Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Numbers 2012, Vol. 4b: The Senate races

My current assumptions regarding the Senate.

1. Maine Independent Angus King won't announce whether he will caucus with the Republicans or Democrats until after the election. Current numbers make him a stone cold lock. 

2. Given this situation, the Dems really need 51 seats and will have some leverage at 50. (The insanely easy filibuster rules and the current lack of consequences to filibustering popular laws like not screwing over people paying back student loans are not helping our republic one teeny tiny bit.)

Given those assumptions, the Democrats have a 42.6% chance of retaining the Senate lead regardless of the whims of Angus King and a 77.5% of having a caucus of at least 50.  I expect these numbers to change dramatically over the next few months.

Sunday numbers 2012, Vol. 4a: Electoral college count for late July

It's the last weekend of yet another month and I'm putting up another post about how the election looks based on the most recent polls. Right now, I'm using an Excel page to do my calculations. If I can get the C compiler on my machine to produce an .exe file that creates text files, I will have a better and more flexible system. Here is the situation at as of the end of July.

 Solidly Republican: AL, AK, AR, ID, KS, KY, LA, MS, SC, SD, UT, WV, WY, OK, TX, ND, NE, AZ, GA, MO, MT, TN
Total: 180

Solidly Democratic: NM, ME, MD, WA, CT, MA, NY, CA, DC, DE, HI, IL, RI, VT
Total: 170

Leaning Republican:
IN 94%
NC 59%

Leaning Democratic:
VA 59%
CO 60%
FL 62%
WI 75%
NH 82%
NV 88%
MI 92%
PA 93%
MN 94%
IA 96%
NJ 97%
OR 99%
Another month goes by and neither Obama or Romney changes the landscape by much. As things currently stand, this is good news for the Obama campaign.  I will discuss the tracking polls on August 1, both the Rasmussen and Gallup versions.  It takes a lot of hard work to produce them, and that work is as useless as the math that goes into a complete horoscope or biorhythm. Rasmussen thinks Romney is slightly ahead, Gallup gives the slight nod to Obama.  This is the worst handicapping done in public since 1985, when oddsmakers thought the 49ers and Dolphins were just about evenly matched. In reality, the 49ers were the better team by far, a top notch offense and defense and a state of the art coaching staff against a good but exploitable offense and a second rate defense a better than average coaching staff. Since the game was played at Stanford Stadium, it was effectively a home game for the Niners, who won 38-16.

By my calculations, if the election were held today, Obama would have about a 95.5% chance to win a second term.

The current median electoral vote result is Obama 309, Romney 229. Since it takes 270 to win outright, Obama has a comfortable 39 EV cushion. No single contested state where Obama leads has 39 electoral votes, so Romney needs to steal a couple states.  That's hard work.

The state that has the Golden Spike is Ohio. That means if Obama can win Ohio and every state currently easier than Ohio, he would surpass 270 electoral votes, and likewise if Romney can win Ohio and every state easier than that for him, he'll get 270.  Ohio is currently at 78% Confidence of Victory for Obama.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Would you like to download a new version?

If you have a computer connected to the Internet (and honestly, who in 2012 has a computer that isn't hooked up?), the companies who have software you installed are spying on you.

You know it, I know it.  Every once in a while, they use your connection to the World Wide Web to see what version you have of their stuff and if it isn't brand spanking new, they'll ask if you want to download the latest.

If you are anything like me, your average reply to this question is somewhere on the continuum between "no" and "FUCK NO, GO DIE!".

Your software is old, but it's still working. Usually, it doesn't cost you anything but time when these snoops ask to you to please take their upgraded stuff, but bitter experience has probably taught you that sometimes an upgrade is nothing of the sort and software that worked fine is replaced with software that is glitchy on your machine.

It is not completely the fault of the company that writes the software. Everyone has a computer set-up that is unique, and some unexpected combo of software and hardware might act in unhappy ways with the new software you just uploaded.

Last month, I got some unexpected cash. With some of it, I bought a new bike. I also decided to get a C compiler so I could write programs that would do computations that would be cumbersome in Excel.  At $2,000, C compilers are crazy expensive for a hobbyist like me, but since I am in academia, I can get a discount that chops the price down to less than $200.

So far so good.

To install the new compiler, I needed to upgrade my operating system to OSX Lion. It doesn't cost much at about $30, but it's a ginormous program and takes about eight hours to download.

As the law of cognitive dissonance tells us, once I've bitten the bullet for a $200 program I need, I'm not going to dig my feet in and not pay for the OS, whose cost is 15% of the original purchase, roughly the ratio of a tip compared to a full meal.

