Asperger’s Syndrome

I have just discovered something about myself. Somebody had suggested it some years ago, but I ignored it. Today, after taking a couple of simple online tests, the results indicate that I may have Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of Autism.

Here’s the online test I took, in which I scored 31. I scored 15 on this other test. These tests are not conclusive, of course. I will need to see a psychiatrist to find out for sure.

If this is true, it would be an important discovery about myself, because it answers the question why I find it very difficult to be successful in team settings. (I am not trying to find an excuse for my shortcomings, but rather to recognize this problem, study it, and eventually fix it.) I am simply unable to read people’s non-verbal signals, and since I was a kid I have had difficulties communicating because I have an acute fear of verbal rejection. It had taken a lot of effort to change my habit of being quiet in meetings and social settings. I can turn off the world around me, and isolate myself in my thoughts, and until somebody screams at me I can be unaware of my surroundings. I remember in class, when I was in elementary school, I could be completely somewhere else and I would miss all of what the teacher talked about. I find it much easier to write than to talk.

Writing about it is part of the cure. I have to recognize it, and be able to define it. I don’t have to publish this, but that is also part of the cure. I want recruiters to know about it, and I can simply give them a link to this.

It has always been a challenge to me to perform well during interviews. To land a good assignment, I’ve had to go through several rejections, just because I don’t perform well during interviews. I may seem confident, but the way I phrase the explanation of ideas can sound out of whack. I often inject an uncommon viewpoint into common software ideas like programming to an interface, and some of those uncommon viewpoints can be taken to mean that I don’t understand what I am talking about. I become aware of this only after an interview and the damage has been done. It is very difficult for me to become aware of it DURING the interview.

Why has it taken me this long to recognize this about myself? I have always been brutally honest with myself, but I have always doubted the science of psychology, until, several years ago, I read a book about common psychological manifestations of inherited (genetic) traits. (I have been searching for that book, unfortunately even its title now has escaped me. The only thing I remember is that I picked it up from an airport bookstand, and read it during a long flight.)

Asperger’s Syndrome is not uncommon among software design engineers, according to a most wonderful recruiter I just talked to, who is with Robert Half Professional Staffing Solutions. He also said that there is a whole spectrum of Autism affliction, Asperger’s Syndrome being only a range in that spectrum.

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How Free Speech Prevents a Mindless War of Bullets and Bombs

At parties, I often end up talking politics with my friends. (Ideologically my politics is nearest to Libertarians, but I have consistently voted Republican.) On the one hand, I am glad that, even without Trump (and at times, especially if we ignore Trump), the contrast between Democrats and Republicans cannot be as clear now as it has ever been in the past. On the other hand, even though there is indeed an ideological war in America, that war is being fought in op-eds and blog posts like this one, and also in dinner conversations all over the land. This war of words can sometimes escalate into fist fights, but never with bullets and bombs.

I am happy to fight in this war. Words are cheap, and honest minds can be convinced. The US Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, and whether it is in this blog or in conversations at parties, I am confident that bullets won’t be flying because of anything I’ve said or written. We fight this war on the intellectual plane, not by the count and power of arms. I could lose a battle by lacking facts to bolster my position in some intellectual issue, but I expect to be alive the following day.

In contrast, let’s imagine how this kind of situation could play in a Sharia system. First, let’s admit it: there is no freedom of speech in Sharia.

I have a friend who has traveled to the Middle East and made friends with Muslims there. (I don’t remember which particular country, and I don’t think it’s important in this story.) He met and made friends with a family whose members consist of two beautiful sisters and several brothers. On the surface, the two sisters were devout Muslims, but did not wear headscarves whenever they were allowed not to. It was only after befriending one of the sisters that my friend came to know that she was not really a Muslim anymore, and that she studied the Bible on her own. She kept that Bible in a place where only she knew; and to be able to read it, she had to change its cover to look like it’s a sacred copy of the Koran.

My friend discovered much later that the other sister was also a convert. He was told by both not to tell anybody, so it took him still another while to finally decide to let each sister know. It was a big relief for both of them, and now that they knew, each had become a tremendous source of invaluable support to the other. However, the tears of joy they had shed could still become tears of sorrow if and when either one of them were exposed. They vowed never to expose one another, if either one of them were caught.

