Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Fresh apricots

We just ate our first fresh apricots of the season. Mmmmmm... reminds me of being a teenager and climbing my grandparents' apricot tree in the backyard, eating apricots right off the tree. Hard to beat that.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Wal-mart and digital music

Wal-mart has taken up the second spot in online music sales, after iTunes. One likely reason for this is that they price tracks at 88¢, rather than everyone else's 99¢. The NPR story on Morning Edition today remarked that this is Wal-mart's typical strategy: undercut on price by taking advantage of economies of scale. But how does that apply to digital music? Where are the economies of scale that Wal-mart is taking advantage of that are not available to other online music sellers like iTunes? It seems to me that digital music levels the playing field, so to speak. The overhead of selling and distributing music online includes application development, server hardware, bandwidth, etc., but it's not clear to me how Wal-mart has any advantage there.

Still, I'm glad to see what may be the beginning of price wars among digital music sellers. Like the commentator, I think the sweet spot for me is somewhere around a quarter a track.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Silly language innovations

It seems that one of the driving forces in (American) English public communication is the search for one-word nouns that encapsulate ideas. Unfortunately, this leads to some very silly innovations, like the one I heard on NPR the other day. They were discussing the recent reports of abuse of Iraqi prisoners, and the fact that the military had outsourced interrogation to private contractors. The reasoning behind this outsourcing was not merely financial, the analyst said, but also because the politically-driven desire to be distanced from such unsavory activities. “It's the politics of it,” said the analyst, “It's the optics of it.”

Optics?!? What does the study of the refraction of light have to do with motivation to outsource interrogation?

Yes, I understood what he meant: that it has to do with how such interrogation appears to people -- with how it looks. Some people would say that's sufficient; after all, he chose a term to communicate his meaning and I understood it, and isn't that what communication is all about? True, but there's a lot more to communication than merely conveying a meaning. The words we choose say something about us and our audience, and I'm not sure I like the connotations of his choice to use “optics” to describe this. It's too much PR. I suppose that's only fitting in a culture like ours where optics appearance is everything...

Monday, May 03, 2004

Bush Democrats?

I just finished reading Orson Scott Card's recent essay at The Ornery American (dictionary.com doesn't recognize the “onnery” pronunciation). Last year, Card called himself a “Tony Blair Democrat,” but it seems from his recent essays that he's really a Bush Democrat: socially conservative, fiscally liberal, and a hawk. Bush certainly hasn't been very fiscally conservative in this term (though he may not be spending the money where Card would prefer).

Is there something to the old saw about becoming more conservative as you grow older?