Current Events in July 2015

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    Sausage Factory recalls sausage products

    Some packages may not bear the USDA mark of inspection

    The Sausage Factory of Carson City, Nev., is recalling approximately 5,960 pounds of sausage products.

    Although produced under USDA inspection, some packages may not bear the USDA mark of inspection.

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

    The following sausage items, produced between March 30 and June 12, 2015, are being recalled:

    • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Banger 5 oz” and bearing case code 10025, batch #22318.
    • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Bockwurst 2 oz” and bearing case code 10049, batch #22286.
    • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Bockwurst 4-1” and bearing case code 10048, batch #22286.
    • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Knockwurst 4-1” and bearing case code 10062, batch #22308.
    • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Andouille 4-1” and bearing case code 10044, batch #22224.
    • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Pulled Pork” and bearing case code 12152, batch #22164.
    • 50-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Pulled Pork” and bearing case code 12153, batch #22164.
    • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Sweet Italian Rope” and bearing case code 12156LV, batch #22216.
    • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Banger 13-1” and bearing case code 12235, batch #22238.
    • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory Della’s Pork Sausage” and bearing case code 12581, batch #22130.
    • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory 8” Old Fashioned Frank” and bearing case code 11254, batch #22337 and #22388.
    • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory 7” Old Fashioned Frank” and bearing case code 10080, batch #22337 and #22388.
    • 10-lb. packages containing “The Sausage Factory 6” 8-1 Hot Dog” and bearing case code 10085, batch #22388.

    The recalled products, which should bear the establishment number “EST. 6236” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to distribution locations in California and Nevada.

    Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Karla Bell at (775) 882-8110.  

    The Sausage Factory of Carson City, Nev., is recalling approximately 5,960 pounds of sausage products. Although produced under USDA inspection, some packa...

    Pedal axle extenders recalled

    The extenders can break and the rider can lose control

    Specialized Bicycle Components of Morgan Hill, Calif., is recalling about 6,680 pedal axle extenders in the U.S. and Canada.

    The extenders can break and the rider can lose control and fall.

    There have been 10 reports of the pedal extenders breaking, including 2 reports of minor injuries, involving scrapes and bruises.

    This recall involves Specialized Body Geometry Pedal Axle Extenders that are used to extend the outward reach of the pedals. They are sold in pairs and mount directly into the bicycle crank arms. Pedal extenders are made of stainless steel and fit a 9/16 inch pedal thread. They are labeled with an “L” and an “R.”

    The extenders, manufactured in Taiwan, were sold at authorized Specialized retailers and online at www.specialized.com from January 2009, to June 2015, for about $40.

    Consumers should stop using the recalled pedal extenders immediately and return them to an authorized Specialized retailer for a full refund.

    Consumers may contact Specialized at (800) 722-4423 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday.

    Specialized Bicycle Components of Morgan Hill, Calif., is recalling about 6,680 pedal axle extenders in the U.S. and Canada. The extenders can break and t...

    Ferrari recalls vehicles with air bag issue

    The driver side air bag module may have been improperly assembled

    Ferrari North America is recalling 814 model year 2015 Ferrari 458 Italia, 458 Spider, 458 Speciale, 458 Speciale A, California T, FF, F12 Berlinetta, and LaFerrari vehicles manufactured December 19, 2014, to April 29, 2015.

    The vehicles may be equipped with a driver side air bag module that was improperly assembled, which can cause the air bag to deploy in a rotated orientation. In the event of a crash, the deployment of the driver's air bag in a rotated orientation increases the risk of injury.

    Ferrari will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front Driver's Side Air Bag Module, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on July 30, 2015.

    Owners may contact Ferrari customer service at 1-866-551-2828. Ferrari's number for this recall is 57.

    Ferrari North America is recalling 814 model year 2015 Ferrari 458 Italia, 458 Spider, 458 Speciale, 458 Speciale A, California T, FF, F12 Berlinetta, and ...

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      Aspen Foods recalls frozen, raw, stuffed & breaded chicken products

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella Enteritidis

      Aspen Foods of Chicago, Ill., is recalling approximately 1,978,680 pounds of frozen, raw, stuffed and breaded chicken products.

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella Enteritidis.

      Working in conjunction with Minnesota State Departments of Health and Agriculture, the federal Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has determined that there is a link between the recalled products and this illness cluster.

