Is Facebook resorting to trickery?

September 28, 2012 – While scrolling through my news feed on Facebook yesterday, I noticed something surprising about some of my friends.

No, it wasn’t their political views, although they can completely shock me and make me wish this election was history.

It was this little tidbit: they “like” Walmart.

The revelation may not seem odd, but knowing these people as I do, and knowing that they don’t shop at Walmart in protest of their poor treatment of employees, and use of child labor in China, I knew it wasn’t true. They would never willingly say they “like” Walmart.

That’s when I noticed an image of a beat up tennis ball chewed by a dog that lay in the background that was captioned, “Like if you will miss summer”. I realized the image itself is what they probably liked. And then I began to wonder if it was actually a misleading Walmart ad in disguise?

More and more, I’ve noticed friends “liking” retail sponsors, like Amazon.com, Duracell batteries, Macys, and more. There’s nothing wrong with liking a retail store or product, it just doesn’t strike me as something I would go out of my way to do. Could those companies be deceiving us too, drawing us in with something that we “like” and hiding behind the scenes until it becomes part of the news feed?

This may be common practice, and one that I am late discovering, but if it is what is happening, it is deceptive.

I‘ve also noticed that by downloading an updated Facebook app on my iPhone, all of my friends and their information were added as contacts. I honestly don’t remember approving that – that many contacts are way too much to page through. It does concern me, though that Facebook gave me the cell phone numbers of people I only know casually through a social media platform.

Like millions of others, I have a Facebook page, and I post on the rare occasion. I’ve always been more of a lurker. However, the more I learn about their practices, the more leery I become. I never worried about privacy issues before because I thought I was safe; I wouldn’t put anything on Facebook that would compromise me. But now they have my attention.

With Facebook making headlines about their privacy issues, and their stock not living up to expectations, could we be witnessing the beginning of the end for the social media giant?

A word by any other name

September 26, 2012 – My mother made the comment recently that she’s never used the “F” word.

She confessed this juicy tidbit while on vacation a few weeks ago, and in a Manhattan induced state of relaxation. I’d had a consumed my fair share of tequila and was feeling equally relaxed, so I boldly told her to free herself and just go for it.

As if I coaxed her to commit a horrendous crime, my father shouted, “No,” and covered her mouth with his hand to stop her. Most likely, she would not have said it anyway, but my father’s extreme actions just reinforced my curiously about this particular word, the emotion it evokes in people, and its origin.

I remember a similar conversation when I was a teenager. My father told us that men didn’t use that word in front of women out of respect. That prompted me to ask why they would use it at all; didn’t they respect each other? Or themselves? His answer made even less sense – “Well, I was in the Navy,” – as if using it was a prerequisite to joining the service. My comeback, if I can remember correctly, was that it’s just a stupid word, and its people who put the meaning behind it and make too much of it. About 15 at the time, I thought that was pretty philosophical.

I still believe that analogy to some extent, but when I spoke to my son about this topic during his formative years, back when he used to come home and share the word of the day he’d learn in the school yard, I explained that it can be an offensive word, and that he probably shouldn’t use it because it might upset someone who hears him say it.

So exactly what are the origins of the “F” word, and who were the first people to use it? It is, after all one of the more graphic words in the English language, it’s in the dictionary, it can be used as a noun, a verb, an adjective or an adverb, and I hear it said openly, a lot more these days than when I was a kid.

According to a web search, although not empirical in nature, in ancient England a sign to hung on the door of all brothels that stated “Fornication Under the Consent of the King”, which was later turned into the acronym we all know. Another variation is that it came from “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge”. A visit to Snopes.com showed both origins are false – no surprise there — but you have to give props for creativity.

The plain truth, according to straightdope.com, is the word is one of the oldest in the world, and has roots to a number of Germanic languages that simply refer to sex. I can’t find anything about when it was first considered profane or taboo.

So, my mother will live the rest of her life comfortably without ever uttering the “F” word. And that’s fine. My father, who spent four years in the Navy, can only say he’s lived his life without ever eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Movie review: The Master

September 24, 2012 – To say I didn’t care for the critically acclaimed “There Will Be Blood,” a movie written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, and based on the Upton Sinclair story “Oil”, is putting it mildly.

