Tag: People

Two College Degrees Later, I Was Still Picking Kale For Rich People

Mark Nerys for BuzzFeed News

The customer laughing at me over the phone had a voice that sounded green. Green like overpriced avocado toast, bottled chlorophyll, spirulina, eco-friendly laundry detergent, and other “clean” affectations that seem to sum up a lifestyle that’s so natural, organic, and pristine only wealthy women with cold, tony laughs can afford to live it.

I was working for an on-demand grocery shopping and delivery service called Instacart, often referred to as “Uber for groceries.” I was wooed by stories of Instacart’s flexibility, and because I was a freelance writer, I required that kind of freedom. I also liked the idea of working via an app, because in theory, I could do my job without much customer interaction, which is something I’d grown weary of after years in retail. For about 20 hours a week, I worked at Whole Foods Market in Philadelphia shopping for busy people and shut-ins, selecting all of their groceries with the kind of attention and care that hardly anyone uses when shopping for themselves. It was an incredibly intimate job that involved fondling produce to check for bruises and other irregularities, thinking extensively about customers’ meal plans, and intuiting responses for clients who did not want to be contacted about their shopping lists.

I’d first found myself standing in front of a massive, seasonal apple display in the produce section of Whole Foods Market a few weeks before. Graham, the young, officious orientation leader for Instacart, had impressed upon all of us the importance of finding flawless produce — in this case, perfect honeycrisp apples — for our customers. I dismissed several apples with cuts, and a few that were a bit too small for the size specifications preferred by the app. Instacart times their shoppers, and I was getting further and further away from the desired 1.8-minute picking time per item, which would result in lower stats and possibly a lower tip — metrics that factored into my pay and place in the app’s order dispatch algorithm. Occasionally, a customer's hand would stray into my line of vision and I'd watch as an “OK” apple was plucked from the batch without much judgement. I would soon find out that my own judgment was far worse than I’d thought.

The woman who laughed at me was one of these customers with very discerning tastes currently causing me a lot of anxiety. I was looking over all of the items I’d carefully picked out for her when she gargled that curdling laugh, making fun of my flabbergasted response to her curt manner and rude replies to the questions I had asked about her order. For a second, I blamed myself for making the mistake of contacting her to ask a question. As I palmed an overripe Granny Smith, I thought about how similar my rude customer was to the laughing character in the pea-green dress from Toni Morrison’s Sula. (To pass the time, I often listed scenes from black women’s literature that featured grocery or market scenes.) Her laugh inspired another character, Eva Peace, to feel a “liquid trail of hate”; while I certainly didn't hate the customer who ridiculed me, I could relate to Eva's instantaneous recognition of her emotions and the quickness with which she adapted her outlook.

Still standing in the middle of the produce section with my phone against my face — the call over — I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry. With “all my education,” as my family would say, two degrees and the student loans to show for it, I was nonetheless positioned only marginally better off than my grandparents, who ran errands and did other grunt work two generations removed from where I now stood. Activity continued around me, and this glaring manifestation of what it meant to only slightly improve over one’s predecessors was a quiet, personal revelation that somehow moored me and kept me from imploding. I recognized a shared struggle between myself and them, a sort of inheritance. And unlike my grandparents, who had grade school educations and did factory and domestic work, I had options. Or at least, I thought I did.

When I was a kid, I regularly parked myself in front of my great-grandmother’s wood-paneled swivel television that was slowly going bad. In between episodes of her “stories,” aka soap operas, she’d tell some of her own, about working for Jewish families in South Philly during the Depression. Little Mom — that’s what we called her — talked plainly about her revulsion at the dirty work she’d been given and how she’d strung together a number of these small jobs to support my great-aunt Betty and my grandfather, Charles.

The stuff about work usually stayed hidden away, quite like the money she kept folded into a crease in her bosom. When she did tell these stories it seemed like she would almost black out in order to get the details right, listing the indignities she felt working these jobs with a laconic intensity and steady determination: washing the house’s windows inside and out, cleaning the mattresses and box springs, scrubbing the floors on her knees, a lunch of a cheese sandwich and a glass of milk offered by a client that was quickly rejected, getting paid $ 3 a day.

We do the work we have to do, but who wants to be the work we do?

