Current Events in February 2019

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    MoviePass delisted by Nasdaq following tumultuous 2018

    Subscriptions are still valid, but who knows for how long

    MoviePass ended Wednesday with one foot in the grave.

    Less than two weeks after MoviePass subscribers filed a class action lawsuit for pulling a “bait and switch” con, and less than a month since the company went back to its original subscription model in an attempt to win back subscribers, the grim reapers at the Nasdaq have delisted the company.

    Once and for all?

    The situation is looking bleak for the once-popular movie subscription service. MarketWatch reports that HMNY, the stock for Helio & Matheson Analytics (H&M), MoviePass’ parent company, was suspended from trading when the markets opened on Wednesday. However, the stock will still be available to traders via the over-the-counter market system, where trading can be done directly between two parties, without the supervision of an exchange.

    Nasdaq sent H&M word in December that its stock would be delisted if it failed to maintain the minimum $1 bid price and the company appealed, but with no success. H&M has an extra 15 days to ask for one reprieve, but the company says it has no plans to make that move.

    What about my movie subscription?

    Consumers who are signed up for the movie subscription service can still take advantage of it, at least for the time being.

    An H&M spokesperson told CNN that the delisting "has no effect on the day-to-day business operations" of Helios & Matheson and its subsidiaries, including MoviePass, adding that there’s a possibility that MoviePass may be in for a partial spin-off.

    MoviePass ended Wednesday with one foot in the grave.Less than two weeks after MoviePass subscribers filed a class action lawsuit for pulling a “bait a...

    There was almost no inflation in the economy in January

    Increases in the cost of food and health care were balanced by cheaper gasoline

    You might not notice any change in the high cost of college or health care, but the overall inflation rate didn’t budge in January.

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was unchanged last month. For the year, the CPI is up only 1.6 percent, well below the Federal Reserve’s target of 2 percent.

    Food and energy costs, which together were lower in January, kept the CPI in check. When those two categories are removed, prices were up 0.2 percent. Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union, says it’s almost as though Goldilocks wrote the CPI report since it was “just right.”

    “The overall index was unchanged for January, and all items were up just 1.6% over the last year,” Frick said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “Just as important, wages again ticked up, rising 0.1 percent in January. No increase in inflation combined with a rise in wages means American workers' real wages -- nominal wages minus inflation -- increased for another month.”

    Moving in the right direction

    While wages were higher, Frick says consumers haven’t seen the kind of real wage gains that have been present in other late-stage expansions. Even so, he says paychecks are moving in the right direction -- and the report holds more good news for consumers.

    “This also argues against the Fed raising rates soon, at least, keeping the expansion expanding to the benefit of workers,” Frick said. “They should expect a continued strong jobs market together with rising real wages for the foreseeable future."

    If the Fed decides there is no need to raise interest rates again, it means the interest rate on credit cards will likely remain stable over the next few months. Consumers carrying large credit card balances have seen their credit card interest payments rise every time the Fed hiked the federal funds rate.

    Gasoline prices fall

    In a big break for consumers, energy costs went down for a third consecutive month. The price of gasoline was down 5.5 percent.

    The price of food was slightly higher last month, rising 0.2 percent from December. The biggest increase in food costs came in the restaurant sector.

    Consumers paid more for housing, clothing, medical care, recreation, and household furnishings and operations last month. Airfares were cheaper and so were car insurance policies.

    You might not notice any change in the high cost of college or health care, but the overall inflation rate didn’t budge in January.The Bureau of Labor...

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      Hospitals cutting back on using risky antibiotics, but patients still going home with them

      The drugs were found to increase patients’ risk of several negative health effects

      Researchers from Michigan Medicine at the University of Michigan recently explored a new trend happening at hospitals that could be sending patients home with a slew of unexpected side effects.

      According to the study, hospitals have worked to cut back on using a strong strand of antibiotics known as fluoroquinolones in-house, as the drugs come with many risks. However, many patients are still leaving the hospital with prescriptions for them.

      “Fluoroquinolone antibiotics are easy to use, but carry a lot of risk for patients and society at large,” said Dr. Valerie Vaughn. “These results show we need to focus on not just their use in hospitals, but also in the prescriptions that we send patients home with. Discharge prescribing is a big loophole.”

      Identifying risks

      Dr. Vaughn and the researchers utilized the Michigan Hospital Safety Consortium, which provides statewide physicians the opportunity to work together to enhance patient care in hospitals. They surveyed nearly 50 hospitals across the state of Michigan and found a large number of fluoroquinolone prescriptions for discharged patients.

