Current Events in December 2014

Browse Current Events by year

2014

Browse Current Events by month

Get trending consumer news and recalls

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

    Thanks for subscribing.

    You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

    Indoor pollution a bigger threat in winter

    Your home is less ventilated and you spend more time indoors

    With the onset of winter most of us will be spending more time indoors. In addition to the bouts of cabin fever that can bring on, time indoors can impact your health in very real ways, depending on the quality of your indoor air.

    It's a key issue for the American Lung Association, which warns that poor indoor air quality can lead to infections, asthma and even lung cancer. Even less-severe effects are irritating – headaches, dry eyes, nasal congestion, nausea and fatigue.

    Modern, well-built homes are more air tight than they once were. While that helps keep energy costs down, an air tight dwelling keeps pollutants like mold, dust and tobacco smoke inside. The more time you spend indoors, the more exposure you have.

    Natural ventilation moves air into the house through doors and windows. It's highly practical in the spring and summer but less so in the fall and winter.

    Tobacco smoke

    You don't have to smoke in the home to have a real problem with the indoor polluting effects of tobacco. The American Lung Association says secondhand smoke contains some 200 known poisons, such as formaldehyde and carbon monoxide, and at least 60 chemicals known to cause cancer.

    Among U.S. nonsmokers it causes an estimated 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year and up to 50,000 heart disease deaths. In children, especially infants, it is responsible for pneumonia, lower respiratory tract infections and ear infections.

    It may also cause asthma, asthma attacks, and makes attacks worse. And it should go without saying – no one should smoke around children.

    Cumulative effect

    The problem with indoor air pollution is that a single source might have a negligible effect but, when several sources combine, the risk level can rise. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has produced a safety guide to help consumers avoid these dangers.

    The guide suggests ways you can tell if your home has a pollution problem. They include the most obvious, like monitoring your health for any symptoms of respiratory distress. It might be a cold but it might be a reaction to something in the air.

    If you think your symptoms may be related to your home environment, don't hesitate to discuss them with your doctor or your local health department.

    Awareness

    If you suspect poor indoor air quality you can try to identify potential sources. The presence of these sources does not necessarily mean that you have an indoor air quality problem, but being aware of the type and number of potential sources will make you more sensitive to the issue.

    Finally, be aware of any signs that suggest problems with the ventilation in your home. Signs that can indicate your home may not have enough ventilation include moisture condensation on windows or walls, smelly or stuffy air, dirty central heating and air cooling equipment, and areas where books, shoes, or other items become moldy.

    The CPSC guide says it will be easier to detect odors in your home by going outside for a few minutes, then check for noticeable odors when you return.

    Air ducts in heating and cooling systems will get dirty over time but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says its not clear that having heating system ducts cleaned will reduce indoor pollution. The agency says studies have not shown that cleaning ducts actually prevent health problems.

    But EPA says it is a good idea to have the ducts professionally cleaned if you observe mold growing inside the hard surface of the system. Also, change air-intake filters on HVAC systems on a regular basis.

    With the onset of winter most of us will be spending more time indoors. In addition to the bouts of cabin fever that can bring on, time indoors can impact ...

    Osteoporosis drug may fight cancer

    But first it must win approval for that new use

    There have been a number of promising breakthroughs recently on new cancer drugs. But the testing and approval process for a major new drug can take years, and even then still not make it onto the market.

    When a drug already approved for one application turns out to be effective in another, getting Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for the new use usually takes much less time.

    When the drug in question appears to be effective in the fight against cancer, it's an even more hopeful development. So researchers are excited by their discovery that the most commonly used medications to treat osteoporosis, bisphosphonates, may also prevent certain kinds of lung, breast and colon cancers.

    The findings are contained in not 1, but 2 studies led by researchers at New York's Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

    Previous studies have noted that bisphosphonates had been associated with a slowdown in tumor growth in some patients but not others. The reason, however, remained a mystery.

    Solving the mystery

    The new studies claim to clear up much of the mystery. Bisphosphonates block the abnormal growth signals passed through the human EGF receptors (HER), including the forms of this protein family prevent many cancer treatments from being effective.

    The connection turned up in a database study and then was confirmed in studies of human cancer cells and in mice. The team of international researchers concludes that the war on cancer may soon have a new weapon.

