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Two flashes of joy sparked by the wonderfulness of capitalism

Every so often I have one of those ain’t-capitalism-grand? moments, and I just had another:

It’s like we can’t make it through the week these days without word of some outlandish memory technology solving all worldly ills; but it’s not that we’re complaining. This week’s featured tech comes from Nanochip, and promises gains in storage quantity and cost per chip over flash memory. The first prototypes will store 100GB, and will be shipped to device makers next year for evaluation. Nanochip technology stores data on a thin-film material, and accesses it using microscopic cantilevers. Each bit will be 15 nanometers wide at first, with theoretical sizes as small as a couple nanometers. Speeds will be near that of flash, and the data could last longer. There are still some obstacles to accessing the data efficiently, but luckily Nanochip just scored $14 million in funding to complete its pursuit. IBM has been pursuing a similar tech since the late 90’s.

Flash memory being the kind of memory you can drop on the floor, and still get at. Here‘s the story that engadget is linking to.

Yesterday, capitalism was great too. I finally got my hands on, and immediately bought, for a mere £220, one of these. Is the Eee PC about to be capitalism’s next triumph?, I asked back then. Definitely one of them, I would say. It has hardly any memory built in, certainly no nano-magic like that described above, but it does have an SD card slot, and it is very cute, and very small, and very light, yet very solid, and I love it.

15 comments to Two flashes of joy sparked by the wonderfulness of capitalism

  • Lee Kelly

    Yes, but is this vulgar consumerism necessary, do we really need it? Are there not people starving in Africa, while we waste our valuable resources on trinkets and gadgets? Is this ghastly rat-race really making us happier people?

  • ThePresentOccupier

    Well, I’d be a lot happier if I could find a supplier with stock of EEE PCs, rather than claiming stock levels that don’t exist…

  • Pa Annoyed


    What better way to solve the problem of the starving in Africa than to give them gadgets?

    Mobile phones have already revolutionised the economy there. Why walk three days to one market with your goods and find the price has dropped, when you can phone and find the best market instantly? And agree the sale over the phone? Vastly more efficient and therefore profitable. The only answer to starvation is economic development, and gadgets enable that.

    If they can do so much with mobile phones, what might they do with even more capable portable computers?

    I don’t know about happiness, but quality of life is a good thing to be increasing everywhere too.

  • Lascaille

    I think the point Lee was trying to make was more along the lines of ‘why do people keep buying all this chinese crap when they already have tons of it’ – i.e a commentary on the mentality that seems to have been created recently that if you own anything more than two years old you’re some sort of failure. The fact that electronics are advancing so much quicker than ever before does not mean that you need to replace your TV every year, yet all studies show that this is actually happening – the replacement rate of consumer goods is increasing even as reliability has doubled and tripled. This drives us towards an economy based purely on consumption, and as we do not control the means of production, this is possibly a risky situation to be in. The trends that serve to glamourise the ownership of shiny new stuff also serve to glamourise ‘service’ jobs over production/manufacturing/engineering jobs thus further compromising our economic diversity.

    The example you gave about Africa is interesting but not connected to reality – what you have portrayed does not happen, goods are only sold at point of delivery and prices are spot. The market owner can tell if the seller has brought the goods a long distance and in most cases has more control over the price than the seller. This is the reality of the situation.

    The technologies such as ebay-like ‘marketplaces’ are developed with western technology. Few in africa could code such a site reliably, those that could are working overseas or for outsourcing companies. The ‘development agencies’ who might ‘inspire’ such a development are full of morons who barely know how to start up Word and think that teaching kids in school how to ‘use a computer’ is meaningful when they don’t have power for half the day. The OLTP project PC uses custom opensource software – kids using it will train themselves to work with the paradigms it provides which are contrary to those found in most other software products – thus their skills are useless. If they use the ‘code button’ to find the source, god… teaching yourself programming from scratch was viable when machines had 64k of memory and you could keep it all in your head, but these days… no, argh. I’ve seen code written by people who are entirely self taught and not exposed to ‘best practice’ and it’s spaghetti.

    Even in a relatively developed country (Philippines) the very concept of market owners putting their prices on a public internet portal, site, or even giving them out by phoine, don’t make me laugh! The very nature of this sort trading is that prices vary on a seller-by-seller basis. I can’t walk ten minutes down the street to the market here and get a consistent price on pork belly day by day. Every seller claims their oranges are ‘aaa grade’ even if they’ve been in a truck for ten hours and the bottom ones are pulp, and negotiates on that basis, so tedious.

