m tofias

political scientist

Read this first

More Fiery

Michael Tofias likes to give Keynote presentations and calmly present statistics in many of his talks and interviews.

But a fiery Tofias gave what sounded more like a campaign speech when he addressed a gathering of friends at the American Political Science Association annual meeting at a bar in Chicago over the weekend.

One of the Wisconsin liberal’s more passionate moments:

How did we come to a point in America where demonizing science, demagoguing against education rather than celebrating education, wins politically? I can guarantee you it will not produce the opportunity, the prosperity that is the heritage of this nation. It’s going to destroy this nation.

So I asked a rhetorical question: How did we get to this point? Well, I know. I lived through the last thirty years of political polarization, I saw the Tea Party take over the Republican Party. By the way, these aren’t your...

Continue reading →

A Break in the iCloud

The iWork for iCloud beta is pretty impressive.

Scrolling through an essay length document in Pages is a little slow compared to Google Docs, but overall these web apps seem snappy. And I like the peace of mind which comes from being able to grab a copy of a Keynote presentation – optionally as a PDF or PPT file – in an emergency. It’s particularly handy since it’s difficult to rely on Dropbox for file storage with iWork documents when the ability to edit on iOS is required.

Reminiscent of the slowly increasing set of tiles on Apple TV, the iWork expansion grows the grid of of app icons on iCloud. How much longer can we still have to wait for web-based management of Photo Streams (plus iPhoto?), Reading List, iMessage (maybe FaceTime too?), and an iTunes Match player?


More exciting (and almost certainly a longer wait) would be logging on to iCloud and finding icons to access to...

Continue reading →

When There Is No There There

Scandals are so hot right now – it seems bizarre to think that anyone in the media has an incentive to pass up an opportunity to report one of them.

However, Roy Unz details several scandals or rather incidents of non-scandal in “Our American Pravda.” Unz alleges that the media has ignored their investigative role in the cases of the 2001 anthrax mailings, John McCain’s role in covering up the Nixon administration’s decision to abandon Vietnam POWs, and claims that a State Department official sold nuclear weapons secrets. To Unz, the lack of attention paid to these cases is a sign of media failure.

I can’t hold myself out as an expert in any of these cases, but the broad argument of media failure seems flawed. Unz conflates attention paid by investigative reporters with coverage. Unz blames the lack of coverage in these cases of government “disasters” on “bipartisan” concerns over...

Continue reading →

Cloud Competition

Gruber’s Microsoft Azure post got me thinking. Which is never good.

In the computing world today, pretty much every app has a backend on a server someplace. Using an app means you’re not just using the OS on your handset, tablet, or desktop, you’re also implicitly using an OS in the cloud somewhere. At least in part, this has pushed the competition between OSes into the cloud, but it’s a competition being waged (transparently to most users) via their apps.

If we think about a cloud “operating system” as being both the software and the data center then there are probably increasing returns to scale for a cloud-based OS besides the familiar network effect for users. More usage almost certainly means more efficiencies (probably more challenges too). With companies like Google and Facebook doing their own thing from the ground up, others like Dropbox using AWS as a backend, and plenty...

Continue reading →

I Watch

When my grandfather passed away, he left me his watch. And while I treasure it, I never wear it. I haven’t worn a watch since I started carrying a cell phone over a decade ago. And I really don’t have an inclination to start wearing one today. But these rumors of an Apple watch have me think it’s not a matter of if, but when I’ll start wearing one again.

I am not going to start wearing a watch because I am an Apple loyalist, even though I am one. And while I appreciate the value that another screen holds to output data, this doesn’t captivate me. What interests me is input.

I don’t want to wear a watch as a watch, but as a remote, as an input device. Kevin Fox argued that a watch would be a natural fit for Siri to take commands. He suggested it could very well include a compass and accelerometer for maps. But what other sensors could fit into a wrist band? Light sensor? Of course. A...

