Monday, January 31, 2005

Iraqi Wakening.

36 casualties?

Thirty six pointless tragedies, to be sure but, is that all?

It seems, from the news and from Jay's comments on the spot and on the day, that there has truly been an awakening of spirit in Iraq, and images of Iraqi women holding their inky digits aloft truly 'give the finger' to bullying insurgents.

I was dreading this day (along with a lot of other people, I think). I am very relieved I was wrong.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Whither WTP?*

*Not 'wither'. Never mistake somnolence for senescense on this!
I'm contemplating how to present further thoughts on WTP. It will probably go into another blog stream because:
  • it separates the topic from my less specific ramblings
  • it allows me to easily apply a common license to the contents
Stay tuned...

Tee-Shirt Synchronicity II

I wore my Amiga T shirt in to work today, justifying it as a fitting recognition of the ascension of Kim Beazley to the helm of the ALP (ie both being three years late, and two sizes over*).

Beazley is actually quite an able fellow, but didn't quite cut the mustard in his last incarnation as glorious leader. Maybe this time...
I know! I gave Howard the same treatment: optimists never learn!
It says something for the democratic process in relatively small groups that there's so much head-counting, nodding and winking going on in the background that the election can be decided without actually having a vote! I guess it's a defence mechanism to counter the fact that party factions have long knives and longer memories.

It also highlights a little niggle I've been having with my vision of WTP. A truly open voting system ought to allow tracing each ballot to each voter. This is from the POV of getting a clear and non-repudiatable audit trail. However, I can understand that it's a feature that would make most people do a double take, and I doubt Iraqis would accept those conditions!
*Actually, it's not that bad a fit! But, promo tee shirts have a reputation to uphold...

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Mad World

It's that time of the year when the TV stations spruik themselves up and present themselves with a 'new look' image (not that it makes the content any better, just easier to swallow...maybe).

The ABC is not above this sort of thing these days, either, but their ads for the news are a distinct departure from the usual upbeat image that promotional material tries to project.

Not that the world, as a whole, has much to celebrate at the moment (and the Boxing Day tsnunami is still a very real disaster). It's unusual to see it so starkly presented in a promotion, though.

The accompanying music is interesting, and really underscores the glum mood. Listening on the radio this morning, I heard it's attracted a lot of interest, and learnt it was a rendition of the old 'Tears for Fears' number 'Mad World' by a gent called 'Gary Jules' ('scuse the spelling). He sounds a bit like Neil Young, and his quiet rendition gives the words real power.
Looking for references, I read that this song is voted by the RAC as being one the best to drive to. Not sure about the significance of that!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

In Which One Thing Leads to Another...

To lighten the mood a little...
It began when her cousins pointed out the bats in the sky one eveniing.
It progressed to Little Missy religiously looking for bats each evening out of her bedroom window (that they turn up just past her bedtime has nothing to do with the case...)

Then, the bats stopped coming for a bit. Not to be diverted, LM finally decided that, if Mahommed won't come to the mountain, she would like to visit the 'bats' house' instead.

So, last weekend, we went on a picnic to where the bat colony has settled after being evicted from the Botanical gardens ( for reference, this is near the Yarra Bend golf course, at a place called 'Bellbird Flat'). Sure enough, we see hundred of bats, hanging from the trees across the river, like so many black polythene bags.

A grandstand view of bats to be had... and what else? Canoes!

One intrepid party, checking an old canoe for leaks invited LM for a trial run (after establishing that there were no leaks!)
Being two and cute has its advantages!
Her parents thank them for the offer on her behalf, but decline
(then again....)

The Meanies...

Remember the Blue Meanies?

If you don't, you are young. There is time...

It seems that the Blue Meanies have taken lodging in Pepper... er, Canberra (was there any doubt?) when we hear that the government is considering moves to prevent Habib from earning any money from selling the story of his detention.

OK . I know about not being allowed to profit from one's wicked ways and all that. It's a fine principle.

