Sunday, November 28, 2004

Open E-voting Advocacy thread

Please post your successes and failures here. Due to the nature of how Blogger works, you might consider linking the comment page for later use.

"verify the vote, build trust through voter verified paper"

"30 percent of our national vote can never be verified true"

"Everybody, regardless of how they feel about the election results, wants to trust this election."

Of Sgi, Linux and X --How one person learned to choose (final)

So, that brings us to today. How does this all relate? What does it mean?

I don't know those answers any better than anyone else does. Realistically, anything can and likely will happen. However, I can tell you what I see and what it means to me going forward.

First, Sgi. They had to find new ways to make their powerful machines, without the cost margins they earned in the 90's. Additionally, they needed to return to their roots with those roots being the company that makes solving near impossible problems a reality. For them, the additional choice allowed by Open Source provided them a way clear of an early demise. Sgi could begin to help build Linux. In this way, they eliminate the costs of doing everything in-house. This is good for Sgi and good for us. Linux gets better, and Sgi gets to spend more of its dollars building very powerful computers for Defense, Science and Government.

As an example of how this works for you and me, consider my desktop Linux machine. It runs the powerful Sgi XFS filesystem. In all my years working with their systems, I never encountered filesystem related problems. Now, thanks to the choice offered by Open Source, I can do that on my chosen hardware thanks to Sgi.

To be clear, not all software needs to be free, but lots of it is better that way. Infrastructure bits are good for all of us because we need them to build our own solutions. This is why XFS makes good sense. Basic computing tools also fit the bill because everyone needs them. It is in all of our collective interests to have these tools join the growing pool of Open Source software. We can thank Sun Microsystems for their gift of Open Office. UNIX machines everywhere can now be used for common tasks as well as hard or esoteric ones. Other more specialized software, such as Computer Aided Design software, probably will remain closed. The software is difficult to build and the potential user base is small also.

The point of this whole story is to highlight the idea that choice is king. Really, I mean that.

Even if you don't choose to choose, you can always have others choose for you. Trusted others, like friends, or local service providers that have a clear interest in your interest, not their bottom line. This extends past computing for obvious reasons, but I am going to just focus on computing for now. Having choices open to you brings more competiton for your business. It helps to keep big companies honest, particularly those that sell software. Without the check Open Source and Open Standards bring to their control over our computing lives, we would be paying a lot more and doing far less for our hard earned dollars.

It sounds goofy, but Open Source software has changed my life. Today I can get almost all of my basic computing done, just the way I want it done for only the cost of getting the software. This is powerful stuff. It is like learning a trade that can be perfomed with your hands. It enables people to better themselves and make the world a better place. Anyone who takes the time to understand what Open computing is all about will be a lot better for it. They will save a lot of money too, over the long term.

My data is truly mine in that I don't have to pay somebody to manupulate or communicate it. I can give that data, to others, along with the software necessary to make proper use of it, within the limits of the law. This is huge. I don't know why more schools are not teaching kids to compute with free tools. Priming them on Closed Source basic computing tools; namely, word processors, e-mail, web, etc...

I have more money to spend on new technology, or to save or invest for later. The average person spends about $400 on computer related technology each year, much of it they can get for free. Most all Open Source software, that matters, runs on win32 systems just fine. It is possible to begin with Open Office and the Firefox browser, for example and continue to build from there.

My computing environment is a pretty safe one. Kids have their own accounts and can do what they want, but not actually harm the machine.

The skills I have can be used to make money, or simply help people without paying for the ability to do so. The software, those skills depends on, does not have to change, unless I want it to. How many people study up every last year for the latest win32 bells and whistles? How many old skills fall out of use because the software outdated them? These effects are sharply reduced with Open Source software tools.

Sound too good to be true? Well, here are some of the bad parts of the story.

Closed Source companies are working hard to change law in their favor. They patent things that would never have been allowed years ago. They patent basic things in software then try to use those patents to reduce the growing body of software free for all of us to use. This is a growing problem with few clear solutions in sight today, other than aggressive advocacy.

Learning can be tough. Many people don't want to do it. This is not a showstopper in that you can always pay someone to set things up rather than pay a growing company, who does not have your best interests in mind. Or, take it a piece at a time, finding a happy middle. Maybe you never learn Linux, but use Open Source on the computer you have today. That works fine and you still benefit.

Media companies are trying to close their data formats, making it difficult or impossible to use media you pay for on Open Systems. This, together with patents, makes many things artificially tough to do. Nobody benefits from this, other than the creators of the Closed Software used to view Closed media...

Me? I am still going to advocate for choice. The ability to choose freely how you compute and what you compute on matters, even if you don't participate. Others will and the fruits of their labour will be there for the taking later down the road should you choose differently.

I'm not against software companies producing software for money. If it is really good software that actually serves the users better than it does the creator, the world is a better place with that software in it. Sadly, the majority of software sold today does not meet that bar.

Regarding technology in general. Choose Open Technology. For each area of your life that you allow yourself to become dependant upon Closed Technology, you yield control of that area in exchange for some of your money. Again, this may be a fine thing to do, but be careful of the longer-term implications.

I spent a couple years learning about new and powerful ways to compute that can save anyone interested a lot of money. The industry I came from, does not want this and will tell anyone anything they want to hear in order to get them to commit to their software solutions, many of which are going to have very high longer-term costs associated with them.

Finally, I grew up in a world where one could learn whatever they wanted, so long as they were willing to go get the information and make use of it. The world I live in today is split between that early world of learning, and todays world of spending to solve problems.

Going forward, I would hope a majority of you continue to be willing to work to help yourself and others rather than just spend your way forward. We all will be better for that. Give Open Source software a try. Start with Open Office and a nice browser and begin to work forward from there. You are likely to find you get more value out of the process than you put in.

How can this be so? Software is simply information. Anyone who builds on the growing pool of Open Source software benefits us all. When one of us gets a copy of the software, everybody still has theirs. Information is the only thing in the world that acts like that. It is what makes the whole Open Source value proposition viable.

And that is a good thing.

