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October 14th, 2007

12:58 pm - got boy(s) in America? Do not be afraid of the Boy Scouts.
Friends are having kids.  Including boys (eew gross?  eew cool?  you decide. :).  They're now reaching the age where the pressure to sign them up for Boy Scouts of America or not is a big peer pressure question.  There are questions about what the BSA represents, what their policies are towards the current popular crop of discrimination in this country (left as an exercise for the reader).  I have an opinion.  Surprise!  In short: I say sign 'em up on up, scouting is a good thing.  If you disagree or wonder why, read on...

As a former scout myself from Troop 377 in Colorado (198x-1993) I'm all in favor of young boys joining despite criticisms people have been making of the BSA as an organization.  The scouting experiences were very important for me.  Both for great fun outdoors, teamwork and leadership experience.  I never even made it to the illustrious Eagle Scout rank; computers caught my eye and distracted me from that goal with a Star plus most of the work to earn Life completed.  The overall policies of the BSA as an organization may be unfortunate but are not what you are supporting.  The cub scout and boy scout troops culture your own boys will be in comes directly from all of the local parents involved as den mothers and scout masters.

That said, here are some tips based on what I observed having been involved in scouting throughout my youth:
  1. Pick a troop that has a large population of older scouts such as juniors and seniors in high school still actively involved and in leadership positions within the troop (ours had a senior patrol we called Staphf that veteran members all graduated into).  Troops lacking this may be run oppressively by the adults or in a way that just isn't interesting beyond a certian age.  Scouting is all about leadership combined with fun activities for the kids.  If the adults are calling all the shots then a troop has failed. Most kids in that situation given any choice will quit by the time they're 13.  We observed this time and time again at regular scouting events such as shows and jamborees: The troops with a good age spread had adults there to support them as needed, the troops where boys quit early had adults running around micromanaging, yelling, directing and in general sucking up the fun rather than any senior scouts as leaders (and what a bad example of leadership those adults were).
  2. Several of the adults involved as scout masters in the troop should have been boy scouts themselves as children.  Our best scout masters during my tenure were former scouts themselves.
  3. I'm personally wary of troops with a religious any sort of affiliation because there were always stories of troops where the adults tried to drive a religious agenda. Those troops are likely to be among the ones where boys quit by the time they are 13. They also are not up to BSA standards. Regardless, churches provide easily available meeting spaces. Our troop met in an elementary school cafeteria and later the gymnasium but it appears they've had to move and now meet in a local church gymnasium. I dislike the thought of that but I can't offer a good argument why the roof over ones meeting space matters one way or the other.  Its all in the people.
  4. In scouts already?  nice!  Aim to earn your Eagle Scout as soon as possible.  Experience in my troop showed that by the time anyone enters high school so many other distractions come along that if you haven't finished it by the 9th grade you may never make the time for it even though you stay active in scouting activities.
In all my years in scouts I believe I only ever missed one of our monthly activities and it wasn't by choice.  I was stuck at home sick with a fever or strep throat or something of the sort.

P.S.  Thanks Mom & Dad for enrolling and supporting me in scouts those many years ago.  (I expect their decision was easy given that my dad and grandfather were both Eagle Scouts themselves.)

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November 7th, 2006

12:21 pm - San Mateo County gone wrong: eslate voting machines
Voting day. This time San Mateo County, California has gotten stupid and started to deploy "eslate" electronic voting machines. Fortunately for this election most of the ballots in our county will be paper assuming all polling places are like mine: they had three eslates and fifteen traditional paper ballot booths (with the optical scan bin to deposit and "count" them in on the way out). However we're told that they want to go 100% eslate in the future. That is bad. Here's some reasons why...

The Eslate Experience

its machine in a low booth with a chair in front of it (yes you have to sit down; I didn't ask what happens if sitting is difficult for you). It is -not- a touch screen. To make selections it has a spinny dial with feedback as it moves between selections that moves a red cursor between choices on the ballot along with an enter button that you use to mark off choices. It presents choices in pages with prev/next buttons to move between them if you want to go back in what i thought was a reasonably large font size for anyone to read. At the end it presents a full list of your choices and lets you select any to correct as needed. At that point you must press the cast ballot button. But you're not done yet. A thermal paper scroll printer is on one side of the screen, it prints out your choices in a list both on screen (again) -and- on the paper and asks you to confirm (accept/decline) if they are good or not. sure, so far so "good" many people would think. NOT. read on...

The side attached printer uses tiny printed text for its list of choices and is not lit up at all. The eslate enclosure is pretty dark making the paper very difficult to read even for those of us with eagle eyes. I can't imagine anyone with any sort of vision impairment being able to see it at all. Furthermore with the vote confirmation list appearing on the screen at the same time, many voters may not even realize the paper is essential for them look at if they're able to see it at all!

