Sunday, 31 October 2010

Nick Cohen On Google

Oh Dear...
Google spokesmen say that they are not selling the information on to junk mail companies and they will destroy the data they've collected when they find time to get round to it. Google was inadvertently breaking into networks without their owners' consent, they said, because collecting the positions of Wi-Fis allowed them to triangulate locations and produce better directions for mobile phone owners using Google Maps, which, in turn, will allow Google to generate more advertising revenue.
What was that saying about ignorance? Better to shut the fuck up and be thought an ignorant twat about computers than to write about it in the Guardian and remove all doubt?

Google weren't "breaking into networks". What they did was to record information that was floating around unencrypted in the ether, the equivalent of someone walking past a table in a pub where someone had carelessly left a document lying around showing details of a merger between 2 companies and mentally recording that fact (before going off to buy some shares).
A fall will inevitably follow such hubris. Apple supplanted Microsoft because consumers thought it the more friendly and anti-establishment company. Users do not have to believe that Google is evil for it to suffer an identical fate. They just need to think that it, too, is a part of an establishment that wishes to exploit them. As soon as they do, the search engine that will break Google's monopoly will be waiting for their custom. Just one click of the mouse away.
Supplanted? Apple has 5% of the PC market share, and its phone market share is slipping to Android. Which is created and run by.... Google.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Is the movie industry actually... an industry?

I was just looking at the news and I noticed that Jackass 3D had taken $50m at the US box office in a weekend. It cost $20m to make.

The simple rule is that a movie is a hit if the box office gross is 3 times the budget, so my guess is that they'll be a certified hit by next weekend.

Which begs the question... why aren't more people making Jackass-type movies? Or if you look at certain genres of movies, they seem to make money hand-over-fist. Critics might like Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee, but they actually never make much money. The movies that make the best returns are horror and teenage movies. You don't need an expensive cast for something like American Pie, yet there's a huge teenage audience for it.

My theory is that a lot of movies get backed by people who are drawn into the glamour of Hollywood, rather than on making a return. Thoughts?

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Philip Green's Somewhat Bizarre Report

Download from here

Now, I sort of get what he's saying... If you're BHS or Tesco, you can use your size to gain more purchasing power and save heaps of money:-

There is no standard specification across departments.
•We found the following variations in price for laptops: Highest price: £2,000 Lowest price: £353 Differential: 82%.
•At this level of volume, the Government should buy direct from a multinational manufacturer.
So, what you then end up with is a centralised Department of Computer Purchasing which buys computers for everyone. The manager at a council puts in his 25 page, triplicate request into the department who then process the request and send out the laptop.

Is it going to save any money? Well, no.

The real problem that Green doesn't understand is that there's a huge difference in how retail sets its incentives and how government sets incentives. Something goes wrong in government and the press will be all over you, public enquiries and so forth. Make your department 3 times more efficient than the next guy? No-one cares.

So no-one in that purchasing department is really going to care because everyone above them and below them is spending other people's money. In fact, if they get tight on budget they can then plead poverty and ask for more next year.

That laptop isn't just expensive now. It's expensive + the expense of hiring some more bureaucrats to order it + the cost of the paper trail + the extra delay to people trying to do their job.

I've seen these things in large companies vs small ones, where the small company I worked for ordered PCs from Dell for less than the large company with its supposedly excellent buying power. Why? Because my boss owned the company and got me to spend 5 minutes shopping around for a PC. He cared about the price which some middle manager doesn't care that much about because he's spending his own money.

So, what's the solution to government spending? It's quite simple:-

  1. Privatise everything that can be made competitive. Let the public buy things. They'll soon find value.
  2. Reduce the laws and taxes to be as simple as possible. That way government has less to do.
  3. Take out all unneccessary functions of government. You want arts, you pay for them.
  4. Make government more accountable. If something is delivered locally, then people vote for it locally.
Other than that, accept that those last remaining parts of government will piss money away. I've read reports around the world, and no-one has cracked how to make government efficient, except by trimming it down, or giving the public quite direct powers to fire the useless.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Lansley Goes to War

And jolly good, say I. The BMA, as the trade union of doctors has a quite typical response to a bit of competition:-
Dr Meldrum said: ‘The BMA has given very careful consideration to these wide-ranging proposals, and we hope the government will demonstrate that it really does want doctors to be in the driving seat by listening to what doctors are telling them. 
‘Doctors want to build on the principles of the NHS, and to maintain and improve services despite the hugely challenging financial climate. 
‘However, success depends on working in partnership with others, a holistic approach to care and a reduction in bureaucracy. The insistence on a market-based approach risks fragmentation, inefficiency and increased transaction costs.’
The problem is that there isn't a scrap of evidence anywhere in the world that says that more competition causes inefficiency, and I challenge the BMA to produce some. Introducing competition into the opticians market in the 80s is what gave us cheaper spectacles from Specsavers. Competition for airlines gave us cheaper fares. More recently, the arrival of Firefox on the browser arena is what gave us better, faster, safer internet browsers. Microsoft had disbanded the Internet Explorer team because they didn't need to make it any better.
As I like to tell people here, I would have fired a couple of people who dealt with a health problem of mine, if I had a choice, and I like the idea that they wouldn't get the gravy but that someone else would instead.

And yes, it works inside organisations too. Tom Peters in In Search of Excellence talked about how certain companies had sales teams competing for the same turf, and they all worked harder as a result and achieved better sales, despite the fact that it looks wasteful to the sort of bureaucrats that run most large companies.

Car Shopping

OK. I'm after a car. Nothing too fancy, a few years old.

But I don't want to go to a garage and do a whole gigantic and ludicrous dance just to knock a grand and a half off. I know that's already factored in to the forecourt price.

What I want is someone to say "Car X costs £Y, that's the price, take it or leave it". But that in exchange for not employing oily sales guys on commission, and instead just employing what's basically a glorified checkout girl, you knock a large chunk off the price. I don't even mind if the ultimate thing of that is that I only get £1400 off, instead of the £1500 I'd have to squeeze off the price if I worked my socks off. Sorry, I'd rather just have that.

So, can anyone recommend a UK based car sales company, someone who'll do this sort of thing?