Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Competition in Amazon Warehouses



Amazon is using the economic theory of tournaments in its warehouses!   That theory bases compensation on the relative productivity ranking of firm's workers. The "tournament" name tells us that competition between workers is actively encouraged, and how much someone ends up earning depends on how many other workers they can beat.  The winner, ideally, gets quite a bit more than all those losers.

I was taught that the tournaments model might be used for compensation when it's expensive to measure the actual output of individual workers but easy to rank them according to some related measure. Among the problematic aspects of this form of compensation is that someone can win by not only outperforming others but also by sabotaging the ability of others to perform well.*

But Amazon doesn't justify its new gaming environment in such a manner.  Rather, playing a game is supposed to make boring work more interesting:

But they aren’t whiling the time away playing Fortnite and Minecraft. Rather, they’re racing to fill customer orders, their progress reflected in a video game format that is part of an experiment by the e-commerce giant to help reduce the tedium of its physically demanding jobs. And if it helps improve the efficiency of work like plucking items from or stowing products on shelves for 10 hours a day or more, all the better.
....

Developed by Amazon, the games are displayed on small screens at employees’ workstations. As robots wheel giant shelves up to each workstation, lights or screens indicate which item the worker needs to pluck to put into a bin. The games simultaneously register the completion of the task, which is tracked by scanning devices, and can pit individuals, teams or entire floors against one another to be fastest, simply by picking or stowing real Lego sets, cellphone cases or dish soap. Game-playing employees are rewarded with points, virtual badges and other goodies throughout a shift.
Think Tetris, but with real boxes.
Participating in the games is voluntary, we are told, and the nonparticipants are supposedly not punished for choosing not to game.

So one way of looking at what Amazon is doing is that it's alleviating boredom and making routine work more exciting.  Another way of looking at the same thing is to note that it's trying to squeeze more productivity out of a given number of workers, and at least so far the rewards for that extra productivity (and thus its costs to the firm) are very minor:

Amazon’s experiment is part of a broader industry push to gamify low-skill work, particularly as historically low unemployment has driven up wages and attrition. Gamification generally refers to software programs that simulate video games by offering rewards, badges or bragging rights among colleagues.

And things can get even better for the firm if it quietly keeps modifying the targets in the game, as Gabe Zicherman, an expert on gamification in firms notes:
But, he said, gamification can be used to mask higher productivity goals, because the games’ algorithm is typically kept secret. In customer service jobs, for instance, gold stars awarded for resolving 20 customer concerns may over time require 22 or 25. “When [employers] want to generate more output, they can ratchet those levers,” he said. “It’s like boiling a frog. It may be imperceptible to the user.”
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* An example of this from a somewhat different context could be a graduate student who messes with the work of other students in the lab so as to guarantee that they won't graduate early enough to be able to apply for postdoctoral grants or jobs at the same time as the saboteur.


Monday, May 20, 2019

Fourth Fundraising Post 2019. What Percentage Of American Men Are Biological Fathers?

Please give if you read here and can afford to give.  It takes a lot of chocolate to run my creative engine. 

Just kidding.  But those of you who know about opportunity costs (what Echidne could earn if she wasn't fashioning and researching blog posts) might be aware of the sacrifices I make for your well-being.  (Let's see if guilting works here!)

***



A conversation I had with some people tried to establish what percentage of American men become biological fathers during their lifetimes.  One person Googled for the answer and found a summary of supposedly a CDC study from 2006 with this information:

By the age of 44, only 47% of American men are fathers.

Wow!  That cannot be right, right?  (And no, it's not right.)

But if you Google, say,  "percentage men fathers, " the link to that summary is the third on the first results page.

This is a huge problem, because the real statistics, more recent ones, give us a very different percentage:

Most estimates of fertility measures for men and women aged 15–44 in 2011–2015 were similar to those reported in 2006–2010. For 2011–2015, 85.0% of women had given birth and 80.4% of men had fathered a child by ages 40–44.

