Ford Recalls Nearly 423,000 Cars for Power Steering Problem

Ford Investigation

Under pressure from U.S. safety regulators, Ford is recalling nearly 423,000 cars and SUVs in North America because the power-assisted steering can fail while they’re being driven.

The recall covers certain Ford Flex and Taurus vehicles, as well as the Lincoln MKS and MKT from the 2011 through 2013 model years. Also covered are the Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ from 2011 through 2012 and some 2011 Mercury Milans.

Ford says an intermittent electrical connection can cause the power steering to stop. That sends the steering into manual mode, making the vehicles harder to control. The company says it knows of four crashes due to the problem but no injuries.

Dealers will either update power steering control software or replace the steering gear depending on the problem with individual vehicles. A new steering gear eliminates the electrical issue.

In October, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began investigating complaints of power-steering failures on three Ford Motor Co. (F) midsize car models. The probe covered 938,000 Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ cars from the 2010 through 2012 model years, as well as the 2010 and 2011 Mercury Milan.

According to a class-action lawsuit filed in June about the matter, the problem could affect more Ford models, including the compact Focus.

NHTSA said at the time that it received 508 complaints alleging that the cars lost power-assisted steering, causing increased steering effort.

Ford said it was unsure if the agency would close its investigation because of the recall. A message was left Wednesday for a NHTSA spokeswoman.

The company also is recalling 19,500 2015 Mustangs with 2.3-Liter engines due to high underbody temperatures that could degrade the fuel tank and fuel vapor lines, increasing the risk of a fire. No fires have been reported. The heat also can damage the parking brake cable. Dealers will replace a heat shield and add insulation.

This Couple is Set to Retire at 40

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Retiring at 40 seems like an impossible dream. Just making it to the golden years by 65 is challenging enough. Yet, there are a growing number of early retirees who have managed to call it quits in their 30s and 40s.

So it is with Chris, who goes by the name of “Elephant Eater” on his blog,EatTheFinancialElephant.com. The motto of the blog is “Working toward financial independence and early retirement — one bite at a time.” That motto should give you a solid idea of what it is he writes about.

I had an opportunity to interview Chris on the topic of his journey to early retirement at age 40. He provided fascinating insight into the nuts and bolts of extreme early retirement. While Chris is 38 and his wife is 37, they are just a couple of years away from making retirement at 40 a reality. Still, when it comes to money, they are light years ahead of their peers.

How are they doing it — especially with a two-year-old daughter?

Live Beneath Your Means

According to Chris, the “secret” to their success has been not just living beneath their means, but well beneath. Since graduating from college in 2001, they have lived off of one paycheck and banking the other.

The one paycheck strategy started when Chris’s wife graduated from college. They lived off of her salary of $36,000 while Chris finished his last year in graduate school. When Chris began working and earning a similar paycheck, they continued living on his wife’s income. They dedicated his paycheck to paying off her car loan and student loan.

There’s no magic here. Chris and his wife lived off of her income while dedicating his paycheck to improving their finances. This strategy enabled them to devote an entire income to paying off debt and saving money. They’ve continued to operate in that mode since 2001, which explains why they are nearing retirement.

Ignore the Consumption Trends Around You

For Chris and his wife, living on one paycheck and banking the other became a lifestyle. But it wasn’t one that was without the typical distractions. While they were paying off debt and saving money, many of their friends were busy improving their standard of living. Most bought new cars, and some traded up to larger houses. It was a trend that Chris and his wife resisted.

They bought a small house in 2003. Rather than trading up to a new and larger home, they paid off the mortgage in seven years. They still live in the same home today.

They followed the same pattern with their cars. Instead of buying new, they bought older, used cars — for cash — then drove them until the car died. Until three years ago, Chris drove an older Chevy Malibu for eight or nine years while his wife drove the same car she had in college. We’re talking about driving cars that were well over 10 years old. That’s not something that many couples do these days.

But it’s that willingness to live well beneath their means that has enabled Chris and his wife to live on a single paycheck. And while some might call it a sacrifice, it’s led to several benefits. For one, there’s the rapidly growing savings account, which is fed monthly by the extra income they earn. Meanwhile, they’ve also been able to take some exotic trips. For example, they have traveled to Africa, Australia, Ecuador and all over the United States.

