Wednesday, October 22, 2008

842 lbs. of Carbon

I was originally going to call this post "Nick's Adventures in a Red State" or something similarly political. But in reality, my recent adventures in the lone star state turned out to be surprisingly un-political. Except for this moment when I was in an elevator, going down, with a group of VERY texan women who were discussing whether or not they were willing to gut and clean the deer their husbands shot. Those who wouldn't regarded those who would with a sort of superstitious awe. "Sarah Palin," I thought, "this is your constituency!"

But they were the exception. I was, after all, in a giant mega hotel surrounded by a comfortable bubble of business analysts. By and large, I've noticed these are a relatively apolitical lot, more prone to discussing analytical techniques, R^2 values, and the hideously complicated version landscape of the software package were were all there as users of.

Wait, though, I get ahead of myself. Where was I, and what was I doing here? And what does any of that have to do with 842 lbs. of Carbon? Time machine, back a few months. My company decided to send a couple of representatives off to the annual user's conference for a software package called "Business Objects." They make, as you might have guessed, analytics software used for data mining, business intelligence, and various related fields. My manager and I were the lucky attendees. There were supposed to be more of us, but clever budget hoarding meant that, when the call came down to save a few bucks coming in to Q4, she and I were the only ones to actually go.

It is a flattering thing, to a neophyte like myself, to be sent to one of these things. The whole trip cost a couple of thousand dollars. That's a flattering investment to have made in you. And then I took a look at my Alaska Airlines e-ticket and noticed an interesting line: each leg of my journey would produce 421 lbs. of nasty globally warming, debt incurring carbon. What was I to make of this? Should I have used carbon debt calculations in planning my trip? Chosen another airline that, through better routing or more ecological hardware choices, managed to only drop 411 lbs. of carbon into the upper atmosphere? I decided this was probably some vauge and general estimate, so no excess of detail should be ascribed to it.

Instead, I took it as a note: not only was this trip costing my company a few grand and me four days away from my family, but it was costing our plant too. So listen up, the e-ticket seemed to say to me, you'd better get something good out of this, because a lot of people are putting something down so you can get your corporate junket ya-ya's off down in Dallas.

Which is how we get to Dallas. For reasons I'm not privy to, the conference was in Dallas. Warm, central, and probably cheap. Not Vegas or Orlando, where the last couple were. Dallas. Flat. Hot. Red state.

Rather than trying to tell you some sort of play-by-play note of the conference (which you probably don't care about), I will try to distill the whole experience down into my personal observations and reactions. I really did go into it thinking of this as a serious work event. And it wasn't just the carbon. I'm out of the office for three full days (plus a day of free semi-vacation to make up for my Sunday spent in the air). I'm away from my family for four days. And so I wanted to replay those who sent me on this outing by getting everything out of it I could.

Learning experience the whole thing was great. But you don't probably care about the new software I saw demo'd or the techniques for multi-axis data analysis that I learned. I will tell you about one software package, though. Very interesting, and actually quite applicable to some work people on my team are doing. It analyzed text in a quite holistic and linguistically derived way to generate summaries of text document, searchable breakdowns of text content, and gestalt assessments of mood and tone. The demos all involved an analysis of product reviews. It was pretty start stuff -- able to understand that "though I usually don't like Mazda's styling, the mew MX-6 is anything but stayed" is actually praise, despite the preponderance of negative words.

But the thing that made this interesting was the occasional mention of "government clients." Un-named, non-specific government clients that usually caused the speaker to trail off a little. So I've got this to say: I don't know if the government is reading your email, your blog posts, your newsgroups, or whatever. But if they do, I suspect that I might have a lead on some of the software they are using. I don't want to launch a thousand conspiracy theories. We many not be talking about anything so exotic as some NSA glassbox scheme, it may just be for entirely reasonable analysis of the massive quantities of subpoenaed documents that so often feature in high profile federal litigation. But it was interesting stuff.

