Thursday, January 03, 2013

Coach potato

By now, one would have supposed that there is nothing left to say about outsourcing.

And then we read about Boeing’s going out and employing:

…sacks of potatoes as stand-ins for passengers as they worked to eliminate weak spots in in-flight wireless signals.

Why not hire real people to impersonate passengers? Well, Boeing felt that:

…they couldn't ask people to sit motionless for days while data was gathered.

I suspect that, in this economy, Boeing could have gotten on Craigslist and recruited plenty of folks willing to sit still for minimum wage, a bag of peanuts, and a couple of in-flight movies. But if something can be done for cheaper, it’s going to be.

Just ask the toll-takers on the Mass. Turnpike who are going to be fully replaced by automation in the not too distant future.

Then there’s the Paris Metro running driver-less plains, and the prospect of pilot-less plains.

Yep. If something can be automated, it will be. If you can work from home, someone willing to make $2/hour can work it from Mumbai. And if there’s a way to get it done more “cost effectively”, some bean counter will figure it out.

Just what is the future of work, anyway?  A few high-paid jobs at the top of the slag heap, a few more the next level down, and the rest of the world gleaning the slag heap for bits of copper and rags. Sigh…

It’s one thing to be replaced by a machine, by a 12 year-old factory worker in a danger zone where any self-respecting OSHA official would stroke out, or by some snotty-voiced Indian university grad willing to call himself Brian when he answers the phone.  But to lose out to a sack of potatoes…

But as it happens, humans have a bit more than you might think in common with potatoes than just having eyes.

It turns out that potatoes - because of their water content and chemistry - absorb and reflect radio wave signals much the same way as the human body does, making them suitable substitutes for airline passengers.

So Boeing got their grocery cart out and bought 20,000 pounds worth.

If potatoes cost 50 cents a pound, that’s $10,000. Or 1,000 hours worth of humans sitting still for $10/hour.

Don’t know how long the potatoes were needed – or how long they lasted – but we do know that sacks of potatoes do not need bio breaks, press the call button for the stew, or feel the urge to join the Mile High Club.

No word on whether they were Idahos or Maines, russets or Yukon golds, new potatoes or old. Frankly, from the picture, they look more like onions. We do know that Boeing called its project SPUDS (for Synthetic Personnel Using Dialectic Substitution).

Synthetic personnel! Just like those perky, Valley Girl voices that greet and guide you when you call American Express and Fidelity. (“Sorry, I don’t quite understand you. Did you say ‘check my balance?’” No, I actually said ‘I’d like to speak with a @*(#*)@#*()! human.’ Perky IVR systems just don’t speak @*(#*)@#*()!,)

In any case, the potatoes give Boeing a good idea not just of where the weak spots are, but where there are any potential points where wireless actually could interfere with the a planes actual electronics equipment when in flight. (Phew.)

There is, of course, some risk in using potatoes. As anyone of Irish heritage knows, praties can and do go bad. Those Boeing coach potatoes could easily have turned into suppurating bags of yuck that would have made wireless signals stand on end based on the smell alone of those suppurating bags of yuck.

Not that humans don’t eventually turn into suppurating bags of yuck. But by then, we’re dead, and no ones paying us anything.

Anyway, I can’t help feel a bit sorry that yet another important job isn’t going to humans, but to an item that branched off from us quite while back, evolution-wise. Next thing you know, they’ll be replacing test-crash dummies with sacks of tomatoes. Squish!


Source: AP article, pointed out by my brother-in-law Rick, a consistently excellent source of blog ideas for Pink Slip.  Rick also suggested that there might be some way to connect this story to Aer Lingus, but I couldn’t find it.

1 comment:

valerie said...

I clicked on the photo to enlarge it. To my aging eyes, it appears that the potato passenger has a bag-o-baby on its ... lap (?) .