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Comment: Re:Sounds like he's doing it wrong (Score 1) 259

by graymocker (#41146495) Attached to: The Sweet Mystery of Science
I'm sorry, but you're just wrong. Of course there are models that are very accurate at a low resolution, but they fall apart at high resolution. The theory that the sun revolves around the earth is a very useful and accurate model for a Bronze Age goat herder. Indeed, this model only begins to fall apart when one begins to do some rigorous and repeated astronomical observation and wants to make astronomical predictions for (to an average person) insignificant non-lifegiving celestial objects.

Does this mean the "Sun orbits Earth" model is equally valid as a astronomical model as the currently accepted scientific model? That we should assign it the same epistemic value? That we should teach it in schools? Of course not.

Similarly, the "Theory of Qi" may be accurate on a very vague and general level, but it is entirely superseded by a more accurate and more useful model that we've acquired through modern medicine. So it's useless, and should be discarded as the outdated, just as we jettison all superseded models.

Comment: Re:Can they invent a new model now? (Score 4, Insightful) 355

by graymocker (#38211088) Attached to: How Publishers Are Cutting Their Own Throats With eBook DRM

At the same time, the release prices for entertainment are completely batshit crazy. Games are $60, books are $35, and movies are $12? Who can afford that crap? Those prices all fall pretty quickly, but can't they come up with a better model than fleecing their most eager customers and then doling it out one step at a time to the next most impressive or convenient formats?

This is actually the whole point: Market Segmentation. Your goal with any product is to extract maximum sales revenue from it, which means finding the optimum point on the price/demand curve. But if you sell at only one price point, you actually leave money on the table from individuals who were willing to pay you more for that product. For example, suppose I've figured out that maximum revenue for my widget is at $10/widget. However, I also know that there are people who are willing to pay $20/widget; there simply aren't enough of them to make the $20/widget price more profitable than the $10/widget price. Wouldn't it be great if I could get the best of both price points? If I could sell the product for $10/widget to those customers who would only be willing to buy at $10, but also turn around and sell it at $20/widget to those customers willing to pay more? Wouldn't it be great if I could do this in such a way so that the $20 customer actually is pleased with his purchase, and doesn't feel ripped off, by providing some kind of extra value to that $20 customer?

The solution to this problem is to segment your market. With some goods this means coming out with slightly different products for each market segment. (eg, Mercedes has a C-series, an E-series, etc. etc. etc.). The solution in other products is to segment by time, so your most ardent customers pay extra to get the product right away, while more value-conscious customers wait for price drops or sales.

This is in fact the solution used for most entertainment products, and honestly I don't think there's anything wrong with it. The brand new game may start at $60, for those fans that are very interested in the product and want it right away. (Market segementation also goes higher, with special and collector's editions with extra doodads for superfans). Then the price gradually drops until it covers every level of enthusiasm/budget for the product, until it shows up in a Steam sale for $5 and even those people who say "meh, looks interesting, guess I can try it" become customers. This system nicely balances multiple interests - it makes the same product accessible to a wide range of consumers, with each consumer paying what they think that product is worth to them (and the ones paying more getting some benefit from that higher price).

Comment: Productivity != less work (Score 1) 316

by graymocker (#36679112) Attached to: IBM Watson To Replace Salespeople and Cold-Callers

Increased productivity never translates into less work/more leisure time (unless you choose to work/earn less and live with a 1950 standard of living - no internet, computer, old car, etc. etc. etc.), it translates into more stuff. The rapid advances in productivity since the dawn of industrialization has always translated into more stuff for everyone, not less work/more leisure time.

"More stuff" does not necessarily mean higher inflation-adjusted median wages (in fact, it almost never does). Instead, it's reflected in purchasing power: the emergence new/cheaper/higher quality goods and services. Everyone now has a flat screen, DVD player, cell phone, cheap computer with net access, air travel is cheap and widely available, etc. Even though our wages are stagnant, everyone can now afford what once were extravagant luxuries. How is this possible? Automation and higher productivity makes expensive goods cheap and creates new goods (which start out expensive and themselves become cheap).

