Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Can Data-Mining be Avoided?

I began writing this post yesterday and guess what? Today (January 28th) is Data Privacy Day! I had no idea but I'll pretend I did. So, in honor of Data Privacy Day, I give you this blog post:

AT&T recently announced a unique service to four communities in Austin. Customers who opted for this service would receive a discount on their bill, the fastest connection in all of Austin, and the customers wouldn't have to do a thing!

Well, that's not entirely true, I suppose. The customer does have to give up a little something we often refer to as privacy.

Yup. The catch here is that AT&T will know what their customer searches for on the internet and what sites they visit. This information will assist AT&T with tailoring ads to fit that person's lifestyle.

Never fear! AT&T claims they won't share or sell this information! And they won't be able to track your banking information or credit card purchases, so that's not a problem either. Plus, the ads might actually be something you are interested in -- not some silly product you'd never buy.

Okay... that doesn't sound too bad. Right?

In my opinion, it sounds ridiculous. I may not have anything to hide, but I don't really want all of my website history to be "out there" in someone's file.

But the fact of the matter is that AT&T is one of the few companies actually asking for permission to data-mine. An exposition by Charles Duhigg of the New York Times exposes Target's data-mining ways. Even if you do not sign up for Target's Red Card, you are still assigned an ID number based off of your credit card number. Target tracks your purchases based on that number and can even make predictions as to what you'll buy next. That way, Target can mail or email you coupons that cater to those needs.

Again, what's so wrong with this? At least the ads make sense for the consumer.

Look, if you want fast internet, you're low on cash, and you don't have any secrets to hide, I say go for AT&T's deal. If you want coupons that have to do with what you're going to need in the near future, please continue paying with your debit or credit card at Target. And don't forget to give them your email and mailing address while you're at it. If that's what you want to do, absolutely no judgement here.

Besides, this data-mining can't be avoided. Most companies data-mine like crazy -- especially online companies because it's much easier to track purchases due to IP addresses and the fact that debit/credit
Photo found here. This link is actually pretty interesting.
DirecTV is apparently targeting their ads now too.  
cards must be used in online purchases. If data-mining can't be avoided, might as well reap the rewards by getting some coupons, right?

But what are the companies doing with the data? Besides targeting ads, they also have the option to sell that data to other companies (well, AT&T claimed they wouldn't, but they are one of the few). Even if you only sign up for a rewards card at one store, other stores could soon have your purchase history and your product preferences. They could also have your email address, mailing address, or phone number. That means more targeted ads and more of your shopping history being collected.

Pretty crazy, right?

So does this mean we should all become paranoid and stop shopping?

I don't think so. (At least, I hope not!)

But if you value your privacy, there are a few things you can do to avoid (or at least cut back on) data-mining:
  1. Pay in cash. This is the easiest way to stop the data-mining before it begins. If they don't know who you are, they can't keep track of your info and purchase history. Cash does not have a number linked to your name or purchase history, so it's the safest and easiest way to go if you want to stay off-grid. 
  2. Refuse to give out any info. At the cash register when they begin the transaction with asking you for a phone number or zip code, just say "No thanks". The cashier almost always makes it sound necessary to know this information in order to continue the transaction but it is simply not a requirement to shop there. You are under no obligation to give out your personal information. Trust me, I've refused to give my information many times at stores and it is never an issue. 
  3. Customer reward cards are a no-go. Stop signing up for the stupid customer reward cards. You're giving them everything: name, phone number, address, email -- the mother-load. Just stop.
  4. Special credit cards are also a tool. You do not need a credit card at every retail store you visit. And if you want to keep your privacy, avoid all such cards. I don't care if you get 5% off with every purchase -- the company makes much more money off of you by using the data that credit card collects to smother you in ads. 
  5. Never go out. Never shop. Never buy anything. Okay, obviously that is a bit extreme and is not doable for most (excuse me, all) people's lifestyles. It is the only way to truly avoid all of this data-mining, though. I don't think we need to be afraid of the data-mining, but no need to give out personal information at every store, sign up for every credit card, and give the companies everything they want. 

In the age of technology, data-mining is difficult, if not impossible, to avoid or control. If it bothers you, there are ways to avoid it. If you simply don't care and just want the deals, realize that you're being played. Targeted ads earn a company about 2.7 times the revenue as a random ad. That means that the target (you!) is spending more money.

