Random Thoughts – Randocity!

The Dangers of Social Media

Posted in advice, social media, tips by commorancy on July 12, 2019

digital-burglar-redSocial media as a platform can be a good thing, but it can also be dangerous. It all depends on how it is used. Let’s explore the dangers lurking on social media.

Social Media as a Platform

Social Media, as its name suggests, is social in nature. That is, it relies on crowds of people to function. Without crowds of people, social media wouldn’t actually be social in nature. Let’s first talk about a few social platforms and then we’ll move onto the core of this discussion.

Social media platforms include such sites as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Discord, Quora, YouNow, YouTube and even the older MySpace. Even such platforms such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, SoundCloud, WordPress and even news sites like DailyMail. Basically, any site that allows you to sign up and comment about what others are doing or saying, that’s considered social media. If you can create your own content on the site and which contains your own opinions that others can comment on, that is considered a form of social media. Some of these comment areas do not allow followers, but some do.

Social Crowds and Controversy

The one thing that has been born out of social media is controversy. Controversy comes in many forms including such topics as gun control, border crossings, politics, political views, LGBTQ, simple stupidity and, yes, racial issues.

Controversy is also what fans the viral fires. If you post something that’s considered a highly controversial topic, it’s very likely to go viral. The more controversial the opinion, the more likely it will go viral. The most controversial topics might even be picked up by news outlets like local TV news or possibly even nationwide news outlets like CNN, CBS, ABC, NBC or Fox News and made to go nationwide or worldwide viral.

Many people mistakenly believe that things go viral because social media subscribers make it go viral. Not exactly. Content goes viral because of its controversial nature, not because people make it go viral. Yes, it does take people to make stuff go viral, but a sufficiently controversial topic doesn’t need much help to spark the viral fire. Simply by posting such a highly controversial topic may be enough for that content to become the newest viral sensation.

Viral Degradation

In the beginning of social media, only the absolute most interesting information went viral. Today, social media has degraded from showing ‘the most interesting’ into ‘the most controversial’. That doesn’t mean that this controversial information is in any way ‘interesting’ or ‘good’. It simply means that it’s viral. By viral, I mean that far too many people share and re-share and re-re-share that content over and over. The more people who share it, the more viral it becomes. Viral doesn’t always equal ‘good’; though an ever diminishing percentage of these viral posts do have worthwhile content.

Viral fires typically die down over a 24 hour period. Sometimes less than that. Something that goes viral might take off and be heavily viral for 3 or 4 hours until ‘the next viral thing’ appears. It’s very much a quick up and down situation.

Because of the recent degradation in the quality of stuff that’s going viral, it shows that people’s tastes are changing from being more sophisticated to being much less sophisticated. This likely can be attributed to cost reduction of smartphone devices (and Internet services) which have allowed access to these apps by more and more people. This means that the ‘less educated masses’ of the world now have access to and can sign up for social media platforms directly on their phone with just a few clicks in an app store.

When phone devices remained at the $500-1000 range and only those devices connected to social media by folks with higher educations, the quality of what came out of social media was much higher. Today, because there are now $50-100 devices using lower cost Internet services (with increased rural coverage) and these devices can run Twitter and Facebook and other social apps, these devices have trickled down to the hands of the less educated of the world.

What does this all mean? It means that more and more folks around the world now have access to making comments on social media sites. As a result, there are now, more than ever, such problems as death threats. Whether those threats can be taken seriously depends on many factors… factors which you should let the police determine.

The Dangers of Social Media

Now we get to the crux of this article. Yes, it took a lot of build up to this section because it took all of the information above to describe why social media danger exists.

When social media began, people were urged to only friend people they actually knew. This suggestion was both prudent and entirely ignored. It’s prudent because friending people you don’t really know can lead to dangerous situations. That’s clear. However, in the resulting years since the birth of Twitter and Facebook, people have ignored that safety tenet. Instead, far too many people have chosen to friend everyone and anyone in hopes of obtaining a massive following.

With sites like YouTube and YouNow, designed to encourage unknown followers from around the world and whom you do not know, these followers typically follow you because they like what you have to say. Because of models like YouTube, people assume the same model applies when joining Facebook or Twitter… basically, just get followers at any cost. And yes, some people even begun to pay money to get people to follow them.

The difficulty with followers isn’t that they follow you. It’s that many of them are psychotic. It is estimated that 1% of the population has Schizophrenia and 3.5% of the population has some form of psychosis. The 2019 U.S. population is right around 329 million people. That means 11.5 million people suffer from some form of psychosis and 3.29 million people, in fact, suffer from schizophrenia. But, it doesn’t stop there. You can get followers from all over the world. The world’s population is estimated to be 7.7 billion. Not all of those people have access to social media, but a large enough percentage of that 7.7 billion do.

Let’s bring that down in size a little to a social media feed. If you have a following of 10,000 people on a social media site, that means that at least 100 people in your feed suffer from schizophrenia and at least 350 people suffer from some form of psychosis. Not all of these people are dangerous, but some are. It only takes one… and it’s guaranteed you have at least one in your following.

Psychosis and Social Media Celebrity

Having psychotic people in your following is something that you will need to consider whenever you post something to your feed. It is these folks who might take your opinion the wrong way and possibly even wish harm on you. Whether these folks are capable of actually performing harm on you is based on many factors out of your control. What is in your control, however, is what you post to your feed.

Posting controversial topics is likely to draw these folks out into the open to either heavily praise or condemn you for your statements. Some might even threaten your life with harm or death. The more controversial the topic, the more likely it is to bring divisive and, potentially, dangerous comments. If you discuss politics with an unpopular opinion, you’re going to get many fanatics who will come at you.

On the flip side, you also have the rest of your following who is likely sane. It’s not the sane people who wish you harm. The sane folks also won’t protect you, but they may help you defend your feed. However, those in your following who are sane are impossible to tell from the potentially insane… that is, until you start receiving extremely disturbing responses to your posts. Controversy does bring in followers, but it also draws out the psychotics. If you post something highly controversial, expect to draw out a number of psychotic people into the open… who may then attack you with words and possibly even threaten you.

Unfortunately, sometimes it’s way too late once you’ve already posted the content to withdraw it. Once something has gone viral, your content may even draw in even more psychotic people disproportionately to your following. Controversy seems to draw in psychotic people.

Trolls, Psychosis and Threats

Many social media site owners dismiss harsh, irrelevant, dangerous or threat comments as ‘trolls’. Some of these folks may be trolls, but being a troll doesn’t make the person harmless. You never know who is intent on harming you. If you receive a threat, you should always take that threat seriously. You should never dismiss a disturbing comment as harmless, particularly if the person seems to know who you are and where you live. If you receive a threat of a personal nature that even seems to know you and where you are, you should immediately contact the police with all of your evidence. It doesn’t mean the person is actually going to carry out the threat, but you can’t be certain of that.

Livelihood and Viral Dissing

There are likely many folks, probably even more than those listed as having psychosis as being borderline psychotic. What that means is that it might only take one thing to push a person over the edge… that thing might be your next post on your social media feed.

For example, if someone visits your home to service your dishwasher and knows exactly where you live, you should never, ever insult or in any way badmouth this person on your social media feed. Not ever! If that person is a repair person or a delivery driver or any similar locally operated profession, never ever photograph or video them in hopes of putting it on your social media feed to humiliate them. Don’t do this. You are asking for a world of hurt by doing this.

As soon as you do, you’re going to regret it in more ways than one. The primary way is that when this person finds your post humiliating them on your page (and they probably will), particularly if it’s gone viral, they (or their friends) can come back to your house and take action against you or your property. Be warned! Anyone who knows where you live is never a candidate for social media humiliation or harassment.

If you have problems with a local service, use Yelp to describe why their service was a problem, but only using professional words about the service itself. If a specific staff person did something to offend you personally, again use Yelp. Always keep it professional discussing only business reasons why it didn’t work out (what about their service failed you) and never humiliate or call out an individual person by name or show them on video. Only describe the service and, if you must call out employee behavior, call out the person by gender only (e.g., female cashier, pool guy, male pizza delivery driver, etc).

As another example, if you’ve visit a restaurant and the waitperson is exceedingly rude or bad at their job, you can write about that person in your review, but never name them. You can describe that employee’s actions, but only describe them by their actions. Only name names or describe the person to the management team of the restaurant chain and only in relation to your poor service. Never name names or post photos of such employees on social media! You can name names via direct message, private chat or via email to a management representative of the company, but never do it on open public forums for followers to see. If you so choose to photograph or video the person in action, don’t post that to your personal feed. You can choose to hand the video off anonymously to media outlets like the AP, Reuters, CNN or even random YouTube news outlets, but posting a video to your own personal social media feed allows that video to be traced directly back to you. This is never a good idea.

What does this have to do with livelihood? Everything. If you call out a person by name, their current and future employers can find this information online and take action against them. Current employers can fire them for “inappropriate” actions. Future employers can deny hiring or fire them later if found. You don’t want your content to be the downfall of someone’s career now or any time in the future. Why? Because, as I said, psychosis is a problem… particularly if someone is borderline. If your social media action causes someone to lose their job, they could come take that out on you and your family.

I’ll also point out that if you choose to fill your social media feed with controversial topics about businesses, you may find your own employer may not like these posts. Derogatory posts against businesses may backfire on your own employment. You should be exceedingly cautious when posting these types of posts into your social media feed. You never know when something you’ve put onto social media might have insulted your CEO, HR manager or even your boss’s best friend.

There’s no need to take that risk by…

Throwing Caution to the Wind

Buy vomiting up everything controversial you possibly can (simply to gain followers) about anyone and everyone you meet, you are putting yourself in very real danger. You never know who is reading your words and, even more than this, who might take action on those words.. perhaps even against you personally. Inciting people to do things is never a good idea on social media. At some point, there will be a Charles Manson-like social media personality who will incite enough people and then who will feign innocence that it’s just words on a screen. Yet, this person will have incited many people to do entirely inappropriate actions towards others. The police and the legal system will have to up their game to cover these inappropriate uses of social media. I guarantee you, this is coming.

However, that’s the most extreme example of using followers to do bad things. Most well meaning folks are simply ignorant of how dangerous their words and videos can be. If what you’re posting is considered a danger to national security, I can guarantee you the NSA will be at your doorstep ASAP. If what you’re saying, on the other hand, simply shows disrespect your local repairman in a very public and ugly way, you’re putting yourself and your family in very real danger. There’s no need for that when you can CHOOSE not to post such content.

You shouldn’t intentionally throw caution to the wind when writing social media posts. Sanity, intelligence and professionalism should always prevail. I do realize that controversy ‘sells’, but it also sells danger. If you choose to ignore this advice, then you must take the consequences of your actions even if that means someone puts you into the hospital or the morgue. Yes, it can and does happen.

Here’s another very recent example of a homicide of a young girl by a stalker after her stalker caught up with her after harassing her on Discord (and via iMessage). You’ll want to click to follow this thread through to Twitter and read all about this:

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Rant Time: Pinterest

Posted in botch, business, Random Thoughts, rant, reviews, social media by commorancy on June 30, 2019

pinterestPinterest is an image sharing platform using image ‘pins’, which should be interesting. After all, the word “interest” is in its name. You would think that before releasing a platform designed around relevance, the Pinterest team could actually design an engine capable of producing relevant and interesting images. NOT! Pinterest is one of the worst, if not THE worst platform, at displaying relevant ‘pins’ in your feed, not that Tumblr and Instagram are much better at this. Let’s explore.

Search Interests

One of the things that has vexed developers for a long time is how to show you stuff that’s actually interesting and, more importantly, relevant to you. Amazon and Google have done a decent, albeit not any anywhere near perfect, job of implementing such search heuristics, where the results actually offer some measure of interest and relevance to you based on the data they know about you.

This data collection, storage and mining issue is currently a point of privacy contention among many and is even in the news, but ‘search history’ is the primary means of showing you “stuff” that is actually of personal interest. The secondary method, which is less creepy and at least a bit more tolerable, is asking you directly for categories you’re interested in (i.e., sports, fashion, music, your age, single/married, kids, etc). Still, your search history actually contains the most relevant information about you as it’s recent and current. Unlike family relationships that can change (kids grow up, couples separate, graduate from college, move, get remarried, etc), search history implies a lot about your current situation and is way more up-to-date than explicitly given data that gets old even just a month or two after it’s given. Explicit offered data can even be based on lies, because some people roll that way.

As an example of recent search history, searching about baby related stuff (cribs, clothing, formula, diapers) might yield ads from Amazon, Target or Walmart selling baby goods. It only makes sense… and this is an example of ‘relevance targeting’. That is, targeting you with images or ads you have searched for in the recent past. Same for searching for wedding, bridal or other similar information. Same for searching for car buying. Search history is ‘in the now’ information that is clearly relevant to you “right now”. The “right now” portion of search relevance is key to a great relevance engine and to ad targeting.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work if you share a computer with multiple people; for example, you might have a family of four or have roommates in your dorm. In cases like these, your daughter might have searched for Barbie dolls and now you have a bunch of irrelevant (to you) stuff related to Barbie or toys or kid related items. The search engine simply can’t recognize who is at the keyboard. It currently can only attribute search results to a specific computer. Until search engines can identify who is at the keyboard with each search (i.e., facial or voice recognition), engines must identify based only on the computer itself (a limited recognition system). This is the reason voice assistants like “Ok, Google”, Alexa, Siri and Cortana are so important. Unfortunately, I don’t believe these assistants yet identify the voice itself. They only recognize the words spoken and translate that into text search.

Search relevance definitely isn’t perfect much of the time and doesn’t work at all when using a shared device. Using a shared device, I do get why ‘relevant ad targeting’ doesn’t work. However, if your device is solely used by you, then relevance targeting should work perfectly… or at least as perfectly as today’s targeting algorithms allow. Yet, for Pinterest, it doesn’t.

Pinterest’s Targeting Engine

Why discuss the above? Let’s illustrate exactly how Amazon and Google work ad targeting relevance. If you’ve searched for “men’s clothing” in the recent past, then Google and Amazon will insert these kinds of items into your ‘feed’. A feed is basically a place on the screen where ‘Recommended for you’ stuff appears.

Pinterest doesn’t use a ‘Recommended’ area, instead choosing to intermix it all together in one immediate and immense jumbled mess. If any dictionary needs an example for ‘cluttered’, Pinterest certainly works.

[RANT ON]

Like bread falling butter side down, so this rant begins. Pinterest has one of the worst designed, most sloppy, most cluttered, most inaccurate relevance engines in existence. In fact, I don’t even think Pinterest has a relevance engine. They seem to vomit up all random irrelevant garbage into your Pinterest feed based on who knows what criteria.

Worse, they then attribute that random spewed garbage to being ‘Inspired by’ (a form of ‘Recommend’) to a board you’ve created. I’m sorry. Wait.. what, Pinterest? How does a picture of a baby in a carryall at all relate to men’s fitness? Seriously, I’m a single guy. I am not currently in a relationship. How does a picture of a baby at all interest me or, more specifically, how does that picture of a baby relate to body fitness? Clearly, a baby is not the definition of ‘fitness’. That is, unless Pinterest is actually trying to promote pedophilia?!?

Worse, I also see pictures of fat hipped women that claim to be ‘Inspired By’ a board on men’s bodybuilding and fitness (no women in that board at all). I also see women’s hair styles flooding my feed claiming to be ‘Inspired by’ a board on men’s underwear. I see pins of women in wedding dresses. I see pins of women’s high heeled shoes. I see women wearing random fingernail polish and acrylic nails. These are entirely fashion related and I have not a single board or pin devoted to women, women’s fashion or, indeed, women’s anything. Not a single board. How can you possibly claim attribution of these completely random images to any board in my account?

I’m not against any of these topics. If I want to see them, I’ll go search for them and look at whatever pins are there by searching. However, I DON’T want them in my Pinterest feed. These pins have no place there.

It Gets Worse

From here, Pinterest’s relevance goes into the toilet (literally… yes, bathroom cleaners are there too). I get that Pinterest might think a single guy might have some interest in looking at the female form dressed or coiffed nicely. But, even if that’s true (and in my case it isn’t, at least I don’t want it in my feed), Pinterest insists on throwing all manner of completely irrelevant garbage into my feed.

It’s not simply limited to arbitrary women’s fashion, oh no no no, my reader friends. Pinterest insists on throwing Arabic writing into my feed… a language I not only cannot read, I also have no interest in. I’m sure that whatever is written there is fascinating, too bad it’s wasted on me by throwing it into my feed, an English speaking person.

