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Funny Business with Jane Wells

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  Wednesday, 11 Dec 2013 | 8:00 AM ET

The surprise star of 2013: The 'Prancercise' lady

Posted By: Jane Wells
Prancercise Founder Joanna Rohrback
Larry Marano | Getty Images
Prancercise Founder Joanna Rohrback

It's been quite a year for Joanna Rohrback. One year ago this Christmas, she posted an exercise video that showed her working off calories by mimicking the movements of a horse.

She called it "Prancercise."

For months, the video sat unnoticed on the Web. In May, however, somebody, somewhere—I don't really know how it all started—discovered the video, and the rest galloped into history.

»Read more
  Wednesday, 4 Dec 2013 | 10:58 AM ET

BitTorrent: Not just for Internet pirates anymore

Posted By: Jane Wells
Moby
Luis Ortiz | LatinContinent | Getty Images
Moby

BitTorrent has long been one of the most popular ways to move large files like movies over the Internet quickly, with more than 170 million users. The problem is more than a few of those users have been using the free and open platform to share pirated content.

"The reason they use it to move around illegally traded movies is because it's the best way to move larges files, not because BitTorrent's got any relationship with piracy," said Matt Mason, the company's head of marketing. He added the company has never been sued.

"BitTorrent is like the MP3—it's a new disruptive technology. If you remember 10 years ago, lots of people thought the MP3 was something for piracy," Mason said. "Now today, we know that it's a really fantastic technology that lots of industries, including the music business, have gotten a lot of benefit from."

As you can tell from the above statement, BitTorrent has embarked on an image makeover. "Facebook uses BitTorrent to update Facebook. Twitter uses BitTorrent to make internal code updates to Twitter, same thing with Wikipedia, Etsy," said Mason. Clients also include the Large Hadron Collider and the Human Genome Project.

The company began a PR offensive this fall with a series of mysterious billboards in major cities. The campaign tapped into concerns about privacy. "Your data should belong to the NSA," read one billboard. Later the billboard changed to, "Your data should belong to you." While a few critics have mocked the campaign as hypocritical, Mason said more than 90 percent of the social media mentions were positive. "It showed us that in this post-NSA world that we live in, people are worried about servers," Mason said.

And what company relies on servers to transfer content? Netflix, for one. Netflix may be the real target of BitTorrent's new campaign, as the two companies have been trading jabs over which one rules the Web.

(Read more: Latest Obamacare 'fix': Turn it over to porn guys)

»Read more
  Tuesday, 3 Dec 2013 | 5:45 PM ET

Archie Comics CEO at war with white men?

Posted By: Jane Wells
Nancy Silberkleit
Getty Images
Nancy Silberkleit

Veronica has lost her marbles, and Jughead isn't going to take it anymore.

That would make a great plot line for an Archie Comics, except some claim it's happening in real life at Archie headquarters in New York.

Far from Riverdale, the co-CEO of the iconic comic book company is being sued by employees for allegedly violating their human rights, according to the complaint. They claim discrimination based on gender, and in a twist, most of the victims are white men.

They allege that Archie Comics Co-CEO Nancy Silberkleit has engaged in "destructive, dangerous, and at times deranged behavior" and bullying them even as she promoted anti-bullying campaigns outside of work, according to the complaint.

In one example, they allege that Silberkleit walked into a business meeting, pointed to four men, "and referenced them as 'penis, penis, penis, penis' and then walked out."

Whoa.

The employees are suing for $25 million, plus $7.5 million "to fund a true anti-bullying campaign against bullies such as the Defendant who falsely claims to support anti-bullying activities."

WHOA.

Silberkleit, whose late father-in-law helped create Archie Comics, is responding.

Her attorneys rebuff discrimination claims because "white males are not a member of a protected class" under the section of law being used. They claim the employees show no proof anyone lost his job because he's a white male. Instead, the suit "appears to be intended only to soil Silberkleit's name and image."

