It’s now been a few weeks since Square Cash was available to the public, with much talk surrounding the use of e-mail as a service and concerns of security. However, I have yet to see anyone talk about how Cash actually moves money around, which I think is actually one of the most…
As is the case with anyone doing any kind of outdoor activity these days, we both logged the ride. I logged my data on a Garmin Edge 800, and the other data set was logged directly into the Strava app on an iPhone4. I later uploaded my data to both the Garmin Connect site, and to Strava as well.
Interestingly, by the time the ride data ended up in Strava, we both got quite different elevation results: 545m for my ride, and 863 for the other.
Here’s my elevation graph, taken from data captured on a Garmin Edge 800 and then web uploaded to Strava:
And here’s the elevation graph for the same ride, taken from data generated directly by the Strava app on iOS7 on an iPhone4:
You can see that the shapes are very similar, but the second one has about 25m of extra elevation all the way along. Given that a lot of the ride was at water level alongside the Harbour, I’m inclined to agree with the data from Garmin.
Has anyone else noticed anything like this before?
This is a really good article giving insight into how we are just at the start of what will be a profound change to the global economy, as desktop manufacturing disrupts not only entire industries, but entire sectors:
In many societies, consumers are now beginning to challenge their passive role as users of stuff provided by others. They are becoming much more like creators than they have ever been allowed to before.
For most of us, there’s just three possibilities for the future of what we currently call our ‘job’:
It will be exported along with most middle-class jobs to exploit labour arbitrage opportunities in developing countries.
2. It will be automated by an increasingly sophisticated army of robot workers operating in both locally-based and international industrial manufacturing.
3. It will disappear completely, made obsolete by the growing trend towards desktop-scale manufacturing that will profoundly affect distribution and transport oriented industries.
If those three outcomes really are the only ones, then they set up a dire environment for the future of work, at least form the perspective of the middle classes of Western Liberal Democracies. In my mind, these changes are inevitable in one form or another, perhaps within my working life, and unarguably so within the working lives of my children.
Whilst I think the quote is somewhat hyperbolic, it certainly serves to make the basic point: Western liberal democracies are exporting their middle classes to developing nations. And no job is safe.
I have no axe to grind with anyone over that, it’s simply the nature of things. And to be fair, we’ve exported most of our pollution generating enterprises to developing nations over the last 50 years, so it only seems fair that those nations can start to reap some return on their “investment”.
The more interesting question for me is: What can I do, and what can my kids do, with the insight that the traditional idea of a “job” is simply not going to exist in the future? The very near future.
I really think it’s that simple. If you are a small part of a machine that is making someone else’s stuff, then you are in line to be out of work when that role is arbitraged into a low wage jurisdiction, or perhaps more likely as the article suggests, automated out of existence.
But if you can make something - atoms or bits - and make it great, and then sell it to an audience or market or fan base or whatever, then you’ll have an advantage over someone who is simply selling their time to the lowest bidder.
Update 20130903: And of course, here’s a counterpoint:
"… we are on a "robot curve," in which creative work at first is skilled, then becomes merely rote, and finally, with the help of algorithms, turns robotic."
More and more, this quote by Mark Andreeson starts to ring true:
The spread of computers and the Internet will put jobs in two categories. People who tell computers what to do, and people who are told by computers what to do.
I keep telling my young kids that “jobs” won’t exist when it comes time for them to leave school, so they had better work out a way to make something - atoms or bits - before they end up as small cogs in an organic machine being told what to do by clever computers.
“It doesn’t seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil - which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama.”— Richard Feynman (via ianbald)
Consulting: screw yourself, screw your customers or screw your staff
As an employee, consulting seems like a great business model. When you compare the typical hourly rate of a consultant with the annualised hourly rate of a salaried employee it looks like the consultant is doing very well. But the economics of consulting are tricky to get right.
