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    Liposuction for your dog

    It's not just cosmetic, liposuction is used to treat benign fatty masses in dogs

    It's not just the rich and famous getting liposuction these days. The ordinary neighborhood dog might be getting it as well, and not just so it looks good ..

    Glasses? Who needs them? Vision-correcting computer screens in the works

    UC Berkeley researchers develop algorithms to compensate for user's vision

    Do you have to put your glasses on to see your computer screen? You may not have to do so much longer, thanks to technology being developed at UC Berkeley that could enable your computer to take over the task.

    Researchers there are developing computer algorithms to compensate for an individual’s visual impairment, and creating vision-correcting displays that enable users to see text and images clearly without wearing eyeglasses or contact lenses.

    The technology could potentially help hundreds of millions of people who currently need corrective lenses to use their smartphones, tablets and computers. One common problem, for example, is presbyopia, a type of farsightedness in which the ability to focus on nearby objects is gradually diminished as the aging eyes’ lenses lose elasticity.

    More importantly, the displays could one day aid people with more complex visual problems, known as high order aberrations, which cannot be corrected by eyeglasses, said Brian Barsky, UC Berkeley professor of computer science and vision science, and affiliate professor of optometry.

    “We now live in a world where displays are ubiquitous, and being able to interact with displays is taken for granted,” said Barsky, who is leading this project. “People with higher order aberrations often have irregularities in the shape of the cornea, and this irregular shape makes it very difficult to have a contact lens that will fit. In some cases, this can be a barrier to holding certain jobs because many workers need to look at a screen as part of their work. This research could transform their lives, and I am passionate about that potential.”

    Pinhole screen

    The UC Berkeley researchers teamed up with Gordon Wetzstein and Ramesh Raskar, colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to develop their latest prototype of a vision-correcting display. The setup adds a printed pinhole screen sandwiched between two layers of clear plastic to an iPod display to enhance image sharpness. The tiny pinholes are 75 micrometers each and spaced 390 micrometers apart.

    “The significance of this project is that, instead of relying on optics to correct your vision, we use computation,” said lead author Fu-Chung Huang, who worked on this project as part of his computer science Ph.D. dissertation at UC Berkeley. “This is a very different class of correction, and it is non-intrusive.”

    “Our technique distorts the image such that, when the intended user looks at the screen, the image will appear sharp to that particular viewer,” said Barsky. “But if someone else were to look at the image, it would look bad.”

    The research team will present this computational light field display on Aug. 12 at the International Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, or SIGGRAPH, in Vancouver, Canada.

    © Franky - Fotolia.comDo you have to put your glasses on to see your computer screen? You may not have to do so much longer, thanks to technology ...
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    A drop in applications for mortgages

    Contract interest rates were showed little or no change for the most part

    Most of the gain posted in mortgage applications two weeks ago evaporated last week.

    According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey, applications decreased 2.2% for the week ending July 25.

    The Refinance Index was down 4%t from the previous week, taking the refinance share of mortgage activity down 1 basis point -- to 53% of total applications from 54% the week before.

    The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity remained at 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) was unchanged at 4.33%, with points increasing to 0.24 from 0.23 (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) inched up to 4.22% from 4.21%, with points increasing to 0.23 from 0.20 (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 held steady at 4.03%, with points decreasing to 0.00 from 0.15 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs was unchanged at 3.47%, with points decreasing to 0.25 from 0.28 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate remained the same as last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs surged to 3.31% from 3.21%, with points increasing to 0.40 from 0.32 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

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

    Most of the gain posted in mortgage applications two weeks ago evaporated last week. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage...
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      GM recalls Chevy Caprice and SS vehicles

      The windshield wipers may quit working

      General Motors is recalling 4,794 model year 2013-2014 Chevrolet Caprice vehicles manufactured June 7, 2013, to May 29, 2014, and 2014 Chevrolet SS vehicles manufactured September 13, 2013, to March 4, 2014.

      The windshield wiper motor gear teeth in the affected vehicles may strip causing the windshield wipers to become inoperative. The failure to clear rain or snow, could reduce the driver's visibility, increasing the risk of a crash.

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the wiper module assembly and replace any affected ones, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in early August 2014.

      Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 14295.

      General Motors is recalling 4,794 model year 2013-2014 Chevrolet Caprice vehicles manufactured June 7, 2013, to May 29, 2014, and 2014 Chevrolet SS vehicle...
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      Connected cars: the next big thing

      Study predicts a surge in new cars that can talk to each other

      In the 1950s carmakers competed to see which cars could have the largest tail fins, as a way to attract customers. Today, onboard technology is driving sales, with navigation systems and Bluetooth connectivity, allowing motorists to play music from their mobile devices through vehicle entertainment systems. What's next? How about connectivity between cars?