      The researchers found that nearly 12,000 patients that were diagnosed with either a urinary tract infection (UTI) or pneumonia left the hospital with a fluoroquinolone prescription. Moreover, the drug made up over 40 percent of all prescriptions given to patients when they left the hospital.

      Fluoroquinolone antibiotics come with a number of side effects, including increased risk of aortic rupture, Achilles tendon rupture, mental health problems, and low blood sugar levels.

      According to the researchers, many physicians turn to fluoroquinolone antibiotics because they are safe for people with penicillin allergies, can treat a wide variety of illnesses, and can be taken by mouth -- which is a bonus for people leaving the hospital.

      However, not all antibiotics are helpful. Moving forward, Dr. Vaughn hopes that hospitals will be paying as close attention to what is prescribed at discharge as what patients are prescribed while in the hospital.

      Additionally, she encourages patients to be vocal about what they’re prescribed when leaving the hospital -- fluoroquinolone antibiotics are just one choice doctors have when writing a prescription.

      “When patients first come to the hospital, doctors don’t typically have test results to show what’s causing their infection,” Dr. Vaughn said. “But by the time you’re leaving you have more results and history -- the most information you’re going to have about them. This makes the discharge prescription a great place for stewardship programs to intervene, and to make antibiotic choice more of an active thought than an afterthought.”

      Researchers from Michigan Medicine at the University of Michigan recently explored a new trend happening at hospitals that could be sending patients home w...

      Honda recalls Acura MDXs & TLXs and Honda Accords

      The fuel pump may suffer reduced performance, resulting in a stall

      American Honda Motor Co., is recalling 437,032 model year 2016-2018 Acura MDXs and model year 2015-2019 TLXs and model year 2015-2017 Honda Accords equipped with a 3.5L V6 engine.

      Particulates in fuel may adhere to the internal components of the fuel pump, reducing its performance.

      Reduced fuel pump performance can result in an engine stall, increasing the risk of crash.

      What to do

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will update the fuel injection engine control unit software and -- if necessary -- replace the fuel pump, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin on March 25, 2019.

      Owners may contact customer service at 1-888-234-2138. Acura's recall number for this recall is P3W. Honda's recall number for this recall is N3X.

      American Honda Motor Co., is recalling 437,032 model year 2016-2018 Acura MDXs and model year 2015-2019 TLXs and model year 2015-2017 Honda Accords equippe...

      Birdseed Food recalls Craft Granola Goldenola: Turmeric & Ginger

      The product contains cashews, an allergen not declared on the label

      Birdseed Food Co., of Bend, Ore., is recalling Craft Granola Goldenola: Turmeric & Ginger.

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

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The recalled product was sold from October 3, 2018 – February 7, 2019, in California, Connecticut, Maryland, New York Oregon and Pennsylvania at retail stores (https://www.birdseedfoodco.com/pages/where-to-find) and online at https://www.birdseedfoodco.com/collections/all, https://getintothebubble.com/, and https://www.farmtopeople.com/.

      It comes in 3-oz., and 11-oz., yellow bags with all expiration dates and includes up to 061419.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product and are allergic to cashews should not consume it.

      Consumers desiring a product replacement or further information, may contact Ashley at (541) 788-6352.

      Birdseed Food Co., of Bend, Ore., is recalling Craft Granola Goldenola: Turmeric & Ginger.The product contains cashews, an allergen not declared on the...

      Model year 2019 Toyota Tundra standard and long bed trucks recalled

      The load carrying capacity modification label may have been incorrectly calculated

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling certain 280 model year 2019 Toyota Tundra standard and long bed trucks equipped with a spray-in bed liner.

      The load carrying capacity modification label may have been incorrectly calculated. If the label is followed, the vehicle may be overloaded, increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Toyota has notified owners, and provided corrected load carrying capacity labels, free of charge.

      The recall began on January 24, 2019.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-888-270-9371. The recall number is J08.

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling certain 280 model year 2019 Toyota Tundra standard and long bed trucks equipped with a spray-in bed l...

      Ford recalls 1.48 million model year 2011-13 F-150s

      The vehicle may experience an unintended downshift into first gear

      Ford is recalling 1.48 million model year 2011-13 F-150s with 6-speed automatic transmissions.

