Monday, March 31, 2014

Turn a Baseball Brawl into an Action Strategy Game with Upcoming 'Bench Clearing'

<Super Salep>America's Pastime, baseball, has a rich history of competition among some of the most gifted athletes of our time. Bu,t sometimes, it's not such a gentlemanly game. Sometimes, a pitcher beans a batter with a ball out of frustration, anger, or just by accident. Sometimes a bat flies out of a batter's hand and towards an opposing player. Hey, these things happen, but when they do, sometimes emotions boil over and confrontations on the field take place. As per the "unwritten rules" of baseball, if a teammate looks like he's about to get in a scuffle, both sides' benches clear and rush to their aid.

Developer HooAh is taking the concept of bench-clearing brawls and turning it into an action-strategy game, and if I gave out awards for "Awesome Things to Make a Video Game Out Of" this would win first prize. I'm not even sure if there's any actual baseball mechanics in the appropriately named Bench Clearing, but what I do know is that once a scuffle breaks out, you can choose an assortment of different units and weapons to trod out on the field and help put a healthy beatdown on your opponent's team. Check out the trailer.

The problem with cool game concepts is that they aren't worth a whole lot if they don't result in a well-executed game, and for that piece of the puzzle we'll just have to wait and see how Bench Clearing eventually turns out. But, I love the concept, and HooAh does have experience in making brawlers with their popular Gangsta's Paradise [$1.99 / Free] games. I'll be hoping for the best when Bench Clearing launches "soon" on the App Store.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Uber launches in Auckland: free promo code for $20 discount

Uber has launched in Auckland, although the 'chauffeur on demand' company says it's a limited 'soft launch' ahead of a full city-wide rollout.

Oscar Peppitt, who is heading Uber's first foray into New Zealand, says he unable to give " hard dates on when we expect an official launch".

"We will launch when we've got the product up to the high standard we see around the world" Peppitt tells Australian Business Traveller.

Uber lets you use a simple smartphone app to book and pay for a private hire car at what it spruiks as 'near-taxi' prices.

The company's launch fleet for Auckland falls into the low-cost UberX category "consisting of mostly Toyota Prius and Camry hybrids" Peppitt says, but cautions that "du ring the trial period, supply will be extremely limited."

While the Uber Auckland website lists a flat rate fare of NZ$70 between 'Auckland metro' and Auckland Airport, Peppitt admits that "our coverage is best in the city, at this stage we don't cover the airport."

Test-drive Uber: Best Buy gives $20 credit

New Uber customers in Auckland can get an NZ$20 discount on their first ride by signing up for Uber with the special Australian Business Traveller promotion code of uberAusBT.

(Disclaimer: we'll also pick up $20 of Uber credit when you take that ride, so it's a win-win.)

Read: $20 discount with our Uber promo code

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT

Free weekly business travel newsletter

Get the latest news from Australian Business Traveller delivered straight to your inbox.

About David Flynn

David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Film Review

<Deal Newsp>Captain America may not flex as much box-office muscle as his Marvel stablemates Iron Man and Thor, but there's a steadfast band of fans who pledge allegiance to Captain America: The First Avenger as possibly the best of all the Marvel superhero films - other than The Avengers. These true-blue enthusiasts will not be disappointed in this second entry in the series, which takes the bold (for Marvel) step of reducing CGI spectacle to a relative minimum in favor of reviving the pleasures of hard-driving old-school action, surprising character development and intriguing suspense.

If The First Avenger was a solid World War II action film with a Hydrated twist, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has one foot in superhero territory but the other in Washington, D.C., Cold War spyland. The first series entry grossed $371 million worldwide and this one could well do more.

PHOTOS: 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' World Premiere Invades Hollywood

Notable for having induced Robert Redford to take a (significant) role in the sort of blockbuster franchise that he has studiously avoided throughout his illustrious career, the film actually uses an important aspect of the veteran star's iconography as stylistic inspiration, that being the ethos surrounding Sydney Pollack's 1975 Redford-starring espionage thriller Three Days of the Condor. And like its hero, at least one of the story's villains also has his roots in a real historical conflict, one of the factors that provides the cartoon-based characters with a bit more resonance and real-world weight than is the norm.

When last seen in his own film, in 2011, Captain America, aka U.S. Army officer Steve Rogers, had just dispatched the malignant Nazi offshoot Hydra, only to then be frozen in ice. With his splendid physique looking none the worse some 70 years later, Rogers ( Chris Evans) has some amusing cultural adjustments to make, but his natural instinct to remain an analog rather than digital kind of guy corresponds nicely with the appealing throwback nature of this outing.

This is not to say that the film is devoid of major hardware. The big event on the boards for SHIELD is the imminent launch of three giant "helicarrier" gun ships that can stay aloft indefinitely and are so loaded with weapons that they promise to render all previous modes of warfare obsolete. Eying the progress from their new D.C. highrise offices are organization director Nick Fury ( Samuel L. Jackson) and Redford's Alexander Pierce, a SHIELD luminary who also heads the World Security Council.

