Tag: computers

Should America vote online?

Should America vote online?

Today is election day in much of the US.  It isn’t a Presidential Election so many people won’t vote. Most municipalities will have a few referendums, some school board officials, and maybe a judge or city councilman on the ballot.  Since it is not a big election with a lot of TV time, the turnout was relatively low and so conversations start to theorize about voting online.

The argument goes that I can buy many things if not everything that I need online, why can’t I vote? This is much the argument that CNN made today. Unfortunately one cannot make this comparison and even if that comparison was valid, we still shouldn’t do it.

  1. Ecommerce is not as safe as you think it is.
  2. It is inherently unfair to the poor.

Ecommerce is not as safe as you think it is

In the case of ecommerce there is a level of risk that is taken by the seller, bank, and user.  That risk is managed but is far from perfect.  It also requires a fairly high level of personal data to be shared and yet is still not foolproof.  The estimated fraud rate is at 0.9% which is far higher than is allowed in voter counting error!  In addition, stores reject over 2% of all transactions.

In most municipalities, a recount can be justified if the race is within one percent.  If we would implement a system based on our existing ecommerce technologies that would force a recount if the vote was within 4 or 5% (1% for too close, 0.9% for fraud, 2.5% for obvious fraud).  Would you accept it if the voting system said it doesn’t believe that this you are a valid voter so it is rejecting it and you will now need to go to your voting booth even though it is 5:45PM.  You would almost certainly sign the petition of your candidate saying that you were denied the right to vote even though you were legitimate and therefore the votes should be recounted or invalidated.

Couple this with the safety and honesty of voting today. In the US, a voter can be harassed and beaten up before and after they enter the polls but once they walk into the building they are very safe.  Unless they specifically ask for assistance, they have no one looking over their shoulder. Even when they ask for assistance the process is usually two people of opposite parties help the individual to insure no undue influence is happening.  Contrast that to the activist preacher that has coffee and cookies at his house and invites all of his members to come over and use his computer to vote and is right there to help you with all of the intricacies including making sure you push the right radio buttons.

With ecommerce fraud, there is the transfer of goods, services, or money to the criminal.  This means that there are clues as to that criminal’s identity and potentially over time the police can catch that criminal.  With internet voting, it happens once or maybe twice per year and the transfer of wealth is extremely hard to connect.

The ecommerce systems also requires a huge amount of personal data that consumers are willing to share with their bank and their store but NOT their government.  Can you imagine the outcries if you were required to have a credit card or a bank account and a phone number to vote!  In the process of checking your credit card, the processing company can check to see if you are paying your bills – no way the government is going to get that right.

Until we allow a national identification system with biometrics, there really can be no online voting and you shouldn’t trust it if it was there.

It is inherently unfair to the poor

The bigger issue is that it is heavily biased to the rich and likely even the white voters. We already have complaints that internet access is difficult for poor and colored people (Jesse Jackson likes to talk about this in his speeches).

Without being too racist or too broadly generalized, rich white people that can afford to have lots of computers in their homes (1 plus for every adult for sure) could easily vote without having to brave the storms, ice, and cold.  It would almost certainly give them nearly 100% participation and they normally vote Republican or at least are more likely to vote Republican.

But what about the working stiff that is barely making minimum wage and therefore cannot afford to own a couple computers with high speed internet.  Let him brave the snow and ice. He is poor and generally speaking is a Democrat so make him go to the voting booth in the back of some school or church, wait in line, and fill out the manual forms that are reserved for the poor people.  The really travesty is that since there will be less rich people at the polls then we don’t need so many of those expensive polling machines and booths and we can have fewer polling locations. Those poor people can take the bus farther to vote.

So even when it is technically possible to vote online, until we can make the access to that voting infrastructure equal we shouldn’t do it. Thurgood Marshall taught us that “separate but equal” is never possible. We cannot make it easier to vote for the wealthy than it is for the poor. It probably already is slanted this way with access to transportation and more flexible work hours but at least all people, rich or poor, need to trudge to the same voting location to make their voice heard.

AT&T is whining about the iPhone

AT&T is whining about the iPhone

There is an article in the Wall Street Journal that has AT&T whining about the cost of supporting the data plans for the iPhone.  Seems that with all of the really cool apps that the iPhone has, they tend to load up on the data! I suppose AT&T’s complaints are so that they can keep offering affordable phone data packages on sites like Raise as Cricket Wireless, one of their phone package brands, is selling like hot cakes for data hungry customers.

But AT&T will just have to deal with it as the iPhone is by far the coolest product in the mobile world. It has also set the standard for all other phone developers and networks to aspire to.  No surprise, the quality of the apps is excellent (check out this site that reviews iPhone apps). Because of this, there is no way that we are going to roll back time and start to use a less flexible and featured product.

AT&T may not like it but Apple and it’s iPhone have given them first mover advantage in mobile computers.  Everyone else is trying to play catch up.  If AT&T screws it up, the competition will be all over them.

Here are portions of their article “Demands on Network Are an iPhone Hang-Up”

Users of iPhone download games, video and other Web data at two to four times the rate of other smartphone users, according to comScore. Yet AT&T charges iPhone subscribers the same fee of $30 a month for data that it levies on other smartphone customers. And aside from restricting certain activities, like file sharing, AT&T doesn’t limit how much data can be downloaded.

But Web applications popular with iPhone customers are bandwidth hogs. A recent analysis by Alcatel-Lucent of North American wireless network use during the midday hour on one day found Web browsing was consuming 32% of data-related airtime but 69% of bandwidth, while email used 30% of data airtime but only 4% of bandwidth. Email taxes network resources but in a different way.

