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Monday
Apr152019

Can 'FUCT' be trademarked? Supreme Court hears First Amendment case

Melodie Jeng/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Oral arguments at the Supreme Court on Monday could turn out to be, well ... downright vulgar.

On the justices' docket is the case of "FUCT," a clothing line founded by Los Angeles fashion designer Erik Brunetti. The company is fighting for trademark protection after the federal government refused to register the name, calling it "scandalous" and "immoral."

Brunetti says the brand is pronounced by saying each letter: "F-U-C-T" and is meant to be "thought-provoking."

He reportedly says it stands for "Friends You Can Trust."

A federal appeals court sided with FUCT, saying that, while the name is vulgar, federal trademark law's restriction on scandalous and immoral trademarks is a violation of free speech under the First Amendment.

The government argues that the "scandalous and immoral" standard is viewpoint-neutral -- applies to everyone seeking a trademark -- and is a reasonable condition to impose.

Brunetti notes in court documents, however, that the standard has been inconsistently applied and is highly subjective. For example, the terms "FCUK," "THE F WORD," and "F'D" were all approved for trademarks while "F U," "EFFU" and "FVCKED" were not.

In 2017, the Supreme Court struck down a similar part of federal trademark law -- one which had banned trademark registration for "disparaging" language. The justices said, in a unanimous opinion, that "giving offense is a viewpoint" protected by the First Amendment.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Apr152019

Mom tries five digital photo book services: Here's how they compared

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Remember photo albums -- books with clear plastic pockets that held your favorite photos to keep track of memories and memorialize a year of your life?

We don’t do that much anymore. When was the last time you even printed a picture?

But the joy of thumbing through a memory book of photos is still a thing, so services have sprung up online to turn your digital photos into bound books. While some have been around for decades, other newcomers have also come along. Prices and formats vary wildly, so how should you choose the right service for your images?

ABC News' Good Morning America asked mom Sheila Madrigal from Morgan Hill, California, to order photo books from five different services: Snapfish, Shutterfly, Mixbook, Amazon and Costco. She used the same 60 photos in all five books and tried to get the size and layouts of the books as similar as possible. The photos were taken with both her iPhone and DSLR camera.

After the books were created, ordered and arrived at Madrigal's house, GMA took them to Sam Hoffman of San Francisco’s Lightsource, a fine art print lab. While they don’t make print books at Lightsource, Hoffman evaluated the quality of the books.

Best Image Quality: Costco & Shutterfly

The primary factors Sam evaluated were contrast, warm skin tones, shadow detail and saturation.

One of Madrigal’s photos showed her family in a field of yellow flowers -- her husband Israel is tossing their daughter in the air. Both the Shutterfly and Costco books impressed Hoffman with how they handled the image.

In the Costco and Shutterfly books, the field had a rich golden color and skin tones were warm.

“I see the darkness of the blues. The separation of darkness and lighter colors,” said Hoffman.

He used that photo to judge two bottom performers in the image quality category, Snapfish and Amazon.

“There is a greyness in the flesh tones [Snapfish] and this one is the least vibrant of them all [Amazon],” he said.

Best Binding: Shutterfly

According to Hoffman, all the books used semi-matte paper, but the production from each company varied. In some books there was no cover page while others had sophisticated stamped paper in the cover and back page positions. Another difference was the binding. Some had a simple stitched binding that was visible between the pages, while others had stitched and glued binding that looked more sophisticated. Shutterfly’s book had a luxe cover page made of stamped paper, stitched and glued binding, as well as a back cover that was in a different color and design.

Ease of Creation: Snapfish


GMA let Madrigal, who created the books, weigh in on this category. She said the Snapfish tool took her 20 minutes from start to finish to create the book. Uploads were fast, layout was simple and the user interface was intuitive. She ranked Mixbook, Shutterfly and Amazon slightly below Snapfish, but still easy to use. She gave the Costco the lowest ranking in this category, complaining that the upload of her images took twice as long as some other sites. She said that when she used the Costco tool, it arbitrarily populated her book with the pictures she uploaded, but she had a specific order in mind and had to go back through the tool removing all the pictures then adding them back into the layout where she wanted them.

