Tag Archives: Government

The New News

Another very cool kind of newsmap (via the excellent and addictive information aesthetics). This one, reverbiage, uses the NPR feed to generate a map over which a fast moving zoom moves to the places where stories are breaking:

Reverb

There’s also another neat way of viewing stories — select a topic, or tag, from a list on the left and a scrollable timeline appears, each blob representing a story. Not only a great way to see the latest story on a particular subject, but also the extent of coverage of that issue. In this case, it’s the hapless Dick Cheney:

Reverb2

I love this kind of thing, because it is not only visually exciting, but it introduces new dimensions for perceiving and receiving news. A map gives the geographical context as well as perspective — it’s not just about the U.S., stupid! — as well as spread, particularly on issues like the cartoons, or bird ‘flu. The timeline, meanwhile, gives a sense of how big the issue is, how heavily it’s being covered, and where, in the arc of the story’s history, the stories you’re looking at are appearing. Not only that: You can quickly figure out the history itself, and bring yourself up to speed without trawling through new stories hoping for background.

Two points. All these approaches are miles better than the last raft of such inventions from 1999. I’d love to see this kind of thing being adopted by the major news organisations.

Clips In Space

I love Clip-N-Seals. I wrote about them in a column, and bought a bunch from Amazon, and they keep chips (what I call crisps) fresh for months on end. Amazing, really, for two bits of plastic.

Anyway, they’re going to space, according to Seattle PI’s Insider: NASA buys bag clips, but lips are sealed on their use:

TO CONTAIN ALIEN LIFE FORMS, MAYBE?: Textura Design, a home-based startup in West Seattle, since late 2002 has produced a humble but clever device for resealing plastic bags, called Clip-N-Seal. The soft plastic rod-and-clip device has attracted attention from dairies, manufacturers and the military, among other customers.

Now the Clip-N-Seal (three for $4.99, available in four sizes) may be going into outer space, says company founder D.L. Byron, 38. The company shipped a dozen 40-inch-long Clip-N-Seals, at $7 apiece, to NASA earlier this month.

NASA won’t say when, or whether, or how the clips will be used. The next opportunity they’ll have to fly is aboard the shuttle Discovery when it launches sometime between July 13 and July 31– depending on weather conditions — to resupply the International Space Station. “All NASA will say is they’re for a large object,” Byron said.

The British Antarctic Survey is also considering the clips for use on its next mission. “Not bad for something we invented to keep potato chips fresh,” he said.

Excellent. It’s good to see good products go places. Like Space.

Update: Another Blaster Suspect Arrested

 Another Blaster suspect has been arrested. Prosecutors refused to release any information about the suspect, not even the youth’s gender or home state, AP reported. The variant the juvenile allegedly created was known as “RPCSDBOT.”
 
No one yet knows who created the main version. Collectively, different versions of the virus-like worm, alternately called “LovSan” or “Blaster,” hit more than a million computers. It’s interesting the two detainees both appear to be Americans. But it doesn’t mean the author of the original was, nor does it mean their motives were the same.
 

Loose Wire: The State We

Loose Wire: The State We Could Be in

By Jeremy Wagstaff
from the 28 March 2002 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Voting in your underwear? Sounds an appealing proposition: the chance to exercise your constitutionally protected right without actually having to leave your home. You could be watching Frasier while working out which candidate you want to mess things up for you for the next three/four/25 years, based on criteria such as which one most closely resembles a Teletubby/Frasier’s brother Niles/your Aunt Maudlin.

Yes, the lure of Internet voting is coming around again. In May, soccer enthusiasts will be able to vote for their favourite players in the World Cup via a joint South Korean and Japanese project (mvp.worldcup2002.or.kr; the site is not fully functioning yet). This is just an on-line poll, of course, and doesn’t add much to the mix except to try to introduce a new social group (soccer fans) to the concept of on-line voting. Elsewhere, however, on-line voting is already kicking in: Some towns in Britain are undertaking pilot projects allowing voters to choose their local councillors via the Internet, or even via SMS, in borough elections in May.

I don’t want to be a killjoy, but this kind of thing gives me the heebie-jeebies. The arguments in favour of on-line voting make sense — faster counting, less human error, attracting younger, hipper voters with handphones and Internet connections in their hatbands, higher turnouts, you can vote in your underpants, etc., etc. — until you actually think about it. Computers, we’ve learned since we plugged one PC into another, are notoriously insecure. Viruses are now so sophisticated and prevalent that many security consultants advise their clients to update their anti-virus software every day. What are the chances of a voting system not being a juicy target for people writing these nasty little vermin programs?

Another argument wheeled out in favour of Internet voting is this: The Web is now managing billions of dollars of transactions successfully, so why can’t it handle voting? There’s a simple answer to this, as security consultant Bruce Schneier of Counterpane Internet Security (www.counterpane.com) explains: The whole point of voting is that it’s supposed to be anonymous, whereas any financial transaction has attached to it details of payee, recipient and other important data. This makes it much, much harder to protect any voting system from fraud, much harder to detect any fraud and much harder to identify the guy conducting the fraud. What’s more, if there was evidence of fraud, what exactly do you do in an on-line vote? Revote? Reconduct part of the vote? Chances are that faith in the overall ballot has been seriously, if not fatally, undermined.

Some of these problems could be done away with via ATM-style machines that print out a record of the vote. That could then be used in any recount. But it’s still not enough: As on-line voting expert Rebecca Mercuri points out, there is no fully electronic system that can allow the voter to verify that the ballot cast exactly matches the vote he just made. Some nasty person could write code that makes the vote on the screen of a computer or ATM-machine printout different from that recorded. This may all sound slightly wacky to people living in fully functioning democracies. But (political point coming up, cover your eyes if you prefer) democracies can be bent to politicians’ wills, and one country’s voting system may be more robust than another’s.

Scary stuff. Florida may seem a long way away now, but the lesson from that particular episode must be that any kind of voting system that isn’t simple and confidence-inspiring gives everyone stomach ulcers. The charming notion that the more automation you allow into a system, the more error-free and tamper-proof it becomes, is deeply misguided. The more electronics and automation you allow into the system, the less of a role election monitors can play.

Internet voting, or something like it, may well be the future. I’d like to see it wheeled out for less mission-critical issues, like polling for whether to introduce traffic-calming measures in the town centre, or compulsory kneecapping for spitters, say. But so long as computers remain fragile, untamed beasts that we don’t quite understand, I’d counsel against subjecting democracy to their whim. Even if I am in my underpants.