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Author Topic: On Robotic Labor
DrConway
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posted 31 July 2002 02:14 AM      Profile for DrConway     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
People who've been on here for a while probably know that I'm a proponent of the introduction of robotic labor to do most standard household chores as well as operation of vehicles.

What I have often found in discussions involving robot labor is that people dismiss the suggestions on the grounds of impracticality. However, when pressed, the financial capability to mass-produce the things or for people to get them isn't questioned - it's whether or not humans would just become lazy and uninspired all the time.

People actually seem to ENJOY the idea that they'll do all kinds of useless and pointless work because they're too worried about robots doing it for them, freeing them up to do whatever they want.

Dr. Asimov put forth the idea, in his essay, titled "Future Fantastic" in his anthology Robot Visions that humans, given the chance to unleash creative impulses not just by the thousands or even hundreds of thousands, but by the millions and hundreds of millions, will seize on that chance to create a society more beautiful than any of our present-day imaginings could possibly capture.

He points to past eras in history where, when people have been able to get others to do the work for them, and gain leisure time as a result, a flourishing of arts, sciences, literature and beauty results. But until now, people always had to get other humans to do the work for them. Now we can make machines, that is, robots, to do this. All humans, therefore, now stand to be able to pursue whatever mind-and-life-enriching things they want to do, and to do whatever they want with it.

Who could not want such a society?

Only a conservative.


From: You shall not side with the great against the powerless. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Timebandit
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posted 31 July 2002 02:23 AM      Profile for Timebandit     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
If you can manufacture a machine that will clean my house without any interference from myself, with the caveat that the children and critters will be unharmed, SEND IT RIGHT OVER!!!

I'm sure I can find other things to occupy my time...


From: Urban prairie. | Registered: Sep 2001  |  IP: Logged
Tommy_Paine
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posted 31 July 2002 10:48 AM      Profile for Tommy_Paine     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I currently have tiny little biological robots cleaning my kitchen. They are pre-programed to search for and carry off any and all particles of food from the floor. What's even better is they use this food to maintain and replicate themselves.

They are hardy buggers too. As an experiment, I've tried just about everything to stop their work, but even after scouring the floor and eliminating all food sources, dusting their refueling/replication depot with boiling water and a follow up with "comet" cleanser, and using a chemical "off" switch for these bio-units, they still insist on assisting me in keeping the floor clean.

I seem to effect their numbers only temporarily, and they seem to have a complex program that allows them to learn-- they avoid the chemical off switches now.

I'm going to try a different chemical off switch next, see if I can stop them.


From: The Alley, Behind Montgomery's Tavern | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged
'lance
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posted 31 July 2002 10:56 AM      Profile for 'lance     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
However, when pressed, the financial capability to mass-produce the things or for people to get them isn't questioned ...

It is by me. Also the sources of the energy and raw materials needed to produce the silly things, the ecological effects of manufacturing them, the practicality of disposing of them when they're inevitably junqued ... (we can't even, you'll notice, dispose properly of more than a fraction of the obsolete computers that go out of service every year).

And furthermore, I've come to believe that there's not really any such thing as a labour-saving device. Labour is conserved; it's only converted from one form to another.

[ July 31, 2002: Message edited by: 'lance ]


From: that enchanted place on the top of the Forest | Registered: Jul 2001  |  IP: Logged
Tommy_Paine
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posted 31 July 2002 11:03 AM      Profile for Tommy_Paine     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Remember how computers were going to make us a "paperless" society?

har har har har har har har.


From: The Alley, Behind Montgomery's Tavern | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged
Michelle
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posted 31 July 2002 11:09 AM      Profile for Michelle   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
You know, I think it still could. We're just caught in that in-between stage where people feel it's necessary to both keep a hard copy on paper AND a digital copy. I think eventually there will be major user-friendly computer filing systems (basically virtual filing cabinets) that will become more mainstream, as we get more specialized, computerized objects that will have a single purpose. For instance, to get signatures in official places, there might be individual machines kind of like the ones UPS uses, hooked up to a mainframe, with back ups kept on CD ROMs. We're just not there yet.
From: I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Zatamon
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posted 31 July 2002 11:14 AM      Profile for Zatamon     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I will never give up books. NEVER!!! Over my dead body! I love to hold them, turn the pages, see them on my bookshelves, throw some of them against the wall, hold others close to my heart, pile them up on my night-table. Computer screens are just not the same!
From: where hope for 'hope' is contemplated | Registered: Sep 2001  |  IP: Logged
Tommy_Paine
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posted 31 July 2002 11:20 AM      Profile for Tommy_Paine     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
No, what the computer has allowed us to do isn't to stream line our record keeping, it has allowed us to become obsessive about record keeping.

