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Comment: two generations (Score 1) 168

by John_Sauter (#49757879) Attached to: Video Games: Gateway To a Programming Career?

I played my first computer game in 1963: Spacewar on a DEC PDP-1. I immediately started to learn how to write code, and have been doing it ever since. My son enjoyed video games when he was young. The desire to write video games motivated him to get a Computer Science degree, and he is now working in the industry.

Comment: Re:seems a bit wasteful (Score 1) 77

by John_Sauter (#49750967) Attached to: India Targets July/August To Test Its Space Shuttle

the US space program had one OV structural test vehicle and one airframe mockup. The test vehicle was refit for service (and became Challenger), the airframe mockup named Enterprise and sent to a museum. Enterprise never actually went into orbit. She was used for atmospheric glide and landing testing....

There is also a Space Shuttle called Pathfinder on display at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, near Huntsville, AL. See, section Shuttle Park.

Comment: Re:Three skills (not exactly tech skills) (Score 1) 298

Three skills that will be invaluable to any HS student later in life:

(1) Good writing, i.e. being able to write well enough to communicate ideas effectively and convincingly (requires a lot of recreational reading, by the way, which doesn't seem particularly popular among the younger generation nowadays).

(2) Being able to stand up in front of an audience and give a good presentation.

(3) Knowing how to touch type.

Invaluable at age 18, and equally invaluable at age 68, no matter what direction your career leads you in.

Very true. The most valuable skill I learned in high school was typing. The second most valuable was public speaking. I more-or-less picked up writing skills later. I used all three in my 17 years as a software engineer at Digital Equipment Corporation: typing for coding, writing for project plans and functional specifications, and public speaking for team meetings and DECUS presentations. I still use those skills today, at age 69.

Comment: Re:Typing (Score 1) 298

Please teach all kids how to type at least 70-80 wpm. It is a skill they will use forever.

The most valuable skill I learned in high school was typing. My mother was a good typist, having worked for the US Navy as a secretary during World War II--she had a portable typewriter at home. More than 60 years after having graduated from high school I still type every day, mostly on a Unicomp keyboard.

Comment: Re: Markets, not people (Score 1) 615

by John_Sauter (#49710723) Attached to: The Economic Consequences of Self-Driving Trucks

The computer industry has seen a continual influx of new players. IBM was not the company driving prices down, it was the new players.

It should also be noted that the new computers are not drop in replacements for the old. Each new generation of computer could do things the old generation couldn't, making them effectively new products.

But IBM did bring prices down. In the 700/7000 series, each new model was more powerful, and more affordable, than the machine it replaced. Also, each was a "drop-in" replacement for the last. Even when IBM switched instruction sets for System/360, they had emulators that let you run your old software, so they continued to produce drop-in replacements. As late as the 1960s, Shell Oil was running software written for the IBM 704 using a 704 emulator for the IBM 709, itself running in emulation mode on a System/360 model 65. They had re-written the application for the new computer, but the new version gave different answers than the old, and people trusted the old program even though the new one gave arguably better answers.

Early in the industry, the upstarts established the pattern that each new generation would be more powerful than the old, and a steady influx of new players kept coming along to add fuel to the fire. Even as recently as 2005, there have been new brand name entries entries into the PC market such as alienware. There is a continual introduction of new asian no-name brands.

To be sure, IBM had competition from the "bunch": Burroughs, Univac, NCR, Control Data and Honeywell. Later there were other competitors, such as DEC and Prime. However, your three-point economic theory of prices doesn't take them into account, assuming that the new entrants would maintain the same prices as the established players. That is a reasonable assumption, but it turns out not to be correct. At the time that the million-dollar IBM 7090 was the standard of the industry, DEC introduced the PDP-1 for $100,000. The PDP-1 could have sold for twice the price, so why did DEC forego the additional profit? I am guessing it was because they estimated the size of the market at each price point, and decided that $100,000 gave them the greatest total profit.

