Thursday, January 31, 2013

Taking A Gerrygander

I don't need to tell you about gerrymandering. At least I shouldn't need to. It's a basic reality of electoral politics, American politics in particular, a tradition literally as old as the republic. Ever since the days of namesake Elbridge Gerry- who participated in the Constitutional Convention, signed the Declaration of Independence, and was part of the very first US Congress- as long as there has been a need for regionally-based representation in government, there has been someone looking to make those regions as favorable to themselves as possible. And so every time districts are drawn, there is inevitably someone- probably a bunch of someones- who will create a district in a shape previously unseen outside of H.P. Lovecraft stories. Even before Gerry, Patrick Henry- he of "Give me liberty, or give me death"- asked the Virginia legislature in 1788 to give him redistricting and give political enemy James Madison headaches by drawing him into the same district as James Monroe in the election for the first Congress. (It didn't work. Madison won.)

With the advent of computers, necessary to ensure each district has precisely the same amount of people if at all possible, gerrymandering can be taken further than ever before, with voter data and algorithms being able to maximize advantages beyond what was previously possible. In 2003, Jeffrey Toobin told the story of Frank Mascara, a Democrat elected to Congress in 1994 as a member of the House from the Pittsburgh suburbs. After the 2000 Census, Republicans had control of the Pennsylvania state legislature, and therefore the redistricting process. They drew the districts such that Mascara's house was in one district and his driveway in another. The district with his house was now in the district of House mainstay- and fellow Democrat- John Murtha. Toobin referred to Mascara as having been "kidnapped". Murtha defeated Mascara in the 2002 elections, and Mascara's political career was over.

The 2012 elections being the first since the 2010 census was finalized, gerrymandering has come into the conversation once again, most notably in the recent Republican chatter about converting certain states from winner-take-all in the Electoral College to a circumstance where they award electoral votes by Congressional district. This was considered for Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania- all considered swing states in the 2012 election, and all of which went to Barack Obama. News of the plan quickly spread, and so did the outrage over a plan to essentially gerrymander the Electoral College. Opponents were quick to note how, had the plan been carried out for 2012, Mitt Romney would have won the Electoral College despite substantially losing the popular vote. The plan quickly fell apart as Republicans backed away one by one.

Mostly lost in the discussion is the fact that the states themselves have been pre-gerrymandered the entire time. Nobody set out to do it that way, but what is the Electoral College but a mechanism to turn the states into 51 districts, each with a different weighted importance at election time? Beyond that, Congressional districts can't spill over state lines, nor can state legislative maps, and Senators and governors never see their constituent borders change. The Senatorial circumstance matches that seen in Alabama from 1901 until 1972, stemming from a Jim Crow mentality under which, given that changes in population and movement would have given blacks more power under any new map, the white-dominated legislature simply refused to redistrict at all. 1972 marks the year that the U.S. District Court finally forced them to do so.

There is a movement to remove the districts on the Presidential level, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, in which states- which are allowed to award their electoral votes in any manner they see fit- enter into an agreement with each other that they will award their electoral votes to the candidate that wins the national popular vote. The compact states, though, that they won't do that until enough states have agreed to total 270 electoral votes- enough to override whatever the stragglers are doing. As of now, nine states carrying 132 electoral votes are on board: Maryland, New Jersey, Illinois, Hawaii, Washington, Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, Vermont, and California. (You'll note it's all safely Democratic states so far. The Republican base is more rural, and so the party takes advantage of rural areas having disproportionate power in the Electoral College. It's not in their best interest to join in.)

In Toobin's article, he interviewed Nathaniel Persily, then an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

“There used to be a theory that gerrymandering was self-regulating,” Persily explained. “The idea was that the more greedy you are in maximizing the number of districts your party can control, the more likely it is that a small shift of votes will lead you to lose a lot of districts. But it’s not self-regulating anymore. The software is too good, and the partisanship is too strong.”

I want to play with this quote a bit. Persily's already laid out the idea: once your party has control, the goal becomes to get your party as many seats as you can. Usually, this is going to happen when you have the majority anyway. But you don't have ALL the votes. The other party has voters out there too, and therein lies the challenge. If you had all the voters, there wouldn't be much point in gerrymandering, now, would there? The goal behind gerrymandering, as you know, is to spread your opponent across as many districts as possible while giving them as few seats as possible. The two main ways to do that are packing, in which you cede one district in order to take as many voters as possible out of the other districts, and cracking, in which you make as many districts as possible in which the opponent has just barely not enough voters to win, in an effort to deny them any seats at all. Packing creates one 90-10 win for the opposition and landslide losses everywhere else, cracking creates a lot of 55-45 wins for your side that, if done right, stand little chance of turning into 51-49 losses. The risk is that you go for too many seats, spread your supporters too thin, and that a shift in the electorate creates a gigantic swing in seats. And that risk, as much as Persily wishes to minimize it, does still exist. Software is only as good as the people who use it.

Which brings us to the alternative of a majority maximizing their majority: a majority being made out of a minority. We can go back to Gore/Bush or Tilden/Hayes, but we don't need to go back in time. It's happening right now. In 2012, the Republicans- funny how they keep benefiting, isn't it?- took a total of 58,283,036 votes in all elections nationwide to the House of Representatives, against the Democrats' 59,645,387 votes. That means the Republicans got 49.42% of the vote nationwide. However, the districts were arranged such that they won 234 seats to the Democrats' 201- 53.79% of the seats.

Now, Persily noted that things were too partisan and the software too good to have to worry about that number dropping much. And given the number of articles about how the Republicans are going to be in control of the House for the next decade, some would agree with him. But hang on a minute. Didn't we just get done- aren't we still- talking about how the Republican support structure is steadily slipping further and further as more and more of their supporters become alienated, and as Republican-friendly demographics are inexorably shrinking while Democratic-friendly demographics are inexorably growing? What happened to that?

Sure. 49% of the votes can become 50+1% of the seats. Heck, 49% of the votes has turned into 54% of the seats. But gerrymandering can't save you forever. Alabama's Jim Crow legislators thought it could, but things work differently from their day. You have to redraw the lines to ensure equally-sized districts, and if your minority shrinks enough, there comes a point where no amount of redrawing will give you the gavel. 49% can be enough; 46% is surely enough as well given the circumstances in the House. But how far down can you dip? Will 45% do it? 44%? 43%? How about 39%? 29%? 19%? 9%? Where's the line?

Few are interested in the answer, instead focusing their energies on various proposals to redraw borders in such a way that gerrymandering is reduced or impossible. But given that the party in power is rarely if ever in a mood to limit their own gains, the party out of power- the party much more likely to want a fairer system, so their losses might be minimized- is not in a position to do anything about it, and areas with split control are usually most interested in saving the jobs of all involved- jobs which would surely be imperiled under a new system- it seems less practical to study the science of fair redistricting than it seems to study the science of its limits.

And unless the Republicans find a way to grow their support, they may find out those limits soon enough.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

There Was No Toilet Flavor

So we're in the middle of Season 14 of the Biggest Loser. Last night, Our America with Lisa Ling did an episode about overweight youth. There are gyms all over the country and workout tapes galore, but at the same time, the fitness culture and the food culture are in direct conflict, and food is winning.

It's not hard to see why. Aside from unhealthier food being generally cheaper- and more plentiful- the support structures aren't too different from an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. On one side, you have fitness, where you're told that you need to work hard, keep at it, stay vigilant  about your weight, make so many correct choices, and your reward is largely intangible and long-term: self-esteem, healthier body, longer life. On the other side, you have food, which promises far less effort and far faster, far more tangible rewards. If you can down this 72-ounce steak in an hour, you get a trophy, you get your picture on the restaurant wall, you have a whole restaurant full of people cheering you, and you get a tasty steak dinner for free.

And that's just the people.

In 1994, the Original Pet Drink Company placed on offer Thirsty Dog! and Thirsty Cat! bottled water. The company owner, Marc Duke, noted that the water contained "nine essential vitamins and minerals", unlike potentially unhealthy tap water, and came in Crispy Beef and Tangy Fish flavors. They were even FDA-rated to be fit for human consumption. Why, Duke drank Thirsty Dog himself.

There were a few problems with this.