The rest of it all was pretty dry.

I will tell you about Texan buffets, though. I don't know what the food safety laws are in this part of the country, but there were some downright Texan sized time/temperature hold violations going on. Erica could fill me in on the actual values, but let me leave you with this quick summary: in no situation should a breakfast sausage patty and yogurt be held at the same temperature for an hour. Like I said, the laws may be different down here, and so may the gastrointestinal systems, but I tried my best to stay away from both, helped by the fact that I just don't like yogurt, even when held at a safe temperature, and that the breakfast sausage had apparently been slowly brought to temperature in a solution if old grease. Nasty stuff.

In fact the food was the biggest disappointment. My expectations were good -- the registration form had displayed an astonishing sensitivity to dietary preferences, with check-boxes for vegetarian, vegan, Kosher, shellfish allergy, wheat allergy, and a few others. Somehow, though, the buffets were the same old (uniform temperature) standards. I did see a few specially marked plate covers going around, though, so I think that next one of these I go to, I'm going to be Kosher for a week. At least the food should be hotter.

Finally we broke down, my manager and I, and skipped second of two free "evening socials" with beer and passed appetizer platters. We headed for the hotel's Mexican restaurant, figuring that while in Texas, go for a form of cuisine that they probably do well. Remember how the massive hotel sort of insulated me from Texan politics? It also apparently insulated me from Texan cooking. The tortillas were ill-heated and probably Cisco. The shrimp were probably imported frozen from the Philippines. The fajitas were very much lacking in veggies. The rice was under seasoned. There was a damn good pinto bean soup, though, that had some real nice heat to it. But the rest? Well, better than another round of snacks.

Now you are probably wondering how I did (am doing -- I'm writing this from DFW) away from my wife and daughter for so long. For this part, I will write a brief journey. For dramatic emphasis, I will use the present tense.

Sunday: So far, so good. This day has been an adventure of travel and, thanks to the two time zone skip, not all that long. By 10pm in Dallas, I've only been away from Erica and Bella for eleven hours -- no longer than I would on a typical workday. And those hours have either been the action of travel or a pleasant chance to do some quiet reading. I've got Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke's interesting alternate history novel of magic and fantasy going on the iPhone and have nearly figured out the Concorde's fly by wire system -- yet again testing my belief that a thorough understanding of an analogue system can often provide a powerful insight into it's more obfuscated digital counterparts. The hotel is decent, kind of dull, and I get a nice chance to talk to Erica before bed.

Monday: First day of the conference -- so much going on! I hardly miss my family at all, I've got so much going on. Sure, I awoke alone, but I usually get up a couple of hours before Erica and Bella, so I'm used to sneaking around alone and in the dark. After that -- hey, it is just like a day at the office if you think about it. Seminar sessions from 8am to 5pm, no different from the workday. Until, oh, about 5:30pm and then suddenly it seems like I should be home. Instead I'm drinking a beer at the first reception party and chasing down platters of sushi in a vain effort to get full. After that comes the after-party. No strippers, not like at those hip-hop after-parties I have never been to, but a fortune teller who tells me the following things:

I am sleeping poorly.
I have back pain.
I am learning a lot at work but it will lead to stability.
There is some stagnation in my relationship and I should "give in" on something to bring the novelty back.

She also turned over a death card, which I found interesting, but never really addressed that, which I found disturbing. Now I figure that from obvious clues (wedding ring, in town for convention, etc) she could probably have made some good guesses, but it was fun none the less. Called Erica and and told her that she has one free "give in" card that she can play, and that she should spend it wisely. But tonight the loneliness is starting to creep in. Barely saw the family yesterday -- but I have three nights a week that are just as bad. But now it is an entire day without seeing either Erica or Bella. Perhaps because I am not aided by as pointed a combination of alcohol and Benadryl, sleep comes a little harder tonight.