Our standard of living is rising, we just don't notice because everyone around us is seeing the same SoL increase, and our wages are staying the same. BUT your wages staying the same and your SoL rising is pretty much the inevitable consequence of more productivity across the entire economy.

If increased productivity caused unemployment, unemployment should be at like 70% right now. Instead it's remained within its historical range for as long as we can figure (the Great Depression is the only outlier, and it turned out to be just that: an outlier). Our current unemployment is like 9%. That's nothing, in historical terms, simply on the high end of the historical range. It was higher than that before the Civil War, and they didn't have any computers or machines "stealing people's jobs."

Comment: Increased productivity = everyone gets more stuff (Score 1) 316

by graymocker (#36679058) Attached to: IBM Watson To Replace Salespeople and Cold-Callers

Increased productivity never translates into leisure time, it translates into more stuff. The rapid advances in productivity since the dawn of industrialization has always translated into more stuff for everyone.

"More stuff" does not necessarily mean more inflation-adjusted wages. Instead, it means: new/cheaper/higher quality goods and services (everyone now has a flat screen, DVD player, computer with net access, air travel is cheap and widely available, etc.) Our standard of living is rising, we just don't notice because everyone around us is seeing the same SoL increase, and our wages are staying the same. BUT your wages staying the same and your SoL rising is pretty much the inevitable consequence of more productivity across the entire economy.

If increased productivity caused unemployment, unemployment should be at like 70% right now. Instead it's remained within its historical range for as long as we can figure (the Great Depression is the only outlier, and it turned out to be just that: an outlier).

Comment: Re:Meh (Score 4, Insightful) 296

by graymocker (#35877646) Attached to: Apple vs. Microsoft, By the Numbers
Apple's margins are bad for a software company. Apple's margins are exceptional for a hardware company. (HP, HTC, and RIM's margins are all in the 10-20% range. They would kill for a 38% margin.)

Judging purely from the financials, it's almost as if Apple were a hybrid software/hardware company or something.

Comment: Re:Meh (Score 1) 296

by graymocker (#35877630) Attached to: Apple vs. Microsoft, By the Numbers
From TFA we learn that Apple has tripled revenue over the past 4 years. Future growth prospects is baked into market cap, and based on past performance exceptional revenue growth is a reasonable expectation for Apple.

Now I personally don't believe Apple's current growth rate is sustainable. But there are many investors who do, and they have a reasonable basis for that belief.

Heck, they might be right. In 2006 Apple was selling lots of iPods and skeptics said yeah, its a hit, but the MP3 player market is maturing so where is the growth potential? Apple stock was "overvalued" based on existing product and product sales numbers. As it turns out the growth potential was in iPhones and iPads. Today the Apple skeptics (and I count myself one) believe that there won't be any new hit market-defining products from Apple that can give them the same levels of stratospheric growth. But hey, maybe we're wrong. We were wrong in 2006 after all.

Comment: Re:We live in abundance (Score 1) 388

by graymocker (#35855546) Attached to: How the Social Tech Bubble Is Different

Yes, our standard of living has been rising steadily in absolute terms, but yes, it matters a lot that our economy is growing more stratified. It's well-established that human happiness is affected more by relative wealth than absolute wealth. So someone living in poverty doesn't see that a 2010 Hyundai compact car is in absolute terms better than a 1950 Cadillac in every quantifiable way (save status). They don't see that we now have easy access to air conditioners, even if just in public spaces, something rare back then. etc. etc. etc. There are countless examples of how our absolute standard of living and absolute wealth have increased, but this does not actually increase human happiness. Human happiness is a function of relative status, so we should try to encourage more equitable distributions, as long as doing so does not stagnate the growth of the economy, and create excessive unhappiness among those being redistributed away from.

This is one reason why I'm a big fan of "indirect" wealth redistribution. Labor laws and standards are a form of indirect wealth redistribution. So is public education. So are public libraries. Etc. These things work better than straight redistribution because the actual redistributive effects are obscured by the subtle market forces that they manipulate.

