Archive for February, 2008

Texas and Ohio: Predictions

February 22, 2008

I’ll flesh this out a little later with some supporting details from around the place, but Obama is going to win both Ohio and Texas.  This means that in about a week, the contest will effectively be over and Clinton will concede the next day.

I’m prediction a Clinton concession speech some time on March 5th.

Too young to vote? Make a difference anyway.

February 18, 2008

So, you have a problem. You’re passionate about the upcoming election but you’re too young to vote. There is a really easy way to make a difference; influence your parents’ vote.

It’s a lot easier than you might think. Most people don’t pay a lot of attention to politics. Those that do often don’t think about it in the detail that you do. Most of them just don’t have time. Yes, your parents too.

So here’s the way to work it. Figure out a list of the issues that are important to you. Abortion, War, Economy, Terrorism, Civil Liberties, etc. Now research, in as much detail as you can, the positions of the candidates you’re interested in. Figure out which candidate you support and why. Figure out why you don’t support the other candidates. Figure out how to sell your candidate’s strong points and defend their weaknesses.

Once, you’ve done all this, engage your parents in conversation about politics. You’ll probably surprise them. Regardless, you will almost certainly be able to sway them, because it’s your future too. Most often, they’ll just be happy you’re interested enough to care.

Something most people forget about voting is that while your vote matters, what matters more is the influence you wield. Sway others to your side and your single vote (or no vote at all for kids) becomes two votes or ten votes or more. Start discussions with your friends, have them influence their parents.

Become an expert on the candidates and their policy positions. You become influential because other people won’t have the time or passion to do the same. Knowledge is power, have at it.

The next First Lady of the United States of America – Michelle Obama

February 17, 2008

Here’s another great excerpt of a speech given by Michelle Obama, wife of Senator Barack Obama.

She’s a powerful, inspirational, intelligent, passionate speaker.  It’s worth taking the time to search out more of her speeches.

She’s good.

Get the man a broom – Obama’s sweep continues

February 13, 2008

Senator Barack Obama‘s runaway train continues to roll as he extends his winning streak to 8 contests in a row.

Today he won Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C. and won them by big margins.  In D.C. he tripled Hillary’s vote count and dragged in 75% to her 24%.  That is an enormous win.  Virginia was about a 28 point win and Maryland is still counting but looks to be about 20 – 25 points.

It’s hard to see how Hillary can come back from this, but she’s sure going to try.

A President does what’s right – especially when it’s hard

February 12, 2008

Barack Obama took time out of his busy campaign, obviously the most important contest of his life so far, to vote today on the Dodd ammendment to strip the FISA bill of retroactivity immunity.

Another Democratic Presidential candidate did not take time out of her busy campaign to vote.

A President should stand up for the American people. A President should do what’s right, even at personal cost and risk. Anyone can keep doing the things that are important to them, a President does what’s important to us.

He is Presidential. She is not.

Rant ends.

Obama sweeps!

February 10, 2008

Wins today in The Virgin Islands, Louisiana, Nebraska and Washington.  Awesome news.

Intrade has him back up to 62.5 vs Hillary’s 38.0.  Even better, Obama got more delegates today than his campaign had predicted.

Fantastic news all round.

Ever wondered how a slot machine works?

February 10, 2008

I’ve heard many theories over the years about how slot machines work. I’ve never heard a layman’s description that was right. Not even once.  I’ve heard some awesome theories too.  My favorite was the cab driver who claimed that the machine had electronic scales in them to weigh the coin hopper (he didn’t use that term).  When the hopper is “heavy” it’s time to pay a few coins out.  When it’s “light” the machine goes into accumulation mode.  Simple.  Effective.  Completely wrong.

Here’s the real scoop.

The most confusing thing about slot machines is the question of how they control the payout so that the operator makes money. It seems intuitive that if a machine has been paying out, then something must be tweaked or manipulated to “cool it down” so that it doesn’t pay out too much. This is the fundamental flaw in the general understanding of slot machines.

In reality, every spin of a slot machine’s reels is independent of the spin that went before. There are some caveats to this regarding bonus games and special accumulating features, but for the sake of this discussion it’s easier to work without those extras.

