Category Archives: Uncategorized

Thinking Critically?

Every once in a while I’m talking with someone and they open up about their beliefs. I’m pretty sure this is a normal thing humans do with each other, but it always catches me off guard.

Sometimes their beliefs are strongly at odds with my worldview, like they might say, “You know, I really think the moon landings had to be faked.” I always react immediately, and it doesn’t appear to come from the thinking part of my brain. No, the first thing that happens, completely automatically, is an emotional reaction. I know because I can feel my face turn red.

It only lasts a few seconds. I automatically take a deep breath. The thinking part of my brain starts working again. “Remember,” I tell myself, “there’s always a chance they have information you haven’t heard yet.”

I ask, “Well, how do you know? What convinced you?”

“You know, I’ve been watching this guy on YouTube and he just makes a lot of sense,” they say.

The Rational Animal?

These people I talk with aren’t dumb. They’re logical, thoughtful people. In fact they can’t do their jobs without being ruthlessly analytical.

I often have to diagnose a problem with a machine, and it’s clearly a problem in the I/O network. Whether it’s DeviceNET, Ethernet/IP or EtherCAT, we’re often dealing with a daisy-chain configuration. You open up your diagnostic tool and you can see that nodes A, B, and C are online, but nodes D and E aren’t. Clearly the problem is between nodes C and D.

This where I say, “well, it can only be one of three things: the transmitter in node C, the communication cable, or the receiver in node D.” I usually check the communication cable first, not because it’s the most likely, but because it’s the easiest to check by simply grabbing my 100 foot cable and temporarily replacing the existing cable. Same problem? It’s not the cable. Now it’s either the transmitter or the receiver.

Now I can try bypassing the receiver… if I connect node C directly to node E, and node E communicates, then I know the problem is node D. Problem #1 solved. Replace node D, pack up the tools, and problem #2 gets a promotion.

Why does logical thought come so easily in this case, but completely elude us in other cases?


There’s one very important distinction between these cases. When I’m diagnosing the I/O network on a machine, I don’t have a vested interest in whether it’s the transmitter, cable, or receiver that’s faulty. I’m an unbiased judge. I don’t identify with any of them.

That isn’t always true. If I’m working on the same machine with a co-worker, and they designed the transmitter, and I designed the receiver, then I really wouldn’t want the receiver to be the problem, would I? What would happen if it was the receiver? Would I feel embarrassed in front of my team? Would I lose standing within the group? Probably not where I work, but it’s conceivable. In some places it might be quite likely.

One thing’s for sure… our impartiality is in question.

Perhaps more importantly, the machine doesn’t have an agenda. It’s not actively trying to influence you, like a person is. To diagnose a machine, all you need is logic. To listen to an argument, you need to think critically.

Fight? Flight?

Our bodies and our minds are finely tuned to threats in our environment. When something threatening happens, our bodies initiate a stress response (also called the fight-or-flight response) by releasing hormones that get us ready to deal with threats. It happens when a deer jumps out in front of your vehicle at night. You react quickly and automatically, but afterward you can feel the physical changes. Your heart is racing, your senses are more sensitive, and your reactions are faster.

How does the body improve your reaction time? Less thinking.

Oh, later it may feel like you saw the deer jump out, you hit the brakes and swerved out of the way, all because you decided to do it. But you didn’t decide anything. You reacted, and the thinking part of your brain couldn’t possibly have worked fast enough to be a part of that process.

How does the automatic part of our brain know what to do? I’m not sure. I’ve often wondered if that’s what our dreams are: our brains simulating stressful situations, letting the thinking part do it’s thing, and recording the result for future automatic playback in a stressful situation. Of course, I have no evidence of that, but it’s fun to speculate.

You see, it’s not just deer jumping out at us that causes stress. Many of the most common bad dreams are about social embarrassments, like showing up naked in an inappropriate place, or showing up late to a meeting.

Not only are we finely tuned to physical threats, but also to threats to our social status. We’re very sensitive to anyone thinking badly about us, or thinking badly about a group we identify with. Nobody wants to be voted off the island. It isn’t just that it makes us feel bad… it’s that it causes our body to prepare for a fight. It inhibits the thinking part of our brain.

It’s not about the Moon Landing

So when someone tells me they think the moon landings were faked, my body somehow sensed a threat and reacted. Why?

It doesn’t make sense to be upset because someone is wrong. We’re wrong all the time. Disagreements always involve at least one person being wrong, but disagreements lead to learning. I think we should have a right to say wrong statements (just don’t be shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater).

