Thursday, June 26, 2008

Obscure Potential VPs of the Week

Sarah Palin is showing up as a potential McCain VP.
Evan Bayh has been floated as a potential Obama VP.

That's two more, which brings the potential VP pool to around 9,000.

Point/Counterpoint/Tangent: Science is overrated.

This week in Wired, Chris "Long Tail" Anderson argues that the scientific method is losing steam. Now that we are awash in data, he claims, connections in those giant pools of data are useful on their own; attaching models, theories and meaning to those correlations has become superfluous (and even impossible, in some cases). He came to this conclusion after considering Google's success with ad placement and translation tools based upon pure statistics. The Google servers don't understand the content of ads they are placing on pages, nor the French text they are converting to Klingon. They don't have to. To take another example, Newton's model for gravitation works great most of the time. But give us some data on ultra-fast and super-tiny things, and it breaks. So we toss the broken model and replace it with relativity. Model-breaking data might appear every few hundred years in a discipline, prompting a revision of its core models (prompting a "scientific revolution," if you are into Kuhn). But the rate at which we can find and store and use data is quickly accelerating. What happens when these model-breakers hit every decade, or every year, or faster? How could you possibly formulate models to keep up? Unthinking databases are looking better and better.

This week in Ars Technica, John Timmer discusses why he thinks Chris Anderson is an idiot child.

This week in IEEE Spectrum, the focus is on the Singularity. The Singularity is a vague and hotly disputed concept, and probably indescribable. For now, let's go with: The Singularity is the point where technological progress radically changes the nature of technological progress itself. Side effects may include: the elimination of scarcity, human immortality, total submission to brutal machine overlords, and televisions the size of the moon. Here's a gallery of random smart folk weighing in, roughly in the style of the Onion's What Do You Think?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

This site needs some McCain love

Obama became the first to break a 2008 campaign pledge today (a record 200+ days before becoming President!) when he announced that he would not accept public financing for his 2008 presidential campaign run.

The term flip-flopping will not be used here (for any reason, including if someone is looking for an action term for pancake preparation), mostly because it's not a dirty word, even if the public refuses to believe it. Changing a stance based off a new set of information that has come to light is the right thing to do. John McCain was against offshore and ANWR drilling for some time, and changing this stance serves his interest by crafting a message to the American people that he understands and cares about their increased transportation costs (even if this piece of policy won't affect their increased transportation costs until well into his second term). The difference between the two changes in policy/action is that Obama's was made while (and directly affects the logistics of) his run for office.

Both candidates will change their stance on several other issues in the next several months, (McCain probably more than Obama due to his longer record) but I do wish to reflect my disappointment in Barack Obama because I believe he could have beaten John McCain without the extra influx in funds (not that he should have to). He has gone from populist crusader to just another liberal Democrat in my book.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert is dead.

Tim Russert died of a heart attack today. I misted up when I found out. Not a lot, but still. He was my favorite political journalist, and the rest of the field was not even close.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Political News from the Prediction Markets

Intrade has some interesting things to say to political junkies. According to the prediction market, the hot VP options right now are:


These folks are notable because they are ranking in the double digits, as of yet no one is more likely to win than the field (someone yet to be named). But unless some dramatic news story erupts (a certainty in politics), support will probably gravitate around one of these early market leaders.

Another important piece of political information you can get from these markets is perhaps more interesting: what will the electoral college breakdown be for the election?

If the markets are perfectly accurate (an unlikely scenario), then the electoral count will be 306 Obama over McCain's 232. That's unlikely because a lot of these states are really just too close to call. That leads into the next thing the markets can tell us: what are the potential battleground states? The following states are the closest, and they are states the Republicans would be wise to fight for:
  • New Hampshire (4 electoral votes): 50.1% Dem, 46% Rep
  • New Mexico (5): 60.1% Dem, 34% Rep
  • Ohio (20): 60.5% Dem, 39% Rep
  • Virginia (13): 45.5% Dem, 45% Rep
To win, the Republicans need Virginia, Ohio and New Mexico. (Before New Mexico, Obama has 273 and McCain only 265, NH just brings it to a tie).

