Archives 2015

Food Trucks Around the Country Provide Meals to the Homeless for the Holidays

keep calm and gobble on backgroundChristmas is known as a time for giving, and several food trucks around the country decided to spend their holiday giving back to those who need it the most.

According to The Herald Online, Brooke Barber and her fiance, DaRel Daniels, brought their down-home cooking to The Haven men’s shelter in Rock Hill, SC. They wanted to use their culinary talents to make a change in the community on Christmas.

The couple brought their food truck, Street Spice, to the Haven’s Men Shelter where each resident was given three cheeseburger sliders, a choice of curly fries or mac and cheese, a dessert, and a drink.

“It’s fun to have your own mobile kitchen,” Daniels said. “This feels good, that we are in a position to do this.”

Food trucks have become one of the most popular fads in the restaurant industry over the past several years, and annual food truck revenue in the U.S. currently tops $1 billion.

On this day, Barber and Daniels wanted to forget about profit margins and focus on providing Rock Hill residents with the Christmas feast that they deserve.

Street Spice’s appearance at The Haven men’s shelter is a heartwarming example of the giving spirit, and their story was mirrored by many other food truck owners around the country during the holidays.

Local Virginia news affiliate WSET reported that Loralee Walters, who owns and operates the Jacked Rabbit Food Truck in Lynchburg, VA, whipped up delicious vegan meals for homeless people in the community on Christmas Day.

Walters parked her food truck outside of the Salvation Army during lunch hours and fed everyone who approached her, free of charge.

“I dig it. I really do, because I’ve had problems in the past and we kind of wished somebody would’ve been there and helped us. Sometimes people do and sometimes people don’t but the one’s who do it’s kind of like good karma,” said Walters.

The Charlotte Observer also reported on Barbara Wilder, a North Carolina woman who started her own ministry called Perfect Provisions in 2011.

While the ministry typically collects clothes and blankets for the homeless, Perfect Provisions also feeds the less fortunate from time to time. After several successful Thanksgiving feasts, Wilder decided to invest in a food truck and deliver meals all over town during the holidays.

This Christmas, Perfect Provisions brought their food truck to a local parking lot and provided meals to over 90 children and adults in Ravenwood Hills, a run-down neighborhood in West Charlotte.

“They got stockings, presents, toys and a hot meal of honey-glazed ham, mac and cheese, meatballs and gravy, glazed carrots, angel eggs (commonly referred to as deviled eggs), rolls and juice,” Wilder said.

“Seeing the faces of the children, to see their smiles when they get clothes, a toothbrush or a hot meal or a toy, just to bless them is a wonderful feeling,” Wilder added.

It’s safe to say that the giving spirit is alive and well in America, and this year, food trucks were the beacon of hope that many people desperately needed.

iOS Users Can Now Access Newer Google Maps Features

Local Business - Marketing Concept for Small BusinessJust in time for the holiday season, Google has added some extra features to Google Maps iOS that will make last-minute shopping trips easier than ever.

The updated Google Maps iOS provides iPhone and iPad users with features that have been available on Android for about a month already — but better late than never, right? Considering that 34% of smartphone users primarily access the internet through their phones rather than using a laptop or desktop computer to do so, Google’s focus on optimizing its apps for both Android and iOS systems is more of an investment than anything else.

The biggest — and most useful — change, according to The Verge, is the ability to download Google Maps for a specific city or region and save it locally to an iPhone or iPad to access it offline. This feature not only allows users to save the street layout, but it also provides turn-by-turn directions and business hours of local stores within the downloaded map region.

The downloaded version still doesn’t provide mass transit directions for anyone wishing to travel by bus or subway, and the larger maps (such as the one for New York City) can take up to 300 MB of space. The maps do expire after one month, however, ensuring that users constantly get updated versions and indirectly ensuring that users don’t accidentally download multiple maps, forget about them, and then wonder why there’s no space left on their phones.

Additionally, Google Maps is now providing a gas-price feature for users in the U.S. and Canada, which displays the current gas prices of nearby gas stations. This part of the app can’t be accessed offline, as Tech Times and TechCrunch noted, because gas prices fluctuate too quickly for a downloaded feature to be useful.