      The transmission that may experience an intermittent loss of the transmission output speed sensor signal to the powertrain control module, potentially resulting in a temporary, unintended downshift into first gear.

      Depending on vehicle speed, a downshift to first gear without warning could result in a loss of vehicle control, increasing the risk of a crash.

      Ford is aware of five reports of accidents, including one report of “whiplash” potentially related to this condition.

      What to do

      Dealers will update the powertrain control module software in the affected vehicles.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. The Ford reference number for this recall is 19S07.

      Ford is recalling 1.48 million model year 2011-13 F-150s with 6-speed automatic transmissions.The transmission that may experience an intermittent loss...

      Lufthansa sues passenger over using the ‘hidden city’ fare ploy

      The strategy is neither illegal or immoral insists one airfare deal aggregator

      In an interesting twist, Lufthansa has filed a lawsuit against a passenger for leveraging a ploy that seasoned flyers use to cop cheaper fares.

      CNN reports that Lufthansa has dragged a passenger into court for not showing up to the last leg of his ticketed journey. While that might seem like an innocent enough act, the German airline claims that the passenger was trying to leverage the "hidden city" ticket trick, a method experienced airline passengers employ to get cheaper fares.

      Before travelers were pulled into the digital world of algorithms that airlines use to maximize their revenue stream, they would often try ploys like “hidden city ticketing,” where the passenger books a ticket to a fictitious destination (the "hidden" city) with a connection at the intended destination, then walks away at the connection node and discards the remaining segment.

      Why? Because the flight between point A to point C, with the connection at point B, might be less expensive than a flight from point A to point B.

      In Lufthansa’s situation, an unnamed passenger booked a return flight from Oslo, Norway to Seattle, Washington that had a planned layover in Frankfurt, Germany. However, the wily passenger used all legs of the outbound flight, but opted out of the Frankfurt to Oslo return flight and, instead, flew on an unconnected Lufthansa reservation from Frankfurt to Berlin, Germany.

      Lufthansa didn’t like that. The airline saw the flyer’s tactic as a violation of its terms and conditions and is asking for more than $2,000 in compensation.

      A German district court gave a thumbs-down to the airline’s lawsuit in December, 2018, but a Lufthansa representative confirmed to CNN that the airline has "already filed the appeal against the decision."

      Unethical or just playing the game?

      Leveraging the hidden city ploy is old hat to veteran flyers. Bill Rieke, a Cincinnati-based elite, frequent, and long distance traveler, told ConsumerAffairs that when Comair was in Cincinnati  -- and Cincy had the highest average ticket prices in the country -- he would often use the hidden cities maneuver.

      “I would simply have someone drive me 80 miles to Dayton, then fly back through Cincinnati to some destination. Then on the return home, I’d just fly back to Cincinnati and never go to Dayton,” Rieke said.

      Whether playing that game is kosher or not is up for debate. Some say it’s unethical because a flyer is taking a seat they’re not going to actually use -- one that another passenger might need to get somewhere at the last minute.

      The legal hounds at an airline’s headquarters might argue that hidden city ticketing violates their “contract of carriage,” but some travel industry observers disagree.

      "’Hidden city’ ticketing is neither illegal nor immoral,” Scott Keyes of Scott’s Cheap Flights told ConsumerAffairs. “No law is broken when a passenger decides not to take a flight he or she bought, and twice now when airlines have sued to cut back on the practice, their lawsuits have been dismissed. There's a reason the New York Times' Ethicist gave his seal of approval to ‘hidden city’ ticketing -- when consumers buy something they're under no obligation to use the entire product. This is true whether it's a plane ticket or an extra-large pizza.”

      The almighty dollar vs. the besmirched consumer

      Airline deregulation has created sky high profits for carriers but few silver linings for travelers.

      In Lufthansa’s case, that’s the big question: which has more value? Is it the almighty dollar and potentially negative public relations value of taking on a customer for trying to get a deal on airfare or grinning and bearing a crease in the company’s policies?

      Lufthansa’s consumer satisfaction rating is pockmarked with experiences that beg for an answer to that question.

      “Lufthansa used to be my go-to airline even when I worked for a certain ‘5 star’, top rated Skytrax airline, I would always use, recommend and speak highly of Lufthansa,” said one consumer. “However, their new fare paradigm which includes economy and ‘premium economy’ and less than competitive fares has me jaded.”

      In an interesting twist, Lufthansa has filed a lawsuit against a passenger for leveraging a ploy that seasoned flyers use to cop cheaper fares.CNN repo...

