Looking at some ballot scanning issues

The town of Windham, New Hampshire, became the site of a controversy when the results of a ballot recount by hand didn’t match the original results. This has some interesting implications for ballot scanning and errors in the process, so I think it’s fair game for this blog. I’ll have to get into the politics to give it context, though.

The four winning candidates for the state legislature were found to have gotten about 300 additional votes each, while the one who requested the recount got fewer, so the results weren’t affected. Still, it was appropriate to ask why the scanners’ total was so far off. The town accordingly had an audit conducted.

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Remembering the DAT war

Waking up briefly to mention an interesting article…

In 1986, the RIAA was outraged that Sony’s Digital Audio Tape (DAT) would let ordinary consumers record high-quality sound. The format was expensive and never caught on in the mass market, but it led to other digital audio formats. In retrospect, we’re lucky to have reached a state where we can record sound without mandatory DRM. (If you don’t believe me, recall that strong encryption was once outlawed.) The article mentions that “Computer manufacturers successfully lobbied to exempt CD-ROM drives from copyright protection technology.” Our technology would be much less advanced today if we had to jump through copy-protection hoops every time we used a computer.

Price drop on Files that Last

Files that Last: Digital Preservation for Everygeek has been out for quite a few years. While the relevant technology has changed in many ways, especially with the explosive growth in cloud storage, I think most of its advice is still useful. I’ve permanently dropped its price to $1.99, no discount code required. The price drop is immediate on Smashwords. It may take longer to percolate to other sources supplied by Smashwords.

The risks in PDF

PDF is a very popular format. It’s also a hideously complicated one and keeps getting more complicated. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that it has security issues. I just came upon Processing Dangerous Paths — On Security and Privacy of the Portable Document Format, which enumerates many of these risks (and is ironically posted as a PDF). It’s worth a read. Thanks to Johan van der Knijff for mentioning it on Twitter.

Technical issues with the Hunter Biden email

The PDF Association has an analysis of the file which the New York Post has uploaded to Scribd, which purports to show a message from Vadim Pozharskyi to Hunter Biden and Devon Archer. Discussions of what it signifies politically and whether Twitter was justified in blocking the link are for another place. The issue in this blog is what the file says about the authenticity of the email. The answer is: Nothing at all.

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“Shadow attack” allows alteration of signed PDF files

The more complex a format is, the less chance there is that its security features will work in all cases. A vulnerability has turned up that lets sneaky people alter digitally signed PDF documents. A German team discovered a “shadow attack” vulnerability in the format. It’s easiest to do this if the document’s creator designed it to be altered after signing. The victim sees one set of content and signs it; the dishonest creator gets the document back, changes its appearance, and passes it on.
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Apple HEIC vs. students

When a device uses a relatively obscure image format and a site that accepts uploads fumbles it, who is to blame? This is the question that came up when students couldn’t complete their AP college exams because of such a situation.

Students took pictures with their iOS devices of materials they submitted for the test. Their phones stored and uploaded the pictures in HEIC format. The College Board’s server didn’t recognize the format and timed out. The students immediately failed and were told they could retake the test in three weeks.
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A new homeschooling resource on file formats

Continuing from the theme of my last post, I’ve created a page for learning about file formats. I don’t know much about educational theory, but I’ve picked out links to articles and videos which I consider suitable for high school students starting out to learn about formats. With so many people figuring out how to educate their kids without classrooms, creating resources is one thing I can do. If you think the page is useful, please link to it where the people who can use it will see it.

Helping a nation of homeschoolers: Digital preservation

We’ve abruptly become a nation of homeschoolers. People are figuring out how to do it with no preparation. They have to face a lot of issues, most of which I’m not helpful with. One of them is finding good material on the Internet. There’s no lack of well-written, informative pages; the hard part is sorting them out from all the garbage. Many of us can help in our fields of expertise by providing pointers to the best material.

On Twitter I saw a call for “expert sniffers,” people who can find the experts. We can do that where we’re specialists if not experts. We need to find articles that are good from an educational standpoint. Presenting all the knowledge isn’t enough; the hard part is presenting it in a way that learners can understand.
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Going on standby

I’ve kept this blog going for years. People are still reading it; my stats show 140 views yesterday, and that was on a Saturday! However, I’m no longer active in digital preservation, other people have taken over JHOVE, and professionally I’m now a writer rather than a software developer.

It’s better to do a few things well rather than spread myself too thin. That’s why I’m putting this blog on standby status. There could be occasional posts here if something especially interesting turns up, but they’ll be infrequent. This will help me to focus more on my writing blog and other projects, such as my novel The Magic Battery.

Thanks to everyone who’s read and commented on this blog over the years.