Bring back what jobs?

Look, the jobs that are lost, are not coming back, get over it. When Trump claims he’ll bring back jobs, he either has no idea what he is talking about, or he envisions some dystopian future where Americans are more like slaves than they’ve been since, well, slaves.

China and Mexico are not the problem, automation is. Even if Trump were able to force companies to bring manufacturing back to ‘Merica, through punitive tax and trade barriers, the manufacturing won’t be the same as it was, ever.

Listen to this recent extract from NPR’s All Things Considered. Bertram de Souza of The Vindicator talks about steel mills following a recent visit of Trump to Youngstown Ohio.

The next wave of automation is coming, it’s in driverless vehicles, it will have a dramatic impact on employment. Automated delivery trucks, automated taxi’s, autonomous vehicles will make a large dent in the current employment of some 3-million in America. While many cities are salivating over the ability of self-driving, autonomous vehicles to fix their broken road and transport infrastructure, that’s missing the point.

There are many detailed, and complex reports on the impact of automation, pick your favorite organization and search their website, McKinsey and Company(2014); Stanford Business School(2015); Pew Internet(2016) and on, and on.

Equally there have been a few superficial recent reports in the news media, this one from US Today. One of the better, more recent articles is from Rex Nutting over on Marketwatch.Rex Nutting over on Marketwatch.

I’ve been horrified by the lack of actual policy discussion and examination of the context, detail and and lack of clarity even where there is policy. This is something we should have had a real debate about when, what and how we handle the future of automation.

It’s not as if the impact of automation is new. Depending on how you classify automation, it’s been going on since the invention of mills, but importantly since the computer became pervasive in business.

As far back as the late 1960’s it was a discussion topic. In the early and mid-1980’s automation had become a key issue for governments and businesses. This was a classic of it’s time.

A human teller can handle up to 200 transactions a day, works 30 hours a week, gets a salary anywhere from $8,000 to $20,000 a year plus fringe benefits, gets coffee breaks, a vacation and sick time… In contrast, an automated teller can handle 2,000 transactions a day, works 168 hours a week, costs about $22,000 a year to run, and doesn’t take coffee breaks or vacations. – Bennett, 1983

This is a well used quote from a report called “Bank Systems and Equipment” by Bennett et al 1983 and often misquoted and attributed to Nobel Prize winner, Wassily Leontief and  Faye Duchin, who used it in their seminal 1986 work “The Future Impact of Automation on Workers“.

img_20161107_125230I worked on an IBM Corporate study in 1998, following the release of Dunkerleys book, the jobless economy.  I still have the books on my home office book shelf.

Many of us were uncomfortable with what technology was capable of doing to our society, much more than our jobs. I’d seen it first hand and contributed to the loss of hundreds of jobs. When I first arrived at Chemical Bank in New York city in 1983, there were hundreds of people, mostly women, sat in large rooms, processing incoming credit card authorization phone calls. Within 3-years, they were all gone. Their positions had been eliminated. Replaced by simple automation of the repetitive tasks they did using search and a “database” lookup.

Some of the information and outlook from that IBM study found it’s way into this presentation I gave at meetings and conferences around the world at that time.

Automation was, and is unstoppable without a much bigger debate. Trump alone can’t fix it or stop it. Automation is a result of three, equally powerful trends.

One. The absolute fear and revulsion in America of Unions, their impact, power and influence. Sterns 1963 paper “Automation-End or a New Day in Unionism?” captured the potential impact of automation on Unions.

Two. Big corporations and the way the market values them, their ability to balance investment against revenue and more importantly profit. Investors and the market don’t care how business makes profit, and the tax authorities allow investments to be written off against profit. So removing expense, in the form of employees, and improving profits is always on the agenda.

Three. The continual consumer march towards ever more consumption and disposable, cheap goods. Perhaps more than the loss of jobs, if pernicious tax and trade barriers were implemented by any politician or President, we would see a revolt among the people, who more than anytime in history, want their stuff as a measure of their value.

So, we can’t stop automation, the jobs are not coming back. Where does that leave us?

I’m inclined to agree with Musk. The only way around the impact of automation is a universal basic income. That’s what we should have been debating this election cycle. Not fucking emails, walls, muslims and pussygate, let alone if somewhat left leaning Bernie Sanders proposals were socialism by the back door. Without serious discussion on these difficult topics, America will continue to into social conflict and fear.

Even if Trump gets elected today, those 5-million jobs we’ve already lost, and another 5-million are not coming back.

Laughing at US Banks

aka too big to do anything useful.