There was one more problem from the Costco book: it cut her baby's picture in half.

The online tool showed a picture of her three kids fitting on the page but when the printed book was inspected, the baby was only half visible. Hoffman explained that the image was placed too far into the center of the page, an area printers call the “gutter,” and the baby’s face was obscured. Madrigal said it did not look like that in the online tool. Costco declined ABC News' request for comment.

Least expensive: Amazon

The most expensive book was from Mixbook at $47.63. Shutterfly came in at $40.72, Costco and Snapfish were a penny apart at $32.68 and $32.67, and Amazon had the least expensive book at $27.24.

One thing to consider with pricing is that many of these services offer outrageous deals on photobooks with special seasonal codes, sometimes 50 to 60 percent off.

Here’s a pro tip: keep a file of your favorite photos on your desktop, copy them in there as you take them each month, and when you see a killer deal come up, you’ll be able to create the book and nab a great keepsake at a fraction of the price.

Overall top pick: Shutterfly

Ranking ease of creation, image quality, price and the overall feel of the book’s production, Hoffman liked Shutterfly the best.

Madrigal also liked Shutterfly the best, and resolved to make a memory book every year from now on.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Apr152019

Amazon takes on the music industry

Amazon(NEW YORK) -- Amazon is said to be taking on Spotify and Pandora.

According to reports, the online retail giant plans to launch a free music service exclusively for its Echo devices.

Music is currently available through the Amazon Echo but only for prime members. A prime membership costs $119 annually.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Apr142019

American Airlines to keep entire fleet of 737 Max jets grounded until mid-August

iStock Photo(SEATTLE) -- In an effort to plan for the busy summer travel season, all of American Airlines' 737 Max planes will remain grounded through at least Aug. 19, though American may put the jets back in the air in the event of a recertification, according to a letter from the CEO to employees at the airlines obtained by ABC News.

The grounding will amount to about 115 cancelled flights per day through Aug. 19, or about 1.5% of American's total flights each day this summer.

"We are highly confident that the MAX will be recertified prior to this time," American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said in the letter. "But by extending our cancellations through the summer, we can plan more reliably for the peak travel season."

Boeing, which manufactures the 737 Max 8 and Max 9, continues to work on a software fix for the grounded jets that will be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.

A preliminary report issued in early April showed the Ethiopian Airlines jet that crashed on March 10 suffered a damaged sensor that caused the jet's horizontal stabilizer system to kick in. Despite initially turning the system off, the pilot later turned it back on and the jet nosedived into the ground. A malfunctioning horizontal stabilizer system also caused a Lion Air flight to crash last October.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao assured members of Congress on Wednesday that once the FAA receives Boeing's proposed software enhancements for the 737 Max MCAS function "it will be thoroughly reviewed to ensure the solution has addressed all pertinent issues."

"Let me emphasize that the FAA will not approve Boeing's proposed changes until the FAA is satisfied that it safe, and preserve the preeminence of the United States as a gold standard in aviation safety," Chao said during a House Appropriations Committee hearing.

Parker emphasized his concern for safety in the letter, saying, "Families everywhere are counting on American Airlines for their summer vacations, family reunions, trips to visit friends and adventures overseas. Our commitment to each other and to our customers is to operate the safest and most reliable operation in our history."

All 737 Max jets were grounded on March 13 by the FAA, in an announcement by President Donald Trump, in the wake of two crashes in six months -- one last October off the coast of Indonesia and another in March in Ethiopia. A total of 346 people were killed in the two accidents. The FAA and U.S. carriers had held off on grounding the 737 Max even as other countries around the world did so. The U.S. finally relented days later.

American Airlines joined Southwest in announcing it would ground the 737s through August. Southwest announced its decision to ground Max jets through Aug. 5 last week.

