• Why your friends have more friends than you do

    Have you ever felt like your friends were more popular than you? You may have been onto something. In 1991, the sociologist Scott Feld compared two numbers: how many friends a participant had and the average number of friends that these friends had. He found that people almost always had fewer friends than their friends did. The reason: friends aren't distributed equally. People with few friends are less likely to be in your circles while people with many friends are more likely to be in your circles. The result? Your friends are, on average, have more friends than you do. He published his findings in the American Journal of Sociology.

    Researchers have since observed the so-called friendship paradox in a wide variety of situations. On Facebook, your friends will have more friends than you have. On Twitter, your followers will have more followers than you do. And in real life, your sexual partners will have had more partners than you've had. At least, on average.

    MIT Technology Review

    Interestingly, studies show that many people seem to think that they have more friends than their friends do.

  • San Francisco's multi-million dollar quest for aesthetically pleasing trash cans

    In late 2018, San Francisco launched an initiative to redesign its trash cans. Though previous receptacles were functional, the director of the Department of Public Works wanted more beautiful trash cans because the city is "obviously very unique." Nearly three years later, the project is still underway; representatives recently voted to spend $427,500 to test fifteen prototype cans. When Supervisor Matt Haney realized the stunning amount of time and the multi-million dollar price tag of the trash can beautification efforts, he had concerns. 

    "I realize we're pretty far down the path here already," he said at a Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee meeting July 21. "But why did we choose this path to begin with? And why are we still doing this rather than putting out a bunch of different types of cans that already are produced, that are much cheaper, that are already performing well … in some other place … and then making a decision based on this? This is a very expensive, much longer, uncertain process that we've chosen."

    "The idea that San Francisco is so unique that we need a separate trash can from anyone deployed in any city around the world is preposterous," Haney told Mission Local this month. "It's something that reflects a broader and deeper brokenness of city government and the services it provides."

    Mission Local

    Based on the project's current trajectory, trash cans will likely cost between $2000 and $3000— possibly as high as $5000— each, greatly exceeding the city's initial request to spend less than $1000 per can. The price tag also exceeds that of other cities.

    Sacramento spends $1,300 per can; Washington, D.C., $987; and Los Angeles, $449.51. Chicago, which discontinued purchasing $504.70 decorative baskets, spends $125.66 per wire basket.

    Mission Local
  • I love sending animated e-cards for minor holidays

    It's the first day of fall! Perhaps you'll celebrate by making squash soup, light a fall candle, or go on a walk to observe changing leaves. If you don't have much time to commemorate a new season, though, I recommend 123greetings.com, a free site that sends kitsch-y greetings to your friends' inboxes. They have a slew of autumn-themed e-cards which can be personalized with unique messages and your choice of music, and something about the bad design feels nostalgic. The Wayback Machine shows that 123greetings.com has barely changed in 20 years.

    What better way to let an old friend know you're thinking of them than sending them a dancing squirrel with "Happy Autumn to you" written in a dumb funt?

    The emails sometimes look like spam, but you'll know if your friend deleted them without checking—123greetings sends you an email whenever your friend opens the e-card. Find them here!

  • Facebook initiative to present pro-Facebook news items

    As Facebook faces relentless PR crises (privacy, misinformation, Russian interference, hate speech, monopolization, etc), it plans to promote positive stories about Facebook in its users' news feeds.

    The initiative, code-named Project Amplify, aims to improve the company's image among its users. When it was created in an internal January meeting, it reportedly surprised some executives. Still, Mark Zuckerberg signed off on the plan last month. The New York Times:

    The idea was that pushing pro-Facebook news items — some of them written by the company — would improve its image in the eyes of its users, three people with knowledge of the effort said. But the move was sensitive because Facebook had not previously positioned the News Feed as a place where it burnished its own reputation. Several executives at the meeting were shocked by the proposal, one attendee said.

    "They're realizing that no one else is going to come to their defense, so they need to do it and say it themselves," said Katie Harbath, a former Facebook public policy director.

