Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A 'skip the bureaucracy' card

Once again this year I'm coaching a couple of events for Science Olympiad, an event that my two oldest kids take part in. In the past few years, in order to volunteer for events like these in our school district, some forms must be filled out, along with a TB test. This year however, due to the passing of Act 153 by the Pennsylvania Legislature, I also have to get background checks by two different agencies, and get fingerprinted. (The instructions to be volunteer are here: http://www.qvsd.org/page.cfm?p=4734)

I understand the desire to have our kids in a safe environment, and I certainly wouldn't want to have a pedophile as one of my kids' coaches. But I'm a little agitated that I have to jump through so many hoops to volunteer, when I'm not a criminal, past or present.

In order to protect the police from "bad people", the government has lots of processes for filtering out these bad people with various 'checks'. Those checks make everyone fill out forms, wait in security lines, take tests, open up your backpack at various places, etc.

Couldn't we do this another way?

How about this: The government makes a 'skip the bureaucracy card', that everyone gets when they are born in the US. If you do anything bad (criminal in any way), they destroy your card. BUT, if you have the card, you don't have to fill out background check forms, wait in security lines, have your bag examined when you enter a sports arena, etc. They just scan your 'skip the bureaucracy card', and you're on your way...

Thoughts on Weapons Regulation

Weapons regulation is certainly a charged and polarizing topic in the US. It's difficult to discuss without people having extreme emotional responses. So let's jump in... :-)

The 2nd Amendment text is:
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

It's obviously not too clear, or we wouldn't still argue about it. What's the whole militia part? And even if it was clear in saying people have the right to keep and bear arms, what are arms? Are arms just the musket loaders, bows, and blades that were available at the time that this sentence was written? Or does arms now include the hydrogen bomb?

How about this approach. Change the 2nd Amendment to be clear (i.e. "People have a right to keep and bear arms"*), then define arms. And make sure that arms is not a static definition, because weapons technology changes all of the times. It's hard to imagine that the founding fathers could have envisioned biological warfare, missile wielding drones, or even a taser.

How to define arms? What restrictions on arms should there be? Certainly not the goofy restrictions we have now - like whether or not a gun has a bayonet attachment or pistol-grip - that's irrelevant. How about basing the restrictions on things that matter for the practical use of them, which for the populace would be defending your home and hunting. I posit these criteria for arms restrictions:

1) Lethality per activation.
In other words, how many people would activating this weapon likely kill per activation. (I'm using the word activation instead of trigger pull, because I'm not talking about guns specifically, just arms.)

Most guns/rifles, bows, blades would have a lethality of "1". A grenade would have the lethality of ">1". A nuclear device would have a lethality "> 100,000".  Pepper spray, slingshots, tasers, etc. "<1".

I'd argue that "1" is the appropriate value.

2) The rate of weapon activation.
This is how quickly the bow can shoot the next arrow, how quickly the bullets can exit the gun, etc.

I'd argue ~10/minute is sufficient.  It's certainly overkill for hunting. But for home defense, let's say a gang of 4 enter, you're @ 50% hit rate, etc.

Greater than 10/min would be things like semi-auto weapons with large clips (because reloading would be taken into account for the rate), fully automatic weapons would be out, etc.

3) The distance of lethality.
This would be defined as the distance from where the device is activated to the location of the lethal event. So, for a rifle, it'd be the bullets effective range. For a bow, it's the effective range of the arrow. For a missile wielding drone, it's the distance from the remote control to the target. For a nuclear device it's the blast range.

I'd argue that ~hundred yards is sufficient.  Clearly that's sufficient for home defense, but not enough for longer range hunting. But there could be a trade between #2 & #3. Longer range? Then lower rate.

Lastly, self-inflicted deaths (whether accidental or suicide) prevention is a worthwhile goal too. Hence protective caps on medicines, safety measures on power tools, etc. For firearms, where most gun deaths are suicide with hand guns, having a minimum trigger-to-barrel length that is greater than the distance of the average arm would go a long way to preventing suicide. (And of course keep a safety on the weapon.)

Okay, the "unsolvable problem" is what to do with the hundreds of millions of guns currently in the US? How about this:
Now that arms is somewhat defined, also define new firearms to fire a caliber(s) that is not currently on the market. (Or maybe it's an old caliber,(s) but have a casing that is shaped incompatibly with current offerings.) Then sell this new caliber, but bar selling any of the old calibers. A trade offer for "old fire arm" to "new fire arm" could take place too. But, allow people to keep their current firearms, knowing that once the ammo is gone, it's just a collectors piece.

