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Testing the Absurdity of AccuWeather’s 90-day Forecast

I love snow.

In fact, some may even call my love for snow (and weather in general) mildly obsessive. During the winter months, and especially when white stuff is in the forecast, I check my go-to weather sources frequently with fingers crossed, hoping that the models weathermen use for their forecasts put the Washington, D.C. area in the bulls eye for some high snow totals.

When my favorite local weather source, the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang, mentioned not 1 but 2 opportunities for snow in their forecast early last week, I felt giddy inside. The first chance of snow was for Thursday night from a storm that traversed the continental United States. The forecast called for an inch but D.C.’s famous “snow hole” (caused when the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains weaken moisture starved storms) gave the area only a few flakes. Meanwhile, forecasters were growing weary of the region seeing any snow at all during the weekend, but at the last minute, a shift in the models gave snow lovers joy as the city was blanketed with about an inch of snow from a coastal storm.

The moral of the story? Weather forecasting is hard. And the forecasters are not entirely at fault. The models they use to predict the weather are constantly changing and differing from each other, even when a weather event is a few days away.

So when I saw several months ago that one of the largest weather forecasting companies in the United States, AccuWeather, started releasing 90-day (yes, 90!) for cities around the world, I instantly knew the feature was bullshit.

Why release a 90 forecast then? In a press release, AccuWeather  said that the forecasts are “a valuable tool for planning the best time of the season for road trips, vacations and outdoor activities, letting users follow the forecast and make more detailed plans as the date approaches.”

Sure, so I’m going to change my beach plans in 62 days because the weather forecast calls for a 50% chance of rain. Right…

People were quick to call AccuWeather out on their outlandish idea. Former TV meteorologist John Bolaris said it was “ridiculous”. Tech site Gizmodo called it “misleading as hell”. Random Twitter user @Stap_Jr proclaimed that it would be “a great tool for people who love to be disappointed. But AccuWeather held steady, noting that their predictions were based by science, even while acknowledging that their long range forecasts should not be used a as a “strict guide”.

And while criticism has been pouring in, there is not too much information about the true accuracy of these forecasts, which is why starting tomorrow, I plan to take on Big Weather and show the world how absurd their 90 day forecasts are using all the knowledge I obtained.during my one semester of college statistics!

While I do not intend to run a deep statistical analysis, I do plan to try to answer the following questions:

  • What are the differences between predicted and actual high/low temperatures?
  • What was the accuracy rate of predicting days in which there would be precipitation in the forecast?
  • What trends can be observed over time? Do the forecasts grow worse and worse by each day? Are they accurate at any point at all?

Starting on Monday, January 9th, I will start compiling daily weather observations for Washington D.C. zip code 20005 (collected from AccuWeather) and compare them to the AccuWeather 90 forecast. In about 3 months, I will report back  with what I hypothesize will be fairly crazy data.

Stay tuned…

 

What it’s Like to be a Balloon Handler in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

 

I have always been a big fan of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. When I was a little boy, I would sometimes go to the parade with my family, either watching it from the comforts of a family friend’s office in Midtown Manhattan or out in the elements along Central Park West. Even when I didn’t get to see the parade in person, I would wake up at 9AM on Thanksgiving Day and watch the entire broadcast on NBC from start to finish.

So when I got the opportunity to be a balloon handler in the parade two years ago, I jumped right on it. Getting the gig is no easy task – you need to know a Macy’s employee in order to be considered. My Aunt Patti was my way in – not only is she a member of the Macy’s staff, but she actually works for the parade itself in their costume shop.

Preparation to be a balloon handler in the parade begins long before Thanksgiving day. The registration process begins in the middle of summer and involves watching a 10 minute (slightly cheesy) instructional video on the different hand signals and whistle blows you’ll need to memorize in order to operate whatever balloon you’re assigned to. There’s also optional training sessions that you can go to in order practice maneuvering before the big day arrives.

Several weeks before the parade, you get your balloon assignment. When I first did the parade in 2014, I was hoping to get a famous big-timer balloon like Spongebob or Snoopy. I ended up being assigned the Elf on Shelf Balloon (as a Jew, I had no idea who Elf on the Shelf was) but my gentile friends convinced me that he was indeed pretty popular.

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Me in front of the Elf on the Shelf balloon in 2o14

My dad and I were the only ones in our family that did the 2014 parade. We had such a terrific time that we convinced my mother and two brothers to join us at the 2015 parade, where we were assigned to the Ronald McDonald balloon. This assignment was quite sentimental to my family and I because of the incredible hospitality that the Ronald McDonald House in Long Island, NY provided us after I had two major surgeries in 2012. This heartwarming story provided a perfect Thanksgiving puff piece opportunity for my local paper, and I got a pretty awesome photo out of it:

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Live-action shot of me handling the Ronald McDonald balloon in the 2015 parade.

