Fun February events

Celebrate these with someone you love—or someone you wish to annoy.

OK, so some of these holidays are pretty basic. You already know about Chinese New Year, and lots of people flock to IHOP for free pancakes on National Pancake Day. But did you know about Read in the Bathtub Day, Laugh and Get Rich Day, or World Sword Swallower’s Day? Check out these holidays and more over at Mental Floss.

For the very best of daily holidays and events, you absolutely must check out Carschooling. It’s a really fun website filled with oodles of ideas for homeschooling, or simply learning, from the car or while traveling. The real goodies, however, are in the monthly e-mails of historical dates, so be sure to sign up for those.

They have links to activities, videos, virtual field trips and more! My daughter and I have loved going on these “virtual field trips,” especially to the ancient paintings at Lascaux, which are closed for live public viewing anyway—making our “tour” just as realistic as anyone else’s visiting France.

And finally, you can rattle off your historical knowledge and irritate coworkers and family members alike by visiting all kinds of This Day in History websites, like, InfoPlease, On-This-Day, and any other historical hubs that you know well and enjoy. 

Rest in peace, Aaron Swartz

An unschooler who fought for us all dies at age 26.

This past weekend, activist, technological genius and RSS-creator Aaron Swartz committed suicide after a long battle with depression. He was just 26. Mourners of Swartz are left devastated and only able to imagine what else the man could have done in his lifetime.

Swartz created the RSS feed system that many of us use when he was only 14. He was also instrumental in the development of the social website Reddit, another hub of information that many of us use daily. An unschooler, Swartz was bored by conventional school and dropped out of one college only to become a fellow at another Ivy League institution later. Seasoned academics were in awe of him while young adults considered him an Internet folk hero.

He was wholly committed to the free distribution of information and was arrested in 2011 for hacking into the JSTOR repository of academic journal articles and downloading 2/3 of the materials to share openly. He had previously done the same with another database, crafting a program to make materials freely available in an online library.

As the founder of Demand Progress, Aaron Swartz was also passionate about progressive movement and social justice. Friends say that he held them all—as well as his mentors and especially himself—to an impossibly high ethical standard.

Today, in honor of his death, researchers across the world are uploading their own documents and distributing them freely via Twitter. Using the hash tag “#pdftribute,” thousands of people are posting documents in honor of Swartz.

Many people are blaming his suicide on the fact that he was facing 35 years in prison for his crimes, but those who knew Swartz also knew that he had been struggling with painful depression as well as chronic illness for years. He mentioned his thoughts of suicide as recently as 2007.

Mr. Swartz, you will be greatly missed. Your friends say the world was a better place with you in it, and I am inclined to agree. We are in great need of minds and hearts like yours.

Many people are donating money to either campaigns for free distribution of information or suicide help. Either would be a good way to honor Aaron Swartz’s memory today.

Cash mobs: A HELPFUL Internet sensation, for once!

Support local business and have fun.

Sometimes it seems like the Internet is nothing but an endless cycle of memes and dumb image macros. You have probably heard of "flash mobs," where a large group of people conspires to meet somewhere public and do something ostensibly wacky, like have a giant pillow fight in downtown Toronto, or dance Gangnam Style.

A cash mob is a slightly more specific, and far more humanitarian sub-set of flash mobs. In a cash mob, people assemble at a particular store and buy things, using cash. The idea of a cash mob is to support a small local business, which means that the target of the cash mob will be a local independently owned store.  (I don't see people cash mobbing a Target any time soon, unless you count Black Friday, but that's an article for another day.)
Cash mobs can also be used to gather donations for non-profits. Last October, a cash mob raised over $2,000 for Planned Parenthood in just a few minutes. 
One of the first cash mobs happened in Cleveland, and focused specifically on independent book stores. Many cash mobs have dedicated themselves to supporting local book stores. In fact, a recent cash mob in my home town descended upon Next Chapter Books, a charming independent book store with a great selection of books, as well as cozy chairs, a fireplace, and an espresso bar. (Sadly, I was not able to make it to this cash mob. I am planning to stop in some time this weekend and buy something solo. It's not as fun, but just as rewarding.)
The Occupy Wall Street movement has picked up on cash mobs as a form of grass roots political protest, as well as a way to support small business owners in the 99%. This is a splinter movement of cash mobs, and the main organizers of the original cash mob movement want it to be known that it was never meant to be political.
Cash mobs are organized with the approval of the business owner, and everyone participating in the cash mob agrees to spend at least $20. Many cash mobs are organized such that everyone can meet up at a local bar or restaurant afterward, both as a social gathering and as a way to spread even more money into the local community.
At a time when local businesses are struggling, they are also more important to our communities than ever. Check out this cash mob coordination website to find a cash mob near you!

