May 26, 2006
Posted in: Life & Culture
I've received this link multiple times today (thanks Kevin and Susan), so I might as well post it before I go see Fanaa...
From this week's Doonesbury FAQ:
The previous Straw Poll invited readers to choose among three academic futures for Alex Doonesbury: Should she go to Rennselaer, Cornell, or MIT? Voting was brisk. Wait, let us rephrase that: Voting was insane, rampant, ingenious, and impressively ruthless. An MIT student put up "Doonesbury Voting Hack", a web site (adorned with art borrowed from the Town Hall) which enabled would-be-ballot-stuffers to spew out over a million votes in a single night. "We're all running cgi hack scripts" lol'd one MIT blogger, "I've voted 3 or 4 thousand times!" Fortunately the prophylactic measures swiftly implemented by the DTH's crack tech crew kept most of the votes from making it into the poll.
The idea of outing the main culprit was briefly considered (a 5'8", 115-lb. freshman from New York -- it's amazing what you can find out about a person online), but as he left a clear trail and probably didn't expect the hack to be as successful as it was, it seemed enough to deny the MIT network access to our servers. Besides, we had to take his thoughtfulness into account: "Please," he cautioned on the updated version of his hack site, "only keep one instance of the program running at a time so we don't kill the server again."
Meanwhile Rennselaer had also stepped up to the plate -- or rather made their own attempt to move it. As campus blog entries indicate, token reservations were overcome ("It would be entirely unethical of me to stuff a ballot box, or suggest any others use the same, with command lines such as...") and a curl was disseminated, intended to accomplish pretty what the MIT script had done using Flash. The Rensselaer effort was less successful -- still, several hundred thousand votes bounced off our servers. By the time a handful of indy hackers made their run at the Straw Poll, the ballot box was adequately unstuffable.
Cornell blogage shows that students there were watching the fray ("Me thinks the site is being bombarded by a script war between Troy and Cambridge..."), but a higher, or more urgent, course was taken. ("We're at a disadvantage, because we've got finals now and presumably no one has the free time to write a Cornell spamming script.") The Cornell alumni office had early-on taken an above-board interest, alerting alums to the situation and urging them to vote, but this effort did not bring Cornellians to the poll in numbers sufficient for Big Red to catch up. "We're obviously not trying hard enough to cheat," lamented a dismayed blogger. However, students and alums managed to post many passionate, articulate, humorous, and convincing posts on our Blowback page, all making the case that Alex should head to Ithaca. In acknowledgement of this impressive and moving effort, the Doonesbury Town Hall is pleased to award Cornell the Doonesbury Straw Poll Congeniality Award.
As for the question at hand -- Where will Alex go to school? -- the will, chutzpah, and bodacious craft of the voting public will be respected. A careful check of the applicable rulebook indicates that queering the results was not specifically prohibited. And by tradition, engineers, hackers and techfolk will assume that in a problem-solving situation of this nature, there is no box out of which they are not expected to climb. The Doonesbury Town Hall thanks all those who took the time and trouble to vote, even those who voted only once.
Ms. Doonesbury will be attending MIT.
According to a story at Editor & Publisher, "More than 175,000 votes -- legitimate or otherwise -- had come in when the poll was removed from Doonesbury.com Tuesday morning. Final percentages were not posted on the site today. But when contacted by E&P this morning, a Doonesbury Town Hall spokesman said MIT had 48%, Rensselaer 32%, and Cornell 19%."
Off to the movies I go...