Posts tagged ‘HP’

Windows as a Stand-Alone Server

I have written before about how much trouble I had using windows as an unattended server for an application -- in this case for the XBMC video system on my TV's around the house.  No matter what I did, how many tweaks I made, how many websites I checked for advice, within a day or two some application or popup would take control of the screen and send my unattended application to the background.  This would not be such much of a problem if it was just me using it, but with a non-tech-savvy family members trying to interact with the device with a TV remote, it was unacceptable.  Eventually I switched to the Linux version of XBMC in a distribution call Openelec and I have had zero problems since.

I was reminded of all this at the San Diego airport.  They have these big beautiful screens with flight and weather and travel information.  But apparently they have problems making the windows popups go away as well (that's some sort of HP registration message in the window):

click to enlarge

 

The most amazing example I have ever seen was on a giant, giant advertising screen on the front of a casino in Las Vegas, which had a huge windows popup covering whatever ads were supposed to be served up.  I wish I had my camera but I was out jogging at the time.

Update:  A reader sent me this, via gizmodo, from Cowboys stadium

click to enlarge

The Difference Between Private and Public Governance, Part Number Whatever

Let's suppose a Fortune 500 company went through a rancorous internal debate about strategic priorities, perhaps even resulting in proxy fights and such (think Blackberry, HP, and many other examples).  The debate and uncertainty makes investors nervous.  So when the debate has been settled, what does the CEO say?  My guess is that he or she will do everything they can to calm investors, explain that the internal debate was a sign of a healthy response to adversity, and reiterate to the markets that the company is set to be stronger than ever.  The CEO is going to do everything they can to rebuild confidence and downplay the effects of the internal debate.

Here is President Obama today, talking about the budget battle

“Probably nothing has done more damage to America’s credibility in the world than the spectacle we’ve seen these past few weeks,” the president said in an impassioned White House appearance.

Good God, its like he's urging a sell order on his own stock.   I was early in observing the Republican strategy was stupid and doomed to failure, but you have to show a little statesmanship as President.

Postscript:  

Standard & Poor’s estimated the shutdown has taken $24 billion out of the economy.

If this is true, this number is trivial.  0.15% of GDP (and this from someone hurt more than most) loss from a government shutdown about 4.4% of the year (16/365)

Ezra Klein, There Is A Reason You Can't Get An Answer to Your Question

Ezra Klein writes:

For a long time, I took questions about stifling innovation very seriously. So did a lot of liberals. But then I realized that the people making those arguments wanted to do things like means-test Medicare, or increase cost-sharing across the system, and generally reduce costs in this or that way, which would cut innovation in exactly the same way that single-payer would hypothetically cut innovation: by reducing profits.

I also found that I couldn't get an answer to a very simple question: What level of spending on health care was optimal for innovation? Should we double spending? Triple it? Cut it by 10 percent? Simply give a larger portion of it to drug and device manufacturers? I'd be interested in a proposal meant to maximize medical innovation. I've not yet seen one.

The reason he could not get an answer to this very simple question is that it is stupid.  It is a non-sequitur.  It is, as Ayn Rand used to warn, a statist trying to force the argument to conform to his statist assumptions.

Let's take a different example, because medicine is so screwed up by government intervention that it can be confusing.  Let's imagine ourselves in the computer market in 1974.  The market is dominated by IBM mainframes, and innovation at the time was considered to be the penetration of mini computers (not to be confused with PCs, these were really just smaller mainframes) by DEC and HP.

Let's say that for some reason the US government decides it is fed up with the IBM "monopoly" and the high cost of mainframe computing and it wants to take over.  It feels like there is a lot of waste in mainframes as some people are using them for frivolous reasons while other companies who really need them can't afford them.  They might have created review boards to make sure that they thought each dollar spent on computing hardware and software was "worth it."

So, how much spending is needed to maintain innovation?  We know in hindsight that the PC revolution is looming in the next few years.  And in that context, Klein's question is absurd.  The answer is that spending per se, and even profits, in the mainframe computing market were irrelevant to the coming series of innovations.    The necessary preconditions were that entrepreneurs saw that new technology provided potential new value to consumers, and were allowed the freedom to launch these new products in hopes that the value these new products provided would be sufficiently high that consumers would pay enough for them to return their cost of manufacture and development and return them a profit.  Some succeeded, and some failed, but entrepreneurs were allowed to try, despite most "experts" predicting the PC was a silly toy.

