Computers as job-killers

An article in the current C’t magazine drew my attention to a study (The future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?) published in 2013 by economists Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne.

In the past, computerisation has killed jobs, but there have always been more jobs created overall, because new professions have been created as a result of new products springing up as a result of computerisation: computers, smartphones, GPS systems, the Internet etc. have all created jobs that previously didn’t exist and that were unimaginable before computers existed.

However, with increasingly powerful IT systems comes the ability to replace not only relatively unskilled, mundane jobs on production lines, but also many jobs which today provide work for the middle classes. Indeed, economists think that the reason for the increasing salary differential between top managers and normal employees that started in the 1980’s in the USA and Europe is caused by increasing use of computers in industry and commerce.

Frey and Osborne have evaluated over 700 professions and estimated the probability that it will be posible to replace human workers by computers. Their report (see link above) includes a table in the appendix ranking the professions by probability that they can be taken over by computers. They conclude:

According to our estimates around 47 percent of total US employment is in the high risk category. We refer to these as jobs at risk – i.e. jobs we expect could be automated relatively soon, perhaps over the next decade or two.

Other economists, such as Andrew McAfee at MIT predict that that the increasing inroads that computer systems are making on jobs will lead to an even starker polarisation of salaries – those jobs which computers can’t replace will be highly paid, the remainder will be badly paid. The middle classes will become an endangered species.

If you are a recreational therapist, a healthcare social worker, a computer system administrator or a dentist, you can be fairly sure your job is still going to be around in 20 years time. If you are a receptionist, a nuclear reactor operator, a paralegal, a butcher, or a bicycle repairer, you should probably think about re-training: it’s highly unlikely that your job will still be around in 20 years, and if it is, it will be badly paid due to the competition from computers.

Black Friday 2014-11-24 – Amazon

One company, two prices. 229 Euro in Spain, 99 Euro in Germany. These screen shots were taken at 7.15 this morning. Amazon.es doesn’t “celebrate” Black Friday with its own products, amazon.de does, all this week (“Cyber Monday Week”). In the UK, by the way, the same model costs £99, so is also more expensive then in Germany.

And: the German subsidiary normally sells Kindles a lot cheaper than in Spain. Cheap enough to make it very worthwhile ordering them to a German address and getting someone to ship them on to Spain for you.

It’s generally worth arbitraging between the various Amazon sites. Germany is often cheaper than the UK for electronic and photographic goods, even after paying the shipping.

The secret society of Valenciano-speakers

First page of exercises in the most basic textbook I can find

First page of exercises in the most basic textbook I can find


I have made quite a bit of progress over the last couple of years in Xàtiva learning Spanish. Although I still have a huge amount to learn, I no longer worry about having to answer the phone or go to the shops and ask for something. (Thanks to my teachers, Aarón and Saffron; and my intercambio partners, Eva and her sister Neus!)

So I have been contemplating starting to learn the local language, Valenciano (which is almost identical to Catalan, which is spoken in Catalunya, the area around Barcelona). Continue reading

Alternatives to Skype

Since Microsoft took over Skype, the quality of the Mac version has suffered terribly. The quality of Skype video calls deteriorates during the call, making the picture and sound quality unusable after 30 – 60 minutes.

Ruth and I are using Apple’s FaceTime and ooVoo. The quality of FaceTime connections is better than Skype. For ooVoo.com, it’s too early to say, but so far it looks promising. Skype, for now, is not worth using.

Procesión general del Santo Entierro – Xàtiva 2013

We went to the Good Friday “General Procession of the Holy Burial of Christ” in Xàtiva yesterday. The procession lasted about two hours.

Spain still maintains a lot of its traditions and there are processions and festivals in Xàtiva several times every year. I love them, as they usually involve the participants dressing up in traditional costumes. I went to the Fallas celebrations in Valencia a couple of weeks ago, which also involve processions in the traditional costumes, but those are modelled on medieval finery, these ones are based on religious dress, especially the “Capirotes” which were worn by the Spanish Inquisition.

Crisis – what crisis?

Zebra crossing for traffic from 2 houses

Zebra crossing for traffic from 2 houses

Everyone is talking about “The (Economic) Crisis” in Spain. Almost every day there are programs on the radio about how people are affected, and people are being evicted from their homes by banks because they can’t pay their mortgages.

