News

The Real World Cost of a $22 Gadget

The “knee defender” (great name, dude) costs $21.95 and keeps the person seated in front of you on an airplane from being able to recline. It’s also a great way to start fights between strangers!

The spat began on United Airlines Flight 1462 because one passenger was using the Knee Defender, a $21.95 lock that attaches to a tray table and jams the reclining mechanism of the seat in front. The male passenger, seated in a middle seat of Row 12, used the device to stop the woman in front of him from reclining while he was on his laptop, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity. A flight attendant asked him to remove the device and he refused. The woman then stood up, turned around and threw a cup of water at him, the official said.

The pilot made an unplanned stop in Chicago, at which airport the feuding passengers were ejected, and the plane continued on to Denver where it landed an hour and a half late. So, in case you’re thinking of getting your own Knee Defender, buyer beware: the hidden costs might be significant and include your suddenly having to figure out how to get you, and your water-logged laptop, to Colorado.

Business Insider offers a refresher on airplane etiquette here. The publication supports your right to use the seat you’ve paid for however you see fit, but cautions, “make sure to look behind you before you recline. Maybe warn the fellow traveler whose space you are about to invade, so they can hang onto their drink or adjust their laptop. And stay upright during meals.”

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The Emmys: A Billfold Perspective

The Emmys were last night! So many dangling pendant earrings. So much bronzer. (Orange really is the new black, ba-dum-CHING.) So many long sleek hairless legs, representing so many costly hours at the gym and the spa, and so many skyscraper-like shoes hoisting those legs even further from the ground on which ordinary people spend their ordinary days. There are no losers at the Emmys: even people who don’t win get a $50,000 consolation prize.

Nearly all of the shows that do win these days are “premium” content, TV one has to pay to watch or else stream/download on the sly. As the NYT’s Alessandra Stanley puts it,

There is an exhilarating confluence of talent and opportunity at places like HBO and Showtime. Shows like “Breaking Bad” and “True Detective” are more inspired than movies, telling stories that are a complete vision rather than a committee-dulled compromise. But it’s increasingly obvious that the most rewarded series are also the ones that penalize audiences with costs that add up and count many viewers out. And that makes the Emmys, a ceremony that is always carried by a broadcast network, a paradox: a water-cooler event that increasingly exalts the boutique, paid-for television experience.

I don’t pay for either HBO or Showtime, though if I had unlimited money, I would buy unlimited cable. It’s high on the list, right up there with “beach/mountain house” and “Fluevogs.” Instead I settle for Netflix, which, for about $10/month, brings me a lot of the important shows, like “OITNB” and “Sherlock,” and which was basically shut out last night for being a brassy upstart. It’s funny to watch an event celebrating TV and realize how little of it an average person has access to.

Related: What’s an Emmy worth? CNN’s Brian Stelter explains and the NY Daily News weighs in.

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Link Roundup: Happy Marriage?; Telecommuting; How to Shop IRL

1) Thanks for the cheerful morning read on how most of us will not end up happily married, Quartz!

Just as most Americans want to believe that they will get rich someday, most Americans want to think that they will have a marriage of far-above-average quality. … What we do tell people is that happy couples are really no different from unhappy couples. Either they have found some secret formula for happiness (and if you buy the right book/attend the right seminar/take the right product, you will be happy too!), or they have learned to lower their expectations to the point where they don’t feel the sting of disappointment from incompatibility, loneliness, sexlessness or boredom. The first case is akin to Senator Marco Rubio testifying that America is “a nation of haves and soon to haves.” It is theoretically possible for any single individual to become wealthy, but it is unlikely that we are all going to be rich anytime soon. The second is like saying that rich people don’t have more money than poor people, just a better attitude. 

This is not a well written article. (“There are many theories floating around about why greater gender equality have not put an end to divorce in America.”) Does that mean the thesis is wrong? I hope so. The dream of being contently coupled should be more accessible than the dream of being Scrooge McDuck. There is, after all, an infinite amount of happiness in the world, and only a finite number of gold coins.

