Pseudorandom Bits

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Archive for February, 2008

Electronic Voting Machines: Iowa says “No!”

Posted by Mike on February 12, 2008

Earlier I wrote against electronic voting machines.

Then this past Saturday, I read that Chet Culver, Iowa’s governor, has agreed to go with paper ballots and have the state stop using electronic voting machines. The heading says that Mr. Culver is “willing” to do this, but it isn’t his first choice.

Part of this has to do with Iowa law which requires a voter-verified paper trail . Paper ballots clearly satisfy that requirement.

Now the discussion will be how to furnish every Iowa voting location with the same voting equipment. These would no doubt be fill-in-the-oval optical scanning machines. And money will be an issue, too.

Touch-screen machines are “not the best options, and I’d like to try to avoid it if we can,” Culver said.


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Habits “R” Us

Posted by Mike on February 12, 2008

Quite some time ago, I had a thought for a business. It would be a shop that sold, say, candy (especially chocolate stuff), crackers of various kinds, soda pop, energy drinks, miscellaneous common food items, magazines, newspapers, car oil, and so on. It would also sell cigarettes (“lowest allowed state prices”), beer (“coldest allowed by state regulations”), lottery tickets, ice, fish bait, etc. There would be aspirin, ibuprophen, energy pills, and cute trinkets on the check-out counter. Oh, and gasoline. All the items in the store would be hot sellers because of our various habits for things that aren’t so good for us. OK, some of the things would be good for you (e.g. newspapers) when taken in appropriate amounts, just to make you feel better about the other stuff you bought. Almost everything would have a price sticker (“highest prices supply and demand allows, for your shopping convenience”).

The store would be called “Habits ‘R’ Us” (where the ‘R’ would be backwards, you know). It would become a chain in no time flat.

Then I realized that I had been beaten to the job. Over the years, gas stations had become “Convenience” stores, with all the stuff (and more) I’ve named.

There goes that idea, beaten to the punch.

What does all this tell about us? Nothing that the Bible hasn’t already said.

“My son, if sinners entice you, Do not consent.” Proverb 1:10 (NKJV) Many other passages warn us about our actions.

We all have habits. Would my store fit your needs?

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Electronic Voting Machines: Just say “No!”

Posted by Mike on February 3, 2008

Electronic voting machines have been introduced into various communities over the past few years. They are not without trouble or controversy. As the 2008 U.S. Presidential election draws closer, the use of these machines will receive closer scrutiny. Many people, justifiably, are concerned about vote fraud and otherwise troubled elections. Among the top concerns is the availability of an audit trail and voting records that can be used in a contested election.

Elections have been rigged and tampered with for decades. Electronic voting machines can make this less obvious, and can complicate the process they were designed to simplify.

My experience with software leads me to be highly suspicious of voting machines and the effects they can have on an election. Yes, we depend on computers for a lot of vital and safety-critical applications, such as airplanes, medical instrumentation, military operations, and railroad transportation. But voting machines have not been developed as a safety-critical system, and have not been testing to same the level of criticality as many of these other applications.

There are things that can be done with paper ballots to reduce election rigging. A big “X” on a ballot (with a verifiable receipt) and a purple finger are some low-tech things that can be used to enhance our confidence in elections.

Among article to read are “Electronic Voting” by Rebecca Mercuri, “A Paper Trail for Voting Machines” by William Poundstone, and the RISKS Digest which can be searched for related information. Some of the top names in cryptography and electronic commerce have been involved since some of the same concepts and concerns overlap with electronic voting.

There isn’t enough room here to discuss all the issues, but I’d urge you to investigate and become more familiar with this topic. My advice is to say “No!”, at least until these applications receive the scrutiny and high level of safety-critical development that they require. Our representative democracy deserves it.

UPDATE: It appears that electronic voting machines aren’t even as easy to use as they should be. Possible electronic “chads”? Read the posting “Voting Machine Usability Testing” for some insight into problems just using the machines for voting, not even considering security, etc.

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Capitalism: Bill Gates unclear on the concept?

Posted by Mike on February 3, 2008

According to an article by Pete Winn on, Bill Gates may not completely understand capitalism, the process by which he’s earned his [m|b]illions.

While not dismissing capitalism outright, he seemed to claim that it wasn’t helping the poorest people in the world fast enough.

David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute said “What I think he’s missing there is that capitalism hasn’t failed the poorest people in the world – it simply hasn’t been tried in the poorest countries in the world.”

What does help people is property rights, the rule of law, and a market economy.

In many countries of the world, capitalism hasn’t been tried. Socialism, fascism, communism, and dictatorships of various kinds, have all been tried to the detriment of citizens. A recent example, that of Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe, shows that taking property and work incentives from people only makes a country and its economy worse. On the other hand, the economy of the United States from the late 1700’s took off like a rocket because of private ownership, rule of law, personal freedoms, etc.

Apparently, capitalism works, but seems to be a hard concept to grasp for many people, even those who have benefited greatly.

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