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Prof. Andy Tanenbaum Retires From Vrije University

AlexOsadzinski Remembering an early 80s Tanenbaum presentation (136 comments)

D'oh. Accidentally posted as a Coward and misspelled Prof. Tanenbaum's name. Carry on....

In the early 80s, I did a Unix systems startup in the UK: we were an early licensee of Unix from AT&T and sold VAXen with BSD installed and supported. DEC UK hated us. DEC US happily sold us CPUs.

In April 1983, the European Unix User's Group (EUUG), held a conference in Bonn, Germany. The speakers included Bill Joy, Sam Leffler, Steve Bourne and Andy Tanenbaum.

It was a hugely memorable event, including Prof. Tanenbaum's presentation. We were paying AT&T $200 or so for each Unix license. Not a huge deal for a $100,000 VAX system. But, even then, many of us could see a future where Unix or something like it would run on countless devices, including cars and washing machines. In fact, when I worked for AT&T in 1984 (yes, I know, it was "a learning experience"), I was pitching exactly that to OEMs. It was clear that something cheap or free would be required. So, back in 1983, when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, Prof. Tanenbaum gave us all the seed of a thought that free (as in beer) software could change the world.

As an aside, his presentation was a little hard to follow, but worth the effort, because his English wasn't that great. A Dutch guy sitting next to me said that his Dutch was pretty sketchy, too. I have no means to verify this but, if true, he would join a small group of my friends and acquaintances who don't speak any (human) language well. They're all engineers :-).

I also learned that, despite Bonn being largely flooded because of heavy rains, nothing stops a Unix conference, and that the "Geoffnet" signs I saw all over the place weren't a promotion for a new network stack, but meant "Open" in German.

about two weeks ago
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New Car Can Lean Into Curves, Literally

AlexOsadzinski Rode in something like this (243 comments)

I've seen photos of Mercedes prototypes doing this as much as 10 years ago, so it's not a new idea. It didn't come to market, so I guess that there were some issues with mass-market implementation. I owned a Mercedes E350 that had adaptive seats: the bolster on the appropriate side squeezed you during a corner. It's a weird sensation, but you get used to it quickly, and it's pretty neat. Banking the whole car into a bend, as in an aircraft, would feel exactly as it does in an aircraft: you lose the lateral force, and it's replaced with a small, largely imperceptible, increase in vertical force, i.e. you weigh a little more.

Back in my VC days, when we were looking at "green" companies, a company came in with a pseudo-car (a little one-in-front-of-the-other two seater, more like an enclosed motorcycle, or, more precisely, a trike). Its claim to fame was that it leaned in corners. Man, if ever there was a demo that helped guide a decision to not invest, this was it. I ride motorcycles, so am used to leaning in corners. But sitting in the back of this thing for 5 minutes convinced me that nobody would put up with it. The Mercedes experience is likely to be better....

about a month and a half ago
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Satya Nadella Named Microsoft CEO

AlexOsadzinski Re:Could be the "least bad" move (293 comments)

I love your analysis. The history of tech (and, for all I know, non-tech) companies is sadly littered with failures caused by founders who couldn't face significant change. A founder's ego and self-worth are often very tied to the ideas that (s)he grew into a big company.

Ken Olsen at DEC famously decried Unix as "snake oil" (ok, maybe not COMPLETELY wrong) and drove the company out of business with proprietary, closed systems.

Ray Noorda at Novell hung on a very long time after his tragic health issues rendered him ineffective.

Scott McNealy couldn't get away from the SPARC/Solaris/Java mantra, and his anti-Microsoft jihad, and then he (or his Board) tragically handed off his company to a successor who I (and others) considered an inexplicable choice, but it may have been because he, too, believed the same mantra.

I have great respect for all the above gentlemen, and I think that I understand why they hung on "too long", but I wish that they hadn't, for the sake of their legacies, their employees, their customers and their shareholders.

