180 posts • joined 11 Mar 2008
Re: National vs international
Are you sure? Turning wealth into power is harder than you think. Look at the oligarchs who have crossed Putin, for instance.
Granted wealth gives you a very comfortable life, but I see a history in which wealth follows power more than vice Versa, and being too rich while out of political favour is rarely comfortable.
National vs international
I, like lots of westerners, have a lot of sympathy for the moderate left ideal of a system of constrained capitalism with relatively modest wealth imbalances that Pinketty appears to stand for.
There are several practical problems though:
1) All but the widest-eyed idealists acknowledge that there aren't enough resources globally to give everyone a decent standard of living even if we could somehow come to a consensus that we should. Successful lefty economies (of which Scandinavia offers the last unequivocal examples standing) have small, homogenous and highly educated populations and ample natural resources and are very picky about who they let in. To my mind creating small pockets of utopia is no more moral in the wider scheme than the US attitude of letting lots of people in but not giving them much except the knowledge that others before them have carved out a good living eventually.
2) Economic power always follows real power. When wealth gets too concentrated in the hands of people without the real power to protect it either revolution or punitive taxation always changes things. Similarly, and less fortunately, when the value of labour that poor people have to offer diminishes in real terms it becomes politically untenable to have too generous a welfare state without seeing a long run economic decline that makes everyone worse off.
At the moment we're seeing the consequences of a change in the real value of labour (which, sadly, I think is permanent) and a disruption to national politics from internationalisation which is benefitting the rich and well advised and weighing upon the poor and ill-equipped in a way that isn't sustainable. That's pushing the equation so far against the poor (and pushing so many of the middle class into 'poor' territory) that radical nationalism is starting to look attractive to them again.
Steve Jobs was different at that point
Once you've had a huge success (and Apple was a huge success, before becoming a hulking failure, before becoming a humongous success) you can have a number of modest failures before falling out of favour.
When you're starting out you need to show a much clearer record of achievement (or be a tremendous showman) or your first financial failure can kill you for VCs.
re: but I wonder to what extent it scales down to mere mortal level.
From Nate's analysis and the other shortcomings I've seen so far, all look to be current barriers rather than absolute ones.
Google, because of their scale, have built this and tweaked it to fit their requirement. Other hyperscale software will do likewise because custom work pays huge dividends for this size of organisations.
Smaller organisations will wait for the community and/or commercial vendors to build toolsets that solve problems like the inability to monitor and manage memory and quite probably the lack of hardware indepedence and then this should scale down nicely. I don't think it will replace virtualisation for requirements that interact heavily with the hardware stack or need high security or customisation, but there are lots of current needs for which whole virtual machines are unnecesary.
Plus it's been a while since the last 'next big thing', and this one at least looks to be interesting.
You're not thinking like a patent lawyer. Shame on you.
The crucial second part of your patent application is to say that while the setup you lay out is one way of acheiving a good picture this shouldn't preclude any other set of paramaters from being considered under the patent.
Now that we know you can open up the methodology as a catch-all variable it only seems logical to do the same with the idea itself.
'While this methodology (or any other) relates specifically to the taking of a good picture, it does not preclude the utilisation of these steps (or any other set of steps) in the furtherance of another goal. These other goals are also covered under this patent.'
Bingo, you've successfully patented everything.
Correcting the conclusion
'Nazer said Amazon would be unlikely to try and use this patent in court yet, and it's more likely something that the company can just add to its existing portfolio to use as a weapon when it has reached peak innovation and wants to stop more agile competitors from eroding its market share.'
The problem with stupid patents isn't necessarily that many will immediately or ever be aired in court, it's that the very threat of them stifles innovation and dramatically increases the barrier of entry into technology markets so that bloated incumbents can extract profits at the expense of the public good. The need to hold a war chest of vague patents to do battle with makes it much less likely that a new Microsoft or Oracle will rise up to slay the existing monoliths and therefore much more likely that the current ones will continue to extract excessive license fees well past their natural expiry date.
Re: Getting rid of it all by 2018?
