Monday, January 18, 2021

Paranoia creeps into remote work

The pandemic and subsequent work-from-home boom have increased our reliance on digital communication and it’s elevating our anxiety and paranoia at work. In the absence of impromptu office interactions, which help to “reassure us we’re in good standing”,  small virtual moments are being picked apart as uncertainty about status proliferates. Employees are increasingly stressing out about how they come off over Zoom, or wondering whether unanswered Slack messages mean they’re going to get fired, exacerbating stress among those working from home. (The New York Times)


Costco pulls plug on photo centers

Costco announced it is shutting down all of its in-store photo centers next month, and the move will also pull the plug on services such as ink refill, passport photos, photo restoration and home movie transfers. The warehouse club will still offer photo delivery services, including for prints, enlargements and posters, through its website. In an email to members, according to USA Today, the company acknowledged that “the need for printing photos has steeply declined, even though the number of pictures taken continues to grow” with smartphones and social media. (CNN)


New Yorkers owe a billion in rent

New York City renters are $1 billion behind in rent, according to a survey. The report notes that relief measures have not been enough to stem a tide of missed or late payments and that the figure is likely double that given the survey only looked at those apartments subject to rent-regulation laws. With mounting debt for renters and pain among landlords, New York state recently expanded its eviction moratoriums until May 2021. There is also $1.3 billion in rental relief arriving for the state, which was included in the most recent COVID-19 stimulus package. (The Wall Street Journal)


Is it too hard to quit Amazon Prime?

Public interest groups are calling on U.S. regulators to investigate Amazon, writing in a letter that the process to cancel the e-commerce and streaming giant’s Prime subscription is “designed to unfairly and deceptively undermine the will of the consumer.” The public interest coalition alleges that Amazon may be violating Federal Trade Commission rules and consumer protection laws. The group’s report says canceling Prime involves navigating manipulative steps that it calls “dark patterns.” Amazon rejects the claims, saying there are several ways to cancel online and by phone. (Bloomberg)


Jobless claims jump by almost 1 Million

New jobless claims jumped to almost 1 million, a sign that layoffs are surging again along with the coronavirus. Renewed business restrictions to ward off the virus are putting new pressure on the labor market. The Labor Department last week reported the first drop in payrolls in eight months in December. While vaccines have begun to be distributed, the market may not see a rebound in jobs until the second half. (United States Department of Labor)


Research Suggests Mindfulness Courses Can Help Improve Mental Health

New research out of Britain suggests mindfulness courses can improve mental health but may not be for everyone. The popular form of meditation is practiced around the world. A University of Cambridge study looked at data from 29 countries and found while community mindfulness courses can improve mental health, in at least one in 20 trial settings it did not help anxiety and depression. Researchers followed almost 12,000 participants, including in the U.S. Most were women who took part in classes at work or college. They found mindfulness, compared with doing nothing, boosted mental health. Cambridge researchers said the number of mindfulness classes has jumped significantly during COVID, and they’ll continue to study its effect on mental health. Researchers say the effectiveness of online courses for mindfulness has yet to be determined, but preliminary studies suggest they work, despite the lack of direct contact. (UPI)


The Pentagon has reduced the number of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan to 2,500, the lowest total since 2001

President Trump last year said he wanted a full withdrawal but the proposal was met with opposition from allies. In November, the Trump administration announced plans to cut the number of troops in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500. Acting secretary of defense Christopher Miller said that the U.S. was “closer than ever to ending nearly two decades of war.” The U.S. invaded Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and by 2011 it had deployed 100,000 soldiers there. Last February, the Trump administration reached an agreement with the Taliban to remove all troops from Afghanistan by May 2021. (Reuters)


Amazon, as well as the five other top book publishers, have had a class-action lawsuit filed against them alleging price-fixing

The lawsuit alleges the companies kept e-book prices higher than they should have been and have been anti-competitive. Amazon, Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster have been accused of conspiring to artificially raise the price of e-books. Amazon negotiated book deals with those five publishers in 2015 that the lawsuit claims fixed prices at 30% higher than market value. The lawsuit, filed by Hagens Berman, has named Amazon as the sole defendant in the case but lists the other publishers as co-conspirators. Hagens Berman successfully conducted a very similar class-action lawsuit against Apple and the same big five book publishers nearly 10 years ago. The lawsuit will seek compensation for consumers who purchased ebooks through other competitors and will also attempt to get Amazon to stop the alleged anti-competitive practices. (The Guardian)


