There's been a lot of chatter about what to do about illegal immigration in this country... and, as usual, the discourse between the hippies and the rednecks is oh so productive...
I don't think either of them fully grasp the problem. The rednecks seem to think we can build a wall and everything will be fine... or at least put up a million guards on the border. What they fail to realize is that Cubans brave shark-infested waters on rickety rafts to get here. If they aren't afraid of that, they certainly won't fear a wall. Even if we wrapped the country with a de-militarized zone, and border guards randomly sprayed bullets across it, we'd still have illegal immigrants...
Also, the rednecks treat the economy like its a big pie, and there's only so many pieces to go around. Not true. Wealth can be created through innovation. In the long run, the more hard working Americans we have, the stronger our economy. Of course, in the long run we'll all be dead, so we should probably think short- and medium- term as well...
The hippies forget that there has to be an incentive to become a citizen, otherwise nobody would do it. They're also calling everybody and his dog a racist for being against amnesty, when the problem is primarily an economic one: without an assimilation plan, a flood of cheap labor can put a lot of Americans out of their jobs, and worsen racial tension.
One Possible Solution
After using a few tricks to boost independent thought, a four-step solution occurred to me:
- Allow any and all illegal immigrants to become citizens, but
- levy an addition -- permanent -- tax on people who become citizens in this fashion, then
- give some of the revenue to small, local entrepreneurs to create jobs, and
- issue the remainder as a "tax rebate" to the poor and jobless
Now, this solution isn't perfect. Rednecks may claim that its still amnesty... but they might change their tune when they see a tax rebate... even a few hundred dollars would be a good psychological boost. Hopefully it would stall their distrust until new jobs are created. Also, if the new citizens are the poorest, the rebate money goes right back into their own pocket!
I'm no supply-side economist like Helicopter Ben, so I don't expect a tax rebate to do anything but be a warm fuzzy. However, tax incentives for small, local, entrepreneurs almost always creates jobs...
Hippies might complain that this treats the new citizens like second-class citizens. Perhaps... but we should let them make that choice. By becoming a citizen, illegal immigrants would completely turn the tables on their stereotype: they are now the people who create jobs, not take them away! They could become a mighty political force not just for immigration reform, but also job creation! Some may be more than happy to pay the extra tax in exchange for instant political clout.
I like it...
I can't think of an economic downside, although the devil's in the details. So forgive my prejudice... but if you're against my plan, then you and your dog are racist ;-)
It seems that people do one of three things when it came to disasters:
- they prepare for a disaster that never happens,
- they prepare for a disaster and are ready when it happens, or
- they never prepare for a disaster.
What was surprising to me was that many people who donate money to the Red Cross are completely unprepared for a disaster! No first aid kit, no water filters, no back-up food supply... If only they were better prepared, then the Red Cross wouldn't need to spend so much to bail them out of trouble!
The logical things is to kill 3 birds with one stone: the Red Cross should sell disaster preparedness kits, and make money off the proceeds. This would mean the following:
- More people would be prepared when disaster strikes,
- The Red Cross makes a bit of money,
- When disaster strikes, we could round-up available kits, and ship them to those in need
I haven't done the math on it, but it would be like the entire country would be a distributed warehouse for Red Cross disaster supplies! By being prepared yourself, you help others when disaster strikes. It seems like a natural idea to me... The Red Cross already has a detailed list of what a disaster pack should have... why not brand this to both save lives and generate cash? People would be prepared for the disaster, feel smart, feel charitable, and get a tax deduction for the donation!
In practice, the disaster pack would work like this: if a disaster strikes close to your home, the Red Cross has a pretty good idea of how many supplies are available locally to fix the problem. This wouldn't require an invasive database, you'd only need to give them your zip code. If needed, you and your neighbors would crack open your own disaster packs, and survive in relative ease for a week or so... Simultaneously, other groups who specialize in logistics -- like UPS, FedEX, or WallMart -- could coordinate a regional drive to collect and re-distribute disaster packs to the affected region.
Probably these regional drives would be most effective if it was hub-based. For example, if a massive flood hit the Midwest, it may be most effective to collect disaster packs from just the 5 largest towns in the region... people who are 50 miles from the event -- but not near a hub -- should probably just hang on to their supplies for later.
