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CRTC improves safeguards for 1-900 users
March 30, 2005

The maximum per-minute fees that 1-900 psychic and betting hotlines can charge callers are being drastically cut as part of new safeguards announced by Canada's broadcast regulator today.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) said it is introducing better protection for callers of services that typically include adult entertainment, chat lines, lines for horoscopes, soap opera updates, games of chance, trivia games and sport scores.

Among the changes, the CRTC reduced the maximum rate that a 1-900 service provider may charge for calls to psychic lines from $10 to $6 per minute, CBC News Online reports.

The regulator has also clamped down on the practice of 1-900 content providers prolonging calls to increase charges. Providers are prohibited from using programs that use repetitive scripts, long holding periods, excessive wording or long downloading features.

The CRTC also announced that consumers must receive clear and complete information on charges at the outset of a call. Bills for 1-900 services must now fully describe all charges plus the time, date and duration of the call.

Via CBC News Online

posted by Tessa | 4:13 PM (ET) | Permalink

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Music copyright case heads to Supreme Court
March 30, 2005

Image of a person holding a vinyl record.
If the entertainment industry wins the MGM vs. Grokster case, making digital copies of your old LPs could be illegal in the U.S.

Related: CBC Disclosure: Download This!

The entertainment and high-tech industries are waging battle over music again, in a case that pits the freedom to innovate against the battle to control digital piracy, the Times Online reports.

For years, MGM has been clashing with peer-to-peer networks Grokster and StreamCast. The case has now moved into the U.S. Supreme Court and aims to settle once and for all whether peer-to-peer technology encourages illegal activity.

The court’s nine judges are hearing arguments from both sides on whether file-sharing software developers can be held liable for copyright infringement if their networks are used for illegal copying of songs, movies and software.

The case stems from a 1984 ruling where Sony was cleared of promoting copyright infringement because some people were using its videocassette recorders to make copies of copyrighted material.

Legal analysts have said the current case, which is slated to be decided in June, has broad implications for the growth of new technologies and the battle against online piracy.

If the court sides with MGM in the case, any technology that enables consumers to copy music (be it a CD-burner, audio-editing software, or a peer-to-peer file-swapping network) would be illegal in the U.S., Salon reports.

Via The Times Online and Salon

posted by Tessa | 11:20 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Blockbuster settles 'No Late Fees' complaints
March 30, 2005

The movie rental chain Blockbuster will offer refunds and pay $630,000 US in costs after its highly visible "No Late Fees" campaign confused patrons, the Oregon attorney general said yesterday.

"This case is a perfect illustration of how a catchy phrase can sell a product or service without the straight facts to back it up," Hardy Myers said in a statement. "Being clear and conspicuous with details about a promotion are essential for an honest marketplace."

CBC Business News reports that in December, Blockbuster launched the "No Late Fees" promotion, but didn't explain it clearly enough for some customers. Some reportedly thought they could keep the movies and games without penalty until they were finished with them. However, seven days after the product was due back, Blockbuster charged the purchase price. This could be changed to a restocking fee, if the product was returned within 30 days.

The agreement announced Tuesday is a voluntary settlement and is not admission that any law was broken. It covers 47 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Canadian stores were not included in the settlement, but a similar program began in 426 Canadian stores on Jan. 29.

Via CBC Business News

posted by Tessa | 10:45 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Big phone companies must credit customers for poor service: CRTC
March 25, 2005

Image of a cordless phone.
Related Marketplace story: Telus Complaints

Canada's telecommunications regulator has ordered that customers of the country's big phone companies be given credits on their phone bills this year and in the future if they get sub-standard service, CBC Business News reports.

"Subscribers of the large telephone companies that failed to meet the [quality of service] requirements during the period from 2002 to 2004 will receive a credit on their bill before the end of 2005," the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) said in a media release.

The CRTC said the credits will be graduated according to the degree of sub-standard performance, up to a maximum of five per cent of the company's local business and residential revenues.

The CRTC did not say which phone companies would be required to provide credits this year, and it's not clear yet how much consumers will be getting back.

Via CBC Business News

posted by Tessa | 11:44 AM (ET) | Permalink

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How to steer clear of eBay scams
March 24, 2005

Author Mark Gabriel Abdelnour is convinced more people would use online auction giant eBay if they weren’t afraid of being screwed by a deal-gone-wrong.

So he’s written eBay Scams: Protect Yourself as You Master eBay (under the pen name Mark Gabriel) to help wary potential shoppers and sellers avoid being scammed by hustlers, the Ottawa Business Journal reports:

With more than 20 scams discussed in his book, Mr. Abdelnour feels that once people have an understanding of the types of tricks people use and are aware, then they should feel confident using eBay for the purposes it was intended for. "I look at this as preventative medicine."

According to Abdelnour, the top five eBay scams are:

1) Phishing: A fraudster creates an email message that appears to be from eBay and sends the message to eBay users. The message warns that the user’s eBay account has been hacked and that he/she is required to update eBay with their username, password and credit card information. (eBay never asks for this kind of information by e-mail.) If the unsuspecting eBay user replies to the email with their information, it doesn’t go to eBay at all, but ends up in the hands of the fraudster.

2) Shilling: Sellers inflate the price of their items by having associates place fake bids.

3) Phantom Bidding: Like shilling, a seller creates multiple eBay accounts and bids against him/herself.

4) Gold-Plated Shipping: The seller purposely hides the shipping costs of an item.

5) Misleading Titles: Abdelnour describes a seller who described his item as "Sony Playstation – original box and receipt." When the buyer received the package all he got was a box and a receipt.

Read on…

Via Consumer World Blog and the Ottawa Business Journal

posted by Tessa | 11:05 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Diet scams: How to avoid them
March 24, 2005

Some of us may overindulge in chocolate this weekend (which, as reported earlier, is fine so long as it’s dark). The stuff has addictive properties, after all, so I’m inclined not to feel too guilty about scarfing back those scrumptious Easter eggs (my sister’s brought some back from England for me – yum!)

That said I’m sure I’ll be plague by that irrational sensation that none of my pants fit come Monday morning. Which might have me thinking that it’s time for a diet.

But diet scammers beware. I’ll be armed with some newfound information that I came across this morning about how to avoid the diet racket. You’ve seen the ads – they promise a quick fix: “Lose 10 pounds while you sleep!” “Take this pill and shed inches from your waist in a weekend!”

So how do you know when a weight loss product is probably a scam?

Fitness consultant Anthony Ellis says these are likely tip offs:

Claims to be a “secret” formula.

There’s no physical address for the business.

They promise rapid weight loss.

They state that they can help a person lose fat or cellulite in a specific part of the body.

They promise permanent weight loss.

Read on…

(Moment of ironic zen: check out the Google ads that appear at the top of Ellis' "How to avoid diet scams" article!)

Via A Consumer Reports and

posted by Tessa | 10:14 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Enjoy Easter chocolate, as long as it's dark: experts
March 24, 2005

Picture of chocolate truffles.

Chocolate is one of the guilty pleasures many Christians give up for Lent each year, but a gathering of experts at McGill University concluded Wednesday that it can actually be good for you.

Neuroscientists, nutritionists and health experts were on hand for a panel discussion on the sweet treat in advance of Easter, when mass quantities of chocolate eggs and rabbits are consumed across North America.

Marie-Claude Paquette, a nutritionist at the National Public Health Institute in Quebec, said chocolate packs benefits when used in moderation.

Types with high cocoa content, such as dark chocolate, are rich in flavonoids, which research has shown to have blood thinning properties. This can reduce the risk of heart attacks caused by blood clots, Paquette said.

White and milk chocolate don't provide the same boost as the dark kind.

White chocolate is not really chocolate, in fact. It's made with cocoa butter, sugar, milk and vanilla, but no cocoa.

Milk chocolate contains less flavonoids than dark chocolate because it is diluted with milk, and also tends to have more sugar in it.

Via CBC Health & Science News

posted by Tessa | 9:40 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Levi's body scanner promises perfect fit jeans
March 23, 2005

Picture of a woman trying on a pair of jeans. Image source:
Intellifit says it "helps you quickly find clothes that fit -- while it also helps clothing brands and manufacturers create clothes that fit more people." [Image source:]

Related Murmur: Virtual mini-me goes shopping

I hate trying on jeans. I find it almost as pitiful as bathing suit shopping, which according to a recent survey by Levi's puts me among the ranks of the majority of shoppers: women said that jeans are the second-most difficult item to fit after bathing suits and men rated "fit" as their No. 1 reason to buy a pair of jeans.