At least 50 countries have agreed to protect 30% of the planet to fight climate change and prevent the extinction of countless species of plants and animals

The goal was initially set by the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People (HACNP), which was created by Costa Rica, France, and Britain in 2019 to protect biodiversity. HACNP members argue that humans have severely altered 66% of the world’s ocean and 75% of its land areas, putting nearly 1 million plant and animal species at risk of extinction. The HACNP’s main goal is to engage indigenous peoples and local communities to protect 30% of the world by 2030. The organization’s members say that the initiative will create jobs and drive post-COVID-19 economic recovery. The U.S. government has not joined the HACNP but President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to preserve 30% of American lands and waters by 2030. (Associated Press)


Nestle recalls nearly 763,000 pounds of frozen food for possible glass, plastic contamination

Nestlé Prepared Foods is recalling about 762,615 pounds of pepperoni pizza Hot Pockets, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced recently. The frozen stuffed sandwiches, which were shipped to stores nationwide and produced in November, are being recalled because they “may be contaminated with extraneous materials, specifically pieces of glass and hard plastic,” according to a news release.  The USDA classified the announcement as a “Class I” recall, which it defines as a “health hazard situation where there is a reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death.” According to the USDA notice, the “problem was discovered when the firm received four consumer complaints of extraneous material in the pepperoni hot pocket product” and there has been “one report of a minor oral injury associated with consumption of this product.” The recall is for 54-ounce packages containing 12 “Nestlé Hot Pockets Brand Sandwiches: Premium Pepperoni made with pork, chicken and beef pizza garlic buttery crust.” The affected boxes have a “Best before Feb 2022” date and one of the following lot codes 0318544624, 0319544614, 0320544614 and 0321544614. The boxes also have the establishment number “EST. 7721A” inside the USDA mark of inspection. (United States Department of Agriculture)


Facebook and WhatsApp have delayed the rollout of new privacy policies after a large number of users complained

The date has been pushed back approximately three months, with new terms now scheduled to take effect on May 15th. The company said, “We’re now moving back the date on which people will be asked to review and accept the terms. No one will have their account suspended or deleted on February 8.” The company also admitted that it needs to “do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on WhatsApp.” Recently the Federal Trade Commission’s antitrust lawsuit against Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp was moved to a Washington D.C. federal judge. The changes had opened Facebook’s app to a potential lawsuit, a nationwide investigation, and an exodus of users to ostensibly private messenger services like Signal and Telegram. Due to the allegations against WhatsApp, Signal has become one of the most downloaded apps in app stores since last week, followed by Telegram. (Tech Crunch)


Another trend out of remote work

The pandemic forced many to work from home, and while the question of whether we ever return to the office full-time looms, a growing trend has emerged in real estate: short-term, furnished housing. This niche market is booming as many young professionals, who may have ditched big city life, are still holding out they may return, eventually. Some companies are offering these furnished spaces quickly more than doubled its coverage from 30 cities to 75 “because demand grew much faster than expected.” (The Wall Street Journal)


More than 11,000 Containers of Ice Cream Are Being Recalled for Having Metal Shards

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has shared a recall from Weis Markets, recalling more than 11,000 containers of ice cream. The frozen treats may be contaminated with “extraneous material, specifically metal filling equipment parts,” which is not a traditional ice cream topping. The company has recalled 10,869 containers of Weis Quality Cookies and Cream Ice Cream in 48-ounce containers, as well as 502 bulk units of Klein’s Vanilla Dairy Ice Cream in three-gallon containers. The recall notice says there has been one report of someone finding an “intact piece of metal equipment” in their ice cream. The ice cream was sold at 197 Weis Markets stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, and West Virginia. Be sure to return that package for a refund if you’ve got it in the freezer. You can also call Weis Markets’ customer service line with questions. (United States Food & Drug Administration)


Monday Shakes Us Down With:

  • Crowd Feed Day (Always on Martin Luther King Day)
  • Martin Luther King Day (3rd Monday)
  • Michigan Day
  • Peking Duck Day
  • Rid The World of Fad Diets and Gimmicks Day (3rd Monday)
  • Robert E. Lee Day (3rd Monday)
  • Thesaurus Day
  • Winnie The Pooh Day




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