Cartoon characters attract kids to junk food Monday, Jun 21 2010 

Courtesy of

( — Shrek, Dora the Explorer, and other animated TV and movie stars beloved by children have been moonlighting as junk-food pitchmen in recent years. And they’re good at it.

Fifty percent of children say that food from a package decorated with a cartoon celebrity such as Shrek tastes better than the same exact food from a plain package, according to a new study.

And when given a choice, the vast majority of kids pick the food from the cartoon-adorned package as a snack, the study found.

The use of TV and movie characters on food packaging is “designed to access certain feelings, memories, and associations,” says Dr. Thomas Robinson, M.D., a professor of child health at the Stanford University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study. “If you associate certain products with things that are otherwise considered fun, it’s going to make those products seem more desirable.”

Cartoon characters tend to appear on junk food, which makes health experts even more concerned about the magnetic effect they have on kids. Although characters such as Dora and SpongeBob SquarePants have been used to market fruits and vegetables, they are most often used on chips, candy, and other unhealthy snacks. SpongeBob has even hawked Kentucky Fried Chicken.

“Parents may not set out to buy unhealthy products,” says the lead author of the study, Christina Roberto, M.S., a doctoral student at Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, in New Haven, Connecticut. “But kids can be really, really persuasive. They see them and they want them, and it gets difficult to have that battle in the grocery store.”

Characters from TV and movies have appeared on food products for years, but until now little research has been done to examine how they influence children’s food choices.

In the study, which is published this week in the journal Pediatrics, Roberto and her colleagues presented 40 children ages 4 to 6 with paired samples of graham crackers, gummy fruit snacks, and baby carrots. Each pair of sample foods was identical down to the clear packaging, except that one of the packages had a sticker of Shrek, Dora the Explorer, or Scooby Doo on it.

Between 50 percent and 55 percent of the children said that the food with the sticker on it tasted better than the same food in the plain package. (The percentage varied with each food.) And between 73 percent and 85 percent selected the food in the character packaging as the one they’d prefer to eat as a snack.

“Marketers know that cartoon characters sell food products; that’s why they use them,” says Marion Nestle, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. “This study really nails it down. Now we have evidence for asking–no, requiring–food marketers to stop using cartoons to market junk foods to kids.”

The American Psychological Association and other organizations have likewise called for the elimination of all marketing of food products to children, a stance that Robinson says is reasonable.

“Young children, particularly under the age of 7 or 8, really don’t understand the persuasive intent of marketing,” he says. “That seems inherently unfair, and something we should protect children from, just like we protect them from other things we think are beyond their cognitive ability, like pornography.”

Using the power of cartoon characters for good–to market healthy foods–may be less effective than restrictions on junk-food marketing, Roberto says. The cartoon characters had the least influence on children’s preferences when they were on the package of baby carrots, she notes.

“It might be that they’re not used to seeing [the characters] on vegetables,” Roberto says. Or it might be that kids already know that “a carrot is a carrot is a carrot,” she adds, whereas they’re not sure how a specific brand of graham cracker or gummy snack will taste.

Food and beverage companies in the U.S. spend more than $1.6 billion each year to attract children’s attention, and 13 percent of that is spent on character licensing and similar cross-promotion efforts, according to Federal Trade Commission data cited in the study.

But the calls for reform have had some impact. The use of licensed characters on food products declined between 2006 and 2008, according to research conducted by the Rudd Center.

“It’s good to see the voluntary work on this,” says Roberto. “But we’d like to see more.”



Is the computer mouse dead? Friday, Jun 18 2010 

Courtesy of

(CNN) — Goodbye computer mouse, keyboard and monitor.

Say hello to a new, simpler era of human-computer interaction — this time, with no clunky hardware standing between you and digital information.

In this new world, there are options aplenty.

Instead of sliding a mouse across your desk, you could just point at whatever you’d like to select. Instead of pecking away at a keyboard, you could just say what you’re thinking. And instead of glaring at a big screen all day, why not just project that information on the surface of your contact lenses?

None of this is science fiction. These ideas are here today, some of them in research labs and others already on store shelves.

And, thanks to a remote-control-free video gaming system called Kinect, these futuristic concepts for computer-human communication are about to get a lot more popular, technology researchers said in interviews this week.

Microsoft’s Kinect, which hits stores November 4, lets players control games by moving their bodies. To make a digital soccer player kick, you just swing your leg.

It’s an effort to make gaming more “natural.” And that concept — that we don’t need intermediaries to help us talk to technology — is likely to bleed into every aspect of electronics and computing in coming years.

