Two Unscrupulous Websites to Avoid:  Ava’s Flowers & Trustpilot 

Tulips by Mitul Jhaven
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Why Ava’s Flowers & Trust Pilot are 2 Online Sites Consumers Should Avoid

This post discusses two online businesses I encountered  recently that operate deceptively and who’s business practices aren’t focused on building customer satisfaction. The sites I warn against using are:

  • Trust Pilot – This is a Business That Purports to Operate a Consumer Review Website 
  • Ava’s Flowers – Their Website Represents Them as a Local Florist That’s Conveniently Well Situated in Every Single City, Town & Village in the USA

Photo credit: caratello via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC

Introduction

Rarely do I have occasion to write such a negative post. In fact it pains me to do so. Who wants to expend energy on negativity?

What vsatips & vsatrends are all about…

The focus of my websites has always been on sharing amazing things I’ve discovered and have slowly grown to depend on because they continue being amazing. Or, I write about tips for using tools or resources that I love. Last I like to share ideas on how to accomplish challenging tasks using technology or occasionally I write about something that doesn’t fall into any one of those usual groups but that I just ran across and thought was cool enough to want to share.

What vsatips & vsatrends are not usually about is…

Writing about businesses or companies who’s poor practices garner so many customer complaints they appear to be intentionally ripping off their customers. Or, that their treatment of customers is so poor that claims of harassment aren’t infrequent. Their sole business is serving customers yet it appears they are failing monumentally and at every perceptible level. Yet their failure’s seem to not be negatively impacting their bottom line. Quite the opposite in fact appears to be the case. They appear to be financially healthy and quite possibly even flourishing. Which leads to the inevitable perception that their business practices must be balancing precariously upon a very fine line between appropriate and borderline criminal behavior.

The Sequence of Events Leading Up to My Writing These Profoundly Negative Reviews of Ava’s Flowers & Trust Pilot

Sending Mother’s Day Flowers has Become a Time-Honored Tradition

Mother’s Day this year presented some high’s and some lows for me. Included among the highs were:

  • I was the proud and happy recipient of flowers from my son’s
  • This was a first since they’ve both recently entered young adulthood.
  • Talking to them both on Mother’s Day caused me to recognize that they’ve both completely crossed that invisible line which leaves childhood fully behind and which opens up new doors for relationship bonding and exciting new avenues to explore

Some of the lows were:

  • The biggest low was that they were unwittingly scammed by a website calling themselves Ava’s Flowers.
  • Ava’s was supposed deliver a beautiful flower arrangement on Mother’s Day…instead they delivered a sorry arrangement of half browned out flowers not on Mother’s Day, but a day earlier.
  • While most florists would own up to their errors and correct them, Ava’s never even returned any of the 4 calls I made in which I left messages explaining what the problems were.
  • After discussing the problems with my son’s, which was something I’d hoped to avoid, I discovered that they were misled by Ava’s website into believing that Ava’s was a local florist.
  • Spending a lot of time on Mother’s Day and subsequent days trying to reach a resolution to the problem
Ava's & Trust Pilot's Coalition - If you do a Google Search for Ava's Flowers Reviews you'll find that there are hundreds of negative reviews out there...the only ones that seem to be positive are Trust Pilots.

Ava’s & Trustpilot’s Coalition – If you do a Google Search for Ava’s Flowers Reviews you’ll find that there are hundreds of negative reviews out there…the only ones that seem to be positive are Trust Pilots.

Ava’s Flowers is Scam Website Tricking Innocents Into Believing That They are ‘Local’

My son’s put forth some time and effort into selecting who and where they’d choose to do business for their 1st flower delivery. After reviewing the multitude of choices they selected Ava’s because they were local. Not just to my metropolitan area but to my actual suburb too. It appears that Ava’s has gone to great lengths to present their services online as local…no matter where in the USA you may reside.

I’m not quite sure how Ava’s pulls this off, but you can visit their website and see for yourself, which leads to my warning:

Buyer’s Beware of Ava’s Flower’s

Ava’s Flower’s is not a local florist. Not unless you’re from Mahwah, New Jersey. 

According to a recent local Better Business Bureau report…Ava’s Flower’s is not a reputable business. The BBB has amassed a huge number of complaints about Ava’s.

They’ve received so many complaints in fact that they published a report about Avas. You can read the BBB’s PDF report regarding Ava’s Flower’s here.

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But is Deceiving Consumers into Thinking Ava’s Flowers is Local Their Only Crime?

Sadly, no. if that were the case I wouldn’t feel compelled to be spending this beautiful spring Saturday indoors writing this negative blog post. The flowers that were delivered were substandard…over half of them were brown, broken and dying. After getting over my initial shock that my boys even thought to honor me on Mother’s Day in such a kind and loving way, I called the delivery phone number left on the little delivery card. There was nothing but a number to call.

That call led to me spending the rest of Mother’s Day trying to figure out how to remedy the situation so I could happily report back to my boys that the flowers were AMAZING and HOW MUCH I loved and appreciated them. My calls…4 of them in total weren’t returned. The only form of communication I ever received back from Ava’s Flowers was a ‘cease and desist’ order from Trust Pilot.

The Evidence Stacked Against Ava’s Flowers

ConsumerAffairs.com Lists their top 456 complaints about Ava’s Flowers on their website. If you’d like to read them on a PDF I’ve copied around the first 40 onto a PDF document you can download here.

ReviewsTalk.com is apparently a REAL review site. I say that because I found a review there which explained to me a lot about how Ava’s operates and what their true business practices are. I’ve placed a red box around the enlightening section in the screenshot below:


An online petition was signed by 411 supporters at change.org asking the City of New York to investigate all the negative complaints against Ava’s or the alias they use in NY New City Florists.

The Trustworthiness of Trustpilot’s Reviews is Questionable at Best

In case you’ve never heard of them (don’t feel bad, I hadn’t either) Trustpilot is a website purporting to be a review site for consumers. It was Trustpilot’s site that I choose…or really, that chose me as my place to register my unhappiness given the abysmal flowers I’d received from Ava’s. I say ‘chose me‘ because I searched for reviews of Ava’s and Trustpilot was the only review site alternative appearing in my search results. So I created a user account at Trustpilot purely so I could write my negative review for Ava’s Flowers.

______________________

What I discovered after receiving 4 almost immediate upvotes for my review was that within hours of my posting it…Trustpilot was contacted by Ava’s Flowers and told to unpublish my review…probably along with thousands of others I suspect…until I could prove my claim. Which I’ve spent the last few weeks attempting to do.

Restoring My Trustpilot Review Proved to Be a Time Consuming & Ultimate Utter Failure

Why, you might wonder? If Trustpilot wants to protect consumers, why would they side with the large businesses that their user base is generally writing about? That’s a great question (and one I also wondered about.) It’s one that’s been answered several times in the following articles:

Companies from Hell | Are Trustpilot Reviews Reliable?

The Guardian’s Fake Reviews Plague Consumer Websites

BBC New’s Navigating the Potentially Murky World of Online Reviews

Tech CR unch’es Trustpilot Raises $4.5m To Scale Up Trust Ratings For Shopping

David Naylor’s Google How Can You Trust Trust Pilot?

It was this third link, while reading through the comments section, that I got the answer to my question in the form of

Trustpilot’s Business Model

Rachael dale’s comment:  “Everyone knows TrustPilot business models – Trustpilot takes money from businesses to show fake positive reviews about other companies, ‘ John Lewis ‘ for instance pays a monthly fee for Trustpilot’s fake reviews and they earn a monthly fee from John lewis. Would they want to piss off John Lewis by showing bad reviews from them? No they would only want to show positive reviews about them. So they put fake reviews for such companies.'”

“If you notice there’s a pattern. After every 1 bad review there are 5 fake positive ones (only for websites they take a monthly fee for the rest its just a string of bad reviews) so as to bury a negative one on a pile of good ones so that people think OHH it does not matter they have one bad one but 5 positives.”

So in the end conclusion it’s all Lies on the Trustpilot website!

Lest you think I’m not being thorough in my research regarding Trustpilot…let me put your fears to rest. No, I’m not basing my opinion upon a handful of negative online articles. Quite the contrary in fact…I’ve spent far too much time researching this topic and fear overwhelming my readers with tons of useless data that you’d need to slog through in order to arrive at any useful kernels of wisdom.

Below PlanetMaketing ‘s comparison confirms what we’ve already learned and adds a bit of new information about Trustpilot’s business practices.

PlanetMarketing’s 2015 Comparison of 3 Reviews Websites as Business Alternatives Doesn’t Recommend Trustpilot (refer to the screenshot below)

What’s a little scary to me is how huge Trust Pilot actually is…granted this was found at their own website!


In fact, if their advertising is to be believed, the web building engine I use for vsatrends, WordPress.com is a client! Which makes me think that most of their clientele are garnered using ‘threat based’ motivation versus positive.