      It doesn't take a lot of imagination to figure out that vehicles with sophisticated on-board computers could connect to the Internet and actually talk to one another, becoming big smartphones on wheels. But just because it's possible, it doesn't necessarily mean it will happen.

      Quartz.com, an economic website, has interviewed car company representatives who aren't sure there's much money to be made in connecting cars. At this point, they doubt consumers will be willing to pay extra for it. Car companies, it reasons, have little financial incentive.

      That may be true, but another economic publication, Heavy Reading Insider, is a lot more bullish on the concept. It says the market for connected cars is growing rapidly.

      Explosive growth

      In fact, it expects the market to surge by 41.2% between 2013 and 2018, with mobile network operators (MNOs) seizing the opportunity for new revenue streams while locking in customer loyalty.

      In other words, it won't be Ford and Toyota that drive this trend – it will be AT&T and Verizon. In a report, Heavy Reading Insider projects the trend should accelerate over the next 18 to 24 months.

      "Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications is closer to becoming a reality than many people realize," said Denise Culver, research analyst with Heavy Reading Insider and author of the report. "In many cases, traffic and safety boards, as well as other governmental agencies, have recognized that enabling cars to 'talk' to one another, road signs and other pieces of the transportation ecosystem can decrease the number of traffic accidents and, thus, fatalities on roadways each year."

      Global trend

      It's a trend, she says, that isn't just happening in the U.S., but worldwide. By 2018 she expects connected cars will account for 50% of global new car shipments.

      "Various connectivity solutions, such as LTE, 3G, Wi-Fi and HSPA, are being bundled with OEM manufactured cars, apart from the existing traditional connectivity such as Bluetooth and 2G," Culver said.

      In the short term, the report says allowing consumers to tether their existing smartphones to the vehicle will be the biggest driver over the next 18 months. Other analysts have agreed that enhanced technology in late model cars has helped sustain auto sales at their current pace.

      As the trend develops, manufacturers will use mobile technology, by way of either traditional mobile phones and tablets or hybrid in-vehicle systems, to transfer data from the vehicle to the network.

      Changing landscape

      That, the report suggests, will bring about changes in the status quo, with telematics software makers, app developers and systems providers merging with larger enterprises to facilitate this highway connectivity. At the same time, MNOs will be pressured to lower costs, providing flexible and cost-effective data plans to provide the ongoing connectivity.

      Who's in the lead when it comes to connecting cars? A report commissioned by Vodafone places BMW in the lead, followed by GM, Ford, Audi and Chrysler.

      The report, compiled by Machina Research, also predicts rapid movement to automotive connectivity but stresses the need to get the technology right before it proceeds too quickly.

      In the 1950s carmakers competed to see which cars could have the largest tail fins, as a way to attract customers. Today, on-board technology is driving sa...
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      Study: 35% of Americans have a debt in collections

      Nearly half of Nevadans are in collections; upper Midwest in best shape

      Has the U.S. become a nation of deadbeats? Or is the economic recovery so slow that consumers in vast swatches of the country are simply unable to make ends meet? 

      Those are among the conclusions one might reach after reading a new Urban Institute study that finds 35% of U.S. adults have a debt that is so delinquent it has been turned over to a collection agency. The study, conducted with Encore Capital Group's Consumer Credit Research Institute, found that the 77 million Americans in collections owed an average of $5,200 in September 2013.

      "Most people wouldn't blink if told that the majority of Americans carry some debt. But they would be shocked to learn that reported debt in collections is pervasive and threads through nearly all communities," said Caroline Ratcliffe, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. "Delinquent debt can harm credit scores, which can tip employers' hiring decisions, restrict access to mortgages, and even increase insurance costs."

      Nevada, hit hard by the housing crisis, tops the list of states: 47% of people with a credit file have reported debt in collections. The state also has the highest average collections debt -- $7,198.

      Twelve other states (11 in the South) and the District of Columbia top 40%: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia. On the low end, the Midwest's Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota have about 20% of residents with reported debt in collections.

      Nonmortgage bill

      Debt in collections involves a nonmortgage bill — such as a credit card balance, child support obligation, medical or utility bill, parking ticket, or membership fee — that has been reported so far past due that the account has been closed and placed in collections. This debt can remain in a person's credit file for seven years. Some consumers become aware of collections debt only when they review their credit report.

      Of the 100 largest metropolitan areas, five have at least 45% of people with collections debt: McAllen, Texas (51.7%); Las Vegas, Nevada (49.2%); Lakeland, Florida (47.3%); Columbia, South Carolina (45.2%); and Jacksonville, Florida (45.0%).