Islamic Ideology does not recognize the value of free speech; it follows that the only way it can spread itself is by violent coercion. Once you see this, then you are on the side of Republicans in the issue of how to fight radical Muslims.

I suppose Islam as an ideology worked and dominated the known world thousands of years ago, because information was easier to suppress then. Now, with the Internet and smart phones, it is not so easy. Any Muslim with a modicum of intelligence can discover data that contradicted Islam. I am not saying that it is easy to defeat Islamic ideology. I understand that it would take several generations to know which side would have won.

The story about the two sisters illustrate how difficult it is to defeat Islamist radicals. By being secret converts, the two sisters risk not only their positions as family members, they are also risking their lives. They cannot possibly communicate with other people of the same mind, without further risking their lives. The best that one can hope for is that Muslims with above average intelligence can continue to be curious and questioning.

I am also not saying that radical Muslims are all stupid. To be sure, there are brilliant strategists among their leaders. They can still win, but only if we (on the this side of the ideological divide) allow it. This is where the raging intellectual war between Democrats and Republicans is crucial. The result of this non-violent war will be revealed in ballot boxes this November; and that result could determine whether we allow the Muslim radicals to win or not.

Arab self-doubt: the thinking Arab, observing the world around him, is starting to see the writing on the wall.

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Why I am for Duterte

I am for Duterte because he’s the only candidate who has indicated agreement (one time or another) with each one of  the three goals of the CoRRECT Philippines movement in reforming the constitution:

  1. Establishment of a Free Market in the Philippines;
  2. Start the evolution towards a Federalized government (devolution of power away from Imperial Manila); and
  3. Quick transition to a Parliamentary form of government.

In that order of priority.

I only have two worries about Duterte, but these worries may be unfounded:

  1. If he does execute criminals in an extra-judicial way, then we will lose our rights to defend ourselves in court.
  2. He seems to be too forgiving of the Muslim separatists and Muslim supremacists.

I think the root problem of criminality can be solved by first protecting judges, being creative in diminishing the number of cases in backlog, and strictly disallowing bribery in the judicial branch of government. I believe Duterte can do all these. He can finally allow the police to do their work in investigating and prosecuting those who have killed judges and journalists, and also providing protection to those who serve to keep justice in the islands. He can fund a commission on how to diminish the backlogs, and enforce its findings, and by his example reduce, if not eliminate altogether corruption in the judiciary. Corruption exists not just among the lowest ranking officials of government: it is endemic from the top all the way to the bottom. It can only be defeated if the top finally refuses to engage in it.

Davao has been a victim of numerous bombings in the past, one of the most heinous ones perpetrated by no other than the foremost proponent of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). I hope Duterte sees the radical Muslims for what they really are: ideologues who are after world domination. I hope he sides with, and helps the moderate voices among Muslims, who have to be wary of both the radicals and Christians who think that Islam cannot be reformed, that all Muslims are the same. One way to sabotage the moderates is by being too accommodating to the radicals. The radicals must be defeated, and the moderates’ free speech vigorously protected.

A federal system of governance should finally provide an outlet for peace-loving Muslims to establish their own regional government. This should then remove the main excuse for radicals to attack soft targets.

I wish my homeland luck in this upcoming Presidential election.

Please Note: I speak only for myself. The CoRRECT Movement does not endorse any candidate. Our main objective is to reform the defective 1987 constitution.

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The Power of Passwords

Encryption technology has just become a political battleground. It should have been obvious that, like powerful weapons, it can be used to do bad as well as good.

Here is the stark reality of this technology. One of the two radical Islamic terrorists in the Garland, Texas incident, who attempted to massacre participants at a “Draw Mohammed Contest” (and who were not known terrorists then) communicated with another, known terrorist using encrypted messages. As part of its criminal investigation after the fact, the FBI wanted to read those messages. A federal judge allowed the FBI to retrieve these messages, but because of encryption, such order by the judge was meaningless. The FBI could not read the encrypted messages. Even the NSA, with all their computing capability, could not read the messages. Neither could the company that built the phone used by the terrorists. In fact, not even the programmer or chip designer himself, who built the encryption program or chip, can read the messages. NO ONE could read the messages except the two terrorists who exchanged the encrypted messages.

