Archive for the 'Business' Category

How Bing Was My Valley

HOW BING CROSBY AND THE NAZIS HELPED TO CREATE SILICON VALLEY

How Bing and his influence in the recording industry helped to enable modern technology.

Bonus commentary on how the new “crooning” was a bad influence on the young. Nothing ever changes.

Apple in Hell

Matt Groening’s Artwork for Apple

For anyone unfamiliar, Apple hired Groening to produce illustrations for a brochure about Macs that was aimed at college students. At the time, Groening was best known as the artist of the comic Life in Hell, as The Simpsons has not yet premiered. The brochure was titled, ‘Who Needs a Computer Anyway’ and interspersed Groening’s Life in Hell style illustrations with standard information on Apple’s Mac computers.

I Spy, With My Mannequin’s Eye

Bionic Mannequins Spy on Shoppers to Boost Luxury Sales

“Any software that can help profile people while keeping their identities anonymous is fantastic,” said Uché Okonkwo, executive director of consultant Luxe Corp. It “could really enhance the shopping experience, the product assortment, and help brands better understand their customers.”

While some stores deploy similar technology to watch shoppers from overhead security cameras, the EyeSee provides better data because it stands at eye level and invites customer attention, Almax contends.

A few interesting peripheral observations about the concern that customers are being profiled and whether that constitutes an invasion of privacy. I think it’s similar to resistance to the photo-radar and red-light cameras I’ve seen here in the US: for some reason, when a person does it it’s acceptable but when a camera is involved, it becomes objectionable. People can observe you in stores, and it’s not like this information is private — anyone can estimate your age group, determine your gender (unless you’re Pat) and make a guess as to your racial makeup. (Though if you knew the greeter at the store was doing that and recording it, you’d probably find it to be creepy). So I wonder if there will be any formal objections, or if it will fall under the rubric of “irksome technology” mentioned at the end of the article.

Visa, Visa, Who’s Got a Visa

I’ve linked to some articles on H-1B visas before and it’s fair to say I’m not a huge fan because it seems obvious to me that the system has morphed into a loophole for letting businesses hire cheap foreign labor and drive down wages under the pretense of the lack of domestic workers. I have a hard time reconciling the arguments that we have a scientist glut with the cries of businesses who can’t find STEM workers and need to import them.

Well, it seems that IBM is one of the more blatant abusers of the system

More Proof that Visa Abuse Is Instinctive at IBM

IBM: “The Cost Difference Is Too Great for the Business Not to Look for” H-1B Workers

Companies are willing to ignore available Americans even when they say they “urgently” need workers.

H-1B workers are cheaper than Americans — “and the cost difference is too great” for IBM not to look for foreign workers first. The H-1B statutes are designed to allow employers to legally pay H-1B workers less than Americans and IBM (and a lot of others) is taking full advantage.

The H-1B visa quotas are important — IBM would only hire Americans when “visa-ready resources” were not available. The quotas put in place a stopping point where employers can no longer ignore American applicants.

The Modern Soylent Green: The People are the Product

By now we’re pretty used to being the product, as many of us participate in online activities like Facebook or Twitter, and/or photo-sharing sites, where we provide the content. (On some of those sites, what we post actually becomes the property of the host. Read carefully!) Here’s another example of being the product:

Each tile has a capacity of 6 watts, but in order to use the tile’s full capacity, there needs to be a constant flow of about 50 steps / minute.

The reality is that the tiles are seeing about 5 steps / minute, and on a good day, the kinetic sidewalk will generate about 75 watt-hours of electricity. This is equivalent to powering an old 60-watt incandescent lightbulb for about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Let’s start with the obvious: one could take the view that this is stealing. Someone is taking work you (the actual physics definition of work, at that) and using it without paying you. It’s also being advertised as being green and self-sustainable. It also needs to be cost-effective. Is it?

