Friday, December 11, 2009

Starbucks' Hot Teas (Dec 12 09)

I am a coffee person, but whenever I have an upset stomach I prefer hot tea instead. Green tea at Sofitel is nice but expensive, and Sofitel is so far away. We can not always have the nice things when we want them.

Starbucks serves very nice and very affordable hot teas, and there is always a Starbucks nearby. Today I had tall Earl Grey, which Starbucks Banawe served with two packets of D'Arbo honey, collected by honeybees from Austrian flowers. I am starting to develop a liking for honeyed hot tea, since I started drinking Starbucks honeyed Earl Grey several months back.

The nice thing about honeyed hot tea is that it is easy to prepare at home. You do not even have to use Earl Grey. One of my graduate students gave me a box of tea from Nepal, and Nepalese tea works just as well. I am sure that some local tea variety would taste just fine, with local honey.

Here's to hot tea and good health!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009



Questions Prepared by Pablo Manalastas
Fellow, Center for People Empowerment in Governance
December 1-3, 2009

SEC 1. Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) ...

In all cases, the Election Officer shall ensure that at least one (1) member of the BEI shall be an information technology-capable person as certified by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

QUESTION: Where will COMELEC/DOST get more than 80,000 IT capable persons? Will they be paid higher than the other members of the BEI?

SEC 5. Temporary vacancies in the BEI - If, at the time of the meeting of the BEI, any member is absent or a vacancy exists, the members present shall call upon a substitute from the list of public school teachers submitted by the DepEd to perform the duties of the absent member. If none is available, the members present shall appoint any qualified non-partisan registered voter of the precinct to temporarily fill said vacancy until the absent member appears. In case there are two members present, they shall act jointly.

QUESTION: What if the absent member is the IT capable person, and no qualified substitute can be found? Can the BEI continue its work without the IT capable person?

SEC 8. Minutes of voting and counting of votes (Minutes). - The BEI shall enter in the Minutes (A11), the act or data therein required as they occur or become available during voting, counting, and transmission of votes

QUESTION: What details must be placed in the Minutes? Some details are specified elsewhere in this document (GI), but are these details the only ones that need to be placed in the Minutes. Should there not be a document that gives ALL the details that must appear in the Minutes.

SEC. 10. Powers and functions of the BEf. - The BEI shall have the following powers and functions:

a) Conduct the voting in the polling place, electronically count the votes, print the election returns and transmit electronically the election results to the server for the City/Municipal Board of Canvassers, for dominant majority party, dominant minority party, accredited citizens' arm and KBP, and to the central server through the use of the PCOS machine;

QUESTION: Should the correct wording be: "Conduct the voting in the polling place, power on the PCOS machine and enable it to electronically count the votes, print the election returns and transmit electronically the election results to the server for the City/Municipal Board of Canvassers, for dominant majority party, dominant minority party, accredited citizens' arm and KBP, and to the central server".

SEC 10 (c) Maintain order within the polling place and its premises; keep access thereto open and unobstructed; and enforce obedience to its lawful orders. It shall prohibit the use of cellular phones and camera by the voters. If any person refuses to obey the lawful orders of the BEI or conducts himself in a disorderly manner in its presence or within its hearing and thereby interrupts or disturbs its proceedings, the BEI may issue an order in writing directing any peace officer to take said person into custody until the adjournment of the meeting, but such order shall not be executed as to prevent said person from voting. A copy of such written order (Annex *A') shall be attached to the Minutes;

QUESTION: Why prohibit the use of cellular phones and cameras by the voters? Almost all voters have cellular phones with cameras, so it is impractical to prevent 48 million voters from bringing their cellular phones to the precincts. What about the media and watchers from the political parties? Can't watchers use cellular phones and cameras?

SEC. 14. Honoraria of the BEI. - The chairman and members of the BEI shall each receive an honorarium of one thousand pesos (P1,000.00) per day but not to exceed three thousand pesos (P3,000.00). In addition, they shall be entitled to service credits for each day of service (Day before the elections, Election day and Day after Elections. Support Staff shall receive five hundred pesos (P 500.00) per day but not to exceed one thousand five hundred pesos (P1,500.00).

QUESTION: Will the BEI get honoraria on the days of training, and on the day of testing three days before elections? Will the BEI be in charge of watching the PCOS machines and the ballot boxes after testing until election day, and will they get paid for watching them?

