Monday, April 18, 2016

Can Trump win? Let's do the math

There are a total of 2472 delegates going to the Republican convention in July.  At the moment, Donald Trump has 756.  He needs 1237 to win the nomination on the first ballot (I think it's extremely unlikely he could win any other way), a difference of 481.  There are 769 delegates left to choose, so Trump needs to win about 64% of them.  That's a tall order.  To date, 1703 delegates have been selected, and Trump has only won 44% of those, so he needs to improve his performance by 50% to avoid a brokered convention.  That seems unlikely.

But there is a fly in this mathematical ointment in the form of a huge non-linearity: California, the most populous state, has 172 delegates, and it's a winner-take-all state.  Trump could bag that prize with a plurality of the votes if John Kasich stays in the race that long.  Even if Kasich drops out, it's conceivable that Trump could win California anyway.  Could he win then?

California happens last so we won't know until the very end, but let's suppose Trump wins it.  That would take him to 756+172 = 928.  Of what's left, 238 delegates are selected by proportional vote, so it's probably safe to assume that Trump would win roughly half of those, or 119.  That brings his total to 1047, with 359 delegates in 9 winner-take-all states left to assign.  Trump would need 190 of those to put him over the top, or 53%.  That's very possible.

What is more interesting is the fact that there is no way that Trump could sew up the nomination before California votes.  California by itself is not big enough to swing the decision unilaterally, but four other states vote at the same time, and between them they have 303 delegates.  The remaining 466 to be selected before June 7 are not enough to put Trump over the top even if he wins them all.  Likewise, for Trump to definitively lose before June 7 he'd need to perform spectacularly badly even by Trumpian standards, winning only 177 of the 466 available delegates (38%).  That too, is extremely unlikely.

So the math says that it's going to be a nail biter, and California is going to be the deciding factor.  But don't blame me, I'm voting for Bernie.

Friday, April 15, 2016

You must now get government approval before you can practice your faith in the U.S.

A federal judge today denied a Nebraska inmate named Stephen Cavanaugh the right to practice his religion because Cavanaugh's relgion didn't meet the judge's standards as to what a religion should be.  Cavanaugh professes to be a Pastafarian, a worshipper of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  The judge ruled that Pastafarianism (which Cavanaugh calls FSMism) is not entitled to Constitutional protection because:

FSMism is not a "religion" within the meaning of the relevant federal statutes and constitutional jurisprudence. It is, rather, a parody, intended to advance an argument about science, the evolution of life, and the place of religion in public education.
Now, I actually think the judge is right.  I, too, believe that Pastafarianism is a parody and not a real religion.  But here's the thing: what I believe shouldn't matter, and what the judge believes shouldn't matter.  The only thing that should matter is what Cavanaugh believes, and the only person in a position to judge that is Cavanaugh.

The problem with trying to impose any objective standard on what is and is not a legitimate religion is that people actually believe all kinds of crazy shit.  Some people worship aliens.  Some people believe that humans are infested by immortal ghosts.  Some people believe that the Word of God was literally pulled out of a hat.  Some people worship many gods and some people worship none.  Some people believe that God requires us to love one another and some people believe that God requires us to kill one another (and some people believe that these two imperatives are in no way incompatible).

This is the problem with trying to judge religion: what standard do you apply?  Once you rule out religions that seem like parodies, where do you stop?  Is satanism a parody?  How about the Church of Reality?  Or the Church of Spiritual Humanism, of which your humble correspondent is a card-carrying member?  How about the Church of Happy Science?  (No, I am not making that up.  There is actually a branch in my neighborhood.)  Is Unitarianism-Universalism (not to be confused with Unitarianism) not a legitimate faith because they don't seem to have any idea what they believe?

The only possible answer that does not put you on the express train to religious tyranny is that you have to accept everyone at their word for what they believe, even if those beliefs seem completely ridiculous to you.  Frankly, the idea that Jesus is God (or even that there is a God or even a god) seems completely ridiculous to me.  But I will nonetheless fight to the death for your right to believe it if you want to.

And I will fight to the death for Steven Cavanaugh's right to believe in the Flying Spaghetti monster, not because I think it's a legitimate faith, but because that is not or me to decide.  My freedom to believe things that you find ridiculous can only be protected by my willingness to let you believe things that I find ridiculous free from government interference.

That is why I am calling for the establishment of a legal defense fund for Stephen Cavanaugh.  We need to get this disastrous ruling overturned, not for Steven's sake or for the sake of the Flying Spaghetti monster, but for all of us.  The idea that the government gets to decide for us what we may or may not believe must not be allowed to stand.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

When did deep-dish showers become a thing?

We were in South Africa a few months ago and I encountered something I had never seen before: a shower with a floor pan that was so heavily graded that it was like standing in a giant salad bowl.  The drain was nearly a full foot lower than the edges of the shower.  And this was apparently not an anomaly.  We stayed in two places in South Africa, and they both had this "feature".  It was incredibly uncomfortable, to say nothing of dangerous.  In one case the floor tiles were smooth, and there was a real slipping hazard when they were wet.

I wrote it off as a South African thing and went home feeling smugly superior that we here in the U.S. would never engage in such silliness.

Then a few weeks ago we went to Atlanta, and stayed at a Marriott which had exactly the same kind of "deep dish" shower!  At least this one had some texturing on the tile that made it harder to slip, but it was still incredibly annoying to have to shower while standing on a slope.

Of course, every shower has a have a little bit of a grade so that the water will drain, but making the grade so extreme that you could use the floor of the shower as a splish-and-splash slide is going waaaay too far.  I have seen probably hundreds, possibly thousands of showers in my life.  They have all drained perfectly well without putting me at risk of going down the drain along with the water.

I'm not sure what is more remarkable, the fact that this stupid design exists at all, or the fact that in many decades of traveling I've never seen one before, and then I'd suddenly encounter it three times in a row in two different countries.  The odds against that have to be unfathomably low.

Apple UI design has jumped the shark

Take a look at this screen shot of the App Store app while upgrading from Yosemite to El Capitan:

Click on the image to see it full-size.  Question: how much time before the El Cap upgrade finishes downloading?  Here's a hint:

It's awesome that Apple builds computers that are beautiful to look at.  And they are.  I mean, just look at that panorama of the Yosemite valley.  It's gorgeous.  But one of the reasons it's gorgeous is that it has become largely unencumbered by actual utility.  The one thing I really want to know when I'm looking at that particular screen is how much longer am I going to have to wait for this operation to finish.  Should I hang out, or do I have time to go get a cup of coffee and write a blog post?

Apple's UI is full of this sort of thing nowadays: text that is so light a shade of grey that it's illegible.  Hidden control that don't appear unless you hover over them, often without the slightest hint that there is anything of interest there.  Just vast expanses of the perfect shade of not-quite-white.

At the risk of stating what ought to be painfully obvious, computers are primarily meant to be useful things, not objects d'art.  If I can't see the information on the screen, if I have to read the (non-existent) manual to figure out what to do when "An unknown error has occurred" then it does me precious little good that it looks beautiful and slim.

Of course, the ideal machine is both useful and beautiful.  But if you have to choose one or the other, beautiful is optional.  Useful isn't.