Of SGI, Linux and X --How one person learned to choose (4)

When people lose their ability to choose, their choices get made for them. In my experience, these choices are never the right ones where ordinary people are concerned. Instead, the choices they are given are aimed squarely at extracting money from the customer. (Yes that is a phrase I often heard, from many software sales representatives.) If you ever hear that, consider doing something else. You will be better for it, trust me.

Anyway, back to the storyline. It came time for me to perform an upgrade. I wanted some more speed and needed to gain the ability to more easily run newer Open Source software. Time to bite the bullet and get it all done.

My upgrade experience with win32 systems left me putting this experience off for longer than I needed to, but in the end the pressure won. I knew I did not want to buy a new machine because I would also be forced to buy a lot of software I did not want or need. That mean't build my own, or getting one built for me. After a lot of snooping around, another choice presented itself. I could just make use of a newer machine that somebody else upgraded from.

This does not mean I am cheap, quite the contrary. I could afford just about any machine I wanted, but honestly I did not and still do not today see the value of such a purchase. After some thought, this is the route I chose.

The actual upgrade process was interesting compared to your typical win32 PC upgrade. Since I was using a couple of machines, I could upgrade my environment in more than one stage. Since my new machine was a PC, I left the SGI as is, added a bit of storage, without rebooting by the way, and was ready to start.

Open Source systems make use of Open Standards for data storage. They, being UNIX like, also do not have messy things like registries and binary configuration files. So the first thing was to capture my existing configuration somewhere where I could refer to it, then perform the upgrade.

Turns out this was largely a waste of time. Since I work in a networked environment, I could simply bring the new machine onto the network, and begin using it. So I did just that. For a while I used all three machines, with an eye toward getting rid of the older PC. This is where multi-user comes into play again. Multi-user computing environments, such as Linux, UNIX, IRIX, etc... keep all user data in the users home directory. If you are a windows user, this is much like your desktop, My Documents, and settings directories, only much cleaner because it is all in one place called, literally home. On my machine that was /home/doug.

Within an hour after getting the new machine loaded and on the network, I was able to have all my basic settings just the way I like them, present and accounted for on the new machine. E-mail, desktop, web bookmarks, etc.. all done. That makes it the primary machine until the old one is not needed anymore. This did not take long.

Later I performed the same operation with the SGI machine and I was good to go, running the latest stuff with a minimum of hassle. Perhaps that early learning was worth something after all...

Of Sgi, Linux and X --How one person learned to choose (3)

Computing is really more like construction than anything else, but for one problem: Those that don't share. Now I am not saying they should. Afterall, they are entitled to do what they want with the software they create, just as any of us do. However, their closed products that lock my data into closed formats, Closed Standards if you will, destroy my choice. They destroy your choice too.

Eventually, I gave up my old workstation / music server. Used SGI gear began to get cheap enough that I could get a better machine. Of course I did this the first chance I got. After setting it up, I began to load as much Open Source software as I could onto the machine. This proved somewhat difficult in that much of the software did not complile easily on my SGI machine. That's not to say it could not be done, but simply that I didn't have the time to do it.

Enter Linux again. Between the two of them, I could have the best of both worlds: The SGI desktop, and the best Open Source has to offer on Linux. Eventually the entire environment became rather complete. It was now possible to perform almost every basic computing task on Open Source software on just about any machine you choose to do it on. For me, that actually meant two machines, but it could have just been the one. None of that matters really, the choice is up to the person the way it should be.

My choice was to use two machines together for Sufting the web, playing games on Mame, which I did compile for the SGI (hehe), wordprocessing, HTML, programming, mp3, mix rip burn, graphics, image manupulation, CAD, CD burning, etc.. It was all there and things were good.

Family life began to place new demands on my time, so I ran the system the way it was for a few years. Once in a while, I would add on something, tweak this, tweak that, but essentially I let things run the way I had built them. During these few years, I watched most of my friends go through at least a couple computers, upgrades and hassles associated with Closed Software. You know how it is. Add a new card, find out it is not supported. This, more often than not, leads to a series of unplanned upgrades that sometimes cost more than an entire new machine.

Interestingly, my choice to go with Open Source computing left me with a few more bucks to spend on the hobby than I would have had otherwise. The simple economy of not paying for the same technology over again each upgrade cycle began to add up. That was enough value to give back, so I began to. I took my CAD experience and wrote a STL software viewer in C. While that thing will not win any coding awards, it does make a couple thousand peoples lives easier. That was one way to give back to the growing software pool I depend on. Other ways included buying Open Source software where people had packaged it. Today many writers sell things, like t-shirts and such. Some take donations. Others form companies and support their software for money, while letting those that don't need the support continue to use the software as they always have.

The growing sense of community appeals to me. I feel a lot better knowing the money I sent to some Open Source developer, through a t-shirt sale is appreciated than I do knowing my Closed Software purchase helped some company, who does not want to hear from me, make their sales number for the month.

During this time, the net developed for the worse. Virii, scripts and less than honorable folks, all appeared rapidly turning the Internet into a pretty dangerous place. This revealed an aspect of my choice that I did not consider early on.

Security was becoming an issue. My motivation was all about getting the work I needed to do done the way I saw fit to do it. Since I often needed to do remote support and work with multiple systems, the environment I crafted out of love had its practical side too. However, as security continued to evolve into a signifcant problem, my home environment was sitting there unaffected. At first I did not worry about things much. I figured that the major Closed Source companies would work to protect their interests. After all they were making lots of money. An investment to protect their users seemed to make sense.

But that is not what happened. While I was not spending much time in front of win32 machines, my skills were kept intact, for the most part, by the sheer number of dangers most win32 users face. Viruses, spyware and trojans all combined to take out nearly every computer owned by almost everyone I knew at one time or another.

Closed Source software companies made even more money fixing their software! New companies sprouted up, offering anti-this and anti-that tools to help users to continue to be able to use the software they paid for without having to worry what horrors of spam and kiddie porn were moving their their 0wn3d machines. Blech!

Other things happened too. Businesses, who buy new machines, get mostly clean machines. Ordinary people however, get a far different treatment. Their machines come loaded with tons of mostly useless software. This is called shovelware and I basically hate it. People are buying computers to improve their lives, or help their kids, or maybe just send some e-mail and surt the Internet. What they get is a deluge of sales pitches, free trials, helper programs and other junk that get in the way of actually computing. It's sick frankly.