Save As If Your Life Depends On It — And One Day it Will

“Saving as if your life depends on it” is the cornerstone of the early retirement concept Chris and his wife embraced early in their marriage. While most couples save 10, 15 or as much as 20 percent of their income, Chris and his wife have been saving 50 percent. When you can save that much money, the whole idea of early retirement becomes much more likely.

Since Chris and his wife earn approximately the same income and save one paycheck, their average savings rate sits around 50 percent. That isn’t a static number. Some years they’ve managed to save “only” 40 percent, while in others it’s been at 60 or even 70 percent. With a combined income now in the $170,000 to $180,000 range, that’s a lot of savings.

Saving 50 percent has two related benefits. First, and most obvious, is that it has enabled Chris and his wife to save mountains of cash. Second, and just as important, it keeps their spending requirements in check. Since they live off of 50 percent of their gross pay, they don’t require as much capital to retire. To see this dynamic in action, check out this Financial Freedom Calculator.

Adopt a Zero-Tolerance Attitude Toward Debt

Part of what has enabled Chris and his wife to save such a large percentage of their income is their complete aversion to debt. As noted earlier, they paid off their mortgage in seven years and eschewed car payments in favor of older, paid-off models. Since debt is often a savings-killer, Chris and his wife committed to avoiding it like the plague early on, with a few exceptions. For example, they took on debt to buy their home, but paid it off quickly.

After some time, Chris and his wife found that a debt-free lifestyle also came with its own set of benefits. With no debt and plenty of cash on hand, they felt far less pressure to get the things that debt typically buys. They found themselves content to lead a modest life, to control their cash flow, and to travel. They found that their frugality and high savings rate could buy freedom, and they relished in the purchase.

Recognize that Mistakes Aren’t the End of the Line

Interestingly, Chris concedes that he and his wife have made some mistakes along the way. For example, in the early 2000’s, they were busy paying off their mortgage. While that has been a huge boon for them, the “return” they earned for prepayment was only equal to the interest rate on their mortgage. According to Chris, they could have done much better by investing in stocks and in real estate.

But that wasn’t their only “mistake.” Three years ago, when his wife became pregnant, they gave into peer pressure and purchased two brand-new automobiles. The prospect of having a child made them believe that they had to default to more common aspirations.

Meanwhile, they’ve also had issues on the investment front. They’ve hired and fired some investment managers, some of whom did a poor job of managing their money. Though adept at living beneath their means, avoiding debt, and saving, they weren’t skilled investors.

The saving grace is that Chris and his wife are doing the big things right. They are living beneath their means, they are staying out of debt, and they are saving 50 percent of their income. Those are each financial fundamentals. When you get those right, you can afford to make a few mistakes without having your plans completely crushed.

Early retirement is possible, but you have to master the basics of good money management. While many people focus their energy on finding the right investments, lowering investment fees, and getting the best rates on mortgages and credit cards, none of those efforts match the benefits of saving 50 percent of your income.

If you get the basics right, retiring early can become much less of a dream and much more of a reality. And as Chris’ story goes to show, you don’t have to do everything perfect either.

Russia warns Google, Twitter and Facebook on law violations

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Russia’s media watchdog has written to Google, Twitter and Facebook warning them against violating Russian Internet laws and a spokesman said on Thursday they risk being blocked if they do not comply with the rules.Roskomnadzor said it had sent letters this week to the three U.S.-based Internet firms asking them to comply with Internet laws which critics of President Vladimir Putin have decried as censorship.

“In our letters we regularly remind (companies) of the consequences of violating the legislation,” said Roskomnadzor spokesman Vadim Ampelonsky.

He added that, because of the encryption technology used by the three firms, Russia had no way of blocking specific websites and so could only bring down particular content it deemed in violation of law by blocking access to their whole services.

To comply with the law, the three firms must hand over data on Russian bloggers with more than 3,000 readers per day, and take down websites that Roskomnadzor sees as containing calls for “unsanctioned protests and unrest”, Ampelonsky said.

Putin, a former KGB spy, once described the Internet as a project of the CIA, highlighting deep distrust between Moscow and Washington, whose ties are now badly strained.

