Week of 22 June 2009
Update: Friday, 26 June 2009 08:40 -0500
Jasmine turned 16 yesterday. Kim surprised her with a sporty red Saturn Ion quad coupe.
While I was walking Malcolm about 9:00 last night, I noticed that the
car was parked at the top of Kim's driveway, so I walked over to take a
look at it. I noticed a slight glow coming from within, and realized
that the car was occupied. Jas opened the door to say hello. She and
one of her girlfriends had been sitting in the car in the dark, talking
on their cell phones. I wished her a happy birthday and asked if she
planned to sleep in the car. She said she wanted to, but Kim wouldn't
had mentioned that the salesman at Carmax had pointed out the hidden
doors to her, and I finally was able to see what she meant. The
Wikipedia image I linked to above shows a body panel behind the door.
That body panel is actually another door, although it can't be opened
from outside the car. So, it looks like a two-door car, but is actually
a four-door car. Unless you're insuring it, because insurance
companies consider that arrangement to be a two-door car, which carries
higher insurance premiums.
Unfortunately for Kim, the combination of that car and Jas getting her
license means her car insurance premiums are going to triple. I'm
sure my parents' car insurance premium increased dramatically when I
got my license. Back then, as now, teenage boys were so much more
likely than any other class of drivers to have car accidents that it's
surprising insurance companies were willing to issue policies at all.
But the odd thing is that back then adding a teenage girl driver to a
car insurance policy had little effect on the premium. Of course,
back then--with very few exceptions, despite the Beach Boys' song about
taking her T-Bird away--most teenage girls drove pretty much like
adults, which is to say they generally drove sanely and pretty much
obeyed the traffic laws. In fact, they were probably more likely to
obey speed limits than were adult drivers. Nowadays, with few
exceptions (and I think Jas will be one of them) teenage girls
generally drive as maniacally as teenage boys.
Barbara and I watched the 1983 P. D. James Dalgliesh mystery, Death of an Expert Witness
over the weekend. Neither of us even vaguely remembered seeing it, so
we must have missed it on its first run on the PBS Mystery program.
is common for British programs from that era, it was obviously done on
a tight budget. The production values were relatively low, particularly
the sound, which was obviously captured with an on-camera microphone
and not overdubbed by the actors later. But, also as usual, the writing
and acting were excellent.
I found this program particularly
interesting because it was set in an old country home that had been
taken over by the government and repurposed as a forensics lab. After
watching the imaginary forensics work on Bones,
it was refreshing to see a more realistic portrayal of forensics work.
Not that they actually did much in the way of forensics work on-screen.
But the facility and labs were backdrops for the action and dialog, and
all of that was considerably closer to reality than what we've been
watching on Bones.
of the Angelator and similar imaginary forensics tools, we saw
real-looking labs, with benches cluttered with microscopes and beakers
and burettes. Instead of instant DNA results, we watched one scene
where a cop was complaining that he'd been waiting for results for five
weeks, only to have the chief of the forensics lab tell him that they'd
submitted their report only ten days after receiving the evidence for
study. (The cop had received the results; he just didn't like them,
which is also common in real forensics labs.)
one scene, they showed a microscopic view of three hairs, with the
biologist telling the detective that all three were human, that the top
two in the view were consistent with coming from the same person,
probably male, and that the bottom hair was from a different person,
possibly female. That's exactly the level of uncertainty that exists in
a real forensics examination, absent DNA analysis (which did not exist
at the time this program was made).
- Kodachrome is no more,
and it saddens me to see it go. I shot my first roll of Kodachrome
back in 1962, when I was nine. It was the ASA 12 version of the film,
which used the K-11 process. The new K-12 version, Kodachrome II (ASA
25) and Kodachrome X (ASA 64) was just then becoming available. I
haven't shot a roll of Kodachrome in probably 30 years or more, but
I'll still miss it.
I walked Malcolm yesterday afternoon, Jasmine's new car was parked in
her driveway. Jasmine was sitting in it. No surprise there. We talked
for a few minutes, about the car, of course. I asked her what kind of
gas mileage it got. She said she didn't know, but she hoped it was good
because she was going to have to pay for gas herself. She said she'd
gotten about $70 worth of gasoline gift cards for her birthday, but was
worried that wouldn't last long.
I told her I was glad she'd
mentioned that, because Barbara and I had planned to give her some cash
for her birthday, figuring she'd need to buy gas. So I took out my
wallet and tried to give Jasmine some cash. She wouldn't take it. She
was very polite, but said she simply couldn't accept money from anyone
but family members. I finally realized, duh, here I am, a middle-aged
guy, trying to hand cash to a 16-year-old girl.
