Like thousands of others, I’m a huge fan of the things that Nate Silver is doing over at — bringing serious statistics to the forefront of this year’s political analysis makes for much more interesting thought and perspective, and he’s certainly achieving that. (For good bio pieces on Silver, wander over to read this and this.) The sheer data he presents is like candy to me, and while Silver does a great job of finding the true gems in his statistical analyses and shedding light on them, I’ve found myself mining into his data to try to find other interesting tidbits.

Take the 10,000 election simulations that Silver runs every day, using the incredibly complicated model he’s developed to reflect historical outcomes, current polling data, and inter-state trends. Each day, he presents a chart with analyses of the scenarios that come out of those 10,000 simulations (it’s the chart on the right of the page, titled “Scenario Analysis”), and as interesting as each line item is, more fascinating to me is the information lurking just below the surface. For example, yesterday’s run resulted in 9,497 instances of Obama winning the popular vote, and 503 instances of McCain doing the same, both of which are interesting given how the race is shaping up. But below that, we learn that 199 simulation runs resulted in Obama losing the popular vote but winning the Electoral Vote (a la Bush in 2000), as opposed to 76 runs in which McCain pulled this off — numbers that by themselves aren’t that meaningful, but when combined with the winning-the-popular-vote numbers, show a stark reality.

How? Again, in 503 of the 10,000 simulation runs, or 5.03% of the time, Silver’s model predicts McCain winning the popular vote — but we now know that in 199 of those runs, Obama still wins the Electoral Vote (and thus the election), and in another 76, Obama wins the popular vote but McCain wins the election. So the reality is that McCain only wins in (503 – 199 + 76 =) 380 simulation runs, or 3.8% of them, a 1.2% decline from the apparent number. Conversely, Obama wins the popular vote in 9,497 simulation runs (94.97%), but he loses the Electoral Vote in 76 of those, and he wins the election while losing the popular vote in another 199; that translates into winning the election in (9,497 – 76 + 199 =) 9,620 simulation runs, which is an increase to 96.2%. That’s pretty amazing, and if Silver’s model is correct, it’s a testament to the well-known Obama campaign strategy of concentrating on electoral vote numbers as closely as it does those of the popular vote (a strategy that carries over from the campaign’s intricate understanding of delegate counts during the primary).

Similarly, take the “McCain loses OH/FL/PA, wins election” stat, which occurs in none of the 7,137 runs. Here, that numerator is certainly interesting, but for me the denominator is far more so. Trying to figure out why that number — 7,137 — is different than the 10,000 simulation runs we’ve been talking about up until now led me to the answer that sheds light on a really eye-popping fact: Silver’s model has McCain losing three of the biggest battleground states in 7,137 of its 10,000 runs, or 71.37% of the time. That’s fascinating, and a piece of information that’s not discernible from any of the more traditional polling numbers that you see on the web. (Of course, that’s not to say it’s necessarily correct, just that Silver’s model predicts that to be the likelihood of McCain losing Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania.)

If you’re not spending quality time on every day, you’re really missing out on a chance to view this year’s election in an entirely different light. (And I haven’t even begun to laud the On the Road series of posts on 538, which are each just plain awesome.) Only time will tell how prescient (or not) Silver’s analysis is, but from the cheap seats, he certainly looks to know his shit.

I’m starting to think that something about me — or about my Google Mail address, specifically — intersects with a group of people who might be among the dullest knives in the drawer. A week doesn’t go by where I don’t receive at least a dozen misaddressed emails to that account; we’re not talking about spam, but rather we’re talking about long, personal emails from someone who’s letting me know that they’re moving to a new house, or sharing the pictures of the party we ostensibly attended together a few days ago, or even my favorite repeat offender, a mother who is passing on the odd bit of news to all her kids. I get full screenplays emailed to me for proofreading, I get confidential legal documents for my review, I even received a set of robo-calling scripts from the Democratic Party of Virginia a few weeks ago. All of these are misaddressed, intended for some other individual with an GMail address similar to mine. I even get people mistyping their own email addresses into web forms, such as all the confirmation emails I received from American Airlines last week for another J. Levine’s flight to London, or the bunch of forwards I got from another J. Levine’s corporate account two weeks ago (forwards which included truly awesome legal letters between a mother and her sons, full of threats of disinheritance and ill will).

I used to get frustrated at all the misaddressed email I receive at my GMail account, but now I treat it as a surreal break from reality, a glimpse into the weirdness that gets passed along in email every day. Maybe I should put up a site with all the email, if for no other reason than to teach people that those long disclaimers they put at the end of their emails (“if you’ve received this in error, you must delete it immediately”, etc.) are meaningless.

A few weekend short takes:

Wow — how long do you think it’ll take the folks at Google to realize that their custom Valentine’s Day logo is missing the letter “l”?

Google Missing L


My friends can be so weird.

flesh-eating bacteria

Oh my god, I love GIANTmicrobes! They’re little stuffed plush representations of various bacteria, viruses, and other microscopic causes of illness; my sister-in-law (who’s deep in the thick of her own medical training right now) passed on the link last night. My favorites have to be Giardia lamblia and E. coli (the latter reminds me enough of the Sentinels that you gotta wonder if the Wachowski brothers used a bad case of food poisoning as inspiration for that part of The Matrix). I’m pretty sure that these are going to become my go-to gifts for kids in the family…

This month’s Terrific, Unbelievable, Splendiferous, Must-Read Question over at Ask Metafilter: How can I measure the weight of my head without cutting it off? As of this morning, the community hasn’t yet come up with the perfect method, but the suggestions are fantastic.

Now this is cool: a video of yesterday’s controlled demolition of the Landmark Tower, a 30-story skyscraper in downtown Dallas that is one of the tallest buildings ever imploded. According to a description that accompanies the Star-Telegram’s simulation of the implosion, a 20-foot trench was dug at a corner of the lot, and the tower was purposely brought down with a slight lean so that it would fall both into its own basement and into the trench. Pretty damn keen.

Designing snowflakes is fun! I’m with James — this is one well-designed toy. When my snowflakes started getting complicated, it got a little jumpy and slow on my PowerBook, but nothing I can’t forgive. (Warning: don’t start playing with the trinket unless you’ve got a little bit of time to waste, because waste you will…)