In retrospect, I wonder if she was trying to contain that aspect of her memory so that it would not trouble her every day. We do the work we have to do, but who wants to be the work we do? I now had my own litany of insipid information: How many bananas made up two pounds, the quickest way to check for cracks on all sides of an egg, how many produce bags one needs to properly contain pointy sweet potatoes without ripping them all felt beneath me. I was supposed to be The Writer, not a beat of generational repetition. If, in some future, a granddaughter of mine sat on the living room floor and stared up at me while I remembered my own work, what memory would I have to offer her?

As I bent down to pick up a can of non-GMO chunky tomato bisque soup for a customer, I contemplated what it meant to have a “job.” My family’s work history, like that of many black American families, is one of ingenuity. My grandfather Charlie served in the Korean War, and when he returned to the States he became a longshoreman. He met my grandmother Cissy sometime after that and started a family with her, his second. In the '50s, when they met, my grandmother already had three children with an Italian-American barber who was not ready to commit to her because of the way interracial relationships were viewed at the time. My grandparents had four children together, and my mom is the youngest of that brood.

My grandmother Cissy worked at a storm door factory in Philadelphia for a time, supplementing her income by hosting parlor games like Pitty Pat and Tonk in her home each weekend, and charging each player $ 2 per hand. When she quit the storm door factory, the card games became her main source of income. Then she wrote numbers, or illegal lottery, for the local numbers man. Dream books, the thin, cheap consultation indexes that helped you pick a lottery number that corresponded with a subject from your dreams, were touchstones in all of the women’s kitchens in the neighborhood. My mom, grandmom, and great-grandmother all played their dreams to the numbers man, hoping to come up on a little more money they could use for a hairdo, or trips to Atlantic City, where they pulled levers until their elbows were sore, or for a more pressing issue like bail.

Cissy would hide money all around the house, because she couldn’t open a bank account due to the illegal nature of her work. My mom recalls her hiding money everywhere — in socks, holes in the walls, under mattresses; there were money stashes everywhere but the bank. My grandmother didn’t own that house, on Alder Street between Bainbridge and South, even though she was given the option to at one point from its owner. She rented and rented, and soon took the money, and her family to another home on Marvine Street. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, she lived in an apartment in the Martin Luther King housing projects with my mom.

Sometimes my mom expresses regret that my grandmother never purchased any of the homes she lived in, even though she had the money to do so. The owners of the Alder Street house offered to sell her the house for $ 500, but she declined. Because the job she created for herself was illegal, I think she felt she was unable to purchase the home, fearing inquisitions by tax auditors and police. Now, instead of commiserating with my mom about the lost opportunity, or talking to her about generational wealth disparities, I just listen, because there’s no real answer for that kind of disappointment.

Ever since I can remember, my mom has worked jobs she didn’t quite like. She had dropped out of high school in 11th grade and got her GED when my brother and I were little. At the end of elementary school, my mom worked as a telemarketer, then spent five years as a clerk at various state-owned liquor stores throughout Philadelphia. When I was in high school, she got a job as a front desk associate at a Marriott in downtown Philly. Lateness caused her to lose that job, and another at a Marriott property in Southwest Philly near the airport. After she was first fired, she decided to go back to school to become a diagnostic technician, and she enrolled at the Community College of Philadelphia. I don’t know why she picked that field. She thought for sure that she was finally positioned to have a career and not just a job. Eventually she quit CCP because she couldn’t hold down a decent full-time job and go to school at the same time. Now, when my mom changes jobs, I like to frame these experiences as new adventures, and “fresh starts,” and in some ways they are. Yet, no one I know over 50 has ever started an adventurous job — or at least one that did them any good. My dad’s the perfect example of why that’s true.

My dad wrote short stories and scripts, and moved to New York City to become an actor.

My dad was plucked off of the streets of South Philly by a neighborhood gang when he was young, grabbed by the scruff of his neck by the wrong big dogs. At 16, he was charged with murdering a man, and met his own father for the first time in prison. My paternal grandfather “Doc” had reportedly robbed a bank, truly earning his nickname, a reference to the legendary gunfighter Doc Holliday, and was spending a chunk of years in prison. When my dad got out, he wrote short stories and scripts, and moved to New York City to become an actor. The only fictional work I’ve found of his is a script called The Prince of Thieves, based on a radio play called The Yearning, which aired on college radio in the ‘70s. It’s about two con men who hatch a plan to reform public housing. I only have four pages — one on typewriter paper and the other three handwritten on a yellow legal notepad. Because I’m missing the rest of the script, there are gaps in the story.

