Where will we get the workers for "manual workarounds?"

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Everyone, leaving completely aside the question of bump in the road vs "TEOTWAWKI" (or whatever) for now, where in the heck do we get the PEOPLE to do these manual workarounds that are bandied around so lightly?

I manage a full service (temp, temp to hire, contract, and permanent placement) employment agency in Kalamazoo, MI. It is a city of about 200,000. We do not have an unusually low unemployment rate for the current economy (under 4.5%).

If I had to find twenty five candidates locally, with reasonable skills in bookkeeping and/or accounts payable/recievable, to start within the next week, I honestly don't know where they would come from. If our local employers needed 300 for immediate work arounds to keep the doors open, I'm not sure that all of the agencies in town could find them in a week.

Now, if companies were closing their doors left and right, that would be a different picture. Then there would be plenty of people available. But, by the current bump in the road philosophy, that won't be happening. Just a few "workarounds".

Do you know that many of the people currently unemployed are close to functionally illiterate? I read their resumes every day. Too often, they cannot do simple math (add, subtract, multiply, divide), they cannot spell, they cannot write in the English language.

I am no programmer. I have my own beliefs on how bad this may become. But, I do know a little bit about the employment market. This I can talk about.

If the workers are not available, then there can be no effective workarounds. If the workers become available in sizable numbers, it will be because other businesses are suffering significantly or are shutting down. So, we would have fewer employers, operating less efficiently, at a higher cost.

So, to my way of thinking, from this very narrow point of view, the only real way this could be a "bump" is if there is no greater level of failures than normal, leading to little if any need for additional staff.

I have trouble believing this will happen. Others must draw their own conclusions.

-- Jon Williamson (jwilliamson003@sprintmail.com), May 04, 1999


Good post, Jon and an excellent example of why this forum needs more than techies. IT people, by and large, do not think systemically even about world information systems, and almost never think culturally (that is, about the way that technology and people interact: "human factors"). Senator Bennett had it right: it is impossible to return to the manual systems of even 30 years ago. We don't have the people skills or even the pencils to make that happen.

On the "positive" side, this means that there is no alternative to technology post-Y2K unless it really goes IFM. Plenty of work for programmers even if lots of others are unemployed, plus strict laws to make sure we're not allowed to do this to the world again. If the world is lucky.

-- BigDog (BigDog@duffer.com), May 04, 1999.

Quite right, both of you. This is why so many fast-food restaurants have pictures on their keyboards instead of numbers. This is why the registers calculate the change, so that all the clerks have to do is add it up as they take it out of the register. No more counting it out, like, "let's see, that was 1.57, this makes 1.60, 1.70. 1.75, 2 dollars, and three makes five." Come on, when was the last time you heard that? The introduction of scanners at supermarkets forces clerks even further away from familiarity with numbers.

When was the last time you saw somebody adding up a ton of things (like grocery items in their basket) without benefit of calculator or paper and pencil? Without electricity, how long (and how accurate) is it going to be before a clerk adds up your purchases using paper and pencil? Can you happily (and safely) wait in line that long?

I remember an article in the Virginian-Pilot about nine years ago, said that the phone company, despite dumbing-down its application forms, still had to reject 60% of applicants for being unable to fill out the form. Want to bet it's worse now?

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), May 04, 1999.

I truly wish you could see some of the resumes that are submitted to the various State Job sites and to America's Talent Bank for Office/Clerical and for Office Support jobs. Ten to twenty misspelled words in a 150 word resume. Total inability to follow the form of the sites to deliver useful information to the prospective employer.

Maybe I'll post a few choice "gems" tomorrow.

-- Jon Williamson (pssomerville@sprintmail.com), May 04, 1999.

Jon...your premise is eminently correct.

The unemployment rate in the Upstate of South Carolina is hovering around 1.8%. Many, many jobs are going wanting. In my field of home health, I could put an additional 18-20 to work tomorrow....if I could find them!!

Where will we find all these folks for the workarounds? Silly boy. The government will train them just like they did the 'from the dole' programmers. (g) After all, all these people need is a little instruction...right?

-- Lobo (atthelair@yahoo.com), May 05, 1999.

Hi Old Git,

Are you aware that some registers now show pictures of the change to be returned. Pictures of $5, $1 bills and coins (with the correct number of each in the picture). Not kidding. :)

-- Dean -- from (almost) Duh Moines (dtmiller@nevia.net), May 05, 1999.

