Monday, November 17, 2014

marketing custom silicon without aiding your competition

I have, on several occasions, remarked that it would be nice if certain, unnamed chip design houses (on at least one occasion I imprecisely used the word "vendors") would make their chips available to the startup/DIY/hobbyist/education market, in lot sizes appropriate to that market.

So what, you might ask, would prevent other companies from scooping up those chips and using them in competing products? There are two answers to that question.

First, you don't market your latest designs this way, particularly not when your own products are parts-supply constrained. Rather, as each design reaches the end of its life in your own product lineup, you let the fabrication line run for just a bit longer to produce a few extra parts (thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands), for use in repairing returned devices and for sale, at a significant mark-up, to alternative markets, as to the producers of small circuit boards like the Raspberry Pi, or even as single parts to supply houses like SparkFun.

That "significant markup" is the second reason why this would not aid the competition. While you may be able to cost parts included in your own products at a slim margin above the cost of production, there's no need to apply this practice to parts sold into the open market. You can charge several times, even ten times, the cost of production, and still be doing your customers a favor.

The only party who would stand to lose from this, so far as I can see, is Atmel, who has the lion's share of the market for processors used in boards sold to individuals and in small lots. However, since they already have the relationships for serving this market, as well as some potentially useful processor-design related IP, a great first step would be to buy Atmel.

In any case, as the size of this business grows, and it's sure to, it will become more reasonable to create custom designs better suited to it, combining cores honed for highly-competitive mass markets with more generic i/o circuitry. It will also become more reasonable to make one's software development tools available for use in programming devices into which one's chips have been incorporated.

Not saying who I'm talking about/to here, but, if the shoe fits, please try it on.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

politics as a team sport

Let's use an imaginary example, to avoid confusion with real team loyalties, beginning with an imaginary sport, SpaceBall, played in zero gravity (in orbit until it becomes possible to cancel out gravity over a small portion of the Earth's surface, at which point the popularity of the sport takes off). Players navigate about a polyhedron-shaped arena using arm-powered flaps (wings), rebounding off trampoline-like walls, and manipulating the ball with their legs, holding it between their knees as they fly, dribbling it with little nudges as they accelerate and repeatedly catch up with it, or shoving or kicking it to pass it to another player or move it nearer to their own goal or attempt a score. Because the wings afford little control at low speed, the usual practice is to take full advantage of the walls to build up speed, so players can be seen flying through the arena in all directions. To add just a bit to the excitement, players have the option of storing part of the effort they exert in the form of compressed air, which can be released as a jet, accelerating them 'upwards' meaning in the direction of their heads. Near collisions happen continuously, and actual collisions resulting in injuries are quite common. Also, although technically forbidden, except to knock the ball from the grasp of the player who has possession of it, players frequently make intentional contact with their opponents, kicking or slapping them with their arms. It being very difficult to distinguish between intentional and accidental contact, only the most obvious instances are penalized.

Because of the huge expense involved in building an arena, there are only a handful, essentially one per continent, and because of the huge investment required to build a competitive team, only the largest metropolises have their own, while most teams are franchises relying upon something other than specific geographical identity, such as a broader cultural identity, to build their fan bases. Monetizable fan bases are critical, so the investors who originally built or who later bought the teams can recoup their money and make a profit.

The appeal to broader cultural identity means that the teams become surrogates for actual inter-cultural tensions, with the outcome of specific contests frequently being portrayed in moral terms and the elation or dejection from a win or loss frequently spilling over into the streets.

Like the teams in this imaginary scenario, political parties have set themselves up as the champions of various cultural segments, usually multiple such segments, in the effort to patch together a plurality of voters. And, even though they may be put off by the others with whom they find themselves lumped together, and by some of the positions taken by their team's candidates, voters usually hold their noses and vote for the team with which they most strongly identify, with a lot of dark money going to insuring that any combinational irritations aren't felt strongly enough to keep them from doing so, and magnifying the irritations that would be experienced by those switching to a different team affiliation.

This nose-holding propensity is what makes it possible for the deep pockets, essentially investors, to bankroll one team or another, in the assurance that victory will result in a more favorable state of (financial) affairs for themselves.

Rather than go on, providing real-world examples, I'm going to cut to the chase, which is that if you would like to help shrink the influence of big money on politics, one way to do it is to participate in MAYDAY.US, the crowd-funded effort to elect "a Congress committed to fundamental reform by 2016."

Friday, November 07, 2014

thinking about vertical farming and aquaponics

I don't talk much about this, but I do think vertical farming will be an increasingly important contributor to food production in the future, and that it will be highly mechanized almost from the outset. My concern is with the land that continues to be subject to the need for production and the desire for landscaping, pressures that vertical farming won't relieve soon. So long as we continue to manage land for our own purposes, we need to do a far better, far less destructive job of it!