I’m sitting in Toscanini’s on Main Street and they’re playing If You’re Feeling Sinister, which is my favorite album of the last ten years, since the previous holder of that title has slipped out of the ten year window. Yikes. When did I get old? Ah, I know. February 2. That’s when.

Anyway, there’s nothing worth much on the new B&S album, except for one song (“San Francisco’s calling us, the Giants and Mets will play / Piazza, New York catcher, are you straight or are you gay?”).

What I intended to do before I was distracted was to point out that I’m posting this from a coffee shop, because they have free wi-fi internet access. Just because I can. Speaking of “the medium is the message”. The snazzy new laptop (which technically belongs to The Company, not me) has a Centrino wireless chip, and it’s very nice. I had free access in the Marriott lobby in Chicago for Doug’s bachelor party last weekend. I was also using the free access in Irving’s in State College the weekend before. It’s great. I never have to go through Internet withdrawal now.

The other thing I wanted to point out was the historical connection between coffee and information.

Now that you know how Hip and With It I am, with my fancy wi-fi and my indie rock, you may all resume your lives.

Arts & Letters Daily

Since the medium is the message, the best web sites have always been web sites about the web, blogs about blogging, etc. So I’m always on the lookout for high quality stuff that is not just about the web itself, as good or better than what you’d find on the same subject in other media sources. Today’s entry in this category is Arts & Letters Daily. While it is a thing only possible on the web (a daily publication which is just a collection of other interesting publications), it’s primarily about other stuff, and stuff that I find interesting.

Gary Hart on the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century

Gary Hart in Salon: “I co-chaired a national security panel that warned the Bush administration the terrorists were coming. Why hasn’t the 9/11 commission called any of us to testify?”

Now, I don’t think the finger-pointing aspect of the 9/11 commission is productive: even if another president might have averted the 9/11 attack in particular, I don’t think that we could have kept the terrorists from hitting American soil forever.

But the commission has brought the subject into public discourse, which has unearthed a lot of interesting stuff, like this, and the Richard Clarke testimony. Stuff which will hopefully instructive in developing ways to balance security and liberty, and even in preventing or minimizing future attacks.

By the way, I think Gary Hart got screwed by the whole Monkey Business scandal in ’88, even though I was personally rooting for Paul Simon. Also, Deaniacs take note: Gary Hart had a blog first, and he actually wrote his own posts.

(It’s Salon Premium, so to read this, you have to at least get a day pass. But since the $30 annual fee gets you a subscription to Wired, U.S. News & World Report, Granta, and the New York Review of Books, it’s kind of a deal.)

voting machines: a primer

I’m posting some background information on the whole issue of electronic voting machines. While this issue has gotten some space in the press, it seems paltry compared to how big an issue this could turn out to be. They’re devoting the usual amount to the presidential campaign. But how can the campaign itself matter, if we can’t find out who really won the election? Or worse, that the election results were tampered with, and we would have no way of knowing?

Now, my out look is generally technophilic, but the blind assumption that a high-tech solution is always an improvement over a low-tech solution is wrong as often as any other kind of blind assumption. This voting machine fiasco seems to me to be a real potential problem for our fair Republic, and since it’s not getting reported as much as I think it should, I’m putting this little primer together, so that at least my family and friends will get up to speed and hopefully help raise some hell about the issue.

So what’s the problem? This TechTV/ABC News story gives a great overview. The machines aren’t secure, they can’t be audited (which is actually a bigger issue than the insecurity, since really, no system, not even paper, is free from the possibility of tampering), and while not necessarily damning, but certainly unsettling, the CEO of Diebold (a major voting machine manufacturer), said in a fund-raising letter to Ohio Republicans that he is “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.” (More on that story here; originally published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer).

This Robert X. Cringely column examines the problem from an Information Technology angle. That shouldn’t put you off if you’re not in the IT world, because he’s also a good writer, and an IT skeptic, as evidenced here:

Voting is nothing more than gathering and validating data on a huge scale, which these days is almost entirely the province of IT. And like many other really big IT projects, this touch screen voting thing came about as a knee-jerk reaction to some earlier problem, in this case the 2000 Florida election with its hanging chads and controversial outcome. Punch card voting was too unreliable, it was decided, so we needed something more complex and expensive because the response to any IT problem is to spend more money making things more complex.

Cringely’s next column (“Follow the Money: Why the Best Voting Technology May Be No Technology At All“) aims at some solutions.

This opinion piece in the Miami Herald gives some insight into the technical problems with Diebold voting machines, from Avi Rubin, a Johns Hopkins Professor. Rubin also co-authored this paper which is more technical (but really seems to be the first thing to raise the issue), and wrote up this anecdote of being a judge at a Maryland voting station.

I’ll post more on this as events warrant.