From the start, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who wrote the first Captain America adventure as well as Pain & Gain and The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, resourcefully shuffle the dramatic deck, connecting important dots from before (the presumed demise of Hydra, Rogers visiting his 1940s flame played by Hayley Atwell, now a bedridden invalid), developing the enjoyable relationship between Rogers and Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, introducing doubts about the true allegiances of certain SHIELD officers and gradually building up to the full emergence of Captain America's new nemesis, the Winter Soldier ( Sebastian Stan), whom Marvel fans know is the reincarnation of Rogers' closest wartime buddy, Bucky Barnes.

VIDEO: 'Captain America' Trailer Remade with Children

Featuring these and other opponents of sometimes-obscure identity is more than enough to keep Captain America: The Winter Soldier brimming with vehicular chases, surprise attacks, shootouts, fist fights, Energy Baton takedowns, miraculous rescues and surprising demises. The action is voluminous, and when it involves machines, it's fine. However, when humans go at it one on one, directors Anthony and Joe Russo ( Welcome to Collinwood on the big screen, Arrested Development on TV) go nuts, forsaking credible and exciting action within the frame for overcutting of such intensity that you can't tell what's going on. It's as if the filmmakers were obsessed with making Paul Greengrass look slow-footed. The intent may have been to create an impressionistic account of action rather than a lucid one, but it winds up looking not only confusing but like a cheat, as you can't believe anything real is happening; all you see is cuts, not physical contact.

Fortunately, the story develops some genuine intrigue; as in the best such yarns, it's hard to know who's really pulling the strings and who, other than the characters who wear costumes, is sincere and who might be up to no good. For sheer plotting and audience involvement, this is a notch above any of the other Avengers-feeding Marvel entries, the one that feels most like a real movie rather than a production line of ooh-and-ahh moments for fanboys.

After looking rather like the odd man out in The Avengers with his campy old costume and less-than-super powers compared to his cohorts, Steve Rogers gets a new outfit and asserts himself as a likeable figure more than capable of carrying a huge enterprise like this on his muscular frame. A little self-deprecation can take you a long way with a character like this, and Evans delivers it, along with the wholesome and genuine sense of virtue that's at the core of this ever-youthful wartime hero.

STORY: 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' Writers Talk 'Age of Ultron,' Superman-Batman Face-Off

Evans and Johansson exhibit very good onscreen chemistry, and their banter is charged with a fun flirtatiousness. Anthony Mackie flies aboard in the new, sometimes-goofy role of a former paratrooper who, upon donning a giant pair of wings, becomes The Falcon, able to swoop around dramatically when not struggling with the mechanics of his rig. Stan's Winter Soldier, outfitted with a devastating metal left arm, proves a well-matched, and equally good-looking, antagonist for his old friend.

But from a dramatic point of view, the greatest interest lies with Jackson and Redford, two great veterans whose presence lends weight to the fantastical proceedings and whose characters take some interesting twists and turns before it's all over. Their roles are hardly demanding or multidimensional, but both actors seems invested in what they're doing and are fun to watch in this context.

When it comes, the spectacle is, in a word, large. For fans who might forget to stay to the very end of a Marvel film, there are not one but two teasers embedded in the end credits, one at the beginning and another at the conclusion.

Production: Marvel Studios
Cast: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Toby Jones, Georges St-Pierre
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Screenwriters: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Producer: Kevin Feige
Executive producers: Louis D'Esposito, Alan Fine, Victoria Alonso, Michael Grillo, Stan Lee
Director of photography: Trent Opaloch
Production designer: Peter Wenham
Costume designer: Judianna Makovsky
Editors: Jeffrey Ford, Matthew Schmidt
Music: Henry Jackman
Special effects supervisor: Dan Sudick
Rated PG-13, 136 minutes

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Who Wants All Types of Jerky at a Discount?

<Buy Cheapp>NEWAYGO, Mich. (March 19, 2014) - When I heard of a shop claiming to have "hands down the best Jerky in West Michigan", I knew I had to get my hands on some. Better yet, I knew that a Smart Shopper deal would make it even more appealing for many people to get their hands on some.

Jerkies Jerky Factory, located in Downtown Newaygo at 48 State Rd., has been in business for more than 10 years. They stand behind their products 100 percent and all orders ship for free!

You can get jerky made from beef, venison, chicken and turkey. Click here to see all of their wonderful blends. Along with jerky, they offer a variety of beef sticks, too.

For two days only, from March 19-20, Jerkies Jerky Factory is offering Smart Shoppers $2 off one pound of jerky. So the original cost of $19.98/lb. will be $17.98., or if you stop into the store, you will have the option to get one-half pound of meat sticks free, rather than the $2 off.