Some of Trust Pilot's Business Clients

Above:  Some of Trust Pilot’s Business Clients

But their business model does seem to be the guiding force behind their representation of consumer’s reviews. When you first arrive at Trustpilot’s site as a new consumer you’re met with the screenshot below…which is actually a constantly changing update of their most recent reviews. I watched it for a while to see if there were ever an instance of negative reviews outweighing positive ones in numbers…but never encountered that phenomenon.

In fact I’ve compiled so much compelling evidence proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that both Ava’s Flowers and Trustpilot are websites that consumers should try to veer completely clear of in order to remain safe online, that I’m adding an Additional Resource section below for anyone who might be interested in additional information.

Fear of Identity Theft is Just One Reason Why Consumer’s Should Steer Clear of Trustpilot

The following screenshot is taken from Wikipedia’s article on Trustpilot.

Florists are The Perfect Business Partner for Fake Online Review Websites

Why do I say that? Because it dawned on me as I’ve been researching and writing this, that florists provide a product which their customer’s generally don’t have a lot of recourse for when the florist fails to deliver. One big reason is because the recipient isn’t generally the purchaser. Therefore websites like Trustpilot which consider a purchase Receipt as the gold standard for proof when one of their business clients objects to a consumer’s negative review, can easily unpublish the unhappy person’s review…which is exactly what occurred in my case. What evidence can a flower recipient really provide to one of the big review scammers?

In my case the ‘proof’ I provided to Trustpilot when requested included:

  1. Several photographs of the actual Flowers which could be verified with EXIF and META data because I left that information intact
  2. The paper documentation I received along with the flowers, which included a ‘typed’ Mother’s Day message from my sons, my address, the date of delivery (which was the wrong date…they were supposed to be delivered on Mother’s Day but were actually delivered a day earlier.)
  3. The New Jersey Better Business Bureau’s report of Ava’s poor customer relations (included in the resource section at the end.)

But none of my evidence was proof enough for Trustpilot. I’ve also included all of my email correspondence with Trustpilot in the Additional Resources at the end of this post.

So Ava’s sells a product in which they mislead consumer’s into believing will be provided locally that they have absolutely no motivation to actually provide…because the recipient has no means of recourse if they don’t deliver. I’m learning that most of the big review sites operate with business models like Trustpilot’s, so their motivation is purely to please the businesses they have as clients or to present the most advantageous picture possible to potential new clients.

It’s no wonder then that almost all of the florist reviews that you see online are positive bordering upon glowing.

The UK’s Register article Is iFlorist the greatest website in the universe, ever?

I don't have a green thumb but my back yard flowers are far better than Ava's

I don’t have a green thumb but my back yard flowers are far better than Ava’s!

Additional Resources

A PDF showing pages and pages of negative reviews of Ava’s Flowers on Trustpilot specifically surrounding the date for Mother’s Day 2017

It wasn’t easy now that I understand Trustpilot’s leanings towards always displaying deceptively positive reviews at the consumer’s expense…but I finally figured out how to use their website to see the ‘true’ reviews of a business. Which is how I was able to find all the negative ones contained in this PDF.

Comments

Please feel free to leave me any comments below.

Who Among Us Hates Apple’s Newest News App?

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Dear Apple, Please Do Away With the News App & Give Us a Weather App In its Place

Sincerely, Apple Users’ of the world

You can more of ‘My Open Letter to Apple’ towards the bottom of this post.

Apple's New's App Promises More Than it Delivers

Apple’s New’s App Promises More Than it Delivers

The Bad News About Apple’s Newest New’s App

I just deleted Apple’s newest New’s App. It’s buggy and awful like it’s predecessors. This for me beg’s a bigger question…why can’t Apple get it right with a News type of app? My followup question is of course…shouldn’t they should just give up on the concept of a News app completely?

My most recent frustration emanates from my research today looking for things for our new kitchen. As I was searching for things using Safari, in at least three instances I’ve been forced into using the News app instead of being able to read the article on Safari. The problem with this is twofold. First I have to read the article in iPhone mode which means portrait mode on my iPad and it’s just an unattractive, awkward and an old method of doing things. Second and the bigger problem is that once I’m in the news app I can’t do anything with the content from there. I can’t share it with anyone, I can’t save a photograph from within an article…in fact the only thing that I can do is to copy the entire textual content of the article and paste it into something else which is usually NOT what I want.

Apple has been trying to find a way to serve us our news and our magazine subscription content almost from the iPad’s inception in 2010. They’ve failed abysmally with every attempt. In fact, their failures are of such an epic proportion that when a new iteration of this appears I don’t even bother opening it. I’ve taken in recent years to always quickly moving it into a folder I keep which houses all the unused Apple apps that I can’t delete.

The Good News About Apple’s New’s App

Just so I don’t sound like I’m totally hating here, there is one good aspect about the app…sometimes. When is does work it can be incredibly nice looking…very Flipboardesque (which is probably why Flipboard is more than bothered by it…see the screenshot below.)

My Google search results for 'Apple's terrible New's App'

My Google search results for ‘Apple’s terrible New’s App’

The other good news is that as of ios 10, Apple finally has given users’ a way to delete ‘core’ apps. Deleting an Apple app is just like deleting any other. Long press on it until it wiggles and then tap on the X.

No X Means PhotoBooth Can't Be Deleted

No X Means PhotoBooth Can’t Be Deleted

Incidentally, I just realized that not all of Apple’s core apps can really be deleted. Photo Booth cannot be deleted. I’m not sure why this is, and I’d say it was a oversite if not for the fact that the app doesn’t appear in the list of apps under General – Settings – Storage, which would be another method of deleting it. So for now the widely disliked Photo Booth app poses a unique and puzzling exception.

Who Among My Reader’s Thinks Apple Should Cut Their Losses & Abandon the Idea of News App Completely?

Personally I get my news using other methods…and I’m presently writing a post about that. So I’ve never had need of an Apple app for this purpose. Am I unique? I tend to think not, but maybe I’m wrong. Please let me know in the comments section at the bottom if I am.

My Theory Why Apple Will Never Abandon the New’s App

The only reason I can think of explaining why Apple continues year after year to try and force the issue of a New’s app, is this. Because Apple is motivated by profit incentives, and their New’s app offers profit potential. I think that Apple must be earning a percentage for each of the subscriptions to magazines and news services that are offered through the app. Am I wrong? Frankly I don’t know if I’m right or not. I would be interested in getting to know the truth…but I suspect I am right.

What Should Apple Use to Replace the Doomed News App?

I’m so glad you asked me that question, because the answer has been upsetting me moderately for a while now.

Apple actually has produced quite a few useful apps that they’ve chosen to not make available on to the millions of iPad users around the world. Why they’ve taken this stance is anyone’s guess! I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why Apple wouldn’t want iPad users to have use of such handy tools as calculators or weather reports!

Does Anyone Really Know Why Apple Thinks iPad Users Don’t Need Useful Tools Like Calculators or Weather Reports?

If someone does know, I’d be grateful if you’d clue me in! Because right now, this blatant misconception really irks me! How arrogant must Apple executives be for them to think that they know us and our needs better than we know ourselves!  That’s the only kind of thinking for me that’s plausible enough to lead Apple executives to their blanket assumption that their denial of the usage of their ‘stock‘ or ‘core‘ apps by iPad users isn’t just OK, but something we need! This leads me to pose the question…

Who in bloody #@!! does Apple think they are that they can judge my needs better than I can?

The answer to that question lies at the very heart of the major difference between Android and Apple users  worldwide. Apple has chosen to use what’s oftentimes referred to as a ‘sand boxed‘ approach for managing their users.

Apple’s ‘Sand Boxing’ Practices are Meant To Protect Users…Sadly, In This Instance Apple Actually Harms Their Users Instead

You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘sand boxing’ before. It’s been bandied about for years, but you may not have entirely understood what it means.

Think of it like this:

Imagine a sand box like the square wooden ones most of my peers from the Baby Boom generation grew up with. Within the protective wood-frame structure that corrals all the sand keeping it from spilling out onto the nicely manicured lawn surrounding it, where we kids used to sit and play… sometimes for hours on end.

Now, in my illustration let’s replace those kids with millions of Apple’s iPhone and iPad users. Let’s replace the wooden frame with an invisible barrier, similar to a firewall,  that keeps users inside safe and all the bad stuff out. Once you’ve done that, you should be able to visualize what is meant by Apple’s restrictive sand boxing practices which grossly limits user privileges.

So you can see now how Apple’s sand box effect is intended to protect users…and in many instances it does. In fact it’s worked so well that user’s of Apple devices generally don’t need to worry too much about viruses or malware. Apple’s sand boxing has protected us…but it restricts us too…sometimes unnecessarily. Many would argue always unnecessarily.

