人形軟件(卷二) 生死之輪 – 譚劍

譚劍,香港僅存唯一的科幻小說作家,當了他的讀者這麼多年,上次回香港時剛好他的新小說出版,便跑去旺角二樓書店買。買了放在背包中,坐車時等人時翻看,還未離開香港便已看完。這次「人形軟件」卷二拖了很久才出版,譚劍看來真的把卷二作出重大改動,上次卷一書未的預告,明明說「在東京秋葉原某個格仔店裏,善兵待沽的機械人」,可是書中機械人卻到了仙台,希望卷三能夠如期出書吧。

第二卷的故事三線平衡發展,三條主線可說互不相干,沒有上一卷故事的精彩。天照變成純萃路人,她的戲份有點拖時間佔篇幅的感覺。原本人與軟件相戀可以是個好題材,但譚劍男人老狗不擅感情描寫,完全沒有感動位。主角小機械人逃亡是重頭戲,與追捕的人鬥智寫得不錯,火車站儲物櫃一役橋段高明。不過不知何解看這條線時,腦海中總是浮現「玩具奇兵」的畫面。新角色愛因斯坦人形軟件,主要用途是申述作者的世界觀,可是他的能力太過屈機,高高在上的發表偉論,給讀者有單方向說教的感覺。不過愛因斯坦的主角的備份,大慨同時也為下集解放主角的威能舖路。

與上卷的風格一樣,譚劍很愛拋書包,把很多不同科幻的元素寫進書內。可是他有點兒太貪心,很多科幻元素書中僅說了兩句,完全沒有把它融入故事之內,只給讀者留下花多眼亂的感覺。單單是魔音這一項,已足夠寫一本很有趣的科幻推理小說,現在只來幫脫險天照,有點兒浪費。愛因斯坦遇上人工智能小女孩,作者想從側面描寫愛因斯坦的善良,但後來人工智能卻不了了之。本來我還期待會帶出會帶出人類和人形軟件,人工智能生命體的新勢力,成為三強鼎立的大格局。愛因斯坦倒戈相向,消滅魔神教有點反高潮,原本以為應該是最終壞人,有摧毀世界能力的大組織,竟然如此不堪撼一擊,還要各地警方去拉人,與期望的差落實在太大。

竟然已經看了兩本,第三本結局篇必定也會捧場,不過「人形軟件」太流於於流行冒險小說的格局,未能進入真正科幻小說的殿堂。譚劍轉當全職作家才不久,我期待有天他能夠寫出本大格局的科幻小說。

Programming Linguistics – David Gelernter and Suresh Jagannathan

早前因工作上的需要,要設計一個新的程式語言,在網上找參考資料時,遇上了這本早已絕版的奇書。差不多每篇有關程式語言設計的論文,必定引用這本書。這引發我的好奇心,於是我大學的圖書館中,找來這本書借來一讀。不看猶自可看罷方知自已井蛙觀天,雖然自中學以來寫了程式超過二十多年,卻從來沒有思考過何謂程式這個最基本的問題。一直還以為自已寫程式功夫不錯,原來不過是學到幾個招式套拳的外功,這本書說的卻是寫程式的易筋經心法。讀過這本書,面對任何程式語言,也都可以一理通百理明。

一般教寫程式的書藉,通常從程式的文法和應用例子作教材,學生跟著練習題去學,慢慢便可以寫出像樣的程式,可是始終有點兒像鸚鵡學舌,沒錯能夠寫程式,但卻不明白程式是什麼。但這本書沒有教任何一種特定的程式語言,而是從語言學的角度,去分析歷史上重要的程式語言,到底新的文法帶來什麼的轉變,而同時亦指出不論什麼轉變,也都是萬變不離其中的基本觀念。

書本一開始便澄清什麼是程式,程式不是軟件或硬件的分別,甚至電腦本身是否存在也不重要,程式是一個抽像的機器,只是知訊的某一種狀態。程式語言只是代表程式的符號,任何程式語言在抽像的層面也是共通和等同的,只是不同語言設計的重點取向,有意無意左右了程式編寫員的思考模式。整本書的靈魂便是第二章中,提出的完美程式機器的模型。不論任何程式,也可以用時間(函數)和空間(記憶)去表達,而這兩者是可以互相轉換。靜止的程式源碼和運行中的程式,在抽像層面是同一樣東西,不過是時間和空間的關係改變了。

接下來的所有章節,都是回顧程式語言的發展,把每一個重要里程碑的語言,用完美程式機器去分析作比較。書中提及的程式語言,隨了做學術研究外,現今已沒有什麼人用。反觀現在最流行的幾種語言,本身並沒有獨創性可言,只是在走前人開發出來的路。這本書寫於一九九零年,超過二十年前。可是過去二十年,程式語言的發展卻停滯不前,只是不斷建立更多的程式庫,但最在基本的程式語言的思考方法上,與二十年前比較沒有多少突破。

始終這是一本大部頭的學術書,我很難在此以有限的文字,用三言兩語把書中慨念表達清楚。我特別想說的是,當我讀到完美程式機器的理論,我感到叮一聲開竅的感覺,多年來寫程式不明所以的地方,就在這一刻豁然領悟了。若果寫程式也有禪的話,這無異便是頓悟的境界。讀電腦的朋友,靠寫程式維生的朋友,這是一本會改變你想法的書。這書本學校不會教亦無法教,因為要寫程式多年,心中產生無數問號,才可以看懂程式的玄妙。

Do Romantic Thoughts Reduce Women’s Interest in Engineering?

If romance reduce girls’ pursuit in engineering, probably the reverse is also true that girls choose engineering have less interest in romance as well. They should do a follow up research and survey a large sample of engineering girls, see how many of them had a boyfriend in high school.

Now, someone should come up with a research showing male engineers are not romantic, so Pat cannot complain I am not romantic.

BY Steven Cherry, IEEE Spectrum, Fri, August 26, 2011
A new study suggests thoughts of romance can reduce college women’s interest in science and engineering

In the 1960s, when women first began enrolling at universities in record numbers, many people wondered: “Why weren’t more of them studying engineering?” Fifty years later, we’re still wondering. Only one in seven U.S. engineers is a woman. The so-called “engineering gender gap” is still a chasm.

And that’s not likely to change very quickly. The average college graduate nowadays is a woman—57 percent to 43—but when it comes to the so-called STEM fields, that’s science, technology, engineering, and math, women account for only 35 percent. And most of those are for life and physical sciences, not engineering or computer science.

