5,000 Free Carpet Squares Distributed at Pitchfork

While carpet covers nearly 70% of American floors, Chicago-based carpet company FLOR brought carpet out of homes and into the streets. According to a recent report from the Chicago Tribune, FLOR distributed 5,000 free carpet squares to the audience of the Pitchfork Music Festival, which were used by the concertgoers as soft spots to sit and protection from muddy walkways.

The free carpet was an attempt by FLOR to show millennials that it’s hip to be square. With all the grime of a music festival present (cigarettes, mud, booze, food) the carpet was proven to be durable and long-lasting. FLOR digital marketing director Kim Brannigan says that “it’s a new market for [FLOR]. We’re just pushing to show we’re affordable to Millennials, and we have a lot of options.”

Their push wasn’t free, either. FLOR paid the $15,000 vendor fee, as well as the cost of the squares themselves. Altogether, the assorted colored carpet pieces would have retailed for around $60,000. But it was worth it to get people talking. Some concertgoers liked the idea of keeping their square as a reminder of the festival, while others decided to recycle their squares. The squares that were left in the park were shipped back to FLOR’s manufacturing plant, where the eco-friendly company will make them into new carpets.

While some of the concertgoers sneered at the tiles, saying they wouldn’t want to sit at the festival at all, many people appreciated having their own space. Peter Michalik, 29, said he and his friends ditched their blankets in support of the squares, which he claimed felt very durable. He did say that he wouldn’t want to carry the carpet square around for several days, making the concert-wide recycling an efficient choice of disposal.

Myrtle Beach Looking to Increase Surf Zones

Known as the golf capital of the world, the city of Myrtle Beach is looking to add some more sun and surf into the equation. According to a recent report from MyrtleBeachOnline.com, residents of the Northwoods neighborhood were not pleased to find out that the places they’d been surfing for years were actually designated no-surf zones. The recent addition of lifeguards in some of these zones (to police surf activity) has left the community in a huff.

City Manager John Pedersen commented, “Before there was no lifeguard located at 78th or 79th avenues. Surfing isn’t allowed in that area but people were surfing there because there was not a constant [lifeguard] presence to enforce that. Residents in that area complained about not being able to surf, so we decided to take a look at it.”

Surfers will definitely appreciate the extra space, since some of the beaches where surfing is allowed are being overpopulated with swimmers. Revision to the surf zones, as well as the addition of more lifeguards, would increase the number of surf and swim zones while decreasing the distance each lifeguard is responsible for.

The city is also considering taking down the “swim at your own risk” signs and replacing them with information on how to contact the “mobile guards” that will be patrolling the beaches. These guards won’t be set up in the stationary chairs, but instead will do constant patrol of the beach, to cover the maximum area for safety.

The report states that “if passed as expected surfing would be allowed all day in the area from 29th Avenue South to the south city limits; from 34th Avenue North to 47th Avenue North; from 62nd to 68th avenues North; the new zone between 78th and 81st avenues North; and from 87th Avenue North to the north city limits.”

Illegal Student Loan Collection Practices Cost Discover $18.5M

Discover Bank and two of its affiliate financial institutions have been ordered by the federal court to pay $18.5 million in consumer refunds for violating student loan practices, according to a federal regulator on Wednesday, July 22.

Reports from USA Today and the Wall Street Journal say that the Illinois-based bank exaggerated the minimum amount due on billing statements for student loans, failed to provide borrowers with enough information to get federal tax benefits from the loan payments, and also used illegal debt-collection practices, including calling debtors early in the morning and late at night.

Simply put, in the words of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Richard Cordray, “Discover created student debt stress for borrowers by inflating their bills and misleading them about important benefits.”

Discover is the third-largest student loan lender by origination volume, the WSJ reported, and its actions affected hundreds of thousands of consumers.

There are currently more than one million student loan borrowers in the U.S., and experts predicted that between 2014 and 2015, the total outstanding student loan debt in the country will climb up from $1.21 trillion to $1.3 trillion by the end of the year.

By making payments more difficult for recent college graduates, Discover wasn’t just breaking the law — it was also causing numerous young adults to miss payments, be denied tax benefits, and possibly even be denied housing or loan opportunities if their credit scores dropped too low.

As any economist will attest, setting consumers up for failure in this way is bound to create an even worse financial situation for the entire country — and according to the New York Post, Discover had been using illegal lending practices for years after it acquired more than 800,000 student loan accounts from Citigroup in 2010.

Discover is now being order to pay $18.5 million total — $16 million will be given to more than 100,000 borrowers who were affected by Discover’s practices, and $2.5 million will be paid to the CFPB’s civil penalty fund.

