Help the iPhone Navigate Better

system, hacks, open source, development

If you have an iPhone and a WiFi router at home, please do the following:

  1. Go to:
  2. address and then enter the MAC address (?) of your router and your email address. Submit this information to Skyhook.

Why? Because the iPhone also uses WiFi router signals to improve the quality of its location-based services. By submitting your router's information, you are helping to make the iPhone's services more accurate.

Chris Edley on Election Rights and Potholes

system, elections, accessibility, reform, news, privacy, politics, berkeley, problems, litigation, friends, research, policy, legal, podcasts, education


The high-point of last weeks' Pew/JEHT conference, "Voting in America", was seeing the Dean of Berkeley Law, Chris Edley, give a keynote during dinner on Tuesday. With his permission, I am making available audio from his address. Find it here (30 minutes long and 18MB in size):

s by talking from the perspective of being part of the Obama transition team and to what extent election reform will be a focus. He then goes on to describe his views on federalism vs. localism in election administration, building a consensus vision for election reform and how we need to spark desire for election reform by arguing in terms of fundamental values.

Read on for my summary of his talk...

Disclaimer: any errors in the summary below are my own, and apologies for the few instances of side-talk in the audio.

In terms of the transition, he comes out the gate saying that there are, undoubtedly, more pressing matters demanding the incoming Presidents attention (i.e., the economy, national security, energy & climate change, health care, education and immigration):

I don't expect weekly meetings with the President to talk about election administration. Frankly, we probably don't want him to be having weekly meetings about election administration given [this list of priorities].

He then went on to the meat of his remarks, describing a few areas where he thinks reform should go forward.

He first talked about the divided philosophies at work in election administration. He was surprised in previous work, with the US Commission on Civil Rights and the Carter-Ford Commission, that many people involved with elections "think of the franchise as this precious jewel box that they have to guard carefully... and be very careful about who can hold it, open it and polish it." This is in contrast with people who consider voting as "something that should be shared widely so that democracy can flourish." Bridging this divide is one important assignment for election reformers... in his words: "The distinction between election administration and voting rights should disappear, and we should be united on an agenda of election rights."

Chris then went on to describe the complexity of the politics surrounding elections: "Our governance strategy for election administration [...] puts us in a situation where the infrastructure of our democracy is competing with potholes... and parks... and prisons... and health care... and pensions... and education." Federalism, often ends up protecting election officials when they make wacky, disparate decisions about the administration of elections. In Edley's view:

I would suggest to you that our aspirations for democracy in the 21st century are not the same as they were in the latter part of the 18th century. The strategy for bringing about the quality of democracy we want, I think is going to require some compromises on our commitments to localism in this arena. [...] I think we passed a milestone [in Florida 2000] in which localism is going to be increasingly forced to deal with the demands of a national sense of what is fair, what is efficient and what is truly democratic.

Edley then described how the real problems we have are in terms of inequality: the huge disparities in spoiled ballots, purged voters, waits in lines, etc.:

The question is whether the quality of the democratic infrastructure is coded to your ZIP code or your color. The next great challenge is to think of Bush v. Gore, not in the technical sense but in the aspirational sense, that everyone in the polity deserves the same quality of support for their effort to engage in the political process.

Edley does recognize that "fairness" is a large gray area, but that there are real problems in how "fair" our election experience actually is. Referencing the Governor of Virginia's comments that people wait in lines for other things---why not voting?---and the Secretary of State of Florida's similar comments that day about waiting in line at Disney World:

This is not Zimbabwe. We should not create a new poll tax in the form of a 2, 3, 4 hour wait to cast a vote.

That is, for example, large disparities in wait times within a jurisdiction are patently unfair. We need to work to address these sources of unfairness.

So, what are the next steps in Edley's mind? He made the point that national voter ID is not seen as an anathema in other countries. This is to say, by example, we need to use technologies to give us leverage to improve the process and promote fairness where we can:

[On the Carter-Ford Commission,] the reason were were enthusiastic about touchscreens is that we sensed the potential for assisting language minorities and people with disabilities. We sensed the potential of making voting as flexible as getting money out of an ATM; the possibility that the technology, wherever you were in the country, could flash on the screen the ballot appropriate for the jurisdiction in which we reside.

We should decide collectively what is that vision---5, 10, 15 years from now---so that we're moving in the same direction on multiple paths. That consensus-building effort is the single most important thing we can do in the next two years.

Edley then talked briefly about voter fraud. From his perspective, he sees largely unfounded claims about the extent of voter fraud. So he called for a substantial research investment in understand the characteristics of vote fraud.

He wraps his talk up about talking about fomenting reform via attention to nuts and bolts versus focusing change in terms of values:

What we have to do is not to improve the quality of election administration, what we have to do is be advocates for, be warriors for election rights. It's making people believe that they have a right to world-class infrastructure for this democracy. To let people believe they have a right to be able vote with ease and have their vote counted and have their officials be accountable. It's not just about public administration: it's about our freedoms, it's about our character and it's about our hopes. Now, that's sex.... and it's a hell of a lot more important than potholes.

Categories and Upgrading Jailbroken iPhone

copyright, hacks, open source, DRM

If you're a complete idiot like me, you read the news at the iPhone Dev Team blog and was excited that you could upgrade your 2G iPhone to the new 2.2 firmware with no extra tricks... and you just did it.

