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The RoBlog
Sunday, November 28, 2004
IRV and the Washington Governor's Race
A while back I posted an entry here about Instant Runoff Voting and how I was in favor of such a system.

After this year's Presidential election results were in, I took a spin through the numbers to see if, based on the current process of using an electoral college, any states would have had their results changed if there had not been any other (e.g. Nader or the Libertarian Party) candidates on the ballot. It turns out that, from the numbers I saw at the time (from USAToday.com, I don't have the link handy currently), if you counted all of the votes for alternative candidates for the underdog in each state, nothing would have changed.

In Washington state, however, a clear example of how IRV would be useful has unfolded.

In the race for governor in Washington, the two primary candidates - Christine Gregoire (D) and Dino Rossi (R) - have been within literally a dozen or so votes of each other. This has caused two machine recounts to occur and last I heard (and it's been a few days), much discussion about lawsuits and hand recounts with the threat of hanging and pregnant chads.

The major player in all this turns out to be the Libertarian candidate Ruth Bennett. In a race where nearly 3 million votes were cast, and the difference between the leading candidates is under 100 votes, the third candidate received a tide-turning 63,416 votes, according to the Washington Secretary of State website. Assuming that the people who voted for Bennett were not split down the middle, this represents a lot of weight for the candidate who Bennett's voters favor.

Unfortunately, in the current election structure, the leanings of these individuals towards one or other of the major contestants cannot be known, and there is a good possibility (given the dead-even nature of the race at this point) that Bennett's voters will get stuck with what they consider the least acceptable candidate for the job.

If Instant Runoff Voting had been used, then the Secretary of State, having established that no party had a clear majority, would have the ability to eliminate Bennett from the race (insomuch as she has the fewest votes), and take the next favored candidate for each of the people that voted for Bennett. Most likely this would have definitively decided the race, eliminating the need for lawsuits and discussions about how a hand recount would be detrimental to the health of the state (quite the contrary, in my opinion).

Agree? Disagree? Let me know!
Friday, November 26, 2004
Immersive Real-Time Virtual Presence
A time is likely to come when you will be recording video of everything you see (in fact, it is likely to come fairly soon).

At some point it is likely that a high resolution camera, coupled with high-bandwidth, portable Internet connections, and the always-on nature of your video recording will allow one or more people, with your permission, to see everything that your camera sees.

Adding conference call-like features to this would allow you to converse with one or more people who are seeing what your are seeing in real time.

An external microphone will probably be part of this setup, allowing those people who are tagging along with you to hear everything you hear.

Eventually, along will come setups that allow you to capture a full 360 degrees of your horizontal view, and a great degree of your vertical view. (This may come either by using a camera that captures 360 degrees at once, several cameras that each capture a part of the scene, or other, as yet unimagined or exotic technologies.)

Add to this enough microphones to capture sound in every direction as well.

And finally add to this image processing technology (probably on the recipient's end) that allows people to look around at anything that you could see, without you having to look at it. For example, you could be looking the sidewalk in front of you while one person is looking down and to the side and another is looking behind you and up. As you move your head around, or as the cameras move up and down with your walking motion, the image processing software would take the associated metadata stream of acceleration data, and adjust your viewers viewpoints so they remained steady.

As I was walking down a street last night, I though of how nice it would be to have some of my friends virtually there with me; able to look around, and hear what was going on, and engage in chatter the way we might if we were all actually there.

This morning, it occurred to me that there are many interesting uses for this capability. Take, for example, a military scenario, where a person is physically in a battle field (or, similarly, a police officer responding to a crime in progress). When this person is entering a dangerous area, one or more remote soldiers could connect in to the feed and look around from various vantage points. One virtual soldier could be looking behind the real soldier, covering the rear, while another is scanning for waypoints, while the real soldier focuses on the ground, and navigating obstacles. The three could converse in real time about events as they unfold (this is much like Extreme Programming's pairing concept), leveraging the capability of a small team, without the risk of having all team members present. Furthermore, certain specialists could hop from person to person as various situations warrant it, providing their expert information to an individual soldier, and reporting back their observations from having been on board of many different soldiers over a critical period of time.

