Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dear Siri

Dear Siri,

I know you're so glamourous, and everyone looks to you for guidance, and most people would be thrilled to spend some time with you, but you just don't do it for me.

When I first saw your ads, I was sceptical; I'd been burned by the Dragon in the past and I figured that if you were really as good as people were saying, I'd have heard about you before you were famous.

I decided to give you a go anyway, and despite having expected little, I guess I was still hopeful, as if I had been without hope, you couldn't have disappointed me so much.

You show off about your knowledge of the weather, but if I ask you what to wear when planning to go out, you refuse to tell me if it's more than 12 hours in advance.

When I ask what you know about some general knowledge topic, you're always quoting your hero Wolfram Alpha, but he never seems to answer the question I'm actually asking. It makes me feel like you prefer him to me.

I don't understand why you won't even help me with the simplest things like opening my applications. You want me to search through pages of this stuff when you could do it for me so easily. It just seems so lazy.

You don't know anything about my country. You come across very American-centric, and you haven't given any indication that you're willing to learn, which breaks my heart. Not only do you refuse to learn about businesses outside of the U.S., you even insist on me speaking U.S. English to you to give me any business information.

I know there are places you could seek this information, yet you are still incapable of telling me where there is a good pizza nearby.

Going further, based on how people talk about you, I'd pretty much expect you to not only suggest a good pizza place, but give me the menu, take my order and my payment details, ask the store to deliver it to my address, and then remember my favourites for next time I tell you I feel like pizza. You're meant to be a qualified personal assistant by trade, after all.

You don't even tell shops, banks or anything how to understand you, in order to make any of this possible. It's like you're just not interested in making friends. Everyone would pay with you if you'd only give them a chance.

Without the ability to remember anything that I tell you, without knowing my voice well enough to be able to make payments for me when I ask and without speaking directly with the vast world of systems out there, I just can't see what you bring to the table.

So that's why I'm leaving you. It's not for anyone younger... We both know you're better than Evi (though I have my eye on Majel). It's just that I think you need some time to grow up, experience some other cultures and think about what others want.

Maybe when you're older, I'll be more interested.



Third-party Primaries League

The U.S. has a First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system, which I'm sure just about everyone out there knows. It means that a candidate can win an election with a plurality of the vote, rather than a majority, i.e. the highest number of votes, rather than more than one half of the votes.

To highlight why this is a problem, consider this:
- One candidate, who believes in X, and disagrees with Y, gets 10% if the vote
- Ten candidates, who believe in Y and disagree with X, each get 9% of the vote.

Who wins? The pro-X candidate.
Who should win? Anyone but the pro-X candidate.

That example is a bit contrived, but you only need 3 candidates to see the problem in practice. Think of Ralph Nader taking a couple of percent of the vote in 2000. Most of the Naderites would otherwise have voted for Al Gore. If that had happened, the difference in the election would have been too pronounced for Diebold to have gotten away with handing the election to George Bush.

Anyway, countries like Australia have solved this by using a preferential voting system. There are plenty of ways of implementing preferential voting, and Australia's is a little bit mathematically flawed, but it's far better than FPTP. It allows voters to specify who they want to win, in a decreasing order of preference, so that if there first choice gets too few of the votes, their next preference will be chosen, down the line, until one of their preferences is in the top two.

The benefit of this is that it recognises that everyone wants different things, and builds compromise into the electoral system. It seems that most Australians don't really understand how the system works, so they still vote for one of the two major parties. There are even plenty of people who complain when the system works so well that a third-party candidate actually wins a seat.

But back to America... FPTP voting forces people into voting for one of two options, because anything else is a waste. It takes a massive, expensive campaign to run as a third-party candidate, because more people need to have you at the forefront of their minds than anyone else, rather than finding you the least objectionable in aggregate.

So, why not have a third-party primary league? Get all the free-thinkers, radicals, liberals, crackpots, conservatives, fascists and civil libertarians who are not affiliated with the establishment to joust it out to see which one of them gets to compete in a given election against the establishment.

It could be the latest reality TV show, which would solve the problem of publicity and allow the winner to compete on a relatively even playing field. If the compromise results for the third spots were good enough, and some of the candidates started winning elections, then the U.S. might even consider moving towards a preferential voting system overall, which would break the back of the two-party system once and for all.

It could be called Little Brother.

What do you think?