This deal is good for those who want to order at When you check out online, just type in the code: fox17promo

For more information, you can call (231)652-8008

Saturday, March 15, 2014

WR Steve Smith signs 3-year deal with Ravens

AP Sports Writer

Steve Smith is eager to continue his NFL career in Baltimore, where he's just a short flight from his permanent home in Charlotte.

The longtime Panthers standout wide receiver didn't waste time finding a new home, signing a three-year contract with the Ravens about 24 hours after being released by Carolina.

The Ravens announced the signing of the 34-year-old Smith on Friday.

Smith was released by the Panthers after 13 seasons. He should provide a solid weapon for quarterback Joe Flacco.

"This has been an organization with a history of giving veteran players a chance and meshing them with younger players," Smith said on a conference call Friday.

Smith arrived in Baltimore late Thursday night and negotiations and meetings continued into the early morning hours on Friday.

Smith said he had a contract offer from the San Diego Chargers and cancelled a visit with the New England Patriots scheduled for Monday. Smith added the Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks also expressed interest.

One of the reasons he chose Baltimore, he noted, is because it's about a one-hour flight to Charlotte, where his family will continue to live. Smith's wife, Angie, is expecting their fourth child later this year.

Smith ranks 19th in the NFL in career receptions. He caught 64 passes for 746 yards and four touchdowns in 2013. Smith is Carolina's all-time leader in receptions (836), yards receiving (12,197) and touchdowns (67).

Baltimore has had a void at wide receiver since trading Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers after winning the Super Bowl in February 2013. The Ravens went 8-8 last season and missed the playoffs for the first time in six years.

"We have added one of the top competitors in the NFL to the Ravens," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement. "He's a proven player who has performed the best in big games and biggest situations. He adds toughness to our offense."

The Ravens will play the Panthers in 2014 in Baltimore, something Smith is clearly looking to forward to. He told Charlotte-based radio station WFNZ-AM on Wednesday that fans will need to wear goggles because there will "blood and guts everywhere" on the field when he plays the Panthers.

He backed off those comments Friday, saying it was a tongue-in-cheek statement.

"It wasn't that I don't like the organization," Smith said. "I have nothing but respect. My teammates have been telling how much they are going to miss me. I have no ill feelings and I'm not upset. I can't be upset at an organization that gave me everything and allowed me to display for other teams that I can still play."

Smith said he's excited about the Ravens' offense, calling it a good fit.

He also made it clear he no longer views himself as a No. 1 receiver, instead seeing himself as a player comparable to Kevin Walter, who played under new Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak with the Houston Texans. Smith has wanted to play in the slot for the last few years and could get that chance in Baltimore.

"I know this system and seen the very creative ways they have gotten guys the ball and I want to be a part of that," Smith said.

Smith has never won a Super Bowl.

"We're going to swing for the fence," Smith said. "But chasing a ring and making it about all those other things, you can't do that."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh called Smith a "Ravens-style player."

"He always has been in our eyes, it's just that he has been playing for another team," Harbaugh said. "We have always been challenged playing against him."

The Ravens also got a four-year Super Sale with linebacker Daryl Smith that solidifies the middle of Baltimore's defense. The sides reached agreement on Smith's 32nd birthday.

"I'm really just fired up. I knew I wanted to be back and I'm happy we could come to an agreement so I could get back in there for four years," Darryl Smith said.

He started all 16 games for the Ravens in 2013 and led the team with 123 tackles. He also had a career-high 19 passes defensed, setting a Ravens record by a linebacker.

In other moves Friday:

-Chicago agreed to a one-year contract with two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman. Tillman, 33, is coming off a season limited to eight games because of a torn right triceps.

-Eight-year veteran cornerback and rookie negotiator Cortland Finnegan found a new home in Miami after an injury-plagued 2013 with the Rams. Finnegan said he spoke with a lot of general managers and head coaches around the NFL, but his only free-agent visit was to Miami, and the 2008 All-Pro represented himself.

The Dolphins added former Rams guard Shelley Smith with a $5.5 million, two-year contract.

-Detroit re-signed tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who will get a $16 million, four-year contract with half the money guaranteed. He has 284 receptions for 2,828 yards and 16 touchdowns in five NFL seasons with the Lions.

-Green Bay re-signed defensive tackle B.J. Raji to anchor their defensive line. He started all 16 games last season for the Packers.

-Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick told The Associated Press on Friday, "You can say I've been released, yes" when asked if Tennessee had cut him. He started nine games for the Titans last season and went 217 of 350 for 2,454 yards with 14 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. The 31-year-old Fitzpatrick has thrown for 16,790 yards, 106 touchdowns and 93 interceptions in 85 career games.

The Titans also agreed to a multiyear deal with linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who spent the last six years with the Denver Broncos. During the 2012 season, Woodyard was the only player in the NFL with at least 100 tackles, five sacks and three interceptions.