First off, nobody felt like drinking anything meant for their pets. Except maybe Duke. You have fun with that, buddy, really. Second, your pets have been drinking tap water all this time and it doesn't seem to have hurt them any. So have you. That's a basic function of your municipal government: making sure your tap water isn't going to harm you. If it is harming you, they're not doing their job properly. And will soon face a lot of people leaving town unless they fix it. Third, the bottles cost $1.79 a liter. In 1994 dollars. Your water bill is less than that. The city of Madison, Wisconsin, after two decades worth of inflation, will give you 1,000 gallons for $2.81. Fourth, all the vitamins and minerals your pet needs are already there in their existing pet food. You don't need to throw the balance out of whack with their water.

Fifth, and most importantly, Thirsty Dog! and Thirsty Cat! had a fair amount of sugar content, and were carbonated. They weren't really bottled water at all. Carbonation, sugar, and flavoring means these were really sodas for pets. You think soda for humans has been pegged as unhealthy. At least we have the choice to drink it or not. Your cat doesn't choose what you put in the water dish.

I couldn't hunt down when Thirsty Dog! and Thirsty Cat! were taken off the market. It clearly wasn't long before they were.

Well, hey, more for Marc Duke.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Don't Eat At Americatown

Go head over to Google Maps for me, and scroll over to North Korea. Up until a couple days ago, you'd just see a dot marking off Pyongyang and nothing else. As of a couple days ago, the map has gotten... rather more detailed.

It's still not the most detailed North Korean map out there. That honor belongs to Curtis Melvin of George Mason University, whose North Korea Uncovered map is available here for download on Google Earth. But this is a good start, allowing for, among other things, labeling of the country's more visible gulags- though seemingly not all; I only noticed five (one of which is actually two, separated on Melvin's map) and Wikipedia noted 16, and given that one of them is named Camp 22, that may not even be all of them. Detail within those gulags is another thing, even on Melvin's map: not all North Korean gulags have seen someone escape to tell the tale, and Camp 22 relies on accounts from former guards.

It's also the most accessible map now, allowing for anyone to just stroll up and see what's there without having to download anything.

It also allows for smartasses: hi, whoever inserted 'Kenton's Compound', a location not on Melvin's map, pegged at Yangdok, and then reviewed it with 'Better dress warm and no brazilian wax.'

Monday, January 28, 2013

Statistics You Never Thought You Needed

*Over the course of Sarah Palin's tenure at Fox News, according to the University of Minnesota, she was paid $15.85 per word.
*The odds, according to Doc Sports Service, currently favor the first quarter of the Super Bowl not ending in a tie with odds of -325 (meaning you'd have to bet $325 to win $100, getting back $425 total). If you disagree, you can do so at +250 odds (meaning you'd bet $100 to win $250, getting back $350 total). The odds also favor an odd number of points being scored (-140), the Ravens punting more than the 49ers (-135), there being over 17,000 tweets per second at some point during the game (-140), Barack Obama picking the Ravens to win (-200), the game's MVP thanking his teammates first, before his coach, owner, family or God (7/5), Alicia Keys not forgetting any words in the national anthem (-250) or adding any new ones (-300), and the Dow Jones going up the day after the game (-130).
*There are four college football teams who have won 11 games or more the last two seasons: Oregon, Alabama, Stanford and South Carolina. If you knew that, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has $100 for you.
*The peak connection speed in Hong Kong is 54.1 mbps, fastest in the world, ahead of South Korea (48.8) and Japan 42.2). Their average is 9.0, third place globally behind... well, Japan (10.5) and South Korea (14.7). The full report from Akamai requires registration.
*5% of American janitors- an estimated 115,520 people- have bachelor's degrees.
*Smokers who quit prior to the age of 40 can gain back almost (but not all) of the lifespan they would have had if they had never smoked at all, according to the University of Toronto. Though obviously it's better to not have smoked in the first place.
*A study by Uri Simonsohn at the Wharton School of Business shows that, in a job interview process, the closer to the front of the line you are, the better your odds. On a 1-5 point scale rating job applicants, for every .75 rating points achieved by a previous applicant, an interviewer will subconsciously drop the score of the next applicant by .075 (enough to cancel out 23 months of experience), with the effect accumulating as an interview day progresses. Interviewers are particularly reluctant to rate too many consecutive applicants similarly, so if the last five people have aced their interview, you may be up a river before you even walk in the door. (Conversely, if the last five people can barely operate a crayon, the interviewer may be happy just to see someone who can show basic brain functions.) The full study is available here.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sleeper Hit

Remember 1962? Those were the days when the general public still paid attention to Broadway on occasions other than when the production is dangerous to the point of comedy.

Subways Are For Sleeping, based off a Harper's article in 1956 about subway homelessness, and a subsequent book of the same name, was set to open as a Broadway play in 1962. There was just one problem: advertising. The New York City Transit Authority was not about to put up any ads for a play about homeless people living in subways. It might give people ideas. Besides, the play sucked. Opening attendances were poor, and the reviews weren't great.

Producer David Merrick, thus, decided to go get his own reviewers. It's not the first time and it's far from the last. Anything and everything that can be reviewed these days is going to run the risk of seeing fake positive reviews. Yelp has recently cracked down on them; so has Amazon. Check a movie box sometime and see all the movies with positive reviews on them. Sources that actually carry credibility will be prominently mentioned; it was a given that anything Siskel and Ebert gave two thumbs up to would proudly display that fact. Less reputable sources will give you a prominently-placed blurb and have the source hidden in the bowels of the other side of the box. (If you see a movie box without any positive reviews on it at all and it's not a collection or a re-release of an obviously quality film, that means they couldn't find anyone to say anything good about it. Run.)

Clearly, the best way to go was to see which of New York's most prominent theater critics- there were seven of them- liked Subways Are For Sleeping and then plaster their names on ads. But of course, that runs the risk of them... not liking it. And given the reviews already in, there was every risk of that. But Merrick really wanted their names attached to the play.

So he got the names attached to the play.

Not by pleasing the critics, silly. That would be hard. What Merrick actually did was go through the phone book and find seven New York residents who had the same names as the critics. They were brought in, shown the play for free, and then fed and plied with booze until all seven of them had nothing but good things to say about these nice people who gave them a free surprise night on the town. ...well, okay, there was one price extracted. They did all have to permit Merrick to use their names and pictures in an ad promoting the play.

So that was that handled. But before the producer of a crappy play was able to run a technically-accurate ad in the New York papers blaring "7 Out Of 7 Are Ecstatically Unanimous About Subways Are For Sleeping", he still had to sneak himself past the seven papers that employed the actual same-named critics. This would be a tad difficult, as the ad contained the likenesses of the seven random people from the phone book. Six of them busted him and blocked the ad; one was particularly easy, given that the critic Richard Watts was white and the phone book Richard Watts was black. The seventh, though, the New York Herald-Tribune, failed to check with their critic, Walter Kerr, or remember what his face looked like. So not knowing what one of their more visible employees looked like, they ran the ad. They only ran it in the morning edition, and it was caught before the evening edition (remember when newspapers still ran more than one edition a day?), but it was enough to get out to the people of New York... few of which took the time to memorize what theater critics looked like, some of which went to see the play, and all of which heard about the subsequent, widely-printed controversy. Now, of course, people HAD to go see what all the fuss was about.

This still wasn't exactly Cats. Subways Are For Sleeping was still a bad play. But it took more time for that news to circulate back in 1962, and as such, it hung on for 205 performances, enough to turn a profit, and enough for actress Phyllis Neuman- the wife of co-creator Adolph Green- to swipe a Tony out of the hands of Barbra Streisand.

In 2009, a revival of the play was launched. This time, it got the reaction it should have gotten the first time: swiftly panned and swiftly pulled.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Homemade Springboards

I presume, at some point, that you have used stairs. They have long been a favorite way for people to get up to places and, then, amazingly, down from them as well. Stairs are the friend of everyone from those who wish to fly but just don't have the budget to murderers who want to make it look like an accident. Oh, the surprise functionality of even a broken escalator can yeah I'm not going through with this idiotic buildup any longer let's just get to it.

Lloyd Alter of Treehugger brings us a very, very, very, rather over-the-top minimalist stair design out of Portugal. Minimalist design is, as you know, taking what is absolutely needed and stripping out all else. In the case of stairs, apparently all you need are elevated platforms and a way to make them elevated.

