Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Berkeley Project -- a Review

This is the most comprehensive study of the Berkeley project, and it comes to you courtesy of the Democratic Underground.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Looking Forward to Election Voting 2.0

See James Fallows' opinion piece in this week's Sunday New York Times ("Electronic Voting 1.0, and No Time to Upgrade"). Fallows discusses two tests that all technologies must pass before they can earn the public trust: (1) a substantial upgrade beyond the first version, and (2) accountability. The current electronic voting system fails both tests, but Fallows trusts that the system is correctable. Regarding Election 1.0, here's what he says:

Virtually all systems provide some sort of confirmation of transactions. You have the slip from the A.T.M., the receipt for your credit card charge, the printout of your e-ticket reservation. If your e-mail message doesn't go through, there is still the copy in your "Sent" folder. This is the technology world's counterpart to the check-and-balance principle in the United States government. The first concept, robust testing, protects against unintended flaws. The second, accountability, guards against purposeful distortions.

Which brings us back to electronic voting. On the available evidence, I don't believe that voting-machine irregularities, or other problems on Election Day, determined who would be the next president. The apparent margins for President Bush were too large, in Ohio and nationwide. But if the race had been any closer, we could not have said for sure that the machines hadn't made the difference. That is because many electronic systems violate the two basic rules of trustworthy computing.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Wisconsin Paper Speaks Up

... and now this, from the Capital Times in Wisconsin, a progressive paper:

The 2004 presidential election in this country remains an unsettled affair. That does not mean that the results are likely to shift. But it does mean that there are plenty of questions about the count in states such as Ohio and New Mexico that still must be resolved.Provisional ballots, which were cast on Election Day by citizens who had their right to vote challenged, are still being counted. Tens of thousands of standard ballots, which were cast but which did not appear to feature a vote for one candidate or the other, must be reviewed. And, of course, there are still plenty of questions to be resolved with regard to voting machines that did not create a paper trail to permit a proper recounting of ballots.

Newsday Speaks Up on 2004 Vote

So, it looks like big media is in fact beginning to clear its throat on this story. In an editorial today, Newsday, the New York daily, wrote that the GAO investigation into the 2004 vote "can go a long way toward reassuring Americans that voting is a true exercise in democracy, not in futility." The editorial concluded: "If this investigation lives up to the GAO's reputation for fairness, that can only help the process of assuring Americans that every vote really does count."

Republican Supports the Paper Trail

Check out this story in today's Sarasota Herald Tribune. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, is ready to consider requiring a paper trail for electronic votes. [No, Reagan is not related to the former president; but thegoodseed predicts that other bloggers will not be able to resist writing a better headline.] Reagan, the new chairman of the Florida House Ethics and Elections Committee, doubts that anything went wrong in the 2004 election, but he would be OK with requiring a paper trail if that would reassure skeptics of the electronic voting system.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Losing the Faith

Here's a good follow-up to our last post: today, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran an editorial criticizing Georgia's "faith-based system" and urging the state to adopt an electronic voting system that produces a paper trail. The editors conclude: "Someday, all Americans may come to accept electronic voting as secure. Until then a printed copy of their ballot would reassure the skeptical."

Yale Professor: "Validate the Vote"

See Yale Law School Professor Ian Solomon's op-ed today in the Baltimore Sun. Solomon, who participated as a poll-watcher in Florida, makes the case for evidence over "blind faith."

The legitimacy of our democratic process is an issue more important than Mr. Kerry's future or the results of 2004. That legitimacy has been called into question repeatedly over the past few weeks, and doubts will linger as long as credible indications of error, negligence, disenfranchisement and fraud are not addressed.

We would like to believe that voting irregularities were identified and corrected, that participants fulfilled their duties appropriately, that the machines performed reliably and that the total discrepancy between voter intention and recorded results was less than the margin of victory in relevant contests.

But that conclusion must be reached on the basis of evidence, not blind faith. My own observations as a volunteer poll watcher in Florida do not give perfect confidence.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

On the Paper Trail

Over the past week, my agency has been involved in an effort to publicize the findings of a study on electronic voting in Florida during the 2004 election. The study -- conducted by a team of graduate students at the UC Berkeley sociology department and led by Professor Michael Hout -- concludes that statistical anomalies in several Florida counties warrant an investigation of the electronic vote. Just yesterday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) -- a non-partisan arm of the U.S. Congress -- announced that it will take up an investigation, citing widespread concern about the new voting technology, allegations of fraud, and other irregularities. Posting on his Web site, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York) wrote: "We are hopeful that GAO's nonpartisan and expert analysis will get to the bottom of the flaws uncovered in the 2004 election."