Odd jobs

Very odd, yet lucrative.

I have done my share of odd jobs. Posting flyers. Aim chat mod. Selling other people’s old stuff. Video game tip giver. All paid tasks. But never have I’ve been paid for such strange tasks as these. For example, there is a woman who is paid to hug people in her bed. That’s it. Paid haggles and cuddles.

I guess lonely men and women (or just people wanting a daily hug) come into this lady’s home by the hour and paid this woman to hug them. Note she has friends in the next room to keep her safe as most sex workers do. Wait, does this even count as no sex happens? There are cafes in Japan that do this as well for busy salary men. 

Another odd job is a thing called smooshing. In an extreme take on face sitting, people (usually men) with a fetish for large women AND being crushed pay upwards of $400 an hour to have a big lady sit on them. So…getting paid to sit on a guy. That seems like the easiest way to do about nothing for cash!
And who can forget the job from Craigslist that had a woman slapping a man whenever he went off task. No really. Paid face-slapper is now a thing. The man paid this woman to do this so his work productivity would go up. According to him, it did. In a sense, this is a tamer version of having a Dominatrix spanking you in a S&M scene but instead of whips and chains, the good old hand keeps you in line. 

Black Thanksgiving?

Getting mad over an early day is a waste of energy.

Thanksgiving is the start of the incoming holiday season. The season to hang with family you may or may not miss for a few weeks out of the year. To stuff yourself with food you know is bad for you, but will eat anyway. To watch cheesy films for nostalgia's sake. To be thankful you are alive and here.

Bah. You know that’s not true. It’s about scoring free food and hoping that the boss will not call you in mid-turkey eating. It is where you hang with family you missed for ages but then realized the meaning behind the statement ‘distance makes the heart grow fonder.’ You are being rewarded after all that time working and whatnot to simply enjoy yourself.
Well assuming you don’t work on Thanksgiving.
Seems a lot of stores are deciding to open their doors on the big day to let shoppers get their shop on. Big people like that Walmart decided that Black Friday should start on Thanksgiving. Black Thanksgiving? Eh, doesn’t have a good ring to it. This, of course, caused many to vent at them in disgust and rage. Their holy tradition of eating with people they’ll be thankful to see leave in a few hours is being disrupted! People are being forced to work!?
They do realize that stores have been doing this since…forever? Right? 
Now, don’t get me wrong, some stores like Wally World have questionable things done in their name. Their practices may indeed suck. But getting mad at them for a thing businesses have been doing for ages – they just never announced it as brazenly - is a bit short sighted.  
Some workers may not want to work that day: they can quit. But many do. Extra pay means extra gifts under the tree, extra bill money, extra survival. For all this screaming, wouldn’t it be better screaming at the lack of employees, insurance or unions than about working on a holiday that a lot of people work on anyway?

There are cat lovers

And there are crazy cat ladies...

I am a cat person. No, I don’t hate dogs. I find dogs fun, too. But cats, unlike dogs, generally come in one size range, tend to be neater animals (assuming they don’t shed hair or dodge the litter box) and need a bit less affection and play time. So I truly do love the cats. That being said, I don’t love them this much – a lady’s husband called for divorce because she was keeping upwards of 550 cats at their home!

