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The 2014 US Airways Disaster: Anatomy of a Twitter Fail

By Guest Blogger
at 2:00PM Tuesday April 15, 2014
under Newsworthy

It's rare to witness a genuine apotheosis in real time, but yesterday, if you were on Twitter around noon Pacific time, you may have witnessed the Greatest Twitter Fail of All Time.

A few days ago, US Airways received this complaint from Twitter user @ElleRafter: "@USAirways Unhappy that 1787 sat for an hour on tarmac in CLT because overweight, resulting in over hour late arrival in PDX…" There was a brief, benign exchange. Then days later, in a routine follow-up US Airways tweeted the following (originally with an uncensored image):

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Hypocrite Lobby: Why corporations are people who live in glass houses

By Guest Blogger
at 12:22PM Friday April 4, 2014
under Newsworthy

The average Jane Six-Pack out there would be rightly confused by the idea that Dow Chemical Co. is just as much of a person as she is. It makes a little more sense when you consider that "corporate personhood"-related Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United were decided by a bunch of lawyers, pretty much the furthest thing from a Jane Six-Pack -- unless you mean a six-pack of Coke. Sure, corporations are people to a bunch of lawyers, because it's the shortest possible contortion of logic that gets us to a point where we can grant corporations legal rights, describe their liability or lack thereof, and allow them to own things.

But when corporations assert that they believe things, corporate personhood gets sketchy. At best, corporations' expressions of "belief" place them among the worst hypocrites out there, and at worst, their glaring inconsistencies threaten to break apart any notion of their personhood altogether.

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Why everyone loses when you run a cash-only business

By Guest Blogger
at 11:00AM Friday March 28, 2014
under Stuff We Like

To walk into a coffee shop and be told "We're cash only," is irksome for a number of reasons: the clerk tends to say it as though the company had been born that way or something. As though there's an all-powerful god of payment forms, and we must do his bidding.

It's not divine will. It's a shortsighted business decision by often distrustful or resentful business owners. Contrary to popular belief, operating as a cash-only business is neither profitable for companies, nor beneficial for anyone in the grand scheme of things. (OK, a few companies can benefit but the way they go about it is not nice.) Here's why it's so bad, and what recourse you have, and in order to explain it all, I may have to bust a couple myths along the way. Read More »

How horrible could Aaron's be? Super horrible

By Guest Blogger
at 8:50PM Friday March 21, 2014
under Stuff We Like

When we last left off, Aaron's had just offered a loan to a person who had explicitly detailed his problems with debt, lack of money, and lack of interest in paying for things. All through Grant's phone call, phone operators were friendly and accommodating of the cheerful deadbeat offering to sign an Aaron's contract.

"But they were friendly! How bad could they be, Savings? Why the campaign of negativity?"

Because, reader, it is never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever a good idea to shop at Aaron's. If I couldn't communicate that with my previous lengthy polemic, here's a Buzzfeed-style listicle (I forgive you if you skimmed my intro, fellow millennials).

1. Aaron's spied on consumers, as in "nudie pics and personal info" spying.

federaltradecommission Read More »

Getty Images thinks giving away free photos will make them tons of money. They're probably right

By Guest Blogger
at 11:20AM Friday March 14, 2014
under Freebies

If you're a blogger, you know the value of putting an eye-catching image at the top of every post. Wait, let me rephrase that: Are you a blogger who doesn't put an image at the top of every post? Stop it. Stop being so boring. The internet hates you. Now that Getty is giving millions of images away for free, you have no excuse to do that. Particularly not when they're being this liberal with their terms of use, according to GeekWire (emphasis mine):

"[...]f the use promotes a company, product or service, the users will need to purchase a license. If not, they can use the embedded content so long as they are happy to use it in the embed frame and functionality.

The presence of ads on a site doesn't automatically make use of an embedded image on that site a commercial use. Think about sites like or any online newspapers or magazines which support editorial content with site ads. The key attribute in classifying use as commercial is whether the image is used to promote a business, goods or services, or to advertise something. If not, it is a non-commercial use. Likewise, corporate blogs would be treated as editorial/non-commercial unless the image is directly being used to sell or promote their products or services." Read More »

The Greed of Antivax: Passing the cost of immunity on to others

By Guest Blogger
at 10:54AM Friday February 28, 2014
under Newsworthy

(via flickr user julien harneis)

The Antivax movement, whose members (antivaxers) choose not to give their kids vaccines, seems to be spreading. In 2012, the CDC found that about ten percent of parents had delayed or forgone vaccinations. If exposed to an infectious disease, these unvaccinated kids could be infected with certain kinds of pneumonia, diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, tetanus, polio, and the flu, while children who have been immunized would almost never be susceptible to any of these.

Antivaxers have usually read something on the internet that convinced them. This could have been the preaching of Viera Scheibner, who believes children need more diseases. It might be because of a study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield that linked vaccines to autism until his publisher formally retracted it because there wasn't any link, at all, whatsoever. It could be caused by fears about aluminum and formaldehyde in vaccines, despite these common "adjuvants" not being capable of harming children unless the doses are multiplied to cartoonish levels. Other antivaxers are afraid mercury is in there, which it isn't, with one easily avoidable exception. Read More »

Aaron's thinks "Max Your Tax!" is a good slogan. The deal is even worse than it sounds

By Guest Blogger
at 1:16PM Friday February 21, 2014
under Shop Smarter

via Google Street View

It's not as hilarious as Coke's notorious "Bite the wax tadpole!" but Aaron's "Max Your Tax!" slogan this spring sounds equally unpalatable. The posters and commercials make clear that they ostensibly want you to maximize the value of your tax return. But it's just as well. The misreading conveys what'll really happen to you if you shop at Aaron's when your check from the IRS comes.

