Current Events in January 2020

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2020

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    Living away from nature can make you less eco-conscious, study finds

    The findings explain why it’s important for urban consumers to reconnect with the great outdoors

    It can be invigorating for urban-dwelling consumers to get away from the cities they live in and spend some time in the great outdoors. Unfortunately, a recent study suggests that those who don’t get this chance may be more negatively affected than they think.

    Researchers from the University of Exeter suggest that those who don’t take time to reconnect with nature are less likely to make decisions that benefit the environment. Conversely, they say that those who are able to experience nature more often are more likely to make eco-conscious choices.

    “Over 80 percent of the English population now live in urban areas and are increasingly detached from the natural world,” said Dr. Ian Alcock, lead author of the study.

    “The results are correlational so there is always the issue of untangling cause and effect, but our results based on a very large representative sample are consistent with experimental work which shows that people become more pro-environmental after time spent in natural vs. urban settings,” added co-researcher Dr. Mat White.

    Creating green spaces

    The research team came to their conclusions after looking at survey responses from over 24,000 respondents. Participants answered questions about their exposure to nature, the number of trips they take to green spaces like parks and beaches, and their overall feelings about the natural world. 

    Responses showed that consumers who lived in greener neighborhoods or along the coast were more likely to make eco-friendly choices in their day-to-day lives. The finding held true against several factors, such as gender, age, and socioeconomic status. 

    To bring urban consumers into a more eco-friendly mindset, the researchers hope that city officials take greater steps when it comes to creating green spaces in cities that consumers can visit. 

    “Greening our cities is often proposed to help us adapt to climate change -- for example, city parks and trees can reduce urban heat spots. But our results suggest urban greening could help reduce the damaging behaviours which cause environmental problems in the first place by reconnecting people to the natural world,” said Alcock. 

    The full study has been published in the journal Environment International.

    It can be invigorating for urban-dwelling consumers to get away from the cities they live in and spend some time in the great outdoors. Unfortunately, a re...

    Model year 2006-2010 Ford, Mercury and Lincoln vehicles recalled

    The valves within the ABS Hydraulic Control Units may not close properly

    Ford Motor Company is recalling 600,166 model year 2006-2010 Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln Zephyr & MKZ vehicles.

    The valves within the ABS Hydraulic Control Units (HCU) may react with brake fluids containing specific corrosion preventative additives. This reaction may cause the valves to not close properly.

    If the valves do not properly close, additional brake pedal travel may be required to stop the vehicle, increasing the risk of a crash.

    What to do

    Ford will notify owners, and dealers will flush the brake system with DOT 4 fluid and install a new brake fluid reservoir cap.

    In addition, the HCU will be tested to detect a possible stuck valve condition, replacing the HCU as necessary.

    All services will be performed free of charge.

    Owners were notified of the safety risk with an interim letter on January 13, 2020.

    A second notice will be sent once parts are available, expected to be late in the first quarter of 2020.

    Owners may contact Ford customer service at (866) 436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 19S54.

    Ford Motor Company is recalling 600,166 model year 2006-2010 Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln Zephyr & MKZ vehicles.The valves within the ABS Hyd...

    FiveStar Gourmet Foods recalls fresh produce snacks

    The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

    FiveStar Gourmet Foods is recalling MiniMeal2Go-ProteinPacks and MiniMeal2Go- AvocadoToast.

    The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

    There are no reports of illness to date.

    The items, which come in a 6/8.25-oz and 6/6.75-oz clear plastic package marked with specific lots and expiration dates from December 26, 2019, through January 6, 2020, are being recalled. A full list can viewed on the FDA's site here.

    The recalled products were sold in Meijer supermarkets only in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but discard them.

    Customers with questions may contact FiveStar Gourmet Foods at (877) 546-8763, Monday – Friday from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm (PST).

    FiveStar Gourmet Foods is recalling MiniMeal2Go-ProteinPacks and MiniMeal2Go- AvocadoToast.The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes...