American Airlines had previously announced on April 7 that it would cancel approximately 90 flights per day through June 5, "in an effort to provide more certainty and avoid last minute flight disruptions.” The announcement Sunday extends that order.

The airline warned investors last week that the grounded jets were likely to impact first quarter revenue.

"The company now expects its first quarter total revenue per available seat mile (TRASM) to be approximately flat to up 1.0 percent year-over-year vs. its previous guidance of flat to up 2.0 percent," American Airlines said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. "This change is due primarily to the impact of the government shutdown, the grounding of the company’s MAX fleet, and the removal from service of the 14 737-800 aircraft."

American is the second-largest operator of 737 Max 8s in the U.S., behind Southwest.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Apr142019

If you haven't filed your tax returns yet, here are your options

iStock/Jirapong Manustrong(NEW YORK) -- If you're one of the 50 million American taxpayers who have yet to file their tax returns, you still have a few options.

Unless you live in Maine or Massachusetts, Monday is the deadline to file an individual tax return and pay any owed taxes. For residents of those states celebrating Patriot's Day on April 15, the deadline is extended to April 17 because the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is closed in Washington, D.C., for Emancipation Day on April 16.

IRS is offering some tips for procrastinators.

"Information about free e-file options, such as IRS FreeFile, how to request an automatic six-month filing extension or fast, secure ways to pay any tax due using IRS Direct Pay are available online at IRS.gov," the agency said on Friday in a press release.

By April 5, the IRS had received about two-thirds of the expected 2018 returns, or more than 103 million, the agency said. It has issued almost 78 million tax refunds totaling $220.8 billion, with the average refund at $2,833.

There's also some free tax help options. If your income is $66,000 or less, you can use one of the free tax preparation software programs through Free File on IRS.gov.

You can always file for an extension to Oct. 15 to file your return. However, the IRS does not grant extensions to pay any tax that may be due.

"Applying for an extension of time to file is easy — and free. Individual tax filers can e-file their extension form for free using Free File. They can also get an extension by paying an estimate of their income tax due and indicate that the payment is for an extension using Direct Pay, the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), or a credit or debit card," the agency said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Apr132019

Facebook's Oculus ships VR controllers with creepy hidden messages: 'Big Brother is Watching'

Ramin Talaie/Corbis via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Tens of thousands of Oculus Touch controllers are delivering a little bit more than virtual reality.

The handheld devices from the Facebook-owned VR company are being shipped to consumers with hidden messages inside the controllers that say “The Masons Were Here” and “This Space For Rent," the company said.

"Unfortunately, some 'easter egg' labels meant for prototypes accidentally made it onto the internal hardware for tens of thousands of Touch controllers," Oculus co-founder Nate Mitchell announced on Twitter on Friday, referring to the hardware that will accompany the new Oculus Quest and Rift S headsets set to ship this spring.

"The messages on final production hardware say 'This Space For Rent' & 'The Masons Were Here.' A few dev kits shipped with 'Big Brother is Watching' and 'Hi iFixit! We See You!' but those were limited to non-consumer units," Mitchell wrote. The latter two messages were only in the prototypes shipped to developers.

iFixit is a group-sourced online repair manual and parts company that aims to teach consumers to repair their own electronics and reduce waste. The site posts deconstructed consumer electronics equipment whose insides might reveal such hidden text.

"While I appreciate easter eggs," Mitchell tweeted, referring to inside jokes in software and media, "these were inappropriate and should have been removed. The integrity and functionality of the hardware were not compromised, and we've fixed our process so this won't happen again."

The preemptive announcement and apology were released quickly for a company that has been criticized for being slow to react to problems with its products and services.

"This was a process error. The messages were meant as easter eggs for prototypes only and should have been removed pre-production," a Facebook spokesperson wrote to ABC News in an email. She confirmed that the units, which have yet to be shipped, will not be recalled.

Unfortunately, some “easter egg” labels meant for prototypes accidentally made it onto the internal hardware for tens of thousands of Touch controllers.

