Reaching Parity

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There has been a lot of debate over outsourcing increasingly skilled jobs overseas. It’s an emotional subject, bringing hope to some, fear to others. As always, one faction promotes progress while another seeks to restore the status quo.

One company recently compiled statistics on the profitability of outsourcing engineering to India and China. This company has offices in more than twenty countries, and research and development is done in many of them. Management was budgeting for the next five years and wanted to know where the biggest investments should go. So they tallied the total cost of an American engineer vs. India and China.

They list the advantages of remote development:

  • 24 hour development
  • Regional sales pull
  • Global presence
  • Closer to customers
  • Cheaper Labour
  • Tax advantages
  • Availability of engineers

However, they estimated that 40% of their remote development budget was spent on hidden expenses:

  • Additional management cost: +20%
  • Travel by executives: +11%
  • Customs and duty: +3%
  • Rental car repairs: +3%
  • Communication tools: +3%

Some intangible factors contribute to the rising cost of remote development, which the company estimated as 25-50% of their hidden expenses:

  • Inefficiency of communication, frustration
  • Infrastructure inefficiencies, upgrade expenses
  • Time difference, synchronization

In fact, the cost of one engineer in China was estimated at $60,000 per year, whereas the same engineer in North America would cost $105,000 per year. That’s far from the 5x savings that executives predicted.

And the gap is closing. The relative economic growth of China and India, and the subsequent inflation, is predicted to bring the remote development almost to parity with a local engineer within 20 years.

So if the company knows that the return on investment of remote development is shrinking, why are they continuing to invest there? Here’s the shocker. The primary motivation to develop in these countries is not to save money.

It’s the availability of engineers. North American universities are producing fewer engineers, and the rate of new engineers is decelerating. The US is currently 5th in engineer graduations, and about to be passed by South Korea. Even in the heady days of the late 90′s, tech companies had trouble finding enough qualified applicants here. Meanwhile, half a million engineers graduate in China and India every year. That kind of talent pool is very attractive for companies that plan to grow quickly and want the cream of the crop.

We’ve been told the jobs that get outsourced are those that noone here wants to do. If that is the case, then we have only ourselves to blame for it. As our counterparts overseas reach parity in salary and standard of living, we must strive for parity in education and promote a culture that takes pride in its engineers.

Dealing with Extremists

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Despite escalating violence, everyone seems very up beat about the border conflict between Israel and Lebanon. President Bush summed up how easily solved these issues are:

“See, the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hizbollah to stop doing this shit and it’s over.”

Sounds pretty simple doesn’t it? The Israeli army agrees, saying the violence should cease when all of the hostages taken recently are returned unharmed. Yet something about this argument didn’t make sense to me until a journalist asked the Israeli spokesman whether he believed it was realistic to expect that the hostages would be returned. He dodged the question. Similar questions posed to Bush and Condi have gotten evasive answers as well.

That’s really the heart of the matter. Israel has refused to negotiate a ceasefire until the hostages are safely released, but know perfectly well that bombing Lebanese civilians is more likely to get the hostages killed. This isn’t about the hostages anymore. It’s a declaration of war against the tiny, struggling democracy next door. The conflict will not end until Israel is satisfied that Lebanon has been pacified.

The War on Terror justifies any tactics, including terrorism. Israel believes they can scare Hizbollah into peace by bombing power stations, water treatment centers and even government buildings. They have to know, like we do, that if you kill someone’s friends and family they are more likely to take extreme countermeasures than sit down and try to talk it out.

As sad as it seems, this hand full of Israelis, who might already be dead, are just a politically convenient excuse to launch a new war against an old opponent. By repeatedly invoking the fates of these few civilians, they justify 100 times as many civilian casualties at their hands. But because we’ve looked the other way in this situation before, and don’t want to look hypocritical, we’ll all just have to hold out hope for those Israeli prisoners. And look the other way while civilians die.

Technical analysis of the end-times

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Given my interest in applying scientific research to predicting the stock market I’m not surprised by this. But, rarely does a website actually make me laugh out loud.

Check this out: The Rapture Index – AKA “The prophetic speedometer of end-time activity”. It breaks down the criteria for the apparently imminent rapture and assigns a number to it, meaning how “satisfied” that indicator is for the prediction. I guess the assumption is that once all the criteria are somewhat satisfied we’re doomed.

