Noah’s Ark Theme Park Fails


Remember the children’s story from the Bible, “Noah’s Ark?” That’s the one where 4,000 years ago a small middle eastern family builds the world’s largest boat, sails through the world’s most catastrophic flood, while managing the world’s largest animal rescue? You remember the one… where Noah saves two of every living creatures on earth and then repopulates the world?

Most Bible scholars agree that this is indeed a Children’s story. It was never meant to be a history lesson. Yet, some Christians believe that the Bible, including the story of Noah’s Ark, is an accurate historical document. Some firmly believe that Noah had dinosaurs on the Ark! Could the story of the Ark be true? Is there any possibility that the Ark could be real?

The Bible is filled with strange tales. The strangest, and most violent of which, are usually left out of Sunday sermons. But just about everyone has heard the story of Noah’s Ark. I mean, it’s got all those animals and kids love animals! Even kids from secular families know the story about the Ark. But a very few people who truly, TRULY loved this story want it to be true. When they grew up, they would build a real Ark.

Did you know that there have been several attempts to build an “authentic” replica of the Ark? that’s true! Except, of course, that none of these “replicas” had much to do with the Biblical boat. Some used a steel hull, others used modern tools and materials. None used the materials and tools from Noah’s time, because… well… that would be very difficult to do.

Still, regardless of the questionable practices, one Ark that been getting attention. The one in Kentucky called, “The Ark Encounter”, that was created by Biblical Creationist Ken Ham. But before we look at The Ark Experience, lets first take a look at why biblical scholars argue over the historical facts of the Ark. 

If the Bible is right the Ark was something like 500 feet long and built over 4,000 years ago. Bronze was still a relatively new material. However, to even have a hope of this Ark holding together for a few hours in a calm sea, it would take iron or steel nails. But iron barely existed, and steel would not be invented for a long, long time.

Given how little metal existed in the world, just the nails used to hold together the planks of the Ark represented a fantastic amount of wealth. Yet, the Bible tells us that the Ark, a boat the size of a cruise ship, was built by a poor family of 6 without any help or previous experience in building ships. A bit difficult to imagine?   

In reality, it’s a lot harder to imagine. In Noah’s time, everyone was a “subsistence farmer”. It took just about 1 farmer to make enough food for 1 person. Noah’s family would need to spend almost every hour of the day just to feed and clothe themselves. They would have very little free time, certainly not enough for the world’s biggest DIY project.

What does it take to build an Ark? According to the FAQ on the Ark Experience site, it took $135 million to make a replica of Noah’s Ark. Even allowing for inflation, Noah would have been too poor to pay even a few million for the lumber he would have needed. Since there wasn’t any steel, and he wouldn’t have been able to buy bronze tools, that means that this family would need to fell, strip, and finish these trees on their own to turn out the 3 million board feet that The Ark Encounter stated was needed for their replica.

Of course, that means that they would also need to mine the ore they would need for the millions of bronze nails to secure together the planks of the Ark. Dozens of lifetimes would be spent just moving all of these materials around, sharpening tools, and making new tools when old tools wore out. Quite a task for a family with very little time to spare after they feed and clothe themselves.

Another small task for the overworked Noah family is to be security guards for the greatest treasure of that age! Not the Ark… but the nails for the Ark. Millions of bronze nails, plus their tools, the copper and tin mines, and the foundry to refine and forge bronze, would be incredibly valuable. You would need to guard their metallic treasure day and night.    

With a family of just six, it would literally take thousands of years to accomplish the tasks that The Ark Encounter website tells us are needed to duplicate Noah’s task. Of course, Noah’s family was supposed to have built the Ark with their own hands, while the replica in Kentucky was built with steel, power tools, bulldozers and a lot of hired workers.

And the Ark Experience Ark doesn’t, well, float. The Bible clearly states that the Ark was covered in “pitch” to waterproof it. The Ark Project chose not to coat their replica because that would make it sticky and gross. If the replica was ever placed in water, even the people who manage the Ark Encounter would expect it to sink. With a rather inauthentic Ark, and enough work to keep a small family occupied for a thousand years, did the Ark Encounter prove anything? I think it did!

While it was hardly intentional, Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter conclusively proved that a small family 4,000 years ago, could not have built the Ark. It’s not just a question of how impossible it would have been for a bronze aged family to do all of the work (and find all of the resources) necessary to build an Ark. Even with $130 million, Ham’s team was unable to build the Ark without the use of modern technology.

Unfortunately, the investors who raised the $130 million for the Ark Encounter assumed that Ken Ham was a bit better at math than he actually was. Ken has rather deplorable skills at estimating the work needed for a carpentry job were no better at his skills in estimating ticket sales. The Ark Encounter might sink if it were set afloat on the Red Sea, but it has proved to be fully capable of floating on a sea of red ink.

Did Noah and his family build a giant Ark 4,000 years ago? It seems extremely unlikely! Then again Ken Ham is having quite a few problems building a theme park for a giant Ark today. Maybe we should just leave stories about floods and Arks to fairy tales? Yeah, that’s probably a good idea!

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Boss Trump Makes America Great Again!


Union

Love him or hate him, Donald Trump is a multi-faceted individual. He’s the President of the United States. He’s an international businessman. He’s a father… well, to some of his kids. And he’s the smartest man on earth, or so he tells us. He’s a Republican, but he was also a Democrat. But the most important role that Donald J. Trump has ever played is of course… America’s most powerful Union Boss!

Union boss? Well, yeah. Haven’t you heard him promise new jobs in the coal industry? He’ll make America a major manufacturer again? Or that we need to protect our Steel industry from foreign competition? What about the Trump Tariff? When was the last time that you heard anyone outside of a Union utter all of these pro-union positions? It’s like listening to the reincarnation of Jimmy Hoffa!

Think about it. Trump is not the kind of leader who cares if his followers belong to his “union” or not. Or even if they voted against him. Or that they don’t belong to a union. No, Donald knows what good for all of us and if he has to bust a few heads to fix America’s labor problems, he’s ready! Consider the following… 

Jobs and More Jobs: Trump has not only promised the American people more jobs, but he also promised that these will be “God Jobs”.  That means good, well-paying jobs, with benefits. Trump repeatedly tweeted that American firms cannot just downsize or outsource without going through some sort of process… a  government-approved process, with worker participation!

