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February 26, 2005

Standing up to fall down

The past two weeks have been a roller coaster of thoughts, discussions, and emotions, culminating in another life changing event. It's just over two years since my last such event and I'm hoping that I don't also blunder this one. Given how draining times like this are, I'm glad they are infrequent.

My fortune cookie from last night offered hope in these simple words: You will come to realizations in you [sic] life that change you forever.

Two weeks ago on Valentine's Day I went into work excited about the first of many transition meetings discussing what will happen to dbConnect (part of Towers Perrin Administration Solutions) when it gets merged into a new (still unnamed) joint venture with EDS. Part of this process will include being rebadged as an EDS employee. I came away from the Town Hall meeting with a positive outlook and a pile of transition paperwork.

My dilemma started when I read the EDS Employment Argeement. It includes a random drug testing clause. This was the first time I'd ever seen such a requirement. I wasn't quite sure how to react to it. I knew such a policy wouldn't affect my employment, but something about it rubbed me the wrong way. In that past I've taken issue with non-competition agreements, but the fact that they are time limited and have a built in appeal/approval process makes them palatable. The drug testing clause struck a different, deeper cord.

As coincidence would have it, my friends had discussed employer mandated drug testing the previous week. No clear opinion emerged but the general consensus was that such a policy was unreasonable. As I thought about it, I agreed. I agreed to such an extent that I decided to take a stand. I first met with my boss to let him know that in my one-on-one transition meeting I was going to raise the issue.

As a result, my one-on-one meeting got rescheduled for that afternoon. I got to speak with one of the senior EDS leaders that was visiting the office. We had a great discussion about impressions of the joint venture and what each company would add to the deal. Eventually the conversation turned to the employment agreement. The initial reaction didn't look good. This wasn't a clause that could be easily removed or reworked. I left the meeting knowing that my request would be forwarded to EDS HR and legal.

The following Tuesday I got a call saying that there was no way to exclude the random drug testing clause. Both my boss and my EDS contact tried their best to convince me to reconsider. I didn't. I held out hope that maybe some compromise could be met. Unfortunately, Friday rolled around and there was no good news. Instead the talk turned to what the next steps were.

As a result of my refusing to sign the employment agreement, I will be terminated from Towers Perrin on Mar 31st. It has been hard to hold my ground in light of an uncertain financial future, but I can only hope that my stance will help, in some way, to eliminate drug policies that violate civil liberties.

I greatly appreciate everyone that took the time to listen to me and share their thoughts on this subject.

Additional information on drug testing:
ACLU Drug Testing: An Overview
Drug Policy Alliance

Super TPS

Super TPS

I got your TPS right here!

Optimus Prime gets prostate cancer

Optimus Prime gets prostate cancer

There should be more PSAs like this.

The current 15 minutes of fame

The current 15 minutes of fame

The NY Times has a write up on the back story to the video.

February 24, 2005

OASIS allows patents on standards

OASIS allows patents on standards

OASIS is seems has created a new policy that will allow some of their standards to be patented. This pretty much shuts out the possibility of OSS using such a standard. As mentioned in the posting, send email to open@rosenlaw.com to indicate your support against OASIS adopting this new policy.

February 18, 2005


"But, as I've said before, a lot of your life is shaped by the opportunities you turn down as much as those you take up." Bill Clinton "My Life" p211.

February 12, 2005

Notes from New Standards for Elections

Notes from New Standards for Elections

The variety of perspectives offered by the panel helped ensure the discussion ranged over all of the problems facing election standards. Besides some initial logistical issues with not properly cutting off speakers at 10 minutes and the room being a little too warm, my congratulations to the organizers for putting on a top notch program.

Below are notes I took during the various speaker presentations, along with some personal interjections. I'm going to separately post my thoughts on the topic sometime in the next couple of days. These are not direct quotes and most likely don't accurately capture what they said. If I've completely missed the point on something let me know. Please see the evote-mass.org site for general program information and speaker bios.

Merle King
There isn't much awareness for the P1583 effort. I for one had never heard of it before this.
Various parties all want their hands in the new election standards. 3000 election officials want the status-quo since it works for them now. Vendors what the standard to position their product favorably so they have a jump on the gun once it is released. Activists and researchers are also bringing various agendas to the table to promote their cause or work.
Important not to ignore the economics of elections. While this point is valid, I don't think it should be the focus.
Need to be careful of a standard that limits what can be done (prevent thinking outside the box). I view this as a balance between a rigid standard and a minimum set of requirements (which vendors can individually improve upon to distinguish their product).
EAC should be serving as a national voice for these issues but it is slated to disband in the near future.

