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How to replace 30 laptops (and $10,000) with 150 sheets of paper (ruk.ca)
249 points by alxp on June 10, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 94 comments

The professor for my software engineering course in college posed a problem with a non-tech answer similarly.

You have a cabin in the woods, with electricity and a freezer. You go hunting and bag a deer with much more meat than can be used in one visit, so you freeze it for use on a future visit. But you want to know while you are away if the electricity fails for any length of time so that the meat may have thawed and spoiled.

After the class spent most of a period arguing over remote monitoring systems and temperature sensors and the like, the professor revealed the simple answer. Freeze a block of ice in the freezer and mark its height. If it is shorter when you return, the power was out so some of it melted.

His answer is a clever one that is very cheap and effective, but personally I'll be the first to admit that I would've been among that group talking about going the more complicated route because I figured:

1) A block of ice will occupy room that could've been used for more deer meat(I suppose the size wouldn't matter, of course)

2) A temperature sensor would let you know right away if the power failed, instead of finding out after the fact and forcing you to clean out a freezer full of rotting meat

3) The sensor may also act as a silent alarm system. If the temperature changes suddenly then goes back to normal, it's possible that an intruder opened it up looking for money / food / valuables.

I realize that misses the point of the discussion since the professor was going for the easiest possible solution, but we're hackers here :)

Plug an electric analog clock on the same circuit as the freezer. If it is wrong by more than a minute or two (normal inaccuracy) then you know the power was off and for roughly how long. If the power was off for an exact multiple 12 hours you'd have a problem, but a) that's unlikely and b) you could get a slightly fancier clock with a date as well as a time component.

Ice evaporates, how do you tell the difference between evaporation and power outage? Sure there should be more loss in the case of an outage but you don't know the exact evaporation rate to expect.

Your computer has a setting on whether or not it should turn back on after power loss, build a low cost circuit that does the same(turns off in case of power loss) and you are done.

Place something like a coin on top of the ice. If the ice melts, the coin will submerge and be inside the ice if it re-freezes. (Assuming you put the ice in a container).

That is interesting because you could tell how long the power had been off by how deep the coin was in the refrozen ice.

"Ice evaporates"

Actually, ice sublimates

You probably don't care if power is only out for a few seconds, though.

Ice evaporates, but a large block will take quite a while.

.. and the nice thing is that it's a close representative of what you're trying to measure. If it's warm enough to melt a significant portion of ice, it's warm enough to spoil your food.

I was thinking of some sort of canary that would trip if power turned off, but that would only tell you if the power ever went off, not how long it was off. No sense wasting a fridge full of meat if the power was off for a few seconds.

A clock that requires electricity but displays the time mechanically with a date on it would also suffice, as you could measure the delta between what it displays and what the time really is (accounting for normal inaccuracies).

A weakness of the clock idea is that the power could be off multiple short periods; too short to allow the meat to spoil, but enough in sum to make the clock pretty far off.

Battery-backed microcontroller logging all power off events and temperature changes :)

If the battery has run out, then there has been enough long power outages that the meat is probably spoiled. If the battery hasn't run out, you have a nice log of what happened when.

Not that I think its better than the ice solution, but theres certainly techie options that you could build for $10 or so.

I have an even better answer.

Cover the deer with crushed ice. If it is still covered when you get back, the meat is still good. Even if the power was out for a while and some of the ice melted. (A large freezer filled with meat and ice will stay cold for quite a while. Even if some of the ice melts and refreezes, the temperature stayed freezing.)

I think a prolonged thaw and a refreeze will burst your freezer with all that water in it.

Probably just as well, you won't want it with the putrified carcass in it.

(I keep a ziploc baggie of icecubes in my freezer. It lets me know if my food is going to kill me, and I can use it as ice if I run low!)

This and many other posts are all good answers, but the point of the problem was simply to be able to think non-technologically and non-computer, not always an easy task for a class of computer science college students naturally disposed to think that code and clean code is the solution to all the world's problems. The precise best way to set up a telltale with ice is not the main concern. :)

Where do you get this block of ice? (Admittedly pretty easy to acquire/make if it's smallish.) And where would the students get their electric gadgets?

Assuming you took a truck hunting, get rid of the problem altogether. Stick the meat in the freezer and stick the freezer in your truck and take it home with you where you can not only monitor it personally, but still enjoy the meat whenever you want. The only concerns then are keeping the freezer interior cold enough for the trip back (pretty easy) and the space at your place.