Note that computer innovators were not required to trundle into some government computing board to justify the PC and its price, to justify how much, as Klein would say, needed to be spent on PC's.   If in fact they were forced to do so, if Jobs and Wozniak had to fly to Washington to justify the Apple I to the Computing Spending Decisions Board, they would have almost certainly been shot down.  Or told they could sell it but only for $200 and not their initial price of $2000.  We would have never had a PC revolution in a government single payer computing world, no matter how much, as Klein asks, was "spent" by the government.   It is possible that the government might eventually have greenlighted a PC (years later) just as the increasingly bureaucratic IBM did, but can you imagine how frail the PC revolution would would be if only IBM had ever sold PCs, without the slew of competitors that emerged, and if every innovation had to pass the scrutiny of a government review board before it could be launched?   Only a tiny percentage of PC innovation and of what we think of as a PC today, mostly in the basic architecture, ever came from IBM.

The very problem is that when government runs computers or health care, innovation is seen as a cost.  Klein, by asking the question in this way, is betraying exactly what is fundamentally wrong with a single-payer system.  The single-payer tends to think in terms of trying to deliver the current value proposition (ie the 2009 level of health care technology) as cheaply as possible.  The problem is that in 2039, it will still be focused on delivering the 2009 level of health care technology.  For the government -- a new drug, a new procedure, a new test -- these are all incremental costs, to be avoided.  Klein just wants a number he can plug into budget projections to say, "see, innovation is covered."  Its like Wesley Mouch asking John Galt near the end of Atlas Shrugged to tell him what orders to give.

I wrote about it just the other day.  You can see it in everything the Left writes -- increased spending is equated with increased costs which are therefore bad.  They all say that America's health care spending is rising and our per capita spending is higher than other nations and that this rising spending is somehow a problem to be fixed.  But there is a value side of the equation.  What are we getting from the spending?  When you leave out things the health care system can't do anything about (homicides and fatal accidents) Americans have the longest life expectancy in the world.  We are getting something for that extra money.  It is not just "cost" to be contained.  Is a year of life worth an extra $100,000 spending?  Everyone has a different answer, which is why we typically let each individual make these tradeoffs, and why people are uncomfortable having someone in the Post Office make the tradeoff for them.

But, the left will say, we will put really smart people on this board, who are angels of public service, who will make perfect decisions on the price-value tradeoffs of innovation (have you noticed that all their programs seem dependent on this assumption?)  Back to our computer example, these guys, they would argue, would have been smart enough to have given Jobs and Wozniak the green light.  This is a fantasy.  It never happens.  No matter how good the people, every such government entity is driven by its incentives, and this group's incentives will be to cut spending.  Innovations that result in a net total increase in spending are not going to be well-received.

Further, these boards get politicized, always.  Companies will quickly learn they have a better chance, say, of getting a new breast cancer treatment rather than a new prostrate cancer treatment past the board because the current administration is closely tied to women's groups.  Just look at current government R&D spending, this already happens.  AIDS was under-funded given its mortality because Conservative administrations thought it a disease mainly of groups it found distasteful; today, women's cancers get far more funding than men's due to the strong political activism of women's groups and the success of the pink ribbon campaign.  Drug companies will learn that the quickest way to board approval may not be winning over the board, but getting certain interest groups to lobby the board, or maybe lobby Congress to override the board.  Just look at the promise not to politicize ownership of GM -- that lasted about 2 days before Congress was passing legislation reversing internal GM decisions and GM was making plant closures based on political rather than economic concerns.

But even beyond these problems, there are Hayekian ones as well.  In the mid-seventies, there might have been only a few thousand people who were excited enough to buy an early microcomputer and see its potential.  What are the odds that one of those folks would be on the government review board, particularly since few of them were in the mainstream establishment of the computing field (heck, few of them were over 19 years old).  And even if one were on the board, would they have approved a technology with only a few initial adherents?  The fact is innovation often requires adoption of bleeding edge risk-takers who are willing to try a new technology and iron out its kinks before the mainstream catches on.   The iPod was not the first music player -- a few of us struggled for years before the iPod with large and sometimes hard to use early mp3 players  -- but if these early MP3 players had not existed, the iPod would not exist.

