Friday, October 19, 2012

The Problem with Polling and the Beauty of the Free Market

Yesterday Gallup released the latest poll related to the Presidential election happening in a matter of a few weeks. One of, if not the, most trusted sources of polling data and information has the Republican challenger Mitt Romney ahead in the polls by %6-7. Even though they had recently changed their polling methods to be more accurate, there are naturally many who reject the initial implication of this result or argue to Gallup's inherent neutrality.

As a policy wonk it is usually frustrating to see the media swarm like piranha on new polls that get released, either ripping it to shreds or worshiping it as the end-all be-all source of pundit nourishment.

First, we all need to calm down about these results. They are a representation of only a portion of the registered voters and, like any poll, is an estimant of current sentiment. No poll is perfect, it is guess work of taking a "statistically representative sample of a population" and everything can go wrong from biased phrasing, to poor computer mocks to sampling error.

It really all comes down to statistics and statistics have patterns and can be skewed. On one hand, as noted by the New York Times' 538 blog, the poll results provided by Gallup are "deeply inconsistent with the results that other polling firms are showing in the presidential race, and the Gallup poll has a history of performing very poorly when that is the case."

On the other hand, other predictive models with higher performance numbers as indicators are swinging the other way. This includes everything from other polls, the illustrious "7-11 cup poll," and the prediction markets.

Prediction Markets can easily be described as an online gambling forum where people bet on the likelihood of outcomes. People come to these websites, mainly in other countries since there are legal issues in the United States, and bet on events creating "market prices". Like commodities markets, the current market prices can then be interpreted as predictions of the probability of the event or the expected value of the parameter.

One such prediction market is a site known as Intrade and they explain how it works on their site;
Stock exchanges find the price of stocks, and futures markets find the price of commodities. Prediction markets find the probability of something happening - a predefined, uncertain future event. Will the financial markets be up today? Will a certain candidate win the next election? Who will win the Academy Awards? If you have an opinion on what will happen then you can make a prediction on Intrade. Predict correctly and you can win real money profits.

Say what you will about the various methods of getting a pulse of an election but when people have 100s to 10000s of dollars riding on the election, they do not take it frivolously and, traditionally, have been amazingly accurate in their predictions and usually are not tapered by the biases of pundits and talking heads - no one has a boss or a bottom line that effects their view of the election. Intrade currently ranks Obama at 61.3% to Romney's 38.6%, or did at the time of this post. Did I mention that these numbers change daily as a result of news, new polls and economic indicators?

There is a great article in the New York Times about these types of markets used as predictors. as argued by Justin Wolfers, a University of Pennsylvania economics professor with anecdotal evidence.
The reason that I follow prediction markets on election day, because they are typically way ahead of the talking heads. For instance, I was live-blogging the 2008 election count for The Wall Street Journal, and called the election at 9:49 p.m. — based on prediction market data. The networks didn’t call it until 11 p.m.
Polls, cups and markets as indicators of the future will never be 100% accurate and the real point here is that no one should look at any of these indicators as "gospel." So let's all relax and move forward to the big day.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Global Water Games with Philippe Cousteau - SXSWEco

Imagine a game where you make decisions and take actions that mirror the real life decisions that affect people's lives. These decisions impact local farmers, fishers, even the health of a watershed. This is the type of thing that makes the policy "wonk" giggle.  The University of Virginia in a group effort, have created this awesome game that simulates the policy making and stakeholder process. The particular scenario they portray is with an east coast watershed but this partially open sourced game can really be applied to any policy making decision that impacts a group of stake holders.

A group of at least 4 and at most, well, there probably could have been a room filled with people filling different roles, can play the game. The "players" are broken into land developers, farmers, "Watermen," and policy makers of various types. Each round the different players made decisions on the games platform. In this particular instance I played a "Bay Policy Maker." In this instance it meant I regulated how many crabs the "Waterman" players could remove from the Virginia watershed and when.

Some may find this boring or overly complex but it really was a great way to look at the motivations of the different stakeholders and the x factors that affect the watershed. At one point the game sent us a curve ball with a hurricane. To "win" the game the players have to create a sustainable watershed system which the game equates as both an economic and a "watershed health" system.

This was a round based game where each round represented a 2 year period. I started to get the hang of the game towards the end of it but I would love to try all the different roles. As Philippe Cousteau explained, "This game is used to show that we all play a part in the sustainability of the system, I learn something new each time."