  • A subreddit gives the "Herman Cain Award" to anti-vaxxers who die of Covid

    Nearly 300,000 Redditors are in the r/HermanCainAward subreddit, and it's still growing rapidly. In it, Redditors posts story after story of Covid deaths, and the subreddit serves as a grim reminder of the virus's continuing dangers. ward subreddit, and it's still growing rapidly. The name derives from Republican fast-food giant Herman Cain who died of Covid some weeks after attending a Trump rally maskless in the summer of 2020.

    The subreddit's posts, for the most part, follow a predictable format: first, photos and screenshots show a person's egregiously irresponsible Covid behavior. Then, the post has evidence of a person contracting and struggling with the virus. The stories of the Covid deaths come from Facebook screenshots or personal stories, and they show a close-up picture of what having the disease is like. One notable feature of the subreddit is the flairs: a hospitalized person's flair is "nominated." If they die, it changes to "awarded." Here's the community description:

    Nominees have made public declaration of their anti-mask, anti-vax, or Covid-hoax views, followed by admission to hospital for Covid. The Award is granted upon the nominee's release from their Earthly shackles.

    r/HermanCainAward

    While the Herman Cain Award brings attention to the importance of Covid safety, it may wade into the dangerous territory of mocking those who die of Covid. A rule of the subreddit is "Don't be a dick. Don't root for nominees to be awarded." Still, some posts and comments may contain elements of schadenfreude.

    The good news is that it's pretty easy to make sure you won't win a Herman Cain Award. Get vaccinated and wear a mask in public spaces, unless you'd like to be presented with one of these upon your death.

    Gita Jackson for Vice

  • Brace yourself for these "sexy Bernie" Halloween costumes

    There are so, so many odd "sexy" Halloween costumes for sale on the internet— sexy American flag, booty short Bob Ross, tater tot minidress, sexy Russian vodka, and even sexy fake news. It may come as no surprise that online retailers have sexualized some of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders' signature looks.

    The "Once Again Asking Costume Set" sells for $85 from dollskins.com, and it appears to include a gray coat-dress and cozy mittens. Also, Amazon sells wigs and mittens inspired by Sanders.

    Political Halloween costumes are nothing new, and this is not the first sexy Bernie costume, but political costumes are emblematic of a culture that "stans" politicians in a way that may turn their politics like entertainment.

    Still, a Bernie Sanders costume might be easy to create from what's already in your closet: he famously dresses for function, not fashion.

  • Amid bus driver shortage, high school uses charter bus with stripper poles

    Schools across the nation struggle with a bus driver shortage, and Massachusetts has been hit especially hard. This month, the state called in the National Guard to transport kids to school.

    One Boston high school resorted to using a party bus complete with stripper poles and LED lighting, as tweeted by teacher Jim Mayers.

    "According to Mayers, the original bus charter for the field trip had fallen through halfway through the week, leaving them to find a last minute alternative. "When you promise hundreds of kids a fun day with their advisories, you make it happen," he wrote.

    For Mayers, the best part was the kids' reactions to the stripper poles, saying: "I've never seen one before," after being informed they were genuine ones. "Me neither," he responded."

    Newsweek

    After the story was shared widely, Mayers deleted the tweet, and he made a follow-up statement on Twitter to point to large structural issues in education that he considers more worthy of attention than his party bus field trip. The three-paragraph message concluded with an invitation for people to get involved with the education system.

    "I encourage anyone reading this to attempt their next local school board meeting, or to pick up one of the many fantastic books about education written by people much smarter than me. For folks looking for an entry point into some of education's most critical conversations about inequity, one of the most important books I've read is called "The Dreamkeepers," by Gloria Ladson-Billings.

    @mayersteach on Twitter
  • A TikTok-er's hideously humorous redesigns are being used by major brands

    "I graduated college with a degree in design and I redesigned some popular logos I think we can all agree are ugly," says Emily Zugay on her TikTok account. She proceeds to redesign iconic logos into Microsoft-Paint-style abominations. Zugay is clearly doing this as a joke, and her three videos have gotten nearly 12 million views— each. Perhaps more notably, major brands like Adobe, The Washington Post, and TikTok itself have piggybacked off the attention, actually using Zugay's designs as social media stunts.