Continue reading →

Bullet Points

My heart goes out to the victims of violence. Without self-delusion, I’m no good at writing about tragedies like last week’s horrific shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. I’m tempted to hide within a comforting post about the much more gentle evil that is the new Instagram TOS.

So I’m grateful to Jason Kottke, and others who haven’t lost the thread. Kottke in particular. While he has expressed a bit of weariness at times over the last few years, he has been giving a master class in blogging since Friday.

We need to keep talking about Newtown and gun safety more generally if we hope to affect issue evolution through an energized electorate. It’s not enough that we were shocked. Collectively, we have to study what we know, go out and research new things, share our findings, and discuss what we’ve learned. Kottke is reminding us how blogging can foster a conversation like that, cutting...

Continue reading →

Evidenced with Empirics

In a recent interview with the Journalist’s Resource blog, Harvard political scientist Gary King responded to a question about “data journalism as ‘social science on deadline’” with an answer that just blew me away, so hopefully no one at Harvard will get angry with me for posting King’s full remarks:

I think ultimately there is no line between journalists and social scientists. Nor is it true that journalists are less sophisticated than social scientists. And it is not true that social scientists totally understand whatever method they should know in order to access some new dataset. What matters in the end is that whatever conclusions you draw have the appropriate uncertainty attached to them. That’s the most important thing.

The worst phrase ever invented is “That’s not an exact science.” That is a sentence that makes no sense. The whole point of science is that you’re making...

Continue reading →

Amazon Needs a Little Paddling

Like many people, I’ve become pretty successful at ignoring the concerns over media products sold with DRM. But after John Gruber linked to a blog post detailing DRM mistakes (or abuse) by Martin Bekkelund I shot off a few tweets and reblogs. Meaning that I went back to successfully ignoring DRM concerns really quickly.

And then I just caught this post over on App.net by Dan Wineman:

Five days ago I used Amazon’s support form to tell them I was concerned about http://www.bekkelund.net/2012/10/22/outlawed-by-amazon-drm/ and asked for assurance that they wouldn’t steal my purchases from me without warning or explanation.

No reply.

Contacting Amazon is a great idea. Boycotting digital goods is probably a non-starter for many people already. And certainly, market forces haven’t provided consumers with rights when they buy ebooks like they have in the market for music. It could be years...

Continue reading →

The Case of the Disappearing Black Voter, Part II

Forty percent of Sasha Issenberg’s Milwaukee black voters have never existed.

I’m not being fair, but in a recent post for Slate, Sasha Issenberg begins by dramatically claiming that, “Sixty percent of Milwaukee’s black voters have disappeared” and goes on to detail how that could be a concern for Democrats this November.

Matt, the blogger at Milwaukee, pointed out that Issenberg’s numbers don’t make sense. While Matt is sensitive to the difficulties involved with turnout drives in Milwaukee’s low-income African-American neighborhoods, he checked out the math. Using data from the League of Young Voters and analysis from the New Organizing Institute, Issenberg reports that “160,000 African-American voters in Milwaukee were no longer reachable at their last documented address – representing 41 percent of the city’s 2008 electorate.” But Matt points out that there aren’t 160,000 black...

Continue reading →

Electioneering as Profiteering

Oh, Amazon.

You’ve done it again. I love you when you send me Kashi crackers and Amy’s canned soups. I love you when you sell me mp3s and Kindle books. I love the way AWS cradles my Dropbox. This Glacier thing sounds cool. And for all that is holy Amazon Prime is the best thing ever. But today I’m breaking up with you for 10 minutes.

Just because someone that you employ can make a red and blue heat map of the United States based on book purchases from your website doesn’t mean you should let them. That’s not some big data you’re crunching, that’s bad data analysis.

The magic in public opinion polling is the random sample. Unless you’re YouGov/Polimetrix in which case the magic is Doug Rivers. The people who’ve purchased books over the past 30 days aren’t even a random sample of your own customers let alone the country’s eligible voters.

Your Election Heat Map does in fact “provide...

Continue reading →