These issues may yet afflict other, current, hot startups. What are the long-term founder transitions for Google, Facebook and others?

about 6 months ago
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Satya Nadella Named Microsoft CEO

AlexOsadzinski Re:Never mind Nedalla, why is Gates stepping down? (293 comments)

A CEO wants to have the ability to potentially change the course of the company, including, potentially, affecting the sacred cows that inevitably accumulate in any long-term successful business. That can mean reassigning/firing key people who may, in the CEO's eyes, be blocking change. Cancelling beloved pet projects. Forming alliances with former enemies.

The last thing a CEO wants is a Chairman (who may have some limited formal power, but often exerts a lot of informal influence on the Board and key execs) looking over his/her shoulder. In the vanishingly unlikely situation that I had been offered the Microsoft CEO role, I'd love to have Bill as a personal advisor, but I wouldn't want him chairing my Board meetings, either.

about 6 months ago
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Satya Nadella Named Microsoft CEO

AlexOsadzinski Could be the "least bad" move (293 comments)

I've met Satya. It was several years ago, as part of a larger groups of VCs who regularly met Microsoft execs. He comes across as technically knowledgeable, smart, decent "presence" and leadership. He didn't strike me as visionary, but that's hard to judge when you're in a group that's being given the corporate line.

Knowing a little about the Microsoft culture, and having seen it over the past 20+ years, I personally think that an outsider would have a horrible time. First, in a company that is strictly a technocracy (and that comes from Bill himself), a non-technical outsider would be derided and would have a very tough time. A Gerstner->IBM type of hire probably wouldn't work. A technical outsider would still have to deal with the pretty inbred internal culture.

We've seen disastrous "shake the company up with outsiders" hires at HP, Yahoo (not Marissa, the, um, previous errors), Motorola, Nokia and others. Satya is probably, IMHO, a good hire, he knows the culture, and he has to simultaneously manage transitions in various product lines, and keep the money engine going. Remember, while many people talk as if Microsoft is dead and irrelevant, just look around you at almost any conference, or on a flight, and see how many people are using Windows and/or Office. And Microsoft is still worth around a third of a TRILLION dollars. A decent chunk of the US population invests in Microsoft, directly or through funds. A CEO can't take big risks with that market cap.

I wish him the best. He's got a lot to do.

about 6 months ago
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New Home Automation?

AlexOsadzinski Re:Z-Wave (336 comments)

Neutral is an absolute must, and is required by code in most, if not all, places in the US. It's usually easy to identify. I did over 100 Insteon switches in my home, and, after a few, it became very easy to figure out the neutrals, as well as the 2-way/3-way/4-way runners. What's a pain is going to the breaker boxes between each step of wire identification. In a few cases, a switch in a multi-way circuit won't have a neutral, but you can repurpose one of the other wires running to that switch to patch into the neutrals from another switch box.

I agree with labeling the load wire; generally, you have to identify each one, with a couple of trips to the breaker box. My home has six of the damn things, wired apparently at random, and some of them are in inconvenient locations...

about 6 months ago
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New Home Automation?

AlexOsadzinski Re:Z-Wave (336 comments)

Actually, Insteon uses both powerline and RF communications; almost all of the Insteon devices are available in "dual-band" (powerline + RF) form, and quite a few are RF only.

I had Lutron in my last home. It worked fantastically well for lighting, but was very expensive (around $75,000) and hard to modify; you have to coerce the installer to give you the software. In my new home, I self-installed Insteon, replacing over 100 light switches, controlling whole-home scenes, water recirculation, 6 HVAC zones and thermostats. For example, it's great to land at my home airport and turn the temperature up/down at home 30 minutes before I get to the house. Insteon is best with an intelligent controller that simplifies the per-device programming and gives remote access from 'phones/tablets/laptops. Total cost was around $7,000.

Once you've had scene-based lighting, it's hard to go back. It's even harder if the house is large with a lot of lighting circuits and switches per room.

So far (2 years in), Insteon has been completely reliable. The wired/wireless mesh seems to be entirely reliable, and, unlike X10, the devices confirm status to the controller(s).

On the topic of wiring, the house has CAT-5e and coax everywhere, with a video taken by the installers before the drywall went up. No guessing about what goes where. I highly recommend wired networking, because wireless, while good for many things, doesn't give you, for example, 1Gb/s access to home NASes and the like.

about 6 months ago
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Is the Porsche Carrera GT Too Dangerous?