*People would need to be defined too, excluding felons, toddlers, crazy people, etc.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Engineers & Lawyers

I've been doing engineering work since the '80's - I think like an engineer (not sure of the cause-and-effect there). Recently I've been working in technology transfer, which is MUCH more legally oriented. I've found I don't think much like a lawyer.

How does each category think? Here's my perspective...
  • Lawyers look at the world as a chess game. It's a relatively complex game, with lots of specific rules. It's generally well respected (maybe somewhat elitist?), though not often played by most. Either side is equally fine to play - the goal is to outsmart the other.
  • Engineers look at the world as LEGOs. Lots of parts of various sizes and shapes that can be put together in a seemingly infinite number of ways. Some builds work, some builds fail (you learn more from the failed ones). Not really respected per se, and also not played with by most. The goal is build something cool.
There are great aspects to both views, and pitfalls - not too much overlap though. Chess players think they are above LEGOs. LEGO enthusiasts think chess is unproductive...

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

I voted today...

I went to the vote this morning. I'm pretty lucky that my polling center is less than two miles from my house. As I entered the polling center room, six septuagenarian women sat in a line behind some folding tables.

The process was:

  • Lady #1 asked my name
  • Lady #2 looked through a box of cards for my name
  • Lady #2 handed me my card to sign
  • I signed it
  • Lady #3 took the signed card, found my signature in a binder with local citizens signatures, and compared them
  • Lady #3 decided it was the same signature, then ripped a ticket off the card I signed, and handed it to Lady #4
  • Lady #4 escorted me to the polling booth
  • The polling booth is electronic, and Lady #4 had to insert what looked like an Atari 2600 cartridge into a slot enabling me to vote
  • I voted
  • Lady #6 said goodbye to me as I left
(Lady #5 just sat there)

How ridiculous is this process. I would say it's a hold-over from 18th century (maybe earlier), but there was the Atari 2600 cartridge, so it's just a hold-over from the 1970's.

When can we do this on the internet?!?!?!?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Keystroke power bluetooth keyboard

With the popularity of the Hanx Writer, it got me thinking about typewriters - something I hadn't thought about in quite a while! I remember my Dad had an old manual one. By comparison to today's ultra thin keyboards, the keystroke was really long - but I remember my Dad typing on it pretty fast.

I wonder if you could harness the power of the keystroke to power a bluetooth keyboard? Maybe the carriage return lever could be used to 'rev it up' & connect via bluetooth. Not sure it's too useful, but it'd be cool...

* I vaguely remember a conversation about this with a buddy of mine several years ago. Remember this Radney?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Taxes: Part 1 - National Sales Tax

While there are certainly some people that hate all taxes, I accept taxes as something you need to operate a nation. I'd guess that taxes 'as a concept' don't bother people as much as the implementation, especially:
1) The crazy complicated method we have of calculating taxes
2) The crazy stuff the tax money is spent on

But taxes aren't only for collecting revenue - they also can be used to influence behavior. Because citizens/corporations will try to avoid paying taxes - and they'll try hard!

We're running a deficit big time. Not fair at all to the younger generations. And we probably can't make ends meet just by cutting spending. We need more revenue. Here my first suggestion:
Add a national sales tax

Not much - no more than 3%. And exempt, food, clothing, shelter - all the necessities. In general, sales taxes are regressive, so it shouldn't be too high. This will increase revenues, and is easy to collect since retail operations are already set up to deal with state sales taxes.

But here's the twist on it that could have some influence:
• If a company has it's headquarters and manufacturing in the US (and pays it's corporate taxes) then their products are sales tax free.

This might stem the tide of corporate inversions, and actually get some manufacturing jobs back into the US...

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Personal Car-Integrated Shopping Cart

You know how the wheeled legs of an ambulance stretcher automatically fold up when the stretcher is pushed into the back of the ambulance? It'd be cool to use that same concept for a personal shopping cart in your automobile.

So, the car (a hatchback style, or Minivan/SUV) would come with it's own shopping cart. The cart could be branded too, so you could walk through the grocery with your <insert brand> cart - good advertising.

Everything in the store would happen the same way. You'd check out at the cash register, they'd load you bags into your cart. Then you'd go to the parking lot, open the hatch, and just push the cart right into the back of the vehicle, and close the hatch.

I guess you could then wheel the cart into the kitchen at home, but the wheels might be dirty. Anyway, it'd save unloading into the car, putting the cart into the cart bin, etc. And if it caught on, the stores wouldn't have to have so many carts & people dealing with the carts...