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“God Bless This Country We Love”

November 20, 2014

I just watched our president’s immigration speech.  I’m sure I could be snarky and impressed about a lot of things.  One thing I heard, though, was interesting.

“God bless this country we love.” (and dramatic walking away)

Um, what country is that?  “This country we love.”:  Um, America?  Mexico?  Botswana?

Really, I have no desire to be in politics.  I’m impressed by those who do want to be there.  I would gladly shake any president’s hand for doing a job I’d never want to do.  But really, “God bless this country we love?”

God Bless America

“I Made That Choice Ten Years Ago”

November 12, 2014

Okay, take a look at this:

Robot

The Atlas robot created by Google-owned firm Boston Dynamics is a formidable figure at 6ft 2in tall and weighing in at 330lb.

The robot boasts 28 hydraulically actuated joints and stereo vision, and is one of the most advanced robots ever created.

However, it’s not just karate – Ian has another trick up his sleeve – software written by the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Interaction which allows him to drive a car.

I was watching a news report where the commentator was talking about the robot’s ability to break into a door, essentially for search-and-rescue.  So let me say definitively, this is awesomely cool, and as a technology guy, I applaud the amazing efforts.  Stuff like this will change the world.

Now…

Here’s something I ask students interested in technology all the time.  Let’s take a driver-less car scenario for a simple robotics programming test.  The car is driving down the road, and suffers a catastrophic problem where it’s now headed to the curb with some ability to steer.  Where do you aim the car in the following cases?

  • Blank spot on the curb or a telephone pole
  • Telephone pole or solid wall
  • Blank spot or baby carriage
  • Baby carriage or elderly person

Those types of choices are going to be programmed into the car in some way, likely years ahead of the cars being on the road.  Obviously, the choices won’t be this black and white, but you get my point.  The car, or the robot, or the heavy machine has to make decisions.  And programmers will be responsible for those decisions years after the fact.

We make these types of choices already, but mostly in controlled environments.  Robots in the automotive industry, for instance, swing heavy cars all over the place with auto workers all around.  But those workers are trained in safety and know where to go and where not to go.  When these things are released into the “wild west” of the real world… well, that’s different.

Technology is totally emotionless, but the human impetus behind it can certainly turn it to a direction that will concern and confuse those who didn’t participate in the decision.  I’ll be very interested in seeing what happens as we start to release more of these amazing pieces of technology into a world where there’s plenty of emotion.

The Machine Tool Ate My Job

November 10, 2014

Hey, look, here’s some non-news!

RoTM One in three UK jobs will be performed by machine in as little as 20 years, according to a new study carried out by Deloitte and the University of Oxford.

Somewhere around a massive 10.8 million people could be replaced by machine by 2034, the researchers claim. Londoners are least likely to be affected (with only 30 per cent of jobs at risk compared to 35 per cent nationwide) and those higher up the management food chain are also safer than their minions from the threat of robo-replacement. “Lower-paid jobs are over five times more likely to be replaced than higher-paid, almost eight times as likely in London,” says the study.

Obviously, I’m not shocked.  Heck, my first real job was building machine controls for robots that were replacing auto workers on the assembly line.  This is called progress (and The Reg means it that way as well).  There are many jobs that will slowly, or rapidly, go away because technology will find better ways to do it.  And that’s how we move the workforce forward.  Really, does anyone want to still be typing data entries into a system when it can be scanned and done much faster?  Wouldn’t that same person be able to do a variety of other jobs that have a large scope but similar skills?

What still troubles me is that the education system is still focused on driving mass-production mentality onto students.  You could argue that the schools developed their base pedagogy back in the days when we were churning out assembly-line workers, and that the methods haven’t changed a lot.  We’re still focusing on bringing the margins (low and high) to the middle, rather than customizing the system.  This is why home-schooling is so popular; parents can tune education for the kids’ interests.

Either way, it continues to be a brave, new world.  Hopefully not in the Huxley sense.

The Parody of Commitment

October 30, 2014

I’ve been on a brutal 11-day business trip, on my way home over cloudy skies as I type.  And what comes to my browser but this piece of pap.