AlexOsadzinski Re:When you have a bad driver ... (961 comments)

Mid-engined cars are designed solely to get around corners fast, and they're extremely unstable compared to your average Ford or Honda. The problem is that many are bought by people who have no clue, and end up in a ditch the first time they take their foot off the gas in a corner.

This is correct, in my experience. Porsche eventually fixed the tail-happiness of the 911 with progressive suspension and electronic refinements, although you're still dealing with a hunk of mass at the back of the car. Ferrari fixed the mid-engined problem with successive eletronic aids.

The Carrera GT is an old (9 years) design and is remarkable as an automotive icon, but unremarkable in terms of current-day mid-engined car performance. A Ferrari 458 has comparable engine power and torque, less weight and is generally quicker. It has five primary driving modes (Wet, Sport, Race, CT Off and ESC Off). You turn a little knob on the steering wheel to change modes on the fly. You're out of your mind driving on the public road in the last two modes, and there are plenty of YouTube videos demonstrating what can happen when you do that. In race mode, the car provides plenty of entertainment, but it can and will rescue you from the worst vagaries of mid-engined designs. In ESC Off mode, it's for the track and experienced drivers only, because it can and will drift (which looks like fun, but I don't have the testicular fortitude to try it with a $300k car that's not insured on the track), but it will also bite you very badly if you screw up, c.f. YouTube.

In ESC Off mode, the 458 is roughly a late-model Carrera GT. An ill-advised quick lane-change in the wet can kill you in both cars with snap oversteer, even at 50mph.

about 8 months ago
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Ferrari's New Car Tech Idea: Make Car Go Really Fast

AlexOsadzinski Re:202 mph (226 comments)

The Corvette and the 458 are both terrific cars, but in very different ways.

I don't have a ZR1, but I have the 427, which is reasonably close to the ZR1 in many ways. While Chevrolet probably makes very little money on the Corvette, they still have to cut a lot of corners, and it is NOT an exotic. The performance is amazing in a straight line, and not bad on the twisties. The interior is, um, not impressive, although it's improved on the new C7 versions. You're sitting in a plastic car that's fantastic value for money and a lot of fun.

The 458 (Italia version, as I can't speak for the Speciale or Spider) is a luxury exotic. It's an "event" to drive it, and the dynamics, sound and overall experience strictly dominate the Corvette. But the Corvette (the 427 at least) is only $80k, and a moderately specced Italia is over $300k: every one is highly customized for the buyer by the factory, and every option is, um, fully priced, e.g. $32k for special paint, $n,000 for every bit of carbon, etc. For getting from one place to another, the Ferrari isn't worth 4 times the Corvette's price. For sheer fun and excitement, "worth" is in the mind of the buyer.

about 10 months ago
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Ferrari's New Car Tech Idea: Make Car Go Really Fast

AlexOsadzinski Re:and like many Italian sports cars (226 comments)

The Speciale doesn't replace the Italia (the coupe) or the Spider (the convertible). It's typical for Ferrari to announce a coupe first, then the convertible a couple of years later, and then the stripped-down go-fast version a couple of years after that.

The Italia and Spider are very luxurious, while also being super-fast sports cars with great sound and drama. The Speciale is targeted to be much more raw, with fewer amenities, a lot less soundproofing and less weight. It's aimed largely at people who want to track their cars, while still being street legal.

Some Ferraristas love the new body styling, while others don't. It's not as pure as the Italia, but it's way more menacing.

about 10 months ago
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Ferrari's New Car Tech Idea: Make Car Go Really Fast

AlexOsadzinski Re:and like many Italian sports cars (226 comments)

Well, not really. Claimed mpg is 17.7 (US gallons). That's achievable in the wet or sport ECU setting, and in auto mode, where the DCT transmission, while still having real clutches and no torque converter, shifts for you, and driving gently. It's very conservative in shifting, and you're in 7th gear by the time you hit 40mph. In manual mode, and enjoying what the car's actually for (having fun), but not driving crazily on public roads, real-life mpg is around 14. And that's with a fair amount of freeway driving.

about 10 months ago
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Are We At the Limit of Screen Resolution Improvements?