SEC. 17. Rights and duties of watchers (of political parties) -

c) Take photographs of the proceedings and incidents, if any, during the voting, counting of votes, as well as of the generated election returns and ballot boxes;

QUESTION: So is this an exception to taking photographs by voters? Can watchers also use sound recorders? or video-sound recorders?

SEC. 17. d) File a protest against any irregularity or violation of law which they believe may have been committed by the BEI or by any of its members or by any person;

e) Obtain from the BEI a certificate as to the filing of such protest and the resolution thereof;

QUESTION: Where is the list of irregularities or violations of law (AES law) that the watchers can use as basis for protest? If the BEI helps a voter feed his ballot to the PCOS, is that a violation of law? If the BEI feeds the ballot instead of allowing the voter to feed the ballot himself, is that a violation of law?

SEC. 17. f) Be furnished, upon request, with a certificate of votes cast for the candidates, duly signed and thumb marked by the chairman and all members of the BEI.

QUESTION: Will this certificate be generated by the PCOS machine, or will the BEI manually copy this certificate from the print out of the precinct election return made by the PCOS machine? What if the BEI makes mistakes copying from the print out, which is a very likely possibility? Why not just allow the watchers to copy the CF card (back up made by the PCOS machine) using the watchers' own CF card readers?

SEC. 17. The watchers representing the dominant majority and dominant minority pafties fielding candidates shall, if available, affix their signatures and thumbmarks in the election returns.

QUESTION: Will they also digitally sign the internal copy of the precinct election return, which is the basis of canvassing at the higher levels? Who will provide them with CA-certified signing keys (private-public key pair)? Is not digital signing by BEI and watchers in accordance with the spirit and substance of RA-9369?

SEC. 18. Election forms, documents and supplies,

QUESTION: Where are the 50 pieces of felt-tip pens that the voters will use to mark their choices on the ballot? Where are the envelopes or pen holders for holding these felt-tip pens? I read the entire list, and did not see any mention of felt-tip pens.

SEC. 18. Election forms, documents and supplies,

A35 Certificate of Challenge or Protest and Decision of the BEI, 10 pcs
A39 Oath of Voter Challenqe for Illeqal Acts, 10 pcs
A40 Oath of Identification of Challenqed Voter, 10 pcs

QUESTION: Can the public see samples of these forms?

SEC. 21. Voting hours. - The casting of votes shall start at seven o'clock in the morning and shall end at six o'clock in the evening of election day.

If at six o'clock there are still voters within thirty (30) meters in front of the polling place who have not yet cast their votes, voting shall continue but only to allow said voters to cast their votes without interruption.

QUESTION: If the voters are queued up in front of the polling place waiting to feed their accomplished ballots into the PCOS machine, but some voters in the queue are standing in queue but beyond the 30 meters limit, will these voters be allowed to cast their votes?

SEC. 22. Place of voting, - Voters shall cast their votes in the polling place designated by the Commission. The Poster Indicating Precinct Number (A3) shall be prominently posted near or at the door of the polling place.

QUESTION: Will voters be assigned to precincts in the same school or basketball court or polling center where they were assigned to in the previous years? Do voters have to transfer to a different address to look for the new aggregated precinct assignments?

SEC. 24. Challenge against ittegal voters, - Any voter or watcher may challenge any person offering to vote for:
a) Not being registered;
b) Using the name of another; or
c) Suffering from an existing disqualification.
In such case, the BEI shall satisfy itself as to whether or not the ground for the challenge is true by requiring proof of registration, identity or qualification. The BEI shall identify the voter through his photograph, fingerprint, or specimen signatures in the VRR or EDCVL. In the absence of any of the above-mentioned proof of identity, any member of the BEI may identify under oath a voter, and such act shall be reflected in the Minutes.

QUESTION: Will the BEI be given training to match voter fingerprint with the fingerprint on record? Does this not require expert training? Or will they be provided fingerprint matching computers to help them do a computerized matching of fingerprints, instead?

SEC. 27. Rules to be obserued during the voting. - During the voting, the BEI shall see to it that:
a) Voters shall vote in the order of their arrival in the polling place;

QUESTION: What does the term "voters shall vote in the order of their arrival" mean exactly? Does this mean they will be given a ballot and allowed to accomplish their ballot in the order of arrival, and then after successfully filling out their ballots, they will be allowed to queue up to feed their ballots into the PCOS machine in the order that they finish accomplishing their ballots? Or does this mean that they will be allowed to queue to feed their accomplished ballots to the PCOS machine in the order of arrival?

