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Comment: Re:I took a high speed train recently... (Score 1) 189

by Pembers (#49526535) Attached to: Maglev Train Exceeds 600km/h For World Record

I live near the Thameslink line between Bedford and Brighton, and we have a similar arrangement there - two pairs of tracks, one for the express trains, one for trains that stop at all stations. Except that it goes down to one pair of tracks in the middle of London, so a late-running or non-moving train can still stop everything else. It doesn't help that the line is at 100% of capacity in rush hour, and it also didn't help that the previous operating company stopped maintaining the trains when they knew they were going to lose the franchise...

Comment: Re:I took a high speed train recently... (Score 1) 189

by Pembers (#49524233) Attached to: Maglev Train Exceeds 600km/h For World Record

True, but then you have to worry about an express service getting stuck behind a local one if the local one is running late or has broken down. You could have the tracks fan out at the smaller stations, so the local service switches to a track that's next to a platform, while the express stays on a track that passes straight through. It doesn't help if the local train hasn't reached one of those stations yet, but at least means the express doesn't get held up for the whole of the route.

Or you build two sets of tracks along the whole route at twice the cost and probably twice the amount of NIMBY-ism...

Comment: Re:fool or liar, which is it? (Score 2) 392

If you ban strong encryption or make its use impractical, then anyone using it, pretty much by definition, must be using it to hide something illegal. That gives the spooks a good idea as to who they should be investigating, even if they can't crack the encryption. And if they can crack the encryption, preventing law-abiding citizens from using it drastically cuts the number of messages they have to crunch through in order to find something useful.

(I'm not saying I think strong encryption should be banned, just why I think the spooks might want it to be banned.)

Comment: Re:Turing test is flawed (Score 1) 68

by Pembers (#48441853) Attached to: Upgrading the Turing Test: Lovelace 2.0

The Turing test is usually presented as something that a machine either passes or fails, but since no machine has yet passed it, contests have focused on how long a machine can withstand questioning before the interviewer decides it's not human, or what percentage of interviewers it can fool for, say, ten minutes. So you can say one machine is more intelligent than another, even if you don't have a definition of intelligence apart from "intelligence is the ability to convince a human that you are human". To use your GPS analogy, it's more like the GPS tells you how far from the destination you are, but not in which direction.

I agree the Turing test isn't very useful in its own right - or at any rate, attempting to build machines that can pass it isn't very useful. We already have 7 billion entities that can pass it, and making more of them is a very low-tech process. I'd rather we figure out how to build machines that can do things we want to do but can't, or aren't very good at.

Comment: Re:So good that the proxy battle is over (Score 4, Informative) 69

by Pembers (#48440415) Attached to: Judge Approves $450M Settlement For Apple's Ebook Price Fixing

So why does Amazon get to set the price, and not Apple or the publishers?

Because that's how the sale of every other product to the consumer works - the manufacturer or publisher tells the retailer "we'll sell you a crate of widgets for X dollars apiece" and the retailer is free to sell them to the consumer for whatever they think the consumer is willing to pay. Usually it's some function of X, but it doesn't have to be.

Agency pricing (so-called because the publisher sets the retail price and the retailer acts as an agent of the publisher, taking a fixed percentage of that as his profit) removes the ability of retailers to compete on price. Apple liked it because they don't want to compete on price anyway. It doesn't matter so much when you're talking about their hardware - plenty of people are willing to pay a premium for an Apple computer or phone or tablet because they perceive them as better or cooler than cheaper products with similar specs from other manufacturers. But if you're talking about ebooks, it's hard to see why you should pay $12.99 or $14.99 for the latest Stephen King or James Patterson from Apple when you could get exactly the same thing for $9.99 or less from Amazon. But if it's the same price at Amazon, you might as well get it from Apple.

The publishers liked agency pricing because it meant Amazon couldn't price ebooks at a point where it would cut into the publishers' print business. The publishers know that print is going away anyway - they're just trying to prolong it as much as they can because they know that when Barnes & Noble goes bust, there won't be anyone else they can play off against Amazon. They also know that print distribution is the last advantage they have over self-publishing. Self-published ebooks now compete on a level playing field with ebooks from the big publishers, but it's still very difficult for a self-published book to sell a lot of copies in print. (The ones that have managed it were usually picked up by a publisher after doing well as ebooks.) Everything else a publisher can offer an author can be bought from freelancers for a one-off fee, instead of most of the revenue for the life of the copyright.

Having said all that, the lawsuit was never about agency pricing as such. US competition law cares very little about protecting retailers. What was illegal was that Apple and the publishers colluded to raise prices, thus harming consumers. The fact that they used an unusual method of pricing to do it is neither here nor there, really.

Comment: Re:Business class is a misnomer (Score 3, Insightful) 146

by Pembers (#46758069) Attached to: How Amazon Keeps Cutting AWS Prices: Cheapskate Culture

You're stil going to get to the same place at the same time as the other passengers.

True, but you have a nicer seat with more room, and everything before and after the flight runs faster and smoother. You have your own check-in desk and security line, so you can arrive at the airport an hour later than the economy-class passengers. You have a bigger baggage allowance, so you might not have to put anything in the hold - and if you do, it'll probably come off the plane first. All that can make the difference between a day trip and an overnight stay, or turn a trip of n days into n-1 days.

Comment: Re:*Shrug* (Score 3, Insightful) 304

by Pembers (#46149983) Attached to: Adobe's New Ebook DRM Will Leave Existing Users Out In the Cold Come July

The big cost in publishing is the printing, shipping, warehousing, distribution of the dead trees

Actually, no. That accounts for between 15% and 20% of the retail price. Most books don't make a profit for the publisher, so the costs are dominated by the overheads - the author's advance and the cost of employing everyone who's involved in making the book ready to be sold. It doesn't seem to have occurred to the major publishers that if they lowered the prices of ebooks, more titles might sell enough to make a profit. (Indie authors and smaller publishers figured it out a long time ago.)

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