Suspicious Activity in Political Futures Market

September 24, 2008

As those of us who play with the Hollywood Stock Exchange know, futures markets can be a great way of aggregating information.  Nate Silver over at the awesome blog FiveThirtyEight has reported on an interesting pattern in the value of Barack Obama’s presidency win bond.  Someone is periodically shorting massive quantities of that stock while, at the same time, buying massive quantities of Hillary Clinton’s.  The only way that could pay off is if something eliminated Obama from the race…

What happened to John?

June 24, 2008

Hi everyone. I’m still alive and life has been interesting. Ann and I bought a house that we’ll move into in August, but in the mean time we’re packing up and heading to an apartment in Chapel Hill. The lease on our rental house is up at the end of the month and the crummy owners wanted to get it on the market so as not to miss out on those oh-so-common July renters rather than give us an extension of less than a year.

In addition to that fun, I’ve been to both Huntsville and Jacksonville briefly and watched one of my EPA mentors head off for industry.

Finally, on Sunday night, as we were driving into RTP to get some paperwork for the next morning’s mortgage signing, we got caught in a freak rain storm that caused puddles to form on Martin Luther King Parkway (a newly built, divided four lane road). The first puddle was fine (I was going less than 20 MPH so we didn’t even hydroplane) but the second one was two to three feet deep and as we plunged in my engine cut out and still hasn’t restarted. The water was most of the way up the passenger door and we were stuck for a good fifteen minutes or so before the water drained and we could push the car off the road (with the welcome help of some samaritans).

Fortunately, Andy’s googling and Mary’s dashing rescue allowed us to get out of the lightning and retrieve the needed papers in time for the morning.  Unfortunately, I may have totaled my relatively new, unpaid-off car. Oh, why couldn’t we have hydroplaned over that puddle? (Feel free to discuss the physics of that, or lack thereof, in the comments section.) In the meantime I am driving a rental pick-up truck — you should have seen the rental agent’s draw drop when I asked for one — in order to help with moving. For some reason everyone wants a compact right now. All I know is I’ve already ordered my “W – The President” bumper sticker.

In the meantime, I have a great story on how two ball boys saved Michigan’s undefeated season in 1997 as well as a nominee for the blog roll:

It’s like crack for anyone who likes graphs, statistics or politics (a triple-whammy for me). Also in the intersection of cool graphs and politics is Presidential Watch 08, which has great tools for plotting the political blogosphere as well as trends. Without these very impressive analyses, would we have ever been able to tell that Fox news leans Republican?

Finally, if you can show that playing Minesweeper is NP-complete, you can win a million dollars

Primary Day in South Carolina

June 11, 2008

South Carolina Confederate flagTuesday was the non-Presidential primaries for South Carolina. In essence, at least in my parents’ area, it was an election. The main competition for offices in the state are between conservatives and ultra-conservatives. (Spoiler alert: the ultra-conservatives won!) This is in mild contrast to when I posted months ago from the far-eastern part of the state.

Probably the most relevant result to you is that SC Senator Lindsey Graham fended off an outside contender, which nearly guarantees another term in office if he’s not chosen as McCain’s Vice-Presidential choice. It’s odd, though, since Graham is generally considered a more moderate Republican (well, not moderate to you and me, gentle reader, but by my region’s standards). His opponent used such slogans as “vote out the traitor” and “put an end to Graham-nesty”, a jibe at Lindsey’s illegal immigration policy.

Also of note: former Bengals coach Sam Wyche, who is now a coordinator of a local high school team, won his bid to represent his county on the local council. And speaking of councils, my cousin Cindy won re-election to her seat on county council, even though she is a major polarizing figure in local politics. In just the past two weeks (leading up to the primary, go figure), she’s been ruled against by the State Supreme Court, been accused of libel, and been investigated for misappropriation of campaign funds. Her political opponents are among the most ruthless I’ve ever seen.

How much fossil fuel does it take to make gas?

May 25, 2008

Before I changed it, Wikipedia’s entry on Cellulosic ethanol (which is as likely a technology to save the world as there is) claimed that:

It takes 1.2 gallons of fossil fuel to produce 1 gallon of ethanol from corn. This total includes the use of fossil fuels used for fertilizer, tractor fuel, ethanol plant operation, etc.

This turns out to be incorrect (see below) and I have heard variations on the argument that “more than a gallon of fossil fuels are used to make the equivalent to a gallon of gasoline out of ethanol” in conversation and on television. It seems like they appear all over the web. While I find it to be a little surprising, at first glance it at least seems plausible. However, it begs the question — how much fossil fuel does it take to make a gallon of gasoline? That turns out to be an extremely tough question to answer. (Don’t get me started on how hard it is to try to figure out how much it costs to make gasoline — although this info from the DOE helps a little.)

If we are going to consider how much petroleum is used to make chemical fertilizer, transport the corn and ethanol, and even feed the workers involved shouldn’t we do the same for gasoline? After all, we have to dredge the oil up from the ground, often ship it halfway around the world in supertankers (anyone know know the fuel economy for a Suezmax tanker?), before refining it into gasoline. Read the rest of this entry »

Dr. Delegate

May 13, 2008

Obama '08I’ve told most of you about my friend and colleague Paul Richardson, who was elected as a delegate from South Carolina to the Democratic National Convention this year. His blog is now live, so we can follow his journey to Denver.

Al Jaffee in the Times

March 30, 2008

The New York Times has a great article on Mad Magazine’s Al Jaffee today. Jaffee has been responsible for Fold-In’s, Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions (my personal favorite as a kid), and other Mad features for the past 53 years. The article describes his upcoming Indiana Jones-themed Fold-In: “What frightening ancient relic will be the focus of much attention and fanfare this summer?” If you don’t think that’s a set up for a certain former P.O.W. who doesn’t think that techniques he believes to be torture should be illegal, then you should check out the picture that runs with the story.

The best part of the article is a slide show of past Fold-In’s that gives some excellent examples. I haven’t read Mad in years, but I am very happy to see him still actively involved. I was also a little surprised that they got away with that “human growth injections” gag…

Galivants Ferry

March 9, 2008

Horry County, SCThis weekend, I attended a birthday cookout for a friend in the small town of Galivants Ferry, SC, northwest of Conway (where I live), but barely still in Horry County. (That “h” is silent, folks.) Driving home, I called my brother, because he has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the South and its post-Reconstruction history. I thought he could tell me stories about the area to help pass the time. He told me many interesting things, and it would be worth a few minutes to skim the Wikipedia articles linked above. But I found the political history most interesting.

Read the rest of this entry »