June 18, 2007


posted by Paul Smith @ 11:24 PM
It's barely worth pointing out and far beyond obvious at this point, but for the slim benefit of anyone stumbling across this blog, I feel compelled to say that it is dormant and closed, now and for ever.


September 01, 2006

The Election Day Advent Calendar 

posted by Paul Smith @ 11:18 AM

I'm actually following through on a promise! What a concept.

I'm pretty proud of this one: it's the 2006 Election Day Advent Calendar. You guessed it: instead of counting down to Christmas, you count down to Election Day. Instead of opening up doors on wintry scenes, you'll reveal key moments in the history of our electoral process, narrated by the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, and Jon Stewart.

The Calendar is the first serious for-sale production of Gerrymander, a new business based here in Chicago that I'm starting with my partner in crime Ben Helphand. Our goal is to make fun, democracy-themed stuff.

The D.C. edition of the DailyCandy featured the Calendar Friday. They ran with the concept and produced a poem in the style of 'Twas The Night Before Christmas, even managing to rhyme "George Stephanopoulos."

I'm particularly excited that ├╝berblog Boing Boing picked it up. *sniff*

I do hope you'll check it out and I'd love to hear your feedback.

July 28, 2006

A nod: new MD politics blog 

posted by Paul Smith @ 12:07 PM
I want to give a blogger family shout-out to my brother, who's now blogging about Maryland politics over at The Old Line.

He's going to be attending U. of MD's School of Public Policy this fall, and if I weren't so irreparably biased, I'd say he's a political writer to watch in that blue state.

June 14, 2006

The one you wanted to have a beer with, part II 

posted by Paul Smith @ 11:06 PM

Capt. Phineas Q. Douchebag is up to his wacky old tricks again!

Bush apologizes to vision-impaired reporter

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush, who often teases members of the White House press corps, apologized Wednesday after he poked fun at a reporter for wearing sunglasses without realizing they were needed for vision loss.

The exchange occurred at a news conference in the Rose Garden.

Bush called on Los Angeles Times reporter Peter Wallsten and asked if he was going to ask his question with his "shades" on.

"For the viewers, there's no sun," Bush said to the television cameras.

But even though the sun was behind the clouds, Wallsten still needs the sunglasses because he has Stargardt's disease, a form of macular degeneration that causes progressive vision loss.

The condition causes Wallsten to be sensitive to glare and even on a cloudy day, can cause pain and increase the loss of sight.


June 06, 2006

Electoral politics, meet Skype 

posted by Paul Smith @ 3:43 PM
Today I placed calls as a volunteer of MoveOn.org on behalf of Francine Busby, the Democrat running in the special election for the Dukestir's seat, the California 50th. (The Fightin' 50th!) For about an hour I called voters in the district and reminded them to get out to the polls. I have a mobile phone but no landline, and I don't particularly like my mobile, so I went with Skype and it's newly free service, SkypeOut, which lets you call plain old telephone numbers in the U.S. from your computer. MoveOn presents you with a nice web application that guides you as you go through each call, a page for each voter with name and number, along with buttons to follow if they respond, if you reach an answering machine, if there's no answer, et cetera. I simply cut'n'paste the phone number for each voter into Skype, no tedious manual dialing like a sucker. In fact, MoveOn could make it even easier if they included Skype's callto:// links right in the voter info pages (for instance, 202-456-1414), so that you could just click and Skype will make the call. But that's easily fixed: if Firefox is your browser, and you have the Greasemonkey extension, this user script will convert phone numbers into SkypeOut links.

I might do another round to catch the nine-to-fivers coming home. Then sit back and watch the results. Should be an interesting night.

May 09, 2006

The one you wanted to have a beer with 

posted by Paul Smith @ 1:42 PM
Bush visited with some waiting in a courtyard where Frank Sinatra's "Young At Heart" played on the loudspeakers, then he went indoors where people were looking over the laptops. He walked around giving handshakes and hugs to those who rose for his entrance, and greeted a man who remained sitting in a wheelchair with, "You look mighty comfortable."


May 04, 2006

Al Gore in Chicago 

posted by Paul Smith @ 10:53 AM
Al GoreLast night, I was lucky enough to attend a screening of An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's new movie about global warming, at the AMC on Illinois, and the man himself - the former next President of the United States - was there.

Early in the movie, Gore talks about professor Roger Revelle at Harvard, who was the first to blow the whistle on warming, a diligent, careful scientist and clearly a skilled teacher, to judge by Gore's reverence. And at some point later on, after maybe the third or fourth vignette in his lecture, you realize that Gore has become that figure, the great teacher, in command of a vast array of data but never at a lost to explain lucidly. Of course, he's got great material to work with: I've never seen charts and graphs of data have such a visceral reaction from an audience. But Gore walks us through it, the patient teacher, obviously driven by a moral imperative he asks us to share. By the end, you'd be hard pressed to turn it down.

In the Q&A session afterwards, perhaps because he knew he was with the choir - the screening was organized by ELPC and attended by the environmental literati of Chicago - he was a bit flat, gamely trying to field questions that included details such as the amortization of power plants. Which, of course, he's fully capable of answering, just as much a wonk as ever. But towards the end, he seemed to find the fire that's been fueling him since the most powerful position in the world was taken away from him, and looking relaxed and dressed in an all-black suit, he reminded me of Johnny Cash, the Man in Black, up front, daring to tell the inconvenient truth until it becomes history.

April 20, 2006

You're sorry? 

posted by Paul Smith @ 6:13 PM

Oh, you're sorry? You apologized to your girlfriend? Pussy. God! You're an American! And this is America! And you let big bad China scare you? You let Censorship Jim boss you around, make you ashamed of your own country and its freedoms? Looks like he's the one smiling here.