When the computer industry reaches maturity (The end of moores law), and each successive computer is not significantly different from the last, then there will be a culling of computer companies, and after that the prices will remain stable, even in the face of occasional reductions in manufacturing cost.

You are speculating about a time that is very far in the future.

A better place to look would be consumer electronics like DVD players and the like. A typical DVD player costs about $20 to make. They still sell for $100ish, a healthy margin. These could come down a lot, but none of the incumbent companies have any interest in dropping the prices for greater market share because it would be a race to the bottom. Every so often you see walmart causing some price reductions by introducing off brand asian devices at significantly reduced prices, but Walmart is in a unique monopoly position that almost no other company in history has enjoyed. Walmart has produced the price reductions that we would otherwise expect from a free market economy, but they have to abuse their monopoly position to do it (brow beating suppliers by refusing to carry their products otherwise). If Walmart had instead chose to maintain slightly higher prices, they could have pocketed a large portion of that profit for themselves (oh wait, they did...).

DVD players are unusual because they are heavily regulated by patents. If you tried to sell a DVD player that you build in your garage you would get sued into oblivion unless you paid the DVD rights holders for every unit you sell. That wasn't, and isn't, true of computers, though not for lack of trying. When DEC introduced the PDP-6, they got a letter from IBM threatening a lawsuit because the PDP-6 was a multi-register computer, and IBM had patented the concept when they brought out the IBM 1620. (This was before System/360.) DEC laughed and discarded the letter.

Your three-point economic theory of prices doesn't take into account irrational actors, as I have pointed out in previous replies, and does not consider that a rational player may reduce his price because he calculates that a lower price will expand the market, thus earning a greater total profit. Still another reason for a price decrease is the introduction of a product from a different market sector. I saw this happen with computer monitors. Until the 1970s they were very expensive. When consumer-grade television sets were able to be used as computer monitors, the price fell through the floor. The TV manufacturers saw a small increase in their market, and the computer industry switched from teletypes and communicating typewriters (the IBM 2741) to visual display terminals.

Thus, I think your three-point economic theory of prices is over-simplified.

Comment: Re: Markets, not people (Score 1) 615

by John_Sauter (#49708947) Attached to: The Economic Consequences of Self-Driving Trucks

Your argument is very rational, and almost persuades me. I say "almost" because computer prices have been coming down steadily for 60 years, even though none of your three criteria apply. I think the problem with your argument is that you assume all the established players in a market are rational. In fact, some are greedy and short-sighted. They will reduce their margin to gain market share, and not care that their competitors will eventually (next quarter) match their price reduction.

Comment: Re: Markets, not people (Score 2) 615

by John_Sauter (#49706967) Attached to: The Economic Consequences of Self-Driving Trucks

Apparently you are the one who doesn't understand economics. Prices are whatever the market can bear. If the costs can be lowered, it does not mean that the prices go down because they are already at whatever the market can bear. Prices will stay the same, corporate profits will raise.

You have over-simplified the economic situation. When costs fall, if there are enough sellers, one of them will reduce his profit margin to try to gain market share. The others must follow, until prices reach a new equilibrium. An example of this is the computer industry. Prices for a unit of computing capability have been falling steadily for 60 years.

Comment: Re:We'll Party Like It's 1999. (Score 1) 131

by John_Sauter (#49680231) Attached to: Beware the Ticking Internet of Things Security Time Bomb

I remember new year's eve Y2K, and everyone expecting blackouts, etc.. and me driving around with an X10 wireless remote, sending random commands to sequential channels. People's lights went on and off, burglar alarms (dis)armed themselves, garage doors opened, sprinklers sprinkled water onto the cold pavement (with great ice potential). People panicked....

Imag[in]e a person less mature than me ....

I am finding it difficult to imagine a person less mature than yourself.