I suspect Apple’s stance would be that anyone is welcome to find free versions of apps similar to the ones that they restrict use of by only allowing iPhone usage. While that is true it’s exactly part of the harm I was referring to above. It can take hours upon hours of my valuable time trying to find acceptable replacements that both work and don’t overtax my iPad’s battery with incessantly running ads bordering on malware in the background.

So their answer seems to connote a form of tunnel vision on their part in which they are only half recognizing the full situation they’ve placed users in.

While yes, there are many, many apps available in the app  which replicate Apple’s stock ones, finding a good one is onerous at best, and  downright frustrating at worst. Even if I do find acceptable replacements for apps which should have been included in the first place. Every year or two I’ll need to revisit the task of finding a new calculator or weather app, among others again. Why? Because each September when a new ios is released, every app developer must update their app in order to have run well under the new ios.

Some app developers do undertake that task. But many more don’t after the first few years. I suspect that many app builders have had a rude awakening the first time that this occurred and they took on the updating task begrudgingly. But then after a few years time passed they decided that the tangible gains received from their efforts just weren’t worth the added cost in time and labor…so for all practical purposes they abandon their apps. But not completely. They leave their apps in the App Store available to any sucker who might be dumb enough to buy them without reading user reviews’ first. So they may continue to earn marginal profits for several more years. But the apps themselves really don’t work well anymore.

That’s why I’m forced every couple of years into taking on the onerous task of reexamining the entire App Store for certain basic tools that I need like a calculator. That task wouldn’t be so onerous if Apple would dedicate their resources towards fixing the App Store, because everyone who’s ever searched for an app knows that the App Store is broken and has been almost from day one. Naturally Apple executives know this too. In fact that’s the reason why a few years back when Tim Cook announced that Phil Schiller would be taking the App Store under his wing, Apple users around the world rejoiced!

Sadly, our high expectations were dashed when Phil too either abandoned the project of failed in his efforts to remedy the situation. Many, many angry and frustrated customers have loudly and publicly proclaimed their utter disgust at the whole situation. Lest you doubt my assessment of this what follows is evidence. The screenshot below is a note in my Apple Note’s app where I’ve listed links to some of the top websites that write about a variety of Apple’s and product news…in this case they’ve all writtenOpen Letters to Apple imploring them to fix the App Store.

IMG_6253

Here’s the thing…

I don’t really want to think in this negative manner because I really, really love my Apple devices, which you’d see if you read my very long but completely heartfelt and utterly enthusiast review of the new iPad 5. In it I blatantly proclaim my belief that this new iPad is the best one Apple has ever made. I literally gush about all of it’s amazing features, and almost state outright that everyone in the world should own one of these…almost.

Getting back to my ‘here’s the thing’ statement…frankly I feel I’ve been boxed into a corner here. There are no other plausible explanations available to me to explain Apple executive’s actions that I can think of. It comes down to arrogance or tunnel vision regarding your customer’s needs.

The apps already exist, so Apple  doesn’t  need to expend any of their own resources to provide them to us.

Furthermore, they would be helping users more than it might seem on the surface. Not only would they be providing some real value to their customer base in terms of providing them with better life and productivity tools. But they’d significantly be improving everyone’s productivity by removing a set of onerous tasks that keep resurfacing annually when a new ios is released which we are eventually forced to update to.
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So I’ve decided to include my own ‘Open Letter’ to Apple:

My Open Letter to Apple Requesting Stock Apps Be Made Available to iPad Users

Dear Apple, can you please allow me to use the iPhone apps shown below on my iPad too? Personally I know I would benefit greatly by having any or all of these iPhone apps on my iPad.

While your thinking about my request, why not also think about getting rid of the News app entirely?

Below is a list of some the app’s you could replace the News App with:

  • How about the Weather app?
  • How about the Calculator app?
  • How about the Stocks & Bond’s app?
  • How about the Health app?
  • How about the Activity app?
  • How about the Wallet app?
  • How about the Watch app?
  • How about the Compass or the Level app?

And my personal favorite…

  • How about a video screen recording app?

This video screen recording app would allow people to take a video of what’s happening on their iPad or iPhone’s screen. This would prove to be infinitely more useful to me and to millions of other users around the world than the News app currently is.

To my readers: For some unknown reason, Apple has for many years taken an active stance against allowing a screen recording app to be made available in the App Store. This has resulted in a never-ending and revolving scenario in which someone sneaks these capabilities into an app that’s approved for sale. News of this is leaked around the world and thousands if not millions of users download the app and begin using it. 

Apple must be monitoring those same networks in which this news is shared so that in a few short days the app,is removed  for the App Store. Worse yet is that any video footage shot using the app is apparently rendered unusable by Apple’s revocation of a certificate of trust that was attached to the app.

Back to my open letter to Apple: Your actions in not allowing any good apps for this purpose to remain available on the app store has forced users to side load buggy solutions instead.

I, myself have never been fortunate or quick enough to actually obtain one of these apps during the brief time it was available via the App Store. So I’ve resorted to the side loading alternative, and let me state for the record…this is a horrible solution, which may end up damaging the iPad used to side load it at best and places all of my personal identity information at risk in a worst case scenario. 

So Apple, please, if you can’t do that, can you at least explain to me and to the millions of other users out there who so desperately need this tool too, why not? What your thinking is behind this self- imposed ban?

Thank You,

Sincerely,

vsajewel 


Some of Apple’s Apps In-house Developed Apps That are Available in the App Store

It's interesting that Apple doesn't allow reviews on many stock apps

It’s interesting to note that oftentimes Apple doesn’t allow reviewers to write reviews of many of their own stock apps…I discovered this when I wondered what reviewers had to say about the News App.

Comments

Please let me know below if you share my frustration with Apple corporation and their choice to dictate in a ‘micro-management’ sort of way, who can and can’t benefit from using their apps?

Roundup of Group Video Chatting Apps for ios | March 2017

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FaceTime is Apple's Video Chat App

Introduction

I want to have a group video chat and was looking into whether or not FaceTime supports that feature yet. It appears that FaceTime does not yet support group chats. This post is actually a series of 3 articles that I copied and am reprinting pretty much verbatim. Each one discusses a Group Video Chat App or Apps, that work on ios as well as what features the apps include, as of of March 2017.

For each article the title links to the main article itself and the author’s name appears right before the the first paragraph on the left.

8 Best Video Chat Apps

Jam Kotenko’s article for GottaBeMobile.com is really great. Had I found this first, I would have looked no further…but I found it last, which is why the other 2 are included. But the other 2 articles, discussing Fam and Houseparty are unique in some senses, so it’s nice to know about them too I think. But Kotenko’s article is the most comprehensive I’ve encounter in a very long time on the subject, and I’m thrilled to be able to share it with my readers.

In addition to great writeups on each service, there are links to each platform’s version, as well as helpful videos about each one.

I’ve also included  reader’s comments at the bottom, because they add additional information that’s also helpful.

Gottabemobile.com
JAM KOTENKO
12/23/2016

Video chatting is an important part of Internet culture. It is a great way to connect with people who are important to us, no matter where they are in the world. Of course, having access to the best video chat apps is also crucial, and while there are many options out there, only a few are deemed well-designed and easy to use, with all the important features provided.

Here are a few video chat services for your consideration, most of which are available not only on both iOS and Android platforms, but on the desktop as well.

1. Skype (Free on Android, iOS, and Desktop)

Skype is the pioneer of video chat apps, and since its initial public beta version release back in 2003, it has steadily grown its number of registered users. The service is heavily ingrained into the online chatter’s psyche that the name has become a verb almost everyone recognizes – “I’ll Skype you!” means you’ll be seeing each other’s faces on your chosen device. If they’re not available, that’s OK – you can leave them a video message.

Skype has had the group video feature enabled for quite some time now, and allows you to converse via webcam with up to 25 people, making it a valuable tool for bridging distances between colleagues, friends, and loved ones.

2. Hangouts (Free on Android, iOS, and Desktop)

Hangouts is an instant messaging and video chat platform developed by Google – that fact alone should be enough to give you an idea of the many things you can do with the service. You can video chat for free – both via Wi-Fi and mobile networks – with up to ten contacts, all while being able to share your desktop screen, slap stickers onto faces, and share photos, among other things.

3. Facebook Messenger (Free on Android, iOS and Desktop)

Messenger is Facebook’s all-powerful chat client. While it’s got all the bells and whistles you’ll want in a text messaging app – including the ability to group text and use integrated services like Giphy and Uber within the app – its video call function is simple to use and reliable. The best thing about Messenger? Almost everybody is on Facebook and is therefore reachable via video call, as long as they have the app on their device or have the website open on their Web browser. (If you don’t want to deal with the information overload that usually comes with Facebook, you can contact your friends using Messenger’s dedicated website.)

Oh, and if that’s not good enough, Facebook recently updated Messenger so you can finally make group video calls, which was the only thing Skype and Hangouts had that kept Messenger from being the ultimate go-to video chat app.

