Facing the Facts on Facebook Privacy

It’s our own fault, but now what? 

Facebook

Has anyone heard the story of the Frog and Boiling Water?

The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.1

This leads me to a question. If Facebook had told users upfront that they would pretty much give up their privacy and have their every move tracked, how many of their 1.23 billion active users would have initially signed up?

They didn’t do that of course. What they did do is gradually make changes over time to capitalize on how they can benefit from your information. They know when and how often you check Facebook. They know your age, gender, birthday, where you went to school, where you work, who your friends and family are, what your likes and dislikes are and, in some cases, even your phone number. They know this why?  Because we gave it to them. And with features such as tagging, checking-in and messenger, users are obliging to give up even more of their privacy for the sake of being social. As a result, Facebook knows when you are home or not home. With a simple click of the “like” button, Facebook can track your interests and target you with specific ads that might be of interest to you. They have even been accused of tracking you even when you leave Facebook to view other websites, though they deny this.

Ever start writing a post and you say to yourself, “I better not” and delete the text because you thought it might offend or embarrass someone? That so-called “deleted post” may still exist! According to an article published on SLATE.com, “To collect the text you type, Facebook sends code to your browser. That code automatically analyzes what you type into any text box and reports metadata back to Facebook.”2 Facebook calls these types of non-posts “self-censorship” posts and collects this data. How do they use it? It’s all right here: (http://www.aaai.org/ocs/index.php/ICWSM/ICWSM13/paper/viewFile/6093/6350)

Private message anyone? A Salon.com article talks about a bug that allowed private messages to become public on the Facebook Wall.3 A poor college student had his “I can’t believe we made out” message posted for ALL to see. Though Facebook denied this was the case, this wasn’t the only instance of private messages being posted publicly reported4

Maybe the most well-known infringement on privacy form Facebook came when an experiment was conducted “in which researchers temporarily tweaked the contents of nearly 700,000 [Facebook] users’ news feeds—without their knowledge —to test their emotional response to seeing more positive or negative news from friends.”5

Speaking of friends, are any of them hiding from a former lover and calling themselves “Bob Smith?” One of the most recent Facebook battles involved the company wanting to implement a “Real Name” policy. Drag Queens, who didn’t want their true identity known, protested and claimed discrimination. They may have just won, according to sflist.com.6

The last point: Once you are on Facebook, there is NO leaving…really.

Sure, WikiHow can give you the 11-Step Process to “Permanently” delete your Facebook account, so they say.7 But after reading everything I’ve stated above, do you REALLY believe Facebook permanently deletes anything?

On top of that, if you are like me, you feel stuck. You believe Facebook is your ONLY true connection to family and friends. In other words, they’ve got you right where they want you… IN HOT WATER (boiling). I’m sure that’s not how you felt when you got inJ.

Note: I loved the frog metaphor, but can’t take full credit. Behavioral economist Alessandro Acquisti, a professor of information technology and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University used this same metaphor during a talk on the TED stage. You can hear that talk on the TED Radio Hour Podcast. The talk discusses: facial recognition software that can connect an anonymous human face to an online name, and a Facebook account in about 3 seconds. ~ scary!

References:

  1. Wikipedia “Boiling Frog” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boiling_frog
  2. Slate – “On Second Thought…Facebook wants to know why you didn’t publish that status update you started writing.” http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2013/12/facebook_self_censorship_what_happens_to_the_posts_you_don_t_publish.html
  3. Salon- “Facebook released my messages from college” http://www.salon.com/2013/12/15/facebook_outed_my_private_messages_from_college_partner/
  4. Huffington Post – “Facebook Bug Exposing Users’ Private Messages On Timeline? New Glitch Reportedly Spotted (PICTURE)” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/24/facebook-bug-private-messages-timeline_n_1909813.html
  5. Mercury News- “Facebook runs into uproar over experiment that tested emotional reactions” http://www.mercurynews.com/business/ci_26064438/facebook-runs-into-uproar-over-experiment-that-tested
  6. SFlist- “BREAKING: Facebook Issues Mea Culpa To Drag Queens And Others Over ‘Real Name’ Policy [Updated]” http://sfist.com/2014/10/01/facebook_apparently_backing_down_fr.php
  7. WikiHow- “How to Permanently Delete a Facebook Accounthttp://www.wikihow.com/Permanently-Delete-a-Facebook-Account
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30 Days to a Better Brain: Q & A with former Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona

Dr. Richard Carmona

Dr. Richard Carmona

April 2014

Dr. Richard Carmona, has donned several unique hats during his life, including that of a combat-decorated Vietnam veteran, physician, police officer and politician. He served as the U.S. Surgeon General from 2002 to 2006 under George W. Bush, and is well-known for his 2006 report on the dangers of second-hand smoke, which led to many states imposing bans on smoking in restaurants and bars. Currently, Dr. Carmona is the president of the Canyon Ranch Institute in Tucson, Ariz., a nonprofit public charity whose mission is to “help educate, inspire, and empower every person to prevent disease and embrace a life of wellness.” Dr. Carmona’s latest book, Canyon Ranch’s 30 Days to a Better Brain: A Groundbreaking Program for Improving Your Memory, Concentration, Mood, & Overall Well-Being,will be available May 6th at amazon.com. I had the chance to speak with Dr. Carmona about his upcoming book and the (sometimes neglected) focus in America to overall brain health.

KM: What do you feel is the biggest misconception people have when it comes to brain health?

RC: I think maybe more than a misconception, people don’t understand that the choices of their activities, the choices of the behaviors that they express every day, can have a direct effect on their mental health and their cognitive ability. Things such as the foods you eat, the exercises you do or don’t do, the stresses that you incur in life, the environment that you live in, smoking…all of those things will have an effect on your cognitive ability either directly or indirectly.

KM:  Are there certain brain exercises people can do to sharpen thinking and improve memory?

RC: I think we can safely say that as long as you continue to challenge yourself through the ages—take up a new form of exercise, read, listen to music, learn to play an instrument—all of those things create new neural networks, what we call neural plasticity. All your life, you’ve written with your right hand; try writing with your left hand, try brushing your teeth with the weak hand, stand on one foot, so every time you do something like that it stimulates the brain to make a new connection so that it will remember to do it again and help you to do it safely. So, challenging yourself through life intellectually and physically is important to help retain your cognitive ability.

KM: There are some apps out there geared toward brain exercises that are getting popular, what is your opinion of this trend?

RC: [Dr. Michael Merzenich]who is actually one of my professors from medical school said decades ago, before anyone even understood that you could continue to reshape your brain throughout life—they pretty much taught that at 60, 70 years old you’re not going to effect the brain anymore. And Dr. Merzenich, a neuroanatomist and professor at the University of California, San Francisco, was telling us he didn’t think that was true. We know that’s not true now. And years later he’s done the research to prove it. He developed this company called Posit that has brain games. These games challenge you to think differently. Whether it’s adding numbers, or it’s chasing cursors across the screen, it’s causing you to focus in a different way. It’s stimulating the brain in a way you’re not use to and, again, that helps to develop those neural networks. And helps preserve the old ones.