Normally I end up giving up in a fit of frustration. Defeated, I head up to the cash and buy the next-best-thing to the perfect fitting pair of jeans, willing to live with the fact that they’re too long/short, tight/baggy, droopy in the butt/suffocating in the thigh…

Now Levi's says it’s using the latest in body scanning technology to revolutionize the way we shop for denim. The system, called Intellifit, is being piloted in five American Levis locations. A person stands inside a cylindrical glass booth (fully clothed) while the scanner does its work. Within 10 seconds, it spits out a list of recommended Levi's styles that should match the person’s body shape and measurements.

The Intellifit system just finished its work in New York (it’s now off to Chicago), NY1 News reports. While customers there reportedly found the system a bit gimmicky, they say it did save time. Levi’s says after testing the system it will decide whether to outfit its stores permanently with the scanner.

Via NY1 News

posted by Tessa | 9:38 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Black box tracks your driving, with an eye to saving you on insurance costs
March 22, 2005

Picture of a "black box" for cars.
Related Marketplace story: 'Black boxes' on trial

Aviva Insurance is launching a “pay as you go” car insurance program, based on data collected by a “black box” installed in your car.

Aviva launched a pilot program, called “Autograph,” last week in Ontario.

Under the plan, a small computer chip is attached to the steering column of your car – it tracks your mileage, speed and the time of day you drive.

By letting their driving habits be monitored, drivers get a chance to have a break on their insurance rates, the Toronto Star reports:

Bob Fitzgerald, vice-president and chief operating officer of Aviva Canada, says the program is a response to regulators and politicians who have asked the insurance industry to find less cryptic ways to price premiums.

"With insurance premiums being quite high for young drivers, if there's some way for a customer to show they're not like that minority of young drivers who are forcing up the rates for everyone, they should get the reward, they should pay the lower premium," says Fitzgerald.

He adds that the program can also benefit seniors who don't drive often, or two-car families that hardly use their second vehicle. It can also help reform drivers with a bad driving history. Aviva Canada claims the program can reduce premiums by up to 25 per cent. Its plan, if all goes well, is to make Autograph more broadly available in 2006. Perhaps then the rest of the industry might follow. Read on...

Via Toronto Star

posted by Tessa | 11:12 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Movie ads that lie
March 22, 2005

Your weekend paper was chock full of them: ads for movies that shout out glowing quotes from reviewers:

  • "Trainspotting meets A Clockwork Orange!" (Daily Star on 16 Years of Alcohol)
  • "...Travolta is as smooth as ever..." (Los Angeles Times on Be Cool)

The folks at Gelf Magazine have compiled a collection of seemingly favourable quotes pulled from movie ads, and put them back into the context from their original review. The effect is a revealing look at blurb abuse at the hands of Hollywood advertising and marketing agents.

For example, take the quote above that appeared in the ad for 16 Years of Alcohol. Here’s the real line: “This glum, violent drama about a Scottish thug ruined by drink is written and pretentiously directed by Richard Jobson whose approach— Trainspotting meets A Clockwork Orange—is bad enough to drive you to drink in no time.”

And as for the Be Cool blurb, here’s the actual line from reviewer Kevin Thomas: "[John Travolta's character Chili] Palmer is back in 'Be Cool,' and although Travolta is as smooth as ever, the picture is a bust, a grimly unfunny comedy with no connection to reality, and worst of all, running on and on for two dismal hours."

Via Ad Rants and Gelf Magazine

posted by Tessa | 10:52 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Teens' txt earns tsk from parents and teachers
March 22, 2005

Picture of a cellphone display with text messages.

As Canadian teens develop a new lexicon for their text messages, parents are wondering if the texting lingo is contributing to illiteracy.

A recent poll suggests instant messaging is a daily activity for more than half of Canadian teens, CBC Health and Science News reports.

But according to Michael Hoechsmann, an education professor at McGill University, parents shouldn't worry their teens are becoming illiterate – they're simply finding new ways to communicate.

"If anything, this tendency towards text messaging and these abbreviations, it's a little bit like everybody has their own telegraph machine and is using their own version of the Morse code," Hoechsmann told the CBC.

Via CBC Health & Science News

posted by Tessa | 10:02 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Yoga: Can it be copyrighted?
March 21, 2005

Can a modern-day businessman copyright a 5,000-year-old tradition? Beverly Hills yoga master Bikram Choudhury thinks it can, and he’s turned his fight into a legal exercise. Choudhury first open yoga schools in San Francisco in 1973. He’s since copyrighted, trademarked and franchised his poses, breathing techniques and dialogue, and has grown his business into a chain of 900 studios worldwide.

Choudhury’s yoga purist detractors, are tied in knots over his apparent corporatization of their sacred tradition. And they haven’t much appreciated the cease-and-desist notices they’ve received from Choudhury’s lawyers that threaten $150,000 US penalties if yoga instructors teach his yoga or anything derived from his $5,000-per-person training program, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

A San Francisco nonprofit organization of yoga enthusiasts from San Rafael to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., is countering with a federal lawsuit attacking the guru's claim that yoga is proprietary. They say that yoga is a 5,000-year- old tradition that cannot be owned. The suit is asking the judge to determine whether Choudhury is entitled to copyright and trademark his material under federal copyright laws. A trial date has been set for next February. Read on...

Via Metafilter and the San Francisco Chronicle

posted by Tessa | 12:53 PM (ET) | Permalink

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Manitoba to crack down on payday loan companies
March 21, 2005

Manitoba's NDP government plans to tighten controls on payday loan companies, including limiting the interest rates they can charge clients, CBC News Online reports.

It also wants to ban them from confiscating the paycheques of people who stop making payments, provincial Finance Minister Greg Selinger said at a NDP convention on the weekend.

The NDP government had promised earlier in the year to introduce legislation this spring that would make the companies include all service fees when they advertise interest rates.

The federal government, which governs interest rates, made it a criminal offence to charge an annual rate of more than 60 per cent.

Consumer advocacy groups have complained, however, that when one tallies in service fees and loan extensions, the interest rate can top 1,000 per cent.

Via CBC News Online

posted by Tessa | 11:14 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Keep the lid on yellow margarine: Supreme Court
March 18, 2005

Quebecers will continue to eat white margarine after the Supreme Court rejected Unilever's argument it should be allowed to sell yellow margarine in the province, CBC News Online reports.

The justices ruled immediately after Unilever lawyer Gerald Tremblay's hour-long appearance, rejecting all aspects of his argument.

The court decided it didn't want to hear from the Quebec government or from lawyers for the dairy industry.

The decision to reject the appeal upholds two lower court rulings from the Quebec Superior Court and the Quebec Court of Appeal that the province can prevent the sale of yellow margarine.

Former Quebec premier Robert Bourassa passed the law in 1987, saying it protected the dairy industry and ensured consumers would not confuse margarine with butter.

Via CBC News Online

posted by Tessa | 2:46 PM (ET) | Permalink

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Repair or replace?
March 18, 2005

Image of a dish scrubber brush.
My future dishwasher?

My dishwasher has been making a horrible noise lately – a rat-a-tat-tat grumble that lasts throughout the washing cycle, unless I stand in front of the machine and press the door firmly in two spots near the top of the thing.

It’s an awkward stance, and since the washer takes about an hour and a half to run through a load of dishes, my pressing the door strategy is obviously not a feasible, long-term solution.

Getting the darn thing fixed is. But have you tried to get an appliance repaired lately? Gone are the days of the neighbourhood repairman, someone who can come by at a convenient time and wave his magic repairman wand to make things better.

And gone are the days when appliances were built to last. (I’m thinking of the VCR my parents still use that’s been running for some 20 years – while I’ve gone through three VCRs and two DVD players in the past five.)

Is there something to the idea that our modern appliances are shafting us with their ice-crushing gadgets and internet-connected gizmos? Or are we just pining for nostalgic days of appliance durability that never really existed?