© Feedback-Studio

 You also need a death wish. These stairs might be fine for Mario, but I would like to climb my stairs knowing there isn't the imminent risk of plummeting death from making one false move or a wedge-shaped stair with little to no structural support snapping out from beneath my feet. There isn't even a guardrail.

They actually appear more structurally sound than another set of stairs in Spain that Alter posted in 2008...

source: Jordivayreda Projectteam

In 2008, Alter said of this latter set of stairs, "I think the interesting question is how we are so afraid of innovation, that we wrap ourselves in so many rules, that we just look at this and our first thought is "someone will kill themselves on that." I actually am beginning to agree with commenter Nightrain who said "Good God, you're all so uptight. Waaa waa waa, code, safety, blah blah. It's not your house, so lighten up." He stopped for a while after alienating readers with continued admiration for designs being minimalist to the point of danger- minimalist designs use fewer materials- but he couldn't resist this time.

Sure, Alter. Sure, Nightrain. I'll lighten up. I'll lighten up after I die on those things and become an angel that lives on a cloud.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Death Race 2013

The Dakar Rally is considered to be the world's most grueling car race, traditionally starting the field somewhere in western Europe- usually in France or Spain, preferably Paris- and sending them straight through the Sahara Desert before spitting them back out, usually in Dakar, Senegal. The race route routinely had to bob and weave around various local threats and skirmishes.

The day before the 2008 rally was slated to start, though, fears of a terrorist attack directly targeting the Dakar forced the event to be cancelled. The following year, the Dakar was moved to South America, where it has remained ever since. They hope to return to Africa at some point, but right now, that's just not possible- particularly as we speak, as Mali is a key nation on the way from western Europe to Senegal, and Bamako and Timbuktu regular stops, and the nation needs major rerouting to avoid. You almost can't run the race without Mali- and if Malian refugees are streaming into Mauritania, Mali's western neighbor and the only other way to enter Senegal from the north or east, there's just nowhere left to draw the route.

Meanwhile, a Hungarian radio host named Andrew Szabo had been grousing for a few years prior to the move about how the Dakar had become too rigid and expensive. So he created a looser, low-cost alternative called the Budapest-Bamako. Just line up a street-legal vehicle (no entry fee if you show up driving something particularly unsuitable for a trans-Saharan journey), show up at the starting line in Budapest and get yourself to Bamako one way or another in, like, a couple weeks, we're not picky. There's a planned route, planned stages, but nobody really seems to mind if someone wanders off and makes their own surprise route. There is a racing portion, but there are navigational and even geocaching elements to it. A lot of drivers are just there to cover the distance, party, take in the scenery, and raise money for causes in places along the route, with a prize for the team that performs the best charity work. Many don't even stop at the finish line, preferring to drive to alternative finish lines, either provided by the organizers or that they decide on themselves. With the Dakar now in South America, the Budapest-Bamako considers itself the Dakar's spiritual successor.

The start of the 2013 Budapest-Bamako is scheduled to be today. Organizers have already moved the finish line to Guinea-Bissau. You recall Guinea-Bissau here from a week and a half ago. The Hungarian anti-terror agency has called them everything short of morons for even thinking of setting off at a time like this.

As the translation of this article from of Slovakia indicates, they set off at a time like this.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Let's Get Your Information

There was originally something yesterday, but then I found out after I posted it that I'd already written about that topic. So that was embarrassing a bit.

Anyway. Last night, on the way home from work, I went and filled up my gas tank. This was immediately- and I mean immediately- followed by my right front tire going blooey. I happened to pull over right across the street from a guy who actually knew a damn thing about cars, and right as he was pulling into his driveway too. (As it turned out, my rims had some sort of antitheft thingie on the lugnuts and the key for that was in the trunk, but nobody present knew that, so we ended up having to tow it. We tried five or six times to pay the guy for his trouble and he absolutely refused to accept any money.)

So that was a fun dead of night in a cold and windy Wisconsin January.

At least I'm not a Russian driver. In Russia, you have some very, very bad drivers. You also have a lot of insurance fraud going on- the kind of guys who fling themselves into traffic and then go claim pain and suffering to the judge that can only be healed with lots of money. To defend themselves against this kind of fraud, Russian drivers have taken it upon themselves to install the same kind of dash cams you see in police cars in America (which is good because the less-than-honest Russian cops might have oh-so-conveniently turned theirs off). It's one of those things you just need to have in the car, like a, well, spare tire. After all, raw video is a pretty solid solution to a he-said-she-said situation.

At the same time, Russia has notoriously bad roads, and if the insurance companies happen to be skeptical as to how your car got smashed up- and given all the fraud, they've become understandably jittery- with a dash cam you're able to show them the exact size of the pothole you found yourself in.

And so the insurance companies end up with videos like this on their desk...

Or this:

Or this:

I don't hear you complaining your local drivers are worse. At least I shouldn't be.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Most Unpopular Man On The Internet

Meet Gareth Morgan, an economist from New Zealand. He is concerned about his country's bird population. New Zealand has a large number of bird species endemic to the region, but many if not most are under some sort of threat. Therefore, the birds' predators need to be watched carefully.

Cats eat birds. So the solution, to Morgan, is quite clear: rid New Zealand of cats. Leading with the phrase "That little ball of fluff you own is a natural born killer", he has created the website Cats To Go, centered around the goal of getting cat owners to kick the habit, opting out of replacing their cats when they die.

When articles about your hopes and dreams can be countered with stock images of cute kittens, such as here, or here, or perhaps here, you really ought to reconsider your odds. The poll Morgan has attached asking people of they'll opt out of replacing their cat when it dies is showing a roughly 80-20 split in favor of 'no'. Cat owners have savaged him for insulting members of the family. The New Zealand SPCA has savaged him for rather obvious reasons. The statistics have savaged him, saying the cats are more interested in killing rodents than killing birds and their removal would create a host of new problems to the ecosystem.

And New Zealand is a particularly hostile nation for something like this. 48% of New Zealand households own a cat. By comparison, 33% of American households do, including mine.

There is an issue with feral cats- which do sometimes kill wildlife- but the solution provided by animal groups is basically the same one you already know: get the feral cats off the street, find homes for all the cats you can, help control the pet population, have your pets spayed or neutered. 

So, yeah, go do that.  

Monday, January 21, 2013

Who's In Charge Around Here?

Today is the public inauguration of Barack Obama's second term. I don't have anything really big to say about it, at least not right now. The big superlatives aren't really second-term things; the general attitude towards a second term is 'okay, election's over; back to work'. So in lieu of some huge statement, let's head to Sporcle.

You will be provided with a list of world leaders as of January 1, 2012. Your task is to identify what countries they were running as of that date.

For an extra challenge, you could try it the other way: you're given the countries (as of October 2, 2012), name the leaders. It's tougher to name names than name countries (though both are tough; I only attempted to name countries and I came up with only 49, and even that came in at the 64th percentile). In both cases, you're given the standard Sporcle maximum of 20 minutes.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Chinese Zoo Visiting Tips

*Do not throw rocks at the crocodiles to see if they're alive. The answer will quickly end up being 'well, not NOW they're not'.
*Do not throw rocks at the elephants either. They can throw harder than you can.
*Do not throw snowballs at the lions.
*Do not feed the-- actually, you know what? You may actually want to feed the Siberian tigers, because the zookeepers aren't.
*In fact, bring money if you want to do that, because for a reasonable fee, they will hand you the live animal to toss screaming into the cage yourself.
*Or, well, wait long enough and the problem might just take care of itself.
*Please be mindful of where the tiger-bone liquor came from.
*Be sure to take a picture of yourself with the panda bear. That might be how it gets fed.
*Please be respectful of the mass animal grave you may inadvertently be near.
*Please bring the elephants a space heater.
*Do not teach the myna birds bad words.
*Do not give the chimpanzee a cigarette no matter how much he begs. Or a beer, for that matter.
*If you must go see a chained monkey ride a bicycle while a tiger rides horseback and a bear rides the high wire on a motorbike, do be careful as that's been supposedly outlawed.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Rapid-Fire Book Club, Birthday Edition

No, I'm not done with the last set of books yet, but I have another as a birthday present, Nate Silver's The Signal And The Noise. Also known as, the book Nate Silver promoted via Twitter the moment it became apparent that, after all the rage from the media who was calling the Obama/Romney race a virtual tie and down to the wire while Silver had Obama at a 90.9% chance of winning, and all the rage from the Republican side of the aisle who really, truly thought Mitt Romney had it in the bag, Silver was going to nail all 50 states.

