Tuesday, October 25, 2005

As usual, these guys say it better than I can. In general, though, the thing that kills me is this: what's the difference between 1999 and 2000? The answer: nothing. 2000 has no more significance than 1999. To the brave men and women fighting in Iraq, of course, and as it should be to all Americans, there's no difference between one and 2000.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Someone, please, tell me why the federal government is dictating (let alone subsidizing) a migration to digital TV.

The UN, Saddam, and Al Qaida, all nice and cozy... It doesn't surprise me a bit. This is a complicated read, and shows how convoluted is international financing in general and money laundering specifically. It also points out that removing Saddam Hussein from power was a necessary action, in spite of the Left's rabid and disingenuous disapproval.

Now, the nation-building business is a little more suspect.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Everyone who makes a purchase at Wal-Mart does so voluntarily. Everyone who works there does so of their own free will. The only potentially coercive element in Wal-Mart's business practices are the various "packages" put together by state and local governments to entice Wal-Mart to build stores, which are paid for by taxpayers (and, that's very presumptive on my part; I actually don't know if any such packages are routinely extended).

Anyone who attacks Wal-Mart for paying low wages, utilizing part-time employees, not offering healthcare benefits, driving out smaller businesses, etc., etc. is attacking the very essence of a free society. That is, they attack the ability for individuals to make decisions for themselves--to shop at Wal-Mart and to work there. In doing so, they attack the concept of individual rights at its roots.

One of the more specious arguments against Wal-Mart is that, by not offering healthcare benefits, they push workers into public healthcare. It's fascinating how it is only in this context that so many people discuss the fact that such healthcare is paid for by the rest of us; usually, this fact is ignored when the same folks call for expanding government-provided benefits like healthcare. Of course, in a truly free society, everyone would be responsible for their own healthcare, but such a discussion is beyond the scope of today's post.

A more valid argument could be levied against Wal-Mart for its practice of purchasing so many producs from China. Even this, though, isn't clearly negative. First, the economic impact for the US is positive--we're able to purchase goods at much lower prices, thus freeing up resources for spending in other areas. Second, ultimately, such trade chips away at communism, and improves the standard of living of the Chinese people. Eventually, Chinese wages will rise as their economic conditions improve and their expectations increase, and China will no longer be competing purely on the basis of lower wages.

The attacks against Wal-Mart are a fascinating look into the Left's attack on capitalism in general. Unfortunately, such attacks seem to be getting more common and more aggressive. The Left seems to be more confident for some reason, and that concerns me a bit.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

One fascinating aspect of such Internet phenomenons as blogging and podcasting is how blogs and podcasts are consumed by discussions about blogging and podcasting. At least, so it seems to me, and it seems true of some of the more popular examples in both genres.

Over time, I suppose things will settle down, and the content will matter more than the media. I certainly hope so, because frankly I grow weary of hearing, from bloggers and podcasters, how important blogging and podcasting is supposed to be.

I wonder if there was this much discussion when the horse and buggy made way for the automobile. I suppose there wasn't, simply because blogging and podcasting didn't exist then.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

If anyone doubts that environmentalism is a collectivist ploy to dispose of capitalism in favor of primitive collectives, or maybe that they're really that anti-human, this should shore things up a bit. It may seem a stretch to some, but how else can one account for attacks on wind power as ecologically destructive? Today, they're upset that some birds are killed; next, it'll be microbes.

After all, who are we humans to hold ourselves as more important than bacteria?

Saturday, October 15, 2005

If the UN gains control of the Internet, we can expect our little experiment in instant communications to die an ignoble death. Nice and pithy, this explains why.

Also, it's ironic that the UN would express concern that the US would abuse its power (not having done so in 35 years) in maintaining control over such aspects of the Internet infrastructure as the root DNS, when already many UN members manipulate the Internet inside their borders for political reasons. Consider that China and Iran belong to the working group calling for UN control, two nations that have demonstrated numerous times in the past their abiding love for freedom.

The US created the Internet, and the rest of the world has gone along for the ride for decades now. Let's leave it that way.
Here's one of the more intelligent discussions I've read in awhile on the war on terror. I'm not sure yet whether I agree with it 100%, but it seems to make a good deal of sense.

Friday, October 14, 2005

There's a great deal of buzz surrounding the "oil-for-food" scandal at the UN. Recently, the talk surrounds the issue of Kofi Annan's direct involvement in the scandal. Certainly, this is an important story, particularly as it impacts the UN's reluctance to support the removal of Saddam Hussein.

However, the scandal is ultimately detrimental even to the anti-UN cause, because it serves to obfuscate the fundamental corruption of the UN: by including any and all nations and governments among its members, the UN is necessarily and irredemebly corrupt. It's corrupt on a deeply moral basis, placing dictators and totalitarian regimes on equal footing with free nations (or, as free as exist today). The UN represents moral equivalence on a global scale, and it's a corrupt organization in spite of any specific scandals involving the UN's administrative personnel.