This is well and beyond "she chose her husband over a feline." She chose to change their home into a cat hotel and for anyone who has watched Animal Patrol on Animal Network or seen an animal based episode of Horders, you know how icky and chaotic that must have been.
A residence trying to house so many animals in one place must’ve smelt and felt gross. Cats, like most animals, are not adapted to live in a cramped space with hundreds of competitors around them. I bet many of them due to being crowed and probably neglected (there is no way she could maintain each cat individually) grew feral running around and defecating everywhere. The high probability of some of the cats breeding uncontrollably probably happened too, causing more problems.
They were probably problems that the wife may have overlooked due to her need to keep them or a mental problem. The mystery here isn’t that the guy was pushing for a divorce under these circumstances. It was why he waited so long. What, after 550 cats? Did he not mention something was off at cat number 10? Or the smell building up? Or his wife’s growing attachment to her ever growing army of cats? 

Prometheus in 15 minutes

It was better than the movie.

Oh yes. I did in fact see this movie. In fact, due to my SO being a diehard alien fan, we saw it again on Blu-ray. This was after I found so many plot holes with it that the suspicion of belief I was supposed to have was destroyed and I promptly found it meh. But he’s a die-hard fan so he got it. He also buys me the Resident Evil movies every year for Xmas as a cruel joke knowing I hate them oh so much. I didn’t say he was a benevolent SO. 

Anyway, we watched it. And the attached extras and commentary and other assorted things. It was indeed a pretty movie but I wasn’t that impressed. Then I landed onto someone’s live journal link. I knew I wasn’t the only one who found fault with the movie, but no one had put it so hilariously. 
See, this live journalist not only watched the movie, but saw it in both 3D and IMAX 3D. She loved it to bits. Though I doubt her and my SO loved it for the same reasons. She took pretty much took everything that happened and made a parody script.
The script points out that the scientists were hit with the stupid, that people acted like robots and that robots are jerks. Also bad sciencing and tentacle babies. Yes, sciencing is a word. The fact that the write-up is spot on made it that much more hysterical. The wrap sentence at the end sells it:
‘[The Engineer was of the first generation, and lo, did he or someone equally bald beget humanity in the second, because he could. Humanity made the third-generation android because they could, and the android created a fourth generation of life because he had daddy issues, and then the fourth generation created a fifth generation born of the fourth generation made by the third generation using the womb of the second generation created by the first generation, and thus did it crawl out from under that starfish pancake of a facesnuggler.]
[And lo, we were all severely screwed.]‘

Get paid to slap people

People will pay for anything.

This is just a man indulging in some humiliation fetish - it has to be. What person would air their dirty laundry if only to get attention for it? Seems this man would. See, he apparently works from home (So do I! Freelancers unite!). But he, like many other freelancers, found that if he tallied up the amount of work he got done in a day versus the time spent doing other things like checking e-mail, toying around on Facebook, etc., that he was not efficient at all. Time wasted is time that money was not made after all.

But since he was his own boss, there was no one to keep him on task. But unlike many others who simply made calendars, used programs like EyeLeo, or simply developed restraint, he went one better. He hired a lady to slap him every time he strayed off task. 
That’s right, every time he opened up Tweetdeck to check on movie times, pulled up Facebook to peek at his Farmville crops or even thought about checking that personal not work related e-mail, he got a nice slap to the face. The lady gets paid by the hour to basically be a poor man’s Dominatrix while he tries to work amidst dodging slaps. Surprisingly, he claims that his productivity has gone up, not down.
Guess that gives the whole saying of ‘The beatings will continue until morale improves’ a new spin, eh?
Of course the fact that he had to share this given the sexual (warranted or not) connotation of a woman beating a willing man is a tad telling. Then again, the pay rate of $7-8 an hour is a tad low. Geeze. I’d be slapping him hard too just for that alone.

7.7 earthquake and tsunami: Twitter wins, news media FAILS

Who would have thought Twitter could be so useful and valuable in a crisis?

Last night's events really brought home to me how much we A) rely on the mainstream news media, and B) shouldn't. In this case, it could literally have been a life-or-death issue. Everyone who relies solely on the mainstream news media to alert them to grave threats would have been on the wrong side of the equation. 