This year, my mom shifted to clown duty at the parade and my two brothers wanted to sleep in (lame, right?) so it was just me and my dad handling a balloon, and we were in for treat. This year was the parade’s 90th anniversary, and my father and I got assigned the Felix the Cat balloon, the first ever balloon to appear in this age-old Macy’s event. Since Felix was modeled after the original balloon that first appeared in the parade in 1927, he was a lot smaller than his counterparts and required less handlers as a result (The average balloon requires about 90 handlers while there were only about 25 of us handling Felix).

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My dad and I in front of the Felix the Cat balloon at the end of the parade route.

Thanksgiving is quite a long day for volunteers working the parade. For balloon handlers, it requires a 5:30 AM check-in at the Hammerstein Ballroom near the end of the parade route. There, you report to parade officials so they can mark your presence, receive your parade outfit, and get suited up before taking a chartered bus to the parade starting line on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Arrival uptown takes place at around 7 AM. The first glimpse of the balloons lined up along 77th Street is something truly special.

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Your position in the parade line dictates how long you must wait before your balloon gets unfurled from its tarp. This year, the Felix the Cat balloon was at about the halfway point of the parade. The tarp wasn’t scheduled to come off until 845 AM, so there was plenty of time to get breakfast and a hot beverage to warm your body up.

Eventually, official photographers come over to take a team pictures,and after that, everyone gets down to business.

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From: Macy’s Parade and Entertainment Group 

There are multiple roles involved in the handling of a balloon in order for it to operate successfully. See the two people wearing the green hats? They are the pilots – one is placed in front of the balloon and the other in the back. They are in charge of making sure the balloon is moving at an appropriate pace, spaced accordingly amongst other marchers in the parade, and taking wind readings so that the balloon lines can be adjusted accordingly. The people wearing the red hats are the captains, whose responsibilities include making sure the balloon handlers are aligned correctly, and that they are holding their lines (and in Felix’s case – sticks) correctly. And lastly, everyone wearing the Felix the Cat outfits (you can see my dad and I in the back row towards the center) are the balloon handlers themselves. Bigger balloons also come equipped with a golf cart and tether to make sure nothing goes awry.

After a team huddle to review hand and whistle signals and warm ups consisting of stretches, lunges, and jumping jacks, it is time to get into position.

Want to know a parade insider’s tip? There are almost always more balloon handlers than lines which means you’ll either need to partner up with someone and share a line or walk beside the balloon to energize the crowd. This means you need to scope out a position and get there before the other balloon handlers do.

This year, I was lucky enough to snag a position handling Felix’s right hand, a job that I luckily held onto throughout the entire parade. Here’s a picture a friend of my father’s took just past the start of parade route at Central Park West. I’m circled in red and my dad (carrying one of the poles) is circled in blue.

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Quite the crowd (officials estimate this number is near 3.5 million) comes to watch the parade. Hoards of spectators line the entire 3 mile parade route, making it one one of the biggest security operations for the New York Police Department. This year, there were extra security procedures in place, as authorities feared someone would want to copy an attack carried out in France this summer where a terrorist rammed a truck through a crowded pedestrian area. These precautions included the placement of city sanitation vehicles at intersections throughout the parade route and the prohibition of stopping balloons at intersections. For each intersection we approached, we had to slow down to make sure it was clear, and speed up while going through it.

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Example of a New York City sanitation vehicle placed at an intersection during the parade. Source: Fox News

The parade starts at 77th Street, heading down Central Park West before hanging a left at Columbus Circle and marching onward down 6th Avenue until 34th Street where it ends at Macy’s Herald Square. The goal is to be at Macy’s in time for your TV spot, so at times, you are literally jogging down the parade route to prevent tardiness.

The enthusiastic crowd really fires everyone up, giving balloon handlers the stamina to complete the march. Every so often, the pilot instructs us to chant the balloons name, which also gets everyone excited. This year, it seemed as if there was extra energy and attention being given to Felix the Cat (he got a decent amount of press coverage in the days leading up to the parade). Looking up, it is amazing to see all the people positioned in buildings above the parade route. Looking behind me, I’m in awe by the image of balloon after balloon in line galloping down the parade route. Being in the parade gives you these unique perspectives that one cannot quite see from the sidelines – it really is quite breathtaking.

