Wednesday, 28 September 2011

08:51 – Finally, some MSM commentators are saying what should have been obvious to anyone all along. Germany could not bailout the southern tier countries even if it wanted to. Although Germany is normally presented as a “strong” economy, that’s true only relative to the other, pathetically weak, eurozone economies. Much of Germany’s putative strength results from two interrelated factors: its strong export performance and its AAA credit rating. But the only reason Germany’s exports are strong is that it has the rest of the EU as essentially a captive market, with the euro artificially keeping the prices of German exports low in other eurozone countries. Germany has been reaping the benefit of this arrangement while other, less productive eurozone economies have been paying the price. As I’ve said repeatedly, Germany has for years been shipping products to other eurozone countries on what amounted to easy credit terms. And now those other countries find themselves unable to pay their bills. So much for Germany’s vaunted export economy.

And therein lies the problem with Germany’s AAA credit rating. As some billionaire or other commented when the US credit rating was reduced from AAA to AA+, it should instead have been raised to AAAA. Most people probably thought this was just a quip, but in fact it stated a profound truth. There is no country whose credit rating should be equal to the US credit rating, let alone higher, because the US is far more credit-worthy than any other country, most particularly including Germany. As I’ve said, the US can never, ever be forced to default because we’re a real country. We can print our own money. Germany, like the rest of the eurozone, is not a real country because it does not control its own currency, at least as long as it remains a member of the eurozone, and so Germany can most definitely be forced to default. And it will be so forced, eventually, if it’s foolish enough to backstop the gigantic debt of the southern tier nations. Based on the current situation, if I were assigning a credit rating to German “sovereign” debt, I’d place it five levels below the US, maybe six. Call it BBB, give or take. France belongs another several levels below that. And the rest of the southern tier belongs several levels lower still, because all of them will inevitably default. And that is why Germany, along with the other FANG nations, should depart the EU and eurozone as soon as possible. There is some hope for their relatively stronger economies; there is no hope for Spain, Italy, France, Belgium, and the rest.

11:45 – Wow. Four new Kindle models, but what surprised me was that Amazon didn’t discontinue any of the three existing models, at least not yet. I was disappointed that the current Kindle 3 Wi-Fi remains at $139 ($99 with ads) and the Kindle 3 3G remains at $189 ($139 with ads).

There’s a new Baby Kindle 4 for $109 ($79 with ads) that lacks the keyboard of the Kindle 3, and has half as much memory and half the battery. The real new e-ink model is the Kindle Touch, available in WiFi-only ($139 or $99 with ads) and the Touch 3G ($189 or $149 with ads). The main differences between the Kindle 3 and Kindle Touch models is that the Touch models have only touch, replacing the keyboard, 5-way controller, and page-turning buttons of the Kindle 3.

With the prices identical except for the $10 premium on the Touch 3G with ads, I think anyone who buys the Touch models is making a mistake. But perhaps not. I’ll have to think about whether touch is a good substitute for buttons. For browsing around, perhaps. But for reading, I definitely prefer buttons. If the Touch had page-turning buttons as well as touch, I’d go for it, but I really don’t want to be constantly touching the screen to turn pages. As to the Kindle Fire, I suppose it’s exciting if you like that kind of thing, but it looks like it’ll suck as an e-reader, at least compared to the e-ink devices.

As to a Kindle for Barbara, I’ll have to think about this for a while longer. If I had to order today, I’d order a Baby Kindle 4, probably with ads. It’s available now. Barbara wouldn’t care about what the thing displays when it’s asleep, and some of the Kindle Special Offers actually are pretty good deals. But I think I’ll hold off a bit longer to see if Amazon discontinues the Kindle 3. I suspect they will, and if that happens a Kindle 3 Wi-Fi with no ads might sell for $79 or less.

13:41 – Okay, I thought about it a while longer, and just ordered a Baby Kindle 4 with ads for Barbara. Except, as it turns out, I just ordered it for myself. When I called Barbara to let her know what I’d ordered for her, she pointed out that she plays Scrabble and other games on the Kindle, and therefore needs a real keyboard. Oops. Doesn’t matter, of course. She gets the current Kindle 3 and I get the Baby Kindle 4.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that my first impression of the Kindle Touch was correct. It’s unusable without dedicated page-turning buttons. I think Amazon really screwed the pooch by not including those buttons on the Touch. And I’m not alone. I’ve already read a slew of comments by people saying that the lack of those buttons was a deal-breaker for them, so they ordered the $79 model instead. By saving at most a buck per unit, Amazon has really made the new Kindle Touch unappealing to a very large group of potential buyers. And speaking of saving cents, the $79 model comes with a USB cable, but not with the dongle that allows you to connect the USB cable to an AC power receptacle. That’s no problem for us, because the one that came with the Kindle 3 will work with the Baby Kindle 4, and I can just charge it via USB connected to a computer anyway. But charging $10 for the dongle does seem excessive.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

08:37 – Pournelle frequently says that despair is a sin. That may be true, but it’s hard not to despair with the euro collapsing and fools like Obama and Geithner and the US congress butchering the US economy. These morons aren’t going to be satisfied until they’ve impoverished all of us.

Speaking of morons, one of our big maple trees is dropping all its leaves, despite the fact that they’re all still green and none of the other trees, including maples, around here has even started to change. Barbara vacuumed up all the fallen leaves Sunday, so I went out yesterday and had a chat with the tree, explaining that it was supposed to let all its leaves change color before it started dropping them. This morning, the yard was covered with its leaves. I take consolation in the fact that although this tree may be a moron, at least it’s smarter than Obama, Geithner, and the US congress.

Rumor has it that Amazon will announce a color tablet version of Kindle tomorrow, but what’s more interesting to me is the speculation about the e-ink Kindle 4. If the rumors are correct, Amazon will also announce a $99 Kindle 4 without 3G but possibly with a touch screen. The only thing I care about is the $99 price. I don’t have 3G support on my current Kindle 3, and see no need for it. I actually consider a touch screen a bad thing. In truth, I’d be happy with a $99 Kindle 3. And the only reason I care is that Barbara has finally decided that she wants a Kindle. In fact, if Amazon offers deep discounts on the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi once the new version(s) ship, I may just buy her one of those discontinued models. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi on sale for $69 or even $59 to clear inventory. I’m perfectly content with my Kindle 3, and I can’t imagine anything Amazon could do to improve it.

11:57 – Ah. I love images of Scots heritage stuff. Here’s an excellent (NSFW) image of a piper and his girlfriend. I wonder if any of my readers can identify his tartan.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

09:47 – My main office system started making a bad sound yesterday afternoon. I hoped it was a fan bearing failing, but I feared it was one of the hard drives. This system is a quad-core that we built a few years ago, and it still has the original main hard drive, a 750 GB Seagate Barracuda. It also has two other hard drives that we installed later, both 1.5 TB Barracudas. Those drives were installed before the 1.5 TB Barracuda was officially released, which should give you some idea of the age of this system.

At any rate, it turned out it was one of the hard drives, of course. It was one of the 1.5 TB drives, which I use for on-line backup. Here’s what happened when I unmounted it and ran jfs_fsck on it.

thompson@darwin:~$ sudo jfs_fsck -a /dev/sdb5
jfs_fsck version 1.1.12, 24-Aug-2007
processing started: 9/8/2011 8.58.17
The current device is: /dev/sdb5
ujfs_rw_diskblocks: read 0 of 4096 bytes at offset 32768
ujfs_rw_diskblocks: read 0 of 4096 bytes at offset 61440
Superblock is corrupt and cannot be repaired
since both primary and secondary copies are corrupt.


Fortunately, the entire contents of the failed hard drive are replicated on the other 1.5 TB drive. I didn’t want to tear down this system to replace the drive, so I stuck a new 2 TB Barracuda in an external USB drive frame and formatted it jfs. I’m now copying about a third of a million files totaling about 1,300 GB from the working 1.5 TB drive to the external 2 TB drive. At USB 2.0 speeds of about 25 MB/s, that’s going to take 13 or 14 hours to complete.

I really do need to take the time to get our computer situation straightened out. Right now, Barbara has a 6-core Core i7 system with 6 TB of disk space in her office, which is gross overkill. She has that system, which was to be my new desktop system, because it was the only one ready to hand when her old system started having problems. She uses her system only for email, web browsing, and so on, so I think what I’ll do is build her a new system around an Intel Atom motherboard much like the one I’m currently using in my den system. Or I may just swap my den system into her office and replace it with another Atom system. At that point, I can strip down and discard my current main office system, which is nearing the end of its design life. Heck, I’m still running Ubuntu 9.04 on it, which has been unsupported for a year now. But all of that takes time, which is in very short supply right now.

Ereaders blowing away tablets

A couple of months ago, I commented in passing that dedicated ereaders like the Kindle and Nook were outselling tablet computers like the iPad. Several readers called me on that, but they were using old figures. And, when it comes to ereaders and the ebook phenomenon, “old” may mean months or even just weeks.

I just saw an article on CNN that makes clear the explosive growth in dedicated ereaders. Last winter, about 7% of US adults owned an iPad or other tablet computer, while only 6% owned a Kindle or other dedicated ereader. By May, those number had changed dramatically. Tablet ownership had increased from 7% to only 8%, while dedicated ereader ownership had doubled, from 6% to 12%. Apple has sold a total of about 25 million iPads since their introduction; it’s likely that 25 million dedicated ereaders will be purchased in 2011 alone.

And we’re still on the steep part of the curve. It’s entirely possible that twice that many ereaders will be purchased this year, depending on how Amazon and B&N price their ereaders for the Christmas season. Rumor has it that Amazon will begin giving away Kindles, possibly in time for Christmas, but more likely in early 2012.

The sea change foretold by this flood of ereaders is confirmed by book sales figures. Publishers’ Weekly, a bastion of traditional publishing, does everything possible to minimize the importance of ebooks, which are a deadly threat to their core audience. And yet, even PW has had to acknowledge the reality of ebook sales matching and now exceeding print book sales. In a recent article on J. K. Rowling going indie, PW as usual tried to trivialize the importance of this critical change, but even they were forced to admit that ebooks accounted for 50% of frontlist fiction sales. The reality is that if PW admits to 50%, the real figure is almost certainly much higher.

As dedicated ereaders continue to sell in huge numbers, book sales will inevitably continue their shift from print books to ebooks. What’s a traditional publisher to do? I am reminded of Goldfinger: “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.