Friday, 19 December 2014

The Working Week

What is it to be alive?  For most of the globe occupation defines existence, confines character and consumes the majority of our conscious thought, yet so few of us are lucky enough to find ourselves in an enjoyable or even rewarding career.  The average working week in the developed world varies between 35 and 48 hours, a daily routine of rising, showering, breaking fast, family responsibilities and commuting. After a similarly time consuming evening sequence, all that remains of the day for leisure are at best 4 or 5 hours; and these when all energy is spent. 

The planet's population has now exceeded 7 billion people. Over the last 10,000 years, with the development of farming from hunter-gathering, technological innovation has continued to increase the efficiency by which our basic human needs are provided for, the surplus value bringing a diversity of choice. Marx's tendency of the rate of profit to fall, in fact drives the frequently exponential progress of technological efficiency, yielding such phenomena as diversity and the EU butter-mountain. Over the last few decades, the same dynamic has steadily increased unemployment figures. In the coming decades we will see the same trend as buses, taxis, hauliers; eventually all automotive transport becomes unmanned. A safer world, though one with bleak prospects for many.

The steady increase in the number of unemployed US citizens since 1950, today in excess of 20 million people.
A long-term solution must be found for the unacceptable and inevitable levels of mass unemployment. If only to avoid a similar recurrence of the early stages of the 20th century, or to quote the economist "Over the summer Bank of America faced intense criticism after a Stakhanovite intern died."

Like many in recent news articles I have begun to consider the pros and cons of a reduced working-week, critically: with no reduction in salary. Just over 160 years ago in the UK men, women and children were asked to work 7 days a week, until legislation introduced in 1850 in the British Labour Act limited the hours of work for women and children to no more than 12 hours per day and no later than 2pm on Saturdays!  It wasn't until 1921 that the International Labour Organization established the convention of a weekly rest day, with a subsequent amendment in 1930 stipulating a maximum of 48 hours for those in "Commerce and Offices", even today these limits remain, or for many occupations in the UK may be wavered by contract. So why should change be beyond consideration, when we haven't been working five days a week since the dawn of time!

In lesser skilled sectors, I would be lying if I were to tell you that reducing your company's working week to four days is going to increase profit. Though it is the lesser skilled roles which are going to disappear over the next few decades.  Few companies dependent upon contracts, which must be completed to a schedule, would announce they practice a four day week or a reduced number of hours. Contracts would be lost, clients refusing to foot the bill for such philanthropy. Consequently there are few business voices in favor, yet many public sector and Democrat proponents of a reduced working week.

For knowledge-workers there are many compelling arguments towards increased productivity. An article in The New Yorker by Maria Konnikova argues:
When we own more of our time, we feel like we’re in charge of our lives and our schedules, which makes us happier and, ultimately, better at what we do. Our health and happiness also increases in the course of our lifetimes and, with it, our value to the workplace and to society as a whole.
Alas, there is no such case for the manual laborer, though I foresee no difficulties incentivising knowledge work by making a four-day-week the norm for those determined to study.

The following graph from the OECD indicates that optimal efficiency is achieved at approximately 1525 hours per annum, or around 30-31 hours per week. 

Whilst the French are enjoying a 35 hour week, the Dutch 29 hours, the Danes and Norwegians 33 hours.  Interestingly, working 28 hours a week would for most people represent working 50% of 7 days.

Elsewhere people have quipped "the robots are coming for your jobs anyway", we'd better start finding ways of paying ourselves the same salary for less work, or critically reorganising work to be more effective when subdivided.

Ultimately, is it reasonable to ask for more than half of a persons life be sacrificed to work?

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Reassuringly Finite

A 2D Slice of the galactic filaments ranging over 2bn light years.

As a brief digression from political musings, without scientific proof, armed only with my intuition and a thousand words; each from a thousand pictures, made possible by the wonderful radio telescope resources readily available on the Internet today, I have determined to inflict my model of the universe upon you.

Like most people, I have a pop understanding of astronomy. Loosely this states that the universe is approximately 14bn years old, our solar system is around 6bn years old and the universe has been expanding since the big bang.  It seems to me there are holes in this theory. I hope now I'm not stumbling thru some scientific shibboleth, a fear which has made me keep silent for some time. Even so I feel I must divulge all now lest it be forever forgotten, perhaps this one pebble may go toward the real scientific endeavours that bring about almost heretical change.