Bush later addressed the matter when he met with Hu in the Oval Office. "He just said this was unfortunate and I'm sorry it happened," said Dennis Wilder, acting senior director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council staff.
What are you sorry about? What? That people are allowed to protest freely here? That we can speak truth to power and that's a right that can't be run over with a tank? What are you sorry about?

You flinched.


March 07, 2006

Early Voting Blues Brunch: This Saturday 

posted by Paul Smith @ 1:48 AM
It's the first time Illinoisans can vote early in an election (without an excuse), so some friends of mine thought we should celebrate.

Come join us for the first ever Early Voting Blues Brunch at the Hideout this Saturday, March 11th, from 11am to 2pm. It's free.

There'll be music from Revelator and delicious food. You need not have already early-voted, so long as you intend to, or are aware that you can.

February 22, 2006

Yosemite Sam said to be shootin' mad 

posted by Paul Smith @ 4:53 PM
Bush Previews Upcoming South Asia Trip; Calls for End to Cartoon Violence

February 15, 2006

Vote early, possibly often, we're note sure 

posted by Paul Smith @ 12:09 PM
Illinois' primary election day 2006 is March 21st, but starting Monday, February 27th, you can vote early at any of 21 places in the city of Chicago. You could fumble with the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners' lovely website to find where to go, or you could just find at a glance the polling place closest to you on, say, a Google Map like this one.

January 24, 2006

Google and online privacy 

posted by Paul Smith @ 3:52 PM
Reading Tim Wu's essay on the recent DOJ subpoena of Google for its search records, I thought of translucent databases. The core concept behind translucent databases is that the statistically, or epidemiologically, or biologically, or whateverologically interesting data in a record -- demographics, a web search, health history, credit rating, etc. -- is left in plain cleartext, but the key that uniquely identifies that record, which may be sensitive or personal information like a name, Social Security number, or an IP address, is passed through a secure, one-way encryption algorithm generating a so-called "hash", a string of character that looks to the untrained eye as a random gobbledygook. The encryption algorithm is strong enough that the sensitive data it represents can't be discovered by reverse engineering the hash: without a special passphrase known only to trusted parties, it would take untold computers untold years to de-encrypt any one hash back to the cleartext original. In addition -- and this is the key point -- for any input, as long as that input doesn't change, you get the same hash. In other words, there is, for all intents and purposes, one unique hash for each possible input*. So with translucent databases, institutions can continue to do interesting data analysis without losing the critically important need to uniquely identify and therefore couple records together: the difference is that they can do this work without actually knowing that this record belongs to Bob Smith, or that record is from the IP address And arrangements can be made with the persons about whom data is collected to use aforementioned passphrases to reliably update records without untrusted parties becoming privy to the information underneath.

One part of the media coverage of this Google v. DOJ story that's unsatisfying to anyone who is familiar with IP networks is that an IP address doesn't necessarily uniquely identify something the way most people think it does. They can be dynamically assigned and therefore change regularly (though there is certainly no reason to think that ISPs aren't keeping track of IP assignment history). With the advent of NAT and private IP networks, an IP address is less likely than ever to even uniquely identify a single computer: there could be many Internet-accessing devices behind a router with a single IP address, which is certainly the case in many home and small business networks where the scarcity of available public IP addresses make it infeasible and an administrative burden to try and assign numbers to each machine. Think of a coffee shop with a WiFi access point: each of those macchiato-sipping laptop users are known by the rest of the Internet by the same IP address. It's far more likely that web browser cookies, tracked across many sites with sharing agreements and usually tied to a login session where a user has provided information that could ultimately be traced back to them, would yield interesting, per-surfer metrics.

But there are plenty homes out there with a single PC and connection to the Internet, so why even bother with storing IP addresses? Once a cursory examination of them is done -- for instance, country of origin, which can easily be discovered by widely available tools -- run them through your encryption scheme and toss the originals. Then if you ever do get in a situation where you're forced to hand over the data, you can at least do it secure in the knowledge that you're not compromising your user's privacy. You still have problems, just one less one on your conscience.

* The information space of a typical hash is 128 bits, or 2 to the power of 128, or 3.4e38, or an extremely large number of possible outcomes. So while "collisions" -- two different inputs that yield the same output hash -- can happen, and have, in the case of the MD5 algorithm, the odds of them occurring are infinitesimally small, and in any case would not diminish the practical utility of day-to-day use of such hashes; that is, until quantum computers get their hands on them, but that is another, terrifying matter.

January 23, 2006

I wish I could quit you -- no, seriously 

posted by Paul Smith @ 3:40 PM
Every day Hotline's Last Call has a section called "Shot and Chaser" --
typically two quotes that are somehow strangely related.

Today's was:

SHOT . . .

"The president does not have a personal relationship with Mr. Abramoff" --
Dan Bartlett (1/23/06).

. . . CHASER

"I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky" -- Bill
Clinton (1/26/98).
(via D)

December 19, 2005


posted by Paul Smith @ 5:48 PM
Ben and I are up to something. We'll tell you about it in 2006 (hopefully early in 2006) …

October 19, 2005

Who stands for you? Find your Civic Footprint. 

posted by Paul Smith @ 3:23 PM
In between my geologic-time-scale postings here at Polis, I also do things. Like make web-based applications such as the very brand new Civic Footprint.

Here's the skinny: if you live in the Chicagoland area, in less time than you can say "Cook County Clerk David Orr" you can get a list of the elected officials who represent you and a spiffy map of their districts. Sure, you could try to reverse engineer the info on your voter reg card or tediously crawl through a slew of disconnected and user-unfriendly websites to find this info, but it would still suck a lot more than our one-stop show. Plus, our's looks sweet.

It's a young project but we think it's already pretty cool and we have big plans for it. I hope you like it.


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