Rebecca Mercuri
Voting is still a state issue, nothing has really been enacted at the federal level.
New standards were not used until 2003. This led to grandfathered systems and systems purchased with funding tied to new standards that are not compliant with those new standards.
Key issues include security, auditing, reliability, and potential issues with COTS products (ala Windows).
While the standards may include tests, quite often the tests are bad, or not open enough to allow new faults to be found that would allow revoking certificates since most receive a lifetime certification.

Stan Klein
Key issues include accuracy, security, and reliability.
He defined software release as the point after which all bugs found are production issues.
Need to setup a national database of voting issues. Mentioned example of two election officials having the same problem with an optical scanner and neither knew the other one had the same issue.
The standards say 99% availability, but this assumes on call technicians and an ability to repair on the spot.
Hardware follows a bathtub failure model. Lots of errors at the start, a long stable life, and then lots of errors at the end, something like |_|. Where the peaks are high failure rate and the x-axis is time.
Based on the standard 80% of Maryland sites should have experienced at least one failure.
Should look at both machine and non-machine failures.

David Aragon
Democracy isn't just about who gets to vote, it is also about how it gets done.
A standard like P1583 can devalue things that aren't included in it, since they become invalid or new thinking can't be modeled to fit what the standard tried to do. (The recent West Wing episode Wakeup Call kind of underscored this. They didn't want to write the constitution they wanted to make sure the people there understood what a constitution was about and how it would live beyond the current administration, focus on the ideals of democracy).
The P1583 suffers from the fact that it is trying to avoid all issues about policy.
If the voter can't verify, it's a flawed system.

Ron Rivest (Take I)
TGDC working on voluntary voting system standards. (There are existing voluntary standards and another speaker I believe mentioned that there was a fairly poor adoption rate of those, which make me question how good another set of voluntary standards will be.)
www.nist.gov has opportunities for public comment on the work that they are doing vote.nist.gov/TGDC.htm.
More data about elections needs to be made public and easily accessible (ala websites).
For any electronic (and in my opinion any election system) there needs to be a verifiable setup procedure. (i.e. machine turned on and correctly initialized to a known good state).
Standards need to allow for open testing research so that products don't just have to adhere to whats in the spec as what makes a process/machine insecure will change over time.

Ben Adida (Take I)
Voting processes and machines need to be rated across multiple dimensions. The needs of a small community of 200 people are very different than that of a large city.
Standards need to focus on performance instead of how. For example MTBF is performance while not specifying how a particular device should achieve it.
vspr.org is looking for members, based on expertise in relevant domains.

Baby Names

Baby Names

Explore the rank and frequency of baby names over the decades. Really cool. A couple neat ones to look at are Mike and Wendy.

February 5, 2005



A simple easy to use RSS reader that sends email when it detects a new item.

February 4, 2005

I vs. I Round One

I have no clear thought or maybe it's just self realization. To be an intellectual one must be intelligent, but not everyone who is intelligent is an intellectual. Does everyone who is intelligent strive to be an intellectual? Does considering such a question lead one down that path? I've been tagged as being intuitive, does that matter to this discussion? Cognition without evident rational thought and inference, doesn't sound like it's developed or chiefly guided by the intellect rather than by emotion or experience. Well maybe it's a short circuit around that...

Why American Idol Works

Why American Idol Works

One question that I hear every time someone starts talking about American Idol is "Where do they find these people?" or something alone the lines of "They have got to be paying that person to audition!". The PDF linked to is entitled "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments". The items I found most interesting were as follows:

  • The bottom quartile inflated performance the most.
  • The top quartile underestimated performance.
  • After reviewing the work of peers, the bottom quartile ranked performance the same, while the top quartile upped performance rankings.
  • After training both the bottom and top quartile better estimated performance.

Granted I've not watched much American Idol, but the really bad singers are always amazed that they are judged so poorly while the good ones are modest and surprised by the kind remarks. I'm also reminded of the one very bad singer who found five other people out on the street that said he sounded good (blind leading the blind).

It's a good read.

February 2, 2005

Mirror Everything

The world wide web has ushered in a new era of information sharing. The lonely fanatic must no longer toil in obscurity, he can now publish his masterpiece for all to find. However, as is the want of man that which once was may no longer be. 404s are the potholes along this information superhighway. As a result I've started mirroring anything that passes my threshold of usefulness. I've stared down one too many dead links and probably created my fair share, to not take matters into my own hands.


Imagine a world where Microsoft et al. fixed bugs and released updates with the same expediency that is applied to security problems. Sigh.

February 1, 2005


Spammers are a creative bunch. It's a pity though that they can't turn their creativity to something good. The new trend seems to be blog spamming. Add comments to every post advertising a site or some link. Thankfully, b2evolution has handy support built into it to do mass deletes of such crap.