KM: Are there certain physical exercises that stimulate the brain more than others?

RC: It’s interesting. One of the concepts we’ve talked about for a few years when I came back from being surgeon general is that we do well at teaching people how to stay physically fit and active through life, pursuing optimal health and wellness, but nobody was dealing with the brain. And one of the things that became apparent to me, we needed to start brain gyms. How do we exercise the brain? Any physical exercise is good, because as you pedal a bike, as you run, as you swim, as you do resistance bands, as you do yoga—all of those activities require a neural network to support it. Therefore the more cross-training you do with different things that keep the mind stimulated, it keeps that brain young, it preserves the neural networks you have and helps you grow new neural networks. This is the science of neuroplasticity. The key is to find things that you enjoy doing physically. Walk, run, swim, play tennis and do all of them. Stay physically active throughout life and that helps to preserve your cognitive ability.

KM: Do you feel the Canyon Ranch 30-day program can help people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease?

RC: For the average senior with cognitive decline, in medical terms, dementia, you start forgetting things, you get a little confused, and that whole spectrum of dementia includes something called Alzheimer’s disease. What all of these dementias have in common is that you begin to lose your cognitive ability. We know that whether it’s Alzheimer’s, whether it’s dementia from aging, if you come into our environment at Canyon Ranch, we know how we can teach you to pursue optimal health and wellness as well as preserve your cognitive function. That doesn’t mean we are treating you and the disease goes away. But we know the variables that will help you to stay younger longer as you age, because that’s what you are trying to do. You want to age gracefully, but you want to age and stay younger in your mind and your body. By staying physically fit and eating the right foods, putting the right fuel in your body, when you are physically fit it optimizes brain health as well as cardiovascular health. All of those things are important. There is no science out there to say, ‘This is the best exercise for your brain,’ but the science is real clear that all physical activity that is sustained over time is good for your brain health.

KM: What types of foods are brain foods and which are toxic to the brain?

RC: When we look at cardiovascular health and health in general and nutrition, we speak about a diet that is rich in non-processed foods; organic and natural, high in fruits and vegetables and all the food groups. Protein sources from fish, fowl and if you eat red meat, then lean cuts of beef. Because what you are trying to do is load your body up with anti-inflammatory things, Omega-3-rich for instance, flaxseed, etc. These substrates, chemicals that go into the body, go into your cells and ultimately become the precursors for a lot of other chemicals that mediate inflammation. Cause inflammation and stop inflammation. The more fatty foods you eat, the more trans fat acids that you eat, the higher incidence of stimulating inflammation. So when we look at the inflammatory process and when we look at cognitive ability, they kind of run hand-in-hand. If you are eating healthier foods, having less inflammatory response, staying physically active, you’re optimizing your health as well as your brain health.

30 Days to a Better Brain

30 Days to a Better Brain

In 30 Days to a Better Brain, Dr. Carmona lays out a 30-day nutrition, exercise and medical plan to help optimize brain health. He also discusses the importance of sleep, medical tests to ask your doctor about and the best ways to challenge your brain. Sounds like a no-brainer to at least check it out!

Kevin McGuire is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. He received a B.A. in journalism from Rowan University in New Jersey and is the Social Media Manager for AFAA (Aerobics and Fitness Association of America). He is also the Managing Editor of American Fitness magazine (www.americanfitness.squarespace.com) based in Sherman Oaks, CA. He often tweets the latest headlines in the world of social media @followmcg andexpands into other topics such as celebrity profiles, the trials of everyday life and the forthcoming zombie apocalypse on his blog atwww.kevinmcguirewriter.comHe can be reached at mcgurk1266@gmail.com.

Pay-to-Play for Small Business? No way!

Shared content can help spread the word just fine

By Kevin McGuire

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Ah, remember the good ol’ days when it didn’t matter whether you were a small or large business on Facebook? Back when content reach was limitless, the playing field was level, and bringing in new business was just a matter of using clever words, eye catching photos and fun contests? Well, unfortunately, those days are over, as Facebook, and other social media giants, have lured enough users into their “first one’s free (sucker)” tangled web, and returned us to the competitive “bloody ocean” where only those with mucho cashola get to reach potential customers through the new pay-to-play promotional posts.

So what’s a small business to do? Certainly, there are other ways to reach potential customers without paying? Right? Right.

There are always creative ways to get around these new pay-to-play formats. Here are a few.

On Facebook, Sharing is Caring

Sure you can pay for reach, or your current followers can reach for you. Sharable content is a valuable commodity on Facebook and there are certain approaches that work and others that don’t work. Unfortunately, one of the least shared types of posts are those directly promoting your business. Ouch! These types of posts are a turn off in most cases. And even if your current followers love the offer, they may just opt to give you like instead of a share as they don’t want to appear as they are advertising to their own followers.

One thing that does work when it comes to sharing is informative and interesting content. Content that your followers would love to pass along, and along, and along. For example, say you work for a coffee company; most likely the majority of your followers have already used your product and liked it enough to follow you. Now you want to reach more potential customers. Posting a comment such as “Try our new dark roast ground coffee and get 10 % off your next purchase,” may get some likes among current followers, but most likely won’t get many shares. Now imagine posting the photo below with a fun fact, such as: A Harvard study showed that people who regularly drank coffee actually had a somewhat lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease than those who rarely drank coffee. 185808624

Believe me, your coffee-loving followers will share this interesting info with their followers, and so on and so forth.

Try Infographics

Another type of post with usually a high share rate is one containing an infographic. An infographic brings together creative graphics and statistics to present sharable information in a fun way. For example, what goes great with a cup of coffee? How about a slice of pie? Here is an infographic from CouponCabin.com featuring the most popular types of pies at Thanksgiving.

theres-always-room-for-pie_50ad832198395

You can create an infographics, such as this one, pretty simple and reach more potential customers through sharing. There are some free programs such as www.piktochart.com and www.visualize.me you can use to create your infographic, or you can use programs such as  Photoshop as well.

And keep in mind, there is no shame in asking your audience to share your posts. You can also refer them to a Pinterest page for a retrospective of all the fun facts and infographics you have posted about your brand or service. Remember, post and post often! At least twice a day (10 a.m. and 3 p.m. they sayJ). Stay tuned for tips on how to avoid pay-to-play on Twitter as well. Until then, take care!

Kevin McGuire is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. He received a B.A. in journalism from Rowan University in New Jersey and is the Social Media Manager for AFAA (Aerobics and Fitness Association of America). He is also the Managing Editor of American Fitness magazine (www.americanfitness.squarespace.com) based in Sherman Oaks, CA. He often tweets the latest headlines in the world of social media @followmcg and expands into other topics such as celebrity profiles, the trials of everyday life and the forthcoming zombie apocalypse on his blog at www.kevinmcguirewriter.com. He can be reached at mcgurk1266@gmail.com.

Following the Footsteps

January 2014

2012 © Steve Boyle

When I first interviewed Anne Mahlum in March 2009, she had just returned from a gala ceremony as one of CNN’s “Top 10 Heroes of the Year.” Mahlum created the Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization Back on My Feet (BoMF) in 2007 when her running route past the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission developed into an opportunity for homeless persons to overcome their personal challenges and struggles.

