Back in the Courts
In related news, election reform advocates on Tuesday "asked a judge to strike down a state rule preventing counties that use [high-tech voting] machines from conducting manual recounts from them. State election officers say manual recounts are not needed since the machines tell each voter if they are skipping a race, known as an undervote, and will not let them vote twice for the same race, known as an overvote. The officials also maintain that the computer systems running the machines can be trusted to count the votes accurately as they're cast, and give the final numbers when needed. But lawyers representing the ACLU and other groups said the state should require a paper trail in case a physical recount is needed, as it was in the 2000 presidential race in Florida," the Associated Press reported.
The state's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is also in on the court action. "Our concern is voter confidence," Howard Simon of the ACLU of Florida told the court, according to the Tampa Tribune. "There is no way to know if a vote isn't counted by one of these machines."
In another battleground state, Computerworld reported that "the Citizens' Alliance for Secure Elections, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Verified Voting Foundation asked a federal court in Ohio to refrain from mandating the use of any e-voting system that doesn't provide a voter-verifiable paper ballot. The court is poised to rule on a lawsuit challenging the use of punch card and optical scan systems."
A Prescription For Disaster
Elsewhere in Florida, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced this week that it is shuttering a $472-million trial computer project at Bay Pines VA Medical Center in St. Petersburg. The project was nixed "because it doesn't work. Technicians immediately will begin switching the hospital back to the old system by Sept. 30, the end of the VA's fiscal year, Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Largo, said Monday," the St. Petersburg Times reported.
The newspaper provided details on just how badly the system performed: "Installed last October, the troubled computer system was designed to track finances and inventory for the VA's $64-billion nationwide budget. Bay Pines was one test site; other hospitals were scheduled to follow. But the system was plagued with problems from the start. When it struggled to order supplies, surgeries were delayed. At one point, employees bought their own plastic gloves to draw blood. Staff members complained that they could not keep track of hospital expenditures. As recently as last month, hospital administrators told congressional investigators that they could not account for almost $300,000."
The article was picked up by the Associated Press, which said the tech problems at Bay Pines led five VA officials to either quit or be reassigned. "An agency spokesman said Tuesday he could not say whether any of the money spent on the failed system would be recovered," the AP noted.
Big Blue's Super Contract
IBM has been tapped to build a supercomputer for the Navy, a project that will result in the military's fastest supercomputer. The Naval Oceanographic Office commissioned the new supercomputer, which will perform at "a peak speed of 20 teraflops, or 20 trillion operations per second, according to IBM officials. Navy officials will deploy the system at the office's Major Shared Resource Center, located at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The purchase also includes a fast supercomputer cluster," Federal Computer Week reported.
"The supercomputer, which IBM said will cost less than $100 million, will be used to produce short-term weather forecasts for Navy fleets at sea. The Pentagon said the supercomputer's immense power will allow military scientists to model atmosphere and ocean dynamics for the entire surface of the Earth. The computer also will be able to analyze aircraft material at a molecular level to produce wings less likely to crack and to examine the flow of water around submarine hulls to improve their design," The Washington Post said.
InfoWorld has more details on the computer, called Kraken (named after the sea monster of Norse mythology). "Kraken is designed to let naval scientists and engineers more quickly solve problems that can affect the outcome of military engagements. Among other things, it will improve their weather forecasting, missile design, and oceanographic-mapping capabilities. The system is scheduled to begin operating by September."
In other supercomputer news, Silicon Graphics Inc. and Intel Corp. are working on a supercomputer project for NASA, Federal Computer Week reported. "Project Columbia, expected to give NASA's supercomputing capacity a tenfold boost, will simulate future missions, project how humans affect weather patterns and help design exploration vehicles," the article said.