Monday, September 26, 2011

Mark Zuckerberg Needs Some Kids!

Originally posted by Tribune Media Services

The last time I Googled Mark Zuckerberg, he was a 27-year-old billionaire who invented Facebook.

Prior to that he was a 26-year-old billionaire who invented Facebook.

The only thing changing in Zuckerberg's life these days is the amount of money he accumulates with his creation. Oh, sure, he pops up in the occasional news story such as the one involving a Northern Ireland dad who is suing Facebook because his 12-year-old daughter posted sexually explicit photos of herself on the site. Facebook, the dad contends, doesn't enforce its policy of forbidding users to establish accounts until they reach the ripe old age of . . . 13. That policy was actually the result of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. Zuckerberg has hinted that he might try to challenge the rule. Younger children, he argued, should be allowed to use Facebook for "educational purposes."

It's easy to see why Zuckerberg made that statement: He doesn't have children of his own. At least, I don't think he does. Hard to believe, but he hasn't updated his Facebook page since January. I'm pretty certain that siring an offspring would at least merit a post. And a photo.

I think I speak for all parents when I say Zuckerberg needs to experience firsthand why we agonize over when to let our own children explore Facebook. Which is exactly why I'm going to launch a campaign: MARK ZUCKERBERG NEEDS SOME KIDS. And I'm going to use Facebook.

I will create a simple Facebook page and ask my 357 friends to "like" it. Then I will invite them all to an event, created via Facebook, entitled, "Drop Your Kids Off at Mark Zuckerberg's House For a Week." Most billionaires have at least a couple spare bedrooms, don't they?

I will get the ball rolling by letting my daughters stay with Zuckerberg. One is 14 and a legal Facebook member. Before letting her join, her mother and I warned her that we would be closely monitoring her activity. We friended her, memorized her password, turned off her instant personalization feature and disabled apps such as AreYouInterested? -- which, according to Facebook, "makes it virtually effortless to meet potential dates instantly." So far, she has behaved responsibly. Still, we can't always control the posts from her 600-plus friends, some of whom freely drop f-bombs, question their classmates' sexual orientation online and wonder if anyone will be bringing alcohol to the party. Maybe Zuckerberg has some suggestions.

He will have a bigger problem dealing with my 9 year old. She's too young for Facebook, but somehow, a few of her 9-year-old friends have established accounts. One even tried to friend me. Isn't that cute? A 9-year-old girl wants to be friends with a 49-year-old man! It's only a matter of time before my daughter begins pestering me for an account. I'll let Zuckerberg deal with that when he tucks her in at night and brushes her pigtails the next morning.

Once a few kids get dropped off at Mr. Z's home, others will certainly follow. I know this because the Facebook Places app helps users broadcast exactly where they are. Word travels fast via social networks; just ask shopkeepers in England.

My wife and I weren't worried about British looters when we agreed to host a graduation party for our daughter. However, we did tell her that, under no circumstances, could she promote the event via Facebook. As a result, we had a nice quiet gathering of about 40 kids, all of whom we recognized. Other parents weren't so lucky; one party we attended contained over 100 eighth-grade grads, thanks primarily to Facebook. At one point, the homeowner gazed out at his backyard, sighed and said, "Who ARE these kids?"

Eventually my Facebook friends and I will descend on Zuckerberg's home, collect our children and restore sanity to his life. Maybe he will use the subsequent quiet time to rethink Facebook's age policy. If he needs additional input, there's a dad in Northern Ireland who may have some ideas.

Zuckerberg should send him a friend request first.

(Greg Schwem is a stand-up comedian and author of "Text Me If You're Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad," available at

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Thankfully, Nevin Shapiro Never had Children

Originally posted by Tribune Media Services

There is football on my TV, the greens of my backyard leaves are slowly giving way to fiery reds and my kids have resumed both school and youth sports programs.

As long as Nevin Shapiro stays in jail, it's going to be a great fall.

Shapiro is the Miami "businessman" currently serving a 20-year prison sentence for orchestrating a $930 million Ponzi scheme. But it was his dealings with University of Miami football players that really put him on the map. Shapiro admitted to a Yahoo sports reporter that he lavished cash and gifts on Miami players and recruits, threw outrageous parties featuring strippers and hookers, paid players for vicious hits and did it all over an eight-year period while nobody thought to question him, including Miami coaches who allegedly also benefitted from Shapiro's largesse.