Google Maps may still have to compete with Apple Maps for domination over iPhone and iPad app users, but it seems that the company is moving in the right direction.

Different Pest Control Methods More Effective

Flyswatter and cockroach. Pest control - poison free concept.It’s no secret that pest control costs can add up for businesses that absolutely must invest in services. The Guardian reported that pesticides are currently costing about $90 billion USD in illness within sub-Saharan Africa, which is forcing some companies to find new ways to deter pests.

Pesticides are mostly used on very large farms that export their crops. Yet the average farmers with smaller crops have to pay far more to use government-approved pesticides and may choose more harmful substances instead; further, these chemicals tend to be improperly stored, which also contributes to the spread of illness in the area.

When the pesticide carbofuran was finally banned in 2008 for being too dangerous, it was wake up call for researchers. They began looking for other ways to handle pests.

A new device may help do just that. It’s a type of acoustic disruptor which basically consists of a buzzer and microphone.

The device detects the male call of an insect or other pest, and it sends out a false female call in return. When the male approaches the buzzer in an attempt to find the female, it is trapped to an adhesive strip and later collected.

Each device would have a range of about two feet around something like a citrus tree. While it may be an expensive initial investment, the long term decrease in cost is well worth the sacrifice. Pests like cockroaches spend about 75% of their time dormant, surviving even in about 32 degree weather, so having a device like this to draw them out could be beneficial.

Another method is picking a better natural challenger to pests, like spiders. A recent study looked at the difference between lively spiders and last spiders in a field test. They say the personality of the spiders are integral to success.

Ecologists Raphaël Royauté of North Dakota State University and Jonathan Pruitt of the University of Pittsburgh looked at the personalities of wolf spiders, which are common in crop fields and generally hunt bugs.

Their study, in essence, tested how lively each spider was and then watched how it affected the prey the caught. Their conclusion? It stays unpredictable.

But the study’s authors do warn farmers that pesticides hurt the active spiders more than the inactive ones. By using such chemicals, farmers can actually hurt the things that could naturally help them out.

Soon Only the Wealthy May Have the Luxury of Flying

Steward and passengers on commercial airplane.Many of the more savvy and frequent travelers around the world have become accustomed to taking advantage of rewards offered by airlines and other entities aimed at reducing their travel costs.

However, according to, some of these travelers may soon be paying more than they bargained for thanks to changes that American Airlines is making to their frequent-flyer model.

These alterations would offer better mile rewards for spending more money on their tickets, while reducing points offered to those who mainly travel on discounted fares. American Airlines is now the fifth carrier to move to this payment-based model for free reward seats, following Delta, United, Southwest and Jet Blue.

Supposedly, the “airline is looking to reward its most loyal and most valuable customers,” as explained by a spokesperson for American Airlines.

Frequent-flyer rewards have been based off of mileage for around 30 years. Instead, it will now benefit mainly business travelers, who buy the most expensive last-minute tickets usually only days before the flight.

American attributes this quick change to their merger with USAirways, which also means this will affect travel on American Airlines’ subsidiary, American Eagle.

The new model will reduce rewards from mileage by as much as 40% by March of next year.

While these changes may benefit some of their more upscale business clientele, many other frequent flyers may be in hot water. CNN reports on one particular homeless traveler who essentially lives in the first-class section of planes due to do his impressive ability to manipulate the mileage points system through the fine print.

Twenty-five-year-old Ben Schlappig has no official address. While some frequent flyers afford their lifestyles by buying condominiums or other lower-cost homes, which require only about 1% of the purchase price for yearly maintenance, Schlappig decided to skip paying rent or a mortgage altogether.

Beginning at the young age of fourteen, Schlappig now flies an average of around 400,000 miles each year, just about enough to circumnavigate the world 16 times. Overall, he spends an average of about four hours a day on airplanes, once a week on an international flight, and spends the rest in hotels, which are also covered by his miles.

“I feel as at home in Emirates first class, as I do anywhere else. I know every aspect of the seats; there’s a certain familiarity with the staff; I tend to run into the same crews,” said Schlappig.

