Friday, March 28, 2014

Yawning Equals Love in Relationships

Look over at your spouse or significant other. Give a big yawn. Did they yawn back? Did they take a while to yawn, or did they do it right away?

If they didn't yawn back or took several seconds, they may not love you anymore.

I may be overstating things, but according to a 2011 study by the University of Pisa, yawns are especially contagious when you're with close family members, such as your parents, siblings, or children. When they yawn, you yawn. When you yawn, they yawn.

(And did you yawn because I keep saying "yawn?" I've already yawned four times since I started this column. Also, if you did, it means you really like me.)

According to a story on the Mother News Network website, the researchers also found that yawning is less contagious when you're only with friends, and even less so among strangers. The closer your relationship is, the faster the yawn jumps from sender to receiver.

In other words, the longer it takes your significant other to yawn, the less likely he or she may still be in love with you. If they do it quickly, however, you're still golden, and he or she might even get you some ice cream if you ask nicely.

But, can you use yawning as sort of a love gauge, to tell whether someone was actually into you or not?

Why not? People are insecure and worry about this sort of thing all the time, which means they'll fall prey to unproven scientific theories found only in newspaper humor columns. But I've got real science backing me up.

In his new book, "The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons," science writer Sam Keen asked the question, what if you could tell whether someone was falling in love or out of love with you by measuring their yawn delay?

If the other person really likes you, says Keen, the delay will be shorter; if they like you less, the delay will be longer. And if you could graph out the results over a long period of time, you'd be able to tell whether your life partner still loved you, or was sick of your face.

It's a less sophisticated version of the old Love Tester game found at amusement parks.

It all has to do with empathy and the other person's feelings toward us. People tend to feel empathy toward the people they love, which could be the feelings the yawn tap into. We can even look to the canine world for another example of contagious yawning.

According to a 2012 study at the University of Porto in Portugal, dogs "catch" our yawns because they empathize with us. The researchers chose 29 dogs that had lived with their humans for at least six months, and they played audio recordings of yawns of their owners, a female stranger, and a computer simulation. They found that nearly half the dogs yawned when they heard a recording of a human yawn, but they yawned nearly five times more when it was their own human doing the yawning.

If your dog yawns when you do, it means he loves you. If your wife doesn't, it means you'd better buy her some flowers and take her out to dinner. Either that, or your dog just doesn't realize you're a selfish jerk who'd rather go out drinking with the guys instead of spending time with him.

Other studies have shown that people will yawn when they think about yawning — I'm up to seven so far — when they see attractive strangers do it, or in some cases, when they see pictures or sculptures of people yawning, or when they're about to have sex.

Of course, yawning before you're about to have sex may be why your spouse is no longer in love with you. (However scientists say yawning before sex is actually a good thing, because it's a sign of arousal, not boredom.)

But back to dogs and our significant others: if dogs yawn because they empathize and love us as owners, then this may also explain why our spouses don't yawn when we do — well, your spouse anyway; my wife still loves me. She even yawned when I asked her to read this.

The Mother Nature Network suggested — tongue-in-cheekily — that if you really wanted to see if someone was into you, take a stopwatch and start keeping track of the contagious yawns between you and your sweetie. If the delay grows after time, there's a problem. If it gets shorter, that's a good thing.

Of course, if you're the type of person who needs to measure another person's yawns just to see if they love you or not, you may have a whole other set of problems.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on

Like this post? Leave a comment.

Friday, March 21, 2014

No More Red Pens at English School

Red ink on student papers is mean and bullying and hurts precious snowflakes' feelings. At least that's what administrators at one school in Cornwall, England are worried about. They're no longer allowing teachers to use red pens to mark their students' work because it might make them feel bad. Instead, teachers will use green pens to give feedback, and students will use purple pen to write responses.

According to a story in The Cornishman newspaper, the Mounts Bay Academy is worried that students will feel discouraged when they see all the red markings on their papers. So rather than help students do better, teachers are instead working to make green the new "I suck at math" trigger color, which will then be the subject of stories like this in about 20 or 30 years.

Either that, or every kid will just be patted on the head and given a participation trophy.

Head teacher (which is British for "principal") Sara Davey told the Cornishman, "Students make more progress if (grading) is a dialogue and the new system is designed to help that. A lot of primary schools are already using a similar system amazingly well and I think it was felt that red ink was a very negative colour."

Davey was then distracted by a unicorn farting rainbows and chased after it.

Vice principal (British for "assistant head teacher") Jennie Hick clarified Davey's statement. "Switching to the new marking system is certainly not about us going all soft and fuzzy," she told The Cornishman, which was the signal that they are totally going all soft and fuzzy.