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      Meijer recalls diced hard boiled eggs

      The product be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Meijer is recalling frozen hard-boiled egg products used on two salad bars at two stores in Michigan.

      The product be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses are reported to date

      The recalled product, DICED EGGS FROZEN, 5-LB UPC – 79379900993, was sold between October 25 and December 23, 2019, at:

      • The Knapps Corner Meijer at 1997 East Beltline Road in Grand Rapids, Mich., and
      • The Rockford Meijer at 2799 10 Mile Road NE in Rockford, Mich.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should discard or return it to the nearest Meijer store for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact Meijer at (800) 543-3704, 24/7.

      Meijer is recalling frozen hard-boiled egg products used on two salad bars at two stores in Michigan.The product be contaminated with Listeria monocyto...

      Microsoft shuts down support for Windows 7

      Users are urged to update to Windows 10 and get a new PC

      If you’re someone who has been holding on to Windows 7 as your operating system (OS), it may be time to relent and make an upgrade. 

      Microsoft announced that as of January 14, it will no longer be providing support for the Windows 7 operating system. The company says that the end of support for the OS will mean that it will no longer provide technical support, software updates, or security updates or fixes. Because of that, users who choose to stick with Windows 7 will put themselves at great risk of being hacked or running into an issue that could compromise their PCs. 

      “While you could continue to use your PC running Windows 7, without continued software and security updates, it will be at greater risk for viruses and malware,” Microsoft stated.

      “After 10 years, support for Windows 7 is coming to an end on January 14, 2020. We know change can be difficult, so we are here to help you with recommendations for what to do next and to answer questions about end of support.”

      New PC needed?

      On its site, Microsoft says that users who are making an upgrade to its latest operating system, Windows 10, may be better off getting a new PC that is optimized for its performance.

      “Going forward, the best way for you to stay secure is on Windows 10. And the best way to experience Windows 10 is on a new PC. While it is possible to install Windows 10 on your device, it is not recommended,” the company said. 

      Before upgrading to a new OS, Microsoft also recommends that users back up their files and photos on an external hard drive or by using its OneDrive service. 

      For more information about the company, including consumer reviews, readers can visit ConsumerAffairs’ website here.

      If you’re someone who has been holding on to Windows 7 as your operating system (OS), it may be time to relent and make an upgrade. Microsoft announced...

      Gut bacteria could unlock new treatment for Parkinson’s disease

      Researchers say a probiotic found in the stomach could stop the disease from developing

      Consumers who develop Parkinson’s disease are all too aware of how it can wreak havoc on the nervous system and affect mobility. But findings from a recent study offer hope of a future treatment option that could prevent the disease altogether. 

      A team of researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh and Dundee found that a certain “good” bacteria in the gut was successful at stopping the formation of “toxic clumps” of a protein that is responsible for the disease. If used in the development of a treatment, the probiotic could prove to be a huge boon to consumers suffering from the disorder.

      “The results from this study are exciting as they show a link between bacteria in the gut and the protein at the heart of Parkinson’s...Studies that identify bacteria that are beneficial in Parkinson’s have the potential to not only improve symptoms but could even protect people from developing the condition in the first place,” said Dr. Beckie Port, a research manager at charity organization Parkinson’s UK.

      Fighting toxic clumps

      The researchers note that Parkinson’s disease is caused by the misfolding and build-up of a protein called alpha-synuclein. When these build-ups become big enough, they tend to form toxic clumps that kill cells that are responsible for producing dopamine, which starves the brain of the chemical and leads to issues with motor function. 

      To come to their findings, the researchers tested several over-the-counter probiotics in modified roundworms to see if any of them were effective at stopping these clumps from forming. They found that one type of bacteria called Bacillus subtilis was able to achieve this feat, which improved movement symptoms in the test subjects.

      Bacillus subtilis is most commonly found in a person’s gut, and the researchers hope that using it will allow for new innovations and treatment options.

      “The results provide an opportunity to investigate how changing the bacteria that make up our gut microbiome affects Parkinson’s,” said lead researcher Dr. Maria Doitsidou. 