-Minnesota re-signed receiver Jerome Simpson, who bounced back from an injury-plagued first season with the team in 2012 with a solid season. He caught 48 passes for a career-high 726 yards in 2013.

-Linebacker Jameel McClain joined the Giants. He started 55 games for Baltimore and won a Super Bowl ring.

-San Francisco signed cornerback Chris Cook to a one-year deal. Cook spent his four NFL seasons with Minnesota.

-New Orleans re-signed linebacker and special teams player Ramon Humber to a one-year contract.

-Carolina added a player when it signed tight end Mike McNeill from the St. Louis Rams to a two-year contract. McNeill mostly is a blocking tight end.

-Free agent linebacker Will Herring isn't joining the Cowboys after all. The team reported the signing on its website Thursday, but said Friday the deal was off in "a mutual parting of the ways that had to do with the language of the contract."


AP Sports Writer Steve Reed in Charlotte, N.C. contributed to this report.


AP NFL website: and

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Is Amazon Prime Still a Good Deal at $99? Let's Run Some Numbers

On Sales-prime2.jpg?w=280&h=187&crop=1">

Now that it costs $20 more, a look back through all of 2013's purchases to see if an Amazon Prime membership pays off

I've paid $79 per year for an Amazon Prime membership for the past five years or so, and I've always wondered how much (if any) it's saved me. Now that the price is going up to $99 a year, I thought I'd run through all my purchases from 2013 to see what the difference would have been if I hadn't shelled out for Prime last year.

Quick Prime primer: You pay Amazon (now) $99 a year, and in return, you get free two-day shipping on a vast selection of what Amazon sells, and you can step up to overnight shipping for $3.99 per item. Amazon also includes a Netflix-like streaming video service containing 40,000 movies and TV shows - some popular, most not. You also get the ability to digitally borrow half a million eligible Kindle books one at a time. More info here.

This is all very unscientific, back-of-the-napkin math, but here are some stats and assumptions about my 2013 orders.

Basic Stats:

  • Total number of orders placed in 2013: 76
  • Number of Subscribe-and-Save orders: 13
  • Total number of shipments (orders + Subscribe-and-Save): 62
  • Total number of orders totaling less than $35: 31

I placed 76 orders last year, but some of these orders were multiple different orders placed on the same day or Subscribe-and-Save orders, which are basically discounted subscriptions to items that get shipped out on a set schedule (paper towels, batteries, detergent and things like that).

So when the dust had cleared, I ended up getting 62 shipments last year. Of those shipments, exactly half were orders that totaled less than $35. Amazon offers free shipping if you spend $35 or more.

Extra Shipping Charges:

  • Number of items overnighted at $3.99 per item: 5
  • Number of non-Prime orders: 1
  • Total 2013 shipment costs (Prime + extras): $104.44

I had five items overnighted at $3.99 per item ($19.95 total), I paid $79 for the membership, and I bought one item that wasn't eligible for Prime shipping. It was a t-shirt that carried $5.49 in additional shipping costs. I have no regrets about buying this shirt. None whatsoever.

So: $19.95 plus $79 plus $5.49 comes out to $104.44 - the total amount I paid for shipping last year on all my Amazon purchases.

Cost of Overnighting the Same 5 Items Without Prime:

  • Pair of shoes: $18.98
  • Wireless weather station: $18.98
  • Wig I bought but never used: $18.98
  • Another wig I bought but never used: $18.98
  • Wireless keyboard: $20.97
  • Total overnight shipping costs if not for Prime: $96.89

I would have incurred $96.89 worth of shipping costs just for the five items I chose to overnight. That's before even getting into how much I would have paid in shipping charges for orders totaling less than $35.

However, I can look you straight in the eye and tell you that there's no way I would have overnighted a single one of these items if I hadn't been able to do so for $3.99 apiece. I probably wouldn't have purchased any of these items from Amazon in the first place. The two wigs (see above photo) are my biggest regrets for several reasons, but I know deep down in the cockles of my heart that having them on-hand will someday pay off in spades. I didn't need to overnight either of them, though.

Standard Shipping Costs Without Prime:

    Total standard shipping costs on orders under $35 if not for Prime: $112.15

I fudged the numbers a bit here: I had a few orders that were shy of $35 by less than a buck, and a smattering of orders staggered within a day of each other. In a non-Prime life, I would have found something dinky to make a $34 order clear $35 and I would have been more vigilant about placing larger orders that qualified for free shipping. So I didn't count those orders in my 2013 totals. But for the rest of the one-off, sub-$35 items I ordered, I would have paid around $112 in shipping costs.

Assumptions, Advice and Conclusion:

I'm surprised at how close these two realities are. In a Prime life, I paid $104.44 in shipping charges; in a non-Prime life, I would have paid $112.15 in shipping charges.

