Monday, August 18, 2008

xkcd, diebold voting machines, and anti-virus

i think by now just about everyone has seen this xkcd comic:



lots of people have posted their thoughts about it but unfortunately quite a number just don't get what it's about and missed the point by a wide margin...

the comic, titled "voting machines" (not "anti-virus") is about voting machines (not anti-virus)... imagine that... the artist compares av to condoms as an entirely acceptable preventative measure under ordinary circumstance but then points out that there are some circumstances where it's presence indicates something else has gone horribly wrong... that is the voting machine itself - there's no reason (other than diebold/premier election solutions being cheap and lazy) for a voting machine to be capable of running viruses, let alone anti-virus software, or even windows for that matter...

voting machines need to do one very narrowly defined thing, and they have to be incredibly reliable and resistant to tampering (after all, the future of your government depends on them)... those design criteria call for a special purpose (rather than general purpose) computer... computers that are physically incapable of doing anything more than carrying out the very narrowly defined set of tasks they were designed for... you've seen them before - cheap pocket calculators (as opposed to the fancy scientific ones), wrist watches, etc... putting extra power needlessly into the voting machines made them less reliable and less secure but it's cheaper to use off-the-shelf components and it's cheaper to pay for developers who work on general purpose platforms than those who work in embedded systems...

as the old saying goes: cheap, fast, good - pick 2...

(oh, and i should thank the comic's author, randall munroe, since, for a brief period anyways, guess who was the top result for searches on 'diebold antivirus')

2 comments:

LonerVamp said...

Sometimes reading comments on news posts and such really make me disappointed at how so many people fail at critical thinking. You're right, and that's how I read it, as a commentary on voting machines, not AV. The analogy is disturbingly hilarious, btw. :)

I'm surprised that some people seem to lean more on how this is some statement about AV (the emergentchaos link).

kurt wismer said...

sometimes critical thinking takes a back seat to a certain pervasive affirmation bias against av...

it's not so much surprising to me as it is disappointing...