Nooooooooooo!!! Please say it ain't soooooooooo!!!

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), May 05, 1999.

Now stop yer worrying, ya silly pessymistic ole doomsters! Doncha know all them retirees' itching to go back to work? Theys all kicking up the dust ta git back ta work an we's gonna have em all on standby to go manual like the good ole days.
Yessirree, ya stop fussin wit yer britches cuz I done heard that very contingency plan by the head Y2K spokesman of a big metro gas co.
Yez they's gonna man the 100s of noncompliant regulators at midnight outside in the freezing windy sleet and crank that pressure just so.
So go back ta sleep cuz it's all taken care of and there's hordes of dem nice well-mannered hard-workin retirees that'll work cheep-cheep an do that old-fashioned manual labor. What's wrong wit all you young ppl anyways?

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-- Leska (allaha@earthlink.net), May 05, 1999.

I can appreciate where Jon is coming from. I own a small IT outsourcing company in the PNW. I've got great "kids" working for me. But sometimes I'm just amazed at the people who apply for the jobs I need to fill. Every person asks first about benefits, pay, vacation, holidays. Not what kind of training can I get, do you pay for college(I do by the way) where is this company positioning itself in the market, etc. you get the idea. If we truly had to go back to pen and paper we would be in big trouble around here! :) I can still do math in my head quite nicely thank you but I'm not sure I could keep my payroll straight without a computer system.

We are doing some Y2K work, limited by choice to BIOS level stuff, but not nearly what I thought we'd be doing by this time. I've priced our services very cheap since I know small companys have limited budgets. I was more concerned about being of service to others in this area and not out to make a fast buck. Remediation is still slow here in the PNW.


-- owner (owner1999@yahoo.com), May 05, 1999.

Owner: EEEEK! Ya tryin to top off a helluva day?!?
Read this and pleasant dreams ;-|

Quake Forecast Shifts To Land

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-- Ashton & Leska in Cascadia (allaha@earthlink.net), May 05, 1999.


Your phrase "fewer employers, operating less efficiently, at a higher cost" sums a lot of my own conclusions.

>So, to my way of thinking, from this very narrow point of view, the only real way this could be a "bump" is if there is no greater level of failures than normal, leading to little if any need for additional staff.

To my programmer way of thinking, there is no real way that there will be no greater level of failures than normal.

Put them together, and we've eliminated the "bump" ... scenario, that is. There's a recession coming.

- - -


Disregard what I wrote to Jon about my "programmer" way of thinking. Just a figure of speech. :-)

>IT people, by and large, do not think systemically even about world information systems, and almost never think culturally (that is, about the way that technology and people interact: "human factors").

... and we can substitute a large number of other professions for "IT", can't we?

>strict laws to make sure we're not allowed to do this to the world again

... and just how do we word _those_ laws? "Short-sightedness by a senior system analyst shall be a class C felony"? :-)

- - -

Old Git,

>Without electricity, how long (and how accurate) is it going to be before a clerk adds up your purchases using paper and pencil? Can you happily (and safely) wait in line that long?

We'll just fall back to what sensible pre-computer societies did: negotiate. "That'll be about ... hmmm ... $60 for that cart-full." "Will you take $40?" "$55" "$45?" "$50 and I'll throw in a licorice stick for your kid." "Done."

And fractional-percentage sales taxes will get simplified in a hurry.

- - -


>registers now show pictures of the change to be returned. Pictures of $5, $1 bills and coins (with the correct number of each in the picture).

(A) Could be for the sake of new-to-this-country workers.

(B) Consider it from the point of view of a register manufacturer: It's hard to come up with a genuinely new register feature to impress your customers. Once they've seen those cute pictures of $5, $1 bills and coins (with the correct number of each in the picture) on their bank's new Fujitsu ATM screen, they've going to want them on their registers. If your name is NCR and you make both ATMs and registers, it's hard to say no. Not kidding, either. :-)

-- No Spam Please (No_Spam_Please@anon_ymous.com), May 05, 1999.

The question of where to find competent workers is a serious one. The following essay on "World History" will almost certainly make you laugh and then, when you reflect that each of the "bloopers" were seriously held "facts" by someone who is likely now in the workforce, cry. I no longer remember where it came from other than off of a public bulletin board at a university I once attended.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

World History According to Student Bloopers

One of the fringe benefits of being an English or history teacher is receiving the occasional jewel of a student blooper in an essay. I have pasted together the following "history" of the world from certifiably genuine student bloopers collected by teachers throughout the United States, from eighth grade through college level. Read carefully and you will learn a lot.