In my case, I actually have to think a bit about whether $99 is worth it. Prime was a no-brainer for me at $79, but if I buckled down and made sure to order things only in $35-and-up clumps, I could conceivably cut shipping costs out of the equation altogether. (I'd still pay $5.49 extra for that shirt - all day long. No regrets.)

What such a scenario doesn't take into account, of course, is that Prime offers two-day shipping, whereas standard shipping is listed at five to eight days. If you live in a populated area that's relatively close to an Amazon distribution center, however, I can tell you that a standard shipment generally shows up in three days. At least, that's been my case (I live in Boston).

It also doesn't take into account the free movies and TV shows, or the free Kindle books. You could make the argument that if Amazon has the same stuff you want to watch as Netflix does, you could save $8 a month on a Netflix membership and basically offset the yearly cost of Prime. I also happened to read more Kindle books this year thanks to my Prime membership, but I can't argue that I would have paid full price for any of them otherwise.

My colleague Brad Tuttle lays out 5 ways to skirt paying $99 for Prime, the least cumbersome being to sign up for an educational discount if you have a .edu email address, or being diligent about placing $35+ orders. I'll also add that you can share a full-price Prime membership with four other people (Prime members: see the "Invite a Household Member" section on this page), so round up four friends - sorry, "household members" - and everyone can chip in $20.

And now the big question: Will I be re-upping my membership at $99 this time around?

Yes. Yes, I will. Being able to pay $4 to overnight a wig I'll probably never use is worth it to me. So is not having to look around for stuff to pad a $34 order. The two-day shipping on everything else, coupled with the video and e-book extras is icing on the cake.

But finally running the numbers after all these years has left me feeling less like Prime is a must-buy, especially now that it costs $99. If the price goes up any higher, I think that'll be it for me.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 founder Steven Boal says IPO timing was right

Teresa NovellinoUpstart Business Journal Entrepreneurs & Enterprises Editor Email |Twitter

The UpTake: Startups vying for supremacy in the discount space can certainly learn from founder and chief executive officer Steven Boal, who oversaw a successful IPO Friday. It was a long time coming, but he says the time was right. founder Steven Boal had an initial public offering for his company Friday that was successful by all going-public measures: with a pop in price of nearly 100 percent after its public debut under the ticker symbol NYSE: COUP, it is a contender as one of the top IPOs so far in 2014.

After raising $168 million in its road show, shares of the coupon site jumped from $16 at the start of trading and closed at about $30 per share Friday, leaving the company with a valuation of $2.2 billion. It was a long time coming for Boal, a former Wall Street technology executive, who started the Mountain View, California-based company in 1998 during the dot-com boom when he was inspired by his father-in-law's penchant for clipping newspaper coupons and betted (correctly) that readers' eyes were going to shift to online news. may seem like an old fogey in the Internet discount world, but Boal is saying the timing felt right.

"We've been growing for 16 years and now we're operating at scale and working with our large clients and retailers in a much more meaningful way," he told Re-code after the IPO. "Bigger companies like the confidence of working with bigger companies and public companies. Institutionally, I think bigger companies don't like working with smaller companies. ... This gives them confidence that we are a long-term, financially healthy company." survived the dot-com bust era, focusing on digital coupons for groceries and health and beauty products, making money each time the coupons are printed or downloaded, or when digital Discount are used online. Its current partners include big brands like Del Monte Foods, Campbell's Soup and Walgreen's, and it reports 1.3 billion coupon transactions last year, providing coupons through deals with 700 consumer packaged goods companies representing 2,000 brands.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Platformer Shoot 'em Up Hybrid 'Glorkian Warrior: The Trials of Glork' Launching Next Week

<Amazon Salesp>Back in late January, a trailer caught my eye for a game called Glorkian Warrior: The Trials of Glork, an upcoming iOS project that blended the comic stylings of James Kochalka with the video game chops of Pixeljam Games. Not only was it a mashup of two creative entities, but it was also a mashup of gaming genres, with traditional platforming gameplay mixed in with Galaga-style shoot 'em up action. Based on this trailer, it looks like a match made in heaven.

Well, if you're excited for Glorkain Warrior like I am, you'll be happy to know that the game has managed its way through the Apple approval process and is set to launch next week on March 13th. In addition to the game, James Kochalka has created a Glorkian Warrior graphic novel called 'The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza' which will be available on March 25th. I'm not a big comic person, but I'm actually quite stoked to pick up both the iOS game and the book to get the full Glorkian Warrior effect, and you can currently pre-order the graphic novel on Amazon prior to its launch date.

Be on the lookout for Glorkian Warrior: The Trials of Glork next week, and hit up our forums for some discussion.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Warning: These Rap Lyrics Could Put You in Jail

<reddit gone wildp>"Anything you say can be used against you in the court of law." These famous words are, of course, part of the Miranda warnings read by the police to suspects after being arrested.

