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Change Course

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

I begin today with an extract from an anonymous poem printed in an English newspaper in the nineteenth century (Hampshire Advertiser – Saturday 29 August 1857).  The poem is entitled ‘A Change is As Good As A Rest’.

Ye sturdy old sons of the soil,
Who work through the day with such zest,
'Tis little ye have beside labour and toil;
But little of change or of rest.
That porter just over the road,
Of this bit of knowledge posess'd,
From shoulder to shoulder is shifting his load -
A change is as good as a rest.

That student, in sciences deep,
(With time's sterling value impress'd)
Now turns to My Novel, not thinking of sleep -
A change is as good as a rest.
That merchant gets up with the lark,
His duties are aught but a jest;
These over, he rides with his son in the park -
A change is as good as a rest.

My wife, in the kitchen below,
For dinner provideth her best,
Then crochets a nightcap for "dear little Flo" -
A change is as good as a rest.
Mark I then, fellow-mortals around,
All ye who would wish to be blest,
Much wisdom in this simple phrase may be found -
A change is as good as a rest.

The phrase ‘a change is as good as a rest’ is an old English proverb which came to mind this week when a colleague from a client company announced happily that he was about to leave for Johannesburg where  he would be attending a 3-day management course.  He looked very pleased at the prospect and when pressed merely smiled and said ‘Just to get out of the office’.

I think we can all empathise.  As much as we may love our work,  there are days when it can appear humdrum and bit same ol’ same ol’.  I’m lucky enough to work in an industry which offers new adventures and opportunities quite routinely, meaning that there’s no such thing as an entirely typical day. 

Yes, there is structure and formatting but there are many tools in my work box which keeps the function fresh.  In addition, my profession is by its very nature people-oriented and  every human being is an individual with unique skill sets, personality, problems, aspirations and background.   On the other hand, running a company also deals out a large serving of deadly dull administration but that could be viewed as the change that’s my rest – so in a very real way for me, each day throws up a new challenge of one sort or another.  

The ‘change’ here is not necessarily referring to time off in the form of leave days.  Holidays certainly offer up  the chance of rest and relaxation but annual leave is often restricted in many organisations.  Some indeed have enforced leave periods linked to annual shutdowns, often at peak holiday times such as Christmas when holiday booking prices and travel rates are higher and less affordable; and to those with large families trips away are often out of the question due to financial constraints.

On the other hand, just taking a break from the workplace can be refreshing in itself.  Time to read that book that’s been sitting neglected on the shelf   because you’re too tired to read it at the end of an exhausting day, time maybe to fix the bookshelf it’s sitting on, a job you’ve been putting off for ages for the same reason.  Then again, if you edit or publish books for a living, your idea of a complete change might be a box set television binge or a marathon weeding and planting session in the garden.

Going back to the poem, it’s clear that the author is not advocating  indolence per se- it was, after all, penned in the Victorian era of honest toil and the concept that the ‘devil makes work for idle hands’!   To the poor ‘sons of the soil’ in the first verse – agricultural workers in modern parlance, he (or she) offers sympathy but no respite;  To the porter in verse 2, the job offers only the opportunity to shift the load from hand to hand – not much of a change there; 

But the student is encouraged to put away their academic tomes and read a novel before bed;  The merchant to jump on a horse for a pleasure ride with his son;  And his wife obviously takes enjoyment from a little crochet work after the household chores have been taken care of.  Simple pleasures all and of their time but the principle remains as valuable today as it was then.  Substitute an hour in the gym for the ride in the park, any modern craft for crocheting and an hour on the computer for the stressed-out student you have our new millennium equivalent.

And of course there is the workplace itself where we spend such a large proportion of our weekday lives.   Large global corporations are increasingly designing flexible workspaces for employees with hot desks, communal collaboration areas and even play spaces comprising sporting facilities, sleep areas, and snack bars.

Consider this company called Atlanta Tech Village (ATV),  housed in a a 5-story building dedicated to tech start-ups including  Moxie Sports, Yik Yak and Salesloft where business owners have their own private office.   In the lobby there is a huge break room complete with couches, ping-pong table, foosball table, two 72-inch TVs for video games, two kegs of beer and a kitchen full of snacks and drinks.

CEO Jerry Slutzky insists the break rooms are not a distraction. “It aids to production,” he says.

“If you can escape and go play some ping pong or whatever it is…do it! An individual needs a certain amount of mental breaks throughout the day,” 

One study from Healthy Decide shows that a little distraction can even be good for your brain. In this digital era, when staring at a computer screen, a 15 second break taken every ten minutes decreases fatigue by as much as 50 percent.

Such radical workspaces are uncommon hereabouts, though some local organisations are coming round to the concept of more open planning and fewer offices and closed doors.  In the meantime, however, there’s always the possibility of a short training course in Jo’burg, bringing in mind another wise old English proverb – ‘out of sight, out of mind’!

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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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