Regulation: Trump is crystal clear that we must get rid of regulations that constrain businesses. Except for the new regulations that he wants in place. Like the rest of the (new?) Republican party, he believes that business should listen to the Government, and follow their instructions… like good little Capitalists. (EXCEPT, Capitalists are not supposed to tell businesses that… sigh! Nevermind. Back to the story.)

Examples? Over and over Trump has said that when American businesses outsource to China they just don’t understand what they are doing. China steals American intellectual property! Business leaders do not understand that the contracts they signed with China ill expose their patents. How about that! The thousands of American firms operating in China … many of which are global behemoths with hundreds of lawyers… just don’t understand how to read a contract like Boss rump!

Luckily, Boss Trump can provide government officials who can tell these businesses which contracts they can and cannot sign, and which countries they can or cannot work with. Imagine those silly company executives thinking that Capitalism is all about profitability, financial models, and return on investment! The government is much better at looking after your best interests! Let your government make the decisions, and everything will be A-OK! After all, isn’t that what Conservatives have been saying since Ronald Reagan? 

Tariffs: Protectionist tariffs have always a favorite of Union Bosses. While conservatives from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush have been against tariffs and for open trade and globalization, union bosses have always wanted to protect union jobs from foreign competition. 

Now, other union bosses are heaping praise on Boss Trump for joining the flock! Look at this headline, “UAW President Dennis Williams praises Trump’s tariff approach”.  Or this tweet from Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, “The admin’s steel & aluminum tariffs are good steps towards fixing predatory practices that hurt workers & cheat companies that produce in US.” High praise indeed! 

Free Enterprise: Perhaps the best measure of a union boss is his disdain of free enterprise. Workers first, profits second! Well, General Motors recently announced that they were going to lay off workers from car lines that they were going to close down, due to lack of sales. In the very best of Union Bsss traditions, GM was told in no uncertain terms that there will be NO layoffs of American workers… before the next election.

Trump even tweeted to GM,  “Very disappointed with General Motors and their CEO, Mary Barra, for closing plants in Ohio, Michigan, and Maryland…  The U.S. saved General Motors, and this is the THANKS we get! We are now looking at cutting all @GM subsidies”. Is this the 21st century equivalent of, “Nice factory youse gots here. Shame if anything was to go and happen to it.” Good for you Boss Trump for keeping it fresh!  

Back to Reality: Of course Donald Trump, President of the United States is not really a Union Boss. After all, if he was a real union boss… say, like Jimmy Hoffa… his closest associates would have criminal records and would spend years just one step ahead of an FBI criminal investigation. But that’s just fantasy!

I mean, compare that with our President who doesn’t know anyone who has been indicted. Except for Flynn, and Manaforte, and Cohen, and gates and… hmmm. It is a pretty long list. Well, what really matters is that none of them have been found guilty, or imprisoned or… Oh? All of them?  Well, maybe Trump really is the greatest Union Boss of all time! He did say that he would Make American Government Grate again. And I can’t remember a time when Washington was as grating as it is today!

Have a Great New Year America… and see you next year! 


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Intellectual Disability… Why Growing Up Is A Growing Problem!


Many America families have a child with intellectual disabilities (ID) – autism, Downs Syndrome, a traumatic head injury, and many other conditions. These children may never fully developing their mental capabilities. They will grow older, but they may never fully grow up mentally. FOr the rest of their lives, they will have greater challenges in making friends, fitting into their community, getting a job, finding a home, and… getting the services they need to lead a meaningful life.

Is this a result of Trump’s war against health care? Well, not really. The 2017 budget actually had an increase in funding for special education. Which is, strangely, a part of the problem.

Not that long ago, being born with ID didn’t just mean that a child would have a difficult life, it meant that this child’s life would also be very short. Few ID children lived past the age of 21. Naturally, with few ID adults, there were few services for ID adults. But that was decades ago, in the last century.

Today, advances in healthcare have dramatically improved the lifespans of ID adults. Living into their 40s, 50s, and beyond is now common. Medicine has doubled their lifetime. It is a scientific miracle! But, the organizations that provide services for ID adults haven’t caught up. They are still working with the demographics of the last century. Its as if these millions of adults did not exist.

The previously mentioned increase in Federal funding goes primarily to the department of education, to pay for children’s services. Which is a good thing, since EVERYONE with ID needs more funding and services. But it does nothing for children who will turn 21 this year.

At 21, everything ends. There are no more school programs. A severely disabled child that and in a boarding school, they lose their home. Why? One reason is that some years ago something called deinstitutionalization happened. A lot of hospitals and facilities did a very poor job of looking after their patients. Mental hospitals, such as Willowbrook, became synonymous with abuse.

Since the 1970s, reformers have been working to close large hospitals and institutions that serve individuals with mental and intellectual disabilities. When new drugs were developed to help dangerous schizophrenic patients with a history of violence, it made sense to close prison type institutions.

However, individuals with Autism and similar intellectual disabilities were just beginning to be diagnosed in the 1970s. Unlike schizophrenia, the ID population is rarely violent. They have been stuck in between the deinstitutionalization movement (which is closing institutions) and a rapidly growing number of autistic adults.

There are indeed many former mental patients that can live independently with medication and support services. Unfortunately, while the idea of moving these patients into the community is not necessarily wrong, the money needed for this support just isn’t there.

For severely ID adults, who may not be able to feed themselves, let alone live independently, there are virtually no beds or services. According to a recent Psychology Today article, “the US now has only 3.5% as many state hospital beds as it did 60 years ago. We have closed over 500,000 beds, without providing sufficient community services and adequate housing to pick up the slack.”

If that seems like a paltry number of beds, the reality is worse. Apparently half of these beds are only available to individuals who are in the correctional system or are awaiting trial.

If institutions don’t work, and deinstitutionalization was never funded, what’s next for ID adults? The answer, unfortunately, is, “Not Much”. Parents, providers, and even governement agencies seem to know what doesn’t work. Yet, a new system has as yet to arise to disrupt the industry.