Unfortunately, Schlappig may soon be forced to find a permanent home as the airlines begin to cater more to their wealthy clientele.

The City Lays $3 Million Down the Pipes in Ala Wai Canal Sewer Line Lawsuit Settlement

???????????????????????????????????????In an attempt to settle an ongoing lawsuit, the city of Waikiki is paying a construction company $3.6 million after the company filed a lawsuit over the city’s supervision of their construction of a sewer line under Waikiki’s Ala Wai Canal.

In 2006, Waikiki experienced extremely heavy rains, resulting in the breakage of a main sewer line. In order to prevent the sewage from backing up into residents’ sinks and toilets, the city sent 48 million gallons of raw sewage into the Ala Wai Canal.

The city continued to remedy the problem by installing a temporary sewage pipe in the canal. According to Hawaii News Now, the temporary pipe, described as “huge” and “black,” stuck out like a sore thumb. While burial depths for sewer lines typically vary on a municipal level and pipe material, most sewer lines are buried between 12 to 14 inches deep. A sewer pipe above ground would not be sustainable for long.

Eventually, the city of Waikiki hired Seattle-based Frank Coluccio Construction company to place a permanent sewer line below the Ala Wai Canal.

Yethe company sued the city upon completion, claiming the city made them use a type of pipe material that the contractor didn’t think was the best material.

Additionally, Coluccio claimed the new pipe flooded during construction efforts, ultimately causing extra costs, damage to equipment, and work delays.

Corporation Counsel Donna Leong, considered the top attorney in Waikiki, released a statement saying, “The city disputed the majority of Coluccio’s claims but agreed to settle the case for $3.6 million so as to avoid the uncertainties and risks that are typical when proceeding to trial on the merits.”

While Coluccio claimed there were problems with the material of the pipes used, Leong noted that it satisfied specifications and requirements listed in the bid document.

The city is settling the case using its judgments and losses funds.

How Much Money is Blowing Out Your Windows?

Construction Worker Installing New Windows In HouseWith the current focus on climate change and environmental conservation, people are constantly on the lookout for ways to reduce their energy consumption.

Now, according to The Daily Orange, Syracuse University physics professor Eric Schiff is currently working with the Department of Energy to innovate new technologies that will improve single pane windows.

When rating windows, the top three most wanted types and materials are all now explicitly related to saving energy. More than two-thirds of buyers are interested in Energy Star-rated windows, triple pane insulating glass, and low-e insulating glass.

Schiff’s Single-Pane Highly Insulating Efficient Lucid Designs (SHIELD) program will sift through numerous possible applications, choosing a finite number to finance further study.

“There will be a dozen winners and each of those will be given a project that will be run for two to three years,” said Schiff.

He estimates that by improving the 15 billion square feet of single pane windows currently in use, average heating bills could decrease by 10 to 20%.

Schiff may even be able to partner up with another program aimed at improving the energy efficiency of homes called Home Energy Renovation Opportunity (HERO).

The Fresno Bee reports that this HERO Property Assessed Clean Energy program was recently launched by Firebaugh, Fowler, and Huron to aid residents in Fresno, CA, in paying for environmentally friendly home renovations.

HERO will cover 100% of all upfront purchase and installation costs for projects such as drip irrigation systems, artificial turf, drought-tolerant landscaping, and solar panels. The funds will be paid back overtime by the homeowner simply through their property tax, over the span of up to 20 years.

“HERO financing brings renewable energy and energy- and water-efficiency within reach for a broad range of homeowners,” said Blair McNeill, vice president of Community Development for Renovate America, the company that administers the HERO Program.

This program will also cover certain economical products and appliances, including high-efficiency toilets, faucets and shower heads, rainwater catchment systems, and gray water systems.

As of now, the most popular products they’ve covered have been solar power, whole home heating and cooling systems, energy-saving windows and doors, and roofing and insulation.

With a total of ten counties in California adopting the program, HERO has provided $26.7 million in financing for a surplus of 1,4000 renovations.

Independent Merchants Draw Big Crowds on Small Business Saturday

Portrait Beauty Product Shop ManagerAlthough Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and now even Thanksgiving are becoming the biggest shopping days of the year in the United States, more Americans are keeping things local thanks to Small Business Saturday.

