Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Robots are here to stay, like it or not

Here's a semi-serious look at robotics.
 
There are more robots being built this year than in any previous year in humanity's history. And this may be true for next few decades.

Of course, almost everyone who is anyone has a working replica of "Robby the Robot", who was in more movies and TV shows than R2D2.




Robby is very useful around the house, but he was not very good at changing diapers, because of his claw-like hands. (Sadly, my daughter still has nightmares because of this). (Frankly, she still has nightmares about me changing her diapers).

All seriousness aside, almost no robots made these days look like Robby. Let's define a robot as a mechanical or artificial agent, usually an electro-mechanical machine that is guided by a computer program or electronic circuitry.

Here's a useful robot that does welding:



And here's a robot that runs fast:



Special Forces use robots that look and move like snakes, and that have cameras and microphones, in order to sneak around inside of buildings to scope them out and check for bad guys.

Robotic snakes can also be used for search and rescue.

More importantly, they can scare the heck out of your girlfriend. (A word of warning for you married guys. Do not try to scare your wives with a robotic snake. The aftermath is not worth it. Trust me on this.)

Here's a working, headless snake from Carnegie Mellon:



How about drones?



They're reproducing faster than rabbits. Your next Amazon delivery might be from a drone.

And how about self-driving cars?



They are robots, too.

Robot insects? Yes. Maybe they could fly around your house looking for harmful insects and zap them. I'll hold off on these for a few years.



But you can hold down costs by buying in bulk:



There are literally thousands of kinds of robots that are getting more useful on a daily basis. And, right now at least, it takes humans - lots of humans - to design them.

So if you're interested in designing robots, there may well be a job for you.

Will SkyNet eventually take control of these robots to rid itself of humanity? Apparently, Terminator IX will answer that question for us.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Vampires are Real


Someone asked me if uniting to fight a common enemy (such as aliens) could bring a unity to humanity.

I said that uniting to fight a common enemy could bring a temporary unity to humanity, but not a permanent one.

And that's because it is an external threat. So it does nothing to change people, at least in the long term.

But here is what could change people: humanity should unite to fight off the huge number of vampires that actually exist.

Have I, Jedi Grandmaster Farage, beloved by so many, lost my marbles? I'm sure my friends think so. Please give me a chance to redeem myself.

I'm actually serious about vampires being real. And there are more of them than there are humans.

Here are some of the common traits that vampires have:

  1. They feed off human blood - our life force.
  2. They can only live in the dark. Sunlight or fire kills them.
  3. A stake through the heart kills them.
  4. They are repulsed by a Cross, and Holy Water burns them.
But I am not speaking of the Dracula type of vampires.

I am speaking of the vampires that live within each of us.

We all have vampires that live in the dark within us. That is, they live mostly in our unconscious mind, so we are rarely aware of them.

And they suck our life force out by causing us to experience hate, or fear, or anger, or bigotry, or bitterness. As Yoda would say, "Vampires lead to the Dark Side of the Force."

Do we all not have many things we fear? Fear of those who are different than us? Fear of failing? Fear of succeeding?

Do we get angry every time a car pulls out in front of us, or if our spouse does something we don't like, or at the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, or when a waiter is slow to bring out drinks?

And yet, we usually aren't aware of how often we have such feelings. And we're also not aware of how much of our positive energy is being sucked out by these feelings.
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But there is good news. Look at the list above and it will guide us as to how to get rid of our vampires. They cannot live in the light of consciousness. So as we become aware of some fear or hate or anger that we have, we can consciously bring it into the light, and into our awareness. And when we do so, we can immediately replace those negative feelings with positive ones.

I have a friend who was always getting mad at other drivers. Now, when a driver cuts her off, and she catches herself, she says, "Bless you." This immediately dispels negativity with positivity. The anger she used to experience did nothing to stop bad drivers, but it did harm her. No more.

Putting a stake through a vampire’s heart refers to getting right at the core of your negative thought or feeling, in order to rid yourself of it.

And the aversion to Crosses and Holy Water tells us that when we lead Godly lives - when we love others; when we follow the Golden Rule; when we use our talents to help others - that our inner vampires have no power over us.