He did miss the North Dakota and Montana Senate races. Virtually nobody even noticed, because A, the Presidential race is what everyone notices, and B, virtually nobody notices North Dakota or Montana any other time and why should they start now? Considering the model he uses bases itself largely on polls,
 there wasn't much of anything that could have been done about North Dakota, a Republican-leaning state sparsely polled and showing five polls in favor of Republican Rick Berg, one tie, and one buried poll from June showing Democrat Heidi Heitkamp- the eventual winner- up 47-46. Montana, which by Election Day had trended from Republican Dennis Rehberg to Democrat Jon Tester, the ultimate winner, was a little less forgivable, but clearly Nate's able to absorb that hit. Projections were not made for the House.

Of course, this is why Nate puts in percentage chances instead of calling things ironclad locks.

The accuracy rate I figured he was going to get given his previous results is why I didn't even bother with a prediction map myself, instead saying, 'I'll go with whatever Nate Silver's predicting.' And if you're going to do that, the person you're putting your faith in had better be damned good. Nate Silver is that damned good.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

National Ranting Association

The NRA used to be a highly-respected organization, focused on defending a part of the Bill of Rights held sacrosanct in American society. They were a very powerful organization, too, so powerful that nobody dared stand against it. Gun debates, for a long time, were immediately shut down the second the NRA entered the fray, because they had so much money, so much control, so much ability to influence lawmakers and policy, that gun-control advocates cowered before them, fearful of what might happen if they dared to oppose the NRA too loudly and despairing of any chance of a positive outcome.

It is safe to say that those days are over. The notion that the NRA carried outsized clout in politics was dealt a gouge the size of the Grand Canyon on Election Day. After spending $11.1 million dollars in the 2012 election, the NRA got a whopping 0.83% return on investment. To compare, you literally have better odds playing the Harlem Globetrotters. (They state 24,000 wins- at least- and 345 losses as of New Year's Day. Given those numbers, opponents, therefore, have a 1.42% chance of winning.) The total breakdown of such a total breakdown is here.

And then Newtown happened. After Newtown, the dam broke. The impossible debate became possible, became real. And the NRA was caught utterly flat-footed. Rachel Maddow theorized last week that they had become a victim of their own success: they became so successful at shutting down debate before it began that they became legitimately surprised when one did get started, and they had no idea what to do next. They were invited to the White House and said they were "disappointed" when gun control was placed on the table, as though there were any chance that it wouldn't be. A thick, massive city wall was left to defend a solitary wooden shack. For the first week after the shooting, the NRA was completely silent, leaving their opposition to run wild.

And then NRA head Wayne LaPierre opened his mouth, stating that “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” and it was quickly apparent that silence had been their best move. Ever since LaPierre's press conference, the NRA has added nothing to the post-Newtown debate other than bewilderment and shock that the positions they hold could possibly be real. An aura of invincibility was replaced with an aura of impotent insanity from an organization now viewed as focused on nothing but ensuring a constant stream of revenue for gun manufacturers.

This aura may have crystallized on Tuesday, when the NRA posted an ad online accusing Barack Obama of being an "elitist hypocrite", on the rationale that, although he doesn't think armed guards in schools are the answer, his daughters, Sasha and Malia, have armed guards at their school. Never mind the fact that they're, oh, I don't know, the daughters of the President of the United States; daughters who had said and done nothing to insert themselves into the debate at all other than to happen to be the daughters of someone who was.

The ad, and the reaction by the crew of MSNBC's Morning Joe, can be seen below.

How can an organization be taken seriously after weeks on end of shockingly out-of-touch statements like the ones the NRA, and Wayne LaPierre in particular, have released in such a high-profile setting? Sure, their membership is large, but does the profile of their more active and outspoken membership differ appreciably from the membership of a selection of other conservative-aligned causes? Aren't they simply one more branch of a worldview on the wane, and worse, catering to a subset of that worldview that is among the country's most unhinged and dangerous-- people that many feel should not have guns?

And aren't they merely joining PETA on the sidelines, as a once-legitimate, now-disgraced group taken over by its fringe?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How To Outsource Your Own Job

1. Do not outsource your own job.
2. If you must outsource your own job, well, make sure it's an instance where you really, truly must. As in, your employer is making you train your replacement. In which case, that sucks, man. Sorry about that.
3. If your employer is not making you train your replacement, and you still wish to outsource, do not outsource it while at your workplace.
4. Do not pass the outsourced work off as your own. Give credit. Heck, if you're honest about it and refer him, maybe your boss will hire the guy outright and take some weight off your shoulders.
5. Do not outsource your job on company computers. Your boss can see that.
6. Do not outsource your job to China. China has a reputation for hacking foreign websites, and a sudden Chinese presence on company computers will raise red flags in security.
7. If security comes to investigate, try to make sure they don't find Reddit, eBay and cat pictures.
8. If caught, expect your boss to wonder why he's paying you to have someone else do your job for a fifth of the price. He PROBABLY won't decide to cut out the middleman and hire the Chinese guy for that fifth of the price, but why take that chance?
9. Expect to have a lot of time afterwards to download all the cats you want.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Guinea-Bissau: A Far-Too-Outdated Primer

If you watched the Daily Show last night, you saw a segment in which Kaj Larsen of CNN was found to now be working as a consultant on the HBO show The Newsroom, because CNN shut down their investigative division because it wasn't making a profit and, to hear CNN's programming guy tell it, you could just get everything off Skype anyway (which, really, no you can't). Kaj was mentioning drug trafficking in Guinea-Bissau as a story he was looking at. There, per his point, isn't very much reporting being done in Guinea-Bissau lately.

So let's try to fill in a gap or two. As per Kaj's point that you can't just sit on your butt from home and expect all the reporting you need to be done that way, I'll deliberately not say anything of my own- I'm sitting on my butt from home, after all, and any value I add would only undermine him- and leave the reporting to people on the ground. That said, the first thing to note is that, again as per Kaj's point, there just isn't much being reported from the ground in Guinea-Bissau, and there really needs to be. But we do have a couple places we can go. For the drug-trafficking story, here's a report uploaded to YouTube in January 2011.

A military coup occurred in April 2012, after that first report, with both major candidates ousted from an upcoming election and third-place candidate Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo being installed in office. Al Jazeera has a report from the time of the coup here. This second video, from the International Crisis Group, is from August, asking around about the aftermath (and before a failed counter-coup a few months later; the only video on that is a 45-second blurb).

For more information about the country, here's a further selection of on-the-ground reports; unfortunately, they're from 2008, which only drives home the point further:

*A look from Journeyman Pictures into a hospital in the country that has no budget for drugs or medical equipment, uploaded January 2008
*A UNICEF video on child trafficking in the country, uploaded April 2008
*A report from France24 on overcrowded prisons, uploaded June 2008

Monday, January 14, 2013

Random News Generator- Guyana

Yesterday began the fifth and final session of the Inter-Governmental Negotiation Committee in Geneva, Switzerland, which is aiming to deal with increasing levels of the usage of mercury in small-scale gold mining, with the aim of creating some sort of globally-binding resolution. The usage of mercury for such purposes has doubled since 2005, meaning there's more of it in the lakes and rivers, more of it in the fish, and more of it on your dinner table. Guyana is part of those talks along with roughly 130 other nations (I can't get an exact list of attendees); with gold their largest export, they've been criticized for not doing enough to keep things from getting to the point they have, and they've been arguing that their gold miners should get an exemption from whatever agreement is made until an easier and cheaper alternative to mercury can be found.

Though Guyana isn't the largest emitter of mercury- unsurprisingly, that honor goes to China, which is responsible for 30% of all human emissions (human emissions make up about 30% of mercury emissions), and the Asian nations are as usual wondering why they ought to be held responsible- they do attract a significant amount of attention from Western firms looking to open mines in the country, and so the need to get buy-in from them is still crucial.