    Also to get back on track, I predict that the Eee PC is, like Amazon’s Kindle, and like the OLPC going to flop hugely. It’s perfectly possible to make a _full featured_ PC the same size as the Eee, and it actually has been for the past eight years – I had one in 2000 that ran NT and then w2k when it came out, and when DivX videos came out it played those just fine. Toshiba made one, Sony made one too – check the Portege (Toshiba) or the Sony Vaio C1VN – model year 2000) so why muck about with these compromises that just serve to annoy the customer with the ‘adjustments’ that they have to make? I feel unfortunately that the Eee Pc and the OLTP have more to do with trying to prove that Windows isn’t necessary than with providing a product that people want – thus all the hardware compromises that make it hard to use windows but easy to use the manufacturer-supplied OSes.

  • Hmmm. Do I detect moving parts in the nanochip? Flash has no moving parts. A distinct advantage methinks.

  • R C Dean

    Is this ghastly rat-race really making us happier people?

    I would say yes. Yes, it is.

  • Pa Annoyed


    Oh, where to start?

    “why do people keep buying all this chinese crap when they already have tons of it”

    Because 1) it’s not crap, you only think it is, 2) because buying new stuff funds the development of more and better technology, and the jobs to manufacture it, and 3) because it funds the economic development of the Chinese, which is a good thing and long overdue.

    And I think the point Lee was trying to make was that consumerism is inconsistent with improving the lot of the poor, when in fact precisely the opposite is true.

    “This drives us towards an economy based purely on consumption”

    What else can an economy be based on? No point in producing wealth if nobody benefits from it.

    “and as we do not control the means of production”
    Oh, Wow! Do you have any idea how revealing a phrase this is?

    And what makes you think we don’t control it? Do you know how many Western companies operate in China?

    “but not connected to reality – what you have portrayed does not happen”

    A bold assertion!

    “goods are only sold at point of delivery and prices are spot”

    Why? Because the seller doesn’t have to wander all over, he can offer a better price. The buyer can get cheaper by pre-ordering, and is himself concerned about whether anyone will turn up to sell him stuff. Why would sane people turn down mutual profit?

    “The market owner … has more control over the price than the seller.”

    That depends on the market elasticity, doesn’t it? Which varies from one product to another. The producers can phone each other, too, and who is going to sell low below the market rate when they know everybody else is getting more?

    “Few in africa could code such a site reliably”

    1) Don’t bet on it. I didn’t learn to code in school, and neither will the African kids. 2) They don’t have to. You can access e-bay in Africa, you know. The internet is global. 3) All we’re talking about is Ube phoning his uncle Mbenge in town, who was down at the market this morning noting down prices. No custom Java/Ajax scripts required. And it doesn’t take anything sophisticated, a blog or email distribution list would do fine. You often get that for no extra cost from the ISP.

    It’s also a tiny bit patronising. Most people in the West couldn’t do it, either.

    “when they don’t have power for half the day”

    This is the fault of not enough gadgets. We need to sell them more power-generating gadgets, forthwith.

    “teaching yourself programming from scratch was viable when machines had 64k of memory and you could keep it all in your head, but these days”

    Depends what you’re trying to do. For small jobs, spaghetti is fine. They don’t have to be able to be the best to make money.

    And do you know how much source-code development we outsource to India these days?

    “I can’t walk ten minutes down the street to the market here and get a consistent price”

    That’s a business opportunity, then. Send some cheap kids round the market to collect all the prices, (and note any squashy oranges,) then offer to tell people who call in who’s got the best prices for a percentage of the difference. Then people only need to go shopping when prices are good, and can go straight to the stalls they need rather than all of them wandering round half the day looking for bargains. The store-holders so favoured may be grateful, too. The reason prices are volatile is usually that people don’t have the information to allow them to plan ahead or to know the market price. Information is power.

    “I predict that the Eee PC is, like Amazon’s Kindle, and like the OLPC going to flop hugely.”

    If it does, then the next one will learn and be better. But you can’t have it both ways – a consumerist economy buying tons of junk they don’t need, and nobody buying it because it’s junk. If it’s possible for a product to flop, then those products that don’t flop clearly aren’t crap. Which is where we came in.

  • Pa Annoyed


    Electrons move.

  • Lee Kelly

    By the way, I wasn’t being serious.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Thank goodness for that, Lee!

    Now tell me, do you think Lascaille is serious?
    “and as we do not control the means of production”?!

