Algorand will be a big deal

Posted in Uncategorized on November 5, 2018 by daviddiel

Algorand is blockchain technology at its core, but without the energy-draining computation of Bitcoin. It’s going to be a big deal.

Employment Duration Indexed Minimum Wage

Posted in Law, Money on December 23, 2016 by daviddiel

minimum-wage-map

Minimum wage vs rental prices (Ref: U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders Facebook Page)

When considering minimum wage proposals, some may ask, why not let the free market decide? And the answer is that the employment market is far from ideal. Two of the classical market problems are information asymmetry and lack of liquidity. I present a simple proposal below that addresses both.

With regard to information asymmetry, employees may not be aware that the market can bear a greater wage than they might otherwise settle for. With regard to liquidity, the market needs to push employers to reduce their utilization of low-wage workers in permanent positions. In the job market, liquidity means unemployment, so my proposal is to set the bar low for initial employment and then raise it incrementally. I call this the employment-duration-indexed minimum wage. For example:

1st month = $5/hr minimum
2nd month = $10/hr minimum
3rd month and beyond = $15/hr minimum

The key idea here is the structure, not the specific wage levels that would change over time. This structure would enable internships, seasonal odd jobs, trial periods, and young people getting started. This rule would be enforced for the cumulative lifetime work of each person on a per-company basis. That way, large companies like McDonalds and WalMart could not skirt the law by firing and re-hiring, so they would end up paying $15/hr for the vast majority of their workforce.

This rule would increase employee turnover, but if this pushes people to find a role in the workforce where they create greater value and earn more, instead of settling, then they will be better off and require less government assistance in the long term.

For background, this idea came from thinking about two different perspectives that are both true:
 
1. If I agree to work for you for 8 hours on a Saturday at $2 per hour, it does no harm whatsoever to the rest of the society. Assuming that I include this on my income taxes as required by law, I will actually end up donating a few dollars to the government which it definitely would not have received if I had stayed home and watched TV instead.
 
2. It is a fact that long-term low-wage employees end up utilizing government welfare programs far more than those who earn 2-3 times the minimum wage. Additionally, when the minimum wage is raised, it turns out that the vast majority of employers are able to create higher valued positions, and employees who were pushed out of low-wage jobs migrate to these positions. However, creating a higher barrier-to-entry has a harmful effect at the low end of the market.

Lack of Miracles

Posted in Faith & Science on November 16, 2016 by daviddiel

The Bible contains extraordinary claims for which the only evidence is testimony. The lack of miracles in modern times is devastating to its credibility.

For one example, which is simply the first one that comes to mind, consider Exodus 7:8-13:

Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “When Pharaoh speaks to you, saying, ‘Work a miracle,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent.’” So Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh, and thus they did just as the LORD had commanded; and Aaron threw his staff down before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh also called for the wise men and the sorcerers, and they also, the magicians of Egypt, did the same with their secret arts. For each one threw down his staff and they turned into serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. Yet Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said.

Here we have a claim that humans were able to turn their wooden staffs into living serpents. Aaron, who follows the God of Abraham, and the magicians of Egypt, who follow Pharaoh as God, both did something miraculous in this story that we have no evidence of today besides written testimony.

If miracles of this concrete and visible sort were happening today, then they would surely be caught on cameras and posted online. People would loudly exclaim that their video evidence was genuine, and skeptics would search for evidence of video editing to try to prove them wrong.

If you say that the God of Abraham is withholding miracles from our generation because of something we have done, then why do we not see miracles from other sources, perhaps of Egyptian or Satanic origin?

We do not see them for precisely the same reason that Poseidon does not emerge from the sea during hurricanes and Zeus does not emerge from the clouds during lightning storms. These are all fictional stories.

MLS My Home is a scam

Posted in Law, Money on March 25, 2016 by daviddiel

On Feb 28, 2016, I paid $149.95 to list a rental property on the MLS (Transaction ID XXXXXX5945). Soon after, I was contacted by a licensed Realtor who wanted me to sign additional paperwork in order to list on the MLS. I did not want to sign his paperwork, so I asked MLS My Home for a refund.

According to their webpage, “As long as your property has not already been listed on the MLS or Realtor.com, you may cancel your order by calling customer support at (888) 476-9990 during normal weekday business hours between 9:00am and 5:00pm EST.”

By phone and by email, I asked Jeannie Spencer three times to process my refund, but she refused. The rental property has not been listed on the MLS or Realtor.com. This is consumer fraud, plain and simple.