One of the most exhilarating parts of the parade takes place at its finish – TV time at Macy’s Herald Square. After hauling down 6th Avenue to make it in time for your slot, the parade line slows down several blocks out. At this point, the parade enters what has been dubbed as a “quiet zone” – all music/sound associated with the floats and balloons are turned off, and parade participants are instructed not to talk. Speakers are set up all around so that you can hear what is being broadcast on TV. Meanwhile, it’s noticeable that all the parade participants waiting put on their their best smiles, straighten their backs, and grasp their balloon lines in the most professionally looking way possible. After all, you want to look good in front of a TV audience of millions.

Turning the corner onto 34th Street, the excitement really builds. This year, a 100+ member dance troupe was ahead of us and did their thing in front of the risers parked in front of Macy’s. Following a pop music mix topped off with lots of confetti, it was time for Felix to approach the specially marked green asphalt in front of the store.

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The parade finish line at Macy’s Herald Square. From: https://uploads.thealternativepress.com/uploads/photos/9c/best_a2f3dd171bda20e683dc_get-attachment-1.aspx.jpeg

Looking to my left, I was able to see parade hosts Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie excitedly announce Felix’s entrance with scripted perfection. To my right, spectators lined the bleachers in front of Macy’s which were adorned with holiday themed decor. More than ever, I was careful not to trip or lose my grip. I din’t want my one second of potential camera time to turn into fifteen minutes of national embarrassment.

With taller balloons, the cameras are usually focused upwards so they can get its entire frame, leaving handlers with little, if any time for the camera. Since the Felix the Cat balloon is so short, I knew I had a much better chance of becoming a TV star, even if it was only for a split second.

Here’s one photo a work colleague of mine took of Felix from her TV:

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If you look at Felix’s right hand (which is actually his hand on the left on this photo) and follow the string all the way down, you can see that I’m…completely blocked by all of the other balloon handlers. Being on the other side of Felix would have given me way more air time.

Luckily though, I actually did make it on TV for a second! Another work colleague of mine was astutely able to identify me and snapped this picture:

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If you can’t tell, I’m the blurry figure holding the the balloon line immediately to the right of the balloon captain wearing  the red hat! I had truly made it.

The climatic excitement at the finish of the parade dwindles quickly. The balloons are lead along the quiet and spectator empty 7th Avenue where they are deflated.

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Walking towards the deflation area along 7th Avenue 

Balloon deflation is team effort. After lowering the balloon, it is torn open to let all the helium out. Eventually, handlers lie on the balloons to make sure all the air has escaped and so that it can be neatly folded and packed up.

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From: NY Daily News 

Through all the deflation and folding, Felix shrunk to the size of a large package.felix deflation.jpg

Once the balloon is packed away, a quick walk through the streets of Midtown led us back to the Hammerstein Ballroom. People dressed up in parade garb is quite the sight to see on the streets of New York, and many people were on hand to take pictures of us. It felt like I was being followed by paparazzi!

By the time everything was set and done for me this year, it was only noon – there was still turkey to be eaten, football to be watched, and politics to argue about. But the parade, combined with the iced coffee I got to caffeinate me afterwards, made the early wake up call entirely worth it. It is truly something special to take part in, and I hope I can carry out this tradition for years to come.

 

 

“Terminator Chupitos” (and Other Short Stories from my Spanish Vacation)

Locked Up Abroad

While I was in Madrid, I stayed at my friend Anand’s apartment, located in a nice quiet neighborhood the northern part of the city. Anand, my college roommate, teaches English in a suburb an hour away. He has a roommate named Donald, a Togolese man who is a particle physicist at a nearby university (cool, right?).

After a long flight and a busy first day running around the old part of the city, I decided to sleep slightly later the next morning than originally planned. Waking up at about 9:30 AM, I took a quick shower and got dressed so I can see everything I wanted to that day. Map in hand, I excitedly turned the doorknob of the apartment so I could make a swift exit.

Except there was a problem – the door knob did not budge.

That’s cool, I thought to myself, I’ll just turn the locks and I’ll be on merry way. 

Yeah, right, except there were no locks to turn. After a quick inspection of the door, I surmised that I needed a key to leave the apartment. For lack of a better word, I was fucked.

I rattle off a series of Facebook messages to Anand filled with nervous laughs.

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The actual Messenger conversation I had with Anand when I realized I was fucked.

We message back and forth. He reaches out to Donald the Particle Physicist. He’s busy, he says. Anand has kids to tend to so he can’t rescue me. I scavenge the entire apartment for keys. I find keys, but not the ones I need to unlock the deadbolt.

Honestly, I’m surprised that I didn’t have a panic attack. If there was a fire in that building, I would most definitely be dead. I took deep breaths. I tried to make the situation better by telling myself this could be a “recovery day” filled with counting the ceiling tiles in the kitchen and looking at cute cat pictures. It would be a day for old man Zach to get rid of all that nasty jet lag.