It’s a problem perhaps best examined by psychologists, and examining it they are. And a new series of studies argues that—as clichéd as it sounds—maybe love really does have something to do with it.

An article based on the studies, will be published next month in the peer-reviewed journal, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

My guest today is the paper’s lead author. Lora Park is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Buffalo, in New York, and principal investigator at the Self and Motivation Lab there. She joins us by phone.A new study suggests thoughts of romance can reduce college women’s interest in science and engineering

Effects of Everyday Romantic Goal Pursuit on Women’s Attitudes Toward Math and Science

Abstract:
The present research examined the impact of everyday romantic goal strivings on women’s attitudes toward science, technology,engineering, and math (STEM). It was hypothesized that women may distance themselves from STEM when the goal to be romantically desirable is activated because pursuing intelligence goals in masculine domains (i.e., STEM) conflicts with pursuing romantic goals associated with traditional romantic scripts and gender norms. Consistent with hypotheses, women, but not men, who viewed images (Study 1) or overheard conversations (Studies 2a-2b) related to romantic goals reported less positive attitudes toward STEM and less preference for majoring in math/science compared to other disciplines. On days when women pursued romantic goals, the more romantic activities they engaged in and the more desirable they felt, but the fewer math activities they engaged in. Furthermore, women’s previous day romantic goal strivings predicted feeling more desirable but being less invested in math on the following day (Study 3).

Link to the paper: http://www.buffalo.edu/news/pdf/August11/ParkRomanticAttitudes.pdf

My first IPSC competition

I just completed my first IPSC competition today. I took the black badge course last year and it is required to complete one match to be fully certified. Unlike the elaborate match setup in the movies “double tap” or “triple tap”, a real IPSC match is more down to earth. We don’t have old school bus or custom built course with lots of props. All we have are empty barrels and mesh screens pretending to be real combat setting. We also have to help running the match by patching and setting up the target between each shooters. In today’s match, I worked in the morning and shot in the afternoon.

My instructor gave me some good advices, for the first match, try to finish last. It is better to finish the course last than being disqualified. The most common mistake is finger in the trigger while moving or changing magazine or the muzzle of the gun points more than 90 degrees when running to the side or running backward. Once your are disqualified, you are done for the day. Following all the procedures and do not violate any safety rules has the absolute priority.

The second advice is take your time and focus on accuracy first, don’t rush the course. On the stage that an average player takes 30 seconds to finish, while the best players take less than 20 seconds, it took me over 2 minutes to finish. I have fairly good accuracy and had completed a couple stages with most my hits in the A zone. However, at the last stage, I was very tried and start losing focus. I totally missed two targets and screwed up big time. That is partly due to I have to wake up at 5:30am in the morning to arrive at the shooting range on time at 7:30am, and partly due to the stress of shooting over 150 rounds in previous stages really worn me out.

People are friendly at the matches and I learn a lot just by watching how other people shoot. I also meet some interesting person in the match, an old lady play the match to company her husband, a mom using a baby stroller to carry her ammunition, a teenage boy shooting in the match with his dad and his time beats everyone in the group. The majority of the people are middle age men or old men, just like me. To my surprise, I see a lots of Chinese faces, probably a third of players speaks either Cantonese or Mandarin. Looks like shooting is a popular sports among the immigrants.

Playing IPSC is a very unique experience, totally unlike target practice. I felt the excitement and adrenaline rush, but at the same time I have to stay calm and stay cool. A match day is pretty slow, you are sitting there watching other people shoot most of the time. I stayed in the shooting range from 7:30am to 5pm, even longer than a normal work day, but the total game time is probably less than 15 minutes. However, this 15 minutes make the other 9 hours worth waiting for. It would be more fun if there are friends shooting the match together. I should starting promoting IPSC to my friends and lure them to join the game.

History of Work Ethic

I like Plato’s idea that wisdom is directly proportion the amount of leisure time a person has. To Plato, leisure does not mean indulge yourself in brainless entertainment, it means time for thinking and exercise of the mind. When my week is too busy for me to think and reflect, I can feel the rotting of my mind.

In the hi-tech age, Plato’s work ethic comes back with a slight twist. Manual labor of the slaves are replaced robots and computers. Repetitive manual labor has no intrinsic value, thinking as work brings meaning to the educated. Just like in protestant work ethic, idleness is still a deadly sin, but work without using your mind is equally bad.

Historical Context of the Work Ethic
by, Roger B. Hill, Ph.D., the Work Ethic Site

From a historical perspective, the cultural norm placing a positive moral value on doing a good job because work has intrinsic value for its own sake was a relatively recent development (Lipset, 1990). Work, for much of the ancient history of the human race, has been hard and degrading. Working hard–in the absence of compulsion–was not the norm for Hebrew, classical, or medieval cultures (Rose, 1985). It was not until the Protestant Reformation that physical labor became culturally acceptable for all persons, even the wealthy.

1.Attitudes Toward Work During the Classical Period

One of the significant influences on the culture of the western world has been the Judeo-Christian belief system. Growing awareness of the multicultural dimensions of contemporary society has moved educators to consider alternative viewpoints and perspectives, but an understanding of western thought is an important element in the understanding of the history of the United States.

Traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs state that sometime after the dawn of creation, man was placed in the Garden of Eden “to work it and take care of it” (NIV, 1973, Genesis 2:15). What was likely an ideal work situation was disrupted when sin entered the world and humans were ejected from the Garden. Genesis 3:19 described the human plight from that time on. “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (NIV, 1973). Rose stated that the Hebrew belief system viewed work as a “curse devised by God explicitly to punish the disobedience and ingratitude of Adam and Eve” (1985, p. 28). Numerous scriptures from the Old Testament in fact supported work, not from the stance that there was any joy in it, but from the premise that it was necessary to prevent poverty and destitution (NIV; 1973; Proverbs 10:14, Proverbs 13:4, Proverbs 14:23, Proverbs 20:13, Ecclesiastes 9:10).

The Greeks, like the Hebrews, also regarded work as a curse (Maywood, 1982). According to Tilgher (1930), the Greek word for work was ponos, taken from the Latin poena, which meant sorrow. Manual labor was for slaves. The cultural norms allowed free men to pursue warfare, large-scale commerce, and the arts, especially architecture or sculpture (Rose, 1985).