      The team’s full study has been published in the journal Cell Reports.

      Consumers who develop Parkinson’s disease are all too aware of how it can wreak havoc on the nervous system and affect mobility. But findings from a recent...

      Google’s Big Tech peers show up with support in its Supreme Court fight with Oracle

      If Oracle wins, it will be much harder for companies to make software products that work with other programs

      A herd of tech companies including IBM and Microsoft are showing support for Google in its copyright infringement case with Oracle, a Supreme Court (SCOTUS) case that could dictate how software is created from this point on.

      While every company that lives in the House of Big Tech aren’t exactly BFFs, they all know that there could be trouble if the SCOTUS sides with Oracle.

      What’s at stake

      In its case, Oracle stated that Google infringed upon its software by implementing it into its own Android operating system. Defenders point out that Google only used a small portion of Oracle's Java SE, and doing this only allowed the Android system to work more seamlessly with the platform's apps.

      At bottom in the case is the issue of whether copyright law bars the commonplace practice of software reimplementation, “[t]he process of writing new software to perform certain functions of a legacy product,” argued Abigail Phillips of Mozilla, the company behind the Firefox interface.

      Phllips points out that Google’s repurposing of Oracle’s software was “for the sake of interoperability -- enabling Java apps to work with Android and Android apps to work with Java, and enabling Java developers to build apps for both platforms without needing to learn the new conventions and structure of an entirely new platform.”

      “We believe that a healthy internet depends on the Supreme Court reversing the Federal Circuit and reaffirming the current state of play for software development, in which copyright does not stand in the way of software developers reusing (single sign-on) for API* packages in socially, technologically, and economically beneficial ways,” Phillips concluded. 

      *API stands for Application Programming Interface -- a software intermediary tool that allows two applications to “talk” to each other. One example is the Apple (iOS) API that's used to detect touchscreen interchanges. 

      One winner, lots of losers

      What is it they say about no good deed goes unpunished?

      Google has already reigned victorious twice at the U.S. District Court level for this case. However, a federal appeals court overturned the verdict, giving Oracle the judgment -- a decision that was widely viewed as “disastrous.”

      Now, 175 of Google’s competitors -- as well as nonprofits and individuals -- have come forward with 15 signed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the tech giant’s argument. That support group includes Shopify, Etsy, Reddit, Wikimedia, and Medium.

      Not to say Oracle speaks with a forked tongue, but when Google first released its Android system that included that tiny bit of Oracle software, the creators of Java (then owned by Sun Microsystems) celebrated its release, saying that it had “strapped another set of rockets to the [Java] community's momentum."

      “If the [Supreme] Court upholds Oracle’s win, it will be much harder for companies to make software products that work with other programs,” Mark Lemley, director of the Stanford University law school’s Law, Science, and Technology program, told Quartz.

      He went on to say that, technically, Google actually didn’t copy the APIs themselves; it wrote its own code to implement the existing functions. But Google had to use the standard Java structure for those interfaces or Java wouldn’t run on Android.

      A herd of tech companies including IBM and Microsoft are showing support for Google in its copyright infringement case with Oracle, a Supreme Court (SCOTUS...

      Chevy’s iconic Corvette named North American Car of the Year

      The Kia Telluride and Jeep Gladiator won SUV and truck honors

      The Chevrolet Corvette Stingray apparently just gets better with age. The iconic American sports car, which debuted in 1959, was declared the North American Car of the Year at the TCF Center in Detroit.

      The Kia Telluride took top honors in the SUV category while the Jeep Gladiator drove off with best truck honors.

      The winners were chosen by a panel of 50 jurors from print, online, radio, and broadcast media across the U.S. and Canada. The sponsors say that process allows for a better cross-section and diversity of opinion.

      All of the vehicles under consideration were judged on segment leadership, innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value for the dollar.

      Car of the Year

      The judges said they found no shortage of worthy cars for consideration this year. In the end, however, it was the Stingray that stood out.