So, who's the real winner here? I'll give you a clue: it's not the consumer. 

Does data-mining make you paranoid? 
Or are you happy to get the coupons? 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Attention to All 15-Year-Olds

When I was fifteen years old, I attended a seminar about economics. Now, I had willingly filled out the application and even looked forward to this seminar (It's okay to call me a dork right about now), but I did not really know what to expect at this seminar or where it would lead me.

The seminar ended up sparking an interest in economics that I did not know I had. So many people in high school and then later in college tell me that they hate economics. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the technicalities and the theory of it. And that seminar was the start of that interest in economics.

(For full disclosure, I am not in any way an economics expert. But, economics is not really the point of this post.)

At that economics seminar, I met and chatted with the staff members and several of the speakers. At only fifteen years of age, I spoke to adults rather well and held decent conversations with them. In addition, I asked questions after every lecture, took notes, showed interest, and behaved.

On Monday, almost exactly three and a half years later, I interviewed with one of the speakers I talked with at that seminar. He is now the Founder and CEO of a 10-month program to train young entrepreneurs.

And guess what?
This meme has nothing to do with the post.
I just thought it was funny (:
Image found here.

He remembered who I was. He remembered that I stuck out as a "top participant" at that seminar. And now I have an offer from his company to join their 10 month program.

I am not trying to assert that the fifteen year old version of me was good enough to handle the interview questions, application process, or the program that I have now been extended an offer to take part in. But, I will assert that my interview did not start on Monday. Rather, it started three and a half years ago. I met this speaker in Colorado in 2010, have not met or talked with him since then, and we recently Skype interviewed from two separate states. How incredible is that?

Now, think about the same scenario if I had been awkward in talking with adults, broken the rules at the seminar, and showed little to no interest in the lectures. Maybe, just maybe, it would not have affected my interview negatively. But maybe, just maybe, he would not have remembered me at all. Most of the students at the seminar showed little to no interest. They faded into the background. They did not stick out as a "top participant". This man I interviewed with probably does not remember all 60 of us, especially the ones who did not care.

This post is for everyone, but especially young people. Realize that you never know how the people you meet now might influence your life later. Always be out to make your best impression. Who knows? It could be your fifteen year old self that makes the first impression in an important relationship.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Nutella is Italian for "Lies"

Ahh, Nutella.

Picture found here

Anyone who knows me probably knows that I love Nutella. It's magic. It's amazing. It's a chocolate sauce with the perfect consistency to spread across graham crackers and dip pretzels into.

I love Nutella.

Remember that Pinterest addiction I was telling you about? Yeah, I also have a Nutella addiction. And I like to mix my addictions. I have a Pinterest board dedicated to Nutella. I know. It's bad. 

Before I go on, let me make it clear: I am an advocate of Nutella. If you have not tried it, stop reading this blog post, go buy a jar, and start eating. 

Have some Nutella? Okay. Let's continue. (If you can stand to put the spoon down.)

Now, as much as I love Nutella, there is one thing I hate about their ad campaign. 

Watch this:

Disgusting. Gross. Lies. 

Listen to that woman! She's implying all of these wonderful things about Nutella's nutritional value: hazelnuts, skim milk, and "just a hint" of cocoa. Oh! And if we spread it on multi-grain toast or whole wheat waffles and put some bananas and orange juice on the table, it's healthy!  Plus, this family is skinny and fit. Nutella is great! Right? 

Although the commercial never says it with words, everything about this commercial is projecting Nutella as a healthy food that can be a major component to an actual meal. 

Visiting the Nutella USA website, I was quickly told that Nutella contains 50 Hazelnuts per jar. It also has no artificial colors or preservatives. Isn't that great?

Then, right below these claims, is the list of ingredients. The first one? Sugar. You know what that means? Sugar is the most prominent ingredient in Nutella. The next ingredient? Palm oil. Finally, we get to the hazelnuts and cocoa powder as ingredients number three and four. 

Nutella is over 70% sugar and fat. 

And that's what you want to have for breakfast?

Apparently Nutella has run into angry American customers before for their "false advertising". Ferrero (the Italian company responsible for this chocolaty goodness) settled a class action lawsuit in 2012 with Americans who apparently thought Nutella provided healthy benefits. If those Americans were going completely off the commercials, I can't blame them for drawing that conclusion. 