And just as I was about to settle in to live this reality, I heard the door turn.

IT WAS DONALD!

I almost could not contain my happiness. I tried to engage him in conversation, but he had particle physicist things to worry about back at the university. He left, this time leaving the deadbolt portion of the door unlocked. I was a free man.

I ended up only wasting an hour of that day thanks to Donald. The least I could do for him was buy him a bottle of some Spanish vino, which I left him along with a nice handwritten note expressing my heartfelt thanks at the end of my stay.

Living like a Local 

Two old Spanish women walked up to me as I was headed toward the Atocha railway station in downtown Madrid to purchase my tickets to go to Toledo the next day.

“Do you know where the train station is?” one of them asked me in Spanish.

Without missing a beat, I replied “it’s about a 10 minute walk down this street,” in a confident, but very gringo Spanish. At that point, the women knew I was a foreigner and giggled a bit. An American had just answered their question.

I, however, got the last laugh. On my second day in Spain, I was already being confused for a local. And I was just fine with that.

The Smoky Soccer Stadium 

A true highlight of my time in Spain was getting to see a Real Madrid soccer match at Santiago Bernabeu stadium. The game was a Champions League match against the Polish team Legia Warsaw, a game that Real Madrid won easily 5-1. Soccer really isn’t my main sport, so beyond the story lines of the game itself, here is what I have to say bout the experience:

  • To my surprise, you can smoke inside Santiago Bernabeu (or if it is not allowed, it certainly was not enforced). There was a family of four sitting next to Anand and I. Dad (sitting in the row in front of us) was chain smoking for the ENTIRE game. At one point, the people sitting directly next to him had to move because of all the smoke. Mom (who was sitting next to us) smoked several cigarettes throughout the game and blew smoke unapologetically in our faces. And while their teenage son thankfully was not smoking, we could tell his hoarse and raspy voice had become victim to his parents’ smoking over the years.
  • Many people brought their own food into the stadium, and most of that food was in the form of ham. Spanish people love ham if you didn’t know (they have an entire “museum” devoted to it).
  • The visiting fans from Poland were NUTS. They were contained to several sections on the upper level of the stadium and were easily louder than the rest of the fans in the stadium combined. Their team’s terrible play did not deter them – they were rowdy for the entire game. And earlier in the day, they had a little bit of fun on the streets of Madrid which led to some punishments from FIFA.
  • All in, the soccer match was a 10/10. Would attend again!
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The view from our seats at Santiago Bernabeu

 

The Marijuana Dealer 

“Do you want some marijuana?” asked the marijuana dealer.

“NOPE,” I said matter-of-factly, while simultaneously thinking of the numerous episodes of  Locked Up Aborad that I had watched in my youth.

Terminator Chupitos

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I first learned what a chupito was several days into my trip. I was at a restaurant indulging in a prix fixe lunch (known as a menu del dia in Spain) when the waitress asked me if I wanted one. I had no idea what said chupito was and after failing to explain it to me in Spanish, she told me to hold on so I can see and try it for myself.

Out came a light green liquid in a shot glass. I had no idea what to make of it, so I slowly sipped it. It was one of the nastiest shots I had ever had in my life!

So when Anand told me about a bar that solely serves cheap chupitos in Barcelona, I was a bit pessimistic and nervous. But we had to go. This place was apparently famous.

We walk into the bar called Espit Chupitos pretty much right after they opened for the night (at 10:30 PM!). The only other customers were a small group of French women and another small group of British men who were awkwardly trying to converse with one another like preteens at the junior high prom.

But I digress. We immediately were drawn to the back wall.

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This was the menu. Now I’m sure you may be asking, “how do I know what’s in each shot?” Well, you don’t. You order it and hope for the best.

After much thought, I decided to go for the Telletubbie. I thought that the name was funny and that I would be able to tell all my friends I was able to reminisce over one of my favorite childhood TV shows while drinking cheap liquor. However, the extremely sassy bartender on duty crushed my dreams of this scenario ever happening.

“That drink is for girls!” she yelled in a thick, accented Spanish.

I had no time to think of a Spanish argument on how gender is merely a social construct and how I can order whatever shot I damn please. So after looking some more, Anand and I decided to go for one of the more masculine looking shots on the wall: the Terminator.

The bartender gets right to work. First, she grabs a bottle of unknown alcohol A and pours a bit into the shot glass. She does the same thing with little bits of alcohols B, C, and D. She serves us with a smile, but I’m not ready to drink. I take a minute to muster up some courage and then I finally down it. If you ask Anand nicely, maybe he’ll show you a video of me doing so.