What happens if the paper is loaded wrong or the printer doesn't work? People can still press the cast ballot button and unbeknown to them "cast" a 100% unverfiable vote that can never be audited or recounted at all! Exactly what you -need- in the event of a close election or random audit is the guaranteed ability to count physical evidence of votes to use in place of machine totals.

Can it be audited?

How would one audit votes from the machine? the optical printer paper is presumably stored on a roll (unknown, you can't see where it goes, it could be fake paper for all the voter knows!). The text printed on the paper is in very small fonts in a simple two column table listing ballot item and the voters choice. It does not have line rule markers to make it easy to read. At the end of voting after the Cast Ballot button was pressed I saw it print a large two dimensional barcode at the bottom of the paper ballot confirmation. It was plenty large enough (at least 1x3 inches) to be an actual binary encoding of all of the ballot choices. But what is it and what is it for? If an election official's idea of an audit involves running the flimsy paper roll by an optical scanner that reads the barcodes... run in fear! That is not a valid audit at all! The voter has never verified any of the information in that barcode because they have no way to know what it means. A manual hand recount of the paper reels would be painful and tedious as they are not laid out to be read easily by humans and are flimsy material.

How to improve it? Destroy these machines. No refund. You've wasted our tax money San Mateo County. Pathetic.

Card stock paper ballots with large boxes to fill in with a permanent marker work well and provide easy to audit optical scanner results. The only verifiable voting system that works is one in which the votes cast are counted directly from the physical evidence of the vote. That means a so-called electronic voting machine MUST NOT be involved in the counting. The count must come from the paper ballots.

One further note... a thermal printer? ugh. if by any chance any of those paper verification reels are put in a hot car, truck or warehouse for any length of time and they'll be completely unreadable as the heat will have turned them solid black.

Irritated by the blatant disregard for democracy that the Orwellian named "help america vote" act has caused? Support Black Box Voting to correct our elected officials grevious misdeeds.

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September 28th, 2006

12:21 am - Mmm.. efficient power supplies
..geeky entry alert..

Feeling green or just want to lose some computer noise and extra room heat?

I just upgraded an old ATX power supply in Karen's computer to an 80PLUS rated one. Using a kill-a-watt watt meter this dropped the computers power consumption from 104W down to 86W when idle in win2k and from 121W down to 101W when under heavy disk+cpu load. ~20% better efficiency. very nice! highly recommended. Most generic power supplies are in the 50-70% efficiency range. 80+ ones are >= 80% efficient at 20, 50 and 100% load.

I used an Enhance ENP-5140GH but just google for "80plus power supply" or see 80plus.org and you'll turn up other models (the SeaSonics are also popular among my friends). Its a very quiet PS as well; the fan is the large 120mm variety mounted on the bottom inside of the unit rather than the 80 or 92mm ones commonly mounted on the back.

I've got an ENP-5150GH to install in my server next week which should make an ever greater difference.

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February 19th, 2006

10:26 am
We went to see the Mars movie at the San Jose tech museum's imax theater with our group at work on Thusrday. As far as imax movies go its pretty good (mmmm rocket launch with full imax sound system) but.... What the )#^!^! is NASA+Disney doing putting sounds in their space sequences? That's a great disservice to the kids this movie is supposed to inspire and educate.

The only movies that do a good job of that silent space are 2001 and Serenity (the Firefly movie).

It was also amazing to watch the movie cut between actual camera footage and computer rendered footage for the launch in such a way that it was difficult to tell what was what other than keeping in mind what camera positions could possibly have existed. That said, I wish they had put a note on the screen during the computer footage. Some viewers are going to think it was either (a) all real or (b) all fake.

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January 16th, 2006

05:50 pm - Powder Day

Powder Day
Originally uploaded by gpshead.
January 15th, 2006 - the first good powder day of the year. light, fluffy and dry. Unbroken... until we arrived!

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September 13th, 2005

05:40 pm - fun bug in myway dates
right now if i load http://my.myway.com/ the dates on their feeds show up as:

MMM NaN, NaN:0NaN am PT

someone should be feeling like a doofus.

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March 23rd, 2005

10:16 am - Snow? In California? Sweeeet...
Picture this. Its the first day of spring and its been snowing 1-2 feet per day for a few days. Thats tahoe this season. We had a great time. On the slopes Sunday our conversation went like this:

"You need to go to work tomorrow?"
"nope. You need to work tomorrow?"
"no way."

Only 8 more days until we find out our fate at work (we were all given our WARN Act notice in January that we'd be laid off unless any major company saving deals close). What would no more job mean? midweek snowboarding in April of course!

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February 28th, 2005

09:51 pm - Hello, world!

I created this live journal at the suggestion of paisleychick to plug an excellent vegetarian indian restaurant in San Francisco that tons of us went to after CodeCon 2005... Its called New Ganges on the South East side of Golden Gate Park:


...more to come at random intervals...

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