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.

You’re a Ron Paul Supporter – What next?

February 4, 2008

My family donated more money than we could really afford to the Ron Paul campaign. We donated because he’s an honest, hardworking man who has some good ideas that will help to repair some of the damage that’s been done to America. On certain topics, he’s the only one making any sense.

That being said, I’m a huge proponent of always voting strategically. Take the information available and apply it in a rational way to do the most good for the issues I care about. For the Primary contests we registered Republican to vote for Ron Paul. We think a vote for Ron Paul in the Republican Primary says more than a vote anywhere else at this time. We know Ron Paul’s numbers will be smaller than the other candidates, so every vote helps give his ideas an air of respectability. The big question is about what happens after the Primaries. We have to work under the assumption that Dr. Paul won’t be the Republican nominee. The Republican party has drifted too far from its underlying, conservative ideals. They don’t want Ron Paul and hence, they won’t get him.

So what’s a Ron Paul supporter to do?

That really depends on what you want. I’m figuring that most Ron Paul supporters are passionate, motivated people. Whether they’re new to politics in America or old hands at it, they care about who our next President is. So, as Ron Paul supporters, you need to decide what’s going to happen in a situation where Dr. Paul runs as a third Party candidate and what happens if he doesn’t. Admittedly, the choice may not be that different in either case.

Assuming that the Republican nominee is John McCain, it feels like most Ron Paul supporters won’t be able to support him. So in a race where RP is running as a third party candidate, supporters need to make sure that if they’re spending their vote on Ron Paul that it makes a difference.

All I ask is that you think strategically about what your vote will mean, in practical terms. Cast it where the vote does the most good for the outcome you want. Regardless of what that outcome is.

For me, the classic example of votes being wasted is John Hagelin in Florida, 2000.

Here are the final counts for Bush, Gore and Hagelin:

George W Bush: 2,912,790.
Albert A Gore: 2,912,253
John Hagelin: 2,281

I’ve read about some of Hagelin’s positions, he seems like a good candidate. However, if I had voted for Hagelin in 2000, I’d be regretting it still. Not as much as if I’d voted for everyone’s favorite developmentally disabled President, but regretting it nonetheless. I’d be regretting it because I voted symbolically and not practically. I would have thought I was making some grandiose symbolic gesture and instead I allowed a retarded tyrant to win.

The point is basically that if your candidate cannot win, a vote for him has the potential to be a discarded vote.

By all means, campaign, donate and cheer lead for your guy. Right up until the point that you realize he has no hope, then cut him loose and choose the next best available candidate. The polling booth isn’t the place to make a statement. The polling booth is a place to exert your influence on who the next President is.

You’re always entitled to vote your heart, and there are many political situations where that’s the right thing to do. If you’re a Ron Paul supporter and he actually gets the Republican nomination, there’s no question, vote for him.

If, on the other hand, he doesn’t get the nomination, you need to re-prioritize and realize that a vote for the Democrat will end the war. A vote for the Democrat will put an end (at least for now) to nation building. A vote for the Democrat will start to rebuild some of our civil liberties. A vote for the Democrat will start to restore our international reputation.

So be smart, work hard, fight hard, just keep your goals in mind. Don’t damage them to make a gesture.

Unplugged – Fighting Back, One TV at a Time

February 1, 2008

Hi <insert TV station here>,

Just a quick note to let you know that I unplugged my TV today and canceled my cable. I’ve realized that I don’t need you any more. I’ve realized that you’re hurting my country and I’m finished helping you do it.

I’ve been watching your coverage of the elections recently and I’ve come to the conclusion that you don’t serve my interests. I don’t blame you. In fact, I understand it. You’re trying to maximize profits for your shareholders. This is as it should be.

However, I don’t need entertainment from my news source. I need substantive discussion of issues that affect my family’s future. To be frank, I don’t care about Britney’s breakdown or Paris’ panties. So here’s how it’s going to play out. I thought maybe you’d like to know.