Not tax related.
From a personal financial security perspective the biggest challenge facing owners of newly successful companies is the fact that a disproportionate amount of their wealth (sometimes all) is tied up in one asset.
Selling too much in one go would invite a share price crash (shareholders don't like executives or founders selling too much of their holding at once) and selling ad hoc breaks insider trading regulations when you're still at a company, so these kinds of periodic selling of agreed numbers of shares allow divestment of personal wealth without spooking anyone.
As for why he'd continue until he's sold all of it, I think you've covered that. Microsoft is no longer his primary focus and Microsoft shares can't directly be used to fund his philanthropic projects. If the publically stated plans are to be believed neither he nor Buffett want to create large and unwieldy funds which dole out small amounts in perpetuity. They want to use large amounts on high impact projects until the money is gone.
I've never understood how that public plan tallies with his continuing to be among the world's richest men, but I assume at some point that will start to diminish.
This writing of individual reports
by different government departments for different committees is a drain on national productivity.
It would be much more cost-effective to have a single report stressing the need for greater automation, fewer teenage pregnancies and higher broadband speeds which can be wheeled out whenever a government white paper is required. 1 civil servant could be relied on to redraft the template and deliver it 6 months late as per normal public sector requirements and therefore only another 2 or 3 thousand would be needed to supervise him and provide management accountability to ensure value for taxpayers' money.
Has the definition of 'very interesting' changed while I wasn't looking
or was this an ironic use of the term?
It would be very interesting to find out...
Blinking is something the company will struggle to do at any level of capital expenditure.
Google's push into the corporate cloud space is going to be interesting. They are among the last companies most people would trust with their company data.
'Oops, we plugged the wrong cable in and have accidentally analysed all your customer data. On the plus side, they'll be getting more precisely targeted ads from now on.'
On the face of it they're planning to compete with themselves.
In reality they'll never price the cloud business in a way that erodes their traditional licensing model. It makes no business sense to do so. If they create a headline subscription fee that's low enough to draw interest then expect the caveats and additional cost factors to be even more arcane and inscrutable than their current licensing model.
Re: many of the comments above
It's worth noting that most analyses of net worth ignore the primary residence precisely to avoid skewing the figures too far in places like London.
Still, people are right that you need quite a reasonable number of millions before you can say Foxtrot Oscar to the world of work and live in any kind of luxury. It's a relatively modest aspiration compared to scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup final or punching David Cameron in the face.
Re: Public cloud barriers
I do think a convergence in software development methodology (with horizontal scaling and resilience in the software rather than the hardware layer) is inevitable and agree with the author that this poses a grave threat to the existing hardware vendors, but the step from there in which public cloud conquers all is badly flawed for all of the reasons you stated.
I do foresee a growing number of build, own and operate requirements for on-premise cloud type infrastructure outsourcing structured in much the same way as classic mainframe contracts for Sun, IBM, HP etc. look but with the difference that the infrastructure is identical to that which could be run externally.
Aside from that the public/private question on cloud is extremely similar to the wider outsourcing discussion. Outsourcing turns a complex internal risk assessment and management question into a complex external risk assessment and management question in which capex vs opex and distance, data security and the relative effectiveness of SLAs versus internal controls.
In the same way that effective outsourcing needs strong and experienced procurement and governance, tends to cost more than it looks like it will and usually only works for non-core business functions I'm sure the same will prove true in the long run for public cloud.
Why on earth do firms need to justify paying their employees well?
Programming, like stock market trading, is a job where contribution to the business is pretty easy to gauge and age is poorly correlated with productivity.
It's no surprise at all that workers who are highly productive in high profile industries get paid well, and looking at the absurd valuations that these companies fetch when they're perceived to be ahead of their peers any CEO would be doing wrong by the shareholders if they didn't throw money at talent.
I'm actually surprised there aren't more 18-21 year olds who skip university altogether and just go straight in to coding. Perhaps there are but they're not captured here.
Re: Silly Question...
Or the latest computers, TVs, cars?