Unless O.J. Simpson gets transferred to the same correctional facility, Shapiro is now far away from sports figures. This is a good thing because, had Shapiro's misdeeds continued to go unnoticed, he may have tired of his hard-partying bachelor ways, gotten married, had children and settled into a life of suburbia. Like me, maybe he would have a daughter. Like me, maybe his daughter would play soccer. What if our kids ended up on the same team? Any adult who has ever experienced youth soccer knows that some parents can be overly vocal at best and downright nuts at worst. The last thing my daughter's team needs is a guy rolling up to the field in a tricked out minivan.

"Hey, Ned, who's the guy wearing the extra large Strawberry Shortcake team jersey?"

"Greg, that's Nevin Shapiro. His daughter's the starting midfielder. Of course, what did you expect? He threw that all-night party at Chuck E. Cheese last weekend."

"Is that the guy the other kids call, 'The dad with the tokens?'"

"That's him. And he's got more than tokens. Have you seen his house?"

"Is it the one with the 100-foot inflatable jumper in the backyard? My daughter was there for eight hours yesterday. OOOOH, did you see that? One of our kids just kneed another player in the stomach. Poor kid. She's crying. They're going to have to take her out of the game. Looks like our player is going to get a red card."

"And a Dairy Queen coupon."

"A what?"

"Haven't you heard? Shapiro gives free ice cream to any kid who incapacitates an opposing player. Sure, our player's done for the day, but in an hour she's going to be eating a Peanut Buster Parfait."

"No wonder my daughter wants to take kick boxing lessons. By the way, Ned, are we home or away next weekend?"

"We're home. Eleven a.m. at Shapiro Field."

"Excuse me?"

"Didn't you get the email? They named our field after this guy. In return he's buying new warm-up jackets for all the girls. The coaches made the decision last night at Buffalo Wild Wings."

"Let me guess. Shapiro paid."

"You got it."

"Hey, Ned, do you recognize the three 7-year-olds on the sideline? Are they from around here?"

"No, Greg. They're from Mexico. Potential recruits."

"Recruits? From Mexico?"

"Shapiro flew them up here. Thinks they'll be great additions to the team."

"Don't you have to live in our town to play youth soccer for this team?"

"Hey, I don't ask questions. Apparently these kids have some serious moves."

So, let me get this straight: We're using illegal recruits, encouraging our kids to hurt opposing players, bribing them with pizza parties and fancy clothes and nobody thinks this is wrong?"

"Greg, we're 7-0. Zip it."

"How much time is left in this game, anyway?"

"That was the whistle. Looks like we're 8-0 now."

"Here comes my daughter. Nice game honey!"

"Thanks, Dad."

"Hey, since your grandparents drove all the way here to watch you, how about we all go to McDonald's and celebrate?"

"Maybe another time. Mr. Shapiro is taking the whole team to the Apple Store."

"Oh. Uh, do you need any money?"

"Very funny, Daddy."

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Back to $chool

Originally posted by Tribune Media Services

Last week, millions of Americans stood helplessly by as significant portions of their net worth were wiped out. And no, I'm not talking about the stock market.

I'm talking about something far more horrifying: The moment they saw their child's back-to-school supply list.

When it comes to my children's education, I feel I've been a very responsible parent. Shortly after both daughters were born, I established 529 college savings plans and faithfully contribute to them each month. Oh, sure, the wild market fluctuations mean that those plans contain enough money for an Ivy League degree on Tuesday and not enough for a single online course on Wednesday, but that may be a moot point. Based on the increasingly puzzling list of necessary school supplies, not to mention the quantity, I'm starting to wonder if I should establish another 529 plan to cover primary school.

My soon-to-be fourth-grader proudly displayed her list this week. When I attended fourth grade, my school supplies fit quite easily into a shoebox, thank you very much. Eventually, we even used the shoebox in art class to make a "diorama," loosely defined as "something built inside a shoebox." On the first day of class, that box contained a couple of No. 2 pencils, an eraser, a bottle of glue, a pair of scissors, a ruler and a compass. The latter could either be used to draw respectable looking circles or as a weapon. With the shoebox tucked under one arm and a spiral notebook under the other, I was locked and loaded until June.

