Philadelphia’s City Hall

December 11, 2017 — Philadelphia’s City Hall is a remarkable wonder of architecture and I’ve always been fascinated by it. It’s been covered with scaffolding for years as they made repairs to the building first built in 1871. The work is now completed, and here are the results.

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The Kindness Gene

November 27, 2017 – When Blanche Dubois uttered her famous line, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” in A Streetcar Named Desire, I bet she didn’t know that one day there would be a scientific theory to explain why. Or rather, to explain that we can spot kindness in people we don’t know, and maybe she was drawn to strangers she sensed were kind.

According to research data published in 2011, people with a certain gene trait are known to be more kind and caring than people without it. Who knew?

This isn’t earth-shattering news, but what’s interesting about the research is that they’ve proven that if we have the kindness gene, it can be easily and quickly picked up by people who don’t even know us.

The research was conducted on average people, and not folks who go through life pinching babies and kicking dogs, where it is more than obvious they’re missing the kindness gene. Researchers at Oregon State University devised an experiment in which 23 couples, whose genotypes were known to them but not to observers were studied. These observers were asked to watch them converse in groups of two, and with the sound turned off, identify which listener had the kindness gene and which did not. In most cases the observers chose correctly.

Finally, an explanation why I’m always selected for jury duty.

Word Games

July 31, 2017 – Do people still play Words with Friends?

The popular word game that ripped off Scrabble disappeared in my circles, and I can’t say that I miss it. Scrabble is the original game that holds my loyalty and has stood the test of time.

Other classic word games not likely to disappear soon include crossword puzzles and cryptograms. These games have fed my love of words and helped me with my writing skills, so I partake whenever I get the chance. I’m not the best with crosswords; I am much better with cryptograms, and can challenge the best of them.

Last night I discovered another word game on Facebook that I thought was fun. Granted, it was 4 a.m. and in the battle with insomnia, it kept me occupied until I felt drowsy enough give sleep another try. Word Connect has a simple concept. When letters appear on screen, you build various word combinations and earn coins that allow you to continue to play. It’s a great way to keep your brain active and it’s more challenging than you might think.

Player feedback has been positive so far, earning 4.6 out of five stars. Perhaps it won’t be around as long as Scrabble or crosswords and cryptograms, but for now, it’s an entertaining way to spend your time.

Word Connect is a product of Zentertain. It’s available on Facebook, and as an app on Google Play, Android and the iTunes store.

The Best Movies About Summer

June 26, 2017 – Summer usually means blockbuster releases at the movies, but if you’re like me and not a fan of super hero movies, the last few summers have been a disappointment.

To compensate, I started to think about my favorite movies that took place in the summer, and I found this interesting list on Ranker.com.  It contains a variety of great movies about summer, with a few glaring favorites missing from the list. There are also a few on the list that don’t deserve to be there, but that’s for another post for another time.

Here’s what’s missing:

A Walk on the Moon – The story of a young mother (Diane Lane) who’s world is turned upside down as she begins an affair with a clothing salesman (Viggo Mortensen) when the family vacations at a holiday camp during the summer of 1969, the same summer as the moon walk.

Indian Summer – Friends unite for a weeklong reunion at a summer camp that is about to close. The all-star cast includes Alan Arkin, Diane Lane, Bill Paxton and more, and the story is reminiscent of The Big Chill.

What About Bob – A psychologist loses his mind (Richard Dreyfuss) when his most dependent patient (Bill Murray) follows him and his family on vacation.

The Way Way Back – A shy teen goes to the beach for the summer with his mother (Toni Collette), her new boyfriend (Steve Carell) and his daughter. He has a tough time fitting in until he gets a job at a water park and makes friends with the manager (Sam Rockwell).

The Wonders of Lavender

June 5, 2017 – I never had much desire to visit France — I’m more of a fan of the Mediterranean countries, at least when I vacation in my mind — but these gorgeous photos of the country’s lavender fields make me want to pack my bags and go. With lavender’s ability to sooth nervous tension, relieve pain and help insomnia, the people in this region must be the happiest and most well-rested people on earth.

In my region of the world, June is lavender harvest season, and there are two close lavender farms in Bucks County, Pa. Peace Valley Lavender Farm and Carousel Lavender Farm are both located near the town of New Hope. Here are a few photos of each farm — although they don’t come close to those taken in France since they were taken after harvest.

peace valley sign

Lavender was used 2500 years ago in the mummification process in Ancient Egypt. It is also said that Cleopatra used a perfume infused with lavender to seduced Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.

It is said that Cleopatra used a perfume infused with lavender to seduce Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.

Queen Victoria used to require that her furniture be polished with a lavender-based solution, and she also sipped tea infused with lavender to settle her stomach and ease her headaches.

Queen Victoria used to require that her furniture be polished with a lavender-based solution, and she also sipped tea infused with lavender to settle her stomach.

peace valley shop 2

Lavender has the following properties: antibacterial, antidepressant, analgesic, and antiseptic. During London’s great plague, people would tie bunches of lavender to their wrists to fight infection and bacteria.

carosel sign

The lavender bud is covered in tiny hairs that contain the essential oils.

The lavender bud is covered in tiny hairs that contain the essential oils.

Back in the Elizabethan times, when baths weren’t common practice, lavender was used to perfume clothes and bed linen.

Back in the Elizabethan times, when baths weren’t common practice, lavender was used to perfume clothes and bed linen.

In French classrooms teachers used to crush lavender to calm disruptive and nervous students.

In French classrooms teachers used to crush lavender to calm disruptive and nervous students.

Writers Beware

May 8, 2017 – Replacing human jobs with computers is nothing new. However, to realize that robots will replace five million jobs by 2020, according to Digital Trends, or half the jobs within 30 years, according to Business Insider, is frightening.

Thankfully, I am a writer so I don’t have to worry about replacement, right?

Scrolling through the LinkedIn feed recently, this headline caught my eye: “What if Hollywood Replaced Writers with AI?” Of course, I clicked to read more and discovered that artificial intelligence algorithms wrote a short film, It’s No Game. They made it into a short film and cast David Hasselhoff to star the main role.

That’s right. AI wrote every line of the screenplay. All seven minutes and 40 seconds of it.

At first, I thought, how cool. A few seconds later, I began to feel envious. My human brain has been plugging away at this game for years, and though I consider myself lucky that I receive a paycheck to write nonfiction all day, I haven’t had any real success with fiction, my real passion.

I watched the film, and although I can’t wrap my head around the technology, or if the guy who programmed the AI could be considered the actual author because created the “author”, I’m back to thinking it is cool. Weird, cheesy and nonsensical, but cool. How did AI come up with a plot? It didn’t make any sense, but there was still a solid plot. And how did it write that ever so evasive first line? They are my biggest struggles.

I’m also relieved to see that with the product AI put out, human screenwriters aren’t likely to lose their jobs anytime soon. But in 50 years, who knows.