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Comment Re:Obama should agree to delay the individual mand (Score 1) 501

Well, if deficits really don't matter, then a sensible compromise would be to ax the medical device tax and add it to the government's annual operating deficit. The tax is projected to bring in $2.9 billion/year over the next decade (the source of the "30 billion" figure that's been thrown around), which is about a 0.1% reduction in federal revenues. That's a lot of moolah in absolute terms, but not relative terms.

I think deficits do matter, but it *depends* on the economic context, which means right away we've lost most of the people in this conversation.

Comment Re:Opening a new opportunity? (Score 1) 548

Maybe not Playboy, but I'd say it's a pretty good bet that this stuff isn't going away.

If the summary is true, what we're looking at is an inflation of transaction costs. It's harder for authors to tell their stuff and for readers to buy it, because the large markets that most people participate in have been barred to them. Playboy doesn't solve that problem, for one thing because its not going to be perceived as a friendly place by female customers. What the author wants is for his or her smarmy little masterpiece to be easy to impulse-buy, quietly and nearly anonymously, without the reader being forced to register for a special smut site.

What losing access to Amazon and B&N would mean to authors is that titles which are marginal sellers (including most erotica) won't be worth selling at all. But people don't write because it's a sensible career move; they write because they like to write or have a compulsion to write or have a fantasy of what being a writer means. So nearly all those books that are being banned will still be available, but in non-commercial forums. "50 Shades" started life as *Twilight* fan-fiction and was later re-worked. Even if it could never have been published, it would have been written and distributed anyway.

Comment Re:Romance and Erotica is not the same (Score 3, Interesting) 548

This is pretty close to correct, I'd say, but it's a *literary* analysis. Erotica, category romance, and romantic fiction are *marketing* categories.

Category romances are formula driven. More than any other kind of genre fiction, category romance about guaranteeing a *repeatable* reading experience. So category romance publishers have very specific parameters for each of their imprints, such as (real examples here) "features a young heroine who is sexually awakened but inexperienced," or "Strong, gorgeous, medical professional heroes at the top of their game with hearts of gold, and heroines to match." If enjoy one Harlequin® Medical Romance (no joke -- they're serious about meaningful branding), the editors go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that you'll like the next one you'll pick up. If you're the sort of reader who might purchase a Harlequin® Love Inspired (Harlequin's Christian Romance line) novel, you can be certain it doesn't contain any unpleasant surprises.

In the romance publishing business what sets apart "erotica" from category romance with an erotic elements is that all important "happily ever after" ending. Having a romantic story that ends happily isn't enough, it's got to be "happily ever after" which is something different. And the story has got to get there following the particular imprint's formula. I actually respect that. They're not my cup of tea, but category romances retell myths that people want to hear over and over again. That's really no different than endlessly rehashing the hero's journey in fantasy literature. The challenge for any writer of genre fiction is to renew the myth; to bring it to life for the people who want to experience it.

As for the erotica market, I have done book critiques for a friend who writes stuff for that market, even though her stuff makes me want to flush my eyes with bleach. I don't think the market for non-romance erotica is as elaborately segmented as for romance, but I think it will get there. My erotica-writing friend has a lot of fans, enough to put her on the NY Times best seller list, albeit briefly, but that's outstanding for a genre novel. And they clearly like reading about sexual acts in graphic detail: kinky stuff with restraints and pain and multiple simultaneous penetrations. Yet they have nothing but contempt for "50 Shades" which they consider tasteless swill. It's pretty easy to see what their beef is in that case; the heroine of 50 shades is a "bottom" in BDSM-speak, and my friend's heroines are "tops". But there are other tribal divisions in the erotica fanbase whose explanation completely eludes me.

People try to divide science fiction from fantasy or romance from erotica from pornography, but ultimately the market isn't out literary ontologies; it's about matching up authors with readers who might enjoy their work. Suppose you're an author who's written an urban fantasy novel with erotic scenes and a happy ending. You could offer that very same story to Harlequin (a romance publisher), Exotica (an erotica publisher), or TOR Books (a traditional sci-fi and fantasy imprint of Macmillan). Any one of those publishers might take the book on, but what their editors ask you to do with it before it is published will be radically different.

Comment Re:First world problems. (Score 2) 791

This is where reality differs from theory. In theory, all micro-USB devices would be able to swap chargers but I know of one person (anecdote, but true nonetheless) who upgraded his phone, used the charger from his old phone, and fried his new phone due to differences in voltage and power.

You think you are making the argument against following the standard, but actually you are making the argument *for* the standard. Either the first phone's manufacturer failed to follow the standard's specification for voltage output in his power adapter, or the second phone's manufacturer failed to comply with the standard's specification of required range of input voltage.