I actually hated it.

Before you begin screaming at your computer screen that I’m some kind of moron because you believed it was the best movie ever, or that this review isn’t supposed to be about “There Will Be Blood”, let me explain.

I am a huge Daniel Day-Lewis fan, and although “There Will Be Blood” may have highlighted his best acting work yet, I didn’t find it entertaining because I didn’t like a single character in the story. That’s why I felt hesitant about spending money on “The Master” after reading reviews that the characters Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix play in “The Master” resemble the Daniel Plainview character I hated the most in “There Will Be Blood”. But the trailer intrigued me, and I enjoyed “Punch Drunk Love”, another Anderson film, so I decided to spend the $12 and give it a chance.

Extremely well cast, writer/director Anderson got exactly what I expected from Hoffman and Phoenix – stellar performances. The role played by Amy Adams may have impressed me the most, however. As the manipulative wife to Hoffman’s Master, this role is new for her and vastly different from her other rom-com performances.

The complex script is the epitome of a character driven story. Phoenix plays an alcoholic vet suffering from nervous disorder after fighting in the Pacific during WWII. Lost and alone after his release from the Navy he goes from job to job looking for a purpose, drinking heavily, and getting into trouble. He stumbles upon The Master one drunken night, and soon is caught up in the “cause” and its “processes” that try to cure him and make him a whole man again.

A blatant condemnation of scientology, and people being conned into believing something far-fetched because of their need to belong to something, the “cause” dabbles in hypnosis, mind control, time travel and past lives. As the charismatic philosopher, whose own son willingly admits he makes this stuff up as he goes along, the character preys on the lost especially if they are wealthy, and Hoffman shines in a role he seems born to play.

The story is a gentle one, as the Master preaches positivity and peace to his cult followers, and there are few behind the curtain scenes that show the audience what a swindler he really is; Anderson does a good job with making you sympathize with his character in that way. But there are some explosive scenes with Phoenix, who never really learns to control his anger no matter how much time he spends with the Master.

I can’t say I loved Anderson’s latest effort, but I didn’t hate it either. I can say I’m glad I took a chance on it because it’s so different from anything else I’ve ever seen before, and that is always a pleasant surprise. I predict there are a few Academy Award nominations in its future, as it is just that type of film.

Watching “The Master” felt a little like reading a classic literature when I’m in the mood for mindless pulp fiction instead. Or better yet, it was like eating a salad when I really wanted a burger. I know one is better for me, so I’m glad I chose it, but it’s a little less satisfying than the other choice may have been.

The flavors of autumn

September 21, 2012 – The days are growing shorter, there is a nip in the air, and tomorrow is the first day of autumn.

By far my favorite season quickly approaches and I look forward to the burst of color – which should be vibrant this year in the Northeast according to weather.com – and the flavors like pumpkin, cinnamon, apple and nutmeg that come along with it.

The impending chilly weather also has marketers scrambling to capture the warm spirit of the season. The arrival of pumpkin spiced coffee drinks at Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks and Wawa stores is already old news, and this year you can count Hershey Foods into the mix, with their limited edition pumpkin spice Hershey Kisses.

My first reaction when I saw the bag sitting on the counter in my office kitchen was hopeful. While Hershey will never improve on the original chocolate kiss, they get an “A” for effort and creativity for rolling out nice variations, such as white chocolate, mint, peanut butter, cherry cream and caramel, along with seasonal favorites.

When I unwrapped my first pumpkin spice kiss, it surprised me not to see a blend of pumpkin and chocolate swirled together, or chocolate on the outside, with a pumpkin spice filling inside, as Hershey has done with other flavors. Instead, it was all pumpkin spice reminiscent of those maple sugar candies you might see in a gift shop in Vermont, but with a smoother consistency that begins to melt as soon as you pop it into your mouth.

While some reviews compare the taste to a slice of pumpkin pie — because of their creamy consistency I’d say pumpkin cheesecake is a better description — I found them to be flavorful, but a bit too sweet for my taste. Most likely they have a white chocolate confection base, that is always too sweet, with pumpkin flavoring. It made me miss the milk or dark chocolate flavors, which I think would blend well with pumpkin spice.