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How to save on aphrodisiacs: Don't buy them (unless they're tasty)

By Guest Blogger
at 6:00AM Friday February 14, 2014
under Stuff We Like

oyster aphro
Photo by Mike Pearl via Wikimedia Commons

This Valentines Day, if you must read one sentence about aphrodisiacs, please let it be this one: Don't buy any so-called aphrodisiacs, and instead save your money for a nice dinner. That's the FDA's longstanding position, and the Mayo Clinic's, but they're obviously going to be boring and conservative about risks you might take. I'm much less conservative, but I agree with them completely.

The internet is a perfect machine designed to trick people into buying fake aphrodisiacs, and it's been that way for decades. Imagine this was your first day here. If you were like most people, within seconds you would be aroused by the internet's limitless free titillation, made insecure by a completely unfiltered flow of targeted advertising, and bombarded by deceptive spam messages offering a quick solution to your problem.

In many ways, the internet has made good on its promise to provide us with just the answers to things instantly, as with this amazing Google feature that automatically harvests information from reliable sources, and presents it in the search engine results page -- my vote for Best thing Humanity has Ever Accomplished: Read More »

Vine Voices and other reasons to approach Amazon reviews with caution

By Guest Blogger
at 9:12AM Friday February 7, 2014
under Shop Smarter

We all know Amazon reviews run the gamut from "insightful" to "worse than reading nothing at all," and we can cope with the poor quality. The inane reviews lend credibility to the rest, making the good ones seem culled from a vast field of "authentic" average consumers. But thanks to some of Amazon's sketchier practices -- especially a program called "Vine Voices" -- you can't even be sure of that. Here's a guide that should help you machete your way through the Amazon. I chose 20 reviews* and dissected them for content and other patterns.

Vine Voices:

2 out of 20, or 10 percent of the reviews I read, said "Vine Voices" next to the review. Vine is a six year-old invitation-only program for serious Amazon reviewers to smooth out their writing process by simply delivering them free swag. Yes, Vine (Which has nothing to do with the video sharing app) mails certain products to the homes of reviewers, and the reviewers agree to send the item back if requested, so it's just borrowed, not a gift. But apparently this rarely if ever happens. In other words, a review with "Vine Voices" next to it isn't a customer review at all. Read More »

Google wants to give you a free ride

By Guest Blogger
at 12:02PM Thursday January 30, 2014
under Newsworthy

Google published a patent last week -- although they filed for it in 2011 -- for a type of ad that offers you a free or discounted ride to the business that's being advertised to you. It'll be a big deal if this really does start showing up in banners and popups.

According to Google's patent drawing, "transportation-aware physical advertising conversions," will show up on your Apple Newton (left) and on a parking garage ticket kiosk (right). Or maybe the drawings just aren't very sophisticated and the ads will show up on your phone.

Google1 Read More »

Despite backlash, reusable grocery bags are still the smart (and frugal) move

By Guest Blogger
at 12:05PM Thursday January 23, 2014
under Shop Smarter

I'd heard arguments against reusable bags before, but despite having been around for years, I hadn't heard the "reusable bags jeopardize public health" argument until very recently. Now that I've looked into it, it's not very compelling.

Whether it's a dolphin-rescuing triumph, or a mistake spearheaded by wrongheaded liberals, plastic grocery bags are going the way of the dinosaurs they're made of. Yes, extinction is still a ways off, but over sixty jurisdictions in the US have bans on the books, and more are in the works.

With each new jurisdiction to ban the bags comes a new fee structure. You now have to cough up as much as 25 cents each time you forget your bag. That can add up in the long run, especially for large families.

Obviously it's not just a matter of personal finance. 80 million tons of the petroleum product polyethylene are manufactured every year, and its primary use is in the manufacture of disposable bags. They may or may not whiz away to the sea immediately after use, and maliciously jam themselves into the blowholes of orcas, but they do sit in landfills for perhaps a thousand years, by some estimates, or perhaps forever by others. For whatever reason, some find the environmental arguments against disposable bags unconvincing. Read More »

How to get cheap or free audiobooks without resorting to piracy

By Guest Blogger
at 12:00PM Thursday January 16, 2014
under Money Saving Tips

All arguments about whether listening counts as reading per se aside, audiobooks are awesome, and I wish I could listen to more, but until recently I felt too stymied by unnecessary limitations, and terrible value propositions to give my business to the people who create audiobooks. After some sleuthing, however I discovered tons of great ways to save money on long-form audio entertainment. In fact, since many of these are free, and some are viable alternatives to paid services, I sense a renaissance coming.

I've saved the best for last. Let's start by evaluating the cheapness of the status quo:

At the moment, is inescapable for podcast listeners. This Amazon-owned service has relentlessly advertised to audio entertainment enthusiasts for years, and by now we know the pitch by heart: "Sign up today to get a free audiobook of your choice." But we have questions about what we actually get for signing up, and the answers aren't very convincing.

audible Read More »