Automation and the Future of Human Employment

It wasn’t long ago that I wrote Robotics and Your Job to consider the role that robots will play in human society in the near future. Of course, robots are already doing mundane chores and those list of chores will increase as robot capabilities increase. The question of what sorts of work humans will do in the future has crossed my mind quite a lot as I’ve written Build Your Own PC on a Budget, Python for Data Science for Dummies, and Machine Learning for Dummies. In fact, both Luca and I have discussed the topic at depth. It isn’t just robotics, but the whole issue of automation that is important. Robots actually fill an incredibly small niche in the much larger topic of automation. Although articles like The end of humans working in service industry? seem to say that robots are the main issue, automation comes in all sorts of guises. When writing A Fuller Understanding of the Internet of Things I came to the conclusion that the services provided by technologies such as Smart TVs actually take jobs away from someone. In this case, a Smart TV rids us of the need to visit a video store, such as Blockbuster (assuming you were even around to remember these stores). Imagine all the jobs that were lost when Blockbuster closed its doors.

My vision for the future is that people will be able to work in occupations with lower risks, higher rewards, and greater interest. Unfortunately, not everyone wants a job like that. Some people really do want to go to work, clock in, place a tiny cog in a somewhat large wheel all day, clock out, and go home. They want something mindless that doesn’t require much effort, so losing service and assembly line type jobs to automation is a problem for them. In Robots are coming for your job the author states outright that most Americans think their job will still exist in 50 years, but the reality is that any job that currently pays under $20.00 an hour is likely to become a victim of automation. Many people insist that they’re irreplaceable, but the fact is that automation can easily take their job and employers are looking forward to the change because automation doesn’t require healthcare, pensions, vacation days, sick days, or salaries. Most importantly, automation does as its told. In the story The rise of greedy robots, the author lays out the basis for an increase in automation that maximizes business profit at the expense of workers. Articles such as On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs tell why people are still working a 40 hour work week when it truly isn’t necessary to do so. In short, if you really do insist on performing a task that is essentially pointless, the government and industry is perfectly willing to let you do so until a time when technology is so entrenched that it’s no longer possible to do anything about it (no, I’m not making this up). Even some relatively essential jobs, such as security, have a short life expectancy with the way things are changing (see How much security can you turn over to AI? and The eerie math that could predict terrorist attacks for details).

The question of how automation will affect human employment in the future remains. Theoretically, people could work a 15 hour work week even now, but then we’d have to give up some of our consumerism—the purchase of gadgets we really don’t need. In the previous paragraph, I talked about jobs that are safer, more interesting, and more fulfilling. There are also those pointless jobs that the government will doubtless prop up at some point to keep people from rioting. However, there is another occupation that will likely become a major source of employment, but only for the nit-picky, detail person. In The thin line between good and bad automation the author explores the problem of scripts calling scripts. Even though algorithms will eventually create and maintain other algorithms, which in turn means that automation will eventually build itself, someone will still have to monitor the outcomes of all that automation. In addition, the search for better algorithms continues (as described in The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World and More data or better models?). Of course, these occupations still require someone with a great education and a strong desire to do something significant as part of their occupation.

The point of all this speculation is that it isn’t possible to know precisely how the world will change due to the effects of automation, but it will most definitely change. Even though automation currently has limits, scientists are currently working on methods to extend automation even further so that the world science fiction authors have written about for years will finally come into being (perhaps not quite in the way they had envisioned, however). Your current occupation may not exist 10 years from now, much less 50 years from now. The smart thing to do is to assume your job is going to be gone and that you really do need a Plan B in place—a Plan B that may call for an increase in flexibility, training, and desire to do something interesting, rather than the same mundane task you’ve plodded along doing for the last ten years. Let me know your thoughts on the effects of automation at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Beta Readers Needed for Amazon Web Services for Admins for Dummies

I still remember Amazon Web Services (AWS) when it was simply a method for getting information about Amazon products, making sales, and getting product status. The original web service didn’t do much, but people absolutely loved it, so it continued to evolve. Amazon has put a lot of work into AWS since that humble beginning and now you can perform all sorts of tasks that have nothing to do with buying or selling anything. You can create an entire IT structure for your organization that doesn’t involve any of the micromanagement, hardware purchases, software purchases, and other issues that kept IT from doing what it was supposed to do in the past—serving user needs in the most efficient manner possible.

