Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Commander resigns

I don't particularly like the phrase "living in the moment," but I do think that sentiment approximates how I live much of my life. I'm not as nostalgic as I used to be, but do love marveling at how folks lived in the past. I'm also a poor planner, but do count myself lucky to be alive now: the pace of innovation is breathtaking, and yet I well remember a time before the Internet.

When I think of the early days of the Internet, two sites come to mind: The Tool Page and Slashdot. My peers would hardly call these days early -- adolescence at least, surely -- but, to use the term favoured by Rob "CmdrTaco" Malda, my nerd hat was always a bit ill-fitting. Which was one of the reasons I loved Slashdot from the start: yes, I could bone up on hardware and marvel at the rise of Linux, but, more importantly, there was no better place for news about your science fiction favourites, or those toys that glisten like gems in your childhood. (See, told you I used to be nostalgic.)

My best Slashdot moment, you ask? Early in 1997; May, I believe -- yes, I'm too lazy to search for the post -- when they broke that later that year, or the next year, two of my most favourite things in the whole wide world, would wed. "Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, Star Wars Lego!" "Oh, aren't they lovely?" *sniff, sniff*

I - was - over - the - moon.

Then, three or four years after that, I could've made a good start on a bridge to the moon with all the Lego I'd added to my previously substantial collection.

I have no idea how big that story was at the time. None. Because I couldn't imagine any other site caring about that sort of news more than Slashdot, and once I had it, well, then there was only the waiting for that next story, likely mostly gossip, with that one glorious nugget of fact.

Like every good site and Usenet group at the time, we were a community. (Cue the codger voice deriding social networking.) And, like every good community, we had our own lingo. The introduction of registration was a big moment. I was working with two good friends, fellow Slashdot fans, at the time. We'd all been pulled away on various tasks that morning, and I think it was Zedd who discovered it, around noon or early in the afternoon. Moments of frantic, feverish typing ensued. Then, most importantly, ID numbers were compared. Mine was the highest, I believe -- much to my chagrin -- but we were all in the tens of thousands.

And so a class system was born. This was well before moderation, and yet, there was moderation: if a three-digit ID commented on a story, fingers went to chins in pondering. They must be wise: look at that ID!

Now, of course, a five-digit ID is pretty darn cool, but that took time. And with time, my visits to Slashdot waned (likely to my detriment, I hasten to add). There are many reasons for that, none of which have anything to do what remains an excellent site. So it was with considerable surprise that I read Jeff Atwood's tweet this morning about CmdrTaco's resignation. I, too, echo his words: certainly the end of an era.

So here's to you, Rob! Thanks for all the great times -- lots of great memories, despite my having largely abandoned nostalgia -- and best of luck in your future endeavours!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Elections Canada on Internet voting

Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand recently published his report on the 41st General Election, held earlier this year. It includes one reference to Internet voting:
Elections Canada has been examining Internet voting as a complementary and convenient way to cast a ballot. The Chief Electoral Officer is committed to seeking approval for a test of Internet voting in a by-election held after 2013.
The CBC headlined their article on the report with it: Elections Canada lobbies for test of online voting. Clearly the topic has gone mainstream. Overall, I see reasons for optimism: first, note that the press is making the distinction between electronic voting and online voting; an old lament of mine. Second, they've highlighted the proper implementation of the secret ballot as one of the concerns about voting online. And, finally, Elections Canada isn't racing ahead on this -- note that the statement I quoted doesn't include a deadline. They are also eliciting informed opinions, and remaining far more technology agnostic than most folks would expect them to be, I would imagine:
Strategic initiatives
Our key strategies to support [the Accessibility] objective in the next five years are to:
... with the prior approval of Parliament, test a secure voting process during a by-election that allows electors to vote by telephone or Internet
Strategic Plan 2008-2013 (the emphasis is mine)

It isn't perfect, of course: that workshop made but one reference to the risk of coerced voting, as far as I could tell. Also, the public discourse -- well, such as it is in comments on press articles, and the questions raised at that workshop -- hasn't adequately quashed that old argument celebrating online banking (and tax filing, I've seen recently) as proof that the nut of Internet security has been cracked. As I've stated previously, that argument is based on a false premise. Still, I'm hopeful that these trials to come will be well run, their results thoroughly examined, before any Internet facilitated process d├ębuts in an election on our national stage.