While I appreciate easter eggs, these were inappropriate and should have been removed. The integrity and functionality of the hardware were not compromised, and we've fixed our process so this won't happen again.

The mistake messages won't be visible in plain sight, the company confirmed.

"The messages are on an internal component of the controller – in other words, they’re inside the hardware," the Facebook spokeswoman wrote. "Thus, you’d have to take apart the controller to see either of the messages that will be on consumer controllers ('This Space for Rent' and 'The Masons were Here')."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Apr132019

Designer makes history with the world's most expensive car

Martyn Lucy/Getty Images(GENEVA) --  French hypercar maker Bugatti may have turned 110 years old this year, but it's still making history.

Bugatti unveiled the "La Voiture Noire" (The Black Car) in March at the Geneva Motor Show, a one-of-a-kind vehicle that was sold to an undisclosed customer for 16.7 million euros ($19 million).

La Voiture Noire quickly earned infamy for being the most expensive new car ever built. That was not the intention, however, of Etienne Salome, Bugatti's head of interior design who conceived of its concept.

"The aim was not to have the most expensive new car in the world [and] that was not the reason why the customer bought it," he told ABC News. "The owner didn't ask for the price."

La Voiture Noire was actually a project 10 years in the making, according to Salome.

"We had tried this for years and it never really worked," the 38-year-old Frenchman explained. "It needed our new president [Stephan Winkelmann] to really push for that."

Salome and his team had drawn "thousands and thousands of sketches" over the years with the goal of designing a car that paid tribute to Bugatti's Type 57SC Atlantic, one of the rarest sports cars in the world. Only four were manufactured and Jean Bugatti, the eldest son of company founder Ettore Bugatti, supervised its development and construction in the late 1930s.

Salome, who was born in Paris, has been drawing since he was young, a hobby and passion that his mother, a finance director, strongly encouraged.

"I draw all the time," he said. "Drawing is my life. This is how I communicate with my team."

He designed cars for Kia, Mazda and Renault before landing at Bugatti, where he's been for the last 11 years. Salome said he could never work for another automaker after Bugatti, a marque that many enthusiasts regard as the pinnacle of the automotive industry.

Widely known for its $3 million Chiron hypercar, Bugatti has been slowing increasing production at its atelier and headquarters in Molsheim, France, to reduce the three-year wait time, according to Salome. The company delivered 76 cars, all hand assembled, to customers in 2018, up from 70 in 2017.

The goal is to deliver over 80 Chirons this year in addition to one Divo, its $5.8 million, 1,478-horsepower hypercar. Bugatti has restricted production of the Divo to 40 units and every one was accounted for before the car's debut in August.

"I honestly didn't believe we'd sell 40 cars," Salome said.

He concedes that the pressures to always create exceptional, unrivaled sports cars in a sector where "all the cars seem to look alike" can be daunting. Design is just one step of a very intricate and labyrinthine process.

"The car is the most difficult object to design because of the investment and time required," he said. "There are safety requirements, performance [targets], endless requirements. You have to work hand-in-hand with engineers. I can't do it without them."

He added, "When you work for Bugatti people expect you to deliver more than just doing a job. You have to give love to this brand. You have to over deliver always."

Salome won't limit himself to just cars. His next projects may be designing boats, bikes, watches -- even hotel lobbies.

"If you can do a car you can do any other product," he said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Apr122019

Tesla Model 3 will come standard with autopilot, online sales to stop

Chesnot/Getty Images(NEW YORK) --  Tesla has changed its mind on the Model 3 again.

The company is ending online sales of the long-promised $35,000 base Model 3, expanding its autopilot feature to all trim levels of the vehicle and introducing a leasing option, Tesla announced in a blog post late Thursday.

The changes were being made "to simplify vehicle choices and make Autopilot more affordable," the post said.

By ending online sales for the Model 3, the company is reversing decisions it made as recently as a few weeks ago to close most stores to focus on online sales, then flipping on that to announce it would keep most stores open.

