Christopher Merle

Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be, but first I need more coffee.

Category: Politics (page 1 of 3)

What happens now?

As you may have noticed we had an election here in the US. The candidate projected to win lost. Most people are still trying to process the implications of this upset. No one knows what is going to happen now, but many are fearful.gila1


Blackout is over. Returning to our regularly scheduled website. Below is the blackout and Stop CISPA info.


You may remember the fight last year to stop SOPA/PIPA. Alas, it’s back but under a new name CISPA. A call has been put out for another blackout. I participated last year. I will participate this year.

The call for the blackout

CISPA, or the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, is a law that would allow the government to extract your private information from the internet without a warrant. It’s the online equivalent of allowing a police officer to enter your home and start rummaging through your personal files without the permission of a court. The politicians who introduced this law pretend it will protect you but what it really does is circumvent your Fourth Amendment rights. CISPA also prevents you from suing companies when they illegally use your information.

U.S. House of Representatives Shamefully Passes CISPA; Internet Freedom Advocates Prepare for a Battle in the Senate


Vote for Python

In February of 2007 I attended my second Pycon, a conference devoted to the open source programming language Python. One of the coolest system of presentations I saw were the lightning talks. Each presenter gets only 5 minutes to give his spiel. The one that made the biggest impression on me was by Ka-Ping Yee. He demonstrated how using less than 300 lines of code could make electronic voting much more secure. Consider this. A voting machine made by Diebold (now Premier Election Solutions) has over 31,000 lines of code. Some machines have over 100,000 lines of code. Which do you think would be easier to audit and certify?

As we get closer to the election, voting security becomes more important. Ka-Ping Yee is getting some news coverage. Since that talk his pvote code has ballooned to just under 500 lines of code, still somewhat under that 100K mark.

No matter what system is used, transparency and the ability to audit the system and the votes is of paramount importance. No one should trust any system to work. Proper checks and balances need to be in place, so that should questions arise, people can see what happened.

Yee was interviewed during Pycon 2008 in Chicago: In Voting Software We Trust?

Ira Flatow also interviews Ka-Ping Yee in this recent segment of Science Friday. Comes in at 13:30.
E-Voting Update (broadcast Friday, October 24th, 2008)

One thing to note about the electronic voting systems mentioned in the podcast was calibration. They use touch screens. If they are not calibrated properly, voters thinking they selected their candidate of choice may show they’ve selected a different candidate. The co-ordinates of the selections you see on the screen should be synced up with the co-ordinates of the touch display. This is a separate issue that needs to be addressed, but as long as it can be calibrated visually and on the spot this should not be a serious technical issue. The only downside is that voters may not be paying attention to their choices or summary.

Yee didn’t mention anything about a paper audit, but it would be trivial to add a few lines of code to print out the cast ballot. Not only does this make it possible to vote more securely—by an order of magnitude—his system makes it easier for the voter to cast a vote, including those requiring accessibility.

You can also view his Pycon slide show. It will walk you through the steps, and you’ll see how it is possible to make electronic voting far more secure than it is now. With the proper checks and balances people can be sure their vote is counted. These checks are sadly lacking in Diebold’s and others voting machine technology.

Toxoplasma neoconi

After reading the website Media Matters, which takes the mainstream media to task, I can come to only one conclusion: brain parasites. Yes, brain parasites have completely taken over pundits like Bill Kristol, Mike Savage, and Neal Boortz. Nothing else comes close to explaining the the insanely hateful things they utter. I suppose it’s possible they are actually living in some sort of alternate reality that manifests in ours. But I doubt it.

Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite that can alter animal behavior in such a way that is detrimental to the animal but not the parasite. This is most often seen in rats and cats. Rats allow themselves to be eaten by cats and this allows the life cycle of the parasite to continue. I think what we have here is a variant which I have dubbed Toxoplasma neoconi. It’s primary symptom it makes you an inflexible asshole whose decisions are incredibly destructive for those around them.

Dollar Coins and Vending Machines

I like vending machines and I wish they’d take dollar coins. They take dollar bills and that’s good, but have you ever tried to put a crumpled dollar bill into a vending machine. You have to go through all sorts of contortions to flatten it out and feed it in. And then it’ll spit it back out. You’ll try this five or six times until it takes it or not. Sometimes even a new dollar bill won’t feed properly. Or you don’t look at the illustration on which way to feed it until after say the third try. And sometimes they put the wrong illustration. How much easier it would be if they took dollar coins. Plunk, push, kerplunk.

I’ve seen different dollar coins growing up. My mom had a collection of silver liberty dollars. There was a Eisenhower dollar and a JFK half-dollar in circulation. Then there was the Susan B. Anthony and now the Sacajawa dollar. Neither the Susan nor the Sacajewa took off. Was it because we Americans are sexist and racist and wouldn’t use them? Or was it because they didn’t withdraw the paper dollar from circulation. Partly both. Coins can last thirty years in circulation before needing to be withdrawn. Paper doesn’t last so long.

I’ve seen the coins used in the UK, Switzerland and Europe (France, Holland, and Ireland) and they have 1 unit coins, pound, swiss franc, and euro. They even have 2 unit coins. Speaking of which I really miss the 2 dollar bill. It would be nice to have a 2 dollar coin.

Now I read that we are going to issue yet another dollar coin, this time with presidents. That’s great, but they need to pull dollar bills from circulation and encourage vending machines to take the coins. I’d like to see a Jefferson 2 dollar coin. That’d be cool.

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