Category Archives: Features

A grab-bag of interesting stories, reports, reviews and personal essays. The bag is deep, the grabbing is more of an uncontrolled thrashing and the connecting theme is so subtle you could swear it isn’t there.

The Baltimore Riots: Justice or Lawlessness?

The riots in Baltimore are the latest reaction to ongoing police brutality that has targeted our fellow Americans. While some see the riots as justice others see them as lawless and emotions have flared from both camps. Regardless of how you feel, the worst thing we can do is ignore the situation. The riots are a cry for help. So, I’m going to take the time to examine the issue of police brutality in America to determine what is justice and what is lawless…I’m assuming we know enough about slavery and civil rights movements in our country so I won’t touch on those relevant details.


Imagine a country where people of a certain race lived together in concentrated areas as minorities.  These people went to their own theaters, their own schools and spoke their own language separate from the rest of the country.  Those who didn’t had to adopt the culture of the country they lived in while their own culture vanished into obscurity.  Although emancipated and given civil equality, they were still subject to racism and had to face that racism in their everyday lives–whether it was not being hired for a job, being called racial slurs or being pre-judged as criminals simply because of who they were.  Next thing they knew, violence erupted and hundreds of them were being killed because of their race.  A new leader eventually rose to power and a new, militarized police force emerged that arrested these people, brutally beat these people and started killing them left and right.  At the same time, citizens were losing faith in their government and military as they clawed their way out of an economic depression and clung to the promises made by this new leader that their country would once again be prosperous and there was hope for them all.

Sounds like American history on up to the present day, doesn’t it?  With fire hoses turned on black Americans, freedom riders ripped out of busses to be killed, rampant reports of police brutality by a police force receiving military hand-me-downs and a disillusioned people investing so much hope in their new leader?

Well, that’s a scary notion because I am talking about Nazi Germany.  But let’s jump across the ocean real quick and examine current events in America regarding police brutality.


Police brutality and violence leads to riot and unrest
Police fire tear gas at FTAA protesters. Quebec City, Canada. Photo Credit: Wikipedia User, Devinasch

I’m sure most of you are aware of the riots in Ferguson and more recently, the riots that occured in Baltimore.  And if you’re like most people, you have already formulated an opinion about them.  Now, I’m not going to sit here and condone harming innocent people or destroying property because both are senseless and neither lead to any positive changes.  At least, they haven’t since the Boston Tea Party, where patriots rioted and committed vandalism to get their point across three years after the injustice of the Boston Massacre.  But what options did the patriots have left?  The King of England wasn’t listening to their pleas and was imposing his tyrannical will on a nation that was founded on the basis of freedom.  And as Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “a riot is the language of the unheard.”  And let’s face it:  the Boston Tea Party was very much a riot and the colonists were very much unheard.

Legal definition of a riot:  A disturbance of the peace by several persons, assembled and acting with a common intent in executing a lawful or unlawful enterprise in a violent and turbulent manner.

(It should be noted the Boston Tea Party escalated tensions between the colonists and the British to contribute to the start of the Revolutionary War.)

But the thing is, the protests in Baltimore didn’t start out as violent riots. On the contrary, the majority of protestors were engaging their first amendment right to a peaceful assembly, as reported here, here and here.  However, the news cameras didn’t start to roll until the violence started–after outsiders shouted racial slurs and agitated protestors, according to Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, mayor of Baltimore.

The difference between a peaceful protest and a riot is only one of them gets televised, politicized and makes the movement demonized.  Case in point, Baltimore.  The news crews didn’t start reporting until the violent protestors appeared.  This is because the media believes death, violence and unrest are more newsworthy than peaceful protests so death, violence and unrest are all they allow us to see–they teach us that in journalism school.  So now we get to hear all the spin on the riots and even the peaceful protestors have their names marred and the whole movement against police brutality loses credibility.  It is a political sleight made possible by the media and is akin to selective hearing.  And yes, police brutality is a thing.

“Nearly two times a week in the United States, a white police officer killed a black person during a seven-year period ending in 2012,” according to information reported by USATODAY.  While Huffington Post noted that black Chicagoans are 10 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than white Chicagoans.

Even more chilling is the story of the 51-year-old grandmother beaten and hospitalized by highway patrol–her medical records were seized by the department in a questionable breach of doctor-patient confidentiality.  Or the case of 87-year-old Venus Green, who had an officer try to force his way into her home without a warrant, beat her and handcuff her as she was trying to help her grandson who had just been shot (scroll toward the bottom of the linked article for details).  Clearly, both these women were menacing thugs who deserved that treatment.

In a previous article about violent crime rates in America, I provided FBI statistics that showed violent crime is declining.  Despite that trend, other statistics have shown violence by police is increasing.  So why aren’t news stations telling us this?  Well, it’s likely because many instances of police brutality go unreported by police departments.  In New Jersey, only one percent of police brutality cases are reported, according to Huffington Post.  ONE PERCENT.  Extrapolate that data to the rest of the country and it is likely that many other police departments are following the trend of sweeping the issue under the rug and demonizing any movement against it.  So if there is no perceived problem, why would we be told there is a problem?

Truth be told, we really don’t need to be told there is a problem with police brutality to sense something is fishy about all of this.  Even Wikipedia created a page containing lists of police killings by year, many of which are in the hundreds.  Some might ask, “but shouldn’t that be expected when dealing with violent criminals?”  And I would ask, “you mean violent criminals like the beaten grandmothers above?”

Compared to other first-world countries, our numbers should be an embarrassment.  Police in the United States kill more citizens than any other first-world country each year, according to information gained by The Free Thought Project.  In fact, our police force killed 78 times as many citizens in 2014 as Canadian police. Citizens like Freddie Grey, Michael Brown and Timothy Thomas. Further, while 763 American citizens were killed by police in 2013 (see link at the top of this paragraph), only 119 American soldiers were killed in Afghanistan the same year (see here).

Hence the protests.  Hence the anger.  Hence the distrust.  Hence the riots.  The case for police brutality is valid.

justice and freedom from police brutality, racism in America and media manipulation.
Image credit: Wikipedia user Pheasantpete. Derived from image by Wikipedia users Lexicon and Vikrum.

But if crime is universal and other countries’ aren’t seeing nearly as much police brutality against citizens as America–and if some of the citizens being killed and beaten here include feeble, old women–is there another explanation?  Glad you asked.  Let’s turn to psychology for a possible answer.


In 1971, a team of researchers under the lead of psychology professor, Phillip Zimbardo, undertook what is now called the Stanford Prison Experiment (funded by the US Office of Naval Research).  The team selected 24 male students to be designated as either prisoners or prison guards to determine the cause of conflict between military prison guards and their prisoners.  The students adopted their roles perhaps almost too well and within days of the experiment, the “guards” used psychological torture on the “prisoners” and enforced authoritarian measures.  The guards attacked the prisoners with fire extinguishers, renamed them as numbers, harassed the prisoners, made them urinate and defecate in buckets, forced them to strenously exercise as punishment, removed prisoners mattresses so they had to sleep on the concrete, forced one prisoner into solitary confinement in a closet and used other sadistic psychological manipulation techniques to control them.  Keep in mind these were college students seeking course credit.  One prisoner allegedly started acting insane while another fled and never returned.  The experiment was supposed to go on for two weeks but was terminated on day six.  The guards were extremely disappointed the experiment had ended.

The results showed the corrupting power of authority and how we as humans bend to the will of authority, even if it isn’t real.  It was hypothesized that the situation caused the behaviors in the guards and that their behaviors were not natural to them.  The effects were psychologically damaging as five of the prisoners were emotionally traumatized and had to leave the experiment early.  Early, as in, they didn’t even last six days.

This could explain how officers in positions of authority are finding it easier to beat and kill suspects.  Cops are human, after all, and are subject to corruption, brutality, cruelty and racism. This could also explain why we as a society justify recent police actions and sit by idly instead of making a stand.  We were raised to obey authority at all costs ever since we were children, so when we see police brutality we believe the victims had to have done something to deserve it–even in the cases of the two grandmothers.  We can’t accept that the victims may not have deserved what came to them because police are supposed to be the good guys, not the bad guys.  The reason we can’t accept that maybe some of them are the bad guys is because of another psychological factor called “cognitive dissonance.”

So now let’s return to Nazi Germany.  You have an entire nation of people who feel defeated and hopeless and are losing faith in their government and military.  A new, charismatic leader appears and promises to return Germany to its glory days.  Just, nevermind the militarized police force that is targeting Jews, beating them and placing them in concentration camps.  Soon, the nation follows suit and justifies the police brutality.  Not only that, they aid the police brutality and eventually venture down the path of genocide.  They don’t believe they are doing anything wrong because that would make them and their police the bad guys.  But they can’t be the bad guys because the Jews are the bad guys and everyone is antisemitic.  Cognitive dissonance at play.

I reference Nazi Germany as a history lesson.  No, I don’t think we are quite as bad but we can learn a thing or two from the German’s mistakes.  Such as, not being afraid to question the motives of our authority figures or accepting the notion that there are bad cops out there and not every victim of police brutality deserved what was coming to him or her.

Some will still ask, but what about the riots?  Well, what about the Boston Tea Party?  I mean, wasn’t the Boston Tea Party a riot?  Or do powdered wigs somehow make things different?  What about what happened at Kent State several decades ago–not only was it a riot but wasn’t the incident criticized as an abuse of power?  How is that any different from the abuse of power we are seeing today?  I hope your answer isn’t because the victims in those examples were white, because that seems to be the only difference.  Not to mention, the protests in Baltimore started off as peaceful until outsiders jumped in and the cops swarmed the streets.  According to this Baltimore teacher who was there when it happened, even her students were targeted by police and not allowed to take their busses home from school.


peaceful protests occur in Baltimore after police brutality incident
Protesters from Peaceful Uprising at Tim DeChristopher’s sentencing July 26, 2011 Salt Lake City Utah USA. Photo Credit: Jonathan Mauer

We don’t necessarily know what started the violence because we weren’t there (in Baltimore and in the historical cases I mentioned).  But we seem pretty comfortable believing the protests started as violent riots just because that is the point at which the cameras started to roll.  But of course that’s how it played out–death and unrest are considered more newsworthy than peaceful protesting, so death and unrest is all the media allows us to see.  Then we make up our minds based on that and let our emotions rule our judgement instead of seeking truth for ourselves.  And the truth is you know police brutality must be bad when even the Bloods and Crips have joined forces to protect their neighbors from the police.

And let’s not forget the unarmed man who was shot in the back during the other recent case of police brutality some people seem to have forgotten.

So now people will make up their minds based on a half truth and condemn the entire city.  The movement against police brutality will lose credibility because media giants are more concerned about ratings than fair reporting.  The country will judge these people based on half truths and politicians will use the riots to push their agendas.  Fox News is having a field day with the Baltimore protestors I’m sure, so now the conservatives who make up the majority of that audience will have their minds manipulated and their opinions made for them which will affect future votes on related issues and make it seem like police brutality doesn’t exist.  It is a horrible cycle that can easily be broken if people did their own research on police brutality Instead of jumping to the conclusions the media wants them to jump to.

