Bernie and Donald – come again?

So, Trump and Sanders.   The previously unthinkable types of candidates in America.  What’s up with that?  Personally I agree with this Guardian article.  Most of my friends and colleagues who brand me a socialist are entirely beholden to the economic propositions and advantages of free trade.  It is scientifically proven to make an economy more efficient. 


Few even question what that means. The theory goes along the lines of whomever can make a good the most efficient (cheapest) way for equal quality should be the ones to make it. That way the good is distributed to the demand side for the lowest (most efficient) price for the given demand. 


Hell it makes sense even to layman like myself.  And indeed most people.  The labour movement takes the side that the workers create the value and should retain more of the reward for that work than those who own the means of production.  Because it drives up the unit cost, that is, according to same theory, less competitive as it is less efficient. 


The market theory then goes on to imply (this isn’t part of the economics) that other work will rise to take the place as labour is finite, and jobs will be found that will take over as the source of employment for those people, or they will move to where jobs are, or they will lower their wage expectations to make the company competitive (this part always only seems to target the largest cost of the labour force, rather than the entire wage AND profit rates of the company itself).  


It (and this attempt to analyze Trump support) continue to reduce things to minimal dimensions for ease of explanation, thought, and communication.  It removes people, lifestyle, quality of life, social impact, and thousands of other aspects.  The labour force is just a number on supply side.  The lowest cost is the goal that feeds the measure of profit.  


Remember too that with money as the measure, then the financial influence has increased in politics over the years. It has done so in order to shift rules to make this system and its premises work increasingly well. 


Doing so has pissed these very people who comprise the labour force off.  Because while their votes should count for more, their issues are sidelines and dismissed as it doesn’t support the needs of the economic theory, and gradually the influence of the labour force and the people in it have nobody representing them. 


The US didn’t take much.  As the article points out the Democrats abandoned those principles as they mainstream rhetoric was all around the economic leading indicators, which all reflect a combination of efficiency and productivity.  It has employment as well to say that the jobs are still there.  So when the Democrats focused on the economy they did so because everyone has somewhat sensibly bought into what the media and leaders now across the spectrum said was good for the economy.  


I believe this would have continued to progress further for another decade or two.  The anti-establishment rumblings were empowered by social media, but people still had jobs, the economies were still growing in North America and more free trade kept correlating with increasing GDP.  It was all smooth. 


But free markets relentlessly optimize.  Everything.  That’s why they do create these efficiencies. When there is no pressure, they maximize returns, most often to the owners/shareholders. That is the stated directive of the corporation. Some include the workers but most don’t.  They are, as I said, part of the cost equation. 


But in doing so the free market will externalize both risk and cost.  Never take on something on the cost or risk side if you can get someone else to do it for you. 


Two big results of that were having the government cover off catastrophic risk and failure, and remove all environmental or societal impact to government cleanup and support. And reduce the need for business to pay for that via lower corporate taxes. The people need the services, so they should pay.  Don’t tax the providers of jobs, they help.  Do you see where the system naturally goes?


So with this all proceeding and increasing smoothly with the re-emergence and popularization of neoliberalism, what happened?


The financial crisis. All the undercurrents and anti-globalization were giving small voices to the concerns. It’s not like the issues which are created by the effects of the proven economic theory were not felt or hidden, just that they were marginalized. 


So the market creating a web of inherent fragility, which is what highly optimized systems are. Another word for inefficiency in some cases?  Robustness. All that extra capacity or padding or ability to absorb change?  You don’t need that all the time so it gets optimized out.  The market did what it does best. A little too well some say.  I say to the best of its ability.  


Then something went wrong.  It came apart.  It came apart due to basically lying and fraud.  Normally when that happens in a market those bad actors are removed and punished.  That’s what everyone expected.  Except that those actors had the political system worldwide and especially in America in its pocket. So the citizens looked on and took the damage while their money was used to bail these companies out. In some cases that meant these same people kept their jobs.  But they still had a righteous sense that someone should be help responsible.  


They weren’t. And the abuse got worse right out in the open at that point.  The attention to the lack of accountability or redress grew. 


The mainstream parties across North America didn’t seem to notice.  It was still fringe. Except it wasn’t.  People were now questioning. At least why the free market wasn’t a free market, but one where the taxpayers rather than the shareholders were now bearing the bulk of the risk.  It should have warned the establishment. A student of history knows that politicians use scapegoats to focus the anger of the populace away from themselves. But the new neoliberals and those fully beholden to not questioning the “free market” or how it was now being realized didn’t consider that. There was no redress. It was like it was ok.  But the average citizen saw how their money was spent to help those who didn’t need the help.  And how they still lost jobs. It was, in a very real parallel, the 2008 edition of the misquoted scene of “let them eat cake”.  It seems the new political elite skipped those classes. And now the people are outright angry. 