      Based on epidemiological evidence and traceback investigations, 3 case-patients have been identified in Minnesota with illness onset dates ranging from May 9, 2015, to June 8, 2015.

      The recalled items were produced between April 15, 2015, and July 10, 2015 with “best if used by” dates between July 14, 2016, and October 10, 2016. The products bear the establishment number “P-1358” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and were shipped to retail stores and food service locations nationwide.

      To view a full list of recalled products, please click here(XLS)

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (844) 277-6802.

      Aspen Foods of Chicago, Ill., is recalling approximately 1,978,680 pounds of frozen, raw, stuffed and breaded chicken products. The products may be contam...

      Amazon records “record sales” on Prime Day

      Says sales beat its best Black Friday ever

      It might have been dismissed as a marketing gimmick, wrapped in a lot of hype, but when the cash register receipts were recorded, Amazon.com says Wednesday's Prime Day sales shattered records, exceeding even its best Black Friday ever.

      The achievement is a bit more impressive because consumers had to be members of Amazon Prime to take part. While it costs $99 a year to be a Prime member, Amazon allowed anyone to sign up for a 30-day free trial membership and take part in the sale.

      Amazon said consumers did in droves, with more new members trying Prime worldwide than any single day in Amazon history. When all was said and done, the company reported members ordered 34.4 million items across Prime-eligible countries, breaking all Black Friday records with 398 items ordered per second.

      Beat Black Friday by 18%

      “Worldwide order growth increased 266% over the same day last year and 18% more than Black Friday 2014 – all in an event exclusively available to Prime members,” said Greg Greeley, Vice President, Amazon Prime.

      July 15 was selected since it was Amazon's anniversary. Greeley said the company went into the promotion expecting it would be a one-off thing. But after getting the attention of rival Walmart and setting sales records, Greeley said Prime Day will likely become an annual event.

      Among the milestones set during the promotion, Prime Members ordered tens of thousands of Fire TV Sticks in one hour, making it the fastest-selling deal on an Amazon device ever. Fire tablet sales exceeded sales on Black Friday last year.

      The company sold 47,000 television sets in a single day, a 1300% increase over July 15 last year. It sold 51,000 Bose headphones, compared to the 8 it sold the previous Wednesday.

      Dissent

      In the midst of Amazon's victory lap, there are a few voices of dissent. CBS Moneywatch interviewed a number of consumers who said they were disappointed at what was on sale and the depth of the discounts.

      “I was frustrated to see that only a certain amount of users could claim each deal," Doug Messer, a Prime member from Westchester, N.Y., told CBS. "We found a TV we wanted and when we went to claim it, we were added to a waitlist. Not really a deal if only a certain percentage of visitors can take advantage of it."

      On Twitter, a consumer named Thomas Nguyen said he tried to buy a selfie stick but was number 293 on the wait list.

      “Not sure if this is the low point in my life or not,” he Tweeted.

      Walmart, which took up the Amazon challenge by launching price “rollbacks” of its own, has released no sales figures from yesterday. Instead, it is still offering digs at its online rival, proclaiming on its website “No 1-day sales here! Just savings every day.”

      It might have been dismissed as a marketing gimmick, wrapped in a lot of hype, but when the cash register receipts were recorded, Amazon.com says Wednesday...

      Honda's long airbag nightmare may not be over

      The company says it used some of the ARC airbags now being investigated

      For Honda, the long airbag nightmare just keeps getting worse. The Japanese automaker has already recalled 20 million cars made with Takata airbags, blamed for killing at least eight people, and now the company says it used inflators made by ARC Automotive Corp.

      The National Highway Traffic Safeway Administration (NHTSA) said earlier this week that it was opening an investigation into a couple of recent accidents involving ARC airbags.

      Honda said it used ARC inflators from 2000 to 2001 and is checking how many vehicles are involved and whether there is a need to recall them. ARC Automotive, based in Knoxville, Tenn., said it is cooperating with investigators.

      “This shows the difficulty of making safe inflators,” said Takeshi Miyao, an analyst at researcher Carnorama in Tokyo, according to a report in Automotive News. “The authorities and the industry have also become more sensitive about the matter of airbag safety due to the Takata issue.” 

      Not many complaints but ...

      Consumers rate Honda

      NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) said Tuesday that it received a complaint back in 2009 involving a driver's side airbag in a 2002 Chrysler Town and Country minivan. The inflator reportedly ruptured, spraying bits of metal into the cabin. ODI found no other incidents at that time.