It gets worse. For at least six months (maybe longer), my feed was entirely littered with page after page of all manner of tattooed body parts… just the parts. These included ankles, wrists, shoulders, backs, butts and torsos. Sometimes the tattooed body part is so close to the camera, I can’t even identify where it is. Worse, the tattoos are downright fugly. They looked like someone had done it themselves DIY at home. A few were professionally done, but many were so horrendous, who would even consider putting such a thing on their body? Anyway, I have no tattoos, have no interest in getting tattoos and don’t want to see tattooed body parts in my feed. I hadn’t searched for tattoos, so Pinterest didn’t get this ‘idea’ from my search history.

These tattoo body part pins were literally clogging up my feed. Nearly every image in my feed was of a body part. I might understand seeing a little of these images occasionally. As I said, it didn’t come from search. However, while I did have a fitness board that incidentally contained some men with tattoos, they were there because of their physique, not because of their tattoo. Pinterest doesn’t get it. It only saw a tattoo and then insisted that I might have some interest in tattooing my body… thus flooding my feed with body part after body part with UGLY tattoos. A completely wrong assumption, I might add.

Assumptions are, in fact, the prerequisite to search relevance. Unfortunately, Pinterest’s assumption engine is entirely wrong nearly 100% of the time. Just because an image contains a tattoo on someone’s shoulder, you can’t assume that to mean I want to tattoo my body and need help by flooding my feed with tattooed body parts. Wrong assumption, wrong results… or as the older computer adage goes, “Garbage In, Garbage Out!”

Pinterest Janitor

Here’s where it turns REALLY ugly. To clean up my feed, I had to play janitor. First, I had to spent valuable time going into all of my boards and clearing out ALL pins that had ANY tattoos in the image. Just gone… out of there. That helped a little, but only a tiny amount. It only helped a little because Pinterest’s engine had already ‘learned’ this ‘interest’ based on an incorrect assumption. Unfortunately, ‘unlearning’ learned stuff can he incredibly difficult… and, in Pinterest’s case, it is! Second, I had to spent time going through each new “tattooed body part” pin appearing in my feed, then following that pin through to the original account who pinned it… and then, you guessed it, block the account. That all sounds easy enough, but because of the way Pinterest works, it’s actually quite time consuming jumping from page to page and waiting for Pinterest to refresh each super long, image laden page.

I spent the better part of a week opening pins, going into accounts and blocking account after account after account. Blocking the account is the only way not to see these pins in the future (well, sort of… this is actually broken, too and I’ll discuss this next).

You’d think that a platform like Pinterest could figure out a way to wholesale remove an interest category from a feed… but you’d be wrong. Nope, there is no way to remove an interest (or should I say, exclude non-interests) from the feed. The only way to remove an interest is to, one by one, block the accounts producing the pins. It’s the only way. Even then, new accounts spawn all the time leading to brand new pins of the same old stuff recycled back into my feed… requiring even more blocking. It’s a never ending janitorial cycle.

Now, you might be asking, “Why not click the … (ellipsis) menu on the pin and report it?” I tried that. It doesn’t work. Reporting the pin as spam does nothing. The pins continue to show up. The only way to stop a pin is to block the account who pinned it. Even then, blocking an account has limited ability to even stop the problem…

When Blocking Doesn’t Work

You might think, once again, that blocking an account would block all pins by that account. Again, you’d be wrong. The only thing that blocking an account does is block pins created directly by that account. If a different unblocked account repins one of a blocked account’s pins, it can still end up in my feed. Repins via unblocked accounts allow pins through from accounts that are blocked. It’s not the pin that’s blocked, it’s the account. This is a huge heuristic mistake for a platform like Pinterest.

Even then, blocking an account doesn’t take effect immediately (or sometimes even at all). Pins that are already in your feed stay in your feed, even after you’ve blocked an account. I’ve blocked accounts and for several hours after continued to see that account’s pins in my feed after refreshing multiple times. A block seems to take up to 24 hours to actually take effect fully. Even then, I’m not entirely certain that blocking does much good because of repinning. Repinning is Pinterest’s version of Twitter’s retweet functionality. It allows any account to pin into their own account. Pinterest will then pull that pin out of that account and shove it into random people’s feed… even if the pin originated from a now blocked account.

Still, blocking an account doesn’t do anything to block Pinterest’s crap relevance engine. Even if I block account by account, Pinterest’s engine insists on filling my feed with all manner of random garbage similar to what was blocked.

Following Accounts

You would also think that by following other Pinterest accounts, Pinterest would be more inclined to show us pins by those accounts whom we follow. Again, you’d be wrong. While Pinterest does show pins by followed accounts in the feed, it also intermixes in accounts not being followed. In fact, I’d say that Pinterest tends to show more account pins not being followed than those who are being followed. Sometimes that may have to do with when those followed accounts are active.

For example, if your followed accounts haven’t been active in the last hour or two, then Pinterest still insists on filling your feed with pins (a feature that is entirely unnecessary). If those I’m following haven’t pinned recently, then show me a blank page. It’s fine if the page has no pins. I’d rather see no pins in my feed than a bunch of random garbage.

Anyway, when pins by accounts you are following don’t appear in the feed, it could simply mean they’re not pinning. Instead, your feed is being cluttered by extraneous random garbage. The trouble is, it is truly garbage and not at all relevant. The weird thing is, there is so much more relevant content on Pinterest that the engine never finds and places into my feed. I have to use Pinterest’s search panel to go find it. It’s this random irrelevant garbage that makes Pinterest completely worthless as a platform.

You’d assume that Pinterest would prioritize followed account pins over random pins, but again you’d be wrong. Pinterest has no interest in trying to make their engine more relevant. They’re simply interested in promoting random accounts’ pins into feeds, even when those pins make absolutely no sense for that particular user (i.e., image of babies shown to grown single men).

The Pinterest Idea

The idea behind the Pinterest platform has merit. Too bad Pinterest’s implementation is such absolute shit. Images can be incredibly powerful, particularly so when that image is actually of interest to the viewer. On the other hand, images shown to people who have absolutely no interest in that subject matter is a wasted opportunity to show much more relevant content.

Pinterest wastes its opportunities every single time you refresh the page. Instead of feeding me actual images of interest, I get images of high heel shoes, of wedding dresses, of women in wedding dresses, of women’s hair, of babies, of smokey eye makeup, of tattooed body parts. I even get images of dog food bowls, dog collars and of dogs. I don’t own a dog. I no have interests in any of that. Yet, image after image after image is shown. It’s entirely frustrating dealing with Pinterest’s garbage.

But, that’s not the problem. Pinterest gives us NO TOOLS to actually wholesale remove these uninteresting photos from our feed. We have to deal with them one by one. We have to block accounts one by one. Even after going through all of the hoop jumping of blocking and reporting and hiding, photos of similar content STILL appear in the feed… day after day. Sometimes even the same pin I’ve reported or hidden STILL appears.

Just when I think I’ve got a handle on my feed, Pinterest re-ups and I get a whole new wave of garbage in my feed. With Pinterest, you simply cannot win that battle of spam photos. It’s a trash platform designed to be trashy. I’m amazed that it even still exists. I’m even more amazed that anyone finds it useful.

The Pinterest Dilemma

And here we come to the point that matters most. This is why Pinterest fails. The platform fails because Pinterest attempts to ‘guess’ what it thinks you want to see. Instead of actually asking you explicitly for interest categories, it attempts to learn what you like by the pins you click on. Unfortunately, it goes even deeper than that. It learns what you like by what those whom you follow click on… and those whom they follow click on. It feeds crap to you based on the interests and clicks of others, not what you specifically click on. It assumes that because somewhere down the line, someone you follow clicks on pictures of babies, you must also want to see pictures of babies or a bridal dress. This “sixth degrees of separation” assumption is entirely wrong for a relevance engine and needs to be removed. Of course, Pinterest also makes wrong assumptions simply by reviewing your activity.

When reviewing your personal activity, Pinterest’s difficulty is, like the tattooed fitness guys, its engine guesses wrong nearly every time. Instead of Pinterest seeing a bodybuilder in a fitness pose with a great physique, Pinterest sees the image as simplistically as a “person with a tattoo”. It then makes the entirely wrong assumption that “tattoo in image = interest in tattoos”.  It’s a simplistic, unsophisticated kindergarten assumption. It’s such a basic assumption, only a child could actually jump to that conclusion. Even then, only a child would jump to that conclusion if the parent already had tattoos and invited over a bodybuilder with tattoos. Only then might a child associate tattoo interest.

Having a relevance platform make the wrong assumption and jump to the most wrong conclusion is actually the worst of all possible outcomes for a relevance engine. It then leads your entire results astray and leads to frustration by what’s presented… thus making the platform worthless. It also means that once your “learning” machine learns this entirely wrong data, it’s doubly difficult to “unlearn” it. As I said, “Garbage In, Garbage Out.” In fact, Pinterest has no way to correct these completely incorrect assumptions its engine has made.

Pinterest could fix this by asking direct questions about pins to understand if the assumptions it has made about a specific pin is correct. If the assumption is incorrect, it can “unlearn” a learned assumption. Better, simply ask us what we want to see in our feed and exclude all else. Also, give us exclusion features. See a pin, click to exclude all similar pins from the feed. Even then, Pinterest still needs to get rid of its association algorithm where it associates “women in bridal outfits” or “babies in bassinets” or “doggie treats” with “men’s bodybuilding”… which is probably entirely attributed to its completely incorrect “six degrees of separation” relevance idea.

With all of that said, Pinterest does offer a mechanism to stop seeing pins “Inspired by”, but that’s a sledgehammer approach. Using that feature is all or nothing. It will stop the garbage, but it will also stop relevant pins. This feature is poorly designed and implemented. It’s the wrong approach for a relevance engine. Instead, as I said, as Pinterest users, we need exclusionary features that look at the image and exclude all like-kind images from the feed. Unfortunately, Pinterest just doesn’t get it!

[RANT OFF]

Since this is not only a rant and also doubles as a review of the Pinterest service, I rate Pinterest a solid 1.5 ★ out of 5. Pinterest, you seriously need to get your act together.

If you enjoy reading Randocity articles, please follow, like and share the article on your social media feeds. If you have had similar experiences with Pinterest, I’d like to hear your feedback via a comment below.

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Spotting a Liar

Posted in advice, analysis, mental health by commorancy on June 15, 2019

pinocchio-knowsRecently, I’ve come across a book by Pamela Meyer entitled Liespotting: Proven techniques to Detect Deception released in 2010. Unlike Pinocchio, determining if a human is lying is quite a bit more complicated. While this is not the only book involving the topic of lie detection, let’s review Pamela Meyer’s visitation of this topic and of the act of deception itself. Let’s explore.

Lies and Deception

Let’s open this article by talking about Pamela’s TED talk. The difficulty I have with Pamela’s TED talk, which was apparently meant to simultaneously accompany and promote her book, was her seeming lack of expertise around this subject. Oh, she’s certainly knowledgeable enough… but is ‘enough’ really enough? It seems that her corporate America stint has led her to using these techniques to ferret out suspected liars from truth tellers. While that’s a noble reason to go into writing a book, it doesn’t make you an expert on the subject. I will fully admit now that I, like Pamela, am not an expert on the subject of behavioral psychology. Only a trained professional should be considered an expert on the art of detecting lies and detecting body language clues. I leave that to the experts. And even then, this art is so nuanced that detecting a lie could mean the difference between indigestion and actual lying.

The difficulty I have with Pamela’s book is that she focuses on trying to catch people in a lie whom are unwittingly using verbal and body cues that tell a different story. Her methodology suggests and implies that you’re planning to sit in a room with that person for potentially an hour (or longer) and have a conversation. Okay, so maybe ‘conversation’ isn’t the right word. Maybe the right word is ‘interrogation’. Or really, the correct word is probably ‘grill’.

If you’re planning on sitting in a room with a suspect grilling them for a lengthy period of time and asking all sorts of pointed questions, perhaps you can eventually catch someone in a slip-up or even multiple slip-ups. Even then, you have to question whether that ‘grilling’ methodology can really uncover a definitive measure of lying. Even more than this, is ‘grilling’ a practical methodology to employ in everyday use? Perhaps it is with your children if you’re trying to get to the bottom of who broke the lamp. But, would you ‘grill’ your friends? A co-worker? Your boss? No, this methodology is not in any way practical. Practicality aside…

In her TED talk, she discusses looking for ‘clusters’ during these question ‘sessions’. Seeing many telltale behaviors in a row may indicate deception. Though, is it really deception, is it fatigue, is it simply a person’s idiosyncracy, is it indigestion or is it, indeed…

Coercion?

The longer you sit with someone in a room interrogating them, the more it becomes about coercion. There’s a fine line here. While Pamela may not have called this aspect out, it’s a line that can easily be crossed when interrogating someone at length. At some point, you have to ask if the “cluster of mistakes” the person seems to be making is attributed to lying or coercion? With enough questions and time, you can actually get someone to confess to something they didn’t do simply because they wish to end the conversation and get out of there. Fatigue and boredom easily causes people to make mistakes, particularly when you ask the same questions over and over and over. Coercion, like lying, is part of human nature. In fact, I’d consider coercion to be the flip side of lying.

If you know the person and interact with them daily, you would know how they “normally” behave. You can then tell when they do, say or act in a way that’s somewhat off. If you’re talking to someone you don’t know, you have no idea of their personal behaviors… so how can you spot clusters of anything? Even then… if you think (and the key word here is “think”) you have spotted deception, what do you do?

Spotting a Lie…

is half the battle. The other half is what you choose to do with that information. Do you leave and go grab a pizza and beer and forget all about it? Or, do you confront the person? Confrontation is not likely to get you very far.

Pamela’s book seems geared towards brokering corporate business deals. I’m not sure exactly how useful her information would be in corporate business considering that the majority of corporate executives are not only pathological themselves, but many are also sociopaths and/or narcissists. Few CEOs actually care about their underlings. Additionally, C-Level anybody is not likely to sit long enough to be ‘grilled’. Perhaps they may be willing to submit to being ‘grilled’ under certain business conditions of duress. For example, if a CEO’s company is failing and there are millions of dollars at stake needed to revitalize a failing company, then they might be willing to sit through a grilling session by investors. However, they might not. So, again, I question out how useful her information might actually be in corporate America employed at an executive level?

Certainly, at corporate meetings and outings, executives put on a good face. But, don’t kid yourselves. They didn’t get to be a CEO without being some measure of ruthless and sociopathic. No, it also follows that most of these CEOs lie through their teeth when at corporate meetings. If they’re on a stage professing the latest greatest thing the company is offering, they’re simply telling you what you want to hear (and, more specifically, what they want you to hear). Personally, I’ve worked in many businesses where CEOs say things at a corporate events that, in fact, never take place. In fact, I already knew it was a lie the moment it was said. It’s not hard to spot when a CEO is lying to the company. Perhaps I’m being a bit too cynical here, but I don’t think so.

Another example, when the CFO takes the stage and begins is talk about finances, you can bet there’s information on his/her spreadsheet that’s not accurate, or indeed is not even there. This is the lie that corporate executives tell often. They want you to think the company is “on target”, is “doing well” and is “making money” even when things aren’t nearly that rosy. You simply cannot believe all of the “rah-rah” that corporate executives tell you at events. If you do, you’re extremely gullible. Nothing is EVER that rosy… or as another idiom goes, “There’s two sides to every coin.”

That not to say that all CEOs lie all of the time. But, they certainly are masters at withholding key information from the common folks in most organizations. Withholding key information is a lie, make no mistake. If a company insists on “transparency” in its business operations, you can bet that CEOs won’t apply transparency to their own business decisions. However, this is getting off into the deep end of the psychology of corporate business America. I could write a whole article, perhaps even a book, on this subject alone. For now, let’s move on.

Being Caught

You think you’ve caught someone in a lie? The question remains… what do you do with that information? Do you confront them? Do you walk away? Do you ask them for the truth? And, these are all questions, choices and decisions you’ll have to make for yourself. Knowing that someone is lying is entirely different from acting on that information. How do you act when you think someone is deceiving you? The answer to this question depends on where the lie happens.

If the lie is in your personal life and it involves a personal relationship, then only you can work it out with your partner. If your relationship is supposed to revolve around truth and trust, then it’s probably worth bringing it out into the open to discuss it.

If the lying involves a co-worker or boss at your company, then you have to make the decision how this affects your ongoing position at that company. If it’s a small lie that really doesn’t affect you personally, walk away and forget about it. If it’s a large lie that could easily jeopardize your position at the company, then you need to take steps to both protect yourself and distance yourself from that person. In this case, it’s worth having a sit-down with your manager and explain what you have uncovered and why you believe it’s a lie… bring proof if you can find it.

