Sometimes, distortion is truth

I talked on election night about how the electoral college is skewed* towards the less populous states, and I’ve also been talking about how the red state/blue state map doesn’t accurately reflect the will of the people, both because of the winner-takes-all nature of the state-by-state distribution of the electoral votes, and also because most of the population of the country lives in concentrated areas.

Well there’s a great site that takes this a step further and actually proves it with some fancy-pants technology that can distort the map so that area corresponds to population. Here, then, is the site’s ultimate modified red-and-blue map, giving a better sense of just how “blue” or “red” or “purple” the country really is, overall…

*You may notice discrepancies between my numbers and the New York Times. I certainly defer to the “newspaper of record” on this. They are using the number of eligible voters in each state; I was using the total state population. Different numbers, and not in a trivial way, but the point, and the relative state-to-state variations, remain the same.

Don’t be fooled by all of that red territory

America does not vote by the square mile. The electoral college is fundamentally flawed, but it does at least approach an accurate representation of the will of the American populace, as much as the will of 305 million people can be evenly divided amongst 538 electoral votes.

As it stands, the vote is weighted slightly, and unfairly, in favor of states with small populations. I’ll spare you the civics lesson on how the number of votes per state is determined (if you don’t already know, shame on you, Sarah Palin), but suffice to say that each state has at least 3 electoral votes. The inequality here is best summed up in the comparison between Wyoming, our least populous state, and California, our most populous state. Wyoming’s 3 electoral votes reflect the will of its 522,380 residents at a rate of 1 vote per 174,127 people. California’s 55 electoral votes, in contrast, are divided amongst its 36,553,215 residents at a rate of 1 vote per 664,604 people. In other words, a person’s vote in Wyoming counts 3.8 times as much towards the electoral total as a person’s vote in California.

That’s unfair. But there it is. So in short, the will of the citizens of Wyoming is disproportionately represented by almost four times as much as that of the citizens of California, per person.

Nonetheless, it’s worth considering the mass of California’s 55 electoral votes when contemplating a speculative map such as the one below (from Yahoo’s Election Dashboard) — based on the likely outcome as determined by the “prediction markets” — a.k.a. the bookmakers who take bets on who will win the election. Of course, betting on the outcome of the presidential race by an American citizen is illegal. But that doesn’t keep residents of other countries from taking a sporting interest in the outcome. And, given bookmakers’ need for an accurate prediction of the outcome of any wager-worthy event like this, they’re probably more reliable than the latest polls, or even the kind of meta analysis we’re seeing out of

As an Obama supporter, I often look at maps like this and am dismayed to see so much red. Geez, I think, Obama may end up squeaking by on this but just look at it — that’s a whole lotta McCain territory out there. But again, the land isn’t voting. The people are. It helps to pay attention to those little numbers on each state. I did a quick tally and found that large, snakelike swath of the west, consisting of Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas all together comprises 55 electoral votes. The same as California.

In fact, the only big red state is Texas, and the only other reasonably big state among them is Georgia. So McCain has two 15-or-more-electoral-votes states, compared with Obama’s nine (California, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina and Florida), and Virginia and Massachusetts are also larger than any other McCain states.

So there you have it. Remember that land doesn’t vote — people do. And even if, thanks to the electoral college, people’s votes count relatively more if there’s more land between them, ultimately the proportion of voters favoring one candidate or another is not accurately indicated by the amount of red or blue space you see on the map, but by how big those little numbers on the map are.

Impotent campaigning

About two weeks ago, someone decided SLP needed to be convinced to vote for John McCain, or so it would seem. She got a number of “robo-calls” and, over a period of three days, three different McCain (or, really, anti-Obama) mailers.

At first we were both rather frustrated and annoyed by this. Who did we know who had, as a prank, signed her up on the McCain mailing list? I myself had gotten a few emails from the McCain campaign a few weeks prior, but I had removed myself from their mailing list and hadn’t heard from them again.

But today, reading a Huffington Post article about McCain’s tactics in Wisconsin, I came to a new realization. The article features some quotes from a Sun Prairie woman who, like SLP, is beyond extremely unlikely to be swayed to the McCain side. It suddenly became clear: the McCain campaign is not well-organized; it cannot differentiate between potential supporters and complete wastes of time. As a result, the campaign is squandering its resources in a futile attempt to persuade the unpersuadable.

Obama FTW!

Barack Obama: the open-source candidate?