“It’s all fantastic, because it’s a really useful educational opportunity for the world,” said John Underkoffler, creator of a real gesture-based computing system that was featured in the 2002 movie “Minority Report.”

“It’s only been a few years that people have started to realize, ‘Wait a minute! We’re not stuck with the mouse and Windows-driven interface for the rest of time.’ ”

‘Natural user interfaces’

A whole field of technological research has developed around the idea of “natural user interfaces,” which try to let people communicate with machines in the same ways they would interact with other people and with the real world.

Kinect, which was demonstrated at a video gaming conference this week in Los Angeles, California, is a prime example of this, because people control the system with body gestures and by talking instead of clicking buttons or messing with joysticks.

Researchers are trying to expand this idea of “gesture-controlled” electronics into computing more generally.

Underkoffler, for example, developed a system called g-speak, which lets users shuffle through data sets and other information by waving their hands.

He says several large companies, including Boeing, already are using custom-built versions of the system, which range in price from $100,000 to millions of dollars.

Underkoffler expects consumer-level products to be widely available within five years.

History of ‘natural’ computing

These developments may seem to have plopped into reality out of sci-fi. But they’ve been a long time coming.

Touch-sensitive screens were some of the first natural interfaces.

They’ve been in research for decades, but they didn’t become cheap and popular until 2007, when Apple released the touch-screen iPhone and Microsoft showed off a touch-screen coffee table called Microsoft Surface.

Now, as computer hardware becomes cheaper and people get more used to the idea that the mouse and keyboard aren’t the only way to compute, researchers are pushing into areas like brain-controlled computing, eye-tracking software and voice-recognition technology, which is common on smartphones.

Bill Buxton, principal researcher at Microsoft Research, said that new ways for people to interact with computers have to be radically different to catch on.

People are used to touch screens and video cameras now, he said, so the transition into gesture computing makes more sense.

“The trend [of gesture computing] has been around for a while, but it’s sort of hit a critical point where I think the game is changing,” he said.

“The most significant thing that’s changed about computing is who’s doing what, where, with whom and for how much.”

When simple is complicated

Despite the recent advances, a number of hurdles remain in the “natural” progression of electronics.

New methods of input sometimes come with new problems. Using arm and hand motions to control computers, for instance, can become tiring, said Beth Mynatt, director of the GVU center at the Georgia Institute of Technology. And if such motions are taken to TV sets, as Toshiba has demonstrated, then there may be some unintended and hilarious consequences, she said.

Imagine changing a channel by waving your arms.

“Are they trying to change the channel or are they making rude gestures to the umpire?” a computer might think, she said. “[The computer is] going to get it wrong and nobody’s going to want to do it. They’re going to be much happier fumbling around with that remote.”

Robert Wang, a PhD student at MIT who has developed a gesture-controlled computing system, said it’s also difficult to use hand movements to manipulate digital objects because you can’t feel them.

“It’s going to be a little bit difficult to make a compelling sense of touch,” he said. Good visual cues may have to suffice, he said.

Death of the mouse?

There’s disagreement in the tech community about whether these new methods of human-computer interaction will completely kill the mouse, keyboard and computer monitor — or if they’ll just offer alternatives.

Generally, researchers think the mouse might be the first to go.

The keyboard, however unnatural, likely will be around longer because it is such an efficient way to write, and because people don’t want to learn new systems, said Mynatt of Georgia Tech.

Buxton, from Microsoft Research, said these new options aren’t competing with each other because they’re all good at something and terrible for something else.

Using Kinect on an airplane would be “completely absurd,” for example, he said, because you’d have to stand up on your plane seat and flail your arms around. Likewise, typing in a car is unsafe, and talking about private matters in public — or even entering voice commands — can be problematic.

“What I see is not that the gesture stuff is in competition with the mouse or with multitouch,” he said. “What all of these things do is they’re enhancing the palate of colors or the resources we can draw on, so that when we have something to do that involves technology, we can use the most appropriate means.”

Screens may be the last hangovers of the desktop world.

Some researchers now are projecting the internet and information on walls and even onto peoples’ hands, in effect turning fingers into buttons of their own.

Pranav Mistry, a research assistant in the MIT Media Lab, said his goal is to get rid of computer hardware entirely — so that people just interact directly with information.

“The hardware is becoming invisible,” he said.

Ultimately, he said, the digital world will fold completely into the real one.


I want to work for Oprah! Thursday, Jun 17 2010 

Courtesy of

It must be a great day to be a new employee at “O, The Oprah Magazine.”

Oprah Winfrey swung by the magazine’s offices on Tuesday and handed out to all “O” magazine employees an Apple iPad, a personalized leather iPad carrying case and a check for $10,000, regardless of how long the staffer has been with the publication, according to AdAge.

