The New Digital Gold Rush

img_7174-1I want to introduce you to several men that are having an impact on your life today.
They live in Veles, Macedonia, which is a town in the center of a small country with about two million people on the northern border of Greece. It has become well known for reasons it would rather not be.

Mikhail, a 24-year-old law school dropout, who goes by the online personality name of “Jessica” and likes luxury cars. Boris is an 18-year-old high school dropout who likes cigarettes and gangsta rap.

Photography by Guy Martin

Both are successful, wealthy website operators of sites that manufacture fake news daily. All day. Every day of the week. They publish stories that may be true on-premise and very wrong on facts.

How do they do it? Clickbait. Every time we click on a story they post that catches our attention, an advertiser that has posted an advertisement on their site sends a bit of cash their way. It is being referred to as the “digital gold rush.”

Clickbait is fake news that exploits the reader.

In a nation whose average monthly income is less than $500, Mikhail caters to the conservative readers in the United States, bragging he makes over $2,500 a day. Boris claims to have profited $16,000 off of just two of his many pro-Trump websites between August and November 2016.

Both cater their sites to the United States where it is the most lucrative. Before being blocked in a recent crackdown on fake news, one of their sites had 1.5 million viewers. Despite the fact, their English is broken at best, their access to internet sites provides many falsehoods that are disguised as news.

“What Veles produced, though, was something more extreme still: an enterprise of cool, pure amorality, free not only of ideology but of any concern of feeling about the substance of the election.” Fake News Factory to the World by Samanth Subramanian at

Mirko is a teacher in Veles. He spends his days tutoring students in the fine art of mass producing fake news distinct to American readers. He instructs his students on creating websites that look professional and often going to the extreme of trying to mimic legitimate sites with ticker tape across the top and add-ons.

The trick is to find a legitimate story that is trending, then make it more sensational, is what Mirko focuses on. He believes the title is key, then again, all writers do. Mirko brags that at least half of his students are now millionaires. But like Mikhail and Boris, no one can verify that.

The bottom line that affects us, as Americans daily, is these people do not care. Their investment in this is strictly on a financial merit with no thought to the amorality or catastrophic consequences that are now facing our nation and will continue to in the future for decades to come.

The attempt to deceive has been around since the beginning of time. This level of duplicity on our democracy is a frontier that has such blatant nefarious consequences, it can not be ignored by any of us.  It is an attempt to limit our free speech and our vote by the influx of information provided to us.

Today I am thankful

  • I got a massive project almost done today. Oh, wee. I kept putting it off, and it finally caught up with me.
  • So, I took my air conditioner out, and rumor has it we are going to have a warm weekend. Really appreciate the fantastic fall weather, but … 
  • I learned a huge lesson yesterday about trusting my own instincts and not those of others. 

As a writer of a simple, eclectic blog, I spend lots of time doing research —whatever my topic is. I keep legal pads that track my sources. That is my baseline of being trustworthy to you as my reader.

As a reader, it is up to you to discern what you are reading and choosing wisely before you click on an article. Or let me rephrase that — if you don’t want to keep buying Boris cigarettes and Mikhail new luxury cars in Veles — you will begin to look more closely at what you are reading.

There are several things to look at when looking for fake news. Is it a credible news source? Is it a source that is trackable? Is the title realistic? Most people will click on a title because it is sensational or just too intriguing to be true. If that’s the case, it probably is.

One thing these men and their accomplices with computers in Veles and around the world are looking forward to is the United States of America elections of 2018, and the Presidential campaign of 2020.

There is a lot of money to be made and people willing to read the fake news.

Happy and safe reading.

affectionately yours, Laura



The Joy of #PSL

I was a woman on a mission as I walked into Target. I chose a cart that didn’t have any squeaky wheels and maneuvered nicely. Then I wiped the handles and all touchable parts down with the free disinfectant wipes. I got out my phone with my Cartwheel app — I was ready to shop.

Then just as I was headed for a display of apples .. I came to a dead stop .. my head tilted to the right as it followed the smell. It was a smell reminiscent of fall leaves, Grannies’ apple crisp, and pumpkin pie. It triggered a fast mirage of fall and holiday images.

And there it was. That big green sign — Starbucks — the home of the infamous Pumpkin Spice Latte, it is my drug of choice in the fall. There strategically placed inside of the doors of Target. A store where I am at my weakest in willpower.

Before I knew it, I had a drink in my cup holder and I was on my way.

