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Scientists Sequence Coffee Genome, Ponder Genetic Modification

west Re:Agreed (167 comments)

Nature has already perfected coffee, just as nature has already perfected ALL of the foods we eat. No amount of genetic engineering can make food taste better than hundreds of thousands of years of co-evolution (between plant and animal). The notion is absurd. And no, selective breeding is NOT the same thing as genetic engineering.

Um, evolution in most plants is "trying to make them taste BAD", otherwise, they... get eaten.

Nature's evolutionary "perfection", as a human might define it, would be a plant that replaces every living thing on the planet.

Of course, in reality evolution has no "goal". It is not "trying" anything. Producing something that is more fit is no more a "goal" of evolution than having a boulder roll downhill is a "goal" of gravity. Evolution is the simple outcome of the mathematics of self-replicating systems.

about two weeks ago
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The Great Taxi Upheaval

west Re:Don't worry, Uber et all will end up regulated. (218 comments)

I completely agree with everything you say. My point is that for relatively rare, non-costly (i.e. non-headline grabbing) events, the public will demand regulation, even if the only effect is incumbent protection.

If a bad thing happens, and there is no regulation, then that's negligence in the eyes of the voter. If a bad thing happens and there's regulation that makes sense to the voter (even if it has no effect on safety), then that's simply bad luck.

The "meta" part, is that like a placebo, ineffective regulation, while having a cost, also has a benefit. Simply feeling safer makes people happier, and for relatively rare events, that's going to be the dominant effect almost all the time,

about a month and a half ago
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The Great Taxi Upheaval

west Don't worry, Uber et all will end up regulated.. (218 comments)

When enough consumers have a "bad experience" with anything vaguely taxi-like, there will be demand that anything that looks of feels like a taxi be regulated to ensure minimal levels of safety and service.

Sure, perfect information is out there, but that takes effort. Measure the cost of regulation vs. the cost of determining reputation and you'll find that the populace goes for regulation every time. They want to be able to call anything cab-like and be safe. They want to eat in anything restaurant-like and be safe.

Even if it doesn't significantly increase safety, it doesn't really matter. The feeling of being protected by government regulation increases happiness significantly enough that regulation is pretty much whole-heartedly endorsed by most of the population.

about a month and a half ago
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Is the App Store Broken?

west Re:Curation: Apple does high profile reviews... (258 comments)

I wasn't aware of this. Apple still gets its cut, so why are they worried?

I'd fully agree that apps and sites like this are an important part of the app ecosystem. Any mechanism for curated discoverability is a plus.

about 1 month ago
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Is the App Store Broken?

west Re:Curation: Apple does high profile reviews... (258 comments)

Indeed, I am not certain why Apple hasn't done this. Can they not ensure the external call to rate the app isn't hacked to always give 5 stars?

I'd love to hear the technical justification (and I'm sure there is one, but I'm curious).

about 2 months ago
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Is the App Store Broken?

west Re:Curation: Apple does high profile reviews... (258 comments)

First, if Apple puts a measure to sort by review score, then absolutely it will be taken seriously. Most people would not be informed enough to even care where the review came from - it's simply a metric.

For the informed, I would expect it to have as much credence as magazine reviews, which get taken fairly seriously by most.

Remember, *nothing* is going to work perfectly. What I want to see is ideas that allow more (not all, more) decent apps without $100K budget to get some more discoverability.

about 2 months ago
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Is the App Store Broken?

west Curation: Apple does high profile reviews... (258 comments)

One possible imperfect solution:

For $x ($200? $500? $1,000?), Apple will do a real review of the application and attach the results to the app store listing. Then allow sorting by rating.

This is imperfect, in that it's still one person's opinion and subjective as any review is, but:

- It allows good applications to have an possible (no guarantees) avenue to stand-out apart from sales.
- By charging enough to cover the cost, it allows Apple to hire enough people to do timely reviews.
- Keeps out the chaff (who's willing to pay $500 for a guaranteed 'F' rating)

Nothing will guarantee successful curation. The question is what methods might *improve* discovery. Remember that any method that can be done by anyone, will be done by everyone, making it useless.

about 2 months ago
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Amazon's Ambitious Bets Pile Up, and Its Losses Swell

west Re:.7% (168 comments)

Given the opportunity cost of the money an investor spent on buying Amazon stock, it's pretty much effectively a loss.

Heaven help Amazon if its investors ever start demanding actual market returns. Luckily, it may never happen. By now, every investor has got to realize that Amazon's profits will never justify their stock price. Yell that the profits aren't high enough, and all you're doing is yelling that "the Emperor has no clothes", when you're invested in the Emperor.

Far better to praise Amazon's moves and sell it even higher to the next investor.

about 2 months ago
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Amazon's Ambitious Bets Pile Up, and Its Losses Swell

west We lose money on every sale... (168 comments)

"We lose money on every sale, but we make it up in volume" has never been as true as with Amazon.