I was largely shielded from this for a long time because of where I worked in the reseller channel. All the new hardware I saw was part of other deals for expensive software. Those machines did not come loaded with much of anything. In a sense, they had more value, because they did not require as much work to get setup properly.

On the other hand, those inexpensive machines being sold to ordinary people were plenty powerful enough, but largely useless until they were setup proper, sans shovelware. Sadly I found it easier to just do that work for people getting new machines than it was dealing with the aftermath of having left them as is.

This is what happens when people don't have choice. It is not a good thing.

Of SGI, Linux, and X --How one person learned to choose (2)

After the last minute movie experience, I was sold. Multi-user computing is a powerful thing. While most of the industry is trying hard to figure out how to get everything done on one machine, I was busy learning how to make groups of machines work together, shared among those using them. I wanted them to work like they did for my video project.

About this time, the resident Systems Engineer, (he knows who he is, thanks Tim!) who had been watching me bring all his machines to their upper limit for many hours straight, handed me a CD. On it was RedHat Linux 5.2, I think. Maybe 5.1, it didn't matter. What did matter was that CD contained a UNIX environment similar to the one I learned to use on the expensive SGI workstations. Of course I had to install it, and I did.

Compared to the well crafted IRIX environment on the SGI, this Linux was a mess! But the core of it was exactly what I wanted; namely, a multi-user computing envronment and it would run on a PC!

After a lot of work, a decent working environment began to take shape. None of the high-end software I used everyday ran, but I could always connect to one of the SGI machines and run it there, on my desktop. However, lots of other interesting software did run and it came with the OS. This too was a lot like the SGI environment. You see, getting a win32 machine loaded means you are ready to then load other things in order to actually get anything done.

This had a lot of potential in that getting the OS loaded brought a lot of applications and tools with it. One one hand, it took a while to set everything up. On the other it was ready to do lots of things once done. Prior to this time, doing anything significant really meant buying software. This was like going to buy a toolbox and finding it loaded to the brim with tools.

About this time, some smart people created some win32 remote desktop software. While not multi-user in the sense that UNIX systems were, it did allow a PC to participate as part of a UNIX multi-user environment. Finally I had everything I needed to leave my win32 desktop, and I did.

Linux grew rapidly. Each new release was more refined and capable. My multi-user desktop grew in power, even though it was running on an older machine. I worked hard to weave an environment where I could run high-end CAD, office tools, and other tools all on one environment. Sharing files, running applications all were possible across many different machines at the click of an icon.

But it did take work --the sort of work that was not for the average soul. For me, however, the Linux desktop was a reality. While it could not do everything I needed yet, it embodied the holy trinity, if you can imagine such a thing, of choice, multi-user computing, and network aware graphical interfaces. Put another way: Open Source, Linux, and the X window display system.

One other powerful thing happened during this time. For every task I learned to complete, I really learned something about computing. Not just where to click and what to buy, but how things worked and where they came from and why they were created and how you could make your own. Of course I expected this from the expensive SGI workstations, but from a free, burned CD?

Along with this powerful learning came the realization that the ongoing erosion of powerul multi-user environments threatened choice every day. Everywhere I looked, more and more people were spending money on limited environments filled with expensive software. I began to seriously question what I was seeing.

The differences between Open Source Software, Open Standards for data and Closed Source Software, Closed Standards for data became crystal clear during this time. The more I grew to understand these differences, the more deeply offended I became.

Perfectly capable systems were being tossed out, simply because they did not run the right software, or that the software they did run, could not exchange data with Microsoft and other software. The hardest part to swallow was the simple truth that these differences were artificial. No technical reasons exist for this to be the case. People were trashing perfectly solid investments because they were forced to, not because they actually had to. Given the price paid for these machines, that seemed a terrible waste of both resources and dollars. It also is terribly wrong. It also happend to be making those selling the goods a fair amount of money.

Now, I am a little bit sensitive about the money issue. Having grown up with very little of it, wasting it was not on the list of things I planned to do. Yet, this is exactly what almost the entire industry, from my point of view, wants us to do! Entire sub-industries had sprung up telling us what to buy and from whom. Whenever something really good came along, it always got folded into the integrated win32 package as either an option, or expensive add on.

It all clicked. You were either on that path, or not. With most everybody being on the path, choice was in clear danger. Danger from closed data formats locking up data, danger from big companies buying and integrating smaller companies and their products, only to make more money, not really to benefit anybody. Danger from virii and security threats. Since every computer worked exactly the same and choice reduced the number of potential software combinations, everybody was a target in a big way.

Everyone except the small minority of people choosing Apple, Sun, SGI, Amiga, Linux, BSD, whatever. We did not have these problems, for the most part. A high degree of choice meant a diverse array of hardware, software, and operating systems, yet we could all exchange data and get the same work done.

Nobody should be telling us how to compute. We should have the choice to make the very best use of the computers we have. This means the average joe should be able to buy a PC and use the off the shelf software and power users, like me should be able to weave together environments that get work done. Both of us get work done, but we do it in starkly different ways. Joe might spend money where I might spend time, for example. Maybe Joe has money, I know I don't.

Microsoft Software, particularly their office software, is good software, but it only works with other Microsoft software. For people needing to write documents, schedule time with others, send e-mail, etc.. it gets the job done nicely. Nearly every company is using it. All of these users are losing their power to choose with every new software release. They are all locked in.

Maybe they don't want to choose, on the other hand, maybe they don't know they can! Maybe those selling canned solutions don't want them to know any better.

A little digression fits here. As a kid, we all had different computers. That happened because our parents just bought whatever computer they wanted to and we used them. Back then, one could get magazines off the shelf, at the grocery store no less, that had programs written for the different machines that all did the same thing. It was cool. We learned a lot of stuff for a few bucks and some time...

Well, the kids I knew broke into three camps: users who bought things, users who would program and share with others, and users who would program things, but not share. Today, I still know many of the first two types. The buyers need help today installing things and getting their Internet setup. The second group are all programmers, web developers, game people, whatever. The few people I still know from the no-share group are all in sales...

Clearly Linux was for me. I also know I would not have bumped into it, had it not been for the SGI experiences.