Perhaps most importantly, everyone makes different tradeoffs.  It may make perfect sense for some person in Washington that a biopsy is not required for certain kind of positive cancer test results.  This may make perfect price-value sense to the beauracrat, but I know a number of people who would lose months or years of their life to worry -- worry that could be short-circuited with an inexpensive biopsy.   Or consider a new cancer treatment -- is a year of life worth an extra $100,000 spending?  Would I prefer to extend my life through chemo or increase the quality of life of the time I have left by avoiding chemo?   Everyone has a different answer, which is why we typically let each individual make these tradeoffs, and why people are uncomfortable having someone in the Post Office make the decision for them.

One could say that all of this does not answer Klein's question.  That is because his question, built on the wrong premise, is unanswerable.  I suspect he knows this and is, as Brad Warbiany posited in the link above, just setting up a straw man.  All I can do is try to give a feel what what innovation does require, and help folks to understand that it has little if anything to do with Klein's question.

So, if I had to come up with a pithy one sentence answer, here it would be:

Klein:  What level of spending on health care is optimal for innovation?

Me:  The very fact that you intend to control spending centrally, at any level high or low, is what kills innovation.

Postscript: For a totally different reason, I was reading this article on the Russian T-34 tank, probably the best all-around tank for its time ever made when considering its production volume (the Panther was theoretically a better tank but volume production of the scale of the T-34, not to mention mechanical reliability, eluded the Germans).  Apropos of government boards and innovation was this:

The L-11 gun did not live up to expectations, so the Grabin design bureau at Gorky Factory No. 92 designed a superior F-34 76.2 mm gun. No bureaucrat would approve production, but Gorky and KhPZ started producing the gun anyway; official permission only came from Stalin's State Defense Committee after troops in the field sent back praise for the gun's performance.

A Couple of Free SF Short Stories

Tor.com recently went online, and apparently has a new John Scalzi short story from the Old Man's War universe and a new Charles Stross from his very enjoyable "Laundry" series (I have not mentioned the latter series very much, but it is sort of HP Lovecraft meets Men in Black crossed with Office Space.  Really.)

Dear HP

Dear Hewlett-Packard:

I have a quick question.  Why is it you cannot design a paper handler on your printers that will reliably handle your own paper?  I am using HP photo paper, and about every sixth copy I will have two pages stick together in the paper feed, resulting in an off-center image and wasted paper and ink.  Oh.  I think I just answered by own question.

Coyote

Oh The Weather Outside is Frightful...

...not

Today
Dec 23
Mostly Sunny
77°/46°

0%

77°F

Sat
Dec 24
Sunny
76°/45°

0%

76°F

Sun
Dec 25
Partly Cloudy
78°/45°

20%

78°F

Merry Christmas from Paradise Valley and the Coyote Clan!  Every year for our Christmas card, we try to do something unique.  We always end up with a homemade card that costs 10x more than a nice store-bought one.  This year was no exception, burning through any number of expensive HP ink cartridges.  I used a neat free program called Andrea Mosaic that creates a photo mosaic of any picture you choose using a folder full of secondary pictures used as the tiles.  This is a very easy project with the free software and I have found it a sure-fire way to impress people.  Nothing a geek loves more than the reaction of "How did you do that?"

Christmastreeforweb

Also, I think I set the record for most pictures of my kids included in a single Christmas card, with something like 300 in this mosaic.
Update: Actually, I see that this is an older version, since I can see side-by-side picture repeats in the mosaic and in a later version I learned to make the program not do this, but you get the idea.

Great Pitney Bowes Ink Alternative

A while back I wrote about the unbelievably egregious price Pitney Bowes charges for the ink cartridges on its mailing machines:

Today I bought what may be the most expensive consumer printer ink available.  We have a small Pitney-Bowes postage meter
that has a little built in ink-jet printer to print out the metered
postage symbol (that sort of red looking stuff that replaces the
stamp).  One of their little print cartridges doesn't last more than at
most a thousand envelopes, which represents at most the
equivalent of 50 pages of text for a normal printer.  For this little
cartridge with its smidgen of ink, I paid $39.99.  At the same time, I
bought two-paks of the HP cartridges I needed (no bargain themselves)
for $25 per cartridge, and these cartridges last for hundreds of
pages.  I can't directly compare the volume of ink, but my sense is
that the P-B cartridge is priced such that it would be over $500 with
an equivalent amount of ink to an HP cartridge.