Potential customers need to understand that the folks at MLS My Home do not think it is their job to list your home on the MLS. They apparently charge a fee to put you in contact with a Realtor who may or may not list your home on the MLS. However, I never heard from Joe Dale Iley (Texas Broker License #9002442), who represents MLS My Home. Instead, they referred me to a third party. What waste of time and money! Run away as fast as you can!

Creative Collaboration

Posted in Uncategorized on March 4, 2016 by daviddiel
I searched the web for a succinct summary of how to do creative collaboration, and many articles addressed the subject in parts. They often went in depth regarding the team, the process, or the tools. Here, I put together my notes.
Team
No team is perfect, but here are some key characteristics of successful teams:
  • Has a history together or shared motivation that keeps them united when the going gets tough.
  • Agrees to leave personal ego at the door. Instead of “Listen to me because I make the best decisions.” try “How can we merge our ideas?”
  • Agrees to avoid personal attacks (i.e. “You’re unqualified. You’re stupid. You don’t get it.”).
  • Agrees to a structure with roles, whether hierarchical or peer to peer.
  • Chooses a process and a set of tools and agrees to use them throughout.
Process
The process should include one or more time frames for each of the following:
  • Defining high level objectives, criteria for success, and deadlines.
  • Individual research, day dreaming and deliberation.
  • All parties are given a chance to express their ideas, which should be recorded.
  • Open critique of ideas, focusing on the promotion of ideas that achieve objectives and satisfy constraints over those that do not.
  • Practicing group synthesis (working together on an unfinished product).
  • Tests and checks, which result in either validation or contingency plans.
Tools
Some projects do not require sophisticated tools, but others do. Here are some features to think about:
  • Do you need to store text, images, structured data?
  • The simplest structure is a list, then a tree, and the most general structure is a linked network.
  • A revision or rollback feature is the key to refining and organizing intermediate results, because nothing will be lost. Google provides some of the most widely accessible free tools with this feature.
  • A system for meta comments and ratings can be helpful if there are many collaborators or customers to provide feedback.

A solution for the Black Lives Matter movement

Posted in Law, Money, Psychology on January 16, 2015 by daviddiel

Some protesters blocked I-93 yesterday to remind us all about the tragic deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Their campaign has grabbed a lot of attention, but the protest messages have focused on race and skewed interpretations of the facts. In response, I would like to offer up a clear solution that would prevent deaths while maintaining the rule of law going forward.

Before you scroll down to see my proposed solution, try to put aside the arguments that you may have heard about race, prejudice, and controversial details of the case. Consider the possibility that an entire society could be so caught up in drama that we failed to see the forest for the trees.

The big picture is that our laws are based on a system of excessive punishment for minor sins. Many people believe that no crime should go unpunished, and that heavy handed punishments for small crimes will prevent larger crimes. This notion, sometimes implemented as a Broken Window Policy or Stop-and-Frisk Policy, was an experiment in human behavioural psychology that has turned out to have unintended consequences.

Michael Brown was suspected of stealing cigarillos and possibly blocking traffic. Eric Garner was suspected of stealing by breaking cigarette tax law and possibly loitering. These are bad behaviours, but in reality they are no big deal.

Some of you will immediately think that it is heresy to say any crime is “no big deal.” If that is you, then please take a deep breath and reconsider whether you want to support laws that cause small crimes to escalate to the level of deadly force.

When faced with arrest, both Michael Brown and Eric Garner had been conditioned to expect to be physically pushed down, handcuffed, held for hours, made to fill out numerous forms, stripped of their clothes and other belongings, locked in a poorly air-conditioned cell, fed low quality food, delayed receipt of medications and medical care, forced to post bail or remain locked up, forced to attend a court hearing, then either further imprisoned or excessively fined, and they would have a public record of shame to follow them for the rest of their lives.

The solution is simply to match the severity of punishments to the severity of crimes. These men should have received a fine on the order of a traffic ticket. A small financial crime, on the order of tens of dollars, should illicit only a relatively small financial penalty. For example, the fine could be capped at ten times the amount stolen plus a reasonable processing fee. More importantly, these men should not have had to fear arrest, because petty theft should not be an arrestable offence. The fear of excessive punishment was the key element that triggered their defensiveness, anger, and eventual bad decisions that led to their deaths.

The cops were merely stuck in the middle between abusively harsh laws and two desperately poor men. Reasonably limit the penalties for small crimes, especially crimes borne out of poverty, and these kinds of tragedies will eventually stop happening.