The Pumpkin Spice Latte aka PSL was the creative multi-million dollar genius of Mark Dukes, Product Manager, and his team in 2003. While Dukes and his team were doing testing, they realized they had successful seasonal drinks in the Eggnog Latte and Peppermint Mocha but they were lacking in the fall season.

They came up with the concept of a pumpkin drink by taking a bite of pumpkin pie and taking a sip of espresso. Then determining the right combination of spices that would capture the flavor in a drink.

Dukes and his development team struck gold with a pumpkin spice sauce that was a combination of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. With that, they added the espresso, steamed milk, topped it with whipping cream, and a dash of pumpkin pie spice.

In the fall of 2003, they did in limited launch in Washington, DC, and Vancouver to great success. In the fall of 2004, they took PSL nationwide and the rest is history, as they say.

Today I am thankful

  • I appreciate the people God brings into my life. I am surrounded with all seasons of people. Some are here to stay, some are here to teach me lessons, and some are passing through. I value each.
  • My flannel sheets.
  • The changing of the leaves. While out for my walk today I noticed the beginning of the yellow and gold on the trees. So beautiful.

The PSL has become a movement with over 200 million drinks sold since 2004. It really has taken on a life of its own with a Twitter site @TheRealPSL and a hashtag #PSL which on any given day in the fall is quite active from my observation.

I believe, for the most part, it is the conditioning of marketing and advertising that has us going into fall and craving all that is pumpkin and spice. We associate it with the crispness and cooling of the air, the different activities the fall season brings, and the approaching holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving.

I was thinking to myself as I typed this “I’m not so bad.” Then I tallied things up and almost fell off my chaise laughing.

I have coffee creamer, yogurt, a burning candle, and a Bath&Body Room Freshener that are all pumpkin.

I am wishing you a pumpk-tactular evening!

affectionately yours, Laura




“You Can Be Kind and F*cking Badass”

em 1Last night at the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards during Elisabeth Moss’ celebratory speech for winning the Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series she thanked her mom.

She said, “You have taught me that you can be kind and fucking badass.” Given Moss’s history, role in the show she won the award for, and women in our world today — I thought — it was well said for many women.

This was 35-year-old Moss’ seventh nomination, her sixth in the Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series category of two starring roles in popular television series.

This seventh nod and Emmy statue are for her stellar lead performance in the Hulu exclusive series The Handmaid’s Tale, which also won the coveted honor of Outstanding Drama Series.

If you are unfamiliar with The Handmaid’s Tale, it is based on a dystopian classic best-selling novel by Margaret Atwood. The series builds on a totalitarian society, Gilead, which used to be part of the United States, now run by fundamentalist regime, that believe women are property.

em 2The women, crimson-caped, the color red defining their status, are stripped of all their rights and forced to live with a family. Because of the obsession with the reversing and lowering of birthrates, the “handmaid” has monthly ritual sex with the husband. They have the men’s children that will never be theirs. In essence, they become slaves of their own wombs.

Moss’ character — Offred — is known as such because the handmaid takes on the name of the husband they are paired with — “Of Fred.”

In our current political environment with the focus of decreasing women’s rights, the Handmaid’s Tale resonated with the growing concerns about the government’s overreach of women’s issues in America. The show grew a faithful following.

Offred, Moss’ character reflects in her brilliant performance throughout the first season, what she gave gratitude to her mother for, kind and badass.

The season finale, without revealing any spoilers, is a reflection of Offred’s kindness and badassness is its strongest form. Both in resistance and of faithfulness. Her love, not just of the women that surround her, but, of herself, despite the fact she is enslaved.

Today I am thankful

  •  I am enjoying my final day in Atlanta.
  • Sometimes you just have to struggle through the quiet times. Even in those times, there are valuable lessons to be learned.
  • I have relearned the joy and love that can come from an animal. It is such a feeling of awe to have a living thing trust you so completely. I am over the moon for my grand puppy.
  • I love visiting. There’s no place like home.

Despite the controversies today swirling around Moss’ win due to her connection to Scientology, her rise in her career, well deserved Emmy award for her Handmaid’s Tale performance, and her advocating for women, I wish her well and much more success.

affectionately yours, Laura




A Very Expensive Christmas, Indeed



iphone XEvery time Apple announces they are launching a new cell phone I panic a bit. I am not entirely convinced there isn’t a conspiracy that when you finish your 2-year contract, and your phone is paid for, they do not push a button somewhere and make your phone crash, so you have to buy a new one.