AlexOsadzinski Depends on screen size & typical viewing dista (414 comments)

Many technologies have already caught up with human physiology limits. The best example, I think, is audio: it's relatively trivial, given current mainstream CPU capability, storage size and bandwidth, and network bandwidth, to exceed the aural capabilities of most humans. 192kHz 24-bit audio, or DSD streams, exceed the hearing limits of most people, although there are still intangibles between that and traditional analog sources, that some people can, or think that they can, hear.

Video and stills are the next frontier. Many (MANY) people can't tell the difference between 480i and 1080p video on a typical TV at typical viewing distances. Why? If they have 20/20 vision, it's a brain thing.

1080p on, say, an iPad Mini Retina (not yet announced or shipping, of course) will exceed the resolving power of most people's eyes and brains at normal viewing distances. 1080p on a 10-foot home theater screen shows pixels for some people at normal viewing distances. 4K does not. But, if you've ever seen 8K, "something" makes it pop much more than 4K, and it's very close to looking through a window at something. The illusion is shattered if the POV changes at all, e.g. a camera pan. But, for a static camera, 8K is very convincing. So, while 1080p may be "good enough", 4K is a step function upwards for large-screen TVs and home theater projector applications, and 8K may approach the limits of human vision. We won't know until someone tries 16K and we see if there's an intangible difference.

about a year ago
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Sound Engineer and Entrepreneur Amar Bose Dead At 83

AlexOsadzinski Their aviation (pilot) headphones are great (129 comments)

I've never been a fan of Bose home audio equipment: the whole mall-store marketing schtick and, well, um, the actual sound, were enough to put me off.

But they launched the first practical and useful noise-cancelling pilot headphones to the civilian population in 1998, after almost 10 years of military sales, and they quickly dominated the market, even at the then-lofty price of $999. They just plain worked, and worked well. Other manufacturers followed, and sometimes beat Bose's performance in later years, usually at about half the price, but there's no denying that they did pioneering, real audio engineering work in this space.

They were also smart in offering a "panel install" of their proprietary connector into aircraft. If you've owned an aircraft, you'll know that installing anything permamently is (a) expensive and (b) requires a pile of paperwork and (c) you'll never rip it out. The connector eliminated the need for the little battery pack you had to carry around, and provided additional lock-in. Clever. Sucky, but clever.

The Wave radio that "fills the room with sound" on the other hand. Meh.

1 year,12 days
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How Silicon Valley's Tech Reign Will End

AlexOsadzinski I left after 21 years (395 comments)

I spent 21 years in the Valley, doing 4 startups and then 8 years in venture capital. It was great, and I couldn't have had the same opportunities anywhere else.

But I got sick of it, and moved right at the end of 2011 (hint: don't have a moving truck drive across the US between Xmas and the end of the year...it freezes itself and all of your stuff) to North Carolina, in the Research Triangle Park area. The Bay Area's crowding, expense and divided society issues began to bug me more and more.

So now I can compare the world's leading tech area with another tech area, way lower on the totem pole.

The cost of living is much lower and the quality of life is much higher in NC for most people. Housing, at almost every level, is one sixth the price of the Bay Area. Average household incomes are about the same (yes, really, about the same....most people in the Valley aren't rich), but a regular family making $50k per year can afford a 2,000 sq ft house on a quarter of an acre in NC. Everything costs less in NC, e.g. my garbage is $16/month instead of $50, water is $21 instead of $100, sales taxes are about 3 points lower, so everything benefits from that, and gas/utilities/groceries are all noticeably lower. Healthcare is great in both places if you have good insurance. Public schools are, overall, better in NC. There are very good local colleges, and there are more PhDs per capita than anywhere else in the US. You don't have Stanford and Berkeley, of course, but you have Duke, UNC Chapel Hill and NC State; I'm really impressed with what comes out of those schools in terms of people and tech.

The weather in NC sucks in July and August; I personally find it too hot and humid. But that's what A/C is for. The rest of the year you have seasons. The Valley has better weather.