    “Our study reveals a newfound mechanism that may enable the use of bisphosphonates in the future treatment and prevention of the many lung, breast and colon cancers driven by the HER family of receptors,” said lead study author Mone Zaidi. “Having already been approved by the FDA as effective at preventing bone loss, and having a long track record of safety, these drugs could be quickly applied to cancer if we can confirm in clinical trials that this drug class also reduces cancer growth in people. It would be much more efficient than starting drug design from scratch.”

    The process

    The process works like this: the FDA reviews a company's New Drug Application (NDA) for clinical trial data to see if the results support the drug for a specific use or indication, in this case treating or preventing specific cancers.

    If the agency is satisfied that the drug is safe and effective, the drug's manufacturer and the FDA agree on specific language describing dosage and other information to be included on the drug's label. More detail is then provided in the drug's package insert.

    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) calls finding new uses for existing drugs “a major step forward in drug discovery.” NIH researchers have spent the last 3 years testing over 100 other drugs that might have therapeutic effects on different diseases.

    "This work is still in an early stage, but it is promising proofs of principle for a creative, fast and affordable approach to discovering new uses for drugs we already have in our therapeutic arsenal," said Dr. Rochelle M. Long, Director of the NIH Pharmacogenomics Research Network.

    But there could be an obstacle to deploying bisphosphonates in the fight against cancer. Zaidi says at the moment, there is no business model for carrying out the costly clinical trials that would be needed to re-purpose bisphosphonates for cancer. He says drug companies probably won't pay for research to develop generic drugs where there is no chance of patent protection or profit.

    He says it might require non-traditional sources of funding such as the federal government or private, non-profit organizations.

    There have been a number of promising breakthroughs recently on new cancer drugs. But the testing and approval process for a major new drug can take years,...

    Coming soon: kid-friendly versions of Google products

    Kids are going to be online anyway, with or without being honest about their ages

    Last summer, various unnamed “sources” at Google let slip to a couple of media contacts that the company was considering offering special supervised accountsto children under 13. Of course, there were already countless numbers of under-13s who have accounts with Google, Facebook and other Internet-based companies; it's just that all these kids had to lie about their ages.

    There is a definite argument to be made that, since so many underage kids are going to socialize online anyway, the best thing to do is be open about it, so parents can oversee their activities and teach their kids how to avoid making bad choices. And in today's world, “safe and responsible online conduct” is a life skill all children need to master long before they reach official full-fledged adulthood.

    And this week, executives at Google openly discussed the tech company's plan to make child-friendly versions of many of its products – including its basic search function – to make them more kid-friendly.

    Pavni Diwanji, an engineering VP at Google, said, “The big motivator inside the company is everyone is having kids, so there's a push to change our products to be fun and safe for children.”

    No firm timeline

    These kid versions of Google products are expected to appear sometime next year, though the company hasn't offered a firm timeline. Google – and any other tech or online company making products for children – needs to be very careful. In online terms, 13 is a milestone age because anyone younger than that (at least in the U.S.) is protected by stringent privacy-protection laws that don't apply to older users. But companies have at least some defense if children under 13 lie about their ages to register with a website, which is why such websites won't allow anyone to register without first answering “Yes” to the question “Are you over 13?” (sometimes switched to 18, or 21, for websites with explicit sexual or alcoholic content).

    There have, however, been cases where sites were prosecuted for not having a stricter test to determine users' ages.

    For contemporary parents, trying to figure out the proper Internet and social-media policies for your kids is likely the most difficult parenting question to answer, because there was nothing quite like it in your own childhood – sure, you might have had a computer growing up, but that was for playing games, writing school papers or maybe practicing actual coding and software skills – you couldn't use it to instantly share a compromising photo or reputation-destroying comment with the entire world even if you wanted to.

    But your kids can, along with anyone else with internet access. And even making them wait until age 13 to start learning and practicing responsible online behavior probably isn't a realistic option, either.

    Last summer, various unnamed “sources” at Google let slip to a couple of media contacts that the company was considering offering special supervised accoun...

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

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

      Thanks for subscribing.

      You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

      Google's Captcha tests are changing, but robo-spam commentary probably isn't

      Are you a robot? Yes or no

      If you read websites or blogs that allow reader commentary, you've seen too many robo-spam comments to count them all: “I make $7800 a week at home in my spare time! Click this link to learn how,” “Your area is filled with horny housewives and/or hunks! Click here to meet them,” or even “This is interesting blog. I learn much on this subject” which almost sounds like something a real human might type until you notice the alleged commenter's name is something like “No prescription V!agra” or “Tommy Hilfiger discount” and links to a skeevy website in someplace like China.

