Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Aguilas Carnival

On Saturday I went to the carnival, or carnavale, in Aguilas, about 30 miles north of my casa in Spain. Aguilas is a typical Spanish coastal town  - at least in this area, and is not very big, but the carnival is the third largest in Spain. The procession started at 6 PM, and went on until midnight. I have never seen anything to compare. Lots of very loud music (from amps and loudspeakers), and hundreds of costumed participants - mostly women and girls, but quite a few men and boys.

Here are just a few photos from the 200 I took.

Some of the costumes are more like wearable floats that have to be pushed along on wheels, like these 'clocks'. There were ten of these one after another in a great long line, each with a collection of whirling toothed 'gear' wheels.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Future of Work and Jobs

I am going to try and summarise very briefly a subject that has become a hot trending topic on the net and elsewhere. It is very important – one of the most important topics that impose themselves on us as we enter the turbulent times of the 2020’s.

This isn’t exactly new – Jeremy Rifkin wrote ‘The End of Work’ in 1995, and it has been apparent for many years that increasing technology would lead to an era where much or most work could be automated, but that this would lead to difficulties in earning wages for much of the population. A newer book that summarises the problems and discusses solutions is ‘The Lights in the Tunnel’ by Martin Ford http://www.thelightsinthetunnel.com/.

Recently the Economist dedicated a whole section to the topic (The Future of Jobs), which indicates that it is now mainstream. And futurist Thomas Frey recently gave a talk on TED predicting that 2 billion jobs would go by the year 2030 (technology drivers - alternative power sources, autonomous cars, free web based education, 3d printers, robotics)

Here I will try and summarise the key points about the whole issue:

  1. There is a growing divide within most countries between specialised high paid jobs and low skill low paid.
  2. The middle ground is becoming scarce, leading to a permanent systemic increase in unemployment, and in temporary employment.
  3. Globalisation and outsourcing are major contributory factors.
  4. Education is no longer providing enough people with the skills needed to find employment.
  5. The technology driven changes are happening faster that the political and educational system can respond.
  6. Service based jobs cannot increase fast enough to absorb the gap.
  7. Current models of employment, pay, tax and welfare are creaking under the strain.
  8. Society needs to find new ways of distributing wealth and dividing labour.
  9. Such issues are of course difficult, and not helped by highly dubious trends like the Zeitgeist movement and the Venus Project.

A brief summary of necessary changes from the Economist report:
  •  Changing education so that people enter the workforce equipped with the right skills.
  • Adjusting the tax system
  • Modernizing the welfare safety net
  • Creating a climate conducive to entrepreneurship and innovation.
So that should be easy, then :)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Jeremy Atiyah

My nephew Jeremy Atiyah, who died far too young in 2006, was a travel writer. For several years he was travel editor of the Independent newspaper. At his funeral Simon Calder (the current travel editor) gave an oration, and there was some talk about trying to get Jeremy's writings published in some way.

Nothing came of this, and so recently I decided to do something about it. I have downloaded all the articles I can find on the net - most are actually available on the Independent web site, but are not that easy to dig out. I did try and contact the Independent by email, but have had no reply.

So I am going to create another blog - called simply 'Jeremy Atiyah', and post the articles on it. If anyone complains, I may have to remove them, but I hope that is unlikely. All I am trying to do here is to make these articles easily available to Jeremy's family and friends - and anyone else interested.

I will try and post the articles dated as per when they were written. Hopefully it should not be too difficult - at least there are no photos to upload.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Don't talk Spanish

I am currently in our house in Spain, near Mojacar, Almeria.

The weather is unusually cold (only 10C yesterday), but totally sunny. I managed to sit out on the patio for an hour or two yesterday, reading  'The Day of the Triffids' by John Wyndham. I read it many years ago, but its well written and very perceptive. Beware BTW the recent remake for TV - its complete rubbish, with no comparison to the original book.

Google has insisted on talking in Spanish to me, and it has taken quite a while for me to find out how to tell it to use English. Hope I have fixed it now.

I have started this blogging stuff to give me something to do, and find out how to use it. It is easy enough just to post a blog like this, but it is not that easy to sort out the templates, which come a variety of  variants for each type, which can then be modified with gadgets, or even tweaked with HTML. I will try and learn a bit more about that later.

I decided to start a different blog for travels. I have several trip reports on my web site, which took me quite a while to create. Importing and placing photos seems to be always tiresome, and the same thing applies here. I tried importing my report of the US National Parks yesterday, and I still havent got all the pictures sorted. I have found out a couple of things.

