Thursday, November 16, 2006

10/22-24/2006 - Dell, MN

I understand that it's a large company, but I was still surprised to find that Dell has its own city out in Minnesota.

I actually think that I have been mapquested again -- Dell appears on mapquest, but there's no record of internal streets. It's just an asterisk at the corner of 97th street and 480th ave.

And what the heck does that mean? From what I can tell, the counties in Southern Minnesota lay out streets in grids. There doesn't seem to be much between them, but you'll see 350th ave followed by 330th ave some time later. These are the North/South. East/West are the streets (100th, 97th, etc.) When you cross into a new county, the numbering starts over again, although 97th street will keep its name.

I tried googling to find the origin of these conventions, but I couldn't find anything. What I did find was the National Swine Registry, so that will have to do.

42,700 porcine steps today. Cheers,

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

10/20-21/2006 - Duration Creep and the Holy Land

As all 8 readers of my blog know, I am big fan of podcasts. I listen to them during my commutes. I listen to them during my numerous walks. I even listen them while doing my chores at night --when the wife isn't around for pleasant chats (I promise). Because I have so many different ways of fitting in my Podcasts, I greatly appreciate that they are of varying lengths. I listen to my 10 minute podcasts when I only have 10 minutes and my 1 hour podcasts for the bigger walks.

One of the nice things about the podosphere (if such a term exists) is the lack of rules surrounding it. If you have a podcast, you get to set the format. When it airs, how often and, of course, for how long. If you have a good show, your fans will get there. Of course, if there are no rules, there's no reason why you couldn't expand the length of your podcast every now and then. This sets me into a tizzy, as it means that some podcasts which used to fit during my commute, no longer do.

Today's blog entry is about my favorite Podcast that has undergone "duration creep."

I found Israelisms while looking for political blogs one night. It wasn't exactly what I was looking for, but I ended up growing quite fond of it. Charlie and Carol are a couple of Reform Jews living in Israel, having moved there around 10 years ago. She's a nurse, he's a stand-up (why are so many of my favorite podcasters stand-ups? Probably not coincidence). They do talk about politics, but mostly they talk about daily life, and the two are inseparable in Israel.

I like their podcast because they have a good rhythm. I also like it because I have family in Israel, and their podcast gives me a good flavor of daily life, that I sometimes don't get when visiting my family. Even better, my family in Israel is quite observant, so I like having a window into the less observant culture of Israel.

What I don't like about it, is that the duration has crept up.

There are close to 90 episodes available on their website by now, I started from the beginning and I'm up around 20 myself (psst: I got rid of my TV too, sort of). When I started, the average episode was around 25 minutes, just perfect for the trip home from work. By #20, they were up over 40 minutes. I generally have to pause the podcast when I get home and wait until after the boys are asleep to pick it up again. You can imagine my agony.

Oh, I almost forgot to say: I also like Israelisms because Carol is a huge basketball fan, and how else am I going get my news about Tel Aviv Maccabi? So Carol and Charlie, if you ever find yourselves in Boston, I promise to take you to a BC or Celtics game.

30,500 transatlantic steps over these two days. Cheers,

Monday, November 13, 2006

10/18-19/2006 - Election day

I have a number of thoughts about the mid-term elections, what they mean, what they foretell and why I should care, but the post that I really want write is about forecasting elections. As a professional (insurance) and amateur (sports) forecaster, I always get swept away in the excitement of predicting the results of big elections. It goes beyond politics, it's just and exciting thing to forecast. Much more exciting then, say, the weather.

Usually, when I do my modeling, I have the luxury of using fairly objective data: money, hits, yards, minutes, etc. This is not the case in modeling elections, where data includes such things as approval and intensity. And even so, it could be objective, but approval and intensity are measured by asking people questions and writing down their answers. People may lie, overestimate, change their minds, all of which goes to making these political forecasts that much more suspect.

Going back to 1996, it seems to me that polls have tended to understate Republican results. I distinctly remember that Dole came closer than the polls would have guessed, and that Gore was actually polling ahead of Bush (by more than the popular vote eventually suggested). Whenever the results would deviate from the polls, various pollsters would talk about Republican turnout and how they were the more motivated electorate. Well, it turns out that polls measure the likelihood of "likely voters" to actually vote. The term is called "intensity." A typical question might go something like this:

Q: What party are you likely to vote for next Tuesday?
A: Democratic
Q: How strongly do you feel about voting for the Democratic party?
A: Very strongly.

So you can see, it's not entirely objective. But polling groups make up for the lack of objectivity by maintaining consistency. If the wording stays the same from election to election, then changes in the results mean something, although it's not always clear what those changes mean.