Individual payments could be as high as $500 for each of the 5,200 consumers who were misled by Discover’s “minimum” payment amounts; up to $300 will be given to each of the 130,000 consumers who can amend their 2011 or 2012 tax deductions and prove that they should have been refunded; $92 will be given to each consumer who received between five and 25 calls at inappropriate times, and $142 will be given to anyone who received more 25 calls.

The WSJ has reported that Discover “neither admitted or denied the allegations [and] a Discover spokesman declined to comment.”

2 Warwick Teens Dead After Driver’s Education Car Pulls in Front of Truck

Two teens are now dead after a driver’s education car pulled in front of a tractor-trailer at a rural Upstate New York intersection.

On Tuesday, July 14, the Freightliner truck hit the car’s rear driver’s-side door broadside at the intersection of County Route 1A and Union Corners Road in Warwick, NY — a notorious location for car crashes.

According to WPIX 11, the truck appears to have had the right of way at the intersection. Police said the car had a stop sign and a flashing red light at the intersection, while the truck, which wasn’t pulling a trailer, had a flashing caution light.

The crash killed Antonio Baglivo and Paul Vandoran, both 16, who had been sitting in the back seat of the 2007 Chevrolet Malibu. One of the teens died at the scene of the crash, while the other was pronounced dead at the hospital, the Goshen Central School District announced.

On Wednesday, Goshen School District Superintendent Daniel Connor announced that a third passenger, Lucas O’Connor, 16, had died of his injuries. Connor said he had received word of O’Connor’s death shortly before a planned vigil that evening.

However, the next day, Connor said his report about O’Connor was unconfirmed, and that he may have been given incorrect information about the boy’s status.

All four student drivers attended Goshen High School. Classmates and teachers have had access to grief counselors since Wednesday.

Across the U.S., road crashes result in the deaths of more than 37,000 people each year, and are the leading cause of death for teens and young adults between 15 and 20 years of age. However, it’s relatively rare for car crashes involving driver’s education cars to prove fatal, given the presence of an adult driving instructor in the car.

The driver, 16-year-old Claudia Krebs, and the group’s 61-year-old driving instructor were injured in the crash, but survived. The driver of the tractor-trailer was also taken to the hospital in stable condition.

Currently, the cause of the crash remains under investigation.

Coffee Consumption Linked to Lowering Risk of Diabetes, New Study Finds

A recent study has shown that regular coffee drinkers are about half as likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who do not consume coffee.

Reuters Health reports that a long-term study conducted by researchers at the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at Harokopio University in Athens, Greece has shown promising results for people who drink coffee regularly, adding on to a wealth of evidence that suggests coffee is good for one’s health.

“Extensive research has revealed that coffee drinking exhibits both beneficial and aggravating health effects,” said Prof. Demosthenes B. Panagiotakos, a co-author of the study. “An inverse relation between coffee intake and diabetes has been reported in many prospective studies whereas some have yielded insignificant results.”

Panagiotakos was careful to point out that the study used a random sample rather than a control group, so the results of the study aren’t conclusive in the strict scientific sense. Still, the researchers’ findings bring scientists closer to establishing a definite cause-and-effect hypothesis for coffee consumption.

The study was conducted over 10 years and involved more than 1,300 adult men and women in Athens. Beginning in 2001, the participants filled out a questionnaire regarding their diet habits, including coffee consumption. According to the questionnaire, drinking less than 1.5 cups of coffee a day was considered “casual” coffee drinking while drinking more than 1.5 cups was considered “habitual.” Of the participants, 816 were casual drinkers, 385 were habitual drinkers, and 239 didn’t consume coffee at all.

In addition to the questionnaire, the participants also had their blood evaluated for protein markers of inflammation and antioxidant levels.

Ten years later, 191 of the participants had diabetes. Most of those with the disease were casual or non-drinkers. Habitual drinkers were 54% less likely to develop diabetes compared to non-drinkers. Factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, family history, and dietary habits were taken into consideration.

“Previous studies pointed in the same direction…now we have an additional hint,” said Dr. Marc Y. Donath, Chief of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at the University Hospital Basel in Switzerland. Donath was not part of the study.

Coffee is one of the world’s most consumed liquids. Business Insider, for example, reports that approximately 500 billion cups of coffee are consumed every year around the world.

Obese People Not Likely To Reach Normal Body Weights Again, Scientists State

Most people who are struggling with obesity aren’t going to say that they want to keep all that extra weight — whether for health reasons, aesthetic reasons, or for a combination of both, around 18% of Americans state that they want to lose “a lot” of weight, according to recent surveys.

The problem, a group of researchers are now saying, is that severely obese people are unlikely to lose enough to reach a “normal” weight.