Mental labor was also considered to be work and was denounced by the Greeks. The mechanical arts were deplored because they required a person to use practical thinking, “brutalizing the mind till it was unfit for thinking of truth” (Tilgher, 1930, p. 4). Skilled crafts were accepted and recognized as having some social value, but were not regarded as much better than work appropriate for slaves. Hard work, whether due to economic need or under the orders of a master, was disdained.

It was recognized that work was necessary for the satisfaction of material needs, but philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle made it clear that the purpose for which the majority of men labored was “in order that the minority, the élite, might engage in pure exercises of the mind–art, philosophy, and politics” (Tilgher, 1930, p. 5). Plato recognized the notion of a division of labor, separating them first into categories of rich and poor, and then into categories by different kinds of work, and he argued that such an arrangement could only be avoided by abolition of private property (Anthony, 1977). Aristotle supported the ownership of private property and wealth. He viewed work as a corrupt waste of time that would make a citizen’s pursuit of virtue more difficult (Anthony, 1977).

Braude (1975) described the Greek belief that a person’s prudence, morality, and wisdom was directly proportional to the amount of leisure time that person had. A person who worked, when there was no need to do so, would run the risk of obliterating the distinction between slave and master. Leadership, in the Greek state and culture, was based on the work a person didn’t have to do, and any person who broke this cultural norm was acting to subvert the state itself.

The Romans adopted much of their belief system from the culture of the Greeks and they also held manual labor in low regard (Lipset, 1990). The Romans were industrious, however, and demonstrated competence in organization, administration, building, and warfare. Through the empire that they established, the Roman culture was spread through much of the civilized world during the period from c500 BC until c117 AD (Webster Encyclopedia, 1985). The Roman empire spanned most of Europe, the Middle East, Egypt, and North Africa and greatly influenced the Western culture in which the theoretical constructs underlying this study were developed.

Slavery had been an integral part of the ancient world prior to the Roman empire, but the employment of slaves was much more widely utilized by the Romans than by the Greeks before them (Anthony, 1977). Early on in the Roman system, moderate numbers of slaves were held and they were treated relatively well. As the size of landholdings grew, however, thousands of slaves were required for large-scale grain production on some estates, and their treatment grew worse. Slaves came to be viewed as cattle, with no rights as human beings and with little hope of ever being freed. In fact, in some instances cattle received greater care than slaves, since cattle were not as capable of caring for themselves as were slaves (Anthony, 1977).

For the Romans, work was to be done by slaves, and only two occupations were suitable for a free man–agriculture and big business (Maywood, 1982). A goal of these endeavors, as defined by the Roman culture, was to achieve an “honorable retirement into rural peace as a country gentleman” (Tilgher, 1930, p. 8). Any pursuit of handicrafts or the hiring out of a person’s arms was considered to be vulgar, dishonoring, and beneath the dignity of a Roman citizen.

Philosophically, both the Greeks and the Romans viewed the work that slaves performed and the wealth that free men possessed as a means to achieve the supreme ideal of life–man’s independence of external things, self-sufficiency, and satisfaction with one’s self (Tilgher, 1930). Although work was something that would degrade virtue, wealth was not directly related to virtue except in the matter of how it was used. The view of Antisthenes that wealth and virtue were incompatible and the view of the Stoics that wealth should be pursued for the purpose of generosity and social good represented extremes of philosophical thought. The most accepted view was that pursuit of gain to meet normal needs was appropriate.

From the perspective of a contemporary culture, respect for workers upon whom the economic structure of a nation and a society rested would have been logical for the Greeks and the Romans, but no such respect was evident. Even free men, who were not privileged to be wealthy and were obliged to work along side slaves, were not treated with any sense of gratitude, but were held in contempt. The cultural norms of the classical era regarding work were in stark contrast to the work ethic of the latter day.

3.Attitudes Toward Work During the Medieval Period

The fall of the Roman empire marked the beginning of a period generally known as the Middle Ages. During this time, from c400 AD until c1400 AD, Christian thought dominated the culture of Europe (Braude, 1975). Woven into the Christian conceptions about work, however, were Hebrew, Greek, and Roman themes. Work was still perceived as punishment by God for man’s original sin, but to this purely negative view was added the positive aspect of earnings which prevented one from being reliant on the charity of others for the physical needs of life (Tilgher, 1930). Wealth was recognized as an opportunity to share with those who might be less fortunate and work which produced wealth therefore became acceptable.

Early Christian thought placed an emphasis on the shortness of time until the second coming of Christ and the end of the world. Any attachment to physical things of the world or striving to accumulate excessive wealth was frowned upon. As time passed and the world did not end, the Christian church began to turn its attention to social structure and the organization of the believers on earth. Monasteries were formed where monks performed the religious and intellectual work of the church (reading, copying manuscripts, etc.), but lay people tended to the manual labor needed to supply the needs of the community. People who were wealthy were expected to meet their own needs, but to give the excess of their riches to charity. Handicraft, farming, and small scale commerce were acceptable for people of moderate means, but receiving interest for money loaned, charging more than a “just” price, and big business were not acceptable (Tilgher, 1930).

As was the case for the Greeks and the Romans, social status within the medieval culture was related to the work a person did. Aristotelianism was also evident in the system of divine law taught by the Catholic church during this time (Anthony, 1977). A hierarchy of professions and trades was developed by St. Thomas Aquinas as part of his encyclopedic consideration of all things human and divine (Tilgher, 1930). Agriculture was ranked first, followed by the handicrafts and then commerce. These were considered to be the work of the world, however, and the work of the church was in a higher category (Rose, 1985). The ideal occupation was the monastic life of prayer and contemplation of God (Braude, 1975; Tilgher, 1930). Whether as a cleric or in some worldly occupation, each person embarked on a particular work course as a result of the calling of God, and it was the duty of a worker to remain in his class, passing on his family work from father to son.

In the culture of the medieval period, work still held no intrinsic value. The function of work was to meet the physical needs of one’s family and community, and to avoid idleness which would lead to sin (Tilgher, 1930). Work was a part of the economic structure of human society which, like all other things, was ordered by God.

4.Protestantism and the Protestant Ethic

With the Reformation, a period of religious and political upheaval in western Europe during the sixteenth century, came a new perspective on work. Two key religious leaders who influenced the development of western culture during this period were Martin Luther and John Calvin. Luther was an Augustinian friar who became discontent with the Catholic church and was a leader within the Protestant movement. He believed that people could serve God through their work, that the professions were useful, that work was the universal base of society and the cause of differing social classes, and that a person should work diligently in their own occupation and should not try to change from the profession to which he was born. To do so would be to go against God’s laws since God assigned each person to his own place in the social hierarchy (Lipset, 1990; Tilgher, 1930).