    Here's Zugay's new Starbucks logo which she claims has a "more of a happier feel." Starbucks has not used the new logo in official communications, but a number of other brands have. Watching this TikTok joke unfold has been one of the highlights of my week. Here are some official brand responses to Zugay's work.

    Zugay also redesigned the Detroit Lions' logo, creating a photo of horizontal lines captioned "detriot lines." The NFL team adopted her image for their profile picture and used it on T-shirts (which didn't impress current players).

    @detroitlions

    Reply to @emilyzugay Safe to say your redesign was a huge hit 😌 #DetroitLions #OnePride #nfl

    ♬ original sound – Emily'sTikTok.edu

    After Zugay redesigned the Adobe logo, the official Adobe TikTok account printed their "new logo" on pieces of paper and put it around their office.

    @adobe

    Reply to @zorp__ Thanks for the new logo @emilyzugay. Wonder if anyone will notice?

    ♬ Abode did it – Adobe

    The Washington Post's response video:

    Here's Nascar's response video, where they adopt Zugay's new logo which "makes it look like the words are flying through the air at a very fast speed."

    @nascar

    @emilyzugay we love the logo redesign. #NASCAR

    ♬ original sound – Makayla

    Ocean Spray's response:

    @oceanspray

    Testing out our new look @emilyzugay

    ♬ to the salon – 🍄 73.2K mushrooms 🍄

    Perhaps the most notable response comes from TikTok itself, which replaced its profile picture with Zugay's clock-inspired image.

  • Sears closes its last department in Illinois, its home state

    Almost one hundred years ago, in 1925, Sears moved beyond its catalog business and opened its first department store in Chicago. Now, the chain's last Illinois department store is shutting its doors.

    The company was officially founded as a mail-order business in 1893, targeting rural Americans. When more Americans moved to suburbs after World War 2, Sears Department stores did too. The first store opened in 1925 and by 1931, in-store orders surpassed mail orders. It was an astronomical rise that has been compared to that of Amazon. Over the century, the department store company founded Allstate insurance, a mail-order car called the "Allstate", and the Discover card. In the 1990s, the company said that one out of seven Americans either worked for Sears or had once worked there. 

    Walmart surpassed Sears as the nation's largest retailer in 1990, and the next three decades saw major restructuring and eventual downfall. In the early 2000s, the company shed its financial services offerings and merged with Kmart to form Sears Holdings Corporation, with hedge fund manager Eddie Lampert as its chairman. By October 2018, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

    There currently are 300 Sears and Kmart stores still open in the US, down from nearly 700 in October 2018, when Sears declared bankruptcy. At its peak, the company operated more than 3,000 stores.

    CNN Business

    My most prominent memories of Sears are wandering around the store after my Sears drivers ed classes in West Michigan. My friend were fourteen and didn't know how much anything cost, and we would wander the aisles guessing the price of the appliances ("A washer is $700?!").

  • Body matching description of Gabby Petito found near Grand Teton National Park

    #VanLife couple Brian Laundrie and Gabby Petito left in July for what was supposed to be a four-month trip. However, Brian Laundrie came home to Florida early, on September 1st, without Gabby Petito. The story has captivated the nation— both because of the trip's extensive social media documentation and Laundrie's refusal to cooperate with the police.

    "Human remains discovered in Teton County, Wyoming, on Sunday are "consistent with the description of" missing 22-year-old Gabby Petito, FBI officials said in a news conference.

    "Full forensic identification has not been completed to confirm 100% that we found Gabby, but her family has been notified of this discovery," Charles Jones, FBI Denver's supervisory senior resident agent in Wyoming, said."

    CNN

    The news comes after Youtuber Red, White, & Bethune posted an August 27th where Petito and Laundrie's van can be seen in a shot. After the observation was reported, the body was found nearby. No official statement has confirmed that the video footage informed the search.

    Brian Laundrie remains missing; the police search for him continues.