SEC. 27. c) No person carrying any firearm or any other deadly weapon, except those expressly authorized by the Commission, shall enter the polling place;

QUESTION: Are pointed metallic objects that are not allowed when checking into local and international airports part of the list of deadly weapons? Is a three-inch Swiss army knife a deadly weapon. Are nail clippers, or small scissors, or small twissors considered deadly weapons?

SEC. 27. e) The ballot box shall remain locked during voting.

QUESTION: What if the PCOS machine jams or otherwise malfunctions, so that computerized elections can not continue, will the ballot box be opened so that voters can deposit their ballots into the open ballot box, in preparation for manual counting? How will computer-less manual counting be done?

SEC. 28. Voter Verifiability of His Choices (Not in the General Instructions).

QUESTION: Will the voter be allowed to verify how the PCOS machine appreciated his ballot? Will the PCOS machine show on the LCD touch screen or print on the paper-tape printout a listing of the candidates which the PCOS interpreted as his vote marks (50% or greater shading)? Will the PCOS machine give the voter the choice to agree or disagree with the PCOS appreciation of his vote marks on the ballot?

SEC. 28. Persons allowed inside the polling place. - Only the following persons shall be allowed inside the polling place:

e) Voters casting their votes;
f) Voters waiting for their turn to cast their vote;

QUESTION: Voters cast their votes in several steps: (1) BEI examines their voters list and on finding the voter's name, does the usual recording of the voter and hands the ballot and felt-tip pen to the voter, (2) Voter goes to secrecy desk to accomplish his ballot (this takes the longest time), (3) Voter queues up to feed his ballot into the PCOS machine.

Will the voter be inside the polling place during all these three steps?

SEC. 28. (Continued) However, the BEI may, by a majority vote, if it deems necessary, order in writing the detail of a policeman or any peace officer for its protection or for the protection of the election documents and paraphernalia. Such order shall be entered in the Minutes. Said policeman or peace officer shall stay outside the polling place near enough to be easily called by the BEI at anytime. In no case shall the said policeman or peace officer hold any conversation with any voter or disturb or prevent or in any manner obstruct the free access of the voters to the polling place.

QUESTION: How will the BEI give the written order to the policeman, when the BEI can not leave their post, and the policemen are not allowed to stay within 50 meters of the polling place? Will the BEI have the mobile numbers of the Police Department? or of individual policemen? Will the policeman, so ordered to give protection, be given a seat outside the door of the precinct, from which location he can religiously perform his duty to watch the voting and secure the peace? Exactly what actions can the policeman do? Will all police officers be required to read these General Instructions so that they are aware of the limits of their powers?

SEC. 30. Preparation of ballots for illiterate and person with
disability/disabled voters.

No person may assist an illiterate or person with disability/disabled voter more than three (3) times, except the members of the BEI.

QUESTION: How do you count the number of times an assistor helps a voter with disability, or am I misreading this provision? Does this provision mean "no assistor may help more than three disabled persons"?

SEC. 33. Testing and Sealing of PCOS - At least three (3) days before the May 10, 2010 National and Local Elections, after due notice by the EO to all parties concerned, the BEI shall meet at the polling place to test and seal the PCOS to be used on election day,

QUESTION: What if, during the testing, the BEI discover that the wrong PCOS machine has been delivered to the precinct? Is there a way for the BEI to determine if the PCOS computer is the correct one for the precinct?

SEC. 33. Testing and Sealing of PCOS - using the following guidelines:

8. The BEI shall compare the results of the manually-prepared ER with that of the machine-generated ER.

10. If the results of both ERs are not the same, the BEI shall determine the cause of the discrepancy and undertake the necessary measures to rectify the same.

QUESTION: Are the BEIs given training to determine the cause of the discrepancy and undertake the necessary measures to rectify the same? Does this not require technical expertise which the BEI might not yet have?

SEC. 33. (Continued)
11.The BEI shall then:
a. Seal the following parts of the PCOS (etc)
b. Lock and seal the ballot box;
c. Wrap the PCOS with shrink wrap; and
d. Allow the public to secure the polling places where the counting machines are installed.

