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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A look at past voting methods

by Mark Ollig  

(This column appears in the newspaper's printed edition on Nov. 5, 2012)


Tomorrow is Election Day in the United States, and so your humble columnist reasoned this week’s topic might be of interest.

Don’t forget to cast your ballotta.

Ballotta is the Italian word for the “little ball” they used in secret voting; today, the word we use is ballot.

In the 1540s, the people of Venice, Italy would register their vote (in secret) by dropping a specifically marked or colored ball (ballotta) into a box or other container.

In contrast, some of the early voting practices in the United States used the “non-secret ballot” method.

This method was an openly recognized ballot vote; each citizen would vote for the person of their choice in public.

A citizen voted by using either a piece of paper, or by verbally affirming the name of the candidate they were voting for.

However, the non-secret ballot method was vulnerable to the intimidation, coercion, and bribing of a citizen to cast their vote for a particular person.

Then, a change took place. Starting in 1888, Massachusetts became to the first state to begin using a new type of voting method which would keep one’s vote secret.

This method was called the Australian ballot.

It originated in 1856, in Victoria and South Australia – thus its name.

William Boothby, a South Australian commissioner, is credited for creating the secret balloting system, which had paper ballots pre-printed with the names of the candidates up for election.

Citizens voting would mark their preference in privacy, on the official paper ballots which had been printed and distributed by the government.

A special wooden voting booth was constructed with particular dimensions and was private, except for an opening at the top.

The wooden ballot box, where the paper ballots would be placed in, was examined before the voting began.

The top of the box had a slot to accept the paper ballot.

This box was closed before the first ballot was inserted and was not to be opened until the final count began.

A resident then voted by marking a paper ballot while standing in the voting booth.

Once the citizen was confirmed to be able to vote, their paper ballot was placed inside the wooden ballot box.

The paper ballots inside the wooden ballot box were tabulated by hand.

The Australian ballot method of voting using Boothby’s system spread to Europe, and then eventually to the United States during the Presidential election held on Nov. 6, 1888.

Benjamin Harrison won the presidency over Grover Cleveland in 1888 by a majority of electoral votes: 233 to 168.

Cleveland won the popular vote by 100,456 votes.

In 1892, the first mechanical lever voting machine was used in Lockport, NY.

This mechanical voting machine, called the Myers Automatic Booth, was invented by Jacob H. Meyers, who obtained US Patent 415,549, Nov. 19, 1889.

Myers’ voting machine sped up vote counting, and considerably reduced the chance of over voting, as the votes were counted by machine instead of by hand.

His voting machine was created to “protect mechanically the voter from rascaldom, and make the process of casting the ballot perfectly plain, simple, and secret,” according to a quote attributed to Myers.

It was said, by 1930, various mechanical lever voting machines had been installed in just about every city in the United States.

Mechanical lever machines used in the US for voting stopped being made in 1982, and by 2004, they represented about 14 percent of voting.

Reading ballots using an optical mark-sense scanning system was first used in 1962, in Kern City, CA.

This ballot reading method was designed and built by the Norden Division of United Aircraft and the City of Los Angeles. This system was also used in Oregon, Ohio, and North Carolina.

In the 1964 presidential election, some voters used a keypunch device to create holes in paper punchcards next to the name of the candidate of their choice. Watch out for those hanging chads!

Nov. 16, 1972, five inventors filed a patent for an electronic voting machine called The Video Voter. They were granted US Patent 3,793,505, Feb. 19, 1974.

According to the patent’s abstract, this device was described as “An electronic voting machine including a video screen.”

The Video Voter was used in Illinois in 1975, and is considered the first direct-recording, electronic voting machine used in an election.

If we go back to 508 BC, we will discover ancient Greece had “negative” elections.

Voters (the male land owners), would vote for the leader they sought not to be elected – but to be exiled or shunned for the next 10 years.

These ballots were not cast on paper, or even verbally made.

Instead, the voters would write a name on pieces from a broken pot, or “ostraka,” which is a Greek word, from where we get the word “ostracize.”

If a leader’s name received more than 6,000 votes, they were ostracized.

The word “election” originated in the 13th century from the Anglo-French language and means “choice.” The French obtained it from the Latin word “eligere,” meaning to “pick out or choose.”

