Posts from 6th February 2006

Feb 06

Elections and technology don’t mix

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 196 views

I run elections, and the buzzword in my election field is e-voting. Why? Well its a pain in the arse counting pieces of paper for one. Secondly, voting is traditionally going down so the mantra goes, anything which makes voting easier is a good thing. (Why they don’t just do the voting on a more convenient day puzzles me). However what has always seemed to be a major driver for the uptake electronic voting, or vote/count machines are THE COMPANIES THAT MAKE THEM. Well buff my arse and make it look like two cast members of the Martian Chronicles. They would wouldn’t they.

What is more worrying is the actual lack of reliability of such machines, plus the hackability. Just look at this wonderful cautionary tale currently being ignored in the world centre for electoral “reform” Florida. What is more than a tad worrying is when the president of the company that manufactures the voting machines says he’d “do everything in my power to ensure the return of George Bush to the White House”. Like fix the count?

Personally I think the paper and ballot box system really can’t be beat. Mainly because the transparency inherent in the process makes it so much harder to cheat. Piles of paper are visible, stewardship of the actual ballot papers is out in the open. Even down to the poorly paid lackeys doing the counting – people who are drawn from such disparate backgrounds that their very jobsworthiness acts as a fantastic check on the system. Perhaps democracy is not the best system, or the best way of choosing a government: but if you are going to subscribe to it, then you better be bloody sure you are doing it properly.

I Was A Goblin: Deep Magic From The Dawn Of Time

TMFDPost a comment • 1,319 views

A tiny piece of gaming history made itself available to me yesterday – this PDF of White Dwarf #1. I’d never seen a copy before but its instantly evocative.

Of what? Not my gaming past exactly – WD had brightened up its act by the time I got on board – but of the lost ferment of 70s nerd culture: letraset printed fanzines, heavily inked Conan-ripoff art, a thriving topsoil of micro-entrepreneurs. “Thane Tostig – a new fantasy game, 70p inc P&P”, “Godsfire – a three-dimensional war game”, “Includes 242 perforated counters”. You can see very similar adverts – and exactly the same art styles – in reprints of Cerebus #1, published in 1977, the same year as the first White Dwarf. In early computer fanzines you won’t see quite as many barbarians or spaceships but you will see the same single-minded, lawyerish dedication, and you might see the lame student humour (“New character class: The Pervert”).

From a gaming perspective White Dwarf#1 is illuminating – it’s a mini-culture desperate to organise itself (some level of organisation being the basic requirement for gaming to even exist) and trying to work out how to do it. It’s also emphatically not a role-playing culture, in the way it became in the 80s: there’s little of the “YOU are the hero”, self-actualising rhetoric that gave RPGs and gamebooks their brief burst of mass popularity. These things are boardless wargames, and the content reflects this.

The announcement of the D&D Society’s formation sets the tone, laying out the society’s aims: “(i) bring players in contact with one another (ii) clarify basic D&D rulebook problem areas“. The impression given throughout the magazine is of wargamers struggling to reconcile their need for unambiguous rules with the freeform play implicit in the very idea of RPGs: nobody involved seems to realise what they’ve got into. The longest article is the staggeringly complicated and boring “Monstermark” system, a way of grading monsters which the magazine doggedly stuck to for most of its early life. The second longest is Lewis Pulsipher’s more intriguing look at the “philosophy” of D&D – he sees no middle ground between strategic rules-based play and “silliness”, and comes down very hard on the latter.

During my gaming days these were the roots of fearful schisms in the community, schisms which I took, from a distance, passionate stands on. Back then I would have read White Dwarf #1 in disgust, embarassed at its limited, pedantic worldview. Now the magazine fills me with a painful fondness for a petty, enthusiastic, lost world.