      "A mid-engine Corvette was a huge risk for Chevy's muscle-car icon,” said Henry Payne, auto critic for The Detroit News. “They nailed it. Stunning styling, interior, and performance for one-third of the cost of comparable European exotics." 

      The base Stingray starts at an MSRP of just under $60,000.

      Utility Vehicle of the Year

      There was intense competition in the utility vehicle of the year, as nearly all carmakers have been increasing resources into producing these popular models. This class of vehicles requires the perfect combination of design, features, and functionality. This year, the Kia Telluride drove to the top of the class.

      "The Telluride's interior layout and design would meet luxury SUV standards, while its refined drivetrain, confident driving dynamics, and advanced technology maintain the premium experience," said Karl Brauer, executive publisher at Cox Automotive. 

      "Traditional SUV brands take note: there's a new star player on the field."

      Truck of the Year

      Along with SUVs, trucks have become popular with consumers in this era of low gasoline prices. The jurors had a lot to choose from and a lot to consider. Ultimately, they selected the Jeep Gladiator as the winner.

      "What's not to like about a pickup truck with not only a soft-top removable roof but even removable doors? If you want massive cargo-hauling capability or the ability to tow 10,000 pounds, buy something else," said longtime automotive journalist John Voelcker. "The eagerly awaited Gladiator is a one-of-a-kind truck, every bit the Jeep its Wrangler sibling is ... but with a pickup bed. How could you possibly get more American than that?"

      In the Car of the Year category, the Hyundai Sonata and Toyota Supra finished with Corvette in the top three. The Hyundai Palisade and Lincoln Aviator were finalists among SUVs; and the Ford Ranger and Ram Heavy Duty were in the hunt for top truck honors.

      The Chevrolet Corvette Stingray apparently just gets better with age. The iconic American sports car, which debuted in 1959, was declared the North America...

      Online videos can help consumers learn more about cancer prevention

      Researchers say the educational tool can help raise awareness

      Though researchers have found that cancer-related deaths are steadily declining, it’s important that consumers stay up-to-date on warning signs or potential symptoms of the disease. 

      According to a new study conducted by researchers from Rutgers University, online videos are one such way consumers can stay informed and keep their cancer knowledge sharp. 

      “This review demonstrates the benefit of using digital videos for cancer health education, ranging from cancer prevention to treatment,” said researcher Nicholas Acuna. 

      Staying informed

      The researchers were most interested in understanding where consumers are already going to get health-related content, as well as what they already know about cancer and how gaining new information can help them be more proactive about their healthcare. 

      Though social media continues to be one of the most popular ways that consumers get new information, this study revealed that watching educational videos on YouTube -- more so than on any other streaming site or social media platform -- yielded the best outcomes for study participants. 

      Watching these kinds of videos with regularity not only gave consumers more information about cancer, but it also led to more doctor’s visits about potential health concerns and more consumers performing their own at-home checks. 

      Reaching a wider audience

      The researchers were able to see firsthand how effective watching these videos can be for consumers’ overall knowledge and well-being. Going forward, they’re hoping to disseminate such videos to a wider, more diverse audience. 

      Because of how clear the progress was, the researchers believe this is a prime opportunity to help spread this message to those in underserved populations. 

      “While digital health videos addressing cancer can lead to improved health and well-being, the direction we should begin to go is to reach the needs of disadvantaged populations,” said researcher Pamela Valera. “Videos are an inexpensive way to deliver a clear, consistent message, and they allow viewers to proceed or re-watch at their own pace, which make them especially effective for people with low health literacy.” 

      Though researchers have found that cancer-related deaths are steadily declining, it’s important that consumers stay up-to-date on warning signs or potentia...

      Restaurant hygiene are influenced by health inspections and customer reviews

      Researchers say consumers have some sway when it comes to the cleanliness of restaurants

      Despite many New Year’s resolutions to eat healthy, many consumers are still eating out with regularity. One recent study shows that all that extra time at restaurants could be affecting how clean those businesses are.

