Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Free Stuff!

The other day as I was waiting for an update to process for Speak-to-It assistant on my android gadget (Samsung Galaxy Player 5.0. Pretty nice.) I started reading the recent reviews. There were several reviews giving the new update low marks, because you had to pay for good sounding voices now.

As a dug into it, I discovered that the basic voices (male or female) were free, but if you wanted it to talk with a UK accent, you had to pay $1.

A whole dollar. And this had everyone's nickers in a twist.

And this is my one big complaint with the "new free economy".

Here is a program that you talk to. It takes the resulting sound wave, analyzes it, identifies patterns and translates them into words, determines the meaning of those words, and then provides an appropriate response. It gives information about the weather, manages your calendar, launches programs, performs Google searches, reads your email to you, tells jokes....

For free.

But it isn't free. Nothing is free. Someone had to write the code to get all that to work. Most likely a large number of somebodies spent a large number of hours writing, rewriting fixing improving etc... the code that makes it work. These somebodies, like all somebodies require food, clothing, shelter. While they were busy writing this code, they weren't busy gathering food, or making shelter.

This program utilizes servers on the internet to perform all this interpretation/translation/information dissemination. Those server are made of bits of silicon which are amazing feats of engineering, by people who invested their whole lives to understanding and manipulating properties of electricity. The server require power, which comes from a variety of sources, all of which required someone to invest time to manufacture it. The servers generate heat, which is harmful to them, thus requiring cooling, which requires heat pumps or air conditioners, which must also be invented, engineered, manufactured, installed, and maintained. All the people performing these tasks need food, and shelter.

Stuff isn't free. A musician invests time to write and perform music. Government funds for education grants, housing stipend, welfare etc... mean resources were taken from someone, and given to someone else. Those resources don't magically pop into existence. Because uncle Congress snapped his fingers.

One (semi) simple example is Social security. money is taken from me to help fund old peoples existence. When I get to be old. The young people of that time will have money taken form them to fund my existence. So what happens if there are suddenly a whole bunch more old people (because we get better at keeping them alive longer), and fewer young people (because fewer people are having children)? Well, either the old people are going to get less money, or the young people are going to have to give more.

I saw a segment from one of the TV judge programs the other day. A woman was suing her ex-boyfriend for his part of their rent while he was living with her. His argument was that he didn't have to pay rent his company was payment enough. As the Judge questioned him it came out that he was a college student in his third year studying music (you wouldn't have guessed he had even finished highschool, listening to him talk). He was in college on grants, he also received a stipend for housing. He was living for free with his girlfriend, and using this money to party. He was adamant that this was a perfectly legal, moral thing for him to do. All told, over the last three years taxpayer had given this boy seventy thousand dollars to study music, and party. some fraction of my hard work paid for this. Some fraction of my hard work paid for this instead of feeding and clothing two or three families that truly needed help. To this boy, it was free money. He had no concept where it came from.

Nothing is free. Ever. It always has a price, sooner or later, for someone. (go ahead try and think of something that is truly free. Let me know what you come up with).

Unfortunately, thanks to Google, youtube, facebook,...  unlimited cellular plans, unlimited data plans, free wifi, etc...  we have lost touch withthe cost of stuff. So people freak out over a $1 charge to add an accent to a voice in an otherwise "free" application.

One of these days, the piper is going to come to collect. That's gonna be a shock.