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Parts of Reddit blacked out as users protest axing of host

Trying to catch up on Reddit this holiday weekend? Good luck. The “Ask Me Anything” subreddit and several other major portions of the site are inaccessible to the public, and it’s all because of the sudden apparent removal of Reddit’s popular director of communications, Victoria Taylor. Taylor, known on the community by the username “chooter,” has been a key administrator for the site’s open Q-and-A subreddit “Ask Me Anything” — a prominent section of Reddit that has hosted conversations called “AMAs” with everyone from an unnamed McDonald’s employee to President Barack Obama. Several Reddit users have posted that Taylor was let go without warning — a story that has spread through the site like wildfire and caused widespread outcry on the site. Several moderators began locking down their sections of Reddit in solidarity starting Thursday night. Users have started calling it the “AMAgeddon.” Tensions have already been running high between the company and its longtime users. Interim chief executive Ellen Pao has made several rule changes, most notably to the site’s anti-harassment policies. That’s been part of an effort to clean up the site’s reputation, a change that could make Reddit more palatable to its current users, new users and advertisers. But Pao’s changes have drawn ire from those who want the company to remain the freewheeling forum for discussion — even highly offensive discussion — that it has always been. Many Reddit users are blaming Pao for Taylor’s departure, piling on to widespread anti-Pao sentiment on the site. Reddit declined to comment on the situation because it was a personnel matter. But Alexis Ohanian, Reddit co-founder and executive chairman, has posted comments to users on the site attempting to smooth things over. Taylor has not commented publicly on the matter apart from saying on Reddit that she was “dazed” by the situation; she also thanked people for their support via Twitter: “Thank you to everyone for their good wishes and support. Love you guys.”

Food Expo 5 Things

Wine ice cream, maple water: 5 foods of the future?

NEW YORK — Chips made out of broccoli, chickpeas and kale. Wine-spiked ice cream. Popcorn that didn’t quite fulfill its destiny. Those were some of the alternate-universe products at this week’s 61st annual Fancy Food Show. Many have limited distribution and aren’t easy to find, but could signal coming trends. Buyers for places like supermarkets milled about the trade show at the sprawling Jacob Javits Center in New York City, tasting the treats on display and stuffing bags with free samples. “It’s like a secret wonderland of food,” said Louise Kramer, a spokeswoman for the Specialty Food Association, the trade group that puts on the show. The expo, which featured more than 100,000 products, is not open to the public. Here are five potential foods of the future exhibitors were showing off: WINE ICE CREAM Instead of a glass, this wine can be served in a cone. Mercer’s, a dairy in upstate New York, was offering tastes of its “wine ice cream,” which has up to 5 percent alcohol. The ice creams come in eight flavors including “Strawberry Sparkling” and “Chocolate Cabernet.” Roxaina Hurlburt, a co-owner of Mercer’s, said the dairy has been making traditional ice cream for 60 years and started packaging the wine ice cream in 2008. She said it’s sold online and in a couple of hundred locations around the country, including places like casinos and wineries. MAPLE WATER Is maple water the next coconut water? Drink Maple, based in Concord, Massachusetts, sells bottles of maple water it says is tapped from maple trees. It’s the same stuff that’s boiled down into maple syrup, but don’t expect a thick and sticky drink. The clear liquid has the consistency of water and a lightly sweetened taste, with a 12-ounce bottle labeled as having 30 calories and 7 grams of sugar. The product also seems to hit on all the prevailing dietary trends: the company’s website notes maple water is “low calorie, gluten-free, dairy-free and non-GMO.” It also says “no trees are harmed” in the collection process. The company says it’s sold in about 800 stores throughout the Northeast, including at select Whole Foods and small health food stores. “SEXY” SNACKS Holding a bag of chips with the word “Sexy” in big letters can cure shyness. At least that’s what Sexy snacks founder Robert Ehrlich told visitors to his booth. “When you hold a bag, you are sort of empowering yourself,” he says. The most notable aspects of the snacks may be the name and Ehrlich, whose claim to fame is his founding of Pirate’s Booty. Ehrlich says the snacks are a way for people to brand themselves, as they might with sneakers or handbags. The company, based in Sea Cliff, N.Y., says its products are sold in about 1,500 locations. The popcorn comes in flavors like “Bangin’ Cheddar” and “Brazilian Coconut,” and the chips in flavors including “Spinach & Matcha Tea.” HALF-POPPED KERNELS Do you think those half-popped kernels at the bottom of the popcorn bag are the best part? Now two companies are selling bags of just those bits. HalfPops and Pop’d Kerns offer the snacks in different flavors, with a one-ounce serving containing between 130 and 160 calories, depending on the flavor. HalfPops, based in Bellevue, Washington, says it uses a proprietary process to cook the kernels. Six-ounce bags of HalfPops are available online and at about 2,000 locations, including some Whole Foods and Wegman’s, said Mike Watts, the company’s vice president of marketing. BROCCOLI BITES A prevalent theme at the expo was snacks made from unusual ingredients; think bags of roasted chickpeas, cheese puffs made out of beans, and chips made out of seaweed. Another example that fell into that category was Broccoli Bites from Rhythm Foods, which also makes kale chips. Before they’re dehydrated, the broccoli is tossed in a dressing made with seeds, herbs and spices to add flavor and prevent crumbling. Each 1.5-ounce bag has 150 calories. Even though kale has surged in popularity in recent years, Rhythm Foods CEO Scott Jensen said he expects the broccoli snacks to be a lot easier to explain and sell to buyers. And he’s already working the next vegetable snack: cauliflower.