I didn’t react because I thought they were wrong. The reaction was almost instant, so I wasn’t thinking anything. Any disagreement causes the reaction, because any disagreement is a potential threat.

It may not seem like it, but we go out of our way to avoid disagreements, particularly with the people we interact with directly. In fact we tend to align our views with our social circle. People measurably change their political views when they move to a new place. Some people will give an answer they know to be wrong just to conform.

Winning Friends? Influencing People?

I really am curious. I’m fascinated by how stuff works, whether it’s stars and planets, subatomic particles, machines, or even people. I really want to know the truth, and I don’t actually have a reason for wanting to know. I’m just curious. But I’m also comfortable with the answer, “I don’t know.”

I think we all tend to assume everyone else is like us, and I was no different. I assumed everyone else was just curious like me. I now see that’s clearly not true. We’re hard-wired to care about belonging in a group. Belonging is comfortable. It reduces stress. We crave it. There’s safety in numbers.

A few years ago I was at a dinner hosted by a local startup incubator and maker space. Not big internet startups, just local people starting small businesses. In front of us, there was a young woman who was growing a business that sold dietary supplements and provided nutritional advice and that sort of thing. I asked her how it was going, and she said, in a sort of defeated tone, “I’ve learned that telling people what they need to hear doesn’t work. I just tell them what they want to hear.”

It’s funny what we remember. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that short conversation.

This Guy on YouTube

“You know, I’ve been watching this guy on YouTube and he just makes a lot of sense.”

Partly this is a problem with videos. When we read words on a page, we have more time to reflect, to think critically. We can read at our own pace. Videos don’t work like that.

But really, it’s pretty easy to convince you something if believing it makes you feel good. Every rock band walks out on stage and tells the crowd how awesome their city is. The audience always agrees, but let’s face it… some of those places have to suck.

Also, since we’re so finely tuned to threats, it’s actually pretty easy to convince you something if believing it makes you feel threatened. We’re tuned to threats because over-reacting is a better survival strategy than under-reacting. It’s better to err on the side of caution and assume there might be a lion hiding in that tall grass. If you’re wrong you got some more exercise, and if you’re right, it saved your life.

Thinking critically is hard. Like… really hard. We’re not built to do it.

If you want to start thinking critically about a video, or an article, you need to figure out who the author is, and what their motivation is. It’s rarely curiosity. It’s usually money or status. People post videos to YouTube to make money, and they do that by getting more and more people to watch their videos. They don’t need to post factually accurate information. They just need to post something people will share. Popular videos just say what people want to hear. They appeal to emotion, not logic.

But if you really want to be a critical thinker, it’s much harder than that. Before you watch that video or read that article, you need to stop and ask yourself, “What do I want them to say?” Because unless you’re watching a video or reading an article about a topic that means nothing to you (doubtful), then you’re biased, and you need to be honest with yourself about your own biases before you can worry about theirs.

That’s hard.

“X-Year Old” is a Categorical Variable

Just a quick note to parents out there: when someone says “3-year old” it refers to any individual who is from 3 years of age to 3 years and 364 days of age. It’s a categorical variable. The average “3-year old” is 3 years and 6 months of age. All of the measured “norms” of what a 3-year old can do is based on children who fall in that age range.

So if your 3-year old is one month away from his 4th birthday, it’s not OK to refer to him as a 4-year old just because he’s “almost 4.” He’s still closer in age to the average 3-year old than the average 4-year old, so you’re inadvertently comparing him to a group of children who are older than him, and you’re naturally going to feel like he’s falling behind.

In unrelated news, my 3-year old son is almost 4. 🙂

Don’t Pay Retail For…

There’s a certain class of product for which you’re much better off to buy online. Specifically, you’re looking for things that are commodities (but not dollar-store items), durable, small, and lightweight. Here are some things where you’ll find a much better deal on e-Bay, etc.:

  • Brother-compatible labeling Tape (aka TZ-Tape) as low as $5/cartridge
  • Ink Cartridges
  • Button cell batteries (leading brand CR2032’s for less than $1 ea.)
  • AAA Duracell batteries, packs of up to 100
  • Car lighter USB adapters (especially the high power 2.4 amp ones)
  • All electronic parts, obviously

For AA batteries, apparently there’s evidence that Costco’s Kirkland brand AA batteries are actually rebranded Duracell batteries, so I can’t find a better price than them online.