For those who followed the most recent election (including, I believe, 100% of my readers) there will be no surprise when I say that there was a huge swing in "intensity" in 2006. Republican intensity decreased. Democratic intensity increased. Why? Who knows. The pundits have offered
  • Iraq war
  • Backlash against social conservatism
  • Decrease in fiscal conservatism among Republican candidates
  • Scandals
But we don't really know (although some polls certainly tried to isolate the factors). When I created my own forecasts of the election results (of course I created my own forecasts of election results) I essentially discounted intensity. Given that it, in my experience, it has always been an explanation for the same bias -- underprediction of Republican results -- I gave it little credibility. I was wrong. This year's elections will bring about a host of changes. One of them will be my increased confidence in measuring the intensity of opinion by polling groups.

So now would probably be an opportune time to roll-out another of my favorite bloggers, one who hasn't yet been added to my links. The Mystery Pollster is my favorite polling blogger. He's not the only one, but he does a good job explaining some of the technical stuff. In the run-up to the elections I was reading him daily. Among the stuff he does well, I would include consolidating lots of polls, defining industry terms, focusing on important issues. He does occasionally wander off into his own hobbies (1,000 posts on "push-polls") but he's good at what he does, so I bear with him.

26,500 steps today. Standard error = 2.5%

Sunday, November 12, 2006

10/16-17/2006 - 8x8

Last weekend, my parents bought a set of checkers for my eldest. The reason is that a friend convinced me that learning checkers was the first step in learning to play chess.

Why chess? I don't know. I guess "people like me" learn to play chess. I did indeed. I never got any good at it, at least partially for lack of effort. But I played quite a bit, progressing to second board on my high school team and playing countless friendlies in college.

So there are chess sets about and my son has become interested in them. Grandpa taught him checkers last Sunday and we've played just about every day since.

Tonight, I was feeding the toddler when the eldest brought my chess set out.

"Let's play this."

Now he hasn't really learned to play checkers. If you give him hints he can take them, but he doesn't strategize, or even appreciate strategy. But he wanted to play chess and I let him. Tonight, we played a game I recall from my youth. I give him a king and two rooks and I take a king. The goal is for him to hunt me down.

Not much success, but he loved it. He has already requested that we play this instead of his usual TV show (over breakfast).

I'm beaming inside. I'm not entirely sure why.

32,300 gambits today. Cheers,

P.S. Happy birthday M.O.M.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

10/13-15/2006 - Albert Lea, MN

I traveled to Albert Lea.
While walking towards Arctic Sea.
While ova' the Minnesota I did roam.

Hiking through town
I'd rather lie down.
I feel so break up.
I wanna go home.

So what's doing in Albert Lea? Well the city has a website with a rather brief history:

From a modest beginning, Albert Lea grew into a flourishing village.

Being the highlight. But the city has persevered for 150 years. So while I am here, I will enjoy the 41 parks, ice rink and possibly even the 12 inches of snow projected to fall on November 11th.

51,000 unremarkable steps over these 3 days. Cheers,

Thursday, November 09, 2006

10/11-12/2006 - D-FENSE

Throughout the excitement of elections (and a few sleepless) nights, I have barely had a chance to blog.  At some point, I have a post-election blog, but not today.
The bigger news around the Fellow residence is that I took the eldest to see the Celtics play last night.  This may seem an odd place to take a 4.75 year old who sometimes gets overwhelmed at birthday parties, but we have done it once before and it worked surprisingly well.  The other 10,000 attendees in the stands didn't interact with him, so he was able to think of the two of us as being in our own world.  He mostly sat on my lap and cuddled.  We read some stories and occasionally talked about basketball.  Towards the end of the game, when the PA system kindly requested everyone to scream, he buried his face in my chest, hands on ears, but was otherwise unpreturbed.
This year was different.  It started off worse but got much better.  Before the game, they turned off the lights to introduce the players.  My son immediately demanded that we leave.  So we waited by the concession stand (where we bought sliced fruit) until the game had begun.  He wasn't sure that he was ready to go back into the stadium, but I eventually convinced to have his dinner in our seats, after which we could leave if he wanted.
He didn't want.  He kept his eyes fixed on the game and even asked me questions about it.  He never climbed into my lap and was never interested in the books we brought with us.  But here's what made me realized that times had changed:  In the 4th quarter (which was very exciting) he started getting into "being a fan."  When the crowds cheered "DE-FENSE," my boy was right there with them.  I had to explain what defense was, but that seemed immaterial, in retrospect.  During timeouts, he danced to the music.  When the Celtics scored he cheered with the crowds.
The Bobcats tied things up at the end of the 4th, so we stayed for over time, which ended in a dramatic, buzzer-beating basket by the Celtics.  For the record, my son has gone to two games and the Celtics have won both of them.  We're available for attendence whenever they like.
30,500 steps over these two days.  GO TEAM!

Friday, November 03, 2006


For a certain part of my job, I work with the office nurse.  I have to say -- her out of office message is unique:
Hi, this is Judy.  I'll be out of the office until November 8th.  If you need immediate assistance, please dial 911.
25,600 emergent steps today.  Cheers,
P.S. -- J.G. is about halfway across Wyoming.  Where in the world is M.O.M.?