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Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Original Story: bbc.com

One of the most frequent questions I get asked when people hear I sit on company boards isn’t about executive pay packages. Instead, they want to know how to present to a board so its members will say yes.

The question always calls to mind a presentation that went wrong. Several years ago, a rather dandified fellow from inside a company gave a presentation to a board I sat on. He was snide at times, made several off-colour jokes, winked at board members and made his political leanings clear with side remarks about the government of the day. When he didn’t know the answers to questions we asked, he tried to fob them off as irrelevant.

When the chair finally ended the presentation, we looked at each other in disbelief. We weren’t just unsure about the proposal, but also unsure of the person who brought the proposal. I think you can guess how we voted.

Don’t let this be you. A Boston Employment Lawyer agrees.

People present to corporate boards for many reasons—they could be suggesting a new direction for the company, explaining a complex legal issue that needs to be decided quickly, or simply giving an update on an on-going project. But boards come in all shapes and sizes, be they school boards, neighbourhood watch boards, apartment boards, non-profit boards, employee committees.

No matter the context, the principles of presenting to decision making bodies are the same, and getting it right is crucial. It’s not as difficult as it sounds, so long as you keep some guidelines in mind. Here are nine do’s and six don’ts of being effective:

Board Presentations Do’s:

  • Know what you are walking into. Board meetings are often jam packed with a long agenda. In the past couple of months I’ve been in meetings that have lasted up to 8 hours, covering  up to 20 topics. Your topic is special to you, but you have a finite amount of time to get essential information across.
  • Do your homework. Who is on the board? What is their background? It helps to be able to tailor the presentation when applicable, so you are not telling them things they already know, nor assuming knowledge they might not have. An Atlanta Business Lawyer has experience drafting corporate documents.
  • Send documents in plenty of time. I try to ensure board members get their papers at least a week in advance. If there’s a deadline, meet it with several days to spare in case there is feedback before it goes to the board. Please don't "surprise" us, as in "I didn't provide the papers in advance because I wanted to keep you in suspense". This isn't an Agatha Christie novel, it’s a board meeting. Give us the tools we need to make a decision.
  • Know in advance how much time you have. Do not go over your allotment. If the chair feels more time is warranted, he or she will extend it. Make sure to leave plenty of time for questions.
  • Ask how the board would like the information presented. For example, ask the chair, "shall I present the whole thing or hit the high points?". Another approach: suggest that you "take the papers as already read". That means you presume that everyone has reviewed the documents you sent in advance, and you will just address the most important points and avoid repeating every detail.
  • Be prepared. Be professional. Be concise. Board members will judge the content of your presentation, but also the confidence with which you deliver it. A Boston Business Lawyer can provide legal advice for a variety of business matters.
  • Stay calm and answer the question asked. If you don't know the answer, don't get flustered, defensive or try to fake it. Instead, promise to come back with the answer as swiftly as possible. Then follow through quickly. Also, and this is really important, don’t get thrown off if you get a lot of hard questions. If we didn’t think your proposal had merit we wouldn't bother with questions, we'd simply say no. Board members ask questions differently — some meander, others get straight to it. No matter the style, stay even-tempered and answer clearly and concisely. Also, don't give attitude about questions you think are "dumb" or obvious — we are doing our job. Often the most interesting or important information comes from seemingly simplistic questions.
  • Be clear and concise about the outcome. If there is a decision to be taken by the end of your presentation, make sure the options are very clear. It never hurts to state the options up front, explain them, and then present the options again.
  • End with grace. When it is time for you to go, say thanks and leave. Don’t linger.

Board Presentations Don’ts:

  • You may be kept waiting — don’t complain.  Meetings can run late depending on the agenda. If it is a closed door meeting you’ll be kept waiting outside. If not, you’ll be there watching other people presenting, or listening to debates on other agenda items. Don't under any circumstances grumble about it, as it will taint the room's view of your presentation before it even starts. A cheerful "no problem" goes a long way.
  • Don’t bore us. I recently sat through a report that essentially told everyone in the room something we all already knew. The presenter quickly lost our attention. Even worse, we had all mentally checked out by the time he’d gotten to the "ask".
  • Don’t lobby. Your presentation is not an opportunity to take the stand on other areas. If you are there to talk about upgrading the IT infrastructure, throwing in a “while I’m here I’d like to make a pitch for better parking facilities” is not helpful to you or us.
  • Don't use jargon. We are not necessarily experts in your field. Use clear language that everyone around the table will understand. The first time out, explain what you mean by ESG, grok, and API, otherwise it just sounds like a string of nonsensical letters and words. Try to avoid overblown statements — a “complete sea change” better be pretty big. Also trend-driven words that will make people roll their eyes. “Thinkfluencer” comes to mind.
  • We are not all the same — don’t air your bias and political inclinations. With any luck the group around the table is a diverse one, with diverse opinions. Off-colour jokes and political comments have no place in your presentation and could offend the very people you are trying to persuade.
  • Don’t go over the top with bells and whistles. There’s no need to pass out flowers or an entertaining video unless it is directly related to the topic. Useful: “Here is a sample of what we are talking about.” Strange: “Here is a flower for all you lovely people.” And yes, I was in a meeting where someone once handed out flowers to “all the lovely lady board members”.

Clear, Concise, and to the Point

Think of your presentation as a memo, not a novel. Board members thrive on facts presented in a clear concise manner. Even if you leave your presentation without getting the answer yes you hoped for, you will at least leave the people at the table with a good impression of you. And that will go a long way if you come back to the board with a revised proposal.

Give it a go and let me know if it helped, and if you know someone who preparing to give a presentation, clip this and send it to them. Chances are not only will they be grateful, but so will the   board members who hear the presentation.

Monday, September 29, 2014


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Chrysler Group LLC CEO and Chairman Sergio Marchionne are optimistic the formation of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will be beneficial for the U.S. and Italy.

Renzi, who was given a tour of Chrysler's Auburn Hills headquarters Friday by Marchionne, said he sees the creation of the new company as an opportunity for his country's automotive industry to compete on a global scale.

"Globalization is not a monster," he said in Italian through a translator during a press conference before addressing about 200 employees. "It is the greatest opportunity for Italy."

The U.S. has already reaped many benefits from Fiat SpA taking a stake in Chrysler as part of the automotive bailout in June 2009, including more than $5.3 billion in new investments and nearly 27,800 new jobs. Many of those investments and jobs have benefited Michigan.

Since announcing aspirations to create FCA in January, Marchionne has continually touted that integrating Chrysler and Fiat to create the world's seventh-largest automaker would be beneficial for both companies and countries. Fiat fully acquired Chrysler as part of a $4.35 billion deal with the United Auto Workers union trust fund that pays health care bills for retirees.

Marchionne, who also serves as CEO of Fiat, confirmed the company still plans to list FCA on the New York Stock Exchange on Columbus Day, Oct. 13.

"Columbus Day, for us, will be the beginning of a new world, a new era," he told employees through a translator.

FCA, Marchionne said, is a global company "not just in numbers, but in spirit," thanks to the combined reach of Fiat and Chrysler.

Renzi's visit to Chrysler's headquarters is the most recent sign of the growing connection between Italy and Michigan thanks to FCA, which is registered in the Netherlands and recently announced a headquarters in London's affluent West End business district.

The London headquarters was chosen for tax purposes and to avoid political controversy in the automakers' current home countries. Chrysler — founded in the U.S. in 1925 — was part of the $85 billion automotive bailout using U.S. taxpayer money, and Fiat was founded in Italy in 1899.

Marchionne and Renzi both downplayed the significance of where the headquarters is located.

"My only great concern is to reduce the number of people that don't have work in Italy," he said, adding Fiat is a "historic" and "great" company for Italy.

Italy's unemployment level is at more than 12 percent. That compares to U.S. unemployment at 6.1 percent in August.

Renzi compared his country's current employment problems to what the U.S. automotive industry went through in 2009, when Chrysler and crosstown rival General Motors Co. were forced into government-backed bankruptcies. He said he hopes his country can come out as well as Chrysler has in the U.S.

"I continue to believe that the best times are yet to come," he said.

This was Renzi's first visit to Chrysler's headquarters. It ends a five-day trip for the 39-year-old prime minister to the U.S. that also included visits to California and New York.


Original Story: finance.yahoo.com

Gasoline prices are at their lowest levels since February. But while that might spell relief for consumers, surprisingly, it may not benefit the world’s largest retailer.

Over the past two weeks, the price of gasoline fell nearly 9 cents based on data compiled by the Lundberg Survey. The average price of gasoline in the United States is $3.3741 per gallon. Conventional wisdom holds that gasoline prices move inversely to retail sales. Thus, lower gasoline prices should mean more sales ahead for the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart.

However, a closer look at the charts suggests otherwise.

“Intuitively, you might think lower prices at the pump [means] more money in your pocket [and consumers] go out to Wal-Mart and buy some more stuff,” said Rich Ross, global equity strategist at Auerbach Grayson and a “Talking Numbers” contributor. “But that’s not really how it has worked for about the last 10 years. What we’ve seen is a very strong correlation in the same direction between commodities like gasoline and the price of equities like Wal-Mart.”

To be sure, gasoline prices and Wal-Mart’s share prices don’t move perfectly together but are roughly where they were at the start of the year. Wholesale gasoline futures are down 8 percent on the year, while Wal-Mart shares are down 2.5 percent year-to-date. Contrast that with the broad market S&P 500 index which has gained almost 8 percent so far in 2014.

“It’s not a perfect match but in general, the trends move in the same direction,” said Ross, looking at a five-year chart of Wal-Mart stock versus the price of reformulated blended gasoline contracts (RBOB). “Higher gasoline has corresponded roughly with higher equity prices and vice versa, which is the situation we’re seeing today where gasoline and other commodities are breaking down. They’re eroding as a sign of weakening demand, a weaker economy, etc., and Wal-Mart is commensurately moving lower.”