But this warning apparently needs to be updated to advise people that not only will anything you say, but also any rap lyrics you write can be used against you, even if they were penned years before the crime at issue.

Those are the very facts of Vonte Skinner's case currently pending on appeal before the New Jersey Supreme Court. Skinner was charged with the 2005 attempted murder of Lamont Peterson who had been shot several times at close range.

Earlier this week oral arguments were heard regarding whether Skinner's rap lyrics were improperly admitted by the trial judge. Here's just a sample of 13 pages of Skinner's lyrics read by the prosecution to the jury:

I love bringin' heat and to beef melt ya' Jeep. Two to your helmet and four slugs drillin' your cheek to blow your face off and leave your brain caved in the street.

Yo, look in my eyes. You can see death comin' quick. Look in my palms, you can see what I'm gunnin' with. I play no games when it comes to this war shit. If death was a jacket, you would see how the floor fits.

You get the idea. Unsurprisingly, Skinner was convicted despite the weapon not being found and conflicting testimony identifying him as the shooter.

I saw first hand when I was a trial lawyer that a jury -and even a judge- could be swayed by any one piece of evidence. Cases could turn on what might otherwise be perceived as lesser piece of evidence. Consequently, a defendant's rap lyrics could be the very thing that sways a jury to reach a guilty verdict because the words unfairly portray the person as violent.

And in Skinner's case, the lyrics at issue were written well before the crime- with some as old as four years before the shooting. It's also undisputed that Skinner's lyrics neither mentions the victim nor recites facts similar to his case.

I'm not arguing that all lyrics, or other creative expressions by a defendant, should never be admissible. But they should be clearly tied to the facts of the case at hand. For example, it would've been proper to admit the lyrics if Skinner had written about having a beef with the victim.

As former New York homicide prosecutor Paul Callan explained via email: "Had Johnnie Cash been charged with actually shooting 'a man in Reno, just to watch him die' his song lyrics would be relevant and admissible at trial. Otherwise, unless the lyrics help to prove something important like motive or a unique method of killing, they should be inadmissible."

Criminal defense lawyer Seema Iyer, also a former prosecutor, echoed Callan's sentiments. Iyer felt strongly that the "probative value" of Skinner's lyrics was clearly outweighed by the unfair prejudice it caused him.

Here's the even more alarming news: The Skinner case is far from being unique. As the ACLU noted in a brief it filed with the New Jersey Supreme Court, they found 17 other cases where court's considered the admissibility of a defendant's rap lyrics. Astoundingly, judges ruled in favor of admitting the lyrics in 80 percent of those criminal trials. (A few were overturned on appeal.)

If criminal courts continue down this path, will comedians have to worry that their angry, ranting jokes may one day be used against them in a trial? Or what if country singer Carrie Underwood were on trial in the future for a violent act, would the court admit the lyrics of her 2005 song, " Before He Cheats," in which she sings: "Took a Louisville slugger to both headlights, slashed a hole in all four tires. Maybe next time he'll think before he cheats."

Michael Skolnik, editor in chief of the hip-hop focused publication Global that spotlights hip hop culture, explained to me that rap lyrics should, "never be allowed as evidence in a court of law since the lyrics range from being metaphorical, to bragging, to literal to a form of escape."

Brown University Professor Tricia Rose, who the ACLU quoted in their brief, noted that rap is a form of expression with its own "artistic and poetic conventions" often featuring "metaphors and boasts," "overblown accounts" and "outrageous lies," with the goal being to weave a catchy and compelling story.

Let's be brutally honest: there's a racial component to rap lyrics being introduced into evidence. We can't ignore the reality that rap lyrics will be used almost exclusively in criminal trials with black defendants.

As Professor Rose instructively explained, "rap music is a black cultural expression that prioritizes Black voices from the margins of urban America." Brown noted that since its origins, rap music has, "articulated the pleasures and problems of Black urban life in contemporary America."

Michael Skolnik, editor in chief of the hip-hop focused publication Global, also believes there's a racial aspect to these cases, pointing out that it's, "another example of the demonization of young black men for listening to rap music- or as in this case, writing rap music."

The New Jersey Supreme Court should rule that Skinner's lyrics are not admissible. The Court should also articulate clear guidelines for New Jersey trial judges that a defendant's' creative expressions-be they rap lyrics or a comic's jokes- should only be admissible if it's directly connected to the facts of the case. Anything less will result in innocent people being convicted of crimes based on their art, not on the law.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Amazon's War On The House Of Otto, Germany's $18 Billion Family

Michael Otto at his corporate headquarters in Hamburg, Germany. (Photo by Wolfgang Wilde For Forbes)

Michael Otto's family has been as omnipresent in German postwar retail as Wal-Mart, Sears and Target have in the U.S. So what does this 70-year-old patriarch of this $18 billion clan most want to talk about? A factory in Bangladesh.