My feeling is that this is an example of the types of Internet technologies that will begin to bring us together again, after decades of technologies (including the Internet itself) have driven us ever more apart.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004
Just found this reference on Defense Tech from back in...uh...from...uh, well it seems Defense Tech doesn't put dates on its articles.

Anyway it talks about a plan that the Mayor of Chicago put together to connect 2000 existing video cameras (plus 250 new ones) into a system that can spot "suspicious activity", whatever that may be (the Defense Tech entry quotes heavily from the NY Times which indicates such activity might include wandering aimlessly in circles, or dropping of a package and leaving).

Though there are obvious privacy alarms that are no doubt going off, my question is: what would happen if this system was made publicly accessible? What could YOU do with feeds from 2000 cameras around the city? Would it at all stem the feeling of having the government watch over our shoulders?

Monday, November 22, 2004
Fortune.com - The Car of the Future Is Here
Fortune.com predicts 11 technologies that will be available in the car of 2010. Here's my take ('cause I know you're wondering):

Next-Generation GPS - I think that car systems that use GPS, navigation software, and the Internet (or a dedicated system) to route you around traffic are likely by the predicted 2007 date. Less likely is the on-the-fly offering of discounts on gas when you're running low. I think it will take a few more years to shake out this idea from two points: having your car communicate to business nearby (non-trivial, and will probably be through a proprietary network to begin with), and preventing the perception of such offers as being in-car pop-up ads.

Self-Parking - Already available in the Japanese version of the Toyota Prius (as Fortune.com indicates), it would seem like this could be ready for launch by the predicted 2009 date in the US.

Electronic Stability Control - The predicted date for this is 2004. Somehow I don't see this as a reach.

Night Vision - I see some version of this system every year. I have to believe it will come about soon just by sheer manufacturer effort. The 2008 predicted date seems correct.

External Airbags - I'm sure this must be a problem, and perhaps it's as easy to solve as Fortune.com indicates, but for some reason, I feel this is farther out than the 2008 date. Also, the picture makes me giggle.

Cars by Wire - I've been intrigued by the idea of alternate driving interfaces since I was a little kid pretending I was driving in the back of the car with an Atari joystick. I wonder, however, if people's comfort level with the existing technology will be too high to replace in the near future. Likely it will be market at youth cars first. This kind of interface will be nice when cars can drive themselves; by eliminating the mechanical connections (notably the steering wheel connections), drivers will have more room to work or play while the car is driving. I think the 2012 availability date is not fair for an article that's supposed to be targeting 2010.

Pre-Collision Radar/Adaptive Cruise Control - As a person who recently mucked up the front of my car, I will be happy when my car can perform the simple act of beating me to the breaks when a collision is imminent. All the better if it prepares the vehicle for a crash. Given that we see this already on at least 3 luxury cars, I'm kind of surprised that the availability date is 2009, but it's probably more costly to implement than I expect (or, rather, the price fall-off over time isn't as fast as I'd expect).

Lane Departure Warning System - I just read a brief article on this in the last day or so. Seems interesting, but I expect this may be too complicated a problem to handle with just video processing alone. Add some GPS in there, and you're probably closer. 2009 is probably about right, if not a touch early.

Adaptive Headlights - Maybe. I'm not convinced it's a necessity, and therefore am skeptical that it will find its way into regular cars any time soon, but since Fortune.com indicates only that it is likely to be in luxury cars by 2009, I'd probably agree.

Blind-Spot Warning - One of several cameras that will begin appearing on regular cars in the next 10 years (a passing camera mounted, forward-facing, on the passenger mirror is another I expect to see), I think this technology has a good chance of making it by the predicted 2009 availability date.

Eye Monitoring for Drowsiness - This is another technology that seems to get a lot of attention lately (and another camera in the car). I know this is probably a big deal, but it will be interesting to see how well these systems will work in the long term, and if people are interested enough in them to pay extra. In luxury cars by 2009? Sure. In any car by 2015? Maybe not.

Ok, there you have my predictions of the predictions. Drop me a message in 6 years and let's see how well I did.

Fortune.com - The Car of the Future Is Here
Saturday, November 20, 2004
Fact-Free Argumentation
I ran across an op/ed piece by William F. Buckley, Jr., that discusses how liberal the nations' colleges are. Mr. Buckley makes the assumption that colleges are the churches of the liberals, and you must be one to get in (as a professor).