Tuesday: I awake to the best email I've seen in a long time. Well, good in the sense that it makes me feel good. Erica missed me and had a hard time falling asleep. Bad for her, though, so I feel sort of sad and wish I'd been there to tell her a story. Now I miss conversations. The morning sessions are pretty dull -- nothing as fun as discovering potential not-so-secret text analysis software. The keynote was very corporate-speak laden. Words like "monatize" (or is it "monitize"?) and "accelerate capitol velocity" and "open partner fabric" and "hire-to-retire process."

I try calling Erica a few times during the morning but can't get through. Its frustrating. Conversation is surprisingly rare here. Everyone you meet at a session is a single serving friend (thank you Fight Club!), and the conversations we had at the after-party were pretty single serving too. So I'm yearning for a conversation with someone where it is just free flowing and casual. Where I'm comfortable talking about any topic and freely expressing myself. While I'm at it, I'd like to know what Bella's up to. I'd like her wonderfully childlike perspective, to tell her about what I'm doing and hear her, doubtless, wonderfully fresh take on it all.

Finally Erica and I do talk, for a while, which is nice, but actually just serves to remind me how much I like her. The afternoon sessions aren't particularly exciting -- there is actually a lot of very good information but it all pertains to a version of the software that, if I'm lucky, we'll be running sometime around the next election. The one after this one, I mean. And I mean presidential elections here, not some little in-between state representative thing.

But the evening gets good -- my manager and I skip out on the reception to get the previously mentioned Mexican dinner. Based on stories she tells, me, I calculate that I have a 7% chance of going insane. By now I have also named several of my fellow convention attendees:

Abe Lincoln
Jim Furyk
Sweater/Thong Woman
Three-Beers Woman
Friend of Three-Beers Woman
Boring Obama (looked, but did not speak, like a young version of the candidate)
Limping Lin

I'm noticing something interesting about this time zone, two hours earlier than Seattle but still one short of the East Coast. It might be that, emotionally and in some ways professionally, I am still on Seattle time, but it seems like world events happen more slowly here. I suspect the reason is this: Like it or not, the news-making-and-reporting center of this country is the East. So most days, when I get in to work and start checking online around 7am, there have already been two hours of news-making business day going. Here, if I check online at the same time, the business day is just beginning. So I don't start with a backlog of news to catch up on. And then checking on events back home, at the office or with my family, I have to wait two hours for them to happen -- or so it seems. So it is as if there is a buffer placed around me, and everything is happening two hours later than it should. Is this why Texas have that slow, easy going drawl?

Second City gives a pretty good improv performance for us. The bad part was the audience suggestions:

Improver: "May I have the name of a profession?"
Audience member: "Business Analyst!"


Improver: "May I have the name of a location that would fit on this stage?"
Audience member: "Trade show!"

You guys get out much?

But then we met up with a fellow who works with us a lot as a consultant and trainer, got some drinks, and got some really fantastic social bonding time. Getting to know the people you work with every day -- in a non work environment -- can be very rewarding. You learn their values, histories, what makes them tick. It is fun but also, frankly, politically astute. Like I know that I have a 7% chance of going crazy.

Wednesday: I slept poorly last night. I talked with Erica a while and that got me all second winded -- not just from talking to her but because she's on Seattle time, two hours more perky than I am. So then I ended up packing up, getting everything ready to go in the morning. Net result, now I am short on sleep.

And my loneliness is now a visceral thing. It is no longer just being bored or wanting a conversation, but it is a true longing, an emotional and, dare I say, hormonal longing to be back with my wife. And my family, lest it sound like I am giving dear Bella some sort of second billing. I miss her energy and enthusiasm and, again, those childlike but brilliant insights, distilling situations down to their essentials. Her snuggling, her creativity, her drawings of pet rockets to take dogs and cats and fish to astronauts in a space station, her emotional intensity, her moments of complete weakness and remarkable strength.