      Only six metro areas, none in the South, have less than a quarter of people with collections debt: Minneapolisâ??St. Paul, Minnesota (20.1%); Honolulu, Hawaii (21.0%); Boston, Massachusetts (22.4%); Madison, Wisconsin (22.6%); San Jose, California (23.0%); and Bridgeport, Connecticut (24.5%).

      About 790 of the 72,000 census tracts studied have at least 75% of adults with collections debt. Fewer than 10 have no one with such debt. Census tracts average about 4,000 residents.

      Past due debt

      The step before collections, of course, is being past due on a bill. About 10 million (5.3%) of Americans are in that situation, being at least 30 days late on a credit card, auto loan, student loan, or other nonmortgage payment. The average amount needed to pay to become current on that debt is $2,258.

      The South again leads the way, led by Louisiana (8.7%), Texas (7.6%), and Mississippi (7.2%). Only three states have less than 4% of their credit file population with debt past due: Utah, Washington, and New Jersey.

      The research was conducted by Caroline Ratcliffe, Signe-Mary McKernan, Brett Theodos, and Emma Kalish from the Urban Institute and John Chalekian, Peifang Guo, and Christopher Trepel from Encore Capital Group's Consumer Credit Research Institute (CCRI). Support for the research was provided by the CCRI, which is dedicated to understanding consumer financial decision making, especially within subprime credit and low- and moderate-income populations.

      The study's analyses use a random sample of 7 million people with 2013 credit files. The roughly 9% of adults (22 million) with no credit file, generally low-income consumers, are not represented.

      Thirty-five percent of adults have a debt in collections reported in their credit files, an Urban Institute study shows. The study, conducted with Encore C...
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      FAA wants to fine Southwest $12 million for maintenance violations

      "Extreme makeover" of 737 aircraft didn't follow proper procedures, agency alleges

      Beginning in 2006, Southwest Airlines started an "extreme makeover" procedure for 44 of its Boeing 737 airliners to prevent cracking of the aluminum skins on the airplanes.

      But the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says the contractor Southwest hired to do the job didn't follow the proper procedures and it is proposing a $12 million fine for Southwest.

      The FAA conducted an investigation that included both the airline and its contractor, Aviation Technical Services, Inc., (ATS) of Everett, Wash., and said that determined ATS failed to follow proper procedures for replacing the fuselage skins on the aircraft.

      FAA investigators also charged that ATS failed to follow required procedures for placing the airplanes on jacks and stabilizing them. All of the work was done under the supervision of Southwest Airlines, which was responsible for ensuring that procedures were properly followed.

      Southwest returned the jetliners to service and operated them when they were not in compliance with Federal Aviation Regulations, the FAA alleges. The regulatory violations charged involve numerous flights that occurred in 2009 after the FAA put the airline on notice that the aircraft were not in compliance with either FAA Airworthiness Directives or alternate, FAA-approved methods of complying with the directives.

      The FAA later approved the repairs after the airline provided proper documentation that the repairs met safety standards

      “Safety is our top priority, and that means holding airlines responsible for the repairs their contractors undertake,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Everyone has a role to play and a responsibility to ensure the safety of our transportation system.”

      During its investigation, the FAA found that ATS workers applied sealant beneath the new skin panels but did not install fasteners in all of the rivet holes during the timeframe for the sealant to be effective. This could have resulted in gaps between the skin and the surface to which it was being mounted. Such gaps could allow moisture to penetrate the skin and lead to corrosion.

      The FAA also alleges that ATS personnel failed to follow requirements to properly place these airplanes on jacks and shore them up while the work was being performed. If a plane is shored improperly during skin replacement, the airframe could shift and lead to subsequent problems with the new skin.

      In the third case, the FAA alleges that Southwest Airlines failed to properly install a ground wire on water drain masts on two of its Boeing 737s in response to an FAA Airworthiness Directive addressing lightning strikes on these components.

      The airplanes were each operated on more than 20 passenger flights after Southwest Airlines became aware of the discrepancies but before the airline corrected the problem.

      Southwest Airlines has 30 days from the receipt of the FAA’s Civil Penalty letter to respond to the allegations.

      Beginning in 2006, Southwest Airlines started an "extreme makeover" procedure for 44 of its Boeing 737 airliners to preve...
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      Powdered pure caffeine blamed for teen's death

      FDA warns the powerful substance can easily cause accidental overdose

      The death of an 18-year-old Ohio student is leading to warnings about the use of pure caffeine powder, a powerful stimulant that's becoming popular among weightlifters and other athletes.

      The warnings follow the May 27 death of Logan Stiner, 18, a high school senior, athlete and prom king. Health officials in LaGrange, Ohio, say Stiner had 70 micrograms of caffeine per milliliter of blood in his system, about 14 times as much as a typical coffee drinker.