At work we keep records on everything, collect data that no one will ever look at, and even when we do look at data there's so much of it that no one can really understand it.

I did a title page for the last project I did for my supervisor, who wanted a paper copy of the data crunching I did. I called it "ED'S 'I HATE THE SIERRA CLUB' PROJECT"


From: The Alley, Behind Montgomery's Tavern | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged
dee
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posted 31 July 2002 11:56 AM      Profile for dee     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
While I'm sure that there would be some individuals or groups that would take advantage of their extra time if robots were to do all of our housework I have to say that I'm skeptical about all the wonderful things we humans would create or discover as a result.

We, as a (North American) society, have consistently shown that we are far more interested in consuming simple fluff such as most television, video games, fast food etc. than in enriching ourselves and the world. If we had more spare time we would just be creating a larger market for all the *stuff* we'd need to fill in the time.

Besides, as 'lance said, there are no real labor saving devices. Many of our inventions up to this point have been made with the goal of making life easier or reducing work load yet we certainly haven't become less harried as a society. As our machines produce faster and more efficiently, we are expected to either keep up or be replaced. Computers in office places haven't reduced the work loads, they've just increased the amount of paper that gets shuffled around.

That being said, any time a robot wants to do my dishes and clean the bathroom, who am I to stand in its way?


From: pleasant, unemotional conversation aids digestion | Registered: Jul 2001  |  IP: Logged
Michelle
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posted 31 July 2002 12:05 PM      Profile for Michelle   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I laugh over our culture where people employ maids and wish for robots to do the housekeeping, and simultaneously sign up for expensive gym memberships where they...do boring, repetitive tasks in order to keep in shape.
From: I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
dee
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posted 31 July 2002 12:53 PM      Profile for dee     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Hee. At least at a gym you are not generally in danger of gettingDishpan Hands.
From: pleasant, unemotional conversation aids digestion | Registered: Jul 2001  |  IP: Logged
Michelle
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posted 31 July 2002 01:07 PM      Profile for Michelle   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Ha! That's hilarious - the caption at the very bottom says, "humiliating their husbands". Yeah, well, hubby, maybe YOU should do the dishes so wifey's hands can stay lily-white and smooth - after all, no one cares whether manly hands are weathered!

P.S. I want to hang that in my kitchen! Hee hee.

[ July 31, 2002: Message edited by: Michelle ]


From: I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
DrConway
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posted 31 July 2002 08:34 PM      Profile for DrConway     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
It is by me. Also the sources of the energy and raw materials needed to produce the silly things, the ecological effects of manufacturing them, the practicality of disposing of them when they're inevitably junqued ... (we can't even, you'll notice, dispose properly of more than a fraction of the obsolete computers that go out of service every year).

Assume for the moment that we actually get this recycling business straightened out.

One thing that has generally been true since 1973 is that the emount of energy needed to produce one dollar of GDP has been dropping steadily. This would imply that with the right energy base and with deliberate choice of easily recyclable materials (hardened plastics, ceramics, light metals, et cetera), robots could be produced with relatively little ecological impact.

As an aside, one of the greatest uses for robotic labor would be environmental clean-up of toxic waste sites.

Would you want you or a machine standing in the muck guaranteed to give you ten colon cancers by the time you're 40?

quote:
Besides, as 'lance said, there are no real labor saving devices. Many of our inventions up to this point have been made with the goal of making life easier or reducing work load yet we certainly haven't become less harried as a society. As our machines produce faster and more efficiently, we are expected to either keep up or be replaced. Computers in office places haven't reduced the work loads, they've just increased the amount of paper that gets shuffled around.

This is only because the amount of leisure time has remained steady since the 1970s, an anomaly in industrial civilization. Please recall that as recently as the 1930s and 1940s, people regularly worked 10 to 12 hours a day, sometimes 6 days a week.

That has fallen off to the 8-hour day, and should, if trends in the 1960s had continued, have fallen off to the 3 or 4 hour day.

Thus we cannot blame "labor-saving" devices per se for the lack of leisure time; instead we have to look to structural issues with our economy and our society that combine the inculcation of a sense of self that only comes from labor with a rising chronic unemployment rate due to the lack of political will to force reductions in work hours to increase employment.

The lack of political will, of course, combines with a cost of living that virtually mandates that someone work about 35 to 40 hours a week or even more just to stay alive.

In short, we have been shoved into a trap by people who have little interest in bettering the lives of workers and thus creates a situation which prompts exactly the sort of responses I've seen here:

1. "There's not going to be any more leisure time". Asked and answered above.
2. "We wouldn't make use of it." People who feel that their lives have no meaning generally get this way because their work doesn't let them get anywhere, and their mental energy is drained off by this futility, so they take refuge in the idiot box or the playstation instead of a good book.