But there are four more presentations, ending with a whimper as a mumbling frenchwoman narrates Quicktime movies of unreleased software. So we skip out early, catch a shuttle, get to the airport. On the way, I count bumper stickers, engaging in my favorite ad-hoc poll. The count, on the President George Bush Turnpike (again I ask -- which one?), the count is Barack Obama: 1, Ron Paul: 1, John McCain: 0. I don't know what that means, but it surprised me.

My boss is taking a nap and I've gone exploring, to a pseudo Irish pub in the international terminal that serves chicken strips and hamburgers. The beer, however, is Irish. A Smithwick's Ale -- a damn nice, solid, full flavored but easy drinking beer. Soon I suspect it will be augmented with that most Irish of dinners, the bacon cheeseburger. And then I'll be back in our terminal, waiting for the last flight of the evening out to Seattle.

And, with a suitcase full of powerpoints and a brain full of new knowledge and new contacts, I will return home.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Watching the Debate Watchers

So one of my favorite books (don't laugh, but if you are reading this, you probably won't) is Alan Moore's classic graphic novel (that's arugula-eater speak for comic book) Watchmen. It often repeats the phrase "who watches the watchmen?" Meaning, in this case, when a group of people consider themselves to lie above (or outside, if you are Dr. Manhattan) the normal bounds of law and restraint, who is to maintain any sort of code of conduct or behavior to which they must answer?

This is not about that graphic novel (yes, I am again using the "But this is not their story..." device). Rather it is about these multiple online streaming thingies that CNN has got going during the final presidential debate of 2008. I almost said "final presidential debate," but one does have to hope that we will have other presidents elected during other elections and that there will be, in some format, debates during these elections. But I am starting to sound rather too much like Samuel Jackson's character in Pulp Fiction. And I am definitely pulling out a Tarantino-esque level of pop culture referentiality.

These little streaming video bits focus on allowing us multi-taskers out there to watch other people watch the debates. In my case I am not actually multitasking with a dozen TV screens going at once, Ozymandias like (and yes, I did manage to work in another Watchmen reference. Why don't I go for broke and ask if anyone else out there finds themselves thinking so strongly about Dr. Manhattan every time Heroes brings up Silar's watch infatuation?). I actually am trying to find a balance between the fact that Erica is working tonight and I am home. I've got the debates Tivoing in the other room so we can watch it together when she gets home. But I feel my Internet generation addiction to continuous connectivity tugging at me and find it almost impossible to let a potentially history-impacting moment go by without at least some awareness of how it is going down.

So I found a happy compromise. I'd watch the watchmen. There are two windows I've found interesting (the one where two bloggers sit at their respective Macs and argue while Obama and McCain bicker in the background appeals to me only in so far as they are both using Macs which is why my screen capture is actually from the Palin/Biden debate because in the current one I notice the monitors are a lot less prominent).

Picture 2 08-15-53.jpg

The first one I find interesting is CNN's live measure of voter response. It has this intensely medical look, doesn't it? Enough that I quite seriously wonder, "How is CNN doing that?" I picture a panel of a dozen voters of each faction (Rep, Dem, Ind) strapped to hospital beds, with electrodes attached to their foreheads, blood pressure cuffs on their arms, heart rate monitors across their chests, and perhaps even a respiration monitor to capture rate and volume of breathing. All, of this, is overseen by Hugh Laurie at his most scruffy and contemptuous.

Picture 11.jpg

Incidentally, the fact that I got this capture while Obama was saying something that clearly everyone liked really was pure chance and not some attempt to send a little subliminal signal. But don't think I didn't find it interesting that my pure-chance effort ended up that way.