I have been running a small consulting business for about 6 years and whilst the directors and several sub-contractors have been gainfully employed for pretty much the entire time, there’s a fundamental problem with consulting: the only asset you can leverage is your time, and time is finite.
Fighting against this fundamental law of nature is essentially impossible, so consulting firms are left with a very small set of opportunities to scale. There are really only three levers to play with here: 1) bill more hours, 2) charge more to a customer for those billable hours, or 3) pay less to staff and sub-contractors for the hours required to provide the services.
If one was cynical it would be easy to characterise these options as screwing yourself, screwing your customers, or screwing your staff. If you have a skerrick of business ethics, it means you end up screwing yourself. Sometimes, without even being kissed.
It doesn’t matter whether what you build is physical or digital, just as long as you can profitably deliver it to a receptive market.
I am trying to do just that with a couple of live products, plus one one more secret squirrel project in development. I’m not entirely convinced that I’m following my own rules for one of the products (which may mean it needs a change of direction soon), but the other definitely does because we’ve got live customers, making (modest) revenue, with a lot of potential for growth.
So what have I learned through this process? The last five years balancing consulting with product development has taught me two things: 1) it’s all about cash flow, and 2) out-of-work hours are no-where near as productive as in-work hours.
Having the ability to work full-time on building product requires cash to pay your bills. Without that, you have to continue to consult and then spend non-consulting time working on your ideas. Ultimately, something has to give - family, study, leisure, friends - because there simply isn’t enough time to nourish everything.
But the cost of working out-of-hours (at least for me) is that time spent backing up is no-where near as productive as dedicated time spent fresh during normal working hours. I have repeatedly found that I am able to get significant work done if I can arrange for a dedicated block of time away from consulting. Chipping away after hours does move the ball forward, but only ever so slightly.
Sadly, I am yet to find a satisfactory solution to the cash flow problem so I remain gainfully employed as a consultant, at least for the remainder of this year. However, should someone want to plonk some coin into one of my start-ups, drop me a line. I’m always keen to chat.
Banking used to be about products, now it's about customers
For the longest time, banking was about product with the customer record simply an artefact of a product origination. This is changing - slowly - so that banking is about customers with product an artefact of the customer record.
Smart banks know this and are changing their core systems. Dumb banks - of which there are many - haven’t worked this out yet.
“Once I get $1000 profit a week, I will think about [leaving]. I always call my day job my back-up plan.”
Rather than telling these kids to get off my lawn, I think the above comment shows a really deep, if perhaps intuitive, understanding of a global change taking place in the nature of work: the whole concept of ‘employment’ as it is traditionally understood is disappearing.
Strong words, but this is more profound than simply saying that people change jobs more often today than they did in the past. What we are talking about here is people not being, not wanting to be, or not able to be, employed any more. At all.
The causes of this trend are multi-faceted, but Western Liberal Democracies exporting their middle classes to the developing world through outsourcing plays a big role. As does the inexorable march of technology not just displacing jobs but profoundly removing the underlying need for whole classes of industry to exist at all. For evidence, consider the impact of the Internet on industries that are built around complex physical distribution networks such as Newspapers.
The SMH article gave me cause to go back and examine some of the “future of work” posts I had put together over the last 18 months or so.
Just by examining the titles, it was obvious that I had managed to collect a rather telling list of links and quotes on the changing nature of work without ever really setting out to do so. It is obvious that technology is changing both the way we work and the nature of the work we do, and it is also clear that simple economics encourage organisations to acquire the services of labour from low-wage jurisdictions, with the inevitable consequence that opportunities for traditional jobs in high-wages jurisdictions shrink.
Unless, of course, you can stay ahead of the trend. Which is why I find it very encouraging that the Gen-Ys and Millennials mentioned in the article are actively trying to get ahead by building their own businesses and becoming their own employers. Power to them.