QUESTION: Is the public the correct entity to secure the polling places where the counting machines are installed? Will the PCOS machine and ballot box be bolted to the floor or bolted to some permanent immovable fixture in the room/precinct? What if someone steals the PCOS machine and ballot box? Will the BEI be responsible? Will COMELEC pay the BEI to be responsible? Is the army or police the correct entity to secure the polling places where the counting machines are installed?

SEC. 34. Preliminaries to the voting -

2) Count the ballots manually, enter in the Minutes the number of ballots; and the fact that the package of ballots and the book of voters were shown to the public with the seals intact.

QUESTIONS: (1) What if the BEI notice that the wrong ballots were delivered to his/her precinct? The BEI will see the ballots only on election day itself, so can not check beforehand if the correct ballots were delivered to his precinct. (2) What if the ballots are the correct one for the precinct, but the number of ballots is less than the number of voters in the precinct? What if the number of ballots is more than the number of voters?

SEC. 34. 3) Remove the shrink wrap cover of the PCOS and show that the seals of the memory slot, transmission port and printer cover are intact. Record in the Minutes such fact and thereafter break the seal of the printer cover. The transmission port and memory card slot shall remain sealed during the voting.

QUESTION: What if any of the seals is broken? Will the BEI ask for a new PCOS machine, and redo the testing done three days earlier, using the new PCOS machine?

SEC 34. 8) The IT-capable member of the BEI (Operator) shall select "START" from the Main Menu. The geographic assignment (province, city/municipality, barangay, polling center and cluster precinct) of the PCOS will then be displayed on the screen. The Operator shall press the *INITIALITE VOTE COUNTERS" option of the PCOS,

QUESTION: What if the any of the geographical assignment of the PCOS is wrong, indicating that the PCOS machine was switched during storage? Will the BEI ask for a new PCOS machine, test it, and use it for the day?

SEC. 35. Manner of obtaining ballots. - The voter shall approach the support staff in-charge of the precinct, give his name, address, together with the other data concerning his person

The support staff shall verify if the name of the voter is in the PCVL. If the name of the voter is in the PCVL, his identity shall then be established through his photograph or specimen signatures in the Voter's Registration Record, unless he is identified under oath by any member of the BEI.

QUESTION: WHat if the voter has a valid registration as proven by his voter's ID, but his name is not in the PCVL? Will the voter be disenfranchised?

SEC. 36. Manner of voting. Voting shall be conducted in the following manner:

a) The voter shall, using a ballot secrecy folder and the marking pen provided by the COMELEC, fill his ballot by shading completely the oval beside the names of the candidates of his choice.


(1) Recently, the COMELEC announced that it will allow 50% shading as indication of a vote. Since the voter is not a computer, he can not really tell if his shading is 50% or more, since he is just using his naked eye, and for him, what might be 50% may actually be only 47-49% shading for the computer. The same reasong holds if the COMELEC requires 100% full shade. I suggest that if COMELEC decides to use 50% shading, that any shading greater than 40% be considered as 50% or more shading. The 40% may actually not be enough, but that is better than requiring exactly 50% or more.

(2) If the voter discovers while filling up his ballot that he overvoted for the position of senator, or provincial board, or municipal council, or for any other position, why can't he use a dry corrector tape to cover one of his shadings, or maybe cut out one of his ovals, in order to reduce the number of votes to the correct number.

SEC. 37. Rejected ballots procedure - Ballots may be rejected by the PCOS during the scanning. In the event of rejected ballot, the PCOS shall deposit the ballot into the rejected ballot cnmpartment of the ballot box. The voter shall not be issued with a replacement ballot.

QUESTION: Is it possible for a duly registered voter, voting in his assigned precinct, and using a ballot issued by the authorized BEI, is it possible for such registered voter to have his ballot rejected as invalid? Is the invalid ballot algorithm of the PCOS machine tested to be 100% foolproof? What assurance does the voter have that he will not be disenfranchised because of a legitimate ballot appreciated as invalid ballot?

SEC. 39. Counting of ballots and transmission of results; Procedure,

a) At the end of voting and before the start of counting of votes, the procedure of validating the ibutton security key and PINs stated in Section 32, no.4 herein shall be performed.

QUESTION: There is no Section 32 no. 4 in this document (GI).

