Mitigating Good Intentions

I expect most leaders of large organisations start out with good intentions. Some carry them through, many don't. I've often wondered what it's like for a leader to make that transition from feeling like they're the answer to the problem, to thinking that their followers are too stupid to realise they're the answer to the problem, to realising that if they relinquish power their followers will attack them, to realising they are the problem. It must be a subtle transition as history is full of leaders that have accidentally made it.

I don't suppose we can do much about the small-timers, the CEOs and lesser politicians, but wouldn't it be great if we could develop some mechanism to alert national leaders that it would be a good time to step aside, to retire, to get out while the getting is still good. In the Cold War days, it was thought that giving an out to the leaders one side or the other supported, while turning a blind eye to how said leaders stayed in power, was a good idea. When these leaders went too far, or they just became less useful, they should be able to retire on the wealth they embezzled, even if they really deserved to rot in jail. Rightly or wrongly, that all ended with Pinochet. The rule of law now extends to past leaders and this leaves the likes of Kim Jong no place to go. These leaders, realising that they are the problem, are stuck. They have no place to go; they fight to stay in power or they rot in jail. It's too bad. If we had the means to identify these people, to offer them a way out before it's too late, then we could save the world a whole lot of grief.

I propose a retirement resort. Anyone with the money can buy in and move there. It would be a great place as these people often have a lot of money in the kitty. There only needs to be two rules: The first rule is that while the ICC has full jurisdiction, there is no extradition and no local jail. If you're found guilty, you simply can't ever leave. As the kind of people we would like in this place are already living in de-facto prisons where they're paying for the security, this wouldn't be a problem. The second rule is that the more hated you become, the more it costs to buy in. Think of it like a fine for being nasty. Then, all the world needs to do is publish a list of all the world leaders and how much their current buy-in cost would be.

This list would effectively rank world leaders by nastiness. For example, your run of the mill leader of a democratic nation with an average number of minor scandals could buy in to a nice luxury condo for 10mil or so. However, the likes of Kim Jong would need billions to buy the same place. We publish the list and the world leaders can check up once it a while to see where they are and make sure they've embezzled enough money, for when the day comes. If they're thinking of doing something nasty, well, they better check their bank accounts first, just in case. The list would provide a little indicator to these leaders of where they are on that slide from problems solver to problem. Besides that, it would stop all those incessant comparisons to Hitler. Once and for all, we'd know that person A is not "just like Hitler." He is, in fact, #57 on the all time list, and it would cost him $X for a luxury condo on The Island.

The best part of this is that it's basically free to do, with the inhabitants paying all the bills. All we'd need to do is find some spot of land with a reasonably nice climate and then enact the international laws necessary to make it safe for exiles. We'd need a committee to decide where the leaders are on the list, and they'd need a budget like all the rest, but it could be paid for by the inhabitants as well. Yes, it will be stolen money but the people stolen from would probably be happier to be rid of them with the money than to have to fight some revolution to get rid of them the old-fashioned way. It's the principle of harm-reduction. Sure, it would be great to make these nasty leaders suffer, but not if it makes the people trapped under them suffer any longer than they have to.


Midwives in BC - a review

I can't say I'm much of an expert in maternity. My wife, being from Japan, was rather ignorant of what having a baby in Canada involved as well. So, our first child was a bit of an adventure, and it started with our first choice, to decide between an OB/GYN or a Midwife.

I, being one of those self-declared rational people, had a decided preference for the established medical route. My wife had no idea... in Japan, expectant mothers picked the private maternity clinic that offers the perks and price that interests them. So, we got our referral to an OB/GYN, in 3 weeks. While waiting for this, as we walked past a Midwives office in our neighbourhood, we decided to see what that was all about.

Before we knew it, we were having our first appointment with our Midwife. We filled-out the paperwork, answered the questions, went for the blood tests... had our second appointment, got some great advice, got our questions answered, and everything was great. But, there was that OB/GYN appointment coming up. Our Midwife was most understanding and supportive, saying it was perfectly fine if we wanted to switch.

We went to see the OB/GYN, waited in the office for 20 minutes, and then met a wonderful person. She was obviously busy, but very supportive. We let her know that we had been seeing a Midwife but were undecided on which way to go. She let us know that under BC regulations we had to choose between the two, there was no going to both, but that she was okay with whatever we decided. Then, she went through the standard first meeting, filling out the paperwork, asking questions, requisitioning blood tests, just in case we decided to go with her. She was great.

However, the one thing that really struck my rational self was that the questions she asked were the same as the Midwife's, the blood tests she ordered had already been done with the Midwife. Everything was already in order, all the 'T's had been crossed. The Midwife and the OB/GYN were doing the same thing... they were both great. Well, this caused us some consternation. It would have been an easy choice if either the OB/GYN or the Midwife was clearly better, but they were both great, really great. Still, we had to choose.