      Then last month, Korean automaker KIA notified ODI that it was a target of a lawsuit claiming that the inflator in the driver's side airbag in a 2004 Optima had ruptured. ODI said it went back to the 2009 report and found the inflators in the airbags in both the Town and Country and the Optima were manufactured by ARC Automotive.

      The inflator in both airbags was a hybrid design that relies on two different sources of energy. The inflator fills the air bag cushion by releasing an inert gas stored in the inflator at high pressure. This gas mixture is augmented by an ammonium nitrate based propellant.

      “Preliminary analysis indicates that the exhaust path for the inflation gas mixture may have been blocked by an object of indeterminate origin,” ODI said in a document filing. “This blockage appears to have caused high internal pressure and subsequent rupture of the inflator assembly.”

      Has your airbag been recalled?

      All the publicity surrounding the Takata airbag recall has many consumers worried about whether they may be driving around with an explosive device in their dashboard that's just waiting to spray them with metal fragments.

      After all, many recalled cars are never taken in to dealers and used car owners, in particular, can't be sure their car is up to snuff.

      What can you do?

      To check specifically on airbags, see the Center for Auto Safety's website. It has a 45-page .pdf list of U.S. airbag recalls arranged by auto manufacturer.

      You can check for all types of recalls by typing your VIN number into NHTSA's Recall Look-Up form.

      For Honda, the long airbag nightmare just keeps getting worse. The Japanese automaker has already recalled 20 million cars made with Takata airbags, blamed...

      Predicting who will get Alzheimer's disease

      Researchers say they are getting better at it

      There is no conclusive test that can predict who will develop Alzheimer's disease as they age. However, it is information doctors would like to know, since it would allow earlier treatment and, perhaps, a delay in the onset of the fatal condition.

      Researchers in the field are constantly looking for biomarkers that could offer a more complete picture of who is most at risk. They think they may have identified one in amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI).

      Researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas have noticed that people with aMCI appear to be at twice the risk of developing Azheimer's disease when compared to others in their age group.

      In findings published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, researchers identify a specific variation in brain waves of people with aMCI. Specifically, they think a delayed neural activity in aMCI patients that shows up in a word-finding task may indicate an early dysfunction that points to the progression of Alzheimer's disease.

      One of the main symptoms of Alzheimer's disease is the inability to retain new memories about recent conversations, events, or upcoming appointments.

      Specific type of impairment

      While mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is the recognized clinical state between healthy aging and Alzheimer's disease, aMCI is a specific type of impairment marked by deficits in episodic memory.

      "This is a promising start at looking at a group of MCI patients. The long-term goal is whether this can be applied to individual patients one day," said study principal investigator John Hart.

      If the method proves reliable, it could provide a more affordable and non-invasive alternative to other available methods, such as MRI or a spinal tap, to measure neural responses.

      Examining spinal fluid

      Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have been studying brain scans and looking for biomarkers that could help with earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. In this study, scientists have found that changes in the spinal fluid during middle age may help doctors identify people at risk of developing Alzheimer's disease later in life.

      "It's too early to use these biomarkers to definitively predict whether individual patients will develop Alzheimer's disease, but we're working toward that goal," said senior author Anne Fagan, PhD, a professor of neurology. "One day, we hope to use such measures to identify and treat people years before memory loss and other cognitive problems become apparent."

      Early lifestyle changes can help

      While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer's disease, the Alzheimer's Association recently released research suggesting lifestyle changes in middle age can reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

      "The research on cognitive decline is still evolving," said Angela Geiger, who is the chief strategy officer of the Alzheimer's Association. "But there are actions people can take.”

      For example, certain healthy behaviors known to combat cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes may also reduce the risk of cognitive decline. These healthy behaviors include staying mentally active, engaging in regular physical activity, and eating a heart-healthy diet that benefits your body and your brain.

      “There is also some evidence people may benefit from staying socially engaged with friends, family and the community," she said.

      There is no conclusive test that can predict who will develop Alzheimer's disease as they age. However, it is information doctors would like to know, since...

      Builder confidence on the rise

      It's at the highest level in more than 9 years

      You could be seeing a lot more new home construction in the months ahead.

      Builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family hit a level of 60 in July, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). At the same time, June's reading was revised upward 1 point to 60 as well. The HMI hasn't seen that level since November 2005.