So after this issue gets ignored for decades (and it has been going on for decades–Rodney King comes to mind) and recent peaceful protests aren’t given ANY media time, you get outsiders coming in and shouting racist slurs at peaceful protestors in Baltimore and assaulting them, so the protestors finally turn violent. I don’t condone hurting innocent people or destroying private property (what’s that going to solve anyway?) but I can at least empathize with their struggle and understand where they are coming from.  That’s what our fellow Americans need right now rather than blind judgement and rampant criticism on an issue many people know nothing about and won’t inform themselves about because they don’t want to be wrong and have to change their minds about something.  Like police brutality, racism in America and media manipulation.

Cognitive dissonance is a killer. Don’t fall for the propaganda of the mainstream media because the mainstream media is crap. Instead, do your own research to see for yourself what is really happening in our country. If we don’t wise up and start holding our leaders and our police force accountable for their actions, then we’ll be too complacent to stop them when things become even more serious…should it move past police brutality and become more Orwellian in nature.

Let’s not follow in Germany’s footsteps. Something is going terribly wrong and we have to band together to stop it. That is true patriotism. We are the voting citizens who give our leaders their power and who our police have sworn to protect and serve. We can’t let them forget that and we can’t just sit back and watch our fellow citizens suffer injustice.

It’s time their voices are heard and justice is served.


25 Songs To Raise The Dead On Halloween

Halloween is celebrated around the globe and is commonly associated with ghosts, skeletons and all things dark and deceased.  The holiday has origins in Samhain–a festival that signified the end of harvest for ancient druids who believed spirits entered our realm at this time.  The druids felt the spirits should be made offerings to gain their blessings during the winter as they welcomed in the “dark half” of the year.  Hence the candy.  To this day 2,000 years later, some believe the portals separating the worlds of the living and the dead are relaxed during this time, allowing all kinds of spirits, ghosts and demons to roam the Earth at their leisure.  Much to witches’ and necromancers’ delights.  In light of this, I unearthed 25 Halloween-theme songs for raising the dead on All Hallow’s Eve.  Play at your own risk (mwuahahahaha).

1. Zombie-The Cranberries

Zah-ombie, zah-ombie, zah-ombie eh-eh-eh-oh.  A powerful anti-war ballad by an equally powerful Irish rock band to start off your Halloween night.

2. Voodoo-Godsmack

The original, real zombies were created by Voodoo bokors who used a special mix of chemicals that could render a person nearly comatose, yet still aware enough to mindlessly follow instructions.  As such, the next song on the list is Voodoo because without Voodoo there can be no Zombie. *Note:  This entry was a close tie with Santeria by Sublime and won because, well, Sublime isn’t very spooky.

 3. Living Dead Girl-Rob Zombie

The zombie theme is alive and well, as you can see.  Mind the irony.

4. Witchy Woman-The Eagles

Witches sweep on through…

5. Black Magic Woman-Santana

Oye como va, la mujer de la noche, la mujer de mis pesadillas bonitas.  My Spanish is limited.

6. Werewolves of London

A cheery piano melody makes it easy to miss the casual gore in this song.

7. Spooky-Classic IV

For those of you who like to mix your vampire fangs with your love games.

8. This Is Halloween-Marilyn Manson (cover)

The Nightmare Before Christmas meets Marilyn Manson.  I don’t think you can get more Halloween than this, unless you traded Tim Burton for Ichabod Crane.

9. Brain Damage-Pink Floyd

The creepiest thing about this song is how mellow it is, given its substance.

10a. I Put A Spell On You-Screamin’ Jay Hawkins

This guy.

10b. I Put A Spell On You-Bette Midler (Hocus Pocus)

Alternatively, you can run amuck…

11. White Noise-Murder By Death

A very cool song with a very cool music video by a very cool indie band.  Check out my interview with them for The News Record here.

12. Dragula-Rob Zombie

Moar Rob Zombie pl0x

13. Thriller-Michael Jackson

The obligatory Thriller entry.  RIP Michael.

14. The Monster Mash

Classic Halloween tune championed by elementary school students everywhere. And the updated version…

15. Superstition-Stevie Wonder

This song makes me think of possessed jeans.

16. Sympathy for the Devil-The Rolling Stones

Perfectly acceptable on Devil’s Night.

17. Them Bones-Alice in Chains

Got milk for them bones?

18. Sun Doesn’t Rise-Mushroomhead

This was on the Jason vs Freddy soundtrack, so that counts.  I guess.  Okay, sure.

19. Don’t Fear The Reaper-Blue Oyster Cult

It features a beat you can chew bubblegum to and surprisingly creepy lyrics when really listened to.

20. Beast and the Harlot-Avenged Sevenfold

Not quite Halloween-themed, but it talks about demons and custome companies seem to want to dress women up like harlots on Halloween, so it’s kind of close.

(Really.  What is this?  Are you trying to get me turned on by pets now or something?  Or is this just cleverly placed innuendo?)


21. Sober-Tool

The music video and the line, “waiting like a stalking butler,” grant this song an honorable mention.

22. Mr. Jack-System of a Down

Another cool song with some Halloween potential.

23. Open Up-Korn

Kind of spooky, especially the ending.

24 & 25. Brackish and Into The Darkness-Kittie

Kittie doesn’t really need a reason to be on this list.  These songs just seem to fit. Obviously, there are a lot of good songs out there that didn’t make it to the list.  Share the ones you think should have made it in the comments below!

The Four Horsemen of The Holiday Marketing Apocalypse

Every year starting around mid-September, we are faced with a serious threat to our psychological conditioning:  the over-marketing of consumer goods.  It begins slowly and sweetly with seasonal favorites then it suddenly jumps our bones and sends consumers into frenzies across the country as people are trampled in attempts to score the big sale.  The madness seems to revolve around four key players, or horsemen if you will, since their annual arrivals spell out media chaos and consumer-state doom. Grab a pen and take note–the “end of days” of the year is fast approaching and there’s not much time to prepare!

Pumpkin Spice Lattes – Famine

The Armageddon begins with pumpkin spice lattes (never thought you’d read that sentence, did you?).  Don’t let these hot, tempting, caffeinated pumpkin spice-infused abominations fool you:  they mean serious business and represent the first horseman of the holiday marketing apocalypse.  Pumpkin spice lattes remind consumers the holidays are just around the corner, priming us for the season of spending like trumpeters of war.  Before the leaves even begin to change every company and it’s mother corporation starts rolling out  pumpkin spice everything, from pumpkin spice waffles to pumpkin spice Jell-O, for the one time of the year it is acceptable to flavor our junk food with a type of squash.

Bubba Gump Pumpkin Spice Latte Flavor Food Drink Forrest
I think we ALL know who is to blame for this pumpkin spice obsession…

It all begins with the pumpkin spice latte and consumers eat it all up (err, sip it up).  We’ve become conditioned to making seasonal purchases each year and these sinister sippers get us into the buying spirit well before the winter holidays.  Need more proof?  Take a look at these 20 pumpkin spice products, including pumpkin spice pasta, and tell me people would buy them year-round if we weren’t already conditioned to seek out these products during the fall.  Aliens would have to assume pumpkins are the only thing we can get nutrition from between September and November and because of that, pumpkin spice lattes have earned the title of Famine, the first horseman of the holiday marketing apocalypse.  Once they roll out, the unholy procession of sales and advertising has begun…

Thanksgiving Weekend – War

No more “over the river and through the woods” for this holiday weekend–grandmother’s house can bite it.  The Thanksgiving Weekend is the largest retail event of the year thanks to Black Friday and Cyber Monday (and a little classical conditioning)–they even sound like doom incarnate, which makes them perfect for this list.  Black Friday is famous for inciting stampedes and fights between shoppers that have left people both dead and injured–right after practicing gratitude and counting blessings on Thanksgiving Day.  Yay, ironic violence! There’s even a site that keeps track of Black Friday deaths and injuries, so you know the annual advertisements are working.  Cyber Monday, on the other hand, only exists because office workers just couldn’t get enough shopping done on Black Friday so they continued their sprees at work the following Monday when they had faster internet access and could make back some of the money they were spending as they were spending it. “Just two more hours of browsing Amazon for Sally and I’ll have that extra fifty bucks to get Riley that new Grand Theft Auto game.” True story, and there are millions of people across the country conditioned into doing this. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are hailed as the biggest shopping days of the year–92 million people hit the stores last Black Friday while more than 131 million consumers shopped online last Cyber Monday, according to press releases by the National Retail Federation.   All in all, consumers spent about $57 billion last Thanksgiving Weekend (2013) according to the same press releases–though the numbers have been climbing for decades. In related news, the rising sales figures are inversely correlated with the amount of quality time families spent together to remember the Natives and how they saved the pilgrims’ sorry asses from freezing in the snow.


Retailers spend all year preparing for Black Friday and Cyber Monday by creating marketing and advertising strategies, developing keywords to boost site traffic, buying ad space on Facebook and Google, planning floor layouts, developing sales, selecting their best merchandise and training their sales associates to kill–figuratively speaking.  Because retailers are constantly trying to out-compete each other to win relevancy in consumers’ minds during this crucial time of year (you know, when we’re supposed to be kind, spend time with loved ones and have good will toward others), the retail madness we call the Thanksgiving Weekend has been declared the Horseman of War.  It’s already too late to escape the holiday marketing apocalypse by the time this horseman arrives: door buster sales, red tag discounts, free shipping, gifts-with-purchase incentives and repetitive Christmas commercials are EVERYWHERE.  Your best bet for survival is to unplug from all media and lock yourself in the bathroom with a baseball bat, a yo-yo and one thousand granola bars.

Anthony Dodson Antwon Black Friday Cyber Monday Sales hide yo kids wife husband
Yes, this really does happen. Here’s one case and here’s another.

30 Days of Christmas – Conquest

Okay, we get it.  Christmas wins and it’s not going to let us forget that.  Instead, forget those lames Chanukah, Kwanza, Thanksgiving and Halloween.  And DEFINITELY forget the pagan origins of Christmas and how the holiday should really be celebrated sometime around September*.  Christmas is here and you jingle-heads better be ready for Santa.  To make sure we are, cable networks slam us with Christmas shows and movies that activate our psychological conditioning to make us feel unseasonably warm inside–just warm enough to remember uncle Greg and that sale on a coffee maker.  Don’t buy that?  Then take a look at two classic Christmas movies, Miracle on 34th Street and It’s A Wonderful Life, which are sure to include plenty of elements of capitalism and commerce, the Macy’s references being prime examples. Ever notice how many Christmas movies and shows involve malls?