He promised late last year not to put the Internet under full government control, but Kremlin critics see the Internet laws as part of a crackdown on freedom of speech since Putin returned to the Kremlin for a third term in 2012.

A law passed last year gives Russian prosecutors the right to block without a court decision websites with information about protests that have not been sanctioned by authorities.

Under other legislation, bloggers with large followings must go through an official registration procedure and have their identities confirmed by a government agency.

Facebook says it responds to government data requests about its users that comply with company policies and local laws and meet international standards of legal process.

A company website that publishes statistics on how Facebook handles data requests shows it rejected both of two Russian government requests for information on its users last year. In contrast, it produced some data in response to nearly 80 percent of over 14,000 requests made by U.S. courts, police and government agencies in the second six months of 2014.

Twitter had a similar response rate in the United States but rejected 108 Russian government requests in the second half of last year, according to data on the company’s government Transparency Report site.

In its semi-annual Transparency Report, Google said it provided some information on users in response to 5 percent of 134 Russian government requests made in the second half of 2014 — again far less than in the United States. The company says it complies with requests that follow accepted legal procedures and Google policies.

“We realise they are registered under U.S. jurisdiction. But I think in this case they should demonstrate equal respect to national legislation,” Ampelonsky said.

If the companies do not pay more attention to Russian government requests for data, he added, “we will need to apply sanctions”.

Major Tourist Spots to Get Free Wi-Fi Facility Soon

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The government would soon provide Wi-Fi facilities at all major tourist spots across India, Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said in New Delhi on Thursday.”Taj Mahal, Sarnath, Bodh Gaya are some of the places that will get a Wi-Fi facility soon. We have already started providing free Wi-Fi service at Varanasi ghats. The government has also started the facility of providing e-visa to tourists,” Prasad said New Delhi at the ‘Manthan conclave’ organised by Aaj Tak.

He said his ministry has formulated a new policy to make tier II and III cities as IT hubs.

“We are setting up call centres and BPOs at small towns and creating 48,000 jobs in the first phase. We will give subsidy to take IT revolution to smaller towns,” he added.

“E-commerce is a big opportunity and we are roping in the Department of Posts to deliver goods to small towns and villages. Postal department has become a reliable partner for big e-commerce companies to deliver their goods,” the minister added.

Talking about the Modi government’s focus on digital India that aims to bridge the gap between haves and have-nots by using telecom and IT as a tool, Prasad said India would soon have 100 crore mobile subscribers, while within two years Internet connections would grow from 30 crores to 50 crores.

“We are connecting 250,000 village panchayats with broadband and opening common service centres at remote locations to provide services and government facilities at the doorsteps of citizens,” Prasad said.

Narendra Modi ‘Scores Big Hit’ With Weibo Account, Says Chinese State Media

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China’s official media on Tuesday welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative to open an account on the popular Chinese social micro-blog Weibo, saying he scored a “big hit” ahead of his visit to China next week.”Modi scores big hit with micro blog in run-up to visit,” read the headline in the state-run English language China Daily, while another official newspaper Global Times headline says ‘Modi debuts on Weibo ahead of state visit to China’.

The China Daily said Modi’s account on the Sina Weibo, akin to Twitter and Facebook, “attracted thousands of Internet users”.

Modi, who is scheduled to start his three-day visit to China from May 14, posted his first post in Chinese, saying “Hello China! Looking forward to interacting with Chinese friends through Weibo.”

His post was immediately forwarded more than 4,700 times and attracted over 7,800 comments within three hours, it said.

Some welcomed Modi’s “positive gesture”, while many others raised issues that have posed obstacles to ties between the two countries for decades, it said.

One post read: “I suggest improving the social status of Indian women and protecting the safety of females! Or we foreign women will not dare travel to India.” The post attracted more than 700 “likes”, the report said.

It is not the first time that a foreign leader has opened a micro-blog account before making an official trip to China.

In September 2013, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro opened a micro-blog account before visiting China, it said.

Over 200 leaders of foreign countries and international organisations, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, had opened micro-blog accounts as of April last year, it said.

It quoted Le Yucheng, the Chinese ambassador to India, as saying that Modi will have the chance to communicate with China’s business people, young students and the public during his visit.