Remember when I rhetorically asked what happens to a human who doesn't dream?

A society that fails to dream is just as surely doomed to disaster because of the collective navel-gazing effect.


From: You shall not side with the great against the powerless. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
oldgoat
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posted 04 August 2002 06:25 PM      Profile for oldgoat     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I agree. I Robot could show up first thing in the A.M. (The robots of dawn as it were) and work until Nightfall. Homes will sparkle like caves of steel right to the foundations edge. Leaving us free to write commentaries on Shakespeare and the Bible! We can thank our lucky starrs.

I hope R. Dr. Conway isn't the only one who gets all that.


From: The 10th circle | Registered: Jul 2001  |  IP: Logged
DrConway
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posted 04 August 2002 07:16 PM      Profile for DrConway     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I'm going to giggle now.
From: You shall not side with the great against the powerless. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
'lance
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posted 04 August 2002 08:03 PM      Profile for 'lance     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I can't see certain kinds of robotic labour catching on in the houses of wealthy Hollywood types. Why? Because the stars like dust.
From: that enchanted place on the top of the Forest | Registered: Jul 2001  |  IP: Logged
DrConway
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posted 04 August 2002 09:48 PM      Profile for DrConway     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Or the robots would waste away in the currents of space.
From: You shall not side with the great against the powerless. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
clersal
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posted 04 August 2002 10:04 PM      Profile for clersal     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Or rust.
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nonsuch
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posted 04 August 2002 11:30 PM      Profile for nonsuch     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Okay, as long as i get a Bicentennial Man, instead of some Orphan Android, and we never have to live in the City.

[ August 04, 2002: Message edited by: nonesuch ]


From: coming and going | Registered: Sep 2001  |  IP: Logged
DrConway
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posted 01 February 2003 06:52 PM      Profile for DrConway     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Asimov puns aside, anybody else got anything to add?
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kilroy
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posted 04 February 2003 09:58 AM      Profile for kilroy   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
How would the average family afford the robots to clean, drive or whatever when they lost their jobs to the robots at the car plant? Why would you have to drive anyways, the job's gone. Do you suppose GM Chrysler GE or Big Blue is going to take it off the bottom line to give the workless workers a better life? nadda, profit is everything. My guess is that 10% of the population would actually pursue any meaning vocation if unfettered by work. Hendonistic
pursuits would likely prevail.

From: between a rock and a hard place | Registered: Feb 2003  |  IP: Logged
flotsom
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posted 04 February 2003 10:39 AM      Profile for flotsom   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
On this bleak and blushless morning, as I turn my mind once more, to the pitiable fate of the world, I look out from my perch and perceive...a staggering paucity of robots.

Listen up good people -- we now, find ourselves, standing low upon the very edge of destruction...

So let's get started on our space elevator.

quote:
"With the space elevator you could easily have an operating tourist system and a small city up there," Edwards said. "The space elevator would essentially allow the world to participate."

wired news

Food. Shelter. Medicine.

[ 04 February 2003: Message edited by: flotsom ]


From: the flop | Registered: Jul 2002  |  IP: Logged
Mr. Magoo
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posted 04 February 2003 02:35 PM      Profile for Mr. Magoo   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Enough about robots. Where's my hovercar?!

Actually, we have plenty of robots already, such as our washing machine, dishwasher, garage door opener... even our pool cleaner (if you have a pool). The only problem is that they aren't Anthropomorphic robots, like on the Jetsons. That's what people really want: human shaped robots with artificial intelligence, capable of doing any task that we can. Don't hold your breath waiting, mind you. Honda set the world of robotics on its ear a few years back with a two-legged robot that can climb stairs without falling on it's metal ass. Needless to say, washing the car or darning a sock is a ways away.

On the other hand, moving sidewalks like they have at Spadina station would make Toronto considerably more Jetson-esque, no?


From: `,_,`,_,,_,, | Registered: Dec 2002  |  IP: Logged
Timebandit
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posted 04 February 2003 03:20 PM      Profile for Timebandit     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I don't care if it's anthropomorphic... Just so long as it cleans my house so I don't have to. Especially the floors. I hate washing floors.

Anybody familiar with the Noo-Noo from the Teletubbies? One of those would be just fine, thank you.


From: Urban prairie. | Registered: Sep 2001  |  IP: Logged
ben_al
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posted 04 February 2003 03:47 PM      Profile for ben_al     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Remember how computers were going to make us a "paperless" society?

not until the power stops going out during ice storms and the damn things stop crashing and producing error messages that don't make sense to anyone but Microsoft engineers.