Meanwhile, they would have to keep the Democrats from picking up:
  • Missouri (11): 39% Dem, 55% Rep, or
  • Nevada (5): 48.5% Dem, 50.5% Rep
Any two of these three makes the gap all but impossible to close, so I would expect heavy campaigning in Nevada this election. I know Richardson is essentially off the list of possible VPs, as EP said over lunch, because "he lacks any charisma." But if Richardson could remotely strengthen Obama in the Southwestern states of Nevada and New Mexico, he's suddenly a really strong VP for the ticket. I know party balancing went out the window in 1992, but balancing was a smart idea for a long time because it's just very hard for smart people to throw away a sure shot at the presidency.

Of course, it's almost a sure thing for Obama if he just wins any one of the above 6 states. The probability of that happening is somewhere over 95%, if those odds above are remotely accurate. So maybe he can snag Jeremiah Wright as VP, and it wouldn't even matter.

Sources: Intrade State By State Presidential Election; Electoral College Calculators found here or here.

UPDATE: These statistical trends are to be expected for correlated probabilities. This is to say that if McCain wins one of these states, he has a better chance of winning the others (a rise in his nation-wide popularity due to a naton-wide media event, say). I foolishly overlooked this explanation, which explains all the data. I was tipped off on this in a kind email from the folks at the Freakonomics Blog. Thanks, Justin Wolfers.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Facebook and Friendship

Reihan Salam has an interesting piece on Facebook etiquette which I have been wanting to write about since I had an account started on my behalf a mere month ago. One of the fascinating items that I have come across is the penchant for nearly total strangers to "Facebook" me. Most of these people see that we have a couple of friends in common (in this instance it is typically my brother and my sister-in-law), and feel either compelled or obligated to add me as one of their friends.

Some people I am genuinely glad made first contact, as I would not have remembered to look for them, and this originally didn't pose a problem. Now though, I have found that these serial frienders tend to update their Facebook page with great regularity, and it begins to create a spamming effect on the area which updates happenings with my real friends.

Salam notes that the two best options when faced with this particular dilemma are to ignore the request (literally, not the action button 'Ignore' which essentially stamps 'DENIED' across their request) and hope the person doesn't notice, or to accept and delete at a later date (apparently the deleting of a friend is less intrusive and does not send the notification as does every other actionable item in Facebook).

What does this say about the nature of friendship as we move through the 21st century? Up until now friendship and community were commonly defined geographically first (as most friendship required some degree of face-to-face interaction), and direct communication second (for those long distance relationships that were kept strong through voice or written communication despite geographic limitations). Does the fact that I can now catch up with old friends and total strangers on a whim make the institution of friendship stronger, or does the fact that I am able to speak with a group of people whose relationships I had previously allowed to lie fallow dilute the meaning of the term altogether?

Thursday, June 05, 2008


I've been watching a few films on Hulu, a few quality films, like Kagemusha. The commercial interruptions are a little inelegant, often landing in the middle of scenes, but I always get excited by new adventures in content delivery.

At the basic level, Hulu is just like a high quality YouTube. But the high quality infrastructure allows it to exceed Youtube, allows it attract owners of high quality content (read: feature length content).

For a while, I thought YouTube just highlighted our ever shortening attention spans. But more and more I think people will use the internet to watch videos more than two minutes long, just so long as they don't have to squint the whole time.

Joost, for its part, has some advantages. The commercials seem more intelligently placed. The content has been lacking for a while though, and they focus more on shows. Joost has no easy entry point for outsider art (one of the redeeming features of youtube and myspace), at least not that I've found. Another plus, Hulu runs in a browser, requires no installation. I'm not smart enough to know when exactly that model became the future, but it did. Webapps > ____Apps (Conventional Apps?*). For round one, I think Hulu has the edge.

Direct distribution from content producers to content consumers is one of the things I constantly pine for, I won't beat everyone over the head with it again, just wanted to plug the neat site. It'll be interesting to see what form these video on demand services take, and who will come out on top (Hulu, Joost, some YouTube sequel?).

*No one called a "conventional oven" a "conventional oven" before the invention of the microwave. Now we need some backwards construction for non-webapps. Anyone have a cute one?