This page first posted 20 November 1998.
Socks, Maps and Drains.
Ferengi believe in "the great river" that provides. It's a neat encapsulation of capitalism in a religious parable. Trade is the flow from those who have something to those who want it. A successful man makes his profit by facilitating the trade, allowing the water of the great river to flow from a place of higher potential energy to one of lower potential energy, taking commission like a waterwheel pulling energy from the inevitable flow.
Only a decade or two ago, one could rely on coming back from overseas with something that was not available or not yet available at home. Not so now... you can get almost anything anywhere, for a price, especially through the net, possibly giving someone's waterwheel a decent shove in the process. With, I am about to tell you, with a few exceptions.
Take Computer Socks. Brilliant things. You'd no more buy any other sort of sock (if you care at all about socks) than you would buy a vacuum cleaner that wasn't a Dyson. Of course lots of people don't care much about their socks, or their vacuums, but many of us do. So why is the Computer Sock, an Australian invention, rarer than bars of unobtainium in the US? There's gotta be room for a moneywheel... sorry, waterwheel, here.
Then there's maps. Pitiful maps here in CA, and yet either a Gregory's or a UBD in Sydney or an A-Z in London or any number of hiking and path maps in rural UK put them to shame. From http://www.whitepages.com you can get a small UBD map of the environs of almost all businesses in Sydney, and it will show schools, public telephones, churches, significant buildings, street numbers, parks, police stations, fire stations, hospitals, the works. And in colour. Here, you are lucky to get B&W maps with malls, and you cannot even look up a phone number reliably on the web, let alone access a map, no sir. Another tributary asking for a waterwheel.
In pure ideas there's even room. American bathrooms do not have drains in the floor. Can you believe this? Water that sprays or spills collects in puddles. Drain in the shower, drain in the bath, drain in the sink and maybe two sinks to a bathroom, no drain in the floor. I ask a colleague if any have them... "No" he says, "you'd have to slope the floor... how would you do that, then?". I answer: "The water always seems to collect in one spot... the floor is already sloped!" Hmm, that got him. So where's the plumber offering this, collecting business?
What sums up the current mindset? This comment reported by a person in HP: "There's an independent contractor that does a lot of work for HP," he wrote. "Someone in Corporate sent him a letter asking him to certify for HP that he was Y2K compliant. Considering that all his equipment is produced by HP, he sent a letter back asking HP to certify that their equipment is Y2K compliant."
I came here, to the capitalist Mecca, keen to immerse myself in the strong capitalist flow. If one thing here in CA disappoints me, it is that the place is far more socialist that I hoped and imagined. The drive to find that foothold, to get the waterwheel to work with a low head of pressure, is evaporating. The buggers are turning into democrats, my feet get wet in the morning trip to the bathroom, and I can't buy Computer Socks. Thank ghod I have a good sense of direction.