Likewise, much of his personal life is a mystery to me. I do know this: When he married my mom and had my younger brother and me, he cut his dreadlocks, his drug habit, and his dreams of a writing career to begin working for the pretzel chain Auntie Anne’s. After a short while, he was promoted to manager, and in 1994, he was selected to open a new franchise in Arlington, Texas. My family moved, and to supplement his income, my dad sold Amway products, or at least tried to — I don’t know if Amway has ever been a successful venture for anyone.

I grew up ashamed of the fact that my dad worked in food service. My mom, who worked the counter for Fashion Fair cosmetics, a beauty line made for women of color, at least had a glamorous association, and beautiful headshots that went with the job. (The beauty section at Dillard’s department store in Dallas was a magic emporium.) But my dad made pretzels for kids to eat in a mall. When I spoke of my dad’s job, I’d get tongue-tied and twisted up, like the elegant motion he used to contort pretzel dough. At the time, it was my observation that while you could dip a pretzel in cheese whiz and get the cinnamon-sugar stuck on your fingertips, you could not cherish or value a pretzel — it wasn’t “real” food. The process of making pretzels, which involved dipping one’s fingers in warm salt water and kneading out dough, was mesmerizing to watch, and fun to do (he let me practice a few times) but didn’t feel like a meaningful skill. I think my dad began to feel the same way at some point, though for a different reason. He was pushing 50, and like the teenaged employees he supervised constantly reminded him, both he and the job were getting old. Then, when we returned to Philly because my grandfather Doc got sick, my dad began to sell drugs.

Weeks before my dad’s murder, he woke up with a start in the middle of the night. He had predicted death in a dream. He also saw skulls in the depressions of two trash bags filled with laundry, which sat in lumps on the loveseat near the bed he shared with my mom. This was the ultimate omen, illuminated in the liminal space that is twilight time. On Christmas Eve 1997, my father’s work caught up with him. He was outside of our house changing a tire in advance of a trip to drop off gifts when my mom, brother, and I heard fireworks below. Afterward, we blamed the lifestyle — the fast money, the decision not to schlep like the average working man — for his downfall.

Perhaps for the women in my family, the existential light bulb that showed profound truths about their lives didn’t click on like the trunk light of an asbestos-dusty Corsica, revealing an interloper in the dark. Or when the blast from a gunman’s barrel flickered in the night, extinguishing my dad’s bright life. I imagine that their intellectual acceptance of the trajectory of their lives did not come from some outside, showy, mano-a-mano understanding of being utterly stuck. It came for them like it came for me, indoors, gradually, though when it finally arrived it did so with a suddenness that felt shocking.

My uncles made use of their options by engaging in street life and an endless cycle of recidivism.

My mom’s jobs contrast with what her mother had done at the same age. Instead of cleaning some white lady’s house, my grandmother Cissy decided to lord over her own. She made money cooking and selling platters to card players in her own house. This was a way for her to do something different than her own mother, who cooked for the rectory of a Catholic church. I see writing as a similarly risky endeavor. I realize that I am more sympathetic to the women in my family, who rebelled against the employment options given to them in ways that were easier to understand, because they didn’t cause other people pain. I’d recently been talking to my mom about one of her brothers who had just been released on parole. My uncles made use of their options by engaging in street life and an endless cycle of recidivism, and I never quite took seriously the idea that the choices they had were shaped by their parents’ jobs. Now the connection feels clearer: My grandmother was a card shark, my grandfather was largely unavailable when it mattered, and my uncles worked with what they were dealt.

While shopping at Whole Foods one day, maybe for sliced cheese that a customer requested be cut a level of thickness described as “the size of five cards stacked together” as the note on the app read, I started drifting off, back to those fictional scenes in grocery stores. Grocery stores have functioned as sites of transformation in novels like Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and given my own experience, I understand why. The domestic association of the market makes it possible for turning points to occur, especially in female characters who are relegated there for various reasons. Shopping is such a personal, intimate experience that takes place in the public sphere. It’s an odd ritual for its mix of the private and social coexisting all at once. It is here that my actual foremothers and my literary ones converge. It occurs to me now that the reason I thought so often of fiction while working is not only because these books provided a convenient distraction from my circumstances and reminded me of my goals. It’s also because in these novels, black people who are employed as farmhands, models, and domestic workers are all conveyed with nuance and emotional depth.

