Friday, December 30, 2011

Get Stuff'd, LLC

A question I have been asking online - and trying to answer - has been, "How do we get there from here?" Mostly this has been confined to the human societal context of employment and wages during the transition from the historical model of trade and markets, capital concentration in large manufacturing businesses and marketing efforts from corporate to individual, to the projected model of individual fabrication on demand at the (for the most part) strictly local, individual effort level of operation. The former model we all grew up participating in; the transition away from that to the projected fabber/maker model has imposed numerous and growing demands on the ways and means we have available to us to continue our individual ability to obtain the things we all need to meet the daily demands of our and our family's lives. Adding complexity is the simple fact that such changes are more of a process, a series of separate events permitting advancement to a nominally greater level of individual capability.

It's often said in recent years that the US is losing it's manufacturing capability. This is a falsehood. The truth is that the US produces more now then ever before in it's history (as does Japan for example - this isn't a US-centric occurrence); it's just doing so with fewer pay-earning, tax-paying people doing the work than ever before. And there's the crimp in the bright and shiny futurist's dream; how do we - especially those of us like myself who earn our daily crust building something for others to buy - continue to make a living (and occasionally buying some of the stuff for our own use) when the jobs we have need of are being performed by machines instead? How do we get from here - putting Tab "A" into Slot "B" on an assembly line - to being capable of fabricating what we need for ourselves as the need for an item arises (or as another's desire for an item makes them willing to exchange value to acquire an example)?

Instapundit has linked obsessively to the on-going meltdown of education (and by implication skills training too) efforts and institutions in the US and elsewhere, and more power to the good Professor for doing so. His recent link to Stephen Gordon's Speculist post is in my opinion an examination of this education/employment dilemma from the actuarial other end my own approach has pursued. Which is good; we need to develop a remedy that meets current needs as well as those almost certain to develop in coming years.

My personal belief has long been that individual education, both technical as well as classical, offered the most reliable mechanism for relieving the employment opportunity dilemma as well as the "education bubble" which is both a financial and subject matter issue I think. Too many new lawyers (or whatever - too many degreed people generally) having both a dearth of practical skills to earn a living and a financial debt that requires an upper-middle class income level just to fund basic payment levels is the crux of the problem. From my perspective, too many manufacturing workers no longer having a recognisable opportunity to earn a living using their years-in-the-learning skills as they get progressively older is the actuarial other end of the same condition.

Instead of placing these two groups of people in active opposition to each other, we need to devise a mechanism whereby they can both achieve their desired ends. And therein lies the strategic opportunity my other personal interest speaks of (a strategic opportunity is, by definition, one that no-one else has recognised and taken advantage of).

I recognise and agree with Stephen's observation that much of retail and individual business is transacted in the "comfy chair" environment that booksellers like Barnes & Noble and coffee shops like Starbucks are associated with. Stephen's contention that education ought to transition to such an environment and away from the historical "groves of academe" model that modern universities strive for is well taken. Such a model would permit learning at the individuals pace and ability (and remove most doubt as to the source of failure as well), and do so at a potentially much reduced cost at the same time, Stephen notes that much of the current cost of education derives from administrative overhead endemic to the current school model, though I notice he pays little attention to the near-certain efforts people will make to create equivalent drags on the "coffee shop" model of school too. Even so, anyone not named Kevin Baker can only put so much into a single blog post, and Stephen makes a good case for his observations on education.

I want to take a different approach to addressing the same circumstance (and not only because my middle name isn't actually Contentious either :)) and place this issue in the context of human rights, in particular the right enumerated in the Second Amendment of the US Constitution. I select this particularly contentious human right because it is my belief that it best addresses the dynamic we also face in the education and employment "bubble"s.

In a nut shell, the US Second Amendment asserts that we each possess an inherent right to defend ourselves within certain delineations - principal among these being that our efforts not impose upon another's equally valid individual right. My argument is that this principle can be also equally validly expressed as an inherent right to fend for ourselves, and that this logically leads to the necessity to structure our society in such a fashion as to maximise the potential opportunity for everyone to do just that, as their interests guide them and from within the identical delineations and limitations on mutually acceptable options and actions that constrain their other expressions of their rights.