The major point at which Luther differed from the medieval concept of work was regarding the superiority of one form of work over another. Luther regarded the monastic and contemplative life, held up as the ideal during the middle ages, as an egotistic and unaffectionate exercise on the part of the monks, and he accused them of evading their duty to their neighbors (Tilgher, 1930). For Luther, a person’s vocation was equated as his calling, but all calling’s were of equal spiritual dignity. This tenant was significant because it affirmed manual labor.

Luther still did not pave the way for a profit-oriented economic system because he disapproved of commerce as an occupation (Lipset, 1990; Tilgher, 1930). From his perspective, commerce did not involve any real work. Luther also believed that each person should earn an income which would meet his basic needs, but to accumulate or horde wealth was sinful.

According to Weber (1904, 1905), it was John Calvin who introduced the theological doctrines which combined with those of Martin Luther to form a significant new attitude toward work. Calvin was a French theologian whose concept of predestination was revolutionary. Central to Calvinist belief was the Elect, those persons chosen by God to inherit eternal life. All other people were damned and nothing could change that since God was unchanging. While it was impossible to know for certain whether a person was one of the Elect, one could have a sense of it based on his own personal encounters with God. Outwardly the only evidence was in the person’s daily life and deeds, and success in one’s worldly endeavors was a sign of possible inclusion as one of the Elect. A person who was indifferent and displayed idleness was most certainly one of the damned, but a person who was active, austere, and hard-working gave evidence to himself and to others that he was one of God’s chosen ones (Tilgher, 1930).

Calvin taught that all men must work, even the rich, because to work was the will of God. It was the duty of men to serve as God’s instruments here on earth, to reshape the world in the fashion of the Kingdom of God, and to become a part of the continuing process of His creation (Braude, 1975). Men were not to lust after wealth, possessions, or easy living, but were to reinvest the profits of their labor into financing further ventures. Earnings were thus to be reinvested over and over again, ad infinitum, or to the end of time (Lipset, 1990). Using profits to help others rise from a lessor level of subsistence violated God’s will since persons could only demonstrate that they were among the Elect through their own labor (Lipset, 1990).

Selection of an occupation and pursuing it to achieve the greatest profit possible was considered by Calvinists to be a religious duty. Not only condoning, but encouraging the pursuit of unlimited profit was a radical departure from the Christian beliefs of the middle ages. In addition, unlike Luther, Calvin considered it appropriate to seek an occupation which would provide the greatest earnings possible. If that meant abandoning the family trade or profession, the change was not only allowed, but it was considered to be one’s religious duty (Tilgher, 1930).

The norms regarding work which developed out of the Protestant Reformation, based on the combined theological teachings of Luther and Calvin, encouraged work in a chosen occupation with an attitude of service to God, viewed work as a calling and avoided placing greater spiritual dignity on one job than another, approved of working diligently to achieve maximum profits, required reinvestment of profits back into one’s business, allowed a person to change from the craft or profession of his father, and associated success in one’s work with the likelihood of being one of God’s Elect.

5.Two Perspectives of the Protestant Ethic

The attitudes toward work which became a part of the culture during the sixteenth century, and the economic value system which they nurtured, represented a significant change from medieval and classical ways of thinking about work (Anthony, 1977). Max Weber, the German economic sociologist, coined a term for the new beliefs about work calling it the “Protestant ethic.” The key elements of the Protestant ethic were diligence, punctuality, deferment of gratification, and primacy of the work domain (Rose, 1985). Two distinct perspectives were evident in the literature with regard to the development of the Protestant ethic.

One perspective was the materialist viewpoint which stated that the belief system, called the Protestant ethic, grew out of changes in the economic structure and the need for values to support new ways of behavior. Anthony (1977) attributes this view to Karl Marx. The other perspective, delineated by Max Weber (1904, 1905), viewed changes in the economic structure as an outgrowth of shifts in theological beliefs. Regardless of the viewpoint, it is evident that a rapid expansion in commerce and the rise of industrialism coincided with the Protestant Reformation (Rose, 1985).

Bernstein (1988), in an argument supporting the materialist viewpoint, enumerated three sixteenth century trends which probably contributed to the support by Luther and Calvin of diligence: (1) a rapid population increase of Germany and Western Europe, (2) inflation, and (3) a high unemployment rate. Probably the most serious of these was the rapid expansion in population. Between 1500 and 1600, the population of Germany increased by 25% and the British population increased by 40% (Bernstein, 1988). In the cities, the increases were even greater as people from rural areas were displaced by enclosure of large tracts of land for sheep farming. In addition, the import of large quantities of silver and gold from Mexico and Peru contributed to inflation in general price levels of between 300% and 400%, and even higher inflation in food prices (Bernstein, 1988). Along with the growth in population and the inflation problems, unemployment was estimated at 20% in some cities (Bernstein, 1988). People without jobs became commonplace on the streets of cities, begging and struggling to survive.

European cities acted to alleviate the problems of unemployment and begging on the streets by passing laws which prohibited begging. The general perception of the time was that work was available for those who wanted to work, and that beggars and vagrants were just lazy. The reality was that the movement of people into the cities far exceeded the capacity of the urban areas to provide jobs. The theological premise that work was a necessary penance for original sin caused increased prejudice toward those without work. Bernstein (1988) suggested that a fundamental misunderstanding of the economic realities facing the poor contributed to the theological development of the Protestant ethic.

From a marxist view, what actually occurred was the development of a religious base of support for a new industrial system which required workers who would accept long hours and poor working conditions (Anthony, 1977; Berenstein, 1988). Berenstein did not accuse the theological leaders of the Protestant Reformation of deliberately constructing a belief system which would support the new economic order, but proposed that they did misconstrue the realities of the poor and the unemployed of their day.

From the perspective of Max Weber (1904, 1905), the theological beliefs came first and change in the economic system resulted. Motivation of persons to work hard and to reinvest profits in new business ventures was perceived as an outcome primarily of Calvinism. Weber further concluded that countries with belief systems which were predominantly Protestant prospered more under capitalism than did those which were predominantly Catholic (Rose, 1985).