Running Is Motivation

In her first BoMF run, Mahlum was joined by nine individuals who were looking to leave behind years of addiction, homelessness and legal problems, and use running as a motivational tool toward better times. Following the motto, “Moving the homeless forward one step at a time,” the original nine grew to over 80 persons from five shelters across Philadelphia. Running the streets turned into running marathons and many BoMF participants moved on to find full-time employment, housing and hope.

In 2009, Mahlum said she hoped “interest will grow and programs will expand nationwide.” Well, her goal has become a reality with the 11th Chapter of BoMF opening in Los Angeles in October 2013. The organization—now a national for-purpose 501(c)3—does not provide food and shelter to the homeless, but instead offers coaching, resources, financial aid, job training and access to employment opportunities.

How Does it Work?

Back on My Feet partners with local facilities such as half-way houses and shelters. If a resident has been at the facility for at least 30 days, he or she can join a running team. They set goals and sign a dedication contract. Then the running begins. Teams meet for runs on Monday, Wednesday and Friday with optional runs on Saturday for those who wish to train for marathons. If members maintain a 90% attendance rate, they move on to Phase 3. This Phase is where participants work toward an independent lifestyle, have access to educational and job training openings and can apply for financial aid. Nearly 75% of members are in Phase 3 of the program—a true testament to its success rate.

Growth

Soon after I spoke with Anne in March 2009, BoMF started its expansion—gradually opening chapters in Atlanta, Austin, Texas, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Indianapolis, New York and Washington, D.C. in addition to the original Philadelphia Chapter. “It’s always been the plan,” said Mahlum, a month prior to the launch of BoMF’s L.A. Chapter. “There was just something very spiritual about the idea knowing that it could help a lot of people, but still you reflect and say, ‘Wow, how did all this get done?’ But when you combine passion, compassion and ambition…it’s incredible what can happen.”

With any new organization, bumps in the road and growing pains are expected, and Mahlum has had her share. Each new chapter has brought with it a plethora of learning experiences that have helped Mahlum and her team leaders grow and improve. Some of those leaders include original members from other chapters. “They [members] become team leaders and lead the runs in the morning,” Mahlum shares. “We also have a big alumni network where members come back as speakers. It is really important for members to keep their relationship with the organization evolving. It is a key factor in their recovery and helps them become self-sufficient and improves their self-worth and self-value.”

The Back on My Feet L.A. Chapter has opened locations Downtown and in Long Beach and Santa Monica. On October 18th 2013, BoMF kicked things off with a big event and the first mile run on the streets of Downtown, followed by a corporate breakfast for about 700 people at the JW Marriot in L.A. LIVE. “When we launch in a new market, we make a big deal out of it,” Mahlum says. “It kind of feels like Christmas—it’s very inspirational. People leave feeling purposeful and excited about the work and the mission of BoMF.”

Success

Forty-six percent of BoMF members move forward to get jobs, homes and/or job training. Since the fall of 2008, more than 1,200 people have found employment through BoMF’s partnership programs, which includes partners such as: Marriot, AT&T, White Lodging, Bimbo Bakeries, ACE Cash Express and Accenture, who assist with résumé writing and computer and job interview skills. Local community colleges also help with grants to aid those who need to further their educations and hone necessary skills to enter the job market.

Getting Involved

If you’d like to support BoMF, you can do so in several ways. Teams run on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and walkers, joggers and runners are welcome to join in. Your company can sponsor a BoMF event, help with funding, or assist with training and employment opportunities for members. There is also an array of cool men’s and women’s apparel available on the website (www.backonmyfeet.org). All proceeds go back into maintaining BoMF’s national program.

One thing is for sure, Back on My Feet has taken a unique approach to helping the homeless, and one that is working. Sometimes thinking outside the box is just what we need in order to tackle the tough issues. It takes true leaders with a vision and the courage to move ideas forward despite the obstacles. Hopefully we will see more ideas like Back on my Feet come to fruition.

Take a Hike

December 13, 2013

153782200Fall is here and the cooler weather is perfect for outdoor activities. Hiking in the hills of the beautiful San Gabriel Valley is a great place to start! But, hiking, isn’t just about spraying on some bug repellant, grabbing a water bottle and hitting the trails. There are many factors to consider, especially if you are new to hiking. Keep in mind that you are sharing these majestic mountains with many species of wildlife, plants and you can meet with some challenging, steep terrain. Being properly prepare can be almost as challenging as the hike itself!

Preparing For the Hike

Mark Nelson, of Eagle Rock, has been an avid hiker for more than 20 years. Nelson emphasizes the importance of being properly prepared before heading out on your hike. “Prepare the day before so you can get an early start,” Nelson says.  He suggests filling a small backpack to the rim with important supplies such as:  a map, flashlight, sun block, first aid kit (which should include Band-Aids, antibiotic ointment, alcohol pads, pain relief tablets, an ace bandage, blister kit, nail clippers, tweezers for splinters, and duct tape, for temporary repairs.)

Making wise clothing choices is also a must. Nelson suggests bringing an extra pair of socks and wide-brimmed hat to keep the sun off your neck and ears. “Comfortable pants tend to work better than shorts, protecting your legs and minimizing dirt in your shoes,” according to Nelson. “In cold weather, layering works best. Remember, you will be warm when hiking up hill.”

Keeping hydrated and snacking on energy foods are the way to go when hiking. Bring at least a liter of water, and snack foods such as nuts, power bars or a sandwich. “But, there is no need to bring a lot of food—you won’t starve on a morning hike,” Nelson states.

Avoiding Foot Injuries

Jodai Saremi, DPM earned her doctorate in podiatry medicine from Temple University and is a personal trainer in the Los Angeles area. She notes that some of the most common injuries related to hiking occur on the toes, the ball of the foot and the heel. “On the downhill portion of a climb, the toes are jammed into the toebox of the boots or sneakers. The nail beds experience blunt trauma which causes bleeding under the nails and results in painful subungual hematomas,” Saremi notes. Saremi suggest socks should be thicker in order to whisk away moisture which can contribute to nagging blisters.

Sprained ankles are another common injury for hikers. “On a long trail, it’s a good idea to take along an ace wrap and a single use cold pack, which can weigh anywhere from 3-16 ounces, for emergencies,” Saremi suggests. “If there is a cold lake or stream available that is safe to approach, and the skin is not broken, soaking the ankle in cold water may help reduce swelling.”

Saremi says to avoid wearing running shoes or sneakers as they hold little support. “Superior hiking footgear should provide a solid lug sole, some would even recommend a steel shank, and a roomy, reinforced toebox,” she says. “Also, depending on the time of year and the terrain being traversed, water-proofing may be desired, along with thinsulate lining and a gussetted tongue. For more breathability, mesh insets allow air flow.”