In reality, I suspect that what we have going on is a few hundred homes holding a Nintendo pad and furiously toggling through some internet connection that their state is "happy," "neutral," or "unhappy." Given how often I get confused when using those game controllers and end up running to the left when I mean to shoot the werewolf or whatever I'd tend to give a pretty low factor of reliability to that approach. Now that I think about it, you could also do something clever with a volume meter, much in the way sports broadcasts often do some bogus pseudo-VU meter thing to show crowd enthusiasm at big games. Given that (in my totally unscientific appraisal of the situation) people tend to make noise after the people they like (cheering or shouting "yeah, you tell him!" or such) but to talk over the people they don't like ("you lying sack of shit!") you could probably gather some information that would have exactly as much validity as any of the other little line-drawing routines. Probably, for that matter, you could have hamsters walk on the mousepad of someone's laptop and generate a graphic sufficiently compelling for people to tune in and stream it.

Now the other little instant feedback display, and the one I actually found more interesting because it reflects not the belief of people I don't know being measured in a way I don't know but rather people I don't know being measured in a way that I do know, was CNN's pole of analysts. Six people, distributed fairly well among liberals, conservatives, and independents on and off of CNN's staff. They register a "point" for or against either debater as they feel that person either made a good move or possible gaffe. Simple. Kind of like at the Olympics or boxing, but more real time.

I also have this technique of "seeing through the haze" of conflicting opinion and commentary that is to quite simply take a gestalt survey of what many people are saying and average it out. I'm no Greg House and am not willing to go so far as to say "Everybody lies," but I do firmly believe that everyone, even the most superficially selfless person in the world, takes actions according to some sort of internal logic of self-interest. It may not be self-interest that is clear, well planned, or even makes sense to an outsider (or even to the person taking the action), but that specificity is for another day.

In this context, I mean that every organization out there, even those that profess disinterested neutrality or an objectively alternative viewpoint, is getting tugged in some direction or another by forces of their own interest. Take NPR, generally regarded as a bastion of objective (or at least alternative) journalism. Now the honestly do a pretty good job of putting out objective coverage, but let's face it, how long do you think the pledges would keep coming in if, all of a sudden, NPR started putting out the same viewpoints as Fox News? Even if the actual events of the day supported Fox's analysis, NPR has a market position to maintain and a certain constituency to play to. Just take a look at Chris Buckley who, in addition to penning some of the best political commentary on this election (in terms of the "what in the sam hell happened to John McCain?" factor), is now out of a job.

Anyway, my point is. People are biased. Even people who are trying really hard to be unbiased might find themselves with an urge to either conform with the masses or to stand apart from them.

So I take the average. I weight the institutions with known biases (Huffington Post and Fox News cancel out nicely), the ones I consider pretty neutral based on past performances, and see where the middle lands. That, I guess, is where (depending on the sort of issue) the truth, the most commonly held belief, reality, or some facsimile of it would, should, or could lie.

And so I like viewpoints that allow me to quickly scan a range of viewpoints, to get the gestalt view of what is afoot. So I like maps that show me pretty colors of how strongly states are registering in pre-election poles, even if it is cheesy and runs enough badly coded Flash to suck my battery capacity down at an absurd rate.

Picture 10.jpg

So now take a look at this. At the point I took this capture, perhaps 40 minutes in to the show, things are looking pretty close to tied. 1-McCain, 3-Obama, 2-Tie. Now that we've wrapped up the show the score has leveled out to 3-3 with no ties left on the board (sorry about the spoiler, but since I'm spoiling a live event, I don't feel too bad).

But at another level, I'm interested in how the different pundits scored the candidates. No, not whether they scored Obama or McCain the winner, but how they choose to define "score." Take a look at Gergen. Clearly we have a soccer game going on here, with nthree "scores" on McCain's side and two on Obama's. Now just as clearly, Martin is watching a basketball game where, not even to the first half, there are a total of 73 points on the board among the two sides. As a factor of scoring, King doesn't like to think negative thoughts about other people's performance, with only one negative point out of seventeen (at the time this shot was taken, the end total would be 33 positive, with still only one negative!). Castellanos appears to be watching football, the numbers even working out to reasonable football score values. Presumably the rest are at a baseball game, relying on that perennial source of political catch phrases and trite sports analogies.