So now my machine is running the latest and greatest, OSX Lion.


So far, not so much yay. Since it's been downloaded, my computer has acted up in new and truly annoying ways. It may be pure coincidence, but the operating system is the heart, soul, nervous system and blood stream of the computer. The glitches have involved the mouse, the modem, the printer and downloads from iTunes, parts of the computer that have been relatively worry free after a rough patch when I bought the machine two years ago.  My friend Art had a suggestion and I followed it, running some diagnostic software.  That was this afternoon. I'll keep you posted on the progress.

It may all be coincidence. Maybe two year old hardware is ancient nowadays, but I'm used to keeping hardware for about five to ten years. I would be really disappointed if consumers have to upgrade hardware as often as high tech businesses do. Even though I got a nice windfall, I am not made of money and I'm glad when the computer on my desk works. It's a tool, not a status symbol for me. I don't want to be constantly asked to buy stuff I don't need.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Quiet, kind of a loner.

These are the worst times. Sometimes it happens at a high school, sometimes at a college or at a place of work. Just after midnight today, it happened in a movie theater.

Sometimes, it's around the corner from you. Maybe this time, it's some place you've visited. More likely, it's as remote to you as the moon.

Still, it's the worst time. Maybe next time it will be somewhere nearer. Maybe you will know a victim next time, or even worse, it will be someone you love.

Shit, next time it could be you.

Once in a blue moon, planes crash into buildings. But more often, sickeningly more often, some fucking nut with a gun kills a bunch of people. Who are these people? What can we learn? How can we protect ourselves and our loved ones?

Nobody knows much, but one pattern emerges. The killer is almost always male, and people describe him as "quiet and kind of a loner."


I'm male. I'm quiet and kind of a loner.

I honestly don't mean you any harm.

Some young black males are criminals. In the minds of people who couldn't find logic with a road map, a flash light and a GPS implanted in the back of logic's neck, this means all young black males are suspicious. Some of these dim bulbs think that means they should follow young black males in their car, get out and confront a young black male on a dark, wet night and when they are losing the fist fight, shoot the young black male dead.

This particular brand of dim bulb is thankfully rare. Sadly, the kind of dim bulb who will send such a murderous idiot money appears to be as common as muck.

I'm a loner. I know it sounds flip, but some of my best friends are loners. In general, we are pleasant enough people. The social skills may not be top notch, but there's not a mass of viciousness lurking just under the surface.  For most of the loners I know, a little too much alcohol brings out their deep knowledge of something like Babylon 5, not their deep seated hatred of mankind.

But right now, the public is afraid and they want some place to focus that fear. The odd and the different are the most convenient target ten times out of ten. If some murderous bastard is a Catholic, we know it can't be Catholicism that drove him over the edge. We know plenty of non-murderous Catholics. If some murderous bastard is Islamic, well, maybe we don't know that many Muslims. The odd trait must be the problem.

I'm one of the people you are told to hate right now. I swear on my love of Leonhard Euler, I'm really not the threat.

I'm just quiet and kind of a loner. Most people I talk to really don't want to talk about Leonhard Euler or any of a number of topics that interest me, so mostly I just listen.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Steps in the right direction.

Here is something that is not a secret to anyone who knows me.

I'm fat.

Last year I was tipping the scales at over 300 pounds and I was noticing it.  I didn't have as much energy, my circulation in my legs wasn't good, lots of clothes didn't fit, a long list of bad stuff.

So I put myself on a very lenient diet. Instead of about 3,000 calories a day, I wanted to limit myself to about 2,500 to see what would happen.

A year later, I am 27 pounds lighter.

Most people will tell you 2,500 calories is on the high end of reasonable. Honestly, I am ridiculously lucky when it comes to my health.  I easily could have contracted type II diabetes, but I haven't so far. My cholesterol is well within the standard limits and my blood pressure tends to be on the high end of normal but not technically hypertension.

I weigh myself once a week. On average, I've lost about a half pound a week.  As you might guess, since I was over 300, losing 27 pounds does not bring me to my ideal weight, but I haven't been starving myself. (As I'm writing this, I'm eating mini-tacos for dinner and washing them down with a nice I.P.A. from Trader Joe's. Delicious!) I'm going to keep doing what I have been doing until I see my weight hit a plateau, and then I'll see what I can do to bring my calorie intake down a little more, maybe to 2,250 or 2,000 a day. If I get to a weight and it takes a 1,500 calorie per day regimen to lose more, I can say with confidence "Welcome to my new weight!" If it feels like a burden, I know I won't stick with it.