So in the US two champions have emerged.  One is and always has been anti-establishment. He had always been fighting for individuals and for the betterment of society as a whole, questioning the wisdom of how free market capitalism was realized. 


The other is a free thinker who has been both part of and outside the political elite variously while practicing that capitalism. He’s seized on populist rhetoric and touched on real and imagined pains as well as perceived slights and injustices, weaving them in to bolster the talk addressing the real injustices felt. 


Both are, as was said early in the campaign, anti-establishment.  Sanders is being openly repressed by the DNC in the nomination race.  Trump is now being attacked by the leaders of the Republican Party itself.  


One is sticking largely to the same principles and thoughts he had from the earliest days of his political activism. Tempered and deepened over the years. 


The other seems to me caught up in the campaign and fully populist, taking in anything that will give energy, be it anger or fervour, to his campaign.  


Both are gaining momentum.  Dawn has risen on the populace as they realize now that for once, they can make a difference and send a message more clearly than imagined in decades to the political elite that they are, in fact, in charge. They do have the power the fringe has been telling them they have. 


I disagree categorically with populism and especially that which fosters and feeds on hate or division. Much evil has been wrought over the years from such practice. This I disagree categorically with Trump, but he and his followers still need to be understood.  If you agree with my premise around the economic system and how the measures were agreed to for many years by all sides, he’s one of the strongest proponents of that system, when it suits his personal needs.  There is no integrity or consistency in Trump or his platform.   He is rife with hypocrisy. That seems to give him a veneer of credibility with his followers as he addresses all their anger, doubts, fear and desires, even when they conflict, and most often in impractical, unrealistic, outlandish, or even simply increasingly vague, ways.  But he addresses them. 


Sanders hasn’t shifted much that I’ve seen. This has hurt him due to his not tailoring the message to sub-constituencies, or special interests, be they labour, racial/ethnic, religious, demographic or even socio-economic.  He talks about the system and the injustices plainly. He has consistency and credibility but not populist appeal.  And he doesn’t say what everyone wants. He also challenges what we as a society have believed for years about economics.  I admire him. 


But if you only listen to the parts you agree with, Trump says your stuff. Bernie only sort of does.  He says some uncomfortable things in the middle. Trump says stuff you are also uncomfortable with but it seems too outlandish to worry about. 


Both are outlets for our anger, and especially for the anger and frustrations of American workers. Both are giving us a scapegoat. Indirectly, because they waited to act, the responsible group is actually the voters, but directly and tangibly, the scapegoat is the political elite that really should have known better. 



Just today (day after I wrote, but had not yet posted), the NPR talks about this from a different perspective.   The conclusion is about as overcooked-noodle weak and flimsy as I have ever read, but the idea of preserving the good while changing is the right idea to me.

Alberta. Where we were, are and are going, from one angle

I little industry news this morning to share with you. Now, think about it critically, and avoid the rather partisan result of the tables in judging a six month government inheriting a time of extreme fiscal crisis and simply look at the graphs without the colouring. What do you see that’s odd?

I see a few. One, the current graph is basically exactly the inverse of oil prices. That would say for a province where only 25% of our GDP is tied directly or indirectly to oil, the vast bulk of the public services are funded by energy royalties. That’s not a stretch. The shortfall is very much a result of decreased royalties alone. Thus, no heritage fund, we were spending the variable income on our operational day-to-day costs. All so we had lower taxes. Our oil paid for our schools and health care.

Now, it can’t. so either we have to pay right now, go without them, or shift the operational costs, and find another way forward, or a mix.

Another item. Lougheed ran a pretty even keel. He had a net negative debt contribution, was in power for a very long time though some of the hardest times, and created what was once a huge heritage trust fund with our oil and gas royalties. That is what Notley plans to do with any additional royalties resulting from the current (and overdue) review. We are shifting, under the current government, some of our operational expenses back onto the tax base directly, and off the royalty base. That’s more sustainable, and more even keel over the long term. More what Lougheed was doing.  