Any misunderstandings I have toward my dad, brothers, certain uncles, and cousins are my own fault, and they’re due to the wariness I feel toward the external fighting they’ve done. I’m worried that, no matter how eloquently I describe the men in my family, or how much space I give them on the page, I’ll flatten my loved ones. I’m concerned that my family’s long-term generational mobility will be compromised, not only by bad choices and capitalism and the prison industrial complex but by my own ambitions, too. I’m scared the project of trying to illustrate how their choices have impacted my own will render them as unconvincingly as the characters in the bootleg films one of my uncles once sold. That, ironically, in showing our lineage of work I’ll have them do labor for me, narrative-wise, that they haven’t signed up for. In spite of my concerns, and with permission, I feel I must write it down. This is my story, too. Where do our stories and those of our predecessors diverge? Do they ever?

I stopped scheduling myself at Instacart after the incident with the laughing customer who mocked me, but I’m still a little afraid that I’ll need to return. Though, after doing this kind of soul-searching, I know I can’t go back to picking groceries for someone else. It’s difficult to pick up where the women in my family left off, to strike a balance between criticizing the actions of the men in my family and holding on to a deep belief that they truly are not what they do for a living, despite how it impacts the quality of our lives, and despite how the frequency of their jail trips builds a convincing argument that they have settled into the roles they try to convince us they’ve outgrown. I think I’m more understanding of their aliases and job-hopping and identity-shifting now. Our national history is rife with examples of black Americans facing exclusion from labor movements, as well as general workforce discrimination. It’s not hard to see how the effects of these policies have trickled down. I see my family’s work history, rendered briefly here, as a particular kind of ingenuity necessary for black Americans.

Despite feeling like my female relatives’ strategies are more relatable, I’ve picked up my dad’s job of writing. When I first read his fragmented screenplay for The Prince of Thieves, I read it as veiled autobiography. Now I’m not so sure. I imagine that my dad writing about con men in his script was a referendum on the kind of job he’d left, and then returned to. Although he didn’t make money as a grifter, I think the fact that he was an actor, hustled illegally, and worked multiple regular jobs connects in ways I hadn’t put together before. Both the writing and acting were concerted efforts to recast himself outside of the roles he’d adopted or had handed to him. For a black man of his generation to embrace the circumstances of his criminality, which prompted him to escape in the first place, had to have been a complicated thing to do. Similarly, I see my writing as both a way into and out of familial traditions. It’s a way to look forward without turning my back. It’s the work I want to own.

BuzzFeed – Tech

Starbucks Changed Its Rewards Program And People Are Not Happy

Luiz Filipe Carneiro Machado / Via Flickr: luizfilipe

Starbucks announced Monday morning that starting in April, customers in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico who participate its rewards program will start earning points per dollar spent, and no longer per visit as in the current program.

The new system incentivizes higher spending and larger orders. Previously, customers earned one point, or “star” as they are called in the Starbucks system, per visit or transaction, and received a free food or drink item per 12 visits, no matter how much they spent. So if you ordered a $ 2 coffee every day, you could earn a reward after spending about $ 24.

Starting April, customers will earn two stars per dollar spent and will only receive a free item after accumulating 125 points, or spending more than $ 62.

Starbucks said it currently has about 11 million active rewards customers. Nationwide, its U.S. cafes receive 75 million customers each month.

Starbucks global chief strategy officer Matthew Ryan told investors this was “the number one customer-requested update” and “as we switch the mechanics of the program, we are not using it as an opportunity to opaquely weaken the rewards proposition.” He added that most customers spend about $ 5, and “there are a small minority of people who would either be advantaged or
disadvantaged” by the change.

That disadvantaged group, however, is not pleased.

“If customers simply continue to engage as they currently do, instead of engaging more as we believe they will, the vast majority of our customers will earn rewards just as fast as or faster than they would today,” a Starbucks spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

Starbucks has been responding to consumer complaints on Twitter and Facebook.