 

Good Spots to Hike for Beginners and Pros

For the first-timers, Nelson suggests O’Melveny Park in Granada Hills. “It’s an easy two-mile hike along a stream. A fire road leads East up a ridge, offering excellent views of the Valley out and back,” he says. For a more moderate hike, try Mt. Waterman, which is about 34 miles north of La Cañada off of State Route 2, prior to Buckhorn Campground. A National Forest parking pass is required. This five-mile loop takes you up around 1300′ in elevation with breathtaking views of the desert and San Gabriel wilderness creating a “true mountain experience,” according to Nelson.  Hike up single-track trail and down fire road. There may be snow on this trail, Nelson cautions.

You are Not Alone

The mountains of the San Gabriel Valley are filled with friendly wildlife such as varying species of birds, insects (though pesky) and amphibians. Even some of the larger inhabitants such as bears and mountain lions will keep to themselves if not bothered. According to the Mountain Lion Foundation, “Only 14 fatal attacks on humans have occurred in North America during the past 100 years.” If you encounter a bear, stay calm, and back away slowly and give the bear room to escape. Talk loud to make sure the bear is aware of your presence (bearsaver.com).

Other things to consider is never hiking alone and always dispose of food waste in garbage cans. Open food wrappers can attract unwanted wildlife and hiking with a partner makes for a safer and fun journey! Enjoy!

 

Will There Be a Zombie Apocalypse?

Tags

December 2012

It may have already started

53Zombies have always been a fascination within pop culture ever since George Romero’s 1968 breakthrough film Night of the Living Dead left audiences terrified with jaws dropping. H.G. Wells and even Mary Shelly, to some degree, touched on the subject of the undead, but it wasn’t until Romero’s film that the true horror of the possibility of a zombie apocalypse came to light.

At the beginning of the last decade, a re-emergence of zombie films hit the theaters. 28 Days Late and Resident Evil were followed by a semi-successful remake of the Romero film Dawn of the Dead in 2004, the spoof Shaun of the Dead the same year, and several more Resident Evil films. Zombies had hit an all-time high in popularity. Then when we thought it had reached its peak, The Walking Dead (based on the graphic novel series) became a huge hit on AMC spilling more graphic guts and gore ever seen on a TV series.

Though it’s uncertain whether a virus such as the one outlined in The Walking Dead series can truly occur, there are many that believe it could be a reality one day. From a medical standpoint, Harvard Health Publications has stated its case why they feel the scenario is unlikely: (http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/zombie-apocalypse-only-in-your-dreams-201210315478).

Personally, I think such an event could be happening already, but not in all the ways most might expect.

In the novels and movies, zombies have a unique collection of classic characteristics. I will touch on each one and compare how they can relate to situations in today’s world.

Zombie Characteristics 1 through 3

 

1)      Mobile, but technically dead.

2)      Unresponsive to surroundings.

3)      Don’t recognize outside world.

Mobile, but technically dead

silly_goofy_zombie_cartoon_character_photosculpture-p153190255907981454bfnwk_400Here’s an experiment. Go to any busy street corner or ride public transportation and see how many people exhibit these 3 characteristics. They are mobile, shuffling down the street, unresponsive to their surroundings…dead to the world. Zombies. Ok, maybe not fully, but the initial changes could be occurring. You may even recognize the warning signs within yourself. People seem to be on auto-pilot when walking (and driving) these days.

The Washington Post noted in 2012 that Apple has sold 85 million iPhones since 2007. Now add in the non-Apple products as well and you’ll find that everyone from your 12-year-old little sister to grandma are using gadgets for internet searches, games, music and yes, even for phone calls. While people are hooked on these gizmos, they are tuning out the outside world.

 Unresponsive to surroundings

 Although many will claim they are multi-tasking as they walk, drive, text and tweet, recent studies have shown that multi-tasking is not possible. In an interview on NPR, neuroscientist Earl Miller noted, “Switching from task to task, you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you’re actually not.”

Don’t buy it? More of a numbers person? Well, the National Safety Council has reported that there are 1.6 million cell phone related car accidents each year. Twenty thousand caused by texting while driving. “I need to quit texting, because I could die in a car accident,” said Chance Bothe, a Texas college student. During the text he drove off a cliff. Bothe was lucky…he survived. But many don’t. Forbes reported that 11 teens a day die as a result of texting and driving. There has even been a commercial where a highway patrol officer pulls someone over who is texting and driving. When he returns to the police car, he shakes his head and says, “zombies.” Exactly.

Besides car accidents, there is a plethora of viral videos of zombie-like people walking into walls, falling down stairs etc. as a result of focusing on gadgets rather than paying attention to where they are headed. There was one case a few years ago where a girl from NY, who was texting while walking down the street, fell in to an open man hole. The family sued the city, of course, because why would anyone consider taking responsibility for their own actions?

In a small experiment of my own, I entered an elevator on the top floor and pressed floor “2.” After several trips over a week’s time, I noted that 8 out of 10 people who entered the elevator after me and were concentrating on their gizmos, failed to press their desired floor of “1.” They were rewarded by a trip back up the elevator.

 Don’t recognize the outside world

 Cartoon zombie isolated on white“Go out and play.” How many of us have heard that yelled out by our mothers growing up? Times have changed. With HD TVs, DVRs, interactive video games systems and portable DVD players, why leave home? In addition, the technology of today has also made some parents afraid to let their kids out of their sight. With Amber alerts and sex offender registry sites telling us who is living in our neighborhoods and a full variety of both drama and reality TV shows depicting kids being kidnapped, killed or sexually abused, parents are much more hesitant to let their kids go out and play.

The result? A Colorado-based study, in 2008, showed a decline in outdoor physical activity by 11 percent compared to the previous year. It has also caused an increase in obesity rates among this age group, which we will delve into more later.

 

1)      Mobile, but technically dead.

2)      Unresponsive to surroundings.

3)      Don’t recognize outside world.

Zombie Characteristics 4 through 6

4)      Lack of communication skills

5)      One track mind

6)      Living in a decaying state

Lack of communication skills

 In 2010, USA Today claimed it was “The year we stopped talking to one another.”Technology has taken the place of human interaction.Face to face social skills are diminishing. In the next 10 years, teens may be unable to understand emotions through facial expression and more through LOLs and OMGs. Social Networking, email and texting are the preferred communication methods among today’s college students.

The Daily Athenaeum, the publication at West VirginiaUniversity, noted that social networking has hurt communication skills of college students. In 2010, student’s grades were 20% lower when they had Facebook accessible while they were studying. “Students have become reticent and intimidated in the classroom to speak directly with me. Rather, they feel more comfortable sending me an e-mail from behind a computer screen, which is impersonal and does not contain context at all,” said Dr. Kelley Crowley, a public relations professor at West Virginia University.

A 2012 Penn State study noted a significant decline in language and grammar skills among tweens. The study showed that kids who became use to “text speak” using language such as “gr8” for great and “LOL” for laughing out loud, had trouble adjusting back to proper grammar. A precursor to the simple grunts and groans in zombie speak? Could be!

