Author Archives: admin

Communism in America: BART parking

I have to go to San Francisco from Pleasanton every so often and quite frequently there is no parking available on the station plus no alternative private parking within walking distance too.     If you happen to get the parking space it is however it is almost free (1$ a day, peanuts compared to $11.10 for return fare).

The alternative is to get the reserved monthly parking  which costs about $65 a month (so about $3 per working day)…  but it is too unavailable. There is a wait list and   I was happy to find out I  am #450 in a wait list.    This is probably more than reserved parking spaces available on the station which means I can’t never get my turn.

This reminds me a lot the “communism” era in Soviet Union then  most things were extremely cheap…. you however could not get them in convenient form.  You would either wait long in line or come at special times when products may become available or  resort to the black market which had most everything available at the prices few could afford.

Having limited availability with low prices actually hurts in many way.  First  this is obviously below the cost and there is no insensitive for developing more parking spaces.  Second low prices makes commercial parking development venture rather risky  – people generally have hard time paying higher prices for something which might be available for a lot less somewhere.

What I would much rather see is having monthly rates and  day rates to raised to match market demand.   The monthly parking in SF downtown is over $200 in many areas. Add to this gas and bridge toll as well as having fun time in the traffic and $150 monthly parking at BART would be totally reasonable.   Same applies to the day parking  – $5 a day would be totally reasonable – which still just half of the fare.

What is about people who will be no more able to afford parking ?       This is surely unpleasant but ask yourself how parking around BART is different from parking at SF Downtown which can run $30 a day in financial district, or BART fare ?   We’re choosing work (or place to live) considering the time and cost to get to work and there should be no one to blame if commute is costly.   Some executives may commute on private plane every day – they are in position to afford it.

Paying is however only one way of solving the problem.    If you can’t afford to pay you can take a bike from many places in Pleasanton and Dublin which is also good for you  and envinronment  you can also use number of further parking spots and walk, finally you can also trade time for money by using one of the transit center parking lots and taking a bus.

Payroll Taxes

Payroll Taxes  are evil.  I think they are created to confuse people and  make a wrong impression.  In this sense they are similar to  Sales Tax or various  Air Fair  taxes and surcharges which are made to trick you in seeing the price you see is exactly price you pay.    You can’t buy  $999 TV for $1000 because of taxes and same you can’t pay individual $100000 a year if you have $100000 budget, even if you do not pay any benefits.

Another big problem about Payroll Taxes they are so different across  different countries which make payroll comparison between different countries tricky.  For Contractor it is easy to offer a freedom to live in any  place one choses (one of benefits of truly Virtual companies), however once you speak about Employee you get into the trouble because of payroll task – to provide $100K a year Salary will cost significantly different amounts in different countries and even different states, in some countries Payroll Tax can be higher than Income Tax the individual pays.

But even for traditional deeply businesses employing people in one location Payroll Taxes can cause surprising problems.   As they are increased (as happens recently with growing unemployment) the Employer gets squeezed – either it has to reduce the salaries, which may be written down in the contract  or forced to increase payroll budget.

I believe most people working for the companies do not really think about true cost of their employment – cost of taxes and benefits, at least I did not quite understand amount of taxes coming into the play until I started paying myself a salary in United Kingdom.    Unlike Federal, State or Social Security taxes these are not printed on your paycheck so you would not know unless you really want to know.

I believe it would be much better if all taxes are paid from the Salary and so it is fully seen by employee how much Money all different levels of government decide to keep for themselves.    This also would help to understand employee how much the company is really spending on him – which is very important for consulting company like ours where you can easily see how much revenue individual brings  to the company vs how much he is being paid back.

Percona Performance Conference

We announced Percona Performance Conference 2010 few days ago.  We got a lot of positive feedback but also some people did not like the fact we schedule conference at the same time as MySQL conference tentatively was scheduled.    They think it is unfair and we “steal” some audience from the “main” conference.