About this time, SGI enters the story again for the second time. I was able to adopt a victim of this wintel onslaught! Well that is not strictly true. This machine was one of the very oldest machines, so it's time had come in other ways besides monopoly market forces. Neverthless, it was my SGI that I could run at home. After playing with it for a while, I realized it might make a good music server. The 30Mhz cpu was capable of decoding compressed mp3 music files, but nobody had released a player for it. Most folks I asked said it was too old, couldn't do the job. But how did they know? I decided to give this Open Source idea a real test. Afterall, this is what the sharing group always did. Find a program and get it to run on the hardware you have, not the hardware you could not afford to buy.

It took some time, but I finally managed to compile a music player for this system and it played perfectly, up to a pretty high bitrate! Plenty of capability for what I wanted to do. By the way, this machine was blessed with a very nice audio subsystem. Very low noise and two channels of output. Perfect.

In my childhood, I had done some programming. Assembly language, a smattering of C, plus other things. Until that time, the idea of actually compiling software never struck me as an important thing. However, this experience taught me another very important lesson. If you can complile software, you have the ultimate in choice. You have control of your computing environment. You are set.

Does everybody need to compile to get this advantage? Basically speaking, no. Most average people wanting to gain some control over their computer and save a bit of money at the same time can just use some of the work the rest of us get done.

The significance of the Open Source movement fully took hold that day. Sitting there listening to some music, coming from a machine all but forgotten, was powerful. I realized it was possible to build computing solutions right out of thin air and whatever hardware happened to be lying around. My entire view of the software industry changed from one of lofty engineers building secret codes we were damn lucky to get to pay to use to one of people all over the world building things they wanted to build and leaving the pieces for others to work with.

After a time, I saw somebody on USENET interested in doing the same things I did with my old machine on theirs. They were not lucky enough to get a compilier for their machine. SGI compiliers are expensive and free compiliers are hard to setup on older machines, so I just sent him the binary I had worked on and told him to pass it on. You just can't do that with proprietary software legally. Most people do, but they are breaking the law. I realized I was no longer going to have to do that.


Of SGI, Linux and X --How one person learned to choose (1)

When I mention SGI, I most often hear, "Aren't they dead?" The simple answer is 'No'. Sgi, had a hell of a run during the early 90s with their powerful and smart workstations. So, what happened? And why does it matter?

Microsoft happened. Win32 workstations began to get pretty serious about '96. It was becoming possible to get speed and quality graphics about that time, for an ever lower cost. Despite the brilliance of Sgi machines, the more clunky, but cheap PC was clearly to win the day.

I suppose I am lucky to have been in a position to enjoy their machines during that time. I will never forget the first time I used the machines. Until that day, I was on the Microsoft path, along with everyone else. Sgi changed that, and I am grateful for that experience that changed my view of computing forever. That change led me toward Linux and Open Source software. I am sure others had these same experiences on a Sun, Apple, Amiga, or other such machine. In that, Sgi is nothing special, but for me.

Silicon Graphics machines were compelling enough to show me the value of choice and what it means to people going forward.

So, what was it? What made such a difference and why is that important? Doesn't everybody use PC's today? Aren't they all the same?

If you have those questions, sit back and read for a moment and hear what I have to say. If you have no love for computing and I mean the sheer art of it, this is not the post for you. But, if your computer interests you even a little, consider hearing my story.

I got my start in computing on a lowly Atari 800 machine. Actually that is not strictly true, it was the old Apple ][ that really got me going. I suppose the differences between the two really tell the tale. That's up to you to decide in the telling, I suppose. Anyway, back to SGI.

One day in 96, I was asked to learn some software. It was CAD software and it was going to be my new career. I had been running this software on my PC workstation, but this was a big project that needed a bit more than the PC of the time could provide. An account was created for me and I logged into the machine.

The desktop was strange, compared to the familiar win32 one I was used to, but interesting at the same time. There was no program menu, other than the little toolchest menu thingy. The software I needed to run was run from the terminal window. Having cut my teeth on older, pre GUI computers, I was no stranger to this, so I asked the machine for one and got ready to go.

White on Blue! Every other machine I had ever used was green on black, or some other crappy color combination, but here was a white on blue window with very readable text! Made me think of my old Atari. By the way, the mouse pointer was a nice bright red --easy to see. Riding high on a very nice first impression, I ran my software and worked on my project.

While doing so, the elegance of the experience really took hold. This little machine was well crafted to provide me, the user, with the very best experience it could deliver. Transitions were smooth, performance high, and crisp. No awkward pauses, well chosen colors, and minimal, but powerful UI elements all combined to make this a very nice place to work. I could go on, but the point here is that the engineers, who crafted --not built, but crafted this environment thought the entire experience through. While different from my win32 environment in many ways, those differences made a lot of sense once I got past them.

I realized that day there is more than one way to interact with a computer. I knew this before, having used many different machines, but the wintel vision was compelling at the time.

It also struck me that the one size fits all approach I was used to, in the win32 vision of things, was wrong in a profound way. Different people interact differently with their computers. We should have choice. The PC sitting on my desk, running a Windows variant, began to take on a different light. It's very success smothered choice. This struck me deeply at the time for I was just learning what choice could offer those that are willing to learn to choose. I had a very hard time committing to work against that, so I didn't. It was really that simple.

Time passed, and I thought about that experience some more. I dug deep into my win32 machine and customized it. Perhaps enough choice exists that I could simply recreate the experience on my station well enough. For the most part, I saw some success. Faster hardware, newer releases of windows, and some learning earned me an enviornment far better than the one I was running before. Despite my success, the issue of choice still nagged at me. How would I know to choose or what to choose or even if I could choose had I not had such an experience to drive the choice?

As time passed, my understanding of the IRIX environment grew. It was a UNIX and I knew something about that. My first Internet account was a UNIX shell account, and I had crossed paths with an SCO machine a while back. Somewhere in the learning, I bumped into the X window graphical subsystem. This was a very different thing from the desktop environment I was used to. It was multi-user and network capable. In this growing age of networked computing, these were very significant things. Things completely ignored in wintel land. Powerful things. Of course I was hooked.