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it is especially concerned about the sale of powdered caffeine on the Internet, making it easy for teens to make purchases without their parents' knowledge. The substance is easily found at Amazon.com and on Google Shopping.

      AllStarHealth.com offers a 200-gram container of powdered caffeine for $10.99. It recommends using a single scoop (1,000 mg) with 8 ounces of water and warns against mixing it with other caffeinated beverages.

      "Pure caffeine is a powerful stimulant and very small amounts may cause accidental overdose. Parents should be aware that these products may be attractive to young people," the FDA said in a warning to consumers.

      "Symptoms of caffeine overdose can include rapid or dangerously erratic heartbeat, seizures and death. Vomiting, diarrhea, stupor and disorientation are also symptoms of caffeine toxicity. These symptoms are likely to be much more severe than those resulting from drinking too much coffee, tea or other caffeinated beverages," the agency said.

      People with pre-existing heart conditions should be especially careful not to use any type of powdered caffeine, the FDA cautioned.

      Not enough

      The FDA's warning is a step in the right direction, but doesn't go far enough, some health advocates argue.

      "FDA should take whichever additional measures it can against these products, and it has much more to do if it really wants to protect the public," said Jim O'Hara, Health Promotion Policy Director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest"The overuse and misuse of caffeine in the food supply is creating a wild-west marketplace, and it’s about time the sheriff noticed and did something."

      Photo source: AllStarHealth.comThe death of an 18-year-old Ohio student is leading to warnings about the use of pure caffeine powder, a powerful stimul...
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      Dollar Tree buys Family Dollar, amid hard times for discount retailers

      The discounters' customers have been hard hit by a sluggish economy and cuts in aid

      You would think that when times get tough, discount stores would do a land-office business. But it hasn't turned out that way for WalMart, Family Dollar and the other discounters whose big- and little-box stores dot the countryside; it's hard times for both the discounters and their customers.

      Consumers rate Dollar Tree

      Their problem is a simple one: low-income consumers don't have much money to spend and many have been hard hit by cutbacks in Food Stamps and other financial assistance programs. Many are also struggling with burdensome healthcare costs, especially in states that have not accepted federal funds to expand their Medicaid programs.

      The plight of lower-income consumers is clearly shown in a new Urban Institute study that finds more than 40% of consumers have at least one debt in collections in poorer states, mostly in the South. 

      So it wasn't surprising when Family Dollar announced in April that it would close 370 stores and slash its prices in hopes of attracting more business. But what was surprising was yesterday's announcement that competitor Dollar Tree would buy Family Dollar for $8.5 billion.

      "This is a transformational opportunity," said Bob Sasser, Dollar Tree's CEO. "This acquisition will extend our reach to lower-income customers and strengthen and diversify our store footprint. We plan to leverage best practices across both organizations to deliver significant synergies, while we accelerate and augment Family Dollar's recently introduced strategic initiatives."

      The deal combines the nation's second- and third-largest discount retailers. The companies will maintain their separate brands between them will operate 13,000 stories in the U.S. and Canada.

      Wal-Mart has recently been opening smaller stores hoping to stave off further sales declines at its big-box stores and there had been speculation that it would scoop up ailing Family Dollar. 

      You would think that when times get tough, discount stores would do a land-office business. But it hasn't turned out that way ...
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      Consumer confidence improves for a third straight month

      And, an analyst says the trend is likely to continue

      After improving in June, The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index increased again in July.

      The index picked up 4.5 points during the month and now stands at 90.9. The Present Situation Index rose to 88.3 from 86.3, while the Expectations Index jumped 6.3 points -- to 92.7.

      Consumer confidence increased for the third consecutive month and, according to Lynn Franco, Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board, is now at its highest level since October 2007 (95.2).

      “Strong job growth helped boost consumers’ assessment of current conditions,” she said, “while brighter short-term outlooks for the economy and jobs, and to a lesser extent personal income, drove the gain in expectations. Recent improvements in consumer confidence, in particular expectations, suggest the recent strengthening in growth is likely to continue into the second half of this year.”

      A mixed showing

      Consumers’ assessment of current conditions improved in July. Those who said business conditions are “good” edged down to 22.7% from 23.4%, while those saying they are “bad” was virtually unchanged at 22.7%.

      The appraisal of the job market was more favorable. Consumers who think jobs are “plentiful” increased to 15.9% from 14.6%, while those who believe jobs are “hard to get” was unchanged at 30.7%.

      Growing optimism

      Consumers’ expectations were brighter in July. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next 6 months increased to 20.2% from 18.4%, while those expecting business conditions to worsen held at 11.%.

