Category Archives: technology

An Age of Miracles and Wonders

So I was to read the Lesson in church today.

Being an old Anglican – social and cultural thank you – I prefer the old language. And, as the Lesson was Ephesians 6:10-20 which has “principalities” in it, I wanted to read from the King James Version. But we left our bible at home.

But not our smartphones.

In fact, our entire service is driven by our minister’s smartphone. He’s Bluetoothed it to the sound system and our missing organist has been replaced. For our little congregation – 12 on a good Sunday – we have everything from some git with a guitar to the Mormon Tabanacle Choir to sing along with.

Paul Simon was right.

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Immigration: What Choice Do We Have?

immigration, canada, jobs, boomers

culturally neutral

It is a rather sad fact that my generation of Canadians, as Mark Steyn puts it, couldn’t be bothered to reproduce. Which leads to the grand issue of what to do about the missing babies of the Boomers given that those boomers want things like pensions, health care and the pleasures of the welfare state.

The answer which we have been given by out political elite for the last thirty years is “immigration”. Essentially, Canada will fill its baby gap with immigrants and all will be well. Last year we naturalized 260,000 people. As Frau Katze at BlazingCatFur.ca points out, that means that 3/4 of 1% of our total population became citizens in 2014. Which is, by any measure, a lot.

Obviously that level of immigration changes Canada quite radically. Various bits of culture fall away when your city is 50% Chinese. Which is not the end of the world and, for the same reason, the Vancouver Symphony goes from strength to strength. But we are rapidly running out of high end, well educated, entreprenural Chinese and Sikh immigrants. China and India are presenting huge opportunity while Canada is looking economically sluggish.

Rather than reduce immigration Canada has been welcoming immigrants and “refugees” from less dynamic cultures. Immigrants from North Africa, the Middle East and Pakistan are beginning to fill up the available slots. Is this a good idea? I’ll be looking at that in future posts. What I want to think about here are choices.

The elite refrain seems to be that if we want to maintain our welfare system, pensions, healthcare and the like we have simply no choice but to import drafts of tax serfs to make up our declining numbers. Is that true?

Here are a few ideas to extend the independence of the Boomers and reduce the need for immigrants at any cost.

  • Postpone retirement to 70 or even 75: the boomers parents are extending life expectancy rapidly. 90 is the new 70. Greater activity, a keener sense of healthy life style choices and, as Doug Coupland put it, “Vitamin D and baby asprin and (mum’s) going to live forever.” Boomers are nuts to be thinking of retirement at 60 unless they really are too sick to work. So don’t. Pushing back the retirement and pension ages saves a lot of pension money and reduces the need to bring in more people.
  • Have more children. Not something the boomers can do but our kids can and should. But to do this we need a lot of very family friendly policy. Income splitting is a cute idea but hardly a huge incentive to family formation. Big tax deductions for kids number three, four and five could help a bit. But those are governmental changes.

    What can the average citizen do to encourage a baby boom? Start with your own family. Rather than suggesting that your two precious children wait for the “right” person before they get married, learn from your own couple of marriages and recognize that the “right” person may not show up. Marriage in your twenties with kids shortly thereafter is no bad thing. If it all goes to hell, well, you are really only stuck for 12 to 15 years. But you can also grow up together. So, early marriage.

    Start training your kids early that having children is a joy rather than a burden. And teach them that there is no magic point financially or career wise when having children suddenly makes sense or is easy. Have your kids when you can and as many as you can. Telling your children this can help.

  • Where possible transfer wealth early. There are a lot of older boomers whose parents have died and left good big whacks of dough. And those same boomers are coming to the end of their mortgages. Here is a hint: offer your kids some money. And not, ideally, as a loan. An outright gift is more useful. Don’t tie it to real estate either. There is going to be a massive correction in Canadian real estate but even if there wasn’t tying a gift to what is usually a debt and endless expense is a poor idea.

    In general gifts are not taxable in Canada. So, for example, parents could give their kids enough to top up his and her TFSA’s and then an annual gift to let them max out the TSFA contribution room every year. If you do this when your children are in their early twenties they will, fairly quickly (with a balanced portfolio rather than the dumb .5% interest products offered by the banks) have a serious sum of money for the crunch years in their early 30’s. Which will give them the confidence to have kids themselves at a much earlier point.

