Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Democrats pulling ahead in Electoral Vote simulations based on prediction markets

This week's Electoral Vote Simulation is starting to show a wide lead in the electoral votes for the Democrats. I chalk this up to the Intrade prediction market data for each state beginning to reflect recent polling results which favor Obama and that are lower for McCain. This data should have taken into account the recent financial crisis in the news, McCain's strange campaign and debate off-again on-again gambit, and the debate itself. I think that these results offer some proof, along with the polling data, that Obama "won" the debate and that the economic issues are favoring him.

The median electoral vote result from 1000 simulations is 303 votes for the Democrats, while 85% of the simulations show the Democrats with more than the 270 electoral votes needed to win. This is the highest margins since I started running these simulations at the beginning of September. These results are also reflected in the strong vs weak Democratic or Republican states as seen in the table below.

The states that are weakly Democratic are Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia with new addition Florida pulled from the Republican side, the one that is weakly Republican is North Carolina. This shows a strengthening of Obama in formerly weak Republican states, and a weakening of McCain in formerly strong Republican states. I am sure there will be some regression to the middle before election day, but this is bad news for the Republicans no matter how you spin it.

For comparison I have included links below to much more professional interpreters of election and polling results. Other sites with electoral vote simulations of the election are:

FiveThirtyEight.com which has Obama at 329.3 electoral votes to McCain's 208.7 and the Democrats winning in 83% of his 10,000 simulations. This site uses a simulation based on the polling data and uses models to weight polls differently and to use regional information when individual state polls are unavailable or outdated.

Electoral-vote.com has 286 electoral votes for Obama, and 225 for McCain with 27 in a tie. This site also uses state by state polling data.

RealClearPolitics.com has Obama with 249 electoral votes and McCain with 163 with 126 in the toss-up category. They also use polling data.

270towin.com uses the last 1000 simulations in their visualizer to build up a results that has Obama with 298 electoral votes and McCain with 240. They have the Democrats winning in 85.6% of their simulations. They also use probabilities of each state winning based on polling data with some clipping of the data.

The Truthisall 2008 electoral model has Obama winning almost all of their 5000 simulations. They seem to be real concerned about election fraud and have a hard to understand election model with assignments for undecided voters.

I have also mentioned getting my data from the Intrade Prediction markets, and Yahoo's Political Dashboard.

I invite you to form your own opinions about the various electoral vote models across the web. I run my model for fun and I sue the Intrade prediction market data because it is very easy to turn into a simulation. Some have issues with this data. I don't have the time or the energy to review the state by state polling data to create probabilities for simulation, and I think that FiveThirtyEight.com has done a very good job of doing that. I just think that the model doesn't seem to be transparent enough for me to duplicate it as you could do with mine so it is hard to check the results or evaluate the assumptions. 270towin.com seems to have a similar good approach, but still lacks transparency in the model, and have their own opinion about handling the data. The other models fall further away from these good examples.

My idea is to gather all of the voters on November 4th, count their results, assign electoral votes according to the rules in each state (winner take all, except for Maine and Nebraska) and see who wins. That results will have the least error (though there will be some).

Monday, September 29, 2008

What is this preserver preserving

Not sure what this PRSEVER virgina license plate driver is preserving. Certainly not the planet with the huge unsustainable Chevy Tahoe that they are driving. I suppose they can afford the gas to drive that thing from Virginia to Lancaster, PA where I spotted it.

Maybe they preserve art. I am sure there is a suitable explanation for their choice of personal license plate that is lost on me.

Architectural Eyesores

James Howard Kunstler posts comments about an architectural eyesore each month. I encourage you to click through all of them. Then you should have a licensed psychiatric professional with you because you will want to kill yourself. His commentary is as insightful as it is biting, with enough obvious truth to it that your vision will darken momentarily.

This one is from January 2008, it is an addition to the Akron Art Museum. There are many more that are just like this or worse.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

New Oreo packaging is the best!

The new Oreo cookie package comes with new resealable technology that really is convenient and really works.

Don't just rip open the package at the end like you used to do. Pull on the tab like it directs. We will also see that you won't have to try to cram the whole package into a ziploc bag to keep the cookies fresh.

The SEALED indicator is intact until you open the package.

Pealing back the top of the package allows you to access three rows of Oreos and even sticks to itself to remain pealed back if needed. The white section provides the surface to restick the top of the package to when you seal it back closed to retain freshness.

The SEALED indicator is slit once the package has been opened to warn of tampering.

Once resealed, the Oreos will remain fresh for a long time, much longer than my willpower to not eat them all.