The shot was surprisingly good and smooth. There was a sweet aftertaste. And since they are cheap (2.5 euros per shot), people can get easily trashed from choosing different shots on the menu. Fortunately for Anand and I, we had our priories straight – off to bed we went!

Paella with a Side of Microaggression 

“Where are you guys from?” asked Adil, our waiter at a beach-side paella restaurant in Barcelona.

“The United States,” I said proudly (important: this was before knowing the results of the presidential election that had occurred several weeks later). Adil stared at Anand (who, if you didn’t know, is of Indian descent) and went on his merry way.

Stuffed to the brim with paella and slightly tipsy off cava, a Catalonian sparkling wine drink,  Adil came to clear our plates. He looked at Anand again.

“Where are you really from?” he asked.

“My family is Indian,” Anand replied.

All of the sudden, out of nowhere, Adil starts singing in Hindi. I’ve known Anand for four years and I’ve never seen his face light up the way it did in that moment. “I learned that song when I lived in India for a few months,” our waiter proudly beamed. Anand was momentarily on cloud nine.

That song, plus the 2 chupitos each he gave to us for free afterwards, made us forgive his microagression, an act that would have been completely inexcusable on any very liberal university campus back home in the United States.

The most Epic Kids Concert in the History of Mankind 

Estadi Olímpic de Montjuïc was the centerpiece of the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, and as a big fan of sports stadiums, I had to check the place out.

Because of its location on top of a hill called Montjic, which literally translates to Mount Jew (I kid you not) in Catalan, Anand and I found ourselves tired and out of breath after we ascended to the summit where the stadium lies. Wanting to take a rest, we saw that the stadium gates were wide open and people were streaming inside. So, like any curious tourists, we strolled right in and took a seat.

Here’s a panoramic shot of the view we had:

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You see that circular dome in the front? That was a stage. And then, Anand and I realized that we were the only people in the stadium not accompanied by children.

What happened next was amazing.

After an epic countdown on the electronic screens throughout the stadium, a musical group entered. They were not any ordinary musical act though, they were a children’s rock band.

And man oh man, they were ROCKING OUT. Mind you, they were rocking out in Catalan, a French based language that I can barely understand, but it was insanely cool nonetheless.

Anand and I stayed for about the first fifteen minutes. Check some of it out in the video above – you won’t regret it! But if you want to spare yourself from watching the entire thing, here’s a summary:

After a quick drumming sesh, the whole group entered the stadium.

As you can see, Anand and I were sitting allllll the way in the back, as demonstrated by the red arrow below.

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After singing some songs that were presumably about adventure, making friends, and any other relevant kid themes…

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some bikers came out and did some cool tricks off ramps while the musical act continued to belt out melodies about previously mentioned kid themes.

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Then, the bad guys came out. We were truly getting our money’s worth here!

I was truly mesmerized by this music. But eventually, Anand tapped me on the shoulder and (low key) whispered, “People might think we’re pedophiles, we should go.” I reluctantly agreed, and we continued on.

Souvenirs 

  • 3 magnets
  • an unofficial unlicensed Real Madrid/ Legia Warsaw soccer scarf
  • a combination of Euro coins totaling  €0.32
  • A receipt from the restaurant that Anand and I went to where they gave us (and made us pay for) steak we never ordered. My Spanish explanation of Anand being a vegetarian didn’t cut it.
  • 2 bottles of wine that I bought at the absolutely mythical Spanish department store  El Corte Ingles.
  • Chocolate for my coworkers so I could score some brownie points
  • Clichés about “finding myself” and having “a lifetime’s worth of memories”

 

 

5 Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making on Facebook

Yesterday, Facebook notified me that I have been on the site for 8 years, and I think it’s safe to say that my social networking skills have progressed since I first started using it in 2008.

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As my time on Facebook increased, and my statuses became more mature, I started to notice some of the nuances of the site. This caused me to become aware that many of my Facebook friends were inadvertently making mistakes that they probably were not even aware that they were making.

Fear not though! Below, I’ll list some of these errors and how you can fix them so that you add “savvy social media user” to your résumé.

Mistake 1: You’re not seeing all of your friends’ posts.

When I first started using Facebook, everything I saw was ordered chronologically. Several years ago however, Mark Zuckerberg and his team changed their algorithm of how posts show up on your News Feed. This means that your Facebook friend (who you are really only acquaintances with in real life) with their photo of feeding some starving kids in Africa may appear miles ahead of Grandma’s post about chopped liver. The reason this is is happening is because the post about helping African children received many more likes than your Grandma’s (she only has 14 friends).

