Analyzing the top news stories across the web

Dec. 1 2014 12:40 PM

What 12 Days of Christmas Would Cost You Today

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

The cost of Christmas is up 1 percent, according to PNC. The bank calculates a Christmas Price Index based on the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” This year, buying the whole song will set you back $27,673.21.

Most of the 12 goods and services that go into the index were unchanged, even the price of swans ($7,000), which has traditionally been the most volatile.

The big swing in prices this year came from the geese, which jumped to $360 from $210 last year. Partridges also increased in price, to $20 from $15. (Who knew partridges were so cheap?)

“While there are exceptions in given years, what’s most interesting about the index’s history is that since the beginning, year-over-year increases have averaged 2.8 percent, which is exactly the same number as the U.S. inflation index,” according to Jim Dunigan, the chief investment officer at PNC Wealth Management.

Here’s the full index:



The real lesson here seems to be: Don’t try to buy your birds online.

There’s no word yet on how the Fed might take this into account when it comes to rate hikes.  

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Nov. 28 2014 1:12 PM

Flying Home on Lufthansa? Make Sure You Packed Clean Laundry.

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

I’ve learned the hard way—much to my mother’s delight—that not washing dirty laundry for three months is a terrible idea.

But perhaps more importantly, I’ve learned that while losing luggage is a HUGE pain, there is potential for a happy ending.

My sister Katherine and I went on a 15-day vacation to Malta this August. It was one of the most amazing trips of my life. But what matters for this tale is that we had no access to laundry machines during our trip, so we stuffed our dirty clothing into garbage bags inside our suitcases. To be economical (and have the chance to explore some other cities), we elected to take daylong layovers in Catania, Italy and Munich, Germany. We didn’t want to lug around our suitcases so we jumped at the chance when the attendant at the Malta airport told us it was possible for our bags to meet us at Newark Airport when we arrived home two days later.

We came to really regret this decision. We arrived home. Our bags did not. And thus began my odyssey.

At first, we assumed that it would be a short delay. And that, it turns out, is often the case. According to one industry source, airlines mishandle (delay, damage or lose) 7 bags per 1,000 passengers. Here are a few other statistics that might interest travelers over the holiday:

·      81 percent of mishandled bags are delayed and are returned to owners undamaged within 36 hours

·      16 percent arrive at their destinations damaged

·      3 percent are declared lost or stolen

Amazing things happen to unclaimed bags (see later in my story).  The average compensation per mishandled bag is reportedly $100.

As I learned, airlines don’t make the compensation process easy. Does the name Dave Carroll ring a bell? He wrote a hugely popular (we’re talking over 14 million YouTube views) song called “United Breaks Guitars” after his nearly yearlong experience. The hilarious song significantly damaged the airline’s reputation and eventually spurred United’s customer relations department into action:

And just a few weeks ago, World Wrestling Heavyweight Champion Dolph Ziggler had a similarly stressful luggage experience. United mistakenly sent his bag, which contained his WWE Heavyweight Champion Belt, to Canada. Dolph tweeted prolifically about the situation for 5 days. He jokingly described his relationship with United as being “complicated” and he even wrote some song lyrics about the debacle to accompany Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”

I understand Dave and Dolph’s frustrations. In the month following Lufthansa’s loss of our two bags, we phoned the Lufthansa Baggage Call Center daily to see if there were any updates. Each time we were told that there was no further information and that the bags remained “missing without a trace.” When we inquired about compensation, we were informed that we could only file a claim after the bags had been lost for 30 days. At that point, the airline would declare the bags irretrievably lost.  

In the meantime, we desperately scavenged for clothes in our significantly depleted wardrobes. The underwear situation was particularly desperate. We refused to purchase new items because we didn’t want to pay out of pocket for replacements. We elected to wait for compensation, which we hoped wouldn’t take too long.