I can't speak to whether or not this is true, as I have never tried to become a professor at a college, but I've been wondering lately about the weird skew the cities in the US have towards being liberal, and the rural areas for being conservative. Are the cities liberal because people run into many different ideas and people all of the time, and this causes city dwellers to be more open minded (similarly, do rural people have much less exposure to people with differing viewpoints and are therefore less challenged on what they personally believe)? Or do people who are liberal have an affinity for the city and choose to move to it, leaving only the conservatives behind?

As much as the answer to this is not yet clear to me, it would seem that the same sort of cause and effect conundrum is at play in the nations colleges. Are college professors more liberal because they are exposed to more ideas, or, as Buckley suggests, because colleges actively choose only liberal professors?

Buckley provides some anecdotal evidence for the latter point, and this is what ultimately concerns me. Reading his piece, I felt like he was a conservative before I even knew where he was going with the piece. As such, it makes me feel like he already knew what he thought about the idea before he even looked into it. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy, of sorts.

I'm increasingly concerned about the effect of people with a pulpit (on any side of a discussion) who espouse a particular opinion without showing their work, and, worse, who actively ignore good solid evidence that contradicts their arguments (I am by no means implying that there is such evidence in Mr. Buckley's case).

I think it's finally time that we demand that people cite what information supports their conclusion in a way that allows it to be falsified. If it is falsified, we should demand that they stop using that information; go find new information, or change your argument. To do otherwise is to spend a lot of valuable energy going nowhere. If we're going to build a better world, we need to have a knowledge base that we can trust to build on top of, and pure opinions stated with the assumptive authority of fact are harmful to all of us in the long run.

At the very least, opposing sides can put more energy into finding new evidence for their opinions, or new opinions to support their general goals that are stronger and more valid that ones that are nullified, rather than just spouting them out as if they were true all along.

In an ideal world, sites equivalent to FactCheck.org, where non-biased criticism would be dished out to all comers, would flourish, and people would flock to them to find out what things are valid arguments, and which are not. Opponents could fight it out publicly on such sites to prove or disprove a claim; winner take all (for that claim).

Unfortunately, my feeling is that most people aren't interested in the validity of a point. Rather they are interested in if it supports their opinion or not. This doesn't mean that the country's falling apart, but it does mean that progress will be slow in coming until the population puts some value on accuracy and correctness.

Gizmodo : Hitachi's Tabletop Display
Ok, today I'm pretty much just reprinting everything from Gizmodo. It's probably just faster if you subscribe to them directly.

Anyway, Gizomodo has a report (via a link 4 times removed) about tabletop display from Hitachi that you can interact with directly. A nice idea for certain collaborative situations. Especially if you could interact with a remote one simultaneously.

Gizmodo : Hitachi's Tabletop Display
More from Gizmodo, ringback tones to be offered on a cell system near you.

In case you didn't know (I didn't) ringback tones are apparently custom ringtones you can select that people will hear when they call YOU.

I personally think it will be more interesting when a ringtone that you have selected plays on the phone of whomever you are calling. In that way, people will know it is you when you call, and you can standardize the ring tone that is you where ever you call (it will have to be overrideable, of course).

Now everyone will know that it is me when their phone starts belting out a heavy metal cover of "Teddybears' Picnic".
Epson's Electronic Ink RFID = 21st Century Price Tags
Thank goodness for Gizmodo and its translation from Japanese, otherwise I'd never hear about interesting things like Epson's combination of digital paper with radio frequency ID (RFID) tags before it was already passe'.

The idea is to cut the cost of updating prices in a store. You can expect that this will help usher in a wave of real-time supply/demand pricing which, while in theory, could be good for shoppers who are looking for overstock items, probably won't be as good as it sounds when stores implement it with price floors, but no price ceilings.

Don't expect fixed pricing to go away any time soon, but real-time pricing changes should still be interesting to watch.

Gizmodo: Epson's Electronic Ink RFID = 21st Century Price Tags
Monday, November 15, 2004
Here's a shirt that records ECG data and transmits it to a bluetooth device (the article says to a cell phone, hopefully it can transmit to PDAs as well).