Gina Sanchez, founder of Chantico Global, also says there is a fundamental misunderstanding about the price of gasoline and retail spending.

“Everyone wants to say that a penny at the pump causes a billion dollars of spending,” said Sanchez, a CNBC contributor. “That statistic is like 15 years old, and I think it’s hilarious that people continue to say it. Intuitively you would think that. However, over the last five years, I think that gasoline has been more an indication of demand.”

That demand, in turn, has been weak, according to Sanchez. “We’ve had a situation where a lot of people lost their jobs,” she said. “Wages have been slow to grow. Because of that, people have been slow to spend. We’ve seen that not online in the retail space but in the commodities space.”

One example Sanchez cites is natural gas, which after a spike during the “polar vortex” this past winter, is now down 9 percent for the year. “Commodity prices are barely showing a pulse right now and that’s a sign of weak demand, and that really hurts companies like Wal-Mart,” she said. “They need demand. Without that, we continue to see a decline in same-store sales…. This is an uphill battle for Wal-Mart right now.”

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Original Story: NYTimes.com

The Justice Department went on a bit of a charm offensive last week to emphasize to the public that prosecutions for corporate misconduct should not end with just a settlement with the company, which these days usually means paying a hefty fine that causes its stock price to rise. Instead, prosecutors want to focus on reaching individuals within an organization who are responsible for the wrongdoing, including those in the so-called C-suite, where senior officers preside over the operation.

Despite three saber-rattling speeches by Justice Department leaders, however, prosecutors looking to file charges against executives for wrongdoing will face significant hurdles. Not the least is the basic requirement in the criminal law to prove a defendant’s culpable intent, which is no easy task when executives are far removed from daily operations. An Atlanta Crisis Management Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. spoke at a conference last Wednesday at New York University’s School of Law about corporate prosecutions, telling the audience “that the buck needs to stop somewhere where corporate misconduct is concerned.” Getting there won’t be easy, he said, pointing out that “it would be going too far to suggest reversing the presumption of innocence for any executive, even one atop the most poorly run institution.” He called on Congress to enact new laws to encourage whistle-blowers inside companies to report wrongdoing through larger rewards and to make it easier to prosecute senior managers for corporate misconduct. An Atlanta RICO Lawyer has experience managing a variety of racketeering cases.

Leslie R. Caldwell, the assistant attorney general for the criminal division, spoke on the same day at the Taxpayers Against Fraud Education Fund conference, trumpeting the work of the Justice Department’s fraud section. She said that prosecutors would be more aggressive in looking at civil whistle-blower lawsuits filed under the False Claims Act to see whether criminal investigations should be initiated. An Atlanta Whistleblower Lawyer has experience in fraud cases.

Completing the hat trick, on that same Wednesday the principal deputy assistant attorney general for the criminal division, Marshall L. Miller, delivered a blunt message at the Global Investigation Review Program about how corporations trying to demonstrate their cooperation to avoid charges needed to identify individuals within the organization who were responsible for a violation. “If you want full cooperation credit, make your extensive efforts to secure evidence of individual culpability the first thing you talk about when you walk in the door to make your presentation,” he said, and went on to emphasize that a company’s lawyers should “make those efforts the last thing you talk about before you walk out.”

The emphasis on delivering evidence to allow the prosecution of individual employees sounds like an effort to have corporations throw them under the proverbial bus to secure lenient treatment. That approach presents an interesting contrast to Tony Schwartz’s Life@Work column last week for DealBook about the recently published book “Reinventing Organizations.” The common denominator among successful organizations is trust, which may be difficult to foster if the company’s primary goal is to spotlight individuals who will be subjected to prosecution.

Of course, the Justice Department is not particularly interested in helping a corporation that engaged in wrongdoing build trust within the organization. Focusing on this type of cooperation puts companies in a ticklish position in balancing its relationships with employees while knowing that they may have to offer up some of them to the government to prove how cooperative they are.

Whether companies will hear Mr. Miller’s message remains to be seen. The report on an internal investigation at General Motors about defective ignition switches went out of its way to exonerate senior management, doing little to identify individual wrongdoing that might lead to criminal charges. The Justice Department is investigating the company, and it will be interesting to see how much credit prosecutors will give for cooperation if charges are filed.

Mr. Holder said that “we need not tolerate a system that permits top executives to enjoy all the rewards of excessively risky activity while bearing none of the responsibility.” Crafting a standard to hold them accountable will be difficult, however. In an article to be published later this year in the Mississippi Law Journal, I suggest one approach is making it a crime for corporate managers to make reckless decisions that lead to losses of more than $1 billion. Unlike the specific intent needed for a case of fraud, proving recklessness only requires showing a defendant ignored obvious risks that were likely to lead to harm.

Changing the law to make it easier to prosecute executives is no panacea. Management could respond to such a provision by avoiding anything that could turn out to be a failure, which means lower returns for investors because the company would be more risk-averse.

Persuading Congress to enact such a statute will be no easy task either. Leaving aside the current gridlock on Capitol Hill, companies would almost certainly lobby fiercely against a law that would make it more likely executives could be accused of a crime. Wide expansions in corporate criminal liability usually come in response to a crisis like the collapse of savings and loans or accounting frauds at Enron and WorldCom, which led to enactment of the Financial Institution Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act in 1989 and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002. Without that kind of pressure on Congress to act, it is unlikely that federal law would be expanded significantly to reach executives.

Even if that did take place, there is still the problem of actually convicting anyone of a violation. It is a staple of large corporations that the corporate charter or bylaws require them to pay the legal fees of executives during an investigation and any subsequent legal proceedings. Companies have spent millions of dollars to defend their officers, which makes it more difficult to win a conviction.

The emphasis on prosecuting individuals is a welcome change in how the Justice Department pursues corporate crime because companies can act only through their employees. So we can expect to see charges in current investigations. One likely target will be traders involved in fixing interest and currency exchange rates along with the banks that employ them, no doubt with the usual cavalcade of incriminating emails and instant messages. Whether those cases get into the C-suite is the real challenge because all too often, as Mr. Holder noted, “the buck still stops nowhere.”

Monday, September 22, 2014


Original Story: CNBC.com

Do you have a will that you've looked at in the past couple of years and updated if necessary?

That's important, but don't assume that it's enough to ensure that all your wishes are carried out in the event of your demise. It isn't.

What about the beneficiary designations on your qualified retirement accounts, individual retirement accounts, annuities and life insurance policies? Are those up to date and exactly as you want them to be?

It's very important to be aware of beneficiary forms. Naming the wrong people or failing to update those financial documents can create a mess for your heirs.

Is Gen X ready for retirement?

A fact that people seem to miss is that these designations override wills. Many families have learned that too late, and to their detriment, after a loved one died believing that his or her will took precedence over everything.

If it's been years since you opened your accounts, you might not recall whom you designated as beneficiary on some of them. What if that person has died or others have been born since? What if your relationship has changed and you no longer want that person to get your money when you die? (Think marriage and divorce, the death of parents, birth of children or the breakup of an old friendship.)

Read More › Investors fear retirement unknowns

Regardless of what your will states, whoever is named as beneficiary on the various financial accounts mentioned above is who will receive those specific assets. Period. End of story.

Introducing Your Wealth: Weekly advice on managing your money

But that's not the only costly mistake that is common in naming beneficiaries. Here are six others you will want to avoid:

1.Not naming a beneficiary. If you don't name anyone, your estate becomes the beneficiary. That means the asset could be subject to a lengthy, expensive and cumbersome probate process—and people you might not prefer could wind up with the asset.

2.Failure to list contingent beneficiaries. If your beneficiary dies first and you haven't named a contingent (or secondary) beneficiary, it's the same as having no beneficiary. If you and your spouse die at the same time (say, in an auto accident) and you've not named the kids as contingent heirs, your estates go into probate. Naming a contingent has another advantage, too: If the primary beneficiary doesn't want the asset for some reason (perhaps because of tax implications), he or she can waive rights to it, allowing the money to pass to the contingent beneficiary. Many surviving spouses do this for their children, and it can be a smart way to avoid or reduce taxes. But if you fail to name a contingent beneficiary, this opportunity is lost.

3.Lack of specifics. Simply listing "my children" as your beneficiaries can be a problem, especially in a blended family. Many states don't recognize stepchildren when the word "children" is used. Or some family member you've lost contact with and with whom you don't intend to share your assets could suddenly turn up and try to claim all or part of the estate. Finally, what happens if one child predeceases you? Unless you get specific, that child's share will go to your other children instead of to that child's children. Unless it's your intent to disinherit some of your children or grandchildren, you need to be more specific.

4.Using shortcuts. If you have three children and you want all three to receive an asset, you need to name all three as beneficiaries. Too often, we find that a client has listed only one child, believing that this person will then give the others their shares. That is a very big mistake. Even assuming the child is so inclined (legally, they don't have to), the IRS might interfere by levying taxes on the amounts redistributed. Shortcuts are never a good idea with legal documents.

5.Missing beneficiary designation forms. Let's say your forms are on file with a custodial company but that firm is acquired by another in a merger. Records are sometimes lost or destroyed in that situation. Without a verifiable form to prove beneficiary status, the default provision of the plan applies, which often is: "spouse first, if living; then the estate." Keep copies of your beneficiary forms in a safe deposit box, and make sure your financial advisor, estate attorney and executor have copies.

6.Not considering the financial or emotional readiness of beneficiaries. Your heirs will get the money in your IRAs, retirement accounts, life insurance and annuities almost immediately upon your death, with no restrictions. If this worries you, consider naming a trust as beneficiary; then you can place limits on when and how the money is to be used.

