Some quick bullet points.

In a tanking economy, companies that are unfit for the situation will also tank. Many, many small and midsize companies did tank.

The ones that did not crash and burn were the ones that were able to reduce costs and overhead as income also shrank.

Reducing costs and overhead means these things: accepting tradeoffs in terms of taking performance hits in flexibility, in uptime, in turnaround, in inventory; outsourcing everything that can possibly be outsourced in terms of infrastructure and labor; reducing headcount; reducing payroll/compensation/benefits

Until companies require the extra flexibility and speed of turnaround and reliability, they will not tolerate the expense of adding these things back in. Companies will not require these traits until there are more companies competing with each other. When the herd got thinned, competition was reduced. With corporate/business credit availability depressed, there will be no startups or spinoffs leaping into the fray.

Of the business components that got outsourced… those aren’t coming back either. Manufacturing, skilled labor and assembly, IT infrastructure (including telephony, training/support, even applications and office automation), sales, customer support — it is a flexibility hit to have these things offsite, but good planning replaces the need for flexibility to a huge extent. These jobs now only exist in huge farms that work for many different companies, composed of teams of people and pools of resources that shrink and grow without the need to hire and fire and train.

No company who has made a transition to this form is going to say, “Now that profits are back up, let’s rehire 30% of the sales force we outsourced. Let’s bring our Google-hosted email back onsite. Let’s reopen a customer-facing datacenter in our basement and migrate our data back to a custom in-house application maintained by a small team of onsite designers and developers.” Instead they will say, “Spend a few extra bucks expanding our outsourced capacity and dump the rest into that marketing firm we hired.”

If your work was in sales, in customer support, in application development, in infrastructure support, in training, in marketing, in manufacturing, in skilled labor — your job is never coming back. You have no choice but to sign on with one of these huge pooled-resource scenarios — if the one that replaced you is actually in the country — or retrain for something that is impossible (for now) to outsource. Like hands-on healthcare. Or K-12/college/university teaching. Automotive repair. Construction. Mining. Transportation. Bureaucracy.

The cataclysm has happened. Extinctions have occurred. Your old niche no longer exists. It has gone to where all the Hummers have gone.


April 30, 2010 · Posted in Everything Else  

I’m extremely grateful to the government of the Netherlands for the exoneration and apology that they have given to a dear friend of a dear friend concerning one of the strangest miscarriages of justice in the modern-day industrialized world.

In 2004 Lucia de Berk was convicted of murdering patients who died in her care, starting with an infant that was suspected of dying from an overdose of a medication that it had been prescribed, back in 2001. From there, prosecutors performed a truly brain-damaged statistical analysis of deaths that occurred within 24-hours of her having been on shift (several deaths potentially attributed to her had to be removed from the list after reviewing attendance records) and made some truly juvenile errors in their statistical approach. These errors got her a conviction for three deaths, only one of which could have been classified truly as a murder, if not proven to be an accidental overdose.

When her case came up for review/appeal in 2006, the errors were REPEATED AND MAGNIFIED, and even more deaths were tacked on to her conviction. Shortly after receiving this news that her conviction and life sentence were to be upheld, Lucia suffered a stroke.

Thankfully, in 2008, the convictions started to unravel. In one of the early infant deaths, it was showed that the “overdose” was in high risk of being a false positive for the test performed because of the breakdown products of decay of the corpse. A better test, which took these breakdown products into account, showed a negative. But the results had “gotten lost” and were not presented in her defense at her original trial.

Examination after examination failed to show any conclusive evidence of foul play in these other deaths for which she had been convicted. Expert after expert showed that, statistically speaking, deaths on shift had decreased after Lucia had been added to the staff. Expert after expert showed the correct way of doing the math involved, showing that any nurse on staff would have had a one-in-nine chance of being the one who had been the victim of a bizarre witch hunt like this in any similar hospital. No matter how low an opinion we might have of having to go to a hospital, we can’t believe that one nurse in nine is a serial killer. It was just dumb luck. Any nurse on staff could have been the victim of this kind of crappy math.

There were no murders. There is no murderer or murderess. Lucia lost six years of her life, away from her partner and growing daughter, and is still hoping for some kind of reasonable compensation for these missing years of her life and her suffering.

But today she is free.