Standardizing the car's autopilot feature to all trims — a feature that has been blamed for several accidents across the U.S. and is the crux of ensuing lawsuits — also affects its pricing options.

"All Tesla vehicles now come with Autopilot bundled as a standard feature for less than the prior cost of the option. For example, Model 3 Standard Plus used to cost $37,500, plus $3,000 for the Autopilot option. It now costs $39,500, with Autopilot included," the post said.

Tesla's just-announced leasing program is also part of what appear to be larger ambitions: Customers won't be able to own the car at the end of the lease. Instead, they will be returned to the company to form a fleet for its future ride-hailing service.

The updates come against the backdrop of the company's continuing struggles to deliver the Model 3 at a $35,000 price point and move the automaker from a niche luxury brand into a maker of affordable electric vehicles for the masses.

However, the company has been hampered by public problems, ranging from fines by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over founder and CEO Elon Musk's tweets to more behind-the-scenes turmoil, such as 7% cuts in its workforce in January. Those layoffs marked the second round of mass firings in six months. The company has also seen several executive turnovers.

Industry experts greeted the news with wariness.

"After years of being a media and enthusiast darling, Tesla is now facing a reckoning. Between the cost cuts, waning demand for its vehicles and now making the $35,000 Model 3 much harder to buy, the company is now quietly realizing it has to play by the same rules as every other automaker," Jessica Caldwell, executive director of industry analysis at automotive research firm Edmunds, told ABC News

The grandiose promise that has become the thorn in Musk's side is the $35,000 price point. He reiterated this when he announced the January layoffs, writing about the twin goals of cutting costs and ramping up the production rate of the Model 3.

"Higher volume and manufacturing design improvements are crucial for Tesla to achieve the economies of scale required to manufacture the standard range (220-mile), standard interior Model 3 at $35k and still be a viable company. There isn't any other way."

Musk promised a $35,000 Model 3 as early as 2016 and has yet to deliver. In February, he announced the cars were ready to ship, although no delivery date was named.

"Tesla was the one who decided that $35,000 was the magic number for an affordable [electric vehicle]," Caldwell said. "The company backed itself into a corner by making such a big deal about the Model 3 being that exact price without knowing exactly how they were going to do it. Because most Tesla buyers opt to pay extra for all the high-tech features, this likely won’t have a huge impact on Model 3 sales, however, it does deliver another tough blow to the company’s reputation."

Tesla also recently lost a buffer on pricing because of the United States' electric vehicles policy. The electric vehicle tax credit, which offset the price of a new Tesla by $7,500 was halved on Jan 1, so it is now only $3,750.

The tax credit applies to all manufacturers for their first 200,000 vehicles. Then it's halved and then halved again before it is phased out. As a result of the reduced credit amount, Tesla had been attempting to slash prices.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Apr122019

'Trivago guy' actor Tim Williams charged with driving while intoxicated: Authorities

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Actor Tim Williams, whose lengthy acting career began its peak streak in 2013 when he was cast in a popular series of ads for the German-based discount travel website Trivago.com, was arrested in Houston and charged with driving while intoxicated after police said they found him unconscious behind the wheel of a car on Wednesday afternoon.

Williams was reportedly found with his foot on the brakes in a moving lane of traffic, according to ABC News Houston affiliate KTRK-TV.

The actor became a pop culture cult favorite in the United States for appearing – scruffy, beltless and full-on hipster – in Trivago commercials to urge Americans to “find the ideal hotel for the best price.” The appearances proved to be a boon for the company, spawning branding and gender equality think pieces, fake Twitter accounts and fashion essays with titles like “How to Get the ‘Trivago Guy’ Look.”

Efforts to reach Williams at his Houston home were not initially successfully, and it was not immediately clear whether he had retained a defense attorney. A spokesperson for Trivago responded to an ABC News request for comment about the arrest late Thursday night.

"At this stage, we do not have the full details of the situation, but we want to make clear that trivago treats such incidents very seriously and strongly condemns drinking and driving which poses a risk to others and goes against the trivago culture," spokeswoman Elie Matta wrote in an email to ABC News.