An “O” magazine spokesperson told CNN that Winfrey surprised the staff with the gifts “as a thank you for their hard work and dedication,” which, as Gawker posits, just may make her media’s most generous boss.


Starbucks to offer free Wi-Fi Wednesday, Jun 16 2010 

Courtesy of

(Mashable) — Starting July 1, Starbucks will offer free Wi-Fi nationwide, with no registration or account required. Even better, Wi-Fi will not be time limited.

Starbucks joins an increasing list of brands and chains to offer free Wi-Fi in its stores. For example, last December, McDonald’s rolled out free Wi-Fi to nearly all of its restaurants across the country. Panera Bread also offers a similar program.

McDonald’s and Starbucks both have partnerships with AT&T, which, while often criticized for the quality of its wireless data network, is one of the largest Wi-Fi hotspot providers in the United States.

Starbucks was one of the first chains to offer Wi-Fi access to its patrons, first via an agreement with T-Mobile and then with AT&T. Starbucks visitors have been able to enjoy up to two hours of free Wi-Fi from their favorite coffee house, provided they are either an AT&T customer or they use a Starbucks Card to login.

The new program will do away with any sort of registration, which will make those of us who always forget either our AT&T account information or can’t find our Starbucks cards extremely happy.

In addition to the new free Wi-Fi program, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told Wired’s Chris Anderson that the company is also planning on rolling out a new Starbucks Digital Network in partnership with Yahoo later this fall.

This network, which will only be accessible in U.S. company-operated stores, will offer customers free and unrestricted access to paid sites and services like and other content providers on their phones, tablets or laptops.

Bringing the Starbucks Experience Online

We spoke with Stephen Gillett, CIO, EVP and GM of Digital Ventures at Starbucks about the new plan for free Wi-Fi and the Starbucks Digital Network. According to Gillett, the goal is to bring the overall Starbucks in-store experience online.

The first step is in providing an overall better online experience. This is where one-click logon comes into play, as well as the ability to connect with your device, be it a laptop or phone or iPad. The second part is the branded Starbucks online experience.

Rather than just trying to create an aggregated portal of sources, Starbucks will be bringing quality content that is usually behind a pay wall to customers to access for free while in Starbucks stores. Different categories, like business news, lifestyle, music, entertainment, etc. will provide access to different content.

This means that you can visit the Wall Street Journal uninhibited, as well as Zagat and also get local content from services like Foursquare pulled into your default Starbucks page.

Furthermore, stuff like the Starbucks “Pick of the Week” iTunes promotion can now be integrated online, meaning that you can download the free weekly track from your iPhone or iPad or laptop, instead of having to use the cards with the redeem codes. The physical cards will still be available but for connected visitors, this is an easier way to access free content.

The opportunity for premium service providers is that by offering free content to users while they are at Starbucks, they are potentially gaining new customers. A user might find they really enjoy some of the pay Wall Street Journal content and look at subscribing at home, for example.

More and more providers will be announced as the launch date gets closer and Starbucks is committed to finding the best pay wall content it can bring to its audience.

What do you think of Starbucks new free Wi-Fi plan and the content deals? Let us know in the comments.


Top 10 worst World Cup teams Tuesday, Jun 15 2010 

Courtesy of Sports

Now that it’s time for the world’s most popular sport to take the stage for a month long futbol extravaganza, let us remember some of the worst teams to ever play…

1. South Korea 1954

Just as with any discussion of the best World Cup teams, top spot on this particular list is a no-brainer. Many sides have been thrashed but South Korea is the only to take a hammering in more than one game at the same tournament. Losing 9-0 to Hungary’s Magnificent Magyars was no disgrace, but a7-0 defeat to Turkey — who themselves lost 7-2 to West Germany — was much more ignominious. Korea’s captain even played in glasses, a nice image of a team who were far too genteel to mix with the big boys.

2. El Salvador 1982

Every small boy dreams about breaking records at the World Cup, but not like this. El Salvador was on the wrong end of the biggest defeat in the history of the tournament: a 10-1 thumping by Hungary. Unlike South Korea’s defeat in 1954, this was an embarrassment: Hungary’s 1982 side was hardly vintage, and failed to reach the second round despite that victory. El Salvador, who themselves qualified for the tournament despite scoring only two goals in five games, salvaged some pride in their subsequent group games, losing only 1-0 to Belgium and 2-0 to Argentina, but those are not the matches for which they are remembered.