If it’s a lie that involves and may materially impact a business deal, this is difficult to offer a suggestion here as there are many forms of this which would require me to go off into an extremely long tangent and could significantly impact corporate legal agreements. In fact, maybe I’ll circle around to this topic and write an individual article involving corporate lying, legal contracts and business deals.

Deceit, Deception and Lying

With that said, I’d like to get into a little about the ‘whys’ of this topic and types of lies. Why do we lie? Two reasons: 1) To protect ourselves and/or 2) To protect someone else. Yes, that’s the primary reasons that we lie. Though, there is also a third category. The third type are those who are pathological. They lie because 1) they can and 2) because they find it fun.

Basically, there are two types of liars: 1) the ordinary liar and 2) the pathological liar. The “ordinary” liar is the person you’re most likely to meet in a lie. The ordinary liar is also more easy to spot. The pathological liar is less likely to be seen or caught. Don’t kid yourself, some co-workers are pathological liars… and these are the ones you need to completely avoid. Pathological liars will basically stop at no lie to get what they want. Many pathological liars are also ruthless sociopaths and/or narcissists, so don’t get in their way.

There are many types of deception, not just verbal lies. There is also deception by lack of information… or, what they aren’t telling you. Company executives are brilliant at this strategy. Withholding vital information from folks is the way they keep what they know limited. It’s also a way that many corporations choose to do business with customers. Lies sustain corporate America. In fact, you’ve probably been told a lie by someone selling you something… simply so you’ll buy that product or service. It’s not about what they are telling you, it’s about what they aren’t telling you.

Internally, companies also lie to employees. As an example, a company where you work may have rumors of “going public”. The executive team will not officially announce any information about this until it’s considered “official” and “unstoppable”. The difficulty I have with this process is that if I’ve been given ISO stock, I’m a stockholder. I should be kept informed of when or if the company chooses to IPO. Being left in the dark is not good for shareholders. Yes, this is a form of a lie. Withholding information from someone even if they have asked you pointed questions is lying.

Credentials and Lying

Here’s yet another type of deception… and it’s extremely prevalent in the self-help industry. Many people profess to have knowledge of things they do not. Again, Pamela Meyer is from a corporate business background. She does not have a medical or science degree. She can’t claim to have medical behavioral psychology training. Yet, here she is writing a book about this topic as though she does. Yes, she does carry a Ph.D. That means she has a doctorate of philosophy. That is not a medical degree… and even then, calling someone a ‘doctor’ who carries a Ph.D is dubious at best. The word ‘doctor’ is primarily reserved for those folks who are medically trained professionals and who carry, for example, a medical degree such as M.D., D.O. or even a D.D.S. These are folks who spent significant time not only in medical school, but have served at a hospital to solidify their medical training. For doctors licensed in psychology, that would be a Phys.D degree. Psychiatry is a totally different thing and is governed by professionals holding a Ph.D.

Carrying certain Ph.D. credentials in no way, by itself, qualifies you to write about psychological related subjects with authority or impunity. Sure, you can have an opinion on the subject matter, as we all do, but carrying a Ph.D doesn’t make you an expert. That would require medical training, and specifically, psychology related medical training.

That doesn’t mean she didn’t take some measure of psychology classes as part of her Ph.D program. In fact, I’m sure that her school’s degree program required psychology as part of its foundation class load. However, these college fundamental classes are simple basic introductory classes. These basic classes introduce you to the basics of psychology… such as terms and vocabulary with general purpose, but limited information. There’s nothing specifically introduced in these “basic” classes that would qualify anyone to be an expert covering the nuances of human behavior or teach them the detail needed to identify someone in a lie. These are all techniques that would most likely be taught in advanced behavioral psychology classes, usually only attended by students intending on graduating with a degree in and intending to practice behavioral psychology. Even then, you’d have to practice these techniques for years to actually be considered an ‘expert’.

That’s not to say that her time working in corporate America didn’t give her some valuable corporate life experience in this area. But, that still doesn’t indicate expertise in this field. And this is the key point I’m trying to make here. This article is not intended call out only Pamela Meyer. She’s used as a broader example here because she’s the most obvious example to call out. There are many forms of lying. Writing psychology and medical leaning books beyond your actual expertise level is considered disingenuous… or one might even say lying.

Even were she (or any other author writing about this topic) to have a Phys.D degree, I’d still want to understand exactly how an author had come to know this information (e.g., clinical work, working with the military, working with prisons, working with the police, etc). You know, show me years of training in and practice in this area. Even publishing journal articles, theses and dissertations in this area which have been accepted by medical publications would lend legitimacy to her ‘expertise’. Simply writing a book and having a TED talk doesn’t exactly qualify you as an ‘expert’. Though, maybe it does qualify you as an expert researcher.

Behaviors and Lying

One of the things Pamela does to solidify her credentials in her TED talk is open by discussing how “we all” perform these behaviors when we’re lying. That’s the perfect opening to get the audience to “relate to” you. After all as humans, we all occasionally lie. What’s more perfect than roping the audience in than with a blanket statement designed to make the audience immediately think she “knows what she’s talking about” simply because the information is “accessible”. Accessibility of information doesn’t make someone an expert. What she is, if anything, is articulate. Yes, Pamela is actually very articulate. However, being articulate, and I’m going to reiterate this once again, doesn’t make you an expert.

Expertise comes from training, research, publications and working in this specific area as your career choice for multiple years. She’s not a behavioral psychologist. Instead, she draws upon others works to help write her book… to flesh out those pesky details. This is typical of teachers and researchers and even journalists, not practitioners. This is the problem and the difference between the teaching profession and the doing profession. She’s a teacher, not a doer… so her advice in this area may or may not be helpful.

Lying is Rampant

One thing Pamela does get right is that lying is extremely common and seems to be more and more nonchalantly used today. We lie to our boyfriends and girlfriends. We lie to our spouses. We lie to our bosses. We even lie to our friends. The question isn’t that we lie, but to what degree. If the lies consist of the insignificant or “little white” variety, then these don’t matter.

The lies that matter are those that lose relationships, that tank businesses, that lose millions of dollars or even that cause someone to be killed. These are the lies that actually matter. Putting down the wrong information on the wrong patient chart may be unintentional, but it’s a lie that could get someone killed in a hospital. These are deceptions that where saying, doing or performing the wrong thing can get someone dead. Some might consider this a ‘mistake’, but I consider it a lie. It all depends on perspective.

What Pamela got wrong is that most lies don’t matter. Let me say that again. Most lies do not matter. What I mean is that if someone tells you they like your shoes, but in reality they’re hideously ugly, that’s a lie that is meant to help someone feel better. There’s nothing wrong in that. This is the ‘little white lie’.

Lying to a Walmart employee claiming you bought something there that you didn’t actually purchase at Walmart does monetary damage. Lying to an insurance company claiming damage or injury that doesn’t exist, that also causes monetary damage. Both of these actions are also called fraud. The lie is half the problem. The other half is proof of the lie. In Walmart’s case, if their computers were actually better than they are, they could look up the person’s recent purchase information and catch them in the lie. In the case of insurance fraud, there are private investigators.

And here’s another thing Pamela got wrong. Catching a person in the lie is enough. There’s no need to spend hours interrogating them as to “why”. We don’t need to know why. We just need to catch them in the lie. Hence, the need for private investigators who follow people claiming injury to insurance companies. The proof is catching them in the act, not spending time looking at body language and listening for verbal clues. Another phrase comes to mind, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” It’s true, we don’t have the time to spend hours sitting in a room trying to get to the bottom of a liar. We need to get the proof that they’re lying and that proof lies (pun intended) outside of the liar. Proof is what matters in a lie, not a confession. A confession is great IF you can get it, but the proof is what tells you the person is lying, not their words or actions.

In law enforcement, getting a confession seems to be the “holy grail” out of a perpetrator. However, there’s no need to get a confession if you have proof that the person was there and did whatever he/she claimed not to have done. Considering that crime scenes can easily become tainted and proof dismissed due to ‘technicalities’, a confession overrides that red tape problem. Red tape is there for a reason, but many times it allows acquittal of someone who is actually guilty. Of course, red tape has nothing to do with lying and everything to do with law and policy.

If the person chooses to tell the “truth” and “confess” to whatever they had been lying about, that’s great. Obtaining proof is the key, not spending hours waiting on someone to squirm in just the right way only offering a possible 50% success rate. With computers becoming faster and more powerful and able to store more and more data about each of us (some of it voluntarily posted on social media), lying about certain things (DNA tests to determine relationship) may become impossible.

As detection technologies evolve and become faster, smaller and more portable, determining such information as paternity may become as easy as a cotton swab to the mouth and in minutes you’ll have an answer.

Lying has never been a crime

This subject heading says it all. It’s not the lie that’s the crime. It’s whatever the lie is attempting to conceal that may or may not be a problem. For this reason, you won’t find laws on any books that ban lying. If any legislation was introduced that actually attempted to enforce telling the truth, it would be met with much consternation (and, at least in the US, would be against the fifth amendment of the constitution — which this amendment says you have the right not to incriminate yourself).

Pleading the fifth, in the US, means that you do not have to talk to anyone about anything. Simply saying, “I plead the fifth” stops all questions regarding whatever matter is under investigation… at least when talking to the authorities. In some cases, pleading the fifth may, at least in the public eyes, make you seem guilty. If you aren’t willing to talk, then it is assumed you have something to hide… perhaps something that implicates you, thus making you seem guilty.

In the US, the tenet is, “Innocent until PROVEN guilty.” This only holds for official courts of law. In the court of public opinion, “Guilty until proven innocent” reigns. In the court of public opinion, there is no proof needed. Once you are seen as guilty, you are always considered guilty.

In a criminal court of law, the burden of proof is typically measured as ‘reasonable doubt’. The word ‘reasonable’ being the key word. It doesn’t take 100% proof, it simply takes ‘reasonable’ proof. ‘Reasonable’ is intentionally left subjective and vague and is up to any specific jury to ascertain what they consider as ‘reasonable doubt’. Indeed, some juries are sometimes confounded by the word ‘reasonable’ and rightly so. What is ‘reasonable’? The word itself means “to reason” or “decide” or utilize any similar thought process. But, what does it mean in a court of law or in legal circles? Juries are never comprised of legal professionals. Instead, they are comprised of people not in the legal profession and usually not professionals who might significantly impact the prosecution’s case. Instead, legal counsel typically appoints jury members who do not appear biased in either direction (toward or against the defendant) and whose profession is not considered a ‘conflict of interest’.

Civil courts offer a different legal standard. In civil trials, the burden of proof is “preponderance of evidence”. In a way, ‘preponderance’ offers nearly the same vagueness as ‘reasonable’. Both are vague terms meant to be interpreted by the jury at hand. In both criminal and civil trials, these terms are intentionally so vague as to allow juries to effectively make up their own rules under “reasonable” and “preponderance” when deliberating. This allows juries the leeway to consider some evidence and dismiss other evidence. It also means that, for example, a jury has 25 pieces of evidence, but only 8 pieces are solid enough to consider. Simply doing the math, 8 solid pieces of evidence is well less than 50% of the evidence presented. Is eight really enough? If those 8 pieces basically put the person at the scene and also shows that the person’s DNA was found at the crime scene and also that they were there at the time in question, then ‘lack of reasonable doubt’ and sufficient ‘preponderance of evidence’ has been established. From here, the jury should convict on whatever counts are listed for that evidence.

Note that ‘preponderance of evidence’ is tantamount to a phrase that more or less means, ‘overwhelming’ or more simply ‘enough’. The ‘preponderance of evidence’ phrase implies looking for ‘more than enough’. With ‘reasonable doubt’, it implies the opposite. The jury should be looking for ‘reasonable doubt’ or ‘not enough evidence’ to convict. In civil cases, juries (or a judge) would need to look for ‘preponderance’ (or more than enough) evidence to convict. Both result in the same outcome, conviction or acquittal. It’s just that the way the jury is directed to act is slightly different based on the legal phrasing of the burden of proof.

What that all means is that the ‘laymen’ folks who are chosen for a jury typically are ignorant of laws and legal proceedings. They are there because they don’t have this knowledge. They can then remain impartial throughout the trial by reviewing all of the evidence presented in a ‘fair’ and ‘just’ method. Yes, they can even use some of the verbal and body cues of the defendant to determine if they ‘feel’ his body language is indicative of lying, which could sway their view of ‘preponderance’ or ‘reasonable’. In civil trials, juries are reminded to rule based on “preponderance of the evidence”. In criminal trials, juries must rule based on “reasonable doubt”.

What does this all mean? It means that in a court of law, while you could use some of these lie spotting techniques to determine whether a defendant is telling the truth, what makes the difference is the evidence presented. The evidence is what catches someone in a lie… particularly when they don’t confess.

For this reason, legal court proceedings require burden of proof for juries to ponder during deliberation… rather than using hunches, intuition or gut feelings.

Local Friendships

Back at home, we don’t have to judge our friends based on vague legal terms. Instead, we have to use our own critical thinking skills. This is where you can use and apply lie spotting techniques (which, if you have noticed, I have not included in this article intentionally), to spot a friend, co-worker or boss in a lie. Again, it’s up to you what to do with that information once you spot it.

If lying or telling the truth is an important concept for you, this article might not make you happy. You should understand that lies are everyday things told to us by even our closest friends. If you get worked up at the thought of someone lying to you, you should probably learn to relax more. Lies are something told by many people every day. If you’re a bit uptight at learning this, you might want to forget all about this article and go on with your life oblivious. After all, “ignorance is bliss”.

We don’t have to use juries or law books to judge our friends. We use our instincts and common sense. If you add in a little behavioral profiling (yes, it is a form of profiling) you may be able to determine if that leg twitch or nose itch or eye glance or finger motion is a telltale sign of lie. As I said, most lies are insignificant in the grander scheme. Learning to let these things go or, as another phrase goes, “don’t sweat the small stuff” will let you remain a happier person. Nothing in life is ever perfect. Nothing. Not relationships. Not people. Not actions. You have to expect that anyone around you will not always do things for your benefit, not even your spouse. You have to be willing to understand this and compromise by ignoring these lies.

If a lie is something you can’t ignore, particularly a life changing event (birth of a child), then that’s where you must stand up and take responsibility for your own actions… or confront someone about their actions.

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Is Victor Victoria a sequel to Darling Lili?

Posted in analysis, film by commorancy on June 13, 2019

Having recently watched Darling Lili at Amazon, I’m of the mind that Darling Lili is, in fact, a prequel to Victor Victoria… or more correctly stated, Victor Victoria is a sequel to Darling Lili. Let’s explore.

Blake Edwards

Both Victor Victoria (1982) and Darling Lili (1970) are directed by Blake Edwards. However, it seems that Darling Lili didn’t fare well at the box office. This lack of box office appeal made sense based on the film’s material and tone, particularly in 1970. Let’s explore both films see what we can make of them.

Darling Lili versus Victor Victoria

Darling Lili is set sometime between 1914 and 1918 (World War I). If Lili Smith were 25 in Darling Lili, she would be close to 45 in 1934 (the year in which Victor Victoria is set). The ages mostly match up. Lili shows us that she is fluent in French, even being awarded a medal by the French government. Oddly, Victor Victoria is also set in Paris during 1934. These similarities in locale are uncanny.

Seeing as Lili is both an entertainer, actress and spy for the Germans, she loses her status as a spy by the end of Darling Lili, also losing her American boyfriend in the process. Having lost Bill at the end of the film, she spends her time between 1918 and 1934 living and performing somewhere (probably in France) ultimately landing in Paris destitute in 1934.

After no longer being a spy, taking on a new identity makes sense. She takes on the stage name of Victoria Grant, shedding the Lili Smith name that has all of her former spy baggage attached. This all makes perfect sense for how Victoria Grant ends up in Paris… since we get none of this back history information for Victoria Grant. Victor Victoria opens with Victoria already in Paris. The only thing we know of Victoria’s past is that she hasn’t “sung in 2 weeks” when Toddy mentions her audition at Chez Luis. This implies she’s been having a bit of trouble with steady work.

Lili (now Victoria) is already fluent in the French language, so staying in France makes a lot of sense for Victoria. Because Lili was already an accomplished stage performer and vocalist, it makes perfect sense that Victoria would also be a confident accomplished stage performer and vocalist.

