Sunday, November 23, 2008

A friend of mine just exceeded her lifetime allotment of exclamation marks. She can try purchase more punctuation credits, but exclamation marks are in high demand, especially during the holidays.

Comma credits are volatile, due to the competing forces of texters (who avoid most forms of punctuation) and comma splicers. (This latter force also keeps the cost of semi-colon credits extremely low; frugal consumers make ample use of these under-valued symbols.)

There's a glut on the market for apostrophe credits, thanks again to under-use by the texting community.

If you want a real bargain, try buying bracket or caret credits.

(Potentially relevant link)

The Peace Corps is considered good diplomacy. Send Americans over to help community development and other countries start to like us.

Tommy Thompson wanted to send medical ships around the world to serve as roving hospitals for poor nations. Medical diplomacy.

Kiva, similarly, is about diplomacy. I don't know if donating money that way is as beneficial as donating to PATH (though you have a good chance of getting your Kiva money back to re-donate, which is pretty cool), but if pro-American diplomacy is something you support, that should be another major benefit of Kiva.

How important is it that other countries like us? Seems like if we're decent at doing good things with our foreign policy then our being popular and respected benefits everyone. If we're trying to invade non-aggressive nations based on known-to-be-false evidence, having other nations say 'Get lost'--as France did with Iraq--is a good thing. (Had Britain [and don't forget Poland!] done the same, maybe we wouldn't have gone into Iraq at all.)

For the next four years, at least, I'm guessing we'll be in the former category.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Some time ago, Austin's mayor signed the Urban Environmental Accords and now we seem to have the goal of achieving zero solid waste by 2020. Austin's Solid Waste Services has a list of suggestions (PDF) on how to reduce your waste. It includes:

[at home] Buy in bulk and leave packaging at store
[at your school/business/place of worship] Buy in bulk and ask suppliers to take back packaging

Okay, true that recycling in bulk is more efficient*, but...this is essentially just shifting your waste. Maybe it will convince suppliers to use less packaging?

* I forget what it was, but I was recently looking up the recyclability of something and learned that you have to test it to find out, and it's only worth testing if you have a huge amount to recycle.

I want full scholarships to be a student for the rest of my life. Surely that somehow is a worthwhile investment for society. I'll make insightful comments and ask insightful questions during class, enriching the learning experience for my fellow students.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I just saw an advert on Facebook:

Buy rare Hubble photos
Buy high resolution fine art images printed and framed from rare NASA Hubble Space Telescope archives. Free shipping.

Gee, I'm pretty sure all NASA images (and all Hubble images, obviously) are PUBLIC DOMAIN.

But best of all, the advert has an example image: the Eagle Nebula image, probably most famous and un-rare Hubble image ever.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Oct 31: ICC General Membership Meeting. Hey ya’ll, the meeting is scheduled for Sat Nov. 15th. Be there, or be tagged “uncooperative.” --Jenn from the office

Great! I'll be there. What time? And where?

Nov 12: Get hyped for some ICC charades at the General Membership meeting on November 16th on the deck of Hillel from 2:30-4:30. -- ICC Ed. Coordinator

Great! Where's Hillel? (Google gives the address of a 'Texas Hillel' as 'The Drag', which covers about ten square blocks) And, wait...November 16?

The three things that should always be known about a meeting:
* Who - This has been explained. everyone in ICC. That includes me. Shiny.
* Where - This has been vaguely established.
* When - This is unclear.

My education feels uncoordinated.

UPDATE (before I even posted this): I went to the ICC office for other matters (open on a weekend? Amazing!) and asked the person working there when the meeting was. She told me Sunday, and showed me the flyer posted on the office door. She, however, had no clue at all what or where 'Hillel' was. I told her what I had determined using the magic that is Google, so now at least one member of the ICC staff(-like people) knows where the meeting is.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

So, we're using eSlate, (online demo available! In fact, part of my knowledge of the interface described below [such as write-ins] are derived from the demo, not trying it on the actual ballot) electronic voting with a very stupid interface.

Inputs are:
* A dial.
* An 'enter' key.
* 'Prev' and 'Next' keys.
* A 'Cast Ballot' key.
* A 'Help' button.

You enter your 'access code' ([0-9]{4} or perhaps [1-9][0-9]{3}) by using the dial to scroll through the digits 0-9 and selecting 'enter' for each one'. (Scrolling wraps around, and there's a 'Clear last' button after the 0.) It doesn't reset your position after choosing a digit, which was good for me, because mine ended with '22'.

Dial's are hard to use. They're inconvenient. Why are they better than arrow keys, even just two? Maybe people with palsy can more easily manipulate the dial? Sure is a lot harder for me.

After you enter your access code (hope you didn't need to 'Clear Last' on that last digit--it automatically moves on!) Then it has a page of instructions, and then pages of the ballot. Prev/Next will skip between pages, as will using the dial to scroll off the top or bottom of the page. The dial scrolls through each option of each question on the page, so to get to an option for something on the middle of the first page, you first must either scroll through the first half (President, for one), or go to the next page and scroll back through the last half. Write-ins are done similarly to the access code, but you have 26 letters + clear last + space, you only get eighteen characters max, and you get to manually say 'Accept' when the name is complete. If you do a write-in and then switch to something else, it will blank the name in the write-in box, so if you switch back, you have to re-enter the name. Possibly reduces the risk of people accidentally entering a write-in and then accidentally selecting a non-write-in without realising it.

After you've done all pages, it has two pages showing what you selected for each (good: confirmation!) and then you press 'Cast Ballot' and it says the ballot has been cast and to leave the booth. Also good.

Here's the thing, though: when I first switched to the second page and tried scrolling, it didn't scroll through the options as it should. It went to the next page. I went back to the instruction page, saw that I'm right and they're wrong, and after going back and forth for again, the dial started working.

This is really broken and really bizarre behaviour. As a programming, I can say with confidence that it didn't really happen. It's just user error.

As someone who has read a lot about electronic voting in the US, though, and as the user, I'm a lot less confident.

Lessons of the day:
1. Don't reinvent the UI.
1a. You'll just make it worse.
1b. Familiarity is very valuable, especially for UIs a user will see once for a couple minutes every two years, or (more likely) once for two minutes once.
2. Test your voting equipment thoroughly.
2a. Ensure proper behaviour.
2b. Ensure user error is exceptionally rare and is handled gracefully.