      More than 7 million consumers are delinquent on their car loans

      Fed report suggests not everyone has benefitted from the economic recovery

      The price of new cars has hit record highs in recent months. So has the number of consumers who are 90 days delinquent on their car loans.

      A new report from the New York Federal Reserve Bank shows more than 7 million consumers were 90 days behind on their car payments at the end of 2018. That’s at least a million more than in 2010 when the economy was struggling to overcome the financial crisis.

      Fed analysts say the rise in delinquencies suggests a sizable portion of consumers haven’t benefited all that much from the economic recovery. Other analysts, however, point out that auto loan debt has reached a record high of $584 billion, and as that debt rises so does the number of consumers who can’t keep up.

      While the rise in delinquencies captures the headlines there is plenty of positive news in the Fed report. Subprime loans, which are considered most in danger of default, have been shrinking as a percentage of the auto loan portfolio.

      More loans went to people with high credit scores

      “After years of growth among borrowers across the credit score spectrum, 2018’s strength in auto loans was primarily driven by those originated by the most creditworthy individuals, while originations to those with scores below 720 have leveled off, albeit at high volumes,” Fed analysts wrote in a blog post.

      “The high volume of prime originations has caused a quality-shift in the outstanding pool of auto loans and, as of the fourth quarter of 2018, 30 percent of the $1.27 trillion in outstanding debt was originated to borrowers with credit scores over 760.”

      At the same time, the share of total car loans originated to subprime borrowers fell to 22 percent. Despite the fact that more people are behind on their payments, the Fed analysts think the overall auto loan stock is the highest quality they’ve seen since the Fed began tracking this data in 2000.

      More subprime borrowers

      But because the pool of auto loan borrowers has increased so much, the number of subprime borrowers is actually up, even as its percentage of the overall outstanding loan pool is falling.

      The Fed report also shows that total household debt increased by $32 billion in the fourth quarter of 2018, rising to $13.54 trillion. That’s $869 billion higher than the previous record of  $12.68 trillion in the third quarter of 2008, just before the financial crisis.

      The price of new cars has hit record highs in recent months. So has the number of consumers who are 90 days delinquent on their car loans.A new report...

      Man rejected from firefighter job over marijuana use sues for discrimination

      A man who hoped to become a firefighter says he was rejected from the job for his legal medical marijuana card

      A man who hoped to become a firefighter in Bridgeport, Connecticut is discovering what the disabled community and others have grappled with for decades: even legal marijuana use can cost a person their employment.  

      James Bulerin III was rejected from the same fire department where his father had built his career, and where he hoped to follow in his father’s footsteps, because he has a medical marijuana card and tested positive for the drug, he says. He is now suing for discrimination.

      “The city has disqualified him from being a firefighter, which is a clear violation of the state law,” Bulerin’s lawyer told a local newspaper, referencing the state law that legalized medical marijuana in Connecticut in 2012.

      Challenging policies

      It’s not the first lawsuit to challenge employers over their marijuana policy. Brandon Coats spent three years working in tech support for Dish Network, the broadcasting corporation headquartered Colorado, where voters legalized medical marijuana back in the year 2000.

      The job was one of the few that Coats was able to do; a car accident in his youth left him paralyzed from the waist down and dependent on a wheelchair for his mobility. He obtained a medical marijuana card because the drug helped control his muscle spasms. Paralyzed patients and others with spinal injuries say that marijuana can help control clonus, the name for the condition that causes involuntary muscle spasms.

      But none of this mattered to dish. In 2010, Coats was one of several dozen employees who was asked to take a random drug test. Coats was fired because he tested positive for THC, which is known to stay in a user’s system well after the high has worn off.

      Coats sued. His lawsuit reached the Colorado Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled that employers could fire disabled people for legally using marijuana in states where it is regulated because the substance is still illegal under federal laws. Despite the disappointing outcome, Coats remained optimistic that this case could help others.

      "I think it should be legalized and me bringing the lawsuit forward will help with that. Small steps,” he told Consumer Affairs several years ago.

      Meanwhile, the more recent case that Bulerin has filed against the city of Bridgeport is expected to have its next hearing on February 21.

      “As long as he is not using the drug during working hours, he can’t be denied an employment opportunity,” his attorney told a local newspaper.

      A man who hoped to become a firefighter in Bridgeport, Connecticut is discovering what the disabled community and others have grappled with for decades: ev...