While you’re ostensibly a news station, you actually try to provide me with entertainment. And you do that badly. I’ve joined up with Netflix and when I want to be entertained, I watch DVDs on my computer. So I don’t need you for in-home entertainment.

I get much of my news from social news sites, so when your station does put something out that’s interesting or substantive, I get to see it anyway. My advantage is that I don’t have to sit through the rest of your stuff to get to anything good.  Also, I recently discovered a show called “The Young Turks” on the Brave New Films site. Their coverage of the South Carolina election results was fantastic. Admittedly, I wanted Cenk to shut up while Obama was speaking, but I posted that comment and I’m sure it was read. Maybe next time he’ll interrupt less. The interviews with various commentators and bloggers were right on the money.  They cut straight to the heart of the issues I was interested in. It was the best election coverage I’ve ever seen. I enjoyed it greatly and felt that I learned a lot. Check out their upcoming coverage of Super Tuesday. You might also learn something. In addition to all this there’s sources like NPR and Democracy Now. So, not only do I not need you for entertainment, it turns out that I don’t need you for news either.

Finally, you’re actively damaging the country I live in. The country I love. Your coverage of the ongoing nomination process has been extremely poor. Your debates have been designed to create disagreement so you can replay the sound bites ad nauseum. Your debates should have been designed to probe the candidates on issues that matter to the citizens. Oh, and the way you selected the candidates you thought were viable and then skewed the coverage in their favor was reprehensible. The bulk of the candidates hold similar positions on many key issues. Why ignore the lesser known candidates with different ideas? Ideas that the American people are clamoring for? You’re hurting my country and it will not stand.

I understand that you’re catering to what’s exciting because that’s what drives your ratings. I’m not mad at you, I’m just saying you’re done whoring my eyeballs to the highest bidder. My eyeballs and I are breaking up with you. We’re switching you off. You’ve been unplugged. I’m also trying to encourage others to do the same. I’m sure most older people will ignore the call. Most of them probably won’t even hear the call (we don’t really move in the same circles). But in your prized younger demographic groups, you’ve dramatically miscalculated both our anger and our resolve. We don’t need you. We don’t want you. We are switching you off and you will eventually starve.

I’d like to tell you there’s a way for you to fix this, but I honestly don’t much care if you do. As more and more young people start to understand the economic power they wield, your profits will dwindle. Others will see this opportunity and make money catering to it. It has started out as a niche. The niche will grow.

Mostly I just wanted to tell you that while you’re entitled to do what makes you the most money, you’re not going to be making money from me anymore. And I think you’ll be surprised. I’m not alone.

An interview with the next President

January 30, 2008

Check out this interesting interview.  It’s about 50 minutes long, but it’s worth the investment of time.

And if you live in a state that’s voting or caucusing on “Super Tuesday”, please help save this country.

Obama’s win “rejiggers” the race, or does it?

January 27, 2008

In an interesting choice of words, both Time and the Dallas Morning News websites posted articles yesterday using the word “rejiggers” in association with Barack Obama‘s crushing, devastating, awesome landslide victory over Hillary Clinton in South Carolina.

This word seemed completely out of place as it’s such an obscure word.  It also didn’t quite seem to do what was necessary in the sentence.  Rejiggers means readjusts.  It carries, however, a connotation of slight tweaking.  Obama’s smashing victory couldn’t be said to be subtle by any stretch.

So, the word doesn’t quite do what it needed to do.  What rejiggers does do is rhyme with niggers.  In a race that has been far more about race than it should have been, I think both Time and the DMN published a cheap shot.

They have since realized their mistake and Time has replaced the word with “reshapes” and DMN has gone with “reshuffles.”

Updated articles found here (I’ll see if I can find a cache of the originals):

Obama’s Win Reshapes the Race

Barack Obama’s South Carolina win reshuffles race