QUESTION: Preparatory to transmission of the internal copy of the precinct election return (ER) to the municipal CCS computer and to the national COMELEC CCS computer, the BEI is required by law (RA-9369) to digitally sign the said internal copy of the precinct ER. From Smartmatic's Financial Proposal to COMELEC, it is evident that Smartmatic will generate all the private-public key pairs (signing keys) to be used by all BEI for digital signing of all the ERs. These signing keys will be issued to the BEI by Smartmatic on election day itself, and will be issued to the BEI by position and not to the BEI by name. That is, whoever reports as BEI chairman of Precinct 0559A of Mayamot, Antipolo, will be issued the signing keys of the chairman. The standard for CA-certified public keys (X.509 standard) is to issue the signing keys to named persons and not to positions. The question is: since the BEI will be using signing keys that belong to Smartmatic, does signing the ER with these keys constitute digital signing by Smartmatic and not by the BEI personnel? Is this not, therefore, a violation of law?

SEC. 39. (Continued) Before opening the "Close Voting" option in the main menu, the operator shall remove the seal in the transmission port of the PCOS to connect the transmission cable (cellular modem) into the transmission port.

QUESTION: Since only one cellular modem will be used by all PCOS machines in the polling center, before the BEI can attach the cellular modem to his PCOS machine, he has to wait for the BEI of the PCOS machine which is assigned to use the cellular modem first, he has to wait for this BEI to finish transmitting first, before he can take possession of the modem for use in his precinct. (1) Is the order of use of the one cellular modem by all PCOS machines in the polling place determined at random? (2) What if there is failure of transmission because of lack of cellular signal, as happens during times of peak usage? (3) How long must the BEI wait before he can declare a failure of transmission?

SEC. 41. Shutting Down of the PCOS. - After printing of all reports and transmission of precinct results to all destinations, the following steps shall be undeftaken:
a) In the main menu/ the Operator shall press the SHUTDOWN option;
b) ...
c) ...
d) The PCOS shall automatically shutdown.

QUESTION: When will the back up CF card be made? Will a back up be made? Can the watchers copy this back up CF card using card readers that they themselves provide?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

My CE-160 Class in Ateneo (Nov 19 09)

This is my CE-160 class in Ateneo for the second semester of school year 2009-2010. CE-160 is Automata Theory with Compiler Design for computer engineering students. I have exactly nine students, and this is probably the smallest class that I have ever taught in 32 years. Most of them are either BS Applied Physics or Applied Chemistry, with major in Applied Computational Science. These are nine of the brightest students on campus, because you do not get into any of our allied engineering programs unless you are smart.

My daughter used to tell me this joke about engineering schools. She says that engineering is Marlboro Country -- all you find here are men and horses. This picture shows that Ateneo CE-160 is not Marlboro Country. On the contrary, when I'm teaching this class, I get the feeling that God gave me these good-looking young men and women to teach, in order to inspire me to teach, so that I can inspire them to learn.

God bless these children, and may they all get grades of A!!!

My CE-160 Class in Ateneo (Nov 19 09)

This is my CE-160 class in Ateneo for the second semester of school year 2009-2010. CE-160 is Automata Theory with Compiler Design for computer engineering students. I have exactly nine students, and this is probably the smallest class that I have ever taught in 32 years. Most of them are either BS Applied Physics or Applied Chemistry, with major in Applied Computational Science. These are nine of the brightest students on campus, because you do not get into any of our allied engineering programs unless you are smart.

My daughter used to tell me this joke about engineering schools. She says that engineering is Marlboro Country -- all you find here are men and horses. This picture shows that Ateneo CE-160 is not Marlboro Country. On the contrary, when I'm teaching this class, I get the feeling that God gave me these good-looking young men and women to teach, in order to inspire me to teach, so that I can inspire them to learn.

God bless these children, and may they all get grades of A!!!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Christmas Spirit in U.P. Computer Science (Nov 19 09)

A few days ago, an electrician put up a Christmas Tree of electric light bulbs in front of the U.P.Alumni Engineers Centennial Hall that houses the Department of Computer Science and Engineering Library II. The tree is so simple yet so elegant in its simple beauty. It quickly became popular among students, and in the late afternoons, in the dying hours of daylight, when the darkness of night try to overcome the brightness of day, we see student groups taking their pictures in front of the tree.

But this photo opportunity is a challenging one. The automatic exposure mechanisms of most digital cameras would defeat the darkening effect that you want to put in your picture, in order to show the beauty of the lighted tree. The Canon 450D on auto-exposure setting recommends 1/8 second at f/4.0. I went to manual and took the shoot at 1/10 second at f/5.6, and I got the desired effect of highlighting the tree in front of a slightly darker building. This is the magic of modern digital photography!

