June 1, 2014

Who’s Social Now?

Filed under: Business, Consumer, Jewish Organizations, Parenting, Social Media — marcstober @ 2:41 pm

So this was an interesting tweet:

There are times when I wish the religious organizations I’ve been involved with would take some marketing lessons from the retail world. But, sometimes, we should value what we’re doing better: community and social stuff. I mean, the Jewish world is in the business of giving people a way to find community and social on Friday night as we have been for thousands for years. Businesses trying to add community and social features to their website are WAY behind at what community really means.

Indeed, I came across this tweet because I was ordering labels for kids going to summer camp. I am going to let the nonprofit Jewish summer camp meet some our family’s needs for community and social. Try as they might, the e-commerce company trying to be social seems a little forced. But they probably make good labels.

July 8, 2012

Seeking Upside: Why I Care About Intellectual Property (and a Recent Court Decision)

Filed under: Business, Consumer, Economics, Information Politics, Politics, Software Blog — marcstober @ 9:54 am

I’ve long been a fan of open-source software. First of all, because you don’t have to pay for it, and who isn’t a fan of free? Second, even compared to closed-source free software, I prefer open, because I can rely on it. I might never look at the source code, but knowing that one can gives me some assurance that there isn’t anything bad (spyware, viruses) hiding and that I can continue using the software even if the original author stops providing upgrades or takes his business in a different direction.

Like a lot of other people in the technology industry, I aslo tend to see free software as something more than that, as a moral good, and intellectual property (IP) rights like a dangerous weapon that needs to be controlled. (With apologies to the NRA: “Patents and copyrights don’t kill innovation, patent and copyright holders do.”)

And after a lot of reflection on the matter, I’ve figured out why I feel this way: I have no personal upside. I don’t make money from IP rights. And on the downside, and I can lose money when others decide to exercise their IP rights. That doesn’t seem fair.

Here’s a thought experiment: If, like a songwriter represented by ASCAP, I got regular royalty checks for each line of code still in production that I’d written at some job years ago, would I feel differently? Or if I was guaranteed an on-screen credit and chance at an Oscar like a union technician in a Hollywood movie?

But I’m not complaining. I have a good job and make a decent living. If I stop working for my current employer, they own that work I’ve done, and that seems fair; I was reasonably paid for providing a service. But, while I’m not making money from licensing IP, I still have the downside of costs and risk of licensing it from others.

And writing software is, in my opinion, providing a service. Software has a pretty short half-life, and whether you hire developers to write software to use or to sell, you need to keep developers on the payroll to be valued as a software shop. No one is making money selling two-year-old software, at least not without ongoing investment in upgrades and support.

Judge Richard Posner of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago came to basically the same conclusion recently:

Advances in software and other industries cost much less, he said, and the companies benefit tremendously from being first in the market with gadgets — a benefit they would still get if there were no software patents. “It’s not clear that we really need patents in most industries,” he said. “Also, devices like smartphones have thousands of component features, and they all receive legal protection. You just have this proliferation of patents,” Posner said. “It’s a problem.”

via Judge Posner: U.S. patent system out of sync – chicagotribune.com.

It was wonderful to see our legal system take this view, which I’d usually associate with underdog advocates who can’t actually afford a day in court.

I’m not against all forms of intellectual property or its strict enforcement. I don’t support piracy or counterfeiting; that’s legally and morally wrong and I think it’s unfortunate that the cause of online freedom sometimes gets mixed up in defending it. Nevertheless, I see IP as a modern policy construct, not in the same category as the biblical “thou shalt not steal.” A purpose of IP is to encourage investment in innovation by providing investors with a better return, and laws should be calibrated so they’re fair to all.

Perhaps I need to find a way to own some IP that can generate some returns. Then again, perhaps creating IP, not owning it, is more fun.

Creative Commons License
This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

October 17, 2010

The real cost of free | Cory Doctorow | Technology | guardian.co.uk

Filed under: Business, Economics, Information Politics, Software Blog — marcstober @ 10:38 am

I tend to buy this argument…

What should other artists do? Well, I’m not really bothered. The sad truth is that almost everything almost every artist tries to earn money will fail. This has nothing to do with the internet, of course. Consider the remarkable statement from Alanis Morissette’s attorney at the Future of Music Conference: 97% of the artists signed to a major label before Napster earned $600 or less a year from it. And these were the lucky lotto winners, the tiny fraction of 1% who made it to a record deal. Almost every artist who sets out to earn a living from art won’t get there (for me, it took 19 years before I could afford to quit my day job), whether or not they give away their work, sign to a label, or stick it through every letterbox

via The real cost of free | Cory Doctorow | Technology | guardian.co.uk.

June 23, 2010

How Becoming a Chevrolet Owner is Changing My Design Ethic

Filed under: Business, Cars, Consumer, Design, Economics — marcstober @ 7:50 am

I feel there is a very different design ethic now that I have the GM car.

I saw that Chevrolet is doing a program to sponsor training for first responders to learn how to extricate people from their upcoming electric car with the Jaws of Life, etc.

There are two ways to look at it. Toyota finds ways to be Lean about everything, and it makes a lot of money, and makes GM look old and stupid.

On the other hand, GM over-engineers things. And so the Volt comes out years behind the Prius, for maybe more money. But for all that extra time they will actually have a car that is a lot more efficient. They are probably losing money because they do things like training for rescue personnel that might not contribute to the bottom line (but if you’re the one in a wreck, it’s good they did)!

Similarly, with our car, the way the radio is all integrated with everything from the driver’s side door to the OnStar system, it’s like – this is not the simplest, leanest way to do it. It has to be more complex and require exponentially more engineering to get right. But the end result is a car that might successfully argue against the “KISS” (keep it simple, stupid) principle. Which is really interesting to me, since I engineer complicated things professionally.