A slot machine has many similarities to tossing a coin. If you toss a fair coin and get 10 heads in a row, surely you’re more likely to get a tail on the 11th throw, right? Actually, and as you probably realize, no. The throws are independent. The same is true of slot machines.

It is the math behind the design of a slot game that ensures, over the long run, an operator will make a profit. The simplest possible explanation is that if you paid a dollar for every possible combination of symbols and got paid prizes accordingly, you would have spent more than you won.

To go back to the example of tossing a coin, let’s imagine a game. The rules of the game are that, each time you play, I toss a coin. If the coin lands heads, you get paid $1.50. If it lands on tails, you get nothing. I charge you $1 to play this game.

The two possible outcomes are heads, for which you get $1.50 and tails for which you get nothing. So the total amount you get in return for purchasing all possible outcomes is $1.50 ($1.50 + $0). However, it would cost you $2 to buy all (both) the outcomes. So the game is a losing proposition. The return-to-player (RTP) of this game is $1.50 / $2.00 or 75%. Most slot machines have an RTP upwards of 85%. When Casinos in Vegas advertise the “loosest slots on the strip” they’re referring to machines that have a very high RTP.

Let’s extend this to a simple, single reel slot machine. This would obviously be a very boring game to play, but bear with me.  This should provide a foundation to explain more complex games. The game has three symbols: R, G and B. The reel has only one instance of each of these symbols, so it is three symbols long. The game is as follows. The reel is spun and comes to a stop, the player will be paid (or not) based on whatever symbol is shown on the middle position. If the symbol is R, the player gets paid $2, if it’s G they are paid $0.50 and if it’s B, they get nothing.

Working from our previous cost-per-play of $1, it will cost us $3.00 to purchase all possible outcomes and our total return from those purchases would be $2.50 (R:$2 + G:$.50 + B:$0). This game has an RTP of $2.50 / $3.00 or 83%.

Let’s step the game up another level and duplicate the first reel. We now have two reels, each with R, G and B in that order. We now consider the outcome of a game to be the two symbols that are show, side by side, on the middle position of each reel. In gaming parlance, this is usually known as a line. In this case, we’re talking about the center line.

On the first reel, the middle position can have any one of three outcomes (R, G and B) with equal likelihood. The same is true of the second reel. This, in combination, gives us 9 unique and equally like outcomes (RR, RG, RB, GR, GG, GB, BR, BG and BB). Let’s adjust our “pay table” and say that we’ll pay the player $5 for RR, $2 for GG and $1 for BB.

Once again, to calculate the RTP, we charge the player $1 for each possible outcome, for a total cost of $9. The total return is $8 (RR: $5 + GG: $2 + BB: $1). The RTP is $8/$9 or about 89%.

I’ll give one more example but I hope, by now, that the underlying mechanism is clear. The game is set up so that, probabilistically speaking, each spin you play is a losing proposition. The numbers aren’t adjusted as the game goes on, they’re set up well in advance at the desk of a mathematician in an office far from the bright lights and scantily clad cocktail waitresses (ah Maria … *sigh*)

As a final example, let’s look at a very simple three reel extension of the two reel game we designed above. Duplicate the R, G, B reel again to give us three reels, all with R, G and B symbols in that order. Again, we pay out depending on the combination of three symbols shown on the horizontal line through the center of each reel on the display.

In this game, each reel has three possible outcomes and there are three reels, so the total number of possible outcomes is 27 (3x3x3) or (RRR, RRG, RRB, RGR, RGG, RGB, RBR, RBG, RBB, GRR, GRG, GRB, GGR, GGG, GGB, GBR, GBG, GBB, BRR, BRG, BRB, BGR, BGG, BGB, BBG, BBG and BBB).

For simplicity let’s assume we pay $15 for RRR, $8 for GGG and $3 for BBB. This game will cost our imaginary player $27 to buy all possible outcomes and get them a return of $26 (RRR: $15 + GGG: $8 + BBB: $3). This comes out to an RTP of $26/$27 or 96.3%. That return is much higher than many (most?) Casino games out there, so we would probably have to lower the RTP so the Casino’s take is a bit higher. How would we do this? There are two ways to accomplish it either lower the amount paid for prizes or decrease the likelihood of those prizes. Decreasing the likelihood of prizes involves adjusting the distribution of symbols on the reels and is beyond the scope of this little rant. Lowering the payout for RRR from $15 to $14 would lower the RTP to $25/$27 or 92.6%.

