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?” However, in recent years this has changed with more blogs talking about the subject. You can even check out this great AWS blog for more information. As for books, 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.

 

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.

However, in reality, it is crucial to remember that there is always an element of chemical risk at each stage of production of a car regardless of whether the resulting vehicle is gas or electric powered. It is no secret that the manufacturing processes involved in producing engines, plastics, and various other elements of a car require the use of hazardous chemicals such as adhesives, acids, bases, and cleaning chemicals. Furthermore, the majority of these products are corrosives or irritants and most of these chemicals are handled in laboratories.

Put simply, whether a car is powered by gas or electric, there is thus a constant risk of projection and chemical spill during the manufacturing process. With all of this in mind, it is vital that car manufacturers make use of chemical storage solutions to prevent chemical spillages or leaks. To address this issue, most car manufacturers use bunded storage. Essentially, a bund is a secondary containment area in a tank or a drum that can collect any spilled liquid if the initial storage container is inadequate. Due to the diversity of chemicals used throughout the manufacturing industry, there are several unique bunded storage containment options available for industrial users. You can discover the benefits of these bunded storage and containment solutions by taking a look at this useful guide on the Storemasta website.

Consequently, even though it might appear that your electric car is a win, it may not be right now. There are many defectives that both non-green and green cars have in common. For instance, you may find that a green or electric car might not hold the same charge capacity. There are a few cars that have been reported to develop defects that may not appear in a brand new car, so if you decide to get an electric second hand, you may find you are dealing with a lemon. Luckily, if you find yourself in that situation, you can always make a lemon claim for a used car.

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. Systems like adas are only growing as people have more and more need of a car in their life. 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. This can be done better using websites like https://www.czokbrand.com to give guidance on proper car 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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Installing Python Packages (Part 2)

In the Installing Python Packages (Part 1) post, you discovered the easiest method of installing new packages when working with Beginning Programming with Python For Dummies, Python for Data Science for Dummies, and Machine Learning for Dummies. Using the pip command is both fast and easy. However, it doesn’t provide much in the way of feedback when things go wrong. To overcome this issue, you can use the conda command in place of pip when you have Anaconda installed on your system. Like pip, conda supports a wide variety of commands. You can find a listing of these commands at http://conda.pydata.org/docs/using/pkgs.html.

You need to know a few things about working with conda. The first is that you need to open an Anaconda prompt to use it. For example, when working with Windows, you use the Start ⇒ All Programs ⇒ Anaconda<Version> ⇒ Anaconda Prompt command to open a window like the one shown here where you can enter commands. (Your Anaconda Prompt may look different than the one shown based on the platform you use and the version of Anaconda you have installed.)

Use the Anaconda Prompt to gain access to the conda command.
The Anaconda Prompt

You can easily discover the features the conda command supports by typing conda -h and pressing Enter. You see a list of command line switches similar to the ones shown here:

Use the conda command line switches to perform various tasks.
A Listing of Conda Switches

As you can see, there are quite a few tasks you can perform. To determine whether you have a package installed, use the Conda search <package name> command.  For example, if you want to determine if you have Pandas installed, you type Conda search Pandas and press Enter.  You see a list of Pandas versions installed, assuming that Pandas is installed, like this:

Use the search switch to locate a particular package installation.
A Listing of Pandas Information

The information you get from conda is far more in depth than pip provides. To determine what you have installed, just go down the list and determine whether you have the version of Pandas that you need.  If you don’t, then type Conda update pandas and press Enter (notice the case used).  On the other hand, let’s say you want to install BeautifulSoup.  Well, the first time through, try typing Conda install BeautifulSoup and pressing Enter.  You see an error message that tells you what to type like this:

The conda command provides you with helpful error information.
Using Error Information

Since you want to install the latest BeautifulSoup, type Conda install beautiful-soup and press Enter.  After searching for the required update information, conda will ask if you want to proceed.  Type y and press Enter.  You’ll see a whole bunch of activity take place, but eventually, you have a new version of BeautifulSoup, plus all the supporting functionality, installed correctly in the correct locations.  Here’s how things looked on my system:

Conda provides detailed information about the installation process.
Viewing the Result of an Installation

At this point, you have BeautifulSoup installed. Installing other packages follows the same path. Using conda does require a little more expertise than using pip, but you also gain additional flexibility and garner more information. When everything goes well, either tool does an equally good job of getting the installation or update task done, but conda excels in helping you past troublesome installations. Let me know your thoughts about using conda to install the packages required by my books at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Supporting Creative People