Sadly, this passion and optimism is in stark contrast to the actions and words of our Governments and traditional employers. Whilst we are in the process of being completely broadsided by a fundamental change in the nature of work, no-one seems to be paying attention. Governments of all persuasions are quick to fund programs for traditional employment, but do almost nothing to nourish the entrepreneurial spirit.
Where are the policies for big ideas like founder failure insurance, or better targeting of concessional tax treatment for innovative businesses that mean funds go to real start-ups, as opposed to being funnelled through multi-national mining companies who use the funds to offset the cost of land remediation.
Or what about adopting one of the ideas of the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart:
What we need to do in this country is make it a softer cushion for failure. Because what they say is the job creators need more tax cuts and they need a bigger payoff on the risk that they take. … But what about the risk of, you’re afraid to leave your job and be an entrepreneur because that’s where your health insurance is? … Why aren’t we able to sell this idea that you don’t have to amplify the payoff of risk to gain success in this country, you need to soften the damage of risk? [Source]
Technology has already significantly reduced the cost of failure in starting a business, but as the mining boom winds down, perhaps its time for Governments to look to other areas of the economy to provide growth and gainful, satisfying ‘employment’ for the population.
If not, then what are we going to do when we’ve finished digging all of the holes?
In particular, this quote on High Frequency Trading rings true:
"High Frequency Traders make money not by adding liquidity or playing market maker (in fact they remove liquidity), but by gaming design flaws in the SEC regulated stock market (essentially they get to peek into the order book and front run the market, a sensible black box auction system would remove this source of gamesmanship).”
What worries me most about trends like the increase in rent seeking behaviour is the impact it will have on the Australian economy. Whilst the problems are currently (possibly?) more pronounced in the USA, Australia is especially vulnerable to rent seeking because of the structure of our economy.
It was once pointed out to me that the ASX200 is just a collection of oligopolies. From mining, to banking, to packaging, to transport, property and groceries and infrastructure. It’s pretty much a coterie of cozy little - and not so little - oligopolies all the way down.
And it is from monopoly power (or oligopoly power in this case) that special interest groups draw their ability to extract rents.
I don't think that means what you think it does: revert
I’ve noticed an annoying trend with the use of the word revert. Something similar is happening to it that happened to decimate - its meaning appears to be changing. But unlike decimate, which I think you can make the argument has had it’s meaning expanded, revert is having its meaning trashed.
This is what decimate means:
And this is what revert means:
Decimate has such a powerful sound that it makes sense to expand its definition from ‘one in ten’ to ‘completely wipe out’. There’s a logical progression in that. But revert means ‘to return to a previous state’. It does not mean ‘reply’. We already have a perfectly good word for that concept: reply.
Here’s two actual examples of the maddeningly incorrect use of the word revert that I have seen in the last two days:
From a tweet: "Please do revert if you have a requirement…”
From an email: "Could you please revert to <name> on any issues with the proposed solution…”
And I have also heard it cropping up all too often in general conversation. I’m referring explicitly to you Tier 1 Australian bank. Or should that be: ‘I’m revertingpacifically to you Tier 1 Australian bank”? BTW: I have heard pacifically used in just that context (and bizarrely, vice versa too!) but that’s a story for another post.
These examples make the author or speaker look stupid, because it’s clear that the word reply would be a better choice, simply because a reply is what the author seeks.
Worse, however, is the obvious attempt to use a fancier word just for the sake of it. By doing so you have not only obfuscated your meaning, but also grasped with two hands the opportunity to sound like a complete bell-end. Well, achievement unlocked.
So, reverters, stop. Just stop. And let’s revert the use of the word revert to it’s previous state.
It was stealing mine. As far as I can tell, iCloud will attempt some magic if someone sends you an invite to the email address registered as your iCloud account. This is great if you are using iCloud as your primary calendar, but completely broken if you are not.
If you want to stop iCloud from being dumb, then try this:
As author (but not owner) of four issued patents as well as two more pending patents of which I am the author and owner, I think the answer to the above question is quite simple.
