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.

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.

Why is the right to marry a foreigner less important than gay rights?

Posted in Law, Money on March 27, 2013 by daviddiel

Many people are concerned about the rights of gays to marry. But who will stand up for the right of a US Citizen to marry a foreigner? Marrying a foreigner is currently far more difficult, involving long periods of forced separation, high fees, invasion of privacy, and the summary judgement of a single unaccountable officer, with no right to appeal the decision for 10 years. The Supreme Court is debating gay marriage, and Congress is debating immigration reform, but this issue isn’t on their agenda. Let’s bring light to this injustice!

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.

DNA data storage or rise of genetically modified humans?

Posted in Faith & Science, Law, Money, Music-Movies-Media, Software, War on January 27, 2013 by daviddiel

I’ve noticed several news stories and advertisements lately regarding the future of data storage. Apparently, researchers at the European Bioinformatics Institute have stored and retrieved a few digital files in DNA. That’s interesting on many levels, yet the sales pitch seems to be focused on the hard drive market. Here are some example articles:

Why DNA Will Someday Replace the Hard Drive

Storing Shakespeare and “I Have a Dream” in DNA

New technique stores terabytes of data on DNA with 100% accuracy

Depending on your background, and your level of trust in scientists, you might interpret this news as a another step in the advancement of technology. It could enable lighter cell phones, thinner notebook computers, and smaller data storage centers. All of those things could be true, but the discussion is missing a very important and serious application: People will be able to store and print all forms of life, which will inevitably include genetically modified humans. Once a DNA sequence is printed or cloned, it has already been shown using sheep, that it can be inserted into an egg, and a surrogate mother can grow and bear the child.

From what I have read, a person’s DNA represents about 6 GB of data. Therefore, your genetic code, which is a large part of what makes up who you are, would probably fit on your cell phone using today’s technology. It would not be surprising if most people reading this blog have their DNA sequenced within the next 20 years. It is not a stretch to think that some of you will request to store your sequence on a reliable form of digital media, like a Blu-Ray disc, for example.

Then what? What if you could send your DNA out for a little touch-up, deleting a few flaws and disease markers here and there? What if your DNA could be virtually mated with anyone who you choose? Would you want to have a child made from a modified version of yourself and your favorite movie star? What if you could add or select features, such as better metabolism, greater intelligence, or a particular eye or hair color? Could all of this be used to make super humans or warriors?

My moral compass says that we should not go down this path. But, somebody’s going to do it anyway. Let’s just be honest and recognize that the target market for this technology is biological elitists who want to make super-babies, not those who are overburdened by the size and weight of their personal electronics.

What led to the Adam Lanza school shooting?

Posted in Education, Law, Music-Movies-Media, Psychology, War with tags , , , , , , , on December 19, 2012 by daviddiel

Regarding the school shooting last week in Connecticut, I have been asking the questions: How did this happen? What factors led to the outcome?

Here are the elements that I think were critical:

1) Lanza had access to weapons that he knew how to use. The weapons didn’t have to be guns. They could have been mining explosives. But his killing pathology must have developed through training that matched the weapons.

2) Lanza probably trained through first person shooter video games. The pattern of aiming at a person, pulling the trigger, feeling no remorse, and targeting another person for pleasure is not innate, but learned. The creation of such games is partly funded by war money.

3) The school did not have armed security personnel. In this case, the principal acted heroically to try to stop Lanza, but failed because he did not have a sufficient weapon. An armed police officer on staff, or any adult present with a concealed weapon and proper training, might have stopped the rampage.

4) Lanza had an episode of a mental dysfunction that got out of control. This case particularly points to a childhood developmental disorder, based on who he chose to kill. Lanza’s immediate fear of treatment triggered a trap loaded with biological predispositions and parenting mistakes.

Steps could be taken on all of these issues, but #2 can be addressed for free without passing legislation. All we need to do is boycott video games and movies that trivialize murder. Which video games or movies would you boycott in honor of the Sandy Hill Elementary victims? Answer in the comments below.