I did something similar for a deep freezer I had in my garage. I drank half a small bottle of water then froze it sideways. After it was frozen, I put it upright and in a place it can't fall over. If the water goes flat to the bottom, then I know the freezer was powered off.

With a sufficiently large block of ice, a few blackouts may not even be a problem.

There is an anecdote I've read a few times:

"During the space race back in the 1960's, NASA was faced with a major problem. The astronaut needed a pen that would write in the vacuum of space. NASA went to work. At a cost of $1.5 million they developed the "Astronaut Pen". Some of you may remember. It enjoyed minor success on the commercial market.

The Russians were faced with the same dilemma.

They used a pencil."

The idea is to show outcome-oriented thinking. The desired outcome wasn't to use a pen, but rather, to simply write or record.

That anecdote happens to be false though. The Astronaut Pen was made independently of NASA and was sold to them (and Russia) like it's sold to the public. Wood pencils pose trouble in zero-g (graphite dust, broken tips, flammable wood, etc).


I knew that the anecdote was false and forgot to add that. The point wasn't to show up NASA or research. The point was to show outcome-oriented thought.

It was still very poor outcome-oriented thought. There are dangers associated with pencils that are solved by a pen. Space flight's outcome should be safety, so regardless the answer won't end up being a pencil.

I think it still works fine as a basic metaphor to help illustrate the idea. The metaphor doesn't need to be 100% inline to do that and expecting it to seems a bit pedantic.

Speaking of pedantic, a flight's outcome is not really safety, nor was space flight what the folklore mentions. It was addressing the requirement to write/record in space.

That anecdote, by the way, is an urban legend: http://www.snopes.com/business/genius/spacepen.asp

But the Italians say Si non è vero, è ben trovato.

I've read a book from a former astronaut though, that tend to prove there's some truth to the legend; it was about the vacuum cleaner used in Mir. The NASA devised a sophisticated way to clean up the Space Shuttle; the Russians simply used an ordinary vacuum cleaner from the nearest supermarket.

Why the downvotes? I've checked, this story is in Patrick Baudry's book : "conquête spatiale, la déroute". ( http://www.patrick-baudry.com/bibliographie/patrick-baudry-a... )

I've dug out the book :) p. 99 it says (rough translation): "I remember an anecdote from 1982. That year, the vacuum cleaner used in the saliout 7 station failed. I had the opportunity to admire the simplicity and efficacy of the Russian method. An ordinary vacuum cleaner was bought from Star City supermarket, sent to Baïkonur via the next plane and loaded into the next Progress cargo ship. Once aboard the station, it was plugged in, and worked perfectly. Problem solved. The whole operation costed 5 rubles (1 US $)".

> The whole operation costed 5 rubles (1 US $)

If it only costs a buck to launch a commercial vacuum cleaner into space, I will eat a hat of your choosing.

If there was a mission already scheduled, the marginal cost of adding the vacuum cleaner is $1.

Other posters have already mentioned the urban legend that this comprises.. but on a slight rant, I hate it when this anecdote gets rolled out because this is the sort of short-sighted thinking that gets interesting research canned.

One person felt long ago(can't find the exact quote) that there was once a world market for maybe five computers, and others thought that lasers and x-rays would be nothing more than a sham.

To put it another way: http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2088#c...

For a considerable time the laser was considered a solution in search of a problem. Now, of course, they have a huge number of vital uses and nearly everyone in the developed world owns several in one form or another.

For that matter it took a long time for computers to have an impact on productivity. For a while people wondered whether personal computers actually made business sense. Now, in the era of mass global computerized communications the advantages are hard to ignore.

If the pencil tip broke while writing in space, it could easily mess up astronauts nostrils, instrument panels etc. The pen approach takes care of corner cases.

I have an Astronaut Pen in my pants pocket right now. It's a great pen to carry around with you.

The building I work in installed a kiosk as the office directory. Normally there's a screen saver running; after touching the screen you get a static list of the 10 business occupants and their floors. I'm not convinced this was the best use of resources.

...but boy, oh boy is that screensaver interesting!

I love those things. Whenever I'm bored in a lobby, I try to find the secret "admin" link, and see if the address is the security code.

Long story short, there's a couple of buildings in Addison, TX that might still have "The Guild of Calamitous Intent" working out of a non-existent penthouse.

Does it show ads?

