Tag Archives: services

Good buys, better living: H20 helpers

Water is life.

And we’re going into 2017 resolved to continue standing with the water protectors at Standing Rock, battle government efforts to sell public water to Wall Street, challenge the proposed leasing of public land and take over of private land for fracking operations and champion regulations aimed at keeping pollutants out of our waterways and removing contaminants from our water supplies.

Many of us also are going into 2017 with personal resolutions aimed at improving and protecting our health and the wellness of our families.

Throughout the new year, WiG will be browsing the marketplace, testing items and recommending products and services we think are good buys for better living. The first products to catch our attention? Two H20 helpers — a water purifier for the home or office and a water purifier for on-the-go.

  • ZeroWater pitchers feature a pour-through filtration system that is certified by the NSF to reduce chromium and lead in tap water.

ZeroWater might sound familiar because the company in 2016 partnered with United Way on the Filters for Flint program, providing purification pitchers and filters in the Michigan community, particularly in homes with children, who are most susceptible to high lead levels.

ZeroWater pitchers feature a pour-through filtration system that is certified by the NSF to reduce chromium and lead in tap water. PHOTO: Courtesy
ZeroWater pitchers feature a pour-through filtration system that is certified by the NSF to reduce chromium and lead in tap water. PHOTO: Courtesy

Most traditional pitchers use carbon filtration and only two stages to remove water impurities — and they may not remove harsh chemicals and solids such as Chromium-6 from tap water. ZeroWater five-stage filters use an ion exchange technology to deionize tap water, which has proven to be an effective method of reducing heavy metals like Chromium-6, as well as lead.

WiG tested two ZeroWater BPA-free pitchers — a futuristic-blue 23-cup dispenser with a spigot kept in the fridge and a 10-cup pitcher/dispenser for the counter — for 60 days.

The Zerowater system includes a filter, the pitcher with a tank and reservoir and a meter that looks like a digital thermometer and detects “total dissolved solids” that may have entered the water supply through old pipes, run-off from road salts, pesticides, fertilizers and other sources.

First, WiG found the filtered water to taste crisp and refreshing with each pour. The water meets the FDA definition for purified water — without generating all the plastic bottles.

Second, and more importantly, we found the ZeroWater filters remove considerably more impurities than other filters, which is why tap water takes longer to pass from the reservoir into the tank.

Third, we love the simplicity of using the meter to show water quality and also indicate when a recyclable filter should be replaced.

A filter, on average, lasts for 15 gallons but this is dependent on water quality — the cleaner the tap water, the longer the filter lasts.

A note: Zerowater filters and pitchers are for use with tap water and the systems do not remove bacteria.

But this next product does…

  • The SteriPEN traveler water purifier uses ultra violent light to destroy more than 99.9 percent of disease-causing microbes — 99.9999 percent of bacteria, 99.99 percent of viruses and 99.9 percent of protozoa — in a liter of water in about 90 seconds.
The SteriPEN traveler water purifier uses ultra violent light to destroy more than 99.9 percent of disease-causing microbes — 99.9999 percent of bacteria, 99.99 percent of viruses and 99.9 percent of protozoa — in a liter of water in about 90 seconds. PHOTO: Courtesy
The SteriPEN traveler water purifier uses ultra violent light to destroy more than 99.9 percent of disease-causing microbes — 99.9999 percent of bacteria, 99.99 percent of viruses and 99.9 percent of protozoa — in a liter of water in about 90 seconds. PHOTO: Courtesy

The promotional materials from the manufacturer, Hydro-Photon Inc., promise “safe drinking water. Anywhere. Anytime.” And the makers of the hand-held device promise about 3,000 treatments — which is a lot of water on a lot of camping trips to Devil’s Lake or hiking around Lake Geneva.

Operation is simple: Fill a container with water, push the button on the SteriPEN, place the device’s lamp into the water and stir until the LED turns green.