The Global Times said Modi has been welcomed by Chinese Internet users with his first post, getting more than 14,217 hits and 26,406 followers as of press time.

More than 10,000 internet users commented on his first post as of press time, it said.

“Aside from expressing curiosity on who runs this account for Modi, some Net users made references to territorial disputes between the two countries,” it said.

Apple Pressuring Music Labels to Ditch Spotify’s Freemium Model

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Apple’s much-anticipated Beats music streaming service is said to be only weeks away from launch. However, reports have now surfaced that the Cupertino-based giant has been using its considerable clout in the music industry to make labels force Spotify and other competing streaming services to discontinue their ‘freemium’ service models. This would dramatically reduce competition for Apple’s service, since a vast majority of streaming users are on the freemium tier. It is expected that most of these users would switch over to the Beats service if forced to pay.According to a report by The Verge, the United States Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission are investigating these allegations and Apple’s business practices ahead of the launch of the service. DoJ officials have already interviewed top music industry executives in relation to this matter, while the FTC is expected to take the lead in the investigations going forward. Apart from the US DoJ and FTC, the European Union Competition Commission is also investigation similar allegations.

The prime targets of Apple’s actions are Spotify and YouTube, which both offer users a freemium option to stream music. The user pays nothing for the service, but is instead pushed advertising which generates revenue for the services. Apple has been using its influence to force labels to not renew Spotify’s licenses to stream music on its free tier, and has even reportedly offered to pay Universal Music Group an amount equivalent to YouTube’s music licensing fee. The Verge report quotes a source in the music industry to say “All the way up to Tim Cook, these guys are cutthroat.”

The report points out that Spotify has a total of 60 million users, of which only 15 million are paying subscribers. If this large chunk is forced away from the free service, it is likely to opt for Apple’s Beats service.

Apple must definitely be working on securing a large amount of exclusive content for its streaming service, and the removal of competition may drive a lot of users its way. However, such practices are against the principles of healthy competition, and are monopolistic in nature. Furthermore, the elimination of the freemium model is against the interests of a vast majority of consumers.

This news comes shortly after the closure of Grooveshark, an early pioneer in the streaming industry that was forced to shut shop after running into legal trouble. If corrective measures are not taken, this could indicate the start of a massive shake-up in the rapidly growing streaming industry that could affect users negatively.

Internet.org Traffic to be Unencrypted; Privacy and Security Take Backseat

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New information has come to light about Facebook’s Internet.org initiative following the company’s announcement of an open platform for Web develpers. Internet.org, which gives users the ability to use specific approved Web services without incurring cellular data charges, will impose a number of restrictions on what exactly developers will be allowed to do, and Facebook will retain the power to approve and reject services. Most notably, SSL/TLS/HTTPS encryption, which is the backbone of Internet security, is explicitly disallowed at present.

Internet.org functions by passing all traffic through a proxy service, which the company says allows it to “create a standard traffic flow so that operators can properly identify and zero rate” traffic. HTTPS traffic cannot be detected and routed this way. This means unencrypted traffic will pass through Facebook-controlled servers, raising potential privacy and security concerns.

As first spotted by Medianama, the terms and conditions listed by Facebook for developers who want to participate in the platform specify that traffic will be subject to Facebook’s data retention policies. The terms and conditions that users and developers must agree to also allow the company to analyse usage and even share that information with mobile operators. The Verge points out that banking, private messaging and other applications that depend on encryption would have to steer clear of Internet.org.

Additionally, anything that pushes bandwidth requirements, including video and downloadable files, will be rejected. Photos must be low-resolution and not larger than 1MB. JavaScript, Flash and Java applets, iframes and certain file types are also disallowed.

Facebook’s technical documentation states that support for SSL/TLS will be implemented within an Android app, and that the company is “investigating ways that we could provide the same security for web-based access to Internet.org”. Content that requires encryption will not be available through Internet.org till then.

Net neutrality concerns remain, as developers and content providers would be forced to sign on in order not to lose customers. Medianama also raises the issue of Facebook becoming more powerful as the source of all content that users see, since there will effectively be a penalty in moving from the Internet.org ecosystem to the open Web.