At my old programming job, people would come up to me all the time asking if I could write programs to automate business processes. One day someone called a meeting to discuss a new software system that would help prevent incorrect box labels from being stuck on finished goods. She explained that the problem was that label designs change frequently and sometimes older, expired labels get used instead of the new labels. Mistakes like that are expensive to rectify and though we have many failsafes in place (lot tracking with expiration, multiple QC inspection stages etc.), the only surefire way to prevent errors would be to compare the customer-approved "Master" label for each production job with one of the printed sticky labels before a job starts.

Her group's suggestion was that I build a simple system that maintains an electronic catalog of all the Master labels for all the production jobs, and before each job is run, a production employee would scan in a sample of the printed box labels. Then my system could do its magic and let the employee know if the Master label matches the printed label. If so, they can continue with production.

As I listened to their request, cogs were already starting to turn in my brain: CRUD system to manage Master labels, versioning for each label, preassigning Masters to specific jobs based on customer approval, scanning labels from the manufacturing area, graphical diff. with auto-orientation matching, and documenting/validating this entire system. Hmm. Let's see if there is an easier way.

Me: Why can't the production employees compare the labels by just looking at them?

Her: Because sometimes it's just a few sentences or design elements that change. It's easy to miss and has happened a few times.

Me: Who provides us the Master labels?

Her: The customer. And we make it a part of the production paperwork well-in-advance and get it approved by the customer so there is never a mixup on the Master itself.

Me: Sounds logical. How are the sticky labels printed?

Her: Depends. We may print them ourselves if it's just a few hundred or get them printed by label vendors for large quantities. We may reuse them in multiple jobs and so may warehouse them for future use.

Me: So before every production job, someone goes to the warehouse, looks for a stack of printed labels in the racks by Item# / Bin#, and brings them back to the production room?

Her: Yes. And that's when errors happen. They might bring back the wrong version of the label and not realize it. Or people in the previous shift might have returned unused labels into the wrong bin etc.

Me: OK. So just to recap, our production team can get the correct Master label every time because it is part of the paperwork already approved by the customer, but errors happen because there could be 10 very similar versions of the same label in the warehouse and the employee might pick the wrong one.

Her: Correct.

Me: One way to prevent such errors would be to add Version# to every lot of every label item we have in the warehouse and have the barcode scanners block movement of incorrect versions, however that requires a tremendous effort of data-entry, programming, and training.

Her: Absolutely. That's why we just want to compare the Master with the printed samples automatically.

Me: What size are these Master labels in?

Her: Centered on regular 8.5x11.

Me: And the printed labels are also centered on 8.5x11 and same size as the Master labels?

Her: Yes.

Me: What if the prodution employee photocopies the Master label to a transparency sheet and overlays it on the printed labels? I know we have copiers in the area.


everyone looks at each other and nods in agreement

Her: That'll work. Thanks everyone. Let's get some lunch.

I'm quite impressed that your suggestion was accepted, in the company where I work this would never happen.

An example: I was asked to build a system to keep track of daily tasks of one of our teams, and to make sure all scheduled tasks were assigned to someone. As I was listening to them, I suddenly realized that the magnetic white-board on the meeting room wall was all they needed. I drew a table with team-members names and weekdays and used the magnets as tasks.

After some silence the team supervisor said it would work, but would not be used because: a) it looks 'unprofessional'; b) it's 'insecure' because someone could mess up the magnets by accident

After some emails between my manager and them my colleague was ordered to build the system, he ended up spending about 3 weeks on it :)

It was a relatively small company and people really tried their best to solve problems in efficient ways. I think they missed the obvious solution purely by chance.

It's kind of sad that the skill demonstrated here is often the most important skill of a programmer: solving problems with the simplest approach possible. unfortunately, many companies fail to acknowledge that the real superstars are these people, and not the people who'd say "ok, but i'll need a 3 person team and 2 months".

Well done. It's important to get the context and understand what your customer's looking for.

All too often we "listen" to a customer and implement a suggestion, not realizing it's a horrible solution to a problem they haven't fully realized.

The world needs better listeners.

Awesome. Did she pay for your lunch?

That was a good story. I have some 'interesting' WMS and inventory control stories.

What WMS were you using?

MS Dynamics + lots of customization.

Reminds me of this story:


A toothpaste factory had a problem: they sometimes shipped empty boxes, without the tube inside. This was due to the way the production line was set up, and people with experience in designing production lines will tell you how difficult it is to have everything happen with timings so precise that every single unit coming out of it is perfect 100% of the time. Small variations in the environment (which can’t be controlled in a cost-effective fashion) mean you must have quality assurance checks smartly distributed across the line so that customers all the way down the supermarket don’t get pissed off and buy someone else’s product instead.