 One track mind

 An important factor, but how is it defined? Shuffling off to a job everyday to provide for ourselves, and/or family? Is that one-track mindedness? Is it similar to watching a trail of ants or bees to a hive? When we are focused, set on a task, not much can break us away. But on a deeper level, what if we are not using our minds to there fullest at all? Scientists and Spiritualistic individuals alike have noted that we hardly even tread into what it truly means to be conscious. In fact, we may be zombies already, according to Todd C. Moody, an associate professor in philosophy at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, who raised the question in his paper titled “Conversations with Zombies.” The argument being that the only difference between us and zombies is the “conscious state.” So, if this is true and you attached it to Eastern Philosophies such as Zen, which says that human beings, most of the time, are not fully conscious, then that would mean that we are, in fact, zombies.

 In a decaying state

 This section may lean a bit more toward the tradition theories related to the zombie apocalypse. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one-third of the U.S. population is obese. If this current trend continues, it is projected that the rate of Type II Diabetes in this country will double in 15 year. That’s about 20 million by 2025. Obesity is the result of more than just over eating. Lethargy and inactive lifestyles are contributor’s as well.

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia have also seen a massive increase of 245% since 1970. Early stages of Alzheimer’s include impairment of learning and memory, as the disease advances patients fail to recognize loved ones and often develop coordination control.

Now, I’m not saying that obese individuals and those suffering from Alzheimer’s are zombies. I’m simply pointing out the similarities in characteristics as a result of our own life styles.  All the above, including the new technology is a result of a world we created.

Drug choices have changed too. Synthetic cathinones such as “Bath Salts” have been in the news lately as they can cause “zombie-like” reactions from their users. In May 2012, a Miami man was shot and killed by police after he was found eating another man’s face.

There have been similar cases involving similar drugs over the years.

In conclusion:

 Now, I’m sure I can toss out more similarities (such as more pale skin as a result of fear of skin cancer), but I won’t.

Why is it occurring? Maybe we just can’t grasp the realities of our own existence and eventual demise, so we fill up our time with escapism in the form of entertainment, information, food and other mind-altering substances and spend less time in what’s real ‘cause it’s too scary? Who knows?

But, either way, we need to take a good look at where we are headed and maybe, just maybe, we won’t get there!

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The Latest SPiN in the Philly Music Scene

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October 2012

Dating back to even the colonial days, Philadelphia has been on the forefront of the music scene. From classical and opera to R & B and Hip-Hop, the Philly sound takes a back seat to no one. Rock ‘n’ roll is no exception. In fact, some would even argue that it all started in the City of Brotherly Love when the sounds of Doo-Wop were heard right on street corners and, soon after, Dick Clark took his first step onto the American Bandstand stage.

Today, Philly is still host to many Rock, Pop and Indie bands frequenting joints like World Café Live, The Khyber and Legendary Dobbs. One such band who is no stranger to Philly is SPiN. This Indie/Power Pop four member ensemble released their first full-length album in 2010 titled BELiEVE. Songs on the record, “Not in Love,” “Hurt by You,” and “DoN’t Look DowN” have been heard on various shows including on MTV.

With a sound quoted by critics as a mix of Queen, Muse and the Cars, SPiN is sure to please you ear buds with harmonic melodies stirred with rock steady sound and heart piercing lyrics.

Members: Eric Rothenheber (Vocals), Jim Vacca (keyboards), Lou Chudnofsky (Drums) and Henry Cieplinski (guitar) have been currently working on their next album and have completed their latest tune “Hearts in Flames.”

I had a chance to talk to SPiN’s guitarist, Henry Cieplinski about the band’s recent success and their future projects.

McGuire: Let’s talk about how everyone met and SPIN came to be?

Cieplinski:  Well, Jim and E (Eric) went to high school with my brother, and we all played together in a couple different projects. Then Lou came into the picture. We found him on a street corner pretending to be homeless.

McGuire:  Where was your first gig? Tell me something about that night?

Cieplinski: Our first gig with Lou was Lou’s audition with us I believe. We kinda knew we wanted him in the band even before he played because he played in another band we knew, but that didn’t stop us from making him buy us shots all night.

McGuire: The band was originally called Spin the Bottle, why the name change?

Cieplinski:  Spin the Bottle was primarily a cover band. The “plan” was to do covers to gain an audience and throw in originals, but that didn’t work. People who want to hear covers don’t want to hear something they never heard before, they want to hear Guns N Roses. When we decided to go all original, we needed to make a change, so we just cut the bottle thing.

McGuire: What would you say has changed in the Philly music scene in recent years?

Cieplinski: Not much. It’s increasing difficult to get people out because everyone is home on their iPads. Clubs open and close all the time. It’s hard to stay in businesses for bar owners with live music I guess.

McGuire: When did you first pick up a guitar and how soon after did you realize this is what you wanted to do in your life?

Cieplinski:  I was 15. I can remember struggling to play “Iron Man,” but in my defense, I was playing it on my sister’s cheap ass guitar my parents bought her to play at church and the action sucked. (That means it was hard to play for the lay person). I still can’t play “Iron Man” on that particular guitar. The first time I played an electric in a music store, I knew I could make it happen. That was much easier. I knew I wanted to play music before I picked up the guitar though.

McGuire: SPIN magazine has threatened a lawsuit against the band citing trademark infringement claims because of your band’s name, has anything further come of that?

Cieplinski: No. We basically got a cease and desist. Then we did nothing. It was ridiculous. They wanted to scare us from using the name “spin”. I guess if there were a THE magazine, lots of bands would be in trouble. We weren’t worried. When you’re a broke ass, you don’t fear lawsuits. It’s kind of like being the ugly guy in a fist fight. You really have nothing to lose.

McGuire: The SPiN EP was released in 2007. How was the reception? You got to tour a bit for this record alone and opening for band like Puddle of Mudd and Halestorm. Tell me about that.

Cieplinski:  The reception was great. We got a lot of great reviews and one which stated that we were the worst band ever. That was my favorite. Touring was great. Lots of fun, and a great experience. Opening for big acts was cool as well. We stole Wes from Puddle of Mudd’s beer and then ask him about song writing after the show. He was a pretty cool guy. We go way back with Halestorm. They opened for us and we opened for them. What a great band. The first time I saw Lizzy sing my testicles rotated and my ears smiled. Great guys, great band. Just a matter of time before everyone knows that.

McGuire: The track, “Home” seemed to be a popular favorite and made it to the charts. Tell me the background to the song.

Cieplinski:   This sounds made up, but I spent some time in Mexico, came home and threw a lot of that down. Then when we did it for producer David Ivory, he wanted it done differently. He added the loop and such. Then I begged him to put the real strings on it. I think it came out great after all that.

 McGuire:  What is your favorite thing about touring? Share the most exciting moment so far with the band.

Cieplinski: Putting a scorpion in the driver’s seat of our tour van when it was Lou’s turn to drive was pretty cool. Playing little towns like Page, Arizona was awesome because our song was in rotation there and when we played the gig, people were singing the song along with us.

 McGuire:  Everything cool with the band? Getting along?

Cieplinski: No, I mean yes. I mean… what? No – things are good. We fight. We all write so we do disagree about things. But honestly, we couldn’t be better friends.

McGuire:  Tell me about your other band mates and what they bring to the table.

