Beware of Counterfeits when shopping on Amazon

CNBC reports on the growing problem of Chinese counterfeiters gaming the system on Amazon. Just because it says “fulfilled by Amazon” doesn’t mean that it’s authentic.

Always a problem, the counterfeiting issue has exploded this year, sellers say, following Amazon’s effort to openly court Chinese manufacturers, weaving them intimately into the company’s expansive logistics operation. Merchants are perpetually unsure of who or what may kill their sales on any given day and how much time they’ll have to spend hunting down fakers.

Some of the signs of fakers include lots of reviews that say “I received this item at discount in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.” And just because an item is cheapest and/or is listed as the bestseller in the category, doesn’t make it the real deal. As always, caveat emptor.

If you want to weed out the sub-standard products, you will want to get familiar with Fakespot.com.

Social Media Break

Last Friday, I resolved to take a short break from social media. I didn’t like what was happening to me there and I needed to step back and assess. As I come back, I’m going to be different.

I’ve been involved in Internet commentary of one kind or another for nigh on two decades now. I once said I started this blog in 2001 because I needed a different outlet than yelling at the TV news, and in that sense, it’s been a healthy outlet at times. But at other times, I’ve let my disgust or fear or insecurities show themselves in angry outbursts and unkind, uncharitable attacks. Unfortunately, social media did not improve that impulse.

Over the past year, as we’ve been bombarded by outrageous news story after story, I’ve found myself veering toward despair. There’s the Sophie’s choice between Trump and Hillary. There’s the Outrage of the Week, whether it’s Gorilla Mom or Stanford Rapist or the Orlando Shooting/Gun Control/Homophobia/Islamaphobia debate. My comments on Facebook have started to tend toward angry and mean and dismissive and abusive. My inability to convey my point in a logical manner was extremely frustrating. People just didn’t seem to get what I was saying.

A Brief Break and a Change

I knew it needed to stop. So I took a long weekend break. And I don’t know when or if I will return to writing on Facebook about contemporary events. In fact, I’ve begun to pare down my Facebook news feed to exclude those who post the sorts of things most likely to elicit my poor responses. That excludes friends who also write about the good things in their lives, sadly.

I’m not quitting social media. Just pulling back a bit.

Some might say I’m hypocritical, but I’m not going to stop writing about controversial subjects entirely. To cut down on the problematic interactions, I write here as much as I’m able, and not on social media.

I will reserve social media for more pleasant interactions. Pictures of the kids. Posts about places we go. Links to interesting stories about books and movies. That sort of thing.

Because in the other direction lies an ulcer and a bitter, old man. I don’t want to be him.

Facebook ruining another social network

In its efforts to ruin every social network it can get its hands on (or influence), Facebook is preparing to turn on a newsfeed algorithm for Instagram, which it bought for $1 billion a few years ago. This has led to an avalanche of Instagram posts from businesses, brands, and people who want you to turn on notifications so you will continue to see their images.

Why is Facebook doing this? As they said of their own site, most people have so many friends and so many brands they’ve followed that Facebook will now use the mind-reading software they’ve apparently invented to only show you what you really want to see. Because, if I was tired of seeing something, I couldn’t just unfollow the account I was tired of seeing. Thanks, Facebook, for treating us like incompetent boobs.

If you can’t say something nice, don’t be a boor

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A Facebook friend[1] the other day posted a link to a story about an actress who had died. It wasn’t someone you’d know by name, but you’d recognize their face and perhaps express some surprise and a normal amount of regret, as in “Oh, that’s sad. I liked their work.” Or you’d do that if you weren’t a boorish troll on the Internet.

The very first person to comment on his post started by saying, “Never heard of her.” Okay, not exactly condolences and while they could have just clicked the link to find out who she is, it’s not exactly lazy, boorish behavior… yet. Then another commenter adds Standard Catholic Comment on TV-related Posts No. 1: I don’t watch TV any more. Then adds the qualified and obligatory wish for her soul to rest in peace “along with all the nameless and no less important people who died today.”

Really? Look, if you don’t care about the deaths of famous people or about TV stuff in general, here’s some simple advice: Shut up. Keep it to yourself. Frankly, it’s just rude to do what these people did. Remember your mother’s adage? If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything. If all you have to share is the equivalent of “I don’t care about what you posted”, then move on and keep your fingers off the keyboard.

It is the height of self-centeredness that when you encounter someone noting the death of someone else whose work they enjoyed, you make it about yourself. And that’s precisely what these people did. An actress died and one person says he never heard of her and the other proclaims her disdain for TV. It’s not about you!