Understanding how important that was, the CEO of the toothpaste factory got the top people in the company together and they decided to start a new project, in which they would hire an external engineering company to solve their empty boxes problem, as their engineering department was already too stretched to take on any extra effort.

The project followed the usual process: budget and project sponsor allocated, RFP, third-parties selected, and six months (and $8 million) later they had a fantastic solution — on time, on budget, high quality and everyone in the project had a great time. They solved the problem by using some high-tech precision scales that would sound a bell and flash lights whenever a toothpaste box weighing less than it should. The line would stop, and someone had to walk over and yank the defective box out of it, pressing another button when done.

A while later, the CEO decides to have a look at the ROI of the project: amazing results! No empty boxes ever shipped out of the factory after the scales were put in place. Very few customer complaints, and they were gaining market share. “That’s some money well spent!” – he says, before looking closely at the other statistics in the report.

It turns out, the number of defects picked up by the scales was 0 after three weeks of production use. It should’ve been picking up at least a dozen a day, so maybe there was something wrong with the report. He filed a bug against it, and after some investigation, the engineers come back saying the report was actually correct. The scales really weren’t picking up any defects, because all boxes that got to that point in the conveyor belt were good.

Puzzled, the CEO travels down to the factory, and walks up to the part of the line where the precision scales were installed. A few feet before it, there was a $20 desk fan, blowing the empty boxes out of the belt and into a bin. “Oh, that — one of the guys put it there ’cause he was tired of walking over every time the bell rang”, says one of the workers.

If you think the moral of the story is that $8M were wasted due to bad management or whatever you'd be wrong. The scales were a success because they enabled the desk fan solution. Manufacturing line operators are very clever but they don't necessarily have the right incentive. The loss to the company wasn't visible but the horns and flashing lights were.

I used to build inspection systems for manufacturing lines and we'd frequently build expensive (not $8M, though) vision systems, E-Testers, etc. just to uninstall them a year or two later when the process or automation guys had found a way to prevent problems from happening in the first place.

Not just incentives, but also cognition - when you change the presentation of the problem, you change the way people think about it.

I think this is the reason to build prototypes that you can play with - you really will see things differently. And (hold the hate) obviousness in patent law takes this into account, by evaluating it with respect to the publicly known state of the art - but if you have iterated a few prototypes then you have private information. You got data that no way else has; in addition, new ideas came to you for the next prototype. Each step may have been pretty obvious to you - but from the perspective of someone who had not yet even seen the first prototype in chain, you can seem like a magical genius.

If not "bad management", what would you call that kind of mismatch of incentives?

Ok, good point. A better way to incent is to offer bounties for yield improvements. Most manufacturing outfits I've seen have those but they are probably too low.

Here's another problem mentioned in the article, in fact it's maybe the real problem: the engineers "who were already stretched too thin" probably didn't talk to their operators and technicians often enough. When I was a manufacturing engineer I noticed how much I learned about the stuff I was building by simply hanging around the operators for significant amounts of time. Not only did I get a lot of information about the subtle ways my systems were failing, I also learned that the operators generally felt engineering was ignoring their concerns. Just listening and trying to make the operators' life better earned me so much cooperation from the floor I later had no problems getting them to try out new things for me and providing me feedback on "improvements".

This is a perfect example of how individuals actually in a situation often come up with better solutions by experimenting than those who simply analyze it from above.

They threw all the resources at it and it was their job to throw those resources and to think long and hard analyzing the problem. And came up with something complex and budgetable and that others would support.

But the guy directly affected probably spent no time thinking about it. Potential solutions probably just popped into his head and he tried them.

Which is probably why extremely decentralized companies like Semco in Brazil (run by Richard Semler, as he wrote about in the book Maverick) do so well. Workers own the processes and share in 39% of the profits. Workers actually create new products and businesses.


$8 million versus $20.

Pretty amazing story!

I find it very hard to believe: as soon as he mentioned removing small empty boxes the idea of a fan leapt to mind; I really can't imagine that none of the team already operating the factory thought of this solution.

The only problem IMO is it's not vary reliable without something to detect the fan is still working.

The alarms would start going off again when empty boxes reached the precision scales. Behold, an $8mil broken-fan detector.

Let's start making it more complicated again!

Wind meter on the other side of the conveyer belt and an air horn whenever it drops below a certain level...