3. Zaire 1974

It’s one of the World Cup’s more iconic images: Mwepu Ilunga charging from a defensive wall to boot the ball clear before Brazil had even taken a free-kick. Zaire actually only lost that game 3-0 — respectable against the world champions — but were earlier trounced 9-0 by Yugoslavia. This, in truth, was a little deceptive: Zaire was completely demoralized, having found out before the game that they would not be paid. But not even a mother could love a record of played 3, lost 3, scored 0, conceded 14.

4. Saudi Arabia 2002

The massive scorelines of early World Cups were supposed to be a thing of the past, but Saudi Arabia evoked those black-and-white days with a defensive performance of glorious ineptitude against Germany in 2002. They lost 8-0 — the only time since 1982 that a team has conceded more than six — and looked likely to concede every time Germany crossed the ball. Five of the goals came from headers. Defeats to Cameroon (1-0) and Ireland (3-0) completed the most ignominious of modern campaigns.

5. Greece 1994

For Greece, the only way is up. In its only previous appearance, in 1994, Greece threatened to redefine the word ‘shambles’. They became the first European side to lose three group games without scoring a goal, and their shortcomings were painfully apparent from the first minute of their first game when, quite astonishingly, they allowed Argentina to have a four-on-one-attack. That culminated in a goal for Gabriel Batistuta, and the match ended 4-0. Bulgaria repeated the result, and Greece concluded the most miserable of debut campaigns by losing 2-0 to Nigeria. Whatever happens over the next couple of weeks, they surely won’t repeat this nadir.

6. Dutch East Indies 1938

The most incongruous of all qualifiers, the Dutch East Indies did not spend long at the top table. They are the only side that has played just a single game at the World Cup, and were spanked 6-0 by the eventual finalists Hungary. Cris Freddi, this competition’s premier historian, described it as “the first real World Cup mismatch.” No wonder: nine of the Dutch East Indies side were making their debut, and they only reached the finals because Japan withdrew from their qualification group.

7. United Arab Emirates 1990

They may have been drawn in a tough group, but the UAE looked hopelessly out of their depth. A 2-0 defeat by Colombia was followed by a pasting from West Germany in a monsoon in Milan — they were extremely lucky to loseonly 5-1 — and another 4-1 beating at the feet of Yugoslavia. They were occasionally nifty going forward, but dismally porous in defense. With the exception of Saudi Arabia in 2002, no side in the past 25 years have conceded as many goals in the group stages.

8. Serbia and Montenegro 2006

They looked like dark horses beforehand, having qualified unbeaten and ahead of Spain, but it soon became clear that Serbia and Montenegro were fit for the knackers’ yard. They barely bothered chasing the shadows never mind the Argentina players in a 6-0 defeat, and they even found a way to lose after taking a 2-0 lead in the final, meaningless match against the Ivory Coast.

9. Mexico 1978

The first team to lose to an African side at the World Cup. Despite the presence of a teenage Hugo Sanchez, who would become their great player, Mexico were simply diabolical in Argentina in 1978. They were hammered 3-1 by Tunisia, despite taking the lead, eviscerated 6-0 by West Germany and, to cap off a miserable 10 days, hammered 4-1 by Poland.

10. China 2002

You know a team is bad if Bora Milutinovic can’t get it beyond the first round. Milutinovic is one of the World Cup’s great managers, a hired gun who took Mexico, Costa Rica, USA and Nigeria out of the group stages in consecutive World Cups from 1986 to 2002. He tried to make it five in a row with China, but they ended up pointless and goal-less. Their players, mostly based with Chinese clubs, lacked nous and they were blown away: 4-0 by Brazil, 3-0 by Turkey and 2-0 by Costa Rica.

Rob Smyth has written for The Guardian, FourFourTwo, the official Manchester United magazine, Intelligent Life and GQ Style.

New video gaming Monday, Jun 14 2010 

Courtesy of

(CNN) — For gamers, it’s a digital Christmas Eve, Mardi Gras and Fourth of July all rolled into one.

And this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, the annual trade show where the biggest news in the video gaming world is made, may be the most influential one ever.

The event, nicknamed E3, will showcase futuristic motion sensors that could get rid of the need for a game controller. It will feature gaming in 3-D. And those game-changing innovations will be backed by the industry’s biggest players on the industry’s biggest stage.

In short, if this week’s announcements live up to the hype, they will change the way people play games.

“We’re literally watching history in the making,” said Michael Quiroz, an associate at Nyko, an accessories manufacturer that will be displaying at the expo and a veteran of 10 E3s.