And that is the best news of all. These inner vampires can only control us only if we allow them to. The power of the Light, the power of God, is infinite compared to their meager power.
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It is when most of us step into the Light that our world will be transformed, and humanity will unite to create God's Kingdom on Earth. 
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Tim Farage is a Senior Lecturer and Graduate Advisor in the Computer Science Department at The University of Texas at Dallas. The views expressed herein are his own. You are welcome to comment upon this blog entry and/or to contact him at tfarage@hotmail.com.
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Monday, March 7, 2016

What the next President of the United States ought to do

Introduction
 
As I write this in March, 2016, this is the most "interesting" presidential race that I've witnessed. I'm not going to get into the candidates, or the political parties, mostly because both of the major political parties are corrupt, and because they tend to polarize our country. So this post will deal with the issues and not politics, thank God. 

No matter how you feel about the particular candidates, there is a hopeful sign during this election season. And that sign is that people are tired of politics as usual. Amen to that. Go USA.

That said, what would I like to see our next President focus on, in order to keep our country as the best country in the world? And further, what should the next President do to improve our country so that we can be a good model for all other countries? 

1) Allowing all parents to choose their children's school
 
This is really a state issue, but it's so important that I'm including it here. Certainly, the President can lead the charge to encourage the states to adopt school choice.
 
Currently, if you are well-to-do, you can send your child to whatever school you wish, public, private or parochial, if that school is willing to enroll your child. 

If you are not well off, you must send your child to the local public school, or possibly a public charter school. We've been trying for decades to improve public education, and everyone knows how that has gone. If you don't know, go see the documentary, Waiting for Superman.
 
The documentary shows the plight of the poor and how desperate they are to get into good schools. The writer suggests having more charter schools, which is fine. But the only sustainable answer is to have school choice for all parents, rich or poor. There is no doubt that it will eventually happen, so why not start doing it now? If we are going to subsidize education, then allow the parents the freedom to decide how their children are to be educated.
 
It's simple to do. Each state should take whatever it now spends on K-12 education. (In Texas it's about $10,000 per student per year). Then put this amount into an Educational Benefit Account for each child. The child's parents can then use this money to send their child to whatever public, private or parochial school that they feel will best suit their child. And they can change schools whenever they wish.
 
School's will crop up all over the place. Some will be bad and some will be good. But the bad ones will eventually go out of business, since parents will stop sending their children there. And that's what will lead to educational improvement in our country. Why? Because every system improves when people have a choice.

2) Pass a balanced-budget amendment
 
Year after year of budget deficits tells us that Congress cannot balance a budget. As of March, 2016, the national debt is $19 trillion. This is the same as $19 million million. This comes out to over $152,000 of national debt per family. Did you know that you had that debt on top of whatever personal debts you have? And you're paying the interest on it. 

It's time for a balanced-budget amendment that requires Congress to pass only balanced budgets. The amendment should have an exception that allows for Congress to vote to deficit spend for a given year is 2/3rds of both houses of Congress vote to do so. (This might be needed in times of war, or a large natural disaster). The amendment should allow 10 years for Congress to balance the budget.

3) Real health care reform
 
Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans' health care are underfunded by over $60 trillion. And they don't provide health care for everyone, they don't remove the pre-existing condition problem that everyone hates, and they still tie much of health care with employment. Yet we spend about 16% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on health care, more than most developed countries.
 
Here's a simple solution that provides health care to all Americans, would be completely funded, would eliminate the pre-existing condition problem, and would de-couple health care with employment. 

The solution is for the federal government to take 10% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), about $1.8 trillion, and put an equal amount of this into a Health Care Account (HCA) for each American adult. This would be about $7300 per year per adult. About half of this would be used to buy a high-deductible health insurance policy, and the other half to pay for medical expenses incurred before the deductible kicks in (and in most years, it wouldn't).
 
Insurance companies that grant policies under this plan must agree to cover any children the adult might have.

This plan would also replace all other health care subsidies.

This amount would be pretty good coverage and would include, medical, dental, and vision care. The most expensive procedures, such as a heart transplant, wouldn't be covered because there must a limit to keep coverage affordable.
 