The GAO investigation is a welcome development in an effort that has encountered a great deal of resistance, not only from Republicans -- who fear that the Berkeley study and other serious critiques are the work of partisan groups whose only goal is to reverse the election -- but from a surprising source: the mainstream press. The Berkeley team was pleased that its efforts were reported in many broadcast and print venues, but coverage was won at a considerable expense of time and effort to persuade a few key editors that this was not just another "conpiracy theory," but the work of serious scholars who had something important to say beyond politics and the recent election. As the GAO observed yesterday, the larger issue is the sanctity of our voting system, and a thorough investigation is a must for winning back the confidence of many voters, Democractic and Republican, who may look askance at the new voting system next November. As the Nadler announcement noted, "the core principle of any democracy is the consent of the governed. All Americans, no matter how they voted, need to have confidence that when they cast their ballot, their voice is heard."

So, what kind of reform are we talking about? What the GAO investigation shows is that the new voting system may be threatening one of the important safeguards for voter confidence: transparency. Most counties that use the Diebold electronic voting machines provide no paper trail for the votes. This is a flaw so great, and so obvious, yet it is only beginning to penetrate mainstream media consciousness. There are many voices advocating simple reform on this issue, and thegoodseed predicts that they will finally have their day in court. So will the Berkeley research team, which seems to have developed a reliable "smoke alarm" for warning voters when something may be wrong. It's doubtful we will want to audit every election. But when the alarm is beeping, that would be a good time to walk the paper trail.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

We're Back

Readers -- we took a short break to tend to the Berkeley project, which has taken on a life of its own. We'll be back online later today, with a report on the Berkeley project, and how this relates to one of our favorite topics -- transparency in the media.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Questioning the E-Vote

We sent out a media alert about this yesterday, and today we made the announcement at a press conference on the UC Berkeley campus. Here's a full draft of the press release, with a link to the actual study. Also, for a video of the press conference, go to Alex Cohen's Web site.

UC Berkeley Research Team Sounds 'Smoke Alarm' for Florida E-Vote Count

Thursday November 18, 1:01 pm ET

Statistical Analysis - the Sole Method for Tracking E-Voting - Shows Irregularities May Have Awarded 130,000 - 260,000 or More Excess Votes to Bush in Florida
Research Team Calls for Investigation

BERKELEY, Calif., Nov. 18 /PRNewswire/ -- Today the University of California's Berkeley Quantitative Methods Research Team released a statistical study - the sole method available to monitor the accuracy of e- voting - reporting irregularities associated with electronic voting machines may have awarded 130,000-260,000 or more excess votes to President George W. Bush in Florida in the 2004 presidential election. The study shows an unexplained discrepancy between votes for President Bush in counties where electronic voting machines were used versus counties using traditional voting methods - what the team says can be deemed a "smoke alarm." Discrepancies this large or larger rarely arise by chance - the probability is less than 0.1 percent. The research team formally disclosed results of the study at a press conference today at the UC Berkeley Survey Research Center, where they called on Florida voting officials to investigate.

The three counties where the voting anomalies were most prevalent were also the most heavily Democratic: Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade, respectively. Statistical patterns in counties that did not have e-touch voting machines predict a 28,000 vote decrease in President Bush's support in Broward County; machines tallied an increase of 51,000 votes - a net gain of 81,000 for the incumbent. President Bush should have lost 8,900 votes in Palm Beach County, but instead gained 41,000 - a difference of 49,900. He should have gained only 18,400 votes in Miami-Dade County but saw a gain of 37,000 - a difference of 19,300 votes.

"For the sake of all future elections involving electronic voting - someone must investigate and explain the statistical anomalies in Florida," says Professor Michael Hout. "We're calling on voting officials in Florida to take action."

The research team is comprised of doctoral students and faculty in the UC Berkeley sociology department, and led by Sociology Professor Michael Hout, a nationally-known expert on statistical methods and a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the UC Berkeley Survey Research Center.