It was quite a blow to Dutch pride to have to admit the huge chain of mistakes that snatched a mother away from her family, out of a rewarding career of helping the sick, and threw her in prison for life. They missed the boat a number of times to prevent this travesty, to reduce the impact, to turn things around when things started to smell. I respect them deeply for swallowing that pride and coming to Lucia today with an official exoneration and a sincere apology. And I am counting on them to help her reestablish herself as completely as possible, considering everything that has happened.


April 14, 2010 · Posted in Everything Else  

The essentials: Air, water, and food. The typical model is a terrarium, where a closed cycle of water, breathable gases, and biomass can be maintained. In free space, you can expect no significant additions to materials to be converted into biomass. On the moon, I see no reason to expect that the mineral resources there would be significantly different from untouched volcanic soil on earth. Mars’ soils could be a bit more problematic, but could be refined, possibly even via a biological process, to remove metallic taints. Extremophile bacteriological processes currently being studied should point the way. In the cases of the moon and Mars, it may be useful to build underground for the purposes of maintaining proper temperature insulation. Electrical power may be generated easily on the surface from materials that are photoreactive or undergo physical changes with cyclic changes in temperature, or thermocouple devices with conductive probes located in different temperature environments. Generators that run on biomass conversions may also be added to the equation as long as they are affordable ecologically speaking and fit into the terrarium model.

The people. Make sure you’ve selected people with relevant fields of expertise. Also, make sure there is plenty of overlap among the fields covered. At least coarsely, make sure each person has a primary field of expertise at which they are an authority, has a secondary field at which they can function with assistance, and a third field in which they can provide assistance if necessary if provided direction. Make sure every critical field is represented at every level so that there is sufficient redundancy in case of accidental incapacitation or death.

The fields of expertise. The concept here is microcosm. The colony should be as self-supporting as possible, including not only engineering and agricultural support, but also low-level maintenance and social support, including religious counseling and entertainment. Gentle leadership and conflict resolution must be emphasized.

Governance. A colony must be self-governing, at least at the operational level. A charter delineating operating policies should be provided that emphasizes primarily the survival, health, and rights of the colonists and the survival of the colony itself, and then the operating goals of the colony, which may require periodic modification to prevent sapping energy and resources for the colony’s survival and/or to maximize the returns on investment. Justice, rewards, and punishments may need to be modeled on various examples of encapsulated systems, like those used on board ships, due to increase in risks of negligence and greater need for efficiency in terms of expertise and labor.

The goals. A colony must export some resource that’s needed elsewhere, though “export” can be a pretty flexible term. Exports can, of course, include raw mineral resources and, as manufacturing capabilities increase, manufactured goods. An orbital colony could, for instance, export vacuum. In sufficiently sealed and correctly constructed containers, enough vacuum could supply lift for lighter-than-air vehicles and platforms and reduce the weight of load-bearing foamed materials, including metals and ceramics. The moon could, for instance, export orbital crafts, probes, and satellites once sufficient manufacturing facilities are in place. The escape velocity for the moon requires a good deal less energy to put objects into earth orbit or to send farther out into space, meaning cost savings also in hardening delicate systems to survive the trip. There may also be added benefits to producing agricultural products in one-sixth of earth-gravity that may be worth exploring. Mars is at one-quarter of earth’s gravity and could also provide plant an animal life that could be more efficient in terms of ratios of nutritious material to inedible structure. Any or all colonies could provide for a tourism and/or education industry, or a medical industry to provide long-term or short term therapies that would benefit from various levels of reduced gravity.

The funding. Startup for a colony off the surface of earth would be enormously expensive, and thus largely dependent on the agencies and organizations with the largest amount of disposable funds. Usually this involves governments, but it doesn’t have to. And, in fact, probably shouldn’t. The purposes of a government include collecting funds as fairly as possible and using those funds to provide resources, infrastructure, and services for the public benefit. A colony, however, is almost certainly a for-profit venture (unless the “exports” are entirely military, scientific, health-related, or educational) and should be funded by investors or trade agencies that are comfortable with high-risk ventures that may not reap benefits for decades. Colonization of the western hemisphere was enacted by governments at first, and then by companies that were interested in discovering new wealth and founding bases for launching future exploration. Currently the only potential investors are governments that could, in ten to twenty years’s time, use some dividends to pay back huge debts that have been incurred, certain corporate concerns in the energy sector, a number of hedge funds that made out like bandits over the most recent economic collapse, and maybe Monsanto. Certainly a new corporation could be formed that would consolidate investments and put them to cooperative use.


April 12, 2010 · Posted in Everything Else