Ateneo to Remember (Nov 19 09)

I joined Ateneo de Manila in 1977 (or 1979?) as soon as I got my M.S. in mathematics. At that time, the college complex included Xavier Hall (Admin, Registrar), Kostka Hall (English, Humanities), Berchmans Hall (Mathematics and Management Engineering), Gonzaga Hall (Biology, Physics), Schmidt Hall (Chemistry), PIPAC Building (Philippine Institute of Pure and Applied Chemistry), Belarmine Hall (Psychology, European Languages), and the old Rizal Library (as yet without the extension building).

The new buildings came later: Colayco Hall (now MV Pangilinan Hall), Faura Hall, Dela Costa Hall, Social Sciences Building, Rizal Library Extension, Science Education Complex (A, B, C), PLDT Convergent Technologies Center, John Gokongwei School of Management, Mateo Ricci Hall, Church of the Gesu, and the First Pacific Hall housing the new Rizal Library.

Faura Hall was built at about the time when I got my PhD in Mathematics. I remember a year when an intensity seven earthquake was shaking Faura Hall up-and-down, instead of the usual sideways shaking motion of normal earthquakes. Except for superficial cracks in non-load-bearing parts, Faura is essentially undamaged, thanks to the reliable construction techniques of that time. At the time of the quake, Faura was housing Mathematics, Computer Science, and Physics.

Today, I'm very proud that Ateneo constructed three important buildings, monuments to Ateneo's dedication to academic excellence.

The First Pacific Hall that houses the new Rizal Library is probably the biggest single library building in the entire country. The Library houses the main library's collection of books, periodicals, Internet access stations, etc.

The Manny V. Pangilinan Center for Student Leadership houses the student organizations. It is the most beautiful student center in any Filipino university today.

The Mateo Ricci Hall is a student study hall. There are individual study tables, group study rooms, a coffee shop, outlets for student laptops, wifi hotspots, etc. I believe that it is the only one of its kind in our country. The building is named after the Jesuit mathematician Mateo Ricci, and is a testament to Ateneo's dedication to academic excellence.

So if you are thinking of a university which will give you a good Jesuit education that emphasizes academic excellence, maybe Ateneo de Manila is the school for you.

Friday, November 06, 2009

KDE Founder and Smartmatic: Comparison

On November 6, 2009, in Germany, KDE founder Matthias Ellrich received the decoration German Federal Cross of Merit for his contributions to free software. KDE is one of the earliest graphical desktop user environments (GUI) for Linux and other open source operating systems, and is one of the most powerful and popular GUIs. In Germany, they give highest honors to people who open source their computer programs.

In contrast, in the Philippines, COMELEC will pay computer packaging and marketing firm Smartmatic the amount of PHP7.2-PHP11.4 billion for supplying election hardware and software with source code that no Filipino programmer will ever see, and that Smartmatic and COMELEC consistently refuses to submit to source code review as required by law. In the Philippines we reward companies who break the law.

That is one difference between Germany and the Philippines.

Go figure that out!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

sha1sum as Program Integrity Verifier for the PCOS and CCS Pograms (Nov 05 09)

I am a Linux user. Linux is the best operating system for techie people. It is so good an operating system that even the Smartmatic PCOS PROGRAM runs on uClinux, and the Smartmatic CCS program runs on SuSE Linux. The computers that we should trust to run our national and local elections run on Linux!

Linux comes in several flavors, called distributions. A distribution consists of the Linux operating system kernel, together with a selection of utilities that, together with the kernel, makes a complete usable operating system. My favorite Linux distributions are Ubuntu (a derivative of Debian) and Fedora (from which RedHat is derived). The trouble with any Linux distribution is that Linux and the utilities are updated (source code improvements are made) on a regular basis, and the distributions are also updated to catch up with source code improvements. As a result of these improvements, a new version of Fedora, version 12, is coming in a few days, even before I could get familiar with the great features of version 11. So I have decided to change my Fedora distribution to CentOS, an enterprise Linux distribution that is based on RedHat, one that does not get updated as frequently as Fedora. We say that CentOS is built upon a reasonably stable source code base.