This idea would only work if the packs had the following features:
- The food wouldn't spoil for at least a year.
- The food needs to be very yummy... so if no disaster strikes they can be consumed by the owners or given to the food shelf -- no lima beans or pumpkin mix!
- Non-perishable tools (crank flashlight, crank radios,
fireproofwaterproof matches, first aid) should be kept in a separate disaster pack, so they would last for many years more than the food.
- Each came sealed, with instructions on both the inside and outside, to prevent tampering.
- They came in uniformly shaped, easy-to-transport containers.
The Red Cross does already sell kits on their site redcrossstore.org, but nothing that conforms to all the above criteria.
This of course leaves the major problem with disasters: where do people get fresh water?
The solution to that is probably to include a lifestraw with every pack... which is a compact water filtration system. However, that assumes access to water in general. For floods, this is feasible... but in the event an earthquake destroyed the roads and waterways, the straw might just be laying there mocking you... Thus, it might be a good idea to have a water pack as well... despite the weight.
A yellow pack for food, a blue one for water, and a red one for tools. What do you think?
Again, not fully baked... but I'd certainly buy one and feel good about donating to the Red Cross / Boy Scouts / United Way or whoever decides to run with this...
Assume somebody claims that something absolutely crazy was posted to the web, then removed... either on a government web site, or a major news outlet's site. Your conspiracy theorist buddy shows you "proof" of the shocking truth in the form of an screenshot. Unlike your friend, you know that screenshots are easy to edit with photoshop, and therefore aren't particularly good evidence.
However, what if your buddy showed you the proof from an online archive that everybody trusts? This could be possible, if your buddy could "ping" the Wayback Machine to take a snapshot and store it in its permanent archives... And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Hopefully you've heard of the Wayback Machine... its run by the Internet Archive organization. They have the mind-numbingly complex task of archiving all the content on the internet, or at least trying to. Then the Wayback Machine allows you to look at how the web site appeared in a specific month of the year. Pretty cool stuff... especially since a lot of web sites get taken down after their usefulness has expired... like a politician's web site after they lose an election.
Check out what bexhuff.com looked like in June 2006 2006... ah, the memories...
Well, why not expand upon this? Why not allow helpful individuals suggest when and what to archive? If something absolutely unbelievable is on a web site, and you're afraid it may soon become unavailable, just trigger the Wayback Machine to take a snapshot. At least then you'll have a (mostly) impartial judge.
It could also be extremely helpful in mitigating the flood of requests that occurs when a small web site is linked to from a large web site. After a link gets posted to Digg, Slashdot, or Techcrunch, the massive number of requests can overwhelm a small site's web server, or push them over their monthly bandwidth limit. Instead, the editors of these sites can "ping" the Wayback Machine to take a snapshot... then if an overload happens, redirect the link to the internet archive. Or simply post both links, and let the reader decide which to click.
This sort of API could lend itself to abuse... so there may need to be a "weighing" scheme. Anonymous and first-time posters are given nearly zero priority, and their suggestion puts it in the "archive this month" queue... However, watchdogs and polite editors who use the system often get high priority, and can see their pages archived the same hour.
Other options include the Google Cache and the Coral Cache... both are useful, and might be more receptive than the internet archive project at expanding their APIs... but there's only one Wayback Machine!
Karl Fogel from the Subversion project had an interesting idea about government... perhaps its about time that we mandate our laws to be created inside a version control system. This could be an ECM system, or a source control system like Subversion, or something specific to government. In any case, it would help us track who made which change to which law, and when.
What I love most about Subversion is the blame feature... when something crazy goes awry, you bring up the source code and run blame. This will show you which user (or lawmaker) is responsible for which changes to the code (or law). If somebody snuck-in some untested code (or a $100 million kickback to a lobbyist), they won't be able to hide it too well...
In the image screenshot of blame in action, we see that there are four revisions of the file (8, 12, 13, 14), and the user "padma" is responsible for every change. This is similar to Microsoft's Track Changes feature... but since laws are high in content and low in formatting and photos, a plain-text specific tool might be a better match.
Of course, them Congressmen are tricksy... you'll need specific laws that only a Congressman gets access to the system to create a bill, and must have daily commits, and all amendments must be branches off of a bill to be merged in when voted on. I believe it will also be essential to have these be accessible over the web, so everybody can see not only who made what change, but what changes are being considered.