Further, Klein is absolutely lionized by the fiscal hawks in Alberta.   The graph further lionizes him at a  glance and demonizes Notley.  But Klein absolutely hammered down the spending back then because, as is happening, our debt rating was downgraded.  There is merit to getting it under control and having a plan, but Klein also gutted our services that we pay for and rely on as citizens of this amazing province.   It wasn’t all wine and roses.   If you were in the queue for health care, it was a long suffering mess.   But why did he have to cut so extremely deep when Lougheed only had a net NEGATIVE effect on the debt for the many years previous to him?  And why are we lionizing the PCs when their last run of Premiers were in power only slightly longer than our latest new government and ran the debt up proportionally at a time of the highest oil prices in history?  Keynesian economics says you pay DOWN the debt in GOOD times and spend on stimulus and responsibly in the slow times as a government.   Both to even out the cycle and kickstart the next growth phase.   We are inherently poor at doing the former, only Finance Minister and PM Martin being one I recall doing so successfully and in a balanced manner.

I’m not one to give public services a free pass.  We need to help them and incentivize them to find ways to be better, and more efficient, whilst delivering higher quality services year over year.   That’s how a company runs, and is geared to run.   But it serves the people.   Not the economic cycle.   It needs to be there for everyone in good times and bad, not just when the oil prices are up.   That was what I consider to be a fatal flaw (in retrospect, unfortunately) of the thinking that has been prevalent in our province for the last few decades.   Short-term, immediate-gratification thinking.   I want lower taxes when times are good.   Don’t bother we with your “what happens if….?” questions.   It’s my money.   I want all of it.   Tax somebody else for my schools and roads and health care and….

Look at it another way.  We all want lower taxes.   Most of us have realistic views that a civilized and advanced society such as we live in has a significant infrastructure and operational foundation that needs to be funded, and isn’t really a money maker.   It’s an enabler for all of us for our business, pleasure, and lifestyles.   So we know there has to be some taxes there to have all this.   Otherwise everything just gears only to the wealthy, and society stratifies and stagnates.  It’s a common good.   So we pay, but we complain, and we watch to try to keep an eye on it when we can, and pressure the government on it.

Then we fall victim to populism, in that a government can “play the system” and give us what we want (Klein) as we love him, but we have painted ourselves into a corner.   The debt is there to be paid on our infrastructure, and we had to pay it in all the post-Klein years.   And we still don’t have a really efficient public services model.   The hyper-reorganization of the Alberta Health Board has been a fiscal and organizational disaster from the first one, and they just kept coming under the later conservatives.   There was no goal other than “consolidate”.  I always found that odd, as businesses have branch offices and divisions to more efficiently manage larger organizations, not a concentration of functions across groups in all cases.   There’s a balance, but these reorgs have been top-down bureaucratic disasters spawned, it seems, from management consultants with little vision, unclear goals and no parameters.

So, we want services, and we let the populist governments, the neoliberal governments, pay for it all via royalties and lower taxes.   First for everyone to a flat tax, then primarily on businesses over the last little while, expecting more…. what?   Jobs?   We had the lowest unemployment rate in the country by almost a factor of two.   So why were we going after jobs?   The surplus, if there was one (there wasn’t, according to the graph) should have gone into the Trust Fund.   The royalties should be going into a trust fund.   We should be paying for our services and working to make them better, and cheaper per person, learning from the best public health systems in the world and then applying Alberta know-how to get even better.   To lead.  But instead it’s all about taxes, and royalties, and investment, and jobs.

What about fiscal sustainability?   Do you get the impression we left that by the wayside when Peter Lougheed stepped down?   Klein brought in chequebook sustainability, but that was small-town economics.   Not three million people economics with a diversified economy.  It wasn’t a growth for the future.   It was a fiscal minimalism.   It has appeal, don’t get me wrong.   Small government can be a good thing.  In many ways we want them to provide public services, and only incentivize or deincentivize otherwise.   Protect the public and common good.   Provide the services for everyone, and put the fiscal parameters around the rest so industry can solve and come up with the best solutions.   Remembering the industry has a goal of profit only.   Not whatever the people or government may have in mind.   To make the profit align with the results we want as a society as much as possible.   And let them build the solution.

Now, I think our new government is scrambling a bit.   The oil price has fallen twice as far as even our flash premier Prentice had forecast in his doom-and-gloom disastrous early election.   I don’t care WHO was in power right now, Klein, Lougheed, Notley, Prentice, or the best financial or managerial wizard you could conceive of.   This is going to be a very hard situation to work through and improve.   If we can get past the blame and inference, and learn from the simple facts that are there in history, maybe we can get out of this partisan, nonsensical bickering, and get back to building a great province for everyone.  