Currently the index is at 155. To quote their description of the index values:

  • 85 and Below: Slow prophetic activity
  • 85 to 110: Moderate prophetic activity
  • 110 to 145: Heavy prophetic activity
  • 145 and Above: Fasten your seat belts

The described purpose actually gave me another big laugh when I got to the bottom of the page: to “standardize those components to eliminate the wide variance that currently exists with prophecy reporting”. Yes, once we figure out a good standard for prophecy reporting maybe it’ll get included in our daily news. “Folks – watch out tomorrow, both the UV index and the Rapture index are looking pretty high.”

When tech support goes bad

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This is a stream of conversation I had with a tech support department today, paraphrased for brevity since it actually spanned over several hours. If I hadn’t been so frustrated I think I’d find it very funny, so hopefully others will too.

My email to support: “I can’t connect to the company network using the VPN client anymore. It’s worked for over a year but stopped 2 weeks ago. I’m not sure, but my domain password may have expired, but I can’t check since I’m not on the network. There’s no error message it just says ‘Not Connected’”

Support: “We’ve reset your password to XXXXXX. Please try again.”
Me: “Ok. Had my password expired?”
Support: “I don’t know, we didn’t check.”
Me: “*sigh* Ok, well, it still doesn’t work”.
Support: “Please send a screenshot of the error message.”
Me: “There is no error message, the status bar just says ‘Not Connected’”
Support: “Please send us a screenshot of the window.”
Me: “Ok.” … sends 3 screenshots of entire process.
Support: “Ok I’ve changed your password again, let’s try again. First, do you have the VPN client installed?”
Me: “*sigh* Did you see the screenshots I sent you? I didn’t uninstall it since then.”
Support: “Ok, open up the client and in the ‘properties’ window, tell me what value you have for ‘certificate’”
Me: “There is no properties window and nothing about certificates.”
Support: “… Are you sure you have the VPN client installed?”
Me: “Yes. *sigh* Remember, I’ve been using it for over a year without problems until now.”
Support: “Ok. I noticed in the screenshots that you have 2 connections listed, one for us and one for something else. You can’t have 2 connections running at the same time.”
Me: “Correct, and I don’t ever try to.”
Support: “But they’re both listed there. You have to remove one.”
Me: “No, the fact that they’re listed doesn’t mean they’re both connected, just listing ones I can connect to. Remember, this has worked fine, connecting to both networks, for over a year. The other one still works in fact, I just tried it.”
Support: “Ok, we’ll have our security department take a look at this.”

I ended up fixing the problem myself and closing the support ticket. They called me the next day to ask how I did it, step by step, and I guess entered this into their scripts.

Using tech support is just so frustrating for a technical person. The support person on the phone I guess has to assume you’re an idiot, and since they’re supposed to use these scripts for solving problems, it creates this barrier where intelligent conversation can’t happen. I could definitely tell this was happening during the conversations because the script would lead the support person down a path to determine if I actually have the software installed. I’d interject several times “You know, I’ve had this working for the past year without problems until now.” They’d issue some kind of acknowledgement, I guess seeming annoyed I’m not following their script, and proceed to ask “Had you ever tried using the software before today?” I wish there was a way to take support people out of script mode and have a useful conversation from one technical person to (hopefully) another, kind of like hitting zero in an automated phone system.

Halliburton’s War

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According to the following article, the US Military has finally gotten sick and tired of overpaying Halliburton for fuel and supplies.

Army to end Halliburton deal

The No-Bid contracts that Dick Cheney insisted on handing to Halliburton, rebuilding Afghanistan, Iraq, and Louisiana, have allowed the company to gouge the federal government for billions more than projected. Essentially, the company can name any price it wants for any project, service or supply.

That’s not to mention the other scandals. Halliburton reportedly provided spoiled food and tainted water to troops in Iraq. They employed thousands of illegal immigrant labourers to clean up after Katrina before firing and deporting them six weeks later without pay. And remember when the Army outsourced prisoner management and interrogation to “private security contracting firms” early in the war as a way of avoiding war crimes? Guess who that was.

All this war profiteering has legitimized the idea of war as an American industry. We build the weapons which demolish the cities then we award ourselves contracts for rebuilding them. War becomes a continuous process that noone wants to disrupt. It’s the only reasonable justification for a war against an emotion, where diplomacy is impossible, the battlefield is global and the objective is unmeasurable. And because the contracts are no-bid, it’s easy to hide the mounting costs and worsening projections.