The mental priming typically starts with Elf, because if there’s anyone who can catch us off guard and warm us up to indoctrinated consumerism, it’s Will Ferrell dressed as Peter Pan making paper snowflakes.   Then a clinically depressed Charlie Brown comes along followed by a Rudolph scorned, an irresponsibly naive Frosty, a forever-young Macaulay Culkin, Woodland Christmas Critters and that one elf who just wants to be a dentist.  The flood of nostalgic Christmas movies anchors us to our inner child and the holiday mindset simultaneously and now we’re fully ready to accept product advertisements and wait in long lines at malls (y’know, in concordance with the true meaning of Christmas?). Quick, somebody tell Frankie he’s going to put an eye out.

Will Ferrel 30 Days Christmas Elf Retail Funny Phaze 2 two

Valentine’s Day – Death

The retail holidays don’t end with Christmas or even New Year’s Day–they end with the last big retail event of the winter, which is Valentine’s Day.  Last year, consumers were expected to spend $17.3 billion on Valentine’s Day with $3.9 billion of that going to jewelry, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation.  Turns out the day we equate to love and romance has quickly become a superficial display of affection to benefit Wall Street as we’re guilt-tripped into splurging on our significant others so we can be thoughtful and romantic for one day out of the year as we’ve been conditioned by society.

“Consumers can expect Cupid’s holiday to resemble the promotional holiday season we saw just a few months ago, as retailers recognize that their customers are still looking for the biggest bang for their buck.”  – Matthew Shay, NRF President and CEO.

But let’s be honest here, was Valentine’s Day ever really about love and romance?  First off, according to an article on, Valentine’s Day has it’s origins in Lupercalia, a Roman-pagan fertility celebration featuring sacrificial cows and goats, women streaking naked through the streets while being slapped with raw animal hides and the story about Romulus and Remus is told, how they were raised by a wolf and became the founders of Rome.  So not much romance there, unless you’re into BDSM story time with raw animal hide and mammal blood.

There is a redeeming factor.  Valentine’s Day is named for Saint Valentine, who was executed by the Roman emperor Claudius for marrying young couples.  As the story goes, Claudius outlawed marriage for young men because he believed they made better soldiers if they didn’t have wives or families to live for and care about.  When he found out Saint Valentine was conducting secret marriages he had him executed…but not before the saint sent the first Valentine’s Day card in history to the jailer’s daughter, which he signed “From your Valentine.”

So at least there’s a silver lining.  However, because Valentine’s Day forces romance to make it an empty annual tradition and because it can also be the end of a relationship if handled improperly, Valentine’s Day has been deemed the horseman of Death. It annoys both single people and those in relationships equally, leaving a trail of marked-down candy and envious Facebook posts in its wake.  But on the plus side it’s passing means you survived the holiday marketing apocalypse and have a full five months of peace before Christmas in July arrives and brings with it the return of repetitive, tinsel-wrapped advertisements indicative of consumer-state doom.  So, congratulations?

*While this article makes a strong case Jesus was born on December 25, it doesn’t take into account that January and February weren’t added to the Roman calendar until 450 A.D.  That was about 150 years after the article claims Christmas was first dated in December, which would mean the date is still close to October after the two winter months were added. But I’m no expert…

7 Tactics Designed To Make You Spend…And How To Beat Them

You go to the store for one box of cereal but leave with three boxes of cereal, a gallon of milk, a bag of oranges, a carton of yogurt cups, a box of donuts, a ready-to-bake blueberry pie, an entertainment magazine and a pack of gum.  What the hell happened?!

Marketers and sales staff are taught how to influence consumers into making purchases by using psychology to manipulate our buying behaviors.  But you can (and should) fight back. Below are seven tactics meant to encourage you to part with your money–and simple defenses for resisting their influence or even striking a better deal.

1.    The “FUGI” factor

FUGI stands for “Fear of loss, Urgency, Greed and Indifference,” the first three being emotions to target in consumers and the last one being a mindset salespeople should adopt.  The idea is to tell consumers they have a limited amount of time to make a purchase before the sale is discontinued.  This taps into our Fear of missing out on something (or our fear of regret) and our Greed, which makes the situation more Urgent:  consumers know they have limited time to make a decision before missing out on the deal.  At the same time salespeople act Indifferent to the sale, which puts all the pressure onto the consumer–if the salesperson doesn’t care about making the sale, it’s up to the consumer to care about snagging the deal.  This plays off the Principle of Scarcity noted by Robert Cialdini in his book, “Influence:  Science and Practice.”

Call To Action Urgency Factor In Advertising

The best way to avoid that pressure is to ask yourself if you really need the product or service right now.  Chances are a similar sale will come around again weeks or months down the line–and chances are equally well the deal isn’t all that good.  You could try to negotiate from here, but typically when FUGI is employed the sale price is non-negotiable:  the salesperson isn’t trying to make a bunch of sales, just the ones netted by FUGI.  This may not be the case in department stores or at retailers but is generally the case with door-to-door sales and event marketing.  It never hurts to try haggling, though.

2.  Door-In-The-Face Technique

This is when a large request is made knowing it will be turned down and then a smaller request is made knowing the person is more likely to agree to it.  For instance, a box of cereal in a grocery store may be priced at $5 and then “marked down” to $3.50, which was likely the original sales price anyways.  Or a saleswoman may ask $45,000 for a new car then after “talking to her boss” (stopping in her office for coffee while you stew in anticipation, imagine yourself driving the car and start over-thinking) she drops the price to $37,500, which was probably what she was hoping to get all along.  We see the smaller request and assume we’re getting a deal, which compels us to make the purchase.  We’re also willing to agree to the new terms and may feel like we owe the person now that they’ve made a “compromise.”  This is similar to Cialdini’s Principle of Reciprocity, which suggests we feel obligated to return favors as a social rule that developed alongside civilization–which can explain why free samples and gifts with purchase are so effective at turning sales.

It may sound cold, but one of the best defenses against this is realizing the person doesn’t really care about you, the person cares about your wallet.  Try to realize the free gift or the compromise was a ploy meant to bait you into making a purchase.  It can be tough because we naturally want to return favors and feel guilty for not doing so, but that’s exactly how they want you to feel.  If they’re going to play emotional hardball, it’s absolutely okay for you to do the same. Mention how you came out of your way and got stuck in traffic to get to the sale and ask if you can get a discount for your troubles–perhaps you’re even putting a deal with another salesperson at another lot on hold to check out this sale.  Just do something that shows you did the salesperson a favor in some way and see if they can do you a favor in return (you’re helping them make commission, after all).  It may not work all the time but you’ll be surprised how often it does, especially if you employ FUGI as a counter.  Door-in-the-face techniques can be a fairly good indication that sale price is negotiable since the price fluctuates but they don’t always mean negotiation is on the table.

3.  Store Layout

The very layout of a store can cause you to make more purchases than you intended.  Most stores are set up so you have to walk by tons of products in order to get to the one you came for, which is why common purchases and best sellers are usually found at the back of the store and in the center of aisles.  At the same time, store layouts are designed to keep you inside the store as long as possible.  Popular and pricey products are typically at eye level while generic and discounted items are closer to the ground and thus harder to see.  Certain colors have subtle psychological effects, such as red being mentally stimulating and causing us to make more impulse decisions or yellow causing us to become happy (if you can think of a fast food chain that uses red and yellow in its logo, you can also see how influential branding is).  Of course, color psychology is dependent on individual interpretations of colors and their meanings, which are typically learned through culture and personal experience…but the general physiological responses to “warm” and “cool” colors (stimulating and relaxing, respectively) and the learned associations such as gold for wealth and luxury, green for the environment or red+white+blue=’Murica are easily exploitable.

Brand Logo Color Psychology Advertising Media

The first 15 feet inside a store is known as the “decompression zone,” where customers mentally prepare for shopping and don’t notice merchandise–that’s also where most of the signs for sales are placed to slow us down and to prime us for “great savings” ahead.  Items are priced at $5.99 instead of $6 for example, because we read left to right and see the 5 first without giving much consideration to the .99 tacked on the end.  This causes us to group $5.99 in the $5 range instead of the $6 range when buying on impulse.  Background music makes you relax and lower your guard, items with ample space between them appear more valuable, aisles lead straight to featured product displays, staple items such as socks are surrounded by more expensive products like branded shirts and impulse purchases can always be found by the cash registers. This, this and this are three good articles about the influence of store layout–the last is a UK link so mind the slang, mate.

Every time you step into a store you are stepping into a retail “trap” meant to guide you into making the most expensive purchase possible.  Store designers and salespeople will even try to get you high.  Beating the trap is simply a matter of awareness.  Pay attention to your surroundings to see through the smoke and mirrors of merchandising, stick to a shopping list, compare prices, round items up to the next dollar when budgeting, look all over the shelves instead of just at eye-level and above all, stay the course without getting distracted by all the signs and displays.

4. Low-Balling

Hey, I have this spaceship in my backyard that’s in excellent condition and can actually fly.  You seem like the type who  appreciates extraterrestrial transportation, so I’m willing to sell it to you for cheap.  This baby used to tour the galaxies alongside the ship that went down in Roswell–I know because the aliens told me.  I’ll let it go for $1,000, what do you say?

If you don’t think I’m crazy for admitting talking to aliens, then you probably think I’m crazy for selling a functioning spaceship for $1,000.  So what’s the catch?  Well, the catch is I’m selling the ship for $1,000.  But the scheme is the damn thing won’t fly without the engine, which I’ll install for another $8,000 (price of the engine included–reciprocity).  You’ve already committed to the $1,000 in your mind so the $8,000 doesn’t seem so bad–I mean, a spaceship does need an engine and the price of the engine is factored in…

This, in essence, is low-balling.  The aim is to get the customer to mentally commit to a low price then switch up the deal and hit the customer with the higher price, which was the original price intended.  As long as the high price can be justified by the perceived value of the sale, this technique can be quite effective.  It’s similar to the bait-and-switch tactic as well as the Principle of Commitment (another “Weapon of Influence” noted by Cialdini).  Beating this strategy is simple:  ignore the first number.  Then remember the first number.  Then see if you can strike a deal somewhere between the first and second numbers.  Just as you have committed to the sale, so has the seller of the spaceship.  This means you can have equal influence over the negotiation since both parties are committed to seeing the sale happen.  You could even bring in the reciprocity factor by agreeing to buy the spaceship for $1,000 first then seeing if you can strike a deal on the engine installation.  Don’t forget to mention you already did the salesman a favor by believing his story and NOT running back to your car…

 5.  Testimonials

Humans are social creatures and sometimes to a fault.  We see other people buying a product or using a service so we assume the product or service is worth purchasing.  All those other people are doing it and they can’t all be wrong, so why not do it too?

Event marketers gather crowds because it validates the product or service and draws in more people.  Salespeople mention their sales from earlier to show you people are buying from them and some bartenders add their own money to tip jars to make it look like everyone is tipping.  This is essentially the bandwagon effect and Cialdini’s Principle of Social Proof at work.