A rather unlikely way to get buy-in from Guyana: US statehood. No, really. There's a movement in Guyana to become the 51st state, on the theory that there are more Guyanese living overseas than in Guyana itself, and the bulk of that population lives in the United States. The Guyana Diaspora Project, sponsored by the International Organization for Migration, disagrees, and is conducting a survey to get a handle on what exactly the numbers are.

Somehow doubt that 51 will be a relevant number, though.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Gummed Up The Works

You ever swallow gum? I have. So, naturally, I ought to have a seven-year-large giganto-wad of gum in my colon, right? After all, you've heard the old wives' tale.

Wrong. Most of the gum gets broken down in our mouth or in our stomachs, and the gum base- though designed to not get broken down in your mouth- gets treated as waste product in your stomach, so it comes out like everything else. It comes out rather unchanged, but it comes out. Even when straight-up solid objects get swallowed that aren't even food, sometimes what they do is have you wait for it to come out the other end. If the cops see you swallow a piece of stolen property, they'll hold you in custody until it comes out. There's even a special procedure for that: you get held in what's called a dry cell- a cell without a toilet- and every time you need to poop, you get handed a bucket that they have a forensics guy dig through afterwards. And when it inevitably comes out, well, ain't no denying that you were in possession of stolen property after that. As for the gum, there was the case of one four-year-old kid that ate so much gum that his poop took on "taffy-like" properties- something I really don't want to think about- but that's an isolated incident, really. You will not have to have your poop suctioned out of your rectum.

And now I've probably made you think about poop being suctioned out of your rectum. Enjoy your football game.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Rapid-Fire Book Club, Edition In Aisle 3

There are two books to note today, both acquired from Tribeca here in Watertown. I stopped in in the middle of running an errand or two, see if they had anything that looked good in. Yep.

*Campbell, Jen- Weird Things Customers Say In Bookstores
*Webb, Nick- The Dictionary of Bullshit: A Shamelessly Opinionated Guide to All that is Absurd, Misleading and Insincere

I'm not far into the latter. The former is pretty much exactly what it says it is.

No, bookstore-goers, Anne Frank did not write a sequel.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Hey, Remember Haiti?

Remember that huge earthquake and cholera outbreak that hit Haiti?

That was three years ago tomorrow. A lot of Haiti still looks like it was hit yesterday. 350,000 people are still living in tents. Progress is slowly, very slowly, being made. Homes are slowly being built- though at what building codes, that's another story- and people are getting treated, at whatever pace. But this is a long-term rebuild, of a nation grown skeptical of foreign aid efforts that fall short of promises. One of the few projects that has been completed is a luxury hotel that the locals could never afford to stay in. Some of the people in tents are able to leave, and can leave at any time, but haven't because they heard another aid group gave $500 to people on their way out of the tents, and with $500 being a lot of money in Haiti, they want $500 too before they'll leave. One man who had rubble still stuck to his face made a magazine cover, and when he was checked on a year later... he still had rubble stuck to his face. Because hey, whatever works.

Because it's taking so long and because the results are coming in such fits and starts, some are wondering whether we shouldn't just give up. Some already have. But we said from the start, this was going to take a long time. Things could have been better. A lot better. But there's three years worth of experience now. We have three years of knowing what works and what doesn't and what still needs to be done. We have information from which to make a plan going forward.

The first step in that plan might want to be the creation of a plan.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Hall Of Very Good, 2013 Edition

So nobody got in to the Hall of Fame yesterday. Deacon White, umpire Hank O'Day and owner Jacob Ruppert will go in as Veterans Committee choices, but they are all long dead. The Bonds/Clemens/McGwire/Sosa/Palmeiro/etc group is entirely shut out. The media, inclined to have someone to celebrate and really rather hoping someone gets in every year, has gone apoplectic, calling it a black day for baseball that nobody was elected, howling that the statistics trump all, calling the Hall of Fame devalued for their absence, and calling for the balloting rules to be changed to start inducting people again.

If you ask the actual Hall of Famers, though, they couldn't be happier about the development. They, for the most part, don't want Bonds and Clemens to ever get in. Ever. Get out and stay out. In their minds, what they did would be devalued by their election. It would be final, irreversible proof that you can, with enough skill, cheat and it won't matter because you'll still be given the game's highest honor. You'll never be able to look kids in the eye and tell them not to roid up with a straight face again, because they'll just tell you that Bonds roided up and he's in Cooperstown. Had he gone in this year, they'd tell you Bonds roided up and he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer. What are you going to be able to say back to him?

So put it on their plaque, then, and tell the kids about their history, say those wishing to induct them. Seriously, tell me honestly: can you actually recite the words on the plaque of a single Hall of Famer? Can you tell me, without looking, what any of their plaques say? No. People know the names, people know the caps they're wearing on the plaques, and that's it. They have a plaque. They cheated and have been given the game's highest honor as a result of what they did while cheating. The end.

Sure. We knew in the 90's that some of these guys were juicing. We knew. We didn't want to admit it. We were weak back then. We were just coming off the strike. We just wanted baseball back and got seduced by big men hitting cartoonish home runs. We knew. We enabled. But that does not mean we must now compound our mistake. It doesn't mean you can't teach the history of baseball to your kids. Far from it. The kids are smart enough to know the names of non-Hall of Famers. You are free to tell them who's not there, and why they are not there.

Besides, this is not the first time controversial candidates have gone on the ballot prior to long, long stays outside the doors. Pete Rose, though he was banned in 1989, saw his votes counted in the 1992, 1993 and 1994 ballots. His high-water mark: 9.5% in 1992. The all-time hit king could not even crack double digits with the writers. Not only that, he only got three attempts at the ballot at all because the 5% rule hadn't been fully implemented yet. He got 3.3% in 1993, and 4.2% in 1994. Ban or no ban, the writers had made their choice, and made it emphatically.

As for Shoeless Joe Jackson, he saw two appearances on the ballot, in the original 1936 ballot and a 'nomination vote' in 1946, in a year the writers needed to do a runoff vote. Jackson is one of eight people on the 50-man baseball writers ballot to still not be in. He got two votes- but then, so did Edd Roush and Chief Bender and they both got in eventually. So did two of the three who didn't get any votes, Charlie Gehringer and Gabby Hartnett. (Deacon White made his only appearance that year on the Old-Timers Committee ballot, getting only one vote.) Jackson also got two votes, good for 1.0%, in 1946, in a 7-way tie for 43rd place on the ballot. The top 21 advanced to the runoff, which didn't elect anybody that year. (All were eventually inducted, and six of them got in that year anyway thanks to the Old-Timers Committee.)

This is not unprecedented. This is not the first time the baseball writers have carried out their wrath. And even if they do eventually get in- and that is not a when, that is an IF- the writers have a way of enforcing that character clause. Juan Marichal had to wait after his attack on Johnny Roseboro, until Roseboro himself came out and lent his support to Marichal's candidacy. Roberto Alomar was made to wait a year after he spit on umpire John Hirschbeck. The game is bigger than any one player. You can't act with impunity and expect a plaque with no repercussions just because you racked up big numbers. If it was all about numbers, a computer program could make the inductions. It's not. The character clause matters.

'But Ty Cobb got in and look how awful a person he was!' That was 1936. Ty Cobb was not the only person who thought like Ty Cobb in 1936. Three years later, Cap Anson got inducted and he was the guy who CONSTRUCTED the color barrier- which at that point had yet to come down. Are we really going to hold ourselves to the moral and societal standards of the 1930's?

With that, I present this year's edition of the Hall of Very Good- the high-water marks of players not yet in. I've taken the liberty this year of extending the list from a threshold of 2.0% down to 1.0%. (It's not going any further down, because you can see just how many people got added by adding that one single percent.) Candidates still on the ballot are bolded. Tim Raines, Jack Morris and Jeff Bagwell hit personal bests among returning candidates.