If you are reading this column before the Tuesday evening voting deadline; please exercise your right to vote.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Apple shrinks the iPad

by Mark Ollig     

“Honey, I shrunk the iPad!”

It wasn’t inventor Wayne Szalinski, using his electromagnetic shrink ray from the popular 1989 movie this time; it was the engineering department at Apple.

Last week, during a special event at the California Theater in San Jose, CA, Apple unveiled their new, smaller version of iPad.

The new iPad is called the iPad mini.

Doesn’t it seem like the Apple iPad has been around for a long time?

It was Jan. 27, 2010 when the late Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs, presented the first iPad to the public.

As I watched the presentation being live-streamed over the Internet, a smiling Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook walked onto the stage to much applause.

He stood facing the audience; behind him was a large mural of a white Apple logo with a very colorful aurora surrounding it.

For a moment, it reminded me of those tie-dyed T-shirts we used to make back in the day.

Cook first talked about the updates being made on the new iPhone 5, which became available, last month.

He said the first weekend they were available Apple sold out of them.

Cook happily announced Apple has sold 5 million iPhone 5s.

Those numbers made iPhone 5 the fastest-selling phone in history.

Cook went on to say for the year ending in June, Apple’s Mac computers have outnumbered the personal computer (PC) market by a factor of seven, and has been outgrowing the PC market during the last six years.

He then introduced Apple’s vice-president, Phil Schiller, to talk about MacBook notebook computers – and to make the big announcement.

First, Schiller told the audience that Apple’s best-selling MacBook (which also happens to be the number one selling Mac) is their 13-inch display MacBook Pro.

In keeping with a good thing, Schiller then introduced Apple’s brand-new 13-inch display MacBook Pro.

The audience cheered.

This new MacBook Pro is .75 inches thick, which is about 20 percent thinner than the previous 13-inch MacBook Pro, and it weighs 3.5 pounds (a pound lighter than the previous model).

The new 13-inch MacBook Pro also has the popular Retina display screen with more than 4 million pixels.

Then, the moment came for the spotlight to shine on the new Apple iPad mini.

“You can hold it in one hand,” Schiller said as he showed the aluminum and glass enclosed iPad mini to the appreciative audience. He went on to say, “iPad mini is like iPad, but smaller.”

In comparing the new iPad mini with the larger iPad with Retina display, the iPad mini (which does not have a Retina display) is about 7.9 by 5.3 inches, and weighs just a little more than one half pound.

The larger iPad is 9.5 by 7.3 inches, and, weighs 1.44 pounds.

The iPad mini is small enough to fit into one’s coat pocket, but large enough to comfortably read an e-book, watch and record videos, and of course, surf the Internet.

Battery life is the same as on the larger iPad Retina display: 10 hours.

The iPad mini has a 1080p HD (high-definition) video recording camera, iSight 5MP (mega-pixel) camera, and FaceTime for two-way video calls.

It comes equipped with the Apple’s dual-core A5 processor chip, and operates using the Apple iOS 6 operating system.

An LED-backlit Multi-Touch display screen shows 1,024 by 768-pixel resolution.

There are 275,000 existing iPad applications (apps) that will work with the iPad mini.

The iPad mini is configured with 16, 32 or 64GB of internal memory and comes with Apple’s Intelligent Assistant, Siri.

The cost for a 16, 32, and 64GB Wi-Fi only iPad mini is $329, $429, and $529, respectively.

The price of a 16, 32, and 64GB Wi-Fi and Cellular iPad mini is $459, $559, and $659, respectively (not including cellular carrier calling plans).

Cook talked about the 200 million devices running Apple’s newest mobile operating system; iOS 6, with 700,000 apps available for it. He said over 35 billion apps have been downloaded onto all of Apple’s mobile devices. “This is jaw-dropping,” Cook exclaimed.

So, we come to the question: “Do we really need a smaller-sized iPad?”

I read through comments pro and con about the new iPad mini on Twitter and other social media sites.

The number of those favoring the new, smaller-sized iPad did outnumber those opposed to it. I believe it mostly comes down to personal preference.

No doubt, Apple assumes we will want the new, smaller-sized iPad – especially being this close to the holiday season.

In any case, Apple will probably end up selling millions of these iPad mini computing devices.

