life and others while driving drunk."

      City fathers across the country may shudder at the notion of hell-bent entrepreneurs zooming around town delivering buckets of beer but it's an idea that no doubt holds a lot of appeal for those looking for a business opportunity.

      Besides page after page of existing services, check your favorite search engine and you'll find a do-it-yourself guide to starting a liquor delivery business.

      Source: klinkapp.comFirst it was Airbnb, putting rooms and travelers together. Then Uber, putting riders and drivers together. Now it's companies with ...
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      Facebook facing contempt of court charges?

      Says government grab of users' private data would be "unthinkable in the physical world"

      “Tech companies fights federal gag order” officially qualifies as a commonplace news story in today's post-NSA world.

      In May, companies including Apple and Facebook made headlines for fighting back against indiscriminate government data collection; their complaint wasn't even that the government was demanding so much information about the companies' customers, but that the companies were forbidden to let the users know of the government's interest in them.

      And now Facebook is being threatened with contempt of court charges in New York over the similar argument.

      On June 26, Facebook deputy general counsel Chris Sonderby posted an announcement in Facebook's newsroom about “Fighting bulk search warrants in court:”

      Since last summer, we’ve been fighting hard against a set of sweeping search warrants issued by a court in New York that demanded we turn over nearly all data from the accounts of 381 people who use our service, including photos, private messages and other information. This unprecedented request is by far the largest we’ve ever received—by a magnitude of more than ten—and we have argued that it was unconstitutional from the start.

      Of the 381 people whose accounts were the subject of these warrants, 62 were later charged in a disability fraud case. This means that no charges will be brought against more than 300 people whose data was sought by the government without prior notice to the people affected. The government also obtained gag orders that prohibited us from discussing this case and notifying any of the affected people until now.

      Disability fraud

      Prosecutors say the data led to last January's much-publicized indictment of over 100 retired police and firefighters for disability fraud; among other things, former officers who claimed they were too psychologically disabled to leave home posted Facebook photographs of themselves flying helicopters or riding jet skis.

      But Facebook, in a brief filed with the appeals court, says the government's search stretched much further than it should have:

      “The government’s bulk warrants, which demand ‘all’ communications and information in 24 broad categories from the 381 targeted accounts, are the digital equivalent of seizing everything in someone’s home. Except here, it is not a single home but an entire neighborhood of nearly 400 homes …. The vast scope of the government’s search and seizure here would be unthinkable in the physical world.”

      The American Civil Liberties Union agreed. A lawyer for the ACLU told the New York Times that it strains belief to think every single bit of Facebook data, every picture and private message and comment, was relevant to the state's fraud prosecution, and said “It’s incredibly important in the digital context to prevent government fishing expeditions.”

      “Tech companies fights federal gag order” officially qualifies as an commonplace-news story in today's post-NSA world. In May, companies includ...
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      The economic and health costs of summer

      Summer is often bad news for older and low-income consumers

      Consumers who endured winter's polar vortex and the high heating bills it produced are now preparing for a long hot summer of high cooling costs.

      But beyond the increasing expense of air conditioning a home, some people – particularly seniors – can be affected in other ways.

      In New York City, AARP warns older residents to take precautions to deal with the heat, noting that the last major heat wave in the city claimed 46 lives. It warns that bitterly cold winters are very often followed by sweltering summers.

      Seniors at risk

      Anyone with major health issues can be affected by the heat but generally, older adults stand a greater risk of heat stroke or heat exhaustion because their bodies do not easily adjust to changes in temperature.

      It falls to friends, family members and neighbors to make sure older people, especially those in poor health, stay cool over the summer months. Knowing the warning signs for heat stroke may be a good place to start.

      Heat stroke symptoms

      Heat stroke symptoms can include feeling dizzy, faint or nauseous, and experiencing cramping in the arms or legs. Someone suffering heat stroke may have a fast or weak pulse and their body temperature will be above normal. Body temperatures above 103 degrees can lead to death or permanent brain damage and harmful stress on organs.

      Heart-related conditions can also be a problem in the heat. Making these episodes more dangerous is the fact that they can be slow to develop and often the person is unaware they are happening.