68.2 Craig Biggio
67.7 Jack Morris

60.1 Gil Hodges
59.6 Jeff Bagwell
57.8 Mike Piazza
52.2 Tim Raines
50.6 Lee Smith
47.3 Tony Oliva

43.1 Roger Maris
42.6 Steve Garvey
40.6 Maury Wills
40.0 Marty Marion
39.3 Harvey Kuenn
38.8 Curt Schilling
37.6 Roger Clemens
36.8 Alan Trammell
36.5 Edgar Martinez
36.2 Barry Bonds

35.9 Hank Gowdy
35.6 Phil Cavarretta
34.0 Johnny Sain
33.6 Allie Reynolds
31.7 Tommy John
30.9 Luis Tiant
29.8 Johnny Vander Meer
29.6 Jim Kaat
28.2 Don Mattingly
25.5 Ken Boyer
25.5 Mickey Lolich
25.4 Mel Harder
24.9 Mickey Vernon
24.5 Dave Parker
23.9 Fred McGriff
23.7 Bucky Walters
23.7 Mark McGwire
23.2 Dale Murphy
23.2 Lew Burdette
22.9 Larry Walker
22.2 Joe Torre
21.1 Minnie Minoso
20.7 Elston Howard
20.7 Tommy Henrich
19.9 Herman Long
18.9 Roy Face
18.5 Al Dark
18.0 Smoky Joe Wood
17.3 Pepper Martin
16.9 Dave Concepcion
16.7 Dick Allen
16.7 Lefty O'Doul
15.7 Vada Pinson
15.5 Thurman Munson
15.3 Don Newcombe
14.4 Ted Kluszewski
14.4 Walker Cooper
13.7 Babe Adams
13.5 Duffy Lewis
13.1 Sparky Lyle
12.8 Curt Flood
12.6 Rafael Palmeiro
12.5 Sammy Sosa

12.3 Don Larsen
11.7 Terry Moore
11.3 Dom DiMaggio
11.2 Orel Hershiser
10.8 Keith Hernandez
10.6 Bobby Bonds
10.4 Dwight Evans
10.2 Vic Raschi
10.0 Dickey Kerr
10.0 Jimmy Dykes
9.9 Johnny Kling
9.8 Charlie Grimm
9.6 Bernie Williams
9.5 Pete Rose
9.4 Bobo Newsom
9.0 Hal Chase
8.8 Jimmie Wilson
8.8 Ron Guidry
8.7 Vida Blue
8.3 Graig Nettles
8.3 Muddy Ruel
8.0 Lou Criger
7.9 Hank Bauer
7.9 Rusty Staub
7.7 Albert Belle
7.7 Bill Lange
7.7 Bob Boone
7.7 Harry Stovey
7.7 Jerry Denny
7.5 Nick Altrock
7.5 Tommy Bridges
7.4 Dave Stewart
7.0 Wilbur Wood
6.9 George Foster
6.7 Glenn Wright
6.5 Lon Warneke
6.5 Sal Maglie
6.4 Nap Rucker
6.2 Fernando Valenzuela
6.2 Paul Derringer
6.1 Charlie Keller
6.1 Harold Baines
6.0 Doc Cramer
6.0 Freddie Fitzsimmons
5.7 Babe Herman
5.7 Cy Williams
5.6 Dolf Luque
5.6 Joe Judge
5.5 Fred Lynn
5.3 Frankie Crosetti
5.2 Juan Gonzalez
5.2 Stuffy McInnis
5.0 Bob Meusel
5.0 Fred Hutchinson
5.0 Hal Schumacher
5.0 Rudy York
5.0 Schoolboy Rowe
5.0 Willie McGee
4.9 Art Nehf
4.9 Red Rolfe
4.9 Steve O'Neill
4.8 Jeff Reardon
4.8 Stan Hack
4.7 Ewell Blackwell
4.7 Ken Griffey Sr.
4.6 Bobby Thomson
4.6 John Franco
4.5 Bill Madlock
4.5 Eddie Rommel
4.5 Howard Ehmke
4.4 Wilbur Cooper
4.4 Will Clark
4.3 Al Oliver
4.2 Manny Mota
4.1 Andres Galarraga
4.1 Mark Grace
4.1 Wally Schang
3.9 David Cone
3.9 Del Crandall
3.8 Charlie Bennett
3.8 Dan Quisenberry
3.8 Earl Whitehill
3.8 Frank White
3.8 Joe Carter
3.8 Ross Barnes
3.8 Tim McCarver
3.7 Mark Belanger
3.7 Ted Simmons
3.6 Wes Ferrell
3.4 Jack Quinn
3.3 Dwight Gooden
3.2 Kenny Lofton
3.2 Carl Erskine
3.2 Dennis Martinez
3.2 Everett Scott
3.2 Fred Dunlap
3.1 Bert Campaneris
3.1 Fred Tenney
3.0 Birdie Tebbetts
3.0 Dixie Walker
3.0 Frank McCormick
3.0 Jimmy Archer
3.0 Joe Dugan
3.0 Mike Donlin
3.0 Pete Reiser
3.0 Spud Chandler
2.9 Lou Whitaker
2.8 Sandy Alomar Jr.
2.8 Dave McNally
2.8 Harvey Haddix
2.6 Bill Dinneen
2.6 Bobby Grich
2.6 Don Baylor
2.6 Harry Bracheen
2.6 Jack Glasscock
2.6 John Hiller
2.6 Ned Williamson
2.6 Orval Grove
2.5 Art Fletcher
2.5 Bill Bradley
2.5 Bill Carrigan
2.5 Charlie Root
2.5 George Earnshaw
2.5 Jim Abbott
2.5 Kirk Gibson
2.5 Larry Bowa
2.4 Bob O'Farrell
2.4 Clyde Milan
2.4 Vern Law
2.3 Bobby Shantz
2.3 Carl Mays
2.3 Pinky Higgins
2.3 Roy McMillan
2.2 Bing Miller
2.2 Paul O'Neill
2.1 Bill Buckner
2.1 Kevin Brown
2.0 Bill Donovan
2.0 Bill Wambsganss
2.0 Bob Elliott
2.0 Bobby Richardson
2.0 Heinie Groh
2.0 Virgil Trucks
2.0 Willie Wilson
1.9 Bullet Joe Bush
1.9 Moe Berg
1.9 Max Bishop
1.9 Wally Moses
1.9 Will White
1.9 Billy Pierce
1.9 Jim Perry
1.9 Paul Blair
1.9 Ron Cey
1.8 Al Schacht
1.8 Dutch Leonard
1.8 Dick Groat
1.8 Rick Sutcliffe
1.7 Jack Coombs
1.7 Ossie Bluege
1.7 Jim Hegan
1.7 Gil McDougald
1.7 Buddy Bell
1.7 Darrell Evans
1.7 Lance Parrish
1.6 Norm Cash
1.6 J.R. Richard
1.5 Roger Peckinpaugh
1.5 Larry Doyle
1.5 Bill Donovan
1.5 George Burns
1.5 Cookie Lavagetto
1.5 Urban Shocker
1.5 Dolph Camilli
1.5 George Uhle
1.5 Hal White
1.5 Riggs Stephenson
1.5 Ellis Kinder
1.5 Mike Marshall
1.5 Jack Clark
1.4 Carl Furillo
1.4 Vic Wertz
1.4 Frank Howard
1.4 Ron Perranoski
1.4 Tug McGraw
1.4 Darryl Kile
1.4 Dave Stieb
1.3 George Van Haltren
1.3 Arlie Latham
1.3 Bill Dahlen
1.3 Charlie Pabor
1.3 Joe Battin
1.3 Lip Pike
1.3 Jimmy McAleer
1.3 Matt Kilroy
1.3 Jack Remsen
1.3 Tommy Bond
1.3 Jack Doyle
1.3 Hardy Richardson
1.3 Cal McVey
1.3 Doug Allison
1.3 Jake Daubert
1.3 Eddie Grant
1.3 Billy Jurges
1.3 Red Lucas
1.3 Charlie Gelbert
1.3 Whitey Lockman
1.3 Grady Hatton
1.3 Hank Sauer
1.3 Curt Simmons
1.3 Matty Alou
1.3 Boog Powell
1.3 Joe Niekro
1.3 Kent Tekulve
1.3 Pedro Guerrero
1.3 Bret Saberhagen
1.3 Matt Williams
1.3 Robin Ventura
1.2 Gavvy Cravath
1.2 Terry Turner
1.2 Tommy Thevenow
1.2 Lew Fonseca
1.2 Fielder Jones
1.2 Firpo Marberry
1.2 Milt Pappas
1.2 Tommy Davis
1.2 Ken Holtzman
1.2 George Bell
1.2 Tom Henke
1.2 Darryl Strawberry
1.1 Jack Barry
1.1 Tony Cuccinello
1.1 Willie Kamm
1.1 Frankie Gustine
1.1 Billy Werber
1.1 Charlie Berry
1.1 Mort Cooper
1.1 Bill Doak
1.1 Mike Gonzalez
1.1 Luke Sewell
1.1 Red Kress
1.1 Eddie Stanky
1.1 Jackie Jensen
1.1 Roy Sievers
1.1 Eddie Lopat
1.1 Willie Randolph
1.1 Jose Canseco
1.1 Mo Vaughn
1.1 Julio Franco
1.0 Hans Lobert
1.0 Marty Bergen
1.0 Ping Bodie
1.0 Ossee Schrecongost
1.0 Sherry Magee
1.0 Harry Davis
1.0 Shoeless Joe Jackson
1.0 Donie Bush
1.0 Jim Tobin
1.0 Guy Bush
1.0 Hughie Critz
1.0 George Case
1.0 Art Houtteman
1.0 Wes Westrum
1.0 Del Ennis
1.0 Augie Galan
1.0 Jim Fregosi
1.0 Kent Hrbek
1.0 Ozzie Guillen
1.0 Hal Morris
1.0 Tino Martinez
1.0 Vinny Castilla