As soon as the 30-day mark rolled around, we sent an email to Lufthansa Customer Relations to file our claim, as instructed. There was no operator to deal with this process so all correspondence was done via email. Moments after I sent our initial claim email, I received an automated message from Lufthansa: “We apologize that we are currently unable to get back to you as quickly as we would like to. We kindly ask you for your patience and thank you for your understanding.”

Our patience and understanding were thoroughly tested in the following couple months when Lufthansa didn’t get back to us. Although we sent several more emails (increasingly irate in tone) and called the Baggage Claim Center many more times (each time we were told that the “Baggage Claim Center has no involvement in customer compensation”), we received no further communications.

During this time, I created a family email thread entitled “Council of War” in which we exchanged messages proposing strategies for fighting our “battle against Lufthansa.”

Tactics included threatening legal action, leaving never-ending messages on their voicemail machine, and writing a letter to the New York Times to publicize Lufthansa’s infamy and inquire about potential next steps. Growing battle-weary, we never actually did any of these things.

As the seasons changed, our frustration stemmed less from the lack of clothing (the underwear supply remained desperate) and more from Lufthansa’s silence. We felt like we were being punished for Lufthansa’s error. We had made detailed lists of the contents in our bags in readiness for filing our claim and we estimated that we had each lost at least $1,500. With sufficient compensation, we knew almost everything could be replaced. There were a few items—a souvenir Maltese cross cookie cutter and my journal of three years in which I had recorded the major dramas of my young life—that were irreplaceable, and we particularly lamented the loss of these.

As we approached the three-month anniversary of the incident, we had basically given up hope. We had accepted that our belongings were lost forever and we were starting to believe that Lufthansa would never give us the money we were owed.

It was around this time of hopeless resignation, however, that Newark Airport randomly called us one evening. They said one of our bags had been discovered. It arrived soon thereafter. To my delight, the rediscovered bag was mine! 

Oddly enough, an hour later, the second suitcase arrived at our door. No explanation.

Where had the suitcases been hiding for three months? Why had they arrived on the same day but at different times? “They must’ve been on an extended vacation to Paris or Hawaii,” my dad speculated, overcome by the absurdity of the situation.

Upon opening the aforementioned dirty-clothes bags for the first time in three months, we were overwhelmed by the emanating odors. While my mother lamented that these gross items were entering her house, we celebrated the safe return of all of our belongings (especially the cookie cutter and my diary). We also rediscovered two packages of Maltese nougat that we had purchased for our mother, a self proclaimed “nougat snob.” We opened the nougat that very night and had to throw it away. Apparently even the finest nougat shouldn’t be stored in suitcases with dirty clothes for several months.

My mom wanted us to just throw everything away, but when we stubbornly (and sensibly) refused, she insisted that we put everything out on the deck. “There’s no way that gross stuff is staying in this house!” It took us a couple weeks to finish the laundry because she required that we wash each load no fewer than three times.

Within that time, however, one of our cats had discovered my odorous suitcase. Understandably confusing it for his cat box (he is cross-eyed so the visual differences might have been unclear but it smelled powerfully of “toilet”), he proceeded to use it as his bathroom. The clothing was spared this soiling, but the already malodorous suitcase was, at last, relegated to the garbage.

The return of our summer wardrobes wasn’t as useful as it might’ve been since it was the end of October at that point. However, the wide selection of underwear and socks to choose from each day was positively luxurious. Life couldn’t be better!

Except somehow the situation got even better (and more ridiculous). Lufthansa once again threw us for a loop. Just two days after the return of the bags, they finally responded to our email: 

 “Lufthansa strives to provide worry-free travel and like you, we are disappointed when this goal is not achieved. Please accept our sincere apologies for this experience. Our employees immediately did everything they could in order to find your baggage and forward it to you as quickly as possible. We regret this did not happen. In order to prevent you from experiencing any further inconvenience relating to this matter, even though it shows the bags have since been located, we will settle your claim for compensation within the scope of our liability.” 