Lepidoptera Love Asters (video)

On Saturday I noticed that either moths or tiny butterflies were flying all over the asters in the front garden bed. I don't know if the video does it justice, but dozens of tiny and colorful moths were flitting off and on the flowers and all around the area. There were the family white butterflies and there were many types of orange spotted winged moths that looked like tiny butterflies.

Here is a list of Lepidoptera that feed on asters. Wikipedia seems to indicate that it is mostly moths that feed on asters rather than butterflies.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Democrats back in the lead again in the Presidential Electoral Vote Simulation

This week's simulation of the electoral votes based on the InTrade Prediction market data once again shows a Democratic victory in 63% of the simulations, with a median Democratic electoral vote count of 281. Today, FiveThirtyEight.com has the Democrats even further ahead with 312 electoral votes and a Democratic victory 74% of the time, but he uses a less transparent simulation using polling numbers for his simulation.

This is an upswing from last week's prediction of a republican victory and probably represents the inTrade prediction markets digesting the bump in popularity that Senator Obama has gotten due to the recent crisis in the financial markets. The candidates seem to trade the same few states back and forth as before. This week Colorado and New Hampshire are weakly Democratic, and Ohio and Virgina are weakly Republican. Nevada is essentially tied in the Intrade data. Losing Nevada would still leave the Democrats with 273 electoral votes.

Intrade has jumped on the visualization bandwagon with a graphic on their front page showing the electoral college results based on their prediction data. They join Yahoo's election dashboard, who was already using the Intrade data, as well as poll data. Truthisall has his own simulation in which he thinks Senator Obama's chances are even better than my results or 538's results. He thinks that there has been systematic election fraud for decades so I invite you to interpret his results yourself. 270towin has their own simulation based on the polls. They predict the Democrats have a median 276 electoral votes and a Democratic win 60.2% of the time.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Evidence of MI6 activity in Delaware

I spotted James Bond's car on the street in Delaware the other day. He brazingly put his double-O number on his license plate. Is the British Intelligence Service allowed to operate on US soil?

When you think about it, James Bond isn't a very good spy (Charles Stross has pointed this out), since he goes around announcing himself (Bond, James Bond) all the time, Just like with this license plate.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Flying the Jolly Roger on talk like a Pirate Day

Ahoy! I quickly put up the Pirate Flag to celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day. Aarrrr!

I am still inspired from my February visit to Walt Disney World and the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. I even have the song on my iPod.

Yo ho, Yo ho, a pirates life for me.

Drink up, me hearties, yo ho.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Andean Condor at the Brandywine Zoo

Not only was this Andean Condor close to the front of the cage instead of hiding in the back, it had also spread its wings for the best view of these birds I have ever had in my visits to the Brandywine Zoo.

Perhaps it was all of the babies in strollers at the zoo on Sunday thinking, "ooh, birdie", while the Condor was thinking, "food". The cages keep us suitably separate from the animals.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Presidential electoral vote simulation predicts Republican Victory

The Palin Republican Convention bounce seems to be having a continuing effect on the presidential electoral vote simulation based on the Intrade Prediction market data of September 16th. As described earlier, I use the Intrade data to generate a probability for each state of tghe Democrats winning that states electoral votes. I generate 1000 Monte Carlo simulations based on these probabilities.

This week the chart shows that the the Democrats win with more than 270 electoral votes only 46% of the time. This is the first time that the simulations predict the Republicans winning more than half of the time. I think that we could see this coming as the prediction markets and polls continue to digest Sarah Palin's popularity and McCain's bounce. FiveThirtyEight.com shows similar results based on their excellent simulations based on state polls, with only 44.6% of simulations with an Obama victory.

As a prisoner of Excel as my math, simulation and graphing program, I am jealous of Yahoo's new election tracker dashboard that uses either state polls or the Intrade prediction market data to show the electoral vote results. It made me notice something interesting about the Intrade prediction market data. If I just use that data, as Yahoo does, to predict whether a state will go Democratic or Republican, the results is that the Democrats win with 273 electoral votes. But the prediction markets have been shown to represent the collected estimated probability that the players expect for a particular outcome. So while Delaware options are at 95cents (on the chance of $1.00 if the option pays) for the Democrats which makes that a pretty sure bet, Colorado is 55cents Obama vs 47.6cents for McCain which makes that close to even odds. That's why I like my simulation approach better.

The table below (click it for larger and more readable) compiles the simple sum of the prediction market data and then breaks out strong states, those with 60% chance of one of the sides, vs weak states, those with less than a 60% chance for one of the sides. It is there where you can see the closeness of the race.