WiG tested the SteriPEN traveler over a 30-day period. We took the SteriPEN on outdoor adventures – a camping trip in the Florida Everglades and hikes through two state parks. We also used the SteriPEN on urban and suburban adventures — drawing curious glances as we purified the tap water at one shopping mall and regrettably offending the parents while purifying the tap water in their condo.

We found the SteriPEN — recently named one of the best gifts for adventurers in a USA Today survey — convenient, reliable, simple to use. It never failed to work and was simple to keep clean with dish soap and a cloth. Our test product was provided by CureUV.com.

You’ll want to be sure to use lithium or rechargeable nickel metal AA batteries — not alkaline. And you’ll want to make sure you memorize— or take a phone photo — of the LED indicator guide.

A note: This device is not certified effective against parasites and their eggs, in part because of restrictions on animal testing.

The cost for the SteriPen? About $50.

The ZeroWater 23-cup dispenser retails for about $40 and the 10-cup dispenser costs about

Binge watching on Netflix no longer requires internet access

Netflix subscribers can now binge on many of their favorite shows and movies even when they don’t have an internet connection.

The long-awaited offline option announced this week gives Netflix’s 87 million subscribers offline access to videos for the first time in the streaming service’s decade-long history.

Netflix is matching a downloading feature that one of its biggest rivals, Amazon.com, has been offering to its video subscribers for the past year. It’s something that also has been available on YouTube’s popular video site, though a subscription is required in the U.S. and other countries where the site sells its “Red” premium service.

The new feature puts Netflix a step ahead of two other major rivals. Offline options aren’t available on HBO’s internet-only package, HBO Now, or Hulu, although that service has publicly said it hopes to introduce a downloading feature.

Netflix subscribers wishing to download a video on their smartphone or tablet need to update the app on their Apple or Android device.

Not all of the selections in Netflix’s video library can be downloaded, although several of the service’s most popular shows, including “Orange Is The New Black,” “House of Cards,” and “Stranger Things,” are now available to watch offline.

Downloadable movies include “Spotlight,” this year’s Oscar winner for best film. Notably missing from the downloadable menu are movies and TV shows made by Walt Disney Co. Those still require an internet connection to watch on Netflix.

The Los Gatos, California, company is promising to continue to adding more titles to its offline roster.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings had long resisted calls for an offline-viewing option, much to the frustration of customers who wanted flexibility to use their subscriptions to watch a show or movie when traveling on a train, plane or car where internet connections are spotty or completely unavailable.

Earlier this year, Hastings finally indicated he might relent and introduce downloading.

The change of heart coincided with Netflix’s expansion into more than 130 countries, including many areas with shoddy or expensive internet connections that make the ability to watch video offline even more appealing.

Netflix ended September with 39 million subscribers outside of the U.S.

The offline option may accelerate the decline of Netflix’s steadily shrinking DVD-by-mail service, which offers the ability to watch video without an internet connection. Netflix’s DVD side still has one distinct advantage — access to recent theatrical releases before they are available for streaming.

Netflix’s DVD service ended September with 4.3 million subscribers, a decrease of nearly 10 million customers during the past five years.

Facebook launches app-based Marketplace shop

Facebook Inc launched Marketplace to allow people to buy and sell items locally as the social media network tries new ways to keep users engaged.

The feature will appear as a “shop” icon at the bottom of the Facebook app and will allow users to list or search for items on sale in their neighborhood.

The company will not facilitate the payment or delivery of items and will not take a cut from any transactions, Facebook said.

The new service will be rolled out in the United States, the UK, Australia and New Zealand for iPhone and Android users over the next few days, the company said in a blog post, adding that the feature will be available on the desktop version in the coming months.

More than 450 million people already visit Facebook groups that have items to buy and sell each month, the company said.

Last year, Facebook said it was testing several ad features that allow users to shop directly through its app, an effort to move further into e-commerce.

Facebook’s shares were little changed at $128.39 in morning trading on Monday on the Nasdaq.

