Science Addiction

A dormant blog by Devanshu Mehta

Month: June, 2006

The Trouble with Diebold and Electronic Voting

First, take a look at this “graphic at Washington Post”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/graphic/2006/03/16/GR2006031600213.html sensationally titled *How to Steal an Election*. It compares Nevada laws regarding slot machines with state and federal laws regulating electronic voting machines. The comparison is stark and eye-opening. For example, the Nevada Gaming Commission has access to all software for gaming electronics but the voting machine code is a _trade secret_. Yes, and so are the inner government workings of China.

And then there is the most famous of the voting machine manufacturers, “Diebold”:http://www.diebold.com. In addition to being a closed system that even the government is not allowed to know about, it is a company that fundamentally misunderstands electronic voting in particular and security in general.

For example, “this came from a Diebold spokesman”:http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/12/us/12vote.html?ex=1305086400&en=5b3554a76aad524a&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss [via Schneier]

“For there to be a problem here, you’re basically assuming a premise where you have some evil and nefarious election officials who would sneak in and introduce a piece of software,” he said. “I don’t believe these evil elections people exist.”

Ah yes, the head-in-the-sand form of security. I hear it is very popular in the real world and effective in utopian societies.

The fun and games do not end there. A “major vulnerability”:http://www.insidebayarea.com/ci_3805089 was found in the voting machines:

This newspaper is withholding some details of the vulnerability at the request of several elections officials and scientists, partly because exploiting it is so simple and the tools for doing so are widely available.

Of course, the “report appeared later on”:http://www.blackboxvoting.org/BBVtsxstudy.pdf with parts redacted, and it is tremendous.

DRM: Why Apple Has it Wrong

A few days ago, a Janet Meyer article on “Apple Matters”:http://www.applematters.com/index.php/section/comments/is-big-brother-on-your-ipod/ sparked a phenomenal discussion for and against Apple’s DRM policies. If you are not aware, Apple has a *Digital Rights Management* [DRM] system that “protects” the music it sells from the iTunes music store: it determines where you can play it, how you can play it, how many machines you can play it on and so on. It is proprietary, so if Apple controls the online music market, Apple also automatically controls how, where, why, when we listen to music we buy from them.

To cut a long story short, Janet was making the point that Apple may have a closed music format but as long as consumers have no trouble with it, consumers have a choice to buy CDs instead, the market will decide what is best.

Ah yes, the market. That all-knowing, all-seeing, all-singing, all-dancing market. It knows. In a _perfect_ society with fully informed consumers who have _true_ choices, the market knows. Elections would be marvellous with fully informed voters with _true_ choices as well Read the rest of this entry »

GreenFuel: Algae That Eats Your Pollution

By way of “Radio Open Source”:http://www.radioopensource.org/global-warming-a-sputnik-moment/ I discovered this cool new company called “GreenFuel”:http://www.greenfuelonline.com/.

GreenFuel has algae that consumes CO2 and converts in to a biofuel. The idea is that their algae would consume emissions from smokestacks and become algae biomass. Algae biomass can be used as ethanol, biodiesel, and other stuff. The first bioreactor was attached at MIT and more have been installed elsewhere since. This one is being funded by a “VC”:http://www.polarisventures.com/ run by Robert Metcalfe, the guy who invented Ethernet at Xerox PARC. That’s right, Ethernet.

Profitable venture-capital backed companies that can spin the current system on its head- that is, making it cool and profitable to turn your emissions clean- are fantastic ideas to urge a transition from our present system to a better one. Of course, lower government mandated emissions standards or credits for lower emissions would make this technology a lot more lucrative.

Etymology: What is This * You Speak Of?

_aka What is this * of which you speak?_

For many months or years or decades- I am not sure- I have used to the phrase “What is this * you speak of?” to great humorous (my opinion) effect. It has usually been greeted with chuckles and makes me feel all warm and superior on the inside.

Maybe you don’t understand the context in which you would use this phrase; let me illustrate. Let us say people are talking about the NSA wiretaps. Someone says that they think it might be legal to which someone else replies that it is not in-keeping with the constitution. At this point, I will interject with the classic line, “Constitution? What is this constitution you speak of?” and will be treated by chuckles all around. If you don’t get the joke- and I’m sure it loses some luster in written text- it means that people at the NSA or in government seem to not be aware of the existence of the constitution. Ha ha, funny, right?

Maybe not. I like to make myself laugh more than I do others, so I succeed. It is a low bar I set for myself.

The trouble, however, is that I do not like to use lines without knowing their roots. Where does this phrase come from? Surely, it is not my own creation- though I may admit as much in lesser company- so where does it come from? I hate using quotes or phrases that are in common use without knowing the source- you know those people who spout lines from Monty Python or SNL or Abe Lincoln without knowing where they came from? They irritate me. So what are the origins of my pet line? Off to the all-knowing search engines for that answer… Read the rest of this entry »

From Environmental Skeptic to Global Warming Believer

“Scientific American”:http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa006&articleID=000B557A-71ED-146C-ADB783414B7F0000&colID=13 has an interesting article by Michael Shermer on how he has been _flipped_ from being a skeptic- that is, not entirely trusting the environmentalist’s take on global warming- to becoming a believer based on overwhelming and undisputable facts.

Nevertheless, data trump politics, and a convergence of evidence from numerous sources has led me to make a cognitive switch on the subject of anthropogenic global warming. My attention was piqued on February 8 when 86 leading evangelical Christians–the last cohort I expected to get on the environmental bandwagon–issued the Evangelical Climate Initiative calling for “national legislation requiring sufficient economy-wide reductions” in carbon emissions.

