164 posts • joined 11 Mar 2008
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.
While condemning both their methods (hacking) and their goal (propping up a dodgy regime)
I have to commend the hackers for both their cunning and their editorial poise.
It must be scary for IT admins when they find out just how much brighter the hackers are than their network users.
As a salesman, my experience is that
starting the conversation by telling the client that you hate fluffy marketing terms like 'cloud' is the best way to get them talking.
Matching individual clients' requirements to your capabilities has always been and remains the only way to agree contracts of any size, and any product that doesn't need that doesn't need a salesman to sell it (eg. smaller scale AWS type pay as you go stuff).
I'm overtly suspicious of meetings where the client is the one who talks about transformative change and uses buzzwords themselves because my experience is that they lack the credibility internally to get hard nosed commercial and finance people to sign up for things with no clear path to deplyoment or return on investment. Real business conversations are about getting practical things done, not about transforming the world.
Re: No Shit Sherlock
The odd one, I'd say. Youtube was worth the money in extending Google's ubiquity beyond text. Lenovo did well out of iBMs laptop business too.
On the whole, though, I'm amazed shareholders tolerate this kind of thing. It wastes untold billions of their money.
The fact that
noone is rushing out with a rival product tells you all you need to know about its mass-market appeal.
I think Google will do okay on it just because enough geeks will want it that they'll just about cover costs and give their brand a boost as a high-profile innovator, but there's just not a market for this and that will soon become apparent.
I'm sure I'll eat my words when the iPatch (TM) is released next week and people queue around the block to be first to look like a high-tech scourge of the high seas.
Ignoring for a moment
the point raised repeatedly above that only morons would want inanimate objects as Facebook friends it's also an explicit violation of Facebook's terms and conditions.
If I were a Salesforce shareholder wondering how on earth they were ever going to justify the absurd premium on a company that is still loss making then this wouldn't be terribly reassuring.
It may be a simplistic view, but it seems to me that the answer to the 'when should I pass on PaaS' question is 'always'.
I see the role of SaaS for non-tech startups and non-core corporate applications where development time and focus are too expensive to waste when something can be pulled off the shelf. Lock-in is a significant worry, but the benefits can outweigh the risks provided the business won't come crashing to a halt if things go wrong.
I see the role of IaaS for companies that don't want to manage the hardware layer and for whom security and uptime are not so vital as to warrant the extra cost of a bricks and mortar or colo solution for smaller or variable workloads. This market will mature rapidly, and Amazon have shown that there's a significant appetite for it even though the long-term costs may be higher than inhouse for a lot of their growing customer base.
But I've never seen the role PaaS. It's a solution which still requires significant developer resource (including developer resource to tune the application to work with the quirks of the particular platform) but locks users tightly into an ecosystem that the provider can change at any time (as both Heroku and the Rackspace 'Cloud sites' service have both done to the chagrin of their user base).
PaaS offers all of the disadvantages of both forms of cloud while nullifying any tangible advantage. I don't see it having any long-term future. Some of the more useful proprietary features of Amazon may last for a while, but a few high profile examples of customers getting stung because they can't move away or the proprietary feature fails (as EBS appears to have done on a few occasions) will soon push things back to IaaS.
Are there any good reasons for adding more TLDs?
The only people I see benefitting are Icann themselves, for whom the revenue boost is likely to be enormous, and the myriad scammers who foul up the internet by tricking people into visiting them at goggle.com, ficebook.com and (now) anything.anythingatall.
I don't see a single redeeming feature here.
The fact that staff want something
doesn't make it a legitimate business requirement.
I'd like a high floor office in the Shard and a private corporate jet. They'd undoubtedly boost my productivity a few percent but for some reason the logistics team don't feel compelled to provide them for me within their budget.
The fact that I can visit the Shard observation deck or buy flights online from a variety of vendors has yet to move them to meet my expectations.
The catering staff won't even bring a muay thai to my back garden when its sunny!
How dare business segments make decisions based on strategic objectives rather than to validate individual staff members.
Re: When it was started, a $40 tablet was outlandishly low
'Leaving it to the market can't ensure that.'
I'm not 100% sure that's true. The 'market' is certainly overhyped by some people (and over-criticised by others), but actually I'd extend your accurate analysis that a $40 device aimed at the indian working class needs to be robust with the further point that a local tech support market is critiically required.
A fairly unregulated market has expanded mobile phone ownership in India to include people with no access to basic sanitation. Nokia, in particular, are thriving because their 5 and 10 year old designs are both dirt cheap to produce, robust and, vitally, well understood by local tech firms who have been selling, supporting and fixiing them for years.
Bringing in a bespoke, low-cost and feature rich tablet poses the danger of confusing both the target audience (though as they're kids they're likely to be able to get to grips with almost anything in a matter of minutes through trial and error) and also the support industry that can mitigate against the likelihood that it will go wrong a lot. If noone knows how to fix it, the project will go wrong even further on delivery than it has in planning.
In this case it's a (presumably) well meaning effort to circumvent the market that is likely to ensure failure.
Scamming a casino out of big money takes cojones. Being the on-the-ground frontman for the scam even more so.
If he has a mysterious accident or decides that life isn't worth it in the next year or two then I don't see anyone being too surprised.
just where could it go?
I can see how the AWS model is a capex free way to grow their business to scale, but with a few years of reliable multi-million user traffic stats I'd think they could save a pile over 5-10 years by building their own datacentres. I'd be surprised if they're not already recruiting with that in mind for the long term.
The big thing you'd need to make that possible is a pool of developers who are familiar with and enthusiastic about your software and the kinds of problems you need to solve so that you can rapidly replicate the AWS features you rely on in an inhouse setup. I wonder how they could solve that?
Oh, look, they're running a competition.
'But sneaking it out in the hope no one will notice, and then screwing up connectivity for all, just makes the whole industry look shabby.'
Nah. It makes Virgin look shabby.
Tarring everyone with the same brush actually makes it more likely to happen. If people think they're all the same as Virgin then why bother moving?
Caps and traffic shaping are inevitable in the mobile data industry because of the precarious economics of the service, but its rare things are handled this badly, so Virgin deserve all of the good PR which follows.
So let me get this straight
For the same price as a MacBook Air you get something that Apple fans will laugh at because, despite having no onboard storage, it's too heavy (among several other things) and non-Apple fans will laugh at because it locks you into an even more restrictive eco-system than Apple's.
I wonder if Google are doing this just to get a small but valuable list of morons who'll buy absolutely anything then target them with super-premium advertising.
This issue isn't unusual to computer science
The legal system and our informal cultural norms are exactly the same.
The theoretical elegance of beginning anything from a blank page is trumped by the practical utility of working with what's already there and tinkering where necessary.
Thats why we're still nominally subjects of a monarch, why non-christians frequently celebrate christmas and why company policies and procedures rarely bear any relation to the actual workings of the firm.
Why anyone would want to share their every mundane thought is beyond me
Why anyone would listen even more so.
But neither is as baffling as why anyone would think that prosecuting them is a good idea.
If someone says something that indicates they're guilty of a crime, prosecute them. If someone says something that itself may be a crime then absent very narrow and clearly defined circumstances (such as sharing legally privelaged information) we need to change the law so that it isn't.
Prejudices of all sorts are nasty and dumb, but making them illegal is the thin end of a very alarming wedge.
That Google story is amazing
Given that a lot of their value falls in decisions they could only make as a small outfit starting from scratch, the most likely scenario if Excite had bought would be them screwing it up and noone ever knowing Google existed.
Whatever anyone's thoughts on Google a world without them is hard to imagine.
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