Comment: Absolute vs. Relative wealth (Score 1) 388

by graymocker (#35855396) Attached to: How the Social Tech Bubble Is Different

I don't think absolute wealth (vis a vis relative wealth) means what you think it means, or at least, you are failing to see the distinction. See, you're comparing what the median worker can purchase with their contemporaneous workers. That's relative wealth. To compare absolute wealth, we need to put the median 1950 and median 2010 lifestyle side by side; in that sense the median life today is a life of abundance

Obviously, while an iPod or a Kindle would be a priceless object in 1950, because they are a category of product that simply didn't exist then, their ubiquity today means they are devalued in our eyes. But in absolute terms our lifestyle is better, and our failure to see it simply highlights my point about how human psychology is flawed in that it tends to value relative wealth over absolute wealth. Obviously I agree with you that wealth stratification is an issue we should address, because if your goal is human flourishing, you must take into account the foibles of human psychology.

Comment: We live in abundance (Score 3, Interesting) 388

by graymocker (#35853188) Attached to: How the Social Tech Bubble Is Different

We _do_ live in abundance, compared to 100 or even 50 years ago. Our standard of living has increased immensely thanks to increased productivity (from automation, computerization, etc.). As an economy we've converted this extra productivity into more/better goods and services, instead of extra time.

Oh, and before you suggest that median 1950 US citizen had a higher SoL than median 2010 citizen... taken quantifiably, SoL includes things like the size of your TV, car, access to medical care (1950 US medical care is worse than 2010 rural Indian medical care), cost of services like travel (inflation-adjusted plane tickets are like 10% the price of what they once were even 35 years ago), etc.

Technology will not take our jobs, technology will increase our standard of living in the future just as it has done throughout all recorded history. The thing is, absolute gains in personal wealth/GDP/SoL don't actually make us happier. It's an unfortunate quirk of human psychology - our absolute wealth doesn't make us happy, our relative wealth is what makes us happy. Because people tend to live around people who are about their wealth level, this means no one is very happy. (Another unfortunate quirk of human psychology - we tend to compare ourselves with people just above us wealth-wise, and assume there are more of them than we think.)

So, now that we are self-aware about our psychological quirks, here is my 3-step plan to lasting happiness
a) Recognize that on an absolute level, we are wealthier in every measurable way than before. Your TV is bigger and sharper than your grandparent's TV. You have access to lifesaving technologies, with new being developed every day. You have the freaking INTERNET for chrissakes. Now of course, _everybody_ around you also has these things... but now you are lapsing into thinking about *relative* wealth, not absolute wealth.
b) When it comes to relative wealth, start hanging out with people poorer than you. It'll make you feel rich.
c) Support some redistributive economic interventions, because more even distributions of wealth lead to more happiness that highly stratified wealth distributions. These policies will reduce our future growth of wealth as an economy, but as long as we are careful not to take it too far, it doesn't matter. Remember - relative wealth makes us happier than absolute wealth, so even if pure pro-growth policies do make us all much wealthier than the alternative, it will actually make us more unhappy if it serves to stratify the economy,

Comment: Statistics is the only important math skill (Score 1) 636

by graymocker (#35789280) Attached to: Are Graphical Calculators Pointless?

Statistics is the only important math skill for non-engineering/math/etc majors. Honestly, I think its a travesty that calculus is a mainstay of the GE curriculum while basic statistics is not. Most students will derive zero value from their education in calculus. All students would derive huge value from a greater understanding of statistics. An understanding in statistics would make one a smarter consumer, a better-informed citizen, and a more productive worker (in nearly any job, from carpentry to law.)

I honestly believe that our entire math education in this country should be devoted to getting all students through a course on stats. They should be taught other subjects only as necessary to provide the foundation for stats.

Comment: How the geeks took over marketing (Score 2) 336

by graymocker (#35778024) Attached to: Old Media Says Google Will Destroy Film & Music

What happened is that the geeks took over marketing. Honestly.

In the past marketing was run by a lot of "creative" types who used their social intuition and some conventional wisdom about what worked to appeal to the consumer. The marketing department preferred hired people who majored in marketing (obviously) but also psychology, comparative literature, communications, sociology, etc. The thought was that these were the sort of people who understood what makes people tick, and so were better qualified to persuade (or manipulate, if one is feeling uncharitable) people.