The Washington Post has an article about the “repair or replace” phenomenon, and while it’s main message (you get what you pay for) is a no-brainer, the article is a worthy refresher on the repair conundrum:

"Some appliances are so simple they're hard to mess up," said Hal Woodyard, chief inspector at Archer Inspections Inc., a local home inspection firm. "When I look at housing I see a lot of low-end stuff. A $250 gas stove will last a long time. The more complicated you make something, the more opportunity there is for it to break."

Not that cheap appliances are necessarily durable. "Thirty years ago they didn't really make super-cheap . . . appliances. They do now," the former general contractor said. Read on...

Via Washington Post

posted by Tessa | 11:40 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Porn pushers or youth prophets?
March 18, 2005

Here’s an interesting piece from Toronto’s Now Magazine on the controversy surrounding the ad campaign from American Apparel (normally lauded as a model retailer for its no-sweatshop policies):

Some believe American Apparel's amateur porn-styled ads [there are examples on the retailer's website] using real models are retail brilliance – others say it's time for a boycott…

… some are freaking, saying the ads have escalated from mildly boundary-pushing crotch shots of models with bikini rashes to gritty amateur porn. Something about the low-grade girly shots, they say, degrades women and undermine the company's whole labour rights message.

Others, however, defend the campaign as reflective of a growing demographic that's grown up with the porn aesthetic on their computer screens. And in stitching multiple identities into one shirt – naughty, political and brand-free – American Apparel could be positioning itself to be the iconic outfitter of the decade.

And then there are those of us who are offended that American Apparel charges $16 US for an undershirt. Maybe that headline should read "youth profits."

Related Marketplace story: Buying into Sexy

Via Now Magazine

posted by Tessa | 10:07 AM (ET) | Permalink

Your turn: suggest a murmur | email a comment

Comment (thanks Brian!):

I was surprised at how tame American Apparel's ads were when I checked out their website. True, they only show females so unless they only sell female clothes there may be some debate about whether they are degrading women.

There were a couple of crotch shots that might be a bit too much, but other than that I think it's a great way to make labour rights popular amongst young people.

They can get rebellious towards their parents because they're wearing anti-sweatshop clothes and their parents probably aren't. If they have to get rebellious about something, it might as well be a good cause.



E-mail fraud warning
March 17, 2005

Picture of a computer keyboard.

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada is warning consumers not to fall for “phishing” scams.

The e-mails appear to be from legitimate banks or other financial institutions asking for your personal information.

The e-mail messages often use bank logos or trademarks and at first glance appear to be legitimate. They usually ask the reader to provide or verify private information, such as your credit card number or online banking password.

The FCAC warns that if you reply to the e-mail with the requested information, it doesn’t go to your bank but rather to a criminal fraud artist. If you receive such a suspicious e-mail (the FCAC has a sample on their website), the organization says:

  • DO NOT respond.
  • DO NOT provide ANY personal information as requested.
  • Contact your financial institution immediately. DO NOT use the phone number provided in the e-mail. Use a contact number from a monthly statement, the phone book or the back of any issued bankcard.
Many financial institutions have publicly committed to protecting their customers in the event of fraud. FCAC oversees public commitments made by federally regulated financial institutions. If you are the victim of fraud as the result of a phishing scam and are being held liable, or for more information on your rights and responsibilities, please contact FCAC toll-free at:

Via Greg Sadler (Marketplace producer) and the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada

posted by Tessa | 2:30 PM (ET) | Permalink

Your turn: suggest a murmur | email a comment

Comment (thanks Brian!):

I’m wondering why it says to call my financial institution if I received one of these emails. I get these emails all the time and just delete them.  The odd time I open them, but I have spyware protection and a firewall so I can't see any reason to call my bank unless I actually provided that information (which should never be done through email in any account since most email is not secure).

[I imagine the banks want you to call them if you receive a phishing e-mail because they want to be aware if their customers are being targeted. Tessa]




Nobody under 18 should use a tanning bed: WHO
March 17, 2005

The World Health Organization says people under 18 years old should never use tanning beds.

“There has been mounting concern over the past several years that people --and in particular, teenagers-- are using sunbeds excessively to acquire tans, which are seen as socially desirable,” the WHO’s Dr. Kerstin Leitner said in a press release. “However, the consequence of this sunbed usage has been a precipitous rise in the number of skin cancer cases.”

The WHO warns that young people who get burnt from exposure to UV have a greater risk of skin cancer as adults.

The agency says the annual incidence of melanoma has doubled in the last 30 years in the United States.

Every year 66,000 people worldwide die from malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

Via UN News Centre

posted by Tessa | 1:31 PM (ET) | Permalink

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Cellphone lawsuits a go again
March 17, 2005

Image of a cellphone
Related Marketplace Murmur: Keep kids away from cellphones
Related Marketplace story: Cellphone Study

An appeals court in the United States has reinstated five lawsuits that claim the cellphone industry has failed to protect consumers from unsafe levels of radiation, Bloomberg News reports.

The cases are the first class-action suits brought against the entire cellphone industry.

They were thrown out in March 2003 by U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake, who said the claims conflicted with U.S. Congress attempts to establish uniform cellphone safety standards.

Via Consumer World Blog

posted by Tessa | 12:03 PM (ET) | Permalink

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Eco-friendly motorcycle too quiet for bikers
March 17, 2005

Motorcycle engineers in Britain have created a zero-emission bike that has environmentalists celebrating it as a green innovation, and bikers protesting that it’s just not loud enough.

Reuters reports that the bike is powered by a high-pressure hydrogen fuel cell. It produces about as much noise as a computer fan belt. That’s too wimpy for many bikers, and some even say it could be dangerous – it’s so silent that it could be deadly to pedestrians or other drivers who don’t hear it approaching.

Intelligent Energy, the makers of the bike, say they’re working on ways to have the bike produce artificial engine noises.


posted by Tessa | 10:01 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Comment (thanks Shemmaho!):

We've learned to get used to so many outrageous things, a quiet motorcycle is definitely within the range of our capability to accept change… I would love it if the bikers were quieter.  [Where I live] we have a narrow valley that bikers love to drive through because it is curvy, and they are sooo loud I curse them roundly on a regular basis.



New computer monitor will help people with colour blindness
March 17, 2005

Samsung says it is developing a liquid crystal display (LCD) monitor that will help people with dyschromatopsia, or colour blindness.

Dyschromatopsia, or the inability to see some colours, occurs in about eight per cent of men and less than one per cent of women.

The new monitor will employ colour correction technology (dubbed “Magic Vision” by Samsung) that allows users to control the red, green and blue levels that appear on the screen. Viewers will be able to adjust the intensity of colours that they have trouble with, Korea’s Chosun Ilbo reports.

Via we-make-money-not-art

posted by Tessa | 9:20 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Alternative health care growing in Canada
March 16, 2005

More Canadians are using chiropractors and other forms of alternative health care, Statistics Canada reports.

The agency said a health survey taken in 2003 found about 20 per cent of Canadians aged 12 and older – an estimated 5.4 million people – had used some type of alternative health care in the previous year.

A study almost a decade before had found 15 per cent of Canadians over 17 had used alternative health care in the previous year.

The 2003 study found 11 per cent of those 12 and older had consulted a chiropractor in the previous year, CBC Health and Science News reports. Eight per cent had consulted a massage therapist, two per cent an acupuncturist and two per cent a homeopath or a naturopath.

Via CBC Health & Science News

posted by Tessa | 9:39 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Little tracking of drugs pulled from Canadian market
March 16, 2005

A person holding a bunch of pills in their hands.

Health Canada doesn't keep a list of drugs pulled from the market for safety reasons, nor does the department clearly explain what triggers a recall, a journal commentary suggests.

Dr. Joel Lexchin, a professor at York University's school of health policy and management, wrote the commentary in yesterday's issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

For four months, Lexchin searched for and then reviewed information on prescription and over-the-counter products that were withdrawn from the Canadian market.

He aimed to focus on drugs that were pulled for safety reasons between 1963 and 2004. In the past 12 years, about twice as many drugs were pulled from the market as in the previous two decades, he found.

"It certainly raises questions in my mind about how well they prioritize safety, and I think it should raise questions about that amongst all Canadians," Lexchin told CBC News.