With gusto he describes how he and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Muhammad Yunus hatched a plan to build a humane clothing factory, where all profits would go back into the community for schools and hospitals. At best, the Otto Group would recoup its initial investment. Immediately they faced red tape. Electricity would take five years. Officials wanted bribes. Otto refused to base a social business on a corrupt footing and walked away. "It's unbelievable," says Otto, pounding on his wooden desk in his corner office in Hamburg, Germany. "You would think the government must be happy somebody is building such a company and leaving the money in the country."

And then the man with the crown of white hair and piercing blue eyes stops, composes himself and apologizes for banging on the table: "It is extremely seldom that I bang on the table, because I think it must be possible to solve problems in a very human and civilized way."

Human and civilized. That's the Otto Group, which encompasses 123 companies (including America's Crate & Barrel) across 20 countries and expects revenue for the fiscal year ending in February to top $16.4 billion. Germans covet jobs with the firm. Its workers have never led a strike against the company, which instructs its managers not to work weekends or holidays. "The increase in burnouts is a problem because people are always on and they are always reacting," says Otto. "It is so important to relax."

For six decades such values have served the Otto family well. Today you can almost hear Jeff Bezos' famous braying laugh emanating from Seattle. The Otto way of doing business is up against the age of amazon, in which scale, brashness and speed rule. Otto thought he had digital retailing figured out: No entity sold more clothes online last year, and the Otto Group also operates the world's largest mail-order retail operation. But last year, for the first time, Amazon's sales in Germany ($10.5 billion) eclipsed Otto's ($9 billion). And the trend lines are far uglier: The Otto Group's sales are up 17% in Germany since the recession, while Amazon's have doubled since 2010.

It's worth noting that charges of poor work conditions led Amazon workers in its German distribution centers to strike last year. Which has set up something of a test: Can a family-owned retail giant run by a paternalistic billionaire compete with the efficiency-obsessed behemoths born of the cut-throat Internet?

The rise of the Otto clan mirrors that of Germany after the Second World War. Michael's parents, Werner and Eva, resettled from Berlin to what was euphemistically called West Prussia after the Nazis conquered Poland. Michael was born in Kulm an der Weichsel, a town the Poles call Chełmno. Before he was 2 the settlers had to flee back to Germany ahead of the encroaching Soviet army.

Surviving a 400-mile trek by horse cart, with occasional strafing from British bombers, the Ottos eventually settled in the Hamburg area but were by then separated. Michael lived with his mother, who struggled to make ends meet. He remembers going to bed hungry on many nights. On weekends he would visit his father, who attempted to launch a series of businesses, including a halting effort at making wooden shoes. In 1949 Werner tried something new, pasting pictures of 28 pairs of regular shoes into a 14-page catalog, and writing out the prices by hand. He duplicated the catalog 300 times and handed them out to other Hamburgers. Orders started coming in, and propelled by Germany's "economic miracle" in the 1950s, the company he called Otto grew into a leading German catalog business. By 1967 the company was distributing more than a million catalogs with 748 pages.

In the 1970s, when postal strikes and higher rates threatened operations, Otto started doing its own deliveries. Today its logistics company, Hermes, grosses $1.5 billion and competes fiercely with Deutsche Post DHL in parcel delivery. Its $690 million distribution center in Haldensleben, in formerly Communist East Germany, is one of Europe's largest warehouses, holding up to $1.4 billion worth of merchandise at peak times. About 40% of its revenue comes from delivering for non-Otto Group companies-including Amazon.

In 1965 Werner set up a separate commercial real estate business, ECE Projektmanagement, that's now Europe's biggest developer of American-style shopping malls and is today run by Michael's younger half-brother Alexander. (That business, which accounts for two-thirds of the family's net worth, ultimately insulates the Ottos' fortune from the whims of retail.)

Michael Otto joined the family's catalog business in 1971 at age 28. Though the family had become successful, he remained a product of his hardscrabble roots. He paid for his own college education by starting a real estate business, which gave him street smarts to go with his eventual doctorate in economics. He's still that way: He buys his suits off the rack, and while he has a direct line to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, helped Christo win permission to wrap the Reichstag in silver fabric and has a species of lemur named after him, he remains the prototypical northern German merchant, steeped in modesty and dignity. His favorite hobbies: gardening and traveling off the beaten path (he recently returned from a ten-day camping trip in Kazakhstan). "I have a good understanding how it is to be poor," he says. "I sometimes cannot understand how people who became successful seem to be a different person."