Here is how I look at it.   We provide more choice to the people.  We do not force anyone to come to our conference instead but if there are some slots people do not find sessions to attend they can go to the Percona event instead.    Of course for company organizing Conference and Expo it may be better to see attendees little choice so they end up spending time at Expo Hall during which keeps exhibitors and sponsors happy but this is a different story.   Also organizing conference in the same location we allow more people to attend it –  a lot of people can’t afford to travel to the 2 conferences and may have hard time getting budget approved to attend less known Percona conference.     Giving more choice we also increase overral interest interest. I spoke to number of people last year which came to the event because of Percona Conference (and bought ticket to MySQL conference as well) – especially for senior people the time to attend the conference is larger concern than the ticket cost.

I do recognize some people feeling sad they will have to make a choice – those who have an option to attend more conferences would like to see them being spread apart so they can visit more cool sessions.  I however believe such people are in minority – especially in current economy time and money are scarse.

Another issue I want you to recognize is cost for Percona.  We ran free conference as our gift to community (and yes, I will not deny it is great marketing).  We spent tens of thousands dollars in time and money to organize it and of course we want to keep costs down.   Having conference happening the same time as MySQL event we can save on travel budget and travel team – we can have more speakers/attendies from Percona both for MySQL Conference and Percona conference which means more talks.

Finally let me use comparative example. As you can see through the history shops, restaurants or gas stations tend to be in bunches close to each other.  Do they compete more this way ? Sure but even more they benefit from each other closeness.  People going to one restaurant will see another one and plan visiting it when they are up to different kind of food or if first one is too busy.

In any case if you do not like what we’re doing, if you question our intensions you always have a choice not to come to event.

Safety or Stupidity

In the Daycare my daugher goes to there is a rule  the shoes has to be on when they are having the afternoon nap.    I have checked with Director where this requirement comes from and I was told this is state regulations which they have to follow.   Recently I got to know the reasons for these regulations.    This is so in case of fire they can run off without getting their shoes off.   Come on. This is California  not Novosibirsk  my kids run in the backyard barefoot at all the seasons. In unlikely event of fire and emergency evacuation I’m surely they would manage.

It is especially surprising this is a requirement not recommendation.  I’m all for for giving parents choice – some may chose for their kids to sleep in hiking boots (these offer the best protection) or wear hard hat in case there is an earthquake.  But why making it a regulation by taking choice away from parents ?

More on Health Insurance

I finaly have watched film Sicko by Michael Moore and  I honestly was very dissapointed seing things presented in such a way as everybody is suffering with medical help in USA and  in other countries survaved things are just great – you get the best medicine available with no wait and money to pay.  And… it also does not seems to cost anything in taxes.

I believe there are people happy with medical care in Europe or Canada same as there are in USA and there are ones which are NOT happy.  I do not know about ratios but it is surely far from black and white.

Personally as I lived 1.5 years in UK (one of featured countries)  the US health care (PPO) was something I missed a lot.    On the top of that I paid similar amount in Healthcare taxes to what was full cost of my health insurance in USA.   Of course my situation does not apply to everyone  and especially those who are with no health insurace or HMO would like UK medicine more but surely not me.    We had denied referrals to specialists multiple times.  There are also significant wait times for some operations or longer times between certain things you’re entitled to.   Under my US health insurace I’m entitled to once per year full medical exam which would be once per 5 years or something in UK.     There is an option to make a house call but once I tried to do it for my doughter  being 1yo at that time I was pushed to bring her in instead.

My mother visiting us here in US had an incident so she had to get to ER. She has gotten MRI and bunch of other exams immediately.  Now back in UK she is still waiting to be scheduled for followup MRI exam. She tells me they will likely write her back in 3 months and she may get appointment 6 months out or so.   Well  no surprise there is a special BUPA private insurance in UK which makes sure you get admitted to private exam if NHS does not schedule you within the defined wait period.