      Eddie Lampert says future Sears stores will be smaller

      The company may also go public

      Sears chairman and former CEO Eddie Lampert, whose $5.2 billion bid to buy Sears Holdings through his hedge fund ESL investments was approved earlier this month, told the Wall Street Journal that future Sears and Kmart stores will be smaller than they were in the past.

      “Our goal is to continue to shrink the size of our stores,” Lampert told the Journal. “If I had my druthers, I’d rather be bigger than smaller. We still have enough of a critical mass.”

      In addition to being about a third of the size that they were before the company went bankrupt, Lampert said future stores will have less apparel and more tools and appliances.

      Possibility of becoming a public company

      Lampert -- who now owns 425 stores in total (223 Sears and 202 Kmart stores) -- also told the Journal that Sears could eventually go public.

      “If I am a betting person, which I am, I would say at some point we would be public again,” Lampert said in the interview.

      Sears isn’t the first struggling brick-and-mortar retailer to announce that it’s changing its game plan in an effort to stay afloat. Last week, competitor J.C. Penney announced its decision to stop selling appliances as part of a larger home department reorganization.

      The retailer said that removing major appliances would help it "better meet customer expectations, improve financial performance, and drive profitable growth."

      Some have expressed skepticism over Sears’ post-bankruptcy revival plan.

      “They have a shot, but it’s a long shot,” Craig Johnson, president of consulting firm Customer Growth Partners, told the Journal.

      Sears chairman and former CEO Eddie Lampert, whose $5.2 billion bid to buy Sears Holdings through his hedge fund ESL investments was approved earlier this...

      Johnson & Johnson to acquire surgical robotics firm Auris

      The company is working on developing a ‘comprehensive digital ecosystem’ to assist surgeons and patients

      Johnson & Johnson announced on Wednesday that it is acquiring surgical robotics company Auris Health for $3.4 billion in cash, with the potential for an additional $2.35 billion in payments if Auris hits certain predetermined milestones.

      The pharmaceutical giant says the purchase is intended to accelerate its entry into robotics, “with potential for growth and expansion into other interventional applications.”

      "In this new era of health care, we're aiming to simplify surgery, drive efficiency, reduce complications and improve outcomes for patients, ultimately making surgery safer," said Ashley McEvoy, company group chair of consumer medical devices, in a statement. "Collectively, these technologies, together with our market-leading medical implants and solutions, create the foundation of a comprehensive digital ecosystem to help support the surgeon and patient before, during and after surgery."

      Moving into robotics

      Auris, which currently focuses on treating conditions such as lung cancer with its minimally invasive robotic camera, said it’s “thrilled to be joining Johnson & Johnson to help push the boundaries of what is possible in medical robotics and improve the lives of patients across the globe.”

      Under the partnership, Johnson & Johnson said it will be furthering its goal of developing a "connected digital ecosystem" that uses data and robotic technology to guide surgeons through procedures and support patients before, during, and after surgery.

      The deal is expected to close by the end of the second quarter of 2019.

      In recent years, Johnson & Johnson has taken several steps to bolster its presence in surgical robotics. Last February, the company acquired Orthotaxy -- a French company that is developing surgical robotic tools used primarily during knee surgeries. That acquisition came on the heels of a deal with Google parent Alphabet’s life sciences division Verily, which is exploring innovations in robot-assisted surgery.

      "We are very committed to our partnership with Verily on the development of the Verb Surgical Platform. Collectively, these technologies, together with our market-leading medical implants and solutions, create the foundation of a comprehensive digital ecosystem to help support the surgeon and patient before, during and after surgery," Ashley McEvoy, worldwide chairman of medical devices at Johnson & Johnson, said in a statement.

      Johnson & Johnson announced on Wednesday that it is acquiring surgical robotics company Auris Health for $3.4 billion in cash, with the potential for an ad...

      Poll shows consumers are feeling confident about their finances in 2019

      Confidence levels are at a nearly unprecedented level

      Almost three quarters of U.S. consumers (69 percent) said they expect their financial situation to improve over the next year, according to a new Gallup poll.

      This level of optimism hasn’t been reflected in one of Gallup’s financial confidence polls since 1998, when 71 percent of consumers expected to be better off financially the following year.

      “Only once in 114 polls going back to 1977 have Americans been more optimistic about their personal finances in the coming year than they are today,” Gallup stated.