      So Captcha tests were invented in hope of culling out the robots and limiting comment threads to actual humans – except that today, you can find a lot of those obvious-spam comments on websites and blogs that do have Captcha test requirements.

      With modern technology, robots can pass Captcha tests with a mind-boggling 99.8% accuracy rate, according to Google researchers. (That's a higher Captcha accuracy rate than my hundred-percent-human self can manage, especially when I'm supposed to discern between the numeral 1, a lower-case L or an upper-case I.)

      Answer truthfully

      That's why Google announced that it will be doing away with Captcha tests in favor of simply asking readers if they're robots: if you check “I'm not a robot,” you'll be allowed in.

      Seriously. Google hasn't explained how, in practical terms, that particular anti-robot test is supposed to differ from eschewing anti-robot tests altogether: if robots can be programmed to decipher Captchas better than I can, surely they can be programmed to read and check the phrase “I'm not a robot,” too.

      Though Google's plan is a bit more complex than that; apparently you still might face tests if you fail somehow to convincingly click the "not a robot" option. But instead of tests expecting you to identify distorted text images of numerals and letters, you're expected to classify types of photo images.

      One of the sample tests Google posted shows a photograph of a live turkey displayed above nine other photographs: five showing live turkeys from various angles, four showing traditional Thanksgiving foods including rolls and cranberry sauce. Presumably, current artificial intelligence technology, though sufficient to let robots read distorted Captcha letters, is not yet good enough to let robots solve that test, especially not robots who couldn't even convincingly click an "I'm not a robot" option.

      If you read websites or blogs that allow reader commentary, you've seen too many robo-spam comments to count them all: “I make $7800 a week at home in my s...

      Fear & loathing in Babyland: Amazon creates its own diaper brand

      Suppliers have long feared Amazon would eventually elbow them aside

      Everyone knows that book publishers tremble everytime someone mentions Amazon. But what isn't quite as apparent is that manufacturers of everything from baby wipes to yogurt has the same fear -- namely, that Amazon will someday introduce its own branded merchandise, shoving their brands aside.

      For the makers of diapers and baby wipes, someday is now. Amazon has announced Amazon Elements -- a new line of diapers and baby wipes that will be available only to customers who belong to the Amazon Prime program. 

      Amazon's pack of 40 diapers will sell for $7.99 -- 19 cents a diaper compared to national brands like Huggies and Pampers that go for about 24 to 34 cents.

      If it's another nail in the coffin for traditional retailers, Elements is also another rung in the Stairway to Heaven that Amazon has been building rung-by-rung the last several years, working towards the day when it not only distributes but also produces movies, baby wipes and peanut butter.

      More transparent

      Besides undercutting major brands, Amazon Elements diapers will be more transparent. No, you won't be able to see through them, thankfully, but the company says it will include information about the materials used in making the products, as well as where they're made. Diaper brands in the past have been hit by accusations that their products gave babies rashes and other maladies.  

      “Our obsession with customers and drive to continuously innovate on their behalf has led us to create Amazon Elements. The two things customers told us they want are premium products that meet their high standards, and access to information so they can make informed decisions, Amazon Elements offers both,” said Sunny JainAmazon.com Consumables Vice President. "We’ve leveraged our strengths in technology to bring customers an unprecedented level of information about these products, all with just the click of a button. We’re excited to offer Amazon Prime members added selection, beginning with diapers and baby wipes.”

      Note the word "consumables" in Jain's title. In retailing jargon, that means everything from tissues to food -- a product that disappears as you use it. It suggests we'll soon see Amazon facial tissues, paper towels, toilet paper, blueberry jam and dark roast coffee.

      It is, of course, only logical for Amazon to do what other successful retailers have done. Costco, Trader Joe's and all the major supermarket chains all sell their own branded products. By contracting directly with a manufacturer, they reduce their cost while getting one more item they can slap their logo onto, thus building customer loyalty, assuming the products perform as promised.