While I still had a slight leaning towards the OB/GYN, mostly because we're a little older and the possibility of complications was higher, I left the choice to my wife. This was probably a mistake as she, being Japanese, wound up agonising about not wanting to offend either. She leaned towards the OB/GYN because she was referred by her GP, and she didn't want to offend the GP either. So... by the slightest of margins, the OB/GYN won out. My wife asked me to call and make an appointment.

I called the OB/GYN receptionist and we went back and forth searching for a time to come in. Best I could get was in about a month, and both my wife and I would have to book off time from work to make it. Now, for a couple expecting their first child, a month is a very, very long time away. So, making a manly command decision, I said "screw this" and convinced my wife to go with the Midwife. We could always switch later on if we felt it was necessary. She agreed. I called the Midwife receptionist and booked an appointment the following week. And, thus began our journey through maternity with our Midwife.

I'll skip the complete narrative on our appointments with our Midwife and instead say that any doubts I had about a Midwife being somehow less able to deal with complications were completely unfounded. Our baby was breech and we ended up going through what's called a Version, where a medical doctor tries to turn the baby from the outside. This didn't work and we had to go in for a scheduled C-section. The transitions in care, from Midwife to MD and back again, were seamless. Our Midwife was with us there in the operating room, and after, and had full hospital privileges. No one we met at the hospital expressed any concern about us having a Midwife instead of an OB/GYN, in fact they were all very supportive. We never, at any point, felt we were lacking in professional care, never.

We did, however, gain a lot by going with a Midwife instead of an OB/GYN. We've had hour-long appointments, un-rushed with plenty of time to discuss any concerns we had. We've had easy appointment bookings that fit our busy lives. We've had frequent in-hospital visits after the delivery to help with breastfeeding and any other concerns. We've had several at-home visits after delivery. And, there's the follow-up appointments for 6 weeks after deliver too. Our Midwife has been great, more than great actually. Both my wife and I have relied on our Midwife to not only have a child, but to transition into becoming parents. This is no small thing and I couldn't imagine going through this process without her. If we ever decide to have another child, I would not even consider going through it without a Midwife.

Thus, through more chance than intelligent choice, my wife and I went through a pregnancy, through delivery, and now into parenthood with a Midwife. We consider ourselves to be very, very lucky. I write this now, with my healthy and happy son sleeping on my lap, as a recommendation to any other self-declared rational people that may be reading this. Don't worry about missing-out on professional care with a Midwife. They are professionals, fully integrated into the BC medical system, and the enhanced support they provide is exactly what you're going to need.


Trade Wars

Let's see here... China and the USA are playing this little dance. China makes stuff and sells it to people in the USA. People in the USA can afford to buy the stuff from China because they borrowed the money, from China...

We could look at it this way: China, as the world's largest emerging market and also the world's manufacturing centre is pretty well set. At any point, they can just stop buying US debt, double or triple their internal financial support (either through infrastructure projects or direct welfare), and let their own people be their own manufacturer's market. Of course, they would have to prevent their now-rich people from buying non-Chinese products, but a nice trade-war would accomplish this fairly easily.

Or, we could look at it this way: China has been busily manufacturing all this stuff and selling it to a counterfeiter. The US is, after all, just printing money to buy this stuff. What is this money actually suppose to be worth? Thus, the people in the US have all this Chinese stuff and the debt accrued while paying for it will simply disappear with hyper-inflation. Hyper-inflation will happen when people realize that US money is worthless, which will happen as soon as China stops buying it. China will be left with a pile of worthless money, polluted rivers, and air they can't breath. The US, not being able to import anything, will have to ramp-up local manufacturing and, in the process, create local jobs. It's not like there isn't the know-how available to do this. US businessmen have been setting up factories all over the world and staffing them with unskilled labour. Doing it at home will be easy.

So, who wins?

Well, I say China. If they had let things go, contented themselves with just being the world's biggest emerging market, then they would be the ones with debt right now. Instead, they played with the currency such that the majority of their people never really got to the point of being consumers. They exploited their impoverished people, US manufacturing competition, and global trade liberalization such that China became the world's manufacturing centre instead. Yes, all that money they bought to keep their own people poor will become worthless. However, worthless money is still better than debt. The old China could not have ramped up internal production to meet the needs of their people that had become spoilt on imports. Now, they already have the manufacturing. They don't really need an export market because they already have a billion people emerging from poverty. Those people have a lot of things to buy.

I don't think it will be all that bad in the USA, certainly not as bad as the doom-sayers expect. There will be some turmoil, and the embarrassment of no longer being the economic powerhouse of the world. Britain survived this, and the British people seem fine. The US is still a military superpower, and this isn't likely to go away, not when their arms manufacturing is mostly internal anyway. Manufacturing will return and jobs along with it. Really, as all things economic are relative, when China bows out, goes internal as in the Middle Kingdom days of old, the rest of the world will probably get back to normal. Again, after the turmoil subsides.