Relax! There’s a way to fix this. At the top left corner of your Facebook sidebar, there is a News Feed icon. Click on the downward facing triangle (as shown in the picture below) and you will be able to view posts in the order in which they appear. You can breathe easy again now.

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Mistake 2: You’re not liking the correct picture.

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On January 27th, 2014, I created a post on Facebook asking my friends to like a mediocre picture that I had taken in Israel on my aging 9.0 megapixel (that’s kind of cruddy in today’s standards) Nikon Coolpix digital camera. This was part of a photo competition run by my university’s Hillel after the completion of their Birthright trip that I had just participated in. This contest had pretty high stakes: a $20 gift card to Starbucks was on the line.

I kindly requested in my post that people like the ORIGINAL photo posted on Hillel’s album. 8 people did not follow my directions and liked MY post instead of my photo on Hillel’s post. Of those 8 people, none liked the original photo on Hillel’s page. (which 20 people had liked). If everyone had followed my directions, I could have had a 40% increase in likes on my original post and would have a tiny bit closer to the the number of likes that the victor’s picture had, 101.

The moral of the story: If a friend asks you to like a picture so that they can win something, make sure you follow their directions! You may have to click a few times to ensure your like ends up in the right place, but the Frappuccino your friend will win in the end will be worth it.

Mistake 3: Your hashtag activism is useless

Social media has quickly become one of the most useful mediums for activism. Whether bringing awareness to canine dysentery or trying to stop that war-in-the-place-that’s-very-far-away, it seems like everyone around us is trying to advocate for something.

One way the internet learned to consolidate posts of the same subject nature is through hashtags, symbolized through the # symbol followed by a word or phrase. One of the more popular charitable causes I have seen my Facebook friends be involved with over the years has been Penn State’s THON (#FTK, #amirite?). For last year’s event, hashtag activism had taken over my Newsfeed with full force.

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Now it’s real nice that ABC 6 is going to donate $1 when you post with the hashtag #6abcFTK. But do you notice the little symbol right next to where it says “State College, PA”? That means the post was only shared with the friends of the original post, leaving the sponsor of this social media fundraiser (ABC 6) unable to see the post. Dollar wasted!

If you are ever in this situation in the future, you need to make sure that your posts are PUBLIC so that the entire world can see it. Remember, you can choose which of your posts are public or viewable to your friends only. In this instance, it would have been wise for this Facebook friend of mine to make their post visible to all.

Mistake 4: You’re not letting people share your posts.

On March 15th (Super Tuesday for the political wonks out there) of this year, I made a Facebook status where I deemed the Republican nominating process essentially over in favor of Donald Trump and urged my friends (Democratic and Republican) to support the Democratic nominee due to Trump’s corruption, narcissism, and racism among many other bad qualities.

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I “appreciate the congrats” for (unfortunately) being right about Donald Trump being the nominee. In fact, several friends found this statement so bold and inspiring that they wanted to share it. When someone messaged me asking if they could do so, I said yes, and then scrambled to change the privacy settings of my post to public.

You see, if I left this prophecy just for my friends’ eyes, my friends’ “shares” would have been useless as the post would have just been recycled among our mutual friends. By making my status public, anyone who wanted to share my status would be able to do so to ALL of their friends.

Mistake 5: You’re being played by internet hoaxes. 

You awake one morning from a pleasant’s night slumber. As you scroll through your News Feed, your tired eyes become wide open after reading this:

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Seeing that a) the post has a ton of legalese (sounds official!)  b) the media mentioned it (so it must be true!), and c) it references the Rome Statute (a fancy law which you probably have never heard of before), you deem this post legitimate. With no further investigation needed, you post the same exact thing to your timeline, forever making Facebook free for you to use.

Two minutes later, a friend comments, “that’s fake,” and to preserve your integrity, you scan what you just almost blindly put on your page and slyly reply “better safe than sorry!”.

Do yourself a favor and do quick 10 second Google search before you embarrass yourself in front of all of your internet friends. You’ll see that it’s a hoax and you can merrily move on with your day.

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Hopefully you’ve learned a thing or two after reading these Facebook pointers. Now, go on and continue to post Harambe memes, cute animal gifs, and Buzzfeed quizzes about what type of muffin represents your personality! Keep getting those internet points!

You can thank me later.

 

 

 

September 11th Remembered: Through the Eyes of my Father and I

This week, as the 15th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks approached, the internet was sent into uproar over a commercial posted by a Texas mattress store regarding their “twin towers sale.”

This company claims there is no better way to remember 9/11 than with a mattress sale. And they are obviously wrong. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives on September 11th, 2001, and attacks forever changed the state of world affairs. It ushered in an era of enhanced airport screenings, a seemingly endless effort by the U.S. military to combat terrorism, and a sense of paranoia among people all over the world who constantly are thinking “when’s the next one going to happen?”