Remember that in the simulation even Delaware could go for the Republicans 5% of the time. Highly unlikely but possible, especially with the potential error of the data we are using. A state like Colorado could go either way. The progression over two weeks since Sept 2nd doesn't seem to put more electoral votes in play in the weak states (51 to 56), but it does seem to move some weakly Democratic ones to the weakly Republican column. This week the states that are weakly Democratic are Colorado, New Hampshire and New Mexico, while the weakly republican states are Nevada, Ohio and Virgina. On Sept 2nd the states that are weakly Democratic were Colorado, New Hampshire and Ohio, while the weakly Republican states are Nevada, and Virgina. As the pundits have said, Ohio and Virgina are going to be important, and even some Western states are going to have a role to play

Five velociraptors jumping on the bed

Five velociraptors jumping on the bed.
One jumped down and bit off your head!
Momma called the doctor and the doctor said.
You are dead without your head!
(and you don't need a doctor to tell you that)

The Internet is replete with useful quizzes to help quantify the results of situations you will never experience. Here is one:

I could survive for 54 seconds chained to a bunk bed with a velociraptor

Created by Bunk Beds Pedia

Good luck.

(jumping monkeys words)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Piano played by Liszt, Schumann and Brahms at the Las Vegas Liberace Museum

When we were in Las Vegas we went to the Liberace Museum. Besides all of the costumes and Liberacinalia there is also a collection of pianos that he had owned. Some of them were famous before Liberace ever owned them. This one was reportedly played by Liszt, Schumann and Brahms which combined with its Serbian connection below makes it a very historically interesting piece.

From the description plate:
Bosendorfer Style Grand Piano c. 1830 Serial No. 222
Viennese piano maker Anton Pokorny made this "Bosendorfer Style" grand piano in 1830. From 1842 to 1858, it resided with exiled Serbian Prince Michael Orbenovic III in Vienna, Austria. This piano was reportedly played by such composers as Liszt, Schumann and Brahms. In 1860, Prince Obrenovic assumed the throne in Serbia (Yugosolavia) and brought this piano to the royal palace where it remained for many years. Just prior to his assassination in 1868, he gave the piano to his fiancee, whose family later gave it to their relatives, the Dragisic family.
The Serbs and Serbia seem to have a lot of trouble with assassinations and turbulent rulers. To hear some of the pieces that might have been played by famous composers on the piano I recommend the Piano Society where you can find free recordings by talented amateurs and professionals of works by Liszt, Schumann or Brahms.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

This week's presidential electoral vote simulation

I made an error in last week's simulation using the Intrade Prediction Market data by using the bid value for the probabilities instead of the last value. The last value seems to be an average of the bid value and ask value and better represents the actual payout at the expiration of the option.

Here is last week's chart showing 1000 simulations using the correct value data from Sept 2nd

The difference is only 70% of simulations showing the democrats winning as apposed to 75% on the incorrect chart from Thursday. I suppose I developed the formula for the concept but erred in its application. The above chart uses a more correct value for the probability built from the last value rather than bid or ask.

Here is this week's chart using showing 1000 simulations the value data from Sept 10th.

The probability of a given state being won by the Democrats is still the Democratic win value divided by the Democratic win value plus the Republican win value. Each state is still winner take all, and the rand() function takes care of the simulation part. This week shows the results of the Palin bounce (I don;t think it should be called the Republican convention or McCain bounce), but still shows the Democrats with more than the 270 electoral votes needed to win in 60% of the simulations. The median result is 278 electoral votes for the Democrats. We can monitor the situation over the next few weeks to see if the intrade data shows the republican bounce going away or not. Even with the poles where they are the simulations from the Intrade data still seem to predict a Democratic victory.

Intrade also allows trading in how many electoral votes will go to the Democrats or Republicans and gives many trading options at different bands of electoral votes, such as Democrats win more than 270 electoral votes. If we assume that the value for these trades represents the community's aggregate probability estimate we can compare the data to each other for consistency (democrats plus republicans should equal 538) and to the simulation above. I will build these charts for later.

Another SmartCar in Wilmington

This Smart Car is a convertable. This is the second one I have seen on the streets north of Wilmington.

It is so tiny.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Great Melon Caper

This year I foolishly tried to grow honeydew melons in a flower bed that had yet to be repurposed from hostas to anything else. In the lull between planting I snuck in some pumpkins and some honeydew melons. The pumpkins did great until they flowered and then suddenly died. I had a four inch pumpkin that some animal finally broke off of the plant. The Melons also finally grew and I had three tiny ones, then the two smaller ones rotted and there was only one melon of respectable size that looked like it would eventually be worth eating.

Last Friday I thought to myself that since the melon was getting a spot on one side I thought I would pick it anyway and see whether it was edible since I feared losing it to insects or a plant disease. The next day it was gone!