Parenting-Teen Social Media-1

How to protect your phone and gadgets from the heat

We're in the grip of a heatwave with temperatures close to or exceeding 100 degrees now for about a week. That's about 10 degrees higher than average and more than enough to give your phone and other electronic devices their own kind of heat stroke. Just a few minutes in the sun can cause your phone to overheat, but there are steps you can take to protect your sensitive equipment and avoid interruptions and worse, permanent damage. Most smartphones, including iPhones, are not designed to operate normally over 95 degrees. And if your phone starts to run hot, it will try to regulate its temperature. Signs that your phone's internal sensors have registered too much heat include a display that dims or goes black and shuts off altogether, the phone stops charging, the camera flash is disabled and, when using navigation, you'll see an alert that says your phone needs to cool down. If you notice any of these warning signs, turn your phone off and allow it to cool down. But it's much better for your phone to keep it from overheating. First, keep your phone out of the sun as much as possible — if you're outside put it in the shade or in a loose bag. You may want to remove your phone's case too, which tends to insulate the device. And don't leave it in a car, where temperatures quickly soar. Along with these simple physical measures, you can also limit your usage in very specific and perhaps surprising ways. Electronics generate heat and the harder they work, the more heat they will expel. This holds true for a full-size laptop as well as for your pint-size phone. Use just one app at a time, closing each as you finish. If you're like many users, you may not be in the habit of closing your apps, which is a fast way to run down your battery. To check, double-press your phone's start button and you will see a series of "screenshots", one for each open app. Simply swipe up to close. Some processes produce a lot more heat than others. GPS turn-by-turn navigation and graphic-laden games are the biggest culprits, so avoid these activities when it's hot. You should also turn off background app refresh, location services and Wi-Fi. An easy way to do this is by putting your phone in airplane mode. (Worried about missing a call? You can easily toggle this mode on and off to briefly check your messages.) Turn your screen brightness down as low as possible. Don't charge your phone if it's hot. Battery charging creates a lot of heat and is best left until you are back in cool conditions. And remember, drastic changes in temperature can damage sensitive electronics. When you're transitioning between hot and cool locations, turn your phone off and let it adjust to the new temperature before powering back up. Many of these principles will work for your laptop, but you can do a bit more. Clean the air vents where dust and debris can block cooling airflow. Use a can of compressed air, just make sure you're blowing the dust out of the unit and not inside the case. Make sure you're not blocking any of your laptop's vents when you're using it. Don't place your laptop directly on your lap — that's a sure way to build heat. Even a solid surface may trap heat, so consider an alternative. You can buy specialized "heat sink" mats that absorb heat from your device or stands that raise your laptop an inch or so above the work surface, which will allow air to flow. But if you're looking for an inexpensive (and likely free) way to achieve the same effect, try a slatted camping table or even a wire baking rack. Leslie Meredith has been writing about and reviewing personal technology for the past six years. She has designed and manages several international websites. As a mom of four, value, usefulness and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at