Never borrow from your 401(k)

You devoted a lifetime to accumulating assets, so make sure the disposition is managed the way you want them to be or your efforts could be for naught. That's why it's essential for you to take the time and the proper steps to work closely with an estate attorney and with your independent, objective financial advisor.

Friday, September 19, 2014


Original Story: anandtech.com

Home Automation and Control - Setting the Stage
The increasing popularity of home automation (HA) equipment has fueled the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution. However, the low barrier to entry (there are innumerable crowdfunded projects in this space) has resulted in a very fragmented ecosystem. Interoperability is a major concern, and different devices use different protocols. In order to get a seamless experience across all home automation equipment, consumers have been forced to go the custom installation or integrated package route. These avenues tend to keep the joys of home automation and control out of reach of the average consumer. Enjoy a home theater system by creating your own Bay City home theater design.

The current market situation is ripe for someone to come in with a home automation gateway. Vendors such as Lowes (with the Iris product line) and Staples (with the Staples Connect initiative) have made interesting forays. However, the primary aim has been to sell more connected peripherals under the same brand. Interoperability with other HA devices is not given any importance.

On the other side, we have vendors such as Securifi trying to integrate a home automation gateway into a standard wireless router with their Almond+ product. All things considered, it would be best if the wireless router at home were to act as a home automation gateway. Consumers don't need to buy yet another device to act as a gateway purely for their IoT clients. The problems would then be making sure that various HA devices can talk to the gateway and consumers have the ability to interact with all of them using one interface. Unfortunately, these aspects have contributed to Securifi delaying the retail launch of the Almond+. Under these circumstances, the slot is still open for a unified home automation controller. Logitech is hoping to fill that void with today's Harmony Living Home launch. Enjoy wireless home automation by contacting a Midland home theater company.

Logitech Harmony - A Brief Background
Logitech's Harmony lineup is very well respected in the universal remote control market. The ability of a single remote / hub device to control multiple home entertainment devices (AVR / TV / media players) coupled with one-touch control and simple setup has been well-received by the consumers. In fact, Harmony's database of over 200K devices (which is also frequently updated) is unparalleled in the industry. The only downside of the units is the pricing aspect.

Prior to today's launch, the scope of the Harmony lineup didn't go beyond control of entertainment devices in the living room. However, the current popularity of home automation devices and the IoT ecosystem (coupled with the rapid rise of mobile devices that enable easy control via apps) make the next stop for the Harmony lineup quite obvious. Logitech is launching four new product SKUs centered around a home automation gateway hub under the Harmony Living Home category:

Logitech Harmony Home Hub
Logitech Harmony Home Control
Logitech Harmony Ultimate Home
Logitech Harmony Hub Extender

Logitech Harmony Living Home Lineup - Delving Deeper
The Logitech Harmony Home Hub connects to the home network and uses RF, IR, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to relay commands from the Harmony mobile app or the Harmony remote to all supported entertainment and automation devices. The Harmony mobile apps can work over the Internet. True remote control of the various devices in one's home from anywhere on the Internet is now possible.

Consumers can purchase the hub alone for $100 and use the full functionality with just the mobile app. As with any home automation setup, scenes can be programmed involving multiple devices from different vendors. Logitech terms these scenes as experiences.

The next 'upgrade' in the Living Home lineup is the Logitech Harmony Home Control that costs $150. This kit bundles a button-only remote with the hub described above.

The remote communicates via RF, enabling the hub to be placed in a closed cabinet (if necessary). The mobile apps are obviously compatible with the hub even when the physical remote is being used. This configuration can control any number of home automation devices, but only up to eight entertainment devices.

The highest end configuration is the Logitech Harmony Ultimate Home. It is quite similar to the Harmony Home Control, except for a few updates to the remote control itself: a 2.4" clour touchscreen, gesture control and additional programmability.

The kit including the hub and the touchscreen remote will retail for $350. This configuration can control up to fifteen entertainment devices and virtually unlimited number of home automation devices.

In addition to the above three configurations (which will be available for purchase this month), Logitech will also be introducing the Logitech Harmony Hub Extender in December for $130. This extender will expand compatibility by allowing the hub to talk to devices that communicate using ZigBee or Z-Wave. Logitech also stressed the fact that the extender will be Thread-compatible.

Concluding Remarks
The Living Home lineup is a welcome addition to the home automation market. However, Logitech faces a few challenges. There are also a few questionable decisions that have been made with respect to the operating details.

1. Entertainment device manufacturers have typically adopted a hands-off approach after selling their wares to the consumers. As such, they don't have any issues sharing methods to control their equipment with Logitech. On the other hand, many of the IoT / home automation device makers treat their customers as recurring revenue sources by adopting subscription models. Some of them also want to tightly control the customer experience within a walled ecosystem. Under these circumstances, it is not clear how willing they would be to share their APIs with Logitech or work to make their products compatible with the Harmony platform. That said, Logitech says more than 6000 home automation devices are currently compatible with the hub, and the number is expected to keep growing.

2. Logitech is not adopting a subscription fee model for the Living Home lineup. While this is excellent news for consumers, it would be interesting to see what keeps the cloud servers for the external control aspect running in the future. It might not be a big deal for a company of Logitech's size, but it leads to another aspect - decentralized control.

3. Based on the initial information provided to us, it looks like the Logitech Living Home lineup requires the hub to be always connected to the Internet for it to control the connected devices. This makes sense for devices that currently offer cloud-based control only. But, we are at a loss to understand why devices that can be controlled via the local network itself (such as, say, the UFO Power Center from Visible Energy and the Ubiquiti mFi mPower strips) need an Internet connection when accessed through the hub while being part of the local network. In our opinion, the control logic (i.e, processing the APIs that talk to the various devices) should be resident on the hub rather than on the cloud.

4. It is not clear whether it is possible for third-party apps to talk to the hubs. Logitech does have a developer program for device makers to make their products compatible with the Harmony home hub. While Logitech indicated that the products being launched today can talk to the recently SmartThings and PEQ hubs, the availability of APIs for the Logitech hub itself remains an open question.

In conclusion, the launch of the Harmony Living Home lineup looks to be just what the home automation market needs. If Logitech can replicate their success with home entertainment control in this space, it solves a very important problem for the consumers and will allow consumers to invest in home automation without the risk of a fragmented experience. A reputable and reliable company had to get serious about this space, and we believe Logitech has the right play here.


Original Story: glassbytes.com

The deal by Guardian Industries Corp. to sell Guardian Automotive Products (GAPI) and Guardian Automotive –E S.A. (GA ESA) to Central Glass Co. Ltd., parent company of Carlex Glass Co., is just the latest move by the company to reduce its automotive glass footprint. Guardian retains a foothold in the marketplace with Custom Glass Solutions and the RV automotive glass claims administration business.

“The acquisition does not include Custom Glass Solutions (Upper Sandusky, Millbury and the RV Glass Network); these businesses remain part of Guardian Industries Corp.,” says Matt Eder, marketing manager for Custom Glass Solutions. Windshield Glass Repair products allow you to complete your own windshield repair.

He is referring to the automotive glass plant in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, the automotive glass and glass fabrication plant in Millbury, Ohio, and the RV claims business in Worthington, Ohio.

The transaction by Central Glass Co. Ltd. includes three automotive glass manufacturing sites and the GAPI headquarters. The glass plants are located in Auburn, Ind.; Ligonier, Ind.; and Grevenmacher, Luxembourg. Central Glass Group plans to operate the acquired businesses under the Carlex name.

Guardian began divesting of its automotive glass business in November 2013, announcing the sale and liquidation of its distribution centers.

In early December 2013, Safelite Group announced the purchase of substantially all of the vehicle glass repair and replacement assets of Guardian Auto Glass LLC, a joint venture of Guardian Industries Corp. and LRST LLC. Safelite also acquired Guardian Glass Network, the company’s vehicle glass insurance claims division.

Later in December, Guardian launched Custom Glass Solutions, which focuses on offering glass for the bus, truck, train and off-highway vehicles markets. At the time, officials said the new company “reinforces” their commitment to serving the automotive glass needs of various transportation segments.

“Our people will be joining an established brand with a long-term focus on the automotive glass business,” says Mike Morrison, president of Guardian Automotive, about the latest deal with Central Glass Co.

“Carlex’s agreement to purchase Guardian’s OEM business, coupled with its previous purchase of Zeledyne’s auto glass manufacturing facility in Nashville and aftermarket distribution center in Lebanon, Tenn., is strong evidence of its commitment to the automotive glass business in both OEM and aftermarket,” he says.

In 1989, Central Glass Japan established Central Glass America Inc., and through it, Carlex Glass Co. was established as a joint venture with Ford.

In 1995, Carlex Glass Co. became a wholly owned subsidiary of Central Glass after dissolving the joint venture with Ford, according to officials.

In 2011, Carlex acquired automotive glass assets from Zeledyne, which included the float and automotive fabricated glass plant in Nashville, Tenn. (originally owned by Ford), and the automotive replacement glass distribution center in Lebanon, Tenn. Carlex is now the exclusive distributor of Carlite branded parts for the aftermarket in the United States.

“We are acquiring these Guardian subsidiaries to further strengthen our global automotive glass business,” says Shuichi Sarasawa, president and CEO of Central Glass Co. Ltd.

“This move will expand our geographic footprint and add to our product portfolio, in addition to increasing the number of customers we serve,” adds Jim Shepherd, president and chief operating officer of Carlex. “Add that to our existing capabilities, and the combined organization is positioned to further improve support to our customers.”

The closing of the Guardian transaction is subject to certain regulatory approvals and customary closing conditions.