Now, I realize that Nutella is not actually the Italian word for lies. It may, however, be a synonym for the English word "gullible".

I love Nutella. But I know Nutella is not good for me. How do I know?... I can read. 

Attention American people everywhere: learn to read the labels on your food! Use your head! If sugar is even on the list of ingredients, that food is probably not that great for you. Same goes for food with high-fructose corn syrup in it. And the first three ingredients are particularly important because they are what make up most of that food. If sugar is in the first three, realize that what you are purchasing is a dessert. Not breakfast. 

I'm not happy with Ferrero for false advertising, but I'm even more ticked at the Americans who apparently cannot read and have never taken a nutrition class. 

Have you stopped eating that jar of Nutella yet? By all means, please continue. Just realize that Nutella is a dessert, not breakfast. It should be eaten in moderation, just like any other high-sugar food. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

I Fell Into The Trap

That's my ear shortly after getting two additional piercings back in 2011. 

Being under the age of 18, I had to have a parent signature to even get the extra holes. My little sister was shocked that both of my parents agreed to let me do it. I had to pay for it, but they "gave me their blessing" by signing the permission slip.

After about 10 months of having the extra piercings, I decided I was done with them. I took the extra earrings out and did not put them back in for over two years.

You see, I realized after about 10 month that I fell into The Trap. The "Body Modification" Trap. 

It's not a new trap. It's been around for thousands of years, actually. Many cultures have promoted it in different ways. Many different tribes do piercings or tattoos. Egyptians wore heavy amounts of make-up. European women wore corsets and wigs. 

We've done some crazy stuff to our bodies over the centuries.

All of the ancient practices (and more) have taken root in America. Not just piercings, hair coloring, and tattoos, but also liposuction and plastic surgery are popular in our nation. 14.6 million cosmetic surgeries were performed in 2012. 


I fell into The Trap once again this past summer. Since my job did not have any hair color requirements, I decided to color some of my hair purple. I had partially purple hair for about five months. 

I loved the attention that both of these changes -- the ear piercings and the hair color -- gave me. It was fun to post pics on Facebook or Instagram and enjoy the compliments, hearts, and likes. It was also great when people realized the change in person and exclaim, "Oh my gosh! I didn't know you had ______! How cute!"

But then it was over. The compliments died down. And then what's left?

If I wanted to keep getting compliments, I'd have to do something else. Another hair color. Another piercing. Another change to my body. 

Maybe that's why some girls end up with an ear looking like this: 

Image found here.

Now, I will be the first to admit: these earrings are pretty. Her ear looks chic and trendy. I kinda wish my ear looked like this. 

But what's the motivation for putting five or six extra holes in my ear?

Attention. Satisfaction. Love. Acceptance. Uniqueness. Rebellion. (click to tweet)

The list could go on.

Please don't hear me wrong. I'm not saying piercings, tattoos, hair color, or plastic surgery are sins. They aren't morally wrong. But the motivation for having them could be. We make ourselves an idol wanting praise when we make changes to our body in hopes of the attention it will bring. Yes, it feels great to receive compliments. We all love it. But is our worth measured by the compliments we receive? I hope not, or I'm afraid none of us would be worth much at all. 

Rather, we should find our value in the value that we give others. Instead of asking "How do I look?", we should be asking "How do I live?". 

It's not about what our body looks like but rather what we do with the body we have. Will we use it to aesthetically please others, or serve others? To fish for compliments, or build other people up? Should we try to change the outside, or focus on the inside? 

I'm breaking away. I'm saying no more to The Trap. (click to tweet)

What about you? 

Monday, January 13, 2014

If Life were Like Pinterest...

Have you heard of Pinterest? It's awesome. I love it. In fact, I probably spend no less than ten minutes and sometimes close to an hour on Pinterest daily. It's like a social media site without all the social part so there isn't too much interaction with real people -- isn't that great? I would say it is a site mostly used by women, but men use it too. Basically, it has everything in the world on it: clothes, diy projects, weddings plans, memes, travel tips, celebrities, movie, music, history, recipes, photography, quotes, fitness/health tips, whatever! There is no way that what you're interested in is not on Pinterest. And if it's not? Just 'pin' it from another site onto Pinterest and voila! Each pin has a photo and (sometimes) a link to learn more about that pin. And you, the user, can pick and choose what you re-pin and you get to organize it however you want. Then, it's always there for your future use. It's like bookmarks but better because, well, there's pictures. And, you don't have to find all the sites for yourself. Just follow people with similar interests and you'll help each other discover new things.

