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Posts Tagged ‘human condition’

The internet is a little like what the medieval ages – lots of herd mentality piling on to anything mildly objectionable, and roving mobs employing the shoot first, ask later. As Donald Knuth once said (I don’t know that it was him, but he’s the George Bernard Shaw of the computer age)- “Computers allow more people to make more mistakes faster than anythings with the possible exception of tequila and handguns.”

So, imagine my surprise when I found e-humanity using its powers for good. In this case, it’s a listing for $8,000  (!!) audio cables (!!!!) on Amazon. Amazonians of all stripes have lined up to write their reviews for this product. The most popular review says

We live underground. We speak with our hands. We wear the earplugs all our lives.
PLEASE! You must listen! We cannot maintain the link for long… I will type as fast as I can.
DO NOT USE THE CABLES!
We were fools, fools to develop such a thing! Sound was never meant to be this clear, this pure, this… accurate. For a few short days, we marveled. Then the… whispers… began.
Were they Aramaic? Hyperborean? Some even more ancient tongue, first spoken by elder races under the red light of dying suns far from here? We do not know, but somehow, slowly… we began to UNDERSTAND.
No, no, please! I don’t want to remember! YOU WILL NOT MAKE ME REMEMBER! I saw brave men claw their own eyes out… oh, god, the screaming… the mobs of feral children feasting on corpses, the shadows MOVING, the fires burning in the air! The CHANTING!
WHY CAN’T I FORGET THE WORDS???
We live underground. We speak with our hands. We wear the earplugs all our lives.

or

With the help of this cable, I can now experience music the way it’s meant to be heard. I find that plugging this directly into my ears helps transmit the cleanest, most pure sound. Make sure you clean your ears out though (with liquefied dark matter, of course), because quality will suffer if your ear-holes aren’t sparkly clean.

Of course, in keeping with the image of economists as a humorless lot conducting the dismal science, we have a gentleman by the name of Eugene Fama (name verified, presumably no relation) reviewing the object as:

It’s speaker wire. It seems to work fine. What else it there to say? I use these as part of my classroom AV set-up. I tape the cables down and run them up the middle of the classroom. So far they have held up without a problem, even with the occasional student stepping on them, or accidentally placing a chair on them and sitting. No issues at all in the month since i set these up.

Update: it has now been 10 months, and still no issues at all. They still work every week for about 20 minutes a week.

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The world of tech journalism seems to divide neatly into two genres: in-depth technical reviews and superficial pieces on an area/technology/platform. I enjoy the former, perhaps due to my preference for reading something aimed at a select club rather than the hoi polloi.

The latter, on the other hand, is almost always an attempt to spin a narrative via tortured analogy. We wrote in the past about what appears to be an overwhelming human need to organize facts into narrative. For tech journalists, it has be a specific narrative:. lean, smart entrant vs previously successful but now bumbling incumbent. We have 3 complaints about this:

Firstly this leads to a repetitive sequence of articles. In the mobile industry, for example, something to the tune of “Will X destroy Y?,” with (X,Y) =(RIM, Nokia), (Apple, RIM), (Android, Apple), (Windows Phone 7, Android) in that order in the previous few years.

Secondly, anything that doesn’t fit this template is systematically ignored. For example, Nokia and RIM have been thoroughly ignored for the past year as the Apple v Android rivalry took centerstage in the mobile world.*

Finally, and most importantly, this isn’t a zero sum game. There are winners and losers, yes. However, contrary to the what the narrative would have you believe, the losers are still pretty well off. For e.g. Yahoo still generates upwards a billion dollars in annual profits. They’re probably not getting to two billion anytime soon- but also probably not plummeting to zero.** And for all the hype (and site visits), Facebook still purportedly makes less than twice that in annual revenues.

So calm down everyone and take a deep breath. Check out the landscape, all the new technology and its applications. Secretly enjoy the Jobs v Gundotra sniping. Just be sure is that if tech companies spent all their time obsessing about competition like the journalists who cover them, rather than focusing on technology, our world would be more Flintstones than Jetsons.

*The RIM/Nokia-baiters would argue this is because they haven’t done anything worth covering, but the Nx/Blackberry Whatever are probably more interesting than whether AT&T Iphone cases fit the Verizon Iphone.

** Carol Bartz’s rather entertaining press conferences notwithstanding.

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Habits in human beings are easily understood. DNA, the kludgey nature of the human brain, and the natural aversion to try something as one grows older all play a part.

With sports teams, though, I do not understand. Why do some (metaphorical) old dogs refuse to learn new tricks? The current example on my mind is, of course, my beloved football team, the Chicago Bears. The Bears have, to put it mildly, a substandard passing offence. One might suspect this is easily fixed – throw some money, hire some talent and all is forgiven. Indeed, the Bears have tried this a few times. But they haven’t had a decent passing offense since the days of Sid Luckman, apparently the only QB in his era to understand the forward pass. And they can’t seem to buy one for love or money.

Several teams, spanning multiple sports, develop (well deserved) reputations over decades for certain inabilities. This is of course well beyond the career of any official, team member or such. For examples, I submit, in no particular order- Indian cricket (fast bowling), South African Cricket (performing at key moments in important games, i.e. not choking), Baltimore Ravens (passing offense), Italian soccer (offense, or so i’m told). [One can develop positive reputations too, I’m just not in a sunny mood since the Halas Trophy went north of Chicago]

So, to summarize, why?*

*With corporations, I can imagine brand image or some other suitably amorphous Bschool concept playing a role. But even there the reasoning is shaky in some cases.

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