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The people have spoken

The Security of the No. 2 Pencil

Fraudpolls By now, all of us are are voting for President today in the US, a process that has many different methods. For our choice within The Big Choice, we have Diebold touchscreen voting machines, e-Slate thumbwheel systems, mail-in balloting, even the ageless paper and Number 2 pencil. While there has been a lot of talk about this election being gamed or somehow manipulated through less-secure, more advanced technologies, the majority of Americans will be using paper today to elect their politicians.

This is the way it should be: The most reliable and toughest-to-crack technology should be the standard for anything so important. The pencil, the paper, these are the tools that humans have been using for hundreds of years. It's been hundreds of years, in computer-industry-time, that companies have used the HP 3000 and MPE. When the stakes are high, like in mission-critical computing where you can't afford outages or incorrect results, simple is a good choice.

Bunchopencils What your 3000 community has been campaigning for this year is the right to make their choice. Today, the voters in my country can't choose which tool to vote with; state by state, it's been made for them by politicos who didn't put the choice of tools up for a vote. Nobody wants to deal with hanging chads, just like nobody wants an HP 3000 to be ghettoed off to an isolated node of a network. But there are compromises that can be made while retaining the most fraud-proof tool.

And after all, if the HP 3000 was as broken as Hewlett-Packard told us nearly seven years ago, then the constituency of 3000 Country would be much smaller than it is today. The years have not added to the populace, but they have not been unkind to those who must remain for awhile, or for as long as they possibly can stay.

(And if you have read this far and live in the US and haven't voted, go vote. We'll wait right here until you can come back and read something far less important than what US citizens need to be doing today.)

Migration is a matter of fact in this marketplace, and that's not only true because every company leaves a computing platform eventually. Withdrawing a vendor's sales and development teams accelerates migrations. But those who are staying with their pencils and paper can still participate — and often worry less about interference from disruptive outsiders.

I mean viruses, and how no 3000 has ever had that kind of security breech. Frankly, not a security breech of any consequence in the decades I've covered the system. The open source tools ported to the 3000 needed to get special engineering to slip into MPE/iX, because the OS is special, unique in a way that protects the 3000. A worldwide Denial of Service threat in 2005 couldn't jump the walls of HP 3000 file systems. Just like there's a paper trail of pencil-plus-paper for balloting in democracies all over the world, the 3000's simplicity protects results.

No matter what the result of the elections today, my country is making a gradual migration into new politicians and new governing. I wish for a future which ensures our assurance about our voting results, using plenty of paper and pencil, antique though they may seem. They may look like tools as old as COBOL, but that kind of classic technology retains a value which innovations must campaign to establish.