“We extend a warm welcome to the current Guardian employees who will be joining the Carlex family,” says Shepherd. “This transaction will help build upon Carlex’s participation in the resurgence of manufacturing in the U.S. and extend our reach into Europe.”


Original Story: Newswiretoday.com

Elmo a leading provider of motion control solutions that meets rugged requirements for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and other applications operating in extreme environmental conditions will showcase Gold ExtrIQ intelligent servo drives at UAV 2014 Show (Booth 91), taking place in Bordeaux-Merignac Aeroparc, France, September 9-11, 2014.

Elmo's field proven Gold ExtrIQ Line is a standard series of durable motion control products designed, manufactured and tested for complex applications requiring high performance in harsh environments from -40° C to + 70° C, mechanical vibrations up to 14 grms and with space limitations. The entire Gold ExtrIQ Line maintains unmatched servo performance, compact sizes, high efficiency, negligible EMI, reliability and answers any servo requirement. The durability is verified by the most severe Environmental, EMC and Safety Standards. Worm Gear Speed Reducers are preferred by equipment manufacturers because of their versatility, compactness, durability and long life.

Elmo’s Gold Bee NANO servo drive, the newest member to the Gold ExtrIQ Line, delivers an ultra-high current of 50A/100VDC and provides over 4000 watts in 8.7 cm3 (0.53 inch3) will be on exhibit. This powerful and reliable servo drive weighs just 22 grams (0.77 oz.).

Also on exhibit will be the super compact Gold Eagle operating from a DC power source in ultra-high current. The servo drive delivers up to 11500 watts of continuous power. It operates in current, velocity, position and advanced position modes, in conjunction with a permanent-magnet synchronous brushless motor, DC brush motor, linear motor or voice coil.

Another impressive solution on display will be the Gold Hornet Series, ultra-miniature servo drives. This advanced and integrated high power density servo drive weighs 106 grams (3.74 oz.) and delivers up to 1600 watts of continuous power and 3200 watts of peak power.

Elmo’s feature rich Gold Lion Controller is a ready-to-use embedded motion controller specifically designed for servo drives in harsh environments resulting in high-level customization that offers tremendous design flexibility.

The ExtrIQ Gold Line is an integral part of Elmo's field proven motion control solution. It offers outstanding performance with rich features: intelligent motion functions (OC, Master-Slave Follower, Modulo, Dynamic Braking, ECAM, PIP Cascaded Vector Control, I2t Protection); DS-402 profile modes (cyclic position, velocity and current); the ability to handle any feedback (incremental encoders, analog encoders, absolute encoders, and resolvers); 1D/2D/3D error correction; up to 65 kW of power, STO safety standard compliance; UL and IEC 61800 certification to 800 VDC and 530 VAC.

Elmo Motion Control together with its French representative A2V Mecatronique will exhibit at the UAV Show taking place September 9-11, 2014 in Bordeaux-Merignac Aeroparc. An impressive series of robust motion control products for harsh environments will be on view at Booth #91.


Original Story: CNN.com

Embattled for-profit education behemoth Corinthian Colleges is facing yet another legal fight: This time, from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The consumer agency announced Tuesday it is suing Corinthian for "illegal predatory lending" and is demanding that the school forgive more than $500 million in private loans it has given to students since July of 2011.

According to the CFPB's complaint, Corinthian convinced students to enroll in the school by inflating its job placement rates. It even paid employers to hire graduates for at least one day in order to boost its numbers. Consider a criminal justice degree when enrolling in college.

Meanwhile, Corinthian's tuition and fees -- which can climb to as high as $75,000 for a bachelor's degree -- are higher than what federal loans generally cover, forcing many students to take out private loans from the school. These loans, called "Genesis loans," came with origination fees of 6% and interest rates of around 15% as of 2011 -- much higher than the 3% and 7% charged on federal loans.

College 'can't just be for rich folks'

And it doesn't stop there. After extending these loans to cash-strapped students, Corinthian allegedly used illegal and abusive tactics to collect on that money while students were still enrolled in school.

The CFPB found that Corinthian employees have pulled students who were delinquent on their payments out of class, informed professors about the debts and blocked students from using computers or even receiving diplomas. Unlike other colleges, private student loans extended by Corinthian come due once a student begins classes, the CFPB said.

Many of the students attending Corinthian (COCO) schools, which include Everest, Heald and WyoTech, are low-income and are often the first in their family to attend college -- view a degree as a ticket to a better future, said CFPB Director Richard Cordray.

"For too many students, Corinthian has turned the American dream of higher education into an ongoing nightmare of debt and despair," Corday said.

Corinthian said in a statement that it "strongly disputes the allegations" made by the CFPB. It said fewer than 40% of Corinthian's students take out Genesis student loans and that the average interest rate is 9%. It added that it asks for repayment while students are still in school "to help them develop the discipline and practice of repaying their federal and other loan obligations."

The Department of Education had already been looking into Corinthian's practices, and is currently working with the school to sell and close down its more than 100 campuses, where approximately 74,000 students are enrolled.

Various attorneys general have also investigated Corinthian in recent years, and most recently, the school disclosed to investors that the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles is launching a criminal probe into its practices. Nonetheless, the CFPB says Corinthian is still enrolling students.

Along with its announcement about the lawsuit, the CFPB published a notice on its website here, with information to help Corinthian students understand their options.


Original Story: NYTimes.com

Where were the regulators when small banks across the country were succumbing to the lure of easy money and embarking on a strategy of rapid growth that would end up destroying many of them?

In at least some cases, the answer is that the regulators told the banks to change course and were ignored.

Last week, a federal judge in North Carolina summarily dismissed a suit filed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation against nine former officers and directors of Cooperative Bank, a century-old bank in Wilmington, N.C., that pursued an ultimately disastrous growth strategy that depended on the continued soaring of local real estate prices. An Atlanta securities litigation attorney is following this story closely.

Bank examiners had repeatedly tried to persuade Cooperative to change its practices and had issued official warnings. But to the judge, those warnings were irrelevant.

The bank’s most innovative loan program allowed customers of certain real estate developers to buy overpriced building lots with no money down and no payments — of principal, interest or even closing costs — for two years.

Unsurprisingly, many of those loans did not work out well for the bank, which failed in 2009.

In his decision, Federal District Court Judge Terrence W. Boyle brushed aside all the regulators’ warnings, pointing to the grades regulators had given the bank before it collapsed. Those grades are called “Camels” ratings by regulators, short for capital, asset quality, management, earnings, liquidity and sensitivity to market risk. Nearly all banks are rated 1 or 2, according to one former regulator, and banks rated below that — at 3, 4 or 5 — go on lists indicating that special oversight and reforms are needed. A Tulsa bankruptcy lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

“The facts show,” the judge wrote, “that the process the defendants used to make the challenged loans were expressly reviewed, addressed and graded by F.D.I.C. regulators” in the same 2006 examination that criticized its lending practices. “The regulators assigned defendants a passing grade of ‘2’ in the Camels system and to now argue that the process behind the loans is irrational is absurd. Further, each of the loans at issue was subject to substantial due diligence and an approval process that defies a finding of irrationality.”

It is not easy to understand why the bank received that 2 rating. A later review by the F.D.I.C.’s inspector general said that the rating took into account “management’s agreement to address the weaknesses identified during the examination,” but it added that the concerns expressed by the examiner “are not consistent” with such a rating. There was a general aversion to regulation in those happy days, when no bank had failed for years, and it is possible that standards had slipped.

The judge said his review of information presented to the court “fails to reveal any evidence that suggests any defendant engaged in self-dealing or fraud, or that any defendant was engaged in any other unconscionable conduct that might constitute bad faith.”

The F.D.I.C. complaint made accusations that certainly sounded as if there were some bad faith. It said officers of the bank regularly ignored the bank’s own lending rules and ignored repeated warnings from state and federal bank examiners. It said the board made no effort to force the bank officers to abide by the bank’s own rules, let alone comply with the examiners’ recommendations.

So what facts indicated there was no bad faith? That is hard to tell. The judge sealed many documents, including the F.D.I.C.’s arguments against the summary judgment.

A lawyer for the defendants, Ronald R. Glancz of the Venable law firm, told me that he had been surprised by the extent of the sealed documents and thought some had been sealed without a request by either side. He promised to seek to have some additional documents released, but none were.

If the F.D.I.C.’s claims are accurate — and the judge does not comment on that either way — it is easy to see why someone might view the actions of Cooperative managers as being improper. They certainly were very risky.

The F.D.I.C. complained about nine large loans to land developers that it said the board had approved with at best a cursory review that failed to reveal extremely low underwriting standards. But the most amazing accusations concern the lot loans. Even without hindsight, it is hard to understand why any bank would think such loans were a good idea.

Here’s how the program worked: A customer would attend an investment seminar and be convinced that he or she could buy a building lot, with water views, without putting up any money for two years. By then, that person could flip the lot to someone else as property values continued to climb.

The regulators had expressed concern about “the large number of interest-only and no-equity loans in the bank’s portfolio,” the F.D.I.C. said, but the bank’s chief executive, Fredrick Willetts III, told the bank’s board that the lot loans would all have equity of at least 10 percent and would not be no-interest loans.

Was that accurate? From the bank’s perspective, perhaps. From the borrower’s point of view, not at all.

The bank lent 80 percent of the purchase price and received a 20 percent down payment. But the company selling the property lent the down payment to the buyer and promised to make all interest payments for the first two years.

According to the F.D.I.C., the developer who lent the down payment would normally buy the lots only after it had found a buyer who was willing to pay twice what the developer had to pay. That left the developer with a substantial profit from the money lent by Cooperative, even if the buyer never made a single payment on the loans.

