Thursday, January 24

An election solution

A Paper Trail for Voting Machines (New York Times)

I have read about some pretty sophisticated systems for creating verifiable election results, but the system described in this article is my new favorite. It's reliable, it's easy to explain, it doesn't depend too heavily upon technology, and it's powered by the average citizen. What an elegant solution!

Earlier: Elections we can trust

Sunday, January 20

Lost and found

Driver cited in Bedford train-car crash caused by GPS mishap (The Journal News, NY)
Satellite navigation systems send trucks down the wrong routes in Britain (Christian Science Monitor)

Don't get me wrong, I love my GPS. Even though it can be a minor visual distraction, I maintain that it makes me a safer driver because (1) I get lost less frequently, and so it becomes less likely that I will speed in order to avoid being late; and (2) I don't have turn my attention away from the road to look at printed maps or directions.

Unfortunately, there are inherent risks when you become overdependent on a technology, and GPS is no exception. The stories linked above are recent examples, but there have been other instances in which disaster may have resulted from relying too heavily upon computer-generated directions. For instance: James Kim and his family became trapped in the Oregon wilderness during a 2006 snowstorm because their route led them down a road that was closed for the winter; he died after eight days when he left to find help. Although it now appears that faulty computer-generated directions may not have been to blame in this particular instance, it is not at all unlikely that a similar situation could happen in the future.

Tuesday, January 15

An alternative reality

Even in a Virtual World, 'Stuff' Matters (New York Times)

Ever since I heard about the growing popularity of Second Life and other online virtual worlds, I have been curious about what attracts people to them and what exactly you "do" there. This New York Times article is easily the most interesting and accessible one I have read on the topic, and it provides some great insights into how the real world can (unexpectedly) be reflected in a virtual world.

Friday, January 11

State of the Union

The Mac is back (Economist)
The Comeback Kid, part two (Economist)

There is an absolute deluge of media surrounding this year's Presidential race, and I expect the pace of news will not slow until the nominees for each party have been all but decided. These two articles provide a smart analysis of how each party's candidates are currently stacking up, with typical Economist wit and flare -- and are a great way to cut through all the fluff coverage that's out there.

Earlier: Elections we can trust

Monday, January 7

Not just a game

Why We Compete (Washington Post)

A fantastic series exploring the question of why sports continue to thrive, despite the huge variety of diversions available in today's world. Post writer Eli Saslow penned all eight pieces, profiling sports ranging from the traditional (golf) to the extreme (BASE jumping) to the ancient (the ba' in northern Scotland). My favorite story in the series examined the Barkley Marathon, a 100-mile race so ridiculously difficult that only six competitors have ever completed it in the 60-hour time limit.

Why do you compete?

Thursday, January 3

The sky is falling!

In 2008, a 100 Percent Chance of Alarm (New York Times)

A good counterpoint to the new "conventional wisdom" that every anomaly in our weather (hurricanes, wildfires, record temperatures) is inexorably linked to the global climate crisis.

"Today's interpreters of the weather are what social scientists call availability entrepreneurs: the activists, journalists and publicity-savvy scientists who selectively monitor the globe looking for newsworthy evidence of a new form of sinfulness, burning fossil fuels."

Even if this provocative article isn't well-balanced, it reminds me of two truths about today's media giants: (1) they capitalize on our fears in order to draw in bigger audiences; (2) in a world of round-the-clock news, they have no choice but to create interesting stories out of nothing in order to constantly provide the new content we demand.

Earlier: Hacking climate change