collaborative budgeting via the net?

Along the lines of this post, I think it would be neat to have a site where people could vote on what they want a budget to look like. The current year's budget would be a starting point, perhaps with automatic adjustments across the board to compensate for projected inflation. Users would have various options in terms of where to start; they could start with the original budget, or with one done by a friend / other person, or perhaps with the current average as determined by previous submissions (although this might be problematic in terms of expressing rationale, since these users will be starting from a different point from other users--see below). The budget would be presented as something like a tree view, with nodes that could be expanded or collapsed. A user could raise or lower the budget of a node, which would have the effect of proportionally adjusting the budgets of all sub-nodes. When doing so, the user would be asked to either provide a rationalization or +1 a rationalization provided by someone else. When a change is proposed, the site would present a list of rationalizations given by other users, sorted by their rating. (This could result in poor visibility for things written in by users, so, to help boost the visibility of items that are similar to other items, the author of one item could request that it be merged with another item, and, if the author of the other item approves, the items and their ratings will be combined.) Sometimes a rationalization for a node will be inherited from its parent, meaning that it was subjected to an across-the-board cut or raise from its parent, and sometimes they will be specific to the node. Users could have the option of importing changes made by other users. In this way, a budget could be planned and submitted collaboratively by several people, with each person taking an area in which they have expertise.

It would be interesting to have a process like that and pass along the outcome to congress for consideration as a baseline, although doing this has problems that I can foresee (and probably some that I can't). The integrity of the system would be a major issue, and, as with electronic voting, I don't know how to ensure it. Whoever administers it could tamper with the results and probably not be detected. If there are security holes, then an outsider might be able to do something similar. Also, I am defining "the outcome" as the average of the budgets passed by users, but taking this as final might cause problems. For one thing, some projects might be possible with a given amount of funding; otherwise they would not be possible, so funding them half-way might not make sense. Also, the results might (or might not) be more variable than the variability in the budgets passed by Congress, and institutions will want to have some amount of stability in their budgets to facilitate planning. Also, such a system would be subject to bias in that it would select for the positions of the people who participate, and some people may be prevented from doing so for reasons other than their willingness, although all forms of democracy are subject to one form of bias or another. Some of these limitations could likely be accommodated, although lack of security seems like a fatal flaw that might make the whole system impractical in terms of influencing public policy.


Today would be such a great day for a swim!

Of course, that could be said for almost any day in June, July, August, or September in this city.

But, alas, I'm not swimming--going swimming would take too much time, since I'm maybe a 20-minute walk from the nearest place I know of to swim, and I'm trying to fix bugs.

cooperating, etc

McAllen and I went to Sasona yesterday to talk with Hannah about our next steps. She was looking at property and found a church in Hyde Park which looked promising / worth looking at. I wonder why our realter didn't find it / point it out to us. I can't get too hopeful about it yet, since we haven't even looked at it, but it's good to be in the position now where we can start moving forward again and looking at properties, since we know now that NASCO Properties can buy the building, and that seems like our best financing option. At one point, Hannah was saying that we should have a common room that connects to other rooms that people need to pass through, since otherwise it would be a community room that pretty much never got used, and then, as if on cue, someone walked through the community room in which we were meeting. I agree that this would be highly desirable, although it seems like it would be hard to do if we bought an apartment complex that we tried to run as a typical housing co-op. That seems like an advantage of a commercial building like a church which would presumably have a lot of open space that we could remodel, that we could lay out the building the way we want to some extent, although such a building might have its own zoning and finance-related challenges.

I spent a lot of time this week backing up my hard disk, replacing it, reinstalling, and restoring from the backup. Now I'm trying to run jhbuild since I have ample space.

I feel like I used to write a lot of interesting things, and now I can't think of anything interesting to write. Perhaps it's my time to do things rather than write.

  • Current Mood
    okay okay

educational games (Freeciv)?

I really want to look at Freeciv. Perhaps I will next week when I take some vacation time. I really think that there should be a game that has the player make decisions about the usage of various technology/resources and models possible effects. Ie, if a type of transportation requires a nonrenewable resource and decisions are made that cause a society to become dependent on this type of transportation, then the player will see effects of this decision when the resource becomes scarce. The degree to which the society became dependent on the resource would depend in part on decisions that the player makes, such as the extent to which the resource is taxed (this might lead to decreased usage and increased private investment in research into other technologies) and the extent to which public research is funded. The player could choose where and under what conditions to allow drilling for resources (if regulation is minimal, then this would reduce the price of the resource slightly for a little while and thus cause a small amount of relief but might also contaminate the water supply in some places). The outcome of research would be somewhat random, like Warring Factions, so no two replays of the game would be exactly alike, meaning that the effects of a decision could be very different from one game to another. So I wonder if Freeciv has anything like this. Modeling these kinds of things seems challenging and inherently limiting, though, since it isn't possible for anyone to predict the effects of a decision with certainty, much less write a model that would be completely accurate. So such a game would always be subject to criticism that the model isn't accurate or realistic. But I think it could be educational for people to play a game that involves making such decisions and trade-offs, which can be difficult at times, and seeing what the results might be. I have a vague recollection of someone talking about learning some things about urban planning or becoming interested in it from playing SimCity.