The only thing is... what is this man guilty of?

He, and many others, have been stuck incommunicado in a non-place for the last three years, subject to non-justice and non-treatment. He is now to be released, without charge, and flown back to Australia, and kept under as close a scrutiny as possible.
A salutary experience, from which none shalt be allowed to profit, it seems.
I daresay they'll try and slug him for the associated costs as well (don't laugh, the meanies are quite capable of doing it.)

Again I ask:
What is This Man Guilty Of??

Either charge him, or let him be.
'All you need is love (altogether now!)'...

Monday, January 24, 2005

Iraqi Dreaming

Listening to the news recently, a thought occurred to me:
Wouldn't it be nice if, come next Monday, all the Iraqis eligible to vote were to stay at home... and vote from there? What would all those charming lads with their big bombs do then?
It can't happen, of course. Not now. However, it gives one an added impetus to get 'We, The People' up and going!

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Attack of the Fuddy Duddies!

Fuddy Duddy (n.): A self proclaimed expert whose arrogance of opinion is without just cause, but whose outpourings are intended to herd people in a particular direction, while providing comfort to those with a vested interest in people going in said direction.

Pamela Jones, of Groklaw fame, was in fine form with this piece on why she wants to become an analyst.

In it, she satirises 'experts' who use their supposed status to add an aura of authority to their FUD (esp. on matters pertaining to Linux).

With most people in the know, such pontifications fall flat. They are duds.

On the other hand, it seems to work for a large part of their audience (or why else would they keep on displaying their ignorance as bliss?)

I just thought the world needed a term to put such folk in their place :-)

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Synchronicity... (ALP and Amiga)

Coincidence 1: Last night, I received a parcel. It was a promotional tee shirt arriving three years too late and was about two sizes too big.*

Coincidence 2: Last night, Mark Latham resigned as leader of the federal opposition, citing bad health (recurring attacks of pancreatitis). The main contender to replace him is Kim Beazley, who is an able man, but who is also about three years too late and about two sizes too big.
(maybe I should send him my tee shirt?)
*The tee shirt? Ah! Several years ago, I had an Amiga 1200 computer, and have been keeping an eye on what's been happening in that community ever since Commodore went belly up. I even contributed to a quick cash grab by the then owners of the rights (Amiga Inc.), who were offering a $50 voucher for the Amiga one and a tee shirt to anyone who'd support the Amiga OS 4 and Amiga DE development effort. Only now has that investment borne fruit!
Anyone interested can check out what's going on here: quite a bit, as it happens and. although I think it's been left behind now, I could be wrong).

Question is: am I game enough to wear it to work this Friday, or shall I just wrap a towel around my head with 'dork' emblazoned on it?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Open Voting: Comments Please!

This posting is now complete. It achieves what I want for the moment, which is to get my thoughts down where they can be stored and mulled over. No debate from the back paddock yet but, given the traffic my webcounter is revealing, that's hardly surprising!!

- ARF Jan 18, 2005
A Draft Proposal For An Open Voting System

Given the recent furore over the verifiability (or lack) of the electronic touch screen voting systems used in the recent US election, it astonishes me that a google on the topic turns up just one reference to an open source electronic voting system! That is the eVACS system that was used for the 2002 Canberra election in Australia.

I do note that there is the OpenVote organisation that has set up in the last 12 months, and which is using eVACS as a basis for their own offering.

I may give Open Vote a hand at some point. Before I do, however, I want to get a few thoughts of my own down.

General Thoughts:
(NB: this is based on Australian procedures. Please point out any variation to your own local system that would affect the associated reasoning. eg, unlike the US and UK systems, voting is compulsory.)

Unlike the eVAC solution, I want a system that does *not* rely on specialised voting machines. Voting should be accessible online from any network access, and should be as easy as online banking. In other words, it should be a server solution.

I also want a system that can be used anywhere. This may be a pipe dream, but hey, this whole thing is a pipe dream at the moment!!