In this model (and I recognise I'm stretching the definition of the word here - it's a work-in-progress), education is a life-long pursuit to provide a context for the skills training one acquires to obtain the wherewithal we each need in life. A practical knowledge of plumbing (more specifically, the mechanics of a fluid under pressure within a confined space - like the brake lines in your car, for example, and not just the drain under the sink), electricity (why not wash out the interior of a plugged in toaster again?), CPR (see: electricity), arithmetic (yes, I understand that spreading the risk of real estate mortgage finance among numerous parties reduces the level of individual risk, but how does assuming any additional risk entail advantage to me again?), the potential subject list is probably longer than the lifespan of even Lazarus Long and all of it offers added opportunity for individual advantage particularly from within the context of the ethic imbued within the Second Amendment. Classical education provides the shared context for practicing the specific skills we need trained in to meet the challenges of supporting ourselves in the ethical manner prescribed by the equal and inherent human right of self defense from proffered threat (whether deliberate or circumstantial).

This is a very good - if somewhat dated - paper on the nature and general types of fabrication processes and though presented in 1997is quite readable to a non-specialized audience of which I certainly am a part. As a practical matter, something like what is described here is what most of us would need familiarity with to be positioned to make the leap from building things using Industrial Revolution methods to what I regard as a likely seeming near-term future manufacturing model. Much as an apprentice plumber doesn't start out building the high pressure steam lines for a nuclear reactor-driven power plant, a qualified new-hire fabricator needs a demonstrated competence with the basic knowledge and operating principles of deposition fabrication before taking charge of a commercial fabrication machine. Documenting a level of competence using essentially a hobbyist version of the technology achieves this I think.

An example of what I'm saying (and not too surprisingly, I hope, consistent with my Second Amendment thesis) can be seen here. A personal machine shop has the capability to build a complex machined tool (which is the practical definition of a gun after all) from refined metals stock. A fabricator has the capability to build the same machined tool from refined metal (and other) stock by building up succeeding layers of material to construct the desired end shape rather than by removing the excess raw material to reveal the desired end product. Another example of a potential application for this entry-level professional fab shop business opportunity lies in special orders of complex machined objects that are no longer being produced, such as the example noted in this Oleg Volk post.

Our education "coffee shop" needs to offer that specific level of training/education, to anyone willing to learn the subject matter at the least financial cost manageable. From my past association with Stephen Gordon and Phil Bowermaster, I'm sure they have no objection to doing any of what I've suggested here, but it isn't clear they're actually seeing the connections and thus the strategic opportunity that I assert exists.

A recurring concern with any alteration of the education/training model has to do with the accreditation/documentation of the subject matter learned. I think Phil Bowermaster's employer sells a product that could readily be adapted to achieve this end. As Richard
Fernandez writes in his Belmont Club critique of Stephen's education post:
Your diploma would essentially become your reputation log, rather like the debits and credits that you see when you view your bank account. That is your “rep”; your human capital balance.

That strikes me as a very eloquent description of Zapoint's SkillsMapper technology, and making their business product into the world standard for documenting individual education and occupational skills ought to be an obvious opportunity I would think. That aside, having some commonly acceptable standard of documentation is necessary to escape the constraints of the existing education/employment models while not making matters even worse. Given the frequently competitive nature of business and employment generally, pursuing such a program from an ethical basis such as that imbued in the inherent human right of self defense seems merely common sense as well. A business and manufacturing model that allows us to make and get the stuff we want to make our lives safer, more satisfying or just plain livable is certainly an improvement on the hopeless dependence that is being offered to us in the present, as is an education process that is as unlimited as we choose to be ourselves. Styling that idea as a Limited Liability Company is just my idea of humor.

It isn't really possible to "solve" a systemic problem such as those under discussion here. The best we can hope to accomplish is to create a mechanism whereby individuals have the opportunity to make the necessary change for their own reasons. By structuring the opportunity such that ethical action is more rewarding than some other choice because that creates the greatest chance of personal success seems the least intrusive method of preventing deliberate mis-use of the skills and knowledge learned, and not coincidently I believe, not a method chosen by our present educational and employment structures.

Edited to add: Al Fin independently arrives at a similar conclusion on the education topic that contains a variation on the business opportunity I note above. Very much worth your attention and consideration.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Picture Of War Crime Justice

At the very end of his Dec. 22 Chaos Manor post, Jerry Pournelle links to a Treppenwitz post, now several months old, which examines a famous photo from the Vietnam War. Therein blogger David Bogner reviews some of the lesser known facts surrounding both the picture itself and people's perception of the recorded image.

All of that is interesting, yet the single most operant fact that contributed to the circumstance playing out as it was recorded at the time is never directly mentioned.

Without recounting the Treppenwitz post, the basic facts are: in 1968 the Communist Viet Cong/Viet Minh insurgent forces staged extreme acts of violence in violation of a negotiated truce throughout much of then-South Vietnam. Captured in the act of mass murder, one of these VC was summarily tried and executed by the military and civil police commander for the city and military district of Siagon (the city since re-named as Ho Chi Minh City). This summary execution was captured on both still and motion photography, the still image probably being the more historically famous of the two.