But I doubt that the game is completely accessible, so I'd need to look for a way to make it accessible before I think about improving it in general, since otherwise I couldn't test my work. To borrow a friend's metaphor, it's like I want to play in the playground but can't right now because the playground isn't accessible, so _that_ would need to be addressed first.

  • Current Mood
    contemplative contemplative

It all just feels like a paradox...

So I'm here, sitting outside, and being here just feels right, like wearing clothes that fit rather than clothes that don't, except in so far as it doesn't, since my family is far away, it would feel very wrong not to visit them, and it feels wrong to burn fossil fuels and contribute to global warming in order to visit them. I'm not sure it really matters when people can find ways to constructively fit themselves into the ecosystem of a place which they feel fits them, but still I wonder if having one's place "feel right" is a luxury which people needed to live without in the past and to which we should not feel entitled, given that all of our decisions have ramifications to them.

  • Current Mood
    confused confused


I'm coming to the conclusion that it is often the case that people will advocate for something or other because it seems to make sense, and indeed it would make sense in a perfect world, or at least in a world where some resource or other is in ample supply, yet it may not make sense in the world we have at the present time.

randomness from my trip

We ate dinner last night at a vegetarian restaurant (which was kinda nice for me and Joanie). It had a menu translated into ENglish (which is kind of unusual here). I ordered something that was described on the English menu as "dumplings with tofu, vegetables, and seaweed" or something similar. It was called an empenada on the SPanish menu. And then it came, and it wasn't dumplings; it was an empenada.

Yesterday Frederik and Benjamin were conversing in German. I couldn't understand their conversation except for the odd technical term or other word that they spoke in English (ie, "C++", "accessibility," "operator overloading," etc).

Apparently it's not normal in EUrope for a store to quote a price for something without including taxes, as is typical in the US. Someone was talking about leaving the US and wanting to buy a magazine that was listed at $8, and he had $8 left over, and he was surprised, since he didn't have enough cash to pay what he was being charged.

  • Current Mood
    tired tired


It's January, and it's 69 degrees out. I've got all of the windows open, letting the fresh air in.

I love Austin.

I love my life.

  • Current Mood
    happy happy

about customizing applications for accessibility

So, a few years ago, Nautilus was modified so that pressing right arrow at the end of a row of files would move the cursor to the next row. The person who added this feature recalled it being decided that this would be confusing for visually impaired users, so the change was made, but Nautilus would check whether accessibility was turned on and not enable the behavior in that case. So that worked, sort of, until the current release, when their check stopped working and always indicated that accessibility was enabled, so the behavior was always disabled. So someone wrote to the GNOME accessibility list to ask how to check.

But I'm left wondering who decided that this behavior would be "confusing for visually impaired users" and how (ie, were there visually impaired users who were consulted and preferred that the change not be made, or did someone simply guess that other users might find it confusing?) The only rationale I can come up with for it being confusing is that a screen reader user may not know that the cursor is now on a new row, but this only matters to the extent that it matters whether the cursor is on a new row. As far as I can tell, Nautilus places files on the screen in alphabetical order, starting at the top left, filling the top row with a few files, then descending a row, and so on, so I don't see the layout as being important. Even if I did care about the layout, for some reason, it would be possible for a screen reader to tell me that I'm on a new row if the application properly exposed the needed information.

So I personally see no reason for the enhanced keyboard navigation not to always be enabled, although I could be overlooking some reason why people might prefer it not to be. In any case, I think that there are a few lessons which can be learned from this:

  • It is a good idea to consult users before deciding whether a feature will or won't meet their needs. I am not necessarily saying that this was not done here (the original conversation happened a long time ago, and I don't know if anyone would even remember it.)
  • Trying to test whether accessibility is enabled is probably not a good way to decide whether to enable a particular UI feature. There can be many reasons for accessibility to be enabled. It may be on because Orca has been installed, or because some other AT is running (some work has been done to start integrating Simon with AT-SPI, for instance), or because a developer is trying to test the accessibility of a program that s/he is developing, or because GNOME (or a particular Linux distribution) enables accessibility by default in the future, or because an automated testing framework that uses the accessibility infrastructure is being used. In the latter case, one could not write an automated test for the feature that is to be enabled only if accessibility is disabled. However, there is currently no way to, for instance, test whether a screen reader is running, so a developer who wants to enable a feature only if a screen reader is not running would be forced to do something like trying to check whether accessibility is enabled. Even that kind of check may not be a very good solution, however, since screen reader users will often not be unanimous in preferring that a program do one thing or another, so having a way for the user to customize the behavior seems best.
  • Still, we probably want to provide a way for applications to check whether an AT is running and what kind of AT. If we'd had that, then Nautilus would have used it, and we would at least not have had this regression caused by a kludgy is-accessibility-enabled test no longer working correctly. There may be good reasons for an application to, for instance, check whether a screen reader is running. Ultimately, this could be a good way to handle customizations of behaviors which screen reader users in particular may want; a tip could be brought up the first time a program is run, to let the user know about the ability to alter the behavior. It seems like a good topic for the next ATK hackfest. Edit: We already have a bug for this (just brainstorming so far).