SEG is a marketplace – a bazaar, really – in downtown Shenzhen. It stretches the imagination in many ways. One floor after another of shops – no, make that stalls – selling every kind of electronic THING you can think of. Cables (power, ribbon, CAT-10, and everything in between), connectors, plugs, sockets, connector locking devices, capacitors, resistors, transistors, oscillators, inverters, solenoids, relays, trimpots, switches, buttons, lamps, LEDs, piezoelectric, speakers, amplifiers, chips (from 74xx DIPs and LSI logic to GPUs and quad-core CPUs), DIMMs, chip carriers, ZIF sockets, motherboards, daughterboards, PCI boards, every kind of expansion, I/O and peripheral boards, power supplies, graphics cards, batteries, power bricks, UPS’s, chassis, cases, displays of all technologies and sizes, from miniscule to wall-sized, keyboards, keypads, joysticks, gaming peripherals from steering wheels to swords, USB hubs, Firewire hubs, SATA hubs, speakers, synthesizers, mice, tablets, touchpads, headsets, microphones, lenses, chillers, fans, docking stations, oscilloscopes, logic analyzers, laptop cases (and sleeves, and decorative decals), radios, antennas, GPS modules, sensors of all kinds, cameras, flash memory, disk drives, CD and DVD drives, enclosures for the drives, blank media. And yes, of course, there’s software, though not a lot of it. Windows 7 DVDs were being pushed at me at every turn, inside SEG and on the streets outside. And then we have all of the systems built out of all that stuff: thumb drives, cameras, phones, navigation systems, laptops, netbooks, desktops, portable media players, TVs, set-top boxes, game systems. Every big name was represented there, and each seemed to be selling everything from phones to laptops to TVs.
The focus is extreme. No t-shirts, no food, no music, books, magazines, or other “content”. (But then why would anyone buy a CD these days?) No distractions. Let’s make a deal. One unit, ten, a hundred, OED, OEM, whatever it takes.
This was all in one market, packed with people, all wheeling and dealing. At least 8 floors (I gave up counting). What makes it even more amazing is that this is just one of several places – similar size, similar business model – along one street in Shenzhen.
I didn’t buy anything while I was exploring, except for a drink at Starbucks. I did go looking for a pair of lightweight hiking trousers, but I couldn’t find anything in my size. Even a “2XL” was a 38″ waist.

Russell Blackford on "ad hoc" arguments

Over at Sentient Developments, Russell Blackford takes on the philosopher Massimo Pigliucci and his recent piece on the limits of skeptical inquiry. Russell’s comments in general are quite convincing, but one passage particularly caught my attention.
I’ve been hanging out at various Christian apologist websites recently, contributing the odd comment here and there and scratching my head over some of the crazier assertions that people make. And one of the common moves that apologists make, when a unique and supposedly miraculous claim is challenged, is to say that science is unqualified to judge such things because “with God, all things are possible” Of course, this is really no different from Last-Thursdayism: we can’t trust the evidence for anything, because the universe might have been arranged to create that illusion. So I particularly liked Russell’s robust rejection of such moves:

However, what if somebody replies that God arranged for the Earth to look far older than it really is, in order to test our faith? Here, Pigliucci thinks that science and hence skeptical inquiry reaches a limit. He claims, in effect, that philosophers have a reply, whereas scientists must stand mute.
I disagree with this. The scientist is quite entitled to reject the claim, not because it makes falsified predictions or conflicts directly with observations it doesnt but because it is ad hoc. It is perfectly legitimate for scientists working in the relevant fields to make the judgment that a particular hypothesis is not worth pursuing, and should be treated as false, because it has been introduced merely to avoid falsification of a position that is contrary to the evidence.
Scientists might take some interest in claims about a pre-aged Earth if they were framed in such a way as to make novel and testable predictions, but as long as all such claims are presented as mere ad hoc manoeuvres to avoid falsification of the claim that the universe is really 6,000 years old, a scientist is quite entitled to reject it. A philosopher should reject it for exactly the same reason. Philosophers don’t have any advantage over scientists at this point.
Thus, Pigliucci is unnecessarily limiting the kinds of arguments that are available to scientists. He writes as if they are incapable of using arguments grounded in commonsense reasoning, such as arguments that propose we reject ad hoc thesis-saving hypotheses.