4. ooVoo (Free on Android, iOS, and Desktop)

Just like the previous services, ooVoo lets you video chat for free, either one on one or with a group of up to 12 people at once. You can send text, GIFs, photos, and videos while an actual video call is in progress, allowing you to have a dynamic interaction with people you are talking to from anywhere in the world with a decent Internet or mobile network connection, whatever platform or device they are using the service on. Additionally, ooVoo lets you talk to your friends as your favorite avatar character – which you can try on and buy through the ooVoo Store – or wear a mask during a video call.

5. Tango (Free on Android and iOS)

Tango also lets you make video calls and leave video messages for free. You can also send animated stickers, add filters and masks. You can even play games with the person you are speaking to while you are in a call. While it doesn’t seem to be available on desktop, it’s very straightforward and simple to use.

6. Viber (Free on Android, iOS, and Desktop)

Viber is another straightforward video chat platform that you can use on almost any device, including your desktop. As long as the person you are talking to also has Viber installed, video calls are absolutely free. The interface is clean and user-friendly.

7. FaceTime (Pre-installed on iOS and MacOS)

If you are an Apple user, then your go-to service for video calling should be FaceTime, if only for the sole reason that it already comes pre-installed within your iOS device when you purchase it, so downloading isn’t necessary. (FaceTime isn’t readily available or might not appear on devices bought or used in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates.) Some important things to note, though: 1. Only contacts who also have iOS devices will be the only ones you can video chat with, and 2. You can only video chat with one person at a time. Having said that, using FaceTime is pretty easy and convenient.

8. Camfrog (Free on Android, iOS, and Desktop)

Finally, to wrap up this list, we’ve got Camfrog, a service that not only lets you video chat privately with your friends and loved ones, but with anyone within the Camfrog community. You can join any of the thousands of chat rooms to connect with people worldwide via video, allowing you to make new friends online, just like in the mIRC days. Proceed with caution, though, because some rooms allow explicit content that’s NSFW.

7 RESPONSES

12/23/2016
Davin Peterson

FaceTime is not the best app because Apple doesn’t make it for Android or Windows. That is the problem with Apple software, they make it for platforms. That is not fair and they should since Google & Microsoft makes apps for Apple’s platform, so Apple should make apps for their platform as well.


12/25/2016
smule sing video

My opinion is : Messenger, ooVoo, Skype, Hangouts, Tango, Viber, Camfrog, Fring, FaceTime, WeChat


12/26/2016
Markoff

ever heard about a small unknown so called WhatsApp? it has video calls as well


01/31/2017
Ana

My opinion is :  WhatsApp, Skype, Hangouts, FBK Messenger, ooVoo
Good luck


02/12/2017
Jaquline Sofia

You have shared very helpful and gorgeous apps. I always try to use the above app. But most of the times these apps are unable to make a video call in low quality network signal and 2G network.

There is no 3G network in my village, As a result, i can’t open the facebook messenger in my village.

So i installed the imo messenger. Now i can make a video call in 2G network also. I can connect to my town’s friends via imo.
By the way, thanks for share an informative article.


03/02/2017
Amber Fahad

Agree with you! Skype is my first choose for online free video calls. But I dislike the Facebook messenger video calls. Because it is very disgusting for poor video calling quality at low quality network signal. But I can make a high quality video call via skype within poor quality network also! But your information is very useful. So Thank You.


This Is the New ‘Group FaceTime’ App That Apple Didn’t Develop | Fortune.com

Why People Are Freaking Out About This New ‘Group FaceTime’ App

Fortune.com's Screenshot of the App

Fortune.com’s Screenshot of the App

[Fam App iPhone app for iMessage](https://appsto.re/us/bXQPgb.i?app=messages)

Fortune.com
Polina Marinova
Dec 19, 2016

You might have seen people excitedly tweeting in the last two weeks that “group FaceTime” is finally here. But make no mistake – it’s not tech giant Apple behind this new iMessage -based app. It’s three guys in Boston you’ve never heard of.

Giuseppe Stuto, 27, Frank Iudiciani, 23, and Kevin Flynn, 32, are the three co-founders behind the hot new live group video chat app, Fam. Launched on Dec. 5, it has already been downloaded more than 1 million times and has received hundreds of thousands social media mentions, Stuto says. As of today, Fam is featured in the No. 2 spot under “Top Free Apps” in Apple’s iMessage App Store. (For an explainer on the iMessage App Store, read this.)

Fam – Group video chatting for iMessage

Fam is a big deal because users don’t have to venture outside of iMessage, Apple’s instant messaging service. Unlike competitors such as video group chat app Houseparty, Fam lives in iMessage the way your GIF or Bitmoji keyboards do. Once you download it once through the new iMessage App Store, you can start video chats with up to nine people at a time in your existing iMessage conversations without opening a separate application. Because it runs through iMessage, it can only be used in conversations with other iPhone or iPad owners.

All of this started in September when Apple opened iMessage to developers as a platform to create apps that could include stickers, text, video and audio. At the time, Stuto and his team were working on Smack Live, a group video platform where teens would broadcast their conversations publicly with other users also using the app. The three co-founders wanted to find a way to give users a more private experience exclusively for their family and friends.

“We were trying to think of solutions to build a home for these people who wanted to use it as a private group FaceTime feature,” Stuto says.

Within two days, they had a working version of the Fam app. And within four days, they submitted the first Fam iteration to the iMessage App Store. “Fam was literally a weekend project,” Stuto says.

Fam iMessage Video Chat App
That weekend project has taken a life of its own and exploded in popularity, particularly with 13 to 22-year-olds. Though Stuto would not disclose the average time users spend interacting with the app, he said it was “millions of minutes” of video streams per day.

Smack Inc, the two-year old company behind Fam, had raised about $2.1 million in venture capital for its previous group chat apps Smack Live and SmackHigh. But since the launch of Fam, the founders had to raise an emergency interim round of financing to keep the new app afloat. “We literally wouldn’t have been able to afford our server costs for next month,” Stuto says.

Flybridge Capital, Boston Seed Capital, and Wayne Chang, who led Smack’s seed round, have re-committed in the interim round. Stuto says he’s speaking with more investors about a Series A round, which will likely close in 2017.

There are a few more kinks the company has to iron out. Right now, there are numerous steps a user has to go through to download the Fam app. (Here’s a preview: open iMessage, click the dark gray App Store icon, click the 4 dots on the bottom left, scroll left or right to find the Fam app, once you see the “create group video” button, click that button. Got it?) Still, the app has gotten more than a million downloads in spite of this.

Two, it doesn’t run on background meaning that if you want to open another app, like Facebook or Snapchat, the Fam video chat will terminate.

The Fam team is already working on solutions. The company will soon release a standalone iOS app that will take care of both issues outlined above. The iOS app would come bundled with the iMessage app, automatically installing it in the user’s iMessage. It will also allow Fam to run on background.

The biggest question mark is what’s next for the 14-day-old app. Will Apple build its own group video chat tool and eliminate the need for a product like Fam? Right now, the likely answer is no.

If Fam is successful, it gives Apple the ability to tout the innovation coming out of its new iMessage App Store. It also doesn’t hurt that millions of people are spending more and more time in iMessage.

Apple is opening up to a whole new wave of innovators and product builders,” Stuto says. “We’re fortunate enough to be here at the early wave, and I think Apple sees that.”


Meerkat Lives On As Live Group Video Chat App Houseparty

Houseparty

Houseparty

Fortune.com
Leena Rao
Sep 28, 2016

After pivoting from livestreaming video to a group video chat, Life on Air, the developer behind Meerkat, is finally ready to talk about a new app and lessons learned.

Meerket, the company’s original live streaming app, went viral just before the South by Southwest festival in 2015. With help from the huge interest in the app, it collected $14 million in venture capital from a number of VCs and Hollywood insiders.

  Houseparty - Group Video Chat AppBut the success, as with many Silicon Valley startups, was fleeting. Even though at one point Meerkat had accumulated millions of users, the app faced a tough challenge in competing in mobile livestreaming against Twitter’s rival offering, Periscope, and Facebook’s competitor, Facebook Live. While Meerkat is still in the Apple App Store, the startup behind the app has changed course and is working on something new..

That new venture is called is Houseparty, and CEO and co-founder Ben Rubin best describes it as an informal way to have group video chats on phones. After use of the livestreaming app started slowing last summer, Rubin, his COO Sima Sistani, and the team decided that the startup should focus on something new. “Retention wasn’t good, people were not coming back,” explained Rubin. “Live video is great as a feature on top of an existing social network, not as its own medium.”

Rubin and his team still wanted to focus on live mobile video, but in a more private, yet social experience. “We didn’t want to be a theatre, we wanted to be a house party,” said Rubin. By the end of February, the company had created and quietly debuted their new vision, Houseparty, in the Apple App Store. It’s also available at the Google Play store too .