For its research, the team used multiple-regression analysis, a statistical method widely used in the social and physical sciences to distinguish the individual effects of many variables on quantitative outcomes like vote totals. This multiple-regression analysis takes into account of the following variables by county:

* number of voters
* median income
* Hispanic/Latino population
* change in voter turnout between 2000 and 2004
* support for Senator Dole in the 1996 election
* support for President Bush in the 2000 election.
* use of electronic voting or paper ballots

"No matter how many factors and variables we took into consideration, the significant correlation in the votes for President Bush and electronic voting cannot be explained," said Hout. "The study shows, that a county's use of electronic voting resulted in a disproportionate increase in votes for President Bush. There is just a trivial probability of evidence like this appearing in a population where the true difference is zero - less than once in a thousand chances."

The data used in this study came from public sources including CNN.com, the 2000 US Census, and the Verified Voting Foundation. For a copy of the working paper, raw data and other information used in the study can be found at: http://ucdata.berkeley.edu.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

News -- Berkeley Challenges the E-Vote

Readers: Today my agency posted this media alert on behalf of a research group at UC Berkeley. Stay tuned ....



When: Thursday, November 18, 2004, 10:00 am PST

Where: UC Berkeley campus, Survey Research Center Conference Room—2538 Channing Way (intersection of Channing/Bowditch). Parking on Durant near Telegraph.

What: A research team at UC Berkeley will report that irregularities associated with electronic voting machines may have awarded 130,000-260,000 or more excess votes to President George W. Bush in Florida in the 2004 presidential election. The study shows an unexplained discrepancy between votes for President Bush in counties where electronic voting machines were used versus counties using traditional voting methods. Discrepancies this large or larger rarely arise by chance – the probability is less than 0.1 percent. The research team, led by Professor Michael Hout, will formally disclose results of the study at the press conference.

To attend the conference or request dial-in information, contact:
Erin Reasoner
Eastwick Communications

Erica Pereira
Eastwick Communications

Noel Gallagher
UC Berkeley Media Relations

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Do Microsoft and Google Need SEO?

Michael Bazeley at Silicon Beat caught a post on the MSN blog that shows that recent "relevance improvements" to the new Microsoft search engine remove Microsoft and Google from the top ten results when you type in "more evil than Satan." [11/14 correction: last night we credited the catch to Matt Marshall, Bazeley's partner on Silicon Beat].

But thegoodseed invites you to go to MSN and try for yourself. Eight out of the top ten links -- including the top link -- are stories and comments about the two tech giants and the horned (hor-ned) one. Hard to make a good story disappear, we guess, but perhaps it's time to call in the experts.

A "Head" Start on the Next Election

If there was ever was an argument for media literacy, this would be it. In an article due for publication in the December 2004 issue of Psychological Science, a team of professors discuss a study that shows the relationship between fear of death and political preferences. [“The Effects of Mortality Salience on Evaluations of Charismatic, Task-Oriented, and Relationship-Oriented Leaders”; you can get a pdf version of the article by clicking here]. Participants in the study were asked to contemplate details of their death (inducing what psychologists call “Mortality Salience,” or MS), and then later asked to respond to statements by three types of leaders: "charismatic," "task-oriented," and "relationship oriented." Note: one needn’t think of "charismatic" as someone with great qualities. As a press release announcing the study observed, charismatic means a leader who emphasizes “greatness of the nation and a heroic victory over evil.”

As the professors predicted, people tend to prefer charismatic leaders when reminded of death. But when people are not reminded, charismatics get a very small percentage of the vote. What to do? The authors recommend that people be taught to “vote with their ‘heads’ rather than their ‘hearts’.” There’s reason for hope; past research shows that death thoughts are “attenuated by instructions to think rationally.” The authors conclude, “asking participants to think rationally about which candidate to vote for should eliminate the preference for charismatic leaders induced by MS.” But alas -- this cheerful observation only came after MS of another kind. The authors observe that, “the events of September 11, 2001 have left a pervasive sense of MS throughout America, and the results of this study suggest this may have consequential effects on electoral outcomes.”