(No, it's not literally true - but investors seem pleased to accept below-market returns (if not indeed losses) forever... If only the rest of American businesses had owners willing to give all their money to their customers.)

about 2 months ago
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Amazon Isn't Killing Writing, the Market Is

west Re:The end of reading as culturally relevant... (192 comments)

Ah, but the glory and the tragedy of the Internet isn't that there is *no* gold among the dross, it's that there *is* gold, diamonds even, and we're never, ever going to find it.

about a month ago
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Amazon Isn't Killing Writing, the Market Is

west Re:The end of reading as culturally relevant... (192 comments)

Tens of millions of poems, millions of writers, and you think it unlikely any of them meet your standards?

Wow. Talk about refined tastes :-).

about a month ago
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Amazon Isn't Killing Writing, the Market Is

west Re:No more superstars (192 comments)

Today, people have greater access to writing and greater access to a possible audience.

And yet statistically, we're reading less than we have in the past century.

What you lament is the coming demise of writing and culture is no more than the death of the rock star, or the Shakespeares or Beethovens of the past because their numbers have multiplied through the spread of mass culture.

Not quite, it's the death of 100,000 somewhat notables, replaced by 100,000,000. And that substitution will almost certainly mean that the tens of millions who enjoy reading today will becomes tens of thousands...

I don't deny that those who enjoy fan-fic/amateur market won't be devastated by the loss of the book industry. But that's a niche market in the same way as knitting. Vibrant inside the community, but a niche, and certainly not the cultural force that books have been for centuries.

about a month ago
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Amazon Isn't Killing Writing, the Market Is

west Re:The end of reading as culturally relevant... (192 comments)

Well, that's different; people don't read poetry now because no one is writing good poetry anymore.

How would you know?

There are *thousands* of poems written and published on the Internet every day and I've no doubt that some of them are good by whatever standard you choose to measure with. The problem isn't that there aren't good poems out there, it's there's no way of filtering the good poems to make it viable for you to find them.

Exactly the problem I foresee with books.

(Small difference - there are poetry publishers. Unfortunately, their standard of good doesn't really match the general populace's, so effectively, poetry that would reach you and me is all self-published. And to no surprise, we don't bother searching.

about a month ago
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Amazon Isn't Killing Writing, the Market Is

west Re:The end of reading as culturally relevant... (192 comments)

That's strange, there's so many sites like metacritic, reddit, and even slashdot that allow people to rate the content they view/read. Too bad this can't be applied to books.

And notice that despite hundreds of thousands of self-published books, it's not occurring now... Ever considered asking why?

Almost nobody is willing to spend 100-200 hours to find a single book worth reviewing. And, sadly, the very few people who might be willing to do so on an occasional basis are completely eclipsed by desperate authors who have friends "review" or purchase reviews or whatever.. (Not that they are necessarily common, but given how few reviews occur, even 1 in 100 authors means false reviews will eclipse real reviews 10 to 1.)

Closing your eyes and pretending that magic Internet pixies will happily do unpleasant work for free isn't working now. Why should it start working in the future?

(And if you are wondering why it works for music, the answer (1) the investment by the reader/listener is vastly smaller for music - I can listen to music for 3 minutes and decide if I like a piece, as opposed to 2-3 hours for a book and (2) much of the discovery occurs in venues where someone else is doing the filtering for the audience. Open mike nights with no filtering are marginal now. Imagine how they'd do if they featured a single unknown band playing for 2 hours... How many would be willing to sit for weeks to hear one band that was actually decent? (And remember, no talking with friends while listening. This music requires your undivided attention.)

Welcome to the challenges of self-publishing. Sadly, there's no magic here.

about 2 months ago
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Amazon Isn't Killing Writing, the Market Is

west Re:The end of reading as culturally relevant... (192 comments)

Indeed, in order to be happy, you must Consume. Consume, Consumer! Consume! I command it! Waste all your money! Consume, Consume, Consume!

There's no purpose to money if it isn't making you happy. Indeed, what *isn't* a waste of money?

And sadly for my heirs, I am not one of those who is made happy simply by seeing a large number just sitting there in my bank account deposit book while I sit on a park bench with a discarded newspaper for company :-).

So, yes. I'll keep consuming books as long as they keep publishing ones that I like and can find.

about 2 months ago
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Amazon Isn't Killing Writing, the Market Is

west Re:The end of reading as culturally relevant... (192 comments)

nospam007, can you name me a dozen self-published authors you read regularly? Half-dozen?

I'm honestly hoping the answer is yes, but I think it's likely the answer is no. (Or you're a heavy fanfic reader, in which case as long as your tastes don't change, you'll do just fine.)

Anyway, my point is that it's not the editing (okay, the editing is really, really useful), it's the acquisitions.

Of a 1,000 books on the slushpile, about 10-20 are what I would call "publishable". i.e. they've got a decent shot at being enjoyable. (Books outside of that range might have an outside shot at being enjoyable, but are essentially part of the "million words of garbage" that each author needs to write just to get good enough at their craft that they have a chance at being successful.)

So, the primary job of the publisher/editor is not so much to refine a book, and to act as the filter. Without them, I'm almost certainly spending at least 10 times as much time to find a book that I enjoy as much as I do now.

And when the enjoyment/time ratio goes that low, I stop reading...

