Not oil’s well at the pump

The Thinker by Rodin

You would think that we are enduring enough agony by paying record high gasoline prices. According to the Associated Press, the average cost of a gallon of gasoline is now $3.365 a gallon. That tracks correctly with gas prices here in Northern Virginia. Recently it cost me more than $40 to fill the 12 gallon tank of my fuel efficient Honda Civic Hybrid. Ouch!

Apparently, all those press reports about oil companies making record profits does not mean that oil companies are beyond inventing new ways to make us feel even more screwed. To help their bottom line, most gas stations offer a convenience store that tends to excel at providing convenient fattening and sugary foods. Some gas stations will still change your oil or fix your car, but they are becoming fewer and further between. Finding a gas station that has a compressed air pump for your tires is also getting problematical. Those stations that have them generally want you to insert quarters into their machine for the privilege. Thus far, gas stations have not figured out a way to charge you for wiping down your own windshields, but I suspect that is coming.

No matter, gas stations have found a new way to make money that is far more annoying than anything they have done so far, which says a lot. It started with many stations making you listen to audio advertising while you pump. As long as you are at the pump, they figured you had to learn about all the great things they were offering. Now it is not enough to assault you with audio advertising. Now you get your own commercial spouting TV right at the pump!

Sunoco, curse them, is the latest oil company to install these obnoxious devices at the pump. Naturally, there is no off button that you can press to escape these advertisements. Nor is there any way to adjust the volume. It is at near ear splitting volume. Moreover, since pretty much all of us have to get gas regularly, we become involuntary captives of this advertising.

Sadly, Sunoco is everywhere in my neighborhood, which means if I want to patronize a different chain I really have to go out of my way. I am going to go out of my way anyhow, because of this latest egregious indignity. It is also needless noise pollution. You can hear these talking pumps hundreds of feet away.

Sunoco seems to be partnering with ESPN. In between long advertisements, you get brief sports updates and something reputing to be the local weather. I guess this is how they justify their assault. All I know is that I cringe. I move as far away from the pump as possible while my car fills up. Yet even if I had my MP3 player in my ears, I could not begin to tune out the noise from these pumps. You are essentially captive.

Perhaps to add a few more nickels to their profits they will adjust the pumps to pump gas more slowly. This way instead of two to three minutes of listening to advertising, it could be extended to five minutes. This will be good for their bottom line. Perhaps in an effort to escape the noise we will be driven inside to their convenience store. I hope they sell 80db earplugs.

Alas, gas stations are hardly the only offenders. I remarked before about mobile advertising, which I still think should be outlawed. I have mentioned movie theaters that are putting advertising in restroom stalls and in front of urinals. Even my local BJ’s Wholesale Club has decided I need to hear commercials while I shop. Along with the piped in music we now get about 30% commercials. It is enough to make me join Costco.

Certain things in life, like shopping, eating and going to the bathroom are unavoidable. Where these unavoidable activities intersect with profit, wise companies should be going the extra mile to make us want to shop there, not drive us away. Going to these places should to the largest extent possible be pleasant, not aggravating. This should not be rocket science. I have to wonder what sort of public relation morons thought up these latest ideas. It is as if they want their customers to loathe their products.

I’d say they are doing a great job. Oil companies though have no place to go but up in the public’s opinion. Given this sad fact of life, I have to wonder why oil companies want us to have an even more aggravating experience at the pump then they already provide.

Mobile advertising: a very bad, very wrong idea

The Thinker by Rodin

Just because you can do something does not mean you should actually follow through. Although like most Americans I am a firm believer in freedom, some ideas should be so over the top and so shameful that no one should actually deliver on them.

One example is urinal and bathroom stall advertising. I noticed the latter in March when I was in Golden, Colorado and I took in a movie in the evening. I found it necessary to run into the head before I went into the theater. I mean it is not like the assault of advertising before the movie (at ear piercing volumes, which I noted in this entry) was not enough. No, the over the top managers of this theater chain, who must have been taking orders directly from Madison Avenue, wanted to make sure that while patrons were engaged in the necessary business of body waste elimination that they were also be exposed to obnoxious advertising.

Things remain much more civilized in places like France, which we visited last year. While you may have to pay for the privilege of using a restroom, at least you can do so without being assaulted by advertising. I hope nobody in the theater business is reading this because I do not want to give them any more money raising ideas. Because clearly their next tactic will be to make you pay to use a restroom in a theater and as you are taking a leak, make sure that you are aware that a Garfield movie is coming.