Friday, November 12, 2004

Vino Santo Bistro

That's the name of one our favorite haunts in Redwood City, and we like it because the name invokes both the sacred and the secular, and because of a quiet little barroom in the back that is largely unknown to the public. Imagine our surprise tonight when the bar swelled to more than 20 strangers -- mostly journalists, it turns out, communing by the television on this last day of the Scott Peterson trial. The mood was buoyant, yet reserved. It struck us that the ink-stained brood might have been feeling a sense of loss -- if not for the community that it built these past five months, then for the people whose real loss set this project in motion. Earlier in the day, the streets were riotous, as news on the verdict was heard. As the sun set, the scene grew somber, as if the town that hosted this trial was finally retracting its impolite gaze to pay respect to the parted.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Boss Archetypes

For a fun read, see the Omaha World-Herald's recent article on good boss/bad boss archetypes. We like the mini-portrait of former PepsiCo exec Michael Feiner, who has won the respect of many employees, bosses and peers. And he's written a book: The Feiner Points of Leadership.

His message: A great boss doesn't need a larger-than-life persona, and leadership isn't composed of heroic gestures and brilliant insights. Rather, it's the unglamorous and old-fashioned work of building relationships, being committed to employees' success and holding them accountable. Feiner's laws of leadership, as he calls them, came from witnessing other bosses' mistakes, as well as his own. He recounts some of his management goofs in his book, but mostly he helps would-be bosses understand how to lead people rather than manage them.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

A Blogger Code of Ethics?

Charlene Li at Forrester Research is advocating a blogger code of ethics. Thanks to Mike Manuel at Media Guerilla for posting the code, which we are reproducing here. We'd like to emphasize the second to the last of these commandents: "I will disclose conflicts of interest." The blogging world will benefit from greater transparency. It would help readers contextualize what they are reading, and liberate bloggers to speak their minds more freely.

I will tell the truth.

I will write deliberately and with accuracy.

I will acknowledge and correct mistakes promptly.

I will preserve the original post, using notations to show where I have made changes so as to maintain the integrity of my publishing.

I will never delete a post.

I will not delete comments unless they are spam or off-topic.

I will reply to emails and comments when appropriate, and do so promptly.

I will strive for high quality with every post – including basic spellchecking.

I will stay on topic.

I will disagree with other opinions respectfully.

I will link to online references and original source materials directly.

I will disclose conflicts of interest.

I will keep private issues and topics private, since discussing private issues would jeopardize my personal and work relationships.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Listen Up, Corporate Marketers: Your Brand is Your "Shadow"

James Surowiecki's article in the November issue of Wired makes a good case for the network effect on marketing. In the "Decline of Brands," Sorowiecki, a staff writer at the New Yorker, holds that branding campaigns are losing ground to the influence of well-educated, well-connected consumers. Now more than ever, businesses need to heed the rule that what you do matters far more than what you say. And what's the message for marketers? Be scared ... be very scared.

Marketing types either don't see this trend or choose not to talk about it. In the words of advertising legend Jim Mullen, "Of all the things that your company owns, brands are far and away the most important and the toughest. Founders die. Factories burn down. Machinery wears out. Inventories get depleted. Technology becomes obsolete. Brand loyalty is the only sound foundation on which business leaders can build enduring, profitable growth." Similarly, in the new book Brands and Branding, Rita Clifton, chair of Interbrand UK, puts it this way: "Well-managed brands have extraordinary economic value and are the most effective and efficient creators of sustainable wealth." These assertions claim that while factories, source code, and patents are ephemeral, brands are real. But in fact, their long-term value is shrinking. They're becoming nothing more than shadows. You wouldn't expect your shadow to protect you or show you the way. It only goes wherever you do.

On a related topic, we're several days late in following up on our Saturday note about Starbuck's recent CSR announcement. But here we are. The question is, should Starbucks -- or any other company for that matter -- talk about the good that it's doing when a networked community of consumers knows full well what the company is doing? And what's the value of talking about something if some of your actions contradict the spirit of what you are saying? Some things are better left unsaid. Nothing incites true believers to action like the faintest hint of greenwashing, intended or unintended.