A reader named Randy Hooker sent me this email, which read in part:

Read your blog post with glee! Almost four years ago I felt the same and developed alternative ink products for many Pitney machines. Our trademarked name is NuPost.
Google that and you'll see there are hundreds of places to buy.

Just as background on the Pitney machines and ink usage: As these meters print "money" rather than images it is critical that the cartridge have ink available at all times.  So, the meter "purges" the print head on a regular basis to insure performance.
This purging uses massive amounts of ink as compared to the printing of a
single indicia.

The Pitney Bowes published output of the cartridge for your machine is 400
to 600 impressions OR 4 months.  If you do not use the meter at all, the purges will exhaust the cartridge over a 4 month period. Infrequent mailers will get very little value from these cartridges, compounding the total cost of ownership.

He was nice enough to send me a sample, which sat on the shelf and I forgot it (sorry).  Then, the other day, I noticed when I ran some mail that the printing looked a lot better than normal - none of bad banding that is typical.  I opened it up and found Randy's cartridge.  This thing is great - its half the price at OfficeMax of the Pitney Bowes cartridge and actually prints better.  Thanks!  (Many online sources of NuPost cartridges here).

I Thought This Was Just A Lame Conspiracy Theory at First...

I had seen some Internet posts on this before, but I thought it was from the "Aliens were behind the 9/11 attacks" crowd.  But it does appear to really be Big Brother at work:

The pages coming out of your color printer may contain hidden information that
could be used to track you down if you ever cross the U.S.
government.

Last year, an article in PC World magazine pointed out that printouts
from many color laser printers contained yellow dots scattered across the page,
viewable only with a special kind of flashlight. The article quoted a senior
researcher at Xerox Corp. as saying the dots contain information useful to
law-enforcement authorities, a secret digital "license tag" for tracking down
criminals....

Yesterday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco consumer privacy
group, said it had cracked the code used in a widely used line of Xerox
printers, an invisible bar code of sorts that contains the serial number of the
printer as well as the date and time a document was printed...

The EFF said it has identified similar coding on pages printed from
nearly every major printer manufacturer, including Hewlett-Packard Co., though
its team has so far cracked the codes for only one type of Xerox
printer.

The U.S. Secret Service acknowledged yesterday that the markings, which
are not visible to the human eye, are there, but it played down the use for
invading privacy.

This kind of stuff really scares me.  Is there anyone out there that thinks that this won't be used to trace a leak, track down a whistle-blower, or identify an anonymous political critic?  And, even if you are able to conjure up trust that the US government will not use these codes for anything other than fighting counterfeiting, what about use of these codes by private parties?  Or, even more depressing, remember that these printers are being sold today in China, Syria, Iran, Zimbabwe, etc.  Does anyone at all doubt that these governments will use the print codes to identify and silence dissent?

Shame on the government for instituting this program.  Double shame on HP and Xerox for going along in silence, joining the ranks of Microsoft, Cisco, and Yahoo in making adjustments to their technology to make government surveillance and censorship easier.  I don't know of any legislative mandate that requires these printer companies to go along with this, so they are doing this voluntarily - sort of (see below).

For those on the left feeling smug that this is solely a right-wing Bush-is-a-fascist problem, shame also on those who built the economic regulatory state that we live in.  In a truly free economy, HP and Xerox would likely have told the government to take a hike.  However, the government holds a huge regulatory hammer over corporations' head in so many realms that companies in our society find it difficult to tell the government off when they get this type of request.  Its the same story with airlines and banks, who feel compelled to share otherwise private customer data with Homeland Security under the threat of having government retribution fall on them from any number of directions.  We have got to start realizing that government control of economic activity is just as much an imposition as government control of speech or the press.  Freedom of expression does not become voided just because money changes hands.

Many thanks to Marginal Revolution for the link.  Their comment:

Would the Berlin Wall have fallen if East European governments had access to
this kind of technology twenty years ago?