We were each promised a check for $1,741 in the next 21 days. This seemingly random sum, as we were informed in the email, is determined by Special Drawing Rights, a form of money created by the International Monetary Fund that is used to settle international disputes. Somehow, we were being awarded maximum compensation for Lufthansa’s peculiar handling of our luggage. In fact, this seems just, given the months of frustration and ultimate demise of several items, including the luggage itself.

I’m debating whether to use this money for a new winter wardrobe or a plane ticket to Greece this summer. (I’ll be sure to carry on my luggage.)

Or maybe we should use the money to take road trip to Alabama for a shopping spree at the Unclaimed Baggage Center. This, I discovered, is where bags end up when they go missing. The store occupies an entire block in Scottsboro, Alabama and is one of the state’s top tourist attractions. It draws visitors from all 50 states and another 40 foreign countries. As one can imagine, there is a wide range of merchandise to choose from (everything from fine jewels to someone else’s ashes). And there’s no need to fret about bedbugs—all items are professionally cleaned! 

I’m considering writing a song about my experience so I can become a YouTube sensation like Dave Carroll. I’m not very musically talented, but my song (unlike Carroll’s) would feature an appealingly happy ending. “Lufthansa Returns Soiled Laundry” does have a catchy ring to it.

Nov. 26 2014 3:27 PM

Shares of Taser International Spike After Ferguson Unrest

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

Shares of Taser International are up more than 6 percent in afternoon trade Wednesday after the company announced the Winston-Salem police department ordered more than 600 body cameras from the company.

In a release Wednesday, Taser said the Winston-Salem police department would buy 623 AXON body-worn video cameras and that the order was received during the fourth quarter. 

Taser makes body cameras and other safety gear.

The latest order from the Winston-Salem department follows an initial order of 293 cameras made in July.

Back in the summer, shares of Taser rallied after protests in Ferguson, Missouri, first broke out following the shooting death of Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.

Protests have again broken out in Ferguson and across the country after a grand jury on Monday said it would not indict Wilson for his role in the death of Brown.

In August, some in the market attributed the strength in Taser shares to speculation that more police departments around the country would purchase the company's body cameras for more widespread use among their officers. 

In addition to Wednesday's rally, Taser shares have gained more than 40 percent in the past month.


Google Finance

Nov. 26 2014 11:54 AM

This Company Knows When You’re About to Quit Your Job

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

Workday is an HR technology company that wants to tell your employer that you're planning to leave your job—ideally before you've even started looking for your next gig.

While this might sound like a sort of terrifying Big Brother scenario, it has less to do with mind control than it does with statistics. Workday’s new software, which it hopes to release next year, works by looking at your career progression and comparing it with other employees who have followed a similar path. So if other people in your position have left the company after an average of two years on the job, Workday could send your bosses a note letting them know you might be getting ready to split.

The idea is to be able to give its clients recommendations, like “give Jane a promotion,” that would allow them to keep their most talented employees. “This is not skynet, we’re not trying to kill all humans here,” Workday VP of technology products Dan Beck tells Business Insider. “This is just sort of augmenting your judgment.”

Workday is a nine-year-old company that makes software to help large companies manage payroll, map out their organizational hierarchy, and chart employees’ sales performance. But for it's next round of products, it plans to go beyond merely organizing information by using a recommendation engine similar to the ones employed by consumer-focused companies like Pandora or Facebook.

Last year, it hired Mohammad Sabah, who previously worked on Netflix’s movie recommendation algorithm, to be its head of data science.

Workday’s method of determining when an employee is about to split brings in data from several sources. First, the company scours a database of 300 million internet job postings to figure out which skills are most in-demand right now. In addition to looking at an employee’s job description, the algorithm takes into account factors like how long they have been at the company and when they last received a promotion.

Since Workday’s clients are all large companies that have thousands of employees, any one person can be compared with many similar workers who have come before them.

In testing its product with one large client, Workday was surprised to find that the biggest determinant of whether a high-performing employee would leave the company was the different kinds of work each employee was responsible for— even more than pay or the time that had elapsed since their most recent promotion. Based on this information, it can say, for instance, that moving an IT manager to a job in software engineering  could make them 30 percent less likely to leave. If nothing else, Beck says, the warning bells could help managers know when it's time to talk to an employee about their next move.