Since practically all electronics parts are made in China, you can get them on for extremely low prices and you can usually get free shipping. I regularly purchase Arduino compatible or ESP8266 boards, prototyping supplies, power supplies and sensors mail order from AliExpress with free shipping, all for less than $10, sometimes as low as $1.80 with free shipping, and the only down-side is that you have to wait a month or two.

If you need it faster, and it’s a more popular item, it’s likely there’s a small importer that has some for sale on e-Bay in your own country, for a slight markup. This is true for batteries, chargers, ink and tape cartridges and usually for popular microcontroller boards.

The Dirty Secret About Housework

If you don’t have kids, I think I have an insight that you may find interesting.

It’s funny, but before we had kids, it’s amazing how much less housework got done. I remember the dishwasher didn’t get unloaded in a timely manner, or the floors didn’t get vacuumed as often as they should. The laundry didn’t get folded. The weird thing is, now that we have three kids, we’re way more on top of that stuff. Yet we have a lot less time. How is that possible?

There are a lot of things in our lives that distract us. The big time suckers have screens: smart phones are the new offenders, but before that it was the internet, video games, and of course television. Personally I’ve gone to excessive lengths to curtail these distractions, particularly at work. I leave my phone in airplane mode about 95% of the time. Email notifications are always turned off. I use a browser add-in that blocks my favorite websites except at specific times of the day, or blocks them after a specific number of minutes used each day. Overall, these small barriers to distraction really do make a difference, but there’s actually another much more potent barrier to screen distractions: young children!

Whether it’s one child or three, they demand attention almost constantly. You can’t get lost for 10 minutes on your phone if your two-year-old interrupts you every 90 seconds. Parents never “surf” the web, they go to a website, lookup whatever it is they need, and slam the lid on the laptop before the sticky fingers come around. God forbid you get the idea to play a video game… you’ll never get past the loading screen before you have to attend to some crisis.

When kids are around, you can’t do anything that requires concentration and focus (a.k.a. flow) because the constant interruptions prevent you from making progress. On the other hand, if you focus 100% on your kids, you’ll drive yourself insane. They’re always doing something that makes you slightly nervous, like playing too close to a lamp, crawling over the back of the sofa, or jumping on their bed (no matter how many times you’ve warned them). In fact, so called “helicopter parents” are just the parents that spend all their time focused on what their kids are doing. The rest of us realize that we need to ignore most of it, and just keep one ear open for the real dangerous stuff.

So as parents we’re left with having to do something that doesn’t require our full attention. Do you know what kinds of things are ideal? Housework. Laundry. Tidying. Cleaning. Taking out the garbage. These are the kinds of tasks that can be done with half your brain. It doesn’t matter if you get interrupted while you’re folding laundry, because you can pick it back up almost instantly. It takes just enough of our attention to keep us from actively focusing on the kids, but your subconscious still alerts you when they get (a) too noisy, or (b) too quiet. Best of all, it gives you a much needed feeling of productivity. Yes, housework is actually a coping mechanism for parents to keep their sanity.

So if you don’t have kids, and you wonder why you’re not the productivity powerhouse that you remember your Mom being when you grew up, don’t worry… she probably wasn’t that on top of things until she had you!

On Media Boxes in the Living Room

I’ve mentioned before that we first had a TiVo, and after getting an HDTV (TiVo doesn’t support an HD model compatible with Canadian cable TV) we got a Boxee Box and dropped our cable TV subscription. Basically we decided to stream all our TV from the internet. Now that Boxee got bought out and stopped updating the firmware for its rather outdated hardware we decided to move on. I think a lot of people are considering the leap away from cable or satellite and into streaming their TV and movies from the internet, so let me share our experiences.

First of all, I’m not convinced that a smart TV or embedded device like the Boxee Box or Roku is the answer. The Boxee Box was great for streaming content from other PCs in the house, but not for streaming stuff from online. These embedded set-top type devices, whether they’re built into the TV or not, suffer from two major drawbacks: one is that they’re usually underpowered for the price you pay, and two is that the software is typically some kind of highly customized embedded Linux with some custom user interface software built on top of it. On the Boxee Box, the web browser always seemed to be a bit slow, flaky, and the flash was typically out of date compared to what the online TV streaming sites were using. Our relatives recently purchased a brand new smart TV, and the web browser didn’t seem to support the latest flash that they needed to visit some site. Given the premium you pay for smart TV features, that seems a bit hard to swallow. Flashing the firmware was the next step, but I’m not sure how that went.

Given that background, we decided to take the plunge and just buy a PC and hook it up to the TV, then get a wireless keyboard and mouse combination. You can get a pretty good PC (Core i5) on sale for less than $500, and I’m pretty sure that even a $300 bargain model would probably do everything you wanted, and that’s less than the premium you might pay for a smart TV.

We couldn’t be happier with the new PC solution. The Windows software just stays up-to-date. It’s fast (much faster than any other set-top-box hardware you’ll see today), the interface is familiar, and all your hard-won Windows knowledge will come in handy if you have any problems. Netflix and other Hulu-like services work great. I also like that the kids can have their own login that’s limited by the parental controls feature of Windows (which I’d never used before, but is actually quite advanced).

I know one issue is where to locate the PC. We actually already had a place in the entertainment cabinet where a full desktop tower could fit, so it wasn’t a big deal, but if that’s an issue for you, there are other smaller (more expensive) options like the Zotac ZBox out there, which is just a full blown PC in a small form factor. I have also seen a wireless HDMI device (it works line-of-site) so you could hook it up to a laptop that you have on a table beside the couch (the TV would show up as a second monitor). Another issue is having the wireless keyboard and mouse out on the coffee table. That’s not a big deal if you have somewhere handy to stow it when not in use. Having a full keyboard certainly makes certain things a lot easier (searching for content, entering passwords, etc.).

One final caveat – the one bit of content that’s very hard to find online is sports. If you’re really into sports (we’re not) then you’ll need to keep some kind of paid TV subscription. That’s just the way it is.

Plus you get the benefit of a full-blown PC handy in your living room. Overall I think it’s the best solution we have right now, and it’s what I’d recommend if you’re looking to take the plunge.

Playing the Odds

Millions of people play the lottery every week. Some just buy a “quick pick” ticket (which lets the computer pick for them). Some faithfully play the same numbers over and over. Some have clever schemes.

Enough people play that even though the odds are long, a few people win. Invariably the winners are interviewed, and people are interested in what made them special. Did they have a system? Did they have a “feeling” that they would win today?

It makes a good story, and we all love a good story. We’re wired for it.

If a lottery winner wrote a book called “How I won the lottery, and you can too!” would you read it? (Believe it or not, many people make a living selling such advice — it’s usually some kind of psychic deal.) Of course you wouldn’t; you’re not foolish.

But you have to wonder, aren’t most of the books in the success section of the bookstore just by people who lucked out once? Microsoft and Google both only had one major breakthrough (an insanely great licensing deal for DOS, and a great search engine respectively). Everything else they did was through incremental building and improvement. Yet everyone seems to be focused on the big win. How can I make my numbers get drawn this week in the lottery? What’s the secret?

There is no secret, of course. Roll the dice. Be prepared to lose.

The bulk of technological progress, and even financial progress, is incremental. Just look at the difference between a good investment and a bad investment. A company with a 5% rate of growth feels slow and plodding. If a medium sized company can post a 15% growth rate every year, it’s moving so fast it probably feels like it’s running off the rails.

Even so, the company growing at 5% will still double in 14 years (handy trick: take 70 and divide by the percent growth to get the approximate doubling time). Computer power doubles about every 18 months, but the industry was never driven by people looking to win a lottery. They just kept making die sizes smaller, overcoming each technical barrier as it arose, and packing more transistors on a chip. DNA sequencing technology is growing at an even faster rate.

Keep asking yourself “How can I cut this machine’s cycle time in half? How can I cut the scrap by a third? What similar product could we produce that has a higher demand? How can I cut energy use by 10%?”

If you do this enough, you’ll still win, and the odds are a lot better.

Time Blindness

As a details-oriented person (and thus a bit of a pessimist), one of my biggest frustrations is people around me who are “time blind”. Let me give you an example…

It’s 9:15 am, you’re deep into solving some difficult problem, and someone calls you up and asks you to review an estimate for them. Let’s assume you can’t just say no.

You go sit down with this person and you review this quote. It involves changing the auto sequence on some widget maker so that on this one particular recipe it stops the conveyor, runs backwards 2 stations, dispenses some new chocolaty cream filling, and continues on.

The first thing you point out is that the quote only specifies 90 minutes total for 2 customer meetings. “That seems a little low, don’t you think,” you say… “after all, from the time you step out of your car at their office, it takes 20 minutes before you even get to their board room, we always spend about 10 to 15 minutes waiting for some last minute guest to arrive, and I’ve never been in a meeting with them that didn’t go at least an hour.”

