Will technological innovation ever end?

By Confusion on Sunday 19 April 2009 11:16 - Comments (10)
Categories: Science, Technology, Views: 2.497

Sometimes people seem to make sense, but when you think about it a bit longer, you discover they're just rambling. Take What if our tech is good enough. Based on observations of the sales of Blue-Ray discs, Windows Vista and some other technological advancess, the author concludes that the improvements these technologies offer are too small to attract consumers and consequently there is no more room for innovation. The article ends rather abruptly, but the unspoken implication is that the manufacturers are doomed and that, perhaps, even technology in general has reached an endpoint.

Given the examples (though not all of them), that seems to make sense: at some point something is just so good that you couldn't wish for a better version. If you can't buy a better version of something that will work for twenty years, then the number of products sold will decline fast and the manufacturer has a problem. However, that line of though misses three important points
  • Every product has always reached a mature phase and manufacturers are usually prepared for that to happen. There haven't been major improvements in world receiver radio's for quite some time, but they are still being produced and sold.
  • When the improvement upon the previous model decreases, the time to general adoption grows. This is usually because the price lowers with time and the cost-benefit ratio increases. If the time grows too large, steps may be skipped: 100GB video discs may well be the next big thing, even if blu-ray fails.
  • It is about perceived improvement more than about real improvement. Did I actually need this 32" LCD television? Is it actually that much better than my previous 24" CRT version? I don't think so, yet I bought it.
Therefore, we can conclude that the author was just following a train of thought that he didn't follow far enough. The rather abrupt end indicates that he should have expanded upon his thoughts or should have thrown the article away and written about something else.

Nevertheless, this does leave us with one really interesting question: will there ever be a time when no technological improvements are marketable anymore? When you have your range of Star Trek technology: holosuite, replicator, spaceship, transporter, ..., would there still be a consumer market for new technology? If not, then the question is when the effective end would be reached.

Thoughts on telecommuting

By Confusion on Thursday 16 April 2009 21:00 - Comments (2)
Category: Software engineering, Views: 2.309

The author of an interesting Nerd Handbook had some thoughts on working remote. He hits a few important nails, that should be on the mind of everyone that works remote, has co-workers working remote or supervises people working remote. As often, the Hacker News comments are also worthwhile.

We should be able to fire politicians.

By Confusion on Saturday 04 April 2009 12:32 - Comments (13)
Category: Politics, Views: 2.527

Freakonomics reports on a proposal by an Oregan representative to tax bike ownership:
bikes have used the roads in this state forever and have never contributed a penny
As dozens of readers at Freakonomics point out:
  • Cycling hardly cause any wearing of roads
  • Driving a bicycle instead of a car greatly reduces the costs of the transportation to society. If anything, cyclists should be subsidized
  • Everyone already contributes to bicycle infrastructure, in the same way they contribute to infrastructure for pedestrians: are they going to tax people for owning shoes as well?
  • In fact, to add insult to injury, cyclists already do not 'use up' their share of expenses, by paying for the -- much more expensive -- infrastructure for motorized transportation via al kinds of general taxes.
In short, this proposal is just stupid. A lawmaker that proposes it is either too dumb to think of these reasons for himself or simply doesn't care and just seeks some way to impose an additional tax on the people. Either way, he's not fit to do his job and it would be good if we were able to force replacement of such people.