Sounds great, right? 

It is. 

So what's my problem with Pinterest? Well, I have a few...

 1. It's a time sucker. Having it on my phone makes it particularly enticing during five or ten minute breaks here and there. But even when I'm home and I could be doing anything I want, sometimes I sit with my phone and just pin. Before I know it, half an hour has passed. In addition, my Pinterest addiction sometimes keeps me up at night, cutting into precious sleeping time.

2. It's not productive. Even though I pin tons of diy projects, recipes, and other clever ideas, I have executed perhaps a dozen of them. I have pinned over 6,000 things. So that's a one to 500 ratio of projects done in real life to pins pinned.

3. It causes discontentment. Pinterest makes me aware of what I do not have. Cute clothes, gourmet cooking skills, a perfect body, that dream wedding, the huge mansion, great make-up skills, and not to mention tons of nail polish and nail art abilities... I don't have those things. Some of them I may never get. And by looking at and re-pinning photos of those things all day makes me well aware of that fact.  

As this photo points out:

Photo found here

4. Lastly, Pinterest feeds my sarcasm. My "Memes and such" board accounts for 2,600 of my 6,000+ pins. That's close to half of my pins going toward photos of grumpy cat, screenshots of tumblr posts, ecards, and other equally ridiculous and sarcastic photos. These memes and other photos feed my sarcasm and, I believe, contribute greatly to my attitude. Some of these photos may have me on the floor laughing, while many mostly encourage me to be sarcastic or snide.

Like many websites, Pinterest can be used for good or evil. For me, the good in Pinterest is found in the great quotes and Bible verses I re-pin. But those account for less than 400 of my over 6,000 pins. Again, not a great ratio. What's wrong with spending 10-60 minutes a day on Pinterest? Wishing for things I may never get? Avoiding things I should be doing? Stirring up my sarcastic attitude? 

If I honestly have to answer those questions, I have a pretty big problem on my hands. 

So, here's my pledge. For the next six weeks, no Pinterest. This may sound silly to you non-Pin Heads, but for me, it's a big deal. I won't access Pinterest for six weeks. I will delete the Pinterest app on my phone and replace it's spot with my Bible app. (I will probably press that app many times in the coming weeks expecting Pinterest to pop up and getting Genesis instead.) Any other Pinterest-addicted friends care to join me? Comment below! 

Are you on Pinterest? Are you a Pin Head? 
Or do you keep your time on Pinterest limited? 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Response to "Blackfish"

CNN produced and aired a documentary called "Blackfish" back in 2010. I did not see this film until this past week so I am a bit behind in responding to it. Nevertheless, I still wanted to write about it.

If you have not seen this film, it is currently available in Netflix for instant streaming or you can purchase it online.

Now, let me begin by saying that I am not that into "animal rights". I love animals. I have loved animals since I was a little kid. My first dream job was to be a vet. I used to pretend to be a dog and I would go around our house on my hands a knees and lap up my cereal on the floor. But, I'm not a member of PETA and I eat plenty of beef, pork, and poultry in my diet. I do not think I could ever be considered an animal advocate, which is why this post might seem a little strange coming from me.

In seventh grade, I attend a Sea World Adventure Camp at Sea World San Antonio. That was when I fell in love with sea lions. The orcas were cool, but sea lions were more my style. They were the dogs of the sea -- and dogs were always my favorite. For the next four years, all I wanted to be when I grew up was a sea lion trainer. I studied sea lions, participated in swim team, gave a speech in my speech/debate league about sea lions... I loved them. For my 14th birthday, my parents surprised me with a session to actually swim with a sea lion. It is quite possibly the best birthday present I have ever received. To this day, I still want to be a sea lion trainer, but a few years ago I decided to pursue other occupations.

Now, back to the documentary. The film made me feel extremely upset on behalf of the killer whales in captivity, specifically Tilikum -- the whale the film focused on. Tilikum is responsible for at least two deaths while in captivity. He's a frustrated whale and his frustration has many possible causes: he was captured from the wild and taken away from his family at two years of age, his first trainer punished him when he did not do tricks properly, the two whales Tilikum lived with in his first home would gain up on him and beat him up, his first home required him to spend more than half of his time in a small, dark habitat, even at Sea World his habitat was small and he continued to get beaten up... There were many reasons this 12,000 pound creature was frustrated.