No wonder I find fewer reasons to go see movies in the theater. No wonder I so much prefer Netflix. I watch movies at my convenience, never worry about a late fee and pay less than I would pay at a Blockbuster. When my kidney decides to burst in the middle of a movie, I hit the pause button and use my own, advertising-free facilities. When I do choose to see a movie in a theater, I generally find that I will avoid the big multiplexes. Instead, I am frequenting places like the Cinema Arts Theatre in Fairfax, Virginia. It may not have stadium seating, but it does not have obnoxious ear piercing advertising before the shows. It also has theater food that is good for you: juices, croissant sandwiches, muffins and freshly popped popcorn served with real butter. It has all this plus the quality art films that I crave and ticket prices that are lower than the chains. In addition, I can use their restrooms without having to be assaulted by advertising. What is not to like?

I was hardly back from Golden, Colorado and still recovering my dignity from the vicious advertising assault out there. I was driving down the street when I did a double take. A truck with rotating billboards just went by. My jaw dropped. This was wrong. This was very, very wrong.

Of course, I do expect businesses to advertise their business on their cars and trucks. This was different. This truck was driving around advertising other businesses, with annoying and garish rotating ads that distracted me from driving safely. Moreover, this truck had no cargo. It was just one large, dual sided mobile billboard with rotating ads. Someone had figured out that there was enough money in this business to pay someone to spend all day driving around our metropolitan area in a truck with rotating billboards. Presumably, this truck, like most trucks, was averaging 8 to 10 miles per gallon.

At least highway billboards, as obnoxious as they are, do not emit carbon dioxide and contribute to global warming. Here was a business, one of many in this burgeoning field, that had no qualms about both assaulting us with unwanted and frequently changing advertising when we needed to concentrate on driving safely. Not only that, but it was unnecessarily polluting the air. And for what? So that I could learn about Cingular’s cell coverage range? If these were not bad enough, in addition to needlessly fouling the air it was adding to or already legendary traffic congestion. My guess is that these trucks are also responsible for many accidents. It can be hard to concentrate on traffic when Technicolor billboards are rotating around you.

Perhaps advertisers justify mobile billboards because much of the Washington metropolitan area does not permit real billboards. This is certainly true of Fairfax County where I live, Arlington County, the City of Alexandria and Montgomery County in Maryland. We do not like billboards because they are both very tacky and do not communicate the professional image we want to project. However, there are no such laws on mobile advertising. Therefore, we have these mobile advertising trucks circling the Capital Beltway, trolling I-66 and the Dulles Toll Road, and tooling up and down the Fairfax County Parkway where I live.

Enough! If we can make radar detectors illegal in Virginia, we can take these mobile advertising trucks off the roads in our jurisdictions too. Let us just do it before we decide to accept such outrages as part of the natural course of capitalism.

While we are at it, let us pass laws to remove advertising from our public restrooms too.

Public Radio: The Agony and the Ecstasy

The Thinker by Rodin

I am a big fan of public radio. With rare exceptions, I do not listen to anything else on the radio. Perhaps if I subscribed to Sirius or XM satellite radio I would stop listening to public radio. On the other hand, perhaps not. All I know is that I consider public radio, and NPR in particular, to be a national treasure. Which is why I want to chew nails every time the local public radio stations, as they did last week, host yet another membership week.

Seriously, we loathe them. Heck, even public radio stations hate membership week. That is why increasingly stations like WAMU-FM here in Washington D.C. try to bribe us listeners into shortening membership week. For a few weeks before membership week officially starts they try to get us to send them money. If they get enough, they will take one day off the campaign. Yes. Anything but that. Anything but one more day of their grating and near constant grubbing for money.

Yes, it is sadly necessary, but is undignified. Our Congress can give obscene and duplicative payments to farmers, but just spare change to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Enduring public radio’s membership week is like watching a classy dame who goes regularly to the opera and shops at Neiman Marcus spending four weeks a year hanging out on street corners and hiking her skirt for strangers. It is not pretty and it is in fact just plain revolting. Just as you do not want to watch a car wreck, you do not want to listen to public radio during membership week. Really, I would rather have my fingernails slowly pulled out one by one.

At least with commercial radio you know what to expect: fifteen or twenty minutes of annoying commercials every hour. The master of it locally is WTOP, our local all news and traffic station. The proportion of commercials to content is so high you would think the volume of commercials on the station would be unlawful.

For 11 out of 12 months a year, public radio is a welcome respite from our overly commercialized world. Not that outside of membership weeks it is completely commercial free. Virtually every show is sponsored by some well moneyed commercial or non-profit organization that is anxious to tell you what they are up to and to give you their website address. Some TV shows, like The News Hour on PBS almost might as well be commercial TV, with the lengthy “sponsored by” messages that are (hate to break it to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting) just shameless commercials.

Clearly, all that corporate and non-profit cash is not enough. That is why the announcer usually informs us that most shows on public radio and TV are also sponsored “by viewers like you”. That is nice to know. Viewers like me who appreciate public radio and TV contribute most of the funds necessary to keep them on the air. I know I do my part. I give my local public radio stations a healthy chunk of change every two weeks through the Combined Federal Campaign.