So, most mornings lately, during breakfast, Chase Bank has been running these commercials on TV. Yep, they are selling their bank on the basis of being able to make easy check deposits. Most US Banks and Credit Unions provide some form of ATM check deposit, similar to this…

no-checks-400x506[1]So while most western countries are running from checks as fast as they can, some have even announced the end of checks/cheques as we know them, the US is not only persisting with the check model and clearance process, they are making ATM’s better at accepting checks and spending money to promote it.

Meanwhile, I can login to my UK Bank, and for free, transfer money to my Son in Berlin in a different country, and different currency and it is in his account in about an hour. To send money to people in the UK, it’s even quicker, less than 15-minutes on average. I’ve had the account for nearly 15-years and not had a checkbook for the last 12-years.

The easiest, simplest and by far thecheapest way for a person in the USA to send me money is to write a physical check, take a picture of the check on their cellphone, and email me the picture. I remote deposit it in either of my USA Bank Accounts. Way to go USA.

Government US style

It’s clear that many Americans view “Big government” as a bad thing, it seems though that they are OK with lots of branches of small government, that is ineffective, costly and open to misuse, and often technology challenged.

Given the size of the USA, any government is going to be a big government. With over nearly 320-million people, and almost the largest country in geography in the world, most people clearly are clueless about the scale and the challenges of delivering services in what was the worlds most advanced country. Listen to this 10-second clip from NPR’s Morning Edition today, a piece by Frank Morris of KCUR on the FBI and Apple privacy debate.

Seems to be a pretty widely held view. I heard it on the way back from going to trade-in my state of Texas Drivers License for a state of Colorado Drivers License. I had to drive some 12-miles to Longmont CO, wait in line outside for 30-mins until it opened at 8a.m.; go in and explain to a clerk/assistant/helper what I was there to do, exchange my drivers license and trade-in my state of Texas car plates and register my vehicle with the State of Colorado.

I was helpfully told that I was in the wrong office to register my vehicle, and asked for the relevant ID etc. in order  to get my license. I was given a number of told to wait. When I was called, I spoke with a clerk who was helpful and polite, I glanced over at the desks of the other clerks, you could see from the windows on the PC terminals that they were using dated text mode applications. Credit card processing had to be done by hand, typing numbers in. Questions had to be spoken in English and answered in English, there were no touchpad or tablet interactions. I had to say, outloud, with little privacy my social security number, and after checking my eye sight, and paying I was told to go and wait again.

After a short wait, I was shown a printed version of the questions I was asked, the information I had given, and ask to sign “wholly” within a box at the bottom. If the signature wasn’t entirely in the box it would “invalidate” the application as it couldn’t be scanned in. That done, I went through the take a picture exercise, was given my documents back and told the new license would show up in the mail in 7-10 days.

I left some 70-minutes after arriving. Not bad I guess.

Compare that though to many other Western countries, and many emerging economies, and you get a different picture. Change address in the UK? It’s done online and free. Pictures, signatures and details are held securely centrally.

In the clip above, it’s claimed that the government can’t run USPS, healthcare or anything else. Yet, despite being severely constrained in the services it offers, the US Postal Service is actually pretty dam good, reasonably efficient and pretty cheap. Anyone who thinks that private companies, like FedEx, or UPS and some magic form of new state regulated and/or run service would do better simply isn’t thinking about or is clueless when it comes to understand that scale problem, and the investment needed.

The US Government doesn’t run Healthcare, it never has. It it funds the medicare and medicaid programs. Yes, the US dept. of Veterans Affairs does run medical care and benefits for veterans, given the US has been in a constant state of war of one form or another since 1940, and given the physically size and scale, it is again a pretty decent operation. A good friend of mine, Lee, actually is looking forward to the veterans benefits and healthcare  for the rest of his life. Yes, the VA has its’ problems.

But still, most Americans seem to think it’s better to deal with things “locally” even if that does mean inefficiency, a mistake prone system, lack of privacy, time wasting, out of date technology, duplication, cost and more.

Meanwhile, later this week I’ll be heading to Boulder County to office to register my car; right before I start looking for State of Colorado healthcare market place, trying to resolve the naming error on my City waste management account; filling my taxes with the US Revenue Services and the property taxes with a county in Texas…. and yeah, most Americans have the least amount of vacation time, work the longest hours, and get fewest paid benefits, and things like paid maternity leave. So, no problem waiting online then?

Dear Time Warner Cable

wpid-wp-1446745456076.jpgI keep getting these marketing letters from Time Warner. It appears they’ve got nothing better to do than review my account… trying to sell me on a 300Mpbs upgrade.