  • Build houses and condos which can adapt to the changing needs and means of families. Everything from in-law suites to legally easy house splitting needs to be done to drive down the price of housing in Canada. Yes there is a correction coming but that does not change the fact there are many cities where housing is unaffordable. Build rental housing for families. Build up market rental housing. Encourage density. Make it possible to rent with a 1/5 of your average income rather than 1/2.

    For this to happen government just needs to step back a bit. Upzone a little, perhaps create a few tax shelters for rental housing. But the goal is not cheap housing per se, rather the goal is family formation.

  • Use technology in place of people. A lot of the jobs “Canadians just will not do” should not be done at all by anyone. From self cleaning toilets – already done in Japan – to robotic floor cleaners and fast food “servers” there are lots of jobs which can and will be done by robots. Pushing that sort of technology will reduce the need for more immigrants.

    So will the IT driven revolutions in ordering (see Uber/Amazon) and transportation. Self driving cars and trucks are going to change a lot of how we do business. Again, this is going to displace – probably forever – a lot of people. So plan for that now by reducing the number of people we are importing.

    In 2011 371,000 women worked as retail clerks in Canada. 316,565 worked as administrative assistants, 260,190 as cashiers and 184,720 as general office support workers. Call it million jobs. Men: 285,050 retail clerks, 253,385 truck drivers, 138,435 material handlers, 112,125 food counter attendants and 100,190 store shelf stockers. Call it 800,000 jobs. If robots and IT capture 10% of those jobs per year over the next decade there will be 1.8 million less jobs to be filled. (stats here)

    We could worry about this or we can embrace it and adjust our immigration requirements accordingly.

If you actually look at those numbers seriously and, instead of 10% use 5%, you’ll see that 900,000 low skill jobs are going to get eaten by robots and IT over the next decade. 90,000 a year. Now, look at the naturalized Canadian number for 2014 again 260,000. If half our new citizens are entering the labour force that is 130,000 new workers per year in an economy which will be shedding 90,000 jobs per year. Does that make any sense at all?

I’ll be returning to this over the next year but the next time someone tells you Canada has no choice but to accept whatever immigrants it can attract, at least think about some of the choices we actually do have.

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Climate Explainations

I used to write about climate a lot but when things got busy stopped.

When I did write I tended to suggest that a) the models were uncertain, b) natural variability was a much bigger deal than the warmists admitted, c) things like the Sun, the PDO and the vagaries of the Atlantic Ocean might have had something to do with the warming to 1998. I was certainly willing to concede that humans made some contribution to any warming which might have occurred but I suggested that it was unlikely to be just the CO2 emitting side of human activity. Finally, I suggested that the less significant CO2 was in the scheme of things the less it should signify in policy. In other words, I didn’t think the various carbon dioxide reduction schemes were worth the money.

The warmists, two or three years ago, denied each and every one of these ideas. The warmist position was that the Earth was warming fast and that man made CO2 was the only possible cause of such warming. They cited the IPCC Fourth Report to support their assertions and suggested that anything less was not peer reviewed and thus worthless.

and then, well and then came the pause. And with the pause the realization that the models and reality were gradually drifting apart. And with that drift there arose the need to explain where the heat in the models could be hiding and why it was hiding there.

The scientific immaturity of climate science was on full display as no less than 38 separate and often contradictory explanations for the pause were put forward. Many of which would have been heresy only a couple of years before.

As the explanations have been launched we’ve seen the curious spectacle of grown scientists coming up with enough cooling to overwhelm the observed warming all together. And many of these explanations involve the Sun, ocean currents, clouds and a host of other variables which we were assured could not have any effect on climate just a few short years ago.

It turns out that, in general, the climate science community has been exaggerating the precision of its models and the robustness of its physics. In the face of the unpredicted pause they have had to admit that maybe Nature and not Man might be responsible for at least a bit of the warming which has, well, disappeared.

The one thing which has become absolutely clear: the IPCC science and the policy recommendations based up on it are ungrounded in any serious, measurable, predictable science at all. There is no current theory of climate which implicates CO2 exclusively. And there is a great deal of uncertainty as to what the temperature’s sensitivity to CO2 actually is.