How to …

Post Items for Sale in Just a Few Steps

Selling an item in Marketplace is just as easy as browsing for one. Simply:

Take a photo of your item, or add it from your camera roll

Enter a product name, description and price

Confirm your location and select a category



Greenpeace: Majority of consumers think manufacturers should recycle mobiles

Consumers say mobile phone manufacturers are releasing too many new models, according to a survey Greenpeace commissioned across six countries.

In all countries surveyed, consumers were most likely to say that mobile phone manufacturers should be responsible for providing people with the means to recycle their phones, while four in five surveyed said that it was important that a new smartphone can be easily repaired if damaged.

“The humble smartphone puts enormous strain on our environment from the moment they are produced — often with hazardous chemicals — to the moment they are disposed of in huge e-waste sites,” said Chih An Lee, Global IT Campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia.

“Over half of respondents across the countries surveyed agree that manufacturers are releasing too many new models, many designed to only last a few years. In fact, most users actually want their phones to be more easily dismantled, repaired and recycled.”

Mobile phones are some of the most frequently replaced of all small electronics products.

A United Nations University report in 2014 showed that up to 3 million metric tonnes of e-waste is generated from small IT products, such as mobile phones and personal computers. This represents a massive waste of resources and a source of contamination from hazardous chemicals.

Key findings from the survey:

  • Chinese (66 percent) and South Korean respondents (64 percent) are more likely to have ever had their phones repaired, compared to those in the US (28 percent) and Germany (23 percent).

  • Nearly half surveyed believe that mobile phone manufacturers should be most responsible for making recycling accessible. This sentiment was strongest in Germany (61 percent).

  • Except in Germany (86 percent), over 90 percent of respondents surveyed in all countries said that “designed to last” is an important feature of a new smartphone.

  • Four in five respondents consider it important that a new smartphone is not produced using hazardous chemicals.

  • Four in five respondents believe it is important for a new smartphone to be easily repaired if damaged.This rises to as high as 95 percent in China, 94 percent in Mexico and 92 percent in South Korea.

  • Apart from respondents in South Korea, the most common reason for replacing their last phone was the desire for a more up-to-date device.

“We believe true innovation means gadgets designed to last, to be repaired and recycled. It is time for tech leaders to rethink the way they make our electronics so that they are as innovative for our planet as they are for our lives,” said Lee.

“If tech brands want to lead us into the future, they need to move towards closed-loop production and embrace the circular economy; something that can be good for their profits, for people and for the planet.”

Greenpeace East Asia conducted the survey as part of its True Innovation campaign, which challenges the technology sector to embrace innovation to protect our environment and our future.

Safety concerns raised over ride-sharing services

One of the early lessons children learn is to never get into a stranger’s car. They carry that lesson into adulthood, with an exception for hailing a taxi.

But what about lining up a ride via Uber, Lyft or another ride-sharing service? Safety advocates say they have serious concerns about the security of passengers in Uber vehicles, especially female passengers.

Uber operates in more than 250 cities in more than 50 countries. In May, the company announced an expansion of services in Wisconsin and now has contracted drivers operating in Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha, Racine, Lake Geneva, Waukesha and the Wisconsin Dells. 

Uber, in its Wisconsin announcement, said the expansion “followed passage of statewide regulations that have created a framework that embraces ride-sharing across Wisconsin.”

“In Wisconsin, our ride-sharing service UberX offers Uber convenience with prices cheaper than a taxi,” the company stated. “UberX driver partners have vehicles in a variety of colors and styles, with seating for up to four passengers.”

Passengers pay a base fee, plus costs per minute and per mile, with minimum fares set in some communities.

Ride-sharing is a service that’s particularly popular with young, urban adults.

“I don’t have a car and I don’t want one,” said Emily Brune, 21, of Madison. “But I can’t walk or bike everywhere and Uber has been the perfect answer for me and some of my friends.”

Michael Clauson, 28, of Milwaukee, is another customer and he’s considering becoming a driver.

“I like the idea that you can just work when you want,” Clauson said. “For someone who wants to make some extra money, that’s cool.”