Yes, famous people are not members of our family, but it’s a perfectly human response to show regret and sadness at the death of someone whose artistic work you enjoyed, no matter how low and unworthy you consider that work. I’m no fan of hiphop and rap, but I appreciate that some of my friends still mourn the loss of Tupac Shakur. I would never dream of showing up on their Facebook pages to mock them for their musical taste.

Boorish trolls bloviating on social media–including so-called conservatives rejecting “the world and its glamour”–do more harm to our culture than good.

My 10 Tips and Tricks for Using Evernote

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It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Evernote, the web service with mobile and computer software for recording everything. I’ve been using it for about six years now and it really has become my second brain, storing everything from receipts to articles clipped from the web to every social media update I post.

Here are some of the ways I use Evernote. I won’t claim to be using it the most efficiently or that there’s some secret mojo here, but maybe I can give some ideas to others.

1. Your secret email address

Every Evernote account comes with a unique secret email address and anything sent to that address gets saved to your notebooks. I often add it as a BCC for emails to people with whom I’m working on a project.[1] Or I forward emails to it that I want to save like receipts or emails about projects.

2. Keep your Inbox at the top

When you set up Evernote you specify a default notebook where notes that don’t have a designated notebook end up. I choose to name mine Inbox, but I go further by putting ‘@’ before Inbox so that it sorts to the top of any alphabetical listing.

3. Takeout history

I have a notebook called Takeout Orders that I share with Melanie. Whenever we order takeout from someplace, this is where I record our order. On the one hand, it’s a handy place to jot down what we want and if I’m picking up the order I can refer to Evernote on my phone to make sure we got everything. But it’s also very handy as a record of what we’ve got so that when Melanie says, “What did I get last time that I really liked?”, I can just read it off to her. It’s also a record of how often and the last time we ordered from any particular place.

I also use this notebook to store scanned takeout menus as well as the receipts for our favorite Chinese restaurant’s reward points system so we know if we can get that free appetizer this time.

4. Appliance manuals

We used to have a file cabinet drawer nearly full of product manuals for every appliance and consumer electronics device and other products we owned[2], but it was an undisciplined mess and a waste of space. It turns out that with a little Google-fu you can find PDF versions of nearly every product’s manual on the market today, which I download and place in an Evernote notebook cleverly named Product Manuals.

If I can’t find the manual online, I tear it apart and feed it through the document scanner and save it as a PDF.

The bonus is that when I need to consult the manual, I just search Evernote for “manual” and “vacuum” for example and up it comes, whether it’s part of the text I typed or text in an image.

Evernote-ProductManuals-2

5. IFTTT and Evernote

IFTTT (If This, Then That) is a web service that allows you to connect a variety of other web services in unique ways. I won’t get into too much detail about IFTTT, but I’ve created several Evernote-related “recipes”.

For example, I use the email app Mailbox on my iPhone and iPad to quickly sort through email. When I encounter an email that I want to save to Evernote, I put it in the “Add to Evernote” list, which in my Gmail account is a label called “Add to Evernote”. IFTTT is watching that label and when it sees an email there, it creates a new note in Evernote for it.[3]

Another set of recipes create an archive of all my social media updates. Since you never know when Facebook or Twitter or any of the rest of the social networks will get bought out/disable your account for some spurious reason/experience data loss, etc., you can’t rely on them to keep an historical archive of your pithy bon mots. This is not merely frivolous self-indulgence if you ever find yourself needing to prove exactly what you said and when you said it.[4] So all of my Instagrams, all my Facebook updates, all my tweets, all tweets that I’ve favorited, every Foursquare check-in. Likewise, I can send an RSS feed to Evernote and so every new post on my blog is archived too.

Everenote-IFTTT-2

6. Hello and business cards

I don’t get lots of business cards, but I get some and especially when I go to an event like the Catholic New Media Conference or last year’s Catholic Media Conference I end up with lots. In the past, those cards ended up in a drawer and if I later wanted to contact somebody, I had to go digging, but now with Evernote, it’s much more automated.

I like using the Evernote Hello app on my iPhone to quickly enter all the relevant information into the Contacts app, which syncs everywhere, and find other information about the person on social networks. You can either enter the info by hand or better, take a photo of their business card and let the app pull it apart and put it in the appropriate fields. Then it looks to LinkedIn to pull in whatever data wasn’t on the card, including profile photo, to flesh it out.

Hello is also nifty in that it looks at your current location and what’s on your calendar right now to associate the contact within a context. For example, if you’ve put a banner on your calendar that you’re at XYZ Conference and the phone locates you at the Convention Center in Anytown, then Hello will make a note on your contact that effect, helping you remember later where you met so and so. Even if you don’t scan the cards until you’re back home, you can manually set the location and event.