      Consumers were more positive about the outlook for the labor market. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead increased 2.8% -- to 19.1%, while those anticipating fewer jobs declined to 16.4% from 18.4%.

      Slightly more consumers expect their incomes to grow -- 17.3% in July versus 16.7% in June, while those expecting a drop in their incomes slipped to 11.0% from 11.4%.

      The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was July 17.

      After improving in June, The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index increased again in July. The index picked up 4.5 points during the month and no...
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      Home prices rise in May -- but at a slower pace

      The gains in value were across the board

      Home prices across the nation continued to increase during May, but the rate was a bit slower than during the previous month.

      According to the the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, the 10-City Composite gained 9.4% year-over-year, while the 20-City was up 9.3% -- down significantly from the +10.9% and +10.8% returns reported in April. All cities with the exception of Charlotte and Tampa saw their annual rates decelerate.

      During May, the 10- and 20-City Composites posted gains of 1.1% over April, with all 20 cities posting gains for the second straight month. Charlotte posted its highest monthly increase -- 1.4% -- in over a year. Tampa gained 1.8%, followed by San Francisco at +1.6% and Chicago at +1.5%.

      Phoenix and San Diego were the only cities to gain less than one percent with increases of 0.4% and 0.5%, respectively.

      The rate of increase slows

      “Home prices rose at their slowest pace since February of last year,” said David M. Blitzer, Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “The 10- and 20-City Composites posted just over 9%, well below expectations. Month-to-month, all cities are posting gains before seasonal adjustment; after seasonal adjustment 14 of 20 were lower.

      Year-over-year, 9 cities -- Las Vegas (16.9%), San Francisco (15.4%), Miami (13.2%), San Diego (12.4%), Los Angeles (12.3%), Detroit (11.9%), Atlanta (11.2%), Tampa (10.2%) and Portland (10.0%) -- posted double-digit increases in May 2014.

      The Sun Belt continues to lead with 7 of the top 8t performing cities. Eighteen of 20 cities had lower year-over-year numbers than last month; San Francisco and San Diego saw their year-over-year figures decelerate by about 3 percentage points.

      While all cities continue to post year-over-year increases, gains weakened in May. Charlotte was the only Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) to see its annual rate improve; it posted 4.7% year-over-year in May versus 4.5% in April.

      Tampa held steady with a gain of 10.2%. Despite seeing their rates decrease by 2 to 3 percentage points, Las Vegas remained the top performing city with a return of +16.9%, followed by San Francisco at +15.4%.

      All cities reported increases month-over-month with 9 cities -- Charlotte, Cleveland, Detroit, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York and Tampa -- showing larger increases in May than in April. Charlotte posted its largest monthly gain since April 2013 while Minneapolis, New York and Tampa showed their highest since August 2013.

      New York showed the most improvement with a gain of 1.0% in May versus 0.1% in April. Boston posted +1.1% in May, down from +2.9% in April. Dallas and Denver continue to set new peaks while Detroit remains the only city below its January 2000 value.  

      Home prices across the nation continued to increase during May, but the rate was a bit slower than during the previous month. According to the its S&P/Cas...
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      CaCoCo recalls raw drinking chocolate

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      CaCoCo is recalling CaCoCo “Original” and “Global Warrior” containing said Organic Carob Powder.

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The recalled products were sold to California distributors, retail outlets, and farmers markets in 8.14-oz. and 2-lbs. bags. The products in this recall include:

      Product Name: Original and Global Warrior

      Lot #UPC CodeExp. Date
      OG9909113135211310/19/2014
      OG10009113135211311/28/2014
      OG10109113135211306/18/2015
      GW9909113135207610/19/2014
      GW10009113135207611/28/2014
      GW10109113135207606/18/2015

      No other CaCoCo products are affected by this recall.

      Consumers who have purchased these products should not consume them, but discard them or return them to the place of purchase for exchange.

      Consumers with questions may contact CaCoCo at (530) 362-8632, Monday – Friday from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm PST, or by email at recall@cacoco.co.

      CaCoCo is recalling CaCoCo “Original” and “Global Warrior” containing said Organic Carob Powder. The products may be contaminated with Salmonella. No ill...
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      GoMacro recalls various MacroBars products

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      GoMacro of Viola, Wis., is recalling MacroBars brand almond butter + carob lots 1634 and 1645, and sunflower butter + chocolate lot 1646.

      They have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      These MacroBars were distributed across the country and internationally via retail stores, mail order and direct delivery.

      The affected MacroBars will be clearly marked as either:

      • almond butter + carob with lot numbers 1634 (expiration 10 Mar 15) or 1645 (expiration 18 Mar 15) or
      • sunflower butter + chocolate lot 1646 (expiration 18 Mar 15) and in a foil wrapper.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      Consumers who have purchased these products are urged to return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact Operations Manager, Tony Saarem at (608)-627-2310 Monday-Friday 9AM-5PM (CST), or by email at tony@gomacro.com.