There are a number of AWS books either published or currently in the process of being published, but these books don’t really answer the one question that everyone appears to be asking in the forums online, “How do I get started?” Most of the titles out there right now answer questions for a specific group after that group has installed the product and gotten started with it. AWS is immense and is naturally intimidating. Unfortunately, the getting started documentation from Amazon is incomplete, outdated, and hard to understand. Amazon Web Services for Admins for Dummies helps administrators (the focus group) and others (such as DevOps and developers) get started so that they can actually make use of that next level up book. Here are the sorts of things you see covered in the book:

  • Part I: Uncovering the AWS Landscape
    • Chapter 1: Starting Your AWS Adventure
    • Chapter 2: Obtaining Free Amazon Services
    • Chapter 3: Determining Which Services to Use
  • Part II: Configuring a Virtual Server
    • Chapter 4: Creating a Virtual Server Using EC2
    • Chapter 5: Managing Web Apps Using Elastic Beanstalk
    • Chapter 6: Responding to Events with Lambda
  • Part III: Working with Storage
    • Chapter 7: Working with Cloud Storage Using S3
    • Chapter 8: Managing Files Using Elastic File System
    • Chapter 9: Archiving Data Using Glacier
  • Part IV: Performing Basic Database Management
    • Chapter 10: Getting Basic DBMS Using RDS
    • Chapter 11: Moving Data Using Database Migration Service
    • Chapter 12: Gaining NoSQL Access Using DynamoDB
  • Part V: Interacting with Networks
    • Chapter 13: Isolating Cloud Resources Using Virtual Private Cloud
    • Chapter 14: Connecting Directly to AWS with Direct Connect
  • Part VI: Getting Free Software
    • Chapter 15: Using the Infrastructure Software
    • Chapter 16: Supporting Users with Business Software
  • Part VII: The Part of Tens
    • Chapter 17: Ten Ways to Deploy AWS Quickly
    • Chapter 18: Ten Must Have AWS Software Packages

As you can see, this book is going to give you a good start in working with AWS by helping you with the basics. Because of the subject matter, I really want to avoid making any errors in this book, which is where you come into play. I’m looking for beta readers who want to use AWS to perform basic administration tasks, even when those tasks are related to a home office. In fact, I have a strong interest in trying to meet the needs of the small-to-medium sized business (SMB) because many of the other books out there cover the enterprise to the exclusion of these smaller entities. As a beta reader, you get to see the material as I write it. Your comments will help me improve the text and make it easier to use.

As you can see from the outline, Amazon Web Services (AWS) is actually a huge array of services that can affect consumers, Small to Medium Sized Business (SMB), and enterprises. Using AWS, you can do everything from back up your personal hard drive to creating a full-fledged IT department in the cloud. The installed base is immense. You can find case studies of companies like Adobe and Netflix that use AWS at https://aws.amazon.com/solutions/case-studies/. AWS use isn’t just for private companies either—even the government is involved. That’s why Amazon Web Services for Admins for Dummies has a somewhat narrowly focused audience and emphasizes a specific set of tasks that it will help you perform. Otherwise, a single book couldn’t even begin to cover the topic.

In consideration of your time and effort, your name will appear in the Acknowledgements (unless you specifically request that we not provide it). You also get to read the book free of charge. Being a beta reader is both fun and educational. If you have any interest in reviewing this book, please contact me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com and will fill in all the details for you.

 

A Hurt Chicken Update

A number of people wrote to ask about my hurt hen after reading Dealing with Hurt Chickens. You’ll be happy to know that my hen is fully healed at this point and the infection is completely gone (without leaving any signs). Over the years I’ve found that hens are quite resilient as long as you get to the source of a problem quickly and provide at least a modicum of care. Getting the hen out of the coop when her mates can’t help her is the prime concern. Otherwise, the other hens will proceed to peck her to death.