Apples in the cloud: an epiphany

I’m processing HD video from this weekend’s visits to my grandchildren in Lynn. All of the projects are about the same size. I copy the raw clips from my MacBook Air to Merry’s new 13″ MacBook Pro, and fire up iMovie on each machine. On my machine, iMovie says that it will take 59 minutes (which turns out to be 90+). On hers: 23. My first reaction is the typical geek’s knee-jerk response: it’s time to upgrade my laptop to something more powerful. My second reaction: that’s absurd. Most of the time, my MacBook Air is quite fast enough. What I really want is a Mac Pro MB535LL/A in the cloud, available on demand…. (Well, that and easier batch support in iMovie.)

The risks of getting greedy for miles

I just dodged a nasty little trap over at the United Airlines website, and thought it was worth passing on.
About a week ago I received an email from United advertising their “Fall into bonus miles” program. It works like this: register on their website with the special code (MPD539), then enter that code when purchasing a qualifying roundtrip this fall, and get an extra 2,500 miles. It sounded like a sweet deal, so I registered.
It also happened that I need to visit the UK in December. It’s partly family stuff and partly business, and I have a little flexibility about dates, so I plugged in the dates, checked “Search by flexible dates”, and… Ah, yes! Before I clicked “Find”, I carefully entered the code “MPD539”. Back came a matrix of fares for various date combinations, and the best (December 7-21) was around $900 per person.
I wasn’t quite ready to book the trip, so a couple of days later I looked again. This time I forgot to enter the promotion code, and I was delighted to see that the prices had gone down, to around $700. Great! Isn’t yield management a wonderful thing? I still had one thing to confirm, so I waited until I got home to actually book the flights. I logged in, entered the dates, added the promotion code… and the price was up over $900.
On a whim, I tried my search again, without the promotion code. Bingo! I got the $700 (plus taxes) fare. So I booked it, and then checked to figure out what had happened. It turns out that the fine print on the promotion says:

Qualifying class of service: United First(R) (F, A, P), United Business(R) (C, D, Z) and select United Economy(R) (Y, B, M, H, E, U, Q). Other classes of service are not eligible for this offer.

So each time I entered the promotional code, United only showed me fares from the eligible classes of service, and gave no indication that cheaper fares were available. My nice cheap fare was Economy “S”, which may be the bottom of the barrel, but I still got nice seats in Economy Plus.
The moral of the tale: if someone offers you a cool promotion, check the prices with and without the promo code. You may be surprised.

Schama on America – read the book, skip the TV series

Before my last overseas trip, I loaded Simon Schama’s book “The American Future” onto my Kindle.
I enjoyed it immensely: a witty ramble across the history and geography of the United States, neatly linked to the momentous political events of late 2008. Highly recommended. Soon afterwards, Kate got it out of the library, and she too enjoyed it. And then we wondered. We’d enjoyed several of Schama’s earlier TV series – on art, and British history – and it seemed plausible that the book of “The American Future” might be tied to a BBC TV series. That’s the way the media business seems to work these days. We checked, and indeed it was, and the DVDs were available. So we ordered them from Netflix. They arrived a couple of days ago.
Oh dear.
Well, there was some beautiful photography. Lots of shots of American landscapes, often with Simon Schama gazing thoughtfully out across the prairie, or the river, or the mountain. But the narrative was slow, and the editing repetitive, and the whole thing was simply dull. Deadly dull. Tedious.
So skip the DVD, but get the book. It’s magnificent. And it’s cheaper.

Up in the Air

Yes, there’s a lesson in this for people like me….

(Which reminds me: I’ve got two trips coming up this month – one to Boston, and one to Shenzhen. Hmmm.)