Nevertheless, the scandal does reinforce my opinion that the US should pull out of the UN immediately, ceasing all financial contributions and forcibly removing the organization from our soil. The UN does nothing for us, except place us at the mercy of those very groups that want to destroy us. Only our sanction of the UN, and them along with it, makes such a deplorable situation possible.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The trend toward "municipal Wi-Fi" is disturbing, from a number of perspectives. First, it represents yet another distribution of wealth from those who produce it to those who don't. Second, and in a sense more disturbing, it will chill the private development of alternative and potentially superior solutions.

Certainly, there are those who don't currently utilize the Internet who will, once it's free. There are also those who are currently paying for Internet access, who will switch to the free offering. Companies that have made investments in providing wireless Internet access will lose money, and will pull out of that space. They and other companies will also forego investing money in newer and better technologies, both because of the potential for government to render their investments worthless and the lack of penetration due to those people who will stay with the inferior but free alternative.

Note that this discussion does not apply to the efforts of private (i.e., non-government) companies to offer access, such as Google's project in San Francisco. A private company invests its own money (or that of its investors) with the intention of gaining a return. Either they have a good business plan, and will succeed, or a bad business plan, and will fail. In either case, it's their money that they're investing, and they do so based on free choices with specific return-on-investment objectives.

Government, on the other hand, has no such limitations. Government can spend any amount of money, for any length of time, for any level of service, based on any technology provided by any contracted organization. All decisions are made not based on a desire for profit, but based on fiat. That means, decisions are based not on the desires of paying customers, i.e., those willing and able to spend their money on the service, but rather on some committee's definition of what people "need." It's difficult to imagine a more capricious decision-making model.

Ultimately, we'll all suffer from such activities. Some higher-speed, more efficient, ultimately less expensive technology will be delayed or, possibly, will never be developed because no company will be willing to invest in it. And, given the possibility that government will offer a competitive, "free" service, or at best will sanction a single provider, one can't blame them.

Certainly, a capitalist would disagree vehemently with such programs. But everyone who loves technology, and who recognizes its potential for improving man's life, should be just as opposed to it. Likely, many won't, however, because they simply can't turn down an offer of a free lunch.

There was a time, though, when everyone knew there's no such thing.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Short topic tonight. Basically, this. Did Bush really tell Syria to be a "good neighbor"?!? I suppose he did... Next, he'll be asking Iran if we can all just get along.

At times, things seem just a little surreal.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

I sell document management solutions for a living, and it seems to me that businesses are increasingly interested in migrating their paper documents to digital images. They perceive value in the potential space savings and workflow efficiencies, and are begining to respond more positively to the notion of investing in an archival system (at least).

The challenge lies in overcoming their fundamental ignorance of digital imaging concepts. This is particularly true regarding capture, or the methods by which paper is converted to an electronic analogue and transfered to some backend storage system. They seem to struggle with the notion that scanning and indexing (associating images with key values to enable efficient retreival) is an incrediby labor-intensive task, and often represents a higher cost in labor than the combined cost of the hardware, software, and implementation services.

Consider that, by industry standards, a single scanning operator who performs his own document preparation can be expected to prepare, scan, and index at most 25o pages per hour. In and of itself, this could be considered an unrealistic estimate, depending on the state of the documents being scanned. A simple scanning operation with one scanner would therefore take on average at least 4,000 labor hours to complete a backfile conversion (the process of scanning all existing pages) of 1,000,000 pages. That's a person working full-time for two years.

Most often, when presented with such statistics, potential customers are shocked. Their interest in the project understandably wanes, and in many cases they abandon the project completely. In some cases, the value of electronic storage and retrieval is high enough that day-forward scanning is good enough; eventually, documents in the backfile will go away through sheer attrition.

The point of this discussion is: technology itself is only one side of a sometimes very expensive coin. How technology impacts an organization, and the cost of implementing technology, is often more important than the cost of the technology itself.

Monday, October 10, 2005

I'm fascinated by the comparisons between Microsoft and Google. The basic premise seems to be that Google is what Microsoft was some years ago: powerful and domineering, with a hint of potentially anti-competitive thrown in. What's most fascinating is the presumption that Google is beating Microsoft at its own game, and in the process becoming the "new" Microsoft.

This is so fascinating not because it's true; I doubt that the veracity of the claim could ever be established, since it's based on so many indefinable characteristics. No, it's fascinating because those who make this claim are, I imagine, many of the same people who have attacked Microsoft all these years for being "monopolistic," for utilizing its "market strength" to oppress its customers and unfairly harm its competitors.

