November 25, 2002

FEC: looking out for... well, not *us*. Politics | FEC approves salaries for candidates

Get this: now candidates can *take a salary* from political donations equal to the lower of either their current pay or the pay that they would be getting from the office they were running for.

Then, the FEC has the unmidigated gall to say this will encourage "candidates of modest means" to run for office, because they wouldn't be able to otherwise.

I'm amazed they can say this with a straight face. "Candidates of modest means" won't be able to run anyway, as it requires *hundreds of thousands* to run a campaign for federal office; and you don't get that unless you're either a) someone who is known to the political parties -- who will give you the money, or b) someone who already has it.

This is just a sham to allow people to ciphon off money from their political warchests.

FEC, you should be ashamed.

Posted by Ted Stevko at 10:50 PM | Comments (0)

November 24, 2002

CNN: Report, please! - Beauty queens flee as toll rises - Nov. 24, 2002

This is B.S. reporting. No offense, 'cause I know a few people who work at CNN -- but this is crap. 175 people dead, and this focuses on the beauty queens leaving town. All the quotes are from beauty queens, the major pictures are of the beauty queens... it's a B.S. article.

What should be the focus is a) an understanding of why and some analysis of how this affects this situation, b) how the pagent even got into a country that's so heavily Islamic, c) what the reprisals are (there's a 15th paragraph mention on how the editor of the paper which made the mistake of printing that Mohammed would have married one of the beauty queens was arrested and hasn't been seen since). These are news: these things are problems. The "can't we all just get along" commentary from some beauty queen is not news. It's sad.

Posted by Ted Stevko at 12:50 PM | Comments (1)

November 14, 2002

God as a Project Manager....

flooble :: fun(?) :: Genesis Project Notes

Got my chuckles for the day off of this one (via Plastic) -- and if you don't feel for Lucifer in this one, you've got to be in the marketing department.

Posted by Ted Stevko at 06:08 PM | Comments (0)

Domestic Security Bill has a ton of riders...

House Approves Domestic Security Bill

There's evidentally quite a few riders on this bill, including such wonderful things as liability exemption for anti-terrorism & smallpox vaccine manufacturers and that wonderful Cyberterrorism bill. But most ironically...

In one last-minute addition, Representative Dick Armey, Republican of Texas, inserted a provision that was apparently intended to protect Eli Lilly, the pharmaceutical giant, from lawsuits over thimerosal, a mercury-based vaccine preservative that some parents contend has caused autism in their children.

But Republicans, like Representative William M. Thornberry of Texas, said the additions were minor and paled next to the importance of creating a department to protect the nation's safety.

Wait a second: if the provisions pass, we're not safe from Eli Lilly -- or for that matter, a *lot* of companies -- producing unsafe products. Dead from something other than terrorism is still dead.

Posted by Ted Stevko at 12:45 PM | Comments (0)

November 07, 2002

Shoe Theory

So, the question for today is this: why in the heck am I getting new shoes? And the answer is: heck if I know.

A couple of days ago, I found I was looking at the bottom of my shoes during a work meeting. I like to be productive at all times, and given a complete lack of resources and an edict not to draw during meetings, this was the result, a thorough and deep understanding of my shoes.

To understand my shoes, you have to understand my shoe-buying theory, and my buying-theory theory. First, the latter: everyone has a theory on when the appropriate time to buy things. You purchase shoes at such-and-such time, because that's when shoes are at their cheapest. Or you buy these shoes, because they'll last longest. This also applies to all other forms of clothing, books, lettuce, chinese food, and pretty much every buying decision you make when you're buying something you care about.

Then, there's my personal shoe-buying theory: get good shoes, not cheap ones. Wear them day-in-and-day-out until they can't be worn any more, then get another good pair. Buy good walking shoes -- because the next time you fly to San Francisco and decide walking from one side of town to the other shouldn't necessitate a shoe-shopping trip. Buy dark shoes, as they give the appropriate head-nod to the work side of work-causal. Buy Ecco or Rockports or Timberlines, as they hold up to normal wear for the first year.

