Monday, November 12, 2007

Gadgets and pricing

Some gadgets are cooler than others. This one, Sony Reader is on the better side of the world. The most shocking thing about electronic book reader is the pricing of the books. You can buy a mass market paperback on for 7.99, usually in 4-for-3 discount, so you can get to 6 dollars easily (yeah, that's a half of what you pay in Czech Republic).
Electronically, it costs about $5 or more. That's just crazy. Where is promotional pricing? Where are the printing, storing, selling costs? Why would I buy DRM-protected book for $5, if I get a physical, paper copy for $6?
It looks like another good idea (e-books) will be killed by MBA/big CEO style pricing. A song costs $1, a TV show costs two, and these have negligible printing (etc.) costs. So just sell the books for $1-2 and you will sell them much much more. Because even people who just plan to read the book will buy it.

Driving lessons

I have a driving lessons. I learned how to drive in a car from 80s (Skoda 120L, you probably never heard about it, if you are not from Czechoslovakia). I had a stick, terrible (no boost) breaks, no boost control, no ABS, nothing. It was well preserved car, so it was possible to learn to drive (it was impossible to like it, though). Then I drove my father's car. If you have the choice to do that, never ever even thing about it.
My father's car was the same type, but in much worse shape. He drives it till today despite several (small, but not pleasant) accidents I had in it. After that, I just gave up on learning to drive.
Until I came to California. There is simply NOTHING to see without car here. The public transport is sparse if any, and the distances are such that nobody walks anywhere. Some crazy guys ride a bike (like me or my my local boss ), but if you want to see something (or I better say anything), you just have to drive.
My plan was to borrow a car and learn to drive with, but it was not a great plan, because, well, you need to get out of the parking lot.
But my landlady (she had 2 sons, so she knows how to teach driving) helped me. I started on the parking lot and slowly get to the highway in the night. Slower speeds and generally more thoughtful and experienced drivers helped, too. But the biggest help was the car - Toyota Prius. It is 3-4 years old but feels like new. Smooth, smart, efficient (40Mpg easily).
Today, I passed the ultimate test. I drove to the airport alone, and back, in a pitch black night. So if you want to practice driving, just come to California.

Hutka is an idiot

Jaroslav Hutka is an idiot*

So there is a guy, Czech singer, lets call him Mr. X. This guy was a singer basically whole his life, even during communism. Many of his friends in the entertainment left Czech Republic to live free. He stayed. He could not see them. He could not talk to them. He could not travel (as most of the Czechs at that time) to visit them.
But he got an offer. Go and see them and then tell "us" how they are doing. If it where your cousin asking you to visit your grandma and tell him back how she is doing, you wouldn't hesitate, right? Right.
He probably did hesitate (but who can really now), because it was not his cousin asking but a secret state police. They ask him to report on his friends living abroad. No, no real secrets, just how they live. His friends weren't any important (it terms of military or technology influence). They were just signers like him.
So there he is, 20 years back, facing the choice. Can I see them, talk to them, possibly last time for the rest of our lives, but only if I report what they have for breakfast and where they live. Or not - don't see them, possibly ever.
Oh, wait a second. Maybe the secret police could send these friends friends to gulags or prison or uranium mines, right? Wrong, these friends lived in the West, free and democratic countries and the whole point of this "reporting" back was that the secret police could not get (at a reasonable cost) at them, or even to cause them a significant harm. Definitely not as easily as they could to anybody in the Czechoslovakia, at that time. "Reporting" on people living withing a Czech Republic is, IMHO, much severe thing, because there is a possible immediate harm. Not so reporting on those living in the west.
In an ideal world, one would probably consider this matter hard and it is possible that some people would reject it. Most people would not and it is understandable - you do not cause any harm to them (just to your conscience, possibly). In an ideal world, there would be no secret police, of course, so you would not face this problem anyway. But this is not an ideal world. So Mr.X. made a choice. He went to a visit and reported back.
He probably did not feel good about it (who would?). He even might have regretted it. But he did it and there is no way how to take it back.
OK, 20 years are gone. Those who had left the republic could come back, the democracy is here and even though it sometime sucks, live is good, right?
Not really. Some people found about all this and since this guy is publicly known, they inform the public. No, the guy is not a politician, he is not a judge or policemen (there, cooperating with STB seems OK). He is just a guy who sings and writes his song. If you don't want to listen to him, you don't have to. If you don't like our current president (e.g.) your problem. If you don't like Mr.X's songs, just don't buy his CD. So what's the big deal?
Obviously, some people thing that now is the payback time. This is the time where Mr.Y writes a song about how terrible, terrible Mr.X. is. Why not, right? Who cares that it is 18 years old news? Who cares that Mr.X. did not cause (nor intended to) any harm to anybody? Can everyone be so certain that s/he would do the "morally right" decision (if there is one)? Did we faced that situation/choice? Maybe you did. I did not. Nor did Mr.Y., because he left (or have been made to leave) the republic. If this guy Mr.Y thinks he is better, couldn't he just let go? Forgive?
No, he could not. He probably has a new album out and any news is a good news.
So this makes me wonder. Who is worse? A guy who makes maybe a questionable decision under pressure from the secret police, or a guy who kicks this guys as much as he can, on his free will?
The answer is clear. Mr.Y. actions talk about his moral standards more than anything I could imagine. This would not be a bad thing, if it did not hurt other people. an idiot is a catchy phrase borrowed from a TV show, it is not meant to be particularly offensive.