Tag Archives: ideas

Derek Parfit: Why anything? Why this? 

The great philosopher Derek Parfit died recently. At the time, many things were posted about him, including where you can find his works online. One such work is this:: Derek Parfit · Why anything? Why this? Part 1 · LRB 22 January 1998.

In it, he asks:

Why does the Universe exist? There are two questions here. First, why is there a Universe at all? It might have been true that nothing ever existed: no living beings, no stars, no atoms, not even space or time. When we think about this possibility, it can seem astonishing that anything exists. Second, why does this Universe exist? Things might have been, in countless ways, different. So why is the Universe as it is?

Worth reading, and accessible, even if you aren’t a philosopher (although we are all philosophers, from time to time).

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Thoughts on automation, from the WSJ (and me, someone who specialized in automation)

Robots
Christopher Mims has a good piece here that touches on many of the recent arguments concerning automation, here: Automation Can Actually Create More Jobs (WSJ). Well worth reading.

For my own perspective, early in my career my job was automating many of the systems operations tasks in my part of IBM. In one year I automated essentially the work of 10 people. No one lost their job as result, because while it was good to have these activities automated, the activities were not valuable enough to justify hiring people to do the work. Essentially the automation improved the quality of our work. Automation using IT to improve the quality of work is a good use of automation, be that automation be a lowly shell script or very expensive robot with A.I. Quality aside, how the automation affects staff depends on the culture and the makeup of an organization.

There is talk of places like McDonald’s replacing workers with kiosks as a result of a drive by some for a higher minimum wage. First off, McDonald’s are rolling out those kiosks in Canada, too, which makes me think they are going to deploy them regardless of what the minimum wage is. Second, I have used the kiosks a number of times, and they are of a limited benefit to a McDonald’s customer. The kiosks are good if there is a long line for a person to take your order: they kiosks are bad if there is a small line or no line. They are bad because it will take you many more minutes to place your order, due to the kiosk’s user interface. (Try one and you will see.) The kiosks some time will fail to print out your receipt: if you don’t remember your order number, then you have to go in line, tell them what you ordered, and then get your number. Overall the kiosks are not bad: they are especially good if you like to special order. But if the lines aren’t long and your order is standard, skip them and go in line.

Besides that, McDonald’s will still have plenty of staff and likely will for the future. Kiosks can’t cook, can’t pack your order, and can’t clean the restaurant. If you think robots can do that and do it cheaply, you need to learn more about robotics. I can see why McDonald’s and other fast food places need automation: they are constantly trying to retain people while trying to keep costs down. But the notion they are automating to spite people looking for a higher wage is ridiculous. McDonald’s is not going to become a glorified vending machine and they should not try to be. People go to restaurants and coffee shops to socialize and to come in contact with other people, and automation will provide less of that, not more.

As well, smart fast food places will learn that human contact makes for better business (see Starbucks). There are many ways to be successful as a fast food business, and a positive experience in dealing with staff is one of those ways.

Automation changes work. However, how it changes work is complex. It is tempting to assume that it will eliminate all work, but that is too simplistic. In addition, we need to think about work, income, and why we do what we do. Automation can help us do that, and that is one clear benefit of automation.

(Image: link to image.freepik.com)

Zeitgeist links for December, 2016

I often come across links that capture the spirit of the time, links that I save using Pocket or Instapaper.  Here are some of them, with quick comments.

Politics, mostly American:

Culture:

Psychology, mostly links about glumness in America

Work, mainly grim or putting a good face on work.

Another benefit of meditation? Raising your IQ

So says this article: Want to Raise Your IQ by 23 Percent? Neuroscience Says Take Up This Simple Habit | Inc.com

The article provides the details and a strong case for it. Meditation: not just good for relaxing. Make it your goal in 2017.

Palo Alto vs. Tokyo: some modest thoughts on housing 

Image of Palo Alto linked to from Wikipedia

Two pieces on housing got me thinking of housing policy and what if anything can be done to improve it. The two pieces are this:

  1. Letter of Resignation from the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission — Medium
  2. Tokyo may have found the solution to soaring housing costs – Vox

(Note: I don’t have much expertise on housing policy. These are just some notes I jotted down after thinking about these pieces. Take the following with a (huge?) grain of salt.)

The first piece describes how housing in Palo Alto, California is becoming too expensive for all but the rich. Part of what is causing this is the limits placed on adding new housing in the area. The second piece describes how Tokyo gets around this, namely by removing the decisions about housing from city politics and making it at a national level.

It seems pretty straightforward then: all cities should remove decision making about housing from the local level and assign it to a body at a national level. But is this true? And would it work in North American cities?

It depends on what you expect your housing policy to be and how effectively you can impose it. If the policy is to have affordable and available housing for a city, then the Tokyo model makes sense. However, there is an assumption that decisions made at a national level will be in line with the desires of the residence of the city. This is a big assumption.

There are at least two sets of desires that home owners have for their homes and their city. One, that their homes and the neighbourhood they live in remain stable or improve. Two, that their homes appreciate in value. The first desire could be wrecked by the Tokyo model. The second desire would definitely be affected by the Tokyo model. With cities like Palo Alto, you have the two sets of desires met, at least in the short term. In the longer term, the second desire could level off as people and industry move elsewhere.

