Sunday, September 21, 2014

So, You Want to Quit Facebook?

In all the time I've been on Facebook, I've heard people complaining about it and either threatening to quit or announcing that they were quitting. In fact, a lot of people have either reduced their participation in the social networking site or have even left entirely.

If you're thinking about quitting, but you still want to be part of a social networking site, you've got a Big Question looming in front of you: Where will you go?

For some people, leaving Facebook simply means increasing their participation on Twitter. It's a very popular site with lots of members. You can share pictures and videos, but all of your posts are limited to 140 characters, unless you use a third party site like Twitlonger.

But, let's suppose that you want something like Facebook that isn't Facebook. What then?

I'd say that you're shit out of luck. Really.

In years past, sites like Myspace dominated the Internet for places to meet-up with your friends and relatives. But, Myspace had some serious drawbacks and when Facebook came around, people abandoned Myspace like a sinking ship, which is essentially what it was until Justin Timberlake bought it. Even with Mr Timberlake's involvement, I honestly can't say if anyone I know is even a member anymore. Sure, they may have opened an account out of curiosity, but that's a far cry from being an active daily user. I have an account there, but I haven't been active in a long time. It's mostly geared towards music and performance art, so it's not really a good substitute for Facebook.

When Google announced the launch of Google+, people seemed to be scrambling to sign-up. Hearts were beating with excitement, wondering if the Megalodon of the Internet (i.e. Google) could build a better social networking site than Mark Zuckerberg. Given the big G's past failures (e.g. Google Buzz and Orkut spring to mind) people with memories weren't anticipating that things would be different. Still, it seemed at least possible that Google could have learned from past mistakes and done a better job this time around.

In fairness, Google+ is better than FB in some ways, not so good in others. While I don't see much in the way of people sharing pictures of their cats or that morning's breakfast, I have to admit that there is a healthy bit of discussion when people comment on news articles. Google+ does seem to be the grownups' version of Facebook. However, most of the people I know on Facebook either don't have a G+ account or have one but don't use it. So, don't count on your high school classmates finding you there.

China and Russia have their own social networking sites and they seem to have a lot of participation. China, which blocks FB entirely, has WeChat, TenCent Weibo and Sina Weibo, while Russia has VKontakte (also known simply as VK) and Odnoklassniki, however Facebook has made serious inroads there.

I found it rather difficult to sign-up for the Chinese services, since I don't live in China and can't read Mandarin. VK is very easy to join, but Odnoklassniki seems to only allow people in Russia or former Soviet countries to sign-up.

VK looks just like Facebook and I suspect that to be deliberate on the part of the site's owners. It functions well and you could virtually clone your Facebook page in VK and barely notice a difference. However, it is a Russian site, so unless you can read the language or have Google Translate in your browser, you'll spend a lot of time online with no one to talk to. Russia's social networking scene is becoming reminiscent of the Soviet Era, as both VK and Odnoklassniki are owned by the same people and those people have strong ties to the Putin administration.

So, nothing's perfect in an imperfect world, right?

Other social networking sites I looked at are popular only in one or two non-English-speaking countries and really didn't have much to offer. Still other sites looked like they're geared toward finding romantic partners and charge money for full membership.

As I said, you're shit out of luck.

For all its obvious flaws and the seemingly rapturous joy with which Facebook decides at random opportunities to be a bunch of dicks to their members, FB is the most popular social network in the fucking world right now. That is just a fact.

In all fairness, unless you like seeing pictures of your friends' pets and reading their daily or even hourly posts about how bad a day they're having, I'd say that you should just make yourself at home on Twitter. Some days, all I do is check my Twitter feed and totally ignore Facebook.

But, let's say that you want a Facebook substitute and you want all the bells & whistles. Let's make this easier and say you go to VK and copy all the stuff from your FB profile and put it on your VK profile. Okay, you're all set.

The big hurdle - and it is a BIG one - is to get your friends, relatives and/or coworkers to go with you, even to just set-up an account there.

Chances are that they won't. At all.

Even though people have pissed and moaned about Facebook over the years, they are still the #1 game in town, far out in front of even the Chinese networks with their (literally) captive audiences. For the handful of people who quit FB every year, those people are like individual grains of sand on a very big beach and Zuckerberg et al don't worry about them!

