A day spent snapping pictures, checking social media, and catching Pokemon tends to be rough on your smartphone's battery life. Bedtime may seem like a good opportunity to plug in your device in preparation for the next day, but according to The New York Times, making this a nightly habit could end up hurting your phone in the long run.
If you own a smartphone, it’s likely powered by a lithium-ion battery. Most phones are designed to accept currents as fast as possible (to cut down on charging time), but as the current rapidly flows from one side of the battery to the other, it corrodes the battery. While this is fine for a couple of years, it will eventually shorten your battery's lifespan.
One thing smartphone users shouldn't worry about when plugging in overnight is "overcharging." Smartphones know when they’ve reached full capacity and have special built-in chips that prevent them from absorbing any surplus charge.
The 44 percent of smartphone owners who plan to upgrade their devices as soon as possible probably won't own a phone long enough to see the effects of frequent charging. But if you plan to have your iPhone 4 pried from your cold, dead hands, Hatem Zeine—founder of the wireless charging company Ossia—recommends powering up devices with a charger meant for something less powerful (charging an iPad Pro with an iPhone charger, for example). Keeping your battery at a temperature of about 60 to 72°F is another way to squeeze every year of battery life you can get from your device.
Here in the U.S., we have food safety regulations — a lot of them. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for making sure processed foods (and a bunch of other stuff) adhere to some basic health and safety rules to reduce the likelihood these products will hit store shelves and make a million people sick. So far, so good, but there’s a major food safety standard that the FDA uses that, it turns out, is neither standard nor safe — despite its name.
So, what’s this standard?
Generally Recognized As Safe, or GRAS.
And that means…
GRAS is a standard for certain substances added to food. The FDA, which regulates food safety, maintains a database of these GRAS ingredients that are, well, generally considered safe to use in your processed food.
Anything included on the list — currently around 10,000 ingredients — is fair game for its stated use in food processing, without requiring a specific pre-market review process.
That sounds fine! Is there some kind of catch?
A big one.
Rather than being a safety standard, it’s actually kind of a loophole that gets you out of the required safety standards.
Huh. Okay, so, how does it work?
To get there, we need to backtrack a bit: to 1958, specifically.
A quick history of food safety regulation: The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 is basically where the FDA came from. Twenty years later, in 1958, the law was updated with the Food Additives Amendment.
That’s about the point where Congress realized that it’s really quite bad for consumers if new ingredients in their food are toxic, or if their otherwise-okay food has a harmful ingredient added to it. (Who knew?!) So the 1958 update gave the FDA a way to mandate safety testing and keep harmful chemicals, including carcinogens, out of food.
That’s when GRAS came about. It’s basically a a twofold way of determining if something can be generally recognized as safe for consumption, and substances meeting that standard were excluded from the review process.
Common ingredients in regular use before 1958 were all grandfathered onto the list. So that covered your flour, sugar, salt, vinegar, baking soda, and the like. Sure, in excess some of those things may be bad for you, but that’s a separate problem that regulators later started addressing in different ways. The ingredients are not toxic (A) in and of themselves, and (B) in the way and amounts in which they are generally used or had been used to-date (more about that later), so they qualified as safe.
The other way to get something on the list is, “general recognition of safety through scientific procedures,” which means, basically, using current “data, information, or methods” to prove that your thing isn’t harmful.
Oh, okay. So the FDA does scientific testing on potential GRAS items?
Ah. No. Not even a little.
The “generally” in GRAS is doing a lot of heavy lifting. After all, the grandfathering-in for ingredients used prior to 1958 is, basically, “It never hurt anyone as far as we know, right?”
Which, granted, for ingredients that humans have been using in food for hundreds of years is probably okay — there’s a really big implicit sample size, of tens or hundreds of millions of people, behind the assumption that, say, white vinegar is generally safe. The law was designed to make the entire process of food production safe without being onerous, and having to prove the safety of something like vinegar before you can use it would probably be a big waste of everyone’s time and money. Sure.