BUT BUT BUT.....nothing compares to Silicon Valley for the combination of vast amounts of (venture) capital, vast numbers of experienced tech people, including startup execs, a ton of tech startup infrastructure and a very fluid job market. The RTP area is chock full of startups, with more in the "we make stuff -- chips, materials, devices" category. Capital is much harder to find. There are good banks and lawyers and other services that startups need. Developers flood out of the local schools, but not all stay here. You can pay a developer much less than in the Valley, and (s)he can actually live on the salary (as you can rent a decent HOUSE for $1200, and buy a starter home for $130k).

I've seen multiple attempts worldwide to duplicate Silicon Valley. If I had about $500B and 30 years (I'm a little short of the former, and hope to make the latter), I could replicate the Valley, maybe. But I doubt it. The Valley pioneers were amazing people; check out the documentaries on the subject. They had perfect timing. It's hard to see the same confluence of events happening again, at least in tech.

1 year,25 days
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Can You Really Hear the Difference Between Lossless, Lossy Audio?

AlexOsadzinski Human limits mark the end-points (749 comments)

Disclaimer: I'm a skeptical audiophile, i.e. I love high-quality sound, understand the placebo effect and raise my eyebrows (but not my credit card) at $15,000 speaker cables.

What I find most fascinating about all of this is that the human body is not subject (yet) to Moore's Law. Computers catch up to us, fast. So, while 16-bit 44.1kHz audio was impossible in terms of processing power and storage 20 or so years ago, now it's trivial. At some point, anyone will agree that the resolution of music recordings exceeds the listening capabilities of even super-ears folks. 192kHz 24-bit stereo audio, uncompressed, is only ~4GB per hour; a trivial amount of storage and a very low data rate. Make it full 7-channel just for giggles, and it's ~14GB/hour. So a run-of-the-mill (today) 4TB drive can store ~300 albums. A typical audiopohile collection of 5,000 albums will require 70TB of storage, 100TB if you want some RAID redundancy, and that's with no lossLESS compression. Today that's $8,000 of storage, and it takes no imagination, plus 0.6x conservative lossless compression, to get that down to $2,000 or so. Not cheap, but not outrageous. The albums themselves cost said audiophile about $75,000.

Will there still be a debate that 192kHz 24-bit isn't "enough"? Probably. But human ears aren't changing much, and, it could be argued, we hit the limit of perception for most people at 44.1kHz 16-bit. At 6.5 times that resolution, it's probably enough. Problem solved (modulo a lot of infrastructure changes).

The same will eventually happen for video. 8x, if you've ever seen it, is like looking through a window, until the camera pans (which it shouldn't). Many people can't tell the difference between 480p and 1080p, never mind 4x.

It's already happened for photography. The resolving power of modern high-end digital sensors exceeds that of all but the best lenses. Storage of these multi-megapixel images is a non-issue.

There are imponderables, though: passionate, intelligent and sincere people I know wax lyrical over the aforementioned $15,000 speaker cables. Sound reproduction in a home environment, or when hearing headphones, is extraordinarily complex, and nobody has ever achieved "the absolute sound", i.e. a feeling that you're in a live music environment when listening at home. All you can hope for is some of the emotional involvement that the recording artist intended, whether in the studio or live. In the car on on good earbuds, I can JUST about tell that I'm listening to a 192 or 256kbps AAC (or MP3): it's in the sizzle of a cymbal and the like. But it's a fine line. At home, sure, a good audio system can make you cringe when listening to a highly compressed source. I've ABed the same recordings at 44.1/16 and 96/24. On high dynamic range stuff (orchestral, mostly), the quiet passages show a difference, albeit a minor one, because the signal is encoded using only 2-3 LSBs.

What's hardest to understand is the emotional engagement offered by (good, well-recorded, well-pressed) vinyl. It could certainly be a placebo effect, or it could be something yet to be understand in human hearing response when listening to digitally-encoded audio. To my surprise, the difference between a $10 speaker cable and a $500 speaker cable is clear, and in the favor of the $500 cable. There's some science there, but also a lot of voodoo. One or two manufacturers claim to have figured out how to measure the difference, but they're not saying how, for obvious reasons: they're, um, "marketing", or they really have found something to measure and want to keep it proprietary.

