Teesside Snog Monster (jiggery_pokery) wrote,
Teesside Snog Monster

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Earworms to Economics

First, many happy returns of the day to flourish! Maddy has a remarkable capacity with considerable talents in very many areas and the wherewithal to keep up many different commitments. "Mature beyond her years" is a terrible cliche, but an accurate one. On top of that - perhaps most impressive of all - she is tremendously, proactively caring; it's as if looking after her friends is yet another ball that she can keep in the air. I hope your birthday is a great one and that you know just how glad we are to know you! *hugs*

Second, one of the very few things more irritating than having an earworm is having half an earworm having an earworm and then discovering in an unbiased peer vote that it was the wrong one. Yes, it was the '92 ITV Chart Show theme tune that surfaced from nowhere yesterday. Cut out all the jet-engine swooshes and effect trickery to leave you with about four short lines of melody and you've got chord progressions that will haunt you for a dozen years. Well, if you're me, anyhow. Smart Hang on, isn't Question One missing something? voters, what was it missing? I vaguely recall that the very final days of the ITV Chart Show (which I only ever took an interest in for the theme tune rather than the music videos - that's my excuse, at least, and I'm sticking to it) had a different opening sequence again, less melodic still, but that it was rubbidge. Confirmdeny?

Third, a litre of unleaded petrol costs 74.9p at our local garage, which works out at US$1.37. This is the first time I can recall a litre costing more than US$1, though it must have done for a while now. How much does unleaded gas cost in the US at the moment? Have we ever had a situation where a litre of petrol in the UK has cost more than a (US) gallon of equivalent gasoline in the US? We must be as close now as we have ever been. This is due to the weakness of the US$; forget the Euro, the US$ has lost almost 25% of its value against the Australian dollar in the last ten months alone. That's huge!

Fourth, some good news for Windows 98 users. Thank you, Microsoft. No, really!

Nth, I was having a browse through the easyGroup site and reflecting on, well, how far from easy some of the brands really are in exchange for the remarkably low costs. EasyJet and easyInternetCafé, genuinely easy to use; by contrast, easyCinema and easyCar look like bags of hassle to me, though the easyCar Car Club - an automated car rental service without apparent human involvement - is a technological marvel.

However, I am reminded of the Luddites here. The original Luddite revolt occurred in 1811, an action against the English Textile factories that displaced craftsmen in favor of machines. Replacement of workers by machines in the manufacturing sector is well-known; replacement of workers by process in the service sector to the extent of the easyGroup (etc.) is a new and potentially worrying trend. It can and will go further, too; Ryanair trumpet the fact that they have one-eleventh the staff-to-passengers-carried ratio of British Airways and half that of easyJet. (As well as being "50% cheaper" and having higher punctuality 52 weeks out of 52, and so on.)

The low-cost airlines are the most famous example, but by no means the only one. Looking at the easyGroup jobs page, Stelios trumpets the fact that the ten-screen easyCinema complex has a total of seven staff on site. I'm not sure how many staff there are at, say, the UGC in Middlesbrough, but a staff of seven compares with, say, a large bakery, about one-fortieth the area and 1% of the volume of a cinema. easyCinema does this by stripping out many of the functions found at a regular cinema: no manned box office, automated ticketing, no food stalls and so on. Wonder if they even have food vending machines?

It is reported that a second easyCinema is set to open in London; while the land prices will be much higher, the theory is that being able to offer films at, say, 5%-to-50% of the cinema prices of the rest of the West End will prove sufficiently attractive to get the punters to play the hassly system. Maybe it'll work, maybe it won't. Perhaps the quality and usability of the interface rather than anything else will determine which easy ventures succeed and which don't. easyCruise and easyDorm sound, well, sound; easyPizza seems rather a harder sell. Perhaps there's a market for people who work very early shifts and want hot food delivered as they leave work? We shall see. There's definitely scope for the price of pizzas to come down compared to e.g. Domino's; the Middlesbrough standard seems to be "any four toppings on a 10-inch pizza for about £4", but getting delivery into the bargain as well while being able to offer the headline £1 rate seems ambitious.

The other secret of their low cost base is that they pay their staff easyPeanuts. For instance, easyBus minibus operators (who effectively work as sole proprietors and need to organise storage of their own vehicle) are set to make OTE £14k p.a., which compares very poorly with the urban bus driver positions you see advertised. Likewise, they want a very broadly talented safety and technical officer and again offer a derisory £14k for a year of 40 hour weeks on a demanding shift pattern - in Milton Keynes, which is not a cheap place to live. I don't get it. They can't expect to get good candidates at all for that sort of money. Perhaps there are incredible intangibles we don't know about, but they would surely advertise them rather better. Perhaps it's just not at all a well-staffed cinema.

I get the impression that the easyCinema model would be particularly well-suited to the US, where land prices are rather lower than they are here. Or perhaps the hypothetical easyCinema US has already been beaten to it; it would be interesting to contrast the workings of an easyCinema with those of the dollar cinemas that already exist; perhaps the dollar cinemas are to the famously profitable original no-frills Southwest Airlines as easyCinema is to easyJet - an inspiration to be improved upon and adapted for other countries. Will easyCinema eventually drive out high-priced traditional cinemas? With several iterations of the algorithm, possibly; the success of the low-cost airlines suggests what can be possible. (It would be very sad if the conveniences of the current full-service airlines were to disappear; perhaps the low-cost airlines might eventually reintroduce them as an optional extra.) It may be rather harder for cinema tickets and pizza than for airline tickets because they are just too low-cost in the first place for the considerable percentage improvements to translate into significant absolute improvements, though.

Looking at that Luddite site, there are still self-identifying Luddites today; many of them continue to rail against technological advances, others against globalisation, The low-cost business model is an interesting trend and an indication of one of the ways future work trends might go. Perhaps this might eventually become as big - or, at least, as famous - a threat to a high-employment, well-paid economy as globalisation?
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