The “scientific procedures” part is a little trickier, though. Typically, testing is done either in-house, by the corporation that wants to use the product, or by industry labs. So you’re in a situation where Food Conglomerate X can come up with a substance, have their own employees test it under their own roof, and then declare, “See, it’s fine!”
There’s obviously a potential for conflict of interest when no neutral third party is involved. That’s not to say that all food safety testing is bad or compromised, because some is probably fine, but it isn’t neutral and its results may be questionable.
Without outside verification, it’s hard to tell what’s reliable and what isn’t.
But the FDA has to review those findings though, right?
Well, the FDA did. For a while, anyway.
The process for getting your item classified as GRAS was to generate and gather your evidence, then present it in a petition to the FDA. The FDA would then review your petition and issue a rule. That rule would basically either say, “Great, your science looks good, we’ll call this ingredient safe,” or something more like, “We don’t have any particular questions about this, nothing stands out,” and your ingredient would get the green light.
Wait, “was”? Do companies still have to provide their science?
When did that change?
The FDA proposed a rule change in 1997 that would, “eliminate the GRAS affirmation petition process and replace it with a notification procedure.”
In other words, it would take out that make-a-rule step. Instead of the FDA having to review the findings and give them a thumbs-up, companies would simply notify the FDA that they had tested a thing, found it safe, and would now be using it.
That is, if they want to. The notification part is strongly encouraged, not mandatory.
The FDA actually made a change that basically says “you only have to tell us if you want to?”
When did it go into effect?
The final version of the rule went into the Federal Register as officially-official on Aug. 17, 2016. Yes, 19 years after it was first proposed. And yes, that is slow, even for a large federal bureaucracy.
The rule was only finalized at all as the result of a 2014 lawsuit from the Center for Food Safety. It, and other consumer safety watchdog groups (including the policy and mobilization branch of our parent company, Consumer Reports) argued that the proposed GRAS process violated the actual 1958 law that established the GRAS standard to begin with.
The lawsuit aimed to force the FDA into finalizing a rule; however, the rule that got finalized incorporated virtually none of the changes or suggestions that advocates had proposed.
So companies can stop notifying the FDA about their stuff now?
Actually, nothing much changes in the day-to-day — notification has been dropping off significantly since 1997. All kinds of stuff has just… gone through in the last 20 years.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) released a fact sheet [PDF] last year outlining the scope of the problem. It included this graph, showing how the “affirmation” or approval process has been replaced with the “notification” one since the 1990s:
What kind of scale are we talking about?
CSPI estimates that there are about 1,000 food substances being used that the FDA has never even been notified about, and that there are about 3,000 being used that the FDA has been notified about but has not ever investigated.
So what are the problems this causes?
There are two biggies.
One: Nobody actually knows what all the additives in your food actually are. If they’re not disclosed, then they’re not in any FDA database and nobody actually knows to look for them. If they’re used in small enough quantities in your food, they won’t even show up as an ingredient on the package except under a broad header like “natural and artificial flavoring.”
Two: When something is already glossed over and never looked at again, but turns out to be dangerous, it can be really hard to identify which ingredient is the harmful one — and if it’s pulled at all, it’s only after someone’s already been hurt.
What’s a good example of that?
The most commonly-given example of a problem with a GRAS-approved substance is caffeine.
When it made the approved additives list, in 1959, most consumers were getting relatively small amounts of caffeine in soda or coffee. Other than maybe giving yourself a night of insomnia, intentionally or not, you weren’t looking at any seriously deleterious effects from the quantity of the ingredient you could actually ingest.
By the 21st century, tech and trends in food processing changed. So you got a caffeinated alcoholic beverage released on, and then later banned from, the market after being linked to a teenager’s death and being deemed unsafe.
Following a teenager’s death from caffeine overdose in 2014, in 2015 the FDA finally told caffeine-sellers not to keep marketing their potentially dangerous stuff as safe supplements.
This is where that bit about the way and amounts in which GRAS ingredients are generally used or had been used to-date that we mentioned way up top, comes back into play. Caffeine, as used in 1959, was and is pretty much safe. But caffeine as used in other ways in 2014 proved fatal.
But if people were dropping dead from 1,000 food additives we’d notice, right?