It's not that dramatic, but I'm proud of what I did. I show a picture of Kevin Smith because his weight loss. Likewise, John Goodman's dramatic reduction was a source of inspiration for me. I bought a long black overcoat known as a duster at a Western gear store. I hoped to look cool like the Earp brothers in Tombstone, but in reality I look like Silent Bob's older, fatter brother. That said, both Silent Bob and I aren't as fat as we used to be and that's a good thing.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

One of those days.

Having a morbid obsession with obituaries might seem a sign of advancing age, but I've followed the obituaries since I was a teen. For me, it's a chance to think about someone I might not have considered in a very long time and to considered how times change. On Sunday, the wonderful actress Celeste Holm died. On Monday, there were six obituaries published of people whose claims to fame I knew.

There were three notable obituaries in popular music. Jon Lord, the keyboard player for Deep Purple, died at the age of 71. Bob Babbitt, one of the bass players in the Motown back-up band The Funk Brothers, died at 74. (Babbitt would not have quibbled that he wasn't quite as influential as James Jamerson, the original bassist for Motown.)

But the biggest name of the musical obituaries is certainly Kitty Wells, the first female superstar of country music with 1952 hit, It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels. It's hard to believe, but no female artist in country had a number one recording before that tune. While I am not the biggest fan of country music in the world, I love the respect the genre shows the pioneers. On Monday, Loretta Lynn posted a tweet calling Wells "the queen of country music" and as great as Loretta and Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton became, Miss Kitty is the queen and she always will be.

A couple of very different writers also had obits published on Monday. Donald J. Sobol wrote the juvenile mystery series starring Encyclopedia Brown and his obit was published Monday, though he died a few days before. Steven R. Covey wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and he died Monday from injuries sustained in a bicycle accident.

William Asher is not best known as a writer, but instead as a director and producer of TV shows.  He directed 100 episodes of I Love Lucy, and then was producer on two big 1960s sitcom hits, The Patty Duke Show and Bewitched, starring his wife Elizabeth Montgomery.

That's a lot of famous people for a 24 hour stretch.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A blast from the past.

I was wandering around the Internets yesterday, minding mah own bidness when to my surprise, listening to Alex Chadwick's One Hundred Riffs in one take, the guitarist played the opening riff of a song I hadn't heard in maybe forty years.

The song was from 1969, titled Oh Well by a fresh new band from England called Fleetwood Mac.

Yes, Fleetwood Mac before the introduction of estrogen.

Oh Well was written and sung by Peter Green, the guy on the far right.  The original version is just over nine minutes long and split into two parts. The first part starts with an acoustic guitar riff that builds into a monster jam, with two short lyrical bursts punctuating a blistering guitar and drum riff. The first part ends with a big crescendo, then acoustic guitar playing a very pretty and simple chord progression/melody, soon to be joined by a full orchestra and somebody playing the recorder.  Here's the cleanest version of it I can find on The You Tubes.

Sadly, Green got messed up on drugs and the band had to let him go. Rock music of the 1970s was notorious for becoming ridiculously pretentious with massive orchestral versions. (Think Stairway to Heaven and Bohemian Rhapsody.) In some ways, a lot of this this was just people trying to capture lightning in a bottle the way Peter Green did with his odd combination of early heavy metal and the film scores of Ennio Morricone.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Sunday numbers, Vol. 3b: End of June numbers for the Senate races

If the Republicans are looking for good news in the current polling data, they need look no further that the Senate races.  My data method gives them an advantage they do not completely deserve, which is the assumption that independent Angus King in Maine will caucus with the Republicans if he wins, and he is currently a prohibitive favorite to do so. the numbers at the bottom give the number of senators in the Democratic caucus, and the most likely result is 49 Dems to 50 Repubs and Angus King as the wild card.  These numbers do not yet reflect Indiana polling, where longtime senator Richard Lugar lost in the primary against a Tea Party backed candidate. We will see if the newcomer remains a favorite the way Lugar would have.

Next update at the end of July.

Sunday numbers 2012, Vol. 3a: End of June numbers for the electoral college

Another month has come and gone and we get another set of Sunday Numbers for public consumption.  I do the math every Sunday, but I think the information this far out from the election doesn't warrant weekly updates. If we go with the Spock Interest System from the original Star Trek, we are currently at Interesting, but will upgrade to Fascinating after Labor Day.

Here is where we are at the end of June. Many states do not have any fresh polling data still, but those are states that are considered very solidly Republican or Democratic based on 2008 numbers

Solidly Republican: AL, AK, AR, ID, KS, KY, LA, MS, SC, SD, UT, WV, WY, OK, TX, ND, NE, AZ, GA MT
Total: 159

Solidly Democratic: NM, ME, MD, MI, WA, CT, MA, NY, NJ, CA, DC, DE, HI, IL, RI, VT
Total: 194

Leaning Republican:
TN 98%
VA 96%
MO 95%
IN 94%
WI 75.9%
NC 75.9%

NH 50%

Leaning Democratic:
MI 61.2%
IA 63.7%
OH 86.3% (gold)
CO 91.8%
NV 92.2%
FL 93.3%
OR 98.6%
PA 99%

The word (gold) is next to Ohio this time around. This means if Obama can win every state easier than Ohio and Ohio, he will be president for a second term. On the other hand, If Romney wins Ohio and every state easier, he will get the nod.

As you can see, since it's easier for Obama to win Ohio than it is for Mitt - or at least that's what the polls say right now - Obama has a big percentage lead. With the 32,768 possible outcomes considered and weighed, Obama ends up ahead in 92.9% of the simulations, while Romney is the victor in 7.1% of the outcomes.

The middle of the month looked good for Romney in terms of trend, but that trend went backwards over the past two weeks. We haven't had many state polls since the health care decision came down, so it will have to see how that changes the balance.  If you believe the Gallup presidential tracking, it was a big win for Obama. If you believe Rasmussen, it started out well for Obama but has since turned against him.

The current median result is 295 to 243. One state that could make a difference is Florida. In June there were four polls taken and Obama was given the lead in three of the four, only trailing in one taken by Purple Strategies, a polling company whose track record I don't know.

The next update will be published at the end of July.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

One guy made the difference.

I'm a mathematician, not a lawyer. If I was saying this sentence to Captain Kirk, it would begin with a "Damnit, Jim!" I'm proud of my choice. Mathematics, for all its flaws, is not ruled by bullies and idiots like the law is.

We are now ruled by a group of bullies and idiots called the Federalist Society. No one has been a Republican nominee to the high court since the time of Reagan without getting vetted by the Federalist Society.  When it suits their purpose, they read the Constitution very strictly and in a way that infringes on the rights of citizens. When it does not suit their purpose, they make shit up.

A guy named Robert Bork is now a trivia answer, but he could have been a Supreme Court justice.  His problem was that he had a paper trail of the kind of lunacy he believed in. For example, the 1st Amendment starts with "Congress shall make no law...". The Federalist Society believes this means the President can sign executive orders that take away our First Amendment rights and state legislatures can do the same with laws. Under their view of the Constitution, a state like Utah would be well within its rights to become a theocratic authoritarian state, with an official religion, no right of free speech or a free press or the right to assemble to redress grievances. Centuries of precedent have a different view of the document. This means jack shit to the Federalist Society.

Instead of Bork, we got Scalia, who is Bork without a paper trial. Then we got Clarence Thomas, who has agreed with Scalia almost in lock-step for about a decade before realizing what an extreme asshole he is. Now comes Roberts, and he doesn't take quite as long to stand up to the bully, probably because he is Chief Justice and he has the Big Gavel.  There are a passel of stories online that say this decision on the Affordable Health Care Act was going to 5-4 the other way but Roberts changed his mind. There are many theories as to why this happened. One is that Roberts has a pre-existing condition (epilepsy) and it made him more sensitive to some of the people who would be hurt by the entire law being struck down. The one I find more plausible is that he got tired of the bullying from Scalia and wanted to show him what the Big Gavel means. 

Bush could have tried to make Scalia Chief Justice when Renquist retired, but didn't. Roberts is 19 years younger than the 76 year old Scalia, not obese and not a smoker, so the Bush team thought he was a better bet.  They didn't calculate that he might stand up to a Constitutionally powerless bully. After all, when did Bush ever box Cheney about the ears and tell him to sit down? But just a few years into the job, Scalia pushed too hard and Roberts smacked the cannoli out of him.

It's no promise it will happen again, but it does make the court more interesting. Personally, I always think of a vote for a Democratic presidential candidate as a possible change for the better in the Supreme Court, so it makes it pretty easy to pull the lever, but every once in a while a Republican nominee will realize he (or she) can actually make a Constitutionally correct vote that supports the rights of citizens over the rights of states or the federal government. Maybe, just maybe, John Roberts might become such a Justice, though Citizens United is evidence to the contrary.

Since this is a Sunday, here endeth the lesson.