Chickens aren’t particularly known for their long term memory. After almost a month, the other members of the coop had quite forgotten about the hurt hen, so I couldn’t just put her back into the coop and expect everything to work right away. The process involves putting the hen, cage and all, into the coop for a few days. Unfortunately, the addition of a relatively large cage made the coop seem amazingly small as I tried to get to the eggs. The hens took great delight in sitting on my shoulders and head while I tried to get past the cage. They also mumbled strange, dark chicken thoughts about how I’d be so much better off if I simply removed the stranger from their midst. I’m used to this little inconvenience because it happens every time I introduce new chicks to the coop.

What I hadn’t quite expected is the hen’s reaction to their new coop mate. Normally, the hens spend a good deal of time running around the cage, sitting on top of it, and attempting to peck the chicks. In other words, they’re active in their desire to be rid of the strangers at any cost. Not so this time! The hens took up a line around the cage and stared. Some sat, some stood, but all mumbled, and then mumbled some more. I’m not sure why a single adult hen should be different from five or six juveniles, but there is some point of chicken etiquette of which I’m most definitely not aware. After a while though, the hens simply started ignoring the cage and went about their business.

Because of the absurd initial reaction, I decided to leave the hen in her cage for an extra day, so the inconvenience of trying to get to the eggs lasted longer than I would have liked, which is where the trip comes into play. Imagine trying to get around in a coop that one wouldn’t normally consider spacious with a bunch of hens and a relatively large cage in your way. One day I went in and, as usual, put the eggs into my jacket pocket as I collected them. My sweatshirt jacket makes a fine place to put eggs most of the time, but not this time. Yes, I fell and did the Lucy act (see Lucy Does the Tango). Well, my jacket really did need to be washed anyway and a shower is always nice after working in the coop.

At this point, my hurt hen is no longer hurt. She’s running around with the other chickens, who have somehow suddenly remembered where she was at in the pecking order. Normally, when I introduce juvenile chicks, there is a lot of fighting until the new pecking order is established, but that didn’t happen in this case except for a little while on the first day. Otherwise, the coop has been quite happy. Let me know your thoughts on reintroducing chickens after they heal to the coop at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Review of Dodging Satan

Often, the best humor is found in tales with a real world basis, which is what you find in Dodging Satan by Kathleen Zamboni McCormick. Even though I’m not Catholic, I did attend a Lutheran school for much of my childhood and some of the events in the school scenes in the book rang all too true. (The scene where Bridget is given a guilt complex over eating too slow really did ring a bell.) Of course, school isn’t the focus of the book, Bridget is. Dodging Satan is a fictionalized autobiography that follows Bridget from about age 5 to about age 14. The book doesn’t follow a strict chronological flow, but uses short stories to tell Bridget’s tale (a format I really liked). Many of the stories started in the real world, but the author has changed names, embroidered the information a bit, and added the pizzazz that makes this book such a good read. Some things, like a time traveling St. Mary, really were part of the author’s life, but she tells the tale with humor, slightly askew of the real world events.

I’ve read many treatise on what makes for a good childhood—everything from upbringing to environment to recognizing a child’s gifts. However, Dodging Satan possibly brings up the most important element of all—a child’s imagination (although I doubt that it’s the author’s main goal to create a tale of child raising either). The book is funny because Bridget sees the world from a perspective that only a child who is trying to make sense of all of the conflicting inputs she’s receiving could possibly have. Trying to figure out how riding a bicycle can make one pregnant is just one of many conundrums that Bridget faces. There were times when I had tears rolling down my cheeks, such as when Bridget discovers the holy in the holy water. As you read the book, you see Bridget pondering various elements of Catholicism and I felt for her because I pondered at least a few of those same things as a Lutheran. (A fear that Satan was going to reach out and grab me was just one commonality.) It’s interesting to find that children commonly use all sorts of sources (religion in this case), often distorted, to explain the unexplained events in their lives.

The book does touch on a number of issues that were most definitely not talked about during my childhood, including abuse of various sorts and sexuality that we’re only now coming to grips with (for one thing, two of the aunts turned out to be lesbians). Some of these sections will most definitely make people uncomfortable, despite being told a bit tongue-in-cheek and with an eye toward a skewed version of the truth. It won’t surprise many people who grew up in poorer neighborhoods that abuse was, and still is, rampant. Bridget ends up coming to terms with these negatives in her life by inventing views that make them all seem plausible, if not entirely appropriate. The child view of these things is expertly written—in fact, this bit of writing is possibly the most fascinating part of the book because it really does present a significantly different perspective of events that shapes individuals and our country as a whole during the 60s and 70s (the book does avoid the use of dates because many of these issues are still taking place now). Bridget shows herself to be an amazing young lady because she does accept her lesbian aunts and comes to realize that they have a significant role to play in helping her come to terms with her own blossoming sexuality (not that Bridget becomes a lesbian, but I don’t want to give away the plot of the book either).

