Arnt Gulbrandsen
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Merging and deploying the Brexit PR

Ten more months pass, the British still… do. This is awful. (I've moaned about it before, yes.)

Experience, review, discussion and routine should all guard against mistakes, so how can such a large country as Britain carry out something quite so badly? Despite all its newspapers, the BBC, the well-established political parties and NGOs, despite the think tanks and the excellent civil service at Whitehall? I suppose I ought to feel bad for all the expats whose future health insurance status is a bit Schrödingers-cattish, for all the people who work in companies with cross-border supply chains, and so on and so forth, but I actually do feel bad that these are the same techniques we use to ensure quality in software: Experience, review, discussion and routine. And they're not working.

There's a failure here that that warrants study.

Update: On a surface level, the problem is that they're ignoring problems. A time-honoured tradition. A confident assertion that prospective customers will do so-and-so can carry a meeting, right? Even if the actual prospects don't feel obliged to behave as predicted. What worries me is that these assertions are working so well, on so many people, for so long.


I make mistakes. I'm a programmer, half of what I do is giving birth to new bugs, and I hate it. So of course I try to improve that percentage. To identify and avoid error-prone routines, to interrupt mistakes before they've gone too far, etc.

Brexit scares me. Britain is an entire country with all the democratic mechanisms and institutions, with a long tradition, with no external pressure, with a full set of checks and balances, no lack of time or other resources except what they imposed on themselves. If experience, review, discussion or routines guard against mistakes, then noone should be more able to avoid big mistakes than Britain. Yet with just three weeks to go, they still seem headed for an utter mess. I can't bear to watch it.

The cost of large-scale surveillance

Fittingly, Germany has a federal office for protecting the democratic state against nazis and other threats to democracy. Each of the sixteen states also runs a smaller effort of its own. Some have dedicated organizations, some locate the work within a ministry, but all do something.

Because of the variety it's nontrivial to add up the cost of all this. I added up six of the biggest organizations and that came to €220 million, so I blithely estimate a total of €250-300 million.

Conveniently, there are 25-30,000 nazis in Germany […More…]

Indian election machines

Earlier this year Hari K. Prasad and others got hold of an Indian election machine and proved beyond doubt that they can be manipulated. I wrote a long, angry blog post, which I forgot to post. Now I post it, edited to be a less angry and with an added link.

Indian election machines don't suck. They're a great design for Indian elections. The attacks on them (bad seals, etc) also worked against the previous paper-based system. […More…]