I thought it was a nice touch when Cook gave a tribute to Apple employees by saying, “These are the most talented and innovative people I know, and it is a privilege to work with them.”

What’s ahead for Apple? Why, the next Mac, iPod, iPad, and iPhone, of course.

To learn more about the iPad mini, and to watch the 72-minute Oct. 23 Apple special event video, go to

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Google's Zeitgeist 2012

by Mark Ollig

Zeitgeist means “the spirit of the times.”

Google believes this word and definition are fitting to describe the program it started to share global search information and trends.

The term Zeitgeist is defined in the online Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary as “the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era.”

Google’s Zeitgeist events are a series of informal gatherings of the world’s top intellectuals and leaders.

“Hear perspectives from industry pioneers and states people, renowned writers and bloggers, scientists and artists, activists and musicians. Learn from progressive minds, and discuss topics that influence the world around us,” is how Google describes Zeitgeist.

I watched a series of videos from this year’s Zeitgeist 2012 event on YouTube, which is owned by Google. This collection is called ZeitgeistMinds.

Afterwards, I thought of the Bob Dylan song, “The times, they are a-changing.”

The spirit of the times, even the current pulse of the nation, can be somewhat understood through the accumulation and analysis of commonly searched themes or specific word search queries Google processes.

We are able to access search engines via the 6 billion smart mobile phones being used in a world with a population of 7 billion.

What was once thought of as science fiction is today commonplace. I refer to when we are holding our Android, iPhone, or other smart mobile device. We literally have access in the palm of our hand, a portal we can go through to discover seemingly inexhaustible knowledge.

Through search engines accessed on our mobile devices, we can instantly view documents, images, statistics, and video libraries.

Using our mobile devices, we are immediately sharing with the world our own original content via social media interaction.

We are capable of reporting and commenting on news stories and events as they happen with not only those in our own country, but with other countries, societies, and cultures around the world.

This quote sums it up nicely: “Imagine going from no information to the entire world’s information with one device,” said Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google during a recent Zeitgeist sales conference in Paradise Valley, AZ.

Google’s annual Zeitgeist report discloses what caught the world’s attention during the past year, by ranking Google searches according to our interests at particular moments in time.

The Zeitgeist conferences talk about technology, what people are searching for on Google, and how these search results can determine the current mood of the not only this country, but that of the world.

Zeitgeist conferences interpret how our Google searches affect our social, economic, political, and cultural surroundings.

At the beginning of his talk, Schmidt asked the audience “How many of you have used Google in the last 24 hours?”

Many hands went up. Schmidt responded, “I just wanted to see that; it made me feel better.”

The audience laughed.

He then went on to talk seriously about how technology and intelligent networks are changing the manner in which we are able to communicate with each other.

Schmidt said we are now able to converse with others speaking different languages using a technology called Universal Language Translation.

He took a smart phone out of his pocket, held it up, and said, “How many disagreements in society; wars, conflicts, prejudices, and so forth, have ultimately been because people could not communicate?”

He then talked about how by using Google technology (and others), we can speak into our phone (he was using an Android phone) and have the language we use automatically translated (via the power of the intelligent network servers in the background) to the desired language on the other user’s phone.

“It’s extraordinary. This is really magic!,” exclaimed Schmidt.

The 1960s science fiction “Star Trek” universal translator device has become a reality.

The talk continued with how technology can help solve certain global difficulties, such as with education, getting help to small businesses, and improving energy self-efficiency.

Schmidt talked about how all the routine things we do during the day will eventually be handled seamlessly through various forms of artificial intelligence.

He also talked about a whole new generation of robots that will respond to gesture recognition, and how these robots will represent us.

“I don’t like to stay out at night, so I’ll send my robot to the party and [it] can represent me,” mused Schmidt. “He’ll have a good time and report to me in the morning,”

The audience laughed, but Schmidt got serious again and said, “You think I’m kidding? There are companies building these special robots right now, and they are uncannily powerful.”

It has been 15 years since the domain name was registered.

And ever since Google went online, the number of folks searching for information by “Googling it” has soared.

Of course, Google is not the only search engine on the Internet; in fact, Google was not even the first search engine of note.

In 1990, Archie became the first practical search engine (which yours truly used) on the Internet.

Created in 1990 by Alan Emtage, Archie was originally called “archives,” but was shortened to Archie.