Even the soundtrack score by Mancini in Darling Lili, including “Whistling in the Dark” carries a lot of musical similarities into Victor Victoria, such as “Crazy World”. It’s almost like Mancini picked right up with his musical thought processes during Darling Lili and carried them right into Victor Victoria… or it was intentionally requested by Edwards.

In one scene, Victoria even mentions her hypochondriac of an ex-husband who took her bankroll and ran. This implies Victoria was, at one point, married, but not to Bill.

Recycled

Some have argued that Edwards recycles his ideas across his films. Yes, in some ways he does. The bumbling detective scenario seems to be a hallmark in most, if not all, of Edwards’s films. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to you to decide. If the bumbling detective plot in the rain with an umbrella doesn’t get in the way of the main plot, I’m fine with it. It doesn’t get in the way of either Darling Lili and Victor Victoria. They add a little comic relief to the film. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work as well in Darling Lili as it does in Victor Victoria… even though neither of these B plots actually do anything to advance the film’s stories.

Beyond the bumbling detective plot, there’s the basic premise that’s similar in Darling Lili and in Victor Victoria… an entertainer who falls in love with a charismatic tall-dark-and-handsome type. Both are a little bit dangerous (military vs mob). The twists in both films are different, however. Lili is a spy where Victoria cross dresses as a man. Even though the twist is different, the romance plots are mostly similar. Even though Victor Victoria takes the whole bedroom farce portion a whole lot farther than Darling Lili.

For this reason, it’s easy to see Victor Victoria as a sequel. After all, people do tend to fall into their old ways (both Lili and Edwards). Obviously, the war being over, she couldn’t be a spy in the same way. So, she goes for her next best thing… being a performer. Hence, becoming Victoria Grant to shed her old Lili Smith (or Schmidt) persona. It is 20 years later, after all… and her luster as an entertainer may have been waning considering her age. Having Toddy reinvent her as a man with the vocal abilities of a female makes Victor Victoria a charming tale and a logical extension to Darling Lili.

Remake or Sequel?

I’m sure that Blake Edwards was never satisfied with how Darling Lili performed at the box office. It seems he may have even taken it personally. It seems that when Victor Victoria hit his desk, he saw a way to remake Darling Lili and make it much better and a much bigger success. Well, he did that. But, he did so without actually remaking Darling Lili.

In fact, it seems he did it by making a(n unintentional) sequel to Darling Lili. Whether this remake was intentional only Blake Edwards knew. Perhaps Julie Andrews may also know whether Victor Victoria is intended to be a sequel to Darling Lili. Considering how well (or not so well) Darling Lili did, even if it were a sequel, Blake Edwards might not have wanted to make that information publicly known to avoid any possible backlash to Victor Victoria‘s box office receipts. After all, Darling Lili didn’t do well at the box office. No need to drag Victor Victoria down by being labeled as Darling Lili‘s sequel.

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Mary Poppins: Who exactly is Bert?

Posted in analysis, disney, storytelling by commorancy on June 11, 2019

Mary PoppinsThis is one question that I’m sure many people have asked themselves after watching 1964’s Mary Poppins starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. With the recent release of 2018’s Mary Poppins Returns starring Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, these questions resurface with Jack in the newest film. Let’s explore.

Bert and Mary

I’m focusing on the 1964 film with this article. I may write another article later that focuses on the new film… though, a lot of this applies to Jack in the newest film. I will briefly discuss Mary Poppins Returns in relation to Mary Poppins.

It’s clear, Mary and Bert know one another… and they know one another well. How they know each other is a mystery that is not solved in either of the films, but they have met numerous times based on their dialog, Bert’s clues and lots of hints from Mary. In this article, I will postulate a few things that might seem out of place, but if you think about it, you’ll realize that it isn’t that far out of place and may bring a sense of closure.

Somethings BrewingBert is the first person the audience meets in Mary Poppins. This isn’t an accident. The story starts off with Bert to show just how omnipresent Bert actually is. It also shows us Bert is a “free spirit” and does whatever he pleases, comes and goes when he pleases and shows up only when needed. On other other hand, Mary Poppins is the opposite of Bert. She is an extremely controlling and vain individual (magical or not). She always wants things “just so”. She has a very specific profession and sticks to it. If things are not exactly as she wants, she’s not happy. Bert, on the other hand, is happy simply to be there helping out whenever he can, and be around Mary.

Uncle Alberts PlaceBert even seems to know “Uncle Albert” when Mary and the kids visit him while he’s laughing on the ceiling. Bert is already there when Mary shows up. This is suspicious. If a magical uncle lives in the area, how would Bert know about him and where he lives? How did Bert find out about his most recent incident? From the dog, Andrew? If Bert talks to dogs like Mary, then he is the same as Mary. Bert has also been to see Uncle Albert before and has even had to talk Albert down before. Bert states that it took 3 days to talk him down a previous time. If Mary and Uncle Albert are related, as is heavily implied by the movie, and Bert visits Uncle Albert occasionally, then Mary and Bert are much more than mere acquaintances.

In fact, when Bert fake attempts to jump into the chalk picture with the children, Mary chastises Bert for making something simple into something complex. This implies that she knows Bert knows how to do it properly and is doing it intentionally wrong on purpose… simply so that Mary has to do it. Watch this scene again and you’ll see what I mean. It’s almost as though Mary expects Bert to show his magic off, but when he doesn’t she becomes frustrated with him. Bert manipulates Mary into using her magic instead.

Mary’s Powers

We all know that Mary has some form of magical abilities. Without this, she couldn’t do the things she does. The thing is, her being a nanny is a very calculated profession. She knows exactly what she wants to accomplish as a nanny and goes about that activity in a very meticulous manner. Sure, she displays her magic in almost flippant ways, but she also knows she can gaslight people into believing they saw something they didn’t actually see.

What are the extent of Mary’s powers? We’re not sure and we’re never told. One of her powers seems to be the casting of obliviousness on humans. What I mean by this is that anyone around Mary either accepts what she does without question or completely ignores the things she does. When she leaves, she leaves so much doubt about what happened that even those who participated are left disbelieving. Both kids and adults are wrapped up in this spell. When she does something magical, the kids rarely question how or why, they just automatically accept it. Even some adults seem to fall under this spell. If they do question Mary, she immediately shuts them down by gaslighting that it never took place. After the first time, the children simply accept it.

We know what Mary can do. The bigger question remains, who is Bert and why is he there?

Bert’s Abilities

Bert is a chimney sweep, a chalk sidewalk artist, a musician and a kite seller (among other trades). He does all manner of jobs, but they’re all conveniently located within a few feet of the kids at all times. He’s almost never far out of sight. Being a chimney sweep has some benefits. After all, when Mr. Banks rips up the children’s nanny advertisement letter and he throws it into the fireplace, everyone thinks Mary is the one who retrieves the letter out of there. But, we know better. Bert, as a chimney sweep, did. He then reassembles it and gives it to Mary.

Even with all of this, there are many questions that need an answer. Let’s start answering a few based on the film. For Bert to know Mary as well as he does, including her signature “changing of the wind”, which Bert immediately identifies before Mary ever shows up, he has to have a considerable amount of time with her (or in some other way has acquired this knowledge). This change in the wind immediately signifies to Bert that Mary is on her way. To be that intimately knowledgeable about her calling card, he had to have seen it more than once, more than twice… in fact, more than a few times. You don’t recognize something like that having only ever seen it once. No, Bert knows Mary and he knows her well. Far too well, if I must say.

Bert’s Background

Bert and MaryHow could Bert know Mary that well? There are four possible ways:

1) Mary conjured Bert. If Mary conjured Bert, not only would he intimately know Mary and her ways, she would have conjured someone who would not only be smitten with her, she could easily become smitten herself. However, Mary’s callous lack of return of affection towards Bert potentially shows that she can’t return affection towards a person she has conjured. This point makes sense, but only to a point.

2) Bert conjured Mary. If Bert conjured Mary for the children, he would also intimately know Mary and her ways… because he created her. There’s an argument that could go both conjuring ways here until the release of Mary Poppins Returns. With Jack and without Bert, this throws a wrench into number 2… or does it? This one also makes sense to a point.

3) Bert and Mary are from the same magical realm. This is probably the one that makes the most logical sense. This means that it’s possible that Mary enlists Bert to help her with the children and Bert is simply feigning ignorance to keep up Mary’s charade. After all, she gaslights a ton… why wouldn’t he?

4) Again, Bert and Mary are from the same magical realm. Instead, Bert enlists Mary to help with the children… and based on the way the movie’s story unfolds, I’m going with this situation, which I’ll support below. In fact, Bert seems a whole lot more omnipresent than Mary. When you watch the interactions between Bert and Mary, it almost seems like Mary is heavily observing Bert for just how to behave. Mary is often following Bert’s cues, not the other way around. This situation is the only one where Bert could be smitten with Mary and Mary not return that affection. She can’t because of a master / apprentice situation. Bert is the master. Mary is the “learning” apprentice. She can’t return that affection.

A master and apprentice relationship has been commonplace for many thousands of years. For Mary Poppins, it makes sense that she’s the apprentice and he’s the master. He stands in the background not only guiding the children, but also guiding Mary.

Rationales

If we follow rationale #1, then it would make sense from a Mary Poppins perspective. She conjures up Bert to help manage and keep track of the children when she can’t be around. Bert does a fine job of that. It also means she can make Bert do anything. That Bert pretends to be a chimney sweep or chalk artist lends credence to Mary having conjured him. In fact, nearly everything that Mary does is almost entirely a product of Bert’s prompting. When Mary jumps into the chalk drawing, this is Bert’s drawing and it happened because Bert actually wanted it. When the chimney sweeps begin their amazing dance number, it’s almost solely driven by Bert. When they visit “Uncle Albert” Bert is there to egg everything on… in spite of what Mary actually wants. This could mean that Bert might have conjured Mary. But, there are still things that don’t add up if we accept this hypothesis.

For rationale 2, if Bert is conjured by Mary, it doesn’t explain why Bert has self-autonomy that Mary can’t control. Mary is a control freak. For this reason, I don’t believe Bert is actually conjured and leads me to believe that Bert could have conjured Mary. Unfortunately, this circumstance too doesn’t quite add up. Mary also has self-autonomy that Bert can’t control. Based on this, I believe (and it actually makes the most sense) that Mary and Bert are actually from the same realm. Bert simply doesn’t show off his magic, letting Mary do that. This is part of the reason Mary plays coy with Bert. She knows what Bert is capable of, she just can’t let that cat out of the bag.

Bert never overtly shows his own magic. At least, he never shows it outright. Whenever magic occurs, it’s Mary who shows it off. However, Bert is always more than happy to participate in any activity that involves magic. In fact, he seems right pleased to nose himself into every situation where Mary creates a magical landscape and he never bats an eye. In fact, he seems to enjoy himself immensely when with Mary. He also heavily plays for Mary’s affections in these magical landscapes. Perhaps Mary and Bert cannot actually produce these landscapes without the help of children? That’s worth considering… and it could be why both Bert and Mary gravitate towards children instead of adults, as adults don’t allow them to utilize their magic in the same way. Mary and Bert’s magic is symbiotic with the children. They can’t utilize magic without the children.

Mary 1We know little about Mary’s realm or where it exists. It’s clear, Mary doesn’t live in the same realm as humans. Based on my suppositions above, I also believe that Bert is from that same realm as Mary. He can also perform magic, but he prefers to rely on Mary to perform it. Once Mary gets started, he adds his own touches onto it that Mary is unaware, can’t detect or simply ignores. The kids simply think Mary is doing it all, when Bert is actually contributing to the creation of the magic. In fact, Bert may actually be reinforcing Mary’s magic making it grander than it might otherwise be.

With that said, I also believe Bert performed many feats of magic all throughout Mary Poppins, including the “Step In Time” dance number on the roof. Bert performed that magic all on his own. It’s just that we were so focused on Mary and her abilities, we didn’t see Bert’s magic and we simply assumed it all stemmed from Mary.

Even at the end of Mary Poppins when Mary leaves, Bert also disappears leaving the kids solely to their parents. Otherwise, if Bert had remained about, the kids would have kept running back to Bert to talk about Mary. When Mary leaves, so does Bert. They’re a team, or at least they were until…

Mary Poppins Returns

How would any of this explain Jack in the latest movie? My thought is that Jack is Bert with a new name and new face. Bert can’t come back many years later looking exactly like he did without drawing suspicion. Mary can because she’s the one who’s known to be “magic”. Because Jack is autonomous (and probably Bert in a new form), I believe Jack is also from Mary’s realm. Whether Jack is Bert, I’m uncertain. If Bert has magic, like Mary, then he could remake his face in the same way Mary has in “Returns”. However, there are far too many similarities between Jack and Bert. It’s also possible that Jack is Bert’s son. Perhaps Bert decided not to join Mary on this trip? Perhaps Mary must always be accompanied by another from her realm as part of her sojourns to Earth?

This would make sense. Having two could keep things from going awry. If something Mary does goes a bit haywire, Bert or Jack could put it right and keep Mary, “Practically Perfect In Every Way”. In fact, that’s the reason I believe both Bert and Jack are in the stories… to keep Mary in-check… to ensure that the kids learn their lessons without injury and that magic is always kept in its place. For this reason, I believe Bert drilled it into Mary to always gaslight after any magic escapades.

In Mary Poppins, Bert almost seems to hand-hold Mary through most of the film… as if Mary is new to this whole thing. By Mary Poppins Returns, Mary had done this a time or two and Jack seems comfortable letting Mary do more of her own thing without him being there (i.e., the bathtub scene). Though, Jack still joins Mary in the biggest number in the film, like Bert did in the chalk drawing with Mary.

After all these years, it’s possible that Mary is now the master with Jack being her apprentice in all things magic. Jack seemed to contribute far less to Mary Poppins Returns than Bert did in Mary Poppins. So, the tables may now be turned for Mary. But, apparently, they must still travel in twos.

Bert’s Professions

Indeed, Bert shows us his many varied professions. In fact, I believe that was simply a ruse to allow Mary to do the things she needed to bring the children in line. Because the children have a less than pleasant life, Mary is there to not only get the children to do the things she wants (and that her parents want), she needs them to comply. The only way to do this is, like “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”, this is how Mary treats the children’s home life situation. The ‘sugar’ is her magic, the medicine is her ‘discipline’. The song may be literal, but it very much has a double meaning. In fact, because Mary gaslights the children so often after her fantastical outings, it’s less about treating the children unkind and more about Mary’s understanding of Earth children. She can’t let the children continue to believe both in magic and that magic solves all worldly problems, particularly since she’ll be leaving very soon. They must be grounded and earthbound. While magic may be easy to Mary, Jane and Michael will never be able to perform it. Mary knows this.

In fact, Mary’s magic is simply the tool the kids need to get things done for themselves. It wasn’t that she was planning to teach them ‘magic’, but teach them how to survive in the their world and to follow their father’s lead. Mary was also, more or less, a sponge. She soaked up everything about the Banks household and then inserted magic when it was appropriate to bring the kids in-line.

Mary ArrivesAs for Bert, Bert exists as Mary’s facilitator, not a chimney sweep or chalk artist. These were all professions that were needed to aid Mary in her task. They came to exist because they needed to exist for Mary to do her job. For this reason, Bert might be seen as the orchestrator of the whole story. He may have even been the architect of it all… the person behind Mary and the whole reason the Banks children ended up with Mary. This is true because Bert is, among his many professions, also a chimney sweep… as I suggest elsewhere, how else might those torn pages have gone up the chimney? One might say that Bert started it all. After all, he knows Mary extremely well. He also seemed to know something about the Banks children and about Cherry Tree Lane. In fact, he seems to know way too much about Cherry Tree Lane… way more than a random chimney sweep should know.

Bert’s Unknowing Knowing

Bert pulled the wool over our eyes, but very gently. He seems friendly, kind and generous and also innocently naïve. As he rhymes in the park sensing Mary’s arrival stating, “he can’t put his finger on it”, this was all a ruse. He knew exactly who was coming because he asked her to come. Bert even breaks the fourth wall and begins talking directly to the audience… he wouldn’t even know that an audience exists without some form of magic.

As the story progresses, he intentionally steps out of Mary’s (or indeed, the children’s) way. He steps aside when Mary requires him aside. He brings the Banks family together with Mary. He draws her in. He’s the one who made sure the Banks children get what they need and are left “for the better”, after Mary’s departure. He sees to and orchestrates everything. While Mary comes and does what she needs to do, Bert makes sure it all works.