E3, which officially runs Tuesday through Thursday in Los Angeles, California, started in 1995 as a spinoff from the Consumer Electronics Show — the yearly cavalcade of gadgets in Las Vegas. The very first E3 launched a little gaming device called the Sony PlayStation.

The next year saw the Nintendo 64 and the games “Resident Evil,” “Starcraft” and “Tomb Raider” roll out, and it was official: E3 was the launching pad for the biggest splashes in video gaming.

In the years to come, PlayStation 2, Xbox 360, GameCube and a Nintendo console nicknamed “Revolution” — it would later become the Wii — took the stage, along with some of the most popular video games of the past decade and a half. Last year the two surviving Beatles made a rare joint appearance to promote “The Beatles: Rock Band.”

“E3 is an annual mecca,” said Scott Steinberg, founder of GameExec magazine and Game Industry TV, and a gaming blogger for “It’s a mandatory pilgrimage. It’s the one time during the year when the media spotlight is honed precisely on the video-game industry and its biggest stars come out to shine.”

This year, that spotlight will shine brightest on Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony. While the “big three” won’t be focusing on new consoles, their upgrades and add-ons to existing systems promise to move the industry forward.

Here’s what to expect:

Microsoft’s Project Natal – now ‘Kinect’

Microsoft hopes to win Best In Show with a system that it announced on Sunday will be called “Kinect.”

Buzzed about for more than a year under its codename, Project Natal, the system for the Xbox360 employs a camera and gesture recognition to let players use their whole bodies to run, shoot or most anything else that their in-game avatars do.

Microsoft offered a sneak peek of Project Natal at E3 2009, although few people have been able to get their hands on the system to try it out. Sunday, there was another glitzy promo in L.A., featuring the players of the visually stunning Cirque du Soleil.

“They went big with it last year, we saw it very briefly, and they’ve been fairly quiet about it ever since,” said Ricardo Torres, editor of online gaming site GameSpot. “Now, this is the cotillion. This is the coming-out party.”

Sony Move

Move, Sony’s new motion controller for the PlayStation 3, is expected to be more in line with the Nintendo Wii — the reigning champ of motion-sensor gaming. Sony, of course, is promising to advance the technology.

It’ll have a controller similar to the Wii’s wand, but Sony is expected to claim that the Move is more sensitive. Early word is that it will cost less than $100.

Sony also could make some 3-D gaming announcements, and PlayStation owners could also get some news on Sony’s plans to expand its Blu-ray 3-D movie offerings on the console.

Nintendo 3DS

Then there’s Nintendo, the standard-bearer in motion-control, which is hoping to add 3-D to its arsenal.

The company will be showcasing a new stand-alone device — the portable Nintendo 3DS. The handheld game is expected to feature glasses-free 3-D, which has hardcore gamers wondering just what 3-D on a small screen will look like.

The interest level is so high that last week, when a Chinese blog claimed to have gotten its hands on a 3DS and posted a line drawing of a device, “Nintendo 3DS” briefly became one of Google’s most-searched terms.

E3, which slumped in popularity as the economy soured in 2008 but saw a significant comeback last year, comes at a crossroads sort of moment for video gaming.

For years, gaming has been the domain of male 18- to-34-year-olds, with fighting, racing and battle games flooding the market.

But the emergence of social media and smartphones, not to mention the Wii, has contributed to growth in nontraditional markets.

Millions of people, many of them older women and younger teens,play FarmVille on Facebook every day. Family-friendly games like “Angry Birds” and “Bejeweled” consistently hover on the list of top-ten apps for the iPhone and other mobile platforms.

Not since the days that Pac-man and Frogger graced arcades has such a wide swath of the population been interested in gaming, industry observers say.

“What we’re seeing is a return to prominence and greater pop-culture acceptance of gaming as an art form,” Steinberg said. “There’s never been a larger array of games that speak to all ages and interests.”

Besides the big announcements and debuts of new games — updates to the “Halo,” “Gran Turismo” and “Little Big Planet” franchises are on the list — for hardcore gamers, there will be displays of social-gaming efforts hoping to be the next “FarmVille” or “Mafia Wars.”

“The big question mark is how it’s going to break down between how much is casual and how much is for core gamers,” Torres said.

For the big companies and other exhibitors trying to get a piece of the spotlight, the right kind of attention this week could lead to dollar signs in the months to come.

“If you win E3, you get momentum going into the holiday season,” Quiroz said. “You can’t buy enough billboard space to create that kind of buzz.”

Don’t tweet that…How not to be a twitter nerd Thursday, Jun 10 2010 

Courtesy of

Editor’s Note: Brenna Ehrlich and Andrea Bartz are the sarcastic brains behind humor blog and soon-to-be-book Stuff Hipsters Hate. When they’re not trolling Brooklyn for new material, Ehrlich works as a news editor at, and Bartz holds the same position at Psychology Today.