Then I attended the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference in Monterey, Calif., where former vice president Al Gore delivered the single finest summation of the evidence for global warming I have ever heard, based on the recent documentary film about his work in this area, An Inconvenient Truth. The striking before-and-after photographs showing the disappearance of glaciers around the world shocked me out of my doubting stance.

I saw _An Inconvenient Truth_ last weekend and it is a fantastic film. It is a powerful film and has the urgency that this tragedy demands.

If you do doubt that global warming is real, then let me put it to you this way: even if it was not true, would you rather not be prepared for the chance that it is? Are you so convinced that it is not true, that you would bet the future of the planet on it?

On a related note, “TreeHugger”:http://www.treehugger.com/files/2006/06/4_stages_denial.php has a great piece on the four stages of global warming denial- from _theory not fact_ to _what about the bottom-line_. Well put together.

How to Reduce Junk Mail

While junk email is harder to deal with, the much older problems of junk mail are slightly more within our control in the US. While the steps below will not reduce your junk mail load to zero, it will make a difference. It has for me and the “Federal Trade Commission recommends them”:http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/prescreen.htm as well.

* If you receive tons of unsolicited credit card offers in the post, the trouble is that the credit reporting agencies have sold your information to whoever would pay. The government has had them set up a “web site to opt out”:https://www.optoutprescreen.com/ of all such offers forever (or opt-in, if you have lost your mind). The strange thing is that the agencies actually “commissioned a study [pdf]”:https://www.optoutprescreen.com/UnsolicitedCreditOffers2004.pdf – for the benefit of the FTC and consumers, I suppose- that demonstrates that the unsolicited offers are actually _beneficial to consumers_ and more importantly, _beneficial to corporations_. If you are skeptical of giving your information to that web site- and you should be- know this: the “FTC recommends it”:http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/prescreen.htm and make sure the URL says ‘optoutscreen.com’ and has ‘https://’ preceding it instead of a regular ‘http://’.
* The rest of the junk mail is trickier. While it is impossible to stop it all, you can make a dent. Among the direct mail marketing companies, some of them have chosen to self-regulate themselves; probably in fear of government intervention. The have formed the Direct Marketing Association and allow you to opt out of all direct post _that is sent by their members_. This is clearly not all junk mail, but a significant amount. So, you can “go to the DMA web site”:http://www.dmaconsumers.org/cgi/offmailinglist and get yourself off the list. Except, there is a catch. You have to do it by post, if you want to do it for free. If you want to do it online, _they charge you $5_. Outrageous, but at least it is possible to do it at all.
Enjoy! [thanks to Get Rich Slowly]

Our First Birthday

Last June, “I started this blog”:http://www.scienceaddiction.com/2005/06/06/welcome-to-science-addiction/ to talk about the things I was interested in: technology, science, some politics (mainly concerning technology and science). Maybe it is a sign of the times, but the focus has been fine-tuned towards “civil liberties”:http://www.scienceaddiction.com/2006/04/25/outrage/, “privacy”:http://www.scienceaddiction.com/2006/04/25/outrage/, “open standards”:http://www.scienceaddiction.com/2006/05/12/how-internet-explorer-stifles-microsoft/ and “new energy”:http://www.scienceaddiction.com/2006/06/04/research-corn-fiber-to-ethanol-using-mold/ while still introducing the occasional “geek project”:http://www.scienceaddiction.com/2005/08/06/linux-on-the-xbox-reasoning-part-i/ or “humorous”:http://www.scienceaddiction.com/categories/humor/ outburst.

“Two”:http://www.scienceaddiction.com/2006/03/28/review-googles-gmail-for-your-domain/ “Slashdots”:http://www.scienceaddiction.com/2005/12/18/seasons-givings/ and a “Digg”:http://www.scienceaddiction.com/2006/05/12/how-internet-explorer-stifles-microsoft/ later, the blog is older and wiser. I am learning to focus on fewer things in more detail as I try to build a repeat readership. So far, a vast majority of the readership surfs in and out through links found on Digg, Slashdot, other blogs and mainly, search.

So thanks to all those who have surfed in; even more thanks to those who stick around. Add “SA to your RSS reader”:http://www.scienceaddiction.com/feed/ and come back often.

The Energy Blog

I just added “The Energy Blog”:http://thefraserdomain.typepad.com/energy/ to my Blogroll in the sidebar. This is a great blog run by James Fraser, a veteran of the energy industry and energy-related arms of the government. The emphasis of his blog is on technologies that can replace oil. Unlike many on the Internet, he knows his subject matter extremely well. In his own words, _The Energy Revolution has begun and will change your lifestyle_.

Mentos and Diet Coke Fountains

This is one of the great videos in the history of Internet viral videos- “the fountains of Bellagio recreated using Diet Coke and Mentos mints”:http://eepybird.com/dcm1.html (required Quicktime).

O’Reilly, CMP and the Web 2.0 Service Mark

The controversy started- for those not paying attention- when CMP served a cease-and-desist letter to an Irish non-profit for using the term “Web 2.0″ in the name of their conference. Bad move- the blogosphere went in to attack mode and O’Reilly (who runs the conference and is associated with CMP) will never have quite the same reputation again. Before the blogosphere outrage over “CMP’s claim of Web 2.0 as a service mark for conferences”:http://radar.oreilly.com/archives/2006/05/controversy_about_our_web_20_s.html dies down, I have a few things to say. Read the rest of this entry »

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