According to Tech Times and Medical News Today, a team of scientists at the Division of Health and Social Care Research at King’s College London found that both men and women are less likely to reach a normal and healthy body weight if they cross the line between overweight and obese.

In the study, which was recently published in the American Journal of Public Health, scientists found that weight management strategies focusing on exercise and diet restrictions aren’t enough to curb severe obesity.

For obese men, the chances of recovering their own individual “normal” weight is one in 210; for women, it’s one in 124. For morbidly obese people, the chances are even worse: only one in every 1,290 men will get back to a normal weight, and one in 677 women will.

Using electronic health records to track the weight of 129,194 men and 149,788 women, the researchers also discovered that the majority of people who do lose significant amounts of weight aren’t able to keep it off. The findings show that, even when obese men or women are able to lose 5% in body weight and reach a healthy weight, about 50% will put the weight back on in two years and 78% will gain it back within five years.

Instead of stressing weight loss programs that allow people to take off extra weight, the researchers suggest that programs split their focus between losing weight and keeping it off. Additionally, as with any other health concern, prevention is going to be the single-most important strategy for fighting the obesity epidemic.

Oakland, CA Residents Spray Paint ‘FIX ME’ on Potholes to Demand Repairs

In one Oakland, CA neighborhood, residents claim the city is neglecting their much-needed road repairs — and are now demanding change from local lawmakers.

On Wednesday, July 15, residents of East Oakland spray-painted circles around potholes throughout their neighborhood, writing “FIX ME” next to the small craters, CBS San Francisco reported.

While the potholes were hard to ignore before, they’re now impossible to miss. Nor is this a new problem for many Oakland residents — in 2013, a study revealed that 60% of Oakland’s streets were in poor to fair condition.

Driving over rough roads and potholes is more than just a bumpy ride. Cars can incur significant damage when they’re driven over rough roads. Every year, U.S. drivers spend an average of $335 to repair damage caused by rough roads; in major urban centers, this average rises to $746.

“I myself have a claim against the city right now for $5,000 because I damaged my car driving through a pothole,” Anthony McRae, an East Oakland resident, told a local news station.

While the city is supposed to have the money to fund these road repairs through Measure BB, many believe the City of Oakland is funneling these dollars into wealthier communities, neglecting places like East Oakland.

This is especially visible when one looks at the city’s pavement prioritization plan, which draws up plans for new roads everywhere except East Oakland. Many residents are especially concerned that Measure BB could allot as much as $60 million toward building Coliseum City — a planned “mini-downtown” complex which would house the Oakland Raiders’ new football stadium — while leaving East Oakland’s roads in shambles.

“We know that there are funds available to fix these streets and that’s why we’re here today,” Kamara Wilson, a volunteer with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, said.

McRae agreed, saying this offers more proof than ever that there are now two Oaklands.

“Over on this side, East Oakland in the flatlands, there’s no money coming over here,” he said.

Content Marketing and Winning Back Customers Can Help Company Bottom Lines

A new study proves that businesses can significantly benefit their bottom line by gaining back old customers. They will get a positive return from the time and money they will spend in their attempts to win back those customers too, the study shows.

The research from the study was published in The Journal of Marketing. It showed that no matter the reason for the customer’s departure– poor service, price, etc. — the business will benefit from their return. Although this statement seems like a given, not all customers bring in the same business. They contribute different amounts of money, and the cost of providing service to them varies.

The study focused on an American telecom company — to which the customers are integral, and have a huge impact on costs. The nature of the service means customers can switch suppliers very easily, making customer retention important but sometimes difficult.

“Lost customers, if won back, can be profitable to a company… customer win-back initiatives should definitely be regarded as an important strategy for service companies to use,” the study’s authors said. “Even customers who left for price-related reasons are worth winning back. They may not be as profitable as customers who left for service-related reasons, but once they are won back, they tend to stay with the company longer.”

To get customers back, companies have to refocus their marketing. Redesigning an onsite sign will only cost $0.02 per 1,000 views, and can reach more of an overall market. Content marketing is also important. If a business produces useful and helpful content, it will help foster a connection between the business and the consumers. Plugging products without any useful context isn’t genuine, and consumers will likely disregard it.

This type of marketing can also maintain communication between a company and the lost customer. Using this technique can restore that relationship without being too forceful.

The results, of course, are dependent on the type of business, but the authors say that it comes down to “properly understanding what makes a customer more or less profitable.” Once a business has done that, all of its other efforts can fall into place.

Additional research has shown that content marketing may also be helpful in keeping binge customers — those who aren’t consistent, but when they come around, they spend a lot of money.

Why One Professor Says Air Conditioning Is Like Heroin

The United States has an “addiction to air conditioning,” Gail Brager, a professor of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, told public radio’s John Hockenberry earlier this month.

