September 5th, 2012

#3559: I still feel rancid.

I got more--and better--sleep than yesterday, but I still feel like poo. Argh etc.

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Well: having disabled Java in Firefox, guess what? The sites that used to chunk horribly no longer chunk at all. There are some things which are a pain in the ass without Java, but if it means I can look at sites without having to wait for the damn page to scroll when I turn the scroll wheel on the mouse, I think I'll take it.

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Good luck, Israel. Rumor has it Israel is planning to cripple Iran's nuclear aspirations (FINALLY) sometime in the next five or six weeks.

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This AoSHQ overnight open thread begins with stupid MSNBC woman who claims that being poor in the US is the worst thing in the world.

"What's riskier than being poor in America?" She asks hyperbolically.

Gee, I don't know. Maybe being poor in a country where obesity is not a disaffection of the poor? Maybe being poor in a country where finding enough to eat is a problem every day of your life?

Hint: it's not "risky" to live in a country where you can have the latest telecommunications gewgaw even while you're cashing government checks to buy enough cheap hamburger and macaroni and cheese to ensure you and your kids remain uncomfortably obese.

This idiot female at MSNBC doesn't know what real poverty looks like, especially considering how much fucking money she makes as a TV personality.

Also from AoSHQ, the Obama calendar contains something outright blasphemous.

Quoting John 3:16 while showing a picture of Obama's birth certificate--you know what the implication of that image is supposed to be. The makers of that abomination will claim that they didn't intend any such implication, but it's obvious to all and sundry that they knew what the hell they were doing, and meant to do it.

Mr. Obama, I know Jesus Christ, and you sure as HELL ain't Him.

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The Democrats moved Obama's acceptance speech to a smaller venue because they know they can fill 20,000 seats.
I’m starting to think that somebody who apparently can’t re-direct a rain shower might have been fibbing about having the ability to affect sea levels.

Tomorrow night’s forecast for Charlotte calls for isolated thunderstorms and a 30 percent chance of rain. But it’s more likely that a separate but more important forecast found there to be a 100 percent chance of thousands of empty seats in the outdoor stadium.

Cue “You Didn’t Fill That!”
Doug Powers often brings the snark.

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Michelle Malkin, on the other hand, discusses Obama's big UAW bailout and its effects on GM workers who weren't unionized.

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I don't see the problem here since "late term abortions" are still legal. What's the difference? She killed the baby after it was completely born, but what, exactly, is the difference between that and killing a baby after only its head has exited the birth canal? Really?

It was an unwanted pregnancy and she terminated. Why was she arrested?

...all of this sarcasm, of course, is meant to highlight the idiocy that is abortion law in this country. If an abortionist is performing a late-term abortion and the baby slips out of the birth canal before he can make with the scissors and vacuum, under current law he's not allowed to kill the baby. The Democrat party wants it to be legal for the abortionist to kill that baby. Barack Hussein Obama wants what this woman did to be perfectly legal as long as an abortionist is doing it but what's the difference if the woman in question takes care of the matter herself?

As long as we persist in treating pregnancy as a "punishment" (Obama's word!) this kind of thing is going to continue, and I'm going to continue to ask why we're even bothering to prosecute. At least when abortion-as-contraception was illegal, it was logical and reasonable to prosecute a woman for infanticide when she killed and discarded her newborn.

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Bank runs in Spain. Incidentally, unemployment is 25% in Spain (and quite possibly higher than that in real terms). Things aren't looking good.

I'm amazed that Europe has held on as long as it has, though I probably should not be; if an unemployed blogger in middle America can tell that a Greek collapse would be bad, the financiers and banksters in Brussels sure as hell ought to be able to. The difference is, they can do something about it.

...and what they've done is "extend and pretend", as convincingly as possible, in order to stave off the collapse as long as possible. I'd wager the US is helping them, though very, very quietly...because our sitting government cannot afford a European collapse before the November elections.

And when I say "our sitting government" I mean the whole shootin' match: President, Senate, House, everything. None of them wants to lose his cushy seat at the levers of power.

Because if Europe totters before the elections, it's going to be bad, and our would-be masters in D.C. would get voted out. That is, if it happens much before mid-October. It takes time for economic effects to percolate across the Atlantic; if it happened a week or so before the election it wouldn't have much of an effect on the outcome.

If it happened now, however, we'd be looking at all-new faces in D.C. next January.

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But we're on track for official recession to hit about January anyway. I say "official" because we never actually exited the recession that began in 2009; what happened was government number fiddling. And if people are having to work both smarter and harder--for the same, or even less money--it is not a good sign for our long-term economic prospects.

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Smoking pot makes you dumber. Surprise coefficient: 0.00...0

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Since I haven't got anything else to comment on, here's a homebrewed Garfield Without Garfield:

Actually, that reminds me. I saw a news story last weekend that I never bothered to link to or discuss, and I suppose I might as well talk about it here.