That’s basically the industry response: that clearly ingredients they put in food are safe because there’s no proof of harm. And yes, if your morning breakfast cereal were to turn out toxic, it’s a pretty good bet that would make headlines.
But consumer advocates aren’t just concerned about immediate, acute problems like fatal caffeine overdoses; they’re concerned that with unknown items in the food supply, it’s hard to identify any chronic issues they may cause.
The easiest example here is partially hydrogenated oils: trans fats. You may remember that trans fats became a big bugaboo a few years back. During the ’00s, they had to be broken out on nutrition labels, and slowly started vanishing from food. Eventually, they got banned altogether.
Those oils had been considered GRAS. The FDA reviewed the science, did more science, and then, in 2015, pulled the designation and removed them from the list. As it turns out, additives that cause heart disease and don’t really add anything you can’t get in your food otherwise are a bad idea.
But in order to make a measurement and a determination like that, first you have to know what it is you’re measuring.
If something that nobody knows has been added to food causes some kind of slow-motion chronic illness or effect, how would the medical and scientific establishment even begin to chase it down and make that connection?
Basically, it’s a problem of unknowns: without independent research and disclosure, how can consumers make informed choices about what to buy and eat?
So, basically the FDA isn’t regulating many new food additives in any meaningful way?
That’s the long and the short of it, yup.
I’m not even sure what to say.
We know that feeling. Here, try this gif:
You’re far from alone if you think this whole thing is misleading as heck. Our colleagues at Consumer Reports surveyed Americans this year and found that overwhelmingly, folks think GRAS means something it doesn’t.
A whopping 77% of respondents thought “GRAS” means the FDA has actually evaluated something and found it safe, and that another 66% thought that the FDA monitors the safety and usage of GRAS ingredients.
Gawker Media declared bankruptcy in June after losing a major lawsuit. The company went up on the auction block this week and Univision bought it up. And while the company likely has plans in mind for at least some of what it paid for, the flagship site isn’t going with: Gawker.com is shutting down.
Gawker — until 2008, the parent company of Consumerist, and the former employer of two current Consumerist staffers — had its assets acquired by Univision for $135 million in a bankruptcy auction this week.
According to Gawker, the purchase included subsidiary sites Deadspin, Gizmodo, Jalopnik, Jezebel, Kotaku, and Lifehacker but left the fate of Gawker itself unclear.
Today, that fate became clear. The one-time internet media stalwart announced it would be ending operations next week, roughly 14 years after its founding. “The near-term plans for Gawker.com’s coverage, as well as the site’s archives, have not yet been finalized,” site staff wrote.
Employees of other Gawker Media sites tell Consumerist that no official word about their properties has yet come from Univision one way or the other. Univision’s Isaac Lee — the chief news, entertainment, and digital officer for Univision Communications — is expected to speak with Gawker Media staff in their New York office tomorrow.
You can now try Dropbox’s take on document creation and collaboration called Paper. Paper is essentially an online word processor like Google Docs that’s focused on collaborating within the Dropbox environment, and the beta is now open to everyone.
Last week during the Republican National Convention, CBS Late Show host Stephen Colbert brought backhis arch-conservative former alter ego — also named Stephen Colbert — from Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report to comment on the goings-on in Cleveland. The brief stunt apparently didn’t go over well with the lawyers at Comedy Central, forcing Colbert to a new intellectual property work-around: introducing a completely new character who just happens to look and sound exactly like him.
“Immediately after the show, CBS’s top lawyer was contacted by the top lawyer from another company to say that the character Stephen Colbert is their intellectual property,” said Colbert on last night’s show. “Which is surprising because I never considered that guy much of an intellectual.”
As such, “the character of Stephen Colbert, host of The Colbert Report, will never be seen again.”
“What can I do?” asked the host. “I can not reasonably argue I own my face or name.”
Rather than mourn the loss of one Stephen Colbert, Colbert celebrate the birth of another Stephen Colbert: his identical twin cousin Stephen Colbert, who appeared via satellite from the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia:
“I just want to be clear here, you are not the guy who had a television show for a decade,” noted the Colbert in New York City.