"Students make more progress if it is a dialogue and the new system is designed to help that. A teacher will make two or three positive comments about a student’s homework and point out perhaps one thing that will take them to the next stage. By asking students to respond with purple pen forces them to read the teacher’s comments and helps them to create a real conversation."

You hit full soft and fuzzy when you said "dialogue."

When I was a kid, we didn't have these kinds of conversations with teachers. Back then, the conversation was "you got this many wrong. Now get out your math book." When a kid — usually me — didn't understand something, we didn't have a chance to go back and do it again. Everyone else was moving on and you just had to "work harder."

Later, the conversation was usually about applying myself and having a lot of potential and blah blah blah. (I never really listened, but it was probably something really important.)

We just lived with the red pen. We didn't see it as something negative or something to be feared. The red ink didn't represent mistakes, it showed them. We were the ones who had made the mistakes, and it wouldn't have mattered if the pen was red, green, purple, or a soft pinkish russet. The mistakes were ours, and those were the things to be stressed over, not the ink.

The Campaign for Real Education (CRE) agrees with me. (Well, not so much agrees with me as said the same thing I said a couple days earlier. But they are taking a stand against the issue and have put a frowny face sticker on it.)

"The problem with using a colour like green or blue is that it's not clear," said CRE chair Chris McGovern. "A lot of schools seem to have a culture where they don't like criticizing children but actually (the old red pen system) helps them."

He also called BS on the school's claim that red ink is too hard for kids to read. I have never, ever had any difficulty reading red ink on my school papers. Of course, I had plenty of practice, so I may have an advantage over the Mounts Bay Academy snowflakes.

Changing the color of pens assigns too much power to the symbols and trappings of a grading system, and not enough to the performance. The school shouldn't be worried about the color of the marks on students' paper, they should worry about why there are so many of them.

Making mistakes is a part of learning. We learn from our errors and how to avoid them in the future. By softening up the colors of pens, Mounts Bay have turned the conversation from "this is how you can get better" to "your mistakes aren't as important as your feelings." Let the teachers grade in whatever colors they want to use and focus more on providing the best education.

And if I could get a couple gold stars, that would be awesome.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on

Like this post? Leave a comment.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Your Home Is Trying To Kill You

In 2008, 57,612 people were injured by their televisions.

I'm not sure exactly how, or in what manner, but according to the Statistical Abstract of the United States, nearly 58,000 people were injured enough by their televisions to require emergency medical attention.

This doesn't include the number of people who were injured, but didn't go to the ER, which means the number could be higher. Much higher.

The Statistical Abstract of the United States is a government report that looks at how the 319 million people in the United States have lived, worked, played, and injured themselves in the last several years. It includes data from the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Economic Analysis, and "many other Federal agencies and private organizations."

In this case, this injury data — Table 197, "Injuries Associated With Selected Consumer Products: 2008" — was compiled by the National Safety Council of Itasca, Illinois.

What's worse, according to the report, "product involvement does not necessarily mean the product caused the accident."

In other words, 58,000 people may have been injured in a TV-related accident, but not by the actual TV itself. I don't know if this includes people who suffered epileptic seizures watching My Little Pony, or had a heart attack yelling at the stupid ref who missed the stupid pass interference call during the stupid game.

In comparison, only 24,721 people were injured by computers or electronic games. But when the 2014 table comes out, I will be proud to know one of the people who was actually injured by her own computer. A couple weeks ago, my friend, Kelly, dropped her MacBook Air on her foot and may have broken it.

Her foot, not the computer.

When Kelly showed me a picture of the bruise (her foot was in one of those puffy medical boots), I said I thought the Airs just floated down like a piece of paper.

Not true. Apparently, Macbook Airs are so streamlined that they can reach terminal velocity in just 18 inches, and will race screaming to the ground, corner first, unless you try to put your foot out to break its fall. The computer was fine, it was the foot that got broken.

Irony, thou art a cruel witch.

We're also more likely to injure ourselves in our kitchens or dining rooms — there were 317,856 table-related injuries — than we are with our own construction equipment. In 2008, 91,701 people injured themselves with a saw (hand or power), but 98,456 people injured themselves with tableware and flatware.

Not knives, mind you. Tableware and flatware. Plates, saucers, spoons, and forks.

And gravy boats.

Given the weird and random nature of things that happen to people in this country, I wanted to know if someone was injured with a gravy boat, because that would be cool. After all, we all know someone who will one day put down his beer and holler "Hey y'all, watch what I can do with this gravy boat."

I checked Google to see if there were any reports of a gravy boat injury, but I had no luck. Of course, anyone actually injured this way would be too embarrassed to blog about it or mention it on Twitter.