In fact, Bert has likely been on Earth a whole lot longer than Mary… watching the children, waiting, seeing if they were “worthy” and if they actually needed Mary’s help. Then, in their time of need, he calls Mary to them. Bert steps in when he needs to solve family problems and, of course, he also steps in when Mary performs ‘magic’, partially to participate, but partially to make sure it all works. Sure, that children’s nanny note went flying, but it is most likely Bert who retrieves the pieces from the chimney and then calls on Mary. We see the pieces go flying, but we don’t see who ends up with them. Sure, Mary carries the note in reassembled, but Bert retrieved it from the chimney. We know this because of the scene where Mary is no where to be found. Bert and the children are by the chimney and Michael is swept up the chimney, just like the pieces of paper. This was all magic from Bert.

With that said, Bert feigns ignorance so as to be just as genuinely surprised as the children when Mary actually arrives, but that surprise seems artificial. He also doesn’t question her manner of arrival, he’s simply happy she’s there (and Mary is happy that Bert is there). Indeed, he doesn’t question Mary’s ways at all.. as if he’s just as accustomed to and comfortable with her magic as is Mary. Indeed, it’s as though Bert already knows of Mary’s arrival in advance. None of this did the children or even the Banks parents suspect.

Bert and BanksIn one of the last scenes in the film, Bert is in the house talking to Mr. Banks after the rest of the sweeps have gone. This is an 11 O’clock number and scene. This is the scene that lays Bert’s cards all on the table.

In this scene, even as Bert has played his role of the lowly chimney sweep, there is an immense sense of wisdom and orchestration. Indeed, he even sings “Just a spoonful of sugar”, a song he couldn’t have known unless he had already known Mary. Or, even more likely, Bert taught that song TO Mary. Bert’s wisdom in that scene goes far, far beyond anything Mary displays throughout the entirety of this film. Bert’s wisdom implies that Bert is the person bringing this whole situation together and resolving it… that he’s the reason Mary is even there. This one seemingly innocent scene is the one that says Bert is why the Banks family (and indeed Mr. Banks) is in its current state. Mary is no where to be found in this scene. It’s simply Bert and Mr. Banks. It’s a poignant scene that says everything about exactly why Mary has arrived and who is behind it.

Bert is not only the puppet master, but he is content (and indeed wants it) to remain that way; to stay behind the scenes and gently nudge people when they need it. If Mary acts as the precipice, Bert acts as the hand to nudge people to jump into the unknown. Indeed, Bert is the person who made the whole situation possible… from behind the scenes.

In a way, you can liken Bert to the Wizard of Oz behind that curtain. Bert pulled all of the strings making it all possible. In the end, Bert is the one behind the curtain. We don’t get to know this definitively, but the key scene between Bert and Mr. Banks should have opened everyone’s eyes about Bert. Mary seems to be the pawn, Bert appears to be the puppet master. Both are there for the same reason. Both leave for the same reason. And yes, Bert is smitten with Mary. Mary can’t reciprocate because of their complicated relationship, even though they both want the same thing for the Banks’s children. In closing, it’s also entirely possible that Bert and Mary are siblings considering that Mary treated Bert as a brother throughout most of the film.

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Careful what you say

Posted in botch, Employment, tips by commorancy on May 26, 2019

angryguy2This story is about a co-worker at a previous job. I won’t name any real names or the company or describe him in detail, but I will explain the situation, which is most important for this article. Let’s explore.

Flowery Explicit Language

I’ve worked at various Internet companies and occasionally I run into co-workers who choose to use flowery explicit language while at work. In most cases, that language is a form of expression, usually reserved for exasperating circumstances. You know, when something goes wrong and you might yell, “shit”.

Well, a particular co-worker, let’s call him ‘J’, used this language casually and at all times. I thought it a bit odd, because I’d never met someone who did it so often and so casually in a professional workplace, particularly as loudly as he did it.

Before I go any further, I’ll explain that J wasn’t a native English speaker. He also wasn’t American. I had personally attributed his tactlessness, loudness and language to his personal nature (read: upbringing). With that said, I’ve met many people of J’s nationality and many of this nationality worked at this particular company. By and large, most of the people I’ve met of his nationality were cool and collected. They didn’t use such language at all (or very, very rarely). However, J had a mouth on him like you might expect on, well let’s just say on someone “low class”. It was particularly surprising to hear this language from someone in his situation (no green card, needing sponsorship, here on a work visa) and position. His language was always a bit like “Throwing caution to the wind”, in other words, risky. I always felt that he should have been a bit more cautious considering his personal work circumstance and that the workplace staff didn’t often use this kind of language. It was an odd mix for J, but apparently he was set in his ways.

I even politely commented that he should reserve these colorful expressions to more appropriate times rather than using them all of the time. I even told him he should be careful when using these expressions around the office as it’s likely to get him into trouble… and so begins this story.

Reading Your Environment

I’ll take a brief detour before continuing on with my story. When you hire onto a workplace, you should always go into observation mode for at least a couple of weeks. This observation period allows you to “read” your environment and understand what is considered acceptable and what isn’t. You don’t come in with mouth ablazin’ shooting off all manner of colorful expressions. Instead, you learn to read the staff, the behaviors and the acceptability of that kind of expression.

Some businesses have managers who are very verbally expressive with expletives. Some businesses do not. Reading the environment is the only way to determine if such behavior is considered ‘normal’ at that place of business. In general, it’s not typically considered professional or acceptable language and you should always choose not to use colorful expressions at all. However, if you find your manager uses them at times, then it’s not off to use them yourself if you’re so inclined. Your manager probably won’t even care if he/she also uses expletives.

Unfortunately, certain employees don’t understand this concept of “reading your environment” when they begin new employment. J was one of these folks and remained completely oblivious. Let’s continue with this story…

Executive Bailout

Our company had had a particularly successful last 18 months. However, all good things must come to an end, and so it did. First, the CEO announces his departure. Then, a number of other executives also announce their departures. An interim CEO is named and he takes over as CEO immediately after the other CEO announces.

My team was led by an executive VP who, at the time, had been simply going through the motions for the last 12-18 months. At first, this executive was highly motivated, on-board, and extremely engaged with everything and everyone. By the last 18 months, he had more or less checked-out. He no longer kept up with the day-to-day operations, he didn’t really much care how the department operated (other than not wanting to see it melt down, of course) and he no longer took an interest in the team. He was simply disengaged and “going through the motions”. I saw it and so did everyone else. So, it wasn’t a surprise what happened next.

Mandatory Meeting

We were called, as a department, to a large open presenting space in the lobby of our company’s building. At the time, we had no idea as to the reason for this impromptu “all hands” meeting, but I had my suspicions as to what was coming as we had had many of these in the last few weeks. I didn’t make any snap judgements as we had also had some of these meetings that simply ended up new product announcements, rah-rah sessions or other random weird (and unnecessary) company “all hands” announcements.

As I showed up a bit early, I was able to get a seat. Unfortunately, not so with everyone who showed up later. In fact, by the time the presentation started, it was standing room only and many were standing around the entire perimeter of the room, including in front of the two main double doors. For an impromptu meeting, it was really the only large-ish space the company had and it was well overfilled.

Anyway, the room fell silent and the executive who was disengaged took the stage and began explaining that he would be departing. No surprise there. After a few rah-rah type statements from him to try and keep the team motivated, the interim CEO took the stage, announced this now-departing executive’s replacement and began well wishing and additional rah-rah messages.

After it is all over (about 15 minutes later), we exit the room and head back to our desks to continue with our day on that news. The meeting had convened early, around 9AM… so we had a full day of work ahead on that “exciting” news. On the way back to our desks, I spoke with J in the elevator. We had a quick conversation about this executive’s departure and he was, as usual, using his standard flowery expressions in the elevator. Since we all knew one another, nothing here was a surprise. I even had a few more conversations with J before the end of the day about meeting up tomorrow and at this week’s wine event. At this point, nothing seemed out of the ordinary (other than this latest executive’s departure news).

Surprising News

On the following day, I noticed that J was no where to be found. He wasn’t at his desk. I needed to talk to him about a project we had both been working on. Because my direct boss was also his boss, I asked my boss where he was. I was told he was no longer with the company. That was a surprise much more than the disengaged executive’s departure.

I was a little bit in shock. My boss offered no additional explanation other than he was no longer with the company. It was an abrupt change that I didn’t see coming… at least, not at that moment. Usually when staff are let go, there’s a process… typically involving a probationary period. I didn’t think that J was currently on any kind of probation or performance plan. Even though he did rub a lot of people the wrong way, it didn’t really much seem to affect his job. At least, the people in my department were tolerant of his behavior, and had grown accustomed to it. It was definitely a surprise at his departure.

In fact, my boss actually seemed surprised at the news when he told me. His voice and words implied to me that he had nothing to do with J’s departure. In other words, my boss’s tone and words told me he hadn’t fired J. Instead, something else had happened. This is where things get interesting…

The Full Story

We had a regularly scheduled after-hours wine event once every couple weeks where we could unwind, meet people from other departments, drink a little wine, snack and, of course, chat. This wine event was already scheduled a day or two after this disengaged executive departure announcement. This executive even attended briefly. In addition to consuming choice wines, obviously, we’d chat about whatever was on our minds (i.e., company gossip). As the wine took effect, so did the venting. Sometimes the conversation was about the office. Sometimes it was about world events. Today, we chatted about all of the departures, including J’s.

At this wine event, even though my boss had been extremely tight lipped, the beans were spilled as to exactly what happened with J by an attendee (not my boss). Here’s how the story went…

Let’s go back in time to the presentation…. As I was comfortably sitting in my seat awaiting the presentation to begin (probably working on my laptop), J was standing by the entry doors. He was apparently holding onto one of the door handles. The presentation starts and the disengaged executive begins his departure announcement.

At this point, someone opens the main entry doors where J is standing and holds the door open. Because there was some commotion outside in the echo-filled lobby preventing him from hearing the presentation, J, who gets irritated and triggered way too easily, chimes in and says, “Close the f*cking door, dumb*ss!” (or something very similar) rather loudly and without looking. He might have even said something more demeaning to the person, but this is what I had heard that he said.

Needless to say, the person holding the door open was none other than the brand spankin’ new interim CEO himself. At the time, the then CEO ignores the comment, enters the room, walks to the front and begins his speech. He finishes up and exits through the side door as if nothing happened.

Here’s where things get interesting. Immediately following the announcement, the CEO (and this is according to those at the wine event) walked over the HR to first identify J and then he requests J’s termination. J was gone the following day.

My boss told me none of this. Whether he knew the details, I have no idea. He wasn’t the one who told the story. This was from another person at this wine event who apparently had close ties to the HR person.

After speaking with J later, I had come to find J had no idea what went on or why he was fired. According to J, one day he was there, the next day he was gone. He doesn’t get it. Either he’s thick and can’t recall what he says or he’s feigning ignorance at what he did. I’ve spoken with J several times, even meeting at a restaurant for dinner, and he still doesn’t seem to get it. In fact, I’ve disclosed none of the details to him for fear he’d go do something stupid. He’s not only abrupt with his language, but he’s also a bit of a hothead with a temper. It’s also not really my place to tell him as I didn’t actually witness the event. I was sitting in my seat not watching the rest of the room. I’m getting this information from a third party. However, it does make perfect sense based on J’s personality.

The moral of this story is, if you’re at work, always use professional language at all times and …

Careful What You Say

If you’re thinking of using flowery explicit language (or you do already) at work, here’s an example where it can easily backfire. Everyone gets frustrated when things don’t go as planned. That’s to be expected.. and even a flowery phrase or two directed at the situation might even be expected, if not warranted. However, you should never direct flowery explicit expressions at anyone at your workplace, especially if you can’t see the person. You never know just whom you might have insulted.

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Amazon How-To: The ASIN

Posted in advice, Amazon, shopping, tips by commorancy on May 24, 2019

Amazon-LogoMany thousands of people shop Amazon daily. Did you know that every product at Amazon has a unique identifier? In most stores it’s called an SKU or stock-keeping unit. Amazon’s stock code is called the Amazon Standard Identification Number or ASIN. Let’s explore.

Product Identifiers

Every product stocked at any retailer uses a product identifier to locate that product in its database. In fact, many retailers have their own unique identifiers which are separate from such other identifiers as the Universal Product Code (UPC) or the Industry Standard Book Number (ISBN). In Amazon’s case, its unique identifier is the ASIN, not the UPC. The ASIN is visible on the URL of every product you view on Amazon. It’s a 10 digit code containing both letters and numbers. For example, a pair of cut resistant gloves has the ASIN of B012AFX9VY.

Many store products might have as many as two, three or even four unique identifiers. Books, for example, use the ISBN as an identifier in addition to the UPC code and Amazon’s ASIN. However, stores and online retailers typically use their own product identifier to identify stock in their system. For example, Target’s stock identifier is the DPCI code which goes back to Target’s original days of price stickering or tagging its merchandise with a Department, Class and Item… hence DPCI.

Even the UPC code, which is typically used at the register to ring up items, is simply translated to Target’s, Best Buy’s, Walmart’s or Amazon’s unique product identifier to locate the item and its price in its database.

How is the ASIN helpful?

Knowing the ASIN is useful because this quick identifier allows you to locate to a product on Amazon easily. If you’re on Amazon’s web site, you simply need enter the product ASIN into Amazon’s search panel and it will immediately bring up that item’s listing.

If you’re off of Amazon’s web site and you have the ASIN, you can easily craft a URL that will lead you to Amazon’s product listing in your browser. To craft a functional URL, is simple…

Append the ASIN number to the following URL: https ://amzn.com/ASIN … or in the case of these gloves: https://amzn.com/B012AFX9VY.

While that domain may seem strange, Amazon does own the amzn.com domain. This domain is actually intended to be used as a URL shortener for locating Amazon products in combination with an ASIN. Simply by post-appending the ASIN to this much shorter URL, you can feed this into your browser’s URL field and get right to the product’s details, pricing and all of that information. You can also use it on social media sites as a much shorter URL to aid with character limit restrictions.

Product Reviews

Many of us rely on Amazon’s product reviews to know whether the product is worth considering. Many of us also contribute to Amazon’s product review area for the products we purchase, particularly when we feel strongly about the item’s quality (good or bad).

Amazon has recently taken its website backwards in time (before Web 2.0). Amazon’s older editor was much more feature rich than its newest editor.

When writing product reviews, you could immediately search for items right in the ‘Insert Product Link’ area and then insert those product links and place them into your product review. Unfortunately, with Amazon’s recent interface change, Amazon web developers have inexplicably removed the insertion of product links via this former feature. Now, you have to know the product’s ASIN and craft a product link yourself.

Worse, you can only get access to this ‘Insert Product Link’ feature when you’re crafting a new comment on a product reviews, not when creating or editing a new product review. Odd. You don’t even get it when you edit a comment.

Here’s the latest search panel when attempting to insert a product link:

AmazonProductLink

As you can see, it’s odd. I mean, why even change it to this non-intuitive interface? Now you are required to open a new browser tab, go chase down the product using that separate browser tab, copy the URL then come back to this panel and paste it in and hit enter. That’s a lot of extra work which could be done (and was previously offered directly) in this panel. After that, it will either find the product and offer a SELECT button or fail to provide you with anything. And that “http ://…” nonsense is entirely misleading.

You can enter ASIN numbers right in this field and it will locate Amazon’s products from this panel strictly using the ASIN only, even though it does not indicate this in any way. No need to type in that silly http:// stuff. I’m not even sure why they want you to spend the time to go find and insert URLs here. Why can’t this panel search in Amazon’s product database directly with key words? Ugh.. Oh Amazon, sometimes I just don’t get you and your want to be obtuse.

Creating / Editing Product Reviews

Let’s move on. The new product review editor no longer offers a facility for inserting product links via a search helper tool. It’s simply gone. Poof. Nada. However, you can insert them if you happen to know the format, but you’ll have to manually craft them using the ASIN or ISBN.

If you’re wanting to add product links to your review, you have to now do it ALL manually. I’m entirely unsure why Amazon’s web development team decided to take this odd backwards step in its user interface, but here we are. You would think Amazon would be pleased to have people hawking additional products in their product reviews, but based on this step backwards, I’m guessing not. Either that, or someone at Amazon is clueless… maybe it’s a bit of both? *shrug*

Crafting Product Links in your Product Reviews

When you’re writing a product review and you realize you’d like to insert one or more product links into your review using the completely idiotic ‘new’ (and I use the term ‘new’ very loosely) and far less intuitive editor, you’ll need to craft them yourself.