Cieplinski:   Well we all bring a different musical background and influence, which is cool, and we all have our own personalities. Lou brings a unique humor, E brings an intellect and tranquility and Jimmy brings a keen sense of what’s going on in the music industry. That and everyone is a real good musician. I’m the a-hole in the band.

McGuire:  Your first full album “Believe” was released in 2011, and has gotten some recognition. “Hurt By You” was featured on both G4 and MTV. Tell me a bit about that track.

Cieplinski: Hurt was E’s baby. We were able to get a lot of individual influences on it though as is evident with Jimmy key licks throughout. Most of the time one of us brings up an idea in it’s early stages, then we all beat it up until it’s deemed SPiN worthy.

McGuire:  There have been comparisons to Muse and Queen…not bad company?

Cieplinski:  Not at all. Yeah, two big influences on all of us. We all have different influences, but these two we all have in common so it makes sense, I guess.

McGuire:  Tell me about the new music and when we can expect to see the next album.

Cieplinski:  Well, we’re almost done a 3 song EP were working on, and we have a couple other tracks half recorded including an original Christmas tune.

McGuire:  Who has directed you latest video “Hearts in Flames”? Who is the actress in the video?

Cieplinski:   A film director in London contacted us about an idea for a video for Hearts in Flames. The girl was a friend of his. Sorry, I’m bad with names. He has another idea for doing another video for one of the newer songs we just got done. Maybe I’ll learn her name for the next one. Maybe.

McGuire:  What’s next for SPIN as far as touring? Where can people in Philly catch you guys?

Cieplinski:   Not sure about touring. We’re kind of focusing on recording some new stuff right now. We play the Legendary Dobbs on South Street a lot. Great room. Great people. END

To keep up with the latest news on SPiN, visit there website www.spinrocks.com. But for now, here is their latest tune “Hearts in Flames.”

 

Local Artists are Making it Happen on Their Own

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Just ask the makers of “Bigfoot County”

Sept 2012

Making in L.A. is tough.

This statement spoken time and time again is actually untrue—it is actually a sugar-coated understatement. Making it in L.A. is extremely tough, yet everyday, actors, models, musicians, comedians and filmmakers alike dive into an endless sea with many other aspiring big fish and swim against the tide. Many have been lost. But fortunately for today’s generation of ambitious go-getters, there are other options.

More than ever, artists  are getting their projects completed independently. They have the luxury of social media outlets such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to get the word out—and you know what? It’s working.

One example is  Star Trek Phase II. Created by a bunch Trekkies that felt they needed some closure to the 5-year mission that fell short on TV. The Phase II internet series became so popular, that even original Star Trek made guest appearances. In music, the Indie band Foster the People, initially posted there hit song “Pumped Up Kicks” on their website as a free download. Soon after, it was at the top of the charts.

And making movies is becoming no different. Determined actors and filmmakers are not letting rejections or requests to give up creative control stop them from making the film they want to make.

Joey Napoli

Joseph Napoli (www.imdb.com/name/nm1828185/) originally moved from Hoboken, NJ to L.A. to become an actor. After landing a few small parts over a stretch of years, he decided to broaden his horizons and step into the realm of producing. His first shared project is complete and is entitled “Bigfoot County.” Napoli is an executive producer and also acts in the film.

It was written and directed by

Stephon Stewart

Stephon Stewart (www.imdb.com/name/nm2416074/), an actor making his directorial debut. “Bigfoot County” follows the trek of a documentary filmmaker who sets out with his crew, in 2009, to investigate an area that has had the largest amount of Bigfoot sightings in history.

I got a chance to talk to Napoli about this project:

McGuire: Where did the idea for this film come about?

Napoli: The idea came to Stephon Stewart in two parts. Part one, when he first saw the “Blair Witch Project” many years ago now, and part two, the “Paranormal Activity” film series. He continued to mull it over in his head to combine the two great ideas together. He knew he wanted to do something in the woods. That’s when the “Bigfoot” idea popped into his head. There is no bigger subject matter when it comes to the woods than “Bigfoot,” literally.

McGuire: Where was it shot? Describe the experience.

Napoli: We shot the film in Siskiyou County, Calif. in a town called Happy Camp. Some of the crew made the 13-hour drive from L.A., and we flew the entire cast and rest of the crew up to Northern Calif. Siskiyou County is a very interesting place in the middle of nowhere—remote, and quiet. At night when we were shooting, the things we heard out there were indescribable at times! The woods are so vast and dense, they surround you as far as the eye can see. The best way to explain it is: if you were standing on the sand at the beach and looked out on to the ocean only to see water, that’s Siskiyou County, only all you see is a sea of green trees.

McGuire: What type of camera was used?

Napoli: A Panasonic HD camera

McGuire: What can you tell us about the film plot?

Napoli: Based on found footage, a documentary filmmaker and his crew venture up to Siskiyou County, known for their Bigfoot sightings. While there to investigate, they meet a local who leads them into the woods showing them evidence to these sightings. As they document everything on tape a series of unfortunate events occurs leaving many unanswered questions and only this footage to draw conclusions.

McGuire: Sounds quite eerie! Looking at the Trailer, it does resemble “Blair Witch” a bit.

Napoli: “Blair Witch” is the first of its kind. It paved the way for what we now refer to as “handheld found footage” movies. The fact that “Bigfoot County” also takes place in the woods, the comparison is going to be there no doubt. But, you have to see the film to truly appreciate how different “Bigfoot County” really is from “Blair Witch.”

McGuire: Tell us about the director, Stephon Stewart. How did he bring this film together?

Napoli: Stephon Stewart is an ambitious, intelligent, hard-nosed, perfectionist filmmaker. He settles for nothing less than greatness, and directs in a respectful, classy way—as a gentleman. Stephon wrote and shot a version of the film more than 3 years ago. He cut together a little two-minute teaser trailer which went all the way to Creative Artists Agency (CAA). Before long, he was working with Drew Barrymore’s production company Flower Films. Jason Blum, the producer of “Paranormal Activity,” was brought on board to supervise. Nearly two years went by when he reshot the movie with Flower Films. He was asked to reshoot the film a third time, and then was requested by Flower Films to not direct his own movie.

McGuire: Wow? I imagine that didn’t sit to well with him?

Napoli: He walked away! He walked away from a deal with a major production company, talent agency and A-list producer. The movie was his idea from the beginning, nobody else’s. The creative differences had built up too much, walking away was his only choice.

Stephon and I were living on the same property. He lived in the back house and I lived in the house with [actor]

Johnnie Colter

Johnnie Colter (www.imdb.com/name/nm1845034/). We were all living together for a few years. Johnnie and I knew the whole story and the drama that had plagued Stephon while working with Flower Films. Then, Stephon sat down with us one day and told us he walked away, and why he did what he did. We agreed with him. He just wanted to make the movie he knew would be great if he could just find some producers who would leave him alone and let him direct it. And that was all that needed to be said. Johnnie and myself said, “let’s do it.” [We] had some money, and Stephon was all in with his money. The result: “Bigfoot County,” a $30,000 dollar movie, filmed, edited and sold in exactly 1 year’s time!