Doctors got $6.5 billion from drug, device makers

U.S. doctors and teaching hospitals got $6.49 billion from drug and medical-device makers in 2014, according to new government data on the financial links between the companies and the people who prescribe their products. The data released Tuesday range from the royalties paid to hospitals to help develop products to fees provided to medical experts to speak at a dinner with colleagues. The payments are listed in two broad categories: money to fund research and payments to entertain doctors or compensate them for consulting or other non-research purposes. By disclosing information on the payments, the U.S. government is seeking to bring transparency to the financial relationships between drugmakers and health care providers. Those ties can influence how physicians practice, even if they aren’t aware of it, said Jason Dana, a professor at Yale School of Management who studies decision-making. “If we have a financial incentive to believe something or conclude something, we kind of trick ourselves into thinking it’s true,” he said. “And we’re not always aware we’re doing it.” The government created a website, called Open Payments, to let people search for data on their medical providers. The disclosures cover payments to about 607,000 doctors and 1,121 teaching hospitals. Overall, companies made $3.23 billion in payments for research and $2.56 billion for other purposes, according to a summary posted on the website. The data also include ownership interests of $703 million. The Obama administration has been working to increase transparency in health care since the 2010 passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In addition to the payments posted Tuesday, the law has also led to the disclosure of how much doctors across the U.S. are paid by Medicare. “We have to know where the money is going to really understand the problem, to develop policy,” Dana said. “No pharma companies spend this kind of money in a disinterested way.” Some companies began voluntarily disclosing the payments in 2010 after the Affordable Care Act was signed. A similar disclosure requirement begins next year in Europe, while U.K. firms began posting the information in 2013. The Advanced Medical Technology Association said Tuesday that feedback from doctors helps device makers improve their products. The group, which represents device and diagnostics firms, said it supports the disclosures. Drug industry group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said collaboration between doctors and drugmakers helps lead to medical breakthroughs and can improve patient care.

National Business

Airline Antitrust Investigation

Airline probe would need proof beyond business as usual

WASHINGTON — As the Justice Department launches an investigation into possible collusion in the airline industry, experts say the government faces the burden of proving that carriers were deliberately signaling business decisions to each other. Airlines routinely increase flights based on demand. A particularly cold winter in the Northeast, for instance, might merit more flights to the Caribbean. And sometimes, routes are cut because there isn’t enough demand. Nothing is illegal about that. Any company can limit the supply of its own products, whether airline tickets, sneakers or smartphones. But it would be illegal for airlines to work together to limit flights in order to drive up fares. The government’s investigation is just in its initial phases. Letters went out this week to American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines. Together, those four carriers control more than 80 percent of the domestic seats on planes. Airlines are quick to say they can’t talk about pricing decisions. But in recent years, airline executives and Wall Street analysts have been much more open in discussing how the airlines have kept their passenger capacity — the number of seats they put into given markets — in check. With that capacity kept from growing too fast, airplanes have been fuller and carriers have been able to command higher ticket prices. That’s led to record profits. But were airlines simply responding to Wall Street’s questions about capacity, or were they illegally agreeing not to compete too hard as part of an effort to make more money? “Matching supply to demand is not a novel idea and running a company for profit is not a crime,” Raymond James analyst Savanthi Syth told investors in a note Thursday. Antitrust law draws a line between the entirely lawful practice of companies’ following each other’s behavior and companies illegally conspiring. The Justice Department appears to be hunting for communications and other signals that cross that boundary, said Andrew Gavil, who teaches antitrust law at Howard University. “The distinction involves whether or not there was really express or intentional coordination by two firms,” he said. It’s too early to know where the investigation is going. But if the government does find evidence of improper collusion, it could attempt to negotiate a consent decree with the airlines to stop them from certain behavior, such as issuing public statements about their intentions about capacity. Ever since the government stopped regulating routes and prices in 1978, airlines have struggled to avoid nasty and unprofitable fare wars. Historically, when the price of jet fuel fell, one airline would launch a new route or add extra flights on existing ones. Fares would be slashed to attract fliers and other airlines would be forced to match the new, lower fare. Airlines didn’t like it, but legally they couldn’t coordinate routes or fares. In 1982, Robert Crandall, then a senior executive who would become CEO of American Airlines, expressed his anger about these fare wars in a phone call with Howard Putnam, CEO of Braniff Airways. Putnam, who was recording the call, asked Crandall if he had a suggestion to deal with the problem. Crandall told him to raise his fares and he’d follow suit. Specifically, Crandall replied: “Yes. I have a suggestion for you. Raise your goddamn fares 20 percent. I’ll raise mine the next morning.” He said: “You’ll make more money and I will too.” The Justice Department sued and the case was settled for little more than an agreement by Crandall to keep a written record of all of his contact with other airline executives for two years. It’s unclear if there is a similar smoking-gun comment today. Airline executives have been talking publicly about how they’ve learned not to add capacity too fast. But no statement appears to be as blatant as Crandall’s. After a brief industry increase in seats in the spring, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker spoke about the need for capacity discipline to a Reuters reporter at the International Air Transport Association’s annual conference in Miami. “The real question is,” Parker said, “is this a one-time catch-up for fuel prices being lower, or is this airlines behaving like airlines used to and just increasing capacity because times are good? I don’t know if we know the answer to that yet.” A few weeks earlier, the United Airlines chief financial officer, John D. Rainey, spoke at a conference for Wall Street analysts and investors. “We are a big believer in the right balance between supply and demand, and we’ve demonstrated that with our capacity discipline,” Rainey said. “We’ve grown our (available seat miles) at less than GDP for eight consecutive years, and so we’ll continue to believe in that.” A government investigation could take years. Jonathan Baker, an antitrust law professor at American University, said investigations like this one generally need more than just circumstantial evidence. A case with explicit discussion between executives would be easy to prove. The harder challenge is one where collusion would need to be inferred from statements by executives to analysts, and other signaling.