The format of an Amazon product link is as follows:

[[ASIN:B012AFX9VY The Product’s Description Here]]

Example:

[[ASIN:B0792KTHKJ Echo Dot (3rd Gen) – Smart speaker with Alexa – Charcoal]]

The format of the product link is:

[[ID_TYPE:ID_NUMBER PRODUCT_DESCRIPTION]]

where

ID_TYPE = ASIN, ISBN or any other product identifier which Amazon supports
ID_NUMBER = The product’s unique identifier, like B012AFX9VY
PRODUCT_DESCRIPTION = The description of the product with spaces

Once you create a product link, you can use it in place of words and it will show a clickable link. Take note that there’s no space after [[ or before ]]. For example:

This product offers you two pairs of [[ASIN:B012AFX9VY Black Stainless Steel Cut Resistant Gloves]] for use in the kitchen.

once published, the sentence should translate to…

This product offers you two pairs of Black Stainless Steel Cut Resistant Gloves for use in the kitchen.

Questionable Changes

Because Amazon seems intent on sabotaging and gutting its own web user interface at the expense of important and useful features for shoppers, it’s possible that such product links may no longer function at some point in the future. You’ll want to try this out and see if this tip works for you. If it doesn’t work, it’s very possible that Amazon no longer allows product links inside its reviews. However, they are still available as of this writing. If you find that product links no longer work, please let me know in the comments below.

However, the https ://amzn.com/ASIN should continue to work unless Amazon loses or dumps this domain. Note that this feature doesn’t work when using https ://amazon.com/ASIN. Amazon’s primary domain of amazon.com is not set up to handle short ASIN link syntax. You’ll need to use the amzn.com domain instead.

If this information helps you, please leave a comment below. If not, then please leave a comment below and let me know that, too. Happy shopping and reviewing!

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Fallout 76: Fusion Core Locations

Posted in tips, video game, video gaming by commorancy on May 20, 2019

NukaColaPA-fI did say I wasn’t going to write more about Fallout 76, but I felt this information I’ve acquired while playing the game might help someone who’s still playing and in the same predicament. What is that predicament? If you rely on power armor, you’ll need fusion cores and they can be difficult to find. Here’s my list of known locations for Fusion Cores in Fallout 76. Let’s Explore.


Locations

These are the locations I’ve found that spawn 100% full cores (unless otherwise stated), so far, in no particular order. This is also not a comprehensive list (yet):

Fusion Core Generators

These are environment located generators which can spawn cores at 100% full. Note, these generators spawn cores S L O W L Y. If another player has happened by and taken the fusion core recently, you could wait hours before another one spawns. If there’s not a core in the unit, it’s simpler to move on and locate another. Or, alternatively, server hop and hope you find one on another server. Unfortunately, server hopping may no longer work on these generators.

  1. Forest: In the back of and on the lowest level of the Kanawha Nuka-Cola Plant.
  2. Toxic Valley: Wavy Willard’s in a basement employee area with standing water on the floor.
  3. Camden Park: One is below the Widow Maker wooden coaster and one is in between the Atomic Ball games and Bumper Cars.
  4. Watoga: Located inside of Watoga Transit Center behind a level 3 lock pick door or, alternatively, you can open this door hacking a level 2 terminal.
  5. Cranberry Bog: Under the tall Monorail Elevator structure and near the elevator itself.
  6. Watoga: In the AMS building on the third floor. This location can be difficult to reach for a number of reasons. First, Watoga has hostile robots unless you’ve completed the quest ‘Mayor for a Day’. Second, this location can randomly spawn high level Mr. Gutsy and Robobrains inside the building if there’s a player in Watoga who hasn’t completed ‘Mayor for a Day’.
  7. Morgantown: In the basement area of Mama Dolce’s factory. You’ll need to get the card key from the manager’s office to get into this area via a large pipe outside. The basement area is likely full of Liberators.
  8. Savage Divide: There is a fusion core generator located outside and in the rear of West Tek Research Center. You can get to this generator from the rocks above it off of a road. West Tek Research Center is the home of Supermutants, so be prepared for a fight with high level enemies to even get close to this fusion core.

Loose Fusion Core spawn locations

These spawn 100% full.

  1. Forest: Located on a shelf in a closet on the lower level of the the New River Gorge Bridge West. You’ll need to get the key from the roller coaster at Camden Park to get into this area. It’s near a power armor chassis.
  2. Forest: Located on a table next to the fusion core generator at Poseidon Nuclear Power Plant.
  3. Forest: On top of a blue console inside of Relay Tower EM-B1-27 south of Vault 76.
  4. Forest: Not far from the fusion core generator at the Kanawha Nuka-Cola Plant in a cage behind a level 2 security door. It’s next to a weapons workbench.
  5. Cranberry Bog: Located under a table in Appalachia Antiques on the second floor. This location may spawn multiple different ammo types including fusion cores, plasma cores and other types of ammo. This one is not a sure thing.

Power Armor Frames

Power armor frames spawn with cores around 50% or less. The vast majority spawn at 25% capacity. Occasionally, a few spawn at 75%. They never spawn at 100% full.

  1. Forest: Located in a power armor frame under New River Gorge Bridge West in the a small room.
  2. Forest: There is a power armor frame in the basement area of Poseidon Power Plant.
  3. Toxic Valley: A power armor frame spawns at The Crosshair northwest of Wavy Willard’s. It’s a small camp that usually spawns low level scorched.
  4. Savage Divide: A power armor frame spawns at the Arena at Pleasant Valley Cabins.
  5. Watoga: There are 5 power armor spawn points which may contain cores: High School rooftop, Watoga Transit Center behind the door, next to a crashed vertibird near AMS, near a crashed vertibird on the roof of a condemned building across from the Civic Center, on the rooftop of Emergency Medical Services.
  6. Cranberry Bog: There are also power armor spawn locations at all (or most) of the military camps located throughout the bog including Survey Camp Alpha, Forward Station Delta and Firebase Hancock. Again, cores spawned here are on power armor frames.
  7. Ash Heap: A power armor frame spawns in a security cage in the basement of the Rusty Pick. Unfortunately, this location typically spawns higher level enemies, typically Mr. Gutsy, Colonel Gutsy or Supermutants.
  8. Fort Defiance, Cranberry Bog: A power armor frame spawns on the 4th floor of this building. Unfortunately, you can’t reach the 4th floor until you’ve completed portions of the Brotherhood of Steel questline that gives you access to the elevator.
  9. Point Pleasant, Forest: A power armor frame spawns in a garage area down the street from the museum.

Note, because fusion cores spawned on power armor frames are nearly always 25% charged, it’s almost not worth considering chasing these. If you’re really desperate for cores, you can go for these, but you should consider looking for 100% charged cores first.

Workshops

Clearly, you can pay to own certain workshops and produce them in the Fusion Core producer. However, taking over a workshop is subject to PVP activities, something you may not want. Additionally, the Fusion Core Producer creates one fusion core every 7.5 minutes. This means you’ll receive 8 cores per real life hour playing the game. You can likely find more cores in an hour than a Fusion Core Generator can produce. I also believe these generators max out holding less than 8 cores (perhaps 3 or 4). This means you’ll need to empty the generator periodically or the generator will stop producing.

Workshops that produce fusion cores are:

  • Poseidon power plant, south of Vault 76 in the Forest
  • Monongah power plant, east of Vault 76 in the Savage Divide
  • Thunder Mountain power plant, east of Monongah in the Mire

The downsides of owning a workshop (and specifically a fusion core generator workshop) are numerous:

  • Can’t keep a workshop longer than your present session. If you log out (or crash out) of the session, you lose the workshop (and anything you’ve created in it).
  • PVP is automatically enabled when you own a workshop. If another player shows up and decides to contest the workshop, they can kill you without going through any PVP handshaking.
  • Defend events happen about every 15-30 minutes, quicker if you’re not at the workshop. If you fail to defend the workshop, you lose it.
  • Due to defend events, you are forced to use your own resources to build turrets and other defenses. You will lose these unless you scrap them before leaving the server.
  • You are forced to either power up the power plant or place a fusion electric generator down to power the Fusion Core producer. This resource requires 100 power to function. If you don’t have plans yet for a fusion generator, you’ll need to power up the power plant first.
  • Odds of a PVP encounter go up dramatically the longer you hold onto a workshop, particularly the workshops that produce fusion cores. So, be prepared.
  • Workshop turrets do not attack PVP players contesting a workshop. This means you’re left to fend for yourself when another player comes to attack your currently held workshop. The only time the turrets activate against another player in a workshop is if they attack the turrets or other workshop objects. As long as they remain focused on your character, the turrets will not attack a contesting player.

Perk Cards

To get the most out of fusion cores, there are three cards you should consider for your character.

  • The first is Power User (Intelligence). This card, when max leveled (3 stars), increases the duration of fusion cores by double.
  • The next card is Full Charge (Strength). This card, when max leveled (2 stars) will a consume no extra power when sprinting in power armor.
  • The final card is Batteries Included (Intelligence). This card, when maxed leveled (3 stars), reduces the weight of fusion cores by 90%.

Regardless of your perk cards, fusion cores only last so long. Adding on the first two cards may reduce usage by a small amount.

In fact, I have personally found the Power User perk card to be somewhat broken. What I mean by that is that even though fusion core usage says it’s doubled, it doesn’t seem to actually be anywhere close to doubled. Instead, it seems to be closer to about 20-30% slower discharge rate and discharges much faster than you might expect.

I haven’t tested Full Charge only because it sits under Strength. Because my primary character’s Strength cards are already maxed out with weight reduction, there’s nothing I can remove to actually use Full Charge. However, the Batteries Included card does do what it says and reduces the 3 weight down to .3 which is, in fact, 90% reduced weight of fusion cores.

This all assumes that Bethesda doesn’t screw with and reduce these perk cards, just as they have reduced the effectiveness of the damage perk cards for weapons and damage resistance reduction for armor and even the reduction of the armor and weapons themselves. And yet, with all of the tweaking and fiddling and screwing around that Bethesda has done with Fallout 76, it’s still no better… and, in most cases, is actually become worse. If Bethesda is actually trying to chase off gamers, they’re certainly doing a bang-up job.

I will update this list as I go. If you’ve found any other spawn locations for fusion cores, please leave a comment below.

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Should we believe social media influencers?

Posted in advice, Google, scams, youtube by commorancy on May 14, 2019

There are many, many YouTubers (and Instagramers) who claim to profess knowledge of a given topic. By far, a vast majority are in the beauty industry. After all, beauty sells. Unfortunately, while they may be pretty, many have few brain cells in their heads. Let’s explore.

Social Media Sites: YouTube and Instagram

With the advent of social media sites, many young people have rabidly jumped on board to create content for these platforms. Some of these people (dare I say ‘kids’) have chosen to specialize in specific areas, like beauty products. I’ll focus on these ‘influencers’ in this article. Can these (or any) ‘influencers’ be trusted?

The short answer to this question is, no. These are young people (many aged between 18 and 21) who have acquired just enough knowledge to be dangerous. Yet, they in no way should be considered “professional”, let alone “knowledgeable”. I won’t name any names here. Even if I wanted to name names, there are actually far too many of these types of beauty channels to even point out a single one. Suffice it to say, there are many, many far too young beauty advocates on YouTube who may already have money, a palette of makeup and very strong opinions, yet actually have no skill or talent at all. Instead, with their limited talent at applying makeup, they have managed to amass a large following of young followers. Some have gained enough followers that they have been able to get product endorsements, sponsorships, monetization or have been approached to create product lines. Gaining followers is actually what they are good at, not applying the makeup, not creating the hairstyles, not selling makeup brushes.

In fact, many of their ideas can be downright dangerous. What they are actually good at is…

Hawking Products

And… that’s not a reason to celebrate or follow anyone. As these “kids” become “personalities” on screen, what you’re buying into isn’t the their products, but their drama. Watching an 18 year old drag queen apply makeup like a pro may seem enthralling, but the reality is you have no idea how many times that person may have applied it until they got the application just perfect. Maybe they even hired someone to apply it on them pretending as though they applied it. As we all know, “Practice Makes Perfect.” No where is this concept more important than on YouTube. Yet, fakery is everywhere, even in these beauty videos.

YouTube videos make the application of beauty products seem like a breeze. What you aren’t seeing is all of days worth of practice and product testing that the YouTube “personality” (and I use that term very loosely) endured to make that video appear perfect. Even then, give them a few months and they couldn’t even reproduce that look, if they even produced it the first time. Who knows if they even really applied the makeup themselves?

Unfortunately, the goal of being a celebrity is the want of money. In fact, many YouTuber’s goals are to make money from the platform. That’s their #1 goal. It’s not about you, the viewer. It is about you, the consumer funneling money into their channel (and eventually into their products). Whether that money is via clicking advertisements or via Patreon or buying into their sponsored products.

This is why the once “down to earth” YouTuber turns into a flamboyant, loud, arrogant, controversial dramatic personality trying to get you to buy the latest Morphe brush set that you don’t really need. It’s about making THEM money and parting you from yours. It’s not about reality, it’s about sales and fakery.

Drama Advertising

YouTube drama and scandals are quite commonplace in the YouTube beauty arena. On the one hand you have a seeming drag queen who’s boisterous, loud and obnoxious. On the other, you have another large personality who feels they are also entitled. When the two clash, it becomes a huge social media blow up. It ends up all over Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and, yes, YouTube.

The scandal and drama fuels their channels with tons of new subscribers, viewers and brings their brand front and center. Effectively, it’s ‘dramadvertising’. The question is, is whether all of that drama is …

Fake

One of the problems with YouTube is that so much of what you see is fake. With perfect cuts between takes, filters, expensive lighting and cameras and, yes, even the perfect application of makeup, the camera can make someone appear flawless.

With the makeup (or more specifically, fakeup), when you turn the ring lights off and take that person out into natural lighting, not only will the makeup application look like crap, you’ll be able to see very crease, flaw and imperfection in the application. Even then, the makeup is so overbearing, you wouldn’t really want to wear it anyway. With the right lighting and cameras, you can hide just about any imperfection. With the wrong lighting, let’s just say that the personality is an amateur.

Additionally, much of the drama that shows up on YouTube is entirely fake and is staged as a publicity stunt. Just like YouTube celebs sometimes have seeming congenial collabs with one another, they can also script scandals in the same way. It’s so easy for two personalities to meet and agree (to publicly disagree), to make a scene on social media designed to get their channels more viewers, more divisive comments and basically stir the pot. Sometimes stirring the pot is the only way to gain more viewers.

Several large beauty personalities have tried this approach in the recent past. Again, I won’t name names as they don’t deserve to be named on Randocity. I won’t give them the satisfaction of increasing their channel’s membership at the cost of my time spent writing this article. No. If you want to find those scandals from the recent past, you’ll need to head on over to Google and do some searching.

Knowledge, Age and Acting

I’m not going to say there aren’t prodigies in this world. There are. Unfortunately, none of them are on YouTube hawking beauty products. What you see on YouTube is random, usually “pretty” young guys and girls who have gained a following because of their seeming talents. Oh, they have a talent, but it’s not teaching you beauty techniques. Oh, no no. The talent they have is parting you from your money and being a general scam artist.

At 19, I didn’t have enough knowledge enough in any subject to be considered “professional” at anything. These same aged personalities on YouTube are also in this same boat. If they have any knowledge, it’s likely because they paid for it by hiring someone to show it to them, or more likely, do it for them. That’s not knowledge acquisition, that’s acting… and not even very good acting at that.

In fact, anyone on YouTube who has a channel is acting. Some of that acting is, in general, for the betterment of the viewers by showing the viewers something interesting. This should be considered entertainment, not advice.

While I can buy into an actor on stage telling me a story, I can’t buy into an actor behind a camera trying to sell me Morphe brushes. This was tried in the 90s via many, many…

Infomercials

Before YouTube became a thing, infomercials ruled. The talent that might have jumped in front of a camera for YouTube instead did so for Guthy Renker or other similar production companies. These companies have hawked all sorts of garbage throughout the 90s and 00s on late night TV.

These things including psychic readings, beauty products, acne products, hair care products, kitchen gadgets and even money making books. The array of crap advertised on infomercials is as varied as it is endless. Thankfully, infomercials were typically one-and-done. Meaning, only one infomercial was ever produced and when its run finally ran out months (or years later), the product disappeared from the airwaves.

YouTube

With YouTube, we now have a situation where the same crap that was hawked via late night infomercials has moved to YouTube as a daily, biweekly or weekly “show” (again, I use this term loosely). Because many of these personalities produce their own material, the structure of the video is random and chaotic. The one thing that isn’t random is their want for money.