Via CBC Health & Science News

posted by Tessa | 9:36 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Vitamin E supplements may raise heart risks, not help: study
March 16, 2005

Vitamin E is not only useless for reducing the risk of heart disease and most forms of cancer, in some cases it may be dangerous, a new Canadian-led study suggests.

Some doctors say the study on thousands of people hammers the final nail in the coffin of vitamin E supplements, CBC Health and Science News reports. The study concludes people with heart conditions or diabetes should avoid the supplements, and most other people will get few if any benefits.

Via CBC Health & Science News

posted by Tessa | 9:26 AM (ET) | Permalink

Your turn: suggest a murmur | email a comment

Comment (thanks Paul!):

I read the Journal of the American Medical Association's abstract on Dr. Lonn's Vitamin E study and have concluded the following:  

  • As I suspected, her study only looked at the "alpha-tocopherol" version of Vitamin E; 
  • I believe she is correct when she says that alpha-tocopherol when take (alone) in large doses over a long-time may disturb the natural balance or function of other nutrients, and that this may result in the observed increased risk for heart failure in diseased persons;
  • However, Dr. Lonn's statement (as quoted during a March 16 Canada Now news clip on the study) does not necessarily also mean that the "mixed tocopherol" version of Vitamin E (which contains all four of the naturally occurring tocopherols -- alpha-, beta-, gamma- and delta-tocopherol), would also cause this effect;
  • This fact would help to account for other research which implies that Vitamin E should be "gamma-tocopherol" dominant to impart cardio-protective and other health benefits;
  • What to do?  For starters, from a public policy point of view, I believe Vitamin E should be only allowed to carry the name "Vitamin E" on its label if it contains all four naturally occurring tocopherols; and

I seem to recall reading somewhere that large doses of Vitamin E (as alpha-tocopherol) may cause a slight increase in urinary activity.  If this is so, then this would in turn lead to an elevated excretion rate of important electrolytes in the diseased cardiac population they studied.  (In research found in the American Journal of Cardiology, this population has shown to be Magnesium deficient.)  Alpha-tocopherol would therefore only increase the likelihood of cardiac failure through an indirect effect, and not a direct one. 

In other words, Vitamin E, whether as alpha-tocopherol or otherwise, taken in large doses, may as the study's lead investigator implied, disturb the balance of other important nutrients.  She just never mentioned electrolytes. 

Since naturally occurring Vitamin E in its mixed tocopherol form is an essential nutrient, the key appears to be in maintaining a dosage and Vitamin E tocopherol profile which is in keeping with nature's optimum biological balance.  Excess with anything has a way of upsetting this balance, and therefore increase risks to health.



Ontario bill targets 'gender-based pricing'
March 15, 2005

Haircuts, dry cleaning and clothes could soon cost the same for men and women in Ontario if a bill currently before the legislature passes, CBC News Online reports.

Liberal Lorenzo Berardinetti, who is pushing the bill to outlaw what he calls "gender-based pricing," says there is no good reason why men and women should pay different prices for similar products and services.

"It's a form of discrimination ... that should have been removed a long time ago," Berardinetti told the Toronto Star.

Women across the country are overcharged a total of $750 million for their hairstyling alone, according to Joanne Thomas Yaccato, a marketing consultant.

The bill, which would impose fines of up to $5,000 for charging women more than men, will be debated on April 14.

Via CBC News Online

posted by Tessa | 12:06 PM (ET) | Permalink

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Marketing research sniffs out impact of smell and other senses
March 15, 2005

Close-up of a human nose.
More from Millward Brown’s global survey into branding and sensory awareness, as reported by Promotions and Incentives:

76 per cent of all consumers think about their childhood when they smell Crayola crayons.
68 percent of British consumers associate the smell of a new car with positive memories.
The crunching sound that Kellogg’s cornflakes make was invented in a lab and adjusted to match the brand.
Singapore Airlines owns a trademark on the smell inside its cabins. It’s called Stefan Florida Waters and is sprayed on all the hot towels before they’re handed out.

Seventy-five per cent of the emotions you feel today will be generated by smells you encounter – not by things you see and hear. That’s the finding from a study by the global market research agency Millward Brown.

Why would marketing researchers care what you think about when you smell oatmeal cookies? Millward Brown says 83 per cent of all advertising and promotional communication appeals exclusively to our sense of sight – and neglect the others, such as smell.

For marketers, neglecting a consumer’s more emotive senses is missing an opportunity to build life-long loyalty to a brand. The Millward Brown report adds that brands which “deliberately built their sensory values” by appealing to all of the senses greatly benefit “from owning such associations.”

Promotions and Incentives magazine reports that a number of brands have developed programs to “leverage sensory branding.” Among them:

  • Shirt retailer Thomas Pink, which pumps out a subtle smell of freshly laundered clothing into all its stores.
  • WHSmith introduced the smell of pine trees to its outlets in the run-up to Christmas.
  • Barclays Bank has introduced fresh coffee to generate a warm, at-home feel into its branches.

Promotions and Incentives says the sensory branding movement could lead to stronger loyalty and even increased profits for companies that are successful with it. The magazine cites a recent experiment conducted on Nike running shoes:

Identical pairs of the shoes were placed in two separate but identical rooms. One room was infused with a mixed floral scent, the other wasn’t. Test subjects inspected the shoes in each room, then answered a questionnaire. By a margin of 84 per cent, consumers preferred the shoes displayed in the fragrant room. Additionally, the consumers estimated the value of the “scented” shoes was, on average, $10.33 higher than the pair in the unscented room.

What’s amazing about these results is that not one of the respondents was aware of the smell in the room – they simply couldn’t detect it.

Via Promotions and Incentives

posted by Tessa | 11:11 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Comment (thanks Nancy!):

I would have preferred the unscented room!! I'm highly allergic to scents!! Many people are!!

Comment (thanks Joan!):

I agree with Nancy's comment about preferring the unscented room. I turn around and walk right out of scented stores because of allergies and/or sensitivities to most manufactured scents (e.g. natural flowers are fine, perfumes are not). I have a very keen sense of smell and often am aware of scents or odours before others around me notice them. I am thankful that scented mail is not very common anymore.



Shoppers pay with fingerprints in Germany
March 15, 2005

Close-up of a fingerprint.

A supermarket chain in Germany is introducing a new method of payment in which customers use their fingerprints to pay for their purchases.

At the checkout, shoppers run their finger over a scanner to confirm their purchases and receive their goods. The customer’s account with the store, stored in a database, is debited the tally.

The chain, Edeka, has been piloting the fingerprint payment scheme at one store in southwest Germany since November; the project’s gone so well that Edeka says it will now roll out the technology to all of its stores in the region.

Backers of the fingerprint payment method say it will shave 40 seconds off of each transaction, benefiting busy customers and store staff.

Via Ananova

posted by Tessa | 9:48 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Mail order companies accused of deceptive marketing
March 14, 2005

The federal Competition Bureau has laid criminal charges against two Canadian mail order companies and their president following thousands of consumer complaints, CBC Business News reports.

The bureau has charged JD Marvel Products Inc., CDN MailOrder Exchange Inc., and president John Dragan, with engaging in deceptive marketing practices. The bureau said the companies targeted Canadian and U.S. residents – especially seniors.

JD Marvel Products and CDN MailOrder Exchange advertise consumer products through mail order, advertising inserts, coupons in discount envelopes and magazines, catalogues and the Internet. Consumers complained the companies cashed their cheques, but didn't send the merchandise.

Via CBC Business News

posted by Tessa | 5:27 PM (ET) | Permalink

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Coming soon to a beer near you: caffeine
March 14, 2005

A pitcher of beer and two glasses.

Canada's two biggest brewers, Molson and Labatt, think they've found a way to bring a much-needed jolt to their market shares and bottom lines. Both have announced plans to market beers infused with caffeine, CBC Business News reports.

Molson will debut its new Kick brand March 21 in central and western Canada. It debuts in Atlantic Canada on April 1.

Labatt will introduce its new brand entry – Shok – beginning in early April.

Related Marketplace story: Raging Bull (Marketplace investigates the energy drink Red Bull. It's fast becoming a bestseller, but are health warnings being ignored?)

Related Murmur: 'Queer Beer' targets gay drinkers

Via CBC Business News

posted by Tessa | 3:31 PM (ET) | Permalink

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If you need another reason not to eat fast food…
March 14, 2005

Close-up of french fries.