Aetna Humana

Aetna to buy Humana as health insurer landscape shifts

Aetna aims to spend about $35 billion to buy rival Humana and become the latest health insurer bulking up on government business as the industry adjusts to the federal health care overhaul. The proposed cash-and-stock deal, announced early Friday, would make Aetna a sizeable player in the rapidly growing Medicare Advantage business, which offers privately run versions of the federally funded health care program for the elderly and some people with disabilities. The combination also would bolster Aetna’s presence in the state- and federally funded Medicaid program and Tricare coverage for military personnel and their families. Health insurers are eager to do more business with government payers due in part to a Medicaid expansion fostered by the health care overhaul and Medicare Advantage’s surging enrollment. The overhaul is expanding Medicaid coverage in several states as it seeks to provide health coverage for millions of uninsured people. Meanwhile, total enrollment in Medicare Advantage plans has tripled over the past decade to about 16.8 million people and is expected to keep growing as more baby boomers become eligible for the plans. Aetna’s acquisition of Humana would make it the largest provider of Medicare Advantage coverage, with 4.4 million members, a figure that could change depending on regulatory review. “Government markets are the most rapidly growing aspect of the system,” said Dan Mendelson, CEO of the market research firm Avalere Health. Hartford, Conn.-based Aetna announced its deal a day after the Medicaid coverage provider Centene Corp. said it would spend $6.3 billion to buy fellow insurer Health Net. That deal would help Centene expand in the nation’s biggest Medicaid market, California, and give it a Medicare presence in several western states. In addition to these deals, the Blue Cross-Blue Shield carrier Anthem went public late last month with an offer of more than $47 billion for another insurer, Cigna. Health insurers see more advantages to these big combinations than a chance to build their government portfolios. Major acquisitions can offer an infusion of new business at time when growth has slowed in the biggest part of their business, employer-sponsored health coverage. Plus more employers are opting to pay their own insurance claims and hire insurers to administer the coverage. That’s a less lucrative line of work for managed care companies. Big deals also allow companies to quickly diversify their products and cover more territory. They also can yield savings when the companies combine back-office functions and cut overlapping jobs. Both Aetna and Anthem also have cited the potential to improve their technology as a major reason behind their deals. Insurers are working to develop more apps and other tools that customers can use to shop for health care, since plans are exposing those customers to bigger medical bills through high deductibles and other insurance expenses. They also are using technology more to help monitor and improve patient care. The overhaul is accelerating a push in the industry to reimburse doctors and hospitals more based on the quality of care they provide instead of just shelling out a certain amount for each procedure performed. “Any time an industry is changing ... it requires investments to sort of successfully make that change,” said Shawn Guertin, Aetna’s chief financial officer. The impact these big acquisitions have on consumers can be murky and likely won’t be felt for at least a year, because insurers have already finalized most of their plans for coverage that starts in January. A combination may lead to fewer choices and some price changes for consumers, depending on where they live and who already is in their market. Aetna’s purchase price for Humana includes a combination of $125 in cash and $105.11 in Aetna shares for each Humana share. The total of about $230 per share, which is based on the closing price of Aetna’s stock Thursday, represents a premium of 29 percent to Humana’s trading price in late May, before The Wall Street Journal reported that it was an acquisition target. The deal’s total value amounts to about $37 billion counting debt. The combined company would be based in Hartford, Conn., led by Aetna Chairman and CEO Mark Bertolini and cover more than 33 million people. Only UnitedHealth Group Inc. and the Blue Cross-Blue Shield carrier Anthem Inc. cover more. A combined Aetna-Humana would be the second-largest insurer by revenue. The deal is expected to close in the second half of next year. Shares of Aetna and Humana closed at $125.51 and $187.50, respectively on Thursday. Markets were closed Friday for the July 4th holiday. The shares of both companies, like several other insurers, have soared to all-time-high prices this year.