"Holiday tip: Gravy boats suck as real boats. #IHateThanksgiving"

Of course, the risk of injuries due to flatware and tableware are all too real, especially since Table 1239 — "Adult Participation in Selected Leisure Activities by Frequency: 2009" — says that 19.5 million people entertained people in their homes at least once a month.

How many of those 19.5 million people were injured by tableware and flatware during a dinner party? How many of our country's dinner guests were rushed to the hospital because they had been stabbed with an oyster fork, or tried surfing a gravy boat down a snow-covered hill?

Surprisingly, as dangerous as knives can be (415,539 injuries), our beds are much more dangerous. In 2008, 563,922 people sought emergency medical attention because of a bed-related injury. In fact, other than stairs and steps (1,213,555) and floors (1,209,603), our beds are the third most dangerous item in our homes. I don't know how one can injure themselves with a bed — minds out of the gutter! — but it's surprising that more people have hurt themselves with a bed than with a knife.

In the end, computers are the safest things we can have in our home, which is good because I need mine to check something on WebMD.

I just hurled a gravy boat into my television and tore my rotator cuff.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on

Like this post? Leave a comment.

Friday, March 07, 2014

EU Wants U.S. to Cut Cheese Names

You just can't please the French when it comes to words and language.

The Académie française was established in 1635 to prevent English words and other barbarisms from entering the French language. They often dictate what words are allowed or not allowed, and will even replace words like "email" and "skyscraper" with "courriel" and "gratte-ciel."

While the Académie does not have any official powers, they're like your snooty, pretentious cousin who's always correcting everyone else's grammar and makes you want to punch him in his smug little face. When it comes to their snootiness about language, they can be a royal "emmerde" (pain in the ass) about it.

Now the Académie snootiness has spread to the "rond-de-cuirs" (pen pushers, bureaucrats) in the European Union (EU). They're complaining about the way American food makers sometimes use European regional names for their food products.

According to a story on National Public Radio, as the EU and the United States negotiate the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the EU has said they want the U.S. "to prohibit food makers here from using names with historical ties to Europe."

Kyle Cherek, host of the "Wisconsin Foodie" TV show, and possible Canadian spy, says the EU may have a point.

"Roquefort has to come from that region (of France)," he told NPR, because of the local fungus that gives cheese its sharp flavor. He also believes Lambic beer (beer made from cherries or raspberries) should only refer to beer that comes from the Pajottenland region of Belgium.

By Cherek way of thinking, all other fruit beers should just be called, well, fruit beer, which makes it sound stupid.

We already have issues like this with the whole sparkling white wine versus Champagne debate. Only sparkling white wine made in the Champagne region of northeast France can carry that designation. Anything made outside that region may not be called Champagne.

Now the EU is using the same Académie française logic — if it ain't made here, it ain't named here — and is going after our cheese under the"Appellation d'Origine Controlée" (Protected Designation of Origin). This is the EU regulation that lets French, Swiss, Dutch, and Italian regions protect their Brie, Gruyere, Gouda, and Parmesan names.

The cheese names we know may end up being renamed, despite 1) the fact that American cheese makers have spent a lot of money marketing those names, and 2) the First Amendment. The government can't tell American businesses what to call, or not call, their products.

(I honestly don't know if the First Amendment applies here, but I mention it because it makes me want to shout, "You can take my Brie when you pry it from my cold, gooey fingers.")

Telling American food makers they can no longer trade on the names they've spent decades and millions of dollars promoting seems rather unfair.

But if we don't comply? The EU have been making other trade agreements with other countries to block the sale of our own foods into their countries. They're basically "mean girling" us to our other trading partners.

"Like, OMG, you guys. I just heard that Austria told Germany who told Italy who told The Netherlands who told Spain that Portugal was taking Iceland to the dance, even though Iceland totally broke up with Belgium last month! Don't speak to Portugal for the rest of the week!"

A couple of years ago, according to the NPR story, a trade agreement between the EU and South Korea "banned the sale of U.S. feta, Asiago, Gorgonzola, and fontina to Korea." Similarly, Costa Rica will no longer allow the sale of American "provolone" or "Parmesan."

But what's good for the goose is not good for the gander ("Sauce bonne pour l'oie, n'est bonne pour le jars"). We can't ask for cheddar cheese to be protected under the same Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) rules, because Cheddar is not a region in Wisconsin.

In fact, it's a small village in Somerset, England, but because cheddar cheese is made all over the world, the EU is going to have a tougher time trying to slap it with a PDO designation.

But given the way we've already had to bend on the whole Champagne/sparkling white wine issue, I think we'll eventually have to start calling our favorite cheeses by other names.

But I'm not doing anything of the sort unless they take back Brussels sprouts.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on

Like this post? Leave a comment.