I got hold of an X server for my win32 machine and connected back to that SGI. Interestingly, while its owner was still working. This was cool. Never before had I been able to really share a computer with someone! With a tweak here and a tweak there, my entire desktop appeared right there on my machine, ready for me to use! So, I used it often, learning as I went. Computing was fun again!

This continued until one day I made a mistake that put a critical project in danger of failing. The project invoved rendering frames of video. Thinking I had done my job well, I left a long render to complete over the weekend, but it didn't actually. My stomach sank monday morning. A quick bit of mental math told me I was doomed. I had about 40 hours of rendering to do and only about 16 hours to complete it in.

It was on this day that multi-user began to show its true significance. Using more machines would allow the project to complete, but the prospect of moving around from PC to PC all day seemed dubious at best. An alternate plan began to take shape. By this time, I had earned an SGI computer for my own desk. I logged in and asked for 7 desktops, mine plus 6 others located on other machines I planned to use that day. And use them I did!

I hopped onto all the different machines from my desk and started lots of processes all over the building. Some were rendering, others were compressing, still others installing software to join the project. For the next several hours I did not move, flitting from machine to machine, flogging them all as hard as I could to get as much work done as possible. On my local desktop, the project began to assemble. Frames began to appear in groups, ready for me to composite and place on the movie timeline. Never before had I been so pissed and scared, never before had I gotten so much work done in so little time. That project went out the door, completed in the last hour.

Multi-user indeed.

(To be continued this week...)

Saturday, November 27, 2004


Yes that cult group that gets almost no airplay here in the States. Two albums come to mind: "Worlds Apart" and "Behavior"
Worlds apart is like a movie on a disc. I have an Amazon review here that better explains that aspect. Very few artists do this these days and they should. I like this disc, particularly the last two tracks.

The Behavior album is more disjointed, but contains two very good tracks that, when played together, without interruption, form about 11 minutes of the very best music. "Goodbye" & "Once Upon a Time".

Why post this today? Well, I just found an old recording of these Behavior tracks (lost the disc) and it reminded me why much of the music being produced today seems lacking. The production values on these two albums is top-notch. You can bring your sound system right to the upper limit and enjoy music that is crafted out of pure love backed by solid technical competence. I'll have to look one of these days, but I suspect there is not one clipped peak on the entire thing.

In this day of over produced, horribly clipped recordings, I wonder if the younger generation will ever know and appreciate the sonic impact a properly produced digital recording has to offer.

This is the kind of stuff, at about 90db, that makes the hair rise on the back of your neck and your ears tingle from the sheer joy of it. The mind wanders to another place for a few minutes, only to return full of imagry and wonder.

Don't get me wrong. There is plenty of good music being produced today and I enjoy it, but very few tracks evoke the sense of wonder and achievement the two tracks I mentioned do. The obvious mastery of the sonic medium combined with interesting musical landscapes and themes blend into an always interesting piece of music.

Put simply, this is the kind of music that makes me go around the block a couple of times extra because I don't want the experience to end.

SAGA, good show guys. I'm not sure what you all think of that effort, but to me it is your very best. Always leaves me craving for more...

Random thoughts about kid psychology.

I've been having to deal with some kid trouble. Pretty normal stuff, sneakiness, lying, insubordination...

Come to realize it comes down to this:

It has to be more worth it for kids to do the right things than the wrong ones.

How to get that done remains a challenge, but thought getting it down in one sentence was worth recording.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Open e-voting comment thread

Well, I went ahead and did it. OpEdNews published my technology backgrounder on e-voting and its differences from paper voting.

My goal was to put some of the subtle differences between electronic records and paper ones out there in a way that non computer people would understand. We do need reform. Optical Scan combined with Vote by Mail is probably the best way to go forward as we do here in Oregon.

However, I don't see this happening that quickly. Perhaps when folks compare their election problem report numbers, they might give Oregon a closer look...

Anyway, if you read that paper and have comments, put 'em right here!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

200,000 Reward for Election Fraud Evidence!

This from PRweb....

$200,000 Reward for evidence of vote fraud in the presidential election.

Justice Through Music has posted a minimum $200,000 Reward for specific evidence of vote fraud in the recent election in light of the many instances of reported voter irregularities. (PRWEB) November 23, 2004 -- On November 6, 2004, Justice Through Music,, posted a $100,000 reward for specific evidence of vote fraud in the presidential election. On November 16, that reward was doubled to $200,000 in light of the rampant voter irregularities reported online and in the media over the past two weeks which has resulted in the recounting of votes in various states.

Specifically, the reward will be given to the person or persons who provide concrete evidence of hacking, tampering, implanting improper software codes, miscounting votes, or vote rigging in one or more states that would change the result of the election. JTM is seeking evidence from insiders, whistleblowers and others in the know who have information about vote fraud. There have been over 30,000 documented instances of voting irregularities in the election, which include improperly tested voting machines and people having access to the machines in unsecure areas.

Moreover, many examples of mistabluated election results have been documented in many states, including North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, Nevada and Indiana. Recounts have been initiated in several states such as New Hampshire and Ohio, and fraud audits have been started in at least six states, including Florida and New Mexico.

Clearly, concrete evidence of vote fraud would lead to positive changes in United States elections because a democratic society cannot thrive without trust, honesty and transparency in its election process.


***If I am doing something wrong with this press release, please just let me know nicely and I will address it! --Just trying to pass the word along, thanks!***

Dang IE! (Crappy rendering)

Anyone out there who sees the incorrect sidebar rendering on my blog want to offer some advice? I don't know how to fix it! Annoying to say the least.

Go Mozilla / Firefox! (7 percent and climbing!)

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Why you should say no to Software Patents

Just say no!

In a nutshell, they limit our ability to think with computers. This stifles innovation. Our patent system currently allows instructions and math to be patented. This means doing specific things with a computer will be owned by those that hold the patents. Others seeking to do the same thing a different way will still violate the patents.

If this trend continues, programmers around the world will be prevented from writing programs that do anything useful, unless they pay those that hold the permission to perform their tasks. Folks, this sucks. Nobody is going to be able to program anything without the permission of many patent holders around the world. Innovation will be limited to those things that do not threaten the status quo.