From: Kitchener, ON | Registered: Dec 2002  |  IP: Logged
skdadl
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posted 04 February 2003 05:54 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
ben_al, where is Brussels? Did you have an ice storm last night? We had -- and now again are having -- something like that, although it's much modified in the city. We didn't lose our power, but I understand that many did, overnight. The wind has been spooky for over twenty-four hrs, though -- the cats are thoroughly spooked now, after a noisy night and whole day.

Should I buy a generator? We cannot move. We simply cannot. What does it take to hook up one's own generator?

And why didn't I think of this last summer?


From: gone | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Michelle
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posted 04 February 2003 05:55 PM      Profile for Michelle   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Yeah, we had an ice storm here last night too. It was relatively mild though - nothing like the one in 1998.
From: I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
sheep
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posted 04 February 2003 06:44 PM      Profile for sheep     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
The coming technological singularity will turn us into the robots doing the housework, instead of the other way around. It's an interesting theory nonetheless and Vinge has been right before:

How to Survive the Post Human Era

If you want to look to science fiction for a vision of the future, put down Asimov and read the Dune series. In Herbert's universe, the 11th commandment was "Thou shalt not make a machine in the image of a man's mind". Computers are outlawed, and humans trained to perform their functions.

Given the uproar over the possiblity of cloning human beings, what would the reaction to the development of true artificial intelligence be?


From: Vancouver | Registered: Jan 2002  |  IP: Logged
ben_al
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posted 05 February 2003 09:58 AM      Profile for ben_al     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Actually skdadl, I'm currently in Lindsay ON, near PTBO, we had a storm here, and I don't want to think what it was like in brussels where I come from. Usually to predict the weather for brussels, take the London forecast drop 4-5 degrees and add 30 KPH to the windspeed. Its about 1:15 north of London.
From: Kitchener, ON | Registered: Dec 2002  |  IP: Logged
Michelle
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posted 05 February 2003 10:00 AM      Profile for Michelle   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
How can Lindsay be an hour and a half north of London when London is a couple of hours west of Toronto?

Seems to me that Lindsay is about an hour north of Oshawa or so, isn't it?


From: I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
ben_al
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posted 05 February 2003 11:12 AM      Profile for ben_al     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
You're right Michelle, Lindsay is North of Oshawa, BRUSSELS is North of London.
From: Kitchener, ON | Registered: Dec 2002  |  IP: Logged
Michelle
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posted 05 February 2003 11:19 AM      Profile for Michelle   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Hee. I thought maybe I was going crazy or something.
From: I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
DrConway
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posted 17 March 2004 04:14 AM      Profile for DrConway     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
From Inferno, by Roger MacBride Allen:

quote:
He had dozed through most of them, but he remembered the Settler economists and how they had blathered on about supply and demand, how no Spacer world had experienced a labor shortage in thousands of years. How unlimited free labor had in turn eroded the value of raw materials down to nothing. The lecturers had said something about the law of supply and demand. and how with supply of everything essentially infinite, demand--and price--had dropped to zero.

Robots completely overturned any concept of a market economy. The use, and even the concept, of money had evaporated away almost entirely.

(Emphasis mine)

The clear implication is that if we introduce robots as the grunge workers and as the doers of work nobody wants to do, eventually the "cost of labor" gets driven down to next to nothing, and with it, the value of the goods that robots make. If nobody has to work just to stay alive, then eventually the use of money ceases to have much meaning, and so will its pursuit.


From: You shall not side with the great against the powerless. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
HalfAnHourLater
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posted 17 March 2004 02:22 PM      Profile for HalfAnHourLater     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Then there's also the Kurt Vonnegut version seen in his first novel 'The Piano Player'...a bit dated (1959?) but still relatively pertinent.

"We are the Robots..."


Edited to add: Is there anyway we can correct the spelling of Labour in the title?

[ 17 March 2004: Message edited by: HalfAnHourLater ]


From: So-so-so-solidarit! | Registered: Nov 2003  |  IP: Logged
Doug
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posted 17 March 2004 02:59 PM      Profile for Doug   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I'm not so sure that the cost of labour will get driven down to nothing so much as that some kinds of labour will continue to have value - generally intellectual labour such as design, research, planning, programming, etc. - and other kinds of labour will not. The remuneration labour receives would probably be different too, reflecting things that will still be scarce in a robotic economy - land, space, status, energy, etc. I don't buy that a robotic economy will collapse the market economy so much as shift and restrict its content.
From: Toronto, Canada | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged
DrConway
rabble-rouser
Babbler # 490

posted 17 March 2004 06:26 PM      Profile for DrConway     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by HalfAnHourLater:
Edited to add: Is there anyway we can correct the spelling of Labour in the title?

It is my understanding that spelling-flames are considered bad form on babble. However, if you're going to be that nitipicky, I'll consider it.


From: You shall not side with the great against the powerless. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged

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