But the "when-to-buy" portion of my shoe-theory is going through a test. In all buying-theories, you have to test out portions of your theory from time-to-time: how much are shoes at this store I never was in before? Cheaper? Fabulous: put that in your theory blender and see what comes out.

My theory-in-evolution is that a shoe has to last at least a year, or it's just crap. Good shoes are good for at least a year and a half, probably two years. Over $100 better get you at least 3 years, remove all foot-odor forever and get you a date with a Playboy model. The shoes better *live up* to that $100, or I've been cheated. And my feet will not get wet, either through snow, rain, sleet, monsoon, dunking in a river, or any contact with liquid.

All of which hinge on the defintion of the verb "to last".

I mean, is a shoe dead when the shoe breaks a lace, gets scuffed, or when it's so worn that the sole sticks out of the bottom? What defines a shoe that's still good?

Which leads us to my exploration of How Good Are My Shoes during a work meeting. My current shoes, a pair of Rockport "cross-trainers", meaning "shoes you can use for across the board purposes while training yourself to wear something not lovingly referred to as a sneaker", is about dead. The air-cushioning system has worn to the If It Was A Bubble On The Wall Of An Artery In My Brain, Write Your Will *This Second* So Your Comic Books Go To The Cartoon Art Museum And Not The Garbage Heap stage. The rear heel has expired and gone to meet it's maker. The plastic badge that identified the type of shoe this was, is no more. The shoelaces barely hold together, and I haven't had to retie these shoes in about 6 months as the knot is welded at one spot. These shoes are definitely not good.

And then, I look at the shoes of the other people who have sponsored this meeting. Each one of them, to a person, has Fancy Shoes. Fancy Shoes are a category I don't and will not purchase. Fancy Shoes indicate a self-consciousness and a willingness to "get your ass in gear" for a company. Fancy Shoes have a shine to them and are worn with matching but thin socks.

Fancy Shoes don't keep your feet dry in the rain.

It's a re-affirmation of sorts on who I am and who I work with. I work with people bound and determined to get up that corporate ladder... whereas I'm determined to get somewhere instead. My shoes are for getting me places. My shoes get me everywhere I want to go. My shoes should last a long time.

Their shoes are for impressing other people.

So, I'm off to get shoes tonight. A metaphor perhaps, but there's something to be said for metaphors: they're indicators of larger things.

Posted by Ted Stevko at 06:55 PM | Comments (1)

Minnesota man elected to two offices - Minnesota man elected to two offices - Nov. 7, 2002

A little upbeat news for you: a town small enough to have someone win by write-in votes, and a guy who sounds like he really wants to help. It's a nice change.

Posted by Ted Stevko at 10:49 AM | Comments (0)

November 05, 2002

Raymond Briggs and Fungus the Bogeyman


As a kid, I loved Fungus -- when my brother would let me read him. The artwork was so dark and moody, but so wonderful. I didn't realise who had done this until I went to this new Comics blog put up by BoingBoing and found an article on him. How wonderful to finally put a name to the artist.

Posted by Ted Stevko at 08:56 PM | Comments (1)

Georgia's Electronic Voting, from a UI perspective - Electronic elections: What about security? - Nov. 5, 2002

Let me go through a quick summary of the user experience for voting with the new Georgia touch-screen panels. This will ignore everything that you can think of in the way of security, just because that's a hot debate that I don't want to get into.

First, let me state: not everyone in Georgia is using these. Some places did opt to use the pull-lever voting machines for now. It's just most of the state.

When I went in to vote, my name, address, and voting information was still being taken by hand. I went through 5 poll workers to get everything I needed, including the usual drivers' license stuff. The major difference is that the retiree at the end of the line gave me a smart card, not a ballot.

I will say this: two years ago when I last voted, I accidentally messed up my ballot. Major pain; the poll worker had to cancel my ballot, re-issue me a ballot, and was very annoyed with me. So I was looking for resolutions to this problem, as well as a much better looking and easier to use experience.

