On the merits of the Electoral College

There has been much writing (including here) about problems with the Electoral College in the USA, and I've even proposed solutions such as a tiebreaking system for close votes. I also noted the amazing coincidence that in the 4 times the winner of the college lost the popular vote, 3 were the 3 times we had a son or granson of a President elected.

But I thought it might be worth exploring the merits of the college, even though most individuals want it abolished. (Though no smaller states want it abolished since it gives them disproportionate power.)

Drive-by trick-or-treating

Tonight, I saw for the first time (for me) a drive-by trick-or-treating. I'm not talking about the growing phenomenon where parents drive their kids to wealthier neighbourhoods for a better class of candy. We had put out a ghost made from gauzy material with a very bright cold-cathode light inside, and hung it over the street. As I stood on the street a minivan pulled up and quickly stopped. Two children went to our front door and Kathryn gave them candy. Then we watch them get back into the van and it continued down the street, out of sight. The appeared to be cruising and stopping at houses with decorations they noticed, which can be found in many neighbourhoods.

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One reason votepair.org hasn't paired many voters

You may have heard of the vote-trading concept, where a voter in a "decided" state (whose vote will make no difference) who wishes to vote for a major candidate pairs up with a voter in a swing state who wants to vote for a minor candidate. The idea is they swap choices. The swing state minor party supporter votes for the major party candidate (typically Kerry this time) and has a chance at making a difference in the swing state.

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NA Wireless providers -- allow incoming VoIP for free!

We've seen the explosion in Voice over IP phone companies, using lower IP costs (and regulatory bypass) to offer very cheap long distance. Today, in the wholesale market, you can place VoIP calls to regular phone numbers in the major cities of the world for between 0.5 cents and 1 cent per minute. So cheap that companies are routinely offering people "unlimited" long distance plans for a flat monthly fee.

The rates are cheap, but they aren't yet free, so calls don't happen without contracts and plans and arrangements.

Here's something begging to be done: The cellular carriers in the USA and Canada should allow people calling in from the internet to call any cell phone for free.

This would cost them the tiny amount they get for terminating long distance calls to cell phones, but the end result would be their own customers billing more minutes. That's what they want (sort of.) They could release a free program for use on common PCs to call any cell phone. They could have a java applet or ActiveX control to make a web page to let you call any cell phone for free, just as they let you send an SMS from a web page for free. (If you have a headset with a mic, at least.)

But allowing free and open calling would encourage lots of innovating applications from the marketplaces. Smart PBXs would coordinate and connect with company cell phones over the internet. More advanced apps would link cell phones closer to PBX functions. People who use their cell as their home phone would have another reason to do it -- now all their friends can call free from VoIP phones or any PC. Companies like Vonage would offer free calls to cell phones even for people not on the unlimited plan.

Notes on the Canon EOS D20 DSLR

Soon as it was out, I bought the EOS D20. I sold my D60, which I had replaced my D30 with, so I am obviously generally pleased with Canon's line. The new camera has a lot over the D60 -- 2 more megapixels (or 3500 high for panoramas), much better low-light shooting ability with low-noise high-ISO, and fast shooting (5 frames/second for 25 frames.) It also has better focus, better controls, and an orientation sensor, something I've been wanting for a long time.

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Home soda fountain with 2-liter bottles?

Many people like the idea of soda fountains, but the official fountains that mix soda and pre-mix concentrate are quite expensive and work to maintain.

To gain some of the convenience and efficiency, how about a quasi-real fountain using existing 2-liter pop bottles? Such a fountain would be designed to look like a regular one. Inside, ordinary 2-liter bottles would be attached. In a "party" model, they would just be in an icebox, in a full-time model it would have refrigeration.

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Give us appointments at airport security

I've written about a few plans to get rid of the headache (and travel killer) that airport security has become. One of the great curses is that because you can't predict how long security might take, most people end up arriving way, way ahead of their flight in case the line is long, but often they clear it in just a few minutes. (Ditto the immigration/customs line at Canadian airports going to the USA.)

Senator is a poor stepping stone to President

I have often heard it said that being a Senator is a good stepping stone to President of the USA. Research shows this to be really false, and that's bad news for Kerry. Oh, many sitting senators run for President, but for over 120 years, they have rarely and barely won.

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Burning Man photos: Galleries up, new Decompression gallery added

Well, a couple of weeks ago when I announced the phone project at Burning Man, I implicitly was linking to my new galleries for Burning Man 2004. However, let me officially announce those galleries now, plus the addition of a new gallery today.

Blind sharks with science?

An out of left-field idea. It doesn't happen a lot, but one of the things people fear deeply is being bitten by a shark. Sharks sometimes bite surfers, because, it is suspected that 4 paddling arms lying on a surfboard triggers the "tasty seal" match in the shark's brain.