Whichever search engine or method of technology we use to access information, let’s use it wisely in order to make for a healthier Zeitgeist throughout our world.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The next evolution in cloud computing: TransOS

by Mark Ollig
Transitioning software files and application programs stored on our computer hard drives to data storage servers on the Internet cloud has been ongoing for the last few years.

Granted, there is debate whether we can trust our information will remain safe and secure when it is stored outside of our direct control. Nevertheless, we continue the progression to what I believe will be the day when we are using cloud-based computing – exclusively. 

Many of our personal computers use either Microsoft Windows, a version of Apple’s Mac OS X, or an open-source operating system similar to Ubuntu.

The computer’s operating system (OS) is fundamentally, a software program. 

The OS manages all of the computer’s basic tasks and operations. It controls the memory usage and the flow of the information between the hardware and the software. 

It controls how information is presented to us. 

Sending data to where we want it to go, whether it is to our display screen, or having it output to a printer, is determined, in part, by the operating system. 

It essentially controls and oversees the operation of software code as it interacts with our computer’s internal components, program applications, and peripheral hardware. 

My work computer here in Minnesota is a HP Compaq, using the Microsoft XP operating system. 

This computer is connected to my company’s privately networked, cloud-based array of data servers. The computer’s profile attributes are copied onto these data servers. 

The data servers are remotely located in Madison, WI.

My work computer’s Microsoft XP operating system has been interfaced to work under the control of the Remote Office Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (ROVDI) software, called VMware. 

In the ROVDI world, rather than hosting and processing all of the applications, data, and other information on my physical computer, those duties are now being handled by a very powerful set of data servers located in the Wisconsin data center.

VMware now accesses all of the application programs I need to use via the high-speed, high-bandwidth connection from my Minnesota office to the remote servers in the data center. 

My work computer is now considered a virtual machine on a private cloud computing network.

The ROVDI desktop screen looks just like a regular personal computer’s desktop. It has everything I need to do my job. 

Although it appears to have all the applications installed and running inside my physical computer, it’s actually displaying what is installed and running on those data servers located in Madison.

The information I click on and type in is being handled by the remote data server, which processes it using virtual processing servers. The results are then shown on my display screen. 

All my computing is taking place instantaneously; I notice no lag time. 

I am able to print documents from my work computer to the printer physically located in my office, which is also networked to the remote servers. 

The information I create is being copied and saved as I add or makes changes to it. 

This information is duplicated over a variety of remote data servers in data centers located in separate buildings in Madison. 

In the event one data center encounters an unforeseen outage, my information and application programs would have been saved onto another data server in another data center building, thus ensuring the preservation of my data, and my access to it. 

If my work computer has a hardware failure, I can simply login to any ROVDI-converted computer from any of my company’s offices and have complete access to my virtual desktop – just as if I was seated at my regular work computer.

Looking ahead, the next progression of public/private cloud computing will be the introduction of some type of universal cloud-based operating system.

A cloud-based operating system will replace not only the need for an interfaced program to control the existing operating system in our personal computers; it will remove the necessity for our computing devices of needing an internal operating system when connected to the cloud. 

One cloud based operating system currently being talked about at this time is a transparent operating system named, TransOS. 

TransOS was developed by Yaoxue Zhang and Yuezhi Zhou of Tsinghua University, in Beijing, China.

The TransOS operating system code is stored on a cloud server, and will connect to a minimally-equipped basic computer, or simple user terminal device.

The computing device will have enough software code in it to perform a simple boot up (start-up), and connect to the Internet. 

From the Internet cloud, TransOS will download specific pieces of client-like software to the user’s computing device.

The user is then presented with the familiar graphical user interface showing their software programs and applications – much the same as if the user was operating their regular personal computer with a built-in operating system. 

The twist here is the operating system is now cloud-based.

TransOS will oversee all the resources needed to provide seamless, cloud-based services for any networked user.

TransOS will also work with mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablet computing devices.

In addition to a basic computer, user terminal, or computing device, TransOS could also be used to communicate with properly modified household appliances or other apparatus connected to the Internet.

In order to be compatible with the considerable number of software applications being used, the researchers behind TransOS said the work needed to provide the appropriate cloud operating system architecture and interface standards – should begin now.