      Amazon says it already has that base covered. In its Elements announcement, Amazon revealed that it has been test-marketing the products for months and included comments from some early customers, comments like these:

      “This is the first diaper I’ve found I would consider switching to. I like how soft they are, the design, the fit and how dry they keep my granddaughter. She usually wakes up at 3 a.m. wanting to be changed but she slept through the night with these diapers. No leaks on her bedding or pajamas and her skin felt dry when we removed the diaper.” – Denise S., grandmother of one

      “I really like these diapers and will switch immediately once you start selling them. I love the design, they fit well and the diapers held up overnight (12 – 14 hours) with no leaks. We’ve got a very active son and these work well for him; they are very sturdy.” – Kathryn G., mother of one

      Anyway you look at it, it's a bad day at Baby Central. Maybe all those Pampers and Huggies executives will just have to settle for being Uber drivers now. 

      Everyone knows that book publishers tremble everytime someone mentions Amazon. But what isn't quite as apparent is that manufacturers of everything from ba...

      Tesla S noses out Porsche in owner satisfaction survey for second consecutive year

      Who would have thought a silent electric sedan would trump a burbling Porsche?

      Flying down the road in your Porsche 911 convertible with the engine growling and the wind in your hair is a great image. But of course, most people don't have much, if any, hair left by the time they get enough money to buy a 911. And, perhaps more oddly, the sound of that big-block engine burbling and spitting seems to be losing some of its cachet as well.

      For the second year in a row, the Tesla S all-electric sports sedan has bested the Porsche in Consumer Reports' annual owner-satisfaction survey. It was a close race, however, if that's any consolation to those for whom the smell of hot oil mingled with expensive leather spells satisfaction.

      The magazine's survey covered 350,000 vehicles from one to three years old. It "asked subscribers whether they would get the same car all over again, and to consider attributes such as styling, comfort, features, cargo space, fuel economy, maintenance and repair costs, overall value, and driving dynamics," CR said.

      "Owners of a sporty, luxurious, or fuel-efficient hybrid or electric- or diesel-powered vehicle were most likely to answer 'definitely yes.'"

      The Tesla S hits all those markers, with 98% of owners say they would "definitely" buy another one. 

      Easy to see why

      Consumer Reports says it's pretty easy to see why: "Not only is the Tesla roomy, comfortable, and a lot of fun to drive, but it also has low operating costs—returning the equivalent of 84 mpg (a consolation, of sorts, for the car’s $90,000-plus price)."

      Here at ConsumerAffairs, we've been road-testing a Chevrolet Volt -- which fully-loaded goes for less than half the price of the Tesla S -- and have reached pretty much the same conclusion: excellent performance, zero maintenance hassles and equivalent mpg in the 80s. The Volt replaced a Porsche 911 and, yes, we do miss the awesome engine sounds but not the maintenance issues. 

      If it's any consolation to owners whose cars didn't make it to the winner's circle, CR reports that of 280-plus models rated, only four had fewer than 50% of owners who said they would buy the car again.

      Want to see the complete survey results? You'll have to subscribe to the magazine. Consumer Reports may be non-profit but that doesn't mean it's free. 

      Flying down the road in your Porsche 911 convertible with the engine growling and the wind in your hair is a great image. But of course, most people don't ...

      Job cuts plunge in November

      Terminations are down sharply from their year-ago level

      U.S.-based employers reduced their job cutting by 30% in November, with the announcement of 35,940 eliminations during the penultimate month of 2014

      Figures released by outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas show the dramatic decline came just a month after job cuts surged 70% --to 51,183 in October. The November total was 21% lower than the 45,314 job cuts announced the same month a year ago.

      Heading into December, employers have announced 450,531 job cuts -- down 5.8% from 478,428 at the same point in 2013. Job cuts are on pace to finish the year with the lowest year-end total since 1997.

      Consumer goods leads the way

      Companies in the consumer products industry saw the heaviest downsizing with 5,158 jobs disappearing from payrolls. That was followed by the health care sector with 5,124 announced job cuts during the month.

      So far this year, the computer industry remains the top job-cutting industry, with 58,207 planned terminations. That's nearly double the 29,558 job cuts announced by computer firms between January and November 2013.

      The second leading job-cut industry to date is the retail sector, where 41,588 jobs have disappeared, including 2,640 last month.

      Retails ups and downs

      “While retailers have cut about 9,500 jobs over the last two months, this is an area that continues to expand.” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “Right now, these employers are adding tens of thousands of seasonal workers to help with the holiday rush. It is true that these jobs are temporary and most will be eliminated in the new year. However, government data show that employment in the sector has nearly reached pre-recession levels and continues to grow.”

