Thursday, April 21, 2005

Death of a Spider

Dramatic title, huh?

A spider died today. It had slipped into the bathtub in the spare bathroom a few days ago. I watched it fail once or twice to climb back out. I didn't kill it to put it out of its misery, nor did I try to capture it and take it outside. A life, and I couldn't be bothered to end it or save it, even if it took barely more than lifting a finger.

Shall we ever understand the choices and non-choices we make?

Thursday, April 14, 2005

But This One Goes to Eleven

For a company that prides itself in the simplicity and elegance of its products, Apple sure finds itself in some counter-intuitive situations. During the long, tortured tail end of the G4 processor, Apple found itself trying to convince customers that MHz didn't matter. It was true that Intel sacrified nearly all else to pump up the clock speed of its processors, without achieving a performance improvement proportional to the clock speed differences. But that didn't matter, because 3 GHz is better than 2 GHz as far as most people were concerned.

Looking back even further, we can see Apple struggling with the image that its computers were more expensive than PCs. Truth is, what should matter to consumers is the value of the product, not the sticker price. Value, unfortunately, can be counter-intuitive. The Power Mac that we bought three years ago, plus various upgrades, probably cost us US$1,500. On eBay today, we should be able to get at least US$500 on the box. In other words, if I sold it today, the machine would've cost me about US$1,000 over three years. On the PC side, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002 has a minimum system requirement of a 300 MHz CPU. How much could you sell that PC for today? To be a bit rude, could you even give one away today?

If you're a home user, the comparisons might stop there. However, if you're using the computer for work, then you need to figure the time you spend not making money off the computer. Viruses are the obvious thing here, but even subtle differences like battery life can have a important impact on what the machine is worth to you. Power consumption is another somewhat invisible issue.

Ironically, the same people understand the math in other areas. Many understand that buying a house is a good investment as long as you can sell it for a difference less than what you would otherwise pay in rent. In the bay area, for example, where rents are easily US$15,000 a year for a one-bedroom apartment, a house you own for five years was a great investment even if you lose US$50,000 when you sell it.

But between the "MHz myth" and the apparent price premium, Apple gets stuck defending the counter-intuitive. Now, this isn't an ad to say that Apple computers have better value, but that most people don't even think at the level Apple needs them to be. Over the years, PCs have begun to catch up in many areas, and of course the Mac has gotten a beefier G5 processor, so the terms are all different today. However, the equation hasn't actually changed, and one must chuckle to observe a marketing department trying to impart a complicated story, even when it may actually the truth.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

No Speako Inglese

West Virginia lawmakers were surprised to find that they had passed a law that made English the official language of the state. The provision was slipped into a bill "addressing the number of members that cities can appoint to boards of parks and recreation", according to CNN.

Why voters tolerate this sort of nonsense, I don't think I'll ever understand. Whether or not you think it's a good idea, surely you would agree that it's an important issue. Surely you would agree that it's an issue that should be openly debated, and voted on.

"I just told the members that the amendment clarifies the way in which documents are produced," Bailey, a Democrat, said Monday.

In other words, Bailey is a liar.

House Majority Leader Rick Staton [...] said he was unaware of the substance of the amendment until asked about it by The Associated Press Monday evening.

In other words, Staton is incompetent and doesn't even read the laws that he is partly responsible for making. Laws that he was elected and paid to make.

The title, by the way, is what a friend allegedly said to the highway patrol officer who pulled him over.

Friday, April 8, 2005

Zero to Sixty!

Mabel got me a surprise gift today. She found three decks of Super Trump cards: Formula One, Sailing Ships, and Space Rockets. That sure brought back memories of grade school. Some of the cards sported the USSR hammer and sickle flag, and the decks were made in "West Germany".

Boy, that was a long time ago.

Thursday, April 7, 2005

On Losing

If you read Slashdot, then you might have known that the US did not place in the 29th ACM International Programming Contest. Far lesser known would be the fact that Ateneo defeated my alma mater UP in two programming contests organized by the latter.

Taken by itself, defeat in programming contests is not indicative of the quality of education at all. In the real world, programs are "judged" mainly by how well they respond to market needs (even free software have markets). To be responsive to changing needs, the software must be built on a solid architecture, and be easily maintainable even by people who are not the original authors. Having joined my share of programming contests, I find it safe to say that the artificial environment does not encourage good programming. Generally speaking, you want to submit the minimally capable program in the absolute fastest time. Requirements can be expected to never change, and the essence of time is amplified far beyond the normal "first to market" pressures in industry. Some contests even spare you from error-checking by promising to only test your submissions with valid input.

But there's nothing funny about losing. If you choose to join a contest, you join to win. A contest that you can be bothered to participate in is never entirely pointless, particularly when you lose it. Moreoever, while defeat doesn't necessarily tell you that they are better, it should conclusively tell you that they are at least not far behind. Accept the results with as much grace as you can muster, but get right back on the treadmill or the defeat will become both real and permanent.