(CNN) — Twitter has become a vital tool over the past few years, allowing folks to chronicle everything from the Hudson River plane crash to performances of Romeo and Juliet.

A recent study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign suggests the microblogging site can improve relationships in RL (that’s Real Life). But it’s also become a venue by which people may — to put it plainly — overshare.

There’s a big difference between tweeting about something personal in an interesting, relevant fashion (like when blogger David Chen live-tweeted his naturalization oath ceremony) and telling your poor Twitter followers every thought that crosses your cranium (“I like pigeons!” “Quarters are shiny!” “My left boob is bigger than my right!”).

It can be tough to recognize when you’re beating the TMI drum just a little too loudly — the need for a reaction from your followers can often outweigh your better judgment — but sometimes a simple edit is all you need to avoid the dreaded “unfollow.”


The TMI tweet: “OMG! I’m going to Hawaii with my super hot GF & we’re gonna lie in the sun!! #FYeahCruise!”

Why people hate you: Hmm, let’s see: You’re going on a freaking cruise while the average follower is sitting in a cubicle counting down the miserable moments until another sad Happy Hour with his/her single friends. Maybe people are, I dunno, jealous?

Twit fix: “Excited for a well-deserved vacay. Can anyone suggest must-see spots in Maui?”

If you share your joy while also asking for advice, you engage your followers, thereby alleviating the tedium of their comparatively bleak days. Be sure to tweet back at those kind enough to answer.

The TMI tweet: “I just ate a bagel, some chips and a Dr. Pepper. My tummy hurts.”

Why people hate you: First, you said “tummy.” Second, NO ONE CARES. Third, you’re whining, and that’s annoying.

Twit fix: “Just had a great wrap at Grey Dog Cafe in Manhattan. Get the marinated tofu — healthy and delish.”

If you insist on telling everyone what you had for lunch, at least have a good lunch. Moaning about pretty much any banal First-World problem on Twitter rates high on the annoying scale.

Instead, offer your readers some kind of value — i.e. a fabulous alternative to the brown bag lunch Mom packed (yes, some of your followers likely still live at home).

The TMI tweet: “I just went on the best date ever with the hottest guy ever and I think I love him!”

Why people hate you: In this case, you’re more likely to inspire fear rather than outright hate (unless your jealous ex follows you — and he totally does). If your new love interest sees your tweet, it could come off as a little intense and scare him away. Plus, it sends a signal that you’ll probably dish more sordid details as the relationship develops — and no one wants his sex life to become a trending topic.

Twit fix: “For some reason I have this jam stuck in my head [insert link to ambiguously lovey-dovey song here].” (Tools like and make this super easy.)

If homeboy happens to see this tweet, he will be sweetly intrigued. Also, you’re providing your followers (remember them? — the people who actually read your tweets because they care what you have to say?) with a new tune. Everyone wins.

The TMI tweet: “[Insert name here] is about as intelligent as that kid in pre-K who sat in the corner, eating googly-eyes and drooling on the teacher’s shoulder.”

Why people hate you: Ha. Your followers actually would love you for this — [insert name here], not so much.

Twit fix: Twitter feuds are about as classy as vajazzling (which is to say, not at all.) Just refrain from getting out the claws, or if you must let your negative ions rip, limit your rants to an e-mail to your snarkiest friend (the one with whom you get frequent gossip hangovers).

Better yet, may we suggest creating a venomous blog complete with an alter ego? Hey, it worked for us …


Will Facebook hurt or help class reunions? Wednesday, Jun 9 2010 

Courtesy of

(CNN) — If you’d asked Bekki Scotto a few years back about her interest in attending a high school reunion, she would have rolled her eyes and laughed in your face.

Uprooted from Northern California as a 12-year-old after her parents divorced, she landed in Bismarck, North Dakota, where she was a stranger in a strange land.

“I was a weirdo, and I always was until I left,” said Scotto, 40, who loaded up her Volkswagen bus right after graduation and high-tailed it back to the West coast. “I hated high school. My memories are mostly of tortured poetry and plans for escape.”

But a funny thing happened in recent years: She discovered Facebook. And the social networking tool stirred up an interest in old classmates that she didn’t know was there.

Scotto, a textile artist in Eureka, California, signed up for the social networking site not knowing that “it was HS reunion central … or I might not have joined,” she wrote in an e-mail. And suddenly she was reconnecting with people from Bismarck’s Mandan High School and revisiting stories she’d long forgotten.