Maybe, just maybe, that disrupter has arrived. It’s very early days, but A new group called “Nicky’s Gardens of Hope” has started working on that solution. They’ve developed a different way to fund services and what may be a better way to deliver services to ID adults. They’ve got a long, long road ahead of them, but they just might be onto something new!

Do you have an autistic or ID child that will soon be an adult? Interested in finding out more? You can contact Nicky’s Gardens of Hopehere!

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How The Brexit Stole Thanksgiving!


We waited all year ’round for Thanksgiving. It’s become America’s favorite holiday, eclipsing even Christmas. This is the day that we all sit down together and give thanks for the good things that happened that year. Did junior got accepted into a top tier school? Has your new business venture taken off? Did your investments fatten your retirement fund? Lots of things to give thanks for this year. Unless you’re the Turkey… or if you live in the UK!

Instead of savoring a juicy Thanksgiving Turkey, in 2018 all the UK had to look forward to was the arrival of the nastiest of all holiday creatures, the BREXIT! No one knows exactly what the Brexit is or what it wants, but everyone agrees that this most improbable of beasts is the UK’s greatest nightmare.

Yes, it’s true, the Brexit is a horrifying creature, and it gets worse every day. Especially, if you’re a Prime Minister by the name of Theresa Mary May. 

Strange. I didn’t feel a rhyme coming on. 

Anyway, back in 1993, the UK complained that the US was getting everything it wanted. America was too big to compete with, and their new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), would linking the economies of the US, Mexico, and Canada into a super competitor. The UK wanted Europe to do the same and create a single trading region. Germany, France, and Italy agreed. And the EU was launched.

The EU had several immediate objectives. First, Europe needed a common currency, Without constantly trying to figure out translations between currencies, tourists would spend more and business across the border would be easier. Done: The Euro was created. Less developed areas (Grece, Portugal) could be developed by turning them into “outsourcing” centers. Done: the economies of poorer nations more than doubled. And of course, it was supposed to create prosperity across the EU. The UK grew even faster than most EU nations. What was the result? 

The UK complained that the EU was getting everything it wanted. They said that EU bureaucrats were too big and powerful. The EU headquarters in Brussels was telling them how to run their economy!

The UK is intimidated by Brussels? The former ruler of most of the world is getting beat up by Brussels? The second largest financial capital in the world (maybe the first… all that hidden offshore banking you hear about flows from former UK territories and through London banks) is afraid of Brussels? The only time Brussels brings fear and intimidation to MY Thanksgiving is when the Brussel Sprout souffle lands on the table.   

Conservative, like Boris Johnson, wanted to make the UK great again. They wanted “UK First”. But it’s a lot harder to put together a plan than to complain about someone else’s plan. The process would be complicated and SOMEONE will be unhappy no matter what you do. And it could fail! That’s not good if you want to be re-elected! 

Boris and his gang of bargain basement Grinches got together and gave this a good thinking out. They puzzled and puzzled till their puzzlers were sore. Then they thought of something they hadn’t before… let’s have a public referendum. Let everyone choose! If the country is ruined, let some other blokes lose! But if it does pass, and the transition goes well… then BREXIT baby BREXIT, uhhh even if it does slightly smell.

More rhymes… must be the time of year.

So, there you have it. The Brexit was born in 2016, without a plan or even the understanding of the financial consequences if it should fail. Rather than being carefully thought out, the Brexit has become a beast of its own making. THose who created the Brexit sold it as a fuzzy bunny or a soft cuddly kitten, but it has quickly mutated into Godzilla’s uglier cousin. Well, it’s not Turkey, but look at those drumsticks!

Still, all may not be lost. There could be a bright side to all of this. The world could learn a lesson from the Brexit. Mostly about what you should not do. You should never believe any “movement” that promises all benefits and no problems.  Never accept the “everyone is unfair” argument, without supporting evidence. Never assume that you must get the most out of every deal.  

The list goes on and on. Basically, be reasonable, listen to arguments from the opposition, and when you complain about the deals that you started… expect that not everyone is going to roll up and do what you want. So, maybe, give thanks and don’t be a giant Brexit!

 

 

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Is America’s Food… Secure?


Paignton004 001

Periodically, America has a food scare. Sometimes it is tainted beef at a big supermarket chain, sometimes it’s E. Coli contamination at a national fast food chain. It might even be bird flu at a chicken farm. Some of our favorite foods… like bananas and oranges… are expected to be wiped out by invasive pests. Food is becoming very scary! Is any food safe? Or at least safely grown?

Today’s food is… complicated. Bugs and pests have invaded America and periodically wipe out a crop. So we double down on pesticides and irrigation. Of course, that washes away the soil, so farmers need to dump fertilizers into the fields to keep the farm profitable. Downhill and downstream, all those chemicals do strange things to our rivers and lakes.

American farming is locked in a vicious circle of chemicals, pests, depleted reservoirs, and angry parents who want more natural foods for their families but have grown used to the low prices that come with mass-produced foods. The thing is, all the land that can be profitably used for farming, is used for farming. Unfarmed land pretty much isn’t worth farming. Except for national parks. But we’re not quite ready to burn down our forests to make more farmland. Yet.

Every day that passes means that a bit more of America’s farmlands die. Over-irrigation washes away the soil. Without soil to hold the plant and to provide nutrients, food can’t grow. In many places in America, over 100 feet of top soil is gone forever. If those fields lose another foot or two… or in some cases just an inch… nothing will grow.

As our soil loses productivity farmers use more and more water to irrigate crops, soaking the soil with minerals and salts that further degrade productivity. This soil degradation destroys 38,000 square miles of global farmland annually. Sounds bad enough, right? But consider this… for every foot of soil that dies, several other feet of farmland less and less productive. 

America’s growing population also requires land for homes, schools, malls, and the rest of the infrastructure of our 21st Century life. Future city land is often made from former farmland. Between 1992 and 2012 urban development in cities and towns cost America almost 31 million acres of farmland.

Commercial farming is headed in a dangerous direction. However, there are alternatives. Like Vertical Farming. Vertical farming is the evolution of hydroponics…. growing food indoors, without soil. The brilliant, but simple, innovation of vertical farming is that instead of growing one flat level of produce, you stack hydroponic “farms” on top of each other… from the floor to the ceiling… multiplying the productivity of the farm with every additional level you add.

