EastAsia is our friend and ally. Oceana is our enemy. Oh, wait...
For the past few months, I've been looking around for a replacement for my tiny little wonderful Creative Zen Nano (MP3, voice recorder, FM + recorder, storage, AAA). I've had two of them now for several years, and they're seen Yeoman service, going with me for regular workouts at Ballys, occasionally getting drenched in the jacuzzi when I forget to remove the device from my keys pouch. The only weakness is that the tend to come apart when you drop them on a hard surface. Repeatably.
Unfortunately, the only device that seems to be able to really replace it is the same Creative Zen Nano, which I think is about 4 or 5 years old now. When it appeared on the market way back then, it sold typically for $79 or $89 list, often discounted at Frys to $39 or occassionally $29. Then it would appear on Ebay for $25 or $35 for a couple years. Now it sells for about $80 online in new condition, or over $100 actually new.
How is this possible? Aren't things like electronics supposed to go DOWN in price over time? This isn't the only example, by a long shot. My little six-year-old digital Vivitar camcorder that I originally bought for $79 on sale at Frys is now selling for a lot more used than I paid for the new one.
And, laptops seem in general to be only about twice as powerful per dollar now as they were in 2007, when I bought my HP, substantially lagging Moore's Law.
At the ACP Swapmeet, I found what appeared to be a good replacement for my old MP3 player, which is slowly failing (only one side of the FM plays now, after the last few drops onto tile) from a company called LaSonic, new in the hardcase shrikwrap for $20. The MIC (Made In China) device had all the features I wanted and a better display. However, when I tested it, the sound quality was unbelievably bad. I'd guess around 25% distortion on the FM. The booth owner had allegedly left his assistant with no cash, so I had to wait about an hour in 111-degree heat to get my money back.
So, a bargain that doesn't work... Does this sound familiar? Where I work, the prices for virtually all of the security devices are going UP, for the first time ever. Only the CCTVs have continued to go down, as the software keeps improving. However, we've been getting problems with quality, especially on MIC CCTVs, of course.
So, yesterday I go to MicroCenter to look for an MP3. The store personnel appeared to be more interested in general in talking to each other than to me, and there was NO-ONE in the games department to answer any questions, even though customers were shouting out to the store "Is there anyone HERE?". I pointed this out to a cluster of talking employees with no response. Finally, with some assistance, I found the $20 MP3 from their ad flyer, which had all the desired features, allegedly, including FM, according to the ad.
However, the package features list said nothing about FM. When I looked at the online site there was no FM listed. When I opened the package, no FM in the manual. So, this morning, it's back to MicroCenter, where I discovered a line 13 people long waiting mostly to return a purchase. One attendant was handling them, and after 10 minutes with no move in the line, I went to another desk and raised hell until I got my money back.
So, still no MP3.
Meanwhile, at work, the 12Mpx Canon camera that I use for product shoots is only marginally useable. The depth of field, in particular, is awful, and there is no functional noise reduction, although it is still better than the 10Mpx Canon that I had been attempting to use. The old 8Mpx Nikon Coolpix 8700 that we had been using for several years was radically better, and we got hundreds of wonderful photos from it. On course, it was slow compared to the much newer Canon, but setting up the shots is most of the time anyway.
However, office politics dictates destroying any working system that resists micromanagement, as that constitutes a breach in the power hierarchy. So, after several years of highly successful product shots managed by moi, the Company Vice President decided that the photo shoots needed his expert assistance. His knowledge of photography is of course on a par with his knowledge of computers (he wouldn't touch a keyboard until 1994, and he still needs assistance to copy a file between folders - but he DOES follow orders from above.).
We had a standard shooting angle, as most of the products were basically rectangular. It was essentially 45/45/45 off the front right corner, with the camera set to maximum zoom, F1/22, time exposure, 48bit. So long as all the shots were from that same angle and zoom, I could later drop an array of the photos with the backgrounds cropped out into any ad, catalog or flyer, and they would appear to be on the same plane to the viewer.
The first change the VP initiated was to demand a bunch of different angles to select from. Of course, I would also frequently choose the light level control to maximize what I could later pull out of the details in COREL Paint. That process, however, meant that the best looking shot in first itteration might look relatively lousy after processing. However, he decided to send the shots to their facility in Taiwan (where clueless is the operant concept) for cleanup, which might take me an hour per final image including precise masking, etc., and would choose the best-looking regardless of the final outcome. So, I stopped concerning myself very much over lighting.