Why? Because modern encryption is designed to be so: unintelligible except to individuals who have the decoding key. That key, that password, if kept secret and known only to you, grants you enough power that not even the most powerful country in the world can take from you. May be in the future we can invent a computer powerful enough to crack your password, but for now it’s practically impossible.

The downside is that this thing, this encryption technology that grants you such power, is also available to terrorists.

The only chance that the FBI can read encrypted messages exchanged among terrorists is to somehow obtain the password or key used to encrypt such messages. People often make the mistake of writing passwords somewhere, may be in a note app, because difficult passwords (by definition) are difficult to remember. Terrorists can make this mistake also. If I were an FBI agent given the task of deciphering the messages, the first thing I am going to do is look for any password in the notes files stored in the smart phones used to encrypt and transmit the messages. May be such password was not used directly to encrypt the messages; it could be a shorter password used to the encrypt or hide a longer key or password, but the point is that any password found in the notes files or other kinds of files written by any terrorist should be useful.

We are all scared because what happened in San Bernardino is just too close to home. Politicians are fooling us by implying that the government can “work with” technology companies to prevent terrorists from encrypting their messages. The are implying that this technology, which you and I use whenever we sign-in to our bank accounts using the internet, can be kept away from terrorists. Here is the bad news: the Apples and Microsofts and Facebooks of the world cannot do it. How can they determine who, among their billions of users, are terrorists? Even the government cannot determine beforehand who the bad guys are, how can we expect high tech companies to be able to do it? There is nothing in a terrorist’s account that would indicate that he is a terrorist, unless it’s a Facebook account and he announces his intentions or allegiance to ISIS.

When modern encryption technology was just being standardized, there were certain camps who wanted to add a second decoding key to any encrypted message, kind of a “god key”. So called because whoever has this key can decipher any message. In practice, of course, each encrypted message can have a unique god key. Before internal use, such key can be produced by the encrypting machine itself (in addition to the user key), according to some algorithm, and the idea was to give the capability only to the authorities to know this algorithm. The idea eventually did not win out because it introduced more problems than it solved. Chief among these problems was the question: what if the algorithm was leaked? Then the whole encryption scheme would be “open” and useless.

The public needs to understand that modern encryption standards are designed to be almost impossible to decipher by anybody except the individual who  encrypts and sends a message, or by the intended recipient who can read such message (using their respective passwords). Encryption is a powerful weapon; and, just like any other weapon, it is available to both ordinary citizens and terrorists alike. Powerful weapons in the hands of bad guys make it very difficult to fight them, and there’s no magic bullet that can keep these away from the hands of terrorists. We just have to fight more intelligently because these days, what appears to be asymmetric warfare may not be so.

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Communism, Islam, and Political Correctness

What is Religion?

Let’s first clarify what is religion. Religion should be personal. It is a set of personal beliefs about why we are here in this world, where we are going, and how we should behave with respect to this philosophical foundation. It is a worldview that guides our everyday decisions and actions on a personal level. Religion can also mean the congregation of a group of people (“organized religion”).

In the past, even within Western Civilization, religions have been used to justify rule by hereditary succession. Most governments have progressed beyond this kind of rule. The world has mostly become democratic. Even in Sharia (Muslim Law) countries, democracies have sprouted and grown. Nowadays, the only remaining religious monarchy is Saudi Arabia. However, in many countries even today, government rule is still justified and founded on religious grounds. I include communist countries in this list.

Communism as Religion

Is communism a religion? As defined above, religion is a set of beliefs. One characteristic of a belief is that by definition it is faith-based: you continue to believe in it even though it has been amply proven otherwise. Communism is violently anti-religion, but it has religious characteristics itself. Case in point: China.