A soil based farm has only one level, a vertical farm have 3 or 4 levels (more with a high ceiling). If your V-farm is in an abandoned factory, with multiple floors, you could have ten levels on every floor, with several floors built the same way. That would give you 30 or 40 times the productivity of the same footage of soil. With a temperature controlled environment, you can grow crops all year round, instead of having just the 2 or 3 you get with most soil farms.

There are other multipliers, like 24-hour “sun”. Add it all up and V-farms can be 100 to 300 times more productive than a single layer soil farm. Because the food is indoors and all of the pests are outdoors, there’s no need for pesticides, herbicides, or chemicals. Even storms and cold weather can’t destroy your crops.

Just as importantly, indoor farms can be in the center of a city. A V-farm can be next to (or on top of) a supermarket. Without the need to transport food from across the country, or around the world, millions of tons of carbon emissions would be eliminated.

With all of these advantages, are V-farms the perfect way to grow food? Alas… no. Where it works (and doesn’t) depends on specific circumstances. Consider all of the artificial sunlight you need to grow crops. Today’s LED lights are amazingly efficient, but they still use electricity, which is one of the primary costs of indoor farming.

If you live near coal-fired power plants, more power means more pollution. On the other hand, if cheap hydro, wind, or solar power is available, AND there are abandoned factories nearby, you can have a very successful V-farm. Build your V-farm in a low-income urban environment, where fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to find, and there are other social rewards.

Vertical farms may not be perfect, but they are going to be an important part of the future of farming. What about you? Want to use your roof as a farm? Could your local school grow produce for its students? The great thing about vertical farming is that you don’t need to change the whole world to make a difference that matters. You could just change a few square feet of space, and start your own miniature farm.

Let your fellow readers know what you think!

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Project Manager: The Best New Career For Operation Managers?


person holding book and ceramic mug with coffee

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I recently read an article by Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, “Re-Humanising Work and Organizations Through Projects“. Antonio raises an interesting point. Typical positions in operation have changed. Automation and management systems have taken over.  Operations managers once had great latitude and followed their instincts, but now their primary job is to simply conform to metrics, metrics that are often defined somewhere else. Is Antonio right? Can project work truly provide an alternative and a new and more fulfilling career for operations managers? Let’s recap where we are and how we got here, and then we can dive in and see where we’re headed!

It’s hard to disagree with the premise that automation, management software, and new PMO and efficiency departments have changed the way that operations managers work. Managers used to have a wider range of duties, combining what is today both day to day management and the management of special projects. Projects have now been siloed, and are generally managed through different groups.

While modern corporations have always compartmentalized functions, operation managers were supposed to focus on their strength, which was knowing how their operation worked. At first IT departments arrived. As work was converted to IT functions, the scope of business managers began to shrink. Which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. They, towards the end of the 20th century, corporate reliance on consultants and outsourced services increased. This regular infusion of outside expertise and resources both standardized project management practices and increased the number of projects in corporations.

Project management transformed from personal knowledge and art into a professional practice. And the number of practitioners rose. Naturally, that led to the development of Project Management departments or offices (PMO’s). Back in operations, managers learned about management reports from outsourcers. The reports that service providers prepared for operations managers eventually became the template for corporate operations reports.

Managers moved back and forth between competitors, as did service providers. Eventually, this created industry-wide standardization. Operations departments in most corporations tracked the same metrics, using the same tools, even producing remarkably similar management reports. With all of these similarities internal (and later third-party) developers created management software to automate these processes.

Which brings us up to today. Now project managers are a common corporate position and operations software is everywhere. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), by 2027 employers will need 87.7 million project managers globally. Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez is quite right. There is a huge potential market for project managers. However, the PMI may have missed a few details that will significantly change the future of project management. Consider the following…

Why do we have PMs? Well, obviously to manage projects. But what are these projects and why are there so many of them? Many, if not most, exist to improve efficiency. They have to. Now that project management is a professional practice, projects on a whim or because a manager likes the idea are sorted out in the early stages. There are always more potential projects than resources, so the most valuable ones… the ones that return the greatest measurable benefits, get approved first. Even installing a mandatory software upgrade (to keep a support agreement active), will probably deliver new features to improve productivity.

Think about the drivers of corporate change in the last decade… outsourcing, automation, software, robots, artificial intelligence, change management… all of these types of projects are supposed to deliver greater efficiency or pay for themselves by reducing headcount. Yet, these are the types of projects that either reduce the scope of responsibilities for operational managers or directly replace them. Project management may be the next logical position for operational managers, but only because project management has cannibalized operational roles.

Are PM’s here to stay? Project management is a fairly new discipline. However, it has been around for a few decades. Long before PMs were in corporate offices they were specialists in IT. Earlier still, PMs got started in construction, engineering, and architecture. Building a modern skyscraper (or designing a jumbo jet, or launching a new cruise ship) requires management of a massive number of parts, people, and events. Because of this, Computer Assisted Design (CAD) software has become as common in these professions as Excel is in banking. CAD, predominantly Autodesk’s Audocad, has moved beyond churning out blueprints and now specifies the parts you need, develops a budget, and produces a schedule. Clients today expect a 3D walkthrough on their project before they turn over the first shovel of dirt for a billion dollar project. Big projects are thoroughly integrated with computers.

Robots are taking over in construction, laying bricks, pumping concrete, and building whole houses with 3D printers. Blueprints and schedules are now digital and can be fed directly into construction robots. Site management robots (basically, onsite PMs) will be released this year. Artificial Intelligence is now being used to identify areas of corporate  improvement. This used to be the domain of PMOs and project managers. Identifying important projects and performing the processes needed to develop and deliver these projects… probably the highest functions of project management… but are all in the process of being automated.

The writing is on the wall. Or maybe the digital whiteboard. Many operational managers have already been replaced by technology. For many critical operations, machine intelligence is outperforming humans. Project Management has managed projects that increase productivity in operations, but project management itself is now about to be replaced by automation and Artificial Intelligence.