... Here are a few (improper food temperatures, hygienic practice, improper hand washing, not disinfecting, food equipment or utensils…) from Dateline’s investigation into the fast food industry and what restaurants are doing the best and the worst job of keeping things safe and clean.

This weekend, Dateline NBC repeated a study of health and sanitary violations at fast food restaurants across the United States (the show conducted a similar report last year). Dateline’s researchers examined inspection reports from 1,000 restaurants in 10 cities. The results: Jack-in-the-Box had the fewest critical violations and McDonald's the most.

Via Dateline NBC

posted by Tessa | 11:39 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Candy bars unwrapped: Thesis unpacks history of candy bar design
March 14, 2005

Here’s an interesting thesis from Syracuse University on the history of candy bar wrappers:

The purpose of this analysis was to gain a broad understanding of the design process of packaging in the confections (specifically candy bar) category. The aim was to, first, take an historical look at the development of the product category. Then, through the study of graphic design trends related to the product, understand what sociocultural, technical, and manufacturing events triggered such trends.

The findings present a clear picture of an industry that relies heavily upon packaging as the main sales tool for reaching consumers. Because of the impulse-purchase, which the industry accounts for almost all of its sales, the package must communicate on its own merits – often without supporting media. Therefore, the design of such wrappers can be as important, if not more so, than the actual product.

The nature of the product – the fact that it is a sweet and historically given as a reward or act of affection – plays another important factor in regard to brand identity and management, and the necessity to keep brands (packaging) culturally relevant.

Download A Century of Candy Bars: An Analysis of Wrapper Design [PDF].

Via SpeakUp

posted by Tessa | 9:55 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Health Canada issues cough syrup warning
March 14, 2005

Health Canada is advising consumers to avoid a generic cough syrup because it contains twice the amount of active ingredient listed on the label.

The product is sold across Canada as "Cough Syrup DM" under the following brand names: People First, PharmaChoice, Procurity Encounter, ARP Preferred, Medicine Centre, United Pharmacy and Western Family.

The cough medicine, made by Jamp Pharmaceutical Corp. in Langley, B.C., contains too much dextromethorphan.

Health Canada warns consuming the wrongly mixed medicine could result in light-headedness, fatigue and slurred speech. It also warns children under the age three may be more vulnerable to other possible adverse effects, including seizures.

The recall applies specifically to "Cough Syrup DM" with a DIN 02015781. Look for lot numbers beginning with 2J29 and 3J29.

Via CBC News Online

posted by Tessa | 9:23 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Ticket to nowhere: Many Jetsgo customers are out of luck
March 11, 2005

Stranded passengers at the airport.

Thousands of Canadians are scrambling to find alternate travel arrangements after Jetsgo, the discount airline, shut down operations overnight.

The airline has advised passengers, including people in the middle of a trip, that their tickets are worthless and they should book with another airline.

MORE: Passengers worried, angry at Jetsgo »

The federal government can do little to help passengers holding worthless tickets for the discount airline Jetsgo, says Transport Minister Jean Lapierre.

Meanwhile, an analyst is warning consumers to brace themselves for higher airfares as a result of Jetsgo's shutdown.

Rick Erickson, an independent aviation analyst in Calgary, says that until JetsGo dropped its bombshell announcement, summer travellers could have expected cheap prices and lots of options from a highly competitive industry.

But with the sudden disappearance of Jetsgo (it was the country's third largest airline and had from seven to 10 per cent of the domestic airline market) Erickson predicts travel options will drop notably.

MORE: Airfare hike forecast as passengers fume at Jetsgo »

In a press release, Jetsgo said clients who have paid for tickets should contact the Canadian Transportation Agency: 1-888-222-2592.

In Ontario, consumers who bought tickets through a registered travel agency should call their travel agent to make alternate travel arrangements. They can also call the Travel Industry Council of Ontario to request a claim form to get their money back from an insurance fund that's paid for by the travel industry. The number is 1-888-451-8426.

In Quebec, consumers who bought Jetsgo tickets through a registered travel agency are entitled to a refund from a new compensation fund set up by the Quebec government. Consumers can call the Office of Consumer Protection (L’Office de la protection du consommateur) at 1-888-672-2556 to find out how to obtain a refund. If consumers bought tickets directly from Jetsgo, they are not entitled to a refund under this fund.

In British Columbia, consumers who booked with a registered travel agency can call their credit card issuer first if they paid with a credit card to see if it will reverse the charges or they can call their travel insurance company if they bought separate travel insurance to see if it will cover the costs.

If those calls fail to produce results, B.C. consumers can make a claim to the Travel Assurance Fund administered by the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Authority, a not-for-profit organization that offers protection to consumers from the oversight of business practices in B.C. It handles problems previously looked after by the B.C. Consumer Services Division of the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General.

Via CBC News Online

posted by Tessa | 4:22 PM (ET) | Permalink

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RFID technology won’t be regulated in U.S.
March 11, 2005

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission says it is going to let stores and suppliers self-regulate their use of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags – and it will leave it to retailers and the RFID industry to educate consumers about use of the tags and data collected using the technology.

RFID tags are used to monitor the movement of products through their distribution from warehouse to store shelf. Privacy advocates worry that the use of RFID technology will allow corporations and governments to track people and their activities through their belongings.

The FTC did not rule out the possibility of issuing guidelines in future, the RFID Journal reports.

Related Murmurs: European consumers worry about use of RFID, Pub-crawling with Big Brother, Keeping track of the kids ... with RFID

Via Consumer World

posted by Tessa | 11:00 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Movies, technology and the future of viewing
March 11, 2005

picture of multiple television screens

From the good people at NPR’s Talk of the Nation, here's an interesting discussion about the future of movies with Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired Magazine, Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, and Dean Garfield, legal affairs director for the Motion Picture Association of America:

It's been a long time since movies were only available in theaters. But now there are movies on demand over cable TV; compressed films in digital files; and DVDs in the mail. Technology is changing how we watch movies, and it may even change what we watch.

You can listen to the item in Real Audio or Windows Media Player here.

Related Marketplace story: Putting the viewer in command: The personal video recorder (PVR)

Meanwhile… Reuters reports that George Atkinson, the man credited with having opened the world’s first video rental store, has died.

Via Boing Boing

posted by Tessa | 9:27 AM (ET) | Permalink

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FDA sounds cancer warning for eczema drugs
March 11, 2005

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has ordered drug companies to place the strongest type of warning on two popular eczema drugs, CBC Health and Science News reports.

The "black box" warning tells people who use Elidel and Protopic that they may face an increased risk of cancer.

Studies in animals revealed the risk, and doctors have reported about two dozen cancers in children and adults treated with the skin creams.

The U.S. regulator is telling doctors to be cautious in prescribing the drug, which should be used sparingly for the shortest time possible.

Health Canada said both drugs are prescribed in Canada. The department noted it is aware of the FDA warning.

Via CBC Health & Science News

posted by Tessa | 9:09 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Another reason to hate cockroaches
March 10, 2005

Close-up image of cockroaches.

Cockroaches are worse for asthma in kids than furry pets or dust mites, a new study released yesterday has found.

A team at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas tested 937 inner-city children aged 5 to 11 with moderate to severe asthma symptoms.

They were tested for sensitivity to cockroach and dust mite allergens, pet dander and mould, Reuters reports:

"We found that a majority of homes in Chicago, New York City and the Bronx had cockroach allergen levels high enough to trigger asthma symptoms, while a majority of homes in Dallas and Seattle had dust mite allergen levels above the asthma symptom threshold," said Dr. Rebecca Gruchalla, who led the study.

"However, general cleaning practices, proven extermination techniques and consistent maintenance methods can bring these allergen levels under control," added Kenneth Olden, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, which helped fund the study.

Related Murmur: Cleaning products may affect babies' breathing

Via Heal the House and Reuters

posted by Tessa | 10:09 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Kids spend more time with media that adults spend at work: study
March 10, 2005

Photo of a girl watching television.

A new study says the typical kid in the U.S. is exposed to 8.5 hours of media content and advertising in an average day, AdAge reports.

"Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-Olds" was produced by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit organization that conducts research and analysis of national health care and related issues. It found that American kids typically spend 6.5 hours a day engaged with TV, the Internet, digital games, radio, MP3 players and other media.

But the researchers noted a dramatic change from previous studies: many children routinely multitask today, exposing themselves to the content and ads of two or more media simultaneously. The report concludes that a kid’s total exposure to media in an average day equals about 8.5 hours – more than the typical adult spends at work in the same day.

Senator Hillary Clinton, a keynote speaker at the release announcement of the report yesterday, says the findings provide good fodder for marketers to make greater efforts to curb violent content and pitches for unhealthy food in their advertising, AdAge reports.

Overall, the study found that during a typical day, typical 8- to 18-year-olds do the following:

  • 81% watch TV
  • 74% listen to radio
  • 68% listen to CD/tape/MP3
  • 54% use a computer
  • 47% go online
  • 47% read a magazine
  • 46% read a book
  • 41% play console video games
  • 39% watch videos or DVDs
  • 35% play handheld video games
  • 34% read a newspaper
  • 21% watch pre-recorded TV
  • 13% go to a movie

Via AdAge

posted by Tessa | 9:52 AM (ET) | Permalink

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McDonald’s to launch global ad campaign aimed at getting kids active
March 9, 2005

McDonald’s is set to roll out a global advertising campaign that will promote eating right and staying active in messages geared to children.

The message of the campaign is that people, especially kids, should pay attention to the foods they eat and their level of activity to find the right balance.

The campaign is the fast food chain’s response to mounting criticism against food marketers who are blamed for an explosion in childhood obesity.

Earlier this year, Kraft Foods said it will remove some of its snack foods from advertising in media seen by children aged 6-11 as part of the fight against rising obesity levels.

In January, an appeals court ruled that McDonald's Corp. must face a suit by New York teenagers who claim the company hid the health risks of Chicken McNuggets and other foods and made them obese.

The teens' suit claimed McDonald’s hid the health risks of its food in its advertisements.

AdAge reports that the new McDonald's TV ads will feature:

... popular athletes such as tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams and snowboarding pro Crispin Lipscomb… The commercial featuring the Williams sisters includes the lyrics "I'm burnin' calories like a fiend. ... Leafy greens so right for you. I'm making good choices, you can, too," while shots of salads and other menu items are interspersed with shots of the tennis stars on the court.

McDonald's is also putting its well-known icon and "chief happiness officer," Ronald McDonald, to work on the new lifestyle mission. The character sports snappy yellow-and-red-colored workout gear and appears in some of new TV commercials as well as on various packaging and outdoor creative executions, all of which show him in some form of physical activity, such as scaling one side of an office building.

Canadian hockey icon Wayne Gretzky will also be featured in the ads.

Via AdAge

posted by Tessa | 11:02 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Chew test dummy determines how the cookie crumbles
March 9, 2005

Image of the "Chew Test Dummy" from ''
Image of the crumb test dummy from: nicecupofteaandasitdown
Related Murmur: Every step you take, this mannequin's watching you

Researchers in Britain have created a biscuit-eating dummy to test the amount of crumbs crackers and cookies produce, the BBC reports.

The motorized mannequin, developed at the McVitie's laboratory, has plastic teeth and is designed to mimic the way humans chew. The goal is to find out which baking techniques produce the most crumbs.

Liz Ashdown, brand manager at McVitie's, told This is London: "Eating lots of biscuits is obviously an enjoyable prospect for most people but we haven't yet found a human who can test on this scale.

"The Crumb Test Dummy has a never-ending appetite and doesn't need to stop for breath.”

Last month I confessed my apprehension for all-things-mannequin. The notion that one’s been developed to chomp is very disturbing indeed.

Meanwhile, since we’re on the topic of cookies… The New York Times reports that Girl Scouts in the U.S. are under fire for peddling $400 million worth of cookies every year in a nation where childhood obesity is considered by many to be an epidemic.

The Girl Scouts have also been besieged by charges that their cookies are packed with unhealthy levels of trans fats. The national Girl Scout office “has even had to deny that child labour was used to produce the chocolate that covers the popular Thin Mints,” says the Times.

Via We-make-money-not-art, BBC News, This is London, New York Times

posted by Tessa | 10:40 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Dairy debate gets heated
March 8, 2005

Picture of a glass of milk.

Milk doesn’t always do the body good. That’s the bottom line from a report published in the journal Pediatrics, which says boosting consumption of milk or other dairy products is not necessarily the best way to provide enough calcium to the body.

The report reviewed 37 studies examining the impact of calcium consumption on bone strength in children older than seven years old. Researchers at the non-profit organisation Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine found 27 of the studies did not support drinking more milk to boost calcium.

"Currently, available evidence does not support nutrition guidelines focused specifically on increasing milk or other dairy product intake for promoting child and adolescent bone mineralisation," writes lead researcher and nutritionist Dr. Amy Lanou.

In a press release, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine blasted new U.S. government dietary guidelines that recommend drinking three cups of fat-free or low fat milk a day. The dairy industry has since fired back in an interview with CBS. A spokesperson for the National Dairy Council told CBS that the Pediatrics report is tainted by the biases of the researchers.

Related Marketplace story: Does a good diet have to include dairy?

Via Consumer World

posted by Tessa | 12:45 PM (ET) | Permalink

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How many toxins are in you?
March 8, 2005

Image of a smokestack.

Here’s an interesting feature from this weekend’s Globe and Mail: reporter Mark Stevenson trekked to Harvard's School of Public Health and underwent a series of tests to analyze the toxins and impurities in his body.

An otherwise healthy-looking fellow, Stevenson discovered he is indeed polluted. And while everyone is to some degree, the levels of some toxins (PCBs, mercury, lead) are stymieing researchers and making many anxious over what the implications are for human health.

No extensive study has considered the chemical body burden of Canadians, although separate studies have reported the presence of individual compounds -- for example, research documenting a dramatic rise of PBDEs in breast milk.

More wide-ranging studies have been done in the United States.

In one, researchers found at an average of 91 "industrial compounds, pollutants and chemicals" in the blood and urine of nine volunteers and a total of 167 chemicals in the group. According to the research, conducted by Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York with the Environmental Working Group, "76 cause cancer in humans or animals, 94 are toxic to the brain or nervous system, and 79 cause birth defects or abnormal development." None of the people tested worked with chemicals or lived near an industrial facility.

Via The Globe and Mail

posted by Tessa | 11:02 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Outsourcing customer service costs more than it saves, study finds
March 8, 2005

Most companies that outsource customer service functions are losing money and customers, a survey by the analyst firm Gartner has found.

The research found that outsourced customer service operations can cost almost a third more than those retained in-house.

Despite the growth in the outsourcing of customer service to firms overseas –the market is predicted to grow from $8.4 billion in 2004 to $12.2 billion in 2007– the report warns that the outsourcing of customer service can "reduce the quality of the customer experience, dilute the brand values of the company and fail to deliver cost savings."

Related Marketplace story: How to Complain

Via The Register

posted by Tessa | 10:24 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Wal-Mart bypasses town’s big box ban with new side-by-side store tactic
March 8, 2005

Retailing giant Wal-Mart plans to trump local ordinances in a community in Maryland by building two smaller Wal-Mart stores next to each other, AP reports.

The zoning rules in Dunkirk, Maryland, deliberately restrict the size of stores allowed in the region in an attempt to dissuade big-box retailers from moving in.

In the first arrangement of its kind in the U.S., Wal-Mart says it will build two smaller, separate stores side-by-side. One store will sell clothing and household items, the other gardening and outdoor equipment. Both will have separate entrances, utilities, and restrooms.

The combined size of the stores will be 30 per cent larger than the 75,000 square-foot limit allowed by the region for a single store.

Wal-Mart says it’s a strategy the company is likely to consider in other areas.

Via Fark

posted by Tessa | 10:02 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Honda tops Consumer Reports’ car picks: Ford Focus bumped
March 7, 2005

Image of the Ford Focus sedan.
The Ford Focus was supposed to take top honours as the best "Small Sedan," but Consumer Reports removed it from the list after news of the car's poor performance in side impact crash tests.

Pity those poor American automakers. They’ve been shut out from the top picks in Consumer Reports’ “Best Cars” edition, which hits newsstands next week.