Like someone said, two fans for live redundancy, little lengths of ribbon for visual failure indication.

I'd have thought a couple of fans checked once a day would provide less failures than are significant.

This doesn't seem like a reason not to propose the system, the alternate proposed solution would have similar failure modes too.

Two fans!

Worth recalling "The Breakfast Food Cooker" http://www.ridgecrest.ca.us/~do_while/toaster.htm

It's refreshing to see a non tech solution every now and then. As technologists we have to learn when and when not to apply technology solutions. This just happens to be one of those cases.

When I took the intro digital logic course at Caltech in the late '70s or early '80s, the textbook had a chapter at the end called something like "The Engineer as Dope Pusher" that urged engineers to not get carried away by technology.

An example he gave was designing a timer for a clothes dryer. The user needs to be able to specify how long to try the clothes. The dryer should run for that long and stop.

The standard solution was a mechanical timer. It had a dial. The consumer turned the dial to the appropriate time, the dryer started, and when the timer ticked down the dryer stopped.

Engineers were starting to replace these with digital solutions. The digital solution was a lot more fun for the engineer. He'd get to design some circuitry, maybe use a microprocessor. He'd need a power supply for the electronics. He could have buttons and a nifty LED display. Maybe have preprogrammed drying times.

That's a hell of a lot more fun for the engineer than to just specify sticking some commodity mechanical timer in there like his father and grandfather would have done.

However, the mechanical timer is cheaper, easier to build into the dryer, more reliable, and easier to use for the consumer. There is no advantage whatsoever to the consumer or the dryer company in using the custom digital solution--it serves no purpose other than the entertain the engineer who designs it.

If the custom digital solution looks newer/fancier/better on the showroom floor then there is an advantage to the dryer company.

How does a mechanical dryer handle wrinkle-free mode, where the dryer runs for one minute every ten to avoid letting wrinkles settle? Or handle a mode where the heat is on high for 15 minutes to evaporate water, and then switches to low or no breath to avoid bleaching the fabric.

Analog does not scale with complexity nearly as well as digital.

This is a minor quibble, but I'd still call paper "technology." It wasn't so long ago that paper was an expensive technology.

The question isn't whether or not to use technology. The question is which technology to use.

Plus the technology involved in storing, organizing, formatting and printing the data. This is more an example of an effective use of technology to solve the problem. Plus it serves as a reminder that the system to be created extends beyond just the computer.

One of my roles is reviewing the medical notes of independent corpsmen on Navy cruisers and destroyers. I assess everything from black ink to the quality of their differential diagnosis. Most of the corpsmen use one of the electronic documentation systems. From one of my reviews yesterday: "Nothing like handwritten notes: efficient & more pleasant on the eye. In future, focus on setting lowercase letters __on the line__ so the ascenders don't get lost among shorter letters floating away."

Part of the fun with reading written notes is that you can evaluate the care put into writing the note from the handwriting. Its much harder to appreciate when its electronic.

Good idea, not everything has to use a computer just because we have them.

It's only 150 sheets of paper too it's not like it's reams of the stuff (it's just about 1/4 of a ream) otherwise people would be tempted to use a laptop to be 'green'.

Local guy makes it to HN. And I'll be voting in October.

Interesting, reminds me of a practical exam we had in intro to programming class that was taught in Java. We were asked to implement a FIFO data structure class with methods push and pop (something along these lines).

We'd just learned about OO principles and extending classes the week before. After reading the task for the practical I nervously raised my hand, "Would it be acceptable to just extend array list and create methods just named as described but using the existing methods?" The teacher kind of looked at me blankly and said yes.

I was the first person finished, no one else apparently thought of that approach. I'm not a programmer, but given that we'd just discussed this days before it seemed like an obvious solution...

The exam was probably mostly about the algorithms involved in managing FIFO data. Whether you extend an array list or create a custom class wrapping a buffer does not change the algorithm. Hence the blank look from the teacher.

Keyword there being exam. I think that's a great approach for a high-enough level course; that is, let the students do whatever they want with whatever language they want in the assignments (hard to generalize a build-test-diff system though for submissions), then test concepts on the test.

