New voting computers crisis

The Dutch computerised voting system is completely open to fraud, and bad guys could find out, remotely, how you voted. So argue Rop Gonggrijp and colleagues of the “We do not trust voting computers” foundation in The Netherlands. Gonggrijp and co are some of smartest hackers around, so we are sure they are right. A technical paper by Gonggrijp’s team details how they installed new software in Nedap ES3B voting computers. They established that anyone, when given brief access to the devices at any time before the election, could gain complete and virtually undetectable control over the election results. It also shows how radio emanations from an unmodified ES3B can be received at several meters distance and be used to tell who votes what. This is not a small crisis. 90% of the of votes cast in The Netherlands are cast on the Nedap/ Groenendaal ES3B voting computer – and it’s due to be used in a national election next month. The same computer with very minor modifications is also being used in parts of Germany and France.

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The economics of attention

In his review of Richard Lanham’s new book The Economics of Attention, Adrian Ellis says that “its core argument (is) that everyone is straining for distinction in a late capitalist global economy jammed with commodities and information, and that culture and creativity are what affords the producer the possibility of distinction. (This) explains the universal prevalence of shock tactics in both art and advertising (and) offers insights into the changing role of the creative artist and the artist’s sensibility in contemporary society”. I’m not so sure. Are attenion-seeking artists really a new phenomenon, economic or otherwise? After all, it’s 135 years since artist Emile Zola assured the world, “I am here to live out loud” – and few artists before him were shrinking violets. Ellis goes on to attribute the phenomenal increase in the number of people describing themselves as artists, in the past half-century, to “the changing balance of power between the technical and the creative (and) the inexorable logic of The Economics of Attention”. Surely traditional job market economics are a simpler explanation. As I’ve been telling everyone recently, a Dutch survey found that only two percent of those with a degree in art or design consider themselves to be unemployed. The government should introduce compulsory art education for all – and thereby abolish unemployment at a stroke.

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Vote for La Voute!

Our friends at La Voute Nubienne are among the 13 finalists of the Ashoka-Changemakers Competition on “How to Provide Affordable Housing.” This ancient architectural technique, traditionally used in Sudan and central Asia, but until now unknown in West Africa, can accelerate appropriate house-building in the Sahel. The Nubian Vault (“la Voute Nubienne” or VN) technique uses basic, readily available local materials and simple, easily learned procedures. The major cost element is labour, so cash stays in the local economy. Raw materials, too, are locally available, and ecologically sound. In Burkina Faso, trained VN builders are becoming independent entrepreneurs.
La Voute Nubienne has been shortlisted by a panel of five distinguished judges. Now it’s over to the online community – ie, you – to vote in three winners. Each voter is required to cast three votes – otherwise your vote is rendered invalid. (Ashoka say this is a good way of ensuring fair play, and has worked well in past competitions). The deadline for voting is October 16, 2006. The Changemakers Innovation Award winners will be announced on October 17, 2006.
So please: get cracking and vote here for La Voute Nubienne – and two others!

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Stuff-o-Meter

Yesterday’s Doors of Perception Report pointed you to an out-of-date url. The Call for the D&AD stuff-o-metre competition is here

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Designing Interactions

When we first did a Doors conference in 1993, the concept of interaction design was still in its infancy. Today, designers of digital technology products shape not just what the world looks like, but what it’s like to use. In his eagerly awaited book Designing Interactions Bill Moggridge, designer of the first laptop computer (the GRiD Compass, 1981) and a founder of the design firm IDEO, tells us stories from an industry insider’s viewpoint. The book is based on interviews (there is also a DVD) with forty of the influential designers who shaped – and shape – our interactions with technology. Gillian Crampton Smith answers the question, “What is Interaction Design?” The original designers of The Mouse tell us why and how they did it. There are fascinating encounters with Brenda (Computers as Theatere) Laurel and Will (The Sims) Wright. Larry Page and Sergey Brin describe how they made the ultimate less-is-more interface for Google. Service designers Live|Work, Fran Samalionis, and Takeshi Natsuno describe how they derive useful purposes for all this tech. Hiroshi Ishii, Durrell Bishop, Joy Mountford and Bill Gaver describe their ongoing efforts to design multi-sensorial computing. Moggridge concludes by discussing “Alternative Nows” with Dunne and Raby, John Maeda and Jun Rekimoto. I count ten Doors alumni in the list, so don’t expect this notice to be unbiased. Besides, Don Norman puts it best as usual: “This will be the book”.

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.000001 % solution

Doors 9, with its focus on energy and food, is about an important security issue. We seek funding to the tune of .000001% of America’s Homeland Security budget to pay for scholarships so that project leaders may come to New Delhi from different parts of India and elsewhere in South Asia. If you are able to fund a scholarship or two, please contact: john@doorsofperception.com

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So now you know

Random.org run by Mads Haahr, offers true random numbers to anyone on the internet. Their most important use is the generation of cryptographic keys. For example, one Danish TV station runs an online backgammon server which generates more than 300,000 dice rolls per day. A dice roll is a random number between 1 and 6, so a Java program accesses Random.org’s web interface. Another user is Ian Pitcher, from the American band Technician. He uses numbers from Random.org to generate unique covers for the band’s CDs. Ian says the numbers’ origin as atmospheric noise is particularly appropriate because their music is “loosely inspired by the work of Konstantin Raudive … [who] … believed he had discovered a way to communicate with the dead by recording white noise on magnetic tape.” Aaah: So now I know why my teenage daughter used the word “random” so often last year. (Thanks to John Chris Jones for alerting me to yet another sublime morcel).

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Creative class fights back

Two steps forward, one step back. In 2003 I gave a lecture called The Post-Spectacular City at a conference in Amsterdam. I argued that today’s “creative class”, having optimised the society of the spectacle, will be remembered for leaving behind narcissistic but meaningless cities. The talk was later included in a book called Creativity and the City that was published by the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAi). So, did my devastating critique change the course of urban design and development? Well, not exactly. A new show celebrating The Spectacular City has just opened at….the NAi.

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Food information systems

Two days ago I was in London to talk with design school tutors about the design competition concerning food information systems that the Royal Society of Arts is running together with Dott07. Today I learned from CalorieLab via SmartMobs that McDonald’s is now placing codes on the packaging of many foods so that eaters can scan the package with their cell phones and find out the nutritional information. “Known as a QR Code, these printed codes look somewhat like a barcode and are scannable by many photo cellphones. All sorts of information can be packed into these little codes, from the website to find the amount of calories and fat in a Big Mac to a company’s contact information on a business card,” the site explains. This is good news for any young designers seeking to win a trip to Doors 9 (the prize for winning the RSA competition): you don’t have to invent a QR food application – McDonalds has done that: take that as your starting point and amaze us with how much further it could go.

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