We skipped lunch on Sunday to watch number crunching phenom Nate Silver share his perspective about the accuracy of measuring just about anything, and more specifically, his opinions on polling tactics post 2008 election. Having foregone morning coffee in order to hit the ground running (here's the reason why), we popped into the Circus Mashimus lounge to grab some (free!) coffee and chocolate chip cookies and to chat with developer Oren Michaels, who set up the lounge so developers could come and connect.
For those of you who are unaware (because someone at the talk actually asked), Nate Silver is the Obama-win predicting mastermind behind fivethirtyeight.com, which takes it's name from the number of electoral votes available (it'll become 539 when DC gets a vote – 539.com has already been registered by someone in Taiwan, that's the kind of enterprising age we're in).
Interviewed by Business Week's Stephen Baker, Silver covered everything from sports to politics to the Oscars, to teen texting habits (“The average 15-year-old girl today sends about 2300 text messages per month”) to the economy to last year's election – his greatest success thus far. He spent the bulk of his time covering polling (the room was filled people wanting to learn how to predict things) and expressed his frustration with mainstream news sites' lack of accountability and emphasis on subjectivity: “A poorly executed objective analysis is often far worse than a perfectly executed subjective analysis.” My favorite Silver swipe at the already established order of ordering was, “If you know you're going to be wrong, keep working on your [redacted] model.” Which is interesting considering he mispredicted the Oscars.
One of the most amazing things about the Nate Silver talk was that Marilyn Martin and Sunni Brown were making graphic interpretations of his talk because there weren't already enough documentations of the happenings at SXSW already. The fact that pencils and paper were added to the coterie of documentation tools at the most high tech convergence in the country was heartwarming, giving new meaning to the term “intellectual illumination.”
You can find the beautifully illustrated graphic interpretations here.