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San Francisco Meet Up and question
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 06.22.17

I'll be in town on July 5th for a meet-up, remember.

Question: Jammies and the Geeblets are flying back on the 5th, and I'm flying back on the 6th. Would it be easier to have a rental car or not have a rental car for that single day?

I basically extended my trip by an extra day just to see you monsters, so I hope you appreciate it. I also did that with my New York City trip in mid-July. I never seem to have trips where it's easy to see everyone at the bar for an evening, so finally I decided to put a lot of effort into doing so, for these two trips. (Which slightly raises the stakes - if no one shows up, I'll feel a little foolish for having done so.) (It's a trip, and a guilt trip!)(Mostly kidding.) But really, on the rental car?

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Udo of Aachen
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 06.22.17

I was recently reminded of this blog post, which was written in 1999. So I don't know how widely it spread - maybe you all already know about this. It's the story of a monk who may have discovered the Mandelbrot Set.

Until recently, Udo of Aachen occupied a sideline in the history books as a minor poet, copyist and theological essayist. Even his birth and death dates of this mediaeval Benedictine monk are unknown, though he probably lived from around 1200-1270 AD. [*1] A new study of his work, however, has led to his recognition as an outstandingly original and talented mathematician.


The first clue to Udo's undiscovered skills was found by mathematician Bob Schipke, a retired professor of combinatorics. On a holiday visit to Aachen cathedral, the burial place of Charlemagne, Schipke saw something that amazed him. In a tiny nativity scene illuminating the manuscript of a 13th century carol, O froehliche Weihnacht, he noticed that the Star of Bethlehem looked odd. On examining it in detail, he saw that the gilded image seemed to be a representation of the Mandelbrot set, one of the icons of the computer age. [*3]

It's one of my fondest examples of a springtime tradition.

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I say Toranto, you say Torahnto
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 06.21.17

A friend posted a thing on FB that went, "Iran is pronounced ee-run, not eye-ran, and Sean Spicer is a rude asshole." First, Sean Spicer is a rude asshole. Second, I'm happy to pronounce foreign words however the person wants. Ee-rahn it is. (The meme did say ee-run, not ee-rahn, but we all have limits.)

But anyway, what are the rules for when a country name is considered to be a different word in different languages, and when you should follow the pronunciation of the country itself? Is it only when there are two distinct spellings, ie Deutschland and Germany? What about when you're switching alphabets?

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Fuck this, fuck that, fuck those in particular.
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 06.21.17

Fuck David Brooks. (That link is not to Brooks but the great takedown in GQ.) Fuck McMegan. Fuck all of the Republican voters in GA-6 and SC-05 who have been conscious and breathing for the past six months and still cast Republican votes.

Fuck this animated gif that I couldn't get to embed. Everything wears down over time.

"There comes that phase in life when, tired of losing, you decide to stop losing, then continue losing. Then you decide to really stop losing, and continue losing. The losing goes on and on so long you begin to watch with curiosity, wondering how low you can go." - George Saunders

(h/t one of our esteemed, elsewhere, for the Saunders quote)

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Meet up! LA
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 06.20.17

Thorn writes: I'll be in Los Angeles to visit my hipster younger brother and maybe more importantly to have child-free time for myself beginning the morning of Monday, July 10 to evening that Thursday, July 13. Monday night my brother wants me to go to his favorite drag show (friends welcome, I'm sure) but Tuesday and Wednesday nights are free so far. Might I be able to interest people in some sort of meetup? He's in Highland Park, though I don't think I'll be staying with him or not much, and he works here and here if we want to horrify his coworkers by making them feed/water his friends, but I really have little in the way of plans or preferences and would just like to see people and have a good time before I take a redeye and then drive a few hours into the countryside to get my older two from girl scout camp and get back to regular life.

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Ossoff and Goofoff
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 06.20.17

Here's we can have a Georgia Special Election Thread because even though I made up my mind to be pessimistic about all politics forever, I still have like a hope that small things will tip our way and turn into larger things.

Barring that, just an open thread to say whatever's on your mind. Complain here.

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Efficiency Gap
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 06.20.17

The Wisconsin gerrymandering case is up before the Supreme Court, so I thought I'd tell you about the efficiency gap. This is off the top of my head. That said, Fair Vote is a good website for this stuff.

The Efficiency Gap is the Wisconsin standard that proclaims to answer Justice So-n-so's famous lament that gerrymandering was just too hard to quantify. The efficiency gap measures wasted votes by each party. There are two ways to waste votes:
1. The winner wastes some votes by winning by more votes than they needed to.
2. The loser wastes all votes in a losing district.

So if the vote tally in a district is 85 to 65, then the winner has wasted 20 votes and the loser wasted 65 votes. If the vote tally in a district is 85 to 25, the winner wasted 60 votes and the loser wasted 25 votes. You add up all the wasted votes by district and compare statewide totals.

The advantages of this are:
1. it's super easy to understand.
2. it captures two of the main ways that votes can be wasted: cracking and packing. "Cracking" is maximizing the loser's wasted votes, and "packing" is maximizing the winner's wasted votes.

There are some drawbacks, though.
1. It's pretty unstable. Minor fluctuations will dramatically recalibrate the wasted vote total. This is because this computation does not account for competitive districts where seats are truly up for grabs. (Competitive districts are good - they keep elections from being hijacked in the primary, and they decrease polarization - as long as they're in the right measure. You want a good balance of competitive districts and safe districts.) Right now, in many gerrymandered states, there are far fewer competitive districts than there should be, based on the proportion of the population that lives in purple regions. (This is based on some back-of-the-envelope computations I did, mostly in Texas but also Pennsylvania.)

2. Safe districts are complicated. What's the difference between a minority-majority district and a packed district? How do you protect a unique group's ability to represent themselves? Who qualifies as a worthy special interest? There are probably better solutions than perfectly drawn districts - one proposal is having multiple representatives for a single district. That way everyone in a city could vote for all three representatives (say), and the minority members could concentrate their vote on a minority representative and still vote for two other candidates. Politicians could still focus on a smaller group without packing a district. (And we've discussed IRV and fusion voting here before.)

3. A different form of gerrymandering that was not in the Republican playbook in their recent power grab is called entrenchment. There was some case in California where the district lines were redrawn, and no party won or lost seats, but all the incumbents got a little safer. The Wisconsin standard doesn't have anything to say about that.

Emotionally, it feels like a test of gerrymandering should take into account whether the representation of a state correlates to the proportion of votes throughout the state. IIRC, Sam Wang's measure did a better job of this.

Finally: I have thought a lot about competitive districts and how they should be drawn, but I couldn't really eke a math paper out about it, and I'm not sure what else to do when you've thought about something for a while.

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