In simple terms, the iOS app is a way to chat with friends and family using video. After downloading the app, users can invite contacts to become friends within Houseparty. Whenever the app is opened, friends get push notifications about it and can start to video chat. The amount of push notifications could be intrusive, but users can also turn them off. Users can add other friends to a maximum of eight people in one chat. Users can also make chats, or “rooms” private, and they can switch from room to room.

If a someone who is not a friend joins a video chat such as a friend of a friend, users get a notification that a stranger is entering the room in case they want to end the chat.

Between February and May, the app started taking off, Sistani and Rubin explained. This was partly because the startup was marketing the service at colleges and high schools in the South and Midwest. Word spread, and the app quickly gained hundreds of thousands of users, according to Rubin. At one point, it rose to number two in the Apple app store rankings for top apps.

But over the summer, Houseparty’s traffic dropped off. That’s mainly because the app had not been built to handle the load of hundreds of thousands of simultaneous video chats. So the team had to rebuild the app, and re-launched it in the app store a month ago. Now Houseparty has hit one million users (but declined to say whether these are monthly or daily users), and is growing steadily, says Rubin. Signups have quadrupled in some of markets in the past month. Sistani says that the app’s userbase skews to the under 25 crowd, with many of the users at universities and high schools.

And like Meerkat, Houseparty doesn’t yet make any revenue, and Rubin and his team have not yet thought about how to make money. The company has not yet decided whether to shut down Meerkat’s app.

As for competition, there’s no shortage of group, mobile video chat apps, including Microsoft’s Skype, and Google Hangouts. Facebook has group calling in its popular chat app Messenger and it’s likely only a matter of time before the social network adds video capabilities. There’s also Tango and Facebook-owned WhatsApp.

But Rubin claims that these apps are formal in nature, meaning you have to plan Google Hangout by sending a link around to friends. There’s not a social component to these apps, he adds. The comparison he makes is that Picasa and Flickr were great ways to share photos with people before Instagram, but when Instagram launched it added a new social element to how people viewed each others photos. “We want to do that with group video,” he said.

Even though the company has a renewed direction, there are still struggles, or “growing pains,” as reported by tech news site Recode this week. After Life On Air hired a new head of engineering from Twitter, the startup decided to restructure its engineering team, downsizing its team in Tel Aviv, Israel, and centralizing engineering staff in San Francisco. The company still has a video engineering staff in Tel Aviv, but the bulk of its 16 employees are now based in the Bay Area. Rubin adds that the company is hiring more engineers.

But Rubin and his team have resilience, if all their pivots are any indication. Meerkat was actually born from another pivot. Prior to Meerkat, Rubin and the same team had spent years of working on other unsuccessful livestreaming apps, formerly known as AIR and Yevvo. The company had just recently shifted focus to Meerkat when it caught on—albeit temporarily— in 2015.

Perhaps the fourth time is a charm for Rubin and his team. He remains optimistic despite Meerkat’s past struggles. “If we are a little but lucky and a little bit smart, maybe we will have a big impact this time,” he said. “The last thing I want to do is waste investors money and die slowly.”

My Comments

Fam

You can add up to 16 people to a group chat. I added an App Store link and screenshot of the Fam app to the 2nd article. Reading through user reviews they are generally positive. It seems the developer is updating the app regularly and there are some fun additions to the ground chat feature like games. The biggest problems seem to be glitches which cause the app to crash and battery drain.

Houseparty

I added LINKS to the Houseparty app for ios and Google Play in the article above. As well as a screenshot of the ios app. The developers seem to be actively updating the app a lot, and paying lot of attention to what features users want. There are some cool fun features that are hard to explain but you can watch YouTube videos to get a better sense of them. The one big negative I read consistently about the app, which appears not t have been fixes as of March 20, 2017, is that the app drains iPhone batteries a lot. Other than that it appears to be a really fun app with a great dev team behind it.


Comments

I really love getting feedback from my readers! 

Therefore I try to make it as easy as possible for readers by not requiring you to add your email address, unlike most comment sections you’ll encounter on blogs. I’ve gone a step further though because you don’t even need to include your real name. You do need a name of some kind…but that can be whatever you want it to be.

I’ve done it this way because it’s your actual feedback that’s really important to me. I’m not really interested in collecting readers’ email addresses which is usually done for the purpose of creating a subscription mailing list.

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Sharing a Great Post on Kid’s Smartwatches!

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Smartwatches are not just for adults any more. But why should you consider buying your child a smartwatch? Well, today’s little ones are growing up surrounded by computers, tablets, Youtube… Technology has always been a part of their every-day life – quite different from just 10 or 20 years ago. Some parents want to encourage their child to…

via The best smartwatches for kids — Health & Fitness Gadgets & Wearables

MY NOTES: LEARNING TO USE LUMAFUSION VIDEO EDITOR APP FOR IPAD | HTML NOTES TOO

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Why I’m Publishing My Notes About Learning LumaFusion

I recently purchased LumaFusion Video Editing app for ios because I’m continually frustrated with iMovie. It seems to me based on the tutorials I’ve found that this editor is really new…so there isn’t a lot of material for learning yet.

I began searching for an iMovie alternative about a week ago after spending several days editing a really complex video (at least for iMovie ios apparently) with a lot of clips, voiceovers and photos interspersed throughout it using iMovie for ios. I was just about ready to publish it when I decided to add an small audio clip that caused all of my audio clips to move around randomly & drastically changing positions which seemed to follow no pattern or logic. Had I been able to discern a pattern I could have sped up the amount of time it took to find each clips new placement and return it to its correct location. But I couldn’t. I messed around for a few more hours trying to get them back to their former positions…but ultimately gave up in futility.

Weeks later a complete re-edit of the entire video, clip by clip took me about 8 hours before I could publish it. Even then I knew it wasn’t as good as it had been because I couldn’t figure out where some little segments had been, so the whole project wasn’t really worth the time I’d sunk into it.

This wasn’t the first time I encountered an extremely time consuming malfunction with the ios version of iMovie. The last time this happened I was unable to publish a very long, time-intensive project which ultimately I was never able to publish or even save in any way useful fashion…it was just stuck in the app on that device forever.

The day after I finished fixing iMovie’s most recent epic failure I began searching in earnest for a new video editing app again. After a lot of reading I arrived at the decision to go with LumaFusion. Even though it was one of the most expensive apps I’d ever purchased to date $20. (Ironoically I also just purchased another even more expensive app, Ulysses, which is a writing and markdown program for writers…it’s $25. I never spend that kind of money on ios apps! Ulysses has proven to be well worth it but the jury for me is still out regarding LumaFusion.)

The next day I imported some clips into LumaFusion and realized I had absolutely no clue how to use it! I figured it would be easy to figure out because I’be been using editing software for a longtime…but it’s a powerfull app. It’s got so many features packed into it that it’s going to be a learning curve. The only problem with that is I’m not finding a lot of tutorial literature. There are some videos, which are great, but I need written material too. Which is why I’m accumulating everything I find here to have it all at my finger tips when I need it.

But then I started thinking that if I needed this information, other people probably do too. The fact that someone liked my accidentally published notes which were pretty bad within five minutes of publishing was a clue. So here’s the deal. I’ve decided to republish my notes, with the strict understanding that these are notes…not a polished, completed post.Which is why I’m not putting sharing links for social networks and other things I’d normally add to a finished post. There may be typos too, or sections that get messed up because I’m also practicing some coding in HTML too.

Keeping those caveats in mind…welcome to my notes on learning LumaFusion.

My Notes on Starting Out Learning to Use the LumaFusion ios App

Video Links

LumaFusion – Introductory VideoQuickStart Guide 5:04

The same Guide as above but on YouTube

18 minute Complete Tutorial YouTube

A Short Overview of Some Features Especially About Importing from Cameras

Part 1 of How to Make a Family History Video

Part 2 of How to Make a Family History Video

A Vlogger’s Video Review:  Pro Editing on the iPad? An Awesome NEW App! 

Other Links

I read in a forum that there was a PDF Guide floating around for an earlier app called Pinnacle Studio. I searched high and low but couldn’t find it. Then I accidently found it the next day. I downloaded the PDF and began reading it…it’s great. But when I decided to add,the link to it here, I couldn’t find it again. I searched for a few hours…again…was ready to upload my copy even though that would probably be breaking some publishing copyright laws…and then accidently found it again! Yay!

Why did I bother writing all that? Because I really think that the LumaFusion developer should make this available to users. Or, if they feel it’s too out of date, then they should update it and make it available.

PDF Guide to Using Pinnacle Studio (the precursor to LumaFusion)

LumaFusion – Pro video editing & effects ios app by Luma Touch LLC

What makes LumaFusion different?

URLS

This video by Mobile Filmakers is one of the best I found showing the whole editing process. One thing Imwas searching for was if you could close the app without saving a project to your camera roll, like you can in iMovie. It doesn’t seem like that’s possilve…but I could be wrong. At around the 17:00 min mark he discusses the different options for saving projects.

