Internet Controlled Representative Government

The latest budget fiasco plus the FAA funding problems have frustrated me with our elected officials. The fact that they are taking a one month vacation before solving a problem that puts my wife’s company essentially out of business is offensive. I emailed my reps and the basic message was that if I did this at any job I’ve ever had then I’d probably loose that job. My employer or my customers would simply find someone else.

So that got me thinking about what alternative we have to our existing representative government. I came across which I like, and am participating in, but I was thinking something more dramatic.  Here’s what I came up with:

  • Run for office on the platform that you will make all decisions based on your constituents wishes
  • Provide a channel of constant input of  constituent opinion via the internet (There are security problems here – but they can be solved)
  • Broadcast all political interactions (similar to and provide commentary for viewers into what’s going on an what decisions are being made (sort of like CSPAN but more)
I believe this would make political office very unattractive to the current breed of politician.  It could evolve into a system where the representative would be largely a proxy being controlled by the population they represent.  Right now political involvement is pretty much limited to voting once every few years.  With this system you could log on and enforce your political desires directly.
There are tons of problems with this type of solution – but it might be easier to solve these problems then the ones with our current system.



Cost of reading a EULA/ToS

An EULA is an End User License Agreement.  TOS stands for Terms of Service.  For this post I’m referring to the legalese you are often required to agree that you’ve read and agree to before using a piece of software or a web based service.  Much like speed limits – these things are often ignored.  I wondered how much time and money would be required to read them so I started collecting some info.

Based on my measurements/sampling so far:

  • Average length of  EULA/ToS: 7,385 words
  • Typical reading Speed: 200 words/min
  • Average Time to read Typical EULA/ToS: 37 min
  • Average Software Developer rate: $40/hr
  • Cost to read the EULA/ToS: $25
Bottom line, most companies are expecting $25 worth of your time to read these things.  This is just to read them – not to think about them or contemplate what the repercussions of the agreement might be for your situation using the software in question.  I think about this when I’m clicking that “I Agree” check box – and the developer of the software could easily tell that I only spent about 3 seconds on the page/form/window with the text on it – and there’s no way I could have read it all.  I’m thinking a fun thing to put on the page would be a “Congratulations, your reading speed is 3,800 words/min – and you probably missed that whole part about your first born” or something similar indicating that there’s no way you read the whole thing.
This also reminded me of a Poll Question I once read on the site SlashDot.

Negativity Measurement

I’d like to construct a method to rate twitter feeds, blogs, websites, podcasts, facebook feeds etc on how negative they are.  It reminds me of the mention I heard that facebook should have a “get over it” button.  The reason is so I can filter my current subscription streams and remove some of the sources that are too negative – or make it so I can read these feeds during lunch, when I should be getting on to something interesting.  The majority of the stuff coming from these vectors is useless, and often it’s contrived and misleading.  It’s the whole FUD (Fear + Uncertain + Doubt) response people have and feel the need to spread that I’m getting frustrated with.

One big problem with this idea is that I’d never have seen this post had such a filter been on my blog.

Crowd Lights

I was at a Phish concert this October and was amazed at how many little screens I could see – mostly taking pictures or video of the band, but also people checking the set list or texting their friends that they were at the concert.  I realized that I could control these screens with an app – and how kewl it would be to synchronize some sort of a light show utilizing each screen as if it was a single pixel on a huge display.

I started work on the app the next day – and quickly realized there were a number of ways to pull it off.  Balancing how much time I had between putting the kids to bed and my own head hitting the keyboard vs. when I wanted it to be done drove a lot of decisions.  How much money I wanted to put into the project also forced me to build it a specific way.  In the end the architecture of the final application is as complex as it needs to be, but no more.

I posted a request on facebook looking for beta testers and had about a dozen friends and family lined up to play with an early version of the app.  Distributing it to them without publishing it on the google app market was problematic,  but eventually I had them all reporting back that the app worked.

A month after the inception of the idea it was done – but I needed to obfuscate the code, that is: Jumble it up so it couldn’t be downloaded and reverse engineered too easily.  This took way longer than I wanted it to because I had to learn a few new technologies I’d never used before.

This final hurdle surmounted, I released the application on Sunday.  You can install it on your droid with this link to the market page.

The iPhone version should be done in a few weeks.  Yet another set of new technologies to learn, but building the app the same way (with the exact same light show being displayed) will be easy.  *UDPATE* The iPhone version has gone live on the App Store.

Here’s a video demonstrating the final product:

Math is important

In response to this article in the Washington Post, in which the author asks “How much math do we really need?”

I’d like to point out a glaring problem with the article:  He mentions 4 other disciplines other than math that are more useful:

Unlike literature, history, politics and music, math has little relevance to everyday life.

And then he mentions 6 professions that somehow don’t need much math:

How much math do you really need in everyday life? Ask yourself that — and also the next 10 people you meet, say, your plumber, your lawyer, your grocer, your mechanic, your physician or even a math teacher.

Here’s my problem: How much literature, history, politics or music do you need to be taught for any of those professions?  Personally I think the real professionals doing those jobs need quite a bit of math.

There’s another problem in the article, in this line:

Those who do love math and science have been doing very well. Our graduate schools are the best in the world. This “nation at risk” has produced about 140 Nobel laureates since 1983 (about as many as before 1983).

If you “Do the math” on that – we’ve been putting out more than 5 laureates a year after the effort vs. less than 2 before.  That’s good right?

I’m not arguing that everyone needs as much math as we can possibly jam down their throat: But I am disagreeing with the article as a whole as well as the problems I found in it.  I suppose the audience of the story isn’t assumed to have any desire to do the math.

5,280 ft in a mile and characters on a screen : Why?

Stumbled to this page describing the historical reason for a mile having 5,280 feet.
Short version:

  • The Romans used a 5000 ft measurement called a “mille pasuum” which was 1000 paces for a solider
  • The English used 660 ft measurement called “furlong” which was how far a horse could pull a plow before resting
  • Easiest on everyone compromise was to make a Mile = 8 Furlongs
  • 8 x 660 = 5,280

This reminded me of something my dad noticed when I was a kid.  The original computer monitor for the TRS-80 computer line (and many other computer systems at the time) had 80 characters in a row and 60 rows: Meaning a single screen held 5,280 lines.

I suppose the next thing to do would be to find out where that 80 char and 60 row decision came from.  I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Prepare for software posts

I haven’t posted much technical stuff on this blog lately – so for those of you not used to that, I apologize.  However – I’ve found software developer blogs add the most value to the world when we all post the solutions we find to various problems.  Being that I spend at least 1/2 of my waking hours doing software development (or engineering if you’re into terminology), I will continue to post these types of solutions to this blog.

That doesn’t mean I won’t still post lots of stuff not related to software though.  This is still primarily my personal blog, and I see no need to separate what other developers might find interesting from what my friends and family might find interesting.

If you’re a developer looking for developer stuff – use the “development” tag over there on the right.