An appraiser was found to certify that the doubled price was reasonable, based on the fact that other buyers had paid the inflated charges on similar lots.

The F.D.I.C. cited 78 particular lot loans, all but two to people who lived outside of North Carolina, and said many of them were approved even after the board learned that they violated several of the bank’s loan policies. The lots were not cheap; the loans ranged up to $999,000 and they added up to $21.8 million. The F.D.I.C. says the bank lost 66 percent of the amount it lent.

The F.D.I.C. says it has filed 97 suits against officers and directors of failed banks and recovered $641 million from officials at 26 banks. All but one of those cases were settled, the exception being an F.D.I.C. victory in a jury trial involving directors of IndyMac Bank of California, which collapsed in 2008.

The F.D.I.C. said that it would appeal the Cooperative ruling, but it declined to comment further. Mr. Glancz, the defense lawyer, said he thought Judge Boyle’s verdict would be widely followed in other courts and was needed to avoid scaring qualified people away from serving as bank directors. He added that Cooperative had needed to make risky loans to compete with larger banks that had been expanding in the Wilmington area.

Business judgment rules vary and often depend on judicial interpretation. In a related case, against directors of the failed Buckhead Community Bank in Atlanta, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled in July that in some cases the rule would not protect negligent directors in the state. Judge Boyle took a far more expansive view of the North Carolina rule.

No doubt the examiners should have been tougher with Cooperative. But they did receive promises the bank would change its ways, promises that evidently were not kept. If this ruling is widely followed, it could mean that if a bank can somehow get a 2 rating from the examiner, it can safely ignore anything else the examiner says.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


Original Story: USAToday.com

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — The off-duty New York City police officer at the wheel in a fatal wrong-way crash on the Thruway last month had a blood-alcohol content of nearly three times the legal limit, state police announced Wednesday.

Toxicology results show that Richard E. Christopher, 32, had a blood-alcohol content of 0.21 percent when he drove his 2002 Dodge Dakota in the southbound lanes of the northbound Thruway near Suffern, slamming head-on into a Honda CRV driven by James DeVito of Airmont. A BAC above 0.08 is a misdemeanor. A Nyack DWI Lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Both men were killed in the crash, which occurred just before 7 a.m. on Aug. 12.

No drugs were found in Christopher's system. Christopher was assigned to the 43rd Precinct in the Bronx and lived on South Airmont Road in Airmont with his girlfriend and her son.

DeVito had no drugs or alcohol in his blood at the time of the crash, state police said.

DeVito, 59, a recent widower, was the executive chef at Mount St. Mary College in Newburgh, where he was an employee of Sodexo, a food services company. A Suffern DWI Lawyer is following this story closely.

DeVito's father, Joseph DeVito Sr., who lives in Peoria, Ariz., was shocked to hear of the finding.

"The fact that he is a police officer and drunk makes no sense at all," DeVito said. "It's a sorry shame. My son was a beautiful guy. He was a master chef, he was a musician, he was a good family man."

The officer's family said at the time that they believed he had been headed to work. However, state police Capt. Richard Mazzone said Wednesday that the investigation determined Christopher was not going to work that morning but was headed home from a friend's place in Orangetown.

Christopher's family was told Wednesday of the autopsy results but did not wish to comment on them, his sister, Melissa Castillo, said at the family's home in Nyack.

Investigators say two witnesses reported that Christopher was traveling north in the northbound lanes before making an illegal U-turn and driving south in the wrong direction.

The collision occurred just after the five-year anniversary of one of the most horrific motor vehicles crashes in recent memory.

On July 26, 2009, Diane Schuler was high on marijuana and had a blood-alcohol level of 0.19 percent when she drove the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway, slamming into another vehicle and killing eight people, including four children.


Original Story: Detroitnews.com

The Sundance Institute is packing its bags and heading to Detroit as it takes a bit of its signature film festival's magic on the road.

The institute's Film Forward program, in its fourth year, will hold free screening and discussion events in Detroit, Dearborn and Ann Arbor Monday through Thursday. The program, produced in partnership with the President's Committee On the Arts and Humanities, aims to foster dialogue through cinema in culturally under-served communities. Enjoy your favorite independent films with a custom Ann Arbor home theater system.

"Our target audience is really taking it to audiences that don't get to see independent film," says Film Forward manager Jackie Carlson. "The response is very much like, 'You're telling my story,' or, 'I can relate to this. I didn't know this was happening across the world.' "

Michigan is one of nine destinations for the program this year. Others span the globe, from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Indonesia. Film Forward presents the same eight films in each community, with select filmmakers present for post-screening discussions. The offered films come from around the world, from America to Laos, and their subject matter is diverse. Topics range from the story of an Indian beauty boot camp for young girls ("The World Before Her") to the unlikely success of an unconventional high school shop class in an impoverished North Carolina county ("If You Build It"). Feel like you're part of the story by watching your favorite films with Grosse Pointe home theater design.

Although there may not appear to be a common thread between the films at first glance, Carlson says cross-cultural understanding through post-screening discussions is the key. In Michigan, filmmakers Haroula Rose, Hilla Medalia and Marta Cunningham will appear for the discussions on their films, "Fruitvale Station," "Dancing in Jaffa" and "Valentine Road," respectively.

"Many audience members recognize similarities of identifying and relating to characters in the films," Carlson says. "But also I think the films bring awareness to people where they actually can respect the differences in cultures and communities, and with people."

Russ Collins is the executive director of the Michigan Theater, which will host Film Forward's screening of "Valentine Road." He vividly recalls his own strong reaction to first seeing "Fruitvale Station," a dramatization of the events leading up to the 2009 police shooting of Oscar Grant in Oakland, Calif.

"That's one of the half a dozen films that I've seen at Sundance that you just go, 'Wow,' " Collins says. "I'm just blown away by what a young artist has created."

Collins says Metro Detroit is an ideal destination for Film Forward, citing the area's "intense interest in cinema." He says he jumped at the chance to work with Sundance on a special kind of movie-going event.

"This is a wonderful opportunity," he says. "Whenever you can get a wonderful film and the filmmaker together in the same space, it's just an outstanding experience."

Film Forward screenings

"Fruitvale Station" (with producer Haroula Rose)

7 p.m. Tuesday

Charles Wright Museum of African-American History,

315 E. Warren, Detroit

"Dancing In Jaffa" (with director Hilla Medalia)

7 p.m. Wednesday


National Museum,

3624 Michigan,


"Valentine Road"

(with director Marta


7:30 p.m Thursday

Michigan Theater,

603 E. Liberty,

Ann Arbor

All screenings are free


Original Story: USAToday.com

Motoring. The final season premiere of FX's Sons of Anarchy pulled in 6.2 million viewers Tuesday, climbing to 9.3 million within three days. Both marked network highs for a series telecast. Enjoy your favorite TV shows with a Shelby home theater system.

Here she comes: ABC's Miss America Pageant drew 7.1 million viewers Sunday, down from last fall's 8.6 million.

Pigskin paradise. CBS' first Thursday NFL game claimed 20.8 million viewers, close behind Sunday's NBC prime-time game (22.2 million). million. CBS' Fashion Rocks concert managed a mediocre 2.3 million Tuesday. Feel like you're a part of the concert with a Chesterfield home theater design layout for your media room.

The week's top 20 shows

1. Bears/49ers (Sun., NBC), 22.2 million
2. Steelers/Ravens (Thur., CBS), 20.8 million
3. Giants/Lions (Mon., ESPN), 13.7 million
4. Football Nt. Pt. 3 (NBC), 12.4 million
5. 60 Minutes (Sun., CBS), 12.3 million
6. Chargers/Cardinals (Mon., ESPN), 11.5 million
7. NFL Thurs. Nt. Kick-Off (CBS), 10.6 million
8. America's Got Talent (9:18, Wed., NBC), 10.5 million
9. America's/Talent (Tue., NBC), 9.8 million
10. Big Brother (Sun., CBS), 7.4 million
11. Miss America (Sun., ABC), 7.1 million
12. Big Brother (Wed., CBS), 7.0 million
13. America's Got Talent (8:00, Wed., NBC), 6.9 million
14. Big Brother (Tue., CBS), 6.8 million
15. Under the Dome (Mon., CBS), 6.6 million
16. Unforgettable (Sun., CBS), 6.5 million
17. Blue Bloods (CBS), 6.2 million
18. Dateline (Fri., NBC), 6.1 million
19. Big Bang Theory (Mon., CBS), 5.7 million
20. MasterChef (9:00, Mon., Fox), 5.5 million

Tops on Twitter for week of Sept. 8

1. Miss America (ABC, Sun.) Tweets: 304,000 | Unique audience: 4,308,000

2. Presidential Address (simulcast, Wed.) | Tweets: 234,000 | Unique audience: 4,240,000

3. Sons of Anarchy (FX, Tue.) | Tweets: 214,000 | Unique audience: 2,664,000

4. Fashion Rocks (CBS, Wed.) | Tweets: 128,000 | Unique audience: 2,366,000

5. Teen Wolf (MTV, Mon.) |Tweets: 302,000 | Unique audience: 1,751,000

6. Love & Hip Hop (VH1, Mon.) | Tweets: 590,000 | Unique audience: 1,601,000

7. WWE Raw (USA, Mon.) | Tweets: 190,000 | Unique audience: 1,356,000

8. Bachelor in Paradise (ABC, Mon.) | Tweets: 31,000 | Unique audience: 1,093,000

9. Big Brother (CBS, Sun.) | Tweets: 13,000 | Unique audience: 1,089,000

10. Big Brother (CBS, Wed.) | Tweets: 82,000 | Unique audience: 926,000

Data from week ending Sept. 14; unique audience measures relevant tweets until 5 a.m. local time the day after telecast for new prime-time and late-night programs except sports.