6.The Work Ethic and the Rise of Capitalism

During the medieval period, the feudal system became the dominant economic structure in Europe. This was a social, economic, and political system under which landowners provided governance and protection to those who lived and worked on their property. Centralization of government, the growth of trade, and the establishment of economically powerful towns, during the fifteenth century, provided alternative choices for subsistence, and the feudal system died out (Webster Encyclopedia, 1985). One of the factors that made the feudal system work was the predominant religious belief that it was sinful for people to seek work other than within the God ordained occupations fathers passed on to their sons. With the Protestant Reformation, and the spread of a theology which ordained the divine dignity of all occupations as well as the right of choosing one’s work, the underpinnings of an emerging capitalist economic system were established.

Anthony (1977) described the significance of an ideology advocating regular systematic work as essential to the transformation from the feudal system to the modern society. In the emerging capitalist system, work was good. It satisfied the economic interests of an increasing number of small businessmen and it became a social duty–a norm. Hard work brought respect and contributed to the social order and well being of the community. The dignity with which society viewed work brought dignity for workers as well, and contempt for those who were idle or lazy.

The Protestant ethic, which gave “moral sanction to profit making through hard work, organization, and rational calculation” (Yankelovich, 1981, p. 247), spread throughout Europe and to America through the Protestant sects. In particular, the English Puritans, the French Huguenots, and the Swiss and Dutch Reformed subscribed to Calvinist theology that was especially conducive to productivity and capital growth (Lipset, 1990). As time passed, attitudes and beliefs which supported hard work became secularized, and were woven into the norms of Western culture (Lipset, 1990; Rodgers, 1978; Rose, 1985; Super, 1982). Weber (1904, 1905) especially emphasized the popular writings of Benjamin Franklin as an example of how, by the eighteenth century, diligence in work, scrupulous use of time, and deferment of pleasure had become a part of the popular philosophy of work in the Western world.

7.The Work Ethic in America

Although the Protestant ethic became a significant factor in shaping the culture and society of Europe after the sixteenth century, its impact did not eliminate the social hierarchy which gave status to those whose wealth allowed exemption from toil and made gentility synonymous with leisure (Rodgers, 1978). The early adventurers who first found America were searching, not for a place to work and build a new land, but for a new Eden where abundance and riches would allow them to follow Aristotle’s instruction that leisure was the only life fitting for a free man. The New England Puritans, the Pennsylvania Quakers, and others of the Protestant sects, who eventually settled in America, however, came with no hopes or illusions of a life of ease.

The early settlers referred to America as a wilderness, in part because they sought the spiritual growth associated with coming through the wilderness in the Bible (Rodgers, 1978). From their viewpoint, the moral life was one of hard work and determination, and they approached the task of building a new world in the wilderness as an opportunity to prove their own moral worth. What resulted was a land preoccupied with toil.

When significant numbers of Europeans began to visit the new world in the early 1800’s, they were amazed with the extent of the transformation (Rodgers, 1978). Visitors to the northern states were particularly impressed by the industrious pace. They often complained about the lack of opportunities for amusement, and they were perplexed by the lack of a social strata dedicated to a life of leisure.

Work in preindustrial America was not incessant, however. The work of agriculture was seasonal, hectic during planting and harvesting but more relaxed during the winter months. Even in workshops and stores, the pace was not constant. Changing demands due to the seasons, varied availability of materials, and poor transportation and communication contributed to interruptions in the steadiness of work. The work ethic of this era did not demand the ceaseless regularity which came with the age of machines, but supported sincere dedication to accomplish those tasks a person might have before them. The work ethic “was not a certain rate of business but a way of thinking” (Rodgers, 1978, p. 19).

8.The Work Ethic and the Industrial Revolution

As work in America was being dramatically affected by the industrial revolution in the mid-nineteenth century, the work ethic had become secularized in a number of ways. The idea of work as a calling had been replaced by the concept of public usefulness. Economists warned of the poverty and decay that would befall the country if people failed to work hard, and moralists stressed the social duty of each person to be productive (Rodgers, 1978). Schools taught, along with the alphabet and the spelling book, that idleness was a disgrace. The work ethic also provided a sociological as well as an ideological explanation for the origins of social hierarchy through the corollary that effort expended in work would be rewarded (Gilbert, 1977).

Some elements of the work ethic, however, did not bode well with the industrial age. One of the central themes of the work ethic was that an individual could be the master of his own fate through hard work. Within the context of the craft and agricultural society this was true. A person could advance his position in life through manual labor and the economic benefits it would produce. Manual labor, however, began to be replaced by machine manufacture and intensive division of labor came with the industrial age. As a result, individual control over the quantity and methods of personal production began to be removed (Gilbert, 1977).

The impact of industrialization and the speed with which it spread during the second half of the nineteenth century was notable. Rodgers (1978) reported that as late as 1850 most American manufacturing was still being done in homes and workshops. This pattern was not confined to rural areas, but was found in cities also where all varieties of craftsmen plied their trades. Some division of labor was utilized, but most work was performed using time-honored hand methods. A certain measure of independence and creativity could be taken for granted in the workplace. No one directly supervised home workers or farmers, and in the small shops and mills, supervision was mostly unstructured. The cotton textile industry of New England was the major exception.

Rodgers (1978) described the founding, in the early 1820’s, of Lowell, Massachusetts as the real beginning of the industrial age in America. By the end of the decade, nineteen textile mills were in operation in the city, and 5,000 workers were employed in the mills. During the years that followed, factories were built in other towns as competition in the industry grew. These cotton mills were distinguished from other factories of the day by their size, the discipline demanded of their workers, and the paternalistic regulations imposed on employees (Rodgers, 1978). Gradually the patterns of employment and management initiated in the cotton mills spread to other industries, and during the later half of the nineteenth century, the home and workshop trades were essentially replaced by the mass production of factories.

In the factories, skill and craftsmanship were replaced by discipline and anonymity. A host of carefully preserved hand trades–tailoring, barrel making, glass blowing, felt-hat making, pottery making, and shoe making–disappeared as they were replaced by new inventions and specialization of labor (Rodgers, 1978). Although new skills were needed in some factories, the trend was toward a semiskilled labor force, typically operating one machine to perform one small piece of a manufacturing process. The sense of control over one’s destiny was missing in the new workplace, and the emptiness and lack of intellectual stimulation in work threatened the work ethic (Gilbert, 1977). In the secularized attitudes which comprised the work ethic up until that time, a central component was the promise of psychological reward for efforts in one’s work, but the factory system did little to support a sense of purpose or self-fulfillment for those who were on the assembly lines.