Tilikum's not the only one. According to the documentary, there are around 300 recorded incidences of killer whales in captivity killing or injuring humans. In the wild, there are no recorded incidences of human deaths by killer whales.

The documentary tells most of Tilikum's story through the eyes of five retired Sea World trainers who had worked with Tilikum. They admitted that they were not told of Tilikum's killing past or any incidences of any orca's killing their trainers. They also believed that an orca had a life span of about 30 years because that was how long orcas live in captivity. Turns out, orcas can live more than twice that when in the wild. All five of the trainers came to the realization that whales are simply not made for captivity.

Again, I am not normally an animal rights activist. But, after watching the documentary, even if only half of it is truth, I am moved. I have been a Sea World fan for seven years and that is about how long I have wanted to be a sea lion trainer. Even after watching this film, I still want to train sea lions. But, my outlook on Sea World has changed. Is it as pure as everyone believes? Are they doing the whales a favor? Are they as environmentally friendly as they claim? Do they rescue as many animals as they say?

Sea World helps people feel more connected with marine animals. Sea World has probably helped millions of people turn anti-whale hunting and pro-conservation. But I feel that their message was built on a lie. Tilikum was captured from the wild where he would have lived a normal life with his family had he been left alone. Sea World has also separated mother whales from their babies. How is this a happy life for the family-oriented whales?

From this video, I am convinced that the whales are not satisfied in captivity and that the trainers are not safe. It pains me to think that I might not be able to go back to Sea World with a clean conscience -- or at all. I love Sea World, despite the documentary, for all of the wonderful memories I have at their park. But Blackfish is making me question Sea World's integrity and the morality of keeping killer whales -- or any marine life -- in captivity.

All images taken from the official Blackfish website: http://blackfishmovie.com/stills

Monday, January 6, 2014

Never Refuse the Hug

Maybe you've heard of this guy, Tim. He owns a restaurant where they serve breakfast, lunch, and hugs. He also has Down Syndrome.

I love Tim's story for so many reasons! It tells us not to be afraid to take chances, to follow our dream, to always show love to others, to never let a disability get you down... the list goes on. I would love to actually meet Tim in person someday by visiting his restaurant in Albuquerque.

Tim is great because he is inspiring others with his entrepreneurship, but mostly, I think, with his love.

When I was in elementary school, I befriended a kid with a mental disability. This fellow student came to eat lunch with my class everyday. The two of us would usually sit next to each other and as the year passed, we became friends. I honestly do not think we talked that much... but we had a connection. He liked to touch my ears which, according to his older sister, he only did to the people he really liked. I enjoyed being this guy's friend. He was super friendly and kind. He always greeted me with a smile and "Hello". He was sort of like Tim, just a little less of a hugger.

A few of my other classmates enjoyed teasing me about this friendship. One of their favorite insults was calling him my boyfriend. It was painful for me, but I mostly just felt sorry for those girls. They were missing out on a potentially great friendship.

Judging people based on a disability, how they look, walk, dress, their family -- whatever -- can cause a loss. Not for that person, but for the one inflicting the judgement. The person judging can, and probably is, missing out on a wonderful friendship.

Imagine walking into Tim's Place and Tim approaches you for a hug. Instead of extending your arms and returning the hug, you turn around and leave the restaurant, vowing never to return. Then, you tell everyone you know what a terrible restaurant it is (and you haven't even experienced it for yourself). When your friend visits Tim's Place and has nothing but great reviews, you refuse to believe him.

My advice: always reach out and return the hug. In fact, seek out the hug. Avoid the judgement, the stereotype. And encourage your kids to do the same. The person you thought would be the worst friend (disabled or not), might end up becoming your best friend.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Best 9 Seconds of My Life

According to Buzzfeed staff, Jessica Misener, this video will be the best nine seconds of your life:

Well, how was it? Aren't you glad you watched that? Aren't you glad that you now have the best nine seconds of your life done and over with? Now you can stop worrying about where those nine seconds will come from or the source of those nine seconds of pure best-ness.

The video was uploaded to YouTube on November 8, 2013. It now has nearly half a million views.

Half a million views? Okay, people. It's the guy's breakfast.

Granted, it might be cute, a little funny, slightly entertaining, maybe even the funniest nine seconds of your day. But, the BEST nine seconds of your LIFE?