      According to researchers, restaurants are most likely to maintain proper hygiene immediately before a health inspection or after being prompted by customer reviews. 

      “Online reviews of restaurants can effectively identify cases of hygiene violation even after the restaurants have been inspected and certified, thereby identifying moral hazard,” said researcher Shawn Mankand. 

      Poorer hygiene after health inspections

      To understand what was behind restaurants’ push towards better hygiene practices, the researchers honed in on restaurants in New York City, analyzing both customer Yelp reviews and official health inspection data from 2010 through 2016. 

      While many customers want to be able to trust health inspections, they typically only occur on an annual basis. Though they are unannounced, meaning that restaurants should always be operating as if they’re going to be inspected, this isn’t always the case -- especially as more and more establishments are opening their doors. 

      “Based on the dictionary word counts, we find that roughly 30 percent of all restaurants in New York City deteriorate in terms of their hygiene within 90 days of certification from the health department,” said Markand. 

      Rely on reviews

      Health inspection results are available to the public. With a simple internet search, consumers can see what their favorite eateries ranked on their latest evaluation. However, because of how infrequently health inspections are performed and the surprising statistics about how restaurants perform after such inspections, the researchers recommend that consumers look to other customers’ reviews when deciding where to eat or order from next. 

      Online reviews make it easy for customers to report on their experiences, and the researchers also found that they could potentially have sway in when health inspectors make their annual visits. 

      “Traditional techniques to detect and prevent moral hazard, such as rigorous inspections and a strong set of incentives, contribute toward decreasing these inefficiencies in the market,” said Markand. “However, we believe that techniques of text analysis within the domain of machine learning, alongside access to crowd-sourced data from online review platforms such as Yelp, can further enhance the efficiency of hygiene inspections.” 

      Despite many New Year’s resolutions to eat healthy, many consumers are still eating out with regularity. One recent study shows that all that extra time at...

      The cost of living rose slightly in December

      The Labor Department reports that 2019’s inflation rate was 2.3 percent

      The Labor Department reports its Consumer Price Index (CPI), the chief way it measures inflation, rose 0.2 percent in December, a slowdown from the 0.3 percent rise the month before.

      Taking the previous 11 months into consideration, the official inflation rate for all of 2019 was 2.3 percent, in line with the Federal Reserve’s target. Even so, it was the largest 12-month increase in prices since 2018.

      But whether or not you felt financially stressed last month all depends on what you purchased. The cost of gasoline, housing, and health care all went up last month, accounting for most of the increase in the overall CPI.

      The food index, which measures costs for food consumed at home and in restaurants, also went up by 0.2 percent. When food and energy are removed from the equation, prices rose just 0.1 percent.

      The monthly report shows that consumers also paid more last month for clothing, car insurance, new vehicles, and recreation. They paid less for used cars and trucks, household furnishings and operations, and airline fares.

      Energy led the increase

      Energy costs made the biggest move last month, primarily due to rising gasoline prices. The energy index was up 1.4 percent in December, its third straight increase. 

      Energy was driven higher by a 2.8 percent jump in the gasoline component, as prices at the pump drifted higher at a time they were predicted to fall. By the end of the year, the average price of gasoline was about 36 cents a gallon higher than the year before.

      Food costs were pushed higher by increases in prices for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs. It was the only grocery store group to go up in price, rising 1.3 percent. Within that group, beef and eggs posted the largest increases.

      Analysts say the overall inflation number, which remains tame, is likely to persuade the Fed that it’s on the right course and there should be no adjustment in interest rates, at least in the near term.

      The Labor Department reports its Consumer Price Index (CPI), the chief way it measures inflation, rose 0.2 percent in December, a slowdown from the 0.3 per...