October 25, 2009

Slate Discusses the Economics of Apple Picking

Filed under: Business, Economics, Elsewhere, Food — marcstober @ 8:31 pm

Especially now that I am allergic to apples it feels very much like going to a low-budget amusement park. The horticulture is better at Disney World or Storyland anyway:

Apple picking is a cherished rite of fall, a wholesome and fun family outing, a throwback to a simpler time when people weren't so disconnected from the production of their sustenance. I look forward to it every year. It's also a wasteful scam.

via What pick-your-own-apple orchards teach about the American economy. – By Daniel Gross – Slate Magazine.

December 31, 2008

Madoff, Evidence, and Confidence

Filed under: Business, Economics, Judaism — marcstober @ 8:31 am

If we’re going to learn from the Bernie Madoff scandal it needs to be this: Some people suspected him all along. So why did people keep giving him money?

He was a true con man, because he had investors’ confidence. There are two ways to make decisions: either you have evidence to make a rational, scientific decision; or you rely on instinct and trust. The hard part is that you rarely can gather enough evidence to make a scientific decision on your own; especially in complicated, important decisions. Gadflies abound who tell us any successful corporation, drug, zoning change, or other powerful person will ruin our economy/enviroment/health, so what’s to say Madoff’s critics weren’t just jealous competitors?

Maybe we need look at how so many Jewish investors were defrauded. Being Jewish doesn’t give you any special power with money. Let me repeat this: Being Jewish doesn’t give you any special power with money. Nefarious stereotypes aside, I suspect these investors simply placed their confidence in a fellow Jew. Even more likely, they placed their confidence not just in Madoff, but in the fact that investors like themselves (in certain Jewish social circles) trusted him. People misplace trust like this constantly–how many people believe that asking a friend, neighbor or co-worker is the best way to find a plumber or a dentist? I think this is confusing general trustworthiness with whom to trust for a specific decision. You might give someone the key to your house, but should you trust them over your doctor for medical advice?

I’m not sure what would have helped Madoff’s investors, but the rest of us should remember to trust what we hear but also get the facts.

December 19, 2006

(Not) Investing in Computer Security

Filed under: Business, Software Blog — marcstober @ 2:20 pm

If you read eWeek or listen to some other people enough you are bound to start believing that the world is on the verge of some major computer security meltdown. But when a former UBS network administrator damaged computer systems in a plan to affect the company’s stock price, the expected financial gain didn’t happen. Are the computer security systems that vendors would sell us to prevent this type of thing not responding to the right threat? In a world where we have more information and copies of that information than we can handle, does losing some of it really matter if you can recover the important parts?

October 11, 2006

Paying for something when you can get it for free

Filed under: Business, Software Blog — marcstober @ 3:22 pm

Are companies rejecting open-source software because it’s free? I don’t think so.

Companies (and non-profits) like to cut costs. They do not pass over free (as in dollars) anything if it will meet their needs. Getting companies—particularly small companies—to pay for support on something that’s not broken is a hard sell.

I just read in the Register about SpikeSource, whose business is to charge a subscription for “certified” versions of software you can download for free. The article says this will be valuable to “SME end users,” but I wouldn’t bet on it. Small businesses will find more valuable uses for their cash.

There’s a myth that companies don’t use open source software because it’s free. In my experience, the commercial competitor actually needs to offer some additional feature or service. If there’s a company that will pay for something they can get for free, I’d like to know about it.

September 11, 2006

New England Mobile Book Fair

Filed under: Business, Newton, Software Blog — marcstober @ 4:04 pm

We finally stopped into New England Mobile Book fair this past weekend. (Perhaps motivated by a comment I made about independent bookstores recently on another blog). I can’t believe I’ve never been in there before! (Admittedly, we just moved to the neighborhood.) It’s a typical old Boston sort of place: one part erudite, one part improvised, making you feel like you’re in college regardless of your age. Just stacks and stacks of unfinished wood shelves in which some sense of order had evolved, but not from any sort of master plan-o-gram.

I bought Jeff Nathan’s Family Suppers cookbook. I’m especially excited to try his recipe for cooking kielbasa and sauerkraut; hopefully it will be a good kosher way to keep alive the Polish-Catholic part of my heritage. I was also looking for Beyond Fear by Bruce Schneier, but couldn’t find it—they have a lot of books but not necessarily easy to find just one.

(You know what? I’m not going to link the above titles to Amazon.com pages or anywhere else. I gave you the author and title. That used to be enough—you can look it up yourself! Maybe even at the library.)

Anyways I wonder if these independent bookstores are doing themselves in. Most books here are 20% off. How do they handle that? By scanning the books and having the discount price display automatically? By have a “20% off” button on the register? No…the cashier has to look up the price for each book on a tiny little card that translates list prices to discount prices.

I still wonder if the store has anything to do with those mobile book fairs that would come to the school cafeteria a couple times a year when I was a kid.

August 5, 2006

Complex Business Strategies vs. the Capital Market

Filed under: Business — marcstober @ 7:54 am

This was interesting: a report from the Olin business school at Washington University (where I took some classes in college) says that complex strategies work best but aren’t valued by the market. So you mean that a simple twist like sell groceries–but online! will get you investments, but won’t neccessarily be a sucessful company? Well I guess we all know the answer to that one but it’s good to see serious research confirm it. The idea that the public-held “conglomerates” I remember from youth (does anyone else remember the “we’re Beatrice” advertising?) have been replaced by private equity firms is an interesting idea.