The factory system also threatened the promise of economic reward–another key premise of the work ethic. The output of products manufactured by factories was so great that by the 1880’s industrial capacity exceeded that which the economy could absorb (Rodgers, 1978). Under the system of home and workshop industries, production had been a virtue, and excess goods were not a problem. Now that factories could produce more than the nation could use, hard work and production no longer always provided assurance of prosperity.

In the first half of the twentieth century, the industrial system continued to dominate work in America and much of the rest of the world. Technology continued to advance, but innovation tended to be focused on those areas of manufacture which had not yet been mastered by machines. Little was done to change the routine tasks of feeding materials into automated equipment or other forms of semiskilled labor which were more economically done by low wage workers (Rodgers, 1978).

9.The Work Ethic and Industrial Management

Management of industries became more stematic and structured as increased competition forced factory owners to hold costs down. The model of management which developed, the traditional model, was characterized by a very authoritarian style which did not acknowledge the work ethic. To the contrary, Daft and Steers (1986) described this model as holding “that the average worker was basically lazy and was motivated almost entirely by money (p. 93).” Workers were assumed to neither desire nor be capable of autonomous or self-directed work. As a result, the scientific management concept was developed, predicated on specialization and division of jobs into simple tasks. Scientific management was claimed to increase worker production and result in increased pay. It was therefore seen as beneficial to workers, as well as to the company, since monetary gain was viewed as the primary motivating factor for both.

As use of scientific management became more widespread in the early 1900’s, it became apparent that factors other than pay were significant to worker motivation. Some workers were self-starters and didn’t respond well to close supervision and others became distrustful of management when pay increases failed to keep pace with improved productivity (Daft and Steers, 1986). Although unacknowledged in management practice, these were indicators of continued viability of the work ethic in employees.

By the end of World War II scientific management was considered inadequate and outdated to deal with the needs of industry (Jaggi, 1988). At this point the behaviorist school of thought emerged to provide alternative theories for guiding the management of workers. Contrary to the principles of scientific management, the behaviorists argued that workers were not intrinsically lazy. They were adaptive. If the environment failed to provide a challenge, workers became lazy, but if appropriate opportunities were provided, workers would become creative and motivated.

In response to the new theories, managers turned their attention to finding various ways to make jobs more fulfilling for workers. Human relations became an important issue and efforts were made to make people feel useful and important at work. Company newspapers, employee awards, and company social events were among the tools used by management to enhance the job environment (Daft and Steers, 1986), but the basic nature of the workplace remained unchanged. The adversarial relationship between employee and employer persisted.

In the late 1950’s job enrichment theories began to provide the basis for fundamental changes in employer-employee relationships. Herzberg, Mausner, and Snyderman (1959) identified factors such as achievement, recognition, responsibility, advancement, and personal growth which, when provided as an intrinsic component of a job, tended to motivate workers to perform better. Factors such as salary, company policies, supervisory style, working conditions, and relations with fellow workers tended to impair worker performance if inadequately provided for, but did not particularly improve worker motivation when present.

In 1960, when the concepts of theory “X” and theory “Y” were introduced by McGregor, the basis for a management style conducive to achieving job enrichment for workers was provided (Jaggi, 1988). Theory “X” referred to the authoritarian management style characteristic of scientific management but theory “Y” supported a participatory style of management.

Jaggi (1988) defined participatory management as “a cooperative process in which management and workers work together to accomplish a common goal (p. 446).” Unlike authoritarian styles of management, which provided top-down, directive control over workers assumed to be unmotivated and in need of guidance, participatory management asserted that worker involvement in decisionmaking provided valuable input and enhanced employee satisfaction and morale. Yankelovich and Immerwahr (1984) described participatory management as a system which would open the way for the work ethic to be a powerful resource in the workplace. They stated, however, that the persistence of the traditional model in American management discouraged workers, even though many wanted to work hard and do good work for its own sake.

10.The Work Ethic in the Information Age

Just as the people of the mid-nineteenth century encountered tremendous cultural and social change with the dawn of the industrial age, the people of the late twentieth century experienced tremendous cultural and social shifts with the advent of the information age. Toffler (1980) likened these times of change to waves washing over the culture, bringing with it changes in norms and expectations, as well as uncertainty about the future.

Since 1956 (Naisbitt, 1984) white-collar workers in technical, managerial, and clerical positions have outnumbered workers in blue-collar jobs. Porat (1977), in a study for the U.S. Department of Commerce, examined over 400 occupations in 201 industries. He determined that in 1967, the economic contribution of jobs primarily dealing with production of information, as compared with goods-producing jobs, accounted for 46% of the GNP and more than 53% of the income earned. Some jobs in manufacturing and industry also became more technical and necessitated a higher level of thinking on the job as machines were interfaced with computers and control systems became more complex.

Yankelovich and Immerwahr (1984) contrasted the work required of most people during the industrial age with the work of the information age. Industrial age jobs were typically low-discretion, required little decisionmaking, and were analyzed and broken into simple tasks which required very little thinking or judgement on the part of workers. Information age jobs, in contrast, were high-discretion and required considerable thinking and decisionmaking on the part of workers (Miller, 1986). In the workplace characterized by high-discretion, the work ethic became a much more important construct than it was during the manipulative era of machines. Maccoby (1988) emphasized the importance, in this setting, of giving employees authority to make decisions which would meet the needs of customers as well as support the goals of their own companies.

As high-discretion, information age jobs provided opportunities for greater self-expression by workers, people began to find more self-fulfillment in their work. Yankelovich and Harmon (1988) reported that a significant transformation in the meaning of the work ethic resulted. Throughout history, work had been associated with pain, sacrifice, and drudgery. The previously mentioned Greek word for work, ponos, also meant “pain.” For the Hebrews as well as for the medieval Christians, the unpleasantness of work was associated with Divine punishment for man’s sin. The Protestant ethic maintained that work was a sacrifice that demonstrated moral worthiness, and it stressed the importance of postponed gratification. With the information age, however, came work which was perceived as good and rewarding in itself. Most workers were satisfied with their work and wanted to be successful in it (Wattenberg, 1984).