Picture 14.jpg

But returning to an examination of the numbers, now in their final form, what might I be able to find about the reaction to this debate. Which, I'd like to mention, I have still not seen or heard in any significant quantity. Clearly McCain did better than at the last one, at the very least there was none of the distracted wandering around problem going on. It also seems that both candidates managed to avoid committing too many faux-pas. I'd say that McCain was probably the more aggressive -- partially because I expected him to be so and partially because he, even in the minds of his supporters (except for Bennett, who had the most notably lop-sided evaluation -- and I tend to find that the person with the most lop-sided evaluation is often the one with the most biased evaluation) scored more negative points than Obama. An aggressive strategy is usually one that is likely to involve greater risks and greater chance of error -- even if the gains outweigh the losses.

If we look just at the positive numbers, we see that the score worked out to be Obama-2, McCain-3, Tie-1. I'm doing this by comparing each commentator's ranking a-la match play, because Martin (and to a lesser extent Castellanos) have such high numbers going that they'd skew the whole thing). If we look at the negative numbers only, we see that the score was Obama-5, McCain-1 (keeping in mind that you win this match by scoring fewer points. So yeah, McCain was definitely going for it, and definitely taking some losses in the process. Obama was probably playing it cool and probably on the defensive a few times -- which makes it hard to score points unless you decide to go on the counter-attack. I don't expect there was too much "best defense is a good offensive" action from Obama, though, since I bet that would have brought up more negative points, what with the fact that attack-counter-attack quickly starts to look like bickering.

Now how did it actually go? I'll have to see. Erica's home now and I've got one kiddo to put to bed and then its time to roll the Tivo. So let the final act begin. And we'll see how the analysis worked out...


Well, now I've watched the debate and have to say I think I did a decent job with analyzing a debate that I hadn't seen. Actually watching the thing, I got pretty sick of ol' Joe the Plumber, but it was a nice break from "My friends..." which seemed, now that I think about it, notably absent. Obama was a little defensive, McCain definitely attacking. Obama more issues focused, McCain more personal. I'd say I agree with those who's cards scored Obama with the win.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Bumper Sticker Politics

So I had a long and kind of tedious commute this evening. But I was having a great time, listening to the radio and rocking out to everything from Carly Simon ("You're so Vain") to The Beastie Boys ("Intergalactic"). Oh, and before I get started, I have something in the odd-observation category to point out. Despite living in Seattle, I haven't heard Pearl Jam played on the radio for months. All of a sudden I hear one song played ("Daughter"). I rock out for a while, get bored, change channels. Right into the beginning of "Even Flow." Couple minutes later, on yet a third channel, I hear "Jeremy." What's up with that? I've noticed it before -- you don't hear a band for a while and then suddenly, in the span of twenty minutes, you hear it on three different stations.

Anyone who happens to work in radio and who reads this -- let me know if stations listen to each other or communicate or something. "Hey, KZOK has broke out the Pearl Jam...let's dust 10 off ourselves!"

But alright, back to the politics. To entertain myself, I thought I'd celebrate the eve of the veepsidential debate with a quick poll: bumper sticker counting. It ended up 8 for Obama 2 for McCain (plus one additional giant flag for Obama but it wasn't technically a bumper sticker and so I didn't count it). Now these numbers should hardly be surprising, being as Washington is about as much of a blue-state as you can get. And the population of Seattle is pretty think with that liberal intellectual/professional demographic that I'll freely admit is part of Obama's core support group and I drove by a PCC Natural Market (one of the Obamas was exiting their parking lot) that probably has a certain predictable voting clump among its patrons. That said, however, I happen to know at least one of those Obama cars belonged to a tile setter, so don't get too focused on my self-selected sample.