The way I see it, specialised voting machines have the following problems:
  • availability: one problem cited in the US was the lack of available machines in certain districts (which more often than not 'happened' to be Democrat...)
  • inconvenience: Why do we need to go and stand in long queues to exercise our sliver of democratic privilege anyway? this is the 21st century!
  • flexibility: the inconvenience thing also prevents the general public from a greater participation in how society functions (but that's something for down the track)
  • tampering: a number of reports also cited that machines were mysteriously shut down for 'maintenance'. Later, many machines appeared to be unavailable for scrutiny (and the data they contained possibly destroyed)

OK. So the server solution isn't without drawbacks either:
  • tampering: all data being sent to one location is a very tempting target for tweakers... There is a very simple mechanism for discouraging this: allowing the voter to review (and even modify?) their ballot.
  • control: access to data in one central location is much easier to control.
  • trust: how do you know that the final result presented is a true representation of the input? How do you *ever* know this? This is what scrutineers are for, and why it is critical for the workings of any voting system to be open for viewing.
Any new system must achieve at least the same standards of integrity, verifiability, and general confidence in use as the one it is replacing so, before we go into details, let us for consider what a voter must do in order to successfully place a vote:
  1. Registration: First off, a voter must be entered onto the electoral role. ie submit whatever personal details are needed to establish that they are, in fact, eligible to vote...
  2. Identification: On voting, voters must identify themselves
  3. Declaration: The voters must declare that they have not voted anywhere else.
  4. Acceptance: The officer, on confirming the voter's eligibility, crosses their name off the role and issues voters with ballot papers
  5. Submission: Voters make their choice (in confidence) and deposit their ballot in the box provided.
From the POV of the polling officials:
  1. Audit: All ballots papers must be accounted for
  2. Procedure: All votes must be counted.
  3. Verification: Scrutineers must agree that the voting is proper
Meeting Criteria:
So, how do we go about meeting these criteria?
  1. Registration: this is going to depend on locality, and is best handled by a separate database. All an open vote system really needs is an identifier and a password. Each entry should be referred to by the main electoral role database. Registered voters should be provided with their ID and password.
  2. Identification: A voter provides their login and password. They are then given options to enter, view or edit their ballot. This provides opportunities to: record their vote, review their recorded vote for any irregularities, and to change their minds! (Why not? So long as all changes are recorded!)
  3. Declaration: A voter may vote as often as they like: ie, only the last entry will be counted. An audit trail report may be providedto the voter on demand .
  4. Submission and Acceptance: Both criteria are covered by one action: submitting the completed ballot (after it has been validated). This fixes one problem with the current system: after you're crossed off the role and given your ballot papers, there's nothing to stop you walking out (in oz, it is illegal to *deliberately* cast an informal vote, or incite people to do so: actually, invalid votes are surprisingly rare, for the lower house, at least)
  5. Audit: Checks on the validity of the count can be made at a number of levels: the voter can log in and confirm that their vote is as they remember it, vote transaction details (of varying levels) can be sent to various emails for scrutiny etc., the voting station can store a list of ballots cast, central stations can store stats. on how many votes were received from how many stations (10,000 votes for Scudder only from *this* address between 5:50-5:55pm??? Hmmm! All these people seem to have death certificates...)
  6. Procedure: The database stores the raw votes, and useful stats like time of voting, nominal seat/district. Should be simple enough to provide totals etc.
  7. Verification: The raw data should be available to all (with exception of who voted for whom)
I think that lays out the bare bones of what I envision.

What next? I will start pottering about with a database design, check out whatever the various Electoral Comissions require, and let anyone wishing to comment in passing do so!
Then, I might be ready to set up an open source project...

...Oh Yes! We need a name: suggestions welcome
Personally, I like the sound of 'We, The People'

Monday, January 17, 2005

Titan: 1, Bats: Nil

I have previously mentioned the nightly exodus of fruit bats from their colonies along the Yarra river (having been lately evicted from their stronghold in the botanical gardens).