Want to plot your computing future on the corporate roadmap? Have an idea that will change the world? Best get ready to step up and pay for permission to voice it through the language of computing; namely, your own program.

Get more information here.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Sign the Voters Bill of Rights

Why is this post in Pink?

While following the election fiasco story, I stumbled upon the CODE PINK - WOMEN FOR PEACE project website. They have a petition going for a Voters Bill of Rights that does a fine job covering the issues. I encourage you to sign it and give the rest of the site a look while you are there. As for the pink, it's a celebration of strong intelligent women everywhere! The world would be less with out you!

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Sorry about the current (unfinished) election results?

Yeah, so am I. By all things decent, John Kerry should be getting ready to step into the White House. There is a slim chance he may yet do that, but I cannot realistically put my money on it.

Check out It's one of those simple, yet profound ideas that remind me exactly why I like the Internet so much. It's just photos, but they are photos of Americans expressing their emotions about this election, or lack of it, depending on what you believe. The profound part comes from the rest of the world sending photos too, resulting in a sort of photo-essay, bonding, conversation that moved me deeply.

World: I'm so damn sorry too. Thanks for understanding support and hope. It is looking like we are all going to need it.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Open source STL file viewer gets much needed update!

For me, this is pretty cool. I just received my first patch from another user of my Open Source Stereo Lithography (stl) file viewer. --Thanks Hans!

Once I merged the patch, I realized it was time to get things cleaned up and so I did. You can find out more from the project home page and Source Forge summary page.

If you use this program, I would appreciate hearing about it. Knowing how people end up using the program means a lot to me. For those who used the program and provided feedback, thank you!

Monday, November 15, 2004

Why don't we have the American People count the vote?

It's no secret that I have been following the election problems pretty closely. If you have even a bit of doubt, you should do the same.

News: The GOP wants to end exit polls! Now those pesky exit polls are the source of all the questions surrounding this past election. The pattern is clear:

Instead of actually addressing the problems in a trustworthy and transparent way, the GOP insists on solutions that deny the American people, whom they are supposed to serve, the ability to know the truth about their own elections!

And these folks have the nerve to ask us for our trust! To be fair, the Dems are just as guilty through their inaction. However, the burden currently rests with the GOP and their clear majority and obvious incentive to maintain it.

Did you know that most of Europe uses people, real people, to count their vote, with the exception of Norway? Imagine that! Votes counted by those that cast them, under the watchful public eye? Isn't that what we are supposed to be all about? You know, by the people, for the people and all of that.

President Bush was elected, or selected depending on your point of view, in a highly unusual 2000 Presidential election. This election brought the issue of election vote fraud into the minds of more Americans than any past event ever has. You would think we would have learned from this. (Actually a bunch of us did.)

Those events lead to the passing of HAVA, the Help America Vote Act. At first glance, this legislation appears to be noble in that it aims to prevent another 2000 style election from happening. However, things are not as they seem.

Rather than address the problem, HAVA opened the door for new solutions that are best at keeping the American People from actually being aware problems exist! While the results are roughly the same; namely, mostly quiet and orderly elections with definitive results, the devil is in the details.

Enter Electronic Voting machines. I have written on these before, so go read those posts. Heck, why not get to the meat of the matter here.

Did HAVA work? Well it made the problems with this election more subtle than the chads of Florida. If it were not for the troublesome exit polls, we might have noticed anything significant wrong with the elections at all! In that sense, HAVA did nicely.

Frankly, I am ashamed to learn other nations involve their own people in the important democratic process, which we stand for by the way, more than we do. Why is that? Doesn't that seem rather un-American to you? It does to me.

Growing up, I learned about the democratic process the same as most of you reading this did. We learned about civics in classes, held elections and learned about our founding fathers and what they stood for. Do you think for even a moment, our founders would accept a vote counting process hidden from the people and performed by secret machines and processes?

We, the people, should be counting our votes. It should be a public event --the kind of event you can take the kids to. The kind of event that brings communities together to learn where they stand on issues. An election should be something we do and have faith in, not something broadcast during prime time.

Elections should not make anyone any money!

Money you say? Yes, money. Private companes make lots of money during a national election. The companies making the machines (that we cannot see the workings of), have made millions selling them to state officials seeking to implement HAVA. Other companies do the counting in secret. These companies are connected to still other companies who distribute the results of the count to still more companies who broadcast it to us "live" and charge nice high rates for commercial breaks during what should be the peoples event!

I don't think there is another issue more important to the American People right now than this one! How we vote, more importantly, how we count the votes directly impacts our most powerful check on our own government! If our will passes through a third party, that party has the power to manupulate those views and bias the nation as a result. Nobody should tolerate this, yet we see no media coverage and the few real statesmen who do the right things are largely ignored and marginalized for their actions.

Here are the basics of much needed voter reform. If you value your right to vote and have that vote counted, take a hard look at these and send them to your elected officials and demand action. This is more important than war, the economy, healthcare and moral values because we cannot properly address these issues in a way that reflects our best interests without proper representation and that representation happens through our votes! (And how they are counted.)

Respect Americans Voter Rights! (RAVR)

1. Any election must keep a record of actual votes cast in order to be certified. This means voters mark their votes on physical media in ways other humans can read.

2. Votes cast must be counted by the people for the people. This means a public counting process where all parties are represented and accounted for.

3. Independent audits must be mandatory and seperate from the efforts to arrive at the final tally.

4. Polls, particularly exit polls are to be encouraged, provided they do not infringe on basic voter rights; namely, anonymity, freedom from intimidation and discrimination.

5. National ANSI type standards for the formatting of ballots. All ballots must meet minimum standards in order for an election to be certified.

6. Electronic means are only to be used to facillitate rapid communication and analysis of election results. They are not to be used for the count.

7. Elections officials cannot also serve in any partisan campaign efforts as so many of them do now. This prevents partisan interests from tainting the count through rulemaking on spoiled, provisional and absentee / military votes.

Critics will say this will cost too much and take too much time. I beg to differ and this is why:

Retired people are a constant, as are homemakers and others in a position to perform civic duties. We will also find plenty of other people willing and able to help hold an election for the people and by the people. We don't have to pay for these people, we only need to build a process that they can work through.