From my perspective as a volunteer parent, the primary school curriculum has changed little in the past 40 years. My 9-year-old is still learning the basic subjects along with cursive writing, a skill that will disappear once she gets her first cellphone and begins texting.

What has changed considerably are school budgets. In short, they are a mess and my daughter's school is no exception. That's why it's obvious that school officials drastically slash school supply budgets simply by transferring the expenses to the parents. How else to explain the need for every fourth-grader to lumber off the bus on Day One with SIX glue sticks, TWO dispensers of invisible tape, THREE packs of Post-it notes and TWO boxes of Kleenex?

At least she's not in eighth grade. Those kids need 64 No. 2 pencils! Parents have already been warned that class sizes will increase this year to an average of 33 students. Now we're finding out that each class will also contain 2,112 pencils.

How is anybody supposed to move, much less learn?

The glue stick quantity riled me. Six sticks? For each student? When I attended school, a lone bottle of Elmer's lasted the entire year, usually because any art projects required a mere dollop for every item that became part of the diorama. The dollop flowed easily the first time the bottle was opened; afterward, the leftover residue on the tip became a glue dam, stopping any fresh glue from passing by unless the owner pierced it with a sharp object. Hence the need for the compass.

Now, with more than 180 glue sticks readily available, the fourth grade should be able to tackle more serious projects, such as replacing any bricks that come loose from the school's foundation.

Finally, the most puzzling (and most expensive) item of all: A pair of digital stereo headphones, "with ear bud and cushion." Upon seeing this, I quickly scanned the remainder of the list, wondering if I had to spring for an iPod and a $100 iTunes card. Thankfully those items were absent, so I'm left to wonder how my daughter is supposed to hear her teacher when she is wearing ear buds? I'm also wondering if I should get the $14.99 pair I found at Sears or whether she will get a better education if I spring for the $240 model from

Headphones aside, fulfilling this list is going to set the Schwem budget back at least $200. It's enough to make you want to stick a compass in your eye.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The best-kept secrets are left in bars

Originally posted by Tribune Media Services

I'm currently writing a one-man show. I haven't finished it, but I know it's going to be awesome. Critics will rave, theaters will sell out and tickets will go for three times face value on StubHub.

How do I know all of this? Because I'm going to leave the unfinished script in a bar. Hey, if it worked for Apple, it should work for me.

Much has been made recently of an incident involving an Apple employee, an unreleased Apple product and a San Francisco drinking establishment. According to technology website CNET, the employee left some cool Apple gadget (and aren't they ALL cool?) on the bar, where somebody else scooped it up, sold it and, in the process, let Apple's secrets out of the bag. Police are reportedly involved even though nobody is saying exactly what is being sought.

Speculation is that the gadget in question is the iPhone 5, scheduled to be released just as soon as everybody waiting in line for an iPhone 4 has purchased one. (At a Chicago Apple store, the line ended somewhere around Peoria).

If this incident of absent-mindedness sounds familiar, it is. Last year, another Apple employee left the iPhone 4 prototype in a Redwood City, Calif., bar. That device ended up at the offices of Gizmodo, another technology website, which reviewed it before it hit the market.

Once the iPhone 4 actually DID hit the market, it promptly became the best selling single mobile device since somebody started keeping records of mobile device sales. Which begs the question: Did the second Apple employee conveniently forget his device on purpose in hopes of duplicating the iPhone 4's success?

I'd bet my house that former Apple CEO Steve Jobs encouraged this sort of thing. Before stepping down last month, he probably emailed his workers with helpful advice nuggets as, "think out of the box," "look at an old product in a new way" and "never be afraid to leave a tip and an unreleased product on the bar at the same time." Apple employees, who would no doubt swallow an entire hard drive if Jobs suggested it, seem to be complying.