Bolds are mine.

I have no idea why that 2006 summary is so wrong*.  But note that anyone trying to find a quick Google answer to the question will be badly misinformed.

And so in no time at all we might find the incels quoting that 2006 summary to explain why only the alpha males are allowed to mate, how they are justified in hating all womankind, and how beta males are undergoing extinction by women not allowing them to pass on their seed**.

At the minimum we are going to find all sorts of people making theories about why so few men become biological fathers when most women become biological mothers.

All because of flawed data.

The point here is naturally that the validity and reliability of online information matters, and Google should take those demands more into account in creating their algorithms.

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*  And it had to be wrong in 2006, too.  I have contacted the website and asked them to remove the flawed summary.  I'm sure they will do that when pigs fly.

** Because men are much more likely to become first-time parents after the age of forty-five than women, the overall percentages of men and women who are biological parents during their lifetimes is probably roughly the same at the end of one's life.  This is awkward for the incel theories.

Friday, May 17, 2019

On the Invisibility of Things Female


1.  US News does a Best Countries ranking which has several sub-indices.  There's even a methodology page where you can learn how the various parts of the final index are weighted and so on.  Looks very sciency, it does.

I was bored the other day and scrolled through its various sub-indices.  One was about the best places for you to start a career.  The three top countries, in order from first to third, were Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

Never ever drink coffee while reading silly stuff, because the coffee goes all over the screen and the keys and up your nose, too.  In any case, this example is a wonderful one about the way women are still mostly invisible.

But not to worry!  The overall index has a separate sub-index about the best countries for women!  In that one Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates don't rank terribly high.  So wimminz have their own slot in this index.  This makes me wonder if all the other subindices are to be interpreted as applying to men only.


Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Welcome to Gilead. Or More On the Reasons Behind Alabama's Abortion Ban.


Alabama's Republican governor , Kay Ivey, has signed the new abortion ban.  It criminalizes almost all abortions:

Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed the measure Wednesday. The law will make performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony punishable by 10 to 99 years or life in prison.
The bill contains an exception for when the pregnancy creates a serious health risk for the woman, but not an exception for rape or incest.
There would be no punishment for the woman receiving the abortion, only for the abortion provider.

The ban is created so stringent on purpose.  The forced-birthers want the Republican-tilting Supreme Court to address one of the many new Republican-created abortion bans, in order to overturn Roe v. Wade, and a stringent ban is more likely to end there.

Thus, in one sense everything is going according to their plans.  But there's a PR price to be paid:  People who don't live in Alabama can now see how that state regards its women and their rights.  As uterus-havers... 

Speaking about women's status in Alabama, one index judges it to be the fifth-worst state to be a woman in the US,  and the Alabama legislature has one of the lowest percentages of female lawmakers.  The twenty-five Alabama senators who voted for the bill are all men, though the sponsor of the bill is a woman and so is the governor who signed it into law.

As the Washington Post article notes, though:

Coleman-Madison and Democratic state Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, the only women who spoke during the four-hour debate, acknowledged in interviews with The Washington Post that the divide on the issue is primarily one of ideology rather than gender; the Republican sponsor of the bill in the Alabama House, for example, is a woman, and Republican Gov. Kay Ivey will is expected to sign it.
What might that ideology be?  I'd wager my money on fundamentalism.  According to a 2014 Pew survey 51% of Alabama Christians believe that Scripture is the word of God and should be taken literally.  That percentage is the second highest in the country.  Only Mississippi has a higher percentage of fundamentalists among Christians (56%).  And fundamentalists of all religions preach male dominance and female subjugation and strongly prefer the exclusion of women from public life.

But the scarcity of women in the Alabama legislature is probably also a consequence of this ideology!  In other words, the two are not competing theories about the reasons why Alabamans want abortions banned.  It could even be the case that a ban on abortions is seen as more desirable because it will make women's participation in the labor force and politics and so on more difficult.







Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Third Fundraising Post, 2019



You have to read Alexandra Petri's latest piece.  It imagines how the forced-birthers in Alabama, Georgia and other similar places who legislate on abortion might explain to us the female body and its reproductive system, how ovulation works, how early you might know that you are pregnant, and so on.

Petri is roaringly funny.

After that enjoyment you can give me some money to keep this site going.  I'm not as funny as Petri, but I have my moments.






Friday, May 10, 2019

Weekend Reading, 5/10/19: On First Women, The Trip To The Alt Right World And Back And Other Topics



1.  Several interesting pieces have recently appeared about women who were first or early path-breakers in some field. 

- This one talks about a book about Cuban flora created by Anne Wollstonecraft, and lost from our attention for 190 years.  The drawings of the plants are beautiful.

- The recent Kentucky Derby makes  an article about early female jockeys particularly timely. 

I have never understood why jockeys should be so overwhelmingly male.  Young girls like riding a lot (so there's no pipeline problem) and women are, on average, smaller than men, which would be a useful characteristic in a jockey.  The reasons that have been proposed for the scarcity of women in the profession range from an argument that being a jockey is more dangerous for women for physical reasons to the impact of a widespread misogynistic culture in the field.

- An interview with Dorothy Butler Gilliam,  the first black woman who worked as a reporter at Washington Post, makes for interesting reading.  Gilliam has written a book about her career as a journalist.

- Finally, this piece is about an early French woman in cinema, Alice Guy Blaché:

Until recently, Guy Blaché was mostly relegated to the footnotes: credited regularly as the first female filmmaker (when credited at all), but overlooked in terms of her impact as an artist and an innovator. And yet starting in 1896, she made around 1,000 films, constantly pushing visual and thematic boundaries. She experimented with early synchronized sound, color and special effects. She explored gender, race and class. And she inspired future giants like Sergei Eisenstein, Alfred Hitchcock and Agnès Varda.

2.   Why would a thirteen-year-old Jewish boy join the Alt Right?  A long piece gives one family's story about the trip there and back. It describes the specific events and mental states which caused a young boy to seek solace online, and it also describes the powerful effect of online hate sites.  Ignoring those sites will happen at our own peril.

3.    Speaking of online hate, two Guardian articles have recently addressed online misogyny and how its effects are beginning to leak into the meatspace. Mary Beard is, of course, correct about the ultimate reason for the ways misogyny is expressed in the social media:  It is intended to silence women in public spaces.

4.  This is a fun quiz to take about evolutionary psychology of the weird kind, the kind I call Evolutionary Psychology (EP) to differentiate it from the more neutral general kind (ep).  And this is a fun take on the invisibility of women running for the Democratic nomination in the presidential primaries. 




Tuesday, May 07, 2019

The Candy And The Wrapper. Or on Women, Abortions And Pregnancies.


By serendipity, I read two articles about pregnancy, one after the other, and then considered them together.

The first tells us a piece of news which should be truly shocking:  Maternal deaths, and especially black maternal deaths, in the US are rising*:

Globally, maternal mortality fell about 44% between 1990 and 2015, according to the World Health Organization. But the U.S. is out of step: Moms die in about 17 out of every 100,000 U.S. births each year, up from 12 per 100,000 a quarter century ago.
Possible factors include the high C-section rates in the U.S. and soaring rates of obesity, which raises the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other complications.
Black women in the U.S. are about three times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause as others, partly because of racial bias they may experience in getting care and doctors not recognizing risk factors such as high blood pressure, said Dr. Lisa Hollier, the obstetrician group’s president.

That article concludes with a comment by a doctor about the finding that one third of pregnancy-related deaths take place in the time period between one week from giving birth to up to a year after it:

“It’s like the baby is the candy and the mama is the wrapper,” she added. “Once the baby is out of the wrapper, the wrapper is tossed aside.”