The inhabitants of ancient Egypt were called mummies. They lived in the Sarah Dessert and traveled by Camelot. The climate of the Sarah is such that the inhabitants have to live elsewhere, so certain areas of the dessert are cultivated by irritation. The Egyptians built the pyramids in the shape of a huge triangular cube. The pramids are a range of mountains between France and Spain.

The Bible is full of interesting caricatures. In the first book of the Bible, Guinesses, Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree. One of their children, Cain, once asked, "Am I my brother's son?" God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Montezuma. Jacob, son of Isaac, stole his brother's birthmark. Jacob was a patriarch who brought up his twelve sons to be patriarchs, but they did not take to it. One of Jacob's sons, Joseph, gave refuse to the Israelites.

Pharaoh forced the Hebrew slaves to make bread without straw. Moses led them to the Red Sea, where they made unleavned bread, which is bread made without any ingredients. Afterwards, Moses went up on Mount Cyanide to get the ten commandments. David was a Hebrew king skilled at playing the liar. He fought with the Philatelists, a race of people who lived in biblical times. Solomon, one of David's sons, had 500 wives and 500 porcupines.

Without the Greeks we wouldn't have history. The Greeks invented three kinds of columns--Corinthian, Doric and Ironic. They also had myths. A myth is a female moth. One myth says that the mother of Achilles dipped him in the River Stynx until he became intollerable. Achilees appears in the Iliad, by Homer. Homer also wrote the Oddity, in which Penelope was the last hardship that Ulysses endured on his journey. Actually, Homer was not ritten by Homer but by another man of that name.

Socrates was a famous Greek teacher who went around giving people advice. They killed him. Socrates died from an overdose of wedlock.

In the Olympic Games, Greeks ran races, jumped, hurled the biscuits, and threw the java. The reward to the victor was a coral wreath. The government of Athens was democratic because people took the law into their own hands. There were no wars in Greece, as the mountains were so high that they couldn't climb over to see what their neighbors were doing. They fought with the Persians and the Greeks were outnumbered because the Persians had more men.

Eventually, the Ramons conquered the Greeks. History calls people Romans because they never stayed in one place for very long. At Roman banquets, the guests wore garlics in their hair. Julius Caesar extinguished himself on the battle field of Gaul. The Ides of March murdered him because they thought he was going to be made king. Nero was a cruel tryanny who would torture his poor subjects by playing the fiddle to them.

Then came the Middle Ages. King Alfred conquered the Dames. King Arthur lived in the Age of Shivery, King Harold mustarded his troops before the Battle of Hastings, Joan of Arc was cannonized by Barnard Shaw, and the victims of the Black Death grew boobs on their necks. Finally, Magna Carta provided that no free man should be hanged twice for the same offence.

In midevil times most of the people were alliterate. The greatest riter of the time was Chaucer, who wrote many poems and verses and also rote literature. Another tale tells of William Tell, who shot an arrow through an apple while standing on his son's head.

The renaissance was an age in which more individuals felt the value of their human being. Martin Luther was nailed to the church door at Wittenberg for selling Papal indulgences. He died a horrible death, being xcommunicated by a bull. It was the painter Donatello's interest in the female nude that made him the father of the Renaissance. It was an age of great inventions and dicoveries, Gutenberg invented the Bible, Sir Walter Raleigh is a historical figure because he invented cigarettes. Another important invention was the circulation of blood. Sir francis Drake circumcised the world with a 100 foot dipper.

The government of England was a limited mockery. Henry VIII found walking difficult because he had an Abbess on his knee. Queen Elizabeth was the "Virgin Queen". As a queen she was a success. When Elizabeth exposed herself before her troops, they all shouted "Hurrah". Then her navy went out and defeated the Spanish Armadillo.

The greatest writer of the Renaissance was William Shakespear. Shakespear never made much money and is famous only because of his plays. He lived at Windsor with his merry wives, writing tragedies, comedies, and errors. In one of Shakespear's famous plays, Hamlet rations out his situation by relieving himself in a long soliloquy. In another, Lady Macbeth tries to convince Macbeth to kill the king by attacking his manhood. Romeo and Juliet are an example of a heroic couplet. Writing at the same time as Shakespear was Miguel Cervantes. He wrote Donkey Hote. The next great author was John Milton. Milton wrote Paradise Lost. Then his wife died and he wrote Paradise Regained.

