12 March 2005

Gutenberg's printing press sparked the biggest explosion of literacy the world had ever seen. Why? Because it transformed books from art objects for the aristocracy into sources of knowledge for the merchant classes.

Nineteenth century advances in automation sparked a similar explosion. Suddenly, books were commodities, light entertainment for the masses. Why? Because, for the first time, the masses could afford them.

Now, those who lament the state of the publishing industry observe that most books lose money. Proposed solutions range from fewer titles to more effective marketing. Or maybe there is no solution, that's just the way things are.

Or maybe they're looking at it all wrong. If your product is losing money, you can either increase the selling price -- difficult to do in intensely competitive markets -- or cut costs. The single biggest cost in publishing is printing and distribution.

You're reading this post via the most efficient printing and distribution mechanism the world has ever seen. Yet the publishing industry largely refuses to embrace it. Ebooks are too different, too scary, too risky. Ebooks will undermine print sales. (They might, but who cares? Most print books lose money anyway, remember?)

If a book that would lose money in print can make money as an ebook, is it really so terrible if some people pirate the ebook and read it for free? Chances are those people wouldn't have sprung for a print copy anyway, but if they enjoy the book they just might be willing to pay for the next one. History shows that if you cut the cost of reading, you will have more readers. If the size of the pie increases, everyone wins. (See also Wired on the Long Tail, discussed previously)

Posted 09:09 AM

11 March 2005

If you eat fruits and vegetables grown in the United States, you're almost certainly eating produce picked by an illegal immigrant. The Labor Department estimates at least half of US crop workers are undocumented. Especially in the Southwest, so are large numbers of construction workers, gardeners, restaurant and hotel workers, and minimally skilled laborers of all kinds. No one wants to talk about it, but the availability of undocumented workers helps keep costs of many different products and services low.

Now, tighter border security in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks is forcing farmers to admit that they can't bring their crops in without undocumented workers. With any luck, we'll start to see a change in the rampant hypocrisy that welcomes undocumented workers in private while treating them like criminals in public.

(Wall Street Journal article. Paid subscribers only.)

Posted 03:24 PM

Okay, I'll bite. One of those web thingies that's going around.

States I've visited are red, not counting airport layovers or states that I was too young to remember. Brought to you by World66, where you can create your own personalized map of the USA.

Posted 09:33 AM

10 March 2005

I've been playing with a variety of new software tools over the last few months. Those interested might want to look at the OrganizingTools wiki page. Comments welcome, though a password (w1k1ed1t) is now required as an anti-spam measure.

Posted 10:45 AM

09 March 2005

What does Intel know that the rest of us don't? Intel insists EUV is on track for the 32-nm technology node, even though plenty of others are skeptical about the cost, the availability of sources, the resists, and just about everything else connected to the technology.

Posted 02:18 PM

Soitec reports that they have made a thin film GaN-on-insulator substrate using their SmartCut layer transfer process. GaN is used in blue and white LEDs and solid-state lasers, and material quality has been a serious issue. Transferring high quality GaN to an arbitrary substrate material is a significant accomplishment.

Posted 02:03 PM

08 March 2005

Since we last saw our heroine...

Let's see. I spent last week at the SPIE Microlithography conference, where the hot topics were immersion lithography and... more immersion lithography. More on that subject once I've had a chance to digest my notes, but the short version is that immersion is for real but still has to mature, climb the yield curve, etc.

The weather in San Jose was gorgeous. The weather here was not, as the travel curse that causes it to snow on Drew whenever I leave town reared its cold, wet head.

I've written 8250 words since my last update. I've got 4350 words for March so far, and 32,850 since January 1. February's total was only 12,000, largely due to the previously discussed system crash. In spite of all that, I'm not all that horribly far behind on my goal of 300,000 for the year. Averaging around 27,000 per month will do it for me. Onward!

(For those readers actually involved in the semiconductor industry, that 8250 words includes a piece on fab logistics for Semiconductor Manufacturing. Look for it in the April issue.)

My poor abused laptop has now returned from Sony Service. Fortunately Sony seems to be better at actually performing repairs than at arranging them over the phone. Arranging the repair was a nightmare involving lengthy conversation with a computer that seemed to speak some invented language only loosely related to English. But the price was reasonable and the turnaround was only ten days, including shipping time. Better yet, the flat rate service fee covered not only replacement of my failed hard drive and cooling fan but also replacement of a DVD player that has never worked but never annoyed me enough to justify sending the computer off. I'm still using the backup computer, but hope to be back "home" in my normal environment in the next day or so.

Posted 11:11 AM

Ah ha! Stowe Boyd has figured out why he isn't interested in social networking sites. A club that exists only to have members is boring. Networking is only useful in the context of a shared interest. Hence, photo and bookmark sharing sites, topical forums, shared wishlists for books and movies, etc. all work. Referral networks that exist only to be referral networks don't work.

Posted 11:03 AM

One for the ever-growing list of cool things online. The New York Public Library is posting its image collection. Prints, photos, maps, and plenty more.

Posted 10:53 AM

Interesting column at the Financial Times on the idea that intellectual property protections should be judged on the actual benefits they provide, not on some abstract good like "promotion of useful arts." In other words, an intellectual property protection that can't prove it supports innovation or some other societal benefit should be scrapped. That's a much more stringent test than the current regime, which assumes that giving intellectual property owners more rights is inherently good.

(Link by way of Corante.)

Posted 10:38 AM


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