California is starting to "get it" on voting machines

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 04/30/2004 - 10:03

California is a state slowly coming to its senses on the issue of electronic voting machines. An article in the SF Chronicle describes the recommendations of a statewide panel looking at potential problems with the popular touchscreen voting machines. Nationwide, local officials have spent millions on the equipment based entirely on the promises of the vendors, which clearly have a conflict of interest. It would be rare indeed for a vendor to tell a potential customer that their equipment has multiple security and validation issues.

In California, the state panel has recommended a ban on purchasing more machines until the security issues are resolved on the machines already in use. They have also recommended having paper ballots available at all polling places in case the machines fail. And some machines did fail in the March primary, leaving an unknown number of votes uncounted--imagine if that happened during a Presidential election. Finally, the panel has also recommended that the machines provide an auditable paper trail for all votes.

The problem inherent in electronic voting systems is that if the machines have been compromised or have software bugs, there is literally no way to know unless there is some physical redundancy (i.e.

Is Google going to pop?

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 04/30/2004 - 10:02

The San Francisco Chronicle is one of many papers covering the impending Google IPO. I've written extensively on Google, and I still expect the stock to be grossly overpriced, because Google is overrated. Not as a search service, but as a company. Google's two recent forays into other services, the controversial Gmail and the quickly aborted Friendster-style social software indicates that the company has much work to do. It is almost beyond belief that the company thought Gmail's instrusive scanning of private email would not cause protest, but apparently they did. Google's Friendster imitation lasted all of two weeks and disappeared quickly because of massive security holes, which indicates Google is not immune to a common disease in the IT industry--the "we don't need to test our software because we got it right the first time" syndrome.

Finally, Google does not have a monopoly on good results from a search engine. Try Gigablast. The Google IPO could encourage investors to free up cash to fuel innovation in the IT industry, which has been starved for cash since the dot-com bubble burst. That would be a good thing. But it could also set off a new round of fanciful businesses based on the same arrogance and hubris that created the last bubble.

New Palm PDAs continue convergence trend

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 04/28/2004 - 06:32

PalmOne, the company formed from the merger of the old Palm company and Handspring, has announced new PDAs. The high end model is notable because the built in camera is a 1.2 megapixel, meaning it is actually useful as a camera, rather than as a novelty. In addition to all the usual organizer features, it has a voice recorder feature, can create Word and Excel-compatible files, and plays MP3 music files. It costs $299, and you'll need to invest at least $50 in a memory card to make it useful, so it's pretty pricey, but you do get a camera with it.

We're not really there yet, though, with respect to a truly useful device. Even with more memory, you can't store much music on it, and the 1.2 megapixel camera is where digital cameras were about 1995--low quality. Here is the dilemma: if you need a higher resolution camera, you still have to lug a camera around with you. If you want more than one or two albums to take on a trip (and you usually do), you need a much bigger MP3 player, like an iPod. And you still need a cellphone. So you have at least three devices strapped to your waist or stuck in your suit pocket or purse, along with all the usual charges, cables, and spare batteries. How do you avoid looking like a dork?

Bush calls for broadband

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 04/27/2004 - 10:15

President Bush came out strongly for broadband yesterday, and called for a permanent tax ban on Internet services. Bush also seemed to recognize that more regulation is not the way to get more broadband alternatives; let's hope that the FCC was listening, as the agency seems reluctant to let go of the legacy taxes and regulations.

Phone number registry completes the puzzle

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 04/27/2004 - 09:05

Stealth Communications has announced the ENUM registry, which will allow VoIP providers to complete calls without going through the public switched telephone network (PSTN). When a VoIP called completed, it usually goes over the "old" telephone network at least part of the way. In turn, the VoIP provider has to pay an access fee to the network owner (e.g. Verizon, SBC, Qwest, etc).

The ENUM registery is a free service that links a VoIP telephone number with the IP address where the phone is plugged in, so the VoIP provider can simply look up the called number in the registry and send the voice packets straight to the IP address of the receiving phone.

This sounds simple, and it is. But it is critically important, because it provides a way to build a "pure" VoIP global voice system without ever using the old switched system. It's the last piece of the VoIP puzzle.

Don't count out fiber

Submitted by acohill on Tue, 04/27/2004 - 08:37

There is much interest in wireless systems right now, and rightly so. Wireless broadband is inexpensive and a great way to get people a broadband alternative quickly. But many of those wireless hotspots still need a wired connection to the Internet, and most homes and businesses will want both--it's not either/or. Fiber is going to be needed for high definition television, high quality videoconferencing, and network backups, among other bandwidth-intensive applications.

The good news about fiber is the falling prices. LENOWISCO Planning District, one of the nation's leaders in community fiber initiatives, was budgeting $30,000/mile a year ago for duct/fiber installations. Today, their cost is about $8500/mile, due in large part to the falling cost of fiber, which is now about the same price as copper. Fiber switches and Ethernet interfaces are also much less expensive than a year or two ago, so the overall cost of fiber to the home and fiber to the business systems is lower.

Gigablast: Better than Google?

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 04/26/2004 - 07:11

Just as Google is finally going to sell stock to the public, yet another search engine, called Gigablast, has appeared, with a name that is at least partly a sly pun (google is a '1' with a hundred zeroes after it; 'giga' is a billion).

Gigablast appears to have a different set of algorithms than Google, and a few queries I tried seemed to offer slightly better results, with fewer extraneous hits. As always, competition is a good thing, especially with Google's strategy of late of trying to tie their own content to search results--not a good thing fr

Updated news page

Submitted by acohill on Sun, 04/25/2004 - 20:31

Welcome to the new and improved news page. I'm using some blogging software that will enable me to add stories and news more frequently and with less effort.

This news page is now syndicated, so if you are using an RSS news reader, you can now point it here as well. To get the URL of the news feed, just click on the orange XML button over on the right.

If you have any problems or encounter errors, please let me know (info@designnine.com).

Thanks,
Andrew

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