Here's the thing; the executed man (formally Captain Bay Lop, South Vietnamese Communist Party Army, Viet Minh) was properly judged and sentenced "in accordance with the provisions of the Geneva Convention (aka Laws of Armed Conflict) regarding "Armed Partisans", " civilian combatant s", and "crimes against non-combatants". Were an American or other NATO officer to be presented with an insurgent in Afghanistan captured committing the same crimes, he would be equally in accordance with the law (negotiated treaty having force of same in the USA) in also issuing a summary judgement and execution. We would also subsequently crucify him too.

We cry about how terrible something is, empower someone to impose our considered will upon any perpetrator of that thing, and then cry in horror that we didn't mean for what then happens to take place, all while we set out to destroy those who did our bidding in our name. Police, soldiers, politicians; you name it, the list is virtually endless. We put people in a position to act with our authority, then refuse to accept responsibility for the predictable results of our decision. If we want honest and open enforcement of our societal decisions, we must be prepared to accept responsibility for what those we so empower do as a result. Further, if we want an open and honest society (government, law enforcement, whatever) we must judge all things - not least ourselves - just as openly and honestly.

In executing Capt. Lop, South Vietnamese General Nguyen Ngoc Loan was photographed performing his sworn duty in an entirely lawful manner. The honest image of that honorable act was subsequently used in deliberate campaigns of lies and misdirection, both here in the United States and elsewhere, which are themselves symptoms of what still ails American society - possibly fatally. We very well may not be able to elect ourselves out of our present national condition, but I suggest Gen. Loans experience is instructive of the consequences if we don't.

My thanks to Jerry Pournelle for this timely reminder at the outset of our latest national election year. Sometimes, harsh facts are best illustrated by harsh images.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Getting The Business

I recently bought a TS-200 Aperture Sight from Tech-SIGHTS for my SKS. Then last Friday, I read this post at Oleg Volk's blog about the Tech Sights for the Saiga 7.62 x 39 rifle. Having the same gun in .223, I commented asking advice:
My Saiga is in .223, and the Tech Sight is on my SKS instead, and I haven’t done the conversion to AK mags, of course. Not having done the conversion myself, does anyone have experience just modifying the recoil spring cover plate to accept the Tech Sight? It looks like it ought to be a fairly straight-forward matter for drilling the necessary hole, but I’m concerned the sight would make removing the spring cover difficult thereafter. I’ve got the Pro-Mag scope mounting plate installed and it causes the scope to sit too high for comfortable shooting so I’m looking at alternatives.

Now, I want to make clear that the optical scope works perfectly well as mounted on the Pro-Mag mount except for the excessive height problem. It seems to hold zero and permits easy use of the factory sights, but the pronounced muzzle flash these Saiga rifles produce really degrades the scope performance as perceived by the shooter post-shot (an observation made by several others who own a Saiga or have shot my rifle). The Tech Sight seemed a known option to look into.

Initially not being able to post a reply to my comment at Oleg's, Larry Nesseth of the Tech-SIGHTS company wrote me an e-mail clarifying what was involved. He has since managed to put it on Oleg's blog:
The Tech-SIGHTS will fit your Saiga with out any problem. The sight actually mounts to the receiver and not the cover. You replace the rear portion of your recoil spring assembly. The part with the button on it that locks your current cover in place. Once you replace that part with our sight assembly, you assemble the rifle the same way that you always have. Then install the new cover that comes with the sight and you are ready to zero the sights. The AK100S and AK200S models for the AK47/74 will fit the 5.56, 5.45 x 39 and 7.63 x 39 Saigas. The sight will fit the 308 Saiga as well but requires a recoil buffer to be installed in the recoil spring assembly to limit the bolt carrier travel just ast the original recoil assembly does. I hope this helps. It tried to post this on Olegs blog on the Saiga but it would take for some reason.

I have a friend actively searching for a Saiga in .308 so that bit of data will come in handy for him, and a look at the Tech-SIGHT FAQ page for the AK-47 answers most of my questions, though finding the data without Larry's help was needlessly difficult for this customer at least.

Suffice to say, while it will likely be late February before the Christmas "sticker shock" recedes sufficiently, I will be buying the TS-200 for my Saiga .223 rifle just as soon as the wallet permits.

Thanks Larry. Taking care of business like you have makes for a modest amount of economic recovery.

Eventually. ;-)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

In Leiu Of Originality

Part of Phil Bowermaster's actual job is to post daily entries at the Transparency Revolution blog.