      “This month’s reading is in line with recent data showing stronger sales in both the new and existing home markets as well as continued job growth,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “However, builders still face a number of challenges, including shortages of lots and labor.”

      The NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as “good,” “fair” or “poor.” It also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.”

      Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

      How things look

      Two of the 3 HMI components posted gains in July. The component gauging current sales conditions rose 1 point to 66 and the index charting sales expectations in the next 6 months increased two points to 71. Meanwhile, the component measuring buyer traffic dropped a single point to 43.

      Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the West and Northeast each rose 3 points to 60 and 47, respectively. The South and Midwest posted respective 1-point gains to 61 and 55.

      “The fact that builder confidence has returned to levels not seen since 2005 shows that housing continues to improve at a steady pace,” said NAHB Chairman Tom Woods, a home builder from Blue Springs, Mo. “As we head into the second half of 2015, we should expect a continued recovery of the housing market.”

      Initial jobless claims

      In a separate report, the government says first-time applications for state unemployment benefits fell sharply last week.

      Figures released by the Labor Department (DOL) show initial jobless claims plunged by 15,000 in the week ending July 11 to seasonally adjusted 281,000. The previous week's level was revised down by 1,000.

      The DOL says there were no special factors affecting this week's initial claims.

      The 4-week moving average, which is considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market than the volatile weekly tally, rose 3,250 – to 282,500.

      The complete report is available on the DOL website.

      You could be seeing a lot more new home construction in the months ahead. Builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family hit a level of 6...

      General Motors recalls Chevrolet Cruzes and Volts

      The tie rod could separate from the steering gear

      General Motors is recalling 10 model year 2014-2015 Chevrolet Cruzes manufactured November 8, 2013, to March 12, 2015, and 2015 Chevrolet Volts manufactured April 11, 2014.

      The inner tie rod may not be tightened to specification, allowing the tie rod to separate from the steering gear. This could result in the loss of steering, increasing the risk of a crash.

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the steering gear assembly, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in July 2015.

      Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 15386.

      General Motors is recalling 10 model year 2014-2015 Chevrolet Cruzes manufactured November 8, 2013, to March 12, 2015, and 2015 Chevrolet Volts manufacture...

      Murry’s recalls chicken product

      The product tested positive for Staphylococcal enterotoxin

      Murry’s, Inc., of Lebanon, Pa., is recalling approximately 20,232 pounds of gluten-free breaded chicken nugget product.

      The product tested positive for Staphylococcal enterotoxin.

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

      The following product, bearing establishment number “P-516” inside the USDA mark of inspection, and shipped to an establishment for distribution nationwide, is being recalled:

      • 12-oz. boxes of “Bell & Evans Gluten Free Breaded Chicken Breast Nuggets” with a “Best By” date of March 25, 2016.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Murry’s customer service, at (800) 638-0215.

      Murry’s, Inc., of Lebanon, Pa., is recalling approximately 20,232 pounds of gluten-free breaded chicken nugget product. The product tested positive for S...

      Honda Pilots recalled

      The third row seatbelt may be trapped between the rear seat and the rear sideliner

      Honda is recalling 1,358 model year 2016 Pilots manufactured May 4, 2015, to June 5, 2015.

      Due to an assembly issue, the third row seatbelt may be trapped between the rear seat and the rear sideliner. If the seatbelt is trapped, the occupants may not be restrained properly, increasing the risk of injury.

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and repair the rear third row seat belt, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on August 6, 2015.

      Owners may contact Honda customer service at 1-310-783-2000. Honda's number for this recall is JS7.

      Honda is recalling 1,358 model year 2016 Pilots manufactured May 4, 2015, to June 5, 2015. Due to an assembly issue, the third row seatbelt may be trappe...

      Nissan recalls Versa Sedans, Cubes and Jukes

      The engine start/stop button may stick

      Nissan North America is recalling 14,595 model year 2014 Versa Sedan vehicles manufactured July 16, 2013, to January 29, 2014; 2013-2014 Cube vehicles manufactured July 3, 2013, to October 21, 2013; and 2013-2014 Juke vehicles manufactured July 3, 2013, to October 22, 2013.

      When exposed to hot temperatures, the engine start/stop button may stick inside the button housing. If the engine start/stop button gets stuck in the housing, road vibrations may cause the engine to shut off unexpectedly while the vehicle is being driven, increasing the risk of a crash.

      Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will modify the start/stop switch housing, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin by late-August 2015.

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

      Nissan North America is recalling 14,595 model year 2014 Versa Sedan vehicles manufactured July 16, 2013, to January 29, 2014; 2013-2014 Cube vehicles manu...

      Chevrolet Sparks and Sonics recalled

      The warning chimes may not function properly

      General Motors is recalling 45,785 model year 2014-2015 Chevrolet Sparks manufactured April 30, 2014, to May 20, 2015, and 2015 Chevrolet Sonics manufactured June 18, 2014, to June 10, 2015.

      In the recalled vehicles, equipped with the base radio and OnStar, the radio may lock up due to a software issue, causing the display to go blank and all audio functions to cease. Because of this, there may be no warning chimes such as the reminder to buckle the seat belt and the key being left in ignition when the driver goes to exit the vehicle.

      Without audible indicators, the driver may leave the key in the ignition, increasing the risk of theft. If a driver or front passenger does not buckle his seat belt, there would be no chime to remind him to do so. Failure to buckle up increases the risk of injury in a crash.

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will update the radio software, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 15504.

      General Motors is recalling 45,785 model year 2014-2015 Chevrolet Sparks manufactured April 30, 2014, to May 20, 2015, and 2015 Chevrolet Sonics manufactur...

      Amazon vs. Walmart: stakes are bigger than just a day of sales

      Retailers may be trying to win consumers over for the long haul

      Amazon and Walmart are going at it today in a battle of high-profile sales, trying to win over consumers who don't normally go on a shopping spree in the middle of July.

      When Amazon announced its Prime Day for July 15, it boasted that its one-day deals for its Prime members would beat those offered on Black Friday, the traditional start to the holiday shopping season.

      BestBlackFriday.com, operated by Jones-Dengler Marketing, threw down a challenge of its own, listing some of last year's Black Friday specials and challenging Amazon to beat those prices. After viewing the Prime Day deals at midnight, BestBlackFriday.com's Philip Dengler had to admit, Amazon did what it said it would do.

      “To our surprise, they are beating Black Friday 2014 prices on some of the most sought-after items,” Dengler told ComsumerAffairs in an email.

      Side-by-side comparison

      Dengler and his associates reached that conclusion after doing a side-by-side comparison of last year's Black Friday deals and Amazon's Prime Day prices.

      “While Black Friday wins in a few areas, Prime Day is winning where it counts,” Dengler said. “They have the lowest price on the very popular 32" and 40" televisions.”

      Dengler said Amazon is also winning on the Kindle Fire 7, Kindle Fire 7 Kids Version, Crucial MX100 Drives, VTech Kidizoom Smartwatch, Bose SoundTrue Headphones On-Ear Style and many other items.

      “Judging by the information available to us now, we think Amazon was right in their Prime Day comparison to Black Friday,” Dengler said.

      Walmart's response

      These prices, of course, are only available to consumers who have paid $99 a year to be Prime members, a point Walmart has made in its none-too-subtle promotion of its own sale. Visitors to Walmart.com are greeted with a bold banner declaring “thousands of new rollbacks, no upfront fees!”

      Why would these two retail giants be duking it out in the dead of summer with seemingly little at stake? As we reported yesterday, consumers were sitting on their wallets last month, resulting in disappointing retail sales.

      Amazon's motivation probably lies in a desire to boost Prime memberships. Walmart's response may be driven by a determination not to let its rival get out in front on anything. Both are taking the opportunity to try to win over consumers who do most of their shopping online.

      Increasing e-service quality

      "Increased e-service quality is associated with increased customer satisfaction, which then leads to higher repurchase intentions," said Vikas Mittal, professor of marketing at Rice University. "In other words, increasing e-service quality enhances customer satisfaction and the likelihood of customer repurchase. If Amazon and Wal-Mart want to keep their customers coming back, they must focus on increasing satisfaction via e-service quality."

      Mittal and an international team of colleagues have completed a study of what makes up e-service quality. Price is only one part of it.

      Their analysis identified four core dimensions of e-service quality: website design, fulfilment, customer service and security/privacy. Together, these four dimensions strongly impact overall e-service quality, the authors conclude. And they should be there 365 days a years – even when the sale prices aren't.

      Amazon and Walmart are going at it today in a battle of high-profile sales, trying to win over consumers who don't normally go on a shopping spree in the m...

