Category Archives: people

I Love High Gas Prices

I’ve been commuting by car to work for about 1.5 years now, and I still hate driving. As a regular driver though, one would think I’d favor access to cheap fuel and find a common bond of complaint with my co-workers, TV advertisers, and politicians over the misery that is high gas prices. In fact, I’m happy to see prices skyrocket, revealing the true cost of car commuting.
Friedman correctly points out that reducing the price of an addicting substance is no way to cure the addiction. I agree, and I’m happy to see high gas prices having an effect on the kinds of cars people are buying. People used to talk about “hybrids” being environmentally friendly, disregarding the fact that there are many small cars that are more fuel efficient than certain hybrids. Now that efficiency actually matters to people, I hear actual fuel efficiency numbers much more frequently than I hear the assumption that hybrid *means* efficient.
High gas prices has made efficiency one of the most important factors in new car buying. It has also reduced the amount that people are driving. What’s not to like? I do wish that gas prices were allocated appropriately (i.e. taxed more), benefiting public transportation and alternative fuels rather than oil companies, but for now I’m happy that there’s at least some incentive for car makers to step up their technology and for fuel consumers to consume less. In the US, we’re still getting a bargain compared to European prices.

The Most Inefficient Gift Certificate

I have an Amazon credit card. Amazon is, of course, not the bank. The bank is Chase. The card “rewards” me by giving me approximately 1% back in the form of Amazon gift certificates. When I got the card, I assumed my Amazon account would just get random credits of $25 every time I spent $2,500. Instead, Chase keeps track of my “points” and when I have enough for another $25, they send some kind of notification to a “Rewards Processing Center”. The rewards center *prints* a coupon code on a piece of paper and mails it to me. I open the envelope, recycle the cover sheet, type the 13 digit number into Amazon, and recycle the certificate and envelope. To me, this is like an email client that sends an email to a processing center where it is printed and mailed… and where then ultimate recipient then re-types it into their email client. Total inefficiency.

Radiohead Price: Whatever You Want

I just ordered Radiohead’s new album, In Rainbows, for about $5. You can only pay in Pounds Sterling, but the price is entirely up to the buyer (so you can choose to pay £0.00 if you so desire). The business model relies on consumers paying for something they can get for free, where I think any motivation to pay nothing is actually driven by inconvenience rather than perceived value. I tend to leave pretty good tips at restaurants, so I have no trouble conceptualizing spending a little extra simply so that someone gets paid a little extra. I do think that the difficulty of making micropayments by typing in credit card numbers and similarly complicated transactions is holding back a lot commerce. I’m always optimistic that things will be more efficient in the future, but check out my third point in my 2003 post on a similar topic.
its up to you

Weather Terms

We’re in the middle of a big snow storm here in Massachusetts today, and I’ve been watching the local news for the entertainment value of excited weather reporters and junior reporters saying things like, “you can hear the wind blowing in the microphone and the sound of tiny ice pellets slamming into my face.”
One thing I’ve heard over and over again now is the definition of a blizzard. The definition involves something about at least three hours of blowing snow and winds over 30 miles per hour. I’m not sure exactly why it’s so important whether today’s storm meets that definition. Maybe it’s a blizzard; maybe it’s not. Who cares? Who made up this definition anyway? One man’s winter storm is another man’s frosty ice-cream treat from DQ. We don’t have a strict definition of snizzle do we?

Scarecrows of Waltham Massachusetts

I’m amazed at the holiday spirit evinced by the residents of Waltham, a suburban town outside of Boston. Maybe this is some East Coast thing that I’m not aware of, but I always associated Halloween decorations with black cats, witches, spiders, ghosts, and jack-o-lanterns. Scarecrows… not so much. In Waltham, however, scarecrows are keeping the crows away at almost every other house. Those without scarecrows in their yards are obviously due for some serious crow issues.
I decided documentation was in order. You’d be surprised how hard it is to sneak around the suburbs in the morning taking pictures of people’s front yards, but alas – the fruits of my labor:
Dwarf Scarecrow and Old “Needs V8” Scarecrow
dwarf scarecrow
Drunk Scarecrow and Scarecrow of the Bush.
drunk scarecrow
“Friend of the Pole” Scarecrow and… “Friend of the Pole” Scarecrow
pole scarecrow
And finally: Way Too Much Holiday Spirit Scarecrow.
festive scarecrow