Comcast Xfinity Top 10 OnDemand shows

1. Love & Hip Hop, VH1
2. Keeping Up With the Kardashians, E!
3. The Strain, FX
4. Bad Girls Club, Oxygen
5. Under the Dome, CBS
6. Finding Carter, MTV
7. Teen Mom 2, MTV
8. Dance Moms, Lifetime
9. Ray Donovan, Showtime
10.Project Runway, Lifetime


Origial Story: USAToday.com

It's not you, it's me. I love you, I'm just not in love with you.

Just because you're swooning over the newest smartphone doesn't mean you have to just ditch the old one. I mean, it's been pressed to your face or cradled in the palm of your hand for a few years now, surely you don't want to just throw out your old handset like yesterday's soggy takeout coffee cup.

Here are five fantastic ways to repurpose that trusty gadget so it can go on faithfully serving you for many years to come.

1. Turn it into a video surveillance system for your house

Just download the free Presence app on your old iOS device, pair it with your new fancy iPhone, and voila! You now have a top-notch security camera and motion detector thanks to the fantastic video capabilities of your old gadget. You can use it to keep an eye on your home base in real time, and have it send you alerts when there's something fishy going on. Your old smartphone is a great addition to a Bay City control 4 home automation system.

2. Use it to keep an eye on the newborn

Take that spare phone and turn it into a high-tech baby monitor with an app like Dormi for Android phones. You can check real-time video right from the app, and it even has two-way audio as well, so you can whisper sweet nothings to your little one, even if you're miles away. A similar app called Cloud Baby Monitor works on iOS devices, and it even lets you apply a soothing "night light" using the phone's built-in LED.

3. Make it do scientific research

Want your old smartphone to do something you can really be proud of? BIONC is an app from the Space Science Laboratory at U.C. Berkeley that uses the power of your phone to do work on serious scientific problems, from studying diseases to forecasting global warming. When you plug your device into a power outlet the BIONC app will request data to work on from a central server and proceed to work through it using your phone's processor. It then sends the processed data back to the scientists who use it in their research. It's one of the coolest things your phone can do, and it can do it right from your countertop!

4. Make it a master navigator

Your phone is probably already your favorite navigation tool, so if you replaced it with a new gadget, why not let it continue its GPS duties in a whole new way? The Hudway app is unbelievably cool for one special reason: It actually lets you see your directions and route right on your windshield. The reflection of the app on the glass of your windshield acts as a crazy-cool heads-up display to help you navigate in all kinds of conditions, especially in fog or heavy rain.

5. Let it keep doing what it's already doing

Just because you have a fantastic new smartphone, that doesn't mean your old gadget has to stop doing the work it's been doing all along. A spare smartphone is great as a media player, a digital camera, a gaming device, personal organizer, and even a great toy for kids to enjoy educational games and apps. Your old smartphone is a great addition to a Midland home automation system.You paid a whole bunch of cash for your previous phone, so make sure you get the most out of it, and take some of the battery-draining work off of your shiny new gadget's hands.

The best part of repurposing your phone is that no matter what task you want it to do, you can always change things up later on. If you decide you don't need a GPS unit, it's still a great portable gaming system or video surveillance unit! Just about the only thing it can't do is brew you a cup of coffee — but that's surely on the roadmap for the smartphone of the future.


Original Story: USAToday.com

As consumers stream more music, device makers have tuned in with new ways to stream tunes at home.

Spending on streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora surged to $1.4 billion in 2013, up 39%, the Recording Industry of America says. Digital download sales remained stable at about $2.8 billion, the largest spending category.

As consumers embrace digital sound, they are looking for ways to fill their homes with it. Sales of Bluetooth-enabled speakers rose 46% to $385 million, the Consumer Electronics Association says. Rising even more: sales of multiroom audio and video components, which nearly doubled in 2013, to $586 million. Stream music throughout your home with the help of a Fenton home theater company.

Interest in streaming music will likely drive healthy increases in both categories this year, says Steve Koenig, CEA's director of industry analysis. "These streaming services and streaming your own music is the big thing right now," he says. "It's liberating because you don't need to dock anything. It's all wirelessly transmitted."

With interest in digital music turned up, companies such as Beats Electronics have expanded their speaker repertoire.

Launched late in 2013, the 13.3-inch Beats Pill XL ($300) is a larger version of the Pill portable Bluetooth speaker ($200), brought to market in 2012. This helps Beats keep pace with competitor Jawbone, which most recently has added the slimmer pocket-fitting Mini Jambox ($150) to its lineup. Both speaker lines connect wirelessly to Bluetooth-enabled smartphones and tablets and have input jacks. Enjoy wireless music with a Bloomfield Hills home theater system.

Samsung has incorporated Wi-Fi and streaming video apps into its smart TVs for several years. It recently debuted its first wireless speaker, the Shape M7 ($350). The wedge-shaped M7 has five individual speakers built-in — two tweeters, two midrange drivers and a woofer — along with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and near-field communications (NFC) compatibility.

The speaker can be used individually, in pairs for enhanced stereo sound and used to create a surround sound system. You can connect via Bluetooth to play stored music or a streaming service from a smartphone or tablet stream stored.

A Samsung Shape Wireless Audio Hub ($50) connects to your home Wi-Fi network and lets you add more speakers into other rooms — all connected and controlled with a free Samsung Multiroom App on your Samsung Galaxy or Note device. And networked speakers can deliver better-sounding music than that of Bluetooth-connected devices.

"It's phenomenal from a consumer standpoint because it's all about building blocks. I can choose to buy one of these speakers now, and then later on when I want to expand from my living room to bedroom sound, I can buy another speaker," says Dave Das, vice president of home entertainment marketing at Samsung. "All of it connects seamlessly and wirelessly, so it's really easy and clutter-free."

Even more focused on multiroom audio is custom electronics company NuVo Technologies. After providing hardwired multiroom audio systems for more than 20 years, NuVo began offering wireless systems in 2012.

Its research and development paralleled the advent of Apple's iPod and arrival of streaming services such as Pandora. "The rise of the Internet of Things has led us, as a consumer buying group in the U.S., to also have the idea that you can have anything and it should be able to be wireless," says Desiree Webster, NuVo's marketing communications manager.

This system is ideal if you have a pair or two of stereo speakers sitting around the home collecting dust. NuVo's system can be easily set up with a $199 Gateway that connects to your wireless router and a Player (either the P100, priced at $479, or Bluetooth-supporting P200 at $599, available at www.smarthome.com or www.partsexpress.com; find a local dealer on the company website).

You connect a pair of speakers to a player in whatever room or rooms you want music in. NuVo's Android and iOS apps for phones and tablets walk you through the setup.

Once you are operational, the system will find and play music on any devices connected to your home network — computers, phones, tablets and hard drives — as well as USB drives plugged into the NuVo players. And you can stream audio from Net radio services, too. NuVo players also support playback of high-resolution tracks, including FLAC files, maintaining the CD-like quality.

"You can do up to 16 zones, and it can be in combination of any of the players we offer," Webster says. The room that most people want to add music to is the kitchen, she says. Next, they want music in the living room, the master bedroom-bathroom and on the patio.

"This isn't a one-to-one music relationship where you have one song somewhere and just send it to this one set of speakers. This is a whole-house system that accesses your music anywhere you have it, and you can control it and play it anywhere in your home. Even outside for that matter."

Market leader Sonos continues to add to wireless music system options. Its most recent speaker, the Play1 ($199) is smaller and works as an individual speaker or in pairs as stereo or surround speakers.

Sonos saw its wireless speaker sales nearly double in 2013 to $535 million, says senior public relations manager Eric Nielsen. "Streaming is finally going mainstream," he says.

At market tracking firm The NPD Group, analyst Ben Arnold expects the nearly $1 billion streaming speaker market to continue to grow, though consumers are just starting to become educated on the subject. "I think this is where home music listening is going," he says.


Original Story: USAToday.com

During its CES press conference this morning, LG Electronics announced a whopping 15 new TV product lines for 2014. That's on top of the three OLED series already tipped last week, bringing LG's tally to 18 new series for the year. Four of the newly announced lines are UHD, seven are LCD, and four are plasmas. These products make a great addition to a Novi home theater system.

It's a bold statement of intent: This is LG saying it can go toe to toe with Samsung, by far the dominant force in today's TV market.

UHD will be big in 2014.

There's no doubt that ultra high definition—particularly 4K—will be the biggest story in display tech in 2014, and LG is jumping right on the bandwagon.

The company's UHD models include the 105-inch curved UC9; the UB9800 in 65, 79, 84, and 98 inches; the UB9500 in 55 and 65 inches; and the UB8500 in 49 and 55 inches. Each series is 3D-capable and fitted with LG's 2014 smart platform, also new for this year. The 105UC9 carries an eye-popping MSRP of $69,999. An LG TV is the perfect complement to a Troy home theater design.

OLED? Yeah, that's coming too.

LG's new OLED TVs build upon the foundation laid by last year's EA9800. LG showed off the stunning 77-inch, 4K-resolution OLED TV announced last week—the EC9800. It's the only LG OLED that's also 3D-capable, and compatible with the company's smart platform. The 77EC9800 carries a MSRP of $29,999, putting it well out of reach for most mere mortals.

The other two OLED series—the EC9300 and the EA8800—are 55-inch, 1080p iterations. The 55EA8800, also known as the "Gallery OLED," is fitted with a speaker system that's hidden behind a picture frame—perfect for everyone who's ever wanted to disguise their TV as a painting.

LCD is still the dominant tech.

While less flashy than the UHD and OLED tech, LG's new LCDs are the heart of their product lineup. New models include the high-end LB7100, LB6500, and LB6300 models; the midrange LB6000 and LB5800; and the entry-level LB4700, and LB4500.