It would also be good to mandate a minimum time delay between when it was written, and when it can be voted on... not to mention syndication feeds and subscriptions so watchdog groups can instantly monitor proposed changes and proposed bills.
Heck, if Congress is making Wall Street follow Sarbanes Oxley, then its only fair to have some level of accountability in Washington as well...
The entire airline industry is facing serious management problems... union trouble, aging pilots, bankruptcy, canceled flights, and the like. Their software is woefully outdated, and the latest security laws are causing people to check twice as much baggage... which naturally leads to significantly more lost luggage...
Now, logistics ain't rocket science, but I am sympathetic that it's difficult to get right. However, there are dozens of industries that have made a significant profit by simply getting things from point A to point B reliably... so I'm mystified why the airline industries are struggling.
Ask around... it isn't easy being a Northwest Airlines customer... just talk to anybody who has to travel through Chicago. A lot of their pilots are nearing 60, which is bumping up against the mandatory retirement age. There are also strict rules about how many hours a pilot can fly in the month. Therefore, if you want to minimize chances of a canceled flight, book it no later than the 15th of the month.
You'd think that Northwest could have seen this coming five years ago and hired more pilots... sadly no.
Seriously, it could be a good move. FedEx already has all the software and a good chunk of the infrastructure. They have a brand name that screams "reliable," and relationships with airplane manufacturers. They just need a handful of the best and brightest execs from Northwest so they can learn the nuances of the travel industry... then they could be the 100% business infrastructure solution.
They'll print out your reports, ship a crate of them to your destination, and even pick you up from the airport in one of their stylish trucks! And if you can fit into their one-size-fits-all travel pod, they can guarantee delivery.
Like I said... not fully baked. Just the rantings of a frustrated customer.
People in software use terms like master and slave quite frequently. The master application (or computer, or system) tells the slave what to do, and the slave must do it.
As you may suspect, this terminology sometimes ruffles feathers... in the same way that terms like daemons, zombies, starvation, and kill can cause issues.
Well, I thought we could replace the term master with the term the decider. I like it. I am the egg head, I'm the commander, I'm the decider. Koo koo cachoo.
So the latest buzz is all about the Time Magazine Person of the Year for 2006... instead of narrowing down the field, Time decided to pick everybody.
Yep... You are Time's Person of the Year. Just like in The Big Lebowski.
I understand their motives... blogs and sites like YouTube have really turned the world on its head... and have really shocked those in the media industry who believed themselves to be the gatekeeprs of information. Each new internet innovation reduces their power more and more.
Well, then why not make the YouTube guys the Persons of the Year? Or maybe the webroots activists that influenced the 2006 election by capturing Macaca moments? Maybe throw in some Ze Frank?
Come on, Time! Pick a horse!
Anyway, Andy MacMillan had an awesome idea last night... since we are all now considered Time Magazine's Person of the Year, we should all update our resumes. We should place it on our list of accomplishments on our blogs, our MySpace pages, and all our online profiles. I mean, Person of the Year 2006 is a big deal, right? You should be proud!
I hope to see many many more by the end of next week...
CNN has an excellent article on Neil Gershenfeld, who is definitely on the list of Coolest Geek Ever. He's an MIT professor who teaches the course How To Make (Almost) Anything.
He also forsees a future where the printers attached to your computer can not only create newsletters and photos, but also three-dimensional objects like chairs and electronics.
Woah... so why isn't this a Half Baked idea? Well, because he's already damn close:
Want a new dining room chair? You'll design it on a PC and press PRINT, and your personal fabricator will create it for you right before your eyes. Just make sure tray No. 2 has enough wood.
The scaled-down model is a ways out, but factory-sized units are already available! He already has 15 around the world. He calls them Fab Labs. These are about $40,000 a pop, and come with laser cutters, sign cutters, milling machines, amongst others. All the pieces are tied together with open-source CAD/CAM software to help you design and make (almost) anything. You can make computers, robot cars, even small buildings.
Heck... given enough materials it might be possible for a Fab Lab to make little baby Fab Labs!
Naturally, there are issues with scale. A specialized factory will be able to make products more efficiently than a Fab Lab. However, those specialized factories require so much initial capital to create, and might be outdated in a year. Therefore, the generalistic Fab Lab might soon be the optimal choice. Soon we may never have factories again... just designers solving the latest problems!