  • "Sand" among finalists for National Toy Hall of Fame

    The National Toy Hall of Fame has named twelve finalists, and one is the prehistoric substance sand, which the National Toy Hall of Fame says "may be the most universal and oldest toy in the world."

    The other finalists are American Girl Dolls, Battleship, billiards, Cabbage Patch Kids, Fisher-Price Corn Popper, Mahjong, Masters of the Universe Toys, the piñata, Risk, The Settlers of Catan, and the toy fire engine.

    Three winners will be chosen in November. The Player's Choice Ballot is open for all; voters are asked to consider the criteria of icon-status, longevity, discovery, and innovation.

  • Yet another subscription service emerges… this time, from Taco Bell

    Attention tacoholics! Capitalism's invisible hand has provided yet another subscription service, but this time it's… for tacos. Whether anyone ever asked for this is unclear. Taco Bell is testing its Taco Lovers Pass at 20 locations across the state of Arizona. The golden ticket of tacos gives its holders access to a secret menu of free tacos, offering a daily fix of highly processed Tex Mex. A taco a day keeps the apple away— wait, is that not how the saying goes? Maybe eating cheesy oversized fast food items every day isn't the best option for your health (or gastrointestinal wellness), but who am I to tell you what to do?

    Taco Bell is not the only first fast-food restaurant looking for creative ways to boost customer loyalty.

    "In recent years and especially during the pandemic, more restaurants have been turning to loyalty programs to recruit or maintain customers: Burger King and McDonald's both introduced rewards programs over the past year; Starbucks's longtime rewards program grew by 2.5 million users over the pandemic; Panera Bread, which launched a loyalty program in February 2020, signed up 500k paid subscribers by the following October.

    Some independent restaurants have also asked customers to join subscription services, guaranteeing some incoming cash during an incredibly uncertain time. For chains, such programs both cater to repeat customers and — most importantly, money-wise — provides brands with a massive amount of customer personal data, which it can then use to further market products and campaigns. Starbucks has used the data it's gathered from users for everything from figuring out where to open new stores to shaping the menu. So way to go, you loyalty program-loving sheeple! Now Taco Bell and the Deep State are going to know how much you love soft potato tacos."

    Jaya Saxena for Eater

  • Google Japan makes potato chips with a "Googley Salty Flavor"

    In Japan, Google is promoting the Pixel 6 with potato chips. Bags come in five color palates to match the phones, but each shares a "Googley Salty Flavor"— which I'm dying to2ws taste. Unfortunately, all 10,000 bags have already been claimed. Bummer. These Google chips are meant to highlight other Google chips. Google's new Tensor SoC, however, doesn't go quite as well with a BLT. 

    A cheeky promotional video shows people using the bag of chips as if it were a phone.

  • This charming 101-year-old lobsterwoman has no plans to stop

    101-year-old Virginia Oliver has faithfully trapped lobsters since the Great Depression. She still maintains her traps off the coast of Maine on a boat called the "Virginia", now working with her 78-year-old son Max. In a sweet interview with the Associated Press, she shares stories from her nine decades of lobstering. Though she reckons she's probably "have a clean house" if she quit, she has no plans to stop lobstering any time soon.

    "I've done it all my life, so I might as well keep doing it," Oliver said.

    Wayne Gray, a family friend who lives nearby, said Oliver had a brief scare a couple of years ago when a crab snipped her finger and she had to get seven stitches. She never even considered hanging up her lobster traps, though.

    "The doctor admonished her, said 'Why are you out there lobstering?'" Gray said. "She said, 'Because I want to'."

    After all these years, Oliver still gets excited about a lobster dinner of her own and typically fixes one for herself about once a week. And she has no plans to quit lobstering any time soon.

    "I like doing it, I like being along the water," she said. "And so I'm going to keep on doing it just as long as I can. "

    Associated Press
  • Trump says Jan 6 rioters are being "persecuted so unfairly," voices support for Saturday's far-right Capitol rally

    Rioters at the January 6 insurrection committed over 1,000 assaults on police officers. As many members of the deadly mob now face justice, Trump says they are being "persecuted so unfairly."