      Updated ransomware threats: TeslaCrypt 2.0, child-pornography blackmail and fake-cop warnings

      Ransomware attacks increase in frequency and intensity

      Earlier this year, the California-based cybersecurity firm Bromium issued a warning about a then-new strain of ransomware called TeslaCrypt, which primarily focused on attacking game files and game platforms including Minecraft, World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, Diablo, several ES sports titles, and many more (though after encrypting a victim's game files, it would then spread to encrypt Word documents, Excel files, PowerPoint presentations and various image files, too).

      Now TeslaCrypt is back, after the research firm Kaspersky warned about the updated TeslaCrypt 2.0, which has been refined, strengthened, and also disguised as an older form of ransomware called CryptoWall.

      As its name suggests, ransomware is a type of malware that lets attackers hold a victim's device and/or files for ransom, by encrypting the files and refusing to decrypt them unless the victim pays money (usually via Bitcoin or wire transfer, both of which are untraceable).

      Form of extortion

      Like all cybersecurity threats, ransomware appears in many forms. In January, investigators in Tennessee discovered a particularly nasty variant: after taking control of a victim's smartphone, the hackers would then plant child pornography on the device and refuse to remove the images or otherwise relinquish control unless the victim paid $500. The phones' owners cannot delete the pictures, and they're usually afraid to contact police for fear they'll be arrested for possession of illegal images.

      A teenager in Washington State apparently fell victim to child-pornographic malware last month. The Renton Reporter's police blotter from July 12 said that:

      A 16-year-old boy viewed pornography on his phone discovered it was infected with “ransomware” when he tried to free up space.

      He and his mother went to the Police Department on June 17 to report the ransomware, which was activated when he attempted to delete a URL.

      An officer scrolled through the screens on the phone, noticing sexually explicit photographs of people, some of whom looked younger than 18.... With permission, the officer tried to remove the ransomware but the fix didn’t work.

      The boy told the officer he didn’t download any photos. Because of the boy’s age, the officer placed the phone into evidence so the boy wouldn’t get into trouble for possessing pornography. The boy said OK.

      In Texas, the Austin Police Department issued a July 15 warning about another ransomware strain, this one snaring victims by initially pretending to be messages from law enforcement agencies: “Forms of ransomware which impersonate law enforcement agencies have been on the rise. These forms of the malware typically show a notification page from either a federal law enforcement agency or from the victim’s local law enforcement agency informing the user that they have committed illegal activity online and have been given a fine.”

      Back up your files

      Ransomware is another form of malware and is spread like any other kind: through spammy emails or text messages, virus-riddled file attachments, and similar techniques. Even if you have the bad luck to be infected, it generally won’t be a problem if you have backup copies of all your files; rather than pay the ransom, you can wipe your device clean and use your un-infected backup files to restore it.

      If you don't already have backup copies of all your important files – not just on your home computer, but also your tablet, smartphone, and anything else holding important data you don't want to lose – you should make copies right away, and keep them on a dedicated thumb drive, flash drive, or burn copies onto a disc.

      In addition to these physical media storage options, you also have the option of hiring a backup service — though that brings the usual risks that come with entrusting your data to anyone other than yourself.

      Earlier this year, the California-based cybersecurity firm Bromium issued a warning about a then-new strain of ransomware called TeslaCrypt, which primaril...

      Consumers enjoying lowest summer gas prices since 2009

      So far, refineries are keeping up with demand -- except in California

      Don't mention this to consumers in California, but the U.S. is enjoying the lowest summer gasoline prices in years.

      While Los Angeles area motorists are paying well over $4 a gallon for gas this week, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that the average retail price for gasoline this summer – April through September – is expected to be $2.67 a gallon, a dime less than the current national average.

      The prediction is based on EIA's Short-Term Energy Outlook and the $2.67 figure is the lowest since 2009.

      California's woes are the result of inefficiencies in the supply chain. For example, the state received no imports of gasoline in early July, leading to acute shortages in the state.

      Ample supplies outside California

      EIA's report suggests supplies are holding up well elsewhere, in spite of increased consumption. EIA expects travel and gasoline consumption to be higher this summer compared to last year. Motor gasoline consumption is expected to increase by 194,000 barrels per day, up 2.1% from last summer, reflecting a number of positive factors.

