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They’re toast!

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

The story I’m about to relate fits into the category of ‘you couldn’t make it up’.    It reads like a spoof, the sort of press article that makes you check the date on the publication to make sure it’s not April 1st  but I promise you there’s a serious side which I’ll cover after you’ve had a moment to read and digest – almost literally.  

I’ll explain:

Staff at University Hospital in Southampton have been issued with detailed instructions on how to make toast.  The step-by-step guide, a double-poster which includes a full equipment list, was put up in a ward kitchen at the hospital, warning  staff not to attempt the task unless they are fully-trained.

The poster lays out in minute detail instructions on the equipment and procedure for producing a piece of toasted bread, telling staff to ‘place required bread into slots’ and then to ‘turn toaster dial to setting 2.5 and push lever down’.  Users are then instructed to ‘wait beside the toaster until completion of the full cycle’ and ‘remove with plastic tongs.

After successfully toasting the bread, workers are guided to place ‘in either beverage trolley, toast compartment’ or a ‘suitable receptacle’ such as a plate or tray, and serve it to patients with ‘butter/margarine and appropriate conserves, knife and napkin’.
In case of potential confusion,  officials included  ‘toaster’ and ‘brown or white bread’ on a list of ‘required equipment’ for making the toast.

Understandably, health officials have been criticised for wasting NHS time and money writing the painfully obvious instructions.  Conservative MP Nadine Dorries – a former nurse – told The Sun: ‘With all the qualifications these nurses have, isn’t it blindly obvious on how to make a piece of toast?  When I was a trainee, my first job in the mornings was to make 60 rounds of toast for the patients. I would not have had the time to read instructions.’

Another source added: ‘It’s absolute madness. Someone was paid to sit there and write this. So much time on producing something so stupid.’  And Joyce Robbins of Patient Concern goes further, saying  ‘It treats the staff like little children who don’t know what to do.  ‘We are always being told the NHS is overstretched. I thought they would have found better things to spend their time and money on.’

The hospital defended the instructions, which were drawn up by NHS senior risk advisor and Serco operations executive William Storrs.  Serco was brought in as the hospital’s caterers last year at a cost of £125 million (P325m). A hospital spokesman said the document was written to ‘ensure staff do not cause unnecessary disruption by burning toast and triggering fire alarms.’

So that’s the silly story.  The very idea that anyone living in a First World country would not know how to operate an electric toaster is completely absurd and incredible.  In fact any person of reasonable intelligence, even if they’d never come across an automatic toaster before, should be able to work out how to operate it without much difficulty.  Most of them come with only 2 controls – a length of time dial and a push-down lever – even considering some heat is required to brown the bread, this is really child’s play.

However, the assumption that staff are all as thick as a slice of bread is not the bigger picture here.  The serious problem is the wasting of money in a government subsidised industry, the hiring of people to fill a position which is an unnecessary sinecure and of course the unjustifiable redirection of public funding from a vital public service to complete frivolity.

For many years the UK ‘s NHS, or National Health Service, was the envy of the world.  Set up by a Labour government post World War II, it was part of a major introduction of cradle to grave welfare services,  ensuring that never again could any citizen slip through the cracks of poverty; that everyone would receive healthcare free at the point of use, this service to be paid for out of government coffers,  a way of  sharing  a portion of income tax amongst the entire population to ensure a healthy nation.  The service included preventative measures such as free inoculation, free orange juice and milk in schools for young children, dental treatment, GP appointments, hospital stays, surgical procedures, post operative care and prescriptions and it was effectively free for all.

Over the past 70 years of its existence it has grown in its remit and grown in its reach.  However, over the past decade or so it has become severely constrained and cash-strapped as the UK population has grown, partly through immigration and partly through a nation living longer.   This latter point perhaps indicates how much the modern NHS has become a victim of its success;  it has succeeded in extending the average life expectancy of the average man or woman but of course the health care needs of the elderly are far greater than those of younger people.

In addition, the massive strides in medical technology and breakthroughs in disease whether your own region is able to afford your specialist care or expensive drug programme research  and treatments, has put further constraints on the finite NHS budget.  New technologies and drugs are life-saving and laudable but they all cost more money, very much more money in many cases.  As a result there are now variations around the country in terms of care and treatments available, depending on local budgets, a variation which is commonly referred to as the ‘post code lottery’, in other words,.

So it is in the light of this that University Hospital’s  ludicrous instruction poster must be examined; the decision to divert monies which could be better spent on patients.  It’s a fair bet that most of the staff at the hospital, from the ancillary workers to the most-skilled cardiac surgeon – can already operate a toaster and frankly if anyone in the hospital’s employ is no inept that this task is beyond them, then perhaps they could and should be ‘let go’ .

There’s an expression in English, a comic way of referring to someone who has passed on which is that they are ‘brown bread’,  Cockney rhyming slang for ‘dead’  Might I respectfully suggest that in terms of its usefulness, the commissioner of the poster’s job should go the  same way?

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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

… 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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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    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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