I know what I want for Christmas...
Google has recently discussed an interesting new project... the Google Truth Predictor.
They haven't released many details, but in theory they could index specific facts into a fact database, along with the source, and the number of people who have verified it.
Then, a user could type in a question, such as "the US economy has improved 5%", and search for its truthfulness (versus its truthiness).
In theory, Google would take this question, and break it down into a topic (the economy), a trend (improvement), and a measurement (5%). Then, they could compare it with all existing data, and supply a list of evidence for and against the statement. Then, based on some weighing scheme, they could associate a probability of truthfulness.
The supposed goal would be to know instantly whether a politician is lying or not...
I, however, am not so skeptical...
For example, lets say a congressman in a heated debate says "Every day my opponent visits Washington, a car bomb goes off in Iraq. Therefore, we should keep him out of Washington."
Strangely enough, this statement could be 100% true... but its just a coincidence, and therefore irrelevant. Its formally called the correlation implies causation fallacy. What would Google Truth® do with that statement?
Well, I'm no linguist, but it does seem that logical fallacies do have a similar pattern -- they usually have the word therefore in them -- therefore, a decent human language search engine should be able to identify these patterns. Once a pattern is found, it could also give a probability of a fallacious argument.
Even better, the search engine could warn the user that the statement was not actually a fact, and was probably designed to manipulate them. It could then educate them on what logical fallacy was being used, and why the speaker was being irrational.
Framing, however, is a more difficult issue. Calling the Inheretance Tax the Death Tax is a classic example of framing: use bad words to make something sound worse than it is commonly believed. Likewise, notice the terms Pro Life and Pro Choice. Both very positive sounding, and both designed to elicit a positive reaction.
Framing is as old as Alexander Hamilton. He called his political group The Federalist Party, and called the other guys the Anti Federalists... which in 1780 was the same as calling somebody Anti-American. Naturally, his party won more popular support.
This is despite the fact that Federalism by definition meant strong state governors, and a weak central government... despite the fact that The Federalists lobbied for exactly the opposite form of government.
I hate that Alexander Hamilton soooooooo much...
So, since framing is so context sensitive, how on earth can you defend against it?
The good news is that its really easy to lie, or throw out a logical fallacy, but its pretty hard to frame.
You can spit out a quick lie once to move on to a new issue, and never come back to it. However, to frame an issue, you need to repeat it over and over and over and over. If somebody asked you about the Death Tax five years ago, you probably wouldn't have a clue what they meant. But since it was repeated many times within the context of inheritance, you'd probably catch on.
That means that there is most likely a finite number of topics that are being framed in manipulative ways... and a critical thinker would probably catch them before they have infected the general population. Google could just keep a short list of these red flag words, and give a special warning when found.
My first test? Run Alexander Hamilton's old speeches through the truth predictor. Once it hits 0%, then I'm happy.
There are several sites like this, but I believe this is the only one who offers their data as an RSS Feed!
RSS Feeds are great, because then political junkies can get an instant fix, even when they're not watching CSPAN. Using the feeds, you could basically get an email every time your congressman voted, or refused to vote, along with info on the bill.
Having the data in an easily shared, XML format is a nice step towards transparency... but politics are so polarized these days that most of them vote along party lines. Often, you don't need 500 feeds, you really only need two.
Kind of disappointing... so I had better get busy mocking them.
So here's my latest mashup idea:
- Download the vote data for every senator via RSS
- Filter the data for votes that go against the party line.
- Do a mashup with Google Maps to display the districts of the offending congressman.
Now, any time a vote occurs, and somebody dares to challenge the status quo in congress, a little warning will pop-up over their district. It will contain the vote info, and links to learn more.
I call it The Independent Thought Alarm. It should help those thumb breakers in congress crack down on those pesky bipartisan coalitions, and their evil attempts to make the world a better place!
Now if I could only cross-reference it with how much pork-barrel spending each district gets... but the bill that would allow citizens to access a database of pork barrel government spending projects got killed... stupid secret senate holds.
Maybe next year.
UPDATE: For those of you coming here from googlemapsmania, this project is not yet complete... I hope to find time to finish it by next week or so.