      Not only are prices at the pump substantially lower, EIA says consumers have higher real disposable income, more employment opportunities, and growing consumer confidence. The lower fuel prices, the agency says, are largely the result of the projected 41% year-over-year decline in the average price of North Sea Brent crude oil, the U.S.'s main source of imported oil.

      EIA arrives at its predictions by measuring the product supplied, which reflects refinery and blender output, inventory change, and net imports, as a proxy for consumption. Net refinery output is expected to increase by 208,000 barrels per day, staying slightly above growth in consumption.

      The main inventories of gasoline and gasoline blending components began the summer season 10.7 million barrels above the previous 5-year average and should end the season 3.7 million barrels above the previous 5-year average.

      Consumers drew 8.4 million barrels on inventories last summer. This summer, that should grow to 14.3 million. Supplies should remain fairly tight but not enough to affect retail prices.

      California inquiry

      California motorists may soon get some relief from high prices, but no doubt are getting tired of the constant price roller coaster. According to AAA, the California Energy Commission is now investigating what's behind the volatility.

      California refineries are putting out plenty of gasoline but the state still has to import fuel from other areas to meet its needs. As AAA observes, suppliers often operate in “just-in-time” gasoline inventories, with supply delivered only as demand requires it. It limits storage costs but can lead to significant spikes in price when supply and demand are out of balance.

      “Upward pressure is likely to remain on prices in the region until supply issues are resolved,” AAA said.

      Lingering supply issues in the Midwest have mostly been resolved and motorists are reaping the benefits. AAA says the average retail price of a gallon of regular gas has fallen 12 cents in Indiana and 11 cents in Michigan.

      Don't mention this to consumers in California, but the U.S. is enjoying the lowest summer gasoline prices in years.While Los Angeles area motorists are...

      Today's adolescents are less likely to classify themselves as overweight or obese

      Making sure that teens are clear about their weight status is the first step to getting healthier.

      Recognizing that you are overweight is usually the first step to getting healthier. Unfortunately, this admission is not always the easiest to make. A new study shows that adolescents have a particularly hard time recognizing that they have a weight problem.

      The study, which was conducted by researchers at Georgia Southern University, was based on findings from two separate surveys. One survey was given over roughly six years, from 1988 to 1994. The second survey was given over five years, from 2007 to 2012. All participants from both studies were between the ages of 12 and 16 and were classified as obese, overweight, or normal weight through their body mass index (BMI) scores.

      The surveys attempted to gauge how each era’s young people viewed their own weight. After adjusting for certain variables, such as age, race, sex, and socio-economic standing, the researchers found that the more recent generation was 29% less likely to classify themselves as overweight or obese.

      Peer pressure and social comparison

      So what do these numbers mean? Well, the researchers believe that self-perception has changed over the last 20 years, and there are a couple of ways that this could have affected the survey results.  

      “In the wake of the obesity pandemic, the media, weight loss industries, and medical communities have encouraged adolescents to maintain slender frames. Facing harsher messages, more and more overweight and obese adolescents may be increasingly reluctant to admit that they are overweight,” said Dr. Jian Zhang, who led the study.

      This seems to make some sense. With the amount of pressure that adolescents face to “fit in”, along with the media and peers venerating people who are thin, many teens may not be willing to admit that they don’t belong.

      To offer a completely contrary explanation, many overweight or obese teens may not feel that they should be classified as such because of who their friends and family are. This is explained by the “Social Comparison Theory”. In short, the theory suggests that people compare their weight with those around them, rather than with any actual number or scale. As such, a teen who has a lot of friends or family members who are overweight may feel that they are perfectly normal for being overweight too.

      Adopting healthy behaviors

      Regardless of the cause, the researchers believe that it is extremely important for adolescents to be clearly informed about their own weight status. By being aware of how healthy they are (in terms of weight), adolescents can begin to make choices that will help them adapt healthier behaviors. This, in turn, will help reduce obesity numbers in adolescents and contribute to healthier living.

      "Becoming conscious of one's excess weight is the precursor to adopting behavioral changes necessary for appropriate weight control. The declining tendency of correctly perceiving overweight status presents a vast challenge to obesity prevention among adolescents, making the overweight and obese adolescents less motivated to actively engage in effective weight loss behaviors,” said Dr. Zhang

      The full study has been published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine

      Recognizing that you are overweight is usually the first step to getting healthier. Unfortunately, this admission is not always the easiest to make. A new ...