Celebrity Vote Or Die Campaign Citizen Change

Some testimonials come from celebrities or those in positions of authority such as doctors, professors, scientists, mechanics, subject matter experts and  professionals.  Testimonials from these kinds of people are extremely powerful because people tend to trust and believe them.  This is the power of ethos, known in rhetoric as manipulation using one’s character, reputation, expertise and identity.  Many of us like to identify with and relate to celebrities so we will buy what they buy and do what they do (we also do this because we like them, another “Weapon of Influence” by, you guessed it, Cialdini).  The celebrity chosen for the testimonial depends on the brand, the target audience and the message communicated:  Michael Jordan represented Nike and Hanes because those brands target young, athletic males while Kelly Clarkson represented Proactiv because she just won American Idol and the company targets young women who may feel like their acne is holding them back.  In both cases, the brands are using the celebrities identities to leverage sales and motivate the behaviors of the target audience.

Additionally, when we see someone in a white lab coat giving medical advice, we tend to take their words as truth because they’re obviously real doctors who know what they’re talking about and deeply care about our well-being .  Despite the fact many of them are paid actors, we see the white lab coats and transcribe those symbols of profession to the spokespeople giving testimonials and rarely think twice about them.  This is due to the Principle of Authority noted by Cialdini and the fact we are conditioned from a young age to take authority as truth and never question it.

Beating this is very, very simple:  be yourself.  Don’t jump off bridges just because other people are doing it.  What’s good for the spider is bad for the fly.  Realize that no matter how much you want to identify with celebrities, chances are you will never meet them and they will never know you exist–you know what is best for you better than any celebrity would. And remember that just because someone wearing a white lab coat says he’s a doctor, doesn’t mean he is.  And even if he is a doctor that doesn’t mean he’s right–he’s still getting paid to say what he’s saying and the only reason they’re paying him is because they know you will trust his judgment.  Case in point, this actual advertisement for Camel cigarettes that was part of an R.J. Reynolds campaign back in the 1940s:

Cigarette Ad Doctors Smoke Camel
Camel advertisement from R.J. Reynolds campaign during the 1940s. Source: Stanford School of Medicine. URL:


6. Selling Benefits

The current advertising trend is to sell the “benefits” of a product rather than its features.  For example, an ad for a dishwasher may say “what you’re really buying is more time to eat with your family,” which makes you feel guilty for washing dishes instead of eating, makes you feel like you’re missing out on quality time and makes you believe this dishwasher is the answer to a closer, more loving family.


Check those claims with logic and reason, otherwise they will get the best of you.  That’s what they’re designed to do, after all.  Economist Ted Levitt said it best:  “People don’t buy quarter-inch drill bits, they buy quarter-inch holes.”  And that’s the philosophy of benefits selling:  it’s not about the product, it’s about what the product does for you.  There is a certain appeal to promoting benefits–maybe it’s the innocent approach or the fact it sounds incredibly genuine, making it hard to resist.  But do try.  Think rationally about the claim and consider how it makes you feel (for example, “you aren’t buying a car, you’re buying a better sex life”), then look at how the product stands in your mind without the claim supporting it.  If the product or service still appears useful or beneficial, go for it.  If not, leave it.  There is usually more than one solution to any problem so don’t let marketers and salespeople trick you into thinking their product or service is the one-size-fits-all magic bullet that’s going to make your life a thousand times easier and your problems go away–because it probably won’t.

7.  Add-ons, Cross-selling and Gifts With Purchase

One sale isn’t enough–retailers and salespeople want you to keep adding to your purchase until your cart is full and bloated like an overfed goldfish.  Just bought a TV?  Take a look at this nifty universal remote.  Just bought car insurance?  You’ll probably need a policy on your house as well.  Sometimes they’ll offer a free gift with purchase to either get you to buy something else or to remember them as the considerate retailer who “hooked you up” with something special.  In these cases the salesperson is utilizing both reciprocity and commitment by doing you a favor with a  free gift and getting you to commit to your first purchase before showing you a related item they hope you’ll also purchase.  The name of the game is to keep throwing products or services at you until you finally say “no more” but by then you’re still buying at least one thing–if not two.  And the internet is no better.  Online retailers use “product recommendations” to ramp up your purchases and will even offer free shipping to encourage you to buy in bulk.

To counter, tell yourself you only need the one thing you came for.  When the add-on or cross sale appears, examine how much more they’re asking you to spend and if the second item is really necessary.  If the add-on seems like it’s worth the extra money, then go for it.  But if not, tell them “no thanks” and proceed to checkout.  You can always come back to get the second product later if you weren’t able to haggle a better price for it the first time around.  But you’ll probably be just as happy without it.


There are a myriad of ways we are manipulated into making the most expensive purchases possible but they all follow the same principles. Keep an eye out for “Weapons of Influence” such as reciprocity, commitment, liking, social proof, authority and scarcity.  Also be aware of any time you feel your emotions flare during a sale or advertisement–chances are a tactic was being used to trigger your emotions, which reduces rational thought and causes us to become invested in the product or service before even paying for it.  In rhetoric, this is known as a pathos appeal–A.K.A. eliciting emotion and tugging on heartstrings.  Ultimately, the best defense against these tactics is knowing they exist and acting accordingly.  And now that you know they do exist, the only real question I have left is:

“Would you like fries with that?”

Why? Because I Said So

The English language is packed with words but only a select handful of them are considered “power words,” or words that have more influence over people than others.  One of the simplest yet most effective of these power words (according to the highly influential and aptly named book “Influence,” by Robert Cialdini) is the word “because.”

Say you have  a business report that needs to be copied ASAP but there’s a line in front of the copy machine.  If you were to go up to your co-workers and ask, “May I use the copy machine first?  I have an important business report that needs to be copied,” your co-workers may resist your polite query or just shrug you off without a second thought.  But if you were to tweak the phrase by adding the word “because,” you can greatly increase your odds of convincing your co-workers letting you cut in line.  Such as by asking, “I have a business report that needs to be copied, can I go first because I’m in a rush?”

You may not be convinced this works, and that’s okay–I felt the same way when I read this example in Cialdini’s book.  But there is a study and statistics that back the claim which can also be found in “Influence.”

When the participant in this scenario asked, “Excuse me, I have five pages, may I use the Xerox machine?” 60 percent of people let the participant cut in line.  However, when the query was changed to “I have five pages.  May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?” 94 percent of people let the participant cut.  The word “because” influenced them to give into the participant’s request, even though the reason (being in a rush) isn’t that strong of a reason–everyone is in a rush at an office.

Further, when the question was changed to “Excuse me, I have five pages.  May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make copies?” 93 percent of people let the participant cut in line–even if the reason wasn’t much of a reason at all.  Everyone uses the Xerox machine to make copies, making this a reason that should go without saying or a “non-reason,” to put it another way.

Cialdini says we are much more likely to get someone to do us favors simply by providing them with a reason–regardless of how good the reason is.  People just like knowing there is a method behind the madness and they aren’t being asked to do something just for the sake of doing it.  Of course, this may not work ALL THE TIME but it can tip the scales in your favor when asking someone to do something for you or to let you do something that may slightly inconvenience them.

You can read more about the power of “because” in this article by the Huffington Post, which includes four other power words that hold influence over people.  Use this knowledge to see how advertisements, salespeople, politicians and other people try to sway you into buying products or doing things for them so you can become more aware of their influence.  And it should go without saying that if you intend on using these power words for yourself, do so responsibly and ethically.

Remembering The Lives of Aurora Theater Shooting

Tomorrow (Sunday) is the two-year anniversary of the Aurora Theater Shooting, so I’m reblogging this article from one of my old blogs to keep the memories of the victims alive in the hearts of all affected by this tragedy.

The Freelancer

12 Victims of movie theater massacre From left to right:  Top row:  Alex Sullivan, Micayla Medek, John Larimer, Jessica Ghawi. Second Row:  Rebecca Wingo, Gordon Cowden, Veronica Moser-Sullivan, Alex Teves.  Bottom Row:  Matt McQuinn, Jonathan Blunk, AJ Doik, Jesse Childress. Photo courtesy of The Guardian (

Thousands of people gathered in Aurora, Colorado to attend a prayer vigil that took place last night to honor the lives of the victims of Friday’s theater shooting.

To show my support to the families who lost someone that night I’m going to highlight the individuals whose lives were taken.  It is my hope that these brief memoirs will aid in the national remembrance of those who died and will allow them to live on through each and every person who reads about them online or hears about them from the television.

My heart and condolences go out to the families and friends who were impacted by the tragedy.

Jonathan Blunk…

View original post 2,802 more words

Beware Of The Label

If it’s too good to be true, then it probably isn’t.  Case in point:  product labels.

Take Simply Cranberry Cocktail and Kickstart, for instance.  The one on the left presents itself as a fresh, natural juice product while the one on the right appears to be a carbonated chemical concoction about as healthy as a hole in the head.  Both, however, are misleading.

Empy calorie fruit juice with hardly any vitamins.
A closer look at Simply Cranberry Cocktail reveals some surprising information.

Looking at the nutrition facts, Simply Cranberry Cocktail has 190 calories, 49 grams of carbohydrates and 48 grams of sugar (likely making up a lot of the carbs in this product).  The label also mentions the drink isn’t “a significant source of” vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium or iron and it only consists of a paltry 27 percent actual juice for a product claiming to be “All Natural.”

To put this into perspective, let’s take a closer look at the Kickstart label.

Kickstart drink nutrition facts vitamins and low sugar
Surprisingly, the Kickstart label reveals a fair amount of nutrition.

First, Kickstart is only 80 calories, has 21 grams of carbs and just 20 grams of sugar in it–that’s less than half the sugar in Simply  Cranberry Cocktail.  Kickstart also provides 100 percent of the recommended daily value for vitamin c, 80 percent of the daily value for niacin (aka vitamin b3), 80 percent of the daily value for vitamin b6, 60 percent of the daily value for pantothenic acid (vitamin b5) and 10 percent of the daily value of phosphorus (a required dietary mineral).  And that’s with only five percent fruit juice–22 percent less than Simply Cranberry Cocktail.

Let’s take a step back before continuing.  It should be noted that Simply Cranberry Cocktail has very low sodium–25 milligrams compared to Kickstart’s 180 milligrams.  It should also be noted that Kickstart contains a PLETHORA of ingredients including caffeine and a ridiculous amount of preservatives (see below). So Kickstart isn’t exactly a healthy choice either but at least you’ll get all the vitamin c you need in one day plus some extra vitamins and only intake half the sugar.  And that’s only with the orange flavor of Kickstart–the other flavors are fairly devoid of vitamins.

However, the question does arise:  If Simply Cranberry Cocktail only contains pure filtered water, cranberry juice, sugar and natural flavors, what happened to all the nutrients and vitamins?  What turned a natural fruit juice drink into an empty-calorie facade?  I haven’t been in contact with the company so I can’t say what the reason is, but I can say this:  Lakewood Juices Organic Cranberry Juice contains 30 percent of the daily value for vitamin c and even 350 milligrams of potassium, an important mineral and electrolyte.  So the vitamins are in those cranberries at some point, just not at the point of consumption.

Kickstart nutrition ingredients preservatives and caffeine
See? “Plethora” was the perfect word for the amount of preservatives in Kickstart.