Facebook / Via Facebook: Starbucks

Facebook / Via Facebook: Starbucks

Facebook / Via Facebook: Starbucks

BuzzFeed – Business

Weight Watchers’ App Isn’t Working And People Are Furious

A technical upgrade caused the popular food- and activity-tracking app and website to go glitchy on Thanksgiving, of all days.

Jennifer Hudson speaks at the opening of The Weight Watchers Jennifer Hudson Center in 2011 in Chicago.

M. Spencer Green / AP

Weight Watchers has a loyal digital following: About 1.5 million people pay to use the weight-loss program's website and app. And on Thursday — Thanksgiving — the company introduced an upgrade that included a new design and streamlined features.

But the website and app have since been glitchy to the point of being unusable, according to customers who are unhappy that the service went down during arguably the most food-centric time of year.

Users normally log their food and exercise in the program, which then calculates points (rather than calories) and tells people how many points they've used on a given day and how many they have left. Amber Kowalski, a 25-year-old from Fishkill, New York, who's been a paying subscriber at $ 45 a month since March, told BuzzFeed News that the app has been deleting her entries, recording them multiple times, or entering them incorrectly.

“I literally depend on it for everything,” Kowalski said. “Anything that goes in my mouth or I think about eating, I do. When you're doing this it literally is a lifestyle change and you need to depend on this. The biggest thing that people are upset about is it's the holiday season. Thanksgiving is when it was down — that's one of the biggest times of the year. It's not good for someone trying to diet or eat better, and you couldn't even keep track of what you're eating.”

Via Facebook: weightwatchers

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BuzzFeed – Tech

The Best Cable-Cutting Device For People Who Are Broke As Hell

A review of Google’s small and mighty media streamer.

Jenny Chang / BuzzFeed

This is the redesigned Google Chromecast. It’s an Oreo-sized gadget that streams music and video to your TV.

This is the redesigned Google Chromecast. It's an Oreo-sized gadget that streams music and video to your TV.

Instead of watching your computer on your lap, you can Netflix and Chill on a big screen like a grown ass adult.

Nicole / BuzzFeed

The Chromecast is cheap. In fact, of all of the streaming devices out there – the Roku Streaming Stick ($ 50), the Amazon Fire Stick ($ 40), the yet-to-be-released Apple TV ($ 150) – it's the cheapest at $ 35.

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BuzzFeed – Tech

LinkedIn Just Sent An Email To Let People Know It Was Sued For Sending Too Many Emails

The professional social network will pay $ 13 million into a settlement fund.

Spencer Bergen / BuzzFeed

LinkedIn — professional social network and useless email generator — just settled a class-action lawsuit…for sending too many emails.

In May, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner told BuzzFeed News that “there are certain members to whom we're sending too much email,” in a live interview with San Francisco Bureau Chief Mat Honan. Now the company will be taken to task for it.

Late Friday, the company contacted those on the service who “may have used LinkedIn's Add Connections feature between September 17, 2011, and October 31, 2014,” to notify them that a class-action lawsuit had been filed against the company.

Essentially, LinkedIn's “Add Connections” feature was a quick way to connect with the people in a contact list — a one-click method to notify everyone that you had joined the service. However, LinkedIn used access to users' contact lists to send two “reminder” emails, which a court found had been sent without the users' consent. Those additional emails are the focus of the lawsuit, and why LinkedIn will now pay out.

LinkedIn acknowledged no wrongdoing but opted to settle the lawsuit. It will pay $ 13 million into a fund for payments to plaintiffs.

You are receiving this e-mail because you may have used LinkedIn's Add Connections feature between September 17, 2011 and October 31, 2014.
A federal court authorized this Notice. This is not a solicitation from a lawyer.

Why did I get this notice? This Notice relates to a proposed settlement (“Settlement”) of a class action lawsuit (“Action”) against LinkedIn Corporation (“LinkedIn”) based on LinkedIn's alleged improper use of a service called “Add Connections” to grow its member base.