When features (or much more occasionally entirely new products) come out which capture the public imagination and command a big premium that starts an innovation race where huge sums are poured in and regular iterations are put to the public to provide new features and test the continuing premium the market offers (which is essentially the monetary value of their interest in continuing innovation).
From smartphone sales figures and the increasing frequency of questions like yours I'd say the innovation race is easing off and sensible firms will be quietly ratcheting down the R and D on mobile specific features while looking for the Next Big Thing (TM) to get ahead in. They'd never say it very loudly to consumers because they still have a pipeline of new features to try and sell you across a couple more iterations of phone, but after that the work on further iterations may well slow considerably unless this fitness angle or something else captures the public imagination.
In all fairness
that's what Gartner say too. The quote talks about a 'Hybrid ERP' approach with lots of parts in the cloud but a 'smaller core of on-premise elements such as financials and manufacturing'.
I've no idea if they're right on the wider point they're making, but at least they seem to realise the point you're making about critical systems.
If I recall correctly
messing with the ability of exchanges to manage volume is a key strategy in high frequency trading activities.
I don't remember exactly how, but essentially putting in massive buy and sell orders that you have no intention of fulfilling is a way to identify areas of weakness that can be exploited for quick profits.
Unless I'm wrong about that, it tells me two things:
a) High frequency trading really has no benefit to the economy and so we shouldn't tolerate, much less facilitate it. The instability it creates in markets feels like it actually increases price volatility and risk rather than decreasing it. That makes it as socially useful as burglary.
b) Even if I'm wrong and there are good reasons to facilitate HFT, if a key goal of their algorithms is to find and take advantage of flaws in the system to create volatility then any improvements are likely to lead to an arms race in which they build bigger and more powerful systems to try to stay ahead (and then presumably complain again that the market isn't fast enough and that more should be invested). I see no benefit to anyone except the large banks whose competition from smaller HFT players would be limited by the spiraling cost of these systems. Meanwhile trading costs would soar to pay for the infrastructure and Main Street would see no benefits.
I'm as capitalist as they come, but I see no benefit to either market competition or allocative efficiency in the modern 'faster than the eye can see' stock markets.
After years of being conned by large suppliers
Goverrnment procurement services seem to want to get their own back by advertising 'framework' deals with a high headline amount of business and having suppliers jump through an interminable number of absurd hoops before they realise that actually there's nothing like the amount of business advertised because most government departments plan to keep buying the way they always did (and, at best, force their existing supplier to jump through the same hoops to give the appearance of using the framework).
It's sad for the taxpayer that at the same time the government is on a drive to include more SMEs and create a more competitive supplier landscape its procurement team have also discovered that there's a short term benefit to making false promises about the amount of business available to try to encourage small businesses to join frameworks and bid early deals at wafer thin margins.
When the SMEs realise it's all a huge con things will go back to business as usual with the big boys who can afford to play these games roughing it through this period and then finding stupid ways to make all their money back and more once noone wants to work with GPS.
I think the chances of 3d printing replacing industrial process for mass produced items are nil.
However there are lots of ways in which I think 3d printing could be useful now and increasingly important in a world where its availability is known at the point something is designed.
1) Small-scale design shops or individuals creating prototypes. This has been mentioned at least once above, so no need to go into detail.
2) Creating parts for items which are no longer mass-producted. I know that when my (mid-90s) car goes for repair one of the hardest and most expensive jobs the garage have is in sourcing parts that are no longer made. If CAD documents were routinely created at the point of design for new models then this would be a considerably easier problem for cars of the current era in 15 years time. I'm sure there are dozens of other situations in which spares are held expensively ad infinitum where a detailled design and 3d printer availability could replace them.
Are we living in a sci-fi B movie?
Connecting the world's foremost artificial intelligence to the internet may seem like a good idea, but don't come crying to me when your Smart Microwave (TM) starts taking over the house.
We've heard of it
A fool and his money
fit nicely into 140 characters or less
Re: Can a fail whale float?
'Whether it's a good time for investors? No-one can say.'