During the Renaissance America began. Christopher Columbus was a great navigator who discovered America while cursing about the Atlantic. His ships were called the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Fe. Later, the pilgrims crossed the ocean, and this was known as Pilgrim's Progress. When they landed at Plymouth Rock, they were greeted by the Indians, who came down the hill rolling their war hoops before them. The Indian squabs carried porpoises on their back. Many of the Indian heroes were killed, along with their cabooses, which proved very fatal to them. The winter of 1620 was a hard one for the settlers. Many people died and many babies were born. Captain John Smith was responsible for all this.

One of the causes of the revolutionary wars was the English put tacks in their tea. Also, the colonists would send their parcels through the post without stamps. During the war, the red coats and Paul Revere were throwing balls over stone walls. The dogs were barking and the peacocks crowing. Finally, the colonists won the war and no longer had to pay for taxis.

Delegates from the original thirteen states formed the Contented Congress. Thomas Jefferson, a Virgin, and Benjamin Franklin were two singers of the Declaration of Independence. Franklin had gone to Boston carrying all his clothes in his pocket and a loaf of bread under each arm. He invented electricity by rubbing cats backwards and declared, "a horse divided against itself cannot stand." Franklin died in 1790 and is still dead.

George Washington married Martha Curtis and in due time became the father of our country. Then the Constitution of the United States was adopted to secure Domestic Hostility. Under the Constitution the people enjoyed the right to bare arms.

Abraham Lincoln became America's greatest precedent. Lincoln's mother died in infancy, and he was born in a log cabin which he built with his own hands. When Lincoln was president, he wore only a tall silk hat. He said, "in onion there is strength." Abraham Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address while travelling from Washington to Gettysburg on the back of an envelope. He also freed the slaves by signing the Emasculation Proclamation, and the Fourteenth Amendment gave the ex-Negroes citizenship. But the Clue Clux Clan would torcher and lynch the ex-Negroes and other innocent victims. It claimed it represented law and odor. On the night of April 14, 1865, Lincoln went to the theater and got shot in his seat by one of the actors in a moving picture show. The believed assinator was John Wilkes Booth, a supposingly insane actor. This ruined Booth's career.

Meanwhile in Europe, the Enlightment was a reasonable time. Voltare invented electricity and also wrote a book called Candy. Gravity was invented by Isaac Walton. It is chiefly noticeable in the autumn, when the apples are falling off the trees.

Bach was the most famous composer in the world, and so was Handel. Handel was half German, half Italian and half English. he was very large. Bach died from 1750 to the present. Beethoven wrote music even though he was deaf. He was so deaf he wrote loud music. He took long walks in the forest even when everyone was calling for him. Beethoven expired in 1827 and later died of this.

France was in a very serious state. The French Revolution was accomplished before it happened. The Marseillaise was the theme song of the French Revolution, and it catapulted into Napoleon. During the Napoleonic Wars, the crowned heads of Europe were trembling in their shoes. Then the Spanish gorilas came down from the hills and nipped at Napoleon's flanks. Napoleon became ill with bladder problems and was very tense and unrestrained. He wanted an heir to inherit his power, but since Josephine as a Baroness, she couldn't bear children.

The sun never set on the British Empire because the British Empire is in the east and the sun sets in the west. Queen Victoria was the longest queen. She sat on the throne for 63 years. Her reclining years, and finally the end of her life were exemplatory of a great personality. Her death was the final event which ended her reign.

The nineteenth century was a time of many great inventions and thoughts. The invention of the steamboat caused a network of rivers to spring up. Cyrus McCormick invented the McCormick raper, which did the work of a hundred men. Samuel Morse invented a code of telepathy. Louis Pasteur discovered a cure for Rabbis. Charles Darwin was a naturlist who wrote The Organ of the Species. Madman Curie discovered radium and Karl Marx became one of the Marx brothers.

The First World War, caused by the assignation of the arch-duck by a surf, ushered in a new error in the annals of human history.

-- Hardliner (searcher@internet.com), May 05, 1999.

Hardliner, wonderful to see you again! History, an opening to post:

History, a broad perspective. Learn from history or be doomed to repeat it.
Around and around and around in repetitive cycles of misery & mire.