“Surprisingly enough I DID have friends. We did do fun things, and I actually have a few fond memories,” she said in the e-mail. “That was a revelation that never would have happened without Facebook… I know a bit about everyone and am remembering friends I’d actually like to see.”

Facebook may bring people like Scotto (who missed her 20th, which came before she’d signed up for the site) to reunions that never would have come otherwise.

But the site might also have an adverse effect on the face of school reunions. If you can learn what’s become of your old pals or your secret crush from the comfort of your couch, do you lose the incentive to actually go? Once you discover your prom date is now a married, balding insurance executive in Poughkeepsie, is the curiosity factor gone?

Julian “Lynn” Bell, of Eagan, Minnesota, doesn’t think so.

Bell created the Facebook page for all graduates of Mandan High to help them plan reunions — big and small — and find each other. He believes the page’s influence is already being felt, as turnout for school gatherings is on the rise.

“You get a lot of fun laughs, and you’re able to reconnect with people you might not have time to connect with at the reunion,” said Bell, also 40.

An added plus, said Mandan grad Jami Bjorndahl, 32, is that Facebook helps cut through the initial nerves of first contact.

“It does take away that awkwardness of wondering what people will think of how you’ve changed,” said Bjorndahl, who now lives outside of Washington. “All those silly things high school kids do to one another have been forgotten. That person who ‘wronged’ you has forgotten all about it, while you may have been holding onto it for the last 20 years.”

By revisiting high school relationships years later, there may be this renewed level of acceptance of one another, said Florence Kaslow, a life coach and south Florida psychologist of more than 30 years who’s studied reunions of all sorts.

Facebook also lets people reinvent their former teen-age selves by creating online the image of the adults they’ve become.

But beware the traps of “virtual friendships” or “pseudo-intimacy” that sites like Facebook or MySpace can manufacture, Kaslow warned. When former classmates who are “friends” on Facebook see each other face-to-face, “It can be disappointing … They may not be like anything they’ve written.”

One of the pros of Facebook is that the site has allowed former classmates, even entire communities, to bond for missions beyond socializing.

In advance of his late May reunion in Stroud, Oklahoma, avid cyclist Jeff Burton signed up for Facebook and launched a page entitled, “I’m Riding My Bicycle On Route 66 to Attend My 50th High School Reunion.”

He then spent most of May riding from Santa Monica, California, to his old hometown and writing about it along the way. Classmates helped turn his journey into a fundraising campaign for Stroud High School and built a separate website for the cause.

“I became friends with anyone who had connections with Stroud, Oklahoma,” said Burton, 67, who lives in Santa Rosa, California. He estimates that they raised about $10,000 for the school. “I didn’t want it to be about me,” he said. “I was just willing to be the poster child.”

For those who cannot make it to their high school or college reunions, Facebook helps lessen the disappointment.

“Of course I’d love to go and see people face-to-face and run into people who aren’t on Facebook,” said Nancy Corradini, who’s missing her 40th Alhambra High School reunion in Southern California this September because she has a wedding to attend.

But it “sure has made it easier to miss the reunion as I have already caught up with everyone,” she said.

Her classmate, Karen Spencer, however is definitely on board. She missed her 30th, but this one — not a chance. Spencer has no excuse this time — she created the Facebook page for her class and in the process began reaching out to find classmates.

“I probably reconnected with 80 people, and these are people I probably know better now than I did in high school,” said Spencer, a policy consultant who lives outside Sacramento, California. She believes reconnecting on Facebook will allow her and her classmates to skip much of the awkward small talk that occurs at reunions.

“We don’t have to say, ‘How many kids do you have?’ We’ve already covered that,” she said. “We’re going to feel like old friends.”

In fact, Facebook has made Spencer feel so connected to former classmates that her friend pool is expanding in ways she never saw coming.

“Today, a really good friend of mine from high school wrote,” she said recently. “I’m now friends with his friggin’ dog.”

Burgers, asthma, linked? Friday, Jun 4 2010 

Courtesy of

by Madison Park writer/producer

Burgers may be cheap, quick and juicy, but America’s favorite fast food could have more health implications than just clogged arteries or indigestion.

European researchers found “high burger consumption was associated with higher lifetime asthma prevalence” for children, according to findings published in the recent issue of the journal Thorax. High burger consumption consists of eating three or more a week.

Dr. Gabriele Nagel in the Institute of Epidemiology at Ulm University, Germany and his colleagues analyzed data collected on 50,000 children for 10 years in 20 rich and poor countries to explore how diet could affect asthma or food allergies.

