Brian Dear is an Internet entrepreneur who runs a Web log, or blog, called brianstorms, at www.brianstorms.com. He writes about San Diego, gadgets, dogs, startup businesses, movies, and a little bit of everything else. Dear’s blog often includes hyperlinks, allowing readers, with one mouse click, to connect electronically to the document or website that he’s writing about. In the following recent entries from brianstorms, a few Web addresses are included in place of the hyperlinks.
April 15, 2004
Corrupt Elections in the Digital Age
Bruce Schneier sent me this URL today (http://www.schneier.com/crypto-gram-0404.html#4), to an essay of his on the economics of cheating elections with electronic voting machines. It’s an interesting essay, and worth reading.
The San Diego County Registrar of Voters continues to amaze me with their spin on electronic voting. I’d love to know who wrote the talking points for how they explain the technology to the public. The main phrase is “touch-screen voting” — with slogans like “It’s at your fingertips.” Nice, happy phrases about how easy it is to vote using the voting machines.
That’s fine. What may also be so easy is perpetrating fraud on these machines, or, more importantly, on the machines that read and process the electronic cards voters hand back to the poll workers after using the “touch screen” machines.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: considering the levels of paranoia, scrutiny, security, testing, evaluation, caution, and care that banks and casinos exhibit when adopting new ATMs and digital slot machines, respectively, it is remarkable and very telling how readily governments embrace electronic voting systems like Diebold’s, which is what San Diego County bought and installed to the tune of $35+ million.
The Mission Statement of the San Diego County Registrar of Voters, seen at the bottom of this page (http://www.sdvote.com/about.htm), is as follows:
Under the Jurisdiction and Direction of the Board of Supervisors, and with the Assistance of the California Secretary of State, Conduct Voter Registration and Voting Processes with the Highest Level of Professional Election Standards, Accountability, Security and Integrity, Thereby Earning and Maintaining Public Confidence in the Electoral Process.
Well, this is one member of the public, who’s worked in the computer industry for 25 years, who no longer has confidence in the electoral process in San Diego because I know from experience how easily vulnerable computer systems are to error and fraudulent use. Sally McPherson, head of SDROV, has not assured me in the least that these machines, or the systems in place to count votes, are free and above any influence from any party or candidate. Go read Robert Caro’s books on LBJ. Don’t think that kind of electoral fraud doesn’t still happen? Please. It’s easier now than ever.
Startup in Acton, That’s All They Got
So, I’m in the middle of trying to give birth to a new Internet startup venture, trying to get funding, get a team together, all that stuff.
My startup seems to break every rule in the VC handbook:
• it’s a boring story, not rocket science
• nothing really new in terms of inventions or technology, in fact it’s more a Frankensteinian hodgepodge of existing technologies stitched together
• there’s absolutely no barrier to entry, the proverbial two guys in a garage could do it but probably wouldn’t bother
• it’s a pretty totally obvious idea
• stuff like this has been tried before, and it always fails
• there’s little in the way of intellectual property protection
• nightmarish multi-billion-dollar competitors
• utter uncertainty the venture will find a receptive market
When the world gives you lemons, give them to someone else.
So I’m basically describing my venture precisely in these terms: total doom. Funny thing is, it seems to be working.
Yesterday I had a great 90-min chat with a VC who’s fascinated with what I’m doing, and he agreed with my assessment of the business from a “no way is this fundable” perspective, by adding:
“You need to add another item to your rule-breaking list: No clear revenue model.”
He then added, seriously, that this is the kind of venture where it doesn’t matter what the revenue model is. That it’s worth spending $25 million on it just to build it and see what happens.
Alas, he didn’t write a $25 million check right then and there…
April 16, 2004
Black Boxes in Cars
Does your car have a black box? Do you know? Here’s an interesting Montreal Gazette story of a man who was convicted and sentenced to jail for killing someone in an accident, where the man was driving 3 times the speed limit. How do they know he was driving so fast? His car was a witness. The Pontiac Sunfire the man was driving had a black box in it, according to the article, which registered 157km/h (97mph) in a 50km/h (31mph) zone, and also indicated the driver made “no attempt to brake.”
Is it commonplace that cars now record speed like this?
Makes you wonder about black boxes in cars. How long before a car’s black box has a wireless port that law enforcement can read from using their mobile computer? Scenario: you park in a 2-hr spot on a street in downtown La Jolla, go have lunch and shop, come back 2.2 hours later, and there’s a ticket on your windshield. You think it’s because you exceeded the 2 hour limit. You’re right. But it’s a ticket for $900, citing you not only for the parking violation, but the 17 times you exceeded the speed limit in the past 6 months on various roads (the GPS-equipped black box knowing where you were when you were speeding, and what the legal speed limits are where you were at each instance).
Oh, the future is going to be delightful.
April 17, 2004
Thursday evening there was a new voicemail message on the home phone. The message was timestamped 5:09pm. Man’s voice.
“Hi, Pat, I missed you at your office, and I didn’t want to leave word there because you probably wouldn’t have gotten it, in fact I know you wouldn’t have, um, I’m sorry I can’t play tomorrow, I’d like to, but, we got some plans already worked out for tomorrow, but thanks for thinking of me, I’ll talk to you tomorrow at Mass. So long!”