You just did. If your analysis is right (and it looks spot on to me) then investors who pay anything like the valuation mooted will get badly burnt.
I wouldn't be surprised to see Twitter bought by one of the existing social media brands to widen their dominance but I don't see that the revenue they'll generate independently will make them reliably profitable, let alone profitable enough to justify a multi $bn valuation.
Having a founder who is too influential is one thing
Having a founder who now spends most of their time and attention on more pressing problems is another thing again.
It's admirable that Gates wants to devote so much of his time and money solving developing world issues but if I were a Microsoft shareholder I wouldn't want him to overshadow the company while not being fully involved in it.
There's really no place to chair a company of that size part-time and it's no surprise that Microsoft look to have missed several boats under his watch when he's not really watching.
I know it's easier to predict than it is to solve
But I think everyone saw this coming. When your business has fallen off the radar and you have one shiny new gadget that will save you then for God's sake price it keenly. Noone in their right mind was going to pay the same for a Blackberry phone as they would for an iPhone/Galaxy.
Nokia and HTC will be delighted to have one less competitor for the 'plucky third place innovator' spot, but this whole episode is a real eye-opener about how deadly the technology market is for companies with poor leadership.
I was going to buy one of these.
Now I'm not.
Re: I guess I'm going to get downvoted here...
It's not even just that.
I can tolerate Easyjet, but Ryanair are just a step too far in the pikeyness stakes.
However, that doesn't mean I want them to disappear. I remember before the budget airlines shook things up that it used to cost hundreds of pounds to fly to pretty much anywhere (national or international). Now lots of the 'good' airlines are very reasonably priced and the whole market is more consumer friendly.
Why anyone except BA shareholders would want the cheapies to go away is beyond me.
It's lucky we have infinite energy and natural resources to build and power all of these robots
otherwise things might not be quite this easy.
When a huge amount of money gets printed and pumped into the system
it's no surprise that it ends up in the bank accounts of the rich and politically connected.
Looking at asset price inflation over the last 10 years, it's probable that in real spending terms the rich haven't got very much richer but the poor have got very much poorer (in a lot of the third world, where the effect is most noticable because so many people spend half or more of their income on food, food prices are rising far faster than incomes and hunger is getting worse).
We're fairly used to money being stable in the west for the last 30 years and so we're not really prepared for the long term effects of quantitative easing (apart from the rich and politically connected, who have people to advise them on these things and have been busily buying up prime real estate assets at spiralling prices), but the diminishing value of money will become apparent sooner or later and I expect minor social unrest at the very least. In the one place where quantitative easing has explicitly been ruled out (the EU) the social unrest has come sooner rather than later and isn't going to go away any time soon.
I wonder if it's straightforward role reversal
Apple was always the aspirational option for those who could afford and wanted to pay the extra, so Apple made more profits but sold fewer handsets.
Now that Samsung is a genuine competitor at the fashionable end of the market and its profits are starting to match it feels to me like older Apple phones are becoming available on contract deals that look attractive to people who wouldn't pay extra for Apple but who will pick it if it looks cheaper than the top tier of Android phones.
My guess is that the counterpoint to a market share increase is therefore that Apple have had to cut the price per unit on their currently available models.
Because they're a very cheap form of marketing.
If you bribe them and they write positive things about your brand then you might sell more stuff.
That also explains why they're so rarely right, and why it's so seldom commented upon. They're really just freelance PR people.
I'd love to be an analyst
'Could bring in $24bn within a decade'.
Or it could bring in $100bn, or $0.
People will have forgotten the prediction within 3 weeks, let alone the decade under discussion, and so the number they dream up is based solely on which shares they want to move in which direction at the point when they file the report.
For 'bean-counters' read 'fortune tellers' or 'stock manipulators'.
Fine in theory. Crap in practice
The complicated argument against this is that if global warming is sensitive enough to human activity to make this kind of policy worthwhile then there's a high chance that the damage will already have been done by the time any tax is due. If complex non-linear systems were easy enough to model to make this anything more than gambling then we wouldn't need it because we'd have a much clearer idea what's going to happen. That brings simple practical argument number two.