Charting every minute of an average American day

This is your life, America: hour by hour, minute by minute. The latest American Time Use Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks where the sands in your hourglass go. This writer plotted the average American weekday and weekend day according to these numbers. “Average” is the crucial word here. Nobody actually works 4.5 hours every weekday and 1.3 hours every weekend day, for instance. But when you ask 11,000 citizens age 15 and up what they did in a given day, as the BLS did, and average their responses, this is what you end up with. Let’s start with sleep. You may be shocked to find that the average American gets 8 hours and 32 minutes of sleep on a typical workday. Wait, what? If you’re like a lot of people, the eight-hour sleep schedule sounds like a far-off dreamy ideal. Bear in mind that these numbers include responses from seniors and teens, people who typically get a lot more sleep than the rest of us. And as a BLS economist explained to me last year, these figures also include naps, as well as a number of “non-sleep activities” — reading, tossing and turning, and some, ahem, other things — that typically happen in bed. And on weekends, we sleep nearly an hour longer on average. We spend a little more than three hours on household chores and activities on weekdays and weekends. These numbers include making food, cleaning up, caring for others and performing basic personal grooming. The biggest difference between weekdays and weekends shows up in work time — 4 hours and 32 minutes of it during the week, 1 hour and 23 minutes on the weekend. Keep in mind: The numbers include people who are employed part-time, as well as retirees and those not working. Among just the people who do work on weekdays, 8.6 hours was the norm once commuting time was factored in. We watch a lot more TV on the weekends — 3 hours and 21 minutes on average, compared with 2 hours and 36 minutes during the week. Not surprisingly we also spend more time socializing and doing other leisure activities, like playing sports and games, on the weekends. And we also spend a little bit more time buying things — at the grocery store, for instance. Overall, this year’s Time Use Survey shows that, paradoxically, both hours worked and time spent watching TV have increased in the past year. As the Wall Street Journal notes, the rise in work hours is partly explained by the recovering economy — if more people are working, that average number is going to increase. With that extra work, perhaps, comes a greater need to relax and veg out at the end of the day. bc-workday (TPN)

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Dispute over Utah comic book convention may go to trial

SALT LAKE CITY — A trademark battle between organizers of the biggest comic-book convention in the nation and a Salt Lake City counterpart may end up going to trial soon. The Deseret News reports settlement talks in the lawsuit between established San Diego Comic-Con and Utah’s 3-year-old Salt Lake Comic Con have stalled. A federal judge has given them until the end of July to reach a settlement or schedule pretrial hearings in the dispute. The San Diego event contends that Salt Lake Comic Con’s use of “comic con” in the name constitutes federal trademark infringement and confuses the public into thinking the two conventions are affiliated. Salt Lake City organizers say dozens of conventions across the country brand their events as comic cons. The events feature costumed attendees and the best in movies, television shows, comic books and more.