" ... the world's great civilizations averaged a cycle of 200 years. Those societies progressed through this sequence:

From bondage to spiritual faith.
From spiritual faith to great courage.
From great courage to liberty.
From liberty to abundance.
From abundance to selfishness.
From selfishness to complacency.
From complacency to apathy.
From apathy to dependency.
From dependency back again into bondage.

 As the United States has passed its 200th birthday, and in view of the recent epidemic of immorality, I wonder how your readers would assess America's current position."

-- William W. Quinn, Lt. Gen., U.S. Army (retired), to Ann Landers, 8/21/1998

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-- Ashton & Leska in Cascadia (allaha@earthlink.net), May 05, 1999.

Hardliner -

I can hardly see what I type from the tears in my eyes from the laughter I suffer...

And yes, it is scary - if this is where our future work-around workers will be found.

I can attest that this is nothing new. When I first went to travel agent school, there were all ages in the class. When the instructor asked us to fill out a map of the US - states and major cities, you wouldn't believe some of the answers and where cities were places - remember DC being placed in Washington state (and that's where the test was done!!!!) and LA in No California. Cleveland in So. California, and Miami on the Michigan upper pennisula. These were from the more recent high school grads - those of us who had been out of school for 15 or 20 years scored much much better. If the math education was anything like their geography, I cannot believe the horror that will be if some of these recent "grads" take over the accounting and change making and - OMG! - banking in this country if it all goes to paper work. LOUD SCREAM of frustration.

-- Valkyrie (anon@please.net), May 05, 1999.

Jon, what a great post and a great thread you started! It's so great to read gems from old "friends" again!!!!

Also, Jon, you hit on exactly what has bothered me for so long about the switch to "manual". It's going to take a long time and be a hard road to travel if going manual is what is required. To top it off, factor in the laziness of our society, our high expectations and the level of comfort we are accustomed to and it gets really scary!

My wife is a CPA who learned on paper. Her firm is way ahead and proactive in their Y2k preps. I figure she'll be in high demand. Also, her firm has been searching for nearly a year to fill two positions with the right people. Good, quality help isn't always easy to find.

I learned my work in the time of paste-up and marker comps, manually spec'ing type and using my hands and my minds eye to create. I actually look forward to returning to working that way if it's necessary.

However, I feel that for many this shift to old ways will be very difficult if not impossible. Talk about a major shift...

Nothing else to say except thank you all for making me laugh and maybe cry a little too deep inside.

Mike ====================================================

-- Michael Taylor (mtdesign3@aol.com), May 05, 1999.

I've still got a K&E log-log decitrig slide rule. Anyone know if there are still Kurta calculators around?

Just like in the olden days -- the scribes had (and will have) a better living than the ignorant and illiterate peasants.

-- A (A@AisA.com), May 05, 1999.

Sorry, how about an abacus?

-- winna (??@??.com), May 06, 1999.

I don't remember getting "educated". I went through high school in the early '60's, and was anything BUT a consciensous student. Somehow, I graduated. And somehow, I ended up fluent in two languages, have a working knowledge of accounting, economics, history and politics. I am able to converse intelligently with anyone. I can write a good business letter. I can even SPELL!!! AND make change!! I am constantly amazed at the amount of knowlege I possess on almost any subject. I often wonder how much better educated I would have been had I taken advantage of the schooling I was exposed to.

I'm not saying this to brag. It's just that I have raised 6 children...4 of whom have graduated from university, the last 2 are just entering college.

I'm ASHAMED to say that I don't consider ANY of them "educated". They can't spell, write or even converse intelligently. They don't understand politics or economics. They can't "think" for themselves. Worse, they are not interested in knowlege.

Oh sure, the older 4 have good careers, and high salaries. They are successful by today's standards. But their "didn't go to college" Mom is ashamed of their ignorance.

-- Mom (2ashamed@tosay.com), May 06, 1999.

hahahah.....so maybe I don't ALWAYS spell correctly!!!

That should be "conscientious"....

Humble pie is soooooooo bitter!!!

-- mom (2ashamed@2say.com), May 06, 1999.

Humble pie is bitter indeed, but like a few other medications, really good for the soul and essential to emotional health. . .

It is also an essential ingredient of courage.

-- Hardliner (searcher@internet.com), May 06, 1999.

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