Really, all that happened is that China screwed the world out of being able to exploit it as the world's biggest emerging economy. They industrialized without being exploited. It's a pretty neat trick when you think about it that way.


Personal Digital Ecosystem

I don't understand the current craze for monolithic smartphones. It seems, to me, the wrong direction to go. It just seems silly to me when I'm wandering around with 3 cameras on me, 2 of which I'm not going to use because they're so inferior to the want I want to use. It's such a waste. If I were running a company like Sony, here's what I'd do.

I'd start with a series of pocket computers, all doing basically the same thing but with different performance and sizes. There would be tiny ones, about iPhone sized, middle ones, something as small as the Nokia N810 all the way up to the iPad, and even bigger netbook sized ones. They would have options for built-in hardware keyboards if people wanted them. All would have WiFi and Bluetooth, none would have GPS, accelerometers or fancy cameras. Sure, maybe something like the N810 webcam, but nothing more.

Next, I'd have a wristwatch voice-controlled cellphone with built-in GPS. In stand-alone mode, it would offer basic voice communication and direction-finding. It might even tell the time. However, it should tether to the computer and give it full Internet access over the cellular network. The computer should be able to call people on the contact list or allow typing and reading SMS communication. It should also be able to display full navigation maps and other GPS features.

Next, I'd have a camera, maybe a little point&shoot, maybe a full DSLR. Whatever I want to use and am willing to pay for. This too should be tethered to the pocket computer. If I take a picture, it should automatically geo-reference from the wristwatch GPS data. It should transfer pictures to the pocket computer with a touch of a button. The pocket computer should allow full remote-control of the camera, with a full remote-viewfinder.

Next, I'd have a TV at home. If I tether the pocket computer to the TV, the TV should become the monitor for the pocket computer. Maybe this TV has a keyboard/mouse interface attached as well. Movies could be played from the pocket computer on the TV or, alternatively, the pocket computer could be the remote control for the TV with other media sources.

Next, I'd have similar TVs in the hotel room when I'm traveling. Maybe, this TV is in an airport kiosk and I pay by the minute via my cellphone contract to use it. Thus, all my personal computing goes with me, all my media, all my contacts, everything, yet I have access to a full monitor and keyboard when I want to get something done. Why should I have to lug around a screen and monitor while traveling? All I need is the computer, and maybe a little screen for casual use while I'm waiting around.

Next, I'd have a mass-storage device that tethers to the pocket computer. Maybe it's a cheap hardrive, or maybe it's the latest in solid-state. Again, my choice, any size I want and easy to upgrade.

Next, I'd have little I/O modules and sensors: Maybe a cheap accelerometer inside a tennis ball, maybe a weather-station. Whatever I want to buy, sort of like Wii game controls. The more to choose from the better. After all, while there is an iPhone app that allows you to see who can toss the iPhone up the highest, do you really want to do this with your expensive monolithic smartphone? Why not put the stupid little sensor in something that costs $20 and tether it to the expensive part? Put it inside a baseball and see how hard batters are hitting it, whatever comes to mind.

Next, I'd have some motion-powered battery chargers. I'd make all of these devices use the same small batteries, small enough to fit in the GPS watch. Larger devices would just use packs of them. These batteries would go in the motion-powered battery chargers that are worn on the wrists. Yes, they would be heavy, but that's the point. They are for exercise. As you exercise, you charge your batteries. It wouldn't have to be that practical, as most of the battery charging would be done at home on a base charger, but the idea would get people moving.

The basic idea is to break up the monolithic smartphones into individual devices. The advantages of doing this are many:
  • People can build the exact system they want. If photography is important, get the expensive camera, if movies are important, get the better screen, or more processing horsepower, or smaller size, or... Rather than trying to find the perfect smartphone, and settling for deficiencies as there can never be perfection for everyone, all the best components can be put together as desired.
  • Individual components could be upgraded as the user wants. Rather than forking out big-bucks for a new monolithic device, each component could be replaced as something better comes along. New sensors or game controllers can be bought whenever they come out.
  • People don't have to carry everything if they don't want to. If they're going for a jog, do they really want to carry a pocket computer just because they need a cellphone? If they're not planning on taking pictures, maybe they won't carry the DSLR, maybe they'll slip a cheap point&shoot in their pocket instead.
  • Companies can keep selling devices, over and over again, as each component won't be too expensive. Alternatively, really expensive components can be sold as they won't become obsolete like a monolithic package would. The fabulously-expensive DSLR could outlast several pocket computers, for example. Thus, discriminating customers would be willing to pay quite a lot more for some of the components.

This idea is now published and, as such, is free to the world. Feel free to take this idea and do with it as you wish. I expect no remuneration, but do expect attribution. Please tell people where this idea came from.