  • Electrons move.

    You’re just splitting hairs Pa Annoyed. Or should I say ‘you’re just splitting electrons’.

  • J.M. Heinrichs

    How do you determine an electron has split?


  • Lascaille

    Pa, by ‘do not control the means of production’ I do not mean ‘governmental control in the UK,’ I mean that we make ourselves vulnerable by trading with a country that basically still has the mechanisms of a command economy in place – and most ‘western companies’ operating in China find they have to spawn subcompanies registered in China to actually do business due to local investment laws. These companies are then subjected to often spurious ‘quality control inspections’ and ‘safety inspections’ at the discretion of the local government and it is not unknown for documentation and parts to go missing during these inspections. Companies in China can be subjected to completely specious government controls and therefore are a weapon in the political arsenal of the Chinese government. While it would obviously hurt China to (for example) stick a 100% export tax on ICs destined for Europe, I’d wager it would hurt them less than it would hurt us – there are fewer supplying nations than there are purchasing nations. This is what I meant by the danger of not controlling the means of production.

    If there’s nothing inherently dangerous about ‘not controlling the means of production’ then why is everyone agitated about Russia’s near-dominance of the natural gas supply market?

    My assertions which you claim are ‘bold’ are based on my experiences here in south east asia with regard to the operation of some smallholdings and plantations. The seller does not ‘wander all over’. The seller can either market their goods by the roadside or can take their goods to the market. I say ‘the market’ because that’s how it is – there are regional markets and due to the state of the roads in most of these places there’s only one market that’s accessible per seller. The seller brings their goods to the market and can haggle. The general trends change slowly over time (unless a road ior bridge is washed out, which can quadruple prices overnight) but the specific sale price can vary in my experience 10% according to the specific (as judged by buyer/seller) quality of the product, which is what most of the negotiation is generally about.

    This is why your assertion is garbage – no buyer will negotiate the price of produce/meat/fish without inspecting the goods. When selling corn by the sack, the buyers will inspect a corncob from every single sack. The price of a truckload of mangoes can vary as much as 20% depending on what fraction of them are judged to be ‘small’ vs what fraction are judged to be ‘large’ (as large mangoes fetch more per kilo than small ones, as, among other things, they’re less affected by bruising.)

    As a seller you can tell if you’re getting shafted or if the price is about right. With regard to the prices the next guy got, you have no idea – neither the buyer or the seller will tell you. If you somehow manage to find out that the previous seller got more, you just get ‘superior product’ given as a reason.

    Also, with regard to ebay, the internet, etc – over here, as everyone texts, it’s okay. Africa and other south-east asian countries, the non-ascii ones? Illiteracy!

    And with regard to my comment about ‘cheap chinese crap’ that was a bit of a cheap shot – most of it’s not crap, it’s well made and durable, and I support people’s right to spend all their money on it. I do personally wish that people would be less profligate and more prodent because it’s being rapidly exposed at the moment that all this ‘consumption’ is actually funded with fake money and that everyone who’s actually tried to save up the old fashioned way has to foot the bill as interest rates are floored to bail the suckers out and inflation soars. It offends me that people think this way. You can be a libertarian and be disgusted at the sheer bullshit of it all too, you know.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Fair enough. You live there, so I’m not going to argue.



  • Lascaille

    Interesting article, nearly everyone in most developing countries that I’ve been to does have a mobile phone and a lot of what’s said in that article is true (you can transfer credit/load from phone to phone, which is how most people buy it here.) ‘Entrepreneurs’ can purchase phonecards from whatever mobile provider serves the area or register their account so they can sell larger amounts of load onto buyers and turn a small profit. The mobile ‘wallet’ thing doesn’t seem to really have taken off as not enough people understand how it works.

    “And new technology from Bharti Telesoft, is allowing the local villagers to sell mobile phone time to the poor in even smaller units – through prepay top-ups that are done through phone-to-phone links” – that was being done here in 2001, so I’m not sure how ‘new’ that really is.

    “Meanwhile, some farmers are able to receive better prices for their crops because they have access to information on market prices” – here, that’s generally done by broadcast radio or newspaper – the agriculture board surveys retail-purchase prices for produce and publishes them on a weekly basis. The article doesn’t make it explicitly clear whether they mean ‘prices at the local market’ or ‘market prices.’ Averaged or ranged price information for produce _is_ routinely available and has been long before mobile phones, however that bears no relation to the specific sale price of any one load of produce.