      Seasonally-adjusted employment figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which are intended to smooth out the volatile fluctuations related to seasonal hiring, show that there were 15.4 million workers in retail, as of October -- just shy of the record-level of 15.5 million reached in 2007.

      “And, before dismissing all of these new jobs as low-skilled, low-paying sales clerk and cashier jobs,” Challenger pointed out, “remember that the shift toward online shopping means retailers are hiring more and more app developers, IT security professionals, online and social media marketing teams, logistics engineers, as analysts to collect, sort and interpret all of that data collected with each mouse click.”

      Initial claims

      A big drop last week in first-time applications for state unemployment benefits.

      According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, initial jobless claims fell by 17,000 during the week ending November 29 -- the biggest move in 4 weeks -- to a seasonally adjusted 297,000. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 to 314,000.

      The 4-week moving average, which is less volatile than the weekly calculation and considered a more accurate barometer of the labor market, was 299,000 -- an increase of 4,750.

      The full report is available on the Labor Department website.

      U.S.-based employers reduced their job cutting by 30% in November, with the announcement of 35,940 eliminations during the penultimate month of 2014 Figur...

      Foreclosure activity continues to slacken

      CoreLogic's chief economist sees a “large improvement”

      Fewer U.S. homes are being foreclosed, but the rate remains well above what it was before the housing market collapsed.

      According to CoreLogic, a property information, analytics and data-enabled services provider, there were 41,000 completed foreclosures nationally in October -- down 14,000 from the same month a year ago. That works out to a year-over-year decrease of 26.4% and is down 65% from the peak of completed foreclosures in September 2010.

      On a month-over-month basis, completed foreclosures were down by 34.1% from the 62,000 reported in September 2014. And, as a basis of comparison, before the decline in the housing market in 2007, completed foreclosures averaged 21,000 per month nationwide between 2000 and 2006.

      Completed foreclosures are an indication of the total number of homes actually lost to foreclosure. Since the financial meltdown began in September 2008, there have been approximately 5.3 million completed foreclosures across the country, and since home ownership rates peaked in the second quarter of 2004, there have been approximately 7 million homes lost to foreclosure.

      Foreclosure inventory

      As of October 2014, approximately 605,000 homes nationally were in some stage of foreclosure, known as the foreclosure inventory, compared with 875,000 in October 2013. That works out to a year-over-year decrease of 30.9% and marks 36 consecutive months of year-over-year declines.

      The foreclosure inventory as of October 2014 made up 1.6% of all homes with a mortgage, versus 2.2% in October 2013. On a month-over-month basis, the foreclosure inventory was down 2.1% from September. The current foreclosure rate of 1.6% is the lowest inventory level since May 2008.

      “While there has been a large improvement in the reduction of foreclosure inventory, completed foreclosures remain high and serve as one of the obstacles to new single-family construction,” said Sam Khater, deputy chief economist for CoreLogic. “Until the flow of completed foreclosures declines to normal levels, new-home construction will not pick up because builders have little incentive to compete with foreclosure stock.”

      Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic says that at current rates, the foreclosure inventory should slip below 500,000 units next year.

      Report highlights

      • October represents 25 consecutive months of year-over-year double-digit declines in the inventory of foreclosed homes.
      • All but one state and the District of Columbia posted double-digit declines in foreclosure inventory year over year; West Virginia saw a decline of only 8.9%, and D.C. saw a 17.3%.
      • Nineteen states showed declines in year-over-year foreclosure inventory of greater than 30%, with Florida (-44.9%) and Utah (-41.6%) experiencing the largest declines.
      • The 5 states with the highest number of completed foreclosures for the 12 months ending in October 2014 were: Florida (118,000), Michigan (45,000), Texas (36,000), California (29,000) and Georgia (28,000). They accounted for almost half of all completed foreclosures nationally.
      • Four states and the District of Columbia experienced the lowest number of completed foreclosures for the 12 months ending in October 2014: South Dakota (59), D.C. (70), North Dakota (257), West Virginia (515) and Wyoming (574).
      • The 5 states with the highest foreclosure inventory as a percentage of all mortgaged homes were: New Jersey (5.5%), Florida (4.1%), New York (4.1%), Hawaii (2.9%) and Maine (2.6%).
      • The 5 states with the lowest foreclosure inventory as a percentage of all mortgaged homes were: Alaska (0.4%), Minnesota (0.5%), Nebraska (0.5%), North Dakota (0.5%) and Wyoming (0.5%).