It’s no surprise every September, in time for the Christmas wishlist of every person in America, Apple releases the new and improved version of their iPhone and Apple products.

This year’s version is a doozy starting at a whopping $1000. value. My first thought was, “Does it microwave popcorn while you watch Apple TV?”

It was a little more than ten-years ago when Steve Jobs walked on stage and introduced the first iPhone to the world. It was a revolutionary event in the world of technology.

Today, Tim Cook will take the stage and attempt to make the iPhone’s 10-year anniversary just as spectacular. The name of the phone is a tightly held secret — The code name is iPhone X — but one would think iPhone 8 simply wouldn’t be enough for the occasion.

If rumors are true, this premium version of the current iPhone will have a stainless steel body with a 5.8 inch OLED screen. From what I have read, the OLED screen provides a vivid, crystal clear image because of the different lightening of the pixels. It is much more power efficient and for right now, accounts for the higher cost of the phone.

iphone X 2The larger edge-to-edge screen will mean the home button would no longer be there. You will now do everything by on-screen finger-touch control. One thing that is being touted is the security of fingertip authentication that could make way for possible face recognition or eye retina technology security.

Technology sites online are promoting that this new iPhone X will have a faster processor and longer battery life. Wireless charging will no doubt be a big attraction of this phone, although a physical connection between the phone and port will still be required.

There is supposed to be a new 3-D sensing technology in the camera that is driving up the price of this phone, also. I have this horrible feeling for my friends who don’t take great selfies — can you imagine them in 3-D now?

Apple’s advanced iOS 11, the latest interface operating system, will bring subtle change. For the rest of us, all iPhones will at some time shortly, have Apple’s newest operating system iOS 11 available for downloading and that will offer some new features.

I am still holding tightly to my paid for iPhone 6, and its headphone jack. You’ll remember the iPhone 7’s removed the headphone jack to considerable controversy.  You had to buy a special adapter for the lightning jack or use those AirPods that I fear I would lose quicker than a pair of sunglasses a summer.

For the fashion conscious, the new colors for the iPhone 8 are space gray, silver, and a color called “blush gold.” For iPhone X are silver and space gray.

To those of you with technology loving people on your gift giving list this holiday, it may be an expensive Christmas, indeed.

And don’t snooze, or you’ll lose. These will be going on sale next Friday, September 22nd in Apple stores. If history repeats itself, iPhone 7 sold out in its first weekend.

Today I am thankful

  • I admit, it has been a couple of long anxiety filled days waiting out Irma. She is supposed to wrap up her visit sometime later today. I will be relieved to see the sunshine again.
  • My grand puppy is just the sweetest ever. Despite all the weather drama, she has hung in here like velcro. I still think she looks like a satellite dish with ears and I love her all the more for it.
  • I have written, read, and watched more movies than I can stand. After this, I am going to turn everything off and just sit here for a while. Hopefully, I can get some sleep.
  • My life, always an adventure and I am grateful.

With all of the new features for this new Apple iPhone X, I kept searching for the words “shatter proof glass” front.

When I return to Minnesota, I have to visit the Mall of America Apple store because I cracked the glass on my iPhone. That will cost about $130. plus the cost of a new protective film to put over it. While I am at the store, I can lust over the new MAC desk top.

Or how about a complete water proof feature for the iPhone? I know of a situation a few years back when a phone fell in a toilet at a bar after a few tequila cocktails. Just asking for a friend.

affectionately yours, Laura






11 September 2001

lady_liberty_towersIt was a Tuesday morning. I was sitting at my desk multitasking — meaning I was watching the morning news while drinking coffee, scanning the internet, and looking at my calendar of the day’s events.

My mind wasn’t really focused on the television, it was just background noise, and I tuned in occasionally to commentary here and there. 

Unlike now, when everything is breaking news, there was a bulletin announcing Breaking News with the words “World Trade Center Disaster” under it.

Live coverage began immediately with nonstop commentary from media and eye witnesses. The footage the news outlets were able to get from multiple sources and angles was stunning.

They were showing images of the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City with fire and smoke billowing out of it.

At that time, you could literally see the outline of the plane that had crashed into the tower. Against the blue sky, it was hard to fathom it was a real event and not a movie set.

Initially, bystanders who were interviewed thought a passenger plane possibly had trouble. Until the second plane hit the south tower. And then a hijacked plane hit the Pentagon. And a hijacked plane crashed outside of Pittsburgh.

President Bush announced from Sarasota, Florida that there was an “apparent terrorist attack.”