Let’s run the numbers. The pad flexes ~5mm when you step on it, so that’s about 5 Joules of work for a mass of 100 kg, so that’s roughly in agreement with the 50 steps/min giving 6 Watts, assuming high efficiency. 75 W-h is 270 kJ of energy. At an electricity rate of $0.12 per kWh, this represents a penny of electricity. A penny. The device has to be less than 100% efficient and your body’s conversion of food into the energy being harvested certainly isn’t (I’ll assume around 25%), so at 4.18 kJ per Calorie, the people providing this energy collectively burned about 270 Calories, which came from the food they ate. The cost of that food can vary widely, but it’s going to be on order of a dollar, making this system’s cost efficiency about 1%. (This won’t change at higher power production, either) And here’s where (and why) the claims of “green energy” fall apart. Touting human power as green is dubious, because you don’t know where the food came from, but odds are it’s not all that “green”, and to tout this as a replacement — at 1% efficiency — means that the people providing the energy need to have 1/100 of the carbon footprint of the raw electricity. Transporting the food, preparing it, etc. has to be greener than the energy it replaces by a factor of 100, and there’s no way it is. This is a misdirection, moving the carbon footprint issue out of immediate sight, asking us to pay no attention to the carbon footprint behind the curtain. Human power is not green — the only time it works is if you are harnessing energy that would otherwise be wasted, similar to regenerative braking on electric cars. Is it cost-effective? I couldn’t find a credible price anywhere, save for a promised target of$50 per tile once production ramps up. Installation is probably the largest cost, along with some infrastructure of wiring, batteries and an inverter. At the target traffic load giving an output of 6 Watts, even if the traffic were present all day long, that’s 1 kWh per week per tile. At $0.12 per kWh saved, that’s just barely$6 a year in electricity savings. The tiles were installed at a tube station at the Olympics and generated just 20 kWh from 12 tiles. The olympics ran 16 days (the story says two weeks); it’s ballpark agreement either way. 20 kWh is $2.40 of electricity. Unless I’m missing something, there’s no way this is cost-effective. You can pay for it out of your advertising budget, raising awareness of, well, something, since it’s not green, which means it’s just a gimmick. Give Me a Pallet and I Can Move the World The Single Most Important Object in the Global Economy Companies like Ikea have literally designed products around pallets: Its “Bang” mug, notes Colin White in his book Strategic Management, has had three redesigns, each done not for aesthetics but to ensure that more mugs would fit on a pallet (not to mention in a customer’s cupboard). After the changes, it was possible to fit 2,204 mugs on a pallet, rather than the original 864, which created a 60 percent reduction in shipping costs. There is a whole science of “pallet cube optimization,” a kind of Tetris for packaging; and an associated engineering, filled with analyses of “pallet overhang” (stacking cartons so they hang over the edge of the pallet, resulting in losses of carton strength) and efforts to reduce “pallet gaps” (too much spacing between deckboards). The “pallet loading problem,”—or the question of how to fit the most boxes onto a single pallet—is a common operations research thought exercise. Double-Dough Seven The Business of Bond There’s an “adjust for inflation” button. Click that. Don’t worry — it doesn’t engage the ejector seat. A Taste of Honey A Beekeeper’s Perspective on Risk Here’s another lesson by analogy: No queen bee is under pressure for quarterly pollen and nectar targets. The hive is only beholden to the long term. Indeed, beehives appear to underperform at times because they could collect more. But they are not designed to maximize current returns; they are designed to prevent cycles of feast and famine (a death sentence in the natural world). They concentrate their foraging on the most lucrative patches but keep an exploratory force in the field that will ensure future revenue sources when the current ones run dry. This exploratory force (call it an R&D expenditure) increases as conditions worsen. Interesting perspective. Quite the opposite of what many businesses are doing these days. This Does Not Constitute a Recommendation to Buy Electricity generated from water: BlackLight Power announces validation of its scientific breakthrough in energy production The “validation” here is that they got some money for further development, and this is reported on a business site. Getting backers does not preclude them being, as Bob Park has put it, “investors with deep pockets and shallow brains”. The purported mechanism is the formation of Hydrinos, which is a state in Hydrogen below the ground state. Which is, needless to say, at odds with basic quantum mechanics. BlackLight’s continuously operating, power-producing system converts ubiquitous H2O (water) vapor directly into electricity, oxygen, and a new, more stable form of Hydrogen called Hydrino, which releases 200 times more energy than directly burning hydrogen If it’s “more stable” than regular Hydrogen, one has to wonder why we don’t see it everywhere. Oh, wait, we apparently do: The identity of the dark matter of the universe as Hydrinos is supported by BlackLight’s spectroscopic and analytical results as well as astrophysical observations. Except, of course, that spectroscopy means photons, and dark matter doesn’t interact electromagnetically, because if it did, we’d see it. If you can get to this Hydrino state electromagnetically, why doesn’t it happen spontaneously? We should be up to our armpits in Hydrinos. Dilbert is a Documentary How to completely, utterly destroy an employee’s work life Step 4: Kill the messengers. Finally, if you do get wind of problems in the trenches, deny, deny, deny. And if possible, strike back. Here’s a great example from our research. In an open Q&A with one company’s chief operating officer, an employee asked about the morale problem and got this answer: “There is no morale problem in this company. And, for anybody who thinks there is, we have a nice big bus waiting outside to take you wherever you want to look for work.” Death Star Economics Redux The Death Star Is a Surprisingly Cost-Effective Weapons System [H]ow big is the Republic/Empire? There’s probably a canonical figure somewhere, but I don’t know where. So I’ll just pull a number out of my ass based on the apparent size of the Old Senate, and figure a bare minimum of 10,000 planets. That means the Death Star requires .03 percent of the GDP of each planet in the Republic/Empire annually. By comparison, this is the equivalent of about$5 billion per year in the current-day United States.

Went there first, I did, but not in as much detail.

You Will Not Win This Bid

How Much Would it Cost to build the Death Star?

We began by looking at how big the Death Star is. The first one is reported to be 140km in diameter and it sure looks like it’s made of steel. But how much steel? We decided to model the Death Star as having a similar density in steel as a modern warship. After all, they’re both essentially floating weapons platforms so that seems reasonable.

What? A battleship has to support its own weight and float in the water. That puts an upper an lower bound on its average density. A Death Star is assembled in space. The only thing it has to support itself against is gravitational collapse, and you have sci-fi technologies like tractor beams and force fields and hyperspace travel.

[A]t today’s rate of steel production (1.3 billion tonnes annually), it would take 833,315 years to produce enough steel to begin work. So once someone notices what you’re up to, you have to fend them off for 800 millennia before you have a chance to fight back.

This is the Galactic Republic/Empire, not one planet! I don’t know if there’s a definitive source, but indications are that there are more than a million member worlds with many times that number of colonies.

Oh, and the cost of the steel alone? At 2012 prices, about \$852,000,000,000,000,000. Or roughly 13,000 times the world’s GDP

But, as we see, less steel and many, many planets from which to draw resources.