      GoMacro of Viola, Wis., is recalling MacroBars brand almond butter + carob lots 1634 and 1645, and sunflower butter + chocolate lot 1646 They have the pot...
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      Suzuki recalls Verona vehicles

      The DRL module may melt



      Suzuki Motor of America is recalling 25,899 model year 2004-2006 Verona vehicles manufactured June 2003, to October 2005.

      In the affected vehicles, there may be heat generated within the DRL module located in the instrument panel, which could melt the DRL module, causing a vehicle fire.

      Suzuki will notify owners, and dealers will replace the DRL module in the instrument panel, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners can contact Suzuki customer service at 1-800-934-0934. Suzuki's number for this recall is XC.

      Suzuki Motor of America is recalling 25,899 model year 2004-2006 Verona vehicles manufactured June 2003, to October 2005. In the affected vehicles, there ...
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      Puritan Foods recalls raw boneless turkey breasts

      The product contains milk, an allergen not listed on the label

      Puritan Foods of Boston, Mass., is recalling approximately 2,476 pounds of raw boneless turkey breasts.

      The product contains milk, an allergen not declared on the product label.

      There are no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

      The following product is subject to recall:

      • Raw Boneless Turkey Breasts (various weights) with pack dates of June 11 and July 18, 2014

      The product was produced on June 11, 2014, and July 18, 2014, and bears the establishment number “P-5933” inside the USDA mark of inspection.

      It was distributed to a local distributor, which sold the product to hotels, restaurants and institutions in the New England area.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Christopher Mendez at (617) 596-4917.

      Puritan Foods of Boston, Mass., is recalling approximately 2,476 pounds of raw boneless turkey breasts. The product contains milk, an allergen not declared...
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      This is the summer of dangerous bugs

      From mosquitoes to spiders, this season bites

      Insects used to be just an annoyance. Now, it seems, they are posing increasing danger to people. For several years West Nile Virus, spread by mosquitoes, has been a threat in the U.S. It can lead to fever or other symptoms and in rare cases, it can be fatal.

      This year there's a new mosquito-borne threat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports hundreds of cases of chikungunya, a painful virus spread by mosquitoes.

      The first cases showed up in Florida but the virus has since spread to 34 other states. In one of the highest profile cases, Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Joel Peralta revealed last week that he believes he has been infected with the virus. The team has placed him on the disabled list.

      Cause for concern

      Kansas State University professor Stephen Higgs says outbreaks of chikungunya and its rapid spread is something to worry about. Higgs, one of the world's leading researchers of the virus and director of Kansas State's Biosecurity Research Institute, says because of travel, many more people are now at risk of becoming infected.

      "Those travelers have come back from an infected area, most likely the Caribbean, and they've become infectious to mosquitoes because they are carrying chikungunya in their blood," Higgs said. "They have been bitten by mosquitoes in the United States and those mosquitoes have become infected. The mosquitoes go through an intrinsic incubation period and then have enough virus to transmit to new people in the United States."

      Part of the problem, says Higgs, is chikungunya is transmitted by two types of mosquitoes, and both are widely found throughout the U.S. While the mosquitoes don't directly transmit the virus to one another, they indirectly spread the virus by biting people.

      The way it spreads

      "It transmits from person to mosquito to person to mosquito and so forth," Higgs said. "Mosquito biting can be intense and one person can be bitten by dozens of mosquitoes in just a small amount of time. One person could infect lots and lots of mosquitoes and then, unfortunately, the virus can spread from there. Each one of those mosquitoes can infect multiple people."

      Symptoms of chikungunya include intense arthritis-like pain in the joints. The pain might go away after a couple of days but it might not. It could last weeks.

      Higgs says the best way to avoid the virus is to avoid mosquito bites. Avoid going outside at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active. Eliminate standing water around your house and use insect repellent when you do go outside.

      Spider bites

      Mosquitoes aren't the only insects making this summer uncomfortable. Toxicologists at Vanderbilt University say they are seeing more patientsthis summer who have received bites from a brown recluse spider.

      Dr. Donna Seger, Medical Director of the Tennessee Poison Center, says these spider bites will usually heal if left alone. But not always, especially if the victim is a child.

      Sometimes the spider bites produce something called systemic loxsoscelism, triggering a fever, rash, muscle pain and potential hemolysis, which is the breaking down of red blood cells. That can be life threatening, especially in children, Seger said.

      “Our recommendations are that all children under 12 with a brown recluse spider bite should have a urine test for the presence of hemoglobin in blood which indicates hemolysis,” Seger said.