Uber conducts background checks on driver applicants.

“To maintain the Uber standard you expect, all driver partners must undergo Uber’s rigorous screening process and every ride is covered by our $1 million commercial liability insurance policy,” the company said in introducing its Wisconsin operation. “After every trip, riders and drivers rate one another on a scale of one to five stars to maintain a safe and respectful environment for all users.”

However, Uber’s drivers are contractors, not employees, and the terms of service for passengers say the company “does not guarantee the quality, suitability, safety or ability of third-party providers.”

Over the past two years, there have been multiple reports of violence by Uber drivers against passengers. The Who’s Driving You? campaign — which was launched in 2014 by a trade association of taxicab, limousine and paratransit companies — collects and tracks complaints against Uber and Lyft drivers and reports of crimes.

The campaign’s website contains reports of drivers brandishing knives, negligent crashes, fights, thefts, kidnappings and rapes.

One report tracked by Who’s Driving You? involved a driver in D.C. who delivered an anti-gay tirade and assaulted a passenger who burped. Another involved a D.C. passenger suing Uber for $2 million after a driver repeatedly stabbed him.

In Los Angeles earlier this year, an Uber driver was arrested for attempted second-degree burglary. He allegedly dropped a female passenger off at the airport and then went to her home to break in. The woman’s roommate thwarted the attempt.

In Massachusetts, an Uber driver accused of raping a female passenger in December has now been linked by DNA evidence and witness accounts to five other sexual assaults between 2006 and 2010.

There have been at least three other assault-related incidents reported in the Boston area, as well as violent crimes reported in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Uber drivers also have been arrested in England and India for sexually assaulting passengers. A lawsuit filed early this year after the rape of a female passenger in India described Uber’s service as the “modern-day equivalent of electronic hitchhiking.”

In March, Uber responded to the concerns with a new code of conduct for drivers and passengers, a quality assurance program, worldwide incident response teams, stronger partnerships with law enforcement and improved background checks.

Uber also pledged new technology updates for safety. In India, the Uber platform features an SOS button so riders can contact local law enforcement directly from the app in emergencies. Another feature enables riders to keep multiple people informed of their exact location at all times while riding with Uber.

“With more than a million rides per day in 295 cities and 55 countries, continually improving rider and driver safety is the most critical component of what we do,” stated Phillip Cardenas, head of global safety at Uber.

But concerns continue. Referring to “multiple accounts of sexual and violent assaults that have been reported to date,” a petition circulating on Change.org asks Uber to provide an option for female passengers to choose female drivers.

Another issue of concern is the impact of Uber and other ride-sharing services on the economy. Uber drivers — who set their own hours — collect a fee from passengers and Uber takes a commission from the fees. Uber drivers don’t earn the wages of taxi drivers and other transportation workers and could negatively impact wages in the field.

Earlier this summer, progressive New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to limit the number of Uber drivers on the streets, putting him at odds with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, says she wants to crack down on companies that classify workers as contractors rather than employees. These companies avoid the costs associated with hiring personnel, put the burden of some expense on their contractors and earn profits off those contractors.

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush recently responded to Clinton by taking an Uber ride in San Francisco.

Bush’s driver, however, didn’t recognize the candidate and told reporters he probably would vote for Clinton.

Monarch butterflies may need endangered species protection

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said on Dec. 29 that Endangered Species Act protection may be warranted for monarch butterflies. The agency will conduct a one-year status review on monarchs, which have declined by 90 percent in the past 20 years.

The announcement from the feds was in response to a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Xerces Society and renowned monarch scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower.

“The Endangered Species Act is the most powerful tool available to save North America’s monarchs, so I’m really happy that these amazing butterflies are a step closer to the protection they so desperately need,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Our petition is a scientific and legal blueprint for creating the protection that the monarch so direly needs, and we are gratified that the agency has now taken this vital first step in a timely fashion,” added George Kimbrell, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety.  “We will continue to do everything we can to ensure monarchs are protected.”