For another look at the power of the networked consumer, see John Battelle's Google-meets-the Universal Product Code fantasy in his search blog. You may never look at shopping the same way again.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Bollywood Stirs the Melting Pot

So, last night we got a taste of Bollywood at the India Community Center’s first annual banquet and auction, “It’s a Small World.” Several hundred people from all corners of the Valley came to dance, dine and bid for the privilege of scheduling a lunch date with a Bollywood star. (There were other lots in the auction, of course, but the stars were by far the biggest draws). Brunch with Kim Sharma, the “face of Olay in India,” fetched $3,000 -- a bargain, if you consider the shock value of crashing a local chaat house with the winsome starlet. And more than one lady in the house swooned when Bollywood tough guy Suniel Shetty showed up. He sported a Colin Ferrell-like five-o’clock shadow and a tousled head of hair that seemed to suggest he just rolled out of his bed at the Cabana Hotel. And guests were treated to a clip of Ben Rekhi’s “Waterborne,” starring Shabana Azmi, another honored guest. Ben -- who happens to be the son of legendary Indian entrepreneur Kanwal Rekhi -- will premier his film at next year’s Sundance Festival. [SPIN ALERT: thegoodseed’s employer agency represented Kanwal at his most recent gig, as CEO for Silicon Valley company Ensim].

With an early curfew, we had to miss what must have been the highlight of the show -- two hours of traditional and contemp dancing led by India dance-champion Mona Sampath. The entire evening felt like a wedding to us, so we drove away feeling envious of those who remained, imagining the dance floor erupting into a reprise from Monsoon Wedding (the bhangra beat throbbing in our skulls as we shuttled back home on El Camino). But for us, the high point was at the start of the event, when the children of the ICC took the stage and paid homage to an odd mix of cultures -- Mexico, China, Turkey, Ireland, Kenya and the U.S. -- in song, costume and dance. We were most amused with the U.S. bit, which featured a young lad dressed like Elvis, lip-synching to Bruce Springsteen, and dancing like John Travolta. And it doesn’t happen too often -- except at weddings -- but we felt a lump in our throat when the kiddies came out in sombreros. Yes, we’re Puerto Ricans from New York, but that was close enough. Emcee
Sandya Patel (an ABC meteorologist) explained the Disney “small world” theme by observing that the Valley has become a true “melting pot.” That much we’re sure of, and we were pleased to be stirring in that pot late last night.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Starbucks Takes a Bow

More on this tomorrow, but check out Starbucks' press release announcing that its 2003 corporate social responsibility report "has been named one of the Top 50 CSR reports in the world in a new benchmark survey recently released by SustainAbility." What does this mean, and why is Starbucks talking about it? Stay tuned ....

Friday, November 05, 2004

Foreign Policy Gets the Network Effect

Dan Gillmor cites a Foreign Policy article that appears to make a case for the network effect of grassroots media on international relations.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

John 11:35

Jesus wept.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Election Poem

"The Poor Voter on Election Day"

--John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-92)

To-day, of all the weary year,
A king of men am I.
To-day, alike are great and small,
The nameless and the known;
My palace is the people's hall,
The ballot-box my throne!
The rich is level with the poor,
The weak is strong to-day;
And sleekest broadcloth counts no more
Than homespun frock of gray.
To-day let pomp and vain pretence
My stubborn right abide;
I set a plain man's common sense
Against the pedant's pride.
The wide world has not wealth to buy
The power in my right hand!

Monday, November 01, 2004

Google Blogger Uses Blogger

Thanks to Tom Murphy at PR Opinions for this tidbit: Google PR staffer David Krane is a blogger. And yes, he's using Blogger. You can read his stuff here.

The CIA Gets Some Silicon Valley Action

No, this is not an attempt to put thegoodseed on the map.

Silicon Beat reports that In-Q-Tel, the technology funding arm of the CIA, has made a profit. Google recently bought In-Q-Tel-funded Keyhole, the 3-D mapping company that someday will enable Google users to retrieve a picture of, say, your backyard at the speed of a click (though you can imagine a lot more intriguing uses). The Beat notes that the CIA's motives are strategic, not financial, but it's always interesting to see strategy of this kind rewarded in the public marketplace.

Yahoo's Desktop Search Story

See today's story in Reuters about Yahoo. CEO Terry Semel promises a desktop search tool to compete with Google and Microsoft ... but he wouldn't say when (in PR, that's called "holding the story"). He also vowed to stay on at Yahoo, despite the lure of the Mouse.

The Web Shows You Where to Vote -- a Reprise

Worth repeating -- if you don't know where to go tomorrow, click here.