Things I Need to Figure Out

Which frame rate and aspect ratio is best for YouTube?  Defaults are 30 & 16:9

Aspect Ratios in Published Literature

Pinnacle Studio provided a fixed 16:9 project format. LumaFusion lets you change the aspect ratio of a project at any time, and fits your media to the new aspect. You can select 16:9 (landscape), 9:16 (portrait), 1:1, 4:3, 1.66:1, 17:9, 2.2:1, 2.39:1, 2.59:1 (so LumaFusion could be used to cut a film).

Notes

The first time you use LumaFusion you should set your defaults if you want them to generally be the same most of the time. Tap in the top right picture area and look for a default icon at far right or left bottom section of that screen.





UI Layouts
LumaFusion lets you select different layouts for the UI to best suit your needs or for a particular workflow or focus.

Project and Media Organization

LumaFusion provides a wide range of tools to organize your projects and media. The project manager shows filmstrips of each project so you can quickly see the contents of a project, and lets you scrub through the project by running your finger over the filmstrip. You can color-tag and add notes to projects for easier organization, and you can search and sort projects in many different ways.

In the library, LumaFusion gives you tools to organize and manage your media. You can name, color-tag and add notes to any clip (we’ll add searching and sorting options in a future update). We also provide a display of metadata and information about every clip in the source viewer/trimmer.

On the timeline, LumaFusion lets you rename clips, add notes, and color-tag, making it easy to manage work or highlight important clips in the timeline.

What doesn’t LumaFusion do?

There are a few features that are in Pinnacle Studio that aren’t in the first release of LumaFusion, but all of these are coming in updates in the near future. These include Voiceover, Dual-view precision trimmer, archive and restore of projects with media included, audio-only export, and AudioShare/AudioCopy support.



I believe that Pinnacle Studio was the precursor to LumaFusion. This is a press release for Pinnacle Studio success in the App Store November 2014

Videomaker awards Pinnacle Studio as Best Mobile App for 2014

by cdemiris | Nov 26, 2014 | Press Releases |

Pinnacle Studio was named as the Best Mobile App for 2014 in Videomaker’s Best Products of the Year – 2014 list in the January 2015 issue of Videomaker.

According to the review, “Pinnacle Studio for iPad is a well-equipped editing app for video editors on the go.” Videomaker highlighted Pinnacle Studio’s great content and unparalleled connectivity with the Cloud Connection Pack.



Notes about html things…

…for copying purposes
All the videos are appearing as embedded in the blockquote section, which tells me that the URLS pasted into the visual editor causes them to embed…wierd!  Versus adding links to text, also in the Visual editor…which just just displays as a hotlink.

The links I applied to text just appear to be hotlinks.



Learning Jumplinks   (aka anchor links)

2 Main Parts for My Purposes

The Target or where the link takes you:

<a name=” “></a>

The link itself…in my case this will generally be Table of Contents entry’s:

<a href=” “> text </a

Another use of a jumplink is one that’s generic for talking you to some preordained location like the top or bottom of a page:

           Place this as the top of a page
<a href=”#top”>top</a>       Place this where you want the link that goes to the top

full set to copy/paste

<a href=”#top”>top</a>



Comments

Please leave me any comments here…especially if you have instructional material I can add…written form seems to be the hardest to find. Thanks!

PokemonGo Valentines Day Event

Pink Abstract Art
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Niantics Announced Details of the New Valentine’s Day Bonuses on Wednesday

Pink Pokémon for Valentines Day

The Valentines Day event began yesterday as well…

Details of Valentines Day Event

Niantics Valentines day announcement

Who:  Which Players & Pokémon does this impact the most

  • Pink Pokémon…you’ll find more pink Pokémon in the wild during the event
  • All Pokémon will earn double candy during the event for any candy earning activity…including capturing, transferring, hatching and walking with your buddy.
  • More of the new baby Pink Pokémon including Cleffa, Igglybuff and Smoochum will be hatched from eggs.
  • All players can take advantage of the increased rewards, but those new to the game will probably receive the most benefits since capture rates will be greater and none of the pink Pokémon are all that rare for those players at advanced levels.

What:  What are the Main Benefits of the Valentines Day Event to Players

  • Earning double candy
  • Finding more pink Pokémon and hatching more pink babies
  • Capturing more wild Pokémon via extended duration of Lure Modules (6 hours instead of 1/2 hour)

When:  How long does the event last?

  • It began yesterday Wednesday Feb. 8th at 11:00am PST
  • It ends at 1100am PST on Wednesday, February 15th

Why:   What are the main objectives for the event?

  • Reward regular game players
  • Lure inconsistent players back into action
  • Make it easier to complete Pokedex’es for Pink Pokémon

Strategy Ideas During the Valentine’s Day Event

I’ve may have talked about Pidgey spamming as a strategy in the past, but I’m certain I’ve never really talked about how best to take advantage of that during holiday events. Pidgey spamming is simply transferring large numbers of ‘spamish’ Pokémon back for candy. Most people have built up a huge backlog of Pidgey’s Rattata’s and Spearow’s during the normal course of game play. Saving these transfers for Holiday events like this one can really pay off in candy!  Weedle’s and Caterpie’s can also be considered for this strategy.

In addition, there are a few other good strategies that people can use to assure they gain as many benefits as is humanly possible during any given holiday event.

The two main areas where you’ll incur the most positive benefits from these strategies include increasing your overall trainer level and increasing your arsenal of combat ready Pokémon.

So building up your candy reserves vie transfers, especially for hard to find Pokémon, is a must during the event. If you set a Lucky Egg in motion, and then layer up things like lures and incense…you’ll also catch a ton of great Pokémon, and many more rares than normal…which can lead to your evolving the best of those mons too…ultimately enabling you to level up really quickly. The screenshot below shows one suggested strategy by Rankedboost.com. More can be found at their website or via Google.

Extras:

Here’s a link to Niantics Valentines Day update on their blog

Did you know that Jigglypuff sings an entrancing song known to put people to sleep? You can watch a video of this on YouTube or download an mp3 of Jigglypuff’s song at mediafire.com.

Comments

Please leave me any comments below.

Flu or Food Poisoning…Trying to Answer That Question isn’t Easy

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What is the Norovirus?

Prologue

A recent encounter with Norovirus brought about from dining at a restaurant that doesn’t use table linens was the impetus for writing this post. I’d never heard of Norovirus before! It also turns out that the Norovirus is the main cause of most illnesses with severe gastrointestinal symptoms…who knew? The Center for Diseases and Control has a great video explaining what the Norovirus is. Norovirus is also called ‘the Winter Vomitting Bug.’ I’d never heard that expression either. You can learn more about why it’s called that at the WebMD’s website.



Food Poisoning, Flu & Colds Redefined!

Introduction

My most recent encounter began as many illnesses do with me wondering if I was coming down with something. But my time spent wondering as I lie in bed during the early morning hours didn’t last long…10 minutes later I had my answer…at least to that first question.

More questions immediately followed. I’ve only had a few instances in my life where I was overtaken by a ‘bug’ so virulent that it was unclear to me if it was food poisoning or the flu…today was one of those days. If I’m wasn’t spending time worshipping the porcelain god…I was either sleeping or trying to figure out if I was contagious. Which of course is always the main reason for determining whether or not one has food poisoning or the stomach flu.

My assumption was this: if I had food poisoning I wasn’t contagious…if it was the flu however, I was.

It Turns Out the Answer to that Question Wasn’t A Simple One

Initially I was encouraged to find a website that clearly stated known symptoms of each. I thought that all I had to do was compare symptoms, side-by-side, and then rule out the least likely candidate. I was so convinced I was onto something that I even made the chart below which would better allow me to make that comparison (because the article listed their symptoms in different orders, making a side-by-side comparison difficult.)

My biggest problem using this approach was that there’s a huge amount of overlap in symptoms. My other big problem was that the time of onset for me had been around 12 hours (I thought.) Neither column really supported that answer.

You see, 12 hours prior to my awakening and feeling like I might die, we had enjoyed a nice dinner at a popular local restaurant. The restaurant, which I’m on the fence about naming, is one that we’d never been able to procure a reservation at before. Our food was excellent! The only red flag was that the restaurant appeared to me to be rather lax regarding matters of hygiene. The reason I say this was because I was surprised when the waitress tossed our silverware right onto the table…which is a big ‘no no’ in the restaurant world.

It turns out that there’s a good reason why restaurants use table linens. A reason that goes beyond that of providing atmosphere. That reason is hygiene or sanitation. The best way to prevent patrons from acquiring the germs of past table guests or even food served previously on those tables, is by providing fresh table linens or placemats…or at a minimum by placing silverware unto a fresh napkin. Because I was shocked to learn that restaurant tabletops are second only to menus in the number of germs they harbor. That alarming fact along with several other surprising ones are revealed in this 2014 Huffington Post article. But the statistic that surprised me the most was the finding that 60% of food preparation workers report for work when they are sick! The importance of that finding can’t be overstated for reasons better explained below.