Also, if compatibility is mandated then how will new features be developed without potentially damaging legacy devices?

Well, if you *don't* follow the standard, then you ought to use a proprietary connector.

There's two issues to consider: the justification for the existence of a proprietary connector, and the justification for *using* that connector on a particular device. Apple's lightning connector provides *two* twisted pairs, power, is very compact. The question is whether phone and tablet users require the particular set of capabilities it provides. You can of course concoct scenarios where you might want to use those capabilities, but that's not the same as creating the best possible experience for users.

Comment Re:This takes the prize. (Score 2) 257

Truly there are things about Apple for which we can be critical. An office building is not one of them.

Personally, I think the building is cool. I think that companies should do better than to just shove their workers into cubicle farms and expect them to be happy and productive.

That doesn't mean that this project should be above criticism. It's more than just a building; or even an ordinary campus. It's a one-of-a-kind project. Projects like this are risky; if this doesn't work out Apple will own one giant, very expensive white elephant. What's more lavish corporate headquarters are often a sign that a company has jumped the shark -- that it's focused on ego and not on making customers happy while controlling costs.

A friend of mine once worked for a high tech company that attempted a lavish, beautiful, eco-chic campus. As the costs spiraled, they decided to reduce the scope of the project so that only management and marketing moved into the fancy new campus. Engineering remained in their giant cubicle farm miles away. Yes, they went there. The compny spent ten years building that new headquarters, but two years after moving they were forced to sell it. They were asking 62 million, which would have been selling at a loss. They got 30.

I don't expect Apple's new headquarters will be a disaster like that. I believe and hope it will be a great success. But people are right to be skeptical of a project like that.

Comment Re:Here's the real problem he has (Score 4, Informative) 479

Well, I think the reason for this has to do with Word's commenting and revision tracking features, which are convenient as the document is passed around amongst the publisher's editorial staff.

I used to write fiction using reStructuredText and a literate programming tool. I had a convenient toolchain set up where I could tangle different kinds of documents (outline, chapter, synopsis, alternative scenes) into reStructuredText documents, then convert those into HTML or PDF if plain text wouldn't do. It was a sweet system that didn't get in my way by making me think about formatting (until it was time to generate a manuscript), wasn't subject to file corruption issues, and played well with source control. It met my needs.

The problem was that it didn't meet the needs of the people I had to collaborate with. Everyone in my writer's group wanted ".doc" files, wanted to return their comments and revision suggestion in ".doc" files too.

I suspect the reason his publisher wants ".doc" is that they use it just this way, to pass manuscripts around with comments and revisions neatly packaged into a single file. There are other ways of doing this, of course, but then you have to consider that they've got to get *all* their authors to use the same format, or figure out how to convert whatever formats they might receive into word. It's easiest for many to go with "Give me a word file and I'll return a word file."

For me, formatting didn't matter at all. I've also tried Lyx; I wasn't particularly enamored of it, since I didn't need to write equations or things that had to semantically marked up. All I needed was words on the page, and since I always ended up sending and receiving ".doc" files, I just went to OpenOffice, now LibreOffice.

Comment Re:Nonsense. (Score 2) 158

Well... papers exist to be ripped apart by other scholars. The initial claims and counter-claims are bound to be the most obvious ones, the ones that turn on simple issues rather than abstruse ones. So it's no surprise that the initial criticism seems to have caught the authors with their methodological pants down. It's better to let a few rounds of point/counterpoint run before drawing any firm conclusions.

The study seems to belong to subfield of social pyschology which has become somewhat controversial -- priming. The way priming studies go is that the study population is divided into two groups, one of which gets a treatment which the experimenter thinks will affect his subsequent judgment, another of which gets a placebo treatment. A test is then administered to each group, and if there is significant difference the author makes claims about what that means.

The ways this can go wrong are legion. The experimenter can choose a treatment that can't demonstrate what he wants to claim (e.g. the stories he chooses don't qualify as "literary fiction"). He can choose a placebo that has unwanted effects (e.g., a story that actually primes its readers to be stupider). He can be biased in his administration of the test. He can get a significant result simply by chance (1/20 studies will do this). The experimental results my be real, but his interpretation unsupportable (e.g., the psychoanalyst who did a study of the different mannerisms of male and female smokers, and interpreted the difference as supporting the concept of "penis envy").

A single experiment never proves anything.

Comment Re:Twilight.. (Score 2) 158

I actually read *Twilight* to see what all the fuss was about. And if you read with a sufficiently open mind, you can see what the fuss is all about. Meyer is a gifted writer. What she is *not* is a technically proficient writer -- at least in her debut novel. She offers little that will lure you in if you aren't square in the novel's target demographic, and plenty that will put you off if you aren't immediately swept up in the spell. Her handling of dialogue is particularly painful for the non-fan.