This is part of the first wave of ubiquitous, self-monitoring clothing. Unlike jackets with built-in MP3 players, clothes that have specialized monitoring capabilities, like temperature, heart rate, and perspiration levels (to name but a few) will actually be useful devices in the future. Like regular clothes, however, they will need to find a way to survive laundry day.


Via we make money not art and Gizmodo.
Oh. My. God.
Frankly, I don't know what else to say. If you haven't already, check out Citroen's Dancing Robot commercial.
Sunday, November 14, 2004
Prediction Thresholds
It strikes me that there are thresholds of time over which various types of predictions of the future are valid. For example, the threshold for predictability of quantum events may be very small (if possible at all); which is to say that after some period of time from now, the ability to make a meaningful prediction has dropped to zero.

What is interesting about this is that this may be true for things higher up the abstract hierarchy (at some point I'll have to post something about Peter Thiel's (Co-Founder of PayPal) presentation at Accelerating Change 2004 and how that inspired a hierarchical model of reality for me, and what that means and why it's important). For example, the stock market might be predictable at a threshold of 10E6, economies at 10E8, and the like. It would be interesting if we could classify all of the types of things we would want to make predictions on the future about and see if there are categories we could group them into that have the same predictability time threshold. Further, it would be interesting to see what the relationship is of those things with short predictability thresholds, and those things with longer predictability thresholds.

Friday, November 12, 2004
The Evolution of an Idea
Tell me if this rings true:

For infrastructure-type innovations, there is a general unveiling process that seems to happen. Early on, the knowledge of the new innovation is held by a small few. At some point the concept is sufficiently baked to be taken up by the general public and a period of rapid expansion in exposure to the idea follows. Ideas are thrown around about all of the different ways that the new idea can be applied. These ideas swing far and wide and help serve as a sounding board for all of the conceivable applications for the idea. At some point the buzz factor dies off as no products hit the market. Some relatively long period of time later, products using the idea start emerging but with much less hype due to the hangover from the initial round of discussion. The breadth that the released products cover is significantly reduced from the speculative phase as most of the ideas are untenable for reasons relating to actual economics/interest.

This would explain why futurists tend to make predictions about how we will all be living in plastic homes with rocket cars powered by atomic energy and equipped with laser cannons. So much buzz is generated in the speculative phase that it seems that surely a good percentage of what is being discussed must come into being.

If this is true, then it will help in the making of predictions about the future to be able to identify ideas that are in this stage and find ways to put a limit on what may actually be a result of such an idea.
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Pretty Purple Map

According to the Geomblog, this map is everywhere, but I just ran across it and think it's pretty cool, so I'm posting it too!

It sort of helps answer my wonderings about whether we're a nation of two polar opposites, or grouped right around the dividing line.

UPDATE: I originally (mere moments ago) forgot to attribute the map included here to Robert Vanderbei of Princeton University. I also failed to point out that the reason I was looking at Geomblog was because of their cool maps that show counties with their area proportional to, as near as I can tell, their population (I'm still reading that page so I haven't quite figured it out yet). SHAME ON ME!
A link to li'l ole me?
WOW! Someone linked to me! Crazy! I'm quite honored.

And here I thought I was talking to myself.

Of course the entry that links to me is better written than my original article.

I find it interesting that the author of this entry feels that all of the cameras watching you day-to-day "violate our private space by recording our every move without our knowledge and really without our informed consent."

As I've mentioned before, and had the wonderful opportunity to discuss at the recent Accelerating Change 2004 conference, what we mean by "privacy" is increasingly something we will have to re-think as more and more sensors are watching what we do.

It's interesting, I think, to ponder what the difference is between having a live camera tracking you, and having a person do it directly. Certainly we don't think that if we are walking down the street it is a violation of our privacy if people watch us. Further, I would suspect if we found a person following us around, we'd be threatened, and creeped out about it, but would we really think they violated our privacy?

People already take our image with them in their brain, and subject it to whatever tortures they would like. What is it, EXACTLY, that makes us feel violated when someone does this to a recording medium other than a brain? Is it the possibility that they will share video of us picking our nose? Or that they will manipulate the video to show us doing something even worse?

What do we really have to hide that, when we're in public (it's a whole different ballgame when we're in private spaces, but one we'll have to struggle with as well), we feel weird about being recorded?