McGuire: Amazing!Once it got underway, was it a fun film to make? Sounds like it would be.

Napoli: It was a real blast to shoot this movie. Everyone involved knew each other for many years. Having relationships and friendship with people who understand the time restraints and tribulations that lie ahead made it all worth it and possible. Like minds always prevail.

McGuire: You bring together a group of actors that have done OK on their own. Give me a break down of the actors and what they bring to this film.

Napoli: Let me start with

Don Scribner

Don Scribner (www.donscribner.com) and

Sam Ayres

Sam Ayers (www.imdb.com/name/nm0043807/). These two seasoned actors have been in this town well over 20 years. They should be series regulars on TV shows, or at least co-starring in major feature films. They are my greatest accomplishments when it comes to “Bigfoot County.” I happened to be really great friends with both of them. When Stephon was talking about casting, I immediately brought both of them to the table. They are the pros and veterans of this film. The other staple of the film is

Davee Youngblood

Davee Younglood (www.imdb.com/name/nm0950192/). He is another great friend and brainstormed with Stephon way back when he was still developing the idea. Davee went for it in this movie. He put it all out there with no fear, and it shows. Rounding out the stars is the lovely

Shy Pilgreen

Shy Pilgreen (www.imdb.com/name/nm1423041/),  an adorable and abrasive Southern girl. She really shines and stands out in the movie, being the only female cast. She holds her own with the boys. She’s tough and feisty…you can’t help but cheer for her. And last, but not least, Stephon Stewart, who had to take a back seat mostly due to operating the camera and directing the film. Just as the entire cast, he is always believable and real. He carries a lot on his plate, and still pulls off a damn fine performance!

McGuire:You have appeared as an actor in a couple of films, but this is the first one you produced, what were some of the challenges you and Stephon faced?

Napoli: Paperwork was the biggest challenge before we even started shooting. SAG and ABS payroll kept us busy scrambling for several weeks. Other things included, making sure everyone was paid properly and on time and hoping and praying nobody got hurt or injured while filming. Aside from some serious poison oak, everybody made it back to L.A. in one piece. Stephon sat along side the editor the entire time in order to complete editing from 20 hours of footage in a little over a week’s time. Then came the really challenging part—selling the movie. It took a few months and endless phone calls, but Stephon was on it day and night. I have been close to the entire project, lending and advising whatever I can. We have both spent each day calling, e-mailing and contacting whoever we needed to, to get “Bigfoot County” out there.

McGuire: Where and when can people see this film?

Napoli: The film right now is appearing in several select cities around the country through www.tugg.com. We have been accepted at the “New Filmmakers L.A. Festival” in Hollywood at Gower Studios. The date it will screen is Friday night, Oct 26th at 12 p.m. LionsGate has just released the official trailer and one sheet poster. You can view them on Facebook @ “Bigfoot County the Movie”, on IMDB @ “Bigfoot County,”as well as on YouTube @:http://youtu.be/DAtOWRsQL6M.

McGuire: Thanks for your time Joey and I wish you and the film a lot of success!

 Napoli: Thanks Kevin! Appreciate the support!

There you have it! Now here is the trailer for “Bigfoot County.” Enjoy!

Stay tuned for Part II of the article featuring another locally made movie- Dead Man’s Party!

Hatred in America (California Edition)

September 2012

Time to say, “Not in my backyard!”

When it comes to terrorism and hatred, we often focus our attention overseas. Yet, everyday, in our own neighborhoods, Americans are displaying acts of hate toward non-Americans and Americans alike. What’s the reason for this hate? It’s because as humans, we are all different. We have different views in the areas of race, religion and sexual preference and what seems ok to us, doesn’t sit well with others. And instead of just being tolerant and accepting of other’s belief systems like many, some individuals and groups feel this way of life is wrong and must be stopped by any means possible.

According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, in 2010, 1,949 law enforcement agencies reported 6,628 hate crime incidents involving 7,699 offenses. There were 6,624 single-bias incidents that involved 7,690 offenses, 8,199 victims, and 6,001 offenders.

2011 stats are still being broken down, but nevertheless, the stats are astronomical:

 

Racial bias

In 2010, law enforcement agencies reported that 3,725 single-bias hate crime offenses were racially motivated. Of these offenses:

  • 69.8 percent were motivated by anti-black bias.
  • 18.2 percent stemmed from anti-white bias.
  • 5.7 percent were a result of bias against groups of individuals consisting of more than one race (anti-multiple races, group).
  • 5.1 percent resulted from anti-Asian/Pacific Islander bias.
  • 1.2 percent were motivated by anti-American Indian/Alaskan Native bias.

Religious bias

Hate crimes motivated by religious bias accounted for 1,409 offenses reported by law enforcement.  A breakdown of the bias motivation of religious-bias offenses showed:

  • 65.4 percent were anti-Jewish.
  • 13.2 percent were anti-Islamic.
  • 9.5 percent were anti-other religion, i.e., those not specified.
  • 4.3 percent were anti-Catholic.
  • 3.8 percent were anti-multiple religions, group.
  • 3.3 percent were anti-Protestant.
  • 0.5 percent were anti-Atheism/Agnosticism/etc.  (Based on Table 1.)

Sexual-orientation bias

In 2010, law enforcement agencies reported 1,470 hate crime offenses based on sexual-orientation bias.  Of these offenses:

  • 57.9 percent were classified as anti-male homosexual bias.
  • 27.4 percent were reported as anti-homosexual bias.
  • 11.4 percent were prompted by an anti-female homosexual bias.
  • 1.4 percent were the result of an anti-heterosexual bias.
  • 1.9 percent were classified as anti-bisexual bias.

 

Hate crimes is one thing, but also in the mix are organizations that develop out of pure hatred for a group of people. The Southern Poverty Law Center, an American nonprofit civil rights organization, noted for its legal victories against white supremacist groups; its legal representation for victims of hate groups; its monitoring of alleged hate groups, militias and extremist organizations; and its educational programs that promote tolerance counted 1,018 active hate groups in the United States in 2011. Of those, 84 of them are in California alone. That’s the largest amount in one state.

Now the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list includes anything from Neo-Nazis, to groups who want to keep illegal immigrants out of the country, to religious groups that feel homosexuality is a sin. Everyone’s opinion of what defines “hate” varies. Going through the list yourself, you can form your own opinion on who the true haters are.

