January 17th, 2014

My son would like Apple to Fix the Status Bar

In the current version of iOS, such as can be found on iPhone 5*, the status bar is entirely transparent. There is no background at all, nor is this configurable. Boy, does he wish there was a background. We went through all the accessibility options (and changing those really does make the screen a lot easier to look at), but nothing.

So after discussing it with him, I said I didn't want to call Apple, but would be willing to use their Product Feedback page to let them know of his preferences. Which I then did.

And now, I am telling my (limited) audience the same, because, you know, soap boxy goodness.

Something About the End of Work and Our Robot Overlords

Recently, The Economist and Business Insider put this out:


It is headlined "The Future of Jobs" and is basically the same old same old: wow, automation! Putting skilled people out of work!!! Oh noes!

Here is a brief sample:

"Meanwhile work less easily broken down into a series of stereotyped tasks--whether rewarding, as the management of other workers and the teaching of toddlers can be, or more of a grind, like tidying and cleaning messy work places--has grown as a share of total employment."

I have two children and was somewhat legendarily neat even as a small child (I've worked hard to develop my inner slob, as a way to distract people from my inherent control-freakiness). I don't actually like cleaning OR teaching toddlers, but if the author thinks that humans universally find one more rewarding/more of a grind than the other, than they are a lot more foolish than I have believed possible of writers for BI OR The Economist (and believe me when I say, that's saying something).

There are really interesting things, like the little chart that shows dentists aren't going to be replaced any time soon (I wonder if that is true?), and completely fails to mention, say, electricians, plumbers, and people who run dry cleaning shops and do minor alterations (inquiring minds want to know if these occupations will be disrupted! Well, I do anyway.). A lot of it is a retread of 1970s era stuff, however, about what to do if there isn't enough work to go around.

While the author(s) conclude that the Winners are going to be the highly educated/skilled, I cannot help but wonder if maybe they've failed to understand some really basic supply and demand stuff. If we run out of cheap labor Elsewhere, that could change the game a bit. Things also might change if labor were able to organize effectively to meaningfully raise real wages.

But I also got to thinking about something else.

"Ten years ago technologically minded economists pointed to driving cars in traffic as the sort of human accomplishment that computers were highly unlikely to master. Now Google cars are rolling round California driver-free no one doubts such mastery is possible, though the speed at which fully self-driving cars will come to market remains hard to guess."

I don't know if I had an opinion about self-driving cars. I _definitely_ know that I've always been opposed to flying cars and jet packs, and that I've been believing SDI wasn't possible in its initial, protect the homeland version -- for decades. And then I thought, hey, was Parnas right?

(Really, really confused and nevertheless persisting? What _are_ you trying to avoid doing that you should be doing instead!!! Oh, well. It's a great presentation and will be good for your character to review the debate. www.cse.nd.edu/~kwb/nsf-ufe/star-wars/StarWars3.ppt‎)

Answer: Yes! Parnas was really, really right, as long as you actually paid attention to what he said. In order to implement any kind of anti-missile system, you have to be willing to accept a very low level of performance for an extremely limited set of parameters. Also, "consistent, distributed database" is _still_ worth a giggle in 2014.

It is possible to say that a particular endeavor is impossible, and continue to be right decades later, even as superpowers spend billions of dollars to prove you wrong. So that's nice to know (especially because I sided with Parnas, back in the day, and was on the receiving end of a whole lot of "but that's what people said to name-famous-inventor").

We have made great strides in miniaturization in recent decades. And that's really cool. But technology advances unevenly. My roomba, which I love, still traps itself under furniture with absurd frequency -- and that's when it doesn't choke itself on shoelaces or a power cord. When I think about how long I had to wait to get someone in to do some electrical work, painting, etc., even during the bust, I can only imagine what the future holds in terms of who makes money and who doesn't. I do know this: Keynes had a lot to say about political answers to problems of unevenness of distribution of economic resources, and it seems to have all been carefully expunged from this article.