Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Trolling the Selfish Elite

So there's these dudes ran some poll on Facebook and Wired thinks it means that iPad users are educated, sophisticated, selfish elites.

Dude, you can say what you want about my gadgets, but calling me sophisticated is over the line.

Anyway, let's say this about that.  This study is obviously trash science at its worst.  You start with sample bias and poor question design, make some sloppy inferences and then wrap it up with some sweeping generalizations guided more by the story you want to tell than the data.  Like most magazines, Wired fails hard when it comes time to decide between sensationalism and critical review.  Still, it's an interesting thought vector.

Some times one thing will predict another thing.  In my language, I call the measured entity a "proxy" for the predicted entity.  If you give me data on whether a group of folks are fundamentalist Christians, I can make predictions about their party affiliation.  This isn't a "correlation implies causation" kind of thing, it's a "reliable correlation is handy because sometimes a hard-to-measure thing is correlated with an easier-to-measure thing."  Political scientists occasionally call these sorts of shenanigans "Alford Indeces," after this guy.

Still, we love to find some causation.  WHY would educated elites purchase an iPad?  Well, that's a silly question.  iPads are expensive and unessential.  Pretty much the only sorts of folks who purchase that sort of thing are educated elites.  I have no idea from what data they draw their conclusion of selfishness, but that label is leveled with regularity upon businessmen in our age, so it's not so surprising.

No, it's no surprise at all that folks with the means to purchase a new toy will purchase a new toy.  The same trend could be found if we "studied" luxury automobile owners, folks with pilot's licenses or ran a poll down at the local $40/plate restaurant.

The surprise is how important NOT liking the iPad is to the self-image of those geeks who don't have one.  The younger, poorer drivers of tuned EVOs and Civics don't hate on the drivers of M3s and Porsches.  They aspire to join their ranks. 

That's not so in computer-land though.  For these sorts of gadget-geeks, buying an Apple product would be like that feeling you get when your favorite indy band signs with the RIAA.  The "joy of tinkering" as a euphemism for braving bad UI is like the joy of drinking PBR in a hole-in-the-wall.  With a self-image like that, purchasing an Apple product is almost emasculating.

Time changes things though.  Young students pirate songs because they have lots of time and no money.  Middle-aged professionals buy songs from iTunes because they have money and no time.  Sticking it to the RIAA is just a time-consuming drag.

Take one of those "independent geeks" and give him a 90K a year salary at a tech company, a wife and two kids.  Maybe he'll get an EEEPC, set it up to ssh over to his server that he built from parts purchased on NewEgg running a bleeding-edge build of MythTV and an open-source newsreader that he on-again-off-again contributes to.

Or... he'll get the iPad and use it to read shitty sites like TechCrunch in hopes of learning from their hype what the competition is doing.  He'll download casual games because he doesn't have the time to sit down and get involved in anything that can't be measured in 15 minute increments.  He'll give it to the kids to amuse themselves so that he can talk with his wife. 

Where did all the independent geeks go?  They all became iPad driving businessmen.

Monday, July 26, 2010

How much do you like freedom?

So, say you have some money.  All things being equal, you'd like to keep it.  There are some other things that you like.  Food and shelter and video games and such.  They cost money.  So you have a trade-off.  You like milk and you like $1.99, but you'd rather have the $1.99, so you buy the milk.  Your preference for $100 probably exceeds your preference for a jug of milk, so you probably won't purchase.  You also probably won't purchase sour milk, even at $1.99.

Your response to these trade-offs is to set some guidelines.  When spending money on a thing, you want to spend the smallest amount possible.  When evaluating a thing for possible purchase, you want it to be the best thing possible.  If the thing is expensive enough or low enough in quality, you don't make the trade.

Now imagine that you were a legislator who liked freedom.  All things being equal, you'd want more freedom rather than less.  When crafting a law, you'd want to make sure that law restricted freedom as little as possible while providing the most benefit possible.  If it later turned out that the benefit didn't match the cost, you'd repeal the law.

I was just thinking about the semi-prohibition of pseudophedrine, one of the few drugs that I might hope could address a persistent congestion problem of mine. 

I can purchase the stuff, but only at a few places in my area, only by giving up my name and address, and only in small quantities.  Alternatives are poor substitutes.  Many companies don't want the hassle of selling it, so competition is lower.  Combine that with the lower counts and it's relatively more expensive then it was before the ban.  That's the restriction-of-freedom side.  I can't get it as easily, in as high a quantity, or as cheaply as before.  Likewise, stores are less able to profit from selling it.