That being said, for the record, I believe in freedom of speech. But, I also believe hate can lead to violent acts against our citizens (as seen in the stats above) and I believe that people need to be aware that these organizations exist in their neighborhoods. So here is a rundown of a few:

 

  1. The National Socialist American Labor Party, (Neo-Nazi) resides at928 N. San Fernando Blvd, Suite J143, Burbank, California  91504(americasvoice@nsalp.org). They don’t advocate any illegal or unethical activities, but you can listen to Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” on the website and see many other racist remarks and deplorable cartoons. Wow!
  2. The American Third Position, (White Supremist) are based in Vegas (american3rdposition.com), but have groups in California including in San Diego and Westminster. Their Mission Statement spouts: Parts of our beautiful country now resembles Third World communities in Latin America, Africa and Asia. White people are already the minority in many cities and counties…enough is enough! Unreal, and they have a Presidential Candidate who you will never hear of.
  3. The Institute for Historical Review,P.O.Box 2739 Newport Beach 92659 ihr@ihr.org describes itself as a “public-interest educational, research and publishing center dedicated to promoting greater public awareness of history.” According to their “history,” big chunks of what really happened during the Holocaust are missing. Their so-called “scholarly body” has links to Neo-Nazi affiliates.
  4.  Concerned Citizen’s for the First Amendment, Hemet,(anti Islamic)why does this sound familiar? Oh, maybe because this is the organization run by Steve Klein, the consultant on the film whose trailer portrayed the prophet Mohammed as a philanderer who advocated child abuse. The 13 trailer sparked deadly protests in the Middle East which led to the death of U.S. diplomats in Libya.
  5. Voice of Reason, Pasadena, Radio broadcast of white supremacy. Look at the line up: Jamie Kelso is formerly from the Church of Scientology, now a white supremist. Here’s a connection, he is a director at the American Third Position (mentioned above). Also, the Marc Weber Report. Marc Weber is the director of the Institute for Historical Review (also, mentioned above).

Oh, how it all comes together to one big happy family of hate. For the whole list, visit: www.splcenter.org/get-informed/hate-map#s=CA.

Hatred is something that shouldn’t have to be tolerated, and though these groups are protected by the First Amendment, there are ways to take action:

  1. By supporting those who are victims of hate crimes
  2. By reporting instances of hate crimes in your community
  3. Get involved: http://www.splcenter.org/get-involved/your-community

R.I.P. Customer Service…for now

A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.—Mahatma Gandhi

Customer Service? What’s That?

These inspiring words from Gandhi give us a pretty precise idea of what the philosophy of customer service was in a time really not long ago, but seemingly so far away. Other old-school notions such as “the customer is always right” has faded away like Gandhi himself, which leads us to the ultimate question: What happened to customer service?

I worked in a department store in Philadelphia called Strawbridge & Clothier. Strawbridge’s, as it was locally called, was a multi-level beautiful structure in a style similar to the old Macys stores. The merchandise sold was considered classier and the ambience a bit classier too. You felt welcomed when you walked into this family-owned establishment and were often greeted by the Strawbridge family themselves, who chose to be among the shoppers over hanging out in a luxury penthouse suite.

Today, you are lucky to get a greeting in most stores. Instead are followed by leech-like employees looking to make a commission, or watching your every move to make sure you don’t shoplift a pair of $20 underwear. Cash register personnel are often low paid, miserable individuals who spend their hours day dreaming of that “someday” that they will get out of “this place.” The days of “thank you” and “please come again” have gone away thankless.

Not the best example (but one I’ll use anyway) is my recent experience at 7-11. The attendant seemed perturbed that I was actually asking him a question about a product. I guess I threw off the conversation he was having with the voice at the other end of the Bluetooth attached to his ear as he looked at me grimly and said, “I don’t know.” The woman behind me stepped up and said what I should have, “Just because you are a miserable person doesn’t mean you need to take it out on customers.” How true?

Ah, the cell phone, Bluetooth and self-service—yes, technology has played a part in the demise of customer service. Supermarkets have added self-serve areas. Now we have to scan and bag out own items. Gas stations are mostly all self-service and attendants have developed a reputation for ripping people off. (Did you really need a new filter?)

It is hard to speak to a real person these days, and often when you do, you are speaking to someone in another country and language barrier hold us hostage in longer, drawn out calls of re-explaining your situation.

Despite the banking bailout 3 years ago, Bank of America (America no less) has been on the firing and hiring binge—firing Americans and hiring overseas, mainly in the Philippines—where they can get cheap labor. Oh, and they get what they pay for. Wells Fargo followed suit outsourcing jobs to India and the Philippines. Then there are the robots, or automated customer service systems, where a real person is eliminated and replaced with a option of push-buttons and a voice command system. In many cases, the voice command system fails to do one important thing…understand your voice. 

In a study released in April 2012 by the research firm, Vocalabs, 11.14% of Hewlett Packard customers complained about language barriers, followed by 7.28% of Dell customers. Citi Group was cited as having the worse automated customer service system, with Verizon in at a close second. Among the highest complaints from frustrated customers using automated customer service systems:

  1. The system didn’t have the option they were looking for.
  2. They had to call back and start over.
  3. It was hard to reach a real person.

I had this experience recently with a company called Bill Me Later. When I called, the option I needed was not an option at all, and there was no prompt to speak to a real person. After hitting “#” and “0” several times, I finally tricked the system and someone answered. The other thing I noticed about my experience with Bill Me Later, is when I said the words, “I’ll never use this service again.” There was no effort made by the call rep to maintain me as a customer. It’s equivalent to saying, “So what? Leave.”

Back to the Gandhi quote: We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.

 A concept that has totally gone out the window, especially in the food service and clothing industries. Have you ever been at a counter ordering food and felt rushed to give your order and step aside? Or had some snooty clothing store person treat you like you should be privileged they let you walk in their store? Attitudes like this are all to common in today’s world.

But is it too late to change the gruesome fate of customer service? No, bottom line, the numbers should reflect how much good customer service means to people. A company called BIGinsight compiled a list of companies for its Customer Choice Awards.

The Top 10:

1. Amazon.com

2. L.L. Bean

3. Zappos.com

4. Overstock.com

5. QVC

6. Kohl’s

7. Lands’ End

8. JC Penney

9. Newegg.com

10. Nordstrom

Now according to Forbes, Customer service in the conventional sense has generally implied face-to-face communication: greeting a customer; providing him/her with product information, demonstrations, additional options, or size assistance; suggesting add-ons or complementary products; and finally, completing the sale. Historically, the best opportunity to cultivate great customer relationships is within an environment where personal interaction between the retailer (i.e. sales associates) and customers is at its peak: a physical store.

That being said, how could an online service top the charts? Well, simple put, it adjusted to the times and gives people what they want now, which is quick, reliable service, a good automated system, and the option to have a customer service rep call you. Good thinking! And it’s working.

Topping the list of poor customer service are banks, insurance companies and telecommunications companies. The MSN Money Hall of Shame lineup includes: Bank of America, (remember them, they were mentioned earlier), listed as the worst in customer service. Also in the top 10: AOL, Citi Bank, Comcast, Chase, Farmer’s and Progressive Insurance, among others.

But why banks? Bankers were always portrayed in old-time movies as great customer service providers to the people. Right?  In a recent Time magazine article, banking analyst Dick Bove explains his theory, “For the last 40 years I believed the quality of the product was the key determinant to the success of the company,” he says. “There’s no evidence in the U.S. banking system that offering a labor-intensive personalized service is successful in terms of letting the banking intuitions survive. It’s very costly with virtually no benefit,” Bove says.

So maybe for your banking experience, there may be no hope for quality customer service. But the banks too may crumble. And, someday, somehow, maybe some of the immortal words of yesteryear will reign once again. Like Walt Disney once said, “Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.” That’s what true customer service does!

This may need a part II