Mechanization and Automation

June 23, 2017

I have heard far too many reports about how many jobs will be “lost” to machines in the near future.  These reports, some of which come from automation magazines, all have one thing in common:  the end of the world will occur as we will all become unemployed and homeless because of automation.  Figures and years range from 50-70% of jobs in the next 10 years will be replaced by automation.  I am not referencing this garbage, just know that these articles exist.  A quick Google search will get you plenty of fodder.

Part of being a human being is improving our world and making our lives easier.  During the dark ages, people worked and had zero leisure time.  Everything was about survival, and survival meant doing everything in-house.  All food was grown, all clothes made, and all home repairs done by the members of the household.  For their endless days of hard, manual labor, life expectancy was in the 40’s, and conditions were awful.

We have increased our abilities through invention and creativity.  In the strictest sense, we have no collective knowledge, but we do get to benefit from the development of others through free trade.  I don’t have to develop the air conditioner that is currently protecting me from 104 F temperatures outside.  Someone else did that, and I paid them money for it.

Through this combination of invention, creativity, and free trade, we went through the scientific and industrial revolutions which improved our lives significantly.  150 years ago, “Go west, young man,” meant walking away from your family forever and traveling by wagon, foot, or horse across the wild unknown.  Many did not survive.  When I went west in 2005, my parents were a mere three hour flight away.  FLIGHT.

In electronics, Moore proposed that the number of transistors on a single chip would double every 18 months.  It has been called “Moore’s law”, and has pretty much held true for the last 30 years.  If we are developing computing power that doubles every 18 months (not quite, but transistors are a proxy for this), then why do we expect our lives to be as they were 50 years ago.

Perhaps the days of working 40 hour work weeks are about done.  Many places have made the switch to 32 hour work weeks.  Are 20 hour work weeks in our future?

But what about the lost revenue?  What about the lost jobs?

As an undergraduate, I lost a job to automation.  I used to check student ID’s at one of the dorms at night.  I would stay up all night and just look at student IDs.  Eventually, a card swipe was installed on the building, and I was no longer needed for that role.  So what?  I found other work.

Jobs go away.   If our world is changing so quickly that Moore’s Law is followed, why do we go about employment the same way as our parents and grandparents did?

Fifteen years ago, there was no such thing as a “social media expert,” “Uber driver,” or grocery picker for curbside delivery.  100 years ago, there was someone who jammed wooden stakes into the wheels of the ore cars to slow them down.

The authors of these articles, and those who worry about their jobs being replaced by automation are short-sighted.  What job will these folks have?  I don’t know.  I know there are still problems in the world that need to be solved, and that those solutions will involve people at all skill levels.  I do know that those who resist change will be left behind.

If your job can be replaced by a machine…it should be!  And, it is happening, whether you adapt to a new job, or not!

 

 

For Show

June 15, 2017

I have a friend from high school.  We were great friends back in those days, and her and I even dated off an on for a while.  Now, I struggle to find time to meet with her and her husband, and when I do, I find myself having very little to talk about.

Jealousy, no.  It has more to do with how time passes and how people’s priorities change.  When we were in high school, we laughed and joked and played and had a great time.  Now, we find we have very little in common.  While she talks about her big house and wine tasting and other fancy things, I really have not much to say.  When I talk about working with students, gardening, and spending time on the road, she has nothing to say.

She did say to me, years ago, “What will people at your ten year reunion say?”  For years, that stuck with me, because I didn’t care what they said, and I certainly wasn’t going out of my way to attend the reunion in the first place.

While this blog is not designed to give life advice, it is designed to dive into my personal philosophies.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to do nothing for show.  Part of the way through my undergraduate education, I lost all of my friends.  My college relationship fell apart, and my friends were not supportive of me.  While they did not side with my ex, they associated with her much more closely, as they all did similar things.  I was totally alone.

However, that was when I gave up trying to be cool.  I rediscovered all of my childhood interests and pursued all of them.  I won’t say what they are, as I do want to maintain some degree of anonymity on this blog, and they are very specific, unique hobbies.  Some of them have had a giant impact on my career, and are continuing to open new doors for me.

It was way better than doing things for show.

Thank you for reading my rant…er, um, post.

Free Market Wins Again

June 2, 2017

I recently was involved in a story where a large gas station in an isolated area locked its doors during a tornado warning.  People driving on the state highway flocked to the gas station to find shelter, only to have the teenager on duty point to a “Closed” sign, sending the scared travelers fleeing in all directions.

As a private company, it is the store’s right to close their doors.  However, as it turns out, this was not the company policy.  Based in Oklahoma, their bathrooms are designed to be tornado shelters.

Rather than complain to the police about the locked doors, an influential storm chaser tweeted the dilemma.  As word spread, the corporate offices responded to the storm chaser, and the doors were to be unlocked. Thankfully, the tornado did not affect any of the folks who were seeking shelter.

In the end, free-markets, and words on social media made a huge change for a small town.

Thank you for reading my post.