Finally, audio technology is really advancing, and fast. The DACs in most iDevices are ok: not great, but ok. The bundled earbuds are bad. But as little as $30 gets you decent earbuds. At $100 you're experiencing perhaps the same quality of sound as from a $1,000 pair of speakers. A decent DAC can be had for $250. A decent headphone amp for $200. So Mac/PC (which you already have)+$250 DAC+$200 amp+$100 earbuds gives you sound far superior to what most people enjoy. Not free, or cheap, but not very expensive, either. Then, I bet, a lot of people will want to move up from 128kbps MP3s.

about a year ago
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US CEO Says French Workers Have Three-Hour Work Day

AlexOsadzinski Not all the French are like this (1313 comments)

I read the CEO letter with some amusement, because some of the same thoughts have crossed my mind in the past. It's a pity that he diluted some good points by sounding rude and arrogant.

I've worked with French entrepreneurs (when I worked in Silicon Valley venture capital) and with French offices (when I've worked for global/international companies). I've directly managed people in France. Like most countries, there is an underlying culture, but it's not homogeneous. So, yes, I've witnessed French workers with a sense of entitlement and a desire to get as much money as possible in return for as little work as possible. This is not unique to France, but the local labor laws are such that they can be gamed to achieve that effect more than in many places. Between mandatory 35-hour work weeks, seemingly endless public holidays, "stress leave" (which can be due to genuine stress, or because you don't like your job/boss/whatever), 25+ days of paid vacation and labor laws that make it very hard to manage performance, it's a tough place to get real productivity. The last point is the toughest IMHO.

Before you get all bent out of shape that "management" means exploiting workers, it doesn't (have to) mean that. It means being able to reward hard work, diligence, self-improvement and great results with training, promotions, coaching and, yes, money. It also means being able to correct laziness, sloppiness and lack of effort with training and hands-on help, and to be able, ultimately, to fire people who don't want to put in the effort. You know who appreciates management firing poor workers the most? The other workers around them. A labor law climate that makes it hard to manage is really poisonous. Do you think that companies most of us admire, like Apple or Google, tolerate poor performance?

What's interesting is that many French workers I know complain about this, and the clock-watching attitude, and dislike it.

You know what? Many of them leave the country, because they can't stand it. Some drive across the border to the French part of Switzerland, which has fairly strict labor laws, but a different work ethic. The tech entrepreneurs come to Silicon Valley; the Valley is full of them, starting companies, raising money and creating value. In the US for the US. Not for France.

Clearly, in the long run, this brain drain isn't good for France. But the underlying culture of entitlement prevents serious reform.

about a year and a half ago
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Adobe Bows To Pressure and Cuts Australian Prices

AlexOsadzinski Re:Australia and software are not unique (159 comments)

You're right, and a large part of the additional cost of doing business in the EU is because.......everything costs more; businesses buy stuff and services, too. Like Adobe software! How's that for getting back to the topic?

It's a vicious circle. There are large costs of doing business in parts of the US, too, such as in California. Regulations and taxes push up prices there, too, compared to much of the rest of the US. I just got my water bill here in NC: $28 for the month. Same usage in CA used to cost $100. Trash is $15 versus $50. Just because and because of regulation.

As for getting sued: the US government does it less than the EU, but the US plaintiff's bar exacts a toll on business. How many letters do you get telling you that you're a part of a class action suit and that you'll eventually receive a check for $2.89 and that, by the way, the reasonable attorneys' fees for the case will be $10M?

about a year and a half ago
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Adobe Bows To Pressure and Cuts Australian Prices

AlexOsadzinski Re:Australia and software are not unique (159 comments)

Yeah, that's another thing that I noticed when I came to the US: people have an enormous amount of stuff in their enormous (by UK standards) houses. Even after 22 years in the US, I still can't get over how much stuff is available, and how little it costs. Don't get me wrong: I like stuff. But it's overwhelming how much stuff there is.