China has clearly gone capitalist, but its communist leaders still deny this. The Chinese communist leaders have proven, by their own actions, that communism just won’t work, but they can’t admit it. They cannot admit the failure of communism most especially to their own people. This kind of behavior is no different from that of religious leaders when faced with scientifically-proven facts about the fallacies in their beliefs. Faced with the problem of a popular but blasphemous book, religious leaders ban the book or at least prohibit the faithful from reading it. Likewise, faced with the popularity of playing in the stock market, communist party leaders in China have admonished the faithful (communist party members) from engaging in stock trading.

Why even be a communist party member when you know that your core beliefs have been blown to smithereens? Because there are practical and immediate benefits to being a communist party member. Party members are first-class citizens, everyone else is second-class, a phenomenon in China which parallels a similar observation in countries like Saudi Arabia. In the Kingdom of Saud, there are clear advantages to being Muslim, especially about getting the best jobs and best positions within a job category. This explains why it is not uncommon for Filipinos who have worked in Saudi Arabia for several years to convert to Islam.

Islam as Ideology

If you agree that communism is just another religion, it shouldn’t be difficult for you to understand that Islam is an ideology, at least partly. What makes Islam an ideology is that, just like communism, it includes a belief in an inevitable historical destiny for the world. Communists believe that the natural state of the world is communist, just as Muslims believe that our final destiny is Islamic. Islam (just as communism), therefore includes a “master plan” for how humanity can reach the final state. Never mind that the historical path to the final state of utopia is forced on people violently: for both communism and Islam, the end justifies the means. The objective is not justice in the here and now, but rather the objective is that one final state of society.

Communists believe that the inherent contradictions in capitalism eventually lead to the emergence of communism. Muslims believe that religions other than Islam eventually lead to the one true religion. For Muslims, we are all Muslims inside us; it’s just that we either don’t recognize it or we refuse to see the essential truth. We have been led astray by minor religions. We just need a little push to lead us to the one true religion that lies dormant within us. That “little push” could be violent, but what difference does it make to kill a few hundred or even a few thousand non-combatant people against the good of all humanity?

For us infidels, it remains difficult to accept that Islam is the one true religion, and rightly so. In return for our intransigence, we non-believers are at best second-class citizens in Sharia countries. At worst, killing innocent, civilian Christians and peoples of other faiths can be justified on the same basis. I realize this is a strong statement that I am sure liberals would deem “biased”. It is most definitely politically incorrect. Is it even plausible? It most definitely is, considering the influence of Wahhabism in most of today’s Muslims. There are two observations that support this assertion:

  1. From Pakistan to Saudi Arabia to Indonesia, it is very rare to find Muslims who condemn the killings; and
  2. In fact, most Muslim communities honor as martyrs those who die killing people of other faiths.

Political Correctness

If Muslims themselves are not going to protest against the radicals, we non-Muslims should at least not acquiesce to Islamic ideology. The problem is the perversity of neo-liberal attitude and irrational views on religious diversity and racial discrimination.

Liberals either don’t understand or their fear is clouding their understanding. If we don’t at least denounce what is clearly very bad behavior and point to its cause, we would be encouraging Islamic radicals and those who quietly believe in them.

Religious freedom does not mean tolerating very bad behavior. It does not matter what religion you have, if your religion teaches you to kill innocent people, then there is something wrong with your religion. If you put that “religious” teaching into practice, justice requires that you and the Imam who taught you be put down or banished from civil society.

Neo-liberals have been blaming all religions whenever an outburst of violence against civilians occurs, even in the face of statistical preponderance of Muslims committing those crimes. This indefensible liberal view is exemplified by Obama’s statement that “Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ …” Never mind that the Crusades were a response to Muslim aggression and Christianity and its teachings are now way past the despicable phase that was the Inquisition. Never mind that Muslim ideology and nothing else (not “injustice” against Muslims, not the “lack of opportunity” for Muslims) is to blame for all jihad attacks.

Real leaders point out an unmistakable lie when they see it. Political correctness, especially when practiced by no other than Obama himself, makes a mockery of the truth. Political correctness allows and even encourages the abdication of leadership.