Of course you may say this is life threatening ER visit which can’t be compared to the followup visit (though if you had rushed to ER I’d expect it to be quite important to find out what was wrong with you)  So I can tell from the personal experience. Few years ago I had a brain surgery so I need MRI checkups which are far from urgent.  I was always able to schedule them basically the next day in US and my insurance have not have any problems.

Other thing which I remember which was covered by a lot of press was cancer drug which was rather expensive and generally prolonged life to the terminal cancer patients few months.  NHS decided it is not wise to spend limited money it has such a way and this drug was not covered.  I got impression this is not the first neither the last case.

Another thing which surprised me in the film  was showing Canadians worried to go to US without insurance because of medical costs. Well what would you expect, really ? The medical care has its costs and why tax payers of the other country should pay for someone outside ?  Unless there is no special treaty between the countries foreigners should be paying…  and yes getting travel insurance is a good way to do it.  This is for example what my mover wisely did for her trip to US.

What do I mean to say ?  Do not take it black and white.  People die. People die with public or private health care.   And as the saing goes the grass is always greener on other side of the fence.

Also  whenever your like it or not the health care will always be better for people more powerful and/or reach.  This is just fact of life –  there supply of brilliant doctors is limited same as certain equipment.  This is  very politically inconvenient and tough reality.   Expecting us all to get same quality of care is same as expecting everyone to drive in the same kind of cars or live in the same quality of hourses.  We can starve to provide some good base level to everyone but not even it out completely.

Imagine for example there is a magic cure which gives every person  10 more years to live.   It however required 20 years worth of “labor” looking at productivity of average person.    The basic math tells us it will not be possible to provide to everyone and well modern medicine is close to that.

If you look at medical research over years you can see (same as with other sciences) it becomes more niche and focuses.   Few hundred years ago doctors were often dealing with general “fever” or “infection” while it changed now to many thousands of different decieses with its own diagnostics and cures which all had to be researched.  If you see research happening now you would see focus sometimes being the special condicions for the special kind of cancer which  one out of 100.000 people or less may get.   If only 1000 people can be helped in a year by given research imagine what the cost would have to be to cover research costs.    In case of government doing funding similar things happen – budgets are limited so some projects are funded and others not.  Some people get cure found for their decieses others left to die.

If you’re Bill Gates, Warren Buffet  you can fund research of your conditions (or conditions you’re likely to get based on your DNA)  of not you’re left to count on someone targeting your “market” being it government or private group.

If you ask me what I think about health care in US I think it is too regulated (bringing hosts for basic care too high) and there are way too many litigations. Doctors make mistakes. People die.  There should be responsibility of course but to harsh concequences lead to fear and restrict innovation.

I think universal health care is good and practical but same as with Schools it should be up to the certain level.    The Emergency care is something which should surely be covered same as base prevention.  However you should be able to reach to private care if you need something special what  social medicine which only has so much per capita of spending in budget can’t allow you.   Government could be helping to ensure there is an insurance available for these low probability but high impact events.

How straight is your pricing model?

Some businesses have straight model, others advertise you extremely low prices which have nothing to do with what you will pay in the end because of various not so obvious items.  Sometimes it is related to specific industry and sometimes just to some players  tricking the customers with some of the prices.

In general I think US is more prone to this compared to Europe.  In Europe when you have the price it typically includes VAT and other prices so it is the price you’re going to pay.  Not so in US with Sales Tax ommited from the price.   I remember number of friends comming to visit falling for the trick surprised to learn $3 in cash do not buy $2.99 cup of coffe.   Also in many European countries the tip is indeed optional in US it is considered hiden part of the price –  you would not avoid pain it in the restaurant you go for lunch every day.  It can be even forcibly added to your bill for large parties in many restaurants.