What will come after Project Management? How will the millions of project managers and operational managers evolve, what exactly will they do? Keep reading this blog, and we’ll cover this soon, in an upcoming article!

What do you think? Let us know if you think that the future for project management is bright, or it is about to be eclipsed!

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New Taxi War As UBER Gets Regulated


yellow taxi car

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Cars for hire and nothing new. Taxi’s… hacks, jitneys, limousines, hansome cabs… existed before the first automobile. As soon as the automobile did arrive in the early 20th century, there was an explosion of new car services. The early 21st century started out with a new revolution in services, driven by mobile computing and smartphone apps, eventually leading to UBER and Lyft. In just a few years car services will enter yet another revolution when self-driving cars arrive. Yet, the regulations for car services were written nearly a century ago. Is it time to rewrite the rules?

Ride-sharing services ordered from your smartphone are a pretty new idea, less than a decade old. In this very short time, UBER and Lyft have become juggernauts of personal transportation. By consumers using apps instead of competing on the street for the next taxi, this new generation of car rides has become incredibly popular. UBER alone is worth more than all of the other taxi services in America, combined.

To attain this status, UBER has put an enormous number of taxis on the streets… especially in New York City, the world’s largest taxi market. There are 13,587 iconic yellow taxis in New York. In 2015 UBER had about the same number of cars on the streets of New York. Now, UBER has 80,000 cars in New York. You can’t add those many cars to a single city… even New York City… without having a major impact.

For consumers, that impact has been very positive. At 9am and 5pm it used to be very difficult to get a taxi. When you do get your taxi, it might not be all that clean and the driver’s ability to communicate often left something to be desired. Manhattan is just one of the five boroughs that make up New Your City, but finding a taxi outside of Manhattan used to be nearly impossible. Some neighborhoods in Manhattan were notorious for their lack of taxis. Post-UBER, the consumer experience definitely improved.

But for taxi owners and drivers, things have definitely become worse. The flood of car sharing services has reduced the number of rides that yellow cabs get every day. Yellow cabs also complain that they have many more regulations to follow than the new services, making them uncompetitive. Are they right?

In order to operate a yellow taxi, you need to get one of the 13,587 taxi medallions. Look closely at a yellow taxi and you will see a mysterious little tag are riveted to the hood. The medallion controls how taxis operate.

  1. The number of medallions is limited. The total number hasn’t changed much since the medallion system was created in 1937. Once you own a medallion you own it for life, or until you sell it. However, taxis are on the street 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. That’s 5 shifts. That yields nearly 70,000 driver jobs. Obviously, the addition of 80,000 cars for just UBER have completely changed the economics for drivers.
  2. Medallions are expensive. Before UBER took hold in 2013, taxi medallions reached a peak value of $1.3 million. Some medallions are owned by individuals who drive the taxi, and others are owned by garages that lease out the taxis. Now a medallion can be bought for $250,000. Collectively, medallion owners have lost $14 billion in just 5 years. Drivers with their own medallions usually borrowed money, and are now bankrupt. Still, with a much lower price, medallions have been  “democratized”, allowing more drivers to buy their medallion. But, with prices still falling, buyers are becoming harder to find. UBER and Lyft drivers do not need medallions, allowing them to offer lower prices for rides.
  3. Taxis are regulated. Of all the different type of car services, yellow taxis have the strictest regulations.  Drivers require full background checks, have fixed rates (that are printed on the side of the taxi), carry taxi insurance, have licenses pulled for traffic violations, and all changes to services require approval by the Taxi and Limousine Commission. New car services are not held to the same standards. No medallion, no taxi insurance required, less stringent background checks, and each firm can change rates as they like. Along with the rise of car sharing, has been a rise in sexual assaults, drivers with criminal backgrounds, and something called surge pricing.
  4. Taxi rates are fixed. If you take a yellow taxi, the rates you will pay are written on the door. Every taxi has a meter that tells you the cost of the ride costs so far, and if there are any tolls or special charges. App-based car services usually have a variable charge, called surge pricing. A ride that cost $35 yesterday, could cost $100 today. The idea is that when more people want the service, the price rises. Car services see surge pricing as a major feature of profitability. Customers often see it as price gouging. When you installed the car-sharing app on your phone, you agreed to surge pricing and a lot of other conditions that probably are not in your best interest.

New York is about to cap the number of “for hire” cars, freezing new licenses for a year. This will give the governement time to examine how the rise in car sharing has impacted New York. Just one of the issues is how the addition of all these cars has affected traffic. It’s a very good question. While the UBER’S of the world have been adding to the number of cars, the Amazons and Walmarts have been adding to the number of trucks making home deliveries. Add in the host of new navigation apps that have redirected traffic through formerly quiet neighborhoods, and you can see just how much transportation technology has impacted the quality of life around New York.

The gloves are off and ride-sharing is getting regulated. App-based car sharing has improved the service for customers, but it also congests big cities and has financially crushed many small taxi owners. Balancing the needs of drivers and customers will be very difficult. But it may not matter. Self-driving cars and buses are already on the streets. A self-driving car could offer rides at half the cost of human-operated vehicles. How will the ongoing “Taxi Wars” turn out? Nobody knows, at least not yet. But, dear reader, keep reading here and I’ll make sure that you get all the inside details!

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Evolution of The Light Bulb and The Jobless Future


light bulb

Human beings use technology. Our extensive use of technology is what defines being human. Humanity only has a written history of our early life because we invented the technology of writing. That written history often speaks about the rise and fall of empires and the technology that we used. Stone tools, smelted metal, stone buildings, war chariots, and even agriculture. Humanity and technology evolved together. Recently, during the industrial revolution, our simpler tools evolved into machines. At first, machines made us better and more productive workers. Now, machines compete with human workers for jobs. For nearly two centuries machines created new jobs, but now machines are creating a jobless future. Consider the humble light bulb.

Everyone knows what a light bulb is. Bulbs are so important to our world and so ubiquitous that when we want to show that someone has an idea or invention we draw a cartoon of the bulb lighting up over their heads. The light bulb was invented almost a century and a half ago. But lately, that bulb has changed. Originally it was a glass tube with a hot, glowing wire. Now it is more like a miniature computer. And that’s where our problem starts.

