Category: Business

The power of optics

Have you ever seen a Rube Goldberg contraption powered by light? You have now, with this ad from the Japanese fiber-optic internet provider Au Hikari, which means “light.” This light bounces, bends, and burns! And it looks cool, too.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

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Hamster wheel adds exercise to popular standing desk design – sort of

Worried about the lack of exercise you get whilst sitting at your desk all day? In the belief that rodent recreational habits may hold the solution, Artist Robb Godshaw has published instructions for building his Hamster Wheel Standing Desk.

Godshaw’s design uses a wheel with an 80-in (203-cm) diameter supported by a 24-in (61-cm) wide base. The wheel rests upon four skateboard wheels, which allows it to turn fluidly as the user walks or runs inside it. Godshaw admits that the desk part of the design was actually separate. “We already had a standing desk that fits through the wheel, so it was just a matter of avoiding interference and leaving enough room for a human,” he explains…

Although the Hamster Wheel Standing Desk is a satirical take on desk-based exercise equipment, the lack of exercise individuals get whilst sat at a desk every is regarded as a significant health risk. Indeed, there are a number of products available aimed at allowing people to exercise whilst at work, including the Cubii elliptical trainer that can slide under a desk and the OfficeGym workout chair attachment.

The video up top shows the creation in operation. Though I would add the music from here.

Thanks, Mike

Healthcare transparency can lower costs – if you can make your state require it

When Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield became embroiled in a contract dispute with Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire in 2010, its negotiators came to the table armed with a new weapon: public data showing the hospital was one of the most expensive in the state for some services.

Local media covering the dispute also spotlighted the hospital’s higher costs, using public data from a state website.

When the dust settled, the insurer had extracted $10 million in concessions from Exeter. The hospital “had to step back and change their behavior,” said health policy researcher Ha Tu, who studied the state’s efforts to make healthcare prices transparent.

New Hampshire is among 14 states that require insurers to report the rates they pay different healthcare providers — and one of just a handful that makes those prices available to consumers. The theory is that if consumers know what different providers charge for medical services, they will become better shoppers and collectively save billions.

In most places, though, it’s difficult if not impossible to find out how much you will be charged for medical care…

In response, some hospitals are putting some prices on their websites — usually list prices, which are much higher than what most people would actually pay. Some insurers also provide enrollees with cost estimates, while free websites, such as Healthcare Bluebook and Fair Health, offer some cost information.

Still, in many cases, the data is limited or is restricted to enrollees in specific health plans. That’s why business groups in almost two dozen additional states have sought laws to require insurers to report what they pay providers…

Right about here the article wanders off into marketplace analysis and pressures. Useful; but, the sort of discussion that doesn’t change policy. Especially if you live in a state with a legislature run by Republicans or Blue Dog Democrats. Still more likely to cop paybacks from state and regional corporations than the national-class robber barons.

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Why do you think Congress won’t end the NFL’s tax break?

Perhaps the most famous tax break in America is the one bestowed by Congress on the NFL. It’s famous for its seeming illogic — the NFL, hugely profitable, being called a “nonprofit.”

And it’s famous, along with the antitrust exemption for pro football, for the number of times members of Congress have threatened subtly or otherwise to take it away.

The occasions range from the anger of then-Sen. John F. Kerry in 2007 over a blackout of a New England Patriots game to resentment about the name of the Washington, D.C., football team to concern about concussions to anger over what Republican Sen. Tom Coburn and Maine’s independent Sen. Angus King called “tax earmarks…”

Now, in the wake of the domestic abuse controversies in the NFL, the rumbling has started anew. Congress must now investigate the league’s handling of the domestic abuse charges, Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier of California said in a press release, as well as its “tolerance of performance enhancing drugs, the impact of traumatic brain injury on players later in life, and the tax-exempt status the NFL enjoys thanks to a loophole Congress created in the ’60s.”

But don’t count on anything happening — ever — to the exemptions enjoyed by pro sports. The NFL remains a heavy hitter in Washington. Its officials and political action committee donated more than $1.4 million to members of Congress during the past two election cycles, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. It spends millions as well on as many as 26 lobbyists from top-tier Washington firms.

One of the essential perks of being a Congress-critter is free skybox seats to whatever is the hot sports event in town. Given the snug fit between the NFL and the All-American reliance on war games to keep our collective ego inflated – that match is often defined by the National Football League.

Icing on the cake – with the cake being the inevitable contributions to Joe Congressman’s re-election campaign.