So what’s the takeaway here?  Always check product labels before assuming something is healthy or unhealthy based on the packaging, branding and product itself.  The side of a Kickstart can clearly states it is a “flavored sparkling juice beverage blend from concentrate with other natural flavors” and the phrase, “energy drink,” never once appears on the can although that is what most people I’ve encountered assume it is.  And being a Mountain Dew/Pepsi product, I don’t blame them.  But we all know what happens when we assume and hopefully after reading this you’ll be less inclined to do so on your next trip to the store.

Keep a critical eye out for the smoke and mirror setup of product promotions–how we spend our dollars dictates what choices are available to us and the extent to which companies respect us through their merchandising.  And as always, stay thirsty for knowledge, my friends.

Phenylalanine: Fun to say, but is it dangerous?

Doublemint Gum Phenylketonurics Phenylalanine
Phenylketonurics: Contains phenylalanine. This warning can be found on packages for many chewing gums, artificial sweeteners, and carbonated beverages.

If you’re like most people you probably don’t know what this chemical is, let alone how to pronounce it (feen – ill – ala – neen).  Chances are you’ve seen a warning about its presence in a product you’ve purchased, but is there a real danger behind it?  For 1 out of every 15,000 people in the U.S., there is.

I’ve always wondered about this chemical and what exactly it is.  When I was a kid, my older sister and I would see warnings similar to the one in the picture above and we’d laugh at the seemingly carefree name.  PhenyLALAnine.  We were cool kids, if you couldn’t tell.  Since then I’ve read a little about it in anatomy and physiology books, but never really looked into it until I was doing some leisure research on organic chemistry last night (because I’m still that cool).

Turns out phenylalanine is an essential amino acid that is produced naturally in our bodies and it is mainly found in the breast milk of mammals.  It is one of the common amino acids used by biochemists to form proteins and it is sold as a nutritional supplement that acts as a pain-killer and antidepressant.  The body converts phenylalanine into tyrosine (another amino acid), then into dopamine, epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine, and melanin (skin pigment).  Let’s take a quick look at these chemicals to gain a greater appreciation for phenylalanine before moving on further.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that has several functions, one of which is playing a role in reward-motivated behavior that involves pleasure-seeking and gratification.  This neurotransmitter triggers our pleasure centers and motivates us to seek rewards.  Cocaine and amphetamine copy the effects of dopamine on the brain, which is what makes them so addictive and why they cause depression when users are going through withdrawal.  In fact, scientists found that not only do people going through depression have lower levels of dopamine in their brains, but that taking a single sip of beer can trigger dopamine release in order to activate our pleasure centers to motivate us to repeat the pleasurable experience in the future.

Epinephrine, or adrenaline, is a hormone released when our bodies go into a “fight-or-flight response.”  It increases heart rate and opens airways, but is also associated with fear and is typically floating through our bloodstream and our brains when we are afraid.  Moreover, recent research suggests adrenaline also enhances our long-term memory — especially with memories involving arousal or fear.

Norepinephrine is a hormone and neurotransmitter that is also released during a fight-or-flight response.  Like epinephrine, norepinephrine increases heart rate.  However, it also affects attention levels, increases blood flow to muscles, and brings more oxygen to the brain.  It also is thought to play a role in learning and decision-making by detecting alterations in patterns:  norepinephrine levels spike during instances of uncertainty and emotional arousal.

Melanin is skin pigment.  The more you have the darker you are.

So what does this mean for phenylalanine?  Is it an ingenious marketing ploy?  In ridiculously high doses, chewing gum with phenylalanine can theoretically relieve pain and make you happy.  Then once converted into dopamine, the “reward-center” of your brain is activated in the same way it is stimulated by cocaine.  And now you’re addicted.  But the buck doesn’t stop there.  Your heart rate increases as some more phenylalanine is converted into norepinephrine and you realize there was an alteration in your life pattern.  A disturbance in the force, if you will.  Just what kind of gum is this?  You take a look at the nifty package labeling and see the name of this magical gum.  Some more phenylalanine converts into epinephrine to give you an adrenaline rush and increase your long-term memory so you’ll be sure to remember  what brand of gum gave you this wonderful minty sensation.  Remaining phenylalanine converts into melanin and now you have a nice bronze or ebony tan going on.  Hell yeah.  Your self-esteem goes up a few points and you can hardly believe there is a gum company out there that wants you to be this happy and this satisfied with its product.  Thanks phenylalanine!

No, that’s not the reason for the warning.  Turns out, the warning is for people with phenylketonuria — a medical condition that inhibits phenylalanine metabolism in the body — not for people with overactive imaginations.

Phenylketonuria (PKU) is a genetic disorder that, when left untreated, can lead to mental retardation, seizures, neurological problems, mood disorders, behavioral problems, and growth deficiencies.  Because PKU is an autosomal recessive trait, both parents must have the gene to pass the disorder onto their offspring.  PKU occurs at a rate of approximately 1 in 15,000 births in the United States.  Turkey has the most frequent cases (1 in 2,600 births) and Finland has the least frequent (less than 1 in 100,000 births).   Infants are typically tested for PKU at birth.  Treatment of this disease involves adhering to a special diet that restricts meat, eggs, nuts, cheese, legumes, bread, corn, and artificial sweeteners that contain aspartame — though most foods have phenylalanine in them.  Amino acids that derive from phenylalanine may be supplemented, including tyrosine, so patients can still receive essential nutrients and synthesize the hormones and neurotransmitters that come from tyrosine (dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and melanin) though gene therapy may be an option in the future.

It’s an interesting disease.  People who have PKU must avoid phenylalanine but still take in some to continue developing normally.  Doctors try to help them reach an “optimal health range” of phenylalanine within the first 10 years of their lives to help promote healthy development.  If they take in too much phenylalanine, it builds up in their bodies and blocks important amino acids responsible for protein and neurotransmitter synthesis from entering their brains.  This can cause mental retardation in developing individuals and a slew of other problems for all patients.

Imagine if these individuals could no longer synthesize dopamine to feel pleasure, gratification, or motivation.  Couldn’t synthesize serotonin for happiness or epinephrine for adrenaline.  Weren’t aware of their disease and because of their diets, stopped developing mentally at the age of 10 or 15.  These are serious consequences for people with PKU if they don’t monitor their diets or heed those little warnings on packs of gum and artificial sweetener.

So now you know more about phenylalanine than you probably ever cared to know.  It’s an essential amino acid that is important for human development and is the source for many hormones and neurotransmitters that promote healthy brain chemistry.  But for those with PKU, it is a stack of dishes in a continuous balancing act:  too much or too little can lead to disastrous, life-changing results.

Think about that the next time you see this warning somewhere and you’ll be reminded of just how lucky you really are.  I guarantee it will put your life into perspective and make your day that much better.

EDIT:  From Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. at —

If you don’t have PKU, you probably don’t need to worry about harmful health effects of phenylalanine — with certain important exceptions. Aspartame in large doses can cause a rapid increase in the brain levels of phenylalanine. Because of this, use products with aspartame cautiously if you:

  • Take certain medications, such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors, neuroleptics or medications that contain levodopa
  • Have tardive dyskinesia
  • Have a sleep disorder
  • Have an anxiety disorder or other mental health condition

If you aren’t sure if phenylalanine or aspartame is a concern for you, talk to your doctor.

Meet the Camera Geek

Poised behind the viewfinder and ready to take the shot, this self-proclaimed camera geek captures more on film in one week than most people see their entire lives.

Cameron Knight always carries a camera.  He sometimes has one stashed in his car.  At home he has a cache of 75 – 100 cameras; some are Russian, some are German, some work, some don’t.  But the 29-year-old photographer loves them all equally.  He buys them in bulk on eBay and spends $20 to $30 for a couple good ones, along with 15 more that may not work.  His day-to-day camera is an Olympus XA, his trusty sidearm at hand whenever inspiration strikes.  Then there is the Zorki Rangefinder he bought in college for $30 and the Lomography Lubitel he shot a few projects with recently – don’t even get him started on his Graflex 4×5 Speed Graphic, which is a large camera that is sometimes equipped with a hood or a flashbulb on a handle.  Knight says he’s been fondling that one, an early anniversary gift from his fiancée, for a couple days.

“I’m just a camera geek,” Knight says.  Coming from a guy who creates 45-minute educational, “camera geekasm” videos and uploads them to YouTube, “just a camera geek” is putting it mildly.  Knight is a camera savant.  He can tell you as much about Germany relinquishing its camera patents to Russia after WWII as he can philosophize about the art of capturing a real, fleeting moment on film so it tells a compelling story about a scene or situation.


Photojournalist Captures One of the Many Women of Hip Hop
Photo of Jai All Day, producer and host of radio show, Cincinnati’s Conscience, in Cincinnati, OH. SOURCE: Cameron Knight took this picture for his portrait series, “The Women of Hip Hop,” which can be found here:

In addition to his extensive knowledge of cameras, Knight also has more than 10 years of experience in photography and has shot many assignments for various publications.  Knight interned and later worked at Cox Ohio Southwest Group, a company that owns several newspapers in Southwestern Ohio including The Dayton Daily News and Hamilton JournalNews.  He also interned and worked at CityBeat, an alternative newsweekly in Cincinnati, where he excelled as a young photojournalist.


3×5 Glossy Roots

Knight began his career as a photojournalist when he was 15, covering the same stories as the local news while he was just in high school.  On one occasion Knight hung out with the press at a local political event and photographed Dick Cheney during George W. Bush’s first run for president.  Knight recounts the photographers at the event including him as one of their own, although he says they were three times his age and he was “super skinny” and “dorky.”  At one point Cheney’s managers led the TV reporters into a room to conduct interviews but left the photographers outside.  Undeterred, the photographers barged right into the room and brought the nervous teenager along with them.  He was worried about going to jail or getting “shot by a sniper,” but they pulled him along anyway and said he was coming with them.  “They were super encouraging,” he says in reflection.  In the end Knight ended up getting within an arm’s length of Cheney and took his picture.  From then on he was part of the media family.

Because Knight grew up as a photojournalist he has had a first-row seat at a lot of life-changing events.  He tells his photojournalism students at the University of Cincinnati a story about an event he covered when he was a teenager.  A man who was driving drunk crashed his car into a tree and because he had prior offenses, he fled the scene when the police arrived.  In his attempt to evade arrest the man fell into a pond and drowned.  The police searched the pond for two days before they found the body.  Knight covered the event and took pictures of the mourning family as the police pulled the man’s body out of the pond on the second day.  One of the family members saw Knight take the picture and threatened to come find him if it was published.  “That’s the kind of stuff you remember,” Knight says.  “That crazy shit.”