America uses a lot of light bulbs! The average home has 47 light bulbs or nearly 6 billion bulbs across the US. If these were all 100-watt incandescent bulbs (which they were, until recently), they would consume 535,000-megawatt hours (MW) of electricity when they are used.

If we compare this to Palo Verde, America’s largest nuclear power plant… which generates 3,937 MW and employs 2,000 workers… it would take 135 Palo Verde to power them. That’s 270,000 power plant jobs just to light up bulbs in our homes. We also use bulbs in corporations, streets and parking lots, restaurants, schools, hospitals, small businesses, etc. This easily doubles the power, and the power stations, we need for bulbs.

When bulbs were incandescent, a 100-watt light bulb burned 100 watts. Simple! If it was used for 8 hours a day it lasts for 6 months. Fluorescent bulbs came next and have been around for decades, but homes only partially adopted them. The color of their light was a bit “off”, and some people saw an annoying flicker in the light. Improved compact fluorescent (CF) bulbs produced better light, lasted longer, and used just 24 watts for the same amount of light. LED bulbs are the newest technology, producing similar illumination with just 11 watts, and lasting 10 to 20 years. That’s an 89% power savings over incandescent. Which makes nearly half a million power plant jobs obsolete.

Don’t worry about Palo Alto. As one of the most advanced, automated, and efficient power plants in America it will get along just fine. Instead, our oldest and least efficient power plants will shut down. They use more workers per MW than Palo Alto and usually burn coal. That means that even more power plant jobs will be redundant. Without these power plants, few of the remaining 50,000 coal mining jobs will be needed. Finally, consider how long LED bulbs last. Since they rarely burn out the army of handymen, superintendents, and repair people who replace old bulbs won’t be needed either.

At this point, you might think, “If changing to LED bulbs destroys American jobs, maybe I won’t switch!” That won’t work unless most Americans do the same. And American’s are switching to LED’s, in very large numbers. The low power use of LED’s translate into cost savings. Going back to just our 535,000 MW per hour for home light bulbs, a switch from incandescent to LED means that an hour of LED light saves $57 million dollars. Switching from CF to LED saves a “mere” $15 million per hour. Either way, add up all of the hours the bulb is used in a year and you see that it is a truly massive amount of money.

You might also think, “But everyone will buy LEDs and that means more jobs!” Unfortunately, no. Remember the long, long lifetime of LEDs? Since an LED can last 50 times longer than an old style bulb… new versions will last even longer… once everyone has replaced their old lights, it’s going to be a long time before they need to change these bulbs. Even if tastes change Americans all buy much more lighting, LED factories are highly automated and are mostly offshore. They are not going to add many jobs in America.

A change in technology in our humble light bulb sets off a massive disruption in employment throughout America and the world. But light bulbs are not unique! There are disruptors everywhere… even in some of the most fundamental areas of our economy.

Self Driving Cars: It seems that everyone wants to get in on self-driving cars.  There are too many companies to list! When vehicles are all self-driving, millions of jobs for drivers will go away. With just self-driving vehicles on the road, accidents will virtually disappear (35 thousand killed every year, a million plus with injuries). That means car insurance goes away, and tens of thousands of lawyers, plus many hospital emergency rooms and beds, and fewer garages to repair cars.

Hotels: When America change from a manufacturing to a service economy, hotels and vacations spots benefited. Today, more than 16 million Americans work in the hotel and leisure industry. But firms like Airbnb, HomeAway, and Turnkey are working feverishly to disrupt the hotel industry. By making hotels and travel less expensive, they are draining money out of the industry. Reusing existing spaces inside our homes mean that the industry now needs far less real estate. And fewer hotel managers, cleaning staff, travel agents, furniture manufacturers, and so on. And… for the time being at least… fewer taxes since there are currently a number of tax loopholes that significantly favor vacation homes over hotels.

Finance: Supermarkets and department stores are decades ahead of banking and financial firms in becoming digital, online, and paperless. Banking is desperately playing catchup. Which may mean adopting Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies,  approving loans through artificial intelligence, and digitally managing virtually all paperwork. As much as 40% of America’s 6 million financial jobs would be lost in this transition. But hyper-simplified digital financial services won’t just reduce staffing in financial services. Every firm will need far fewer staff for payroll and accounting. In fact, payroll companies would virtually disappear, along with firms that print checks, produce credit cards and so on. Digital services would eliminate the need for all fo these middlemen.

Disruption, after disruption, after disruption. There’s an endless list of disruptions, each larger than the last, with each new disruption eliminating more jobs than they replace until we arrive at a jobless future. Some technologies, especially in artificial intelligence, may replace jobs they create before the first hire. Before you lose all hope, and bow to your robotic masters… a jobless future may not be as bad as you think. But that is another story!

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Despite Today’s Great Employment, The Future is Jobless


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The Federal employment statistics for America have arrived for June of 2018 and they are spectacular! 218,000 new jobs were created, unemployment is low and holding at 4%, but unemployment isn’t so low that inflation is rising, and wages are largely unchanged allowing employers to keep hiring! Really good news. Or is it? Low wages are good for employers, but not for workers. Classic economics say that we haven’t achieved full employment until employers are forced to raise wages. Could the rules of economics have changed? Is it possible that these good numbers are really a foreshadowing of… a jobless future?

We’ve all heard about automation, outsourcing, and lost jobs. Experts say that half or more of all jobs will disappear in the coming years. Most jobs will be taken over or eliminated by technology, leaving few employees in the jobless future. Technology will replace old jobs, and take over new jobs faster than they are created. That’s something completely new. Unemployment rules will change, and “normal unemployment” will rise from 4% or 5%, to 50% or 60%.

If numbers change this much, the old ways of calculating unemployment or even knowing when numbers are good or bad, will need to fundamentally change. This isn’t the first time American needed to reset expectations. In the old economy of the 1970’s and 1980’s, “full employment”, the best you could expect, was around 7% to 8%. From 1971 to 1989, unemployment averaged 7%, briefly touched a record low of 4.9 and rose to a high of 10.4. Eight of those years were 7% or higher, catastrophic unemployment by today’s definition.

