Taxes

Here is a nice article on taxes which  touches on two things I always considered important.  First  – when you have certain level of skill and income you can pick almost any place in the world to live.  Moving to different country is not really different than moving to different neighborhood or different state.   Move of course affects your proximity to family, friends, your current work place or principal place of business, things you got use so it is far from simple arithmetic choice.  Still this is just a magnitude difference.

The next data point which I like is “particularly the nearly 50% of eligible voters who pay no federal income tax”.   I’m not sure if numbers are correct but it does not make much difference if it is 50% or 30% – this is a very large group of voters.    This makes benefits paid to no people paying no taxes and a positive externality while it is negative externality for the small group of payers of majority of the taxes.  What we know about externalities is what they do not help with wise and fair decisions.

Fairness is an interesting thing to begin with. When dealing with the crowd  you can convince and rally people around basically any cause.  Lynching would be the good example of  such a “fair” treatment.

Small Airports and Direct Flights is what you want for Travel

Being a frequent business traveler I found I value small airports and direct flights the most, especially for shorter flights.   Going through Oakland Airport instead of San Francisco not only saves me extra 20 miles driving, but also time walking from the parking to the airport, passing through security etc.  Flights are also faster because there is usually no time waiting in the line for take off and the taxing time is shorter.  Flying  to John Wayne airport instead of LAX means  I’m in the cab 10 minutes after landing and it takes another 20 minutes to get to the customer’s office.    LAX would probably take at least 40 minutes to go the same distance at the time of day as there is usually traffic around larger airports.

So for my customer day visit to the Irvine today I got out of home at 5:30 to get my 7:15 Southwest flight from OAK.  I could even leave at 6:00 but I’m always leaving some time for unexpected traffic or other issues. I’m in Orange County by 8:40 and as I have some spare time I can flush emails I replied on the plane and take care of few more urgent ones.  I’m not due onsite until 9:30 anyway.   I take a cab about 9:00 and come to the office some 10 minutes before the time I’m expected.   After work I leave at 5:30  and I’m in the Airport all passed through security by 6.   My flight back is not until 8:10.  This is the downside of smaller airports – flights may not be as frequent as from the larger ones. But at least there is a free wireless internet so I use the spare time to have a dinner and do some more work.   Even as a plane is about 10 minutes late I’m back in Oakland at 9:40 and home about 10:15.

Cell Phones

Recent travels outside of US ignite my hate to cell phone providers yet again.

Going to Canada means you’re going to pay $0.79 per minute and over $15.0 per MB of traffic which with standard iPhone use pattern would run hundreds of dollars a day.   Disabling data roaming makes it stupid brick with even voicemail not working properly.
What I’d like to see is the decoupling the cell phones from the network providers. I would like to pay what device costs with no stupid long term contract with hefty monthly fees.  When I want to be able to register cell phone with number of cell phone providers – same as I can have multiple subscription for WIFI for my laptop.  I would chose to pay monthly fee for unlimited data for some US provider and have reasonable per minute and per MB rates in other countries I visit.  In Canada I’d like to pay same rates as Canadian can pay for pay as you go rates.
For “Data” it is especially simple.  There is no real need for any “roaming” with data, the phone can communicate with local internet gateway.  With   phone number, you could use a portable number which follows you using some service similar to Google Voice (Number of people use Google Voice or Skype already to map their phone number to the cell phone number they carry in the country they travel to) The providers now get “oligopoly” gain by making sure your phone belongs only to one one provider and they may not love such mobility and being commoditized to plain network providers, yet I believe they can be pushed this direction with some open phone platforms. With Android you can already use Google Voice quite conveniently and set things up to use multiple WiFi when available.  It would be just great to add ability to register phone with multiple
providers. The challenge of course is mass distribution channel for such device. Cell phone network providers are not interested in making it easy for you to use other services.  Cell phones they cell are often customized to their content and services even if they are based on open Platform as Android. In US especially there is not a huge market for unlocked phones which can run on any network and which are not customized for the network they run on.   Though this may change and I hope it will change.

What do you think about Discounts ?

We got use to discounts. Many retailers run some form of sale all the time.  This probably works in attracting people, though I personally do not feel very good about it.  Especially I do not like single items discounts, such as Michaels running 50% off any single item.   What does it tell me ?  Well  either they have to sell me that item at loss (hoping I’ll buy more than one), in which case I kind of feel sorry for them, or their profit margins are so high, even 50% discounts allows them to do the good business, in which case I feel “tricked” by their general unfair prices.

I knew one guy who was shipping chairs from China to be sold in Europe.  The math was something like 5$ to produce,  2$ to  ship and there was the list price of  $75 per chair in the shops.  In such cases even 50% discount would allow for pretty good profit both for retailer and wholesaler.

Buying things I really would love to understand the breakdown – how much I’m paying for design, technology, materials and workmanship (which is all what adds up for product value) vs things as advertising, distribution chain etc which allows some people to make a living and do a business but does not provide me with any benefit.  Unfortunately such information is rarely available.

For electronics one way to do “guess” it is to do some shopping on Ebay –  you often can find things to be shipped to you from Hong Kong for such a small fraction of what you can find them in the shops.

People and Percents

Whenever I say something like “you do not need sharding for 95% application” or “You do not need other than Innodb storage engine for 95% of application” I get a lot of feedback, hey it does not apply to my case.  People are passionate in proving me wrong based on the fact it does not apply to their case, and I would guess because it does not apply to a lot of people they know too.

This is a very common trap of extending the facts about world around us to the broader group.   For some of the issues we seems to grasp these facts, for example  the fact 95% people speak English in the neighborhood I live in would not translate to the same amount of people in the world knowing the language.     And yet for other, for example professional questions we may feel the world in whole is similar to world around us. It is not.

Bay Area in particular is a concentration of a lot of very large web sites –  Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter  are all from here.   They employ a lot of staff and so if you’re working professionally in Web space chances are you work on one of these high scale systems or have buddies which work where.

But if you look at number as a whole – there are many millions of small applications out there, such as this web site, many hosted on virtual hosting with very modest  performance needs.

You well might be exceptional groups and your experiences may not translate to world as a whole.  This also means you always have to be careful applying claims to yourself if they apply to large portion of the population.   For example I bet the salary over 95% of people in the world would not go that far in Bay Area 🙂

Ladies and Technologies

Over last few years visiting MySQL Conference and Expo I noticed the number of ladies in audience increasing dramatically.  Few years ago there were just few, besides Sheeri and this year there was a fair amount, though still of course it remained predominantly male event.    My hypothesis around it was ladies do not get involved with bleeding edge technology as frequently and as MySQL matured and started to be more used by Serious (boring?) corporation rather than geeks portion of Ladies increased.    I kind of got a confirmation of this idea attending MongoDB conference in the San Francisco.   MongoDB is bleeding edge technology, probably at similar stage MySQL was in late 90s, and no surprise there were very few ladies in the audience, besides few beautiful ones employed by 10gen.

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 ?