What is the Action about? The Action challenges LinkedIn's use of a service called Add Connections to grow its member base. Add Connections allows LinkedIn members to import contacts from their external email accounts and email connection invitations to one or more of those contacts inviting them to connect on LinkedIn. If a connection invitation is not accepted within a certain period of time, up to two “reminder emails” are sent reminding the recipient that the connection invitation is pending. The Court found that members consented to importing their contacts and sending the connection invitation, but did not find that members consented to LinkedIn sending the two reminder emails. The Plaintiffs contend that LinkedIn members did not consent to the use of their names and likenesses in those reminder emails. LinkedIn denies these allegations and any and all wrongdoing or liability. No court or other entity has made a judgment or other determination of any liability.

What relief does the Settlement provide? LinkedIn has revised disclosures, clarifying that up to two reminders are sent for each connection invitation so members can make fully-informed decisions before sending a connection invitation. In addition, by the end of 2015, LinkedIn will implement new functionality allowing members to stop reminders from being sent by canceling the connection invitation. LinkedIn has also agreed to pay $ 13 million into a fund that can be used, in part, to make payments to members of the Settlement Class who file approved claims. Attorneys representing the Settlement Class will petition the Court for payment of the following from the fund: (1) reasonable attorneys' fees, expenses, and costs up to a maximum of $ 3,250,000, and (2) service awards for the Plaintiffs up to a maximum of $ 1,500 each. The payment amount for members of the Settlement Class who file approved claims will be calculated on a pro rata basis, which means that it will depend on the total number of approved claims. If the number of approved claims results in a payment amount of less than $ 10, LinkedIn will pay an additional amount up to $ 750,000 into the fund. If the pro rata amount is so small that it cannot be distributed in a way that is economically feasible, payments will be made, instead, to Cy Pres Recipients selected by the Parties and approved by the Court. No one knows in advance whether or in what amount payments will be made to claimants.

BuzzFeed – Tech

People Are Upset After Adobe Showed Off A New Tool By Editing A Smile Onto A Woman

“It’s extremely not okay to sell a product by demonstrating its power to manipulate women to your liking,” one user wrote.

As you’ve probably heard, Apple did its annual fall event where it shows off its new products on Wednesday.

As you've probably heard, Apple did its annual fall event where it shows off its new products on Wednesday.

Stephen Lam / Getty Images

One of the presentations at the event was by Adobe, the maker of Photoshop and Flash.


During the presentation, Adobe’s director of design Eric Snowden introduced a new feature called Adobe Fix. The feature has facial detection, and lets you change a person’s facial features in a photo.


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BuzzFeed – Tech

Weed Startup Hosts Movie Screening for High People

“Whatever we can do sober or with a beer, we should be able to do with cannabis.”

Nitasha Tiku / Buzzfeed

The cannabis-infused hazelnut spread started to kick in a few minutes before the movie started.

It was Wednesday night and I was at a movie screening hosted by a medical marijuana delivery startup named Flow Kana. Forty or so guests paid $ 45 to sample some weed and then watch a movie high. The screening room was located on the first floor of the Hobart Building, an office tower in San Francisco's Financial District, and the sweet, fruity smell of sativa wafted almost all the way out to the lobby.

CEO Michael Steinmetz told Buzzfeed News this was the first in a series of “culture shifting cannabis events” to help foster the idea that Flow Kana is about transforming society, not just getting baked.

Inside the reception area, guests were greeted with a banquet of options, artfully arranged on a burlap cloth. Flow Kana works directly with farmers in Northern California and likes to call their concept farm-to-table. For this event, the table was covered with containers of Kanatella (house-made chocolate-hazelnut spread infused with 10 mg of medical marijuana) and Kanabees (same deal, but with honey) that could be sampled with tiny wooden spoons. There were also bowls of different strains of weed that could be sampled using an assortment of vaporizers, including a handful of Pax 2s and one Volcano vaporizer (the kind with the plastic bag that inflates like balloon people outside a car dealership).

Nitasha Tiku / Buzzfeed

Nitasha Tiku/Buzzfeed

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BuzzFeed – Tech

This Perfect Chrome Extension Replaces “Millennials” With “Snake People”

“For Snake People, A Generational Divide.” H/T creator @ericwbailey.

You know that wrathful feeling you get when you see yet another article making broad, sweeping generalizations about so-called “millennials”?

You know that wrathful feeling you get when you see yet another article making broad, sweeping generalizations about so-called "millennials"?