The reason for the restriction of course was the prevention of its use in the production of meth.  The disadvantage of meth is that people use it and then get addicted and then get unhealthy and jobless and steal shit to buy meth (of course some of the worst externalities come from the fact that it's illegal - the cost is higher so more things must be stolen, and those producing, selling and consuming must engage in naturally dangerous black market activity).  Anyway, the idea is that we trade some freedom in return for less meth.

Well, that's the theory, but have the legislators shown their work?  Has anybody studied pseudofed restrictions to confirm or deny that they have a significant affect on meth production?  What were the results of those studies?

The same question could be asked anywhere...  How much safer are we now that the TSA has banned water?  How much healthier are residents of cities that have banned trans-fats?

Are we buying sour milk?  If we knew we were intentionally buying sour milk, it would show that our legislators don't care about freedom at all.  If we buying sour milk unintentionally because we weren't checking before or after buying, well that at least suggests that they don't care that much, do they?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Gates's successor doesn't get it

If even half of this is true, my theory that MS reached apex at the departure of Gates remains sound.

Market competition is good.  Political competition generally is not.  Android vs iOS is good.  Kin vs WinMobile7 is not.

Naturally, MS makes enough from Windows and Office that they can continue to lose hundreds of millions on things they don't and probably won't ever understand like gaming, the web and mobile.  Windows and Office are so entrenched that even epic disfunction on the part of their parent company can't dislodge them overnight.

Still, this is the world of Google, Apple and Amazon.  MS and Yahoo just think they live in it.

What's your point, Walter?

Apple has some very nice testing labs.

That would be great if their users wanted to buy things from a company that had nice testing labs.

What the customers want though... is phones that work.

I don't have an iPhone 4, but if I did, here's what I'd want to hear:

"Well, we messed up.  We've got some super-awesome and super-expensive test facilities, but it looks like we need to make our process even better still.  We know it's not an ideal solution, but you can have a free bumper case on us.  If you've already bought one, we'll refund it.  If you want to return your phone, we've extended the return period.  We appreciate your business and we'll take the necessary steps to learn from this issue and continue to produce the high quality, easy to use products that you know and love"

I don't like that their official press conference addressed the competition by name either.  Sell and defend YOUR product, let the competition worry about their products.  If you need to get it out there that other phones have similar problems, leak it into the blogosphere and let the Engadgeters do your dirty work for you.

Imagine a kid in his most whiny voice attempting to excuse himself from a cookie jar heist by ratting out his sister for her co-involvement.  Yeah, that's what the "our competition sucks too" sounds like.

Dude.  We're Apple fanboys.  We EXPECT the competition to suck.  We expect, even to the point of complete irrationality, Apple to be better.  Apple profits from those expectations, and as such ought to do what it can to maintain that allure of being above the competition, not in their class.  Whether that's true at any given point or not.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Gates gets one right

Quoth Hans Rosling: "child survival is the new green."

The idea is that once folks learn that their kids will make it, they quit having 6 of them just to be sure. Therefore lower population growth.

Either that or the kinds of societies that have their shit together well enough to distribute condoms and the pill reliably also happen to be capable of providing offspring with a healthy environment and medical care.

Either way, Bill Gates's fight against malaria seems well justified from a long-term perspective.

The fact that kids aren't dying of a terrible disease in the short term is probably a decent thing too. That way they can grow up to buy Windows7 phones.

As if.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Putting your best foot forward

The Coke can on my desk contains 140 calories, all of them coming from the 39g of high-fructose corn syrup.  HFCS is linked to obesity.  It also contains phosphoric acid (linked to tooth problems) and caffeine (the cause of, and solution to, many of my problems).

I suppose it is with this in mind that the can proudly claims "VERY LOW SODIUM."

Way to frame it, guys.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Groucho or Karl?

This is a fun video and you should watch it.