      Fewer U.S. homes are being foreclosed, but the rate remains well above what it was before the housing market collapsed. According to CoreLogic, a property...

      Overhill Farms recalls Open Nature Chile Cheese Enchiladas

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Overhill Farms of Vernon, Calif., is recalling frozen Open Nature Chile Cheese Enchiladas.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella. The supplier of the organic cilantro contained in the product notified the company that routine testing indicates it may have Salmonella contamination.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The product is sold nationwide at all Safeway-owned stores, including Safeway, Carrs, Genuardi’s, Pak ‘N Save, Pavilions, Randalls, Tom Thumb and Vons.

      Open Nature Chile Cheese Enchiladas are a frozen prepared dinner packaged in a box with a net weight of 9 oz. and marked with a UPC 0-7989310436-9. The product was sold at stores from Oct 9, 2014, through December 1, 2014.

      Packages with the following lot code and “Best Before” dates are subject to the recall:

      Lot NumberBest By Date
      141006AUG-06-15

      The lot number and best by date can be found on the side panel of the box.

      Consumers should discard this product or return it to the store for a full refund.

      Consumers may call Overhill Farms, Inc. at 1-323-582-9977 (Monday – Friday, 8:30 am – 4:30 pm PST) or Safeway at 1-800-SAFEWAY for additional information.

      Overhill Farms of Vernon, Calif., is recalling frozen Open Nature Chile Cheese Enchiladas. The product may be contaminated with Salmonella. The supplier o...

      Felt Bicycles recalls Cyclocross bicycles

      The bicycle frame could break

      Felt Bicycles of Irvine, Calif., is recalling about 150 Felt Cyclocross bicycles.

      The bicycle frame could break, causing the rider to lose control, fall and suffer injuries.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall includes Felt Cyclocross bicycles 2015 models F65X and F85X. The 2015 F65X bicycle has a satin black aluminum frame with “Felt” printed in white letters and a diagonal wide white stripe next to a thin white stripe on the frame.

      The 2015 F85X bicycle has a dark red berry colored aluminum frame with diagonal stripes in black, mint green and yellow on the frame. The Felt logo is printed on the bike frame and the model number is printed on the chainstay of the bicycle frame.

      The bicycles, manufactured in Taiwan, were sold at bicycle specialty stores nationwide from June 2014, through September 2014, for between $1,200 and $1,500.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled bicycles and contact their local Felt Bicycles dealer for a free inspection and frame replacement.

      Consumers may contact Felt Bicycles toll-free at (866) 433-5887 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT Monday through Friday.

      Felt Bicycles of Irvine, Calif., is recalling about 150 Felt Cyclocross bicycles. The bicycle frame could break, causing the rider to lose control, fall a...

      Takata fails to meet feds' deadline to launch nationwide airbag recall

      The Japanese company's airbags have been blamed in five deaths, 12 million recalls

      Takata remains defiant today after ignoring federal safety regulators' midnight deadline for a recall of its airbags that have been linked to at least five deaths, hundreds of injuries and the recall of 12.5 million cars in the U.S. since 2008.

      The problem with the airbags is that they can explode and hurl shrapnel into the passenger compartment, potentially resulting in serious, even fatal, injuries. 

      After years of piecemeal recalls, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in mid-November told Takata to put together a plan for a nationwide recall. The agency said it would use "its full statutory powers" to order a recall if Takata did not do so voluntarily.

      Most of the previous recalls have included only cars sold or registered in high-humidity states. That's based on Takata's insistence that the problem is exacerbated by high humidity, an argument NHTSA is no longer buying.

      After the Japanese airbag manufacturer missed last night's deadline, NHTSA said it was in the process of determining its next steps. 

      Next steps

      "NHTSA has received Takata's disappointing response to our demand for a national recall of certain driver's side airbags," NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman said in a statement. "Takata shares responsibility for keeping drivers safe and we believe anything short of a national recall does not live up to that responsibility."

      Just what those next steps might be isn't yet clear. NHTSA could fine Takata up to $35 million while forcing Takata to undertake a recall, but the company is resisting the agency's efforts. 

