30 October 2006

Double Dipping the Surplus Value

I have been thinking recently, as I often have cause to do, on the wretched state of software. This has lead me to an economic analysis of the software industry, not something I'd normally indulge in, but now that I have the vocabulary for what was annoying me, perhaps I can dwell on some other matter.

"Surplus value" is a technical term, associated with Marx but by no means discovered by him, describing how capital accumulation takes place. Horribly simplified, surplus value is the difference between the selling price of something and the labor cost, with the idea being that it's mostly unpaid labor that makes value for a business (i.e., people aren't really paid for the full value of their work). As I said, this simplification is gross, but it's the basic idea, no great surprise nor particularly radical.

Whatever you feel is the correct relationship between labor and the pay for that labor, it seems to me that software companies who produce crappy software (that is, most of them) rely on not one but two sources of surplus value, first from their own employees, second from the poor shlubs who buy their software and then have to hire even more IT staff. How much of that expensive software companies are convinced buy would get any use if there weren't an army of acolytes running around tending to it?

What percent of the average IT budget (training and salaries) is devoted to necessary infrastructure and what percent to dealing with software that doesn't quite work as advertized?

04 October 2006

An Eye on Alzheimer's

Now this is just cool: Optics Tests For Early Alzheimer's Diagnosis Make Significant Advances. It turns out that Alzheimer's isn't just a brain disease, but a systemic one. The same amyloid protein that clogs up the brains of Alzheimer's victims also collect at the edge of the lens of the eye. They already did a Phase I human trial, so it may be that in the not too distant future it will be possible to catch, and verify the diagnosis of, Alzheimer's earlier in the course of the disease.

This comes by way of ScienceDaily, which everyone should have in their syndication list (feed).

03 October 2006

Quotable Euripides

I've been reading Medea recently. As I read (slowly), I keep coming across tidbits that recommend themselves for memorization. My pocket Moleskine now has quite a few lines from the play, and I use that to memorize from while on the bus. It turns out books of quotations were popular even in ancient times, and quotations from plays, especially Euripides and Menander, seem to have been especially popular.

Last week, during a review, I noticed a few lines of anapests that I decided I should be able to recite:

δεινὰ τυράννων λήματα καί πως—
ὀλίγ’ ἀρχόμενοι, πολλὰ κρατοῦντες —     120
χαλεπῶς ὀργὰς μεταβάλλουσιν.

The wants of despots are terrible and —
since they are ruled little and command much —
only (πως) with difficulty do they change their impulses.

Suddenly it's completely current.