Have you ever wondered what you have to do to keep your man’s eye from wandering? One woman thinks she has the answer – it involves a scalpel and some silicone.

Self-titled sex expert Louise Van Der Velde is telling women who reach their forties to get plastic surgery or face their partner running off with a younger model. 

Louise, who runs a relationship therapy centre in central London, believes ladies only have themselves to blame if their husband starts to find other women more attractive.

Wait, there’s more.

Steering clear of cakes and keeping in shape with regular visits to the gym is not enough though – Louise thinks that women should start to have breast augmentation, liposuction, fillers and the rest as soon as parts of the body start to sag.

She said: ‘A lot of my female clients in their forties and fifties come in and they’re unhappy that their husbands are playing away but they’ve let themselves go.  

So… it’s entirely the woman’s fault when a guy starts catting around, and the only solution is to tart up?  That sounds like someone who makes a lot of money off of selling plastic surgery deciding to sell more.

I sometimes talk about the parody of radical Islam, or other faiths that encourage women to cover up in a tent so as not to arouse the lust of men who can’t control themselves.  So, women are to blame for men being sinful.  This is exactly the same sentiment.  Women are to blame for men being sinful and sleeping around, so they should take radical measures to prevent the sin.  I know it’s not worded that way, but it’s easily read that way once you look at it.

Hey, guys!  How about you make a commitment and love and respect your woman?  She’ll respond by respecting you and herself.  I bet that works better any day than $20k of artificial that begins a spiral to despair.

No Youth Movement

October 15, 2014

I’m sure plenty of my loyal readers would assume that I’d have an opinion on an HR move by tech companies.  And this is definitely more Lynn’s territory, but she’s been crazy at work… she still like y’all.

So anyway, here’s a new health benefit courtesy of the more “forward-thinking” technology groups.

According to a report from NBC News, both Facebook and Apple have begun offering human egg freezing as part of their employee benefits package. The plans would allow employees to have their eggs put on ice and used for conception at a later date.

Apple said the benefit was part of a family medical benefits package it offers workers.

“We continue to expand our benefits for women, with a new extended maternity leave policy, along with cyropreservation and egg storage as part of our extensive support for infertility treatments,” the iGiant said in a statement to The Register.

So first: It’s an interesting idea, and it will likely serve to attract females, especially the ambitious types.  Why not have a hedge to balancing career and family?  I’m sure more companies will start to offer it, especially as it becomes a more standard medical practice.  Note also the extended maternity leave.  Tech is leading the way in becoming more friendly to women.  It’s still not getting a lot more women in tech, but they’re trying.

Second: I’m interested about how charges are handled.  There’s got to be some form of storage fee.  How does that work once the woman leaves the company and goes elsewhere?  Likely it just falls back to the family.  That’s more a tactical question, but it makes me wonder if some potential families might view this as a different form of golden handcuffs.  Since I commented yesterday that uninformed opinion is dumb, I won’t speculate much beyond that.

But third: Wow, this is pretty cynical.  In some way, this backs up a couple of the worst parts of tech, especially tech in the Bay.  There’s an undercurrent in the tech industry that women can’t get ahead if they plan on having kids.  So this is just a way that some jerks of managers (both male and female, I’d note) can put pressure on women not to have kids.  Hey, you can have them later, if you want that promotion you should think about concentrating more on work (wink, wink)…  It also puts pressure on women to embrace an uncertain future in exchange for a promise today.  Freezing eggs doesn’t guarantee pregnancy later, it just increases the odds.

Most interesting to me: This continues the youth movement trend in technology that I know is being noticed by more of us in the gray-hair period of our career.  If you believe the implication that only women without kids can get ahead (and I don’t), and if you believe that the choice to finally have a child pushes the woman to stagnate the career (and I don’t), this essentially is saying that women should get ahead and get their money early in their lives, and then reap that reward by scaling back and having kids when they’re too old to be productive.  What ever happened to feeling that the most productive part of the career was late 40′s?  Not in tech, that’s apparently the time to think about pulling the kids out of the freezer and becoming part of the PTA.  Okay, the contrast is up on that statement, but you get what I’m saying.

So… good for tech in that it’s trying to get women more involved.  Not so good for reinforcing the stereotypes that work and family don’t get along.