I decided to download the CentOS version 5.4 installer DVD from the Argonne National Laboratories mirror at the URL:

The download took a few hours, since the DVD is about 3.9GB in size. To make sure that there were no errors in downloading, I also downloaded the sha1 hash/checksum file:

This sha1sum.txt file contains the sha1 hash values of the CD/DVD files that you can download from Argonne. The specific sha1 hash value that I am interested in is the line in that file that reads:

d2b36d3f017b2684ac920fab87aaf741bba16ca8  CentOS-5.4-i386-bin-DVD.iso

Now I need to make sure that the DVD that I downloaded does not contain any errors, that I downloaded a correct copy of the CentOS installation DVD. In order to check the correctness of the downloaded DVD (verify the integrity of my download), I just run the "sha1sum" program as follows:

sha1sum CentOS-5.4-i386-bin-DVD.iso

After some wait, the sha1sum program prints out the sha1 hash value of the DVD as follows:

d2b36d3f017b2684ac920fab87aaf741bba16ca8 CentOS-5.4-i386-bin-DVD.iso

Comparing with the sha1 hash value from the file sha1sum.txt, I am able to confirm that my DVD installer is correct and is an authentic copy of the original CentOS installer from Argonne. Now I am happy that I can install CentOS on my laptop.

How does this integrity verifier work for our election programs: PCOS and CCS? This is my suggestion, which COMELEC may or may not implement. After all this is just a suggestion. After the election programs that will run on the PCOS and CCS computers have been source-code reviewed and approved by the Filipino IT community, and after successful testing by SysTest Labs, in front of representatives from all political parties, SysTest Labs will compute the sha1 hash values of the PCOS and CCS programs, using the Linux sha1sum program as illustrated earlier. These two hash values will be printed out and given to all watchers and BEI and BOC personnel. Then on election day, to verify that the programs that have been approved are the ones running on the PCOS and CCS computers, the BEI and BOC personnel will just run the sha1sum program on the PCOS and CCS election programs, respectively. If the sha1sum program prints out a sha1 hash value that is equal to the sha1 hash value of the approved programs given out by SysTest Labs, then the PCOS and CCS programs will be accepted as authentic, since they pass the integrity verifier.

With a program integrity verifier like this, confidence in automated elections will be enhanced, and people will start to trust COMELEC.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Making of Champions (Nov 02 09)

The world's best collegiate computer programmers are usually decided in February or April of each year in the World Finals of the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC). In February 1-6, 2010, the World Finals will be held in snow-covered city of Harbin, China, at the Harbin Engineering University. To qualify to join the prestigious World Finals, a team of three college students currently enrolled in a university (not exceeding five years residence from time of entrance to university) must train under a faculty coach, and come out on top of one of the regional programming contests. In 2009 the Asian regional contests were (will be) held in 15 universities in Tokyo, Hsinchu, Dhaka, Manila, Gwalior-Kanpur, Shanghai, Amritapuri, Harbin, Hefei, Tehran, Wuhan, Ningbo, Phuket, Seoul, and Jakarta, The world's best collegiate programmers usually come from Eastern Europe (Russia) and Asia (China).

On Friday, October 23, 2009, at the Asia-Manila regional programming contest of the ACM-ICPC at Ateneo de Manila University, 55 collegiate programming teams from Hongkong, Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines, met and competed for the Asia-Manila regional championship. Ten problems were given, to be solved by each team of three programmers in five hours, using one computer shared by the three team members. The team that solves the most problems in the least time becomes regional champions. The problems were varied, including convex hull computation, composition of polynomials, taxicab distance, expressing a number as a sum of consecutive integers, partial fractions, fitting a quadratic, and classifying typhoons. The contest started late at 10:00 AM and was ended at 3:00 PM. The top six universities were:

1. UP Diliman (regional champions)
2. Ho Chi Min City University of Science
3. National University of Singapore
4. Hongkong University of Science and Technology
5. University of Hongkong
6. Ateneo de Manila University

The champion team from UP Diliman, named "Mga SOGO ni E.T." , consisted of team members Marte Raphael Soliza, Kevin Charles Atienza, and John Eddie Ayson. Their faculty coaches are Dr. Fidel Nemenzo and Mr. Eric "E.T." Tambasacan.

The champion UPD team will join the World Finals in 2010 in Harbin, China. This is only the third time that a Filipino team will be joining the World Finals. Earlier in 2005, a team from Ateneo de Manila University joined the World Finals in Shanghai, China, and in 2006 another team from Ateneo de Manila University joined the World Finals in San Antonio, Texas.