Windows onto the World

Curtains by Roy Lichtenstein

 Last night, a dark and stormy night, was punctuated with wave after wave of clashing thunderstorms. I lost count how many times I was awoken by the flash of lightning and the crash on thunder. Just about the time I had drifted off to sleep again, the next wave of crash-bangs would wake me up again. After one such iteration, I got up to get a drink of water. While drinking it down in the kitchen, a particularly close lightning strike lit up the room and an instant later shook that same world. Our frilly and banal kitchen curtains were backlit and the rest of the room was also briefly illuminated. I was reminded of the above Lichtenstein painting.

This relatively sleepless night left me feeling tired and grumpy in the morning. I don’t think that I can mount a full fledge rant here, I’m just too tired, but I can give you some grousing. I think that I am still up to that.

Once I was up this morning and sufficiently ‘awake’ to start my morning rituals, one of my first tasks was to visit my iPhone. I luv my iPhone. After checking email, this blog and Facebook, I began this morning’s downloads, these normally being podcasts and Apps updates. I hate those little numeric red dots that appear when there is something to do. I’m anal like that. This sleepy morning there was one special red circle, it was on the ‘Settings’ icon. It signified my iPhone’s desire to upgrade to iOS 6.

Normally, this desire would not cause consternation. Using iTunes, I’ve done it plenty of times in the past. At this point under the rubric of full disclosure I should tell you that I’m a PC and not a Mac. I’ve been a PC even before there were PCs. I’ve been programing computers for over forty years. Before you dismiss me for a vacuum tube Neanderthal, hear me out. My values were formulated while working for over a decade for a computer manufacturer. They are democratic values. Simply put, PC values are {democratic | free enterprise | American} values. While, Apple’s values are {monopolistic | autocratic | totalitarian} values.

So, I can mount a rant. My complaint is that this iOS ‘upgrade’ will erase Google Maps from my iPhone. It will be replaced by Apple’s ersatz replacement App. This is all part of these two big boys intramural fight. In the words of that street sage, Rodney King, “Can’t we all get along?” Oh snap, yes we can! There might be an Android in my future.

The graphic for this post is a picture of the Roy Lichtenstein painting, “Curtains”. It was a gift to the Saint Louis Art Museum from Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Pulitzer Jr. It was painted in 1962, using oil and magna on canvas. The following text is the Slammer’s write-up on this art work.

In his black and white paintings of the early 1960s, Roy Lichtenstein drew from popular, mass-produced imagery. Here, the source was a newspaper advertisement. The frilly kitchen curtains with matching valance suggest the banal, suburban developments of post-war America. While the image implies a critique of consumerism, it also presents a visual pun on the classical notion of painting as a window onto the world.

The slammer, also-know-as the Saint Louis Art Museum has its motto engraved upon its lintel, ‘Dedicated to Art and Free to All’. One is free to walk in to it and one is free to take pictures in it. The new wing opens next year, it’ll be grand.

Performance Priced

Dark Drama Iris

Many years ago, I worked for the second largest computer company in the world. The company was Control Data Corporation or CDC. For a brief time it was second only to IBM in the world of computers. It is gone now, consigned to the dust bin of history. Enough time has passed that even some successor firms have also passed-on. Digital comes to mind. Even garage upstart Microsoft is starting to look long in the tooth, compared to today’s modern titans of Silicon Valley. One of these garage bands for whom the blush is still on the rose is Apple. Under the tutelage of the late Steve Jobs, innovative products like the iPhone and the iPad have powered Apple to record profits. However, record profits or even innovative products are no life insurance policy in the breakneck world of computer technology. CDC had both of them then, but look at it now.

Back in the day, selling computers, or “pushing iron” as it was called, wasn’t a simple process. The machines were big, expensive and arcane. Salesmen, and they were mainly men, sold the computers one at a time. Half-a-dozen machines could count for a very good year. The number of options available, the complexity of the product, and the constant evolution of the industry led to a business model called performance pricing. Simply put, if machine A could perform the task twice as fast as machine B, then machine A was priced at twice that of B. This model worked well, so long as no one peeked behind the curtain.

Sometimes midlife performance upgrades were made. When no one was looking, a technician would flip a well hidden switch and then look busy for an hour or so. CDC made a lot of disk drives and we figured out how to convert cheaper 20 MB drives to more expensive 60 MB drives. [Yes, this was a while ago.] This was accomplished by low-level reformatting the drive. They were all the same hardware, they were just formatted differently. They were all performance priced. You got what you paid for.

I was thinking about a modern application for the kind of performance pricing of computer equipment. The iPhone comes to mind. Each model comes in several variants. The sole variation is the amount of internal storage that the device has. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to make just one kind? The trick of low-level formatting of hard-drives, to size the amount of storage, was an industry standard. At the time, we were making 2/3 of all the drives. Back then disk drive platters were all the same size; software formatting determined the amount of available memory. In the iPhone storage is solid state, but the old principles still apply. For example, extra sectors are made, to replace sectors that go bad. Firmware normally controls the allocation of this storage. Why not have the firmware also control the amount of storage available to the customer. If you’ve priced USB storage, you know that 8/16/32 GB doesn’t cost anywhere near the $100s that Apple charges for it. Why not just build one device and build the extra hardware cost into your pricing model and save on manufacturing costs? I realize that it says how much storage it has on the case, but you are already committed to two colors of skins. Another 3X is a modest bump in cost, for a lucrative opportunity for Apple to up-sell their most popular product.

These business practices might seem nefarious to some, but they are not. Streamlining production costs save all customers money. If you ever bothered to read your Apple license agreement, then you would realize that you have already concurred with this too. Like Control Data’s competitors, Apple’s are not fooled by any of these shenanigans. They are already scheming to take advantage of this or any opening, and maybe take Apple down too.