Although I haven’t seen them in the stores yet, I understand Hershey is also marketing Candy Corn Kisses, which doesn’t appeal to me in the least, and Caramel Apply Kisses, which may hold possibilities. In any case, you might want to try these interesting combinations of fall flavors before they disappear from the store shelves.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Hershey packaged all three flavors in one bag so you wouldn’t have to buy them individually just to sample?

Hanging with the dolphins and a whale

Finback whales

September 19, 2012 – If you’ve followed this blog over the past few weeks, you probably know that my prime opportunity to watch for whales came while cruising Alaska’s coastline several years ago. Attending to more pressing matters at the time, unfortunately I missed it. Who knew my chance to see one up close and in the wild would occur much closer to home.

While vacationing in Wildwood Crest, N.J. last week, we hopped on the “Whale and Dolphin Watcher” out of the Marine Research Center in Cape May for a three-hour cruise. We spotted dolphins by the dozens playfully jumping out of the water as if they knew they were in the spotlight, and maybe they did. The ship’s captain told us that if we can see their eyes, they could see ours.

While playful, these pesky dolphins were too quick for my camera.

The elusive whale sighting, we knew would be more difficult to spot. But only three miles off the coast, we got lucky and came across a finback whale.

The finback was also quick, but you can see the outline in the water at about 1 o’clock if you use your imagination.

These marine mammals are mesmerizing, and the more I find out about whales the more fascinating they become. Finbacks are the second longest animal in the world and second largest after the blue whale, growing to over 90 feet long and weighing nearly 75 tons. She could have easily lost us if she wanted to, but she stayed with us and the other boat next to us (pictured below) to entertain us for the better part of a half hour.

Perhaps it is common knowledge that both whales and dolphins communicate in their own language, and can do so from great distances, but I learned they are also intelligent enough to refer to each other by name, and to laugh and cry.

Here’s something else I discovered from a link my son sent me from wired.com: Adult killer whales need their mamas, too.

At first I was touched he would send me such an article, but when I read it in its entirety I thought perhaps he was sending me another message altogether. It explains that female whales like humans are the only animal species known to go through menopause and live decades after their reproductive years, and that a recent study shows that the presence of the female whale significantly increase the survival rate of her son, which may be the reason she lives beyond her reproductive prime. Alas, my purpose in this life is defined.

The view from Sunset Beach

September 17, 2012 – There’s a special place at the tip of Cape May, N.J. where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Delaware Bay. Appropriately named Sunset Beach, it sits at the southern most point of New Jersey.

People gather at the beach nightly, resembling the beach scene from the movie “City of Angels” to view the sunset. It’s the only place at the Jersey Shore where you can see both a sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean and a sunset over the Delaware Bay at the same spot.

Since 1973, the owner of the property, WWII Veteran Marvin Hume, holds a flag ceremony to honor a veteran and his or her family each day at sunset. We happened to visit last Tuesday, on September 11, when a special ceremony honored the 11th anniversary of the day that changed us forever.

As a trumpet played the melancholy sounds of “Taps”, the flag was lowered and presented to a young man who lost his father, a member of the New York Fire Department, 11 years before.

A visit to Sunset beach is a yearly tradition for my family. We’ve taken in many incredible sunsets, but none were as breathtaking as the one we experienced on September 11, 2012.

Ten quotable lines from ten great songs

September 14, 2012 – In keeping with the rhythm of top ten lists and quotes from Wednesday’s posting, here are 10 pretty awesome song lyrics that can stand alone as inspirational quotes.

Can you guess what songs they are from?

10. “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” — John Lennon

9. “Watch out, you may get what you’re after.” — David Byrne

8. “Laughing and crying, it’s the same release.” — Joni Mitchell

7. “It’s five o’clock somewhere.” — Jimmy Buffett

6. “I’ve seen the bottom, and I’ve been on top, but mostly I’ve lived in between.” — Dan Fogelberg

5. “I am I said, to no one there, and no one heard at all not even the chair.” — Neil Diamond

4. “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls.” — Simon and Garfunkel

3. “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.” –– Bob Marley

2. “I wish that for just one time you could be inside my shoes; then you’d know what a drag it is to see you.” — Bob Dylan

1. “Carve your number on my wall and maybe you will get a call from me.” — The Beatles (George Harrison)