Some food for thought.   Remember, comments are moderated, but if you post something meaningful, not spam, you will get whitelisted.   Otherwise we would all be reading trackback spam for the next great online business opportunity marketing viagra funded from Nigerian inheritances and government interact refunds.

Global market thoughts

Reading an NYT article

There seems to be an oddity that I haven’t figured out yet.   Later in the article, it talks of a front of worry for global investors:   A potential wave of currency devaluations among… South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan.   This would, for ForEx specialists say, put a damper on global growth expectations.   

This doesn’t add up entirely.   If these are primarily export-driven economies, and their currency devalues (I will put aside the fact they control the exchange rates, which is a distortion itself), should this not, as general macroeconomic theory would have it, encourage two behaviours?  Those being:

  1. Make their goods less expensive for export, in other countries with stronger currencies, thereby shifting demand towards those goods and increasing the export volumes and thereby incoming revenue in trade
  2. Make their domestic goods more attractive to their citizens, thereby encouraging domestic investment, domestic consumption and domestic growth, and discouraging imports, thereby strengthening the value of their currency over time?

It strikes me that this is how the market is supposed to work when it comes to ForEx effects on supply and demand, but the commentary of these investors seems to state that it either won’t, or it affects things in ways they don’t believe have value.

Assets would be CHEAPER in these countries with devalued currencies, which I would think would herald a buy opportunity for such globally exposed investors, if they are value investors looking at the long term.   The article goes on to say these countries “… have some of the most overvalued exchange rates on the planet…” which says this would be a natural, free-market rebalancing that these global investors should welcome unless they are ALREADY invested heavily in these countries, and such a move towards free market exchange rates or at least a rebalancing would damage their holdings.   

Given that, it would seem the commentary is out of self interest, and has little to no bearing on the actual global growth expectations, except that these people would be taking an on-paper haircut, and only based on the valuation of these assets in say US dollars.  This may lessen investment as they have lower asset values to spend and invest, but then, if the prices go down in these markets, doesn’t that then encourage the investment?   Isn’t this the tenet of microeconomics that gets applied to investment and market justifications ad infinitum?   It is a gross simplification and market inelasticities also distort the effects, but the fundamental theory is supposed to still apply, or these investors are selling us a bill of goods that includes various bridges over deserts when these mantras get imbued into populist thought and political policy.

The later notes by actual analysts makes sense to me.   The slowdown in China is not so much a cause as an indicator that the global economy has cooled.   I think a segmented comparison would be more useful and attempting to correlate the exports to the segments in the north american and world markets that are slowed as drivers (retail, probably many others) and which are not, as the American economy is in the lead again, so it would seem some of it is driving forward and perhaps it’s not all based on consumerism Wal*mart type expenditure?   There’s a gap there that isn’t, as usual, being examined by any mainstream media I’ve seen so far.

So, over-globalized?

This gives rise to a somewhat follow-on thought that is related, but not directly to the NYT article that formed the trigger for the post.

Is the push over the last thirty plus years for increasing globalization and the concurrent hyper-focus on that created a brittleness and over-exposure akin to the 2008 financial crisis, which, from a certain perspective, was created by chasing higher returns in a saturated market and creating value where there was none, and getting investment into that non-value to the point that when actual value needed to be realized, the chain collapsed on itself, also happened in global trade? 

Basically, the extreme rush to offshore in the late 90s and much of the 2000s most likely, given the speed of investment and information now, overshot the balance point, and probably by more than a little.   It was aided in overshooting the mark by these export economies, which includes India and others beyond the SE Asia PacRim countries, not having their exchange rates actually react to the growing costs and standards of living in at least some of their populace, and concurrently in the value of commerce going on in their GDPs vs. the rest of the world.  Thus when their currencies should have appreciated given a free exchange rate (something China should have experienced over a decade ago, not only recently), caused the value in these economies to be grossly distorted downwards and thus create an artificial value in offshoring to the point that the actual realization of that value isn’t there anymore.  Simply put, I am proposing that it should not cost as little as it does to manufacture in these countries, because their GDPs grew to the point that their exchange rates should have made their currencies stronger and investment in them less attractive.   

This presents a conundrum in my thinking though, as it is the investments already in place that are out of alignment.  They were bought at certain values, hypothetically, and have grown as the currencies were pegged to the dollar and they appreciated in value.   But the exports were buoyed along by the fact the Chinese renminbi was also pegged artificially, and thus the real market valuation was absent from influencing the economies.   