Worse, viewers seem to buy into this random chaos from a random “young” person. It makes them see more “real”. Don’t kid yourself, there’s nothing at all real about a guy dressing up in drag for a camera. That’s a show.

In all likelihood, when that “kid” gets home, the makeup, nails and hair all goes away and they go back to being average kid living with their parents. It’s all for the camera.

This is the fallacy of YouTube. It’s not real. It’s not genuine. It’s not even accurate. It’s fakery and deception at its finest. The “Hi Guys… I appreciate you so, so much” is so disingenuous, it makes me want to gag. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard a similar phrase from a YouTuber. It’s all superficial and fake. Many of these kids turned personalities are likely even mentally disturbed. Yet, they can somehow compose themselves enough in front of a camera to appear ‘sane’ and ‘normal’. These are people who are not and should never be role models, let alone ever consider befriending in real life.

Yet, companies like Morphe extend sponsorships to these damaged folks, not because they’re good role models, but because they have 1 million or more YouTube subscribers… in other words, for all of the wrong reasons.

What is your damage?

An age old question, but very applicable to many YouTube personalities. Far too many of them, in fact. I simply do not feel comfortable taking advice from someone I don’t know, let alone from a drag queen whose claim to fame is putting on flawless makeup using a social platform without any formal training. Really? You expect me to believe what you have to say simply because you’re “famous” or because you look like you know what you’re doing? No.

YouTube Fame

Many YouTubers seem to think that being famous on YouTube actually means something. It doesn’t. If you want to be famous, and I mean seriously famous, you train to become an actor and you get hired in a blockbuster a film or highly rated TV series… then put on a performance that wins awards. That’s fame. And, that’s fame for all the “right” reasons… including displaying actual talent.

Being on YouTube because you can run a camera isn’t fame. It isn’t even celebrity. If anything it’s considered being a “minor” celebrity… and that’s being extremely generous. Being on YouTube doesn’t require skill, it only requires a camera, an idea and your opinions. Again, I won’t name any channels because the point of this article isn’t to send you off to a YouTube channel to become a subscriber, it’s to point out the problems with YouTube as a platform… and where YouTube stands today.

It’s called YouTube with a YOU

There’s a ‘YOU’ in the name. Which means, it’s about you. The real you. Not about a sponsor. Not about your cat. Not about makeup. Not about advertising. It’s about YOU. I think the platform has lost its reason why it came to be. When YouTube became about making money and lost actually being about ‘YOU’, then it became yet another lame commercial platform to sell stuff. And, that’s exactly what it’s become. One big advertising platform… from the embedded ads in the videos to the ads served up verbally in the videos by the creators.

In fact, it should probably be renamed ‘AdTube’ as that’s what it has become. It’s not about the ‘YOU’, it’s about the ‘advertising’, making money and selling you, the viewer, something, anything.

I used to go to YouTube to find interesting people doing interesting things. To find funny, amateur videos. Today, it’s about selling you something and making the creator money. When I go into a video and within 1-3 minutes a strategic product placement appears, I click away. Too many videos are now following this format.

With YouTube’s crackdown on monetization, that’s making even the biggest channels less and less money. I’m all for that. If YouTube turned off monetization tomorrow, it wouldn’t make many creators happy, but it would bring the platform back to its roots… the reason the ‘YOU’ in YouTube exists.

YouTube should move the the highly commercial channels into a new network called AdTube. Get them off the YouTube platform and let YouTube go back to its roots. Turn AdTube into the network that allows these highly commercial, highly sponsored, advertising heavy videos (and channels) to operate. YouTube doesn’t need these. In fact, because YouTube has basically degraded so badly, it’s really just a matter of time before the platform ultimately implodes under its own weight and stigma. Google needs to make a choice and they need to make it fast.

Making Choices

We, as consumers, need to wake up and stop following (and buying stuff from) brainless YouTubers who have no skills or talents other than holding a camera. You have a choice to watch or click away. You don’t even have to visit YouTube. Use your own critical thinking and stop watching channels that have 5, 10, 15 ads along with paid sponsorships in the video. That’s not what YouTube is about, that’s what both YouTube and Instagram have become.

You don’t have to watch this drivel. You have choices. Turn it off and spend time doing something creative or with your friends or family. Learn something… like how to draw or paint or play a guitar. Pick up something that you can do and learn to do it. You don’t need to watch someone on YouTube to be creative. In fact, watching YouTube does the opposite of making you creative. It robs you of precious time that you could be learning a skill, craft or how to play music. Spend that time bettering yourself rather than giving your money to someone and wishing you could be like them.

In fact, you don’t want to be like them. They may appear wholesome and friendly on YouTube, but chances are they are far, far different from what they portray themselves to be. As I said, they’re actors putting on a character. It’s not real. It’s not genuine. It’s a character designed to rope you in and have you spend money on them.

Authentic YouTubers

Just to clarify, this article is not intending to rail against every YouTuber. I’m specifically calling out the big 1, 2, 10 and 50 million subscriber channels playing every trick in the book to get you to spend money. And more specifically, this article is aimed squarely at the beauty industry channels. These very large, seemingly successful channels are solely about one thing. Getting you to buy something. Chances are, if you do buy that something, that channel stands to make a hefty cut of the profits and you’re left with a mediocre product you likely can’t return and may not even be able to use.

If you want to buy products, do it at a store. Try the product out and then decide if you want it. Use your OWN judgement to see if it works for you. Don’t believe the hype a beauty channel spouts. Believe what you see in person… at a store.

I’m not at all saying not to watch YouTube or even Instagram with the right frame of mind. Consider all social media channels as strictly entertainment. If it makes you laugh or gives you some other emotional response, great. But, don’t get invested in the channel as if it were real or believable or even an authority. It’s none of that. It’s simply entertainment, plain and simple. In fact, this part applies to ANY YouTube channel. They’re all simply entertainment with fallible and inaccurate information offered in video form, even with the most well meaning of intentions. As the saying goes, “Take it with a grain of salt.” Which ultimately means, disregard the information as inaccurate and only watch as you would pure fictional entertainment. If the video content peaks your interest, go Google the topic and find out more from reputable sources.

From this perspective, YouTube is fine to watch… but don’t invest money into the channel or into products hawked on the channel solely because you feel some kind of responsibility to the channel creator or because you believe what they say. Definitely, no. Simply by watching a YouTube channel does not obligate you to anything. The creator spent time putting together the video, yes. But you have no obligation to give them any money in return for watching their content. It was on them that they created and posted. Don’t let the creator “guilt” you into feeling like you “need” to give them money. You don’t. You also don’t need to buy anything advertised on any channel.

If you do decide to donate to a channel or buy products from them, do it because you sincerely want to do it, not out of some sense of duty (or guilt) because you “watched” their videos. No, YouTube and Instagram and all other social media should be considered strictly entertainment. You don’t need to open your wallet to any social media influencer… and you probably shouldn’t.

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Weight Loss begins in the Kitchen

Posted in dining healthy, food, Health by commorancy on May 10, 2019

Many people are under the mistaken impression that you need a gym membership to lose weight. While it’s great that gyms may motivate you to improve your health, it may not help you lose weight. This article = ~19 minute read. Grab a coffee and let’s explore.

Preface

Before I begin this article, I just want to state that I’m not a fitness, medical or diet professional. I have experience with this subject due to my own reading and research on this topic. I’ve also had personal life experiences with weight loss and weight gain several times throughout my life. I’ve definitely come to find what it takes to manage weight properly (although, not always perfectly… we’re human, after all). This article is meant to be informative. It is not intended as professional advice in any form. If you need professional advice for your specific body situation, you should seek the help and advice of a medical or dietary professional who can properly assess your personal situation and weight loss goals.

The Kitchen Part I

Many people mistakenly believe that you need to run, or cycle or lift weights to lose weight. You don’t. Weight loss is not about how much weight you lift or how many miles you’ve cycled, it’s about a healthy relationship with food based on your current energy requirements. That starts in the kitchen.

The body wants to lose weight. It’s the way it was designed. Food replenishes (and gains) that weight if eaten to ‘excess’. The difficulty in knowing how much is considered ‘excess’. This is the key to successful weight loss. Exercise is for fitness. Food is for weight management. The kitchen is where the food is, not the gym.

Resting Metabolism

Most people are only active for short periods of time throughout the day. For example, that might be an hour at the gym or 30 minutes on the treadmill or bike… and so on. The rest of the 23.5 hours of the day, you might be sitting at a desk, sleeping or possibly walking only occasionally. Because the majority of that 24 hours is in a resting metabolic state, you need to eat to cover the resting metabolic requirements, not the small amount of active time requirements.

A good rule of thumb is the 2000 calorie a day diet as “recommended”. However, even this diet may provide more calories than your resting metabolism needs.

If you need to assess your resting metabolic rate (RMR), you should enlist a local diet professional to help you pin it down. There are tests where you sit and breathe for about 20 minutes. During that 20 minutes, the test assesses your oxygen levels and how many calories you burn. That can be extrapolated to an hour, then 24 hours. This gives you a very good baseline on exactly how many calories you need to eat to cover your daily requirements. If you add in exercise for 30 minutes, you can modify the calories of your RMR.

As an example of an RMR, I had mine tested at 24 Hour Fitness as part of a membership. My RMR came back at 1700 calories per day… 300 under the suggested 2000 calories per day. This means that were I to follow the 2000 calorie per day suggestion, I might continue to gain weight. This meant adjusting my diet to eat less than 1700 per day to create a calorie deficit (on days when I didn’t work out). I might be able to adjust my caloric intake upwards a little 100-200 calories if I spent time in the gym.

To put that in perspective, that would be adding an extra piece of bread or two, a piece of fruit or two or a small cookie or two. You can see that’s not a lot of extra food. Even then, I would want to eat these with a meal, not before or after the meal or as a snack.

The Exercise Con

Too many people mistakenly assume that, “If I add some ‘cardio’ to my day, I can eat what I want”. This is not true. In fact, you should continue eating normally even if you do add some measure of exercise into your day… particularly if you want to lose weight. Adding more food in an attempt to compensate for that small amount of exercise is likely to put on more pounds than take them off.

As a case in point, I once had a boss who biked into the office every day. From his house to the office was at least 20 minutes of cycling. In total, that would be 40 minutes of bicycling every weekday five days a week. In the 10 years that I worked for this company, he never dropped a single pound… and I never got the reason why until I realized that weight loss begins in the kitchen, not on a bike. In fact, the company bought us snacks including Popcicles (his favorite), nuts, coffee, cereal and milk. The kitchen was well stocked. This meant he always ate calories in excess if he were trying to drop the weight.

While exercise is great at getting and keeping the body’s systems fit, it might not help you lose weight unless you take steps to make weight loss a reality.

The Kitchen Part II

It’s true that weight loss begins in the kitchen, not in the gym. Weight loss is about what you eat, not how often you use a treadmill. The treadmill is great at cardio and raising your heart rate, but raising the heart rate is not about weight loss, it’s about fitness. There’s a distinct difference between fitness and weight loss. Yes, they go hand in hand, but they are separate distinct concepts requiring separate critical understanding.

To lose weight is all about arriving at a food lifestyle that helps aid you in your weight goals. For example, it’s about creating a food lifestyle goal such as eating only meals at meal times. Snacking is off the table, except only occasionally and only if you can’t make a meal.

Dietary Restrictions

I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss this aspect of a food lifestyle. Some medical conditions require eating only specific foods and sometimes at specific times of the day… particularly if you have diabetes. In the case of diabetes, you will need to keep your blood sugar in check. This means eating the right foods in the right amount to manage that.

Again, even this situation begins in the kitchen and it requires a food lifestyle change. Hopping on a treadmill won’t necessarily manage blood sugar levels (other than perhaps dipping blood sugar after exercise). In the case of diabetes, you should follow the advice of your medical professional in terms of frequency of eating.

Because diabetes can be difficult to manage at times, if you’re intent on weight loss, you should seek the counsel of not only your doctor, but ask your doctor to recommend a dietician who is knowledgeable about diabetes. This dietician can then work with your weight loss goals and still allow you to manage your diabetes properly. In the case of this (or any other weight loss article), you should disregard any Internet advice and follow the advice of a professional who is versed in diabetes, specifically your type.

Healthy Adults

With that said, this article is intended towards adults who do not have extenuating medical conditions that might make weight loss difficult. Even without diabetes or other medical conditions, we should all seek to moderate foods in our diet… including artificial products, refined sugars, white processed flours, processed cheese food and processed meats. We should seek natural, whole foods that are as close to nature as possible. I’ll talk more about this in the next section.

I’m the kind of person that if I have a food in the house, I’ll eat it. For me, that means not bringing home anything I don’t want to eat, such as candy. That means rarely bringing home diary free ice cream, potato chips, cheese dips, candy bars and so on. Because I’m somewhat lactose intolerant, I steer clear of milk, sour cream, cream cheese, extremely soft cheeses, yogurt or anything that contains a boatload of lactose. Milk has a secondary problem for me as well and that problem is casein. Casein is a milk protein that causes allergies in some individuals. For me, milk is a double-whammy of lactose and casein.

To avoid this, I choose alternatives such as non-diary creamer instead of milk when making foods that require milk. Non-dairy creamer is artificial, so I limit my use of this ingredient. But, when I need milk in certain recipes, non-diary creamer is my goto choice because it doesn’t trigger me with lactose and casein. When I make bread, for example, I use non-diary creamer instead of non-fat dry milk powder. For cereal, when I rarely eat it, I choose almond milk instead of non-dairy creamer. It just tastes better on cereal. However, I rarely eat cereal.. and even then, the only cereal I like is Crispix, primarily because it’s not like eating a bowl of straight-up sugar and it stays crispy in milk.

Whole Foods vs Processed Foods

Many people have claimed that processed foods may slow weight loss progress. I can disprove that. I occasionally eat processed foods (i.e., hot dogs, Velveeta cheese, Spam) and I’m still on the road to my weight loss goals. Eating these foods may slow down the weight loss process slightly, but it won’t outright stop the weight loss so long as you keep your caloric intake below your RMR.

What’s more important isn’t processed or whole foods, but calorie dense foods. For example, vegetables and fruits are far less calorie dense than, say, pound cake or brownies. This means you must eat more vegetables and fruits to eat an equivalent amount of calories in a piece of pound cake. For this reason, calorie dense foods should be considered a ‘once in a while’ treat. Another calorie dense food is beer, wine and spirits. Drinking a glass of wine adds a lot of calories to your diet. Think of a glass of wine the same as a sugary can of Coke. It’s basically empty calories. Alcoholic drinks consist mostly of water with, in the case of wine, alcohol and fruit sugars. You don’t get any nutritional benefits from Wine, but you might get limited health benefits from the alcohol due to its blood thinning capabilities.

Treats

You sometimes can’t get away from social situations with food and drink. This means that when you’re out and about at a restaurant or at a party, you might be required to indulge in foods and drinks which aren’t part of your lifestyle. You don’t really need to worry about this interfering with your weight loss goals as long as it’s a ‘once in a while’ situation. At a social situation, you can choose to abstain from eating these foods outright. However, abstinence may be seen by the host as displeasure with the food choices. In other words, you might be judged negatively for not eating the foods or drinking the drinks. If you know you’re going to have a problem in a specific social situation, it’s best to stay away rather than showing up and being a picky eater.

In these cases, you have two options. Attempt to avoid such social situations or choose to lightly indulge in the foods offered. Basically taste them and carry around the remaining food on a plate. You can even throw away the plate after a few minutes and grab something new. If you have a third option where the host provides you the choice of foods you can eat, then take advantage. However, few party hosts are that obliging, particularly if you’re taking a client out to dinner or to a company party. Be prepared to find something at the party to snack on. Or, alternatively, eat your meal immediately before the party and politely explain you’ve just eaten dinner.

You don’t need to eat a meal there, but you can pick whatever you find is the most healthy option. Sometimes they offer deserts with fresh fruits. Sometimes they offer hard cheeses. These are good options to help you retain your food lifestyle. Though, you can mark such social occasions as ‘treat day’. I’ll talk about ‘treat day’ a bit later.

Food Lifestyle

I know I’ve mentioned this term several times in this article and I think it’s about time that I define it properly. A food lifestyle is about changing your habit with food on an ongoing basis. The word ‘diet’ has a long held the connotation of being ‘temporary’. You diet, you lose weight, you go off the diet. You can’t do that and maintain a healthy weight.