So since I am giving regularly, can you please cancel membership week? For that matter, will WETA stop sending me regular (as in once a month) junk mail soliciting further contributions? Yeah, I know I am on their mailing list because I made the mistake of just once contributing during membership week. Now they will not let me go. I am constantly badgered for more money. I have tried to tell them that I am sending them money via other means anyhow, but they never listen. They are like the doe-eyed orphan Oliver Twist asking Mr. Bumble, “Please sir, can I have some more?”

For the record, I certainly do not want public radio to go out of business. I make sure I send them money regularly to keep them in business. I depend on shows like All Things Considered and Morning Edition for my news fix. WAMU-FM in particular has just the right mixture of other public radio programming that keeps me tuning in for more. I need this refuge of commercial-free sanity on the airwaves to keep my psychic lid from popping. In my mind, public radio models what I want my country to be but simply is not. The announcers are scrupulously nonpartisan. They can discuss President Bush’s latest incoherent ramblings without even a hint of bias creeping into their voices. While I am sure I will get disagreement, I feel that on balance public radio shows are fair to both sides, as well as to the middle. Everyone is so thoughtful and civilized.

Until membership week. Then public radio becomes a bad carnie sideshow. It is amazing that public radio gets as much money as they do during membership week because public radio announcers are so excruciatingly bad at selling public radio. It is not that they do not have a valuable product. So many public radio listeners like me would not be listening to them if they did not. Their product is unique and singular. They just cannot sound convincing asking for money. The more they grub thank you products for $50, $100 and $200 contributions the less convincing they become. Besides, we know it is an important service and do not need further convincing. From the tone of their voice, it sure sounds like they too would prefer having their fingernails slowly pulled out rather than have to suffer through another membership week. This is to let you know that we here in the public suffer with you.

For me, membership week means tuning in for just the news or turning off the radio. Thankfully, in the Washington area, there is one final place of refuge on the FM dial when all else fails. It is WCSP, C-SPAN’s completely commercial-free public affairs radio station. (For those of you who live far from Washington D.C., you can always listen to it online.) Granted, spending your Saturday afternoon listening to archival recordings of the Lyndon Johnson tapes, or hearing the late Hubert Humphrey ramble about his life, may not be your cup of tea. Fortunately, its political content is usually more timely than these examples. However, at least in my area, its signal strength is low, so tuning it in can at times be hit or miss.

Membership week is beneath public radio. I think what public radio needs is a sufficiently well moneyed foundation. Perhaps Bill Gates, with all his billions, could put us public radio listeners out of our misery and fund an endowment for public radio. Then it would never be necessary again for a public radio or TV station to grub for money or have to find sponsors again.

And while I’m at it, I’d like pony.

Google Adsense Integration

The Thinker by Rodin

After pondering this recent Washington Post article, I am going to try a little experiment in capitalism on my blog. Google Adsense is a way for web sites to earn some money just for being there. In most cases, it is not a whole lot of money. In general, using Adsense, the more page views a site gets, the more revenue can potentially be generated for the site.

While I am not trying to get rich off of Occam’s Razor, at a minimum it would be nice if my content could pay for my hosting costs. It would be even better if I could earn some small change for the time I invest in creating content for this site. As you may remember, a typical entry is an investment of several hours of my spare time. It would be even better if this site could earn enough money so I could afford dedicated hosting. Because I use shared hosting, occasionally site access is a bit sluggish.

Therefore, I have disabled my site search and enabled Google Adsense for Search. It will replace the site’s search engine. This has the benefit of offering better search capabilities than is possible with the MovableType software I am running, so it should add value for web surfers. Google Adsense for Search will also serve what it believes will be relevant targeted advertising. If you click on some of these targeted ads, the site may earn a few cents. If they add up, they may pay for my hosting costs.

Google also has an Adsense for Content service, which displays relevant ads on web pages based on the page’s content. Again, if you click on some of these ads, I may receive a few cents. I will not put these ads on my main index but only on the individual entry or archives pages. This way those of you who regularly read from the Main Index will not see advertising.

About 80% of my page requests are a result of search engines queries that take the user to a specific archive or entry. The vast majority of these visitors arrive here from a Google search. Consequently, it seems appropriate to me to see if some revenue can be generated from these pages. Heck, my entry Sharon Mitchell: Porn Saint alone tends to average about ten requests per day. I imagine any “Sharon Mitchell Porn” links generated by Google Adsense could alone pay for my hosting costs. I will find out.

I hope these changes do not seem too commercial or obtrusive. If you are less likely to return here because of this ad policy, please leave me a comment. If push came to shove, I would rather serve ad-free content than push readers away.