All of which means that any economic or energy policy based upon the theory that CO2 will create extreme climate change needs to be discarded at once before any more money is wasted.

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Bye Car

Well, actually, I have not owned a car for 15 years and miss having one about once a month. But here is an interesting thought about Uber the car app: “New York Times article this morning, technology columnist Farhad Manjoo suggests that Uber could one-day lead to the end of personal cars. Especially in densely populated areas served by Uber and competitors such as Lyft, relying on such on-demand, cost-competitive transport networks can be cheaper than buying, insuring, maintaining and parking a car.” yahoo

The argument is purely cost based – why have the cost of a car which you use, at most, 5% of the time? Why indeed? Walking, bikes, the bus and taxis work well for our family most of the time.

Uber is, however, a stop gap until the driverless car as a utility arrives. I’d say it will take about a decade before ubiquitous little autonomous cars will arrive at your door and drop you where you want to go. They will, of course, also pick up your groceries without you actually having to go to the store.

All of which is a function of the falling costs of computing, transactions and communications. It is also a function of a change in the way in which people define who they are. For a long time you were what you drove – now, increasingly it simply does not matter. I mean, seriously, at 100 feet can you really tell the difference between the 20k utility box and the 50k? It is not until you get up over 100k that there is any style to cars at all.

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Very cool – Spritz

I suspect this is a bit more revolutionary than it first appears. Go try it.

The New Grow Op

bitcoin mining rig

Bitcoin Mining Rig

This is a rather low end version of a Bitcoin mining rig.

The reality is that really fast bitcoin miners can be had for around $3000.00. I can’t imagine that this fact has gone unnoticed by the criminal money laundry industry.

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Form Factor Future

robot

Tackle Box Robot

A lot of the substantive content with my homeschooled boys is looking at interesting things and then discussing them and digging a bit deeper.

For no particular reason this past couple of weeks we’ve been discussing:

  • pallets and containers
  • delivery drones
  • 3D printing
  • autonomous and electric cars
  • economic aspects thereof

Now the fun part of this is that we can find useful things on the internet like Captain Capitalism’s thought provoking post on “Post Scarcity Economics” or Walter Russell Mead’s post on “Is Downton Abbey the Future of the US Economy?”.

While the economics are interesting, the actual history of things like containers can be riveting for boys and their father. (Susan decamps with a good book.) An article about the humble pallet gives the boys a fair bit of insight into everything from the global economy to the logistics of Ikea cup design.

One of the recurring themes which has emerged is how standardization improves efficiency. Containers have to be the same size, pallets – in an ideal world – would be the same size. A decision would be made about metric vs. imperial. Merchandise packaging would be optimized to max out pallet efficiency. There’s room for a bit of math and some basic geometry.

Once you start talking about pallets and containers you can also consider the “last mile” problem. How do you get the goods to the customer? Amazon uses the mail and UPS. Walmart wants you to actually go to their store. Nothing is more fun than thinking about how that last mile can be crossed without a trip to the mall or the UPS guy finding you are not at home.

In Australia there is a company set to deliver text books by helicopter drone. (And, yes, we did discuss this quaint idea of a paper “textbook” in a Kindle world.) No question that for things like pizza, prescriptions and drycleaning the flying delivery drone makes sense.

But, for my money, the autonomous vehicle is a better bet for the day to day business of getting stuff to people. (3D printing is still a distance away for every day use.) The excitement and hype in the autonomous car world has been about passengers – essentially moving people rather than things. But moving things is a huge business and it could get much bigger if an easy, inexpensive, means to get your groceries to your house could be devised.

We already have automated warehousing. (Worth looking at this video at Amazon’s Kiva systems site. However those robots merely pack the boxes with the customer’s order. Now what?

The last mile problem is going to get a lot of attention in the next few years. Autonomous delivery vehicles are one part of the solution; but the other part is actually delivering to the customer. Canadian start-up Buffer Box (recently bought by Google) has a fairly elegant partial solution. Your stuff is delivered to a Buffer Box kiosk which has electronic lockers you can open with a passcode from your phone. Nice for your online kite purchase, not too brilliant for the chicken you want to cook tonight.

