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The Edinburgh Mile(Stone)

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White


So what is the right age to retire?  I’m asking the question after the un-foretold, yet hardly unexpected, news that His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, has made the decision to retire from public life.  The official announcement from Buckingham Palace read thus:


"His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh has decided that he will no longer carry out public engagements from the autumn of this year. In taking this decision, The Duke has the full support of The Queen. Prince Philip will attend previously scheduled engagements between now and August, both individually and accompanying The Queen. Thereafter, The Duke will not be accepting new invitations for visits and engagements, although he may still choose to attend certain public events from time to time.

 

"The Duke of Edinburgh is Patron, President or a member of over 780 organisations, with which he will continue to be associated, although he will no longer play an active role by attending engagements.  "Her Majesty will continue to carry out a full programme of official engagements with the support of members of the Royal Family."


As the Duke has a birthday coming up next month he will thus be 96 years old by the time he officially steps down, only 4 years away from his century; and as his wife, Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne in 1952, he has spent 65 years at her side, accompanying her on royal tours and engagements, carrying out individual appearances on his own and supporting his many charities and trusts, not least the Duke of Edinburgh Awards scheme for talented youngsters.  And he has generally been in good health in recent years – only this last Wednesday, he opened a new stand at Lord's cricket ground in central London looking relaxed, lively and walking confidently down a flight of uneven steps when he strode onto the outfield.


65 is not an insignificant number.  It is, you see, is the age most often set by employers as the compulsory retirement age for its employees.  Indeed, that is the official pension-able age for men in the United Kingdom, the age for women being set slightly lower, at age 60.  This has been so since the old-age pension scheme was first introduced by the post-war Labour government, in its sweeping social services reform.

 

However, this is now to be altered for the first time since its introduction, with the age for women’s retirement to rise to equal that of men in a changeover rolling out between 2018 and 2020.  Furthermore, with the failure of so many private pension schemes, following then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown’s decision to scrap tax relief on private pension funds in the late ‘90s, many ‘silver citizens’ have suddenly found themselves ill-provided for financially in their retirement years and have in fact been forced back into full or part-time employment.


Further, many more older people in Europe and the United States are opting voluntarily to defer retirement  for a multitude of reasons, including good health, reluctance to lose their primary income, reluctance to lose employment benefits such as private health insurance and more importantly, reluctance to leave a job they enjoy and their main purpose in life.


Statistics show that these ‘Baby Boomers’ as they are termed, those born in the post-war era of peace and relative prosperity, are enjoying better health than previous generations, meaning that their life expectancy is increasing and, proportionally, so is their post-retirement period; and whilst some embrace the throwing off of the yoke of the daily grind,  making plans to travel, spend time with friends and family and pursue other interests and hobbies which had to take a back seat when they were working full-time, equally as many view retirement as ‘giving up’, not just on work but on life.  Like the Grand Old Duke of Edinburgh, they are happy to plough on, confident that they are adding value, experience and knowledge to their employer, colleagues or, in the case of the self-employed, to their own work force.


And so the age-old custom of the engraved watch or mantelpiece clock as an almost mandatory retirement gift, along with a small leaving party, has largely fallen away, no bad thing, considering the inappropriateness of presenting a timepiece to a loyal employee at the very time in their life when they would no longer need to be government by its constraints.  Those that do take the opportunity to cut and run are almost certainly doing it in order to capture more years in which to take their dream holiday or simply pursue a dream hitherto unattainable, ticking off items on a personal ‘bucket list’ or indeed pursuing their dream job, starting a whole new career in later life.


For many younger people, however, the idea of retirement itself is the far-off dream.  Low investment rates are making it increasingly difficult for companies to offer half-way decent pensions, and private pension schemes can be hard to afford, on top of mortgage payments, school fees and the myriad other financial commitments we all have on a monthly basis. 

 

From their point of view, they look on yesterday’s expectation of retirement in one’s sixties as those far-off halcyon days, viewed through rose-tinted spectacles by a generation bound to keep working till they drop, or perhaps till their children can afford to look after them financially, in a reversal of the traditional role relationship.


If you fall into this category, take heart from the indomitable Prince Philip, galloping happily towards his hundredth birthday, perhaps looking forward to a telegram from his dear wife, the Queen, in the time-honoured manner of marking such important anniversaries.  For sure, financial worries will not trouble him but after a lifetime of service, he’s earned the right to slow down, though it’s hard to imagine him doing any such thing.  I suspect he’ll be taking life at its usual hectic pace for some time yet, just out of the public eye.  Well done, Sir, and very well-deserved.

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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