Thanks, Mike — who added:

Two new bills have been introduced that would strip the NFL of its tax-exempt status:

1. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) announced Tuesday that she will introduce legislation to eliminate the NFL’s tax-exempt status.

2. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) has introduced legislation to strip several professional sports leagues, including the NFL, of their tax-exempt status.

Earlier this year, Senators Tom Coburn (R-Okla) and Angus King (I-Maine) introduced the PRO-Sports Act to address this issue on the premise that it is unfair to the American tax-payer.

A tax reform package sponsored by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R- Mich.) includes a repeal of tax-exempt status for professional sports leagues. It is languishing in committee.

Home Depot data theft affected 56 million credit/debit cards

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The world’s largest DIY retailer has admitted that 56m credit and debit card numbers were compromised over a five-month period in one of the worst breaches of customer data ever recorded. Home Depot said on Thursday night that although the data theft began in April, the malware used by the hackers had only been completely removed from its systems this month.

The breach was revealed on 2 September by the security website Krebs on Security, which said that all 2,200 of Home Depot’s US stores could have been affected. The chain, which did not confirm the data breach until 8 September, said that security groups Symantec and FishNet Security were brought in to investigate the possible hacking as soon it became known.

The criminals used “unique, custom-built malware” that had not been seen in similar attacks, which helped them to avoid detection for so long, Home Depot said. It had completed a major payment security upgrade to ensure better encryption of customers’ card numbers.

US retailers have been slower to adopt the chip-and-Pin technology found in Britain and most European countries as many American credit cards still lacked the appropriate chips. The US payments industry has set a deadline of October 2015 to switch to chip and Pin.

Who deserves the core blame here? Probably the Big Banks. The fast buck is always sweetest – while ignoring long-range dangers. And that should read “American Big Banks”.

When chip and Pin came out over a decade ago, Euro banks, banks around the world realized the importance of increased security. Not worrying specifically about hackers, they still realized the cost of prevention was a helluva lot less than the cost of theft. American banks? They worried about next month’s bottom line. So they didn’t consider the investment in each new card of about $5 [at the time] to be worthwhile.

Now – it’s $10 per card and retailers like Home Depot are spending tens of million$ just to begin to recover from this data theft.

Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats, rule that water ain’t part of the environment

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The House passed legislation Tuesday that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from implementing a proposed rule to define its jurisdiction over bodies of water…

The rule, proposed in March, sought to clarify which bodies of water, such as wetlands and streams, are subject to agencies’ authority under the act. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has said the rule does not significantly expand the agency’s existing authority.

Republicans said the rule would go too far and subject trivial bodies of water to federal regulation.

What passes for conservatism nowadays believes that wife-beating, lynchings, collateral murder in wherever is this year’s war – are all “trivial”.

Democrats largely dismissed the concerns as hyperbole…”We have departed from reality,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.

DeFazio said that halting implementation of the proposed rule would prevent the EPA from simply clarifying which bodies of water are subject to federal regulation.

“Where do we end up if this cockamamie thing passes the House and becomes law, which it won’t?” DeFazio said. “Well, where we end up is back in the earlier era of the 2003 and 2008 guidance.”

The dimbulbs in the House of Representatives want the Army Corp of Engineers to help the develop new regulations on water. Their history along the Mississippi River leading up to the Hurricane Katrina disaster will stand them in good stead.

Who knows, maybe Congress can rehire the clown show inside the old Department of the Interior under George W, Bush that used to party with the Oil Patch Boys. Working for a living probably still doesn’t agree with them.

Thanks, Mike

DOT sued over oil train copout rules

Advocacy groups said they filed a lawsuit against the Department of Transportation for not responding to calls to pull crude oil rail cars out of service.

The Department of Transportation in July published a 200-page proposal calling for the eventual elimination of older rail cars designated DOT 111 used to ship flammable liquids, “including most Bakken crude oil…”

DOT-111 rail cars carrying crude oil have been involved in a series of disastrous derailments, including the deadly incident in Lac-Megantic, Quebec in 2013.

Earthjustice, ForestEthics and the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against the Department of Transportation for not responding to a petition filed in July calling for a ban on shipping Bakken crude using DOT-111 cars.

Matt Krogh, campaign director with ForestEthics, said DOT-111 cars are “tin cans on wheels.”

“We can’t run the risk of another disaster like Lac-Megantic,” Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman said in a statement Thursday.