But, if you really, really, really want to quit Facebook, go ahead and join VKontakte. Invite all your friends and whatever. Find people on Twitter about quitting Facebook and invite them too. Give it your best shot, buddy. You may like VK better. Who knows?

If you want, at least, one friend on VK, you can friend me. I'll be like what's-his-name on Myspace for you.

Duane Browning

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Eating Healthy When You're Poor

I've seen a few YouTube videos and blog posts about how people can eat healthy food while living on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) benefits. Their intentions were to help the impoverished eat healthier foods that were in their limited budget, instead of relying largely - or entirely - on cheap processed foods which have little nutritional value.

Sure, junk food will fill you up when you're hungry, but the end result of living on it often includes obesity, diabetes and other health problems. This is why poor people in the United States are often overweight and subsisting on a diet high in fat, salt and sugar will not only make you fat, it will adversely impact your health.

However, guidance for people in such financial straits is difficult to find and when it can be found is sometimes delivered in a rather condescending tone. Since nobody likes being talked down to, such "advice" gets ignored. I read a blog post by someone who tried to eat on $4 a day  for about a month and he seemed to delight in how clever he was in finding all those places he could eat for free, which may have been good for him since he knew he was only doing it for a limited time. However, his findings do little (if any) good for someone forced to live in such circumstances for months or years at a time.

Then, there are the comments posted under news items about hunger in the United States. It seems there's always some self-appointed genius who thinks that poor Americans should "just put a few seeds in the ground" and start to grow their own food. On the surface, that might seem like good advice, but it's actually rather stupid. Such advice-givers seem to assume that people actually live somewhere that they could have even a small garden. I'm not even going to ask where these people are supposed to get the seeds, fertilizer or even the knowledge of how to grow their own food. This would be good for people living in the countryside, but totally worthless for the urban poor for whom a garden plot is about as accessible as a winning lottery ticket. Even if there is unused land in their vicinity, it is likely to be owned by someone who might not take too kindly to people growing crops on their land. Slumlords aren't known for their civic-mindedness.

So, I've decided to locate some items on the Internet that actually try to help people eat healthy foods on about $4 a day.

First, there a cookbook published by the US Department of Agriculture and the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion called "Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals" which you can find here.

Next, there's "Good and Cheap" by Leanne Brown, a cookbook that she wrote to help people living on SNAP benefits to eat healthy foods when their food budget comes down to about $4 a day. You can find it online in PDF format and print it out for yourself or for someone you know living in such circumstances.
A much more extreme lifestyle would be trying to eat on $1 or less. While I hope that would never happen to anyone, there may be times that it would occur and it's good to have this information at hand.

I found out about "Live Below the Line", which is an annual event to raise awareness within the more affluent of how people in impoverished countries have to survive on $1 or less. Granted, that dollar includes total living expenses such as housing, medicine, food, etc. But, the event focuses on participants simply trying to eat on a dollar a day or less. A cookbook was designed to help people keep within their budget without starving themselves and it is available online. Bear in mind that the event is only for five days and the recipe book was not intended for long-term survival. I include the link in the event that someone may actually find themselves in such circumstances.
Of course, you can use recipes from any or all of these cookbooks in order to make the most of whatever money you have. I think it would be a good idea if somebody could actually combine these cookbooks together and maybe include a shopping list to make it easier to know what to look for when you go grocery shopping, like "Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals" did.

If you - yes, I mean YOU - don't need any of these cookbooks yourself, but you know someone who might, it would be no small kindness to print them out and give them to someone who needs them. After all, they might not have access to a computer and/or a printer.

Given how many places in the United States are food deserts, I cannot even guarantee that all the ingredients in these cookbooks would even be available for people to purchase them.

There may be a way to further stretch your food budget by simply regrowing vegetables from leftover scraps. This could be done with foods such as Romaine lettuce, green onion, ginger, celery and avocado. Visit this link to see how. Most of these ideas don't require a plot of land.

If you don't mind watching videos and taking notes, there is an excellent video series on YouTube, called "Great Depression Cooking" hosted by Clara Cannucciari, who lived through the Great Depression. In her videos, she shared the recipes that helped her family survive the Depression years and to come out of them healthy and well-fed. Sadly, Clara died recently. But, she shared a lot of valuable information with her viewers before her passing.

I plan to add more to this posting as information becomes available to me.

Duane Browning