I console myself by imagining the off-line depths he plums in his occupational Augean Stable.

It isn't very convincing as flights of fancy go, is it?

Beginning here and then here, he and the commentariate have used the #occupysomething example as a vehicle to illustrate the wealth of opportunity available to those individuals and companies willing to recognise and seize them.

Should any of them just happen to use the tools his employer Zapoint markets, so much the better.

The latest entry in the series (and circumstances seem to indicate that it will be a series) was posted this past Friday, and prompted this response from me:
Since this horse refuses to die, lets give it a really good flogging.

“And today we’re at 200 rigs, producing almost 500,000 barrels a day and we’re going to permit 2,000 wells this year.”

That would be on the order of 5 million barrels (42 US Gal./bbl) needing to be delivered to a refinery somewhere … Every. Single. Day. A quick wikiwander later, it appears that one semi-truck trailer of heavy distillate would weigh a bit over 33 tons and consist of about 200 barels (sic) of oil needing transport to a refinery. Call it 5 trips per 1000 bbl (move the decimal point over three places to the right and times 5=) … that should require about 5,000 semi-truck trips south every day.

If only 10% of the projected 5m bbls of production coming online is transported over the road (instead of by railroad or barge – pipeline you say?), that requires slightly more than 20 truckloads leaving for points South every hour of every day or one every three minutes.

All of which leaves unanswered the question of what to haul back North on the return trip (unless you want to double the cost of the oil).

Occupy North Dakota my aging Butte Ox!

How about a nice truck stop/fuel station with a really good central air system near Salina Kansas instead? A couple different fast food franchises along with a shower and laundry service and a T-1 line to send all the money to the bank as quickly as it gets collected. I’ll be in the bar … consulting with my investor millionaire partners, of course.

Now that’s a strategy!

Realising my comment was a little more flippant than I actually intended, and recognising a salvation-ary opportunity when Brian Wang posts one, I added to my comment with:
Brian Wang has a good deal more serious post about this issue up at his Next Big Future site, that also manages to give my own silliness a certain patina of reality.

A man of true talent, that Brian.

One of the great failings of those involved with the #occupy whatever event(s) has been their determined unwillingness to advance a positive message or objective. Pointing out the failings of “Wall street” or the banking industry more generally is all fine and well, not to mention fully deserved, but the failure to promote a positive alternative to the identified failing is where the #occupyers themselves fail.

Speaking only for myself, I offer these bon motes as illustration of just how commonplace financial (or any other classification really) opportunity actually is if only the attention of a sufficient number of fellow venturers can be attracted to give substance to the potential position. Human Resources professionals too often in my experience are unwilling to even consider doing the one thing their job title ought to make the most commonplace and basic of professional duties, managing the strategic environment within which the resources of their companies particular humans can be allied with others to create a position that advances any of these potential opportunities into an improved corporate financial statement.

In that strategy regulation isn’t a boundary, it’s a fulcrum to leverage advancement off of. Come on HR, get out of the “overhead” category and start troweling on the value with the rest of us hod carriers.

There is an unfortunate perception of Human Resources as being the willing enforcers of corporate whim upon the workforce, as well as being an expense on the company financial balance sheet instead of a product value adding component of the business. Leaving the company hit (wo)man image for another post, altering the duties of HR personnel to make their efforts more directly apply to adding value to the company product would mostly involve a reversal of perspective as regards HR's approach to company (and even industry) regulatory practices.

Being seen to explain why a particular practice is mandated, and how to go about doing so at least additional effort (added effort = reduced rate of production over time), ought to be a regular (daily) part of HR's job responsibility. It is commonly the case that, understanding why some particular bit of stupidity has been declared often reduces the frustration experienced by those actually doing the stupidity I find. Going about their daily rounds to communicate with the employees, HR could do much to reduce the stress levels that so often inhibit workplace production by making clear the context within which a directive is issued ("... and because the effing EPA said we have to", could be one example of this :)). Focusing on the production details to the point of excluding attention to the environment the product is made and marketed in causes a sense of cynicism and disillusionment in people, which in turn promotes inattention to detail and reduction in product quality and quantity. HR can help to reduce all of this by a change in perspective regarding their approach to regulatory influences and how that change in turn modifies their communication approach and practice.

The #occupy meme developing on Transparency Revolution will likely fade away as the societal effort loses prominence in the news reporting cycle, but the strategic principles Phil and I use it to illustrate will be a recurring theme at both our blogs.

Which also means I at least won't have to keep coming up with so much occasional original blog post fodder; I can just copy-and-paste from Phil's page instead.