      Fifty percent of Americans polled also said they’re better off today than they were a year ago, which Gallup’s research hasn’t shown since the Recession. The percentage of U.S. consumers who believe that they are worse off than a year ago also hit a low that hasn’t been seen in almost 20 years.

      “Ten years ago, as the Great Recession neared its end, the percentage saying their finances had improved from the previous year was at a record low of 23%. More than half the public, 54%, said they were worse off,” the report said. “Now, with unemployment below 1998 levels and the job market growing steadily, the number saying they are worse off than a year ago has dropped to 26%, the lowest level since October 2000.”

      Partisan differences

      Gallup noted that some partisan differences emerged in the poll results. Thirty-seven percent of Democrats said that they are worse off financially rather than better off. A year ago, that figure was 32 percent. By contrast, 68 percent of Republicans said their finances are in a better place now; just 10 percent said they are worse off.

      “The United States brought in the new year with a partial government shutdown that stretched through most of January and a growing sense of pessimism about the nation’s economy,” Gallup reported. “But in spite of the negative turn in the public’s views about the national economic picture, Americans are more upbeat now about their own finances than they have been in years.”

      Although this report suggested that a significant share of consumers are feeling confident about their financial situation, other research has suggested that consumers may be on shakier ground than they think.

      The Washington Post recently asked its readers about the current state of their finances and found that a “disturbingly high” number of consumers said they still live paycheck-to-paycheck.

      Almost three quarters of U.S. consumers (69 percent) said they expect their financial situation to improve over the next year, according to a new Gallup po...

      Researchers are helping advance self-driving car technology to better detect human movement

      The goal is to have these cars be safer than ever for public roads

      Self-driving cars have been a hot topic among technology experts and consumers alike in recent months. While many have been skeptical about the safety and reliability of autonomous vehicles, a new study shows how researchers are going the extra mile to ensure that pedestrians stay safe.

      Researchers from the University of Michigan are working on advancing the technology for self-driving cars so that they can better predict and recognize pedestrian movements.

      “Prior work in this area has typically only looked at still images,” said researcher Ram Vasudevan. “It wasn’t really concerned with how people move in three dimensions. But if these vehicles are going to operate and interact in the real world, we need to make sure our predictions of where a pedestrian is going doesn’t coincide with where the vehicle is going next.”

      Power of video clips

      The researchers started by switching from still images to short video clips of humans so the system could learn how people walk and how arms and legs are symmetrical on both sides.

      Rather than just processing a still picture, replaying the video over and over several times allowed the system to first predict where and how pedestrians will move and then assess the prediction for accuracy. The system can also see a three-dimensional view of humans and watch them move in real time.  

      According to researcher Matthew Johnson-Roberson, the system goes beyond just “making predictions of...one single thing,” and will instead be capable of determining “where that pedestrian’s body will be at the next stop and the next and the next.”

      The researchers parked a car at various intersections in Michigan and had it record several days worth of data to better train the system to understand pedestrians’ habits and tendencies in real time.

      Additionally, the researchers created the system to be in line with actual human capabilities, including things like realistic walking speed, so as to allow for the most accurate predictions. Based on early tests, the researchers are excited about the potential for the system, as it showed a very high accuracy for predicting what pedestrians would do next.

      “The median translation error of our prediction was approximately 10 cm after one second and less than 80 cm after six seconds,” said Johnson-Roberson. “All other comparison methods were up to seven meters off. We’re better at figuring out where a person is going to be.”

      The researchers are hopeful that this technology will “contribute to a safer, healthier, and more efficient living environment,” said researcher Xiaoxiao Du.

      Autonomous vehicle controversy

      The auto industry has seen mixed results when it comes to self-driving cars. While Volvo, Ford, and Honda seem to be all in on putting their models on the road in the next few years, a Toyota executive thinks the technology has received undue hype.

      The technology has certainly raised eyebrows, if nothing else. Uber has had its fair share of issues with self-driving vehicles over the last several months.

      Earlier last year, a self-driving Uber vehicle killed a woman in Phoenix, and the rideshare giant shut down its self-driving operation in the city at the beginning of the summer. By mid-July, the Pittsburgh branch also closed its doors.

      However, by year’s end, Uber reported that its self-driving cars were once again ready for public roads, and the company began the process of reapplying for testing privileges in Pittsburgh.

      “Our goal is to really work to regain that trust and to work to help move the entire industry forward,” Uber executive Noah Zych told The Washington Post. “We think the right thing to do is to be open and transparent about the things that we are doing.”

