Computers as job-killers

An article in the current C’t magazine drew my attention to a study (The future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?) published in 2013 by economists Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne.

In the past, computerisation has killed jobs, but there have always been more jobs created overall, because new professions have been created as a result of new products springing up as a result of computerisation: computers, smartphones, GPS systems, the Internet etc. have all created jobs that previously didn’t exist and that were unimaginable before computers existed.

However, with increasingly powerful IT systems comes the ability to replace not only relatively unskilled, mundane jobs on production lines, but also many jobs which today provide work for the middle classes. Indeed, economists think that the reason for the increasing salary differential between top managers and normal employees that started in the 1980’s in the USA and Europe is caused by increasing use of computers in industry and commerce.

Frey and Osborne have evaluated over 700 professions and estimated the probability that it will be posible to replace human workers by computers. Their report (see link above) includes a table in the appendix ranking the professions by probability that they can be taken over by computers. They conclude:

According to our estimates around 47 percent of total US employment is in the high risk category. We refer to these as jobs at risk – i.e. jobs we expect could be automated relatively soon, perhaps over the next decade or two.

Other economists, such as Andrew McAfee at MIT predict that that the increasing inroads that computer systems are making on jobs will lead to an even starker polarisation of salaries – those jobs which computers can’t replace will be highly paid, the remainder will be badly paid. The middle classes will become an endangered species.

If you are a recreational therapist, a healthcare social worker, a computer system administrator or a dentist, you can be fairly sure your job is still going to be around in 20 years time. If you are a receptionist, a nuclear reactor operator, a paralegal, a butcher, or a bicycle repairer, you should probably think about re-training: it’s highly unlikely that your job will still be around in 20 years, and if it is, it will be badly paid due to the competition from computers.

Black Friday 2014-11-24 – Amazon

One company, two prices. 229 Euro in Spain, 99 Euro in Germany. These screen shots were taken at 7.15 this morning. Amazon.es doesn’t “celebrate” Black Friday with its own products, amazon.de does, all this week (“Cyber Monday Week”). In the UK, by the way, the same model costs £99, so is also more expensive then in Germany.

And: the German subsidiary normally sells Kindles a lot cheaper than in Spain. Cheap enough to make it very worthwhile ordering them to a German address and getting someone to ship them on to Spain for you.

It’s generally worth arbitraging between the various Amazon sites. Germany is often cheaper than the UK for electronic and photographic goods, even after paying the shipping.

The secret society of Valenciano-speakers

First page of exercises in the most basic textbook I can find

First page of exercises in the most basic textbook I can find


I have made quite a bit of progress over the last couple of years in Xàtiva learning Spanish. Although I still have a huge amount to learn, I no longer worry about having to answer the phone or go to the shops and ask for something. (Thanks to my teachers, Aarón and Saffron)

So I have been contemplating starting to learn the local language, Valenciano (which is almost identical to Catalan, which is spoken in Catalunya, the area around Barcelona). read more…

Procesión general del Santo Entierro – Xàtiva 2013

We went to the Good Friday “General Procession of the Holy Burial of Christ” in Xàtiva yesterday. The procession lasted about two hours.

Spain still maintains a lot of its traditions and there are processions and festivals in Xàtiva several times every year. I love them, as they usually involve the participants dressing up in traditional costumes. I went to the Fallas celebrations in Valencia a couple of weeks ago, which also involve processions in the traditional costumes, but those are modelled on medieval finery, these ones are based on religious dress, especially the “Capirotes” which were worn by the Spanish Inquisition.

Our first pomegranate

We’ve two pomegranate trees in the garden, and the larger one (in the foreground below) produced one fruit this year (which is not bad considering it was only planted last November). Unfortunately, I didn’t think to photograph the fruit until I had started opening it to try the seeds.

The pomegranate tree. The second one is smaller, behind the grass with yellower leaves.


I found an article on the web which seemed to offer a simple way to get the seeds out (other methods include immersing it in water – that seemed a lot of hassle).

After scoring the skin and starting to split the segments open


There are lots of ways you can use the seeds, so we hope we get many more fruits next year!
It didn’t take long to open, and then I ate the seeds straight from the chopping board with a spoon. Here’s my harvest from one pomegranate:

One pomegranate’s worth of seeds!

No wonder the country is going to the dogs

I think the British education system suffered a lot in the 1980’s and later: O- and A-Levels were successively dumbed down, the study of foreign languages became optional in September 2004, it it became illegal to use corporal punishment, and some children’s parents automatically supported their child against disciplinary measures that the school tried to enforce.

I thought that this trend pushed by the “do-gooder generation” had been halted. So I was was surprised to read that the BBC, the British government, and some schools have been re-writing traditional nursery rhymes to make them “politically correct” and non-violent as recently as 2009. Here’s an example:

The original children’s poem:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King’s horses, And all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again!

A sanitised version:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
He didn’t get bruised,
He didn’t get bumped,
Humpty Dumpty bungee jumped!

Not to mention:

In 2009, a Government-funded song book changed the lyrics of What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor? to remove any reference to alcohol or punishment.

Instead the ‘drunken sailor’ was transformed into a ‘grumpy pirate’ and ‘Put him in the brig until he’s sober’ was replaced by ‘Do a little jig and make him smile’.

I think it is a great pity that Britian today has so little regard for its own culture that changes like these are initiated by government bodies.

Of course there have always been other versions of nursery rhymes, for example bawdy versions that were popular with rugby club members, but to discover that the government and the BBC have been “sanitising” the original children’s rhymes is a shock.

Fortunately, The English Folk and Dance Society is now being funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund to record the original versions before they die out. (Now I’ll get off my high horse for a while).

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