The Hubble ultra deep field images, at a distance of 13.2bn-13.6bn light years away, record the universe as it was between 400m-800m years after the big bang. What do they reveal? That the universe looked precisely the same then as it does now in our own local galaxy. Where are the indicators which suggest the recent coalescing of galaxies? Where are the boiling fields of plasma? Entirely absent. Astronomers have noted that the rate of star formation was then similar to that which we observe locally in recent history. The galaxies appear to be the same when 14bn years old as they are right now.

Take the CMB or Cosmic Background Radiation, this is the theory that the universe is filled with residual background radiation from the big bang, a theory used to explain the levels of infra-red which seem to fill space today. Yet scrutinising the limits of our radio telescopes we cannot find even a pin hole gap in the CMB! 

Is it not more plausible that we simply cannot see further than 14bn light years? Why do we assume that light should travel indefinitely, when we observe that there are no frictionless surfaces in our regular scale of space, why instead do we assume that the electro-magnetic medium should be unperturbed and frictionless?

Galactic filaments.

The age of our solar system, 6bn years, or about the middle of "time" in the current model of the universe. Is this not as naive as the belief that the Sun orbits the earth or the universe revolves around our star? Instead let us assume that all radiation over some period increases to longer wavelengths as the orbit decays, no frictionless mediums, no perpetual motion: even at the quantum. Therefore we have no yardstick by which to measure the size of the universe. The real image above is of galactic filaments. Looking at such images, what seems obvious to me is the topological aspect of the galaxies transits along the filaments, interacting with larger galaxies at each huge nexus, before being sling shotted by a larger galaxy, off again along the path of the filament. The density of the matter there, which astronomers now assert contains the bulk of the matter in the universe, providing a gravitational gully, which the pirouetting galaxies are more likely to follow. All of this implies that the Universe is much larger than we thought. It's an unpleasant rationale, existing within a system we do not know the age of. Yet are not a beginning and an end, simply reassuring human terms? Why do we assume that we have already invented the technology to see such extents? Take our own Milky Way galaxy as an example. It requires 250m years for the sun to make a full transit around the galaxy. Our passage thru the trail of the galactic filament perhaps being the cause for the Cambrian period of accelerated genetic mutation in the fossil record, but that's another theory. This duration implies that Earth has only travelled around the galactic centre 24 times since it's birth. Yet observe the apparent trail of debris left by the transit of galaxies, the harmony or repetition near close groups of relatively stationary larger galaxies, these groups obviously dominating the passage of smaller galaxies. A young universe would seem unrealistic in light of topological implications.

The CMB then would actually be the radiation which has decayed to infra-red, from a much larger universe extending beyond the 14bn light year range. A night sky so filled with stars, should we be able to see them, would literally be totally white from horizon to horizon. As a boy I'm sure I accepted this notion without question, it was obvious, you look up and the darkness goes on forever, that's infinite; right, next question. As a 42 year old adult I seemed to have unlearnt this truth.

Dark Matter distribution from the Millennium Project.
The web is now filled many impressive images drawn from the Millenium Simulation project. The results of this simulation are a serious cause for concern, since the model seeks to confirm the observations of the big bang theory.  The same model could also have been used to generate convincing images of city lights. We would never have known that such a process occurred incrementally over vastly more time than 14bn years.  I'm not trying to imply there are aliens living in the filaments,  though I may take a platform against the creative use of computing to confirm astronomical observations. I'll wager there are many simpler simulations working with over trillions of light years that also produce matching SDSS-III observations.

As Stephen Hawkins suggested in the 1970's, the galaxies release radiation.  I would go further and suggest that the matter compressed by black holes at the center of each galaxy form sub atomic particle fountains, liberally distributing the lighter elements, hydrogen, helium and sulphur, etc., raining down over each galaxy, in some form, before they again coalesce to reach the Jeans mass when the star formation cycle begins again. On a much longer time scale than 14bn years, this makes much more sense.  Though no one has yet attempted to detect the spontaneous creation of a helium atom, nor am I sure of the exact probability of such an occurrence or the size of the detector required.

I'm sure this is a widely postulated theory amongst SciFi writers. Douglas Adams toys with the matter in HHGTTG: "Space," it says, "is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space. Only daring to intimate the actual truth: we don't know how big our; or rather the universe is. Or more solemnly as is suggested by Arthur C. Clarks's words "My God....It's full of stars.." Or Greg Bear's Eon...

Contradicting established scientific belief, I realize much of what I'm suggesting is unproven and complete heresy, yet despite my terror at having to come to terms with a universe which I do not know the size or start of, the phantom of true reason beckons.