Now, somewhere in the middle he has a theory where there's no bakery, and then someone starts a bakery and then someone finances the expansion of the bakery and then there's a big bakery and everyone gets bread, but that's terrible because the guys who financed the bakery got rich, and I'm like, "well, yeah, but everyone gets bread," but he's all like "but wages are all like stagnant and shit," and I'm like "well, I lost my job in the downturn and then took another one for less money and I live in a smaller place with roommates now but I'm still able to eat bread and I can buy manufactured goods like iPads and shit that two years ago couldn't be purchased by me at my previous nominal income nor by anyone else at any income whatsoever and that's like progress and stuff and the CPI misses out on that because it thinks that a car is a car even if it's safer and more efficient and a burrito is a burrito even if Chipotle tastes better than Taco Bell and a doctor is a doctor even though this one can perform surgery on a tumor with fuckin' lasers and shit and a 'consumer electronic device' is a 'consumer electronic device' even if it's the fucking computer that fucking Picard had on the fucking Enterprise and it's got the fucking internet so I can see a video of my family 3000 fucking miles away or locate my lost ass down to 10 fucking yards anywhere on the fucking planet or hold more information than the fucking library of fucking Alexandria all in the palm of my bourgeois yuppy hands and that's progress too," and he's all like "but people lost their houses," and I'm all like "yeah, but you were just complaining about how too many of us owned houses anyway, and it's greedy to buy a house that you can't afford and you're anti-greed, aren't you," and he's all like  "well, yeah, but I'm an academic and you're just a dilettante," and I'm all like "well Mr. Marxist, what are you doing here when you could be in like Venezuela or something," and he's all like "that's a cheap shot and besides I draw way better than you," and I'm like "well, you've got me there but then Iwaslikeweeeee.

And then it dawned on me: how much should the entertainment value of free YouTube videos be factored into the real dollar value of my present consumption relative to the consumption rate attainable by a comparably employed web developer in 1970, you know, before there were any internets for me to develop and then I wondered how a professor like him would send his cool video to the masses without YouTube either and then I wondered how there'd be a YouTube if they hadn't been bought by Google and how there'd be a Google if they hadn't taken venture capital and how there would be venture capital if not for capitalism but then I realized that going to bed right now would be a capital idea.

Monday, July 12, 2010

I Don't Want to be Friends

(links are NSFW, but so is this entire blog).

So, they say that there are no atheists in foxholes.

The atheists say that this is an argument against foxholes.

Then, there's the argument that sex is violence.

Lady GaGa says that this is an argument in favor of violence.

To be fair, hers is not an original argument.  If I'm not mistaken though, it is the first time that the argument has been made with such props as yellow bespangled 12" platform shoes.

So there's something to be said for that.

Like most things that attain popularity in our culture, this song and its video have a veneer of nonsense and banality while at the same time stemming from a reality that we all know but don't often acknowledge at a conscious level.

Tomorrow, a look at what Hanson has to say about the similarities between social networking and botany.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Never get involved in a trade war in Asia and never go in against a CEO when money is on the line

So this guy thinks that we should tax offshore labor.  Because "we" aren't getting the experience that we need to... build stuff or something.  Trade war brinkmanship?  No problem, "we" can "treat it like other wars - fight to win."

Let's just say this about that:
  • The wars on Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq, Afganistan, Drugs and Terror are more than sufficient evidence that "we" don't fight to win.  We start fights because we think we can do things that we can't.  Then we keep fighting because we're too wussy to admit that we were wrong.
  • War is zero sum.  Trade is not.  Trading trade for war, even for a "trade" war and not a "war" war,  is a bad trade. 
  • "We" is the United States, which means that the rest of the argument only makes sense if one buys in to the social fiction of the US actually being a thing.  If "we" were "mankind," the argument is silly, isn't it?  "We need to stop sending jobs to ourselves, because we're losing the experience that we'll need to compete with ourselves in order to avoid locking ourselves out of our future successes."  It's like isometric exercise or something.
  • You tax something because you want less of it.  How is it not incredibly immoral to want less offshore labor?  Does offshore-ness make someone undeserving of a job?  When there's a drought, "we" in the US don't go hungry much less starve.  Many in this world can't say that, and until they can, "they" deserve the labor before "we" do.  
"We" need to quit whining and start thinking about how cool it is that our economy is the greatest value creation engine ever to exist on the planet.  That's a pretty cool thing to have.  All we have to do is avoid fucking things up by wasting our engine's product on phony wars, paranoid taxes and other petty bullshit.  Then maybe we can use what we've made to make the world a better place for all its inhabitants.  Not just the ones lucky enough to have been born within some imaginary lines on a fucking map.

In other news, it's apparently 4th of July weekend.  I'm going to spend mine watching the Germans and the Argentinians play a game invented in England on a field in Africa.  I'll probably be watching on a device designed by Apple in Cupertino, with an Israeli CPU that was put into it by a worker in China.   If there's time, maybe I'll thank the French for helping us win that battle in Yorktown that one time and being right about that Iraq thing that other time.

Man, globalization has really made life terrible.