Is this a good book? Yes, I’m really glad I read it, but unlike many book covers, this one undersells the content. You will laugh, but you’ll also cry with Bridget a little and you’ll find yourself thinking about the odd events in your own childhood. In order to really get anything out of this book, you must be willing to step back and think about Bridget’s musings from an adult perspective. You see yourself when you were young from the perspective of having learned that the world really doesn’t involve things like time travel and no amount of imagination will make some things right. In short, if you’re looking for a good laugh and nothing else, then you probably won’t enjoy this book, but if you’re willing to give things a bit of thought, you’ll probably end up with more than you expected. Dodging Satan promises to be one of those books that will change you in ways you’ll never forget.

 

Is Your Car Green, Really?

It seems like I receive yet another brochure about the huge advances various government entities, enterprises, vendors, or energy companies making in protecting the planet every month. Everyone seems to think that their technology is going to be the next green thing, when the facts simply don’t bear them out. The previous post I wrote on this topic, More People Noticing that Green Technology Really Isn’t, discussed the issue that some informed people are discovering that all that green technology out there is really just designed to sell more products—not help the earth in any significant way. The problem is one of complexity, which is the case with the green car.

Driving an electric car might seem like the right way to reduce emissions. However, recent studies show that your electric car might actually be worse for the environment. I say might here because it all depends on how the electricity is generated. In some cases, your electric car actually is better than gas at the first level. That is, the manner in which the electricity is generated produces fewer pollutants than driving a car with a gas engine would be. For example, sunlight and wind are both plentiful in Nevada, so driving an electric car could make sense there. However, as I’ve noted in previous posts, solar and wind power both rely heavily on special materials, the mining of which actually produces a serious amount of pollution. The studies available right now also assume that the manufacturing processes for the supposedly green cars are actually no worse than the older technology they replace. Consequently, even though it might appear that your electric car is a win, it may not be right now.

A problem with all the entities making the promises and telling you just how good they are at fulfilling them is that they lie. Sometimes they even get caught. For example, the EPA finally caught VW in the act of lying about its emission test results. The only problem is that those cars are still out there producing millions of tons of lung killing smog. In fact, it’s hard to tell whether any of those green technologies actually do anything at all, except make you pay a lot more when buying the vehicle, and to run and maintain it later. Add to this the fact that some people are now saying that the solar industry is dying (and would already be dead were it not for government subsidies) and you have to wonder just how long these green cars will even maintain the appearance of being green.

Some people are saying that we should simply get rid of cars, which is obviously not going to happen. If people really wanted to use mass transit, it would have happened already. In addition, there isn’t any evidence that mass transit actually reduces pollution either. The vehicles are often poorly maintained and spew a horrid amount of pollution out of their exhaust (as evidenced by the stench when you drive behind a bus). In addition, mass transit only works when you live in or around a major city, which won’t work for those of us who live in the country.

The best way to create a green car is not to drive it any more than necessary. I’ve taken to planning out my trips so that I drive the fewest possible miles. Because I’m self-employed, I don’t even start my car five days a week (getting everything done in just two days). Not only does my strategy save time, but I’ve reduced by gas bill by half in the last two years. Green often equates to not using a resource such as gas. Using the resource will inevitably produce some sort of pollution. Through careful planning, you can significantly reduce the number of miles you drive and you can drive more of them at once (a warm engine normally works more efficiently and produces fewer emissions). You also want to reduce gas waste by starting up slowly, stopping over a longer distance, and keeping your engine from idling. In fact, there are a wealth of tips you can find online for making your car more efficient (such as removing all that junk from the trunk).

