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Thank you to Mr. Stanislav Petrov. On this day in 1983 he allowed me to live to see my 4th birthday the very next day.
I'm sure you're wondering who Stanislav Petrov is and how, exactly, he saved my life 23 years ago. In fact, Mr. Petrov very likely saved your life too. And not just you and me, but pretty much everybody on Earth.
Mr. Petrov was the guy in charge of monitoring missile launches for the Soviet Union. His job was two fold. If he saw missile launches coming from the United States he was to call his commanders and ask if he should return fire. If his commanders said yes, he was to press the button that, in a very real sense, ends the world as we know it. Not a job I would have taken, but I guess somebody has to do it.
On September 26th, 1983, at around 12:30 AM, Stanislav saw a US missile launch on his screen. And then another. And another. And another. His job was to tell his commander, who would undoubtedly tell him to nuke the bastards. (The bastards being the USA.)
Instead, Stanislav decided that it was very unlikely that a preemptive attack by the United States would take the form of multiple missile launches one right after another. It's far more likely, he reasoned, that the USA would launch everything they had all at once, to increase the chances it would take out the USSR before they had a chance to react.
His reasoning was correct. What he saw were "ghosts". There were no missiles. His snap decision saved billions of lives, including mine.
So thank you Mr. Stanslav Petrov. If only the world were filled with heads as cool as yours.
No sooner than I return from my trip to the wonderful city of Los Angeles (yes, that's extreme sarcasm) than I see another way to hack a Diebold voting machine.
This one is far simpler than the one I described in my previous post. All you need is a hotel minibar key.
Wow. The Netherlands looks better and better with each and every passing day.
Slashdot recently posted an article about those wonderful Diebold voting machines. The article essentially tells you how to remove the memory card on which all the votes are stored without leaving any evidence of tampering. In other words, it gives you most of what you need to change the results of an election.
The more I think about how completely inept one has to be to build one of these machines in such a fraud-happy manner the more mad I get. Voting is the only way we can exercise control over our government. It is our only tool to fight oppression. For these machines to be approved for use is a direct threat to our democracy. We no longer have the option of using force to remove a government from power. Your rifle won't do much against their Joint Strike Fighter.
The only reason I don't see this as being malicious is because of how easy it is. If I were going to rig elections I would want to make sure it wasn't completely obvious how I accomplished it.
In my opinion, Diebold should be held legally responsible for these machines. There should be criminal negligence prosecutions. Their incompetence in building these machines amounts to nothing less than treason.
This particular hack is just one of many problems these machines have. The fact that there is no paper trail absolutely baffles me. If an ATM machine can reliably track transactions and give receipts for these transactions, why can't a voting machine? As a software engineer I understand the technical difficulties involved in reliable transaction management, but these problems have long since been solved.
These are countless, reliable ways to make sure that one vote equals one vote. It would be trivial to dispense a cryptographically unique receipt to the voter so they can prove who they voted for. It would be equally trivial to keep a paper-based receipt in the machine as well. These receipts could even be machine-readable to aid in auditing.
What's most confusing, however, is why we are using these machines to begin with. I can see that they would dramatically decrease the time it takes to tally election results. I can even see an argument that it's easier to make sure the voter understands their decision by allowing for more refined user interfaces.
But I don't think we should make voting easy. I'm not for mandatory tests or anything that unconstitutional, but I am for make sure people aren't making a casual choice in a decision that is one of the most important things a citizen of the United States can do. I'm all for 5 hour lines to vote. The longer the line, the better. It weeds out the people who don't care. I'm all for voting between 2am and 8am. Nothing would keep the idiots from the voting booth more than having to get up before the crack of dawn.
I certainly believe that everybody who wants to vote should be able to, but you should really want to vote. Let's do whatever we can to prevent people from voting for a familiar name instead of making a conscientious decision about their leaders.
No, I won't be doing a quote everyday, but I thought this particular quote was very appropriate given our current administration:
The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt. - Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell is another one of those people who really should be on my list of personal heroes. He was a brilliant philosopher. His book, "Why I Am Not a Christian", is a fascinating read.