The high-end TVs are all WebOS compatible, come with LG's signature Magic Remote controller, and are capable of at least 120 Hz (the LB7100 is 240 Hz). That last series will also make use of LG's TruBlack contrast-enhancement software. The flagship LB7100 comes in 55-, 60-, 65-, and 70-inch varieties; the LB6500 in 47, 50, 55, and 60 inches; and the LB6300 as 42-, 47-, 50-, 55-, 60-, and 65-inchers.

The midrange TVs are all Full-HD 1080p models, but none are 3D-capable or particularly smart. The LB6000 houses a 120 Hz panel, while the LB5800 stands in as the more-affordable mid-range option with a 60 Hz panel. The LB6000 is available in 47, 50, 55, and 60 inches, the LB5800 in 32-, 39-, 42-, 47-inch sizes.

Last and decidedly least, LG's two entry-level series are available in only three sizes this year: the LB7400 can only be had in a 28-inch form factor, and the LB4500 comes in even smaller 22- and 24-inch varieties. Both of the entry-level LCD series are only capable of 720p resolution.

Plasma TVs are still kicking.

Despite the recent departure of Panasonic from the plasma TV market, it appears not all hands are ready to abandon ship.

LG's new plasma lineup includes four PDPs and the PN4500 from last year. The new plasma series include the flagship PN6900, the PB6600, the PB5600, and the PB560B. None of LG's plasmas will be equipped with the new smart platform.

The 60-inch PN6900 features a native 1080p resolution and is LG's only 3D-capable plasma this year. The PB6600 and PB5600 are 1080p varieties; the PB6600 is available in 50- and 60-inch sizes, while the PB5600 is only available in 60-inch form. Finally, the PB560B stands in as the year's entry-level option, available as a 50-inch model at 720p resolution.

Home audio is important, too.

LG's big addition to the home audio category is its new LAB540W sound plate, which fits underneath a 32- to 55-inch TV and provides 4.1-channel, 320-watt sound. It even comes with an external wireless subwoofer. Other features include a built-in 3D Blu-ray player that also includes LG's Smart TV platform, essentially turning any display into a smart TV. Compatible smartphones and tablets can stream music directly to the LAB540W.

Two wireless speakers are also part of LG's home audio plan: the 70-watt NP8740 and the 40-watt NP8540. Consumers will be able to stream music to these speakers via a smartphone and tablet app. The company touts a dual-tweeter arrangement capable of playing hi-fi 24-bit/192kHz audio.

LG will have two sound bars for 2014: the flagship NB5540 and the NB3740A. Both feature 4.1-channel, 320-watt sound, and content-streaming from Netflix, Vudu, CinemaNow, Pandora and vTuner. The flagship NB5540 model will come with a high fidelity digital-to-analog converter for superior audio quality.


Original Story: Betabeat.com

As Uber and Lyft battle to disrupt the next generation of moving New Yorkers around in cars, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has slapped a giant fine on a dubious practitioner of the current method — a fine that just might “scare the pants off” Symon Garber, the medallion impressario whose penchant for taking his trousers off has previously landed him in hot water with the authorities.

Working with the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the AG’s office has hit Yellow Cab SLS Jet Management Corp with a whopping $1.6 million fine. Jet Management, one of the largest medallion owners in the city with 275 in total, charged almost 2,000 drivers using its yellow cabs “late fees.” A Boca Raton Business Litigation lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

“Late” charges of any kind are not in line with TLC standards nor New York State regulations, but these were not really late fees in any normal sense of the word. Jet Management charged drivers for late payment if they did not pre-pay for their shift; however, prepayment is not allowed by the TLC. This caught drivers in a bind. So when they paid for their cars at the end of their shifts, the drivers were assessed fees for paying the prepayments “late.” The company also claimed these were actually additional charges for leasing a hybrid vehicle, and while they were not, those charges are also not within TLC regulations.

According to the TLC, “Lease cap rules, among the few workplace protections for drivers, limit the dollar amount drivers may be charged for leasing medallions and taxicabs, in order to ensure a baseline level of take-home earnings for drivers. The rules also strictly limit add-on charges that can be imposed upon drivers and limit the purposes for which charges may be assessed. Overcharges by owners or agents chisel away at drivers’ limited income.”

$1,387,500 of the fine will head back to the pockets of ripped-off city cab drivers, $150,000 will be paid towards compliance monitoring, and $125,000 will be paid to the Attorney General.

“Every worker in New York deserves an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, and taxicab drivers are no exception,” said Attorney General Schneiderman in a statement, “With most cabbies already struggling to make ends meet, our agreement will put money back in their pockets and prevent this company from cheating drivers out of their hard-earned wages. Working with Commissioner Joshi and the TLC, we will continue to vigorously enforce lease cap rules and ensure that all taxi companies follow the law and respect drivers’ rights.”

The shady medallion manager behind Jet Management Corp, Mr. Garber — he goes by Simon when socializing and Symon when getting arrested — has been in trouble with the law a number of times. In 2008, his taxi company’s Chicago branch was found to be repurposing salvaged vehicles as taxis. About 100 of his Chicago taxis were marked salvage, junk, or rebuilt.

In 2005, Mr. Garber had even more peculiar car trouble. According to the Asbury Park Press, “Colts Neck Township resident Symon Garber, 39, was charged April 13 with filing a false police report after the car he was driving was in a motor-vehicle accident and he reported the car as stolen.” He was charged with filing a false police report. In 2007, he was caught driving while intoxicated and in possession of marijuana.

The strangest charge of all came on February 5th, 2008. Mr. Garber was arrested on Shady Tree Lane in Colts Neck, New Jersey after he stripped down to his underpants, hosed himself off in a neighbor’s yard, then strolled into the neighbor’s home and took a shower. The homeowners and their two young children panicked and escaped the scene to call authorities. He was charged with burglary, criminal mischief and trespassing. A Boca Raton Real Estate Litigation attorney is reviewing the details of this case.

In recent years, Mr. Garber, who emigrated from Odessa, Ukraine and is married with 5 children, has cultivated a more clean-cut image. He now sponsors a polo team and hosts regular polo events, which raise money for charity. Three of his sons play for the polo team. While he may be cleaning up his personal life, Mr. Garber’s business practices don’t seem to have changed at all.

Mr. Garber did not respond to multiple efforts by Betabeat to reach him via phone and email. If he gets back to us, this story will be updated to include his remarks.

According to the AG’s press release, a single medallion costs more than $1 million in New York City so “most taxicab drivers do not own the medallions associated with the taxis that they drive. Instead, drivers lease medallions, and often vehicles as well, from owners and leasing agents. New York taxicab drivers are generally not employees and are therefore usually not covered by minimum wage, overtime, or many other labor laws.”

While a fine approaching $2 million might seem like a lot, the Executive Director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, Bhairavi Desai, thinks Mr. Garber got off easy. “A driver who overcharges by $10 loses their license and faces prosecution for multiple offenses, [so] the SLS Jet owners should be relieved for not facing criminal charges.  We thank the leadership of AG Schneiderman and the Labor Bureau and TLC Chair Joshi and her prosecutors for staying the course and sending the message that drivers’ economic rights will be protected.”

In this age of Uber and Lyft, it’s comforting to know that the regulators still play a meaningful watchdog role. And when you’re impatiently waiting for a cab and someone tells you to “keep your pants on,” at least one medallion owner ought to take that advice more literally.


Original Story: USAToday.com

BLACKSTONE, Mass. (AP) — The bodies of three infants were found Thursday in a filthy house where four other children were removed by authorities last month, a Massachusetts prosecutor said.

Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early Jr. said authorities don't know when or how the babies died, or their ages and genders, and no one has been arrested in connection with their deaths. He said the state medical examiner will conduct an investigation. Children's Protective Services is the part of government that investigates allegations of Child Abuse.

Detectives investigating a case of reckless endangerment of children at the house found the bodies. Investigators working in the house have been wearing hazmat suits, and are decontaminated when they leave, the prosecutor said.

"The house is filled with vermin," Early said. "We have flies. We have bugs. We have used diapers, in some areas, as much as a foot-and-a-half to two-feet high. The house is in a deplorable condition."

Early said four other children, ages 13, 10, 3 and 6 months old were removed from the house Aug. 28 after a neighbor who discovered their living conditions notified police. The prosecutor said one of the children in the house approached the neighbor about a child who wouldn't stop crying. Early said the 6-month-old was found covered with feces lying on a bed. Parents facing potential Termination of Parental Rights need to know several important factors about how their rights can be adversely affected by law.

Marilynn Soucy, 68, who lives a few doors down from the house, said in a telephone interview she's still in shock at the news in the neighborhood where she has lived for 35 years.

"I am so disgusted. It hasn't really registered in my head yet," she said. "My husband and I raised seven children. We have 11 grandchildren and two great grandchildren. I cannot imagine hurting a child."

She said she and her husband, Bob, had rarely seen the couple who lived in the house at least three years, or their children. She said they occasionally saw the 10-year-old, a boy, playing outside or the woman sit on her porch. Soucy said she had never heard anyone complain about the couple. Their house, Soucy said, had been renovated extensively before they moved in.

"If we thought kids were being abused or living in squalor we would have said something," she said.

Soucy said the only time there was commotion at the house when officials removed the children from the home.

The state Department of Children and Families said Thursday children who were living at the home are in state custody, and that the department had not been involved with the family until it received a report of possible abuse or Child Neglect.

Early said it's too soon to know if charges will be filed in the infants' deaths, or against whom, because investigators don't even know who was living at the home when they died.

It wasn't immediately clear where the children's parents were.

Early said investigators still have much to do and are expected to be on the scene overnight.