At the Accelerating Change conference, I got to hear a gentleman (Andreas Olligschlaeger, I think, but I'm not entirely sure) give a presentation about the difficulties that law enforcement has in integrating the massive amounts of disparate data that it collects. Afterwards, I was walking by the podium as he was talking to some people who had more questions for him, when I heard him say, "What people don't realize is that they have already given their privacy away to private industry." To which I felt compelled to point out that the risks are pretty low if private industry has my data; all the better to give me the right pop-up at the right time. But the risks are greater with government where you can really get into trouble, and we don't trust our government.

My point being that I sympathize with those who feel like being recorded, and perhaps digitally followed, is discomforting. At the same time, what are we REALLY afraid of? So what if the government can know where you are at all times? I'd love to hear what anyone has to say on this. In my mind, the jury's still out and we have some self-reflection to do as individuals and as a society, and we probably ought to do it soon. In 5 years or so, we'll all be recording everything we hear (if not see) all the time anyway, and I'm guessing the issues will be at least as severe as when the government can track us wherever we go.

Jack (author of the entry that linked to me), if you ever come back, let me know what scares you most about being watched. Let's have a conversation and see if maybe you can show me something that will validate my paranoia, or perhaps we'll discover that our notions of privacy will have to change to allow for the fact that little brothers will be everywhere.

IN3 Network: Tech Policy
Friday, November 05, 2004
Light transmitting concrete
Ok, this is pretty freaking cool: Concrete that passes light through it. For people who are addicted to natural light (unlike myself), this could add a little ray of sunshine on an otherwise stuck-in-the-office kind of day.

I wonder about painting it, however. My first thought was that you could just add pigment into the concrete mix, but that doesn't help you if you decide that you can't stand the cafe-o-lait color you originally picked, and now want to trade out for mocha cappuccino.

Also worth noting is that the light is probably bi-directional, which may be less of a problem during the day, but at night means that people walking by outside can see you instead of the other way around. Of course, a popular existing technology with many of the same features (called a "window") has this same problem, so maybe it's not such a big deal.

we make money not art: Light transmitting concrete
Thursday, November 04, 2004
TIME Magazine: Visions of Tomorrow
Here's a feature from Time magazine about visions of what lies ahead for us in various categories that people like to think about, including sports, medicine, and, of course, gadgets.

I haven't read it yet, but if it's anything like they've done in the past, it's probably worth at least a skim.

TIME Magazine: Visions of Tomorrow
Competitive Humanoid Projects in the World
A nice summary of various humanoid robot projects from around the world (as long as by "world" you mean the eastern hemisphere and Canada; surely there is at least one such project in the US?).

From the Kibertron project site, which purports to have another such project in the works.

I only skimmed the rest of the site, but given that all of the photos are renderings, I'm guessing that this is either a purely theoretical project (or possibly a hoax), or is in the extreme early stages, as I'd expect to see at least a real photo of a dismembered arm or some such on the site somewhere.

:: KIBERTRON :: Competitive Humanoid Projects in the World ::
Wednesday, November 03, 2004
NYX Wearable Displays
Finally, a coat that allows me to fulfill my lifelong dream of putting my Meyers-Briggs type (INTP) on my back so that everyone can flock to me to tell me how interesting it must be to be me.


Why are you laughing?

I suppose you'll use this coat with a built-in display to show everyone your Star Wars name. As if THAT wasn't 5-minutes-ago.

Anyway, it's pretty cool, though low-res. Requires a Palm with software, and no indication on price or how many times it can go through the wash (maybe just once?). The coat has a display on the front and back, and from the video clip, it looks like they use the same text.

Josh Rubin: Cool Hunting: NYX Wearable Displays
Monday, November 01, 2004
Hi there! I'm trying a little experiment on loose social networks by placing a URL (to some ranting I wrote about Instant Runoff Voting) into the status message of my instant messenger. You can help the experiment by leaving a comment with how you found this site if you didn't click on the link in my IM directly. Thanks!

Elections, Party of Two Please. Elections, Party of Two.
From time to time I hear people complaining about our two party political system and how we only have a choice between two people that suck, just in different ways (the most recent episode of South Park expressed exactly this sentiment).