It certainly does that. The 29-page complaint is a better read than the classic "Archie Prom Pranks" from 1942. In the complaint, plaintiffs Mike, Victor, Debbie, Jim, Jonathan and David (hey, we're talking comic books so I'm sticking with first names) say problems with Nancy go back years.

It wasn't until she came on board as co-CEO after her husband's death in 2008, however, that they began to feel intimidated. They allege that Silberkleit wants to set herself up to be " 'Dictator' over Archie Comics, or in default of that, bring about the demise of this iconic publication in American culture."

Their claims, which go back decades, according to the complaint, include:

—Silberkleit stalked her future husband all the way to headquarters yelling, "Let me in you son of a b*tch, I'm pregnant and you better take responsibility."

—She sought to bring Hell's Angels to headquarters "in an effort to intimidate" employees, and eventually brought in an ex-NFL player.

—She became enraged after hearing the staff gave a cancer-stricken girl a Betty wig.

—She stalked employees "as we well as their families."

It goes on and on.

(Read more: Jerks on a plane: Elan vs. 'Diane' decoded)

»Read more
  Tuesday, 3 Dec 2013 | 11:08 AM ET

Jerks on a plane: Elan versus 'Diane' decoded

Posted By: Jane Wells
Twitter user 'Elan Gale'
Source: Elan Gale | Twitter
Twitter user 'Elan Gale'

The world is unfolding on Twitter. I'm not talking about political upheaval in Iran or Egypt or Ukraine.

I'm talking about really rude people at 35,000 feet—who don't exist.

People stopped this weekend—stopped eating, stopped shopping, just stopped—to stay abreast of some compelling incidents on Twitter, some of them trivial. Stopping to watch a real-time feed on a smartphone is the sort of thing you might expect in a dystopian science fiction novel by H.G. Wells or George Orwell. This is who we are now—people who read tweets by other people as they record the play-by-play of awkward encounters. We join in the conversation with praise or criticism.

Why do we do it? It's, well, fun. Social media is homegrown, collaborative, mostly commercial free, and highly entertaining. Just don't expect it to always be accurate.

Here are three incidents over the Thanksgiving weekend that illustrate my point.

»Read more
  Thursday, 28 Nov 2013 | 9:16 AM ET

Q&A: 'I'd rather ______ than shop on Thanksgiving'

Posted By: Jane Wells
Stan Honda | AFP | Getty Images

So Black Friday has become Thankshopping Thursday.

Bah humbug.

The National Retail Federation predicts 33 million people will shop on Thanksgiving, either in stores or online.

Who are you people?

I asked folks on Twitter, "Fill in the blank: 'I'd rather ______ than shop on Thanksgiving.'"


»Read more
  Monday, 25 Nov 2013 | 12:55 PM ET

Feeling blue? Try hiring a professional cuddler

Posted By: Jane Wells

Need a hug? Call Samantha Hess. She's a professional cuddler.

It's not what you think.

"There are so many people who need this service, but there's just not enough time to get to everybody," she told me.

»Read more
  Friday, 22 Nov 2013 | 1:24 PM ET

Latest Obamacare 'fix': Turn it over to porn guys

Posted By: Jane Wells
Peter Dazeley | Getty Images

The technological failures of Healthcare.gov highlight the lack of technological expertise in the federal government. All the best programmers go to Apple, Google or Facebook.

Or porn.

"My name is Corey Price, Vice President of adult entertainment website Pornhub.com," began a recent open letter to the White House. "On behalf of our company, I'd like to extend an offer to the Obama administration to help fix the U.S. health insurance exchange website." (By the way, I discovered Pornhub is NOT safe for work, unless you work for the Secret Service.)

And you thought the ACA rollout was already obscene.

(Read more: Day before launch, Obamacare site failed to handle 500 users)

But wait a minute. As Price points out, his website gets a lot of traffic. Like, tons. Legions of people are impatient to log on: "Pornhub.com believes its staff of talented engineers can help prepare the Obama administration to accommodate millions of concurrent users to avoid future 'tech surges.'"

Naturally, Pornhub's offer was rebuffed as the PR stunt it undoubtedly is.