A trusted shopping guide by many car buyers , the magazine has put the Honda Accord in top spot among family sedans. Consumer Reports says Japanese and Korean automakers have produced the most trouble-free models (with an overall problem rate of 12 per 100 for the 2004 model year).

While GM, Ford and the Chrysler side of DaimlerChrysler AG are reportedly gaining ground, their problem rate still sits at 17 per 100.

According to Consumer Reports, "The most reliable brand overall is now Subaru, which averages eight problems per 100." Honda Motor Co. Ltd. averaged nine problems per 100.

Ford was supposed to take top honours in the “Best Small Car” category with the Ford Focus, but in a sudden move last night Consumer Reports struck the Focus from the list. Earlier in the day, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released results that found the Focus performed poorly during side impact crash tests.

In a press release, Consumer Reports said Sunday night that those considering the Focus might want to look at the Toyota Corolla with optional side airbags instead.

Via Consumer Reports

posted by Tessa | 12:44 PM (ET) | Permalink

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Today's diversion
March 7, 2005

There are times when I am glad I’m not a celebrity. This is one of those times. (That's a link to “Blink O Rama,” a blog of celebrities frozen in mid-blink.)

Via Boing Boing

posted by Tessa | 10:12 AM (ET) | Permalink

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FDA seizes batches of two Glaxo drugs
March 7, 2005

Officials in the U.S. seized batches of a diabetes drug and an antidepressant medication on Friday because of concerns the drug company didn't meet manufacturing standards, CBC Health and Science News reports.

The drugs are Paxil CR, a control-released formula used to treat depression and panic disorder, and Avandamet, used to treat type 2 diabetes.

Via CBC Health & Science News

posted by Tessa | 10:00 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Car buyers need more accurate fuel mileage info: U.S. bill
March 4, 2005

Image of a person filling their car's gas tank.

Lawmakers in the U.S. say consumers are being misled when it comes to their car’s mileage, Newsday reports.

The measurements used to determine a new car’s fuel economy in the U.S. are based on standards created by the Environmental Protection Agency. The trouble is those standards were created decades ago, when cars drove slower, accelerated slower, and didn’t come with air conditioning or other gas guzzling features.

Two members of the U.S. Congress, Nancy Johnson and Rush Holt, have introduced the “Fuel Efficiency Truth-in-Advertising Act of 2005,” which aims to push the EPA to revise its fuel economy testing and rating system.

“The EPA is using an outmoded, inaccurate method to assess fuel economy standards,” Holt told Newsday. “As a result, consumers are getting inaccurate information about fuel efficiency… If consumers don't have accurate information about their new car's miles per gallon, how can they accurately measure bang for their buck?”

Via Newsday

posted by Tessa | 11:47 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Barbie undergoes yet another makeover
March 4, 2005

Image of "American Idol" Barbie, from

Mattel, the maker of Barbie, is hoping to reinvent the long-limbed doll through a partnership with Fox TV's wildly popular American Idol franchise.

Barbie’s been in quite a slump of late, AdAge reports. In 2003, Barbie sales were down 15 per cent from the year before. Despite attempts to reinvigorate the brand with a marketing matrix involving movies, websites, music, books and magazines, Barbie’s still facing stiff competition from a new wave of trendier dolls, such as the Bratz line.

Hence Barbie’s latest career conversion: from single chic city gal (she broke up with Ken in her last major foray in the news) into an ultra-glam stage entertainer. The American Idol Barbie dolls are now arriving in stores and taking centre-stage at, which features an online competition where ‘fans’ vote for their favourite performer.

According to Mattel, more than 1.2 million online votes have been cast for the winner of the fictitious contest.


posted by Tessa | 10:30 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Signs, signs, everywhere are signs
March 4, 2005

Image of a "ghost sign" on the side of an old building. From the American Sign Museum.
A "ghost sign" from the American Sign Museum

Towards the end of the month a new museum dedicated to signage opens in Cincinnati.

The American Sign Museum “was founded to inform and educate the general public as well as business and special interest groups of the history of the sign industry and its significant contribution to commerce and the American landscape.”

The museum has a website with a sampling of the collection, from fast food classics to beautiful “ghost signs” that echo times of long ago (you know, those the fading painted ones on the sides of old brick buildings, with their messages stubbornly persisting against time and weather).

Via we-make-money-not-art

posted by Tessa | 9:56 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Update: Haven’t you always wanted a monkey?
March 3, 2005

Last month I told you about an auction to sell the naming rights of a species of "Titi" monkey recently discovered in the Madidi National Park in Bolivia. (You may have heard this story discussed on As it Happens earlier this week).

Well, today’s the last day of that auction. You have until 7:00 pm ET to place your bid.

As for me, I'm out of the running. The cute little creatures won’t be going by the moniker I had in mind (“Tessa Titi” sounds delightful, no?). The bids have climbed faster than these fluffy little imps can scamper up a tree.

The current bid sits at $110,000 US. (Now, if I had a million dollars...)

Proceeds from the auction will go to a Bolivian conservation foundation and the country's park service.


The auction closed with the winning bidder coming in at $650,000. The winner, who outbid Ellen DeGeneres, has chosen to remain anonymous for now.


posted by Tessa | 7:08 PM (ET) | Permalink

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Advocacy group targets drug makers with satirical ad
March 2, 2005

Image from the 'ad' shows an animated dancing pill.

The Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, has created a biting ad satire of the drug industry. The advocacy group hopes it will stir debate in the U.S. over the need for safer, more effective and affordable prescription drugs.

The ‘ad’ was released as the U.S. Senate begins holding hearings on the safety of prescription drugs. After watching the animation, Americans are invited to send an email to Congress asking members to support a bipartisan bill introduced earlier this week that would require drug companies to make their studies available to the public, letting doctors and consumers know about potentially harmful side effects.

Via Consumers Union

posted by Tessa | 11:35 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Teacher loses weight on 'Super Size Me' diet
March 2, 2005

Les Sayer
For a month, Les Sayer ate only McDonald's food - he says he lost weight and lowered his blood pressure.

More Murmurs:
Retrial ordered for McDonald's libel suit, Court revives teens’ suit against McDonald’s

Related Marketplace stories:
Cafeteria Confidential, Fat Grade

After a month of eating only McDonald's food, a teacher in Edmonton has lost weight, lowered his blood pressure and won a bet with his biology students, but nutritionists say he's risking his health.

CBC Health and Science News reports that Les Sayer set out to recreate the diet behind the hit film Super Size Me, in which Morgan Spurlock's 30-day McBinge ends in a weight gain of 25 pounds and a host of ailments.

Unlike the documentary maker, Sayer wanted to show he could lose weight and stay healthy on the fast food diet, which included the chain's salads.

The company hasn't welcomed Sayer's experiment. In a written statement, McDonald's Canada said: "We are not affiliated in any way with this individual."

Via CBC Health & Science News

posted by Tessa | 10:04 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Comment (thanks Brian!):

I’d like to see an outline of the foods the guy ate from the movie 'Super Size Me' and this other guy. I’m sure they are very different. I bet most people don't go to McDonald's and eat a lot of salads and veggie burgers.


Virgin Group to push for cellphone number portability
March 2, 2005

Close-up of a cellphone keypad.
More Marketplace: Cellphone Secrets

The newest entry in Canada's cellphone market is promising to make portability of phone numbers a key issue, CBC Business News reports.

Virgin Mobility Canada, which is marketing itself as a lower-cost, no-contract-necessary alternative to the three dominant companies, sees the ability to transfer the same phone number between different carriers as vital for consumer choice, Virgin Group chair Richard Branson said.

"We will campaign hard as we have in other countries to get the government to allow people to do that. It's the only way you can bring real competition in," he told CBC Newsworld on yesterday.

"It's wrong that the mobile phone companies have stopped people being able to move their mobile phones to a rival company."

Via CBC Business News

posted by Tessa | 9:50 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Ontario passes ban on pit bulls
March 2, 2005

Image of a 'pit bull', from CBC Toronto's website.
More Marketplace: Dangerous Dogs

A controversial bill to ban pit bulls passed in the Ontario legislature yesterday, and now requires only royal assent before becoming law, CBC News reports.

The legislation prevents people from acquiring a number of breeds of dogs classified as pit bulls, and requires those who already own the dogs to neuter and muzzle their animals.