Real immigration reform means forms that can be saved

Posted in Law, Money, Software on July 7, 2013 by daviddiel

There are many aspects of the US immigration system that need improvement. However, most people are unfamiliar with the types of frequent injustices faced by immigrants. Besides insane waiting times that destroy families and fees verging on extortion, there are also long forms that you must fill out that do not let you save your data.
CannotSaveForm

Every year, more than a million people fill out DS-230 Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration (previous versions authored by “Butch”). This form is supposed to take about 1 hour to complete. Of course, it takes much longer than that, because you have to find the information to put in the fields. That’s when things get tricky, because you need to go look things up, but you can’t save the form. Furthermore, you know that one mistake could result in months of delay to your application process. As a result, tens of millions of hours have surely been wasted over repeated attempts to fill out this form correctly, all because somebody didn’t check a box to allow the form fields to be saved.

This is one small example, but it illustrates how a little bit of unaccountability in government can lead to lots of suffering for immigrants. Other examples include inability to change address, inability to renew a driver’s license, and inability to change employers, all of which have terrible repercussions. There is currently no appeal court for immigrants.

Toys from trash

Posted in Education, Money on May 19, 2013 by daviddiel

This TED talk and accompanying website has tons of toy designs that can be made from very inexpensive materials. These toys teach scientific and mathematical principles to kids in a most natural and easy way. I hope to use these on a classroom full of kids someday.

The spectrum of subjectivity and objectivity

Posted in Faith & Science, Psychology on April 21, 2013 by daviddiel

I recently listened to this talk on world views and the spectrum of subjectivity and objectivity by Deepak Chopra. This is my response:

There is a parking garage that I can see from my window. I see that there are vehicles inside the garage, but I have not explored the interior of the garage. I believe that I could walk through the garage and count the exact number of vehicles inside. I also believe that you could walk through the garage and count the number of vehicles, and that your count would be the same as mine, assuming that we have a shared language that describes our past experiences of vehicles and numbers. It is critically important that we have enough shared experience for the answer to be identical. Otherwise, if we instead try to count blue vehicles, then our experience and perception of the color blue might differ enough to yield different results.

In my opinion, subjectivity arises because your experiences and language associations are unique to you. Other people may have had similar experiences, and may use similar language to describe their experiences. However, each person starts from a different reference point naturally. It takes effort for groups of people to create shared experiences and language.

When a group of people verify that they agree about something through communication, then they will take the mental shortcut called objectivity. Unlike Deepak Chopra, I claim that we all must believe in objectivity to communicate with others.

Using the example of counting vehicles, I cannot continuously question whether trees are vehicles, or whether the number 3 means 5 to other people. At some point in life, I accepted that other people’s experiences of 3 and 5 are pretty much the same as my own. However, through my experiences, I have observed that other people have slightly different concepts of the color blue. Therefore, I would say that there is room for subjectivity in the definition of blue.

Deepak Chopra might say that you create all of the colors of the rainbow in your imagination. However, I disagree with his completely subjective stance. That is because we probably have had a shared experience of a meter stick, and the wavelength of light can be measured in terms of meters. Even if I were color blind, I could use a tool to measure a beam of light. And, if the tool were to read about 700 nanometers, then I would be objectively incorrect to call it blue because that is clearly outside of the range that people have agreed to label as blue.

In summary, even though I agree with Deepak Chopra that science begins with subjectivity, I do believe in an objective reality that exists outside of any individual person.

What the 2012 DA14 asteroid teaches us about ourselves

Posted in Faith & Science, Psychology, War on February 22, 2013 by daviddiel

For many people, the 2012 DA14 asteroid brought up visions of an apocalypse, like something out of the movie Deep Impact. For ages, humans have looked to the stars to interpret events and predict the future. Although I agree with Carl Sagan that astrology is nonsense, I think this event can teach us a lesson about ourselves.

In the days leading up to the 2012 DA14 asteroid event, scientists around the world employed advanced technology to track the threat with great accuracy. Numerous articles were written in advance. We watched closely as a 40,000-ton asteroid predictably flew by the Earth, meanwhile failing to predict an unnamed 10,000-ton asteroid that did hit the Earth on the same day. According to CNN, the explosion of the unnamed asteroid measured 300 kilotons and injured 1000 people in Siberia.

The lesson here is that improbable and unpredicted events can be more important than those that we expect and understand. While it is prudent to watch out for known threats and to try to mitigate them, vigilance does not define importance. In fact, the most important events in human history usually come as a surprise, like a Black Swan. It takes humility to admit, but this is the nature of the universe.