2) Women and childless men, don’t ask to work remotely

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Nail Polish That Might Save Your Life

Living with a kitchen of limited size, and also being on a budget, means having to be strategic. No single-utility items, a friend told me once, sternly. That was her policy. She refused to pay for any gadget – a bread-maker, a George Forman grill, a pineapple slicer — that did only one thing, because no number of delicious cuts of pineapple could make up for kitchen clutter. Appliances must multitask! Be useful, or begone.

I thought about that when I read this piece about nail polish that can detect date rape drugs.

Undercover Colors is currently raising cash to refine its prototype and pay executives. According to a securities filing, the four-person company, which recently appeared at the K50 Startup Showcase, just raised $100,000 from one investor, with $150,000 left to sell in the round. And it has additional cash from competition. The company won the Lulu eGames this spring, sponsored by N.C. State’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, a contest challenging students to design working solutions to real-world problems.

Though the article raises some questions, like how could be it be savvy enough to detect roofies and also nontoxic, and how much would Smart, Potentially Life-Saving Nail Polish cost — too much for your average college student?, it’s an intriguing idea. Veronica Mars would approve, and so, I imagine, would my clutter-conscious friends.

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Your Waistline = Your Boss’s Business

Here is your open thread, brought to you by the lengths corporations will go to spend less on health insurance:

companies, facing rising health expenses, are increasingly buying or subsidizing fitness-tracking devices to encourage employees and their dependents to be more fit. The tactic may reduce corporate health-care costs by encouraging healthier lifestyles, even as companies must overcome a creepy factor and concerns from privacy advocates that employers are prying too deeply into workers’ personal lives. … Companies and insurers said they protect the privacy of people using wearable gadgets, and comply with federal laws that prevent employers from seeing certain health information about employees without consent. The wearable programs are voluntary and often administered by third-party vendors like StayWell, which works with BP.

Big Brother is watching you on behalf of your boss. What could be better?

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Why SF is So Crazy Expensive & DC/NY Are Better

As we’ve established and you already knew deep in your bones, the same house will be more expensive in Greenwich, CT, than in Fargo, ND. What you may not have known, though, is that the difference in price is not merely reflective of the difference of costs, specifically land and material costs in CT vs ND. There’s an X factor too, or, as the experts call it, a “shadow price,” that makes San Francisco so absurdly unaffordable it might as well be Mars.

The price of a house or apartment, the authors argued, is more than just the value of the land plus the value of the building. There’s a third, shadow price, which represents how difficult it is to get something built given local regulations. In highly restrictive places like San Francisco, regulations impede the supply of new buildings, and so raise the price of housing.

So, like, for example, materials and land cost 2x the national average in SF, and yet a house costs 3.6x the national average. The difference can be attributed to regulations. You know, bureaucracy, red tape, all that nonsense. The Economist flatly states, “the [Bay Area] is one of the most difficult places to build in the country. Prices are therefore soaring and neighbourhoods are changing, touching off some occasionally nasty social conflicts.”

DC apartments, though nutsy, remain more reasonable than SF’s, in part because, after our nation’s capital went through crisis after crisis between 1969 and 2001, it decided to get back on its feet by investing in tons of new housing — for DINKs. If you build it, DC figured, they will come, “they” being single, sexy, spendy types, which represent more short-term gain for an urban area. And lo, the city was right

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Ice Bucket Craziness Changes Charity Forever

The ALS ice bucket challenge is bigger than Kickstarter. It’s bigger than Jesus plus Kanye plus baby North West multiplied by the sum of Brangelina and Warren Buffet. I mean, did you watch former Leader of the Free World and amateur painter George W. Bush’s video? This shit has gotten real:

The ALS Association received $8.6 million in donations Tuesday as proceeds from the ice bucket challenge continued to pour in at record rates. The association has begun posting daily tallies from the fundraiser on its website, stating on Wednesday that since July 29 it had raised $31.5 million. That’s an $8.6 million jump over the previous day’s tally, and more than 16 times the amount it had received over the same period last year.

“Increased awareness and unprecedented financial support will enable us to think outside the box,” the ALS Association said in a statement. Celebrities, athletes and politicians ranging from the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl to former President George W. Bush have taken the challenge, pouring buckets of ice water over their heads to raise ALS awareness.