Worlds Most Expensive Printer Ink

Today I bought what may be the most expensive consumer printer ink available.  We have a small Pitney-Bowes postage meter that has a little built in ink-jet printer to print out the metered postage symbol (that sort of red looking stuff that replaces the stamp).  One of their little print cartridges doesn't last more than at most a thousand envelopes, which represents at most the equivalent of 50 pages of text for a normal printer.  For this little cartridge with its smidgen of ink, I paid $39.99.  At the same time, I bought two-paks of the HP cartridges I needed (no bargain themselves) for $25 per cartridge, and these cartridges last for hundreds of pages.  I can't directly compare the volume of ink, but my sense is that the P-B cartridge is priced such that it would be over $500 with an equivalent amount of ink to an HP cartridge.  Insane.  And its worse because the P-B postage meter has this annoying tendency to announce the cartridge is almost out of ink before it is even half empty.  We have gone weeks with the meter telling us the cartridge had to be replaced soon.

I am not sure I fully understand the relationship Pitney-Bowes has to the US Postal Service, but to all appearances, they have been handed a virtual monopoly for decades.  For years business have been forced to pay egregious rental rates for P-B equipment with long, long minimum lease periods because the USPS does not seem to be comfortable with competition.  Only the advent of Internet postage in the late 1990's forced P-B to come out with a small business postage meter that you could purchase at relatively low cost.  I am flabbergasted that the US government continues to give them this monopoly.  It is ironic to me that several of the abusive monopolistic practices used by Pitney-Bowes and encouraged by the US government are the same practices Xerox got busted (under anti-trust litigation) years ago by... the US Government.

Ballooning Health Care Costs

Jane Gault at Asymmetrical Information is on a roll with a series of posts about the problems with the Medicare system.  Check out her posts on the rising costs of the prescription drug benefit,  the media bias when programs are cut, and the rising cost of Medicaid.

The problem in the world of health care costs is actually very simple:  patients have the incentive to over-consume services and providers have the incentive to over-provide services.  Patients consume as many services as possible because some other entity is generally footing the bills, such that the marginal cost to the patient of extra services is generally nil (if you don't believe this, imagine a world where a 3rd party paid for your car - would you choose the same care you drive today?)  Providers tend to over-provide in part for the same reason, and in part as a defensive response to the threat of torts.  As a result, costs go through the roof, and those who pay (government, insurance companies, employers) respond by rationing, which pisses everyone off.

This disconnect between the entity paying the bills and the entity selecting the care cannot endure.  The fix in the future is guaranteed to be one where the decision maker on the selection of care is the same person who is paying for the care.  The only choice we have in designing the system is whether that entity making the decisions is the government (as preferred by statists of all stripes) or the patient. 

We need a system where people pay their own everyday medical bills, with insurance in place for catastrophic needs (which is basically how we take care of our cars).  You could probably incentivize this tomorrow by making personal medical expenses tax deductible while at the same time making employer-provided medical insurance taxable just like every other kind of compensation.  Not only would this fix the incentives problem in the system, but would also eliminate the portability issue associated with employer-provided coverage.

Unfortunately, people have a huge mental block where paying for their own medical care is concerned.  My wife is a great example.  When I became self-employed, she was shocked that I did not get dental insurance.  I tried to explain that we would just use the insurance to pay for checkups and a filling here-or-there, and it would probably cost more than just paying the expenses ourselves.  But for her, medical bills are paid by insurance, not by individuals, and it actually felt wrong for her to pay her own doctor's bill (we have a big annual deductible on our medical insurance too so it acts mainly as catastrophic coverage).  This is not an isolated attitude - it is why many people equate "not insured" today with "not getting medical care".

Postscript:  There is nothing magical about the system of employer-paid medical insurance we have today.  Many large employers implemented paid health benefits as a way to evade government wage freezes during the NRA of the 30's and later in World War II.  In the tight labor market of WWII, government mandated maximum wages could not lure enough workers, so free health benefits were thrown into the compensation mix since only cash wages were frozen.  The system is perpetuated today by a tax code that does not tax health insurance as it does all other parts of the compensation package.

UPDATE:  Or, we could just try this

UPDATE#2:  A small example of the mindset:  Carly Fiorino get $42 million as a parting gift from HP, but still insists that HP privide her medical insurance.  With $42 million, she couldn't pay for it herself? (via gongol)