Saturday, April 21, 2012

Factory work is slavery, even in America

The price of online shopping and free shipping is that companies outsource logistics to third party warehousing firms that use temporary workers, whose life is miserable. An undercover journalist reports on her experience working in such a warehouse for a few days. Excerpt from I was a warehouse wage slave:

“Don’t take anything that happens to you there personally,” the woman at the local chamber of commerce says when I tell her that tomorrow I start working at Amalgamated Product Giant Shipping Worldwide Inc. She winks at me. I stare at her for a second. “What?” I ask. “Why, is somebody going to be mean to me or something?” She smiles. “Oh, yeah.” This town somewhere west of the Mississippi is not big; everyone knows someone or is someone who’s worked for Amalgamated. “But look at it from their perspective. They need you to work as fast as possible to push out as much as they can as fast as they can. So they’re gonna give you goals, and then you know what? If you make those goals, they’re gonna increase the goals. But they’ll be yelling at you all the time. It’s like the military. They have to break you down so they can turn you into what they want you to be. So they’re going to tell you, ‘You’re not good enough, you’re not good enough, you’re not good enough,’ to make you work harder. Don’t say, ‘This is the best I can do.’ Say, ‘I’ll try,’ even if you know you can’t do it. Because if you say, ‘This is the best I can do,’ they’ll let you go. They hire and fire constantly, every day. You’ll see people dropping all around you. But don’t take it personally and break down or start crying when they yell at you.”
"Just look around in here if you wanna see how bad it is out there," one of the associates at the temp office said to me, unprompted, when I got hired. It's the first time anyone has ever tried to comfort me because I got a job, because he knew, and everyone in this industry that's growing wildfire fast knows, and accepts, that its model by design is mean. He offered me the same kind of solidarity the workers inside the warehouse try to provide each other at every break: Why are you here? What happened that you have to let people treat you like this? "We're all in the same boat," he said, after shaking my hand to welcome me aboard. "It's a really big boat."

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Studying is most useful for average students

From a puzzle on passing the The US Citizenship test, the probability of success goes from 37% to 50% when the knowledge level goes from 50% to 55%.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Why Chinese kids fare better than Western kids

From the Wall Street Journal, Why Chinese mothers are superior:
... nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it's math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun.
That's not just for kids...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

How to root an Android device and block ads

Use Super One Click to get root access on the device. If the process hangs at "Getting mount point", open Task Manager and kill both running instances of adb.exe and restart Super One Click if necessary.

Install AdAway, a free (and open source) app from the Android Market - it updates the hosts file with entries from several host file sources on the web and runs a local server to return nothing when any of those hosts are queried. (The same as what HostsMan/HostsServer do for the Windows PC.)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Do no evil. Pay no tax.

Do no evil. Pay no tax. Excerpts:

Google has managed to lower its overseas tax rate more than its peers in the technology sector. Its rate since 2007 has been 2.4 percent.

In Bermuda there's no corporate income tax at all. Google's profits travel to the island's white sands via a convoluted route known to tax lawyers as the "Double Irish" and the "Dutch Sandwich." In Google's case, it generally works like this: When a company in Europe, the Middle East, or Africa purchases a search ad through Google, it sends the money to Google Ireland. The Irish government taxes corporate profits at 12.5 percent, but Google mostly escapes that tax because its earnings don't stay in the Dublin office, which reported a pretax profit of less than 1 percent of revenues in 2008.

Irish law makes it difficult for Google to send the money directly to Bermuda without incurring a large tax hit, so the payment makes a brief detour through the Netherlands, since Ireland doesn't tax certain payments to companies in other European Union states. Once the money is in the Netherlands, Google can take advantage of generous Dutch tax laws. Its subsidiary there, Google Netherlands Holdings, is just a shell (it has no employees) and passes on about 99.8 percent of what it collects to Bermuda. (The subsidiary managed in Bermuda is technically an Irish company, hence the "Double Irish" nickname.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Prices: supply, demand and power

An excerpt from power dynamics, free market and inflation
...the most powerful entity in a sector has the ability to set wages and benefits in a way independent of the market for labor if it controls a sufficiently large amount of the sector, assuming a sufficient supply of workers in the sector...
More reading on economic theory.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mandelbrot's fractals in African architecture and in war!