The "ballot box", for lack of a better term, is an approximatly 8 inch by 10 inch LCD screen, placed the long way, and leaning at about a 45 degree angle. Beneath the box and to the right is a "card holder", which was at best a bad place. I'm 5'10", and I didn't see it until I stepped back for a second to find where the card went. On first impression I was expecting a swipe-card situation. But it's a smart card, with a chip inside of it: it writes your choices to the card, so it's got to hold onto it. Not the worst, but mentionable.

On finding the location for the card, I stuck it in... and got nothing for a few seconds. A sticker on the top read to stick it in until the green light goes on. The green light is beneath the card's slot - so you can't see it until it goes in. Icky. Place it on top so people can see it.

I read of reports where people were slipping it beneath the slot, in the space between the slot and the box. I didn't experience the problem... but the elderly woman next to me did have problems placing the card into the box. Couldn't lean over and watch to find out what the problem was, though: that's polling places for you.

The screen was a Windows-based GUI. Touch the box next to your choice, and a big X appeared next to it. Definitely easier to read than a ballot. Changing the choice was also easy: touch the choice or another choice, and it switched. I dislike the Windows-traditional GUI in this setup -- it's black text on gray background. It definitely needs to be white on black. I'd rather it had more pleasing buttons than the traditional Windows buttons, but it didn't affect the usability, just my sense of good taste.

The buttons were a traditional 3-column ballot list. I still think the traditional 3-column ballot list is a horrid format. Each column is seperated with a thick border, while each column is seperated by thick borders seperating contents, and thin lines seperating individual choices. Between contests there is also a space, so it's thick line, space, thick line between contests.

This, at best, is a poor explanation of the traditional ballot: suffice it to say, it's a poor design. As you can see in the (linked) image, it's three columns. What it doesn't show is the gray on gray (the images shows a blue background) and the fact that each group for voting is placed right below one another, about 6 contests per page. Emulating the 3-column ballot was probably not the best choice. It works -- but there's better ways to do it. A 2-column list might have been interesting, and a little less confusing. A Full-page setup, with choices either going down or across 3 at a time might have been a better choice. Multiple pages works, although it definitley isn't using the medium to it's advantage. I wish they had tried letting the page scroll, it might have worked a little better.

That having been said, it was a pleasure to use this system. I had no problems with the acutal use of the system: touch screen is a *great* choice, especially for handicapped & elderly users. Blind users pretty much can't use it... but I think that as time goes on, having a "audio" version of the ballot (with headphones) would be an excellent alternative. The choices were clearly marked, and I had no problem with the system. It included a review page, and the opportunity to go back and fix problems.

Everything was clearly marked: incumbents were clearly marked, as was party affiliation. Names were also clearly placed at a reasonable type-size. Font face was a standard Arial-Helvetica type, which was annoying but understandable. Choices were also clearly marked: the touch area for each button was fairly large, making it easy to hit. (Ever try and use those stupid punch card pages? The punch card tools are about as unwieldy as a needle and thread. Using a finger instead is wonderful).

Entering a write-in candidate is easy too - touch screen keyboard to allow you to type it in. Much easier than writing it, and it helps that the screen is at an angle; you can see it without having to put your wrists into a permanent arch. Standard QWERTY keyboard on a seperate screen, you just click on the write-in choice, and it moves you to that seperate screen.

One thing I did find poor about the interface was the final selection screen: it had problems with it's scrolling. it took me about 3 minutes to go from the top of the list to the bottom... which would be on a desktop PC a one-click move, as it's not a long page. That needs to be improved.

Another suggestion I would like to make goes toward improving the voting process overall: educating the people as to their choices. If you look at VoteSmart's web site, you'll find that many candidates refused to state their positions. That's right: a non-biased, non-party affiliated group couldn't get most candidate's positions. Your average person has little or no chance to hear the facts and form an opinion on a candidate. But, in linking information to the candidate's position -- all candidates, equally -- you might get a better educated electorate. Granted, it's probably not currently allowed in most or all states, but it's a thought. And it would help one of the most problematic issues with voting, voter education.

So, to sum up, it's a pretty neat system with some room for improvement -- but a definite good thing. Check it out at the Georgia Counts web site. They've got a demo to get a feel for it, and a ton of videos, which I haven't looked at.

Posted by Ted Stevko at 07:08 PM | Comments (3)