Comment: Re:Simple Demand. (Score 1) 328

That is good to hear, and it does sound like I am being too distrustful, but here is my nightmare:

A company is founded by engineers, and builds up a base of loyal customers because they do their research, carefully assess risks, honestly estimate costs, and generally do a good job. They develop a reputation for excellence in their field. However, with the passage of time the founders retire and the sales and marketing people gradually begin to take control. The engineering department is considered just another cost center—it is starved of resources and does not have the ear of top management. The legal department is expected to get the necessary permits, and blamed if work has to stop because some stupid government rule is getting in the way of earning revenue. Top management cares only about profits, and middle management cares only about this quarter's numbers. New product development is limited to safe extensions of what the company is already doing successfully.

In this environment it is easy to imagine some middle manager, desperate to make his numbers, who decides that analyzing homeowner's wells is an unnecessary expense. When testing started the company informed the homeowners that they will be contacted if there is a problem with their well water, and if they do not hear from the company they can be assured that their water is good. Our middle manager doesn't renew the contract with the testing company, saving perhaps $100 per year per homeowner. Sampling stops, water testing stops, the manager has better expense numbers, homeowners are not inconvenienced by triennial visits from the water collection people, everyone wins.

Even people who are concerned about the quality of their well water might not notice that no sample was taken in the year it was expected. A letter to the company might even result in a carefully-worded response designed to be reassuring while promising nothing.

Of course, if a well pollution problem is eventually discovered the whole scheme blows up, but in the meantime my family has been poisoned.

Comment: Re:Simple Demand. (Score 1) 328

...Your concern that polluter would not pay for an accredited lab is probably unfounded though. The cost of analysis for an accredited vs non-accredited lab is not that much, but more importantly if a case were to go to court, any non-accredited laboratory sample results would immediately be tossed out of evidence without a second chance.

My concern was not that the potential polluter would use a non-accredited lab, but that he wouldn't do any testing at all: just discard the samples and claim that there was no problem. I suppose I could deal with that possibility by demanding the analysis paperwork, but if I get stonewalled on my request, I have to have the testing done myself anyway. It seems simpler to just do it myself from the beginning. Am I being too distrustful?

Comment: Re:Simple Demand. (Score 1) 328

I don't think I expressed myself well. My concern was that a potential polluter would not pay for an accredited lab to do the tests, but would just claim that there was no problem. By collecting the water myself, using the basic cookbook recipe, and sending it to an accredited lab of my choice, I would feel more confident in the report that there was no pollution.

I wasn't aware of the paper trail or the consequences of faking it. That means I don't need to be concerned that the potential polluter will simply dismiss the lab findings, forcing me to go to court. Of course, there is always the possibility that I screwed up the collection process, so I wouldn't mind a re-test, but I would insist that the collection be done under my supervision (so I can be sure the water being tested actually came from my well) and that the testing be done by a accredited lab.

I have a well which has provided me drinking water faithfully since 1969. Every few years I follow the cookbook recipe to collect tap water and send it to a local lab that I have learned to trust. So far, there has been no pollution.

Comment: Re:Simple Demand. (Score 1) 328

... However we want our water quality (including well water, checked once a month at your expense, for as long as the pumps are active and 10 years after....

I would prefer that the water quality be checked at my expense. I wouldn't want the potential polluter to use his "in house" water testing facility, which might be biased. If my tester shows there is a problem, I'll send part of the sample to the potential polluter for verification, but if they balk because their numbers don't agree with the numbers from my chosen lab (which I will provide) it's lawsuit time.

Comment: Re:How about... (Score 1) 101

Aha, we are now in agreement. My original objections were to your statement that

Older people (60+) seem to have the hardest time grasping the the difference between the concept of the Internet and a local hard drive..

followed by

In the general case, 60+ year old adults DO have the most problem with that...


I don't have any authority to back this up, but I suspect most pepole of all ages, even today, have trouble understanding the workings of computers, just as they do electricity or FAX machines. To most people, I suspect, these are simply magic.

FORTUNE'S FUN FACTS TO KNOW AND TELL: A firefly is not a fly, but a beetle.