Talking Around the Turkey

Today, I found a short but entertaining article that really seems to offer the complete Thanksgiving package.  The article primarily concerns the economics of Thanksgiving — the dollars, gallons of gas and sky miles that support our Turkey day festivities. It’s a fascinating illustration of how momentous a social and financial event Thanksgiving has become.

But the real highlight of the article is the author’s intended use for this information: as a rescue raft for tense family conversation and unexpected twists and turns at the table.

Per the author’s instructions, if you’re in a pinch, say “Hey, did you know that…” and then choose from the article’s handy list of conversation starters.

I’ve included some previews from each topic category below:

  • The Road

AAA, the auto club, predicts 46.3 million people will be driving at least 50 miles for the Thanksgiving weekend. That’s the most for the holiday since 2007 and up 4.2 percent from last year.

  • The Sky

This is the busiest air-travel time of the year. Airlines for America, the airline trade group, says 24.6 million passengers will fly over the Thanksgiving holiday period.

  • The Food

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the typical 16-pound turkey will cost $21.65.

  • The Shopping

The National Retail Federation predicts a 4.1 percent increase in holiday sales this season.  Since the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924, most Americans have regarded the following day as the “official” start of the holiday shopping season.

Happy Holidays, friends, and remember your statistics! You never know when you may need them.

Stay Warm, and Safe, for the Holidays

While the next month truly is the most wonderful time of year, it also inevitably brings its share of stresses and concerns. Activities such as decorating, hosting family and preparing meals are challenging but essential to the holiday experience.

With so much to do, it’s inevitable that things will occasionally go wrong. ER visits spike around holidays. And while driving during these busy times is always inherently dangerous, there has also been a drastic jump in decorating injuries over the past four years. Yes, decorating injuries.

While it can be fun to marvel at his poor decisions concerning ladders, lights and staple guns – especially when performed by Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation – these missteps can lose their humor when they become real-life incidents.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), an average of about 250 serious, decor-related injuries occur per day in December. The most frequently reported injuries are falls and lacerations, often involving ladders. The CPSC also lists candles and dry Christmas trees as major sources of concern for national fire departments and emergency rooms.

It’s definitely worth reading through this helpful list of safe decorating practices put together by the CPSC. No checklist or guide, however, can replace good old common sense. Enjoy the holidays, but please use your head. Hopefully you won’t land on it.

Looking at Colors

Where did the term “red tape” come from? Why are the Simpsons yellow? Why is green considered a bad omen in NASCAR?

This month, NPR is answering every question you’ve ever had about color, and more.

The special series, called “Color Decoded: Stories that Span the Spectrum,” is both web- and radio-based. I first discovered the series while listening to “Morning Edition” last week. Since then, been I’ve following up online and trying to catch a new topic tidbit whenever I can.

I’m blown away by the scope of NPR’s examination of color. The goal of the series has been to remind readers and listeners just how important and reflective color can be in life, culture and nature. To that extent, I think the program has exceeded expectations. One specific focus in the series is everything blue – its uniqueness in nature, our apparent fascination with the pigment and its conflicting connotations throughout human history.

Here are two articles that take a crack at defining the meaning of “true blue”:

NPR has also created a centralized, interactive color feature here. This is one of the best collections of color facts and “a-ha” realizations you’ll find anywhere on the internet. Check it out!

California Cola Tax

The old saying goes: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

That attitude proved itself this week in Berkeley, Calif., where voters have finally passed the nation’s first soda tax. According to NPR, more than 30 cities and states across the country have previously attempted to pass such a tax, but have failed due to big spending by the soda industry. Whether Berkeley’s ballot measure is an anomaly or a positive sign of things to come, this small public health initiative deserves some attention.

Berkeley’s soda tax will be levied at a penny per ounce and is estimated to raise over $1 million per year for the city. Proceeds will go to a general fund that will ultimately support a new city council panel for community health initiatives.

According to Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, sodas are now the primary source of added sugar in the American diet. That added sugar is linked to increasing rates of obesity and diabetes in the United States.

Interestingly, public initiatives to originate in Berkley historically achieve broad success. Berkeley was the first city to pass a clean indoor air (i.e., non-smoking) ordinance in 1981. In the mid-70s, the city was the first community to introduce curb cuts, which are now a fundamental sidewalk design principle that benefit disabled citizens and pedestrians alike.

Only time will tell if this measure has the impact of its predecessors.

A Million Ways I’m Being Listed to Death

Internet lists are everywhere— “8 Mistakes You Should Never Make on Linkedin,” “10 Seafood Facts That Will Surprise You” and “10 Disturbing Tales from Scandinavian Folklore.”

If you’re like me, abuse and overabundance has driven you to avoid clicking on anything that remotely resembles a list. What’s unfortunate is that there, in fact, are some internet lists that are actually worth reading. Today, I found one of these rare gems.