But someone forgot to tell our local government. Last week they resurfaced the road junction and installed a new zebra crossing 500m from our house. The road it helps pedestrians cross has two houses on it – one is only used at the weekend and not at all in the winter. So it is obviously high priority to provide a crossing with so much traffic visiting those houses…

A short update

I’ve had a couple of “complaints” that I haven’t posted anything recently. That’s mainly because I am feeling uninspired blogging-wise. However, it doesn’t mean we’ve been idle over Christmas and the New Year. On the contrary – we had a little party for some of our new friends in Spain on the Sunday before the Christmas weekend where we served English and German Christmas cookies and Glühwein (mulled wine), which was a big hit with the locals. Unfortunately my eyes are too big for my stomach – and everyone else’s too, so I bought far too much food and still have quite a lot of Christmas food to eat up here!

On Christmas day we had two invitations – one in the afternoon to have British Christmas dinner (I have to say “British” because we were invited by a Scottish guy and he gets a bit touchy when we refer to things as “English”!), which was with all the trimmings, and then in the evening we went round to my Spanish teacher’s house to meet her family and neighbours and have some Spanish nibbles. Most of the conversation not explicitly directed at us was in Valenciano, so we will definitely have to make an effort soon to learn at least the basics of Valenciano, otherwise we will not able to participate in many conversations in this part of Spain. Christmas was quite a difference from last year, when we were in the throws of unpacking and assembling furniture after our move to Spain! Much more pleasant. I have to admit that even 12 months after unpacking here, we still have quite a lot of sorting contents of cupboards to do…

In the time between Christmas and the New Year Ruth started work on a sister-quilt for the one we already had in the guest room – with a similar red, white and black color scheme. The quilt is not quite finished, the hanging sleeve needs making still. You can see the quilt on Ruth’s blog. We also bought some curtain material to make roman blinds for the windows and terrace doors in the lounge. We’re not big fans of curtains generally, but there is quite an expanse of glass in the lounge, and at night in winter that is a lot of black glass to look at!

I have also been making a new web site for Saffron’s (my Spanish teacher) husband. He runs a car valeting company and the first phase of the site is up and running – we have to add another 2-3 pages, but we thought it would be good to launch the site already and let Google find and index it. Once the Spanish / English version is complete, I am going to translate it into German too.

Garden 2.0

In September we had experienced a pretty bad “gota fria“, a storm which produces an incredible amount of rain in a short space of time. We had had heavy rain last autumn, but this was much heavier. In fact in Gandia, near here, several people were injured when a ferris wheel came down, and off Valencia ships were stranded on the coast. Over 200 litres of water per square meter came down. As a result, we had a lot of damage in the garden (those photos were originally uploaded so that our builder and the architect could see the damage).

We’d been waiting until two or three weeks ago to have the damage repaired – we needed a period of dry weather. The repairs finally started at the end of November and have now been finished – you can see them above. We have had drains inserted around the drive surface, and a 33cm diameter pipe laid to take the water to storm drains at the back of the house. We also had problems with some decorative wooden sleepers at the side of the house which had floated away when we had heavy rain. They were good at slowing down the torrent of water, and preventing the sand being washed away, but of course wood floats. So we had them replaced with rows of stone set in concrete – they should also slow the water down, but definitely won’t float!

Now we just need to have some more heavy rain to test the changes!

Our first pomegranate

We’ve two pomegranate trees in the garden, and the larger one (in the foreground below) produced one fruit this year (which is not bad considering it was only planted last November). Unfortunately, I didn’t think to photograph the fruit until I had started opening it to try the seeds.

The pomegranate tree. The second one is smaller, behind the grass with yellower leaves.


I found an article on the web which seemed to offer a simple way to get the seeds out (other methods include immersing it in water – that seemed a lot of hassle).

After scoring the skin and starting to split the segments open


There are lots of ways you can use the seeds, so we hope we get many more fruits next year!
It didn’t take long to open, and then I ate the seeds straight from the chopping board with a spoon. Here’s my harvest from one pomegranate:

One pomegranate’s worth of seeds!