      It's unclear why systemic loxsoscelism occurs in some people with a brown recluse spider bite and not in others but when it does, it's life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. Toxin-induced hemolysis can occur very rapidly, making it more of a threat.

      The brown recluse spider is usually between 6–20 mm and light to medium brown, although it can be lighter or darker. It has six eyes instead of eight and can be identified by the violin-shaped marking on its back.  

      Insects used to be just an annoyance. Now, it seems, they are posing increasing danger to people.For several years West Nile Virus, spread by mosquitoes,...
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      Protect your finances from false economies

      Not all "money-saving rules" work all of the time

      There's a common saying that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” – in other words, you can't just implement a system of rules and follow them blindly without paying attention. Instead, you must always be vigilant, keep an eye on things, perform maintenance tasks and adjustments as necessary, and otherwise make sure the system's still working as it should.

      A similar principle applies to thrifty living. Sure, there are plenty of money-saving rules you can (and should) learn, but even so – you can't just memorize some list of rules and then live in strict, thoughtless adherence to them. Instead, you must pay attention to each individual case, to determine whether those rules actually work in a given situation. Otherwise, you might find that strict adherence to certain money-saving rules only leads to “false economy,” something that seems to save money in the short term but ends up costing you more in the long run.

      Here are some false-economy rules to watch out for:

      #1: Buying in bulk saves you money

      There are two ways this rule can backfire on you.

      First: if you're looking for the lowest unit price, it's true that bigger is usually better — we're all familiar with the phrase “giant economy size” — but “usually” doesn't mean “always.”

      Just last month, for example, I bought some generic over-the-counter allergy pills at Target and discovered that a small bottle of 14 pills offered a lower unit price than a big 30-count bottle: I could buy 14 pills for $5.19 and pay just over 37 cents per pill, or buy 30 pills for $13.29 and pay 44.3 cents each.

      Hence the rule “Look for the lowest unit price when you buy.” Which is a good money-saving rule most of the time — but even when the larger size (or bulk purchase) truly does offer a lower unit price, it still won't save you money unless you actually consume all of the product before it goes bad.

      Once, during my poor-student days, I bought a 25-pound bag of potatoes because the price-per-pound was less than half the cost of my usual five-pound bag. Had I lived in a house with a cool, dark root cellar (or ate multiple pounds of potatoes per day, every day), that would've been a good money-saving idea. But in my small college apartment at standard rates of personal potato consumption, I wound up throwing more than half the potatoes away; they started sprouting (or worse) before I could eat them all.

      Buy in bulk only when you know it'll save you money. In my case, it would've been cheaper and less disgusting had I tossed a handful of dollar bills directly into the garbage, rather than convert those dollars into several pounds of rotting potatoes first.

      #2: Using coupons saves you money

      Sometimes coupons do offer great deals. Other times they only encourage you to waste money. How can you tell the difference?

      Coupons only save you money if you use them for something you already planned to buy anyway. If you buy extra things you didn't plan to get (and might not even use) just because you have discount coupons for them, those coupons ended up costing rather than saving money for you.

      #3: The smallest payment saves you money

      One of the most expensive financial mistakes people make is to buy something on the installment plan – anything from a credit-card purchase to a home mortgage – and focus only on the size of their individual payments, rather than calculate their total overall cost.

      This mistake is what keeps the so-called “rent-to-own” or “lease-to-buy” stores in business. Check the typical offerings of a furniture rental store, for example: you can get a 47-inch smart TV for only $20 a week! What an amazingly low price, right?

      Not at all. In fact, if you multiply that low weekly payment by the number of weeks you actually have to pay, you'll find yourself paying up to $2,100 for the same make and model of TV which regular retail stores sell for only $600. (And that's assuming you never miss a payment — otherwise, you could find yourself shelling out far more than the TV's actual $600 value and still end up with no TV at all, after the rental center repossesses it.)

      Almost any form of buying on the installment plan will cost you more than paying upfront, especially when interest is being charged on the debt. This is especially true for people who make only the minimum payments on their credit card or other forms of debt. Yes, making the smaller payment means you'll have a little extra money in your pocket right now, but it also means you'll end up paying far more in the long run, once you factor in the interest on that debt.

      #4: The lowest price saves you money

      Checking unit prices, or determining the total cost of a payment plan, is easy, especially if you have a calculator. What's harder is determining the overall quality of an item — sometimes the more expensive option really is the better bargain in the long run.

      The best-known example of this particular false economy might be the Samuel Vimes 'Boots' Theory of Economic Unfairness. However, Vimes is not an economist but a police detective, and a fictional one at that — he's a character in the Discworld series of books by the popular comic-fantasy writer Terry Pratchett:

      The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

      Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

      But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

      This was the Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socioeconomic unfairness.

