Voting expert tells The Awl: There are reasons to be concerned about voting machines, but vast conspiracies aren't one of them

Tagg Romney doesn't own Ohio's voting machines. And Joseph Lorenzo Hall, senior staff technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology in D.C., says that a lot of the fears the public has about electronic voting are equally unfounded. The biggest thing to worry about, he tells The Awl's Maria Bustillos, is that we're so busy sending around email forwards about ostensible vast conspiracies that we're not paying enough attention to the very real security and tech problems that do exist in the voting system.

Maria Bustillos: I no longer know what to believe in media reports of electronic election tampering. What are professionals most worried about, at this point, in this election?

Joseph Lorenzo Hall: It's a very complex area and unfortunately one that lends itself to dearths of information and poor intuition… which is how Bello and Fitrakis get way out into left field. Extending email/fax voting to displaced NJ voters is making us very nervous… What I think we expect to see a lot of—and it's not as sexy as conspiracy theory—is the aging of this machinery, as much of it is 10- to 15-year-old computer equipment. Another not-so-sexy source of problems will be from newer online voter registration systems, an electronic version of pollbooks. We may see strange reports of people not being registered or being marked down as already voted. Much of that will seem to some like fraud, but it is more likely poorly checked voter registration rolls. People don't like having to cast provisional ballots, but they need to understand that if you're registered and at the right location, the ballot will count.

Maria: Why do you think we haven't been able to solve these problems, given that we've had years in which to do so?

Joe: Two reasons: 1) no one cares about it until presidential election years, and mostly right before that election; and, 2) there is no regular source of federal funding for elections (when it comes to a state or local government choosing between spending money to fill potholes—which affect people every day—or making elections better, they will fill the potholes).

Read the rest of the interview at The Awl

Image: Lonely Diebold Voting Machine, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from subfinitum's photostream

HowTo figure out Windows 8

Windows 8's new UI is elegant, minimalist and, for those used to the older versions, utterly baffling. Sean Hollister's lengthy guide to the new OS will have you figuring it out in no time. tl;dr just hover the mouse in the corners.

Honda designs a car "for women," the Fit She's

At left, the new Honda Fit She's, a car available in predictable pink or what the maker calls "eyeliner brown." The vehicle is designed for the female market in Japan, and costs around $17.5K USD at current exchange rates. Official website here, in Japanese.

The Honda Fit She's features a “Plasmacluster” climate control system the maker claims can improve skin quality, a windshield that prevents wrinkles, a pink interior stitching, "tutti-frutti-hued chrome bezels," and an adorable heart instead of an apostrophe in “She’s.”

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The coming civil war over general purpose computing

Even if we win the right to own and control our computers, a dilemma remains: what rights do owners owe users?

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"Do things that have never been done before,” says guy who invented computer

Joel Runyon writes about "An Unexpected Ass Kicking," intellectually speaking, which he received in a Portland coffee shop from Russell Kirsch—the 80-year-old man who invented America's first internally programmable computer. Kirsch isn't a big fan of Apple products.

Coming soon: Computer finds the face of Jesus in a photo of toast

You know how your brain likes to see faces where there are not actually any faces? (Hint: This tendency, called pareidolia, is the force behind all those faces of Jesus turning up on slices of toast.) Turns out, computer programs can suffer from pareidolia, too. (Via Alexis Madrigal)

An encounter with Russell Kirsch, inventor of the world's first internally programmable computer

Joel Runyon:

"That’s the problem with a lot of people”, he continued, “they don’t try to do stuff that’s never been done before, so they never do anything, but if they try to do it, they find out there’s lots of things they can do that have never been done before."

I nodded my head in agreement and laughed to myself – thinking that would be something that I would say and the coincidence that out of all the people in the coffee shop I ended up talking to, it was this guy. What a way to open a conversation.The old man turned back at his coffee, took a sip, and then looked back at me.

“In fact, I’ve done lots of things that haven’t been done before”, he said half-smiling.

Not sure if he was simply toying with me or not, my curiousity got the better of me.

"Oh really? Like what types of things?, All the while, half-thinking he was going to make up something fairly non-impressive."

"I invented the first computer."

ZX Spectrum is 30

Sinclair's ZX Spectrum, the astoundingly successful sub-£100 personal computer, is 30 years old today. [BBC. Photo: Iñaki Quenerapú]

Commodore 64 creator dies

"We need to build computers for the masses, not the classes" — Jack Tramiel [Mercury News] Rob

Put Alan Turing on the £10 note!

Peter Flint sez, "Alan Turing, computer pioneer and geek hero, is generally credited with helping, via his work at the top-secret Bletchley Park code-breaking centre, to shorten World War 2 by anything up to two years. He tragicaly took his own life after his (then-illegal) homosexuality came to light. One way to commemorate his work and to make his legacy more widely understood waould be to include his picture on the next £10 note. Sign the petition and help this to happen!" The richest person in Britain would be Turing-complete. Cory

Thumbdrive computer up for pre-order

Cotton Candy, a computer the size of a (big) thumbdrive, is available for pre-order and will ship in March. The $199 machine, which runs Ubuntu or Android 4, has a 1.2GHz ARM CPU, 1GB of RAM, and HD video acceleration. [FXI via Ars Technica]

Evil computer just wants to be friends

In the tradition of The Shining re-cut to look like an uplifting comedy, comes this music video, which repurposes scenes from several movies—most prominently 2001: A Space Odyssey—to tell the story of a misunderstood computer that accidentally hurts the ones it loves.

The song is "Limited" by Jascha. The video was created by my friend John Pavlus (who has also made some cool films about entropy and the Antikythera Mechanism). He says:

It seemed like a fun challenge to take images that have acquired so much "baggage" over the years — like the glowering cyclops eye of HAL from 2001, which has become visual shorthand for "evil machine" — and try to attach completely opposite emotional associations to them. What if something like HAL wasn't evil at all, but just misunderstood in its intentions, like a puppy who plays too rough with its owner? That's exactly the image that Jascha's plaintive refrain in "Limited" put into my head. Remixing material from five very different films creates a necessarily impressionistic approach to telling a story, so maybe the story this video tells in your head isn't the same one that it tells in mine. Either way I hope it's a good one.

Video Link

How Computers Work

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How Lord Sugar taught me to hack stuff

This piece was originally published on a now-defunct website for general audiences. It now lives on here in vaguely inappropriate perpetuity

My first computer was a Sinclair ZX Spectrum, most likely bought at Dixons in Worthing, England, circa 1986. But that's not the one I'd like to talk about, because it was defective and went right back to the store.

Dad, convinced by Clive Sinclair's legendary quality control that you get what you pay for, opted for the expensive Amstrad CPC over a replacement or a Commodore 64. Together, these three machines were the ruling triumvirate of 8-bit home computing in Thatcher's Britain. The Amstrad wasn't much different to the Commodore -- brighter graphics, tinnier sound -- but came with a built-in tape deck, a crisp color monitor, and a decent warranty.

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Luxury computers

As its qualities are determined by the cutting edge of engineering rather than fashion or component cost, technology defines a competing system of value to traditional luxury. That hasn't stopped Bentley aiming for the old-school appeal with its curious clutch-style $20,000 laptop. Though about as powerful as a late-1990s toilet seat iBook, it even scooped the prestigious Microsoft Fashion PC Award.

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