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Daisy, Daisy.....

(Edited since original posting to add additional stations.)

On June 12, 2009, television in the United States made the switchover from analog broadcasting to digital. You remember that, I assume, and all the rushing to get everyone converter boxes and whatnot. This is part of a larger, global switchover initiated by the Netherlands in December 2006, one which is still underway and which every nation eventually intends to get done. (Well, everyone except North Korea, who naturally feels no great compulsion to do anything of the sort. South Korea intends to keep some analog signals going for that reason, so they have something to send them.) The US actually still has some low-power stations going on analog, with those stations told that they have to cease analog transmission by September 1, 2015.

For the most part, people got themselves over to the digital side just fine. But there was still the matter of actually shutting off the analog transmission, whether the amply-warned viewers were ready or not. You can warn, you can tell people to mark their calendars, you can get people prepared all you want, but at some point it comes time to just say 'Okay, we're going to be switching to digital now; if you're still not ready yet, that's on you, here we go, KSSSSSHHHHHHHHHHHH'. (And amazing as it may sound, despite all the warnings, despite the warnings right there at the moment of switchoff, there were still people wondering what just happened to their TV's who then called to complain.)

What we're exploring today is, when the switchoff happened, what did those people- and people who had made the switchover but felt like being witnesses to the big moment- and people who somehow fell in both categories at the same time, such as these people viewing WFMZ in Allentown, PA, who took the time to hook up a spectrum analyzer but forgot to get a converter box- see?

It depended on the station. There were some general archetypes... actually, before we get to those, let me just take a second to wonder out loud why in the world someone would take the time to animate a signoff sequence for a fictional station:

Someone took time out of their day to create that. Anyway. As for the actual stations, they had several different common methods of handling the moment:

*Some just up and switched with zero fanfare or warning, as seen here in a medley of stations in Canberra, Australia, as well as these stations in Albany, NY, KFVS in Cape Girardeau, MO, WHDH in Boston (as with every station in Boston), WWOR in New York, WTKR in Norfolk, WVBT in Virginia Beach, WOAC in Canton, OH, WZDX in Huntsville, WPRI in Providence, ABW-2 in Perth, KCAL in Los Angeles, KSCI in Los Angeles, WPXD in Ann Arbor, TVO in Toronto, WTOG in Tampa, KOKI in Tulsa, and KLRT in Little Rock. WOAC in Canton narrowly averted zero fanfare, switching after the end of normal station ID.
*Some did a variation of that: they switched to a 'nightlight' broadcast consisting entirely of a looped video instructing on what to do, followed by a hard switchoff, as shown by WCBS in New York, KPHO in Phoenix, KDNL in St. Louis, WFWA in Fort Wayne, WNDU in South Bend, and WLWT in  Cincinnati, or a little more explicitly by KVWE in Austin, TX.
*Some made a special goodbye message or video, such as WLWT, as well as WFYI in Indianapolis, MPTV in Milwaukee, WKRG in Mobile, AL, HSV Channel 7 in Melbourne, ATN7 in Sydney, WTVJ in Miami, WTHR in Indianapolis, TV Yamanashi in Japan, Miyagi TV in Japan, WPTV in Detroit, WSAW in Wausau, WI, and BTQ in Brisbane. BBC 2 in London did this as well, but merely as a variance on their normal procedure of a voiceover message between any given programs. (Many stations signing off, such as WSRE in Pensacola, listed the technicals: their being licensed by the FCC, the power and location of their transmitter, and location of their studio.)
*Many Japanese stations ran local images, such as Ehime Asahi TV, Nagasaki Bunka Hoso, Ryukyu Hoso, TV Kanazawa, TV Hokkaido, and Kyushu Asahi TV. All of the Japanese stations ran a nightlight beforehand.
*Some gave a what-to-do-now warning. KSTW in Seattle/Tacoma is shown doing that (along with their digital sign-on), along with KLJB Quad Cities, Iowa Public Television, KFTY in Santa Rosa, CA, WGTE in Toledo, WBRC in Birmingham, FilmFour in the UK, WNHT in Schenectady, NY, KGO in San Francisco, WAAY in Huntsville, and KIRO in Seattle. I'm pretty sure this is also what Asahi TV, Ryukyu Asahi Toso, and Tokai TV of Japan were doing.
*Some hauled out the news team and covered it as an event, such as KABC in Los Angeles, KVIA in El Paso, KATU in Portland, OR, WPVI in Philadelphia, KTVU in Oakland, WTSP in Tampa, KCTV in Kansas City, WRC in Washington, and WHNT in Huntsville (who was a smidge late to the punch). KFOR in Oklahoma City dressed it up a bit with the correspondent charged with performing the shutoff giving a bit of a formal final signoff, as did, kinda sorta, KNXV in Phoenix.
*Some stations hauled out the news team and made a big celebration of it, such as in KTVW in Phoenix. News anchors suddenly became very interested in what Master Control did all day, such as in WRAL in Raleigh, WROC in Rochester, and WCIU in Chicago. A few aging employees who were around from day one were made guests of honor as the newsroom counted them down to flipping the switch, such as in WKMG in Orlando and WXIX in Cincinnati. In at least two cases, WXIA in Atlanta and WTMJ in Milwaukee, the relevant employee was hauled out of retirement so they could flip the switch.
*You remember when networks used to sign off for the night with the national anthem, before the days of late-night infomercials? Some networks dusted those off and ran them, such as WGHP in High Point, NC, WFMY in Greensboro, NC, WZWI in Milwaukee, WNDU in South Bend, and KADN in Lafayette, LA. There were quite a few national anthems. WATC in Atlanta doubled it up with another classic signoff called High Flight before cutting to Master Control. WOWT in Omaha opted slightly differently, going for America The Beautiful... well, the first half of it, anyway, because they had to get that thing shut off. KMYS in San Antonio didn't use a retro anthem, but they did find one with a choir. WLNS in Lansing used more contemporary local images. WPSD in Paducah, KY issued the technicals prior to a vintage national anthem. WISC in Madison gave a what-to-do-now warning in English and Spanish before the anthem. WFSB in Hartford gave you the anthem, the technicals, the test pattern, and the goodbye from the local news anchor.
*Many ran a lot of other old footage. KADN did plenty of that before the national anthem, as did WISN in Milwaukee, WFAA in Dallas, WRTV in Indianapolis, KDKA in Pittsburgh (which used to be a DuMont station), RKB Mainichi Hoso and Tohuku Hoso in Japan, and WTVR in Richmond.