Surprise #1:  I learned that there is no such thing as the Stomach Flu!  It’s a Myth! 

The reason that the Stomach Flu doesn’t really exist is entirely because of semantics. The word ‘Flu’ is really short for influenza. But the only kind of influenza that exists which impacts people is respiratory influenza. There is no such thing as a stomach influenza with the symptoms that we normally attribute to it. When I made this realization I remembered an old adage I used to use to identify a cold from respiratory flu. The way you can tell them apart is the presence of a fever. If fever is present, it’s influenza…if not, it’s a cold.

Now that we understand that there is no such thing as the stomach flu we need to figure out what there really is. What takes the place of what we’ve called Stomach Flu for so many years?

What we’ve come to think of as the Stomach Flu is really a group of similar conditions which fall under a category that the CDC refers to as infections of the digestive system. The CDC has identified 31 known pathogens from food borne sources that comprise this category.

Surprise #2:  Of the viruses, only the common cold is reported more often than a norovirus infection—also referred to as viral gastroenteritis.

The CDC'S video on Norovirus

The most frequently occurring pathogen is the Norovirus. In fact, Norovirus is so prevalent that…

The first article I read about Norovirus said that it was this virus which most people erroneously referred to as the stomach flu. Because Norovirus is a virus, that led my conclusion that my symptoms fall under the category of illness…as opposed to Food Poisoning. The reason? After all my research I’m pretty certain that Norovirus was what I have, but further reading only caused me to become more confused!

Factors Leading to Even More Confusion

Although Norovirus is the most prevalent of those 31 foodborne pathogens…it isn’t alone in the symptoms it exhibits. In all, those 31 pathogens fall into 3 main categories:  bacteria, parasites and viruses. Below is the CDC’s Chart  (called Table 2 in their report) giving more information for all 31 pathogens (here’s a link to the CDC’s chart since my repeated efforts to splice together a readable copy haven’t been successful!) 

CDC's Table 2

I intended to more closely examine the symptoms of each…but I never even made it that far. Because as I examined the above chart I noticed that it includes things like Salmonella and E. coli…which fall under the broad category of parasites. It was really at this point that I began getting completely confused!  I’ve always believed that Salmonella and E. coli were specific types of food poisoning.

But if food poisoning is a separate malady from viral gastroenteritis (formerly known as the Stomach Flu) why do known food poisoning pathogens appear on this list at all?

It was this Medical News Today article in which I first learned about the Norovirus. In talking about viral gastroenteritis the article states that:

  • Most cases of gastroenteritis are caused by infection with bacteria, viruses, or parasites
  • Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain are typical symptoms of gastroenteritis
  • Gastroenteritis is usually self-limiting, and tests are not usually necessary for a diagnosis
  • The most serious complication of food poisoning and gastroenteritis is dehydration, especially for vulnerable people such as the very young and very old

It’s beginning to sound to me like barring a stool sample test, there is no good way to differentiate between food poisoning and a virus based illness. Yet, contagiousness is still the most worrisome factor for me!

This same article also states that:

The viruses that are most commonly implicated in gastroenteritis are:

  • Rotavirus – more common in children and the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis in children
  • Norovirus – more common in adults

The bacteria that are most commonly implicated in gastroenteritis are:

  • Salmonella
  • Campylobacter
  • Shigella
  • Escherichia coli (especially serotype O157:H7)
  • Clostridium difficile

After a lot more reading I finally began to realize that my main premise…that Food Poisoning isn’t contagious was actually completely wrong!

What Factors Really Determine Whether or Not Food Poisoning or Gastroenteritis is Contagious

Contagiousness it appears, is determined purely by the pathogen type. Viral pathogens lead to contagious illnesses. Bacterial pathogens do not. So if you refer back to the CDC’s large table 2 (shown and linked to) above…those pathogens in the top category are bacterial…therefore they won’t lead to contagious illnesses.  Those in the 2nd main category, parasites, also will lead to noncontagious illnesses. It’s only the 3rd category…the viral pathogens, which will lead to contagious illnesses. The main pathogen here is of course the Norovirus…which is what, after all my reading I concluded was responsible for my symptoms.

A Little More About the Norovirus

In addition to that large study the CDC conducted in 2011, they also publish a lot of great information for the general public. This link is to their main website for the general public describing what the Norovirus is and what you need to know about it. There’s also a helpful video explaining the Norovirus. A few important things everyone should know about the Norovirus include:

Humans are the only host of norovirus, and norovirus has several mechanisms that allow it to spread quickly and easily. 

Norovirus was originally called: Norwalk-like virus or simply NLV

The first NLV outbreak occurred in 1968 among school children in Norwalk, Ohio. The prototype strain responsible for that 1968 outbreak was identified four years later, in 1972. It was the first virus identified that specifically caused gastroenteritis in humans. Albert Z. Kapikian, M.D., a pioneering virologist at the National Institutes of Health was the man who discovered the norovirus and he led a decades-long effort that resulted in the first licensed rotavirus vaccine. People infected with the Norovirus are contagious from the moment that they begin feeling ill until roughly 3 days after their symptoms have subsided. It takes minuscule amounts of the virus…less than 100 particles, to make you sick. Cruise ships and restaurants are two of the most common places to be infected with the virus. The virus can survive some disinfectants, making it hard to kill and can also remain infectious on some hard surfaces like countertops or restaurant tabletops for weeks. Last, the Norovirus is the leading cause of food poisoning!

Norovirus is Food Poisoning…here are a few good reasons to avoid it!

It might not be obvious if you’ve managed to read this far that Norovirus is indeed Food Poisoning!  It wasn’t all that clear to me either…which is exactly the reason that I’m writing this post! But there’s more to the story. I for one want to know how long I can expect to be sick and more importantly how long I have to keep disinfecting everything I touch so my husband doesn’t get this too.

In a nutshell Norovirus usually lasts 2-3 days…which makes sense because I’m almost at the end of day 3 and although I’ve been feeling better I still haven’t been able to eat anything. Tonight I ate some toast (that my husband made for me so I wouldn’t germ up the kitchen) which after 15 minutes of discomfort seems to have agreed with me…yay!  That alone should go a long way towards making me better…at least with the dizziness right?

I’ve read on multiple sites that I’ll continue to be contagious for 3 days after I’m feeling better…which means since it’s Tuesday night now I should be noncontagious by Friday night…geez!  That alone is a really good reason to not want food poisoning!  One blogger who writes for the New York Times wrote a compelling post about the contagious aspects of the virus too…probably when she was too sick to do anything else either!

Perhaps a few more questions will be answered by this table created by Canada’s version of the FDA:

Details about Norovirus

Norovirus Diagnosis

Now that I’ve successfully diagnosed my illness as Norovirus the only thing left for me to do is to reexamine how I might have contracted it and hopefully determine once and for all how contagious I might be.

What Is the Stomach Flu?

I’m adding this section about 6 months later because many family members came down with the flu that the 2016-2017 flu shot was targeting. How do I know for sure? Because my Dad’s doctor used a test kit to determine if he had it and if it was Type A which apparently the more severe form, or Type B. Although she did tell him that the test was only 40% effective in differentiating between the two. But knowing that he had it at all was important in order for her to prescribe antibiotics and an anti-viral medication…which worked because he got better much faster than other family members. But conversations during everyone’s illnesses made me realize many family members till don’t recognize that:

 Flu…or influenza is really upper respiratory…and not gastrointestinal at all!

So, what we’ve always called a cold may really be the flu. One easy way to differentiate I’ve always used is this. If a fever accompanies a cold…then it’s not a cold, it’s the flu. 

Most of this post has talked about Norovirus but it bears repeating in this section that what we’ve always believed to be the flu is probably really Norovirus or Rotavirus.

A Great Website:  stopthestomachflu.com

I ran across a great website while getting ready for a recent trip and looking for disinfecting wipes that would kill Norovirus…because it turns out, that regular ones don’t! The website, created by a stay at home young Mom who’s a microbiologist is called stopthestomachflu.com. Her website is awesome because she conducts all sorts of experiments and tests to determine the effective of various products in removing germs. Below is a great guide from her site.

What is Stomach flu?

Investigating the Circumstances Leading to My Food Poisoning

As previously mentioned, the restaurant we dined at doesn’t use table coverings of any kind.  Placemats I now know are intended primarily to protect patrons from foodborn pathogens. While this isn’t entirely unheard of given the new ‘farm to table‘ trend, there is one practice that can go a long way towards mitigating a lot of problems. Wait staff can be instructed to place patrons silverware onto something else. Think of that ‘something’ as a protective barrier between the utensils which come in contact with you and the seemingly hazardous tabletop environment! Something like a napkin or bread and butter plate.