I sent a response today by USPS. I doubt they’ll stop sending, so at least I can post the response here and get some mileage from it 🙂

Thank you for your letter. If you were really reviewing my account you’d see I’m only have a 50Mpbs modem for my existing 100Mpbs service. It works fine.

Want me to upgrade? Provide a free modem for my existing service. Thanks. Mark Cathcart.

 

Two small deposits

I’ve often commented on my absolute disdain for the US Banking system. I’ve been poking around with what I can do to remove some of the barrier to the time delay and inefficiency in the system.

I used my online banking system to add the bank details of a friend. I did it by adding it as an “external account”, providing the ABA routing number and the account number. It informed me that two small deposits would be made into the account, and once I had the details to come back and confirm.

I emailed my friend and said I’d done it and why, and asked to be notified when they arrived and what they were. Once notified, I confirmed with my online bank and immediately did an online funds transfer of $100, it arrived overnight. Next day, I initiated a transfer from my friends account of $50, again, it arrived overnight. I then did another transfer of $50, no problem.

So, while there is no way for me to do any formal set-up or account management, without a single signature, and as far as we can see, no way for my friend to stop me crediting, or more importantly debiting from their account. I’m hopeful that a call to the bank could stop it, surely?

For the record, we bank at completely different banks. Yep, the US Banking system truly sucks, 3rd world at best of function and performance. Out of this world on profits though…

Google corrects typo

I reported the Google typo yesterday and it has been fixed now, Mbps it is. No change to their “free” tier of service though, so 5Mbps it is.

I got a lot of feedback on my “negativity” over this, both on the neighborhood forum, the comment below, and via personal email. And yes, being able to pay the $300 fee in installments is a good break. So it looks correct, 5Mbps while useful, really isn’t good enough for a family except for email, facebook and infrequent youtube/netflx.

TWC offer a comparable 6/1Mbps plan for $29+modem/wifi, taxes fees. < Which is non-competitive on price/performance to most of the rest of the world where cable exists, where are 4/1 service costs less than $20 per month, and often as low as $12 per month. Fiber providers are 40/10Mbps packages for $25-$35 per month or better, and thats what I was really hoping we'd see.

Google fiber disappoints on price

displayfile (1).jpegWell Google fiber is on its way, they’ve sprayed marked across our front yards this week ready to install the vaults, most people don’t understand these will be buried in your front yard, after all fiber optic cable isn’t your parents cable.

In other news, Google have announced the Austin pricing and service speeds, and I have to say, it’s pretty disappointing really.

WTF are Mpbs?First up as seen in this screen capture, their website lists speeds in Mpbs. I work in the tech sector, heck I used to be a networking specialist, I admit I have no idea what Mpbs is. So I googled it, and Google asked Did you mean: Mbps

Normally network speeds are indeed listed as Mbps. Megabits per second. Unlike disk/file storage which is most often described as MB, and sometimes MBps megabytes per second. In storage you are storing files and characters, so a byte has a meaning and it’s important to understand. In networking, especially streaming music, tv, video it really doesn’t, so bytes really don’t have any meaning, and Megabits is the norm. Also, Megabits are also in units of 1000, in the old days it was often expressed as 1024 but no longer.

So we really have no idea what Google are offering. Lets assume thats just sloppy web content creation, and that 1,000 Mpbs is really 1,000 Mbps, which is 1-Gigabit, which is what Google have been touting, by coincidence. I’m really left wondering though what their free offering is though? 5 Mbps is really for the most part unusable for anything other than sending email asynchronously. So I assume that should really be 5 MBps, as in megabytes. But as discussed earlier that isn’t really a usable measure, although it’s pretty standard marketing BS from the existing cable cartel companies used to confuse people.

If it is 5-MBps, then it could be 40-Mbps, which would be more usable, either way the web page is a shambles.

Given these assumptions, overall the Google pricing is disappointing. Google are for the most part just joining the existing cable cartel. Yes they are bringing fiber speed but they are really doing nothing to help with pricing. The $300 installation fee for the entry services is a barrier to entry for low income households.

$70 is great for those that can afford it, getting potentially a 100x increase in download speed, if the network inside your house can exploit it. Remember you’ll need gigabit ethernet ports on all your devices, gigabit wifi(which doesn’t exist as a domestic standard) and of course a Google compatible gigabit cable modem and switch.

What is more disappointing is the pricing though. It’s slightly more expensive minus taxes and fees than the TWC Service I’m paying for at the moment.. What about something in between for low income households? $35 a month for 100Mbps?

Disappointing