College Daze

Knight interned underneath Sean Hughes, former internship coordinator for CityBeat and currently a professor of photojournalism at the University of Cincinnati.  Hughes says Knight was very hard-working and would show up to the office everyday, even when there was nothing for him to do.  “He’s always been that kind of person, that really responsible go-getter, and we learned that really quickly,” Hughes says.  Knight’s first photo shoot for CityBeat was covering the Taft Museum, “which is a tough shoot,” Hughes says, due to all of the artwork on the walls.  Despite the difficulty of the assignment Knight’s photos were used in the cover piece of that issue of CityBeat.  “Which is very unusual for the first time for an intern,” Hughes says.  “I think he had easily at least three covers during that time period [his internship].”

Knight stayed in contact with Hughes after finishing his internship and the two formed a friendship that has lasted eight years.  They shot a couple weddings together and photographed the World Choir Games last summer when it came to Cincinnati.

This connection with Hughes created the opportunity for Knight to find his current job as an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati, where he teaches photojournalism.  Hughes invited Knight to speak in a few of his classes a couple years ago which led to Knight’s desire to teach a few class of his own.  Knight says he repeatedly asked the journalism department if he could teach a class.  “I kept bugging and bugging them,” he says.  The department eventually allowed him to teach an intro to photojournalism class and made him an adjunct professor.  Knight credits networking and keeping in touch with colleagues for getting him where he’s at today.

“Be somebody that they want to be around,” Knight says.


Portrait Series

Photojournalist Captures Calligrapher at Work
Photo of Ann Bain, who runs a calligraphy business from her home in Carlisle (Cincinnati, OH). One of her specialties is Quaker-style marriage certificates featuring intricate lettering and classic watercolor scenes. SOURCE: Cameron Knight took this picture for his “Grey Collar Jobs” portrait series, which can be found here:

For Knight, journalism boils down to one prerequisite:  “To be a journalist, or even a photojournalist, you have to be curious,” he says.  “You have to be interested in [the topic].”  Over the years Knight developed an interest in shooting portrait series  collections of portraits usually accompanied by an essay or article that explores a chosen topic.  His latest portrait series, titled “The Women of Hip Hop,” depicts women hip hop dancers, DJs, radio jockeys, producers, vocalists and lyricists from the Cincinnati area and was published alongside a CityBeat article.  Knight shot another portrait series for CityBeat titled “Grey Collar Jobs,” which features portraits of people with interesting and slightly outdated occupations all around Cincinnati.  “I like weird people that do weird things,” Knight says.  “There’s a guy I found who makes violins and that’s just weird to me, like that’s what he does for a living.”


Photojournalist Captures Violin Maker at Work
Photo of A Violin Maker’s Workshop owner Jerrold Witkowski chiseling a violin into shape in Cincinnati, OH. Witkowski taught music in Chicago and Honduras, and  attended the Chicago School of Violin Making.  He has two Cincinnati shops, one in Cheviot and one in Mason. You can see examples of his work and get details about his services at SOURCE:  Cameron Knight took this picture for his portrait series titled “Grey Collar Jobs, which can be found here:

“Grey Collar Jobs” comprises seven pictures of people at work; including a horseshoe maker, a bell maker, a fedora crafter, a calligrapher, a typewriter repairman, a Latin teacher and the aforementioned violin maker.  It sounds easy enough to drive around the city and take a few pictures of people at work, but Knight doesn’t cut creative corners.  For instance, he didn’t just take a picture of violin maker Jerrold Witkowski at work:  he captured wood chips and sawdust; a wooden violin partially chiseled into shape; and violin maker Witkowski in dark-blue overalls standing in his dim workshop; his hands resting on the carved block of wood destined to become a musical instrument as he looks up at the camera with a proud smirk framed by a well-trimmed, salt-and-pepper beard.  A picture of someone at work, certainly.  But shot in a way that shows the time it takes to carve a block of wood into a violin and the sense of accomplishment that comes with having a couple violins already carved, sanded, stained,  polished and hanging in the workshop.

Another photo in the series depicts Tim Verdin, sixth-generation owner of The Verdin Company (a bell-casting company), crouching a couple feet away from the headache-inducing end of a big, bronze, church bell.  The scuffed-up bell is tilted on its side and resembles a giant horn or megaphone blaring in Verdin’s left ear; a statement in itself about Verdin’s occupation.  And that is the beauty in Knight’s photography:  he uses visual metaphor and creative juxtaposition to make viewers ask questions about the subject, such as “how long will it take Witkowski to finish this violin?” or “how many owners of The Verdin Company went deaf?”


Photojournalist Captures Bell Caster at Work
Photo of Tim Verdin, the sixth generation owner of The Verdin Company, which produces bells, clocks and carillons in Cincinnati, OH. The company has been casting bronze bells since 1842. Read about some of the projects they’ve completed at SOURCE: Cameron Knight took this picture for his “Grey Collar Jobs” portrait series, which can be found here:

It is apparent Knight put a lot of thought into “Grey Collar Jobs,” but his meticulousness went beyond directing poses and determining the best angles to take advantage of.  Being a camera geek, he also wanted to use the perfect camera to capture images of these “grey collar” workers, so he chose his Lomography Lubitel for the job.  The series was about “old timey jobs,” as Knight puts it, so he says it made sense to shoot the series with a camera that became popular with the press back in the 1940s.


Photo Essays

In addition to his lighter topics such as “Grey Collar Jobs” and “The Women of Hip Hop,” Knight also has a serious side to his photography, which as Hughes notes is to be expected in their line of work.  Hughes says a generalist photographer at a daily newspaper has to be able to shoot a sporting event, then shoot spot news of a traffic wreck or murder, then take photos of food at a restaurant and shoot a ballet the next day.  But Hughes says Knight is an adaptable photographer.  “His work ethic is always consistent but his abilities constantly update and change to the market,” he says.  “I think that’s kind of cool.”  Like a natural generalist photographer, Knight went from shooting portrait series to composing photo essays.


Photojournalist Captures Childhood Cerebal Palsy for Photo Essay
Utawna Leap often recites the words of Mahatma Ghandi. “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Her daughter, Lianna Bryant, has cerebral palsy. By becoming active in the Butler County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, visiting college classes with Lianna, joining the Family Advisory Council at Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and helping to improve special education in Butler County, Utawna is out to make some big changes. SOURCE: Cameron Knight took this picture for his photo essay, “Liana’s Voice,” which can be found here:

Knight recently shot a long-term photo essay titled “Liana’s Voice,” which centered on a young girl who was born with cerebral palsy.  Knight took pictures of the day-to-day routine Liana and her mother, Utawna Leap, go through as the 5-year-old battles her condition.  The photo essay includes pictures of Liana being held in her mother’s arms, lying on a hospital gurney and walking down a hallway (with the help of her mother).  Knight was sure to focus on Liana’s eyes in a few shots because, as he mentioned in his essay, Liana communicates by widening her eyes due to her speech impairment.For this powerful photo essay Knight was awarded the Ohio Public Images Network Award of Excellence in 2006 and won the Ohio Associated Press first place prize for photo essays in 2007.  Hughes says Knight had to gain a high level of trust from Liana and her mother in order to take pictures of intimate moments, such as when Utwana was bathing Liana and Knight stood behind them to take a top-down shot.  Hughes says the fact Knight was able to get that close and gain that kind of access is what makes him a good photojournalist.  But for Knight it all goes back to curiosity.


Photojournalist Captures Childhood Cerebal Palsy for Photo Essay
Lianna cannot speak, but communicates with her eyes. She can tell time, so when her therapy sessions are ending, she will look back and forth between her mother and the clock. “She lets me know when it is time to leave,” Utawna said. Lianna also has special eye motions. If something is big, she looks up as far as she can. If Utawna is being funny, she will show her “crazy eyes” by crossing them. SOURCE: Cameron Knight took this picture for his photo essay, “Liana’s Voice,” which can be found here:

“I do that because I’m really interested in childhood disorders,” Knight says.  “Because it’s something that’s happened in my life.”  Knight’s fianceé was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was a child and her condition has played a large role in their relationship, Knight says.  After witnessing the constant support she receives from her family Knight was inspired to shoot a photo essay that depicted the same family dynamic.  This led him to find Liana’s mother and ask permission to create the photo essay centered on cerebral palsy and the special mother-daughter relationship that formed because of it.


In Development

Along with his teaching position and freelance work for various publications Knight is also the editor of Phototuts+, a tutorial website for everything related to photography.  From the best ways to shoot surfers in action to mastering advanced saturation control in post-processing, Knight says Phototuts+ has all the advice, tips and tutorials necessary to learn how to master the craft.  “We cover everything from super super basic stuff to really really advanced stuff in all categories of photography,” Knight says.

Editing a large-scale website with more than 13,000 Twitter follows is no small feat, so Knight has a staff of writers working for him worldwide who share his enthusiasm for (and knowledge of) photography.  “I have writers all over the world,” Knight says.  “I have writers in India, Portugal … I have like four or five writers from the UK.  People from everywhere.”  Knight says Phototuts+ makes it easy for him record his thoughts about photography “in a way that isn’t random.”  He also uses his material on Phototuts+ when teaching introduction to photojournalism classes.  In particular, Knight uses his articles about ethics and photo essays.

“It helps a lot in intro for sure,” he says.

For now, Knight says his “main gig” is editing Phototuts+, though he mostly sees himself as an educator who does photojournalism work on the side.  But he says he is content with that.  “I think academia is not a bad place to be now,” he says.  Knight foresees changes in the future that will shape the journalism community and how journalists operate.  For example, he says there will be more freelancers in the future than there are now and he says journalism will become more integrated with colleges, meaning journalists will start finding more work as professors.

“We’re still going to be doing journalism,” he says.  “Just like there are science teachers who teach one class and then do research the rest of the time, I feel like there are going to be journalists who teach a little bit and then do research, which is, like, actual journalism.”  This is already happening he says, just not on a large scale.  But Knight remains optimistic about journalism, even while his contemporaries have their concerns.

“Here’s the thing about photojournalism, right, and journalism in general:  everyone says it’s dying.  Dyiiiiing, uuuuuuugh, we don’t have jooooooobbsss,” he moans like a zombie.  “But, it’s gonna move somewhere.  It’s gonna get done by somebody.”  And academia is where he says journalism is heading.  “Not as a whole, not ever as a whole,” he qualifies.  But heading there nonetheless.

Knight also sees photography and photojournalism as trades similar to carpentry and masonry.  They require a very particular set of skills – skills that, in the right set of hands, can create the perfect family portrait or convey the true despondency of famine.  Knight says even photojournalists who actively work for newspapers shoot weddings and senior portraits on the side, and most of the money he makes from his photography comes from those side jobs.  “There’s always work,” he says.  “You can always make money.”