      Nearly 700,000 Toyota and Lexus vehicles recalled

      The fuel pump may stop operating

      Toyota is recalling about 696, 0000 of the following vehicles:

      • Model year 2018-2019 Lexus LS 500s, LC 500s, RC 350s, RC 300s, GS 350s, IS 300s, ES 350s, LX 570s, GX 460s, & RX 350s
      • Model year 2019 Lexus NX 300s, RX 350Ls, & GS 300s
      • Model year 2018-2019 Toyota 4Runners, Camrys, Highlanders, Land Cruisers, Sequoias, Siennas, Tacomas, & Tundras, and
      • Model year 2019 Toyota Avalons and Corollas.

      The recalled vehicles are equipped with a fuel pump that may stop operating.

      If this were to occur, warning lights and messages may be displayed on the instrument panel, and the engine may run rough.

      This can result in a vehicle stall, and the vehicle may be unable to be restarted. If a vehicle stall occurs while driving at higher speeds, this could increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      A remedy is currently under development.

      Owners will be notified by first class mail by mid-March and work will be done free of charge.

      Owners may contact Toyota at (800) 331-4331 or Lexus at (800) 255-3987.

      Toyota is recalling about 696, 0000 of the following vehicles: Model year 2018-2019 Lexus LS 500s, LC 500s, RC 350s, RC 300s, GS 350s, IS 300s, ES 35...

      Honda recalls model year 2019-2020 CR-Vs

      The rear subframe could separate, disabling the vehicle

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 358 model year 2019-2020 CR-Vs.

      The rear subframe bolts were improperly manufactured and may loosen, allowing the rear subframe to separate.

      A separated rear subframe reduces vehicle handling and can suddenly disable the vehicle, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the rear subframe bolts and retorque them or replace them, as necessary, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin January 17, 2020.

      Owners may contact Honda customer service at (888) 234-2138. Honda's number for this recall is R6M.

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 358 model year 2019-2020 CR-Vs.The rear subframe bolts were improperly manufactured and may loosen, allowing the...

      Consumers’ FICO scores on the rise

      Repairing credit takes work, but there are ways it can be done

      Consumers are getting better at handling finances, if one’s to believe Experian’s 2019 Consumer Credit Review.

      The U.S. economy has been put through its paces in the last two years, but it never completely fell off the cliff. With no fevered financial brow to wipe, consumers showed their appreciation with record holiday spending in 2019, buying billions of products and signing up for millions of Prime accounts at Amazon as an example.

      “While it's difficult to predict whether the economy will see continued growth this year, we can look back at 2019 to examine consumer credit behavior for clues on how Americans have responded to economic trends,” theorized Experian’s Matt Tatham, manager of content insights and data analyst at Experian Consumer Services. “The data also can reveal how consumers have rebounded from the Great Recession of 10 years ago and what their path might be going forward.”

      Most consumers have FICO scores of 700+

      While a FICO score of 850 is still the holy grail, scores of 700+ are considered good, and the report says there’s lots of consumers who are at that level. Tatham says that having 59 percent of consumers with that score is “the biggest percentage ever seen at that level.” 

      "Americans are making better credit decisions, reflected by the 703 average FICO Score in 2019, which is an indication of consumers being more educated on their credit,” says Shannon Lois, Experian's head of analytics, consulting and operations. "Late-payment rates have decreased for several credit products this past decade. Credit card balances saw moderate growth over time along with overall consumer debt signaling healthy credit behavior that provides confidence to lenders."

      Millennials improving their credit

      While millennials might be perceived as a quagmire of financial responsibility, they’re the ones who should be thanked for pushing the average credit score up.

      “Millennials ... are finally hitting their credit stride. Their economic emergence is reflected by a 25-point increase in average FICO Score since 2012 (the earliest available Experian data)—the biggest increase of any generation,” found Experian. 

      “With an average FICO Score of 668, millennials' improving credit shows opportunity for reaching an average in the "good" FICO Score range if growth trends continue.”

      42 states upped their average FICO Score

      The report said that, since 2018, 42 states have shown improved average FICO Scores. Minnesota led the way on the back of a seven point increase, more than double its partners in the Top 5 -- South Dakota, North Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin. 