Yes, you can boil the attraction of Twilight down to a simple formula, but if you think that's all there is to it, then go write your own 118 thousand word novel with the formula and watch the millions of dollars roll in. It's not that simple. It takes a special talent to make the formula work.

Overall, reading *Twilight* made me sad, because the book could have been so much better. It needed the services of developmental editor, and a tough one at that. If they'd invested a few thousand more dollars up front they might have widened the market for the book. Instead they got a massive anti-*Twilight* backlash. A strong editor would have made a lot of those *Twilight* haters into fans.

Comment Re:Three square miles of pristine desert? Bad huma (Score 1) 377

I immediately did the same calculation. It's not that much relative to the footprint of a house, but it's probably quite huge compared to the footprint for an equivalent capacity natural gas or nuclear plant.

Whether it makes sense depends on the potentil revenue generation value of the land -- the opportunity cost. It wouldn't make economic sense in the Santa Clara Valley in CA, where land is fabulously expensive, but it might make sense in an undeveloped area of the Sonoran Desert where land is cheap -- e.g. on the outskirts of the Phoenix area. This discounts any environmental costs, of course, but these also would vary from site to site.

It's pretty clear this is not a technology for solving *all* our energy needs (as nuclear was intended to be in the 50's and 60's). But the nifty thing about electricity is that it doesn't matter where it comes from. You don't have to put all your eggs in one technology basket, you can use a mix of sources. Which means you can stop building these things when the marginal *environmental* cost starts to go up. You just have to build enough to reach economies of scale that allow you to make a decent profit.

Comment Re:Students are Hard on Hardware (Score 2) 177

It's not just kids. I used to work on mobile software for guys doing various kinds of outdoor field work. I told clients to figure on replacing their PDAs at least every two years. I'd reckon about 20% broke outright each year, and at the end of two years even the ones that weren't actually broken were falling apart from heavy use. These were well-made PDAs in rugged cases that guys could carry in their pockets. I shudder to think what they're doing these days with iPads.

When you're thinking about adopting any kind of gizmo that's supposed to be used all day long, you have to look at that gizmo as disposable. Stuff happens to things you carry around all the time. I have a light touch with equipment, so my stuff tends to last longer than most people's; but even I once broke a Newton screen, back in the early days. There was a guy in my office who destroyed one laptop per year, like clockwork.

I used to tell my clients that equipment was made to be used and thrown away. The important thing is preserving data. If a device is so expensive you've got to count on people mollycoddling it, it's not ready for field use.

Comment The problem with history... (Score 1) 754

is that when you're looking for precedent there are always those two little words: "it depends". You can't count on history to repeat itself.

I don't think there's a fundamental economic principle that says, "productivity increases actually increases employment." Yes, it *tends* to do so. If the next dollar of labor produces fifty cents of income, a firm won't lay out that next dollar; but if it produces *two* dollars of income it will.

However that scenario assumes that demand for the product is "elastic"; that if you drop the price a little you'll sell more, and make more profit. Suppose demand for a product is *inelastic*, that dropping the price won't get you much more in units sold. If the market won't buy more widgets at a lower price, then it makes sense for a firm to lay off workers as productivity goes up.

In the past the fear that greater productivity would result in job loss tended not to come true. At the outset of the industrial revolution nearly everybody would be considered materially poor by modern standards. Even in my granfather's generation it was common to by new clothing just once a year, and nearly everybody mended their own clothing. When computers were introduced to do things like payroll, yes the people who manually processed paychecks lost their jobs, but businesses responded by demanding far more complex and timely financial information products.

Now we live in a different world now. Almost nobody darns socks or turns collars; they throw worn or even stained garments away. Clothes shopping has become a pastime, not an annual ritual; many people shop every week. Financial products turn on split-millisecond timing, and are so complex you need an advanced degree in math to understand them. It makes me wonder whether we might be approaching a kind of productivity/demand singularity.

The biggest problem with predicting the future isn't *what*, it's *when*. People were attempting computer tablets decades before the iPad, but until the processor, battery, software and user interface technology were all available it was an exercise in futility. Much of Steve Jobs' genius was a matter of timing, of sensing when there was an opportunity to be created. I think there may be a productivity singularity in our future, a point where our established wisdom based on past experience fails. But I can't say when that will occur. I'm certain the market has surprises in store for us, but in the short term at least they'll probably tend to confirm established wisdom.

disclaimer: I am not an economist. But I *do* write science fiction.

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