Tech

e-voting

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Well I've managed to hold of on US politics so far, but that must now come to an end.

The concept of e-voting is simple. Heck, I could probably write an e-voting application in about 20 lines of python code (with comments). Security would be an issue, but with something so simple it shouldn't be to hard to implement. The way that the US e-voting companies have implemented e-voting is far from simple. And as if the programmers who wrote the 10's of thousands of lines of code in the software weren't incompetent enough, the e-voting companies being used have extremely close ties to the republicans.

One e-voting company, who's machines will be in the most use on Tuesday, Diebold, has already proven to us that their machines don't work. They were used in California for some state elections about a year ago... it is now against the law to use diebold machines in California. Thousands of votes were lost, some counties had thousands of votes more than there were registered voters. And to top off all the bad programming, the CEO of Diebold is a Republican fund-raiser, to paraphrase:

"I will do everything I can to bring Ohio's electoral votes to Bush''.

No conflicts of interest here... move along now. But wait, there's more. There are two e-voting companies being used in this election and those machines will count an estimated 80% of all votes in the election. Well, those two companies are Diebold and ES&S. Interestingly enough, the owners of the two companies are brothers.

I was watching 60 minutes the other night (part of it was about e-voting), and part of the interview with Conny McCormack (she runs the e-voting machines in LA) went as follows:

"The Palm Beach supervisor’s position was, 'Well, when you push this button, the computer will recount.' Well, it just retabulates and spits out in a nanosecond what it said the nanosecond before. There is no recount. There’s no physical evidence to recount."

"You're essentially running the same data through the same software on the same computer, you’re gonna get the same answer every time," says Pelley.

"You are gonna get the same answer every time," says McCormack.

Is that a recount? "Oh, I think it's a recount. And you know, do people really want to get a different answer? What we saw four years in Florida was a recount that was done, where people got a different answer, chad fell out and the numbers were different," says McCormack.

Which is why you need a paper trail. At least until the e-voting machines proven themselves. These same people also claim that there is no proof that their e-voting has problems. And the problems that they do have are because of user error. Never mind that all the machines in entire counties just crashed and couldn't be used.

Students at Yale recently published a paper titled Tiny Systematic Vote Manipulations Can Swing Elections in which they demonstrate how altering only a single vote per machine would have changed the electoral college outcome of the 2000 election and that changing only two votes/machine would have flipped the results for four states.

Note that these machines are so vulnerable that a chimpanzee has been trained to successfully alter the votes in these voting machines. When Avi Rubin, a professor at John Hopkins got a hold of some leaked code he found countless flaws and bugs that could quite easily devistate an election. Diebold claims that the code is old and has since been fixed. Regardless, after looking at the code, it became clear to Rubin that Diebold and their programmers have no grasp of security. No one could ever know if these bugs have been fixed and security enhanced, since government officials aren't even allowed view to the codebase!

Well at least one thing's for sure, e-voting is going to make this election all the more interesting. Perhaps America will even see the first U.S. president to ever reside as president for two consecutive terms without being elected once.

hotel wireless

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Hotel wireless is sweet. Ariane and I are in Penticton this weekend helping clean out my great great aunts apartment. I checked many of the penticton hotels for highspeed but couldn't really find anything, most just say "data ports" which means the phone has an extra port for your modem (<sarcasm>woo hoo</sarcasm>). So I just gave up and stayed at the best western (it's like this little best western motel). So I turn on my laptop tonight, and BOOM, I'm connected. It's sweet. Wireless internet is sweet.

less office coldness

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Coincidentally enough, this article was linked to on slashdot on thursday (I saw it shortly after my last post):
Warm Offices Linked to Fewer Typing Errors and Higher Productivity.

It basically states that some company did a study, and employees will be approximately 10% less efficient at 20 degrees celsius than they will be at 25. I would guess that my efficiency had probably dropped to by about 85% at the temp I was working at. Now, I don't know if the ergonomics lab at Cornell is funded by the Gas or Electric companies, but I believe it nontheless.

And just to follow up to my last entry, I had to work in the CS atrium with all the silly engineers all morning friday, but then they totally cranked up the heat at around noon... it was sweet, like 30 degrees in there after about an hour... nice.

Digital Photography

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Last weekend I was taking a couple pics of the garage sale and so I had my camera in my pocket. Some of you may have already known that my camera was acting up a little, but no matter if you didn't, because I bumped it against the wall, effectively ending the life of the camera. I got one last picture out of it, but now it doesn't want to turn on properly. After 1586 photos taken all over Europe and Canada I have to say Rest In Peace good old, not so trusty, Kodac DX3600 digital camera, you were there for me when I needed you... some times.

I had been planning on buying a new camera anyway, so I wasn't too heart broken. After a somewhat annoying (and patience testing) experience at future shopped, I walked away happy with a shiny new Canon PowerShot A85:
Picture of Canon PowerShot A85

I wanted a camera that could take pictures at a higher resolution, at night, and have control over most of the functions such as shutter speed and whatnot. So far I'm pretty happy with it, but I still need to learn how to use most of the functions.

A guy at work sent me a link comparing digital versus film photographs. I haven't had a chance to read it all yet but what I have read has been pretty interesting.
Digital cameras vs. film

Another thing I've been working on is this "26 Things". Leslie sent me the link a while ago but I've only just had a chance to look at it. What it is is a photographic scavenger hunt. You have to take pictures of all 26 items on the list. So far I've gotten about half, some old, some new.

My 26 things photo gallery.

Shrubxery - A python implementation of blosxom

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So Leslie emailed me the other day asking for some help with setting up a blog for her that would let her run a photo blog, I guess her current blogger didn't allow for images. So we decided to setup blosxom. I had been meaning to base one of my projects at work on blosxom's plugin architecture, only blosxom is a perl script and I'm doing my work in python. So after looking at blosxom a bit more I was thinking about how hard it might be to re-write it comletely in python, and I had some free time this weekend so... I translated the code into python.

Shrubxery is a basic blogging system adapted from blosxom. The main idea is that the blogger is only a single, simple script that can basically only display text files, which are the blog entries. But the plugins give the blogger its power, and the plugin architecture allows the plugins to be powerful. It's pretty cool, really.

I started a sourceforge project here and the shrubxery home page is here. I'm still writing most of the documentation.

btw, did I mention that I plan on replacing this movable type install (that's what all the buffmuther blogs run off of) with the shrubxery...?