When Barbara and
I walked the dogs after dinner, Mary (Jasmine's grandmother) came out
to say hello. We told Mary what had happened, and gave her the money to
give to Jas. Mary said she appreciated our wanting to give Jas a
practical gift for her birthday, and that of course she knew there
was nothing questionable about my intentions, but at the same time she
was proud of Jas, because in refusing the money Jas had only been doing
what she'd been taught. Mary said Jas isn't allowed to accept money as
a gift even from male family members, including those her own age.
So, the next time I see Jas, I'm going to apologize to her for unintentionally putting her in an awkward position.
- Business Week ranks Winston-Salem as #7
on its list of the best places to start over, just behind Richmond at
#6 and ahead of the Washington, DC metro area at #10. That seems odd to
local readers. Winston-Salem has suffered badly from the economic
problems of late. If we're #7 on the list of best places to start over,
most of the rest of the country must be in even sadder shape than we
are. Here's the rest of the top ten.
• No. 1: Anchorage, Ala.
• No. 2: Provo-Orem, Utah
• No. 3: Kennewick-Richland-Pasco, Wash.
• No. 4: Yakima, Wash.
• No. 5: Omaha, Neb.,-Council Bluffs, Iowa
• No. 6: Richmond
• No. 7: Winston-Salem
• No. 8: Colorado Springs, Colo.
• No. 9: Amarillo, Texas
• No. 10: Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, Va.
Where exactly is Anchorage, Alabama, anyway?
- In response to yesterday's post, one of the folks over on the forums posted the following:
friend of mine sent an email about leaving the Indianapolis (Indiana)
area because of the job situation. My wife and I were both
wondering where one could move where the job outlook is better.
It's certainly worse in Detroit for example, but where is it better?
I started to reply as follows:
sure there are bad places, like Detroit or any other town that's
dependent on manufacturing vehicles or their parts, but overall I'm not
sure that there's anywhere that's really better than anywhere else
The fundamental problem, as I've argued privately
with Pournelle, is that the entire left half of the Bell Curve is now
useless in an economic sense. As a matter of fact, I think I'll do a
post on this topic.
In Olden Days, essentially everyone
worked other than nobles and clergy. When it was time to plant or
harvest the crop, it was all hands on deck. It didn't matter if you
were a moron or a world-class genius. You were out there with a scythe
alongside everyone else, bringing in the sheaves. Your days were filled
with manual labor, from sunup to sunset. You slopped the pigs, cut and
split firewood, and made your own clothing. Intelligence was of minor
importance. A genius does little better than a moron when it comes to
scything wheat or mucking out a stall. Everyone worked, because if you
didn't work you didn't eat. And even if you did work, there was a good
chance of famine.
Things started to change with the advent of
the Industrial Revolution, but for decades manual labor was still
dominant. Mill owners soon found that they could replace 500 weavers
with one mechanical loom, giving rise to Ned Ludd and the Luddites. But
it wasn't just fabric mills. A factory that today might employ scores
of people back then employed hundreds or even thousands. A coal mine
that in 2009 employs two hundred people in 1909 might have employed
5,000. And, in 1909, if you're swinging a pick-axe against a coal face,
it doesn't much matter if your IQ is 75 or 150. You do the same job.
The breakdown in 1909 might have been 100 high-skill people--engineers,
machinists, and so on--and 4,900 unskilled laborers. In 2009, that mine
still employs 100 high-skill people, but only 100 unskilled laborers,
for a net loss of 4,800 unskilled jobs.
So where do all these
unemployed and essentially unemployable people end up? In the past,
unions guaranteed them jobs by distributing a reasonable workload for
one person onto two or three or ten, and demanding a living wage for
each. Even today, that persists, particularly in traditionally union
environments such as auto companies, with work rules designed to
increase union employee headcount far beyond the number of people the
employer would choose to employ in the absence of such coercion.
that wasn't sufficient to absorb all of the unemployable, so the
government to into the act in a major way, hiring thousands and
eventually millions of otherwise unemployable people to do "jobs" that
really didn't need to be done. But even that wasn't sufficient, so the
government began passing laws and writing regulations to force private
industry to employ as many of these otherwise unemployable people as
possible. That's why corporations have so many excess employees that
they wouldn't otherwise have hired, whether they were hired for
equal-opportunity compliance or to process government-mandated
paperwork or to staff diversity-training departments or other useless
functions that private industry of course never saw the need for.
we're now in a situation where probably one third of those employed are
actually doing useful work and doing it competently. The other two
thirds are dead wood, working in make-work jobs or in real jobs that
they're not competent to do. Of course, the truly outrageous aspect of
this is that often the competent are (mis)managed by incompetents who
make more money than they do. Even that might be marginally acceptable
if it were not for the fact that incompetents nearly always insist on
interfering with the way the competent people do their jobs. See
Dilbert, which is real life.
So, where does that leave someone
who's looking for a job? If they're competent, they should be able to
find a suitable position, although doing so may involve relocating and
perhaps even learning new skills. The demand for competent people is
steady, and likely to remain so. Although the article doesn't make it
explicit, that good employment outlook in Winston-Salem is for
competent people with technical skills, as is true just about anywhere.