"I think that would be pretty inappropriate and something we would not be interested in doing," Julie Bataille of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told reporters, apparently with a straight face.

»Read more
  Tuesday, 19 Nov 2013 | 11:09 AM ET

Game of Thrones: America's best restroom is...

Posted By: Jane Wells
Best restroom in America: The Varsity Theater in Minneapolis
Source: Jacki V Photography | CIntas
Best restroom in America: The Varsity Theater in Minneapolis

I consider myself something of an expert when it comes to public restrooms. First, I'm on the road all the time, so I visit many of them.

Second, I'm female. Women use public restrooms 3.7 times more than men do.

OK, I just made that up. But it's probably true.

Most public restrooms in the U.S. benefit from the same care and attention that went into HealthCare.gov. By contrast, I was in Japan recently, where many public restrooms combine a dizzying degree of complexity, cleanliness and efficiency. (Check out image below showing a toilet with several "options.")

»Read more
  Tuesday, 12 Nov 2013 | 12:01 PM ET

Barry Switzer's plan to take over college football

Posted By: Jane Wells

Most fall Saturdays, friends go to Barry Switzer's Norman, Okla., home to watch the Sooners' game on TV. Switzer led the University of Oklahoma football team to three national championships before joining the Dallas Cowboys as head coach and winning a Super Bowl.

Those dropping by might include former Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims or country singer Toby Keith, settling down for the afternoon in an open-air man cave nicknamed "Coaches' Cabana."

Wouldn't it be fun to hang out there? Now you can.

The venue has become the backdrop for Switzer's latest business venture called, naturally, CoachesCabana.com. He has brought in a few cameras and is webcasting color commentary on Sooners games from the comfort of his own chair.

"It's like inviting you to come to my home and watch the game with me," he said one sunny afternoon last month before Oklahoma faced off against TCU.

(Read more: Slideshow—The 10 best-selling NFL Jerseys)

Switzer beta-tested the concept last season. During the Cotton Bowl against Texas A&M, he said, his little webcast got 30,000 viewers and thousands of tweets.

"We knew right then we had something," he said.

This season, he and his partners have expanded CoachesCabana.com to more than a dozen top college programs, bringing in well-known former coaches—including Pat Jones for Oklahoma State, Jackie Sherrill for Texas A&M, Fred Akers for Texas and Johnny Majors for Tennessee—to stream their insights.

Perhaps most provocatively, Switzer has lined up Jay Paterno, son of the late Joe Paterno, to webcast for Penn State.

Switzer got the idea for the venture from business partners with backgrounds in print and television. He recalled their telling him, "We need to do an interactive type of show, where we can have fans tweet the coach, legendary coaches of these great programs around the country, and do something no one else is doing."

CoachesCabana.com is known a second-screen experience: Viewers watch the game on TV but listen to commentary on a second screen, such as a tablet or computer.

»Read more
  Wednesday, 6 Nov 2013 | 4:23 PM ET

Big Mac vs. Big King: Watch our taste test

Posted By: Jane Wells

The burger world is #atwitter with the new "Big King" from Burger King, which looks like a flame-broiled copy of the famous Big Mac. Both have two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.

Except the Big King has fewer sesame seeds. And the patties taste like Whoppers. And the pieces of onion are larger.

Does that make it better?

First, a little history. The Big King is not new. Burger King debuted it several years ago in certain markets. Much like the McDonald's McRib, the Big King developed a fan base wishing for its permanent return. There's even a Facebook page dedicated to this, but if you look at the image of the burger on the page, you'll see the Big King is missing a middle bun.

»Read more

About Funny Business with Jane Wells

  • If it was up to Jane Wells, she’d spend her entire day combing Mother Earth for stories and observations just for this blog. She has more fun writing Funny Business than anything else she does... professionally, that is. Funny business is whatever Jane considers hilarious, strange, fishy, or ridiculous, which pretty much covers everything on Wall Street. It is her hope this blog makes you smile, even when the news is grim. After all, it's only money.

 

  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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