Since 2007, the Cleveland Clinic has compiled an annual “Top 10 Medical Innovations List,” which contains new treatments and technologies that are expected to transform patient care and save lives. This year’s list, which was revealed last week, does not disappoint.

Here are a few of next year’s most promising medical innovations, according to the list:

  • Mobile Stroke Units— Think of this as videoconferencing for ambulances. Hospital neurologists will be able to read symptoms and instruct paramedics on care before a patient arrives at the hospital. This link between doctors and paramedics could revolutionize treatment for a time-sensitive medical condition. During a stroke, a few minutes can be difference between life and death or brain damage and recovery.
  • Painless blood testing— Cheaper and faster blood tests that eliminate the need for needles will be welcomed by doctors, nurses and patients alike. This new technology takes blood from your finger tip and can reportedly perform more than 100 tests on a single drop of blood.
  • Dengue fever vaccine— 50 to 100 million people are infected with this mosquito-borne virus each year. A vaccine has been developed and tested by French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi, and is expected to reach market by the end of 2015.

Click here to read the full list of 2015’s most promising medical innovations.

The Future of Security

It may be hard to believe, but the password era may be coming to a close. Personal passwords can now generally broken in 20 minutes. While odd and uncomfortable to consider, according to this recent NPR article, a successful mass transition will likely occur through a combination of timing, branding and audience loyalty.

Password replacement ideas are now being openly floated, and here are two of the most recent (and ambitious) possibilities:

Digits: Last week, Twitter held its first web developer conference in over four years. During the conference, the company unveiled a new suite of tools called “Fabric.” Digits, a part of Fabric, is Twitter’s replacement for the online password. The concept is simple and may already be familiar to many people: instead of having a username and password, Digits simply harnesses your phone. Enter your phone number, wait for a text message with a confirmation code, enter the code, and you’re in. These codes expire and can be used just once.

Google Security Key: Last week, Google also announced its own password replacement: Security Key. Security Key is an actual key that will be plugged into a USB port. While you still need to enter a password online, you will communicate more directly with the password-protected sites you are accessing.  Google Security Key won’t require a cellular data connection, like Digits or ApplePay. However, it will require use of the Google Chrome browser. It will also mean that you need to keep up with a key, however, which could create an entirely new set of problems.

The Proper Length

In a 140-character world, how long is too long?

Earlier this year, Buffer’s Kevan Lee pieced together a research-based guide that pinpointed the ideal lengths of different forms of online content. (In case you’re curious, your tweets should be 100 characters.)

In total, Lee examined three social media outlets (Twitter, Facebook and Google+), and six universal content elements (headlines, paragraph width, email subject lines, presentation length, title tags and domain names). While incredibly useful, Lee’s work is also somewhat contradictory—his findings are spelled out in a lengthy, 2,600-word article!

Seemingly realizing his mistake, Lee teamed up with analytics company SumAll this month and produced a beautiful, fun infographic to display his findings. Lee also used this opportunity to revisit and expand his list topics:  the infographic now includes guidelines on the lengths of YouTube videos, podcasts, SlideShare presentations and LinkedIn posts.

Here are a few infographic highlights:

  • LinkedIn: “If you’re marketing to businesses, write a 16-25 word post.  If you’re marketing to consumers, though, a 21-25 word post could get the most shares.”
  • YouTube: “The most popular videos are pretty short.  After analyzing the length of the top 50 YouTube videos, the average length was 2 minutes 54 seconds.”
  • Facebook: “Posts with 40 characters receive 86 percent more engagement than posts with a higher character count.”

You can view Lee’s infographic here.  And remember: simplicity is key!

What Will Become of Wallets?

This week, Morning Edition did a great story highlighting the all new Apple Pay wallet. The story posed a simple question: Will my leather wallet still be in my back pocket or my purse in a year?

The short answer is “probably,” according to technology correspondent Aarti Shahani. In her own words, “the move could be a major change in how we shop, or it could end up as a blip on the map that fades away.”

Shahani’s coverage examined two key elements of Apple’s new payment system — convenience and security. Here’s how she broke these qualities down:

Convenience. In theory, the draw of Apple Pay is to centralize and eliminate your physical credit cards. However, credit cards are already compact, sleek and not terribly inconvenient. Apple Pay is also only available on the new iPhone 6. To the company’s credit, though, Apple does have brand recognition, deep pockets and signed deals in place with all major credit card companies.

Security. Apple Pay uses Touch ID to verify payments from an iPhone. This security technology is paired with a new chip inside the iPhone 6 that generates what Apple calls a “digital token” during a transaction. According to Shahani, this digital token is being hailed as the next big step in consumer security.

On Monday morning, 220,000 retail locations began accepting Apple Pay. Big name chains include McDonald’s, Macy’s, Chevron, Walgreens and Panera Bread. Apple promises an even longer list of participating retailers as soon as the ink dries on new agreements. However, only time will tell whether Apple Pay will be accepted both by stores, and the general public.