In just the past 5 years thats changed completely, though, and Google played a big part in that change - though the Internet played a large part too. The hottest major in big marketing organizations is a hard science: Stats. The analytics revolution means that marketing is now about precisely targeting your demographic and producing quantifiable results on a lots of fine-grained metrics. (The only metric we had 20 years ago - did sales go up? - was helpful, but obviously the tools we have today are far more precise). As the ubergeek Google is obviously the top dog here, and smaller companies basically outsource all of their stats requirements to Google, but larger companies also like to have in-house talent with stats and algorithms to help them break down their analytics.

Right now marketing is a collaboration between "creative" types who come up with campaigns, and then geeks who run the numbers and tell us if those campaigns worked or not. Marketing needs to meet quarterly benchmarks on hard, quantifiable numbers of customer engagement such as click-throughs, impressions, leads generated, CPM, etc. If we have a question about whether strategy A or B will better resonate with the consumer, we don't try and come up with some BS psych theory. Instead, we tell IT to load up some A/B tests, and empirically we can PROVE which one is better. For now, the people in charge of marketing still tend to be creative types (or, higher up, your typical MBA types), but that's only because the creative types have been around longer. But everyone can see where the future is headed. Right now "creatives" generate content and then geeks crunch the numbers and tell us whether that content is any good or not. It's pretty clear where the division of authority will lie 20 years from now.

Comment: Automation doesn't cause any unemployment at all. (Score 4, Insightful) 622

by graymocker (#35415518) Attached to: Is Software Driving a Falling Demand For Brains?

Ah, ignorance of basic economic science on Slashdot once again. If productivity (automation, 1 man can do the work of 4, etc.) created unemployment, we would be at 99% unemployment or so by now. Instead, unemployment has been mostly stable, on a historical scale. 10% is actually about the unemployment pre Civil War, IIRC. So why, even though the avg. worker is 20x as productive as we were 200 years ago (a guess, I'm too lazy to look up the actual figures, but suffice to say our productivity has gone up a LOT thanks to automation) are we are not working 20x less hours? we have lots of extra stuff and services. Obviously this extra productivity hasn't stolen jobs yet. No, the extra productivity didn't disappear, it went into more stuff ("higher standard of living", for economists)

I'm not joking. On the macro level, all of that excess productivity gets channeled into making extra "stuff" that people want to buy. If everyone were happy with a 1810 standard of living, there would be no one to buy this extra stuff, and there would be much less work (because that excess productivity is wasted). But since we like having a standard of living higher than that of the average 1810 worker, there is demand for extra stuff. That's where the extra productivity goes. So while it takes fewer people to harvest food/make industrial widgets than it did in 1810 thanks to machines, the people who would have been working on the farm in 1810 are instead hard at work making cars, computers, telephones, and providing services that weren't cheap/widely available in 1810 like modern medicine, tour guides, or yoga training.

But ok, you want to take this extra productivity gain and translate it into more free time, not more stuff. It is still possible to do this, if you can find the right part-time job. Let's say you work for $10/hr for 20 hours a week, that's a half work-week.. That's $800/month. If you're willing to downsize to a 1810's lifestyle, it's very possible to live on $800/month. (For the purposes of this discussion we're ignoring gov't assistance). No telephone, no electricity, smaller house (a shack in the woods is nice), cheaper food (McD's probably more cost-efficient calorie- and protein-wise than an 1810 meal - meat was EXPENSIVE back then because they were more valuable as farm animals). Of course if you have medical bills you are sunk, but they didn't have modern medicine in the 1810's either. You can do this because you live in a high-productivity economy, and you have chosen to trade that extra productivity for free time, not for higher standard of living. As it happens, most people like a modern standard of living, and enjoying the benefits of modern science, so they work a full work-week instead.