At 8:45 a.m. EDT that morning, the United States of America became vulnerable for a brief moment. We lost 2,996 lives. More than 6000 were injured.

Over the course of the recovery from this tragedy; there were too many heroes to count. 

Everyday heroes that stepped up for their fellow citizen by donating money, blood, and time. As American’s do — we come together in a time of crisis. That is the foundation of our strength.

Today I am thankful

  • I am very pleased to hear the weather report that Irma has calmed down some now that she is on land.
  • I am excited to see that new movie Home Again.
  • I have been reading my new Anna Harrington book, When The Scoundrel Sins, it is an intriguing page turner.
  • Sigh. I got some steps in. The old girl ain’t what she used to be.

In my professional life, one of the cities I would travel to was New York. Our company would have meetings in the World Trade Center. Every time I attended one, I was in awe of the WTC size and the architecture. 

I am not one for heights. So, I was always a bit relieved to get to street level again.

One of the last times I was in New York, I went to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum where those historic buildings once stood.

lady libery world tradeNow, to give honor to their significance in history, a beautiful 8-acre park has been created. Within the actual footsteps of the Twin Towers, pools that are approximately 1-acre in size with ever-flowing waterfalls stand in homage. 

Around the edges, in bronze, are etched the names of those killed in terrorist attacks on 2 February 1992 and 11 September 2001.

There is a sacredness about that site that ‘s hard to define. I kept looking to the sky and still seeing silhouettes of those massive buildings. 

It is a place of our past and our future. The endless waterfall reminding us, life continues.

affectionately yours, Laura






GrandParents Day 2017

The 2.5 greatest joys in my life are my two grand children and my grand puppy. They bring into my life joy, laughter, and an ever growing curiosity that keeps all of us growing.

Gramas houseAs each grandparent will claim, my grandchildren are exceptional. I have downgraded purse sizes over the years from the ones that carried the photo albums. After all, now with iPhones, I can show all the pictures on that.

Today is Grandparents Day to celebrate those blessed to have children who claim them as their own.

Grandparents Day was signed into law as an observed holiday by President Jimmy Carter in 1978. He proclaimed “Just as a nation learns and is strengthen by its history, so a family learns and is strengthened by its understanding of preceding generations.”

The first Sunday after Labor Day was dedicated as the special day. Forget-Me-Not is the flower, and the song is A Song for Grandma and Grandpa by Johnny Prill. Hallmark will sell a record 4 million greeting cards for the holiday.

It was lobbied into being by several people, Michael Goldgar and Marian McQuade, both advocates of educating people about the contributions of senior citizens. McQuade’s focus became to not only honor parents but to honor them in their role as grandparents.

It is of interest to note the significance grandparents have taken in past decade in their grandchildren’s lives.

On the site, they had some interesting statistics: 62% have provided financial support to their adult children and grandchildren in the last 12 months. 72% take care of their grandchildren on a regular basis. 13% are primary caregivers. 46% wish they live even closer.

Statistics about the grandparents: 63% say they can do a better job caring for grandchildren than they did with their own. 43% exercise or play sports. 75% are online. 60% still have a full-time or part-time job. 38% report having sex at least twice a week. 10% have a tattoo. They control 75% of the wealth in this country.

I think the joy of grandchildren is we are at a different stage in our life. We are more content and settled into our lives. We have time and wisdom in our life tool box.

Today I am thankful

  • I successfully gave my grand puppy a bath for the first time without using every bath towel in the house and flooding the bathroom. It was quite the sight. She smells delightful and other than shaking off and getting me as wet as her, a five-star event!
  • In honor of Hurricane Irma, I am going to watch female lead movies as long as I have power. I am going to start with a Meg Ryan movie marathon: French Kiss, You’ve Got Mail, Hanging Up, and Women.  Then on to Meryl Streep.
  • I am watching the sky with some hesitation. We are cloudy and windy here in the ATL.
  • It is a lazy Sunday, and I am alright with that. As I say, I up to my ass in words. Reading and writing.

Grama signI will always remember the moments I met my grandson and granddaughter for the first time. The second our eyes connected. Those feelings that overwhelmed me that this was the child of my son. My tears of joy and elation.

With each, that incomprehensible warmth of love spread through me — I am a grandma — like my own children, a love that can’t be described in words.

What a wonderful day to remember all of the grandparents out here. If you are a grandparent, if you know a grandparent, I hope your loved ones remember you today.

We all are worthy.

affectionately yours, Laura