I think there are many proper ways to remember 9/11. If you live in the New York City area, visit the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in Lower Manhattan, which is one of the most moving places I have ever been. Perform an act of community service like donating blood.  Or learn about what people went through on that horrendous day. While my father and I didn’t even come close to experiencing the brunt of the attacks, we were each left with tense, emotional, and vivid experiences that would be etched into our memories forever.

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One of the earliest memories of my childhood occurred at the World Trade Center. I couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4 years old when I attended my great Uncle George’s birthday party which was taking place at a fancy restaurant at the WTC complex. When the festivities were over, I remember looking up towards the top of the buildings. I recall feeling the strain on my neck as I craned it at 90 degree angle. It was probably one of the first times in my life that I was overtaken by overwhelming amazement – the buildings were so tall and magnificent!

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One of the reasons 9/11 is significant to me is because my father was in New York that day. At the time, he worked in advertising for a large bank at 100 Church Street, a mere 2 blocks away from the Twin Towers. And just like many people on that day, something prevented my dad from arriving at his office at the time he usually did.

He was shooting a print advertisement at the Trump International Hotel and Tower, almost 6 miles uptown from the World Trade Center. Instead of stopping at his office first, he took the PATH train from Harrison, New Jersey, where he had parked his car, to the WTC. Arriving at 8:30 AM, about 20 minutes before the first plane hit, he immediately took the E train uptown.

As my dad and his team were shooting the ad, word got around that something was amok downtown. Someone put on the TV. It was rumored that a single engine plane was the flying object involved. Then a second plane hit one of the towers.

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A feeling like no one had ever experienced enveloped the hotel suite where they were shooting the ad.”We just had no idea what to do,” my dad told me. And after thinking for a bit, he announced to everyone “I guess we should keep shooting,” fearing that his company would become mad at him for wasting precious time and money.The gravity of the situation had not quite sunk in. Fifteen years later, he still feels ridiculous for his words.

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I was almost finished with my lunchtime meal of chicken nuggets and rice at John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Wayne, NJ  when the 2nd grade teachers hurried into the cafeteria. That’s weird, I thought. Normally we would go outside to play for recess before returning to the classroom. But instead of heading to the playground, we exited outside through the door of the cafeteria and walked towards Ratzer Road, a main thoroughfare in my town. No explanations were given as one of the teachers blocked traffic to allow the steady stream of students from all grades to cross the road. We headed to the gymnasium of the YM-YWHA of North Jersey, only a short walk away from school. Inside, the principal addressed all the students, only vaguely referencing the events that just took place in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania and how all the schools in the township were evacuated as a precaution.

It wasn’t too long before we headed back to the school grounds. Many parents, including my mom, were waiting to pick up their children, which I also thought was weird because it wasn’t the end of the school day yet.

I only began to realize the true nature of the situation when I turned on the TV at home and saw the footage of the falling towers. My eyes remained glued to those images for the rest of the night.

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My dad walked the streets of Manhattan that afternoon, surrounded by people with only blank facial expressions. He tried giving blood, but was turned away – the lines were simply too long. That night, he was able to stay in the hotel room where he shot the print ad earlier in the day. Returning to New Jersey was impossible, as all the Hudson River crossings leading out of the city were closed.

On the morning of September 12th, my dad was able to make it back to Harrison to retrieve his car. Each day prior to September 11th, he would give $5 to the parking lot attendant without saying a word. Things were different on this day though. Upon seeing my dad, the attendant was overjoyed with relief: “I’m so happy to see you,” he said as he hugged my dad.

In that instant, the gravity of the situation overtook my father. He gazed around at the rest of the parking lot. There were about 20 cars that had yet to be claimed. “I realized then that I was one more person that had made it, and that some of the cars were not ever getting driven home,” my dad had told me, “and that’s the first time after the attacks that I started crying.”

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School had returned to normal the next day. My father wanted to visit me to let me know that he was okay. I was on the blacktop during recess when I saw him, still wearing the same suit that he was wearing from the previous day’s madness. He gave me a big hug, and let me know that he was safe. While my father already had an emotional understanding of what had transpired the day before, my second grade mind had still not quite grasped the intricacies of all that was happening. I carried on my day as normal.

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 15 years later, as I look back at September 11th, 2001, I realize that the day is still clear in my memory. The images of pure destruction, victims with dust covering their bodies, and planes hitting the buildings partially ruined my innocence – they were a lot for a 2nd grader to take in. Even today, I have a hard time watching documentaries with images from that dark moment in our history. But we must never forget.