The story was about the new breed of "deft" robots which have vastly improved vision systems and can do tasks which were formerly beyond the capacity of automation. The story talked about a shaver factory in Europe and some other types of automation here and there.

Okay: right now UPS employs thousands of people to move boxes from conveyor to truck, or to more them from conveyor to conveyor, because robot vision is on the clunky side. A robot has to be trained to recognize specific objects and taught how to grab them. (At my abortive job in Rantoul, I observed just such a training process as part of my training for that job. *sigh* There's a whole 'nother blog post, there....)

But now it's getting to the point that a robot can look at a box, figure out what size it is and how to grab it in real time...and a robot can pick up and move boxes all day long without rest breaks, and without requiring medical insurance or a 401k or employment taxes or an HR department or-or-or. Give the robot the ability to scan bar codes and it can even sort boxes as it takes them off the conveyor--and we already have machines which can read and interpret bar codes in real time.

(The only "medical insurance" a robot needs is a service plan. This is usually cheaper on a per-robot basis than medical insurance is per employee...especially under Obamacare.)

Snarkybytes talks about a related issue--how increased reliance on automation removes the brainless jobs from the economy. And what happens when you have about 1/6th of the able population simply sitting around doing nothing because there are no jobs for them to do?

I'm talking about people who cannot be trained to do anything that requires thinking or judgement--ordinary people who have nothing wrong with them, but who are completely incapable of learning how to do anything requiring raw intelligence.

It's also true, though, that a world where basic tasks can be handled by robots is a world where we don't need to work as hard. The more work we can fob off onto robots, the less we have to do--and as there's an upper limit to the standard of living we can enjoy (how many cars and big screen TVs do you actually need?) sooner or later the economy saturates with wealth and no one can be poor without actively trying to be.

I mean "poor" in relative terms, not absolute. But Larry Niven pointed out that in a world where the use of fusion power has reduced sea level by an inch, poverty to the point of starvation is impossible. In a world where robots are doing all the menial tasks formerly done by humans--all of them, from sweeping floors to assembling computers to making cars to building houses--production eventually will vastly overstrip demand.

We're not there yet. Houses still have to be built by people, and unions will ensure that automobiles are built with human labor for some time to come--but advances in automation can make electronics amazingly cheap to build, cheaper even than they are now.

That $40 Foxconn motherboard that went into El_Hazard? If built entirely with robotic labor it probably would have cost $20. And there's no reason that can't be done. None.

The only reason robots haven't already displaced humans from manufacturing comes from their inadequacies. Robots lack judgement and flexibility; there are some jobs the robot simply cannot do given current state of the art.

True story: during my abortive job in Rantoul I had an idea for a way to keep the robots from losing their grip on parts that were being sanded. Occasionally something would get a bit out of adjustment, and instead of staying on the robot's gripper, the part would get flung off, and the guy in charge of the robots would then have to adjust a certain parameter in the software so that it wouldn't happen.

My idea was to use a pressure sensor, then figure out how much pressure it takes to fling a part off the gripper. Program the robot to stay under that value, and presto! no more flung parts and no more work stoppage while the tech was informed and dropped what he was doing to go to the robot and fix it.

Og--who is a robotics engineer par excellence--told me there was no good way to accomplish that. Pressure sensors are noisy, and even with a single-axis sensor there's still too much going on for the robot to be able to get any usable information from it and deal with it in real time. Smarter people than me had tried making that kind of thing work, and had had--at best--mixed results.

(There's a way to program that parameter to auto-decrement should the part be flung off the gripper. It would mean rewriting the sanding routine, but only to include the logic for controlling how and when the decrement routine would be called. Of course I think of that 18 months after I lost my shit and no longer have the job....)

It's likely, though, that the new breed of robots might have the computing horsepower to deal with this kind of addition. And if that's so, it means the robot could be loaded up with parts and allowed to run all night long without anyone having to supervise it.

Now imagine if there were another robot whose job it was to take the raw parts from the CNC machines (and to reload the CNC machines) and then put these parts on the conveyors for the sanding robots. This same robot would take the sanded parts to the finishing department, where another set of robots would do their thing. could take a company with about a hundred and fifty employees and reduce it to perhaps fifty people--and most of those people would work in offices or control rooms, rather than on the factory floor. Furthermore, the factory floor could run 24/7, and there could be one or two techs on call so that if there was some kind of problem requiring human intervention, a central computer could call a pager number and send a brief message asking for help.

In one Fungus post, a long time ago, I talked about how my job in the stockroom at Target could be done by robots--and lo and behold, the story I wish I still had the URL for talked about how one company has robots doing exactly that kind of job, though at a distribution center rather than a store stockroom.

It can be done. And it will be done, given half a chance, because robots are a hell of a lot cheaper than people are.

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Well--now it's going on 6 PM and I still feel like poo, despite having eaten and blogged. WTF.