The administrators and developers went on to explain that everyone for college students to policy makers all have bought in to the game and loved playing it, each learning something new about the system and the different roles and effects the players have. There was some feedback about the User Interface and some of the play-ability but, keeping in mind this pretty much the beta testing of the game, I expect some amazing and wonderful advancements out of this game. Imagine an acidification module and filter animals like oysters! I am nerding out soo much about this right now, I doubt I can sleep tonight. Definitely the highlight of my SXSW Eco.

SXSW Eco day 2 begins

Today marks day two of the the 3 day conservation, sustainability, and technology conference SXSW Eco set at the AT&T Conference Center in Austin, Texas. While I was a bit confused as to why Chevrolet, a major car producer was the major sponsor of this event (and subsequently did NOT make plans to attend their hosted breakfast this morning) I warmed to the idea when I read into their background and how they created an Environmental Label and standard for cars that includes an end of life-cycle plan (try getting most producers to take on that responsibility).

Yesterday was an interesting day. From meeting Philippe Cousteau and learning about his three pillars of conservation success to racing to the "Hacking the Ocean's Food Supply Chain: Technology, Transparency and Seafood" with enough time to question their assertions that " populations are resilient, most will come back after being left alone for a few years; there is hope for these species if we are responsible" and that "...eating small seafood is a good idea, sardines and anchovies are super high in omega-3s and very low in contaminants."

While these statements on their face value are, in a sense, true they ignore the fact that taking away the food sources of the larger species adds stress to the species that eat them and things like krill and small fish are ALREADY being over fished. These statements also ignore the fact that American lack of consumption on larger species will not lead to the reduction we all hope for, that it is a GLOBAL problem.

I was able to race in at the last minute and ask the panelists if they had a chance to look at the Ocean Health Index. Apparently none of them had had the chance to see this informative and beautiful bit of information.

The panelists were interesting, kind and informative and it was a special pleasure meeting Maria Finn, author of the upcoming Ted book "The Whole Fish: How Adventurous Eating Can Improve Your Sex Life and Help Save the Ocean." Very curious to read that.

The actual setup of the events kind of confuses me. Most of the "micro sessions are set as 15 minute conversations and this set up is a bit frustrating. Just when you start to get into the talk and want to learn more, it ends. Leaves me hungry for much more.

The night ended with an impromptu meet up of SXSW Eco attendees at Scholz, a local bar in Austin with an amazing political background, to watch the first presidential debate. Since its founding in 1866, Scholz has been home to all of the State Capitol's legislative after work drinks or in session sneak aways. People from both parties have gathered there through its histories to debate, discuss and drink each other silly.

I won't go into the debate too much because my focus here is SXSW Eco, but the report that came out recently from CNN saying that 67% of Americans believe that Romney won the debate made me do a double take - were they watching the same debate? Sure Obama was slipping here and there but what can you do when your opponent is flat out lying and back tracking on months of campaigning. Ugh, I hate lies.

Keep watch for coverage of a few more key panels and discussions as they happen on the twitter feed @akornblatt and on here. Maybe we can make some suggestions to get more Ocean related panels in on the future... Hint Hint...

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Solutions and Action Through Innovation with Philippe Cousteau

Today is the first day of the South By South West Eco festival (hashtag #SXSWEco) and, as you can see, the place is a buzz of activity.

Ignoring the uncomfortable feeling of seeing plastic and Chevrolet everywhere, I am excited. Not only are the registration lines long but the panel discussion rooms are already filling up.

From SXSW Eco
Right now I am waiting for Philippe Cousteau's "Solutions and Actions through Innovation" discussion to kick off a blend of tech, eco-solution and hopefully Ocean issues.

Philippe touched on three main pillars to success in pushing for conservation. Investing women and children, utilizing the market of Wall Street and Environmental education.

The following video shows him covering how to tackle the Women and Children issue:

Wall Street has been shown to be highly useful in generating funds but is volatile and is not getting the money in the right places these days.

Cousteau promoted the stock ticket "GIVE."  This is an amazingly brilliant concept. GIVE is an exchange-traded fund (ETF) that is geared towards sustainable and impact related investments. As AdvisorShares states on their site:
GIVE is designed as a core allocation that proactively seeks opportunities in Sustainable Investment themes while reducing volatility. The fund will allocate capital to equity and debt securities of publically traded companies who have a proactive and meaningful sustainability mandate, as well as securities that may technologically, socially and environmentally impact the earth positively, with a focus on themes such as water, clean energy, innovation and other sustainable themes as defined by the portfolio managers. Additionally, AdvisorShares regularly contributes a portion of assets under management to Philippe Cousteau Jr.’s Global Echo Foundation.
Philippe is soft launching a watershed management game that looks incredible and has amazing potential to bring in a large mass of people and I will be checking it out later.