Never forgetting isn’t about mattress sales or Coca-Cola 12-pack art displays at the local Walmart. It’s about coming together as a community and remembering those who were lost that day and learning about the stories of those who survived. It reminds us that we should not take for granted living in a country that is a beacon of freedom, democracy, and liberty. And it should make us strive to be the best we can be. And I hope this story, one of many that transpired on September 11th 2001, will help us get there.

Spelling Lesson: Capitol vs. Capital

Several days ago, I was unwinding from a long day at work the same way most millennials do: by exploring the wonders of the internet. After my routine checks of Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and ESPN, I decided to give Linkedin a rarer hello. Weaving through the updates and notifications section, I was happy to see that Johnny Littleton became CEO of his own company and that Edna Larson endorsed me for my amazing underwater basket weaving skills. I finally came upon the last update of the queue and what I saw made my jaw drop:

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Notice anything wrong? Let me zoom in for you:

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If you guessed that the problem is that this person does not have a professional profile picture, you are partially correct. (I’ll mention that I am not using the actual offender’s Linkedin profile, but rather, a random profile to provide my connection with anonymity. Therefore, the fact that there is no professional picture is irrelevant.)

If you guessed that they confused the words capitol and capital, BINGO!

I’m not going to lie – confusing these spellings is one of my biggest pet peeves. Ever. Of all time. I actually get stressed when I see someone that I know confuse these two words. In this instance, one of my roommates noticed my face turning red and the slight sound of my hyperventilation.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I’m frustrated. People can’t seem to understand the difference between capitol and capital,” I said.

“Well, what are you going to do?” he inquired.

“Blog about it!”

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It had actually been a goal of mine to start blogging as a hobby and this particular incident was the perfect catalyst to get me going. No sappy introduction post needed here – it feels good to just jump right into the blogosphere by teaching people how to spell. So now, I’ll take this brief opportunity to welcome you to my website and blog! I plan to keep up on this project (unlike pretty much every student who keeps a study abroad blog and writes “stay tuned for weekly updates!” at the beginning of the semester) and hope to churn out 1-2 posts a month at a minimum. I plan on writing about pretty much everything: politics, sports, my adventures, trying new things, social media, and even the weather! Feel free to subscribe or bookmark this website into your favorites.

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Shameless plug aside and stress subsided, I’m ready to do you a favor and help you understand one of the most important things you will ever come to learn in my opinion – the difference between capitol and capital.

But before I begin, my other roommate admitted as I write this that he “just learned the difference between the two”, and after a relatively easy scan of the internet, I realize that other people have a hard time with the two words as well. It looks like we’re dealing with a fairly common problem here.

Whether it’s this hotel search company tweeting some hot deals, twitter.png

A show of some crafty photographic skills on Instagram,

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Or an old style slide show presentation that I randomly found on Google…

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the internet points you will attempt to win will be lost and your reputation will be on the line if you fail to use these words correctly! Luckily, I have this nifty guide for you so that you’re never in the situation to confuse the spellings of these words again.

Capitol 

image-1054_westfrontwithtulipshorizontal-4149Definition: It’s a building. Not a city. But a building. And most definitely not a city. Most commonly referred to as the place where Congress attempts to pass laws (key word: attempt). Most state legislatures are also housed in a capitol building of some sort as well.

Pronunciation: Capitol and Capital are pronounced pretty much the same way. But if it prevents you from screwing the spellings up, you can try inserting a soft ‘o’ sound when you say it. Try saying ‘Capi-toll’ several times. Do you know the difference now?

Used in a sentence: Chris Christie’s ultimate fantasy is to move the New Jersey capitol building into the middle of the George Washington bridge so that he can cause a permanent traffic jam and laugh at the mayor of Fort Lee because of the sweet revenge he will receive.

Mnemonic Device for the last three letters: Turf OLaws.

Capital 

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Djibouti is the capital city of Djibouti.

Definition: There are several, but in this case, I’m referring to the city where a region/country’s administrative work is done and where its governing body is housed.

Pronunciation: As I mentioned just before, capitol and capital are pronounced pretty much the same way, but if saying capital by pronouncing the t-a-l at the end like the name Talia will help you make it right,then be my guest. After all, this blog is about spelling – not pronouncing!

Used in a sentence: Shame on you for thinking Toronto is actually the capital of Canada!

Mnemonic Device for the last three letters: Tour And Lodge (in the capital city)!

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So there you have it. All this work to rid society of one of its least important problems. If you learned something today, go and share this with your friends, relatives, bosses, and your math professor who doesn’t have an amazing handle on letters. They will thank you. And I will be able to sleep at night.