That’s racial, yo

Apparently the newest issue of Survivor, the TV show I quit watching about halfway through season one but is still going gangbusters, will have the tribes of its current season divided according to race. GM has ended its sponsorship of the show, though the company stresses their decision has nothing to do with this new plot twist.

I enjoyed creator Mark Burnett’s commentary for people who take offense:

Burnett claims dividing the four teams on SURVIVOR: COOK ISLANDS according to race eliminates any tension between the groups and thus avoids racism. He explains, “By putting people in tribes, they clearly have to get rid of people of their own ethnicity. So that’s not racial at all.”

Get it together, people–the tribes are separate but equal. What could possibly be racist about that?

“Bombs, Boxcutters, Liquids, and Arabic Literacy”

“Things that pose a threat to commercial domestic aviation.” ‹/Carnac›

According to Raed Jarrar, when attempting to board a JetBlue flight from New York to California, officials insisted that he cover his shirt, which had Arabic writing on it.

The media seems to be making a big deal out of this, but it’s just prudent. As we all know, most Arabs are terrorists, who see nothing more honorable than being martyred for their people. But being a martyr requires great intestinal fortitude, and a little Arabic could be to an Arab terrorist as Jiminy Cricket’s feather is to Dumbo. Obviously, covering the Arabic eliminates the threat that brownie poses to the aircraft.

Now some evildoer is selling shirts that read “I am not a terrorist” in Arabic. Can’t the FBI do something about this bold attack on our peace of mind? Won’t someone please think of the children? The innocent, caucasian children?

Fun with words

“Defenestrate” – to throw someone or something out a window – seems to be one of everyone’s favorite words.  It’s simultaneously simple in its directness, and a bit sesquipedalian.  The etymology isn’t exactly a mystery.  It’s the simple combination of a latin prefix with a latin noun.  But why did this word attain common English usage?  You could create other words in this fashion just as easily.  How about detabernated – to be have been forcibly ejected from a bar?  But nobody, alas, uses that word.

It seems that defenestrate hit the English scene around 1618, when two imperial commissioners were thrown from a window of the palace in Prague, having been found guilty of violating religious rights.  The event was dubbed the Defenestration of Prague, and instigated the Thirty Years War.  The universal pleasure of appropriately using “defenestrate” in a sentence has ensured its permanent place in the English vocabulary.

In a mostly unrelated feat, I’ll now use three of my favorite big words in one sentence.

Despite her avoirdupois, or perhaps because of it, the callipygian singer cum actress was widely considered to be pulchritudinous.

And if I had been able to find a way to get “lagniappe” (free with purchase) into that sentence, you can bet your finely developed buttocks I would have.

Some more thoughts on paid blogging

I checked in at the Pay Per Post site again today, and was surprised to see they have opportunities for the PGA ($35 for a video) and NASCAR. That’s a considerable step up from spring break locations and housewares resellers. The opportunities seem to be holding steady in the $5 range (for the really easy, 10 minutes of work ones). There’s a maximum of three paid posts per day, so if you’re pretty consistent, it looks like you’ll probably max out around $5,000 per year – just enough to remodel your kitchen. There still aren’t any requirements on your blog’s popularity, but they can always change the terms of service.

And that’s what I’ve been expecting them to do, but now I don’t think so any more. Why would someone pay $5 for a post on a blog that nobody reads? Well for one thing, it’s a guaranteed inbound link. Depending on what you offer as payment, you can get yourself a couple hundred inbound links for less than $1,000. If that pushes you up in the Google ranks, that’s actually not a bad deal. And it’s not on a linkfarm, so people may also find you through Technorati or Google searches that turn up one of the posts.

This seems like it would be especially attractive to people offshore, but the requirement for a tax-id number puts the kibosh on that, and makes it difficult for someone domestically to hire off-shore bloggers to do the work for them on any kind of scale.

However… there’s no rule that says that Pay Per Post has to be the only game in town. What’s to prevent someone from starting an offshore company to compete with Pay Per Post not by paying independent bloggers, but by hiring a few people to create and maintain thousands of blogs that intermittently produce “real” content and paid posts for the advertisers? I can’t think of any reason why this isn’t the logical next step. And if that happens, the blogosphere is going to be awash in much more junk than it already is.

Lets assume our offshore poster -we’ll call him Sanjay- must produce as much non-junk content as paid content, and needs each post to be different to fool any upcoming search-engine filtering attempts. Maybe he can do 4 paid posts an hour, at $3 each. He can pull in $12 an hour for our hypothetical company, or $96 to $144 dollars per day (this is, after all, off-shore), at least $500 per week. We pay him a very generous $75 per week (offshore, remember?), including benefits. We hire 100 Sanjays to do this, and we’re up a cool $2.2 million per year before facility, equipment, bandwidth, management and marketing expenses. And also before we start tapping other advertisers through Adsense.

Meanwhile, we’ve generated over a million bogus blog posts. We probably drive down the price to where it’s just not an attractive opportunity for domestic bloggers, and Google and Technorati, Blogstpot and Typepad get concerned enough that they try to start filtering for this stuff. Our company changes it’s method to defeat the filters and increase blogger productivity, and a long battle starts.