And mind you, the news outlets had almost two hours between the initial earthquake to the time when the tsunami began to it. Even with two hours of warning and the NOAA alert system, most news outlets didn't get around to warning the public until the next morning. 
Meanwhile, the Twitterverse was on top of this story from the initial earthquake on. It's hard to believe something as ridiculous as Twitter could serve such a valuable purpose, but it's true.

Last night around 8 p.m., an earthquake of magnitude 7.7 struck in shallow water off the Queen Charlotte Islands. The initial earthquake caused very little damage, mostly because it was so far from any population centers. But its location triggered a tsunami warning for Alaska and British Columbia which was later extended to the Washington and Oregon coast.
Within minutes of the earthquake, I received an alert email from NOAA's automated tsunami warning center. For several hours, this email (and the updates which followed) were my ONLY official source of information about the events. I live in a tsunami risk area not far from the British Columbian border, so this tsunami scare was, as they say, relevant to my interests.
Throughout the night, television was useless. Neither the local nor national news channels had a thing to say about either the earthquake or the impending tsunami. The same was true of radio. I flipped between stations, checking local news radio, NPR affiliates, and CBC radio for the Vancouver area (where the warning was being raised.)
Websites also proved to be essentially useless. At least they were carrying information about the tsunami, but these sites all went down under the crippling load. You would think they would prepare for traffic spikes, given that it's literally a life-or-death kind of thing. 
Twitter proved to be the only source of information. Granted, most of it was just people passing on the original tsunami warning. But throughout the night I picked up a lot of valuable information. 
Need I point out, there actually WAS a tsunami. Granted it was only a few inches high in most locations. We got lucky this time. I could just as easily have been 20 feet high, and only those who happened to be checking their email at just the right time (like me) would have survived.
Thanks for nothing, mainstream media! I guess you really are as lame as the Republicans keep saying.

Sometimes trolling can come back to haunt you

Anonymity not always guaranteed.

The Internet is a sort of Wild West land, but with mostly pictures, video and text rather than gunslinging and smoky salons. There’s the law trying to police and keep everything civil and fair, thinking that it has say over things. Then there’s the rest of the Internet – the 99 percent - where it’s all no man’s land. Every type of voice, every thought, idea, stance, like, dislike and so on can be heard by a near unlimited audience depending on how much or little the forum the poster posted on is secured. 

All under an anonymous handle that can be hidden behind with the right amount of caution. IPs can be hidden, e-mails made anonymous. The whole being anonymous thing was to allow people to be honest in what they say and to avoid consequences – especially net activists in not so welcome countries. 
But another creature popped up in all this – the troll. Under that same guise of protection, trolls say and do things they (probably) don’t believe and would be less likely to say in public to simply cause mayhem and get a rise out of people. You try to argue them and they have your attention and have ‘won.’ You ignore them and the try and roll over your discussion. Even banning them gives them the rush of irritating a person enough to get such treatment. 
So it was very odd that a very notorious troll by name of Violentacrez was after years of flourishing on large social site with thread boards such as ‘Rapebait’ and ‘Pics of Dead Kids’ was outed by his real life name. The man behind the name was exposed to the world as a 49-year-old family man, an unexpected image that most wouldn’t conclude with ‘Internet troll.’
This exposure cost the man his job and has his family shouldering threats and anger from those that were fed up with his online persona’s antics. And considering what those antics made him out to be a violent pedophile, the backlash was immense. 


Violentacrez’ story is a cautionary one – that those who cause a ruckus online aren’t as safe as you’d think. Getting ‘dox’d’ (or outed) but a determined nettizen is not hard if they don’t like what you have to say. This sets both a good and bad precedent – trolls (especially the most egregious ones) will have to watch their backs because as much as they want to say ‘free speech!’ people also have the freedom to recoil and call you out on it.
But legitimate activists also hold this fear that someday someone will just as reveal their names to the public. And unlike Mr. Violentacrez where mainly a public shamming and job loss were all to knowledge occur, these people depending of where they live could face a lot worse – ask Malala Yousufzai.