The Gig Economy

May 12, 2017

In my parents’ day, a “good job” meant stability and working at the same place from the time you left your education until the time you retired.  Things were predictable, secure and safe.  One would perform a similar task (even in white-collar work) at the same time, in the same place.  In exchange for this task, this person would be compensated either hourly or yearly.

While there are some merits to this system, it no longer works quite the same as it did back then.  Today, companies change constantly.  The company you worked for five years ago probably changed names.  Sometimes, they split apart.  Sometimes, they merge.

Also, as we become more affluent, as a society, and more tasks become automated, more tasks can be done remotely.  Because of this, more workers can perform tasks from home, commuting on public transportation, or even while waiting in line at the grocery store.

Also, there is the issue of “dead-time” at work.  One of the most boring times at a job is when someone is between projects, but must maintain “butt-in-seat” time for a salaried job, or risk losing money by not clocking hours during an hourly job.  This is horribly inefficient.  We try to make manufacturing “just-in-time” so that product doesn’t sit in a warehouse.  Why should labor be different?

Some things will never move from shift work, and I am glad of that.  When my house is on fire, I am glad that there is a firefighter standing by, waiting for the call.  However, does a software engineer need to do this?

Really, the so-called “Gig-Economy” forces us to constantly innovate.  We have to develop new skills, and always look for the next thing.  Stagnation has no place in this economy.

In electronics, there is the concept of Moore’s Law, where the number of transistors on a computer chip doubles every 18 months in an exponential growth pattern.   Perhaps an exponential growth “Moore’s Law” accompanies us human beings.  A few generations ago, most people took their father’s profession, with very little change.  In the previous generation, people went to college and found a career.  Perhaps now, we all have many, smaller duration jobs.  Who knows what our kids will have.

And, ultimately, it is happening, like it or not.

Thank you for reading my post.

 

United Airlines and the Free Market

April 13, 2017

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have seen the video of the man that was beaten and dragged from the United Airlines flight.  You’ve probably seen the internet responses to this incident, including responses by rival airlines.

Unfortunately, I will give an unpopular opinion:  United was within their rights to do so.  They issued a ticket with the condition that it could be revoked at anytime.  Once it was revoked, the man’s refusal to leave was criminal tresspassing, just like the crackhead who hangs around 7-11 and is asked to leave. In both cases, you call the authorities to remove them.

Now, to a more popular opinion:  What a dreadful policy you have, United!

Thankfully, the free market has spoken.  Boycotts, hilarious parodies, and a large drop in your stock prices.  Competing airlines have offered specials to suck away your customers.

A company is allowed to make dreadful policies, such as this, but they are not protected from its effects on their bottom line.

Now, the trick will be to keep the government out of the way, and let the free market take its course.  No bailouts for struggling airlines, no new legisliation about treatment by TSA agents, no false “consumer rights” about being allowed to squat on an airplane.

Let United figure out how to reconcile this awful policy in the eyes of the free market, or let them fail.

What Government and Business Have in Common

March 24, 2017

I recently ran across a video explaining why government and business were not compatible, and how a CEO should not become president.  The video itself isn’t worth posting, but I will give you the highlights:  condescending casual businessman-looking jerk talks down to you for five minutes.  The jerkface makes random claims:

1.   CEOs “just” have to make profit, and that is not as complex as running a country.
2.  Presidents are representatives of the people, but CEOs represent themselves.
3.  The government pays for things.

First, the challenge of making a profit is what makes a CEO’s job difficult.  There is no “just” about it.  Whether or not it is as complex as running a country depends entirely on how your mind works.  Really, they are different types of work in some respects, and it is hard to compare them.

Second, a CEO answers to the board of directors.  The board of directors is elected through its share holders.  A president is elected through the electoral college, who base their votes on their state’s popular vote.  So, just as a president must answer to the voters, a CEO must answer to the share holders.

One may argue that a CEO can blow off the concerns of John Q. Shareholder.   We could say the same about any given president.  One could argue that the nominating committee of the corporation determines who gets to run for the board of directors.  One could look at the Democratic Party’s nomination of Hilary Clinton over Bernie Sanders to see the parallel.

Finally, the video argued that services, like the US Postal Service, are required to serve the good, poor people of Bratislavia, Pennsyltucky.  At any cost, Bratislavian people are owed mail service.   He mention how UPS or FedEx neither one will support offices in small towns, and that it was the duty of the USPS to operate in that town so that the people could send mail form that town. He also states that the existence of the USPS keeps the prices of the UPS and FedEx low.   He also speaks of several other govenment services, and how they are required to give people what they need, even though fulfilling needs is not economical.

The big problem with this entire story is that the video assumes that the government just has money.  Where does it come from?  Nobody knows.  The government just has money.  Infinite money to pay for heavily subsidized health care and postal delivery in every town, especially those where industry knows are unable to support such a service.

In the ultimate slap in the face, this money comes from taxes.  Taxes taken from the companies who know it is not economical to run a delivery service to these towns.  Taxes then used to undercut their businesses in towns where there is (or perhaps was) enough customers to support them.