There are lots of ways to attack the last mile problem. Each family gets a personal box and deliveries are made right to your box. Or, if price can be brought down, a person or family would have one or more “boxes on wheels” which would travel on some sort of schedule to the various places the family needs to have stuff picked up.

Part of the educational process here is that these are not questions which, at present, have answers. But they are not abstract issues: even a partial solution to the last mile problem is a billion dollar business. And it is a business which will occur very, very quickly. The horse was replaced by the internal combustion engine in less than 20 years.

Marrying a GPS/internet/Google Map aware computer to the rather well understood technology of the golf cart or electric scooter and you have an autonomous delivery vehicle prototype. With a secure storage capacity – think trunk of a car – you could probably build such things for $1000. They don’t have to go fast and, with good logistics design, they would not likely have to go far.

Now, think about what the introduction of such personal pick up and delivery ‘bots would change, especially in cities. Just one example: at the moment even if the Lady of the House is hyper aware of which items are on sale at which grocery stores this particular week, she is not particularly willing to make five stops and go through five checkout lines to save a total of, say, $10-20. But her pick up agent would be delighted to make those stops. (And, of course, now the supermarkets – if they are smart – are going to want to attract the pick-up agents so the scope for price matching and agent loyalty programs is huge.) On the other hand, think of the congestion these pick-up agents might cause. How to solve that problem. (Two hints – first, the number of car trips to get stuff would go down as would the number of manned delivery vehicles, second, it should be possible to build anti-congestion imperative right into the software which runs the pick up agents.

As I have pointed out to the boys, one interesting thing about robotic pick up agents is that they can operate continuously and therefore quite slowly. If your agent has to make four pick ups all within a one mile radius of your home over the course of, say, three hours it can accomplish that at a walking pace even allowing a ten minute stop at each pick up location. While I am not all that thrilled with the prospect of driverless semi-trailer trucks running at 60 miles an hour (which is an irrational fear but there it is), box toting pick-up agents sauntering on the sidewalk or in designated road lanes seems pretty manageable.

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The Divergence Problem

The damp squib which is the Summary Report for Policymakers (SOP) for the IPCC’s AR5 has arrived, been torn apart by the sceptics and lauded by the warmists. Mainstream media noted the arrival, parroted the general idea that humans are to blame (for what exactly is unclear) and, judging from today’s papers and sites, moved on. Climate alarmism is no longer of any great interest to the public and the coverage accorded to the SOP illustrates this.

Yet the SOP is important because, unless I miss my bet, when the full report is released on Monday, the entirely political nature of the IPCC enterprise will be starkly revealed. Plus, the IPCC itself has walked back in two critical areas.

The SOP itself is interesting simply because it reflects what green bureaucrats don’t want to discuss about the science. Which is not the same thing as saying the science does not exist; it almost certainly does and that science will be in the full report.

First up: sensitivity. The sensitivity of temperature to CO2 is a, indeed, the critical question at the intersection of climate science and policy. But in the SOP no actual sensitivity estimate was given.

The implication of this footnote is that sensitivity estimates are uncertain. Assuming for the moment that the full report supports the footnote’s conclusion, the key is going to be to examine what actual science that report discusses and why there is such uncertainty.

As I wrote yesterday, without a sensitivity estimate the SOP and the full report are effectively useless for policy purposes. Why would a politician take any measure – sure to be expensive – to reduce CO2 emissions without having at least some idea of what effect such reduction would have on temperature?

It is not as if the IPCC is unaware of this political fact, so why no sensitivity estimate? My own speculation is that the science will suggest that the sensitivity is at the low to extremely low end of the scale. 2 degrees Celsius or below per doubling of CO2. From an alarmist perspective this would be very bad news because it renders attempts to reduce emissions either pointless or cost ineffective. Speculatively, it was better to suppress the science rather than give the IPCC imprimatur to a relatively benign number.

Model failure: A fair amount of ink was spilt in the SOP trying to explain, contextualize, or dismiss the “pause” in global temperature. The SOP invoked faulty end points, ocean hidden heat and a newly discovered 30 year rule for climatic trends to discount the importance of the pause. What the SOP did not do is notice the real importance of the pause.

From the warmist’s perspective the pause is an inconvenient climate fact that nasty deniers are, wrongly, using to suggest global warming is over. While some sceptics have taken that position, most see the pause in quite another light: the pause invalidates the models which failed to predict it.