So now you have the renminbi, which was artificially low due to zealous and continuous capital spending in China, now facing a devaluation as an unintended consequence.   The economy is in a state of over-investment due to very loose capital management by China and the bank(s) there.   So investments have been made that really should not have been as there was no realistic possibility to have it paid back (sound like a mortgage-backed security parallel to you as much as it does to me?), so there are billions of dollars of companies, jobs, and exports that simply don’t make enough money to pay their loans or stay afloat.   So they should have gradually died off over the years as the costs went up in China.  But with the pegged exchange rate, they didn’t.  And if they all do now, you will have civil unrest the level which would make Tiananmen Square look like a church group picnic.  So China is stuck, and all those that ran headlong into the China craze rush are also, indirectly, stuck in very poor investment positions, as the renminbi now has to reflect the global economy and the Chinese economy, and in doing so, devalue the crap out of itself, the investments in China, and consequently take all these other export economies which were defended by the distortion in a counter-intuitive way down with it.

This is where I have more thinking to do unless someone can point me the way forward, as all of these economies should have their exports made more attractive by devaluation, but the global nature of investment has made it so ForEx exposure is now distorting the market adjustments because the money is coming from the stronger economies, and they don’t want those previous investments dropping in value, and do not have the same interest in new investments.   

Of course, if there were enough freedom and diversification in the investment market, what should happen is that NEW investors come in at these lower prices to buy in, and the existing investors either ride it out, average down by investing more, or take the loss and get out as the devaluation occurs (or in advance if they can, and sell to markets where their currency will not devalue in relation to the one in question).

The more this gets exposed, the less I think most people, and even investment analysts, understand the intricacies of an integrated global economy.   It’s not all wine and roses, and will not be without a world government and unified economic policy, which would be horrendous and inflexible, and evolve to be very inefficient.   The diversity is the value, and the pain.   it’s what drives things forward and makes it robust.  But when you bank on a current state and bet it all and do everything in your power to enhance and propagate it, you distort it, and its relationship to other states.   

Then you get a collapse rather than a gradual shift.   It’s the difference between investment bankers, and biological systems.   Biological systems are not fully optimized and efficient.   They are robust, inefficient, and most important of all, fault-tolerant.   That’s why species survive most catastrophes, and grievous injury and disruption, and our economic systems increasingly don’t.  They have the robustness optimized out.   That’s the risk that the investors want legislated away and bailed out, but it can’t be without creating new inefficiencies.  

Back to the article, as sums up at the end though, many of those investors were dollar-based, which supports my theory and they are looking to get out before it devalues any further, or starts to devalue rapidly.   The pegged currencies created a fragile, distorted exchange rate and concurrent investment environment.   Unwinding those situations at this point looks like it will be very painful for the emerging economies.   


Misguided analyst editorial

Just made a business-oriented posting over on Digital Katana (my personal business site).  If you have looked at the Comcastic “Listen To A Comcast Rep Torture Customers Trying To Cancel over at Huffington Post ( this is a commentary on Rob Enderle’s analysis at ComputerWorld

Is it wrong that I don’t get a good feeling when Google buys?

Google just bought Nest.   Great for Nest and the team there.   But now I’m wary of yet another product.  

Let me be clear.   Google was and really still is the de facto search engine with great results.   But the corporation has a knack of both pissing me off and unsettling me every time they do anything or the walking pit of arrogance Eric Schmidt opens his yap.  

They bought Waze.  All fine really, if it’s independent and my location data isn’t shared with Google.   It is a brilliant service, and developed by some really talented people.   But I don’t want my information getting connected with a bunch of marketing or the US government or whomever else Schmidt and Google decide they want to sell it to.   

I still use Waze, but not as often.   It just doesn’t have that feeling of goodness and confidence because now Google is behind it.   They always seem to feel entitled to any data and anything they can discover, and that they can sell or market it how they see fit.   Europe has given them a few slaps, and the US and Canada the odd one as well with their wi-fi trolling via their StreetView cars.  But they seem to just keep going these sorts of trust-betraying things. 

So now the thermostat and smoke detectors are in the Googleplex.  The system connects with a central server to track data and remotely control your home systems. It’s really good, convenient, energy efficient and part of where smart homes should have been going a long time ago.