So yeah, some people have raised objections about priorities and stuff, including the thoughtful Jia Tolentino, but they’re missing one key point. When you’re burnt out from a summer of Gaza, Ferguson, ISIS, ebola epidemics, and Taylor Swift, it can feel restorative to dump a bucket of ice on your head and/or watch someone else do it. For a good cause, of course.

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Link Roundup: Affluenza/Douchiness; Hospitals & Obamacare; Macy’s Settles with “Shoplifters”

+ Remember that Texas boy who killed a bunch of people and got off with a slap on the wrist because, his lawyers argued, his wealthy parents never taught him right from wrong? SHOCKER, his dad just got arrested. Not for never teaching his son “thou shalt not kill,” but for being a douche.

The father of the Texas teenager who killed four people while driving drunk and claimed his family’s wealth was partially to blame has been arrested for impersonating a police officer, legal documents showed. Frederick Anthony Couch was arrested on Tuesday for an incident that occurred on July 28 in the Fort Worth suburb of North Richland Hills. Couch is the father the then 16-year-old boy who was sentenced to probation for the deadly accident after his lawyers argued the enormous wealth of the youth’s family blinded him to responsibilities resulting from his actions.

+ Hospitals, Obamacare, and who qualifies for free emergency treatment.

While many charity care programs have been in place for decades, others were established following widespread complaints and lawsuits brought in the late 1990s over aggressive hospital collections tactics. Those included placing liens on patients’ homes and charging the uninsured the highest list prices, which were far more than what insurance companies paid on behalf of policyholders. Now, under the health law, nonprofit hospitals must make reasonable efforts to determine if patients qualify for help before taking tough collection tactics. And the law says the amount sought from the patient cannot be the hospitals’ list price, but an amount closer to what is generally billed to insured patients.

+ Macy’s pays $650,000 to settle with shoppers after acting like a shitty police state. Because America really needed another one of those. 

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What Fields Medal Prize Money Will Buy You in 2014

A woman has, at last, won the highest prize in Mathematics, the Fields Medal, the name of which might ring a faint bell because it’s mentioned in Good Will Hunting, the movie we keep talking about this week for various reasons.* The winner is Maryam Mirzakhani, and one day maybe her name will ring a bell too, the way Marie Curie’s does.

Meanwhile, what will the cash associated with the super-prestigious “Nobel of Math” buy her on the open market? Not much:

The prize, worth 15,000 Canadian dollars (£8,000), is awarded to exceptional talents under the age of 40 once every four years by the International Mathematical Union. Between two and four prizes are announced each time.

15,000 Canadian dollars = about $13,700, which is more than a Pulitzer, but still not a life-changing amount of money. It could buy her:

+ A Kia Spectra

+ This 2 carat round diamond solitaire ring in 14k white gold

+ One super-ultra-beyond first class ticket to Singapore – or, as Buzzfeed points out, “you could fly to Vegas every four days for an entire year

Do these prizes keep up with inflation or were they vastly more significant at one time?

*NOTE: Re-watch it! There’s lots in it about money and class and there might be a quiz on Friday.

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Meet Me in St. Louis — or El Paso, Oklahoma City, or Little Rock

Guess what, America! Grab your bags; we’re moving inland. At least we are according to this hilarious NYT trend piece about the country’s fastest growing, affordable, non-coastal cities:

But of those who moved more than 500 miles, the share who said they were chiefly motivated by housing has risen to 18 percent in 2014, from 8 percent in 2007, the earliest year such data is available, according to the Census Bureau. The desire for a new, better or cheaper home and the opportunity to buy instead of rent were among the housing-related reasons people cited. … “A large percentage of Americans had to read ‘The Grapes of Wrath,’ ” said Mayor Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City, referring to the John Steinbeck novel that chronicled the flight of Oklahomans to California in search of a better life during the Depression. Now the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those migrants are returning for the same reason. “It’s ‘The Wrath of Grapes,’ ” he said.

Ha! I’d move to Oklahoma City just to hang out with that guy. 

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