Thousand-word Memories

Photojournalist Captures Childhood Cerebal Palsy for Photo Essay
Lianna Bryant, like most five-year-old children, has been the center of her mother’s life for five years. Lianna was born with quadriplegic mixed-type cerebral palsy caused by a brain injury at delivery. “She’s why my life has changed, and for the better, in every way,” her mother, Utawna Leap of Middletown, said. SOURCE: Cameron Knight took this picture for his photo essay, “Liana’s Voice,” which can be found here:

Between Women of Hip Hop, Gray Collared Jobs, Dick Cheney, a drowned body, spot news, wedding photography and Liana, Knight has seen more than most people see.  And out of everything he has seen there is one photograph Knight says is unforgettable.  It is of a grandmother crying and covered in blood while clenching her granddaughter in her arms, who the grandmother accidentally ran over with her car.  Knight shot this photo early in his career and it clearly shaped much of his work.  While he likes taking pictures of “weird people doing weird things,” Knight is also able to capture these intense moments of grief and in doing so, cause people to reach deep inside themselves and touch what is visceral and human in us all.  By shooting the portrait series of Liana, Knight is spreading awareness about childhood cerebral palsy which may lead to more charitable donations that help Liana and other children with this disorder.  But the camera geek is humble.  He says he learns just as much from his photo series and essays as his subjects (like Liana) benefit from having their pictures taken:

“They always do more for me than I do for them,” the camera geek says, smiling.

5 Interesting Kickstarter Projects

Innovation.  The process of finding new ways to use old things and developing creative solutions for everyday problems.  If you’re looking for innovation, you don’t have to look much further than Kickstarter.  This is where inventors, authors, game designers, musicians, and other creative entrepreneurs pitch their projects in hopes of gaining funding from the public.  Admittedly, there are a lot of mundane projects on the site such as CDs, comics, and a movie about a guy who vomits to magically conjure up items.  However, every so often a promising project pops up that has “innovation” written all over it.  Here are 5 of them:

1.  Wrist Charge

Wrist Charge Phone Charge
Photo courtesy of Wrist Charge Inc. Kickstarter page.

The Wrist Charge is a hybrid between a phone charger and a slap bracelet that allows you to take your charger with you wherever you go.  Each end of the bracelet is equipped with a USB input, one end for your phone and the other for your computer or an adapter for an outlet or car charger port (not included).  Wrist Charges are injection molded and come in three models:  the iPhone 5 model, the iPhone 4s (and lower) model, and the Android model.  The Wrist Charge team has been working on their product since June of last year and anticipates finishing this October.  They currently have 198 backers and have $3,749 pledged for their project — a far cry from their goal of $50,000.  Anyone who pledges $15 will receive a free Wrist Charge for their phone, which is half of what Wrist Charges are expected to retail.  There are still 37 days left in the pledge period (it ends August 24th) so check them out if you’re interested!

2.  WigWag

WigWag intelligent environment
Photo courtesy of WigWag Kickstarter page.

The WigWag is a programmable sensor that creates an intelligent and responsive environment.  Just scan the QR code or NFC tag, connect the sensor with a device, and program what function the device will do during certain conditions.  For example, you can program a Sensor Block to detect moisture, light, and temperature then place it by a plant so you’ll receive a notification when the plant needs water.  You can also sync a WigWag with your kitchen so it turns everything off at a certain time or you can set it up to send you a text if it senses activity outside of your house.  There are three WigWag products:  the Sensor Block, the Relay, and the Glowline — all of which are capable of doing different things.  By combining the products and using more sensors, you can create an even more intelligent environment.  One of the more interesting (and useful) possibilities is setting up the Sensor Block and Relay to detect when your front porch is icy and have the technology respond by turning on your porch light and sending a warning Tweet through your Twitter account.  There are currently 630 backers of this project and it has already exceeded its goal of $50,000 pledged.  But there are still 31 days to go in the pledge period (it ends August 18th), so if you are interested in this product and want to receive a discount check out the WigWag Kickstarter page.

3.  Lernstift Smart Pen

Writing and Spelling technology
Photo courtesy of the Lernstift Kickstarter page.

Parents and teachers have been asking for this kind of technology for years, and now it is finally here:  a pen that notifies you when you make a spelling mistake and points out flaws in handwriting legibility.  The Lernstift Pen has a computer inside that runs on Linux technology to notify kids and adults (we make mistakes too) of spelling errors.  Additionally, the pen recognizes handwriting patterns and can be calibrated to an individual’s writing style to help the user write more legibly in his or her own handwriting.  There are a handful of apps designed for the Lernstift pen, such as the statistics app that allows parents to track their child’s progress, an app that allows anyone to share their sketches and notes on Facebook and Twitter instantly, and an app for digitizing hardcopy as a PDF or DOC file.  As an added touch, the tip of the pen can be quickly changed from a ballpoint to a fountain and vice-versa.  This project currently has 189 backers and $18,888 pledged so far (the goal is $120,000).  There are 22 days left in the pledge period (it ends August 9th) and for 99 Euros you can reserve your very own Lernstift pen instead of buying one for 125 Euros when the product finally hits the shelves.  Check out its Kickstarter page here if you’re interested.

4.  FEZ Game-O

open-source programmable console
Photo courtesy of FEZ Game-O’s Kickstarter page.

The FEZ Game-O is an open-source handheld console that allows anyone to program their own games and applications, regardless of their programming experience.  The console is meant to teach beginners how to create programs and allow individuals to design apps and video games.  It features a Cortex-M4 168Mhz microprocessor, 192 KB RAM, a 320 x 240 16-bit TFT display, and runs on three triple-A batteries, so the FEZ Game-O is pretty small.  But the big feat it accomplishes by teaching people how to create programs, applications, and video games more than makes up for its size and power.  You can learn how to create an app with this device then take that knowledge and create apps on a more powerful device, which opens a whole new door of possibilities when everyday people are able to program their own applications.  There are currently 50 backers on this project and it already exceeded its goal of $5,000 pledged.  For $80 or more you can reserve your own FEZ Game-O, but if you’re interested you only have 27 days left — the pledge period ends August 14th.

5.  SolePower

Charge your phone while walking
Photo courtesy of the SolePower Kickstarter page.

Yes, a second solution to our phone charging needs made the list, but apparently there are a lot of people out there trying to innovate our communications technology.  SolePower is a specially designed insole for your shoes that generates power to charge your phone with every step you take.  But it’s not just for phones, SolePower can also be used to re-energize music players and GPS devices, which makes this product ideal for joggers, hikers, and restaurant workers who spend most of their free time texting.  SolePower is water-proof and requires between 2.5 and 5 miles of walking in order to fully charge an iPhone.  So this product is not for everyone, namely anyone who doesn’t walk several miles a day.  But that doesn’t make this product any less innovative.  There are currently 622 backers of this product and it has already passed its goal of $50,000 pledged.  For $75 or more you can own your very own SolePower insoles and always have back-up power for your devices just a hundred-thousand steps away.  But hurry!  There are only 21 hours left in the pledge period (it closes July 18th at 12:36 pm EDT) so check them out ASAP.

Eating Less and Counting Calories Alone Won’t Help With Weight Loss

The Freelancer

Out of all the American adults who have succeeded in losing weight, 32% credit dieting exclusively for their weight loss while 47% say diet and exercise combined helped them achieve their weight-loss goals, according to a Gallup poll.

Based on the data, more Americans turn to dieting rather than exercising for losing weight.  In regards to dieting, eating less and counting calories are the two most popular choices for losing weight.  Unfortunately, those strategies alone aren’t very effective.

It goes without saying that if you’re eating less in order to shed some pounds, you also have to make sure you are eating healthy.  Get plenty of protein, eat your vegetables, and make sure your food is prepared properly without too much fat, grease, or oil.  Carbohydrates can also be a good thing, especially if you exercise or live an active lifestyle.  Without carbohydrates your body won’t have the energy or…

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7 MiO flavors you won’t see in stores

MiO:  It's like a roofie for your water


MiO, it’s like a roofie for your water (so the above ad says).  This portable pocket pod allows you to spike your water with a refreshing blast of fruity flavors wherever you go, so never again will you look at your bland bottle of liquid lameness in disdain (Bam!).  But as long as we’re spicing up our glasses of water while doing our best Emeril Lagasse impressions we might as well have some fun with it.  Here are 7 MiO flavors you’ll never see in stores:


Beer flavored MiO1.  Beer flavored MiO-  While it sounds like a good idea on paper, beer flavored water sounds horrible when said out loud.  The lack of carbonation will just make the water taste like flat beer, the kind that can be found sitting on a beer pong table the morning after a party.  That doesn’t sound too appealing.  And at least stale beer can render one fully inebrieted, like its freshly cracked-open cousin, fresh beer.  Beer flavored water just teases our pleasure centers and makes them all giddy at the prospect of getting intoxicated, only to take that excitment away and replace it with the taste of stale beer.  No thanks.  Besides, we already have near-beer for anyone who likes the taste of America’s favorite hop-flavored beverage, but not the buzz that comes along with it.


 Bacon flavored MiO2.  Bacon flavored MiO-  Mmmm, bacon.  Bacon is great by itself or with just about anything else, especially more bacon.  However, drinking bacon doesn’t sound as great.  Maybe you could use a bacon flavored MiO as a syrup to go over your bacon.  (Did I mention I like bacon?)  In all seriousness, a bacon flavored MiO can be useful for adding some extra flavor to gravy, basting a Thanksgiving turkey or ham, or squirting over your dog’s food for an occasional treat.  Then again, I like the idea of drizzling it over my bacon.  Because we all know there’s nothing better than bacon flavor enhanced bacon.  Except beer, perhaps.


Chocolate flavored MiO3.  Chocolate flavored MiO-  It has been used to flavor everything from milk to roasted ants, so why not water?  H2O is bland as it is, and in today’s age of flashy cars and facial tattoos there is nothing worse than being bland.  Water is due for a reinvention, and chocolate flavored MiO may just be the answer.  But even if chocolate never becomes a MiO flavor at least you can buy some Hershey’s Syrup in a semi-portable bottle.  It even has a nozzle.  You can be a visionary and carry your chocolate syrup everywhere you go, always ready to chocolatize your water at a minute’s notice and share the love with others, bringing back the 60’s in style.


Starbucks Coffee flavored MiO4.  Starbucks Coffee flavored MiO-  This wouldn’t be a bad addition to the MiO family; caffeine, Starbucks, water and a bottle could be a very successful combination.  So successful that somebody may end up getting sued.  Now that’s success.  On the other hand, having the great flavor of Starbucks under your command could lead to delusions of granduer.  You may demand your friends and family to refer to you as “The Barrista,” charge people $4 for a shot from your MiO and start carrying around a tip jar that you insist isn’t pretentious (it is).  But if Kraft does decide to come out with a Starbucks coffee flavored MiO they may need to readjust the design for the dedicated coffee drinkers who would rather drink this water enhancer straight from the container.


KFC Chicken flavored MiO5.  KFC Chicken flavored MiO-  Nearly everybody loves chicken, whether it’s crispy, grilled, or topped with mashed potatoes, gravy, shredded cheese and sweet corn.  And why stop the frenzy there?  Introduce this southern delicacy to your rehydration so you can honestly say your water “tastes like chicken.”  Or, like the bacon flavored MiO, drizzle it over your chicken for chicken flavor enhanced chicken.  Squirt it over your dog’s food so your pet can get in on the fun.  A practical alternative would be dripping it on top of a plate of heinous cooking, turning a culinary abomination into a delicacy in a matter of seconds.  Just don’t let your significant other catch you in the act.  Then you’re going to have to share your MiO, which is blasphemous to its namesake (“mio” is “mine” in Spanish).