To maintain a consistent healthy weight, you need to change your food choices on a permanent basis. This is the act of creating a continuous food lifestyle. A continuous food lifestyle is the goal if you want lasting weight loss, including weight maintenance.

You can’t go ‘on a diet’ and then later ‘go off the diet’. That’s a recipe for weight loss failure and is the key to Yo-Yo dieting. No. You want lasting change for the rest of your life. This means making food choices that you are willing to live with day in and out, week in and out and year in and out. You need to be able to live your food choices.

This also means a balanced approach to food. This means choosing to make home cooked meals over eating out. This means buying fresh whole foods to cook those meals.

If you’re used to eating out at McDonald’s weekly and eating out regularly throughout the week, making home cooked meals may initially be somewhat of a shock. It takes time to cook meals, but with the proper tools, you can cook meals at home in similar amounts of time as McDonald’s takes to prepare your meals.

For example, I can make a homemade hamburger and fries meal at home in as little as 15 minutes. It takes perhaps a little longer than it takes McDonald’s to serve a meal, but my meal means I can choose my ingredient choices. For example, I prefer actual Swiss cheese on my burgers. Few fast food restaurants offer that choice. If I want to use Avocado oil mayo on my burger, I’ve got that choice also. If I want Sriracha, it’s right there. For example, where will you find a burger made with Romaine lettuce and heirloom tomatoes? These combinations just don’t exist at fast food restaurants.

Making your meals at home means you can choose the ingredients that you like, that you will eat and that are hand-selected by you.

Homemade Meals versus From Scratch

Many people think that a home cooked meal signifies that it was made from scratch. In fact, that’s not necessary. For example, hamburger buns are a common thing we buy at the grocery store rather than making them ourselves. I’ve personally made hamburger buns myself and I prefer my home made versions, but it’s a time consuming process waiting for the bread to rise and then baking them.

You can easily make meals at home from packaged foods rather than making everything yourself. Obviously, you’re not going to go butcher a cow just to get a specific cut of meat. You’re going to visit a butcher counter and pick from those in the counter. That’s a time saving example.

Like the bread and steak examples, you can also make other foods from mixes or boxes. You don’t need to spend time doing everything from scratch. Yes, there is a satisfaction to making everything from scratch, but unless you have excessive amounts of time to kill performing these steps, making boxed or bagged mixes is perfectly acceptable time saving approaches to making home made meals.

You can even save yourself kitchen time by using a slow cooker or a pressure cooker. These are other cooking alternatives to getting the job done with the least amount of your time. You just need to find these time saving approaches. For example, using the microwave to grill hamburgers or steaks using specially designed microwave grills. These can be tremendous time savers.

Treat Day

As you approach a new food lifestyle, you’ll want to include a full treat day once a month. This day is the day where you can eat things not normally on your regularly scheduled food lifestyle. These might include eating out at your favorite restaurant, staying home and eating ice cream and/or popcorn in front of a movie. Perhaps you like drinking Coke or Pepsi or making an ice cream float out of these. Or, maybe it’s eating birthday cake.

These are treats you let yourself have once per month. You choose the day and then stick to it only on that day. These days are great days for social events, going to parties or hanging out with friends at a bar. This allows you to eat whatever you want and then fall right back onto your food lifestyle the following day. It’s a day where you don’t have to worry about what you’re eating. However, it’s always prudent to moderate your food intake no matter where you are. Being overindulgent in anything, particularly food, is never a good idea. You don’t want to wake up sick from eating too much food.

This day is actually important to your body. It’s a way to get your body out of its metabolism “comfort zone” and, for a day, make it change how it works. This breaks the monotony of eating similar foods day after day and aids your metabolism achieving your weight loss goals. Sometimes, the metabolism needs a little kick in the pants. That’s why treat day is important.

You don’t have to do a treat day every month if you don’t feel like it. Also, if you need to move your treat day to a different day, that’s also fine. However, having it on the same day makes it easier to manage and know when it is. I always preferred having treat day on a Friday as it was always like a tiny celebration.

You should also include a mini-treat snack once a week. This is a time when you can have a single treat, like a small sundae, a small cookie, a piece of chocolate, a small piece of cake or a dessert after your meal at a restaurant. You just want to tickle these taste bud receptors so you don’t get tired of your food lifestyle. These are to break the monotony of not having a sweet food at your meal. You don’t want to do these often, but you do want to do them occasionally to allow for a piece of chocolate or candy bar or glass of wine. We all need to indulge occasionally.

This system allows you to indulge in your favorite snack foods to prevent you from rejecting your chosen food lifestyle outright, forcing you back to a weight gain diet. You want to be able to treat yourself every now and then. The reason most “diets” fail is because they deprive you of the foods you love. A mini-treat prevents that deprivation problem.

What I have found is that even though I do have a treat available, I don’t always do it. Some days I just don’t want sweets or other treats. Occasionally, I do want them and that’s when I include a single treat during a day or I add it to my chosen treat day. If your monthly treat day is coming up in a few days, just hold on until then and have your snack then.

Note that fresh fruit and fresh veggies don’t count as ‘treats’. You can include these in your food lifestyle. Treats are defined as calorie dense processed foods such as wine, beer, spirits or decadent desserts such as a brownie with ice cream, cake or a candy bar. Yes, even a protein bar, a breakfast bar, a protein shake and even cereal should be considered ‘treats’. Basically, anything that is calorie and sugar dense should be considered a ‘treat’. The rule is, if it’s sugary and/or overly fatty, then it’s considered a treat.

Peanut Butter (or any nut butters)

Peanut butter is an odd food that seems like it should fall under being a ‘treat’. Depending on which version you buy, it might or might not.

The one thing I will say about peanut butter is to moderate no matter which version you buy. It’s a calorie dense food that’s reasonably fatty. If you buy commercially produced “smooth” peanut butters, these contain sugar. These peanut butters should be considered a treat.

If you buy All Natural (i.e., requires stirring), these are not considered as a treat. The difference between the commercial and all natural versions is additives. Commercial peanut butters insert additives to make it ‘smooth’ and to not separate. These additives, like sugar, make this version of peanut butter into a treat.

All natural peanut butters only have peanuts, peanut oil and possibly salt. These are the definition of whole foods. This type of peanut butter isn’t considered a treat, but peanut butter should always be used in moderation. For example, if you can buy freshly ground peanut butter from Whole Foods, this is actually the best type of peanut butter to get.

If you make a PB&J sandwich, this is definitely a treat no matter which peanut butter you choose. Jelly, jam and preserves are definitely considered a treat food because of the excessive amounts of sugar and because of its processed nature.

How many times removed from nature?

Eating natural foods is the goal of a food lifestyle. These are typically whole raw, steamed or cooked foods. You want to eat foods that are as close to nature as possible. For example, eating a raw Romaine lettuce leaf is as close as you can get to a natural food as it exists in nature. Once you process a food, such as turning a raw fruit into preserves, that’s considered to be removed from nature several times. Once to cook it down into a slurry, once to add in sugar and other additives and once to can it.

Bread is a food twice removed from nature. It begins as a whole grain which is pulverized and processed into a powder (once removed). Then that powder is mixed into water to make dough and then baked into bread (twice removed). Once something has been removed from nature more than once, it’s considered processed. Processed foods are not the goal of a healthy weight loss lifestyle. However, bread has a place where jam and preserves don’t.

Bread is a form of fiber and fiber aids in digestion and slows the conversion of sugar in the blood stream. Unfortunately, jams, preserves and jellies have removed all fiber from the fruit, which leaves pretty much jellied sugar. Because sugar is already readily abundant in nearly every food, there’s no need to add extra sugar in the form of jelly, jam or preserves. Yes, they taste good, but they should be considered a treat.

The point is that you need to count how many times a food has been removed from nature to determine if it works towards your weight loss goals. If it’s been removed from nature more than twice, you should rethink that food choice. This goes hand-in-hand with…

Fats, Carbs and Protein

The intake of calories comes from fat, carbohydrates and proteins.

Fat (aka lipid) is fatty acid of any type such as peanut oil, sunflower oil, palm oil, rapeseed oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, corn oil, avocado oil, olive oil and so on. It also includes fats in meats. This category also includes steroids and waxes.

Carbohydrates are any form of sugar including both simple sugars and complex sugars. Simple sugars (two molecule) include glucose, galactose (not generally found as a food ingredient) and fructose (aka levose or levulose). Complex sugars (more than two molecules) include lactose (milk sugar), sucrose (table sugar), sucralose (artificially manufactured), dextrose and maltose. These types of simple and complex sugars can be recognized by the ‘ose’ at the end of the name. Starches are also a form of even longer chained sugar molecules. All sugars and starches reduce to glucose, fructose or galactose in the blood stream. For sugars to be reduced in the body, chemical reactions break the two or more molecule chains into simple sugar molecules for absorption by the body. The body can’t absorb complex sugars, only simple sugars.

There are also sugar alcohols including but not limited to erythritol, maltitol, xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol and inositol. You can identify most sugar alcohols by the distinctive ‘ol’ at the end the name, with the exception of the peculiarly named sugar alcohol, isomalt. Sugar alcohols are curious things. While they can sweeten the food they are in (to a lesser degree than sucrose), they can also add some odd properties. One of these properties is a cooling sensation in the mouth.

Sugar alcohols are used in some cough drops and mints to enhance the mint cooling sensation. Another side effect of sugar alcohols is diarrhea, bloating and loose stools when eaten in sufficient quantity. The difficulty with sugar alcohols is that some people are more sensitive to these compounds than others. It’s best to avoid foods containing sugar alcohols simply to avoid unnecessary trips to the bathroom. It is worth noting that many foods labeled ‘sugar free’ actually contain sugar alcohols in replacement of the ‘ose’ type sugars. The FDA has granted food manufacturers the right to label a food as ‘sugar free’ when it only contains a sugar alcohol. Don’t fall for the ‘sugar free’ label. If you’re watching your sugar intake, sugar alcohols count as sugars.

Other alternative sweeteners include fructooligosaccharides or FOS. This sweetener is derived from the blue Agave plant as well as chicory, leeks, bananas, onions and a few other plants. This sweetener contains multiple molecules of sugar and must be broken down by the body’s chemical processes. This sweetener is not often used in the US, but may be found in some food preparations, including agave based sweeteners. It is a commonly used sweetener in Japan.

Simply for completion, sugars are found in most vegetables and fruits in varying quantities and in varying forms. Don’t get trapped into thinking you’re not eating sugars when eating fruits and vegetables. In fact, fruits can raise blood sugar levels equivalently to candies when eating particularly sweet fruits.

Stevia is short for stevia rebaudiana. While this compound is considered a sweetener, it is not a sugar at all. Instead, it’s actually a plant sterol (aka plant steroid). As a result, the use of Stevia does not raise blood sugar levels. This means it is safe to use as a sweetener by diabetics. However, because it is a type of plant steroid, it may interact with the body’s steroid receptors in other unexpected ways. There is some concern that Stevia may negatively interact with the kidneys, the nervous system and other body functions. It may even interfere with digestion. Toxicity studies assessing side effects around this sweetener are still being determined. As with any foods, you’ll want to assess your own effects after consuming it.

Proteins are any form of branched-chain amino acid. Meats, legumes and eggs all contain chained amino acids. An example amino acid type would be L-glutathione, L-arginine or Leucine are building blocks of all meat, legumes and eggs. Though, legumes contain both amino acids and carbohydrates. Eggs and meat do not contain carbs, but may contain fats. Amino acids are responsible for building muscle in the human body and are responsible for many other building activities within the body.

These three macronutrient types (fat, protein and carbs) form all of the foods in the world. There are also micronutrients within foods. These micronutrient types include the vitamins A, B, C, D, E as well as minerals. All vitamins and minerals are contained in various vegetables including but not limited to green leafy vegetables, beets and carrots as well as minerals (i.e., iron) in meats. Together, the macro-nutrients and the micro-nutrients combine to make up the human food diet.

Man Made vs Natural Food

Above, I discussed how far removed a food was from nature. This is an extension of that discussion. If a food is natural and whole, by its very definition, it is natural. A food made by a human is not natural. Let’s understand natural versus man made in this context.

Corn on the cob is a whole natural food. A tortilla (made from ground corn) is a man made food.

Whole wheat kernels are a whole natural food. Bread (made from ground whole wheat kernels) is a man made food.

Sugar cane is a whole natural food. White table sugar (made from sugar cane) is a man made food.

By extension, further foods can be made from some of the above man made foods. For example, white table sugar is the ingredient to make most confections including chocolate bars, candy bars, cake and even bread.

If a food is man made, it is by its very nature, not natural. If you’re in the store shopping and you’re trying to determine if a food is “natural”, it’s easy to determine. If it’s a box on a shelf, it’s man made. If it’s sitting on the produce aisle in its raw form, it’s natural.

Natural Foods

All of the plant produce products on the supermarket produce aisle are natural. The produce industry further sub-categorizes its produce into “conventional” or “organic”. These labels mean various things to various people. However, produce with the “conventional” label typically means that the plant was grown using standard farming practices, including the use of standard chemical (sometimes toxic) pesticides. The produce may be further dressed using waxes and other “beautifying” techniques to make them pretty for store displays.

Produce labeled “organic” typically means the plant was grown using all natural methods of growth, many times without using pesticides or hormones or fertilizer at all. If a pesticide is used on an “organic” labeled product, it is typically of a non-toxic variety (i.e., vinegar or lemon juice concentrate or similar type edible and easily washable, non-toxic pesticide). This produce is not “dressed” to look pretty. You’ll find that “organic” produce may be misshapen, discolored, smaller, more ripe and may go bad faster. The size difference may mean the lack of using hormones or using “organic” fertilizer (i.e., compost).

The difficulty with these labels is that who really polices them? When you get to the supermarket and see the “organic” label and its corresponding higher price tag, is it really pesticide free? Is it really “organic”? You don’t really know. For this reason, I typically opt for produce shopping by price rather than labels. The only time I shop by label is “Grown in the USA” or “Grown in California”.

When something is “Grown in Mexico” or “Grown in Guatemala”, you really don’t know what pesticides were used. In fact, because it’s grown outside the U.S., many U.S. banned pesticides are used on this imported produce. Additionally, many of the workers who harvest these fruits and vegetables in these countries may actually be sprayed by these toxic pesticide chemicals while still in the field harvesting. As a result of these farming practices, I typically prefer to steer clear of these imported fruits and vegetables and I choose to buy produce “Grown in the USA” or “Grown in California”… particularly thin-skinned root vegetables (i.e., carrots, beets) as well as celery, lettuce and tomatoes. Thicker skinned vegetables, like avocados, I might opt for Mexico produce, but only if they’re the right kind and the right price. If locally grown vegetables are available, I always opt for these.

The Kitchen Part III

As we return to the kitchen with our newfound knowledge, our food lifestyle should consist of whole real foods more often than man-made foods. Clearly, bread is a good thing and can be eaten in moderation, even though it is a man-made food. Rice, on the other hand, is a whole real food. Yes, its hull is removed and each grain is dried, but that’s about the extent to which it is modified, unlike grains of wheat.

Rice flour is available just as is wheat flour, but rice flour is less used to make baked goods than is wheat flour. The point is, bread has a place in the diet. However, so does rice. Both bread and rice are carbs. As a result, you want to treat them as the carbs portion of your plate.

When making meals, you want about equal parts fat, protein and carbs or 33% fat, 33% protein and 33% carbs dividing up your plate. Some say you should have less protein than fat or carbs, but that should be based on how your body responds to these macronutrients. If you can’t seem to lose weight, you might want to reduce your fat and carb intake a little, which will increase your protein intake.

There’s a complex relationship in the body between these three macronutrients. Each play off the other to help build muscle or increase fat. The point is, calories are the measure of how much energy you are expending. The macronutrients (which ultimately make up your calories), see to it that you gain or lose weight based on the number of calories you intake versus what you expend.

The kitchen is the place to make weight loss a reality via what you buy, what foods you make and how much you consume. You can add exercise in to help make your body fit and expend a bit more energy. However, if you do add in exercise, don’t get caught by the exercise trap thinking you can eat a lot more simply because you ran on a treadmill for 20 minutes. It doesn’t work that way. 20-30 minutes of exercise might allow you to eat one more piece of bread than you otherwise could. A single piece of bread is not very much food and definitely doesn’t equate to the calories in a candy bar or a pint of ice cream.

The point is, choose your calories carefully. Eat when it’s appropriate. Treat yourself occasionally. Eat in moderation. Don’t be suckered in by the exercise con that leads you to believe you can eat whatever you want simply because you took a 30 minute walk.

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