"I can't give you answers right now," Early said.


Original Story: CBSNews.com

Olive Garden's "Never Ending Pasta Pass" promotion has become a never-ending source of trouble for those with a gluttonous appetite for Italian food.

First, the restaurant chain's website crashed under the demand from customers clamoring for a shot at buying a pass that yielded seven weeks of pasta, salad and soft drinks for $100. Then people vented their frustrations against Olive Garden on social media after initially thinking that they had successfully bought a pass, only to discover that they hadn't. Some were particularly irked when they learned that simply clicking the button to buy the pass after entering their credit card information didn't mean that they completed the transaction.

Now, Olive Garden is warning all those who are trying to buy passes for the offer second-hand on sites such as eBay and Craigslist that they might not be able to use them. Each pass is personalized with the name of the original buyer. But an Olive Garden spokeswoman added that the company will work with those who have already purchased the passes on the secondary market. What the resolution will be is not clear.

Immediately after the promotion, more than 50 passes went up for sale on eBay, some listed for nearly $400. As of Thursday morning, there were still more than 40, including some new listings despite the warning from Olive Garden.

Olive Garden officials said they wanted to get attention with the promotion. With that, they appear to have succeeded. But they've also managed to annoy a lot of seemingly loyal customers. Typical posts on Olive Garden's Facebook page get anywhere from a couple dozen to a few hundred comments. By contrast, the company's pasta promotion drew a couple thousand remarks, many of them angry ones.

One customer wrote: "This was a horrible promotion. Why did you send me an email about this? I clicked at 3:00 exactly. The purchase page came up. I clicked. It kept saying that the site was too busy. After 5 minutes, it said it was sold out. What a load of garbage! I was so disappointed. 1,000 passes for a country of 350,000,000 people. Winning the lottery had better odds!"


Original Story: Detroitnews.com

New York— Janice Moreno graduated from college with a degree in English literature, but never landed a job paying more than $12 an hour. Now, at 36, she’s back in the classroom — in safety glasses and a T-shirt — learning how to be a carpenter. A Construction Degree program is available to women.

“I believe it’s going to pay off,” she said amid instruction in sawing techniques.

If Moreno’s six-week training program in New York City leads to a full-time job, she’ll have bucked long odds. On this Labor Day weekend, ponder the latest federal data: About 7.1 million Americans were employed in construction-related occupations last year — and only 2.6 percent were women.

That percentage has scarcely budged since the 1970s, while women have made gains since then in many other fields.

The reasons for the low numbers include a dearth of recruitment efforts aimed at women and hard-to-quash stereotypes that construction work doesn’t suit them. Another factor, according to a recent report by the National Women’s Law Center, is pervasive sexual harassment of women at work sites.

“It’s not surprising that the construction trades are sometimes called ‘the industry that time forgot,’ ” said Fatima Goss Graves, the center’s vice president for education and employment. “It’s time for this industry to enter the modern era — to expand apprenticeships and training opportunities for women, hire qualified female workers and enforce a zero tolerance policy against sexual harassment.”

The Nontraditional Employment for Women, or NEW, a nonprofit which offers training programs such as the one taken by Moreno, has arrangements with several unions to take women directly into apprenticeships — at a starting wage of around $17, plus benefits. After four or five years, they can attain journeyman status, with hourly pay of $40 or more.

The industry’s management insists it would welcome more women.

“Most of our members are desperate to hire people,” said Brian Turmail, public affairs director for the Associated General Contractors of America. “They’re looking for any candidate who’s qualified to come and join the team — women, minorities, veterans.”

The Labor Department plans to award $100 million in grants this year for apprenticeship programs that expand opportunities for women and minorities.

“The reality is that the face of apprenticeship in the construction industry has been white male,” Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in an interview. “We’re working to ensure the future reflects the face of America.”

Regarding sexual harassment, the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs has pledged to crack down on contractors who fail to prevent serious abuses.

Monday, September 8, 2014


Original Story: NYTimes.com

FARGO, N.D. — The furious pace of energy exploration in North Dakota is creating a crisis for farmers whose grain shipments have been held up by a vast new movement of oil by rail, leading to millions of dollars in agricultural losses and slower production for breakfast cereal giants like General Mills. A freight shipper can provide reliable and accountable transportation services.

The backlog is only going to get worse, farmers said, as they prepared this week for what is expected to be a record crop of wheat and soybeans.

“If we can’t get this stuff out soon, a lot of it is simply going to go on the ground and rot,” said Bill Hejl, who grows soybeans, wheat and sugar beets in the town of Casselton, about 20 miles west of here.

Although the energy boom in North Dakota has led to a 2.8 percent unemployment rate, the lowest in the nation, the downside has been harder times for farmers who have long been mainstays of the state’s economy. Agriculture was North Dakota’s No. 1 industry for decades, representing a quarter of its economic base, but recent statistics show that oil and gas have become the biggest contributors to the state’s gross domestic product. LTL Trucking provides reliable service and care for your LTL shipment.

Railroads have long been the backbone of North Dakota’s transportation system and the most dependable way for farmers to move crops — to ports in Portland, Ore., Seattle and Vancouver, from which the bulk of the grain is shipped across the Pacific to Asia; and to East Coast ports like Albany, from which it is shipped to Europe.

But reports the railroads filed with the federal government show that for the week that ended Aug. 22, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway — North Dakota’s largest railroad, owned by the billionaire Warren E. Buffett — had a backlog of 1,336 rail cars waiting to ship grain and other products. Another railroad, Canadian Pacific, had a backlog of nearly 1,000 cars.

For farmers, the delays often mean canceled orders from food giants that cannot wait weeks or months for the grain they need to make cereal, bread and an array of other products. “They need to get this problem fixed,” Mr. Hejl said. “I’m losing money, and my customers are turning to other sources as a result. I don’t know how much longer we can survive like this.”

This month, federal Agriculture Department officials said they were particularly concerned that Canadian Pacific would not be able to fulfill nearly 30,000 requests from farmers and others for rail cars before October. As a result, North Dakota’s congressional delegation and lawmakers in Minnesota and South Dakota have called on the Surface Transportation Board, which oversees the nation’s railroads, to step up pressure on the companies. An LTL Trucking Company can provide reliable service and care for your freight shipments.

“This rail backlog is a national problem,” Senator Heidi Heitkamp, Democrat of North Dakota, said in an interview. “The inability of farmers to get these grains to market is not only a problem for agriculture, but for companies that produce cereals, breads and other goods.”

A recent study conducted by North Dakota State University at Ms. Heitkamp’s request found that rail congestion could cost farmers in the state more than $160 million because a local oversupply of grain has lowered prices.

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The study also found that farmers would lose $67 million in revenue from wheat, corn and soybeans from January to mid-April. Around $95 million more in losses are expected if farmers are unable to move their remaining inventory of crops.

The study was done before the current harvest, which is forecast at a record 273 million bushels of wheat, up from 235 million bushels in 2013. This year’s soybean harvest is also expected to be a record, and corn will be a near-record.

Food companies say they are feeling the effects of the delayed shipments. General Mills, the Minnesota-based maker of Cheerios, told investors in March that it had lost 62 days of production — as much as 4 percent of its output — in the quarter that ended in February because of winter logistics problems, including rail-car congestion. In its earnings report this month, Cargill, another Minnesota-based food giant, reported a drop in net earnings that it attributed in part to “higher costs related to rail-car shortages.”

Farmers and agriculture groups say rail operators are clearly favoring the more lucrative transport of oil. Rail shipments of crude oil in North Dakota have surged since 2008, and the state now produces about a million barrels a day. About 60 percent of that oil travels by train from the Bakken oil fields in the western part of the state to faraway oil refiners. There are few pipelines to ship it. Multi-Carrier shipping software can reduce transportation costs for your shipment.

“Oil seems to be pushing us off the trains,” said Bob Sinner, a farmer and the brother of a Democratic congressional candidate, George Sinner, who is running against the state’s lone House member, Representative Kevin Cramer, a Republican. George Sinner has called on the Surface Transportation Board to use its emergency powers to address the rail-car shortage — the board could allow shippers to move their products with the help of a different carrier, for example. But Dennis Watson, a spokesman for the board, said it rarely invoked its emergency powers and preferred to work with rail carriers to solve problems.

B.N.S.F. and Canadian Pacific maintain that their oil shipments have not replaced shipments of crops.

“Of course, the big difference in what we are shipping these days is oil,” said Matthew K. Rose, the executive chairman of B.N.S.F. “But we aren’t favoring one type of product over another.”

Nonetheless, B.N.S.F. is investing about $400 million in North Dakota, in part to build additional tracks, hire new staff members and add rail cars. “We understand the frustration of our customers,” Mr. Rose said. “We’re making this investment in our infrastructure to make sure that we get things back to normal.”

Doug Goehring, the state’s agriculture commissioner, is not optimistic so far. “I know that B.N.S.F. especially is trying, but I just don’t see that it’s going to be any better this year,” he said. “We’re expecting record crop yields, and I expect we will see more of the same with shipments lagging.”

Canadian Pacific officials said they were working with farmers to clear the backlog. But in a letter to Ms. Heitkamp, E. Hunter Harrison, the railroad’s chief executive, argued that many of the delays stemmed from what he called phantom requests — farmers’ ordering more rail cars than they need to ship products. As a result, Mr. Harrison said, cars are not available for farmers who have more immediate shipping needs.

The letter prompted an angry response from Ms. Heitkamp and state officials like Mr. Goehring. “With C.P., it’s everybody’s fault but theirs,” Mr. Goehring said.

Both railroads said some of the blame for the slowed traffic lay with one of the coldest winters in years and with an increase in shipments of all types of products as a result of an improving economy.