Workday gave us this mockup to show what the software will look like:



In the future, Workday hopes to use data to predict which employees will be most productive in the coming years, and to empower employees by giving them an opportunity to see the data themselves. “The reason we’re excited about recommendations is because we see that as the real gold standard,” Beck says. “It happens all the time in our consumer lives, and that's what we're bringing to enterprise software.”

Nov. 25 2014 2:16 PM

Six Hours of a Baby Sleeping in 26 Seconds

This video originally appeared on Business Insider.

I wanted to put the iPhone 6 time-lapse video feature to the test. I also really wanted to know why my baby is in a different position every time I check on her in her crib. I recorded the infrared night-vision output from the baby monitor for six hours. In the morning, my iPhone 6 had produced 26 seconds of video showing my baby's nighttime adventures. I was blown away by how much she moved.

Follow Business Insider Video on YouTube and watch more videos: Why 32 Million People Are Obsessed With PewDiePie — the Biggest Star on YouTube

Nov. 24 2014 1:28 PM

Google Just Removed a Game about Killing Gay People from the Android App Store

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

Google has removed a game named Ass Hunter, in which players hunt and kill gay men, from its Android app store. The game had been available in the Google Play store for weeks.

The Independent reports that Ass Hunter was downloaded more than 10,000 times, and even received more than 200 five-star reviews before it was pulled from the store today. 

Googled declined to comment on this story.

To win Ass Hunter, players needed to kill as many gay men as possible by shooting them with a shotgun. The game has a top-down, multidirectional shooter format.* If you fail to shoot the gays, they swarm your player and rape you.

This screenshot shows a gay man sneaking up behind the player:


Google Store

Here's how Ass Hunter described itself in the Google Play Store:

Popular game hunting on gays is now on Android! Play and do not be gay! Legendary game, where you are hunter and your mission is to kill gays as much as you can or escape between them to the next level. Gays may be hidden in bushes and unexpectedly catch you. Remember! When they catch you they will do with you whatever they want ;)

Ass Hunter has existed as an online Flash game since 2006, but it seems that its developers—who seem to be French—had managed to release an Android version, too. The Google Play Store bans apps that contain either hate speech or violent or bullying behaviour.

*Correction, Nov. 25, 2014: This post originally misstated the game format. It is a top-down shooter, not a first-person shooter.

Nov. 20 2014 12:46 PM

Apple Made a Small but Significant Change to Free Apps in the App Store

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

Apple has made a small change to the App Store, replacing the “Free” download button to “Get.”

Apple hasn’t specified why it made the change, but it most likely has to do with the rise of so-called freemium games that are free to initially download but offer in-app purchases to unlock more features. No change has been made to apps that cost an upfront, one-time fee. Those apps still feature the price on the download button.



Labeling freemium games as free has proved problematic for Apple in the past. Early last year, Apple paid about $100 million to settle a lawsuit with the Federal Trade Commission that alleged “Apple failed to adequately disclose that third-party game apps, largely available for free and rated as containing content suitable for children, contained the ability to make in-app purchases.”

Apple has since implemented additional alerts for in-app purchases, but it appears the company has decided it’s best to simply do away with the “free” terminology altogether.

Apple is actually following Google’s lead with its rebranding of free apps, with Google announcing in July it would stop calling apps with in-app purchases free, according to MacRumors. Google Play apps now feature an “Install” button instead.



The decisions by both Google and Apple to ditch the “Free” label is likely in response to the European Commission’s request for the companies to better inform customers that apps with in-app purchases were not truly free.

Nov. 19 2014 1:41 PM

Facebook Shuttle Drivers Are Not Happy

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

Jimmy Maerina has about had it with Facebook. He is one of 70 bus drivers who shuttle Facebook employees from their homes in San Francisco to the company’s Menlo Park, California, headquarters 30 miles away. Though their passengers are exclusively Facebook employees, the bus drivers actually work for a company called Loop Transportation, which Facebook pays a fee to get its workers to and from Menlo Park during the week.