Central Square World’s Fair

I woke up yesterday to the construction of a stage outside my apartment. It turned out to be the “Latin Stage” of the Central Square World’s Fair. Apparently this event has been running for 15 years, so I don’t know how I missed it last year.
Generally speaking, it’s pleasant to have a carnival atmosphere in one’s neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon (let us not think of the exceptions). I took advantage by testing the food and enjoying a nice performance by Juliana Hatfield. Ah Cambridge.

Beer Summit

I checked out the Beer Summit this weekend. It wasn’t too notable. For $25 you can drink tiny cups of beer for a few hours, sampling various beers while listening to a “beer band”. The band was a horribly predicable cover band, playing such crowd pleasers as Brown Eyed Girl, Sweet Caroline, Laid, and Blister in the Sun. There were some interesting beers, but most were fairly typical. I thought maybe I should share a picture, you know, for the record:
Boston Beer Summit

Kottke Becomes Blog-Artist

Blog pioneer Jason Kottke hopes to be the first blog artist, writing his ad-free blog full time with only the support of donations. He’s combining the concept of micro-donations (proven by the Dean campaign to be a powerful by-product of mass internet accessibility and easy online payment systems) with the concept of artistic patronage – forming (of course): micro-patronage.
It looks like he’s off to a good start. I count about 200 names on his donor list so far. If those people are giving the suggested $30, he would have earned around $6,000. That’s probably not enough to live on in Brooklyn for a year, but then again he only announced this twelve hours ago.
Full time blogging is nothing new, but Kottke aims to do this without advertisements. The link list, however, raises the question of the distinction between donation recognition and advertising. PBS underwriters have long known that a “donation” can be just as valuable as a paid advertisement. In the case of a link on the web, the donation can have tremendous value. This value comes from the search engine boost granted to sites with links from popular sites like Kottke’s. It’s the reason that comment spam exists (and works). I was offered $20 per month to host a small text link on this site, so I think $30 for a permanent link on Kottke’s site is probably a steal.
Kottke could eliminate this benefit by excluding that page from the search engines, either by using the traditional robots file or by using the new no-follow link attribute.
In any case, that’s a technicality. I’m not trying to say that Kottke has sold out – quite the opposite. I hope he succeeds.

Following a Magnetic Ribbon

I took a road trip this weekend to drink in the new year in New York. Whenever traversing the New England freeways, I can’t help but notice the increasing number of “Support Our Troops” magnetic ribbons affixed to the back of cars. Rob Walker offered some background on the magnets in a NYT Magazine Column back in November (thanks to Shelley for helping me find the link). The column explained that the magnets were originally manufactured as a fundraising device: an organization can buy the magnets for a couple bucks and sell them for a fiver, thus fiscally supporting the organization and socially supporting… our troops.
The only problem with supporting the troops in this way is that, in most cases, the magnet flasher is not actually providing anything for the troops. This isn’t way to show support of a war or a policy but merely a method of showing support for the people with a risky job to do. The magnet offers the near-anonymous statement that “the owner of this vehicle hopes that no one will get hurt.”
I’d venture to argue that, in most cases, to dawn a Support Our Troops vehicle magnet is to do nothing more than give in to a fad. To support my argument, consider this: which way does a ribbon go? The single-fold support ribbon has always been a vertical affair (think of Aids and Breast Cancer ribbons), yet “Support Our Troops” ribbons are almost always affixed at an unusual 45 degree angle. How else to explain this phenomenon if not that freeway drivers are perpetually bound to follow the car in front of them, accepting not just speed and direction advice but also magnetic ribbon positioning technique.
support our troops ribbon