“So, you think we should put down 2 hours total?”

“No, I think it’s more reasonable to expect each meeting will take 90 minutes, and by the way, in what universe can you make it across town and back in 30 minutes? You’ve only got 1 hour here for total travel time for those meetings. It’s 30 minutes one way in normal traffic. What about walking to and from your car? What about waiting in the lobby?”

“No, you can get there in 20 minutes most days.”

“So you rounded down to 15?”

“We have a contingency amount of 10% over here.”

“10% of 15 minutes is 1.5 minutes… besides contingency is for unknowns… never mind.”

Of course this goes on forever. At 11:30 you leave this meeting, your co-worker looks at his watch and says, “How long are you logging for his meeting? An hour and a half?”

Time Blindness

Rampant in business circles, typical sufferers include new hires with no experience, and overly optimistic managers. Unfortunately those afflicted with Time Blindness also tend to be in denial. Some are experts at hiding it from themselves, going so far as to work extra hours without counting those hours against their projects, reinforcing the “truth” of their misguided beliefs about how long things take.


There is none. Just don’t get sucked into their unrealistic commitments, and be careful not to get blamed when their projects invariably go over budget.

NTSB Suggests Banning Use of Electronic Devices While Driving — Yeah?

I was a bit surprised to see all the hubbub about the NTSB recommending banning the use of cell phones and other electronic devices while driving. You see, they already passed similar legislation here in Ontario, and the sky hasn’t fallen.

As someone who used to answer my cell phone while driving (I always justified to myself that I was always on a straight stretch of road or not in town but in truth I would answer it almost any time), I can honestly say I was wrong to do that, and I was converted by the evidence. Our brains just don’t seem to be wired to handle cell phone conversations while driving, even though we do much better with other tasks like talking to a passenger.

Unfortunately our brains are also poorly wired to understand statistics. The fact that I used cell phones while driving and I‘ve never had an accident because of it is apparently all the proof I needed to know that it was safe. Of course, the real research disagrees:

There are, of course, edge cases. I know that here you’re free to dial 911. Also, you’re not allowed to be manipulating a Navigation System, but I believe you’re still allowed to have one turned on giving directions (that’s pretty reasonable – you can set it before you leave, or let your passenger set it).

For those of you who like to let their spouse know when you’re almost home, I’ve heard they can get an app where they can see your location in real-time on their phone by tracking your phone’s GPS, so there’s no need to call. (Yeah, I think that’s creepy too, and maybe they already have it installed!)

Decision-making in Organizations

I think I can group decisions into two types:

  1. Decisions where it’s really important that we make the right decision
  2. Decisions where it’s really important that we make any decision and everyone gets behind it

For instance, deciding what products to launch for the Christmas season is really important. The choices made will have a profound impact on the bottom line of your company. On the other hand, it didn’t really matter what side of the road we decided to drive on, but it was really important that we, as a group, made a decision, and everyone agreed to it.

Now let’s talk about how organizations make decisions. I think there are typically two approaches:

  1. Appeal to authority
  2. Appeal to committee

When appealing to authority, the accounting department has the authority to make cash-flow decisions, and the engineering department has the authority to make technical decisions, and the marketing department gets to decide whether we run Superbowl ads or Craigslist ads. The CEO can override these decisions when a higher level view recognizes a different need.

When we appeal to committee, we gather all the “stakeholders” who then sit around a table, generally as equal representatives of their respective departments, and come to some kind of consensus.

I don’t think anyone’s surprised by the fact that when it comes to making decisions where being right is the most important criteria, authoritative decisions tend to be better than committee decisions. In the same way, when success of the decision is tied to consensus rather than the “correctness” of the decision, then committee decisions probably have an edge.

Now, if you’ve spent any time around government offices, you’ll realize that almost all decisions, including planning the staff Christmas gathering, are done by committee. Very large publicly traded companies don’t seem to be much different. On the other side of the spectrum, small companies don’t need much consensus because they’re small, and they tend towards decisions based on authority. Successful entrepreneurs seem to surround themselves with knowledgeable people and trust those people to make intelligent choices. This makes them well suited to make decisions where it’s important to be right, like how much raw material to buy this month, and where to commit other scarce resources.

It’s interesting to look at the outliers too. Apple is famous for being the exception that proves the rule. Despite being a huge organization, all information seems to indicate that Jobs ruled it with authority, not committee. And since he seemed to make good decisions, they were successful. Apple shareholders beware.

Now let’s go all 7-Habits on this and put it in quadrants, dividing decisions along two axes:

Great Risk
if Wrong
Little Risk
if Wrong
Must have
Invade Iraq?
What product
for Christmas?
Drive on the
Left or Right?
Don’t need
Bail out
the banks?
Windows or
Linux servers?
Chicken or Fish?
Bike-shed color?

I divided it into four quadrants numbered 1, 2, 3, and 4. Quadrants 2 and 3 we’ve already covered. In quadrant 2, committees really shine, and in quadrant 3 authority really shines. I’m not even going to talk about quadrant 4.

Quadrant 1 is the tricky one. The Easter Island society collapsed because they were faced with a decision: do we allow everyone to cut down all the trees, or do we centrally manage it? Obviously they made the wrong decision, but the right decision would have required broad support, which is why it’s so difficult.

Apple beat the quadrant 1 decisions by rolling both authority and consensus into one charismatic (and knowledgeable) leader. People follow leaders who have a track record of delivering on their promises. Success is a positive spiral.

The idea that you can take committees and make them authoritative is misguided. On the other hand, we’ve seen our share of authority figures who’ve succeeded at the long road of building consensus around the right decisions. They are our political and cultural heroes.

All of this brings me to two conclusions:

First, unsurprisingly, is that we shouldn’t put big government bureaucracy in charge of quadrant 1 type decisions (and that’s a bit scary, because they certainly are in charge of those decisions now).

Second is that our system of government tends to promote leaders who are good consensus builders without promoting leaders who are likely to make the right decisions. I’m not saying it promotes leaders who are likely to make bad decisions; I’m just saying it’s neutral on the issue.

I’m not out to change the system of government, but I think a two-pronged offensive could make a dent: on one side our domain experts tend to live in a world where consensus building doesn’t matter because their community has the skill to recognize logical consistent arguments. Scientists simply publish their findings and wait for others to confirm or disprove them. Engineers test various design alternatives and measure their performance. Unfortunately this means our domain experts lack the soft skills necessary to convince us to do the right things. A marketing budget for these experts, perhaps paid for by some rational-minded philanthropists, could go a long way.

On the other side, the general public is hopelessly lacking in critical thinking skills. We live in a world where logic is first introduced as a university-level introductory philosophy class. It belongs in high school (along with some other suspiciously missing life-skills like food/nutrition and childcare).

Unfortunately the high school curriculum is decided on by… a committee.

Why you should be against Online Voting

So Canada wants to implement online voting. In case you didn’t already know why, here’s why you should be against it.

Vote Selling

If you can cast your vote online from any computer, then you can do it with someone looking over your shoulder. That means you can sell your vote. That means employers can favour employees who actually voted a certain way. One of the best features of our current paper and pencil method is that you can’t sell your vote.

Realistically you *could* sell your vote right now using mail-in cards, but I’m against mail-in votes too, for this reason. At least in that case, you know most people don’t do it.

Easy to Manipulate

Lets assume for a moment that the servers that Elections Canada sets up don’t have any security flaws (unbelievable). At any rate, you still can’t trust the election results because a lot of peoples’ home computers are compromised by botnets. That means there’s malicious code running on millions of computers, and in most cases those computers are available for “rent” to the highest bidder. Once you’ve rented access on those computers, you can run any program you like.

Now, do you think a secure internet connection (using HTTPS) is really secure? In most cases the connection over the internet is secure (stops eavesdroppers), but if someone has access to your computer at home, they’re past the security. If they can run an arbitrary program on your computer, they can manipulate pretty much anything.

For example, lets say you wanted to make clicks for one candidate actually get counted for another. You can do that. It’s called ClickJacking.

That’s just one example. If you have access to the computer, you can recalibrate the mouse (or touchscreen on newer computers). You can capture, log, and report on the user’s keystrokes.

Analogy to Online Banking

People try to counter this argument with analogies to the security of online banking, but that’s flawed. People’s bank accounts do get hijacked using methods like these all the time. The bank account gets cleaned out, and usually the bank refunds the money to the consumer and the loss comes out of their profits. As long as fraud isn’t too high, they can tolerate this. In online elections, you wouldn’t know if your vote had been highjacked. We would just end up with a fraudulent election.

Bottom line

Don’t support online voting, and make sure to explain to everyone else why they shouldn’t support it either. The fact that “the head of the agency in charge of federal elections” thinks this is a good idea means Marc Mayrand obviously doesn’t understand the serious problems inherent in online voting.

Edit: Further reading.