Saturday, May 08, 2004
Read a bit about Flash-OFDM.
Major labels force a 70% iTunes price hike. What was it I said a few months back about price competition versus radical innovation in the digital music space?
Quote of the Week
"...Before inventors created engines to take the place of men, the leaders of men had drilled and regimented multitudes of human beings: they had discovered how to reduce men to machines. The slaves and peasants who haled the stones for the pyramids, pulling in rhythm to the crack of the whip, the slaves working in the Roman galley, each man chained to his seat and unable to perform any other motion than the limited mechanical one, the order and march and system of the Macedonian phalanx - these were all machine phenomena."
Points to anyone who knows where it's from - I'll tell ya next week and leave it as a game for now. Quote of the week because there is a very deep insight for potential innovators in it.
Wow - Majesco releases the GBA Messenger, a cart that lets you send texts and chat with other GBA users in a 3-mile radius. Absolutely killer.
Some 'junk' DNA turns out to be 'ultraconserved' - 100% identical across species. Interesting result.
Simulation Economy (Beta Version)
Technics of Maraschino cherries. Not to be missed.
The Barbie Experiment.
Today, I'm wondering when the boombox and cassette tape underground will really take off - it has got to be the response to MP3 culture (which is, from the point of view of the underground, getting kind of uncool, because it's losing it's edginess).
The hoopla about the death of IT reaches a fever pitch, with hysterical articles like this. Give me a break. Look at the assembly line - the analogy many people are using for IT. It has been the source of industry revolutionizing strategic innovation as late as the 1990s
(Dell). Or you could take something as simple as Wal-Mart's supply chain streamlining as an example of a 'commoditized' link in the value chain becoming a massive source of advantage.
The point is not that IT is becoming 'commoditized' - so what? Every technology falls down a cost curve. The point is that it's how a firm uses technology - any kind of technology, from biotech, to IT - that's the strategic issue.
Blah, blah, blah, more about Google. The dual-class structure was, as far as I know, proposed first by Charles Handy, as an isolating mechanism against traders (vs real owners, who hold the stock for more than a few minutes) whose critiques of corporate structure (and purpose) are pretty cool - if you haven't read, you should.
Morality and Modernity
The corporation as psychopath. Nice article, especially the reference to Weber, who's too often overlooked these days.
The bigger point is that it shouldn't be a surprise that the corporation corresponds to the psychologist's attributes of a psychopath - so does the economist's rational agent. Not to mention most of the assumptions economics and finance make about humans (try rational expectations, for instance).
Of course, there's been a massive amount of work lately trying to clear up exatly this mess, at the interface of psych and econ. Here's a nice example.
Look, my point is this. The notion that the corporation is a psychopath is an old one (viz Weber). The bigger truth is that the institutions of modernity are all
psychopathic - science, by the same criteria, is psychopathic, as is capitalism, as is democracy, etc, etc.
So research like the Gilbert lab's is cool, and the hope is that it will help humanise the corporation and other institutions of modernity - the truth is it will do exactly
the opposite, because in the absence of a moral organ or even a moral calculus, such research will become a tool for even more quanitification and automatism.
MS has problems in emerging markets. What a surprise!!
I could say a lot of things about price discrimination, etc, etc - the truth is pretty simple - MS is possibly the greediest corporation (ever), and the $$ they can make in places like Thailand is chump change. Of course, this kind of idiotically simplistic thinking is exactly why
they're in trouble - it's at the fringes of the network that erosion happens.
Why is there a size war on for digital media players? There should be an elegance war on, given that that's the dimension of the market leader's proposition that's created massive value for users. Fine, I understand that the iPod and flash-based devices are aimed at different niches - but the point remains: a size war is a losing game to play.
Nice piece about new entrants in anonymous P2P nets.
Phones with nav systems are a hit in Japan.
From this Economist article:
"...Microsoft's new software-development platform for games, called XNA, a set of software tools that can be used to write games for PCs, Xbox and the forthcoming Xbox 2"
Interesting move - by creating complementarity among different assets MS has massively (they hope) dropped the cost of producing games. This is a nice move for a couple of reasons. First, as the article points out, Sony's strategy is hardware focused. What the article misses is that the strategy is the obverse of this - focused around complementarity in hardware, massively raising the benefits of publishing games (they hope).
But two other crucial points to consider are that in the games industry, both technological leadership and the cost of producing games have had little to do with success. This sounds paradoxical, but if you know the industry, think about the N64, the PS2, and then the various Sega and NEC platforms and you'll get the picture. Success, both from the publisher and the console maker's point of view has become a Red Queen race for hits.
So maybe neither of these strategies fit the market dynamics. That said, I've gotta add that I find games an increasingly lame field to write about, since the innovators have been priced out of the market by the corporates - it's really only Sony (and a few smaller firms) who do anything interesting every now and then.
How is it broken? Let me count the ways.
1) The decay of the structures powering the appropriability end of the engine, intellectual property. Investors want to see it, and the patent office readily gives asinine patents, like this one for P2P spoofing. The point is that patents like this are good for no one in the end - socially, they retard real
innovation, and at the firm level, the opportunity cost of using them is really high
. Sure, you can lock up competitors in litigation battles - but for a new venture, the lost opportunities are usually the big ones.
2) The decay of the structures that power the political end of the engine.
3) The decay of the structures powering the financial end of the engine:
"..."Much of America's technological preeminence in the 1990s was attributable to R&D investments made by the federal government in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Past technology advancements stimulated by federal R&D include integrated circuits, the Internet, personal computers, jet aircrafts and supercomputers," the American Electronics Association said in a recent report on offshoring and related issues. "University-based R&D in the physical sciences MUST be increased. Many U.S. trading partners and developing countries have more generous and permanent R&D tax incentives than the United States."
Related to this is the point about offshoring R&D. From the country's point of view, this is possibly the next worst thing to, say, Silicon Valley being flooded by a madman named Zorin. That's because R&D has massive spillover effects which create agglomeration economies and innovation clusters - like the valley. In effect, right now, those clusters are being built (by you, if you're reading this and you're American) for people who are going to compete with you.
Of course, I'm the same guy that thinks that there is a deep truth that the iconic figures of the next few years are eerily like something out of the world's Jerry Springer, Fox News and Al Jazeera crammed subconscious: a girl from a trailer park in West Virginia, leashes, blanked out genitals, hoods, and brown skin.
4) It's not mentioned by people like you and me, but there's a moral dimension to it as well. Without sounding hopelessly naive, the truth is that what's been arbitraged away in the last twenty years during the race to the bottom is as much inefficiency as labor standards. We in the West seem to be, for the most part, comfortable with that - the economic benefit clearly outweighs the moral cost. If we really cared about helping others countries develop (at our own expense, no less), we would do a lot more to ensure the history of capital vs labour didnt repeat itself there - which it already is.