Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Slashdot/Wal-Mart rant

When I was young, about 12, my mother had purchased a push broom for outside yard work. She had a choice between a $10 model and a $20 model. I didn't understand the difference until we got home and she had been using it for a week when it broke in two. I learned the lesson you get what you pay for. While sometimes buying the cheaper product does make sense other times it doesn't especially when you want it to last a while. Today, Slashdot had a story about The Man Who Said No to Wal-Mart which is a review (?) of a book about Jim Wier, Simplicity CEO (Snapper) and how he said no to Wal-Mart. The basics come down to this (in my opinion) Wal-Mart uses it mighty size to push cheaper products on the public. While that's not bad they push the manufacturers to drop their prices any way they can and that means quality suffers. Sometimes it also means the profits are so low that the company can suffer! Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Lowes have a habit of selling some products that look like better quality products. Cheap rip-offs of the higher quality name with the higher quality name (but no quality) and that's where I have a problem with them. Jim Wier reasoned that by playing Wal-Marts game eventually it would hurt the company. I applaud this with my dollars. I've never purchased from Wal-Mart and I won't. I still seek out the local hardware store, lumber yard, plumbing supply and electrical outlet store. Unfortunately for me the electrical store recently closed down. Why? Because I get a better quality product. I get parts that fit. Parts I can buy next year when something near by needs to be repaired, replaced or upgraded. I'm willing to spend my money on higher quality products and not the garbage the the HD Expo sells either. What I see happening is that these super stores move in, sell the cheap stuff masquerading as the good stuff and the local suffer and community suffer. Why would you want to pay top dollar for the same product when you can get it much cheaper else where? If it were an apples to apples comparison I wouldn't. But it's not, it's more a slight of hand that will cost us in the long run. The only thing I can do is spend my money on the higher quality products and convince others to do the same.

And now something a little closer to the DIY (do it yourself) Home Automation I love. While poking around last night (3/29) I came across OpenOCD - Open On-Chip Debugger. If you programmed or debugged some of the modern micro-controllers you've run into the JTAG interface. It allows you to program and debug the running processor from a remote computer. It doesn't do it at full speed but it can be extremely useful for development work. Dominic Rath created the project as part of his thesis and it seems to support quite a bit such as USB to JTAG and the standard parallel port to JTAG (AKA Wiggler). Heck I don't see why it can't be extended to handle an Ethernet interface to JTAG. This is very cool! While I don't fault the JTAG manufacturers for the price of their products those products are really meant for professionals. But for those of us who do this as a hobby the price is out of our range. Trust me, if I were to do this professionally I'd be purchasing those expensive tools as they are a real time saver, which in the long run is a money saver. I've done it before and I'll do it again. Meanwhile this is my hobby and I have to spend accordingly.


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