As the proportion of customers with iPhones grows — 5.9 million 3G iPhones were activated in the last three quarters, 7.5% of AT&T’s total subscribers — the resulting growth in downloading and Web browsing will strain AT&T’s network. AT&T will need to add cell towers and spend more on the back-haul lines that connect the towers to the rest of the network.


The falling cost of voice minutes and additions of lower-end customer has offset growth of text messaging and other data services. Voice and texting use little bandwidth and are lucrative.

Now, new customers are harder to come by. The question is whether new data revenues the industry is banking on — from Web-browsing and entertainment services — will be as profitable, at least as measured by return on invested capital. That looks doubtful. To ensure networks have the capacity to offer these services, particularly bandwidth-heavy offerings like video streaming, carriers will have to make heavy capital investment. Both AT&T and Verizon are building the next-generation 4G network, each spending more than $9 billion last year on new wireless spectrum, as well as $6 billion annually on overall capacity.


In the short term, carriers should abandon unlimited data pricing plans. Both AT&T and Verizon Wireless already charge extra for heavy users with wirelessly connected laptops. They will have to contemplate similar strategies for smartphone users.

Setting the right price won’t be easy. With competition, the temptation to discount will be hard to avoid. And there’s no guarantee that customers will pay as much for entertainment as for voice-calling and email.

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Polaroid – a testimony to bad management

Polaroid – a testimony to bad management

Is there a brand name that is better than Polaroid?

I am sure that there is but not too many.  Coke and Pepsi come to mind.  Mac is probably more popular.  Perhaps Levi’s and Mercedes.  There may be a dozen or two others but to be honest, if someone says Polaroid you instantly know what it is: a camera that takes a picture and spits it out immediately to be enjoyed by you and others.  What a perfect idea for the US where we are known for our lack of patience and need for instant gratification.

Today, multimedia dominates the Internet and the computer industry.  The ability to interact with and use images and movies drives the sale of most computers.  In fact, a recent Apple v. PC discusses the ability of the Mac to manage volumes of digital images.

Mac VS PC Stacks

So how did a company that was synonymous with instant gratification and images fail so miserably?  Below, I have a Wall Street Journal article where the company was just auctioned off for a miserable $53M.  It was only a decade or so ago that this would have been about a week’s worth of sales!

I am sure the business schools of the world have case studies on Polaroid.  At least they should.  It is a testimony to a management that just plain messed up.  I sometimes wonder if some companies actually try to fail since they do it so well and convincingly.  GM would probably fall into this pool of companies!

I feel sorry for everyone that trusted this screwed up management.  I am sure that Mr. Land has been rolling over in his grave so much that his skeleton is likely is ground to dust.  Rest in peace, Mr. Land.  Hopefully the new owners of this icon will do better and preserve your legacy.

Private-equity firm Patriarch Partners LLC bested other bidders in a court auction to buy Polaroid Corp.’s assets out of bankruptcy for $52.7 million in cash and stock.

A Patriarch-controlled holding company will acquire Polaroid’s assets, including the Minnetonka, Minn., company’s intellectual property, name and brand, according to papers filed Thursday with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in

Patriarch offered $44.9 million in cash and a 12% stake in the newly formed company, which will hold Polaroid’s assets. That proposal topped lead bidder Genii Capital S.A., which offered $42 million for the company that invented instant photography.

“We look forward to reconnecting Polaroid with its history of innovation in photography,” Patriarch Chief Executive Lynn Tilton said in a statement. “We intend to continue rebuilding the brand of this great American company on a worldwide scale.”

Patriarch intends to position Polaroid as the “leading brand in digital instant photography,” and will continue to sell other consumer electronics under the brand name.

A hearing to approve the sale is scheduled for Monday.

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RANT! emails again – 1 of 2

RANT! emails again – 1 of 2

It is time to rant about email again. Yes, I know that email is the greatest thing of the Internet. It has become the “killer app” that has truly driven corporate America to provide computers to all of its white collar work force. More than Word or Excel, email has become essential to today’s workforce. For this reason, we need to chastise those that screw it up.


Putting tables and graphs in an email is bad. You should use the rule of thumb that the reader is going to look at it in a pure text view (like on a phone). Don’t use bullets – use dashes instead or an asterisk (*) instead.

If you must have a highly formatted document, put it into an attachment also so that it can be viewed with another program with the formatting. I suggest you simply save the email as HTML to your desktop before you send it and that attach that resulting file. This allows the reader to open the document in a browser to see the formatting.

Here is some related reading for you to enjoy:
RANT! Incomplete emails
Become a Master of E-Mail Etiquette
Email Etiquettes to use

More on this topic later!

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RANT! Airports and electricity

RANT! Airports and electricity

I travel a fair amount in my job. I also need to be connected to the web regularly so I carry a Windows Mobile based phone so that I can get email quickly and occasionally go out to a site.

Even though I carry this phone, I still need to hook up my laptop on an occasional basis. This allows me to grab emails that are too big, have attachments that I can’t read on my phone or check a site that doesn’t format down to my phone (I am sure that I will rant about these things in the future).

But as I sit here on the floor of an airport leaning against the wall just so I can get some more power, I am fuming. Why can’t airports realize that their best customers are businesspeople that need access to power? As I write this post, I have had a dozen people look at me with envy because I found the outlet. Two people have even whispered to me to let them know when I am almost done so that they can get in line for my wonderful floor seat.

Maybe I will start a website that has electrical outlet in airport hints! I bet I could sell memberships in such a needed site. Of course, this would be totally unnecessary if the airports would just PUT IN MORE OUTLETS WHERE PEOPLE SIT!

I am done with this topic for now but I reserve the right to rant more on it someday.

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