On a national level, we can see a similar pattern in other countries. Underdeveloped countries still have low productivity and low levels of automation. People in these countries work full hours and have a low standard of living - they're basically 100 yrs behind us. There are some socialist developed countries that have, on a national level, decided to trade productivity for more free time, not more stuff. So the French worker gets 3 months of vacation a year, but has less stuff than the average American worker - smaller car, smaller house, smaller TV, less stuff (this is reflected in consumption statistics), less food (probably a good thing all in all). America didn't go that route, because we're not lazy like the French. Also, we kind of like being the biggest kid on the block, and that means work. But if YOU want that kind of lifestyle, if you make the right kind of decisions/are smart with career planning it is possible to downsize your life and trade excess productivity for time. Instead of devoting your education/work life to climbing the career ladder, devote it to engineering an exit into a decently compensated part-time, contract, or freelance position. Then reap the benefits of extra time. No robot butler yet, though, sorry. Of course if you WANTED a robot butler, you'd have to work full-time to afford one. Because on a macro level, that's where your increased productivity compared to an 1810s worker is going - into the stuff and services we can have that they can't have.

TL;DR - extra productivity from machines/automation doesn't cause unemployment, and doesn't disappear. It goes into higher standard of living. If you are willing to accept a lower standard of living, you can convert that extra productivity into free time.

Comment: It is possible to have a 10-hour work week (Score 1) 622

by graymocker (#35415466) Attached to: Is Software Driving a Falling Demand For Brains?

Ah, ignorance of basic economic science on Slashdot once again. Ok, this is why, even though the avg. worker is 20x as productive as we were 200 years ago (a guess, I'm too lazy to look up the actual figures, but suffice to say our productivity has gone up a LOT thanks to automation) , we are not working 20x less hours: we have lots of extra stuff. Keep in mind that unemployment has remained fluctuating but within the same range for the past 200 years despite massive productivity gains. Obviously this extra productivity hasn't stolen jobs yet. No, the extra productivity didn't disappear, it went into more stuff ("higher standard of living", for economists)

I'm not joking. On the macro level, all of that excess productivity gets channeled into making extra "stuff" that people want to buy. If everyone were happy with a 1810 standard of living, there would be no one to buy this extra stuff, and there would be much less work (because that excess productivity is wasted). But since we like having a standard of living higher than that of the average 1810 worker, there is demand for extra stuff. That's where the extra productivity goes. So while it takes fewer people to harvest food/make industrial widgets than it did in 1810 thanks to machines, the people who would have been working on the farm in 1810 are instead hard at work making cars, computers, telephones, and providing services that weren't cheap/widely available in 1810 like modern medicine, travel, or yoga training.

But ok, you want to take this extra productivity gain and translate it into more free time, not more stuff. It is still possible to do this, depending on what kind of jobs you can find. Let's say you work for $10/hr for 80 hours a week, that's a half work-week.. That's $800/month. If you're willing to downsize to a 1810's lifestyle, it's very possible to live on $800/month. (For the purposes of this discussion we're ignoring gov't assistance). No telephone, no electricity, smaller house (a shack in the woods is nice), cheaper food (McD's probably more cost-efficient calorie- and protein-wise than an 1810 meal - meat was EXPENSIVE back then because they were more valuable as farm animals). Of course if you have medical bills you are sunk, but they didn't have modern medicine in the 1810's either. You can do this because you live in a high-productivity economy.

On a national level, we can see a similar pattern in other countries. Underdeveloped countries still have low productivity and low levels of automation. People in this countries work full hours and have a low standard of living - they're basically 100 yrs behind us. There are some socialist developed countries that have, on a national level, decided to trade productivity for more free time, not more stuff. So the French worker gets 3 months of vacation a year, but has less stuff than the average American worker - smaller car, smaller house, smaller TV, less stuff (this is reflected in consumption statistics), less food (probably a good thing all in all). America didn't go that route, because we're not lazy like the French. Also, we kind of like being the biggest kid on the block, and that means work. But if YOU want that kind of lifestyle, if you make the right kind of decisions/are smart with career planning it is possible to downsize your life and trade excess productivity for time. Instead of devoting your education/work life to climbing the career ladder, devote it to engineering an exit into a decently compensated part-time, contract, or freelance position. Then reap the benefits of extra time. No robot butler yet, though, sorry.

TL;DR - extra productivity from machines/automation doesn't disappear. It goes into higher standard of living. If you are willing to accept a lower standard of living, you can convert that extra productivity into free time.

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