Williams got into acting in high school, according to a biography posted on his official Facebook page.

After his parents divorced, he moved with his mother and sister to Houston from New York City.

“I walked into the drama class one day after school and asked the teacher if she could make me an actor,” he is quoted as saying in the biography.

Williams got his first acting role in a bit part on The Cosby Show – which never made air, according to the biography. Williams had played a teenage boy who had gotten a teenage girl pregnant. He landed landed a role opposite “Homeland” actress Claire Danes in her own breakaway hit show, “My So-Called Life,” before appearing in other hit shows like “Law & Order,” “The Sopranos” and “Strong Medicine.” He went on to appear in big-budget films including “Valkyrie,” “Ninja Assassin,” “The Apparition” and “Labyrinth of Lies.”

Williams moved to Germany in response to acting work there, and eventually auditioned for a voice-only role in a commercial for Trivago, the popular German-based travel website.

A second audition put him on camera, and for the past five years Williams has been the “face” of Trivago, according to the biography.

From there his star rose swiftly.

The following year, Rolling Stone Magazine published a feature story about Williams, “What’s the Deal with the Trivago Guy? Meet TV’s Sloppy, Sexy Pitchman.”

The article described Williams as "far from your average spokesperson."

"From his overall lack of grooming – mussed hair, slight scruff and a wrinkled wardrobe that looks like the director surprised him on laundry day (why is he not wearing a belt?) – to the bags beneath his eyes, which suggest that he’s seen some shit, TG is the rare pitchman capable of haunting your dreams while simultaneously enflaming your loins," the article noted, puckishly.

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Friday
Apr122019

Alexa is always listening -- and so are Amazon workers

Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- It's not just Alexa listening when you talk to her.

Sometimes there's Amazon workers tuning in as well, the company confirmed on Thursday.

Amazon workers around the world listen in to help make its artificial intelligence, aka Alexa, smarter, the company said.

"This information helps us train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems, so Alexa can better understand your requests, and ensure the service works well for everyone," a company spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement to ABC News.

Echo devices, Amazon's smart speakers, respond to keyword-detecting technology to know when a "wake word" like "Alexa" is uttered, and then stores and send the commands to the cloud, the company said.

“By default, Echo devices are designed to detect only your chosen wake word (Alexa, Amazon, Computer or Echo). The device detects the wake word by identifying acoustic patterns that match the wake word. No audio is stored or sent to the cloud unless the device detects the wake word (or Alexa is activated by pressing a button)," the statement said.

The existence of these teams was first reported by Bloomberg, who reported that the company has hired thousands of employees and contractors around the world, including in Boston, Costa Rica, India and Romania to review, transcribe, mark up and then feed back the information into its software to improve Alexa's grasp of language and voice commands.

Bloomberg reported that the majority of the transcribed clips were uneventful: commands to play Taylor Swift, bad singing in the shower or a child screaming for help.

However, the report cited more disturbing instances of recordings.

"Sometimes they hear recordings they find upsetting, or possibly criminal. Two of the workers said they picked up what they believe was a sexual assault. When something like that happens, they may share the experience in the internal chat room as a way of relieving stress," the report said.

Amazon seemingly denies this portion of the report. The company spokesperson wrote, "when the wake word is detected, the light ring at the top of the Echo turns blue, indicating the device is streaming your voice request to the cloud. Only recordings after the wake work are ever streamed to Amazon."

The revelation of human teams working off of Alexa recordings may spark privacy concerns, but Amazon said, "we have strict technical and operational safeguards, and have a zero tolerance policy for the abuse of our system. Employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow. While all information is treated with high confidentiality and we use multi-factor authentication to restrict access, service encryption, and audits of our control environment to protect it, customers can delete their voice recordings associated with their account at any time.”

Still, a screenshot viewed by Bloomberg reporters showed that the human-reviewed recordings "don't provide a user’s full name and address but are associated with an account number, as well as the user’s first name and the device’s serial number," the report said.

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