Perhaps this is why the support section in an Apple store is called the Genius Bar. It also makes you wonder if some of the biggest flops in history would have met different fates if they had been left in between the pretzels and the cocktail napkins. For example:

A half-eaten McDonald's Arch Deluxe

A can of New Coke

The "Sex and the City 2" draft

Terrell Owens' career

I refuse to let my script end up in some theatrical trash heap. I just need to find the right bar and the right person to discover it. I live in Chicago, a city that certainly has no shortage of watering holes. Website Yelp found 68 bars within a four-block radius of Wrigley Field alone. I've frequented several and, while the bars vary in personality, all seem to contain at least one autographed photo of a Chicago Cubs player who stopped in at some point. (Based on the Cubs' record, these visits most likely occurred before the game.)

My bar will contain an abundance of foreign brews. Who knows? Maybe a deep-pocketed European investor will find the script. It will also have one of those trivia machines perched in the corner. Anybody who feels the need to exercise his mind while drinking could do wonders with my show.

If you frequent karaoke bars, do not look for it. I refuse to let it fall into the hands of anybody who might read it and think that Act Two would improve if a bunch of college-age women started singing Summer Nights from Grease.

Finally, the bar will allow dogs. Anybody who brings a dog into a bar is cool. And the dogs I've met in bars are supercool.

So if you are in Wrigleyville one evening and happen to see a stack of pages containing a mild chicken wing stain sitting unattended, do not toss them out. Make copies and send them to every theatrical agent you know. Google "theatrical agents" if you must.

See you at the Tonys.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Your good health...for 50 percent off

Originally posted by Tribune Media Services

Certain things in life should be kept separate. Cheese fries and cholesterol screenings. Fourth-graders and Bachelor Pad episodes. Coupons and medical procedures.

I started thinking about the latter recently when an offer for two one-hour acupuncture sessions graced my inbox. "Try a new tack for beating pain with today's deal: $39 (regularly $145)," the email stated. "Grab this 73-percent-off deal, and stop waiting on pins and needles for your aches to disappear."

I've been getting these "deal-of-the-day" offers since I began subscribing to Groupon, the crazy popular website whose motto apparently is, "You don't need this but hey, it's cheap!"

Since joining Groupon I've purchased a large pizza from a nearby restaurant ($10 off $20) and Sunday brunch from a not so nearby pancake house ($15 off $30). Feeling guilty, I then bought a 30-day Fit Body Boot Camp membership ($187 off $227). I went to exactly three boot camp sessions before realizing that I would eventually need a Groupon for two artificial knees if I kept attending. I called the facility, told the receptionist to keep the 40 bucks and apologized for leaving large amounts of drool on the gym floor. Incidentally, there is now a Fit Body boot camp spot open for anyone who wants to work out to the sounds of an over-caffeinated Bulgarian trainer shouting, "Zat ees not a poooosh up!"

The acupuncture offer did not come from Groupon, but rather from AmazonLocal, an offshoot of whose motto is, "We want a piece of the action!" Seriously, is there any business Amazon does NOT compete with? It's only a matter of time before the site begins selling ballistic missiles to the Defense Department. Twenty percent off plus free shipping! Gift cards accepted!

Even my wife, the consummate queen of bargaining, seemed disturbed that a medical procedure would be marked down. Once on a cruise vacation, I watched her haggle with a 90-year-old Bahamian woman over the price of a straw hat. Out of sheer exhaustion the woman relented, parting with the hat for $8 instead of $10. Triumphantly, my wife returned to the ship and bought a $12 strawberry daiquiri without batting an eye.

But even she pays the asking price for prescriptions, doctor's visits and anything else that involves improved health. Sure, offering occasional blowout sales for surgeries, drugs and the like might curb this nation's health-care crisis but it would also lead to patients defiantly sitting in emergency rooms saying, "They told me it's going to cost $1,000 to close this head wound but I'm sure I can talk them down to $500. Can I get some more paper towels please?"

Lowering the price of anything medical also arouses suspicion that somebody is cutting corners. Fifteen years ago, I heard a radio spot featuring Tiger Woods touting an eye-care center that performed his Lasik surgery and gave him 20/20 vision. I called the center and was told Lasik cost $5,000. I swallowed hard but made the appointment anyway. While I don't have Tiger Woods' bank account, I wanted his eyesight. Unfortunately, years later Woods would realize that even 20/20 vision wouldn't allow him to see everything. A tree, for instance.