Some other notable signoffs:
*KOIN in Portland, OR ran a rerun of their 25th anniversary commemoration, seen here, here and here, before using the Indian Head test screen (which was a popular choice for the very last thing seen before going to snow).
*WGTV in Atlanta went with Ray Charles' 'Georgia On My Mind' to signoff, though the YouTube video had to cut that audio for copyright.
*WVIZ in Cleveland opted for 'Goodnight Sweetheart' by the Overtones.
*KETG in Arkadelphia, AR picked the state song of Arkansas, 'Arkansas (You Run Deep In Me)' before going to the Indian Head.
*KLCS in Los Angeles just ran a lot of their old station logos and a short message saying they were signing off. A number of stations brought out their old logos; WOSU in Columbus did similar. But they ran 'It's The End Of The World As We Know It' while doing so, which was exactly the correct music.
*BTQ-7 in Brisbane did a goodbye video, though it wasn't much of one: a highly-rapid-fire montage of general historical images from the lifetime of the station, a retro station-specific test screen, and then out. And then the test screen briefly again a minute and a half later.
*ABC in Japan ran a slideshow of images of the station building and the transmitter. Chukyo TV, also of Japan, wasn't far off from that.
*KABB in San Antonio put a guy in front of an old-timey microphone before throwing to the national anthem and Indian Head.
*WTV in Philadelphia ran an old test pattern, and then the CBS logo (they're a CBS affiliate) with the simple message, 'Goodbye'.
*WCAU in Philadelphia, an NBC affiliate, was nice enough to return you to Deal Or No Deal for the seven whole seconds it took to complete the shutoff.
*KATV in Phoenix... ran their normal end-of-night signoff. But they did it twice in a row. So woo for special occasions and whatnot.
*TV Nagasaki of Japan ran what I want to say is a retro signoff, which was filled with paper cranes, which makes sense given what city we're talking about. Another I-want-to-say retro signoff came courtesy of Chiba TV.
*WUNL in Winston-Salem cut off right in the middle of a station ID. Technically, that violated an FCC rule requiring a station to identify itself before leaving the air (the rule was a lot more relevant in the days prior to 24-hour programming), but seriously, nobody cared.
*WMTV in Madison put the camera on the flag outside the state capitol before swapping to the Indian Head.
*WTVS in Detroit ran the national anthems of both the United States and Canada.
*WHRO in Hampton/Norfolk, VA bashed you over the head with it in the final seconds, putting the phrase 'ANALOG SHUTOFF REMINDER' in gigantic block letters that took up the whole screen right before going to snow.
*KOLN/KGIN in Grand Rapids opted for smaller lettering, but they flashed the words 'END OF ANALOG BROADCAST', so it's not like it couldn't have been less noticeable.
*A network called The Blast ran... well, they ran this.
*WDEF in Chattanooga broke in to David Letterman to make their switch, and tried to go out with a dignified news-anchor final message sendoff, with the retro footage, but the switchoff came late and the video cut back to David Letterman. And so it was that the final message streamed on analog in WDEF Chattanooga was "I know where you live beeyooooooooooothch!"
*WWNY in Watertown, NY was running the same Letterman interview, and while they cut the video for the what-to-do-now warning, they left the audio going right up to the shutoff.
*KUVN in Dallas/Fort Worth hauled out New Year's footage to go with the countdown.
*WUPW in Toledo... well, they tried to do a countdown, but the overlaying warning message got in the way.
*WTTG in Washington DC saw one of their anchors kind of forget the whole idea of turning something off. After the analog shutdown ad taken place, she told the remaining viewers, "Hopefully you can still see us, and if you can't, you're probably going to get a message very shortly, and it's going to tell you what you need to do to be able to see us in the future and the rest of your programming." That'd be great to hear... if they could still hear you.
*KXTV in Sacramento saw their anchor be more savvy about that, but then Master Control left him hanging, watching him give his post-shutoff comments for several seconds before throwing the switch.
*KRIV in Houston, the last station shown at the end of this Houston medley (otherwise showing standard newsroom Master Control cuts and hard shutoffs), cut out late, then cut out briefly, then came back with no sound, and then cut out entirely.
*KICU in San Jose went to nightlight; specifically, they went to a video that was nationally distributed to any network that wished to use it. They messed up the nightlight for the first minute or so.
*WSYX in Columbus ran a countdown on the top of the screen and pretty much cut off half of Seinfeld with a warning message before going to nightlight. (You'll also see WBNS in this clip, which ran a single placeholder warning slide all day.)
*WAVY in Hampton Roads, VA issued a warning in the newscast, but then just went on with the newscast as normal, leaving the actual shutoff to happen several minutes later in the middle of a commercial break.
*KPNX in Mesa saw their signoff suffer from a bit of miscommunication. The news team had a correspondent in Master Control, clearly gearing up for a countdown, except that the engineer charged with throwing the switch either didn't know or didn't care what hoopla the newsroom had in mind and jumped the gun. So as soon as the correspondent said "Let's flip the switch right now", he was cut off by snow mid-sentence.
*On the other end of the spectrum, WHIO in Dayton's Master Control coverage got very anticlimactic very quickly, until eventually you might have just been screaming 'well? Cut the feed already!'
*WBFF in Baltimore tried to do a national-anthem signoff but messed it up, with the signal flickering between the anthem and regular programming.
*WMYD in Detroit just botched the whole matter entirely.
*WTVI in Charlotte won the award for Most Half-Assed Signoff.
*Fuji TV in Japan... was Japan. As was Nippon TV. And TV Aichi. And Yamanashi Hoso.
*i-TV was the other, more nature-contemplative Japan.
*Tokyo MX was so kawaii. Hokkaido Bunka Hoso was so kawaii. TV Osaka was even kawaiier.
*That poor man in the Toyama TV costume.
*Tokyo TV was also Japan, but after they were done being Japan, they added a countdown to snow at the corner of the screen. Nagano Hoso gave an aerial shot of the transmitter/s, then were retro Japan, and then counted down to blackout.
*My personal favorite outside the ones that will be shown in a second: KMAX in Sacramento straight up called you out on the dumbass that you were for waiting so long and not being ready yet.

And then there were the stations that milked the moment for every bit of poignant commemoration that they could possibly squeeze out of it. Which brings us to the discussion of who, well, won the switchoff. (Warning: on my end, things actually got a little creepy, like a low-voltage version of watching a death, or the last thing broadcast before the end of the world.)

Third place, let's give to WNBC in New York.

Second place, BBC Wales.

So New York's flagship, the BBC, who had the best one? Probably some other gigantic market, right? Would you believe WFTV in Orlando? It was a commemoration of the switchoff, the old retro graphics came out, and not only did they do a fade to black, which was rare enough, they also appear to have been the only network to bother to fade in to snow after they got to black:

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Put A Tiger In Your Petting Zoo

Journeyman Pictures- and for that matter, SBS' Dateline of Australia- bring another video to the party today (it's SBS's version you're seeing). David O'Shea... well, even he's here for another go. We may have to look at O'Shea further.

In this case, O'Shea heads to Thailand's Tiger Temple. It's one of the country's premier tourist attractions; a visitor-friendly tiger sanctuary. It had a role in the first Amazing Race when the teams were told to go into one of the enclosures and then the tigers looked half-asleep and bored out of their minds. Because these are relatively tame tigers. You can even play with them.

O'Shea would like to let you know how those tigers got to be so tame. It's not a pleasant answer.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Well, Then It's Not Absolute Anymore, Is It

One thing we were raised to know in science class is that absolute zero means absolute zero. That is the absolute coldest that something can possibly get.

That still appears to be true. But not in the sense of lowest-possible-temperature. Just in the sense of coldness. You see, a team at the Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics over in Germany were able to create a temperature below absolute zero: they took some quantum potassium gas, got it down to a couple nanokelvins above absolute zero, and then, in true Doctor Who fashion, reversed the polarity. All of a sudden, they had a gas coming in a few nanokelvins below absolute zero.

What happened? Well, did you ever play SimCity for the SNES? There was a cheat you could exploit that, if you performed a certain set of actions regarding taxes and expenditures, would wrap you around from $0 to $999,999. That appears to be what happened here: the atoms went from the lowest energy rate possible to the highest. That is to say, they went from absolute cold to absolute hot.

And then before you know it, even though Ulrich Schneider, one of the heads of the project, is careful to try and tamp down speculation over potential applications given the limitations they observed, you're seeing perpetual-motion machines and all sorts of sci-fi errata being put on the table all over again.

Because if you can't trust absolutes anymore...