Markets work pretty well in valuing things that operate within a defined regulatory system with regular reporting of progress (equities markets, for instance). The complex deriviatives fiasco has shown that they become worse than useless in valuing items with long-term, poorly understood or immeasurable risks. If this kind of cap and trade system comes to pass, expect dozens of specialist firms set up with a 4 stage process as follows:
1) Set up a limited liability shell corporaation
2) Sell enough emissions certifications to buy yourself an island in the Caymans. Pay off any important regulators or politicians to overlook any weaknesses in your risk management model
3) Declare the company bankrupt before any liabilities are due
4) Work on your sun-tan
Markets are analogous to computer programmes in this respect. Both serve in their own way to automate processes and perform them much faster than individual people can but with results that are ultimately as good as the data going in and the process logic it goes through. Neither have magic powers that help us to solve problems that we don't understand well enough to model yet.
The problem with seeing BB as a bunch of separate companies
Is that they're not. When real startups succeed their agility, access to timely venture capital and ability to win big clients are key.
It's possible that Blackberry's management will be enlightened and act like arms length angel investors with the growing parts of the business, but bearing in mind that decaying parts are far bigger and will have a much higher day to day profile in the company its much more likely that they'll be mismanaged or ignored while execs try repeatedly to reinvent the main company until they either succeed (small chance) are fired (high chance) or get a bid that their tired investors see as a way to get out (medium chance).
It's also worth noting that startups are themselves high risk. The tech market is particularly brutal and even if Blackberry do manage the startupy parts of the business properly there's a better than evens chance that some new trend or startup will overtake them before they reach critical mass.
Blackberry's problems are all priced into the shares, so some people may see them as worth a punt, but in a depressed market the big concern is that their competitors will want to watch them collapse even further before bidding peanuts for the pieces.
Good article in The Independent on this
Fracking has been pretty successful in parts of the US where 1 person per square kilometre constitutes a crowd.
There aren't too many of those here, and people tend to be fairly sensitive about them (The Lake District, etc.). Where things are more crowded locals are unlikely to give a frack what the possible benefits are given our lack of understanding of the consequences. Any permissions are likely to be slow, heavily contested and limited in scope (all of which push up the price of any eventual product).
I'll be glad if this does turn out to have safe and economically viable legs but I wouldn't dust off the energy boom just yet.
As an addendum to the point raised repeatedly above that this is a bond market issue and not an Apple issue, it's also worth noting that the sentence about a 'Bumwad from the Bank of Toyland' rating, though thoroughly entertaining scores poorly in the accuracy stakes.
A bond's rating is a measure of the likelihood that the investor will be paid the value they're due under the agreement. If the rating on Apple's corporate bonds were bad that would imply that they were close to insolvency.
The value of a fixed rate bond varying as the perceived attractiveness of alternative investments changes is hardly newsworthy on a technology blog, and still less so when the story gets so badly garbled.
Re: Re : Bernard
It's also worth noting that my original point wasn't (or wasn't intended to be) about the unsuitability of this latter set (the size of which we disagree on) for commercial work in general, but specifically for Google's needs at the time they were hiring.
There's lots of commercial work that needs people who are academically able and diligent but need a defined ruleset within a structured environment (and it remains my contention that lots of people hang around in education longer than they should because they're scared to step out of that). While a random PhD is no better than an expensive signal in indicating suitability for a role of this sort, I'm not claiming that this random PhD wouldn't be up to this kind of job.
What I am claiming is that Google were in the situation lots of highly successful internet startups find themselves in of having a market capitalization and profile which feels wrong in comparison to the number and profile of their employees. The response of hiring as many highly qualified people as possible in a scattergun way and putting them in an environment that needs entrepreneurial verve and risk taking looks so obviously flawed in retrospect that it's hard to see why they've taken so long to find out.
Re: Re : Bernard
I cut and pasted the entire paragraph and highlighted in capitals the parts which show context. You responded by pulling out a claim I make about SOME graduate students and misunderstanding or pretending that I'm making that claim about ALL graduate students.