Otto's tenure at CEO, which began in 1981, came with one main priority: diversify internationally. By 1987 Otto had become the world's largest mail-order company, expanding into Spain, Italy, Britain and other markets. In the U.S. it has placed its bets on Chicago's Crate & Barrel after an initial foray buying the Spiegel catalog ended in bankruptcy. In 1998 Otto bought 81% of Crate & Barrel from its founders, Gordon and Carole Segal. The year before, the company had sales north of $400 million. Now annual sales are above $1.4 billion. Otto bought the remaining shares in 2011.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 boosted sales into Eastern Europe. Russia was a top priority, where Otto is the leading mail-order company with revenue of $750 million in 2013, up 12.3% from the year before.

Otto embraced technology early: In the mid-1990s, he teamed with Time Warner in an experiment in interactive television in Orlando, Fla. It failed, epically so, but it opened his eyes to the potential of the Internet. "The biggest mistake is not to make decisions or not to develop new concepts," he says.

Otto went online in 1995-the same year as Amazon and earlier than many German competitors. Today online sales are 60% of Otto Group's total; another 30% come from its 1,800 different catalogs and the rest from its 400 physical stores. Before stepping into the chairman role in 2007, Otto nurtured dozens of new brands, such as myToys, which was started 15 years ago in Berlin's multicultural Kreuzberg district. Its offices have Ping-Pong tables and big open spaces, Silicon Valley-style. It's Germany's biggest online toy store and operates in Europe and Russia, and has 13 stores. Sales were an estimated $535 million last fiscal year, up from $384 million in the prior year.

Monday, March 3, 2014


<Best Buyh2>Cover

Yasir Osman Has Taken a Long, Twisting Ride to Entrepreneurship When Yasir Osman arrived in New York from his homeland of Sudan in 1989, he had $100 in his pocket [...]



Farms, Open Space Shape Belchertown's Outlook The sun shone brightly on almost a foot of snow as Steve Lanphear pruned apple trees in his Belchertown orchard. Although the temperature hovered [...]


Difference Makers to Be Feted on March 20 at the Log Cabin You might call this the 'Home Depot class.' Indeed, there are some notable building, or home-restoration, stories involving [...]


Special Features

At Webber & Grinnell, the Devil Is in the Details The sales pitch at Webber & Grinnell Insurance often comes down to one simple question: what are you not covered [...]


Partners at chikmedia Say Marketing Shouldn't Be Stressful Meghan Rothschild was taken aback by how Bob Lowry, owner of Bueno y Sano, described her new marketing firm's work: "zany things [...]


New York Sound and Motion Invests in the Big Picture When Ed Brown interned for a neighbor's lighting and gaffing business during one of his college summers home on Long [...]


Phillips Insurance Agency Specializes in Surety Bonds Joseph Phillips is drawing a triangle to illustrate how a surety bond works. One leg is upheld by a contractor, and the other [...]


If the Answer Is 'No,' the Consequences Could Be Costly By MICHAEL LEVIN When it comes to cyber security and data breaches, no system is infallible. Some of the largest [...]


A chart of insurance agencies in the region Click here to download the PDF


Springfield-based TSM Design Opens Second Office in Hartford Nancy Urbschat recalls the moment she and her team at TSM Design saw the small yet attractive office space in the historic [...]


As Speech-recognition Technology Improves, More Applications Emerge Speech-recognition technology, which instantly translates human speech into a digital document or command, has been around in some form for about two decades. [...]


A chart of area web development companies Click here to download the PDF


A listing of available commercial sites Click here to download the PDF


Clerk of Courts Laura Gentile Has a Lot on Her Docket For almost two decades, Laura Gentile has been exposed to plenty of things she'd rather not think about - [...]


Auto Dealers Expect Sales to Accelerate in 2014 By MICHAEL REARDON With the recession in the rear-view mirror, the automobile industry is poised for another successful year fueled by a [...]



Cloud of Uncertainty Hangs Over Casinos This should be a time of great anticipation and, yes, celebration for some players in the casino industry - and, likewise, in communities like [...]


Cost Report Creates False Impressions By LYNN NICHOLAS The state's Health Policy Commission (HPC) just released its latest Cost Trends Report, in which it claims Massachusetts healthcare providers - primarily [...]


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Best Buy Offering Free 16GB iPhone 5s With Trade-In of iPhone 4s or 5

Coupon Codes is introducing another special deal this weekend, offering a minimum of $150 for trade-ins of working iPhone 4s and iPhone 5 smartphones. Customers must buy a new smartphone with two-year contract on AT&T, Sprint or Verizon, however. The offer is good through the end of the day tomorrow, March 1. The chain has also reduced the price of the base 16GB iPhone 5s to $150 to match the buyback.

With a number of carriers moving away from two-year contracts for its customers -- instead focusing on non-subsidized, but cheaper, monthly plans -- it may be affecting the bottom line of retailers like Best Buy because plans like AT&T Next do not, in many cases, require customers to pay money up front.

For upgrade-eligible iPhone-owners looking to move to the iPhone 5s, this promotion could be an inexpensive way to do that.