The only difference between our really simple slot machine and one you would play in a Casino is complexity. Real slots have reel strips that are dozens of symbols long and have about 10 or so different symbols. The number of possible combinations are in the tens of millions. However, the fundamental slot principle still applies: if you purchased all possible outcomes and got paid prizes accordingly, you would have spent more than you won. Each spin is independent and a bad bet for you.


Ignorance and the abortion debate

February 9, 2008

I got into a discussion recently (I forget where) with a kid who was pro-choice. Admittedly, I probably should give him a little leeway because he’s a kid, but his stupidity was so impressive it was memorable. Anyway, it got me thinking and I now claim that most people’s positions on abortion are not based on consistent principles. Mine isn’t. Further, most people are in greater agreement about abortion than they realize.

To come to common ground on the issue, establish one fact at the outset: murder is wrong. Most people can agree to that. If they can’t, abortion isn’t the issue that needs discussing.

Once you’re in agreement that murder is wrong, it’s a matter of defining murder. The simplest definition is the taking of another human life. Then we get to the crux of the abortion issue: what is human life?

Now, the idiot kid that I was discussing this with claimed that as long as the baby is inside the mother’s body she can do whatever she wants to it. So, in his narrow, poorly conceived world, it’s the passage through the birth canal that makes the difference between human and non-human? I think that is, on its face, ridiculous. There is very little practical difference between the baby during the birth process and the baby seconds after birth. Certainly whatever differences there are, none of them should affect one’s classification as human. My simple young discussion partner was basically claiming that your humanity can be bestowed and revoked based on where you’re located. This side of the room you’re human, that side of the room you’re not and therefore don’t have any of the rights generally accepted to belong to humans.

Generally, one’s position on abortion will depend on where one draws the line of when someone becomes human. Those who support a woman’s right to have an abortion will draw the line somewhere short of birth (most people I speak to think late-term abortions should be disallowed except for medical necessity). The anti-abortion crowd draws the line much earlier, some times as early as conception.

However, both these positions have some fundamental problems. For the anti-abortion crowd, how do they stop the mother denying herself nutrition to starve the fetus and cause spontaneous miscarriage regardless of the availability of abortion? We could lock up pregnant mothers for 9 months and ensure that they take sufficient nutrition to safeguard the baby’s development. That doesn’t seem like such a great idea. We could criminalize the denial of nutrition to a baby but how would we enforce it?

The problem with the pro-abortion rights crowd is that determining what it means to be human is not clear cut and seems completely subjective. Sure, everyone has their opinions about it, but opinions are like assholes; everyone’s got one. Objectively, it doesn’t seem like there would be a single, time-based criteria (i.e. 12 weeks or whatever) that could be applied to determine personhood. It’s the same problem as determining when someone is an “adult.” Most political states make some sort of of estimate of when a person becomes an adult, but obviously it’s a best guess and not tailored to individual cases. The same is true of determining when a clump of cells can truly be called a person. Is it at X weeks? When the fetus is viable outside the womb? When it can experience pain? I don’t know and anyone who claims they do is either lying or stupid. Making the jump from opinion to fact, and a fact that determines life or death, is a pretty bold and arrogant leap.

Abortion is obviously an emotional issue.  That does not, however, mean people have a license to hold stupid beliefs without having them challenged. Challenge your own beliefs, are you consistent?

California – I need you

February 6, 2008

It looks pretty close tonight delegate wise.  If Obama can get it done in California, I think he will be the nominee.

I don’t ask for much.  I ask for this.  Please California.


A speech by the next First Lady of the United States – Michelle Obama

February 4, 2008

I direction your attention to a speech given by Michelle Obama in Delaware on January 31st, 2008.

I’ve been a huge fan of Barack Obama for quite some time now, but this speech is amazing.  Not only is Barack a powerful, inspirational and motivational speaker, his wife gives him a run for his money!

Anyway, it’s in 7 parts, so please check it out.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4Part 5, Part 6, Part 7.