The ideal is to have a national policy that takes into account the need for neighbourhoods to grow organically, for house values to appreciate over time but still allow for affordability, and for cities to  allow for new housing as well as account for when neighbourhoods become depopulated. Having such a policy would support vibrant cities at a national level. You would treat cities as a network of systems, and you would allocate or remove resources over time to keep all cities vibrant, regardless if they are growing or declining.

This is the ideal. Practically, I just can’t see this happening in North American cities. North Americans are too strongly capitalist to allow what is happening in Japan to happen here. If national organizations tried too hard to manage cities and resulted in cooling off housing markets, people would oppose that. For many people, their house is their chief asset, and any efforts to restrict that from appreciation would be met with defiance.

Sadly, I think there are going to have to be many failures within cities such as Palo Alto and San Francisco before there is enough political will to change the way housing is managed. I think the Tokyo/Japan model is out of reach for my continent for decades, still.

It’s unfortunate: you have cities in the U.S. in the rust belt suffering great decline, while cities on the coasts struggling to come to terms with growth. A national policy on housing would help all cities and have a greater benefits for people than the current approach.

I like Palo Alto. It’s a great city, in a great region. I think it would be greater still if it had more housing.

A great primer on self driving trucks that everyone should read. (Really!)

This piece, 1.8 million American truck drivers could lose their jobs to robots. What then? (Vox) is a great primer on self driving trucks and how they are going to have a major impact sooner than later.

If you are interested in IT, AI or robots, it really shows one of the places where this technology is going to have a significant impact.

If you are interested in economics, politics, or sociology, then the effect of robots replacing all these truck drivers is definitely something you want to be aware of.

If you drive on highways, you definitely want to know about it.

In any case, it’s a good piece by David Roberts. That is his beat and I find he always does a great job of breaking down a topic like this and making it easier to understand and relevant to me. I recommend any of his pieces.

My latest batch of home decor links

Image of a bedroom from Cup of Jo website

As I redo my place, I have found dozens of interesting links, mostly from  the site Apartment Therapy. There’s lots of great ideas, tips, and other news from that site. Buzzfeed Home also has some good stuff, some of which you’ll find below. (The image is a link to the Cup of Jo website. It also has some great home decor ideas, among other things.)

Before & After: Budget Bathroom Upgrade | Apartment Therapy – it doesn’t take much to upgrade your bathroom, and if you want a manageable space to redo, this may inspire you to get going on this.
Furniture Finds: 10 bold and brilliant removable wallpapers – perfect for people who want the boldness of wallpaper, but also the ability to change your mind.
Renters Rejoice: Stylish Solutions to Your Most Common Design Woes | Apartment Therapy – if you are new to decorating, this is worthwhile
The Best Plug-in Sconces (No Electrician Needed!) | Apartment Therapy – like the wallpaper, this is another good idea for people who don’t want to commit.
31 insanely clever cleaning hacks for your messy home – before you decorate, you need to clean. Use this to get your going.
Decorating Mistakes First-Time Homeowners Make – Hither & Thither  – more good advice for those starting off
Affordable Vintage Rugs – Best of Etsy – rugs make such a difference, but they can be very expensive. Use this to help with that.
5 Ways to Update Thrift Store Art | Apartment Therapy – original art is better, in my opinion, but if you have lots of walls and/or lots of thrift art you want to use up, check this out.
A Brief History of Memphis, The Design Group that Defined the Look of the 80s | Apartment Therapy – I don’t know if we will ever see a resurgence of the Memphis Design style, but in the 80s it was influential. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but interesting nonetheless.
The Kitchn’s Guide to Cleaning Your Small Electric Appliances — Cleaning Guides from The Kitchn | The Kitchn – more good cleaning advice.
A Bubbly Life: DIY Wooden Shoe Rack – this is a great, simple project for anyone. I am not sure how good it is to sit on, though. Be advised.
Small Design Details That Make a Big Impact | Apartment Therapy – a handful of good ways to simple ways to improve your living space
A First Apartment in Boerum Hill | A Cup of Jo – a great place. Lots of ideas to take away from here.
31 creative ways to hide eyesores around your home – good advice from Buzzfeed Home
31 insanely clever cleaning hacks for your messy home – good cleaning advice here
How to Make Vinegar Cleaning Spray (That Smells Good!) | The Kitchn – …and here
Grown-Up Versions of Your Favorite Teenage Decorating Trends (You Won’t Believe How Good They Can Look) | Apartment Therapy – ha! If you miss your old room, you can go back again…and reuse those ideas.
DIY Mid Century Modern Coffee Table (Under $50!) – Wonder Forest – another good DIY project. This one is especially good if you want to design a table that fits a particular place. Other than Ikea’s Lack table, you won’t find a cheaper one anywhere, save a garage sale.
25 Clever DIYs for Small Spaces | Apartment Therapy – more good do it yourself ideas.
Get the Warm Industrial Look on a Big Box Store Budget | Apartment Therapy – if you like that look, you can get it without shelling out big bucks at places like Restoration Hardware by reading this.
This is What It’s Really Like to Live in One of Those Tiny Houses | Apartment Therapy – intriguing.
Bright Ways to Beautify a Basic, Boring Bookcase | Apartment Therapy – more good ways to improve your house.
12 Useful & Beautiful Things You Can Do With Butcher Paper | Apartment Therapy – plus you can let your kids draw on the walls and not freak out. 🙂
7 Ways to Fill a Wall that Are as Useful as They Are Beautiful | Apartment Therapy – have a big wall? Here’s some good ideas to make it look great.