Now I was paying really close attention to the cars I was passing and being passed by so that I didn't double count any bumper stickers, to either candidate's advantage (because I'm sending my results off to CNN now -- read about it in the morning, I tell you!). I passed one McCain car (a Buick driven by an old white guy who looked, I kid you not, shockingly like McCain himself) twice, and one Obama car about a half dozen times. Its that thing you get on the freeway in moderate traffic, going back and forth as lanes gain or lose advantage. Now this Obama car that I passed and re-passed had another bumper sticker on it that said, in big Republican party letters "McCain" and then had some smaller letters below that would probably have said "Palin" or something. So on one of our close encounters I looked more closely (and got lucky with a gap in the traffic) and saw something that looked more like this:


This particular version was a little better, or at least more current, had the blue font and looked considerably more official at first pass. Now when I first passed this car I was kind of excited. A car that supports both candidates? Multiple personality disorder? Two owners with different politics? Someone who changed their mind? I always love it when I see a bumper sticker collection that doesn't quite fit up against the simple and obvious types we expect to see: "Hey, you're a Marine and support Green Peace!" or such.

But it wasn't. Instead it was an example of what I consider the very (or at least mildly) irritating trend of the sarcastic bumper sticker. The satirization of a sticker or slogan of your opponent. I've been seeing these more and more over the past few years, roughly through Bush's second term. I usually see them heading in a liberal direction, though that could be as much a product of my local (and the fact that it is easer to satirize the in-power group) as is the 4:1 Obama:McCain ratio I observed.

Now the "third term" slogan is pretty clever, regardless if you agree with it or not. But does it translate to the fast moving pattern recognition world of the freeway? I think not.

Bumper stickers are as much about peer pressure as anything. You are making a statement, to those you know, park near, happen to drive around, or who look at your car in a parking lot, that you believe in (or oppose) a certain person or cause. They work (and I admit this opinion has no basis in science or anything, not any more than believing that the dinosaurs were still hanging around 6,000 years ago) in an nearly subliminal manipulation of our gestalt sense of our peer's beliefs.

I may not know what I'm talking about, but I know how to sell it with the words...

But anyway, my idea is this. You're driving along, undecided or at least unsure of your candidate. You see a bunch of car's sporting stickers for one guy and think, with or without realizing it, "Hm, he must be pretty good to have so many people believing in him..." That thought is exactly why polls can have such a "momentum" effect. Lots of people siding with McCain? More people might take a moment to reconsider. Lots of people switch to Obama? People will take a moment to reconsider in his direction.

Bumper stickers also have an appeal through peer pressure. See a car that you like, that is similar to yours, or that somehow implies a value system you support? You're going to give extra cred to the view espoused on its back side. See a driver with a similar match? It is going to have a similar effect of reinforcing the impact of that endorsement. Think of the McCain supporting Buick I spotted -- fits right into the target audience of that campaign. 'Round here, in 'Bama country, you see his stickers on so many different kinds of cars that it is actually tough to generalize into a particular group: compact import pickup truck, Impala SS, new Mercedes, tired old Honda Civic, as well as the obvious like an outdoorsy Subaru or a hipster VW.

Like I said -- I have no evidence for this, but it sounds good.

The important thing is that bumper stickers act fast. They act on a glance. No one has time to read them -- you shouldn't at least! You see that round Obama swooshy thing. Or the martial samll-caps of McCain. And you register that car's vote. The pun-sticker runs the very serious risk (and I use the term seriously loosely here) of appearing as a vote for the opposite candidate. If there hadn't been the clear and straight forward Obama sticker on the car that sparked this whole thing (it was the tired Honda Civic, by the way, and also had a "Free Leonard Peltier" sticker, and I haven't seen one of those in a long time), I might have registered my count as 7:3, not 8:2.

The fun, the politics, the wit, all make sense if you are Saturday Night Live or John Stewart, but at 75 miles per hour on I-5 (and I again admit that I didn't get anywhere close to 75 miles with the traffic tonight!), you've got to keep it simple!

Oh, and by the way, there were also a bunch of Nader people waving and holding signs and banners from an overpass, trying to get people to honk in support. No one honked.