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What is Missing from the HyperLoop

Travelling in a semi-vacuum tube offers two very significant advantages:

  1. speed that is several multiples of jet-plane speed, and
  2. low energy required per kilometer travelled, per kilogram of transported mass.

However, the HyperLoop as currently envisioned does not take advantage of another source of potential savings in energy: namely, by travelling non-stop. All else being equal, as much as 90% of energy can be saved per trip by not stopping, and this benefit is free, thanks to the law of conservation of kinetic energy. How can passengers get aboard and get off the HyperLoop modules that do not stop? Here is a scheme.

Allow terminals along the reduced-air or vacuum tube track. The tube track itself is a closed loop in which a number of trains travel non-stop. Each terminal  along this closed loop is designed to allow a car to be added and removed from the train, while the train is running at high-speed. In between terminals, passengers are free to move from one car to another, just as in normal (“ancient”) trains. This allows every passenger to start her trip from any terminal and end her trip at any terminal (including the one she started from). To end your trip, simply walk to the car that is to be ejected at the next terminal.

High-speed travel

High-speed travel

The above diagram shows how a car can possibly latch-on and -off the train. Each terminal is a car insertion and ejection point. The bottom of the diagram details how a terminal allows the insertion car to be accelerated up to train speed, and how the ejection car can be decelerated to zero speed (stop). Because the train is travelling at high speed, the insertion/ejection segment should be long enough to give time for a car to insert and another car to get off the train. (The diagram is not drawn to scale, so the length of the insertion/ejection segment is not obvious.)

Each terminal forms a much smaller loop in itself. This smaller loop is divided into segments, color coded in the diagram. The white segment at the bottom is where the insertion car starts and the ejection car stops. The yellow segment to the left is where the insertion car enters through an airtight door. As soon as this airtight door closes, air is pumped out from this chamber while inside the car normal barometric air pressure is maintained. When enough air has been pumped out and air pressure is low enough in the depressurization segment to match that in the main tube track, another airtight door is opened. (This door separates the yellow segment from the green acceleration segment.) In the green segment, the insertion car accelerates until its speed equals the constant train speed. The whole sequence of passenger boarding, depressurization, and acceleration is timed such that, at the same time that the car enters the insertion/ejection segment, the train arrives and is running parallel to it.

At the same time that the insertion car latches itself onto the train, another car forward it is removed from the train. This car slows down as it enters the orange deceleration segment. The yellow segment to the right is already depressurized by the time the ejection car enters it. An airtight door closes behind the car as it enters the yellow pressurization segment. As the car continues to decelerate, the yellow segment is filled with air. By the time it reaches the other airtight door ahead of it, pressure in the yellow segment will have equaled one atmosphere. Passengers can then get off in the passenger unloading segment.

Would you believe I drew the above diagram in April, 2009? I have been thinking about air-friction-free transportation before Elon Musk first published the idea.

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Girl, You’re Special

(A rap song for my little girl, Kristin.)

Hey, girl, you tell me you’re not special?
I’ve got your number girl, and I’m talking to you right now.
Imagine that, girl.
I’ve got your number.
Your number out of billions of other numbers.
I could be talking to a billion other girls right now, girl.
I’ve got your number and I am talking to you!

Look at your number girl.
It’s got a country code.
That country code is 1, number one.
After that country code girl, your number has an area code.
And in that area code, out of millions of other numbers, I’ve got yours.
No other number but yours.
Imagine that.
Girl, I could have called a billion other numbers around the world.
I’m talking to you now, girl!
When I call your number,
I first key in your country code, out of hundreds of other countries, I touch your country.
I then touch that one area code in your country, out of hundreds of other areas,
I touch that one place where you live, girl.
And within that area, I touch your number, and now we’re talking.
Out of millions of other numbers in your area, I touch one number, your number girl.
And you say you’re not special?

Hey girl, look, there are billions of conversations going on around the world right now.
Billions of conversations, billions of connections, right this minute.
Out of all those billions of connections, girl, there’s one and only one that connects me to you!
So now you see, girl, how special you really are.
And you say you’re not special?

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