      Luckily, we live in an era where basic consumer goods are outrageously inexpensive by world historical standards, and needn't pay anywhere close to a month and a half's pay for a good pair of boots.

      Though Vimes' rule still applies to boots and other necessities as well. If you need a car, for example, spending more money upfront for a late-model vehicle in good condition costs less in the long run than buying a high-mileage old “beater” likely to need frequent costly repairs.

      #5: Bargain businesses always offer bargain prices

      Just because a store has words like “bargain” or “discount” in its name doesn't automatically mean that every price it offers is lower than what standard retail stores have to offer. My local dollar store, for example, sells certain cans of vegetables which sell in the nearby supermarket for only 79 cents — a store where everything costs a dollar isn't necessarily a bargain when you can find the same items elsewhere for less.

      Even thrift stores aren't guaranteed to offer the lowest price for items these days; occasionally you'll find thrift stores with price tags more in line with antique shops, or at least the more upscale consignment boutiques.

      Outlet malls started out as places where people could hunt for bargains on factory-direct items, but today they're more likely to offer cheaper, cut-rate versions of the manufacturers' more expensive offerings. If you do shop in outlet malls, make sure you're familiar not only with the original price of the items you want to buy, but also their original quality – does the outlet-store offering match up to that?

      Whichever money-saving rule you most closely adhere to, especially one you've followed for a long time, take a look at it from time to time, to ensure that it's still working for you. Remember: eternal vigilance is the price of not wasting your money.

      There's a common saying that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”: you can't just implement a system of rules and follow them blindly without paying...
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      Customer service issue costs add up for consumers and businesses

      When consumers get frustrated waiting for service, everyone loses

      We've all been there. A frustrating go-round with a business' service representatives. Or time spent waiting for the cable guy. In fact, complaints about customer service are among the most common we receive daily at ConsumerAffairs. Take Maria, of Miami, for instance.

      Maria says she bought furniture at IKEA when she moved into a new place. A spectacular project, she says, quickly turned into a nightmare.

      “The delivery was scheduled three times and I lost my time in each one,” Maria wrote in a ConsumerAffairs review. “I lost 4 hours waiting for the delivery. It never came and they never called us to cancel.”

      Nancy, of Silsbee, Tex., writes that she contacted American Home Shield, a home warranty company, when her water heater went out.

      Consumers rate American Home Shield
      “I put in the service call online and was given a confirmation number and receive an email that Sears would be contacting me within 24 hours,” Nancy wrote. After not hearing from them within the 24 hour period I called Sears and was told it would be at least 5 days before they could come.”

      In Nancy's case, however, what she describes as poor service turned into pretty good service when she called American Home Shield to complain.

      “Their representative was very upset with Sears and informed me that was NOT the way it was suppose to work,” Nancy wrote in her post. “She immediately contacted someone else, they called me within 2 hours and were out at my home that afternoon.”

      Cutbacks

      Customer services complaints have mounted since the Great Recession, when many businesses cut staff and looked for ways to tighten belts. But a study by ClickSoftware shows dealing with service issues is causing more than just frustration. It could be costing Americans $108 billion a year with an individual loss of more than $750 per person.

      Ironically, it's likely that some businesses providing sub par service are themselves losing productivity because their employees are dealing with personal service issues instead of working. The study estimates the yearly productivity loss amounts to $900 per employee, who has to contend with customer service inefficiencies.

      Overall, that adds up to $130 billion in annual expense to companies nationwide.

      According to the study, Americans reported using 30.8 potential work hours per year waiting for service industry responses – everything from waiting on hold to waiting at home for service personnel to show up.

      Adding it up

      Based on the average national hourly wage of $24.45, that comes to an average $753.06 that people lose waiting instead of working. When multiplied by 144 million employed Americans the cost of frustrated wait time experienced by the U.S. population comes to about $108 billion.

      "Service industry shortcomings have massive implications—both for consumers and for businesses—as revealed by this survey,” said Steve Timms, President, North America for ClickSoftware. "The findings show people want first rate service, they won't pay extra for it and more than a third will sever ties if they don't get it.”

      The numbers appear to back that up. The survey found 35% of consumers have cancelled a service or stopped using a brand altogether due to a frustrating experience. A large number – 72% -- say their frustrations have caused them to take action of some sort, including voicing their complaints on social media.

      Can companies do anything to improve their services? The study found a few ways.

      About half those questioned said companies can provide customers more frequent and exact estimate arrival times. Around two in five Americans say companies can proactively update them on the progress of their problem.

      We've all been there. A frustrating go-round with a business' service representatives. Or time spent waiting for the cable guy.In fact, complaints about ...
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