Maerina says he and his fellow drivers work a grueling schedule, starting their day at a bus depot 15 minutes from Facebook’s campus at 5:30 a.m. and finishing at 8:45 p.m. Although the drivers have about five unpaid hours off in the middle of the day, they are prohibited from finding other employment during that time, Maerina says. He adds that many of his co-workers live far enough from the lot that it doesn’t make sense to commute all the way home and come back. Because the rest trailer provided by Loop Transportation has only four beds, Maerina says, drivers are forced to sleep in their cars between shifts. 

For all this, drivers make as little as $17 an hour. Perhaps of more concern, Maerina, who has a wife and two children, says he pays nearly $1,200 a month for Loop’s company-sponsored health plan. 

On Wednesday, the drivers will vote on whether to join a local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a labor union that represents 1.4 million workers in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico. If the majority of drivers vote yes, the union would be able to negotiate on their behalf for higher wages and better working conditions.

The union vote represents what could be the climax of a yearlong war Maerina has waged against Facebook and Loop, during which Maerina says Loop has attempted to intimidate drivers from organizing for better pay and Facebook has been complicit in its contractor’s actions by failing to stop them. 

“Facebook needs to open their eyes and decide this treatment can’t continue, because their employees’ lives are in our hands,” Maerina, 54, tells Business Insider. “If it’s the last thing I do before I quit my job, I want to see the bus drivers unionized.”

A representative for Loop Transportation declined to confirm or deny individual allegations, and Facebook did not respond to our inquiry at all. 

Maerina, who served as union president during a previous driving job at another company, has been trying to organize his fellow Loop drivers since February, in hopes that a union would be able to negotiate with Loop for higher wages, cheaper health benefits, and better working conditions.

According to Maerina, Loop sent people to Facebook’s campus to speak with drivers about how a union would ultimately hurt their interests, a process that has continued in the months leading up to the vote. Meanwhile, he says Facebook told Loop to give the drivers a $0.75 raise to convince drivers that they didn’t need a union to improve their work situation. “I am sure that Facebook is aware of this because if you don’t know what the heck is going on in your own home, then the home might not be yours,” Maerina says of Loop representatives sent to discourage drivers from unionizing.

A Loop representative said the following about its discussions with drivers: “In accordance with federal law, we are cooperating fully with the National Labor Relations Board in advance of the secret ballot election. This includes notifying our drivers of the election and their rights surrounding this issue.”

The representatives also said Loop’s drivers made between $17 and $25 an hour, wages the representativessays are among the highest in the commuter bus industry. 

The dispute escalated in August, when Maerina went public with his grievances in a story published by USA Today in which he told reporter Jessica Guynn that he and other drivers were “just barely making it.”

Maerina has been joined in airing his complaints by Cliff Doi, a fellow driver who has worked for Loop for three years. In a blogpost published by the Teamsters, he says he has little downtime and actually lost vacation days earlier this year because he couldn’t get Loop to find someone to cover his shifts when he wanted to take time off.

To hold a union vote, federal labor law requires a group of workers to file petition in which 30 percent of the employees hope to represent express interest in forming a union.

Maerina says Loop attempted to fire him for speaking out but that Facebook told its contractor not to do so after USA Today contacted company officials. In addition, the driver says Loop moved its offices from Facebook’s campus to a building beside the bus lot that had previously been a room drivers could rest in. The move has led to increased scrutiny of the drivers by management, and Maerina says drivers have been further intimidated by Loop’s decision to drug test more frequently than it had in the past.

Nonetheless, he says the actual act of driving passengers to and from work is relatively pleasant. He spoke highly of the Facebook employees on his route, saying that some had even written messages on an internal website encouraging the company to make sure the drivers get higher wages. In his estimation, Facebook would do well to cut out the middleman and hire its bus drivers directly, as Google did when it announced last month that it was hiring about 200 security guards who had previously been the employees of a contracting firm.