A good CEO president would trim the areas that were not economical to run.  Bratislavia, Pennsyltucky would not have postal service, but they are not owed postal service, either.  And just like towns that do not have a Walmart, UPS or Ford dealership, the residents would either commute to another town, or do without.  People of New York City, or Bratislavia or wherever are not owed postal delivery or health insurance any more than they are owed a Ford Dealership or an In N Out Burger.

That is what this video was missing.  The understanding that the government’s sole purpose is to protect the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of its residents.  Courts to uphold the law and police to arrest those who choose to violate the rights of others.

The government is not here to supply your needs on any level.

Killing the Rising Sun

March 17, 2017

I finished reading Killing the Rising Sun by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard.  I will preface this article by stating that I never liked Bill’s TV show, but this book was excellent.

This book was well-researched and entertaining.  The authors were able to tell some of the stories of World War II in a way they have never been told before.

One of the things that struck me was seeing the numbers of people that were lost in some of these battles.  It was really a terrible war.

I strongly recommend this book.  If you haven’t read it and you are interested in war history, this book is a necessity.

Thank you for reading my post.

Bill Nye, the Not-So-Science Guy

March 9, 2017

Maybe my title is a bit inflammatory.  While I was a child of the 80’s and 90’s, I did not have cable.  Therefore, I was unacquainted with Bill Nye, The Science Guy until I was much older.  Thankfully, I do not have an attachment to this celebrity.  Overall, I do respect what he did by making science cool for many kids, and I have heard he has a mechanical engineering degree, which is no picnic to earn.

Always an advocate of carbon controls, a video he made has become quite popular on Facebook, and it warranted a response.  His video is found here:
Billy Nye’s Call To Action

I posted a response that outlines a few problems I have with his video:

1. Science is never “settled.” If your old “fact” doesn’t stand up to new data, you might just learn something new.

2. Plus or minus 2% is misleading. If you are talking about a 2% error bar on a 0.5% detected change, yes, it might mean that the effect is not happening.

3. In terms of energy balance, yes, there is plenty of energy across the US to power everything. And if you could do 100% energy conversion, and tell Newton’s laws to take a hike, we could power the country this way. Maybe we could some day (even Newton’s laws can be tested), but not today. Then, if we did generate it, that is only part of the problem. Storage and smart transmission are bigger problems.

4. Not everyone who asks questions is a climate denier. I am not a denier, but I expect sound science, not science based on an expected outcome. I expect error propagation and instrumentation error reported, just like I would for other scientific publications. These are almost always lacking. This doesn’t make me a denier.

5. No, Bill, free market and taxes are not compatible. A free market is not controlled by which technologies are taxed and which are not.

I expect as the “March For Science” approaches, we will see more of this garbage, as most people have no idea what is science and what is not.

Thank you for reading my post.

Scholarship

March 3, 2017

I received an email about a scholarship opportunity to forward to our students.  It was worth a few thousand dollars and required an essay, transcript and a few letters of recommendation.

I knew quite a few students who could use the money, and were worthy of a scholarship of this size.  Hard working, capable students.

However, as I continued reading the requirements I saw that none of these students qualified.  Was there a minimum GPA?  Sure, yet all of the students I could name met this requirement.

Instead, the students that come to mind were eliminated because they were not Hispanic.

Morally speaking, an individual or an organization should be allowed to give money to whomever they choose, regardless of whatever stupid reason they choose.  However, you have to wonder about someone who is willing to give money to someone based on their bloodwork and heritage.

I deleted this email.  This organization will not receive my support.  If they wish to choose their candidates based on non-essentials such as race, my students are too good to be involved in such an organization.

Thank you for reading my post.

Breaking the Binary

February 24, 2017

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed (I need to stop doing that) and I ran across this article, caled “Professor Quizzes Students on Heterosexuality To Make an Important Point About Homophobia.”

I am a little unclear of how this happened.  The headline makes it sound as though straight students were given a quiz, but then some of the Tweets around it make it sound like it was a “joke” and not an actual assignment.

Either way, it is inappropriate.

Regardless of your stance on LGBTQ issues, the transgender movement has demonstrated that the whole idea of lumping all people into two categories is to oversimplify the complexities that make each of us unique.

During this last election cycle, journalists would say things like, “Clinton will clearly get the female vote” or “most of the uneducated people will vote for Trump” or ?potheads will vote for Johnson” or whatever.

While this professor tried to point out the rude questions that some people have faced, she does so by enforcing the binary of “homosexual” versus “heterosexual,” as only heterosexuals need to answer these questions.

Furthermore, one of the neat things about sexual orientation is that it is nobody’s business.   Ultimately, you can sleep with whomever you want (provided they agreeable to this) , one day to the next, and it is not the government’s business.  You don’t have to classify yourself as straight one day and then gay another day, or any other nonsense.

If this was a real assignment, the professor would be asking students to identify their sexual orientation in one of two categories (heterosexual or homosexual), publicly (at least to this professor by submitting an assignment, or not).

It is easy to target a group of people that you think have wronged you. It is easy to say, “some heterosexual people asked me inappropriate questions” and now smile as someone else asks those questions of heterosexuals.

But is that the world you want?  Is it somehow okay because your group asks another group inappropriate questions, instead of the other way around?

I’m really hoping this wasn’t a real assignment.