Coca Cola flavored MiO6.  Coca Cola flavored MiO-  The beverage of choice among polar bears, Coca Cola could be another practical MiO option.  Of course it faces the same carbonation issue as beer flavored MiO, but that’s when Coke’s versatility shines through.  Bring a Coca Cola flavored MiO to a party and you’ll always have a chaser nearby.  Is your Jack Daniels too strong for one of your guests?  Break out your Coca Cola MiO for a quick mixed drink.  If you ask for a Coke at a restaurant and the waitress tells you they only have Pepsi, you no longer have to settle for less:  have her bring out some club soda and dazzle your friends with your Coca Cola MiO as they scornfully drink their Pepsis.  Just don’t tell anyone you have ‘coke’ in your pocket, or you may find yourself in an entirely different situation.


Tru Blood flavored MiO7.  Tru Blood flavored MiO–  Oh Sookie.  Unless Kraft signs a deal with the True Blood execs this vampirish beverage won’t be gracing your water with its presence.  But imagine the possibilities.  You could sneak a couple drops into an unsuspecting Twilight fan’s water and watch them scream in fear of their water turning to blood.  Then you can laugh at the irony of someone who idolizes vampires (and wants to marry one) being afraid of the sight of blood.  Or you could dye your hair black, wear all black clothing adorned with chains and spikes, and hang out by your nearest Hot Topic, offering patrons some of your Tru Blood flavored MiO in exchange for them never shopping at Hot Topic again.  Between taking sips of Tru Blood flavored water from your finest glass skull goblet you can rant about consumerism and how so called “mouth breathers” ruined your favorite Friday hang out spot.  And that’s where the possibilities take a stake to the heart and die.  For now fang bangers are just going to have to make do with the standard bottles of Tru Blood, which are becoming harder to find.  Besides, only posers water their fake blood down.  Or drink fake blood.

8 Important Classes To Take in College

An education is only as good as the effort put into it, so logically the more we take an active role in our education the better it will be.  But just as important as academic effort are the skills gained in pursuit of a degree.  Many employers today are looking for “T-shaped” candidates; job seekers who have a broad range of knowledge in multiple fields and a depth of knowledge in their main field.  Becoming a T-shaped candidate and increasing your competitive edge is as easy as taking a multidisciplinary approach to your education by enrolling in a variety of classes outside of your major.

A very recent study published by The Association Of American Colleges And Universities (AACU) outlines many of the skills and knowledge that make for T-shaped employees and their importance in the job industry.  In fact, the study states that 93 percent of employers say critical thinking, clear communication, and the ability to solve complex problems are more important than a candidate’s undergraduate major.  Detailed below are eight of the most important interdisciplinary classes you can take and how they are more beneficial than the specialty classes for your major:

Important College Courses Interpersonal Communication

1.  Interpersonal Communication

The AACU study found that more than 9 out of 10 employers say it is important for new hires to be able to communicate effectively with people from diverse cultural backgrounds.  Also important is a candidate’s ability to work as part of a team, maintain a professional attitude, and embody ethical judgment and integrity.  Interpersonal communication classes teach you how to do all of those things and overcome the pitfalls in communication, such as ambiguous messages and cultural barriers.  In addition, you’ll learn about the inner workings of people that have a large impact on our personalities and attitudes toward the world.  With that information you’ll be able to understand where individuals are coming from and effectively communicate with all kinds of people in order to achieve goals.  Think of this class as a blend of communication, psychology, philosophy, sociology, and leadership courses that teaches you everything from improving your body language to understanding how beliefs are formed and how they effect every action and decision we make.  So not only will you be able to collaborate with a culturally diverse team to solve complex problems, you will also be able to lead that team to success despite differences in beliefs and opinions by learning the arts of compromising, negotiation, and effective communication.  Definitely a course you will want to take if you plan on pursuing a professional career.





2.  Intro to Psychology

Many majors require this course and for a good reason:  it teaches you how the mind works.  Whether you’re majoring in business or English, you need to know how your market or audience thinks in order to be successful.  With a psychology course under your belt you’ll be able to understand people and their behaviors better, which can be used to resolve workplace arguments or even convince your boss to give you that raise.  In other words it enhances the skills you gained in interpersonal communication class, which helps you work in teams and communicate effectively– skills that the AACU study says employers find highly valuable.  In addition, this class relies fairly heavily on research which prepares you for future college courses and a myriad of careers by sharpening your data analysis and computational thinking skills — which are also highly sought after.  And who knows, you may pick up a Jedi mind trick or two.





3.  Statistics

The AACU study points to analytical reasoning and data interpretation as important skills for potential candidates.  Taking a statistics course will improve those skills and help you work with data and numbers better.   Nearly every career out there deals with data, charts, and graphs in some fashion so having a basic understanding of statistics is a MUST for any college student — even if you only end up using this knowledge for a couple classes and not for a career.  Knowing statistics will also help you decide whether or not to trust an advertisement or a product:  If a drug company claimed its medicine was 75 percent effective at treating an illness but had a 10 percent chance of side effects with a standard deviation of 5 percent from a sample size of 50, wouldn’t you be more comfortable buying their medicine if you knew what those numbers meant and how they came up with them?  Or, to take a positive spin, how do you think your chances of landing a marketing job will be if you tell employers you can create advertisements that you know are effective by drawing and interpreting data about your target audience’s shopping habits?







4.  Economics/Finance

Yes, another math oriented course but on the upside this one teaches you about money.  The AACU study did not mention financial understanding as a skill that employers are looking for, but it is a skill that everyone should have (especially in this economy).  Unless you received a scholarship, by the time you graduate college you’re going to be in debt.  Knowing the economy and how to manage your money will be a huge help in the real world and may make it easier for you to get hired at an office.  If you plan on investing in anything, taking out a loan, or starting your own business then experience with economics or finance will be necessary…unless you want to go broke or hire an accountant, which often go hand in hand.






5.  Creative Writing or Advanced Composition 

Written and verbal communication (along with interpersonal communication) are frequently rated among the most sought after skills in employees, and in many cases they are rated higher than skills in data analysis, statistics, or knowledge of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, math).  According to the AACU study, 80 percent of employers say it is important for graduates to have a broad knowledge of the sciences AND the liberal arts regardless of their major — 94 percent say it is important for colleges to offer liberal arts education.  Additionally, 74 percent of employers would recommend a liberal arts education to someone they know as the best way to prepare for success in today’s global economy, and one of the best ways to receive a liberal arts education is to take writing and literature courses.  So it is in your best interest to take additional writing and/or literature courses while you’re in college, and English 101 doesn’t count (sorry!).

Classes like creative writing, advanced composition, intro to rhetoric, and writing with style will help you make your resume’ more attractive to potential employers by teaching you how to write clearly, concisely, and effectively.  Knowing which words leap from a page and highlight your abilities in neon lights will also give your resume’ and cover letter a competitive edge amongst thousands of other job applicants.  A course like technical writing will help you construct more professional e-mails with less spelling and grammatical errors and will teach you the proper way to write reports and proposals.  Intro to rhetoric teaches effective communication, argumentation, and how to motivate all kinds of people to action using a wide variety of techniques.  Furthermore, literature classes teach students how to read closely and draw meanings from texts, which enhances analytical reasoning abilities.  But the bottom line is once you enter the job market with a college degree you are expected to be able to write well, so you might as well invest some time (and electives) cultivating your writing ability.


Important College Courses International Affairs

6. International Affairs

The world is becoming more and more connected thanks to the internet, social media, and trade relations with other countries.  In recent years we have seen a shift from a national economy to a global economy, and most companies, corporations, and employers are ready to do business on a global level.  The AACU study found that 55 percent of employers say knowledge about global cultures, histories, values, religions, and social systems are important traits for job seekers to have.  Knowledge about international affairs will help out greatly when dealing with a global economy, especially in situations where you have to meet with business partners and executives from other countries.  Additionally, understanding the relations between different nations will help you make predictions about the direction businesses, products, and services will take and how a certain country’s history can effect business practices (how would Germany’s history effect it’s relationship with Israel or how will the relations between the U.S. and China effect the global economy and international business?).  The corners of the world are coming closer together, which is changing the way we do business and live our everyday lives so a global knowledge will be invaluable in the years to come.


Important College Classes Philosophy

7.  Intro to Philosophy

The AACU study cites critical thinking, analytical reasoning, complex problem solving, and innovation as very important traits in the eyes of employers.  Philosophy classes foster these traits and challenge students to think logically and use analytical reasoning to solve complex problems.  “How can you prove existence is real if perceptions are also present in dreams and hallucinations?”  “How can you tell that the barn in the field is a barn and not just a giant painting of a barn?”  “What is the difference between knowing something is the case and believing something is the case?”  “How do you know that you know something and what can you do to ensure you really do know what you know?”  While philosophy sometimes catches a bad rap for overthinking the things we take for granted, becoming accustomed to this type of thinking will enhance your critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and complex problem solving skills.  Furthermore, thinking in this way leads to developing creative answers and innovative solutions that can be transferred to everyday work situations (the AACU study found that 94 percent of employers say they give hiring preference to college graduates that are innovative, due to innovation being very important to their company’s success).

For instance, I believe you are reading this because you are interested in taking classes that will help you in the long run, but that may not be the case.  Perhaps you are just reading this out of sheer boredom or maybe you already graduated from college and want to see if the classes you took end up on this list.  So instead of writing too formally, writing too casually, writing for a high school/college freshman audience, or writing for a college graduate audience, I should blend all of that together and write in a way that appeals to all four demographics while adding in pictures and bits of humor in case you really are just reading this out of boredom.  Taking an intro to philosophy, intro to logic, or critical thinking class (or intro to rhetoric, which specializes in this area) will help you make similar decisions based off similar insights, which can then be applied to almost every area of your life:  whether you’re trying to prove that your whole life hasn’t just been a hallucination, or if you’re trying to determine if something the media claimed is true or false based on the knowledge you already have and the information you believe the media isn’t giving you.





8Effective Public Speaking

Without a doubt this is the most important class you can take in college.  Period.  Regardless of what your degree is or where you want to work you’re going to have to talk to people, which explains why the AACU study found that effective communication skills ranked among the top three skills employers seek in college graduates (the other two being critical thinking and problem solving).  Public speaking gives you the confidence to speak in front of a crowd of people and the skills necessary to do so, such as speech construction and proper timing.  By the time you’re finished with this class you’ll be comfortable speaking in nearly any situation with nearly anyone about nearly any topic.  Furthermore, this class teaches you how to analyze an audience, clarify what you’re saying, and how to persuade or motivate people to do something.  Public speaking will aid you with presentations at school or work and it will help you talk to your friends, family, and strangers skillfully.  At the very least it will boost your charisma, which in turn can land you a great job and makes networking that much easier.

Are there any classes that should have made the list but didn’t?  Share your thoughts below!