Distributed counts, under the public eye, sharply limit the potential for fraud seen in this election where centralized counts are the subject of much doubt right now. Why invite disaster when its easy to distribute the problem and incorporate time tested checks and balances? Many people counting votes slowly together gets the count done just as fast as a few machines counting all the votes quickly.

Done right, we can still get solid election returns in the late evening on election day.

Modern electronic communication means can help collect and analyze the data from the distributed pools of people counting votes just as easily as they can from machines, with the added bonus of strict accountability. Fraud in electronic communications will easily be found with audits and polling detailed above.

The money being spent on increasingly complex and obtuse electronic solutions would easily pay for the legislation and education and standards setting necessary for elections run by the people. If we need some advice, why not ask the Europeans? They are doing it right! (Doesn't that humble you just a little?)

You may not agree on all the points I have outlined above and that's fine. I know you agree that your election should be as trustworthy as it can be. Take a moment and express your views to your elected representitives. Encourage trustworthy elections before you no longer have the ability to do so.

Elections should not make anyone any money!

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Mandrate Schmandate...

For the last week or so we have seen literally hundreds of mainstream media reports, all saying essentially the same thing:

The Dems got it wrong and that if we want to move forward we are going to have to reconsider our position on Moral Values.

Honestly, that's bullshit, horseshit and cowshit, and it is clearly time for Democrats to begin speaking up, not cowering down.

But wait you say, "There is a Mandate! President Bush won the election, despite an all out Democratic effort to prevail!" So, you think the voters have spoken 'eh? Before all you Liberal leaning people get too far along in your 'reconsideration' efforts, lets take a moment and critically reconsider the thrust of the message we are hearing today, shall we?

Mandate, schmandate!

I'm afraid I just don't see a clear mandate coming from the, uncertified and unfinished election results. The current record shows a Bush win in both the popular and projected win in the electorial vote. Mind you, the electorial vote is far from being decided just yet --more on that below. That leaves us with the popular vote. Looking at the numbers, we see the nation roughly divided 50/50 with advantage, at this moment, going to Bush. Before I go on, let me make myself clear on the matter of the vote. Bush will retain his advantage in the popular vote going forward, regardless of how various recount and fraud investigation efforts pan out.

This is not a Mandate by any measure folks. A sitting president, who has to resort to every trick in the book, in order to retain his seat of power does not earn a mandate from those successful efforts. No matter how you slice it, about half this country is mighty unhappy with the direction things are going. Mandate means a decisive victory with a clear path forward as a result. The results of this election simply don't stand up to that by any reasonable measure.

Essentially, we have a few million more people voting to move things in the Conservative direction, compared to those Progressive minded people. Keep in mind, both sides posted record voting numbers, and we are told this makes for a clear mandate? I don't buy it and neither should you.

Lets take another look at the electorial projections with an eye toward this mandate we keep hearing about. This year, Ohio seems to be the key state. The current projections, based again off of uncertified election returns, show our sitting president, George Bush, winning by somewhere around 130,000 votes! Mandate? How can you have a mandate when we have pretty serious, and almost un-reported, questions about the returns in Ohio?

Think about it. All we hear is mandate and war, mandate and war, yet evidence continues to mount for a failed election! Evidence that, so far, has gone virtually unreported in the mainstream media. Could it be that powerful media interests want a mandate, so they report one? Given the lack of investigative journalism we are seeing these days, the idea has more merit than one would think at first glance.

Look around. Half of those folks you see agree with you! How can there be a fucking mandate when roughly 5 out of every 10 people see things the same way you see them? It doesn't make any sense, unless you buy what the mainstream media is selling does it? Go ahead and say it: Mandate, schmandate! Feels good doesn't it! Damn straight!

Power in numbers

Time to reconsider your position? Absolutely, but not in the way they want you to.

Begin by seeking out those like minded people around you. Given the numbers, they are not exactly hard to find nor are they in the minority. Talk with one another, share news and information that will add to the Liberal cause, not break it down into something less. Exchange e-mails, websites and other things. Know there are others to talk to and that you are most certainly not alone.

When talking to conservative people, hold your ground. Let them know at least half the country is on your side. Finding middle ground means exactly that, not deciding the other side is right.

Limit your mainstream media consumption for a while. Remember, they are not a neutral party in this. The large media companies stand to benefit from the current administration a lot more than you and I will. This does not mean grabbing your tin foil hat, but it does mean looking at the news you see with a critical eye toward the truth.

There are more of us than there are of them and we are not alone, it just seems that way right now because of what we are being told, not because it is the truth.

Personally, I've had enough, haven't you? Why stop now? There is nothing to be gained by giving in is there? Do you honestly believe the messages of unity we are hearing mean an honest give and take? Has the last 4 years given you any reason to believe it will be different during this next 4 years?

The Democratic message is a good message. It is a message just as good and just as true as it was before election day. None of that has changed, despite reports to the contrary. Believe it, know it, live it. We have truth and the highest regard for our fellow man on our side. There is nothing wrong in that --nothing!

The election is not yet certified!

Let me say that again: The election is not yet certified! Many states vote totals are in question due to abnormalities in the initial results. The exit polls, before being changed to reflect the election day returns, indicate a clear win for the Democrats.

Think about that... The exit poll results where changed about 1:00pm est. to reflect the returns! Why was that done? Why was it done without an explanation to go along with it? If the polls were simply wrong, can't we just know that and move on?

We have been doing exit polling for a very long time. The people who do it are good at what they do. Until the election of 2000, we decided who our next president would be based on exit poll results and projections! Why has this changed? Who made the changes and why were they done? Where is the simple explanation and why could it not stand up without suppressing the exit poll results?

These are pretty serious questions that should be of interest to everyone in America, yet we continue to see: mandate, war, mandate, war, mandate, war....

It just does not add up!

Read a little, you tell me.

(Minor edits affecting form and style, that do not affect initial content, were performed on this post 11/15/04.)

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Yeah, more about voting

Just wanted to toss a couple thoughts out:

Oregon is the only State that has implemented a 100 percent vote by mail program. It is still possible to fill out your ballot on election day and drop it off at an official collection point. For those wanting that election day fever, there you go.