According the Yankelovich and Harmon (1988), the work ethic of the 1980’s stressed skill, challenge, autonomy, recognition, and the quality of work produced. Autonomy was identified as a particularly important factor in worker satisfaction with their jobs. Motivation to work involved trust, caring, meaning, self-knowledge, challenge, opportunity for personal growth, and dignity (Maccoby, 1988; Walton, 1974). Workers were seeking control over their work and a sense of empowerment and many information age jobs were conducive to meeting these needs. As a result, the work ethic was not abandoned during the information age, but was transformed to a state of relevance not found in most industrial age occupations.

Even though the information age was well established by the 1980’s and 1990’s, not all jobs were high-discretion. Some occupations continued to consist primarily of manual labor and allowed minimal opportunity for worker involvement in decisionmaking. In addition, authoritarian forms of management continued to be utilized and the potential of the work ethic was wasted. Statistics reported by Yankelovich and Immerwahr (1984) indicated that by the early 1980’s, 43% of the workforce perceived their jobs as high-discretion and 21% of the workforce perceived their jobs as low-discretion. The high-discretion workers were likely to be better educated, to be in white-collar or service jobs, and to have experienced technological changes in their work. The low-discretion workers were more likely to be union members, to be in blue-collar jobs, and to be working in positions characterized by dirt, noise, and pollution.

11.The Work Ethic and Empowerment

As a result of the rapid changes associated with the Information Age workplace, codified and systematized knowledge not limited to a specific organizational context was important during the 1980’s and 1990’s (Maccoby, 1983). Higher levels of education became necessary along with skills at solving problems, managing people, and applying the latest information to the tasks at hand. With increased education, higher expectations and aspirations for careers emerged.

Young people, in particular, entering the workforce with high school and college educations, expected opportunities for advancement (Maccoby, 1983; Sheehy, 1990). They anticipated that talent and hard work would be the basis for success rather than chance or luck. In essence, information age workers expected application of a positive work ethic to result in rewards, and they sometimes became impatient if progress was not experienced in a relatively short period of time (Sheehy, 1990).

For workers who acquired positions of supervision or ownership, motivation to accomplish personal goals through success in the organization enhanced the expression of work ethic attributes. Barnard (1938) identified the process of persons in an organization coordinating their activities to attain common goals as important to the well-being of the organization. One of the essential elements for this process was the creation and allocation of satisfaction among individuals (Barnard, 1938).

Further explanation for organizational behavior was provided by a model developed by Getzels and Guba (Getzels, 1968). The major elements of the model were institution, role, and expectation which formed the normative dimension of activity in a social system; and individual, personality, and need-disposition which constituted the personal dimension of activity in a social system (Getzels, 1968). To the extent that a person’s work ethic beliefs influenced personality and need-disposition, the observed behavior of that individual within the context of the workplace would be affected. Particularly in the high-discretion workplace of the information age, role and expectations found within the workplace would tend to be reinforced by a strong work ethic.

12. Other Changes in the Workplace

Besides changes in the jobs people performed, changes in the levels of education required for those jobs, and changes in the extent to which people were given control or empowerment in their work, the workforce of the 1980’s and 1990’s reflected a larger number of women and a reduced number of workers older than 65. Changes in gender and age of workers had a significant impact on the culture of the later twentieth century and influenced the pattern of work related norms such as the work ethic.

Rodgers (1978) told of the growing restlessness of women in the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s. As the economic center of society was moved out of the home or workshop and into the factory, women were left behind. Some women became operatives in textile mills, office workers, or salesclerks, and increased numbers were employed as teachers (Sawhill, 1974). Women comprised a relatively small percentage of the workforce, however, and their wages were about half that of men. Those who labored at housework and child-rearing received no pay at all and often were afforded little respect or appreciation for what they did.

It was not until World War II and the years following that women began to enter the workplace in great numbers. In 1900 women made up 18% of the nation’s workforce, but by 1947 they comprised 28% of the workforce (Levitan & Johnson, 1983). By 1980 42.5% of the nation’s workers were women (Stencel, 1981). In 1990 the number of women workers was approaching 50% of the workforce, and Naisbitt and Aburdene (1990) reported that women held 39.3% of all executive, administrative, and management jobs. Due to the increase in the number of women working outside the home, their attitudes about work have become a significant influence on the work ethic in the contemporary workplace.

Comparisons of attitudes of men and women in the workplace have shown that men tended to be more concerned with earning a good income, having freedom from close supervision, having leadership opportunities, and having a job that enhanced their social status. Women were inclined to seek job characteristics which allowed them to help others, to be original and creative, to progress steadily in their work, and to work with people rather than things (Lyson, 1984). Women, more than men, also tended to seek personal benefits such as enjoyment, pride, fulfillment, and personal challenge (Bridges, 1989).

Another trend which shaped the workforce of the later twentieth century was an increase in the number of older workers who retired from their jobs. Statistics reported by Quinn (1983) showed that in 1950, persons 65 years old and older comprised 45.8% of the workforce as compared to 18.4% in 1981. Part of this trend can be explained by the continued shift away from agriculture and self-employment–occupations which traditionally had high older worker participation rates. In addition, increased provision for retirement income, as a result of pensions or other retirement plans, has removed the financial burden which necessitated work for many older adults in the past.

Deans (1972) noted a trend on the part of younger workers to view work differently than older workers. He found less acceptance, among young people entering the workforce, of the concept that hard work was a virtue and a duty and less upward striving by young workers compared to that of their parents and grandparents. Yankelovich (1981) reported findings which contradicted the view that younger workers were less committed to the work ethic, but he did find a decline in belief that hard work would pay off. This was a significant shift because pay and “getting ahead” were the primary incentives management used to encourage productivity during the industrial age. If economic reward had lost its ability to motivate workers, then productivity could be expected to decline,
in the absence of some other reason for working hard (Yankelovich, 1981). Within this context, the work ethic, and a management style which unfettered it, was a significant factor for maintaining and increasing performance.

13. Influences Shaping the Contemporary Work Ethic

The work ethic is a cultural norm that places a positive moral value on doing a good job and is based on a belief that work has intrinsic value for its own sake (Cherrington, 1980; Quinn, 1983; Yankelovich & Immerwahr, 1984). Like other cultural norms, a person’s adherence to or belief in the work ethic is principally influenced by socialization experiences during childhood and adolescence. Through interaction with family, peers, and significant adults, a person “learns to place a value on work behavior as others approach him in situations demanding increasing responsibility for productivity” (Braude, 1975, p. 134). Based on praise or blame and affection or anger, a child appraises his or her performance in household chores, or later in part-time jobs, but this appraisal is based on the perspective of others. As a child matures, these attitudes toward work become internalized, and work performance is less dependent on the reactions of others.