Today full employment is around 4%. President Donald Trump tells us that 4.0% is phenomenally low, and a great achievement. Candidate Donald Trump, however, told us that President Barak Obama had a disastrously high 4.7%unemployment rate. His point wasn’t that 4.7 was too high, but that the calculation (that we still use) was wrong. Trump has a point.

The economy has changed, yet we still use formulas from the last century, when workers were primarily full-time, male, and often unionized. Some women were full-time workers, but it was the exception, not the rule. Women were often part-time (while still a full-time housewife). Or worked full-time, but eventually quit for marriage, children, or when an older member of the family needed to be cared for. Unfair? Absolutely. But that was the reality.

Retired, full-time students, under 18 years old, or permanently disabled were removed from workforce numbers. Today, however, we have a new category of “discouraged workers”. In the old economy, union workers were frequently laid off. Many core industries… such as steel, agriculture, or automobiles… were regularly, sometimes seasonally, laid off or had their hours cut. But as union workers, they would be the first to be rehired and would receive unemployment and union compensation. Union workers would usually take their same place in a factory, with the same title, even regaining seniority and benefits.

Today’s workers are unlikely to be union members. Today, laid off means fired. You might receive some financial compensation, but this is increasingly unlikely unless you are an executive. Benefits end, there is no union pay, and rehiring laid-off workers can have negative tax and legal implications for a corporation. Re-hires have become rare indeed. That makes it difficult for the Department of Labor your intentions. A laid-off union worker wants to get back to his paid job. A laid-off worker today, especially when older, may choose to retire early, or try and fail to find a comparable job, or their occupation may simply have disappeared (at least at the old salary level).

Discouraged workers are left out of unemployment calculations. They have become the invisible unemployed. This is part of what Trump referred to. And it’s not just Trump. Quite a few respectable economists point to this invisible population. If they are right, real unemployment might be twice that of official unemployment number. But these are not the only changes impacting unemployment numbers. Consider the following…

Gig Workers: In the old economy, musicians and photographers had “gigs”. Every job was short and temporary. Even concert musicians only had a gig for the season. They had to work out the rest of the year for themselves. A concert musician might have benefits with their gig, but few gig workers have health care, paid days off, or even overtime. Today, the number of gig workers has exploded! Plus big corporations now hire many permanent part-time workers or sub-contract work to third parties (who hire part-time workers). Part-time workers were once rare, but today they are 34% of the entire workforce and will rise to 43% by 2020.

Benefits: Some full-time jobs offer benefits… time off, health care, etc. … or overtime. Benefits alone are worth 20% to 30% on top of pay. Health benefits can be worth far more in a large family or if a family member has a severe illness. Overtime pays 50% more for working more than 40 hours a week, and double time (100% more than usual) can apply on weekends and late at night. Part-time, gig, temp, self-employed, and contract workers rarely get benefits or overtime.

While Federal reports on salary do not take benefits into account, 60% of workers report that benefits and other perks are a major factor in accepting a job offer. 80% of employees would choose additional benefits over a pay raise. The reality is that for almost every family, the decline in benefits is a decline in salary.

Immigration: Many occupations… agriculture, food service, hotels, cleaning services, tourism, travel… are seasonal. Legally (and otherwise) these temporary jobs are often filled by immigrants. Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, this usually applied to just agriculture jobs in border states. Service jobs have been America’s major growth segment for the past 30 years. The service industry depends on unskilled labor provided by immigrants. However, injecting additional workers into the workforce reduces the pressure on employers to raise wages.

Offshoring: If you can’t bring immigrants to America, you can send work offshore. Offshoring was once a time-consuming, complex, and risky process, but has become quick and easy. Every major corporation has an offshoring program that they run or that they have subcontracted out. When local wages rise, work is simply sent… somewhere else, with lower wages. Every new outsourcing project makes the next one easier and more likely to happen. Now, even if there is enough work for everyone, outsourcing acts like a pressure valve, reducing the pressure of a heated economy, and suppressing wages. This too is unaccounted for.

Automation: While offshoring replaced and devalued jobs, automation has eliminated far more jobs. Old style automation was expensive and inflexible, solutions specific to just one situation or one factory. A new factory requires new implementation and new costs. A small change in process and everything stops working. New automation uses artificial intelligence, costs less and is quickly implemented. If changes occur, Artificial Intelligence (AI) can self-correct. AI’s are now even identifying and planning new projects.

Automation once just happened in factories. New automation has been applied to Wall Street, law firms, hospitals, and other places with high paying, highly skilled positions. Factory workers, service workers (especially fast food), and jobs that require MBA degrees are all being replaced by robots and machine intelligence.

Reshoring: Previously offshored work is returning to America. However, returning work does not mean returning jobs. A shoe factory that offshored and then reshored work… perhaps to the same factory… will create few jobs. In order to be financially viable, that factory will now be far more automated. New factories will soon be completely automated, with no human workers.

Pensions: Pensions are a different, but important, issue. Pensions were common in the mid-21st century, but have become rare. In the 1990s 60% of full-time workers in medium and large firms had pensions, compared to just 24% today. Many who have still have pensions have had their benefits slashed and will receive far less than they were promised. Today’s retirees will primarily depend on social security. Without the resources of their predecessors, income for senior citizens is falling.

Employment and salary data, even how we calculate our wealth, has become questionable. According to the PEW Research Center, except for the very highly paid, real wages in America stalled in 1964. Buy a house or have a major medical procedure and you will learn how far your compensation has fallen behind real costs.

As our economy evolves, we need new ways to track key economic indicators. If experts are right about a jobless future, if we use the current system we won’t even know if our economy gets better or worse.

What do you think? Has the economy been improving since the start of the 21st Century? Or does the information you see on mainstream news no longer match what you see at home? Share your opinion with us!

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When Small Towns Die Out, Can America Survive?


 

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When you think of America, what comes to mind? The bright lights of New York’s Broadway? Or a small town, with a quaint main street and homes with well-manicured lawns? America’s self-image is evenly split, and both sides are true, in their own way. But when it comes to deciding on where you want to live, big cities are winning out over small towns and rural villages. Cities are growing, but small towns are fading away!

In one of the biggest population migrations in history, people are leaving rural areas and moving into cities. Not just in America, but all over the world. In every developed nation, small towns are going away. What’s happening?