Oregon had record turnout. 87 Percent, I think. Wow! Compared to just about everywhere else, that's amazing. It also happened to be one of the conservative arguments against the program, when it was under consideration. They didn't want the stupid people voting... Just what the fuck do you call FOX News viewers then?

Oregon uses an optical scan system that is fairly tolerant. Just about any mark will work, all you have to do is fill in a lot of the bubble and you are good to go. Use pencil, if you might reconsider, pen if you are committed. Your choice.

Given the problem reports mounting daily, common sense evidence says 100 percent electronic voting is not what we need going forward.* It costs a lot, is complex, and clearly has enough problems to cast any election into doubt. This should be all any true Statesman needs to know.

So, what's the answer?

Optical Scan people. Optical Scan.

The important feature, of Optical Scan systems, is that the actual action of the voter is recorded by the voter and that record of that action is directly used for the final tally, leaving a trail of votes to address problems. This keeps the chain of trust tight, transparent, and voter-verified before count. No electronic system, that does not use paper to actually count the votes can meet these criteria. I'm not sure one can be built simply because of the differences between electronic records and physical ones.

I would like to hear your ideas on this however. Think I am wrong? Sell me, I really want to know!

*Despite alleged efforts to keep telltale records to a minimum, I believe we are going to find solid evidence of foul play during this election. How that evidence affects things going forward remains to be seen. I am watching with interest, and yes obvious hope... This is an interesting time, if you are into voting issues.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Just say no to electronic voting

Ok, I have seen enough problem reports for this election to make it reasonably suspect in my mind. You can learn more here, here and here for starters.

Right now, I am working on a paper that will explain the fundemantal problems Electronic Voting Machines present to the chain of trust necessary for our democracy to remain stable and fair. For now, here is a little thought analogy that should get you thinking about the level of trust these machines deserve.

In this example we have Bob the vote counter, who represents the voting machine, Jane the voter, who obviously represents your typical voter, and Ted the election supervisor. The rest of the analogy closely represents what happens to your vote when it is electronically processed. Mind you, I am not talking about optical scan machines because these have paper records that can be verified later. This is about fully digital machines that carry your vote cast, from voting booth to final tally.

Read through the thought example below and ask yourself if you could honestly trust the results of the election. If you could, or disagree with the analogy, by all means comment below. Sell me, I would love to be wrong at this point.

"A story of trust"

Jane arrives at her designated voting place, ready to vote. Because the number of issues to be decided this year, she brings her hand written notes with her to be sure she gets it all right.

Upon arrival, she meets Ted, the election supervisor. Ted checks Janes voter registration status and informs her that she is at the right place at the right time, eligible to vote. While delivering the good news, Ted hands Jane a small eraseable tablet with all the issues ready for her selection and lets her know she may proceed to the voting place.

At the voting place, Jane proceeds to mark her choices, using her notes for reference, on the tablet in front of her. After double checking her choices, she puts her tablet through the receptacle to Bob, the voting machine.

Bob works alone in a secure room. Bob has been trained and certifed to count the vote. Bob passed the numerous certification tests with flying colors.

During her brief discussion with Ted, Jane was told she can trust Bob because he is in a secure room and certified to handle the vote.

Bob examines the tablet from Jane. As he interpets each of her choices, he calls them out to her for verification. When he hears confirmation from Jane, he records all of Janes choices on his own larger tablet and returns the smaller tablet to Jane so that she may return it to Ted on her way out.

Jane leaves the voting place, returns the tablet to Ted, who erases it so the next voter can start with a clean slate, making the voting cycle complete for Jane.

Bob, meanwhile continues to record voter choices on his large tablet. When his tablet becomes full, he tabulates all the voter choices he recorded, calls his sub-total into the central tabulators, erases his tablet, and continues on. Bob does keep a list of sub-totals obtained during the election just in case new totals are needed for some reason.

At the end of the election, the final tally is obtained and published by the central tabulators.

Honestly, would you trust that election? I would be very interested to hear from you if you would.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Thoughts moving forward

After the election, I decided to ignore the media for a while and just think: What does this mean and how much of that really matters to me?

I'm still going to register Democrat. The neocon movement appears to be quite effective. I don't want to be associated with that. It's not me, that I know for sure.

The impending change to the Supereme Court scares me frankly. Resolving the growing trust issues many Americans have with our government will require judgements from the Supreme Court to resolve.

I have a big trust problem with this administration and what it represents with regard to political discourse. They lie and manupulate and bastardize and have a very strong voice with few checks. They promote unity, not through traditional means, but through force of law. (Ask the folks that wore T-shirts and stickers about their experiences.) --These things are dangerous, but it gets worse.

The electronic voting issue has bothered me since the Help America Vote Act passed after the 2000 election.

The lies and manupulation are worrysome, but combined with the untrustworthy vote and the Supreme Court, equal a new danger we have not yet faced.

For the first time we have a government that is attacking our democracy directly. We have had bad leaders on both sides before, but the people always had the power to address the issue. In the past we had law framed around fair discourse.

Does anybody else here connect the increased deregulation of our powerful media forces with the lack of balance in our government today?

This administration is working hard to limit our ability to be informed about both the issues and its actions, while at the same time building its ability to publish its own views .

The folks on the winning side are going to say this election was decisive and that the people have spoken.

How can we be sure it is their voice we heard and if it was, can we trust decisions made lacking critical facts in a biased environment for discussion?

Why don't we insist on a record of the vote? Not just the numbers, or intermediate machine results, but a true record of what the voters did?

Speaking of orwellian, how come the legislation designed to help America vote does more to hide problems and limit the ability for people to examine and thus trust the process than it does to actually address the problems?

How come Ohio allowed challengers at the polling places, but wanted to discourage exit polling?

Why did Florida install machines with no paper trail?

How come the problematic elections, held prior to the most important election in the history of this nation, were ignored and downplayed in the media?

Why are the workings of our voting machines kept secret? Nothing was secret before, why now?

I think the 2000 election will be historic in that our highest court circumvented the process. 2000 marks the beginning of a new American struggle that, I fear, will take a long while to work out.

That struggle is one for trust and accountability in our democracy, that define, as a nation, who we are and how we do things.

I want to work to find middle ground because it's the fair thing to do, but I don't trust the folks on the other side of the barganing table.