By then refuting the argument that's superficially similar to mine but different in the key point of dispute you're engaging in a textbook strawman.
Re: Re : Bernard
It's as well to read something a few times before flying off the handle.
THE LATTER SET make up an unhealthy proportion of doctoral students AND THESE people are worse than useless for a company that wants to create new things because if they had any appetite for taking risks or trying new things they wouldn't still be students.
No mention of all doctoral students being risk averse or unsuitable for a commercial environment. We can certainly disagree about the relative proportion of people who are in advanced studies for the right reasons (my experience is that far too many end up studying their advisors' pet projects because they don't really know what they want to research), but creating a strawman and then knocking it down isn't going to advance the discussion.
This does seem to be a topic that gets some people riled up, but I'm surprised its so controversial. People who go into advanced studies planning to advance the field are doing it for the right reason. People who go into them thinking that a PhD will make them look smart, postpone having to get a job or give them a better paying one are contributing to the massive waste of resources that goes into over-educating people for the vast majority of jobs which require industry experience rather than abstract knowledge.
Google have belatedly realised that and stopped blindly sweeping PhDs by the thousand, but perhaps the fact that a multi-billion dollar business relies on people continuing to take massive loans to stay in education into their thirties explains why over-education remains a touchy subject.
In general people who stay in education long enough to get PhDs do so for one of two reasons. Either they love their academic field (in which case any job Google gives them is going to be unfulfilling and so they'll be unproductive) or they have no idea what they want to do in life and so stay in education for as long as people keep funding them.
The latter set make up an unhealthy proportion of doctoral students and these people are worse than useless for a company that wants to create new things because if they had any appetite for taking risks or trying new things they wouldn't still be students.
But as Google are a one-trick company who have no idea how to spend the vast profits from their advertising business they're unlikely to know a good idea from a bad one, so it's no wonder it took them so long to notice that lots of their employees don't either.
At the level we're talking here
an SLA is practically meaningless.
It gives a credit proportional to the amount you pay which bears no resemblance to the loss you can suffer when a service beyond your control fails in an unexpected way and your data is inaccessible.
For simple web hosting and low value, high volume consumer apps (flipboard is a great example) these services are a very sensible choice. For anything enterprise grade in which data unavailability or loss causes meaningful business pain each layer of abstraction away from a hands-on service presents a material risk that amounts to putting fingers in ears and hoping for the best. Colocation is the least bad outsourcing option, then managed hosting, Iaas and, worst of all, proprietary service in a box type solutions which give you no insight into how they work or when or how they may go wrong.
Of course, lots of web infrastructure is really not that important, so there's a big growth market for Amazon in web 2.0 type apps which are trendy but can go wrong sometimes without the world ending, but if corporates are really putting their critical data there then horror stories are inevitable.
Re: Can't figure this one out.
It's all about fixed costs. When sales fall 37% it takes much longer to adjust office space, staff headcount, marketing spend etc. (and companies are usually reluctant to based on 1 year, because if you cut all those things you're admitting it wasn't a 1 year blip and you're likely to be a smaller company from here on out).
If the remaining £930m of sales in q1 just cover those fixed costs then any profitable revenue on top of that would appear as profit, and so small changes in the sales figure can lead to much larger shifts in profitability.
UK industrial policy is a mess
I'm not a big fan of substantial government intervention, but one basic thing that government can do is encourage different specialisation clusters in different areas (through tax breaks, subsidised provision of necessary infrastructure and making an early decision to channel relevant public projects through firms in that area).
This creates a low cost base for startups and opportunities for skilled people in parts of the company that are cheap to live. Contrast that with startups in Old Street paying absurd rents and trying to hire staff that need to earn eye-watering wages just to live and no wonder 'Silicon Roundabout' is creaking.
No other country in the G7 has the financial centre and the political centre in the same city yet we're still trying to push for even further economic expansion in London and wondering why the economy is an unbalanced mess.
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