      Michigan and Nevada residents are worthy of a shout-out. They proved they were becoming more financially trustworthy, evidenced by having the largest increase of any other state over five years, at 13 points.

      And the rest of the country? Nine states showed no change at all in their average score and 34 had an average score of 700 or higher, which is in par with what those states the year before. Over the past five years, 10 states improved their average credit scores by 10 or more points. 

      Want a good credit score? Rub shoulders with the folks in Boulder

      Among U.S. metro areas, Boulder, Colorado kept hold of the number one position on city-to-city basis. It had the highest average FICO Score in 2019 at 743 -- 40 points higher than the national average.

      Overall, 78 percent of U.S. metro areas saw their average FICO Scores increase in 2019. That includes 60 percent of metro areas with a FICO Score average of 700 or higher, 7 percentage points higher than in 2018. Nine metro areas improved their FICO Score average to move into the coveted 700-and-higher score range.

      Minnesota and Wisconsin can thank their homies in Rochester and Madison for pulling their weight. Compared to the other Top 50 Metros, those cities were in a dead heat for second place with average scores of 740.

      By the way, do you know what a FICO score is?

      FICO’s origins go back to 1956 and comes from Bill Fair and Earl Isaac, who met when they worked at the Stanford Research Institute. The two took their last names and turned them into “FICO” for the “Fair Isaac Corporation.” 

      Little by little, FICO has grown into a consumer’s best friend or worst nightmare. The company’s metrics are used by 90 percent of the lending community.

      Credit scores are tricky little devils. ConsumerAffairs has produced a guide both on credit scores and credit reporting sites. If you’re a consumer who’d like to improve their credit score, it might be worth your time to look further into what we found.

      Consumers are getting better at handling finances, if one’s to believe Experian’s 2019 Consumer Credit Review. The U.S. economy has been put through its pa...

      Forty percent of gun owners keep their guns unlocked at home, study finds

      Researchers found that having kids around doesn’t change things

      A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Washington found that nearly half of all gun owners are keeping their guns unlocked at home. 

      The survey focused on Washington residents, all of whom had attended gun safety events where they received free devices to lock up their guns. However, 40 percent of survey respondents reported not locking their guns at home. Unfortunately, having kids around didn’t improve this behavior. 

      “Even in this population, which had some interest in or awareness of firearm safety, there was a high prevalence of unlocked firearms,” said researcher Aisha King. 

      Prioritizing gun safety

      The researchers surveyed attendees of 10 gun safety events in Washington State that occurred between 2015 and 2018. Participants were asked to report on their gun safety habits, including how they most often stored their firearms at home. 

      This population was unique in that they were not only all gun owners, but they were attending events designed to enhance safety around guns. Participants even received proper training on the safest ways to store guns in the home. 

      “The purpose of the events is to increase the use of safe firearm storage, an evidence-based strategy to reduce firearm-related injuries and death,” said Elizabeth Bennett, co-director of the gun safety events at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “Our goal is to create a more comfortable environment to learn about locking up firearms and to have the devices ready to use right away.” 

      The survey findings showed that 40 percent of participants typically did not lock up their guns at home, even when kids were around. Moreover, nearly 15 percent of participants said their guns in the home were loaded and left unlocked. 

      These results emphasize the importance of following gun safety, especially when kids are in the house, as leaving guns unlocked and loaded can increase the risk of any number of injuries or accidents

      “A lot of times, the kids do know,” said King. “Also, guardians might think that training adolescent or older children is enough to keep them safe, that training means they don’t have to lock their guns. Unfortunately, a lot of adolescents are at high risk of suicide, and unlocked guns add to that risk -- regardless of training.” 

      A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Washington found that nearly half of all gun owners are keeping their guns unlocked at home....

      Tesla automobiles might soon be speaking to pedestrians

      This latest twist might prove to be a benchmark other auto manufacturers have to match down the line

      Elon Musk has been watching way too much throwback TV. Musk’s Tesla cars might, a la KITT in ‘Knight Rider,” soon be talking to pedestrians if we’re to take him at his word in his latest Twitter post.