But I just don’t trust Google anymore with data.   After Schmidt infamously stated “Just change your name at 18” for people that wanted to leave their Internet history behind (Like you couldn’t also track that bit of info down if it happened) and was completely insensitive to the entire idea of personal privacy, added to the book digitization, added to the echo-chamber we-will-show-you-what-WE-think-you-want-to-see-too-bad-if-you-want-the-old-pure-algorithm modification of things, and unknown hundreds of other behind the scene shaping of our digital experience, I’m just getting fed up with this company.   They need to earn the trust of their customers back.   The issue is we aren’t their customers.   We are their product.   Many writers far more talented and diligent than I have expounded on this at length.  I was a customer of Nest, not a product.   I was somewhat of a product of Waze as it was free and ad supported, but it wasn’t wired in with the rest of Google initially.  

Now I’m a product for all these things I purchased.   Somehow it seems wrong.   I want to be able to unplug from the Nest site and host the interconnect and data somewhere else now.   I don’t like the feeling at all.   I don’t like the implied control being in Google’s hands, in the hands of a company that regularly EOLs products after they destroy the ecosystem (Google Reader being the most recent), or after they are relied on my people or businesses.  

So Google, I’m asking.   Why should I trust you with all this information of MINE?

Hashtags Considered #Harmful

Hashtags Considered #Harmful: “Hashtags Considered #Harmful”

I find this kind of like Google-justification or Facebook-justification for tailored search bubbles.   That gives the “most relevant and popular” results due to the way the cloud operator (twitter in this case) chose to implement the hashtag search.  That doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong, but you may choose to disagree with the way your results are being “curated”.

I’ve used hashtags for search and publication in some cases and they are most useful where frequency is not so high as the outlier of the Superbowl, where community is scattered and not in the “elite” of the twitter verse and most importantly where the context of the tweet cannot necessarily be inferred efficiently without costing too much of the relevant content to be lost in the 127 characters.

Twitter devolves often into popular news and culture because it requires a shared context for the imparting of sufficient information in 127 characters to be of interest.   I also hypothesize this is why has so many rather direct and long-running conversations between pairs and small groups of people, is to have a built-up context that while value can be derived thanks to conversational threading of the newer service, itself requires effort and a lack of “cleanliness” of the baseline micro-broadcast that the author at the New York Times seems to disdain. 

The point isn’t totally invalid although I feel the presentation as with so much modern journalism, throws away, ironically, a lot of context.


(Via Daring Fireball.)

Blog Reconstruction

Well, If you’re a reader of this blog, you will have noticed it was offline for a while, and now the address has changed slightly, and a number of the posts are missing. 

In a fit of total frustration with JCS hosting which has deteriorated markedly over the past year, I have now moved the last piece off of their system and over to GreenGeeks, but in doing so the DB backup isn’t compatible as WordPress did a major upgrade in the midst and for a few other technical reasons.

So I still have all the posts in MarsEdit, but I can’t just bulk upload them to a new blog unfortunately.   I’m posting them across and editing the publication dates back to their originals as I go, so I should have everything back up and running in a few more days.   Then I’ll get things sorted more fully.

I’ve decided to drop the old static home page of the last millennium and move to a pure WordPress-oriented site.   Simpler, cleaner and the content that updates the most, being the blog, becomes the centrepiece.   I hope you will enjoy the new format and bear with me while I finish the migration.   


New Mac enroute!

Well, after the joy of the iBook G3, and then the free G4 upgrade Apple provided me thanks to some bad luck on motherboard and display failures, I’m biting the bullet and pulling the upgrade lever. And it has now shipped. 🙂

Left Shanghai according to FedEx this morning. Why a Mac? Well, many reasons now. I love the OS and ability to get things done a lot easier than a Windows system, I already got the copy of Parallels Desktop for Mac so I can run Windows at near-native speeds, a Mac laptop sleeps correctly and wakes up quickly just by opening and closing the screen, whereas the HP I have occasionally will take upwards of 10 minutes to wake up if it’s been sleeping over a day, and finally, and here’s the kicker… it’s cheaper. I was buying a Mac anyway, and went through a developer program hardware discount I had an all that, but removing that and going pure list price:

The stock Apple 2.33 GHz Core 2 Duo 17″ laptop comes in at $3,099 Canadian. When I took a Dell M1710 system and outfitted it as near as I could get, including drives, free DVD burner upgrade, and RAM, the price shows up at $3,567 Canadian. Neither of these are budget systems, they are the top of the line or near the top of the line in both cases. HP doesn’t seem to have anything comparable even as a base model in the Canadian store I can find, nor does Lenovo (both still on last gen Core Duo or Centrino and older AMD processors).