      In testimony prepared for hearings on Capitol Hill today, Takata executives insist that their strategy of concentrating in high-humidity areas is sufficient. 

      Takata has also signaled that it knows how fights are conducted in Washington. Along with the usual retinue of engineers and lawyers, it has recruited three former heads of the Department of Transportation -- NHTSA's parent agency -- to "assist" with the controversy.

      Samuel Skinner, Rodney Slater and Norman Mineta -- who once represented U.S. taxpayers before exiting through the revolving door into the "private sector" to -- are now representing Takata as its handlers work to pull the strings of power in Washington. 

      So sorry

      Lending a bit of drama to the debate is a report from Malaysia where an 8-month pregnant woman died after the airbag in her Honda City exploded and fired a one-inch piece of shrapnel into her neck following a collision.

      "Takata deeply regrets the injuries and fatalities that have occurred in accidents involving ruptured air-bag inflators,” Takata Chairman Shigehisa Takada said in a statement yesterday. 

      Takata remains defiant today after ignoring federal safety regulators' midnight deadline for a recall of its airbags that have been linked to at least five...

      The Sony PlayStation -- all grown up

      The PS4 is the latest in the PlayStation's 20-year history

      It's legal but it's not 21. The Sony PlayStation turns 20 years old today. And of course, there is a special edition -- Anniversary Edition PS4. Back in the day, I remember waiting at Best Buy for the earlier editions when Black Friday was still cool. My, how things have changed.

      The first PlayStation incarnation was launched in Japan on Dec 3, 1994 and I also remember when we thought the versions from Japan were better than the U.S. versions.

      The gaming industry hasn't lost its luster. Xbox One from Microsoft is in hot demand this holiday season, giving the PlayStation 4 a run for its money, along with competing consoles from Nintendo, including the Wii U.

      One addition this year was the introduction of Vue from Sony. It's an Internet cable service.

      The Play Station 4 has a slick design. According to Sony, the console is priced at $499 and will be available for pre-order via Sony.Store.com starting December 6.

      It's perhaps the only bright spot for Sony, which has taken a hit this year and is expecting a loss of more than $2 billion due to the competitiveness in the smartphone industry.

      It's legal but it's not 21. PlayStation turns 20 years old today. And of course, there is a special edition -- Anniversary Edition PS4. Back in the day, I ...

      Shocking truth: pets and electricity don't mix

      It's important to keep cats and dogs away from electrical wires

      Puppies and kittens have a tendency to chew everything in sight. They have no boundaries if it looks good enough to sink their teeth into they're willing to give it a try.

      You can be shocked when they tear into the back of your favorite shoes. They can be shocked when they tear into power cables. Chewing on power cables is the most common form of electrical shock to dogs. Puppies and kittens are the culprits/victims more often than older dogs and cats.

      If you find your pet either convulsing or lying rigid on or near an electrical source, he may be suffering an electric shock. Most times it is the result of chewing the cord and fraying it, but other times the animal may have urinated on an exposed wire or electrical source.

      Obviously you don't want this to happen. Possible complications of electric cord bite injuries are fluid accumulation in the lungs and high blood pressure in the arteries near the lungs. Additionally, there have been reports of animals developing cataracts – an eye abnormality - after such injuries.

      What to look for

      Some of the most common signs of serious electrical injury are:

      • Coughing;
      • Abnormally fast breathing (tachypnea);
      • Needing to be upright to breathe properly (orthopnea);
      • Crackling sounds in the lungs (rales);
      • Difficulty breathing (dyspnea); and
      • Bluish-tinged skin (cyanosis).

      So how do you handle a dog or cat that has had a current sent through their body?

      First of all do not touch the animal -- especially if he is lying rigid -- until you are absolutely certain he is no longer in contact with the source of electricity. You could receive a fatal electric shock. Make sure there are no fluids nearby.

      What to do

      Take these steps next:

      • Turn off the power at its source.
      • Find a broom handle or a long stick, something you can use to move your dog away from the power source and not near any water.
      • Check to make sure your dog is breathing; use CPR if necessary.
      • If your pup got zapped and his mouth got burned, use cold compresses on his mouth.

