Four short links: 3 November 2009

Electoral Cryptography, Dataless Airport Security, Visualising Transport Data, Mathematically Insecure Social Asymmetry

  1. First Test for Election Cryptography (MIT Technology Review) — The first government election to use a new cryptographic scheme that lets both voters and auditors check that votes were cast and recorded accurately will be held tomorrow in Takoma Park, MD. Founder of the company behind the technology is David Chaum, who ran the first electronic currency company in the 90s. That was ahead of its time (Internet faced a credibility problem, not a convenience problem), but his timing for this seems spot-on. (via timoreilly on Twitter)
  2. Do I Have The Right To Refuse This Search? — a former police officer questions the efficacy of TSA screenings and is doubly worried by by the lack of data collected. For years in policing, we relied on random patrols to curb crime. We relied upon this “strategy” until someone went out and captured some data, and did a study that demonstrated conclusively that random patrols do not work (Kansas City Study). As police have employed other types of “random” interventions, as in DWI checkpoints, they have had to develop policies, procedures and training to ensure that the “random” nature of these intrusions is truly random. Whether every car gets checked, or every tenth car, police must demonstrate that they have attempted to eliminate the effects of active and passive discrimination when using “random” strategies. No such accountability currently exists at TSA. Trend I see lately is a return to quantitative decision making, reality-based data-directed system interventions. (via BoingBoing)
  3. Visualising Transport DataIt can be hard to make meaningful information from huge amounts of data, a graph and a table doesn’t always communicate all it should do. We have been working hard on technology to visualise big datasets into compelling stories that humans can understand. We were really pleased with what we came up with in just one and a half days. Like many places, the UK data.gov ran a dev camp to jumpstart people using their data. These appear to be successful, but I’m not aware of studies into the longterm effects nor the “value” of different types of developers.
  4. Why Your Friends Have More Friends Than You Do — there’s a numerical optical illusion at work here: count your friends, then ask them to count their friends. If you average the friend counts of your peers, it’ll probably be higher than your friend count. The reason for this is also why (on average!) your sexual partners seem to have had more sexual partners than you, and why previous generations seem more fecund than current generations. It’s because connectors (with large numbers of friends) distort the average, so unless you’re the connector (and if you’re reading this, you might well be!) the average will be bigger than a normal person’s friend count. Left unmentioned is what kind of person would count the number of friends they have, then ask their friends for their counts …. (via Hacker News)
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