      Self-driving cars have been a hot topic among technology experts and consumers alike in recent months. While many have been skeptical about the safety and...

      Mortgage rates fall for most home buyers in January

      An industry report shows the rate for the average borrower dropped below 5 percent

      Home buyers have faced challenges over the last year because of rising mortgage rates, but those rates have dipped in the last month -- at least for buyers with the best credit.

      According to the latest monthly report from LendingTree, buyers with the best credit profiles were offered 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rates that averaged 4.19 percent, down from 4.35 percent in December.

      The difference of 16 basis points on a $200,000 mortgage lowers the monthly payment by $18.75.

      There was a bigger drop for consumers refinancing their mortgage. The average offer to refinance an existing loan fell from 4.34 percent to 4.14 percent.

      Credit scores a major factor

      LendingTree is a mortgage marketplace. It allows homebuyers to enter their information, and then participating mortgage lenders try to offer the most competitive terms. The company says while credit scores are a major factor in getting a low interest rate, other factors are also considered, such as the type of property, the borrower’s income, and the loan-to-value ratio.

      The average borrower also saw mortgage rates decline from December to January, but the average rate was higher than for those with the best credit profiles. The average mortgage rate for all borrowers was 4.98 percent, 19 basis points lower than in December.

      Mortgage rates have risen over the past 12 months, but home buyers caught a break in January when the rate on the 10-year Treasury bond -- a key benchmark for mortgages -- dropped from 3.18 percent in December to 2.5 percent.

      Credit scores made a big difference in the interest a home buyer paid in January. Buyers with a credit score of 760, which is considered “excellent,” secured a mortgage rate of 4.79 percent. Those with a score of 639 paid an average rate of 5.75 percent.

      That’s a difference of $119 a month on a $200,000 mortgage, underscoring one of the major benefits of improving your credit score.

      Lower rates good news for the market

      Realtors are hopeful that a softening of mortgage rates could help housing recover from a lackluster 2018. Home prices continued to rise in most markets, but the pace of home sales declined.

      Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors (NAR), said 2018 ended on a promising note, all things considered .

      “Home prices continued to rise in the vast majority of markets but with inventory steadily increasing, home prices are, on average, rising at a slower and healthier pace,” Yun said.

      Total existing-home sales, including single-family homes and condos, fell 1.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.180 million in the fourth quarter of last year, down from 5.273 million in the third quarter. That number is significantly lower than the sales pace during the fourth quarter of 2017.

      Home buyers have faced challenges over the last year because of rising mortgage rates, but those rates have dipped in the last month -- at least for buyers...

      Hearing loss linked as a sign of cognitive decline in old age

      However, a study shows that consumers could slow the effects of aging

      Not too many consumers want to think about getting older; however, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of California - San Diego may have people planning for the future.

      Researchers found that hearing loss is one of the first signs of advanced aging, and it could lead to cognitive difficulties in old age. However, according to the study, higher education can help with mild hearing loss.

      “We surmise that higher education may provide sufficient cognitive reserve to counter the effects of mild hearing loss, but not enough to overcome the effects of more severe hearing impairment,” said Linda K. McEvoy, PhD.

      Fighting hearing loss

      The researchers note that nearly 75 percent of adults over the age of 70 experience hearing loss, and they used this study to try to help combat any other aging issues that could come along with that.

      Using a longitudinal study, the researchers followed over 1,100 participants for about two and a half decades. The majority of the participants were women, and the average age was roughly 74 years old.

      None of the participants used a hearing aid when the study began, and they all had their hearing tested at the outset. Five additional examinations were conducted during the study period -- typically every four years.

      At the start of the study, the participants also completed several tests to analyze their cognitive functioning, and the researchers found that those with more severe hearing loss didn’t perform as well on these tests as those with more mild hearing loss.

      The tests revealed that less than 20 percent of participants had moderate to severe hearing loss, while nearly half of the group was classified as having mild hearing loss. However, the researchers found that participants who had finished college performed better cognitively over time than those who didn’t.

      “This was a somewhat unexpected finding,” said researcher Ali Alattar. “Others have postulated that cognitive deficits related to hearing impairment may arise from social isolation, but in our study, participants who had hearing impairment were as socially engaged as those without hearing loss.”

      The researchers hope these findings serve as a warning to healthcare professionals, and they encourage their patients to start protecting their hearing as early as possible.