For Percona Training we just have been deeling with a similar trap with a hotel.  What a time waster.  Some hotel would advertise very low room rates but if you learn about insignificant extras which you’re going to need they can cost 3x-5x of advertised room cost.   How would you like for example Wireless internet access for one day having same cost as the room or  permission to use your own projector being over half a room price.

What really annoys me with such industries it is probably very hard to do business if you price things straight playing fair.   If you advertise full prices which is structured in obvious and straight way you probably would not have people even call you so you could explain them how things work out.

This pricing scam actually goes more.  I constantly spam by mail to get something for free (just paying $15 of shipment and handling) .  This goes to continue to more fine sales tricks going back to fine print.  Some businesses like banks may bite you with fees which you never would know existed.

Another innovation (which smells more like as scam to me) which I see quite commonly used by banks having your credit cards offering you something for free – free gas free air ticket etc, just asking you to mark yes sign and mail back the card.  The fine print however would say you’re subscribing to some service by accepting this offer.

I’m very surprised and somethat dissapointed in US with so many litigations and crazy laws there are no laws in this area or they are not enforced well allowing all kind of consumer deception.  I can only speculate in consumer based economy goverment wants you to buy, so any business tricks which make you to buy more spend more borrow more would be supported and praised as innovations.

Happily with Percona we’re in the industry which allows to keep straight prices and we keep it this way.  This bites sometimes with people complaining rates are high (because we do not play any tricks with them) but we do not need any deception or obfuscation to be in business.

Power of Memory

The interesting thing about US in regards of current economic conditions is most people seems not to remember any big crisis.  So there is belief some events simply can’t happen.

I find being very grateful for my childhood memory in  Soviet Union and Russia which show some things you think could never change collapsing in a few short years.

My first memories go back to early 90s when I was a child myself.  I remember the empty shelfs and having hard time to buy anything changed with great selection at very unaffordable prices as the prices were let go.   Inflation made life savings of most of people worthless.  The only thing which remained for most of people was their flats.

What I find interesting is how this later was described by the government as necessary  (and I think they had the point) – There was imbalance between income and  production but as prices were fixed  you simply had very hard time getting anything at these prices.  Of course there was black market for many goods but most people just preferred to save money and wait their turn to purchase things at official prices.

As inflation happened not only savings but also state pensions were affected and a lot of  older people had to get back to work to make their living or relay on their children.   For years I would see typically older women  moping floors at school and other locations.

In Russia the elder generation gave up its rights.  Not prepared for battle with single party system they always fallen for the tricks and brought to the power the party which had had mainly youth interests in mind.

Visiting Sweden around 92  I remember I was shocked seeing people in their 70s just starting to live – visiting restaurants, traveling, being well dressed etc.  In Russia most of eldery people at that time would have very modest life style spending mainly on food and medications.

As I see in US the situation is different, probably because of Baby Boomers which are large in numbers as well as because of senior people experienced in politics.   The interest of eldery is maintained with Social Security and Medicare kept intact with little idea how it is paid in the future or notorious proposition 13 in California.

From my opinion situation is somewhat similar  between Russia of early 90s and USA.  In both cases there were significant  promises made to people – in terms of Savings in Russia and in terms of promises of Social Security, Medicare, 401K and other equity in USA,  while the production – the ability to deliver on these promises  is impaired.

In case of Russia this was long stagnation followed by large economic collapse in USA it is very marginal growth in the last 10 years and now aging population reducing amount of people who can produce.

Things are significantly different too. In Russia Government owned everything and there was very little of personal dept which allowed the clean start, on other hand transformation to previously non existing market economy was a very big change.

I’m not expecting developments in US to take the same development as In Russia I just remember the things which you think were impossible actually taking place.

On Books

Couple of days ago my son asked me why people would drink or smoke. I told him some of them do this so they can relax and forget about their problems. Well he answered why do not they just read a book ?