You can make the world a cleaner place and still keep your car. All it really takes is planning and careful maintenance. Unfortunately, there is no magic that will just make the problems with pollution go away. Driving that electric car or paying more for a vehicle with dubious emissions extras isn’t going to do much. What it really takes is a bit of self control. Let me know your thoughts about green cars at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

IPython Magic Functions

Both Python for Data Science for Dummies and Machine Learning for Dummies rely on a version of Anaconda that uses IPython as part of its offering.Theoretically, you could also use Anaconda with Beginning Programming with Python For Dummies, but that book is designed to provide you with an experience that relies on the strict Python offerings (without the use of external tools). In other words, the procedures in this third book are designed for use with IDLE, the IDE that comes with Python. IPython extends the development environment in a number of ways, one of which is the use of magic functions. You see the magic functions in the code of the first two books as calls that begin with either one or two percent signs (% or %%). The most common of these magic functions is %matplotlib, which controls how IPython Notebook or Jupyter Notebook display plot output from the code.

You can find a listing of the most common magic functions in the Python for Data Science for Dummies Cheat Sheet. Neither of the first two books use any other magic functions, so this is also a complete list of magic functions that you can expect to find in our books. However, you might want to know more. Fortunately, the site at https://damontallen.github.io/IPython-quick-ref-sheets/ provides you with a complete listing of the magic commands (and a wealth of other information about IPython).

Of course, you might choose to use another IDE—one that isn’t quite so magical as Anaconda provides through IPython. In this case, you need to remove those magic commands. Removing the commands won’t affect functionality of the code. The example will still work as explained in the book. However, the way that the IDE presents output could change. For example, instead of being inline, plots could appear in a separate window. Even though using a separate window is less convenient, either method works just fine. If you ever do encounter a magic function-related problem, please be sure to let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Dealing with Hurt Chickens

Chickens can get hurt in a number of ways. In some cases, the chicken will care for itself or its nest mates will help out. For example, it’s not uncommon for a chicken’s comb to get a little frostbite during colder than normal weather. The damaged part of the comb will eventually die off and the chickens nest mates will pick it off. The comb usually grows back all on its own (I’ve never seen it do otherwise, but have heard of situations where the chicken needs help). In some cases, you see blood on the other chickens, which is perfectly normal. They’ll clean themselves up. The best thing you can do is observe the chickens carefully, but maintain a hands off policy unless the chicken really does exhibit a need for help (you notice an odor, the flesh is off color, or the chicken behaves contrary to normal).

However, there are also situations where you need to be proactive in helping the chicken because it’s impossible for the chicken or its nest mates to do the job. For example, one of my hens recently laid an egg so large that it caused damage to the cioaca (essentially the chicken’s anus). The cioaca actually turns inside out during egg laying so that the egg doesn’t come in contact with the intestine or any fecal matter, but both eggs and fecal matter come out of the same hole. The damage caused bleeding, which brought the other hens, who pecked insistently. If the hens had been allowed to continue, the hurt hen would have eventually died.

I check all of my hens daily, but even so, by the time I understood what was going on, the hen had also developed an infection. In order to prevent problems in the coop and for the hen, you must have a hen-sized cage available. I recommend one about two square feet in size so that the hen can walk around a little, but not too much. Line the bottom of the cage with fresh hay every day to help keep things clean (hens are inherently dirty).

To combat the infection, it’s important to keep the hurt area clean. This means cleaning the area once or possibly twice daily using a product such as hydrogen peroxide. You can use the 3% hydrogen peroxide commonly available from your drug store, but I’ve found that a 12% solution is far more effective. You must use it with care because a little goes a long way. In addition, make absolutely certain you get food grade hydrogen peroxide or you risk killing the chicken. Gently wipe the area after cleaning with a clean cloth (a soft paper towel works well). Discard the cloth afterward—you really don’t want to reuse it. You’ll need to hold your chicken firmly, but gently during this process.

Cleaning is a good first step. To help the area heal faster, apply triple antibiotic cream. Don’t even think about trying to bandage the area. All you’ll end up doing is frustrating both you and the chicken. Leaving the area open will generally help it heal faster.

Check your chicken several times a day. Make sure you keep things as clean as is possible, but otherwise let the chicken rest. Depending on the kind of injury, your chicken may spend a lot of time standing—this act is perfectly normal. Hens won’t lay any eggs when they’re hurt due to stress. Chickens generally won’t talk to you either. In fact, you know that they’re starting to feel better when they do start talking to you again.