Time Inc. / Via wordpress.com

Curb your angry, eye-rolling urges with this delightful Chrome extension that replaces the m-word with… “Snake People.”

Curb your angry, eye-rolling urges with this delightful Chrome extension that replaces the m-word with... "Snake People."

Via chrome.google.com

Revisit Google results:

Revisit Google results:

Via google.com

What does Snapchat’s CEO think about this generation?

What does Snapchat's CEO think about this generation?

Via bloomberg.com

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BuzzFeed – Business

Virtual Reality’s Nagging Problem: It Makes Some People Sick

Facebook is going to need to find a killer app to get people to buy the Oculus Rift. But it also needs to deal with a queasy problem.

Attendees play a video game wearing Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets at the Intel booth at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

The Associated Press

Facebook's Oculus Rift virtual reality headset — and the VR industry in general — still have a technical problem to solve as they push to turn the technology mainstream: Using it makes some people feel sick.

In early versions of headsets like the Oculus Rift, simulation sickness — a phenomenon in which people become nauseous while playing a game on a VR headset — emerged as a surprising but not unexpected issue. Despite describing it as a “magical” experience overall, David Helgason, the CEO of gaming software company Unity, told BuzzFeed News the first version of the developer kit he used made him feel sick.

Historically, similar issues have emerged in piloting simulators and other immersive computer systems that can lead to sensory mismatches. If someone feels like they are walking around while wearing a VR headset, but their body is not actually moving, the result can be a feeling similar to motion sickness.

VR technology is certainly improving, with each new version producing a higher-quality experience. But it's hard to tell exactly what the impact will be until the devices are in use among a large consumer base, according to some game developers and executives.

As part of a larger story about the state of VR as the industry races to widespread adoption, BuzzFeed News interviewed Dr. Nik Blevins, chief of the Division of Otology and Neurotology and an expert in vertigo at Stanford Health Care, to discuss the phenomenon.

Dr. Blevins has also researched the use of virtual reality in surgery simulation. Here's an edited transcript of our interview.

Can you tell us a little bit about simulation sickness?

Dr. Nik Blevins: If you look at this from a balance, you look at why people get carsick, it's really a discrepancy between all of the senses, between how much you're moving and in what direction. There are a number of senses that give us an idea of where we are in space; one is our inner ear, two is our vision. Our eyes tell us where we move. Our inner ears give us information about linear and rotational acceleration. Then we have other senses: our touch sensation, what you feel about your skin, your joint position, the joints in your neck, your muscles that change when you move in space. Then you have to integrate all of that in your central nervous system, and you have to take the appropriate action given the cumulative info provided by those senses.

The problem is, some people much more so than others can be very intolerant of mismatches between the sensory info that comes in. For example, when people get sick in the back of a car and read, is because their inner ears are feeling every bump and curve, but your eyes and touch and muscles are experiencing the same motion sensation. So your brain is trying to make sense of these disparate sensory input, and it makes you sick. That sensory mismatch that is intolerable, some people are wired in such a way that any slight sensory mismatch provokes really horrible sickness, and some people can tolerate huge mismatches and not blink an eye.

What about in virtual reality environments?

NB: What we see in these VR environments, we're very good at providing some very compelling sensory inputs. We're moving in a certain environment, but we can't match all the sensations that go along with that. If you put on VR goggles and you're in an environment that says you're in a roller coaster, the other senses say you're standing in a lab. It's the same mismatch you would get if you were reading in the back of your car, or below deck on a boat. That's really the challenge: We don't have a way in your VR interfaces to match all of the senses that are required to have a unified picture of an artificial environment.

Is there a way to tune down the VR experience in such a way that it doesn't impact that sensory mismatch as much?

NB: It's kind of a paradox as I understand it. Usually what we're manipulating in VR environments is vision. We're pretty good at presenting a compelling 3D moving environment. You want to make that compelling, you want to make that so real that it overcomes the fact that you're standing in a still room. You can turn down the sense of motion in your vision, but you're doing that at the expense of the realism of the experience of the VR environment.

I don't think there's a way to make that VR environment real and compelling without having a risk of having it out of phase or out of sync with your other sensory inputs. I think there's a bit of a paradox: If you turn down the realism of the visuals you are necessarily gonna alter the realism.

What about as the technology improves?