      “Teslas will soon talk to people if you want. This is real,” the Tesla investor tweeted on Saturday night.

      Questions and answers

      Taking to Twitter -- despite Tesla shareholder’s concerns -- seems to be Musk’s favorite communications channel. In his follow-up tweets, he expanded his talking car idea and answered questions from his followers:

      • “And, of course, your car will be able to (fart emoji) in their general direction” (Musk may also be on a Monty Python kick.)

      • One of Musk’s Twitter followers asked if the talking application can be added to sentry mode? Musk answered, “For sure!! This will make for some epic robber confusion.”

      There were, however, some things that Musk left unanswered.

      • “Can they also talk to other Teslas? I want my future Tesla to make friends with other Teslas at the Supercharger.”

      • “Can we choose female voices instead? Or more voice options?”

      • One of Tesla’s cheerleader squads -- Tesla Owners of Massachusetts -- piped in, asking, “Love this! Will it require the pedestrian warning speaker? Or is that the internal speakers?”

      • “Can those who don’t have the pedestrian speaker get it retrofitted???”

      • In homage to Google, another asked, “Any chance we can get ‘Hey Tesla/Vehicle name’ voice commands no button required?”

      Other suggestions

      While a tad off-subject, Musk’s Twitter followers thought they’d jump in with suggestions other than their Tesla’s talking to pedestrians. Some of the queries included:

      • “Will we ever see Teslas be able to receive amber alert notifications and use the cameras to scan other cars around it for the specified license plate number and automatically report the location live?

      • “Is there a possibility of having Amazon Alexa integrated into the car (or something like it)?”

      Leave it to Musk

      Musk’s indifference to regulations has made a lot of headlines over the years. However, if not anything else, he is creative -- and he could also be setting the automotive tech benchmark others will eventually be forced to work from.

      Still, he has current believers, too. Microsoft just wrote him a check for a billion dollars to help fund an artificial intelligence initiative.

      Elon Musk has been watching way too much throwback TV. Musk’s Tesla cars might, a la KITT in ‘Knight Rider,” soon be talking to pedestrians if we’re to tak...

      Air pollution could put children at greater risk of schizophrenia

      Researchers aren’t sure why the relationship exists, but their findings are concerning

      Recent studies have explored the ways that children’s physical and mental health can be affected by air pollution. Now, a new study conducted by researchers from Aarhus University found yet another way that it can affect young people. 

      According to the researchers, exposure to higher levels of air pollution during childhood could increase the risk of developing schizophrenia. 

      “This study shows that the higher the level of air pollution, the higher the risk of schizophrenia,” said researcher Henriette Thisted Horsdal. “For each 10 [milligrams per cubic meter] increase in the daily average, the risk of schizophrenia increases by approximately 20 percent. Children who are exposed to an average daily level above 25 [milligrams per cubic meters] have an approximately 60 percent greater risk of developing schizophrenia compared to those who are exposed to less than 10 [milligrams per cubic meters].” 

      Understanding the risks

      The researchers conducted a population-based study to determine the relationship between air pollution and schizophrenia, evaluating data from over 23,000 participants. 

      In addition to DNA testing, which would help the researchers assess the genetic component responsible for schizophrenia, they also took note of the participants’ addresses as a way to measure the air pollution they were exposed to during childhood. 

      Ultimately, over 3,500 participants developed schizophrenia. The study revealed that this was most common for those who lived in areas with the highest levels of air pollution during their childhood. 

      Though the association was clear for the researchers analyzing the data, the reason for the correlation remains a mystery.

      “The risk of developing schizophrenia is also higher if you have a higher genetic liability for the disease,” said Horsdal. “Our data shows that these associations are independent of each other. The association between air pollution and schizophrenia cannot be explained by a higher genetic liability in people who grow up in areas with high levels of air pollution.” 

      Recent studies have explored the ways that children’s physical and mental health can be affected by air pollution. Now, a new study conducted by researcher...