Category Archives: Social Commentary

Too Trusting

Spammers are starting to move into the social network sites:

Most social networks have internal messaging systems for communication between members. Petre’s group examined that of Facebook, which boasts 5 percent of the world’s population as its users. While Facebook has an antispam engine, the group found that it was better at filtering out phishing e-mails than preventing spam messages from getting through.

The group started by creating fake profiles to trick users into friending them. They created three profiles, one containing almost no information about the user, one with some information, and one with detailed information. They used those profiles to join popular groups and began sending out friend requests.

Within 24 hours, 85 users had accepted a request from the first profile, 108 from the second, and 111 from the third. Petre says that acceptances began to accelerate, since more than 50 percent of the time, users would accept the request if they shared a “mutual friend” with the fake profile. In some cases, he says, users would send a message asking for more information about how they knew this supposed new friend. The researchers didn’t respond to these requests, but in many cases, Petre says, users accepted the request anyway.

The researchers then posted a link without any explanation to the fake profiles’ walls, using a URL shortener to obscure where the link went. Almost 25 percent of the profiles’ “friends” visited the link, Petre says.

I am pretty picky about who I friend on Facebook. I will generally only accept people that I’ve met in meatspace, or at least had previous interactions with on line. Simply having mutual friends is not sufficient. I might friend someone who I don’t know if they provide a message explaining why they want to be my friend, but never if it’s simply a generic friend request. This just seems like basic common sense to me.

Where Are You?

I’m not particularly obsessive, and I have some social skills, so my self-diagnosis is that I’m near the intersection of dweeb, nerd and geek, but not quite in any of them.

[Update a couple minutes later]

OK, I realize that it’s just a Venn diagram, and not quantitative in the way implied by my positioning. But I’m really not obsessive, so if I’m in any intersection, it would make me a dweeb.

Thoughts On Optional And Extortional Compensation

Let me preface this post with the point that I despise the general notion of tipping service people. This is partly because I dislike the notion of service people, period. That is, I don’t like people “serving” me (which may partly explain my antipathy to nanny government). Whether it’s the Jew, or Scotch in my ancestry, unless I can’t, I’d rather do it myself, if I have to pay for it. I hate to pay people to do something that I can perfectly well do myself (when loading luggage into a courtesy van, or checking into a hotel, I feel like a driver being extorted by a squeejee guy, being expected to provide a gratuity for a service that I hadn’t requested).

Now, having said that, I understand the economic model behind restaurants. The waitpeople are underpaid as a base salary, and expected to supplement their meager income via tips performed for better service. I get that.

What I also get is that it is a subtle implied form of extortion. If you’re a regular, if you’re a lousy tipper, don’t be shocked if over time your food becomes adulterated with the bodily fluids of the staff, and takes forever to get to you, and is cold when it arrives, and may not even be what you ordered. On the other hand, if you tip great, you’ll be treated like royalty from the planet Krypton.

But let’s talk about a different form of service. I’ve been on the road a lot lately, and not just for a night or two in a given place, but for days and weeks at a time. I’ve never (OK, not never, but rarely) done this, but my understanding from reading travel mags and such, is that it is also de rigeur to tip the people who clean your hotel room. On one of our many trips to Golden, CO over the past three months, we stayed at a Marriot Residence Inn, at which on Valentine’s Day, the maid left a chocolate with a note wishing us a good one. It seemed an obvious plea for a tip.

But here’s the thing. There is a difference, and a crucial one, between serving you food, and changing your sheets.

In one case, there is an ongoing personal interaction, and in the other case, there is…not.

When you go out to eat, the waitperson is your personal interface to the establishment. The establishment recognizes this when it encourages said waitperson to be chipper and cheery and say, “Hi, I’m Lance (or Kristi!), and I’ll be your waiter/(waitress) this evening.” There is a personal relationship, perhaps more so than you want, but it’s there regardless. And you know and they know, that if your order is taken, or dinner delivered, too late, it will be reflected in the additional compensation on the bill.

But cleaning a room is different. It generally happens when you’re not present, and you don’t even know the gender of the person doing it (though there’s generally a good guess), let alone their name or what they look like, or how chipper and perky they are. There is no personal relationship.

But isn’t there the same extortionate potential?

I suppose. They could fill your little shampoo bottles with hydrofluoric acid (though the containers would be unlikely to survive until you get back to the room and can pour it onto your noggin). They can short-sheet the bed (which I find that lot of them do as a matter of policy…).

But basically, there’s not a lot of variation in the possibilities of what they can do for your room, other than giving you little gifts (like chocolates) in the hope that they will be more than sufficiently compensated via your gratuity.

It seems to me that there is a basic service (like cable), that shouldn’t require bribes to get. In my ideal world, you should expect to get such service without having to a) pay more than is on the menu or room rate and b) try to figure out just how much more you should pay. Tipping waitpeople should occur only if the service is really great, not just adequate (and they should hope for some adverse event that they can overcome to really earn their additional pay). And this really makes it hard for hotel servicefolk, because there is so little opportunity for the personal interaction that can really provide opportunities to earn tips. I’d really rather live in a society in which basic service was included in the bill, the prices on the menu (or hotel rack rate) reflected the full cost of hiring people to provide the services being paid for, and any additional compensation was a result only of extraordinary (break that word down, folks) service.

But apparently I’m in a minority. Or else, this is one of those perverse situations in which everyone hates the system, but doesn’t see any good or safe way to transition to one better.

Going Post-Doctoral

One line stuck out to me in this piece about Professor Amy Bishop:

“You have to talk about Amy Bishop’s mental health in this situation as one of the variables, but being denied tenure when you’re in your mid-40s at an out-of-the-way obscure rural campus in the deep South is a catastrophic loss, and people don’t understand that,” says Jack Levin, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston.

This looks like northeastern Ivy bigotry to me, and it seems to be driven by ignorance. I think that most people at UAH would be surprised to learn that their university is “out-of-the-way,” “obscure,” or “rural.” Huntsville is a non-trivial city (it has a major NASA center, and Army R&D facility, and a vast aerospace contractor industrial base), and UAH has an excellent engineering school, particularly for aerospace (despite their having picked up Mike Griffin as a professor, though it’s probably a job to which he’s much better suited than running NASA). I suspect that, to Mr. Levin, its real crime is being in the “deep” south (just below the Tennessee border). And he probably thinks that for someone with a post-graduate degree from Harvard, her willingness to subject herself to such a benighted place is just one more sign of a mental disorder.

Meeting The Unmet Need

An atheist adoption service for pets abandoned by their raptured owners:

Whatever motivates Centre, he has tapped into a source of genuine unease. Todd Strandberg, who founded a biblical prophecy Web site called that draws 250,000 unique visitors a month, agrees that Fido and Mittens are doomed. “Pets don’t have souls, so they’ll remain on Earth. I don’t see how they can be taken with you,” he says. “A lot of persons are concerned about their pets, but I don’t know if they should necessarily trust atheists to take care of them.”

This paradox poses a challenge for Centre. He must reassure the Rapture crowd that his pet rescuers are wicked enough to be left behind but good enough to take proper care of the abandoned pets. Rescuers must sign an affidavit to affirm their disbelief in God—and they must also clear a criminal background check. “We want people who have pets and are animal lovers,” Centre says. They also must have the means to rescue and transport the animals in their charge. His network consists of 26 rescuers covering 22 states. “They take this very seriously,” Centre says.

It’s a serious issue, previously unaddressed. Isn’t America great? I should sign up as a rescuer.