And we see this. There are probably 10-100 thousand books self-published each month. How many new authors from the self-published world make it onto the radar of even a low midlist writer. One a month? Two? And it's not that there's not good stuff out there in the self-publishing world - it's that there's no means of discovering it without reading the hundreds of not-yet-ready-for-publication books that no-one wants to read without being paid for it.

I'd love to see self-publication become a viable option. But better brains than mine have been trying for years, and the best they've come up with is something that's going to be a pale shadow of the size of the current industry, read by a societally insignificant number of readers.

That's why I'm not optimistic for the book industry's future.

about 2 months ago
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Amazon Isn't Killing Writing, the Market Is

west Re:The end of reading as culturally relevant... (192 comments)

Sorry, lost the thread.

With e-books becoming more dominant and less money coming into the industry, the bookstores die (they're already highly marginal now). With bookstores' death, so go the publishers (after all, any established author will make more money from self-publishing and now the *one* (incredibly important) thing the publishers offer - shelf space - is gone).

With publishers gone, we all essentially become slush pile readers. The books are nearly free, but the constraint is *time*, not money, and with the publishers gone, we're now looking at instead of 1 in 10 new books being decent, we're looking at 1 in 1,000. And quite frankly, there's movies and Angry Birds on our e-book readers that have a much higher payoff rate.

Established authors do okay, but the discovery rate of new authors drops like a stone. Sure a handful get discovered each year, but the current book industry discovers thousands each year. (Where discover means they are distinguished enough from the crowd to have a *chance* at success.) As there are fewer and fewer new authors making it (but more and more authors writing for at least a generation while writing is culturally relevant), the signal to noise ratio keeps dropping.

Even worse, businesses realize that while selling books doesn't make much money, selling services to desperate authors makes a killing. If you are browsing to find a new author you know nothing about, Amazon currently shows us the top 1,000 or so books from mainstream publishers, with a few self-published in the mix. At some point, it makes a *lot* more money by showing us the top 1,000 books from the authors willing to pay the most.

And unfortunately, unlike mainstream publishers, who invest in a book not because they love it, but because they believe it will be what you want to read, would-be self-published authors aren't buying advertising based on the books quality, but on their own personal resources.

Amazon, et al. will make a lot of money for decades even as the book market to readers collapse.

Of course, old favorites won't disappear. They'll be a handful of new discoveries each year from self-publishing. Enough that books won't be "dead". But the idea that book reading will become marginal enough that it's cultural significance will essentially be irrelevant.

i.e. like poetry.

about 2 months ago
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Amazon Isn't Killing Writing, the Market Is

west The end of reading as culturally relevant... (192 comments)

The end of reading as culturally relevant is likely inevitable. It won't disappear, but it will become like poetry - practiced by a few, and written by as many people as read it.

The sad part is that the book market as it stands today obviously makes it clear that there is a (somewhat) viable market. Unfortunately, the introduction of the electronic element means that customers would have to accept that they were paying for the content (whose price hasn't changed) rather than the physical book.

The whole $30 for a hardcover, $10 for a paperback was merely the cover story that people used to allow themselves to spend a lot more money to get the content faster. Stripped of that, most would-be customers can't accept the idea of paying $25 for the first year and then $9 for the electronic copies. They need that tangible crutch to give themselves permission to spend.

Of course, other industries have this problem as well. I will happily spend $30 on a program for the PC, but cannot bring myself to spend $10 for the app that does the identical thing because... my brain tells me $10 for the app is simply too much. So I go without and am less happy for it. Multiple this by millions, and you have the book industry.

about 2 months ago
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Ask Slashdot: How Many Employees Does Microsoft Really Need?

west Re:The should restructure as an income trust (272 comments)

Your recommendation is one of certain corporate death.

That's exactly the point. Failure is not having a company die. Failure is not making your shareholders a lot of money.

All companies die someday. Most companies, when they see that their success is based on a moribund market segment basically spend everything they've accumulated in years of profitable behaviour and blow it in a futile effort to replicate their success elsewhere.

Any given company may have a 1 in 1,000 chance of success when entering a new market. An established company has perhaps a 10x greater chance of success when entering a completely new market segment. So in other words, they're blowing all their shareholders money for a 1 in 100 chance of success.

They won the lottery once, and then skillfully made those lottery winning even more valuable. Now they're going stake everything on another lottery win? No thanks. Give the shareholders their money, and *if* they want another gamble let them invest in a new company and pray.

The sad fact of the tech stock market is that even if you are lucky enough to back a "winner", you will never see the vast majority of the money the company made - it'll almost certainly be wasted in a vain attempt to assuage the corporate egos that yes, we can do it again. Well, the answer is, 99 of 100 times, no, you can't.

Apple's pretty much the exception to the thousands of companies that tried to reinvent themselves and failed. Thanks, but I think MS's stock holders would be better served by giving the billions that it has and will have for the next decade or two before it's time to wind it up back to its owners.

I'd have no admiration for a billionaire that spent his billions in the last few years of life fruitlessly trying to preserve it, hoping for a miracle. Why should I admire the same in a company?

about 2 months ago

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