The Wal-Mart You Don’t Know

Actually, I was already somewhat familiar with the Wal-Mart described in Fast Company | The Wal-Mart You Don’t Know. The article is a very interesting discussion of Wal-Mart’s tough tactics in dealing with suppliers and just what it means to be a $240 billion company. One interesting quote: “about 12% of the economy’s productivity gains in the second half of the 1990s could be traced to Wal-Mart alone.” That’s the kicker here. The article is reasonably balanced, but brings up the point that buying at Wal-Mart is moving a lot of jobs overseas.

Economic theory would tell us that in the long term, this is not a bad thing. In the short term, people are losing their jobs. But, the hope is that new industries will emerge in the US that will provide even better jobs. I read an article a few days back (I think it was in Wired) that described how our standard of living has improved quite a bit in the past few decades due to discount stores. Many things that “mere mortals” couldn’t afford have become far more accessible. Partly because those things have become cheaper, but also because we don’t have to spend as much money on necessities, thanks to stores like Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart is squeezing efficiency out of the market, which ultimately should put more money in our hands.

Iraq and al Qaeda linked

According to the Weekly Standard (Case Closed):

OSAMA BIN LADEN and Saddam Hussein had an operational relationship […] according to a top secret U.S. government memorandum obtained by THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

I’ve been critical of the current administration’s handling of Iraq from the get-go. If all of this evidence had been swirling around, it’s surprising that this “top secret” memo was written on October 27th. The administration made the claim much earlier. This sounds more like scraping up whatever can be found to support what the administration has already done.

That said, this could at least improve Bush’s credibility somewhat by validating some claims made. Blaming Iraq for 9/11 is still outrageous, though.

Oracle Workspace Manager

Today, I came across the Oracle Workspace Manager and almost literally stood up and said “wow!”. Has anyone out there used this beast? Assuming it has good performance characteristics, it sounds fantastic for the kinds of things I’m working on.

The brief summary, for those who don’t feel like reading the whole datasheet, is that Workspace Manager provides row-level version control for your database, will branching/merging capabilities and flexibility in terms of which tables are versioned and how they are versioned. The “how” can be keeping all changes to a row, or keeping just the most recent change within the workspace. Using the latter, you could just hold on to periodic milestones of the data.

I guess there really is a reason that Oracle costs big bucks and MySQL and PostgreSQL are free. MySQL works great for a great many applications, but there’s probably no substitute for Oracle in places where Workspace Manager are called for. (Does anyone know of other databases that have this kind of versioning?)

Federal discretionary spending up 12.5%

A couple of days ago, I read something that talked about how politicians will sometimes pass deficit-causing tax cuts to force a reduction in spending and reduce the size of a government that is perceived to be too large. I guess that’s not the case with this administration, given that they haven’t held to the 4 percent growth cap set by the President.

Confounding President Bush’s pledges to rein in government growth, federal discretionary spending expanded by 12.5 percent in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, capping a two-year bulge that saw the government grow by more than 27 percent, according to preliminary spending figures from congressional budget panels.

The article notes that even when taking out the war expenses and natural disaster aid, spending was up 7.9%. Do you feel that your $2.1 trillion is being well-spent?

UPX: Packer for Executables

Here’s a nifty tool: UPX: the Ultimate Packer for eXecutables. It will compress your executable programs and then decompress them (quickly!) on the fly, thus allowing them to take up less disk space. The authors claim there is no additional memory usage caused by the in-place decompression.

Of course, with machines having 100GB+ hard drives it’s hard to see where the gain is in compressing a 4MB program down to 3MB… but this tool could be useful if you’re distributing software or if you’ve got a program that you want to be able to run from a floppy. (A what?)

Berklee releases course materials

MIT has gotten a lot of press for their initiative to release course materials for all of their courses. The Berklee College of Music looks to be following in MIT’s footsteps with Berklee Shares: free music lessons, mp3, quicktime and pdf files download. This looks like a great site and a great initiative. As a musician (albeit one with very little time on his hands), I would love to read and hear what some of the Berklee folks are teaching.

As with MIT’s courseware, just being able to follow the Berklee lessons is not the same as a person-to-person Berklee education. But, they’re opening up knowledge to a much broader audience.