You highlight a real US problem, though: people not understanding the time value of money. It's not taught in the schools, AFAIK. This leads to living on credit (which is astonishingly expensive, if, like most people, you use credit cards) and living for "now" versus "the rest of your life". Try explaining to the average person that waiting a few months to save for something saves you 10-80% of the long-term cost (depending on how indebted you are). The classic symptom of this: a car dealer asking you what monthly payment you're looking for when you walk onto the lot. And there are insidious money-sucking prices in the US, too: what the average home spends on healthcare, mobile voice/data and cable/satellite is just incredible. And every marketing genius has figured out the recurring revenue model and many households fall for it, e.g. Sirius/XM for your car(s).

about a year and a half ago
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Adobe Bows To Pressure and Cuts Australian Prices

AlexOsadzinski Australia and software are not unique (159 comments)

While digitally-delivered software is an egregious example of price gouging, it's hardly unique. Sure, Australia is a long way away from most places and it's a very small market (about 22M people). So it's understandable that some goods will cost more, especially if they need local parts and supports: think cars, or even computers (but not bits). But, despite the pervasiveness of the internet, price differentials still exist FAR in excess of those caused by local taxation and tariffs and market sizes.

The US has it very, very good indeed. Why does, say, an Audi cost 30-40% less in California than in Germany, after you remove taxes? Same car (modulo some safety marks molded into some of the parts and other minor differences), same warranty, same service. The only difference is that it spends a few weeks on a boat instead of a few hours on a truck getting to the dealer. Why do the same Chinese-manufactured clothes cost, in some cases, 3-5x more in Switzerland than at Macy's anywhere in the US? How come that Japanese cameras are 30% cheaper in the US than in, say, the UK, or even in Japan?

I think that part of the answer is cultural. As an emigree to the US (22 years ago), one of the things that I first noticed was the national obsession with getting the best price on everything, almost regardless of personal wealth. Americans simply won't put up with price gouging. The clerk at Macy's will take some time to stack coupons and discounts for you to give you the lowest price. People actually negotiate the prices of many things with the seller, e.g. cars. In the UK, a favorite phrase was "if you have to ask the price, you can't afford it", which was a not-so-subtle tactic to make you feel somehow inferior for wanting a discount. And I will always remember the look on an American friend's face when, at a UK breakfast place, she asked for a refill of her (tiny) coffee cup and was told that it would be an extra 2 pounds. Try that at any restaurant in the US and witness the riot.

The internet simply causes resentment and envy when people in less fortunate places browse US sites. A lot of people simply order from the US and deal with the customs and shipping hassles (and, sometimes, the lack of local warranty). My Swiss friends bring empty suitcases on trips to the US and fill them up at Best Buy and Macy's; the Swiss tax on bringing stuff in for personal use is very low. I saw one billionaire (literally) friend from Switzerland buy a box of batteries at Best Buy because they're so expensive in his home country.

about a year and a half ago
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Flight 4590 Didn't Kill the Concorde; Costs Did

AlexOsadzinski Re:Oh Boeing... (403 comments)

I can confirm that the takeoff afterburners were very loud. I used to live in the UK, in Teddington, about 10 mles from London Heathrow airport (LHR). When Concorde flew overhead, on departure, it was EXTREMELY loud. It was a great sound, with some of the "crackling" you (used to) hear at a shuttle launch. But it was really, really loud and noticeably louder than the usual fare of 747s and smaller airliners. Concorde was at about 2,000 feet when over my old home. So, on takeoff, it was affecting thousands of homes with the noise. That wasn't an issue on departures from coastal cities like New York, but it was a major source of annoyance in London.

I flew Concorde twice, and still have my photos of the in-cabin display showing Mach 2.0. The one-way fare from London to New York, in 1981, was about UKL1300 (about $2500 back then). To put it into perspective, a coach seat from London to New York in those days was sometimes as low as $150. The seats were relatively small, as were the windows, and the wall got quite hot to the touch. A good meal served during a short flight, and it was cool to arrive in New York about 2 clock hours before I left London. Those were the days when you could visit the cockpit, and it was very cramped, very steam-age with all-mechanical instruments, two pilots (of course) and an engineer. Amazing for its day.

about 2 years ago

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