Another practice which would help a lot is to use a bleach based compound when cleaning table surfaces in preparation for their next customers. Since the Norovirus is resistant to many disinfectants, adding bleach to the mix ensures that it’s germs are addressed. Although I suspect that the odor that bleach dispels might not be all that conducive to a fine dining atmosphere…which leads me to suggest to the restaurant in question this idea. That they use a multi-pronged approach. First provide a second napkin solely for the purpose of laying silverware upon, and second consider using placements.

Granted placemats don’t emanate that farm table vibe but there’s a fine line between maintaining a unique atmosphere for your customers and harming them!

To help you with that endeavor I was able to find some cute paper placemats which might work.

Paper placemats to protect patrons from norovirus

The placemats above are from a website called Hester and Cook. Each set is really a tablet of tear-off placemats that run from $.66 to $1 each.

Etsy has a lot of great options. One is a shop called Harper and Diasy that will custom make placemats from kraft paper like those below. Most are $36 for 50.

Paper placemats from Etsy

But was the lack of a protective table covering the only factor that led to my becoming profoundly ill?

I suppose it’s possible given my new realization that tabletop surfaces are 2nd only to menus in terms of the high number of germs they harbor. That possibility is even more likely since many of the ingredients of this restaurant’s most popular dishes are known sources of foodborn pathogens. Ingredients like duck liver, wild mushrooms, soft cheeses, lettuce, oysters and even butter immediately come to mind!

One likely scenario would be that a duck liver dish (for example) was served earlier in the evening or even in the days preceding our visit, and some remnants of it remained on the tabletop surface, which, while not visible to the human eye, contained enough germs (remember only 100 particles is necessary) to infect, my silverware.

Yet, for some inexplicable reason I feel that there’s more to this story. So let’s examine in detail what we each ordered:

In an unusual turn of events Bill and I each ordered the exact same dishes. We both ordered 2 starters (because we were attending a play at the Rep…The Foreigner…afterwards and didn’t want to be late.) For those of you who’ve never heard of this great comedy written by Milwaukee’s own Larry Shue, it’s one of my all time favorites! This was to be our third time experiencing what’s come to be known as one of the 2 greatest plays ever written by Shue…the other The Nerd is also a fabulous comedy!

The starters we ordered were:

  1. Grilled Herb Flat Bread, Burrata, Cranberry Agrodolce, Lettuce, Smoked Almond
  2. Pumpkin Soup, Oyster Mushroom, Creme Fraiche, Black Trumpet Mushroom, Chive

Many of the ingredients in both dishes could have been culprits! In addition, we also shared a bread basket and a dinner salad… the salad included these ingredients…Mixed Greens, Finocchiona, Greenfields Cheese, Apple, Almond, Pickled Pepper

Bill had a beer: New Glarus Moon Man, Pale Ale, New Glarus WI

I had a glass of wine: Pinot Noir, Bishops Peak 2014, San Luis Obispo Country, California

Since we ordered the exact same dishes it’s hard to imagine that one of those would have been responsible for my condition. But after I became very ill I discovered that Bill had never touched the salad that we’d intended upon sharing! So the salad is where I’ll focus my examination.

Here again are the salad’s ingredients:

Mixed Greens, Finocchiona, Greenfields Cheese, Apple, Almond, Pickled Pepper

The mixed greens appear to be a likely culprit. I learned that lettuce is a common carrier of food pathogens. The only way to insure that lettuce doesn’t transmit infectious germs is by proper washing. This requires only water, but washing each lettuce leaf is important. Lettuce greens can become contaminated with E. Coli, Listeria and Salmonella. Surprisingly even a Staph infection may be present if the greens are prepared by someone who’s sick (remember earlier when I discovered that 60% of food workers still go to work even if they’re sick!) Staph infection can also be transmitted by someone preparing food with an open wound on their hands or even if they have a nose or eye infection.

Here’s helpful 3 minute video created by the FDA which shows you everything you need to know about the safe handling of fresh fruits and vegetables…and even what not to buy!

At this point I’m really quite exhausted thinking about all the possibilities…and I’m kind of amazed that I’ve managed to dodge such harrowing consequences for so long…because we like to eat out a lot!

The fact that I’m still feeling the effects of whatever infected me 2 1/2 days later points even more adamantly to Norovirus. I’ve eaten nothing for 21/2 days, have no energy and get dizzy every time I stand up (although I’m clearheaded enough to realize this may be in large part because I’ve eaten nothing in days!) The dizziness could be due to dehydration but my husband made sure I didn’t become dehydrated by getting me Pedialyte.

Right now I really think this thing just needs to run its course. But I really hope that the next time I’m at a restaurant if I happen to clean off my hands using antibacterial wipes after handling the menu, or if I wipe off the salt and pepper shakers or some other frequently handled utensil that others don’t judge me too harshly. Because I wouldn’t wish this upon anyone else and if something as simple as using those would prevent how I’m feeling right now…well…would you really chose to judge me?

But was the lack of a protective table covering the only factor that led to my becoming profoundly ill? I suppose that it's possible given my new realization that tabletop surfaces are 2nd only to menus in terms of the high number of germs they harbor. That possibility is even more likely since many of the ingredients of their popular dishes are known sources of foodborn pathogens. Ingredients like duck liver, wild mushrooms, soft cheeses, lettuce, oysters and even butter immediately come to mind! One likely scenario would be that a duck liver dish (for example) was served earlier in the evening or even in the days preceeding our visit, and some remnants of it remained on the tabletop surface, which, while not visible to the human eye, contained enough germs (remember only 100 particles is necessary) to infect my silverware. Yet, for some inexplicable reason I feel that there's more to this story. So let's examine in detail what we each ordered: In an unusual turn of events Bill and I each ordered the exact same dishes. We both ordered 2 starters (because we were attending a play at the Rep The Foriegner afterwards and didn't want to be late.) For those of you who've never heard of this great comedy written by Milwaukee's own Larry Shue, it's one of my all time favorites! This was to be our third time experiencing what's come to be known as one of the 2 greatest plays ever written by Shue...the other The Nerd is also a fabulous comedy! The starters we ordered were: 1. Grilled Herb Flat Bread, Burrata, Cranberry Agrodolce, Lettuce, Smoked Almond 2. Pumpkin Soup, Oyster Mushroom, Creme Fraiche, Black Trumpet Mushroom, Chive Many of the ingredients in both dishes could have been culprits! In addition, we also shared a bread basket and a dinner salad... the salad included these ingredients...Mixed Greens, Finocchiona, Greenfields Cheese, Apple, Almond, Pickled Pepper Bill had a beer: New Glarus Moon Man, Pale Ale, New Glarus WI I had a glass of wine: Pinot Noir, Bishops Peak 2014, San Luis Obispo Country, California Since we ordered the exact same dishes it's hard to imagine that one of those would have been responsible for my condition. But after I became very ill I discovered that Bill had never touched the salad that we'd intended upon sharing! So the salad is where I'll focus my examination. Here again are the salad's ingredients: Mixed Greens, Finocchiona, Greenfields Cheese, Apple, Almond, Pickled Pepper The mixed greens appear to be a likely culprit. I learned that lettuce is a common carrier of food pathogens. The only way to insure that lettuce doesn't transmit infectious germs is by proper washing. This requires only water, but washing each lettuce leaf is important. Lettuce greens can become contaminated with E. Coli, Listeria and Salmonella. Surprisingly even a Staph infection may be present if the greens are prepared by someone who's sick (remember earlier when I discovered that 60% of food workers still go to work even if they're sick!) Staph infection can also be transmitted by someone preparing food with an open wound on their hands or even if they have a nose or eye infection. Here's helpful 3 minute video created by the FDA which shows you everything you need to know about the safe handling of fresh fruits and vegetables...and even what not to buy! https://youtu.be/WbhudxB3W-M At this point I'm really quite exhausted thinking about all the possibilities...and I'm kind of amazed that I've managed to dodge such harrowing consequences for so long...because we lie to eat out a lot! The fact that I'm still feeling the effects of whatever infected me 2 1/2 days later points even more adamantly to Norovirus. I've eaten nothing for 21/2 days, have no energy and get dizzy every time I stand up (although I'm clear headed enough to realize this may be in large part because I've eaten nothing in days!) The dizzyness could be due to dehydration but my husband made sure I didn't become dehydrated by getting me Pedialyte. Right now I really think this thing just needs to run its course. But I really hope that the next time I'm at a restaurant if I happen to clean off my hands using antibacterial wipes after handling the menu, or if I wipe off the salt and pepper shakers or some other frequently handled utensil that others don't judge me too harshly. Because I wouldn't wish this upon anyone else and if something as simple as using

Further Reading

When the ‘5-Second Rule’ Works

Link to the FDA’s Foodborne Illness Causing Organisms in the United States:  What You Need to Know

Medical News Today’s 5 Home Remedies

Below is another good Foodborn Pathogen Chart…this one was created by the FDA:

FDA's Foodborn pathogen Chart

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