Give me a break.

If we're talking about just any day of our lives, I would say even my worst days were better than the nine seconds I watched those "talking" eggs. Now, if we have to keep it down to a nine second moment rather than a whole day, here are a few from my life that I think might top "Mister Breffast":

  1. Nine seconds of pure joy when I realized I got a dog for Christmas
  2. Nine seconds of excitement when I saw my little sister for the first time
  3. Nine seconds of laughing when I was reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and I realized that Hagrid was knitting on the train
  4. Nine seconds of love and security whenever I hug a family member for an extra-long hug
  5. Nine seconds of feeling incredibly blessed by God after I rose from the water while getting baptized 
  6. Nine seconds of anticipation whenever we would finally roll up in the driveway of a grandparent's house and we got to jump out of the car and greet them
  7. Nine seconds of satisfaction whenever seeing the happy face of a relative when they open up the present I got them for Christmas/Birthday/etc.
  8. Nine seconds of awe as I realized I finished the National Novel Writing Month challenge for the fourth year in a row
  9. Nine seconds of shock and surprise when walking into my 12th birthday party (a surprise party) 
There. Nine nine-second instances that were better than that YouTube video.

I hope you get my point. 

Just in case you're still confused, let me make myself clear: life is not about YouTube videos. YouTube sensations might make you laugh or crack a smile, but they are not what is going to be important to you in a year, day, or even five minutes from now. 

So many of us are putting way too much of our time in the things that simply do not matter. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instragram, Vine, Pinterest, email... I don't care what your internet vice is. It's not what's important in the long-run. 

People are important and should not be ignored.

Look at my list. Make your own. What are those short, nine-second moments that make your "Best Nine Seconds of My Life" list? I'm going to take a guess and say that it's probably not YouTube videos. It's family, friends, life experiences. 

So, here's to putting our priorities back in the right place in 2014. 

What are the best nine seconds of your life?
(And if it's truly is that video, please let me know.) 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

No, please. Don't RSVP. I'll just guess.

About eight years ago, my dad hosted a poker party at our house. He invited about ten guys over, his faithful wife and kids made the snacks, and Dad organized the tables, cards, and chips. Some said they thought they could make it so Dad expected at least a few of his bros to show up.

No one attended.

Just recently, I decided to host my own party. It was supposed to be a reunion party for a group of people I used to see weekly. We have not been a group for about seven months, so our meeting was long over-due (at least, in my opinion). Not including myself, 13 people were invited.

Of the 13 people:

  • 1 RSVP'd yes and came
  • 1 RSVP'd no and did not come
  • 2 RSVP'd yes and backed out the day of the event
  • 1 said she would "let me know"... she never did 
  • 7 did not RSVP at all
  • 1 called the day of the event to RSVP with a no
Out of 13 people, only one managed to make and keep her commitment to attend. 

Image found here

So, what's going on? Why would the people invited to my dad's poker party or the people invited to my reunion party not show up, not RSVP, and seemingly act as though they don't care about the event at all? 

1. The "Something-Better-Might-Come-Along" syndrome
Why commit to that party when something better might come along if I just wait. Solution? Learn to commit and keep your commitments. It's a trait that will help you in all areas of your life. 

2. The "I-genuinely-forgot" excuse
Some of these people may have genuinely forgot. I get that. I forget things to. Solution? It's called a calendar. Get one at the Dollar Store. Write in it. Look at it every day. 

3. The "I-don't-need-to-RSVP" disorder
This... this is perhaps the worst. This person believes they can simply slide by without replying to the invite. Solution? If someone is nice enough to invite you to their home, offer to feed and entertain you... you need to RSVP with a yes or a no and you need to do so as soon as humanly possible (read: when you get the invitation).

4. The "Back-out-at-the-last-minute" trick
No, I'm sorry, this one is the worst. Letting someone know the day-of the event that you can no longer attend is socially unacceptable and rude. Family emergencies happen, but are rare. Solution? If you said you were going to come, come. The host(ess) already set you up a spot, bought you food, etc. (See number 1 for that whole thing about commitment.)

In a nutshell: keep a calendar, learn to commit, respond quickly to invitations, and simply be polite. That way, the host(ess) can plan accordingly and everyone who actually does attend the party will have fun (and not have to eat all the left-over food for the next week).