The photo quality dropped drastically from that point on and continues to fall. Because it was now actually taking so much LONGER to shoot from 7 or 12 different angles, I could no longer focus energy on the precise lighting that I had made a priority anyway. As the photo quality dropped and it became the luck of the draw as to whether any two products were shot from the same angle, the company president's son stepped into the breach, adding his layer of micromanagement, which caused the photos to go from bad to worse, of course.
Ultimately, he started farming the photo shoots out to whatever employee was on hand who would not point out all the errors he and the VP were piling on, and so all the settings would be trashed whenever I did get the camera back, until finally someone managed to completely trash the Nikon's OS and it became totally unusable, especially as the company president's son had deleted all my upgrade patch files from Nikon and I no longer had any access at work to the internet - although I do their 1000+ page website...
So, they sent the Nikon to Taiwan and a year or so passed with no in-house photography here in the U.S. Then the president's son asked my opinion as to whether he should buy a Canon or the $100 more expensive "equivalent" Nikon. I knew that whatever I said he was going to buy the Canon, as his question was purely an exercise in demonstrating his power, and of course he did. And then we spent over one hundred hours attempting to get decent shots from the Canon, and finally bought the current Canon to replace it. And it is barely capable.
Meanwhile the old Nikon Coolpix 8700 still sells on EBay used for substantial bucks. You might think that by now it would be a dead letter, but no, people are no doubt finding that the newer models often simply don't reliably do the stuff they should.
Now I had no prejudice against Canon, and I suspect that those cameras were simply not optimized for close-up product shoot, but rather toward the family purchaser who wants to take pictures of vacations, parades, parties, etc. However, it might not matter that much in the bigger picture.
Somehow, starting in all the outsourcing of tech support, regardless of quality for the end customer, or management who believe that thier job is purely to maximize their personal power, and ending with cameras that cannot take pictures or MP3 players with bizarrely awful sound some essential virtue seems to have died. I suppose, as an Ayn Rand fan, I should ask the mandatory, "Is Atlas Shrugging?"
I.e., are the really productive giants of the world dropping out?
Maybe that's it or maybe not. Maybe it's a synergistic combination of factors.
Such as the sort of thing that happened in the early '80's when, in about 1982, everyone and his brother jumped into the home software market with clever packageing on absolute junk. Consumers had not a clue, and when they found out how badly they had been shafted, they responded the next Christmas season by not buying anything and a lot of really good companies (remember HES?) went down the tubes.
Or, when an ignorant purchasing public bought into the best marketing over the best products and we ended up with PCs running MicroSoft, as opposed to the far superior Mac, Amiga and Atari systems.
Perhaps a common denominator is that when there is widespread ignorance on the part of purchasers, a market is vulnerable to gamers who could care less about actual delivery of workable product. That's what killed the Amiga, with millions of fanatical owners and technology ten years ahead of the competition. Then we see fake drugs in our pharmacies and no-name electronics with more features than God that can't deliver a simple clean audio signal.
Information is not passive, static, objectively absolute. Every "fact" is weighted by every consciousness as to its potential utility and its credibility. (What is it? How do I know? So what? (Brandon)) It seems that we are on a steep learning curve as to how to deal with this enormous expansion of information. Meanwhile, a lot of players are gaming us for their own benefit. If we don't figure out how to deal with this, we are going headed for the same cliff as Maddof.
Somewhere, an essential feedback to the decision tree is missing. Part of it may be purely institutional. Our intellectual property system errs in both directions. It grants property title to a flood of claimants for ideas that anyone in the field would think of, that represent no actual advance, purely on the basis of a claim that is uncontested, just as happened in France and destroyed the monarchy and caused the revolution when an infinity of patent claims had destroyed the entire economy.
On the other side, when the patents run out (unlike our "Mickey Mouse" copyright laws, paid for by the rodent to last effectively forever) then the fly-by-night MIC drugs start invading our pharmacies and you end up eating talcum powder to cure your cancer. Or, really valuable drugs like Deprenyl or Isoprinosine simply largely disappear as there is zero money available to market them anymore.
To be continued...