If you're incompetent or lack technical skills, it's pointless to move
to Winston-Salem or any of the other cities on that list. The job
outlook for those on the left side of the Bell Curve is no better here
than anywhere else.
Increasingly, I think we're going to see the
smart forcing out the stupid, leaving the stupid on the welfare rolls.
There are fewer and fewer jobs available every year for people of
average and below intelligence. Jerry Pournelle frequently uses auto
mechanics and plumbers as examples of jobs that can be filled by such
people. The problem is, that isn't true. We need a lot fewer auto
mechanics than we did two or three decades ago, and those mechanics
have to be much smarter to do their jobs well. Tim, who's been our
mechanic for twenty years or more, is an extremely bright guy. His
office wall is covered with certificates from training sessions he's
attended, and his shop is packed full of computerized diagnostics
equipment. Fixing cars is no longer something a person of average or
lower intelligence can do successfully. And we need only so many
plumbers, so the competition for those jobs will be increasingly
fierce. Guess what happens when you have smart people competing with
dim people for a limited number of high-paying plumbing jobs.
are currently two strategies for getting and keeping a good job. First,
master a skill that is in demand and likely to remain so, and then make
sure you can do it as well as or better than anyone else, because
you'll be competing with the whole world. Of course, this is an option
only if you're extremely bright. Second, master a hands-on trade that
can't be outsourced. Of course, if you choose this you'll be in
competition with a lot of bright people who also want that job.
of which, I'm reminded of the old joke about the neurosurgeon and the
plumber. The neurosurgeon arrives home one evening after a hard
day of brain surgery. He finds he has a plumbing problem, so he calls
the after-hours number for a plumber. The plumber
shows up, fixes the problem in two minutes, and presents a bill for
$300. The neurosurgeon is outraged. "$300 for two minutes' work? That's
$9,000 an hour! I'm a neurosurgeon, and *I* don't make $9,000 an hour!"
Replies the plumber, "Neither did I back when I was a neurosurgeon."
Jasmine is now a licensed driver. Jas turned 16 on the 21st, but she
wasn't allowed to take the test for her license until she'd had her
learner's permit for one full year. Yesterday was that anniversary. She
and her mom had made an appointment for yesterday morning as soon as
the DMV office opened. Jas was in and out quickly, and by 9:00 she had
Her license has limited privileges for the first
year or two. She's not allowed to drive during the hours of darkness
unless she has an adult with her or is on her way to or from work or an
approved school activity. She's not allowed to have more than one other
teenager in her car at any time. Her driving privileges may be revoked
if she has a serious moving violation. But otherwise she's good to go.
go she did. Before noon yesterday, Jas had already run several errands
for Kim, who is disabled, and taken Mary (her grandmother) to a doctor
appointment. Then, I suspect, she did what she told me would be the
first thing she'd do. She headed for the mall.
is my Netflix anniversary. I rejoined on Sunday, 26 April. They shipped
my first discs on the 27th and I received them on the 28th. As of
today, they've sent me 50 discs, with another to arrive today and two
more tomorrow, for a total of 53 discs. That would have been a perfect
maximum-possible 51/54 discs, had not the USPS mangled an
envelope, which delayed its delivery to me by one day.
hasn't throttled me at all during these first two months. They've sent
every disc at the first opportunity, and it's arrived the next weekday.
They've acknowledged receiving every disc I've returned the day after I
sent it. No disc has been scratched or otherwise unplayable. It's true
that I have several discs at the top of my queue that are listed as
"Very long wait", but that's to be expected. They send newly-released
discs to light users first, putting us heavy users at the back of the
line. But that doesn't matter to me. I want the discs at positions 50
and 100 in my queue just as much as I want the disc at position 1, and
it doesn't matter at all to me which ones they send first (as long as
the series are in order, of course).
I attribute Netflix's
stellar performance to the fact that I do my best to save them money on
return postage by returning two discs in one envelope whenever
possible. If that sounds trivial, it's not. My doing that cuts their
return postage costs by a full third. Instead of getting 51 separate
envelopes back from me during those two months, they got 17 with one
disc and 17 with two discs, for a total of 34. If first-class postage
plus the BRE charge totals $0.45 each--which is a probably a reasonable
estimate given the volume discounts they must get from the USPS--I
saved them about $8 just by combining two discs in one envelope those
17 times. That $8 is pretty important when you consider that their
total revenue from me for those two months was about $34. Counting
outbound mailing costs, they're probably just about breaking even on
me. If I started returning each disc in a separate envelope, they'd
rapidly go into the red on servicing me, even if they started
So, we have an unspoken agreement. As long as we
both play nice, they won't make any money on me, but they won't lose
money either. If they stop playing nice, so do I, and we both lose.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 by