First begun on Nov. 27, 2010, Small Business Saturday encourages shoppers to skip the mall and head out to local retail boutiques, restaurants, artisans, and other merchants to support their local economies. This year, the National Federation of Independent Business found that about 95 million Americans went shopping on Saturday, Nov. 28, an increase of 14% from last year’s crowds.

In Rochester, NY, residents are enthusiastic about keeping their money local, especially in the city’s trendy South Wedge neighborhood.

The Democrat and Chronicle reported that shoppers were especially excited to check out businesses like Zak’s Avenue, Thread boutique, Little Button Shop, Hedonist Chocolate, Cheesy Eddie’s, Mise en Place, Harry G’s Deli and Purple Painted Lady, among others.

“We have such a diverse neighborhood,” John White, co-owner of Equal Grounds Coffee on South Avenue, told the Rochester newspaper. “People are very focused on supporting the community.”

Nationwide, between 25 and 27 million small businesses make up approximately 60-80% of all jobs, making them a vital part of local and state-level economies.

The suburbs weren’t left out of Small Business Saturday in Rochester, either.

Cooks’ World in the town of Brighton saw huge crowds in its store on Saturday, as well.

Instead of fighting over items like mugs, cookie cutters, and pots and pans, shoppers enjoyed looking at the store’s unique inventory and interacting with the merchants.

And for Chris Wiedemer, owner of Cooks’ World, the popularity of Small Business Saturday is proof that Americans like to support their local economies.

“We’ve been here for 37 years,” Weidemer told Time Warner Cable News in Rochester. “So, the mom and pops have been here long before the Internet, long before all the big boxes that are all here.”

Sweden the Perfect Romantic Holiday Getaway

saunaspaMost people think of warm, tropical trips when planning a wintertime vacation get-away, but that shouldn’t be the only option. Especially for those that love Christmas and the spirit of the holiday season, Sweden offers a variety of related activities and might be just the unique adventure you’ve been looking for, according to the women’s lifestyle information source

Specifically Stockholm, the country’s capital, is given as the place to be in a country that might love Christmas just as much as many Americans do. One of the biggest and most obvious attractions for this time of year is the 130-foot tall Christmas tree that’s set up on the Skeppsbron waterfront. The enormous tree features 5,000 lights and almost all of the surrounding residences keep Advent candles in their windows to compliment the harmonious environment.

Another nice perk of spending some time in the winter in Stockholm is the amount of snow they typically get. Certainly anything is possible when it comes to weather, but usually they get little, if any snow and the temperature tends to sit right on the cusp of cold, but before unbearably freezing. In other words, it’s great winter coat, boots, and snuggling weather but not a trip to the Arctic.

Marie Claire also recommends checking into The Grand Hotel Stockholm if you’re planning a trip to the city. Not only is it ideally located on the waterfront, but it features 300 classy, sophisticated rooms at relatively affordable prices. According to the hotel’s site, the going rate for their premier “Lap of Luxury” package, for a weekend stay for two was about $228 a night at the time of this writing.

The Spegelsalen (Hall of Mirrors), a glittering ballroom from 1899, and the Vinterträdgården (Winter Garden) are some of the truly unique aspects to check out during the stay.

The hot tub and spa are also a favorite of frequent visitors. Their Nordic Spa with a subterranean pool is one of the cooler amenities you’ll find in a hotel and can help improve your longevity. One 20-year study of men from Finland, another Scandinavian country, found that frequent sauna baths may help you live longer.

With great places to eat both in the hotel and in the city itself, a variety of handcrafted goods, and trendy vendors throughout you’ll have enough to do/see while you’re there and even the opportunity to get some Christmas gifts for loved ones back home.

Legal Battles Likely To Follow After Artist Photoshops Celeb Pictures Into Portraits of Battered Women

Relationship difficultiesThis past Nov. 25 was marked as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and many artists and high-profile individuals helped raise awareness of the pandemic.

One Italian artist, aleXsandro Palombo, decided to make certain celebrities get involved in the cause, and it has created quite a stir. And not necessarily in a positive way.