(Reportedly sharks don't actually like how we taste that much, and have spit out human limbs they bit off. I dunno, but somehow that's adding insult to major injury.)

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Boomerangs: Children of the Baby Boom

Ok, it's not like we're crying for a new word, since we already have so many: Generation Y, Generation Next, Boomlets, Echo-boomers, Millenials etc. But still, I like to throw out new words so mine is "Boomerangs" which nicely captures the concept of the rebound of the Baby Boom, and a few other concepts as well.

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Speaking at VON, Foresight, Debating Brin, Decompression

I'll be speaking at three conferences in the near future, and can offer discounts to blog readers for two of them.
VoIP
Coming up October 19, I will be speaking on the future of SIP, and whether IAX2 or Skype might kill it, at the Pulver Voice on the Net conference in Boston.
Nanotech and Privacy

ups with switchable power for monitor

Tested my UPS systems and found them wanting in Friday's 10 hour Cupertino blackout. Last week I wrote about my longtime desire for a PC power supply that let you plug in an external battery for a cheap, long lasting UPS. But here are some other ideas.

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Do we need security on small planes?

We've gotten used to a painful, privacy invading security process when we fly. But why should we do this for shot-hop, small aircraft. Those ones on the 20 seat Canadair Business Jets and similar. Secure the cockpit with a sealed door and arm the pilot so that terrorists can't take control of the plane. Put in sealed transponders so ATC knows if the plane goes astray. Give the pilot a "disable" button that limits what can be done with the plane in the event of attempted hijack.

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Digital photo lenses that distort

I like fine camera lenses, but the best quality are very expensive. There are many things that are hard to do in a good lens -- you want a sharp image, of course, over the full flat plane. Over the whole image plane you want low flare, high contrast and low chromatic abberation (ie. red and blue focus in the same spot.) And you want low distortions.

Most camera lenses try to be "rectilinear." That means they try to make a straight line straight in the image. This isn't actually natural, due to perspective straight lines are not straight.

So I wonder if we might soon see a new lens where no effort is made to fix distortions or make the image rectilinear, and all effort goes into the other factors. You are thus expected, with every image, to do digital post-processing to get a non-distorted rectilinear image. That will mean some small loss of image quality at the edges of the image, but probably a less distorted image than ordinary lens physics can deliver -- and a lot less cost -- in exchange.

Of course, this would primarily be for digital cameras, but a film user could also use the lens if they planned to scan their film for digital processing, as most do these days.

Down the road, each lens might contain within it the specifics of its own particular distortions, and the camera might be able to fetch this and either process directly or store it with the image for post-processing. Indeed, the lens might be a cheaply made lens with distortions due to the poor quality elements, or it might be a fine lens with deliberate distortions. (I have wondered if some P&S digicams might be doing this already.)

Why do elected officials preside over what voters don't care about?

A lot of our democratic process involves our elected officials voting and presiding over things that voters are not going to change their vote over. Oh, they are important things, and the voters actually do care about them, but they are not going to change many votes.

That's especially true now. In deciding whether to re-elect your congresscritter, is how they voted on say FCC spectrum policy going to make a difference to you, compared to their stance on bigger issues like the war and the economy? Even when spectrum policy matters a lot to you?

Cat Stevens' Greatest Hits Revised

(Baby I tried to fly again but I was...) First Class then Deported

Oh baby it's a wide world (And it's hard to get by Bangor, if you have to fly, Girl)

I'm being followed by an F-16 Shadow (And if I ever lose my rights...)

(Everyone jump off the ) Siezed Plane

(Suspected Terrorist) Warning has Broken

Oh Very Muslim, will you please leave us this time?

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Universal underwater photography case

Generally, getting a case to use a camera underwater is expensive. The case has to be custom made for the particular camera, and it has to be full of waterproof push-through button-pushers for all the major controls. Digital cameras have helped a lot, since they can shoot far longer on a "roll" and things like zoom are electronic. They also sell in enough volume that some cases have gotten down to reasonable prices.

Inflatable RV

RVs come in all sizes, from 40' bus to towable pop-up. But what about inflatable in a trunk in the back of a minivan?

Setting up and tearing down tented campsites is a pain, and there are instant-setup tents and even some inflatable tents. But what about a super-duper inflatable tent, designed for car-camping.

We need a better word than "Singularity"

Vernor Vinge (Vin-GEE)(whose 1993 novel "A Fire Upon the Deep" I published in hypertext form) coined the term "singularity" to refer to a future social and technological shift so profound and vast that those who come before it are actually incapable of understanding it.

This is an important concept, one that plays out in his novels and the writings of many others, and it needs a term. But this term has ended up not being ideal.

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