Now that they have been pointed out to her by her cousins, Little Missy has developed 'bats in her belfry', and the bedtime rituals are no longer complete unless we peer out from her window into the dusk to 'see some bats!' (the satisfying emphasis she places on that last word cannot be adequately duplicated in text)

In fact, LM is no stranger to viewing the night sky. About a year ago, I pointed out a nice juxtaposition of Venus and the crescent moon to her. This got some interest, but it wasn't until I pointed to Jupiter that I got a real reaction. Saying 'goodnight to Jupiter' was added to the evening ritual until it got too close to the sun to be seen any more.

I notice that Saturn is becoming visible again in the evening, which is timely, given the recent, successful, descent of the Huygens probe.

The other day, I was downloading the first photos from the Huygens probe for my father (who is near blind, thinks the web is an instrument of the devil or Rupert Murdoch, or both, yet is very interested in space exploration). LM happened upon the printouts and asked what they were. I explained that they were pictures from Titan (puzzled frown..), a place near Saturn, and Jupiter. Ah, yes! Now she understood enough to add her own erudite opinion:
'Dere's no bats dere!'
Which, as you can see, is fair enough!

Friday, January 14, 2005

Torpedoing Submarines...

It's just occurred to me (no doubt naively: it's just too simple), that any infringements to a so-called 'submarine' patent would arise through some other practitioner applying a reasoned analysis to a problem, and coming up with the same solution.

In short, 'prior art', by definition.

Problem solved!
OK! OK! I did say it was a naive thought!

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Hard Word

It stands to reason: if a government can't say sorry to a whole people for theft of property and children, then it's not going to go out of its way to apologise to someone for leaving them incarcerated without trial or any legal recourse for nearly three years.

I don't know how much Habib or Hicks were mixed up in Al' Qaedda machinations, but on the amount of evidence shown to date, I can only presume innocence: at worst a couple of idiots who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The hard nosedness of this government should surprise no-one, by now.

After all, patriarchs can never be wrong, can they?

'Always seems to me,
that sorry seems to be
the hardest word.'
- Elton John

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Count is On

A while back, I ruminated about setting up a web counter.
I found a few tutorials on using PHP to set and check visitor cookies for this purpose but, since BlogSpot doesn't give you that level of control, I've opted for one of the stat counter services that BlogSpot suggests.

The one I chose was 'StatCounter', which seems to be a no-nonsense presentation (and provides a frankly scary set of statistics!).

The result is visible on the upper RH of this site.

Does it work? Hard to tell yet.
update: Briefly enabled my visits and of course it works! OK backpaddockers, you can still run but you can't hide!

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The Big Splash

Being on holiday for the last couple of weeks means that I have been spending more time with family than at keyboard (quite right, too!)

Not being in a position to comment directly is asking fate to stage something dramatic: and I guess that it doesn't come more dramatic than the boxing day tsunami that affected the entire Bay of Bengal (which is a fairly respectable chunk of the Earth's surface)
It occurred to me last night that it occurred on the 30th anniversary of the flattening of Darwin by cyclone Tracy.
It seems quite surreal to be going about one's normal post-Christmas business when, elsewhere, upwards of 200,000 lives have been swept away, and millions have been left with nothing. (Earlier in the week, I thought I was being typically pessimistic in extrapolating beyond 100,000 casualties)

I gave a donation, although it seems like a drop in the ocean (literally!). An opportunity to provide more tangible assistance arrived on the doorstep last Sunday, when someone from down the street put out a call for any extra household items to be delivered for shipment to Sri Lanka. Good on 'em!

As I write, I have not yet heard of any disease outbreaks, but it's likely only a matter of time...

On that topic, last week's New Scientist pointed out the WHO's prognosis for avian flu, if it ever gets established in the human population.

Pessimistic estimate: 100 million deaths.

That's hundreds of times worse than the casualties of boxing day, although it would be spread out over a longer period, and there would be no infrastructure damage.

Still, I guess it shows that things could be worse.