Parents in the study were asked about their children’s normal diet and whether they had ever been had asthma and/or have had wheeze.

Healthier foods like fruit, vegetables and fish, and the Mediterranean diet were associated with a lower lifetime prevalence of asthma.

Burgers,  not so much.

This could be because “fast food is rich in industrially hydrogenated vegetable fats such as margarine and meat from ruminant animals which are dietary sources of trans-fatty acids,” researchers wrote.

Health advocates have blamed burgers and fast food  for childhood obesity rates. Group tells Ronald McDonald to take a hike.

Researchers say it might not just be the burgers.  “The frequency of burger consumption could be considered as a proxy for unknown lifestyle factors which may vary depending on the societal context, environmental and other lifestyle factors,” they wrote.


Hollywood crackdown nabs faux superheroes Thursday, Jun 3 2010 

Courtesy of

Los Angeles, California (CNN) — Hollywood’s superhero community buzzed after Batman’s arrest Wednesday, just days after Spiderman, Cat Woman and at least a dozen others were taken into custody by Los Angeles police.

It’s part of a police crackdown on unlicensed costumed characters who pose for photos with tourists near Grauman’s Chinese Theatre while hoping — but not demanding — small tips.

“It’s un-American,” said Joe McQueen, an actor who has made his living for the past 10 years wearing an Incredible Hulk costume. “I feel like we’re being bullied, dude.”

By Wednesday afternoon, Hollywood Boulevard was clear of the characters but filled with tourists. Any costumed actor who dared to show up was nabbed by police.

“Tourists are going ‘Where are all the characters?'” said Christopher Dennis, a mild-mannered actor who has portrayed Superman for 19 years.

Like Superman, Dennis is seen as a powerful figure because he has a level of fame. He was featured in “Confessions of a Superhero,” a 2007 documentary about the lives and dreams of these street performers.

Fearing he would be arrested, Dennis has stayed away until he can find out who or what is behind the arrests of his friends.

Los Angeles police did not respond to several requests for an interview about the crackdown.

The sweep began Friday night when police handcuffed actors dressed as Donald Duck, Cat Woman, Freddy Krueger, Mr. Incredible, Bumblebee (from the Transformers movies) and Edward Scissorhands.

The Scissorhands character was let go, but at least eight others were hauled off to the Hollywood jail on loitering charges.

Struggling actors survive on the tips while pursuing their dreams of stardom.

Their numbers have grown in recent months along with the complaints that some were strong-arming tourists for tips.

“It just takes a few bad apples to make the whole barrel go rotten,'” said Michael Jackson impersonator Mitchell Schonberner. He was arrested for loitering near Jackson’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star Saturday night.

“I thought I’d just dance and have fun, just enjoy myself,” the 25-year-old Missouri native said. “I wasn’t asking for tips.”

Police told Schonberner, who has been performing on the sidewalk for two years, they’ve gotten “multiple complaints against you from businesses and the security,” he said.

He denied breaking the law against pressuring tourists for money.

“I tell them ‘Just to let you know, tips are greatly appreciated,” he said. “Half the time I don’t even ask for a tip,”

Schonberner was freed from jail the next morning with a court date and a warning.

“They said ‘You’d better not go back out or you will be arrested and held,'” Schonbrener said.

At least nine others were arrested over the next several days, including Scooby Doo, a Johnny Depp lookalike, an Elvis and another Cat Woman, Dennis said. They were all charged with loitering, he said.

The Incredible Hulk impersonator Joe McQueen, who starred in the “Confessions” film with Dennis, was there Monday when police rounded up several characters for arrest. Although he was detained, they later released McQueen with a charge, he said.

“I didn’t break no law,” McQueen said. “As far as a loitering charge is concerned, this is a public street. That’s un-American.”

When police let him go, it was with a warning.

“They told me ‘Let everybody else know from here on out that if we catch anybody out here in a costume, we’re going to arrest you,'” McQueen said.

Batman impersonator Tony Tomey was not bowed. He showed up Wednesday afternoon “to make a statement so people can see that this is unfair,” McQueen said.

Within minutes, an LAPD squad car pulled up in front of the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum and Tomey was handcuffed and taken to jail. He was still locked up in the Parker Center Jail Thursday morning, according to LAPD records.

The Superman and Incredible Hulk imitators both said street cops have told them the crackdown was ordered “from upstairs.”

“They wouldn’t tell me who the people upstairs are,” McQueen said. “I’m not going to give up until we finally figure out who the powers are that put the orders down, and I have some type of reason.”

Some of the actors are talking about organizing a protest, he said.

“It’s sad to see how this is happening right now, because this is our best time of the year,” he said.

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