I was stunned and then I noticed a leaf from melon vines a little further out into the lawn.

And some melon vines themselves, seeming to point to the creek.

At the creek I saw the evidence and the destruction of my one promised melon.

The buck-toothed gnawing look like the work of our friendly neighborhood groundhog (woodchuck). I try to have a live and let live approach to the animal residents of the creek. I even have birdseed out for the birds and I like to take pictures of each of the residents.

If I will have to battle with woodchucks each year in my garden this laissez-faire approach may need to toughen. I may also officially give up on pumpkins and melons for a few years.

Pity me my missing melon. It is a good thing I am not depending on this garden for my food, I suppose it is all more of an experiment to me.

The perfect Oreo is all filling

The perfect Oreo would be all filling and no cookies, but how would you hold it. The next best option would be a lot of filling with just cookies to hold it. Nabisco is moving in the right direction with the Double Stuf version. In some experimentation today I have been attempting to build increase the ratio of filling to cookie by cookie removal and filling half reattachment. If we count a regular Oreo as two cookies and one filling, filling ratio 1/2, then a Double Stuf is two cookies and two filling , ratio one. We can build from that. The following chart plots the experiment so far.

The results are below. On the left is four Chocolate Double Stuff Oreo cookies stuck together, on the right is a regular Chocolate Double Stuff Oreo for comparison.

Eating this cookie was unwieldy, I imagine ratios above this will result in a cookie that smooshes out all the filling when one attempts to bite it. I wasn't hungry anymore so I stopped the experiment to avoid filling and cookie waste. The experimentation will continue at a later date.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Simspons quiz - Do you know your Milhouse?

Mental Floss has a quiz on the character Milhouse from the Simpsons, an unappreciated character to whom I am sometimes compared, to my detriment. If you know your Simpsons or your Milhouse go ahead and take it. It has some funny Simpsons lines in it , plus pictures. I got 92% (11 out of 12) by some miracle, the average is 60%. Perhaps my encyclopedic but useless knowledge of the Simpsons helped.

(via Neatorama)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Simulating the presidential election - state by state is best

There are a number of sites out there that attempt to predict the presidential election. I prefer the sites that add some simulation to the process so that we can see not just a prediction but the relative accuracy and sensitivity of the results to the input data.

The Presidential Vote Equation derived by Ray C. Fair uses the econometric approach which predicts just the Democratic and Republican popular vote share. Fair's simple regression showed that the important variables are incumbency for the person and party, typically a negative effect, and economic good times are good bad times are bad. This year if the economy stays bad the Democrats are favored, but it could be a dead heat if the economic bad news is not as bad as expected.

I think the best or most interesting predictors are the ones that examine the polls from many states to calculate state by state electoral votes because that is the way the president is chosen, not by popular vote. The best I have seen thus far is FiveThirtyEight.com (named for the 538 electoral votes). They work through the polls in every state and group like regions together to estimate polls for states when there is a long time between polls (Delaware, for instance, is in the "Acela" Mid-Atlantic group). They predict 307 electoral votes for the Democrats today (up from 303), comfortably more than the 270 needed to win. They also perform simulations based on the error in the polls to generate various scenarios. They have a democratic win in ~70% of the scenarios.

I took a crack at this approach using the Intrade prediction market data. Users of the site can purchase stock in a particular outcome, for instance, Delaware's electoral votes go to the Democrats. Users buy and sell their shares at values based on their confidence in the outcome. It has been shown that this is a predictor of the group's estimation of the probability of this occurrence. I took the probability of the democrats getting the electoral votes and divided by the sum of the either party getting the votes to generate a Democratic probability. Then I used the rand() function in Excel, if it beat the probability, votes went to the Democrats otherwise to the Republicans. Adding up all of the states yields the total electoral votes for the Democrats who need 270 to win.

(click picture or here for larger)

Thus my simulations show that, using the Intrade Sept 2nd data and assuming winner take all in each state (even Maine and Nebraska), the Democrats garner 270 electoral votes or more in 75% of the simulations. The most likely being 277, the median is 289. After the Republican convention is over we can see how this changes. Great care should be taken with these estimates since some of the states have only a few trades and thus the error in the estimated probability is high. I could try to factor that in to the simulation, but I feel the point is proven in principle and we can leave the heavy lifting to the folks that do it for a living, instead of for fun.

All the states from first to last

Did you notice that Democratic VP nominee, Senator Joe Biden, is from the first state, Delaware, and that Republican VP nominee, Governor Sarah Palin, is from second to last state, Alaska, the Last Frontier? Obama lived in Hawaii, the last state. This is the most inclusive election ever, from the first state to the last.