Early Signs: The extinction of small towns was first noticed in Japan. One by one, their small towns lost population, became deserted, and turned into ghost towns. Japan is an ancient country, with equally ancient traditions and laws. Your place in society, where you live, work, and travel were all rigidly defined. After World War II, Japan’s rigid class system was abolished and citizens could move about more freely, both socially and physically.

Japan invested in their train system, making it one of the world’s best, eventually introducing their famous high-speed Bullet Train. Travel became easy, and the governement strongly encouraged travel and tourism. As citizens became less anchored to their hometown, and children moved away, small towns began to shrink.

Education: At the beginning of the 20th century, education was very basic. As the economy developed, more sophisticated goods were produced, requiring a more educated workforce. The best colleges and schools in the world tend to be located in cities, where the concentration of population provides a constant supply of both students and teachers.

In the US, as late as 1970, only 14.1% of men and 8.2% of women graduated from college. But by 2016, college graduations had risen significantly. 33.2% of males and 33.7% of women graduated from college… triple the number from 1970. This rise in education, and especially the rise in female education. Expectations of graduates, of corporations, or everyone… was on the rise.

Employment: Japan was completely devastated by the war. Virtually every factory in Japan was quite literally burned to the ground. New houses, schools, and factories needed to be built. The government not only eliminated the old social hierarchy, it actively encouraged upward social mobility. While their parents may have never left home, their children went away to study at college. Once they were exposed to travel, graduates were easier for businesses to recruit.

As Japan grew into one of the world’s largest economies, the combination of schools and corporations dramatically changed demographics. In the past, even this combination might not have been enough to break the strong family ties of Japan. But a reliable and extensive train system meant that your family was just a high-speed train ride away. By easing the trauma of breaking up families, the transition from multi-generational families to the modern nuclear family was swift.

Other developing nations followed a similar path. A fruitful career was tied to leaving the countryside. Before 1900, many American families broke up in search of prosperity “out West”. But the breakup was usually permanent. By the mid-20th century, children who moved away could visit their old hometown on a train, a car or even a plane. If that was too much trouble, you could always make a long distance phone call. With few barriers to overcome, children left small towns in unprecedented numbers.

Fertility: For a population to grow, women must have a fertility rate of at least 2.1. Which is to say, 2.1 must live until they are at least a year old. The “2” replaces the parents, and the “.1” allows for diseases, accidents, suicides and other events that may prevent a child from reaching adulthood. In the past fertility rates needed to be much higher, because disease killed so many young children.

In antiquity, families had many children, but few survived to adulthood. Modern medicine has eliminated many of the diseases of early childhood. In America in 1915, infant (a year or younger) mortality rate was 100 out of every 1,000 births. Today it is just 5.9. When all of your children grow up, families become smaller… in America and the rest of the world.

Prosperity: There are exceptions, but higher education and greater income go hand in hand with smaller families. Families can spend more money on fewer family members, improving their standard of living. This is the universal model. This is why cities are gaining population, small towns are shrinking, and whole nations have declining population.

Declining population can be reversed, or at least slowed. By immigration. Whether that immigration is from within a nation or from outside, immigration is the best way to offset falling fertility and a rising number of “leavers”. If America did not have robust immigration, our low fertility rate of 1.84 would have already put our population into decline.

In 2004, Japan’s low fertility rate (1.46) plus an anti-immigration policy pushed their population growth to zero. Since then, Japan’s population has been in decline. By 2065, their population will plunge from 127 million to 88 million. Japan’s population will be smaller… and older.

Age: 15% of Americans are over 65. One out of 6 are retired, and 2 out of 6  too young to work, attending school, in the military, or in jail. That leaves just 3 out of 6 to actually work. Historically, that very few. Of course, if we look at Japan, 26% are already over 65. By 2060, 40% of the citizens of Japan will be over 65. That will be a real crisis. It will completely change Japan’s Culture. Not too much later, the same changes will happen in America.

We’ve seen how education and business work best when they are near a large population. The same is true of healthcare. Hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare institutions need a big population to thrive. Medical equipment… such as CAT and MRI scanners and various cancer treatment systems… can cost tens of millions of dollars each. It requires a large number of patients, patients that can only be found in big cities, to pay back the cost of this equipment.

Even basic healthcare may not no be possible in a small town. As the workforce shrinks, small towns don’t just run out of waiters and beauticians. Many small towns have just one doctor or lawyer left. When these critical positions are gone, it is very difficult for a community to survive.

Government: If you’re not in or near your state capital, there may not be very many government employees in your town. However, there are two governement facilities that may determine the survival of your town.

When you run our of teens in your town, the high school may close. High schools are often a critical employer in small towns, and the loss of a high school can be a death blow to the town.

Likewise, the post office is a key service for both small towns and big cities. Unfortunately, the USPS is in deep financial trouble, losing nearly $50 billion over the past few years, and falling short in pension funding by billions more. The USPS has put forward plans to return to profitability, each of which requires shutting as much as 50% of all post offices. Small towns would not lose their post office, they would lose many postal services, such as home delivery of mail. In itself, this may not destroy a town, but it adds one more difficulty for residents and employers.

Of course, with new corporate jobs comes higher pay and prestige. But not necessarily a better lifestyle. In Japan, the life of an average corporate worker… the “Salaryman”… is often a high-pressure life, with long hours at work, and a tiny living space at home. Nonetheless, the best-educated workers have been… and continue to be… lured away from small towns to big cities.

The End: There really isn’t any alternative to the extinction of small towns. The number driving change are irreversible. Populations will stall and then decline. There will still be boom towns, but not many. And most small towns will go away.

Most. Not all. Some small towns will survive. Which ones? The ones with a plan. I know that some towns are preparing for the Extinction. I’ve talked to them. Some are focusing on the next generation of “returners”, who left and are coming back. Others are developing innovative events and businesses to revitalize their towns. Yet others have partnered with their best young workers to ensure that “opportunity” isn’t always found somewhere else.

There are thousands of small towns across America that face extinction. What sort of town is your town? Are you prepared to have your town shrink away, or are you ready to fight? Tell us about your plan!

 

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