I appreciate this sentiment even if I believe that there are perfectly valid reasons that this might be the case (subject for another entry), and got to wondering why it is that alternative political parties seem to be making very little headway.

The most obvious answer is that they don't represent the majority of American's viewpoints, but the recent attempts by the Democrats to keep Ralph Nader off of the ballot in many states has driven home the idea that something more is at play here. If one party feels like it must drive off a party more-or-less ideologically similar to itself for fear of the other party "spoiling" the election, perhaps the system needs a good looking at.

The other day, it struck me what one of the biggest obstacles was to the emergence of serious independent parties was: the voting process.

As it currently stands, if you want to show your support for a candidate for public office that does not come from the Republican or Democratic party, you are forced to make a choice: vote for the person you believe to be the best choice, and possibly get saddled with the person who you believe to be the worst choice; or vote for the least objectionable candidate that you think can actually win.

This kind of a system forces a wide-spread mediocrity to arise whereby people continually make choices based on who COULD win rather than who SHOULD win. And since a good many people would rather ensure that the candidate that they find most objectionable does not win, the only time one can make a statement by casting a vote is when the most objectionable candidate does not appear to have any chance at all to win.

Fortunately there is a solution - actually there are several of them.

Because the 2000 election had such obvious and serious errors in it, there was much talk about alternative voting processes. It was at that time that I learned about Instant Runoff Voting (IRV).

The basic idea of IRV is that you rank all of the candidate for a position from most favorable to least favorable, based purely on who you would think would do the best job. The person you placed highest on your list gets your vote, and all votes are added up this way.

If one candidate emerges with a simple majority, that candidate wins.

If the results of the election do not produce a candidate with a simple majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated from the list. Everyone who voted for that candidate as most preferred now has their second highest vote counted instead of their first, and these votes are added to the rest of the votes already counted. This process continues until one candidate emerges with a simple majority of all votes.

So if you had voted for Michael Badnarik from the Libertarian party first, independent candidate Ralph Nader second, Democrat John Kerry third, and George Bush last, the vote might go like this:

No candidate wins a simple majority after the first round. Michael Badnarik, receiving the fewest votes, is eliminated from the list. Since you ranked him highest on your list, but he is no longer a valid candidate, your next highest vote is counted; the vote for Ralph Nader. For those people that cast their highest vote for one of the remaining candidates, nothing changes; their vote still goes to the first person on their list.

Let's say that still no candidate has a simple majority, and Nader has the fewest votes. Nader is then removed from the list. Since your top two candidates are no longer valid choices, your vote is now cast for your third choice: John Kerry.

Now assume that Kerry, based on the fact that people who voted for either Badnarik or Nader prefer Kerry to Bush, has a simple majority. In this way, the voting process goes down your list from most preferred to least preferred, leaving you with, perhaps not your favorite candidate, but at least not trading your desire to support a minor party candidate into indirect support for your LEAST favorable candidate.

Great, but why do I care?
But if you are a member of one of these parties, here's what's REALLY important: The true number of people who support your party can be known. People can cast their vote for you knowing full well that if you aren't elected they could still get a result they felt good about. It means that people won't cast a vote for who CAN win, but who SHOULD win. It means that the true strength of your support can be made visible and not hidden behind safety votes. It might make the press and the major parties stand up and take notice at just how many people endorse your ideas. Of course it could also reveal that your base was really just a bunch of radical crazies who really didn't care if the devil himself was elected, by golly they were going to vote for you (meaning that IRV didn't increase the number of people that voted for you), but that's the chance you take.

It is for this reason that I feel like everyone who wants serious a serious change in the leadership of the US should support a system like IRV (there are other similar alternatives, though I prefer IRV to them), ESPECIALLY any alternative party offering up a candidate for office.

Bring out all the crazies, the far right and the far left. Now we can have a truly varied political dialog as everyone can get their share of votes without the whole system devolving into chaos.

For more information about IRV, check out this site: http://www.instantrunoff.com/

Scientific American had an article a while back about alternative voting strategies that's worth checking out even though it downplays IRV (unfairly in my opinion) in favor of another strategy.

Think I'm full of it? See a glaring mistake in my argument? Don't think I can explain my way out of a paper bag? Leave a comment!

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