      AARP's recommendations to avoid heat-related health problems this summer include:

      • Stay indoors and in an air-conditioned environment as much as possible.
      • Plan strenuous outdoor activities for early or late in the day when temperatures are cooler.
      • Take frequent breaks when working outdoors.
      • Drink plenty of fluids but avoid beverages that contain alcohol, caffeine or a lot of sugar.
      • Eat more frequently but make sure meals are balanced and light.
      • Check frequently on people who are elderly, ill or may need help. If you might need help, arrange to have family, friends or neighbors check in with you at least twice a day throughout warm weather periods.
      • Salt tablets should only be taken if specified by your doctor. If you are on a salt-restrictive diet, check with a doctor before increasing salt intake.
      • If you take prescription diuretics, antihistamines, mood-altering or antispasmodic drugs, check with a doctor about the effects of sun and heat exposure.
      • Cover windows that receive morning or afternoon sun. Awnings or louvers can reduce the heat entering a house by as much as 80 percent.
      • Wear a wide-brimmed hat, sun block and light-colored, loose-fitting clothes when outdoors.
      • At first signs of heat illness (dizziness, nausea, headaches, muscle cramps), move to a cooler location, rest for a few minutes and slowly drink a cool beverage. Seek medical attention immediately if you do not feel better.
      • Avoid extreme temperature changes. A cool shower immediately after coming in from hot temperatures can result in hypothermia, particularly for elderly or very young people.

      Managing A/C expenses

      Reducing the financial costs of summer is a bit harder, but can be done. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, heating and cooling costs make up 43% of the average utility bill.

      The agency says U.S. consumers spend $11 billion each year to cool their homes, with air conditioning – primarily used only 3 or 4 months a year in most areas – making up 6% of annual utility costs.

      To reduce air conditioning costs, make sure your unit is operating as efficiently as possible. Proper refrigerant levels promote efficiency. So does making sure the filter is cleaned or replaced when it gets dirty.

      Consumers who endured winter's polar vortex and the high heating bills it produced are now preparing for a long hot summer of high cooling costs.But beyo...
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      Audi plans plug-in hybrids for 2015

      It's in response to BMW's electric car roll-out

      Audi and its corporate parent Volkswagen have been slow to embrace electric cars but Audi says it will roll out at least four plug-in hybrids in 2015, although it's not clear if all of them will make it to the U.S.

      It's perhaps partly in answer to BMW, which is launching an aggressive roll-out of its "i" line of electric cars. Audi CEO Rupert Stadler said the first model -- the A3 Sportback E-tron -- will be followed by other plug-in hybrids.

      Plug-in hybrids are the best solution for low-emission vehicles because they don't face the same range constraints as battery-powered vehicles, Stadler said, according to Automotive News. Plug-in hybrids run on battery power with zero emissions and switch to a conventional internal combustion engine when the battery's charge is exhauster. 

      The A3 Sportback E-tron is expected to have a range of about 30 miles on a single charge while the BMW i3 is claiming a 100-mile range. The A3's total range -- including the internal combustion engine -- is expected to be around 300 miles.

      “Plug-in hybrids are electric vehicles for everyday driving, exactly what our customers are asking for,” Stadler said.

      Existing platforms

      While BMW has designed all-new models for its electric fleet, Audi will simply retrofit the plug-in hybrid capability into existing models, including the A3 Sportwagon, Q7 and A6.

      Using existing body styles gives Audi the flexibility to build a lot of cars if demand warrants, not so many if it doesn't. Mercedes is pursuing a similar strategy. 

      Whether that works for a hybrid that looks just like the gas model but costs $20,000 more remains to be seen. Many hybrid purchasers want to be seen as environmentally responsible, marketers say, so a "stealth" hybrid may not be as appealing as something that's immediately recognizable.

      Some have suggested that's part of the reason the Chevrolet Volt hasn't sold as well as expected. While it's not identical to any other Chevrolet model, it's not as easily identified as, say, a Toyota Prius.

      The A3 Sportback E-tron (Photo credit: Audi)Audi and its corporate parent Volkswagen have been slow to embrace electric cars but Audi says it will roll...
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