Children are also influenced by the attitudes of others toward work (Braude, 1975). If a parent demonstrates a dislike for a job or a fear of unemployment, children will tend to assimilate these attitudes. Parents who demonstrate a strong work ethic tend to impart a strong work ethic to their children.

Another significant factor shaping the work attitudes of people is the socialization which occurs in the workplace. As a person enters the workplace, the perceptions and reactions of others tend to confirm or contradict the work attitudes shaped in childhood (Braude, 1975). The occupational culture, especially the influence of an “inner fraternity” of colleagues, has a significant impact on the attitudes toward work and the work ethic which form part of each person’s belief system.

Among the mechanisms provided by society to transfer the culture to young people is the public school. One of the functions of schools is to foster student understanding of cultural norms, and in some cases to recognize the merits of accepting them. Vocational education,
for example, has as a stated goal that it will promote the work ethic (Gregson, 1991; Miller, 1985). Reubens (1974) listed “inculcation of good work attitudes” as one of the highest priorities for high school education. In the absence of early socialization which supports good work attitudes, schools should not be expected to completely transform a young person’s work ethic orientation, but enlightening students about what the work ethic is, and why it is important to success in the contemporary workplace, should be a component of secondary education.

The trouble with outsourcing

I totally agree with the problem of outsourcing. Only simple, repetitive tasks that are easy to QA are suitable to outsource. For complex tasks, it takes more time to write the contracts and specifications for outsourcing than actually doing the tasks yourself.

By Jul 30th 2011, The Economist
Outsourcing is sometimes more hassle than it is worth

WHEN Ford’s River Rouge Plant was completed in 1928 it boasted everything it needed to turn raw materials into finished cars: 100,000 workers, 16m square feet of factory floor, 100 miles of railway track and its own docks and furnaces. Today it is still Ford’s largest plant, but only a shadow of its former glory. Most of the parts are made by sub-contractors and merely fitted together by the plant’s 6,000 workers. The local steel mill is run by a Russian company, Severstal.

Outsourcing has transformed global business. Over the past few decades companies have contracted out everything from mopping the floors to spotting the flaws in their internet security. TPI, a company that specialises in the sector, estimates that $100 billion-worth of new contracts are signed every year. Oxford Economics reckons that in Britain, one of the world’s most mature economies, 10% of workers toil away in “outsourced” jobs and companies spend $200 billion a year on outsourcing. Even war is being outsourced: America employs more contract workers in Afghanistan than regular troops.

Can the outsourcing boom go on indefinitely? And is the practice as useful as its advocates claim, or is the popular suspicion that it leads to cut corners and dismal service correct? There are signs that outsourcing often goes wrong, and that companies are rethinking their approach to it.

The latest TPI quarterly index of outsourcing (which measures commercial contracts of $25m or more) suggests that the total value of such contracts for the second quarter of 2011 fell by 18% compared with the second quarter of 2010. Dismal figures in the Americas (ie, mostly the United States) dragged down the average: the value of contracts there was 50% lower in the second quarter of 2011 than in the first half of 2010. This is partly explained by America’s gloomy economy, but even more by the maturity of the market: TPI suspects that much of what can sensibly be outsourced already has been.

Miles Robinson of Mayer Brown, a law firm, notes that there has also been an uptick in legal disputes over outsourcing. In one case EDS, an IT company, had to pay BSkyB, a media company, £318m ($469m) in damages. The two firms spent an estimated £70m on legal fees and were tied up in court for five months. Such nightmares are worse in India, where the courts move with Dickensian speed, or in China, where the legal system is patchy. And since many disputes stay out of court, the well of discontent with outsourcing is surely deeper than the legal record shows.

Some of the worst business disasters of recent years have been caused or aggravated by outsourcing. Eight years ago Boeing, America’s biggest aeroplane-maker, decided to follow the example of car firms and hire contractors to do most of the grunt work on its new 787 Dreamliner. The result was a nightmare. Some of the parts did not fit together. Some of the dozens of sub-contractors failed to deliver their components on time, despite having sub-contracted their work to sub-sub-contractors. Boeing had to take over some of the sub-contractors to prevent them from collapsing. If the Dreamliner starts rolling off the production line towards the end of this year, as Boeing promises, it will be billions over budget and three years behind schedule.

Outsourcing can go wrong in a colourful variety of ways. Sometimes companies squeeze their contractors so hard that they are forced to cut corners. (This is a big problem in the car industry, where a handful of global firms can bully the 80,000 parts-makers.) Sometimes vendors overpromise in order to win a contract and then fail to deliver. Sometimes both parties write sloppy contracts. And some companies undermine their overall strategies with injudicious outsourcing. Service companies, for example, contract out customer complaints to foreign call centres and then wonder why their customers hate them.

When outsourcing goes wrong, it is the devil to put right. When companies outsource a job, they typically eliminate the department that used to do it. They become entwined with their contractors, handing over sensitive material and inviting contractors to work alongside their own staff. Extricating themselves from this tangle can be tough. It is much easier to close a department than to rebuild it. Sacking a contractor can mean that factories grind to a halt, bills languish unpaid and chaos mounts.

None of this means that companies are going to re-embrace the River Rouge model any time soon. Some companies, such as Boeing, are bringing more work back in-house, in the jargon. But the business logic behind outsourcing remains compelling, so long as it is done right. Many tasks are peripheral to a firm’s core business and can be done better and more cheaply by specialists. Cleaning is an obvious example; many back-office jobs also fit the bill. Outsourcing firms offer labour arbitrage, using cheap Indians to enter data rather than expensive Swedes. They can offer economies of scale, too. TPI points out that, for all the problems in America, outsourcing is continuing to grow in emerging markets and, more surprisingly, in Europe, where Germany and France are late converts to the idea.

Companies are rethinking outsourcing, rather than jettisoning it. They are dumping huge long-term deals in favour of smaller, less rigid ones. The annualised value of “mega-relationships” worth $100m or more a year fell by 62% this year compared with last. Companies are forming relationships with several outsourcers, rather than putting all their eggs in few baskets. They are signing shorter contracts, too. But still, they need to think harder about what is their core business, and what is peripheral. And above all, newspaper editors need to say no to the temptation to outsource business columns to cheaper, hungrier writers.