Palomo featured several high-profile Hollywood celebrities, including Kim and Kendall Kardashian, Angelina Jolie, Miley Cyrus, Emma Watson, Gwyneth Paltrow, and others, in a series of photographs. The campaign was called “Break the Silence” and was intended to highlight the fact that every woman, regardless of her fame, intelligence, or wealth, is equally likely to suffer abuse.

According to The Independent and Latina, Palomo altered the photos of the women (which are primarily headshots) to include bruises, broken noses, blackened eyes swollen shut, and bleeding lips. Palomo labeled each photo with the phrase, “Life Can Be a Fairytale | If You Break the Silence.”

The photos are powerful images and it’s no surprise that the media took hold of the story.

But there was one small problem with Pamolo’s campaign.

He never asked any of the women if he could use their faces in his campaign.

Pictures of celebrities are printed and distributed every single day without a problem, and these often include pictures that have been photoshopped or edited into memes.

However, according to Entertainment Tonight, using these photos in such a controversial campaign — without the subjects’ consent — is considered a direct violation of the right of publicity, and possibly even a case of defamation.

Rod S. Berman, Chairperson of the Intellectual Property Group, explained to ET that the issue is complicated because the famous women profiled go to great lengths to shape their reputations. Additionally, had the women provided consent, they would have likely been compensated for their contribution.

“Celebrities have a right to market the goodwill associated with their celebrity,” Berman said. “It would be as if someone took their image, put it on a T-shirt, and sold it. The right to publicity gives the celebrity some control in how their public image is used.

“It’s also possible that their spouses or significant others may have a claim for defamation because the image may suggest that the individual is being abused by someone, which may be false.”

Even those who work tirelessly to raise awareness about violence against women are upset by the photos. While the photo series was intended to raise awareness for a meaningful cause, there’s an underlying theme in the series which directly reflects the nature of domestic violence: a man who exercises his power over other women without their consent, thereby denying them the ability to speak for themselves.

It’s estimated that more than four million women and girls in the U.S. are victims of domestic violence, and experts state that at least half of all women will experience some form of domestic abuse from a romantic partner at point in their lives.

Slight Decrease for Black Friday Sales in U.S. Reflects Shift Towards Online Shopping Among Consumers

Black Friday And Cyber Monday SaleWhile Black Friday is typically characterized as a free-for-all stampede in malls across America, data year shows that stores were a little emptier this year for a number of reasons.

According to Reuters, sales at brick-and-mortar stores on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday were not as strong as last year, though online sales saw a significant increase as more consumers choose to avoid hordes of crazed shoppers in local shopping centers.

RetailNext, an analytics firm that studies consumer trends, said that overall sales for the two biggest shopping days of the year fell about about 1.5% from last year. They added that average spending per shopper dropped by an estimated 1.4%.

Data from another analytics firm, ShopperTrak, showed that sales at brick-and-mortar stores totaled about $12.1 billion on Thursday and Friday. In 2014, ShopperTrak reported that there were $12.29 billion in sales during that same period.

Both firms agreed that rising competition from online shopping was a primary factor for the decrease in Black Friday in-store shopping. Until a few years ago, stores wouldn’t begin offering discounts until the day after Thanksgiving. Now, many stores debut bargains on Thanksgiving Day and extend deals well into the following week.

According to The Washington Post, these extended discount periods have made it possible for consumers to stagger their holiday shopping, prompting some to spend even more money before and after Black Friday.

About 76% of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and many can’t make additional purchases until their next check arrives. By extending these discounts, stores encourage consumers to take advantage of deals at their convenience instead of ignoring them due to lack of funds.

Thanksgiving Day online sales were a whopping $1.73 billion, while Black Friday online sales totaled over $2.74 billion, denoting a 14% increase from last year. Experts add that the meteoric rise of online holiday shopping can be attributed to mobile-friendly websites that allow consumers to buy items directly from their smartphone or tablet.

The Black Friday insanity will be capped off on Nov. 30, which is known as “Cyber Monday,” but hardcore holiday shoppers know that the bargains don’t stop there. Holiday discounts will continue to be rolled out for the next month, and eager buyers will be standing by, smartphones in hand, waiting for the next great deal.