In February this year, Facebook announced the launch of Internet.org in India as a partnership with Reliance Communications. The move was met by swift negative reactions over its potential to fracture the Internet by creating a pool of preferred websites and services which would not cost users money to access, giving them a massive advantage over competitors. The backlash caused partners to withdraw on principle. Facebook has since denied that Internet.org is a threat to net neutrality.

Microsoft Office 2016 Public Preview Now Available for Download

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The Microsoft Office 2016 Preview has been made available for download on Monday for Office 365 subscribers (with Pro Plus as part of their subscription), non-subscribers, as well as both home and enterprise users.

The Redmond giant has promised real-time editing/co-authoring in Office 2016 in the future versions of the software, adding it for the first time to its apps, but the feature is not available just yet.Microsoft confirmed to The Verge that this feature will be first enabled in Word, while PowerPoint and Excel will follow suit soon after. As a long-term plan, the Redmond giant also has plans to enable the co-authoring feature in the Android and iOS apps.

The public preview of Office 2016 is supported by Windows 7, 8 and Windows 10 PCs, laptops and tablets but it requires users to uninstall Office 2013 because both the versions cannot work in tandem. Microsoft has plans to update the pubic preview frequently before the final version is actually made available commercially in fall of 2015.

The first preview build was made available to IT professionals and developers in March. Those who have been testing the new version of Office since then have stated that there are very few brand new features.

That said, Microsoft is tooting its horns about the Cloud Connectivity enhancements in Office 2016. The new features in Office 2016 Preview also includes navigation support in the form of Tell Me, integration with Power BI – their critical enterprise BI tool, and more lockdown/rights management capabilities.

We had earlier reported about Microsoft’s making Universal Office apps for mobile devices, which will run near-identical code as their desktop counterparts. Microsoft had stated the apps have been designed ground-up for touchscreen devices.

Google+ Collections Takes On Pinterest; Now Rolling Out to Android and Web

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Google has launched a Pinterest-like ‘Collections’ feature for Google+ that lets users create specific posts centred around topics and comprising videos, photos, and more.Announcing the news via a Google+ post, Google confirmed that Collections is now available on Android and the Web, and will arrive later on iOS. The post said, “Our happiest Google+ users are those who connect with others around shared interests and passions. So we set out to give people a place to express the things they love. Today, we’re announcing Google+ Collections, a new way to group your posts by topic.”

Google stresses that Collections is a set of posts on a particular topic that provides “an easy way for you to organise all the things you’re into.” Google+ users can share a Collection publicly, keep it private, or share with a limited number of people.

“Once you create your first collection, your profile will display a new tab where other people can find and follow your collections,” adds the Google+ post introducing the feature. Of course, Google+ Collections will also allow users to follow collections from different people.

featured_collections_screenshot.jpg“Posts in collections you follow will appear in your Home stream, with a link to easily jump right into the collection so you can get to similar content from that author. Collections give you a great way to find more of the stuff you love from the people you follow,” notes Google+ post.

To create a Collection on PC, a Google+ user will have to select the Collections option on the Google+ profile homepage to create a new one. Enter a name for the new Collection and choose who it should be visible to. Google+ users can also create a new Collection on Android app in the same way.

Google+ Collections support page notes that users cannot change collection’s visibility setting after creating it. Some featured Google+ Collections have already gone live.

Game Over for Playing Video Games on Twitter

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Last week astute Twitter users discovered they could use the micro-blogging platform’s embed feature to take links from the Internet Archive’s gargantuan repository of MS-DOS games such as Street Fighter II (pictured above) and make them playable via tweets. It worked the same way video or image embeds did on Twitter.

However doing so is against its terms of service and after a slew of reports hit publicising the feature, Twitter has disabled the ability to embed games.

“Do not build end-to-end interactive experiences inside the video or audio player unrelated to Player Card content, such as the following: purchasing, gaming, polling, messaging, and data entry,” the social media platform says under “what the approval team looks for” in its developer notes.

While you have lost the ability to turn your timeline into a virtual museum of retro-gaming fun, you can always get your fix of nostalgia by visiting the Internet Archive.

The platform has had a rough week. Financial analytics firm Selerity leaked its poor earnings an hour before Twitter was to announce it on Wall Street, leading to a furthertumble in its stock price. While its acquisition of streaming service Periscope has led to users broadcasting bootleg streams of the big fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas.