History

Dell And EMC

The big news today is about Dell buying EMC. This hits close to home, EMC being a Massachusetts company and employing people I know. It also reminds me of all the people I knew who worked for DEC before it was bought by Compaq, which still seems odder to me than the current merger. But then, DEC was shortsighted in some ways, missing the boat when it came to microcomputers, even more than IBM, which at least grasped things enough to create a market and widely adopted standards. IBM has been seen to varying degrees as the walking dead for decades, yet somehow kept going, even thriving. Then again, installed base creates inelasticity on the way to doom. Just ask COBOL. This is why, in the absence of total annihilation, civilization itself will not collapse absolutely and immediately in the face of many possible disasters. But I digress.

EMC is arguably more focused, robust and nimble than was DEC, and a better fit with Dell than was DEC with Compaq. It could work, until enough of their combined business goes obsolete. We’ll see.

William Levitt

Fascinating story of Levitt creating suburbia. It strikes me that while home construction stayed more efficient than it once was, the process later migrated away from his sheer assembly line, low skill version. Also, had it not been him, it would likely have been someone. The time was right. On the other hand, it might have been more organic and varied, filling that housing need affordably. I am no construction expert, but most of my life I have had the idea that there has to be a better way – a new better way – for housing to be made efficient and affordable. I mean, above and beyond rethinking the ridiculous burden of local zoning and other regulation that does more than anything to contribute to homelessness and excess cost.

Personal angle on this is my late friend Tom had been born in Levittown, NY, and had moved in his youth to Massachusetts, even though his father still worked as a flight engineer out of New York. That was how I first heard of Levittown and its origin.

Another personal angle: I would have absolutely hated the rules Levitt imposed. If such rules are attached after you own property, then it’s not really your property. I’d have been the first person to rebel and add a fence or a clothesline, if for no other reason than because it was forbidden. More likely, though, I’d have moved elsewhere.

C is for Conglomerate

Recently I found myself toying with the new .XYZ top level domain, checking whether anything interesting might be available.

Naturally I tried abc.xyz which, predictably, was taken. Makes sense, right? Since something like ABC would naturally tend to snag a new TLD to match, or since someone like me, but faster, would snag it on a whim.

Some whim!

Google is now under an umbrella of many disparate companies in one, but as Alphabet, rather than as Google. It becomes one of many. I found out about this in the middle of the night, just before going to my “day job,” seeing the announcement at that time.

My overwhelming thought about it since then has been: Didn’t we used to call this a conglomerate? Those were all the rage, decades ago. Breaking those up to extract shareholder value was all the rage fewer decades ago.

Still, if being a conglomerate is effectively a done deal already, it makes some sense to brand the conglomeration differently from the original and presumably still most major component of the conglomerate. One could poke fun at the name, but hey, this is a company that called itself Google and wound up taken utterly seriously.

My secondary thought: .XYZ will be taken seriously as a TLD in a way that it might not have been.

I Didn’t Realize It Was THIS Bad

However, this corroborates my view that there is indeed a new/continued housing bubble and, naturally, the potentially for it to fuel another crash. I’m lucky to be in an apartment with rent that doesn’t routinely increase, but what was barely affordable market rent ten years ago is now slightly less affordable below market rent. In a world in which we need either an even larger apartment or, better still, a house rental. Neither of which will happen any time soon, though certainly they will happen sooner than home ownership. The only way I’ll ever own property is if I pursue my old dream of buyng a piece of insanely cheap land in the middle of nowhere so I can at least camp out on it now and then, perhaps build a cabin getaway, or if the housing market fully crashes next time and I am in a position to take advantage of it. It was a big surprise to me that houses didn’t deflate to what they were worth in the last crash, and tended still to be overpriced. The house next door last sold in a $100,000 short sale, at a price that was somewhere between 20 and 70 grand more than I’d have considered appropriate.

Walter S. Mack Jr

Don Surber has been running a series of posts on exceptional Americans, with the first set now in book form. Many of them are, naturally, people from the world of business, invention and innovation.

Today’s example was a real education for me, as I did not know the history of Pepsi, or how there came to be a longstanding two cola rivalry.

Read about Walter S. Mack Jr and how he turned an obscure drink owned by a candy company into a huge success, at the same time helping to normalize racial equality of opportunity.

Public Domain Alternate History

Had copyright law remained as it was in 1957, quite a list of works would have become public domain on January 1, 2014. As noted at the link, famous works will tend to remain available, if not as inexpensively so as might be the case, but I am concerned with orphan works. When I look up books I liked as a child and cannot find them in print, or in print at a price one can afford, then the copyright holder either has no interest in holding them in copyright, or there is no living copyright holder, heir or assign who is aware or interested in that status. Such works have no reason to remain protected. Even if that protection lies only in fear that someone who can legitimately prove ownership might come out of the woodwork after all, if any interest is shown.

Worst are the academic publications that are behind overpriced paywalls that keep the useful arts and sciences from being promoted. Congress ought to be ashamed of extending copyrights to unconstitutional lengths, and courts out to be ashamed of going along with it. At least, I assume they have, since there must have been challenges. Copyright should not be controlled by media corporations. That was never the idea.