Everyone would be covered, everyone could still choose whatever doctor or hospital they wished, and we'd save money all at the same time.
 
4) Bring our troops home
 
It's hard to believe but we have more than 350,000 troops deployed overseas in over 150 countries. I want the US to always have the best military in the world, yet I see no reason to have troops deployed overseas unless we are at war. Iraq didn't attack us, and Afghanistan didn't attack us. Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda did. And ISIS is attempting to do so. So the only troops we should have overseas right now would be those who go after those who are planning to attack us. And most of this can be done with our Special Forces and our intelligence apparatus, which have been especially effective since 9/11 in thwarting attacks against us.
 
What is currently going on in the Middle East is a terrible tragedy. But there are more than 400 million people in Arab League countries. They can get rid of ISIS and other terrorist groups if they truly desire to.
 
If we minded our own business, and stopped being policemen of the world, we'd need fewer troops, we'd have less hostility directed at us, and we could use some of the troops brought home to protect our borders and ports. I think we would actually have fewer attacks directed against us without troops stationed overseas.
 
And the US Navy still dominates the oceans. We can defend the US from attacks from just about anywhere in the world.
 
5) Transform Social Security into a sustainable retirement plan
 
Social Security was started by FDR in 1935 and the tax rate was 2%. It was meant to be a supplement to one's retirement income. Now the Social Security tax rate is 12.4%, and it is still only a supplement to one's income. And it's underfunded. Anyone saving 12.4% of their income should be able to retire on that alone. Instead, to retire gracefully, we need to have another retirement plan and save 10% in that. This is an incredible waste.
 
Transition to a system in which individuals are required to save 15% for their retirement. No more under-funding. And if I told you that most people would be millionaires when they retired, you wouldn't believe me, but it's true.  The transition might take decades, but the sooner we start, the better off we'll be.
 
Every month each of us would have much more money to spend because we wouldn't have to put money into both Social Security and another retirement plan.
 
6) Replace the income tax with a Natural Resource and Pollution tax
 
We currently waste between $200 - $600 billion per year just because there's an income tax. This is money spent on tax attorneys, tax accountants, tax software, etc., just to pay income taxes. Furthermore, there is no rational basis for a tax on income. If a person earns X amount of money, then that money is theirs and belongs to no one else.
 
On the other hand the natural resources of a country weren't created by anyone, so they can only be considered to belong to all of us. The best way to handle the natural resources is to allow individuals or companies who own them to pay a monthly tax on those resources that are not used up (mostly land) or to pay a one-time tax on resources that are used up, such as oil, gas, aluminum, and minerals.
 
This would eliminate the IRS and all the problems created by having an income tax, and replace it with a tax that would have many beneficial side effects, such as encouraging conservation in order to minimize taxes.
 
7) Start building nuclear reactors now
 
We need inexpensive, reliable energy to be prosperous. Inexpensive energy is one of the single most important items that help the poor get out of poverty, because inexpensive energy reduces the cost of everything. Currently, there is only one source of non-polluting, reliable energy that can provide a steady base load of energy for our country. And that is energy generated from nuclear power. President Obama is providing loan guarantees to investors who provide money to build nuclear reactors. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has already approved two very good and very safe nuclear reactor designs. Congress just needs to remove any other remaining barriers to building them now.
 
In a decade or so, we'll have better battery-powered cars, and these can be charged with electricity generated by nuclear-powered plants. We'll then have most of of our energy be clean and safe. They also give off no CO2, and will make us independent of foreign oil.
 
If you're worried about radiation from them, don't be. In over 50 years, there has not been even a single death due to radiation in the United States as a result of commercial nuclear power plants.

If France can get, inexpensively, 75% of its electricity from nuclear power, so can we. And we'll be able to get the rest from solar, wind, and other non-polluting sources. 

Conclusion 

If our next President would do the above items, our country would once again be leading the way to making a better world for all.
 
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Tim Farage is a Senior Lecturer in the Computer Science Department at The University of Texas at Dallas. The views expressed here are his own. You are welcome to comment upon this blog entry and/or to contact him at tfarage@hotmail.com.
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