    A "Justice for J6 rally" planned for Saturday, September 18th aims to protest the charges faced by over 600 known federal defendants. Organized by Matt Braynard, an employee of the 2016 Trump campaign, the event has attracted the attention of the former president.

    The New York Times:

    Mr. Trump put out a statement from his office on Thursday, with no mention of the rally, but saying, "Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protest concerning the Rigged Presidential Election." He added: "JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL!"

    The latest report, titled "Prospects for Violence at 'Justice for J6' Rally in Washington, D.C.," warns of possible violence both by participants in the rally and by counterprotesters.

    The New York Times

    The Department of Homeland Security is taking extensive precautions— like bringing back the Capitol fence— even though it expects only 700 people to show up. The turnout may be even smaller, though. NBC News reports that far-right online forums are discouraging protesters from attending the event, warning that it may be a trap from federal law enforcement.

    "A Telegram channel for the pro-Trump extremist gang The Proud Boys announced last week, "We (Proud Boys) ARE NOT going to this," suggesting it was a trap.

    Prominent QAnon influencer L. Lin Wood echoed similar sentiments Monday.

    "​​I think a large rally in D.C. this weekend is a BAD idea," he wrote."

    NBC News
  • Law enforcement busts $31 million counterfeit coupon scheme

    A Virginia mother of three named Lori Ann Talens worked from a desktop computer in her Virginia home, attracting little attention. Few people knew that she was running one of the largest fraudulent coupon schemes in history. For over three years, Ms. Talens created fake coupons and sold them to coupon enthusiasts via social media or messaging apps. Now, the jig is up.

    Ms. Talens, 41, was sentenced to 12 years in prison on Tuesday for operating what prosecutors called "one of the largest coupon fraud schemes" in U.S. history, saying it cost retailers and manufacturers more than $31 million in losses.

    From April 2017 to May 2020, Ms. Talens used the moniker "MasterChef" to design, create and produce a variety of counterfeit coupons in her home, prosecutors said. The fakes, they said, were extremely believable.

    "These counterfeit coupons were virtually indistinguishable from authentic coupons and were often created with inflated values, far in excess of what an authentic coupon would offer, in order to receive items from retail for free or for a greatly reduced price," Joseph L. Kosky, an assistant U.S. attorney, wrote in court documents.

    In addition to mail fraud, Ms. Talens also pleaded guilty to wire fraud and health care fraud that stemmed from a separate scheme that involved defrauding Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program from November 2015 to February 2020.

    Johnny Diaz for The New York Times
  • #VanLife influencer disappears and boyfriend refuses to talk to police

    Two people left on a trip but only one came home. Over the past few days, I've been absolutely captivated by this #VanLife-gone-wrong saga.

    Pleasant photos of hikes, scenery, and a small white van fill the Instagram grids posted by Brian Laundrie, 23, and his girlfriend, Gabrielle Petito, 22. They now have over 95,000 and 324,000 followers respectively. Beneath the surface, though, an ugly story was developing.

    Here's an approximate timeline: the couple left on July 2nd for what was supposed to be a four-month trip through the American West. On August 12th in Moah, Utah, police responded to domestic problem.

    Mr. Laundrie and Ms. Petito both told the police that they were in love and engaged to be married and "desperately didn't wish to see anyone charged with a crime."

    Mr. Laundrie told one officer that "issues between the two had been building over the last few days," a police report said.

    Ms. Petito cried during the encounter with the police and said she suffered from anxiety, according to body camera footage of the episode. In the police report, Ms. Petito is recorded saying she moved to slap Mr. Laundrie because she feared that he "was going to leave her in Moab without a ride."

    The New York Times

    No charges were filed, and Mr. Laundrie stayed in a hotel that night. Eleven days later, around August 23rd, Ms. Petito's family spoke with her for the last time. The last post on her Instagram is dated two days later.

    In one of the more unusual details of the case, Fox News reports that Ms. Petito listened to "a series of haunting songs" on September 1st according to her public Spotify records.