Cheney has been quick to volunteer Halliburton for federal projects at every turn, and until now has had the clout to speed outlandish contracts through the system. A blow to Halliburton is a direct blow to Cheney. As a former board member, Cheney’s fortune is still tied largely to the net worth of the company. No doubt he will continue to pull strings on their behalf.

After reading this article, I finally have hope that there are deep cracks in the culture of cronyism that allowed such contracts to be signed.

US national debt – sliced and diced

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This page was definitely an eye-opener: The National Budget, Debt & Deficit

Some interesting points:

  • The graph for combined income and spending has grown very quickly since WW2, much faster than the growth in population. Where has all this money gone? Military and social security are likely the two largest.
  • Without trying to turn this into a “political party issue” here, it is striking to see the very stark contrast between fiscal policies on the chart “New debt.” The conservative administrations during over the last 20 years have added new debt at a huge rate, whereas Clinton took new debt down to almost zero and was straight down for almost his entire term. Which is the fiscally conservative party, again?
  • To expand on the first point, it is interesting to see that government spending and debt, while greatly outpacing population growth, has stayed relatively in line with GDP. I think the lesson here is that the government spends what it can, not what it needs to.

On the issue of how “conservatives” can sanction the massive increases in debt I’ve heard the argument that it’s “OK for governments to hold debt as long as it stays below a certain percentage of GDP.” That may or may not be true by itself, BUT it is never true that holding debt is better fiscal policy than not holding debt. Ask anyone who owns a credit card and they know that while they get the short-term satisfaction of owning something now, they are definitely paying a price for it. In the case of governments the next generation pays the price. The only time it could be advantageous to take on debt is funding a business, but the government isn’t a business.

Energy use by mode of transportation

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I’ve recently become excited about bicycling again as a mode of transportation. This article has some interesting stats about cycling: Matters of Scale – Bicycle Frame

My favourite was the fact that bicycling is 53 times more energy efficient than driving a car.

I wonder why cycling has never become a significant mode of transportation in North America? It’s the absolute default that if you have a car you use it for any movement outside your house. I saw a good number of people in my old apartment complex drive to the gym that was located in the complex. This wasn’t a large place, either. At most it would have been a 2-3 minute walk from any apartment. That seems silly because of the wastefulness but also the fact that the person obviously wants some form of physical activity, it just happens to not be walking. But, most of the machines there were treadmills, which makes it even worse.

US politics roundup

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It’s been somewhat encouraging to see the amount of media attention to global warming recently. I don’t mean to say it’s good enough by any means, but something is better than nothing. It seems like pretty much everyone now agrees it’s a problem, except for the people who’s reaction becomes “What, you mean if I admit there’s a problem then someone will have to start paying to solve it? Then no, there’s no problem.”

Here’s an interesting article on the subject of getting it really into the mainstream: If only gay sex caused global warming

Here’s an interesting video I ran into: O’Reilly interviews Kerry. It’s surprisingly a decent interview. O’Reilly wasn’t overly in Bash-Everyone-But-Republicans mode and Kerry gave some very candid answers.

India Revisited

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I just got back from my third India trip.

I ran into this video a while ago and now’s an appropriate time to post it: India Driving. Driving in India is crazy and I’m often shocked that traffic actually moves on a consistent basis. There really are few rules. If there does happen to be a traffic cop at an intersection traffic will tend to flow somewhat orderly. If there’s just a traffic light, traffic will tend to flow after it turns red until the other direction pushes it’s way through and starts blocking the intersection.

There really is no attention paid to lanes. Cars will cram into every available inch. If there is no divider between the oncoming lanes people will begin using the closest oncoming lane if traffic is lighter in the other direction.

Another interesting note is the existence of a definite heirarchy between vehicles, mostly by size I believe. A car will turn into a street and cut off lots of motorcycles and auto rickshaws. But, if there’s a truck or bus coming, they will yield. The rickshaws seem to be lowest on the scale.

Oh, and it’s fairly easy to convince airport guards to let you into the secure area without having gone through security. It was benign in our case, we accidentally left the terminal while looking for the shuttle to another terminal, but still a bit unsettling.