Rest In Peace, Benoit Mandelbrot. An excerpt:
In a fascinating talk at TEDGlobal in 2007, mathematician Ron Eglash shows how, in cultures across the African continent, fractals are a recurring shared technology in architecture, design and culture.

from the TED Blog: Our Q&A with TED Fellow Sean Gourley, whose work hints at a fractal pattern in global war.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

On the decline of programming as a serious professional field

From Is LISP dying?
something important happens when a previously privileged position in society suddenly sees incredibly demand that needs to be filled, using enormous quantities of manpower. that happened to programming computers about a decade ago, or maybe two. first, the people will no longer be super dedicated people, and they won’t be as skilled or even as smart — what was once dedication is replaced by greed and sometimes sheer need as the motivation to enter the field. second, an unskilled labor force will want job security more than intellectual challenges (to some the very antithesis of job security). third, managing an unskilled labor force means easy access to people who are skilled in whatever is needed right now, not an investment in people — which leads to the conclusion that a programmer is only as valuable as his ability to get another job fast. fourth, when mass markets develop, pluralism suffers the most — there is no longer a concept of healthy participants: people become concerned with the individual “winner”, and instead of people being good at whatever they are doing and proud of that, they will want to flock around the winner to share some of the glory.
More at The Wisdom of Eric Naggum

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Too stupid to know you are stupid

The Dunning-Kruger effect - our incompetence masks our ability to recognise our incompetence. Excerpt from The Anosognosic's Dilemma: Something's wrong but you'll never know what it is:
Dunning and Kruger argued in their paper, “When people are incompetent in the strategies they adopt to achieve success and satisfaction, they suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it. Instead, like Mr. Wheeler, they are left with the erroneous impression they are doing just fine.”

Monday, June 21, 2010

Migration versus currency deflation

Interesting thoughts from a blog post about economic coping mechanisms: American inter-state migration, Australian currency deflation, but European economic implosion?

Australia has a really effective adjustment mechanism to a decline in demand for its product. When metals prices/demand falls the Australian dollar falls. ... Suddenly Australian labor can (again) produce commodities profitably…

America is a large country with many sub-economies on different cycles but with a common currency. If terms of trade move against Texas (as happened in the mid 1980s when the oil price collapsed) you can’t have the Texas Dollar fall because there is no Texas dollar. Houston – we have a problem.

[T]he American solution to (say) a recession in Houston is for people to move out of Houston. America has an amazingly mobile population – with almost all of the world’s busiest airports inside the US. Almost nobody seems to live in the town in which they are born. ... because people in the US move when one part of the economy is struggling. ...

Alas Europe has neither much internal migration nor any ability for say the Greek or Spanish Euro to devalue against the German Euro.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Post traumatic stress is a well known by product of mass massacres. A recent article describes the effect of Afghanistan on the warrior who brought down the Taliban - Andy Kubik.

In the olden wars, pre-WW1, the strategy creators and executors were substantially the same persons and experienced war in a visceral manner that shaped their thinking forever, eg Ashoka at Kalinga.

WW1 changed that. War was now an activity suitable for mass production. No longer was it necessary or practical for the thinkers and doers to be the same people. Napoleon was probably the last of the old warriors in the West.

The separation of the tactical fighting and killing from the strategic aspects of thinking and planning may be more efficient for the prosecution of the war but it short circuits the feedback loop from the battlefield to the command and control center.

The notable points are twofold:
  1. Modern rulers and elite learn precious little from the massacres they orchestrate, whether Mao, Stalin, Hitler or American Presidents.
  2. The fighters on the front go mad, bearing the burden of responsibility for events over which they have no real control.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The national deficit

[The public debt] does not have to be repaid, and in practice it will never be repaid.
That's the economics of reality, as opposed that of the textbooks. Quote from that article:
,,, foreigners do us a favor by buying our bonds. To acquire them, China must export goods to us, not offset by equivalent imports. That is a cost to China. It's a cost Beijing is prepared to pay, for its own reasons: export industries promote learning, technology transfer and product quality improvement, and they provide jobs to migrants from the countryside. But that's China's business.

For China, the bonds themselves are a sterile hoard. There is almost nothing that Beijing can do with them. China already imports all the commodities and machinery and aircraft it can use--if it wanted more, it would buy them now. So unless China changes its export policy, its stock of T bonds will just go on growing. And we will pay interest on it, not with real effort but by typing numbers into computers. There is no burden associated with this, not now and not later.
That concept is exactly the title of this blog!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The modern economic dilemma: Everything is free, but no one has a job.

Excerpt from the The Google decade:
... consider all the mortal foes Google has racked up in the last decade. Microsoft. Amazon. Viacom. News Corp. AT&T. Every publishing house and newspaper in America. That’s quite a list for two men who once merely aspired to put the Gettysburg Address on your screen in a microsecond or two. What other businesses will they disrupt in the coming years? ... In industry after industry, by offering services for nothing, Google has metastasized the modern economic dilemma: Everything is free, but no one has a job. This was probably inevitable, and maybe we should thank Google for forcing us to face reality now, and in such a dramatic fashion.

