Big Bad World

The last official college function for the class was held today with the project breakfast morning. People from industry were invited to take a look at the projects and a couple of awards were also handed out. I was pleased with how it went and presented mine to James O’Riordan from Vision Consulting who was also the keynote speaker. I subsequently sent my CV off to him so fingers crossed. 🙂

I’m completely shattered after finishing the project and still haven’t got back to full strength. It’s suprising how being focused on one particular task can take a lot of energy out of you. It’s almost two weeks since I submitted the final draft and I thought I’d be grand by now. 🙁 Anyhow, onwards and upwards. The big bad world awaits……


Almost over

Well, Orion (my final year project) was finally handed in on Monday. Had a nightmare job finishing it. Got an hours sleep from Sunday to Monday as I printed it out on a mates printer. Took a day and an age because there was so much of it. Well, at least I wasn’t in Dar’s position. He had to pay 95 euro to get his printed and bound. A ridiculous amount of money. I have my presentation to do tomorrow and that’ll be the end of college. Hopefully it’ll go well.

Saw the Matrix: Reloaded on Thursday 22nd. The action sequences were out of this world but there is a lot of story to take in with just one sitting. Will be seeing it again soon to pick up the stuff I didn’t get the first time round. The Animatrix is also out soon on DVD so I’ll probably buy that. Have downloaded the ones they made available via the Web and they’re fantastic.


The Electronic Election: Coming Soon

Published May 2002.

As the politicians begin to form the next government, Anthony Mc Guinness, Voice Technology Correspondent, takes a look at the new voting system we’ll all be using at the next election.

Many herald it as an essential update to a system which has dated from the 19th century while others regard it as a system which presents security hazards and takes away the traditional aspects of the Irish electoral system. The issue of course is that of electronic voting. For the first time ever voters in the constituencies of Dublin North, Dublin West and Meath have had the chance to cast their votes electronically. It must be said that this move is almost unique in Europe with only the Netherlands and Germany having used these systems previously. However the issue has become a contentious one with many people complaining that the system has not been tested enough and also that it removes an aspect, which has been at the centre of Irish voting for years, the count. It’s supporters’ say that the system has been fully tested during its time in the German cities of Cologne and Dusseldorf as well as the Netherlands. The machine’s mechanical failure rate has been extremely low and any issues have been carefully examined and studied.

Many people have also asked what the benefits of changing the existing system are. Well, it does away with spoilt votes, provides greater accuracy in vote counting, earlier results and it modernises electoral administration. An information campaign began in April to distribute leaflets alongside a travelling road-show which visited a range of locations in the three constituencies. The actual voting procedure itself has not changed all that much. “The essential thing for voters to remember is that this system is simple. They go to the polling clerk in the normal way, get a permit which authorises them to use voting machine, put the candidates in order of preference by pressing the buttons beside the candidates’ names and finalise their vote by pressing the CAST VOTE button? said former Minister Noel Dempsey. “It really is a case of using your finger instead of a pencil.? The administration of the vote will be easier to maintain as there is a lot of unseen work in the organisation of elections. Supplies of materials ranging from ballot boxes, ballot papers, polling booths, forms, pencils, rubber bands, twine, sealing wax, stamping instruments and much more has to be requisitioned and returned after a poll. The voting machine will eliminate this complexity serving as a polling booth, ballot paper and ballot box. On the environmental side, it will also reduce the number of ballot papers from approximately 3 million to about 30,000 for each national poll.

The secrecy of the ballot has also been questioned with many fearing that the individual vote could be traced back to the voter. The software behind the machine prevents this eventuality though. There are also contingency plans in the event of data storage failure, power failure and the attempt to switch a ballot module with a fraudulent one. When all votes have eventually been cast, the vote modules are brought to the central count centre where a result can be obtained almost instantaneously. The returning officer will have detailed documentation on the result and the machine will produce a report from each count.

With the results of the election now known (aside from a few recounts) we asked a spokesman from the Department of the Environment about the pilot of the electronic voting system. “It was a great success and we had no technical issues with the software or hardware units? he said. When asked if there would be any changes to the system for the next general election he said, “The hardware and software will largely stay the same except for the possibility of tweaking the interface after receiving feedback from the voters?. He also outlined that security was of the utmost importance. “We decided not to transmit the results from the polling stations because of fears over security. We cannot compromise in that aspect of the system.? So with a successful pilot programme completed the future is looking good for electronic voting in Ireland.

Q. How will people vote on polling day?
A. Very simply and in four easy steps:

  1. Voters will have their name marked off the register in the normal way and will be given a token by polling staff
  2. They will go to the poll clerk at the voting machine and hand over the token
  3. They will record their preferences by pressing the buttons beside the candidates’ photograph on the ballot paper displayed on the machine and finally.
  4. They will cast their vote by pressing the “Cast Vote? button on the machine

Q. What if the voter makes a mistake?
A. If the voter makes a mistake or wants to change their mind they simply press the button opposite the candidates’ name a second time. This will delete that preference and any other lower preferences and they can start again.

Q. Is it possible for the controller to see how a person is voting?
A. No. The controller can only see a visual display that the voter has pressed the “Cast Vote? button on the Control Unit screen.


Moment of Clarity

Am gradually realising the sheer amount of work that’s going to be required for Orion. One of the major issues is getting the architecture right in my head. I’m effectively dealing with two servers and then a client. The problem is that I want the whole program logic to be seperated from the presentation, not easy when you’re doing a project like this. Anyhow I have until the 27th so I’m determined to make it an excellent project. 🙂

Saw XMen 2 last Thursday. Have to say I thought it was much better than the first one. If you haven’t seen it then make sure to go cos its a great start to the summer blockbuster season. Next up – The Matrix Reloaded.