Whether or not a 17 year pause means global warming is over is not, in my view, a useful question. All the pause is is data. In itself it proves very little about climate save that Nature is complicated.

However, a 17 year period of temperatures and CO2 rise which none of the models predicted is very strong evidence that the models are wrong.

Their excuse for the absence of warming over the past 17 years is that the heat is hiding in the deep ocean. However, this is simply an admission that the models fail to simulate the exchanges of heat between the surface layers and the deeper oceans. However, it is this heat transport that plays a major role in natural internal variability of climate, and the IPCC assertions that observed warming can be attributed to man depend crucially on their assertion that these models accurately simulate natural internal variability. Thus, they now, somewhat obscurely, admit that their crucial assumption was totally unjustified. Dr. Richard Lindzen

The discussion of models in the full report should be illuminating. Politically, there is a great deal of investment in model based climate science. Similarily, the mainstream media has been running model based stories of the form “According to a model of sea level rise Victoria will be under three feet of water in 2100” without, for a second, questioning if the models are valid. Now the IPCC has, in trying to explain the pause, admitted the models are fundamentally wrong.

For many years sceptics have been routinely dismissed because their positions contradict the consensus position of the IPCC. Now, on two fronts – sensitivity and climate models – the sceptic position that we simply do not have science strong enough to use for policy purposes has been vindicated by the IPCC. These are not issues at the margins, they go to the heart of the alarmist position.

The next time a Greenie says “We have to cut CO2 emissions or face _________.” a sceptic can and should say, “That is not what the IPCC says. It says we don’t know what effect cutting CO2 emissions will have.” And the next time a lazy journalist writes a “Models say…” story the sceptic can respond “The IPCC says the models don’t get nature right. The models are wrong.”

No doubt this is not what the IPCC intended; but the fact is that the shaky foundations of a relatively new science could not support the policy weight they have been asked to bear. The gradual collapse of the IPCC edifice comes as no surprise.

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Stillborn

The IPCC is in a Hell of a mess because nothing in its pending report can really get to the heart of the significant mismatch between what the climate models predict and what reality is serving up. Plenty of “climate scientists” are aware of this mismatch and there have been some papers – too late for inclusion in the current report – confirming the over warming of the models.

But Canada’s own Steve MacIntyre has a must read post up today which sums up the fatal damage years of denial have inflicted on the IPCC. Here’s a quote but make some coffee, put on your thinking cap and read the whole thing.

Gavin Schmidt excused IPCC’s failure to squarely address the discrepancy between models and observations saying that it was “just ridiculous” that IPCC be “up to date”:

The idea that IPCC needs to be up to date on what was written last week is just ridiculous.”

But the problem not arise “last week”. While the issue has only recently become acute, it has become acute because of accumulating failure during the AR5 assessment process, including errors and misrepresentations by IPCC in the assessments sent out for external review; the almost total failure of the academic climate community to address the discrepancy; gatekeeping by fellow-traveling journal editors that suppressed criticism of the defects in the limited academic literature on the topic. climate audit

And, by the way, where is MacIntyre’s Order of Canada? No, seriously, MacIntyre had the wit and the courage to realize that the fairy stories of the IPCC did not stand up to scrutiny. His contribution has brought the IPCC and its enabling scientists under proper scrutiny and, as the wheels fall off the global warming bus, that contribution has certainly saved the world hundreds of billions of misallocated dollars. Which, in turn means that MacIntyre is directly responsible for saving millions of lives which would otherwise have been forfeit had the crazier Green ideas been implemented in their full lunacy.

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Suzuki nailed Downunder

David Suzuki on the very first question is revealed as a complete know-nothing. His questioner tells him that the main climate data sets show no real warming for some 15 years.

Suzuki asks for the references, which he should have known if he knew anything of the science.

His questioner then lists them: UAH, RSS, HadCrut and GISS – four of the most basic measurement systems of global temperature.

Suzuki asks what they are. andrew bolt

In the next couple of weeks I suspect we will see a lot of climate alarmist “experts” melting down as they have to answer fact based questions. There will be plenty of hand waving and appeals to the bogus 97% consensus; but as soon as these loons are confronted with hard questions based on real data they are going to crumple.

Delightful!

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