The contacts also end up in your main Evernote database in a notebook of your choosing, which lets you find them in searches.

Evernote-Hello-2

7. Tables of contents

If you select a whole bunch of notes in Evernote, you get several options, including an option to create a table of contents. This makes a new note that containts a list of all the notes you’ve selected which are themselves link to the original note. It can be very handy as an index, like in the old days of paper files when a list of the contents of the file would be staped to the inside of the manila folder, for example.

To make this even more useful, click the button to set a reminder on the Table of Contents note (don’t bother setting a notification date) and now a link to the TofC note will be permanently at the top of the notebook list, or at least until you clear the reminder.

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8. Reminders don’t have to be dated

Speaking of reminders, I use them as a way to keep active notes sorted at the top of a notebook. I have a notebook I use for planning my radio show’s topics and guests. When I’m still actively working on a show, I set an undated reminder on it so it shows in the special reminders list. Once the show is past or I abandon the topic, I clear the reminder and it’s gone from the list while remaining in its place in the notebook.

Evernote-Reminders-8

9. Public shared notebooks for clients and customers

I have a shared notebook which I use as a repository for web clippings that I want to share with folks who work in Catholic social media at parishes and ministries in the Archdiocese of Boston. I have linked to that notebook on my office’s website. Someday I would like to create a widget that shows the titles of the most recent five items I’ve added to the notebook.

10. Private shared notebooks for family

Melanie and I have a couple of shared notebooks for our household needs. We have one called Shopping that includes several notes for different kinds of shopping lists: groceries, hardware store, clothing, etc. We also put birthday wishlists for the kids in there. Another is called Household ToDo and Wishlist, which holds notes related to various chores that need to be done, projects we’d like to do, articles about home repair and DIY, etc. Either one of us can add to the notes as we see something that needs to be done or we’d like to do.

Another notebook contains various kinds of information about the kids that either of us may need to access, whether it’s clothing sizes or medical information. Still another notebook has all our favorite recipes.

So that’s ten random tips and tricks for Evernote that I use all the time, but there are many more which I may truck out in a follow up post sometime. What are your favorite Evernote tips and tricks?


  1. Only BCC (blind carbon copy) as opposed to CC because you want to keep this address secret. Any email sent to this address will end up in your Evernote notebooks.  ↩

  2. Not to mention quite a few we didn’t own anymore since cleaning out the drawer when we tossed old or broken stuff wasn’t a high priority.  ↩

  3. I do the same thing for a Mailbox list called “Add to Omnifocus”. Any email put in there gets added to the Omnifocus inbox to become part of my todo list.  ↩

  4. Unfortunately Twitter has removed the ability for outside services to access what other people tweet so the conversations it records are one-sided.  ↩

No, Facebook is not losing 80% of its users by 2017

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NBC News reports on a study out of Princeton University about social networks and like almost all mainstream reporting on academic studies, well, it’s dumb as a box of rocks.

This “study” –which has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal and is in fact a paper presented at a symposium–claims that Facebook will lose 80% of its users by 2017, based on epidemiological models of infectious disease, and compares it to MySpace’s demise. This is so dumb on its face, it’s hard to believe Princeton is associated with it. That’s because the proxy they use for measuring usership of Facebook and MySpace is how often the terms are used alone in a Google search.

What? How does that have any relationship to how much people use Facebook? MySpace was, in fact, killed by Twitter and Facebook. What is replacing Facebook? Not SnapChat. Not Google+, to the consternation of its fans.

As you read the study, you begin to suspect that the authors–who are not epidemiologists nor computer scientists, but are associated with the the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton, aren’t even qualified to draw these conclusions. In fact, the authors Cannarella and Spechler are Ph.D. candidates in fields that have nothing to do with this subject.

So why is this a big deal? Because when a big news outlet like NBC News runs a story, people believe it. They don’t stop to read the original paper and if they did, the academic jargon would make it incomprehensible to most. But it has an effect. Facebook is a publicly traded company. A story like this could affect the stock price and change the valuation by millions. It could also be the sort of thing that creates the end it predicts by convincing people that Facebook is dying and they should go somewhere else.

Mainstream media reporting on academic papers and studies is an ongoing problem because of the facile way they are treated, as if conclusions drawn in the paper equal hard scientific fact. But we’ve all seen that studies aren’t the end-all. Once upon a time we were told that salt was a killer and now we’re told that maybe many people don’t get enough. We were told to eat no more than one egg per week and now we should eat an omega-strengthened egg per day. The list goes on and on.

So take what you see in the media from studies with a giant grain of salt and rest assured you’ll be enjoying Facebook for years to come.

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