And just thinking about, you don’t get a built-in camera and optical in/out on the audio on the Dell either. Or Firewire 800. You do get the built-in modem and a built-in VGA out rather than using a DVI to VGA adapter for presentations and the like. Ah well. Now I’m just a bit happier (if that’s possible) about this purchase. To say nothing of the fact I got it cheaper than list with the Select Developer Discount program from Apple. 😉

Currently playing in iTunes: Peace by Norah Jones

What happens when you don’t get it….

Well, the blogroll pulled up an interesting article on the Zune, and the iPod. The author, Mike Elgan, writes in some length around how Zune might take on iPod by becoming the anti-iPod. His article for your reference and enjoyment is at: Zune: So you want to be an iPod killer

I would venture Mr. Elgan has a few interesting ideas, but pointing to sites like iPod Hacks as the basis that iPod users want open and complex devices with great extensibility and customization is a bit of wanton leap past the region of statistical extrapolation. iPod Hacks is a cool site, and it’s in the best vein of the hacker ethic of “What can I do with this device?”, but it’s not like the millions of iPod users are in any way represented by the small base of users (proportionally) that frequent and utilize iPod Hacks information and software. I’ve kept an eye on iPod Hacks myself, as from my hacker perspective, it’s cool what people can do with this. But would I ratchet my iPod into that and lose the seamless, best music player functionality and integration I enjoy? No chance.

Mr. Elgan makes a number of very fundamental, and geek-mindset mistakes in his article. He accurately describes Microsoft’s company strengths, and extensively goes into the abysmal customer experience that the Zune is when removed from the packing. Then he loses his grip on consumer products and launches into what he wants for a music player.

Dismissing that user experience out of hand is simply foolish, especially in a market entry. Every one of the customers that goes through that pain is more likely to diss the Zune and go iPod unless they are either anti-Apple or blindly pro-Microsoft. They were trying to buy a music player, and they got a box of pain. Waving the hand of providence and MSFT-get-v3.0-right is just naive. That experience is why Apple is rolling downhill like a consumer-rampaging avalanche of revenue in the music player business. They built a device that absolutely excels at being a music player. That’s it. Now it does small video as well, but that’s not how it got to dominate the market.

Is Apple paying attention to it? You bet. And they will compete with it fiercely, and it will likely benefit the marketplace as various pressures and pricing comes to bear based on the acceptance of the varying offers. I don’t think we’re going to see iPod price drops thanks to Zune based on the current offering though.

This touches on the bigger fallacy that Mr. Elgan puts forward that simply isn’t true except in geeks. I quote:

History shows that the functionality of stand-alone gadgets always gets folded into multipurpose devices. Apple’s instinct to maximize elegance at the expense of extensibility made them No. 1 in the media player market, but the future belongs to customizable, multifunction players.

I’m afraid I can’t come up with anything that actually supports this “historic” assertion. Smart phones are eclectic and in no way make up the majority of the devices people have. I know even some tech-heads that are tossing the Palm/iPaq family of gadgets for paper and pencil, and going with a more elegant, simple phone that works better as a phone such as the RAZR or some of the Sony/Nokia offerings. Last time I checked, the mass-market still has watches, and those multi-function wildly customizable digital monstrosities of the 80s died a deserved death. Convergence only works when the result isn’t a compromise. When the BlackBerry got the phone part right in addition to mobile email, without trying to edit your excel spreadsheet on a 2″ screen, that succeeded. The first few BlackBerries that had just the office functionality with mobile email were just mobile email devices, because to the majority of users, the office app functionality was too big of a compromise.

The point of market volume as an OEM is a side argument without merit or relevance. To Mr. Elgan’s point, I know lots of people that refer to a BlackBerry, but nobody that refers to a “Windows Smart Phone”. The Windows software is customized for each phone. The fact that Java is on more cell phones than the Windows system is just as irrelevant. There is no buzz around Java on a cell phone, and there is no buzz around Windows Smart Phones. there’s a heck of a lot around BlackBerry though.

What I can’t understand is why this all seems OK to people, regarding the Zune hitting the market so very poorly. It’s a panic release obviously, and shows that the consumer experience, and more importantly, the Microsoft Brand, doesn’t seem to matter very much. Microsoft, who attached themselves to a brand of “Plays for Sure” and then walked away from it, have lost brand value in the parent name as well as killing the goodwill the Plays for Sure initiative had. Branding does matter to the consumer, and to market success. Zune with this sort of offering is detracting from the Microsoft brand. Apple delays when something isn’t ready for the market or when it’s not polished enough. Microsoft releases it and tries to fix it in a later release, and causes a pile of grief to the customers in the mean time.