If you find that your chicken is pecking at the wound, it often means you need to look closer. In many cases, a chicken will peck when an abscess develops. When this happens, you must carefully pop the abscess so it can drain. Use alcohol to clean the area first and make sure you use alcohol to clean both your hands and any instruments you use. Focus on keeping things open and clean.

Your chicken may not want to eat or drink at first. This is also perfectly normal. However, make sure the chicken has fresh water available. In addition, you can provide other sorts of high protein treats to encourage eating and drinking. For example, most chickens love milk, which contains protein and vitamins that will help the chicken heal faster. In addition, you can get the chicken meal worms, which are easier for it to digest and are considered a delicacy by chickens too.

The most important thing to remember is that you must wait until the chicken is completely healed before returning it to the coop. The other chickens will treat it as a new arrival and the usual hectic activity will occur while everyone decides on a new pecking order. Let me know your thoughts on helping hurt chickens at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Spaces in Paths

A number of readers have recently written me about an error they see when attempting to compile or execute an application or script in books such as, C++ All-In-One for Dummies, 3rd EditionBeginning Programming with Python For Dummies, Python for Data Science for Dummies, and Machine Learning for Dummies. Development environments often handle spaces differently because they’re designed to perform tasks such as compiling applications and running scripts. I had touched on this issue once before in the Source Code Placement post. When you see an error message that tells you that a file or path isn’t found, you need to start looking at the path and determine whether it contains any spaces. The best option is to create a directory to hold your source code and to place that directory off the root directory of your drive if at all possible. Keeping the path small and simple is your best way to avoid potential problems compiling code or running scripts.

The problem for many readers is that the error message is buried inside a whole bunch of nonsensical looking text. The output from your compiler or interpreter can contain all sorts of useful debugging information, such as a complete listing of calls that the compiler, interpreter, or application made. However, unless you know how to read this information, which is often arcane at best, it looks like gobbledygook. Simply keep scanning through the output until you see something that humans can read and understand. More often than not, you see an error message that helps you understand what went wrong, such as not being able to find a file or path. Please let me know if you ever have problems making the code examples in my books work, but also be sure to save yourself some time and effort by reading those error messages. Let me know if you have any thoughts or concerns about spaces in directory paths at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Firefly Light

Firefly in the night,
growing dim, shining bright.

Sending messages, in insect code,
come and stay at my abode.

Flying here, flying there,
making art upon the air.

A beam of light, within the dark,
an ember glowing, like a spark.

Hypnotic visions, all aglow,
help me see your jagged flow.

Flights of fancy, are what I see,
as you continue, endlessly.

Until the dawn, grants you rest,
your endless dance, shows your quest.

Copyright 2016, John Paul Mueller

 

Using Java with Windows 10

I’m starting to get more requests for information about using the materials in Java eLearning Kit for Dummies with Windows 10. Java for Dummies eLearning Kit is designed for use with Windows 7, Linux, or Mac OS X, and Java 7. However, as mentioned in the Java 7 Patches and Future post, I’ve tested enough of the code with Java 8 to feel fairly certain that the book will also work fine with Java 8. Unfortunately, using the book with Windows 10 will prove problematic.

The Windows 10 and Java FAQ sheet tells you about the some of the issues in using Java with the new operating system. For example, you can’t use the Edge browser with Java because it doesn’t support plug-ins. You need to install a different browser to even contemplate using Java eLearning Kit for Dummies—I highly recommend Firefox or Chrome, but the only requirement is that the browser support plugins.

Because Java eLearning Kit for Dummies is supposed to provide you with a more intense than usual learning experience, using Windows 10 is counterproductive. For example, none of the procedures in the book will work with Windows 10 because even the act of accessing the Control Panel is different. With this in mind, I truly can’t recommend or support Windows 10 users for this particular book without saying that your learning experience will be less complete than I intended when I wrote the book.

There is still no timeline from the publisher for creating an update of this book. If you really want a Windows 10 version of this book, then you need to contact the publisher directly at http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1118098781.html and ask for it. If you have any book-specific questions, please feel free to contact me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.