      Obviously, you want to prevent this from happening, which means power cords must be out of reach of your pet. Put the wires behind the furniture or up on the wall. Just make them out of reach of your animals. For wires that just can't be moved, lather them up with a spray or a bitter tasting compound so the dog won't be tempted to keep coming back to the same spot.

      Puppies and kittens have a tendency to chew everything in sight. They have no boundaries if it looks good enough to sink their teeth into they're willing t...

      Job creation tops 200k – again

      Small business continued to drive the gains

      Job creation in the private sector was strong again during November.

      ADP National Employment Report, which is produced in collaboration with Moody’s Analytics, says employment last month increased by 208,000 jobs from October.

      According to the report, which is derived from ADP’s actual payroll data, payrolls for businesses with 49 or fewer employees increased by 101,000 jobs in November, compared with 103,000 in October.

      Job growth fell significantly over the month for medium-sized, with employment among companies with 50-499 employees rising by just 65,000, well below October’s increase of 122,000.

      Employment at large companies -- those with 500 or more employees -- rebounded from 7,000 the month before to 42,000 jobs added in November. Companies with 500-999 employees added 10,000 jobs, 4,000 fewer than in October. However, the drop was more than offset by the addition of 32,000 jobs by companies with over 1,000 employees.

      "November continued to show solid job growth above 200,000,” said Carlos Rodriguez, president and chief executive officer of ADP. “Small businesses continued to drive job gains adding almost half the total for the month.”

      Goods and services producers

      Employment in the goods-producing sector rose by 32,000 jobs in November, after adding 46,000 positions in October. The construction industry added 10,000 jobs over the month, down 17,000 October's gain, while, manufacturing added 11,000 jobs in November, a dip of 2,000 from the previous month.

      Service-providing employment rose by 176,000 jobs in November, versus the addition of 187,000 in October. Withing that sector, professional/business services contributed 37,000 jobs, trade/transportation/utilities grew by 49,000, and there were 5,000 mew positions in financial activities.

      “At this pace the unemployment rate will drop by half a percentage point per annum,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, predicting that, “the tightening in the job market will soon prompt acceleration in wage growth.”  

      Job creation in the private sector was strong again during November. ADP National Employment Report, which is produced in collaboration with Moody’s Analy...

      Most infants still sleeping with unsafe bedding

      Thick blankets, quilts, pillows increase risk of SIDS and suffocation

      Despite warnings, people are still using unsafe bedding for infants that can increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. Over half of babies in the U.S. are put to sleep with high-risk bedding.

      Thick blankets, quilts or soft objects like pillows can obstruct a baby's airway and pose a suffocation risk. Ideally, infants should be placed to sleep alone, on their backs, on a firm surface, such as a mattress in a safety-approved crib, covered by a fitted sheet.

      It is really fun to decorate a baby's room but you must remember toys, crib bumpers, quilts, comforters are all potential hazards to your child. People do not realize the risk that quilts and such create for an infant.

      The current study is an analysis of data from the National Infant Sleep Position Survey (NISP), which collected information on the influence of infant sleep position and other safe sleep recommendations on infant care practices. The survey was done by phone and sampled more than 1,000 caregivers in the U.S. from 1992-2010.

      It was funded through the NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

      Blame the ads

      Unfortunately advertising in magazines and TV shows babies' rooms filled with fluffy blankets and cute cribs with crib bumpers, perpetuating the myth that these things are not hazardous to infants. More than two thirds of these images showed infants sleeping with potentially hazardous bedding such as blankets and pillows.

      "Bedding use for infant sleep remains common despite recommendations against this practice," the study authors wrote.

      "Parents have good intentions but may not understand." said the study's first author, Carrie K. Shapiro-Mendoza, Ph.D., M.P.H., senior scientist in the CDC's Division of Reproductive Health in Atlanta.

      Most mothers feel they need to give their baby a blanket to provide warmth and comfort. You really just need a heavy onesie that has feet in it to keep them warm.

      SIDS is the unexplained death of a child within the first year of life. In 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued its recommendation that infants be put to sleep on their backs. Two years later, health organizations launched the Back to Sleep campaign, later renamed Safe to Sleep. The rate of SIDS in the United States has fallen 50 percent since 1992.

      Although the SIDS rate has declined researchers still are dealing with unexpected infant deaths that are the result of causes like accidental suffocation, entrapment in bedding material or other causes.

      Despite warnings, people are still using unsafe bedding for infants that can increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. Over half of babie...