Due to the positive feedback I received from my previous TV show idea, I decided to share another one: Political Reality TV.
double yawn... but wait! It gets better...
The idea is to have a American Idol style contest for political candidates. You would pick two districts, hopefully exciting enough to keep the interests of the viewers. These districts would be selected based on how corrupt they are... the more corrupt the better.
To ensure drama, this show would run a young idealistic Democrat in a corrupt Republican district. It would also run a young idealistic Republican in a corrupt Democratic district. Both candidates would probably be moderates.
The goal of the show is to inject some fresh blood into politics, make elections interesting to the general public, and make a bit of money. Of course, bringing down corrupt officials and making fools of them is a nice bonus.
You would have contests of one form or another to determine who is genuinely the best candidate amongst an initial pool of 10 or 20. This could take the form of debates where you actually debate the issues: talking points and spin will count against you. Game the system so that only a true leader with honest opinions and a good heart will win the primary.
The potentials will be filmed 24-hours a day, as they speak to voters, do fund-raising, discuss matters with lobbyists and other politicos. I wonder how candid all those folks would be on TV, hmmm? Maybe we would need secret hidden cameras as well...
You could even steal a page from Pop-Up Video and Blind Date... any time a politician tries double speak, a little balloon pops up with what they actually meant. Whenever they lie, pop up a balloon with facts that refute what they just said.
You could also take a page from Meet My Folks: slap a lie detector on these would-be politicians and ask them yes/no questions... of course, we would offer the incumbent the same opportunity.
Check it: politicians attached to a lie detector. People would tune in for that alone...
We should also give the Psychopathy Checklist test to these folks... this is a test that is given to police officers, teachers, and firemen to ensure they are not sociopaths... but for some reason politicians don't have to take it. If it were up to Robert Hare, the inventor of the test, all CEOs and politicians should be required to take it. I can't say I disagree...
The icing on the cake would be the voting system... we could get a bunch of geeks to write an open source online voting system with all the bells and whistles. It would run circles around our current system by implementing encryption, instant runoff voting, fraud checks, and verifiable voting receipts. This stuff would put Diebold to shame, if they haven't been shamed enough already. Seriously, any company that makes a voting machine that can be opened with a hotel minibar key should just give up.
It might be tricky getting around the Federal Election Commission rules... especially if one candidate is filmed 24 hours a day, and the other gets the shaft. There may be some weird funding rules as well... and certainly the power structure will try to thwart it with "legal" action at every turn.
Nevertheless, it would be one hell of a ride!
Hat tip Noam Chomsky... he inspired me to write this but I can't remember how or why...
The TV show Survivor recently announced that in their next season, they will be organizing the tribes by race. The tribes will be white, black, Asian, and Hispanic. They would compete against each other for food, shelter, and tools.
Some critics have called this tasteless, because its manipulating ignorance and racial tension for financial gain. Yep! Sounds like a TV network to me...
But I say, why stop there? There's pretty good evidence that religious tension causes even more problems than racial tension... so why not manipulate that for profit as well?
Allow me to present my modest proposal...
Some psychologists believe that one of the most effective ways to stop self-destructive behavior is for the patient to have a 'religious experience.' Naturally, that's not exactly something that comes in a pill, but maybe we could get close...
Step one is to round up groups of deeply religious individuals from all the major world religions. Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist. Maybe split the Christian group into Protestant / Catholic / Mormon, and the Muslims into Sunni / Shia. Heck, let's even throw in a few Sikhs and Atheists.
Step two is to round up the most depressing, wretched, beaten-down-by-the-world addicts you can muster. People horribly dependent on drugs, alcohol, gambling, bad relationships... people who are simply 24 carat screw-ups.
Step three is to give each group one of these wretches.
The groups then convert the wretch, and try to inspire him/her into having a religious experience. The wretches will then kick their addictive habits, and totally turn their lives around.
Whichever group can do this first, is the winner!
I call it My God's Better Than Your God. It'll be huge...
The entire business model of technology recruiters is flawed, and can be fixed with a very small piece of code.
Firstly, people don't like going through recruiters because all the jobs sound the same... to paraphrase Joel, they all claim to represent a "leading" company in a "leading" industry who wants somebody with XML/HTML/HTTP/C++/C#/Java/JEE experience.
You know nothing about the company... frequently nothing about the industry... and you don't know which item in that alphabet soup of requirements is actually a requirement, and which are "a plus."