I Don’t Much Care What I Think

October 14, 2014

EBOLA, EBOLA, EBOLA!  Okay, is everyone freaked out beyond rationality now?  Great, we can start.

As I wandered around the net this morning, I ran across a pointer to this article.  I don’t know if I can really call it news.  It’s more an agglomeration of opinion.  In fact, I’m shocked that it doesn’t have five or six anecdotal tweets and a couple Facebook posts from semi-famous people.  But anyway:

Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they are concerned about an Ebola outbreak in the United States, and about the same amount say they want flight restrictions from the countries in West Africa where the disease has quickly spread.

A new poll from the Washington Post and ABC News shows 67 percent of people say they would support restricting entry to the United States from countries struggling with Ebola. Another 91 percent would like to see stricter screening procedures at U.S. airports in response to the disease’s spread.

So… I don’t care.  Not that I don’t care about health and safety, but I don’t care what a bunch of random people think about health and safety.  Sure, I’d prefer that we, perhaps, do a better job of identifying the disease better, and the real spokespeople talking about it are pretty clueless on how to communicate to normal humans.  But what five people down the street think we should do about it with the low amount of information they have doesn’t really concern me.

Look, I know this is a typically devastating disease that spreads in some scary ways.  And I’m on the road quite a bit, interacting with people who have also been all over the road.  We all have to take our precautions to stay well, and we might get sick.  I’m likely to get a cold the next trip I take given my schedule, interactions, and the like.  I have to deal with that.

But really, stop asking 100 random people how to solve the crisis.  You’ll get answers ranging from, “shoot them now,” to, “use cannabis and breast milk,” as solutions.  And they’ll all be wrong.  Oh, and worse, the poll-driven government will probably start to think they need some mix of Guantanamo and breast milk for all flyers, since they clearly don’t have any idea on how to process and handle information that they should be using to make intelligent decisions.

But then again, if I don’t care what I think, other people probably don’t care either.  I hope nobody polls me.

So Much for Cyber Security

October 13, 2014

Hey, have you used a credit card lately?  Maybe to have lunch?

Dairy Queen has admitted to being hacked, six weeks after reports first surfaced that the US fast-food chain’s tills were compromised.

“We discovered evidence that the systems of some DQ locations and one Orange Julius location were infected with the widely-reported Backoff malware that is targeting retailers across the country,” the company said in a statement. “The investigation revealed that a third-party vendor’s compromised account credentials were used to access systems at those locations.”

Or maybe you needed to grab some inexpensive kitchen items for the dorm room?

Discount store Kmart admitted some customers’ payment cards have likely been “compromised” as it became the latest mega retailer to fall victim to cyber-crims.

The parent of the chain, Sears Holding Corp, said the IT team discovered late Thursday that its payment systems had been breached, and further investigations indicate this had started early last month.

Let’s not forget Home Depot, and pretty much everyone else out there that uses standard point-of-sale terminals.  Let’s face it, folks, electronic payments at retail are not secure right now.  And they probably won’t be for a while.  It’s not a bad thing that every company in the world, big or small, has access to standardized hardware and software that enables cashless transactions.  But right now, those systems are full of holes that are just being discovered and exploited, and its your convenience at risk.

Yes, convenience.  Sure, we all have to pay more because the processing companies are going to have to spend a pile more money to secure or replace systems.  It’s really the constant change of card numbers and system changes that will make life difficult for a while.  Eventually the systems will be secured against existing attacks.  And then the attackers will find new ways inside the system.  This is just another facet of the cyber war that’s ongoing, and we’re all mostly bystanders in the line of fire.

Honestly, I’ve been vectoring more to paying in cash recently, and I don’t see a real need to change that direction.  Sure, some electronic transactions still need to be made, and I’m debating just getting a simple bank card that’s linked to a small debit account.  It probably will do me a lot better in terms of budgeting, and I’m only vulnerable for a small amount over time.  That won’t keep me secure, but at least I can reduce the attack profile.  And we’ll have to start thinking that way more, since I think it’ll only be a couple years before the attacks on faceless corporations shift to attacks on specific humans on a mass scale.

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