At the same time, some of the discussion goes a step further. It implies (or in some cases explicitly states) that Microsoft has grown soft, thus giving Google the opportunity to overtake it. This represents yet another example of the ability of the human mind to compartmentalize and thus simultaneously hold otherwise contradictory concepts: those who support this argument are claiming that Microsoft is both a rabid monopolist requiring governmental action to rein it in, and a middle-aged has-been incapable of competing in a rapidly changing Internet environment.

However, either Microsoft is a monopolist that utilizes its market power to compete unfairly and harm consumers, and thus requires government oversight and intervention, or it is a company whose alleged paranoia in competing so fervently was entirely understandable and logical given the fact that it could, in fact, lose the competition. Stated another way, if Microsoft's failure to respond quickly enough to Google's penetration into its space can result in Microsoft's ultimate downfall, then it should be entirely clear that Microsoft can, indeed, be beaten by a committed and talented opponent. In which case, of course, the monopolistic charges against Microsoft are demonstrably untrue.

Of course, I've known this for years. Microsoft's power stems not from its ownership of 90% of the PC operating system market, nor from it's domination of such spaces as the office suite and Web browser. Rather, it comes (or, perhaps, came) from its various strengths: innovation not in mere product features and benefits, but from the applicability of its software to real business and consumer needs; its support of third-party developers and hardware manufacturers; and highly competent businesspeople who simply made better decisions than their competitors.

There are those who might say that Microsoft is weakened, as intended, by the various government actions taken against it as a monopolist. And certainly, one could presume that Microsoft is foregoing various more aggressive actions for fear of further government intervention. If that's true, though, then it merely proves the point that such government action is wrong on its face: it would mean that Google is succeeding not by its own efforts and abilities, but only because it has benefited from government intervention. One is left unable to know whether Google could ever beat Microsoft on a level playing field, and one is also left wondering why so many other companies have failed under similar circumstances.

Personally, I don't believe that Microsoft has been seriously hindered by the attacks against it over the last few decades. Rather, I think that Google vs. Microsoft will reveal the truth that companies win or lose base on their own abilities. I look forward to the fight.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

It looks like Serenity will have had another bad showing this weekend. A 51% drop at the box office hurts; I'm far less hopeful for a sequel, let alone two.

Then again, given Wash's death, I'm not sure that I'm all that concerned about seeing more. The death was unnecessary, and seemed more than a little capricious.* It was also disheartening: it demonstrated a certain Naturalistic streak in Joss Whedon that disappointed me, and that ultimately detracts even from my complete enjoyment of the Firefly series itself.

Yes, people die, and they often die in random and meaningless ways. And, certainly, seeing Wash die disabused me of any illusions that the main characters were untouchable as they headed into the final scenes (in a way that Book's death didn't, perhaps because it happened so much earlier in the movie, and because it happened for a reason). There's no doubt that it heightened the sense of drama for me, which may have been Whedon's purpose.

However, I don't go to movies simply to experience another expression of reality; I go to see things as they can and should be. Nor do I go merely to be manipulated by cheap tricks. There are many other ways that Whedon could have impressed upon me the deadly nature of the situation, if the presence of rabid cannibals weren't already enough.

No, I went to see Serenity, as I imagine many other fans did, primarily because I missed the characters as I miss good friends. Seeing one of them die in so meaningless a fashion was nothing but a shock. It contributed nothing to my enjoyment of the film, nor did it manage to generate closure given the series's unfinished business. Instead, it merely left me with a bad taste.

There are other, deeper philosophical issues that I have with the movie, including the seeming transformation of the Alliance from an evil, totalitarian government to one with merely too heightened a sense of caring. However, Wash's death was the principle reason why I didn't go see the movie again; given its performance at the box office, I somehow doubt that I'm the only one.

*I'm not too worried about spoilers at this point, for a couple of reasons. First, I doubt that anyone (at all) will read this. Second, anyone for whom this is truly a spoiler will likely have already seen the movie, and if they haven't, I doubt that it's any longer a secret.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Welcome to the Daily Topic. This is a daily blog, whose only purpose (at this point) is to serve as a mechanism for me to put something down each and every day. It might be insightful, inspired, powerful, or it might be pure drivel. Given my time constraints lately, it'll likely tend toward the latter.

No matter. As long as there's a post (or, more than one; there's no limit), the blog is succeeding. Things like traffic, like people actually visiting the site to read what I write, would be pure gravy. Writing is the goal, not readership. Should I accomplish my greater objective--that is, to become a professional writer--then this site will most likely be abandoned. Such would be to no great loss, I'm sure...

So, without further ado: welcome to the Daily Topic. If you do happen to wander over here, I welcome your comments, good or bad.