That characterization refers not only to high consumption — though, indeed, air conditioning accounts for the greatest residential use of electricity in the U.S., coming in at 19% — but also patterns of use. “Air conditioning, she says, is like heroin,” Hockenberry summarized for Brager. “It takes more and more to give you that original feeling of comfort.”

Studies show that this so-called addiction may have serious health effects.

One Berkeley study found that people whose environments were cooled to 73 degrees or below suffered from more headaches, were more fatigued, and had more difficulty concentrating than people in slightly warmer buildings.

And, of course, increased levels of air conditioning have economic impacts as well. The General Services Administration has estimated that raising the thermostats in federal buildings by just two degrees in the summertime could save the country $1.87 million annually.

Research done at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business earlier this year found that rising global incomes are allowing more and more people to air condition their spaces — and that widespread air conditioning is placing stress on energy prices, public infrastructure and the environment.

Lowering the Costs of AC
Even if you’re not willing to give up your air conditioning altogether, there are numerous ways to be more responsible and sustainable (not to mention economical) in its use. Here’s what the experts recommend:

  • Upgrade Your AC Technology
    Some AC technology is simply better than others. High-efficiency units can allow you to cut down on energy usage without sacrificing comfort, and programmable thermostats can curb the impulse to keep turning the temperature lower and lower.

  • Keep Up With Maintenance
    A properly maintained AC unit or HVAC system will operate more efficiently. Regularly cleaning filters and checking coolant/refrigerant levels are good places to start.

  • Limit Use of Heat Producers
    Taking long, steamy showers or using the oven during the summertime produces extra heat that requires your AC system to work overtime. Look for alternatives (such as grilling outside or cooking in the microwave) whenever possible.

  • Take Advantage of Cooler Space
    Most homes have rooms that are naturally cooler than others, normally ones that are on lower floors or that don’t get as much sun exposure. Try to spend most of your time in these rooms, rather than trying to cool naturally warm rooms.

  • Check Ceiling Fan Direction
    Ceiling fans can be enormously helpful in controlling home temperature, both in the winter and in the summer. But you will need to change the direction in which your fan spins depending on the season. In the summer, fans should spin counter-clockwise, pulling hot air up toward the ceiling.

There are also numerous energy-saving products being tested that may soon see widespread availability. A two-year study in Australia, for example, just found that coating roofing in a special paint can reflect up to 88% of the sun’s energy, leading to a significant decrease in interior temperatures.

Douching May Increase Exposure to Harmful Chemicals Which Change Hormone Levels

Exposure to chemical called phthalates is just another reason not to douche, according to a new study at the George Washington University’s Milken School of Public Health.

Even though many medical groups, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), have discouraged women from the practice of douching, many women still believe that it’s a safe and effective way to clean the vagina. In fact, according to TIME magazine, health experts estimate that as many as 25% of women in the U.S., ages 15 to 44, still use douches.

The problem with douching is very basic, regardless of whether a woman is using plain water or a mixture of feminine cleaning products: when the liquid “cleans” the far interior of vaginal walls, it washes away the good bacteria that keeps women fertile and healthy.

According to the GWU research group, which published their findings in the academic journal Environmental Health, it gets worse. Women who use douches, Reuters and Live Science report, are also increasing their exposure to chemicals called phthalates.

Phthalates are already found in many personal care products in the form of diethyl phthalate (DEP); sanitary wipes, tampons, and douches are all known to contain DEP. At higher levels, phthalates interfere with hormone production; estrogen, testosterone, and thyroid hormones can all be affected by the chemical.

The researchers analyzed phthalate levels in 739 women, ages 20 to 49, by examining urine samples and comparing the levels with the types of feminine care products the women already regularly used — six different products were considered, including tampons, sanitary napkins, feminine sprays and washes, and douching products.

The women who stated that they used douches were found to have high levels of phthalates; according to Reuters, the levels of phthalates were 52% higher on average.

Although most of the women said that they didn’t use douches, certain demographics within the subjects were more likely to use them: about one-third of black women said they used a douche at least once in the past month, while only 11% of white women and Mexican-American women did. In fact, 20% of black women reported douching at least twice a month, while only 7% of white women and 3% of Mexican-American women reported doing so.

The study did not analyze the side effects of higher phthalate levels within these groups, but it may be possible to correlate the data with other studies on women’s health concerns. In 2013, for example, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine reported that black women are more likely to have uterine fibroids, with an average of 9.9 fibroids in this group, compared with 4.5 average fibroids in white women.

Ultimately, the lesson is clear: keep the cleaning to the exterior, and let your body clean itself out naturally each month during your period.