Open Source

Published in April 2003

Open Source software has long been ignored by the public as the preserve of geeks and those with too much time on their hands. However, with large corporations now switching to open-source alternatives, people are re-assessing whether or not they want to pay hundreds of euros for one software license. Anthony Mc Guinness, Voice Technology Correspondent, explains the open source ideology and gives alternatives to popular programs that can be downloaded for free.

What is Open Source Software?
The idea behind open source is that applications are developed by an unlimited set of developers and distributed for free. For example, with Microsoft Windows, there is a core team of programmers for each component. I cannot come along and obtain that code because Microsoft owns it. With an open source alternative, I can download the source code of the program, work on it and then give my version back to the development community. It’s this sense of fostered community, which sets open source apart. In fact the ideology is nothing new. Open source applications have been around for years, ever since Unix was developed in 1969, but up until now have seen little or no use in the public domain due to their lack of user friendliness. These hurdles have been overcome though and open source is now a viable alternative for any business or individual.

One thing you don’t get with Open Source software is a warranty or tech support line to ring if anything goes wrong. You do however, have a lot of experienced users and developers, who often run message boards where you can detail a problem and get an answer pretty quickly. Errors within most Open Source programs are rare due to testing periods and early versions. Even those that appear are normally dealt with in a matter of weeks instead of months or years when dealing with large software vendors.

Operating Systems

Instead of Microsoft Windows use Linux

Linux is an open source operating system that was developed initially by a student named Linus Torvalds. Today Linux is used in millions of servers’ worldwide and is gradually being introduced to the desktop environment. Linux comes in many guises called “distributions?, with most of them being completely free for download. Probably the most famous distribution is that of Red Hat Linux. You can buy the suite of CDs from Red Hat, which entitles you to technical support, or you can download the majority of the components at their site (this is quite a large download though so you’d be advised to use a broadband connection). The many variant distributions can be linked up to graphical front-ends which look and feels a lot like Microsoft Windows. The main incentive to use Linux is its stability but some drivers and software are yet to be ported for the OS. The future is definitely bright for Linux though.

Size: Approx 3.2 Gigabytes

Office Software

Instead of Microsoft Office get includes the key desktop applications, such as a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation manager, and drawing program, with a user interface and feature set similar to other office suites. The killer feature with is that you can open and save to Microsoft Word file formats. This allows you to switch from Office with relative ease as documents you have saved before can be opened with the new package. It’s also available in 25 languages with more being constantly added by the community. Two components missing from the suite are a database program and an outlook-style email program. However, work is ongoing at the Open Source Applications Foundation ( on a program to better Microsoft’s Outlook so keep an eye out for that.

Platforms: Windows, Linux, Linux PPC, Solaris (S) , Mac OS X (Final Beta for Darwin, X11)
Size: 51.4 MB

Word Processor

Instead of Microsoft Word use AbiWord

If you’re not too keen on downloading the whole package but still want to take advantage of an Open Source alternative then why not use AbiWord? The AbiWord project began as a desire to create a stable, feature-savvy word processor unbound by a single platform or proprietary file formats. AbiWord’s feature set includes almost everything you’d expect in a modern word processor including: a familiar interface, Word file import and export and unlimited undo and redo capacity. One of its best features however is the fact that any document saved with AbiWord is written in plainly readable text, making it possible to use any text editor to view AbiWord documents. This means that users are free from depending on a single program and can switch around easily.

Platforms: Windows (all versions), Linux, Windows, BeOS, QNX, and GNOME.
Size: 3.9 Mb
Version: 1.0.5


Instead of Microsoft Internet Explorer use Mozilla

Internet Explorer currently holds the lion’s share when it comes to browser stats with its only serious opposition, Netscape Navigator, having trailed off in recent years. With Microsoft seemingly content to release minor bug fixes and tweaks for Internet Explorer, the door was open for a serious competitor to enter the fray. Hence Mozilla was born. Mozilla pushes the boat out when it comes to handy features and looks. A pop-up ad killer along with tabbed browsing has seen Mozilla make a substantial impact in the past year. You can alter the look of the browser with free themes that are widely available on the net. It also imports your Internet Explorer favourites without any extra configuration. Definitely work a look.

Platforms: Microsoft Windows (95,98,ME,NT,2000,XP), Mac OS X, Linux x86
Size: 12Mb
Version: 1.3

Media Player

Instead of Windows Media Player 9 use Zinf

Zinf audio player is a simple, but powerful audio player for both Linux and Windows. It supports MP3, Ogg/Vorbis, WAV and Audio CD playback, with a powerful music browser, theme support and a download manager. You can change the look of Zinf using themes downloaded from the site and the player looks a lot like Winamp. While Zinf doesn’t have the advanced features of Windows Media Player such as DVD playback and recording capabilities it does have all the basics you need from an audio player plus its feature list is growing all the time with continued development.

Platforms: Windows and Linux.
Size: 1.7Mb
Version: 2.2.1

Photo Manipulation

Instead of Adobe Photoshop use the GIMP

GIMP is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program. The GIMP has many uses such as a simple paint program, a expert quality photo retouching program, a image format converter, etc. It isn’t as pretty as Adobe’s graphics heavyweight but it does offer a lot of the functionality for free. It’s also highly extensible so you can plug extra modules into it if required. Whereas Photoshop has an established user base of print-houses and graphic artists, the GIMP is gradually starting to gain acceptance as a serious tool for both individuals and the industry.

Platforms: Windows, Linux, OS/2 (under development) and Mac OS X.
Size: 7.8Mb
Version: 1.0