And that, my friends, is the future of your Internet, as seen by me.

Putting it in Perspective

Ze Frank has done a very good job today of articulating why the hype around the recently thwarted terror plot is, in and of itself, harmful to our society. Creating an atmosphere of fear is the principal goal of terrorism and, by generating hype and fear without them even having to successfully pull off an attack, our government is kind of giving the terrorists a freebie.

As someone who flies on average about 8 times each month, risk of death during air travel is a subject I care about. And as someone who has a New York – Los Angeles flight scheduled for Sept 11th, 2006, the risk of terror attacks also has my complete attention. So I asked myself a question: If I knew for a fact that some time in the next month ten US flights, chosen at random, were going to be taken out… would I still fly?

In May, the most recent month for which I could find data, there were 875,000 flights on US carriers, carrying an average of 73 passengers per flight. If 10 of those flights, at random, were brought down by Gatorade and iPods, that means on any individual flight there would be a 0.0011% (one one thousandth of one percent) chance of being taken out, or about 1 in 88,000. To put it another way, you’d be taking the same risk as if you took a 30 mile trip on a motorcycle. If I knew for a fact that there were 10 flights going down tomorrow, and I still chose to fly, my risk of sudden liquid death would be 0.035%, or about 1 in 3000. That’s about the same as taking a 1000 mile trip on a motorcycle.

So if I knew the attack was coming for certain in the next 30 days and would be completely random, I’d probably continue to fly. If I knew for certain the attacks would come tomorrow, I probably would postpone. I guess that’s where my risk tolerance vs reward threshold lies.

Of course, it isn’t at all random (and neither is death on a motorcycle). At risk of going out on a limb, I’d say the odds of a terror attack on the Southwest Airlines Tucson to Albuquerque commute is significantly lower. Would I fly from New York to LAX if I knew that there were going to be 10 terror attacks in the next month, and they weren’t going to be random? Hell, no. And yet, the Tucson to Albuquerque passengers are required to check in their toiletries bags and dump their water, just like everyone else. Targeted security measures for higher risk situations would probably be just as effective, not to mention a whole lot cheaper.

What’s the cost of the inconvenience? Well, the average American lifespan is about 675,000 hours (77.2 yrs). There were 64,000,000 passengers on US carriers in May. So for every 1 minute of wait time you add to the security lines, you soak up about 1.6 American lives per month. What about the cost of lost productivity to the economy? Can’t put a dollar value on human life, you say? It’s not easy, but sure you can. There is a well established link between poverty and mortality. Taking productivity out of the economy creates poverty. There’s also evidence that GDP reductions impact mortality in categories from suicide to liver cirrhosis.

So I guess my point is that “better safe than sorry” isn’t always specific enough. And that highly publicized terror alerts don’t necessarily make our lives better. But they do make us easier to govern. And maybe that’s the point.

Paint it Noir

I’m not going to tell you to see Talladega Nights because, well, you know that already.  I mean, Ali G and Will Ferrell?  Come on.  And Snakes on a Plane isn’t out for another week.

There’s no soundtrack for the movie, but one song that jumped out at me was the French version of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black”, covered by Marie Laforet.  The MP3 for that can be found here.

The film also inspired me to look for the Manimal DVD set but, alas, no legitimate version seems to have been released.

Pay Per Post update

I posted recently about experimenting with a company called PayPerPost that offers money in exchange for blogging about certain topics. I tried it out with a free web page that could scarcely be considered a blog.

Since the post has to remain up for 30 days before they’ll credit your Paypal account, I was a little curious to see if I’d get paid. Here’s a screenshot of my Paypal account today:

So it’s either legit, or an expensive and complex scam on the level of Paul Newman’s The Sting. I’ll keep playing with it here.

Update: 12:26 PM PST
Looks like they have updated their terms and conditions.  The blog now must be 90 days old, with a minimum of 20 posts including a recent one, and paid posts must be non-consecutive.

These rules seem to make sense to keep them and their advertisers from getting fleeced, but it means that it will be another 60 days before I try again.

Recommendation: Hotwire

I don’t have a fancy travel-assisting credit card, but something that’s worked well for me on the travel front is making hotel reservations at, one of those priceline-knockoff sites where you pick the two-star hotel in beautiful downtown Fresno, CA for $x and only after paying do you see the joint you are staying at. (The Flying-J Travel Plaza and Lodge, if you’re interested. Checkout is noon.)

The thing I like about Hotwire is the Double the Difference guarantee; if you can find the same room you get through Hotwire for less, they’ll credit your card with double the difference. I’d expected that Hotwire’s magic travel computer would make this more of a theoretical perk than anything else by giving customers the consistent lowest price, but that hasn’t turned out to be the case.

Twice in the last nine months, I’ve made a hotel reservation via Hotwire, and then visited the hotel’s web site and been able to easily find a lower rate. Both times, Hotwire quickly hooked me up with the credit. Another time, they seem to have given me a $25 credit for being ambulatory or something.

While Hotwire’s claims to have the lowest rates available don’t hold water in my experience, their easily-claimed guarantee makes me a happy customer. Thanks for not getting me the lowest price, Hotwire!