Friday, October 30, 2009

WiFi disconnects every 5-10 minutes when laptop runs on battery

A possible solution:
The problem isn't interference, it isnt the router. The problem has to do with the power settings for the wireless card itself.

To *attempt* to fix it:
1. Right click on "My Network Places" and hit properties.
2. Right click on your wireless connection icon and hit properties.
3. Under the "General" tab, click on the Configure button next to the device description (the button next to the box with the label "Connect Using:"
4. Click on the "Advanced" tab
5. Click on "Power Management" in the list box and then uncheck the "Use Default Value" box and set the slider to "highest".

You may need to update your drivers before you can get to these menus, to do that, go to the Intel website and search their support for drivers for the Intel Pro/Wireless 2100 series. They should only have a couple drivers to choose from.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The state of computer science

On why MIT switched from Scheme to Python:

In 1980, good programmers spent a lot of time thinking, and then produced spare code that they thought should work. ... But programming now isn’t so much like that ... . Nowadays you muck around with incomprehensible or nonexistent man pages for software you don’t know who wrote. You have to do basic science on your libraries to see how they work, trying out different inputs and seeing how the code reacts. This is a fundamentally different job. ...

Comment #1: 

So the reason, basically, is that software today is a train wreck, and you might as well embrace helplessness and random tinkering from the start?

More insightful words have not been uttered about the state of computer science.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

That's capitalism

Excerpt from an interesting post about hedge fund replication:
If you are one of the best doctors in the country, chances are you are working somewhere like the Mayo Clinic. Or perhaps you may be at Johns Hopkins, UCSF, or even the Cleveland Clinic. But it is rather unlikely (as much as Michael J Fox would have you believe in Doc Hollywood) that you will be the family practicioner in Grady, SC. (And that’s no knock on SC!)

Simply, the top talent in each in industry gravitates to where the best compensation is. That’s capitalism.

Alan Greenspan did not believe in regulating fraud.

Fascinating documentary on Frontline (PBS) - The Warning about the CFTC's efforts under Brooksley Born to prevent fraud in the derivatives markets, and to regulate it. A quote:
"We didn't truly know the dangers of the market, because it was a dark market," says Brooksley Born, the head of an obscure federal regulatory agency -- the Commodity Futures Trading Commission [CFTC] -- who not only warned of the potential for economic meltdown in the late 1990s, but also tried to convince the country's key economic powerbrokers to take actions that could have helped avert the crisis. "They were totally opposed to it," Born says. "That puzzled me. What was it that was in this market that had to be hidden?"

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The so called scarcity of scientists

There is a lot of hand wringing about how wall street drains the real economy of bright people who might otherwise have become scientists. See for instance this recent article. An excerpt:

"Graduates in these three fields all too frequently choose careers in finance rather than the real economy because the financial sector provides far greater executive compensation"

That is pure baloney.

I am one of those persons "with strong mathematical, engineering, and scientific backgrounds" with a PhD from a top university.

The sub sector of the industry I worked in was dominated by 2 billion dollar companies. First Company C announced they were shutting down all R&D operations to cut costs. Within weeks, company S followed suit by shutting down their R&D department as well. The day to day work at both places has gotten to be mind numbingly boring with 0 innovation.

Where should people like me find interesting, challenging and rewarding work that involves Mathematics, Sciences and Engineering? I will give you a clue - there are no high paying technical jobs outside of finance in America.

Stop paying the lawyers, sportsmen and Hollywood stars so much and pay more to scientists - you will immediately see a large number of scientists and technologists. This has happened only twice in 20th century America - the post Sputnik era was the first and the tech boom of the late 90's was the second.

Enough of this "we need more scientists" nonsense. The highly trained scientists are willingly walking to Wall street because this society does not value science. People like me are in no mood to ruin our life and health slaving away at unappreciated technology jobs when society pays us neither good money nor social respect. Put your money where your mouth is or else shut up.

Here is a simple proposition: if you want me to work in science instead of on Wall Street, then pay me more on Main Street.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Why I do not like the Kindle

I will not tolerate Borders walking into my house and removing a book from my bookshelf, unless they show a search warrant from a magistrate. Why should it be any different with any other bookstore?

Such an event was only bothering me as a theoretical possibility but now it appears that something like this actually transpired: Amazon deletes purchased copies of 1984 from Kindle users' devices - it would have been even more ironic if the book in question had been Fahrenheit 450.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

From Citibank to the administration...

Read and weep:
Rubin's shameless interview justifying being paid $115 million for being a director without control over operations, policy or risk.

In other news, Rubin protégés to head top economic posts in the new administration.

With the foxes guarding the hen house, is the financial crisis about to get much bigger/worse?