"Mark my words, Ontario will be safer," Attorney General Michael Bryant, who brought forward the bill, said after it passed.

Via CBC News

posted by Tessa | 9:41 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Comment [thanks Pierre!]:

Well, there you have it. Another non-effective, ad-hoc, not-thought-out decision by the McGuinty Mismanagement Team. Sad. The current decision will protect only partly, and only against one kind of dangerous dog. Can't these people think at all?

Please allow me to put forth, in point form, something which would have been far better, and more useful...

(I would be pleased to explain and defend it at length, but not here.)

There are a number of experts (veterinarians etc.), who know a lot more about picking out "good or bad" and "dangerous or non-dangerous" dogs than politicians do.... My suggested plan would be to:

1) Professionally compile a list of all dog breeds known to be able to bite dangerously. (i.e: We can probably leave Chihuahuas and miniature poodles off the list.)

2) Simply register all dogs on the above list which are over "X-lbs/kg" and/or [ Y-in/cm tall and Z-in/cm long ]. Anything "smaller" than that might bite, but simply cannot damage a human, quickly/severely enough to be worth worrying about right now. Head size, mouth size, and tooth size might also be taken into account. Note that the requirements for this registry can be easily expanded/shrunk or changed any time needed. Existing dog licensing systems could handle the registry. This won't need two billion dollars.

3) Require all above listed dogs (or any other dog that has ever bitten a human), to have a "history" compiled about them (by the owner and a vet), and to be examined by a vet (and/or other expert) to assess their "bite risk" and "bite effects". Things like history, size of the dog, breeding, "psychological assessment" of the particular animal, etc.... would all be considered. Animals considered to have a "moderate to dangerous bite risk", and "moderate to severe bite effect" would be put in a special class when registered.

4) Require all owners of dogs described by 1, 2, & 3 to:

a) post "dangerous animal" signs (English, French, & Pictorial) on their property,
b) surround their dog's/dogs' habitat by a 12-ft (3.65m) wire fence, sunk 3-ft (0.91-m) into the ground.
c) provide some means of assuring that the dog(s) cannot "accidentally get off their property",
d) keep the dog(s) muzzled and leashed while in public,
e) insure the dog(s) actions with a minimum $1 million dollar insurance policy,

5) The above information would then provide data to decide if any particular animal would be required to be immediately spayed or neutered. Alternatively, this decision might be held in abeyance, at least temporarily.

6) Next, should any dog bite anyone after all of the above (1 - 5) has been done, all of the necessary information would now clearly exist for society to be able to make the following decisions:

a) keep this dog (spaying or neutering now required) -or- immediately destroy this particular dog,
b) assess fines, penalties, damages, and/or possible prison terms for that dog's owner(s),
c) decide whether to ban that(these) person(s) from ever owning a dog again.

The above six points would now mean that we could economically consider each dog individually, as well as consider each owner individually, and that the work/cost of this new statute would then be the responsibility of the dog owner, not society. My proposed solution is easily modifiable as needed, whenever needed. It sure beats the current ill-thought-out cockamamie plan.



Sustainable seafood on the menu
March 1, 2005

Close-up of a mussel.
According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch List, farmed mussels are okay, but there are some concerns over how wild-caught mussels are harvested.

CBC Health and Science News reports that a new program at the Vancouver Aquarium is helping B.C. restaurants make ethical and environmentally sustainable decisions about what to serve their customers.

The Ocean Wise initiative guides restaurants to serve up only sustainable species, based on a database maintained by the the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The list of seafood it recommends avoiding includes fish such as marlin and orange roughie, as well as shrimp. Ecologists note that for every kilogram of shrimp caught, there can be as much as 10 kilograms of unwanted by-catch.

So far, only Vancouver's C Restaurant has signed on to the initiative.

Via CBC Health & Science News

posted by Tessa | 4:27 PM (ET) | Permalink

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Beef up drug monitoring, Health Canada told
March 1, 2005

The recent health scare surrounding popular arthritis drugs prove that Canadians need to be warned sooner about dangerous drugs, some of the country's top scientists told Health Canada today.

CBC Health and Science News reports that surveillance to monitor the safety of drugs was a key topic of discussion at a meeting between researchers and the department.

Consumer advocates have long argued the country's drug monitoring system would be stronger if Health Canada had access to provincial databases that contain detailed information on who is taking drugs and why.

Via CBC Health & Science News

posted by Tessa | 2:57 PM (ET) | Permalink

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Lighters to be banned on U.S. flights, matches still a go
March 1, 2005

A close-up of a match.
Is a match safer than a lighter at 30,000 feet?

As of April 14, 2005, passengers on U.S. flights will no longer be allowed to carry cigarette lighters past airport security checkpoints, the Transportation Security Administration announced yesterday.

In the climate of increased security awareness following the terrorist attacks of September 11th, the TSA’s curious omission of lighters from the list of banned items has certainly raised eyebrows. Especially in light of an attempted attack in December 2001, when a passenger on a Paris-to-Miami flight tried to set fire to his explosive-packed shoes with a lighter.

So why no lighter ban? Michael Moore blames the tobacco industry. Moore says an insider told him that lighters were on a to-be-banned list prepared by the Federal Aviation Authority -- until the Bush administration knuckled under pressure from the tobacco industry.

But now that we've gotten past the lobbying and lighters have been barred from the sky -- we can fly with confidence that some wacko’s not going to set the plane alight, right?

Um… Not really. Officials at yesterday’s announcement were quick to point out that the lighter ban is not an attack on smokers: passengers may still carry up to four matchbooks (at 20 matches a pack, that's 80 matches) past security checkpoints at airports, meaning smokers still can light up in designated areas.

And, presumably, wacko’s can still light their explosive-packed shoes with matches.

Via South Florida Sun-Sentinel

posted by Tessa | 1:14 PM (ET) | Permalink

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Comment [thanks Glenn!]:

So now the Americans are going to ban cigarette lighters from flights. Understandable, since they have an obscure possibility of igniting a low-tech explosive device.

But tell me why, after all the checks and ex-rays and re-checks, do they hand you your duty-free liquor in glass bottles just before you board the plane?

Seems to me a broken bottle has more chance of becoming a weapon than the nail clippers or cigarette lighters. I guess it still comes down to money!



'Brain pacemaker' may help worst cases of depression: study
March 1, 2005

Image of a person undergoing the treatment.
Scientists stimulate the brain's 'sadness centre.'

Deep electrical stimulation of the brain may help alleviate severe, chronic depression in patients who don't respond to other treatments, researchers in Ontario have found.

CBC Health and Science News reports that to test an experimental surgery, doctors placed a device in the brains of six people who had all been treated for depression with drugs and talk therapy, and in some cases, electroshock therapy.

None of the conventional treatments worked for them.

When neurosurgeons applied an electrical stimulation to the implanted electrodes, four of the six patients showed remarkable improvement in mood and sleep, the study's authors reported in the journal Neuron.

Via CBC Health & Science News

posted by Tessa | 10:31 AM (ET) | Permalink

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Why you can’t buy WKRP in Cincinnati on DVD
March 1, 2005

Picture of the cast of WKRP in Cincinnati, from the Internet Movie Database.

Wired News has an interesting article on the way copyright licensing is keeping a number of old boob tube shows from having a second life on DVD.

The article cites WKRP in Cincinnati, one of the most popular television shows of the late '70s and early '80s, as an example of a show that’s come up against the music-licensing roadblock:

The show, which centred on a fledging radio station with a nerdy news director and wild disc jockeys, had a lively soundtrack, playing tunes from rock 'n' rollers like Ted Nugent, Foreigner, Elton John and the Eagles.

For many TV shows, costs to license the original music for DVD are prohibitively high, so rights owners replace the music with cheaper tunes, much to the irritation of avid fans. And some shows, like WKRP, which is full of music, will probably never make it to DVD because of high licensing costs.

It’s an interesting conundrum; TV shows on DVD have been a surprisingly lucrative cash cow for television studios. A recent Merrill Lynch report found that consumers spent about $2.3 billion on TV DVDs in 2004 – and that number’s expected to grow to $3.9 billion in 2008.

Via Wired News

posted by Tessa | 10:14 AM (ET) | Permalink

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