“They’re awesome,” Maerina says of his passengers. “The only thing that is screwing this up is Facebook.”

Nov. 19 2014 6:15 AM

This New Bike Helmet Has a List of Crazy Features including Brake Lights and a Wiper System

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

Cycling can be dangerous. Last November six people were killed while riding on the streets in London. Big cities like New York and Sydney can also be hazardous for pedalers, and sometimes just a regular helmet won’t do. 

Enter the rather perplexing Smart Hat, a product so elaborate Gizmodo even questioned its authenticity. But it appears to be a real concept—with the backing of a local councillor in Australia, in fact. 

A Sydney-based website, the Daily Telegraphreports that creator Toby King presented the helmet to Mosan Council on Nov. 11. 

Here are all the crazy things the design includes: 

  • Multilayer construction with impact-absorbing features and facial protection 
  • In-helmet Bluetooth display with speaker, satnav, speedometer, speed zones, temperature, heart rate, tilt sensor, ultrasonic object proximity warning, and more
  • Remote control indicators
  • Automatic brake lights
  • Head lights and night lights
  • A retractable visor, with a wiper system
  • Integrated digital camera
  • Smartphone storage
  • E-tag storage 
  • Batteries
  • Bluetooth
  • ID sign-in
  • Customisable outer skin
  • In-helmet cooling fan
  • Comfort additions

Yes, it’s a staggering list. And it looks as futuristic as it sounds:


Smart Hat

King explains he has the “skills to fully develop” the product and although it’s not commercially available “yet,” he’s now looking for funding.

While the least technological, the most important aspect of the Smart Hat is its registration plates. The state government of New South Wales is now considering licencing options for cyclists—a very controversial idea.


Smart Hat

King says the Smart Hat would cost about $200, or about 100 pounds in the U.K. It’s worth checking up on, because if it is approved and funded in Australia, maybe it’ll one day turn up on British roads?

Could all this really be on so many people’s heads? 


Smart Hat

Nov. 18 2014 2:42 PM

Even Microsoft Is Sick of PowerPoint

This article originally appeared in Business Insider.

We can’t even remember the last time we saw someone under 30 fire up a PowerPoint instead of a Prezi when giving a talk. Microsoft hopes to put the kibosh on that with Microsoft Sway, its new presentation app. Sway lets you drag and drop photos, videos, files from your computer, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or cloud storage. It works via a Web browser or an app for your phone, and the presentation is stored on the Web.

Microsoft announced Sway in October and on Monday offered an update, giving preview invites to various journalists, including Business Insider. We played around a little with Sway and can confirm that it is remarkably easy to use. It has some nice features like “change my mood,” which lets you choose a new layout, background, and fonts. The “remix” button does that for you (a little like the “I feel lucky” button on Google).


Julie Bort/Business Insider

We didn’t see anything in the demo that made us say, “Wow! No one’s ever done that before!” But first things first. Prezi says more than 50 million people use it, including 80 percent of the Fortune 500. That’s an awful lot of people who have had their heads turned from PowerPoint. Microsoft needs an easy-to-use alternative to Prezi, and Sway fits that bill.

Here’s a demo from Microsoft’s video. Notice this Microsoft ad shows the guy using Sway on an iPad.

But perhaps the most impressive thing about Sway is that it’s part of an bunch of new apps developed under CEO Satya Nadella’s new mission: to "reinvent productivity."

Sway joins:

  • Skype Translator, a service launched earlier this month that will translate a Skype conversation between two languages in real time.
  • Delve, an Office 365 tool that rolled out in September that is supposed to find all the important stuff buried in your documents, calendars, and contacts.
  • Power Q&A, an add-on cloud service for Office 365 customers.
  • And Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Siri, available in the current version of Windows Phone and, sources say, later as a desktop app in Windows 10.

And here’s an example of a Sway presentation.