I work really hard to support my readers and so do many other authors. In fact, most creative people are in creative trades because they like to communicate with others using a variety of methods. The simplest goal is to provide something of intangible value to others—be it a painting, sculpture, dance, music, or writing. It’s well known that creative people are often underpaid (hence the cliché, starving artist). Because the starving artist (and most of them truly are starving) makes little money, it’s important that people do support them whenever possible. That’s why the piracy of Intellectual Property (IP) is such a problem. I’ve written about this topic before from a writing perspective (see Piracy and the Reader), but IP theft has become a serious enough problem that we’re beginning to lose many good creative people simply because they no longer have enough money coming in to make a living.

The problem is that many people would support the creative people whose IP they use, but they don’t really understand that they need to pay for this material. For example, there are many sites online now that offer my books free of charge. Just viewing the site doesn’t provide a clue that anyone is stealing anything. These sites have a clean appearance and simply offer IP in the form of downloadable music, books, and so on. In fact, many of these sites are fully searchable. The reasons that someone would do something like this varies, but it pays to employ some critical thinking when you see something free that possibly looks a bit too good to be true. Many people download viruses, spyware, and other sorts of malware along with their free download. In the long run, it’s actually less expensive to buy the IP, than to have a computer compromised by some of the crud that comes with these free downloads.

For the record, my books are never free. You need to pay for your copy of my book in order to support the various things of value that I provide to you as a reader, including this free blog. It isn’t my goal to become rich—if that were my goal, I’d be in some other line of work (believe me when I say authors aren’t paid particularly well), but I do need to make enough to pay my expenses, just as you do. Even though I know many people do download my books free, I still support everyone that I can with good advice on how to get the most from the books I write. To me, coming in each day and working with all of you is one of the benefits of being an author. I truly do want people to use my books to get ahead in life. If you’d like to discuss the effects of piracy on you as a consumer of IP, please write me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Installing Python Packages (Part 1)

My Python-related books, Beginning Programming with Python For Dummies, Python for Data Science for Dummies, and Machine Learning for Dummies use various libraries to perform book-specific tasks. The books do provide instructions as needed, but, based on reader input, sometimes these instructions aren’t as clear as necessary, located in precisely the right location, or possibly as specific as needed. This post will help you get the packages containing the libraries you need installed in order to get more from the books.

It’s essential to remember that Beginning Programming with Python for Dummies relies on the 3.3.4 version of Python. The other two books rely on Python 2.7.x versions. The reason for using the older version of Python in these two books is that these books rely on libraries that Python 3.x doesn’t support. If you try to install these libraries on Python 3.x, you’ll get an error message of somewhat dubious usefulness.

In most cases, the easiest way to install a package is to open a command prompt with Administrator privileges and rely on the pip (for Python 2.x) or pip3 (for Python 3.x) command to perform the installation. For example, to install BeautifulSoup, you can type pip install beautifulsoup4 and press Enter. Installing any other package follows about the same route.

The only problem with the pip utility is that you don’t get it with every version of Python. When using an older version of Python, such as 3.3.4, you actually need to install the pip utility to use it. Fortunately, the installation instructions at https://pip.pypa.io/en/latest/installing/ aren’t difficult to use and you’ll be up and running in a few minutes.

Some readers have also complained that pip doesn’t provide much information when it comes to errors. The lack of information can prove problematic when an installation doesn’t go as planned. Next week I plan to cover the conda utility that comes with Anaconda. This utility isn’t as easy to use in some respects as pip, but it does provide considerably more information. If you have any questions about using the pip utility with my books, please contact me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Mac Gatekeeper Error

A number of my 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 ask readers to download an IDE or other code and install it on their Mac systems. The problem is that the Mac system won’t always cooperate. For example, you might see an error dialog like the one shown for Code::Blocks:

The Gatekeeper error tells you that it won't allow you to install software from unknown publishers.
Your Mac won’t let you install software.

The problem is one of permissions. The default permissions set for newer Mac systems restrict you to getting your apps from the Mac App Store or from vendors who have signed their files. Fortunately, you can overcome this problem either temporarily or permanently, depending on how you want to use your Mac. The Fix the “App can’t be opened because it is from an unidentified developer” Error in Mac OS X blog post provides you with illustrated, step-by-step directions to perform the task using either method. Let me know if you encounter any other problems getting your Mac to install the software required to use my books at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.