Conspiracy Theories – Was the US Election Hacked?

The conspiracy theories as to why the exit polls in the US election pointed to a Kerry victory, and yet Bush won are starting to abound. Whilst conservatives propose that the exit polls in eastern states were rigged to persuade voters in the west to vote for Kerry, others are expressing concern that the PC’s used to count votes may have been hacked.

Whilst much attention was paid to the fully electronic voting machines, the US election also relies on optical scanners and normal PC’s in order to count and tabulate manual votes. The issue is that the underlying database used to store the details is insecure, and is editable directly from Windows. What is worse is that this manual editing is pretty well undetectable, and can be done in a couple of minutes by almost anyone with a little knowledge of PC databases. The article links to a live demonstration of how easy it is to hack the election tabulator software at http://www.votergate.tv/.

Strange voting patterns could be just that, strange patterns caused by some local issue or another, so it will just add to the list of conspiracy theories on everything from ‘Who shot JFK?’ to ‘Did they fake the moon landings?’. Having said that it does highlight the massive lack of PC security awareness that exists. Tabulating election results into a simple PC database was probably the simplest and cheapest way to do the job, but when that bit of software is responsible for deciding the next President is simple and cheap the best way? In elections the world over there are procedures and inspectors to ensuring that the physical process – casting votes, ensuring that they are not tampered with, and keeping the paper votes safe – is carefully carried out, and yet in this case the software that declares the result can be tampered with in under two minutes with pretty basic knowledge.

The simple fact is that whilst such insecure software is being used we don’t know whether the vote was tampered with or not, and probably never will.

What is the True Meaning of Christmas?

As I mentioned in the article about Danni’s Party we went shopping yesterday for a new evening suit. However, with the ever earlier start to Christmas Shopping, Christmas in the stores was in full swing. In fact this year Christmas in Tesco started even before Halloween had finished! (Although in Aylesbury they started even earlier…)

It seems like many people it bugs me that Christmas has become more and more about spending money. On the one hand the media are highlighting the problems of consumer debt, and yet on the other there is a decided confusion over the true meaning of Christmas with four out of five parents saying that they thought that Christmas was about spoiling their children, and yet 87% of them also said that they thought that children needed to learn the true meaning of Christmas! Yet the survey says that on average parents will spend £150 per child.

On his Youthblog the Diocesan Youth Officer has highlighted the Buy Nothing Christmas Campaign, started by Canadian Mennonites on the West Coast of Canada in 2000.

They are inviting Christians (and others) all over Canada to join a movement to de-commercialize Christmas and re-design a Christian lifestyle that is richer in meaning, smaller in impact upon the earth, and greater in giving to people less-privileged.

Over the past couple of years at St James we have tried to do something similar on a smaller scale with our Christmas Cards. Whereas in the past hundreds of cards would be given between members of the Church, everybody is now encouraged to recycle a single Christmas Card to everybody in the Church and hang it on the tree. The money we save on Christmas Cards is then given to charity instead.

The Buy Nothing Christmas Campaign works in a similar way, encouraging people to group together and buy one present each for another person in the group, or to make presents for each other, or give a some of your time as a gift. It’s important to stress that the idea is not to not give presents – as the site says

Giving gifts at Christmas is a good thing to do – it’s a small re-enactment of the incarnation of God’s love.

However the point that it is making is that by going overboard and buying big presents, and spending vast sums of money, we are losing the real meaning of Christmas in amongst the consumerism.

The site has lots of different ideas, and resources describing ways that you can get involved in the campaign, and try to focus on the true meaning of Christmas.

Party Time II

After celebrating Paul’s Birthday last Saturday, we were again up at the Church celebrating another birthday.

This time it was Danni, who has just turned 18. The guest list was again a wide range of ages, but generally younger than the crowd last week. In fact me and Beth felt positively old at times. The event was black tie, so for those of you who complain about not seeing pictures of me and Beth, there is a picture of us dressed up included below. My suit was newly purchased for the event, because as a result of us both losing weight over the past few months, my previous suit was too big. (Makes a change from having to buy bigger clothes!)

We did feel slightly old at times, although there were quite a few relations, and people from the Church that Danni had invited, there was a very large contingent of Danni’s school friends, dancing the night away. In some ways it was a bit like a wedding in that there was a massive range of people. We ended up chatting away from the main dance floor by the bar.

Anyway, we remembered to take the camera this time, so I’ve put some of the pictures below.

Star Wars in your Living Room

I just thought I’d post an example of what can be done with a normal digital video camera, a copy of software like Adobe Premiere, and a bit of patience!

Light Saber

Click on the picture above to see the whole clip. The remaining clips can be found on Howard’s Blog, together with a clip showing the Goauld-style glowing eyes effect from Stargate SG-1.

Howard put the clips together a year or so ago, but has dug them out to help Chris with a project he is doing with some of his students creating simple special effects. Although for someone whose footage extends to a couple of holidays and helping out the Youth Group with a video competition a few years back it is pretty impressive! More clips are promised as the project progresses.

It is worth bearing in mind that aside from the fact that Howard did it digitally, the method by which he got the effect is pretty similar to how LucasFilm constructed the effect for Star Wars back in 1977!

Party Time

Last night, along with a large number of other St James people we were invited along to celebrate the 60th birthday of Paul Arscott, who amongst other things is our head server, and also our treasurer at St James.

The evening was great fun, with a dinner, followed by dancing, however there was also a serious side. Julia, Paul’s wife is going to be walking the Great Wall of China for The National Autistic Society next year. Paul has a personal link to autism in that at 46, as a result of some of the apptitude tests he took as part of an application for a job, he was diagnosed as being dyslexic, which is classified as a form of autism. To highlight what effect his undiagnosed dyslexia had had through his life Paul played us a recording of himself singing as a young treble in Westminster Cathederal. He learnt the solo from memory because he couldn’t read the music and was having problems learning to do so. Of course at that time, dyslexia was not diagnosed, and he was unable to continue in the choir as they said that they couldn’t teach him to read music because of the problems. Of course he now knows this was dyslexia. During the course of the evening almost £1000 towards the £5000 sponsorship Julia is trying to get was raised.

Below are a few Phone-Cam snaps from the party.