Now we’re speaking close to my heart. Granted, I’m a freeloader in the open source world. I have yet to contribute a single line of code to an open source project. (OK, I guess that’s not entirely true: I did write a WordPress plugin. Sweet. I’m in the club! Sort of.) But I have wholly embraced open source software in my work. PHP FTW, baby! (Uh yeah… whatever.)

These days the only thing I’m a more enthusiastic and outspoken proponent of than open source software is Barack Obama. So I’m surprised it took me so long to research what he’s running his website on.

Linux PWS/1.3.28

*Whew* Glad to see it’s Linux. But what the heck is PWS? I was at a loss. Then I found this blog talking about the very same issue. And suddenly it made sense why I didn’t recognize the acronym. I never would have considered Microsoft’s Personal Web Server to be the web server of choice running on a Linux server. I am still scratching my head at it. The whole VM thing seems the only logical explanation, except that there’s no logic to explain it. At least it’s not so transparently ass-backwards as John McCain’s configuration:

Linux Microsoft-IIS/6.0

And the inexplicable:

Linux ECAcc (lhr)

Interestingly, though, a Google search for “ECAcc (lhr)” reveals a link to a Digg post entitled John McCain Owns Stay classy, San Diego.

Let’s be clear: I think the idea of running a web site under Windows in a virtual machine on a Linux box is the most incomprehensible, mind-bogglingly stupid arrangement you’d ever bother with. I’d have to guess that the sites were developed to run in a Windows environment, but when it came time to deal with practical server and network capacity issues, load balancing and whatnot, some sysadmin made the (probably prudent) decision to load balance on Linux boxes instead of Windows, but since the site was tied to some feeble Windows technology, they couldn’t just move it over to Linux wholesale.

But let’s take this a step further. Back in late spring I received an email from Barack Obama’s IT director soliciting applicants for web developer positions with the campaign. Even though the job was in Boston, I figured it would be insane not to apply, so I submitted my resume. (I never heard back, for what it’s worth.) And it’s from this that I happen to know that the campaign was specifically seeking PHP developers. Rock on.

With that in mind, the whole Windows-on-Linux-through-VM arrangement made even less sense. Why would they develop the site in PHP, run it on a Windows server (definitely not the optimal arrangement for a PHP-based app, though it certainly will work), and then VM that Windows environment on a Linux box, instead of just gearing the PHP app for a Linux server in the first place? And that’s when I remembered that just earlier in the day I had been looking at Of course! Separate third-level domains are all over Obama’s site. Let’s check the configuration on that domain. Now that’s much better:

Linux Apache/1.3.34 (Debian) mod_gzip/ AuthMySQL/4.3.9-2 PHP/5.2.0-8+etch10

And I think it explains a lot. Campaigns start off small. Obama had to register and put something up there ages ago, long before he was the Democratic nominee and the hugely successful fundraiser he became along the way. So that original site,, was probably developed on a Windows box in someone’s proverbial basement, probably when was running for the U.S. Senate or maybe even the Illinois Senate. But as the campaign has grown, its websites (plural) have grown as well, and in a decidedly open-source direction. There’s some good stuff in there. Debian (which could mean Ubuntu, too… I haven’t checked the signature on Ubuntu’s Apache package to see if it’s split from its Debian roots), PHP (and a reasonably up-to-date version at that), MySQL, etc.

It’s kind of fun to do this kind of research, as long as you don’t mind being distracted along the way, because there are plenty of weird sources of distraction.

Aside from the aforementioned MILF site (classy), and the somewhat interesting fact that searching on “PWS/1.3.28” brings back as its first result a reference to Obama’s hosting, I discovered that for some reason the page title on John McCain’s official store is “Independent Online Stores.” OK. No one looks at title bars. And even fewer web developers look at <title> tags. I know that from experience. But of course that’s just a transitional landing page, announcing that McCain wares are not actually sold by the campaign, but by independent, for-profit companies, and buying these items doesn’t translate into money going back into the campaign. Huh. I can’t quite wrap my brain around that, but I’m a lifelong, union-loving Democrat, so I guess I wasn’t meant to. The only thing that comes to mind is that maybe it has to be that way, legally, now that he’s accepted public campaign financing. Anyway, the first McCain store link I found, which as they state is apparently an independent operation not affiliated with the campaign, is, not surprisingly, running:

Windows Server 2008 Microsoft-IIS/7.0

I also found that the company that hosts some of Obama’s pages also hosts a site for the American Model Yachting Association. Really? Model yachting? That exists?