Lizards and Zombies

Saturday, 16 April 2011

So, despite what I had guessed, I actually had time to complete the book Proofiness. I finished reading it this evening and, I gotta say, it’s the best book I’ve read this year.

The author (Charles Seife), spends much of the book discussing elections. It’s here where counting, statistics, polls, and politics all converge to create some crazy numbers.

Seife discusses the 1936 election – in which one magazine claimed to know (to within 0.5%) the outcome of the election. They claimed Governor Alf Landon would win. Yeah…he didn’t win. He only recieved ~35% of the popular vote. How did the pollsters make such a huge mistake? Seife points out that even though their margin of error – their statistical error – was very low, they had neglected to factor in their systematic errors. In fact, that’s one of Seife’s points: when you read or hear about the results of a poll, you invariably hear about the accompanying “margin or error.” Yes, that’s nice, but what’s more important it taking into account statistical errors.

Predictably, Seife also devotes space to the whole “Dewey Defeats Truman” prediction, and the razor thin margin between Bush and Gore. What was surprising, however, was Seife’s chapter on the Franken vs. Coleman election. He goes into detail about the mathematical wrangling that took place, how certain ballots were contested and why, and why Minnesota does, in fact, have a very good set up for voting and for recounts. Seife notes that such a minor difference in totals would have totally baffled most other states. He also points out that such a small difference is beyond our ability to count. Counting, after all, is just another form of measuring, and all measurements have an inherent inaccuracy. Seife concludes that the Minnesota Senatorial election (and the 2000 Presidential election) should’ve been decided legally: in cases of a tie, lots are to be drawn.

Here’s a funny thing: did you know the Senatorial race lost one vote to Lizard People? It’s true, and Seife includes an image of the ballot to prove it. Basically, some voter decided to write-in “Lizard People” for every position on the ballot. The voter also dutifully colored in the oval next to the words “Lizard People.” Except in one case: Senator. There, the voter wrote in “Lizard People,” but colored in the oval for Franken.

Naturally, Franken’s camp declared that to be a vote for their man. “Not so fast,” said Coleman’s camp: the voter clearly meant to vote for “Lizard People.” Franken then argued that the oval was colored in next to his name and, therefore, even if the voter meant to vote for “Lizard People,” election officials can only count who the voter actually did vote for.

But then, Coleman pointed out that Minnesota law states that if a voter writes in a candidate, then they have voted for that person – regardless of what else they do on the ballot. Franken then countered that, while that may be true, “Lizard People” is not a person, it’s clearly plural, rendering the write-in invalid and thus counting the ballot for Franken. But Coleman pointed out that “People” is a real last name, and there is no way to determine if, somewhere, there is a person named Lizard People and that – in the opinion of the voter – is the best person for the job.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Today I took Owen to yet another birthday party. It had, after all, been over two weeks since his last birthday party, so he was due for another one. This time, we ventured over to Pump It Up.

We had been to a Pump It Up once before – though I don’t think Owen has any recollection of the event (he was only 2). Man, it’s a loud, wild place. As you can imagine, Owen was a bit overwhelmed at first. The birthday boy had invited over 20 of his friends, and they were all excitedly jumping around and screaming even before the party ‘officially’ began.

Owen later said that he wants a birthday party at Pump It Up. I’m not so sure about that. For one thing, it’s gotta be quite pricey (especially when you include food and gifts for all in attendance, as this boy’s family did). But more importantly, I don’t really care for how orchestrated the whole thing is. When we showed up, for example, we were directed to put our gift into a big box that was later ferried to the party room. I didn’t like the idea of not being able to give the gift to the birthday boy ourselves. Also, the whole thing was tied to closely to the clock. First the kids had to watch a video, then they had to go, single file into one room, then another room, then another room. When it was time to eat the food, they were repeatedly told to sit down. When the birthday boy was opening his presents, everyone was trying to speed him along because they had to clear out the room for the next party.

I told my wife that maybe we could do that when Owen is older but, for now, I like his birthdays to be more laid-back affairs with family and friends.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Today, as I was driving home from work, U2’s song “Desire” came on the radio. It’s definitely a superb driving song: it’s got a fast, moving beat that doesn’t let up – it’s no wonder the song exhausts itself in less than three minutes.

Anyhow, as I was singing along, a car full of young ladies pulled up beside me with their windows rolled down. They were singing and clapping to the very same song. My windows weren’t rolled down, but they must’ve noticed my lips lining up to the words of the song, because they deliberately tried to get my attention and then, when I looked over at them, they waved their hands in the air excitedly, as if we had just made some sort of U2-connection. Then I plowed into a truck. Just kidding.

Anyway, they sped on down the road and veered east when I headed south. All I could think was, “Man, I’m so cool.”

Also today, I watched to movie Zombieland. I’m not, as a rule, a fan of the whole zombie subgenre, but I must admit that this was a very fun film. I enjoyed Columbus’ “rules,” especially, and how they were visually inserted into the film at various points. As you may recall, I read Night of the Living Trekkies last year, and I found that to be quite the page turner. So, who knows? Maybe I am getting into zombies.

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2 Responses to Lizards and Zombies

  1. david says:

    I’ve never had an interest in Zombies and I have no idea how Zombieland ended up on my Netflix queue, but I also really enjoyed it. I even watched it a second time and it’s still on my queue waiting for a potential third viewing.

    I’m curious, do you know how it came about that you decided to watch it? Perhaps your answer might help me understand how I came to watch it.

  2. James says:

    I read your comment a couple of days ago, and I’ve been racking my brain trying to recall how and when Zombieland ended up on my queue. Here’s the best answer I got:
    A former co-worker (who, sadly, was just laid off last week) was quite the know-it-all in terms of fantasy and science fiction in all its forms (books, TV shows, movies). He introduced me to Firefly and Battlestar Galactica, for example, for which I am eternally indebted to him. A few months ago, he and I were discussing unique credit sequences in movies, and he off-handedly mentioned the clever titling in Zombieland. I said I had no idea what that was. He said it had Jesse Eisenberg in it. I said I had no idea who that was. He scooted over to my computer, called it up on IMDB, and from there were bounced over to Netflix where I put it on my queue and, over the 7 or 8 months since, it has slowly crept up to the #1 position.
    Does that help?

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