Firstly, I have spent effort in the past getting rid of the gargbage that MS Word puts into HTML if you are foolish enough to use it to edit web pages (I didnt know better when I started my web site). I now think Ive found an easy way to do this - open the HTML in Wordpad, and save it. HTML all gone, just left with text. Think this works OK.

Secondly, I think it is best to import all the photos in one go, then use the Dynamic template so you can see the photos in different ways. Not sure about this yet, but I will experiment (and Google some advice). It is simply too much work to import and place the photos individuall, or even in threes that I was trying. Placement doesnt want to put them where I want - probably template dependant.

Anyway, thats enough for today, I must get out and walk along the playa.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

First Thoughts

Well, here goes.

I have been posting thoughts on the net for quite a few years, firstly on Compuserve, and then on my web site (www.atiyah.plus.com) . Now I thought that its time I tried a Blog. Bear with me, I am a newbie to this land. I would like to format this a bit better later, but the options seem a bit limited unless I dig deeper.

For today, I would like to talk about speed cameras, Google cars and the future of transport. Wow.

Along with most of the drivers in the UK, I have been 'caught' once by a speed camera and fined. I was driving at 38 mph in a zone that had recently been reduced from 40 to 30. It was quiet, little traffic, no pedestrians. This is a pretty common event - I personally know several people who were caught by the same camera. I'm not a perfect driver, but I have been driving for about 50 years, in many countries, with no accidents. My gripe with using these devices in a shotgun approach is that they are, literally, stupid. Speed cameras know nothing about what is going on, by today's standards they are really dumb.

All drivers know (but not necessarily comply) that the appropriate speed at a given time and place depends on many factors:

Driver - condition, experience, ability (tired, angry, distracted, drunk, slow, quick...)
Car - condition, capability (brakes, acceleration, road holding, tyres, headlights...)
Local geography - straight, curve, hilly..
Local surroundings - houses, schools, factories, countryside, hedges
Traffic - vehicles, pedestrians, cars, bicycles, 14 wheelers, busy, quiet
Road surface - wide, narrow, smooth, rough, camber, greasy, wet, icy, dry..
Weather - clear, rain, fog, snow...
Lighting - daylight, night, moon, street lighting

These come to mind easily, I'm sure there are more. The point is that speed limits and cameras are based on only a couple of the above (local issues). They are inevitably a rough compromise at a level somewhere in the appropriate speed range. They know nothing about traffic or weather, they don't even know if its day or night. If a suitable speed at a location could be between say 20 and 45 mph, then the speed limit will be set at 30, probably, or maybe 40. It depends. Partly it depends on experience (number of accidents), but its also political. The location where I was caught had been reduced after a campaign by residents (though recently it appears this may be reversed). Other similar locations have different limits. Enough of that, I want to emphasise that speed is a complex issue, and should not have to be simplified by traditional approaches.

We have now entered the age of the automatic driverless car, thanks to Google and other pioneers.
It will take a while, largely because of people's attitudes (they don't trust them yet), and legislation, but it is coming for sure. It would be a great shame if speed control of these cars is simply rubber stamped by existing speed limits. They would be capable of controlling their speed much more intelligently than that. In fact, existing speed limits should gradually wither and die as smart cars become the norm ( I'm looking a bit into the future here, don't expect this next year). Eventually they should be seen rather like the man with the red flag who had to walk in front of automobiles. (Oh well, maybe they have to stay for motor bikes).

I wanted to say a bit about the future of transport, but this is getting a bit long, so I'll just keep it brief for now - maybe more in a later post. I haven't got the hang of this blogging yet.

Note that Google cars don't have to be owned by the users - just get on the net and ask for a car journey, and one turns up at your door, takes you where you want (maybe picks up someone on the way if thats OK with you), and then goes off for another task, or parks somewhere cheap. You can be unqualified, tired, or even drunk if you want - no problem.

There are many developments as well as the Google car - the use of carbon fibre to create light bodied cars which could have smaller batteries and hence be cheaper and more feasible than electric cars are at present - see for instance BMW carbon fibre cars (though being BMW, these are not cheap). Also there are new approaches to the whole business of designing and building cars, from using new computer control methods to combine many companies (see Rocky Mountain Institute) and slash development times, to using small units to build simple designs cheaply (don't have ref to hand, but Science Friday covered this a while back talking to a guy from the U.K. - hurray). And then there is Tesla. Of course, GM isn't going to go away any time soon - the US government won't allow it - yet  - because of the effect on employment apart from anything else. But things they are a-changing.