U.S. regulators in January issued an advisory warning Bakken crude oil may be more prone to catch fire than other grades.

“Eventual” somehow doesn’t sound like “timely” or any other term that puts human life at a higher priority than profits from shipping oil.

Canada – with a committed Conservative government – has already banned these archaic tin cans for the carriage of Bakken crude. Obama, his DOT and obedient head, Anthony Foxx, seem to have a problem coming to the same conclusion.

Pharmacist busted who caused 2012 meningitis outbreak

US officials on Thursday arrested a pharmacist linked to a 2012 outbreak of meningitis that killed 64 people across the United States as he was boarding a flight to Hong Kong,..

Glenn Adam Chin, 46, had been a supervising pharmacist at the now-defunct New England Compounding Center of Framingham, Massachusetts. It produced tainted steroids that sickened 700 people in 20 states in the worst outbreak of fungal meningitis recorded in the United States, officials said.

Chin has been charged with mail fraud in connection with shipping 17,000 tainted vials, according to the US attorney’s office in Boston. The contaminated vials were sent to more than 76 facilities in 23 states. The steroid, methylprednisolone acetate, typically was injected into patients to ease back pain.

US prosecutors said they became concerned Chin was a flight risk when he bought tickets for a flight to Hong Kong…

Chief magistrate judge Jennifer Boal ordered Chin to surrender his passport, post a $50,000 unsecured bond and remain under house arrest until 16 September when his family returns from Hong Kong…

Chin is the first person to face criminal charges related to the outbreak, which pushed NECC into bankruptcy and led to stricter national regulation of custom medication makers.

If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Authorities accused Chin of instructing pharmacy technicians to mislabel medication to indicate it was properly sterilized and tested. Medications compounded by NECC were prepared, filled and held under unsanitary conditions, according to an affidavit from Food and Drug Administration Special Agent Benedict Celso.

There have been enough cases of creepy compounding pharmacies taking part in sleazy practices – ranging from unsanitary profiteering to volunteering untested, unregulated drugs for prisons and politicians who prefer to kill prisoners – to form an image of corruption, correct or not, in the eyes in the public.

I’ll let you know if I get deathly ill in the next few months. When I changed my Medicare plan in January the source I acquired for my one dinky preventative prescription is a compounding pharmacy.

What were they thinking?

Malaysia Airlines has provoked a storm of controversy by asking customers to list the things they would most like to do before they die.

The airline, which lost two planes this year in disasters that claimed 537 lives, committed the marketing gaffe when it launched a “My Ultimate Bucket List” campaign on Monday.

But with the world still reeling from the twin catastrophes of the MH370 and MH17 crashes, social media users swifly began mocking the marketing ploy.

The campaign called on Australian and New Zealand residents to write their own bucket list and enter it into a competition to win flights to Malaysia and iPads but the competition appears to have since been withdrawn…

The aftermath of the twin crashes has reportedly crippled the company financially, with plummeting share prices, near-empty flights and the axing of 6,000 jobs fuelling speculation that the company is contemplating filing for bankruptcy.

So, they hire a PR firm staffed with idiots. Unbelievable.

Thanks, Mike

California first in line to ban single-use plastic bags in the United States

California lawmakers have approved a measure that would make the state the first to impose a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags.

SB270 cleared the Senate on a 22-15 vote Friday and sent to Gov. Jerry Brown. It was approved by the Assembly a day earlier.

Senators who had previously opposed the bill, including incoming Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat, this time supported the measure after protections were added for plastic bag manufacturers.

The bill by Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla of Los Angeles would prohibit single-use plastic bags at grocery stores and large pharmacies in 2015 and at convenience stores in 2016.

It includes $2 million in loans to help manufacturers shift to producing reusable bags and lets grocers charge 10 cents each for paper and reusable bags.

Typical American copout politicians. There isn’t a single one of these companies that needs a loan to shift production. If they’re that incompetent – they shouldn’t be in business.

The bill had sparked one of the most contentious debates in the last weeks of the legislative session, with aggressive lobbying by environmentalists and bag manufacturers.

For years, a statewide plastic bag ban has been an elusive goal for lawmakers trying to reduce the buildup of plastic waste in oceans and waterways that costs millions of dollars to cleanup. About 100 local jurisdictions in California already have adopted similar bans, including Los Angeles and San Francisco.

You may as well ask your Congress-critter, now, when will they get round to passing a matching national regulation. I expect I won’t still be alive when that happens.

Thanks, Mike