People want to know specifics, otherwise its just a big waste of everyone's time. The applicant, the recruiter, and the hiring manager. But recruiters do not get paid if they give away too many details... then the user will go through normal channels to get the job, and the recruiter is not compensated for the effort.
So how should we fix this?
Easy... you just implement some kind of tracking, like Amazon.com does for its referral program. If you mention a book, and provide a link on Amazon, a referral link to the book would look something like this:
In this case, foobar is the referrer. If somebody buys the book any time in the future after clicking that link, then foobar gets a dollar (or whatever). This encourages people to place links all over their web sites, and talk about how useful that book was. Its all about helping people find you, and compensating those with an audience when they use their influence.
The same model should work fine for recruiters. Just say the name of the company, and have links to the jobs page with your referral tacked on. If the recruiters were paranoid, they could insist to block access to specific jobs on that company's job board unless the referrer is present.
You don't even need to write fancy code to do this... you could just use the regular expression redirects built into your web server (if you're running Apache). If the referral code is there, great! Otherwise, page not found...
To be even more safe, you could track IP addresses or cookies. If the recruiter's reference ID was in the page view history of somebody with that IP address, then the recruiter also gets their commission. Or make a list of acceptable reference IDs so people can't hack them. Of course, that's more work, but not a huge amount of code. Its a few dozen lines of Python, and access to their web server logs.
So what's the overall value? The job applicants are people who know the company, know the industry, know the technology, and genuinely want the job. You'd get passionate applicants more quickly, and not just some code monkey who happens to know PHP, and therefore fits the minimum standards.
Plus, since the recruiters have less fear about giving away details, they have much more flexibility and credibility.
I was thinking today about how much information the search engines must have on people's search patterns.
Google tracks what search terms are popular from day to day, and what links you click when you search for it. Not only is it information on what people are looking for, but also information on which web site most likely contains the answers.
However, Google is missing out because they are only searching for individual terms. Like "Windows XP", or "Apple OS X". They don't track what people are trying to do with that information...
However, the folks at Ask Jeeves do!
Since Ask Jeeves uses full-language search syntax, they can track a lot more information about trends. For example, "how do I switch from Windows XP to OS X?", or "how do I switch from OS X to Windows XP?"
Thosse are completely different questions, but Google would not be aware of that. Google only records the terms, and not the relation between the terms.
This positions Ask Jeeves to be the uber FAQ for the internet. Not only do they know what is popular, but what "how to" questions people are asking, as well as which sites contains the best answer!
This is incredibly more powerful than what Google can do... because Ask Jeeves knows exactly your question, and exactly what link you clicked to find the answer! If a user runs a similar search again, then they probably did not find the answer. If they clicked on item #5 in the results, then left the web site, they probably found exactly the answer they were looking for.
Once the click-through rate is high enough, Ask Jeeves could create a list of similar questions that people asked. Then they can give feedback to user who run searches. Something like this:
Questions similar to yours:
* How do I move files from Windows XP to the Mac?
* What Windows XP applications have Mac equivalents?
And so on... and the links on these results takes you directly to the most popular page on that subject.
Since Ask Jeeves already has all the human language analysis technology, implementing something like this would be a snap for them... plus it would really help them out in the search engine battles... because not everybody is famliar enough with the statistical linguistics needed to make Google searches work well.
Besides... some people may be willing to pay big bucks for such quick, correct answers. They could be sitting on a gold mine there...
I had a few half-baked ideas in the way to work today. Actually, I had them in the 2-minute stroll from my car to the elevator when my wife asked me to carry something...
Firstly, I think its a good idea for women to fold up a medium-sized plastic bag, and keep it in their purse. If you fold it tightly, it would be quite thin, not to mention waterproof and sturdy.
Why? You never know when you may need a plastic bag. For example, if your arms are full and you need your man to carry your purse (shudder). Solution: your man pulls the bag out of your purse, puts your purse in the bag, and carries the bag. Masculinity in tack.
Which brought me to my second half-baked idea. We need a new word: metrophobe.
A metrophobe is a man who is totally accepting towards homosexuals, but is still nervous that he may be mistaken as one. Thus, they are adamantly opposed to both moisturizer, and being fashionable.
I did mention they were not fully baked...