The butterfly’s dramatic decline is being driven in large part by the widespread planting of genetically engineered crops in the Midwest, where most monarchs are born.

The vast majority of genetically engineered crops are made to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, a potent killer of milkweed, the monarch caterpillar’s only food.

The dramatic surge in Roundup use with Roundup Ready crops has virtually wiped out milkweed plants in Midwestern corn and soybean fields. In the past 20 years it is estimated that these once-common iconic orange and black butterflies may have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat — an area about the size of Texas — including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds. 

The population has declined from a recorded high of about 1 billion butterflies in the mid-1990s to only 35 million butterflies last winter, the lowest number ever recorded. The overall population shows a steep and statistically significant decline of 90 percent over 20 years.

In addition to herbicide use with genetically engineered crops, monarchs are also threatened by global climate change, drought and heat waves, other pesticides, urban sprawl and logging on their Mexican wintering grounds.

Scientists have predicted that the monarch’s entire winter range in Mexico and large parts of its summer range in the states could become unsuitable due to changing temperatures and increased risk of drought, heat waves and severe storms.

Monarch butterflies are known for their spectacular multigenerational migration each year from Mexico to Canada and back. Found throughout the United States during the summer months, in winter most monarchs from east of the Rockies converge in the mountains of central Mexico, where they form tight clusters on just a few acres of trees. Most monarchs west of the Rockies migrate to trees along the California coast to overwinter.

The size of the overwintering population in Mexico is expected to be up this year due to favorable spring and summer weather, but even with the expected one-year population increase, the monarch population will only be a fraction of its historical size.

Monarchs need a very large population size to be resilient to threats from severe weather events and predation. Nearly half of the overwintering population in Mexico can be eaten by bird and mammal predators in any single winter; a single winter storm in 2002 killed an estimated 500 million monarchs — 14 times the size of the entire current population.

The Fish and Wildlife Service must next issue a “12-month finding” on the monarch petition that will propose protection under the Endangered Species Act, reject protection under the Act or add the butterfly to the candidate waiting list for protection.

2 Wisconsin AIDS groups to merge

Wisconsin’s AIDS Network and AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin announced on Dec. 11 plans to merge effective Feb. 1, 2015.

Leaders of both groups said the merger will preserve continuity of care for patients and clients.

“Wisconsin has always been a national leader in the fight against AIDS. Our merger will enhance this leadership position,” stated ARCW president and CEO Michael Gifford in a news released issued early on Dec. 11. “By combining the best of our two organizations, we will enhance services, improve clinical outcomes, and generate new financial resources, all of which are critical as we continue on our quest for a world without AIDS.”

Gifford will serve as president and CEO of the merged organization, which will operate as the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin.

“AIDS Network is proud of the leadership role we provide to combat AIDS in Wisconsin. Joining forces positions us to better serve people at-risk for HIV, our patients and clients, and our communities throughout southern Wisconsin,” ANE director Dan Guinn stated on Dec. 11. “Our board has evaluated this wonderful opportunity thoroughly over the past nine months and fully supports it. The merger assures the continuity of all the services we provide, the opportunity to enhance our programs and the continuation of our hallmark events like the Wisconsin AIDS Ride, the Red Ribbon Affair and Camp Bingo.”

Upon merger, Guinn will serve as ARCW vice president of compliance and general counsel.

ARCW plans to continue to build upon existing community partnerships in Madison and southern Wisconsin to provide access to HIV Medical Home care, including medical, mental health and pharmacy services.

ARCW will close its Madison office and move into the AIDS Network office in Madison and continue to provide services from the AIDS Network Beloit office. Once merged, ARCW will provide statewide services through its offices and clinics in Appleton, Beloit, Eau Claire, Green Bay, Kenosha, La Crosse, Madison, Milwaukee, Superior and Wausau, according to the release.

ARCW projects it will serve 4,000 people with HIV throughout the state annually.

Both the AIDS Network and the ARCW boards of directors voted unanimously early this week to merge the organizations.