Several months after the surgery I saw an ad (much more clearly, thank you) from a competing center touting Lasik for the LOW LOW PRICE OF $99 PER EYE! And another one that screamed, "BUY ONE EYE. GET THE SECOND EYE FREE!" How, I wondered, could a technical procedure such as Lasik come with such a low price tag?

Good question Mr. Schwem. We don't numb your eyes with medically-approved eye drops. Hot sauce works just as well!

Get the point? That's why I just deleted the acupuncture deal. Even though my back is hurting as I hunch over my PC finishing this column, I'm not willing to cure it with somebody who is willing to knock 73 percent off his asking price. I'll find another way to control the pain.

Come to think of it, Sunday brunch always makes me feel better.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Imagining the first Papal tweet

Originally posted by Tribune Media Services


Pope Benedict XVI recently sent his first tweet. Using an iPad.

Before this monumental event, the leader of the Catholic Church had been interacting with his followers via speeches, written by hand and sometimes composed entirely in Latin. But apparently the Information Superhighway now goes directly through the Vatican, as evidenced by a video that showed Benedict seated at a table and tapping out his message while a few other religious higher-ups stood by and nodded in approval.

I couldn't help but note that all appeared to be about the same age as the pope. Certainly these men had not taught Benedict the nuances of tweeting and downloading. No, that task fell to 24-year-old Father Kyle, the youngest, hippest priest in Rome and the only one with a tattoo. The following is an excerpt from Benedict's introductory lesson:

"This is an iPad, Your Holiness. It's password protected, so you need to create a password. Something that's easy for you to remember."


"Unfortunately, Holy Father, it has to be at least six characters."

"Lord Almighty."

"And it also needs a number."


"OK: LordAlmighty1. Can you remember that? I suggest you write it down somewhere. Now you're on your home screen."

"What is Netflix?"

"That's not important, Your Holiness. Well, actually, it is kind of cool. Let's say you want to watch 'The Ten Commandments.' Ever seen it? Awesome flick! With Netflix, you can watch it whenever. Isn't that chill? No more late fees! No more disappointment when you pull up to the Redbox and it's not there!"

"What is 'Angry Birds'?"

"Don't touch that. You have a blessing in two hours and trust me, if you start playing 'Angry Birds,' you will never make it. Cardinal Luke, am I right?"

"Absolutely, Father Kyle!"

"Your Holiness, let me explain Twitter. In simple terms, Twitter is a social network and microblogging service that lets you follow public streams of information."

"I am confused, Father Kyle."

"I can't make it any simpler than that, PB."

"Can I spread the Word of the Lord?"

"You can. In 140 characters or less."

"That does not seem like a lot. Did you attend my last Mass? It lasted at least 45 minutes."

"Well, God created the world in seven days, so really it's all relative. Go ahead and launch the virtual keyboard. Turn the iPad sideways. That's good. Now you see your Twitter feed. Just type what you want to say in the box."

"'Dear Brothers and Sisters. . .'"

"OK, can I stop you there? You're already at 25 characters. Let's shorten it. First, remove the 'Dear.' Now make it 'Brths' and 'Strs.'"

"Don't forget hashtags."

"I was getting to that, Cardinal Matthew. Your Holiness, if you include hashtags, your tweet may become a trending topic. And it will make it easier for people to find you."

"Find me? I'm at the Vatican. I've always been at the Vatican. I'm the only one clothed entirely in white. I carry a cross. Who in the world is having trouble locating me?"

"All I'm saying is that we typed 'Pope' into the Twitter search engine and you weren't even in the top five. But once you start tweeting, you'll be above New York Times reporter Tara Parker-Pope. And The Pope Family."

"I don't think I like this Twitter stuff."

"Give it a chance, Your Holiness. Imagine tweeting your Easter message. Go ahead. Try it."

"OK. 'He is risen, he is not here. Life and death were locked in combat and Life was victorious forever. All is again orientated to Eternal Life!'"

"That's good...but it won't fit if you include 'Brths and Strs.' Let's make that your second tweet. If we put hashtags before 'Eternal' and 'Life' and the 'at' sign prior to 'death,' you've still got characters left. Anything else you would like to add?

"I do not know. Any suggestions?"

"How about 'OMG'?"