Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Thursday, October 2, 2003day link 

 Computers and Employment
Andy Oram wonders "Can computers help reverse falling employment?".
"The gigantic combine of capitalism has always obsessively pursued efficiency, and computers make the pursuit almost child play. Capitalism has succeeded in sowing a cornucopia of innovation up and down society. But capitalism is atrocious at distributing the fruits of innovation. Each labor-saving device means the idling of thousands of people, wasting their years of experience, rigorous training, and practical insights.

People who work with computers remain fixated on efficiency. Every week I hear the debates over whether businesses should use Linux or Windows, the commentators always wrangling over which systems will save the most money. I find this battle increasingly tiresome. I'm more interested in finding the systems that will put more people to work."
Well, the intention is good enough. Capitalism is quite likely to lead to a very small percentage of the population owning most of the very automated production facilities, and a very large percentage of the population being unemployed, because their work isn't really needed. So, isn't there something we can do with software and computers that can change things?

Oram's main idea seems to be essentially to think of some good things that need doing, and invite large numbers of open source programmers to work on them. I wish the economy worked that way. But it doesn't. In communism it sort of does, but the problem there is that individual creativity isn't particularly nurtured or rewarded. So that in itself wouldn't particularly be economically feasible without some kind of revolution. But as to this question that he proposes for systems people to keep in mind ...
"What can I do to bring average people back into the process of wealth creation?"
That's a different matter. If we can think more about how to get more people involved in creating wealth, which obviously involves being directly involved in how one makes a profit - that can make a difference.
[ | 2003-10-02 14:07 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Open Courseware
MIT has made a wealth of educational materials freely available over the Internet. Lecture notes, syllabi, and exams to provide a 'free and open educational resource for faculty, students, and self-learners around the world'.
"With the publication of 500 courses, MIT is delivering on the promise of OpenCourseWare that we made in 2001. We are thrilled that educators, students, and self-learners from all parts of the globe tell us that MIT OCW is having an impact on education and learning. We hope that in sharing MIT’s course materials, and our experience thus far with MIT OCW, we will inspire other institutions to openly share their course materials, creating a worldwide web of knowledge that will benefit mankind." - Charles M. Vest, President of MIT
Bravo! There's no good reason why all serious educational materials shouldn't be freely available.
[ | 2003-10-02 14:53 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Our stuff arrived
Finally the stuff we shipped from Los Angeles arrived. We had pretty much gotten used to being without it, and we weren't really missing it much. And, besides, we had thrown away or given away large amounts of stuff, so the items being shipped were clothes, books, and computers, and very little else.

So now our otherwise pleasantly empty house is full of boxes, and suddenly seems much smaller. And we didn't even ship furniture. But 8 cubic meters of miscellaneous essentials. Like our blankets, sweaters, my favorite books, household files, etc. And I can now sit and look at a big screen, and I can print.

A few pieces of advice for others who might need to send their things by ship to another country:

- Don't believe any precise estimates of when it ships or when it arrives, or for that matter, where it arrives. I did. The ship leaves every Friday, and it takes 29 days to get to the destination. Yeah, sure. I timed it exactly so it would arrive 3 weeks after us, so we had 2 weeks to find a place, and our boxes would arrive the week after. But it took 3 weeks before they even put it on a ship, because of some kind of problem supposedly outside their control. And then the ship went to somewhere in England, rather than to Marseille, close to us in France. And it took them two weeks to get it through customs. And another two weeks before they managed to get a truck to drive it down here. About 80 days total.

- Don't believe any claim of how one company is in control of the whole journey. I picked the freight forwarding company where they were most friendly, and where they gave me an "all-inclusive" price, door-to-door, and they gave very affirming answers to everything. Their price was higher than several of the other companies, which however left most things up in the air, including the charges at the other end, and were very careless about telling me what exactly would happen. But, as it turned out, my company hadn't told me everything either. They handed our shipment to some other company who arranged the actual ship journey, and which apparently rewrote the travel plans along the way and sent it to England, where they handed our packages to another company, which handled the import and customs, and then gave it to a company that actually delivered it. That makes 4 companies, each with a mind of their own. And, well, our things were indeed finally brought to our door. It wasn't entirely all inclusive, as the import company presented me with a $100 bill for a customs inspection. And when I brought this and the various delays to the attention of the L.A. freight forwarder, that's when they suddenly started presenting me with the full picture of serial uncertainty.
[ | 2003-10-02 15:35 | 6 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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