I’d like to leave with one last question to him. What about all those other devices that were more open, extensible, more functional, and cheaper? Those things like the Creative Zen, also widely hacked and customized, and with more features, more product lines and configurations, and cheaper to boot? Microsoft ditched them for their own, non-compatible solution. I’m sorry, but based on the way the Zune is entering the marketplace and what it’s looking like and feeling as an initial customer experience, the head of the Zune initiative should be looking for a new job. The number of mistakes that were made, especially that irritate the customer, makes this an abysmal failure. The XBox 360 was a light year beyond this in out-of-the-box experience.

Canada had it – lost it – had it again – lost it again….

Tim O’Reilly put up an interesting piece on cell phone carriers, and what he and others on the O’Reilly staff really want from a carrier. It’s over at Ten Things I Want From My Phone: “

The big thing is good services with fair pricing. Notable rants that apply to us in Canada as well include the locked, debilitated cell phones from carriers (not to mention the North America-only CDMA nonsense. (The majority of the planet is on GSM. Plan the transition.) The irony is that twice we’ve had this wonderful situation of having a “JetBlue” of Cell Service as they put it, only to have it bought up by incumbents, and crippled to various degrees.

ClearNet was an absolutely outstanding cell provider in Canada. Cheap entry, good phones, simple plans, and quite a la carte in model. It was CDMA, but that was before the GSM standard really took off. I was a long time happy ClearNet customer. Then, they were bought by Telus. Within 4 months, there was a noticeable change in service and pricing plans, and an emergence of nickel-and-diming mentality. Thus endeth the ClearNet enlightenment. The only thing that survived was the branding and ad agency that was adopted, quite wisely, by Telus. Now even those ads are losing their elegance and getting… “busy”.

So after looking around, and deciding that GSM was the way to go so I don’t need to rent a cell phone when I do wind up on the odd business trip to Europe, I came upon Fido. Again, a great upstart, GSM, clear plans, excellent metropolitan service (the downside being only metropolitan service, but that was just fine for me, and they were new to the game) and again, a great relationship with the customer. That was an enjoyable few years as well, and then Rogers came in and bought them. Now to Rogers’ credit, they haven’t killed them off, they are more a subsidiary, but I still have notices a number of new “nickel-and-dime” bits seeping into the bill starting shortly after the acquisition, and the service was not as good as before, so I needed to add $5 a month to also enable the use of Rogers “extended area” cell footprint. Since that got me access outside of the metro areas, I was ok with that, but still a bit annoying. Essentially the company got an advantage from the purchase of Fido, whereas the customers essentially got nothing, or in some areas slightly less than before.

Now, I’m not against company purchases and it makes good business sense, but it seems there simply are not enough competitors in this marketplace to settle it out. In Europe, you get charges only for calls you make. Incoming calls are only charged if they are roaming calls and you’re on a North American carrier. But the model is caller pays. That makes a great deal of sense, and encourages cell phone use. In Canada, and the US, we get double-tapped by the carriers. Charged on both sides for both parts of the conversation. To say nothing of downright ridiculous data plans.

So as a thought, what if, in this municipal wifi flurry of excitement, we take a bit of public infrastructure and enable the marketplace? If the wifi towers go up in a city, and providing the antenna physics and such work out, allow junior carriers to rent space on the towers at a reasonable cost. The wifi towers should have fiber access to them at any rate to enable the data busses on to the Internet and back to the carrier or exchange point, so adding a cell station (GSM please) as well isn’t a huge capital outlay. The switches aren’t cheap, but it beats plowing cable and negotiating the tower placement. This would enable small cell companies to get rolling, even on a per-city basis, and get some innovation and competition in. Plus they aren’t the huge takeover targets as they don’t own as much of the infrastructure, and perhaps those towers are limited to low-market cap companies or otherwise don’t allow the density per cell some of the big players need. They are enablers, but gradually companies would outgrow them.

Much like the cable and telephone cables that are plowed into our neighbourhoods and houses, the airwaves are in many ways a public infrastructure. They are limited in supply, and are on public land with granted right-of-ways for the service they provide. Lock-in on a public infrastructure is just anti-competitive. The cost of that plant has been paid for dozens of times over by the customers. Otherwise Telus and others wouldn’t be heading to be an income trust. If you’re not making a healthy profit, an income trust isn’t a good idea.

I want the second coming of ClearNet, but maybe done by Orange or T-Mobile from the UK or someone in the leading countries of cellular service, not the backwaters of North America. What would you like to see in Canada for cell service?

Currently playing in iTunes: Razzle Dazzle by Richard Gere & Cast