For me too books are great source of relaxation. I can relax while reading, looking at the undread books at the book shelf, shopping on Amazon or well best visiting local book store.    I like paper books as they seem real. I like good made hardcover books though a lot of technical books never come out as such.    I buy more books when I  have time to read.  I like to have a choice of books on the book shelf to pick up and browse through when I have a spare time.  I also never throw away books which just feels like a crime to me.

I have been growing up with a lot of books. My grand father has thousands of me with book cases and shelfs from floor to celling in virtually every room. I always threated him as a library when I lived in Russia – there was no book he would not have. Of course this is different now when my interest have shifted to a lot of advanced stuff.

Leaving Russia we took number of books with us and each time we go there we bring some.  We mainly bring old books as it is easy to buy new prints online.   Moving from US to UK and back probably half of our shipment was books. I think we shipped some 20 boxes of books from Seattle and around 30 or 40 back from UK.

Financial Organization Online Usability

I think financial organization web sites are often the most annoying on a web. They are often slow and have extremely poor usability.

One thing which amuses me a lot is the user name and password policies.    Some would allow basically any user name such as email – which is what I prefer to use as it is easy to remember and there is no chance of somebody using the same name, others would not allow to use any special symbols.    Wachovia  (Auto Loans Site) amuses me the most  – the login name has to be 7-9 digits  and contain at least one digit.   Exactly same rules apply to the password.

Both such small variance and digit requitement makes it tricky to pick the user name to remember which causes you to write it down/memorize in browser which only would reduce security as well as increase the load on the password recovery tool.     I would suggest allowing most of characters in the user name (enough for emails to work) and having low minimum character requirement and generous upper limit.  3-20 characters is a good limit.

For password you may want to have more restrictions requiring strong password but allow generous length too.  6-20 or 8-20 chars can be the good range.   In reality you can allow even higher variance – for secure systems you often would store hash of the password rather than the password itself, which means password of any length require same amount of storage.

Health Care

So health care costs in US grow faster than Income and Economy.   It surely can be partially blamed to how inefficient and high overhead the system is but I think fundomental reason is different.   Medicine has to offer a lot to people these days  – I did the MRI another day and was surprised to see how many artificial things people can have in their body.    The more advanced medicine is just more expensive –  in terms of development, training, care.

The cost of what medicine could provide for individual is so high everyone can’t possibly get the health care at the maximum extent possible.   This is scary – the life is sacred and we want to believe everything possible would be made to save our life but this is just not possible.  Furthermore with continuing development the gap between average health care society can afford and what medicine can provide will widen.

What does universal health care do ? It fixes the costs which in the end means it limits amount of health care one can get.  In my life I lived in 3 countries with universal health care – Russia, UK and Sweden and there is a lot in common.  You would have the long lines for certain specialists and procedures or the doctor will plainly refuse to send you to specialist for the same condition as you would have no problem going advanced diagnostics in US.

Just in the last month I had a routine MRI check.  I could schedule it the next day.  My mother in UK also needs one…  she is still to get back the letter when her appointment to be scheduled and expects it to be at least 6 months away.

True, the state run health insurance usually treats life threatening conditions seriously and you can get diagnostics you need, but because of economy on screening and diagnostics or outdated equipment you have less chance to be diagnosed in time.

Available drugs is also the question.  During my time in UK there was a big scandal with national health care not covering expensive last stage cancer  drug.  It extended people life few years but it was considered too expensive  still    – the same money could save more lifes being invested in something else.

As I mentioned the numbers of course matter. Litigations as well as salaries play its role.  Russia for example can afford much more doctors because they are paid much less.   The doctors in state run hospitals could be earning as little as $200 a month.  Doctors in UK and Sweden of course earn much more than that but still no match for their US collegues.

Insurance companies (at least some) also place the limit on the medical expenses.  I think my insurance covers expenses up to $2M  in a life time.

There is no free cheese and if  health care is provided to everyone there is going to be caps on the services provided.     The only question for me if this is going to be honest and clear what services are available or would it be making services available in theory but impossible to get in reality.