Thursday, January 04, 2007

New Toy

A depressing feature of an otherwise cheerful Christmas was the realisation that just about everything we bought or were given seemed to have been made in China. The goods are getting higher tech, too. We seem to be moving towards an economy where we use our unique comparative advantages to make ... er ... nothing.

Still, as Tim and Chris would say, we benefit from cheap goods from China. They leave us with more money in our pockets to buy ... other cheap goods from China.

As a child I loved astronomy. As an young adult I had no money, as a parent I had no money to spend on myself. A pair of Boots binoculars was my total stargazing kit.

There have been cheap Far Eastern telescopes around for years, sold in catalogues and chain stores. The Tasco's of this world, and pretty dreadful they were.

But the Chinese upped their game. A few years back a decent starter telescope was £400-500. Now for about £280 you can buy a small but optically sound telescope with 'goto' capability - in other words you can tell it via a hand controller where to point in the sky, or choose a star or planet from a list, and it'll point itself and stay pointed as the stars move.

I wasn't prepared to pay such a 'vast amount' for the Celestron. How about a Skywatcher, made in China but with vastly improved optics from the telescopes of a few years back. They do refractors and reflectors, including some big Dobsonians at ridiculous prices - £350 for 10" aperture ?

Alas the big beasts are a pain to carry, transport and set up. And in the end it's a big boys toy which may not get a lot of use. Something a little cheaper was needed.

£165 will buy you this Skywatcher 130PM, if you go to the right place. And to my delight the right place turned out to be just a drive up the A38, where Chris Livingstone Telescopes did me one at that excellent price. Nice chap too. His telescope prices are as good as any I've seen in the UK.

He will also do you a Toucam Pro II CCD webcam and telescope adaptor at a reasonable rate.

Blogging may be light if we get a lot of clear nights.


Anonymous said...

The best of the cheaper telescopes are Russian still - I would much prefer Russian optics to Chinese.

A good Russian Newtonian on an equitorial is around £400.

You could off course escape to the garage and grind your own mirror - very soothing to be away and let your wife deal with "her" children

Anonymous said...


JohnM said...

The wage differential between us and China will go the way of the the differential between us and Japan. Comparative advantage will change over time.

Anonymous said...

Im not sure what we seeeing is comparative advantage. Its just good old cheap labour.

Anonymous said...

No johnm, you assume as the wage differential changes that the rich Chinese will start placing their factories over in Britain.
(British owned companies are getting less and less!)

But they wont, just because Brits don't care about their own people doesn't mean the Chinese will be the same, and even if they were there are plently of people closer to home for them to 'exploit' such as North Koreans.

The future is bleak for Britain, the Chinese and India are graduating more and smarter people, this idea of Britain being a knowledge based economy is pure fastasy, and we don't make stuff anymore, and they are trying to kill of the farming industry, we don't have our own energy supplies anymore.
I laughed at the news a few weeks ago when some minister said we need to become more efficient importers, something like that.

JohnM said...

I don't say the Chinese will place factories in Britain although the example of Japan suggests otherwise. I say that just as Japan was once a low wage country compared to the west now it in fact has higher wages. If China develops then it will get richer and concurrently it's citizens will get richer. That will happen irrespective of what happens in Britain. Now, whether Britain keeps up with China or falls behind is another matter entirely.

I'd have thought the fact that we are switching graduate programs away from pure science to things like media studies is a more worrying trend.

Anonymous said...

Same thing happened 30 years ago in the guitar-playing 'music industry'. One had to save up for an expensive imported Fender or Gibson, or an even more expensive locally made custom job.

Then along came Mr Ibanez with guitars as good as the big stuff for half the price. Budding Hendrix's like myself were suddenly in the big league. Later Ibanez and the Koreans were so successful that they bought Fender and Gibson, and the 'copies' and 'originals' were simply different grades of the same thing.

Now, for about $500 Australian(pounds? what are they?), my son has a small outfit which makes sounds Hendrix or Led Zeppelin would have sold their souls for. And I still can't play 'Hey Joe'.

In some ways its all a bit of an anticlimax.

Don't the Hubble pictures also put the fuzzy earth-based backyard stuff to shame?

Anonymous said...

If China develops then it will get richer and concurrently it's citizens will get richer.

Hogwash.........until recently the population of the world's largest industrial nation was 300 million.

China or India bring a population into the industrial world greater than the combined population of ALL industrial nations

James Goldsmith wrote a book in 1993 "The Trap" warning about the destruction of THe west through Chinese manufacturing dominance and the simple fact that The West could never compte

Anonymous said...

Trouble with cheaper reflectors is that you cannot be sure the mirror is parabolic rather than spherical

Anonymous said...

India may be getting richer but we are only looking at the wealth of a tiny middle/upper class group. The vast majority of Indians live in abject poverty a few meals away from starvation. There must be millions who literally live on the streets. Indias expanding economy barely affects them at all.

Comparative advantage - if one checks wikipedia for a quick summary: one

It will be clear that trade with China is much more like absolute advantage than comparative.

Libertarian cheerleaders for globalisation would have us believe that comparative advantage is a first order process like supply and demand, it just works whether we believe in it or not.

I disagree, I think that if it happens at all its got be bullied into existence.


Laban said...

It's parabolic. They also do a spherical version with longer focal length.