Yes, we should abolish patents. Here’s why:
The case against patents can be summarized briefly: there is no empirical evidence that they serve to increase innovation and productivity, unless productivity is identified with the number of patents awarded—which, as evidence shows, has no correlation with measured productivity. This disconnect is at the root of what is called the “patent puzzle”: in spite of the enormous increase in the number of patents and in the strength of their legal protection, the US economy has seen neither a dramatic acceleration in the rate of technological progress nor a major increase in the levels of research and development expenditure.
Another data point in the narrative that suggests that the Industrial Revolution concept of “employment” (at least as it is practiced in the Developed World) will cease to exist. And most likely in our lifetime.
As technology systematises more and more processes, the need for middle-level white collar jobs will decline.
The only way to stay in front of this transition is to make stuff.
“Coding is kind of like cycling. When you’re scaling a hill it’s no fun at all, but getting over the top feels bloody great.”—Me, on Sunday evening after completing the Sydney-to-Wollongong ride, upon fixing a bug that took nearly two weeks to track down.
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
During my recent trip to France, I was lucky enough to be able to spend a day embedded in the Tour de France. By “embedded”, I mean, actually inside one of the Commissar’s cars which is on the road during the race with all of the riders. To say the least, it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life!
A couple of things really strike you about the race when you are this close to it. First of all, they go fast. Seriously fast. Even when heading up HC climbs, the cyclists never seem to go much below about 20 km/h. And when they go down hills, the speed is just ridiculous. On most occasions, the bikes are able to go significantly faster than the car because the riders are better able to manoeuvre. We were routinely doing speeds of 70 or 80 km/h in the car, and the cyclists just pull away as if we were standing still.
The second thing is the utter chaos of the moment-to-moment action. Because the race is so intimate with spectators, official cars, team cars, motorcycles and cyclists are all swerving in and out, often coming within millimetres of each other. It is a miracle that we did not hit anything - or anyone - for the 5 hours or so that we spent on the road. Our driver - Serge Bodin - was the French 1998 Amateur Road Champion. And it showed. He had a sympathy for the cyclists and the road that could only have come from direct personal experience. His driving skills were quite remarkable.
Finally, the behind the scenes organisation is just phenomenal. There is - quite literally - a cast of thousands of people, some of whom work for the Tour full time throughout the year, others who are employed for each stage, many team support staff, and a whole swathe of VIPs, hangers on, media and other incidentals. The Village Depart is like a small town that is assembled each night prior to the start, and then disassembled and moved onto the next stage. The same applies to the finish line. And this happens every day for the 21 stages of the race.
I managed to take about 500 photos over the course of the day, but as I am a complete numpt when it comes to photography, I think that only 10 or so are worth sharing. To be honest, I was completely petrified in the car for the most of the trip because at many points all I could do was hold on and hope that Serge maintained control of the car.
This is what the stage looked like in profile:
This is from the helicopter ride from Pau Airport up to the Depart Village:
I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the Europcar team car. I have a Colnago Ace, which is from the same stable as these bikes, but a somewhat different pedigree:
A small sense of the chaos at the start:
Froome leaving from the Sky team bus:
And Cadell, who sadly didn’t have a great day on Stage 17. He was with the lead group right up until the very last climb when he was dropped.
In the car with Serge driving:
For some reason, I imagined Mark Cavendish would be a really huge guy - he’s not. All of that spring power is really packed into a very modest package:
The gearing on these bikes is nothing short of amazing. The largest chain ring here looks about as big as the smallest one on my bike!
We went over the finish line just behind Cadell:
And he looked absolutely spent at the end of it:
Overall, it was an amazing day and a highlight of the trip. It’s not only something that I’ll never forgot, it’s given me a new found respect for these amazing athletes. I will certainly be back yelling for Cadell in 2013, but next year it will be from the comfort of my lounge room, and not in the back of the Commissar’s car!