Roku TV will stream video without set-top box

Roku Inc. is launching a line of TVs that play video from services like Netflix without requiring a set-top box. While similar to smart TVs on the market already, the company’s Internet streaming platform offers some 1,200 apps and more comprehensive niche content choices.

The Saratoga, Calif.-based streaming set-top box pioneer is partnering with two of the biggest Chinese TV makers in the world, TCL Corp. and Hisense International Co. Ltd. on six models. It showcased them on the sidelines of the annual International CES gadget show in Las Vegas this week.

The Roku TV will also provide users a way to access feeds from regular live TV providers and to connect to other devices such as Blu-ray disc players.

Roku launched its first streaming video player in May 2008, when the box only played content from Netflix. Since then, the company has sold nearly 8 million units and claims that its device is more widely used than Apple’s Apple TV set-top box. Apps available on Roku’s devices include everything from Amazon Instant Video to Karaoke Party on Demand.

Anthony Wood, the founder and CEO of Roku, said the TVs will be priced affordably. He expects the sets to be sold in the U.S. at large retailers such as Walmart, Target and Best Buy starting in late 2014.

Wood says he would like the Roku platform to replace those offered by a variety of TV manufacturers. Many TV makers’ platforms lack key apps from content providers like ESPN, Fox and the NBA.

Roku shares in the revenue when its partners sell advertisements, rent movies or sign up new subscribers. Within a few years, such revenue will be larger than the sales of the boxes themselves, Wood says.

“We do believe that streaming players are going to be a big business for a long time,” he says. “But this is definitely the future of Roku.”

New Illinois Lottery game to support HIV treatment

A new Illinois Lottery game will benefit programs working to prevent the spread of HIV and help those living with HIV and AIDS.

Since 2008, the lottery has contributed more than $4.7 million to such programs through various games.

The new “Spread the Word” game is expected to raise another $1 million. All proceeds go toward prevention and treatment efforts.

The Illinois Department of Public Health will administer the grants.

The $2 instant ticket gives players the chance to win $20,000.

Lottery Superintendent Michael Jones said this week that “lotteries exist to fund important causes.” Those causes in Illinois also include veterans’ programs, MS research and breast cancer research.

In 2011, there were 1,760 new cases of HIV or AIDS diagnosed in Illinois.

HIV/AIDS groups warn of $659 million in cuts without new deficit agreement

Several HIV/AIDS groups are warning that sequestration would result in automatic spending cuts of $659 million for HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis programs.

The cuts would occur on Jan. 2, 2013, unless Congress and the president reach some agreement on a different way to reduce the federal deficit.

“These cuts will have a devastating impact and will be yet another blow for low-income individuals and people of color living with HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis at a time when we can least afford it,” said Kali Lindsey of the National Minority AIDS Council. “Investing in our health care infrastructure will reduce long-term health care costs for chronic conditions like HIV and viral hepatitis, is the right thing to do, and is critical if we are to end these twin epidemics.”

Chris Collins, of amFAR/The Foundation for AIDS Research, said, “Sequestration will undermine everything we’ve done to accomplish the National HIV/AIDS Strategy goals of reducing HIV incidence and death. Budget cuts through sequestration would bring crucial life-saving research at the National Institutes of Health to a halt, squandering enormous scientific opportunities including AIDS vaccine and cure research.”

Added Terrance Moore of the National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors, “Now more than ever, we need our nation to commit to providing state health departments with the resources necessary to end the HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis epidemics once and for all.”

The three groups estimated that with sequestration:

• 15,708 people will lose access to crucial life-saving drugs.

• 5,000 households will lose housing support.

• 460 AIDS research grants will be eliminated.

412 people living with HIV will not be diagnosed.

• $65.2 million in HIV prevention services will be cut.

• $1.6 million in viral hepatitis prevention services will be cut.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are 50,000 new HIV infections each year, that about 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV/AIDS and about 5.3 million people are living with viral hepatitis in the United States.