      Other risks

      The researchers emphasize in their study that hearing loss cannot be reversed, and as their findings showed, patients can experience more than just impaired hearing.

      Another recent study found that hearing loss could be associated with premature death.

      The study found that those with spouses or partners were less likely to die early due to hearing loss; however, the researchers found that accidental deaths were a much larger risk for those who were on their own.

      “Old age greatly increases the risk for hearing loss,” said Dr. Vegard Skirbekk. “Therefore, as the population ages, we are seeing increasing numbers of people with hearing loss. At the same time, there are greater numbers of adults living without a partner -- putting people with hearing loss at an increased risk for death.”

      Not too many consumers want to think about getting older; however, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of California - San Diego may h...

      Ford recalls nearly 800k vehicles with airbag inflator issue

      The passenger front airbag inflator may explode

      Ford Motor Company is recalling the following 782,384 vehicles:

      Model year 2014 Ford Mustangs sold, or ever registered, in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands (Saipan) and the U.S. Virgin Islands -- or "Zone A."

      Model year 2011 Ford Rangers and Mercury Milans;, model year 2011-2012 Ford Fusions and Lincoln Zephyr/MKZs; and model year 2011-2014 Ford Mustangs sold, or ever registered, in Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia -- or "Zone B."

      Model year 2010 Ford Edges and Lincoln MKXs, model year 2010-2011 Ford Rangers and Mercury Milans, model year 2010-2012 Ford Fusion and Lincoln Zephyr/MKZs, and model year 2010-2014 Ford Mustangs sold, or ever registered, in Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming -- or "Zone C."

      The vehicles are equipped with airbag inflators assembled as part of the passenger front airbag modules, used as original equipment or replacement equipment (such as after a vehicle crash necessitating replacement of the original airbags), that may explode due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to high absolute humidity, temperature and temperature cycling.

      An inflator explosion may result in sharp metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will replace the passenger front airbag inflator, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin February 18, 2019.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall 19S01.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling the following 782,384 vehicles:Model year 2014 Ford Mustangs sold, or ever registered, in Alabama, California, Florida,...

      Target recalls toddler boots

      The unicorn horn on the boot can detach, posing a choking hazard

      Target Corp., of Minneapolis, Minn., is recalling about 22,600 pair of Cat & Jack Unicorn “Chiara” boots.

      The unicorn horn on the boot can detach, posing a choking hazard.

      Four consumers reported the unicorn’s horn detached. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall includes the Cat & Jack “Chiara” toddlers’ unicorn boots in sizes 5-13, and size 1. The boots are white with silver shimmer, include a white zipper, and white faux fur lining.

      The unicorn’s horn and inner ears are silver glitter and its eyelashes and nostrils are stitched and gray in color. At the base of the unicorn’s horn is pink, purple, and blue faux fur. The back and sides of the boots contain multi-colored stripes.

      The model numbers are located on the inside tag of the boot. The recalled model numbers begin with TARGET0930156XX, where XX corresponds to a specific sized boot.

      Item Number

      Product Name

      093-01-5653

      Cat & Jack "Chiara" Boots Size 5

      093-01-5654

      Cat & Jack "Chiara" Boots Size 6

      093-01-5655

      Cat & Jack "Chiara" Boots Size 7

      093-01-5656

      Cat & Jack "Chiara" Boots Size 8

      093-01-5657

      Cat & Jack "Chiara" Boots Size 9

      093-01-5658

      Cat & Jack "Chiara" Boots Size 10

      093-01-5659

      Cat & Jack "Chiara" Boots Size 11

      093-01-5660

      Cat & Jack "Chiara" Boots Size 12

      093-01-5661

      Cat & Jack "Chiara" Boots Size 13

      093-01-5662

      Cat & Jack "Chiara" Boots Size 1

      The boots, manufactured in China, were sold at Target stores nationwide, online at Target.com, and on Google Express from October 2018, through November 2018, for about $27.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately take the recalled boots away from children and return them to any Target Store for a full refund. ​​

      Consumers may contact Target at (800) 440-0680 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. (CT) daily or online at www.target.com and click on “Recalls” at the bottom of the page, then on “Clothing” for more information. Consumers can also click the “Product Recalls” tab on Target’s Facebook page for more information.

      Target Corp., of Minneapolis, Minn., is recalling about 22,600 pair of Cat & Jack Unicorn “Chiara” boots.The unicorn horn on the boot can detach, posin...