If you're also an idiot, you probably did not "unhide" applications that you had previously hidden using Cydia's BossPrefs, Poof or Categories. Also, you probably hid BossPrefs and Cydia, which means you couldn't "unhide" jack squat nor install something like Poof which would allow you to do the same thing.

If you're an extra idiot, you didn't read the comments on the iPhone Dev Team blog post and see the pointer from Gibbles to BigBoss' advice on what to do if applications are missing:

Issue #2: iPhone backup works fine. But now you only have a few icons. Cydia is missing. What can you do where did all your icons go?

First, to address issue #2, missing icons. This occurs because you had installed categories and moved a bunch of files into folders. When you restore, your springboard plist will be restore and that contains a bunch of hidden icons. Here are your options

1) Prevent this situation by unhiding icons and/or deleting your folders before you do yoru final backup before you upgrade

2) After your jailbreak ends, before you restore your backup, install some things that will help you such as: openssh, poof, bossprefs (any of these you did not have installed before would be great). Here is a prioritized list of options:

a) Install Poof if BossPrefs was hidden install BossPrefs if Poof was hidden. Either of these can completely unhide all your apps. If both were used and hidden then move to B.

b) If settings is available, run that. Enable restrictions, disable restrictions. All your apps will be visible. If settings was hidden, move to C.

c) SSH into the iPhone with scp or ssh. If you don?t know how, use this guide. Navigate yourself over to /var/mobile/Library/Preferences and delete Respring your iPhone by typing ?killall SpringBoard? into SSH or, if you don?t know how to do that, just reboot. All your hidden apps will be visible.

So, you probably didn't realize that you could go into "Settings" -> "General" -> "Restrictions" and simply turn on and then off Restrictions... which unhides all apps.

You probably dinked around with past customized firmwares for a few hours, wasting your precious time. Don't do that again.

replace-regexp in Emacs... lovely

blogging, hacks

(as is the case with many of my blog posts, this one is for me... so you might not find it all that interesting)

In writing my very long post yesterday about OVL incident reports, I had to do a series of replacements. For example, I had a set of text like this:


and I needed each line to look like this (a Markdown anchor):


Obviously, I could do this by hand, but that would be silly and hurt my hands. Of course, my thoughts instantly turned to Emacs' replace-regexp command which will run search on a regular expression and replace that text with text of your choosing.

In this case, I hit M-x replace-regexp and entered this as the search string:


Which says, "look for any series of 5 numbers within square brackets, and save the 5 numbers for the replacement operation". After hitting return, I construct the replace text like so:


The \1 tells Emacs to replace this string with what it found in the search part of the operation between parentheses (although note that the parentheses have to be escaped in the search target above: \( and \)).

You can use the parenthesis trick in replace-regexp to do all sorts of neat stuff... check the Emacs manual for the specific syntax for Emacs regular expressions.

A Preliminary Analysis of OVL Voting Equipment Reports

system, elections, accessibility, reform, vendors, hacks, chilling effects, privacy, problems, research, policy, usability, legal

Warning: This is a very long post.


I've spent the past week looking over the voting equipment problems captured by the Election Protection Coalition's 25 nationwide call centers into the Our Vote Live database. There were around 1900 such incidents in the database, although that number is probably closer to 1700 taking into account duplicates.

Before I launch into the analysis, a few caveats:

  • This is voter-reported data, which means it can be inaccurate.
  • There has been no attempt to control for multiple reports from a single precinct.
  • In many cases it is hard to tell what exactly happened as the incident reports were taken by mostly non-technical legal volunteers from mostly non-technical voters and volunteers in the field.
  • Given the unbelievable popularity of the 1-866-OUR-VOTE hotline, OVL was unable to capture all incidents that people wanted to report.
  • There are undoubtedly incidents that were not reported to the OVL hotline for a variety of reasons.

Bottom-line: This is useful for qualitative notions of what went wrong on election day.

While I've worked to make this post accessible to an audience that may not be familiar with the vagaries of voting technology, I just don't have enough time to explain everything. In that sense, I encourage you to ask questions ( and I can amend this document to clarify as needed.

The Big Picture

Somewhere close to 85-90% of all voting equipment incident reports from the OVL database are very simple and report some combination of: broken equipment, long lines, and/or emergency ballots being handed out and/or auxiliary bins on optical scan systems being used (many optical scan systems have a bin incorporated into the design of the machine where ballots can be placed in the event the system ceases to function or the power remains out for hours). If we can do anything to improve the experience of the average voter facing a machine problem, it should be reduce the amount of time they spend in line.

Another curious feature of the data is the voters' uniformly negative attitudes toward contingency or back-up plans. Whenever the primary mode of voting is affected, whatever the contingency plan to keep people voting, it appears that voters are often upset and mistrustful. They seem to think that there is a possibility that their vote will not count if cast via a contingency plan. This is unfortunate as with any critical technical system, there should be a contingency plan in place that covers what to do if that system fails and how the system may continue or recover from that failure. For example, when an optical scanner goes down, the standard contingency plan is to place ballots in an auxiliary bin or container. Voters reported concerns with this kind of accommodation and were worried that their votes might not count. In a number of cases, voters refused to place their ballots into auxiliary bins and waited for hours before the scanner could be serviced or a new replacement scanner brought in. It's clear from this that we need to do a better job of educating voters as to what to do and what to expect in case of emergencies.

Ok, enough of the big picture; now on with the details!

Full story »

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