NB: Again, some people, it's gonna have a big impact on, some people it's not. It's hard to tell what your audience is. The better the virtual environment is, the less you'll have disturbing sensory input. Having high refresh rates with good graphic quality that meets the 3D expectations of your visual system is going to help. What I've found in some of this, from personal experience, using immersive technology in our lab, if the parallax and the stereoscopic presentation of the environment is off, even without a lot of motion, you'll feel disconnected with the environment. That leads you to have more risk; your brain can find discrepancies between your right and left eye. In general the better the visual fidelity, the less likely you're gonna have bothersome input.

I think from a physiological standpoint, the way to get around it would be to provide additional sensory input from the other senses, but that's a difficult thing to do technically.

Would the problem be resolved if an additional sense was stimulated in the experience?

NB: I don't think we really know the answer to that; different people show such variable responses to these mismatched sensory stimuli. I see this every day when I see patients, people who have an otherwise small inner ear problem on one side that are just incapacitated by it because they can't cope with one ear being off. We see some people who have lost an ear completely who are hardly bothered.

In some ways, situations where sensory input that's really different than the input can have a bigger effect than input that's just a little bit different. If it's close and you can't put it together, sometimes it's worse than something that's far off that you can ignore. Because we're working with people that are always wired differently, it's hard to say one is always gonna be better than the other.

You can see that in some of the simulated roller coasters or flight sims that have some inner ear stimulation associated with it — in many ways that's something that can induce additional sickness rather than mitigate it because you're simulating the inner ear and the eyes, but you're not quite stimulating the ears correctly. You can't simulate all the inputs to the inner ear; you're substituting one sense for the other. For linear acceleration, tipping the ride or the simulator, rather than moving it in a linear way, there's subtle differences to that which can really evoke more of a sense of dissonance in your sensory input.

BuzzFeed – Business

9 Crazy Weight-Loss Scams People Fell For This Year

The Federal Trade Commission is preparing for a New Year’s spike in weight-loss scams. This year’s highlights included a cream inspired by lobster hormones, and a magical pill that claimed to strip the calories from a plate of spaghetti.



As Americans resolve to lose weight and diet this year, scammers are at the ready to collect what amounts to hundreds of millions each year in products that swear to trim inches and cut pounds, usually without any exercise. The Federal Trade Commission is preparing for the annual spike in weight-loss product fraud that tends to occur this time of year, as consumers search for a “magic bullet,” said Richard Cleland, assistant director for the FTC's division of advertising practices.

“In terms of advertising issues, weight loss fraud is one of the top priorities for the Federal Trade Commission,” Cleland said in an interview with BuzzFeed News. “It's very lucrative for scammers…you've got an audience that is susceptible to being scammed and a fairly sophisticated group of marketers that are very adept of taking advantage of them.”

In the FTC's most recent consumer fraud survey, back in 2011, more consumers fell prey to fraudulent weight-loss products than any other fraud; an estimated 2.15% of consumers, or 5.1 million American adults, bought and used such goods that year. Despite that, companies typically can't pay the full fines demanded by the FTC as they've run out of money at that point. A tally by BuzzFeed News found that those accused of making fraudulent weight-loss claims paid less than $ 100 million in consumer refunds and penalties this year.

“Even in the best cases, it doesn't compare to the amount of money that consumers actually lose on the products,” Cleland said. “The companies have generally spent the money either on advertising or laundered the money to their own bank accounts or something, so there's usually very little money left over for consumers. That suggests that consumer education is probably a more effective tool at protecting consumers than law enforcement.”

Cleland notes that consumers should remember “there is no miracle out there.” Below, nine scams that the FTC ruled on this year.

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BuzzFeed – Business

14 Last-Minute Tech Gifts For People You Wish Were Dead


I'm not exactly certain what one of these would get you besides 25 DMs to strangers and an overwhelming sense of loneliness and despair.

Go Away I’m Tweeting Mug – $ 15.50

Go Away I'm Tweeting Mug - $ 15.50

Via presentindicative.com

It is a truth, now universally acknowledged, that one should Never Tweet, but chances are, one of your friends or loved ones has chosen to ignore this credo, which is why you should get them this mug. It'll let everyone know that the mug's owner is sassy, unapologetic, and an absolute monster of a human being.

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BuzzFeed – Tech