“Absolutely not,” answered his identical twin cousin. “This is my first appearance on television ever.”
The Comedy Central Colbert’s wife is named Lorraine. His cousin is married to “Lorena.”
The Comedy Central Colbert graduated from Dartmouth College. The cousin applied to the Ivy League school.
“Totally different guy,” said the cousin. “Also, I’m pretty sure he’s gay.”
Cousin Colbert expressed his desire to be an ongoing part of the Late Show team: “Whenever you need me, wild horses ridden by corporate lawyers could not keep me away.”
Today, I write to you as a pissed-off consumer. Actually, every day I write to you I’m a pissed-off consumer, because I have Comcast. But today, I’m especially pissed off about something else: official-looking warranty expiration notices.
Have you ever gotten one of these? I’ve owned a lot of cars over the years, so I get them fairly often, and they’re just some of the most shady-looking documents you’ll ever get in your entire life.
Every few months, I’ll get sent in the mail something that says on it: “VEHICLE ALERT” and “IMMEDIATE ACTION REQUIRED” and “OPEN IMMEDIATELY.” Now, this triggers some alarm bells right away, because I’m thinking it could be a recall notice, and thus an immediate threat to my personal safety, because there’s a new recall out on my car for an issue where it will catch fire if I attempt to open the glovebox. I say this because every car in human history seems to be recalled right now, including the lunar rover. (“NHTSA RECALL NOTICE: Improper placement of suspension components may affect vehicle’s ability to lunarly rove.”)
So I anxiously open this letter, and it turns out to be from some company called “EXTENDED WARRANTY AMERICA” or “WARRANTY CONTRACT SERVICES” or “JIM BOB’S WARRANTIES AND VAPING SUPPLIES.” And it turns out the “VEHICLE ALERT” is really just that they think the warranty is expiring on a 2007 Volkswagen GTI that I owned half a decade ago before I sold it to a couple who lives in Nevada, and so they want to sell me an extended warranty to supplement it.
So basically, this VEHICLE ALERT wasn’t an alert at all, except that it alerted me to the fact that WARRANTY CONTRACT SERVICES is the kind of company that earmarks a quarter of its annual budget for paying Yelp to remove bad reviews.
I know to discard these notices, but they’re more effective than you might think.
About two weeks ago, my fiancée and I were talking, and she told me that she had gotten an official letter about her warranty expiring, and she had to call to make sure she was still covered. She drives a 2008 Acura RDX, the turbocharged one, which is currently parked while we wait for Acura to replace our Death Airbag.
So this piqued my interest, and I looked over the letter, and sure enough, it was from an extended warranty company. VEHICLE ALERT NOTICE. ATTENTION: Immediate Response To This Notice Requested. They even printed a “response deadline,” as if they would not desperately sell her an extended warranty for any vehicle, at any moment, even if she was driving a 1987 Lincoln Town Car and she called at noon on Christmas.
Now, I suspect my fiancée wouldn’t have fallen for this company’s sales pitch once she called them, but the point is that the letter convinced her to call them. And she is not a stupid person. She was her high school valedictorian, for God’s sake. Do you know how far away I was from being my high school valedictorian? My high school valedictorian went to Yale and is currently in medical school. I’m sitting in my bedroom eating Doritos and writing about mail I get. That’s how far.
So anyway: let’s say she called them and didn’t fall for their sales pitch. Think of all the people who would fall for it.I want you to imagine older people, in their twilight years, driving around in some older person car, such as a Buick Lucerne, and they get this note in the mail. You know what they’re going to do? They’re going to be terrified, and they’re going to call up this place, and they’re going to buy the best possible coverage, which involves an extended powertrain warranty, and an extended interior warranty, and an extended trunk liner warranty, and an extended warranty that covers the car in case of lightning strike or intravenous drug use.
So basically, what I am saying here is that these extended warranty notices are ridiculous, and predatory, and they should probably be stopped immediately so they do not swindle any further people out of their money.
Meanwhile, if you actually do want an extended warranty, you should be free to pursue this at your own desire. Just call up Jim Bob’s and get a free vape pen with every three-year warranty purchase.