I have a friend in a Python intro whose assignment was to make a program encrypting user input with the Caesar Cipher and (optionally) decrypting, and optionally supporting ROT13 as well. I'm pretty sure the teacher wanted them using ord(), chr(), for loops, etc., but the solution I suggested after my friend tried that way is much simpler:

    import string
    normal = 'abcd...ABCD...'
    caesar = 'defg...DEFG...'
    caesar_table = string.maketrans(normal, caesar)
    reverse_caesar_table = string.maketrans(caesar, normal)
    msg.translate(caesar_table) # for encryption
    msg.translate(reverse_caesar_table) # for decryption
Add in string.ascii_letters, string.ascii_uppercase, string.ascii_lowercase, and collections.deque (for string rotation) to generalize the alphabet sets, it was all very simple. And used a completely different 'algorithm' of a translation table that's done in C and performs super-fast, easily handles non-ascii characters (since the translation just leaves them alone), easily generalizable to whatever simple encryption scheme, etc.

Of course my friend doesn't want to learn programming therefore everything's complicated and she doesn't remember anything and even after 6 months which ends in a couple weeks I doubt she could do FizzBuzz. :(

This goes to show that a good designer or engineer is not just someone who "solves the problem", but someone who considers alternate solutions and solves the problem in the most efficient way that is practically feasible.

Unfortunately, it's often the case that no one thinks about it until the "default" way of solving the problem becomes pretty much impossible to use.

Oregonian here - all our voting is by mail, no technology needed to route voters.

This is true, unless the move to technology was a way to control the results of the poll...

Isn't this how most polls work?

At least, AFAIK, they work this way in the UK.

Cannot wait for the IPO.

paper & pencil can handle exceptional cases and ad hoc formats much better than software, that's for sure. one reason I still love notebooks like Moleskine, and blank scrap paper. Old tech: it's cheap and Just Works (tm).

I like Field Notes notebooks. Their just the right size to fit in your back pocket, so you always have it with you.


I'll try one sometime, thanks. Moleskine has a model in same size, except both softbound and hardbound, and black. I used to use really cheap, softbound or loose ring bound, pocket notebooks, and found the pages got mangled too often, plus, they were harder to write on when you didn't happen to have a table nearby.

Moleskine is hardly cheap.

That was just an example. Scrap paper was also mentioned, but I see that you ignored that.

Probably because there aren't cults devoted to free marketing for scrap paper.

depends on perspective

  cheapo paper notebook:   $1
  Moleskine:              $10
  iOS device:            $200 - $700 plus opt $30-100/mo (forget cur rates)
Yes, I know you can do more with an iPad/iPhone, obvious, but there is some overlap and paper is arguably better in certain common use cases. Always use the best tool for the job. And I have way greater confidence that the content of my Moleskines will be around in 10 years, than the content of my iPhone/iPad/PC/Mac. And no company can shut me out of it.

I'm certainly not arguing that iPhone/iPad is better.

I have cheapo paper notebooks from ten years ago. I don't understand how Moleskines are better.

Just Works (tm), until you have to search something in it, or make a copy to your friend, or backup, or write down things from an electronic medium.

That being said, there's nothing better than paper & pencil for note taking.

Best of both worlds: www.livescribe.com

I find that these 2 solutions tend to nail 99% of my needs, either:

  1. vi (+ opt Dropbox or GitHub for share/synch/ver)
  2. Moleskine or bulk blank white printer paper (depending on needing quality or cheapness)
With sometimes taking photos of notes or hand-drawn diagrams, as a transitional state before preserving/translating in computer form. But this is rare.

I haven't had a use case where LiveScribe would be a net-win and worth it. Teaching? Live virtual classroom?

Why not just have everyone vote on their iPhone?

If you are really serious, does that mean that the county must provide iPhones to those that <GASP> don't have one?

I was being a bit facetious, yes. But voting electronically would solve this problem, assuming that you could trust the voting software!

Public terminals could be provided for citizens without computers/smart phones/netbooks/tablets/implants/whatever.

The problem with electronic voting is that you cannot have both anonymous and trustworthy voting.

Just curious: am I being voted down for suggesting that a society use electronic voting? If so, oh, the irony!

I imagine you've been downvoted (not by me) because it was an overly simplistic answer - it's obviously not as easy as "have everyone vote electronically". The various debacles with voting machines over the past few years have shown that you can't simply assume the software is trustworthy, let alone having people dialling in to vote on their own phone.

And the point of the article was that more technology may not always be the best solution...

Whoa. That paper stuff could really catch on! Perhaps someone could print a Bible on it.

(editing this comment after downvoting to add content, and my apologies for being sarcastic and content-free): Effective data presentation, graphic design and such are technology. Showing all the data at once is often much more effective than hiding it in an invisible database.

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