    In September, the story becomes more concerning. Mr. Laundrie came home from a cross-country trip on September 1 without his girlfriend. Gabrielle Petito's family became suspicious, and when they recieve answers from Mr. Laundrie, they reported her missing on Sept. 11th. Gabrielle Petito's family is now publically asking Brian Laundrie for answers.

    In a letter, Ms. Petito's parents and stepparents begged Mr. Laundrie's parents to tell them "where Brian left Gabby."

    The New York Times

    Though the incident has attracted widespread attention, Mr. Laundrie is still clammed up regarding Ms. Petito's location. His lawyer, however, made a brief public statement.

    On Wednesday, Steven Bertolino, a lawyer for Mr. Laundrie in East Islip, N.Y., said in a statement that he had advised Mr. Laundrie not to speak with the authorities because, in his experience, an intimate partner is often the first person law enforcement "focuses their attention on in cases like this."

    The New York Times

    This 8-minute vlog shows a gleaming portrait of the couple's day-to-day life before Ms. Petito's disappearance.

  • Microsoft doesn't require passwords anymore

    Microsoft users might be able to throw away the sticky note taped to their laptop: the company introduced a new option to delete password authentication.

    Microsoft uses its authenticator app, fingerprint/facial recognition, and SMS/email verification codes to verify accounts— which may be more secure than using "soccerlover123" or "Mychemicalromance1998!" yet again. In a world where many people still don't use password managers, Microsoft's decision makes sense.

    "The benefits of passwordless authentication are very clear. Most people create their own passwords, and it's often a challenge to create something that's secure and memorable without relying on a password manager. People often reuse their passwords, too, allowing attackers to quickly log into a variety of compromised accounts after a particular organization is targeted and passwords are dumped.

    Google, Apple, and others are also working toward less reliance on passwords. Google Chrome lets you sign in without a password, and Apple's iOS 15 and macOS Monterey updates include a Passkeys in iCloud Keychain feature, an attempt to replace passwords with a more secure login process."

    Tom Warren for The Verge
  • Beware of "beaning," a trend where teens pour baked beans on doorsteps

    Bizarre teen social media challenges are nothing new (recall the cinnamon challenge, Beezin', the Kylie Jenner lip challenge, the condom challenge, Tide Pod challenge, and more). A new one, "beaning," concerned the West Yorkshire police enough that they issued a warning to shopkeepers and parents.

    In the "beaning" trend, tricky kids dump cans of baked beans on doorsteps and spread the contents around. Then, they upload a video of the stunt to social media (here's one example, and here's another). Like the decades-old practices of toilet-papering and egging houses, the trend seems to accomplish little more than waste perfectly good things and inconvenience neighbors.

    "The craze has proven to be popular with over 1.2m views under the hashtag "#beanbandits", where kids show off their bean-based pranks.

    Though it's not just doorsteps that are being "beaned" – even driveways, front doors and cars are not safe.

    In a statement, reported by the Yorkshire Post, PCSO Michelle Owens said: "It has come to the attention of the police that a new trend has started by groups of youths called 'beaning'."

    Sinead Butler for Indy 500
  • Cross your fingers: the world's largest container ship heads for the Suez Canal

    In one of 2021's many odd plot twists, container ship Ever Given blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week in March, creating a traffic jam of hundreds of vessels— and a major disruption in global trade.

    Let's hope history doesn't repeat itself. A brand new, even bigger ship, Ever Ace, will head through the canal in the coming days. While the ill-fated Ever Given held 20,124 cargo units, Insider reports that the new ship, Ever Ace, can hold 23,992 units. It will be the largest container ship to go through the Suez.

    According to American Bureau of Shipping records, the two ships are the same length, but the Ever Ace is wider and deeper. The Ever Given is 192.9 feet wide, slightly narrower than the Ever Ace's 201.7 feet. The Ever Given has a draught, or depth, of 52.4 feet in comparison with the Ever Ace's 54.1 feet.

    Cheryl Teh for Insider

    What's with all the "Ever" names? Taiwanese company Evergreen follows an "Ever" + "G-word" naming convention. Its 20-ship fleet contains ships with names like Ever Gentle, Ever Gleamy, Ever Genius, and Ever Going.