These initial sessions are limited to 15 minutes which is like a candy sampler or wine flight - you get the flavor but not really the substance and don't have the opportunity for real conversation. Philippe did a great job, just wish there was more of a chance to get into the thick of it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

SXSW Eco 1 - Leaving on a Jet Plane

I am currently sitting in the San Francisco Airport about to fly off to Austin, a city I spent a large amount of my formative years around, for the second SXSW Eco conference. Most may recall the exceptionally large and exceptionally successful critical mass of film, interactive media and music. Since its start in 1987 SXSW has gone from a relatively tame festival to a crazy party of tech and music and awe.

SXSW Eco, is an offspring of such an endeavor. Being only 2 years old the baby conference, according to the event's website;
international audience of on-the-ground innovators and executive level decision makers from the public and private sectors as well as thought leaders from academia, this event will drive the conversation of sustainability beyond rhetoric and towards solutions. SXSW Eco is for professionals at the forefront of the post-recognition discussion who are dedicated to making progress towards solving these challenges. 
I am going for a number of reasons, foremost of all because an amazing friend that I made this year and while some may be excited over food issues and the cool volunteer work you can do at the conference, I will be a part of the Oceans contingent.

So, honestly, I am unsure what to expect. I have already seen a meal event sponsored by Chevy and I see that Jessica Alba is interesting in promoting her brand. But it has been hard finding out what all happened here last year while I have been doing some preliminary research and figuring out what panels, discussions and events I am interested in attending. So far one of the highlights is looking like it will be this Global Water Game with Phillipe Cousteau which will hypothetically make him the 4th Cousteau family member I have meet in a week.

Over the next week or so I will be providing some tweets on #SXSWEco, updates here, some liveblogging there, some hackathon over in that direction, but probably not since I am not a programmer. Just pay attention. There is some cool stuff going on.

The BLUE Ocean Film Festival or how to loose an entire month on an awesome project.

I haven’t posted lately. That is because I have been hard at work. I had the honor of working on the social media outreach for this brilliant combination of Film, Conservation, and Outreach - The BLUE Ocean Film Festival and conservation event. I just got back from the film festival and had the urge to write each and every one of the awesome people I met an email. The amount of time that would take was staggering so I decided to put out this open letter in my blog. This here is an expansive list of awesome things that happened at the festival. 

Keep in mind I have a tendency to be long winded and have a LOT to say. There is a lot of cool stuff to see so I issue the following warning;  


Hey guys,

First let me say that it was amazing meeting you all. This festival meant a lot to me and it was a pleasure to work on. It was one of those amazing things you hear about. I want to keep in touch with you all and wanted to thank each and every single one of you. You all worked long, hard hours on this and deserve to be proud of pulling off something this awesome.

I mean, its not every week you get to  do the following:


As I am writing this out I am realizing how long this list is. Basically the message is that stories and news about all this stuff and all the stuff related to the festival is going to keep going out there so keep watching.

I do encourage you to head over to the festival’s Facebook group and share what you got so we can share it with all our friends.

And there is more, there is tons more.

We will be sending out photos and videos of all of this stuff while it comes in. If you have some we want it.

I will probably keep adding the to some sort of list or just throwing them at the hash tag #BLUEOceanFF and adding them to the Google Plus and Facebook pages. If you could do that too that would be awesome. If you have any awesome footage you want to share or cool stuff you want to talk about what happened at the festival, feel free to use those forums. I especially encourage you to watch our Facebook and Google Plus pages news will be posted.

I feel the need to remind everyone that there are a lot of 501c3s associated with it and taxes are coming up.

  • Showing off my Liquid Galaxy skills to Charlotte Vick (CHARLOTTE! Can you send me some of that video I took of you and your friend in there? Thanks)

I have a lot of following up to do to get everything together and I came to the conclusion that the best way to get the basic message (and do a bit of selfless self promotion) out there was to put it up on my blog.

I haven’t been able to work on it for a while but that was because I was out there working on the awesome project and wanted to focus on it, before myself, and it was so rewarding and awesome.

I want to give you all a heads up that I am going to SXSW ECO. Wait, what? There is a SXSW “Eco Breakfast” presented by Chevrolet? For those of you familiar with SXSW, Eco is in it’s second year and I will go over that more later. For the rest of you just pay attention. I want you to know that I may be live blogging from there and will let you know where that will be. Be sure to follow my twitter @akornblatt

As I pack my bag for today's
flight I look forward to the down time (ha) where I can reach out to all of you and thank you and catch up. Lets keep this ball rolling and be rock and roll stars for the Ocean!

Andrew Kornblatt